Because science into life doesn't go

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sleep Deprivation

I can't sleep. I'm too excited about everything.

I've just read the story written by my fellow WOTF winner, Jeff Carlson. It's called "The Frozen Sky" and it's a hard-SF fan's wet dream. It's set in Europa's frozen oceans, and is an intelligent, unrelenting screamer of a story. Read it!

Joe Jordan -- my roomie at WOTF -- has just posted over a hundred pics from the workshop and awards ceremony. Everyone looks just fabulous, darling. I suspect we're only ever going to be treated better than we were this week if we become Academy Award winning actors.

Tim Powers has just sent a very full list of all the fiction, non-fiction, plays, poetry, and films we should all watch before we die. The man's just showing off now. But that's what it's all about, eh?!

Anyway, rather than just blathering about all these fine and dandy things, I've been putting my mentally excitable state (I'm imagining atomic theory for the brain's energy levels here. Picturing ideas being fired off like photons as the brain returns to a stable state) to good use and deciding my new modus-operandi for writing. It's encapsulated by the phrase "It's the Sundays, stupid!". Yes, the seventh day will not be a day of rest or worship, but it will be accorded the necessary reverance. It will be my primary writing day!

I'm figuring it like this. Monday through Friday I kick around some ideas, develop a character and a situation, and have a plot ready to go by Saturday. Then, on Sunday, I write the entire first draft of the story in one extended sitting, only breaking for essentials. The following week I re-read the story on, say, Wednesday, and clean up the draft so it's ready for a first reader by the weekend. Rinse and repeat. If it works out I'll have fifty-two new stories each year. That sounds like a reasonable level of production to me!

Tomorrow I'm going to hunt for a local glassblowing studio so I can do some research for my next piece. I'm very excited about the combined prospect of intense heat and intellectual improvement.

Twenty-four artists at one signing. That's why we're under the "Bargains" banner!

The Inside Story

Rubio's helps turn salsa into award-winning fiction!

Right now I'm sitting in a departure lounge at Atlanta International Airport. In about an hour I'll be getting my connecting flight back to the UK. Halfway home: this seems a pretty good time to try and get down some thoughts about WOTF XXIII.

My mood is intensely bittersweet, probably erring on the bitter side right now . . . I always hate endings and this one was particularly sad. Partly because it was four in the morning when I had to leave the Sheraton Hotel -- I was knackered from not sleeping, nobody was around except Grand Prize Winner Stephen Kotowych, and I found it hard to party the night before we all went our seperate ways. On the drive to LAX with Randall, one of the Illustrator winners, I think I fell asleep mid-conversation with our driver . . .

Anyway, WOTF was amazing. Even if Charles Brown, editor of Locus, had told us repeatedly that only one or two of us were going to make it (whatever that means), that couldn't shake the world domination vibe that coursed through the class all week. If Charles' words are true then the odds for most the group are already worse because human whirlwind, Jeff Carlson, has got a book on the stands right now. Check out Plague Year, a near-future SF apocalypse tale.

Hanging with, da da da, "The Illustrators of the Future"

The workshop was held at the place where we were staying: the Sheraton Hotel, Pasadena. It's a long four-storey building with a nice pool, bar, and restaurant. Virgin Atlantic use it to house their crews, but as well as stewards and stewardesses (who I note are among the less photographically-challenged of the workforce who serve the skies), the building next door was hosting Miss Teen USA throughout the week. The combination of these forces made for a very attractive cast of guest -- and helped us geeks stand-out even more. In a weird aside, when one of the Virgin stewardesses (who happened to be a fiction writer) heard about the workshop she was dead keen to meet us. Andrea, being a canny matchmaker type, immediately suggested myself as a point-of-contact, and a little later I met Sonal in the hotel bar. She might join my writing circle, Montpelier Writers, later in the year.

Nerds meet geeks at JPL

On Sunday we got introduced to the core instructors, Tim Powers and K.D. Wentworth. Tim is a man with charisma in spades. A custom-tailored jacket allows him to carry up to a dozen cans of coke at any one time, and so long as the caffeine in his system doesn't fall below a critical point he is a wonderful speaker. He'll strut around like a Shakesperian actor -- without the ego -- offering gorgeous morsels of wisdom, before self-deprecatingly telling you that he actually did the opposite. "Good is bad" was one of the many gems that parted from his lips and made me really think about writing. Kathy is less performance driven when she speaks, but no less a teacher for it. Her list of first line bloopers was particularly memorable, and included the line: X. Through Monday they covered the fundamentals of writing, including their thoughts on setting, character, plot, and dialogue. This was probably more reinforcing existing knowledge for most the class, but I did pick-up some new advice, such as ways of making speech more naturalistic with interruptions and tangential streams.

KD and Tim. Like Mastermind with no wrong answers.

Speaking of the class, I'll just give a brief run-through of their names, and my personal assessment of their chances of success . . . only kidding. I'll keep the latter bit in my head (it's all part of the act-like-a-professional drive). So, in the order the class was twin-seated in the octagonal workshop room, we have: Tony Pi and Steve Kotowych (keep the Canadians together so Americans don't get any ideas about nationalised health services etc, I guess). Tony is a linguist from Toronto, and Steve is a man you might want around when you need a large piece of Lucite (see later). At the desk behind them sat John Burridge and Doug Texter. John is a writer from THAT group, you know, the group that can't help placing in the anthology every year, and has a penchant for singing. Doug works for a Eng. Lit. Dept. He's a classic writer guy -- unbuttoned shirts over vests, sandals, a voice thick as molasses-- except for the fact he writes spec-fic -- which he deservedly gets crucified for. Thanks for taking some of the flak, Doug. Behind them sat Ed Sevic and Damon Kaswell. Ed is a bit like Frankenstein without the bolts, green skin, and anger-management issues. His voice carries some major authority, which probably helps him get-by in Israel where he currently resides. Damon is a recent father, so he handled the sleep-deprivation issues of the workshop well.

Tim Powers tells Damon Kaswell that coca-cola is the secret handshake.

That's the left-hand side of the room done. Then, across from Damon and Ed, you get to Aliette and I, the Euro contingent. I'm great, obviously, and Aliette is a little bit greater than that on account of her Vietnamese ancestry (which trumps my Sri Lankan blood). Ahead of us were placed Joe Jordan and Andrea Kail. Joe is an amazingly gentle man for someone who works in war zones, and contrary to some rumours, doesn't snore in his sleep. Andrea works for the Conan O'Brien Show and is hard-as nails NY lady. Watching a fight almost break out in front of the JPL reception building over which coast was best convinced me never ever to cross her. Kim Zimring and some chump named Jeff Carlson had the final two places. Kim, being an MD was very useful in reviving near-dead early drafts, and I'm sure Jeff will one day rule the world. When the day comes, just remember who helped you get there, Jeff!

Charles Brown tells Aliette and I to give it up.

The week was too packed full of events to do justice to here, but -- and this is really for the benefit of the other participants -- I'll now pass around some reverie gum. Chew on these: Bob the Thai waiter who was a living lesson in overexplanation; Steve K doing good work for Steve-Kind until on the last night when he asked Andrea for the time and got much more than that back; the curious aroma of sewage that wafted through Pasadena; living on tacos; the unveiling of the artist's illustrations; the dos and don'ts of approaching editors with material e.g. don't slide your manuscript under a toilet cubicle door; searching for water after coming out of the Mars Explorer Environment Simulation at JPL; seeing mint condition pulps -- practically all written by Hubbard either in his own name or under a pen name.

A pair of althletes, or the hands of a giant mechanical beast?!

One thing I do have to write about here is the twenty-four hour writing excercise. It is common knowledge (as common as knowledge can be in the oxygen-deprived heights of spec-fic) that during the workshop the writers must produce a complete story in 24 hours. What's not so well known is how powerful this excercise can be for a slow-writer. In terms of my career, I have the feeling those twenty-four hours will be the most important in my life -- unless I do something really dumb like this.

Even writers look cool in the infra-red

The seeds of the story come from a random object that KD gives the writer, and a chat with a complete stranger. I got colorful star-shaped salt-shaker, and winded up shooting the breeze with a guy who had the word "Security" emblazoned on the back of his T-Shirt (making my opening gambit the fairly easy: what are you securing?"). Anyway, I don't want to dwell on his life-story, suffice to say he'd been through a lot as a penetentiary guard and then police officer. The biggest inspiration came from a line he gave me when talking about the US government: "You gotta feed the monster," he said. It took a while for the different elements to gel, but when they did they story just came like that - BAM! I wrote for approx. twelve hours non-stop, only breaking for the bathroom and lunch, and I feel I got something good down. That's a new approach for me. I'm workshopping the piece with my writing group in a couple of weeks, so I'll see what they say.

Right, I'm going to write a seperate post for the Awards event later. That's all.

Then we all just disappeared . . . hopefully not career-wise!

Friday, August 17, 2007

(Audio) Published!

Trawling the interweb yesterday, I noticed that Pseudopod have already put up my story, Everyone Carries A Shadow, on their site.

What are you waiting for?!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Las Vegas: City at the End of the World

Fountains of Bellagio -- spoilt by patriotic soft rock

I have a thesis about Vegas. It's not startingly original, I'm sure. But it's there nevertheless. My thesis? The rise of a city like Vegas marks the end of a civilisation.

Every aspect of Vegas is absurd, and it's only a matter of time before the contradictions at its heart send it -- and probably 21st Century civilisation -- back into the Dark Ages. Let's look at the evidence.

Lions Habitat, MGM -- don't you wish the glass would break?

One: Sin City, the entertainment capital of, not just the States, but the world, is in the middle of the bleedin' desert. Now if that's not the most epic example of suicidal tendencies, I don't know what is. Places of entertainment need copious amounts of power and water to satisfy their guests -- vacation's the time to indulge, right? Already, brown outs are a common phenomenon in Las Vegas, and with the expected growth that's only going to get worse.

Two: Vegas is growing. Walking down the Strip -- not an activity to be taken likely due to its ten mile length and hundred degree temps -- there are at least two new super hotels being built: Donald Trump is getting in on the action with the innovatively titled "Trump Hotel" -- a gold leafed affair offering condos for the very well-to-do; and whoever Wynn is, they're building an identical hotel to their first which looks like it'll be called "Encore" which doesn't sound half as good in English. Personally, I think there's some reinforcing feedback loop at work here. Each hotel begets more guests which begets more hotels which begets more guests and so on. People come here to say they've been to the world's biggest hotel/casino or highest rollercoaster which makes even more people want to come. Only some cataclysmic event will stop this loop -- something like peak oil, or global warming making living a desert untenable.

Three: To me, gambling represents the insane side to humanity. To see so many faces enthralled by the glittering lights and repetitive sounds of the roulette wheel, or the croupier's deal, or the spinning reels is scary. It's like a switch-off for the brain. Let me concentrate on this little world that I have little control of, and then I don't have to think anymore. I don't think people gamble to win money -- deep down everyone knows the odds are stacked in the house's favour. I think people gamble because they want to fantasise with the idea of winning and what they would do, safe in the knowledge it won't happen. It's a means of not living. Pretending that if the roulette ball lands on the red four then my life will change, without taking the real steps to make it change. And the more people gambling in our society, the more people sitting on the fence. Waiting for the calamity . . .

Oh no, trekkies in town!

Four: And this ones tenuous, but gives more flavour of the place. Many of the hotels have a theme. The Riveria evokes the earlier, ritzy days of the city. The Venetian brings in Venice with ridiculous gondaleers punting beneath statued pillars. The Luxor, ancient Egypt. The Excaliber, the era of Knights. And so on. All this is a means of providing a time capsule when the sands that have buried the city are dug back by future archaelogists. Have everything in one place so that nothing gets forgotton.

It's just like being in Venice . . .

I gotta say, I didn't really get into the Vegas vibe. I observed, but didn't really participate. Maybe that was more to do with me than the place. I thought about playing some poker, or pulling some one-arm bandits, but I couldn't shake off the feeling that I'd just be going through the motions if I did. Poker players seemed to be predominantly older men who smelt of stale smoke and dressed badly. The slot machine addicts seemed to be mainly women with sagging eyes and defeated looks. Maybe I shoulda played dice. The few people I chatted with weren't interested in me, and I didn't even get the opportunity to pretend to be a european banker who'd just lost a few hundred thou on the floor -- I guess my clothes gave me away. Perhaps I'd have got more involved if I gone with a crowd I already knew.

Anyway, we're staring into the abyss, people! Get ready for the Fall of Rome, The Sequel!

Michael and I