Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tumbarumba First Lines, #9 and 10: Jeff and John

Hmm, well, I missed yesterday, and also it may be that I cannot exactly count. So: two today, and two tomorrow.

The first lines of John Phillip Olsen's Tumbarumba story, "Birthday":

Neil wants to drive faster, but the troop transport truck in front slows him down. In the back of the truck, the young soldiers point and laugh at Neil and his passengers.

And that of Jeff Spock's, "Of Love and Mermaids":

In the morning sun coming hard off the sea the two children are profiles, jumping and laughing on the sand. The seagulls circle above the palms, hunting unwary clams or unclaimed French fries.

We sit at a table on the hotel's terrace right by the edge of the sand, sipping coffee. My left hand lies atop her right, holding hands with the practiced indifference of people who have held the same hands for ten years or more. It is a comfort, a reflex; as re-affirming--and exciting--as pulling on an old pair of shoes or re-reading your favorite book.

I snagged these two (along with Stephen Gaskell's) at Villa Diodati 3 in Nice.

Tumbrumba ships tomorrow. I can't wait!

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Tumbarumba First Lines, #8: Dave S.

The first lines of David Schwartz's Tumbarumba story, "MonstroCities":


Not the NEEDLEBOARD races on Dillinger Four or the SCISSORBALL playoffs in the Solomon system; not the solar sled slaloms of the Andromeda Games or Cosmos Flanagan's run at the smartdisc passing record. Not even the mag-hot excitement of the Team Orgy Invitational is this week's biggest sporting event. No, MAXFANS, the most-wanted assignment this week here at the mothernet is the BIG BIG BIG BATTLE ROYALE of the Second Moon Fighting League, and who do you suppose is Sending from a Wormcruiser burrowing its way towards the Jocelyn system? Me, GEIGERTRON GOGOMEZ, the most beloved chronicler of sport since Tolkien scrawled The Iliad on a papyrus scroll.

Three more days!

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Tumbarumba First Lines, #7: Greg

The first lines of Greg van Eekhout's Tumbarumba story, "Temp":

On Monday she wears Spandex and black leather. Unfortunately, her mask covers only her eyes, so after the bank robbers use spasm gas, she spends the rest of the morning with facial twitches. Later, her grappling gun comes apart in her hand, and crooks in a helicopter make off with a Michelangelo.

Four more days until your computer is infected with these intrusions.

(Did I mention Tumbarumba is sponsored by Turbulence and, apparently, funded by the Jerome Foundation? Apparently it is.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tumbarumba First Lines, #6: Stephen

The first lines of Stephen Gaskell's Tumbarumba story, "Reunion":

Peter slowed up, the streets unfamiliar.

He'd have asked for directions, but the narrow pavements were empty of life. Terraced houses packed both sides of the road, the dim flicker of televisions visible beyond dirty net curtains. He pictured an old couple, dinners on their laps, attention glued to the latest episode of Eastenders as they mechanically ferried some horrible slop into their mouths.

Stephen's was one of three stories that I snagged at the Villa Diodati workshop. Now wasn't that a productive little trip to Nice?

My Dad was inspired to do a little research. He notes, "the poem Tumba Bloody Rumba" -- which made "tumbarumba" a synonym for "tmesis" -- "seems to have been heavily influenced by Robert W. Service."

Five more days, until you can get your Tumbarumba on.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tumbarumba First Lines, #5: Kiini

The first lines of Kiini Ibura Salaam's Tumbarumba story, "Bio-Anger":

rattling. rattling snaking around in my ears. echoes of rattling erupting in my temples. I hear a pop like the little explosions of air that punctuate my ear canals when Iím nearing the ocean floor. reflex. by reflex, I try to turn toward the sound, but my head is tethered in one position. the rattling dies out with a slithering hiss. sharp parallel bands of light cut across the room. my head jerks back when light hits my eyes. behind me, somebody lets loose a low, raspy laugh.

Six more days.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Tumbarumba First Lines, #4: David M.

The first lines of David Moles's Tumbarumba story, "Martian Dispatches":

There was a map of Mars on the wall of my apartment in Helium, souvenir of a previous tenant. Some nights, coming back late to the city, I'd just lie there staring at it, too tired to do anything but take off my breather and kick the compressor into gear. The map had been printed on Earth, in London; maybe fifty years ago, maybe more, like that first edition of Burroughs I saw an AFP stringer carrying in the rocketport on Phobos. The ink on the map had faded and the paper had gone brittle and shiny after years in the dry Martian air, laying a kind of veil over the cities and canals it depicted. On it Mars was still divided into its old territories, names like Bantoom and Okar and Jahar, and down at the bottom under the word MARS the cartographer had printed BARSOOM.

When he was guest-blogging at Jeff Vandermeer's blog, David explained the trick for generating story ideas out of discrete elements. See if you can guess what X and Y are, such that X po Y = "Martian Dispatches".

Seven more days.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tumbarumba First Lines, #3: Mary Anne

The first lines of Mary Anne Mohanraj's Tumbarumba story, "Sequins":

"Sara?" Her husband stuck his head around the door of her studio. "Can you pick up Gaya from dance class this afternoon?"

"What?" Sarala blinked twice from behind her glasses, jarred from the image she'd held in her mind, the image that stubbornly refused to come out into the paint on her canvas. There was a body, she knew -- a body, and wings -- but more than that. Not as trite as a woman turning into a bird, seeking flight, freedom, escape. Along with the wings were powerful haunches, poised to leap, muscles tense and yearning. And claws, sharp and long; teeth, red at the tips. All caught at the moment of shifting, transformation, in that liminal space where every possibility hangs, glorious, waiting.

I asked Mary Anne for something in the spirit of her novel-in-stories, Bodies In Motion, "an interconnected narrative spanning two continents, two families, and four generations." "Sequins" picks up two of its minor characters. Mary Anne writes: "readers may enjoy tracing the sometimes hidden connections from one text to the other."

Eight more days until the intrusions begin frolicking...

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Tumbarumba First Lines, #2: Jim

The first lines of James Patrick Kelly's Tumbarumba story, "Painting the Air":

"I'm sick of dusting her fans!" Jaya stepped out of her pants and tossed them at Hool, her djinn lover. They fluttered across the room and spun to rest under his bed. "Grinding pigment for that old crow's paint. Lugging bolts of silk from the market." She unstrung the laces of her shirt and let it fall from her shoulders. The damp, smoky air of the room seemed to cling to on her skin. It was a relief to be naked.

Nine more days.

Did I mention, by the way, what a tumbarumba is? It is a tmesis, as per the John O'Grady poem.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Tumbarumba First Lines, #1: Haddayr

The first lines of Haddayr Copley-Woods's Tumbarumba story, "Listen to Me":

Does it really matter how I got here?

I got shot.

Haddayr writes:

Dora Goss told me that her piece The Belt was an ugly story, so she wanted to tell it in the most beautiful way possible. I decided to write a beautiful story in the ugliest way possible.

Ten more days until you can get Tumbarumba'd; and then you'll be able to find Haddayr's story.


(It will help if you're lucky, intrepid, and perceptive....)

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Gender breakdown for "Tumbarumba: a frolic of intrusions"

Since there's an ongoing conversation in speculative fiction publishing on gender representation in short fiction markets (where gender, I think, tends to get used as a proxy for all kinds of issues of inclusion, since it's relatively easy to measure and there's a gut feeling that there are, or ought to be, about as many women as men involved in the enterprise), I thought I'd offer -- as a data point -- the figures for Tumbarumba (the Turbulence-funded art project that Ethan Ham and I will be releasing December 1st).

On the "front end", where the user sits, Tumbarumba is a conceptual internet artwork, but on the "back end", from the perspective of the authors, it's an invitation-only anthology of short fiction. It was invitation-only because I don't really aspire to editing as a calling, so while I liked the idea of this project, I wanted to do as little editing work as possible on it. That meant asking people who I thought would be interesting, singly and mixed together, and who I had a strong sense would reliably produce something I would love. And then, of course, they had to actually have time and want to be involved with something as strange as this project.

I didn't want to ask too many people -- I had a limited number of stories I could take, and I wanted to try and get just those stories: any rejections would be a sign of inefficiency. In the end, I did reject some stories, I asked for lots of rewrites, and stories were pulled or didn't get done in time; but by and large it was a pretty efficient process nonetheless. I sent initial mails to 36 people -- some of them long shots. Twenty (56%) said yes or maybe, fourteen (39% of asked) submitted stories, of which twelve (33% of asked) will be fed into the Art Machine.

And here is the gender breakdown:

Tumbarumba: a frolic of intrustions gender stats
% male, of those asked58%
% male, of those who said yes or maybe65%
% male, of those who actually submitted71%
% male, of those accepted67%

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Monday, November 17, 2008


As you can see, the last month was pretty much a dead zone as far as progress on Resilience is concerned. After a post-Worldcon inspired writing tear (from 8/22 through 10/9, the wordcount leapt up from 49,072 to 60,542 -- I know, for some of you that would be a very slow month indeed, but for me it's a tear) I hit a wall on 10/9 and wordcount was frozen until the other day, when I began haltingly crawling forward again.

I use two projected completion dates in that spreadsheet, mostly for motivational purposes. The first is based on the average progress over the whole stretch since I moved to Switzerland, and its psychological purpose is mainly calming: the sense that, even if it looks bleak at the moment, over the long haul it is predictable that I will someday finish the first draft's projected 90,000 words. That date, with a lot of inertia behind it, doesn't move much: on 9/24, in the midst of the month of extreme productivitly, the calmer, more conservative voice of my spreadsheet told me I'd have a first draft done on August 24, 2009 (just after turning 40); now, after a month of languishing, that same calm voice predicts October 1, 2009: more or less the same ballpark.

Then there is the 14-day moving average. The psychological purpose of this date is to project how I'm doing lately, to give me a sense of how things will be if this go on. Rather than a calming effect, it is invigorating or excoriating, depending on the previous two weeks. It is the wild-eyed, emotionally mercurial counterpart to the total average's calm sobriety. On 9/24. mid-sprint, this voice, whipped into a frenzy of enthusiasm, promised me a finished draft by the end of this year; now, thrown down into a pit of abject, desperate despair, it moans that I will type "The End" on February 17th, 2010 (back in June, it was claiming 2015).

The nice thing about having these two numbers is I can pick the one I like better. So naturally, last month I fully believed the 14-day moving average's grandiose claims that we'd be done soon; this month, I dismiss its moaning as an absurd overreaction, and console myself with its sober sibling's predictions of next summer.

Anyway, a lot of things conspired this past month to throw me off-course:

  • Esther was sick, on and off, for a couple of weeks; the result of which is that I am some 30 or so chores ahead. It's like banking writing time!
  • I went to Villa Diodati. For this I wrote a new story, or, more properly, resurrected and finished an old false start, "Ralph and Billy", a vampire farce I started in 1999 or so. I also, of course, read and critiqued all the stories of the other folks who were going.
  • At Villa Diodati I got excellent critiques on three children's book projects -- "The Way to Go", "Bad Days in KidLand", and an abecedary -- which have been languishing. Upon returning from the workshop I therefore had to quick do another draft of each of these.
  • Lots of sleep lost obsessing over the elections and their aftermath.
  • And last but not least... Ethan Ham and I have a new art project (cf. Anthroptic, our last one), which we will be rolling out on the first of December. It essentially takes, on one level, the form of an anthology of short stories -- at least, the work I've been doing on it, especially this last month, is essentially the work of editing an original anthology. On another level, it is a conceptual artwork, kind of a ubiquitous web installation... well, you'll see.

    It is called "Tumbarumba: a frolic of intrusions". More here soon on that topic.

  • Oh, and a bunch of Migwan business.

So you would think that that would all be sufficient excuse for a month off, right? Still, I'm half-regretting it. It's so incredibly grueling to start writing a novel again when the ashes are cold in the fireplace. I always ask: why the hell do you do this to yourself?

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Your free idea for the day

How about a reality TV show set among the scriptwriters for a reality TV show?

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Interview on I Should Be Writing

The fabulous Mur Lafferty has interviewed me on her podcast, I Should Be Writing. It was a great deal of fun.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Assorted thoughts on the election

  • I didn't get to stand in line; I cast my vote for Obama a couple of weeks ago, handing the envelope over the post office counter.

    I didn't get to see them declare Obama the winner; when I forced myself to go to bed at 3:30 a.m., after two and a half hours spent clicking and clicking and clicking, they still hadn't called Pennsylvania, Florida, or Ohio. Esther woke me up the next morning with "Obama won!"

    There was no one honking or yelling or crying or high-fiving in the streets. The Swiss approve, of course -- even heartily approve -- but discreetly. At breakfast with the kids, we talked about it, celebrated a little, and I knew intellectually that this was an unprecedented day; but it didn't sink in until I was at work and sneaking time to watch the speeches and read the news on the internet. There were times -- watching Obama and his family take the stage, or when they cut to Jesse Jackson -- when I burst out crying, but, being in my office at work, I had to do so in a silenced, muffled, dry-heave kind of way.

    So it was actually weirdly reminiscent of being in Switzerland on September 11, 2001, except with the emotions flipped.

    As then, I've been bathing myself in an orgy of on-line news and video, trying to reach across the Atlantic through the ether to feel like what it must be like, there. Watching Will Smith on Oprah, and reading Alice Walker and why white-run comedy shows are so incapable of making Obama funny, unlike, say, this guy.

  • Marring the joy, of course, is the bitter pill of the three anti-gay-marriage referenda that passed on the same election night, including Prop 8. Weird and alienating atavism, is what that is. I like what Karen says about it. I have faith that a cause so obviously just cannot help but, in the end, prevail; but in the meantime I can only say to the voters in those states: you stupid, selfish losers. How can you possibly make void other people's already existing marriages in order to "defend" yours?

  • Sure, if you wanted to take a cynical and superficial view of McCain's concession speech, you could headline it "McCain: Racism over now, so shut up." In context, though, it was extraordinary. He keeps having to shut up a crowd of booing Republican diehards, and by the end he manages to turn them around and actually get them cheering for Obama's achievement.

    I saw some Democratic talking head on some news show snarking that "of course it was gracious, they're always gracious when they lose." But this is not, in fact, the case. Gore was dutiful about how we all should pull together, Kerry makes the absolute minimal polite noises, as does Dole. (I cannot find G. H. W. Bush's concession speech online). None of them come anywhere near an expression of personal admiration.

    Obama's acknowledgement of McCain in his acceptance speech (which was far too dignified, elevated and somber to be called a "victory" speech) was equally above and beyond the usual.

  • Dude, are those baseball guys scary or what? Predicting the election on the basis of their emergent-AI, possibly-Singularity-triggering number-crunching model, they got every state right except Indiana (and Missouri, which they didn't call, and one of Nebraska's electors) and the popular vote within a percentage point. There is something really bizarre about that level of polling accuracy.

  • To those who think racism is over, damali ayo points out that as of January 20th, we are out of black Senators.

  • One interesting discovery of my orgy of youtube-surfing in the elections' wake: I really dig the populist-feminist news show The View. The fact that they swoop in moments from hard-hitting political interview questions (this is after all Barbara Walters we're talking about) to "I like your sweater" and "so: pantyhose?", the fact that they are so overtly emotional (simmering with rage over people hanging Palin in effigy, skewering McCain on his attack ads, crying with joy at Obama's election), that they fight with each other fiercely about politics, interrupting and getting up from their chairs and threatening to knock over their cups of coffee -- and then visibly making up. Granted, at times they verge on self-parody (especially when Walters' restraining, motherly hand is missing). But still -- it's like one of those grim, talking-heads-in-suits news analysis roundtable shows, with the humanity added back in.

    I'm serious: it's a feminist (I use the word advisedly) reenvisioning of TV news analysis, just as the Daily Show reenvisions the anchored newscast through comedy (the principal comedy being that Jon Stewart gives his actual authentic reactions to clips that "real" news anchors would react to with suppressed "objectivity"). It's hilarious.

  • I had a bunch more to say about Obama becoming president, and the mix of emotions it brings.

    There is simultaneously the practical, wary level -- knowing that he's just one talented but relatively inexperienced politician with a what seem largely to be a collection of very intelligent and well-reasoned policies, most of which I like, some of which (biofuels, gay marriage) I don't, others of which I'm unsure of, who's inheriting a huge host of problems and is bound to disappoint us.

    And on that level I'm cautiously optimistic: he seems distinctly better than the alternatives, and he has a real shot at being great (our youngest President, similarly inexperienced, similarly remarkable, ended up being great; and the idea I've been hearing that he could be a Reagan of the Left, calling on an internet-enabled progressive movement to put pressure on lawmakers the way Reagan could call on conservative footsoldiers, is fascinating); he could also flop.

    And then there's the mostly symbolic, but not entirely symbolic level in which -- even if he screws up now -- he is already a redemptive figure for American history. That is what I (and Will Smith, and that lady on The View) were crying about.

    And it is worth noting: this isn't just because Obama is black. Two years ago I expected the first Black President to be a Republican who studiously avoided the issue of race and captured a grudging chunk of the Democratic electorate anyway -- someone the Democrats would be handicapped in attacking for fear of accusations of racism. And that isn't something I'd be crying for joy about.

    Obama ran a campaign of enormous dignity and relentless positivity; he addressed the issue race directly and brilliantly; he was able -- perhaps because of growing up as a racial outsider of the post-civil-rights-struggle generation -- to claim completely his place in the black community, and yet at the same time find nothing strange or improbable in the idea that he could be the leader of all of America. He weathered attacks on his character and associations with an easy grace (now that we've elected an African-American named Barack Hussein Obama who had a single mom, did cocaine in high school, ran on a platform of redistributing wealth, and "palled around with terrorists", it's hard to see how anyone can take the character-attack politics that have been a staple of Republican strategy since Lee Atwater seriously any more -- for all that Obama may have been uniquely resilient, and that McCain's campaign was in some sense, by modern Republican standards, relatively constrained in their use of them. They left the whole Reverend Wright thing alone, for example; but my feeling is that it would have gone even worse for them if they had used that stuff).

    Obama seems to have an understanding of this double role; that he is on the one hand just this one, gifted but relatively green, politician, and on the other hand happens to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right character and skills, to allow America to relish a moment of transformation.

  • Can I just say, also, that I am particularly proud of my own people? The Jews were a battleground in this election. They threw everything at us -- scurrilous emails claiming Obama was a Muslim (scandalously, Colin Powell was the only figure in American political life I ever saw say "and so what if he was?"), the negotiating with Iran thing, 28 million copies of an anti-Muslim scare DVD, Joe the Plumber threatening the destruction of Israel, a toast Obama gave at a good-bye party for some Palestinian academic which McCain suggested was equivalent to " a tape of John McCain in a neo-Nazi outfit".

    Obama got 78% of the Jewish vote, 4% more than Kerry. That is more than any other religion including "no religion", and any ethnic group other than African-Americans.

    Turns out we don't scare that easy. And we care about justice more than we do about pandering to us.

  • Newsweek's behind-the-scenes campaign trail series is quite fascinating.

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Ant King in the L.A. Times

Ed Park digs the metafictional wackiness of the zeppelin story in his L.A. Times review column, Astral Weeks.


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