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Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Weddings As Archaeology

Wedding planning is a joyous, often stressful process – but it’s also a fascinating opportunity to engage in social archaeology.  Planning a more-or-less traditional wedding, with all the bows and ribbons and little moving pieces, is the closest most modern folks will get to experiencing what it was like to be a member of the 19th century upper (or upwardly mobile) class.

All those things people do and wear for weddings that seem idiosyncratic at best and arcane at worst were standard elements of party planning a hundred and thirty years ago: printed or calligraphed invitations with expensive tissue inside, tuxedos, live bands and dancing, table assignments and cocktails and all the rest used to be de rigueur for parties no matter the occasion – think of the soiree at the beginning of War and Peace, one of many occurring on a random night for the nobles and well-bred of Moscow.  Invitations, balls, a presentation, a band, seats assigned to promote interesting conversation, and through it all the hostess whirling with an oil can to grease the wheels of conversation.

Tides of time wash over us and bear us away, but little piles of sand endure, even though they are eroded slowly down the centuries (a Mandarin collar instead of a standard lapel, blue ink in legible font rather than black in archaic script).  I at least, having spent perhaps too much of my life in books, am fascinated to enter that world if only to visit.  If nothing else, I hope to take from the experience a breath of the majesty that would have attended a well-run Victorian party – and maybe a greater appreciation for the immense amount of work required below-stairs to make those “effortless parties” happen.

China Mieville

China Mieville read from The City & The City at the Harvard Book Store last night. He was eloquent, impressive, and remarkably personable — one of the most social creative professionals I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

A couple of his points struck me as particularly meaningful: first, he cares a lot for the worlds and the people he creates. Someone in the Q&A asked him whether he would want to live in the worlds he wrote about, and his answer was a straight ‘yes’: “When Perdido Street Station came out, all the reviewers were saying things like, ‘unrelentingly dark,’ and ‘bleak fog-drenched dystopia,’ and I thought to myself, ‘Really? I thought it was rather cool.’ Also identified himself as the kid who always hoped he would jump through the one-time-only magical portal that opened in his closet, but was always a bit afraid that he wouldn’t if the chance came around; I was that kid too, and still am.

I asked him, in a very unformed way, how he managed to get books like King Rat, Perdido St. Station, etc. published despite their not fitting into any easy categories. His response: while taxonomy is fun, it’s important not to let it get in the way of your storytelling. Make a good book, then don’t worry about how to pigeonhole it; rather just tell the story. That’s the way to get people to read it.

Good advice; I’ll take it to heart when I come to my next round of queries.

Substrate Blog, and Book of Exodi Preorders!

Yesterday the Substrate blog got its start with my first post!  Go there and check it out; the redoubtable Lauren M. will be posting sometime later today.

Also, pre-orders for The Book of Exodi just went live!  Get it to read my story, “On Starlit Seas!”  On the publisher’s web site you can also read synopses of the other stories, as well as watch a (literally) rocking video ad.

That’s it for now; more news as it comes.

Always on the Side of the Egg, by Haruki Murakami

I came across this on a Chinese blog, and it really hit me. It’s Haruki Murakami’s speech on accepting the Jerusalem Prize for literature. I’ve been trying to articulate something like the conviction below in private conversation for a couple weeks now, and he nails it.  Whatever your feelings about the particular political events he mentions, the basic truth of the essay hit me in the stomach like a 50-lb bag of sand.

Always on the side of the egg

By Haruki Murakami

I have come to Jerusalem today as a novelist, which is to say as a professional spinner of lies.

Of course, novelists are not the only ones who tell lies. Politicians do it, too, as we all know. Diplomats and military men tell their own kinds of lies on occasion, as do used car salesmen, butchers and builders. The lies of novelists differ from others, however, in that no one criticizes the novelist as immoral for telling them. Indeed, the bigger and better his lies and the more ingeniously he creates them, the more he is likely to be praised by the public and the critics. Why should that be?

My answer would be this: Namely, that by telling skillful lies – which is to say, by making up fictions that appear to be true – the novelist can bring a truth out to a new location and shine a new light on it. In most cases, it is virtually impossible to grasp a truth in its original form and depict it accurately. This is why we try to grab its tail by luring the truth from its hiding place, transferring it to a fictional location, and replacing it with a fictional form. In order to accomplish this, however, we first have to clarify where the truth lies within us. This is an important qualification for making up good lies.

Today, however, I have no intention of lying. I will try to be as honest as I can. There are a few days in the year when I do not engage in telling lies, and today happens to be one of them.

Writers of the Future finalist!

I’ve been sitting on this for a while, waiting for the web site to update, but as it’s taking a while, I wanted to throw this out to all of you: I’m a finalist in the Writers of the Future competition for 2008! Writers of the Future is the biggest competition out there for amateur speculative fiction writers; it’s judged by professionals writers (Neil Gaiman has been a judge, as have Tim Powers, Larry Niven, Orson Scott Card, Anne McCaffery, and Roger Zelazney (!)), and has a good track record of helping people launch careers in the genre. There are thousands of entries every quarter, and I’m in the top eight for this time around. Now my story gets passed, along with the other 7, to a panel of expert judges, who will finish with the judging in late December/early January. Three stories of the 8 get prizes, expense-paid tickets to an award ceremony in LA, and publication in the Writers of the Future anthology. So I’ve got my fingers crossed. Even if I don’t get any further, though, being a finalist is an amazing honor out of a pool so large and competitive – definitely something to throw on the old query letter! Watch this space for updates! For now, positive thoughts!

Writin’ Them Bones

A quick, sweet update on the writing life:

First, I just had a short story accepted for publication in The Book of Exodi, an anthology by scene newcomers Eposic Diversions. The theme was “mass exodus,” with a science-fictional bent; my story took that and twisted it on its head. With space vikings. To get to the marrow: come late spring 2009, you’ll all be able to purchase a book containing a Max Gladstone original!

More news on that as it arises. I’ve got a couple more submissions currently out, and I’ll keep you updated on the status of those. Also, the Genghis Khan novel is done, though not completely serialized yet, and I’m eating through the revisions on Raise My Head And Watch The Moon, my first novel-length foray into litfic.

While you’re waiting through the long cold months, check out some short fiction from last year:

The Mask on the Island – Criminal mastermind and devoted father Derek Gaspard faces his deadliest enemy yet: an assassin who could be anyone, even himself.

Octopus Tanks – Love, Death, and Revenge on the Martian frontier

If you like either of these, pass them on!

Democracy Sandwich

Greetings, unfeeling network of wires! It’s been a long time since you’ve last carried my voice. For all those of you out in the darkness reading this on RSS feeds or on web browsers, welcome; I’m going to try this again from the top, updating regularly.

There’s a bunch to write – the world has changed around me since I was in China. Now I’m ensconced in another People’s Republic: the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Cambridge! I’m working hand-to-mouth, planning for the future, and laying long schemes that will come to fruition over the next few years. But for the moment, that’s not what I’ve come to mention.

A few friends of mine have remained in China as a rear-guard, working for various media outlets, or for non-profits, and have started a blog on American democracy – “We Are Sandwich,” which is a pun on the Chinese for “We are three people’s knowledge,” which is descriptive ‘coz there are three of them, you see. Except now there are four, as I added my $0.02 to the mix last election day, with a quick description of my experience voting – you know, that thing we all did last Tuesday?

Link, for those of you who understand Chinese: http://womenjiaosanminzhi.blog.163.com/blog/static/9599800220081055363146/

And a quick, inexpert translation for those of you who don’t:

This morning, a few minutes shy of seven o’clock, exhausted to death, I opened my eyes and got out of bed. Half dead, half alive, I put on my clothes, staggered downstairs, hit the streets; my girlfriend and I went to vote. In America every down has a few places you can go to vote, and everybody in the town belongs to one. My girlfriends’ and my poling place is close to the house, just 2 minutes’ walk away.

Our polling place opens at seven and stays open until eight at night, so we figured if we got there at seven the line shouldn’t be more than 5 minutes long, but when we got there we discovered that there were already many hundred people waiting! Their line circled the polling place many times; we had to wait for 40 minutes or so to vote.

On the surface this was a pretty frustrating situation, but as I waited in line I was overcome with a pleasant feeling. There were so many people in line, all waiting to participate in the election. No matter what policies or politicians they supported, no matter who they were voting for, they had come to this polling place to become a part of the democratic process. That’s what hit me.

The vote is the foundation of American government; without it, there is no America. If you took a time machine, like in Dr. Who, back to the past and asked the Founding Fathers if they wanted to found a democratic country, they probably wouldn’t agree with you; when they wrote the Constitution, the Founding Fathers thought that if a large country was too democratic, it would necessarily become chaotic. So, they created a “Representative Republic”: every two years, America would hold an election, selecting which politicians should represent the common people. This system obviously relies on the free franchise; if no one goes to vote, then the system loses its old democratic character.

In the last 20 years or so, American youth don’t seem to have paid much attention to voting. The youth vote never got close to fifty percent. This time around, a lot of political scientists have been saying that the youth vote will break old national records. So, seeing so many citizens waiting in line so early in the morning to vote made a huge impression on me.

After we voted, my girlfriend and I went to a coffee shop to buy breakfast, and then headed to work.

The Chinese readers seem to have appreciated the essay, so I’m going to be writing there again in the future. I’ll try to post translations from the Chinese in this space in the future.

Keep on rocking.