A motley coat
As You Like It, Act II Sc. 7
O worthy fool!
...in his brain,
Which is as dry as the remainder biscuit
After a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd
With observation, the which he vents
In mangled forms. O that I were a fool!
I am ambitious for a motley coat.
I've been alerted by several blogging friends clearly more alert than I that this year's Conflux Virtual Mini-Con is on this weekend. You can look at the guest list at Imagine Me's blog, among other places.
I'll be checking in at intervals, partly because, due to the tyrranies of time and space, I won't be able to be at this year's corporeal Conflux (which annoys me no end, as I've sold a story to an anthology that I think is being launched there, and it would have been cool to be there still, I can't turn down a globetrotting jaunt, can I?).
The Conflux people have lined up a very impressive Who's Who of speculative fiction, so even if you don't want to post any questions, you might still be interested in watching the conversations.
Actually, come to think of it, my first review at all and it's positive! Here's the review of the Antipodean SF issue in which my story appears. The reviewer likes my story! The reviewer likes my story!
(Many thanks to Jasoni, as usual, for the link. The man is a wizard of finding stuff on the Net, I'm not kidding.)
I finally screwed my courage to the sticking place (Macbeth, Act I Scene 7) and started revising my second novel, Mud and Glass. The shock lies in the fact that it's nowhere near as bad as I remember it being. Maybe I'll even be able to get an agent interested in this sucker, once I've finished the revisions. Wouldn't that be cool!
The (sadly, late) novelist John Gardner was, as well, a lifelong teacher of writing at a wide variety of universities and workshops. Oh, how I wish I could have studied with him, particularly after reading On Becoming a Novelist. His approach toward the new or "emerging" writer is one of profound compassion and encouragement, and there's at least one absolute gem on every page:
Occasionally, mean-spirited people have written good books, but the odds are long. [p.137]
Talk about writing, even in a mediocre community of writers...fills you with nervous energy, makes you want to leave the party and go home and write. And it's the sheer act of writing, more than anything else, that makes a writer.[p.77]
Novel-writing is not so much a profession as a yoga, or "way," an alternative to ordinary life-in-the-world. Its benefits are quasi-religious a changed quality of mind and heart, satisfactions no non-novelist can understand and its rigors generally bring no profit except to the spirit. For those who are authentically called to the profession, spiritual benefits are enough.[p.145]
Gardner also wrote The Art of Fiction, which is also well, well worth the read. (I blush to say I've only read one of his novels, Grendel, but I remember it being a knockout.)
You can find the True John Gardner Believers at www.johngardner.org and The John C. Gardner Appreciation Page. And if you, like me, are struggling with agonizing doubt about whether one truly has the writer's vocation (or, indeed, the writer's aptitude), you should definitely read On Becoming a Novelist. Therein, you will find that even asking these questions puts you well along the path.
While my mom and niece were here, it transpired that my niece had never seen Galaxy Quest. She is (or has been at various points in her life) a Trek enthusiast, so we brought out our Galaxy Quest DVD and set it spinning. (We'd already played the videotape to twisted, smoking filaments over the years.) It'd been a while since we'd watched it, and I can only say that I still love it.
We've been watching a fair few episodes of Star Trek: TOS recently, and viewing them in close temporal proximity with Galaxy Quest makes it all the better. If you've never seen it, I do recommend it. It's not just satire or parody (one day I'll work out the precise difference between the two): it's got great characters, terrific one-liners and situation comedy, fabulous sets and makeup, a great score, and a real sense of homage. It's not out to make fandom look stupid, but to point out what we writers already know: the human spirit, caught up in great passions and yearning for its highest goals, is beautiful. Even if especially if that makes the human look a bit dopey from time to time.
We were all quite happy to leave Auckland a few days ago and set out on our epic rail journey. The train through the North Island travelled across some pretty nice territory (I've completely lost track of which of these were taken by Margaret, and which by me):
We spent the night in Wellington, where we met up with my buddy Cass (whose version of this journey can be found at her blog). She, Margaret, and I were all surprised and delighted to find out we'd be on the same ferry in the morning, the same train the next day, and the same train the day after! (Which means, for you, that if you don't like my photos, you can go look at hers.) We didn't see much of Wellington, but we had no time for dismay over that, because here is just a sample of how cool the ferry journey was:
As beautiful as that was, the train journey south from Picton to Christchurch was even moreso, although I was somewhat camera'ed out by then (as you can see by the fact that I ceased being bothered about the quality of the photography):
The next day we ate breakfast at a very American-style breakfast place started by an expat American couple from Iowa, in fact, some unknown number of years ago. I've posted a photo of it because some of my DC buddies, familiar with an alias (a screen name, as it's known now) I used to use in the early days of BBSing, might find it amusing.
And then and then the astounding train journey over the mountains! Here are a few pics:
(Note to Cass: I have two shots of the Cass Commemorative Pink Shed if you want them. Note to everyone else: "Cass" refers not only to my friend, but to a tiny village in the most melodramatic part of the mountains; I'm aching to organize a writing/arts retreat there.)
The train passed through an eight-kilometer (five-mile) tunnel, and burst out into rainforest. The far side of the mountains is the weather side, so it's infinitely wetter, greyer, and greener. As Cass points out in her blog, though, still very much worth a look. Eventually the train pulled into Greymouth, which was, as the name suggests, grey (although it's actually named for the Grey River). Cass's blog has shots of it, as she spent the night there, and we spent only about 40 minutes. Then back over the mountains no less riveting for seeing them a second time and into Christchurch.
The next morning we had a few hours before our plane was to take off, so we wandered around a bit. I love Christchurch. After the very-nearly-incredible bland nastiness of Auckland, Christchurch's whimsy, quirkiness, and beauty was like a good meal when you had been led by experience to expect, frankly, sawdust. (I'm sure Auckland has its good points. I just don't appreciate what they are, is all.) Here are a couple of pics:
(If you want more photos of Christchurch, you can go here or do a Google image search.)
During our rambles, we went to the quite good Canterbury Museum, which we loved particularly a temporary exhibit called "DaVinci Machines": working models of a bunch of inventions from DaVinci's notebooks. Way cool!
Then it was on the airplane and back to Sydney. The next day (my mom and niece's last full day in Australia), I took them to the Nan Tien Temple and the Kiama Blowhole. Beautiful day for it, too bright sunshine, which was perfect for both sites (the Blowhole in particular was dazzling with rainbows and brilliant white spray).
Today I drove my mom and niece to the airport for their return journey.
I am now sad.
I recently visited Megalong Books in Leura (one of my favorite independent bookshops ever), and saw therein a book printed in the old Victorian adventure-novel style, called Pandora in the Congo, by Albert Sánchez Piñol. Being a sucker for Victorian adventure novels, I nabbed it.
It's fantastic. It's not just an adventure novel, but a really fun play on perspective, metafiction, plot twists, the life of a writer, and the nature of popular culture.
It's translated from the original Catalan, but it's a fairly fluid translation, and while there are a few typos, it's not as bad for that as it could be. And it's FUN. And interesting. And clever. And thought-provoking.
You can't get it on Amazon.com, but you can on Amazon.co.uk, and if you're in the Sydney/Blue Mountains area, you can get it from Megalong. You might even be able to persuade your local bookstore to order it in for you (the ISBN is 978 1 84195 815 6).
It made fantastic airport and hotel-room reading during my journey, and I say there's nothing wrong with that.
Due to traveling, I managed not to post a link to my Clarion buddy Michael's recently published story "Watermark". You should go read it: it's awesome and it's free! (And sorry, Michael, that it took so long for me to post a link.)
More travel posts to come, once I get over jet lag and get caught up with the laundry.
Two days ago we drove to Rotorua, a remarkable place of fantastic mists and geysers and fire and water. You can read about it here and here (scroll past the many ads on this one). It's a center of Maori culture and spirituality.
We started off by taking the waters (in this case, sitting in them, rather than drinking them that would have been yucky) at the Polynesian Spa, which I absolutely loved. The next day we went to Te Puia, which used to be called the Maori Arts and Craft Institute. It's a showcase of Maori culture, as well as a gateway to seeing one of the astounding geothermal areas. We went into the meeting house for a concert by some Maori musicians, and got a bonus! A troupe of kids from the Marquesas Islands were visiting the site, and ended up doing a set as well and I have to say, they were at least as entertaining as the Maori pros who had the gig at Te Puia. The two cultures are similar, and it was fascinating to observe the variations as well as the similarities in their music and dancing.
Here are some photos Margaret took:
Here's another one Margaret took:
"Whew," said Margaret, who found the prospect of water and mudpools climbing fences to be alarming in the extreme, and was relieved that, through the miracles of dodgy punctuation, her worries had been assuaged.
We drove back to Auckland last night (as I mentioned below, it was an ordeal). Today we went to the Auckland Museum, where we saw, among other things, a ginormous Maori canoe, beautifully carved; the volcano room; Islander art, implements, and textiles; and a huge exhibit on New Zealand military history.
Tonight as I was glancing idly at the vending machine by the elevator in our hotel, I saw these:
Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Lamb-and-mint-flavored POTATO CHIPS!!!!!
And here endeth this blog post, for what could follow that?
All during these many travels (in the midst of which I still am in Auckland, should anyone be curious), I've been obsessively checking the website www.antisf.com to see if my first published piece of speculative fiction is up yet. And tonight, after a rather harrowing evening spent driving around the back blocks of Mangere trying to make it to our hotel, I got the remarkable thrill of finding out that yes, the story is live!
It's short very short, just a couple of hundred words and FREE to go read. So please go read it! I'd love you to go read it. And if you like it, you could always email the editor and say so....
After we recovered from our days in Sydney and our epic road trip through the Blue Mountains and Southern Highlands, we spent a day holed up in Wollongong in atrocious weather (cold, windy, wet, and did I mention cold?). In a way this was probably a good thing, because it let us appreciate the next adventure all the more: up north way up north. To Cairns.
The first day was just a "check into the hotel and walk around a bit" kind of day, wherein I developed the impression that Cairns exists for providing puerile, anonymous revelry for backpackers and people who wish they were. I'm absolutely certain that there are other aspects to the town they've started construction on a big, new performing-arts center, for example but they're certainly not the first things that clamor for one's attention.
The second day, though the second day! We (and five hundred other people) took a boat out about 40km to see a piece of the Great Barrier Reef. It was chilly by Cairns standards, and intermittently grey. And the boat ride out had its moments when it was less enjoyable (I am embarrassed that I was one of the hundreds of people who tossed their cookies on the outward journey, but I have to admit I felt much better afterward; and the staff is obviously expecting the flood of, well, never mind the specifics, because they are all gloved up and handing people cups of ice cubes and laminated bags and napkins and anyway, didn't Horatio Nelson get seasick? Horatio Hornblower did, I know, but that's fiction).
Because of the cold, I'd been debating whether to actually snorkel, or just to go on the glass-bottomed boat. I got my nerve up (I hate being cold, it hurts), and went into the water.
It has to stand as one of the most remarkable and transcendent experiences of my life. (Hey, Chard, if you're reading this, let us know next time you're planning a dive trip to Cairns and we'll find a way to go with you and I can get my dive ticket.) The place where the pontoon was moored had a variety of depths, which may have been part of the reason for the variety of corals and fish. Dozens, dozens and dozens, of different animals to look at, all there in the cool turquoise (yes, it really is that color) water. One brilliantly neon little fishie got all aggro with me. I am absolutely certain the little bugger lined me up in its sights, and then rammed itself deliberately into my face mask tunk! I have no idea what it thought it was accomplishing, other than to send me a very clear "Piss off, ungainly mammal!" message.
And then. The sun came out. Oh, the colors!
Here are some photos of the sorts of things you could see through the glass-bottomed boat (which I did go on later). It's a pity the fish don't show up (they move too fast), but it's an even greater pity how monochromatic everything looks. I bet, though, that with a little bit of searching you could find some spectacular photos with all the colors.
I swam for far longer than I had intended. The main sound was my own breath whooshing through the snorkel (and the occasional ftoo! as I cleared it). I slowly swam from one spot to another in the blue and the quiet, inches from fish so big they alarmed me, or so small I could barely see them, and each one so fantastically colored you couldn't invent them. The coral waved, or sat stolid, with fish feeding or hiding or just going about their fishy business amongst the incredibly various species. And clams so big you could make horror movies about them, with their fleshy, pulsating valves (yes, two of them, "bivalve" is accurate) pumping water through.
If you ever have a chance to go snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef, you should. (Coincidentally, my friend Cass went to the Great Barrier Reef just before we did; here's her blog post about it. She actually went diving, not just snorkeling!)
The next day we spent the morning driving up into the hinterlands a bit, to a place called Kuranda. If Byron Bay and Nimbin had a love-child, and someone cleaned it up real nice, the result would be Kuranda. It's a bit whimsical (see photo below), a bit touristy, a bit leftover-hippie. Very interesting place, really. I could see myself getting famous and spending my winters each year in a cabin a little bit outside Kuranda, writing. I could.
We also stopped for a brief visit at Barron Falls and its surrounding rainforest. Even though we were there in the dry, which made the falls rather more gentle than they will be in a few months, it was still very scenic indeed. Below are some photos. (Sorry the one of my family looking at the rainforest is blurry, but there wasn't a lot of light in there.) (Incidentally, that person behind Houston is not me, it is my niece, who only looks like me.)
So anyway, then that afternoon we flew back to Sydney. And now it's chilly and grey and we're in Wollongong. It's supposed to get sunnier later. And warmer, one hopes. We're planning to go for a horseback ride.
And then, tomorrow, off again on another adventure!
This guy, see, Austin Kleon, does this amazing poetry by blacking out all but a few words in a newspaper article.
Note: first found on the ABC's arts blog.
Up early. A drive to the Blue Mountains and a nice lunch. A drive down through Oberon to Goulburn the scenery was fabulous. And a couple of roos hopped by, which was fortuitous for my niece. Then dinner at the incomparable Paragon Cafe, and a short trip to see the Big Merino. This beast is a kaiju of disturbing mien, to say the least. The photo is of its move 800 metres up the road to be closer to the highway and its putative admirers (prey?).
The interesting thing is, now that they've moved it, you can park round the back. Who would have thought that the sculptors of this distressing monstrosity had taken such care to be anatomically correct? We're not just talking testicles, my friends. These are a set of apparatus of truly global proportions. I cannot bring myself to post a photo; I recommend that should you have the fortitude you should go see this genuine wonder for yourself.
But keep a safe distance. You just never know.
Yesterday we all woke up at 5 a.m. to go meet my mom and niece at the airport. The rendezvous went without a hitch, and we got settled into the hotel in Sydney (luxury -- all the fun of Sydney without an hour-and-a-half commute each way!). That afternoon was a Sydney Symphony performance at the Opera House, and then a very nice dinner at our favorite Sydney restaurant (Redoak Boutique Beer Cafe) with good friends, and then a universal collapse (they due to jet lag, us due to fatigue).
This morning it was the hotel's really very good breakfast buffet, solemn (sung) mass at St. Mary's Cathedral (more on that in a minute), walking around the Rocks (which was unpleasantly PACKED with people so we didn't stay long), and the ferry ride to Manly, where we will decide soon on a place to eat dinner. (Manly also has at least one Internet cafe, which is why you're reading this.)
Mass was a musically fascinating experience: inside the church was some fabulous Renaissance (and earlier, and, for that matter, later) choral music. At the same time, out in the street, were the pipe bands and drums and brass bands and shouted commands of a parade honoring military
Last night we went to a jazz concert at Margaret's school. She's in the jazz band for the slightly younger kids, and I have to tell you, they really sound good. I would have loved to be in a band like that in seventh grade (ours was earnest, but inept, and directed by a teacher who had to do the best with what he had).
The kids had spent a fair bit of that day in a workshop with John Mackey, a saxophonist and teacher at the Australian National University; he especially focused on the principles of improvisation (yes, I know, you just make it up, but if you don't have at least a basic understanding of how sounds work together and how the human brain processes them, it just sounds like you don't know what you're doing). And each group that performed included a lot of improv.
Including! Margaret's first jazz solos. She did good. As in, really good.
I sometimes wonder how I'm supposed to keep up with this family of mine.
UPDATE: Just to further intensify my feelings of inadequacy, I have learned that today at Margaret's school's awards ceremony, she got awards for music, German, and science.
I don't ordinarily write creepy stuff, even mildly creepy. But with a challenge as wrong as writing about a mellified man, how could I be my usual chirpy, uplifiting self? Here's Jasoni's blog post; my creepy story is one of the comments. Ew ew ew. Now I must go and write something chirpy and uplifting to cleanse myself.
NOTE: the story is rated PG for mild coarse language and sexual references.
Van Badham, a prolific and very smart playwright with whom I am fortunate to be acquainted, has a play currently on at the Old Fitzroy Theatre. It's called Poster Girl, and it's very funny and very well-acted. (But don't just take my word for it: here's a review from aussietheatre.com, and here's another from stagenoise.com.)
It's still got a week and a half to run, so go here to buy tickets! I heartily recommend buying the "Beer, Laksa, and Show" package, because the laksa is quite nice, and if you decide you don't like the plain old beers that are available as part of the deal, you can pay another $1.60 (or so) at the bar and upgrade to a nicer one. I can't think of any reason not to spend an evening doing this, unless you live way far away from Sydney.
I've never been what you'd call seriously into technology. Geekier than average, yes; not totally without skills. But I'm definitely on the more prosaic end of the scale (although I do have friends who are absolutely poetic indeed, even mythic in their geekdom).
However, this little device makes even me break out into a tense sweat of covetousness and geekout. I'm older than I look, and I remember external 10MB hard drives that were as big as two or three major metropolitan phone books stacked up. We thought we were gods, I tell you gods! To see 8GB (in other words, about 2,400 phone books, bulk-wise) packed into something the size of a thumbnail (not to mention for sale at what looks to me like a reasonable price) just spins my brain around in several different dimensions.