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