This Always Worked Before…

Today is Wednesday — well, it was until twenty minutes ago, anyway — and Wednesday is new comic book day, so I drove over to the mall and made my weekly stop at Beyond Comics, where I picked up half a dozen titles.

And while I was doing that, I came to a dismaying realization that I mentioned to the shop manager, who agreed: There are writers working in comics today who used to be on my must-buy list, but who now are getting me to drop titles I used to buy.

Exiles, for example — I started buying it with #10, and never missed an issue until Chris Claremont took over writing it. Three issues later I’d dropped it, and now it’s cancelled. Once upon a time I really liked Claremont’s writing.

Or there’s Peter David on She-Hulk. To be fair, David said he was going to revamp the book because he just didn’t know how to continue it the way Dan Slott did it, and I respect that — but I don’t enjoy what he did with it at all, and dropped it after two issues.

And Paul Dini — I used to love pretty much everything Paul Dini wrote, but I find his run on Detective Comics tedious. I mean, this ought to be an amazing match-up, Dini and Detective, but it just doesn’t work for me.

Not that Grant Morrison on Batman is any better — I mean, Damian was a really bad idea. But then, I’d already been disillusioned with Morrison when he was writing the X-Men — he started well there, but lost me after maybe eight or ten issues.

I could go on to name other examples, but I think the point is made — these are all writers I thought were great fun when I first encountered them, but who are now writing stuff I really don’t want to read. It’s not just mediocre — if I’m reading a title I can put up with a lot of mediocre before I quit — but so unlike what had gone before, and unlike it in a bad way, that I actively avoid it. Claremont killed everything I liked about Exiles; David systematically removed everything I liked about She-Hulk. I’d stuck with Exiles through a lot of writers, ranging from frankly bad to really good, but Claremont chased me away in short order.

And then there are one-time favorites I’ve been actively avoiding for awhile now — Dave Sim, Warren Ellis, Frank Miller, Steve Gerber…

So why is this? I mean, there are lots of writers I still like just fine, but there are also all these writers I can’t stand anymore. And I can’t think of a single long-time comics writer who I think is getting better, which is kind of depressing.

I don’t have any brilliant insights here; I just wanted to rant a bit. I would love to see an old favorite get even better; instead I’m seeing lots of them go bad. I am not happy about that. The universe is being mean to me.

Make it stop.

Asking for Trouble

It occurred to me that I wasn’t making a lot of blog posts, and that if I ever want to see active discussions here, I really need to give people more to discuss.

Ah, but what?  Generally, if I’m in the mood to write something creative or thoughtful or witty, I work on writing something I might get paid for.  Blog posts are something of an afterthought.

But hey, what if I were to post things I do hope to get paid for?  Specifically, what if I were to post excerpts from works in progress?

Right now, I have a lot of works in progress; I’ve deliberately been not tying myself down to any one project, but writing whatever catches my fancy.  Some projects are getting more attention than others — and on all of them, reader feedback might be useful.

So maybe I should post excerpts here for comment?  Or plot summaries (sans spoilers)?  Or bits of background, as I work them out?

Right now, the major project I hope to sell Tor is an ongoing fantasy series with the overall title “Histories of the Afterlands.”  It’s going to consist of several subseries, set in different time periods; the first of these, “The Fall of the Sorcerers,” is set late in the tenth century after the fall of the Old Empire, and will include at least three related but non-sequential volumes.

“Non-sequential,” you may ask, “what does that mean?”  What it means is they cover roughly the same time period, and some of the same major events, from three different points of view; some characters are in more than one book, the stories interrelate, but they aren’t the same story.

I’ve started writing two of them — the working titles (likely to change) are The Golden Wyvern and Alvos.

The other planned Afterlands books are set anywhere from nine hundred years earlier to a hundred years later than the Fall of the Sorcerers. They’re “after” because they’re all (except the opening chapters of one) set after the fall of the Old Empire that once ruled most of the known world.

I’ve outlined the earliest one, Swordsmen of the Fallen Empire, and written a couple of chapters of one set in the seventh century, Assassin in Waiting.

So — anyone want to know more?

It’s the Little Things

[Redacted from a newsgroup post from July 9]

I found something that brightened my whole day.

When I was first diasgnosed as diabetic, the hardest part was giving up Coca-Cola; I’ve been a huge cola drinker since I was four, and settled on Coke as the One True Soda somewhere around 1981, after boyhood flirtations with RC Cola and even, sometimes, Pepsi. I’d tried diet sodas, and while Fresca was and is tasty stuff (it was better in the original formula, with cyclamates, but the current aspartame-based version’s okay; the intermediate form with saccharine was vile), it just didn’t scratch the cola itch.

Diet Coke is… icky. I can drink it without gagging, but I don’t like it. Diet Pepsi is actually slightly better, but still unpleasant.

But Coke Zero — ah, Coke Zero partakes of the true cola nature, i.e., it’s got plenty of phosphoric acid, it’s not too sweet, it has an edge. Drinking Coke Zero made it possible to survive giving up The Real Thing, and I felt blessed that the Coca-Cola Company had produced this acceptable ersatz in time for me to have it available when I needed it.

So I transitioned from drinking three or four half-liters of Coke a day to drinking four or five 12-oz. bottles of Coke Zero.

Why 12-oz. bottles? Because I don’t like cans — you can’t reseal them, they go flat sitting on my desk when I really get in the zone writing, they give everything a faint metallic taste — and our local bottler didn’t produce half-liter bottles of Coke Zero. The 12-oz. bottles are a pain — they’re more expensive, they come in cardboard cartons that clutter up the recycling bin, 12 ounces isn’t quite enough to be satisfying so I wind up opening another bottle and drinking more, which is even more expensive — but they were what I could get.

So today at Giant I was loading boxes of Coke Zero into the cart, when I glanced over and saw…

Half-liter bottles of Coke Zero!

There was no heavenly glow or choirs of angels, but there might as well have been. I put the boxes back and started loading six-packs of half-liters, instead. I bought all they had. I’m not kidding, the entire shelf — almost needed another cart.

It’s utterly trivial, I know. It’s just an attempt by the Coca-Cola Company to pry more money out of consumers’ pockets. (Not, speaking as a stockholder, that that’s a bad thing.) But it certainly made my life a little better.

Announcing the 2007 SF Limerick Contest

So I was looking for something on my office bookshelves, and discovered I have two copies of Jerry Sohl’s novel Costigan’s Needle.  Both are first printings of the first Bantam paperback edition, November 1953, 25 cents cover price, Bantam Book #1278.

(Yes, I know how I came to have two copies.  No, it’s of no interest and I’m not going to explain it.)

It’s a pleasant little novel.  I’ve always liked it.  But I don’t need two copies.  And the one I’m willing to part with, while still readable, is so beat up that I don’t think I can in good conscience sell it anywhere — it’s coming apart, with the front cover already detached and the interior in two large chunks and some pages loose.  (All still there, though.)

So I decided to give it away as a prize, and am holding a contest.

Whoever writes me the best original limerick about 1950s SF gets the book.  You have until I receive entries from twelve different people (multiple entries are allowed) or until my birthminute (12:56 a.m.
EDT, July 26th) to enter, whichever is later.

I’ll be posting announcements in various venues between now and July 25th, but you can enter immediately, in comments here or by e-mail.  (Comments are moderated; if your entry doesn’t appear immediately, be patient.)

Limericks can be about specific works, but preference may be given to limericks discussing the SF field as a whole.  “SF” can include fantasy and/or horror, but I’m mostly looking for science fiction.

“The fifties” are hereby defined as including everything from 1947 to 1965, should any entrant feel it necessary to go outside the years actually beginning with the digits 1, 9, and 5.  References to anything outside those dates, however, may be grounds for disqualification, at the sole discretion of the judge (i.e., me).

While literary references are preferred, references to movies, TV, comic books, toys, and other aspects of popular culture are entirely acceptable.

The judge’s decision is final.  The only guaranteed prize is the aforementioned copy of Costigan’s Needle, plus the padded envelope and the postage necessary to mail it to the winner.  (Yes, I’ll spring
for international postage if necessary.  No, I will not pay for any sort of non-postal delivery.)

Other prizes may be awarded should the whim strike me.  Winner is responsible for any and all taxes and tariffs, though I wouldn’t think there would be any.

Other people may be consulted by the judge in determining the winner.

Entries must be original.  Unacknowledged plagiarism will result in disqualification for all entries by that person.   However, if you want to quote a suitable limerick by someone else, in addition to
entering, you’re free to do so without disqualifying yourself, so long as you clearly identify it as not being an entry.

Those are the rules at present, but I reserve the right to add restrictions should I think it necessary.

This is being done entirely for my own amusement, as a method of finding a new owner for this poor battered old book; there is no commercial purpose or hidden agenda.

Let the contest begin!

In A New York Minute

My daughter Kiri came back to the States last week after a year and a half working in China, and my nephew Evan got married this past Sunday. Kiri’s flight from Shanghai landed at JFK in New York — it was the cheapest flight back to the States she could find — and the wedding was in Bedford, MA, so Julie and I made a combined expedition, picking Kiri up in New York, then driving up to Massachusetts for the wedding.

Except that gave us a couple of days in between, and I used one of them to meet with my editor and my agent in New York, and visit the Tor offices.

Our stay in New York had its weird moments. We stayed at the Jamaica Super 8 in eastern Queens, just off the Van Wyck Expressway, convenient to JFK — and if you ever want a decent place to stay in New York and don’t need to be in Manhattan, I recommend it, as the room was generously sized, the continental breakfast was far better than most, it’s convenient to the E train and the LIRR, the whole place was spotlessly clean, and there really is free parking.

However, there isn’t much free parking, so you need a permit from the front desk to display on your dashboard, and you may need to squeeze into an oddly-located space. We have a minivan — a very small and maneuverable one by minivan standards, but it’s still a minivan, and after fetching Kiri from JFK we arrived at the hotel to find exactly two spaces left, and getting into one of them proved flat-out impossible, as we would have had to drive along the sidewalk, squeeze between a pickup truck and a lamppost, and make a right-angle turn.

We tried. Couldn’t do it. So we took the other, next to the trash bins at the back, which didn’t smell as good but was more accessible.

By the time we were parked, someone had squeezed a sports car into the spot we couldn’t get.

(Later the oversized pick-up left, and it was easy.)

Anyway, our plan for Thursday was to leave the car in Queens and go into Manhattan by subway, then come back out and drive north across the Whitehurst Bridge and head for New England. Which, in fact, is exactly what we did. However, the question of just where we were going to leave the car was a bit tricky — the hotel would not allow us to leave it in their tiny, overcrowded lot after the official noon
check-out time. (Well, not unless we paid for another night in the room, which we weren’t about to do.)

Just across the street behind the hotel, though, was a typical Queens neighborhood of grubby little houses with a restaurant on the corner — think Aunt May’s house in “Spider-Man,” and you know the sort of neighborhood I mean, except that in this case there was also that restaurant, a rather uninviting Dominican place.

There was streetside parking there. It was all jammed full, of course, but there was streetside parking — and Julie noticed that the signs said no parking was permitted on the right side from 8:30 to
10:00 a.m. on Mondays and Thursdays, for street cleaning. Our day in New York was a Thursday.

So we decided we’d check out of the hotel around 10:00 and park there before it filled up.

And at 9:58 we climbed into the car, backed out of the space, wiggled out across the sidewalk, and exactly at 10:00 a.m. pulled up to the now-empty curb across from the hotel.

At 9:59 the whole curb, the whole block, was empty.

We were the second or third car to park there, right behind the first, with the second-or-third pulling in behind us more or less simultaneously with our own arrival.

I wasn’t entirely happy with the placement, as the front bumper was partially blocking someone’s narrow little driveway. (Again, see “Spider-Man” for the sort of driveway in question — the scene where
Peter and Mary Jane talk over the trash cans.) So Julie got out to guide me while I adjusted our position to maximize driveway access without hitting the car behind ours. It took, oh, maybe 90 seconds, at most.

By the time I got out of the car and locked it, at about 10:02, there wasn’t an unoccupied parking space on the entire block. We hadn’t seen anyone else arrive after the first three. We hadn’t seen any of the drivers walk away. They were just there.

It was really pretty amazing.

But there we were, with legal free parking. We walked three blocks to the Jamaica-Van Wyck subway station and we were off to Manhattan.

Just Breathe

[Reposted with editing from my SFF Net newsgroup]

So a few days ago, being momentarily caught up on lots of stuff, and with a mix CD Karen Taylor had given me years ago playing in the background, I decided I could take a moment to listen to the music.

And the music was “Breathe,” by Maria McKee, which is heartbreakingly beautiful, and I decided I needed to add the album where it originally appeared to my collection.

So I went to CD Universe (my preferred music source, and if anyone ever wins the lottery by playing the ISBN number off one of my books and decides to reward me for it, I have a public wish list there) and looked up Maria McKee…

Well, first, actually, I searched on the song lyrics, to get title and artist, because I wasn’t sure I remembered them. Found it easily (very memorable lyrics), then went to CD Universe and looked up Maria McKee.

They didn’t list a lot of albums for her; in fact, they don’t list the only one I already have. I looked through the listings, and only found “Breathe” on live albums and “best of” collections.

I thought I must have missed something, or maybe she’d recorded it when she was still with Lone Justice, so I chose “song” and searched on “Breathe.”

Oh my gods!

There are 326 listings for songs entitled “Breathe.” I knew there were others, but 326? Yes, there are multiple versions of lots of songs, but still, 326 listings!

There’s Pink Floyd’s and Collective Soul’s and Depeche Mode’s and Melissa Etheridge’s and Kylie Minogue’s, all of which, I realized, I knew. Not to mention Kate Bush’s “Breathing,” which did not come up.

And McKee’s first version still isn’t there, except as an import; it must be out of print. Sigh.

So I’ve added her “best of” album to my wish list, and I went to check out the sample of “Breathe” from her “Live in Hamburg” album, and…

Again, my gods!

It’s the same song, the same voice, but very different and equally powerful. So now “Live in Hamburg” is on my list, too.

It’s interesting not only that there are so many songs called “Breathe,” but how many of them are good

It’s quiet… too quiet!

Some of you may be wondering why I went and set up this blog and almost never use it. Shouldn’t there be new posts every so often?

Yes, there should. And someday, I hope there will be.

Right now, though, I’ve got two books months past deadline — one I said I’d deliver by January 1, the other by the end of February — and I’m in the middle of serializing The Vondish Ambassador, and Helix requires my attention every so often, and so on and so forth, so I just haven’t found the time.

But I haven’t signed any new contracts or made any other promises beyond the three books in progress and one more essay for BenBella’s “Smart Pop” series, so I’m hoping to have a little more slack in the schedule by spring of ’07.

Goodbye to All That

After twenty-four years of membership, I’ve resigned from SFWA.

Various people are upset with me about this, though in some cases I wonder why. Some people are also surprised by it, which is just ridiculous, as they’re clearly demonstrating that they can’t read plain English.

As the result of an incident several weeks ago, I said that I would not remain a member of SFWA if another person was a member.

I never said a damned thing about wanting anyone else to do anything about this. I never asked the president or the Board of Directors to do anything. I didn’t make any threats. I tried to make clear that this was an absolutely non-negotiable situation, plain and simple — I would not be a member of SFWA if he was.

At the time, he wasn’t, as he hadn’t paid his 2006 dues.

He paid them. SFWA accepted them. I resigned. Utterly straightforward and clear.

Since then, people have accused me of trying to blackmail the Board, or making unreasonable demands. I made no demands; I stated a fact. Several people seem convinced I had demanded his expulsion; I did no such thing. I’ve been told I demanded immediate action; I did not. I just said that if he was a member, I wasn’t.

At the request of friends I held back my resignation until the Board had considered the matter and his dues check was deposited, but there was no way I could in good conscience remain once that money was in the bank. I like to think I’m a man of my word.

Other people tried to talk me out of resigning by pointing out that the Board had created this ferocious new penalty of formal censure and applied it to him. Wasn’t that enough?

Well, no. I never said he should be punished. I don’t care whether he’s punished. I don’t care whether he’s painted green and forced to dance atop the Superdome. I said I could not be a member if he is. Censured or not, he’s a member again, so I’m not.

I don’t appreciate being offered ways to weasel out of my given word; it implies I can be weaseled out of a promise. I don’t want to be appeased. I don’t want compromise. I don’t want anything from SFWA — except out. If SFWA will allow him to be a member, then it is not an organization I am willing to belong to.

If SFWA is run by people who think they can talk me into breaking my word, then SFWA is not an organization I am willing to belong to.

If it seems as if I’m pounding this into the ground, well, yes. I’m tired of being misunderstood, of having my position misstated, of having people offer excuses and compromises, of having people doubt my word.

I’m tired of SFWA.

I’ve put up with a lot from SFWA over the years; all in all, the organization does a great deal of good. The Grievance Committee is invaluable, the Emergency Medical Fund has been a godsend for many people, and the social value is undeniable — writers lead strange lives, and it’s good to have a way to meet other people who understand that lifestyle. So I’ve tolerated sloppiness and foolishness and cowardice, always telling myself that it’s just a few individuals, just the current officers, whatever.

But I’ve had enough. Other writers’ organizations kick out people when necessary, but SFWA, in forty-two years of existence, has never had the gumption to police itself. Members have lied and swindled and cheated, and yet SFWA has never expelled anyone, has never refused membership to anyone who had the necessary credentials. When someone ignores copyright to quote members out of context without permission, taking material from an area that specifically says “permission to quote is expressly denied,” editing it to maximize its controversial nature, and posting it on his blog for the sole purpose of making SFWA look bad, with comments implying that the most extreme bits (made by someone who most of SFWA considers an outcast and troublemaker) represent the mainstream of SFWAn opinion, and is still permitted to rejoin — not remain a member, but rejoin — that’s the final straw.

So goodbye, SFWA. It was fun.

Forward into the Future!

I am once again attempting to bring order out of chaos, this time by merging as many of my blogs and discussion areas as possible into one. SFF Net has been kind enough to add WordPress capabilities, so I’ve transferred the contents of Strange Days and the old Blogger version of The Mind Control Lasers Lied to Me into my nice new WordPress files as categories.

Theoretically it should be possible to import my LiveJournal files as well, but I haven’t yet made that work, so there’s a link to Luncheon ex Machina, instead. And there’s a link to the Guestbook, and to the Discussion area on my webpage that works as a front end for a newsgroup.

So it’s all right here, and the theory is that when I have something to say, I’ll post it here. The Blogger and LiveJournal blogs are now officially abandoned.

There’s an RSS feed and everything.