Well, I’m back. Didja…

Well, I'm back. Didja miss me? :-)

There's so much to say, I'm not sure where to start. Since I've got a stack of books on my desk waiting to be put away (I'm still unpacking), maybe I'll start with those -- a quick review of some of what I read while away.

  • The Exile Kiss (George Alec Effinger) -- well, I covered this somewhat in an earlier entry, I think. This book is interesting in that it combines Arab culture with cyberpunk culture, but overall didn't do it for me. If you haven't tried cyberpunk, go read _Neuromancer_ instead.

  • Primary Inversion (Catherine Asaro) -- Catherine was one of my co-critiquers at WorldCon, and gave interesting, insightful critique. I wasn't surprised, as I very much enjoyed this hard sf novel. She's a physicist by profession, so she got the fascinating science right. And the characterization (of a soldier and a woman coming to great political in a troubled time, being forced to question the assumptions of her self, her family, and her culture) was some of the best I've read in hard sf. I'm eagerly looking forward to the sequel, and in the meantime will probably seek out her other books.

  • Hand of Prophecy (Severna Park) -- ooh, this was an interesting and distressing book. A race bred for slavery. Love. Betrayal. Fascinating approaches to questions of bondage and domination. Death and blood and courage. Not to mention the totally hot shower scene... I'm going to go hunt out her other novel, and recommend this one around. Good stuff!

  • Things Invisible to See: Gay and Lesbian Tales of Magic Realism (ed., Lawrence Schimel) -- Lawrence (a friend of mine) gave me a copy of this on the train to New York, after the Con, and as usual, I wasn't disappointed by his work. Occasionally funny but often sad, these lyrical tales slipped between fantasy and magical realism surprisingly smoothly. If I have a favorite, it's "The Story So Far", by Martha Soukup (fascinating narrative structure), but with stories like Sarah Schulman's "The Penis Story" (incredibly funny) and Laura Antoniou's "Shayna Maidel" (produced that odd and so human combination of laughter and tears at once...), not to mention Lawrence's own "The River of Time", it's really very hard to choose. Did make me surprisingly nervous reading it at my parents' house, though. :-)

  • Blood Lines (William R. Burkett, Jr.) -- Bill's one of my Clarion classmates, and I was very happy to get a copy of his new novel, the sequel to Blood Sport. We're back with the incredible Ball, and the Hemingwayesque journalist, and I enjoyed this romp (spiced with renga). However, I must protest the ending. Either I just missed a lot, or this isn't a complete novel -- and I wasn't prepared for that. I like to be warned somewhere that I'm about to be left hanging...

  • If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem (William Faulkner) -- borrowed this one from my sister, and I'm glad I did. It's a novel interweaving two narratives, "The Wild Palms" and "Old Man", and I found it tremendously instructive of the pitfalls of such an approach. "The Wild Palms" was so intense, so compelling, that it was often a letdown to switch to the other tale (which gave me a reason to put down the book...something you want to allow the reader as rarely as poossible). On the other hand, that story was so painful, that at times it was a relief to switch to the quieter "Old Man". By the end of the novel, I think the effect was working masterfully (unsurprising, for Faulkner), the two tales balanced superbly, but I think there were some real problems with it in the first half of the book. Fascinating, at any rate, and (leaving aside the structure for a moment), the book was so distressing/engrossing/powerful that after I finished it I just sat in the airport and stared at the wall for a good half hour, thinking.

  • A Taste for Death (P.D. James) -- brilliant mystery, as usual. I must go and buy and read all of her work. But I almost couldn't handle reading it (on the long flight back to California)...the bleakness, the unwillingness to pull any emotional punches, the harsh suffering of her characters were a bit much for my depleted emotional resources. I would have done better with a new Terry Pratchett...
And now I'm back. Tired, but so happy to be home. I can't tell you how good it feels, sitting in my room with Clannad playing and a breeze blowing in the window and my laundry drying and access to all my accounts again and most of the unpacking done and my garden weeded. David helped this morning (I was so glad he brought me home from the airport last night. If I'd had to manage it myself, I would have first sat down in a corner of the airport and had a good cry. I was *so* tired.), after I'd gotten through a few hours of e-mail (and two cups of tea). We have pole beans, and brown and russet potatoes, and more tomatoes than any one person can use. Luckily there's lots of us around. The herbs also went nuts, and I gave away quite a bit of dill and basil and parsley and oregano to David and Lydia. Apparently they've had tons of sun, and though some plants have yellowed a bit (lack of rain, I think), most of the garden is flourishing. The flowers are stunning. I'm growing more and more fond of pansies -- once known as heart's ease, I think, and isn't that a lovely name? (And daffodils were daffydowndillies, aka gillyflowers...)

Babbling, clearly. I think I'm going to go do some situps and take a shower and then come back to my work. I haven't exercised in at least a month, ick. Got to get better about this; I *know* that if I exercise I'll feel better and more energetic. If only there were a more direct connection between the part of my brain that knows things and the part that controls willpower...

Good to be home. Talk to you soon, my dears.

Ten minutes later: Okay, sooner than expected. But I just stopped by Todd's semi-journal to check on how he'd been (this is Todd of mouthorgan, not Heather's Todd), and found some thoughts on the con and fandom that I wanted to address. Well, not address, exactly, but point you to. This is all muddled, though. backtrack.

Todd and Debby (co-editors of mouth organ and partners overall) made an impromptu decision to drive eight hours to attend a day of the con. I'm very glad they did, and in retrospect wish I'd bagged a panel or two to talk to them more, but at least I got to meet them face-to-face, and y'know, that does make a difference. I've been reading their words for months; I have at least a sense of how Todd is going to think about something, but now I can imagine him laughing, I can see that subtle quirk of Debby's lip. I can picture how comfortable they are with each other, and that's really nice. It's going to make it easier to work with Todd, being able to hear his voice when I get e-mail from him. And of course it's fresh now, and it won't be later, but still, it'll be something. I'd really like to meet all the people on the project -- I still don't even know where many of them live.

But I urge you to go over and read his comments on the trip, and on fandom. There are all sorts of things I could say in response. I wouldn't have picked him for an MIT-type. He looked like a pretty typical guy to me. I was a bit disappointed that he wasn't in a dress...but not surprised. I wore a pirate costume for one evening of the con, and yes, I was one of the few professionals who dressed up, but I don't like that trend, and I very much enjoyed my costume. There are a few obnoxiously mannerless fans, but by far they seem if anything to be more polite and open-minded than the average joe. Part of me would like to do a long column musing on all of this -- but most of me thinks I've put off the sit-ups long enough, so I'm going to go. But I did want to just mention this stuff. I feel better. Hope it wasn't too incoherent.

Online Magazines

Hm...I'm separating this off because I'm about to go into a moderately in-depth discussion here of online magazines and how one makes a profit with them. And I'm doing that sparked by a certain website that an author pointed me at, Clocktower Fiction. I'm going to ask you to check it out in a bit, but first, some background.

Now, to create a webzine, you don't need much money. In fact, if you can get someone to donate the space, and get volunteers to donate the time, and get authors to donate the stories, you don't really need any money. It's not that hard to get the first two, actually. And you can even manage the third -- but if the same volunteers are authoring the stories, you lose a little in credibility. And the work burden gets pretty high. And whether they're the same people or not, it's hard to guarantee good stories over more than a few months. And if the material isn't good, you'll lose your readers, and that's the whole point, right? So at the very least, you want to pay your authors, and pay them at least moderately well, so you get good material. So you need money. Not a ton, but some. Probably more than you want to pay out of your own pocket. Where do you get it?

(Note: Some people do start magazines and pay entirely out of their own pocket. Nice if you can afford the hobby. I can't.)

A) Readers. B) Advertisors.

Traditionally, magazines relied on a combination of the two. They sold subscriptions and newsstand copies, and they sold ads, and between them, managed to make enough money to cover printing costs, pay their contributors, and pay their staff. Now, a webzine doesn't really have printing costs. And the staff is willing to put off being paid for a while. But paying contributors, as we've established, is pretty essential. And frankly, I don't think that getting the money from readers is a viable option.

Oh, there are people trying it. Ken Jenks of Mind's Eye Fiction offers stories for a few dollars each on the web. And maybe he'll be able to make money doing it -- but I doubt it. Web surfers are used to everything (other than hard-core porn) being free. They don't want to pay money. And it's not easy to do it right now -- it's a bit of a hassle, with credit cards or whatever, and if you're Amazon.com, maybe you've got the infrastructure and reputation and the whatnot to handle it, but most start-up magazines simply don't. If there ever comes a day when it's dead easy to buy something on-line, when you can just click a button and a completely secure, so safe-you don't even think about it, deduction appears from your bank account, then maybe people will be willing to pay for fiction online. And if that happened, then I'd probably advocate doing something like asking for a quarter donation at the end of reading a story. Like this story? Donate a quarter to the author. And maybe it'd work. But right now...I'm dubious. Feel free to disagree with me -- Ken Jenks obviously does.

So readers are out...which leaves advertisers. Now, advertisers have been getting noticeably skittish lately. They've put a lot of money into the web and haven't seen much payback. So you have to convince them that you can bring them buyers. You have to have a quality web page that seduces the surfers, that gets them to linger, to come back and come back again and again and eventually click through to the advertisers site. And if you're starting up a magazines online, then you have to just scramble through the first few months until you build up enough traffic to convince the advertisers to bother with you. (Unless you're Ellen Datlow, once of OMNI, now of the new Event Horizon, who has enough name recognition in sf that she can persuade advertisers that the site *will* be popular, and get them to sponsor her from the get go...) That's me, and Clean Sheets.

All clear? So do me a favor -- go visit Clocktower and tell me something. Where are they getting their money? They claim they buy fiction -- so they need money. They claim all over the site that everything is free, absolutely everything. I was kind of expecting to get hit with a request for money after ten chapters of a novel -- but no, they just ask for some contact info (what do they do with it? I didn't give 'em any -- too suspicious). Maybe they're being sponsored by a publisher who's accumulating statistical data on readers. Maybe they're self-promoting and don't actually buy outside fiction. Maybe they're bankrolling it themselves. But I'm dang curious, and wondering if I'm missing something obvious.

One may have noticed that I'm fairly firmly in editorial mode these days. Darn it -- I want Clean Sheets to succeed. I think it'll be a good magazine; I think it'll fill a lack in the market. I don't want to miss a trick on what's going on with other mags. Any advice welcome...

11:15. Last entry for today, I promise. A poem.

Week, with Desire

(a modified sestina)

    Sunday
And please, let me forget the scattered light
against warm skin, blond threads burning
in mirror, windowpane and memory, reflected
endlessly, until my throat is dry, until I drown,
senseless, blue-swept and forgotten,
clinging to a spar of reason.

    Monday
Shall I list each reason?
How his very name is sun, is light,
and mine is always forgotten;
how at his touch I am raw and burning,
and the imperfect, only, salve is to drown
in kisses? His eyes show only myself, reflected.

    Tuesday
Believe me, I have considered, reflected
on this decision, employed a bitten lip and cold reason.
I could convince myself, could drown
in eager convictions. My fingers tremble to light
the bonfire, and set the witch to midnight burning.
Civilization is so easily forgotten.

    Wednesday
Trust me -- nothing he said has been forgotten,
not a gentle word -- none directed, only reflected
onto me. So much worse that way, my face burning
and he claims innocence, ignorance or good reason
to justify his silences. So many nights of long moon's light
while I listened obediently and tried not to drown...

    Thursday
The tide rises again, and we will, must drown
in this wildness, the rasping tears so quick forgotten,
heart-hurt lost to his touch, his battering light
and my poor self reflected --
a frail spar to cling to is reason
when thighs are taut and the flesh is burning,

    Friday
aching, dying, thrusting and once again burning
endlessly, until all I'd ask is to simply drown
to sink down, down past the halls of reason
to the bones lost, the white chambers forgotten,
where far overhead is dimly reflected
the dying and bloody light.

    Saturday
That light. A sailor could certainly drown
silently, burning with desire, but not -- not! -- forgotten.
Even only reflected, light confounds cold, dark reason.

****

A sestina is a tremendously complicated form to define, though not nearly as hard to do as it sounds. There are many pages on sestina on the web -- I recommend this one for a clear guide to the structure. They link to other sestina sites. This is my first; it dragged me out of my bed to be written, the gods know why. There was something oddly satisfying about writing it, though.

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