Tuesday, August 25, 2020

City Under the Stars is Born!!!


Today is the publication date for City Under the Stars, my most recent and Gardner Dozois' last novel.

Everybody knows Gardner's work as an editor. Fewer know what a fine writer he was. If you're among those who know his fiction, you already want this book. If you're not... well, this is a good time to find out.

Here's how it starts:

It was high summer in Orange, in York, in the Human Domain of Earth. There was commerce in the town, crops in the field, beasts in the byre, bandits in the roads, thants and chimeras in the hills, and God in His Heaven—which was fifteen miles away, due east.

From where Hanson worked—on an open platform extending out from the side of the giant State Factory of Orange and nestling right up against the bare, rocky face of Industry Hill—it was possible to look east, out across the teeming squalor of Orange, and see the Wall of the City of God marching north-south across the horizon, making the horizon really: a radiant line drawn across the misty blue of distance, pink as a baby's thigh, pink as dawn. And to know that it stretched, in all its celestial arrogance, over two hundred miles to the north, and more than three hundred miles to the south, unbroken, cutting three-quarters of the Human Domain off from the sea—the City of God, perfect and inviolable, with a completeness that was too much for man. That was what Hanson must face every day when he came to work and stood in the sun and in his human sweat with his little shovel. That terrible, alien beauty, indifferent to mortality, forever at his back, a head's turn away, as he worked, as he grew old. And knowing that God and all the angels were in there, pure and incomprehensible as fire, maybe watching him right now, looking down over the Edge of the Wall and into the finite world: a huge watery eye, tall as the sky.

 But no one ever thought much about God on shift, not for long…

Which is one lovely stick of prose. I can say that because every word of the opening section was written by Gardner. There was nobody who ever wrote quite like him.

And to provide a little context . . .

City Under the Stars took almost fifty years from first inception to publication. I wrote an essay, included with the novel as an afterword, laying out the whole grand saga. Here's a small fraction of it:

At the end of a visit to his new Society Hill apartment—a far cry from the Quince Street digs, with a fireplace and a Jacuzzi tub—Gardner saw me to the front stoop and then said, “Wait a second.” He went inside and returned with a familiar cardboard box.
“I’m never going to write the Digger Novel,” he said. “So you might as well take it and see if you can turn it into a novella.”
I took the box from him. “I know exactly how to do this,” I lied. “I’m not going to tell you now because I want it to be a surprise!” (Remember, I’d long ago given up on Gardner ever finishing it on his own.) I clutched the box to my chest and began to edge away, afraid that Gardner would come to his senses and snatch it back.
“It’s clear to me this isn’t going anywhere,” he said unhappily. “But maybe you can make something of it.”
I was down to the sidewalk. “Wait until you see what I have in mind! You’ll love it!”
Gardner wasn’t listening. In his heart of hearts, he was mourning the necessity to hand over the child of his imagination to me. “But I’ll tell you what,” he said. “Make the conclusion open-ended. Just in case we decide to make a novel of it.”
 “You must be reading my mind!” I chirped. 
Miraculously, in that instant, even as I was saying those words, the solution entered my mind…

And because it can never be said too often . . .

Gardner Dozois could be a very dark writer indeed. People used to marvel at the contrast between the jolly fun-loving man they knew and the stories he wrote. And much of this novel adheres to that pattern. Three-quarters of the way through reading it, Marianne said to me, "This doesn't end well, does it?"

"No, no! It has a happy ending," I told her.

"Oh, sure. One of your happy endings."

"A happy ending! For everybody!" I insisted. "And it was Gardner who came up with it."

Which is true. Gardner had been talking about the ending of the novel for decades. It was one of the reasons I was so anxious to finish the novel after he died. I wanted everybody to know that he had a happy ending in him. I wanted everybody to know that he went out on a positive note.

Read the book. You'll see.


Monday, August 24, 2020

How To Write A Submission Letter


Going through a heap of old papers in the printer room, I ran across my submission letter for "A Small Room in Koboldtown," which I sent to Sheila Williams at Asimov's Science Fiction. 

The guidelines for submission letters all agree that they should be short, interesting, and to the point. Mine, I believe is exemplary on all three counts. So I present it to you as a model:

Dear Sheila,

No, don't say a word. You don't need to. Among my many, many other talents, I'm a precognitive telepath. So, to spare you some trouble, I've made a transcript of your future thoughts as you read hte attached story, "A Small Room in Koboldtown." To wit:

Oh Gawd, it's another urban elf story! The readers are going to rise up with pitchforks and torches. I keep telling Michael that we want hard science fiction! With spaceships!! But he... What's this? It'a a locked-room mystery? Has Michael gone completely bonkers? I can't believe that he would do this to... Actually, it's not bad. It's pretty good. In fact, it's terrific. I think I'm going to... going to... buy it. But I refuse to  be gracious about it. I'm going to write him a terse, clipped acceptance letter.

So there you are! Look at all the time I've saved you! Inferior writers wouldn't do that. But I refrain from pointing out how wonderful of me it was. My great modesty will not permit it.

Magnaminously yours,

And that's how it's done by the pros. Go thou, young gonnabe writer, and do thou likewise!


Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Bradbury Panel--Tonight!!


Imagine you were given the opportunity to read something by Ray Bradbury. Anything from Ray Bradbury? What would you choose?

That's the impossible decision I had to make when I agreed to be a part of Ray Bradbury and the Future of Speculative Fiction. Tonight, starting at 6:30 p.m. You'll have to listen live if you want to know what I opted for, because the Enoch Pratt Free Library got permission for the readings but not to have them posted permanently.

After the readings there will be a discussion (far-ranging, I hope) of Bradbury and his work. Justina Ireland, Sam Weller, David Wright, Sarah Pinsker and I are all great enthusiasts on this matter. So it should be fun.

See you there!

Info on how to log in here.


Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Dispatches from the Republic of Books


Look what came in the mail today! Two items, very different from each other, but both citizens of the Republic of Books.

To the left is Devil's Ways, an anthology of stories about You-Know-Who, edited by Anna Kashina and  J. M. Sidorova. From Dragonwell Publishing.

Would it surprise you to know that I have a story in here? I do. It's "Of Finest Scarlet Was Her Gown,"and I'm rather proud of it.

Here are the other stories:

Nzembe by Perephone D'Shaun

Death and the Lady by Ben Loory

Fire in His Eyes, Blood on His Teeth by R. S. A. Garcia

A Diorama of the Infernal Regions or the Devil's Ninth Question by Andy Duncan

One of Our Angels is Missing by Curtis C. Chin

The Hag by Darrell Schweitzer

Frayed Tapestry by Imogen Howson

Where is Evil by Edwina Harvey

Unto the Daughters by Nancy Kress

The Fisherman... A Tashlich Legend by Avram Davidson

Escape Goat by J. M. Sidorova

Those stories I've read (most of them) I can recommend wholeheartedly. I'm looking forward to reading this others over the next day or two.

Incidentally, Publishers Weekly reviewed the anthology and said, "Readers are in for a devilish treat. Which is a little cutesy but a great blurb and a warm endorsement.

And . . .

To the right is The Private Life of Books by Henry Wessells, richly illustrated with photographs by Paul Sch├╝tze. (I should mention that while my photo of the cover is washed out and bland, the real thing is dark and detailed.)

This is a much smaller re-issue in palm-sized paperback of an earlier hardcover that sells for $150. The Temporary Culture website defines it as "Six poems by Henry Wessells on reading, memory, books, and the second law of thermodynamics."

It really is a lovely thing.

You can get information about this iteration of the book f(or even buy it, or a mere $17.50)  here. Or go to their website here and wander around.


Monday, August 17, 2020

Free! Dragons! Ten! Free!


Jonathan Strahan and HarperCollins are doing a giveaway for The Book of Dragons over the next two weeks. They'll be giving away ten copies of the book to people chosen at random.

What's the catch? Only minor ones. It's limited to U. S. residents only and you have to be at least 18 years old.

You can enter by going here and filling out the form. 

This is a very cool book (Why didn't it exist when I was 18?!) and I have a nifty story in it, "Dragon Slayer." Along with some thirty other stories and poems by other writers. 

(The fine print says that by giving them your email address, you agree to receive promotional email from HarperCollins. But there are worse fates. Also, you can opt out by just clicking the link at the bottom of one, so no harm done.)

And while you're thinking of book promotions . . .

The e-book of Ellen Datlow's classic anthology Lethal Kisses ("stories of dark desire and wicked payback" says the publicity) is on sale today only for $1.99.

This is a splendid anthology full of great stories. Including one very very very dark collaboration by me and Jack Dann. The story is called "Ships" and it's a good old-fashioned tale of an assault upon Heaven. Recommended for all fans of fiction about wooden ships.

You can find the announcement with links to places where it can be bought here.

And have you noticed . . .?

Ellen appears to be in that phase of her career where her reputation is transitioning from "multiple-Award winning" to "legendary."

What makes this particularly interesting is that the legendary Ellen Datlow continues to win awards. Most recently, she won the Locus Award for Best Editor.  Normally, once you've been promoted to legendary, they won't let you anywhere near the awards. But Ellen is the exception. Or maybe the standard?

Anyway, she rocks!


Friday, August 14, 2020

Virtual Bradbury Panel "at" the Enoch Pratt!


In this era  ofsheltering-in-place, people need conventions, panels, intellectual distractions and, above all, celebrations of Ray Bradbury! This is, after all, the great fantasist's centenary year.

So the Enoch Pratt Free Library is hosting and posting an online event, Ray Bradbury and the Future of Speculative Fiction. As the graphic above says, this Wednesday, August 19 at 6:30 p.m.

It begins with short readings from Bradbury's work  by:

Justina Ireland

Michael Swanwick

Sam Weller

and David Wright

Followed by a panel discussion with all four of us, moderated by Sarah Pinsker.

It ought to be a lot of fun and, of course, it's free.

You can find details at the library website here or their Facebook account here.


Friday, August 7, 2020

The Brilliance of Gardner Dozois (and Other Topics)


The new issue of Clarkesworld has an interview with me, capably conducted by Arley Sorg. In it, I talk about the brilliance of the late Gardner Dozois, our collaborative novel City Under the Stars, how to stay relevant as a writer, and why there should be a sign by the womb-door reading  HEROES ONLY.

Among many other topics.

You can find the interview here.

And because you're wondering . . .

It bears repeating that Dragonstairs Press is Marianne Porter's micropress and not mine. She is the sole founder, operator, editor and publisher of the Dragonstairs empire. I'm only the content provider.

That said, you're probably wondering how the rollout of Swan/Wolfe, Marianne's latest chapbook, the lightly-edited transcript of my interview on the ReReading Wolfe podcast went.

Not so badly. Marianne made 100 copies of the the signed-and-numbered, hand-stitched, and beautifully-made chapbook, of which 76 were available for sale. Every one sold by the end of the day.

Of course, it was a Gene Wolfe related item, which means that a year from now it will be fabulously expensive--assuming you can find someone who wants to part with it. But Marianne is already at work on her next project, which I'm absolutely sure is going to sell out in less than an hour.

But it's still too early in the process to drop hints. For now, mum's the word.


Wednesday, August 5, 2020



Marianne Porter has announced another Dragonstairs Press chapbook. It goes on sale tomorrow, Thursday, August 6 at noon EDT.

Swan/Wolfe is my meditation on the place Gene Wolfe in modern science fiction and fantasy.  It came about because I was interviewed on James Wynn's and Craig Brewer's ReReading Wolfe podcast. (Normally, they do a chapter-by-chapter close reading of Gene's The Book of the New Sun quatrology, but from time to time they interview people who knew Gene and/or have interesting things to say about his work.)

I was chatting about the experience on social media afterward, when author and collector Lawrence Person suggested that a transcript would make an excellent Dragonstairs chapbook. Having done transcripts on occasion (including a book-length interview published as Being Gardner Dozois), I was not crazy about the thought of doing all that work. But Craig Brewer heroically volunteered to type out a transcript. Marianne and I consulted and told him to leave out the parts of the interview that didn't deal with Gene (I was given a lot of freedom to talk about myself), and the result is a nice, tightly-focused look at my feelings toward and admiration of Wolfe.)  I edited the results lightly to amplify and clarify my thoughts.

Out of all this, Marianne created another lovingly-crafted chapbook.  Hand-stitched, 6”x9”, and 10 pages long. Numbered and signed by the interviewee (me), and produced in an edition of 100, of which 76 will be available for purchase.

You can buy a copy on www.dragonstairs.com. But not before tomorrow noon.

And if you're just curious about what I said, you can listen to the podcast here.

Above: Looks nice, dunnit? Cover by Philadelphia artist Susan McAninley.