Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Turks are Coming!

Okay, so we got this weird phone call the other day.
It was a woman from Yuksel Carpets, which is the outfit that sold us our carpet in Turkey.
Interesting followup, I thought.
Anyway, according to the lady, it seems that Yuksel is in a jam. They were selling carpets at the big January carpet show in Atlanta, and a shipment of carpets got stuck in customs and never made it to the show. It would cost a lot to send them back, so they started calling everyone in the States who had bought a carpet from them to see if maybe they'd like another one, or two, or three. The upshot is this: a large truck full of Turkish carpets and kilims is going to turn up our driveway this Saturday at 2pm. Yes, our driveway, here in our humble rural paradise. They will be offering hundreds of high-quality carpets and kilims for knock-down prices. (And by "high-quality carpets," we mean hand-knotted wool-pile carpets with 200,000 double-knots per square meter, dyed with natural dyes and woven in traditional patterns. Except of course for the ones made of pure silk)
I'm inviting friends. We're not getting paid for this, though I may try to cadge a commission.
It occurred to us that this might be a scam. We have discovered that there really is a big carpet show in Atlanta every January, and that googling "Turkish carpet scam" provides plenty of links to scams going on in Turkey, but none here. I have emailed Yuksel to see if this is genuine, and got no reply so far, but I think it's legit. Whoever got our address and phone number from Yuksel could also have got our credit card number, so they wouldn't have to drive a truck into our driveway to steal from us.
If I had the tech handy, I'd broadcast the whole thing live, so that you could see and maybe buy a carpet or two.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Adios, Amigos (2)

The environment in which I live is dying.
Usually this is a slow process, but on occasion it can happen very fast.
Here are pictures of the process happening quickly, the destruction by fire of the riparian cottonwood forest that lines the Rio Grande, known locally as the "bosque."
This fire burns as I type. High winds are blowing it in my direction. I don't think I have any reason to be alarmed, but if I don't post for a few days, don't be surprised.
This process began in the 1940s, when dams were built on the river to control flooding. Unfortunately cottonwood seedlings only take root during a flood, so no cottonwood saplings grew from that time on.
The last batch of cottonwood to take root, in the 1940s, are now past their maturity, and are slowing dying. They are being replaced by non-native vegetation such as Russian olive and salt cedar (tamarix), which are unsuitable for the wildlife that call the bosque home.
This process is only enhanced by wildfires--- although since most of them are deliberate arson, I hesitate to call them "wild." When this fire burns itself out, fire investigators will most likely find that it has been deliberately set. The arsonists never seem to get caught.
This is an odd thing for a person living in a flood plain to say, but we really need more flooding hereabouts.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Adios, Amigos

The great thing about living in the country is watching nature happen all around you.

All winter long, the sandhill cranes become our neighbors. They spend the night in the Rio Grande nearby, and you can hear them calling each other in the night. Early in the morning they fly out to the farmers' fields to graze, and fly back at sunset. I often see them stalking along the pasture behind our house, or in nearby fields as I take my walks on sunny days.

For the last ten days or so, the sandhill cranes have been flying north. I keep telling them that they aren't going to like it once they get there, but they never listen.

They seem to start their migration around midday. Possibly they spend the morning feeding for the journey, or maybe it takes a few hours of daylight to generate the thermals they use to gain altitude.

Midday today there were hundreds in view at once, from horizon to horizon. Their calls filled the air and set some of the neighborhood dogs into a barking frenzy.

They fly in enormous V formations, Vs inside of Vs, until they hit a thermal, and then they break up into a climbing spiral until they gain some altitude, and then form up again. High up in the sky, with the sun gleaming on them, they shine like silver.

I remember one spring I was outside doing the endless yard work, and I heard this inexpressibly wonderful whooshing sound overhead, and I looked up to see a formation of sandhill cranes soaring overhead at about the altitude of my chimney. Among the sandhills was a single whooping crane, a huge white bird much larger than the grey sandhills. I stood there entranced, willing it to make a sound--- and then it whooped, an enormous sound that echoed off the trees in the bosque and sent chills down my spine.

That may have been the last of the whooping cranes that the government tried to transplant to the Rio Grande back in the 1980s. Their eggs were placed in sandhill nests, and they grew up thinking they were sandhills and never mated with each other.

So farewell, snowbirds. See you in December.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Sex. Violence.

Kelly’s reply to my previous post, in which she mentioned that many (okay, most) of my protagonists are killers, started me thinking about which of them are, and which aren’t, and why.

In fairness to myself, it has to be admitted that many of them aren’t. Drake Maijstral doesn’t want to hurt anybody despite his perilous profession, and in fact runs away from fights; Doran Falkner in Knight Moves is mild-mannered; Ubu and Maria in Angel Station are the victims of violence but don’t initiate any themselves; and Aiah in the Metropolitan sequence is pretty much an exponent of the duck-and-cover philosophy of life.

And then there are characters who do brief turns as action heroes, like Nick in The Rift and Gabriel in Aristoi and Terzian in “The Green Leopard Plague,” who aren’t violent people by nature, but who find themselves in peril and are forced to respond.

We also have Martinez and Severin in the Dread Empire’s Fall books, who are in the military and who do violence— sometimes very serious violence— during the course of a war. But when the war ends, so does the violence. It’s a job, not an avocation.

I do write about people who are genuinely violent. Steward in Voice of the Whirlwind, Black Shadow in the Wild Cards books, and Loren Hawn in Days of Atonement are compulsively violent in one way or another. But I hope the text makes clear that these people are not role models. They’re all deeply fucked up, and the violence is a symptom of their fucked-upness.

And then there’s Caroline Sula.

Who is an interesting case.

She’s not a compulsively violent person in the way that Loren Hawn is. Her violence is sometimes motivated by passion, but there is also a large element of self-interest involved. She kills people who get in her way, when she thinks she can get away with it. She not only has no respect for the lives of others, she doesn’t value her own. (And by the way, I deliberately followed the path of the “heinously violent criminal” as outlined in Richard Rhodes’ Why They Kill, an admirable work of nonfiction.)

Sula is a person who will say, “If you don’t stop behaving this way, I will shoot you in the head.” And then, when he doesn’t stop, she does.

What is also significant is that Sula is a girl. Which was a deliberate choice in my part.

I could have had Martinez and Sula exchange roles. Sula could have been the privileged but excluded aristocrat, and Martinez could have been the killer and the imposter. But if I’d done that, the reader who have viewed the characters very differently.

And the reason for that is this as follows: we live in a sexist society. Men and women are viewed in different ways. (I’m sure this is news to you, right?)

If I’d put a man in Sula’s role as a murderer and an imposter, readers would have said, Oh, he’s a thug and a killer. I hate him, and I’m not going to read about him. We come from a society in which there are a dismaying number of male murderers: we dismiss them very easily.

But a female killer doesn’t trigger that response. Instead of being repulsed, we are intrigued. (And not so long ago, we would have been shocked. Raymond Chandler’s killers are almost always women, because it provided such a shock to his audience.)

Nobody’s surprised by a male killer; but a female killer goes against type. Readers are interested in people who surprise them, and they read on.

I could have tried to do my bit for sexual egalitarianism, I suppose, and made Martinez and Sula androgynous and interchangeable, and insisted that readers view them without the cultural blinders with which we all come equipped. Perhaps I would be a more admirable person if I had. (Though I think I would have been pandering to a certain audience, and going against my own experience of how people actually behave. But that’s an argument for another day.)

In the end, I demonstrated that I’m a better writer than I am an admirable person.

What I decided to do— and this quite deliberately— was to intentionally manipulate the sexist responses of my readers, and create sympathy for my killer by making her a girl.

There. I did it, and I’m glad.

I performed this task perhaps a little better than I intended. I’ve had some readers who have gone quite overboard with admiration for Sula (not that she doesn’t have her admirable qualities). I’ve had readers tell me that if they knew Sula were a real person, they’d ask me for her phone number.

Which, if she were real, I would provide, after having carefully written it on a biohazard sticker.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

And Speaking of Poetry

We have here Minnesota's new law creating the office of state poet laureate.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

19 Lines

The other day I wrote a villanelle.

This is a damned odd thing for me to do. I don't write much poetry, and I do not normally read a lot of poetry (though every so often I will go on a poetry binge).

But I was trapped. The protagonist of my current enterprise is a kind of Confucian gentleman, the kind of person who can program a computer, fight a battle, refute Sartre, explore strange new worlds, perform flawless sword kata, and every so often toss off a verse or two as a comment on the action.

This habit of poetry was useful to me as a writer. As the character is over 1500 years old (it takes a few centuries to acquire all those accomplishments), his emotional states are complex and sophisticated to the point (some readers have complained) of opacity. The poetry lets you know what the old guy is actually feeling.

And I was able to keep it short. I am capable of writing competent haiku-like verse and not embarrassing myself. But suddenly, after a few surprising and shocking plot twists, I realized: "Oh shit, the guy's going to write a villanelle, and because he's fictional I've got to write it for him."

Next time I'll make the hero a painter or a cook.

Anyway, here are my 19 lines. (And let me state for the record that in general villanelles would be better if they were, say, 16 lines instead.)

Copyright 2007 by me, etc. Don't fuck with it without permission.

The forms of love will not suffice
The soul a scatter of dry bone
The sad fact is I killed her twice

The wind burns cold as polar ice
Past the worn and tumbled stone
The forms of love will not suffice

From death’s cold hand now falls the dice
The heart’s wild wager overthrown
The sad fact is I killed her twice

How desolate the final price
Our history all overgrown
The forms of love will not suffice

Our certainties, now imprecise
Our melody a grating tone
The sad fact is I killed her twice

The scent of flesh was sweet and spice
The sweetness caught and torn and flown
The forms of love will not suffice
The sad fact is I killed her twice

Monday, February 05, 2007

Corn Maidens

More updates from our world of home improvement.

Here we see a lovely southwestern sunset as viewed through the wrought-iron security doors that were installed following our burglary. Ernie's Custom Iron Works in Albuquerque provided the lovely (and quite reasonably priced) "corn maiden" design, which allows us to view the world through an aesthetic creation rather than through a set of prison bars.

Last Dinner on the Titanic

Ten courses. Ten wines. One iceberg.

Check it out.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Walls Incarnadine

More home improvement under way.

Here's Kathy, looking rather brawny, at work on another kitchen soffit. (I had never heard the word "soffit" before commencing this project. A useful word, that is if we're using it correctly.)

As our shade of red, cheerfully described as "cranberry zing," was darker than we feared (if brighter than we would have liked), we decided to sacrifice another part of the kitchen to the Red Gods.

And here's the result.