Friday, April 3, 2015

Where's Michael?


As always, I'm on the road again.  This road trip, however, will be even more extroardinary than usual.  Marianne and I will be spending almost three weeks in China with a group of friends that includes Ellen Datlow and Eileen Gunn.

Let me repeat that: China.

The next three weeks will either be a series of nightly or near-nightly exuberant posts on the wonders of that great land... or else a monotonous unchanging view of the map above, I don't know which.  The Great Firewall of China is no myth.  On my first visit I discovered that I could not even see this blog, much less update it.

But I think I have a work-around.  I've got a son in the States and IF his email account is accessible and IF he has the time and remembers the passcodes AND the Sun and Moon and Planets all align... Then you can share my adventure with me.

Fingers crossed, guys!


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Lehl jsem si na kámen osamění a už se nevrátím


I'm in Czech print again!  My story "For I have Lain Me Down on the stone of Loneliness and I'll Not Be Back Again" appears in the November 2014 issue of XB-1, a zine that make me rue my monolinguality every time I see an issue.

I wonder how much trouble the opening epigram gave the translator. It's an old song or poem by our old friend Anonymous called "The Irish Dancer, " which goes:

Ich am of Irlaunde,
And of the holy londe
        Of Irlande.
Gode sire, pray ich the,
For of saynte chairitéCome ant daunce with me
        In Irlaunde.

A French editor once told me that I am second only to Howard Waldrop in being deeply hated by his translators.  Late one night, he told me, he got a call from one who was in tears because she was unable to discover what Mötley Crüe meant.

"It's a band," he said.

Above: The title of this post is, of course, the story's title in Czech.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

My First Comics Script


One of the first things a novice playwright has to learn is that if a character is to age or reappear in different costume, the events on stage must go on long enough without him/her for the necessary costume or makeup change.  It's not as glamorous as the arranging of incident and emotion, but without it the play simply will not work.

A few months back, I wrote my first comic book script.  It's for a Locust Moon Comics/Dark Horse Comics anthology, a sequel to Once Upon A Time Machine. Which will feature Greek myths and legends retold with a science fiction twist.

What have I learned so far?  Some obvious things, of course.  The dialogue has to be concise, to avoid filling the panels up with words. A wordless panel or one with a single word or short sentence can have enormous power -- but when you've only got so much space to work with and a great deal of information to convey, you have to use that trick sparingly.

Less obviously, the process of writing a story is very different when it has to come out to a specific number of pages. With a prose story, I simply let the story find its own length.  For the script, however, the story I set out to tell was too long, so its plot and intent and outcome had to be changed completely in order for it to flow properly.  Most surprisingly for this tyro, the bottom of each page had to be stronger, more emphatic than the top or middle, so that the reader would carry a clear understanding of exactly what's happening to the next page.

I expect to learn a lot more when the book comes out and I get to see my words transformed into images.  But that won't be for a while yet.  The stories are still being drawn.

And a word about the coming month...

On Saturday, Marianne and I fly to to China with a group of friends including Ellen Datlow and Eileen Gunn.  We'll be gone for most of April.

If I can, I'll keep my blog updated.  It's quite possible I'll be blogging more than usual -- I'll certainly have a lot of wonderful things to blog about.  But it's also possible that I won't be able to.  The Great Firewall of China is not a myth.

Wish me well, and keep your fingers crossed!


Monday, March 30, 2015

Living the Glitterati Dream


Sometimes everything comes together.  You walk out on stage, you hit your mark, and the audience loves you.  That's how Saturday's event celebrating the "Philadelphia Issue" of Asimov's Science Fiction went.

A good-sized crowd turned up, and a distinguished one. How distinguished? There were more writers in the audience than at the table, along with fans, academics, and folks of serious accomplishment in unrelated fields.  Everybody on the panel was witty and nobody hogged the microphone.  Afterward, enough copies of the magazine were sold to make the Barnes & Noble people very happy indeed.

That's us up above.  Left to right: Gregory Frost, Your Humble Narrator, Sheila Williams, Fran Wilde, Emily Hockaday, and Tom Purdom.  For those who don't already have the April/May 2015 Asimov's, it contains Fran's “How to Walk Through Historic Graveyards in the Post-Digital Age,” Tom's "Day Job," and a wonderfully light-hearted romp penned by Greg and myself, titled "Lock Up Your Chickens and Daughters -- H'ard and Andy Are Come to Town!" 

Believe it or not, we even had one of the protagonists of a story present.  Andy Duncan, who is one half of the inspirations for my collaboration with Greg (the other is Howard Waldrop), spent most of an hour with a slightly bemused expression as he autographed our story.

If you've been paying attention, that's seven autographs obtainable (for those who quite sensibly got the editor and editorial assistant to sign their issues) for the price of a single magazine. Which then became quite a neat little snapshot of a moment of literary history, a gathering of individuals which will never be recreated in the same configuration.

Above:  Photo by M. C. Porter.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

[dream diary]

March 26, 2015:

Dreaming, I witnessed this exchange.

Kid: I brought you a half a bag of coffee.

Man: Thanks.

Kid: Hey, hey, hey, hey! That's not a gift. It'll cost you two dollars. That's a good deal.

Man: I'm sure it is. No dice.

Kid: I've also got a goat.

Man: I know you do. I've seen it.

Kid: It's yours for fifty bucks. I'll throw in the coffee free.

Man: What would I want with a goat? Forget it.

Kid: You can have them both for nothing if you just tell me one thing: Are you or are you not my father?

(Long silence.)

Man: I'll get my checkbook.


Friday, March 27, 2015

Misha Cyberpunk Strikes Again!


I'm in Russian print again!

If you've never been to Russia, you can't imagine how happy this makes me.  Russia is a wonderful-awful place, terrifying and beautiful, and it has owned a piece of my heart ever since the moment I first set foot on it.

Now Eksmo has published Dancing With Bears in Russian translation.  This is the culmination of the first cycle of the travels of Post-Utopian con men Darger and Surplus.  They met in "The Dog Said Bow-Wow," accidentally set fire to London, and then set off for Moscow to run their biggest scam ever.  Being infinitely distractible, however, they bounced around Europe for several years having adventures (only a few of which I've recorded so far), but always headed for Moscow.

And now, at last, they have arrived.

Oh, and that cryptic title above...?

I am not the only one to comment on how to an American my last name translated into Russian looks a lot like Cyberpunk.  Back in the late Eighties or early Nineties, in fact, I invented a character, a precocious teenaged Soviet hacker, who went by the handle Misha Cyberpunk.  Alas, though I could imagine him clearly enough, the story about him never came fully into focus.  The age of the heroic hacker came and went and even if I came up with a satisfying plot now, the story would be a period piece.  So "Red Star" will never be written.

But good old Misha never quite got put back in the box. So every time I'm published in Russia, I think of him.

End of explanation.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Five Reasons Why You Want to Meet Gregory Frost This Saturday


Actually, there are hundreds of reasons why you should admire Gregory Frost and buy and read all his books. But he's going to be appearing at the Rittenhouse Square Barnes & Noble this Saturday, March 28, at 1 p.m. (along with Tom Purdom, Fran Wilde, editor Sheila Williams and -- cough -- me) for an event marking the current "Philadelphia Issue" of Asimov's Science Fiction and a list of five is kind of traditional for this sort of thing, so...

5.  Because he's a tireless promoter and encourager of other people's work

In addition to his work as an educator (he's currently directing a fiction writing workshop at Swarthmore College), Greg has organized numerous symposia and writing events, and is a founding member of The Liars Club, a gathering of professionals whose name pretty much speaks for itself.

Greg knows more about how to teach writing than anyone I know.  On those rare occasions when I teach, I always go to him for advice first.  His advice is always great, and I'm always glad I took it.

4.  Because he gave up the visual arts for writing.

True story.  Greg has serious chops as a visual artist. While in college, he came to a point where he had to choose between the visual and written arts.  While he was contemplating the question, a fire broke out in his apartment destroying everything, including all his artwork -- but left the manuscript for the novel he was working on untouched.  He took that for a sign and has never looked back.
You think a writer's reputation relies entirely on merit?  Nope.  Blind bad luck is involved as well.  Greg's brilliant novel Tain, a retelling of the Irish epic the Tain Bo Cualigne, was so grotesquely mispackaged as to look like a Western -- at a time when Celtic fantasy was hot and Westerns were not.  You should look it up.  And Remscela as well.
God, I love this story.  Even if some of the lines I love most were written not by me but by that bastard Frost.  Consider only the following monologue, delivered by one of the Dustbowl con-men of the title, after the local sheriff threatens to telegraph the state capital to see if there are any warrants out for him or H'ard:
Wow.  How can you not want to meet a man capable of writing that?
And the particulars, again, are...
Gregory Frost, Tom Purdom, Fran Wilde, Michael Swanwick and editor Sheila Williams will talk about and autograph copies of the April/May Philadelphia Issue of Asimov's Science Fiction.  This is our only scheduled appearance together, so if you want to get five autographs for the price ofa single magazine, this is your best chance.
You can read Tom Purdom's write-up of the event at the Broad Street Review here.
And you can peruse Greg's website here.

3.  Because he's the best Celtic fantasist you've never heard of.

2. Because everything he's written is terrific.

But most especially Shadowbridge and Lord Tophat: A Shadowbridge Novel.  Many years ago, Greg described the Shadowbridge world to me: one of shallow oceans with small, scattered islands, connected by bridges on which people lived. Each span of bridge had its own culture, so you could travel from 15th century London to 20th century Tokyo, just by walking far enough. More, randomly placed along the spans were spiral jetties, at the center of which was a platform. Sometimes things would appear on these platforms, imported from our own world. The knowledge of how to use such things only occasionally came with them, however. So you might be able to copy the Pachinko machine and make a fortune selling it.  But the lawnmower would remain a mystery and all you could do was to place it in an art museum.

How much did I love this idea? So much so that I told Greg, "If you don't write this, I'm going to steal it from you."

I have never said such a thing to another human being in my life. But I really, really wanted him to write it.  And he did.  So I stand vindicated.

1. Because he and I co-wrote "Lock Up Your Chickens and Daughters -- H'ard and Andy Are Come to Town!" which appears in the Philadelphia Issue being celebrated on Saturday.

“Well, I don’t mean to be negative, sir, but I’ve got to tell you:  I just simply do not believe in the telegraph, and that’s a fact.  New-fangled nonsense device like that is prone to breaking down exactly when you need it most.  Why, wires get broke and then all the electricity goes astray and flies helter-skelter all over the place, frightening horses and inconveniencing honest citizens.  Fella writes down a two-dollar message and a puff of wind blows the paper right out the window.  In all the confusion nobody even remembers who sent the darn thing or what it said.  No, sir, put not your trust in machines.  One man, one mule, and a leather sack of paper envelopes with a magenta two-cent George Washington stamp and a hand-cancelation on the front does the job best, is what I say.  Takes a little longer but a dozen times more sure.”

Barnes & Noble
Rittenhouse Square

1 p. m.
March 28, 2015