Yes, spring is in full swing, but the thought of cleaning doesn’t quite appeal. Instead I thought I’d post an update on goings on since my last general blog post. Much of the new year has thus far been taken up with work on my new novel, a psychological thriller of sorts about Lady Godiva that returns the legend of her naked ride to a more plausible historical context in 11th-century England. I’m hoping to finish a draft of the book by the end of April and will post more details then. For now, suffice it to say I’m very excited about this project and look forward to shopping it around to agents later this year…
Being immersed in writing has also once again led to a lapse in the regularity of my ZOUNDS! posts. I just remedied that with the fifth and final installment in my series on Halley’s Comet and hope to get back to my regular schedule of two or more new ZOUNDS! posts per week.
I’ve also been trying to keep up with reading books in my ever-growing to-be-read pile. In February I read the first collection by my friend Livia Llewellyn, with whom I attended the Clarion writer’s workshop in 2006. I heartily recommend Engines of Desire. The book’s subtitle is “Tales of Love & Other Horrors” which nicely encapsulates the stories lurking within… sensual, disturbing goodness. These often erotic, always twisted, beautifully written tales will mess with your mind.
I also finally got around to reading Genevieve Valentine’s Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, which blew me away. It’s part circus story, part steam-punk (but in a refreshing twist that focuses on the psychological implications of living in a world where human bodies are merged with machines rather than on the flash-bang-whiz aspects that often seem to be the focus), part dystopian thriller, and part love story. And really none of those comes close to pinning this book down; it defies description and needs to be read to be appreciated in all its wonderfulness. Among other impressive aspects of this book is Genevieve’s ability to juggle non-linear narrative. Chapter by chapter, we switch points of view and tense and jump back and forth in time; there are even chapters in which there is no particular point of view and we are treated to asides about such things as movement and acrobatics. In less accomplished hands, the format would be impossible to sustain; here it all comes together in a sparkling tapestry. A cover blurb by Cherie Priest describes this book about as well as it can be: “Mechanique is a brutal gem of a novel–a fierce, gilded textual circus.” Its recent Crawford Award win and current spot on the Nebula Award ballot are both well deserved.
I’m generally not a big fan of books on writing. Even those books I’ve enjoyed I’ve never really recommended to other writers, as the whole writing process is so individual to any given writer that what I find useful may be worth very little to the next writer. But I read Starve Better by Nick Mamatas near the end of January, and it’s perhaps the only book on writing I’d unreservedly recommend to any writer. Nick brilliantly subverts much of the standard writerly advice out there. He’s unflinching, sometimes cynical, but never anything less than reverential of the craft. The book’s like a brass-knuckled punch in the face that left me smiling through broken teeth. Best of all it left me raring to write!
On the convention and conference front, at the end of March I attended my first International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA), the 33rd such conference, in Orlando, Florida. The conference itself is a unique mix of (1) academic papers on various aspects of fantasy presented by graduate students and scholars from around the world, and (2) the usual mix of panels, readings, and schmoozing I’m used to from other genre conventions. It was great catching up with old NYC friends like Genevieve Valentine, Liz Gorinsky and Ellen Datlow, frequent con attendees like Jeff Ford and Brett Cox, and even two of my former Clarion-mates Will Ludwigsen and Michael Furlong, neither of whom I’d seen in quite a while. Several of my Clarion workshop instructors were also in attendance: Nancy Kress, Joe & Gay Haldeman, and Kelly Link. I had a very enjoyable lunch with Kelly and her husband Gavin Grant who I know from the early years of my attendance at the Fantastic Fiction readings at the KGB Bar in New York City when he was co-host with Ellen Datlow. Lots of good talk at that lunch about books and movies as well as some straw-wrapper worm magic by Genevieve, much to the delight of Kelly and Gavin’s three-year old daughter (okay, I’ll admit it, I was delighted too).
As none of the core members of my usual con posse were in attendance, I also ended up making a lot of new friends at ICFA, some of whom I had met previously but only in passing, others of whom I met there for the first time. I had a blast hanging out with Christopher Rowe, Gwenda Bond, Barbara Gilly, Richard Butner, Delia Sherman, Veronica Schanoes and several other people I’m no doubt forgetting to mention. I attended some memorable readings, ate some surprisingly good food from the conference hotel, and even got close enough to snap some photos of the resident alligator in the small lake behind the hotel (see at left).
For a change I managed to rein myself in and didn’t buy a single book at the conference’s bookshop, but I did snag a winner at the ICFA book auction–Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory. It’s a novel about what it would be like to survive a zombie epidemic from the point of view of one of the zombies, still one of the walking dead but with his mental faculties otherwise intact; the flesh-eating fever has passed, but he must hide himself in a world in which the fear of zombies has not. Having been hearing for years about how great a writer Daryl is, I’ve really been wanting to read one of his books, so I was pleased to have this to begin reading on the plane ride home. I’m now halfway through and thoroughly enjoying it. Funny and poignant.
Finally, speaking of conventions, if you want to actually hear me speaking of conventions tune in on April 4 to episode 57 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. After hosts John Joseph Adams & David Barr Kirtley interview Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) about his new Comic-Con documentary, I join them as “guest geek” to discuss science fiction & fantasy conventions. Listen here on the 4th.