“Surviviors” published in Analog

I’m pleased to note that my short story “Survivors” is in this month’s issue of Analog magazine. It’s a fun story to me because it came about as the result of a challenge that Lisa Silverthorne and I did in the day before a writer’s workshop last year. It also starts with a set of characters on Daytona Beach, which makes me think of summer vacation. Not bad, eh?

I should go and actually count it, but I think this marks my 10th appearance in Analog. Much fun.

So, yeah, go chase it down … and let me know how you like it. [grin]

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In other news … man, it’s been busy. Among many other things, I’ve been beating my head against Episode 8 of my series of fantasy novels. I do think I’ve turned the corner, though. Perhaps I’m even nearing “the end” for once and for all. (Gasp!)

Two Interesting Things Thursday

I have this habit of finding a link I think is going to be interesting, clicking on it, and then leaving it on my open tabs to get to whenever I have the time. Today I want to talk about two of these. The problem with this process, though, is that I lose track of where I was when I came upon them, so unfortunately I can’t credit the folks where I found them. Sorry about that. (Thanks, whoever you were [grin]).

Interesting Thing #1

The first is a thing about another form of art–this time photography. Or, to be precise, old-time photography. Photography that looks like this remarkable image:

It’s a simple, elegant look back on an earlier time, isn’t it? Pristine in its own way. Except, of course, there’s more going on here than you might think at first. The truth, as you will see if you follow that link, is that this place never existed. That house is a model. The car is a toy. And, yet, there is a piece here that is very much real–that being the distant background. Let’s call it the worldview.

Read the page through the link. What Michael Paul Smith does by mixing a deep reality with his own imagining of the past is pretty damned cool. And it has me thinking about writing in its own way, as I’m inclined to do on occasion. Because, to me, writing speculative fiction (or any fiction, I suppose) is all about what Michael Paul Smith is doing in his medium. Writing great speculative fiction is about drawing the world around a reader in such firm strokes that that reader feels familiar with it, that we understand it and can even then fill in our own bits of context here and there–and then using that foundation to tell us a story that is completely made up, but that rings so true that we are changed in some foundational way.

Easy, right?

Anyway, I loved these images.

Interesting Thing #2

Interesting thing #2 is more of a gender/cultural/business thing that caught my eye as I was reading along an article that Fantasy Faction published that described a panel that the Baltimore Science Fiction Society hosted recently that was about the State of Short Fiction. At this panel, several magazine and podcast editors and other insiders discussed the field of short fiction.

Ultimately, they were very upbeat about it, which is good news to me. But about halfway through this paragraph hit me upside the head.

Although none of the panelists said they explicitly look for diversity in the authors they publish, the editors have found that they seem to nevertheless publish a diverse selection of authors. Clarke said 30% of his submissions are by women and 30% are from outside the U.S. In 2013, women wrote 55-60 % of Clarkesworld’s stories. Landen reported similar numbers, saying women wrote over 50% of Daily Science Fiction’s stories and made up 30% of submissions. Sherman said women made up 30% of the submission pile at Escape Pod and Drabblecast, and of those women, he tended to accept something like 60-70%.

If you know me at all, or follow the site, you know that I am always fascinated by gender issues, and spent a considerable part of the last decade or so of my corporate life trying to understand cause and effect of them. Without going too deeply into all that again, let me say that these numbers figuratively slapped my upside the face.

I have absolutely no idea if actual numbers from these magazines and podcasts actually back that paragraph up, but this commentary goes completely against the grain of every other piece of data that I’ve seen regarding gender splits in the genre. I’m not saying these numbers are good, bad, indifferent, or anything of the like. Numbers are numbers. But I am saying that they go against the base story that’s been told for years, that they going against history, against other industries, and against the genre publishing industry’s “eyeball test.” If this data is true, then one has to wonder: is it suggesting there is a massive gender swing going on in the industry? Does it means that (at least for these markets) that the fundamental groundwork of the short fiction market has hit a decided flashpoint? That women are writing great fiction at a remarkably greater rate than men are? That selection criteria is changing? That the market is driving toward fiction written by females vs. males?

Obviously, I have no idea.

Data is so sparse it’s probably dangerous to give anything too much of a sway, but those numbers are quite intriguing–33% of the population is providing 66% of the published product. That’s a remarkable number, especially when the past has suggested that until very recently that 33% of the population was being dramatically under-represented (contributing 15% of published material? I don’t really recall the real numbers, but that’s probably a fiar number to throw around for pure conversational purposes).

Regardless, in this decidedly interesting period of the short story, it will be interesting to see where, if anywhere, this goes.

I would also say, though, that against this data I lay the experience of my last workshop in Oregon, where about 75% of the writers (who were mostly indie folks) were female. Coincidence?

Shrug?

Fighting with my art

This past January I was at a convention and sat on a panel with Sandra Tayler. Along the way she used a phrase that has stayed with me. She had been talking about her daughter, and about times when she was “fighting with her art.”

That’s what I’m doing right now.

My production plan says that I will be complete with Episode 8 of my fantasy series by the end of the month. I still expect to succeed at hitting that goal, but right now my writing is all over the place. The problem, I think, is that I know what I want to happen (and roughly what I want the thing to be about). But I’m struggling to get back into the characters. *

* That’s my story and I’m sticking to it

I figure that I’m paying a price for setting the piece aside. If you remember, I was on a roll with it in November or December, but then focused everything I had on the Workshop in January and February. Now I’m trying to pick up where I left off, and the work is apparently feeling a little neglected. It’s cranky. I mean, the words, they come, but I know even as I’m creating them that they are not the words I want–or, maybe they are, but they are all catawampus and out of order.

This story is a little complex, after all. It has three threads that intertwine, and I’m still figuring out all the details.

And, yeah, I am fighting with my art.

That’s okay, of course. I’ve been around the block enough to know I just need to keep coming to the keyboard and keep throwing words at the page, and that eventually that thing that makes stories work will show up and all will be forgiven and all will be fine.

Merry Clayton, the art of a background singer?

Earlier this week I was listening to Radio Paradise when the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” came on. I’ve been a big Stones fan for a very long time, and “Gimme Shelter” is among my faves. One of the many things I like about Radio Paradise (beyond that it’s manually programmed and managed by two people who enjoy using music to speak with their audience), is that the community of listeners put little bits of insight into the forums that help you learn even more about the music.

Against that backdrop, I scanned down the comments to “Gimme Shelter” and came across a discussion about Merry Clayton, the background singer who laid down the iconic sound on the piece. In the conversation was a link to an interview with her that I’m going to want you to listen to for a bit. It’s an NPR program in support of “20 Feet From Stardom,” a documentary on background singers that is worth listening to in its entirety–though I only want you to listen to the first eight minutes. I want you to listen that far because it gives you (first) the background on how Merry Clayton came to be there in the first place, and then the professionalism of her approach, and then it includes one of the most remarkable pieces of audio I have heard–that being an isolation on Clayton’s remarkable solo.

You should listen to it.

It’s raw, and powerful, and deeply moving. The thing literally brought chills to my spine.

Here’s the link to the program: Here’s the link to the program

When you’re done, listen to the song complete with the supporting power of the rest of the musicians.



Remarkable, eh?

This has got me thinking about art, and craft, and structure, and individual brilliance.

Clayton’s story of how she came to do the work, the simple professionalism by which she came to the studio so late at night, and the somewhat offhand way she finished the effort, is interesting. One could say that she just rolled in and did her job, then got out of town. Just business. Simple. Straight-forward. But then you offset that with the fact that when she got to the key bits, she asked about the lyric in order to get it. She needed to know what the song was about. And once she understood, she unleashed in rapid form, one of the most powerful moments in recorded history. And you off-set it with the reaction of “the guys” when they heard it. And you offset it with the starkly moving sound of that isolation.

Mmmmm…

I don’t know what to say about it, other than the whole package is a remarkable piece of art that, for me, both defines the period it was created in and stands the test of time–a fact that the You-tube video I’ve linked to seems to bear out pretty well.

But I ask myself a lot of unanswerable questions. Things like:

How much of her work was craft? How much raw talent? How much was raw professionalism? What does the “whoop!” that someone (Mick?) throws in at the end say about what it was like to watch someone do something remarkable like that–even a “pro?” What would it have sounded like if that piece had been sung by someone else? What if Merry Clayton hadn’t worked to understand the purpose of the phrase “Rape, murder, it’s just a shot away!” in the song.

I don’t know. That’s the thing about art, right? It’s unique. You can’t put an equation onto it and make it all work out. All you can say is that it works. Somehow.

Zelazny: The Dream Master

I recently finished reading Roger Zelazny’s The Dream Master, a 1965 Nebula award winner that I found tucked into a corner of Robert’s Bookstore in Lincoln City, Oregon. I haven’t read a ton of Zelazny in my life as a SF-follower, but I’ve been thinking a lot about him after a panel that I attended at World Con last year—a panel that asked if writers like Zelazny, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Samuel Delany were still relevant (let’s forget that this seems to be an unfair question since LeGuin and Delany are still living and still publishing, whereas Zelzany slipped this coil nearly 20 years ago).

Zelazny is perhaps best known for his Amber series, but since The Dream Master was eventually turned into the movie Dreamscape, perhaps he’s made of more relevance by this work. Who am I to say? All I can really say right now is that The Dream Master is interesting, and that it stands up to the test of time (for the most part), and that it’s bold and audacious at times. There are reasons it won it’s Nebula, I suppose.

One of the cool things about being a guy who has been around the field for 25+ years is that I’ve been able to meet and interact with many of the greats of the field. Jack Williamson. Fred Pohl. Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison. Blah, blah, blah. I have to admit, though, that Roger Zelazny is a bit of unobtainium to me. He passed just as I was beginning to publish, and just as I was beginning to go to conventions, so I never met him, and never even set eyes on him. This leaves him as having this ethereal quality. His writing, of course, can be jaw-dropping at times. But his style is so interesting–sparse and surgical when he needs a story to run, and deep and vivid when he turns to his inner poet. I’m not sure there’s another writer like him.

So, is he “relevant?” I don’t know. One of the best ways to judge is to see if people still read him, and, yeah, it seems that way.

You can help, of course. If you’ve never read Roger Zelazny, you can start now. And you could do worse than to start with The Dream Master.

Playing with First Line Poetry

Earlier this week I was listening to a podcast about Pulitzer Award winning author Toni Morrison. One of the speakers in the discussion had concocted a poem from the first lines of her novels. It was a fascinating thing, and it got me to wondering about my own work.

So this morning, I sat down and grabbed the first sentences from each of the stories in my collection Picasso’s Cat and other Stories, and I fiddled around with them, positioning first one sentence, then the others, looking for what they might be saying to each other, then shuffling, and then adjusting some more. Eventually a bit of a story came out to me. Perhaps it’s just me, of course. Perhaps just finding patterns where none really exist. But I liked it.

If nothing else I have to say that the cubist irony of pasting together a poem from a chunk of work titled Picasso’s Cat was entertaining unto itself. Of course, my stuff is no competition for the Morrison piece, but the process was fun and interesting, and it got me to really focus on the value of a first sentence.

So now, without further jaw flapping, here is my cobbled up poem:


A Poem From Picasso’s Cat

————-

Sure, it’s easy to criticize someone like me.

My hair is bronze this week.

The kappo should have been up and moving.

An orange-white umbrella of fire bent from the pod’s surface.

I ran down a corridor that stretched before me as far as I could see.

Dr. Gregory Paul sat frozen with confusion as his assistant reached into the time machine’s cockpit and keyed a new sequence into the control box.

Dear Mr. Gee,

Must be nice to work for someone who lets you sit on your ass all day.

Here’s the facts.

Radio waves rose from the surface of a planet in the Alpha Centauri system, cutting through an atmosphere of oxygen and acid to break into the vacuum of space.

For a moment, Sara McClintock found it easy to forget they were over fifty kilometers from the relative safety of the Ant Farm.

A new child floats in my section today.

“Look,” Muriel said, “isn’t that the longest nose you’ve ever seen?”

Alpha Centauri A was chosen for a few very simple reasons.

Sharing a TOC with That Guy from Dune

Since Kevin Anderson just noted it on his own site, I suppose it’s fair game for me to mention another cool thing about the Pulse Pounders anthology that will be the home for my short story “Fraternization.” Yes, this is the one that will also have Brigid’s story “Frostburnt,” which already makes it the worlds’ coolest anthology as far as I’m concerned. Add David Farland and Kevin Anderson, himself, to that Table of Contents and you’ve got a collection that make my heart go pitter-patter for several personal achievement reasons. Being in that mix is just so cool. But this one will also include a previously unpublished story from Frank Herbert.

You know, the guy who did that Dune thing.

You know?

That thing with Paul Atreides. Muad’Dib. The Kwisatz Haderach. Yeah, that guy.

Excuse me while I fan boy a bit more.

Kroger ads – It’s a non-male world :)

If you follow me at all you know that I became a kept man about three months ago. By this, of course, I mean that Lisa makes the steady paycheck and I am working in this weird and unpredictable world of the freelance/on-spec writer. This also means that I do a vast majority of the housework, which (even today) is not really thought of as a particularly masculine job. The most obvious way I can tell this is by the grocery store.

Though it changes at times due to various life events, I try to plan to go to the grocery for my main run on Tuesday afternoons (I go to a Kroger that’s “all the way across town”). I also tend to use other afternoons to run to a nearby store for “emergency” and other spur of the moment types of things. This helps me as it becomes a 15-20 minute productivity break and lets me get my brain off on other things for a bit. Let’s face it, guys … going to the grocery on a weekday afternoon still means that I’m in about a 10% minority.

I’m thinking about this today because I received a mailer from Kroger that included coupons. Usually these come in a flyer with various design stuff that is clearly designed for a female customer. I really don’t think much of it. In fact, it kind of slides right past me. I have, after all, lived in a female dominated house for about 30 years. I mean, it’s like … wife, daughter, cats, and one can assume all our short-lived fish fish have all been female. I really don’t think about the advertising slant to a lot of things because they kind of just slide by me, I guess. But today, the mail brought me this flyer from Kroger that is pointed directly at the male.

It got my attention. The colors were bold. The images were masculine. I picked it up, actively interested in seeing what goodies I might find in there. Good deals on apples? Specials on prime-cut beef? Wheaties? Rugged whole grain bread? Crunchy peanut butter? Ice Cream? [grin].

Turns out, of course, the only thing in there is male toiletries–you know, after shave and body wash and razor blades.

It was kind of a bummer, really.

Doonesbury – But the Pension Fund Was Just Sitting There

When we were in Oregon, we stopped at a place called Robert’s Books. It’s one of those used book stores from the heavens that get plopped down right at the corner of nowhere and Main Street and just reeks of the Fabulous. I came a way with a pair of books–Roger Zelazny’s The Dream Master, and Gary Trudeau’s But the Pension Fund was Just Sitting There, which is a Doonesbury book (Doonesbury, for the younger set, was a remarkable political cartoon of the olden days … if it were new now it would be a webzine and be shared and passed around a gazillion times, but instead it has to settle for being just a sublime piece of history).

I’m essentially browsing both since I’ve gotten home, and have made it half-way through them. I’ll probably talk more about the Zelazny in a bit, but today I’m sitting here and looking at Trudeau’s work and I’m thinking how strangely literary it is. Literary in it’s use of language and character. Literary in it’s reliance upon the reader to carry certain parts of content rather than spell everything out. This is, of course, somewhat the norm for political commentary. Sometimes you have to be there to get it. The whole run of strips on the Shah of Iran, for example, would come off stale to today’s audience. But if you were there, you just smile.

The book is copywrite 1978. So, there you go.

I remember reading these things as individual strips in the daily papers, and they were great then. But I was in High School, so I suppose I missed a lot of the nuance back then. I also missed the ebb and flow of the art of the whole–I don’t think I saw the way the stories were constructed. But, constructed they were.

Reading them here in compiled editions so you can read every run as individual entities, you see how politics and social mores were interwoven, and how they offset each other so that the stories didn’t grow old. And how the characterization elements built from frame to frame and strip to strip. How once Trudeau had his characters set, their mere appearance could speak volumes. I suppose you can say that for all the really long-running cartoon strips, but Doonesbury had it’s own satire and sarcasm-laced sense of irony to it that I think would have made it beyond cool even in the hipster world of today. The work stands today, even if the environment that surrounds it has aged more than a bit.

The book was $2.50.

Besides the $5.00 I tipped the airport emergency lady for jump starting my care, that was some of the best money I spent throughout my trip (barring, of course, the workshop itself [grin]).

A Workshop nears its end

I’ve been at Kris Rusch and Dean Smith’s Oregon Coast Anthology Workshop for the past week. It’s been an absolute blast, but also grueling. Imagine six full days sitting in a room with more than 40 writers and watching 4-6 editors go through manuscripts. Hours, and hours of it. Days and days of it. Quite intense. Then add into this mix the opportunity to use the break windows to grab insights from all those 40+ writers on how one should go about running their business. And then add late-night gab sessions.

So, yeah, one may be getting tired. And there’s one day left—this one a broader business-oriented set of talks. For those not following my twitter or Facebook feeds, here are a few of the highlights:

  • Brigid, who is out here with me, made her first and second pro sales, putting “Gambler’s Fallacy” into the Fiction River Risk Takers anthology (edited by Dean Wesley Smith), and “Frostburnt” into the Pulse Pounders antho edited by Kevin J. Anderson.
  • I followed that up with two of my own, having Kerrie Hughes accept my story “The Grand Dangoolie” for her Steam and Alchemy edition, and Kevin J. Anderson accepted a story of mine that I will likely retitle to “Fraternization” for his Pulse Pounders anthology.
  • Yes, you got it. That means I’m going to be a TOC-mate with Brigid!
  • Add to this that my writing bud Lisa Silverthorne dropped a pair of stories into anthologies also, and it’s gone pretty danged well.

The best of all things, though, has been spending time with this collection of 50 or so people, all in my field (and admittedly seeing Brigid take to it with the confidence she has…it’s nice to see her find out that, yes, she does fit in). Nothing is better for pumping up the energy than seeing other people who are doing things you want to do, and showing that yes it can be done.

One more session today. Then home tomorrow.
And the beat goes on.

The artist’s career

I met Lisa Silverthorne in the airport on our way to Portland, and since the plane was delayed by about a billion years we had lots of time to catch up a talk about a bunch of writing things. Somewhere in here we got on the topic of our writing careers—which is a term that both of us struggle with, specifically (I think) because of the word “Career” and the connotation it has of “pays the freight.”

This is, of course, not really right.

I mean, a football player can have a High School career, a college career, and an NFL career, and in only one of those cases will he actually make any money (unless he goes to Kentucky, of course [grin]). Artists of all types have careers that do not actually pay the full freight of their living expenses. But, over the years the Lisa and I have discussed this kind of thing, when we talked about having a career in the field, it’s always included the fact of supporting ourselves to at least a very large degree on the income that comes from our work.

Of course, everyone who writes thinks like this at some point, but I don’t know that it’s a particularly healthy way to see it.
It’s a hard thing, separating financial reward from your career as an artist (yes, I know how pretentious that can sound. Just deal, okay?). But they are two different things, really. I say that now, several hours after the conversation, and while sitting in a plane thinking about it. Your career as an artist is not about what you make in the pocketbook, it’s about what you make in your chosen media. I think we get our energy streams all tangled up when we think about it the other way.

As an artist, you need to create things that matter to you. As an artist, you need to focus on filling your life up with experiences and thoughts and points of view and other fancy stuff, and you need to do that so you can find ways to keep putting yourself into the things that feed that spark that flickers in your heart. The problem, of course, is that sometimes people don’t react to them well. Or perhaps even worse, people don’t see them. In our case, as writers, editors don’t buy pieces we love or people don’t read or review or otherwise talk about in any way the things we pour ourselves into.

And that’s hard, too.

It’s really hard to keep doing the work, to keep opening the vein and giving yourself to the work when you’re not seeing the financial or critical reward or whatever your mind is set on.

And it’s possibly damaging, too, because when you don’t get that sense of feedback, that validation (for the lack of a better word), then you can start to disbelieve in yourself. And then you start to think, “well, if I just start writing things this way instead of how I’ve been doing it, then it will be more commercial and people will like it and people will notice it, and …” and next thing you know, the thing that is fueling that art you’re supposed to be making is broken, and suddenly your “career” as an artist is flopping on the floor like a dying fish because, well, that’s what it is. You’ve killed that thing you’re meant to be. You’ve killed the thing that literally makes you an artist.

Of course, the thing that makes this whole topic so infuriating is that when you look at the folks who are your inspirations, it seems like they have it all so together, that it just works. Of course they do. I’m not really sure what to say about this. I’m not successful enough to have a valid opinion, I guess. But, valid or not, my opinion is this—for a writer to have true financial success, they have to first be focused on the pure act of making things that they care about as an artist. Whatever that is.

Good News Abounds

Here I am, taking a break from a huge reading stint that is sucking up pretty much every spare moment I have (about which, more will come later), to relay two pieces of very good news from the Ron Collins writing front. The first of which is that Abyss and Apex has informed me that they are interested in publishing my novelette “Good Luck Charm.” And as of this afternoon, we’ve come to proper terms for them to do so. This is very good news to me because that is a story that I think is quite good, quite important, and perhaps just a bit … uh … creepy/eerie. It was looking for a proper home, and I think it’s found it.

The second piece of good news is that I can finally say that I’ve optioned “Primes” (my short story in the January issue of Asimov’s) to a small film company in Toronto. This means they have the right to begin working to fund and arrange to turn this story into a feature length film—a step that is by no means guaranteed, but is great fun to think about, eh?

Okay. Enough frivolity. Back to my reading.

See you in a day or so.

Make it mean something

I’ve been reading Chuck Wendig’s blog with some interest the past few days as he’s been talking about publishing, the quality of stories, and how that all plays with the self-indie-whatever publishing crowd. It’s good stuff (though the standard rule of thumb seems to be that I should give you the “vulgar language enclosed warning–not sure why, yes, it’s language, and yes, it’s used well).

Against that backdrop … I was jotting some notes about some story things yesterday, really just kind of free-writing in that open-minded way you do sometimes, when out came this thing:

It has to be good, right?

Yes, but no.

What is good, after all? What’s good to you is not good to me. What is good to me is probably at best irrelevant to you.

What it has to be is important–to me, anyway. And even moreso, it has to be important to me today, right now. Not yesterday, or in the future. The me of the past is gone, so he doesn’t matter. The me of tomorrow is undefined–who knows what the me of tomorrow will think. He’ll probably be different than I am now. I hope he will. So just do the work that’s important to me now and that’s good. Good enough? Shrug. What does the word “enough” have to say in that sentence. If it’s good, it’s good.

I admit I like it. Oddly, the phrase I like the most is the nearly invisible segment of “So, just do the work…” and one of the reasons I think I like that segment is that it relates directly to what Chuck Wendig is exhorting independent writers to do, that being to raise their … uh … freaking game. Or at least to pay attention to the big picture of what it means to be an independent publisher. Do the work. Pay attention to the details.

Right about now, I can hear my beloved Lisa snorting out loud–as if I can actually pay attention to details. Sheesh. But, seriously. Do your best. Respect readers. Pay attention to the business. But mostly, do all of that and write something that means something to you.

No time? Yeah, right.

Before leaving my cushy corporate job to take on this life as a full time writer, I talked to a heard other folks who were doing this, and they all said the biggest problem they had was that there was never enough time to do all the things they needed to do. You’re at home, they said. So you get to do all the home stuff. And people (and cats, for that matter) think you’re not really doing a job, so they don’t get that you’re busy. And, of course, you’re at home, so there are distractions.

I admit I laughed at them a bit. Sure, I said to myself. Those people have no idea what they are talking about. They had time running out their … ahem … backsides, and they’re telling me that?

Now, of course, I completely understand.

I don’t think, for example, that I’ve had a full workday since mid-December. By that I don’t mean I’ve been slacking off. I mean that between holidays and snow shoveling and getting up to date on a couple TV shows and going to movies while my beloved was off work herself, and the keeping of the logistics of the house going and whatnot, I’ve not been able to actually set aside a day and “go to work” like I would if I were, well, working. Today was as close as I’ve gotten, and this actually missed by a bit since I didn’t get an early enough start.

I did, however, manage to get a couple of my bigger writing projects done–a couple that you will hopefully hear more about in the near future. We shall see.

In the meantime, I’m grabbing an early dinner and getting ready to go to a local writer’s group. That counts as “work,” now, doesn’t it?

This one’s for Lisa

If you know me a little, you’ll know that I have this thing for baseball. It’s mathematics just sticks with me. 90 feet between the bases. Perfect. Differing home parks. Beautiful. Pitchers and hitters. Best match-up sport ever devised.

I love other sports, too–college basketball in particular. But baseball is to be enjoyed at a different level.

Due to my intent focus on the sport for come time, Lisa, my much better half, became a baseball fan for many years, too. It cooled as my focus shifted to fake sports (which is, perhaps something for a different blog post. But she followed the game closely for some time, and even played fantasy baseball for a few seasons–performing better than most of the guys in the league wanted her to perform. She had only one rule: Ryne Sandberg was hers.

Against this backdrop …

One of my favorite baseball writers is blogging down his 100 best players in baseball history. This one’s for Lisa.

Two fun reads

If you like action-oriented, old-time, hold-onto-your-seat Heinlienesque SF, I suggest you check out William Crow Johnson’s two books, Earth 2.0: Prison Planet and his new one, Earth 2.1: Regensis. Big books about bold characters that move. Three bucks apiece on the kindle. What’s not to like, eh?

Full Disclosure: Bill’s a writing buddy of mine (and he’s written me a very nice acknowledgement in 2.1!), so take whatever bias that might entail into account. But I’ve read them both and think they’re great fun.

“A Corner of the Mind” in non-Kindle formats

Sorry for the delay, but I’m happy to say that “A Corner of the Mind” is now up and available on Smashwords, so all those folks with non-Kindle e-Readers who have been putting their lives on hold waiting for this can now breathe again!

In other news, my latest newsletter is nearly ready to ship, complete with its Very Special Gift to subscribers. Just sayin’. You can use the “Newsletter” tab above to join (which right now just says to send me an email at ron@typosphere.com). [grin]

Title neep

I love when this happens.

So for Quite Some Time, I’ve been calling Episode 6, well, um, Episode Six. Not like Episode Seven: Lord of the Freeborn. Just Episode Six.

This was no good.

Then John Bodin, who is a first reader of mine, said he was nearly ready for it, and I decided I needed a title. Yet, I couldn’t come up with one. Still. In addition, I realized I needed to make an adjustment to Episode Six to make it work with Episode Seven (one of the reasons I’m writing the whole series before releasing it, I suppose). So the last three days has been spent in a last read-out(*), and in knitting (#) the new pieces into the work.

* A read-out is where I read the entire piece out loud as a prose check. Does it sound good? Do the words actually work as they are spoken rather than just sound good in my head?
# Special “knit” call-out to HM

Now all that is done. I need to smooth one exit chapter, but the real work is done.

Then, just a moment ago, I went to the top of the file and put down the new title to Episode Six: Changing of the Guard.

It’s simple. It fits.

Seriously, how do things work? And why do they take so danged long sometimes?

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Note to John: Watch out for incoming.

Settling in

Book recommendation: I’m only a quarter of the way through it, but Jim Hines’ Libriomancer is a lot of fun.

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I can tell it’s going to take a few weeks for me to settle into whatever my daily cycle is going to be–maybe a few months, really, since December is a weird month. Part of my problem, to be honest, is that I’m dealing with a weird, but possibly happy side-project right now, one that popped up out of the blue and is taking considerable time out of random portions of the day. The other problem is that I have too many project I want to spend time on.

I know. Poor Ron.

That said, it seems that I’m getting the bulk of my creative work done in the morning, splitting it into two chunks of 60-90 minute focused stages. Then I break for lunch and do something entertaining, but relevant … thinks like watching an episode of Orphan Black on Monday, or watching Stephen King talk about writing on YouTube yesterday, or Malcom Gladwell today. The afternoon is a mix of business, creation, and home stuff.

So far, so good.

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A couple quick reviews of “Primes”:

Sam Tomaino of SFReview likes it.

And I posted this through twitter last night, but I’ll include it here for completeness sake, and because … well … Colleen Chen of Tangent Online likes it a lot. [grin]

We have the winner(s)

I’m sure everyone is on the edge of their seats waiting to hear about the winner of the “Fry it Up in a Pan” Sweepstakes.

First, let me say that I was happy to receive every recipe you all sent–and there were several. I suspect I will make all of them at one time or another. But there were two in particular I thought were the most noteworthy. As such I will arbitrarily decide to make two awards (though I created only one masterpiece today, hence only one is eligible for the “Hero” portion of the award package).

First Prize–and the recipe that’s stewing as I type–is a version of Guinness Beef Stew sent to me by Matt Horgan. Matt is a guy I’ve known from work for some time, and a guy who’s been writing in bits and drabs for some time. We shared a table of contents for an anthology released through the now-defunct Fictionwise. There is probably considerable truth to the idea that his recipe won the prize because, in order to make it, I needed to buy a bottle of Guinness Extra Stout. And … well … did you know these things come in six-packs? Beyond that, I scaled the recipe down a bit, so there just happened to be more left in the bottle as I put the recipe together, hence I had a tiny libation to follow my lunch of leftover pizza.

That’s right, one day as a freelance writer and I’m already drinking.

I blame it all on Matt.

Second First Prize goes to Imp Extraordinaire, Sharon Bass. She sent me a recipe for something she calls “Chicken with Pan Sauces” that sounds totally delish, and includes some directions for making a roux. Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but just the sound of the word roux alone is enough to draw my interest. I mean, saying “roux” makes me think of Winnie the Pooh and blustery days, and thinking of blustery days and Winnie the Pooh makes me think of Tigger. An thinking of Tigger is a wonderful thing.

So, winners, per the rules, feel free to drop me notes to tell me what you want. I’ll get to sending them your way pronto. And Matt, I’ll let you (and the world, I suppose) know the results of the Hero portion of this thing sometime later tonight!

I’ll leave you with a few photos:

Me, reading the ingredients:

Me, thinking about real cooking:

The crock pot, stewing away:

“Dumb” things people say

I love seeing how “experts” think about things, and I especially enjoy hearing the oddities in how they talk about them. People, you see, say the dumbest things. I know, because I are a people, and I often say things that make others look at me askew. I like to think most of the time I get that reaction, though, it’s because I’ve said something that, while it goes against the grain, is true. I like to think that it’s this truth that catches people’s breath.

Of course, I also like to think that ice cream has no calories, so take that for what it’s worth.

Regardless, it’s been my experience that the very best time to pull out the old BS-o-meter is when words come from the mouths of experts. Experts, it seems, are often not really very expert at all. Oh, you can find them–experts who really are expert. But it’s not as easy as you would like. Most people, often don’t really know what they are doing and can’t describe it very well when you dig down deeply. Don’t believe me? Just ask them to draw a process diagram. Then watch the cartwheels and jousting begin.

My latest enjoyment in this vein came from an article linked in someone’s Facebook or Twitter feed. I can’t remember which. But it’s a piece in Business Insider titled “Dumb things Finance People Say.” It’s full of fun little bits, and I admit I enjoy the commentary the article provides on each of them.

Among my favorite:

1. “They don’t have any debt except for a mortgage and student loans.”
3. “Earnings missed estimates.”
4. “Earnings met expectations, but analysts were looking for a beat.”
8. “More buyers than sellers.”
16. “Our bullish case is conservative.”
24. “Investors are fleeing the market.”

These are just flat-out silly, and represent faulty logic and faulty statements at the most basic level. I enjoy the article’s responses–especially the response to “Earnings Missed Estimates” (no, simple cause and effect thinking allows us to see the it’s the estimate that’s the problem here), and “More Buyers than Sellers” (of which there are, by definition, always an equal amount of each).

Then there are phrases that are maybe more the lingo of the environment than anything else, but are, again entertaining for the way they reveal the thinking behind the comment:

2. “Earnings were positive before one-time charges.”
14. “We’re trying to maximize returns and minimize risks.”
17. “We look where others don’t.”
22. “We’re constructive on the market.”
25. “We expect more volatility.”
28. “This is a cyclical bull market in a secular bear.”

There are times I wonder why people talk like this. What reason do they have for making these kinds of misstatements? But I get it. I do. It’s among the beauties of people and of language. We use language for several reasons, and among them are to sway people to do things we want or to think the way we think. Hence you get these kinds of statement s from experts in certain fields (Finance folks are not the only ones you could write an article like this on). They aren’t all lies, of course. Some have elements of truth. Some highlight a single slice of the truth, essentially giving that slice prioritization over others. Some carry a message inside their obviously erroneous nature (“People are fleeing the market” for example can be right even if all stocks are owned at all times–but the actual event that is happening is that “even though prices are falling, a lot of people are selling their possessions as rapidly as they can.” If an expert were to talk about it in those terms, terms that actually describe what is happening, you might interpret this as “What a great time to buy”–which, assuming you have some disposable cash on hand and are not terribly risk averse, it actually is. I mean, who are these few buyers, and when do they expect to turn a profit buying these properties whose prices are in free fall? Tell me, experts, who are the dunces here? Wouldn’t it be just as proper–and more helpful–to say “savvy investors are picking up great buys?”).

Anyway. This was my fun read of the day, and I thought perhaps you might like it, too.

Not Just Rockets and Robots

I know … this place is getting thick with an unending stream of “lasts” and publishing news. While I’m going to promise to go light on the “lasts” from here on out, I hope to be unable to promise a slow-down on publishing news. Tonight is no exception.

Sorry, but I’m really not too sorry about that. [grin]

My short story “Midnight at River’s Edge” was published in e-form by Daily Science Fiction a while back. Now you can get it in Not Just Rockets and Robots, an anthology consisting of an entire year’s worth of work that appeared on the site. At $25, it’s less than a dime a story. Who can beat that?

Book 3: Gone Girl

The third book that I’ve finished in the past month or so, is not SF at all. Instead, it’s a mystery. Or is it? If you don’t know, I’m not telling:

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

This is a story of a love affair between Nick and Amy, only Nick is really Lance, who is really just kind of self-centered in a writerly sort of way, and Amy is really … well … Amy is really intense in a screwed up, super-nice sorta way and until she winds up missing one day after being involved in what appears to have been a violent attack in her living room. This sets off a series of revelations that make the first half of the book something really remarkable. I mean, seriously, reading the first half of this book was, for me, just flat-out-fun.

The last half is just as interesting, and the plot just as twisted, but the ending is a bit abrupt for my taste. Your mileage may vary, though, as a scan of web reviews seems to say it’s a love-it-or-hate-it ending, which I can totally see. My two cents worth is that I left feeling like I was missing something important about what these two characters had to say.

Among the things I enjoyed about this story, though, was that Gillian Flynn draws her male and female characters with unmerciful clarity, leaning on stereotype in unrepentant and inventive ways to fuel the story.

A solid read.

Update: Resolution #2

I’ve written recently about my triumphant domination of my New Years resolution regarding physical activity–that being my quest to average at least 20,000 steps a day. I admit it’s fun to discuss the “walking resolution” because I’m kicking total step butt on it. It turns out that 20K is really not that difficult when you decide to just change things.

This was not, however, my only resolution.

Today I must confess I have not been as diligent about the reading thing as I had hoped. Sigh.

To remind: my resolution was to read at least one short story each day. I stuck to that plan pretty well for about three months, then I got side-tracked and let it slip and never fully got back into the swing. Life took off, you know, and then my virtual dog ate all my electronic magazines, and you know exactly how that is, right? Honest–may the powers that be grant me a three-book contract if I’m lying!

I have read since then, of course. I’ve even talked about what I was reading around here every now and again. But I haven’t dug in and hit anything like the daily goals I had set. So, yeah, technically I have to consider my resolution to be a failure, but all is not lost. And I’ve sucked it up quite a bit recently, and have actually finished three novels in the past month or so. And since I can recommend all three, I figure I’ll talk about them over the next day or three, in order of my preference. So, let’s start here:

Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon.

I don’t think you can read this book and not come away having learned something about yourself and about the world around you. It won a Nebula award in 2003, despite being only tangentially a work of SF and despite there being almost no real plot, so you figure it has to have something going for it. For me (as it was for most of the other gazillion folks who have written about this book), that “something” is Lou Arrendale, an autistic worker in a group of autistic employees who is drawn so clearly that he exposes the very deepest truths about the nature of what it means to be human.

I read this because it was recommended to Lisa at a WorldCon panel she went to last fall, which I think is always a pretty good sign. I admit that–for me–the ending wasn’t as strong as the journey, but the journey was well worth it.

Highly Recommended.

It’s the final countdown!

“How many days?”

Lisa was driving us home from work. It was a question she had asked before–how many more work days before my career at the day job is over? In the past I’ve poo-pooed the question. In the past I didn’t have a solid date selected, but that’s different now.

Now there is a date, and that date is November 30, which means we also have a countdown.

17 Work Days. Not counting the vacation day I’ll take in there somewhere.

17 Work Days.

Pretty cool.

And so, in celebration, I give you:

Identities

At the continued risk of sounding like a pretentious, overblown navel-gazer, I suppose that during this period of semi-introspection I’m going through it’s not too surprising that I’m finding a bunch of cases where synchronicity is raising its marvelously strange head. (Odd, isn’t it? When you start actually paying attention to something, you see it everywhere … kinda like when you buy a new car, you suddenly see that same model everywhere, right?)

Anyway, as I’ve noted around here a few times, I try to be active, and that means I hit the gym a bit. Like a bazillion others, when I hit the gym, I listen to stuff. I assume most listen to music, but me, I listen to podcasts I find interesting. Among them are the TED Radio Hour, which is a compilation of TED Talks centered about a subject.

They’re all interesting in some way or another, but the one I’m thinking about now is one about identity. How we see ourselves. How we see others. What makes us what we are.

I don’t have any answers for you this morning. But I thought you might be interested in checking it out. One thing I like about this site is that you can grab the whole thing (which will cost you nearly an hour to listen to), or just dig into individual bits. How convenient, eh?

People with a truth

For various reasons I’ve been thinking a lot about quality work recently, and likewise about art. Some of this is tied up in things going on at work, but most of it is probably me trying to decide who it is that I want to be as I move into this next phase. It comes up when friends ask what I’m going to be doing–how many books I’ll write, will they all be SF, or whatever it is that I write (grin). It’s also tied up in Lou Reed’s death, which has struck me in a way that was much deeper than I would have imagined.

I don’t mean that in the morbid, dreary way it might sound. I’m terribly sorry he died, of course, but I’m thinking about him more for the remarkable art that he left behind. I don’t love it all by any means, but I very deeply respect it.

And then along the way I found this little piece of video that (for all its, again, heavy emotion) really struck a nerve about what it means to be an artist.

I’ll leave it to you to decide if I’m just getting a bit over the top silly here, but I can’t help but feel something important in that video, and despite it’s subject matter it makes me feel strangely good about people with a true purpose, true calling, or, well, maybe just people with a truth.

I admit fully that I don’t know what that is, but whatever it is I’m pretty sure that I want it. Even if it’s just a tiny slice. [grin]

How many hours will I work?

“How many hours a day will you work as a writer?” a friend of mine at work asked.

This is relevant because I’m spending a lot of effort studying work hours and organizational effectiveness. And it’s relevant because I’ve taken a lot of this work to leadership for overall discussion and awareness. It’s relevant because there’s a lot of interest in the subject, though I’m not sure anyone knows what to do with it. In other words, I’m having fun with it, but I’m not certain it’s going to impact much, yet.

“I have no idea,” I said. “I guess is depends on whether you consider doing things like cutting the grass as work.”

And he said something like, “ah, okay, so you’ll be working less than a full time job.” Those aren’t his exact words. I don’t remember his exact words. But that was the thought behind them. I understand why he would say that, and in truth I guess he’s right enough. But that misses the point. Cutting the grass is very important for me. I don’t like it. It’s not fun. But it’s a simple, repetitive task that allows me to disconnect physically and mentally from whatever I’m focused on and let ideas from other places crash together

As usual, I have ton more to say on this subject, but I’m out of time this morning. So I’ll just leave you for now with this.

Some of my best work is done while I’m cutting the grass, or while I’m walking around in Mill Race Park, or while I’m meditating (to some it might look like zoning out, but that’s their problem!) over lunch … and I mean that “best work thing” for both my job in Corporate America and for my writing gig.

If you want to do great work, find ways to step back for moments. Break up your day. It’s okay, really. It works out better in the end. And, yes, I would still say I’m working at those moments.

If others don’t get it, well, that’s their loss, right?

“Primes” nears publication

Ran into this fun little bit about “Primes” earlier today. Can’t wait!

Wait For It

Sometimes the world is a wondrous place. Sometimes it reaches out and gives you presents. This weekend was one of those times. I’ll leave you hanging on the actual present until tomorrow, because I’m like that, I guess, but mostly because I want to get a picture of it to do it up right. Suffice to say that it was a very, very cool present the world handed me, and that certain friends of mine will be mega-jealous.

Anyway, we had a long, but most excellent weekend in the Detroit area, wherein we took in Brigid’s first signing and got to see her and Nick’s first house in mid-build stage. Here’s a picture of the place and the proud owners:

When we got back, I finished a short story. Kind of. And went to bed. It was late. Very late. But such is the hard life that I live.

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Seriously, though. That present was pretty cool. Just wait.