Saturday, July 30, 2005


Polyphony, which just garnered another World Fantasy Award nomination, is an anthology series worth supporting. To that end, find below their recent press release about a limited edition version of the Polyphony volumes. I hope everyone will support Polyphony in this new effort and buy what promises to be a very cool collector's item.


July 27, 2005. Wheatland Press is pleased to announce that it will offer the critically acclaimed Polyphony anthology series, edited by Deborah Layne and Jay Lake, in a limited edition hard cover, with each volume signed by all contributors.

“Ever since the first volume of Polyphony appeared, people have been asking whether I would be publishing a hard cover limited edition,” says Deborah Layne, founder of Wheatland Press “The publication of the fifth volume of Polyphony calls for some kind of celebration, and this seems to me like a good way to do it.”

Beginning with the Polyphony series, Wheatland Press has established a reputation for publishing cutting edge short fiction from a range of new and established authors. In 2003, Wheatland published Greetings From Lake Wu, the first story collection from the 2004 John W. Campbell Award winner Jay Lake. Greetings From Lake Wu also showcased the artwork of Hugo Award winning artist Frank Wu. That same year saw the first print edition of Howard Waldrop’s stunning collection of film and television stories, Dream Factories and Radio Pictures. In 2004 Bruce Holland Rogers received a World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story for “Don Ysidro,” from Polyphony 3. Rogers has had a story in each volume of Polyphony.

Commenting on Polyphony, Rogers said, “The Polyphony anthology series is an escape tunnel between the ghettos of speculative and literary fiction, but writers in the tunnel forget which way they were going. They stop, widen the tunnel, install skylights, settle down, and intermarry. I always hoped this would happen.”

Editor Michael Chabon selected Tim Pratt’s story “Hart and Boot” from Polyphony 4 for the 2005 edition of Best American Short Stories, one of only three stories from science fiction and fantasy venues to be included in that prestigious volume. Also, from Polyphony 4, Chabon selected Jeff VanderMeer’s “Three Days in a Border Town,” as a recommended story.

Each limited edition Polyphony volume will contain a new introduction and a new story specially commissioned for the hard cover edition. Wheatland Press plans to produce no more than 150 copies of the signed limited edition, but an unsigned hard cover will also be available.

The publication date is March 1, 2006, but the books can be pre-ordered now directly from Wheatland Press (

For more information contact Deborah Layne at

Friday, July 29, 2005


We look younger than we feel
and older than we are
now nobody's funny
no god, they took our fashion week
that's a real bad thing
cause we have scars to cover

I'm sitting here with a bourbon-and-diet listening to perhaps the coolest band in America with the next-to-final version of Shriek printed out (thanks, Ann) on the table in front of me. Adding a few last notes. To check a few things. Add a few things. Tweak a couple sentences. I finally figured out how to untangle the last snarl and how to echo in the double ending, to twin and ghost in a deeply satisfying way. The book's a monster (about 138,000 words in this final incarnation). Tomorrow night I'll turn it in to my editors and there'll be another round of edits, but for all intents and purposes, the novel is done now. Which is good, because I got the Pan Macmillan catalogue page for it last week. A very odd feeling, to see the book advertised while I'm still editing it. My wife's been reading behind me as I finish off sections and offering comments, along with a few snippets sent to a couple of people to get an opinion or two.

Anyway, I'm sitting here satisfied and tired but happy. Soon my life will return to normal and I'll be able to start on the next thing. Kinda glad I'm not going to WorldCon. I need a break.


Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Further Update: I've found about 15 Leviathan 2 copies I can part with. Lev2 which features Richard Calder (an excerpt from Franzetta), Rhys Hughes' rather incredible novella "The Darktree Wheel," which is available nowhere else, a wonderful L. Timmel Duchamp story, and Stepan Chapman's classic "Minutes of the Last Meeting". Along with interviews with all four. At the time, it was the first interview ever for Hughes and for Duchamp. Oh yes--and an introduction by David Pringle. Anyway, if you want one of these, paypal me $10 at (for North America shipment--otherwise, email me first). They're first editions. I'll sign 'em if it makes a difference.

Well, in addition to everything else, we've been trying to clean up the house. Specifically, that means getting rid of books or putting them in storage. We've got something like 20,000 to 25,000 books and it's beginning to be a bit much. Every day new ones come in that we've ordered or not ordered (review copies). So Ann's put some up for sale on And we're donating some to Good Will. But there are others that I might just offer for sale through this blog, if anyone is interested.

One thing I can tell you is that I've got 25 copies of the second edition of the Troika by Stepan Chapman (Philip K. Dick Award winning novel from the Ministry of Whimsy), and I don't want to hold onto all of them. (I might even have a box of first editions, too--I'll have to check.) If you're in North America, it's $13 postpaid per copy. If you live anywhere else in the world, drop me a line at first re cost. Paypal only, unless you want to send a check. But paypal preferred.

Update: Just to clarify, if I do have any firsts of Troika for sale, they'll be $20 postpaid. Still reasonable, I think.


Friday, July 22, 2005


Evil Monkey: So why the hell haven't you posted anything in the last couple of days? I'm getting bored.

Jeff: I'm trying to finish up the majority of the edits to Shriek by Monday night.

Evil M: Jesus Christ, Jeff! How long have you been at this? I could've had it all done months ago.

Jeff: How so?

Evil M: What the fuck is wrong with you?! Look, how long have you been doing this writing stuff anyway?

Jeff: Awhile. A lot of years.

Evil M: And you're telling me you don't know how to wrap this shit up? Look, edits are easy. You throw in an explosion or two. Add a car chase. Add a sex scene. Add a cliffhanger. Throw in a chapter break. Add a conversation with a priest. Interject a fucking interior monologue. That's it. It's easy.

Jeff: Okaaaay.

Evil M: I'm telling you, man. Just put in a car chase. Add a sex scene. These are not difficult things to do. Look, I'll start it for you. Give me that pen.

Jeff: Stay away from my manuscript.

Evil M: I'll just start with "Duncan pushed the taxi driver out of the car, got in, and revved the engine. It was an old Manzikert model but serviceable. The gray caps--"

Jeff: Get the fuck away from my manuscript! Stop writing on it!

Evil M: Back off man. Where was I? "The gray caps were in the sports car darting through traffic. He gave chase. With any luck, he could run them down. They whizzed through the intersection, narrowly missing an old lady and her monkey--"

Jeff: Get-away-from-the-table. Put-down-the-pen.

Evil M: Don't get uppity. I can hold you off as long as I need to, weakling. "...missing an old lady and her monkey. Just then there was an explosion. A big explosion. Greasy black smoke spiraled up into the sky. The docks were on fire, and the gray caps in their sports car were headed right for the wharf. Duncan had to catch them before they made it to the waiting sloop. He gunned the engine, revved it, went as fast as he dared. The landscape was shooting by. Suddenly, Mary Sabon appeared in the back seat, naked. 'I've got no time for this, Mary. I've got to catch those gray caps,' Duncan shouted. The gray caps had reached the docks. He swerved to a stop in an instant, running over a priest, then kissed Mary, and ran forward. He knew he could reach them if only...if only..." That's awfully unsportsmanlike, Jeff, when I'm trying to help you and all.

Jeff: It was the only way.

Evil M: set the manuscript on fire...just to stop me from scribbling on it.

Jeff: You have defiled my sacred book. I had to do it.

Evil M: Well, at least we've kinda had the explosion. I gotta say, this is discouraging. I'm not sure I want to help you anymore.

Jeff: I'm crushed.

Evil M: I'm going to bed. In the morning, I might reconsider and help you out again.

Jeff: You do that. I'm going to get the fire extinguisher.

Evil M: G'night.

Jeff: Night.

Thursday, July 14, 2005


Zee Front of Zee Place

Dogs 'N' Refugees

We made it safely back to Tallahassee from our Chamblin’s pilgrimage, despite Hurricane Dennis and car problems. The hotel we stayed at was full of dogs: refugees from the Panhandle and Alabama. Little dogs, big dogs. Yappers and snappers. The hotel was kind enough to accommodate the canines along with the owners fleeing the hurricane. Few enough cats, alas, but some very cute miniature collies.


Chamblin’s lived up to my last memory of it (2004: a quick detour after a conference for work). The extra space creates an odd mirror or doubling effect after years of being used to about half the space. Those aisles leading off into infinity—do they really, or am I about to slide through the looking glass?

The Blessed Stacks

This time, however, the objective was slightly different. We came to sell or trade more books than we would bring back with us, the house beginning to show the strain of our collection. We brought six huge boxes of books (thank God they had a dolly or I would have killed my back getting them inside) and then about ten department store bags of books as well. Three hours later, when they’d finally gone through all of them, they’d decided to take about two-thirds and we had over $600-worth of credit—the most we’ve ever had at any bookstore.

Then the buying began. Or, I should say, the bemused browsing. As you can kind of see from the expression on my face in the photograph above, the place has a strange effect on me. I always feel overwhelmed. They’ve got about a dozen rows of mysteries. Another couple dozen of hardcover fiction. A huge classics section. A huge trade paperback and mass market paperback fiction section. A ridiculous history section that is divided by country, with Europe taking up a whole wall. So where to start? How to strategize so as not to lose energy or focus? How not to get distracted by pretty shiny cover in the corner? Eventually, you just say “screw it” and wander aimless as a ghost through it all, your systematic approach shot to hell. And that’s when you find the really interesting stuff.

Ann Takes a Break

One thing we did do is concentrate heavily on the graphic novels section, since they were more expensive and thus we could expend our credit without bringing too many books back into the house.

We did three hours in Chamblin’s, then broke for lunch at a place Ann had found called Pastiche. Great modern cuisine with a French twist, and some good German beer for balance. Sweet potato fries to die for.

Suitably refreshed, we went back to Chamblin’s and spent another three hours. (When you look at books in a confined space for such a long time all at once, you begin to get giggly and cynical about titles and dust jacket descriptions. By the last hour, I was scowling and laughing at just about every description, because so many sounded so much the same and most were so dreadful.)

The Holy Cash Register

By then, we were pretty punch drunk, so we took our acquisitions to the front, added the stuff we’d already left behind the counter, and wound up spending about $370 of our credit and getting the rest in cash (less 25%--the deal for cash instead of credit). We promptly spent our ill-gotten booty at the Chart House for dinner, which was well worth it. More great food, in an awesome location on the water and stunning high wooden beam ceilings and innovative architectural design.

Jeff: Overwhelmed

The Jacksonville Zoo

The next day, we spent a nice afternoon in the drizzly rain at the Jacksonville Zoo while waiting for our car to be fixed. For the first time, we saw meerkats in the flesh. They were fuzzy little things looking up at us with sad, wise eyes. The rain had frizzed them out and they were all puffy. They looked as if they didn’t understand why it was raining so much on their desert. (Oddly enough, they were Hidden—at the back of the part, behind a gift shop, over the railroad tracks, over a little bridge, and the exhibit unmarked. Maybe the meerkats wanted it that way?) I have to admit that even though I always knew they were small, finally seeing them that way made me rather incredulous in their ability, in anybody’s version of the future to be ferocious or to have aspirations of taking over the world. What incredibly retarded moron would go so far as to write a far future SF novel with vicious intelligent meerkats in it? That’s the question I kept asking myself. I also had to restrain myself from jumping over the wall and embracing my little fuzzy brothers and sisters. Somehow, I managed to. (We also saw leaping lemurs, warthogs, poison dart frogs, giant anteaters, tiny Asian deer, and capybaras. If only there had been squid I would have thought I’d died and gone to heaven...) The only disappointment was the giraffe overlook. When we climbed to the top, we found we were looking out over a scene of utter muddy devastation, with dozens of uprooted trees and tree stumps amid the mud. “Did the giraffes go on a three-day bender and trash the whole place?” I asked the attendant, who was standing uncomfortably behind a display showing the difference between a giraffe skull and a mouse skull (there’s a big difference, believe it or not). She explained that the crafty giraffes had somehow been using the trees to either block or storm the gates. This answer did not satisfy, so I came up with my own explanation: the giraffes were part of a punk rock band and after their last concert, they and the audience had just gone to town on the place.

One last note about the Jacksonville Zoo. It’s lovely, but don’t believe them about the existence of turtles. Any time a turtle was listed as part of a habitat, there was no turtle. I mean, no turtle. And no place for the turtle to hide. turtle. Not in the South American section. Not in the African section. Not anywhere. Every last turtle in that joint was missing in action. I have no theory to account for the lack of turtle. I don’t know what went down, but maybe it had something to do with the nefarious giraffes. (Also, something odd was up with the wallabies. Apparently taking their cue from the raucous giraffes, they had taken over their enclosure. The first set of doors was locked and the wallabies were actually inside what in a spaceship would be the second pressure-locked doors protecting the crew from the vacuum of space. Looking inside the enclosure from outside, you could see the fences, and the paths next to the fences where visitors were supposed to walk. All overrun by the cocky wallabies. It was another kind of insurrection, and apparently the zoo keepers weren’t interested in messing with the feisty wallabies. Instead, they’d just closed the whole area off, and now the wallabies were their own visitors, using the paths to gawk at themselves.)

Books at the Landing

Back to the books, though. Earlier Sunday, at the Landing, I found an even more valuable cache of books: a remaindered bookstore outlet had taken the place of the chain bookstore that had been there the last time, and they had a huge couple of tables of UK/Canadian trade paperback fiction. I found perhaps the most interesting novel I’ve come across in awhile: Patrick Ness’ The Crash of Hennington. We also visited the San Marcos Bookstore and picked up a few good mystery novel.

But more on The Crash of Hennington and the other books below, with the traditional yearly Chamblin’s Acquisitions Round Up, which, I’m afraid, I will not be hotlinking to Amazon descriptions. If you see something you like, you will, I’m afraid, dear reader, have do the work yourself. (Normally, I’d do it, but novel revisions await.)



Shortly, I'll post an account of the trip, but for now here is the list of what we picked up.



Fear and Trembling/The Book on Adler by Soren Kierkegaard – I’ve never read any Kierkegaard and this handsome Everyman Library edition seemed a good place to start.

In Siberia by Colin Thubron – I’ve read this fascinating travel book before, but had checked it out of the library and now need my own copy for a super secret project I’ll be completing in the next couple of weeks. The stark beauty catalogued by Thubron is unbelievable. (Admittedly, Liz Williams tells me that in her journeys through Central Asia, she didn’t find nearly the number of dour, sad people Thubron seemed to attract, so, as always, we’re getting the author’s filter on the region, and his filter is generally tinged with sadness.)

Life in Feejee: Five Years Among the Cannibals by A Lady (aka Mary Wallis) – This account of Mary Wallis’ travels to Fiji from 1844 to 1849 under the auspices of her powerful husband, a ship’s captain, looks really interesting. At first I thought it would be a lark—a crappy, Western-centric view of the place I spent my childhood in, but I’ve dipped in here and there, and it looks like it could be something more than that. The cannibal part is not an exaggeration—the teachings of quite a few missionaries were assimilated in a rather direct way...

Masterclass: Scenes from a Fiction Workshop by Paul West – This looks like a fascinating and revealing look at West’s fiction workshop over the years. It’s not exactly a writing book, but I have a feeling it will be instructional and useful to me in my writing and in my teaching of writing.

Men’s Fitness Magazine’s Complete Guide to Health and Well-Being by Joe Weider with Kevin Cobb – Yeah, I know, boring, but we bought it, so it gets listed.

Mortification: Writers’ Stories of Their Public Shame edited by Robin Robertson – I think the title says it all. I’m a sucker for a good disaster story, so long as nobody gets hurt, and this has tales from Chuck P., William Boyd, Margaret Atwood, Janice Galloway, and many others. This is definitely a good one to take on our next mini-vacation. Another UK/Canada remainder.

Notes from New Zealand: A Book by Travel and Natural History by Edward Kanze – New Zealand has a ton of odd animals, including them flightless parrots that eat yer tires off yer car. So I couldn’t resist this one. I imagine there’s a story or two for me in this book.

Pocket Billiards: Fundamentals of Technique & Play by Bogdan Pejcic & Rolf Meyer - Er, we’ve become addicted to pool, so Ann acquired a few books on the subject.

Siberians, The by Farley Mowat – A heartfelt and sometimes moving account of Mowat’s journey through Siberia (and Lake Baikal!) in the late 1960s.

Tainted Life by Marc Almond – I’d heard great things about the Soft Cell singer’s autobiography, so when I found it at the San Marcos Bookstore, I had to pick it up. Their version of Tainted Love is still one of my favorite songs of all time.

Taste of Dreams, The: An Obsession with Russia and Caviar by Vanora Bennett – Jeanette Winterson calls this book “Sexy, intelligent, the best mix of facts and desire.” So it must be good. But, seriously, it looks like a great book about the state of 1990s Russia.

The 72 Names of God: Technology for the Soul by Yehuda Berg – A beautifully designed book that incorporates the many Hebrew names of G-d. The Hebrew letters in the different combinations are said to bring diverse sources of power to the speaker (or reader) of those names. It is touted as a self-help book but can also be viewed as an art book. Ann picked this up.

The Grotesque in Art and Literature by Wolfgang Kayser – We first encountered grotesques (Bosch-like fantastical figures often done as doodles by goldsmiths and silversmiths in medieval times) at an exhibit at the British Museum, but they had no literature about grotesques. This book is the kind of thing we’ve been wanting for a long time. A detailed and careful discussion. I imagine it’ll lead to some story ideas, too.

Trick and Fancy Shots in Pocket Billiards Made Easy by Jimmy Caras – This is a really old book from the 50s, and kind of quirky.

Underworld of the East by James S. Lee – This long lost classic of drug literature follows the author through his insane Far East travels. Looked pretty interesting.

War Against Cliche, The: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000 by Martin Amis – Amis has taken so much crap for Yellow Dog, his Stalin book, and his autobiography that people tend to forget that he wrote Money and London Fields (both amazing), and that his nonfiction is often insightful and penetrating. I have some of his previous nonfiction collections, but this looks more definitive. Another UK/Canada trade paper remainder.

Willie Mosconi on Pocket Billiards by Willie Mosconi – Another book on pool, because we suck and we want to get a little better.

Workouts with Weights: Simple Routines for the Home by Stephanie Karony – Yeah, another boring weightlifting book, but Ann has recently taken up weightlifting and this has some great advice in it for her.


Bronte, Emily, Wuthering Heights – The talented and forceful Tamar Yellin has insisted I read this novel for a long time now. Chamblin’s had a ton of Everyman Library editions, which I love even though they’re not very collectible. I thought a nice EL edition would do the trick.

Celine, Guignol’s Band – I’ve never read any Celine, so why not start with something that has “Guignol” in the title. Besides, the description on the back mentions an “underworld” and “magicians and arsonists.” Seems like it would be difficult for this book to be boring.

Conrad, Joseph, Heart of Darkness – Another Everyman Library edition, of a novella that I like to pair with Achebe’s Things Fall Apart for full effect.

Dudman, Clare, Wegener’s Jigsaw – You’ve already heard me go on and on about this novel, under its US title of One Day the Ice Will Reveal All Its Dead, so I won’t go on about it again, except to say it’s a tragedy that there was even one remaindered title of this UK available. Every copy should have sold immediately upon entering the chain bookstores.

Keating, H.R.F., The Bad Detective – One of Keating’s stand-alone detective novels featuring a, you guessed it, bad detective. This is not the book the Harvey Keitel movie of the same name was based on. But it did win a Cartier Diamond Dagger Award, so I thought I’d pick it up.

Limon, Martin, Slicky Boys – This is one of those great Soho Crime reissues. I don’t even know what this one is about. I just have a soft spot for the Soho Crime series. I’ll pick them up without knowing a thing about them I’m so silly. I think it’s set in Korea.
Machen, Arthur, The Hill of Dreams – Machen’s classic, in a Wildside Press edition. It’s actually quite a good edition—never know it was print-on-demand.

Marquez, Gabriel Garcia, Love in the Time of Cholera – Another Everyman Library edition. Haven’t read this novel. Always nice to have a handsome edition of a classic.

Murakami, Haruki, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World; Dance Dance Dance; A Wild Sheep Chase; The Elephant Vanishes – Lovely, pristine used Vintage trade paperbacks of all of the Murakami I have not yet read! How could I pass that up?

Ness, Patrick, The Crash of Hennington – I’m about 80 pages into this imaginative and sprawling novel set in Hennington, an imaginary city much like our own modern cities...except for the rhinoceros herd that charges through it from time to time, the mysterious stranger just returned, and a few other insane things—like a wound that never heals but never gets worse, to name only one. T.C. Boyle is quoted on the back: “Recreates the world as we know it, infusing it with a charm and whimsy that brings to mind Calvino, and, of course, the Ionesco of Rhinoceros. This is a true changeling of a book, both funny and subversive.” I agree so far, except that it’s a lot more earthy than Calvino, a lot less stylized. If it holds up, it’s one of my favorites of the year, although first published in 2003.

Ortese, Anna Maria, The Iguana – A desolate group of lost noblemen on a mysterious island; a phantasmagoria; a grand delusion. Okay, I’m sold. Especially since this is one of the few novels to have “redeemed the honor of Italian literature since World War II.”
Richardson, Maurice, The Exploits of Engelbrecht – I already have this lovely collection of Engelbrecht’s adventures, but the shock of seeing a Savoy book in a used bookstore in Florida made it imperative I buy it. Besides, there’s a recent Dartmouthian who goes by the initials M.C. who needs to read it.

Stewart, J.I.M., The Oxford Quintet (The Gaudy, Young Pattullo, A Memorial Service, The Madonna of the Astrolabe, Fully Term) – Stewart wrote under the name Michael Innes for his detective fiction, much of which is stunning. So I thought I’d give his mainstream literary novels a try. Innes at his best has that classic English wit, so that’s what I’m hoping for here. Besides, I’m a nut for university novels. (Richard Russo’s Nobody’s Fool is a great one.)

Voinovich, Vladimir, The Life & Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin (translation by Richard Lourie) – I never fail to pick up Russian authors I’ve never heard of before, especially a war satire about the Red Army.

Graphic Novels

I’m going to be brief in my descriptions of the graphic novels because I need to get back to novel edits. Apologies.

Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean (15th Anniversary Edition) – Classic dark knight Batman graphic novel. Being easily confused by pretty shiny things, I picked this up even though I have the original. But the cover on this version is different. So I thought it was something new. Cause “15th Anniversary Edition” is in tiny type. Oh well.

Ascwind by Keith Arem and Christopher Shy – Pretty. Shiny. Cool greens. Cool art style. Full color. Must buy. Does story suck? It does seem to involve some sort of vampires. But what hell—it’s so darn pretty.

Cerebus Vol. 1 by Dave Sim – I’m told the series devolves into sexism and ranting, but that the first few volumes are good. It seems like a poor man’s version of the wonderful Bone by Smith, but I could be wrong.

Icaro by Moebius and Jiro Taniguchi – Ann’s already read this since we bought it and she indicates it’s a bit of a disappointment. I’ve skimmed bits and it looks a bit simple compared to Moebius’ work with Jodorowsky.

Megalex Book #1: The Anomaly by Jodorowsky and Beltran – I’ll forgive a lot of hoo-haw and nonsense for a great graphic style and a visionary tale. I’m sure Jodorowsky will deliver more visionary mumbo-jumbo for my brain to feast on.

Technopriests Book #2: Rebellion by Jodorowsky and Zoran Janjetov – Ah, the technopriests. My favorite Jodorowsky next to the Incal. More cool, weird, insane far future SF stuff stuff.

The Metabarons #2: Aghnar & Oda by Jodorowsky and Gimenez – Hell if I know what Jodorowsky is on about half the time, but his continuing visionary SF graphic novels for Humanoids Publishing are so outrageous and insane they put a lot of current SF to shame regardless.

Coro Coro Comics - We found this manga in Japanese with insanely drawn characters and cute little animal things. The image at the top of this entry is from a Coro Coro manga. Ann's going to use the pages as eye candy, slipped into correspondence with her students.

Friday, July 08, 2005


Chamblin's Book Mine recently added an annex to help house their over a million books. Before the first time I visited Chamblin's several years ago, I wondered why it was called a "book mine." As soon as I set foot inside, I understood why. Long narrow corridors run between shelves packed with books.

You can literally get lost in the maze of shelves. And you can literally find almost anything there. For example, before Edward Whittemore was available in the Old Earth reprints, I used to go to Chamblin's to pick up copies of Whittemore's paperbacks, used, for redistribution to friends and possible reviewers. Every time I went, for many years, they would have at least two or three of them, sometimes more. Because they buy almost everything anybody brings in, and they buy multiple copies of the same book. I really think this bookstore is better than the Strand at this point, much as I liked the Strand. For used, as opposed to remaindered, books, Chamblin's is the place. Granted, I've never been to Powell's, but on the East Coast at least I can't think of another place like it.

So today Ann's taking me up to Jacksonville so that tomorrow I can strap on an IV and spend a good eight to ten hours in Chamblin's, looking through their entire stock. Of special interest--their history, travel book, trade paperback fiction, and mystery/suspense sections, all of which are comprehensive, deep, and wide.

As is traditional now, when I return I will list the books I've picked up there, along with brief descriptions.


(Evil Monkey: "What's this I hear about Kameron Hurley guest blogging in August." Jeff: "It's true. Looks like she'll be guest blogging on this blog for a week or two. I'm psyched." Evil Monkey: "Awesome! Brutal Women kicks ass.")

Thursday, July 07, 2005


I don't usually post about current events, but thoughts and prayers go out to the survivors and the families of the wounded and dead as a result of the bombings in London today. It is a barbaric, cowardly act.

I did check in with friends in London and am happy to report that, among others, Mark Roberts, Claire Weaver, Jay Caselberg, Peter Lavery (and the rest of the Pan Macmillan staff) are all fine.

Some further details on Claire's blog.

Mark writes, "It’s horrible. Although, has to be said...the main response from London appears to be: fuck ‘em, let’s get on with it."

London's one of my favorite cities in the world--perhaps my favorite--and, along with New York, represents the Western hub of the publishing universe to me. A lot of fond memories of London, and I hate to think of it under siege like this--the bombings and then the fear that comes after.


Tuesday, July 05, 2005


Although I rather specifically and pointedly did not beg for votes in the Locus Awards, I am very happy that people did vote for Secret Life (#6 in the collections category) and "Three Days in a Border Town" (#4 under novelettes). Thanks so much to those who voted for me--I do appreciate it.

I am equally grateful that I came in at #14 in the best editor category. Ministry of Whimsy basically crashed and burned last year, so I was happy to see the emolation noted in some form. (Regardless, Leviathan will rise again, like some unsinkable floatation device or unsinkable blubberous beast, never fear.)

For someone who is always surprised to be in the running in a popularity contest, this is good news indeed.

So thanks--and congrats to the winners, listed here.


(Evil Monkey: "Fascinating magazine, this Locus. I've never seen it before. Such pretty ads. So much information." Jeff: "Yes. It is the Billboard of the genre fiction field." Evil Monkey: "There's some stuff in here about a guy named Cory Doctorow and 'creative commons'. What the fuck is that?" Jeff: "That's where you give your work away for free over the internet in a kind of formal ceremony involving a Japanese sword and a bottle of champagne." Evil Monkey: "And you do this why?" Jeff: "Cause it's fun. And because it probably maybe doesn't affect sales of the real book." Evil Monkey: "Interesting. Says in here that Doctorow is offering his latest book free to developing nations. They can create their own printed versions of the book." Jeff: "Cool." Evil Monkey: "He also says, 'The rich nations where my paying customers live are strictly off-limits.' So--how the hell is he going to enforce that? And will the nations classified as developing be pissed off that they aren't considered 'rich.' What about parts of the U.S. that are still developing? What about developing countries where publishers do offer at least small advances and have at least a rudimentary publishing system in place already?" Jeff: "I don't know, EM. It's a nice gesture. Look, all of those fiction-starved people in developing countries can now read Doctorow's novel for free, if they have access to the internet or if the people who create their own copies don't sell them to other people for too high a price. He is providing them with the gift of Coryfiction." Evil Monkey: "I see. Should we send them food, too, do you think?" Jeff: "Sure." Evil Monkey: "So--are you going to do this creative commons thing ever?" Jeff: "I'm thinking about it. But I like the Small Beer model better, actually." Evil Monkey: "How's that different?" Jeff: "You don't make the latest books available under creative commons--only the ones that have already pretty much gone through the full sales cycle. Customer still gets some value but you don't risk your sales on your new books, while still getting a nice PR kick for both the old book and the new book. Very smart." Evil Monkey: "So when will you issue a book that way?" Jeff: "I already have. I'm just not telling anyone where on the net I've hidden it." Evil Monkey: "Doesn't that defeat the purpose?" Jeff: "Depends on the purpose.")


July 7th, I turn 37 years old. This means that I've been writing for 30 years and been a published writer for 20 years. My first sale was to a magazine called Ouroboros way back in 1985, with my first "professional" sale to Amazing Stories--a long poem called "Four Theories of Earth Moon-System Formation"--way back in my first or second year of college, followed by fiction sales to Asimov's and others, before I started writing book-length work.

I started out in the mid-80s in the literary mainstream, writing poetry and founding a mainstream indie press, and then did a 180 into the surreal and fantastical.

My point of entry was the horror field, to begin with. (Most of what I was writing at the time had some real-world setting into which a horrific or fantastical element entered.) The horror field has always been somewhat reactionary, but I loved horror at the time--books like S.P. Somtow's Vampire Junction or Patrick Suskind's Perfume--and I enjoyed being a small part of that scene.

It wasn't until I started writing Ambergris stories that I became more aware of the SF/F scene. Although some large publications took stories that could be considered, in the fractured parlance of the day, Slipstream, in the main cross-genre and baroque urban fantasy that incorporated both genre and mainstream influences was at the fringes of the field. I spent a lot of years garnering rejections, many of them warranted as I learned my craft, and others the result of a conservative bent to the mags.

Today, things have changed to an extent, especially inasmuch as there are so many writers who, without thinking about it, mix and match influences to create new mutations and variations. It's a wonderful time to be writing, because I feel such a sense of camaraderie and recognition in reading the work of others.

I do wonder where I would be if I hadn't started writing longer work. For me personally, I rather think that I'd still be at the absolute fringes of genre. Whereas the novels and novellas have garnered major attention in book form, I still find it hard to place novellas and short stories at the genre's heart, in the digest magazines and major anthologies. (Part of this might be that many of the major anthologies these days are closed anthologies.) Luckily for me, I don't need those markets to find readers so long as I have books coming out from major publishers.

But it does make me wonder why editors at major publishing houses (thank you Peter Lavery, Juliet Ulman, Jim Minz, Liz Gorinsky, Hannes Riffel, Sebastien Guillot, Martin Sust, and anyone I've forgotten) would take a chance on my surreal fiction but many magazine editors, who have much less at risk on any individual story, wouldn't. (That said, there would be so many people to thank over the years for being supportive, from Stephen Jones to Ann Kennedy, Michael Moorcock to Jay Lake/Deborah Layne, and tons more, all of whom will no doubt be offended I didn't name check them here... :) ) I'm not basing this on anything particularly non-scientific--I'm basing it on the critical and awards recognition for stories and novellas that I couldn't place with the magazines, which then appeared in book form first or in small press mags first.

Everybody's different career-wise and nothing's a given and no one owes you anything. So I mention these things not from any sense of sour grapes, but just as a fact of my writing life. In a way, I mention it out of gratitude. The best thing for me as a writer has been to have a sense of opposition or indifference to my work during certain periods of my career. It makes you tough and makes you not worry about what markets want, and it makes you really think about why it is that you write. Do you write because you want to be famous? Do you write because you want money? Or do you write because you're in some way driven to write and because you really enjoy the physical act of putting words on paper?

As I look back over two decades of being in the game--sometimes at the fringes, sometimes more toward the center--I get a real sense of perspective and a kind of calm appreciation for life in general. You cannot be anything other than an absurdist to endure and appreciate the ups and downs, the highs and lows, of entering as subjective and unpredictable an endeavor as writing.

I'm riding high right now, but I know it could all be gone in the career equivalent of an instant, and I'm cool with that. At the end of everything, it's just you with a pad of paper and a pen, and all the rest of it is, over time, rendered startlingly irrelevant.


(Evil Monkey: "If you're feeling at all down about being 37, maybe this will help: There's a good chance in 37 more years, you'll be dead." Jeff: "Thanks, but I'm not depressed about turning 37." Evil Monkey: "Oh. Well, maybe this will depress you: You share your birthday with Ringo Starr." Jeff: "Okay, now I'm depressed." Evil Monkey: "Thought that might do it." Jeff: "Not for long, though--Ann's taking me to Chamblin's Book Mine next weekend. It's now, with a new annex, bigger than the Strand. Gonna trade back about 500 books and pick up some cool new stuff." Evil Monkey: "Do they have books on monkeys?" Jeff: "Everything except monkeys, dude.")

Saturday, July 02, 2005


This interview with Lucius Shepard appeared in truncated (and slightly altered) form in Rain Taxi's print edition several months ago. Since it hasn't appeared on the web, or in this form, here it be...



Since the mid-1980s, Lucius Shepard has been among the most respected and unclassifiable of American fiction writers. His prodigious output of stories, novellas, and novels over the past 20 years, in a dizzying variety of genres, may be unmatched for its sheer range and quality. From the fantasy of “The Scale Hunter’s Beautiful Daughter” to the dark magic surrealism of the stories in The Jaguar Hunter to the gritty noir supernaturalism of Floater, Shepard has demonstrated an amazing versatility and skill. The qualities I most admire about Shepard’s work are his eye for the perfect detail, his talent for intimate characterizations, and the way in which political or social issues impact on the personal lives of his characters without being preachy. But most of all, what I love about Shepard’s work is its effortless quality. No matter what genre he’s working in, the man makes you believe in his stories from the first sentence to the last.

Born in 1947, Shepard spent several years overseas, including Europe, Asia, North Africa, and Latin America. He has been both a boxer and a member of a rock band, and has become something of an expert on both boxing and music. His fiction has won a number of awards in both genre and the literary mainstream. Publications from The Village Voice to The New York Times Book Review have lauded his work, with Booklist calling it “haunting and magical.”

His most recent books are the novels Viator (Night Shade Books) and A Handbook of American Prayer (Thunder Mouth Press), and the short story collection Trujillo, with a collection of his film reviews, Weapons of Mass Seduction, due out by the end of the year. I interviewed Shepard via e-mail in August and September of this year.

Who are the major writers that you respect, past and present?
Louis Ferdinand Celine, R. L. Stevenson, Joseph Conrad, Joseph Svorecky, Thomas Hardy, Robert Stone, Franz Kafka, Flannery O’Conner, Jose Luis Borges, Manuel Puig, Peter Mathiessen, Larry Brown, Thaddeus Konwicki, Alice Munro, E. Annie Proulx.

When did you start writing fiction? Did you ever think in terms of genre as a reader? As a writer?
In 1980. My first story was my submission piece for the Clarion East workshop. I’d read lightly in the genre, but hadn’t entertained any serious thoughts about working in it. Then my wife saw a chance to get me out of the house—one of my bands had broken up and I was depressed—and she submitted that story without my knowledge. I was accepted...and I guess that’s how I got into the genre.

I looked up your work in the Clarion archives when I went to Clarion East in 1992. I remember the moment of finding your work because I liked the sense of continuity it gave me, and the sense that the guy who had written The Jaguar Hunter had once been a student as well. What did you get out of Clarion, and did you attend any other writing workshops?
No, I’ve taught at a number of workshops, but I had just the one workshop experience as a student and that was sufficient to start me up. I think I was ready to write and I just needed the confidence that the workshop gave me. And that’s what I mostly got out of Clarion—the confidence that I could do this work.

Did you have any teachers outside of writing workshops during your formative years?
My father wanted me to be a writer, He taught me to read when I was three and provided me with a pretty fair education in the classics by the time I was twelve. He had me reading Shakespeare, the Romantics, Hardy, Conrad, Stevenson, et al. I didn’t understand a lot of it at first, but I must have absorbed something. I can still quote long passages of Shakespeare I learned during that time. But I did this at the expense of a happy childhood, and I went through a prolonged anti-intellectual phase; so I’m not sure whether it slowed me down or sped me up. I suppose it helped—things you learn as a child tend to stick with you.

Who are the major influences on you as a writer? What did you learn from each?
I became fascinated by the opening paragraph of Mishima’s Spring Snow, which describes some articles on a table, in particular a photograph. In describing those few articles, Mishima caught the character of an entire milieu. To say that one of my main influences is a single paragraph in translation may seem weird, but it’s true. I wrote paragraph after paragraph attempting mimicry. I always keep a copy of Spring Snow close. I suppose Graham Greene and Conrad were influence as regards my choice of certain materials. Flannery O’Conner taught me a great deal about the uses of ambiguity in relation to writing fantasy. I think my dialogue, when it’s effective, owes a good bit to writers like Robert Stone and James Lee Burke. Like most writers I absorb my influences osmotically, thus I’m unaware of many of them.

What was it like growing up in the South?
I spent my first few years in Farmville, Virginia. That was a real backwater, a little tobacco town that had private schools rather than integrate the public ones. We moved to Daytona Beach, Florida, thereafter. Daytona’s not a real place; it’s more like a stage set where every few weeks they move in a new cast of characters. The bikers, the spring breakers, the NASCAR people, etc. Living there, I always felt a bit like an outsider, a bit of a voyeur. As a result, by the time I graduated high school, I had acquired a healthy disrespect for large segments of the population. I liked the hurricanes, or rather liked their aftermath. I recall going out after one of them and seeing an enormous neon sign in the shape of a bowling pin sitting square in the middle of Route A1A. After that, I always rather looked forward to them. I lived next to a souvenir shop—I blame this for a lifelong fascination with blowfish lamps, baby alligator key chains, and such. I spent a lot of time in pool halls, catching sand sharks off a dock, getting trashed. I got into more than my share of fights, but otherwise it was a pretty typical childhood.

We returned to Farmville every summer for a while, and it was like stepping back into another time. My family was Virginia gentry, and that in itself in a whole other world. Some of them still use the word “nigra.” As I grew older, they became afraid of me. They commented on my beard, long hair, and earring as if by these comments they could shield themselves from the things they thought they represented. The last time I visited Virginia was to bury my mother. As I was walking across the burying ground, carrying the urn, my Aunt Betty, a woman who had thrown me out of her house 15 years before, came running up to me and said, “Lucius, we think you’ve handled this so marvelously. Ben Irving and I think cremation’s the absolute answer.” This by way of showing approval, appeasing me. I resisted the impulse to tell her to go for it. My relatives are Faulknerian. Southern Gothic. They sit around in brick mausoleums, clipping coupons, waiting for each other to die.

How did you get involved in the boxing scene?
I did some boxing as a teenager and I’ve been a fan since I was a kid; but I got involved in the machinery of the game through my friendship with the writer Katherine Dunn, whom I met at the Clarion workshop one summer. Katherine’s not only an aficionado of the sport, but is interested in its politics. She was writing a boxing column for a Portland paper and she asked me to cover some fights for her in Washington. During the course of things, I learned that men with neurological deficits who were suspended in other states were being licensed in Washington, including one who had been in a coma several months before. I saw one man, with a 7-23 record, matched with a heavyweight contender, who turned gray when he was knocked out. I also learned that the only ring doctor working in the state was a homeopath who owned a string of birthing clinics and clearly had no expertise with central nervous system problems. I also saw a number of fixed fights. I addressed the attorney general’s office, to no avail, and eventually I circulated a petition among boxing people and show biz people that served to effect some changes. One of the high points was Helen Mirren, who’s a boxing fan, carrying my petition on a silver tray around a New York party, asking for signatures. Anyway, since then I’ve been involved with the sport.

Do you think your knowledge of boxing informs your fiction in any indirect way—the strategies and tactics of it?
Well, good balance is the most important attribute a fighter can have. The ability to shift from offense to defense in a fraction of second, to coordinate his footwork with his hands so that everything is flowing. I strive for a similar balance between the various elements of my work...but that may be stretching the metaphor.

Did you and Dunn critique each other’s work after Clarion? Was she working on her classic novel Geek Love when you first met her?
She’d finished Geek Love by the time I met her. I wouldn’t say we critique each other’s work. Both Katherine and I are relatively private about our work. I’ve shown her a couple of things, and she’s writing a terrific novel called The Cut Man that I’ve discussed casually with her, but I wouldn’t say it ever rose to the level of critique.

Writing and boxing are just a couple of your interests. You’ve also been involved in music and written poetry. To what extent have music and poetry influenced your work?
I tend to listen to music too closely to be one of those writers who listens to CDs when they [write], and I don’t apply musical structure to writing. My experience as a songwriter allows me, I think, to incorporate better songs into my stories than most, when songs are called for, but that’s a tiny virtue. I suppose my years as a songwriter cause me to look at stories much the way I looked at song problems and this led me to experiment with voice more than I would have otherwise. The poetry has been more helpful. It improved my ear a lot, made me sensitive to prose rhythms, and I think that’s very important, because a good reader has a sense of the flow of those rhythms.

You just finished a novel. What’s the title and what’s it about?
The name of the novel is Viator. It deals with five homeless men who are sent to live aboard a freighter that was run aground on a remote section of Alaskan coast some twenty years before. The ostensible purpose of their sinecure is to evaluate the feasibility of salvage, but they suspect their employer’s motives may be charitable—they had a personal relationship with the man and the salvage value of the ship seems negligible. The last man to arrive aboard ship discovers that the other men have begun to display a variety of eccentric behaviors.

I also have just completed another novel. A Handbook of American Prayer, that treats of a man who, while in prison, develops a system of prayer based on his notion that prayer is not an act of faith but rather that it is “an immoderate act of physics.” When the book based on the system becomes a massive hit, much to his dismay he becomes a cult figure, with all the attendant complications, including a peculiar stalked who may or may not be his own personal god.

What sparked Handbook?
I was working as a bartender in an upscale bar in Nantucket in 1989, working with another guy who was a noted womanizer, when this good-looking, expensively dressed woman came in just after closing—we’d forgotten to lock the door. The woman started hitting us up for a drink. She’d had a fight with her boyfriend and gone off without any money. My colleague said, Show me your tits and I’ll give you a drink. The woman was a little drunk. After a conversation, the woman showed him her breasts, saying, “Don’t squeeze them too hard, I’ve just had a reduction.” Her breasts were all swollen and bruised and she’d obviously just had stitches removed. That was the inciting incident. I filed it away, thinking it might be the seed for something, and eventually it served as the conflict that led to my protagonist being convicted of manslaughter. The idea for the novel, that prayer wasn’t dependent on a faith in God but on saying the right words at the right time, arose from my consideration of his life in prison.

You’ve kept up an amazingly prolific pace over the last few years without sacrificing quality. How do you do it, and how many hours do you write in an average day?
I work a minimum of eight hours a day, six or seven days a week; but this occasionally increases to up to sixteen hours. Usually, I work on two projects simultaneously; I find I get a burst of energy by switching. As to how I do it, or, more pertinently, why—I suppose I feel that because I took a few years off, I feel like I’m playing catch-up.

Before you took a few years off, your work schedule was less intense?
It was more fitful, let’s say. I used to work just as hard when I was working, but I took long breaks when I wasn’t working at all.

What do you think is the biggest difference between your earlier fiction—say, around the time of The Jaguar Hunter--and your fiction over the past few years?
I hate to be simplistic, but I feel the main difference lies in the fact that I’m older and more experienced. I’ve ridded myself some of the conventions that weighted down my earlier work, and, as a result, I find I’m more nuanced in approaching the emotional lives of my characters, more precise in evoking them.

You’ve done a lot of traveling overseas and seen first-hand many of the settings you use in your fiction. To what extent do you think of your fiction as autobiographical?
It varies, of course, but some of it is extremely autobiographical, embarrassingly so—at least it would be if I were easily embarrassed. I suspect it is even more autobiographical than I know. I’ve used various settings with which I’m intimate, but more to the point, the emotional settings of my life inform all my stories. Sometimes an incident can trigger a story. Back in the day, I was in prison briefly in NYC, the Brooklyn House of Detention. A formative experience. I was 18 and was quite unprepared. This Puerto Rican guy cane up to me and asked if I was jailwise. I had the good sense to say, No, and he proceeded to enlighten me as to the unofficial regulations—many of them quite specific—that would allow me to survive the place. The experience eventually led me to write the novella, “Jailwise,” but it was the emotional memory that allowed me to write it. Imagination really didn’t play much of a part.

What role does politics play in your fiction? Do you feel fiction has an obligation, as Carol Bly believes, to in some way address societal ills and political disease?
I don’t know that I believe that fiction has any responsibilities, but—so long as you give the term a broad interpretation—politics plays a part in all my work and it plays a rather direct role in some stories, particularly in certain stories I’ve set in Honduras. I’m very interested in the repercussions of our foreign policy in Central America, particularly in Honduras, especially as it relates to the Mosquito Coast. I’m planning a non-fiction book that deals loosely with miscreance of two soldiers of fortune, Lee Christmas and Machine Guy Molony, who helped make the United Fruit Company an institution in Latin America, and with other bad guys who’ve set up shop in the area.

Is it always immediately obvious to you whether you should pursue an idea in nonfiction rather than fiction, and vice versa, or do you sometimes have difficulty deciding?
It took about fifteen years for me to figure out that the Christmas project should be non-fiction. I originally intended a novel treating of Christmas and Malony, but then I wrote a short non-fiction piece for The Nation on the subject and it became clear to me that it would be better handled as a book about Honduras, about Central America, both past and contemporary, using Christmas and Malony as a focal Point.

What has surprised you the most about reader reactions to your work?
In the specific, the fact that a certain person, a survivalist, took the text of my book, Life During Wartime, to be a roman a clef concerning what he called the Froot Loops, the conspiracy theory that claims all the recent presidents of the United States were gay, except for Richard Nixon, who was a woman. That person stalked me for a year. In general, I’m very surprised that some readers perceive me as someone who writes “guy” stories. That might have been true early on, but not so much now.

Another book just out is Trujillo, a short story collection from PS Publishing. Is this all your most recent fiction?
Trujillo contains about a third of it, but since it checks in at 690 pages, I didn’t feel I could make it any larger. It collects the best of my fantasy work done over the past few years.

Do you have any pet projects you’d like to get on with but haven’t had time yet?
Oh, yeah. A novel set during Hurricane Andrew and a novel set in the Middle Ages aboard one of the Ships of Fools. I’m looking forward to doing them soon.

Just to turn into James Lipton for a few seconds: What do you most fear? And what do you most love?
Actually, I had recent bout with depression during which I was unable to work, so I guess I fear losing the ability to work most of all. As to what I love, without naming names, that would be my girlfriend and my son.

Friday, July 01, 2005


Entry #2

Bosun killed XXXXXXXX today, the seventh day of our journey. The blood is still warm. Some of it is on me. I saw the hopeless look on XXXXXXXX’s face and, perversely, I smiled—because it was not me. It was not me. I was not about to die.

Bosun stood over XXXXXXXX, Bosun a bald-headed bullet of a man, squat and dangerous, dancing around XXXXXXXX as he worked himself into a rage. XXXXXXXX a thin, pale spectre kneeling in the dull yellow grass, visibly shaking, pleading in a whispery rasp. The sun cast Bosun’s shadow over XXXXXXXX as Bosun put the gun to his head. Bosun looked up at Danzler Shard, who stood in judgment. Danzler nodded. Bosun laughed—a gutteral sound—and pulled the trigger. The click of an empty chamber. XXXXXXXX’s face relaxed into an almost psychotic calm, sweat dripping off his chin, his mouth wide in an insane grin. “You’re a sick fuck, Danzler,” he said in a tired voice. “You are sick, sick, sick.”

Danzler nodded. Bosun fired again. This time XXXXXXXX’s brains splattered all over the sparse grass. He toppled, fell, was no more. Abruptly. Ash observed dispassionately from one side, not a tremor of reaction in her pale blue eyes. Gransvoort, standing next to her, shuddered once, lit a cigarette and turned his phlegmatic gaze toward the horizon.

“Should be going now, don’t you think?” Gransvoort said.

Danzler said, “Bury him. And let it be a lesson. I’ll be putting a bullet in all of you before I let you bring me down. Carelessness!” Bosun spit on XXXXXXXX’s cooling corpse. “Remember to put his eyes out." And walked away.

In death, XXXXXXXX had become Danzler’s mirror, for what remained of his face held no expression at all.

I stared across that almost-desert, the sky so blue it burns more brightly than any sun, and realized for the first time that I might die out here, whether by Danzler’s will and Bosun’s hand or some other, less natural, cause.

This thought has convinced me to set down some sort of rough running chronicle of our journey. I don’t want to die like my father—with my life not yet recorded, in essence unlived.

This journal was my father’s. He carried it around with him all the time, until the pages curled and the leather became worn. He meant, like his father before him, to write his memoirs. It had always seem odd to me that the day he disappeared from my life, he left the journal at home. For this reason alone, I've decided to write in it. My grandfather’s memoir is a weighty thing and I won't attempt its profundity, but at least these pages won't be blank. Should I never return to A______, there is a chance Katherine will know what happened, that her imagination won't harm her, as mine harms me now. (Katherine—if I should be so struck as to address these entries directly to you, I would spend my time composing only love letters—and apologies: the guilt that I did not find some way to elude my kidnappers.)


Entry #5

There are other reasons not to speak of XXXXXXXX, or of anything: this wretched land we travel through, which cannot decide if it is scrub or desert. For all my accumulated knowledge about the world from hoplessly out-of-date books, I did not know that the flooding of A may simply be a symptom of some greater disease: the river to the north of the city has completely dried out. All that remains to mark the corpse of its course are the already-eroding outlines of its banks, the myriad skeletons of fish, picked clean of flesh, and those few pockets of water—never deep or wide—in which ever more desperate river creatures swim and crawl as the noose closes in on them. Otters, muskrats, turtles, snakes, salamanders, crocdiliads, puffer frogs: all consigned to gradual extinction if they cannot travel South. The smell of death is as pervasive as a carnal house. Most horrible of all: in the deepest, ravine-like portions of the former river, lie the enormous gleaming white beaks of dead freshwater squid, always permeated by an acrid, almost medicinal smell evident even through our filters. These beaks stand as tall as a man—memorials to commemorate their own passing. Bosun likes to stand between those jaws and pose for us.

It was against this backdrop that we today came into contact with other travelers for the first time. Danzler had just listened in on the airwaves again with the tiny radio in his pack and, satisfied with whatever he heard, decided we would continue on our present northwesterly course for another day.

At first this other party was just a smudge of black on a smudgeless, much-too-precise horizon littered with squid parts and uneven hills. Then the black coalesced into five mules carrying bodies behind them on wooden rafts, led by five dessicated, toothless old men who wore black Menite robes and in whose obsidian smoothness, skin seamed and riven and tan, I recognized the streamlined beauty of death.

“Priests!” Danzler spat.

“Maybe,” Gransvoort said.

“We hope,” Ash said.

Bosun said nothing but pointed his gun at them. Who could say what permutations religions had undergone in this place? Truffidians might be transformed into Manziists.

Danzler laughed at the five men, at the bodies wrapped in rags that followed behind, dried out by the arid climate so that they all possessed a certain similarity, a new equality created by death.

As we passed them, they seemed oblivious to our presence—to them we were no doubt just another patrol encountered, which would either kill them or let them continue on their strange journey.

Danzler hailed them and asked them where they came from, where they were going. The five men brought their mules to a halt. They stared at Danzler, their mouths set in permanent frowns. For a moment I thought that they too had been overtaken by XXXXXXXX’s curse. But they were just men driven to an extremity of silence by the burden of their endless task, their continual navigation of the wastelands with the barges of the dead. Still, their ceaseless appraisal of us, the way their eyes took us in and evaluated us made me uneasy.

The rider of the first mule was the leader and he said to Danzler, “We have come from Zamilon.”

Gransvoort snorted with laughter for no apparent reason and Ash met his gaze and snickered, as if someone had lost or won a bet.

“What did you find in Zamilon?” Danzler asked.

The priest turned to his fellows. They laughed, a dry, cruel laughter, like the wind that blows across these hills. He said, “We found them,” and gestured to the wrapped up corpses.

“Already dead?” Danzler asked.

“There’s dead and then there’s dead,” said the priest.

Gransvoort snorted more loudly. For some reason he found this macabre little troupe of priests funny.

Danzler ignored Gransvoort and the priest, said, “Where are you headed?”

The priest smiled but did not reply. He kicked his mule and the five of them started forward once again, headed somewhere, I fear, incomprehensible to any of us.

{Katherine: I would have given one of them a letter to give to you, but Danzler stopped me, took away the letter. He said any communication would betray us to our enemies, but there was nothing in the letter that would have done that. There was nothing in the letter but me.)


Ann and I have been hanging out around estuaries and pool halls. This past weekend, we took a 12-mile hike on a trail in St. Mark's Wildlife Refuge. The trail transitions from pine forest and swamp to salt marshes and freshwater ponds. At one point, you come out on the salt marsh to your left and the freshwater ponds to your right. On the left, there's what amounts to a long canal, fringed on the far side by reeds that spread out to the horizon, interrupted only by the earthen islands of clumps of trees and the byzantine maze of the estuaries that feed into the ocean. The light, even on a cloudy day, that reflects off the tan grasses, is often remarkably luminous, like a Turner painting. It's easy to imagine you've stumbled across some primordial terrain and that you're never going to make it back to the 21st century.

As we were walking along, around mile nine, we noticed two straight lines coursing through the water some sixty feet ahead of us, waves rippling out from the lines.

Now, the brain is a strange and suggestible muscle, delicate as it is despite being housed in bone. It is much affected by context. We had been expecting the possibility of otters in the water. When we saw the two straight lines, we thought we were seeing evidence of two otters swimming toward us across the canal. But no, as the lines came closer, we saw that it was something much more peculiar for that place. In an odd, almost magic realist way, the otters morphed into the form of two dolphins, their fins cutting through the water forming the two straight lines. The canal was shallow and they were only able to submerge up to their fins. Their blowholes made surly air-expelling sounds. They roved back and forth across the brackish canal, making the alligators nervous. Some of the alligators came out of the water while others dove in, caught between the unexpected dolphins and the slightly more expected humans.

We watched the dolphins as they swam up the canal back the way we had come, until they were out of sight. It was a surreal moment for us, especially because we were in that part of the hike where you lose your bearings a little bit—not becoming disoriented, but working simply at walking, talking less, in your own thoughts, and the pristine nature of your surroundings bringing you deeply into whatever fictions the mind may deliver to you.

Later, on our way out of the refuge, we stopped at the visitor center, worried that perhaps the dolphins had gotten lost or trapped. The water we had seen them in was at least partially fresh water, and the shallowness of it bothered us too. But the ranger at the center reassured us, saying that every once in awhile a few dolphins would follow high tide into the estuary system to feed in the salt marshes, and then go out to sea again at the next high tide. We were, though, lucky to see them. In the many years I’ve been going out to St. Marks I’ve never seen dolphins while walking one of the trails—only when out at the lighthouse, in the open sea. (Although, I have seen alligators swimming out at sea, the delineation between fresh and salt water becoming blurred; sometimes fishermen become a little startled, out there at low tide in their long boots, seeing a sudden reptile, sinuous and oddly close.)

We followed up our hike with a sojourn to a local pool hall, for beer and a spirited dozen games. Ann and I are evenly matched in pool, and it’s been fun to find a sport to share. It was the prototypical smoky pool hall, with an odd mixture of college co-eds, young professionals, older couples, geeks, freaks, scantily clad waitresses, and players. Our cue ball had a chunk missing from it. The crack of billiard balls and the plastic smack of balls hitting pockets mingled with the distant crowd noises from the televisions tuned to sports events. The smell of cigarettes and beer had an oddly invigorating effect.

I thought about Lake Baikal while we played, and secret lives, and the role of a character named Sybel in my novel, Shriek. I thought about what awaited me at the day job the next day, and wondered why Ann was kicking my butt so thoroughly in some games and not in others. I wondered where Liz Williams would be taking my plastic alien baby next. I thought about the clean geometric line of cue ball to eight ball to pocket and the clean geometric line of a dolphin fin cutting through water. But mostly, for some odd reason, I thought about Lake Baikal and its freshwater seals. And about Alaska and its melting glaciers, which made me worry about St. Marks, wondering if someday, maybe when I am sixty, I’ll go out to the familiar paths, and the sea levels will have risen, and the whole refuge will be under water.