Sunday, August 3, 2003

Howdy howdy.

I write, fearless readers, from a tiny little French village called Bessuge, where my in-laws share the upkeep of a country house with about 20 other people. The whole Swiss extended family is hanging out here for the long weekend (Swiss National Day was Friday), so Aviva is surrounded by a bevy of uncles, aunts and grandparents. We went swimming in a beautiful lake yesterday. There is much feasting, and ping-pong, and looking at frogs. I wrote a poem here two years ago, "Aviva at Bessuge". Besuuge is just as lovely now.

Writing news:

The good news is that publication and such continues apace, and a few more submissions are out. The bad news is that the predicted novel completion date is majorly slipping.

"The Valley of Giants" sold to the super-hip new magazine Argosy, which is positioning itself as "a literary magazine with a fantastic and surreal bent" and paying a very friendly 10 cents a word. It's edited by the impressively energetic powerhouse anthology impresario Lou Anders, who asked me for a short-short with some of the feel of my "Other Cities" series. "The Valley of Giants" actually has plot and characters, and I think it's darker and moodier than the Other Cities. I had a hell of a time revising it, after excellent critiques from the Online Writing Workshop.

The initial draft was very spare and distanced, the main character more like a self-seen-through dream than like a vivid character. Everyone in the workshop demanded that the character be fleshed out. My friend Terri van der Vlugt, who read it when we were all on the beach in Spain this June, said "no! no! It's supposed to be like that!" And in a way she was right: that's what I was going for. But I couldn't get the story to work in that distanced style; it rebelled. So I fleshed it out instead.

I heard "Red Leather Tassels" on (it's in one of the "Best of F&SF" collections), and it's great! Much funnier than it is on the page -- the narrator added a great deal of characterization and humor. Hilarious. It's really entertaining to see your words be enlivened by a reader.

"Red Leather Tassels" also got a couple of lousy reviews. Bluejack's review was very gallant, recalling that he'd loved "Droplet" and appreciating my willingness to experiment, even while being clear that he couldn't find much to like about RLT. I appreciated his frankness and clarity. Ditto for that of the other reviewer. It's always amazing (and sometimes gut-wrenching) to realize how profoundly different people's readings of the same story can be. My mom cried each time she read "Molly and the Red Hat"; my dad thought it was sanctimonious and overwritten. Esther loved "A Siege of Cranes", which no one will buy, and hated "Droplet", which garnered acclaim. Some part of me wants there to be a consensus view of every story; but it's not something I'd wish for if I had a genie handy: the diversity of human consciousness and perception can stay.

It helps that I really like Red Leather Tassels and am sure of it artistically. I was a lot less sure of "Fig", so merely unenthusiastic reviews of that one rattled me more than the thrashing Red Leather Tassels got. And I got a lot of nice email and such from people I respect, praising it. I think I'm just going to relish having split the audience.

I shan't say anything too definite yet, but things are progressing on the idea of having a small press bring out a mini-collection of Other Cities in chapbook form. More on that later. I'm pondering the promotional campaign, though... anyone want to write a "Where in the Other Cities Do You Live?" poll along the lines of the umpteen thousand Javascript personality tests that festoon the Internet?

Mary Anne Mohanraj came to visit, staying a day, and Aviva and I took her to the Tinguely Museum. That was great. If you don't know her, Mary Anne is a literary polymath, a writer, poet, editor, publisher, and general impresario of literary, erotic, and speculative fiction -- a vortex of enthusiasm and ideas into which innocent passerby are sucked and transformed into fanatical supporters of her many projects to transform the state of various genres. She's founded two major online zines staffed by volunteers -- the premier literary-erotic online magazine, Clean Sheets, and one of the most exciting pro speculative fiction ezines, Strange Horizons, in her spare time, she edits major erotica anthologies and writes and starts series of fiction workshops, and she gives the impression of doing all these things effortlessly, as a lark. I think part of her success at gathering legions of volunteers into her projects is that she projects the sense that they are both terribly important and refreshingly easy -- so that participating in them is an irresistable temptation. Crafty, she. She's also a wonderful person to talk to about fiction and poetry -- a deep thinker and a person of both great passion and great sanity.

So it was a lot of fun having her over. I also got to see her mutant leadership powers first hand. At the train station, she set off in a particular direction and I followed, and only after some time did it occur to both of us that I was the one who knew where we were going and this was the wrong way. Similarly, she asked if I was going to submit to the erotica anthology she's currently editing, and that it would be good if it were short, and mainstream in setting. I mentioned that I did not write erotica. "Okay," she said brightly, and we moved on to other topics. After she left, I found myself writing a short, mainstream erotica story, "Duet in a Quiet Room", and submitting it.

So basically, if you don't want to get involved, stay away from Mary Anne. :->

Ah, the novel. As you can see on the stats page, things are not looking good. That slump I mentioned last time lingered quite a while, and though we are back on track now, ripping out the guts of the first act cost us. In March, our spreadsheet had us finishing the book in April of 2004. It now says we'll be done in April of 2005 -- a year later. Oy va voy!

I think what we've got now is a lot better. When I actually am working through the individual sentences, I'm delighted with the quality, and the reaction of the Blue Heaveners tends to make me optimistic that other people will be able to see in the novel the depth that I intend them to. But the date depresses the hell out of me, not to put too fine a point on it.

Of course, the spreadsheet extrapolates from the fact that we had this major upheaval and factors that in, essentially planning for another such major upheaval. That may be too conservative. But who knows? I'm a little afraid we'll collapse from exhaustion before we reach the finish line.

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).