What’s the etiquette on flogging your shiny new publication on Twitter? How often is too often? Also, how subtle do you have to be when mentioning it in the presence of co-workers? Is the all-office email address over the line?
Asking for a friend.
So where were we? Jeez, the last time I said anything of substance in this forum I was still single. (Don and I made honest men of each other on Labor Day, and the wedding was, as the phrase goes, everything.) The new year started with an auspicious portent: a fiction sale! My short story “Mrs. Peak and the Dragon” is part of Abyss & Apex‘s Q1 2018 issue. It’s an old favorite of mine that was sitting around waiting on some indefinable Oh but it needs more tweaking, and so I’m very glad to have been nudged into just sending the damn thing out already.
And now it’s time to start building up those write-all-the-time muscles again, because I’m gearing up to write another novel. (More on that later.) And where better than in the pages of a blog that pretty much everyone has forgotten exists?
Well, it was lose the blog archive or migrate away from Movable Type and into something, you know, modern and functional. So that’s happening. Plus it might be fun to have a place to yammer at greater length than Twitter or Facebook allow. So, yeah. This is happening. Ere long this will actually start to look good, even. But for now, it works and my ISP isn’t rolling its eyes at me.
Let’s begin with another music video: “In Your Arms,” by Kina Grannis. The song itself is… cute. A happy if not particularly world-shaking romantic pop tune. But the video:
I know, right? That’s a hell of a lot of work. Specifically, it’s 2,460 frames, created and shot entirely by hand over 1,357 hours using 288,000 jellybeans. Damn. The numbers are tabulated in this equally fascinating (to me) video — the one that actually moved me to write an entry in my poor neglected blog — right here:
On the face of it, two solid years of labor for a single music video sounds pretty crazy. Her record “Stairwells” came out in early 2010 — isn’t the buzz cycle for a disc supposed to have ended by this point? On the other hand, the final result is getting a lot of attention. And she comes off as pretty charming in the making-of, to the point that I’ll probably give a few of her other songs a listen as a result.
I don’t know what it says about me that I so often find the “how we did it” documentation at least as interesting as the end result. I have spent many happy hours, for example, listening to the screenwriters’ commentary tracks on the Lord of the Rings extended DVDs, as Jackson-Walsh-Boyens talk about the millions of tiny decisions they had to make on what to keep, what to move, what to cut. (The screenwriter’s commentary on “Sense and Sensibility” is pretty great as well, but hey, Emma Thompson, how can you go wrong.)
And finally, if you haven’t seen the animation work done for Oren Lavie’s “Her Morning Elegance,” well. Hie thee hither.
Nertz. See, this is what happens when you have to do things like go to work and write a novel instead of investing your time and energy in projects of more immediate importance, like turning recent funkstraveganzas into a cappella free-for-alls — other people do it instead. It’s kinda Nordic, but hey, hats off to them anyway.
For those who don’t know the original, the oh-so-fabulous Janelle Monáe, well, hi, Dad — here’s your reference copy, which for some reason has been declared off limits for people who want to embed it in their blogs.
And now I’m going to bed.
I got off the subway this evening at my usual stop, from my usual position at the door directly ahead of the conductor, which lets me off right in front of the exit. But as my neighbors and I squeezed off the train I got edged just far enough back from the front of the pack that it was impossible to break free. I was caught in the mob, trapped in second gear, forced to wait my turn at the turnstile and on the stairs. And as we shuffled up to the surface I noticed how the melting snow had left behind this horrible black goop slopped into the creases of every tread in the staircase, and I started composing a footnote.
The horrible black goop on the stairs is the same crust of soot that covers the snowdrifts on the sidewalks up on the street. It gets mixed in with the snow as it falls, but at first it’s hard to see: it’s too thinly distributed. But when the snow melts, most of the soot is left behind, so you get smaller and smaller snowdrifts that turn blacker and blacker and blacker. The rest is carried as silt by the melting snow as it drains into the stairwells, and is left behind on the steps.
All true, but I wondered why the sudden urge to analyze a random corner of urban living. But then I thought, Oh. It’s because I’ve been reading the new Finder collection.
Finder is a black and white science-fiction comic that Carla Speed McNeil started self-publishing in 1996. It has gotten a lot of critical notice over the years but has achieved nowhere near the wide readership it deserves. It’s been picked up by Dark Horse: they published the first new story volume in years this week, called Voice, and will be collecting the previous seven volumes in two omnibus editions this year.
What’s it about? It’s about life a very very very long time from now, when most humans (and humanish people) are living in vast domed cities but some people (human or otherwise) live outside the walls. It’s about culture and the ways we fight the rules we live under. It’s about the things that we decide make our lives worth living, and the ways we protect them. It’s about a drifter named Jaeger who comes and goes, who’s an outsider everywhere, and how he gets in and out of trouble. (Women are often involved.)
McNeil’s characters are vivid, sensitive, thoroughly realized. Her art is gorgeous. (I mean, check out the kid leaping along the top of her blog. So expressive. When she draws people dancing, you can feel the air they displace as they move.) And her worldbuilding is top-notch. It’s so dense, in fact, that the various volumes all have extensive footnotes in the back, just to point out all the cool stuff that would otherwise be missed as the story sweeps along. That young woman? Studying for full adult acceptance into the clan of her birth, which in her case means hours of mental mathematics. That girl? Actually a guy, but her clan all looks female. That vine covered with television screens? Grows like kudzu. Runs pirate broadcasts. Every square inch of what you can see has a story.
I’ve got a real sweet tooth for dense worldbuilding myself, and McNeil’s knack for invented anthropology just floors me. Between the comics and the footnotes, I can read and reread Finder for hours. I met McNeil at the NY Comic Con in the fall and had a total fanboy meltdown, burbling excitedly at her for much too long and then only realizing after I walked away that I’d left out the part where I actually introduce myself. ([Facepalm].)
I really should be in bed right now. I just finished packing for Boskone — too many shirts, for sure, but I couldn’t decide — and I’m crazy tired, and the bus to Boston waits for no man. But I wanted to put this out there. You should be reading Finder.
For those using StaggerNation’s DateTags plugin with Movable Type 4 (or, presumably, 5): there was a change in the MT3 —> MT4 transition with how entries’ date information is handled. This change can make DateTags behave in odd ways in cases where posts are assigned publishing dates other than the dates on which they were originally written — for instance, if you’re writing entries today and assigning publishing dates three weeks from now, because you’re using DateTags to create a calendar of upcoming events. To address this problem, do a global find-and-replace in your plugins/DateTags.pl file: where you see created_on, replace it with authored_on.
That is all.
Greetings from page 26, or the end of Chapter 3, of Connie Willis’s new novel Blackout, which is where I closed the book when stepping off the bus to tonight’s rehearsal. It’s another time-travel novel1 centered on the historians of Oxford University, who — because the laws of time travel as they are understood prevent pretty much anything else — bounce around through the less-scrutinized corners of the past, observing the goings-on and not affecting much of anything. And while in general I see holding a copy of a new Connie Willis book in my hands as a good thing, I am concerned. I shall discuss my concerns in a nonspoilery fashion below.
What gave me pause? Well, it’s the way in which I couldn’t even get to the end of the chapter without saying, Oh no, we’re not playing this game again, are we? The game being the one where someone has a piece of important information to impart that, because of communications difficulties (bad handwriting, something blowing up, an inability to get a moment to sit down and talk like grownups for just 30 seconds), cannot be imparted; and thus is the plot created, a long chain of missed connections and misunderstandings and oh my god I am going to reach right into this book and slap all of you until you sit around a table and calmly compare notes. Willis has employed this trick before, of course, and depending on your tolerance for this particular flavor of contrivance you may feel she does it very well: I loved her time-travelers-do-Victorian-travel-memoirs romcom To Say Nothing of the Dog, which is full of it, as is her time-traveler-free romcom Bellwether. There’s even some of it in her wrenching debut novel Doomsday Book: somebody knows what’s going on, and if only he could just relay it to the right person the book would be a hell of a lot shorter and less eventful.
But it does get irritating after a while, or perhaps as time has gone by and I have put more energy into telling stories myself it has become harder for me to ignore a big noisy machine marked PLOT DEVICE DO NOT TOUCH sitting in the corner of the room. And so when in Chapter 3 — in which we see many, many people trying to get important information out of people they can’t locate, because no one’s ever where they’re expected to be — there’s an extended sequence revolving around an illegible phone message that the surly roommate has taken but is unavailable to explicate, I had a moment of panic. But by the end of the chapter the roommate has been found and cajoled into translating and events have moved on. At which point I decided that Willis had been fucking with our heads and heaved a great relieved sigh. We’ll see, I guess. I’m probably being way too optimistic.
Thinking about this sequence, though, revealed a bigger problem, or at least a big thorny weirdness, with the book. Because the narrative “now,” the future era from which these time travelers are setting forth, is 2060, and people are still getting crucial, time-sensitive information to one another by calling their rooms and asking their roommates to leave a note by the telephone. It would seem that we’re reading about a future in which nobody knows how to send a text message, in which nobody thinks to send an e-mail to all graduate researchers that says, “You will have noticed that we’re rescheduling all your trips into the past on short notice, and here’s why it has to be this way,” in which it’s impossible to ping your roommate with a simple WHERE R U? And that, in a novel published this year, is kind of nuts.
I think it’s because we’re looking at a future that is already nearly 30 years old. Willis’s short story “Fire Watch,” which established this continuity, was published in 1983, and Doomsday Book came out in 1992. And given the state of technology then, it probably never occurred to Willis that her future of 2060 needed to be mapped out via the ubiquitous smart phones and text messaging of 2010. (See also the dazzling future of 2001 in Carl Sagan’s Contact, written in 1985: the big schmancy technology in that book is the wondrous “telefax.”) Perhaps, having envisioned a world without such devices, Willis feels obliged to stick with her original set of tools. I know that trying to pull off such a retcon would feel like cheating to me if I were writing it. What do you think?
I rambled on at some length2 about all this to one of my fellow singers on the crosstown bus after rehearsal. He asked if I intended to finish the book, and I probably looked at him like he’d lost his mind. I’m a long way from wanting to give up. But I sure as hell hope that actual communication starts to occur somewhere along the way. I’ll let you know.
1 More accurately, it’s the first half of a novel in two parts. The second half comes out this fall. I had planned to wait for all of it to come out, or for the paperback of Vol. 1 at least, but then I found a cheap copy at the Strand and my resolve imploded.
2 Yeah, yeah.
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