Monthly Archives: April 2014

Even as we sit here, the 2nd round is being written

Congratulations to the winners of round 1!

Who will win this amazing trophy?

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Pride, Disastrous Pride, (or a brief review of a very long novel, INDEPENDENT PEOPLE by Haldor Laxness)

Late last night, far too late, I reached the end of a book and placed it on my nightstand and considered going to sleep, but I could not. I walked to the kitchen instead, nearly midnight, when I am usually in bed by 8:30, exhausted. But not that night. Weeks of slow, ponderous reading – drifting in and out of one book after another, but always returning to the Laxness – had finally culminated in a conclusion as inevitable as the winter in Iceland. A proud man, far too proud, loses everything to the whims of forces far beyond his control. Instead of mourning, he gathers up the only thing that mattered to him, his one, true love, and walked away into the moors to a new lease and a new life.

I have spoiled the ending for you. Sorry, but it’s obvious from the moment the reader stands at the brink of Summerhouses, the small farm holding in the moors of Iceland, that the demon Kolumkilli will have her due and have it again and again. Independent men like the proud shepherd and farmer will never defeat the forces of nature and society and fate.

Bjartur takes his bride, and proudly declares his independence on his land, working for decades to buy it square from the mortgage, refusing all luxuries – even actively destroying some luxury – while the people around him on his land are wrapped into his pride, burned by it, basking in it like sinners in the hands of an angry god. This man who would refuse all aid, all comfort, all love if it comes at the cost of his pride, of course, will fall. The proud always fall.

And what a fall! A gorgeously written walk upon the moors, with lines of prose that reveal the poetry and beauty of a place where the characters can barely read and speak. Foreign nations are myths, not the fae of the moors. Religion is circumscribed into a breed of superior sheep brought to the land by a grumpy minister. Hope is work, and in the violent seasons of change, where great blizzards come to the mud house, and high summer hay mowing comes, all people bend and bow to the beautiful, astonishingly described landscape.

The politics jumps up in the final act with the sort of perfectly-shown finality of a master craftsman. It is never so abrupt, never so taut. It is a cynical thing, and almost hopeless, but where pride breaks, so too does hope spring up.

Particularly of interest in these modern times, of financial shenanigans, and great debts, this novel of a man who would do anything to climb out of debt and then falls victim to the very financiers he had so long attempted to escape, over and over again, destroyed by fate and man in equal turns, perfectly handled with a subtlety and grace that only a master craftsman musters, is a story of our own time of great inequality. Men who do not understand the financial instruments foisted upon them by the elite classes, who claim passionately to be reformers,  only recreate the same problem that has always existed. The poor crofters cannot work enough in one generation to pay off their debts, and lift their family up from poverty. The 30 year mortgage on a house, an education, anything at all that is debt, might as well be the myth of independence that fuels the proud into believing they are not what they are: enslaved to the system and land and fate, without real hope in anything but love and family, even when that family is a cobbled-together thing.

Also, definitely, go to America. Whatever you do, don’t stay in Iceland on a crofthold if you can go to America!

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MAY MADNESS FLASH FICTION CONTEST!

Nine writers enter, only one remains!

It’s like Thunderdome, but with flash fiction!

http://jaymgates.com/misc/flash-fiction-challenge-round-1/

Everyone go here, and go read and go vote.

Hugo packet hasn’t arrived, yet. It’s going to be a doozy when it does with the entire WHEEL OF TIME series included… So, take a break and read flash fiction in a fun contest celebrating all things MADNESS and MAY.

Two writers square off, and enter the arena. Their topics are presented versus style. You, the reader, choose the winner. Zombie versus Vampire. Earth versus Mars. Parent versus Child.

The winners in each bracket, chosen by YOU the READERS, move on to the next round of awesome flash fiction!

Topics will be chosen from a random pile of topics, and selected and distributed on Friday. Stories will be delivered by Sunday. WINNERS WILL BE CHOSEN!

It’s better than the Hugos, which is a popular award at a science fiction convention, because May Madness is a THUNDERDOME of speculative fiction for CHARITY!

Go read. Go vote. Go go go!

The winner wins a trophy, selected from the bookstore where I work. This is the trophy:

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Mail going out Tuesday

For those lucky few who participated in Friday’s special, one day only offer, I will be mailing out books on Tuesday! Alas, I am chained to a desk all day, today, but tomorrow I can mail things out from the bookstore directly.

Thanks, everyone, and I hope you enjoy MAZE!

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One Day Only

Today, Friday the 11th of April, until midnight, here us what I will do. I have a box of books in another room that is not getting any lighter.

If you purchase a print edition of MAZE from Apex Publications, directly, at this link: http://www.apexbookcompany.com/books/ then send me your e-mails receipt and address and I will send you a copy of any of my other titles, in print, until they are gone. I have some ebooks I can part with, as well, if the print books run out.

One day only.

Buy yourself something nice, get yourself something nice, as a bonus!

1…2…3…GO

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Reason to Garden: Food Security

People who have been to my house know that 1) I have a lot of fruit trees, and 2) We really try to garden as much as possible.

With the drought in California reaching Biblical proportions, I want to consider a moment why every single person with land or a sunny window should be doing this, too, right now, and expanding every season.

In America, we will have plenty to eat. We are a rich nation, and even as other parts of the world fall into decline, our industries and agriculture will find a way to trundle on for another few decades without concern. However, there are serious concerns. GMO fears are often overwrought at their face, but the dramatic impact this agricultural style that such crop systems promote is utterly destructive adn unsustainable and causing the death of the wild places of the world, and creating an arms against nature. Make no mistake: Nature always wins the arms race. In this case, our grain system is mostly secure. Corn, soybean, and wheat are all fairly secure and we have no serious concerns in America other than the system itself, which should trundle on destructively for another couple decades without serious problems.

But, vegetables, meat, fruit, and anything else agricultural? California is America’s garden. It’s where the almonds come from, the strawberries, the broccoli. Without California, most of the country will turn to local sources to meet some of their needs. In Texas, that means I can buy Texas watermelons, and Texas peaches, and even Texas pecans. However, it also means we get a lot of our produce up from Mexico. The fruit in our fruit section come primarily from New Zealand and Chili. Think about that, for a moment, about how far those fruits have traveled to get here. There are more Vietnamese fruit than Louisiana fruit in our fruit section, and Louisiana used to be famous for her Mandarin oranges and artichokes!

What it means when there’s drought in California is that the places of the world that can support the needs of Wal-Mart and Kroger and Tom Thumb and all those huge chains are going to be large-scale corporations in inexpensive parts of the world that can grow food and ship it in cheaper than we could grow food and truck it in from the oil fields and gas fields and hay fields that surround our cities.

In these places of the world, particularly China, regulation will be lax and corrupt, and we will experience the myriad of problems that were, for a long time, relatively contained to the regions of the world where food was produced. Listeria and tainted meat have been our primary concerns, locally. Not lead. Not arsenic. Not mercury. Not typhoid or dysentery from improper sanitation among workers and working conditions.

And, regardless of our own food supply in the future, do you really want to be the one to feast while so many others famine to provide you your feast? Or, would you rather dig a few rows in the back yard, and dedicate two afternoons a week, and part of a weekend, doing what you can with what you have? Wouldn’t you rather spray a plum tree once a week for a couple months with organic neem oil to kill the coddling moths, and eat what you harvest at low or no cost?

Permaculture landscapes are going to be a future for our country. Eating from your own soil, and knowing what you put into it and what you get out of it, is a future.

Do what you can, even if it is only a little bit, or as small as planting a single fruit tree for a single weekends’ harvest. Maybe a few pots of fresh chard and lettuce and spinach, in a sunny window.  Maybe a row of onions among the rose bushes, where no one will even know that it isn’t some sort of architectural ornamental thing.

Do what you can. Because the days are coming when you will probably want or need to do a little more, and the seasons under your fingers will be easier with practice.

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The Tower of Babel Crumbles As It Is Being Built

Pondering aimlessly on a prior post I wrote dedicated to “southern” fiction, wherein I decide that dealing with the original sins of a place, time, or culture are central to the defining aspect of whether that work of fiction can be categorized as “being” a work definitive to the place, linked here, I would like to turn my eye to science fiction, which I have been writing too much of late. Fiction is defined by conflicts. Every work of fiction has one, of which I am aware. And, fiction, by its nature, is also a systemic redefinition of places known already. The signifiers in fiction, words, ideas, places, etc., all exist together accumulated to be a reflection of reflections of the real world. Without realism, there is no fiction. And, in the real world, there are conflicts. Countries push against each other jockeying over resources real and imaginary. Neighborhoods make rules for neighborhoods. Households bicker. People suffer. People die. Conflict everywhere, always. Even in the future, science fiction is conflict. Asimov wrote of a house continuing on after the early demise of the owners in some nuclear apocalypse, but the house, itself, pushes against the chaos of time until winding down, in the end, to a kind of demise. Conflict, always conflict, people pushing against each other, against the order of the world, against the order of nature, and even against their own better/worse selves. In our times, with the fragmentary nature of influences rightfully scattering across genres, I don’t necessarily want to pull the clouds of confusion away from the nature of things. I like the cloudy, ambiguous piles of books, each presuming to be exactly what it is meant to be. But, I can see a way of looking at what I’m writing, and knowing where it ought to be sent, that seems useful enough to mention. Sin is the center of the genre. Conflicts are moments of pain, moments of sin and suffering. Sin is the heart of fiction, and the recognition of society’s sins, people’s sins, and even the sins of a faceless deity upon our flesh and soul. The work that describes itself as science fictional deals in the sins that come to us wrapped in a gauze science. A work of literature, then, where a piece of technology is possible that changes the world is only mildly consistent with science fiction, as a genre, if such a thing exposes the sin at the center of the beating, guilty heart of the act of science itself. Occasionally, in hard science stories that are as hard as they come, the sin that is revealed is the sin of science, as an act. To presume to see the world as mere observor is a prideful thing, and an impossibility. We cannot ever achieve the necessary distance to be pure of the corruption of our own delusions. When the science gets hard, the people suffer, and it is the central sins of science – pride of self, jealousy of god, fear of the unknown Other beyond the known and accepted, annihilation of true self in the face of a machinery – that lead down the path towards such sins that translate into conflict. Writers are the whistlers of sinful songs. We are the jesters and puppeteers of fables. We see a little farther into the nature of things, even as we fail ourselves to our own self-blindness. No one sees the horizon spreading out forever. We just struggle to see a little more, is all. What makes us science fictionists? We’ve climbed up the tower where it is still being built, and we look up and imagine it a little farther on. We see all the whipping of slaves, the heavy work of carrying rocks higher up the walls, the sweat and blood and futility of doing all this – all this – for the sake of a larger tower. Maybe it is a brighter future we see, closer to the sun, where the laborers may rest. Maybe it is a crook in the stairs that will be hard for everyone to cross without falling. See whatever you see. Name it as you see it. The conflict, though, always, and the tower will crumble if we don’t keep looking out ahead, imagining buttresses, steam-valves, and breakpoints and shouting at everyone to see what we see. Look there, and build carefully! For soon we all perish. Science fiction is the folly of climbing the tower. The timelessness never comes, because to look up at what might be is to lose the possibility when stone stands upon stone. Our work is lost as soon as the next month rolls over and new releases arrive. New magazines push away the old ones. New books push out the old ones on the shelves. Everyone pointing up, and that is us. We scream about the tower being built, in the middle of construction. It crumbles from the foundations, from below. Every tower will crumble into sand, and begins to fall the moment the first stone is placed upon another stone. When we build another one, after this one, we will point to the ruins and claim to know better this time. I think of this, and I write science fiction, and I am nearly done with it, for now, for other things that feel less temporary, and less futile, than shouting at rocks and sand.

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Things That Are Pushing Against My Head Right Now…

Here are some songs, movies, books, all wandering in my head right now. I was singing this to myself all morning:
 Last night, I was singing this to myself:

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I thought this movie was amazing, and it immediately leapt into my subconscious straight from the screen. There have been vivid dreams among pastel Bavarian mountains…

I have been slowly rereading these stories as the larger books I work upon require rest. I am a huge Jernigan fan, and recommend his work as I am able.
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I am also reading this book, and it is thus far amazing. Just amazing.
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This magazine was recommended to me by Jeff VanderMeer, and after two issues, I’m thoroughly hooked. I’ll have to scrape together some change to renew my subscription.

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