FOGcon Virtual Event: Authors Read!

Nisi Shawl and Karen Joy Fowler

FOGcon, a science fiction convention usually held in the California Bay Area in March, is putting on virtual events. On Saturday April 30, at 5 pm PDT they are doing the next in their Authors Read! series. Nisi Shawl and Karen Joy Fowler are the featured readers.

This event always includes a group of additional readers doing five-minute segments. As someone who has been a huge fan of Karen’s work since I stumbled across a small short story collection in a science fiction bookstore in New York City some time in the 1980s and an equally huge fan of Nisi’s work since I met her when she was assisting my Clarion West class in 1997, I could not resist the chance to read with them.

So I’ll be one of the rapid readers along with Cliff Winnig, Karen Brenchley, Frank Coffman, Carol Dorf, Joshua Wilson, Heather Rose Jones, Don Simpson, and Monique Collins.

See bios of all the readers here. Register for this free event here.

Story Matrices – the story behind Gillian Polack’s research

Today I’m wildly busy, but also celebrating. The research I’ve talked about at science fiction conventions for years is finally in print. Thanks to Luna Press, a Scottish SF publisher with an academic branch. The book is Story matrices: Cultural Encoding and Cultural Baggage in Science Fiction and Fantasy. The reason I’m so tired and so very delighted is because this book was almost lost to the world because Canberra had bushfires and the bushfires made me ill. I had a week of doing normal everyday things before COVD hit Canberra and since then I’ve not been able to go to libraries, to attend face to face meetings and so much more. I’m not entirely a well person and so I’m one of those who have spent most of COVID seeing people only online. Occasionally I get out and pretend life is normal, but I’m always wearing a mask and it’s always risky.

Despite all this, my little study of how science fiction and fantasy is important in cultural transfer and explanation is officially available. It’s not the mega-study that I had intended, but, as someone earnestly said to me a couple of months ago “it’s much easier to read than it would have been if you’d written it the way you told me you would.”

There are so many things I want to tell you about this book.

I want to talk about how hard it is to write any book through brainfog and with lungs that don’t fully work. I want to explain that air should be breathable, not riddled with particles.

I also want to talk about how difficult it was to avoid the usual explanations of writers we no longer trust. Aided by the brainfog, my first draft kept falling into bad explanations of the changing relationships between Marion Zimmer Bradley, JK Rowling and their readers. I then looked at what I wrote and realised that I was doing exactly what my book explains: I was telling stories about them that explained who they were and their life choices. But my book isn’t about their life choices nor how we react to them. That I dislike a whole bunch of things about MZB’s private life and get angry about JK Rowling’s opinions about my friends is, to be honest, not useful. These are my emotions and my ethics and my personal opinions.

I need to get past the ethical questions and the personal. My research explains that how we tell stories is damned important. I needed to understand how we include our ethics and our thoughts about others into our work, often without knowing we’re doing this. I needed to write it out clearly. That was surprisingly difficult. Now that the book is out and people can read it, I’ll find out if I’ve succeeded.

It’s urgent that we understand why harmful stereotypes keep being updated and complex understanding of human beings is only appropriate for certain kinds of novels. This is why, instead of describing my own personal reactions of this author or the other, I needed to explain how novels give us tools that support one interpretation or another. I had to explore what some of those tools are and explain how they work.

My original plan was for a comprehensive explanation that changed the world. Life reduced this to an introduction, with lots of different entry points for readers and writers, so that they can explore for themselves the bits of the world they want to change. I looked at unique culture and shared culture, at what story space is for a reader and what it is for a writer, at how we build worlds for fiction and to play in. Understanding how Rowling and MZB’s work fits into this, helps us understand how their life choices creep into their fiction and gives us the capacity to understand which parts of that fiction are good and which are worrying. It takes us past stereotyping and into how that stereotyping plays out in novels.

This book is the next step after my History and Fiction work. It’s the precursor of a deeper exploration. Right now, I’m looking at how fairy tale retellings and fantasy world building operate in certain novels. Now that Story Matrices is out, I need to deepen my understanding of how we do what we do and what that means for our writing. I especially need to understand how the nicest people can use racist and bigoted cultural elements in their work, and how the most terrible people can write immensely popular and well-written novels. I need to do this non-judgmentally, because I am also capable, as a writer, of doing all these things. Instead of saying “What a terrible thing this writer has done”, I want to look at works and say “These are the techniques the writer has used.” Readers can make their own decisions about ethics and are perfectly capable of judging for themselves, but it really helps to have useful tools.

How culture is encoded into fiction and the cultural baggage fiction carries is not a simple matter. It’s a mosaic sparkling with colour and with outlines that move and perspectives that change. It’s easier to give simple descriptions and to announce, “I understand this.” It’s so simple to hate a book without understanding what the writer has actually done, what we’re reacting to with such force. There is a price for choosing the easy route. Our everyday lives become riddled with material we read in our fiction or watch on TV or in movies, or in comics or… in any narrative.

With the best intentions in the world, we can spread prejudice and support hate. That’s the extreme case, the one that’s right now playing out in a war in Eastern Europe, in the collapse of politics in Pakistan, in the Middle East, in Sri Lanka, in Myanmar and in may other places. I can see those stories in the convoy folk who descended on Canberra in February and have been giving us a hard time ever since.

So much of the things we do in our lives is influenced by the stories we love. Story Matrices is one step on my journey to understanding this. In a perfect world, it will help readers and writers see what we put into novels and what we take out of them. It will give us back choices about the aspects of culture we want to accept.

A Virtual Reading: Promo With a Few Thoughts

Strong Women/Strange Worlds Third Thursday Quick Reads

As you can see from the picture above, I’m reading on St. Patrick’s Day (Thursday, March 17) with five other authors as part of the Strong Women/Strange Worlds online reading series. The reading runs an hour, starting at 7 pm US EDT, which is 4 pm out here on the U.S. West Coast, late morning on the 18th in Australia, and the middle of the night in the U.K.

You can register for this free event here. Each author is doing some form of giveaway as part of the reading. I’m offering a print copy of For the Good of the Realm to one person in the US and an e-copy for a person living in other places. (The cost of shipping books these days is beyond the means of most writers, especially when the shipping costs more than the book.)

The people behind this reading series started it after some of them did a Zoom reading at a virtual convention and realized they could do such things without the convention. They’ve put together an organized system, with a set of tips for readers, and they solicit applications from people who’d like to participate.

Virtual readings are one of the good things that have come from the complicated times of the pandemic. Many conventions were cancelled or held virtually and most bookstores and libraries stopped holding events.

I suspect virtual readings are going to stick around. They can draw a worldwide audience — though the time of day may be less convenient in some locales — which is a lot better than the crowd a writer can get at the local bookstore. And the audience can listen while doing other things. (I like to listen to readings while cooking or eating dinner.)

I did several last year. FOGcon, our local convention here in the San Francisco Bay Area, has been doing a series of both readings and panels to make up for not holding a convention. Laura Blackwell and Daniel Marcus do Story Hour each Wednesday, with two authors each reading a short story. I enjoyed reading both places.

The only drawback to the virtual reading is that you can’t see your audience while you’re reading. When I’m reading in person, I’m always attuned to audience reaction. I miss that in the virtual events.

I’m also a big fan of group readings, both online and in-person. For an author, it’s great because it expands the audience beyond the people who’ve heard of you. And when you listen to such readings, you often find a writer you want to check out.

And if you don’t like someone’s work, well, they’re only reading for a short period of time! In this case, we’re reading for 8 minutes each.

The main difference between the rules for doing virtual readings and the rules for doing in-person ones is that you focus on where your camera is, not on a sea of faces, and that you have to make sure your tech is working. Otherwise, it’s basically the same: be on time, don’t run over your time slot, make sure you can be heard and understood, and listen politely while the others read. (For online readings, listening politely includes making enthusiastic comments in the chat since no one will see your reactions otherwise.)

I’m hoping to go to a convention or two this year and read in person there. I’m also hoping bookstores around here will start holding more events and that the several Bay Area reading series will start back up on a permanent basis. However, I’m also one of those people who thinks we need to be stay vigilant about the pandemic, so I’m not going to push too hard for a return to indoor un-distanced socializing.

The good news remains that we’ve learned to do some things very effectively online. Readings are one of them.

Hope to “see” some of you at this one.

 

Helicon Lifetime Achievement Award Goes to Jeffrey A. Carver!

Treehouse Editor Crow is excited to report that Treehouse author Jeffrey A. Carver has been named recipient of this year’s Helicon Society’s Frank Herbert Lifetime Achievement Award!

2022 Helicon Award Badge

From his perch in the treetop, Carver responds, “This came to me as a bolt out of the blue. The Helicon Awards are announced each year by the Helicon Society, ‘a collective of SF/F authors and other creators who subscribe to the Superversive approach to creating SF/F media and look to promote good quality sci-fi/fantasy…’ The judges and membership are anonymous. They have been announcing these awards since 2019. I am humbled and gratified that they have found my work worthy of a lifetime achievement award! Thank you.”

Here are the past winners of Helicon’s Frank Herbert Lifetime Achievement Award:

  • 2019 – Jack McDevitt
  • 2020 – Anne McCaffrey
  • 2021 – David Weber
  • 2022 – Jeffrey A. Carver

Carver is delighted to join their ranks.

See the recipients in other categories here. Congratulations to all of them!

What the Humans have been Up To

Bright MorningThe humans have been busy working on a book together. This is something we crows have not seen them do before. The book is in honor of someone they knew who died. We do know about honoring the dead.

They call this book Bright Morning, and they have filled it full of stories. Being the resident editor of the Treehouse, I looked it over. There are no stories about crows, but there are some about horses, dogs, and dragons, so that’s all right. At least the humans are thinking about beings other than just themselves.

Here is their announcement about the book, and a picture of the cover. There will be a paper book with a shiny cover next month, they say.

Vonda N. McIntyre preferred to keep her author’s biography short and sweet: “Vonda N. McIntyre writes science fiction.” While true, this modest claim conceals accomplishments that earned her multiple accolades and an enduring place among the most influential fantasy and science fiction writers of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Even more important to the authors of this tribute anthology, McIntyre was a kind and generous supporter of other writers. In Bright Morning, eleven career writers of science fiction, fantasy, and other genres share stories of hope in her honor, along with their memories of working with McIntyre. Profits from the anthology will benefit a charity that promotes literacy for children all over the world.

Bright Morning
An Anthology of Hopeful Tales
In Honor of Vonda N. McIntyre

from the Treehouse Writers
edited by Deborah J. Ross

Order Bright Morning from your favorite bookseller

 

Books: a new series for a new year

On 4 April 2010, BiblioBuffet published the beginning of a thought I had. I introduced many people to my library and, indeed, to my booklife. I am still surrounded by books. The piles grow and shrink and topple everywhere. The books in them demand to be talked about. Every Monday I will post about the loudest books. Sometimes it may be a short post, sometimes a longer. When my life gets tough (as it does) I may share an old piece of writing… but it will be about books.

To begin this blog series in style, let me begin with that post from 2010. An old post for the second last Monday of the old year. Next week I’ll find another old post of an entirely different kind, but still about books. Then the new year will begin. My furniture has changed, my life has changed, even my books have changed. When the year, too, changes, we will explore books together, week by week.

 

An introduction to my booklife

When I’m happy, I make lists. When I’m unhappy, I make different lists. I sit in my apartment, monopolise the big armchair, slide my writing desk into place, make sure the TV remote control is within reach, take a sip from my oversized mug of tea and then I’m ready. I produce list after list. I should go into business as a list-producing factory.

Right now, I feel like making a list, so that’s what I’m doing. Mostly, however, I’m making this list to introduce you to my books and their habitat (my apartment). They are central to my existence, they protect me against the outside world and line my walls to insulate against vile weather, and they’re going to appear in this column, so they have been drafted into duty as windows to my soul. Besides, if you didn’t get my books and a list, you would get a potted biography. A half-organised tour of a life in books is infinitely more interesting than a potted biography. (Even if it were boring, it would be a list of ten and lists of ten are wondrous things.)

1. Stacks of cookbooks

Cookbooks stack. In theory, they inhabit the shelves on either side of the television and the one behind the door, have colonised the second pantry shelf and a quarter of the wine cabinet. Despite their best colonial efforts, my cookbooks don’t fit in shelves. They tumble out of place when I can’t remember proportions, ingredients, taste or history then pile up interestingly until I can find a gap, any gap, in the overfull shelves. The stacks have no regard for language, though the cuisines that predate the founding of Australia do tend to ape dignity, while the homegrown community cookbooks look haphazard no matter where they are. Some of them are sticking out of a camel saddlebag right now: these look particularly random despite the fact they this is their current shelf (is there a rule against saddlebags holding books?).

Other peoples’ cookbooks stack. My cookbooks stack flamboyantly. They stack in shelves, on shelves and next to shelves. They hide other books and obscure everything from a reproduction of the Auchlinleck manuscript to a pile of French bandes-dessinées. My cookbooks are very presumptuous. Some are also attention-grabbers. The one drawing most attention to itself right now is Mrs Child’s The American Frugal Housewife, 1833 (a reproduction). Mrs Child’s ghost is obviously demanding I write about her book one day. Today, however, is not the day.

Today I started a new stack of books that demand attention and that want to be written about, and she’s right on the bottom of it. Immediately above it is a book that flirted with me. It’s a cookbook (with stories) by romance writers. With a pink cover. A very pink woman eating a chocolate éclair. And now I crave chocolate éclairs. I think I should move on from my cookbooks, quickly.

2. Other stacks.

We shall not discuss these. The most obvious of these contain review books and do not get talked about or even thought about until the time is right. They’re demanding children and need quality time. Besides, the visible books all sport zombies on the cover and one also has a law clerk wielding an axe.

3. Reference books!

It’s impossible to write about my reference books without copious exclamation marks (!!!!). I have a USB drive containing many thousands, which deserves one exclamation mark, at the least. This means that a good part of my reference library travels with me, everywhere. If I could only remember my netbook, then I could use them everywhere, too. I never forget to put a book in my handbag, but I often forget the computer.

The hardcore reference books are the ones I use. They’re on paper, too, and sit near my desk. They range from dictionaries to encyclopedias. I have a volume on love and sex in the Middle Ages, two on Medieval folklore and several on science fiction and fantasy. I also have at least half a dozen herbals and several manuals of etiquette.

I think my least used reference book (of the paper ones) must be the rules to card games. My most used one is a nineteenth century dictionary. My current favourite is a nineteenth century guide to pronunciation of the English language.

 

4. A stack unto itself is my copy of Kellogg’s The Ladies’ Guide, a rather beautiful old tome. It sits next to the skull box (which contains Perceval, who is disarticulated) and some handmade lace, a few arrowheads from Hot Springs, Arkansas, and on a segment of a 1930s wedding obi. Kellogg is preachy and needs keeping under control. Between the arrowheads and the skull, civilisation is maintained.

5. The corridor is a transit zone and contains no books. The laundry and the bathroom are also transit zones.  They are officially boring.

6. The library.

The library is the room with the most books. The only books that stack in the library are the five hundred or so patiently waiting their turn for shelf space. It was the spare bedroom until my visitors rebelled against sleeping in the margins between bookshelves. Those visitors who enjoy sleeping on book-infested carpet announce to their friends “I slept in L-space last night.” L-space doesn’t fit neatly inside items 6-9, but that’s all the space I’m devoting to it.

7. Fiction

I can’t talk about my fiction in just one sub-heading in just one essay. Three walls of bookshelves stacked to the ceiling and without an inch of spare space are not summarised so lightly.

Also, Thomas Hardy and George Gissing are dignified. Robertson Davies thinks he is. I’m not sure they’d appreciate being discussed in too close proximity to some of the other writers populating my fiction shelves.

Also, how do I discuss Eleanor Farjeon and Ionesco and Alan Garner and Joan Aiken all in one breath?

8. Nonfiction

There are only two giant shelves of nonfiction. This isn’t because I don’t like nonfiction. It’s because I’m a cheat.

Nonfiction doesn’t include herbals or Judaica because both of those belong with my cookbooks. Non-fiction doesn’t include Arthuriana, because that belongs with my Medieval Arthurian collection which belongs (you guessed it) with my cookbooks.

Nonfiction doesn’t include any history before 1800. History before 1800 doesn’t belong with my cookbooks. It belongs in my bedroom where I can access it at any time and where no-one else can see things and say “Gillian, I’ll just borrow this.” My versions of the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle are not part of my lending library and I shall defend them stoutly with my corn tooth sickle (which I keep near the cookbooks, of course, because those cookbooks need defending most).

Nonfiction is everything that’s not cookbooks, Arthuriana, Judaica, Medieval, Renaissance, womenstuff… this list is getting exhausting. It’s alphabeticised by author, which is the main thing. I should just call it “Everything else,” but “Nonfiction” makes it sound as if I know what I’m doing with those two enormous shelves.

9. There’s a shelf hidden in my sorting bookshelf (where I keep those books I haven’t yet put away, for whatever reason, but that really ought not be stacked) and it has books and etceteras by me. Over time, the etceteras diminish and the books multiply. It’s still a very small shelf hidden in a sea of books.

10. The heart of the addiction

Epic legends, romances, chronicles – all Medieval. Modern editions. Modern works about them. A complete Pepys. Kemble’s promptbooks (editions of Shakespeare). A few volumes of the nineteenth century Parliamentary records relating to the British colonies now called Australia. I could list volumes for ages and every one of them would be interesting. They’re select and special and wonderful and… most people would call the room they’re in a bedroom. It’s more books than bed, but there is indeed, a bed and I do sleep on it. I try not to sleep on books.

The trouble with writing a list of ten things is that the numbers run out before one has even begun. I haven’t even talked about the books I haven’t yet met. Some of them are clamouring to join my library, and yet they don’t fit in this list. I’ll do another list, one day, of books I yearn to meet. I’ve already done a list (on my blog) of the piles of books waiting to be read or written about or returned or dealt with severely. And I’m not going to get started on the many volumes on loan to friends (for my library is also a circulating library, payment in dark chocolate).

All these things are important. My life is books: books are my life. Right now, though, my booklife has probably outgrown my two-bedroom unit. I just need a few more rooms and my life would be perfectly ordered.

Award-Eligible Works by Treehouse Residents

As 2021 draws to a close, writers in the Treehouse want to call attention to the new works they published this year. These works are eligible for writing awards based on year of publication. These works include three novels, a novella, and three short stories that are already in print.

Additionally, four of the stories in the forthcoming anthology Bright Morning, which will be published on December 20, 2021, qualify as short stories. Bright Morning, edited by Treehouse resident Deborah Ross, honors the late Vonda N. McIntyre. All proceeds go to Room to Read, a nonprofit supporting literacy and education for girls.

Novels:

A Valentine for One – book 8, Wisteria Tearoom Mysteries, by Patrice Greenwood. August 2021.  (mystery)

The Green Children Help Out, by Gillian Polack ( (fantasy)

For the Good of the Realm, June 2021 by Nancy Jane Moore (fantasy)

Novella:

Intermezzo – Household Matters” – novella, tie-in to Wisteria Tearoom Mysteries, by Patrice Greenwood. January 2021. (mystery)

Short Stories:

“Mannikin,” by Madeleine Robins in the March/April 2021 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. (science fiction)

The Missing Forget-Me-Nots,” – mystery short story, tie-in to Wisteria Tearoom Mysteries, by Patrice Greenwood. August 2021. (mystery)

Karen’s Secret Story,” by Gillian Polack (science fiction)

Original Stories from Bright Morning (forthcoming December 20), all science fiction:

“Sanitizing the Safe House,” by Leah Cutter.

“More Lasting Than Bronze,” by Judith Tarr.

“Panacea,” by Pati Nagle.

“Harden,” by Gillian Polack.

Not a Fairy Story

I’m researching fairy tale retellings right now, so I want to start this post with Once Upon a Time. The story has a fairy tale element to it. It starts with a dream and ends with a happy surprise. It is, however, no fairy tale. Let me start it with the right words anyhow, because I can.

Once Upon a Time I had a dream. It was only a little dream. I woke up with an image from it so firmly imprinted into my vision memory, that, even before I had coffee, I went to my computer. I looked to see if I could find a picture of Io, because my dream was looking up at Io through an old telescope and seeing it as if it were our moon.

I found the picture almost immediately. Io looked the way my mind had dreamed it. I don’t remember if I took time for coffee, or if I wrote the story immediately, but by the end of the day I had a first draft of a story set in a far-distant planet, where a society re-enacted the eighteenth century.

I was chatting with a friend and told her about it. She read my draft. Then she told me her dream, which was to run a magazine. I let her have my story to use to build that magazine. She set up the organisation and edited everything and I and a couple of other friends built a world writers and artists could play in. That world was New Ceres. My story was its backbone and its heart, but it was never published. Life got in the way.

I took my version of New Ceres because I had new dreams about what could happen on that planet. Alisa took hers and she published a lovely anthology. She then started a publishing house and that publishing house has put out amazing book after amazing book. I watch to see where her dreams taker her next, because they’re always to fascinating places.

My dreams took a while to realise. First, I wrote them into a novel. An editor from a well-known science fiction press asked if I could send it to him. Whenever I asked about how he was going with it, I was told that it would be read the next week, that it was a priority, that I should not worry. Eight years later I took my manuscript back, and resolved to try elsewhere.

The novel was accepted somewhere else almost immediately, but that publisher imploded. Another publisher took it on. They asked one of my favourite artists to do the cover and he built (literally, built) a scene from the novel, and photographed it. A street from New Ceres lives in the Blue Mountains.

My novel was released straight into the first COVID inversion, where no-one looked for new novels by small press on the other side of the world. It was going to be celebrated at WorldCon in New Zealand. New Zealand is so close and so friendly and… the pandemic changed that, too. At least, I thought, it was finally published. I could close that chapter on those dreams and move on. Its final name was Poison and Light. Here, have a link to it. Admire the cover.

Tonight I had news about the novel I thought no-one could read because all the publicity and distribution were hit so hard by the pandemic that it simply wasn’t very visible. It’s been shortlisted for an award.

In that short-list are novels by wonderful writers whose work was issued by that first publisher. The editors won’t remember the eight years I had to wait, nor the emails that went unanswered in the last year, when I tried to find out what was happening. I remember. And now, finally, I know that the initial request to see the novel was serious. That it was an unlucky novel, but not one that was poorly written. And that readers are finding it, despite its travails.

I shall dream again tonight of that acned moon. And, finally, I will move on.

Readings From the Treehouse

Logo for Virtual Events from FOGcon

Treehouse residents Nancy Jane Moore, Madeleine E. Robins, and Gillian Polack are all reading on Sunday, July 25, beginning at 5 pm PDT as part of FOGcon’s Authors Read.

Nancy is a featured reader along with San Francisco author Claire Light, and Madeleine and Gillian are part of the rapid-fire readers participating in FOGcon’s ongoing virtual event program.

The current schedule is three rapid readers, followed by Claire, then a break before three more rapid readers. Nancy will close the readings. There will be time for questions and the event will close with breakout rooms with each of the featured readers.

All of this takes place on Zoom. Register here to get the Zoom link.

Author’s Copies!

For the Good of the Realm author's copies

I finally got my author’s copies of For the Good of the Realm. (The post office seems to be particularly slow in sending books these days.)

So wonderful to finally hold the print version in my hands. I’ve had the ebook versions since right before it came out, but while they’re great for reading, you can’t hold them.

If you want one of your own, you can get one directly from Aqueduct Press, from Bookshop, or from the usual places.