Monday, June 29, 2015

Butterflies of Faerie and Hell


A week ago, I cut out six watercolors of butterflies from I think it was the NYTimes Sunday Magazine, and pasted them separately in my notebook. Then, in my spare moments, I wrote a story on each one, freehand and single draft. Here are two:

The Butterflies of Faerie

The Butterflies of Faerie are luminous in the night, invisible in the day. They are the souls of those who lived and died without consequence. As above, so below. As before, so after. Unworthy even of Limbo, too guiltless for Hell, they flit about the faery fields of the afterlife, brainless but not unhappy.
""Look! your children cry. "how lovely!: And then forget them forever.

The Butterflies of Hell

The Butterflies of Hell are burnt as black as their sins. In life, they did such things as Lepidopertera should never do. In death, they suffer forever.

The damned see them as flakes of soot. Briefly, they are less agonized than before.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Meditations on "Meditations on 'Meditations on Oysters'


It was on a bitter-cold February day that I set out on a three-block Odyssey from Seventh Street to Ninth in Center City Philadelphia. To explain how this came about, I must first write a few words about Dragonstairs Press.

Dragonstairs Press is not, as some have assumed, my vanity imprint. The truth is a bit more complex than that. Dragonstairs is wholly owned and operated by Marianne Porter, my wife. The chapbooks she assembles are issued in limited editions at affordable prices and consequently they sell out pretty fast.

As an editor, Marianne has the enviable advantage of having an in-house writer -- and one who needs only to be paid with kindness and breakfasts. Sometimes she creates chapbooks from existing materials, such as the sketches I drew while working on Chasing the Phoenix, which became the stab book, Hunting the Phoenix. Other times, she commissions a work, such as the Lizzie O'Brien story that became Tumbling.

One day, roughly a century after it was written, Marianne came upon Christopher Morley's essay, Meditations on Oysters and was charmed by it. The writing was graceful and the substance was lighter than air. Essentially, Morley took a three-block amble to lunch, jotted down a few observations about the voyage, and then went back to his office at the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger and typed it out.

Since the essay was out of both print and copyright, Marianne conceived of the possibility of reprinting it in pamphlet format. Since she had a writer at her disposal, she requested that I compose a companion essay.

Which is why the two of us were walking slowly up Sansom Street while I jotted down everything I saw in my notebook.

Now, publication day approaches for the fruits of our labor. Marianne is currently at work assembling and sewing a tĂȘte-bĂȘche (what we in the genre call Ace Doubles style) chapbook with Morley's essay on one side and my own Meditations on 'Meditations on Oysters' on the other.

That's it, up above, midway through the process of creation. Note the cultivated pearl knotted into the binding threat.

The chapbook will be issued in a numbered and autographed (by only one of the authors, obviously) edition of fifty.  It's not available yet, but when it is, you'll be able to find it on the Dragonstairs Press website, here.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

That Best-of-Year Time of Year


So far as I know, nobody has ever matched Joe Haldeman's enviable accomplishment of losing track of how many Hugos and Nebulas he has. "I know it's five of one and four of the other," he told me me some time ago. But I have no idea whether I have more Hugos or Nebulas."  (Spoiler alert: I just checked on the Inntertubes and he since won another award, bringing him up to five each.)

I have, however, achieved the semienviable state of never having any clear idea of whether I have stories in the upcoming best-of-year anthologies, and if so how many. This is the time of year they come out, so every now and then I receive a package and a pleasant surprise in the mail.

Over the past week, I've received two such anthologies: Gardner Dozois' The Year's Best Science
Fiction (the 32nd! all edited by him!) and Allan Kaster's audio anthology The Year's Top Ten Tales of Science Fiction 7.

Both include, among very good company, my own story, "Passage of Earth."

Do I sound immodest? I think it would be false not to. It would be a slap in the face to all the new writers who are looking forward to their own first appearance in one of these anthologies to pretend I didn't glory in it. Every appearance in one of these things is a big deal to me.

Also, as I said, a pleasant surprise.


Friday, June 19, 2015

Judging Books by Their Covers


Over at SF Signal, they have a regular feature they call Mind Meld, where a number of their favorite people are asked a single provocative question. Most recently it was, in essence, what are your favorite speculative book covers and why? Interestingly enough, the consensus was that the vest covers were the sort that made you want to read exactly the sort of book they illustrated.

I approve of this kind of thing because it gives me a chance to admire some talented and hard-working artists. And I was particularly pleased that one of Alvaro Zinos-Amaro's picks was the cover for my own collection The Best of Michael Swanwick.

Lee Moyer did a terrific job, as you can see above. In addition to the virtues explicated by Zinos-Amaro, there are two lightly-hidden jokes: One is the pointer that turns the word BEST into BEAST.  And the other is that on the watch-lid opening to reveal the portrait of Sir Blackthorpe Ravenscairn de Plus Precieus, is a rather heavily bearded portrait of myself.

At his point, it's traditional to say that I can take no credit for the cover. But the truth is that I can. Because while we were putting together the book, William Schafer asked if I had any suggestion for the cover artist.

My first impulse was to say I hadn't, because what the heck does a writer know about art and cover design? But then I realized that if I wound up with a bad cover, I'd have no one to blame but myself. So I suggested Lee because he'd done a strikingly beautiful cover for my earlier collection, A Geography of Unknown Lands. It came to pass and I think it's safe to say that everyone involved was more than happy with the result.

So, really, the person who has the most reason to be thankful to me for the suggestion is... me.

Thank you, Michael.

I'm very welcome.

You can find SF Signal's article here.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Night of the Salamander


One of the great pleasures of having the Mongolian Wizard series running on is that Creative Director Irene Gallo has been commissioning Greg Manchess to illustrate them.

The above illo is for "The Night of the Salamander," the first of three new stories chronicling the adventures of Ritter and Sir Toby. That makes a total of seven stories out of a tentative twenty-one.  So I'm about one-third of the way through.

Ms Gallo also posted the complete set of Mr. Manchess's illustrations to date.  Here it is:

And not that anyone asked...

When will I be writing more? As new ideas come to me. I know the general outline of the war: who lives, who dies, which side wins, and so on. And I know which deaths will hit the reader hardest. But specific incidents? No, not really.

I really should find the time to write a few more. But I've also got a novel to write, so...


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

China Daydreaming


Not all that long ago, I was on a bamboo raft in Lijiang, chatting with other tourist-rafters -- they were Chinese, and the Chinese are very friendly people -- on the river.

Today, I'm daydreaming about it.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Looking Back at The Man Who Melted Jack Dann


Eleven years ago or so, I published a brief essay, one of a series I rather unimaginatively titled, "Brief Essays," which included the following passage:

I want to discuss a fannish word game – I don't know if it has a name – that's played with the titles of science fiction novels.

If you look at a book's spine, you'll see that despite divergent typefaces the title and author tend to run together. So that instead of THE MAN WHO MELTED by Jack Dann, the eye sees THE MAN WHO MELTED JACK DANN.  Rather than THE SHEEP LOOK UP by John Brunner, one gets THE SHEEP LOOK UP JOHN BRUNNER.  (Maybe they wanted to get together for a few drinks.)  After a while, one begins to see fugitive scraps of a story spread throughout one's bookshelf, so that THE MEN INSIDE BARRY MALZBERG end up DYING INSIDE ROBERT SILVERBERG.  (And what a long, strange trip that must have been!)  If you look through your own collection of paperbacks, you'll easily find a dozen more such.

Pretty straightforward, right?

But then, a month or three ago, on Facebook Gregory Feeley recorded that long ago he had invented the game. Since nobody else has ever claimed the honor, I can only presume this is true.  Still pretty straightforward.

Meanwhile, the game got loose in the world and people who don't read science fiction are coming up with such wonders as PARADISE LOST JOHN MILTON and (of course) THE JOY OF COOKING IRMA S. ROMBAUER.  There's at least one playlist of musical groups and their songs, SQUEEZER and BLUE JEANS being a notable example.

But today I was astonished to learn that the game has acquired a name and that it is none other than The Man Who Melted Jack Dann.  If you doubt me, you could go to Wikipedia and look it up. Which fact, combined with the possibility that my little essay may have had something to do with it,  is genuinely weird.

But at least if my old pal Jack ever meets Kevin Bacon, they'll have something to talk about.

Above: Jack Dann himself, not particularly melted. I wholeheartedly recommend his novel, incidentally. Even if you're not assembling a row of books to astonish the initiated.