Thursday, September 25, 2008

You don't need celestial charts; you've got me

It's uncanny. I have no explanation for it that fits within the paradigm occupied by those who deny the possibility of any sort of validity to astrological theory. All I know is that as soon as Mercury turns retrograde, I am summoned as by some invisible force to the study, where I must work on my own fiction for hours each day.

I'm not telling you I'm an astrological believer. But I think I'd better start putting Mercury's retrograde periods on my calendar, so I can plan for these slowdowns in the office.

Ah, things are lovely in the study. I am deep in the early-development stages of the final draft of The Shadow of the Sun, the novel I was afraid to bring to press first but secretly wished I could--which, I realized earlier this year, really does need to be the first out the door. I think I'll be writing the whole thing in first, with only one PoV: because if I allow myself to explore the journeys of other important characters in the way I wish I could, there's no way I'll bring this in at a length I can afford to produce. In fact I realized this morning that I'm going to have to be very disciplined about what goes in and what goes back into the hopper for later, even with the single PoV, if I am to keep it to a manageable length.

But that single PoV is my favorite character, bar none, so I don't mind too too much.

Meanwhile back in the office, I'm waiting for printer's proofs of the FINAL version of the Shorn trade paperback and (with Wynette's help, of course) developing the e-book version. Gotta get Shorn off the front burner so I can dig into Anointed: Zach delivered revisions to that beauty a few days ago, and now he, Brett, and I will zip through final reads and final tweaks...and then plunge into pre-production.

During the parts of the day when I can tear myself away from the study, of course. :)

Friday, September 19, 2008

My eyes! My EYES!!!!

Day One of Anime Weekend Atlanta: what geek girls do on their birthdays. Rachael & I went straight over to AWA from school this afternoon, stood in interminable lines at walk-in registration (not quite geekily organized enough to register in advance) and met some cool people in line, wandered at length in the Dealers' Room (awesome new t-shirt!)...and went to a program called Awesomely Bad Japanese Music Videos.

Uh, yeah. They weren't kidding. I don't think it would have been substantially weirder with chemical assistance. Let's start with FISH FIGHT (those words, oddly, were in English; the rest was in Japanese): disco set in a fish tank; the whole group (maybe 8 or 9 guys) had fish on top of their heads, helmet-fashion. That's as much description as I can muster; my eyes are still bleeding.

From there we progressed to the saccharine-cute stylings that only the Japanese can still do with a straight face: in many cases covers of disco songs from around the world. (Are we the only people who know disco is dead?) Then there was a rather hallucinatory death-metal performance. I'm still not sure what the hell was going on with all those intestines. After that, an unabashedly pornographic (live-action) music video that included a certain amount of animation...something that felt disturbingly like a cross between West Side Story and the ballroom scene in Rocky Horror...a dead ringer for a transgendered David Lee Roth...and a video that was probably directed by Hunter S. Thompson, someplace deep in Bat Country.

After that, a cover of YMCA by a group of Japanese (evidently gay) guys dressed in Speedos and latex. FAR TOO MUCH INFORMATION.

Must go find a Q-tip long enough to clean my brain.

Paging Alex...

Argh! This morning somebody named Alex called on the Be Mused line and left a voicemail--which the voicemail system, in a fit of insanity, destroyed before I could write down the phone number. To complicate matters, the mysterious Alex called from an unregistered number. I am assured by those in charge of such things that Turing himself could not recover that voicemail, no matter whose fault it is.

This is making me crazy. I will admit that I don't always return calls as quickly as I'd like--but, dammit, I always do return them. Is Mercury retrograde again?

(I just checked: he's getting ready. Full metrograde is scheduled for next Wednesday. Just in time for final file uploads for SHORN. Oh, shoot me now.)

Ahem. Alex, if you're reading this, please call me again. The rest of you: please don't choose the Destroy Message Immediately option on voicemail, no matter how security-conscious you are. I promise your personal information is safe with me.

Words fail.

My favorite contest in a long time:

Large Hadron Collider Renaming Contest | Wired Science from

Don't forget to look at all the nominations, which are by far the funniest.

I too look forward to never accidentally googling "Large Hardon Collider." *gigglesnort!*

I just hope they hand out the prize before those accidental baby black holes start bubbling up from the center of the earth and KILL US ALL. Cause what good would the prize be then??

OK, back to work on final SHORN proofs.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Love from Library Journal!

Color me thrilled! SHORN is in this month's print version of Library Journal, and they liked it, they really liked it!
"Niec's debut novel... creates a fascinating world of rival clans and sacred rituals, tainted by a dark, shameful past and subject to predation from its enemies."
And the money shot...

This is also a coming-of-age story and belongs in most fantasy collections.

Woohoo! I think I failed to mention earlier that Midwest Book Review liked it too:
" 'Shorn' is a unique fantasy, sure to please those on the look out for a new obsession to read."
Check it out:

Library Journal
Midwest Book Review

Must get back to dancing around the office...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Back in the study

Woohoo! I wrote lots of sentences today. I'm a bit less than halfway through the first chapter of (please writing gods) the final draft of The Shadow of the Sun, and it actually feels really good. Unlike Russ, I lack the chutzpah to sign up for NaNoWriMo, because I am still trying to find a rhythm that will keep things humming both in the study and the office--but it is a delightful thing to be actually writing sentences that evoke what I mean to say.

Part of the reason I'm having fun with this one: crazy deep worldbuilding. I can't help it: I'm a worldbuilding geek. And I'm having a great time with the worldbuilding on this one, which feels like a cage match between J.R.R. Tolkien and China Mieville. (My money's on the steampunk guy, by the way. At least from the worldbuilding perspective. The old man may outlast that young geek in the long run...)

What the hell am I blathering about? Shadow is kinda sorta high fantasy...except that it isn't, of course. My protag is too flawed to be a hero of the high fantasy type. And I am intrigued by the idea of a world in which many of the problems we address scientifically are handled by magic--but in which magic is a scarce commodity, and those who lack the political clout to lay hands on it try to use tech as a substitute, and the whole universe is not stuck in some perpetual deodorized Middle Ages. (And in which the difference between good and evil is a profoundly relevant question, but there is neither a Black Hat nor a White Hat. But I digress, as usual.) I am not the first one to think along these lines, of course. But I've been tinkering with this novel for a long time, and tonight I feel as if I may actually pull it off.

There will be Talentless Hack moments along the way, of course. But for tonight I am enjoying feeling competent.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Having something to say

The Fabulous Russ Marshalek (yes, that is his official title) took his turn on a group blog today:

A Good Blog is Hard To Find: I think I may have something to say

and like most of the things Russ tosses off as if they are effortless, this latest installment of Russ-thought made me think. Real Thoughts. I'm up to my eyeballs in pre-release, and so I can't give this set of thoughts the time to percolate they deserve. "I apologize for the length of this letter; I had not time to write a short one." So it goes.

Russ and I have never discussed his Southern Identity. I'm a Yankee, after all: an exile on this side of the Mason-Dixon. But to my Yankee eye he seems less a Southerner than a sophisticated, literary person. Like so many educated southerners, he speaks and writes in much the same idiom as his northern friends. Likewise his tastes in music and literature don't have the effect of an "I'm from the South" t-shirt. He's passionate about southern lit, of course, and evidently about southern culture in general. But when we first met I took him for a fellow Yankee exile. Which of course just means I thought he was a lot like me & the people I usually hang out with. You know, he's an interstitial kind of guy.

I was forcibly struck, on reading Russ's blog post, by the universality of the angst experienced by interstitial artists. Russ stands between Southern and something bigger (American, perhaps? I can't say for sure) and feels uncomfortable about his perceived lack of Southern cred, just as the interstitial writers whose work Mercury Retrograde publishes struggle with the discomfort of our collective "one foot in *literary*, one foot in SFF" stance. In the company of the New Yorker set, we feel inadequately literary. At SFF cons we feel *too* literary, not sufficiently geared towards Entertainment. Who the hell are we, really? Where do we get off, trying to pass ourselves off as either serious writers or SFF geeks? Is the world ready for or even interested in what we feel compelled to share?

Actually, the world is hungry for it. Because there are an awful lot of us interstitial folk out there, and we are dying for stories and memoirs and art of all flavors that connects us to one another, that allows us to share and extrapolate upon the experience of being neither this nor truly that. So many of us are interstitial in far more than one way, and works like the memoir of a southerner who wants to love his southern roots and still connect with a larger community remind us that even in our interstitiality, our not-quite-belongingness, we are part of a community. I stand between art and science, between fantasy and literature, between past and future, between female and male, between maturity and eternal adolescence, between Real Publishing and the fringe. Sometimes--perilously often--I feel suspended between humanity and something Other. It has been astonishing and validating for me to discover so many others who live with each of these flavors of interstitiality, and to connect with them via our shared understanding of its mystery.

I can't wait to see Russ's memoir. The chapter with dragons in it, especially, of course, but--even more than that--the part in which Russ reminds all of us who stand between worlds that it is our common alienness that makes us human together, and that it is in the unique and bizarre parts of our histories, our lives, and ourselves, that we have the most in common.

Interstitial Arts

Monday, September 08, 2008

On Writing--Or Not

I am not writing right now. I cannot express how much this pains me; the writers among you will understand. It's not that I'm *blocked* or that I don't know what to write--it's that I can't find the time. I'm in a crunch period that began about two weeks ago and is likely to run two more, and I don't even have time to make dinner consistently or return phone calls not related to work (and I'm really sorry about that, btw. You know who you are.)

It's work, of course. The beautiful business of publishing. I am still the person responsible for most everything Mercury Retrograde does, and I don't want to complain about that: this is my brainchild, and I love the work. Well, except the filing and bookkeeping. In case you haven't heard, we have a book scheduled for official release on October 1st, and we are busily finalizing final things, scheduling Larissa's book tour, and doing truckloads of publicity. All very important and enjoyable stuff, and in many cases the first time I've done the things in question--which means there have been false starts and mid-course corrections, and just generally that things have taken longer than they will for the next book and the one after that. I understand all this, and it's not so hard to be philosophical about it, because I love the work.

But just the same there is a certain defrocked wizard on the verge of getting sucked into things it will take him years to fully understand, waiting for me in the study...and I know exactly what the next hundred pages should be. It's hard to be patient.

Must dig in and make the final push, down here in the office. Soon there will be things to read and see: a book, details of an author tour, a new Mercury Retrograde website, Mercury Retrograde's close-to-finalized catalog for next year. Right now it's insanity on the inside and pretty boring from outside. I'll be back in the study soon.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Decatur Book Festival: Dragon*Con Annex

From high atop the eyrie of the Flatiron Building, the Great Eye of Tor Books cast Its glance across the landscape--and Its attention chanced to fall upon the Decatur Book Festival. It had been looking for Dragon*Con, but what the hell. Criteria were considered: expected attendance of 75,000. Check. Book buyers and author panels. Check. Major metropolitan area. Check. Worthy of attention. Minions should be dispatched.

Later, some of the aforementioned minions came by and redirected Its attention to the actual Dragon*Con, only a short (according to the timetables) ride away on public transport, and breathed a collective sigh of relief when It blinked understanding and fixed Its gaze on the larger prize. Still, in some place on which it is perilous to speculate, a plan was forming. Why not take over two festivals at once? Mwahaha.

There is something about Tor which we SFF geeks cannot resist. Perhaps it is some sort of geekish pheromone. We don't even know what has lured us into these places in which It can enrapture our attention and make us buy books we didn't realize we needed. This is, I believe, similar to but not the same as the glamour by which It forces the corporate buyers at B&N and Borders to bow to Its whims. All I really know is that when I looked at the program for the Decatur Book Festival, having (for reasons I didn't understand until too late) decided to direct my attention there rather than Dragon*Con this year, there were several panels full of SFF authors. I confess it: my programming kicked in. I decided these panels were of interest.

Oh, yes, they were entertaining. I enjoyed listening to Kevin Anderson, Tobias Buckell, Cherie Priest and John Scalzi on Saturday morning. I was immediately intrigued by the similarity between this panel and a hundred other such panels I had attended at SFF cons. Perhaps author panels are the same everywhere, yes? Perhaps. When I realized all four authors are under contract with Tor, and that a couple of Tor editors were in attendance as well, I merely thought, Well, good for them. Decatur Book Festival is big enough to merit the attention of a New York house, after all.

It wasn't until I wandered into Brandon Sanderson's panel (I hesitate to call it that; the poor guy obviously ran all the way from Dragon*Con, and then was expected to handle a session invented by a teen literary group all alone) and recalled that he, too, is a Tor author that I began to understand. Props, btw, to Mr. Sanderson, who did a lovely job with the topic they threw at him, engaged the audience in lively discussion of SF and Fantasy and the relative merits thereof. Only at one moment did he begin to get all Literary (thus perking up my little ears in hopes of Yet More Interesting Discourse) and started talking about the Hero's Journey as documented by Joseph Campbell. But he caught himself immediately and brought the discussion back to the arena his fans desired.

That was my favorite moment of the entire festival, because I am a SFF geek and it reminded me of the difference between the things we talk about at literary cons (of which I am an unabashed fan) and the things we talk about at more fannish events.

But I am not sure I experienced the true Decatur Book Festival, because aside from those panels that turned out to be a part of Tor's plot to annex the Decatur Book Festival to Dragon*Con, I saw little besides the schmoozing, the power lunching, and the fans circulating among booths, drenched in their own sweat--all of which was pretty much like the rest of Dragon*Con. I had planned to attend both days, but (due, I suspect, to the Ungodly Heat, the Atlanta smog, or some unholy combination thereof) I spent the day working up to a migraine and most of the next day trying to recover.

I'm disappointed that I missed out on the True Decatur Book Festival. Next year I will make a point of attending some panels that have nothing to do with SFF and perhaps even hold some sort of power lunch with someone who doesn't really understand the difference between SF and F or what all the fuss about the distinction is. But I must say that there is one way in which Dragon*Con has it all over the Decatur Book Festival, and it has nothing to do with the proximity of a proper tiki bar in which to broker publishing deals.

Air conditioning.