Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Few Things, and Geek Monthly!

Leaving on a jet-plane for fantasy land tomorrow. Good stuff, but I'm not ready. I should be packing. Why is it that I'm still wearing clothes that I plan on taking with me? Gotta do a wash... It's been a hectic few days, and that's not likely to change soon.

Last day for the Acacia Audio Giveaway. You could still slip your name in at the Forum to win 29.5 hours of Dick Hill's melodious voice reading about Aliver and Hanish, Corinn and Mena and Santoths and Numreks, etc...

I was super-pleased to get featured in this month's issue of Geek Monthly. (No, I'm not being ironic, or oblivious either...) I'm in this issue...

Jeremiah Griffey did a great peace, not so much a review as a feature interview. Great big picture of the book. And of me! And lots of good quotes. Very nicely done. Thank you, Jeremiah.

Oh, and by the way, I had what I think was a very cool Acacia 2 revelation today. Ah, the places we'll go... The things we'll see...

I'm a little giddy.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Almost Time for World Fantasy!

OMG, it's almost time for the World Fantasy Conference! I'm going for the first time. I'm a virgin. I know nothing... but I'm getting excited about it!

I'm actually up on the Program Schedule now! Okay, you have to go all the way down to the end, to Sunday at 10:30, but there I am - doing a reading! I'm not far from Nancy Kress and Paul Witcover. I'll be hanging out with Paul, so maybe I'll hook him to come to my reading. At least that's one in the audience. I'll also try to rope John Picacio and James Patrick Kelly in... Oh, Erin Underwood - a student I never taught - is coming too. So there are a few possible bodies. I'll build from there!

I should probably start thinking about what I'm going to read, although whatever I decide I'll have plenty of time on the plane to second guess myself. James Clemens once told me readings aren't really about reading. It's more about doing shtick. Which makes great sense and explains what I've been doing wrong all these years at literary readings... So I'll polish my jokes on the plane also.

Any suggestions on readings I should absolutely go to or authors I should absolutely track down and assault? The con will be brimming with names big and small... Any personal messages you want delivered?

Oh, a side note... Remember there are just a couple days left of the Audio Acacia giveaway. If you want to join you can up until the end of the month. On the first we'll do the drawing and announce the winner!

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Feminist SF on Acacia

The Angry Black Woman posted to Feminist SF recently regarding "Gender in Acacia". You can read her thoughts here. She makes some interesting points. Fortunately for me, though, I know what's coming in the next couple of books. I'd be very surprised if she doesn't dig the finished product. Of course, I've been surprised before...

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Fan Art

A while back somebody on my Forum asked if there was any fan art about Acacia out there. Wishful thinking, I thought, but maybe one day...

But then, while in my office the other day, I looked up and realized that I had some fan art hanging right there! Of course, I did. My daughter, Maya, gave it to me last Christmas, prior to Acacia even coming out. Here's her version of the Akaran children...
Look at the muscles on Aliver! And who does Corinn's hair, I wonder? Anyway, Maya has set the bar. Any future works will have her vision to contend with.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Major Character Announces Himself, Sudden-Like

Interesting thing happened with the writing today. I had about a half day for writing (after teaching) and I fancied getting a thousand words down. Made myself a fat mug of strong tea and sat down at the computer. I put on some Bach (classic music has become a crutch) and tried to figure out which of the existing scenes I should pick up with. I had an inkling that I wanted to introduce something new, a new scene or character to stir in to the early pages of the book. It just felt like I didn't have enough at play at the beginning, enough of a complicated structure. I wanted to hear more instruments playing, I just didn't know which, how or why.

So what did I do? Something that had nothing to do with directly figuring that out. I decided to make a copy of the map of Acacia and tape it to my desk. I'd done this with the map I'd drawn while writing Acacia 1, and it felt like about time I did it with this one, too. Of course, an activity like this is potentially just resistance rearing its head - a way to distract myself from the work at hand. But it's hard to know. Sometimes these random things are about the process.

Anyway, before long I had the map there before me, and with my eyes floating over it a bit, I remembered a character from the first book. I latched on to the idea of him. This character I think is only mentioned by name once in The War With the Mein. Few, I reckon, will remember his name or think him of any consequence. I won't mention it here, of course. Wouldn't be prudent.

I heard him on conversation with another character. Hmm... I opened a new page and began to write it down, but then realized that wasn't from the first scene he was going to be in. He had to be introduced earlier, yeah... Right near the beginning, actually...

My eyes settled on the map again. Where might a scene with this character take place? A new town, I think, one I hadn't used before. My gaze drifted around for a bit until I found what seemed like an appropriately blank spot on the map. I spent a while trying to figure out a name for a place, and when I thought I had it I penciled it in. And there it was! A new town on the map, spelled out and just as reasonable sounding as any of the other names. Once I had it there I knew what sort of town it was and I knew what sort of scene this character would be introduced in...

I began describing how labor had stooped his back, how it was hard for him to stand straight, but that he was impressive when he did so. A little flowed out after that, and before I knew it I'd gone beyond my thousand word goal. I'd introduced a new character and watched with surprise as he rolled a host important issues on to the stage as he came. I hadn't thought about him at all up until today, but just like that he's claimed a role in this one, and if he's in it at all he's in it as a major character. He's just won the casting-call lottery.

Now, which thing came first? Did I introduce that character by name in the first book because at some subconscious level I knew I'd come back to him later? Or have I come back to him simply because he was a name that I could latch on to and find a role for in this one? Did the map demand to be taped to the desk because it knew it was going to help? Or was I just ready to find the answers somewhere, and the map was as good a place as any?

I don't know, and I won't know tomorrow when I wake up to fumble through the whole process yet again. So it goes...

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Monday, October 22, 2007

National Novel Writing Month

You guys know about this? National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)? I just got an email from an old friend that mentioned it, and I recalled hearing about it in years past. Simply put, it's a group effort/challenge to spend the month of November writing a 50,000 novel (which is arguably actually novella length). You can register with them, and then you have to begin on the first and end at 12 midnight on the last day of the month. If you manage to pull it off you get... Well, I'm not sure what you get. Kudos from the organizers, I guess. Perhaps a sense of accomplishment? A project to carry on with? Or just a mess of words?...

To their credit, the organizers don't have grandiose notions about what most participants will produce. They write on their website: Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

I can dig that. As a starting point, at least.

It's received what looks like growing press attention over the years. See The Washington Post, NPR and The Boston Globe for small pieces on it.

I don't know. I sort of feel like I'm always on a writing month regime, and the word count participants have to keep up is similar to the word count I aspire to on average. BUT, true enough, I rarely feel like I accomplish what I want to by the end of any month. Fortunately, one month folds into the next and eventually they add up to something I can call a book! Perhaps there's a way to spin this in that direction, as one step toward what could become a longer journey.

Or maybe it's just some weird sort of fun. That could be enough. We need more literary "fun" in our world.

In any event, if you're prompted to try it let me know how you get on. I'd be curious...

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Ooohh... Aaahh... (That's what it does to me, at least) The complete German Bookjacket!

Just got this from my editor, Urban Hofstetter at Blanvalet. I know I've posted the front image before, but here's what the whole thing is going to look like. Sweet...

I know it's smallish, but just click on it to see it at full-size!

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Raymond Carver... or Not Really?

Steve Yarbrough sent me the link to a New York Times article on the debate about publishing the late Raymond Carver's stories in their "original" versions. In particular, his former wife, Tess Gallagher, wants to publish the original version of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love - which Carver intended to call Beginners. I found it a fascinating article, filled with questions to ponder about what authorship is.

If you don't know Raymond Carver, suffice it to say that he's a major literary figure, especially in "literary" writing circles and among academics. He was famous for a "minimalist" style of short story writing. His stories were really pared down, slim. They managed to convey a lot without needing a lot of words to do so. Instead, the pauses and omissions and the clear simplicity of his language encouraged a reader to read more into them. He sort of spoke volumes without speaking volumes, if you know what I mean. He's been a major influence on writing students, and his work remains very useful to teach from.

So that's what his fame resides on. Apparently, though, he didn't much like minimalism and didn't love it that he was its poster child. His editor did some major work on the stories, cutting them down so much that Carver himself admitted that people who had read them before wouldn't recognize them as the same stories now. He even tried to stop the publication!

Yikes, so what that means is that the volume that most made him famous and that established him as a writer within a movement wasn't a book he wanted published and wasn't a movement he really embodied. How very strange...

Check out the full article here.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Boy Can Ride a Bike!

A piece of familial news... After an all out three day campaign... The boy can ride! He can really ride!


Sunday, October 14, 2007


Hello. Nothing profound to say this Sunday afternoon. Just spent a few days in Tahoe, very nice. Loved the air, the vistas, the cold. It always does us good to get up to altitude.

I've been quite pleased that folks have joined my Forum and put their names in for the audio Acacia giveaway (Click Here for the Original Post About It). The contest is still open, so if you're interested in picking up a free copy of the audio version of Acacia pop over to the Forum and sign up. I'm thinking I'll leave it open until the end of the month, and then I'll do the big drawing! (Hey, it's my first giveaway. I'm digging it.)

I got a stellar review from Joe Sherry over at his Adventures in Reading blog. It's easy for me to point you his direction on this occasion, seeing as how he's proved himself an insightful reader - the kind I do figurative somersaults on hearing from. I also don't mind just sending you in his direction in general, though. He's an active blogger that has a wide range of reading tastes. He's just got his 10,000 visitor. Nice numeric milestone to reach!

Oh, I'm also pleased to say the Durham family is soon to be conducting an interview with Kai Meyer. He's a wonderful, internationally bestselling writer of many novels, known in English translations primarily for his YA fantasy. I say "the Durham family" because all of us have been reading his books. Kai agreed to take questions from adults and kids alike, so look for what we put together in the coming weeks! Maybe it'll be the start of a series of some sort...

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Audio Flashback Magical Weirdness

Interesting thing happened to me yesterday... I was having another of those "I'm about to figure out some major plot point if only I do something random like take a walk down a tree-lined street" sort of moments. So, I got up and headed outside.

For the first time since I began writing The Other Lands (the sequel to Acacia: The War With the Mein), I remembered how with previous books I liked to take a little tape recorder with me. When I came on good ideas I'd just dictate a brief message to myself that I could reference later. This was a lot better than walking around juggling ideas like so many bubbles, afraid the whole time that any of them might pop and be lost before I could get them written down. So, I fished out my little micro cassette recorder and embarked.

It wasn't long before I started to have an idea or two. They seem to come pretty steady when I get chugging along. Just starting to move seemed to stir them up. Before starting to dictate, though, I pressed play, just to see where the tape was or something... And to my surprise (not really, but sort of) my own voice spoke to me out of that little black machine. It was a voice from several years ago. It was a voice that was going through this same process - with the first Acacia novel.

My plan was just to rewind and start anew, but I was immediately shocked by what I heard. My voice came in short bursts, perhaps no more than a sentence that expressed an idea or question before cutting off. Each time a new recording cut in the background noise changed: sometimes windy, sometimes traffic noises or music or kids in the background. Sometimes I was out of breath and other times it was strangely quiet and my voice quite clear.

What was I saying? Things like this... (If you've read Acacia you'll recognize some plot things here. If not I won't give anything away that hasn't been written in pretty much every review of the book.)

"What if the Acacian economy is fueled by some international trade?... Something kinda secret... Nothing to be proud of..."

How strange! "What if?" I'd almost forgotten that there was ever a time I didn't know about Acacia's international trade. I'm so used to the idea now it's like it was always written in stone. But here was proof that at one time I'd only gotten so far as asking "What if?"

A little later I said...

"Remember that this isn't a novel all about prophecy and fate and stuff like that. Everything doesn't work out that way."

And then...

"Not everyone lives to the end. Someone important has to die... Not sure who, but... someone does."

How about that? Here's my own voice proposing for the first time something that is now so fundamental to the entire world of Acacia and all that may ever happen in it. A few takes later...

"Ah, okay... That trade could be in children... children that the Acacians take from each province, with a quota from each, and then they send them across the ocean, never to be heard from again...."

"I think X is the one that's good with a sword..."
(I didn't really say "X", but if you haven't read the book I didn't want to give that one away.)

"Oh, that thing the children are traded for... what if it's some sort of drug?"

I walked along in a bit of daze listening to this. Again and again I was hearing myself say for the first time aspects of the story and characters that I'd just thought in that past moment. So very strange that things that exist so concretely now, in tens of thousands of different copies read by (so far) tens of thousands different readers at one point began as "What if..." ideas when I was taking a walk somewhere. So very strange that this tape recorder captured the moment I first experienced those what ifs - moments prior to my having put those words on the page.

Understand me - this is not that I'm impressed with myself. It's not that at all. What I am impressed with, though, is the creative process. The way things, stories, meaning can apparently be created out of nothing. I'm awed that it works, because I certainly can't explain it. Thinking about it as I listened to an earlier version of myself, the whole thing felt quite magical. As I'm struggling to shape this next monster of a novel, that was a very fortunate thing to be reminded of.


Oh, by the way, I didn't record over any of that stuff. I just couldn't do it. I'll have to go get a new tape soon. This one goes in a drawer somewhere, perhaps to be discovered again a few years from now...

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Mrs. Kimble

Putting on my "literary" writer/reader cap for a moment...

I just finished Mrs. Kimble, a first novel by Jennifer Haigh. I'd known of Ms. Haigh for some time. Actually, her second novel, Baker Towers, came out about the same time as Pride of Carthage. I think we were Booksense selections the same month and did a similar round of reviews for a while. So she was very much on my radar, but she was one of many writers I'd not yet actually got around to reading. I was prompted to recently, though, because Steve Yarbrough has managed to arrange for her to visit Cal State next month. I'm glad he did. It prompted me to read the book, and that's a good thing.

It's very well-written, deserving of the Pen/Hemingway Award it picked up. Reading it I was aware of how many things Haigh does right - the kind of things I'd like my students to pick up on. Again and again I thought things like, "Oh, yeah, exactly, that's a great way to develop this character through description of simple actions that do double duty in terms of being revealing of intimate information as well". Or, "Now that's what I mean when I talk about making sure each scene both works on its own and adds to the cumulative progression of the larger narrative" etc.

Admittedly, there were times (quite a few) that I was frustrated with the various Mrs. Kimbles. (There are more than one in the novel.) But that was never a frustration directed at the author. It was appropriate to the characters, to the flaws they lived with and way those flaws affected the decisions they made - or didn't. And I was very impressed by the sense of completion and satisfaction I felt at the end. By no means does Haigh answer all the questions. There are aspects of all her characters that remain hidden. She does, however, move them toward a reasonable and realistic sort of narrative closure.

It was well done. I'm a picky reader at the best of times, and much of what's offered and lauded as "literary fiction" these days can leave me feeling a bit tepid. Jennifer Haigh delivered, though, with a quiet, thoughtful and carefully crafted novel. I look forward to meeting her, and I plan to read her sophomore effort, Baker Towers, before I do!


Thursday, October 04, 2007

A Kelis Moment

Okay, so this is a writing process post. Nothing enlightening, I'm sure, but I had one of those writing moments today and it occurred to me to mention it. In some ways it's kinda strange how these things work.

So I was working on Acacia 2. Came to a pause. Stood up and paced the room. I had lost interest in the scene I was working on and instead had a nagging feeling I should deal with the next scene. Problem with the next scene was that I didn't know what it was. I knew it needed to be a scene removed from the main action, something that would introduce a new, complicating element to the novel that would have enormous repercussions later...

Right! So I knew what I wanted, I just didn't know 1) who was the focus of the scene, 2) where it took place, or 3) what this major plot element was!

But... for some reason I felt like if I kept pacing, kept pacing, kept pacing I'd figure it out. Why did I feel this way? Couldn't tell you. I was blank, but it was like knowing that if I just listened carefully enough I'd eventually hear whatever the sound was that I knew was there but just couldn't quite...

And it happened. Out of nowhere. Kelis. It's a Kelis scene! Aliver's old companion from Talay, the young man he grew up with. A Kelis scene in Talay... But it's not that Kelis has been in Talay. He's been away doing lots of stuff, but he's come back. He's come back for a reason. Something pulled him back. Something he had to check out for himself. Didn't know the reason, of course, but with a little more pacing...

I figured it out. Oh my... that's why Kelis is there! It's huge. It throws a ton of tension into things. I can't tell you what it is, of course, but it'll be in the book. I also can't explain why I knew that today was the day to figure this element out, but there you go. The creative process...

Glad I did that pacing. I recommend it.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

The SF Site Featured Review

It's been over three months since Acacia was published, which means that the review attention has slowed down considerably. It's generally a short window to get these sort of mentions, but I'm finding the Sci Fi/Fantasy world has a different calendar than that of literary fiction. Things can play out over time. I'm glad for that, and very pleased by a new review just up at the SF Site.

Greg L Johnson is the reviewer, and a great job he does at it. Among other things, he writes...

One of the delights of reading Acacia are the sudden, unexpected developments in the story. Durham is completely unafraid to play against convention and the reader's expectations. Wars begin and end as quickly as they started, the lives of major characters take surprising twists and turns. Just when you think the story is going to fall into a familiar pattern, characters die, or their actions expose motivations that are completely apart from what you'd expect them to be.

It's a wonderfully written review by somebody that - I'm happy to say - knows his stuff. You can read the entire thing here.

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