Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Redux: Bruce Sterling's Pirate Utopia - The Illustrations

Pirate UtopiaIn my previous blog post on Bruce Sterling's new novella, Pirate Utopia, I mentioned that the cover artist was John Coulthart, and that he had also written a 1,000-plus-word essay, "Reconstructing the Future: A Note on Design," to be included in the book.

What I didn't mention at the time is that John is also providing interior illustrations for the various sections of the novel. I didn't mention this because I didn't have access to any of the illos, then.

But I do now....

In that blog post I also stated that the story opens in Occupied Fiume, in January 1920: Lorenzo Secondari, the Pirate Engineer, and his group of Croatian pirates are off to the cinema to celebrate their new and improved torpedo, recently built at his Torpedo Factory. Here's the illustration for Section One: The Pirate Cinema:

And here's the illustration for the Pirate Utopia title page:

And lastly, here's the illustration for Section Two: The Ace of Hearts, who was a charismatic combat air ace and renowned expert in aerial reconnaissance (see "Cast of Characters" in my previous blog post):

So that's just a wee sampling of the interior illustrations by John Coulthart. Want to see the rest? Pirate Utopia will be published in November and is now available for pre-order direct from the publisher, Tachyon Publications, or Amazon, or your preferred bookseller.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Editing in Process: Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling

Pirate Utopia
Cover Art by John Coulthart
Over the past fifteen years, I've worked on a few projects with author Bruce Sterling. The earliest project that comes to mind is Paul Di Filippo's short story collection, Strange Trades, which I acquired and edited for Golden Gryphon Press in 2001. Bruce wrote the introduction to this quirky collection of stories in which Paul reconstructs our (mis)conceptions about what it means to work for a living. Another project? In January 2009 I emailed Bruce for permission to use his story "Swarm," one of his Shaper/Mechanist stories, in my Alien Contact anthology. More than two years passed before the anthology was finally published, but published it was.[1]

Then in the fall of 2014 (September 18, 2014, to be exact), when I was on the hunt (and still am!)[2] for a new novella for Tachyon Publications, I immediately thought of contacting Bruce Sterling. Of course, to be fair, not only is Bruce one of my fave authors, but Tachyon publisher Jacob Weisman had previously informed me that he was a huge fan of Bruce's writing as well, particularly Bruce's short stories. Over email, Bruce and I discussed word length, fees, and such, and that was that. About ten months later, on July 14, 2015, I followed up with another email to Bruce. By this point, two of Tachyon's recent novellas on which I had worked had won awards: Nancy Kress's Yesterday's Kin had won the Nebula Award, and We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory had won the Shirley Jackson Award. If one is trying to promote a publisher's novella program, it always helps to have had previous novellas win awards.[3]

Bruce responded the very next day, stating that he just happened to have a novella available -- Pirate Utopia: "a 25,000 word dieselpunk alternate history yarn set in Italy in 1919." (The story actually takes place in 1920.) And, as "they" say, the rest is history, or, at least, alternate history.

About Pirate Utopia: Following the Great War, Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States and tyrant of the League of Nations, gave Fiume away to Yugoslavia, which resulted in the Fiume rebellion and the rise of the Regency of Carnaro. The story opens in Occupied Fiume, in January 1920: Lorenzo Secondari, the Pirate Engineer, and his group of Croatian pirates are off to the cinema to celebrate their new and improved torpedo, recently built at his Torpedo Factory. Adventures ensue...including an eventual meeting with a team of American Secret Service Agents.

Bruce and I put together a rather detailed "Cast of Characters." I've already introduced Lorenzo Secondari; here are a few others (in abbreviated form):
Blanka Piffer: The Pirate Engineer's business manager, interpreter, and purchasing agent; a Fiume native and Communist union leader.

The Prophet [Gabriele D'Annunzio]: the military dictator of Fiume, its guiding light and great orator; leader of the "Desperates."

The Constitutionalist [Alceste de Ambris]: Carnaro’s greatest political theorist.

The Ace of Hearts [Guido Keller]: The Prophet's right-hand man; a charismatic combat air ace and renowned expert in aerial reconnaissance.

The Art Witch [Luisa Casati]: a Milanese millionairesse, patroness of the arts, and occultist, who entertained The Prophet.

Giulio Ulivi: a young visionary Italian radio engineer, who discovered a new form of radiation which he named the "F-Ray."

Other "characters" include Benito Mussolini, Guglielmo Marconi, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Harry Houdini, Howard Lovecraft, and Robert "Bob" Ervin Howard. But you'll have to wait for the book to learn the roles these individuals play in the story. And remember, this is an alternate history story.

The cover art for Pirate Utopia is brought to you by the mighty hand of John Coulthart. Evidently the period of time in which this story takes place is of special interest to John, and in fact he includes a very enlightening 1,000-plus-word essay entitled "Reconstructing the Future: A Note on Design." About the cover art, John writes:
...there's a nod to Soviet Constructivism on the cover, with colours, letterforms, aircraft formation, and a flag-waving crowd that suggest the propaganda posters of the period. If this seems at odds with the Futurism within, consider it a hijacking (or pirating) of the graphics of a rival ideology...just as Secondari pirates (or hijacks) the Lancia-Ansaldo IZM from the unfortunate Communists. That armoured car is accurately depicted, incidentally, as are the Caproni bombers on the cover and inside the book....

Pirate Utopia will be published in November and is now available for pre-order direct from the publisher, Tachyon Publications, Amazon, or your preferred bookseller.


[1] My anthology Alien Contact was published in the fall of 2011 and contains 26 stories, and 165,000 words, of some of the best alien contact stories published in the past 30 or so years (from when the book itself was published). Here's my dedicated Alien Contact page -- start with "Beginnings..."

[2] In addition to Bruce Sterling, I contacted a handful of other authors to let them know I was acquiring original novellas for Tachyon Publications. It never ceases to amaze me when authors do not have the professional courtesy to even respond to such a query from an acquiring editor. I guess these writers have tons of editors breaking down their door to buy their stories. It must be nice. Just tell me you're not interested, or you're too busy, or whatever. You never know when you may have to work with me in the future.

[3] The Nebula Award win and the Shirley Jackson Award win for Nancy Kress and Daryl Gregory, respectively, were only the two most recent wins for Tachyon Publications -- and the two most recent novellas that I had worked on. In 2013, Nancy Kress's After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall won the Nebula Award, and was also a finalist for the Hugo Award. And Brandon Sanderson's The Emperor's Soul won that very same Hugo Award.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Hugo Award and Locus Award Finalist: Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

Slow BulletsI was fortunate to have worked on Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds -- I acquired and edited the novella for Tachyon Publications -- so I am quite pleased to be able to announce that Slow Bullets is now a finalist for both the Hugo Award and the Locus Award.

The winners of the Locus Awards will be announced during the Locus Awards Weekend in Seattle, WA, June 24-26, 2016; Connie Willis will MC the awards ceremony. Here is the complete list of the Locus Award finalists, including details on the awards weekend.

The 2016 Hugo Awards will be presented on the evening of Saturday, August 20, during a ceremony at MidAmeriCon II, the 74th World Science Fiction Convention, in Kansas City, MO. Here is the complete list of the Hugo Award finalists, including voting numbers.

I'd like to quote a paragraph from my June 8, 2015, blog post:
If you are unfamiliar with the various works of author Alastair Reynolds, then Slow Bullets would be the perfect starting point. If you read Alastair Reynolds already, preferring his longer novels and series work -- still, don't deny yourself the pleasure of reading this story, as Slow Bullets has more ideas than some novels that are twice its length.
And to further that aim (and to help promote the novella), here are my previous blog posts, in order of publication, on Slow Bullets:
February 9, 2015: Editing in Process...Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

May 29, 2015: Now Shipping: Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds [includes quotes from Michael Bishop and Michael Swanwick]

June 1, 2015: Alastair Reynolds on the Genesis of his story Slow Bullets

June 8, 2015: "The pace of the novella is never less than breakneck": a review of Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds [from Green Man Review]

July 21, 2015: "Some readers may find themselves thrown off balance by the juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness—" [from the Los Angeles Review of Books]

October 21, 2015: Book Received: Slow Bullets Limited Edition by Alastair Reynolds [includes the Strange Horizons review]

And if you haven't gotten the hint yet, you should consider purchasing a copy of Slow Bullets, which is available from Amazon, or from any other fave bookseller.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Book Received: Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

New Central Station
Cover art by Sarah Anne Langton
I worked on Lavie Tidhar's Central Station the latter part of last year, which you can read about in my November 30, 2015, blog post.

Since then, the final cover art has been revealed, as shown on the left.

I included a couple excerpts from the book itself in that November 30 blog post; and you can access the publisher's website -- Tachyon Publications -- to read the starred Publishers Weekly review and the starred Library Journal review.

What I want to include here this time around is some thoughts on the book from the author himself, from Lavie Tidhar's own blog post on July 2, 2015, announcing the sale of Central Station to Tachyon Publications:
....In a way, [Central Station] both represents everything I have to say about the shape of science fiction – and a large part of it is a sort of dialogue with older (mostly, admittedly, quite obscure) SF – and a way of talking about the present. It is set in the old central bus station area in south Tel Aviv, currently home to a quarter of a million poor economic migrants from Asia, and African refugees, and I wanted to explore that area through the lens of science fiction (one of the weird things I found recently is that the fictional sort of "federal" political vision of Israel/Palestine I have in the book is now being touted as a real solution by a group of political activists). My other ambition was to write a book which was mostly about character interaction: about extended families, about relationships, in which the "shiny" science fiction future serves as a sort of background rather than taking centre stage. My other inspiration was that I always wanted to write a novel in short stories. Science fiction has a long tradition of doing this – from The Martian Chronicles to Lord of Light – but my inspiration was also partly V. S. Naipaul's Miguel Street.
You can read the full blog post, including the Comments section, on the author's website. Central Station is now available from Amazon or your favorite bookseller.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Redux: Old Records Never Die By Eric Spitznagel

Old Records Never Die: One Man's Quest for His Vinyl and His PastIn my April 20, 2016, blog post I wrote that I had received a copy of Eric Spitznagel's memoir Old Records Never Die -- and I included an excerpt from the book, and a link to the YouTube trailer (which features singer, songwriter, and producer Jeff Tweedy, the book's introducer).

Because I read books and manuscripts for a living, I often find opportunities for personal reading few and far between; I'm not an individual who can read multiple books concurrently, and I am envious of those who can. So I typically find time for personal reading in the late evening, before turning out the light for bed. Thus reading a personal book to completion (which doesn't always happen) can often take days, if not weeks, depending on the size of the book. But, I am nearing the final chapters of Spitznagel's Old Records Never Die, and I came upon another brief excerpt that I would like to share with you.

I assume most readers come to this blog because of the work I do with writers, publishers, and their books. However, if you also read the music posts -- or you now access this blog strictly for the music-related content -- please do let me know in the Comments section below. I really would like to know.

And even though this excerpt is strictly about the music-listening experience, it would also pertain to some degree to the discovery of new books, or new stories, particularly those by writers with whom we are not as yet familiar. Here's Eric Spitznagel:
Despite my initial misgivings, I listened to [the record] again. I listened to it at every opportunity. Because that's what you do when you're in your twenties. You give new music a fighting chance. Because you know something might not click until the fourth or fifteenth or even fifty-second listen. That's how long it takes sometimes. You have to let music live with you for a while. You have to listen to it when you're not really listening to it. It has to sneak up on you when you're doing something else, or it finally starts to trust you. Because music is alive, and it's as wary of you as you are of it.

The author, of course, is speaking of his past, and his discovery of music; but I have to hope that we all continue to discover new music -- and new books and new authors -- in our thirties, and forties, and to infinity and beyond.

Old Records Never Die: One Man's Quest for His Vinyl and His Past by Eric Spitznagel is available from Amazon at the link, or from any other bookseller you may prefer.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Prince (June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016)

In Memory

Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood, Dhani Harrison, and Prince
perform "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
at the 2004 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductions.

You must watch until the very end: Prince and his guitar....

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Book Received: Old Records Never Die by Eric Spitznagel

Old Records Never Die: One Man's Quest for His Vinyl and His PastA little less than a year ago I got my turntable and record collection out of storage, had the turntable serviced, and have been playing records since. I've even added a few new titles to the collection.[1]

However, as I went through my records, cleaning them (using the Spin-Clean Record Washer System) and then cataloging them via discogs.com, I discovered, much to my dismay, that dozens of titles were simply missing. My wife said that maybe, in my misguided youth, I sold the records for cash and simply forgot that I had done so. But I ask you: Who sells an original pressing of Led Zeppelin II, or Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, or Zappa's Ruben and the Jets? Hmmm? Who, I ask you?

Somewhen, probably while I was traveling (I had hitchhiked across the United States in my youth), and/or attending college (UCLA, UMass/Amherst, Sonoma State, UofO/Eugene, and back to Sonoma), and/or living in different areas and states, my record collection was pilfered. I won't name names, but I have a fairly good idea what may have happened to them, but I won't talk about my family here.

I've searched online for some of these albums, but most are too pricey and/or in too poor a shape, for the original pressing, or else all that I can find are reissues, and more reissues. During one of these searches, I came upon a review for a book entitled Old Records Never Die: One Man's Quest for His Vinyl and His Past by Eric Spitznagel. The premise is that Eric sold/traded in, over time, his massive record collection, mostly for spare change (gas money, fast food, movies, etc. -- his John Mellencamp Scarecrow album garnered a whole ten cents!). And now, in his 40s, he's feeling the loss -- and decides he's going to return to the scenes of the crimes and try to track down some of those records. Not replacement copies, mind you -- but the exact same copy of the record that he once owned! Crazy? I'll have to wait to see, as I'm only on chapter two.

The introduction is by Jeff Tweedy, singer, songwriter, and producer, whose bands include Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, and Wilco. Here's Tweedy's and Spitznagel's four-and-a-half-minute trailer for Old Records Never Die:

I don't know that I could search for the exact copies of my missing records, since I don't know where and when they went missing, but I'll still have to find a VG+ or better replacement copy of the original pressing at an affordable price. Forget the reissues; worse case I'll just settle for the CD. Here's an excerpt from Old Records Never Die:

As I browsed Reckless, there were albums that were entirely foreign to me, and albums that were instantly familiar. But the old friends, they'd all been given an upgrade. Fugazi's Repeater? A reissue. The Smiths' The Queen Is Dead? Another reissue. Anything by the Replacements? Only one Tim and two Pleased to Meet Mes, both reissues. Even the crown jewel of my collection, the record I bought solely because a guy with Elvis Costello glasses and a nose ring behind the counter at Record Swap recommended it, Screeching Weasel's How to Make Enemies and Irritate People, was only available as a reissue.

Everything was a deluxe edition, remastered on 180-gram vinyl, now with original artwork. The stickers that used to read FEATURING THE RADIO HIT . . . now promised things like INCLUDES A DOWNLOAD CODE AND HIGH-RES DIGITAL AUDIO EDITIONS IN 2.8 MHZ, 12 KHZ / 24-BIT, AND 96 KHZ / 24-BIT! I recognized the covers, but the albums felt different. It's not just that they were new; there was something too slick in the design, too high-definition in the packaging.

...[I] drifted toward the used section, which was actually labeled LAST-CHANCE SALOON.

This was more promising. Here were the records that might've come from my personal library. Not the titles, necessarily, but the general poor condition. They smelled like something that'd been left in the basement during a Chicago winter. If you grabbed them with too much force, the sleeves folded back. I spent almost a full minute cradling albums like Bryan Adams's Cuts Like a Knife and the Greg Kihn Band's Kihnspiracy, not because they were records I particularly cherished, but because they had the physical battle scars of music from my era. Also, it didn't hurt that the average price for a bargain bin record—fifty-nine cents on the high end—meant I could probably buy back my entire collection for about a hundred dollars.

I'm all for superior sound quality, but vinyl made after 2000 is fundamentally different from vinyl made in the twentieth century. It smells different, it feels different. The vinyl copy of the Pixies' Doolittle I purchased at Reckless in 1990 is only tangentially related to the reissue vinyl copy, ticket price $19.99, currently for sale at Reckless. I don't give a shit about rare test pressings. Or when new albums come with free download coupons. Or colored vinyl. Or goddamn picture discs. I want the records I recognize. The records that feel like a part of my double helix.

You can read more about this book on the author's website: recordsneverdie.com. In fact, the website has a special section, Lost Found, where people can post photos of the records they have found, that were all marked up by the original owner, along with the original owner's name, if it was written on the album. Check it out.



[1] As I wrote in my December 15, 2015, blog post entitled "And Now for Something Completely Different: Vinyl," I begrudgingly gave up on buying LPs when the recording industry moved, in earnest, toward the CD. Finally, on July 13, 1990, I broke down and purchased a CD player and my first stack of CDs. I still have my CD library and, in fact, many of the LPs I'm missing are in my CD collection, or bits and pieces of those LPs are included in box sets. But vinyl...vinyl is the true love of music listening.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Editing in Process: What Dreams Shadows Cast by Barbara J. Webb

What Dreams Shadows CastThis blog post has been in "draft" for quite a number of weeks... I didn't want to post my editorial work on this self-published novel until I had access to the final cover art. And then I learned that the author was going to be part of a "story bundle" of fantasy novels, and I wanted to share that with readers as well....

A bit more than two years ago, in my January 12, 2014, blog post, I wrote of my work on Barbara J. Webb's self-published novel City of Burning Shadows, book one in her Apocrypha: The Dying World Series.

City of Burning ShadowsEarlier this year, City of Burning Shadows was selected, among hundreds of entries, as one of the ten best self-published fantasy novels. Those ten novels are now part of a story bundle, which I urge you to take advantage of if ebooks are your preferred format. The ebooks are all DRM free and can be read on pretty much any computer, laptop, tablet, or phone. Note: the story bundle ends on May 5 -- so act now before you forget and time has run out. You can read more on the "self-published fantasy blog-off" that yielded these ten fantasy novels in my December 29, 2015, blog post. And here's a direct link to the story bundle details and ordering: SPFBO Story Bundle.

But let's get back to the current book at hand: What Dreams Shadows Cast, the second book in Apocrypha: The Dying World Series.

In book two, author Barbara J. Webb continues the tale of Ash Drake, former priest of Kaifail, and currently an employee of Price & Breckenridge, Legal and Investigative Services. Events in book one take place after the Abandon, when all the gods departed the land, never to be heard from again. Our protagonist, along with his fellow team members, have saved their city, Miroc, from devastation. And now, in book two, the city is quiet...too quiet....
Amelia [Price] was at her desk, staring at her computer screen, a frown on her beautiful face. In her perfectly tailored suit, with her perfectly styled hair, and perfectly manicured nails, no one could guess the truth. No one would ever see the creature that now lived inside her skin.

I waited in the doorway. She knew I was there. This new Amelia was aware of everything around her every moment. Nothing escaped her notice. But that didn't mean she was going to allow me to interrupt whatever thought-process she was working through.

"What do you need, Ash?" she finally asked. The irritation in her voice was one hundred percent Amelia. Her own mother wouldn't know that she'd changed. Some days—most of them—I wished that I didn't.

"We've finished with the train tunnels," I said from the doorway. "Nothing's sneaking up on us from below the city. I think it's time to redirect our attention. Iris has been telling me about an influx of refugees. A lot of people coming in, and also a lot of people going out."

That got Amelia's attention. We were starved for news from the outside. And she wouldn't have missed the most obvious question about the people who were leaving—where would they go? She looked up, tapping her fingers on the desk in the steady rhythm that had always meant Amelia thinking.

Some days I could almost forget that it was Syed moving those fingers, looking at me through Amelia's eyes. That it was Syed's mind and Syed's decisions now guiding Price & Breckenridge. For six months I'd been braced for some dramatic moment, some drastic change that had never happened. As far as I could tell, Syed had done nothing that Amelia wouldn't have done, had made no decision Amelia wouldn't have made. He lived in her body with the same perfect mimicry I'd seen the rest of his people capable of.

It was creepy. It was wrong. But it was a lesser evil, compared to everything else that had gone wrong in the world. And the truth was, we needed him. And he needed us. Which led to this awkward state of truce and a thin layer of pretense and no one was all the way happy with any of it.

Full wrap-around cover art for What Dreams Shadows Cast

Plots within plots, conspiracies, gangs, battles, tech-magic, giant spiders, and beings thousands of years old [read: Syed] -- the Apocrypha series has it all. But don't forget to check out the story bundle, which expires on May 5. And while you're at it, you may as well snag volume two: What Dreams Shadows Cast ebook, from either Amazon or iTunes.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Jeffrey Ford's The Empire of Ice Cream Ebook Now $1.99 [ENDED]

Ver3-EmpireThis is the original cover for Jeffrey Ford's second short story collection, The Empire of Ice Cream. Artwork by the inestimable John Picacio.

I acquired and edited this short story collection during my tenure with Golden Gryphon Press. I don't believe I ever blogged about this book -- it was published in early 2006 and I didn't begin my blog until early 2009. But, I did write a lengthy blog post reminiscing about the 2000 World Fantasy Convention in Corpus Christi, Texas, which is where I met Jeffrey Ford and John Picacio, so you might want to give that a read to see how Jeff's first short story collection, The Fantasy Writer's Assistant and Other Stories, came to be.

In the meantime, if you don't own a physical copy of The Empire of Ice Cream and you do read ebooks, then get yourself over to Amazon.com, or B&N, or Google Play, or wherever you purchase your ebooks, and pick up the digital version of this wondrous book NOW, for only $1.99. I don't know how long this offer will last so don't hesitate. It's only a buck-99 and the title story (a Nebula Award winner) is worth that price alone. And then there's "Botch Town," a 40,000-word novella that won the World Fantasy Award.

Here's the ad copy from Amazon.com:

Magic is everywhere—
for those who know where to look

Few writers can extract as much enchantment from the mundane as award-winning author Jeffrey Ford. His talent for storytelling is readily evident in The Empire of Ice Cream, his collection of ordinary and extraordinary juxtapositions.

The bittersweet Nebula Award–winning title story introduces a composer with synesthesia who finds the sound—and woman—of his dreams through a cup of coffee. Then there are the fairies that inhabit sandcastles in the fleeting moments before the inevitable rise of the tide. Ford populates this charmed collection with stories taken from his own life as well, including "Botch Town," which finds him as a schoolboy, and "The Trentino Kid," which recalls his experience digging for clams.

Jeffery Ford can take the mundane, the everyday, and, with the skill of an adept, mold these into brilliantly realized visions, wondrous yet elusive.

"Ford's visions are elusive, tantalizing the reader with hidden implications yet raw with autobiographical pain. Ford's sentimental, exalted prose demands more than one reading."
The Washington Post Book World

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Courtney Schafer Wins the r/Fantasy Stabby Award

So, how cool is that engraved dagger?

Recently, author Courtney Schafer received the Reddit r/Fantasy "Best Self-Published/Independent Novel of 2015" Stabby Award for her novel The Labyrinth of Flame, book III in the Shattered Sigil trilogy.

I worked on The Labyrinth of Flame, which I wrote about in my November 10, 2015, blog post. And I also wrote a blog post this past January 5 when I received my print copy of the novel.

The Labyrinth of Flame was the product of a very successful Kickstarter campaign (284% funded!). If you missed out on the Kickstarter, you can now purchase both print and ebook editions of the novel from Amazon. And if you are unfamiliar with this trilogy, then you can also purchase print and/or ebook editions of both The Whitefire Crossing (book I) and The Tainted City (book II) as well.

Of course, you can always click on over to CourtneySchafer.com, where the author has sample chapters available for all three volumes for your reading pleasure. But you don't have to take my word for it on the quality of volume three, or the entire trilogy: just check out this award:

Thursday, March 24, 2016

At the beginning...

I get asked, quite often, how I got started as an editor -- but to tell that story (for another time), I have to start at the beginning....

I would have to blame two teachers as initially responsible for getting me into this mess: my seventh-grade English teacher, whose name, sadly, I have unfortunately forgotten (give me a break, it was 3,000 years miles away, in Pennsylvania, and many (many) years ago....), and my twelfth-grade Journalism teacher, Mrs. Doris L. (I'm using only the initial of her last name, to protect the guilty, of course....).

In seventh grade English we learned -- studied -- had hammered into our very being -- sentence diagramming: complex sentences, over and over and over again, such that I could diagram entire paragraphs in my sleep. This taught me to spot misplaced modifiers, incorrectly referenced pronouns, etc., etc. with the eye of a sniper siting through a scope. Unbeknownst to me at the time -- one doesn't think beyond the present moment when one is being hammered! -- she taught me the beauty, the rhythm, of an elegantly written complex sentence.

Mrs. L, on the other hand, was more of a facilitator, a mentor, but more on that shortly. One of my fellow staff members on the school newspaper was Mike W. He had the responsibility each issue to share with readers the goings-on at other high schools. So Mike traded copies of our school newspaper with dozens of other schools throughout the U.S. He came up with a name for his column: "The Lid's Off." You and I know, of course, the double meaning of that title, but not so the faculty of our high school at that time. When each issue of the school newspaper was published, we all got a bit of a high-school chuckle seeing that column title. Yes, I know, it's very sophomoric, but then again, we were all sophomores.... (Actually, we were seniors, but you get my point.)

For whatever reason, Mike W. quit high school about the halfway point and enlisted in the U.S. Navy. We weren't best friends, so I never learned his rationale for such a decision, just one day he was at school, and the next day he was gone, and Mrs. L. informed us of his actions.[1]

Once Mike was no longer on the newspaper staff, Mrs. L picked me to take over his column. I liked the name of the column, but the content was BORING. Imagine reading dozens of high school newspapers each week, and selecting the most exciting news to share with your fellow students. It was probably what drove Mike to enlist in the Navy! This school in Utah is hosting their annual spelling bee. And this school in North Dakota had to cancel their father-daughter event because white-out snow conditions resulted in road closures. Like I said, BORING.

So, I approached Mrs. L with a suggestion for a change in subject matter (but keeping the column title, of course!) -- content that would be of more interest to students given the current climate: a music review column. Thankfully she agreed, and I was issued official school press credentials.

And let me tell you, those credentials got me in free to so many concerts, and the occasional backstage pass, too -- and one-on-one interviews with many of the performers... I truly never minded having newspaper "homework" on evenings and weekends.

But I digress.... Mrs. L taught us that, because a newspaper has limited space, each word must count, each word must be critical to the content: there is no room for luxury. We edited our own writing, and then we edited each other's writing. After which, Mrs. L would review our work and show us what poor editors (and often writers) we really were.

The newspaper class, at least for me, was an escape from the reality of the rest of high school. Because I went to a lot of concerts in the evenings and during weekends, I often used my time in newspaper class to study and catch up on homework for other classes. I guess as long as I was working, regardless of what I was working on, Mrs. L never hassled me. I found her class a sanctuary.

At the end of my senior year, she signed my yearbook:
Martin -

You may have felt imprisoned in school this past year, but in reality you've been "growing" in a very visible, if gradual, manner. You are one of my most "memorable" students.

~ Mrs. L


1. All of which made no sense in the overall scheme of things because a few months later, I read a brief article in the newspaper (the Orange County Register), with the headline "Sailor Jumps Ship in Japan" -- about two column inches worth of text -- stating that one Mike W. from Anaheim, California, along with a fellow seaman, jumped ship in Japan and was currently AWOL. After that, I never heard, or read, anything further about Mike W. -- so Mike, if you're out there reading this, post a comment, will you?


I'm choosing to keep the name of my high school confidential as well. But if you do your homework, you can figure it out: Singer/songwriter Tim Buckley (who passed away in 1975) graduated from my high school, as did the co-writer on most of his songs, Larry Beckett; they were, in fact, classmates. Singer Gwen Stefani (with the band No Doubt, and currently a judge on The Voice) graduated from my high school as well. And lastly, bassist Jim Fielder also graduated from my high school. Jim played with the original Blood, Sweat & Tears; he also did stints with the Buffalo Springfield and the Mothers of Invention.

Speaking of which, the background music while I'm writing this post is Frank Zappa's You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore 12-CD box set (literally, a wooden box!).  Never could get enough of the song "My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama."

Friday, March 11, 2016

Forthcoming from Tachyon Publications in 2016: Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling

Now available for preorder at Amazon and other booksellers.

Pirate Utopia

(More on this novella once I begin my editing work.)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Up and Coming: Stories by the 2016 Campbell-Eligible Authors

Each year, as part of the Hugo Award voting process, readers and fans also vote for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

To be eligible for the Campbell Award, an author must have made his or her first professional sale within the previous two years.

If you want to read new, cutting edge, and possibly the next wave-of-the-future fiction, these are the people -- and stories -- to read.

And you can do that, now, and for free! Up and Coming is an anthology of stories from the 120 Campbell-eligible authors for this year's award. These authors have contributed 230 works of fiction totaling approximatly 1.1 million words. The anthology is available as a free download in both epub and mobi formats for your reading -- and voting (if you are a member of this year's WorldCon) -- pleasure.

On BoingBoing, author Cory Doctorow writes:
It's a very broad and deep survey of the next generation of SF/F writers. I won the Campbell in 2000; other winners since then include Seanan McGuire, Jay Lake, Naomi Novik, John Scalzi, Jo Walton, Elizabeth Bear, Mary Robinette Kowal, Lev Grossman, Mur Lafferty and many, many other exciting writers.

And from the Up and Coming website:
...These pieces all originally appeared in 2014, 2015, or 2016 from writers who are new professionals to the SFF field, and they represent a breathtaking range of work from the next generation of speculative storytelling.

All of these authors are eligible for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2016. We hope you'll use this anthology as a guide in nominating for that award as well as a way of exploring many vibrant new voices in the genre.

But let me remind you once again that these free downloads will only be available through March 31, 2016.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

IF Science Fiction Magazine: The Entire Run Now Available Online

Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress:
serialized Dec. '65 through Mar. '66
Courtesy of the Internet Archive, the entire run of IF magazine -- 176 issues from March 1952 through December 1974 -- is now avilable online.

Here's an excerpt from the magazine's Wikipedia entry:
[If] achieved its greatest success under editor Frederik Pohl, winning the Hugo Award for best professional magazine three years running from 1966 to 1968. If published many award-winning stories over its 22 years, including Robert A. Heinlein's novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, and Harlan Ellison's short story "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream." Several well-known writers sold their first story to If; the most successful was Larry Niven, whose story "The Coldest Place" appeared in the December 1964 issue.

If (no pun intended) you have a desire to read some Golden Age science fiction -- online and for free -- then the If archive is awaiting your reading pleasure.

[Thanks to io9 and boingboing for the link.]

Monday, February 29, 2016

Print Edition: The Labyrinth of the Flame by Courtney Schafer

The Labyrinth of Flame IIILet's see...I need to recap a few past blog posts on Courtney Schafer's Shattered Sigil Trilogy.

In my April 29, 2015, blog post I was reading mobi editions of the first two volumes of Ms. Schafer's trilogy: The Whitefire Crossing and The Tainted City. All of this in preparation for working on volume three, The Labyrinth of Flame, as Ms. Schafer had hired me to do a full line and copy edit on the 219,000-word manuscript. (Just an FYI, that's 756 manuscript pages! Whew....)

As I stated in the blog post, Courtney launched a Kickstarter campaign in support of The Labyrinth of Flame, the first two volumes having been published by Night Shade Books. The Kickstarter was fully funded (funded by 284%, to be exact) -- and by my November 10, 2015, blog post, all Kickstarter contributors had received their maps and ebook editions of The Labyrinth of Flame. Since the Kickstarter print editions were still in process, the author shared with her readers the interior illustrations that would be included in the print edition.

By my January 5, 2016, blog post, all Kickstarter contributors had received their signed trade paperback copies of The Labyrinth of Flame -- and I had received my signed comp copy as well. So the Kickstarter campaign was officially complete.

Though the ebook edition of Labyrinth has been available these past few months to the reading public, what has (pleasantly) surprised Courtney has been the demand for print copies of the book beyond those she had printed specifically for the Kickstarter. Back to the drawing board, so to speak.

She again contracted with Thomson-Shore, the same printer who had provided the Kickstarter print editions. In her recent blog post announcing the general availability of print copies, Courtney explains why she again went with Thomson-Shore (quality, quality, and...quality) rather than self-publishing the books via Create Space or Ingram Spark.

So, if a print edition of The Labyrinth of Flame, book three in the Shattered Sigil Trilogy, is what you so desire, then make your way to Amazon.com or the Seattle Book Company to purchase a copy.

If you are not familiar with Courtney Schafer's Shattered Sigil Trilogy, then get ye to courtneyschafer.com, where the author has posted multiple sample chapters of each of the three books. Check it out, sample the samples, then go buy all three volumes of the Shattered Sigil Trilogy.

And enjoy the read.