Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Evolution of the Martini on "Five to One"

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Dragonstairs Press, which I occasionally have to remind everybody is not my press but my wife Marianne Porter's, is about to release its latest chapbook -- non-fiction this time.

The Evolution of the Martini is a report from The American Martini Laboratory to its parent entity The American Martini Institute. It takes the form of nine short essays, originally published on this very blog, tracing the evolution of the martini and what came after.

Text by me. Cover illo by Susan McAninley. Who did, by the way, a splendid job. The chapbooks are issued in an edition of 60, individually numbered and signed by me.

Marianne finished stitching the last of the chapbooks today. But they won't be available until May 21st, 5/21, or "Five to One," Dry Martini Day. That's next Monday.

The last chapbook Marianne did, Blue Moon, was issued in an edition of 69 and went on sale on March 31 of this year. Because the plan was to burn all unsold copies at the end of 24 hours, they went on sale at midnight. Because the best laid plans gang aft agley, the chapbook sold out before dawn.

That was, believe it or not, unintentional. So this time, the chapbook will go on sale sometime Monday morning. No feeding frenzy, no rush to buy. The chapbook will go on sale Monday and be available for purchase for weeks to come.

That's Marianne's plan, anyway. I offered to bet Sean (our son and her IT team) ten dollars that it would sell out in a day and he said, "Mama Porter didn't raise no fools! Not taking that bet!"

Marianne tells me that of the 60 copies, 51 will be made available for sale. Ten dollars a pop. Eleven dollars, including postage, in the US. Twelve dollars, including postage, elsewhere.

Come Monday, you can buy one -- if you wish -- at www.dragonstairs.com.


And as always...

I'm on the road again. This time I'm off to the Nebulas to witness the Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award being presented to Gardner Dozois and Sheila Williams, both very dear friends of mine.

I'll be reporting on the Nebs either this weekend or on Monday, depending. Alas, I will not be dishing the dirt on who behaved badly and other scandalous matters. John Scalzi might, but not me.

Because I am such a wuss.


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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Tom Wolfe and the Legion of Space

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The man in the white suit has left the building.

Tom Wolfe distinguished himself early as one of the giants of the New Journalism. His prose was vivid, lively, and, like his choice of clothes, drew attention to itself. It was full of interjections and exclamation marks ("Zap! Pow!"), CAPITALIZED WORDS, and run-on pyrotechnics. Wolfe wasn't afraid to take more chances in a single sentence than some writers would risk in their entire careers. He was willing to go against received wisdom as well. At a time, he later wrote, when the intellectual consensus was that America was suffering from anomie and alienation, he realized that it was undergoing "a revolution of joy." People everywhere were investing their lives in things like custom car modding or stock car racing. Just because they enjoyed it! This was not your father's anomie.

I've always had a special fondness for The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, in which Wolfe rode cross-country with Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters in a psychedelic-painted school bus, wildly over-mythologizing the LSD-fueled adventure. It was easily the second-best attempt to capture the feel of the Sixties, after Richard Farina's Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me. But the very best book the man ever wrote was The Right Stuff.

Or perhaps I should say half-book. Wolfe intensively researched the U.S. Astronaut Corps, their test-pilot backgrounds, their families, their individual lives. And he wrote vividly about it all (except, it has to be said, for the wives, who are presented as conventional suburban housewives). But The Right Stuff, which was a best-seller and made into a major movie, stops about halfway through the story to date. Wolfe, who ended the book with a passage demonstrating that he clearly preferred test pilot Chuck Yeager over the astronauts, decided the book had done its work and abandoned the remaining research.

This is a pity because it left a number of the astronauts convinced that Wolfe had done a hatchet-job on Gus Grissom, the second American in space and the first to lose his craft, the Liberty Bell 7 when it capsized and sank after its ocean landing. Grissom was suspected of panicking and blowing the hatch early (he was later fully exonerated) and Wolfe leaned heavily on his personal humiliation and sense of disgrace. But if you look at the text with a writer's eye and a knowledge of what came later (he flew flawlessly in a Gemini capsule which he had named the Molly Brown, and later along with Ed White and Roger B. Chaffee died in the Apollo 1 fire) it was clear that Wolfe was setting him up for a classic tale of personal redemption.

The book, incomplete though it is as a history, is the best way to get a sense of what it was like to be astronauts in the early years, their fight to be real pilots and not juste "Spam in a can," and the strange fortune of being able to be world-famous fir a few days a year and for the rest of the time anonymous, hard-drinking, automobile-destroying jet jocks for the remainder.

Wolfe went on to become a best-selling novelist. I have to admit that I've never been able to get very far into his fiction. The wonderful lightness of his non-fiction just isn't there and his puritanical streak when it comes to sex most definitely is. Others may disagree with me. Certainly, those books, starting with Bonfire of the Vanieities, sold in huge numbers.

So was Tom Wolfe a great writer? At a minimum, he came close. By my estimation, he was semi-great, the author of some great journalism, some wondrous non-fiction books, and a partial history of the early space age that should remain of interest for thousands of years to come and quite possibly forever. But, as I said, others may want to esteem him higher. If so, please feel free.

Hot jets and clear skies, sir. We thank you for your service.


And instead of another boring obituary...

You can read an interview with Wolfe that Rolling Stone has placed online here. It's lively and cheerful and gives a better sense of the man that the gloomy recaps are likely to.


Above: Photo swiped from the Rolling Stone piece.


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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Teaching at Rutgers

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I'll be teaching for two days at Rutgers University next month. I don't teach very often -- and less with each passing decade -- so this is a rare event for me.

Aaaaand... apparently they're full up. But there's a waiting list. You can find it and everything else about the conference here.

Anyway, here's everything I'm going to be on at the conference:


WRITING GENRE FANTASY



Saturday, June 2, 2018

1:10-2:40 P.M.

Genre fantasy is very different from science fiction, much less well understood, and possessed of its own set of pitfalls for the unwary writer. This workshop will help you to avoid those pitfalls. Going back to the basics of world-building, you will learn to shape your fantasy world into something that both convinces and makes sense, while still retaining the magic that drew you to it in the first place. Exotic and richly detailed though your fantasy world may be, it is still ruled by the basics of narrative. Luckily, those basics are simple and easily mastered, leaving you free to exercise your imagination to the limit.


SCIENCE FICTION WORLD-BUILDING

Sunday, June 3, 2018

10:10-11:40 A.M.



When writing science fiction, it’s all too easy to get lost in the minutia of world-building at the expense of your story’s coherence. This workshop will teach you how to move from your nifty idea to a finished work. Starting with the most efficient modes of research, you will learn how to build a world around your idea and then populate it with characters that will embody the idea clearly and effectively. Along the way, you will also learn how much of your research to include in the finished story – and, more importantly, how much to leave out.



READING & SIGNING EVENT


Saturday, June 2, 2018

5:10 - 7:30 P. M.

ALICE HOFFMAN
CHRIS BOHJALIAN
MICHAEL SWANWICK
PABLO MEDINA


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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Flogging the Time Machine

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One way in which comics publishing is like prose publishing is that when a book first comes out, the paying customers have priority. Contributor copies get shipped later.

So, as a small gift to me, Marianne ordered a copy of Once Upon a Time Machine, Volume 2 online and gave it to me this morning. There I am on the front porch reading (of course) my own story.With pleasure, I might add. Because artist Joe DellaGatta did a really excellent job of rendering my vision. He really was the right person for the job.

I've already told you that this is my first comic book story ever and that I'm pleased with how it comes out. So that's all the sales pitch I'll give you.

Except to say that if you run across it at your local independent bookstore or comic book store, buying it would support not only me (indirectly) but them (in a much more direct manner).


And while to book is still new . . .

I'll be making two appearances in Philadelphia to support this book.

The first will be at Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse at 2578 Frankford Avenue (that's in the Norther Liberties) on May 26 from 1 to 4 p.m. There will be other writers or artists or writer/artists there as well. More details as they come available.

In the meantime, you can check out the store's website here.

The second will be at the Barnes & Noble in Rittenhouse Square on June 22, sometime in the evening. More than that I don't yet know. But I'll be banging the tin can to bring you more info just as soon as I do.


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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Le Guin on Present Tense

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On those rare occasions when I teach, I come down hard on the use of the present tense in fiction. I tell my students that it's off-putting and unnatural. I say that the past tense is the natural mode for storytelling. They look at me as if I'd just said, "Motorbuggies will never catch on."

I just three minutes ago ran across these words in Ursula K. Le Guin's collection of non-fiction, Words Are My Matter (she is reviewing a novel):

Present-tense narration is now taken for granted by many by many fiction readers because everything they read, from internet news to texting, is in the present tense, but at this great length it can be hard going. Past-tense narration easily implies previous times and extends into the vast misty reaches of the subjunctive, the conditional, the future; but the pretense of a continuous eyewitness account admits little relativity of times, little connection between events. The present tense is a narrow-beam flashlight in the dark, limiting the view to the next step -- now, now, now. No past, no future. The world of the infant, of the animal, perhaps of the immortal.

Word. The present tense has its place in fiction -- but that place is rare.

Here's the rule, and it covers all cases: Only use the present tense if there is some reason for doing so that justifies losing some of your readers and annoying others. (This rule goes double for future tense.) Otherwise, use the past tense.

Go thou, young writers, and sin no more.


And while we're at it . . .

Don't get me stared on the second person!


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Friday, April 13, 2018

Twice Upon A Time Machine

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I'm in graphic print for the very first time! My story, "The Long Bow," appears in Once Upon A Time Machine Volume 2, a graphic anthology edited by Andrew Carl and Chris Stevens. 

The book apparently came out two days ago. I haven't received a contributor's copy yet, so I can't say much about the other stories in it. But I flat-out love Joe DellaGatta's artwork for mine. And I'm pleased how my plot worked out.

"The Long Bow" is a 12-page story about Telemachus's search for his father, Odysseus. If you've reread the Odyssey recently, you'll remember that it begins with Odysseus's son going out, with a boatload of armed warriors, in search of news for his missing father. He comes to an island and, spotting the local king and his retinue, pauses to decide whether to kill them all or approach them peacefully and ask if they know anything of Odysseus.

Telemachus decides not to kill anyone. But he has to make a conscious decision not to! That's always fascinated me, that the times were that chaotic.

And then there's the puzzle of Odysseus's bow. Puzzling over Telemachus's search, I came upon what I honestly believe is the answer to that particular mystery.

Anyway, the editors have been out doing the publicity thing. Over at Syfywire, there's a long interview with Andrew Carl about the book, in which he says:

Joe DellaGatta drew a beautifully moody, but charming story for Telemachus (“The Long Bow”). That one was a joy to look at in every stage of production – even his hand-written letters are beautiful. This one was actually written by Michael Swanwick, as his first-ever comic script. Science fiction readers may know him from all his award-winning books and short stories in the genre. Well, guess what? He’s an awesome comics writer, too. Often the leap from one medium to another can be awkward, but Swanwick nailed it right out of the gate. 

   You can read the whole thing here.

Meanwhile, over at the Deconstructing Comics Podcast, there's an hour and a half long interview with Chris Stevens. I heard that he says something about how Joe DellaGatta constructed the artwork for "The Long Bow" from my script, but today's a working day, so I haven't heard it yet.

You can listen to the whole thing here.


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Thursday, April 12, 2018

An E-Book Sale, Octavia Butler's Mountain, and the Ceremony of Innocence

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I have two pieces of news today and a short essay. So without any further ado...


E-Book Sale for The Iron Dragon's Daughter

Open Road Media is having a one-day sale of the e-book of The Iron Dragon's Daughter, the day after tomorrow only. That's Saturday, April 14, 2018.  My novel will be featured in Early Bird Books (EBB), Open Roads Media's daily deals newsletter tomorrow and  downpriced to $2.99 across all US retailers on that day.

You can subscribe to EBB here so that you'll get the direct link to the deal on the day that it appears in the newsletter. Also, they have an astonishing selection of good across a wide range of genres. So if ebooks are your thing... well, there you are.


A Mountain on Charon for Octavia Butler!

Happy news! NASA has named a mountain on Charon, the largest of Pluto's five known moons, after Octavia Butler.

I didn't know Octavia well but I liked her a lot. (And I say that as a guy who lost the Nebula Award to her classic story, "Blood Child.") She was a particularly fine writer who saw her novels as a way to make the world a better place. She died much too young. And she fully deserves this honor.

I only wish it could have happened while she was still alive.

You can read about the honor done Octavia and others (including some familiar names) here.


The Ceremony of Innocence

You don't very often hear someone you love say, "I'm disappointed. I was so looking forward to burning books."

And you rarely see the owner of a small press lament on selling out an edition in a single day.

But both those things happened when the Dragonstairs Press's chapbook, Blue Moon, written in one day, made into an edition of 69 the next, and put up on sale on the third day (not coincidentally, a Blue Moon) sold out. The original plan was to burn all unsold copies at midnight. There being no unsold copies, Marianne (who is the owner, editor, and sole proprietor) and I had to create an alternative ceremony, where I signed the original manuscript and then burned it, along with a bouquet of flowers.

Which was good enough to satisfy the need for a ceremony to mark the event. But not as good as burning twenty or forty chapbooks would have been.

We associate book-burnings with Nazis, racists, and intolerant mobs. It would have been a beautiful thing to burn books without hatred or bigotry. To burn books created for that purpose in a ceremony of joy and innocence.

Well... There was an implicit compact with Dragonstairs Press's customers and it would have been neither innocent nor joyous to hold back a few to burn. So what we have instead is the strange sensation, one which neither Marianne nor I had ever experienced before, of feeling wistful at not burning books.

Now we know that the market for such a chapbook is larger than the number of chapbooks Marianne is willing to stitch. So I have to wonder. What on earth will Dragonstairs do for the next blue moon?


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