Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Stephen King's On Writing

"If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered."

(via @Chiara_Micheli)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Barbara J. Webb's Apocrypha: The Dying World Series

City of Burning ShadowsTwo years ago (and it's hard to believe that much time has passed already!) I was working on a manuscript for City of Burning Shadows, book one in a new series from author Barbara J. Webb.

Ms. Webb is among a growing number of savvy, professional, self-published writers who understand that to have a successful career in self-publishing one must invest in professional editing: developmental editing, line and copy editing, and final proof editing.

I'm now reading the mobi edition of City of Burning Shadows to refresh in my mind the story line and characters in preparation for my next project, which will be book two in this series: What Dreams Shadows Cast. I will begin work on this manuscript in January.

You can read my previous blog posts on City of Burning Shadows, but what would be even more revealing would be Ms. Webb's recent guest blog post on Bibliotropic in which she wrote:
I wanted to write about hulking lizard warriors. And bird-people. And people so made of magic that they don't have a true shape. I couldn't do that in the real world. So I built a city—a dying city in the desert—and into that city I placed a hero.

Ash is bruised and broken. He's lost his family, his faith, his purpose. He's watching his world collapse around him and feels powerless to stop it. But when he's faced with an old friend in need and a new friend who holds the key to saving Ash's dying city, he can't turn away. That one act of humanity drags him into a world of lies and plots and monsters he never imagined.

A secret world.
If you've read this far then you are most likely a reader of fantasy fiction, and urban fantasy in particular -- so I wanted to make sure that you were aware of "The Great Self-published Fantasy Blog-off!" hosted by author Mark Lawrence (@mark__lawrence [2 underscores!]).

Let's see if I can sum up: Mark published a blog post on self-promotion that was so well-received that he decided to take the self-promotion one step further: a self-published blogger challenge.

Mark asked for volunteers from the well-respected book-reviewing blogger community. He then asked writers to submit their self-published fantasy novels. He selected 10 bloggers and 250 fantasy novels. Each blogger was randomly assigned 25 novels. From those 25 novels, each blogger selected the best novel. So he now had 10 bloggers and 10 novels.

Then each blogger had to read and rate each of the 10 novels. When all was said and done, the novel that came in first place would then be reviewed by all 10 bloggers (aka free publicity, free promotion). The readings and ratings are still ongoing, and can be tracked here. The deadline for reading and rating the 10 novels is March 1, 2016.

So, why am I telling you this? First, if you enjoy reading excellent quality self-published fantasy, Mark's list would be a great place to start. And second, one of the 10 finalist novels is Barbara J. Webb's City of Burning Shadows.

In fact, if I understand correctly, a story bundle of the 10 finalist novels will also be made available in March. So you'll want to stay connected to Mark's blogger challenge in order to take advantage of that offer.

Monday, December 14, 2015

And Now for Something Completely Different: Vinyl

Slowhand at 70I'm listening to Eric Clapton's recent Royal Albert Hall performance, Slowhand at 70, on 180gram vinyl, a 3 LP set, in fact, plus a bonus DVD.[1]

It's an early Christmas gift from my wife because she wanted one of her gifts early: a book entitled Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day -- so that she has some new bread recipes for the holidays. And I'm not one to argue -- I get new tunes and fresh-baked bread for the holidays!

Apparently my wife had shopped for some new vinyl for me during a recent visit to Barnes & Noble's.[2] After the fact she told me that every album she looked at seemed familiar; she was worried that I already had the album on vinyl (the original vinyl release) or on CD. I told her that I had been eyeing the new Eric Clapton album, Slowhand at 70. She said that she saw it at B&N but didn't want to buy it because she thought I would feel bad, being reminded that EC was 70 years old. I had to laugh at that, even though I understood what she was saying; as for me, I told her that it doesn't matter how old he is if he can make music like this (I had already heard the song "Cocaine" online from the concert). So, we ordered the album, and here we are....

Why vinyl? I have a classic Concept 2QD turntable[3] that had been in storage (in its original box!) for a dozen or so years, along with a couple hundred vinyl LPs. Recently I pulled everything out of storage, but discovered that the turntable's tone arm was frozen and wouldn't move (over time the lubricant had dried and hardened). Say hello to SerTech Electronics of San Jose, one of only three audio repair services in the entire Bay Area. They have a three-week backlog of work, but be patient as they do good work at a reasonable rate. So about four weeks after leaving my 2QD with them, I had a working turntable. I also installed a new Shure M97xE Cartridge; a new diamond stylus on a turntable that's been in storage is a must.

My next step was to catalog my vinyl collection, so I set up an account on Once my collection was keyed in I was able to sort by date: the last album I purchased was Bruce Springsteen and The E-Street Band's Live/1975-85 5-LP box set, which was released in 1986. Nearly thirty years since I last bought an LP![4] Time to update my collection.

Freedom - Atlanta Pop FestivalThe first album (read: LP) I purchased was Freedom: Live at the Atlanta Pop Festival -- The Jimi Hendrix Experience's July 4, 1970, performance; his final U.S. performance as it turned out -- a 2-LP, 200gram vinyl, set. It's one of many albums I play when the wife is out of the house as, sadly, she's not too fond of Hendrix (or Frank Zappa/Mothers of Invention, or anything loud & noisy; but then again, maybe it's not the music, per se, but rather the volume I play it at...ya think?).

Kind of BlueAnd, finally, just one more new LP that I bought myself for Christmas: Miles Davis's classic Kind of Blue on 180gram vinyl.

An interesting story about this album, if you'll bear with me: Growing up I idolized my uncle, my father's youngest brother. He drove a 1957 Black T-bird convertible with a red interior; traveled around the world (literally: Africa, Antigua, Europe, Bermuda, Australia, working for the NASA space program), and owned the apartment building in which he lived (though he told me to never tell any of the tenants that he was the owner!), walking distance from Santa Monica beach. As I got older I would hang at his apartment building on occasion, and when he went out of town in the summertime he would let me stay there, and I would walk to the beach every day. But no matter when I visited, he was always playing Miles Davis on the turntable. I believe his favorite title was Bitches Brew, but I was partial to Kind of Blue. So in memory of my Uncle Herb....


[1] I've also converted the concert DVD to an audio mp3 file, which I can play on my tablet or phone, or via wireless to my surround system. To convert a DVD to mp3 the disc must first be converted to an mp4 video file, and then from mp4 to mp3. And the bonus, of course, is the mp4 vid file, which can also be played anywhere as well. To do this conversion, you'll need to install three free software apps (I'm talking Windows; Mac people are on their own): DVD Encrypter and Handbrake (for DVD to mp4), and VLC Media Player (for mp4 to mp3). And if you want to modify the mp3 file in any way, you'll need to add a fourth free application: Audacity.

[2] B&N has vinyl? Who woulda guessed? I haven't been to a B&N store in ages. So I checked out their website, searched for vinyl, and was impressed -- I mean impressed -- as there were dozens of titles.

[3] The 2QD photos are courtesy of These photos are much better than any I could have taken of my own identical 2QD. In fact, in addition to these two photos, someone has posted a complete teardown of the 2QD.

[4] As I said, my last LP was purchased in 1986. At this point in time, LPs were hard to come by as the recording industry was moving exclusively to the compact disc. As a vinyl freak, I fought the good fight against CDs, but finally, on July 13, 1990, I broke down and purchased a Denon 6-disc changer at The Good Guys in San Jose. Unfortunately, The Good Guys (the great store that it was) has long since left this mortal earth, as has that Denon player. How do I remember the date, you may wonder? Because right after purchasing that CD player, I also purchased my first 6 CDs -- and I still have the receipt as proof:

Remember the Wherehouse stores? Remember Tower Records? Sigh.... Anyhow, in case these six CD titles are unknown to you -- and also because there are albums by other artists with the same title -- here's the performers of these 6 CDs, in order: David Baerwald, Bruce Hornsby & The Range, Santana, Phil Collins, Neil Young, and John Cougar Mellancamp. Why these titles? Had you asked me twenty-five years ago, maybe then I could have told you! But I do love Santana....

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Frank Zappa

This was Matt Groening's Life in Hell tribute to Frank Zappa, published on December 17, 1993, thirteen days after FZ passed away from prostate cancer.

FZ was born, and died, in the month of December: December 21, 1940–December 4, 1993. He would have been 75 years old this month. We can only imagine (actually, knowing Zappa, we probably can't imagine!) what musical creations he would have bestowed upon us had he lived a full, and healthy, life.

Here's one from the vinyl collection:

And one from the CD collection:

The 6-volume CD (12 discs) Wooden Box Set

Suzy? Suzy Creamcheese?

Monday, November 30, 2015

Editing in Process: Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

Central Station
[not final cover]
In my previous blog post, in which I congratulated Tachyon Publications on their 20th anniversary -- "Still saving the world one good book at a time" -- I mentioned that I had just submitted my seventy-fifth invoice to the publisher. That invoice was for work done on Lavie Tidhar's novel Central Station.

Lavie Tidhar is an Israeli-born writer, who currently resides in London. He won the 2012 World Fantasy Award for best novel for Osama, over Stephen King's 11/22/63 and George R. R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons, among others.

But about Central Station, Tel Aviv:
In North Tel Aviv the Jews lived in their skyrises, and in Jaffa to the South the Arabs had reclaimed their old land by the sea. Here, in between, there were still those people of the land they had called variously Palestine or Israel and whose ancestors had come there as labourers from around the world, from the islands of the Philippines, and from the Sudan, from Nigeria, and from Thailand or China, whose children were born there, and their children’s children, speaking Hebrew and Arabic and Asteroid Pidgin, that near universal language of space.

Central Station delivers a complex, idiosyncratic story, with multiple story lines and multiple points of view: robo-priests, strigoi (data-vampires), robotniks (cyborg ex-Israeli soldiers), enhanced humans, revolutionaries, space colonies -- and weaving through it all, flows the Conversation, the stream of consciousness that connects everyone and everything.

Here's more from the novel:
The word rose like a bubble in her paralysed mind. She was losing the memories, losing her own self, awash in the joy, the unbearable pleasure of the woman’s touch, that current of electricity in the brain as her node was raided, her data sucked away by this...thing that had an ancient, terrible name, a word she once heard her sister use, and her mother shushed her angrily—
Central Station is now available for preorder from Amazon and other booksellers.


I just have to add, for those that may care, that I wrote this blog post while listening to the new 2-CD set Bluenote Café, Performance Series Disc 11 from Neil Young's Archives.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Tachyon Publications Celebrates Its 20th Anniversary

My very first invoice for work done for Tachyon Publications is dated February 19, 2002. In another three months -- and hopefully the publisher will still be sending work to me at that time -- I will have worked for Tachyon Publications for fourteen years. That's a lot of time with one publisher. How many editors out there can say they have done freelance work for the same employer for fourteen (or more) years? How many freelance editors have even had a publisher survive fourteen (or more) years?

My last invoice was number 75, and hopefully I'll be blogging about that project (Lavie Tidhar's Central Station) next. Not all of these 75 invoices were for books, though most were. A few were just for front or back matter that showed up a few weeks after I had completed work on the actual book. One of these days, I'll have to consider a blog post in which I list all the Tachyon projects that I have worked on. There are quite a few award winners among those!

So Tachyon Publications is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year. And they did so marvelously with a party this past Sunday, November 15, at the Park Branch of the San Francisco Public Library. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend (granddaughter babysitting responsibilities), so I wanted to express my congratulations in this manner -- since I was unable to do so in person -- with a blog post.

And what's an anniversary party without a cake! Believe it or not, pictured above is the 20th Anniversary cake: the Tachyon Publications logo -- the rhino at the typewriter. This cake was courtesy of Effie Seiberg, who tweeted and posted to Google+ each step of the baking process. Just for the record, this was a confetti cake, frosted with orange-tinted almond-flavored buttercream, covered in fondant. And, to quote Ms. Seiberg: "Parts of it are painted with a combo of edible luster dust + vodka. The vodka is to dissolve the luster dust to make it a liquid paint (and thus a stronger color than when it's a powder) and because it evaporates faster than water, which would make everything sticky."

I asked Effie if she saved me a piece of cake, but, sadly, it doesn't appear likely. I hope you made it to the Tachyon party and were able to snag a piece of this scrumptious-looking guilty pleasure.

And in addition to the cake, everyone who attended the party received a complimentary chapbook: Charlie Jane Anders's Six Months, Three Days, a Hugo Award-winning novelette. (And Ms. Anders was in attendance at the party as well!)

If you haven't purchased at least one of Tachyon's publications recently -- print or ebook -- well, what are you waiting for? Daryl Gregory's We Are All Completely Fine won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novella just about two weeks ago.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

"Old man, look at my life" - Happy Birthday, Neil Young!

My main man, Neil Young
70th birthday, November 12, 2015

Keep on rockin' in the free world!

Now Reading: The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross

I'm currently reading The Nightmare Stacks, book #7 in the continuing Laundry Files series by Charles Stross. This in preparation for my working on the novel when the actual physical manuscript arrives within the week from Ace Books. 

I'm reading a MOBI edition using the Kindle for Android app on my Nexus 7 tablet (which just got updated to Android Marshmallow 6.0, for those who care). The author sent me the manuscript as a DOCX file, I then saved it as an RTF file; using Calibre Ebook Management software, I then converted the RTF file to a MOBI file -- and then saved the file in the Kindle folder on my tablet. Works for me!

You can read about my work on the previous Laundry Files novel, The Annihilation Score, in my March 26, 2015, blog post. But as to The Nightmare Stacks, you'll probably have to wait until after the New Year, as the project is due back to Ace Books the beginning of January. (Yes, another set of holidays I must work through, sigh....)

The Nightmare Stacks is due to be published by Ace Books, and Orbit Books in the U.K., in early summer, 2016.

But, ahem, I get to read the novel now.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Editing in Process: The Labyrinth of Flame by Courtney Schafer

Cover art by David Palumbo
The largest project I had worked on in the past year or two was the short story collection Led Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong, clocking in at around 148,000 words.[1]

That is, until I worked on The Labyrinth of Flame, book III in Courtney Schafer's The Shattered Sigil Trilogy -- a massive 756 manuscript pages, totaling 219,000 words of wondrous fiction.[2]

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may recall that back in April (April 29, 2015, blog post) I was in the middle of reading the first two volumes of The Shattered Sigil Trilogy -- The Whitefire Crossing and The Tainted City -- in order to get up to speed on the world and characters of Ms. Schafer's trilogy.

Since I read ebook editions of these two volumes I can't speak to their actual length. However, using Calibre Ebook Management software (which I highly recommend), I converted the two MOBI files to RTF files, opened them in MS Word, and have the approximate word counts: 135,000 words for The Whitefire Crossing, and 173,000 words for The Tainted City. That's more than 300,000 words of reading just to prepare myself for this current project.

These first two titles in the trilogy were published by Night Shade Books (prior to its acquisition by Skyhorse Publishing and Start Media[3]), after which Ms. Schafer made the decision to self-publish the final title in the trilogy via a Kickstarter campaign. The Kickstarter was more than fully funded (284% to be exact), unlocking three stretch goals.

Unlike far too many other authors, Courtney Schafer is self-publishing The Labyrinth of Flame properly -- which will be evident to her readers when they receive the finished book: She hired artist David Palumbo for the cover art, the same artist who did the covers for volumes I and II, so that the trilogy's covers would match even though the three books were not from the same publisher. She also hired a developmental editor to review the novel's plot, characterization, setting, etc. I was then hired for a detailed line edit and copy edit. After the author made the content changes I recommended, she then hired another copy editor for a final proof of the novel.

Nothing is more frustrating, at least for me, when I attempt to read -- and inevitably give up on reading -- a self-pubbed novel that has blatant typos and awkward (and often ridiculous) sentence structures. Readers won't find these issues in The Labyrinth of Flame: Courtney Schafer has written and published this novel as the professional that she is, and this volume is the worthy conclusion to The Shattered Sigil Trilogy -- and the harrowing adventures of Kiran, Dev, and Cara.

Those who contributed to the Kickstarter have already received their maps and ebook editions of The Labyrinth of Flame and, according to the author, the print editions are currently in process. In fact, Ms. Schafer shared the book's interior illustrations with readers in her October 29 blog post.

If you didn't get in on the Kickstarter but are interested in the ebook, The Labyrinth of Flame Kindle edition is now available for preorder. Print copies will be available for order on December 1, but Amazon doesn't allow preorders for self-published print editions.

You can read more of The Shattered Sigil Trilogy on the Courtney Schafer website, including sample chapters from all three volumes.


[1] You can read about my work on Kelly Armstrong's Led Astray, from Tachyon Publications, beginning in my August 26, 2015, blog post.

[2] I actually completed work on this project about two and a half months ago, but new, incoming projects have kept me busy.... I'm using the "Editing in Process" tag in order that this blog post will track with my other editing projects.

[3] "For Immediate Release: Skyhorse Publishing and Start Media Acquire Night Shade Books"

Monday, November 9, 2015

World Fantasy Award Winner: Daryl Gregory

We Are All Completely FineIn my February 27, 2014, blog post -- yes, 21 months ago! -- I wrote a bit about my work on Daryl Gregory's novella We Are All Completely Fine. And in that blog post I wrote, and I quote: "...we'll be seeing this sharp-edged story on many awards lists beginning in early 2015."

So, I was extremely pleased, but certainly not surprised, when I learned yesterday that Daryl Gregory had won the 2015 World Fantasy Award for Best Novella for We Are All Completely Fine, from Tachyon Publications.

The complete list of 2015 World Fantasy Award nominees and winners has been posted on the Word Fantasy Convention site.

And let's not forget the other award nominations, and a win, that We Are All Completely Fine has achieved:
Nebula Award nomination
Shirley Jackson Award winner
Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award finalist
Locus Award nominee

Congrats once again to Daryl Gregory, and all the other World Fantasy Award winners and nominees.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Chicon 2000 Card #5 - George Alec Effinger

Card #5
Photo by Ross Pavlac
Back in the day, when I was acquiring and editing for Golden Gryphon Press, I put together three collections of fiction by author George Alec Effinger. Initially, I worked with GAE on the contents of the first book, Budayeen Nights, but he passed away in April 2002, more than a year before this first collection finally saw publication in September 2003. Two more collections followed: George Alec Effinger Live! from Planet Earth (2005) and A Thousand Deaths (2007).

In 2009, I wrote a series of three lengthy blog posts, detailing how these three books came about. Then, in honor of what would have been George's 66th birthday, on January 10, 2013, I republished the series of three blog posts. I am always hopeful that new readers will discover the work of George Alec Effinger.

But what is behind this current blog post is the "card" pictured above: Card #5 in the series of collectible cards produced by the Chicago in 2000 Committee, that is, the Chicon 2000 WorldCon.

Card #5, back
While I was working on the three GAE books for Golden Gryphon Press, I pretty much lived online for days on end trying to find everything and anything pertaining to George Alec Effinger. During my research I learned that he was a die-hard fan of the Cleveland Indians baseball team -- and I also found the card photo above pictured on the Chicon 2000 website.

Knowing what a huge fan of the Cleveland Indians GAE was, I wanted to use the base photo (without the overlaid text) for the dust jacket photo for Live! From Planet Earth. On the Chicon 2000 website, the photographer's name, Ross Pavlac, was linked at the bottom of the page. Sadly, when I clicked on the link, I learned that Ross had passed away in 1997. The obit and appreciations on the page mentioned Ross's wife, Maria Pavlac. Keep in mind this was at least ten years ago, and searching online then wasn't as easy as it is today. Facebook didn't launch until 2004, and Twitter two years later. I don't seem to have any emails on file, but if my memory serves, I did find an email addy for a "Maria Pavlac," whom I contacted, seeking permission to use the GAE photo. Unfortunately, I never received any response, so I may not have had the correct "Maria Pavlac." Regardless, all three Effinger books were published, but no dust jacket included this particular photo.

Now, here it is more than ten years later, and I posted a comment to a Facebook post, and mentioned how I had been searching for the GAE Chicon 2000 card back in the early 2000s, and Steven Silver responds to my comment, telling me to provide him with my mailing address and he'll send me the GAE card. Which I did, and then he did. Not one, but four of the GAE cards!

Though the photo didn't make it onto one of the three GAE collections, I now have -- thanks to the kindness of Steven Silver -- card #5 to add to my George Alec Effinger collection.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Book Received: Slow Bullets Limited Edition by Alastair Reynolds

WSFA Press limited edition
The weekend of October 9-11 marked the annual Capclave convention in Washington, DC, sponsored by the Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA). Each year, in support of Capclave's Author Guest of Honor, WSFA Press typically publishes a limited edition hardcover of the author's work. This year's Author GOH was none other than Alastair Reynolds -- and WSFA Press published a signed and numbered hardcover edition of the author's novella Slow Bullets, limited to 1,000 copies.

Slow Bullets
Tachyon Pubs trade paperback
Slow Bullets was originally published by Tachyon Publications as an original trade paperback, and as you may recall from an earlier blog post on February 9, 2015, I had a wee bit of a hand in the acquisition and editing of that book.

You can purchase the limited edition of Slow Bullets direct from the WSFA Press Bookstore for the price of $40.00; the original trade paperback of Slow Bullets (List price: $14.95) -- now in its second printing -- can be had from all major booksellers, physical or online.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the author, Alastair Reynolds, for graciously sending me a copy of the Slow Bullets limited edition while he was attending Capclave.

Here are a few excerpts from the lengthy Slow Bullets review by Tom Atherton on Strange Horizons:
...part of what makes Reynolds's new novel Slow Bullets so successful is this sense of escalation. What begins as run-of-the-mill space opera soon develops into a complex social thought experiment; an examination of the tyrannies of ambiguous language and the societal implications of textual preservation. It's impressive that Reynolds manages all of this big-picture stuff within the scope of an uncharacteristically short novel (just shy of two hundred pages), and does so while simultaneously retaining a sense of intimacy through a well-realised narrator whose own struggles with memory act as a microcosm of the book's wider sociological concerns. The novel is also interested in atavism (both technological and social), and so it's fitting that Reynolds has appropriated the imagery and themes of an older literary tradition, gothic horror, to tell this story; only in place of a dilapidated monastery inhabited by reclusive monks, Slow Bullets gives us soldiers-turned-scribes entombed inside a vast and decaying spaceship. Architecture is important here, as is the intersection of technology with biology. There really is a lot going on; a fact belied by the book's meagre page count. With so much to unpick, then, it’s probably best that we start at the very beginning and work forward from there.


It's all very pacy, with much of the actual process behind these fledgling democracies glossed over in a matter of sentences. It's a revelation-on-every-page sort of book. Fans of Alastair Reynolds looking for his characteristic descriptive depth and attention to technological detail might find themselves disappointed, but for what it's worth I enjoyed this change of tempo, which, if anything, demonstrates Reynolds's versatility as a stylist.

In fact, Slow Bullets has a lot of very nice stylistic touches. It's peppered with expressive little descriptions, such as this one about a book whose pages "detached too easily, the way wings come off an insect" (p. 13). I was also struck by the way that biological imagery is used to describe technology: slow bullets move by "contracting and extending like a mechanical maggot" (p. 16), hibernation capsules enclose "like an egg" (p. 21), and an automated surgeon-machine reminds Scur of "the hinged mouthparts of a flytrap" (p. 74). All of which sinister language reflects the relationship the crew have with the failing tech that surrounds them: dependency mixed with danger. The only complaint I have about style is that there are a few too many infodumps, which have the potential to interrupt the otherwise swift flow of Reynolds's prose.


The overarching tone of Slow Bullets, then, is one of tragic irony. The Caprice-ians' assertion that they are making indelible, accurate records ("we can’t tolerate mistakes" [p. 112]) is contradicted by how the novel itself treats texts. One character even comments on the inability of language to explain their situation; "She’s trying to describe something language isn't made to describe" (p. 118). All of the texts the survivors produce are, ultimately, unstable. Not only, as we've seen, are they up for interpretation and forgery, but they're also physically transient: the walls can be polished blank, the slow bullets over-written; the survivors' text-scarred bodies will die. Perhaps, deep down, they all know this. Maybe creating texts is just another way in which the survivors are performing society.

This would all be so much bathos, of course, if the novel presented itself matter-of-factly as an unequivocal, representational record. Reynolds's masterstroke, however, is to reflect this thematic concern for unstable texts by filtering the story through an unreliable narrator, making Slow Bullets itself something ambiguous and difficult to pin down. Scur, narrating from some future point, begins her story by telling us about her favourite poem, which is "about death and remembrance" (p. 10). This microcosmically echoes the themes of the novel, certainly, but remembrance, it turns out, isn't as straightforward a thing as Scur would have us believe. Her narration is frequently inconsistent and contradictory. She hubristically announces that she can "be perfectly sure of [her]self" (p. 100), yet phrases of an "I don’t remember" variety become refrain-like throughout the novel. "I should remember, but I do not" (p. 189). At one point her very identity is questioned: "So Scur is what she calls herself now?" (p. 141). We're also never given any explanation as to why, despite her protestations of innocence, she's counted among the war criminals onboard the ship. This is Scur's memory, but memories are biased, unreliable and prone to fanciful invention. With Scur as our only point of entry into this world, we can’t trust anything we read.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

On Lucius Shepard

Beautiful Blood
Cover Art by J. K. Potter
A few months after Lucius Shepard passed away, in March of 2014, my copy of Beautiful Blood arrived in the mail from Subterranean Press. This last novel, along with his book The Dragon Griaule, a collection of six stories (also from Sub Press), completes the tale of the 750-foot-high, mile-long dragon that has been in perpetual sleep for thousands of years -- but whose dark spirit gravely influences the inhabitants of the villages built around and on the dragon itself.

Typically, I would have written a "Books Received" blog post on More Red Ink to capture these two newly acquired titles. And it is more than a year and a half later, and I'm still struggling to write a Lucius Shepard blog post. I have a couple pages of hand-written notes on my desk, Notepad files saved to disk... Yet I'll snag any piece of an excuse to do anything else but write this blog post. For whatever reason that I have yet to pinpoint, this is just one of those posts that has become difficult for me.

The Dragon Griaule
Cover Art by J. K. Potter
In an obituary posted on March 20, 2014, on BoingBoing, Cory Doctorow described Shepard's work: "its originality, its dazzling language, its hardbitten and hard-won verisimilitude." Beautifully written, stylistic, provocative, hard-edged -- read any review of Shepard's work and you'll find words such as these used to describe his writing.

Lucius Shepard is one of the very few writers whose work requires that I always keep a dictionary to hand, because of the inevitable word here and there that I must look up.

If his work is not being used in literature and writing classes at the university level, then academia is truly short-sighted (or maybe just too caught up in the distant past, rather than the present).

During my eight-year stint (1999–2007) as an editor with indie publisher Golden Gryphon Press, I worked on three Lucius Shepard books, plus another of his stories that was included in a fourth book, an anthology. I still have most, if not all, of our email communications going as far back as 2001. Reading through these emails recently was definitely a trip down memory lane...and made accepting that Lucius is no longer with us even more difficult.

In 2002 I had been working on a new line of limited edition chapbooks[1]: Turquoise Days by Alastair Reynolds had been completed but not yet published, and Howard Waldrop had also committed to providing chapbook story A Better World's in Birth! -- so I hit up Lucius Shepard for a chapbook story as well. On September 23, 2002, he sent me the story "Maceo" for consideration. When I told him the maximum that I was able to pay for the story, he responded the very next day: "Unfortunately, [this amount] doesn't help me. I'm trying to raise a lot for my charity in Honduras and I've already been offered fifteen hundred for this and turned it down. So, sorry. But thanks for reading it...."

I didn't know anything about Lucius's charity at this point in time and I didn't feel it was appropriate to inquire via email, so I waited until we had a chance to chat in person. I don't recall if it was at the World Fantasy Con, or OryCon, or another con, but when we did meet (in a hotel bar, naturally), I asked. Lucius told me how the poor locals deep dive for pearls and over time they suffer the bends sufficiently enough that it permanently affects their health. The money he makes from writing goes to pay off customs officers, dock workers, and the like so that when his donations arrive (wheelchairs, for example), they get to their intended destinations. He spoke of the organization required to pull all this off and that he pretty much handled all the wheeling and dealing in Honduras himself.

I just shook my head in awe; it was hard for me to imagine Lucius working so hard in this fashion to help others in the form of a charity -- not that he wasn't capable of doing so, but given how he publicly defined himself, I was simply caught off guard. I was already working with Lucius on another project, and this is an excerpt from the mini bio that he provided me:
He has taught Spanish at a diplomatic school, owned a T-shirt company, worked as a janitor in a nuclear facility, and as a bouncer at a brothel in Málaga, and “beat his brains out” as a rock musician.
Somehow, that description just didn't fit the role of a charity worker....

[Update 10/21/2015: Who's looking after Lucius's charity now?]

Anyhow, this request for a chapbook story from Lucius led to a discussion about his two hobo stories -- "Over Yonder" and the unpublished "Jailbait" -- along with his Spin magazine article on the Freight Train Riders of America. All of which eventually led to the publication of Shepard's collection Two Trains Running, from Golden Gryphon Press in 2004. But that's for another blog post.


[1] You can read a bit more about my work on the limited edition chapbooks -- and how my query to Charles Stross for a story set me on the path of Stross's Laundry Files series -- by checking out this link on More Red Ink.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The. Best. Butter Cookies. Ever.

Yesterday was a munchie day, but we had no munchies in the house -- so I decided to make my grandmother's butter cookie recipe. Of course, in addition to ending up with some excellent cookies, a lot of memories came flooding back as well.

The photo above, courtesy of Google maps, is for 209 Atlantic Avenue in McKeesport, Pennsylvania -- that's the dirt lot directly in front along the little alleyway, just in case you didn't recognize the address. That's where I spent the first five years of my life. Not in the dirt lot, mind you, but in the two-story house (with the scary basement) that used to occupy that lot. The neighborhood used to be called Tenth Ward, back in the day.

And the white two-story house just behind and to the left of the lot is where my grandparents lived, on Rebecca Street. My mother grew up in that house along with her two sisters and brother.

The wooden fence that you now see at the end of the lot, used to be a short wire fence (with wooden supports), such that my grandparents' backyard and our backyard butted up against each other. Along the alleyway, we had a gate in the fence, as did my grandparents -- so I could exit our gate, walk a dozen or so steps along the alleyway and then enter my grandparents' backyard through their gate. Thus I didn't have to walk around the block from the front of our house on Atlantic to the front of their house on Rebecca. I remember coming home from kindergarten before noon, checking to see what my mother had planned for my lunch, and if I didn't like it, I just walked out our gate and through their gate, and my grandmother would pretty much make me anything I wanted. That's what grandparents are for, right? To spoil their grandchildren....

My grandmother was an amazing cook. She had this huge wooden cutting board that covered the entire kitchen table top. I can still picture her making egg noodles: rolling the dough (with a glass, water-filled rolling pin) nearly paper thin, and then using this very long knife -- one hand on the handle, the other hand along the top of the blade -- which she would bring down almost in a blur of precision, cut after cut, making the most perfect noodles you could imagine. Then into the simmering chicken soup, or vegetable soup, the noodles would go.

Of course, as a young child, desserts were always the favorite, and my grandmother's butter cookies were one of her best desserts (only second to her special apple pie). But to simply call these "cookies" is to deny them their due, their power: yes, they were cookies, but they were the size of biscuits! Give a little kid a couple of these, and he had himself a meal!

We moved from Tenth Ward to White Oak, where I went to school from first through seventh grade. And then in June, after seventh grade, when I was twelve, my family packed up what few possessions we had left after the first ever White Oak garage sale, and moved to Southern California.

It didn't take long for us to miss my grandmother's superb cooking. But the thing about the butter cookies was that she never used a recipe, she would grab a few fingers of baking power, some scoops of sugar, butter, sour cream, and then start kneading in flour until the dough was just right. So, we telephoned my aunt, my mother's youngest sister, and told her to write down the ingredients and measurements (as best she could) the next time my grandmother made butter cookies. My aunt told us later that during the cookie-making process, when my grandmother would grab a few fingers of, say, baking powder, my aunt would make her drop the contents from her fingers into a small bowl and then my aunt would do her best to measure how much was in the bowl.

Here is the butter cookie recipe, my grandmother's best, as measured by my aunt:

8 cups flour
8 teaspoons baking powder
1 pound butter
6 tablespoons shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 pint sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
6 egg yolks (save some of the whites for brushing the top of the cookies)

Mix egg yolks with butter, shortening; add sugar and blend. Blend in half the flour and baking powder. Mix in sour cream and vanilla. Blend in the remaining flour. Roll dough on a board using as little flour as necessary -- dough will be sticky; cut into shape with a round cookie cutter. Press the top of the cookies with a fork, then brush with egg white. Bake at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

Egg yolks, butter, shortening... These cookies are a heart attack waiting to happen. My wife and I, being ever health conscious, make only half the recipe at a time, and we still manage to get about 34 biscuit-sized cookies from the half recipe. And though we do use one stick (1/4 pound) of unsalted butter, we also use one stick (1/4 pound) of Country Crock fake butter. Also, instead of 3 egg yolks, we use one egg yolk and one whole egg -- and we save the one egg white for the brush. [Update 10/17/2015: I also neglected to mention that we use "Light" sour cream as well.]

My grandmother passed away at the age of 100 in 1998. But she still lives on in memories like these.

Obviously, our butter cookies don't taste as good as my grandmother's original recipe -- but it's the memories that make our cookies taste so good.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

[Ended] Alien Contact Ebook $1.99

Alien ContactThe ebook edition of my Alien Contact anthology is currently on sale for $1.99. I've verified the price on Amazon, and I understand that iBooks also has the price currently set at $1.99. (I'm not an Apple kind of guy so I can't verify.) I'm also hoping that if you purchase your ebooks from other than these two sources, the price will be the same as well.

How long this price will last, I have no idea. I'm just the book's editor. In fact, I didn't even know the price had dropped to $1.99 until I received a web mention on my name, via email, earlier today.

So, if you read ebooks and you've been on the fence about this anthology, now is the time to buy, as this is probably the cheapest ebook price you'll find (that's not a pirated copy!) for these 26 stories and 170,000 words of hand-picked fiction. [1]

Here's the complete table of contents:
Marty Halpern -- "Introduction: Beginnings..."
Paul McAuley -- "The Thought War"
Neil Gaiman -- "How to Talk to Girls at Parties"
Karen Joy Fowler -- "Face Value"
Harry Turtledove -- "The Road Not Taken"
George Alec Effinger -- "The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything"
Stephen King -- "I Am the Doorway" [1]
Pat Murphy -- "Recycling Strategies for the Inner City"
Mike Resnick -- "The 43 Antarean Dynasties"
Orson Scott Card -- "The Gold Bug"
Bruce McAllister -- "Kin"
Ernest Hogan -- "Guerrilla Mural of a Siren’s Song"
Pat Cadigan -- "Angel"
Ursula K. Le Guin -- "The First Contact with the Gorgonids"
Adam-Troy Castro -- "Sunday Night Yams at Minnie and Earl’s"
Michael Swanwick -- "A Midwinter’s Tale"
Mark W. Tiedemann -- "Texture of Other Ways"
Cory Doctorow -- "To Go Boldly"
Elizabeth Moon -- "If Nudity Offends You"
Nancy Kress -- "Laws of Survival"
Jack Skillingstead -- "What You Are About to See"
Robert Silverberg -- "Amanda and the Alien"
Jeffrey Ford -- "Exo-Skeleton Town"
Molly Gloss -- "Lambing Season"
Bruce Sterling -- "Swarm"
Charles Stross -- "MAXO Signals"
Stephen Baxter -- "Last Contact"

As I said, the anthology contains 26 stories -- and 26 weeks before the book was published, back in April 2011, I began a blogging project that entailed writing about each of the stories, at the rate of one story per week, for 26 weeks. I made my target, too, except for the week my mother passed away -- but I caught up the very next week. During those weekly blog posts, I talked about the original publication of the story, my relationship (if any) with the author, how I came to choose the story, and I typically included some excerpts from the story itself. Except, for those stories that I published in their entirety.

Now, more than four years later, you can still follow -- and read -- those weekly blog posts on Alien Contact by beginning at the "Beginnings..."

Or, you could simply click on any of the links above in the table of contents.

[1] After posting this, I remembered that in my endeavor to secure rights for the Stephen King story I had to wave ebook rights. So, the print copy includes 26 stories and 170,000 words of fiction, whereas the ebook edition does not include the Stephen King story, which clocks in at approximately 4,900 words. So aside from the fact that it is a Stephen King story, you're losing less than 5,000 words from the overall total. Sorry for any issue/confusion this may have caused.