Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Surviving Sandy

Here in Boston, Hurricane Sandy didn't do too much damage that we could see.  The public transportation stopped running during the second half of Monday, and there was a lot of wind and rain that evening.  But in the end, things were more or less back to normal the next day.  Just a few fallen branches.  We never even lost power at our home or work--although not everyone in the Boston area was so lucky, and I'm not sure even now whether all the power outages have been resolved.  It continued to rain on Tuesday--we had a pretty heavy thunderstorm in the evening--but overall we were pretty lucky.

New York, though, is another story.  There were floods, power outages, fires.  Sandy was everything New York feared it would be, and more.  Continue to keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

Barring any further storm impacts, Kristin and I, and our friend Max Gladstone (whose book, Three Parts Dead, has just come out--Go! Buy!), will be carpooling to Toronto for World Fantasy on Thursday.  Let us know if you'll be there.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Phoenix in Darkness, Part 2

Last week, I announced the beginning of the serial publication of my short novel, "A Phoenix in Darkness."  Today, I'm happy to say that the second part of "A Phoenix in Darkness" is now live at Black Gate's website.  The second part contains some of my favorite scenes from the novel, including two very creepy scenes which I read at World Fantasy two years ago.  Since it's the Sunday before Halloween, I think it's the perfect time for this part of my novel to go up.  And to whet your appetite, here's a taste of one of them:
He couldn’t see the front of the room, where the lecturing voice continued to drone on, but he could see the children. They were young girls, perhaps a dozen of them aged somewhere between eight and ten, and dressed in identical gray dresses which only accentuated the differences between them. Aside from the differences in age, which could be quite noticeable for that range, Seth recognized the dark hair and the broad features of the working class in most of them, the honey-colored hair and tall, willowy body only found in certain noble families, and even one girl whose dark brown skin marked her ancestry as from the Daurens region of the Novar Empire. The girls were the only living people he could see — the others were dead. Corpses lay on low tables around the room, each with two or three of the girls gathered around it. They were all young men, maybe all peasants from what he could tell, but it was hard to notice their faces when their chests were peeled open to reveal their organs. What Seth couldn’t understand at first, or perhaps didn’t want to understand, was what the girls were doing with the bodies. Even seeing the organs lying on the table and the blood on the hands and dresses of the children wasn’t enough to hammer into him what was happening until he watched one girl, with dark, curly hair and a look of intense concentration on her face, use a knife to saw at a corpse’s chest. She set the knife down, wiped back a lock of her hair to leave a smear of blood at her temple, then reached into the chest cavity with both hands to pull out a heart nearly the size of her head. She gave the girl next to her a dimpled smile, which the other girl returned while making some quip that caused the first one to giggle. Swallowing hard to overcome his nausea, Seth pulled back from the door and leaned against the wall with a clink of armor which caused both Aulus and Nathan to whip their heads in his direction. The voices in the room gave no indication that they had heard anything, however, so Seth started breathing again with a soft curse for his own clumsiness. He picked up his sword as quietly as possible, almost losing his grip with his sweat-slick hands. He could still hear them chattering, joking, and laughing, but quietly, all the while giving half their attention to the speaker whose words Seth could now clearly hear: “If you examine the heart, you’ll find that it has four parts, or chambers. The heart is a large muscle, whose job it is to circulate the blood throughout the body. This vein collects the blood and brings it to the heart, while this…”
Perfect for Halloween, I'd say.  I hope you enjoy the story, and I look forward to hearing what people think.

And as a reminder, if you'd like to read about one of Aulus's earlier adventures, you might enjoy A Stranger in the Library.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

World Fantasy Convention

Kristin and I will be going to the World Fantasy Convention next weekend, and we will both be on the panel "The Real World  in Fantastic Fiction" at noon on Saturday.  Here's the description:
Just because a story is set in a secondary world doesn’t mean its medical/legal/political/military systems cannot be grounded in some kind of reality. Inaccuracies can abound when authors try to incorporate procedures and systems that exist in the real world into their created worlds without paying proper attention to details. The panel examines why and how reality is all important, even in a fantastic world.
The other panelists are Ian Drury, Geoff Hart, Christopher Kovacs, and Kenneth Schneyer.

There are a number of different ways that this panel could go, and it's not clear yet exactly what we'll be talking about.  Presumably the moderator will ask us questions, and we'll do our best to answer them.  We can talk about they "why" of getting the reality in your fiction right, but I often find the question of "how" to be more interesting.  How do you get the details right?  One of the keys is research, but how do you do the research?  How much do you do?  What can't you learn from research?  If the research isn't helping, do you change the story or just make stuff up?  Those are the sort of questions all writers face to some degree, and I think it'd be fun to talk about.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The work of writing

I've spent the last weekend working on my writing without actually writing. That was frustrating. I had a story coming out in Black Gate on Sunday, so I needed to review the story for typos and formatting errors, and the occasional plot hole. In addition, I needed to promote my story in various ways: emailing my friends, posting announcements in the online forums I frequent, etc. I also has a lot of stories I was prepping for submission (or resubmission), so I spent  time getting those ready. Finally, I ahad to read and critique a fairly long story for my writing group. Overall, it was a long weekend. All of that work was worthwhile, but I missed just having time to write.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Phoenix in Darkness has begun

Black Gate has published the first part of my short novel in their online fiction series today, and will be publishing the rest over the next two weeks. "A Phoenix in Darkness" is the longest story that Black Gate has ever published.

Those (three) of you who have been following my blog for a while will remember Phoenix. I talked about it incessantly as I was writing it, back in 2004. It forms an important chapter in my War of the Elementals canon, revealing a turning point in the history of Aulus and Kulsin. My original blurb to describe the story went like this:
For centuries, the Ordo Dominorum has defended humanity against threats beyond its comprehension, but the Order’s secretive ways and strange powers have earned the Domini only fear and hatred from those they seek to protect. Aulus and Nathan, two young Domini, believe that the Order’s success in hunting down and destroying magical threats has now made it possible to reform the Order and make it a part of the world. Will the murder of a fellow Dominus by a peasant woman be the impetus to begin this change . . . or proof that the Order has not been as successful as they believed?
I'm a different writer now than I was when I wrote the first draft of this story eight years ago. I'd definitely write it differently if I were writing it now--for one, it would be shorter. My style is terser now. I like to think that I'm a better writer, but looking over this story in preparation of the publication, there's a richness to the descriptions that I'm not sure I'd do justice to today. That's the burden of an author's evolution: constantly wondering if what you're gaining is worth what you're losing. I believe it is in my case, but stories like this make me wonder.

A lot of the War of the Elementals is not yet published, but you can find out what Aulus was up to prior to this in "A Stranger in the Library," previously published in Aoife's Kiss, and now available on Kindle. The rest of my published stories can be found here.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Spam? Phishing?

For the past week, I've received dozens, if not hundreds, of emails purporting to confirm my registration at one online forum or other. Each of them says I've signed up with a different username, and most of them give me the password. The emails are mostly identical enough that I've been able to filter most of them, but not the foreign language ones or the occasional one with different wording.

My first instinct was to suspect phishing, but I think that I've decided that it's spam. I've done Google searches on the forums, and sometimes that turns up nothing. I've only had the courage to visit one of those that does turn up (through the Google search, not the link in the email). The website for the Ocean Air Brokerage (I won't link for fear of viruses) looks legitimate enough, but the forums I've supposedly been given membership in make no sense. Why would the forums of a supposed shipping brokerage have no forums on shipping or customs or regions, but categories such as Sports, Software, and Phone Service? And every single post I've seen appears to be spam.

This leads me to the conclusion that these are spam forums. The only question is whether the spam forums themselves are sending out false registration emails, or whether some would be spammer is using my email address in his contact info. Either way, I have no idea what to do about it.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Where's the rest of the blog?


You may have noticed that there are no posts on this blog between July of 2004 and December of 2009.  You may be wondering what's up with that--did I just stop blogging, then suddenly decide to take it up again?  Well, no.  In July of 2004 I switched to another blog host, Powerblogs, putting my blog on their site and their software.  Unfortunately, they went out of business in 2009, and I resurrected my old blog on Blogger.  But all my posts in those five years were never transferred to the old blog, and thus there's a long stretch between the two.  The thing is, I still have all those posts, having downloaded the blog before the servers were taken down.  They're just in a format that isn't easily transferred to Blogger in an automated way.  And since many of those posts were on current events, and so are now hopelessly out of date and irrelevant, I haven't been particularly motivated to copy them over by hand.  That said, I still like a lot of what's in the posts, so from time to time, starting on Wednesday, I'll be re-posting some of my favorites.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Stranger in the Library for sale


I recently put my short story, "A Stranger in the Library," up on Amazon as a Kindle e-book.  "A Stranger in the Library" was my first fiction sale, appearing in the December 2008 issue of Aoife's Kiss. Since it only appeared in print, and is now very difficult to get a hold of, I thought it would be worth making it available for sale online.  For those of you familiar with Fire--right now just a few friends and family, though hopefully more people will have a chance to read it in the not-too-distant future--"A Stranger in the Library" takes place in the same world thirty-five years earlier, and involves the characters of Marjori and Aulus. Aulus also appears in "A Phoenix in Darkness," which will be going up on Black Gate later this month.

For everyone still waiting on their chance to read those stories--all five of you, here's the blurb I included with "A Stranger in the Library":
Marjori is a Philosopher of Books, tasked with maintaining the University's Great Library and helping the scholars seeking knowledge within. When one of the secretive Domini seeks her aid, will she risk helping him undermine his corrupted Order?
More stories by me (okay, one more story by me) can be found at my Amazon Author page.  My wife also has an Amazon Author page, so you could buy some of her stories as well.  We recently compared how many stories she's sold on Amazon vs. the number of stories I've sold, and I was embarrassed to discover that she's outselling me ten to one.  Granted, she's had five stories up while I've only had one until this past week, but still!  Now I'm not going to discourage people from buying Kristin's stories.  By all means, buy one of hers too.  Just buy one of mine first.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Spoiler-full Review of Looper

My wife and I saw Looper the other day.  Unlike Doc Rampage, we were able to suspend our disbelief long enough to enjoy the movie.  It was fun, although a little bit too bloody for my wife's liking.  She also found the main sex scene completely gratuitous.  Since we saw the movie, though, she's been pointing out a steady stream of plot holes to me, and I've been doing my best to patch them up, though not necessarily successfully.

Everything beyond this point is full of spoilers, so beware.

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The premise is that in the future, time travel has been invented.  However, it's completely illegal, so only criminals use it, and they use it to dispose of bodies.  A victim is kidnapped and sent back in time by about thirty years, where a looper immediately shoots him, disposes of the body, and is paid.  Since the victim's still alive and well at the time when his future self is shot and killed, no one misses him, his body can be incinerated with no one the wiser at the earlier time, and no incriminating body around in the future.  If the premise sounds a little silly, it is, and it mainly exists for the fact that eventually the looper must "close the loop."  Eventually, the person sent back in time is himself, thirty years in the future, and he's required to shoot and kill him (victims always have their faces covered, so the looper doesn't know that he's killed himself until after the fact).  Then he receives a tremendous payday, retires, and has thirty years until the criminal gang picks him up and sends him back in time to be killed by himself.

So what happens when the looper his future self go go?  It's a death sentence for his future self.  For his present self, it's something worse.  And here is where the whole time travel premise has some logical problems.  In one scene, when the future looper escapes, they catch the present looper.  Then they start cutting off pieces.  Those pieces start vanishing off the future looper until he comes back to be properly executed.  They can't just kill the present looper, since that would create a dangerous paradox.  But damaging him is allowed.

Doc had a lot of trouble with this one, as did my wife.  Does it really make sense for pieces to start disappearing in real time?  It does for the audience, but would the looper notice it in real time, as for him, it happened thirty years ago.  And this is where you either accept the premise of how time travel works in the movie or you don't.  The future looper has only a fuzzy memory of the time between the time he's been sent back to and the time when he was sent back.  That's because what happens between those two points isn't set: it's possibilities. Those memories only become clear when they happen in the present.  Thus, the future looper can realize that his current self is being mutilated, because those memories are becoming clear, and realizing what's going on, he has motivation to go back.  Because his entire life is being rewritten, and the past thirty years are becoming worse and worse as his body becomes less and less whole.

So the difference is, I could accept this premise.  At least as a premise of a movie--I'd have a hard time accepting it in a Physics lecture.  Doc, and to a lesser extent, my wife, couldn't.

In this story, the future looper is sent back and escapes, and he sets out to kill the person who sent him back.  And in the present time, that person is a small child.  The present looper is determined to kill the future looper, because he thinks it's the only way he can get his life back.

The main problem I had, and the contradiction I had the biggest trouble with, was that the future looper remembered killing himself the first time around.  How was he able to change that the second time around?  How could anything be different?

The second problem I had is that it was presented that the small boy who was sending all the loopers back in the future was seeking revenge because of what the future looper did when he was sent back.  But if, in the first timeline, he was sent back and killed without incident, then how could the boy have needed to have revenge for anything, in order to send him back in the first place?

The bottom line, of course, is that time travel always causes paradoxes.  Read Doc's post for even more time travel logic puzzles aka plot holes.

Monday, October 08, 2012

New author page

I've put up an author page on Amazon.  It's pretty empty so far, as I wait until it finishes processing the short stories I'm selling on Amazon as e-books.  I expect them to turn up soon.

Right now, I'm only selling stories which I've already published, whose rights have reverted to me, and which aren't available for free online.  So, that's two stories.  Hopefully, there will be more in the future.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Black Gate is publishing fiction online

Black Gate has announced that it will now be publishing fiction online.  Which is exciting, especially since one of the first stories they'll be publishing is mine.  The very first story, Jason Thummel's "The Duelist," appears here.  It's a novelette length story, which generally means between 7,500 and 17,500 words, which is where the novella category starts.  A quick word count tells me it's about 9,500 words long.

Rather than review the story itself, at the moment I'm interested in the format.  How well does Black Gate's new format work for reading stories?  Are they comfortable to read?  Is it easy to keep track of your place? I find these questions particularly interesting, since I have an upcoming story.

The stories are posted not as blog posts, but as separate web pages, each announced by a blog post, such this one.  However, for the most part, the formatting is the same as for blog posts.

For example, the story uses the same unusual color-scheme, light blue letters on a black background, as for Black Gate's blog. Now, I usually read the blog's RSS feed, which reformats the blog to standard black-on-white, so I was a bit wary of reading such a long story in that format.  Surprisingly--or perhaps not so surprisingly, assuming that their web designer knows what he's doing--I found the blue-on-black color scheme to be comfortable to read, and had no trouble with eye strain.

Another thing that surprised me was that the lettering was large enough to read clearly on a mobile device.  Unlike my own blog, that has a separate formatting for mobile devices, Black Gate looks mostly the same whether you're reading it on a desktop or an iPhone.  But the letters don't shrink down to illegibility, like they do on some sites.  It's still more comfortable to read when holding the phone sideways rather than vertically, but either way is readable.

Black Gate's blog posts have in-line commenting on the article page.  This is how I prefer to see comments on blogs, but it can work to the detriment of long stories, partly by making a long page even longer, and partly because spamming and trolling can distract from the story. The solution Black Gate came up with works well.  The story does not contain in-line comments, but a link to the blog post announcing the story, allowing readers to comment there.  It also keeps all the comments in one place, to prevent a proliferation of pages.

I was curious about how well a long story would work on a single webpage (I had some thoughts on this issue, inspired by my insider knowledge of the upcoming online-fiction on Black Gate, a couple of weeks ago).  If you navigate away from a long webpage, it's hard to find your place again.  The same applies if you're reading it on two computers, such as a laptop and an iPhone, as I was.  The iPhone also has the feature that you can tap at the top bar of the browser and it will automatically scroll to the top of the page.  I can count on doing that by accident at least once while reading a story of "The Duelist's" length.  Fortunately, "The Duelist" wasn't too long to find my place again quickly, but I do wonder whether it would be possible with anything longer, such as my story, which is much longer.

If you'll permit me to talk a little bit about my upcoming story, my understanding is that it will be broken into three parts and posted on consecutive weeks. Even so, each part will be much longer than Thummel's story, which has me wondering if it is broken up enough.  One option might be to further split it, so that each part is on two webpages, without affecting the publishing schedule.  Barring that, in-page navigation would be helpful.  But these are thoughts I should take up with the editor.

Overall, I think the formatting that Black Gate used worked well.  My only real concern is how well it will handle even longer stories, and I suppose we'll see that when it happens.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Spinning


I heard once that there are more flintknappers today than there ever were at any other time in history.  In other words, today's population is so big, and people have so much free time, that there are now more people who know how to knap flint, most of them as a hobby, than there were people who had to shape flint to survive at any time in human history.  That's one of those rumors that's too good to check, but there's a grain of truth in it.  Every historical activity and profession, even those least necessary in today's society, has its scholars and enthusiasts.  Today, you can get a sword blacksmithed by hand, in a historical design and made by historical techniques, and you can order it over the Internet.  Which is useful, if you're one of those people working to recreate the martial arts of the Middle Ages.

I bring this up because my mother has taken up spinning recently.   That includes everything from raising the animals to using an actual, old-fashioned spinning wheel to spin the hair into thread and yarn.  When we were visiting her in Louisiana, she showed us some of what was involved.

My mother's spinning wheel


It starts with the animals.  In this case, angora rabbits:


Angora rabbits in their hutch.

Mr. Bojangles, the patriarch, so to speak, held by my sister Sarah.
She'll spin more than just rabbit fur, but the angoras are the only one she's trying to raise herself.  Unlike sheep, who are sheared, angora fur is removed by brushing the rabbits.  You can use just your fingers when they're really shedding.

Rabbit fur.

The fur needs to be carded, which aligns and cleans the fur, as I understand it.

My mother carding rabbit fur


After that, it can be spun.  I didn't get a picture of my mother using the spinning wheel, although you can see her with a spindle here.

My mother with a spindle.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Conditum paradoxum addendum

Kristin's finally put up her recipe for conditum paradoxum:
As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, one of the things my husband Donald and I share is a fascination with the culture of ancient Rome.  Since I also love to cook, this leads inexorably to our attempts to recreate ancient Roman food and beverages.  I say “our” even though it’s usually me doing the cooking.  Donald is there for encouragement.  Such as, “We haven’t had any Roman food in a while.”  Or, “When are you going to cook some more Roman food?”  He does help with the dishes.

One ancient Roman recipe I’ve made twice now is conditum paradoxum, from Apicius, the most famous ancient Roman cookbook.  Depending on the translation, conditum paradoxum means “marvelous seasoned wine”, “novelty spiced wine”, or “spiced wine surprise”.
I just wanted to point out that I'm also there for the math.