Wetmachine Blog: Writing

Novel and other writing updates

Virginia Foster Durr and the Salvation of Alabama

A review of Freedom Writer: Virginia Foster Durr, Letters from the Civil Rights Years , edited by Patricia Sullivan.

Virginia Durr (1903-1999), a stalwart of the civil rights movement who preferred to keep out of the spotlight for personal, pragmatic and political reasons, was a hero on the grand scale, as was her husband Clifford Durr (1899 – 1975).

Having both been born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama, into reasonably prominent families, the Durrs moved as newlyweds to Washington DC, where Clifford, a lawyer, worked in the FDR administration during the heady days of the New Deal. Virginia, in addition to giving birth to and raising five children, one of whom died in infancy, became active in progressive politics. The Durr family lived near the capital city for nearly twenty years, and then, for reasons that reflect well on both of them[1], they returned to Montgomery, where, at great personal cost, over the next twenty five years they became two of the most prominent white activists for the rights of African Americans. The more one learns about this remarkable couple, the more their courage and unshakable decency leave one awestruck.

Through all those years in Montgomery, as Virginia became sucked up in the vortex of the epochal changes in social relations in the South, she wrote letters. Some of her letters were to famous people she knew quite well (Eleanor Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Hugo Black, Jessica Mitford); others were to people you’ve probably never heard of. Her letters were by turns hysterically funny, profound, amazingly politically astute, eloquent, angry, or philosophical, but they were always passionate and always written in as distinctive a literary voice as you’re likely to encounter anywhere. They are marvels of English expository writing.

Freedom Writer, published in 2003, includes about 100 of such letters, presented in chronological order, grouped into four sections corresponding to periods in the civil rights movement. Patricia Sullivan (whose book Lift Every Voice, a history of the NAACP I reviewed here) edited the book. She provides a 26 page biographical introduction and introductions (of four or five pages each) to each of the four sections, in which she explains the wider context of the time. Sullivan also provides the occasional footnote to identify people or events referred to in the letters, and dozens of short introductions to particular letters that help the reader understand the context that the letter’s recipient would have. There is a short epilogue.

Virginia Durr was a remarkable and historically important woman, and Freedom Writer is a magnificent book. I cannot recommend it highly enough. You should buy a copy and read it right now.
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Also posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", I Fear These Things, My Thoughts Exactly | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Pynchon, Hofstadter, David Foster Wallace and Me: Note on the Frustration of Trying to Create a Pre-Singularity, Post-Postmodern Literature

A little while ago I put out a tweet on twitter asking for advice about how to make my books known to readers who gravitate to writers like Stanislaw Lem, Douglas Hofstadter, Vladimir Nabokov (Pale Fire in particular), Borges, Pynchon, etc.

Of course my tweet had a purpose and a meta-purpose; the purpose was to actually solicit ideas about how to make my book known to readers of those authors, and the meta-purposed was to advertise my books to people searching for tweets on Pynchon, Borges, Pale Fire, etc. In other words my question was merely a hook into which to insert keywords — a cynical, albeit widespread, practice. In fact, my trolling for tweet-stream readers was my primary aim, I suspect. I didn’t really expect much in the way of answers, or at least of original answers.

But one fellow replied with words to the effect, “Blog about those authors and what you find compelling about them, then tweet about your blog post. People will follow the connection to your novels.”

Now, that is not a dazzingly original suggestion, but oddly enough it turns out that in my hundreds of posts here on Wetmachine and elsewhere, I’ve hardly ever written about what it is in literature that I think is important, and what I’m trying to do with my books.

So, below the fold, a few observations.
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Also posted in Memology, My Thoughts Exactly, Wetware | Comments closed

Remembering Tom West, the Original Geek Rock Star

I was saddened to learn of the passing last week of Tom West, the engineer/hacker who was the main focus of Tracy Kidder’s 1981 book The Soul of a New Machine. Tom was 71. Boston.com published a nice obituary; there were also notices in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and other places.

From the Boston.com article:

 

Thirty years ago, Tom West was thrust into a category of one, a famous computer engineer, with the publication of “The Soul of a New Machine.’’

Tracy Kidder’s book, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and is taught in business classes and journalism schools, chronicled Mr. West’s role leading a team that built a refined version of a 32-bit minicomputer at a key juncture for the computer industry and his employer, Data General of Westborough.

The book’s success turned a quirky, brilliant, private, and largely self-taught man into a somewhat reluctant guru.

 

I call Tom by his first name because I knew him, and that’s what I called him. In fact for a short while early in my career I worked quite closely with him — at the tail end of my four year stint at Data General.

As Soul of a New Machine amply demonstrates, West was a compelling figure. Everybody agrees he was quirky and brilliant; some people have mentioned his  being difficult or “prickly”. I have to say that I don’t remember a prickly side to the man. He could be abrupt, sure. Direct. Economical of speech. But if he had a temper or was harsh or unfair, I either never saw it or have since forgotten about it. I just remember that I really liked him.

Although I can’t claim to have been great friends with the man — I don’t know if he would even have remembered my name — he made a deep impression on me. When I wrote the novella Cheap Complex Devices in 2003 — about twenty years since I had worked with Tom West at Data General — a quirky, brilliant and (I think) extremely funny character named Tom Best showed up all through it. I can’t take much credit for Tom Best’s funny lines, however, since I stole most of them from Tom W. Read More »

Also posted in Hardware, Memology, My Thoughts Exactly, Software, Wetware | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments (Comments closed)

Cage Match! Late to his Own Funeral!

So today’s my day in the Blog Tour De Force Cage, and I overslept! Oy! What a way to start one’s mixed martial arts career! So, without further ado, here’s a big hello and best wishes to my esteemed opponent Kimberly Kinrade and her poignant story, poem, dream collection about a love gone violently off the rails, Bits of You & Pieces of Me.

Blog Tour de Force Cage Match

Hope I don't get my lights punched out

Representing me in the ring is my Acts of the Apostles, a nanopunk biopunk cypberpunk thriller in the “Neal Stephenson meets Flannery O’Connor and Michael Crichton and Joseph Conrad” tradition, or as Hemos said on Sashdot oh so many years ago, “What Tom Clancy would write if he were smart”.

I’ll update this post as the day goes on, after coffee, but I think I’ had better get this up on my site soon, lest I lose this match by default!

Everybody who comments here today gets a free ebook version of Acts. Be sure to leave me an email addy. One lucky reader gets ebook versions of all three of my books, and a signed, printed copy of any one of my titles. More anon! Let the pummeling commence resume.

UPDATE 4/21: My day in the cage is over. I’m grateful for all the love in the comments. It was quite a showing of support. Alas, I did get my ass pretty roundly & soundly kicked by new Champeen Kimberly, but all in all I’m happy with the turnout. I’ll be sending out coupons today to people who posted yesterday. You can redeem them for a free ebook version of Acts of the Apostles from Smashwords.com in the ebook format of your choice. Free ebook giveaway is now over; if you missed out feel free to buy a copy. They’re cheap!

Also posted in I Fear These Things, Memology, My Thoughts Exactly | 79 Comments (Comments closed)

He wakes up, only to jump into deadly cage!

Blog Tour de Force Cage Match

Hope I don't get my lights punched out

For a bunch of reasons, most of them bogus, I haven’t been around this here blog too much lately–as all 7 of my regular readers know.  Please expect some more posting soon, but meanwhile, just wanted to give you a heads up about a so-called cage match that I’ll be jousting in next week.

It’s a simple contest: on each of  five days in a row starting Monday, a pair of authors will put up blog posts on their own sites about the cage match. Whichever of the two authors gets the most comments on their blog wins that day’s match. On the sixth day, the two highest vote getters go against each other in a championship. Every visitor who makes a relevant comment wins a free ebook from that site. One grand prize winner will get a Kindle preloaded with 12 ebooks.

My match with be on Wednesday, April 20th, where I’ll be going against Kimberly Kinrade, whose debut work of fiction, “Bits of You & Pieces of Me“, is a kaleidoscopic collection of stories, poems and fragments informed by a deep emotional melange of loss, betrayal and hope. Anybody with a heart will relate to it.

Most of the other writers taking part in this promotion are using an amped-up Mohamad Ali -type patter talking about how they’re going to win their competition. That’s fun enough, but not really my style. I do hope you’ll stop by Tuesday Wednesday and leave a comment; I’d appreciate it. If you comment you’ll get a coupon for a free ebook, and some lucky person will get one of my signed (paper) books & copies of all three of my ebooks. Check out the BlogTourdeForce website for more on the other books and authors. Hope to see you Wednesday.

UPDATE: in an earlier draft I said my cage match bout on April 20th would be on Tuesday. But it’s Wednesday. One of these days I’m going to learn to read a calendar. Really.

Also posted in General, My Thoughts Exactly | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Pioneering Fantasy Author Brian Rathbone talks with Wetmachine about the Future of Publishing

I met Brian Rathbone, author of the World of Godsland fantasy series,  on Twitter. I posted something relating to self-publishing, he answered, and pretty soon we were exchanging emails. I found that although I had learned a lot in more than ten years of self-publishing, there were lots of new trends that I had kind of missed. One of them being Twitter itself, which I was not making very good use of, and another being ebook publishing & distributing (when I met Brian, I had about 250 followers on twitter and he had 15,000. I had given away tens of thousands of free ebooks but sold only a few dozens of them). It was Brian who turned me onto Smashwords, which I now use to distribute my Acts of the Apostles to half a dozen ebook retailers, including Apple and Barnes & Noble. (See my interview with Smashwords founder Mark Coker here).

Brian is a very creative user of social media, and also of “podiobooks” — self-recorded audiobooks (which he explains below). He’s not only a good writer and creative self-publisher, he’s also an extremely nice fellow. I encourage you to check out his interview below the fold, and by all means, buy one of his books!

Brian joins the roster of luminaries interviewed here on Wetmachine about the future of publishing that includes Smashwords’ Mark Coker, Writer’s Digest honcho emeritus Jane Friedman, book designer extraordinaire Joel Friedlander, and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Geraldine Brooks.

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Also posted in Memology, My Thoughts Exactly, Software | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

You’re Right, Bruce Sterling: I *am* the future of printed fiction. Let’s discuss at SXSW!

A few months ago I blogged about my ten-or-so year long [career|hobby| pipe-dream|unhealthy obsession] as an itinerant peddler of my self-published nanopunky cyberpunky biopunky novel and novellas. That post was called Traveling Self-Publishing Geek Novelist Blues: the Defcon Variations.

A few weeks after I had posted this bit, the cyberpunk celebrity/novelist Bruce Sterling picked up on it, writing in an entry about me in his beyond the beyond blog entitled “The Future of Printed Fiction“. (Actually he didn’t write a blog entry about me — he copy/pasted my Wetmachine post and inserted into it a few oracular comments of his own.)

It’s all about being a make-do gypsy at the fringes of the web conference scene,” Sterling said in his prefatory remarks. “Gothic High-Tech, Favela Chic”.

I’ve been pondering that pronouncement (and others like it that he sprinkled through post by way of annotation) for a few months now (his post is dated October 14, 2010). Below the fold, I make an attempt at parsing them. I do detect a general tone of condescension in Sterling’s comments. Which, y’know, who cares. And furthermore I’m not even sure about that, that his comments are condescending. It seems like he’s making fun of me, but maybe he’s doing straight reporting or maybe he’s free-associating/scat-singing, like a jazz musician or person with Tourettes; I can’t really tell and anyway I’m not well-placed to judge, inasmuch as the subject is my life’s work. Mostly I’m grateful that Sterling blogged about me at all, because he has legions of fans & I got a nice jolt of web traffic and a mini-spike in book sales after he anointed me The Future of Printed Fiction. So thanks, Bruce.

In related news, both Sterling and I are slated to be in Austin, Texas next March for SXSW, the mega indie artist hipster conclave, at which event he will be giving a keynote talk to the multitudes and I’ll be on a panel (presumably before a much smaller and less adoring audience than Sterling’s) entitled “The Self-Publishing Novelist: Report from the Trenches

Since Bruce & I will both be at SXSW, maybe I’ll get a chance to chat with him & ask him what his comments meant. Or, maybe, just maybe, when I get to SXSW & plop myself down in a chair to listen to his opening address I’ll discover that I’m the subject of his keynote talk, which will be about nothing other than, yes THE FUTURE OF PRINTED FICTION & how I, Sundman is it! And I will find myself thereby catapulted into cyberbionanonovelist superstardom, right alongside Bruce Himself and William Gibson and what’s his face, who wrote Cryptonomicon and is now working some newfangled space-age post-fiction with my friend Nicki Galland and that other guy who wrote the book about little nanomachines taking over your mind — no, not Acts of the Apostles , the other one. Probably not, I realize that. But if you’re reading this, Bruce, and would like to join me for a cuppa whatever, please do  have your people call my people.

While I do confess to a bit of bewilderment about what Sterling is actually saying about me in his post, I think the gist is that printed (fiction) books are rapidly becoming “collector” artifacts for niche and rapidly shrinking communities of readers, like classic 35MM film cameras (Pentax, Minolta, Leica, Hasselblad. . .) that once commanded premiums in specialty stores and now go for a few bucks at flea markets.

Who knows, he may be right about that.

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Also posted in Memology, My Thoughts Exactly, Software | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments (Comments closed)

Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Geraldine Brooks talks with Wetmachine about the future of publishing

Today Wetmachine talks with Geraldine Brooks, whose novel March won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2006, about trends in publishing. She joins the roster of Wetmachine “Whither Publishing?” interviewees including Writer’s Digest impresaria Jane Friedman,  ebook pioneer Mark Coker of Smashwords.com, and book designer extraordinaire Joel Friedlander.

I met Geraldine Brooks when we were seated next to each other at a small dinner party about two months ago. (Geraldine and her husband Tony Horwitz (also a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize — his is for journalism) and I have many mutual friends, including my wife Betty, who directs the lecture series at the Vineyard Haven Public Library, where Tony has been a speaker and Geraldine is on the hook for a talk next year.)

At that dinner party Geraldine and I discovered that we had many similar interests, including a shared taste for dystopian science fiction novels — the very kind of book I write. I offered to drop off a few copies of my books at her house and she said, “Oh, please do.” So the next day I hoped on my bicycle and rode to the address she had given me, and that’s how I discovered where she lived and that I had met her young son Bizu some 9 months earlier, when the fire truck to which I’m assigned, T___ 651, was parked in front of their house during a routine “furnace backfire” call. When I got home from dropping off my books I sent Geraldine the write-up in my diary about that fire call, and she was thrilled to get it, saying “That’s fantastic.  Thank you so much for sending this. I remember that day quite vividly.  I thought, that’s a very nice man out there, letting Bizu ramble away at him..”

Since then Geraldine & I have become  pals. I think the moral of the story is, if you want to get on the good side of a famous writer and get her to answer questions for your insignificant little blog, let her observe you being nice to her child without having any idea who he is or that she’s observing you through the window.

I’ve attached that diary entry at the end of the interview. Read More »

Also posted in Firefighting, My Thoughts Exactly | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Book designer and self-publishing guru Joel Friedlander talks with Wetmachine about the future of publishing

As part of our continuing series of interviews with movers & shakers in the rapidly changing world of publishing, Wetmachine today talks with Joel Friedlander, proprietor of Marin Bookworks and creator & curator of the fantastically helpful and interesting site The Book Designer. Joel’s a long-time self-publisher and consultant to other self-publishers. He knows a lot and he’s funny and helpful. See my questions and his answers below the fold.

Joel joins Jane Friedman, head honcho emeritus of Writer’s Digest, and Mark Coker, creator of epub publishing powerhouse Smashwords.com in Wetmachine’s “Whither Publishing” interview series. Read More »

Also posted in My Thoughts Exactly, Software | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Guest Post: Chris Kelly on Putting the “punk” into Steampunk

Recently Chris Kelly (@indiechris on twitter) interviewed me on his site Dun Scaith about so-called “biopunk” fiction. Today I’ve invited Chris to tell us a bit about one of the genres he writes in–Steampunk.  This is a genre that, it seems to me, erupted after the publication of The Difference Engine, by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. It’s a kind of alternate history generally set in Victorian times, when steam engines were a dominant technology –before the widespread adoption of, for example, internal combustion engines, telephones, or electricity. It imagines what might have happened if technologies had evolved differently — say, if computers had developed without electricity. I don’t have too much familiarity with this genre, myself, but I do usually attend the Arisia SF convention each year, and I can tell you that as a subject area for discussion, and as an influence on fashion and so forth, Steampunk has a greater influence in some parts of SF fandom than does futurism or “outer space”. It really does get you to wondering, “what if?”.

Below the fold, Chris talks about a particular aspect of the steampunk aesthetic: what makes it “punk”. So without further ado, take it away, Chris!

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