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 There have been a few times when the idea did not come first, but most of those stories are as yet unpublished (or uncompleted).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

Convention Weekend: Arisia 2020

transparent_full_logoFirst science fiction convention of the year is this weekend, in Boston. I hope you can join me at Arisia.

As usual, I’ll be spending a lot of time at the Fantastic Books table in the Dealers’ Room. We’ll be open from 5 to 9 pm on Friday, 10 am to 7 pm on Saturday and Sunday, and 10 am to 2:30 pm on Monday.

My programming schedule includes four panels:

Saturday at 7 pm in the Douglas room: “Isaac Asimov: Celebrating 100 Years” with Michael A. Burstein, Bhadrika Love, and Joseph Ross

Saturday at 8:30 pm in the Independence room: “Hope is not a business plan” with Griffin Ess, Kristin Janz, LB Lee, and A. Szabla

Sunday at 2:30 pm in the Stone room: “Writing in Brief” with Laurence Raphael Brothers, Timothy Goyette, and A.L. Kaplan

Sunday at 7 pm in the Marina 1 room: “Kink Your Fandom” with Max Impakt, Abigail Keenan, and Hannah Prum

I’ll be looking for someone to watch the table during my Sunday afternoon panel, if you’re available.

And a warning: Arisia is apparently trying to make the same mistake Mensa made at the Annual Gathering a few years ago: no printed schedules will be available. So do make note of these panels if you want to see me. Hope to see you there!

Talking about Isaac

On January 23, 2020, I’ll be Greater New York Mensa’s monthly speaker in Manhattan. My talk, “A Centennial of Asimov,” is free and open to the public (though they do request you reserve at this link, just for a head count). At NomadWorks Annex, 1204 Broadway, 2nd floor, 7 to 9 pm.

I gave a similar talk at Chicago Area Mensa’s HalloweeM Regional Gathering the first weekend in November, and at American Mensa’s Annual Gathering last July. I’ll also be on a panel talking about Isaac at Arisia in Boston, the weekend before this talk (more details on my schedule there in a few days). Also, though I wasn’t one of the panelists, I was at the Asimov Centennial Celebration on Saturday.

The write-up for the January 23 event:

Isaac Asimov’s business card read “natural resource,” and he was. Author or editor of nearly 500 books, polymath, and science fictional icon, he was also a member of Mensa. January 2, 2020, is the centennial of his birth. Ian Randal Strock worked with Isaac for the last three years of his life, and got to know him very well. Come hear tales of who he was, what he meant to science fiction, and what legacy he leaves. After the talk, please join us for continued conversation and socializing at O’Reilly’s Pub (54 West 31st Street), right near the venue.

Imminent Radio Appearance

wolflogoA bit of last-minute planning, and I’ll be appearing on Hour of the Wolf, the two-hour speculative fiction radio program that airs on WBAI and simulcasts on Facebook and other places. “When?” you ask? Really soon. Really, really soon! I’ll be on this week. The program airs Wednesday night/Thursday morning (so 1 A.M. to 3 A.M. Thursday morning December 12, so stay up late on Wednesday the 11th) on 99.1 FM in New York City.

The program is hosted, as always, by Jim Freund. Sharing the radio waves with me will be Randee Dawn, and we’ll be discussing the brand new Fantastic Books anthology Across the Universe.

Edited two days later to add: the archived recording of the program is available for you to listen to, at https://www.wbai.org/archive/program/episode/?id=7544. Or, if you have a Facebook account, you can watch the program as captured by Jim Freund’s cell phone camera here: https://www.facebook.com/jim.freund/videos/10156956893438129/UzpfSTExOTc3OTYzMTM6MzA2MDYxMTI5NDk5NDE0OjEwOjA6MTU3Nzg2NTU5OTotMTA0NjY2NDUxODAzNTUyOTA5NA/.

Happy Thanksgiving, now with BOOKS

I’m in Massachusetts with my family for Thanksgiving (and desserts!). Hope yours is as wonderful.

I’ve also received the first shipment of Across the Universe, copies of which will be going in the mail to Kickstarter backers when I get back to New York.

And two reminders: Tuesday, December 3, starting at 6:30: the NYRSF Readings Series features Across the Universe, with me, editors Michael A. Ventrella and Randee Dawn, and authors  Matthew J. Amati, Charles Barouch, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Sally Weiner Grotta, Carol Gyzander, and Gordon Linzner in attendance, reading from their stories and available to sign copies of the book (there will be cake, too!). At the Brooklyn Commons Cafe, 388 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY. For more details, see https://www.hourwolf.com/nyrsf/.

The following night, Wednesday, December 4, The Storehouse (69 West 23rd Street, Manhattan, New York) hosts their regular weekly night of trivia (questions start at 7:00). I’ve been attending on the first Wednesday of the month with Greater New York Mensa for a couple of years now, but this coming Wednesday, there will be a special event honoring the launch of the book. For more details on the place, see their web site (https://thestorehousenyc.com/). For more details on the book part of things, you’ll have to join us!


LJ likes Across the Universe

765c49a49cb8d51cc3809a0551be8e12_originalJumping on the bandwagon, Library Journal, too, likes Fantastic Books’ forthcoming anthology Across the Universe (edited by Michael A. Ventrella and Randee Dawn). In a starred review, LJ offers its verdict: “This anthology will be mostly of interest to Beatles fans, but even non-fans will find stories here that will move and surprise them.” The review specifically calls out stories by Patrick Barb, Charles Barouch, Pat Cadigan, and Lawrence Watt-Evans, and says “the absolute standout is ‘Through a Glass Onion’ by Christian H. Smith.”

Read the full review at this link.