Friday, October 31, 2014

In the Midst of Death...

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This is my time of year, so much so that the neighborhood kids refer to Halloween as "Michael's Holiday."

But with great pleasure goes responsibility.  The Man Who Turned Into a Spider said that.  So I spent the morning at Gorgas Park, stamping leaves with the words AUTUMN and DEATH.  Just to remind everyone exactly what we celebrate tonight.

The photo above shows some of my handiwork.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fran Wilde -- GEEK of the WEEK!

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One of the advantages of living in Philadelphia is that your chances of becoming Geekadelphia's Geek of the Week go way up.  In the past, this august honor has gone to (among many others) me, Gardner Dozois, Gregory Frost, and Tom Purdom.

Now it's our friend Fran Wilde's turn.  Here's a brief excerpt from her interview:

Will you still be writing short stories now that you’ve been working on novels? Is there something special about the form that you enjoy?

I don’t think I can quit short stories. I love their constraints – the brevity, the framing. It’s also really important for me to shake up the pace now and then.

Which is a sweet answer, if not entirely true.  I've seen any number of terrific short story writers quit the form.  They get into writing novels, which are profitable, and set aside short fiction, which is not.  Possibly they think they'll return to it someday -- I've never asked.  Because the ability to write short fiction well is like being young and beautiful, or witty, or well-liked.  Once you give it up, you're not likely to get it back.

Everything else Fran says is true, however.  Short fiction is a great way to shake things up, to try out something new, to keep your longer work from growing stale and predictable.  I'm glad she doesn't think it's possible to quit writing it.  I hope that, many novels from now, when it's all too easy to let it slide away, she stays in the game.

You can find the entire interview here.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Smallest Literary Anecdote in the World

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My apologies for not managing to blog yesterday.  I spent most of the day in transit and the rest inert. I did have one very small literary moment, however, and I might as well share it with you.

As I was waiting for the plane to take off from the Denver airport, the steward came by to check that everybody was belted in, and noticed that I had brought a copy of Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane to read during the flight.

"Have you read it yet?" he asked.  "That's a wonderful book.  I couldn't stop reading it."

I don't envy Neil for his movies or his advances, or any of the other accouterments of success.  But for just the one moment, I did, amiably, envy him that unsolicited response.


And as always . . .

I have been traveling, but now I'm home again.  Now I have time to relax.  Time to recover.  Time to do the laundry.  Time to write.

And, of course, time to start packing for the next trip.


Oh, and . . .

Please don't anyone post any compliments below.  It would make me look needy.


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Friday, October 24, 2014

Paleontology Without Dinosaurs

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In the fossil world, T. rex is Elvis.  He's the King.  Everybody knows him, and when the subject comes up, he's the one everyone thinks of first.

Something very similar happens with the Mesozoic.  That's the era lasting roughly from 250 to 65 mya, during which dinosaurs arose, thrived, and fell into extinction.  But there's a lot of interesting prehistory, On Beyond Elvis.  There's the Eoarchean Era, when life (probably)arose on Earth.  Or the early Cambrian when life ceased being a relatively placid process and abruptly got funky with armor, claws, and myriad offensive and defensive armaments.

And there's the Eocene Epoch, late in the Cenozoic Era.  Recently I visited the Florissant Fossil Beds National monument which preserves an astonishing assemblage of fossils and microfossils from 34 million years ago.  The fossilized redwood stumps are enormous, but most of the fossils are very small -- hickory leaves, mayflies, spiders and the like.  Many of which are still around.  So it's not as sexy a time as the Cretaceous.  But collectively, the fossils offer a finely grained glimpse into the distant past, and can tell us a great deal about the evolution of life on our planet.  They're not tourist bait, the way Rexie is.  But for those of us who love science, it is genuinely fascinating.

The crown jewel of the collection is a beautifully detailed tsetse fly.  It is the only fossil tsetse fly ever found.  And it was found not in Africa, but in Colorado.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

MileHighCon -- Friday!

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I'm still on the road and suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous motor inn Wi-Fi.  My theory is that travelers are using the Web more and more but that the hotels and motels are reluctant to upgrade their systems because 1) it's expensive, and 2) they figure that, like everything else electronic, it's going to be obsolete soon anyway, so why waste the money?

But I want to remind everybody that MileHighCon, the Rocky Mountains' premiere fantasy and science fiction literary convention, begins Friday.   I'll be there, I'll be interviewing Phil and Kaja Foglio about plot, and I'll be electrifying a pickle.  It'll be fun.

If you're going to be there, feel free to say hello.  That's what I'm there for, after all.  Theoretically, all the guests of honor are a draw not only because you'll get to see and hear them but because you might meet them as well.  So why not meet us?


And speaking of the Florissant Fossil Beds . . .

Yesterday, I was at the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.  It's the dinosaur fossils that draw all the attention, but there's more to the history of life than just the Mesozoic.  The Florissant fossils come from the late Eocene, 35 million years ago and are a fascinating mixture of the huge -- there are several fossilized sequoia stumps on outdoor display -- and the small and delicate.  In the information   center are displayed shall fossils of leaves, insects, and even (I kid you not) fish vomit.  These finely detailed traces of various organisms can tell us a great deal about life then.

My favorite fossil?  The twelve-year-old boy in me likes the fish vomit, of course.  But the aesthete loves the finely-detailed fly (ten percent of all the thousands of fossils found are of near-perfect quality).  And the science geek really likes the fossil tsetse fly.  This is the only fossil of this organism ever found, and it was located far, far, far from its current African habitat.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Fraud and Dinosaurs

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Yesterday, Marianne and I stopped by the Moenkopi Dinosaur Tracks in Tuba City, Arizona.  The experience combined two of my favorite interest:  paleontology and fraud.  Here's how it went:

We drove up to the shabby little stands at the site, and were greeted by an old Navajo woman who offered to show us the tracks.  There was a sign saying that tours were free but donations were accepted.  She led us out on the rock, which had an impressive number of very real dinosaur tracks.  I've seen enough to be sure of this.  "These are three million years old," she said.

The woman carried a water bottle and squirted water into the tracks to make them stand out.  "These are the tiniest tracks," she said. "I think it was a baby."  Then, a ways further, "these are T. rex footprints."

The last dinosaur died 65 million years ago.  And if you look up the site online, you'll find that the dried mud turned to rock long, long before the advent of the tyrannosaur.  (They'll also tell you what dinosaurs "really" left the prints, but don't you believe them.  In the absence of any dino tracks ending in a set of bones, no dinosaur tracks have been connected to their species.  Those are just guesses.). From these facts, I gather that she had no real interest in dinosaurs other than as a source of income.  Otherwise, she'd have learned more.

But now came the fun stuff.  She showed us rocks she said were dinosaur bones. "These are the eyes," she said, squirting water into erosions, "and the nose here. We didn't know this until a few years ago a man came and told us about them."    She showed us round stoned embedded in the rock.  "These are the eggs."  Then some rounded rocks.  "Dino poo."

My heart went out to this woman.  She was working hard.  She had no idea how little of what she said I believed.  She was doing no harm at all.  At the end of the tour, she brought us back to the stand and told us she had made all the jewelry for sale there herself.

It's possible I gave her too large a tip.  But that combination of rascality and innocence is all too rare in this world.  Also, I wanted to do my little bit to impress upon their self-appointed guardians that the fossils were valuable.

As a source of income, if nothing else.


And remember . . .

MileHiCon is this weekend.  It's going to be fun!  The Foglios will be there!  I'm going to electrify a pickle!

Be there or be square.  If you can, of course.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

What I'm Up To, I Think

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Marianne and I arrived in Denver Tuesday, jumped in a rental car, and made a mad dash for the Grand Canyon.  We could have made it in two days if we weren't  so distractible, so prone to side-trips and stopping by the side of the road for no better reason than to breathe the air of a new state.  Yesterday, we went hours out of our way to see Monument Valley, and though we arrived late at our hotel, we were glad of it.

Decades ago, when I had two or three or five stories published, Jack Dann breezed into Philadelphia, as was his wont from time to time back then.  He asked me how my writing was going and I had to tell him it was at a standstill.  "I don't have any ideas for new fiction," I said.  Then I begged him to tell me what to do."

"You're empty," he said.  "Fill yourself up.  Read, take on new experiences, learn.  When you're full again, you'll start writing again.'

And I did.

Since then, I have never stopped writing again, because I'm always full of new stuff.  And I'm always full of new stuff because I'm always out looking for it.

Hence, this trip.

I am not, however, fool enough to try to declare it as a business expense on my taxes.

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