Category Archives: Spitting in the Cracker Barrel


Oh, it’s been a while since I’ve posted, and ain’t that the way?  There is so much to say, there is nothing to say.  I’m not what you’d call a naturally gregarious person–when I was a kid I wanted to be a hermit when I grew up.*  Sometimes you just have to break the ice a little, though.

So, Coursera.  I’ve been lurking in the back rows of a course on fantasy and science fiction literature for the last couple of weeks.  Or maybe I’ve been auditing?  It’s free, low-pressure, and pretty high quality.  The course instructor is Eric Rabkin at U Michigan, and the course runs from July 23 through Oct 1.  Texts run from Grimm Brothers through Ursula K. LeGuin, lectures are broken into bite-sized pieces on video.  You can join in anytime.

It’s funny, we pretty much give up on learning things once we graduate and get jobs.  Or at least, there’s no further cultural support for continuing to take classes unless they’re Crossfit or cooking. When really, taking classes is one of the most awesome things in the world.

I finished reading a book the other day and right before I plunged into the next one, I felt a moment of sadness that reading is such a dislocated, personal experience.  I mean, I like that it’s personal, I just wish that there were some widely-accepted forum in which grown-up people could continue to think and talk and generally better themselves in the brain region, after graduation and induction into a cubicle.  Because really, what is out there??  Book groups, I guess.  Yeah, that’s…hit or miss.  Sad.

Anyway, here are some things that are good for your brain and its peripheral devices:

Okay, actually, one of those things will probably not enhance your brain significantly.  But North Korea is very depressing, so.

We are headed for Lawless in the near future, since apparently it hits theaters tonight.  This is a movie that stars both the delightful Tom Hardy and the undelightful Shia Leboeuf.  If I were Matt Bondurant I’d be alternately laughing and crying bitter, bitter tears.

*  True fact.  You can ask childhood best friends about this.  Probably not an indication of great mental health.


Blake Charlton, George R.R. Martin, and Lois McMaster Bujold walk into a room…

And about six hundred people rush to follow.

The ALA Library Information Technology Association and Tor Books hosted another science fiction and fantasy author talk at ALA this year.  I have to say, this is a pretty awesome public service these folks are doing.  If you wanted to see GRRM talk in Portland, you’d pay at least $26 for a ticket to the Aladdin, and you still wouldn’t get in.  (If Literary Arts unbent a little, maybe you could pay $75 to see him at the Schnitzer…and still not get in.)  Getting to see these great folks talk for free, in a venue big enough to accommodate just about everyone, is pretty awesome.

It’s never very useful to summarize these things, except maybe for the broad strokes.  (That’s why we go to them in person.)  In very broad strokes, all three speakers touched on the ability of fantasy and science fiction to empower its readers, both literally and metaphorically.

Blake Charlton is funny, energetic, and knows how to keep a talk moving and an audience happy. He fell in love with fantasy literature because it was the “literature of ability”–as a dyslexic kid who grew up thinking he was stupid, fantasy helped him dream of being powerful.  And now he’s a Yale graduate, Stanford medical student, and author of two fantasy novels, Spellbound and Spellwright.  So, yeah.

Lois McMaster Bujold, who should probably be Dame McMaster Bujold by now, talked about getting letters from people who told her that her books helped them through bad times, and how moving that could be.  During the question period, someone asked her about Miles Vorkosigan, the hero of her Vorkosigan Saga books.  Miles has congenital physical handicaps, including brittle bones, a spinal deformity, and dwarfism. Did McMaster Bujold have any trouble publishing a book about a disabled hero?  Sounds like no.  How and why did McMaster Bujold choose such an unlikely character for a hero?  Sounds like he walked on stage that way.  In other words, sounds like Miles is a pretty awesome, compelling character (I haven’t read any of those books yet–but will look them up now.)

George R.R. Martin, in his trademark cap and suspenders, talked about growing up poor in the small town of Bayonne on the New Jersey waterfront.  The family had so little money that they could only afford to take the excursion ferry to Rockaway Beach NY once a year–when the Democrats sponsored a free day.  (The Republicans sponsored a sailing too, Martin said, but it cost money.  Make of that what you will.)

Martin mentioned that his mother’s family had once had money in their small town.  Their home in the projects was only a few blocks from old family seat, now sold off and housing a new family.  He described regularly walking past that old house, which was dredged in bittersweet family memories.  Early origins for his  themes of lost greatness and faded glory.

Martin stumbled over fantasy literature in thirty-five-cent pulp paperbacks, slowly acquiring enough to fill up the tiny shelf in the headboard of his bed.  He recalled surveying his book collection in a lordly fashion.  (“Eight books!  I have eight books!  Eight of them!  There they are!”)  Recently, he built an addition to his house to hold his expanding library, he said–and it’s already full.  Librarians everywhere relate.

There was an obligatory question about when his next book will be out (“Every time someone asks him that, he kills a Stark.”) and another about when he’ll write a gay character who isn’t punished horribly (“When will I write any character who isn’t punished horribly?”)  And then, amazingly, it was time to pack up and go.

Big thanks to Tor and Baen Books, who gave away several hundred books to attendees.  I had the chance to talk to Baen’s Senior Editor Jim Minz shortly after the panel, and he was a super-smart, friendly guy.  Baen offers about 100 of their books for free online, and when I (sort of stupidly) asked him how they can do that, he laughed and said basically, “It’s great for sales.  Dummy.”  Except he didn’t say the “dummy” part.

Thanks for the great session, Tor, Baen, and LITA!  And thanks to the panelists, who were all kinds of awesome.

Do you know how hard it is to find a picture of anyone from Game of Thrones SMILING?

ETA:  Thanks to Jim Minz for setting me straight on a few key points, including his name.  Mea culpa!!

One Story

The new One Story came in the mail yesterday, with Alethea Black‘s “You, on a Good Day.”  It includes the sentence,

On this day, you wake up and remember the sight of your four-year-old nephew aiming all of his fire trucks at the television during the coverage of the California wildfires because he wanted to help.

It’s a great story.  And a good sentence for a day like today.

To Logger or Loggernaut

The hosts of the awesome Loggernaut reading series have most graciously asked me to join in at their next event, this Wednesday at 7:30 pm at Ristretto Roasters (3808 N Williams, PDX OR).  The line-up is Michele Glazer, Leni Zumas, and me.  Needless to say, I’m a little overawed.  The theme for the night is “Lost,” which is maybe a good description of what I will be?

I have no good image for this post.


There is so much to say.

I’ve been meaning to get back to posting, but with blogs as with so many other things, momentum is 90% of success.  I have a theory that writing novels is like this too, but I need to finish a novel before I can actually expound any theories on novel-writing.  With novels and blogs both, there is also a feeling that there are already far too many of these things out there, so why add another?  With novels, though, I sort of see the point.  With blogs…

I’m going to AWP tomorrow, for the first time.  I’m interested to see how I do with it.  I go pretty regularly to big work conferences, with thousands of hotel-hopping people in cities that are usually either blistering hot or numbingly cold.  Sometimes I even get to see friends and go to fun sessions.  (Last year I went to a panel with Nnedi Okorafor, and one time I heard Muhammad Yunus talk.)  But those are work conferences, where I can stride around with a sense of externally-instilled purpose or else self-pity, because they’re always over weekends and that means I work the whole weekend.  I’m interested to see what it’s like to have the full-bore conference experience without an actual job purpose backing me up.

Yesterday when I got home from work there were two tiny books waiting for me in the mail.  They were from Madras Press, which publishes novellas or novelettes or long short stories or…I don’t know what, exactly, but long prose works, as beautiful little chapbooks.  See:



Madras donates the net proceeds from their book sales to charitable causes.  The Link book earnings go to The Fistula Foundation.  The Helena dela Cruz Abrams book earnings go to the New Hanover County Humane Society.  I call this a good deal.

I’m also about to launch into reading Lysley Tenorio’s short story collection, Monstress, which has been getting lots of good press.  I’m going to talk about it on an upcoming episode of Late Night Library, so I’m studiously avoiding reviews of it until then.  Maybe.  Unless I can’t come up with any good ideas of my own.

In movie news, we’ve recently watched both Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and This Means War, for reasons related to a certain person who is cast in both those movies.  Also because Gary Oldman is in TTSS, and I’ll follow him through a minefield.  And because TTSS was a gorgeous, brilliant, wonderful book and I couldn’t wait to see it as a movie.  It was a very stylish movie.  I think most people came out of the theater going:  OK, now, so the Hungary thing happened because of the mole, and then the Russian lady knew something, and Benedict Cummerbund, and was everything really that gray in London in the 70s?  And the mole was why again?  And Karla?  It’s not a simple story to get across in two hours of screen time, but it was a wonderful two hours of screen time.

I did not feel the same way about This Means War.  And I was going to leave it there, but I realized I have some things to say.  First, poor Chris Pine is not aging well.  He’s one of those people who had the right proportions for a while but now either they’re styling him wrong or he’s growing out of his face.  His head is becoming rectangular, like Van Der Beek.  His eyebrows are enormous.  With all the grooming power of Hollywood behind him, that’s how his eyebrows look.  I can only imagine what they would be if they weren’t styled.

But.  It’s not his fault about his head, and eyebrows are sort of a personal taste.  Mainly I just thought that both Pine and Witherspoon looked like people who have been in Hollywood long enough to have been warped by it in subtle ways.  This happens to people.  Viz: JLo.  Many years ago she was Jenny From The Block, and looked normal.  Now she’s an alien.  It happens to everyone, I think.  Hollywood sucks out everyone’s subcutaneous fat and bleaches their teeth and adds color to their eyes.  In the movie, I swear to God they’d colorized people’s eyes. All three stars have blue(ish?) eyes, and all three of them looked like they were wearing Ty-D-Bowl contacts.  It was unnerving.

The movie was directed by McG, and it’s about two CIA agents (one of whom is inexplicably English, one of whom is inexplicably named FDR) who like stalk the same girl.  By surveilling her in secret, they learn what she likes, and then they try to act like they like those things too.  Things like Klimt and animal shelters.  They also torture criminals and destroy personal property.  The English one takes a paintball in the crotch.

This is where romantic comedy is right now.

So, I’m not sure what else to say about this one except that in a movie that gives a government employee an apartment with a swimming pool in the ceiling, the most unbelievable part was the idea that any woman would choose Chris Pine over Tom Hardy.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please Google.


Gone, or, What is on Katherine Moennig’s head?

Wife and I are eagerly awaiting mildly interested in the release of the upcoming film Gone, which looks like your pretty standard yucktastic slasher fare but which was filmed here in Portland.  You don’t get to see Portland in films a lot, especially not as itself (rather than Boston or Generic Grey Rainy City.)  Plus, this has Amanda Seyfried in it, and she was in Jennifer’s Body, genuflect.

It also has Katherine Moennig, who is a separate point of excitement in our household, for slightly different reasons.  We were excited to consider the possibility that on the two nights when aerial filming took place on our dumpy little street in St Johns, KM was possibly up in a helicopter looking down, thinking, hey, look at that neat little farmhouse with the overgrown yard and the hurricane cellar that needs major work.  I’d like to know the people who live there.

We’re also excited to see what’s on her head.  Because it’s always special.

That is a lot of split ends for a District Attorney.  Or whatever.

We love you, Katherine.  Don’t ever change.

The year in review: 66 books

Each year I track the books I read, with the aim of getting the grand total somewhere, anywhere, above 50.  When I started this a few years ago, I was reading a lot online and at work…and almost no books.  Now, after three years of building up my readin’ muscles, I knock down 66 books no sweat.

Yes, no, I know that’s not earth-shaking.  I know people who read well over a hundred books in a year, to which I say WHAT THE WHAT.  I don’t know how they do it–not with full-time jobs and families and life and stuff.  Maybe they watch less Parks and Recreation.  But that is not the path for me.

I’m happy with my 66 books in 2011, especially since this is the first year when I’ve managed a fair representation of women authors.  It baffles me, how after three years of keeping track and paying attention, I’m still struggling to make the fifty-fifty mark there.  I’m a feminist, I’m trying.  I’m humbled.

I also know I’m behind on books by folks of color, non-American folks, and pretty much everyone else outside of the publishing mainstream.  That’s an ongoing battle.  For 2012, I hope.

For now, the annual cover collage:

A thing of beauty.