Wednesday, November 26, 2003

PRETTY UGLY ( ? - Nov. 20, 2003)

Our cat Pretty Ugly got his name because Ann thought he was ugly and my stepdaughter Erin thought he was pretty. So I suggested "Pretty Ugly." Since Erin was so young, she didn't realize that we might as well have called him "Very Ugly."

Pretty Ugly weighed sixteen pounds. He had a rip in his right ear. He had two fangs missing (a third got torn out later, in a fight, after we took him in). Although mostly white, he had rather distinctive black splotches--on his head and ears, and on his back (near his butt, so we called that splotch his "butt spot"). His tail was black except for a tuft of white at the very end, almost like a dandelion tuft. It was only later that we realized how beautiful he really was.

We first became aware of Pretty Ugly because he hissed at us from the edge of our yard. He hissed like no cat I've ever heard. It was a kind of spitting, belligerent hiss, with his fur all standing on end. At the time, we were trying to rehabilitate and find a home for a cat called Plushy who was infinitely friendlier than that ugly white-and-black cat hissing at us from the edge of the yard. We figured Pretty Ugly wouldn't be around for long. At that time, our yard seemed to attract stray cats, all of which stayed around for a few days and then left.

But after a few days, Pretty Ugly was still there, hissing from the edge of the yard. All of the other cats had gone away, and Plushy had been placed with an owner. After awhile, it became kind of routine--we'd come home and there Pretty Ugly would be, hissing and spitting at us from the hedges. We began to grow attached to him. Ann started leaving food out for him.

Winter came, and it actually gets cold in north Florida during the winter, so we got a little worried about Pretty Ugly. He wouldn't come inside, so we put out a cardboard box lined with towels in the garage and made sure the garage door was open enough for him to get him. Soon, the hissing and spitting came from the garage. The few times when we'd go look in on him, there he'd be, gutting out the winter in his box, staring around the side of the box long enough to hiss and spit, spit and hiss. He liked to vary it.

Over time, and as spring came, Ann found that by bringing his food closer and closer to the house, she could get him close to the front door. Eventually, he ate on the mat outside the front door. Ann would sit there patiently day after day, feeding him. Then, one day, still hissing, he came inside when Ann dropped a couple of treats inside the front door. After a week or two of sitting inside the front door, he began to explore. Hesitant, suspicious, fearful. At first, he wouldn't sit in our laps, so one time I just picked him up and plopped him down in Ann's lap. He didn't stay long, but he got used to it, and soon he was sitting on our laps and…purring. (When we took him to the vet to have him fixed, we found out he already had been, and there was a sudden anger at the thought of someone having abandoned or so badly treated him that he took almost six months to even think of trusting us.)

It was then that he really became Pretty Ugly, a web of myth and folklore built up all around him.

First, there were the names. Pretty Ugly wasn't his only name. Oh no. Of the names that are not protected family intellectual property, I can reveal the following: Pugsley, Butt Spot, Chubs, and the Bowler-Hat-Wearing Cat Detective (Ann didn't like this last name very much). Sometimes we called him "Pritz," for short.

Second, there was his tail. We were very afraid of Pretty Ugly's tail. We soon realized it was a creature in and of itself. It might be slashing back and forth while Pretty was calm. It might be calm while Pretty was sinking his teeth into us. The Tail, we were convinced, had a mind of its own. One did not mess with Pretty's tail. Because the Tail and Pretty had an arrangement--and that arrangement was to bite the shit out of us if we messed with the Tail. Still, sometimes we did, and got what we deserved.

Third, there were the scars. Pretty loved to be petted. He loved to sit in our laps. But too much of a good thing and he'd suddenly go wild. He'd bite and claw us--sometimes enough to draw blood. He'd just go nuts every once in awhile, even though he was such a sweet cat most of the time. After the first year of this, we became so used to it that we would sit down to watch TV together, Pritz would jump on one of our laps, and when we got up after an hour, we'd have these bite or claw marks on our hands and not even realize how it had happened. Over time, those marks became a sign of our love for Pritz, and of his essential eccentricity. The last of Ann's scars from Pretty Ugly are healing now, and there will be no more scars caused by him. We will miss those scars as much as anything.

Fourth, there were his forays into the yard and beyond. For a long time, before he became ill, he was an indoor and outdoor cat. In the yard, he became a different kind of cat. It took him awhile to realize he didn't need to catch birds anymore to survive. It took him awhile to realize it was wrong to stalk the neighbor's Chihuahua. Pritz was always most hopeful about the outcome of this enterprise around Christmas, when the stupid Chihuahua wore a little sweater and a hat with a bell on it. Pritz would home in on the bell quite easily, and begin his gliding stalk of the poor little dog. (As I say, he was a big cat, and although for a time he was fat, most of his sixteen pounds were earned.)

He also loved to take dust baths in the front yard where the grass had been defeated. He loved nothing better than to roll around on his back in the dirt in the sunlight while Ann or I sat in a chair nearby and read.

And, sometimes, while outside, Pritz would quite literally go crazy. Possessed of the energy of not just his body but the Tail, he would scurry up and down trees in the front yard at a break-neck speed. It made us laugh until we cried, the way he'd zip up one tree and zip down it in search of another.

He could be a scared cat, too, though. The oddest things used to scare him. He loved playing with bits of rolled up newspaper or magazine. (In fact, nothing pleased him more than to sit on a Sunday newspaper and then slowly shred it to bits with claw and fang.) He loved to play with catnip mice (and loved catnip itself, although we're not sure if the Tail liked it). But he hated the kitty tease that our other cat Shoshana liked to play with. The kitty tease wasn't really different from the rolled up newspaper--it was a small fishing rod, basically, with a moth-like strip of cloth hanging off some fishing line. But it terrified him.

What terrified him sometimes changed. For example, he'd been fine with the telephone for the longest time, but one day happened to noticed the cord from the receiver to the phone itself. For the next few hours, he would hiss at it, attack it, jump back, and repeat the process. Maybe he thought it was a snake? Regardless, when we got a new phone, we got the cordless kind.

Another time--eerily enough soon after the Blair Witch movie came out--we'd come home and find him staring blankly into a corner for minutes on end! And whistling--Ann whistled once, only to find Pritz running up to her, meowing weirdly. From then on, if we wanted him to come to us, we had only to whistle and he'd climb up on our laps, making this odd meow--a very serious meow. It almost seemed as if he thought we were hurt and he was concerned about us.

Pritz also had a number of ailments during his life. During the first few years we had him, he got these odd warts on his lips. The vet told us he'd contracted feline acne, of all things, and we had to give him pills and change the kind of water dish he drank out of it. Our cat was a teenager!

Once, we were about to go on vacation when we found that he was sick. It was so sad--we found him sitting right underneath an outdoor water faucet sticking out of the side of the house. It was leaky, so he was sitting there with this look of irritation on his face while one slow drop after another fell right on top of his head. We immediately took him to the vet.

Then, later, he began to yowl in the middle of the night and eat a lot more than usual (and he was a pig to begin with--often eating Shosh's food as well as his own) and run around the house. Eventually, the vet discovered he had a thyroid problem and he had to have one of his thyroids removed. For awhile, he had a patch of naked skin near his throat that I know irritated the heck out of him, no matter how we helped him scratch it.

Pretty Ugly survived all of this, only to be diagnosed with a cancerous tumor early this year. He began to lose weight and become more and more listless. He stopped going outside. He stopped eating regularly. We had to put him on pills and feed him Gator Aid through a syringe to get his electrolytes up. It was really only a matter of time, but for awhile we thought he might be okay--the medicine got his white blood cell count back up. But the tumor grew and the cancer spread. Right before the end, he was little more than six pounds, down from thirteen, and it really hurt to see him like that, all tiny and wobbly, tottering around and looking up at us for help. Still, he liked to sit on our laps, and he still purred, and his Tail still seemed like something separate from him. Some days were better than others.

The worst thing about all the book-related trips we've had to take this fall and winter was having to leave Pritz behind with a cat sitter. We were in New York City when the call came in last Thursday that Pretty Ugly had passed away in his sleep. It was almost unbearable.

We'd had Pritz since 1996. We never knew exactly how old he was--somewhere between 12 and 15. He'd been the best, most eccentric cat we'd ever had.

Pretty Ugly had spent many a morning curled up in my lap while I wrote Ambergris stories. And, in turn, I wrote about him, for hundreds of thousands of third graders, when I had to turn in an English passage for my day job (Web-based sample tests as prep for the state standardized test).

Pritz loved Ann's shoes. He loved to just sit on them. One day, we came home and found that he had actually put Ann's shoes on. He'd managed to sit on them with one paw in each shoe. It was one of the funniest things I've ever seen. He liked to drink out of the toilet. He'd stand up on his hind legs and spread his front legs out like he was hugging the bowl and drink in the middle of the night. We'd turn on the light, and there he'd be, looking slightly apologetic. Sometimes, he also liked to sit in the bathtub, which is one of the reasons we thought he might be part Turkish Van, since they love water. In the mornings, when he wanted to be fed, he would bite Ann on the forehead, or walk on her head, or claw the bookmark out of her book. Some nights, he would plop down on my right side and I'd curl over on my side and I'd cuddle with him while he purred loudly. He had a really really loud purr; you knew when he was happy.

We would never have been prepared for his death, even if he'd lived to be thirty or forty. Even now, we turn at the dinner table to feed him a scrap, or go through our routine of "Pretty Ugly get me the remote control" before stopping short and realizing he's not there. We didn't anthropomorphize--we just loved him for his quirky eccentricities, for the way he made us accept him on his terms, scars and all.

So this blog entry is for Pretty Ugly, an extraordinary cat. We'll never have another like him.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS (and, er, a couple mags and chapbooks)

While we've been traveling, I've been picking up books here and there. World Fantasy in DC, in particular, yielded some great finds. But I've also found some interesting books recently at Tallahassee used bookstores. Herein, a list, with annotations. For most of these, I've had no chance to do more than just skim some chapters, read some stories, in these books, but they're all on my to read pile because, well, they all look wonderful so far! So, in no particular order (just as you might find them in one of those great but frustrating New Orleans bookstores, where everything is stacked, jumbled, confused, but glorious):

Limekiller by Avram Davidson (Old Earth Books) - I've just read the first two stories, but have to confirm Jonathan Strahan's enthusiastic review in Locus--these are Davidson's best stories. The introduction by Lucius Shepard is brilliant, too. The cover leaves a lot to be desired, though; in fact, I recommend you strip off the dust jacket and set it aside somewhere while reading.

Another Green World by Henry Wessells (Temporary Culture, - Wessells is an antiquarian book seller from NYC who has been instrumental in helping publish much of Davidson's work posthumously. Now he's come out with a book that, quite frankly, if the Ministry of Whimsy hadn't been overstocked, we would have taken. These wonderfully bookish, Borgesian stories come highly recommended by Guy Davenport, William Gibson, and Michael Swanwick. If all goes well, we may offer some of these on the Ministry web site.

Floater by Lucius Shepard (PS Publishing) - A cop who has just shot a Haitian immigrant in NYC experiences a floater in his eye--a stray bit of protein that occludes part of his eyesight. He begins to have visions. The shooting incident takes on new dimensions. The cop begins a downward spiral. I'm about three-fourths done with this one. Shepard is a brilliant writer, and Floater is great noir with a possible supernatural element to it.

The Angel in the Darkness by Kage Baker (Golden Gryphon Press) - I'm a huge fan of Baker's Company stories and novels. However, this Company novella is of poor quality comparatively. It's more or less a slice of a larger piece, and it's dogged by too many scenes in which characters must explain plot to other characters just so the reader will understand what's going on.

Monterra's Deliciosa & Other Tales by Anna Tambour (Prime Books) - Tambour is a fresh and interesting voice. Although this collection is too long--the poetry and a couple of what appear to be nonfiction pieces could have been cut, along with a couple of the weaker fictions--it provides a nice overview of a writer to watch. I particularly enjoyed stories like "Klokwerk's Heart," "Temptation of the Seven Scientists," and "Dr. Babiram's Potentials". Tambour's offbeat stories and quietly confident prose are a delight to read. Several of these stories posit truly original situations, characters, or narratives.

Weirdmonger by D.F. Lewis (Prime Books) - Long overdue, Des Lewis' first comprehensive collection of idiosyncratic short fiction showcases the best of his work from 1987 to 1999. No one writes quite like Lewis--and I can recall with some clarity how Des would include, with his submissions, a list of quotes from reviewers that ranged from raves to pans. Des has never worried much about other people's opinions, and as a result, his fiction remains unique, challenging, and, in some essential sense, timeless.

The Monsters of St. Helena by Brooks Hansen (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux) - Hansen, who wrote the masterpiece The Chess Garden and the solid novel Pearlman's Ordeal, has finally written a dud, with this tale of Napoleon's sojourn on the island of St. Helena. From the pull-way-back introduction in which the reader gets a long-view historical brief on the island to the interesting characters to the interesting prose, Hansen has managed to waste it all on an inconsequential and utterly boring story. I've rarely seen so many potentially wonderful elements amassed for deployment...only to be deployed in such a banal and disappointing manner.

Bibliomancy by Elizabeth Hand (PS Publishing) - Although her novels are good, Hand's real strength has always been at the shorter lengths, and Bibliomancy has me drooling in anticipation. The packaging is gorgeous as well, with Fitzgerald's "The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of" as the cover art. Lucius Shepard, who seems ubiquitous at this point, contributes an engaging introduction.

The Tyrant by Michael Cisco (Prime Books) - Cisco is inexplicably "cult" to my mind, mostly because he's had one critically-acclaimed book (The Divinity Student, Buzzcity Press) followed by five years of silence...which didn't mean he wasn't busy, just that he had some difficulties with potential publishers holding on to his manuscripts for too long. Anyway, now The Tyrant is out, in another beautiful package, with cover art by Harry Morris, and it's a good novel. It starts very, very slowly--needlessly so--but once you get past the first thirty pages, there are several marvels here for the adventurous.

The Dark edited by Ellen Datlow (Tor) - This looks to be a potential classic anthology of ghost stories, with work by Jeffrey Ford, Kelly Link, and several other great writers. I'm really looking forward to reading this one.

Wonder Tales: Six French Stories of Enchantment edited by Marina Warner (Farrar, Straus, Giroux) - A fetching small-sized hardcover of French fairytales retranslated from the French by such writers as A.S. Byatt and John Ashbery. A beautiful package, and clever, playful writing.

Tales from the Crypto-System by Geoffrey Maloney (Prime Books) - Another great collection from Prime Books. Probably the best way to describe Maloney's work is to reference my own blurb on the back cover: "At his best, Geoffrey Maloney uses the surreal in the same way as J.G. Ballard, but with his own twists. A Maloney story is not to be trusted--it will turn on you when you least expect it, and your brain will be irrevocably altered."

He Do The Time Police In Different Voices by David Langford (Cosmos Books) - I just love David Langford's work, whether for Ansible or elsewhere. This fascinating-looking collection of parodies and pastiches (of Ellison, Herbert, Lewis Carroll, etc.) is next on my list to read.

Japanese Gothic Tales by Izumi Kyoka (University of Hawaii Press) - Gabriel Mesa turned me on to this collection of weird Japanese stories.

Faking Literature by K.K. Ruthven (Cambridge Press) - We picked this up in the Shakespeare library in Washington D.C. It's a collection of essays about literary fakes and frauds. So far, it is tough going but still interesting. I may not finish it--I may just skim and, er, steal from it...

Sewer, Gas, & Electric by Matt Ruff (Aspect SF) - I've finally remembered to buy a copy of this supposed cult classic. I'm sure hoping it turns out to be good. I thought Fool on the Hill was crap (his talking animals irritated me), but thought I'd give Ruff a second chance.

Winter in Majorca by George Sand, trans. & annotated by Robert Graves (Cassell) - Wow. We picked this up in a used bookstore two hours before we had to leave DC. I have to quote you the dustjacket copy to do the book justice: "In 1838, George Sand arrived in Majorca with Chopin and her two children, Maurice and Solange, offspring of her marriage to Baron Dudevant. Majorca, at that time, had not fallen under the influence of the Romantics, and George Sand, arriving with Chopin, smoking cigarettes, and both she and her daughter wearing masculine clothes, caused more than a little stir. It would appear that the Majorcans made little attempt to understand her, and she little to understand them, and contact between the two was rare. After three years, the little party left the island and returned to France. Within two years, Un Hiver a Majorca was published, a book which though praising the natural beauties of Majorca, condemned the Majorcans as barbarians, thieves, monkeys, and Polynesian savages who cheat, extort, lie, abuse, and plunder, and went so far as to suggest that the majority of the inhabitants were the bastard descendants of Carthusian monks. It was a book as full of vitriol as it was of inaccuracies...but it is described by the Encyclopedia Britannica as one of the great travel books of literature, and Majorcans continue to print and sell it to visitors--without comment on its errors and slanders." This edition contains Jose Quadrado's "Refutation of George Sand" as well. Holy crap. I am so looking forward to this one...

Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet no. 13, edited by Gavin Grant and Kelly Link (Small Beer Press) - LCRW has undergone a welcome make-over with this issue, changing to perfect binding and a full-color cover. It looks classy and sophisticated without sacrificing any of its home-grown appeal. Ghosting page numbers across the middle of pages is not a great idea, but a good experiment. Some of the cutesy added stuff on the inside has by now worn thin--it begins to seem fey and smug rather than funny (think flat McSweeney's)--but there are good stories in the issue, and the magazine continues to publish new writers of interest.

Bittersweet Creek and Other Stories by Christopher Rowe (Small Beer Press) - Another in the impressive series of chapbooks from Small Beer: artfully designed and chockful of good writing. I'm looking forward to this one--I very much liked Rowe's story in Trampoline.

Other Cities by Benjamin Rosenbaum
(Small Beer Press) - And, yes, yet another in the impressive series of chapbooks from Small Beer: artfully designed and chockful of good writing. I've read a couple of these tales, which have been compared to Calvino in Invisible Cities. To Rosenbaum's credit, they don't read like pastiche--these are actually very different from Calvino's stories, with more emotional punch, and I think Rosenbaum is definitely a writer to watch.

El Vilvoy de las Islas by Avram Davidson (Henry Wessells, POB 43072, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043, $12) - A handsome little chapbook version of Davidson's eccentric tale. You know, I really feel for Davidson. The guy was using literary techniques, and absorbing influences, that should have made him a respected member of the literary mainstream--or at least a respected member of the fantasy community. And, sure, he was, to an extent, embraced by the fantasy community, but he deserved a heck of a lot better. So here's another little gem by Davidson. While you're reading it, just remember that there's another Davidson out there somewhere, right now, who's going to suffer the same damn fate while he or she is alive.

Argosy edited by Lou Anders and James A. Owen (Coppervale) - When I first saw this magazine at WFC, I said to Lou, "This is fucking amazing. Wow. What a fucking great looking magazine." So far, I've only had a chance to read Jeff Ford's excellent "A Night in the Tropics", but I'm still marveling over the great look of the publication. Two soft trade papers in a slipcase, one an exclusive novella by Michael Moorcock. Truly cool.

The Case of the Persevering Maltese: Collected Essays by Harry Matthews (Dalkey Archive Press) - The only American Oulipo member has a lot to say about, well, Oulipo, and a lot of other topics. I haven't read it yet, but I'm very much looking forward to it.

The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen (Simon & Schuster) - Island biogeography in an age of extinctions. Interweaves personal observation, scientific theory, and history. Looks very interesting.

Landscape and Memory by Simon Schama (Vintage) - A discussion of the relationship between man and nature, setting and character, in a sense. Another one I'm looking forward to...

The True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (Knopf) - I've always had an uneasy relationship with Carey's work, but I keep trying him despite what seems a chronic unevenness in his work.

Congo Journey by Redmond O'Hanlon (Hamish Hamilton) - I picked up this nice UK hardcover of O'Hanlon's classic in a DC bookstore. I'd lost my US hardcover, titled No Mercy, and so was very happy to find this version. Basically, O'Hanlon travels into the Congo to see the elusive pygmy elephant. While there, civil war breaks out, all of his bribes and agreements with the central government go out the window, he gets sick, and everything just goes to hell. He barely makes it out alive. One of the great, truly surreal (and funny) travel narratives of all time.

In Evil Hour by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Avon) - I'd never heard of this short novel by Marquez, and so was delighted to pick up a paperback of it.

3000 MPH In Every Direction At Once: Stories and Essays by Nick Mamatas (Prime Books) - Boy, the sophomoric attempt at introduction-as-parody-of-introduction by Zoe Trope that opens this book is bad, bad, bad. What follows is...well, 3000 mph in every direction. There's no guiding principle at work here, nothing to tie it all together, except Mamatas' unique voice. Thankfully, he's got a strong voice and a strong writing style. Although I enjoyed the essays more than the fiction, it's a collection worth picking up.

A Right to Be Hostile: A Boondocks Treasury by Aaron McGruder (Three Rivers Press) - Hilarious political, cultural, and societal commentary in cartoon form, with an African American slant. I only experienced five installments of this cartoon in the local paper before they pulled it, so this treasury was a god-send. More pointed and confrontational than Doonesbury without sacrificing a certain subtleness.

School for the Blind by Dennis McFarland (Ivy Books) - I don't know why I picked this up, but it looks interesting. A man toward the end of his life returns to his home town only to find the past catching up with him. Not a thriller--it looks like a book Peter S. Beagle might have written if Beagle wasn't interested in the fantastical. Anyway, I'm hopeful...

The Russian Debutante's Handbook by Gary Shteyngart (Riverhead Books) - Lots of hype, could be trashy, but it looks like it's alive and kicking and vivacious even if it winds up sucking.

Monday, November 10, 2003


For many years, Allen Ruch has been building, renovating, and adding to one of the great centers for literature on the Internet: The Modern Word.

The greatness of the site was brought home to me while talking to Allen at the World Fantasy Convention. The projects in process--a long essay on Kafka, possible short fiction reviews, expansion of the book reviews section, etc.--and an off-the-cuff comment Allen made about how, for example, Borges fans think the Borges section of the site is the entire site (when in fact there's a huge Joyce section, a huge Marquez section, etc.) really made me re-appreciate a site I might have begun to take for granted. The site really is that large, and that comprehensive.

There's also a joyful mingling of writing about great literature, regardless of where that literature comes from, the literary mainstream or "genre."

So, if you haven't visited the site, you really should give yourself the pleasure as soon as possible.


WORLD FANTASY CONVENTION REPORT...sort of (nothing weird happened, so...)

World Fantasy Con 2003, in Washington D.C., for me, was about three things: spending time with my wonderful wife Ann, sightseeing; hanging out with an idiosyncratic, fun, always interesting group of people; and pimping the fake disease guide until I thought my own tongue was going to grow disgusted with me and escape my mouth, so as not to have to say "The New Yorker asked for review copies of the Guide" or "The Guide is being featured on the new hardcover fiction table in every Borders in the United States." The utter repetitive boredom of having to do the used car salesman routine for the first half of the con, while also organizing or helping organize the readings and other events, made me a mere shell of a VanderMeer.

From Borders reading (photo by huge stack of books; book featured in front window; Jay Lake in black goggles; my close friend and co-editor Mark Roberts' excellent bio introductions; Stepan Chapman's "in character" reading as a doctor, complete with stethescope) to con suite party reading (Alan M. Clark, Robert Wexler, Jay Lake), to autography party (pleasant sensation of wrist aching from volume of books to sign) to late night convention reading (where, too exhausted by it all to stay, I slipped in to take photos and then slipped out again, my tongue telling me, "I will leave you one day, Jeff, if you don't take a break. I will go away while you are not looking."), there were long blurs of time caused by the disease guide where my attention span was fragmented, shattered, recombined in sound bite-sized time slots.

Luckily, as the convention slouched closer and closer to the awards banquet, it became less about the disease guide and more about meeting interesting people. And throughout this time, Ann and I would slip away to do more sightseeing. A few things about D.C. struck us. One, there's an awful lot of construction work being done that tends to ruin the view. Two, it's a very walkable city. Three, it was definitely bittersweet visiting the capital of the U.S. with a fascist idiot in the White House, a point driven home at the National Archives, where the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and Louisiana Purchase were juxtaposed with a nattering nabob of a piece of legislature by George W. Bush. That Bush did not belong to the same lineage that had helped compose the great documents of our country could not have been better underlined if the Bush document had been written with a crayon.

Politics aside, we enjoyed ourselves. The Spy Museum, which I thought looked cheesy, but went to with Ann because she wanted to (and, frankly, she's always right, so now I've done away with the grumpy attitude because it always ends with me saying, "You know what--that was fun."), was…well, tons of fun. From an air duct you could crawl down to spy on other visitors (although I preferred to think of it as the air duct from Alien, just to make it more exciting), to the full array of spy toys, an exhibit on the history of spies in film and television, the Spy Museum was worth every penny. (Of special note, the copies of Prisoner novelizations written by Thomas Disch!)

The Lincoln memorial, with its etched excerpts from Lincoln's most famous speeches, was oddly more moving to me than the Vietnam memorial, whereas it was the exact opposite for Ann. Somehow, the black wall of names, although in their multitudes, rendered all of the dead anonymous to me, whereas the Lincoln memorial, with that oddly serene, almost giraffe-like rendering of Lincoln, flanked by his words, struck a chord.

The Smithsonian natural history museum and the Library of Congress were both somewhat disappointing--the British natural history museum and library in London are vastly superior--but the Smithsonian's bug museum, with its cross-sections of honeypot ants, and the gem sections were spectacular. The Library of Congress just did not have the kinds of exhibits we expected. We expected to see opened books under glass--famous and popular texts. Instead, we got an exhibit on Lewis & Clarke and the Wright brothers.

After these various perambulations, and in between them, we would return to the convention and immerse ourselves in the parties, and meeting people. Our own posse or group often consisted of (the truly fun and wonderful) Jason & Molly and Jeremy from Night Shade, Forrest Aguirre, Allen Ruch from the Modern Word (who posted truly inspired photos and captions here), Dan Read, Gabriel Mesa, Eric Schaller, Mark Roberts, K. J. Bishop, Michael Cisco, Robert Devereux (on the last day), Rudi Dornemann (one day), Allen's friend Christopher (who was kind enough to guide us around DC one night), Stepan & Kia Chapman, Sean Wallace, and Robert Wexler, with others slipping in and out. (I've probably forgotten someone, alas. Please do not wish me ill because of it.)

I wish I had freakish stories to relate to you, dear reader, but I do not. It was fun. It was hilarious at times. Mark Roberts' undulations with a certain hat were a highlight one night. As was a mutual admiration shouting match at an Irish pub over the subject of Nick Cave, with the effervescent Jeremy. (Now that I recall, I think we spent much of most of our evenings in an Irish pub…) Also great--talking politics and novel writing with the wonderful Paul Witcover, getting a chance to talk briefly to Kelly Link, Lou Anders, Jeff Ford, Jason Lundberg, Chris Roberson, John Picacio, Jim Minz, Christopher Rowe, Greg from Dreamhaven, Peter Cannon, Michael Walsh, Paul Barnett, Jonathan Strahan, Holly Black, Ms. Snyder (who loaned me more whiskey when my wife took my first cup and refused to relinquish it), Laura Anne Gilman, Ellen Datlow, Theodora Goss, Delia Sherman, (watch me name- check like a playah), Gavin Grant, (and still I will forget someone), Alan DeNiro and his wife Kristin Livdahl (we had a fun conversation about meerkats in fiction--she too has written of meerkats in a SF setting!). My attempt to turn to hard liquor due to being on the Atkin's Diet led to almost-tragedy one night as I attempted to drink seven scotches (Dan Read had found a scotch that was too damn smooth!; positive repercussion: no nerves when doing my well-attended individual reading the next morning--in fact, no nerves, no feeling in my extremities, no particular idea of where I was or might have been...). Hanging out in the bar with the funny and knowledgeable Lucius Shepard, Deborah Layne, and several others to watch football for a couple of hours created a nice cocoon of relaxation in between events, as did a lunch Ann and I had with the lovely and funny Juliet Ulman. The annual agent dinner, with the always charming and graceful Howard Morhaim, all of us replete in tuxedos or fancy dresses (I won't tell who was in which), was great as usual, as penguin-like as I felt throughout.

The awards banquet and ceremony went off without a hitch. Even the sharp shooting pain that flashed through my chest when City of Saints lost in the short story collection was quickly healed by winning in the anthology category, and the fact that my good friend Jeff Ford had won in the short story collection category. Although the high point of the convention, for me, was accepting Zoran Zivkovic's award on his behalf in the novella category. (And then rushing back to our hotel room with Ann, Kirsten Bishop, Michael Cisco, and others to email Zoran to let him know immediately.)

After the awards ceremony, we sat in the bar and drank Gabriel Mesa's excellent whiskey (although we had to keep the bottle under our chairs so the Bar Nazis wouldn't see it and kick us out) while smoking some great Nicaraguan cigars I had brought. To relax in that moment, drinking whiskey and smoking cigars was to relax utterly and forever. (And what a kick having Leslie What, among others, join us and light up!) Later, after another Irish pub experience, a group of us walked down to the famous giant obelisk in the dark, enjoying both the night and each other's company.

What else shall I report? That I have good friends. That it was a joy to see friends of ours who had not met each other before hit it off so well. That it was wonderful to see disease guides fly off the Night Shade table as if they were manna from heaven. That it was the simplest and most profound pleasure to just be walking around D.C. with my beautiful monosyllable Ann, with the trees beginning to change color, with the mallards bobbing serenely in the many ponds, with the scent of winter in the air.