Saturday, August 31, 2019

Diagram 2


Here's the first overall diagram of the novel and it's amazing how unlike what The Iron Dragon's Mother eventually became my first thoughts of its structure are. I appear to have intended to blend Helen and Caitlin (then Charlotte) into single character.

Terrible, terrible idea.

Below the diagram I wrote:

This is the novel

At this point the young woman is or can be the storyteller

No, let the storyteller die

Also major deviations from what the book became. Yes, the nature of story is a big subtext and, yes, Caitlin must learn how to lie. But the idea of her becoming a storyteller is... let's say inappropriate.


Friday, August 30, 2019

Dragon Pilots


So what do dragon pilots look like? Tough, competent, dangerous. Pictured above are two pages from the second Prose Notebook for The Iron Dragon's Mother. The two young ladies are Sibyl and Ysault. You probably can't make out the text (and if you can, you probably can't make sense of my handwriting) but the picture was originally titled "Sibyl and Ashley." I gave all the dragon pilots Irish names, but that doesn't mean they're of Irish descent. It seems to be a convention among high-elven families for naming their female half-elven bastards.

There's a lot of plot that I decided not to use on that page, incidentally. Cat is invited to to join the Resistance. Helen interviews Sibyl out of compassion. And there's a reference to a "straggler with three packs of Marlboros." None of which made it into the novel.

Also, I worried a lot over what kind of swagger Ysault had.

And because some people like them . . .

Not everybody, but many people are fascinated by the use of diagrams to build a story. So at the bottom of these posts, I'm going to serialize the diagrams I drew in my Prose Notebooks to help see my way forward.

The first one covers the first chapter.

So far as I can tell, the only elements that remain of this diagram are the television  and the Tibetan Book of the Dead.  The triangle opposes "her" (Helen) with "what she doesn't live up to (dying roommate)" and "What she hates (Nurse Wretched)." The last is an obvious reference to Nurse Ratched in Ken Kesey's novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Both were replaced by a trio of more recognizably human nurses.

I do like the fact that after the notations:

Dis in context

I commented This is what reading too much criticism does!


Thursday, August 29, 2019



She is always mute because she is the voice of the Goddess.

As I never tire of boasting, the mere I have bubbling away on my laptop, the less I have to talk about. Today is a perfect example. I'm currently working on an interview and five introductions for projects I'm genuinely excited about. But I cannot yet talk about any of them.

Instead, I offer a page from my Prose Notebooks for The Iron Dragon's Mother. These are not the same as the Image Book. They're filled with my scribblings as I was writing the novel, many plot diagrams, workings-out of locales and the like. I'll be sharing a sampling of them in the coming month or so.

And an explanation . . .

Today's page is a rarity for me: a copy of someone else's work. The original is a painting by Jay DeFeo, a near-great artist who nearly destroyed her career by working obsessively on an enormous painting titled  The Rose. You can look it up online but that's no substitute for standing in its presence. For one thing, it's ten and a half feet high. Also, it's massive.  There are literally hundreds of pounds of paint on it, to the degree that it's more like a bas-relief than a flat painting. It has an astonishing presence. You could look at it for hours.

And eventually, you'll come to the conclusion that it's great but that it could be greater. That if DeFeo had changed it just a smidge it would be something even more wonderful.=. DeFeo came to this conclusion herself, which is why she spent years obsessively on the one single painting. It almost stopped her dead.

There's much more to her story and I encourage you to learn it.

Back to the Prose Notebooks, though. The sketch above is a crude copy of one of DeFeo's later (and considerably smaller) paintings It hit me hard when I saw it. This, I thought, is what the Voice of God looks like. And since so much of my work is about the Silence of God, it seemed inevitable that she would have a place in the novel.

The messenger never makes an overt appearance in The Iron Dragon's Mother. But she's never very far away.


Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Is There Something About Me Irish?


You wouldn't know it to look at my name, but I'm Irish to the bone.  Or, rather, American Irish. There's a difference. That fact has been one of the great shapers of my personality.

To mark my third visit to Ireland, and so I'd have something to give away while at the Dublin Worldcon, I wrote six flash essays, all autobiographical, on that condition. Three are set in Ireland and three in the States. Marianne took these essays and made them into a chapbook, titled Is There Something About You Irish? To understand the title, I'm afraid you'll just have to read the chapbook.

As is usual with Marianne Porter's Dragonstairs Press, the chapbooks are lovingly made, hand-sewn, and seriously underpriced. They are signed and numbered in an edition of 60, of which 36 are available for sale. Eleven dollars domestic, twelve dollars overseas, postage included.

You can find the Dragonstairs  Press site here.

Unusually for Marianne, there are two other publications yet available, though in small numbers. You can find them directly below the latest chapbook. Then you can wander down below them to see everything  else that Dragonstairs has ever placed on sale, all of which have sold out.

And an apology . . .

For the two weeks I was in Ireland, I managed perhaps one blogpost. I apologize for that. Partly it was that I was busy. But mostly it was electronic technology and me... we just don't understand each other very well, I'm afraid.

But I'm home where everything is familiar and back on track. More blogposts on a more regular schedule are forthcoming.

Really. I mean it this time.


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

"Ghost Ships" in F&SF


Look what came in the mail! The Dragonstairs Press rug is delighted.

The putting-together of a magazine issue is a delicate art. For the 70th anniversary of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, obviously a lot of big names were required. But they also had to fit into a set number of pages. So it's possible for the editor and the publisher to like a story quite a lot but be unable to fit it in just because of its length.

Which is how I almost didn't make it into this particular issue. Long tale short, my story, "Ghost Ships" is the penultimate story in the issue. Gordon Van Gelder told me that he and C. C. Finlay both particularly wanted my story because it was about grief and mourning and they felt it belonged alongside Gardner Dozois' last story, "Homecoming," which is about the death of someone who isn't exactly a wizard but... well, I'm not going to spoil the story for you.

Given that between the time he sold the story to F&SF and the current issue, Gardner died, it's hard not to read this story as his farewell to us all. Placing it at the end of the issue was a graceful tribute to a man who always thought of F&SF as the single best SF magazine that wasn't edited by himself.

As for my story, here's what I wrote about it, as it was used in the introduction:

This work is in a long tradition of ghost stories where the author identifies himself as the protagonist and swears that every word is true. However, it breaks with the tradition in one way; every word of it is true. When my wife, Marianne Porter, read it for the first time, she said, "This is an essay." Which is factually correct, but I wrote it as if it were fiction. Only the names of the people involved were changed, for reasons which should be obvious.

The magazine arrived yesterday and so far I've only read two stories--Gardner's and mine. But it has a stellar lineup and I'm confident that I'll enjoy every word of it.

And for those who like a peek behind the curtain...

During the process of selling the story, signing the contract, writing things to be used in the intro, proofing the galleys, etc., etc., it was revealed to me that my story might or might not make it into the 70th anniversary issue. In retrospect, I got something close to a running commentary: "The kid is barreling toward first. The outfielder scoops up the ball and throws! It's going to be close.! The kid slides! The first baseman has the ball and is reaching down for the tag! Aaaaand...."

Gordon showed me a copy of the issue at the Dublin Worldcon and apologized for "jerking me around." But the apology was unnecessary. I already had a story placed in one of F&SF's anniversary issues. Which is like winning a Hugo: Devoutly to be desired, but after the first one, the pressure is off. It's nice to win another award and it's very happy-making to be in another anniversary issue. But if I hadn't made it in, my heart wouldn't have been broken.

So, really, given the situation, I was the ideal person to be jerked around.

I'll be writing more about "Ghost Ships" elsewhere, sometime in the near future and when I do, I'll let you know where you can find it. I'm particularly proud of this story because it took enormous amounts of craft to write it and to make it work. And it says something. That's always desirable in fiction.


Sunday, August 18, 2019

A Linguistic Footnote


I was having dinner with The Fabulous Pat Cadigan last night (as well as other good friends) when Pat, reminiscing, almost settled a small mystery I've been wondering about for over 35 years: the origins of the word cyberpunk.

Gardner Dozois, who was often credited with inventing the word because he was the first to apply it to people like William Gibson in print (and who, when told another person claimed precedence, "Let him have the credit; it never did me any good!") always said that he'd first heard it in conversation. From Pat Cadigan, he thought.  

So, as I said reminiscing, Pat told me that in 1979, she was either listening to the radio or watching TV (the restaurant was noisy), when Cars by Gary Numan came on. After the song, the DJ-or-VJ said, "Well, there's some cyberpunk for you."

Not long after, Pat carried the word into SF on foot... and the rest is rather well-documented.

The actual creator of the word may never be known. Unless it was on TV and somebody chances to stumble across the tape. And even then, who knows who the music jock himself got it from?

Language is a mysterious thing and endlessly wallowable-in.

Above: Pat, mugging for the camera in Helsinki.


Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Iron Dragon's Daughter & the Dublin Worldcon


The Dublin Worldcon begins today! So I'll be busy all weekend.

Meanwhile, there is a flash sale of The Iron Dragon's Daughter as a Kindle Daily Deal TODAY ONLY at The ebook will be downpriced to $1.99.

So if you're an ebook reader and curious about the first book in the Iron Dragon trilogy, this is a good opportunity.

But you'll have to act fast.

Meanwhile, I've got people to schmooze and Smithwick's to drink.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Bones of the Earth Ebook Sale!


I leave for Ireland on Sunday! (But--a friendly note to criminal opportunists, the house will be occupied by My Son the Black Belt) So I'll be spending the day running around and doing things that have to be done.

While I'm away, I'll do my best to keep you posted. Brace yourselves for a flood of photos of people having way too much fun in one of the most beautiful countries on the planet.

Meanwhile, I got an email from Open Road Media. As follows:

I am pleased to let you know that Bones of the Earth will be featured in BookBub, a daily ebook deals newsletter with millions of subscribers, on 8/10/2019. The ebook will be downpriced to 1.99 across all US retailers on that day, and Open Road will promote the feature via social media.

You can subscribe to BookBub here so that you'll get the direct link to the deal on the day that it appears in the newsletter.

So if you're an ebook reader and love dinosaurs (as who doesn't?) and don't already have my dinosaurs-and-time-travel novel, this is a good deal.

But, if I read this correctly, it's a one-day-only good deal. So be prepared to pounce!


Tuesday, August 6, 2019

A Horror Movie for Trees


After posting a new picture from the Image Book every day (almost) for over three months, I have reverted to my old, slovenly ways--promising three posts a week and immediately being a day late with Monday's.

The problem is that I'm feverishly working to have a promised story finished, polished, and delivered before flying to Ireland. Which means writing it over and over and over again. There up above is my wastebasket, en route to the recycling bin.

I buy paper by the case, and frequently. When trees go to horror movies, they see my office. "Don't go in!" they shriek at the innocent young fir on the screen. "Swanwick needs paper!!!"

There's got to be an easier way to write. But I haven't found it yet.


Friday, August 2, 2019

The Iron Dragon Notebooks


If there is a theme to this blog--and who knows?--it would be that whenever I'm busiest and most productive, I have the least to say. Conversely, when I have announcements galore, I'm rarely getting much of anything done.

Right now, because I am waist-deep in any number of very interesting projects that I cannot yet talk about, I have almost nothing to say. So I thought I'd share a few pages from the Iron Dragon Notebooks, compiled as I was writing The Iron Dragon's Mother, to keep my notes and thoughts in one easy-to-find place.

Don't worry, I'm not going to share every page of them, the way I did with the Image Book. But when  it's a question of dipping into them or letting the blog lie too long fallow...

Here's an interior page with a picture of Caitlin's half-brother Fingolfinrhod that I think really captures him. As the text in the bottom left corner puts it:

Long, tall, regally thin
A pale flame
Fey in the truest sense
Knowing but kind

The pages are largely taken up with the attempt to find a name for the character. Apparently he came close to being named Echthelion, hard thought that is to imagine.

At this point, Caitlin was still named Charlotte.

Finally, here's the inside cover of Book I.As you can see, I was originally thinking of calling it Mother of Dragons. The success of a Certain Show on HBO put the kibosh on that.

It's probably just as well. The Iron Dragon's Mother seems to be the title the book was meant to have.


Thursday, August 1, 2019

A Wondrous Strange World


Look what popped up today... a rave review not for The Iron Dragon's Mother, but for The Dragons of Babel, the second book in my accidental fantasy trilogy.

The reviewer (or, almost, essayist) is Jonathan Thornton and the review appears at The Fantasy Hive. I won't say a lot about it because a positive review can be almost as entertaining as a blood-letter, if the reviewer is knowledgeable enough. So you should consider reading it.

The piece does identify the insight that is central to all three books (The Iron Dragon's Daughter being the other): That this is a wondrous strange world we live in, and though we go to fantasy to escape into worlds unlike our own, it is the duty of fantasy to at some point reconnect with reality and comment upon it.

More than that I will not say, because I'm getting perilously close to humblebragging here, and I am a modest man.

You can find the review here.