Saturday, January 23, 2010

Green Knight

Ten reasons why the Pearl Poet's Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Cotton Nero MS, British Library) is the greatest of all fourteenth century texts produced in English:

1. West Midland English dialect. Any text that regularly utilizes glottal thorns is, by definition, awesome.

2. Alliterative verse. It's pleasing to read and even more pleasing to hear.

3. Manuscript illustrations (see above).

4. Best arming-of-the-hero scene. Even his helmet gets a verse paragraph.

5. His horse is named Gringolet.

6. Morgan le Fay is involved in a significant way.

7. Bertilak, the Green Knight, exchanges kisses with Gawain.

8. A green girdle gets significant narrative play.

9. The "love-talking" scenes between Gawain and the lady are medieval erotic psychology.

10. A character picks up his own heads and rides away with it.


Jane Espenson is a writer for the new Battlestar spin-off, Caprica, and she says that the cast will include LGBT characters. Espenson is a former Buffy writer, and wrote some of the funniest and most interesting episodes for that show. Read the full interview here.

This is Sam (actor Sasha Roiz). Sam is gay and on Caprica. Let's all program our VCRs, or whatever Tivo thingy the kids are using nowadays.


Novel covers are a fascinating hybrid of artistic and advertising impulses. They are the visual lifeblood of the publishing industry, and in the genres of science fiction and fantasy, they can quite easily determine the popularity of a text. Frankly, nobody cares what the cover is going to be on a classic literary text, like Frazier's Golden Bough, or El cantar de mio Cid. But the cover of a new series by an previously unpublished fiction writer, and even a semi-established fiction writer, can make or break a series. Ultimately, if a browsing customer doesn't decide to pick up your book by virtue of its interesting cover, you have lost a sale. Publishers need sales. Everyone needs sales, because everyone needs to ensure their own financial survival, at all levels of the industry.

My experience in the urban fantasy genre is that covers require tank-tops. Women need to be in tank-tops, possibly with a jacket thrown hastily over one shoulder, definitely wearing a shoulder-holster of some kind. She might have an animal next to her, she might be hugging a wall, or she might be holding an amulet. But the elements are all there: gothic scenery, gloomy lighting, a firearm of some kind, and bare flesh.

What's amazing is that artists working for various publishers have found creative ways to project this idea while also adding an element of the unexpected. Everyone has limited digital and financial resources to work with, and a crushing schedule to deal with, but despite it all, fascinating covers are still produced. Take mine, for example, above.

Tess looks interesting, not mindless. She isn't wearing high-heels. She has a pretty sweet police badge lanyard around her neck. And the crime-scene tape is eye-drawing. It takes the CSI image, which is an advertising text, and extends it. Whatever's behind Tess seems pretty scary, at least to me. And trust me, it is scary. But the touch of the windows is perfect, especially because of the medieval subject matter. I think Tim Lantz did a great job.

Will this cover make more people pick up my book? I guess I'm not supposed to care about these things, I'm just supposed to "enjoy creating," or whatever they call the daimonic inspiration of writing in any genre. But I also want to be published, and the visual representation of my stories is essentially what ensures that.

Still, to me, the fantasy and science fiction aisle in a bookstore has always been the most beautiful aisle. I go there first, not to Artwork or Philosophy. I browse all the new covers like a twelve-year-old version of myself stuck inside an endless Purdy's chocolate store. Some are so pretty. Others make me cringe. Damn you, Patricia Briggs, why does Mercy just keep getting hotter with each successive cover?

I can be distracted in a bookstore this way for hours. My boyfriend is more distracted by the games section, since he sincerely wants me to play Settlers of Katan with him. Will I break? I feel like being drunk is what will ultimately decide things, but I look forward to it.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Reasons for writing

In his list of reasons for being a writer, George Orwell places egomania at the very top. I am thinking of this thanks to a talk on Orwell given by a colleague that I attended today, during which he brilliantly and precisely illustrated the place of style in composition studies. Orwell is celebrated as a writer who composed 'transparent' and 'precise' short stories, compact and bordered, descriptive without saying too much. But his style may not have in fact been transparent at all, it may have been affectively charged, and probably was.

Why do I write? Is it egomania? That is definitely on the list, and close to the top spot, even. Of course I want to see my work disseminated. Of course I want to believe that people are thinking and debating my ideas, that they are talking about my writing, and therefore talking about me. Is that only child syndrome? If it's a syndrome, then I feel as if the character of it is something that I can bear quite fine. Yes, I would like you to be talking about me. It's pleasing. And that's part of style as well: Mulvey's sense of being-looked-at-ness, of being desired but also interpellated and looked through. Bring that on. I love it.

I do enjoy the experience of writing something and then seeing it in print, which includes electronic print, since it's impossible to discount the significance of online texts and blogs. At this moment in the publishing industry, as far as I can tell, digital promotion and online reviewing are the driving forces behind book promotion. I enjoy publishing fanfic as much as I enjoy publishing an article in a journal. Why should I prefer one to the other? Chapbooks are far sexier than literary journals. I have a birthday card from my friend Tara that I've kept since I was seventeen, because it's basically a graphic and literary masterpiece. I keep it in my closet in a heavy plastic binder so it will never decay. I think I may scan it.

So yes, publication feels good, and fuels the ego. But let's be honest. It also allows you to eschew therapy, because you can deal with your personal shit through the medium of print. Don't think that your characters aren't working your shit out for you--they pretty much always are. But they also divebomb you sometimes and do weird things, make decisions that you hadn't planned on. "Hey. You died in the outline. Why are you still alive in chapter thirteen?" We've all asked a character this question. Hey, when did the lawyer turn into a snow leopard? This is actually happening in a manuscript I'm writing now. There is a law court entirely run by animals, and one of the advocates is a snow leopard who communicates through an electronic amulet. Because, hey...that's just fun to write about. Plus, I feel as if I understand animal behavior more than humans. I trust animals more than I trust humans, on average. If I'm invited to a party and there's a cat present, goodbye, it's been nice chatting with you, now excuse me while I go talk to the cat for the next half-hour. I orient towards books and animals.

Writing fuels egomania, but it can also humble you. And if anything, it makes you more sensitive. I'm pretty sure I've read every review of everything I've published over the past four years, including reviews on Amazon and online book communities. The good reviews are heartening; the bad reviews sting, as does the faint praise. I react to all of it, and want to react to all of it, in the kind of perverse way you want to pinch yourself to make sure you're really feeling something. But at the same time, you internalize all of the criticism, and hopefully that makes you a better writer. Although it does drive one to drinking.

Ultimately, I wish I could write like David Sedaris. I wish I had just the charm that he has in his little finger. That man can write an essay about lancing his boil, and I read it eagerly. I credit the science fiction writer Diane Duane as the person who made me want to be a writer. I read her books about preteen wizards when I was twelve, and then again in junior high, etc., and now I basically re-read them once a year. She made writing beautiful, and her characters felt like people I really wanted in my life. And I'm pretty sure that two of her wizards were gay and lived in the same house, which was, for a 1986 YA novel, pretty great, if not intriguing. Of course I could be wrong about that. But if I am, I don't want to know about it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Why are we always holding hands?

Greg and Terry from American Dad.

Greg: "Why are we always holding hands?"
Terry: "How else will people know we're gay?"
Greg: "Oh yeah. You're right."

Friday, January 1, 2010


OLTL airs the first gay sex-scene on a soap opera, between Kyle and Oliver. It's actually pretty sweet. So many candles.