Friday, December 15, 2017

My First Graphic Story Ever!

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I have news. In April, Dark Horse comics will publish Once Upon A Time Machine: Greek Gods and Legends. It's volume two of an anthology of graphic stories that was pretty successful a few years ago. And I have a story in it!

This is the first time I've written a comic book script (or whatever it's called). It's an interesting medium to write for -- extremely concise and far more concerned with the images than the words. It wasn't until writing this that I understood Scott McCloud's contention that the most important part of a comic is the gutter -- the space between panels. But he's right. That's where all the movement takes place. Which is to say, that the action is conveyed not by individual pictures but by the relation of each drawing to the next one.

My story is titled "The Long Bow," and it answers one of the mysteries of The Odyssey that everybody should find baffling, but apparently very few have ever thought about. (And yet the clues are in the text.)

The man responsible for -- yes! -- drawing the long bow is Joe DellaGatta. I'm extremely happy with his artwork, both for the way it amplifies and make clear the plot and simply as as graphic art.

I haven't seen any of the other stories, so all I can tell you about the rest of the book is that it's edited Andrew Carl & Chris Stevens, best known for the Eisner and Havey Award-winning book, Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream.  So the odds are that it'll be good.


Monday, December 11, 2017

The Parable of the Creche

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It's that time of year again, the one we call Almost Christmas. Which, as we all know, is the time when this blog traditionally presents...


The Parable of the Creche

When first I came to Roxborough, over a third of a century ago, the creche was already a tradition of long standing.  Every year it appeared in Gorgas Park during the Christmas season.  It wasn't all that big -- maybe seven feet high at its tip -- and it wasn't very fancy.  The figures of Joseph and Mary, the Christ child, and the animals were a couple of feet high at best, and there were sheets of Plexiglas over the front of the wooden construction to keep people from walking off with them.  But there was a painted backdrop of the hills of Bethlehem at night, the floor was strewn was real straw, and it was genuinely loved.

It was a common sight to see people standing before the creche, especially at night, admiring it.  Sometimes parents brought their small children to see it for the first time and that was genuinely touching.  It provided a welcome touch of seasonality and community to the park.

Alas, Gorgas Park is public property, and it was only a matter of time before somebody complained that the creche violated the principle of the separation of church and state.  When the complaint finally came, the creche was taken out of the park and put into storage.

People were upset of course.  Nobody liked seeing a beloved tradition disappear.  There was a certain amount of grumbling and disgruntlement. One might evensay disgrumblement.

So the kindly people of Leverington Presbyterian Church, located just across the street from the park, stepped in.  They adopted the creche and put it up on the yard in front of their church, where it could be seen and enjoyed by all.

But did this make us happy?  It did not.   The creche was just not the same located in front of a church.  It seemed lessened, in some strange way, made into a prop for the Presbyterians.  You don't see people standing before it anymore.

I was in a local tappie shortly after the adoption and heard one of the barflies holding forth on this very subject:

"The god-damned Christians," he said, "have hijacked Christmas."


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Thursday, December 7, 2017

A Birder's Christmas Carol

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I was in Bombay Hook yesterday and it was a great day for birding. All told, Marianne and I saw nine bald eagles, including two in a tree (above) we could hear speaking to each other and a pair in courting flight. You really need to see two together to fully appreciate what spectacular fliers they are. Also several thousand snow geese, many great blue herons, some quite closeby, a variety of other birds, and a red fox!

So I am happy.

To celebrate, I took a classic Christmas carol and adopted it for birders. You know how the song goes, so I'm only going to give you the final round:


The Twelve Days of Christmas Birding

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love spotted these:
Twelve turkeys drumming
Eleven peeps a-piping
Ten lapwings larking
Nine quails a-dancing
Eight doves a-mourning
Seven mute swans swimming
Six geese a-laying
FIVE SNOWY OWLS!
Four peregrines
Three black ducks
Two godwits
And an eagle in a bare tree

                           -- Michael Swanwick


Above: Photo by M. C. Porter. Photo and poem are both issued under a Creative Commons license. You are free to use them for noncommercial purposes, so long as credit is retained. And you can change the words of the carol. That's how I came up with it myself.


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Friday, December 1, 2017

Two Roads Diverged...

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My friend and occasional editor, Gabrielle Wei, knowing of my fondness for writing on leaves, sent me the above picture of a ginkgo leaf. I was touched, of course, but also reminded of a true story.

This happened to a neighbor of my family's, back when we lived in Winooski, Vermont. She was out driving, one day, on a lonely country road, when she came to an intersection. She stopped at the stop sign and started forward.

Just then, a maniac driving far too fast for the road, blasted through the intersection, ignoring the stop sign entirely.

Both drivers slammed on their brakes. They missed colliding by inches. The driver who had been going too fast turned to look back and glared at my neighbor in fury. Then he put his foot on the accelerator and sped away.

And our neighbor recognized him.

She told us the next day that she sat in her car for several minutes, shivering, and reflecting on the headline that would have been printed the next day, had she not braked in time:

WINOOSKI WOMAN KILLS ROBERT FROST

Every word of this story is true. Had it been a fiction, I'm pretty sure there would have been an implicit moral to it.


And as long as we're talking about leaves...

Here's a picture I took of the water trough outside the thatched cottage of Du Fu in Chengdu. It looks like I left out a couple of strokes in the great poet's name, but that's just a trick of the light. I copied it out very carefully.



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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Foreword, A Season, An Afterword

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Monday's post on Dragonstairs Press's two new (and one old) chapbooks ran so long that I didn't have the chance to present any excerpts. A failing that I will correct right now.

The preface to Midwinter Fables:


That scandalous old slave, Aesop, having spent his youth as secretary to his master, and his middle years as the freed commercial ambassador of the same man, found himself living in a cold stone hut in the mountains. One day, his scribbling was interrupted by a woman who claimed to be his granddaughter, looking to discover what sort of man he was. 

“How do I know what you say is true?” Aesop asked. 

The woman cast a scornful glance at her surroundings. “My father is a successful wine merchant in Syracuse. Why would I lie?” 

“Very well,” the fabulist said. “Listen to these stories I have just now written.”

A season from 5 Seasons:


                                                           Winterthaw 

I crave thy pardon, mistress, that I did try to eat thee.  It were the Darkwinter, when we all do what we must to survive.  I understand why thou dost flinch from my touch.

Still.  Didst thou not kill thy sister, who did love thee, when the foodstuffs ran low?  Not that I disapprove.  It were the right thing to do, God wot.  Hunger knows no morals.  I did the same with my father, poor soul.

Those dire times are behind us.  The snows are melting at last.  We can scrabble in the mud for last year’s roots, and perhaps a small rodent or three.  We keep our knives sharp and close to hand, of course, because we each know what the other is capable of.

Now the ice turns back into pond water.  The air is warm.  Desperation falls a day, a second day, a third into the past.  Now at last – though I grip my blade as firmly as thou dost thine – I am free to say...

I do love thee.

And the afterword to Touchstones:


A touchstone, literally, is a stone used to test the purity of gold. Metaphorically, it is the test of the truth of any particular statement. But in the heart, a touchstone is whatever connects us to our deepest and truest values.

When you travel, you carry a little bit of your home with you as a sort of touchstone. For my third trip to Chengdu, I brought these three stories, which exist in physical form in my house. The first is written on a jar filled with keys and is partly true and partly not. The second is written on a framed sheet of paper behind a Mason jar filled with mineral oil, scrap electronic parts, and a rubber eyeball. It is an homage to Ray Bradbury and completely fictional. "Lovers and Lunatics" is written on a crescent moon shaped wall lamp. It is a love letter to my wife and every word of it is tru

"A Jarful of Keys" was published on my blog in 2009. The other two stories appear here for the first time.

Home, family, fantasy, and love. These stories are touchstones for what matter to me most. I hope they give you pleasure.

And since you asked . . .

The Dragonstairs chapbooks -- slim, elegant, and seriously underpriced -- can be found here.


Above: Winter leaves.

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Monday, November 27, 2017

Three From Dragonstairs!

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There are two new chapbooks available from Dragonstairs Press, which is (this needs to be said occasionally) not my but Marianne Porter's tabletop publishing empire. These are handmade, hand-stitched labors of love. And if you go to the Dragonstairs website, you'll see that these things sell out pretty handily.

One reason for this is the price. When Marianne started making chapbooks, I asked around for how much she should charge and got two contradictory pieces of advice. Lawrence Person said, "Anything more than ten dollars and it stops being an impulse buy." But David Hartwell said, "Start at fifty dollars. Anything less and the serious collectors won't touch it." I relayed both remarks to Marianne who, horrified at the thought of soaking her customers, decided she would sell to frivolous collectors only. I personally harbor the belief that somewhere twenty or thirty years down the line, these will turn out to be very good investments indeed.

But mostly it's because they're lovely items.

They are:

Midwinter Fables by Michael Swanwick
Four of Aesop's fables, retold. Edition of 110 copies, signed and numbered.
Six dollars in the U. S. Seven dollars elsewhere.

This is my annual Solstice chapbook, created last December but only just now available to buy. The Dragonstairs site will tell you there are 34 copies available, but since they went on sale yesterday, there are actually only 24. These always sell out before Christmas so if you want one for that special bibliophile on your gift list, you'd best move fast.

And:

Touchstones by Michael Swanwick
Three personal stories (one previously published on Flogging Babel) and an afterword. Published in an edition of 50, to mark Swanwick's participation in the Fourth Chengdu International Science Fiction Conference.

Roughly half of these were given away to friends and colleagues in China. The Dragonstairs site says that 24 are available, but currently the number is 14.

Also still available is:

Five Seasons by Michael Swanwick. Five short short stories, independent but interrelated. Edition of 100, signed and numbered.

I don't ordinarily issue a caution about my own fiction, but since this is the holiday season, I ought to mention that these stories -- written to meet a challenge to divide the year into five seasons -- came out a little grim. That said, I think they're pretty damn glorious. Dragonstairs would have you believe that 28 are available. The actual number is 24.

You can find the Dragonstairs website here.  And while you're looking, why not scroll down to see all the cool stuff no longer available for sale?





Above top: All three publications on the Dragonstairs office rug. Immediately above: The Barefoot Publisher herself, assembling packages to be mailed out.

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Friday, November 24, 2017

The Season Begins

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When I was a boy in Winooski, Vermont, there was an unspoken rivalry in the neighborhood over who got their Christmas lights up first. Nobody, of course, put up lights before Thanksgiving. That would be rushing the season and absurd to boot.

But one year my mother, who had a strong artistic streak, carved our pumpkins and, instead of candles, put a colored electric bulb in each. The kind that went on Christmas trees, one orange and one yellow. They looked great. If you carve your own pumpkins, I recommend you try it some year.

We didn't know that down at the bottom of the street, a competitive soul looked up and, since it was too distant to see the pumpkins, saw only the colored lights.

The next year in early October, a week before we set out pumpkins, our competitive neighbor had his house covered with Christmas lights!

All of which is prelude to this:

Today we -- by which, of course, I mean Marianne -- put out our Christmas lights. That's a picture of some of them up above.

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