Sunday, October 23, 2011


I'm not sure if anyone is still coming here, given that it's been months since a post showed up here, but I should formally announce that I have moved to a spiffy new blog over at Wordpress. I am leaving this up partly because there is stuff here I want to refer back to, but at some point I will probably move the posts that matter to some sort of archive over at the new site.

I moved because Wordpress works better, for one thing. It's not as simple, and there are things to learn about running the site, but I like it. Also, I needed to make the shift from an Internet handle to my real name as I undertake the process of writing professionally. I am still toying with what name to use (John Stevens, J. H. Stevens, etc.) but it is time to come out from behind my cute name and be me. This is in part something I need to do to own my writing, to be more confident in my work. The new blog will be much more focused on writing, and less on personal stuff, which I think will make it more interesting to folks.

So come on over!

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Roundup, and a Readercon

I've been silent recently, but writing a lot. My SF Signal column has several new entries, including a two-parter on "The Death of Science Fiction." I did not write a new column this week, but I did pen a review of the VanderMeers' The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities. I just submitted an article for publication, and as soon as I have more info on release I will post it. I am also still slogging away at my Clarion Write-a-Thon project, a bit behind at 11,100 words but working to catch up.

Today I am off to Readercon, and I will be posting assorted updates from there over the weekend. It should be a fun and thinky con.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Write-a-thon, One Week and Many Thoughts

So, what has seven days of writing raw, unformed prose given me?

1) Confidence. Yeah, this zero-draft stuff is not much to read, but doing this on my blog, regardless of responses, is good. I am writing every day, I am writing without fear, which sounds grandiose but is not meant to be. I started this solo workshop with a very general sense of what I wanted to write, and I am finding that as I write a lot of elements of the future story are becoming clearer. Writing this protean stuff in public is helping me break down some internal barriers, and as a result I am writing more overall with less hesitation.

2) Discernment: When I write an early draft, I do a couple of strange things: first, I write actions and interactions in excruciating detail. which I parse in later drafts. When I compare what I am writing here to a few other pieces, this problem stands out mightily. Feedback on previous stories has pointed this out, and this excessive detail was also a problem in essay-writing in grad school. This is linked to confidence, in part, this to a need to map out everything. I hate missing something, so in early drafts there is too much. I prefer to whittle rather than add on.

One of the things I learned in my creative writing education and in graduate school was to not be wedded to what is on the page. One of my writing teachers in college was Taylor Stoehr, who saw this tendency of mine to overwrite immediately and spent a very patient year pointing out its effects on my work. He even gave me a collection of Arthur Waley's translations of Chinese poetry to inspire me to do more with less. I took the lesson a bit differently than he wanted, I think.

In academic graduate school, you are encouraged to overwrite, and then chided for it. I tried to follow what I found to be the conventions of authorship, and had some of those whose writing I studied tell me what I was doing it wrong. I soon learned that "do I say, not as I do" was the motto to follow. But their advice was theoretically precise, yet technically vague. Again, one person gave me some excellent advice early on; Thomas Kirsch spent most of my first semester giving me pointers on how to approach not just academic writing, but the process of practice of writing itself. He was fascinated with the tension between anthropologists "getting it right" and their often larger-than-life self-images and aspirations. This often resulted in writing that was very detailed but had little behind it, or dense academic discussions that were far removed from the ethnographic material. What he counseled was simple: write clearly, always keeping not just your point but the world you are writing about in mind.

3) Rhythm: Spattering ideas on the screen often shows me what objective I want to achieve (see above about detail, etc.). I think through writing more often than I form a full idea in my head. What I am noticing in this project is that this influences the rhythm and flow of my writing, and I need to pay more attention to that when redrafting and shaping the story in revision. I also tend to search for characters' voices and personas in this manner, and that affects the rhythm as well. In this novella I am trying to play with the third-person perspective a bit and let a focal character influence the perspective in each section. We'll see how well that works as I keep unfolding the story.

4) Exercise: This Write-a-thon is good exercise, partly because there are prompts from Clarion. I am going to tackle this exercise tonight and see what it yields, then get back to writing. I am a day behind but I will catch up after working the prompt.

5) Enlightenment: There is nothing like working on a story to remind you of how difficult and amazing the writing process can be. Even without publication, fiction writing does a lot for me, from improving my mood to influencing how I talk about writing in my column and articles. It's hardest sort of fun around and I get a lot from it.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Write-a-thon, Day One

Here is the next bit of my Write-a-thon novella:

The creekside plots were cukes and pumpkins this year, although Leigh had little use for the former and had asked that they not be grown. Bloody useless little peckers. But the vegetation here was turning lush quickly; this was still some of the best ground they had for cultivation. There just wasn't very much of it, especially with the boulders here and there and the rock formation that jutted out from the bridge and came down the shore from what used to be the big lawn, when the Falls were a park. Now that was a precious little grain patch, barely enough to feed a few people for a season. Too little, too little. . . . .

She realized that she could hear music now, some twangy guitar notes. She came over the hump and saw Eoin standing at attention, hands behind his back, watching Gracie play on the big boulder. The maple gave them both ample shade. It was still warm under the canopy but lulling and sweet. Leigh felt herself smiling. She compressed her lips, lingering for a moment until the tune ended, then turned and headed back to the homestead.

* * * * *

When she got up to the top of the bridge she heard something scream, and her smile returned, but this time she let it spread out over her wide face and wrinkle her eyes. As she topped the road she saw the chugger backed into the main driveway, and a small open-topped trailer with its gate open, empty. The screaming stopped as soon as she crossed Lake St. By the time she took the short-cut behind the houses and got to the sort-of courtyard they crowded around, it was all over, and a burly older woman and a tall, rangy teenage girl were grunting as they pulleyed a blood-spouting pig to swing from the thick branch of an elm tree. Most of the blood was falling into a filthy plastic bucket.

"Ah, protein." She waved to the other two as they secured the rope. Their sun hats had been pushed back, and their hair, short and gray for both of them, was soaked with sweat. They both wore light ponchos and blood-stained aprons, but the older woman's clothes were dark red and slick. The girl brushed a few droplets from her face and smiled at Leigh.

"Good size. Meaty."

The older woman nodded. "Hello Leigh. We have a prize pig here for sure!" She laughed; the other two women smiled and nodded politely. "Like El said: good size, plenty of flesh. We'll have him butchered in no time. Smokehouse most of it, have barbecue for the rest tonight." She tromped past Leigh and opened the hatch to the small house's cellar, disappearing inside.

"What's the word?" Leigh asked El.

"I talked to Heather; they have enough pasture for the season, but they may have to convert next year." She undid the apron tie behind her neck and slipped out of the blood-spattered garb. "Levy on pasture might up to triple, with all the food drop delays."

"That's stupid. Who's going to work it? Brad, Heather, and their grandkids?" Leigh heard something clang in through the open basement hatch and cursing erupt. "Too much field. It's ridiculous."

El nodded and tossed her apron over by the tree. "There might be more Unemployed by next spring."

Leigh wrinkled her nose. "You're kidding."

El gave her a funny look. "Of course I'm not. Brad saw some tax revenue projections, and even with the shopping bonus the Employed got, still not enough coming in, he says."

"Fuck the Employed," Leigh replied, "I told them that horseshit plan wouldn't work."

Words for tonight: 607.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Write-athon and on and on. . . .

Last time we left our ogre he was discussing his participation in the Clarion Write-a-thon, and then apparently fell into a wormhole or portal to another world. He is back, and will now talk about himself in the first person.

I have updated my Clarion page with my specific goal for the six weeks, which is to write a novella of at least 25,000 words, currently entitled "Waterfall Pulls the Sunlight Down." At 600 words per day, and no editing, I can make this goal, and I'm looking forward to seeing what emerges, raw as it may be.

The Write-a-thon officially starts tomorrow and runs until 6 August, but some writers started early, and I did some writing earlier in the week, which I will not count towards the 25,000 word total. Part of the process is promoting your writing and getting people to sponsor you, so if you enjoy this story, please do donate. As incentive, I will happily tuckerize every donor who wishes it into the story, and the person who makes the largest contribution will receive the final product in whatever form it is eventually published in.

Here's the first installment:

June, The Month of Hoping Things Grow

Eoin found Littlegrace Bear by the falls, strumming the dead woman's guitar. It had rained overnight and the water was roaring, throwing sparkling drops into the air and crashing down into a white maelstrom below the chunky rock formation it ran over. The little waterwheels craned out on the near side of the falls were spinning and rocking in the spray, but the din of the water drowned out their creaking and whirring. Maybe we'll get enough power for a movie tonight.

Gracie watched the falls sparkle and ran her fingers across the strings, lightly depressing them near a middle fret. That guitar twanged with poor tuning, but she swayed along with the slow rhythm. Eoin cleared his throat. The strumming changed, became lighter and slower.

"You doing alright?"

She smiled at the waterfall and blinked as the wind came up and blew a little spray their way. "It was nice of her to give me her guitar." The strumming picked up speed again. "The waterfall likes the music." She closed her eyes and raised her face to the breeze-driven droplets.

"Yeah." Eoin tried to quell the light shaking that had been in his hands since dawn. He looked down at them, thin but strong hands. He still had a bit of the dead woman's blood under his fingernails, he noted. He put his arms behind his back and stood up straighter. "If you need anything, you let me know."

She smiled at the waterfall. "I have a guitar. I ate breakfast." She looked at him out of the corner of her eye. "There'll probably be a movie tonight." She moved her fingers down the neck and the guitar moaned. She bent over it and started playing it for real, bluesy and curt notes groaning out of it. She sped up the rhythm a bit and started shaking her head to the music.

He felt a tear form at the side of his right eye, like one of those cocoons a wasp would spin on its victim/protector. Maybe this one will take some anger with it. His stomach rumbled. His arms were tired. He nodded at Gracie, stepped back to the edge of the shade given by the massive tree they were under, the last one by the creek on this side of the falls. Far behind and up on the little bluff he could hear people talking, maybe shouting. He checked the sun, out beneath the cool canopy of the maple.

He stood there, still as stone, and listened to the rough, sad music until the sun went behind the shattered house on the ridge across the creek.

* * * * *

Leigh went out to the upper field as soon as she unloaded the runabout. She made sure the trike was charging this time, although according to the meter there wasn't much juice banked for it. She looked over at the smallest of the three houses by the main driveway and heard music blaring from it. As she walked by the rear door to cut through the backyard she shouted "Turn it off, Darkboy!" She heard the volume decrease as she fast-walked by the little playground and a patch of perky greens, rounded the last house standing on the block, and cut between two foundations (one that smelled more and more like a garbage dump; best get that on Damon's list too) out to the street. She cut across the pothole-filled road to the tax garden and waved to Nutmeg and Kit, who were weeding and looking for slugs and such under the self-standing umbrella.

She crossed Lake St., which was hardly a street anymore, partly cleared off but even more pocked than Falls St. Up the old driveway of the former parking lot to what was now the lower field, a combination of tomatoes and squashes slowly maturing in the harsh sunlight. She skirted the edge of the field and kicked at the rich soil along the edge, the imported stuff that had cost them a horse and 900 hours of server time. If Darkboy's stereo eats the reserve power I'm going to feed his testicles to the hounds. She scrambled up the rough steps along the top of the rockface overlooking the creek gardens and wished once again there was some sort of railing.

She found Damon on the little bluff near the falls in his sun hat and puffy shirt, squatting down in the new field, looking at a row of seedlings that were stunted, some of them browning. She made noise as she approached when she saw the gun on his hip. He let some soil drop from his fingers and wiped them on his trouser leg, then put his gardening glove back on. She pulled her kaffiyah back and cleared her throat.

"Hey," he said as she came up beside him. He kept looking at the seedlings. "How's town?"

"Still there," she replied. "Mail's late. Food drop's late. Treatment plant is down again." She looked over the field to the far side, where some recently cut-down trees lay near a tall chain-link fence. "I got the new parts for the tiller, finagled some grain for those extra tires." She heard him mutter and caress a wilted shoot between his fingers. "There's a Common Council meeting Thursday night."

He quieted and looked sideways at her shins; the fabric of her silky beige skirt clung to them in the rising breeze. "For what?"

"What do you think, Damon?" She sneered a bit at the top of his head. "Second week with no drops, no mail, just a few independents and tinkers rolling through with wares." She looked down the length of the field, which was farmed right up to a thin stand of trees about back to the creek before the falls. She squinted and saw one of the thin irrigation pipes dripping water, but as the wind kicked up soil blew off in stinging puffs. "How's the field?"

She was pretty sure she heard him whisper "fuck you" before he raised his voice. "Trouble with the irrigation; DeShawn and Alice are working on it, may just drag the manual gear up here and try to hose the field for now. Darkboy says weather forecast is for rain on Wednesday, but three days is a long time for no water." He flicked at the plant he had just been fondling. "But it's not just water; something else is up. I need to run some tests. . . ."

She sighed. "Really? Again?"

Damon finally looked up at her, his milky right eye as piercing as the clear green one. "Yes Leigh, again. This seed was supposed to be clean and delinked. Signal free. Parent. Untampered with."

"It's corn, Damon. What did you expect? I told you. . . ."

He hissed to cut her off. "I expected that my preliminary analysis was right. And this is not. . . it's not. . . ." he turned away from her and tossed a pebble down the row. "I'm not sure what's wrong, and I need to find out, deal with it before. . . ."

"Next week?"

"Thursday." He stood up, finally. Slowly, his knees creaking. His clothes were too big for him and the intermittent breeze pushed the roomy white fabric of his voluminous shirt sleeves against his bony elbows as he hooked his thumbs into his belt. "I need to know what's up by Thursday."

"Yeah, I guess." She shook her head at the tiny plantlings. "How's everybody doing?"

"Fine. The girls are working the tax garden, kids are over at the big playground, Mischa and El are bringing that pig back from McLean. Vim and Darkboy are doing their thing. I think the rest went down along the creek to forage, and check around."

"Eoin and Gracie are down by the falls," Leigh said after a moment. "They're under the maple, but I don't think they have any other protection."

Damon sighed. "Gracie I don't worry about; she's the proper skin. But Eoin, he knows better. They should be checking the animals and getting ready for milking."

Leigh rubbed her lower teeth along her bottom lip. "Right. But, how's everybody doing, Damon?"

"I just said they're fine. They're doing their stuff, except for Eoin and Gracie. Could you. . . nah, I'll go down when I'm done here and get them going on the animals."

Leigh sighed again. "How about I do it, and you just do your little tests." She turned to go before he replied.

"Please remind Eoin that we need him," he said towards her, then settled back down near the dying plants. He waited until the field was quiet again, then brushed the back of his fingers down a bending shoot of immature corn. "What the fuck do you want?"

* * * * *
Leigh trotted down the path to the lower field, then jumped down over the concrete wall and cistern that separated it from the creekside area. She remembered when she was a kid how she and her friends would clamber all over it, safe in the shade of the scraggly little woods. They would play tag on the big lawn near the bridge, sometimes chase each other through the tall grass that grew around the rocks and trees. One a week their teacher would bring them down to the creek and give talks about the ecosystem, about the geology, and have them hunt for rocks or just watch the creek flow. She had them write essays on how the water looked running over the stones, lapping at the shore, cascading down the falls.

Now the creekside was crowded with vegetable plots, some raised-bed, one an experiment in "lasagna" gardening. Without the trees, and with the smaller rocks removed, she found it uninviting. The huge old maple down by the falls stood out like an arrogant old fart. The skinny, almost leafless trees across the creek felt envious, the ones who hadn't snapped or died already at least. The carefully-plotted land on this side left no room for play, and it seemed to Leigh that it stole all the life from the areas around it. Perhaps that's the problem with Damon's stupid corn.


Note: farming, animal husbandry, and some other technical matters that come up in this drafting process may not be accurate, so if you see a gaffe or problem in the story, please let me know!

I will be posting each day's entry here, and as soon as I find a word count indicator I will put that up as well.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Clarion Write-a-Thon!

So, since there was no way I could participate in The Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers' Workshop at UCSD this year, I decided to do the next best thing and sign up for their fundraising Write-a-Thon. I've got a page at the site (click on the badge to the right to go to it) and am now soliciting donations for the project. Details are all on the Write-a-Thon page. I'm looking forward to being pushed to write more.

I write a lot now, but I need to branch out, to take the confidence I've been building with the columns and reviews and write more fiction without letting apprehension get the best of me. It's all about being willing to suck, at this point, and keep writing and developing.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Seventy-Five Book That All Males Should Read

Yesterday afternoon I took a break from reading and making notes for a review and messed around online for a bit. While on Twitter, author Ian Sales tweeted the following: "sigh. apparently starting up sf mistressworks is incompatible with liking books written by men:" I followed the link and read the comment, which I found to be simultaneously defensive, snide, and patronizing. Not hugely so, mind you, but enough that I fired off an irritated tweet about the comment. Mr. Sales pointed out that it was not a comment made out of anger, but of a feeling that the individual's own investment in the Masterworks series had likely inspired the comment. I withdrew my retort, but it still bugged me.

I have been very frustrated about a number of related incidents in the last few weeks that highlight sexist undertones in the "mainstream" view of certain literatures. We have the dust-up over the Guardian SF poll (which inspired Ian's Mistressworks meme, and also resulted in Kari Sperring creating a version of it for fantasy). Then there was V. S. Naipaul and his sexist bullshit. We have a Wall Street Journal article on Young Adult literature that not only implies that much of it is decadent or "constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is," but makes heavily-demarcated suggestions for reading based on gender (with almost all of the suggestions' authors also segregated to match the reader's gender).

Finally, and this is what pushed me over the edge into anger, we have Esquire Magazine's "75 Books Every Man Should Read," a slideshow presentation of 75 titles that are "the greatest works of literature every published," only one of which is written by a woman (Flannery O'Connor). I found it after going to read Emma Bull's response to the YA article, but flipping through that gallery took me away from that debate and made me realize that all of these little moments of discursive idiocy added up to something, showed me parts of the puzzle that clicked together into an ugly puzzle. Patriarchy, gendered ideas of morality, cultural suppositions about art and authority, and echoes of hegemonic imaginative limits all collided.

Rather than pen some vast missive about it, however, I thought that responding in kind would be a better idea. To that end, I present a list of 75 books (in no particular order, except for the first one) that I think males should read, not to reinforce some prevailing gender notions or make them feel good about themselves and their taste in books, nor to reify certain ideas about what a canon should contain or who gets to be in it or what books are allegedly transcendent or special to men. If readers stick to "the classics" as prescribed in this manner they are cheating themselves out of what reading can show them.

I present this as a list of works that have the potential to shake a reader's thinking up and create more perceptive discussions about the issues that these incidents have brought to the fore (including the idea of what "books for men" should address). The title of my post is a play on the Esquire title, these are books that I would recommend to anyone. Due to time constraints I have not added links, but Google and book sites and library catalogs can be easily employed to find most of these. I have tried to keep comments to a minimum for the same reason. Find out more for yourselves.

1) How to Suppress Women's Writing, by Joanna Russ (Obvious? Yes. Dated? Read it and find out for yourself, for Athena's sake).
2) Our Guys, by Bernard Lefkowitz.
3) The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin
4) Feminism: The Essential Historical Writings, edited by Miriam Schneer.
5) The Human Condition, by Hannah Arendt.
6) To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.
7) Angels' Town: Chero Ways, Gang Life, and the Rhetorics of Everyday, by Ralph Cintron.
8) Living My Life, by Emma Goldman.
9) Myths of Male Dominance, by Eleanor Burke Leacock.
10) A Language Older Than Words, by Derrick Jensen.
11) Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, by Lydia Millett.
12) A Martian Muse, by Reginald Shepherd.
13) The Collected Poems, by Anna Akhmatova.
14) Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society, by Lila Abu-Lughod
15) The Stars Down to Heaven and Other Essays, by Theodore Adorno.
16) Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary, by Veena Das.
17) Civil Disobedience and Other Essays, by Henry David Thoreau
18) Mama Day, by Gloria Naylor.
19) Peace, by Gene Wolfe.
20) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paolo Friere
21) Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou =: Struggle Without End, by Ranginui Walker.
22) Swagger and Remorse, by Richard Fox.
23) The Awakening, by Kate Chopin.
24) The Killer Inside Me, by Jim Thompson.
25) Wolf Totem, by Jiang Rong.
26) Palimpsest, by Catherynne Valente.
27) The Interpretation of Cultures, by Clifford Geertz
28) The Sultana's Dream, by Rokheya Shekawat Hossein
29) Housekeeping, by Marilyn Robinson.
30) In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio, by Philippe Bourgeois.
31) The Alteration, by Kingsley Amis.
32) Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes.
33) So Long Been Dreaming, ed. by Nalo Hopkinson.
34) Payback, by Margaret Atwood.
35) Wizard of the Crow, by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
36) The Fact of A Doorframe, by Adrienne Rich.
37) Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki.
38) Lettres d'un Voyageur, by Georges Sand.
39) Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, by Samuel R. Delany.
40) Waking the Moon, by Elizabeth Hand.
41) Hunger, by Knut Hamsun.
42) The Cancer Journals, by Audre Lorde
43) Dragonflies: Fiction by Chinese Women in the Twentieth Century, ed. by Shu-Ning Sciban
44) The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers.
45) The Tale of Genji, by Lady Shikibu Murasaki
46) The Sambia: Ritual, Sexuality, and Change in Papua New Guinea, by Gilbert Herdt.
47) Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys.
48) Black Women in White America: A Documentary History, ed. by Gerda Lerner.
49) On Wings of Song, by Thomas M. Disch
50) Fear: A Cultural History, by Joanna Bourke
51) Between the Acts, by Virginia Woolf.
52) The House of Discarded Dreams, by Ekaterina Sedia. (Which I have written about at length on this blog)
53) The Man Who Folded Himself, by David Gerrold
54) Forms of Distance, by Bei Dao.
55) Bloodchild and Other Stories, by Octavia Butler.
56) Christopher and his Kind, by Christopher Isherwood.
57) Dust Tracks on the Road, by Zora Neale Hurston.
58) Lud-in-the-Mist, by Hope Mirrlees.
59) Selected Poems, by W. H. Auden.
60) Challenging Gender Norms: Five Genders Among Bugis in Indonesia, by Sharyn Graham Davies.
61) One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society, by Herbert Marcuse.
62) Melmoth the Wanderer, by Charles Robert Maturin.
63) The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver.
64) Morning Star: surrealism, marxism, anarchism, situationism, utopia,by Michael Löwy.
65) The Second Sex, by Simone de Beauvoir
66) Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, by James Tiptree, Jr./Alice Sheldon
67) Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity, by David Gilmore.
68) Our Bodies, Ourselves, by The Boston Women's Health Collective
69) Sensation, by Nick Mamatas.
70) I, Pierre Riviere, Having Slaughtered My Mother, My Sister & My Brother . . . , by Michel Foucault.
71) Deathbird Stories, by Harlan Ellison.
72) Ammonite, by Nicola Griffith.
73) Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes.
74) A Space by the Side of the Road, by Kathleen Stewart.
75) The Female Man, by Joanna Russ.