"What I was up to then"

  • From early June 2006
    Yes, like a shrivelled miser in his counting house, I have spent the last few weeks trolling the Internet for comments on "Pavel Petrovich," a story of mine that recently appeared in Realms of Fantasy. I have even had some very kind e-mails on it, so I'm feeling all puffed up with my own self-importance, and frequently chuckle evilly while drywashing my hands.

    And what's wrong with that, I ask? (Rhetorically! Rhetorically!)

    But let's not talk about me -- let's talk about what other people think of me. Or, more specifically, my story.

    One very kind reader e-mailed me to say of it: "Rich characters, dark humor, and creepy prison atmosphere add up to A-OK in my book." (Sounds like a good book!)

    Consider also the following comments, culled at random from Robert Santa's review of the issue at SFReader: "... it is so well done and with such dramatic writing, that I practically rushed to see what I knew was coming. ... incredible storytelling ..." (I include the link so you can see how badly out of context I have taken all this ... he also wrote that he was "staggered by the ugliness of the story" -- but in a good way ... I think.)

    There were also a number of kind comments in the RoF forums in the section on the June 2006 issue. (Mine was also voted one of the favorite stories in that issue. The results of this completely unscientific poll have been disputed, but the U.N. is sending monitors, and Jimmy Carter declared it "free and fair.") One long-memoried reader even favorably remembered my stories in the sadly defunct Science Fiction Age!

  • From late April 2006
    Apart from drooling over the fact that my short story was published in Realms of Fantasy (and wondering what the art looks like -- RoF usually has very tasty art), I have been reading a lot.

    True to my prediction, the new Magnus Mills book, Explorers of the New Century, blew my head clean off.

    Yup, I am now headless.

    There's plenty of Mills' trademark Kafka-in-the-workplace darkness and tension -- the workplace in this case being two separate expeditions to the Agreed Furthest Place from Civilization that are patterned on Scott and Amundsen's race to the South Pole -- as well as his down-a-deep-well-in-the-middle-of-the-night-wearing-a-blindfold-and-dipped-in-tar dark humor. Plus a revelation at the end that's pretty stunning and darned intriguing.

    Stunning, that is, if some deeply antisocial reviewer hasn't given it away already. If you're interested in the book, be very careful of the reviews and blurbs on this one.

    But even if someone ruins it for you, it's still pretty fascinating -- I'm going to be mulling it over for the next several days.

  • From April 2006
    Check it out -- I sold a short story! It's been so long since I did that that I'd forgotten what it's like. If you're wondering, it's pretty cool -- or at least it is if the following holds true:

    (Creative validation)  +  (promise of money)  +  (realistic prospect of imminent publication)  =  Pretty cool

    And I believe it does.

    The story's called "Pavel Petrovich" and deals with two of my favorite subjects: Tattoos, and Russian prison camps. Oh, and tuberculosis.

    Otherwise, I'm working on finishing an outline for a possible series, and noodling with other novel ideas. And reading a great deal -- a whole lot of Terry Pratchett, who's a genius (but you probably knew that). I'm looking forward to the new Magnus Mills book, Explorers of the New Century, which looks to have a typically Millsian take on Scott vs. Amundsen at the Pole, which is a combination I can't honestly imagine, so I expect to have my head blown clear off.

    I just finished slogging through all 1,700 pages of Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities, a needlessly enormous examination of pre-war Austrian society's struggle to find both the right way to live and a theme for the celebration of the Kaiser's 50th anniversary on the throne. The anniversary celebration stuff was excellent -- very funny satire -- the right way to live stuff, less so. Much less so. And at great length ...

    The reason I subjected myself to this was because I recently took a lightning trip through Budapest, Vienna and Prague with my father, which was excellent. Beer, sausages, schlag and cool old stuff to look at -- what more could you want? (Though I should say that the Czech Republic is shockingly lacking in Svejk memoribilia. Enough Franz Kafka, already! More Svejk! He's funnier, and looks better on a t-shirt!)

    As proof the trip happened, here is a picture of my pop in decidedly Central European surroundings:

    The old gentleman on the Chain Bridge in Budapest.

    And as a bonus, a pic of Svejk:

    The Good Soldier Svejk.

  • From November 2005
    What am I up to? A lot of different things, which is my way of saying nothing in particular. I continue to research and flesh out the idea that combined voodoo and Arnold Rothstein (and Grand Central Station, Robert Moses, the East River bridges, Albert Fish, Judge Crater, Randall's Island, the Second Avenue Subway and the whole secret history of Manhattan), as well as finishing (finally!) the rewrite of Scar and the Ministry of Strangers and an outline for its follow-ups.

    I have also been writing some essays, and some short stories, and the New Products section of Accounting Today.

    Apart from the New Products stuff, none of this has been published yet. But I'm working on it!

    I have been reading a lot, though: Philip Roth's The Plot Against America was pretty good, though not great alternate history (if he weren't such a good writer, it would be annoying that he would think he could just swoop in on the genre and rip it off).

    Also good: Matthew Hughes' Black Brillion, who out-Vances Jack Vance, and throws in characters you come to care about. His short stories are brilliant.

    And Osamu Tezuka's Buddha series (beautifully designed volumes by Chip Kidd) is also pretty darned cool.

    Still flogging New York: The Unknown City, by the way.

    Separately, and for no real reason, I attach a picture of my father, who late in the summer decided it would be fun to rent a bear costume and wander around Silver Lake, Pa., tempting hunters.

    Bear, with cake and children.

  • From January 2004
    In case you missed the last update, I'm still flogging New York: The Unknown City, a wacky guidebook to the Big Apple full of trivia that is guaranteed 100-percent useless. Don't you need more useless trivia in your life?

    C'mon -- we got elephants on death row, secret tunnels, subway disasters, geological mysteries, free kayaking and lots of beer!

    Now that that's out of my system, I continue to work on cleaning up the rewrite of Scar and the Ministry of Strangers, and I'm researching stuff for a different book. What am I researching, you may ask? Why, voodoo, of course. And Arnold Rothstein.

    That's two subjects you never expected to see in the same sentence, I bet. And, technically speaking, you still haven't.

    Voodoo, by the way, is pretty interesting, not least because you're actually supposed to call it vodoun. Also, apparently in the real Haitian voodoo they never use voodoo dolls. They were invented, we're told, by a European author who wanted to write about voodoo, but knew nothing about it. So he lifted an old idea from European witchcraft -- the use of "poppets," or little dolls, to put curses on people -- and claimed it was voodoo. (This from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Voodoo, which should give you some idea of the quality of my "research.")

    So that's what's going on writing-wise.

    On a personal note, all the family gathered from far and wide for Christmas, including my nieces and nephews, who are impudent little punks. Here they are:

    Neckless, the Weasel and O

    Contrary to what you might imagine, I neither asked them nor taught them how to make the following face:

    Neckless and the Weasel

  • From November 2004:
    So much has happened, so little of it interesting ...

    First off: I have a new book, though it's not what you might expect -- it's called New York: The Unknown City, and it's a wacky guidebook, full of weird stories and facts about the greatest city in the world. (Back off, London!)

    I wrote it with a friend over the course of 2003 (actually, I wrote my part in about two weeks at the end of 2003, after spending most of the year wandering around deepest Queens looking for cool stuff to write about), and then spent most of the first half of 2004 trying to fix all the hideous errors and revisiting all the cool stuff I saw in 2003, because I was too stupid to take all the pictures I needed the first time.

    It came out pretty well, I think.

    On the fiction front, you may recall (and God help you if you do) that I had two books into my agent toward the end of 2002. One, On the Golconda Run, has gone into that box at the back of the closet; for the other, Scar and the Ministry of Strangers my agent came back with some very trenchant observations that necessitated a complete rewrite. Sadly for me, she was correct in all her observations, and after months of struggle and napping I have finally completed said rewrite. All I need to do now is copy edit and resubmit it to my agent. Keep your fingers crossed at all times.

    I believe I promised you a picture of one of my nieces -- here she is, in all her blurry glory.

    G, sometimes known as the Squeezin' Weasel

    Other things that have happened since last I updated this page.

  • Did you know we had an election? A more or less fair one, with a result that, if not satisfying to me personally, was at least definitive.

  • Did you know we also have a war? This too is not particularly satisfying to me personally, but since we have it, it would be very nice if we could win it. How we should win it, I'm afraid, is entirely beyond me ...

  • Did you know that my company moved its office all the way downtown (and I mean all the way -- if we were any further south we would be on Staten Island). This is satisfying to me, because the neighborhood is very tasty, and we have awesome views of the harbor. I lose a good 45 minutes a day staring at the Statue of Liberty, and another 20 looking at Ellis Island, and the rest of my time is given up to watching the various ferries and Coast Guard boats cruise around. I get nothing done.

  • Did you know that my brother got married, and that my other brother and his wife had a baby girl? That brings me to two brothers, one sister, two sisters-in-law, two nieces and two nephews. But who's keeping score?

  • Did you know that the wind can pick up an entire dock that's moored in the lake bottom and flip it over, thus ruining it and presenting the owners with the huge expense of replacing it? Trust me -- it can.

  • Did you know that Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote three or four really brilliant poems -- and about a hundred million lame ones? This is the kind of thing you learn when you're willing to read just about anything, and refuse to stop reading a book once you have started it.

  • Did you know that Netflix is fantastic? I didn't -- but I do now.

    OK, now I'm just filling up space. I promise to be more timely with the updates from now on.

  • From February 2003:
    So I've finally finished editing both "On the Golconda Run" and "Scar and the Ministry of Strangers," and have packed them off to my agent.

    After she has time to read them, she'll get back to me with comments/suggestions (which, if I'm wise, I'll take), and then, fingers crossed, will begin the wild and woolly process of trying to foist them off on unwitting publishers.

    In the meantime, I'm kicking back -- reading, writing some short stories, and trying to figure out how to make a million dollars.

    Suggestions are welcome.

  • From December 2002:
    After more than a year of blissful unemployment, I am once again a part of the great American work force, and the Bush Administration can stop blaming me personally for inflating the jobless rate. It's not my fault, guys, so stop calling.

    Yup, I have a job again -- in fact, I have the same job I had two jobs ago, as managing editor of a trade magazine on accounting.

    Wait -- don't go! I won't say anything more about accounting, I promise!

    Instead, I will tell you that I am putting the finishing touches to the interstellar mystery, "On the Golconda Run," as well as on a brand-spanking-new fantasy/mystery book called "Scar and the Ministry of Strangers."

    If you're very nice, and I'm not too tired, I might post samples of them at some point in the near future. I'm particularly proud of both of them, and hope to be able to tell you good news about their publishing prospects early in the New Year.

    For those who pay attention to past entries (you know who you are, and so do the police), "tom399" is gathering dust -- er, being re-written -- while I figure out exactly where I want it to go.

    I also plan to post pictures of my nephews and niece, who are far cuter and more interesting than any nephews or nieces you may have. Don't take it personally -- it's just a fact.

    C'mon, don't be like that. You know you feel the same about yours.

  • From June 2002:
    I am still in the process of editing "On the Golconda Run," trying to make it both funny and readable. And I'm near the end of the first draft of "tom399," a fascinating study of paranoia, identity and the sociology of the workplace.

    I hope to get the two of them whipped into shape by the middle of the summer. I also hope to win the lottery by the middle of the summer, too, so that tells you how much faith to place in my hopes.

    Two pieces of news that will not interest you at all: I've just finished reading all of Proust's "In Search of Lost Time," which, if you trust the Daily Show (and I do), means I'm "a pompous asshole."

    I wholeheartedly accept their judgement, but on the other hand, can I just say that, as with the giant Burton Arabian Nights I read a year or two back, this impenetrable classic is chock full of sex? And what's even weirder, most of it is gay sex, or S&M, which I wouldn't have expected at all from an early 20th century story. Apparently, everyone in French high society at the time was either gay, lesbian or interested in being chained up and beaten by members of the lower classes. I kept checking the cover of the book to make sure it still said Proust, and not de Sade.

    Anyway, I'm proud to have read it, since it gives me something to show for my months of unemployment checks.

    Proud, yes, but not as proud as I am of my other piece of news: The arrival of my sister's new daughter, Gabriela, who is just about the cutest little girl you've ever seen in your entire life. Seriously. The cutest.

    I told you you wouldn't be interested.

  • From February 2002:
    I've finished the starship detective novel, tentatively titled "On the Golconda Run," and am currently editing it and well as working on a new novel that's tough to describe, so I won't bother. But I will tease you with its provocative, titillating, and ultimately meaningless working title: "tom399."

    Perhaps more important, I'm still enjoying the buzz from a piece of news I got from my wonderful agents just before Christmas: A Russian publisher has picked up the local rights to the Liam Rhenford novels, and means to translate and publish them.

    Which would be exciting news, but what makes it even more exciting is the fact that they've ALREADY PAID. Yup, handed over money -- real cash, too, not barrels of crude oil or mason jars of caviar or crates of vodka. God bless them.

    On another front (the front of things that are less exciting), I'm looking for a job, since my severance (and Russian advance money!) is running out ... Ah, the brief, beautiful days of lying around the apartment and sleeping late will soon be over. I will never forget them.

  • From October 2001:
    So I'm casting around, trying to figure out exactly what to work on next, and I start a couple of things and frankly they're not working for me.

    So I take a little time off (from writing, that is), and do some soul-searching ... well, soul-searching might be a little strong. I do some daydreaming ... no, again, too strong. I take some long naps in what is usually my writing time, and eventually decide on what project I'll work on next.

    So then, I decide what I'm going to work on, and a couple of weeks after I start, these miserable bastards blow up the World Trade Center, and since the newspaper I work for has about 25% of its distribution there, the publisher closes it down and I'm out of a job.

    So now I have all day to write, as long as the severance money holds out ...

    So here it is: It's a novel about a detective (surprise!), but this time he's the house detective on a luxury spaceliner, a fairly Zen professional whose job is not to investigate crimes, but to stop them before they happen. It's intended to be funnier than the Liam Rhenford novels, but still centered on a serious mystery. I'll post excerpts when I finish a clean draft, which should be in a month or so.

  • From April 2001:
    What's new? Nothing good, I'm afraid. Nothing catastrophic, on the other hand, but certainly nothing good.

    Here's the news: My publisher has decided not to pick up "Silver Cord," the next instalment in the Liam Rhenford series.

    Their reason -- one I find hard to argue with, much as I might like to -- is that the series simply isn't selling in the numbers they need to see. Which means that they're not interested in considering any more for the foreseeable future.

    Does this mean the end of Liam Rhenford? Not at all. What it does mean is that Liam and Fanuilh will be on the shelf for a while, as I work on other projects that (fingers crossed) will sell better. Then, somewhere down the line, I would hope to be able to revive the series.

    Until that happy day, however, I'll be trying out some new things. Should they see print, I'll post the details here, and I hope you'll give them a shot.

    But all this doesn't mean you shouldn't run out and buy "King's Cure"! (If you haven't already...)
  • From December 2000:
    Still twiddling my thumbs, waiting for word on what the publishing world thinks of "Silver Cord," the Liam novel I submitted a while back. It's nice to know that in this hustle-bustle, 24/7, FedEx-time, have-it-done-yesterday world, there is still an industry that moves at a stately pace.

    Also that my sense of sarcasm (the poor man's version of irony) still works.

    To fill my time, I'm reading a lot. I highly recommend "Darkness at Noon," by Arthur Koestler. Brutal. Also, "Bloom," by Wil McCarthy, and "The Moon & Sixpence," by Somerset Maugham.

    On the writing front, my twiddling thumbs are working on a screenplay, mostly for the heck of it -- an adaptation of "The Good Soldier Svejk," by Jaroslav Hasek.

  • From April 2000:
    Not much exciting -- I finished editing "Silver Cord" and sent it off to my agent, and now sit back to twiddle my thumbs and wait for my fate to be decided.

    In the meantime, I am approaching the end of the 17-volume set of the Arabian Nights, which continues to be filthy dirty. An example: The story I read this morning was called "The Woman with Two C....ts." I am not making this up.

  • From March 2000:
    Here's what's new: I just heard from my publisher that "King's Cure," the next Liam Rhenford novel to be published, will be released three months earlier than I expected -- in December 2000, not March 2001. This news is probably more exciting to me than it is to you.

    In the meantime, I'm still hard at work editing "Silver Cord," and am somewhere near Arabian Night 989.
  • From February 2000:
    I'm still hard at work editing "Silver Cord," but it is shaping up nicely.

    What's it about? OK, check this out: Liam comes home from a long trading voyage, looking forward to a little rest and recreation, only to discover that pirates are besieging Southwark, the Duke needs him to handle some delicate negotiations, and his new girlfriend (did I mention that he has a girlfriend?) needs him to help her investigate a mysterious crime. How does he handle all this pressure? Not too well, I'm afraid...

    Next up is the sequel, "Lord Slater," where Liam sets out to finally put an end to the pirate menace.

    I would probably have done more work recently, but someone gave me the 17-volume Richard Burton translation of the Arabian Nights, and I have been stuck deep inside them. And you know what? They are filthy dirty. Absolutely filthy, Penthouse-Forum-style dirty. Not that I object, it's just that -- who knew? I was surprised, that's all. And kind of pleased.

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