Beneath Ceaseless Skies

It’s time again for that most pleasant of tasks: announcing the publication of a new story. A new historical fantasy, “‘Or I Wil Harrie Them Out of This Land,'” will appear in the April 28 issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies (No. 198).

It’s a modest little tale of two brothers in colonial Connecticut, and their two very different characters and fates. As before, I’ll provide copious notes on the historical and genealogical sources for the story when it appears.

Now we must wait. Hurry up, time! Faster!
UPDATE APRIL 22: The e-book version is now available at Weightless Books and Amazon.

The Galaktika controversy

A surprising magazine cover
A surprising magazine cover
I kicked a hornet’s nest a week or two ago. Galaktika is a Hungarian SFF magazine, highly regarded there, with a substantial print circulation. Don’t feel uninformed; I’d never heard of it either until it showed up in a Google search on my name (vanity, vanity; yes, I know). Turns out, they’d translated and published my story, “Sinseerly A Friend & Yr. Obed’t,” as “Tisztelltel szolg’, egy barát” — without my involvement, permission, or even knowledge.

Well, I emailed the publisher to complain (still no response after almost three weeks and multiple resends). I contacted another author whose name appears on the same cover — his story had also been pirated. I posted about it on an online writers group I belong to; other writers reported their experiences; and now a Hungarian journalist has weighed in. The article is in Magyar, but there’s an English summary at the end.

It’s a big mess, for sure. But I hope that, in the end, Galaktika will reform — although the comment from the editor-in-chief suggests that that may be unlikely. But I can still hope, right?
UPDATE 31 MARCH: The Hungarian Globe website now has an English version of the original story, plus an update at the end.

Up and coming!

Hey boys'n'girls, be the first in your neighborhood to get one!
Hey boys’n’girls, be the first in your neighborhood to get one!

So there’s this new book out. Up and coming: Stories by the 2016 Campbell-eligible authors. There’s over a million words of fiction in it, and a bit less than 8000 of them are mine.

The John W. Campbell Award is for the best new SFF writer; it’s presented at the same ceremony as the Hugo awards, although it is not itself a Hugo. “New” is defined as making one’s first professional sale in the last two years; in this case, 2014 or 2015 — so this is my first year of eligibility. “Best” is defined by however nominators and voters choose to define it.

The anthology includes work by most of the eligible authors, some 100-odd of them. (For a complete list, see Writertopia.) It’s the result of a colossal, generous, and heroic effort by S.L. Huang and Kurt Hunt, and is available, free of charge, from now until March 31, the deadline for Campbell nominations.

Nightstand VII

Yet another stack of books
Yet another stack of books

I sold a story (maybe I’ll tell you about it sometime) and as a little reward to myself (that story was a lot of work) I bought some beautiful things. To wit:

Hermione Eyre. Viper wine. Early one morning, sitting in the lounge at Readercon with my laptop, I read a review of this book at The Hysterical Hamster, and I knew, I just knew, I had to read it. I haven’t been disappointed.

John Bakeless. Turncoats, traitors, and heroes: Espionage in the American Revolution. I saw this at the Park Service bookstore at the Saratoga battlefield. I didn’t buy it then, but soon it was clear that I’d need it for research on a story that I’ve been turning over in my head.

S.P. Somtow. Jasmine nights. I recently borrowed Jo Walton’s What makes this book so great from the library. Her enthusiasm is so contagious that I made a list of must-have books.

Robert J. Antony. Like froth floating on the sea: The world of pirates and seafarers in late imperial South China. Years ago (how many? Three? Five? More? Years, I tell you!) I requested this book at the Library of Congress, only to be told that its status was “Internal loan: overdue.” I requested it again a year or two later, same status. And a few months ago: same. What…? Why? Turns out, members of Congress are allowed to borrow from the collection — fair enough, it’s their library — but there’s no mechanism in place to make them bring the book back. Obviously, I had no choice but to buy my own copy.

Hildegarde Dolson. The great Oildorado: The gaudy and turbulent years of the first oil rush: Pennsylvania 1859–1880. I consulted this book at the Library of Congress and enjoyed it so much I wanted to have a copy. And now I do.

John M. Ford. The dragon waiting. Jo Walton’s description of this book (Byzantines! Medicis! Leonardo! Vampires! Dragons!) was so intoxicating that naturally I bought it.

John H. Rhodehamel (editor). The American Revolution: Writings from the War of Independence. The best way, I’ve found, to write convincing period dialog is to read so much prose from that period that you start sounding that way yourself.

Terry Bisson. Fire on the mountain. See Somtow and Ford above.

A ship underground

The blue hardhats are archeologists.
The blue hardhats are archeologists.

There’s something about things underground — invisible, chthonic, potentially revenant — that excites the imagination. Treasure is all very well, but buried treasure! The pulse quickens. Entire vanished civilizations might lie underfoot; who can know? Stranger things might be found, and have been: buried armies, buried books, buried voids that had been bodies. It was once believed, and by the learned, not the ignorant, that metals grew underground, seeds of gold that, nourished by rising vapors, grew like vegetable roots and stems, into veins and pockets of mineral wealth. And once mined, the gold, if the earth were left fallow, would grow again. Perhaps it could even be encouraged to grow, as we encourage growth above ground with manure and water. Such was the alchemists’ dream; we too dream strange thoughts and should not scoff.

Last Tuesday, the coldest day of winter so far, I went down to the waterfront, braving the below-zero windchill, to see what the upturned soil had revealed this time. This area of Alexandria was once part of the bed of the Potomac River. An eighteenth-century landfill project to improve the harbor moved the shoreline about two blocks eastwards; the present Lee Street was formerly named Water Street, being the last before the riverside.

The excavation at 220 South Union Street is the fruit of the city’s long-delayed waterfront redevelopment plan. John Carlyle’s 1755 warehouse (site of the city’s first brewery in 1770) has already been unearthed, as well as a privy and the usual miscellaneous odds and ends — coins, buttons, broken crockery. Then about a third of one side of a scuttled ship turned up.

This was not unexpected. Then as now, landfills used whatever was at hand and cheap. Boat don’t float? In it goes! The construction site was opened to the public for two hours so that folks could come and gawk at this ship that foundered down into the earth, blackened timbers like the ribs of some fallen Titan, its long, inevitable journey interrupted by a return to sunlight and the upper airs.

Nightstand VI

Books from the Duncan book sale
Books from the Duncan book sale

Twice a year, the Friends of the Duncan Library have a book sale; the last two hours of the last day of the sale are $5 per bag. I ask you, what breathing soul could resist such an opportunity?

Jacques Le Goff. Medieval civilization, 400–1500. Let’s all denounce the disparagement of the so-called Dark Ages. It’s a lie! These years were one of the most fertile and inventive periods of European culture — but the Enlightenment needed an enemy to denounce (and that era was another incredible time of reinvention and innovation), so Dark it had to be.

Iona Opie and Moira Tatem. A dictionary of superstitions. Fascinating! People will believe the darnedest nonsense, won’t they? The ones documented here (the book consists almost entirely of quotations, with the occasional commentary) are all European superstitions, and indeed mostly British.

Peter Ackroyd. Dickens. Let me confess here that I actually enjoy Ackroyd’s nonfiction more than his fiction. And, even in his fiction, it’s the parts the he didn’t invent himself that I like best.

Adrienne Mayor. The poison king: The life and legend of Mithradates, Rome’s deadliest enemy. I’d already read a library copy of this, but it costs me nothing to pop it into the bag. Great stuff, this!

Phyllis Grosskurth. Byron: The flawed angel. Perhaps the first international celebrity in the modern mold — he practically invented celebrity single-handed. His wit still bites as sharply as ever. It draws blood.

John Keegan. The face of battle. His A history of warfare is excellent and notable for its unusual sensibility. He neither celebrates nor condemns warfare; he documents its craft.

Georgette Heyer. Powder and patch. I will not call her Regency novels a guilty pleasure. They are all pleasure, unadulterated.

Brad Warner. Hardcore zen: Punk rock, monster movies and the truth about reality. I forget how I came across his blog but I’ve been reading it for years now. To me, one of Zen’s most admirable qualities is its plain pragmatism, and Warner exhibits that same practical lack of pretense in every sentence.

Anne Wroe. Pontius Pilate. I recall reading good reviews of this book when it came out. Also, I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could spin a book-length biography out of a few sentences in Josephus and the gospels, a handful of ancient coins, and a fragmentary inscription or two.

Philip Kapleau. Zen: The merging of east and west. I found his The three pillars of Zen to be informative and admonitory, even though it seemed to be cobbled together out of odds and ends. This volume is also not so much a book as a congeries, but it extends and enlarges many of the themes of the earlier one.

C.V. Wedgwood. Thomas Wentworth, first Earl of Strafford, 1533–1641: A revaluation. It’s written by Ms. Wedgwood. What more do you need to know? Of course you have to read any book by that most concisely evocative of historians.

William Gates. An outline of dictionary of Maya glyphs. As scholarship, this is hideously outdated. But it’s chockfull of detailed renderings of perhaps the most peculiar and beautiful writing system ever devised.

PLUS! Extra bonus photo!

A big stack of Dumas's Jefferson biography
A big stack of Dumas’s Jefferson biography

I snapped up four of the six volumes of Malone Dumas’s magisterial biography of Jefferson at the Duncan book sale. I found the two missing volumes (four and five, as it happens) at the Book Bank, the local used book store, where folks actually care about books instead of treating them as product to move, like so much shampoo or jumbo bags of dog biscuits. I now have about $6 of store credit left from this summer’s grand clearing-out of books that (let’s face it) I was never going to glance at again. What I did with the rest of the store credit is perhaps evident elsewhere here.

Nightstand V

Stacks of books are everywhere in the house.
Stacks of books are everywhere in the house.

Books, books, beautiful books. From bottom to top:

Peter T. Leeson. The invisible hook: The hidden economics of pirates. The thesis is that pirate crews were organized as they were (his focus is on the 18th century Caribbean) because economic forces made them so. I believe that “economic forces” are as real as fairy tales, but the arguments here are worthwhile.

Orhan Pamuk. My name is Red. I am trying this again solely on the strength of Helen Dewitt‘s regard for it.

Samuel R. Delany. About writing: Seven essays, four letters, and five interviews. I am, slowly, expensively, acquiring a reading copy of every Delany title. The chance to speak with him was the highlight of Readercon earlier this month.

David Mitchell. The bone clocks. Borrowed from the library; too slight an achievement to want to own. I enjoyed it — although the swamp of exposition (and it’s exposition that relies more on Portentous Capitalization than story or even logic) in part five nearly drowned me. But the plain, clear humanity of part six redeemed the tale for me.

John Clute. Pardon this intrusion: Fantastika in the world storm. Another purchase at Readercon, another fine talk from the author there.

Tom McCarthy. C. I picked this up at a friends-of-the-library sale. I haven’t read it yet, but the first page and the flap blurb make it appealing.

Samuel R. Delany. Phallos. Wesleyan University Press had a table in the dealers’ room at Readercon, with special discounts. My cash was limited, or I would have filled my suitcase.

Kenneth Barrett. 22 walks in Bangkok: Exploring the city’s historic back lanes and byways. One of the best ways to learn a culture is just to walk around.

Greer Gilman. Cry murder! in a small voice. My final Readercon splurge. A novella chapbook about — a murder mystery starring Ben Jonson! Truly, I ask you, who could resist?

Nightstand IV

More books on a chair.
More books on a chair.

John S. Farmer. A dictionary of slang: An alphabetical history of colloquial, unorthodox, underground and vulgar English. (1980 reprint of Slang and its analogues, 1890). Mostly eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century slang, with an emphasis on the London underworld. In two fat volumes! As great for browsing as it is for reference (“tip us your flipper” = give me your hand: vital information for all time travelers). My only complaint is that the organization is eccentric. Words are gathered together by subject, under a headword that the editor judged to be, I suppose, the most common term — so that, for example, all terms for the female pudenda are listed under Monosyllable (!). Copious cross-references could have cured this defect, but they are sparse.

Malcolm Balen. The secret history of the South Sea bubble: The world’s first great financial scandal. I don’t know how secret any of this actually is, but it’s fascinating to see all the threads gathered together and laid out plainly.

Lapham’s quarterly, volume 5, number 3: Magic shows. At a recent Friends of the Library book sale, I saw a box under the table with a nearly complete run of this fine publication, many of them still in shrink-wrap. Naturally, I snapped them up; at $5 a bag (it was the last day), how can you go wrong?

James Tiptree, Jr. Her smoke rose up forever. I recently read Julie Phillips’s fine biography, James Tiptree, Jr.: The double life of Alice B. Sheldon. Rereading the stories now, there’s an eerie sensation of seeing through the surface of the fiction and catching elusive glimpses of something else lurking there, something darker, sadder, more desperate, more painful than any possible endurance.


And the reviews are in

Some readers have been kind enough to post their reactions to my story in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

First up is a short notice from Michelle Ristuccia at Tangent Online. Thanks, Michelle!

Then we have Charles Payseur at his site Quick Sip Reviews. I appreciate your kind words, Charles.

And the latest is from the estimable Lois Tilton at Locus Online. And hey, she likes it! She really likes it! Enough to give it one of the two “recommended” tags allotted in this batch of eighteen stories. Thank you, Lois. I am beyond thrilled.

Where do stories come from?

Where do stories come from? Of course, the real answer is: You don’t want to know. But in this case I’m going to tell you anyway.

One morning, towards dawn, I was lying abed half asleep when these sentences began circulating in my head:

Ryan North was no magistrate. Why, he was not even a lawman. If people were free to come to him with a dispute, he was just as free to offer an opinion; and if they chose to act on it, that was their own business.


Why does this happen? I don’t know; it just does, more often in the shower than in bed, but usually when I’m not fully and lucidly awake. I’ve always assumed that everyone encounters these insistent prose attacks (or, more rarely, spells of verse), but I could be mistaken. In any case, after a while I got up and wrote them down.

But who was this Ryan North? When I was actually awake, I recognized him as the author of the brilliant Dinosaur Comics, so I renamed him after an ancestor I’d been researching.

Marguerite Yourcenar, speaking in an interview about her novel The Abyss (L’oeuvre au noir), said:

To begin with, I was interested in the histories of the families and towns in the area where I had grown up. Then I realized that these histories might be combined so as to recreate a microcosm.

One of my discoveries was a book from my father’s family library entitled Mémoires anonymes sur les troubles des Pays-Bas, a nineteenth-century reprint of a work written in Old French. […] At that time I also examined certain genealogical documents, some of which I still have while others were lost in 1944 or 1945. In these documents I ran across a person named Zeno, another named Vinine, and still another named Jacqueline Bell. These names, which were not uncommon in Flanders at that time, started me dreaming, but what I had in mind at that point seems to have been a series of character portraits spanning several generations; this would have included sketches of men and women who came and went quietly from this earth, the sort of people to whom Barrès used to refer to as “cemetery fodder,” as well as people who developed their gifts to the full.



In my case, I seemed to have conceived then of Stutley as more like the character who eventually became J.E. Chambers. He was to have been a sort of freelance inquirer into weird events — ghosts and ghouls and creepy critters — that troubled the empty landscapes of early nineteenth century New York and Pennsylvania. I have these notes scribbled down right under the opening sentences:

When would 2nd great awake have reached this area?
Prophets & charlatans — [what year was lake monster hoax?]
It was a time of prophets and charlatans, of great migrations of peoples and the long + peculiar work of becoming Americans.
What year was phalanstery constructed? Brook Farm?
Shakers must have passed though this area ==> map of villages? Ohio + NY certainly
Perhaps he is a graduate of Brown College — ? He is from Providence/North Providence/Kingstowne/Little Rest in any case.


Stories have a habit of insisting on taking their own turns and meanders independently of my own feeble wishes for them.

This one did too.

I don’t recall where I first read of Jemima Wilkinson, but right away I found her fascinating. I also don’t recall how she found her way into this story, although an inkling of it is plain enough in the notes transcribed above. More remarkable, though, is Nebuchadnezzar/Amos Walker/Jonah Northup. One evening, I sat down at the computer and typed: He calls himself Jonah now, and the whole last movement of the story unreeled almost on its own, although it also required some research about artificial lighting, pens and inks, agricultural prices, underground railway activity in western Pennsylvania, and quotations from the you-know-what, which took a little while.

Before this spate of ventriloquism, he had been more of a prop than a character, and now his story echoed backwards, as it were, through the draft, transforming the resolution of the Northup-Chambers story, which at that point just dwindled away more than it ended, and also requiring more material on Stutley’s childhood and his first encounter with the visitor (at that time still a plural visitors), as well as numerous other, smaller adjustments. Here I pass over without comment many hours of drafting and revising.

After a few of the usual form-letter rejections, Scott Andrews at Beneath Ceaseless Skies — a market I’d never submitted to before — rejected it with a very perceptive note, adding that he’d like to see it again it I did end up revising it.

His remarks brought into focus a vague dissatisfaction — and so I rearranged some passages, amputated some others, added new sentences and paragraphs, and pruned away, here and there, some excess rhetorical flourishes. I also corrected some lighting technology anachronisms (ignorance, Madam, pure ignorance), and set right certain idiocies concerning the handling of rowboats (what could I have been thinking?). Despite the many additions, the cuts brought the word count down by nearly a thousand. This took about a week; I set it aside for three weeks, then looked at it again; I made some more changes (mostly cuts).

I sent it back.