Tuesday, February 26, 2013

One Night in Sixes - Prologue

On the third day, God said: now you just stay there and think about what you did.

So Elim stood there where they'd tied his hands to the two posts of the main street promenade, leaning into the dwindling shade as the sun climbed higher. The rest of the dust-choked street was long since deserted.

Which left just Elim, standing spread-armed between the beams, struggling to keep his aching head shaded and his sluggish thoughts pious as his bare back and shoulders roasted in the sun.

That was a tall order.

It was powerfully difficult to let his gaze rest on the walkway without thinking of the people it had been built for. The raised wooden walk had kept their genteel boots out of the mud; the open sloping roof had guarded their reverend heads from the rude heat of the day.

They would have been fine, decent folks. They wouldn't have left even a bastard like Elim strung up like this. But they had long since passed on to their reward, and left him at the mercy of their brutal heirs.

He was close, though – so close his sweat dripped onto the weathered gray planks. If he could just get past the pain in his arms and the tightness in his chest and lean in far enough to get his head into that heavenly shaded space – just for even a minute – he would surely breathe in some of their deathless grace, and understand how to account for himself.

That kept him busy enough that the slow, rhythmic thud of hooves took him by surprise. Startled, Elim glanced back over one shoulder –

– just as an enormous brown face hung itself over the other. There beside him was Molly Boone: unbridled, unsaddled, and apparently having liberated herself from the corral. Elim’s mouth cracked in a smile.

"Miz Boone," he declared in a parched whisper, "you are a brazen hussy. Is this you flauntin' yourself around town without your bonnet on?" Elim closed his eyes as her lips anointed his face with a streak of sweet green slobbers. "And dolin' out your affections to any man in the street, I see. Ain't you 'shamed?"

No, not hardly. Shame was for people – for creatures who could sort right things from wrong ones, and hold themselves accountable for the difference.

By that reckoning, Elim was shamed enough for both of them. He breathed in the smell of her sun-warmed coat, and steadied his resolve. "Don't listen to any of what they said about me, now. You know I ain't like that."

He had to get himself sure on that point as well. Back home, he could have said it as a certifiable fact: he did not and never had hurt anyone.

Here, though...

Elim glanced down the empty street, past the adobe walls shimmering in the midday heat and the burnt-out ruins of the church, to the black-iron manor at the end of the road.

He was just a boy.

Maybe this place had changed him into a murderer. Elim couldn't have said whether it had that power. But it certainly was fixing to change him into a dead man.

ONE NIGHT IN SIXES - coming July 2014 from Solaris

Monday, February 25, 2013

And Sometimes They Even Let You Feed Them

You know, it's hard to write about cons without it being all "So this one time, at band camp..."

But in the spirit of the exercise, here's the quick summary of ConDFW:

1.  Jo Walton

2.  Jo Walton

3.  Jo Walton

Look, if you've been to a local con, you know how it is.  By day 3, some of the after-parties are showing: the panelists seem sort of bleary-eyed, and some might wonder dimly to each other who's supposed to be moderating, until someone peers owlishly at the paper to discover the subject at hand, and someone else marvels at having been put on a panel for which s/he has no evident qualification, until finally one of them offers to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.  Kind of like substitute-teaching by committee. 

And you know what?  That is absolutely fine.  I paid $30 for a three-day all-you-can-listen smorgasbord of fantastic industry pros, all of whom are volunteering their time, health, and sometimes dignity to make themselves accessible to the unwashed enthusiastic masses.  Kind of like a petting zoo for nerds.

But let me tell you about Jo Walton.  Of the 13 panels I made it to, at least seven had her front and center - not merely present, but sharp and on-topic and entertaining throughout - and I'm sure I missed several more.  They worked her like a Welsh-Canadian dog.  And when she wasn't panellating (that's a word now, and I want a quarter every time you use it), she was out in the hall, signing books and chatting and and basically treating this entire event as both a profession and a pleasure.

At this point, I have to admit that I've used you for my own selfish ends, because 80% of the purpose of this entry is to remind me that that is what I want to be.  Any time I go out into the world in some sort of writing or authorial capacity (even as an undistinguished badge-tagged face in the crowd), it ought to be consistently obvious that I consider it an occasion both serious and delightful.  This is the mission.  This is the goal.

And to conclude:

4. I urgently have to acquire textbooks and make brown paper book-covers, so that I can write Rachel Caine's name 500 times on each of them.  (This is the other, funner, glitter-gel-pen mission/goal.)

5. Hearing Stina Leicht talk about cultural appropriation is like pouring Drano down the rancid pipes of your ignorance.  Listen, learn, and resolve to stop clipping your toenails into the sink.*
*the impersonal you.  Not the actual you.  You're terrific.
More soon.  More blog posts, more awesome authors, and definitely more cons.  I freaking love field trips.

--Well, I've got this story, and I don't know if it's more science fiction or fantasy...
--Does it have spaceships?
--Is there a holy grail?
--Well, sort o-
--It's fantasy.

Friday, February 15, 2013

That New Con Smell

You know what's great about cons?

For the space of a weekend, you can be anyone you want. I see a couple of guys sparring with replica swords or a lady wearing a dress made out of Pokemon cards and I think, "who are you going to be on Monday? Were you my bank teller last week? Did you have to skip a PTA meeting to be here?" Soon the clock will strike midnight and the pumpkin coach will revert to a Honda Civic - but while the party lasts, it's such a thrill to see people the way they want to be seen.

(I think that's where a lot of the down-side comes from too. You know Saturnalia only lasts the space of a weekend, and the rush to hurry and keg-stand all the fun you can guzzle probably puts more than a few people over the socially-acceptable edge.)

For now, it's almost fun-thirty, and the big hand is on ConDFW. Have an excellent weekend, all - I'm off to be a wizard!

Hello? Noble Lumpkin? This here's the Illustrious Potentate.

Monday, February 11, 2013

No, He Really is a Cunning Linguist

Okay, I'm like... six weeks late to the game, but I finally saw Django Unchained last week.

I won't write a whole review here, because the movie's too big and I'm too dumb (I need to see it at least two more times to get even half a grip on it).  Still, I'll get in line behind my hip compadre Matt Borgard in saying, "Loved that it was a movie about slavery that said more than 'Slavery sucks, aren't white people awesome for ending it?'"

But let's scoot over out of the massive shadows of racism and history for a sec.  Let me tell you what was really exceptional and interesting and surprising as hell.  (Spoiler level: mild.)

It's rare enough to get a story with a protagonist who's explicitly multilingual, and rarer still for that ability to be central to the plot.   But I can't remember EVER seeing a bad guy "baddened" by his ignorance of other languages.  

Well, so why is that?  Why is this so unheard-of?

Possibly it's a byproduct of our famed American anti-intellectualism.  After all, science gets you Frankenstein, Godzilla, zombies, super-viruses, the Matrix, Reavers, SkyNet, GladOS, HAL 9000, and Krieger Kleanse.  And whatever learning the heroes need in order to handle up on all that is usually about controlling your powers, using the Force, Eye of the Tiger, the power:responsibility ratio, or some other montage-friendly combination of physical know-how and moral fortitude.  Basically, unless you're tracking down a serial killer or doing night shifts at a magical museum, fancy-pants learnings are a gateway drug to supervillainy.  (So put down the book and go for a jog, Faustus, before you get us all killed.)

Every time somebody does science, somebody else gets a workout.

And possibly it's simpler than that.  Americans skew monolingual (only 20.3% speak a language other than English at home, though of course that doesn't catch multilingual people who default to English), so why would we want heroes who make us feel stupid and inferior? 

Here's what I don't get, though. Even setting aside all explicit fantasy, our heroic canon is full of exotic people with fantastic skills. We thrill to watch secret agents and fighter pilots and unstoppable kung-fu badasses, cops, soldiers, athletes, cowboys, explorers, gangsters, smoldering playboy billionaires, and yes, even the occasional noble attorney or oddball inventor.

So it's not like we're threatened by heroes who are cooler, smarter, or more talented than ourselves.  That's practically a prerequisite.  If we thought it was sexy to speak other languages, the silver screen would be full of people doing exactly that.

Inflect your prepositions for me, baby.  I want your relational noun.

Quick, name three movie characters who speak French.

I got Inspector Clouseau, Pepe le Pew, and Gomez Addams.  For the record, that's an idiot, a skunk, and an Addams.  If you want someone more respectable, you can hit up Le Chiffre or the Merovingian, but then you're over to villainy in pretty short order. 

And if that's what we think of what's widely regarded as a lovely and sophisticated language (which is to say, the mother tongue of those cheese-eating surrender monkeys), what hope can there be for German (Nazis), or Spanish (illegals), or Russian (wacky potato-drunk commies), or Mandarin (sinister industrial commies), or Swahili (wait, where's Swahiland again?)

Is part of the reason our heroes don't speak these languages because we don't respect the people who do?

I don't know.  I do know that it is really, dangerously easy to fall into the "Americans are stupid xenophobic bigots" mindset, where we gnash our teeth and pillory the tabloid-reading, reality-televising, Bieber-beliebing lowest common denominator.  That way lies madness, and yelling at the kids to get off our lawns.

But I would like to find out more about when we lost our reverence for the so-called "classical education", and whether there's any hope for reviving the intellectual sexiness of languages.  (By the way, this is one reason why I'm so jazzed for Russell Connor's Sargasso - danger, mystery, and monsters in the Bermuda Triangle, and one of the leading ladies is a linguist!)

In the meantime, please feel free to add to my list: which of your favorite books and movies have language is a central feature?

--I am simply trying to ascertain -
--Speak English, goddammit!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Agony, the Ecstasy, and the Drudgery

Two events have dominated my personal cosmos this week.

1. My fellow Red Sofa colleague (Sofette?) Jamie Wyman Reddy signed a contract with Covet Books, an imprint world in the Entangled Publishing star system, to publish her debut novel, Technical Difficulties. (That is a lot of modifying clauses, which gives you a sense of the excitement for this occasion!)

2. Without going into too much detail, one of my nearest and dearest has been diagnosed with an illness of the It's Pretty Much Downhill From Here varietal. This hasn't shattered my world, but has left a sizable crater, and prompted a modest remains-of-my-innocence extinction event.

(Y'all don't be reaching for the sympathy cards or anything - this is not cancer or Alzheimer's or anything else to make a Lifetime movie out of, and it's far less of a game-ender than an eventual game-changer.  There is still plenty of joy in Mudville.)  

Here's what those two things have in common.

Take a second and check out Jamie's epic publishing odyssey (a five-minute masterpiece of wit, gifs, and the universal energy source known as feels).  With entomological precision, she neatly pins down those multiple bouts of protracted uncertainty and fraught waiting-periods like so many unlovely butterflies.

And from what I can tell, that's about what medical anomalies tend to net you too.  You start with a lump or a cough or a tic, and wait for it to go away.  When it doesn't, you call the doc and wait for an appointment.  Then you go in and get a once-over and a referral.  Wait for another appointment.  Go to the specialist, get an appointment for a culture or a biopsy or what-not.  Wait for that.  Go in, get it done, and wait yet again - by this time, on the most agonizing rusted-out tenterhooks imaginable - to receive the verdict.

And are we done now?  Not hardly!  All of this was just to get the diagnosis, or to sign the contract.  There's all manner of waiting-times yet to come - to hear back from the publisher about revisions and royalties and release dates, to find out what and how much InsuriCare will spring for and whether you might could get accepted into a local research program - and here's the big thing:

You have to keep interrupting this massively important narrative arc to get your own stupid regular stuff done.

You know what I mean.  Jamie can be absolutely vibrating with tension as she waits to get that phone call, but she's still gotta collect her kidling and fix dinner for the fam.  I can stare down the abyss of mortality, but at some point I have to leave off long enough to go teach class.

This is what is so damn sexy about fiction.  Fiction is the ultimate fast-forward button.  It's the big-ass tub of nuts you can choff without having to stop and crack shells.  It's a magical road trip where your bladder's always empty and the gas tank is always full.  When it's time to be happy or sad or anxious or whatever, you can wallow in that one feeling exclusively - marinate in it! - because the fictioneer has thoughtfully excised all the irrelevant distracting parts that would take you out of the mood.

So there you have it.  Fiction is the luxury of singular focus, the pornography of time and theme.  That is probably not news to anyone, but I have to say, I have a new appreciation for all that artificial streamlining.  The alternative out here in the real world is vexing as hell!

You know the old saying, "Time flies when you're having fun?"  This is the dire half-dragon version of that.