prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2014-01-21 10:00 pm

Arisia wrap up

It was a fun con overall. I caught up with too many people to mention. However, I do think it's kind of funny that I went into Boston to bump into my next door neighbor.

My panels went well. I only had four so I wasn't busy as many people I knew. Seeing how harried they were, I'm glad I only had the four.

Time Travel panel 1 strayed seriously off-topic and I was mostly "the guy who injected examples to support or refute other people's points." However, I pretty much always remembered either the author or the title but not both. :(

The "30 Years of Mac" panel had a guy who was determined to talk about how horrible the Mac is. This might have worked out better for him except he never gave the impression that he'd ever seen, much less used, a Mac before. It's easy to hate something you have absolutely no experience with or knowledge about. It doesn't make your opinion particularly credible though. That said, the panel was not a love fest. It was a nice overview of Mac history, the lowlights and the highlights. I do think it's unfortunate that programming felt the need to put a person who knew nothing about the Mac on the panel, presumably for "conflict." A bunch of Mac-knowledgeable people can generate plenty of conflict all by themselves, thank you. Then we wouldn't have had to waste time correcting the misapprehensions of the guy who doesn't know anything about the Mac.

"Constructing Languages" was a lot of fun. Considering it was about linguistics and programmed opposite the Masquerade, way more people showed up for the panel than I'd expected. We had a knowledgeable audience to go with the knowledgeable panel. Certainly, the audience had read more linguistic SF than I have. Both the moderator and I lapsed into linguistic jargon at one point or another. However, we defined each other's terms so it all worked out.

The panel I moderated, Time Travel panel 2, went pretty smoothly. I had terrific panelists so it was easy to make sure everyone had space to say interesting things. More importantly, they all said things that led to interesting follow-up questions. However, perhaps asking whether time travel could be considered the reification of non-linear narrative in a way similar to how many fantastic elements are a literalization of metaphor was a step too far. That question didn't go well. I'd used Ted Chiang's "The Story of Your Life" as an example and no one else on the panel had read it. Also, "reification" may have been a bit much. Fortunately, by then, we had about 20 minutes left and I could throw to the audience. Yay!

[Oh, Justine Graykin and I got to make our pitch for a non-white, non-male Doctor. Hey, any show with a time machine as a standing set is totally on topic for a panel about time travel. However, I kept the DW discussion brief since the show has its own panels at Arisia.]

I went to a bunch of interesting panels. During "The Unheard Voices of SF/F/H", I was glad to hear the panelist give credit for becoming a friendlier venue for traditionally unheard voices. As an example, they mentioned Ann VanderMeer and, in the the process, "The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere." At this point, the panelists realize I'm in the audience. They point me out and ask me if they can talk about how awesome the story is.

That's definitely something that's never happened to me before. In any case, I'm flattered that they like my story so much.

Like all cons, it was tiring. And having finally listened to a snippet of "Eye of Argon", I never have to again. But I'm glad I went to Arisia.


prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2014-01-13 11:21 am

The once and future weekend.

 This past weekend was the US Figure Skating Nationals. Lots of fun. The US has a bunch of really talented skaters. I'm also stunned at how knowledgeable the audience was. Also, I want a skate bug for home use. Given the current judging system, running technical commentary is extremely useful. It did lead to an anxious moment, though, when I realized what Jason Brown's technical mark had to be and wondered whether the judges would give him the (deserved) presentation marks that would keep him ahead of Max Aaron. (They did, BTW.)

This next weekend is Arisia. This year, I'm on program. Actually, not only am I on program, I'm moderating. Wish me luck.

My schedule:

Time Travel, Therapy, & the Quest for Redemption Faneuil Literature Sat 1:00 PM 01:15
Time travel allows writers to explore a fundamental human longing: to change what cannot be changed. Protagonists go back in order to fix the crucial moments that shaped their lives. Usually these attempts backfire - sometimes the past does not allow itself to be changed, sometimes changing the past creates a new range of problems, and sometimes changing the past does not cure the ache in the protagonist's soul. Is time travel a parable for the therapeutic mining of our personal histories?
30 Years of Macintosh Computing Alcott Science Sun 2:30 PM 01:15
Thirty years ago during the Super Bowl, in one of the most memorable televised commercials of all time (directed by Ridley Scott!), Apple Inc.'s Steve Jobs announced to the world the release of a new kind of personal computer: The Macintosh. The Mac has developed a rabidly loyal fanbase, has become a favorite among musicians and graphic designers. Come reminisce and discuss one of the most radical developments in the history of modern technology with Arisia.
Constructing Languages Independence Writing Sun 8:30 PM 01:15
Many SF/F worlds have their own languages, Elvish and Klingon being two of the best known. How do you create languages that make sense? From etymology to grammar to culture, there are many aspects to consider. How does a language reflect the identities of its speakers? How do we make our languages and vocabularies believable?
Looking Forward to Last Thursday Faneuil Writing Mon 10:00 AM 01:15
There have been myriad methods of portraying the time travel story. What specific challenges arise for the writer in portraying conflict and character development in chronologically displaced setting? Are some methods of time travel methods easier to portray and keep consistent than others? What of non-linear story narratives? Is the ending the best place to start? Can a time traveler be anything but an unreliable narrator?
prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2013-12-31 11:15 am

What I've been up to spec fic-wise in 2013


At the start of 2013, knowing that I'd be nominating for the Hugos in 2014, I decided that whenever I read anything where I thought, "In a sane universe, this ought to be nominated for something", I'd jot it down. That way, when the silly season started, I'd have my ballot all done. (As it has turned out, I'm now also eligible to nominate for the Nebulas but I hadn't thought about that at the time. Fortunately, their eligibility windows now line up.)

Of course, it hasn't worked out that way. Being diligent about this list hasn't been my top priority.  For example, I remember a Charlie Jane Anders time travel story in Asimov's that I really liked that I now realize I never jotted down. There have to be other stories that I don't remember which ave been similarly lost. I've made no attempt to read everything published this year. I read maybe one eligible novel this year and only a handful of novellas. Most of my reading has been short stories and novelettes but there are major venues still sitting on my book pile, in my ereader or in my Instapaper queue. (One has to wonder how the valiant editors who compose Year's Best anthologies do it.) Even with glaring omissions, my list has enough short stories to fill several ballots. So much for making it easier for me to nominate the stories I love.

Anyway, these are the stories I really enjoyed this year that I remembered to jot down. They reflect no particular order except when I had the chance to jot them down. Comments or the lack thereof reflect only how much time I had free when I added the story to my list:

Short Stories
  • "I Have Placed My Sickness Upon You" by Karin Tidbeck Strange Horizons 3/4/13
  • "The Hanging Game" Helen Marshall 3/13/13
  • "No Breather in the World But Thee" Jeff VanderMeer Nightmare Magazine 3/27/13
  • "No Portraits on the Sky" Kali Wallace Clarkesworld 4/13
  • "Deus Ex Arca" Desirina Boskovich Lightspeed 4/13
  • "A Fine Show on the Abyssal Plane" Karin Tidbeck Lightspeed 4/16/13(lovely, elegant writing as always.
  • "Sing" by Karin Tidbeck 4/17/13 (absolutely sticks the landing)
  • "The Ink Readers of Doi Saket" by Thomas Olde Heuvelt 4/24/13 (it's the structure and the voice that makes the story)
  • "Soulcatcher" by James Patrick Kelly May, 2013 Clarkesworld
  • "The Wall" by Naomi Kritzer April/May 2013 Asimov's
  • "A Love Song Concerning His Vineyard"  Megan Arkenberg June 2013 Asimov's (smartly written, vast world building in few words, vivid characters)
  • "The Urashima Effect" by E. LIly Yu Clarkesworld June 2013 (short story. Lots of wallop for size. Lovely meditation on memory and loss)
  • "Loss, with Chalk Diagrams" by E. Lily Yu Eclipse Online March 2013, (Lots of beautiful writing. Another lovely editation on memory and loss. Note that the link goes to the subsequent EscapePod podcast of the story.)
  • "Found" by Alex Dally MacFarlane Clarkesworld August 2013. Nuanced story with big, bold world building. Gender fluid. 
  • "The Ex-Corporal" Leah Thomas Asimov's August 2013. Searing portrayal of abuse and mental health issues.
  • "Bits" Naomi Kritzer Clarkesworld October 2013. Sweet and charming. (somewhat pornographic)
  • "The Shore at the Edge of the World" by Eugene Mirabelli F&SF Sept/Oct 2013 Terrific language. Satisfying read.
  • "Super Bass" by Kai Ashante Wilson 5/22/13
  • "Hotel" by Suzanne Palmer, Asimov's, January 2013
  • "They Shall Salt the Earth With Seeds of Glass" by Alaya Dawn Johnson, Asimov's, January 2013
  • "The Fountain" by G. David Nordley Asimov's June 2013 (compelling alien, nicely structured. large scope in relatively few words.)
  • "Kormak the Lucky" by Eleanor Arnason F&SF July/Aug 2013 picaresque adventure that does a great job of fusing Nordic and celtic mythos. 
  • "No Others Are Genuine" by Gregory Frost Asimov's Oct/Nov 2013 novelette wonderful depiction of turn of the century Chicago. Unspoken horror that is all to clearly recognized and its consequences felt.
  • "A Rumor of Angels" by Dale Bailey 9/11/13 
  • "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling" by Ted Chiang Subterranean Press Magazine, Fall 2013

Everything Else

In 2013, I narrated one story for Pseudopod, a couple for EscapePod and one for Lightspeed. Remember people, always back up your work in multiple physical locations and on multiple media. 1AM may not be your finest hour for editing audio, especially if you've already been editing non-stop for at least the past 6 hours or so. Sometimes, rather than trying to save it in the edit, you're better off recording it again.

As for podcasts of my own work, EscapePod narrated "Thirty Seconds from Now" This was originally published in Boston Review, Sept/Oct 2011.

I published two short stories in 2013:
Forthcoming in 2014 (as of 12/31/13):
  • "Incomplete Proofs" (originally published in Bloody Fabulous edited by Ekaterina Sedia in 2012) will be in M. David Blake's 2014 Campbellian Anthology. (Yes, this is my 2nd year of eligibility for the Campbell Award.)
  • "Corpse Full of Birds" will be in an (AFAIK) as of yet unannounced flash fiction anthology
  • "The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere" will be reprinted in Wilde Stories 2014: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction
  • "Repairing the World" will be published at Apex Magazine
[Update: It turns out that I needed to put together a list of podcasts I narrated this year for other reasons, so I might as well put it here too:
prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2013-09-03 09:15 pm

The WorldCon post I wrote on the plane instead of writing fiction

Some things happen to me at every con I go to. If you know me, you know which things those are. Let's just say that LonestarCon 3 was not an exception and move on.

I didn't spent much time attending panels or readings. The panel I was on was fun though. I got to sit next to an astronaut, Cady Coleman, who must be one of the coolest people in the universe! So glad that I got the opportunity to do the panel. Thanks, Ann.

It was great to catch up with a bunch of people in person who I, otherwise, only get to talk to electronically. There are too many to mention, but I was especially happy that Ann VanderMeer could take time out of her overloaded schedule to come and that I got to spend some time with her. Also, party hopping with Nick Mamatas and Ellen Datlow(GoH!) was a lot of fun. I met a lot of people that I don't think I would have had the nerve to introduce myself to.

It was great to meet a bunch awesome people whom I hadn't known before this con and hope to know better over time. As I've said, as time has gone on, my con experience has gotten more and more social. I have to thank Emily Jiang for helping me navigate this.

Anyway, thoughts in no particular order:

I screwed up my elbows a couple months back. Since I know what's good for me, I'm being disciplined and lifting until they heal. Not lifting always makes me grouchy. Carrying luggage didn't help my elbows one bit but, otherwise, being on vacation did. (I'm still trying to figure out how to avoid stressing my elbows in real life.) Hopefully, I can go back to lifting in the next month… or I may go mad.

I've met my fan! I.e., that person who didn't know me, who didn't mistake me for someone else, and who both knows and likes my work. Also, some folks had actually heard of me when I introduced myself.

Someone else wants me to do more narration for Lightspeed. I'd love to but, of course, it's not up to me. If anyone wants me to do more Lightspeed narrations, the right person to inform is the talented and sonorous Stefan Rudnicki.

I melted into a puddle when I realized the hand I was shaking was Steven Brust's. Words, of course, instantly evaporated from my mind. Eventually, I did manage to eek out that I love his work, that I've read everything he's ever written and that I've prowled used book stores for the out-of-print work. He was extremely gracious about me making a spectacle of myself. Apparently, being told that someone loves your work never gets old. Who knew? (Teresa Nielsen Hayden's reaction to my implosion was a funny, but impossibly dry, “Oh, John, I didn't know that you're a Steven Brust fan.”)

Thanks to random con interaction, I now have the opportunity to translate the short fiction of a highly talented Chinese writer. This is a huge break for me and I'm really looking forward to the work.

I dropped my cellphone. It's not a big deal. The screen is fine. The back now has a web of cracks that radiate from the bottom right corner. The phone works just fine. I may still use this as an excuse to get a new one as I'm now off contract and the back is now in slow-motion decay.

A couple editors who publish awesome work suggested that I send stories to their markets. (Like a bunch of other things that happened during this con, this one has literally never happened to me before.)

The Wonderbook is truly full of wonder and very heavy. Can't wait for it to published.

People said “I saw you walking by and I was going to say hi but you looked like you needed to get somewhere right away” to me a lot during the con. Interestingly, none of those people have ever seen me when I actually was in a hurry. I've been told I walk quickly. (I actually never realized until I started doing improv. How you walk makes a difference for some exercises.) Seriously, I suspect a lot of people could walk much faster than I do if they wanted or needed to. (Because short legs.)

On the whole, I'm glad I went. I met for the first time or caught up with a lot of really cool people. Some business accidentally happened. Despite not getting a whole lot of sleep and spending a lot of time at parties, I managed to decompress some so this trip actually fulfilled it's intended purpose.

The plan right now is to go to London. Maybe not Spokane, but I hadn't planned on San Antonio either.

prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2013-07-19 09:14 am

My Readercon 24 wrap-up

As I keep saying, my con experience keeps getting more and more social. This isn't necessary good or bad. Right now, it's just an observation.

Thursday night, some woman approached me and aggressively demanded my personal contact information. She refused to take no for an answer. She took it for granted that I spoken Mandarin. Her first words to me were "你講嗎?" Basically, the first thing she asked me, in Mandarin, was whether I spoke Mandarin but in a highly idiomatic way that assumes the object. (Basically, she asked me if I can speak.)

I found out later she spent the con doing the same to every person of Asian descent. Apparently, if you didn't speak Mandarin, she insisted that you actually must. *facepalm* When I realized she had a pattern of doing this I tried to find out her name because, ironically, she's one of those people who wear their name tag reversed.

I will point out that people assuming I speak Mandarin is not a uniquely Readercon experience. This has happened to me in the middle of Italy, for example.

Also, I had my obligatory "mistaken for Ken Liu" experience. This happens at every con I attend, even at cons that Ken doesn't attend. Of course, Ken was at Readercon, but so was Ted Chiang, Wesley Chu, and Curtis Chen, for example. I'm sure I haven't listed every Asian male at Readercon this year.

This is my first year on Readercon panels and they all went really well. Rose Fox and the rest of the program committee did an amazing job with selecting panels and stocking them with panelists. My fellow panelists all had interesting things to say.

"Nuances of Point of View" went well. We didn't get too far beyond taxonomy. However, panelists made some interesting points and Jim Kelly did his usual good job making sure everyone had a chance to express opinions.

The "Race As a Social Construct" panel could have been treacherous. On one hand, there's a lot of pseudoscience about race that needs to be refuted. That pseudoscience is unenlightening and ultimately harmful. On the other hand, the whole notion of "I don't see race" also needs to be refuted because that sustains the unequal status quo. I think we did a good job of threading the needle in no small part due to the pitch-perfect moderation of Andrea Hairston. As I've said many times, I want to grow up to be Andrea Hairston. She's made of awesome.

In retrospect, I may have over-prepared for the "Sociolinguistics in SF" panel. I had so many things that I wanted to say about areas that the panel never had time to explore. We did delve into lots of fascinating aspects of how language affects society and culture. If I had a quibble, it would be that the panel felt too short. I loved loved loved doing this panel.

Many more people showed up than I'd expected. (Standing room only!) So excited to see so many people as interested in this topic as I am.

As usual, I caught up with a lot of people I really like. I stayed at the con hotel this year. No lobby because it's under construction, but I did go to a bunch of parties. (And I help occupy a hallway!)

This Readercon has been quite inspiring. When I found out I was on the POV panel, my reaction to the panel description was to start a short story. Going to Readercon has inadvertently provided a lot of fodder for that story. We'll see how it turns out...
prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2013-06-27 06:07 pm

My Readercon schedule

Obviously, I don't blog nearly enough. I may fix this some day. For now, here is my Readercon schedule:
[I'm especially thrilled that "Sociolinguistics and SF/F" made it onto the program.]

Thursday July 11

9:00 PM    G    The Nuances of POV. John Chu, Eileen Gunn, James Patrick Kelly (moderator), Darrell Schweitzer, John Stevens. When writing genre fiction, many authors begin with the approach that first-person point of view (POV) is useful for horror and heroic quests to bring immediacy to the story; third-person is necessary for epic world-building; and second-person is too confusing and best avoided. But POV is not so cut-and-dried. How can we deepen and expand our ideas of what constitutes POV to better understand and apply it in fiction? How can we broaden the discussion of POV to employ a more granular approach?

Suggested by John E.O. Stevens and Meriah Crawford.

Friday July 12

4:00 PM    G    Race as a Social Construct in Speculative Fiction. John Chu, Andrea Hairston (leader), Alaya Dawn Johnson, Daniel José Older, Vandana Singh. Race in speculative literature is often treated as a non-issue or grossly oversimplified: the Other is mapped onto elves and dwarves and aliens while all the human characters are white as milk, or human/Other hybrids inherit magical traits and boatloads of angst from their non-human parents in ways that parallel stereotypes about mixed-race people. How can we develop fantasy and science fiction that addresses race as a social construct (rather than a sub-species category), with all the messy complexities inherent in that?

Suggested by Gillian Daniels.
7:00 PM    ME    Sociolinguistics and SF/F. John Chu, Rose Lemberg (leader), Alex Dally MacFarlane, Anil Menon, Sabrina Vourvoulias. Sociolinguistics studies the ways in which language intersects with society. It looks at issues such as interactions of language with power, prestige, gender, hegemony, and literacy, bilingualism and multilingualism, translation, language birth, and language death to name but a few. We will look specifically at the kinds of tensions that are created in societies where people speak different languages or dialects depending on social and racial/ethnic status. We will also discuss genre books in which those topics have been explored, and consider sociolinguistics tools and concepts that may be useful to writers.

Proposed by Rose Lemberg.

prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2013-02-22 09:06 am

My belated Boskone post

Boskone was a blur. This is the first time I've done programming at any con so the time just flew by. Being on panels was actually a lot of fun. The topics were interesting and my fellow panelists had interesting things to say. I caught up with a bunch of friends I otherwise don't get to meet face to face. On balance, I had a fun time.

However, I've now heard about the harassment panel both via the internet and a friend who was there. I should point out that I did not attend that panel. I was interested but couldn't go. It was at the same time as the QUILTBAG panel and I was on the QUILTBAG panel. It didn't go unremarked at the QUILTBAG panel that the two were at the same time. Due to the overlap in interest, the scheduling forced some people into a hard decision on which panel to go.

My friend was literally shaking with fury over the harassment panel. For this and other related reasons, she may never go to Boskone again. Another friend called it "Arisia for old people" (after which we went to the net to study up on the history of Boskone and Arisia).

Ultimately, I can't really disagree with either of them. Boskone definitely has its issues. I'm sure the con committee is interested in addressing them. However, it does feel like the con gets smaller and smaller every year. (I have no idea if this is literally the case.) Boskone is actually one of the first cons I'd ever attended so I can't help but be concerned.

That said, I thought the panels I was on went well. The QUILTBAG panel explored how works that may not be problematic in isolation may read that way in conversation with the rest of the field. The Doctor Who panel was just plain fun. The genre in theater panel covered a surprising breadth and I got across in my contention that, in theater, genre is just another tool in the kit. Happily, I wasn't the only one who felt this way. I discovered that I could speak more cogently about translation than I'd expected. (Secretly, I don't know that I'm ready, but I'd love to do some for real some day.)

Some of the panels I attended were terrific. Lots of interesting people saying interesting things. The panelists on the "The Paper Menagerie" panel said unfailingly deep and insightful things about the story. It was a real education in why stories work and, in particular, why *that* story packs such a wallop.

Close to the end of the session, an audience member supplied the awkward, vaguely racist moment that I had spent much of the past hour fearing. He suggested that when a person of color or a woman wins an award, one should consider that the field was weak that year. Srsly? That story? Not to mention, for example, "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"? I can't even begin to...

The panel called him on it. They were much nicer to him than I think I could have been. (Note that I'm saying this as a good thing. Incoherent foaming at the mouth rage is not generally useful.)

I witness (or am the recipient of) at least one awkward, vaguely racist moment at every con I go to. This was the only one I witnessed at Boskone this year. *shrugs*

Outside of that, someone approached Jennifer Pelland and me at the con suite on Sunday to tell us that both our names came up in the panel about who to nominate for the Hugo. This was immediately after my Doctor Who panel which I think he attended. Also, I always make sure that my name tag is clearly visible at all times. It's possible he might not have mistaken me for Ken Liu (who wasn't at Boskone but whose name surely came up and will surely and deservedly be nominated for at least one Hugo if not more). So that was cool. It's certainly a first.

Also, late Saturday night, a podcast I'm a big fan of queried me to narrate a story for them. I'm thrilled. Of course, I will narrate the story for them.

So, for me, Boskone certainly ended well. I also recognize though that some of my friends had a radically different con experience. *sigh*
prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2013-02-11 02:28 pm

My Boskone 50 Schedule

I've been going to Boskone for years. This year, I'm on panels. This is the first time I'll be on any con panel. Wish me luck...
(Especially on Sunday where they've put me on 3 panels in 4 hours.)

Friday 5:00pm
Griffin: Without Being a Token (QUILTBAG)
The term QUILTBAG tries to point to many areas on the sexuality continuum -- queer or questioning, unisex, intersex, lesbian, transgender or transexual, bisexual, asexual or ally, and gay. In the SF community, when these characters appear in fiction, they (like other character types) sometimes appear as fully drawn people, other times as tokens. When and why does a QUILTBAG character require a full portrayal?
Julia Rios (M), Joan Slonczewski, John Chu, Gillian Daniels

Sunday 10:00am
Harbor III: Regenerating Doctor Who
TV's favorite Time Lord celebrates his show's world-record 50th anniversary this November. After so many stories, so many assistants and villains -- not to mention so many Doctors -- how has the series stayed fresh enough to keep running, season after season? What more might be in store?
Colin Harris (M), Jennifer Pelland, John Chu, Jim Mann

Sunday 12:00pm
Burroughs: On the Stage: Genre in the Theater
The fantastical and horrible on stage go back to Aeschylus and Aristophanes. SF on stage is...more recent. Has the current surge in genre TV and film led to a resurgence in the theatre? Our panelists will discuss both past and present genre plays.
Bob Kuhn (M), F. Brett Cox, James Patrick Kelly, John Chu, Gillian Daniels

Sunday 1:00pm
Burroughs: Non-English Fiction and Translation
When translating works of fiction into English, what are some of the dangers associated with capturing the original piece "meaning for meaning?" What effect do cross-cultural references or the lack of historical knowledge have on either the translator or the reader of the newly translated piece of fiction? Moreover, is the translated work as valid as the original? How might translation techniques impact the interpreted work for good or ill? Panelists will also discuss examples of translated work.
David Anthony Durham (M), Jack M. Haringa, John Chu
prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2012-12-31 02:43 pm

State of the um... *mumble* for 2012

I almost never do a state of year blog post because, for various reasons, state of year blog posts for me pretty much boil down to: I wrote a bunch of stories and I got rejected a lot.

So, in 2012, I wrote a bunch of stories and got rejected a lot.

So often, actually, that I'm on track to have the most rejections of anyone in my Clarion class for 2012. Yes, we have an informal contest. I'm at 49 rejections. The next most is at 44. Barring a sudden last minute surge, victory (for what it's worth) will be mine.

However, I also sold three stories: "Incomplete Proofs" to Bloody Fabulous, "Best of All Possible Worlds" to Asimov's (in the February 2012 issue, on newsstands now), and "The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere" to (forthcoming). In addition, I sold two reprints, both forthcoming. "Thirty Seconds from Now", originally published in Boston Review will be podcast at EscapePod and reprinted in Ann and Jeff VanderMeer's Time Traveler's Almanac.

I'm totally thrilled by all of these sales. I've sold more stories this year than every other year of my writing life combined. (Note: This isn't hard. Prior to this year, my only sale was to Boston Review in 2010. I'm just pointing out the anomaly.)

This is where I'm supposed to insert that inspirational message about how the way to double your success rate is to triple your failure rate. However, I've had years where I was rejected on average once a week before. During those years, I sold not a thing. I like to think the difference this time is that I've improved as a writer (not that I can't stand to improve more), but I can't really know. So, the inspirational moral is maybe more like "Don't get hung up on process. Just write the best stories you can."

[Oh, I think I'm supposed mention somewhere that "Incomplete Proofs" is eligible in the short story category of the Nebula, Hugo etc. (The other two stories are eligible for 2013.) Also, "Incomplete Proofs" started my Campbell clock. Not that I'm going to be nominated for the Campbell on the basis of one short story about gay mathematicians, in a world where proofs are reified into runway fashion, struggling over their relationship and whether P=NP. Surprise me. I dare you.]

I got to beta-read Ken Liu's translation of Liu Cixin's 三体 (which Ken has titled The Three Body Problem). For me, it was sort of like getting to translate with training wheels and a lot less pressure. I'm grateful for the opportunity and glad I got to read the translation and give him feedback. It was a terrific experience and, weirdly, I have to thank Facebook for making it possible. (This makes one more reason why I'm glad I went to Clarion since that's the reason why I'm on Facebook in the first place.)

I don't know when the translation will be published, but it'll be worth a look whenever it is. Ken's translation is both strikingly faithful and readable by someone without a grounding in Chinese history. The novel definitely has some cool stuff going on in it. (Note that it's a trilogy. Translations of the other two books are also in progress. I have the second book (in Chinese) but haven't read it yet.)

This year, I took Improv 402, aka Harold Boot Camp, at <a href=">ImprovBoston</a>. That was a great class. I have a better understanding now of what it takes to improve a good scene. I also had the (unsurprising) realization that I will probably be improvising a lot of really awful scenes before I'm consistently good. I'm sure I have lots of problems as an improviser, but the one I'm focused on right now is getting myself on stage even if I have no idea what I will do. Part of me wants to know what I will be doing before I go on. (Yes, this may be missing the point of improv.) Part of being a good improviser is recognizing that it's okay to have no idea what you'll do when you get out there. You just need to be open to the possibilities you explore with your scene partner(s). Mostly, I need to stop worrying about it and just start doing it. Singing is fun as usual. The Brahms Requiem, The Bach St. John Passion, and Haydn's The Seasons earlier in the year. The Bach Magnificat and Cantata 191 recently. The Mozart Requiem and Orff's Carmina Burana to come. I'm still trying to get my voice under control. My voice is a little too high for many bass parts. It gets uncomfortable and I end up dropping out on some phrases because I just don't have the vocal power down there. It's also a little too low for some tenor parts. The tenor line of the Bach Magnificat actually fits beautifully in my voice. The same is true for The Seasons. However, the tenor line of Cantata 191 is a tad high and the tenor line of the Brahm's Requiem is just plain punishing. After the whole "Hölle, wo ist dein Sieg!" business, I'm relieved that the tenors are the fourth voice to enter the subsequent fugue. An entire page off before entering with "Herr, du bist würdig zu nehmen Preis und Ehre und Kraft." It starts on a high G, of course. I can get through the Brahms Requiem, but that seems like an awfully low bar. (In what may be a recurring refrain, high notes are much easier if I don't stress out over them and just sing them instead. For example, high As are actually fairly free and easy when I don't realize until after the fact that I'm singing them.) Every year, I tell myself to look for a voice teacher, but I haven't done it yet. It'd be nice to know where I belong. I don't really get to blog about the day job so I'll leave it at this: I've been placed with a lot more responsibility. It's still interesting. Not many people get to do the jobs they wanted when they were kids, so I'm glad I still have mine (both of them actually since writing is technically the night job). I still remember in 8th grade, we had to take this career assessment exam. You answered a bunch of questions about what you were good at and what you wanted to do. They reduced those answers to scores placed inside wedges of a hexagon. Each wedge represented some sort of skill or trait. Based on the wedges you scored the highest in, the guidance counselors would look up your ideal professions. The problem was that the test assumed everyone would score highest in adjacent (i.e., related) wedges. My two highest scores were in diametrically opposed wedges. I still have no idea if that said more about me or the exam. So, that's 2012. All things considered, it's gone well. With the writing, it's gone way better than I've had any right to expect.
prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2012-12-20 12:38 am

Join them, leave my cheese to sour? Maybe.

Before I say anything about Pippin at the ART, I should probably list the mitigating circumstances: I thought Diane Paulus did a great job with Hair. Her Porgy and Bess annoyed me more than anything else. Pippin is probably closer to the former than the latter, so I was hopeful. However...

The woman next to me kept waving her hands as if she were a spectacularly arrhythmic conductor or maybe she thought she was calling cues. Either way, it was as if the show could not proceed without her doing something. The guy next to her apparently believed if he didn't sing along the show would be ruined. (The show actually asks you to sing along with to the chorus of "No Time at All." That's fine. He sang along whenever the fever struck him during the entire show.) The people behind me apparently know the guy playing Pippin. (They'd mentioned this before the show started.) They gave the "I'm in third row center and I know he can see me so I'm going to be especially appreciative" type of reaction. I'm all for people enjoying themselves at the theater, as long as it doesn't upstage the main event.

Also, I knew going in that the conceit here was that they would set Pippin in a circus. My bias is that I think this is a media studies major or theater major's idea of sophistication and edginess. It's what they do for their senior projects to prove they're real film or theater directors. Either that, or they re-set a work inside an insane asylum.

Pippin, however, has always been a play within a play. The story of Pippin's life is enacted by this wandering theater troupe. In this production, the wandering theater troupe is a circus. Setting Pippin inside a circus isn't intrinsically a bad idea. It's not like someone decided to do Juno (the musical based on Juno and the Paycock) as if it were performed by a circus troupe. If there is a musical (which isn't already set inside a circus) where this conceit could work, it's Pippin.

First, a quick overview of the changes for those who keep track of this sort of thing: Larry Hochman orchestrated for a pit of 12: 2 keyboards, violin/viola, cello, bass, guitar, 2 reeds, trumpet, trombone, 2 percussion. They cut "Welcome Home, Son." (I find it hard to care about this.) "War is a Science" has new lyrics so that it's now about how to keep the body count. "Glory" is missing at least one section (which shows up at the top of act two with new lyrics). In "No Time at All" has an extra time through the singalong chorus. i.e., Berthe doesn't interrupt us. "With You" has, I think, new dance music. "Spread a Little Sunshine" has a new dance arrangement. "Morning Glow" has a new ending, incorporating "Corner of the Sky", and makes reference to the fact that the show used to be a one act. (Yes, this means they cut the "hey, the crown doesn't fit" joke.)

There's now an entr'acte where the circus troupe does acrobatics. The missing part of "Glory" shows up at the top of act two with new lyrics about Pippin being king. "On the Right Track" has some minor changes, most notably the professions Pippin tries. "Extraordinary" has a bunch of new lyrics that, oddly, make it more ordinary. (I'm sad that the world of Pippin no longer has griffins.) They reconceived the finale, somewhat, about a decade ago. It now uses the lyrics on the cast album (which, AFAIK, were never used in the original production).

[Oh, and they honor the tradition of not listing "I Guess I'll Miss the Man" in the program. The Leading Player interjects during breaks but doesn't interrupt any of the singing. I think having the Leading Player literally say, "There isn't a song at this point in the show" is new though.]

No new songs. "Welcome Home, Son" is the only cut as far as I can tell. They even sang the rather stupid "Prayer for a Duck." I.e., if I haven't mentioned a song, it's because it seemed unchanged to me.

For all the changes, I can't really say whether the show is better or worse. It's just different. I guess some of the new lyrics are more pointed, perhaps more accomplished. They don't serve their dramatic function noticeably better than the originals though.

As for the conceit, I think it could have worked better. Ultimately, I don't know that it meshed well with the choreography. This production hired Chet Walker to choreograph in the style of Bob Fosse, and that he did. In some cases, he recreated the original choreography. The Manson Trio is explicitly credited in the program. In other case, it's a lovingly faithful pastiche. Portions of "Glory" looked like something out of Sweet Charity though.

Right away, though, there is a casting dilemma. The likelihood you can find people adept at both circus acrobatics and Fosse dance is pretty low. This cast has its acrobats and its Fosse dancers and the twain doesn't meet as often as one might like. Everyone does a little something but the serious dancing falls on only a few and the serious acrobats falls only a few others. They hide this well, but not well enough. (Part of this is so not their fault. One of the acrobats, well, mere mortals are not supposed to have bodies like that. I spent a lot of time watching what he was doing.)

The program has a short essay by Chet Walker where he talks about how Fosse's style "demanded that you interpret the written word and illustrate the lyric." That is, there was a meaning to everything he put on stage. Of the Fosse pieces that remained in the show, that was still true. However, the circus bits, while they were cool to watch, felt like distractions rather than anything that heightened the show in any meaningful sense. Some of the bits were breathtaking, but it felt like you could have replace any trick with any other breathtaking trick and the result would be the same. None of it was serving a dramatic function.

The result is rather than a synthesis of Fosse movement and circus movement, we got diluted Fosse. It's still a good time, but I was left wondering what the various feats of acrobatics had to do with anything. I'm not saying that circus acrobatics can't tell a story or further dramatic action. I'm saying that it didn't work for me in this case. Frankly, it might have worked better if they hadn't decided to choreography in the style of Fosse. If the acrobatics had been the entire movement vocabulary of the show, it might have worked better.

The cast, of course, is the dead giveaway that they have aspirations beyond a regional production. For the most part, they deliver.

Andrea Martin, as Berthe, only has the one scene and song, but she stops the show with it. She's amazing. Her part is too small to make it worth the price of the ticket, but it's also one of those few moments where the circus acrobatics really works.

Terrance Mann is terrific as Charlemagne. The gravitas and bluster are both there. It's a serious, grounded performance that's also utterly appropriate. He also makes a point of being someone completely different in the bits where he's merely a player in the circus.

Charlotte d'Amboise is ideal casting for Fastrada. Apparently, I only see her in roles where she has One Big Solo Dance Number. (I saw her Cassie in Chorus Line on Broadway.) She nails the role, doing just enough faux-innocent vamping that we get the idea, but not so much that we're annoyed.

Rache Bay Jones, as Catherine, is sweet and sympathetic. Her part, more than any other, has to function in both the inner story and the outer story at the same time. I.e., while the troupe is telling the story of Pippin, we are also getting a bit of the story of the troupe. The two intersect on her. Everything she does must make sense in the context of both stories and she succeeds admirably. (Incidentally, this is another place where the circus conceit actually works well, giving her a chance to build up the story of her position in the troupe in act one, in which she otherwise does not appear.)

Patina Miller is fine as the Leading Player. Unfortunately, she can't be a better Ben Vereen than Ben Vereen and his performance has been immortalized on DVD. Another reason, perhaps, not to choreograph in the style of Fosse. You'd think if the troupe is a circus, she'd be more of a ringmaster. However, her movement language is that Fosse and I'm surprised to realize how tightly choreographed the role is. The result is that she ends up looking like Ben Vereen's highly skilled and polished understudy. I have no idea what Patina Miller brings to the role.

Matthew James Thomas is my only disappointment. Unfortunately, he plays Pippin. His thin, high voice is fine for the part. (He may be the only Pippin in history to end "Extraordinary" on tonic rather than shouting the last note.) His scene with Terrance Mann at the end of act one plays probably about as well as it has ever been played. My only gripe with his performance is that it's whiny and makes Pippin look like an overentitled spoiled brat. (To be fair, he kind of is.)

Pippin, as he's written, is already a bit precious. For me, Matthew James Thomas overeggs the pudding. Whereas everyone else was giving these interesting, surprisingly nuanced performances, his felt one-note to me. I'm meant to be sympathetic to his yearning for something truly fulfilling and be disappointed along with him when everything he tries fails to live up to that. Instead, knowing that there was a revised ending, I was hoping he'd immolate himself in the fire. While that's an audacious acting choice to make me feel that way, I don't think it's the right one.

As for the revised ending, well, it's better than the revised ending to Porgy and Bess. (I saw that in early previews at the ART. By the time the production reached Broadway, they'd reinstated the original ending.) For me, it was an ending that worked better in theory than in practice. It satisfies the structure, but makes no sense.

[Pippin is 40 years old. I think the statute of limitations is up on spoilers. If you want to remain unspoiled, skip the next 7 paragraphs.]

Of course, Pippin is ultimately about this troupe of players who go around convincing young men to immolate themselves in this act of perfect fulfillment. The way they do this is they find someone idealistic enough to believe in such a thing, have him act the part of Pippin and by the end he's so broken down that he'll commit suicide. The musical is much more subtle than my description. So subtle, that some people fail to recognize that the story of Pippin's life is the play within the play. Also, the act of immolation is presented much more appealingly than I've have here.

In the performance we see, the suicide does not happen because the man playing Pippin and the woman playing Catherine have genuinely fallen in love with each other. It's through the recognition of that love that the man playing Pippin saves himself. (Yes, it's a bit trite, but no one claimed Pippin is great literature.) The Leading Player apologizes to the audience and says if there is someone who wants to experience, lights, sets, magic, and perfect fulfillment, they are right there in his mind. The entire cast except for Pippin, Catherine and her son essentially abandon the show. No lights, no set, no costumes (they've all been systematically stripped from the show as the finale proceeded) and finally no music.

The original non-ending ending was Pippin sings a bit a cappella, then Catherine asks Pippin if how he feels about his decision. He responds that he feels trapped, but that's not a bad ending for a musical comedy. Ta-da. Jazz hands. Curtain.

Yeah. That's rather unsatisfying.

The ending is musically more satisfying, but dramatically puzzling. That is, Pippin sings a bit a cappella. Pippin Catherine and her son go off stage. However, he comes back on and sings a bit of "Corner of the Sky" center stage. The circus troupe returns and we get one more reprise of the hit tune.

The implication is that the cycle has continued with the son taking the father's place. What has always been implicit with the show, that they would go on to find other young men to immolate is now explicit. That's fine. What makes no sense is that it's the son. You'd think the man playing Pippin and woman playing Catherine would march back on stage and drag the son away. Also, the son is way too young to play Pippin.

The show has been flirting with meta-theater all night. They make explicit references to the audience. They even crawl through the audience during the entr'acte. (The hot acrobat crawled over my armrest. I could have reached out to touch him but I decided he wouldn't appreciate that.) What would have both made sense and satisfy the dramatic structure is if some guy about the right age to play Pippin walked out of the audience onto center stage and started singing "Corner of the Sky" (and in the right key so that when the orchestra enters, there is no catastrophe.) Of course, no production can afford to hire a guy to sit in the audience for an entire show so that he can sing 8 bars of "Corner of the Sky" at the very end.

[Ok, I've stopped giving away the ending.]

On the whole, I enjoyed it. Pippin is an unfortunate vacuum within his own musical. (Even then, Matthew James Thomas does have his moments.) The cast that surrounds him is pretty awesome. If the circus bits feel like distractions more than anything else, they are at least breathtaking distractions. It's possible to go into the theater and have a really good time. (By contrast, I left Porgy and Bess somewhat grumpy.)

I've always liked the score and this cast does it justice. Right now, I'm hoping it continues to Broadway. That makes it more likely we'll get a cast album and the changes to the score will be documented.

[As an aside, as I was leaving, the conducting woman to my left was complaining about a cut song. For a moment, I thought I'd found the one person in the world who cares about "Welcome Home, Son." Nope, she was talking about "Kind of Woman," which Catherine did sing in the show. The conducting woman missed it entirely. Maybe she was too busy waving her arms around to keep the show in motion or something.]
prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2012-12-08 09:06 pm

So I finally saw Chinglish...

More specifically, the Lyric Stage production of Chinglish. I actually had a ticket for the original Broadway production. Unfortunately, Hurricane Irene intervened. I couldn't get down to NYC and, in any case, the performance had been cancelled. The production itself had closed before I could plan another trip down to see it. So, no Chinglish for me unless one of the area's fine regional theater's programmed it. In the case of Chinglish, that's ostensibly one reason to do a Broadway production, to encourage regional productions. (Sadly, it's hard to imagine a play where entire scenes are conducted entirely in Mandarin having a successful Broadway run.) Lyric Stage mounted a production of it, so over a year after when I'd planned to see it, I finally saw it. And...

As it turned out, after this performance, WBUR's Meghna Chakrabarti would interview David Henry Hwang and the cast as part of an audience talkback. I don't usually stay for audience talkbalks. They tend to resemble bad con panels. E.g., "This isn't a question. It's more of a statement..." Or if it is a question, well, at a talkback for the Broadway production of Assassin's someone asked the actress playing Sarah Jane Moore, essentially, about her acting choice to sing so poorly. Except it wasn't an acting choice. *facepalm* However, this talkback would have a professional interviewer, not to mention David Henry Hwang, so I stayed for that too.

As for the play, I had three main reactions: Wow, this may be David Henry Hwang's best work yet. Hey, this is a terrific production that does justice to the text. And finally, *sigh*, I wish I'd seen the Broadway production.

Not all of David Henry Hwang's plays work. I saw Golden Child during its Broadway run. I could feel him reaching for the metaphor, grasping at generational parallels but failing. However, he's a terrific playwright. Even plays of his that don't entirely work have elements in them worth watching. (This is to say I don't regret having seen Golden Child and am curious about the recent off-Broadway revisal.)

Chinglish, however, works. Hwang lands on a solid metaphor. He starts with the premise of a business deal with people whose language he does not speak then spins out from there. That notion of miscommunication plays out in several spheres at once in ways that reinforce the central story. He starts with the literal misunderstandings. As he works out his premise, by the end of the play, he has shown characters who ostensibly speak the same language, but really don't. If the play starts off too obviously--characters who will fall in love with each other have a literal language chasm--it quickly goes to more interesting places.

I love that Hwang inverts or subverts the tropes of the "Western explores alien culture" story. The American is not in a position of power. It's not even really his story. Certainly, the Vice Minister with whom he has an affair has a meatier and more interesting role. If he gets the last word, she gets all the interesting turns and most of the audience sympathy.

The play is always sold by pushing the funny mistranslations between English and Chinese committed by the play's characters. Fortunately, Hwang gets past that to questions of cultures and relationships. The play does a deft job of interweaving the personal relationships with the business relationships with the culture clashes. There's a rich vein of material there. I don't know that he mines it fully, but he mines it profitably. Like I said, this may be the best play he's written yet.

Lyric Stage has mounted a solid production with rich, detailed performances. Done on a unit set, this production is undoubtedly more abstract than the original. Part of the reason for this is that this is a regional production. Given the space and budget, the set can only be so elaborate. Unit sets with a few actor-driven set pieces is par for the course, even for plays that take place in many different locations. The director made some choices that make a virtue of the necessity, and for the most part, they work. Parts of the play ends up taking place in the limbo space of his memory. The play is a flashback bookended by direct address to the audience. Placing scenes in limbo works for me. (This is not to say that I wouldn't want to see a production with realistic sets.)

The actors all do terrific work. Barlow Adamson and Alexander Platt are both more than credible as the American businessman and the English business consultant. They both start with the requisite bluster then go onto more nuanced places as their lives spin out of control. Michael Tow channels the veteran of the Cultural Revolution Chinese bureaucrat so well (down to the cadence of his Chinese) that it's scary. Celeste Oliva has the play's hardest role as Xi Yan, the main driver of the plot. Over the course of two languages--the character is nominally bilingual--she gains and betrays pretty much everybody's trust while maintaining the audience's sympathy. It's a pretty terrific performance. However...

And this is why I wish I'd seen the Broadway production...

The Broadway cast was bilingual. The casting in the Lyric Stage production, as good as the actors are, is odd. How well each actor speaks Chinese is inversely proportional to how often they have to do it. I assume this is a coincidence. During the talkbalk, the actors pointed out who were native speakers and who weren't. However, it was obvious from their first moments in the play. From smallest role to largest role:

Tiffany Chen, Chen Tang and Liz Eng are fluent. They sound like native speakers but play incidental characters. Of the plays several scenes entirely or almost entirely in Chinese, the one that worked to perfection as the one where the brunt of the dialogue fell on the three of them. (As we found out in the talkback, they are native speakers. They speak both English and Mandarin in standard accents.)

Michael Tow sounds as if he's worked really hard on his Chinese over years. His Mandarin is wrong toned often enough that I notice. In a weird way, that's a good thing because it means I know what he was trying to say without reading the surtitles. In the program and during the talkbalk, he credits his tutor who happened to be in the audience for this performance. His part is entirely in Chinese and he speaks really well, but even if he gets the cadence right, he never sounds native. Now, in real life, sounding like a learned expert in the language is not a bad thing. However, in this play, he plays a native but he never really convinces me.

Alexander Platt plays a learned expert in the language who has lived in China for decades. In other words, if he sounded like Michael Tow (or the three I mentioned before him), that would have been spot on. For example, John Pasden on ChinesePod speaks Chinese about as well as any native speaker does. Alexander Platt can certainly toss off lines as if he were fluent, but what he says isn't really understandable. I think he does better than Celeste Oliva but I don't know if his diction actually is better, if I'm grading him on a curve because he's not expected to sound native, or if I'm grading him on a curve he's not ethnically Chinese.

Celeste Oliva acts her part well, but when she speaks Mandarin, I can't believe that her character grew up in China. As an example aside from the wrong toned thing, she uses an American 'r' in place of the pinyin 'r'. The two don't sound anything alike. The latter doesn't exist in English. The former doesn't exist in Chinese. She does get lots of points for launching into her dialogue as if she were fluent. She never sounds stilted. Like I said, on the whole, it's a terrific performance, but how she speaks messes with the verisimilitude. (What's odd is that she does a very authentic sounding Chinese accent. When she speaks English, she's much more credible.)

As an aside, I apparently saw this with a class of people taking Chinese. I heard them remark during intermission about how awful the Mandarin was. So it's not just me. Also, I hear fluent Mandarin on the T all the time. The audience where no one understands Mandarin is probably a rare one.

Barlow Adamson is the actor who doesn't follow the pattern. He has a huge part but he plays the American businessman so, of course, he gets to be a monoglot. He only has one scene where he has to speak any actual Mandarin. Part of the point is that the character mispronounces what he's trying to say. Since we see the translation of what he ends up saying surtitled, ideally, he should mispronounce words in exactly the right ways so that what he ends up saying matches the surtitles. This didn't happen. (OTOH, I don't think this was a big deal either. The scene was still funny.)

I've probably spent more space on this than the rest of the review combined so lest I give the wrong impression, there's one thing I need to make clear: I'm not saying that the actors must to be fluent to play these roles. They're actors. They just need to make me believe that they're fluent. For example, good classically trained singers, especially ones trained from childhood, make their livings convincing people that they are fluent in whatever languages they sing in.

In this production, though, it does feel like a missed opportunity. This production was so good that I wish they'd gotten this right too. If I'd seen the Broadway production, I don't think I would have gotten pulled out with every sentence. (One reason that the scene I referred to earlier with Tiffany Chen, Chen Tang and Liz Eng worked so well for me, I suspect, is because I wasn't spending any time trying to figure out what the hell they were saying.)

[Incidentally, during the talkbalk, they talked about the difficulties of performing a bilingual play when the actors are not bilingual. One of the things they mentioned was that they absolutely had to get everything right because if they go up on a line, they are ill-equipped to ad-lib and besides, they're being surtitled. This is interesting because, if I believe the surtitles, someone skipped a line in the performance I saw.]

I'm glad I saw it. If you're in the area, you should see it too. I'm still sad that Hurricane Irene prevented me from seeing the Broadway production.
prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2012-11-08 11:18 am

My somewhat late WFC post

In some ways, World Fantasy Convention was exactly what I'd wanted. In some ways, it was nothing like what I'd expected.

What didn't surprise me:

Going into Canada would involve a couple of odd questions but would not be problematic. Returning to the United States, the country of my citizenship, would involve a bunch of odd questions asked politely by a hostile customs inspector determined to interpret my every answer in the worst possible way. (I stumbled at first. When he asked me where I was going, I answered, "I'm going home to Boston." His response was openly skeptical, as if what he really wanted to say was "You think you are, are you? Well, we'll see about that." I kept my responses impersonal after that. He probably already quizzed other people who'd gone to WFC so the truth that I'd spent my long weekend there seemed more plausible.)

A terrific evening catching up with my friend, Des.

A great time at the con with lots of friends, including the talented and lovely Karin Tidbeck whom I thought I'd never see again. (It doesn't seem likely that I will be able to visit Malmö any time soon.) It was great catching up with Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, Adam Israel, Barbara Gordon, Lily Yu and too many others to mention. Of course, there was never enough time with anyone. (I already miss you all in part because 2013 may be a year where I don't travel to many cons.)

Meeting a lot of writers, editors and agents who I hadn't known and made an idiot of myself in front of some of them. I can only hope that they recognize a fan insensibly squeeing and make allowances. (In particular, Ted Chiang is such a hero to me. His work is one of the reasons why I'm writing. In my defense, I had just woken up from a nap and was groggy when I almost literally ran into him. I think I fared much better with Elizabeth Hand and Aliette de Bodard.)

WFC has a reputation of being where the business of writing happens. Sure enough, the business of writing happened all around me. (It helps to have insanely talented friends who didn't mind me shadowing them.) I'm new enough to all of this that it was pretty neat to see other people conducting business, albeit from a polite and respectful distance.

What did surprise me:

When you become a member of WFC, you get a huge bag of books. Fortunately, I got some friends to drive those books home for me. Otherwise, getting them home would have been cumbersome, expensive, or both. The huge bag of books is apparently something that people just know about.

Yes, WFC is where they make the sausage. I just didn't expect to become part of the sausage. (I mean this in the best possible way.) It turns out that this is a con where people will idly ask you if you write. Also, it turns out that if you happen to have stories forthcoming in Asimov's and, people suddenly take you seriously as a writer.

Two agents (unprompted!) asked me to send them my novel when I have one.

An editor asked me for my card. (Then suggested that, now that I'm a pro, perhaps I ought to have a card.)

I may have the opportunity to write an essay for an anthology. (I hope this doesn't fall through as I really want to do this.)

[Ken announced the project on Twitter Tuesday night so I assume it's ok to talk about now.]
I'll be beta-reading Ken Liu's English translation of 三体, the first volume of 刘慈欣's Three Body trilogy. It was already on my To Be Read pile. I'll just be reading it right now, rather than after House of Leaves. This will be a lot of work, but obviously much more work for Ken. However, it's a terrific opportunity. I'm looking forward to reading the English translation before anyone else.

(Technically, this last bit has more to do with an off-hand Facebook comment than WFC. However, it happened during WFC.)

Just to add to the surreal nature of the weekend, while all this cool stuff was happening, rejection after rejection kept popping up in my email. Seriously, from the Wednesday before WFC to the Tuesday after, five editors rejected my work. Oh well, at least I'm in no danger of getting a swell head.

Still, I had a great time. WFC at Brighton in 2013 is probably not in the cards. I have an all event pass for the US Figure Skating Nationals only two months later. WFC at DC in 2014 is a distinct possibility though. (I'm thinking about WisCon and/or ICFA in 2013 maybe?)
prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2012-10-29 07:21 pm

The Mystery of Virginia Woolf, or Who's Afraid of Edwin Drood

It seems every other trip I plan to NYC in the fall somehow involves a hurricane. The previous one was ok. The one before coincided with Irene (and so I bailed). This one turned out to be just before Sandy. The logistics of the trip actually worked out smoothly. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf in the afternoon, followed by The Mystery of Edwin Drood. I ended up leaving NYC about half an hour earlier than normal. The 10:15pm bus was so late, that I got to Port Authority maybe 10 minutes before it started boarding.

I knew, more or less, what happened in Virginia Woolf, but I'd never seen the movie, read the entire play, or seen a production of the play until now. Tracy Letts and Amy Morton were an amazing George and Martha. They sparred back and forth incisively and gave full measure to the subtext without seeming forced. Their heightened emotions never failed to feel natural and inevitable. These are difficult roles to navigate and they handled each twist and turn with ease.

Nick and Honey are also difficult roles, although for different reasons. In some ways, I think they are as difficult as George and Martha.

Nick has to hold his own in scenes against both George and Martha. The play asks him to be the hero quarterback, a great boxer, the genius who finished grad school when he was nineteen, the serious researcher, the nurturing husband, the philanderer, the guy who is in control and the guy who is very much out of his depth. Madison Dirks, amazingly, manages all of these various turns with ease and a consistent characterization.

Part of it is that he is exactly the physical type the part needs and he has Nick's body language nailed. He's this tall, broad-shouldered, handsome guy. His movements are languid and assured. He holds these relax but definite positions. That's the sort of confidence that ought to go with anyone who is as accomplished as Nick is supposed to be. Part of it is that Madison Dirks, like the rest of the cast, has mined the subtext and gets across what's really going on with ease.

Honey is difficult because the part is so under-written. I'm not sure what you're supposed to do with the part besides get drunk really quickly and have good comic timing. Carrie Coon does just that. Again, she manages the twists and turns of the part without every seeming arbitrary. (I imagine that's an easy trap to fall into with this part, or Nick for that matter.)

Once the inevitable ending arrives (and part of its power for me is seeing it build over the acts), it is devastating. It's hard for me to imagine that I'll ever see a production of the play better than this one.

From the sublime to the ridiculous (in a good way), I saw Drood that night. My friend, Jon, who suggested this ordering, in part, because seeing Virginia Woolf second would have just been weird.

Drood, of course, is utterly and intentionally frivolous. The plot of the Dickens novel is staged as a musical within a show put on in an English music hall. This gives the show all sorts of opportunities to do all sorts of extra things and it exploits those opportunities shamelessly. There's probably the spine of a "straight" Drood musical in the songs "No Good Can Come From Bad" and "The Name of Love." However, this is a musical that revels in its deliberately awful jokes and its vaudevillian turns.

This production doesn't flinch from a single groaner. The result is a really good time. The cast is uniformly wonderful. I'm honestly not sure why someone thought Drood was worth reviving, but Roundabout did, it was a lot of fun and I'm hoping for a cast album. (They've made changes since the original production. This production honors those changes and made other changes on top of them. It'd be nice to have all of this preserved for posterity, especially since the cast is so good.)

If I had a quibble, is that we as the audience chose Rosa Bud as the murderer. By coincidence, the only other time I saw the show (a local production in Buffalo, NY), we also chose Rosa Bud as the murderer. I was hoping to see a different confession. However, Betsy Wolfe is outstanding as Rosa Bud, even in a cast full of excellent performances. I can see why we as a whole chose her and by a healthy margin. (They post the vote tally so you can check it out on the way out of the theater.)

So that was lots of fun. Coming up next, Chinglish at Lyric Stage. (This was the show I would have seen on Broadway but for Irene. Of course, I couldn't get back to NYC before Chinglish closed.) Then, assuming ART lets me exchange my ticket, Pippin. (I bought my ticket then found out yesterday that the schedule for my improv class has changed. Since I'm already missing a class for WFC, I can't miss a second one. *sigh*)
prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2012-10-25 10:24 am

An oddly apt coincidence

This week's In Our Time on BBC4 is about Fermat's Last Theorem. It's a terrific overview about the theorem and the fascinating history of the mathematicians who have tried to prove and eventually succeeded in proving the theorem.

That history is why when I wrote a story about mathematicians, I had them prove Fermat's Last Theorem. I called it "Fermat's Last Stand." One of the amazing writers in BRAWL, my writers' group, suggested that the mathematicians prove a theorem that's actually thematically related to the story instead. That bit of advice helped me pull the story into a coherent whole. (However, it meant I had to change the title. I still think "Fermat's Last Stand" is a terrific title, just not for this story.)

The result, "Incomplete Proofs", has been published in Bloody Fabulous(GoodReads). It's either now available or about to be available depending on whom you check with. Ekaterina Sedia has put together a set of diverse takes on fashion in urban fantasy written by highly talented authors who've been nominated for or have won some really awesome awards, and me. (Seriously, I'm the only one in the table of contents I've never heard of.)

(Oh, and why is a story about mathematicians in an anthology of urban fantasy about fashion? Like I said, it's a collection that's both diverse and on-topic.)
prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2012-09-04 02:47 pm

(no subject)

[Sigh. Flight delayed. I should still get home before public transportation stops so it should be ok. Didn't get a chance to write during WorldCon but I think I've finally worked out how first scene should start. Also, edited a story.]

My First WorldCon(TM) was more fun than I'd expected. I'd come into it extremely stressed, so spending a long weekend with thousands of people was actually the last thing I wanted to do. However, lots of really cool people came and I could always get away when I needed to. (Also, I admire the people who can party through to the next morning. I am not one of those people. Maybe it's not the authentic WorldCon experience, but I slept by midnight each night.)

My weekend was pretty much defined by who I ran into by chance, a lot of texting, and a lot of walking. The con was spread over multiple levels in two different buildings. I'm sufficiently able-bodied that I never needed the elevators. Not using them was my own (probably pointless) way of making things easier for those who did. Also, the hotel put me on the fourth floor. For me, it was faster to walk to my room.

When I arrived on Wednesday, I was about to buy a Transit Card when [ profile] avocadovpx showed up to do the same. We caught up on the ride to the con hotel. I had dinner with Dustin then pretty much fell asleep. [ profile] avocadovpx had planned on dessert with [ profile] elisem. Sadly, I never managed to catch up with her, but I hope [ profile] avocadovpx did. (An irony of WorldCon, BTW, is that thanks to the thick curtains in my hotel room, I may have caught up on my sleep debt this weekend. My tendency to wake up at sunrise regardless of what happened the previous day means I go into sleep debt every summer.)

Mostly, WorldCon was a lesson on Fans and Fandom. I.e., it seems to me that someone can love fantasy and science fiction but she is not a Fan with a capital 'F' until she engages with and assimilates the protocols of Fandom. Although this wasn't my first con, it really felt like it. There was a lot of being welcomed to Rome as I was trying to work out how to do as the Romans do.

Two panels I attended really drove that home for me: a panel on moderating panels and a panels on what pros should know about Fandom. The former was, of course, wonderfully moderated but also a course on proper panel behavior and how to enforce it. I really enjoyed the discussion. It turned out to be an oddly good choice for The First Panel I Attended. The latter panel ended but being mostly a gripe session about Pros Behaving Badly. If I ever become a pro, I now have a good idea of how I'm not supposed to behave. This is not the same thing as knowing how I'm supposed to behave. (Yes, I did ask questions.)

(Sidebar: Of course, Fan and Pro are not mutually exclusive. I'd like to think all pros are Fans. I don't think of myself as a pro but I may some day. I do think of myself as a fan (with a small 'f') if not (yet) a Fan. I did hear a lot of talk from writers of my generation referring to Fans and pros as if they were disjoint sets. Make of that what you will.)

(Random aside: For someone who didn't advertise being a writer, I got asked about my sales more often that I expected. Of course, I have few enough sales that I can run through my entire bibliography. Whenever I got to the Asimov's sale, people's affect would change. It was as if they were dealing with someone else all of a sudden. Odd.)

Like I said, most of WorldCon was stuff happening when I ran into someone I knew or screwed up the courage to introduce myself to. I ran into Emily Jiang who, I think, introduced me to practically everyone I know now that I hadn't known before WorldCon. Sheila Williams is an exception. I managed to pull myself together to introduce myself to her after a panel. She invited me to the Asimov's party. It was in the SWFA lounge so I don't think I was actually supposed to be in there. However, I did meet a bunch of cool people including Ken Liu and Lily Yu. By the time WorldCon ended, I'd also now been introduced to, among others, Lynne Thomas, two of the three current editors of Strange Horizons and a bunch of Chinese writers whom I wish I'd spent more time talking to. (As inchoate as I can be in English when I'm nervous, I'm even more so in Chinese. I really wanted to explain that my Chinese really wasn't as horrifically bad as it must seem to them right then. I kind of got caught between languages so I didn't say much in any language. *sigh*) The full list is too long to recount.

I've now thanked practically every editor who has ever given me a personal rejection. E.g., [ profile] nihilistic_kid, Cat Valente, and Cat Rambo. (Very sad, BTW, that none of these three are currently editing short fiction as they have all made my fiction better. Of course, I understand they have moved on to other things for the best reasons.)

The low-grade, incidental racism count for this con is at least 3. This is higher than average, but WorldCon is also longer than most cons. In no particular order, customers at a Chinese restaurant assumed I was on the staff, someone at the Asimov's party assumed that I was Lily Yu's boyfriend (In retrospect, our reaction when we asked--we both screamed "No!" at the same time--was pretty funny), and someone assumed I was Ken Liu. (I did correct him when he called me Ken so that he didn't think it was Ken who was now blowing him off. Since he had no reason to be interested in talking to me, I think this worked out the best for everyone.)

On balance, WorldCon was fun. I'm probably going to skip 2013. London in 2014 might be fun though.
prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2012-07-15 08:50 pm

My Readercon Post

[Note: If I'm going to do the blogging thing, I should probably blog more often. Also, I may set up An Actual Website. I already own the .net and .org domains of my name. Renting a Linode is becoming more and more tempting since I can also use it for other stuff.]

Anyway, Readercon...

Number of men likely of Asian descent I saw (Yes, I really do track this, albeit informally): At least 4. This is most I've seen at any Readercon. (BTW, I'm using the American definition of Asian.) For whatever reason, there are usually more women likely of Asian descent although I don't know if that was the case this year.

Number of times I was approached because I'm a person of color: At least 1. He was a man of Chinese descent who was approaching everyone who looked even remotely Chinese to find out if they were. Having gone to conventions where, I swear, I was the only man who looked even remotely Asian, I'm actually sympathetic. However, I've never quizzed anyone on their ethnicity.

(This number is a little tricky to count. I mean, one year, someone who knew me but didn't know what I looked like found me from behind. i.e., he didn't need to look at the name tag.)

Number of gay speculative fiction writers of color attending: Obviously, I have no idea. I hope it was more than just Chip Delany and me.

There were a bunch of interesting panels. In particular, I really liked "The Seven Deadly Myths of Creativity" and "Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction." In the latter, I don't think the straight, white guy in the audience attempting to take over the panel recognized how ironic his behavior was. Andrea Hairston is an absolutely awesome moderator. She made sure everyone on the panel who wanted to speak had the chance to do so and kept the guy in the audience from hijacking the discussion. When I grow up and moderate panels, I want to be just like her and Elizabeth Bear who does a similarly awesome job.

I caught up with a lot of people. My apologies for not naming you all. This year, the list includes a surprising number of my Clarion instructors. (Seriously, the only instructors who weren't there were George RR Martin and Ann VanderMeer.) Due to missed connections, I still didn't catch up with everyone I wanted to. :( Also, there were a few people that I wanted to talk to that I didn't. Apparently, I'm really awful at going up to people I know of but don't know me, or people I know only electronically and introducing myself.

This is the first year where anyone was surprised that I'm not on any panels. My traditional excuse that I haven't sold anything yet doesn't cut it any more. With a story in Boston Review, one forthcoming in the anthology Bloody Fabulous and another forthcoming in Asimov's, I guess I can now claim to be a published writer. I suppose, for next year, I ought to apply to be on some. The worst thing that happens is they look at my qualifications and go "Feh!" It's not like there's any public shaming involved and I have at least a few months to work up the nerve.

This year, Jeff VanderMeer came to Readercon. (See above note about surprising number of my Clarion instructors.) So, I spent a bunch of time with him. Jeff is cool, cool, guy so that was a great time. My only regret was that the equally cool Ann VanderMeer couldn't make it due to schedule conflicts. *sigh*

As usual, I have my traditional angst about whether I should get a hotel room for a con I live so close to. What always happens is that end up leaving to go home just as things get interesting. (Not falling asleep on the drive home is A Good Thing.) Also, more and more, I find I need to go away and decompress. Of course, getting a hotel room increases the cost of the con for me by maybe an order of magnitude?

Right now, I'm going through my typical set of mixed feelings: regret that it's over and that I didn't do everything I wanted to and relief that I'm no longer in among so many people. One advantage to having a hotel room is that I can escape the crush of people without having to leave the con. Readercon seemed especially crowded this year, but I didn't feel the dire need to recharge that I felt during Arisia. Even if I start doing panels and the like, that's the main reason why I may never do so at Arisia.

(Note: This is not intended to be anything negative about Arisia. I had a great time. Like any busy, vibrant con, it was very large, loud and crowded. I can only take so much of that before I really need to escape. Worldcon will probably have the same issues for me. In that case, though, I'll have a hotel room.)

Oh, and I finished a short story during the con. Coincidentally, I did the same at Boskone.

Anyway, I've always loved Readercon and I still do. However, my relationship with it is changing. When I first went, I didn't know anyone and so it was like attending a set of literary seminars. (Yes, that's a compliment.) Over the years, how I interact with Readercon has become progressively social. I think I've only realized it this year because this is the year where, as much as I like everyone I spent time with, it was a relief to get away for a bit.

Readercon, actually any con, is only going to get more social for me. I don't know what to do about that yet. (Like I said, the right answer may be to get a hotel room for any con I go to. I can't be the only person who get a hotel room despite being local to a con?) From previous experience, it doesn't seem likely I'll figure out how to be more social without hitting some point where I just need to get away and recharge. (I'm a bit envious of the people who can spent lots and lots of time dealing with people. For me, it really is work.)
prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2012-06-08 12:07 pm

I've signed and returned the contract... I feel more confident about announcing that I've sold my story, "Best of All Possible Worlds" to Asimov's. It still feels a little unreal.

(For those following my Facebook status, this is the sale to the "pro market that I read religiously" I mentioned last week.)
prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2012-04-19 10:35 am

Bearslayer and the Black Knight from BCS #92

This week, Beneath Ceaseless Skies podcast "Bearslayer and the Black Night" by Tom Crosshill. I listened to it on the way to work. Because of the story's structure and the way it uses scene breaks, it made more sense when I read it afterwards. (Also, colonists were marching to the drum on the side of the road. For that stretch of the morning commute, I was more concerned about the traffic disruption. I'd have expect them to march on Patriot's Day, not several days after. However, even having lived here over a decade now, I'm still not up on the local ways.)

I have decidedly mixed feelings about this story. At the end of the day, it's probably no fault of the story and more a fault of the context the story finds itself.

On one hand, it's exceptionally well written. The voice of the story is dead on for what it wants to accomplish. I love the cross-cutting between how legend records the main characters and what actually happened. The story uses lots of specific, vivid details to build the world and reinforce the bind the characters find themselves in. That he gets across so much in so few words is masterful. (And the story is precisely the right length.)

On the other hand, I've pretty much read my fill of stories where gay lovers die. No, strictly speaking, they are not killed because they are lovers. They are killed because they are the champions of their respective tribes but refuse to fight each other. Do I really need to interrogate why they refuse to fight each other though?

(No, that they are lovers is not the only reason, but it's hard to argue that it is not a reason. I mean they kiss "And it burned those who watched. Cries of outrage rent the air like sharpened spears. Snarls of hatred boomed forth like blasts of gunpowder. Latts and Greni both grasped for blades that had never seen blood until this day. The ground shook as they charged their champions." No, I'm not saying that one shouldn't depict homophobia in stories. I'm saying it's tiring that the outcome is always that the gay characters die. There are lots of possible stories. Why do we always tell this one?)

Do I need to point out that, of course, that legend erases their love for each other? (Not saying that this is implausible. Just saying I've seen this a lot. Can I please see something else now?)

Of course, it's not that there are no stories where straight lovers die. However, there are also lots of stories where straight lovers live. When they do die, they are rarely killed because they are straight. I suppose it's possible to tell this story exactly as is except that one of the lovers is female. In practice, you rarely see it though. In other words, I shout "feh!" at your false equivalence.

I've hit the point where I really don't care how plausible or how justified the killing is. It'd just be nice to read stories where gay characters who face death survive. Why go for the cliched ending?

If there were lots and lots of stories that do not present death as the predestined fate of gay characters, the ending of this story wouldn't bug me as much. However, gay characters don't get very much representation in this sort of fiction. It's disheartening then that when I do find a genre story with gay characters, it falls victim to this trope (with no visible attempt to deconstruct or subvert it).

Again, I'm not saying anyone should or shouldn't do anything. I'm just saying that I've read this story before and I'd like for there to be something else to read. (It's not as simple as "I'd like to read something else." Someone has to write it, people have to want it, then someone has to publish it.)
prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2012-04-14 08:26 pm

Whee! The anthology I sold to now has a cover!

Bloody Fabulous, the definitive post (courtesy of Ekaterina Sedia, the anthology's editor who has also blogged the anthology's introduction).

Personally, stunned doesn't begin to describe how I feel about being in this anthology. I'm literally the only person I've never heard of. (Also, "Bespoke" by Genevieve Valentine is genuinely one of my most favorite stories.)
prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2012-03-15 04:08 pm

Hey, that's *my* story in that anthology!

I've sold a story to Bloody Fabulous, Ekaterina Sedia's anthology of fantasy about fashion for Prime Books. It's my first SFWA-eligible sale. Yay!