The missing

After an afternoon of art and poetry, I stepped out of the SF MOMA to encounter a performance art piece in protest of a social justice issue: the unexplained and unresolved disappearance of so many women of the indigenous peoples of North America over the last year.

I took some photographs, spoke with the organizer, and wrote a poem about what they are trying to communicate:

United they hold the line
Diverse in
Unified in message
A plea
(Which looks more hopefully on the past than I do)
But together
They call out to us
To set hope
For the future
Find the missing women
Of the indigenous peoples

I wish them well.

I dearly hope that their art, and my poem in reflection on their art, helps bring attention to the problem, and some sort of hopeful resolution.

Books for authors

On one of the panels at Arisia 2020, we discussed what books new authors can turn to to master the craft.

Here are some of my suggestions:

Must read books

A Farewell to Arms ( how to break the reader’s heart with as few words as possible)
The Sun also Rises (complex and deep characters in as few words as possible)
Lolita (how to make someone who is revolting compelling)
Ada or Ardor (how to write an idea – relativity)
Pride and Prejudice (how to be critical of your society and make them love it)
Our Mutual Friend (how to reinvent your story in the middle (he needed an editor, but he published as a serial)
The Crying of Lot 49 (how to get the reader to turn the page)
The Tropic of Cancer (how to write ecstatically)
Henry and June (how to write people you know so compellingly they become legends)
Kafka on the Shore (excellent surreal narrative)
19Q4 (there are chapters where nothing happens and you care deeply about that nothing)
Beloved (how to write about regret, grief, and love)
The Maltese Falcon (an actual mystery in a detective story and some of the tightest prose ever with brilliant first person narrative)
Frankenstein (launched a genre or two)

Narrative poems still worth reading

Orlando Furioso
The Dream of the Red Chamber

II. Genera specific books

Lord of the Rings
Foundation (all the books)
Left Hand of Darkness
Wizard of Earth Sea
The Compleate Complete Enchanter (all the stories in all the books)
Book of Atrix Wolfe
Forgotten Beasts of Eld
The Bridge of Birds
Fahfrd and the Grey Mouser (all the stories in all the books)

World building
A writer’s guide to weapons

III. Poetry books
Books on writing poetry

A poet’s guide to poetry, Mary Kinzie
The making of a poem, Mark Strand & Eavan Boland
Types of Poetry, Howard Hall
An Introduction to Poetry, X.J. Kennedy
Rhyme’s Reason, Joh Hollander
What is Poetry, Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Narrative Poems, C.S. Lewis
Poetic Meter & Poetic Form, Paul Fussell
The Ode Less Travelled, Stephen Fry

IV. Plot books
Books which mainly focus on plot

Meander, Spiral, Explode, Jane Alison
Beginnings, Middles, & Ends, Nancy Kress

V. Character books
Books that mostly focus on character creation or development.

Take your characters to dinner, Laurel Yourke
Writing the Other, Nisi Shawl & Cynthia Ward

V. Grammar books
Books which mainly focus on grammar and punctuation

The New Well-Tempered Sentence, Karen Gordon
The Deluxe Transitive Vampire, Karen Gordon

VI. Revision books
Books that focus mainly on drafting and editing

Steering the Craft, Ursula Le Guin (make certain you get the Eighth Mountain Press edition)
Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Mass

My Arisia Schedule

Stories from the Cities, Reading, Fri 5:30 PM
Starters’ Pack for Science Fiction, Panel, Fri 7:00 PM
Starters’ Pack for Fantasy Fiction, Panel, Fri 8:30 PM

Books for Aspiring Writers, Panel, Sun 11:30 AM
Time to Bring Back Some Tropes?, Panel, Sun 8:30 PM

The antagonist who is not a villain

One of the best reasons to read widely is to encounter things both outside of your cultural framework and your expectations.

Kafka on the Shore is one of my favorite novels. Murakami’s protagonist, Kafka, doesn’t have a conflict with the story’s antagonist, who is the delightful and talented Miss Saeki. She did something in her youth that set off all that is wrong in the story. Kafka doesn’t need to put it right, no, his challenge is not to be sucked into destruction when what she did is put right by Hoshino, a random truck driver who befriends Nakata, who dies trying to put right what Miss Saeki broke when she was younger.
She doesn’t try to stop them.
In fact, she is glad when things are set right, though that means she will die.
Kafka surreally kills his father in a dream, fulfilling a prophecy. He then finds refuge with Miss Saeki, and becomes her lover. He hadn’t wanted to kill his father, in fact, he had run away to avoid it. Miss Saeki hadn’t wanted to break reality, but it is that brokenness that impacts all of the other characters within the novel, and she dies when reality is put right. In her dying, she works to make certain that Kafka, who loves her, doesn’t die with her.
There is, within the novel, another character who could serve as an antagonist. That is Johnny Walker, the name a spirit gives himself. This spirit is a cat killer who wants Nakata to kill him before he kills another cat. When Nakata kills Johnny Walker, Kafka’s father dies.
Both antagonists want to be over come. They want balance and rightness restored to reality. It is Nakata who overcomes both, and in doing so dies from the struggle. Yet it is not his story, as he doesn’t grow or change, he is just the agent of change.
The protagonist is Kafka, who must overcome grief and loss and find a way back into the world he fled to try to prevent the very grief and loss that he must endure.
I prefer an antagonist who is not a villain. So much more human. So much more real.

The joys and perils of Internet Research

The joys and the perils of internet research. I was able to learn so much about many places, their history, and culture when researching my novel, The Garden at the Roof of the World, BUT the internet sites that described the the famous Iron Pillar of Delhi which doesn’t rust neglected a key bit of information about it. While I learned that if you wrap your arms around it with your back to the pillar successfully it will grant you your wish, I didn’t learn that in the mid 13th century, they’d built a Mosque around it.

So I got the scene all wrong.

Drat, darn and fiddle faddle.

That Mosque just happens to be the oldest Mosque in India, unique for having just a single brick minaret, and would have been completed about a century before my story.

On never giving up

I started writing the Hacker of Guantanamo Bay in the summer of 2005 as I sat waiting for my flight in Las Vegas McCarren airport. I didn’t complete the first draft until the summer of 2012. After some editing I started querying agents. I had a few agents and editors tell me it was a good story, but it wasn’t for them. One even told me that she loved it, but the torture scenes were too vivid for her to be comfortable working with it. She told me she expected another publisher would gladly pick it up.
No one did. Most never got back to me.
I put the story aside to work on other things.
In 2016, I attended a talk at the DefCon hacker conference called how to own a country. This gave me an idea, and I went back to the Hacker of Guantanamo Bay. I introduced a new segment, but in the process realized that this segment was readily self contained. I began to shop it as a short story.
In Boskone, I got to attend a session where I got feed back on my writing style. I found the editors and agents loved what I had done, but my sentences were too uniform in structure. It was a subtle thing, but I needed to introduce more variation into my writing style.
I attacked the excerpt one more time, and sent it out.
This time I got a sale.
I applied the same lesson to the rest of the manuscript, in the hope that when folks read the excerpt, I can get someone interested in helping me bring the rest of the story into publication.
The story is good. More to the point, I never gave up on it.
You can read the InfoCoup at

When all of your options are wrong

Sometimes life puts people into horrible situations where they don’t have a good choice. Galiana was child when the crusaders were let into Constantinople during the 4th crusade. She watched her parents get slaughtered by men drunk with greed, and then she was sold as a slave. Barely a woman, she was raped, repeatedly by her new owner, who also beat her.
One night she killed her “owner” and leapt into the Black Sea. She swam for hours until a storm overwhelmed her.
Galiana was surprised to wake up on the shore. Following a river, she found a village that thrived on the commerce along the Danube. Without money or food, Galiana turned to prostitution to stay alive. She hated every man who she had sex with. Hated herself for the life she choose.
She would lie to herself about the money she would hoard, how it would allow her to stop selling her body. How it would free her. But it was never enough. As age took her and fine lines began to appear at the corners of her eyes as she smiled, which was rare, she became desperate and forced herself to become all that men might desire and gold became her cold comfort against her winter. She walled herself from all compassion and love was just another word for fuck.
Until a unicorn walked into her life and destroyed her.
Until she was pulled out of the river where she sought death.
Follow her journey in the Garden at the Roof of the World

Boskone 56!

Going to Boskone 56? Drop by the dealer room and say hi! I’ll be sitting at the Dragonwell Publishing table most of the conference. Happy to talk to you about my novel, the novels of the other Dragonwell authors I’ve read, or speculative fiction in general.

Found Poetry, MFA edition part 2

My Manifesto

I am for words that twist meaning, not to be mean
I am for words that tell the dreams we secretly love to be afraid of
I am for words that spill out of a mouth in the orgasm of love given
I am for words that rise in a wail the infinite sorrow of being
I am for words through which we discover people never born but in ink
I am for words that trip you into rhythm without thought
I am for words that pull aside the veil of the sacred
I am for words that show the sacred within the profane
I am for words that force unanswerable questions
I am for words with texture
I am for words that moisten my soul
I am for words that create worlds
I am for the word and am seeking of the word within me

Found poems:

Riding the soft H
to the proud pedestal
the saddle has a tail

the pedestal
the proud spade points to the apex
of the well formed plan and model
all cardboard

the board board spade
painted grey pedestal
plans scrawled on wood by absent pen

the tail wraps up
almost the only curve seen
angular passion