Finding Our Stories

I’ve found my way here, after a short delay. Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, guest-blogging from the Netherlands. For the curious, you can find out more about me here. I am a Filipino writer. I can’t predict what I’ll be posting about most of the time, but this first post is something that I’ve been thinking about and which I hope will resonate with some of you.

I recently had an online exchange with a couple of young writers from the Philippines where we talked about writing and the challenges that we face as writers coming from a culture that is so influenced by the West.  This exchange was triggered largely by a post I wrote about a conversation I had with Chris Beckett at Eastercon where Chris asked me what kind of science fiction a Filipino writer would write. (This was after I told Chris how Philippine Literature follows a realist tradition and that as of yet we don’t have an established science fiction tradition.)

In another conversation (also at Eastercon) with the writer Gareth Owens, I found myself forced to think on the kind of fiction that I was writing and in doing that I came to understand how the work I produce reflects the things that concern me at the time of writing.

These conversations reminded me yet again of the words Ted Chiang gave to us at Clarion West: Find that thing that only you can write about and write it.

I was thinking of Ted Chiang’s words when I was talking with Chris Beckett and I found myself telling him about highland mythology as I had grown up hearing it. How the great god who dwelt in the Skyworld came down to the mountains to give rice to the mountain people. How he taught the mountain people to plant rice and to cook it. I said to Chris that if I were to look at this myth with a science fiction mindset, I would see the god as being an alien or perhaps someone of the same race coming from a far-far future bringing this particular gift of rice as a means of providing for the people he was descended from. And indeed, if we think about it, to the people of the mountains, he was offering them a higher form of technology.

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Maturity and the Artist

Deborah Kalin just posted a brilliant little piece – Impatience for the New excludes…the New – in which she looks at the manner in which the hunger for art that is fresh is the very reason why that hunger will not be fed.  She nails it, not just the frustration felt, but the root of that frustration.

…we idolise them, not for what they’ve actually achieved, but for their potential. What we think they can achieve. We rush them into celebrity so fast we push them ahead of their learning curve, so far ahead that they outstrip their current talent. By the time their talent has caught up with them, and they’ve digested all their early influences and found a truly unique voice of their own, the advertising/celebrity machine has done its job so well, and saturated every corner of the market with every possible mention of them, that we’re bored.

Somehow, we who are eternally hungry for new voices, have created (or at least participated in creating) a system that ensures the only new voices we get are too young to be anything but derivative — and when those voices outgrow their origins, and evolve into something truly new, we’re so overexposed we can’t hear it.

Has anybody else noticed this?

Is anybody else frustrated to all hell and back by this?

In this particular case she’s talking about the music industry (and having wrangled the name of the artist who triggered this post from her, I’m in agreement), but this is something that I see the publishing industry being just as guilty of.  Not that we can blame the industries entirely; we’re the consumers, we’re the ones with the hunger.  We devour them whole, and the ones who aren’t devoured are left behind as not being worth that first taste.  Not much survives at either end of the spectrum, to speak in gross generalisations.

I’m curious, for those of you who are of a similar mind as Deborah, other than asking those on the delivery end of things to “Please, stop that,” is there a solution?

I like my artists like I like my wine; complex, mature, and with natural individuality.

That’s actually a lie.  I don’t drink wine.

(But saying I like my artists like I like my cheese doesn’t have the same gravitas.)

Pondering Author Platform

Guest bloggery: While one of Angela’s personalities is arguing with Evil Monkey about who pays for the coffee, another other part is over here, hopefully posting something useful … other personalities are variously conducting a shoe-shine business in New Orleans, drinking coffee in Melbourne and complaining about the weather, and planning a jewellery heist in Paris (wherein I will ultimately be caught due to the permanent nose print I left on the glass surrounding the French Crown jewels) …

I work in a writers centre dealing on a daily basis with – surprise – writers. Some days are great: people have intelligent questions, take advice, succeed. Other days, I feel like I’m chasing my tail, talking to myself, being punished by The Universe … and I start to think ‘If I smack my head against the wall hard enough, it will all go away.’ One of the things I see a lot is writers madly self-promoting … without having written so much as a word on a cocktail napkin or published even a short story or an opinion piece. Oh, they have ‘platform’ – but then, so do many of my shoes – but they have no product. And the fact that this is a problem seems to escape many of them.

And so, may I present a repost of Pondering, something I wrote last February when my brain was ‘sploding … [Read more…]

Are Dreams Really As Weird As All That?

Hello Vanderworld readers. Sorry I’m so late to my own guest blogging gig. But now I’m here, and better late than never. I’ve done the guest blogging thing before — here’s my intro in case you don’t remember — and for those of you who are seeing me for the first time, I’ll elt you in on a secret: I’m totally black.

I know, it was a shock for me, too.

But today I am not going to talk about “black stuff,” I want to talk to you all about dreams.

This weekend many of my friends went to go see the new Christopher Nolan flick Inception, and most of them came back raving about it. I plan to see the movie soon, but in the meantime I’ve been poking around at the reviews to see what people are saying. Some folks, like Rex Reed, are so apoplecticly upset about this movie that they aren’t making much sense. Others are less angry about the movie, but many critics wrote something along the lines of this riff from the NYTimes’ A. O. Scott:

Mr. Nolan’s idea of the mind is too literal, too logical, too rule-bound to allow the full measure of madness—the risk of real confusion, of delirium, of ineffable ambiguity—that this subject requires. The unconscious, as Freud (and Hitchcock, and a lot of other great filmmakers) knew, is a supremely unruly place, a maze of inadmissible desires, scrambled secrets, jokes and fears. If Mr. Nolan can’t quite reach this place, that may be because his access is blocked by the very medium he deploys with such skill.

Not having seen the movie, I can’t speak to whether Nolan’s idea of the rigid dreamspace isn’t weird enough, but each time I see this criticism I balk at it. Yes, dreams can be really weird and trippy and balls-out insane, but most of my dreams are a lot like real life, except they skip around in silly ways. Dream logic is not Earth logic, but mine does often have a sensible logic. Am I weird?

I feel like I’m not, because when I hear people talk about their dreams, it’s not always filled with Freudian symbolism and backwards-talking dwarfs. Often the weirdness comes from them being in places they shouldn’t be — my grandmother’s house when I was 10 — or around people they don’t have much contact with — Stephen King gave me his scarf to keep warm — or doing things they wouldn’t normally do — I was performing in the Oscars but didn’t ever go to rehearsal, crap! Everyone has trippy dreams, I’m sure, but I’m not convinced that a very realistic dreamscape is unrealistic in itself.

Still, I am willing to entertain the possibility that I am weird. I am a semi-lucid dreamer, as in I can often direct the way my dream will go, though not always because I realize I’m dreaming. I can remember many times in dreams where I thought “It would make sense if X happened right now” and then X will happen. I often wake up and remember my dreams progressing in a very linear fashion — very fiction-like — and making sense most of the way through even if I don’t direct them. Some of my dreams would make decent short stories if I could actually remember how they began.

Maybe Christopher Nolan is like me, and thus Inception‘s vision of the unstructured dreamscape isn’t off the wall because his own dreamscape isn’t. I don’t think it’s necessary to have trippy dreams all the time to be creative. Honestly, I enjoy the break. But now I wonder: how many people out there are having these crazy dreams all the time? Is it just me and Chris who have boring dreams?

Shared Worlds, Day Two

(Me showing Shared Worlds students Miranda Severance and Jackie Gitlin some pages from the comics adaptation of my story “The Situation”)

Guest blogging has begun to kick in, and you’ll continue to see it during the week.

Meanwhile, I’ve been teaching at Shared Worlds as well as doing things behind the scenes as assistant director, here at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. We’ve got 39 students, and I have to say, they’re all extremely dedicated, creative, and smart. It’s only the second day and they’ve been keeping us on our toes. They’re in the world-building phase and I hear tell of floating islands on the backs of behemoths and steampunk druids and much more besides.

Soon we’ll transition into the writing, partially through a found object exercise. Tomorrow, Kathe Koja gets here, with Nathan Ballingrud following on Thursday. Scott Eagle leads artist workshops over the weekend and next week Holly Black, Will Hindmarch, Michael Bishop, Marly Youmans, and others will all make appearances. These kids have it good, let me tell you.

They’ll also get free books donated by publishers like Small Beer Press, Tor, Pyr, and many more.

Thursday night I read at Hub City Bookstore with Kathe and Nathan. I’m going to do something a little different and use some blown-up images from Eric Orchard’s amazing comics version of “The Situation” to substitute for some of the narrative. In effect subbing in images for some of the paragraphs. If it all goes catastrophically wrong they’ll soon forget it ever happened since I have two great readers following me.

NOTE: Jeremy Jones is blogging about Shared Worlds-related topics on Booklifenow this week and next.

Jay Lake

Writer Jay Lake has posted about his cancer situation, and the need for further chemo. Go by his livejournal and let him know he’s in your thoughts. I hope he will make sure to take care of hiimself, and I think it’s not an unreasonable thing to say that it’s really important at this point to be supportive. Any external stressors are going to be just one more thing he has to deal with, and I will have zero sympathy for anyone who adds to that stress during this period.

Guest Blogging – or How Did I Get Here?? (i)

Angela Slatter is an Australian writer trapped in Brisbane, Queensland (not California, dude) by a malfunctioning vortex manipulator. Here she recounts how she got into the guest blogging business and talks about herself in third person. She also blogs over here about shiny objects that catch her attention.

Scene One:

Jeff: Pssst. You. Wanna blog-sit for a while? There are a few people here already, but I kinda need someone to take care of the memory cathedral; someone not too fond of sunlight. Maybe you’d like a holiday?

Angela: Sure! A free blogiday? Why not.

Jeff: You just need to blog a bit, write something smart and funny.

Angela: Sure, no problem, Smart and funny is my default.

Jeff: *grabs bags and heads out door* Cool! Bye.

Angela: Bye! Don’t worry about anything. *Brain immediately goes blank, not one funny or smart thought appears, not even when she taps the top of the food tin. However, three large cats do appear as does one Evil Monkey (wearing a fez). Oy.

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King Squid, Reviewed (Plus Guest Bloggers)

I have been waiting for ages hoping someone would actually dive into King Squid, in terms of a longer review. This is my favorite piece in the appendix of City of Saints, and I still remember with a great deal of satisfaction the anger and irritation with which editors in the field returned it to me when I submited it to them. (In some cases, because I was feeling perverse, I followed it up with the encrypted version of the numbers story from City of Saints. Most times I received no response to this submissions.)

In other news, starting tomorrow a lovely bunch of guest bloggers will be posting here. I’ll let them introduce themselves. And thanks to Rachel Swirsky for the great Launch Pad blogging. I may pop up from time to time, but until August 15th I’ll largely be silent myself. I’m teaching at Shared Worlds this week and then meeting up with Ann for a Comic Con panel, after which we teach the last two weeks of Clarion.

Have fun. Be happy. Don’t worry so much.

Launch Pad, Day Six, Mike Brotherton Leaves Us with a Lecture

To read the rest of my launch pad posts, click here.

We spent the morning playing with images in an astronomy program that you can download for free if you, also, would like to spend your morning playing with images — SAOImage DS9.


Is Anyone Out There? by Frank Drake and Dava Sobel
The Space Environment: Implications for Spaceship Design by Alan C. Tribble

Distance measurements to other galaxies:

a) Cepheid method: using period/luminosity relationship for classical Cepheids. This is what’s classically done, but it’s hard to do outside the local group of galaxies.
b) More recently, we’ve been able to categorize Type Ia supernovae (collapse of accreting white dwarves in binary systems) to get distances to much more distant galaxies, but these don’t let you calculate within galaxies well.

These are standard candle methods. If you know the brightness of a standard candle, then you can calculate the distance. [Read more…]