My Books

Click the “Books” tab at the top and you’ll find a page with descriptions of all my published books (so far.) Just saying.

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Workshop

I just returned from a week long workshop on marketing for fiction writers. We learned about the publishing business, how it works, who has the power, and how to get our novels the best chance they can get. A lot of classes, a lot of assignments, a lot of reading, and not much sleep.

I learned some interesting bits of trivia. For example, I never knew that the practice of giving writers an advance against their royalties began with F. Scott Fitzgerald. He was running out of cash so he asked his publisher to give him some advance money on the book he was writing. The publisher agreed. Turns out Fitzgerald was out of money because he drank it all. Or most of it. Other writers heard about the arrangement and demanded advances as well. (I can just see the scene: “Hey, I drink at least as much as F. Scott. I deserve advance money too!”) Advances soon became an industry standard. So all you writers out there who get paid money before your book is even published: you have F. Scott Fitzgerald’s drinking habits to thank for that fortunate circumstance.

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Kim's Redesigned Site

Kim‘s done a complete overhaul of her website. Surf on over and look around. She’s put up a biography (with pics), and all kinds of juicy tidbits about her various books, including Ruby’s Imagine, which is coming out in a few months. She’s also got some big name writers (like Alice Hoffman and Jane Yolen) on board for the opening week celebration. Plus, if you leave a comment, you’ll be in the running for a free book. So what the heck are you waiting for? Go, go.

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My Life's Work (so far)

Click on the “Other Writing” tab at the top of the page and you’ll find a list of all my published short stories, poems, articles, and reviews. Also links to my previous blogs. I put this together yesterday. It was strange going through my files looking for all these items. Many many pieces I have no memory of writing at all. Also don’t remember submitting them or getting the acceptance or receiving the copy of the publication, even though all those thing had to happen for me to have the finished product in my hand. Some of them made me wince with how, ahem, substandard they were, but, thankfully, not too many.

I’m not even sure why I went to the trouble of assembling this list, except that as I was typing in the names of all those journals and all those titles I felt really good. Maybe that is reason enough.

Eventually I’ll put up a list of my books under the appropriate tab, and at some point I’ll post some of those old poems and stories and maybe even annotate the list with some personal reminiscences. Stay tuned.

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The Perils of a Mythical Existence

Sure I was lucky. I knew it. I’d won the genetic lottery. I had a pair of working wings growing out of my shouler blades. I kept them folded up under my shirt so no one knew. It was a delicious secret. I never showed anyone my wings. I used to fly around at night. Just me, the bats, warm air, and glorious updrafts. Those were the best times. I don’t fly much anymore. The wings hurt. I’m afraid of doctors. What they’d do to me if they ever saw the wings. So I keep them folded up and trembling.

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New Look

First of all, that’s not a picture of me at the top of the page. It’s the penguin who appears in one of the illustrations for Terrastina and Mazolli. He and I extend a hearty welcome to everyone who has migrated from my blogger blog, and to anyone else who has stumbled on this little strand of the web. Most of the tabs at the top are under construction. I hope to have them in working order over the next few weeks. Until then, this blog will continue pretty much as it did at the previous site. Hope you all like the new look.

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Strange Paths

Regular readers of my various blogs will know of my high regard for the works of Jorge Luis Borges. Here are some random bits of trivia about this singular writer:

1. In later life he tried to buy up all the copies of his earliest works because he believed them to be inferior and embarrassing to his reputation.

2. He loved westerns.

3. He bumped his head quite severely in 1938. It was only after this injury that he began writing the surreal works for which he became famous.

4. His first introduction to the English speaking literary world was with a story translated by Anthony Boucher and published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Yup, a pulp magazine. I love that.

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Spring Cleaning

I’ve got a bunch of science fiction digest magazines I don’t want anymore. They have been in boxes for seven years and I have not once felt the urge to open any of those boxes, which reminds me of that rule for getting rid of stuff: If you haven’t used something in two years, you probably don’t need it. Or something like that. I’m not exactly quoting directly, but you get the idea. Anyway. There are about 850 of these things. I’ve got issues of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction going all they way back to the early 50s, I’ve got Asimov’s from 1982 to 1998 and a smattering of some Analogs and Amazings from the late 80s and early 90s. None of these are complete runs, but I do have many complete years for F&SF and Asimov’s.

What to do with these? Well, it would be nice to sell them. Are you interested? I’ll entertain offers. Know anyone else who might be? A collector? A kid besotted by all things science fictional? Pass the word on. I know if I got a big box of these things when I was about twelve or thirteen years old I would have been on cloud nine for months. Years.

Let me know in the comments. I can also provide a list of specific issues for anyone interested.

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Here's My Crazy Idea for My Next Book

Title: One Night and a Thousand Nights. Setting: The edge of the world. The Earth is flat. Some disaster in the interior (super volcano? massive drought?) has forced most of the population to migrate to the edge. Plot: We follow several people as they try to cope with life on the edge. Each chapter would be less than a hundred words. There would be 1,001 chapters. Each chapter takes place on a different night.

The concept came to me whole one afternoon while walking home from work. I don’t even know if such a book is feasible, but I’ve been thinking about it, envisioning it, and living with it for a couple of weeks now, and it still seems as juicy and cool as when I first thought of it. So that means I’ll probably attempt it eventually.

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Overheard at the Local Public Library

An adult patron walks into the library looking like she just got sent to the principal’s office.
Patron
: I am so sorry this is so late. (Puts library book in return bin.)
Me: How late is it?
Patron: Two days.
Me: Two days? Don’t worry about it. That’s nothing. You shouldn’t lose sleep over past due library books.
Patron: (Suddenly looking much relieved.) Uh, thanks. How much is the fine?
Me: We don’t charge overdue fines.
Patron: (Looking shocked, as if I had just told her the county prosecutor had recently made it a policy to stop prosecuting murder cases because it was just such a big hassle and all.) You don’t charge overdue fines?
Me: Libraries that charge fines don’t get their books back any quicker than libraries that do. Besides, by not charging fines we gain a lot of good PR. We only bother about such things if someone loses or damages a book.
Patron: What do you do if someone damages a book?
Me: We release the hounds.

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The Devil's Dictionary

I was a library nut when I was a kid. I’d go at least once a week, sometimes more, and check out the maximum number of books they allowed. (I’m still the same way, but that’s a story for another post.) I thought there was nothing better in the world than the public library. I loved spending time in it and I loved just knowing it existed.

It took me a while to accumulate enough capital to actually buy a book of my own, rather than borrow it from the library. One of the first ones I purchased was a Dover edition of a book I first encountered on the library shelves and decided I had to have for my own: The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce. The book is a collection of satirical, witty, sardonic, and just plain funny definitions of everything from Abasement to Zoology.

Who knows what drew an eleven year old to such a dismal view of the world? Could I have been as pessimistic about life as this book? Probably not. It hardly seems possible, given my more or less charmed middle class upbringing. Nevertheless, I do remember enjoying the definitions. I still own the book and still dip into it occasionally. Bierce had the sharpest wit of anyone I’ve ever encountered, in print or in real life. Also the most unrelentingly cynical grasp of human nature. His ability to find the negative in everything still warrants my admiration. Just try these definitions on for size:

EGOIST, n. A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.

FAMOUS, adj. Conspicuously miserable.

NEIGHBOR, n. One whom we are commanded to love as ourselves, and who does all he knows how to make us disobedient.

RESOLUTE, adj. Obstinate in a course that we approve.

VOTE, n. The instrument and symbol of a freeman’s power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.

My copy of Bierce’s singular lexicon has a $1.25 cover price, which gives you some idea of just how long I’ve had it.

What book do you still have from when you were a pre-teen?

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The Perils of a Cleansed Existence

Five times a day, sometimes more, I showered: before breakfast, after breakfast, midday, early evening, and just before bed. Also, baths, twice a day: after lunch and during the evening meal. I washed my hands at least hourly. I bought soap only when it was heavily discounted. All this disowning of dirt contributed to my immaculate well being. I was constantly fresh and ready to face my troubles. Insects and dogs avoided me. I was so clean they did not recognize me as part of their world. People regarded me with awe. I acknowledged their understandable adoration. I positively glowed.

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Names

Driving north on the I-5 yesterday, we passed a truck hauling a boat. The boat’s name, displayed prominently on the stern, was Current Toy, which is a marvelous name for a boat. Seeing it made me think about names in general. I’m one of those guys who has trouble with names. People I’ve seen in town for years, and know as casual acquaintances, I have trouble with their names. Heck, people I’ve worked with for years I sometimes fuzz out on their names. It can be embarrassing. And books, well, forget it. I barely manage to keep track of character names during the course of reading a novel. No way I can recall them after I’ve finished the book. This is even true of books I’ve written.

My good friend Nenad Dragicevic is a sly inventor of names. His sequence of bestiary posts from my old CR blog displays his inventiveness to good effect. Readers of that old blog may recall some of my own strange names: Dandelion Streetscape, Rainmaker Thirdgear, Coldkey Pianobones, Bitpart Stripmine, Corkscrew Speakeasy, and so on. I liked making them up, and they helped me kick start my imagination for some of my more bizarre scenarios.

One evening a few years ago I suddenly got this urge to make up a bunch of them. I spent two or three hours just writing down juxtapositions of everday things that might become names. I raided that list for many of my CR posts. Here’s most of the ones I didn’t use.

moviestar
brokenglass
bifocal
kickstand
doorknob
thebigone
phosphene
picnicants
lawnmower
laserprinter
farmland
phonecall
crackedelbow
magicmarker
waspnest
cheekbone
pipestem
birdfeeder
upperhand
slipcase
lossleader
redlight
doubleslit
dirtroad
blackhills
wirehanger
floodlight
hideaway
jailcell
friedegg
splitend
mailbox
bluestate
rockbottom
rockingchair
skidcontrol
broomhandle
diningcar
lampost
snowflake
rooftile
middenpile
devilnose
packedhouse
seatbelt
eardrum
trafficjam
flattire
crossbreed
widowmaker
backpack
beanbag
chainlock
pushbroom
flipflap
handlebar
chairleg
forktongue
checkerboard
cuphandle
frontallobe
frayededge
cheesecloth
curlingiron
musketcharge
exactchange
passinglane
smalltown
towtruck
shoulderblade
tissuepaper
speedzone
heartbreak
clothesline
afterlife
fallback
springahead
mercywood
bellringer
pottingsoil
sheetrock
guardduty
filmvault
smokestack
punchdrunk
afterimage
moustrap
elementaryparticle
mutebutton
thoughtballoon
cheesegrater
lobstertail
fireplace
trainingwheels
cornfield
neonsign
curtainrod
trapdoor
dustjacket
wateringcan
sneakerwave
feedback
afterimage
highbeam
dealbreaker
leadpencil
nametag
middleman
yesman
gemstone
meltingpot
gradschool
logcabin
bluebook
carpool
roadkill
greasyspoon
overeasy

If you want to make up your own weird CR name, it’s real easy. Just take two items from the list and put them together. Thus: Bluestate Diningcar would be a great name for a traveling sales person. Or Chainlock Forktongue could be the name of an introverted doctor. Yes, this is the way I sometimes amuse myself, and I make no excuses for it.

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My Tiny Life List

Though I like observing and looking for birds, I don’t have an extensive life list, and I haven’t even written mine down as serious bird watchers do. My all time favorite bird to watch is the sanderling, a shore bird often seen in flocks on the Oregon coast and other beaches. Sanderlings move rapidly along the surf like wind up toys. They are so charming I could watch them for hours. This youtube video gives an idea of their locomotion, but seeing a flock of them moving rapidly on the sand is a unique experience and always worth a trip to the coast.

E. J. Peiker
has a good page of close up photos of sanderlings. He is an amazing nature photographer with, obviously, an extensive life list of birds. He’s put up many hundreds of his photos on his website and indexed them according to type of bird. It’s well worth browsing through his pictures. Some of the photos are so life like I almost feel justified in adding them to my life list. Not that I would. I’m just saying.

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The Perils of a Fortunate Existence

I won the lottery. Two dollars. A one hundred percent return on my investment. I was flush with smugness and contentment. Until my relatives found out. Then I had no peace: Can you lend me a dime? Just until payday? Please? I spent hours prioritizing requests for help. And that was before my interview on channel two. Then it got even worse: My son needs more lunch money. My husband can’t buy the newpaper today. How could I choose? I couldn’t. I developed hives. I took my winnings and went into seclusion. Me and my dollar are very happy now.

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Rewriting

Here’s Eileen Gunn, in her book Stable Strategies and Others, quoting William Gibson on the secret of writing:

“You must learn to overcome your very natural and appropriate revulsion for your own work.”

When I read that sentence I was stunned. It was like he was talking to me because what I have had to overcome is my revulsion for rewriting. I love doing first drafts. First drafts are fun. First drafts are creative and juicy and exhilarating and intoxicating and mind expanding and liberating, and…well, you get the idea. First drafts are just fun.

But rewriting. Oh boy. That’s where the work part starts because when I go back to all that juicy intoxication and reread it, well, let’s just say there’s a certain amount of Gibsonian revulsion involved. That first draft is always so much less than what I thought it was.

What to do? The best strategy I’ve found is to grit my teeth and do ten pages of rewrite at a time. That’s all. Just ten pages, then put it aside until the next day. (I owe Dean Wesley Smith a big thank you for that suggestion.) It works.

After a while, the revulsion goes away and I actually begin to enjoy the process. Which is a nice happy ending to the story, don’t you think?

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Notebook 4

Another enigmatic entry from one of my old notebooks:

6 January 2003

He Walked with a lisp.
She Talked with a limp.
Their children went into

A list that must have amused me:

17 Feb 2003 Monday 12:20 a.m.

spots
spat
pot
past
pest
step

Sometimes I see something that sets off strange connections:

5 May 2003

“Doctor Locke”—chiseled into the concrete on the sidewalk next to where we parked.
Doc Locke?
Docke Loc
Dok Lok
Dock Lock

Kim and I thought about doing a Star Trek novel once. We made these brainstorming notes over lunch one day in Portland. We never wrote the novel.

2 Jun 03

Poetry in Motion

signal with poetry
have to answer?

crew speaking in rhyme
interferes w/ ship’s function
Spock figures epic poem of a culture
To free they must come up w/ next verse

Mission before this difficult
Want to go home, told to investigate.
Get closer to signal, poetry instead of crankiness
Everyone thinks calming except McCoy—maybe on last mission no one listened to him.

Poetry weirds out dilithium crystals—no warp
computer shutting down
supplies depleted / no communication

Go to space station to figure it out
Maybe planet is in jeopardy because of Kirk
Maybe they have a time limit
They discover on space station

Maybe last time Kirk acted too quickly, believing crew was in jeopardy, & he was wrong. This time maybe he restrains himself.

Here’s a short item I clipped out of New Scientist and pasted into my notebook:

22 November 2003

LIFE AFTER DEATH
Brain death is not quite what it seems. For several days after we die, new neurons are born in the hippocampus. This seems to be a response to the lack of oxygen, which released a range of growth-stimulating chemicals.

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The Perils of a Covert Existence

We were a close knit group in those days, spending our working hours several floors underground. We knew close to a hundred languages between us, which allowed us to translate any document that came our way during the conflict. That is, until our commander brought us an intercepted missive and told us it was top priority, very important to the war effort. We took the document and leafed through it eagerly, only too ready to help our comrades in arms. Every page was completely blank. We were dumbfounded and frightened. We looked up, opened our mouths, but could not speak.

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The Unrepentent Joy of Sisyphusian Struggle

If you haven’t seen “Shelf Life” by Adrian Tomine, the hilarious cover of the current New Yorker, it’s worth seeking out. There’s a teeny tiny version of it on this page and a bigger version on the artist’s website here (currently the 4th box in the top row). It depicts the book publishing process in nine wordless panels. 1. Author writes book. 2. Agent presents book (and author) to publisher. 3. Publisher loves book. 4. Publisher prints book. 5. Book arrives in bookstores. 6. Reader enjoys book. 7. Reader discards book. 8. Homeless person finds discarded book. 9. Homeless person and friend warm themselves on a cold evening by burning discarded book in a barrel.

You’ll notice that by the 9th panel the book is serving a very useful physical function, which is something we can all aspire to.

I bring up this mini tragicomedy of authorial effort because I have just completed my rewrite of Art Saves Lives and have sent it off to my agent, which means I am in that anticipatory twilight zone, floating around in the featureless whiteness somewhere between panels 1 and 2, hoping against hope that someday someone will warm themselves by my words. That is, I hope to get the gears rolling so I can make it to panel 9.

Not that I’m sitting around twiddling my thumbs while I wait. I have jumped into the rewrite of the next book, The Last Giant, with wild abandon.

Really now, what’s not to like about the writing life?

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The Perils of a Nocturnal Existence

The eclipse stained the moon copper, then the color dripped from the moon’s face like water streaming over a stone in a river. We watched as velvet folds of red light draped the sky then slowly descended over us and seeped into our mouths, noses, and ears. A brief panic ensued. But soon we accepted the comfort of invading moonlight. We lifted our heads, smiles on our faces. The eclipse was over, but, inexplicably, the moon was now gone. Tidal upheavals grabbed at our ankles. We lifted our legs. We stepped as slowly and as carefully as was humanly possible.

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Notebook 3

Continuing my wanderings through some of my old notebooks.

I’ve learned it’s usually best to write down things that strike me as very interesting. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that eight years later it will make much sense to me:

24 March 2000
Use pesticide names for names of villians
Blackberries saved my life

Here are some impressions of the rooms in our house just before we moved in:

31 March 2000
red room — airy light
kitchen — fresh
laundry room — close
right room — dead corner by stairs
left room — open
orange room — light bright
top of stairs — sheltered/safe
blue room — quiet
upstairs bathroom — inviting
downstairs bathroom — mushy, closed in

That same year I was in contact with an actor who did one man shows of historical figures. I saw his performance of Edgar Allan Poe and was favorably impressed. He told me that he was interested in doing a show of Leonardo da Vinci and asked me to write the script for him. The project never worked out, but here is my preliminary attempt at sketching out some details for myself.

15 April Leonardo notes

1482-99 Milan — eye — drawing as knowledge Art & science — together —also, unfinished horse.

1500-1506 FLorence — Borgia — survey to divert Arno — for war — but did sketches for canal that was followed centuries later
Mona Lisa
Studies of body — dissections
bird flight
water

1506-13 Milan
“Battle of Anghiari” — unfinished
Tomb sculpture of
Trivulzio — equestrian — big disappointment— spent years
— A lot of scientific work —
math, optics, mechanics, geology, botany

1513-19 de Medici put him up for 3 years in the Vatican — but he was out of the mainstream
—other artists were getting commissions he wanted (Michelangelo) — so he accepted invitation from Francis I to go to France with Francesco Melzi
“First painter, architect and
Mechanic of the king”
—Given complete Freedom.
did no more painting.
—Plans for palace and garden of Romarantin — halted due to Malaria outbreak.

Visions of the End of the World
Deluge
—powerful late works

Melzi was heir

Here’s another errant scrap of an idea:

28 May 2000
A week after his funeral, my father came back home. “Didn’t like the life over there,” he said.

Sometimes I amuse myself by thinking up titles I might use some day:

17 Oct 2000 Titles
Please See Me After the Revolution
Will There ever be a Time?
The Time We Saw the End
Where We Went the Day the World Ended
The Moment of the Rising
My Mother was Late
The Sound of Air Dropping From the Sky

Here’s some advice from a novelist. I must have thought it was usuful when I wrote it down in my notebook. Looking at it now, I’m not so sure, although I do like the last point he makes.

4 Dec 2000 Monday
“How to Grow a Novel” — Sol Stein
—each scene has to affect the reader emotionally
—Dialog should be adversarial
—The germ of a novel should come from something that the writer feels strongly about
—For plotting — put people in a crucible
—Think of the likely logical next step — then do the opposite

And I’ll close today with some trivial word play:

Tuesday 6 Feb 2001
The Plain Nets
More Curry
Vein Vain Nose
Hearth
Mares
A Steroid
Chew Patter
Sat Turn
our Rain Is
Nap Tune
Play Dough

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We Have a Winner

Drum roll please.

The winner of the first Conditional Realities give away is…… melissa. Melissa, please send your mailing address to mm@gorge.net and I will send you your free book.

Thank you all for entering.

Stephanie: Yes, I used a real live hat.

Paul d.: I plan to mail the book closed so there will be no leakage.

vq: My memory must have slipped a gear. I don’t remember a valentine’s day poetry roundup.

This was fun. Watch this blog for more give aways in the future!

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Notebook 2

You still have time to enter the first Conditional Realities give away. Just throw your name into the hat at this post by midnight and you’ll have a chance at a free signed copy of my novel.

I’m deep into the research and writing of my newest novel, 2D, and at the same time I’m revising another novel, Art Saves Lives, in preparation for sending it out to agents for consideration. All of which leaves little time for blogging, but I thought I’d wander through some of my old notebooks and throw up a few possibly interesting tidbits.

Here’s a first attempt at a poem, back when I was doing a poem a day:

31 Jan 00

Course Correction

A Horde of Recalls
When will
If the past lives

The past
accumulates like coins
dropped coins in a penny jar,
each memory marked
marked with a date
and nudged up to
touching
an adjacent memories
from different years.
You put your hand
in the jar and feel the
and feel the cool
hard past history
of your life
fragmented
into countless coins up
jostling round stories
Some some bright and new
others weatherd and old.

I’m reminded of my sausage comment of a few days ago. This has one pretty good image, but it’s weighed down with a lot of ordinary phrases. I think when I revised it later I pared it down to just a few lines. My instinct is usually for minimilism. Often, the less you say, the more likely you’re saying something worth saying.

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Free Book

This article by Douglas Goetsch in The American Scholar from last year is a marvelous piece about a group of high school kids who learned how to write poetry then set up a stand where they wrote poems on demand and on the spot for anyone who asked. It’s about the most inspiring thing I’ve read in ages. It made me think that maybe we should all be giving away at least some of our words in one form or other.

So, in the general spirit of giving, I’m offering a copy of my novel Terrastina and Mazolli to one lucky reader of this blog. Just add your name to the comments on this post by midnight Sunday, 17 February 2008. I’ll put all the names in a hat, pull one out at random, and send that person a signed copy of my book.

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Crutch Words

They say there are two things you should never see being made: sausage and laws. I think novel writing might be another. My first drafts are always remarkably unattractive objects. Making it right is all in the rewriting, of course. When I revise a first draft, one of the first things I do is get rid of the crutch words. These are filler words and phrases that I use way too often in the white heat of creativity. I get too comfortable with them and they proliferate through the manuscript like flies at an August picnic. They are mantras in a way, lulling me into the creative frame of mind. Or so I sometimes flatter myself. What they really are is excess fat that needs to be trimmed and pronto. Here are my crutch words from the book I’m revising right now, Art Saves Lives:

weird
guess
just
like
really
ok
neat
gross
pretty much
super
they just didn’t
stuff
actually
figure
figured
figures
kind of
super
think

One thing about computers, they make crutch words a lot easier to delete: just use the search feature, and voila! There they are, highlighted in glowing yellow, just begging to be dispatched.

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Notebook

Like many writers I have a notebook that I carry around for recording observations, quotes, scenes, thoughts, snippets of dialog, attempts at poems, and some of the crazy ideas I get that might someday be the impetus for a writing project. It’s an analog device with two components: a school composition book with sewn binding and a pen clipped to a few of the inside pages. When I’ve filled up one of these volumes I keep it with the others on a shelf. Periodically I go through them looking for anything interesting. Here’s something I found this morning:

30 July 2002 Tuesday 10:10 pm
“And Thanatos, or what we think of as the Greek personification of death, is not really a personification, but a mist or veil or cloud that separates the still living person from life. For the Greeks, who had no word for irreversible death, one did not die; one darkened.”

—Mark Strand
The Weather of Words (2002)
p. 6

I don’t know what possessed me to record this quote. I also don’t remember the book it is from. I have absolutely no memory of where I was when I wrote it down or what I was thinking at the time. But I still like it. Makes me think of ghosts haunting the Greek world, and that those ghosts were welcomed by the Greeks not as the personification of corpses, but as the lingering aura of friends and relatives. It’s a terrific image and a potent conditional reality. That’s the beauty of a notebook like this. The quote obviously meant something to me then and still stirs something in me now. If I didn’t have the notebook at hand, as I do, it would have completely slipped out of my life.
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Interview

When I was putting the finishing touches on my novel Terrastina and Mazolli I got a call from Nenad Dragicevic, the eminent European journalist and fabulist who I have admired for many years. He had somehow obtained a bootleg copy of T & M and enjoyed it so much that he wanted to talk to me about the book and about my work in general. Of course I was flattered and invited him to my house. He arrived one afternoon and we spent a couple of hours visiting. We had an instant rapport. It was like I had known him all my life. At the end of the visit he conducted a formal Q & A with me. Below is a transcript of that interview.
Nenad Dragicevic: Hang on while I get my tape recorder ready.

Mario Milosevic: I’m in no hurry.

ND: I can’t figure out— What’s going on here? I swear, sometimes trying to get one of these things to work right is like talking to yourself.

MM: I know exactly what you mean.

ND: Just give me a second and I’ll get it going.

MM: What’s that red light?

ND: Oh. It’s already on. What an idiot I am.

MM: Don’t be so hard on yourself. Everyone makes mistakes. Technology can make any of us look ignorant.

ND: Yeah, I guess so. I wonder how long it’s been recording? Well, it doesn’t matter. I guess I’ll just start. Can you tell us how you came to write Terrastina and Mazolli in 99 word episodes rather than a more traditional method?

MM: Well, what do you mean by traditional?

ND: I was thinking of other books I have read in which the chapters are of varying length.

MM: That may be a comparatively recent way of telling a story. I read an article from an 1883 issue of Scientific American about some Armenian archaeologists who uncovered stone tablets in an iceberg they determined had originated from an ice shelf in Antarctica. The tablets were at least several thousand years old and contained stories—narratives in tiny pictures—about flightless birds. They called these stories quantum fictions because every tale was exactly 66 pictures long.

ND: That‘s incredible.

MM: Yes. The Armenians could not determine who produced the tablets, but evidently the people who recorded those stories were guided by some tradition in story telling which compelled them to write in specified lengths of prose. The team that found the tablets thought the tales may have been given to the stone carvers from God, but the editors of the magazine felt that was probably not the case, which is about what you would expect from Scientific American. That issue, by the way, is very rare. It was an extra issue, produced in April, not part of their regular schedule, so even many research libraries do not have it. It was part of their report on the first international polar year, which was in 1882.

ND: What language were the tablets written in?

MM: A precursor to Egyptian hieroglyphics. There was some speculation that early sea explorers from Africa had gone off course and ended up in the Antarctic Ocean, presumably carrying these tablets with them.

ND: For night time reading on the high seas?

MM: Perhaps.

ND: You’re making all this up.

MM: A little. They weren’t Armenian archaeologists. French, I think.

ND: So why did you say Armenian?

MM: It sounded better. The alliteration.

ND: What‘s the real reason for the 99 words?

MM: I read somewhere that a child‘s attention span is about 99 words on a good day. Also, I liked the number 99 since it is made of two identical numerals, like twins.

ND: Why didn‘t you just say so in the first place?

MM: Much of my charm derives from my cunning attempts at misdirection.

ND: I see. You were born in Italy?

MM: Yes.

ND: Can you tell us about that?

MM: My parents were from Yugoslavia. My father had been put in jail for three months for supposedly saying something against Tito. My father had nothing against Tito. He had fought in World War II, became a respected police officer after the war, and was a loyal communist. Nevertheless, someone was saying things about him and he had to be investigated. While they conducted the investigation, he was kept in jail. During his incarceration he became disillusioned with the ideals of communism. In later years he told me communism claimed to be for the people but in practice it was a very different thing. When he was released from prison he decided he needed to escape his country. He rowed across the Adriatic sea by himself and ended up in Italy. Meanwhile, my future mother, who had grown up in another part of Yugoslavia, got tired of being poor and living on a farm. She walked north across the mountains and crossed the border into Italy, where she was placed in a refugee camp for people fleeing communism. That‘s where she met my father, and that‘s where I was born.

ND: Do you remember any of your time in Italy?

MM: I was very young when we left. I remember nothing about it, I’m afraid. Eventually we moved to Canada. That’s where I grew up, in a mining town called Sudbury, which is in northern Ontario, about 240 miles north of Toronto. During my last year of university study I attended Clarion, a writer’s workshop at Michigan State University. That‘s where I met Kim Antieau. We got married a year later and moved to the Pacific Northwest soon after that. We are still madly in love.

ND: Was Canada a good place for a budding writer to grow up?

MM: Any place is a good place for a writer. Writers, and creative people in general, hail from all over globe. I grew up in a mining town, working class people, mostly. My father was a miner. My mother worked at a department store. We were acutely aware of the necessity of making a living, especially my parents, who were from the old country and really knew what being poor meant. When I began writing I was very young and soon decided I might make some money at it. My parents bought me a typewriter when I was only nine years old. I began writing stories on it immediately. I submitted my first stories to magazines when I was thirteen.

ND: Did you place any of them?

MM: No. It would take me another seven years to sell a story to a paying market, but the point is that I already had that mentality in place. I never wanted to write for myself. I always wanted an audience. And an audience that would actually pay me for my efforts was even better.

ND: It doesn’t sound like beauty and the grandeur of art was very important to you.

MM: Because I wanted to get paid for my labor?

ND: Because you don’t mention anything about emotion or metaphor or symbolism.

MM: I think those are largely critical terms. Writers and critics have very different agendas. Most writers just want to tell a good story and usually don’t think in terms of metaphor or theme and so on. I was never very emotional about my work. It was labor. It was putting words on paper. It was punching keys on a typewriter.

ND: I understand that, but all that work was to achieve an emotional end, was it not?

MM: I was never conscious of that as a goal. I was trying to create a finished piece of work. It was more like I was trying to make a functional piece of furniture.

ND: What about beauty?

MM: I have nothing against beauty. It simply did not happen to be my motivation.

ND: Did you have a mentor?

MM: Not in the sense of a working relationship with another writer. I attended the Clarion workshop, which was valuable. But I also read a lot of books, especially novels. That‘s mostly how I learned whatever I know about the craft.

ND: Would you recommend such an approach to aspiring writers?

MM: I try not to encourage aspiring writers. The writing life is tough. There is a lot of frustration and rejection and little chance for good money. All that can take a toll, especially if you have a family to support. If you can imagine yourself doing anything else, you should do it. The late Avram Davidson was one of the great writers of the twentieth century, with an erudite imagination unmatched by anyone. He was sadly neglected by most of the reading public and was poor for most of his life. He was one of my teachers at Clarion. One of the things he said to me repeatedly was this: “It‘s not too late to become a podiatrist.” I didn‘t take his advice, and now look at me. Michael Swanwick, also an admirer of Davidson, has a section on his website in which he offers advice to novices on how to not succeed as a writer. I think he has the right idea. Discourage them while it can still make a difference.

ND: You’ve done a bit of traveling in your life.

MM: Not a whole lot.

ND: In your novel the characters do not travel to any foreign countries. That seems to me a particularly American way of living, to be insulated from the rest of the world. Do you agree?

MM: Well, it’s a big question. Americans, it seems to me, have always been more interested in bringing the world to them, rather than going to the world. I know some have said this is a sign of our fear, but I’m not sure that’s fair. It may be more a sign of Yankee efficiency. It’s almost like the culture says there is a whole big world out there, so why not bring it here? American English, especially, is the magpie of languages, collecting shiny trinkets from any number of other languages. It’s how we see the world. We collect bits and pieces of it. The United States is the great melting pot, isn’t it?

ND: That is part of the country’s mythology.

MM: A noble part, I think. In the novel, Terrastina and Mazolli live in this small town with their children, but the world comes to them in various ways: foreign travelers stop at The Brew, nature is outside their door, vandals invade their business, eccentrics with wild stories become their customers, creatures both mythological and real are an intimate part of their lives. The whole spectrum of the outside world is there.

ND: It’s a way of traveling without traveling.

MM: Yes, exactly.

ND: Before this book you have been chiefly known as a poet.

MM: I don’t know if you could say I was known as a poet. Being a poet is a good way to remain anonymous. There really isn’t much of an audience for it.

ND: Quite so, but I was wondering how the writing of poetry has influenced your prose.

MM: What attracted me to poetry was the compression, the ability to say a lot in a few words. I think I tried to bring that quality to the episodes of T & M. Also, in formal poetry, there is a blueprint that one must conform to. Lines a fixed length of syllables, stressed and unstressed syllables deployed in a specific pattern, each stanza a prescribed number of lines, and so on. At first all of these restrictions seem too confining, but in a paradoxical way, they often free you up to be more creative. They are not so much a prison as a stage. One can even think of them in the same way as deadlines, which often kick start writers into producing worthwhile work.

ND: So might we consider the episodes of T & M as a kind of formal poetry?

MM: I would not presume to have created a new form of poetry, but I like the idea that the episodes might evoke some of the more elegant aspects of poetry.

ND: Can we talk about influences? Which writers do you admire?

MM: In my youth I was mad for science fiction, eating up anything by Paul French, Anson MacDonald, Racoona Sheldon, Don A. Stuart, Kilgore Trout, Herb Boehm, Paul Linebarger, and many others. I subscribed to and read several science fiction magazines.

ND: What was the attraction of science fiction?

MM: It is a literature of aliens and alienness. I suppose, being a recent immigrant, I found kindred spirits in tales of alien planets and strange futures. I also appreciated its cultivation of a certain sense of wonder. Later I was drawn to the tricksters of literature, writers like Borges, Calvino, Nabakov, Lem, and Kafka.

ND: The writers you mention are not bound by conventional notions of reality.

MM: Exactly. They take reality (which is a dodgy concept anyway) and warp it in some way.

ND: Is that what you did in T & M?

MM: Much of T & M is seen through the eyes of the twins, who certainly have their own view of the world. I don’t want to romanticize childhood, as many writers are prone to do, but that innocence of children, the sense of things being new, is very appealing. The twins are like explorers of a new land. They see new things all the time and must incorporate those things into their universe. Sometimes they employ methods which are foreign to adults.

ND: Like the episode at the zoo where the ape splashes them with water.

MM: Yes. In that episode Mazolli is startled and irritated by the water. The twins just fold it into their universe by laughing along with the ape.

ND: Would you talk about where the characters came from?

MM: All of the characters in this book were a gift from the cosmos. They came to me one morning while I was playing around with the idea of a fixed length for narratives. I know conventional thinking would have it that in some way I created them, but that is not the way it feels to me at all. It feels like they were given to me.

ND: Did you model them on anyone? Are Mazolli and Terrastina really you and Kim?

MM: I was not conscious of doing that in this novel, however, I suppose it is not impossible. Kim and I never had children, so that‘s one obvious difference. I will say that it is often dangerous to ascribe autobiography to a writer‘s fictional creations, although I know that many readers are prone to doing exactly that. Some of us try to make our characters as different from ourselves as we can.

ND: Nevertheless, isn‘t it the case that many writers use details of their own life in their stories? For example, you and Kim live in the Pacific Northwest, in a town very much like the town you describe in the novel.

MM: True, but that‘s just a starting place, kind of like moving around on a ready made stage. The details of their lives are so different from the details of our lives that there would be no way to ever confuse the two worlds.

ND: Please describe your working methods.

MM: I usually write in the morning. When I am working on a project I try to write every day to maintain the continuity of the narrative. I write on the computer. I have tried writing long hand but that is too tedious for me. Also, I often have trouble reading my own handwriting. When I have completed a draft I print it out, make corrections by hand on the hard copy, then key in the corrections on the computer. Then I print it out again and give it to Kim for her opinion. She always has pertinent things to say and will make comments and suggestions on the manuscript. I use her edits while I do a final polish of the piece, then I send it out to a publisher. Or publish it myself.

ND: Can we expect to see a sequel to T & M?

MM: I have none planned at this time, although the characters may have different ideas. We’ll just have to wait and see.

ND: Is each episode really exactly 99 words long?

MM: All except one, which I made exactly 100 words long to absolve me from charges of attempting perfection.

ND: Which episode?

MM: I will leave that as an exercise for interested readers.

ND: Okay. Guess I‘ll have to start counting.

MM: Have fun!

ND: Thank you for your time, Mr. Milosevic.

MM: Thank you for asking.

ND:

MM:

ND: I know the off switch is here somewhere.

MM: May I?

ND: Sure.

MM: I think you‘ll find it there, next to the

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An Abecedary

Always affirm an adequate and acceptable airing before betraying benign colleagues. Collecting cotton cushions doesn’t deny deregulation. Excessive excuses eventually erode fundamentally flattering failings. Gather goslings. Go gain humid hues. Houses have heavy hours inside. Illicit incidents incorporate industrial jokes. Jesters jeer. Jellyfish jam. Killing kippers likely leaves little lavender lore. Lemon loves life. Lean means mighty. More music makes magic. Never negate newness. Null names overwhelming our old ones only obfuscate. Painful parts prolong pious parity, quelling reality. Ruinous ruminations reveal reality. Sour sensibilities savage sage serenity. Tenderizing ugly verbs violates winning wines. We will x-ray your zigzagging zeroes.
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Shedding

When I’m mowing the lawn I sometimes find a snakeskin nestled in the blades of grass in our front yard. The skin is usually about a foot long, translucent, and still bears the imprint of tail, scales, belly, jaws, nostrils, and eyes. It’s like finding the ghost of a snake haunting our yard. I always pick up the skin. It feels like tissue paper, dry and smooth, and I take it into the house where I can admire it. Molting is just an ordinary thing that snakes do, the same way we cut our hair or clip our fingernails. Nevertheless, encountering a snakeskin is always a highlight of my day. It feels like a close encounter with a secret of the universe.

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Sasquatch

Washington’s Skamania county, where I live, is mostly sparsely populated wilderness, home to Mount St. Helens, and also the world’s only Bigfoot refuge. Back in the sixties (long before I moved here) there were a lot of reports of possible Sasquatch sightings here. Many people found what they took to be Bigfoot tracks in snow and mud. A lot of visitors came looking, many of them carrying firearms hoping to bag themselves a Bigfoot trophy. The county commissioners responded by declaring Bigfoot a protected species. I love telling people we have an actual law which says that if you kill a Bigfoot within the county boundaries you will be subject to a hefty fine and/or a lengthy jail term. What could be cooler than living in a place that protects a possibly imaginary species?

Not that you’d have any trouble finding people around here who will tell you in no uncertain terms that Bigfoot is far from imaginary. I was once acquainted with a man who met Sasquatch twice. His name was Datus. I got to know him just a couple of years before he died. He came to the library often and liked to talk about his encounters in the woods. I always listened to his stories. He was a wild man with a wild soul, and despite his frail health he had the sort of presence that always filled up a room. After he died I missed seeing him and hearing his stories. I wrote a poem, Bigfoot, as a tribute to his spirit.

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Mary Oliver

If you want to see someone’s eyes glaze over, ask them if they’d like to hear some of your poems. It’s an instant excuse generator. Not that I blame anyone for staying away from poetry readings. I usually avoid them myself because no matter how good the poet, I almost always find myself fuzzing out before they get to the last line of whatever poem they happen to be reading. Too many poets, even the accomplished and experienced ones, seem to have this sing song quality to their reading: their voice rises at the end of every line, making every line sound like a cross between a question and a vague observation. This style makes for a bland experience, hence my fuzzing out.

I myself am not immune to this style. When I rehearse my poems before my own readings, I notice that I do the exact same thing, even when I am completely aware of it. Such an odd experience, to find myself doing something I dislike so much and don’t want to be doing.

Now I’m happy to report that I’ve found at least one poet who has managed to overcome this problem. Kim and I went to hear Mary Oliver in Portland last night. Her first two poems had a hint of the sing song in them, but by the time she got to her third poem she hit her stride and I did not fuzz out for the rest of the hour. Instead I was enchanted by her voice and her imagery, which is the whole point of hearing any poet.

Here are the opening lines of her poem “Wild Geese,” (from Dream Work) which received a long and sustained applause at the reading last night:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

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1K/day

Kim and I have a deal going right now. We have both agreed to write at least one thousand words a day. We’re both working on novels at the moment and this daily quota really helps make the job less intimidating. A commercial length novel is many tens of thousands of words long. If you think about all those words, all those pages, all that work, it can paralyze you into inactivity. But a thousand words? Pfft. I can do a thousand words in my sleep. Okay, not exactly in my sleep, but you get the idea. Take a big task and turn it into a lot of manageable little tasks.

It’s working fine. So far I have about nine thousand words done on 2D and I’m enjoying the process a lot. I do my words in the morning, as soon as I wake up, which allows me to take advantage of my slightly hypnagogic state before breakfast. Lots of creative energy there.

I find I do my best when I write every day. When I was doing poetry, I made sure I wrote at least one poem every day. I did this for three years. It was the best way to learn the craft. Now I’m doing it with prose. 1K/day. It’s a motto I can live with.

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The Perils of a Cardboard Existence

The guy who created me did no back story on me. Not his fault. The deadline was tight, and the project was work for hire: a quick movie novelization. He had every reason to devote less time and energy to my particulars than he would normally have done. Only thing is, he didn’t give me any memories. None. So I need to find him and ask him to supply me with a few. Just something to keep me moored to reality. If you see him, tell him I’m pretty desperate. You’ll do that for me, won’t you? Won’t you please?

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Steamed Vegetables

Yeah, it sounds kind of boring, but this is a favorite dish in our house. Kim and I try to always have it around. Here’s how we do it:

1. Cut up 3 carrots, 2 broccoli heads, some cabbage, and half a cauliflower into bite size pieces.

2. Trim the ends off a handful of snow peas and sugar snap peas.

3. Steam the carrots, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower for exactly two minutes. Add the snow peas and sugar snap peas and steam for another two minutes and no more. The timing is crucial. You don’t want to end up with mushy vegetables.

4. Immediately transfer the vegetables to a large bowl. Toss with several minced cloves of garlic and a splash of olive oil.

That’s it. Serve with black beans and your favorite grain. We usually use rice or quinoa. Garnish with lime wedges and a few slices of avocado. These vegetables also go great with baked tofu or some salmon. This recipe is so simple even a writer can master it, and it’s so good I never tire of it.

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Borges Was Right

I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.

—Jorge Luis Borges


I work at a small town library in the Pacific Northwest. It’s a good job. I get to be around books, which I love, and I feel like I’m helping people everyday. Patrons come in looking for automotive manuals to help them fix their cars, or they need information on an illness they have just been diagnosed with, or they want a good mystery and figure since I’ve read all the books in the library I can find one for them, or they want to know the origin of the name of Beacon Rock, a volcanic structure near here. (It was named by Lewis and Clark on their expedition.) We do our best to get them what they want and most people are very appreciative of our efforts.

The point is that such places as the library are like bits of paradise in this world. Libraries are one of the best things that civilization has given us and I would not want to live in a world without them.

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Snow

On Saturday and Sunday we got over two feet of snow in our little town. Everything was covered in clean whiteness. Our car looked like a giant marshmallow. Most of the snow is still here, although some of it has melted. On Monday morning I shoveled a path down our steps to the street. It was a meditative and contemplative activity I quite enjoyed. Last night, after work, I went out and shoveled more snow, making a path in the sidewalk in front of the house and also in front of both of our neighbor’s houses. Now people can walk on the sidewalk in our neighborhood instead of on the street. A little thing, but it felt good to do it.

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I Used to Believe

When I was very young I thought the phone company could tell when you had too much going on in your house to answer the phone. That’s when they sent a busy signal to whoever was trying to call you. I also believed that clouds came from the smokestacks at the smelter near the Northern Ontario mining town where I grew up. I saw them pushing out great billows of white every day. They were clouds; it was so obvious. Another childhood belief was that curse words were a private language that only kids knew. I had heard all the swear words in existence by the time I was seven just by paying attention in the school yard at recess. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that adults knew all of our words and even used them in conversation!

I’m sure you have childhood beliefs similar to these. I used to Believe is an entertaining site in which readers post their own strange and charming beliefs. I visit it periodically just for the smile it invariably gives me.

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Terrastina and Mazolli

I have always been interested in odd literary forms. Show me a short story in the form of an index to a non-existent book, and I will be deliriously happy. Or an entire novel that does not use the letter “e.” Or how about a book written in a completely made up language that neither the author nor the publisher can understand. Yes! Such projects fill me with a particular and peculiar sense of wonder that I cannot find in any other way. The authors of such texts use restriction to kick start their creativity, often producing works of glorious strangeness.

Readers of my previous blogs will know about my novel Terrastina and Mazolli, which I serialized here last year. I wrote the story in episodes of exactly ninety-nine words. Why did I do such a curious thing? To give myself complete freedom. By imposing such a restriction on myself I never had to think about when to end an episode. I took my first draft, which was usually 20 to 30 words too long, and pared it down, word by word, until I got to ninety-nine, not a word more or a word less. Almost invariably the finished episode pleased me with its precision. The method, for me, was a triumph of the freedom of restriction.

I have now produced a print version of Terrastina and Mazolli, available here. If you are kind enough to purchase a copy, you not only get all the episodes, but also interior illustrations, an interview with me conducted by a noted European journalist, a set of discussion questions, and an author commentary on one of the episodes, just like on DVDs. It may not be the bargain of the year, but I think it’s not too bad.

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Michael Swanwick's Bottled Stories

When he was a teenager Borges used to write stories and poems, print them up as chapbooks, then take them around his town and slip them into the pockets of coats he found hanging on coat racks at restaurants, barber shops, stores, and other establishments. I have always found this image of the young Borges as literary Johnny Appleseed to be disarmingly charming. I might well have invented a character for one of my CR posts who writes stories and surreptitiously slips them into coat pockets. Or how about this: write stories and put them into bottles, then send the bottles into the world. So Borgesian. Now I learn that the inestimable Michael Swanwick does exactly that with his Bottled Stories. Such projects fill me with unexplainable joy. Sure, we can write for a wide audience, but to write for an audience of one, or even none, has its own kind of poetry.

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Welcome

Hello to my faithful readers from “Conditional Reality,” “Marcel et Moi,” and “Terrastina and mazolli.” I have decided to consolidate all my blogging activities here. I’ll leave my other blogs up for historical and archival purposes, but I don’t expect to add anything more to them.

My current project is a novel about a couple of high school kids who fall into Flatland. Working title: 2D. I’m still in the planning stages, working through characters, plot points, and situations. In addition, I have two other novels that have been written and revised once each. Art Saves Lives is a near future tale about a family who is torn apart when they display what the government calls subversive pictures in their art gallery. The Last Giant is a fantasy tale about a valley inhabited by small people who are cared for by a community of giants who live in the hills overlooking the valley.

I’m not exactly sure what to do with these books now. I seem to have a psychological issue with reading them again. I think they may not be any good, and that’s blocking me from doing any work on them. It’s a problem that has plagued me all my writiting life. I’m great with putting in the daily stint of writing, but when I have a finished manuscript that needs rvising, I often freeze up. Maybe talking about it here will help me get past that.

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