Friday, January 23, 2015

Search for Meaning Festival, Seattle University, Saturday Feb 28, 1 pm


If you're in or near Seattle at the end of next month you might want to hear me talk at Seattle University's Search For Meaning Festival about how Hild changed the world. Tickets are $10. Details below.

 NICOLA GRIFFITH 
"Hild: The Woman Who Changed the World 1400 Years Ago" 
Location: Pigott 103 
Time: 1:00pm-2:00pm 

Description of Presentation:
Hild, born 1400 years ago, in what used to be called the Dark Ages, changed history. She is now known as St Hilda of Whitby. In a time when kings were petty warlords and might was right, how did she make such a difference? By being exactly herself. Extraordinary, yes, but very, very human. Because women have always been, above all, human beings: people. Even so long ago... 

Biography
Nicola Griffith is an English novelist (now dual UK/US citizen) living in Seattle. She is the author of six novels, most recently Hild, and a multi-media memoir. She is the co-editor of the Bending the Landscape series of original queer f/sf/h stories. Her shorter work has appeared in venues ranging from NPR and New Scientist to BBC Radio 4 and Nature. Until her diagnosis with MS, she taught women’s self-defense (for groups as varied as the Union of Catholic Mothers and the Equal Opportunities Unit in the UK, and the Girl Scouts in the US) but then switched her attention to writing. She now teaches workshops for writers, focused mostly on creative writing but occasionally more practical issues such as live performance and social media best practices.

Her work has won two dozen awards (national, international, and regional), been shortlisted for many more, and translated in a dozen languages. She is married to writer Kelley Eskridge. They co-founded Sterling Editing and now live in Broadview. Although these days mostly lost in the 7th century, working on the second novel about Hild of Whitby, she emerges to drink just the right amount of beer and take enormous delight in everything.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

What goes into accepting or declining invitations

From: Wendy

Forgive my ignorance on such matters, but with all these appearances and interviews, are they required by your publisher? I'm also sure they are fun to do, but are you allowed to pick and choose and then finally just say "Hey, I need to go home and write."
Short answer: I get to choose, to a degree. I get to refuse but I don't always get to initiate.

Longer answer: it's a multi-level conversation. First of all, in terms of travel, I ask myself: 
  • Does my schedule permit?
  • Do I like the city? This makes a big difference: the kind of food, and hotels, and general stance to the world. The weather is significant: if I'm doing a multi-centre gig, then some conditions can make life impossible. Ice, for example (crutches and icy pavement do not mix) or extreme heat (MS and heat really don't mix). However, a conference or convention in a decent, large hotel or resort is fine in almost any weather, because if it's vile outside I can stay inside and use the facility's bars and restaurants and room service.
  • Do I like the university, bookshop, or library that's invited me? This in itself is a nuanced conversation. Has the bookshop sold a lot of my books in the past? Do they consistently move my backlist? Have they done me favours? Do I just plain like the people there? Do they have any media reach, i.e. can they publicise the event effectively? And—vital—is it accessible?
  • Will the time/energy expenditure be worth the goodwill/sales? This is always a tricky one, with many variables.
Then I ask Kelley (because she travels with me):
  • Pretty much all the above questions, though the emphasis and concerns are not identical. 
Then, if the publisher will be paying*, I ask them:
  • In terms of previous, continuing, and projected sales, is it worth it for the to spend the time/staff hours and money getting me to a particular venue?
  • If not, is keeping the author happy worth the time and expense?
All the answers go into the mix. Mostly, sadly, the answer is No.

If I had all the money and energy on the planet I'd go to a lot more places. I have many readers, and in a perfect world I'd get to meet most of them. I love reading from and talking about my work, and I learn a vast great deal from listening to readers' response to it. But travel and work and MS present competing priorities. I have to make choices. 

So if you're set on inviting me somewhere, ask early (what I need is here). Talk to both me and the publisher. Be prepared to be specific: How many readers can you bring? And how? (What kind of publicity/media reach do you have, and how many people will encounter your promos? It's good to be super-specific here: show? posters? newsletter? paid advert? social media promo?) How many books do you think you could sell—at the event and over the next month or two? And, if it's a teaching gig, or you represent a for-profit event series, what's my fee?

For interviews, some of the same considerations go into the mix: How long will it take? How many will it reach? What format is it?

Bear in mind that I'm a lot more generous when I've just finished a stage in the publication process: first draft, or rewrite, or copyedit. I'm freer, I have more energy, I generally not yet engaged on the next thing. Right now I am not free but hope towards the end of the year I might be.

* For tour-type stuff, the publisher pays. For university things, it's generally the institution. For genre conventions, it depends—if I'm GoH, they pay; if it coincides with a book release, the publisher pays; if it's just to party and/or show up at an awards ceremony, we pay for ourselves.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The long tail: not the author's friend

Picture by Hay Kranen/ PD. 
The long tail is that of the demand curve of products versus sales. The best-sellers are all at one end, but as we move to the other sales drop off in a long slow curve that never quite hits zero. Traditional retailers draw a line only part-way along this curve, because slow-moving items return less profit than the cost of stocking them. But online retailers backed by huge warehouses and fast stock deliveries can easily afford to keep them permanently available. Helped by clever search engines that can suggest possibilities for customers with special interests, these niche items suddenly become profitable. (World Wide Words)
Chris Anderson popularised the concept of the long tail in his 2004 Wired article, The Long Tail. He was talking mainly about cultural products—books and music—and he believed that digital supply and demand would turn the retail landscape upside down.

Almost ten years on, it's clear that the metamorphosis does not help writers much. (ETA: By 'writers' I mean those who write fiction, novelists in particular.) 

For sellers, Anderson's theory works. With digital products, words or music, it doesn't matter to retailer or a publisher whether a million writers sell one novel or song each, or if one writers sells a million. With no cost (or very little) to store and ship the story or song, the aggregator makes money. Lots of money. They aggregate the payments on an essentially limitless supply of product and walk off with a goodly chunk of change.

For consumers, it works. Imagine you live in a neighbourhood of Denver where there's no book or music store. If you're okay with reading or listening digitally you have millions or perhaps tens of millions of products to choose from, to suit any mood, mode, or model. And those products—that album, that book—are as pristine today as they were when they were first available. One keyword search and, boom, you've got what you need. You listen to a song in five minutes or gobble an ebook in four hours. You find another. There's an essentially limitless supply to meet your almost endless demand—almost endless demand for music, that is.

A music consumer can listen almost anywhere, almost anytime. She multi-tasks: listens to music while she drives to work, or has sex, or washes the dishes, or reads email. I'm guessing some people listen to music 18 hours a day. However, while I can imagine (if I must) a reader who can drive or have sex or wash the dishes while reading, I'm guessing if they're doing both at the same time, they're doing neither well.

For creators—especially writers*—it's different again. If you live in that neighbourhood of Denver and have spent a year writing a novel that sells only 3,000 copies, you can't survive on the proceeds. Readers might be able to discover and buy your novel for the next fifty years but it won't do you much good. Why? Because your book will be competing with an ever-expanding numbers of blockbusters—new ones, every week, with decent-to-massive publicity budgets. Reader hours are not a limitless resource. The limiting factor is time.

Every day we feel as though there's less time to read, even for those of us who love books. We are easily distracted: That lyric, that conversation, that TV show, that article snags our attention. And because skimming an article or vegging out in front of the screen demands less attention, less energy, less focus, we take the path of least resistance; the book lies unread. And next time we want a book to read, we'll pick up the novel we just saw reviewed, or heard/saw talked about; we won't try recall the title of that other book we were interested in.

In other words, for books, supply overwhelms demand. The long tail works in favour of publishers and retailers but not writers.

On balance, I think publishers make a greater percentage on sales of digital books than on hardcover books**. No returns, no shipping, no cost of production after initial costs—which are only a small add-on to the fixed costs of the print development: plant, overhead (editorial and design), marketing, and so on. Writers make less—about half on a digital sale of what they get on hardcover.*** So the long tail works brilliantly for publishers that have an enormous back list and for online retailers with listings for millions of individual items. It does not help authors.

The long tail will always work for retailers. It will continue to work for publishers—for a while. But publishers need a supply of fresh product in addition to their long tail income and if authors are dying of starvation, that supply line will fail.

My conclusion? It's time for the author to get a higher royalty rate for ebooks. Both online retailers and publishers who rely on the long tail can afford it. For starters, I'm thinking 40% of net...

* Musicians at most levels can derive income from ancillary products—t-shirts, posters—and performance. Writers rely on the writing itself—except mega-authors who can earn (comparatively) low appearance fees.
** It's hard to be sure because retailer and wholesaler terms are a moving target. 
***ETA: I don't know what terms my US publisher has with each retailer and my royalty statement doesn't list royalty per unit for ebooks. So I divided Net Earnings by Net Units and came up with $2.32. That comes to about 57% of what I earn on hardcovers.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

The Year's Best SF and F

Jonathan Strahan has released the table of contents for his upcoming The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Vol 9, to be published by Solaris in May. It looks like a big book: 28 stories, including "Cold Wind." Over 200,000 words. The full table of contents is here. I'm guessing it will be worth $16 or whatever the list price ends up being.

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

National marriage equality

So. The Supreme Court will hear four same-sex marriage appeal cases in (probably) April and issue their ruling in (most likely) late June*. 

The situation right now: same-sex marriage is legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia—in total, home to about 70% of the US population. The federal government supports immigration, tax, healthcare, and pensions for same-sex spouses. Most federal appeals courts have struck down bans on same-sex marriage, deciding that the 14th Amendment requires states to recognise same-sex marriage.

However, in November the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals (a federal court that covers four states, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee) decided that Amendment 14 does not require states to recognise—either in terms of issuing licences and recognising licences issued in other states—the marriage of same-sex couples. 

It's pretty clear you can't have a nation state whose courts interpret its constitution so differently on such a vital issue. So the Supreme Court will have to decide which interpretation should apply to the whole country moving forward. They've agreed to hear appeals from all four states affected by the 6th Circuit's decision.

This is one of those history-making decisions. Chief Justice Roberts would, I suspect, I hate to be on the wrong side of history—and given the speed of change in the last couple of years it's clear which way history is going. So he'll vote for the national legalisation of same-sex marriage. So, of course, will the four traditionally liberal justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan and Sotomayor. Justice Kennedy is a big fan of states rights but on this one I think he'll opt for human dignity and vote with the majority. Thomas and Alito will not. Scalia... Well, I don't know to be honest. He might. He just might. It's possible we could end up with 7-2 which would make me very happy.

It would also make the Republican Party very happy. Most of them know same-sex marriage is not a vote-winning issue. A Supreme Court decision for marriage equality would render the radical conservative wing's agitations moot.

In my opinion, there's only one way for this to go. Prepare to party.

* Their term ends at the end of June. SCOTUS likes reserving their big ticket items for the end. As when they announced the decision that struck down DOMA and so legalised marriage in many states—on the 25th anniversary of the day Kelley and I met

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Bookscan numbers vs. real world

Nielsen Bookscan numbers are not always a good indicator of real-world sales.

The other day my paperback publisher told me they'd sold a total of n copies of Hild. On the other hand, for the same period Bookscan shows sales of 0.6 n. I have less exact figures for the hardcover but I think they're roughly comparable. This surprised me because reports I've seen indicate Bookscan captures 75-80% of points-of-sale.

If you factor in digital sales, which Bookscan doesn't report*, then the figure reflects less than half my market. I knew that Hild was doing well via channels that often don't report to Bookscan (smaller independents mostly) but, still, I was surprised.

In a year or so, when the final print and digital picture is clear to me, I'll revisit this, complete with pretty graphs. For now here's my back-of-the-envelope estimate: for Hild, Bookscan gets 46.5% of real-world sales.

* I'm sure it would love to, but Amazon owns a big chunk of the market (65% in the US and far more in the UK) and it won't share that data.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Right now: No

We are only 13 days into 2015 and emails are pouring in asking me for things and the pace seems to be picking up. (Well over a dozen; three just this morning.) This is a post I can link to to save myself many emails in which I regretfully say no.

So, plainly: Right now, no. No, I will not read your book with a view to blurbing it or introducing it or appearing with you when you come through town on your book tour. I will not join your organisation, judge your competition, or blog about your cause, no matter how worthy. I will not signal boost your initiative or organisation, despite it's urgency or importance. I cannot come to your school or book club or library. I am sorry for it.

I recognise that there are many people out there I could help, that I would like to help, especially those who are climbing uphill—women, people of colour, quiltbag folk, people with MS. It turns out that readers in many different rooms might recognise my name and that has some value. So I am lucky, I understand that. But still, no.

I have helped. I do help. I will help again. But right now I'm taking a break.

I am focused on Hild II. I will allow nothing to get in my way. Over the last year I've spent so long talking about my work that I'm a bit out of practise at doing it. Even something that seems simple—responding to a request by email—pulls me out of the seventh-century long enough that it takes hours to get back. So, no, right now I will not help.

How long will this state of affairs last? I don't know. A few months.

But as I've said, I am not averse to helping, generally-speaking, so here are my criteria for travel requests and book blurbs. I'll put together something addressing other requests another time. Right now the seventh-century beckons...


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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Map of Hild's journeys?

From: Jean

I heard you speak at Elliott Bay. Bought Hild and have been gone "back to Yorkshire" while reading it. I am the family historian for my extended Penrose family. Yes, we are Yorkshire Penroses from small places such as Skipwith, Foxholes, Langtoft, Burton Agnes, Huntington, Bainton, Hutton Cranswick. I have good documentation from 1731 to 1830s when the landless sons of Foxholes butcher decided to emigrate to America.

Over past 45 years I've traveled to these small Yorks places, and always launched myself by bus, train or car from York, Leeds, Beverley, Hull, Scarborough, Filey. Whitby I have a memory of climbing from waterfront of a town on the east coast up to an abbey ruin. I think.

All this is to say that I kept my Ordnance Survey maps of Yorks in my chair as I read Hild. Was forever matching place names in the book with those on your map in the book and with the Ordnance maps.

I wonder if you or any of your readers have ever created a map of the route journeys made by Hild. I keep wondering, where is Menewood? What would it be near today? Would a Yorkshire reader be better able to identify specific wolds, valleys, monuments while reading Hild?

I am now using Seattle Public Library and internet sources to get better informed about Bede, Celtic vs Roman religion, and so many more subjects. My pagan/Unitarian/Universalist spirituality has always urged me to learn and experience feminist spirituality and sources.

Thanks for writing Hild.
Menewood is real: Meanwood Valley, in Leeds. Specifically, the bits I describe are absolutely real. If you visit Meanwood Park you might recognise things here and there. Caer Loid is, in my imagination, the site of Kirkstall Abbey, also in Leeds. I'm deeply familiar with both places and for the book imagined how they might have looked 1400 years ago... You might enjoy this post I did a while ago on my research blog, which includes these two photos I took on one of my recent trips to the UK: Kirkstall Abbey/Caer Loid and Menewood Beck/Meanwood Park in February 2013.

Caer Loid, and ducks on the Aire
Menewood beck
Some valleys, rivers, folds, cliffs etc in the book will be instantly recognisable to natives. But some might not; so much has changed. (In the first photo, for example, I had to edit out signs of the 21st century, and both depict nature that's entirely too tidy for Hild's time.) But I tried to make sure that the flora and fauna, the weather, the kinds of dirt and rock, are plausibly those that might have been there. Every now and again I fudge a bit (I need Hild to be able to climb a substantial tree at the age of seven, say, and the trees that definitely would have been there would be impossible, so I import a less likely candidate--not impossible, just less likely), or make a mistake (sigh). But I've done my level best to keep things as real as possible.

But no, no one has created a map of Hild's journeys. I'd love to see it, if anyone did.

One more thing. You might be interested in Seattle University's Search for Meaning Book Festival, Saturday February 28. It runs all day but I'll be talking about Hild at 1 pm.

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Friday, January 9, 2015

Colder Wind

"Colder Wind" by Wylie Beckert.
A few months ago I did a post about all the different art of "Cold Wind," my short story about snow, and sex, and shape-changing. It was full of pictures of the various pieces that inspired it—a print of Terri Windling's Deer Woman; Riva Lehrer's marvellous multi-media, multi-dimensional portrait of me as a snow leopard; Hedningarna's haunting "Viima"*—and my discovery of some art, by Rovina Cai, inspired by it. All art, I concluded, influences all other art.

And then yesterday I got a message from the inestimable Henry Lien, the new art director of Lightspeed Magazine, wondering if I'd seen the long and interesting process post on how Wylie Beckert put together Colder Wind, her illustration based on my story.

It's radically different in mood and tone from Rovina's piece, though it's interesting that both use flowing/floating clothing accessories to add interest and fill space, quite unlike Sam Worthington's original illustration for Tor. I loved seeing different artists' take on Hild, too (there's more I haven't got around to posting). It tells me so much about the different approaches readers must take to a text.

I'm curious, though, about which of the three pieces—Sam Wolfe Connelly's cover illustration, Wylie Beckert's painting (above), Rovina Cai's interpretation—comes closest to matching the pictures "Cold Wind" put in your head (if it did). Or which you think enhances the story in some way. I'd love to hear your thoughts, any thoughts on the subject, really.

* I played that song on repeat for hours and find it has snuck into the playlist for Menewood...

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

We're all people first

From: Kelly

I enjoyed the reading you did in DC. I loved reading Hild and was happy to hear you talk about it.

What I'd also hoped to say in some way was just how much your books mean to me. But I'm dysfunctionally shy on a good day, so I'm generally incapable of normal conversation with, well, anybody. So I'll write it instead -- your books were the first I ever read with strong lesbian characters who were portrayed as unashamed and (is this the right word?) normal. Not victims or sad freaks. I came out a few years ago in my late 20s and struggled with it. Reading your books was life-changing because they offered an alternative to the way I thought I was confined to be. They helped me through the process in a way. If that makes any sense. So for what it's worth, thank you. Thank you for not writing gloomy women who sit around sewing all day, hating themselves, and getting the shit kicked out of them by men.

I look forward to the sequels to Hild. And I love Kelley's writing as well. Can't wait to see the movie version of Solitaire. I feel like I hit the jackpot when I discovered your writing and Kelley's.
Women loving whoever they want is a huge part of my work. Actually, women being who they are—in whatever way—is part of my fundamental approach to the world. We are people. It's that simple. 

Long ago, today, and in the future people, groups and individuals, have been, are, and will be constrained by the rules of society. Rich or poor, male or female, person of colour or white, young or old, differently abled or not, we're all constrained. Constrained differently, and to different degrees. And it's the degree that matters. A slave is going to be subject to an utterly different level of constraint than a member of the elite of any sex, race, ability, and so on. In this case it's the slavery that has the most profound impact, not the sex or sexual orientation or gender presentation. But slaves—and to be clear here I'm talking about the institution from a long historical perspective, not just the iteration of it that made millions of lives in the US so terrible for so long—were and are people. And people will always find a way around some constraints because that what we do. It's what we've always done. We find a way. If you squint, you could say that's what Hild is about.

I got tired a very long time ago of women, and lesbians, being seen as Other. Not fully human. Not human first. Have we always been regarded this way? I doubt it. Will it always be this way? No. As I've said before, I think it's changing. And that's what I write towards.

In our house we have a saying: Act as if. In other words, behave as though the world is treating you with the respect you deserve. I can't speak to the experience of others but from my perspective as a white woman of a certain age*, it almost always works. This means assuming good intent, and not feeling and so behaving as though you're on the defensive. I've always behaved this way, always assumed I'm a human first and deserve treatment as such, and often those around me respond to that. Obviously, there are times when it would be ridiculous, even dangerous, to assume good intent, and situations where it's impossible. Generally speaking, though, it works surprisingly well.

As I say, I write from that position. I write towards a day when we are only seen as other because of something we choose: team colours, if you like. Team colours we can change anytime we want. Today you're Red and I'm Blue; tomorrow we swap shirts. If my writing has a purpose beyond the fact that I love telling stories, love earning my living by making shit up, it's that I write towards people being people first. In that sense, as I've said before**, I write to change the world.

And regarding Solitaire as a film, well, stay tuned...

* But I have, of course, been other ages. My gender presentation is...eccentric. I've been very physically fit and now am a cripple. I've been—to some degree am—both a foreigner with a funny accent and a native. I'm a dyke. A woman. I've been all over the map economically—from years of grinding poverty to a few years of delicious bounty—but grew up lower middle-class in a family that could (almost) always afford rent and clothes and food but not going out to eat and not great clothes.
** I couldn't find the post I was looking for but I found my response to the question, "Can queer authors write straight characters?" I'd completely forgotten about this. It says everything I've said here, but from a slightly different perspective.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Songs in HILD

From: Kiffi

I am reading Hild, having heard of it through my friend Rob Hardy’s review, and enjoying it immensely. The mix of ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ cultural details works wonderfully well, and creates a world the reader can begin to understand, rather than just observe.

But I have a question re: the song on page 211… Edwin’s gesiths are singing a drinking song beginning “Do your ears hang low…” etc.

When my now husband and I met, in Wisconsin summer stock, 1955, we were just a couple of theatre struck kids, and prone to acting out all sorts of things… At one maybe slightly drunken moment, Victor sang all his Delta Tau Delta (Univ. of Missouri at Columbia) fraternity drinking songs to me…

(What could he possibly have been thinking was the attraction ???)

But the point is, he sang that song, virtually word for word, with the substitution of a ‘continental’ soldier, and optional body parts!

My question then… is the use of that song: was it actually traced somehow, or was it something you had heard and found exactly appropriate for the scene?
Rob's review is one I particularly enjoyed. So please thank him from me.

The song is one I heard, long ago, from rugby union players in the UK—probably exactly the way your husband-to-be sang it, that is, not with ears. It's an idiotic song that conveys the all-male, privileged upbringing of how I imagined gesiths. No, there's no evidence that men were singing this 1400 years ago, but to me it conveys the essential boyness of gesith culture, and I thought it would convey that to readers, too.

I wrote a lot of song and poems for Hild but didn't include most of them in the finished text. I didn't want it to remind readers of The Lord of the Rings and all that tedious elvish poetry. (I love many things about LotR but the poetry and songs are not among them.)

If you want to read an example of the not-used songs and poetry, you can find them here and here and here respectively.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

"Cold Wind" in Tor's "Some of the Best" anthology

Available for free download, Tor's anthology of their best short fiction of 2014, complete with the original illustrations. (The cover is from the one used for my story, "Cold Wind," 4,000 words of snow, mounting creepitude, and a hint of sex.)


Here's the full table of contents if you want to read them as individual pieces:
Or you could just download the whole thing, for free, right now, for your Kindle or Nook. (It will be available soon on iTunes and other retailers.) Enjoy!

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Monday, January 5, 2015

Yeavering: the evidence

From: Wendy

Facebook can be useful. Someone just posted a link to the Archeology Data Service site where they list English Heritage monographs that have been made into free PDFs. This one about Yeavering caught my eye.

There is a lot of information in it and I've only had a chance to flip through, but any mention of Edwin or Paulinus made me think, "Hey, I know those guys!"

Thanks for writing about Hild. Between my interest in medieval stuff (and playing in the SCA for 20 years), and working as a metalsmith in a studio where we dabble in forensic metalsmithing, your book inspires me to dig more into things Anglo-Saxon.
I skimmed the Hope-Taylor, long ago. Fascinating stuff. But I didn't have it. Now I do. Yay! Thanks for that.

Yeavering is a most interesting place. It strikes me as out of character for Edwin. He seemed to prefer low-lying areas of rich countryside, close to water. This is the top of a hill. But Bede and the archaeology agree: this was a big, important site during his reign.

In Hild I posit that it's basically a traditional ceremonial place of the British: a hillfort where tribes came for the annual cattle render to their lord in spring. This was taken over by the Angles a generation or two ago (by Æthelfrith? before that? I don't know) and maintained in order to keep the local populace in their place. I've followed Hope-Tayor's interpretations of the material evidence, mostly. Those interpretations are agreed with—to a degree—by many.

Yeavering was destroyed, deliberately. I'll say no more of that here because for those that don't know their Bede, or the archæological evidence, it could be a big spoiler for Menewood (working title). 

But for how it might have been at the height of Edwin's rule, you could do worse than watch this brief animation of the sparrow's flight above and through the site of Yeavering. It's crude, very old-school, but I love it.

And one of these days, should you be so inclined, I'd love to hear more about the metalsmithing.

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Sunday, January 4, 2015

Travel, and dropping the email portcullis

From: Christine
I couldn't get to Porter Square [Boston], unfortunately. I would, however, love to have more east coast opportunities to see you read. From, say, NY eastward. I figure if 100 readers send you a similar message this week, it might impact your itinerary, so I'm pitching in my two cents on the matter. 
I've had many variations on this AN question. I'll answer specifically and then generally.

Right now, no, even a thousand emails would have no impact on my itinerary: I'm not travelling again for a while. In 2015 I'll be in Boston in July (I'm Guest of Honour at Readercon), in August I'll be in Spokane (for Worldcon) and in October I hope to be in the UK (for family stuff). And that, I hope, is it. I've already cancelled a couple of things I had tentatively agreed to, because all I want to do is stay at home and write.

I've talked elsewhere about the odd mental bifurcation required of a writer when trying to mix writing and publicity (see Branding: It Burns). I love talking to readers—but it gets in the way of doing the actual work that they want to talk to me about. Which is why I'm dropping the email portcullis and raising the communication drawbridge for a while. Actually, the email portcullis came down a week ago, and I'm dealing with zero email until January 12. After that, I'll be judicious.

In the event I decide to travel in support of Hild II, I might consider polling readers about places to go. But right now, I'm seriously considering not travelling for Hild II but just moving straight on to Hild III—and then doing a blowout tour. But that won't be for a while.

Meanwhile, if any organisation wants me enough to take that on (I talk elsewhere about what I need to travel), I generally plan a year or so ahead. In other words, look at 2016 at the earliest.

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Saturday, January 3, 2015

More on freemartins

It turns out that etymology is my crack. I can't resist it. Yesterday, after posting the AN question about freemartins, I couldn't resist looking just a bit further for the origins of the word, and found this from a 75-year old Journal of Agricultural Research*:

The freemartin has been known to cattle breeders since before the establishment of the Roman Empire. The sterile cow born twin with a bull was referred to by Varro, a writer who died in 28 B. C.

It was called "taura," which apparently meant "barren cow." Although the condition has been recognized for some 2,000 years the origin of the term "freemartin" is obscure. According to one authority the word "free" meant "willing" or "ready to go," as the freemartin was supposed to be an especially willing worker. It has been proposed also that the word "free" was used to signify exemption from reproduction (sterile). Another authority saw in the term a contraction of the words "ferry," "ferow," or "farrow," which appear to be associated with the Flemish "varvekoe"—a cow that gives no milk—and with the West Flemish "varwekoe"—a cow that has ceased to be capable of producing offspring. It is not difficult to imagine an association between the two words "free" and "farrow."

There is probably greater speculation about the word "martin." It may have been derived from the Irish and Gaelic "mart" meaning heifer or cow. Efforts have been made to trace it to St. Martin who, according to legend, once cast the devil from a cow. Moreover, St. Martin is said to have been the patron saint of twins and unusual fecundity. Another explanation offered is that on or near November 11, which was called Martinmas day in Scotland and England, it was customary to slaughter cattle the meat of which was salted for winter use and called martinmas-beef. An early English dictionary referred to martin as "not a true heifer, but an undeveloped male with many of the characteristics of the ox, and generally fattened and killed about Martinmas." It has been suggested further that the freemartin may have been given that designation because its meat was so choice that it was reserved for St. Martin's—a great feast day. Moreover the words "mart," "maert," "mert," and "mairt" appear to have been used in Scotland and parts of England in referring to the cow or ox fattened for slaughter and salted or smoked for winter use.

Hart showed that it is not difficult in view of these facts, to imagine such an individual being referred to as the "farrow-mart-one," or in Scotland as the "farrow-mart-yin," either of which might have been corrupted or shortened into "freemartin."
I learnt from reading the paper that freemartins aren't invariably sterile, just mostly. Figures vary but let's say 1 in 18 develop enough to reproduce. As this can take a couple of years, farmers might let female co-twins live on the off-chance they could end up being able to have calves and produce milk.

This is why there's been a reasonable amount of observable behaviour: freemartins will mount a cow in œstrus but not hurt it or (of course) be able to impregnate it. So before blood tests and thermometers, farmers might have used freemartins to tell when their cows are coming into season. Knowing this makes all the more obvious the contortions the authors of paper go through to avoid mentioning sexual behaviour. I'm sure it must have occurred to them that another way to regard "free" is to approach it from the "free with her favours" angle (especially when linked to their phrase "ready to go"). Either they were coy on their own behalf or at the direction of their editor, or they were utterly clueless about sex. And if you've spent time on a farm, one thing you are not is clueless in this regard...

The stuff about St Martin is interesting, too. I'm assuming they mean Martin of Tours (though the fact that he's the patron saint of twins is new to me). He lived before Hild, but I'm not sure how well known he was in her time. Not very, I'm guessing. So if she used the word freemartin, it came from somewhere else. But that is definitely an investigation for another time. Maybe.

* EARLY RECOGNITION OF THE FREEMARTIN CONDITION IN HEIFERS TWINBORN WITH BULLS, by W. W. SWETT, senior dairy husbandman,  C. A. MATTHEWS, assistant dairy husbandman, and R. R. GRAVES, chief, Division of Dairy Cattle Breeding, Feeding, and Management Investigations,  Bureau of Dairy Industry, United States Department of Agriculture

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Friday, January 2, 2015

Freemartin: etymology and Wikipedia

Note: for some reason a first draft of this post published instead of the edited version. That's now fixed.

From: Andrea
Having visited Whitby some years ago, I found Hild especially intriguing. I'm writing to suggest that someone might like to add a reference to it at the Wikipedia article about freemartins (your book was the first time I'd ever heard of them.
There already is a Wikipedia article on freemartins. But, yes, it would be fab if someone added Hild to the list of fictional uses. Actually, it would be lovely if people would fix/add to my Wikipedia entry and/or create something for Hild. I can't do it myself, for obvious reasons: it would be against Wikipedia's rules; it would feel hinky (and most definitely un-English); and, well, I'm lazy I have Hild II to write. But if anyone out there wants to give it a go, I'd be more than happy to offer assistance.

Freemartins have been around longer than recorded history. But where does the word come from? Most people divide it into two parts, with martin being the easiest to deal with. The OED offers "Of unknown origin: cf Ir., Gael, mart, heifer." On further investigation (that is, a quick cruise through the first two pages of search results) mart is Middle English for cow or ox fattened for market. 
That might be from the French which is from the Latin (which might, depending on how you trace it, originate with the Etruscan *merk—). Mart is also a term that was apparently used relatively recently in Scotland—from the Gaelic, which of course originates with Old Irish. Both, naturally, begin with Indo European... 

Free is even trickier. a bit trickier though, again, you could link it to Old Irish fiadh, which means (roughly) wild. But why "wild"? We're really reaching...

In the end, I don't think there's any way to tell. But the only way to know for sure is to delve deep, and to consult experts. (And see above, for why I'm not likely to bother just now.) So let's just say people in Hild's era may or may not have used the word, but freemartins have been around since the domestication of cattle. (And sheep, goats—yep, they have them too.)

And, hey, it makes a great metaphor.

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Hild II and III

From: Sara
What's your anticipated completion date? Why isn't it in my Kindle yet? Are you planning just 1 more volume, or 2?

I have not felt this way since Harry Potter.....
I've had a dozen or so variations on this question in the last month. So let me answer it before we move into 2015 and then I can just point to it when I get the same question.

Yes, after Hild II there will be Hild III. But there will only be three.

The working title of Hild II is Menewood. I have no anticipated completion date. I've been travelling way too much to properly get my head back in the writing, as opposed to publicity, game. For how different those two mindsets are, especially for the kind of immersive project that Hild is, read "Branding: It Burns," an essay I wrote last month.

I not only don't know when I'll finish the manuscript, but I don't know how long it will take to put the finished manuscript into production. I suspect it will be faster than last time, because I won't be working with a new-to-me publisher and publishing team. We all know each other better now. And Hild, the product, is a known quantity: the marketing ground won't need as much preparation.

So hopefully soon. Ish. Meanwhile I add a snippet of information on this blog now and again, and occasionally on my more research-oriented blog. Stay tuned.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

MS as metabolic disorder, and diet

Welcome, all those who found their way here from Dr Terry Wahls' Facebook mention of my post on the metabolic hypothesis of MS from three years ago. 

Two brief clarifications about Dr Corthals' paper:

  1. It does not say that the immune system is not involved in MS—it is—but that the root of the problem is in the metabolism of lipids.
  2. It does not suggest that all animal fat is bad or that changing one's diet will cure any individual's MS.
In my opinion, diet will not cure anyone of multiple sclerosis. But I do think that it's a vital part of our MS treatment.

My diet, which is eccentric and tailored to my individual food sensitivities, is neither perfect nor medically supervised:
  • low on carbohydrates (I avoid grains, for example—especially corn/maize—and only eat very high (85%) cocoa chocolate which is relatively low in sucrose, and then only once a day, and only a bit, immediately after lunch)
  • very low on dairy (butter and cream are for high days and holidays only; I'm super sensitive to cultured dairy—cheese, sour cream, yoghurt—and so never touch it)
  • very low on legumes and pulses
  • low on fruit (I eat a bit of apple in salad, and berries sometimes after dinner—always fresh, never dried—and I avoid those fruits I know I'm sensitive to: bananas, strawberries, melons etc)
  • eggs less than once a day (I have no sensitivity, but lots of people do)
  • very low on omega-6 containing foods
  • very high on omega-3 containing foods (I make sure they're also low in omega-6)
  • high on animal protein—grass-fed rather than grain-fed (lamb and beef), or free-range (chickens that eat insects etc rather than grains) or wild (salmon, trout, mackerel)
  • high on leafy vegetables (cabbage and brussel sprouts, cauliflower, salad greens)
  • high on brightly-coloured starchy vegetables (carrots, rutabaga, beets)
  • zero high-fructose corn syrup
  • zero nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers etc)—this is a personal sensitivity and may or may not apply to you
  • two cups of caffeinated tea (no milk, no sugar) a day
  • lots of herb teas (and one decaffeinated Irish breakfast tea after dinner)
  • beer and wine before dinner every day, usually in very moderate amounts
Everyone tells me that this last is a Very Bad Idea for someone with MS. I'm sure they're right. Every now and again I spend a few weeks without alcohol, and it's, y'know, okay, but I'm simply happier when I'm able to drink. So that's my vice.

Generally, if I have to have sugar, I privilege sucrose over fructose (and in terms of fruit, the whole is better than juice). I aim for an overwhelming omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. And I avoid nightshades. 

I eat three meals a day. When I snack, I try to eat nuts (macadamia when I can get them, pistachio otherwise—raw, or home roasted).

I'll talk about exercise and dietary supplements and pharmaceutical treatment another time.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Blowing shit up!

There's something about the earnest wishes of the media and populace at large that this should be a peaceful time of year that just makes me want to blow shit up. As this is regarded as an antisocial tendency, I have restricted myself to my imagination. So you can imagine my delight when I discovered the Action Movie app three years ago.

Cars are dangerous

Here's the very first short sequence I made at an intersection where everyone in Seattle was being very well-behaved, very polite. Well, I figure out how to fix that. Chortle.



But I have since moved on to the serious business of destroying Christmas itself. Particularly that symbol of super nice, the Christmas tree. Here's this year's crop.

Dragons!

This is one I've done before, but I like it a lot: like being able to pan and then focus the fire properly on the tree. Also, well, dragons!


Photon Torpedoes

This one was tricky. I tried it over and over from a variety of angles. In the end I couldn't hit the tree bang on no matter what I tried. But, y'know, the USS Enterprise takes out my tree. It doesn't matter if it's not perfect.


Hit it with a rock...

This might be my favourite. It always makes me want to shout with delight. Blam! It's so definite...


Missile strike

Simple, classic, lovely whistling sound...


Drones Annoy Christmas

They look so very harmless, almost cute. At first.


Hellfire Missile Takes Out the Tree

And finally, the video YouTube keeps trying to enhance because it's shaky. But it's meant to be shaky, YouTube. It's video of a mind-bogglingly powerful piece of ordnance shot high up at great speed. Tuh!

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Ammonite: why in 10 years no one will notice there are no men

From: Scott Barrett

I just wanted to send you a quick note and let you know how much I enjoyed reading your two books Slow River and Ammonite. The SF Gateway collection Gollancz is producing is fantastic, and a great example of the Long Tail phenomenon working wonderfully for superb out-of-print books.

I literally just put down Ammonite. As I said, I did really enjoy the book, the cultures, and the women that you so richly created. It did leave me with one (fairly big) question however. The defining characteristic of Jeep was the virus. We discover midway through the book that it does fairly amazing things to the women who survived it. But the other defining thing it does is kill all men. Now perhaps that gave you the palette on which you wanted to paint the story of these women, and their relationships, and perhaps what a world without men might be like. But, when these cultures meet, and even become somewhat telepathic, men are never talked about. What they are, how they fit in, the fact that on every planet except Jeep the entire human race is made up of two sexes. Never mentioned, offered by Marghe, or discussed. For the entire novel.

Just was curious why. Was the omission intentional, or did you just not see the need to advance the story, or...?

Anyway, mainly wanted to let you know how much I did enjoy the books. Look forward to reading your others.
I'm delighted you liked them. I was sad when they went out of print in the UK. (They've been continuously in print here in the US. Ammonite alone has been through multiple editions and many-multiples of print runs. It still brings me useful royalty cheques every year. I'm proud of it.

Leaving out men was intentional, yes. I was tired of men always being the focus of attention and centre of gravity in fiction. I wanted to see what would happen if they were left out entirely—to find out if they were necessary to this story, to Story itself. It turns out they weren't, aren't. Even a bit.

When I finished the manuscript I sent it to three professional writers for their thoughts. One suggested no one would publish it unless I mentioned men, had my characters talk about men, have the women miss men. I thought, "No. Missing men just wouldn't come up in the story situations I'd imagined." So I didn't. And you know what? I had zero difficulty placing Ammonite with a publisher. None.

In my opinion, the novel does not suffer from lack of men, but the apparent hole at the novel's centre did startle many people (which frankly surprised me). And I've had a handful of readers (all men—but bear in mind this was 20 years ago, when the book first came out) accuse me of lying (these ones are always angry), obscuring the truth (puzzled), confusing the buying public (frowning, understanding they're missing something), and forcing them to understand the world from a woman's perspective (dazed and occasionally a bit frightened).

I responded to each and everyone one as patiently as I could (sometimes more successfully than others). They had just had their whole notion of the world fucked with, big time. They were angry/puzzled/dazed because they had been left out, and they had to face their own assumptions.

Let me give you two examples. 

At party, a man buttonholed me, angry because he'd just read Ammonite and "the publisher lied!" It turned out that what he meant was that the cover copy had used gender-neutral terms such as colonist and anthropologist and native and employee. So he'd leapt to conclusions and was horrified when he realised he'd been reading about...girls! "Did you keep reading?" I asked him, curious. "Well, yes," he said. "It's a good story. But they lied!"

And the day after, at a Georgia Tech class on Literature and Culture, a student told me he'd got a third of the way through the book and before being been struck by the fact that he'd encountered no men. He suddenly understood how it must be to be a female student at Georgia Tech, to be reading text books written by and venerating only men, to not be mentioned, to not have one's existence acknowledged, to feel, on some level, that one didn't exist, or at least didn't matter. 

So I told the class the story of the novel's very first review, in Locus magazine. The reviewer liked Ammonite and thought the main character, Marghe, interesting. But, "Oh, how much more interesting the book might have been if only the author had included the story of Marghe's brother!" (I'm paraphrasing; I don't have my reviews memorised.)  I didn't add any editorial comment. I just let the class work it out for themselves.

It astonishes me that nearly 22 years after that book was first published, people are still trying to figure it out. But the world is changing. It's my sincere hope that 10 years from now readers won't even understand initial readers' puzzlement; they will barely notice the all-women thing. After all, the point of the book, for me, has always been the story: finding out who you are and where you belong.

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