Saturday, December 24, 2005

Almost up to speed

With a couple of my deadlines met, I am clawing my way back to normalcy. Making sure to get in a writing session, no matter the length, every day before turning to the day jobs.

This week the day jobs have been eclipsed by the return of the iBook. I finished up my end of semester schoolwork on my backup computer and turned in the grades on Monday. I also delivered my InDesign course to the Center for Distance Ed. On Wednesday my iBook came back, repaired, but unresponsive. The stupid thing wouldn't boot up. I used the OS disk to start it up and run a self-repair app. But the repair failed and the only thing left to do was reinstall the operating system (Tiger). But it wouldn't take an archive reinstall, so I had to do a clean install. That is, to erase the whole freakin' hard drive and everything on it. Wipe the slate clean.

That's pretty drastic, but I had been prepared for just that eventuality. Even after the logic board goes kaplooey, the hard drive can be tapped with what Apple calls Target Disk Mode. So, with my external DVD burner and my backup computer, I had been able to record everything of worth off the computer before I even sent it in.

And a lot of junk accumulates on a computer in the course of three years. It collects like lint, filling up whole gigabytes. For instance, I still maintained System 9.2 and all the files to support it, as well as Classic apps I haven't launched in years. I can safely say that I don't need System 9 anymore. I've actually got some free memory now.

Recovery takes time, however, and a couple of unpaid days of loading files and applications and moving furniture. By now I am almost back up to speed.

At the top of this entry is a photo of my private empire that I took at high noon on Wednesday--Solstice. The temperature was plus 5 degrees Fahrenheit. You can see the Sun at its zenith through the trees. Total possible daylight for the shortest day--about 3 hours and 42 minutes.

At the bottom of this entry is a photo I took last month of a ruined cabin on the side of the road to Williams, Indiana. The white stripes on the inside of the exposed walls are lath and plaster. Notice the dovetailed building corners. Not a lick of insulation. I wonder if the clapboard once covered the whole cabin and has been cannibalized for some other project. A window thus far spared. Very solid construction and weathering well.

Monday, December 19, 2005

My work cubby

Here is where I've been buried for the last week getting caught up on deadlines. This is my backup workstation. It's a G4 Power Mac with only 533 megahertz of clock speed, one quarter what the current model delivers. And as you can see, it's tucked into a low-ceilinged corner of my "rec room" upstairs. But for all the discomfort and slow speed, this computer has been a lifesaver during my iBook's frequent illnesses.

I've finally had to admit that my iBook has a terminal disease, a chronic form of congenital logic board failure. My little laptop just turned 3 years old last month, and it's been in the shop four times now for motherboard replacement. That makes a fatal board attack every nine months, on average. Apple has recognized this malady to be a design flaw and has repaired it each time at no charge. They even send a two-way overnight shipping carton for it. Which is good since they don't seem able to fix it. If I had bought extended coverage, I imagine I could have gotten them to replace the computer on its third failure, but by now all they can do is swap out yet another logic board and hope that this time it works.

Still, they want to keep me a happy Apple customer, so they sent me a little gift to smooth over any inconvenience--an iPod Shuffle. Which is very cool, since I've been wanting to explore podcasts. See what kind of books on pod are out there. See what it would take to get mine produced.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Book Signing Cancellation

Waldenbooks in Fairbanks has cancelled my book signing, scheduled for tomorrow, because of lack of books. Their regular distributor has my books on backorder. We'll try to reschedule for sometime in January. Stay tuned.

Home again

I don't want people to think I've dropped off the face of the Earth, but I have returned to Fairbanks where I am up to my eyeballs in late deadlines for my day jobs, all of them. I hope to get caught up and be able to post an update by Christmas. stay tuned.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

schedule change

For those of you planning to attend my reading this Saturday at Elliot Bay Books, the time has apparently been changed to 8:00 PM. See ya there.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

that's entertainment 2

My old college buddy Bob Kay Jr. was driving me around Seattle yesterday in his jet black Buick LeSabre Limited Edition when I spied this swimmer poised on the corner of a downtown building. I had only a red light's duration to pull out my camera and snap this photo from below.

I have no idea what buildings these are or where downtown they're located, but putting yesterday's neon swimmer together with this one makes me wonder--are there more neon swimmers in Seattle? Is this a Seattle thing? If anyone out there has an answer or knows the location of yet more neon swimmers, please let me know.


Meanwhile, back at the book tour, I am told by my daughter that Entertainment Weekly doesn't do SF reviews very often and that the grade they gave my book--an A minus--is actually excellent because they rarely give out As. Moreover, they often brand the books in their own featured reviews with a B or worse.

Especially now, says my daughter, at Christmastime with people reading these reviews while on the lookout for gift ideas.

Then, a fellow named Jeff comments on yesterday's blog entry saying that he first became aware of my book through the EW review and went right out and bought it. And right on cue, my sales ranking on, which had sunk to the low 20K range this week, suddlenly shot up to 3250 this morning. Can this sales bump be attributed to the review? Anyway, I'm being impressed by my book's good fortune when I get an email from my Clarion West classmate Cindy Ward. She sends a link to a piece written by a reviewer for the entertainment magazine CFQ and its Yearbook edition. Go to

It's an article exposing the arbitrary process of picking a Ten Best list. The reviewer, Paula Guran, says,

"An entire section on "first novels" is scuttled except for Counting Heads by David Marusek and Jeff VanderMeer's Veniss Underground. The Marusek is another personal favorite that absolutely blew me away. It's flawed, yes, but the high level of imagination is incredible. But I go for the VanderMeer instead. I leave the worthy Veniss Underground on the list because I feel that although it is "new literate" (for lack of a better term) SF/F, it is accessible and enjoyable by a wide audience. It is also a bit of a cheat because it was originally published a couple of years ago by independent press, but I'm also supposed to be concentrating on major publishers, so if small press doesn't really count...then publication by a major does. Or something likes that."

Huh? Say again? You picked Jeff's over mine why?

Anyway, reading this makes the EW placement even more amazing, because the EW reviewer must have had to go through an equally capricious and indefensible winnowing process in reducing his list down to, not ten, but to four finalists. And since in this case we came up a winner, we're entirely good with it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

that's entertainment

Here's something I found on a walk Sunday on Leary Way. Just waiting to be photoshopped.

My big news is a positive review in the current issue of Entertainment Weekly (Dec. 9, 2005). Very cool.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Third Place Commons

My reading at Third Place Books last night came off well, but that's not the news. The news is what the name of that bookstore means. I had wondered if it was a self-deprecating crack as in, "We're not even in second place, but shop here anyway." An odd name for a bookstore. But after the reading, I asked Megan, my bookstore host, for an explanation, and she refered to the owner's allegiance to the idea that a community needs a commons to freely meet and build social bonds. I remembered at once the theory and realized that the bookstore was only part of the plan, that the real Third Place was the area I had passed coming in, what I took to be a food court. Here's a gloss from the site

"Social condensers" -- the place where citizens of a community or neighbourhood meet to develop friendships, discuss issues, and interact with others -- have always been an important way in which the community developed and retained cohesion and a sense of identity.

Ray Oldenburg (1989), in "The Great Good Place", calls these locations "third places." The first being the home and the second being work. These third places are crucial to a community for a number of reasons, according to Oldenburg. They are distinctive informal gathering places, they make people feel at home, they nourish relationships and a diversity of human contact, they help create a sense of place and community, they invoke a sense of civic pride, they provide numerous opportunities for serendipity, they promote companionship, they allow people to relax and unwind after a long day at work, they are socially binding, they encourage sociability instead of isolation, and they make life more colourful. Their disappearance in our culture is unhealthy for our cities because, as Oldenburg points out, they are the bedrock of community life and all the benefits that come from such interaction.

I can't eat before a reading, and so we had planned to dine afterwards, and we entered the commons, a large space which on a Friday evening was crowded with about 200 people of all ages seated around tables. Some were eating, some playing board games (which were freely available) or cards or just visiting with each other. There was a 10-foot square checkerboard carpet with dog-sized chess pieces in play. A little nook where dozens of teen-agers were engrossed in some kind of multi-player card game. Lots of happy noise. What had first made me think this was a food court, the ring of food counters surrounding it, was on closer inspection, unique in that there were no franchises, at least none that I recognized. A real Mexican restaurant, not Taco Bell. Oriental, pizza, etc. The feeling was that these restaurants didn't own the space, as in a mall food court. You didn't need to purchase your right to sit on a chair. Rather, you could bring your own meal, if you wanted, and hang out as long as you like.

My party (Cindy Ward and Joe Murphy, Nancy and John Lee, Curtis) and I took our meals at a wine bar just as a free musical concert was starting on the stage. A grand, wonderful way to spend a Friday evening. How I long to have something like this in Fairbanks.

Ten years ago or so Fairbanks residents were given an opportunity to build such a Third Place commons. Four or five community center plans were floated, and a commons plan was among them and was the one I voted for. But the vote went for the "multi-purpose" stadium, the Carlson Center, where hockey games, musical concerts, and home product shows are held. Pretty much all business and not a place anyone goes to in-between events. The closest thing we have to a Third Place, IMO, is Fred Meyers where you can meet friends in the grocery aisles.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Thursday, December 01, 2005

3rd Place Books

Tomorrow evening at 6:30 is my reading at 3rd Place Books in Lakewood. Am looking forward to it since everyone says they do a good job of hosting readings.

In the morning, Kalina and I will take a tour of Amgen, the biotech company, as guests of a researcher there who attended my Park Place reading on Tuesday.

Last night I attended the Socrates Cafe in Queen Ann, the same group I attended year and a half ago when I spent the summer in Seattle. A huge turnout, 17 people. Our topic of discussion: With the US arguably the most materialistic country in the world, how come there's so much religion here?

Having just spent a couple of weeks in the Bible belt of southern Indiana, I had a few insights to share.

On Saturday there's the monthly Vanguard party, a get-together of Seattle SF folks. That's what I like about Seattle. So much for me to do.

Reading at Park Place Books

My reading in Kirkland came off very well. Small but dedicated audience that started asking questions the moment I sat down. A small indie bookstore with a very homey and comfortable reading area. I've got photos I'll post eventually.

public terminals

Laptop is dead, and I have been forced to rely on public terminals to continue working on the course design I'm doing and to answer my email and conduct my banking, travel requirements, etc. Every public terminal has its own features and limitations, and they all tend to be cluncky and restrictive of priviledges, timed sessions, and functions. I lack all my little helper apps. I lack my calendar and address book, the archives of past email, my HTML editor, my favorite widgets and music. Not to mention my photo and layout software. This machine I'm on right now at the UW law library has no word processor of any sort. If you want to compose a few paragraphs, you have to do so in the body of an email and send it to yourself.

In other words, I am suffering separation anxiety. My laptop ferries too much of my day-to-day life for my own good. Already I have surrendered to machines, and being offline is a trauma.

Falling offline once in a while is good, though, I'm sure, for it teaches you to back up zealously and reminds you how to cope in the natural world. Akin to being sent into the woods with only a knife and single match.

When I was 19, during the summer after my first year at the University of California at Santa Barbara in the early 70's, I had big plans to hitchhike to see my friend Rusty in Denton, Texas. Two days before my departure, I was bodysurfing in the Pacific, wearing my glasses like a fool, and a wave knocked them off. Of course I never found them.

Putting my trip off was out of the question, and in those days a replacement pair of glasses took weeks, not hours, to receive. So I ordered a new pair to be shipped to Rusty's address in Texas, and I blithely set off from SoCal hitchhiking to Texas rather half blind.

On busy freeway onramps, hanging my thumb out, everything around me a sunbleached haze of fuzzy shapes. Having to reinterpret the world through new eyes. Is that a car stopped? Did it stop for me? At first it was very difficult. The frustration and anger of helplessness lasted a week. Eventually, I came to accept my nearsighted blindness with ease. Learned coping mechanisms. Adjusted.

Anyway, I've got photos I'd like to get up here but I can't right now. So to hell with everything!

Book seems to be doing well. Getting a new crop of reviews, mostly good. One sourpuss so far. Go to my web page for links.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

more of Chicago

Things have gone from bad to worse computer-wise. Yesterday as I was working here in the Bloomington public library, trying to upload the web course for UAF, my monitor died. A recurrence of the logic board problem I've had before. After sitting for a few hours turned off, the monitor came back. If the past is any guide, I will have recurrent outages for up to a month before it fails for good and I have to send it in. I truly love my little iBook, but Apple doesn't seem able to fix this particular problem (though their attempts so far have been free for me). The computer is three years old this month and still not obsolete. But it looks like I'm blogging on borrowed time. Don't be surprised if my next entry isn't for a while.

I thought I'd put up some more of my Chicago pix. Something about these buildings that really grab my imagination. Above is a view looking north on Michigan Ave., the "Magnificent Mile," from across the river.

Here are two houses on Maple Street in Evanston, Brian Davies' block. They date from early last century when Evanston was home to Chicago's well-to-do. I don't think I'd have the patience to live in one of these--old wiring, creaky floors, steam heating--but I sure like looking at them.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Fill 'er up

Eat your heart out, Fairbanks.

Bloomington Reading

The event at the Bloomington Borders went off well. There was a good crowd, largely due to the attendance of my family as well as Paul Tengan's. Yes, that's Paul T from Fairbanks who just so happened to be visiting family in the area. It was quite the surprise seeing him there. The photo above is of his great niece, who attended and sat very patiently through the reading.

This bookstore has special meaning to me because it's where I brought my father shortly before he died nine years ago to show him the first book I was published in, the Year's Best 13th annual collection. He lifted the thick volume and said, "You wrote this whole book?"

Had a grand day at the reading and then with brother Jim and sister-in-law Maria. I've got lots of photos but no time and no bandwidth at my mother's. I brought my work with me, a web-based InDesign course I'm putting together for UAF. I drove into Bloomington today (30 miles) to use the wi-fi at the public library (very nice library) to put lessons up on Blackboard. Not a vacation, alas, because there's so much exploring I want to do. Not to mention family stuff. Oh, well.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Bean

The artist prefers his own name--Cloud Gate--for this fantastic sculpture in the new Millennium Park, but locals call it the Bean, to his great consternation. It was installed (and is still being finished, ergo the scaffolding) after my last visit during Chicon, so I had to go out and see it. I'm not sure but Millennium Park seems to be just an extension (or piece) of Grant Park. I use a future M Park in my book, where it is four or five tiers high and extends out over the lake.

Water Tower/Hancock

I had only two hours to explore downtown before I had to leave. Took over fifty photos. Chicago is visually exhilarating for me, all the skyscrapers. Everywhere I look, I see another picture. It's like that for some people when they visit Alaska; they can't believe the scenery. For me, it's the urban landscape, and Chicago has the vistas that lets their buildings shine. Much more, IMO, than NYC or any other city I've been to.

Anyway, since the iconic Hancock building is on the cover of my book, I thought I'd snap it, alongside another icon, the Water Tower. And for good measure, I got a city employee hanging Christmas lights.

Oak Brook Reading

A photo of my reading at the Oak Brook Borders Bookstore this week. Went well. Oak Brook is a suburb SW of downtown, actually only a few miles from Villa Park, where we lived when I was a kid. We moved in when the fields were freshly bulldozed and the paint on the tract house subdivisions still fresh. Now the place has the look of an old neighborhood. I'm setting much of the action of Book 2 (Day of the Oship) in Villa Park, so it was nice getting so close this trip.

I was surprised to find that a rode that leads up to this shopping center is called Harger Rd. Samson Harger, of course, is my main protagonist. Is that a coincidence, or what?

It seems like I've been continuously driving for the last week. No time to blog and here in Indiana, often no wi-fi either. I'm using my AT&T calling card to hook up with my ISP in Fairbanks (with as little as 16 K pipe). So these photos take a while to upload.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Arriving in Chicago

Here's my first view of the Chicago skyline from the Dan Ryan Expressway when I arrived this afternoon. I drove 5.5 hours from Bedford on highways that seemed to have more tractor trailer traffic than passenger cars. 75 MPH in parts, two to six lanes. When you live in Alaska, you forget what real driving is.

I brought Arctic weather with me, the first cold dip of the season, snow flurries. The temp is supposed to drop into the teens tonight. In Bedford my heavy parka looked ridiculous, but here it seems to fit right in.

I'm staying with an ex-Fairbanksan, Brian Davies, who lives in Evanston, north of downtown. Oak Brook, where I read tomorrow, is way to the southwest. We're googling map directions and plotting our route to get there during the height of rush hour. I'll be driving. Wish me luck.

Guest cat

Here is this month's guest cat--Honey. This is a rambunctious young female mouser who has my mother under her complete control.

Bedford, Indiana

A good part of my book is set in Southern Indiana. I've never lived there, but my mother does, as well as a brother and sister. All of them near Bedford or Bloomington, where I have a reading on Sunday. My mother and I had dinner at my sister and brother-in-law's house last night. Here's a good shot of my sister, Rose Ann. There was severe weather last night, and at one point we had to take refuge in the basement to wait out the wind. Over 30 tornados touched down last night, but they missed us.

I asked three people in Beford if there was any wi-fi in town and got blank stares. So, I've been off line a bit.

I'll be back there next week for Thanksgiving dinner, at which I'm sure to get a lot of pix with my new camera to inflict on you blog readers. But I imagine there's one or two of you curious to see what my family looks like.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Let the tour begin

A little difficulty finding a free wifi hotspot here on Veterans Day. Here's a little slide show of my Title Wave reading in Anchorage (using my brand new Canon Digital Elph camera)

Here's the author leaving the cabin to catch his flight. A few minutes later, he had to unlock and go back in because he forgot his computer.

On the short hop to Anchorage, Denali was out. A good omen?

Carole Chambers picks him up in her funny little Honda.

The author at Title Wave, encountering his book for the first time in a bookstore. Yikes.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

done me proud

Last night Fairbanks turned out in force for my book launch. Old friends and new alike. They were waiting when I arrived a half-hour early, and I sat at the table for two solid hours signing books. I am gratified and honored. I'm starting to feel like people have actually been following along on my years-long writing effort, and last night they came out to cheer me on. The local media attention has been great, too, with a book review in the News-Miner and TWO notices in Dermot Cole's column (arguably the most widely read part of the paper), an excellent "lifestyle" feature in The PRESS, and radio interview on KUAC-FM.

Sales were spectacular--we ran out of books! Through the efforts of my publisher (see Wednesday's entry below), we had 54 copies on hand (including all of my author's copies) which arrived at 4 pm the day before. When we ran out of those, we presold from another box of 24 that will arrive tomorrow (people left instructions how I should inscribe them). With the ten copies the Fairbanks Arts Association will keep in their gift shop, that makes 70 sales in one night. Not bad, Fairbanks!

Here's a picture of the event. Alas, my old camera was not up to the task. (Oh, I need a new camera, oh) There was a table of punch and snacks, and in the gift shop we had live music. That is, Bill Rogers of Sand Castle brought his new theremin, which he set up along with a drum track. In case you're unfamiliar with the term, a theremin is the instrument that makes the ethereal sound in the theme of the original Star Trek series, and it was ideal to set an SFnal mood.

Well, now it's on to Anchorage and my mini-tour.

Friday, November 04, 2005

almost here

Been tracking this box of books all the way from NYC. It's on the ground in Fairbanks. Astounding, when you think about it.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Heroes of the Hour

My editorial assistant at Tor, Denis Wong, and publicist, Dot Lin, are my heroes. They have labored tirelessly all this morning doing battle with the inertia of the entire publishing and distribution industries in order to wrangle up sufficient copies of my book for Saturday's launch. What a relief! Well, actually, what a relief it'll be when FedEx does its own magic and gets them here on time. One thing we in Alaska know is that "next day delivery" actually means next couple o'days.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Book launch nightmare revisited

Well, I've received good news/bad news today. My book launch this Saturday (the setting for a recent nightmare), has suffered a major hiccup. There may not be enough books. The arts association ordered 30 copies but have been put on backorder because the initial press run has sold out and the distributor has zero in stock. When I learned this an hour ago, I called Denis Wong in New York, my editor's assistant, who, thankfully, was still at the office after 6 pm. He says he's going to try to scrounge up a few copies around the office (they've run out of publicity copies as well) and ship them out. He's also going to call the printer, who is two weeks late delivering a second press run, to see if we can't pull some off the presses.

The good news, of course, is that 5000 copies have already been shipped, and they're printing more.

If you're planning on attending the launch, don't panic (or at least don't panic as much as I am) because I will bring all of my author's copies. I have no clue how many copies Fairbanks will buy, but at least the first twenty people will get one.

Elliot Bay

We've just added another reading to my tour schedule, this one in downtown Seattle at the Elliot Bay Bookstore, December 10, 7:30 pm.

Now my schedule looks like this:

Nov. 5 7:00 pm Book Launch Bear Gallery, Fairbanks
Nov. 10 7:30 pm Reading Title Wave, Anchorage
Nov. 17 7:30 pm Reading Borders Bookstore, Oak Brook (Chicago)
Nov. 20 1:00 pm Reading Borders Bookstore, Bloomington IN
Nov. 29 7:00 pm Reading Park Place Book, Kirkwood (Seattle)
Dec. 2 6:30 pm Reading Third Place Books, Lake Forest (Seattle)
Dec. 10 7:30 pm Reading Elliot Bay Bookstore, Seattle
Dec. 17 1-3 pm Signing Waldenbooks, Fairbanks

Hope to see y'all there.

Monday, October 31, 2005

On it goes

Had an anxiety dream last night. One of those it was nice to wake up from and realize it was only a dream. I was at my Book Launch and no one came, starting with the musicians. At first I wasn't too concerned because my elusive anima was there, but she soon vanished under a tunnel of outstretched arms of fans who showed up. But they weren't my fans and had only come for the candy anyway. And soon they were gone and I was sitting at an empty card table wondering why I didn't think to decorate the place, which looked like a waiting room of a run down bus station. I was left wandering around with a bag of candy when, gratefully, I woke up. You Jungians out there are welcome to tell me what it means.

In the real world I realize I have to start preparing for my big trip. So many little details: buy a new battery for the iBook, forward my mail, reserve rental car, decide on clothes, print out the chapter I'm going to read, back up computer in case of loss, take care of bank accounts, etc. I'm way behind in designing the InDesign course, so I have to concentrate on that too.

I'm not complaining; it's just the dream coming out.

Got a terrific review in the News-Miner by fellow writer Sandra Boatwright yesterday. Sat with Brandon Seifert for two hours on Sat. for a "lifestyle feature for this Thursday's The PRESS. And my book's sales rank on Amazon remained above #1000 for 72 straight hours, going as high as #298.

Here's something I recently stumbled across on line. Apparently, a Russian SF magazine translated my novella "The Wedding Album" for their Fall 2002 issue and made it the cover story. That's my name in upper left corner in Cyrillic. Don't know if this was a legit resale by Asimov's or a pirate, but in either case I think it's a cool cover.

Friday, October 28, 2005


Am prepping myself for a radio interview with Robert Hannon on KUAC, the local NPR station. How does one prep for an interview? I wish I knew. In my case a stiff shot of whisky would probably be a good idea. I'm just not very glib. If I could sling my schtick in front of a live mike, I probably wouldn't have to write it. Anyway, my publicist is busy trying to line up more media interviews, so I'd better learn how to do it.

Tomorrow, Brandon Seifert of THE PRESS, a statewide entertainment weekly, will come over to the cabin to interview me. He wanted cabin photos, local flavor, I guess. Why can't I just do email interviews?

Even with all this distraction, I'm forcing myself to write every day, if only for an hour. Also I have three graphics jobs on my desk (my day job) am teaching a university web-based course on Photoshop, designing another on InDesign for use next semester, preparing for my book launch next week, and arranging my month-long book tour that begins soon after.

busy, busy, busy

Thursday, October 27, 2005

gack!! I jumped the gun! Amazon not live yet??

A friend who pre-ordered my book on Amazon told me on Monday that she received a shipping notice from them that the book would arrive by the 28th, tomorrow. I went to the Amazon site this morning and saw that my page was live, new cover, reviewer links, shipping options, the works. So I started emailing people that it was live. Fellow SF novelist Cory Doctorow even posted an incredible review about it on Boing Boing.

But a friend emailed to say that the page was still for pre-orders. I went back, and could not find the live page. Did I hallucinate it? Oh, well, it'll be live soon enough. Patience, patience my inner sea lion.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Book Tour Schedule

Here's my book tour schedule thus far:

Nov. 5 7:00 pm Book Launch Bear Gallery, Fairbanks
Nov. 10 7:30 pm Reading Title Wave, Anchorage
Nov. 17 7:30 pm Reading Borders Bookstore, Oak Brook (Chicago)
Nov. 20 1:00 pm Reading Borders Bookstore, Bloomington IN
Nov. 29 7:00 pm Reading Park Place Book, Kirkwood (Seattle)
Dec. 2 6:30 pm Reading Third Place Books, Lake Forest (Seattle)
Dec. 17 1-3 pm Signing Waldenbooks, Fairbanks

please come!

At last

The folks at Tor sent me a couple of copies of my book this week. I was so anxious about actually seeing the finished work, the culmination of over five years of hoping and dreaming, that I couldn't bring myself to open the package until the following day. When I did I was pleased, indeed. It's a very handsome volume. The cover should stand out on any bookshelf, and the text layout is very fine.

I'm not sure when the actual release date is. I think it's November 1. The Fairbanks Arts Association is hosting my book launch at the Bear Gallery in Alaskaland (aka Pioneer Park) on Saturday, November 5, from 6:30--8:30 pm. If you happen to be in the Fairbanks area then, please do drop by.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Old dog--new tricks

This is probably of no interest to anyone except those folks who like to ask authors about their writing process.

I have always written the first couple drafts of my fiction in longhand and only keystroked subsequent drafts. This usually raises eyebrows, and because it takes so long for me to finish a piece, people are always urging me to keystroke from the outset. My reasoning for writing in longhand is that because the first couple of drafts are only rough sketches anyway and that few strings of words longer than a phrase actually survive to the next draft, keystroking my early drafts wouldn't benefit from the timesaving advantages of word processing.

Also, my early manuscripts are replete with marginalia, arrows, multiple word choices, etc. and end up looking almost like drawings. I haven't found a word processor yet that gives me that kind of freedom. When you think about it, word processors are designed for *finished* work, with neat margins, single narrative tracks, everything in its place. Which leads to perhaps the most ephemeral (but all-important) disadvantage of word processing--The closer my work comes to being finished, the more constrained is my imagination. A page of typeset text feels like a cage. I have found that even late drafts, ones that are already keystroked, often benefit if I write them out in longhand again. This is not simple editing on the computer but reimagination. Computer editing suffers from the same features that are its greatest advantage--the words are already there on the page. You might rearrange them, delete some, add others, but essentially the sentence/paragraph structure is already locked in, as well as the thought, image, juice (or lack thereof). But when you put the text aside and write from scratch, from memory, wonderful things happen. Knots are loosened. The other shoe drops. Voices in the back of the room speak up. And more often than not, the best and truest portions of the earlier draft remain.

All this being said, with the writing of Book Two of COUNTING HEADS, I am going to give it a try. For the last week I have been keystroking first draft material (or nearly first draft) right into my iBook. I'm going to see if it makes any difference, if I can still pull a rabbit out of a hat.

Second trick
This one is probably more responsible for my slow output than word processing and just as tied up with creativity. The matter of knowing the story before I write it. It seems there are two types of writers, those who outline and those who don't (I am counting a detailed synopsis as an outline). Those writers who don't outline claim that their creativity would be shackled by an outline, that characters would never breathe life if they had to stick to a predetermined script, that plot surprises would be forced and mechanical. Better to take an "organic" approach. If the writer doesn't know what's going to happen, the work takes on a life of its own, goes deeper, is wiser, becomes real.

This is all fine and good, and I believe it. There's only one problem with my using this approach--at some point the story has to conclude. If a writer has a good sense of story, that is, knows how to follow the throughline and recognizes its climax, then organic plotting may be the way to go. But plotting has never been my forte. Without a sense of where the story is going, I find myself writing writing writing and only after many drafts figuring out where the story is. I end up with crates of cut scenes, characters, whole chapters. And (combined with the longhandy thing) a piece that should take months ends up taking years to complete.

At the same time, I've rarely been able to create an outline before writing. Since way back with my early short stories I have tried and mostly failed. My solution has been to practice "serial plotting." That is, to write a synopsis that puts down everything I "know" about the story, which usually doesn't include the ending, then to write the story until it veers so much from the synopsis that I have to write a new synopsis and repeat the writing-plotting-writing until it seems finished. But even then I've been known to cut whole parts out of a story and redo. For example, in "The Wedding Album" I cut out the entire middle of the story. I had a dynamite beginning and ending, but the middle seemed to drift off somewhere. So I cut it out and let the whole project simmer for a year before taking it up again and reimagining the "donut hole."

I am pleased to report that I spent two weeks last month writing a synopsis of Book 2, including the climax and ending. It's fifteen pages long, and I feel it's complete. I'm quite proud of it. It seems open-ended enough for the characters to breathe, but concrete enough for me to jump into scenes already knowing where they're going. And, for the first time, I feel I have a handle on the plot and its pacing. Of course it's not cast in stone. I can and will massage it, change it if necessary, toss it out if my Muse demands it, but for now it's a life raft in a sea of possibilities.

Unfortunately, I can't post it here for it's one long spoiler, but I can pass along the book's working title--THE DAY OF THE OSHIP.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Thinning the yard

Here's a photo of me preparing to knock down a tree yesterday. As you can see, it's already dead, the bark destroyed by spruce bark beetles. Alaska has been suffering from beetle infestation for the last ten years or so, and some scientists say it's a side effect of global warming. The winter temperatures don't get cold enough long enough to kill them back, and so they've swept across the state destroying millions of acres of boreal forest. This in turn adds to the ferocity of our summer fire season. Historically, Alaska loses about a million acres of forest to fires each year. This year (4.5 million acres) and last year (6 million acres) have set new records.

Anyway, you can see how dense the brush is in my own 4-acre back yard forest. I've never gone in and thinned it because I don't have room in the cabin for a woodstove. I love wood heat. I love harvesting the wood, splitting it, burning it, sitting next to its fire. This year, with heating oil prices going through the roof, there's a local rush on woodstoves and firewood, and Cam (Jasper the cat's owner) is helping me thin my yard and haul off the wood to keep his own house warm.

Starred Review

I learned today that the Publishers Weekly review (in the posting directly below) is not only ferociously positive but a "starred" review, which means it'll get special attention from booksellers and libraries, which is very cool.

Another thing--the reviewer managed to sum up my book in one concise paragraph. I have been trying to do that for months and failed. It shows how skillful the reviewer is.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

First Review

My first review is in from Publisher's Weekly, and it's a keeper.

I have a long-standing intention not to allow reviews of my work to have undue influence on me. That is, not to let the good ones get me too high or the bad ones to make me too despondent. Moderation is the key. That's why I'm only walking on the ceiling today and not on the moon. Here it is:
From PW:

Counting Heads
David Marusek. Tor, $24.95 (336p) ISBN 0-765-31267-0

This extraordinary debut novel puts Marusek in the first rank of SF writers. Life on Earth in 2134 ought to be perfect: nanotechnology can manufacture anything humans need; medical science can control the human body's shape or age; and AIs, robots and contented clones do most of the work. If only there were a way to get rid of the surplus people. When Eleanor Starke, one of the major power brokers, is assassinated, her daughter's cryogenically frozen head becomes the object of a quest by representatives of several factions, including Eleanor's aged and outcast husband, a dense zealot for interstellar colonization, a decades-old little boy and husband and wife clones who are straining at the limitations of their natures. Marusek's writing is ferociously smart, simultaneously horrific and funny, as he forces readers to stretch their imaginations and sympathies. Much of the fun in the story is in the telling rather than its destination-which is just as well, since it doesn't so much come to a conclusion as crash headlong into the last page. But the trip has been exciting and wonderful. Agent, Ralph Vicinanza. (Nov.)

Saturday, September 17, 2005

On my plate

I haven't posted in a while, and I have photos from Portland I want to share, but from the moment I arrived back in Fairbanks early Monday morning, I have been putting in a string of 12-hr days, and things won't lighten up for another week. The good news is I'm making a little money.

It seems to me that a writer's job is to write, but this year has been my worst year for writing since I started way back in 1986. First I suffered a total writer's block beginning on Jan. 4 when I turned in the final manuscript for the novel. That lasted till May. I didn't beat myself up about it because I figured that after working on one project for five years I was bound to need a transition or recovery period. Then I began to write in fits and starts.

I experience writing as a cumulative effort. That is, I build up a momentum, day by day, and that after a break it can take a week or so to get up to speed. I was building that momentum when I left for Glasgow in August, which required I start all over again this month. But I had to prepare for my PNBA event in Portland, where I was required to speak publicly, a very stressful prospect for a stay-at-cabinner like me. But what is life if not constantly pushing one's boundaries, right? I spent an entire week prepping myself instead of writing, as well as putting together my press kit for the next event, The Adult Readers Round Table in Chicago. (more on that when I get a moment).

I put the final touches on the press kit this week, including blowing an ENTIRE afternoon at a local copy shop helping them troubleshoot a software glitch involving their Xerox production center and my latest version of InDesign so that I could even get my press kit printed. I was up most nights till midnight gluing, stuffing and tabbing the kit and mailed it off yesterday. Whew. At least I got to check in with Leno and Dave, who I hadn't seen in quite a while. (Dave and I share not only a name but a gap between our front teeth.)

Meanwhile, classes started, and I'm teaching an online course on Photoshop for the university. A LOT of handholding to get my students up and running. But the biggest time sink is an extra-rush job I accepted at my graphics design company--producing FOUR full-color brochures in two weeks. I'm only halfway through that one, and that's the one that pays the bills around here. Teaching doesn't (where I'm essentially a piece worker who gets paid a pittance for each lesson I grade), and writing hasn't yet (though I'm told my advance was above average for first SF novel). On the back burner is a semi-annual journal for the Anthropology department at the U, and another online course I have till January to create from scratch on InDesign. At least the paying work is available, and I won't have to worry about cash flow till early next year (knock on wood).

Nevertheless, I am proud to say that I've written four days this week, usually only for an hour or two, and that I will write today, Saturday, right after posting this (and then back to the brochures. I'm working on Book 2 of what could be a Counting Heads series, depending I guess on how well the first one does. I have ideas for three or four books out. I have a hundred or so pages sketched for the second one, but I'm taking time out from actual writing to work on the outline. I'm not an outline kind of writer. My work is more "organic," which means that so much of what I write gets cut out. At least trying to work out the story arcs will, I hope, allow this one to be written in only two years instead of five.

Saturday, September 10, 2005


I think that's what they call it when a bookseller takes a special shine to a title and goes out of her or his way to talk it up to customers. Handselling is a prize that authors covet, and one of the chief benefits of attending a book fair like the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association's here at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

The PNBA has a kind of author round robin at their banquet to give authors and booksellers an opportunity to talk books in a relaxed yet efficient manner. Twenty invited authors go from table to table to give 20-minute presentations about their books and answer questions. The booksellers receive copies of the books. I'm told that this is only the second year that they've done it this way. In previous years only a handful of authors addressed the entire ballroom with speeches. This way is much more enjoyable. I've also heard from several booksellers that the round robin approach has opposition in the membership ranks. Well, speaking as an author, this is the way to go.

You should have seen me in the hours before the event, pacing in my hotel room, practicing and memorizing my talk. I've had stage fright ever since I was a kid, but I know that it vanishes on cue the moment I start to talk. The event (for the authors) stretched from 5 pm, when we autographed books, to 9:30 pm, when we finished personalizing those books and talking to members.

Here's a picture of me sitting behind about 150 copies of my book, actually the generic-covered advance reading copy. I must say I was intimidated by those stacks, felt like it's too late now to tell my publisher nevermind. The book is out there, and there's no going back. So I sat down and autographed them. Each author was assigned a volunteer escort for the evening, and at this stage the escorts stood in front of the tables, opening the books to the title page, handing them to the author while taking the freshly signed books and restacking them. Several author/escort teams competed to see who could finish first.

My escort was Jose (JOE-see), a bookseller from a little town in Oregon who was kind enough to take my photo for this blog (hi, Jose!). After the signing, the authors ate dinner together, and then at 7pm our escorts took us to our start tables, and the ballroom doors were opened. After each 20-minute round, a bell was rung and Jose took me to the next table.

Here I am in motor-mouth mode. Though Jose took a number of photos, my damn camera is so unreliable that this was the best shot (the camera's interlacing is gummed up. Oh, I need a new camera, oh). I'd say that it took me a couple tables to get into my patter and a couple more to relax enough to slow down and speak in a more conversational manner. I spoke for ten minutes and allowed ten minutes for questions. I had to almost shout the whole time to be heard over the din.

I think it went off very well. And this morning I am satisfyingly hoarse.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Big Opportunity

I'm on Alaska Airlines flight 104 on my way to the Portland Convention Center for the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association book fair. This is an amazing opportunity arranged for me by my publicist at Tor (thanks, Dot!). I am one of twenty invited authors who will participate at the banquet tomorrow evening. We will be ushered from table to table to give the dining booksellers 20-minute pitches about our books. Five tables of nine diners each means that I'll be talking directly to 45 people responsible for stocking the shelves of independent bookstores on the West Coast. I'll be talking non-stop for over an hour and a half. I've spent the last couple of weeks honing my spiel and practicing it in front of patient volunteers.

This time there will be free Internet broadband in my hotel room (Courtyard at Marriott) and free wifi in the lobby, so I should be able to post some pictures (as well as answer email, grade my students' assignments, work on my press kit, and maybe even earn some free-lance graphics income).

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Final cover?

I just received this, what I believe will be the final cover of my book. Lots of cool detail. I can't wait to see it in print.

More visitors

Here are friends from Seattle, Kate Schaeffer and Glenn Hackney (I'm on the right). Kate was in my Clarion West class way back in '92, and she continues to help guide CW as an officer of the organization. If you don't know what CW is, it's one of the best things that ever happened to fiction, science fiction in particular. In my opinion, it's the equivalent of an MFA writing program condensed into six weeks. It's a boot camp for the short story. Every summer in Seattle, CW (as well as the original Clarion in Michigan and Clarion South in Australia) offers up-and-coming writers the opportunity to hone their wordcraft under the masters of the science fiction field. I cannot praise it enough (maybe because it's where I sold my very first short story to Asimov's). For more details about the program, go to

Glenn spent some time growing up in Fairbanks, and this is his first visit back in many years. His name will be familiar to Fairbanks residents because he shares it with his father who for decades has devoted himself to improving our community.

Kate and Glenn came up on the Alaska ferry system with a VW van full of kids and grandkids. After touring the Interior, they put their offspring on a plane and set off for a long, quiet drive home down the Alcan Highway. They should be somewhere in British Columbia by now. They have plenty of mountainous terrain to cross, and I hope they stay ahead of the snow.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Won't be long now

Believe it or not, but it snowed in Fairbanks last night, the last night of August. Just a dusting, and nothing that stuck around. I didn't even know about it until I heard the weather report on the radio.

The sky is filled with Canada geese honking and flying in ragged Vs. They're not leaving quite yet, just practicing or herding up or something.

Here are my x-country skis, right where I left them the last time I skied this spring. I suppose I could have put them away, but what's the point? Up here we leave our ice scrapers under the car seat, our coats and hats in the front closet, the snow shovel next to the porch. What would be the point of putting things away when they'll be needed again in a few weeks? One of the things you learn up here is that Summer is just a thin veneer over Winter.Won't be long now

Monday, August 29, 2005

Toting water

Here I am doing a weekly chore, filling my jerry jugs with water at the public spigot at Alaskaland.

There's a lot to say about this photo. First, a year or so ago, the elected borough (we have boroughs instead of counties in Alaska) assembly members voted to change the name of our theme park from Alaskaland, which I like a lot, to Pioneer Park, which I don't. There wasn't much public discussion about this and small controversy. But to me Pioneer Park sounds too much like the state-run retirement system of Pioneer Homes. It conjures up images of coon skin hats and old men on benches.

2) Jerry jugs. I have recently learned (when my book was copyedited) that I have been misusing the term "jerry-rigged" to mean makeshift or provisional my entire life. There's no such phrase, in fact, and the correct term is "jury-rigged," and that the origin of the phrase is nautical. Fortunately, jerry jug is probably OK, as it derives from jerry can, a WWII term referring to the metal cans the Germans used to transport gas or water.

3) My jugs hold six gallons, and I have three of them. This means that I consume about 18 gallons of water a week at the cabin for washing, cooking, and drinking. I find that remarkable.

4) This is the parking lot of Alaskaland, which teems with RV vehicles parking overnight in the summer. But summer has flown, and visitors are heading south and over the Rockies before the first snow. Water to the public spigot, the only one I know of in town (besides the borough RV tank station) is turned on each May on Memorial Day and shut off each Fall on Labor Day. So this is probably my last free fill this season. During the winter I have to schlep my jugs to a laundromat or use a commercial water fill station. If Labor Day seems early to be buttoning up water valves for winter, consider that we got our first frost warning the other night.

5) I'm growing my hair long, unless it all comes out grey. I have natural curls.

6) My '92 Mazda pickup is looking a little bedraggled. But it still has less than 80 K miles. That dent in the rear bumper was there when I bought it second hand.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Guest Cat--Jasper

Jasper is a young male cat with a black coat and white chest and partial boots. He owns a house and family and is staying with me for a few days while his people are out of town (Gerri and Cam and two boys five and three, Conor and Ross). Jasper is one of the most bold cats I've met. When I first met him, he threw himself on the floor at my feet and demanded to be pet. I'm afraid my lifestyle is too stodgy for him here in the cabin; he has to make up imaginary foes and prey and tear around the furniture pursuing them. If I had any mice or voles around here, he'd be a terror. And just look at the length of those whiskers!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Ungulate visit

All sorts of visits going on: family, spammer, ungulate, cat, and Kate.

Here are two moose yearlings, twins, probably born this year (?) waiting across the road from my driveway. Their mother, who seems pretty young herself, is already on my side browsing. The calves are not waiting on traffic, of which there is some at this time of day, for moose are generally oblivious of cars and will walk right into traffic.

One-by-one, the kids came over to join their mother. Here's one of them in the clearing next to my cabin. It's about the size of a horse. Isn't it cute? Just a big baby. But compare it to its mother in the next photo.

If you look closely, you'll see all three moose here. They're browsing the brush berm next to my driveway. It takes surprisingly little brush to hide such massive creatures. When I go outside, I often find myself watching the ground--roots, rocks, and stumble holes--instead of up and around me, and I have stumbled into these imposing creatures in the past. I've even been charged by a young male. At least there's not a lot of bears around here.

about the cat and Kate later.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Family visit

My amazing daughter, Kalina, has been visiting Fairbanks with her boyfriend, Ronan. (I'm the one on the left.) She's just finished doing a law intern at the U.N. in NYC and is on her way to a month-long institute in Rome before returning to UW Law School to finish her final year. Whew! Ronan is a producer for and co-owner of All Day Buffet, a film production studio in Manhattan.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

What it's about--take 2

I don't know why this synopsis is so hard for me. I'm too close to the material and can't seem to distill it down to a jacket flap. Anyway, here's my latest attempt.

So, your spouse is a clone, and your boss is immortal. NASTIES are eating Chicago, and there's a baby in a drawer in Trenton with your name on it. Welcome to COUNTING HEADS, an everyday tale about a man and his home planet--Earth.

The year is 2092, and it's a good time to be rich and rejuvenated. Nanotech has fulfilled its promise and ushered in the Boutique Economy, in which closet-sized assemblers manufacture everything from hairbrushes to taxi cabs, on demand and one copy at a time, without the need for factories or a large labor force. Mass consumption and mass production are becoming obsolete, as are the very masses themselves.

Global wealth has been concentrated into a few million hands, with the majority of Earth's fifteen billion inhabitants mired in contentious poverty. The rich decide that idle populations are unnecessary, wasteful, and an undue strain on the environment. In an act that takes privatization to its logical conclusion, they collude to quietly buy up the planet--the entire planet--and turn it into a private reserve. It will be the solar system's most exclusive club, and with membership comes privileges--such as the right to live on Earth.

Against this backdrop, two extraordinary people, Samson and Eleanor, meet and fall in love. Their marriage is celebrated by friends and colleagues, and they are showered with gifts, career advancement, and a baby permit. But on the day their baby is to be conceived, a nano-terror attack--a NASTIE--aimed at Eleanor strikes Samson instead, and he is grabbed off the street by the Homeland Command and placed in total and permanent quarantine.

It takes all of Eleanor's resources to free Samson, but not before the authorities "sear" him, effectively sealing and booby-trapping his bodily cells against future NASTIE attacks. Samson enters the ranks of the cellularly challenged.

The strain of Samson's new condition saps their marriage. Whereas he and Eleanor were both rich and rejuvenated when they met, now he is sick, weak, and mortal. After a year of sulking, Samson leaves Eleanor and baby Ellen and tries to make a fresh start in an unfamiliar new world.

Forty years pass, and Eleanor has continued to amass wealth and influence. Not only has she embraced the secret land grab of her fellow billionaires, but added a wrinkle of her own. She has assembled a consortium of leading capitalists to foster a space colonization program that trades land on Earth for a grubstake on a new planet in a neighboring solar system. Passage for colonists will be provided aboard millennial ships called Oships on voyages lasting hundreds of years.

Samson, meanwhile, has been sinking slowly into the middle class, which has shrunk to the point of vanishment and is being supplanted by temp agencies that hire out legions of cloned workers. Samson joins Charter Kodiak, a contractual family that has seen better days. Samson's medical condition has prevented him from using regenerative therapies, and without rejuvenation he's reached the end of his rope; he's over 180 years old and feeling every day of it. Then, on the very day he plans to end his life, a second assassination attempt is made against his estranged wife.

Eleanor's space yacht, with her and daughter Ellen aboard, crashes, and suddenly everything changes for Samson. Tragedy has opened a door to return to his family, but to pass through it he'll need the help of clones, bees, his dysfunctional clan, and a smart machine called Skippy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

What it's about

OK, here's a plot synopsis I just wrote. I'm sure to rewrite it a couple of times, but I wanted to get it out for comments. Have any? Please post or email them to me.

Counting Heads Synopsis

What will our world be like when today's leading-edge technologies have matured? How will human clones, artificial intelligence, bio-engineering, and nanotechnology affect our jobs, our relationships, and our dreams and goals? Counting Heads explores these questions in a fully-realized, futuristic America of the 22nd Century.

Samson Harger is an artist, a packaging designer, who falls madly in love with an influential corporate prosecutor, Eleanor Starke. They, like most affluent residents of the United Democracies, are practically immortal; they command the loyal services of intelligent machines and indentured humans, and they compete for shrinking resources and markets. It's an exciting time to be rich, and on top of everything else, they are rewarded with a rare and coveted baby permit to conceive their own child.

An assassination attempt against Eleanor strikes Samson instead. He survives but is "seared" by the Homeland Command. That is, his bodily cells are rigged to self-immolate in the event that his body is hijacked for nanobiological terror. He can no longer avail himself to modern medicine, which means he is no longer immortal. As Samson comes to grips with his new condition, his marriage falls apart, and he finds himself shunted aside to the lumpen world of cloned workers, "free-range" chartists, and the cellularly challenged.

The Information Age of the 20th Century has given way to the Boutique Economy in which shoe box-sized nano assemblers can produce most consumer goods one copy at a time, without the need of a labor force. Mass production and mass consumption are rendered obsolete, and the majority of the planet's fifteen billion inhabitants are deemed superfluous and wasteful. Wealth has been consolidated into relatively few hands, and the wealthy take privatization to a whole new level. They hatch a 200-year plan to quietly buy up the planet--the entire planet--and turn it into a private club. With membership comes privileges--such as the right to live on Earth.

Eleanor takes part in this plan, but when a second assassination attempt is made against her, Ellen, the daughter she and Samson produced, must assume her role. But Ellen needs help, and Samson, now old, tired, and sick, must decide once and for all where his loyalties lie.

My office

On the London-Minneapolis leg of my flight home last Thursday, my rowmate, a young Brit on his way to a wedding in Fargo, asked, "So, are you going to the office tomorrow?" We had been having the typical ice-breaker conversation of strangers on a plane, "So, what do you do?" meaning for a living, not what you do for fun. I told him I was an "author and a graphic designer." When he asked if I was going to the office, I suppose he meant to expose the irrationality of bosses everywhere who would expect an employee to finish out the week after a vacation. I had to think about it a second, and I said that yes, I was going to the office tomorrow. It would be hard not to.

I am a home worker, and this corner of my cabin is my office, what I call my command center. Here I do all my writing and graphic design. Note the tools of any modern office: the light, phone, and computer. What else do you need? I also have three windows to gaze out of and a radio with two of the best stations in the US. My desk is a coffee table, very useful in that it can be moved for vacuuming the floor. I keep my desk messy to satisfy my inner slob. My computer, an Apple iBook rests on the desk on top of my thesaurus and dictionary. I do all of my graphics work on its 14-inch screen. I only have a dial-up modem; cable doesn't come down my road, and a dish connection would cost more than I can afford right now. Note also the sleeping bag on the couch. Summer or winter, this cabin is chilly, and I cover my legs. Against the wall on the left is the oil stove, the sole source of heat and only a couple of yards away for maximum comfort. I come to my office and sit on that couch six days a week for 4 to 7 hours a day. I write first, while I'm still fresh, and compose a minimum of 1000 words. Then I make a living with the graphics.

This photo and little description might serve to answer one of the five common questions people always ask writers: How do you write? The other questions are:
2) Where do you get your ideas from?
3) Who are your main influences?
4) Why do you write?
5) What is your book about?

Now that I'm back from Glasgow I'm prepping for my next event, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association book fair in Portland next month. I am a guest author invited to the Friday night "Feast." They'll feed me and the other dozen authors early so that we can circulate around the tables during the banquet and give a 20-minute spiel about ourselves and our books. Get this, I'll have the opportunity to speak face-to-face with 45 persons responsible for stocking the shelves in bookstores up and down the West Coast. I have two weeks to organize and practice my talk.

Regrettably, the most difficult question is the last one. I find it impossible to sum up my book in a sentence or two. I've been wrestling with this for years. This is not a typical novel, with a single through-line and trio of main characters. COUNTING HEADS is more similar to an ensemble TV series like ER or Star Trek. That is, there are five main characters, and the overarching plot is weak. In ER, the "plot" is "bunch of health care workers struggle at their jobs and personal lives." Their work place, a county hospital emergency room in Chicago, is the unifying theme, and each character's story is more related to work than to each other.

My book works in a similar way, and the unifying theme is, I think, the future world we are creating. My characters' individual stories are only superficially intertwined. The real glue is the world, or so I think. Anyway, I'm working on this now, and I'll try my insights out here for you. By the way, the book description you read on Amazon is cribbed from a story synopsis I wrote in 2001, long before the book was split and remelded, and it's not entirely accurate or compelling. I am redoing that too, though not in time to alter Amazon (or maybe even my book cover).

Anyway, here's a little riff I jotted down that I like in answer to question 5:

So, your spouse is a clone, 
and your boss is immortal. 
Nasties are eating Chicago, 
and there’s a baby in a drawer in Trenton
with your name on it. Welcome to Counting Heads, 
an everyday tale about a man 
and his home planet--Earth.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Into the soup

It occurred to me that if I can show pictures of London on this blog, why not Fairbanks? Fairbanks is a place, too, and there are things here. So here's a picture of the Fairbanks I returned to, a town buried in the smoke of forest fires. There are fires all around us, and no matter what direction the wind blows, we're in the way.

How many fires? There are currently 111 wildfires in Alaska, according to yesterday's News-Miner, most of them burning between the Alaska Range and the Brooks Range. That is, in Interior Alaska, an area large enough to fit several of your average states, in the middle of which sits Fairbanks. Historically, a million acres of Alaskan forest go up in flames every year. This year, over 2.4 million acres have already burned.

Also, according to the paper, we are in the middle of a heat wave, with record-breaking highs in the 80s (they should be in the 60s in August). And it's dry. August is normally our wettest month (with December our driest) But month to date precipitation is only 0.07 inches out of a normal month to date amount of 0.66.

But I'm not complaining, at least not out loud because Fairbanksans I've talked to about the smoke all say, "Of course it's nowhere near as bad as last year." And that's true. Last summer a record 6 million acres burned, and the smoke covered the town like a brown blanket, causing health hazards and misery. I should know, I skipped it. That is, I spent last summer in Seattle, sunny, ocean-breezy Seattle.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Home again, home again, jigged-y-jig

Thursday afternoon and I'm on Northwest Airlines flight 43 somewhere over the Atlantic. Four hours to get from Harringay to Gatwick Airport and clear check-in and security, eight-and-a-half hours to Minneapolis, a two-hour layover, then another five-and-a-half to Fairbanks. In total, a twenty-hour trip. *Only* twenty hours. It never ceases to amaze me, how blase we've become about air travel. Back in the pioneer days of Fairbanks (early 20th century), I'm told that it took three months to travel "Outside" to San Francisco.

I spent the day yesterday tramping around London. Chris, who commutes downtown every day, told me that since the tube bombings a few weeks ago, the city, which should be in the throes of summer tourism, is relatively deserted. I found that to be true. While there were tourists about, they (we) were fewer than I witnessed during my winter stay. Noontime Trafalgar and Leicester Squares hosted more pigeons than people.

Here's a photo of the Millennium Wheel (I think that's what it's called). Looks like a giant bicycle wheel. Those cars appear to be as big as school buses, though it's hard to tell from across the Thames. The Wheel was under construction during my 1999 visit. If any Londoner is reading this (hint, hint, Chris), maybe you can fill us in on the specs. Just how tall is that thing?

Friday Afternoon
I got back last night at 8:30. Since I left Chris and Pat's door at 8 am, that makes 12.5 hours, plus the 9-hour time change, and it's a 21.5 hour marathon trip, with no sleep except a few airline micronaps. Last night I enjoyed my first full night's sleep in over a week. Ah, to be in one's own bed with one's own pilly.

A palm tree grows in London

It's kinda stunted, but there it is in the Victoria Embankment Gardens, a testament to the warming effects of the Atlantic currents that bring tropical air to England. The very currents that are predicted to weaken or dissipate with global warming. If and when that happens, England's benign climate may take a turn for the worse.

London bridges

Here's a lovely view of the Thames at low tide (yes, the tides are felt upriver) and four of the eight or so (not counting railroad) bridges that cross it. The one in the foreground is the Millennium Bridge, strictly for pedestrians. The one beyond it is the Southwark Bridge. Hidden from view beyond it is the new London Bridge (the old London Bridge having been bought up by an American entrepreneur and carted off to Arizona or somewhere), and in the distance are the two towers of Tower Bridge (which visitors routinely mistake for London Bridge). During my 1999 visit, they were just driving the piling for the Millennium Bridge. It was opened to great fanfare at the turn of the millennium but had to be closed immediately. There was a flaw in the design that caused it to sway precariously. They stiffened it and reopened six months later.

It didn't sway when I walked across on Wednesday. At its apex it's about six stories high, and gives a terrific view of the city.

Here's the Millennium Bridge from a different angle and looking south. The industrial building with the stack in the background was once a power generating station, now renovated as the new ("Modern") Tate art museum. Where the generators once stood is now a grand, three-story gallery for exceptionally large exhibits.

Guest cat

A popular topic at this year's Worldcon was blogging and whether or not it's worth a writer's time (or is one more form of procrastination). A young woman (Anna) offered me a suggestion for my blog. She said that if I really wanted to draw readers, I should have cats appear on it. I think that's a sound idea, so I'm going to begin featuring a Cat of the Month, or something like that. Here's the first--Calgary.

Calgary, like her human Pat, is an ex-pat from Kansas. I first met her in 1994 while on a cross-country road trip with my daughter. Even as a kitten Calgary exhibited a discriminating taste in humans. A year or so later, when her family moved to London, she was forced to spend the obligatory six months in quarantine lockdown as part of England's attempt to prevent rabies from entering the country. She handled quarantine with great equanimity and emotional balance. Now she resides in North London with Pat and Chris, Helen, and Rob and, frankly, rules the house.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Changing neighborhood

I'm sitting in a classic old pub, the Salisbury, on Green Lane in Herringay. It's Chris and Pat's neighborhood pub, but one they never frequented because of the rough clientele. I passed it every day when I was staying with them in 1999, and I often bemoaned the fact that I couldn't go there to relax with a beer by myself. A few years ago, however, the management renovated the place and renovated their regulars as well. Gone are the fisticuffs, replaced by peaceable patrons. It's really a beautiful old place, the kind of pub that modern saloons, like the Pump House in Fairbanks, try to emulate, with assortments of overstuffed couches, mahogany wainscoting and trim, and empire ceiling sculpting (though not tin).

Not only the pub has changed but the ethnic mix of the neighborhood. This was and still is a Middle Eastern area, the majority of residents and businesses and restaurants are some blend of Turkish, Bulgarian, Cyprian, Greek, and points East. Since Poland joined the EU, however, it is increasingly Polish. Polish language signs are appearing in the shops (which I can read), and I overheard people speaking Polish (which I understand) on the bus and on the street. I'm a little disappointed there's no Polish restaurant yet because I'd kill for a bowl of zurek or plate of bigos. I was able to buy a loaf of authentic Polish rye bread though, and that was soul food enough to sustain me.

When I was here in '99 there were a number of cheap phone shops, where people could rent phone time to call home. These are replaced by internet lounges. There's one across the street in which the modest floor space is divided up into small booths, like carrels in a library. The charge is only 50 pence (USD .85) per hour. Now, that's affordable. And the machines are new and it looks like they have media ports and maybe ethernet ports.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Oh, by the way

In case you've always wondered how the natives say it, Glasgow does not rhyme with cow but ends with a long O.

Here's the view from my hotel window showing the old and the new in the center of the city.

Con Report

I'm sitting in Chris Fowler and Pat Cadigan's living room in North London watching the evening Sky News reports on the safe landing of the space shuttle, the latest on the bombers and Omar Bakri's flight from England. Pat and I finished with the con yesterday and took a relaxed train ride down the length of England to London.

I'm pleased that so many people are looking at this blog, and I feel a little guilty for not making daily entries, but I couldn't justify the cost. For the first time I felt myself on the other side of the digital divide. I kept feeding the Internet cafe machines one pound coin ($1.80), and that was just to read my email. At home I don't yet have broadband; can't afford it. But dial-up is sufficient for most of my needs. When I do have to down- or upload large files, I simply go to a free wi-fi hotspot, of which we have quite a few. In fact, I'd say there are more free hotspots in Fairbanks than metered ones. Bars and hotels, the public library. The idea is that hotspots are cheap to set up, easy to maintain, and should be used to draw patrons, not fleece them.

Here are a couple photos from the con. I don't have the names of these guys (let me know if you do), but they caught my eye. As far as my own goal of selling my book in the UK, I made some progress, but things are still in flux. I did attend a panel on the globalization of publishing and learned some depressing news. With the consolidation of publishing houses by German and French companies (who own pretty much all of it, including US imprints) and the rise of mega-bookstores, there seems to be no advantage to having a UK agent. That was not the situation when I started writing the book. Also, the rise of and other online booksellers have broken the publisher's control of regional editions and release dates. This means that a popular writer's work has to be released more-or-less simultaneously in US, UK and Australian markets, or impatient readers will buy it online and scotch the regional sales. I'm not so sure this holds true for a midlist or new writer. On the contrary, online sales puts these authors into markets heretofore unavailable to them. The real challenge for a new writer is publicity, now on a global scale.

In other news, my editor, David Hartwell, told me over lunch that as far as Tor is concerned, the point has proven that releasing a free e-version of a book online (as practiced by Cory Doctorow) does not hurt the sales of the printed edition. Whether or not it *helps* sales is still unknown. So Hartwell said that if I want to, I can give my book away online. If enough of you want that, I will. I'll probably dub the rtf file into a Palm format. If there is another format you'd prefer, and if I can get the conversion software free off the net, let me know.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

just checking in

I'm at the worldcon internet lounge. \it's free, but you have to sign up and wait for a machine, and then you have only 15 minutes. \\i leave tomorrow and travel to \london for a few days. With any luck \i'll be able to get somewhat caught up.

\in brief, a good con so far. As far as making inroads to a British sale, the results are mixed. \i'm glad folks are starting to see this blog, and \i promise \i'll do better. \honest.

Friday, August 05, 2005

This isn't cheap

The time remaining counter in this internet cafe says i have 5 minutes left, and the keyboad i fnny. Wireless in thistown costs over $35 a day. this cafe is $7/hr. Won't be able to post much till i figure somthing out cause \i can't think and keystroke that fast.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

This isn't Scotland

8 AM Thursday
We who live in Interior Alaska are used to the the fact that it takes a day to fly anywhere that's not actually in Seattle. But two days to the UK seems excessive. And to arrive there at 9 AM after two sleepless overnight flights will be a trial for a guy who needs his nightly nine hours of restorative slumber. Ah, well.

My day in Minneapolis was shortened to a few hours by the time I got out of the airport. The airlines bumped me up to first class for the Fairbanks-Minn leg, and I think I've discovered what first class means these days, at least at NW Airlines. It means you don't have to pay for the airplane food you used to get for free, plus alcohol. More importantly, it means that the lines you stand in are shorter. Even the TSA security lines next to their ticket counter has a first class section. But the people using it still have to take their shoes and belts off. It's an interesting sight watching men and women in expensive clothes and an air of being in charge stooping over to remove their shoes. Yesterday, in Fairbanks, my first time through security I asked the TSA person if removing shoes was mandatory. No, she said, with a smile. Of course, the moment I stepped through the scanner, they pulled me aside for a wanding. In the Fairbanks airport TSA has this small glass booth for this purpose. It's like a little public display box. The TSA guy, very respectful launched into his spiel about having to touch me and if I was uncomfortable I could request a private area. I did so at once and ended up in a closet with two guys, one groping and the other watching. But at least it wasn't out in public.

My father spent a night in jail once in rural Kentucky, falsely arrested for something he didn't do. What upset him the most was not being falsely accused of a crime but spending the night in a holding cell in which the toilet was right there in the cell and the only way he could relieve himself was to do so in front of everyone. That, to him, was the ultimate disrespect. I feel like that about having to unbuckle my belt, remove my shoes, hold my arms out in the modern traveler's crucifixion. The second time I went through Fairbanks security, I just took off my damn shoes and went through.

I suspect I'm rambling, but not through sleeplessness. I intend to post to this blog in the same manner as to my journal, that is, unedited. I have kept a paper journal since my teen years, and in fact have a smaller notebook I call my travel J which absorbs all the minutiae of the road. I'm trying to learn to travel light these days, though, and I left it at home in favor of this laptop and you.

So, here I am at the Mall of America. I came here by accident, honest. I was supposed to have a room comped to me by NW. After all, I arrived at 3 AM Fairbanks time and have a nine-hour layover. But my first class status failed me. After waiting 2 hours at the airport for my voucher and shuttle, I finally opted for a cab. The driver, not from around here, brought me to the mall instead of my hotel. By then it was time for coffee, not sleep, so here I am. At least they've provided a moose and habitat to make me feel more at home.