A second live(ish) performance of my fiction

After receiving generally encouraging responses to my first video reading of a short story of mine, I’ve done a second. “Fermat’s Legacy” was my first professional science fiction sale when it appeared in the September 1992 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact. Also included is a brief commentary of my writing of the story, and how it intersected with the real world. Again, on YouTube. Enjoy!

Performing my fiction, live(ish)

Any number of my writer friends have been posting videos of themselves reading their fiction to a variety of on-line, on-going “conventions” (which are taking the place of the real-life, in-person conventions we’re all missing). I’ve decided to join the trend. My first effort is “Mars is the Wrong Color,” a short-short which originally appeared in the October 1, 2008 issue of Nature Magazine. I figured I’d announce it on my blog first, before telling all those other conventions. Please check it out, and let me know what you think.

Oh, right, you need to know where it is. It’s at this link (on YouTube).

Free E-books

fb-logo-300pixel-revThings are difficult for us all, and they’re going to get worse before they get better.

Fantastic Books’ sales are off, in large part because we’re missing out on conventions (which had been a major source of sales for us), and in part because the economy as a whole is dropping. But we expect to take a major hit in the coming weeks because Amazon (the major book retailer in the US at this point) recently announced that they will not be accepting shipments of “non-essential items” for at least three weeks. That means, among other things, books.

There isn’t much we can do directly about those things, and they’re going to hurt all the small publishers out there. But there is something we can do for the readers (who may also be having trouble getting those books they want and need):

Fantastic Books is offering free e-books for readers. Take a look through our catalog (www.FantasticBooks.biz), check out the Science Fiction, Fantasy, Other Books, and Gray Rabbit tabs. When you find the book you’ve been wanting to read (as long as we offer an e-book version), email us at sales [at] fantasticbooks [dot] biz. Tell us the title, and whether you read epub or mobi (Kindle). We’ll reply with a copy of the ebook.

We’re not asking for any payment. But we (and our authors) would be thrilled if you could post a review of the book: Good Reads, Library Thing, your friends list on Facebook… even Amazon (though I’m still grumbling about them). And when the economy picks back up, or you see us at a convention, think about buying another book.

Thanks, and happy reading!

Mensa Convention Weekend

I don’t think I’ve mentioned that this is going to be another convention weekend for me. This time, it’s Central New Jersey Mensa‘s Snowball 46 Regional Gathering. While the hotel is 28 miles from my house, CNJMensa is in Region 2, so it’s not my Region 1. Thus, I won’t be working (well, I’m sure some business will be discussed), but will be enjoying myself (well, I do that at all the RGs, anyway). Also, I will be on stage: Saturday at 10:30am, I’ll be talking about “A Century of Asimov.” It’s the same(ish) talk I’ve been giving since last July, talking about Isaac Asimov’s place in science fiction, and my relationship with him in his final years, since January was the centennial of his birth. I expect I’ve given the talk just about everywhere that’s interested in hearing it, and that I’ll be retiring it soon. On the other hand, I’m always happy to be proven wrong, and available to talk to groups far and wide. Hope to see lots of you this weekend!

Unexpected smile

Unexpected smile this evening. I was taking care of some Mensa business emails, and one of them ended:

“P.S. – I recently had dinner with my mother, who is not a Mensa member. Not normally a big reader, she was nevertheless enthusiastic about the book she was reading. When I asked for details, she handed me a dog-eared, heavily worn copy of The Presidential Book of Lists. Thought you might like to know.”

Looking to take a leap

Nearly four years ago, I realized it was February 29th, and I wrote “Did you take a leap today? (It is, after all, Leap Day.) I did. Not going to talk specifically about my leap, except to note that I felt nervous doing it, and somewhat excited after I’d committed to doing it. Hoping it works out.”

Well, it didn’t work out. It was a small thing to most people, but rather out-of-the-ordinary to me. And while nothing ultimately came of it, I found it rather exhilarating to do.

That leap has been on my mind this month, because on Saturday, once again, it will be Leap Day, our quadrennial calendrical anomaly, which really means next to nothing in the average life. But once again, I want to take advantage of it, and take a leap of some sort. I don’t know what my leap is going to be, but I deserve to once again feel that frisson of possibility.

I hope you, too, take a little leap of some kind, and that it works out better for you than my last one did for me.

And, just to add a little more spice to this Leap Day, it’s occurring on a Saturday. Leap Day occurs only once every four years, but Leap Day on a Saturday comes only once every 28 years (the last was in 1992, the next will be in 2048).

Who are you, and what are you doing in my brain?

Those of you who follow my fiction writing (there must be three or four of you <wry grin>) have probably figured out that in most cases, I think of an idea first, and what characters I write are mostly in service to that idea. There have been a few times when the idea did not come first, but most of those stories are as yet unpublished (or uncompleted).

Thus, I was rather surprised yesterday, while driving to Boston and New Hampshire (double-convention weekend: the Fantastic Books books are at Boskone in Boston; I’m at the New Hampshire Mensa RG in Portsmouth), that a description of a character, and then moments later the character himself, full-blown, popped into my mind. I looked at him for a few miles, and suddenly his antagonist appeared, almost as fully formed.

So now, while I’m busily RG-ing (I’m giving a talk, doing a Mensa business meeting, and serving as the charity auctioneer), I’ve got these two characters running around my brain, trying to figure out what their story is, and why they’re here. It’s not a condition I’m used to. Maybe, if I’m lucky, they’ll be quiet until the drive home. (Or maybe, if I’m even luckier, they’ll find that story and let me know what it is.)


Of sunsets and experiences

Sunday we drove to Key West, my first visit to the Florida Keys.

Perhaps I had a skewed view of things (a lot of what I know about things comes from books and movies), but we arrived in Key West in the late afternoon, and spent a little time walking around Old Town. A nice mix of historic and kitschy. Then we made our way over to Mallory Square, which was theoretically THE place from which to witness sunset. I was eager for this experience.

What I knew of sunset at Key West came from the 1986 Billy Crystal / Gregory Hines movies Running Scared. In the movie, they’re Chicago detectives, taking an unwanted vacation in Key West. Soon after arriving, they come upon a crowd of people, and ask a woman what’s going on. “We’re watching the sun set,” she says. “No, really. What’s going on? Did a ship sink?” ask the jaded city dwellers. “Seriously,” says the woman. “Doesn’t the sun set every day?” they ask. “Yes,” she says. “And every day, we come watch it.” As they spend some days on the island, they come to appreciate this experience with nature, just absorbing the sensation.

And that’s what I was expecting.

We got to Mallory Square, and… well… it wasn’t like in the movie. There were a piano player, a drummer, and three other musicians, all with amplifiers. There was a juggler, an acrobat, and a guy with a traveling cat circus, again, all with amplifiers. There were half a dozen food vendors, untold numbers of artists selling their wares… a huge crowd of buskers of one sort or another. And the non-sellers, non-performers? The crowd, even at the railing overlooking the water, boats, and sun, were chattering about favorite bars and alcoholic drinks, gossiping about mutual friends back home, talking sports and inanities… It felt to me as if they were all there in order to be able to say they’d seen the sun set in Key West, but it was just checking a box on a list.

I was horribly disappointed by the commercialism and the flippant way these people were there, not to be in the moment, but just because they’d heard it was a thing to do, but they couldn’t really imagine being alone with their thoughts. I was kind of depressed.

Monday, we took the train tour around town, and saw Harry Truman’s Little White House, and Ernest Hemingway’s house (and cats), and I climbed to the top of the light house for an overall view of Key West. It was good, touristy things, seeing and learning about things that interested me. A good day.

As the day was winding down, we made it to the “southernmost point buoy,” though I felt it might not be (since it seems to sit in the middle of a cove pointed south), and indeed, it isn’t actually at that point, but it’s good enough for the tourist trade.

Then we made traveled about half a mile west, to Higgs Beach (I wanted a chance to dip my toes in the water before we left). We got there about 15 minutes before sun set, and I saw the Higgs Beach Pier sticking out into the ocean maybe 400 feet (there’s a larger pier just west of it, but we wound up parking closer to the smaller one). I walked out the pier, passing 30 or 40 people, and joined the “crowd” of a dozen out at the end. They were sitting or standing, and a few had cameras, but there was no music, no minutiae, and as the sun got closer to the horizon, the only sounds I heard were the waves (though I did miss the sizzle as the sun touched the water). It was wonderful, just experiencing this moment, which comes every day, and yet is rarely seen. We were quiet as the sun dipped ever lower into the water, and then was gone. (No green flash, but I hope to see it some day.) And then the people around me quietly got up and walked in to the beach, not bothering those of us who stayed a bit longer. I was the last one off the pier. It was wonderful!

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed seeing Key West and learning about it, experiencing the fun and frivolity Sunday evening and Monday. It was all good. But I was disappointed that the peaceful experience wasn’t there, that it only existed in my memory of a movie. So I was absolutely thrilled to find that it does still exist, and we’d merely been in the wrong place. That “moment of zen” was what I needed, very satisfying. I don’t know that it’s enough to draw me back to Key West, but it was enough to let me leave feeling very good about Key West and our visit.

#keywest #greenflash #runningscared

Feeling not quite so sophisticated

Had a nice day today. Went to the Whitney Museum, and then dined at a French restaurant. I felt so sophisticated, even though, as my dining companion said, it was just a restaurant. (I rarely go to French restaurants, and this was a step or two up from my usual diners.) The menu had a chicken dish that looked interesting, but when the waitress came to take our orders, I was feeling oh so worldly, ready to speak just a little bit of French, and said “Croque Monsieur,” which was the next item down on the menu. Croque – Coq.

Until, of course, the dish actually showed up… with a very pungent cheese. I guess my expression was a bit more dismayed than I thought, but my companion immediately called the waitress over, and explained my distress. I felt incredibly sheepish as I said I’d been thinking the chicken dish listed above it, but the waitress was great, whisked away the Croque Monsieur, and very soon I got my Chicken Paillard (which was delicious).

So, Pastis on Gansevoort Street is now on my list of good restaurants. And I’m feeling far less sophisticated.

Tonight’s Talk About Isaac

I just got back from tonight’s Greater New York Mensa speaker meeting. I can’t give a proper review of the speaker because… well… I was the speaker. My talk was “A Centennial of Asimov,” talking about Isaac Asimov, his impact on science fiction (and the world at large), and my relationship with him.

But from a strictly facts-and-figures point of view, it was a great evening!

The room was full. I think I saw two or three empty chairs, but couches around the perimeter of the room also had people sitting on them, so let’s call it a full house. I don’t think I saw anyone walk out in the middle (which is always a good sign), and I talked the full hour. Then I was ready to stop, but the audience kept me going with questions and comments and stories of their own. Two times, I tried to finish, before they finally let me go after an hour and a half on stage.

The room didn’t instantly empty out after I finished talking, however. Several people had questions for me, I was able to sell several copies of my books (glad I carried them along), and a bunch of people hung around, chatting, for probably another half hour. Then I led ten or a dozen people around the corner to a nearby pub, where the conversation continued over drinks and a late dinner. I started talking just after 7:00pm, and we didn’t leave the pub until 11:00, so it was a good, full evening.

Thank you, Activities Coordinator David Szalyga, for inviting me to speak. I’ve been a member of GNYM for a very long time, and given a number of talks to several other local groups and gatherings, but this is the first time I’ve been GNYM’s speaker. I was also gratified to see so many members of the Board of Directors present, encouraging activity and participation in the local group.

David was filming me, so I expect the video will soon be available on YouTube. I’ll post a link when I find it (but if you find it first, let me know).

[Edited January 26 to add: the video of me giving the talk is now available on YouTube in three parts. I spot-checked through the hour and a half, and it seems to be audible throughout (though you may have to push up the volume on your computer). I regret not repeating the audience’s questions and comments, because the little microphone on my lapel did not pick them up, but you should be able to infer (at least the questions) from my answers that follow.

Part One

Part Two (if you really want to start in the middle)

Part Three (I can’t imagine you’d want to start at the end)

End of addition.]

#mensa #isaacasimov #gnym