Monday, December 2, 2013

Not Actually Rereads: Ladies of Mandrigyn

When I was a youth, 99% of what I read was fantasy and science fiction. We didn't have the most money, so any such book that came into the house, I'd read over and over for years. In this occasional series, I take up some of those old and treasured titles and give them a read after fifteen or twenty years to see how I feel about them now.
It's weird the way you remember things.

The mid eighties were a good time to be a Barbara Hambly fan. She still writes, I think: mysteries now, though, not the fantasy that I devoured. She had maybe three series of books going on, and some stand alone novels, but I think eventually everything became a series. I read pretty much anything with her name on it, and I loved it all.

Or, I thought I read anything with her name on it. Turns out, I missed  one.

Yes, this is my first reread that wasn't actually a reread at all. I just assumed I had read Ladies of Mandrigyn, for several reasons that seem good. First, as noted, I thought I read everything Hambly put out. Second, I have most certainly read the other, later books in this series, The Witches of Wenshar and The Dark Hand of Magic. So you'd think I would have read the first one, right?

Wrong, as it turns out. I never read this thing in my life, or if I did, it failed to make enough of an impression to even seem vaguely familiar, and that isn't likely to be the case. I can't really evaluate it accurately for this purpose, then: it's not a reread. Is it a bad book? No, but it's kind of loose and slowish and the plot is thin on the ground. It's a set up novel, and I think (from my dim recollections) that works well enough that the other two books do pretty well. It wasn't hard to get through or anything, and though there's the vague sexism that permeates almost all fantasy before the very modern era (and is still not banished completely by any means), it's subverted in many ways by a variety of strong female characters who have interesting stories. There are lesbians, too, without much judging or even comment (and implications that gay men are around too, just being dudes, but we don't see them), and that's nice.

As a reread, it's a failure, though.


I can still highly recommend rereading Hambly's Those Who Hunt The Night, which is an excellent vampire novel; and also her Darwath books, which have a kind of weak ending to my mind, but which are great overall. I've reread both since I became an adult person, and they hold up well; because I'd done that, I didn't want to use them for this series of posts, but having failed at the purpose, I'll fall back on my other knowledge.
(As a note: I tend to use original cover art for these, or at least, the cover that I grew up with, which might be different, but Hambly's books are seemingly all available in some sort of new edition, with covers that match up, and I think they're very pretty, so I'm using that edition for the Darwath books.)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Christmas Time is already here



I haven't posted in a couple of weeks; novel writing doesn't take up that much time, really, but it takes up enough, and when you're using your words for one thing you get stingy with others. Two weeks is plenty long for silence though.

These are my inlaw dachshunds, running around on their little legs in the frost like bosses.
(Photo Credit: Troy Turner)
We went away for Thanksgiving as we do each year, over to Eastern Washington to a nice, friendly house outside of a little town called Davenport. My husband's family get together, with a lot of food and wine and snacks and cold, in this case represented by hoarfrost all over everything, turning the world pale and white and slightly frightening.

But because it's December 1st and we're home, today is the day Christmas starts to appear in our house. We haven't got a tree yet, and won't for a couple weeks probably, but decorations have seeped out of the closet and into the apartment: lights and reindeer, stockings and cheer of all sorts. Adam watched his favorite Christmas movie, and I'm about to have some soy nog, and we're listening off and on to holiday music. Pretty much festive pretty much all the time.

I don't mind, because Christmas is my favorite holiday, and having it stretch out in bits and pieces over a month is delightful.

If you're getting your house ready about this time, I hope you have fun with it. I've got to get back to the writing, but I'll try to stay away less long.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Write In

Yesterday was Seattle's halfway point for Nanowrimo (said point being either the 15th or the 16th of the month as one prefers, though there is some contention as to the day; it's like a much less important version of the debate about Easter.) As per every year, there's a big get together in some place with a lot of space and some coffee, and a bunch of people show up with their laptops and peck away at the novels while being surrounded by their fellows, occasionally engaging in sprints (type as much as you can in a short period) or word wars (challenge a neighbor to write more in a generally slightly longer period than a sprint). There are prize drawings that you usually enter by achieving some number of words, for instance, one ticket per thousand words written.
I've never actually gone to a write in at all; most of them are smaller versions of the halfway get-together, with six or eight people in a cafe somewhere on Wednesday night for two hours. But the atmosphere was incredibly conducive to writing, and even though I was only on site for an hour, and some of that was spent getting set up and buying a beer and so on, I put up 2000 words on the WiP. (A caveat to that: I thought I wrote 2500 words; I'm writing the book on Google Drive, but had to port it to Open Office, and they count words so differently that I ended up with an extra 500 in Open Office. So that's what I wrote down, that I'd done 2500, but the extra 500 were scattered throughout my 35000 word document, so they didn't actually count. I felt bad about faking my honor system number unintentionally, even though I claimed no raffle tickets at all, so it didn't matter. I am built for guilt.)
The point being, it was pretty fun, and I think I might trek out and find more of them in the next couple of weeks, see if the feeling stands, and if I can crank out such big numbers so quickly which I'm not often able to do on my own.
(I was also able to donate a couple copies of Engines to serve as prizes, which were well received, and which was a relief, as I'm looking at the box full of them and wondering what will happen with them all, and coming up blank.)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

NaNoWriMo

As seemingly every year, I am doing National Novel Writing Month. This year, it's a rewrite: I had a novel that went over somewhat like a lead balloon, and I'm fixing it (by which I mean: burning it to the ground and rebuilding by memory of the original plans, with sudden inspirations that have no basis in the first version; all to the good.) Progress is good, very good indeed, and I'm feeling like the story is so much improved that it's amazing. Though, it's not quite the same story, and I'm not even sure it will end up the same genre when it's done. But it's a better thing overall, so that's good.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Reading success!

It went very well. And as it turns out, there was book cake. Which is it's own success.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Big Day

Today is the day. The culmination of roughly two years of negotiating, editing, waiting, rewriting, waiting, planning, waiting, thinking, waiting, and waiting. Today is the day you can go out into the world and buy Engines of the Broken World. It's been a long time coming, but I'm very happy with the end result.

Also today: I'll be working a shift at the kid's desk at the University Book Store's main branch in Seattle, from 10-4. Not my first time at that particular rodeo, but I don't normally spend much time in the kid's department, so this will be...interesting.

And then tonight, at 7 pm, I'll be doing a reading at that very same store, not more than 50 feet from where I will have previously been badly recommending books.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Artist and Art

Ender's Game comes out this weekend. I'm not going to post a link, not going to post a picture, nothing. No traffic to it. No help at all. I hope it flops spectacularly and is held up as one of the biggest failures in cinematic history. I'm not really thinking that's going to happen, but my fingers are still crossed. It's not that I don't like the product, though. Probably I would. I loved the book as a youth when I first read it, and over the five or eight following years I read it and its two immediate sequels many times. I liked it so much I read almost all of the author's other stuff: the Prentice Alvin series (started good, got bogged down in complications, still don't know if it's been finished); the Homecoming Saga (good stuff, I thought); the short fiction, the minor works. Again, no links. If you're interested, you can find it. My problem isn't with the product. My problem is with the creator.

Orson Scott Card is a gifted writer and a bigot. He produces amazing fiction (with problematic messages) and is apparently a wonderful teacher and mentor to scores of writers past and present. But he's also racist, homophobic, and has advocated the violent overthrow of the nation if things don't go the way his narrow-minded creed would prefer. This creates a problem, of course. There's the art (which is good) and the artist (who is bad.) How do you separate them?

There isn't one answer. Some people can't divorce the two in any way, and once they find out a creator is a bad human being, they drop all connection to everything that's been produced by that person. Some people can completely remove such concerns from their mind; they aren't friends with people like Card, they just read his books. But of course it's more complicated than that. When an artist has money and influence, they can use it to shape discourse. Card certainly has done so; he is a notable political donor to his pet causes, and further he tithes to his church which then used its money to support...the same causes. So when you decide that you can buy a Card book, or see a movie that he's getting paid for (even if the payment's already been made, there are a great number of Ender books, and he'll get more money for each if they're made), you're giving his personal opinions (the ones you think everyone is entitled to, most likely) political power.

Which is why I'm not linking to his books. Not buying anything he produces, though I've greatly enjoyed much of his stuff when I was younger and knew no better. Why I'm not going to see the movie, though it promises to be lovely and possible even good; and why I'm advocating not seeing it to everyone I can.

He's not the only one of course: Roman Polanski is a child rapist who fled the nation to avoid charges; I don't watch his stuff; Woody Allen has a problematic relationship with his ex stepchildren, who allege a great number of things against him, and one of whom he married (apparently happily) when she was barely an adult and he was forty years older; I don't much care for his movies, so he's easy to avoid, and the issues are more tangled with him in any case. It's of course easier when the person is dead. There are hundreds of horrible people who produced great work (Leni Reifenstahl was quite probably a Nazi, and certainly something of a racist, but she made beautiful movies and took amazing photos, and fortunately, she's dead now) and it's possible, once they've left the mortal coil, to consume it without much issue. Because to me the problem is, and always will be, validating the person. When you give Card money, you validate him; and further, he spends it to make the world run the way he wants it to. When you support a Polanski movie, you tacitly accept that because he's talented it's okay he drugged and raped a 13 year old and fled prosecution. When you watch a Woody Allen flick, you put yourself in the gray area of supporting what is obviously a man who desires only much younger women, but does he desire them too young? Well, it's hard to say, and so that's up to you. But awareness is important.

Everyone has to draw their own lines, of course. Here, or there, or way over there, but they are drawn, even if you don't mean to. Mine are pretty strict, though they're fallible. I don't spend a lot of time investigating every person involved with every project. Nor should you, really. But if you find out that some raging jerk is benefiting from the art, and you still go to see it even if you disagree with that benefit, you're a bit of a raging jerk yourself, don't you think?

Happy Halloween!

I am dressing up as nothing, because I have to work tonight. But whatever tricks you perpetrate and whatever treats you snatch, have a good time with it.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Signed Books

Hey, are you a person who likes signed books? Especially ones signed by the person who wrote them? Sure you are. And as I've got a book coming out, and know how to sign my name, I can be of assistance.

Just get a hold of University Bookstore in Seattle and order a copy of my book, and in the comments line note you'd like it signed. They'll put it aside until I stop in (which I do all the time) and I'll sign it. Then it'll ship out to you the next day. Pro-tip: free shipping in the USA with a big enough online order. Superpro-tip: free shipping on all book orders if you call the store direct, instead of using the internet (it's very remotely like the secret menu at In-and-Out, only less interesting, I guess?)

So that's a thing, starting on the 5th of November.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Rereads: Foiled, Failed, Defeated

When I was a youth, 99% of what I read was fantasy and science fiction. We didn't have the most money, so any such book that came into the house, I'd read over and over for years. In this occasional series, I take up some of those old and treasured titles and give them a read after fifteen or twenty years to see how I feel about them now.

It may be that I'm worn out on epic fantasy. It may be that I'm just confronted with things of greater interest, and it's just too long. Or it may be that I had little taste when I was younger (already established, I know). Whatever the reason, I just could not finish The Eye of the World.

I tried. Mightily I strove against the monster. Clocking in at 685 pages, it's the biggest of the rereads I've done so far, though it's the smallest in the series that it's part of, The Wheel of Time.

I first read the book in late 1990; I was in college, at the University of Washington, and there was a little bookstore (a branch of the University Bookstore) on campus in the student union building. Nick DiMartino was and still is the bookbuyer for that branch, and he had at the time a very broad selection of fantasy, which included the first two books of Robert Jordan's epic. The second one had just come out, and I bought and read both of them in short order.

How amazing they were. Grand scale, epic scope, magic and monsters and dark powers and secret organizations all places in a huge and seemingly well developed world. And really, all of that was true. Was true, though. The fantasy genre has moved on, building on what Jordan made, and now he seems a little quaint, a little out of touch. There's too much bloat in even the first book (let alone books eight or nine or ten, which drive crazy even devoted fans, and caused me to give up on them a decade ago). There's too many characters. A good thing, you would think: making the world real. But in my real world, I don't know the name of my barrista most often, or my bank teller. If I see their nametag, I don't remember it. Most people just aren't that important to our lives, and certainly not to our narratives (such as they might be). Jordan made a point of giving names to a great many people, including some who got only a line or two (out of 685 pages!) and who would never turn up again. Names, names, names, a parade of them. As to that world, it's actually weird and silly and doesn't make much sense, but even I can admit, there's a lot of it, and it's developed as all hell. Just: stupidly, mostly.

from mightygodking.com, which is awesome, really it is.


I won't even get into his gender politics, which are ridiculous; or the fact that the series was supposed to be much shorter than it was (that latter doesn't impact the first book, which reads very much like the first book of a trilogy); or the fact that he tossed everything into a blender to come up with the craziest melange of stuff in the fiction of his time.

I'll just say it was too much. Too slow, too burdensome, too many characters, too many story lines, too much of everything. And yet, in my head, this book was the best of the lot, and suffered from those problems the least; I cannot imagine what I'd think of book nine at this point. My mind won't wrap around it.

With the publication of the last book-as-three-books, I thought I'd finally get around to reading the series again and finishing it, but sadly, I'm certain now that's never going to happen. I have fond memories of it, and I ran the roleplaying game version for a year and change with great delight, but I can't picture any circumstance when I would dive back into these again. They're not for me any longer.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Come Back To The Sea


The incredible tor.com just published one of my stories, Come Back to the Sea, a moody, creepy story about a girl and her friend and their fun times by the beach. Half of that description was true. Read it to figure out which.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Andrew Wylie Interview

An excellent and delightfully worded interview with a literary agent great--he represents Rushdie and Roth and Amis and the estate of Nabakov and so on. Read it here.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Portland and Back


Whew. The husband and I are both somewhat sickly at the moment (just colds, but they're dragging on and on) which didn't stop us from making a day and a half trip down to Portland. Not just because it was booked, and we're terribly frugal and wouldn't let a booking go by without serious cause, but because my publisher was sending me there to sign things.

(By things, I mean Advanced Reader's Copies of Engines of the Broken World, henceforth [should it come up again] ARCs)

We boarded the Bolt Bus southward. I can kind of recommend it, if it's in your area (the Northeast, the Northwest, and very soon expanding to California's more notable throughways.) It was fast, efficient, terribly cheap--that's the bits I can recommend easily. It was also, despite possessing very new buses, not particularly comfortable. There's something about the angle of the seats, and there's not quite enough padding, and there's no really good way to get completely relaxed. It didn't seem like a big deal at first but by the end of the ride it was bothersome. Not bad enough to make me regret twelve dollar tickets, mind you. Just something to keep in mind.

For the second time we put up in the Mark Spencer Hotel, which is kind of a dream destination. Cookies. Wine. In-suite kitchens. I would live there if it was possible. It helps, too, that it's right downtown, a block from Powell's, which if you don't know, you must learn.

Powell's is called the City of Books, and it's definitely just that. Filling an entire city block, it's split up in a bunch of color-coded rooms (Rose and Red and Gold and so on) that are each as big as a bookstore might normally be. I have worked for many years in a good sized bookstore that would vanish into Powell's and might not be noticed by a casual visitor if that happened. You can drift through it for hours without even necessarily finding what you're looking for (that would be mostly your own fault; it's there, whatever it is you're seeking, but probably you got distracted. Or lost. That's a valid problem, getting lost there.) So we went there three or so times, for varying length visits. Short, each of them, but that's because I'm easily fatigued by too many books.

Which made it odd to cab over to a hotel out by the airport and go to the PNBA annual conference, a thing that I attended last year as a judge for a prize committee, and this year as an author. PNBA (the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association) is a friendly group of book store owners, workers and friends (authors, publisher reps, editors, etc.) who meet once per year for a weekend of books, books, books, and some more books, possibly with some wine and/or breakfast thrown in. My publisher got an invite to have me come and sign ARCs there (yes! I got to use it again!), and I wasn't about to say no. I mingled and spoke with this person and that, and then sat at a table next to other authors also signing and practiced my signature. It needs the practice, by the way. But they took almost all the ARCs (again!) my publisher had sent, and I bagged up the handful of leftovers and now have them to give away myself as needed, and then I went to meet up with the husband in town once more and have some lunch at a delightful theater where he had filled up his time with a documentary (20 Feet From Stardom, he recommends it if that's of interest at all.)

Bolt Bus back to Seattle in the gloaming, and we spent all of yesterday just napping. Colds and too much travel in too short a time. But we're improving now.

Anyway. It was fun, and I'm very grateful that Henry Holt/Macmillan sent me down there. I'd do it again in an instant.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

So much rain

Seattle is a place that most people think of as rainy, but that's not really true. It's cloudy a whole lot (way too much, really) and drizzle falls reasonably often, occasionally exerting itself to become scattered showers, and once in while really powering up in order to qualify as a good downpour.

September usually gets about an inch and a half of rain. The tail end of summer, it's normally warm and ray and blue skied and pleasant. And it was for most of the start of the month. But the end...well, that was something else. This year, we got close to seven inches of rain, and most of that fell in the last five days of the month. On Saturday, we had more rain than we normally get in the entire 30 days, 1.71 inches.

There's flood watches and warnings in the surrounding areas, and I keep seeing pictures that people are posting of cars up their doors in puddles grown into ponds, of parking lots that are small lakes, of streets become streams. It's not very bad, really: just interesting photos, and a few people in a little bit of trouble, some pretty minor flooding overall. Lucky, that.

I am, in many ways, rather more fortunate even than most: I live on a hill in the center of the city, one that's paved over and bound down by apartment buildings and streets and sidewalks and offices. The rain all runs away downhill from us, and we don't end up with mudslides or falling cliffs or anything. Just wet.

I'm hoping for a drier October, and it will most likely happen, but it might seem wetter. More days of rain, even if there's only sprinkles, give an impression of precipitation all out of keeping with reality. Which is probably how most folks end up thinking of Seattle as rainy in the first place.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sacrum, Illium, Whatever

While doing some volunteer work I managed to mess up my sacroilliac joint. It's a little hinge of sorts that connects your hip and your spine, or something like that; what it really is a serpent waiting to strike. Standing, sitting, bending, it turns out you use that little joint for just about everything. So when it gets inflamed, you end up with a lot of bed rest and not much else.
I'm up and about again, with some caveats that I can't really lift or shift anything terribly heavy. Sitting is still hit or miss; some chairs are perfectly comfortable for hours at a time, others I can sit in for about three minutes before the pain in my SI gets to be slightly unbearable, and it seems to not matter if the seat is hard and wooden or nicely cushioned--I can get different results from the same kind of chair made slightly different.
Stuck on my back mostly, you'd think I would do a lot of being productive. Instead, I fretted and fussed and was almost entirely useless. Hence my long absence from writing anything here. For which I apologize, and will now recommence. It only makes good sense, now that I can get about essentially without limits any longer, that I confine myself to produce blog posts.
Strange creatures, we humans, and me not the least.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Rereads: Dune

When I was a youth, 99% of what I read was fantasy and science fiction. We didn't have the most money, so any such book that came into the house, I'd read over and over for years. In this occasional series, I take up some of those old and treasured titles and give them a read after fifteen or twenty years to see how I feel about them now.

This one's a big deal. Frank Herbert's Dune is one of the biggest books in the world, not just in Science Fiction, but in general. Millions of copies sold, dozens of related books, a big screen movie, a television mini-series or two with crazy hats, a board game or two, and dozens of imitators.

So why was I underwhelmed?

Let's examine the situation. I probably read Dune the first time when I was ten or so, as with a great many of these books. It's a really dense book for a ten year old, even one who'd been reading at a college level for a couple of years, and probably I didn't grasp all of it at the time. I tore through it all the same, and through the next three books (Dune Messiah, Children of Dune and God Emperor of Dune). The other two "real" Dune books didn't exist when I read the series; and none of the seemingly endless supply of related titles put out by Herbert's son with a co-author (read: the actual author) were even nightmares yet. Many times I reread them all, especially when Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune appeared. But within a couple more years, by the time I was say sixteen or so, I was done. I never really read them again, I don't think; it's possible that I gave Dune one more read at some point, and God Emperor also (I think that's the best of the series, or I did...who can say, now?)

There's the movie to consider, as well. David Lynch did a very strange adaptation: big budget, prestigious cast of mostly little known (good, theatrical) actors, massive inaccuracies. I've seen that a dozen times, at least, so many that when I imagine the characters they look like Brad Dourif

 or Sting

 or Sean Young.

 And that's where the problem arises. The movie is wrong in so many places, stupid in so many more, and changes things to make them so bad it's almost funny but not quite. And yet...it's got some powerful imagery. And it cuts out a lot of the blah,blah,blah of the book.

Did I mention that blah,blah,blah yet? No? Well, there's a lot of it. Dune is a "philosophical" sort of novel, of the same kind as the Foundation series, for instance. Note the quotes, though. It's not really philosophical, or particularly smart. It's pretty dumb, really. But it imagines itself to be smart, and so it goes on (Herbert goes on, to be factual) at great length about this or that or the other thing, and none of it is particularly interesting, really. Clumsy politics, goofy environmentalism (here I must note: good on Herbert for having any such thoughts at all), drippy religious stuff, silly economics. There's something of a good novel inside (obvious: it has outsold my wildest imagination of what good sales could be) but it's bogged down with so much bonus stuff that has to be kind of hand waved away, or apologized for, or just skipped over.

I can remember doing that a lot when I was younger. Skipping over whole books, in fact: the second and third, to get to the fourth. But even Dune and God Emperor of Dune are laden with the same problems as the inferior entries that I scorned to reread.

So was this a reread I enjoyed? A mixed bag. There were bits I really liked a lot, bits I found eminently readable but didn't really relish, and bits I didn't care about. Mostly I thought it needed to be about 200 pages shorter; that it would have benefited from a few less details and systems and patterns and suchlike; and that I really wish there were more of some of the characters and less of others. But that's not the case, of course. It's a classic as it is, whether I really love it any more or not, and sadly I don't.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Victoria, BC

My delightful husband surprised me with a quick weekend trip to Victoria by clipper. We did not stay at the Empress Hotel (pictured above) because it's damn expensive, but isn't it the prettiest thing ever?

The thing about Victoria that surprised me was how many bookstores there were (bookshops, perhaps, as it was Canada.) I think, in walking about for the better part of two days, I saw something like eight bookstores, mostly new books only, but a couple mixed new and used, and a couple just used. The greatest of them has to be Russell Books, which claims to have new and used, but I think it's just that they special order new books, and maybe have a very few tucked away discretely in some odd nook. It was a massive, delightfully tightly packed, high shelved store of awesomeness. It's big enough that they've had to take over adjoining spaces, thus giving them three separate entrances into the place.



My main joy was the used scifi/fantasy section. I've been doing a good number of rereads, and there's one thing about them, which is that a lot of the books are out of print. Which means used book stores. But they can be hard to find. Most places, I mean. Not at Russell, where I found such a bonanza of books it was amazing. I had to just stop looking, because I was carrying everything home. I got five books, one of which, Dune, is readily in print, but I'd rather buy used because it's cheaper. But the others: well, a couple are in print, I think, but a couple are most definitely out of print, and it might be all four of them are. This was the sort of store, though, where I would catch sight of obscure books I read thirty years ago that almost certainly went out of print twenty eight years ago, and there would be two copies of the thing. So of course, I found almost all the books I was looking for. (They did miss out on having one book, which is still in print, and is very good, and so I can see why a used bookstore wouldn't have it. None of the other places I've looked have had it either, so I wasn't surprised.)

So I've got my next handful of rereads just waiting for me on the shelf, and I'm pretty excited. I can't say that I really fell in love with Victoria, but I did fall in love with Russell Books, and they ship free in the US for orders over 50 dollars, so I can still give them money without a problem, even across the border. That makes me happy.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Rereads: The Black Company

When I was a youth, 99% of what I read was fantasy and science fiction. We didn't have the most money, so any such book that came into the house, I'd read over and over for years. In this occasional series, I take up some of those old and treasured titles and give them a read after fifteen or twenty years to see how I feel about them now.
Wow. This was a hard one. Not because I had to force myself through it or anything. Glen Cook's book is a page turner still. But...well...it's not quite what I remember.

Let me explain. I really, really dug this book when I read it (must have been high school, 10th grade, maybe? 11th perhaps?) I mean, I thought it was the best thing ever. It's a book about a centuries old mercenary company (the titular group) getting tangled up in the high level politics of a magical empire (under the employ, specifically, of the black-clad baddie depicted on the cover above). Everyone has a short, often brutal sounding nickname; the action is quick and often summed up (as in: we fought a lot, some people died, then it was the next morning); the mystical powerhouses are incredibly powerful and thus the main character has to just scramble around under them hoping for the best. The book is funny, grim, clever and has been most influential.

So, why the hesitation? Why the problematic response?

Because it's not what I remember, mainly. I remember it being incredibly awesome, and instead it's just pretty darn good. I remember it being full of details and quirks and curiosities, and instead it just hints at most of that. I remember thinking these characters were wily and cunning and wicked, and they are, but so very sketchily described. Part of the problem is in reading just one book: there is a whole massive series. A first trilogy, a bonus book that occurs sometime during that trilogy, a duology, and then a quadrilogy. Ten total books, with some core of the same characters continuing on to become much better defined. I read just the one (that's what I try to do) and so I felt a little disappointed, I guess.

These books are still really good, though. Steven Erickson owes a truly huge debt to them (one he freely admits to): his Bridgeburners are a slightly more ethical version of the Black Company, and his scale of powers, from ordinary soldier on up to godlike mages, is taken direct from this series too; so too much of his naming tradition of both characters and locations. He built a grand edifice of his own that obviously expanded far beyond what he took from Cook, but still, the foundations are here, in the Black Company. Joe Abercrombie, too, owes a lot to these books and their mix of humor and grim brutal reality in an essentially martial world. 

Cook is also the author of the very fine Garrett files, a genius collection of books about a fantasy noir PI that I think I enjoy more than the Black Company, and which are still being written, irregularly, some twenty five years after the first book came out. In other words, the man's solid: two great series coming out over the same twenty or twenty five year period; and other things besides, some that I've read, some I haven't.

One last thing. There's a game in the Black Company, called Tonk. It's a card game that the soldiers all play for small change when there's down time, which is almost always. Regularly, for ten books, there will be someone in the background shouting out "Tonk!" When me and my friends were about 20 or so, we found a rules set for it, and for a short time, Tonk became our game. But I can see why it's the sort of thing you play always and forever to fill up the boring hours; it's not very thrilling or challenging, and it's superfast, and you could win or lose a lot of money in a day but make it up the next. Strange, though: when I first ran into Tonk during this reread, and all the rules came back into my head at once. It's curious when a book becomes a part of your life in more than the sense of reading and liking it. And for that, thank you, Glen Cook

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Leo

It's my birth month now. Not that I was born over a thirty one day period (for which my mother must be very grateful). No, I was born in the middle of the sunny and lazy month of August, a delightful time of year to have your birthday. August in Seattle is one of the most beautiful times and places to be alive: warm without being hot, occasionally a bit of brief rain to freshen things up, skies so blue they make you ache, and the nights are still avoiding being chilly after blissfully long days. When I was a kid we used to go to water parks or have barbeques, that sort of thing, for my birthday. My older brother, who was born in January, got nothing so festive.

Normally I wouldn't make much note of it being August. Even as a child, I don't think I got too giddy just at being in my birth month. But my husband loves to celebrate things, and he dotes on ideas like "birthday months". It makes it more exciting, I'll give him that, to have someone constantly building up an event. This morning when I got up, there was a little bag on the coffee table; nothing to do with it being my birthday month, but a lingering Christmas gift, which is a star chart calendar thing. Every month I stare bleary eyed at a lovely blue card with a calender for April or August, whatever it might be, at the bottom, and a pattern of stars connected by dotted lines above. I struggle to thread a needle with embroidery floss, which is the devil's thread in that it separates into strands immediately on touching it so that threading it will take between fifteen seconds (hurray!) and fifteen minutes (boo!!!!). And then I poke a bunch of holes and sew up the stars. Of course, the astrological signs don't match up with the months, but more or less they do, and no one would buy a calendar that split up months, so Leo sits on August, even if part of the lion is actually draped over July, too. The thread supposedly glows in the dark, but we've never noticed it doing so. It doesn't matter: at 25 bucks for the thing, it's a really great gift that keeps on giving.

All the constellations are nonsense, of course. One wonders how the ancients looked up and made out a lion from among the heavens. Humans will see relevance and form in anything, I guess. Because Leo looks to me very much like a Sphinx, which would be a cool creature to have as my Zodiac animal.

It's scarcely more than a week until my birthday now. It's not one of the big ones, and in the normal course of affairs I'd probably just have a few people out for drinks and call it a day. Which is still happening, but Adam also has some mysterious journey planned. Just a weekend outing, actually, my birthday being on a weekend this year, which, it already coming in August, seems a bit much. Let some other people have some fortune for their natal occasions. I've had plenty.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Rereads: The Sword of Shannara

When I was a youth, 99% of what I read was fantasy and science fiction. We didn't have the most money, so any such book that came into the house, I'd read over and over for years. In this occasional series, I take up some of those old and treasured titles and give them a read after fifteen or twenty years to see how I feel about them now.
Oh, this book. Just look at it. That Brothers Hildebrandt cover. The goofy font. That word: Shannara. The scroll on which the title block is "printed". All of this is too painfully familiar to me. The book came out in 1977, but that's not when I read it; probably it was about 1980 or so when I got the book. I can't remember if my mom or my dad bought it for me, but I have clear memories of reading it at my dad's house, and of the book later living there in a drawer in a desk that wasn't mine. Maybe it was my dad's writing desk? Probably that was the case. He didn't use all the spaces in that desk, so I probably put this book--which I can remember liking very much--into a drawer to keep it safe.

Terry Brooks is a great Pacific Northwest success story. He was the first fantasy author after Tolkien to really get big, go mainstream. He was a New York Times bestseller, and with this book, this very book taht I tucked into my dad's desk. It had all the great elements: a humble hero, his doofus of a sidekick, his other irresponsbile sidekick who grew into a great and admirable warrior, the mysterious wizard, the exiled prince, the dwarf, the elf, the One Ring...wait a minute. I was talking about the Lord of the Rings there for a minute. Let me fix that. Strike out the One Ring and change it for the Sword of Shannara, and all the rest can stay. Because, and of course when I was a youth I barely registered this, if at all, this book is the second most obvious knock off of Tolkien ever to be written (here's the current title holder).

Brooks went on to write about a hundred thousand more Shannara books (well, twenty or thirty) and just published what's supposedly going to be the last of them. They veered into their own world, their own creation, very rapidly; the second book in the series, called The Elfstones of Shannara, was my favorite of them, and already moves far away from Tolkien, or as far as one could after loosely establishing a world that was so very much in the master's shadow.

I got this book from the library a couple weeks ago, and was daunted to see it was huge. That's not an uncommon occurrence in fantasy, of course, and I'd read the book before two or three times, but it came as something of a shock after how much slimmer all my other rereads have been. Brevity used to be valued to a degree in fantasy, which is almost entirely gone; in my years as a bookstore clerk I saw people pass on buying fantasy novels--from authors they liked, no less--simply because at 300 or so pages, it wasn't enough content to justify buying. Well. I'd rather a good short novel than a bloated piece of poorly written tripe any old day.

Did I say bloated, and did I say tripe? Well, I meant them. The Sword of Shannara was Brooks's first book, and his editor, I'm given to understand, helped to shape it to be as much like the Lord of the Rings as they could manage, to the detriment of the material. Further, there's never a long and pointless description that isn't used; Tolkien did the same, but with the intent of showing his world's carefully built history and languages and culture. With Brooks, in this book, it was mainly to describe how grey a stretch of countryside was, things like that. Further, he has a lamentable tendency to recount what you've just read thirty pages before, as if the reader might have forgotten; and to also attempt to make grand things which patently aren't. He speaks of his heroes as old friends, when most of them met three or four weeks earlier, and when none of them have enough personality to actually become friends. We're told, all the time, how cheerful or reckless or irascible or noble people are, but there's precious little evidence for any of it. The story is ridiculous, one of those things that requires too many coincidences and too much knowledge kept back solely for the making the plot more complicated. The scale is embarrassingly small: the whole novel takes place in an area maybe three hundred miles across, four hundred at most, which is meant to be viewed as huge. Travelling across is for literally days, we're meant to treat this as an epic quest, but it just feels like a bit of a walkabout. And how they travel: forty and fifty miles a day when there's no roads--or alternately well maintained trails in forbidden territory--night travels in pitch blackness with no moon, always on foot because...well, I'm not sure why, because they have horses in the world, and no one seems unable to ride them when called upon to do so.

I'm far from the first person to say this book stinks. It was never my favorite; the next two I read over and over, despite some silliness especially in naming conventions, and the first one just two or three times. It doesn't hold up well at all, and I think everyone is aware of that. But Brooks got much better, his books much richer, his world almost entirely his own. He's had an amazing career, all based on this one novel that is slightly questionable but was fun, and was embraced by the world. 

I skipped over paragraphs and sometimes pages as I read, and still found it too long. But I'm glad I went back to it all the same. Of the re-reads I've done so far, this is the only one that's still fully relevant to fantasy today (because the last book in the series came out less than a week ago, so seriously, this thirty five year old book still matters.) But it's a piece of work. Boy, howdy. Give it a pass and move on straight to the second one, is all I can suggest. You'll be happier for it.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Just ahead of the curve

Turns out that tor.com is following my lead, with a (much longer, and one presumes more thorough) reread of Elric of Melnibone. Well, the whole series, but their blogger is starting with the first book as originally laid out, the same one I did my reread of. Hurray for being trendy!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Shelly Shapiro


I read a lot of fantasy books when I was growing up. Like, hundreds. Thousands? Surely it must be thousands. One of my favorite things in them was that they had maps. I loved maps growing up, I was in fact a Maphead. There were good maps and bad, maps that showed the places in the book only, that showed places not in the book in addition (and could tease you with what might come later) and maps that showed nothing of any use at all. For a time, though, say from 1982 to 1995 or so, there were an almost unlimited number of maps by one person, and that person was Shelly Shapiro.

You probably don't know the name. Even if you read fantasy published in those years, even if you, like me, enjoyed looking at maps, even if you realized all the maps you were looking at were in the same style, you might not have noticed her name, in rounded letters, that was in some corner of virtually every map. I did, of course, because I wondered at first if it was a place on the map (that seemed unlikely) and then the second time I saw it knew it was the person who'd made it. An actual, honest to god cartographer.

She had her peculiarities. Rivers were never simply lines, they were always provided with actual width, even when that rendered her maps into strange things almost like cut out snowflakes from a child's art class. Coasts were always rounded and blobby. Text she fit in wherever she could manage, as needed. But the maps were complete: they showed what you needed to see, in essentially the positions that the places should be at, and with a pretty decent suggestion of how far one thing was from some other thing.

I loved her maps. I looked forward to them. For a while I'm guessing publishers must have realized people like me existed: people who enjoyed the maps in the front of the book (or joy of joys, within the book, as with the Belgariad, a series littered with Shelly Shapiro work), and they played up to us. Shelly had steady work, for probably not much pay, and less recognition.

But, well, I recognized her. Ignoring the flaws, embracing the good, I was always happy to see her. Like an old friend, she would turn up every few weeks or months, and I'd get to see what she had been up to.

The map market slowed down in the nineties, and more so in the aughts. And not only were there fewer maps, but they weren't by Shelly anymore. She quit appearing in books, vanished from my literary life. Not long after I started reading much more ordinary fiction, much less fantasy. The two weren't connected, of course. I just branched out. Working in a bookstore will tend to do that for you.

There's not a lot of information about Shelly Shapiro online, which is kind of odd for someone who shaped the images people had of a good number of very popular series. Apparently she ended up as an editor in the late nineties, and perhaps is still doing that work. I don't know.

I wonder if there's a drawer, or a filing cabinet perhaps, in her house, one filled with the drafts of her maps. They would have almost all been hand drawn; no other way to do it, really, back in the eighties. So there must be originals. I'd like to imagine she pulls them out every so often and looks them over, like a traveler going over her old photos and remembering back when. And then she picks up the pile of them, taps them back into order, and tucks them back into their drawer, among the dust and old memories, and forgets about them for another few years.

Thank you, Shelly, for charting out my childhood.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Rereads: Pawn of Prophecy

When I was a youth, 99% of what I read was fantasy and science fiction. We didn't have the most money, so any such book that came into the house, I'd read over and over for years. In this occasional series, I take up some of those old and treasured titles and give them a read after fifteen or twenty years to see how I feel about them now.
Oh, lord. This thing. Well. 

I read the Belgariad by David Eddings--all five volumes--over the span of probably a week, maybe even a couple days less than that, when I was in 8th grade. My mother had found the whole thing in some supermarket, all five books (which strikes me as very strange, but the book rack in supermarkets was a different place back in the day I guess). I didn't just read these books, I devoured them with a frenzy that has seldom been equaled. There was something about them: the giant prophetic nature of them, the boy hero barely older than I was, the absolute coolness of some of the characters, the vast and sprawling world.

As with all books in those days, I reread them many a time, probably at least half a dozen. Eddings wrote a bunch more books in several more series, but essentially all of them were the exact same story told again with diminishing returns: The Mallorean (and doesn't that sound like an apartment building?), the Elenium (again, apartments, a little nicer maybe?), the Tamuli (did you try that new Tamuli restaurant?). Later books were tacked on prequels to these various series, until finally late in life he tried a couple new things and had less success with them.

One other curiosity is that those later books listed his wife Leigh as co-author, which would eventually be revealed to have been the case on every single book he wrote. Why it took more than two decades to get her the credit is unclear to me, but better late than never, one supposes.

All right, so I've laid out that I loved the hell out of these books, and read them plenty of times. But compared to my last two rereads (here and here) it's been longer since I picked up Pawn of Prophecy, and my fondness for it was rather less. Having gotten it from the library, I flipped open the cover and dove right in. 

Wow. Did I actually love this book? Did I even like it? Well, obviously I did. I can even remember talking about it with my friends Ben and Jeff at my middle school, which was not often done, discussing books, so that's saying something. Let me say something else: Pawn of Prophecy does not hold up well. It's very clear to me why, as a thirteen year old boy, I loved these books. There's a lot of shit going on, and there's mysterious badasses, and there's a hero who's fourteen for most of the book, which is pretty much my age when I read them, so that's cool, right?

Except for all the problems. One, the writing. It's workmanlike, I suppose; it moves along briskly, that's for sure. But there's so many adverbs. And so much repetition of characteristics. How many times must characters call one another "old friend"? And how often must a national trait be referenced (I'm giving you the side eye too, Robert Jordan)? And then there's the characters themselves, each one more ridiculous than the last: the all powerful, all wise, yet still crotchety old wizard; the beautiful, short tempered sorceress; the gigantic were bear nordic warrior; the too-clever thief/spy/acrobat/merchant/did I mention spy (Silk, who I remember really, really loving, and who now just comes off as too much, entirely too much); the villainous villains who are entirely one dimensional; and the boy hero who is always, always, always in just the right place at just the right time to spot a sneaky double agent, or overhear a conversation, or overhear a sneaky double agents conversation with a villainous villain. That last thing happens something like a dozen times in the book, and note, it happens when every other character in the entire book is supposed to be keeping an eye on the kid, all the time. Despite this, our Garion is able to be alone to catch crooks and find out important information every day or two.

It's all too much. Ridiculous. Outlandishly unrealistic even for a fantasy novel.

I'd like to say that I wanted to keep reading it. I'd like to say I found it entertaining still beyond the faint nostalgia value it possesses. But that's not true. I have little to no interest in picking up books 2-5, or any of the scads of related titles, and while I think I could still recommend the books to teenagers, I'd hesitate even to do that when there's so much better stuff out there. This was a bit of a dud, taken all in all, and I'm frankly a little embarrassed in retrospect to consider how much I liked Pawn of Prophecy and the rest of them, twenty five years ago.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Library Books

Having just gotten my library card, I'm only now getting used to things I can do with the library. Like, looking up books, and figuring out they're not at the local branch, and then getting them sent to me at said branch. This is a thing? I know, it's so simple and easy that everyone else in the world knows just how it's done and how to make such things happen, but it's all shiny and new to me. Also: very encouraging to my ability to reread old titles, because it's kind of hit or miss what will turn up in used book stores, but pretty much anything I'd want to reread and blog about it in the library. So I have two more titles to dive (back) into, which is neat.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Rereads: Riddle-Master of Hed

When I was a youth, 99% of what I read was fantasy and science fiction. We didn't have the most money, so any such book that came into the house, I'd read over and over for years. In this occasional series, I take up some of those old and treasured titles and give them a read after fifteen or twenty years to see how I feel about them now.

I don't recall exactly how old I was when I read Patricia A. McKillip's Riddlemaster books. I must have been eleven or twelve or so, which means I read them a few years after they came out, but not more than five. I read them much more than once, enough that when I picked up this book a few days ago, every name was very familiar (it helps that a lot of them are very odd names: Snog Nutt, for instance, is not a name that fades quickly, even if you can't remember he's a pig herder, and I couldn't). The overall plot was little more sketchy for me, with details flashing very clearly into my head but other parts seeming to not exist at all. And yet, as I read it, I remembered more and more images and scenes, although I thought some of them came later in the series instead of in this first book.

That brings me to a major issue I might have had: the book has a whole lot going on. As in, attempting to detail a slightly peculiar world with a deep history and strange customs; having a world-shaking conspiracy hinted at/exposed; suggesting a love story that brings about the second book's action; explaining magic and mystery; and more. It's not a big book (that's a more modern fantasy convention than most of what I'll be rereading) and so a lot of it feels not very fleshed out. I seem to recall that more will be filled in during the later two books, but there's some great gaps that I'm not even sure ever get made clear. Riddle Masters, for instance: why is that a thing? You see, there's a whole college devoted to riddles: what they are, what their lessons are, how they can be solved. It's essentially the University of the world, but how did it end up being all about riddles? I like the idea, of course: it's clever and interesting and weird. But maybe it's too weird, in that I can't figure out how it happens. The world itself also makes almost no sense; it's just a patchwork of kingdoms scattered around a continent without any real logic or even sensible background. Mind you there's background, it just doesn't really make sense.

When I first started my reread I thought that I was maybe bored, maybe didn't care much about the book, maybe had made the wrong choice. But as I went along I got caught up in Prince Morgon's story again--though it's kind of goofy, and he's kind of too perfect, and I don't really believe it at all. Mere quibbles, as it turns out. I really did like it when it was done, and I wanted to read the other two books right away, getting to scenes I half-remembered, characters I could vaguely recall, story elements that intrigued me in recollected form. But I don't have the other two, so I'm stuck with just this one.

I could wish that it was a little more fully developed (okay, a lot more) and it would be today, that's something I'm sure of. One thing that's amazing is how ahead of its time it is sexually: it's from the late 70s, and there's strong female characters of all sorts (almost: there's no women Riddle Masters that I can recall) and the second book is in fact centered on a trio of women instead of Morgon, who pretty much vanishes. So that's neat.

Overall I'm pleased I reread this one, and I could say it holds up pretty well. I can see how it might have fed strongly into what might be my next reread, Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings; it must have served as a general inspiration in fact. Unlike Elric, I don't think I took all that much away from this for my own writing; assuredly I did in some way, but I can't see it directly.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Magnificent Bastard

It's been a rough week.

My stepfather Terry went into the hospital midweek. He was having a number of problems all related to his sense of smell getting messed up. Everything smelt, and eventually tasted, terrible. He didn't much eat or drink as a result, and he wasn't by any stretch a young man. All the stresses added up, and before a couple of days had passed, his body gave out. He died very early on Thursday morning, when the sky was just getting light and raindrops were on his hospital room window. It was a peaceful death--what a little mercy that is, as if it makes up for dying.

I had a good number of fathers and father figures over the years, and Terry was by any measure the best of them. My stepfather for a decade and a half, he was a profane, foul mouthed, dyed in the wool union man (the ILWU: International Longshore and Warehouse Union). He never had much time for (or liking of) reading, but he was proud that I was a writer. Mostly he fooled around with his Mustang (the longest love of his life, at more than 40 years) and fussed with his house, and both loved and annoyed my mother, as a good partner should. One of the first times I met him, when we had a moment alone, he shared a painfully funny story that is perhaps too dirty for common audiences, and so I'll leave it be except to say it was probably not the sort of thing you should tell your lady-friend's son on the second occasion of meeting him. (It didn't involve my mother at all, but rather an entirely different woman decades earlier.) It set the tone of our entire relationship, and it was wonderful.

The last couple of years, he was getting old. Actually old, not just in numbers. He was on a lot of different pills for this and that; he'd had a stroke; both of his shoulders were shot from years of hard work. He was, sad as it is to say, less than he had been. We all expected that he would continue on in his slightly cranky, slightly bemused way for a good number more years. That wasn't to be.

No matter what had happened, he still loved me fiercely, much more, I think, than my actual father ever did. And I loved him very much. He was a magnificent bastard, and I will miss him.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Rereads: Elric of Melnibone

When I was a youth, 99% of what I read was fantasy and science fiction. We didn't have the most money, so any such book that came into the house, I'd read over and over for years. In this occasional series, I take up some of those old and treasured titles and give them a read after fifteen or twenty years to see how I feel about them now.



Michael Moorcock is a British author, a bit of a strange fellow I gather, whose primary works are a great huge cluster of interconnected novels lumped together as The Eternal Champion series. The most famous set of them are the Elric novels, six books (later seven, and later even more,and now broken up into collections of stories, curiously) telling the story of an anti-hero, the non-human Emperor Elric who makes a bargain with an evil god in order to save the woman he loves that ends up costing him everything he ever cared about, and eventually his life. I read the original six book series so many times (in two volumes from the Science Fiction Book Club, if memory serves me right) probably eight or ten times, maybe more.

It's a slim little volume, clocking in at 180 pages (and all the rest roughly the same) which is why it came in omnibus editions at the time. The language is a mix of pulpy and baroque (is that a mix, or are they the same?) It's a surprisingly long and disjointed story for how short it is, with all sorts of curious action happening sometimes with good reasons and sometimes not. The story is thick with lurid descriptions and place names that have a lot of apostrophes. There's exactly one female character with any lines of dialogue, who is a clearer thinker than anyone else in the book, and yet is so helpless and hapless that it doesn't matter. Fearing that her brother (Elric's rival) will get up to shenannigans if he's left in charge for a while, she still refuses to take up the regency although she's obviously the best suited for it, and this only happens because she's a woman, and it's a pulp novel from the sixties, and so certainly she can't be in charge. Weird adventures happen only to be weird, not to further the plot. Everything is described as sardonic. Ancient histories are mentioned but make no sense. All in all, it's a bit of a mess on every level.

And yet, I still quite liked it. There's nostalgia in that, of course; but quite often we turn to something we loved as a young person and find it dreadful, so that's not all. Some parts of the book I remembered as clearly as if I'd read them only a year ago, instead of twenty years; other parts were surprising, and often in good ways. The writing, disjointed and overwrought as it is, still has quickness and fluidity; one couldn't stick as much plot as happens in a tiny little book if that wasn't the case. It's very easy to see how it influenced a generation of writers; the Targaryens from A Song of Ice and Fire owe considerable debt to the Melniboneans, for one thing, and a host of ideas I've had and worked on, and sometimes loved dearly, are clearly developed out of Moorcock's Elric saga.

Did I still love it? Well, maybe not. The glow of nostalgia did make the reread delightful, and it held up pretty well. But it was never my favorite Moorcock in any case (that would be Corum, which I might get to in time), and so love maybe is overstated. It was good enough, however, that I'll probably end up searching out the rest of the volumes in used bookstores, seeing what I've gotten jumbled up, how much I've forgotten and how much I remember.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Risings

To the right, you will notice a bar with a progress meter in it. That's tied to my current WiP, a fantasy novel called The Risings about a rebellion in a conquered city. The word count goal is just an estimate; I have no idea if it will be that long, or even within 30000 words of it in either direction. It's got a lot of PoV characters, maybe too many, but we'll see who ends up being essential and who can slip away. Some will do that, I'm sure, as I'm sitting at about a dozen currently, and that's an unwieldy amount for one book, most often. Anyway, I mean to update the word count as it increases, as a way of tracking myself if nothing else.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Bookstores Found and Lost

This weekend I went on a trip down to my old stomping grounds in West Seattle to see an old friend perform with her bell choir. I grew up there, in the seventies and eighties, when it was (even more than it is now) effectively a small town symbiotically attached to Seattle proper. My whole childhood was spent in that enclave across the river from the greater city, seldom coming over, and it was a world all its own. I have no idea if this was true, but to my recollection there was only one bookstore in West Seattle: Pegasus Book Exchange.
I'm not sure how old the store is. Certainly it was there the first time I walked by, when I was maybe ten or eleven years old, and bought something, assuredly. It was a couple miles from my house, in the Junction, which was the business district of West Seattle, and I recall it as a mostly new books bookstore, though now, it is an almost entirely used book store. I didn't expect to be passing by it, and I was on my way to the performance, and so I didn't really think I'd stop in.
Of course, I did. Not just because I had a few minutes extra time to spend, but because as far as I can recall it was my first bookstore, the first place I went to that was full of books, and where I spent money buying a book. Grocery stores, convenience stores, Frederick & Nelson downtown, I'd bought books those places, or so my questionable memory suggests, but Pegasus was the first pure bookstore I went to. I never went there very often--it was two miles from my house, as I mentioned, and I never learned to ride a bike so that was a decent distance--but I did go when the weather was nice (not often, it was Seattle) now and again, until we moved a few years later.
It's a nice little store. I browsed for a few minutes and bought a used copy of Elric of Melnibone, the first book of Michael Moorcock's Elric series. I read and devoured those books repeatedly when I was younger. I loved them so much. I haven't touched them in at least fifteen years, though, but the book leapt out at me as something I used to be so very fond of, so I bought it, stuck it in my back pocket, and moved on.
Today, walking around my current neighborhood, I sauntered past the now empty Capitol Hill branch of Half Price Books. I'm not a huge fan of Half Price, though I've shopped there (it's a bookstore, after all) but this was until two weeks ago the closest bookstore to my house, at three blocks distance. It was a huge old ramshackle building on a side street with parking lot that fronted a more major street but wasn't easily identified with the slightly offset store itself. So I think that's why it went away: too much rent for the big building and the parking lot, too little visibility.
I bought a few books there over the last couple years, the time I lived near it. Mostly bargain stuff from their big tables, because you could find some good stuff there, and I have little patience for searching through their endless shelves of used books to try to discover some hidden treasure. I know that's a joy for some people, but not something I've ever much loved; it was only in the last half dozen years I'd even look at a used book. Some of that hesitancy lingers with me still, and so I don't search through the shelves all that much.
It's a sad thing, a big empty store. They sold off their fixtures, too, so it's just a hollow space with a few scraps on the floor and one or two shelves waiting to be picked up. There were a couple or three dozen employees, and I wonder how many of them got shifted to other branches, and how many are just out of jobs. Some of them, I suppose, had to give up a life they loved, of selling books and buying them, of living surrounded by dusty tomes and stacks of last year's bestsellers and other people who were into the exact sorts of things they were.
While I was walking by, a car pulled up and the driver climbed out and leaned over to read one of the closed signs they'd left in the windows. He sighed and turned, got back in his car and drove off. Occasional customer, he must have been; they'd been very clear about the store closing for a couple of months before it did. Was he just coming by to look at the mysteries, maybe, or did he have a particular errand that he had to get taken of today? No way to know.
No one can say why a particular book store survives, or dies; why it lingers ever dwindling for two decades or goes out when it seemed to be doing fine. I can just say I was pretty happy to realize Pegasus was still there, when I'd not seen them more than a decade, and that I was only abstractly saddened by the loss of Half Price, even though I'd been there just a few weeks before they closed, and went even on the closing weekend, and sort of know a couple of employees. So maybe that has something to do with it, I guess.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Two weeks

We're at essentially two weeks since I went to writing full time. In that time, I got an office in the aparment (hurray for my husband Adam!), I attended an event as an author (there were a lot of authors there, and it wasn't a reading event or anything, but I was there as a writer, you know?), met people there who I'm now going to talk with about writing careers and how they come about. I've written about twenty thousand words (with time off for vacation to Disneyland) and organized the office (three times) and edited 85 pages of a novel and read three books and spent more time with the husband than has normally been the case. So all in all, it's going pretty damn well so far. Fingers are crossed that the good news will continue.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Writing Life

We approach the golden moment, when I'm going to be unemployed as anything except a writer. That's in about 18 hours, I guess. It's exciting and it's terrifying. I'm thrilled that I get to devote myself solely to doing things that I love. Up until now, though I live in a relatively privileged position in life and have things I love like friends and hobbies and a husband, there's been a big block of time that was set aside for WORK, which was never a thing I liked, let alone loved. I gather there's jobs people just adore; I read about them, and I hear about them sometimes from my friends. But then of course two years go by and suddenly they've got another job, and anyway they hated it for the last six months they were there, so I guess they maybe never even loved the job, they were just excited it wasn't as bad as the one they had before had become?
That was a digression. But it's true. I think most people only love jobs until the shiny newness wears off. There's a very lucky few who fall into a career they really do delight in, and they maybe stick with it all their life, and that's good. But most people just stumble for one thing they kind of don't loathe to another thing that seems a little better only maybe it isn't, and so on.
I hope I'm done with all that. Because I do love writing, every part of it. The actual act of creation is incredible, putting down the words and seeing your brain meats grow and become wonderful, that's the best. And then finishing a project, oh my that's stupendous. And even though I'm really not that fond of editing and rewriting as a thing, the results of that work are superior and joyful. Then, of course, there's getting paid to do: it's already something I love, and then people are willing to give me money (fingers crossed that such keeps happening regularly) in order to do it? Well, that's the best.
So I'm working out how to do this new thing. How to make sure I don't turn into some guy in a bathrobe who sits at his desk for an hour between marathons of Game of Thrones or Mad Men, who devours chips and drinks too much Diet Coke, who is envious of anyone doing better than him and resentful of his too-small checks, and who in the end doesn't even do much writing.
First, get up on time. Get a shower and get dressed. Have a coffee and do some writing, one or two or three thousand words. Some lunch with the husband, a nice walk, maybe some yoga. Edit and rewrite in the afternoon, then make a nice dinner and spend the whole night with the husband or friends or both, a glass of wine, a TV show. Not too much of anything, but a nice mix. Four or six hours of work in a day, most days, but maybe only two or three sometimes. There's a lot of flexibility, but on the other hand, there can't be too much or pretty soon I'm not writing.
I've been trying it on my days off for the last week, and it's worked pretty well. Not perfect, but it's a work in progress, and I'm just getting warmed up. I'm pretty damned excited to give it a go, though.
See you in two days, when I'm a full time writer.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

ARCs!

So this happened: my first ARCs. ARCs are advanced reader copies: they're sent out to bookstores mainly, in order to let the book buyers get a peek at them beyond a half page in a catalog or the product description on line. Because I've been working as a bookseller for 15 or so years, I've seen thousands of the things, and read quite a few. They come in all types and styles. Some of them are just the text, plainly printed, bound with a generic cover that includes the author, title and publication date, along with some basic explanation of what the book is about. These don't get read all that often. Some are fancier: an inset of the cover image, maybe, or at least bright colors or an author photo. And some are very fancy, like mine seen here. They look pretty much the way the real book will look (only paperback instead of hard cover), with all the interior fonts on display, and the wingdings around the page numbers, and the suggestion of fog on various pages that will be made slightly more perfect for release but is totally an awesome thing even as it is. I don't suppose one ever forgets a first book (though some author interviews suggest that maybe, after long enough, you kind of do) and this one is a wonderful thing to remember. Here's to hoping there will be many more over the years.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Quitting the Day Job

I'm pretty lucky. I get to quit my day job (in a bookstore, naturally) in about a month. Not that I'm making enough to support myself, but I'm making money, and that means I'm a writer, and so with the husband Adam's help and agreement I can try to make a go of it.
In the many years that I've been working in the bookstore, at least two people have done the same thing: quit their jobs to go write. Both of them were nice people, they had probably dreamed of being writers for a long time, but it didn't work out for either. One of them now works at a different bookstore, and I've no idea at all what happened to the other. The reason I mention this is by way of advice to anyone thinking they might like to be a writer. Because in the difference between them and me is the reason to keep or drop your job.
I've got a contract, a book forthcoming, a bunch of novels under my belt, and more that I'm working on at every moment. And I'm still pretty unsure that I'm doing exactly the right thing by leaving my job, but in the end I'm starting to feel as if I'm wasting so much time at the job that I can't accept working there any more.
Both of the people who left, I think they'd fooled around with writing, and I think they'd decided if they only had more time they could finally, finally write that book they had in their heads. Finally put down all the words that bubbled up in the quiet times of the night, put together those notes and scribbles into a cohesive whole.
That's not how it works, though. If you're not already using your spare time to put down your words, if you're not already done with a novel, or a bunch of stories, and working on the next one or batch, if you haven't found yourself wishing that you had more hours to write but stuck with that nine to five gig, then you should most definitely not quit your day job. Should you be a writer, you'll already be writing all the time. And hence, if you're not already writing all the time--or at least sometimes, whenever you can spare a moment--you're not going to somehow start doing it when all your days stretch empty and shapeless before you.
Start to write while you've got your job. Make it the thing you do, all the time, around your work and your family (and your hobbies, if you can fit them in). Then, only then, if you think maybe you might have a chance and you have money or support and you've gotten good feedback, then quit your job. Maybe.
I'm still not sure. But I'm doing it all the same.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Spring

The weather's being cooperative today, by which I mean it didn't rain in my neighborhood, and the clouds cleared out. I did some wandering about in the resulting sun, having brunch, running to Trader Joe's. The trees have almost all put out their first shoots, and some of them even have all their leaves, tiny and tender and lovely. There were a good number of small, battered leaves on the sidewalks everywhere, because yesterday we had a ridiculous ten minute hail storm followed by stiff and steady rain for a long while, with wind and thunder and lightning scattered throughout. But all that was just a memory today, except, I suppose, to the trees that lost those leaves. They might regret that later.
Spring's probably my favorite season in Seattle. Winter tends to the chilly and gloomy: perpetually overcast, misting rain, late sunrises and early sunsets. Summer is gorgeous, but I'm a real heat wimp, and I burn easily, so too much sun is the sort of thing I reach in about ten minutes. Fall has its charms: apple season, the first woodsmoke on the air, the leaves changing color. But it's getting colder and darker, too, and eventually all those leaves will be in giant, moldering piles on the sidewalks, in the gutters, on the edges of lawns. Spring though: the days are getting longer, and warmer; the air is scented from the plentitude of flowers everywhere, legs cautiously emerge from pants into shorts and skirts, and everyone starts to smile again. Your favorite restaurant sneaks three little tables out onto the sidewalk and if it's not too late in the day, if the wind isn't too bad, if it isn't still cloudy, you have a perfect hour there sipping a coffee or a glass of wine and pretending you live in Paris or someplace where sophisticates do that sort of thing every day.
It's a slow build, spring in Seattle (remember that hail storm I mentioned, and all the rain, too.) But it's the time of hope, and wonder, and delight, and that's the important thing.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The First Law

I was looking for a new fantasy book/series to read, and people told me that I should take a gander at Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself, the introductory book of The First Law trilogy. (Full disclosure: I was also told to read Sabriel, and I did, and it was fine, but I came away convinced that fifteen year old me would have loved it completely, but that I'm just too old and well read to find it world shaking. Sorry, Garth Nix. It's a good book, just not for who I am right now.) Abercrombie's the kind of writer who makes me slightly ill: younger than me, blisteringly good debut novel, sequels that he manages to not mess up at all (so far, I'm only on the second book). The writing is sly, funny, quick; the plotting intricate without being impossible to follow; the characters are viewed differently depending on who's seeing them--a thing so uncommon it startled me, as mostly fantasy involves monolithic characters who are the same to everyone, the badass, the mystic, the clumsy idiot, the mad killer, and that's not the case here. Well, it's kind of the case, but there's nuance in how people view each other, and I like that a lot.
A few things I wish existed but they don't. A map would be nice: I operated with an entirely incorrect world view until I searched online and found a map that may or may not be accurate but seems to better fit with what's described than my own conception of things. A little less coyness in the history of the world would be okay as well, but I get where he's coming from in that regard.
I'm already piling up the rest of Abercrombie's books to read when I finish with this one (all too soon perhaps) and I'm telling people to read them with a slightly fevered look to my eyes as I declare how good they are. I've been disappointed before with fantasy epics after falling head over heels for the early books, and maybe it'll happen again, but I've got high hopes. This is looking very good, very positive. I'm enthused, even.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Read This! Read It!


I have some writing philosophy that I try to live by these days. Mostly it's this: the world is too much dominated by straight white men, and can we try to make it better though our writing? That is, try to represent other viewpoints: women, people of color, differently abled people, sexual minorities, culturally different viewpoints. Not all at once, maybe, but at least one at any given time?
So I'm pretty thrilled by The Summer Prince, the new book by Alaya Dawn Johnson. It hits all my sweet spots without looking like it's trying. There's effortless queerness (that's just how it is); everyone's a person of color (hurrah!); our viewpoint character is a young woman confronted with her own privilege for the first time (yes!); and on top of this, there's a top notch story being told to the reader. I will say, there's a span of the book where I thought Johnson was going to fail to follow through on her premises. I was wrong, though: she had the courage to write what needed to be written, no matter how bitter it must have been to do it. This is one of my favorites of the last couple years for so many reasons, and I look forward to seeing if there's more to come in this beautifully depicted future Johnson's created.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Francis, First of his name

There's a new Pope. He's different than the old Pope, because he's from Argentina. Oh, he's still white, and male, and old, but he's from Argentina. Doesn't that make a huge difference? No? Well. It's still a first, and it's interesting. I also find interesting that he's committed to the idea of apostolic poverty: he lives (lived) in a small apartment, he takes (took) public transportation, he cooks for himself (maybe still he'll do this?). He took the name Francis, after Francis of Assisi who was a similarly devoted follower of poverty. And that, at least, is pretty new. Sadly, he's still got the same old problems: anti-gay positions, anti-women positions, pedophilia cover up issues (even if he's not as compromised, probably, as Benedict was on that issue). And he's not going to have very long to make any impact, because he's 76. So is this important? I wish it wasn't. I wish nobody cared who the head of the Catholic Church was, because he was just a gentle influence to the good for his followers. But he's not, really. He's a world figure, and traditionally much of his power and influence has been used to suppress freedoms and stifle dissent. And this, for the vestigial impression that it's something new, is really just more of the same.