Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Two Stories On The Stands At One Time!


Look what came in the mail yesterday!

The September/October issue of Asimov's Science Fiction contains my novelette "Universe Box." Which, combined with the fact that the current issue of F&SF contains my short story "Starlight Express," (as mentioned in last Thursday's blog post) means this is a pretty darned good month for me.

"Universe Box" was originally published in an edition of thirteen as part of an assemblage by Dragonstairs Press. A project which, incidentally, sold out in four minutes flat.

So what's the story about? It's about cramming as much fun as i could in ten thousand words. A boring young man is about to propose marriage to the love of his life when Trickster drops by with a cigar box containing the biggest, most valuable theft of his career. Dan Scratch shows up to make a deal. The Eternal Minion has a face-down with the Black Lama. And there are giraffe wranglers!

Also, snowflakes.

Oh, and that reminds me: Spoiler Alert. I probably should have said that sometime earlier.

You can visit the Dragonstairs Press site here. Scroll down to see photos and a short film of the box. Linger to admire the many publications that, with one or two fleeting exceptions, are no longer available for sale.


Friday, August 25, 2017

In The Drift and Back In Print


Look what came in the mail yesterday! Twenty-eight years after its last English-language publication, In the Drift is back in print.

My first novel was a fix-up made up of "Mummer Kiss," "Boneseeker," and "Marrow Death," with two intersticial sections. When I submitted the manuscript, the novel was titled The Drift. The publisher didn't like the title and changed it to In the Drift.

Terrible title.

When I asked why, it was explained that it sounded like a horror novel. Which was both true and fair. Unluckily, the editor charged with retitling the book had a tin ear. Even more unluckily, I couldn't think of a better title until, the following year, I received copies of the French translation, Le Baiser du Masque. I got out my French dictionary to find out what the title meant and discovered that it was Mummer Kiss.


The perfect title for the novel had been staring me in the face all the time.

Now Dover Publications has reissued my novel, part of a line of SF disaster novels, I believe. If you're curious, you can go to their website here and look around.

And having neglected to say a word about the contents...

In the Drift is set in an alternative future about a hundred years after the Three Mile Island reactor went to full meltdown. Most of Pennsylvania is unlivable and an impoverished Philadelphia is ruled by the Mummers. Hence the grim story titles.

And just in case the word has gone out of style...

Smek!, by the way, is the sound of one's palm hitting one's forehead.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Starlight Express by Maurizio Manzieri


"All of the drawbacks of being a writer are financial." I said that in a Liars Club podcast. Those are true words and I'm sticking to 'em. But the perks and advantages are manifold.

One of the best of these is getting a beautiful --and perfectly apt -- cover illustration for a novel or story. As has just happened to me. My latest story, "Starlight Express," appears in the newest issue of F&SF and look at the art that was commissioned for the cover.

The story is set in the ancient city of Roma, far in the future. Flaminio, a young nobody who works as a water carrier, happens to be present when a beautiful woman climbs down the steps from the Astrovia, the matter transmitter that once enabled human passage between star systems. Only that's impossible because the Astrovia has been broken for many thousands of years.

Here's what Maurizio Manzieri, the artist, had to work from when he painted the woman, Szette:

Where Flaminio had the ruddy complexion and coarse face of one of Martian terraformer ancestry, the woman had aristocratic features, the brown eyes and high cheekbones and wide nose of antique African blood.  

All of which you can see in Manzieri's painting. Which also establishes the setting of Rome, includes a ghostly Astrovia, and establishes Szette's possible extraterrestrial origin with a scattering of stars  and planets and the earring (jewelry plays a crucial part in the story) with the Milky Way pendant from one lobe.

You can see why I'm so happy with Manzieri's painting. But it's even better than you know, because he also painted Szette's character into her face. If you read the story and then look at the cover again, you'll see what I mean. The gist, the essence of "Starlight Express" is captured in her expression.

But if you want to know what I meant by that, you'll just have to read the story. In the September/October issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. You can buy it on the news stand soon.

Or you could subscribe. I do.

The magazine's website, for those of you who can take a hint,  can be found here.

And if you're a gonnabe writer...

The quotation above, and an earlier reference to the fact that Szette's gown "slid across her body with simple grace," are the totality of what I wrote about her appearance. Not a word more was needed.

And in fact, because Szette's beauty was necessary for the story, I spent more time describing her than I usually do for a character. Because, really, the reader is on your side. They're perfectly willing to do half the imagining for you.


Friday, August 18, 2017

J. K. Klein: Some Achieve Greatness...


In 2012, Gene Wolfe was inducted into the Chicago Hall of Literary Fame and I flew to Chicago to be a small part of that moment. The morning of the event, the late David Hartwell called me up and said, "I'm in Fred Pohl's kitchen, helping him sort through Jay Kay Klein's photos for pictures he can use to update The Way the Future Was. Wanna join us?"

Did I?!

Thus began a very pleasant several hours, a story which I will someday regale you with. But not today. Today I mention it because UC Riverside has announced that they've digitized the nearly six thousand photographs Jay Kay Klein took of the great, near-great, and perfectly obscure of science fiction fandom and prodom over the course of many decades.

But I hear you ask: Who was Jay Kay Klein?

The answer is: An inspiration to ordinary people everywhere. Jay kay was not inherently an interesting person. He wasn't a writer or a particularly articulate conversationalist. He certainly wasn't a fashion icon. He wore white shirts with slacks held up high on the waist by a thin belt. So far as I could tell (and I admit that I could be wrong), there was no particular reason to pay any attention to him. He was unimportant.

So he made himself important.

For decade after decade, he attended every convention he could, bringing along his trusty camera. Jay Kay wasn't a particularly gifted photographer. But he could take a clear shot of a human being, in focus. And he labeled every photograph with name, date, and convention.

So in J. K. Klein's photos, we have a visual history of everybody who was anybody in science fiction over many decades. You can watch the young Harlan Ellison grow old in them. You can find pix of people whom everybody but you has forgotten. All the greats of the time are present. Taken together, the photos are a treasure.

And a quintessentially ordinary man made them.

At least one person reading this feels that he or she is relentlessly ordinary and resents that fact. If that one person is you, reflect on the life of Jay Kay Klein. There's a way out for you. It doesn't have to be photography.

You can read the article about Riverside digitalizing his photos here.

And Speaking of Jay Kay Klein...

In conversation, Jay Kay was, yes, mostly boring. But that doesn't mean that he didn't have his moments. I was talking to him at the Millennial Philcon (2001) when he suddenly grew reflective and said, "I was at the first Philadelphia Worldcon fifty years ago, and I remember things about it that nobody else knows."

"Oh yeah?" I said, eager to learn. "Like what?"

"Like the fact that I was there."

And now his legacy lives on. I believe that would have made Jay Kay happy. It certainly does me.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Never Order A Martini in Scandinavia (Estonia Included)


I'm in Tallinn, Estonia, and I went out to dinner and forgot to bring my camera along. So of course I saw many, many things I would share with you if I had.

But I didn't. So instead I'll share a small piece of dining advice: Never order a Martini in Scandinavia.

There's apparently some disagreement as to whether Estonia is or ought to be (these are two separate questions) part of Scandinavia. But when it comes to Martinis, it is written in rock: Do not order a Martini in Estonia.

Having made this mistake before, in Sweden, I ought to have known better. But on the menu, there was a short list of cocktails available and it included "Dry Martini." It looked safe. So I was taken in.

When the drink arrived, I took a sip and said to Marianne, "Try this."

She did and said, "That's got a lot of dry vermouth in it."

"It's nothing but dry vermouth," I replied. Which was the literal truth.

When you say, "Martini" here, people hear "Martini & Rossi" and bring it to you as an aperitif. Americans making such a big deal about the drink, of course, everyone knows that a dry Martini requires more than just dry vermouth. So they added two cocktail olives on a toothpick.

I would have snapped a photo of the "Martini," had I brought the camera. Since I didn't, I share with you my look of patient resignation upon first tasting the drink.That's it up above.

And did I mention the rain...?

Not only did I leave my camera behind, but I also neglected to take along my umbrella. It being monsoon season, it proceeded to rain. Marianne and I ate on one of those wooden platforms out on the street under oversized umbrellas.

Earlier, I had bought two spools of thread for Marianne's Dragonstairs Press Christmas chapbooks. And since we were stuck under the umbrellas for some time, I wrote one of the Christmas stories for her.

So I've gotten a good start on the Christmas season. How about you?


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Chitchat in Helsinki


Worldcon 75. I arrived in Helsinki at 2 p.m. and by nightfall had been in conversations with so many people that if I mentioned a fraction of them, you'd think I was a name dropper.

The fact, for example, that Marianne and I were sitting at a table in the al fresco cafe outside the convention center with Shawna McCarthy and Pat Cadigan and Ellen Datlow and Eileen Gunn and a batch of other witty and congenial folk when Robert Silverberg stopped by to schmooze.

Or the conversation I had at the Chinese Fandom party with Ruhan Zhang and Bao Shu and my friend of ten years' standing, Haihong Zhao, about the current state of science fiction in China.


But ya know what? It's been a long, long, jet-lagged day and I'm fading fast. Hitting the sack now. Regret that. Hope your every day is as good as this one has been for me.

More to come.

Above: The drink that won a competition for best gin and tonic in Europe. Its secret? Frozen lingonberries and a sprig of rosemary. Pat Cadigan looks on in admiration.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

In Which I Explain Everything There Is To Be Explained


I've been interviewed for Reach. The interview covers a lot of territory from what The Iron Dragon's Mother is about to how I plot, my favorite blurb, what there is to be learned from James Branch Cabell, etc., etc. Here's a fairly typical call-and-response:

REACH:  Is your writer workspace a permanent location and do you subscribe to Einstein's opinion about messy desks: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”  

Can you send us an image of your writer workspace?  Do you even have one of those outdoor workshed style writer workspace or do you have the old school, extended library office?  Writer's workspaces are a kind of a popular fetish for making into a man-cave or princess-room that all wannabe writers and fans want to see what their favorite authors look like in their natural habitat.  What are your most important work tools and reference books or inspirational favorite sci-fi authors in your personal workspace?

MS: I have an extremely cluttered home office – photographer Kyle Cassidy uses it as the standard of untidiness – filled with memorabilia (a bundle of rope samples from a factory in Kolomna, a West African sword, globes of real and imaginary worlds, trophies, Swanwick-brand soup cans that Jason Van Hollander made for me, and so on), drifts of paper from dozens of projects, various tools of the trade, and of course shelf upon shelf of books – most of them double-stacked and almost all non-fiction. (Fiction and poetry are shelved elsewhere.) Marianne calls it a wizard’s den.

Basic reference works kept by the desk are a thesaurus, a standard dictionary, Barlett’s Familiar Quotations, and the Oxford English Dictionary – the condensed version that you have to use a magnifying glass to read. Close to hand are various foreign dictionaries and specialized reference books on fairies, saints, demons, and so on. Plus lots and lots of books on the sciences, religion, folklore, whatever. A pretty standard batch, really, for a writer.

I also have a “devil stone” that a Siberian shaman gave me, to unlock my powers he said. When I don’t feel like working, I hold it in my hand to remind myself of all the things and experiences my writing has brought me.

You can find the entire interview here.

Above: My favorite author photo ever. By Beth Gwinn. You can find her home page here.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!


Long-time readers of this blog know that when I have absolutely no news to convey and yet feel obligated to post (I have been remiss in recent weeks, and am anxious to get back on schedule), I offer writing advice for new writers.

Today's advice: Simplify.

There is a story and it should be told in the absolute minimum number of words possible. Kurt Vonnegut once wrote that in fiction every sentence should reveal character or advance the action. Those are words to live by.

Unsuccessful stories are full of digressions. They begin by "setting the scene" -- rip all that out. The protagonist comments on things that have nothing to do with the story and do not clarify his or her character. That goes too.





Then take a sponge and mop up as much of the blood as you can.If you've done it right, what remains will be lean, lovely, and compelling.

You're probably wondering now how to tell when you've cut too much. Don't worry about it. In all my decades of reading, I only ever ran into one published story where the author had taken out more than he should have -- and he was a very skilled writer indeed, one of the best.

That's all for today. But it's enough to keep you occupied for a long, long time.

Above: Some pretty flowers. They don't advance the action. But they do reveal something about my character.