Friday, October 31, 2008

October 31, 2008 Links and Plugs

Happy Halloween and good luck to the US election:
And then you can check out this collection:

The Drowned Life by Jeffrey Ford

Podcast Focus: Animalcast

Every Friday, I'll talk about a podcast or two that catches my fancy.

RSS Feed:
Description: As far as RPG podcasts go, Animalcast is crass and rude and rough--and that's perfectly fine with me. The Animalball brothers utilize offensive humor and while that's not everyone's cup of tea, they're gamers at heart and not above insulting themselves for the sake of listeners. This is pretty much the equivalent of a mild Howard Stern for the RPG podcasting industry and if you can get into that tone and humor, you might want to check this podcast out.

Top 10 Best-Sellers as of 2008/10/26

From USA Today's best-seller list (you can find out their basis here):

  1. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  2. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
  3. The Shack by William P. Young
  4. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
  5. Extreme Measures by Vince Flynn
  6. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
  7. Brisingr by Christopher Paolini
  8. The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks
  9. The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz
  10. Quicksand by Iris Johansen

Thursday, October 30, 2008

October 30, 2008 Links and Plugs

Running late today but anyway, here's a quickie:

2008/10/30 Tabletop RPG Podcasts

Every Thursday, I post links to various podcasts that deals with tabletop RPGs.

Tabletop RPG (Mostly)

General Discussions/Reviews/Everything Else

Actual Play Sessions

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

October 29, 2008 Links and Plugs

Here's some links:
For your daily book plug:

Dead Reign by T. A. Pratt

Feature: Reading Stories as an Aspiring Writer

Every Wednesday, I'll have an essay or a feature on any topic that catches my fancy!

"Reading" as a word can be deceptive mainly because there are several ways to "read" a story. For example, reading a short story as a reviewer is different from me reading a short story as an editor, as a casual reader, as a critic, or even as a writer. Of course all of those factors aren't isolated and my mind actually melds them into one huge amalgam that only get separated and identified later on when I do my re-readings.

What I'd like to focus on are the reactions I get as a reader-writer. Here are some of my own experiences and you're free to add your own:
  • I Want to Be a Writer: This is perhaps the most difficult reaction to recapture, mainly because it's either happened to you already or it hasn't. These are the stories which spurn you to be a writer. Usually, you read them during your childhood but late-bloomers can also find such a story later in life. They may not necessarily be the greatest stories ever written but there's definitely something about the narrative that called out to you. Hopefully, it's because the story was great. Otherwise...
  • I Can Do Better: There are, honestly, some stories which elicits such a reaction because they're so bad or so flawed (or perhaps even hubris on your part). Sometimes, it is this type of story that actually spurns you to be a writer (see above) or simply agitates you enough to start writing. Check out this video from Stephen King.
  • This is Amazing but I'll Never Write Like This: As a writer, there will be some realities you'll face. You'll eventually come across a story that'll blow your mind away and you realize you'll never write this kind of text. There are usually one of two reasons for this: either you don't have the skill to pull it off or your style is simply too different. When it comes to the former, there are three possible reactions. Those who simply aspire to write might give up then and there. Second are those who are content with the stories they're actually capable of writing. And the third hope to attain that kind of skill some day: it might not be tomorrow, not even next year or the year after that, but eventually, they'll get there.
  • I Can Write Like This: There are some stories that feel like bait dangled in front of you. It's a terrific story--perhaps even one of your all-time favorites--and it's a story that's attainable on your end, provided you work at it. If the story in the previous item takes leaps and bounds of experience before you can write one, this one simply requires you to overcome an immediate hurdle. Again, there are several reasons for this. It could be that the writer has a similar style to yours. It could also be a story that opens your eyes to new possibilities, new paradigms, new techniques that you haven't thought of before.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

October 28, 2008 Links and Plugs

This is going to be a busy week for me so you guys and gals enjoy:
Here's the book plug:

The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

Interview: Jay Lake

Every Tuesday, I'll have an interview posted.

Jay Lake is a the 2004 winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and has been nominated multiple times for the Hugo and World Fantasy Awards. He is the author of several short stories and novels which include Escapement and the upcoming Madness of Flowers.

Thanks for agreeing to do the interview!

You are most welcome. It's always a pleasure to do these things. Besides, I'm a writer. I don't easily get tired of talking about myself.

First off, how has your childhood shaped your present writing? What were the books that you read at the time?

My childhood has immensely shaped my writing. I was born in Taiwan (1964), and mostly raised in Taiwan (1971-1976) and Nigeria (1977-1981). I had many experiences which most Americans never encounter. Growing up outside my own culture, living as a minority -- albeit privileged as a white American expat, seeing so much of the physical and human variety of the world. These developed my sense of place and my sense of wonder long before fiction honed those for me as either a reader or a writer.

Because it was the 1970s, before widely available VCRs or satellite television, I also grew up without that medium. Very unusual for an American of my generation. We had books, lots of them, all the time. I read Andre Norton's Forerunner and Witchworld series. I read the classic Heinlein juveniles. I read Lord of the Rings and Dhalgren, though I didn't understand Delany in the slightest back in sixth grade. I'm honestly not sure I understand him now, either, but at least I'm theoretically more experienced.

At what point did you consider pursuing writing "seriously"? What were your writing goals back then?

My first step in that direction was around my junior or senior year in college, perhaps 1995. I read Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, having kiped it off a housemate's shelf. That was a profound revelation for me. I was amazed anyone was *allowed* to do that in fiction. I didn't really get in gear until I joined my first workshop in 1990, and it took me 11 years of steady work to get published. That whole decade, my writing goals were "sell something." Just one story, and I would die a happy man.

What are your writing goals now?

Be better. I have sufficient hubris to want to write a Great Book someday. That won't happen unless I get a hell of a lot better, and somewhat lucky to boot. Luck I can only partially control, but I can run hard right at better.

Currently, what's the biggest challenge in achieving your present goals?

Not being better yet. Seriously, writing is one of the few occupations I'm aware of where the more you know, the less adequate you feel. Back in 1995 I was an unsung genius. All you had to do was ask me, I'd have explained it to you in detail. These days I feel barely competent. I *know* better, I'm very proud of my successes, but at the same time, I am ever more aware of the gaps in my skill and capability.

Congrats in winning your recent bout with cancer. Do you foresee yourself writing a story on the subject in the future?

Probably every story I ever write. Directly? I don't know. Seems hard to imagine I won't, but I tend to shy away from message-based writing and didacticism. Right now, a cancer story would feel very message-driven to me. Watch this space for more details.

How influential was winning the Writers of the Future award or the John W. Campbell award to your career?

Fantastically so. My Writers of the Future win was my Campbell qualifying sale. I won't go so far as to say that without WotF I wouldn't have won the Campbell, but it's a fair speculation. That one-two punch in 2003-2004 helped raise my profile in the field, which in turn helped drive my ability to sell novels. Name recognition is not required in a new author, more or less by definition, but it sure as hell helps. The Campbell also raised my profile in Fandom, specifically, which has helped me make a bigger impression on the Con circuit. That's another optional behavior which can be both entertaining and beneficial if one has the desire and the right crowd skills to pursue it.

Let's talk about your writing. I loved Trial of Flowers from Night Shade Books. When you wrote it, did you already have a planned sequel in mind or was Madness of Flowers developed later on?

Trial was written as a standalone. Madness was developed later on, at the publisher's request. I have a third book in mind, Reign of Flowers, but I probably won't write it unless Madness of Flowers does very well indeed. I love the world and the characters, but it would be difficult to switch publishers for an existing series, and right now Night Shade has no plans to extend past the second book.

What was the inspiration for that particular series?

A long time ago, I read about a, Italian Renaissance court custom of raising children in boxes to create court dwarfs. Even now, I have no idea if this was true more than once, or even once, but it had always struck me as incredibly strange. Combine that with my love for the New Weird city fiction of the past ten years--City of Saints and Madmen, Perdido Street Station, The Etched City and so forth--and I wanted to play in that sandbox.

Plus I wanted to write about gods living in the sewers.

How about the inspiration behind Mainspring and Escapement? What were the challenges in writing these novels?

Heh. The original inspiration for Mainspring was a writing exercise which was assigned to me at an Oregon Coast Professional Writers Workshop retreat. I pretty much pulled the outline out of the air, though I have a longtime fascination with clockwork, orreries and automata. Working on the first novel involved doing a lot of reading on the history of timekeeping, the development of clockmaking, and similar topics. Fascinating stuff. I also had to do a bunch of moderately heavy lifting in the theology and philosophy sections of my personal library. By the time I got to Escapement, the world was pretty well established, and I was then working with existing tropes and themes. Different set of challenges there, especially working inside a wider variation of cultures and settings. I've been outlining Tourbillion, the third book in this narrative arc, and it's weirder and more ambitious than the first two, working to draw them together. I expect to write Tourbillion this fall.

Which are you more comfortable with: writing novels or short stories?

I don't think that question really has an answer. They're different crafts. Closely related, but very distinct. Short stories have the self-evident benefit of having a relatively brief effort/reward cycle, as opposed to the years it can take to shepherd a novel through the writing and production process, but since I can be a very patient man, those are really just additional aspects of the distinction between the two forms. I've argued in the past for a more detailed hierarchy of work -- right now we have short story, novelette, novella and novel, at least as measured by award categories -- which would break the spectrum up further.

Let's move on to Jay Lake as editor. What made you decide to pursue editing anthologies?

Because it's a hell of a lot of fun. Deborah Layne of Wheatland Press got me into editing in the first place, when she conceived of the Polyphony anthology series. I was clueless on the initial volume, but I'm a quick study. At this point, I'd probably edit more than I do if someone wanted to pay me to do it. I find the process very rewarding, and it definitely illuminates my own writing for me in sometimes unexpected ways.

As an editor, what do you look for in a story?

Something lateral. I'm a sucker for a strong, unusual voice, but clever plotting, a truly oddball character, or something else entirely can also catch my eye. There's a balance in editing--mostly you don't buy just anything you like, you're working towards certain themes, lengths, etc. So those factors can influence a selection. But if I like a story enough, I'll find a way to pull it in.

What's your editorial "routine" like?

Read. Think. Try to find a reason to reject. Some things go on the "further consideration" pile. Sturgeon's Law says 90% of everything is crap, but mostly I find mediocrity and "almost good enough" in the slush pile a lot more often than I find crap. I can't figure out of this should be encouraging or depressing.

Is there a big shift for you between your writer hat and your editorial hat?

Yes. My editorial hat is all about critical reading, audience reaction, and a certain external view of the manuscript. My writer hat aggressively disregards those considerations in favor of a storytelling flow. I very rarely analyze my own writing while I'm doing it, and not so often after the fact either. I constantly analyze what I'm reading, especially for editorial.

In your opinion, how has the Internet changed publishing?

It's like money, it changes everything. And nothing. My relationship with Tor wouldn't be much different without the Internet, except that letters would take a week or more to be answered, instead of an afternoon of email lag. And I'd be mailing more manuscript boxes around.

On the short fiction side, especially in the independent press, business and editorial processes have been highly adaptive. The most obvious form of this is e-publishing. Strange Horizons, for example. In classical publishing, a lot of cash gets tied up in manufacturing and fulfillment of the story objects in the form of books and magazines. An e-market in theory is committing their entire budget to wordage. We'll disregard infrastructure costs for the purposes of this example, but even factored in, the incremental cost of getting a single story to a single reader is a tiny fraction of the print world.

Basically, the Internet opened a new channel with a very different balance of capital and expense. We're still wrestling as a field with what that channel means in terms of legitimacy and prestige, but things have gone long past the "fad" stage.

To me, you're one of the more visible authors. What are the steps that you take to promote yourself?

It's been organic. Despite rumor, I never had a master plan. I published a few stories, won a few awards, starting dressing funny and acting out in public. The rest is history.

More to the point, I make myself pretty visible both online and in real life. I have a lot of fun doing it, which I think rubs off on people. And I like to share.

I love the fact that you make several podcasts available to the public. What made you decide to do so? Are you yourself a fan of podcast fiction?

Well, I'd be doing more but that whole effort got derailed by my cancer this past spring. I'm not quite back to full capacity, but at some point I'll resume the podcasting. Hopefully soon. Oddly, I don't listen to much of it. I don't use an iPod or other personal music player--don't like earphones, don't like to not hear my environment. But I love the idea of podcast fiction, and really want to support it.

Your writing has evolved over the years. What would you say is the biggest difference between your writing when you started out compared to the present?

I'm getting better. I hope. Seriously, I bring a lot more self-awareness to my fiction now than I used to. Not in the drafting process, which is still much like taking soundings from the deep, but in the revision process. I think that's where a lot of my growth comes from. It results in more nuanced, subtle work, and deeper characterization.

At least that's what I tell myself. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

The iconic Jay Lake is Jay Lake with a Hawaiian shirt. Why the Hawaiian shirt? How many shirts do you have in the closet?

I figured out a long time ago that there were hundreds of long haired fat guys in black t-shirts at any given convention. I decided being a long haired fat guy in a loud shirt would be more fun. A lot more fun. Plus they're comfortable. And I have about 40 in my closet.

Since some RPG fans read this blog, what has been your experience with RPGs?

RPGs were a huge part of my formative experiences as a teen. I went to boarding schools from 9th grade on, and as a sophomore discovered blue box D&D. I still have my brown books, too, but I bought them for background reading to go with the blue box set. There's not much else to do at boarding school except drink, which I've never been heavily into, so old school tabletop RPGs with graph paper, pencils and dice were my life through high school and college. I think I learned a lot about story telling, audiences, plot and character from that. Of course, I had to then spend some years unlearning the whole "my D&D campaign would make a *great* novel" thing. But yes, hugely important.

By the late 1980s I'd left regular gaming, and I've never gone deep again. These days it would subtract from my writing time, which really doesn't feel like a rational option for me personally.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Write more. Turn off the tv, put down the online gaming, read some more books and write more. We only have so much time, so much plot energy in our heads. I turned off my tv in 1994, and my last computer game in 2000, because I wanted to be a Producer as well as a Consumer. However you get to it, write, and write more.

You'd be amazed how hard this advice can be to follow.

Advice for aspiring editors?

Read more. And find someone else to finance and publish the work. Editing is fun, but I find publishing to be deeply mind-numbing.

Anything else you want to plug?

Read my books! I have Madness of Flowers coming out late this year, Death of a Starship next year, and Green next year. Heck, read everybody's books. Ghu knows more sales never hurt anyone.

Monday, October 27, 2008

October 27, 2008 Links and Plugs

It's been a busy weekend (filled with an intermittent Internet connection). On a side note, Jeff Vandermeer has some pretty pictures of some books I sent him. Anyway, here are the links for the day:
As for your daily plug, here it is:

Electric Velocipede #15/#16 edited by John Klima
TOC here, samples here.

Book/Magazine Review: Mythic edited by Mike Allen

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

While a relatively short anthology, what Mythic lacks in quantity is more than made up for with the quality of its selections. Each poem and story stands out as well as fitting the "mythic" tone the book is attempting to capture.

Right from the very start, I was already enamored by the opening poem, "Syllables of Old Lore" by Vandana Singh. One would think that the flow and beat of the anthology would peter out by that's not the case. Allen keeps the interest consistent all throughout.

There are some editorial choices I'd like to highlight. The first is the sequencing. The poems alternate with the short stories and if you're like me who reads anthologies in the sequence they're presented, this formula works. I can imagine my interest waning if I was barraged with poems initially followed by short stories and vice versa. As it is, Mythic gives readers enough time to digest and appreciate the poem that preceded it before moving into short story territory. The alternation plays off one another, keeping the reading experience refreshing. Admittedly, the length of the book (under 200 pages) also plays a crucial role in this and I don't know how better Allen would have fared had he used more material. Mythic is the type of book that you can read in one sitting keeping you mesmerized all throughout.

The second item worthy to note is that Allen is consistent in the sense that the poems/stories featured are readable and easy to understand. That's also not to deprive the texts of any lyricisms or beat they have to them. As I said in a previous review, I have this innate phobia of poetry ("I don't know how to read them!") but I didn't feel threatened by the ones included. As for the short stories, they're relatively short reads, with a few delving into experimental territory, such as "Of the Driving Away of a Certain Water Monster by the Virtue of the Prayers of the Holy Man or What Really Happened at Loch Ness in the Summer of 565 A.D," by Bud Webster.

The third factor I'd like to bring up is that Allen doesn't hold back in this anthology in the sense that if an author/poet's work really stands out, it was included--even if they already have another piece already featured. Singh and Theodora Goss for example have their names appearing twice. Not many anthologies do repetitions and I do think Mythic is a stronger anthology because of this inclusion.

Having said that, here are the top three poems/short stories that caught my eye: "Kristallnacht" by Lawrence Schimel played with my expectations and usurps the Cinderalla myth for his own. Aside from having a steady beat, Schimel ties it with the Jewish experience giving this simple verse an extra layer of depth and cultural identity.

Catherynne M. Valente's "The Eight Legs of Grandmother Spider" features two parallel narratives, one having this fable feel while the other modern sensibilities. Much like "Kristallnacht", Valente plays with the reader's expectations, not only thematically tying the two poem-stories but taking it into a truly horrifying yet beautiful direction.

Erzebet YellowBoy's "Misha and the Months" is one of the stories that stand out. Subversion seems to be a common theme of the anthology and this one is no different. Using old tropes, YellowBoy turns them around which makes for an interesting and refreshing story.

Overall, this was a great anthology that could serve as the perfect "breather" when you're overwhelmed by thick novels and collections. This isn't a "meaty" book when it comes to length but I think that's a strength of Mythic. What you get are the best of the best that follows a consistent theme and accessible language.

Book/Magazine Review: Lone Star Stories Issue #29

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

Lone Star Stories
has always been a short magazine but what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. Issue #29 is no different and all three short stories at the very least are competent. I'm not a trained critic and in fact fear poetry, much less speculative fiction poetry, but the ones included are accessible.

As far as the stories go, "The Toymaker's Grief" by Hal Duncan shines out the most. This deceptively simple and short narrative is emotionally wrenching and powerful, making subtle but effective use of the speculative fiction element. Duncan trades verbosity for accuracy and precision, a more than worthwhile exchange which is perhaps the hallmark of this piece. If you haven't read this story yet, go read it now.

Jaime Lee Moyer's "This is How We Remember" started out not packing enough punch as far as characterization goes but the payoff in the end justifies this lacking (and makes sense of the title). Moyer also features beautiful but not distracting prose as well as an emphasis on characterization.

"Needle and Thread" by Ann Leckie and Rachel Swirsky was an enjoyable fairy tale that successfully maintains its tone throughout the entire narrative. The pair makes good use of the tropes of the medium all the while giving it a modern layer by fleshing out the protagonist. The epiphany at the end doesn't seem forced and this could easily have been part of the collection of the Brothers Grimm.

"Seven Steeds" by Elizabeth Bear has a consistent form and structure and makes good use of metaphor. Readers who shy away from poetry might want to give Sonya Taaffe's "Logos" a look as it's the most modern and follows a familiar structure as far as storytelling/poetry is concerned. My favorite of the three however is "What the Stars Tell" by Rusty Barnes which excels in creating vivid imagery and subversion of heroic optimism.

Overall a good issue with "The Toymaker's Grief" and "What the Stars Tell" standing out as far as I'm concerned. Lone Star Stories is consistent in delivering readable stories without compromising depth or gravity.

Book/Magazine Review: Cornstalk Gypsies: The Iowa Flood Relief Anthology edited by J. K. Richard

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

Proceeds of this magazine goes to relief efforts for Iowa and that pretty much sums up the theme of this publication as several of the stories touch upon Iowa (although not necessarily the disaster). As a reader, the question I want to ask is that aside from donating to a charitable cause, are the stories featured any good?

There are eight stories all in all and I'll be frank: most of them are simply mediocre. For example, the opening story, "Crow's Changeling" by Sarah Prineas, could have dedicated more scenes in establishing the characterization of the protagonist's daughter. While it's a decent story as is, it lacks the emotional tug or believability that could have elevated it to something much, much more. Other stories, such as "Gossamer and Viridian: The Trolls at the Gate" by Dr. Catherine Schaff-Stump, isn't really faulty although it feels like the story ended prematurely.

Having said that, Cornstalk Gypsies isn't without its own gems. The most striking story is "Slightly Better than Average" by Tyson Chaney. Imagine watching a baseball game except it's all captured in prose. That's not an easy feat but Chaney manages to hook you through an entire game, sprinkling characterization and drama as needed while being adept at describing all the action. It reminds me of the best aspect of sports manga adapted for fiction.

Another noteworthy piece is "This is Baltimir" by Ann M. Nguyen although it's flash fiction and flash fiction for me is difficult to be memorable. "This is Baltimir" is an interesting concept story and quite good in execution but it's not strong enough to be one of those rare few flash stories that I'll remember by the end of the year.

Overall, as much as I want to praise Cornstalk Gypsies, I really can't. I was really impressed with Chaney's story but the rest are ho-hum. You can probably justify this purchase as a donation to a charitable cause in which you get some stories as a bonus.

Book/Magazine Review: Vault of Deeds by James Barclay

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

This certainly proved to be a funny read as James Barclay plays on heroic fantasy conventions not unlike Jim C. Hines or A. Lee Martinez. In Vault of Deeds, it's up to a scribe--in this case someone who records the deeds of heroes--to save the day.

Barclay's writing is easy to get into but it goes beyond simply being functional or serviceable. Dialogue and action is frequently utilized to draw the readers in while a source of comedy is the verbose and exaggerated prose spoken by the protagonists. Since this is a parody, I can't really blame Barclay for using two-dimensional heroes and villains. There's also no dallying here as Barclay gets us to the action quickly and the fight scenes are also quite commendable.

If you're going to read Vault of Deeds, it's really to tickle your funny bone. Honestly, some of the fantasy satire, I've already seen before. What sets it apart is Barclay's writing style which is more than palatable. However, there's also a couple of good lines in there and a few surprises that elevate it beyond the norm. As far as books of this sub-genre goes, it's certainly above average. Having said that, don't expect this to be layered comedy. James Barclay attempts to do one thing--makes readers laugh--and does it well. There's no additional sub-text here or complex plot threads. Which isn't to say that Barclay just threw in a random assortment of jokes as there's a structure to the prose and how the comedy fits. It's just that if you were expecting more, this isn't the place to find it.

If you want something fun and quick, grab Vault of Deeds. No qualms with the execution and it certainly accomplishes what it sets out to do.

Book/Magazine Review: Revolvo by Steven Erikson

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

is this quick-paced novella by author Steven Erikson that both satirizes and provides an interesting read. The book follows a three-act structure and features a disparate set of characters.

One of the strengths of Revolvo is how easy it is to get into. It helps that they're written in short burst of chapters. The characters are truly characters as they find themselves in seemingly ludicrous situations and react in the strangest ways. Part of the satire is the environment they're placed in which is this bizarre mix of politics and art although they could very much exist in the real world.

Events come to a close as the various elements that Erikson sets up convenes by the time we reach the third act. Expected mayhem ensues and the author manages to resolve them competently. Revolvo's a decent read and has a few good moments as well as some confusing ones. It all boils down to the characters and I personally found myself enjoying some characters but not so much the others (or rather having difficulty keeping track of all of them). Still, due to the length and the writing style, that's not too big of a dilemma as you'll find yourself getting into the action sooner rather than later. Overall it's not bad and has a definite, unique atmosphere.

Friday, October 24, 2008

October 24, 2008 Links and Plugs

There's no USA Today best-seller list for today because... their site hasn't been updated with the latest list. Anyway, here are the week's links and plugs:
I've plugged this book several times but it can now be ordered at Amazon, three weeks before its release date:

The Lone Star Stories Reader edited by Eric T. Marin

Podcast Focus: Media Sound Off

Every Friday, I'll talk about a podcast or two that catches my fancy.

RSS Feed:
Description: Media Sound Off digs into the new media that the Internet spawned whether it's bloggers or podcasts or online videos. If you're interested in the production side of things, what makes this new technology different from the existing one, or simply want a behind-the-scenes discussion on such matters, you might want to check out this brand-new podcast.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

October 23, 2008 Links and Plugs

Go ninja go ninja go:
And if you haven't read them yet, check out these two books by the late Tom Disch:

2008/10/23 Tabletop RPG Podcasts

Every Thursday, I post links to various podcasts that deals with tabletop RPGs.

Tabletop RPG (Mostly)

General Discussions/Reviews/Everything Else

Actual Play Sessions

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

October 22, 2008 Links and Plugs

Mental note: writing fiction can be fun!
On a side note, I really, really love this anthology (book review will go up in the future):

Essay: A Quick Run-Down on Bookstores in the Philippines Part 3

Every Wednesday, I'll have an essay or a feature on any topic that catches my fancy!

Part One, Part Two

Secondhand Bookstores

Secondhand bookstores are tricky--there's no guarantee what books they stock and no one actually gets to track what gets sold (at least as far as the publishers are concerned). Having said that, secondhand bookstores are pretty popular in the Philippines and it seems that there's always someone browsing their shelves.

Amidst the doom and gloom of the demise of reading, secondhand bookstores are showing promise and steadily expanding. If the 1990s was the boom for independent bookstores, then the current decade belongs to this cottage industry as several franchises have popped up (four new franchises in less than six years!). What I'll be covering are the franchise shops, as opposed to each individual seller than deals with secondhand books (they're too many to mention and I'm honestly not that familiar with them).

Booksale (

Easily one of the oldest franchises in this category, when you speak of secondhand books, the first store that comes to mind is Booksale. Quality varies from branch to branch, with some stores having a shelf for various categories, others simply lumping the books in one big pile. Many classic and hard to find science fiction/fantasy books have been found in Booksale, as well as elusive magazines like Asimov's or Ellery Queen if you're lucky. Paperbacks seems to be their specialty although they have their own sections on hardcovers and text books.

Of course bibliophiles would be wise to pay attention to the other material that Booksale actually sells. Current magazines seem to be a staple (FHM glossing their front stands beside Sudoku puzzle digests) and small forays into school supplies like ballpens. For a time, they were also selling encyclopedia-like books (there was this multi-volume series on World War II) cheaper than what they cost in the regular bookstores.

Books for Less (

Branching out from its parent company, Papelmeroti (a franchise owned by five siblings, the most popular is probably Robert Alejandro from the TV show "Art is Kool"), Books for Less seems like a more sophisticated equivalent of Booksale. Whereas the latter's ambiance is best described as functional, the former looks neater and their book selection is definitely cleaner (the books aren't that yellow). Books for Less also sets itself apart by specializing in hard cover books and trades, although secondhand paperbacks can also be found in the shop. Because of the focus on hard covers, the books featured in this store tend to be more expensive than Book Sale, but still cheaper than what you'd find in conventional bookstores.


As far as I can tell, there's nothing really remarkable about Buy-the-Book aside from the fact that it's a new franchise and has four branches (Waltermart Makati, Market! Market!, SM Manila and SM San Lazaro). You'll find books that were previously stocked in conventional bookstores here (mainly because this is a weird affiliate of the National Bookstore-Powerbooks family).

Chapters and Pages

A new franchise appearing in shopping malls, Chapters and Pages isn't so much a "shop" as a "stall" (think of it as several bookshelves and one counter). Commonly found in open areas of the mall, Chapters and Pages seems to be popular as it attracts random passersby. My only concern is the security as it seems very easy to shoplift a book from the said store (I hope the salesladies are attentive).

Pick A Book Supervalue Store

This franchise is masterminded by former PBA player Jun Limpot and can be found in places like SM Southmall, SM Sucat, SM Dasmarinas, and Market! Market! Pretty much follows the Booksale formula in addition to selling encyclopedias.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Books I'm Planning to Read "Soon"

Alas, the lightning in my room is awful.

October 21, 2008 Links and Plugs

As usual, here's your daily dose of links:
And for your daily book plug:

Interview: Mary Robinette Kowal

Every Tuesday, I'll have an interview posted.

Mary Robinette Kowal is a professional puppeteer as well as a writer. Her fiction has appeared in publications like Strange Horizons, Apex Online, and Clarkesworld Magazine. She is also the art director of Shimmer and the 2008 winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

Thanks for agreeing to do the interview! Since you're both a puppeteer and a writer, how did you first fall in love with storytelling?

I remember putting on plays in my back yard when I was in elementary school. I remember writing a story for my Mom as a Mother's Day present when I was in first grade. I don't remember a time when I didn't love it.

What aspects of your storytelling cravings does puppetry satiate? How about fiction? Are there any areas where they overlap?

Actually the areas where they overlap are all over the place. In both forms, I have to do world-building, character creation, figure out how the plot relates to how the story is told. These are all like puzzle pieces that have to be fit together so that the audience can see the picture. I love that.

How did you break into the puppetry industry? Did you have to apprentice yourself or did you study it in college?

I started puppetry in high school as a hobby. When I was in college, I was performing as the plant in Little Shop of Horrors when a professional puppeteer came to see the show. Until that moment, it had never occurred to me that people would pay you to do puppets. I pretty much changed career tracks on the spot and started working with her. I went on to intern at the Center for Puppetry Arts and have been working steadily since.

How about writing? What made you decide to finally submit something to a professional market?

Part of the training I got was the importance of being paid for my art. It's not just a way to make a living, it's also a way to have an gage. If no one is willing to pay you for something that other people get paid for, there's probably something wrong. Granted, there are shows that are "for the love" types of things because there's no market for them, but largely speaking people pay for the good stuff. I know that sounds mercenary and capitalistic, but it's part of what's let me have theater as my day job for the last nineteen years.

I bring this up to explain that trying to get paid for writing seemed like a natural thing to do.

My brother had moved to China with his kids and I started writing a serial to amuse them. It turned into a novel. I started researching what one does with novels and, while shopping it around, started writing and submitting short stories.

How has your art major and theater/speech minor experience aided you in either career?

Oof. This is almost too big to answer because the truth is that it influences everything I do. The theater background gives me a sense of how story and audience interact. Art comes in handy with the puppetry because I build and design. Those are obvious ones.

But there are also subtle things like, how to critique and how to handle critiques that I learned in art school. Working with editors reminds me of working with directors. You learn to bend. And drawing... See, in drawing, you rough in the whole figure before you start doing detail work. A mistake a lot of beginners make is to start on the hand and get that perfect, and then the arm, and get that perfect. But by the time they get to the feet, they've lost the perspective and wind up with a distorted figure. I write the same way. I rough in the story in general phrases like, "Ninjas appear. Something bad happens. She solves it! Happily ever after" (Okay, quite that vague but you get the idea.) Then once I've got that, I start filling in the details. Sometimes, I'll move a limb, so to speak, to bring the composition into better balance, but it's still very much like the drawing process to me.

What are some of your favorite puppets?

Bill Baird's Scheherazade. Kermit, of course. The Bound Man at the Center for Puppetry Arts (Yes, my short story is titled after him, but bears no resemblance to the show he is from). And then of my own... Gerta from the Snow Queen, if I had to pick just one. Or maybe Shiro from "The Old Man Who Made Trees Blossom" but I think I like the character more than the puppet. It's hard to separate them.

How about favorite authors/books?

Guy Gavirel Kay's "Song for Arbonne"
Myrtle Reed "Flower of the Dusk"
Robert A. Heinlein "Stranger in a Strange Land"
Elizabeth Moon "Speed of Dark"

You know what this would be a long list. Let's use modern technology. Here's my LibraryThing account sorted for favorites.

What lesson sticks out the most for you from Orson Scott Card's Literary BootCamp?

Scott was talking about the difference between short stories and novels and said something like, "Imagine you are going to an island on a lake, In a short story, you get in the boat and head across to the island. In a novel, you can stop and have a picnic, meander around the shore or go fishing on your way there. In both cases, you are still going to the island."

What made you decide to apply for Launchpad? Similarly, what's a lesson you learned there that still resonates with you?

I had a number of friends who were accepted to the first year and they all raved about it. Plus, big telescopes. Hello? Why not apply.

A lot of Launchpad is still settling in. I think Jerry Oltion's tour of the universe was the most immediately useful because it got me thinking about the settings for extra-solar worlds and the sheer scale of the universe. We did this exercise where we tried to scale the solar system to fit inside our 30' classroom. In order to get it to fit, the sun could be no larger than a mustard seed. Jupiter was a grain of salt and Pluto would have been at the very edge of the classroom. Alpha Centauri, our closest neighbor, would have been another mustard seed (two actually, it's a binary) thirty miles away. Now imagine getting in a spaceship and flying there.

Congrats on recently winning the Campbell Award. How does it feel to win the award?

Thank you! It feels wonderful and surreal at the same time. I was describing this to my husband as the way I felt the first time I wrote my married name. It was wonderful, but I still looked at "Kowal" and thought "that's not me." It took a while for it to settle in because there was a disparity between my internal landscape and the external landscape. The Campbell Award is much like that. Totally exhilarating but every time I see "award-winning author" attached to my name I feel like they must be talking about someone else.

Among your fellow nominees, who are some of the writers that you admire? How about previous Campbell winners/nominees?

All of them. I read all of the other nominees' books, because I wanted to know what they wrote. The books are wildly different and all quite wonderful. I've had the pleasure of meeting or emailing with almost all of them and they are all very nice people too. I would have been happy to see any of them win.

Previous nominees? Jay Lake, John Scalzi, Elizabeth Bear, Orson Scott Card... being on the same list with them staggers me.

What was the most challenging experience working on Shimmer Magazine? Most rewarding?

The second issue. We had some trouble with the printer that we thought we got straightened out, but the second issue was... problematic and we had to frantically find another printer at the last minute. Right now, the biggest challenge is finding time to work on it. My life has been much busier in NYC than in Iceland or Oregon. Most rewarding? Every time the magazine arrives from the printer. Every time I get to meet one of our authors. I'm very proud of the magazine and love doing it. I just wish I had more time.

What made you decide to run for SFWA Secretary? Any challenges you're currently running into?

A volunteer run organization is only as good as its volunteers. I'd seen SFWA do a lot of good things, but it was clear that they were pulling on the same bank of people all the time. I have a lot of experience with non-profit arts organizations and know how powerful they can be for their members. I wanted to be part of that.

Challenges? Actually, the new board is pretty collegial. Considering that we've been drafting new bylaws and adjusting other policies to bring SFWA into the twenty-first century, it's been pretty painless.

How did you first get involved with podcasts? How does your husband help you with your own podcasts?

I started in radio theater, with Willamette Radio Workshop but it wasn't until talking to Orson Scott Card at his bootcamp that it occurred to me to actually record audio fiction. My first recording was his "The Middle Woman" for Intergalactic Medicine Show's inaugural issue.

And yes, Rob definitely helps me. We're using his audio gear and he engineers them.

What for you constitutes a good podcast?

I have a hard time listening to them if they are compressed too much or if there are other recording issues. So if it's clean audio and a good story I'll be happy. I enjoy EscapePod, If You are Just Joining Us and This American Life.

I'm curious at how you end up reading other people's stories. Like how did Subterranean Press know you provided such services?

Word of mouth. I'd met John Scalzi at Readercon. We started talking about stuff and at some point the radio theater background came up. When he recorded, The Sagan Diary, with various women SF writers, he asked me to read for it.. Bill Schaffer heard me there and asked me to record Kage Bakers "Rude Mechanicals." Everything else sort of rolls from there.

If I were a good girl, I'd have my demo reel up online, but you know that saying about cobbler's children never having shoes? Yeah, just adjust it to refer to audio engineer's wives.

Have you thought of podcasting more of your own fiction?

Yes, but while we are in NYC the recording situation is so unpleasant that it is not going to happen.

How did you find/select your writing agent?

I got very lucky. Ken Scholes recommended me to his agent, Jennifer Jackson, at Donald Maass, I had heard very good things about her. So I sent in my manuscript and she accepted me.

Any advice for aspiring puppeteers?

Find a good company and apprentice there for a year. Then never work for free again.

Advice for aspiring writers?

Write, submit, repeat. Don't feel like you have to sell things in the order in which you write them. Look at the big picture.

Advice for aspiring podcasters?

Turn off the refrigerator, air conditioner and any florescent lights before recording.If you can hear it, so can we.

Anything else you'd like to plug?

I've got a story (Waiting for Rain) in this month's Subterranean online that I wouldn't mind sending some traffic towards.