Saturday, January 30, 2010

Victoria Bolles: Godspeed

Now for the difficult post.  My friend Victoria passed away yesterday.  The cancer won in the end—at least as far as her life on earth is concerned.  Most of you don't know Victoria, but she was a founding member of the writing group that I've been part of for about thirty years now.  She could tell you exactly how many years; that's the sort of thing she remembered.  I joined the group a couple of years after it got started.  It was bigger then.  But for a very long time now, it's been five of us: Victoria, Craig, Richard, Mary, and me.  I hesitate to say that it's now just four.  She's going to be with us for a long time, even if she can't physically be there.  (We never named the group formally, but always just called it the Writing Group, as though that were a perfectly good proper name, and maybe it is.)  We have been not just workshop partners, but dear friends. We've been with each other through marriages, divorces, kids born, kids gone to college, careers won and lost, and family members and other friends lost to the reaper.  We've been mad at each other, and we've cheered for each other, and pursued both life and the written word together.  We've also bitched about getting old together. 

Here's a picture of the Group taken on the day she married George. I'm not sure what year that was, somewhere around 1990. (Craig, Rich, Victoria, me, Mary.  We've all greyed a bit since then.)

I'm sad to lose her to something as dreadful as colon cancer, but I'm glad she was able to find so much joy in her last year.  Her husband George hardly ever left her side, and friends literally from all over the world prayed for her and sang for her and sent her thoughts of healing and love. She and George, some years ago, became intensely active in the world of shape-note singing, and they traveled far and wide to join with others in their love of this particular form of music.  (There's another name for it, but it escapes me at this moment.)

Allysen and I saw her a few weeks ago, and she knew then that she didn't have too much longer.  But what struck us more than anything was the amount of life she still had in her.  We talked and laughed, and even discussed having the Group meet gathered around her bed some weekend afternoon.  That never happened; she got too weak soon after. 

I suspect a lot of her friends are singing for her right now, and for George whom she left, and I hope she's at peace.  I'm sure she is.  Bye, Victoria.  Peace, always.

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Amazon Pulls Sunborn...

...and a few thousand other books that happen to be published by Macmillan (of which Tor is an imprint). That's right, if you click one of my many links to Sunborn's page at, you now will see it for sale only from Amazon partners, not from Amazon itself.

According to this article from the New York Times online, Amazon has pulled Macmillan titles as the next escalation in their dispute with publishers over ebook prices and timing. (Ironically, I am more or less on Amazon's side in that argument. But for them to do this, which they have to know is hurting authors at least as much as it hurts the publisher, seems like an act of callous arrogance.)

I'd been bugging my editor to find out when the Sunborn ebook was going to become a reality (you can still download my own ebook edition from my website), but it's looking like the Kindle store isn't going to be a place to buy my books anytime soon. (A side note: Amazon has been apparently unable or unwilling to process my E-reads ebooks into the Kindle store, the better part of a year after their release.)

All of which just makes me, for the moment, throw up my hands.

I do hope you'll all encourage your friends to buy Sunborn from outlets that actually carry it on their shelves. For which I thank you.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Massachusetts Voted What?

There was a time when I expected this after every election: a deep feeling of depression.  But more recent events had lulled me into thinking that, at least once in a while, the majority of the electorate (at least in my area) would share a few of my political views. Oh, the naiveté! Once again I've learned my lesson.  Yesterday Massachusetts did the previously unthinkable—voted in Scott Brown, a conservative Republican, to fill the seat left by Ted Kennedy.  A man who thinks waterboarding is just one more okay form of torture, and who will...ah, never mind the details, I'm sure you've read them by now. 

[Deep breath.]

Well, if you can't win, the next best thing is to laugh.  So, if you'd like a good laugh—and I'm pretty sure people of all parties can laugh at this one—take a look at Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.  If it doesn't display correctly for you on this page, you can watch it here

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
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Monday, January 18, 2010

Avatar Rocks

Allysen and I finally got to see Avatar in 3D today.  We both loved it.  The 3D effects were wonderful—but it wasn't just a matter of great special effects.  It was a good story well told (familiar, to be sure), with believable characters and—above all—fabulous world building.  The landscape and the creatures were mesmerizing.  The banshees (read: dragons) were terrific, and who could not love the hammerhead rhinos?  To some extent, it was even scientifically plausible; the world-wide nervous system, although it sounded a lot like the Force when first introduced, actually made some sense.  The floating mountains were more in the Miyazaki fantasy realm, which I suspect was not a coincidence. 

It was fun to run a mental tally of all the sources that the movie clearly owes a debt to.  Native American (and probably African) tradition, of course.  Dune.  Anne McCaffrey's dragon books—and for that matter, a whole tradition of dragons in fantasy and SF.  Dances with WolvesPocahontas, the animation?  I won't call it a debt, because I doubt Cameron has ever read my books, but the avatar couches reminded me of my own rigger stations, and the Tree of Souls brought to mind the Tree of Ice in my second Chaos book, Strange Attractors.  Call it a resonance.  And now there surface contentions that Cameron borrowed liberally from the books of Russian SF novelists Boris and Arkady Strugatsky.  Maybe he did, maybe he didn't.  He clearly borrowed liberally from many worlds of literature and film.  He even borrowed from himself: I think I recognized that corporate exploitation type from Aliens, as well as the hotshot lady pilot. And of course the mechanical walkers. 

Did these connections detract from my enjoyment?  Not at all.  I felt that they were part of a great tradition of art building on art, as well as on life.  Some critics have accused the film of following the less admirable tradition of allowing big budget special effects to overwhelm any concern about good storytelling.  That's often true—but not so much this time, I think.  The story, if not terribly deep or original, was nevertheless honest and moving. 

One of my favorite SF movies prior to this is also a Cameron film: The Abyss. It wasn't altogether successful, but one thing it did beautifully was to create a sense of working and living beneath the sea.  It overlooked a few things for the sake of dramatic license, but it got a lot of it dead on.  (I've spent time underwater as a scuba diver.)  It's that world building thing.  Some people demand scientific accuracy in world building.  I demand believability.  I want to be convinced.  And in Avatar, I was convinced. 

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Sunborn in Paperback

Sunborn is now available in mass market paperback, from Tor Books—everywhere fine, cosmic, headbanging, epic, sensawunda, character-driven hard-SF is sold.  (And if you don't find it in your local emporium, please ask for it!  You'll be helping enormously.) 

For the first time in my life, I was so preoccupied by other things that I totally failed to mark the day my new book went on sale.  How bad is that?  It's been officially available since December 29, and it only just hit me last night that it was actually out.  I did receive my author copies a few days before the publication date—in itself a first, I think.  Then I went on with life and blanked on the whole thing.  Don't do what I did!  It's not too late to give it as a gift!

Now, I must hit the web to see if I can find a good image of the cover.  Ah, here we go, from the Tor-Forge store:

Wouldn't you like to own a copy today?

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Friday, January 01, 2010

Podcast: "Story Structure"

Last summer I appeared as a guest lecturer at the Odyssey writing workshop.  What I talked most about was story structure, what it is, and why it's important.  The folks at Odyssey have just posted an excerpt from my lecture as a podcast that you can listen to online, or right-click on to download as an MP3 file.  They have a number of similar excerpts online, and if you're interested in hearing writers talk about the craft of writing, here's the list of lectures.  If writing is one of your interests, check them out. 

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It's hard to believe it's really 2010 already.  Back when Arthur C. Clarke was writing some of his seminal work, we thought there'd be Moon bases by now, and exploration ships to Jupiter!  Not to mention alien contact.  I guess we'll have to wait a little longer. 

I hope you all had good holidays, and are hitting the ground running for the new year.  It was a  stressful season for the Carver household, with both daughters going through difficult times and my father-in-law hospitalized after a heart attack.  On the positive side, things are moving in the right direction for everyone here in the immediate family, and with my brother and his girlfriend visiting for Christmas, we still had a good week in other ways.  My older daughter is leaving in a couple of days for several weeks in Nicaragua (college service project), so that's certainly going to be interesting to hear about. 

Right now, I'm in catch-up mode.  Haven't gotten much done outside of family business for the last couple of weeks, so it's time to reacquaint myself with my work!  And yeah, that book I'm writing!  What was it?  Science fiction, I think.  Something chaotic, anyway.  Appropriate. 

"I...have to constantly balance "being a writer" with being a wife and mother. It's a matter of putting two different things first, simultaneously." —Madeleine L'Engle