Wednesday, September 27, 2006



I've just got this spiffy piece of cover art for the Night Shade reissue of Hardwired, which should be available within a few weeks or so.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


The other night I traveled to Albuquerque to attend the Globalquerque! world music festival, which allowed me to sample half a dozen bands during the course of a single day.

“World Music” is one of those shifty categories that can mean anything, but a handy rule of thumb is to consider world music “indigenous music of any nation or ethnic group where they don’t sing in English.”

Including, say, Scotland.

First on the agenda was to meet Sage Walker in the afternoon, so we could attend a workshop by the Finnish group Gjallarhorn. Gjallarhorn is one of the “neo-Norse revival” bands that Sage has got me listening to. The band is fronted by Jenny Wilhelms, an ethnic Swede from Finland, a tiny blonde woman with a great big voice. My sense is that you never want her mad at you, because you’ll lose all your glasswear and most of your windows. She doubles on fiddle to back up their fiddle player (Scandinavian music is based on the fiddle when it’s not based on the accordion). Wilhelms sings in Swedish when she’s not singing in Norse or Icelandic.

The band also features the world’s first Swedish folk drummer. Apparently drums were suppressed in the 19th Century by the Lutheran Church, except for military music, and this guy has re-invented the art form. Given the slippery rhythms of a lot of this music, it’s more akin to jazz drumming than to rock, and he plays with his hands at least as much as a drumstick.

Bass for this band used to be supplied by a didgeridoo, which I do not believe is a traditional Scandinavian folk instrument, but the player left the band, and now they have a wind player who is a master of the contra bass recorder, a five-foot-long instrument that looks as if it were made by stacking a number of pine IKEA boxes on top of one another. The instrument is quite flexible, and can play bassoon-like melodies as well as the breathy and percussive sorts of sounds you can get out of a didgeridoo. It was enormous fun watching the player rocking out with this instrument. He looked like Chuck Berry having sex with a drain pipe.

After the workshop Sage and I caught dinner in the local Mexican café, then returned to the festival. There were three stages going at once, so we had to pick and choose.

One band I definitely wanted to see was Chirgilchin from Tuva. I delight in throat singers, and the Tuvans are the best.

The only throat singers I’d previously seen live were Tibetan monks, who could sing two notes at once, a deep droning sound made by vibrating the throat, on top of which was they sang a rather growly vocal. One of the odd effects I noticed during that concert was that the apparent source of the sound kept wandering around the auditorium— sometimes you’d think the singers were overhead and on your right, or on your left, or right behind you. But there they were on the stage.

Chirgilchin topped the hell out of the Tibetans by managing to each sing three notes at once, adding a trilling sound on top of the first two. Sometimes it sounded flutelike, sometimes like birdsong, sometimes like a theremin. I don’t know how the hell they did it, though they seemed to require a particular jaw position in order to accomplish this. Could they possibly have been vibrating their teeth?

I also noticed the tendency for the sound to wander— at once point I could have sworn it was coming from about two feet behind my head— but the band was miked and the sound was coming from speakers, so the effect was rare.

The trio were dressed in colorful silk robes and played homemade string instruments. “This is a song about a village,” the spokesman would say, and then, “This is a song about another village.” The “cowboy song” seemed to have behind it, somewhere in its dim ancestry, those robust brass-filled Copeland-cum-Hollywood sound tracks of the Fifties.

The audience was riveted for the whole show. I don’t think anyone there had heard anything like it. Certainly I hadn’t, and I like throat singing.

After the Tuvans came Gjallarhorn’s actual concert, ancient songs and melodies about fairies, kings, princesses, the evil Sea Witch, and the occasional Icelandic love triangle. The sound often achieved magnificence. One of the tunes was a long, fascinating piece collected in the early 20th century from a Swedish village in Ukraine— I had no idea there were such places, but apparently they existed— and it sounded exactly like the sort of song you’d sing if you walked a thousand miles from Sweden and ended up in a place like Ukraine.

After Gjallarhorn finished, we wandered to the outdoor pavilion where the Scots band Shooglenifty was halfway through their concert. Their sound has been described as “acid Croft,” but I never quite worked out what that was— I was distracted by saying goodbye to Sage, finding some drinks and snacks, and chatting with some friends, so I wasn’t paying the band proper attention. What I heard was pretty good, though not startlingly different from other Scots electric folk bands. The people crowding the dance floor seemed to like it.

From thence I wandered to the third stage, which seemed to have been set up in a library reading room. The band was Curumin from Brasil, which is fronted by a Japanese-Brasilian bass player whose actual name seems to be Lucian Nakata Albuquerque, and whose musical influences seem to have been drawn primarily from the oeuvre of George Clinton. I stayed for a couple songs, but nothing rang my chimes. The sound quality in the hall was absolutely dreadful, which may have had a lot to do with my reaction. Even if I liked the band, I would have had a hard time coping with the horrible mix.

So it was back to the outdoor stage for Les Yeux Noirs, a French Gypsy band that sings, oddly, in Yiddish. I wanted to check them out for that reason, and also I figured that they if they named themselves after a Django Reinhard tune they must have something on the ball. What they played is perhaps best described as French klezmer, quite infectious and fun when it wasn’t being gentle and melodic. The accordion player was extremely good, and since I don’t write sentences like “the accordion player was extremely good” very often, you can take my word for it that he was.

I left before the set was over, though that wasn’t the band’s fault. I realized I’d been listening to music for seven hours, and that I was exhausted, and so I made my way out.

Even now, two days later, I’m still struck with wonder at the Tuvans. What an incredible, unearthly sound.

We are our own aliens, even when we’re playing music and having fun.

Friday, September 22, 2006


There is nothing quite like the experience of sitting at a round table of your peers and being told that the last four chapters of your novel don't work.

Enduring an air strike by B-52s might give something of the flavor, but may be not.

In a recent post ("Creamy," August 17), I discoursed on the art of the infodump, and the various narrative strategies I was employing both to convey information to the reader and to maintain the third person objective viewpoint that I had adopted (for good reason) in the early chapters. I thought I was doing pretty well with this.

And then--- fwoom!--- ARC LIGHT!

I participate in a monthly critique session with other writers. Really good writers like Sage Walker, Daniel Abraham, Sally Gwylan, Melinda Snodgrass, Terry England, and Steve Stirling. And when the entire group tells you that you've failed, you can pretty well believe what they tell you.

"I have no idea what's going on." Well, that one's easy to fix. I'm forever telling other writers that "there's nothing wrong with this piece that a few simple, declarative English sentences wouldn't fix," and I think I know how to write sentences like that. So: more, briefer, exposition. Less subtlety. Put up a big fucking sign to let even the bad readers know what the book is about. Check.

The larger problem, though, is the third person objective viewpoint. For the first three chapters I had good reason for not letting the reader know what was going on in the reader's head. That reason ends in the fourth chapter, when actual exposition starts.

So I'm going to make it easy on everybody. I'm going to go back several chapters and begin to insert the protagonist's thoughts, emotions, and sensations. This will have the fringe benefit of shortening the expository dialogues I'd written to explain what the poor guy was thinking. If I do it with sufficient subtlety, readers won't notice that the point of view has shifted.

I just hope that the changes aren't so comprehensive that I'll actually have to rewrite the chapters in question, from first word to last full stop. But I will if I have to.

This isn't one of those blogs where every post comes with a cute cartoon and a description of the writer's mood. But if I had to describe the mood, it would be "squirmy."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

My Life

So far the day has been spent in another lengthy round of trench warfare with my tractor, Beam.

Veterans of the late, lamented Genie and may remember the tragicomic history of my relationship with this machine. When I first moved to the country I acquired Beam, a Murray tractor with a powerful Tecumseh engine. Though small, it is potentially mighty— I made the point of getting a “garden tractor” as opposed to a riding mower— a tractor with a strong transaxle so that I could carry/haul/shove various sorts of genuine farm equipment, or rather miniaturized versions thereof.

My starry-eyed visions of becoming an agrarian gentleman did not survive prolonged acquaintance with Beam. The tires were easily punctured by common New Mexico weeds. The cutting blades in their deck were prone to breakdown. And all the equipment/accessories I acquired were crap.

I attached an expensive sleeve hitch to the back of Beam so that I could haul around my nearly-as-expensive disk harrow. I was going to follow the county agent’s advice for grooming my weed-strewn property— disk the weeds into the ground for a couple years, then sow with a drought-resistant grass. Unfortunately the disk harrow didn’t disk the weeds at all— it just moved the weeds about a quarter inch to the right and otherwise left them intact.

The sweeper that I acquired keeps shedding parts. The bagger that I replaced the sweeper with sort of works, when it’s not clogged. I never even assembled the seeder, because I never got to the point where I needed to seed anything, and besides I knew the thing was crap anyway.

I eventually hired a local rancher with an Allison-Chalmers to blade the hell out of the property and sow it with drought-resistant grass, except that most of the grass didn’t survive the first winter, let alone the nine-year drought that followed. Somewhere in this period I discovered that, although I have irrigation rights, the irrigation ditch is actually on a lower level than my property, so I’d have to pump the water out if I wanted to use it.

In the end I settled for keeping the weeds short. I could have bought a lawn tractor to do the same thing and saved a lot of money.

The Tecumseh engine keeps going, though. It’s barely given me trouble at all. Kudos to Tecumseh.

About a month ago one of the three blades just stopped turning. I dropped the deck from the tractor and hauled it out, and then spent a couple days trying to find the problem. A couple days of working in impossible heat narrowed it down to the stack or the plate, but I couldn’t tell which, and eventually I realized that there was a dealer with proper tools a short drive away, so I threw the deck into the back of my sporty car and decided it was going to be the dealer’s problem.

Three weeks later I dragged the deck home. In the way of dealers, the guy had performed a lot of work I hadn’t authorized him to do, including replacing the belts and replacing the blades. Replacing the blades was something I would have done next spring on my own, but now I don’t have to. And he didn’t overcharge me, which was something at least.

All was well until last week, when I ran the deck into a stump hidden in high weeds, and one of the blades began to make a clattering sound that I knew all too well. I knew the stump was there, but I was half-blind and distracted with allergic reactions to every single weed in North America, and I forgot. I was grateful for a chance to abandon my work and stand under the shower head for half an hour while the water washed pollen grains from my eyes, nose, and mouth, so I parked Beam in the breezeway and decided to deal with it later.

Later being this morning. So I removed the cotter pins and washers from the adjusting rods and the suspension link and the adjuster plate, and then pulled the cotter pin and washer from the blade control rod. A few whacks of the hammer knocked the front hanger from the axle support, and then I pulled the drive belt loose from the guide rods and the stack pulley.

This dropped the deck to the ground. I pulled it out from beneath the tractor, turned it over, and looked for bright metal where the blade was scraping the deck housing. This was more or less exactly where I thought it would be, so I beat it back into shape with a heavy hammer and made sure that the blade had free play. Then I rolled the deck rightside-up and shoved it under the tractor again.

I hooked the drive belt around the stack pulley, then reattached the suspension link and adjuster rods and adjuster plates and added the washers and threaded the cotter pins through the holes. I reattached the blade control rod and set it in place with a washer and cotter pin. I reattached the front hanger and secured that, and then I jumped up on Beam and started the mighty Tecumseh engine and set the level of the blades and pushed the blade rotation control lever forward, which should have engaged the blades.

Which it did. Sort of. Except that when the blades are engaged it normally makes a mighty buzzing sound, and the whole tractor quakes. And this time there was a mild whoosh and no vibration. But it seemed to cut all right, so I cut a few swaths and then got worried about why it wasn’t behaving properly, and rolled the tractor back into the shade, turned off the motor, and took a look.

The primary drive belt seemed loose to me. I looked at it and realized that while I’d properly slung it around the stack pulley, I hadn’t threaded it inside the guides. I now did this, and the blades now seemed to work more efficiently, except that there still wasn’t the almighty noise and vibration that years of experience had led me to expect.

The allergies were really kicking in by then, so I went into the house and blew my nose many times. It would have been worse except for the Claritin. Thank God for Claritin. It’s the only antihistamine that actually does what it says on the box.

I went back to the tractor and the drive belt still seemed loose. Everything seemed to be working okay, except that it was lackadaisical.

Back in the day, when I was working on a forty-year-old LC Smith & Corona office typewriter, my friend Dick Patten the typewriter repairman kept the beat-up old thing in shape, I guess as an act of charity. But I absorbed from him one important lesson— “always follow the linkage.” So I carefully traced the belt from the stack pulley through its whole circuit, and it seemed okay.

Then I went and got a sand bag from the garage and put it on the seat. This is because the seat has a dead-man switch so that if you ever get out of the seat, the engine will switch off. This is good for safety reasons, but it’s terrible when you want to fix something. So I put the sand bag in place of my butt and started the engine and engaged the blades and followed the linkage through its lackadaisical course. It just wasn’t tight enough, but I couldn’t tell why.

As to why I had a sand bag, it has to do with the disk harrow. At first I thought that there just wasn't enough weight on the disker, and that's why it wasn't cutting and harrowing properly. So I got some sand bags and dropped them on top. After that I realized my problem was because the harrow was crap.

But back to the drive belt. There was an idler wheel, the job of which was to keep the belt tight, but it seemed to be working as it should. Then I realized that there was a whole other linkage devoted to keeping the belt tight, and this moved from the blade rotation control lever down through the blade control rod, which is adjustable. So I pulled the cotter pin and the washer and detached the blade control rod, and then I adjusted it and put it back in place again, and when I engaged the blades there was at once the familiar mighty roar of a big mechanical object eager to chop green growing things into tiny pieces. Huzzah.

So I cut some more swaths, except that the mighty noise kept falling off, and as I looked down I saw that the left side of the deck was plowing a big trench in the ground. I raised the deck, but it didn’t help. So back I went to the shade, and examined everything again, and I found that for some reason one of the cotter pins had broken, and the washer had sprung off into the weeds where I’ll find it in a couple years, and the deck had fallen off the suspension link on the left side and dropped right into the ground.

So I went to where I store my tools and supplies and tossed things around until I found some cotter pins of the right size, and then I took it back to the tractor and lifted the suspension link back into place and secured it with a new cotter pin, and now Beam was okay. I jumped aboard and finished the job, and then I decided to reward myself by going to the Rio Grande Diner and having the huevos rancheros, which are the best I’ve ever had anywhere.

You may ask what this has to do with writing science fiction and fantasy. I ask this myself. Why must I spend hours fucking around with the tractor, I ask, when I could be doing something useful and productive and entertaining and maybe even art?

Cuz it’s an excuse to have huevos rancheros, maybe. Or to waste some time on a blog.

But ultimately I do these things because they need to be done. Even pointless things require doing, and so much of my life must be spend in doing them.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Log of the Eclipse (13)

Cool! I’ve found this totally nifty virtual model of Constantinople, circa 1200, before the Crusaders screwed it up. Check it out! It’s got everything but that damned mechanical bird!

Now back to our travelogue:

5 April 2006

The Prophet’s Beard

The Hotel Divan’s restaurant seemed unprepared for the number of visitors who descended on it that morning. We could all visit the excellent buffet, but getting coffee, tea, or juice took forever. The wait staff seemed stunned.

I didn’t care one way or another. My sore throat of the day before had turned into a miserable cold, and I spent the day dragging myself around in a cloud of wretchedness, phlegm, and virii.

After breakfast came the bus, to descend Beyoglu’s long, steep hill to the bridge across the Golden Horn. Along the way, we passed the old, deluxe railroad hotel where Agatha Christie is supposed to have penned Murder on the Orient Express. Her room has been preserved as she left it.

Once across the Horn we turned left for Seraglio Point and the Topkapi Palace. (Topkapi, remember, is pronounced “Topkapeu,” because the i at the end does not have a dot, at least if you’re working in the Turkish alphabet, which I can’t here.)

Topkapi is not a Westerner’s idea of a palace, and it’s not exactly Eastern, either. Instead of a huge building with an imposing edifice placed behind a parade ground, it’s a shambolic, mazelike series of buildings constructed around a series of four courtyards. The buildings get progressively more impressive as you get father into the complex, but most were not built to look magnificent from the outside. The interior of the palace proper was something else again.

The palace was begun by Mehmet the Conqueror, on the site of olive groves. (By the time of the conquest, only 40,000 inhabitants remained in Byzantium, and most of the land inside the great Walls of Theodosius had been given up to agriculture.)

The First Courtyard, also known as the Court of the Janissaries because it was their rallying point in the event of trouble, is a pleasant parklike place, full of shady, tree-lined walks. We’d already passed through it several times without realizing it was part of the palace complex. It contains the old Mint, which we never visited, and the church of Hagia Eirene, Holy Peace. It’s a little surprising to see a domed Byzantine church in the middle of a Muslim palace, particularly a church that was never transformed into a mosque. Instead it became the armory, and because of its excellent acoustics is now used as a concert hall. The doors were closed and we never had a chance to examine the place.

You enter the Second Court through the twinkly-medieval-looking Gate of Salutation, which is guarded by soldiers. Once again, we passed through metal detectors, and our belongings x-rayed. Inside, while waiting for our tickets, we enjoyed the company of a pack of Istanbul’s many feral cats, who were munching on kibble provided by the guards.

The Second Court features the kitchens, where the meals for the thousands of palace inmates and officials were prepared. They are appropriately vast and occupy just about all of the east side of the court. Architecturally they are very plain though very distinctive, a series of small domes pierced by tall chimneys. Inside is an exhibit of ceramics, glass, and silverware, all of the highest quality. Topkapi has the largest and most splendid collection of Chinese porcelain outside of China itself, and features plates and pots carries down the Silk Road from the China of the Sung, Yuan, Ming, and Ch’ing Dynasties. Particularly prized by the sultans was celadon, which was believed to neutralize poison.

There is also an exhibition of arms and armor, which alas was closed. Today we concentrated on the arts of peace.

Through the Gate of the White Eunuchs, also called the Gate of Felicity, we entered the Third Courtyard. Centered in this court was a pavilion built in a style reminiscent of Japan, where the Sultan met foreign dignitaries. In the old days foreigners never entered the palace at all, but the Sultan was eventually persuaded to make this gracious concession, and had to build a special building for visitors because he didn’t want them in his actual home. The pavilion, also called the Throne Room, was magnificently outfitted, though we didn’t see the magnificence because the building was closed. When the sultan still ruled from Topkapi, this is as far into the palace complex as any foreigner got.

Foreigners entered through a gate called the Sublime Porte, and were thus accredited “Ambassadors to the Sublime Porte.” The classical Porte no longer exists, having been torn down in the 19th Century and replaced by a rococo-looking substitute. The gate is no longer in use, and we never saw it.

In the Third Court is the treasury, where the astoundingly magnificent jewels and thrones of the sultan are now kept. Among these are the famous emerald-hilted Topkapi Dagger, which is far from the most magnificent item in the place. (I think it’s in garishly bad taste, myself.) The dagger was originally intended as a thank-you gift for the Persian shah, who had presented the sultan with a magnificent throne— actually a divan— which is also on exhibit. The shah died before the dagger could be delivered, and the thrifty sultan decided to keep it.

In the Treasury are a selection of aigrettes, the artificial, gem-incrusted plumes worn by the sultans on their turbans. These are all dazzling. We also saw jewelry, normal household items (like this coffee-cup holder) that had been plastered with jewels, weapons, and the 86-carat Spoonmaker’s Diamond, which was found in a rubbish heap in the 17th century and sold by a scrap merchant in exchange for three spoons.

Next to the Treasury is the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle, which contains many of the greatest holy relics of Islam, collected by various sultans (who were, of course, also caliphs, heads of the Islamic faith). After entering through a magnificently tiled gateway, I was a little startled to discover a muezzin in a glass booth, singing verses from, I presume, the Koran.

The holiest treasure in the room is the gold casket containing the Prophet’s jacket. This was not on direct view, but was in another room and had to be gazed at through a doorway. In another casket is the Banner of Muhammad, which was carried into battle by the sultans until it became too threadbare to use. Also on display were three of Muhammad’s swords, the blades of which were very plain and businesslike, but whose scabbards and hilts had been much ornamented by sultans in the past. (I don’t believe the Prophet ever engaged personally in combat, being instead more of a strategic thinker, though I may be wrong.)

Also on display are the Prophet’s footprint, locks that had at one time been on the Kaaba, a reliquary containing the Prophet’s tooth, a letter written in the Prophet’s own hand, reliquaries holding dirt from the Kaaba and from the Prophet’s grave, and— most interesting to me— tiny glass reliquaries holding individual hairs from the Prophet’s beard.

This all adds up to more physical evidence for the existence of Muhammad than for the founders of all other major faiths put together. (Admittedly, he lived a lot later, after people had invented history.) There’s no physical evidence at all for Moses, David, Solomon, Confucius, Lao Tzu, or Jesus (unless one credits the Shroud of Turin, which I don’t, or the 100-odd authentic Circumcisions of Christ to be found in reliquaries throughout Europe). I believe the Buddha’s bones, and other relics, were planted in the structures of various stupas throughout northern India, but were all lost during various invasions from Afghanistan.

Still, it would be interesting to scope the DNA in those hairs and see if they belong to the same person, or whether the Muslim world had the equivalent of Chaucer’s relic salesman, who substituted “pigges bones” for those of the saints.

Also in the Third Court are the Circumcision Pavilion, where the sultan’s son would recuperate after the operation (which took place in early adolescence), a clock museum (closed), and a museum of imperial costumes (also closed). It was frustrating to be so near so much cool stuff without being able to view it.

You can view much of the Topkapi on your own, but for the Harem you need a guide and a special ticket. Fortunately we had both.

The Harem didn’t consist only of concubines and servants, but was the sultan’s home when he wasn’t off subduing provinces. This is where he lived among his wives, concubines, children, and sisters, all under the thorough supervision of the sultan’s mother, who really ran the place. (The sultan’s brothers were not in evidence, because within hours of taking the throne the sultan would have had them all strangled in accordance with a law of Mehmet the Conqueror.) The sultan’s mother supervised the education of the concubines and chose the sultan’s sexual partners for him. In his own household, the sultan was Number Two.

The concubines were all technically slaves, mostly born Christian, but they didn’t work for free, and were paid a salary. They were also the most highly educated and accomplished women in the empire, possibly in the world. Great pains were taken with their education, because the sultan didn’t want to share his quarters were a pack of ignoramii. The majority never had relations with the sultan— there could be over a thousand of them, after all— and normally the concubines were retired around age 25-30, having acted only as servants to higher-ranked concubines or to members of the royal family. After retirement, many successfully went into business with their education and savings, and others were given as wives to the sultan’s favorites. Those who bore the sultan male children must have had an agonizing life, since they knew their offspring would die horribly unless he was somehow made crown prince and given the authority to kill his brothers or half-brothers.

The harem was guarded by the Black Eunuchs, slaves imported from Africa. If any of the eunuchs managed to survive the operation with their parts intact (unlikely), and got involved with any of the concubines, the African features of their offspring would be a dead giveaway, and result in the deaths of both parents and the child. The Black Eunuchs were sandali, subjected to a particularly nasty form of the operation in which the genitalia were removed completely, and which made their fathering children even more unlikely. Nevertheless they were accorded great prestige: the head of the Black Eunuchs, the Kislar Agasi, was second-in-command after the Grand Vizier.

The White Eunuchs, who retained at least some of their genitals, ran the imperial bureaucracy and the palace outside the Harem under their own chief, the Kapi Agha.

Some eunuchs were known to have fathered children, even the sandali, so it’s assumed that the operations weren’t as efficient as believed, or that some bribed the surgeon to leave their parts largely intact.

The Harem features galleries with the concubines’ apartments, all ornamented with lovely tile work. The sultan’s living room has a rather chill beauty now, but it should properly be pictured full of concubines, children, servants, music, and poetry.

The two most magnificent apartments belonged to the sultan and his mother. These included running water, flush toilets (squatters, not sitters), lovely ornamented fountains everywhere, and absolutely magnificent tilework, even in what would otherwise be ordinary corridors. The young slave girls from foreign nations or the provinces who came to this place to be educated and converted to Islam must have been dazzled by their surroundings.

From a terrace behind the Harem, the sultan and his household would have had a beautiful view of the Golden Horn and the Bosporus.

The Fourth Court is entered through the Gate of the Black Eunuchs. It’s a series of courtyards dotted with pavilions.

We were peckish after the visit to the palace, and so were taken around the corner to a restaurant tucked under the old Byzantine sea wall, facing the Sea of Marmara. I don’t recall the name of the place, but the food was very good, and we were seated on trestle tables overlooking the sea. Topkapi’s kitchens, with their distinctive domes and chimneys, loomed above us on the hill.

Next we were taken to what was described as a “tour of a leather factory,” though it was in fact a tour of a leather goods showroom (which was good, since nobody really wants to see how leather goods are made). The showroom was in Sultanahmet, just down the street from the Hotel Poem, where Kathy and I stayed during our first few days in Istanbul. We got a fashion show, and then were given many opportunities to spend money. The jackets were very nice, but I was already wearing a swank Danier leather jacket I’d bought in Toronto, and had no need for another one.

My cold had me feeling wretched, so I went back to the bus, reclined my seat, and took a nap.

From thence we were taken to the Grand Bazaar, a name the Turks wouldn’t recognize. They call it the Covered Market. The bazaar was begun by Mehmet the Conqueror and grew over the centuries— it now contains over 4000 shops on something like sixty streets and alleys, all beneath painted arches of more or less ancient vintage. The shops sell rugs and other textiles, leather goods, brass works, “pashmina,” food, perfumes, coffee, souvenirs, turkish delight and other sweets, ceramics, and more souvenirs. Many of the shops are old and small, but are grandly done up.

And they all have hucksters and touts. Being in a place like the Covered Bazaar means you can’t escape them, even by going straight up. I was at a considerable disadvantage in that I was wearing my swank Danier jacket, which meant that every leather goods salesman figured I was a patsy. I don’t know why they thought I’d want another swank jacket, but they all did. I couldn’t have kept them off with a flamethrower.

Kathy had gone off on her own, since when it comes to shopping I merely cramp her style. I wandered around with Pat and Paul for a while, but the hucksters wouldn’t stop, and I was feeling ill and considerably oppressed by the relentless salesmen. I returned to the bus, only to find that the driver had locked it and gone off somewhere. So I returned to the bazaar, found a bar, and hid in the back to drink a succession of beers until it was time to leave.

Back at the hotel, I collapsed on the bed until it was time for dinner. Pat and Paul joined us for a short walk down the street to an Italian place, much favored by young students. The food was adequate, not that I could properly taste it.

Next day we would take to the water.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Be In My Book!

The online auction to benefit the Clarion Foundation begins today.

Clarion is, of course, the premiere workshop in fantasy and science fiction. The proceeds from the auction will benefit the workshop. Please drop by, spend money, and come home with nifty items.

I know I want Howard Waldrop, in his Peter Lorre voice, answering my phone while I'm away! Just as I know I want Karen Joy Fowler's Jane Austen Emergency Kit! And these are only two of the deeply cool items available.

I'm donating two items my ownself. One is an original manuscript of my last novel, Conventions of War. This is not the final version of the published novel, but an earlier version, somewhat longer, and with some sections of the novel in a different order. This is the only copy of this version of the novel--- there isn't even an electronic backup copy.

The ms. features light editing in pencil by Harper editor Diana Gill. The manuscript is also somewhat battered, having fallen from a shelf in my office. While I do not believe there are actual footprints on the pages, I would be willing to step on the manuscript if the purchaser wanted me to.

My second auction item is the exciting opportunity to have a character with your name appear in my next book, Implied Spaces. Purchasers should be aware that the character bearing your name may not have the best moral character, and may die horribly.

If you don't want to be in my book, you can be in Kate Wilhelm's, or in stories by Jim Kelly or Kelly Link. (And who, I ask you, wouldn't want to be in all four?)

Check out the Clarion Auction Page, and give the gift that keeps on making new SF writers!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


I am in the midst of a rural idyll.

A couple weeks ago Sage Walker invited me up to the Bear Paw Ranch near Regina, to loaf about in beautiful scenery, watch the baby elk frolic in the pasture, and to eat her splendid cookery, which included a breakfast of eggs coddled in brie.* I was allowed to stay up at the Main House, which has an expansive front porch just perfect for sitting at sunset and drinking margaritas. (Though since I was working late at night, I left the margaritas off the menu.) I took long walks through the forest, where amid many elk tracks I found the print of a little baby bear and another print of one really large bear. I didn't see either bear, but there was some thrashing in an arroyo that I stayed away from. It could have been an elk or a dog, but I wasn't taking any chances.

This last holiday weekend Kathy and I went up to Taos Ski Valley with our friend Patricia Rogers. We rented the ground floor of the Edelweiss Chalet and went on long hikes through the Carson Forest and did some shopping and worked a jigsaw puzzle and saw some weird videos and ate extremely well. The toilet blew up but we didn't let it spoil our day. I finished by coddling some eggs in brie.

Returning to the Rio Grande Valley was like a descent into pollen hell. I have never in my life been so allergic to, well, air. Six weeks of rains and the desert is blooming with things that haven't bloomed here in decades.

Spending any amount of time outside renders me helpless. I have taken to doing yard work wearing safety goggles and a face mask. I can't open the windows at night. No relief in sight.

I look back on the coddled eggs, and sigh.

*Coddled eggs in brie. Cut some onion and celery in a fine dice. Sautee in butter in a skillet. Add cream. Cut the brie into strips, removing rind. Use the brie to divide the skillet into sections, one for each diner. Drop a pair of eggs into each section of the skillet. Bake in a 350-degree oven till eggs have reached the desired amount of doneness.

As you listen to the crackle of plaque forming in your arteries, congratulate yourself on a job well done.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Me, Glorious Me

We pause for a moment of self-glorification.

This news just in:

The Praxis is going into its fourth printing.

The Sundering is in its third.

Conventions of War went into its second printing earlier in the summer.

Holmes, I detect a pattern here.

It's time to bite the bullet and admit that the series is a success.