Saturday, July 31, 2010

Advertisements for Myself

I'm beginning to doubt their usefulness and they seem to cause nothing but headaches in the making, yet here I go again: a general book trailer using my new "branding" concept, as developed in conversation on this blog: hard to spell, easy to read!

The music is courtesy of my friend Gerry Luoma Henkel, who built my first kantele, Louhi. Gerry makes amazing instruments and beautiful music; not surprisingly, he tells me some of his music is going to be be featured in a play as well as in a movie being made in Australia. I'm lucky to have so many talented people around me. When I ordered my kantele from Gerry, he even included a videotape that he had made to show me the basics and how to tune it. It was a big help! Kanteles are easy to play and have a gorgeous and soothing sound. Everyone should have one!

Today I will be heading off to MassMOCA for the Bang on Can marathon. After having my head down over work all week, it will be a nice change to empty my head of words and just listen to the music. And not thinking about things I wish I had done...

Friday, July 30, 2010

BitchBuzz: Joan Rivers

My latest column:

Still making the rounds slowly is the documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. Do yourself a favour and check it out. Yeah, I know what you're thinking: argh, the red carpet embarrassments! Criminy, Celebrity Apprentice?! And yikes, the plastic surgery.

True enough; no argument here. But if you have any inkling of what a tough gig comedy is and triply so for a female, you will march yourself and all your friends to the theatre to see what that really means. You'll come away with a very different attitude.

You see, Rivers knows exactly what she's doing and she knows what you think, too. She just doesn't care. Her work is her focus, or rather "the career" which her daughter Melissa says, she one day recognized as her "sibling" in the family that they all took care of....

Read more the rest at BBHQ.

Sorry I've not been more voluble this week; some deadlines are killing me and a few other things hanging over my head that I need to deal with somehow. All shall be well (keep repeating that).

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Theatre Round-Up

I've been lucky enough to have some great theatre outings in the last few weeks, but I've been short on time to talk about them. I slipped off to Massachusetts to visit Shakespeare & Co and catch both The Comedy of Errors and Richard III. The former was in the Bernstein Theatre with the troupe of interns. They had a circus theme which fit the wacky mix-ups well. I always find it fascinating to see the creative ways companies adjust to small spaces and small casts. They even employed a dressmaker's dummy for one of the characters because the actor had to play two parts in the climactic scene. Great fun.

Richard III was still in previews, so the director reminded us that things were still in flux. I had a seat up on the side hanging over the stage (yes, already a hot ticket in previews) and so I ended up having to move aside during the scene where Richard pretends to eschew the crown a few times before 'reluctantly' accepting it. He and his entourage leaned over the balcony to the crowd below.  They whipped up the audience response so we were all cheering for Richard, thus complicit in the events. A good technique.  John Douglas Thompson made for an energetic villain, but one of the things that really came out of this production was a clear image of the women who were ignored and pushed aside by these nakedly ambitious men. The first scene with Anne really makes or breaks the play -- we have to believe that this monster can charm -- and it came off beautifully. Terrific cast and much glorious mayhem.

One of the things that helps me miss London a little less is the wonderful NT Live broadcasts. This time around it was London Assurance, which I hadn't managed to see while I was there. The broadcasts give you the feeling of being in the theatre, but also the close interaction zooming cameras allow. I am soooo grateful The Spectrum is participating in the project. The play is a HOOT. I knew nothing about Dion Boucicault, the 19th century Irish playwright, but this was a terrifically funny farce. Stars Simon Russell Beale and Fiona Shaw were just loving every minute of their over-the-top roles; the entire cast was superb, even when the part wasn't enormous, like Nick Sampson as the gentleman's valet Cool. And what a delight to see Richard Briers! The performance was sold out, so they broadcast the play outside the NT on the "grass" (the astroturfed area where the giant furniture usually sits in the summer time) and the cast ran out to take a bow there at the end as well. Sheer delight.

Then the other day was a quick trip up to Saratoga Springs for Shakespeare in the Park. My theatre buddy Ron and I were looking forward to Hamlet, but I was also looking forward to some barbecue at PJ's as it had been ages since I'd had any -- yum! Oh, their ribs and all the sauces. Mmmmm. And the play was much fun, too. It took me a little while to warm up to the Hamlet (who sounded more like he was a lost Belushi brother than a Dane) but most of the rest of the cast was good and there were some interesting choices in staging, like having the ghost return at the end to help Claudius meet his end. Timing was good, too; the play finished just as the mosquitoes began to make themselves known. It was a slimmed down production, but the cuts didn't feel too drastic (unsurprisingly, no Fortinbras at the end).

I'm crazy busy with some expected and unexpected deadlines this week, but I'm already trying to figure out when I can make it back to Shakespeare & Co for The Winter's Tale. They're doing some Stoppard this fall, too, so hurrah.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday's Forgotten Books: You Can't Do Both

I read this novel in England this summer; I've been on a bit of an Amis kick, filling in missing volumes while I mull over the overall effect of this pursuit. Projects tends to develop this way; I get obsessed about something, immerse myself in it, then when the time is right, chuck it all away and write. I'm also knee-deep in Angela Carter, so I can't really explain how they intertwine (could two people be less likely to intertwine?).

You Can't Do Both tells the story of Robin Davies, who lives in a south London suburb, winds up going to Oxford and then the Second World War and eventually into the adventure that is marriage, though not on purpose.  Davies' father is a weird amalgamation of strident atheism and puritanical control. His mother offers a sometime refuge against his father's rigidity, but without much substantial help. When at last he's freed of his stifling suburban home, he tries to live up to his fevered sexual dreams but encounters the realities of women who are likewise a bundle of eagerness, confusion and contradictions.

Amis plays this for some wonderful laughs, no surprise. But he also carefully details the way that the misogynist tendencies develop from these encounters. Women are denying him the one thing he must have. As Richard Bradford suggests in Lucky Him, this novel comes much closer to the truth of Amis' life than his memoirs, a highly fanciful selection of events and memories. There is a sensitive and moving depiction of a friend of Robin's who turns out to be gay which makes plain the costs and dangers of that identity in the not so distant past. You'll also find an evocation of what the Oxford days with Larkin might have been like and the awkward development of his first marriage, grown out of an uncertain alliance that quickly developed into habit because of the sexual connection, then threatened by pregnancy.

Davies never ends up being likeable exactly; by the end, he's distinctly unlikeable. But the dissection is fascinating and if not really an apology, it does seem to offer a bit of an explanation for how Amis became what he was. And at his best, that was a lot.

Now to get hold of a copy of Colonel Sun...

See the round-up of other neglected tomes over at Patti Abbott's blog.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

eBooks: No longer the future

They're the PRESENT!

Yeah, Mashable has a story about how Kindle books are outselling hardcovers on Amazon and the L. A. Times has a long article on how ebooks are transforming the reading experience. Even most authors are prepared for the need to push the various electronic editions, but we're still figuring out the best ways to do that -- how do you promote without a physical object? That intangibility gives a lot of people discomfort.

I was supposed to be interviewed on the topic today, but the video interview became a telephone interview because of "breaking news" (I was relieved: haven't had a haircut since leaving for England) and now it seems to have been put off at least until tomorrow if not indefinitely. So I'll share my idea for a good quote:  I'm sure when Gutenberg printed his first bibles, there were doubtless people who said, "Well that's interesting, but I'm never going to give up my vellum.  It's painstakingly created by monks over months and sometimes year, with great attention to detail. Each one is individually written in the hand of the scribe and decorated with charming marginalia."

True enough, Gutenberg probably said. However, you can have this one right away. All of you. And for much less money.

Sure, there will continue to be printed books for a very long time. There will even continue to be handmade books for a long time. The digital revolution, though, has already happened. Jump on the wave to ride it or let it wash over you for now. But the wave is here. Like digital downloads of music, kids already born will consider it the norm. That's change.

UPDATE: I talked to the reporter today, although the story had already been recorded (which aired today; it's the second video that cycles up).  We chatted for a bit and she was intrigued by a number of things I brought up about my experiences teaching New Media and having both print and ebooks to promote. My BitchBuzz column this week is an expansion of this topic.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Necon is: Mini-Golf

I got my best ever score: 43! It was only one point off the winning score, although there were I think four people who all got 42, so I probably won't win a medal. But we sure had some fun! Phil and Anya were entertaining, as always.

Tonight, the traditional game show and the traditional talent show have been mashed together. No one's quite sure what will happen. Afterward, we'll have the roast. As usual, not a peep about who might be the victim -- erm, honoree.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Review of UNIKIRJA

I don't think I remembered to post this before. My review from the Finnish North American Literature Association (FinNALA) by Beth Virtanen:

K. A. Laity’s Unikirja, Dream Book, is written in a pastiche of genres on a single theme, Finnishness and daily life. Laity uses poetry, prose and drama to capture Finnishness in mythic and modern contexts. In doing so, she draws on folklore, the Kalevala, the Kanteletar, and even traveling in Finland as inspiration for these wonderful stories. 
In the section focusing on the Mythic, Laity draws on Runos 3 to 5 of the Kalevala for a short story titled “Aino” in which she draws on the epic tale to focus on “women’s experiences of the world—an aspect so often missing from the original Kalevala stories’, she says. From the theme of incoming Christianity, Laity reimagines the killing of Bishop Henry as committed by Lalli and not his wife. She retells the story from the wife’s perspective as she has “to live with her husband’s crime and her own silence about the truth.” In this retelling, Laity broaches a subject central to issues of women, that of silence. In this section she also “indulges,” as she says, the Gothic as well.

The mythic is as present in the Modern tales as it is in those of the previous section, but here the settings are modern, thus allowing for a different emphasis and turn of events. In the modern section, she deals with the myth of werewolves in “Vironsusi,” asking what it would be like to be one. She explores themes of magic from the Kalevala as she creates a modern’ hiker’s response to Vipunen, the giant turned to a mountain, in the story of the same name. The invigoration of women’s allure and sensuality through a sauna ritual  is the focal point of “Raising Lempi,” and Vainämöinen’s bad luck with women the theme addressed in “Kantele.”  This section closes with a play, “Lumottu,” which means Enchanted, that places an immigrant family in the heart of myth and magic.
In this book, K. A. Laity’s efforts make Finnish mythology and folklore relevant today in ways that resonate with the modern reader. She mates myth and womanhood exquisitely. In short, her work is fabulous. The text is by Aino Press of New York. Find it at Buy it.  

Nice, eh? Be sure to stop by and see all the wonders they have at FinNALA and their literary magazine KIPPIS! (yes, I'm in one issue). I'm off at Necon, which I hope means I'm having fun.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

BitchBuzz: Old Spice

[yes, I am up this early -- again]

Doing Online the Right Way: Old Spice

By K.A. Laity
We're so accustomed to ill-conceived ad campaigns that make us wince, it's a genuine pleasure to find one that not only proves successful, but give plenty of laughs as well.

I'm sure many of you remember the Old Spice commercials featuring the hunky Isaiah Mustafa. The initial commercial caused as much controversy as delight, striking many viewers as a little too over the top, and subsequent adverts employed more subtle attempts to pitch Mustafa's glistening torso as both appealing to women and more gently raising the bar for the men.
Old Spice has its own YouTube channel, but more importantly, it's got its own Twitter feed as well. In recent days their inventive use of the two social media streams has exploded across the net.

Old Spice's tweets vary from encouragement to those who fail to live up to the ideal ("Mr. @caseyayers, do not get discouraged. You're swan dive will come with time.") and friendly banter ("Hello @Rushton2. Your tweet reminded me of the summer I spent off the stormy coast of Tibet."), but by far the most effective tweets have been those that led to videos made for other tweeters
("Are you a baby with muscle-structure of a man @MrBabyMan?")...

Read more: and see all the videos I've linked to, including (sob!) his farewell. Silver fish hand catch!

I'm off to Necon this afternoon; it's the 30th anniversary year, so not sure who might show up. Looking forward to seeing a few friends I only see there. And as usual, I'm using the trip to stop by and see folks in Connecticut: lunching with the fabulous QoE and stopping by the Steier homestead. Don't know if there's wifi. If there is, doubtless I'll use it. If not, see you Monday.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wet Cat

And again, I have more reasons to curse the squirrels. They're back -- and they've brought fleas. Argh.

Monday, July 12, 2010

How I Went to Readercon and Became a Broad

No, cat milk has nothing to do with my time at Readercon. I stopped in the pet store to get some flea spray (sigh) and a new tag for Kipper. When I saw this, I kept picturing a very low stool ;-) and couldn't stop giggling.

Readercon was a busy time: right away Thursday night. I was an "extra discussant" for Barry Longyear's "Imagine or Die" panel. Unfortunately, I didn't get much of a chance to add anything, so it was a bit frustrating. That night I stayed with pal Michael Draine (thanks!) and we had time to chat that night and over breakfast at Bickford's.

Friday I ran into Liz Hand right away at "The Fiction of A. Merritt" panel, which did its best to resurrect the career of this now sadly neglected writer. I made sure to tell Liz I had a copy of my book for her (since she was so nice to write me that lovely intro to Pelzmantel), but I couldn't give it to her until after my reading.

Next I had to run off for the reading of A Midsummer Night's Dream; in the first hour, I played Peter Quince. It was quite delightful and fun, not least for Faye's fabulous fairy singing. I ran out for the next hour to catch the "New England: At Home to the Unheimlich?" discussion which ranged far beyond New England to explore Southern Gothic and even European influences. Then it was back to the Bard. I was pleased to play Puck; not so many lines in the last act, but I did get to end the play. The play within the play certainly led to a lot of laughter. Much fun.

Cecilia Tan led a great discussion on how ebooks and ebook readers are changing the shape of publishing but also the habits of readers. It was one of those panels that could have easily gone on much longer. Much fun to hear Liz read from her forthcoming Available Dark, the sequel or continuation of Generation Loss. This narrative heads off to Finland and Iceland, so you know I'm eager to read it!  The last event of the day was the "Meet the Pros(e) Party" where writers give out stickers with a line of their prose on it. Fun idea.

Saturday morning kicked off with the Broad Universe Group Reading. I had known a few Broads before, but after seeing the fun of the reading and chatting with Morven and Inanna, I decided I really needed to join. The difficulties of promotion are hard and it's no fun on your own. worrying whether anyone will come to your reading that afternoon at Readercon :-/ as some might do. If you're Liz Hand, you don't have to worry about those things. Her talk on "Crypto-Aviation" was standing room only. Many people looked in and decided not to join the throng. They missed out! It was great fun not only seeing the bizarre models, but also hearing about her adventures working for the Smithsonian.

The Fan Fiction panel was a lot of fun. I really can't understand writers who get upset at fanfic -- it seems like a wonderful compliment and likely to increase a book, series or film's reputation. Yes, it can act as a criticism, but no one's immune from that. A few of the writers, like Victoria Janssen, have gone on to write professionally. It can be a good training ground! After that, I had my reading in the afternoon: I played my kantele and read from the zombie western. Small audience, but at least I had one!

The Nalo Hopkinson interview was wonderful: interesting, entertaining and ultimately, very moving -- hard to hear again the tragedy of Octavia Butler's unexpected death, worse to hear that Hopkinson herself has been homeless and living hand to mouth for the last two years. Illness without insurance: the shame of this nation is that it does not offer simple health care to all.

Saturday night is the traditional Bad Prose Competition. Silliness and fun, and a whole lot of bad writing (on purpose). Hands down, the Readercon book I'm most looking forward to is by second place finisher in the contest, Mary Robinette Kowal. The most amazing thing -- in part -- is that this paranormal Regency is coming out from Tor:

Sunday was the town meeting for the Interstitial Arts Foundation, the Shirley Jackson Awards and then my final panel on Sex and Gender in F&SF. Despite being the last session of the day, we had a lively discussion and much (cordial!) disagreement and questions from the audience. I will propose a continuation for next year!

Thursday I'm off to Necon. Crazy.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Workshop & Readercon

I'll be running a two-hour workshop at East Line Books, the lovely Robyn Ringler's store, on Saturday July 24th up in Clifton Park. The cost will be $35. Here's the description:

Sticking with It: Writing with a Full Time Job

How to find the motivation and discipline to keep writing when you have a full time job -- and a family, relationship, or *life*! Everyone has a great idea for a story. Why do so few people ever write that story? Sure, part of the equation is discipline, but there's also juggling different kinds of tasks, finding your writing space and luring the muse to your side when you finally find that time. This workshop will give you techniques to harness your time, wrangle your muse and still keep on speaking terms with your family and friends.

In other words, tips I've learned about being productive when you have a lot of things to do, while still managing to maintain a certain amount of laziness ;-)

This afternoon I'm off to Readercon; panels don't start until 8pm. Right at the start I wish I could be in two places at once. Sigh! It's always the way. There's either too many things going on or nothing. I'm hemming and hawing on whether to bring a kantele for the reading. If no one shows up for the reading, I can at least play some pretty music.

Monday, July 05, 2010

My Readercon Schedule

Readercon 21 Participant Schedule: K. A. Laity

•Thursday 8:00 PM, Salon G: Talk / Discussion (90 min.)

Imagine or Die.
Barry B. Longyear with discussion by Lauren P. Burka, Gemma Files, Elaine Isaak, Mary Robinette Kowal, K. A. Laity, Resa Nelson.

A writer without a working imagination is stymied. We'll take about the care and feeding of imagination, how to unleash it and let it run.

•Friday 12:00 Noon, RI: Event (60 min.)

A Dramatic Reading of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Acts I & II.
Inanna Arthen, Ron Drummond, Greer Gilman, Adam Golaski, Caitlin R. Kiernan, K. A. Laity, John Langan, Shira Lipkin, Faye Ringel, Benjamin Rosenbaum, Sonya Taaffe, Eric M. Van. Update: I will be playing Quince.

[I'm skipping out at 1pm to go to Faye's panel]

•Friday 2:00 PM, RI: Event (60 min.)

A Dramatic Reading of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Acts IV & V.
Inanna Arthen, Ron Drummond, Scott Edelman, Jim Freund, Greer Gilman, Adam Golaski, Walter H. Hunt, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Mary Robinette Kowal, K. A. Laity, John Langan, Faye Ringel, Benjamin Rosenbaum, Sonya Taaffe, Eric M. Van. Update: I will be Puck :-D

•Friday 4:00 PM, ME/ CT: Talk / Discussion (60 min.)

How Electrons have Changed Writing and Reading.
Cecilia Tan with discussion by Inanna Arthen, Leah Bobet, K. Tempest Bradford, Barbara Krasnoff, K. A. Laity.

Ebooks, the Internet, social media networks, Paypal  --  have these really changed the writer/reader relationship forever? Not surprisingly, sf readers are early adopters of new tech and sf publishers are leading the way in new content delivery. Is it really possible with new tech for a writer to cut out the publisher and still make a living? Is the writer who wants to "just write" doomed to obscurity now? Writers, what forays into the new frontier of electronic publishing have you made and what did you find out there in the wild lands? Readers, what have you enjoyed and sought out, what would you welcome?

•Friday 10:15 PM, The Meet the Pros(e) Party

•Saturday 3:30 PM, VT: Reading (30 min.)

Reading excerpts from her novel Pelzmantel and Unikirja [or hey, I could just read the zombie western! I'll take a vote from the audience if there is one; if there isn't an audience, to the bar we go!]

•Sunday 2:00 PM, Salon F: Panel

It Is, It Is, It Really Is Fiction: Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary F&SF.
Caitlin R. Kiernan, K. A. Laity (L), Shariann Lewitt, Benjamin Rosenbaum, Catherynne M. Valente.      ** Leader (Participant / Moderator) **

Over forty years have passed since words like "frelk" and "kemmer" became part of the literature, and nearly twenty since the establishment of the Tiptree Awards -- if we have not reached the gender-fluid futures of Tanith Lee's Don't Bite the Sun or Theodore Sturgeon's Venus Plus X, where are the contemporary explorations of sexuality that is genuinely other? As it is inconceivable that there is an upper limit to the polymorphously perverse (and indeed, the internet disproves this theory on a regular basis) and on the understanding that one reader's speculative fiction may be another's day-to-day routine, we ask our panelists to consider the sexual state of the field, whether it be Simon Logan's fetishcore fiction, the transformative erotica of Caitlin R. Kiernan, or the distinct possibility that the appeal of the modern vampire is merely necrophilia with better conversation.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Leaving London

I knew it wasn't going to be easy leaving London, but I wasn't quite prepared for the way it did happen. It was meant to be simple: tube to Bank, DLR to London City Airport. My cheap flight took me from London to Amsterdam to NYC and then Albany. Not a day I was looking forward to by any means, but prices this summer were horrendous and my hopes to get the trip paid for by leading students didn't happen.

I'd never been to City Airport; I've been to Heathrow many times, Gatwick a few and even Stansted, though I've never actually flown out of it. The light rail went direct to the airport terminal, so it ought to have been easy. After waking up at four, afraid I'd miss my alarm at five, I rolled out and got ready. There was plenty of time and hardly anyone about so early. Smooth sailing on the tube and fortunately, steps down to get to the DLR. The train waiting was for Lewiston, but the next one went to the airport.

However, the train that was sitting there suddenly shut down and everybody got out. What? No DLR today, some kind of problem, the man said. So how to get to the airport? Back to London Bridge, change to the Jubilee line, go to Canning Town... and then what?! Argh, time for a taxi. I was fortunate to have help or I never would have got my one bag, full of six weeks of clothes and presents, up the many stairs. Panic setting in, but actually it didn't take too long for a cab to come along.

The fare ended up being over £20 (ouch) but I suppose it might have been more to Heathrow. City Airport is quite small, so I should be forgiven for thinking it might be easy to get through security quickly. Ha! In the end I had to take everything out of my carry on and my 'suspicious' items had to be scanned again -- yes, that dangerous tea towel and my jewelry case. Reassembling everything at least killed the time waiting in the lounge. The small jet was packed to capacity, at least a third of which was a Chinese tour group of Chinese almost all women.

We had begun our descent into Amsterdam and of course, the seat belt sign was on, but a few of the tour group decided to get up to use the toilets. Suddenly the plane rolled swiftly to the left and just as swiftly to the right. I'd never felt anything quite like that. The little Chinese women went flying. Fortunately no one got hurt. The pilot explained, once we were on the ground, that we had hit the wake of another flight. We should have cleared it easily, but the wind carried it up. Bizarre.

The Amsterdam airport is huge! If you want tulips, you can get them. I nearly missed my connecting flight because my phone didn't pick up the local time and I was an hour behind, strolling along thinking I had all the time in the world, until I saw the listing which said it was boarding now. Oops! The flight on the whole was good: KLM treats you a lot better than the American airlines, including the food and drinks. The flight back always seems endless, but we got a little surprise a couple hours before landing. There was turbulence off and on, nothing much, but all of the sudden there was a huge thump that sounded like we had hit something.

Guess what? As the pilot told us right away, we had hit the wake of another plane ("if you look out the window behind us you should be able to see..."). What're the odds? From the relative luxury of KLM I headed next to purgatory: terminal 2 at JFK, the one that's so run down they don't have a recording of all the things you need to do at security (yes, I had to go through passport control and customs and back through security), they have a guy repeating over and over and over the requirements. Fun!

Well, it could be worse.

A lot to get caught up on, but it's hard to keep from wishing I were back in England. Sigh.