Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fuck censorship

Now that I have your attention....

This week is Banned Books Week. As the American Library Association's lists of frequently challenged titles will tell you, the desire for censorship is alive and well in the United States.

So today, because I can, I want to talk a bit about my favorite constitutional amendment, the first. Here's what it says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble; and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Got that?

Basically, what the first amendment gives us is the right to think, and the right to discuss those thoughts. Censorship takes away that right. At its worst, censorship would take away your right to protest the loss of that right.

Not all speech is full of sunshine and light, happy children, cupcakes, and puppies. Some speech is ugly, cruel, even evil, and some can make us feel all of those things when we see and hear it. But all speech - let me repeat that - all speech deserves legal protection. Because if we want a young man in a courthouse to be able to wear a jacket with "Fuck the Draft" printed on the back, we also have to let the Neo-Nazis march through a neighborhood of Holocaust survivors. The first amendment gives us the right to think.

Book banning is a kind of censorship that I have never, ever understood. Not because I think that books are "just stories" and so not worth the attention. But because I cannot wrap my brain around the level of cowardice and fear it takes to say that ignorance is preferable to knowledge. Nor can I understand the thought that people need to be protected from ideas.

At its heart, censorship is fear, but fear that recognizes the truth: Words are powerful enough to start revolutions, to change the world.

Exercise your constitutional right to think. Read a banned book.

Fuck censorship.




Saturday, September 26, 2009

A variety of beauty

The good news is, that the writing is going well. I've got a good start on two novels - one about tiny, insignificant issues like the consequences of the War in Heaven, and the nature of love (working title, The Language of the Angels) and a YA novel set in a library about the kind of stories we tell ourselves (oddly, no working title as yet.) I have a short story that I think is almost ready, and I'm girding my loins to put together a query letter for the completed novel.

The bad news is, (or at least bad for those of you who enjoy slightly more frequent updates here) is that, what with all the writing power of my brain going into a variety of notebooks, I haven't had good ideas for the blog. So, I will leave you with a couple of things to amuse yourself with until I figure out how to balance writing there with writing here:

Jon Scieszka (who is one of my absolute favorite children's book authors) and a bunch of other really talented people are writing and illustrating an Exquisite Corpse Adventure online, with new episodes posted every two weeks. An exquisite corpse adventure is both more literary and less potentially disgusting than it sounds, and this one looks wonderful.

Then there is the ps22 Chorus. I could listen to these kids sing all day. I'm not even going to try to pick a favorite song of theirs, because every one I have listened to is beautiful. But as beautiful as their singing is, I think my favorite part is watching the expressions on the faces of the kids as they perform. There is so much joy, and freedom, on their faces. The performances remind me of what art can be, and what it should strive for, and why people create.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Baby, remember these names

Over on her blog, the awesome Sarah has put together a list of all of the sales from Clarion 2008. Looking at the list - the amount of people who are on there, the diversity of markets sold to - is an awe-inspiring experience for me. It brings home, yet again, the truth that I am lucky enough to have a talented and hard-working bunch of friends.

And the best thing (especially for you, the reading public) about this list is that it is growing. One of the listed sales was just announced today. And people are even now finishing stories, circulating them for critiques, revising novels. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Slow Connection

I wrote you guys a story. I hope that you like it.

*****

Slow Connection

Nadia knew she was dead when the call didn’t go through.

She had started to suspect that she might be dead earlier in the day when, one by one, all of her internet passwords were rejected. Not being able to update her Facebook status was one thing, but not being able to pay her City of Minneapolis utility bill was another.

Nadia wondered what would happen to her Facebook page, now that she was dead. Maybe her little icon would permanently read, “not available to chat.”

She had tried to call the cable company to report the problem, but her phone refused to connect. It just kept flashing “calling,” without ever ringing through.

That was when she knew. Dead people were the ultimate in dropped calls.

“Can you hear me now?” she asked her empty apartment, giggling in a way that was only slightly hysterical.

Nadia wondered how she died. It must have been a painless way to go, she thought, since it had taken her so long to notice. She looked around her worn studio apartment: it definitely was not Heaven, and was not quite depressing enough to qualify as Hell. Maybe she had become a vampire? It didn’t seem any less likely than anything else.

Nadia walked into her kitchen and peeled a clove of garlic. She had it halfway to her mouth before she stopped. Even when alive, she would have never eaten an entire clove of raw garlic. She set it back on the battered counter, and walked into the bathroom.

Nadia smiled and waved at her fangless reflection. Probably not the bloodsucking undead, then.

Nadia looked behind the shower curtain, checked under the bed, and peered into the closet. No corpse. Maybe she wasn’t dead after all.

But when she tried to pull up her Twitter account, @gothkitty1, she sat there for ages while the status bar told her it was loading. Then a dull, electronic thunk, and the line “page not found.”

Nadia was dead. She was sure of it.

Nadia was a lot less sure about being dead when she was able to order a beer at Liquor Lyle’s. She was able to order five beers, to be precise. She was not, however, able to pay for them. Her credit card being declined and the fact that she didn’t feel in the slightest bit inebriated had her leaning towards “dead” again. The fact that she had to pee so bad that she squatted in the alley after being thrown out of the bar argued for “alive.” Also, mortified.

Nadia stubbed her toe, and cursed. Death was one of those things that was supposed to be a certainty. Whatever this was, certain was no part of it.

The next morning, Nadia woke up covered in dust bunnies and staring at the underside of her bed. She scooted out from underneath, and tried to lie down on the mattress, but passed through as if it were water.

Dead, then. Or at least seriously incorporeal.

Nadia’s ability to interact with the physical world grew worse as the day progressed. As the sun was beginning to set, a taxi ran through her. The driver didn’t react.

Nadia imagined that if someone could have seen what happened, it would have looked like a scene with a ghost in a kids’ cartoon.

That was when the realization finally sunk in that she was gone, lost to her life, her family and friends, the cute guy she always flirted with at the Starbucks. Nadia sat in the middle of Lyndale Avenue and wept.

When she stood again, saw that she had begun to grow transparent. Her left hand was completely invisible, her arm fading out just above the wrist. So she was shocked when an elegant silver-haired woman walked to the middle of the intersection and extended her hand.

Nadia was even more surprised when she was able to grasp the woman’s hand. It was soft, gentle, with a reassuring strength beneath the skin.

Nadia stared into the woman’s eyes as the traffic whirred through them. Some small part of her still clung to the questions of life. How had she died? Why had the transition been so strange?

But those were words that wouldn’t change anything, answers as insubstantial as she was. It was better to ask new questions, rather than seek old answers.

Nadia held the woman’s hand tighter, then turned with her to the horizon. Together, they walked to where the streetlights met the stars.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Wherein I read some science fiction

When I came back from Clarion last summer, I had an enormous "To be Read" list. One of the entries was "science fiction." I really hadn't read much in that area of my genre since Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

So I tore through John Scalzi's Old Man's War series, and loved it, Zoe's Tale in particular. But then there was deadline pressure for the dissertation, and a generalized sense of stress in my life, and when that happens, I read for comfort, not for novelty. So my plan to finally get a grip on some scifi fell by the wayside.

I have recently taken up this project again, and I read the anthology Fast Forward 1, edited by Lou Anders, gorgeous cover art by John Picacio. I wanted to start with anthologies, because they would contain the widest variety of styles of writing and story, and I chose this one in particular because Elizabeth Bear has a story in it, and I feel a sort of fangirlish love towards her writing.

My scientific background is in the biological sciences, and so I tended to enjoy more the stories where the science in the fiction was biological in nature - I had enough of a basic understanding that I was able to follow the speculation. I thought Bear's "The Something-Dreaming Game" was a marvelous exercise in understanding the nature of trust and risk (and seriously, the woman's writing is like a master class in sentence level perfection. She does word choice better than anyone.) Gene Wolfe's "The Hour of the Sheep" was one of the most fun things I have read in a very long time. Also, it features a swordsman, and you guys know how much I love stories with fencing in them. I enjoyed Louise Marley's "p dolce" so much I hunted down one of her novels to try. I turned to Ken MacLeod's "Jesus Christ, Reanimator" with a bit of trepidation, but wound up thinking about it a great deal after I had finished. There's a lot in there about the nature of belief, and the seriousness is well-seasoned with moments of levity. John Meaney's "Sideways from Now" and Paolo Bacigalupi's "Small Offerings" both broke my heart in completely different and equally painful ways.

Fast Forward 1 is an excellent collection, full of a wide variety of different kinds of stories that still are connected by a common theme. They fit well together. It's a perfect kind of collection for someone like me, who is just beginning to explore what it means to write science fiction. It really made me think about different ways in which stories can be told and themes can be explored. It also made me take pen in hand and try my own version of a science fiction story. I highly recommend it, and I'll definitely be reading Fast Forward 2.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Exactly what Clarion was like

Or, you know, not. Well, except for the part about how your instructors steal your ideas. I mean, obviously, Neil has gotten all of his story ideas for the past year from us. He's sweet about it, though. We're time-sharing the Hugo.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

More cool things for you to know about

The writing is going well. So well, in fact, that it currently hurts to write. (Yes, I do physical therapy. I also regularly see a fabulous massage therapist.) Instead of writing then, I will tell you about the following:

My friend Keffy's short story, "Advertising at the End of the World,"is live at Apex. He workshopped the first version of this at Clarion. It was good then, and it's better now. Subtle, and spare, and haunting, it's an elegant exercise in what restrained prose can do. Also, it's awesome.

It's possible you've seen this already, as it went up a couple of days ago, which is like seven years in Internet-time. But, through careful research, Jim Hines has put together a list of 20 Neil Gaiman Facts. Again, awesome.

I've recently read two excellent debut novels, Amanda Downum's The Drowning City and Seanan McGuire's Rosemary and Rue. Downum creates a wonderful, richly built world that feels unique and new. McGuire writes something that is actually urban fantasy - the fae in the modern city - rather than paranormal romance (which is fine, but is not urban fantasy.) Both novels are full of compelling characters, and poised, polished writing. I'm delighted to see that both are the first books in planned series.

As I've been writing the new novel, I've been nearly constantly listening to cellist Peter Gregson's recording of Thomas Tallis's "Spem in Alium." It is a completely amazing recording of what I think is one of the most beautiful songs ever written.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Rock you like a Hurricane

I'm not going to do this often. But.

Miami won! The Hurricanes beat the Florida State Seminoles, 38-34. In Tallahassee. Not that I'm gloating or anyth... Oh, forget it. I'm totally gloating.

(For those of you unfamiliar, the Miami-FSU rivalry is epic.)

And yes, Miami is my alma mater. Also, I was in the Band of the Hour. I even played (if you use a slightly different definition of "play" than the guys wearing the helmets and pads do) in the Orange Bowl.

It is possible, likely, even, that I did a number of cheers in my office while watching the game.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Because I want to remember this

I don't know what was being celebrated - the last weekend of summer, the first weekend of fall, or simply a beautiful Saturday night. There were neighbors, and friends, and large silly dogs. Smores were made, sticky with marshmallows toasted on thin skewers. Small girls spun me in a circle to "Dancing Queen" and we twirled until the stars came out. Some sort of running game was played, wherein I was tapped on the head and declared a red-headed goose. A boy in a Spiderman shirt told me I could be Batman, and caught me in a butterfly net, because I might be a bad guy. Children piled into my lap until we fell over, "from too much love." And it was wonderful, and perfect, the kind of night I want to hold in my memory always.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Slightly less mush-brained

I was warned. By the lovely Delia Sherman, no less, who has a Ph.D. in Renaissance Studies, and so who knows from post-doctoral mush-brainedness. She told me that I would be exhausted after I defended, and that this was normal, and gave me some hints on how to get through that.

I just wasn't expecting it to last this long. I spent most of the first week after in a semi-fugue state, staring at shiny things for hours, rousing myself only long enough to watch both seasons of Chuck.

This past week, I attempted a short story. And I have about three thousand words what are masquerading as one, but I don't know what I think about it yet, and even getting to that point was exhausting.

But I think there's hope. A couple of days ago I printed out one of my Clarion application stories, "The Language of the Angels," the one Kelly Link told me was actually a novel. I read it over, made some notes, and started letting it cook at the back of my brain. And this morning, I had a couple of Important Insights about scenes and character. Just a bit ago, while making a pot of coffee, I got the first line: "I had the music up loud, and so I didn't hear the Devil, the first time he knocked on my door."

Ladies and gentlemen, I think I might be back.