WFC 2011

I’m in Los Angeles visiting friends & doing a whirlwind tour of favorite places to Get Stuff — lunch at Porto’s Cuban Bakery, clothes shopping at It’s A Wrap used studio wardrobe. I’m trying very hard not to visit a Del Taco. I miss Del Taco. I’m also glad there isn’t one anywhere near me in the Bay Area.

Not all that much to report about World Fantasy Con, to be honest. The location left a lot to be desired, being generic and extremely decentralized. Mostly I hung out and talked with people.

My reading was sparsely though enthusiastically attended, and notable mostly because when I opened my manila folder take out my stories for the reading, they weren’t in there. I told the audience this and then went ahead and did the reading anyhow, from memory. Once again all that overachieving OCD practice pays off.

I recorded the reading (or whatever you want to call it), but since it’s stuff that’s already up here, I’m not going to post it.

La Jolla Writers Conference this weekend. Looking forward to it!

Meantime, Happy Halloween, everybody!

Reading @ WFC

This year’s World Fantasy Convention in San Diego has finally published its programming schedule. I’ll be giving a reading on Saturday, Oct. 29, at 5:30 PM in Pacific 4/5.

Apart from that, the most likely places to find me are at the bar or in the hotel lobby.

If you’re at the con, come say hi!

E-Readers – Not Quite There Yet (pt. 2)

You can't call the ToC anything but "Table of Contents" on an e-reader

In the print version I called the chapter listing “Cantos” instead of “Table of Contents,” to emphasize the connection to Dante, cue the reader that the prose is often metered, announce something of my intent, and make the reader aware that there are 33 of them, as in Dante. Can’t call the ToC anything but “Table of Contents” in an e-reader.

None of these by themselves are that big a deal. And even in the aggregate they’re hardly cause for rending my garments and gnashing my teeth. So what am I bitching about?

I’m bitching because e-readers emphasize content. We use that word all the time. I need some content. It reinforces a view of a novel as information. And while a novel is information, the sequence of words isn’t the only way to convey it. The arrangement, look, feel, and placement of the words conveys information too. Having choices about layout and typography not only lets an author achieve an effect, it lets a publisher give a book its own identity. That’s why the job of Art Director exists.

Small-capped dialog from a nonhuman character? Not on an e-reader!

Let me hasten to say that despite what the above may imply, I am extremely happy with the e-book of Mortality Bridge. I worked closely with the layout artist to find other ways to achieve what I wanted, and by and large I do’t believe that the compromises we had to make compromised the integrity of the book in any way. What it loses is some of the fingerprint I tried to bring to the experience of the novel. It’s hardly tragic. It’s not even bad. But it does point up the fact that, in my book, e-readers are not quite ready for prime time.

What e-readers offer that’s unique to digital media is highlighting, search, markup, full-on wiki-zation, internal and internet hyperlinking. This is one of the things that makes them superior to the printed book as a device. But the truth is that e-readers aren’t quite there with this yet, either. Most of this functionality exists to varying degrees with different e-readers (the iPad probably being the most fully loaded). But it’s still pretty clunky. And that’s a shame, because I would absolutely love to be able to present a digitized copy of Mortality Bridge not only laid out as the author intended, but available in an annotated, wiki-enabled edition, easily searchable, with internal links to similar lines, images, and references, and external links to other author’s works referenced, Google Earth maps, source art, you name it.

Don't even think of trying this on an e-reader.

I have to say I was a bit surprised to learn all this. I admit that this surprise comes because I’ve read exactly one book on my Kindle: Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, by Genevieve Valentine (whose name did not fit onto my contents list, and it took about 8 steps to get to it so I could write it correctly here). Mostly I use it as a tool for proofing my e-books. (I wasn’t given the opportunity to look at the e-book galleys of Elegy Beach, and now I wish I had, considering some of the typographic games I play in that book.)

I’m not landing on the wheezing geezer side of “Print book real book. E-book not real book.” I’m saying that, for what I want from a reading device, the e-book hasn’t yet surpassed the print book.

Still, I give it five years at the very most before everything I bitched about above is resolved and surpassed with flying colors. Then I’ll be happy to settle down with a cup of coffee and an e-reader.

E-Readers – Not Quite There Yet (pt. 1)

A few weeks ago I proofed the “galleys” — the old term still has to apply, I guess — for the e-book edition of Mortality Bridge. I received them in epub format from the publisher and used Calibre to convert it to MobiPocket for my Kindle (which my friend Scott gave me some time back). I was startled at the limitations of this brave new form.

Let me back up a second to say that I’m no analog era holdover being dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age. I have quite the digital presence, thank you very much. In addition to traditional writing classes and readings & suchlike, I give a decent amount of talks about digital media and intellectual property, mostly to writers over 40 or 50 who are nervous about all this new stuff. (It’s a totally unnecessary speech to anyone under 35.)

I’m not someone who loves books just because they’re books. I do love them as objects of art: the whole art-directed package can be quite beautiful as well as practical and convenient. But if the printed book were not practical as a device, it would not have lasted so long, and the truth is that it has retained essentially the same form for about 600 years because, until the advent of digital media, it was hard to even conceive how to improve on it.

Enter e-readers. E-books have been around a good 10 to 15 years longer than e-readers, but they mostly existed for use on personal computers and not on handheld devices, and it turns out most people don’t like reading novels at their PC. Quelle surprise. When the advent of portable e-readers (spurred by Amazon’s Kindle) liberated the medium from the desktop, the deluge of releases soon followed. This last year saw paperback sales taking a back seat to e-book sales for the first time.

If you regard the printed book as a device, it’s silly to insist on holding onto it when a superior device comes along. Or even an equivalent device that is much more portable. (Think you’re loyal to your printed library? Wait till next time you move to a new house and realize you could have transported all your books by putting your e-reader in your pocket.)

After dealing with the galleys of Mortality Bridge, I have to say that this superior device isn’t yet here.

Typeface changes -- you can't do this on an e-reader

For one thing, E-readers can’t change font. If I want to display a handwritten font for a note, or something that looks like an SMS text, or want to go from Times Roman to Helvetica (for a Q & A, for example), or switch to Courier to go to screenplay format for some effect or other — tough shit. I can have italics and boldface. Mortality Bridge is full of handwritten notes, SMS fonts, Helvetica road signs, small-capped dialogue with nonhuman creatures. Too bad, baby.

You can't keep space breaks together on an e-reader

You can’t control space breaks on an e-reader, only hard page breaks. This is because the software formats the text on the fly for the screen size and to accommodate the text size the reader has chosen (more on that later). So you end up with the ugliness of orphans that end sections (words that sit there by themselves on a page before a hard break). Or breaks that occur at the bottom of the screen and resume at the top of the next screen, with the reader unaware there was a break unless you either put in three askterisks or cap the first few words in the next section.No big deal, right? But Mortality Bridge has several sections that break mid-line and resume after a break to indicate an amnesiac interval. When one of those breaks at the bottom of a screen and resumes at the top, it’s just confusing. And the publisher has no control over how this occurs.

Specific alignment/placement -- you can't do this on an e-reader

Spacing is another issue. If you play any typographic games, you’re mostly S O L. One section in Mortality Bridge was laboriously worked on to right-align under a partricular word to heighten a dramatic effect. The typesetters at Subterranean were wonderful in working with me to achieve this. Now comes e-book time: sorry, no way. The best you can do is indent the lines.

In-line graphics -- you can't do this on an e-reader

In-text graphics are another issue. Mortality Bridge has a few — arrows on road signs, down buttons on an elevator. That’s a big no-can-do on your e-book, good buddy.

Line breaks can’t be controlled. Mortality Bridge opens with a poem by Mark Strand. Poets work very hard on line breaks. E-books don’t give a shit if you want to keep certain blocks of text together and they won’t let you control the size of the text for the epigraph. Not only can you not change the size within the text, but the reader can change the size to anything he wants anyhow. The best you can do is force a line break and indent the remainder to indicate its original intent as part of the original line. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s not satisfactory, either.

Line breaks -- you can't guarantee the line won't break in an e-reader, and you can't control the font size to keep things together

Part 2 tomorrow.

Video – Mortality Bridge @ LitCrawl

Reviewer/editor/blogger and all-around cool person Susan Tunis has posted her video of my performance from Mortality Bridge at San Francisco’s LitCrawl last Saturday night. I’m delighted because it’s actually the first time I’ve seen myself do this stuff.

There’s about a minute of intro before I start. I admit that one thing I like is that at first there’s a lot of background noise, but as I go it just gets dead quiet despite the room being packed. That usually means either you are bombing horribly or you’ve got em. I’ll let you decide for yourself which it was. But let me keep my illusions, okay? (Other than my voice being about an octave higher than normal because I was nervous, I’m pretty happy with my little dog & pony show here.)

I’d like to thank Borderlands Bookshop owner Alan Beatts for inviting me to read at the event, and the Borderlands staff for their awesome friendliness, hospitality, and professionalism. And kudos to the organizers and volunteers of LitQuake — this event is as amazing for its DIY nature as it is for its scale.


All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
–Edmund Burke




Somebody said, “Brother-man gonna break a window, gonna steal a hubcap,
gonna smoke a joint, brother man gonna go to jail.”
The man who tried to steal America is not in jail
–Gil Scott-Heron, 1973

LitCrawl @ Borderlands

Everyone sez hey

Last night’s reading at Borderlands Bookshop Cafe for LitCrawl, the final event in the massive, week-long San Francisco LitQuake festival, was simply amazing. The room was packed out the door, and yet the audience was absolutely silent and attentive. I’ve never seen an audience that size be so focused at a reading. These people are serious about their literaychur.

I got some wonderful compliments and signed some books. I especially enjoyed hearing Tim Pratt read at the event. I haven’t read him before, and the breadth of gonzo imagination in his work, along with the lushness of his prose, was an absolute delight. The fact that he is a personable reader who is very comfortable in front of an audience made it even better. I’m looking forward to reading more of his stuff.

I recorded the gig but am not going to put it up because a wonderful woman named Susan Tunis videotaped it and says she will have it online tomorrow. I’ll certainly post it when it’s up! Beyond a few short clips I’ve never actually seen video of me doing a reading and I’m curious. I’m a fairly fidgety boy, and I was wired as hell before the Borderlands reading. I get nervous before any performance — reading, DJ gig, sometimes even convention panels — but lately I’m even more nervous before readings in particular,  because I’ve taken to doing them from memory, and that’s just plain nerve-wracking when you get up there in front of a bunch of people.

I think I channel nervous energy in a fairly positive way, though, so in a sense that nervousness works to my benefit. There are times when I haven’t been nervous before some performance and I’ve just blown it. Maybe overconfidence makes me less focused. I dunno.

LitCrawl in SF tonight

Tonight (Saturday, October 15) I will be reading from Mortality Bridge as part of LitCrawl, a massive pubcrawl-style series of readings that caps LitQuake, San Francisco’s week-long festival of readings, panels, and more.

The city shuts down a long stretch of Valencia Street for LitCrawl, and readings are held in three one-hour “phases” at many concurrent locations. People dash from one to the next, and apparently there are umpteen thousand of them. All to hear writers. This I’ve gotta see. I’ve been told LitCrawl is nuts, and I’m flattered to have been asked to participate.

I’ll be reading (well, performing, really — I memorize my readings when I can) at 8:30 at Borderlands Book Cafe, along with Mira Grant, Kirsten Imani Kasai, and Tim Pratt.

Here’s the deets:

Saturday, October 15, 2011 – 8:30 PM
SF LitQuake’s LitCrawl
Borderlands Books
866 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 824-8203

I’m not reading at the bookshop, but at the cafe next door.

Capitola Books

The reading and subsequent interview at Capitola Book Cafe on Saturday went very well, though there was some danger of there being more participants than attendees.

Writer Joshua Mohr read from his novel Damascus. He’s an excellent reader and I thoroughly enjoyed the selection he read. I’m looking forward to reading the novel. Like me, Josh likes to poke his nose into dark corners. Unlike me, Josh pokes his nose into dark corners accessible via BART. Which is all the more scary, really.

Following the readings Rick Kleffel interviewed us for his Agony Column podcast and website. Rick is an excellent interviewer. I was grateful for Josh’s eloquence and intelligence, because for whatever reason my focus knob was broken that night — I was all over the map.

I recorded the reading & interview but am holding off on posting them, because Rick videotaped the proceedings and it’d be much cooler to post that when he puts it online. And also because I’m going to be reading essentially the same piece from Mortality Bridge at several venues in the next few weeks, and I think I’ll be more “on” — especially at the upcoming LitCrawl reading at Borderlands.


What’s that Sound?

I consolidated the audio I have posted here and on my writing site to a new Audio page on this blog (see above). You can play or download any of my readings, lectures, classes, and interviews.

I’ll continue to post links on my regular blog posts as they occur, and I’ll update the Audio page accordingly.

Ain’t much video, really, but I’ll get around to it when it seems worthwhile.

My Steve Jobs Story

I was writing the second go-round of Toy Story 2 at Pixar. This was when they were in Point Richmond, before they moved to a much larger facility in Emeryville.

I used to wear a suit to work at Pixar. People would say, You know you can dress however you want, right? I’d say, This is how I want to dress. I think a lot of them thought I was wound a bit too tight.

I had two reasons for wearing suits. One was because everyone at Pixar dressed alike. Geek-chic hipster nerd. A CG studio is basically a cube farm, and everyone’s cube looked like everyone else’s cube: Toys and posters for animated movies. The one certain way to not look like everyone else in that environment was to wear a suit & tie. And I didn’t want to look like everyone else.

Animation studios are full of distractions. Pool tables, ping pong tables, pinball games, massive amounts of munchies. I wore a suit so that I would feel like I was at work. So that I would maintain some kind of professional demeanor and get a lot done. I’m not saying people who don’t do that are somehow not as professional as me. I’m saying that this is something I felt I had to do to crank out the amount of script I needed to. I got the movie written in three months, so it must have worked for me.

Okay, so:

One day they call everyone into the courtyard for a big announcement. Steve Jobs is there, in his jeans and turtleneck and sneakers. Pixar was a small company back then. They weren’t part of Disney. They’d made title sequences and short films.

Then they made Toy Story, and Disney had distributed it, and it had kicked box office ass. Disney was absolutely vexed. For the first time since their founding they’d been spanked in their home court, and spanked double plus good, too. Pixar was the Little Production Company that Could, and they were proud and a bit surprised.

So we’re all out there in the courtyard.  It’s a bright day and I’m wearing my shades and leaning against a post. Jobs is directly opposite me, and he announces that Pixar has just signed a co-production deal with Disney that will allow Pixar to make features as they see fit, and Disney would fund and distribute them. And they would split the revenue 50-50. This was huge: Disney had never let another company produce its films, and certainly not allowed any creative control (that lasted about ten minutes, of course).

So everyone’s psyched about how wonderful this is. Me, I’m thinking this is Disney’s first step in eating and absorbing a competitor before it can own the landscape.

Jobs is very excited. He’s pacing back and forth and saying, “So we did it! We went down there and we sat down with a bunch of suits and we were just as good as them. We got what we wanted! We beat the suits!”

He pauses. Clearly he’s expecting cheers, or applause, or some reaction. He looks puzzled because there’s this sort of awkward silence. He frowns and looks around. People aren’t looking at him. They’re looking at me. The guy in the suit. With the black sunglasses.

Jobs looks at me like, What the living fuck is this guy doing here? And I’m grinning, I just can’t help it. I write novels, I’m eccentric as hell, I’m a flaky artist, I’m writing their next movie, ferchrissake – but none of that matters, because all Jobs is thinking is that I’m a suit. Just as I’m supposed to think he’s some bohemian because he wears a turtleneck.

I do a pretty good Mickey Mouse imitation. So when Jobs had been staring at me an uncomfortable few seconds and it was clear the very presence of a coat & tie had put him off his stride, I waved and did a Mickey laugh and said Golly gee! And a few people laughed and Jobs went on.

And that’s my Steve Jobs story.

I have a great many problems with Apple’s business practices. The walled garden of their ecosystem, what I consider to be an illegal restraint of trade in preventing me from playing music I buy on whatever device I want, DRM, censorship.

But it’s very easy to set that aside and remark on the astonishing impact and influence Jobs had in his 56 years. Wholly aside from the obvious computer and smartphone innovations, he changed the music industry. He changed feature animation. He played a role in the change the publishing industry is undergoing. The only two people I can think of offhand who’ve had that kind of impact in the last hundred years are Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.

It’s intriguing to think of what else Jobs might have affected had he lived another 25 or 30 years. I don’t have to like someone to respect and admire him, and even discounting the deluge of Apple fanboy eulogizing that’s already gushing forth, the truth is Steve Jobs deserves the praise he is receiving, and the place he secured for himself in history. We should be lucky enough to have a thousandth of the impact on the world that he had.

Reading & Interview at Capitola Book Cafe

I’ll be reading from Mortality Bridge at Capitola Book Cafe near Santa Cruz, California, next Saturday, October 8. Also reading will be San Francisco writer Joshua Mohr, who is promoting his new novel Damascus.

Following the readings we’ll be interviewed by Rick Kleffel of The Agony Column. Rick conducted the best interview ever after my SF in SF reading last year, and I believe he’ll be recording this for The Agony Column as well. I’ll link to it here if he does.

If you’re in the area, it’d be great to see you!

Capitola Book Cafe
Saturday, October 8, 6:30 P.M.
1475  41st Avenue
Capitola, CA 95010