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.

Helix: Our first year is complete

The fourth issue of Helix is now up and open to the public.

This issue has stories by Mike Allen & Charles Saplak, Sara Genge, Berry Kercheval, James Killus, Jennifer Pelland, Robert Reed, and Pras Stillman, as well as poetry by Greg Beatty, Serena Fusek, Samantha Henderson, Mary Horton, Drew Morse, and Mikal Trim. Not to mention the usual features (though we’ve dropped the book review column), including, of course, an editorial by Yr. Humble Servant.

Check it out. Send us money.

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

A guest post from Peg Robinson

Thought some folks might be interested in this tirade Peg posted to her newsgroup on SFF Net in response to Helix’ rule that we do not accept money from our writers. Money flows toward the writer, is our rule.

Here We Come a-Wassailing

Peg Robinson

I am, as seems too often to be the case, being subversive.

Will Sanders and Lawrence Watt-Evans have made it clear, and more than clear, that if I dare try to sneak a penny into the old man’s hat – or even a ha’penny – it will come back to me with such increased velocity as to challenge Einsteinian physics. I have presented a piece of work to Helixsf.com, and from henceforth my money is no good in that bar. Indeed, they are paying me: in coin of the bloody realm, and in all the graciousness of being treated as an honored fellow of their effort. So I can’t make a donation, no matter how freakin’ good I think their goals are or how much I think they deserve to succeed – and think we need them to succeed.

Hell with that bullshit.

I’ve got lyrics that possess me. Joni Mitchell’s “Playin’ Real Good, For Free,” with its haunting contrast of a professional musician passing a street-corner player, has become one of my soul-songs: one I come back to again and again. Her recognition that the value of his art is as great as hers – maybe even, somehow, magically greater – for being offered for free, in the hope that gratitude and deep joy will offer back a nickel, a dime, a dollar bill in the old fedora, and in the burning knowledge that the music was worth it, regardless. There is a real, time-honored covenant between the artist, the art, and the audience that overrides all other issues.

I don’t know how it works for you. For me? When I pass a busking player, and I have any time at all, I listen. If he or she is any good, I try to show it. If there’s paper money in my pocket – the artist gets some. If all I have is coin – even a penny will do. When I’m cold stony broke, I try to find a silent moment between sets to say to the corner player, “That was real good.” If that’s not even possible, I at least try to throw the “thumbs up” as I go by, knowing that it’s too hot, or too cold, or too humid, or too windy, or too lonely, or too dangerous, or just too damn everything on a street corner – but that someone loves the pure sweet sound of what they’re doing enough to busk with it, rather than break into houses or flip burgers.

I also do it because I know that everything new started out in a slum, on a street corner, scribbled on a cocktail napkin in a bar. It stumbled, unexpected, across a high-school auditorium stage, flew into the mind of a prim, totally unlikely math tutor, danced wild and new and free on a honky-tonk piano, and rattled the windows of the suburbs as some garage band turned up the amps and really set out to ROCK!

So Helix comes a-wassailing, and you have to decide, as established professionals, as promising beginners, and as just plain loving readers, if it’s worth flipping a coin in the fedora. If it matters to you that there are forums where no-names and the Big Names can play what they love, because they love it, and give you a chance to see what you might never see any other way, then flip in some coin. Because Helix has provided a street corner where artists can “play real good for free – or for whatever you can afford to toss in the hat.”

The most honored S.O.B.s who edit that worthy work won’t let me dunk a dime in…and this testimonial won’t add a single cent to the check they’ve already sent me in the mail. I have nothing to lose but my honor if I stay silent, and nothing to gain – but my honor – if I choose to give a “shilling,” since they won’t accept my dime. So. Here it is. My honor, my one, white plume if you get the lit’rary reference.

“We are not daily beggars who beg from door to door,
But we are neighbors’ children, whom you have seen before,
Love and joy come to you,
And to you glad tidings too,
And we’re playin’ real good, for free.”

If you read Helix – even if you don’t read Helix – put a penny in the hat, and invest in that unspoken covenant with the audience that brings jazz out of the bordellos and honky-tonks, rock out of a garage band made up of six kids of poor complexion and uncertain age and gender, and pure, perfect art out of a blind sax-player on a street corner.

And Will and Lawrence, you can make all the bloody rules you like and I will honor them – as I honor you. But I will continue to be my subversive self and support the extraordinary, because, damn it, if I don’t then not even that one pure (if tattered), white plume is left to me. So there.

Helix: Third issue is up!

Yes, folks, the third issue of Helix is now available, with stories by John Barnes, Eugie Foster, Samantha Henderson, N.K. Jemisin, Michael Payne, William Sanders, and Ian Watson & Roberto Quaglia. Not to mention poetry and features.

Check it out! Send us money!*

==

* All money after expenses is divided evenly among the staff members and the authors of our seven stories. We have no income except reader donations.

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.

A minor correction regarding Helix

Back in June, in a comment on the old Blogger version of The Mind Control Lasers Lied to Me, I said something about Helix having a maximum word-count.

This is not true. I don’t know why I said that; my best guess is that we’d been talking about how it gets tiring reading anything really long on a computer screen, but no, there’s no maximum.

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.

Helix Returns

I am pleased to report that the second issue of Helix is now posted. This issue has stories by Doranna Durgin, Terry Bisson, Melanie Fletcher, Jay Lake, Peg Robinson, Vera Nazarian, and Jennifer Pelland, as well as poetry and features.

Check it out! Send us money!