Monday, May 27, 2003

Hello friends & neighbors.

So the Blue Heaven workshop was totally fabu. That Charlie is one smart cookie, and he can really pick 'em. Good chemistry and a very high, great critiquing level. Most Milford/Clarion style workshops are short-story-centric, and tend to squeeze novel chapters uncomfortably into that model; for BH, Charlie designed a format for critiquing whole novels. I wasn't sure how this would work, but it worked brilliantly, with most of the discussion and critique centered on structure, scope, and character at novel length, and little on line edits.

And we had lots of fun on the side. In addition to the Singalong Night (mostly an 80s Pop singalong) for which all the boys got drag queen names (see below), there was Surrealist Oracle Night, True Anecdote Recounting Night, Deep Discussions About Religion Night, etc. In addition to these spontaneously emergent tropes, there were a bunch of semi-organized discussions on three-act structure, scene and chapter transitions, plot architectures, and marketing. The workshop was in this stunningly beautiful B&B on the lakeshore of Kelleys Island, Ohio, with gourmet food everyday, cooked by our inestimable host, Charlie's buddy Marvin, operator of the B&B. Note that this B&B was utterly unlike, and in no way resembles, the B&B in Charlie's story. Especially not the little pumphouse. Nope.

Chance wrote oodles about Blue Heaven in her journal.

A fine bunch of people, and I miss 'em. I miss that heady atmosphere, people passionate about what you're passionate about, late night discussions, anything possible. I think we should all move to Kelleys Island, along with all my other literary friends and all the associated partners, spice, and chillun, and live that life forever. Marvin gets to cook.

I never had post-Clarion writing slump -- I had the good fortune to have some major rewrite requests from Jed on "Other Cities" waiting for me when I got back from cw2k1, so I did not have the luxury of any slumping. Now, however, I have post-Blue-Heaven slump. Okay, I do actually have at least two editors who have asked me for things, first drafts of which are done, and which should be attended to, plus a writing partner anxious to see progress on the book, so I can't really use the excuse of no external incentives. I don't know. Partly it's that I was swamped with work upon getting back. Partly it's that while at Blue Heaven I had missed Aviva so much -- and Esther had put aside so many work, school, and social things in order to make up for my childcare unavailability -- that I was pleased to spend my free time the first few weeks running around with Aviva. And partly it's that while I feel totally psyched about how the novel -- "The Lilim" is the current suggested title -- was received, and indeed, there's not even necessarily as much work to do on it as I thought, still the work there is to do on it is big-picture stuff, and a little daunting. I'm finding it hard to tackle.

Basically there are two major things we need to do with Lilim. One is to restructure the sequence of chapters so it makes sense to the reader who is progressing through them linearly, in ant's-eye-view, as readers do; because the structure we had was very pretty and appealing seen from above, at 50,000-feet novel-planning bird's-eye-view, but was discouraging and confusing to readers. Along with this is paying attention to how chapters end, so that they do not have full closure, like short stories, but leave questions open that the following chapters must answer. And the other thing we need to do is to bite the bullet and admit that, amidst our large ensemble cast, Steve -- the jerky, misogynist nerd who rises to heroism against his better judgement -- is, for reasons of structure, our principal protagonist, and that nobody likes him at the moment. Nobody likes him enough to want him to win. Nobody likes him enough to believe that our heroine Nurit would want to go out with him. And I think we can correct this problem without necessarily making him less of a jerk at the beginning -- simply by putting the reader more deeply in his head. But it means major changes everywhere, basically.

So I've been putting it off. I have just this week, creaking and groaning, really started getting into it again.

I am currently featured on a Bulgarian fiction website (scroll down to the bottom). A professional translator named Peter Toushkov has translated "The Death Trap of Dr. Nefario" and "On the Cliff by the River" into Bulgarian, for fun, and created a permanent "Benjamin Rosenbaum" section of this Sandhi cultural site. Yowza!

Story status:

The Death Trap of Dr. Nefario is up on Infinite Matrix. An odd little short-short story, "The Blow" will appear in the not-really-letter column of the print edition of the wonderfully bizarre litmag McSweeney's in June. "Red Leather Tassels" has been scheduled for the August issue of F&SF (which means it'll be in stores in July). I also just sold GVG follow-on audio rights for it, so it looks like it's going to be dramatized in some online audio format or other. A couple of editors spontaneously asked me for things, which is nice, and I think Tim and I have roped Susan into pitching an anthology that I think should exist to some publishers.

A few days ago I got a rejection for "Breakfast in Montana" back from The Paris Review, and for a moment I had nothing out in the mail. Nothing. In a way, that's nice, as it's partly because I'm selling things faster than I can write them. As a side effect, my standards for myself are rising, so that I'm retiring stories I'm not crazy about, pending someday-revision-maybe -- nine of the stories on my stats page have been retired, and a bunch more are somewhere way down on the revision queue. And of course, I'm really supposed to be working on "The Lilim", not short stories at all. But it's also a little weird not to have anything out there. I sent "Breakfast" out to Harper's, so that's one thing.

I'm kind of holding off on sending out "A Siege of Cranes" because it doesn't have all that many appropriate pro markets left, and Charlie (the best story doctor I know) said at Blue Heaven that he'd be willing to take a look at it when he's got a little more time. I love that story, though, damn it.

I just finished a second draft of "Molly and the Red Hat" based on the OWW crits and sent it out again to some people for a quick recheck. In response to an editorial request, I wrote a short-short called "Valley of the Giants" which I just posted to the OWW; I don't think it's going over that well. I also need to get back on top of my cw2k1 critiquing... I took a break for Blue Heaven and have been languishing since.

I'm also in the middle of revising "The House Beyond Your Sky" based on crits by Ted Chiang and the Clarion West 2001 crit group. It's going to Ellen Datlow as soon as I get it done. Which should happen sometime before the Singularity.

Now it can be told:

Official Blue Heaven Drag and Goddess Names

Chris BarzakMiss Direction
Toby BuckellMiss Understood
Roger EichornMiss Apprehension
Charlie FinlayMiss Information
Paul MelkoMiss Construe
Ben RosenbaumMiss Defying
Jim Stevens-ArceMiss Appropriation

Karin LowacheeGoddess of Pirates. Arr!
Chance MorrisonGoddess of Blackmail
Nancy ProctorGoddess of Justified Violence
Mary RickertGoddess of Rectangular Containers With Lids
Amber van DykGoddess of Boy Smoochies


Sure, from where we sit, the idea of Metallica and Barney as instruments of torture is sort of funny. Though I bet it's not all that funny if you're there. And it's pretty disturbing to see people point to the mass graves in Iraq and whine "see? they're worse." Ah, we are better than Saddam and Al-Qaeda. A cookie for us.

In 1991, it was clear that the Iraqi deserters were being treated great in our POW camps, better fed and housed than they'd ever been. That's the message you want to send; you want to have Club Med POW camps. Enemy desertion is a good thing. It pays to be the good guys. Good guys, however, do not torture, bomb indiscriminately, or open fire into crowds of demonstrators.

The idea that "terrorists" fall into a gray area of law -- the idea that they enjoy neither the protections of civil criminals, nor of military combatants -- is deeply disturbing. Especially since who can be put into this category seems very slippery: the Taliban who were defending their own country from invasion. Certain Iraqis who were doing the same. Even U.S. citizens can be treated as enemy combatants without normal legal rights in time of war.

I think we are overreaching ourselves, that this war will ultimately have resulted in more risk and chaos than net good, and that the disjunction between the U.S.A.'s idea of the limits of power and the nature of international law, and that of the rest of the world, is pretty scary.

I don't think everyone who supported the invasion of Iraq is stupid or greedy, though, which seems to be an appallingly common idea in Europe. There are sane and rational arguments for the war. What I really don't understand, though, is the bizarre American fury at Europe for not supporting the war. We're really mad at France for not approving of us invading Iraq. That seems to me to be the mark of a bully.

Aviva is hugely committed to being independent -- about the only thing she has tantrums about (other than just being really tired and about to conk) is when you do things for her that she was planning to do herself. And even then they're pretty much mini-tantrums. I don't know what this Terrible Twos business is all about, anyway -- Aviva's third year on this planet is just as delightful as her first two. Maybe more delightful, what with talking in sentences and jumping on the bed and such. Which is not to say she's not extremely bossy, and very possessive of her things, but then, who isn't, really? Adults just hide it better.

She's always asking, "how do you say that in English?" -- and sometimes, as in the case of synonyms, she then corrects me.

Aviva: Wie seit Englisch bade?[how do you say "bade" in english?]
Ben: Bathe.
Aviva: No! Swim!

Her big thing lately is the potty. We were never in a big hurry to get her toilet-trained -- having seen lots of parents and kids struggling over it, I basically wanted to put off any kind of serious engagement with the issue. Like with weaning from breastfeeding, it's basically Aviva's project. We just put the potty out in the hallway and, at some point, her older cousin demonstrated its use. Then Aviva started proclaiming "I want to pee in the potty!" and we would all rush over and assist. Now she doesn't even announce it anymore -- she just trucks over, wriggles out of her clothes, and employs the device.

The other day I left the bathtub running and Aviva standing near it, clothed, and went in another room to get something. When I came back she was sitting, naked, in the tub. She had stripped, climbed up onto the toilet, and clambered into the bathtub, in like forty seconds. She had this expression like "well, what are you waiting for?" I was appalled, but (can you tell?) insanely proud.

My Dad and Mom were here in March and we all went up to the mountains, where I promptly got sick with a fever for a week:    1   2   3   

Aviva with her favorite doll, the Happy Boy.
Dinner with Aviva's other grandpa and grandma: 1   2   3   4  

At home:
1   2   3  

Our friends Jessica and Levi also came to visit (and plan their wedding -- they asked me to officiate!) and took some pictures:
Downtown with Aviva: 1 2 3
Aviva with her buddy Elisa in our front garden: 1 2

(Those are Levi's pictures, I can't find Jessica's).