Conquered: First Draft

‘I have Conquer’d, and shall still Go on Conquering. Nothing can withstand the fury of my Course among the Stars of God & in the Abysses of the Accuser. My Enthusiasm is still what it was, only Enlarged and conform’d.’

Which is to say I think I’ve finished the first draft of the comic academic roman à clef. Another pass tomorrow to make sure most glaring idiocies are gone before I pass it along to my beta readers. I’m not usually one who prevails upon beta readers, but being so close to actual events I need to ascertain that I have sufficiently skirted specificity to be safe in my spoofing.

And how better to celebrate than with Blake’s Melancholy — well, endings are beginnings, beginnings endings. One thing crossed off my to-do list, a moment to celebrate and then onward. Much to create: busy, busy busy.

melancholy-1820

Under My Skin

A week ago — a momentous time for so many reasons — I whacked my knuckles on the book case in the conference room outside my office at the end of a day meeting students for advisement. I’ve done it before: those of you who know me well will not be surprised. Head in the clouds, absent-minded professor — whatever you want to call it, I end up with odd bruises all the time. And then in a minute or two, it became this lump.

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I did what any normal person does: I sent the picture out on social media asking people if I should be worried. Some alarmed people said YES especially when I posted a video so you could see it in 3D, but most people said just ice it and elevate. I chipped some ice off the frozen-over freezer of our office because you have to improvise at times like this. Later at my friend Angela’s house, she gave me some frozen green beans that worked much better.

Robert got Lagavulin which worked even better with real ice.

The lump went down over the next few days and the bruises took off, lending a bit of colour. It was sore but not awfully so. There were far more painful things happening in the world, so on the whole I figured it could have been worse. See, much better!

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You don’t always know how an injury will affect you: something that didn’t seem all that big a deal might end up being surprisingly painful. Some things you know are going to be bad. Bracing yourself is the only option and it’s not enough because it’s coming at your from every direction. At least with big things you’re not alone: we’re all in that sinking boat and some of us are bailing it out (some are just bailing). There’s some attempts to patch the gaping holes, but there seem to be an inordinate number of folks rushing to the apocalypse.

In the words of Saint Kurt the Vonnegut, so it goes.

They get under our skin. That’s what they want. We inherit different thicknesses; we cultivate other characteristics. I recently did one of those ancestral DNA kits. I had hoped my ancestors would be a little more curious about the world, but they end up being 100% European:

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The Finnish is no surprise; I never thought I had any British/Irish blood so I’m going to claim it’s all Scottish, of course. Balkan and Southern? I’m going to go with Slovenia! But mostly Northern, which surprises no one. I also have 293 Neanderthal variants which is fairly high (higher than 74% of those they tested). What does it mean? Well, among other things:

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So there’s that.

To sum up: it’s a really lousy year for so many reasons for so many of us and things look likely to get worse. Your community will be more important than ever. Be part of them, look out for others, let yourself be looked after especially if you’re not one inclined to do that. Be grateful for every bit of joy that comes your way and if you have it, the reduced tendency to sneeze after eating dark  chocolate.

‘One of the ways to avoid being beaten by the system is to laugh at it.’

Peter Cook

Vonnegut Talk

I had a great time at my talk on Saturday. There was a big crowd who proved very enthusiastic. I was rather glad that Vonnegut’s nephew Kurt and his son didn’t introduce themselves until after the talk or I would have felt rather self-conscious talking about their family members. Kurt said that his father Bernard had been recording video for the forthcoming documentary. I was one of the Kickstarter contributors, so I am eagerly looking forward to it. I remembered to take a picture of the sign for the talk but I realise I took the wrong side so my name isn’t even there.

The Mabee Farm site is quite interesting. There’s even an old cemetery and of course, right now there’s the It Came from Schenectady exhibit of SF/F from the capital region, including some Albacon members.

Accidents in a Very Busy Place: Kurt Vonnegut in Schenectady
presented by K.A. Laity
Saturday 4/11/15 at 2:00 PM at Mabee Farm Historic Site

Kurt Vonnegut, the renowned and beloved author, spend an important part of his life in Schenectady. The region influenced his work, and Schenectady appears as the setting for many of his stories. K.A. Laity will discuss Vonnegut’s time in Schenectady– as a PR man for GE, and as a volunteer fire fighter– and the region’s legacy in his work.

I’m making the talk available because it’s not really something intended for publication, but I know people who weren’t able to be there are interested. It’s a bit of a DIY situation because I don’t have time to combine the two pieces: so here’s the text and here are the slides. It’s far more entertaining with the slides.

sci fi poster smallIt Came from Schenectady: Science Fiction in the Capital Region
(at Mabee Farm Historic Site through September 2015)

What if you had a superpower? What if you could travel through time? What if machines overtook Schenectady? “What if” questions inspire writers, artists, and filmmakers to create new worlds and imagine alternate realities. Featuring an Apollo EMU spacesuit (and a replica you can try on!), experimental equipment and machinery from GE, original science fiction cover art, hand-made costumes, an interactive studio set, film footage, and more, It Came from Schenectady: Science Fiction in the Capital Region invites you to discover the “what ifs” that inspired the creations of local science fiction innovators, including Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Nelson, and Glendora. Join us on a journey through time and space as we explore the legacy of science fiction in Schenectady County!

Today: Vonnegut in Schenectady

Vonnegut TalkJoin me at the Schenectady Historical Society’s Mabee Farm at 2pm for a talk about Kurt Vonnegut’s Schenectady years. I talk a lot about Player Piano as well as a bit about Cat’s Cradle and Welcome to the Monkey House. Quite shamelessly I mention Owl Stretching, too and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention So It Goes as well. I hope all the jokes work — how can you go wrong with Vonnegut after all? Part of It Came from Schenectady: Science Fiction in the Capital Region, so I look forward to seeing what else is there.

Do note, if you’re coming by boat: The Mabee Farm is located on the south side of the Mohawk River about 1 mile east of Lock E-9 and four miles west of Lock E-8. 

I should have chartered a boat!

While You Were Out

blue sky eggOr I suppose, while I was out and about in the Big Easy with Miss Wendy and other folks (yes, write up to come) I neglected my blog. So a hasty round up while I get caught up —

INTERVIEWS
Hector D Jr interviewed me for Sliver of Stone magazine and I natter on about all manner of silliness and William Blake because I seem not to be able to avoid mentioning him whenever I am asked about living the creative life. And in the same issue, a great interview by Hector with Mr B. We all met up at the Crime conference in Poland, so no surprise. If we can’t hang out in person, we’ll do so virtually because it’s always a pleasure. Oh and this Friday I’m interviewed on the Speculative Fiction Cantina. You can listen live and call in with questions.

NEW STORY
My alter ego Graham Wynd has a new story out in Near to the Knuckle’s new crime anthology ROGUE, “Bonkers in Phoenix” which is of course a title stolen from a Fall song. Crude, rude and lewd! Also very funny if you don’t mind those other things. I’m almost thinking the story might go on from where it ends. You tell me. Pick it up at Amazon — and you will because it’s also got folks like Mr. B, Godwin, Tess Makovesky and more. Graham has been busy: Ham on Heels, Toy Monkey and 30 Versions of Warm Leatherette still getting hits over that fabulous Pulp Metal Magazine. Yes, I am writing too, but mostly non-fiction at the moment (and revising).

PAGAN
I’m not sure why I never seem to remember to add my History Witch pieces here. I’ve got a review of a cool grimoire, Rún that I got from Strandagaldur (The Museum Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft). Also there’s a musical version of An Anglo Saxon Chant and a bit about mud and spring in Solmōnaþ, which finally seems appropriate.

VONNEGUT
Somewhat disconcertingly, I keep hearing my name on the radio as they’re advertising the talk I’m doing Saturday on Kurt Vonnegut quite a bit. So now I’m thinking ‘gosh, better polish this really well!’ I’ve been re-reading Player Piano and rediscovering the novel all over again.

DREAM BOOK is almost here…!

FICTION / FOLKLORE

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

2013-10-23 16.44.20Every creative gets this question sooner or later: those asking think it’s the most natural thing in the world to ask about this ‘mysterious’ process. Those questioned, however, can’t help wondering where don’t you get ideas?! The truth is inspiration comes from the oddest things (that’s why we carry notebooks) but it can also be induced by filling your head with as much stuff as possible: reading, viewing art, watching movies, immersing yourself in wild nature or noisy city streets– wherever your muses lurk.

Owl StretchingHonestly, I often forget where I got ideas originally once they’ve passed through my brain to become stories. I can remember the hooks sometimes because they’re in the titles. Owl Stretching is easy because the name comes from Monty Python and, as I’ve written before, I started it the day Kurt Vonnegut died and I lamented the loss of the sad, funny books that he wrote. But it also shows my obsessions with magpies and the Regency cant (slang) that Georgette Heyer used in her novels.

The Mangrove Legacy by Kit Marlowe - 500That same cant shows up in The Mangrove Legacy because I was obsessed with it for a long time (as well as Alice in Wonderland, an almost lifelong obsession, plus Jane Austen, Gothic novels and pirates, cheese and pockets). And that serial started because I was afraid that I wouldn’t keep writing fiction while I was so busy trying to write my way out of Texas.

Ha!

Of course music is a huge influence for ideas. How many? Let’s see:

It's A Curse

extricate ebook 72ppi

And my next novel White Rabbit is (obviously) inspired by Alice in Wonderland but it’s also sprung from “Draygo’s Guilt” and there are short stories like “Guide Me Soft” and “Grotesque” also spawned by Fall songs and Mark E. Smith lyrics; but I also use other musicians like this for what’s an homage to Tony Hancock and Sid James (stories inspired by comedy, that’s whole other post):

Even if I sometimes get the title wrong (>_<)

And sometimes it’s art that inspires a title and a story:

Other times, it may be a film:

Or a poem.

Unquiet Dreams by K. A. Laity - 500

You just never know. Creating is a habit you develop, a way of seeing the world. Do it consciously. Really look at the world around you. There’s plenty of inspiration no matter where you are. Close your eyes: you have a lifetime of images, sounds and words in your head. Use them.

Writer Wednesday: A Sense of Wonder

weaveush2Some days are a lot harder than others. In the midst of even more bad news that Iain Banks is terminally ill and after the unexpected death of Rick Hautala last week, so many writers I know are simply reeling lately. Friends mourn of course, but readers who never met them anywhere except between the covers of a book mourn, too. Stories open us up to new people and experiences.

They’re not always happy experiences.

When I first read Clive Barker’s Weaveworld I remember thinking, “How could Cal forget?” How could he forget the wonder he had seen, the world weaved into that seemingly innocuous carpet? Being much older now, I understand it all too well — how the world grinds us down and how we can lose that precious sense of wonder.

Writing is one of the best ways to hold onto that, but drawing, singing, dancing — they all do it. Creating. Write it all down. It’s a way of keeping hold of the quicksilver life that flashes past us all too speedily. Even more importantly, it gives voice to the worlds that lie inside us waiting to be born. No one else can give them life. You have a unique point of view. Don’t worry if the story is old (all stories are old). No one else has your voice. Give voice to your story and then dare to release it to the world.

You may only find two or three people who want it, but you might also find a hundred or a million. It doesn’t have anything to do with the quality of what you write; it’s got everything to do with the zeitgeist. No one knows where that will go next. No one. But even if your audience is only yourself, do it. Make those worlds, live those lives, hold onto the precious seconds that tick by all too quickly.

Otherwise we allow ourselves to be anaesthetised by easy distractions. Lynda Barry evokes this so vividly in What It Is, when she remembers how self-consciousness crept over her and the girl who danced and sang and drew and laughed became the teenager who turned to stone in front of the television.

Don’t let go of that sense of wonder.

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NEWS

I’m over at Jill Edmondson’s blog today talking about my visit to the International Spy Museum. I was also just at Heart of Fiction talking about Lush Situation.

Fear and Learning: Essays on the Pedagogy of Horror is out at last and includes my essay, “Raven’s Eye View: Teaching Scopophilia with the Films of Dario Argento.”

My flash fiction story “Homework” appears in the latest Necon collection, Best of 2012.

My review of Dana Fredsti’s Plague Nation is over at A Knife and A Quill.

Still free: Just Desserts collects a bunch of recipes from folks at Tirgearr Publishing.

And my column over at Ms. carries on a discussion begun here.

Plus there’s my humorous essay “How to Succeed in Academia” in the Vonnegut tribute collection, So it Goes. The days are just packed.