Monday, May 30, 2011

Map Proofs!

The other day the first draft of the map for The Sacred Band showed up from the artist. I like it. I was impressed by how easily he managed to change the scale to incorporate both more of the north and more of the Other Lands into it.

Fortunately, Sage was on hand to check the details and make small editorial suggestions...

I'd love to give you a closer look, but I think I have to keep it under wraps at the moment. The artist still has a lot of finishing touches to complete it. Nice to see things progressing!

Labels: ,

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Awards

When I was in France a couple years back for Imaginales I met loads of very cool sff authors. Quite a few were French, and another handful were German. Talking to them about their work, I was bummed that I'd probably not be able to read it any time soon. Why? Because it's so bloody hard for non-English language writers to get translated into English. It happens, sure, but not for the majority of writers out there.

I wish that weren't so. I can only imagine that they'd bring perspectives and styles and themes that would liven up English-language sff.

Oh well... I promise to work on my French.

All of that is preface to the mention that I just got an email promoting the Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Awards. These are for sff works written in other languages and translated into English. There's some progress! Looks like they're new.

Go check them out HERE. Maybe you'll find something you'll like...

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

This Guy Jamey Wants To Give You A Copy Of Acacia

Yep. It's true. Jamey Stegmaier - blogger, writer, guy, connoisseur of random things - is doing an Acacia giveaway. All you have to do is stop in there and leave a comment about your favorite summer read.

Check it out HERE.

ps - Not that this is important, but Jamey managed to get me to produce a short video saying hi, as I'm enjoying my morning green-smoothy.

Labels: , ,

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Kind Note

Every now and then a note from a reader strikes me enough that I feel like mentioning it here. That happened today. I received this note:

Hello Mr. Durham,

During the spring semester a few years ago at the Univeristy of Maryland, I'd go to the bookstore in the Student Union between classes, and read Pride of Carthage. I was too poor to buy it, but it was so good that I just squatted on the floor for a few hours at a time until I finished it, missing several classes in the process. I've read it about 4-5 times since, repurchasing it every time because I give away every copy I rebuy to friends to share. It is, without a doubt, my favorite work of fiction ever.

I just recently picked up Acacia, and I like it, and so I went to your website to see what else you have done and saw you were working on another ancient Rome novel. Naturally, I pissed all over myself in excitement.

Please keep up the excellent work.



Now, there are few things that make me smile here. First off, I went to the University of Maryland and I read books on the floor of the student union. I don't know if he means College Park or Baltimore County, but it doesn't matter because I went to both campuses! I, of course, appreciate the multiple reading and purchases, and I blush at the notion of it being B's "favorite work of fiction". Ever!

I'm not so sure about the... ah... bladder control situation, but I'm glad it was excitement that brought it on.

And, more seriously, it's a timely note. Just yesterday I received my royalty statement for Pride of Carthage and Acacia. (They were accounted together, so the cash from them is intermingled.) What I seem to forget - but always get reminded of when I see the statements - is that PoC did rather well! It performed well here, but in some ways did even better in its Spanish incarnation, and it wasn't too shabby in Italian either. It's a pleasure to be reminded of that, and then to hear from B, and to be able to look forward for returning to the ancient world with my Spartacus book.

So, I'm all smiles this Friday. If any of you can be convinced to give old Hannibal's story a try, it's HERE waiting for you: Pride of Carthage!

Labels: ,

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Fort Freak Cover

Just got an email from George RR Martin containing the official version of the cover image for Fort Freak (Wild Cards). It's a little different than the one that's been up on Amazon for a couple of months now. Cleaner. Sharper. More finished. Here it is:

The cover artist is Michael Komarck. I dig it.

It's a good book, folks! Look for it this June! George himself talks about it HERE.

My character - Infamous Black Tongue - has a three parter in it!

Labels: , ,

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Black Hills

So this post started simply enough. I was going to write about how much I'd enjoyed Dan Simmon's Black Hills: A Novel. Simple. Thing is that during the process of blathering about it, I poked around the web looking for other stuff about Mr. Simmons', and I was reminded why I'd really rather I didn't do that.

For example, there's this piece published on his website, and here at Free Republic website Message from a Time Traveler. Hmmm.

And then there was the October 2005 message from Dan. Hmmm. I'm sure there's more stuff that might make my cheek twitch, but I stopped there.

I became troubled. It's not just that I find the content of the time traveler piece silly, it's also that I find it maliciously so, and that I find the structure of it to be manipulative. (ie- The fake conversation with a supernaturally intelligent stranger that knows more than me and slowly convinces me to be afraid, to be very afraid of those scary Muslims...) And it's not just that I don't think there's plenty to be criticized about all things Katrina-related, but that I would hope that a wealthy person looking out at the world from a perch on the Rockies might show some humility when discussing a social tragedy with complex origins. Also, the rambling, discursive structure of it lacks the clarity and empathy I so appreciate about his fiction.

If I had started with those pieces I wouldn't have been very interested in reading his fiction. This much is clear; Mr Simmons and I do not see the world with the same eyes politically. But... the guy can write (fiction). So do our differences matter in terms of my encouraging people to read his work? I'm not sure.

Certainly, I don't want my readers to only be people that are aligned with me politically. I've had some wonderful correspondences with readers that I know have a very different world view than me in terms of politics, social issues, religion, etc. I love those interactions, and I love it that it's the fiction that has created a connection that might not be there if we instead began by comparing and contrasting our political stripes.

It may be wrong of me to begin this by doing just that, but I couldn't help it. And I should point out that the things he wrote about in those pieces have nothing directly to do with the book in question. It's other stuff. So... with that jumbled opening I offer the words of praise I initially composed for Mr. Simmons. Here goes:

There are some writers that I read a bit of and politely fold the cover on. I'm not one to denigrate other authors, but plenty of what's published and praised leaves me a tepid. Then there are authors that I admire greatly, feeling (perhaps mistakenly) that they're my compatriots and peers in this writing craft. And there are others to whom I nod in reverence. Dan Simmons is one of these. I don't know who or what he is as a person, but as a writer he's a pro that has taken his talent and exercised it with admirable discipline. He is, in a lot of ways, the kind of writer I want to be when I grow up. Why?

Because he consistently produces ambitious, genre-hopping (and merging) novels, filled with an intelligent engagement with history, rich with ideas, fueled by a verve for storytelling and infused with heavy doses of the fantastic. He's prolific, but the finished products he manages to publish every year are dazzlingly in their reach and erudition. I've praised his work before. The occasion for this endorsement is his recent novel, Black Hills.

Now, I'll admit the description was not one that immediately grabbed me. The historical setting held interest, but I couldn't get the shape of the book from the dust jacket material:

When Paha Sapa, a young Sioux warrior, "counts coup" on General George Armstrong Custer as Custer lies dying on the battlefield at the Little Bighorn, the legendary general's ghost enters him - and his voice will speak to him for the rest of his event-filled life. Seamlessly weaving together the stories of Paha Sapa, Custer, and the American West, Dan Simmons depicts a tumultuous time in the history of both Native and white Americans. Haunted by Custer's ghost, and also by his ability to see into the memories and futures of legendary men like Sioux war-chief Crazy Horse, Paha Sapa's long life is driven by a dramatic vision he experienced as a boy in his people's sacred Black Hills. In August of 1936, a dynamite worker on the massive Mount Rushmore project, Paha Sapa plans to silence his ghost forever and reclaim his people's legacy-on the very day FDR comes to Mount Rushmore to dedicate the face.

It still doesn't exactly hook me. It's the kind of book that you just need to enter with an open mind, let it define itself, get to know the characters, and get swept along. That's what I did, and I enjoyed it very much.

I found Paha Sapa to be a compelling character, rendered with understated empathy. He has an interior life that he cannot and will not share with the white people that shape his life in so many ways. Simmons does a wonderful job of understanding that. He portrays a man that shares very little of himself with others, and he makes it clear how limited seeing him from the outside is. And yet the novel provides us an intimate exploration of his childhood, his desires, disappointments, loves and, ultimately, his singular destructive ambition.

Here's what Publishers Weekly had to say in a starred review:

Hugo-winner Simmons, the author of such acclaimed space operas as Hyperion and Olympos as well as Drood, an intriguing riff on Dickens's unfinished last novel, displays the impressive breath of his imagination in this historical novel with a supernatural slant. In the author's retelling of Custer's last stand at the Little Big Horn in 1876, the dying general's ghost enters the body of Paha Sapa, a 10-year-old Sioux warrior who's able to see both the past and the future by touching people. The action leaps around in time to illustrate the arc of Sapa's life, but focuses on 1936, when, as a septuagenarian, he plots to blow up the monuments on Mount Rushmore in time for a visit to the site by FDR to atone for his role in constructing the stone likenesses. In his ability to create complex characters and pair them with suspenseful situations, Simmons stands almost unmatched among his contemporaries.

That's probably all the review one needs to enter the book. I'm actually glad that I didn't read any reviews before starting it. So, if you're inclined to pick up it you might want to stop reading here.

Or, stay with me... I looked up some reviews as I prepared this post. I found lots a positive ones, sure, but others like this Washington Post review written by Barbara Ehrenreich are a bit jumbled, though still positive. I like The Post and review for them myself. I certainly like it that Simmons manages - some times, at least - to get the critical attention that his work deserves. While I offer the link, the review seems a bit scattered to me. For some reason, she chooses to mention Jonathan Franzen.

Now is that necessary?

But, anyway, she is a fan when all the back and forth has run its course.

The guy that reviewed it for The Science Christian Monitor, Justin Moyer, is another story entirely. Personally, I think the reviewer gets pretty much everything that he snidely complains about wrong. But you can read it here if you’re so inclined.

Paha Sapa a "Sioux Forrest Gump"? That's a clever jibe. It’s definitely the type of line that would put me off a book, and that’s what it’s intended to do. Problem is, I read the book already, and I don't think that’s an accurate characterization. Perhaps the reviewer mistook Paha Sapa’s reticence when speaking to white people for a lack of intelligence. I didn’t. It’s a defense mechanism in a world in which he’s discriminated against at every turn.

Nor do I get why it offends the reviewer that the main character of the novel knows several famous people and is on the ground at a number of historic moments/settings. That's the reason he's the main character. That's why the story is about him.

He then appears to slight Paha Sapa's strange bond with Custer by saying it would make a good Sherman Alexie story. So... not a good Dan Simmons story, but a good story if a hip Native American writer wrote it instead? Maybe, but references like that seem less about the substance and more about the reviewer making sure we know he's read Sherman Alexie. We'll, I've read Sherman Alexie too.

So there. (Makes a silly face.)

Another thing that bugs me about when reviewers trash a book is that they have the advantage of being able to contextualize things that the reader of the review has not (assuming he/she hasn't read the book yet) had an opportunity to contextualize themselves. Take this, for example:

Close to death, Paha Sapa envisions the “rewilding” of the Great Plains at an unspecified date by the federal government – that is, the same government that blazed the Trail of Tears, murdered Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, and commissioned Rushmore in the first place... Given America’s questionable management of its natural resources and the sham global warming debate, this Eden isn’t just an unlikely outcome – it’s bad fiction that neither reflects reality nor entertains.

Well, sure, that sounds a bit stupid when you put it that way. What the reviewer ignores is that the government gets around to the "rewilding" Paha Sapa envisions after a catastrophic collapse of the ecology of the middle of America. The land is turned into desert, abandoned and uninhabitable in a conventional sense. It's quite clearly explained that governmental/business/personal mismanagement of the land by the majority American culture is what caused it. So the “rewilding” is not a sudden liberal/environmentalist take over in 2020 or something. We're talking a response to disaster, suffering, mass-extinction, likely within a larger world of global calamities that are outside of Paha Sapa’s vision. Given that context - which is the true context of the book - I find his dismissal of the idea glib, and lacking in the imagination that makes science fictional meditations on the future so interesting.

So there. (Sticks out tongue.)

Oh, final bit on this one. He writes: Simmons thinks he can heal Colonial wounds with a good yarn...

I don't feel that way. Simmons isn’t trying to “heal Colonial wounds” at all. I’d say he’s showing the ways in which we move forward scarred by those wounds, creating fresh ones as we go, acknowledging some mistakes and making new ones at the same time, while hopefully aging into enough wisdom to be able to run our fingers over those wounds, recognizing and remembering them - and acknowledging that the truth of them lives on in our very blood. In our DNA, so to speak.

So that's what I wrote. I can't take any of it back. That's still the book I remember reading, and that was my reaction to it. Was I mistaken? Should I read it differently? Or is the book the book and my reaction to it should be what it is, regardless of other stuff?

You tell me.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Piece On MFA Programs

I noticed a little piece on popular fiction MFA's today. It's called here: "Everybody Wants Their Writing Program To Rival Iowa. Why?"

The author mentions Seton Hill and Western State College of Colorado, but he has some rather wonderful things to say about the program I work for. And I get a mention by name!

Here's the quote:

"The Stonecoast Program of the University of Southern Maine is getting rave reviews by the US News and World Reports, listing it in the top ten low-residency programs in the country. Among the programs that explicitly teach genre writing, this is the one that's most likely to open professional doors for you. Stonecoast is becoming a recognizable name among academic circles, and the faculty is probably the reason why. Living legends like Elizabeth Hand, Patricia Smith, David Mura, and James Patrick Kelly teach here. Rising stars in their genres, Scott Wolven and David Anthony Durham teach here. If I were looking for another MFA, this is probably the program I'd pursue. Again, in a low-residency model, faculty matters more than anything else. The faculty listing at Stonecoast's genre faculty sounds like the table of contents in Year's Best Anthologies."

Can't argue with that. The full article is HERE.

Labels: ,

Friday, May 06, 2011

Dare To Be Imperfect?

Why not? Robert VS Redick does it.

I had coffee the other day with Robert - he lives not far from me - and he mentioned this post he'd recently done for Grasping For The Wind. I checked it out, and thought you might like to as well. It's a mediation on risk-taking and personal idiosyncrasies in a publishing world that's increasingly adverse to risk-taking and personal idiosyncrasies.

Give it a read: HERE!

And consider taking a look at his Chatrand Voyage Series also, if you haven't done so already. I read and enjoyed the first book quite a bit, and I've picked up the subsequent ones. He's three books in to the series and working hard on the concluding volume now. He'll finish it, no doubt about it.

Here's what Publishers Weekly had to say about the first book, The Red Wolf Conspiracy:

Insane god-kings, miniature warriors and sentient animals fight over a powerful ancient artifact in Redick's dramatic, complex debut. The Mzithrin and Arquali Empires have been locked in a 40-year cold war over the resources and riches of the Crownless Lands on their common frontier. Now the Chathrand, a floating city built as much by sorcerer as shipwright, bears young Thasha, an unwilling bride to an enemy prince. No one seems sure whether this is a sincere attempt to bind the two empires together in peace or merely a gambit in their political games. The tense atmosphere soon erupts as various factions struggle to find and control the myth-wrapped Red Wolf. Both adult and young adult readers will find much to enjoy in this tale of sea-faring and bloody diplomacy.

Fantasy Book Critic has an in depth review: HERE.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

More On Stroud

While I'm at praising Bartimaeus, I might as well mention that I also read and enjoyed Stroud's Heroes of the Valley recently too. It's an entirely different story, with a somewhat more dangerous tone. There's still lots of humor, but a lot of the drama of it is more rooted in real world power struggles and decision making.

Here's what Publishers Weekly said in a starred review:

Witty and cinematic storytelling propels Stroud's engrossing novel, set in a medieval world that recalls Norse epics—no gods, but plenty of heroes to go around. Twelve Houses control sections of a valley. Halli Sveinsson—at 15, the youngest child of the rulers of the House of Svein—goes against tradition when he sets out to avenge the death of his murdered uncle, and his actions result in warfare among Houses for the first time in generations. Halli, a cumbersome stump of a boy, is a quick-witted, appealing underdog and troublemaker (Leif needs no sabotage from me, he quips. If he manages two sentences without tripping over his trailing knuckles he will have exceeded my expectations). Smart, funny dialogue and prose, revealing passages about the exploits of the hero Svein, bouts of action and a touch of romance briskly move the story along. Offering more than just a grand adventure (which the tale certainly is), Stroud (the Bartimaeus Trilogy) explores the consequences behind legend-worthy acts of glory and the power and peril of blind faith and hero-worship.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Ring of Solomon

I just finished Jonathan Stroud's latest Bartimaeus book, The Ring of Solomon.

If you don't know this guy, Bartimaeus is a djinni that's summoned by various wizards, enslaved by them temporarily, and made to do acts of magic on their behalf. That's actually the way magic works in Stroud's world. Magicians don't really cast spells - primarily they summon the magical creatures that can do such things for them. These creatures don't do so willingly, and they're always on the lookout for any mistakes on their master's part that might free them to... well, eat that unfortunate master.

I enjoyed the original trilogy: The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem's Eye and Ptolemy's Gate a couple of years ago. Read those with my kids. This new standalone title I read all by my lonesome, though. My favorite parts of the first series were the Bartimeous sections. He's a sarcastic, humorous, self-indulgent narrator, well versed in history - since he's lived through it - and with opinions on everything, especially his own shining virtues. That's probably why I liked this one; it's more heavily Bartimeous.

Good fun. I love the combination of historical material, full on fantasy magic, and healthy dose of snarky humor. Am I the only one that thinks such stuff is tons of fun?

No, of course not. But sometimes when you say to your agent, "Hey, what if I was to write middle grade fantasy set in some distant time period, like... ancient Egypt?" and the agent says, "Ah... No, you don't want to do that. Kids want to read about contemporary stuff, something relevant to them." Well... it sort of makes it seem like I'm weird.

See, kids may want to read about something contemporary and relevant to them, but I'm not terribly interested in that. I want to write for kids - my own included - but I want to take them to far away, strange and fantastic places in the process. Isn't that at the heart of so many classic childrens books? Adventure. Magic. Far, far away... I think so, and when I read Bartimeaus and his long life since the days of ancient Uruk I'm even more sure of it.

Here's what School Library Journal had to say about it:

Fans of Stroud's “Bartimaeus Trilogy” (Hyperion) will cheer the return of the sarcastic, chatty, and mischievous djinni in this prequel. Or perhaps this should be termed a pre-pre-prequel as the setting is an alternate version of biblical times during the reign of King Solomon, where magicians command djinni and Solomon rides herd over the known world due to his possession of an all-powerful ring that causes everyone to cower before him. The Queen of Sheba, aware that Solomon is preparing to disrupt her country's frankincense trade due to her refusal of his multiple marriage proposals, sends her most trusted guard, Asmira, to kill Solomon and steal the ring. Meanwhile, Bartimaeus has been humiliated because of his misbehavior and forced to work for Solomon's henchman, Khaba, on his new temple. After an amusing incident in which Bartimaeus is caught in the form of a hippo while illegally using magic to lay stones for Solomon's temple, he is sent to hunt other creatures who are disrupting trade routes. He encounters Asmira, traveling to Jerusalem under an assumed identity to accomplish her mission. How Bartimaeus ends up as her servant, and what they discover about the truth of Solomon's power, makes this a delightful and fascinating book, and it's likely to bring new fans to the original series. Bartimaeus is a wonderful creation, with his constant storytelling digressions delivered in the form of footnotes. But the new character, Asmira, is equally well rendered, with her keen ability with daggers providing her with much-needed self-defense. Definitely a must-purchase for most libraries.

Not exactly super-contemporary, but that doesn't seem to have done the series any harm. Mr. Stroud has sold a few million of these books already, and there's no reason to think he won't keep doing so. Has a nice life, he does. Rides his bike to his office every day. Writes. Has tons of young fans around the world... Yeah, it's good to be a successful writer.

Labels: ,