tesserae

tessera – 6/10/12

Summer, 1988. The back roads of Ollala. Three friends and I are crammed into the cab of a pickup truck. We’re driving fast with the windows rolled down. “It pulls to the right,” says my friend as he wrestles with the steering wheel. “Alignment is messed up.” He pushes a cassette into the stereo and turns up the volume– “Guns in the Sky” by INXS thumps out of the truck’s two speakers. “Pretty good, eh?” says my friend. “Yeah,” I say. We pass through a cloud of gnats– the sounds of their bodies smacking against the windshield is like light rain, an autumn drizzle.

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“… the next ten years look pretty good “

I met Annie Bellet at the Clarion Writers’ Workshop at UCSD. Her no-bullshit approach to writing and rate of output boggled my mind and I was skeptical that she had really done the things she said she had. “No one,” I thought, “can crank out a novel that quickly without it being absolute garbage.”

Over the six weeks of the workshop, however, Annie proved me wrong. Not only was she fast, but her stories were imaginative and compelling, her sense of pace an absolute joy.  My skepticism quickly turned to respectful envy and, by the end of Clarion, a deep admiration– she was the real deal.

Annie’s a fascinating person with a background that rivals any of the protagonists in her stories. Check out her interview with the author, Brad R. Torgerson, then do yourself a favor and go buy her books.

Catching up with . . . Annie Bellet | Brad R. Torgersen.

QUESTION: When you decided to pursue professional fiction writing full-time, what kinds of conversations did you have to have with your spouse, family, friends, etc? What do you think you’ve learned *since* going full-time that might help aspiring or fledgling writers towards their own goals?

ANSWER: Well, I didn’t really have a conversation with my family or my friends about it. I did have a long talk with my husband though. We’d tossed around the idea before, but once I got into grad school, it became more serious. Then my MFA program wasn’t working out for me and Matt (my husband) and I had “the talk” about what going full-time as a pro writer would mean. I sold him with the numbers, sort of. I told him I’d need ten years to be making a full time living. Remember, this was back in 2009 and the e-book thing wasn’t really going yet, other than a few people right out on the edge. I was watching Zoey Winters and Joe Konrath a little by the end of the 2009, wondering if the self-publishing stuff would turn into a viable option, but when I first decided to go full-time, the trad publishing method was the only one I felt viable. My initial plan was to write a novel a year for ten years and send those novels out and try to get an agent and a publisher.

What have I learned since? Haha. So much. I was so naive when I started. It wasn’t until the fall of 2009 that I discovered Heinlein’s Rules or started reading Dean Wesley Smith’s blog and discovered those workshops. I’d finished a novel that fall, in about 5 weeks, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I felt like I was writing too fast, like something was wrong with me, but my first readers were all telling me the book was good, so I was like what do I know anyway?

I think the advice I’d give to people starting out is to go for it if you really want it. While sometimes I just shake my head at my thinking back then, I also am glad I didn’t know too much because I’m not sure I would have had the guts to go for it. Also, learn the business side of things and pay attention to it. If you want to be a professional, you have to be a professional, which means making decisions that make sense on a business level.

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Poetry App – Words That Burn

Just downloaded this 813 MB app (thanks newly installed high-speed cable!). It’s excellent.

Words That Burn: Actors & poetry | The Chimerist.

Words That Burn, a poetry app, includes audio and video from the late writer Josephine Hart’s Poetry Hour at the British Library. Beginning in 2004, Hart devoted an evening each month to a poet or two, “introducing and setting their poems in the context of their life,” and staging readings of the work from actors like Dominic West, Harold Pinter, and Elizabeth McGovern.

The idea, Hart said, was that understanding “‘the life and philosophy of the poet illuminates the poetry,” which “readings by some of our finest actors then ignite.” In a video introduction, Hart contends that poetry is “the highest form of language, without a doubt.”

Words That Burn features fifteen poets, and many more pairings: Dominic West reads Percy Shelley and Robert Lowell; Juliet Stevenson reads Emily Dickinson; Ralph Fiennes reads W.H. Auden. Harriet Walter reads Sylvia Plath; Charles Dance reads Elizabeth Bishop; Elizabeth McGovern reads Lowell and Marianne Moore; and so on. And the app is free, created by the Josephine Hart Poetry Foundation in her memory.

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tesserae

tessera – 4/24/12

21 years ago, Winter Trimester, The Evergreen State College. Snow on the ground, a week without classes. The thermostat in my dorm room is broken– I heat the place by running the oven at full with its door open. Days are spent reading Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed and eating black bread and drinking black coffee and growing a beard (also black). At night, The Lion and the Cobra (bought cheap at Rainy Day Records) plays on repeat so that I fall asleep and wake up to Sinéad O’Connor’s voice. My dreams are strange but pleasant.

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José e Pilar

This fascinating documentary is also a profound meditation on love.

José e Pilar

“José and Pilar,” a documentary by Miguel Gonçalves Mendes, is a deeply moving story about love, loss and literature. It follows the days of José Saramago, the Nobel-laureate Portuguese novelist, and his wife, Pilar del Rio. The film shows their whirlwind life of international travel, his passion for completing his masterpiece, “The Elephant’s Journey” and how their love quietly sustains them throughout. “Jose and Pilar” reveals the hidden Saramago, unravels any preconceived notions about him, and proves that genius and simplicity are indeed compatible. It is a funny and touching portrait on the endurance of the artistic spirit. A glimpse into the life of one of the greatest creators of the 20th century, it shows us that, as Saramago says, “There is always another way to say everything.”

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Leicester! Here the Midland’s Babylon, its gum-daubed Carthage

My Clarion classmate, Jim Worrad, has a guest contributor to his blog– China Mieville!

via Spool Pidgin: Guest Post: China Mieville.

The ooze of Lineker permeates these fox-hours, interlaced through kebabhouse dreams and hyper-copulating brick. What this? This! This Narborough road– a Prospero’s isle off the A50 inbound, with Maryland Chicken its syphilitic caliban.

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Defending SF

Michael Chabon Attacks Prejudice Against Science Fiction | Underwire | Wired.com

Author Michael Chabon co-wrote the script for John Carter. Photo: Jennnifer Chaney

Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon writes a dizzying variety of fiction, from contemporary realism to supernatural horror to alternate history. His most recent project, however, was crafting the screenplay for Disney’s John Carter, which was something else entirely.

But his work wasn’t always so varied. His early novels and stories are uniformly realistic. “I wondered about that,” says Chabon in this week’s episode of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “Why does my backlist look so monochromatic, when the spectrum of my reading is so multicolored?”

His father raised him on superhero comics, and at the age of 11 Chabon developed such an intense obsession with Edgar Rice Burroughs , the creator of John Carter, that he took to signing his name “Mike Burroughs Chabon.” But when he began college, he found that writing workshops required him to rein in his imagination.

“I had workshop leaders who just out-and-out said, ‘Please do not turn science fiction in to this workshop,’” he says. “That was discouraging, obviously. If I had had more courage or integrity I might have stood up to it more than I did.”

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U MAD? LMFAO! #JFranBTrippin

“It’s hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters … It’s like if Kafka had decided to make a video semaphoring The Metamorphosis. Or it’s like writing a novel without the letter ‘P’… It’s the ultimate irresponsible medium. People I care about are readers … particularly serious readers and writers, these are my people. And we do not like to yak about ourselves.”

This guy is an awesome troll.

Jonathan Franzen: ‘Twitter is the ultimate irresponsible medium’ | Books | guardian.co.uk
After criticising Facebook and the ebook, Jonathan Franzen has warned of the dangers of Twitter

Jonathan Franzen

Turning on Twitter ... Jonathan Franzen. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

Jonathan Franzen, no friend to the rapid onward march of technology, has now turned his ire on Twitter, reportedly describing the microblogging site as “unspeakably irritating” at a book reading.

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“the book that was lost and found in time…”

Thirty-six years before the publisher responded? That’s almost as bad as McSweeney’s Quarterly.

José Saramago novel finally published after 59 years | Books | guardian.co.uk
Late Nobel laureate submitted manuscript to Portuguese publisher in 1953, before he achieved international acclaim

José Saramago's widow, Pilar del Rio in 2012. Photograph: Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images

It has taken almost 60 years, but a novel that the late Nobel laureate José Saramago submitted to a publisher in 1953 has finally been released.

Saramago, best known for his 1995 novel Blindness, won the Nobel in 1998 for what judges described as his “parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony”. But 45 years earlier, when the 31-year-old author sent the manuscript for Claraboya (Skylight) to a Portuguese publisher, he never heard back.

Saramago was in his fifties before he broke through as a writer with the publication of Baltasar and Blimunda in 1982, with a 1988 English translation bringing him to an international audience. It took until 1989 for the publisher to get in touch with the author about Claraboya, telling him they had found the manuscript during a move and would like to publish it. But he refused.

“Saramago suffered a great deal because of this snub. He felt that if someone hands you the fruits of their labour, the least you can do is reply,” his widow Pilar del Rio told press in Madrid as the novel was published. Saramago, who died in 2010 aged 87, did not write another novel for almost 20 years after Claraboya was overlooked, she said, focusing instead on journalism.

“He called it the book that was lost and found in time,” del Rio said.

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Speculative Fiction

From Hannah Arendt‘s, The Human Condition (1958).

In 1957, an earth-born object made by man was launched into the universe, where for some weeks it circled the earth according to the same laws of gravitation that swing and keep in motion the celestial bodies—the sun, the moon, and the stars. To be sure, the man-made satellite was no moon or star, no heavenly body which could follow its circling path for a time span that to us mortals, bound by earthly time, lasts from eternity to eternity. Yet, for a time it managed to stay in the skies; it dwelt and moved in the proximity of the heavenly bodies as though it had been admitted tentatively to their sublime company.

This event, second in importance to no other, not even to the splitting of the atom, would have been greeted with unmitigated joy if it had not been for the uncomfortable military and political circumstances attending it. But, curiously enough, this joy was not triumphal; it was not pride or awe at the tremendousness of human power and mastery which rilled the hearts of men, who now, when they looked up from the earth toward the skies, could behold there a thing of their own making. The immediate reaction, expressed on the spur of the moment, was relief about the first “step toward escape from men’s imprisonment to the earth.” And this strange statement, far from being the accidental slip of some American re- porter, unwittingly echoed the extraordinary line which, more than twenty years ago, had been carved on the funeral obelisk for one of Russia’s great scientists: “Mankind will not remain bound to the earth forever.”

Such feelings have been commonplace for some time. They show that men everywhere are by no means slow to catch up and adjust to scientific discoveries and technical developments, but that, on the contrary, they have outsped them by decades. Here, as in other respects, science has realized and affirmed what men anticipated in dreams that were neither wild nor idle. What is new is only that one of this country’s most respectable newspapers finally brought to its front page what up to then had been buried in the highly non-respectable literature of science fiction (to which, un- fortunately, nobody yet has paid the attention it deserves as a vehicle of mass sentiments and mass desires). The banality of the statement should not make us overlook how extraordinary in fact it was; for although Christians have spoken of the earth as a vale of tears and philosophers have looked upon their body as a prison of mind or soul, nobody in the history of mankind has ever con- ceived of the earth as a prison for men’s bodies or shown such eagerness to go literally from here to the moon. Should the emanci- pation and secularization of the modern age, which began with a turning-away, not necessarily from God, but from a god who was the Father of men in heaven, end with an even more fateful repudi- ation of an Earth who was the Mother of all living creatures under the sky?

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Grand Schemes – The Barnes & Noble Review

Grand Schemes
Essay by Paul Di Filippo

Isaac Asimov memorably identified the three major types of science fiction as “What if,” “If only,” and “If this goes on.” Magnificent works have emerged from each of these categories, but readers — and writers — have reserved their greatest love for the first of the trio. Asking simple, counterintuitive, counterfactual, or even childlike and naïve questions — the kinds that begin with those two words — seems to unlock the storytelling imagination like nothing else.

In many cases, what follows naturally from “What if” is something almost as fundamental to speculative fiction: the Big Idea. A massive, revolutionary, visionary conceit that practically begs to be instantiated in fiction. Big Ideas are the highbrow cousin of the Hollywood “elevator pitch,” a concise formulation of a winning premise. (And sometimes a Big Idea gets positively reductive, producing a “Big Dumb Object,” such as Larry Niven’s Ringworld.) The Big Idea might very well be attended, in an SF novel, by a flock of lesser idealings to help support it. But generally, the core notion looms at the center, like a monarch on the throne. Recognizing the centrality and importance of such crystallizing conceits, author John Scalzi even invites his peers to discuss the Big Ideas behind their own projects at his popular blog, Whatever.

Some Big Ideas, of course, prove derivative; others shrink on the page for want of narrative oxygen. But two recent novels exemplify the marvelous possibilities of this classic approach to speculative fiction.

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