The OF Blog: April 2007

Sunday, April 29, 2007

2007 Reads: 51-100

I reached #100 very early this morning, at the beginning of the 119th day of the year. Currently, I've read 60 books in Spanish/Spanish translation, 34 in English/English translation, 2 in Serbian translation, and one each in French (bilingual), Portuguese, German translation, and Latin translation. Looks like I'm going to reach my revised 2007 reading goal of 100 books in Spanish and 100 in English. But for those few who are curious as to what I've been reading (and completing), here's the list to date (see the March section for #1-50):

March 16-31

51. Sergei Lukyanenko, Day Watch

52. Mario Vargas Llosa, Pantaleón y las visitadoras (re-read)

53. Gabriel García Márquez, El amor en los tiempos de cólera (re-read)

54. Dan Simmons, The Terror

55. Carlos Cuautémoc Sánchez, Los ojos de mi princesa

56. Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day

57. China Miéville, Un Lun Dun

58. Norman Mailer, The Castle in the Forest

59. Gabriel García Márquez, Los funerales de la Mamá Grande

60. Rubén Darío, Azul.../Cantos de la vida y esperanza (re-read)

61. Gabriel García Márquez, El general en su laberinto (re-read)

62. Jorge Luis Borges, El libro de los seres imaginarios (re-read)

April 1-29

63. Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

64. Roberto Arlt, El jorobadito (re-read)

65. Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan, So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy

66. Jorge Luis Borges, Biblioteca personal

67. José Saramago, El cuento de la isla deconocida

68. Jorge Luis Borges, Qué es el budismo

69. Cormac McCarthy, The Road

70. Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, Rimas y Leyendas

71. José Saramago, Todos los nombres (re-read)

72. Mario Vargas Llosa, La guerra del fin del mundo (re-read)

73. Salman Rushdie, Fury

74. José Saramago, El hombre duplicado (re-read)

75. Arthur Rimbaud, A Season in Hell and The Drunken Boat (re-read; bilingual French/English)

76. Edmundo Paz Soldán and Alberto Fuguet, Se habla español: Voces latinos en USA (re-read)

77. Gabriel García Márquez, Diatriba de amor contra un hombre sentado (re-read)

78. Ernesto Sabato, Antes del fin

79. Salvador Plascencia, The People of Paper

80. Julio Cortázar, Libro de Manuel

81. Gabriel García Márquez, Ojos de perro azul

82. Sergio Ramírez, Sombras nada más

83. Gabriel García Márquez, El otoño del Patriarca (re-read)

84. Gabriel García Márquez, Vivir para contarla (re-read)

85. Arturo Pérez-Reverte, La reina del sur (re-read)

86. Gabriel García Márquez, Crónica de una muerte anunciada (re-read)

87. Arturo Pérez-Reverte, El capitán Alatriste (re-read)

88. Federico García Lorca, Poeta en Nueva York (re-read)

89. Gabriel García Márquez, La increíble y triste historia de la cándida Eréndira y de su abuela desalmada (re-read)

90. Gabriel García Márquez, Doce cuentos peregrinos

91. Subcommandante Marcos, La historia de los colores (re-read; bilingual Spanish/English)

92. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Children of Húrin

93. Mario Vargas Llosa, Lituma en los Andes

94. Tomás Eloy Martínez, El vuelo de la reina (re-read)

95. Miguel Asturias, El Señor Presidente

96. Alejo Carpentier, Los pasos perdidos (re-read)

97. William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (re-read)

98. Umberto Eco and Cardinal Carlo Mario Martini, ¿En qué creen los que no creen?

99. Ernesto Sábato, El túnel

100. Juan Rulfo, Pedro Páramo y El llano en llamas

Some of these I reviewed at wotmania, but most of these I haven't done more than just list them here, mostly due to a lack of time/energy for review writing. Have hopes of reaching #150 by early June and perhaps #200 by the time the school year starts back the first week of August. Maybe I can aim for 300, which I haven't reached since 1997? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

An Interview with Theodora Goss

Theodora Goss' stories and poems have appeared in magazines and anthologies such as Realms of Fantasy, Strange Horizons, Polyphony, Alchemy, Fantastic Metropolis, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet. and The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror, and have been collected in The Rose in Twelve Petals, a chapbook from Small Beer Press. (Her enchanting tale "Sleeping With Bears" can be read on-line here). She has also published poetry and reviews. She is also the editor of Poems of the Fantastic and Macabre, an on-line anthology of poetry from the middle ages to the modern era about supernatural creatures, imaginary places, and uncanny experiences.

After completing a J.D. at Harvard Law School, she worked for several years at law firms in New York and Boston, where she hid novels in her desk drawer and read them surruptitiously during lunch. She returned to school to complete an M.A. in English literature at Boston University, where she is currently working on her Ph.D. Since it focuses on the Victorian gothic, she spends most of her time writing about ghosts and vampires. She has also taught undergraduate courses on fantasy, and incorporated fantastic stories and poems into courses on more canonical literature.

Theodora was born in Hungary, and lived in Italy and Belgium before her family moved to the United States. She still remembers being frightened by Eastern European fairy tales and surprised to read them later in their expurgated Western versions. Her stories, which often take place on the border between fantasy and reality, reflect the influence of an Eastern European literary tradition that incorporates fantastic elements into otherwise realistic works. She believes that fantasy is a form, perhaps the most satisfying form, of psychological realism: the ghosts and vampires we create allow us to understand ourselves and the societies we have constructed.

Theodora lives in Boston with her husband Kendrick, a scientist and artist, and their daughter, Ophelia, in an apartment filled with books and cats. You can discover more about the whole Goss clan at Theodora's Web site.


What were your earliest literary influences? What are your favorite books as a reader today?

I think my earliest literary influence was the Hungarian language. It's taken me a long time to realize that there's something about my writing that is not quite right, that is slightly awkward. I think that's because English is actually my third language, after Hungarian and French. Unfortunately, I've forgotten both, but I think my writing still sounds, sometimes, as though it's being translated from a language with a different underlying rhythm, a different way of putting words together. So, my earliest literary influences, plural, were Hungarian children's stories. And then French children's stories. And then English and American fantasy, as much of it as I could take home from the library. I have so many favorite books that I don't think I can name them all, but I'll name some of my favorite writers: Jane Austen, Jorge Luis Borges, Angela Carter, Colette, Isak Dinesen, H.P. Lovecraft, J.R.R. Tolkien, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf. It's a strange group, isn't it? I put it in alphabetical order because I love them all. These are the writers I read when things aren't going as well as I would like, and I need something to make me happy. The writers I can read over and over again. I'm not sure what it says about me, that Lovecraft makes me happy. But he does.

Did your childhood have an influence on your writing?

Yes, certainly, but I'm not sure how. Perhaps I create imaginary countries because I moved around so much, I don't know. When you don't have a home, you create one, even if only in your mind. And if you're going to create one, why not make it fantastical? And because I moved around so much, it was always difficult to make friends, so I read a lot. You have to read a lot, if you're going to become a writer. Was it Hemingway who said that the way to become a writer is to have an unhappy childhood? Mine wasn't exactly unhappy, but it was certainly unsettled, and when you're unsettled, you hold on to stories, to the things in your head, because they're easy to pack and take on to the next place.

What encouragement helped you along the way?

The first encouragement I received was at the Odyssey writing workshop, and it helped me tremendously. It was wonderful to have a writer like Dan Simmons tell me that I had talent. It's strange to think that I wasn't encouraged before, but in my family people are encouraged to become doctors and lawyers, not writers. And my college writing instructors were certainly not encouraging. I'm not sure why, but I think it was in part because they weren't professional writers. They were professional writing instructors, which is quite a different thing. They didn't have to, and didn't, make a living by writing. But having the encouragement of professionals like Dan, and later like James Patrick Kelly and Kelly Link at Clarion, was priceless. I don't think I have enough confidence in my own abilities to have gone on without encouragement. It really is the most precious thing, to a writer. And the second most precious thing is honest criticism.

What challenges did you face to finding success?

I don't think I've found success yet! My biggest challenge to finding it is time. I think all writers face this particular challenge. I teach, which pays rent and puts food on the table, so it's a first priority, and I have a daughter, who can't be raised entirely by cats. Although, to give them credit, the cats are doing a pretty good job. So writing is often the last priority, the thing I put off for grading or playing skybax. (The flying dinosaurs in Dinotopia. My daughter loves dinosaurs the way I loved dragons.) Professional writers will always tell you: to be a writer, you have to write. You only learn to write by writing. I don't write as often or consistently as I would like to.

If you could change anything about your past work, what would it be?

I wouldn't change anything. I can see all sorts of flaws in stories I've written, but I think that as a writer, you come to know when a story is done, when you can't do anything more to it. The stories I've written are done, and changing them at this point would make them different, not necessarily better. What I have to do, what any writer has to do, is move on, write new stories that are hopefully better than the old. I think it's important to accept that your stories are going to be flawed. Prose is flawed. Its flaws are part of its power, part of what makes prose live. Life is flawed, and prose only captures life when it's somehow imperfect, irregular. Poetry can be perfect, as some poems by Keats and Shelley are perfect, and still retain life, or rather something more than life. But that's one of the differences between poetry and prose.

How do you spend your free time?


What are you currently working on?

A story about the minor characters in Jane Austen and an anomaly in the space-time continuum that absolutely no one will publish.

How do you feel about being nominated for World Fantasy Awards?

Well, so far I've only been nominated for one, but it's lovely. It means someone, or rather several someones, read my story and saw something in it to which they responded, that made them say, yes, this is a story worthy of recognition. It's another kind of encouragement. It makes me want to write better stories.

If you were given the Aladdin's Lamp, what would you do with it?

I would wish for a house with a room of my own to write in, and enough money so I could write, and do nothing but write, for the rest of my life. And a skybax for my daughter. Anyone who has a skybax for sale is welcome to contact me directly.)

If you were to own several monkeys and/or midgets, how many would you own, and what would you name them?

Since midgets are people, and I'm not in favor of owning people on principle, I would certainly own monkeys. And I would set them free in a monkey sanctuary with lots of trees. And I would let them name themselves, in monkey language.

Thank you for your time and patience, Dora. We wish you the best of luck with your work.

Interview with Dan Simmons

Welcome to, we are glad for having you with us.

Please tell us a bit about your new book, The Terror.

The Terror is a fictional tale based on the actual historical events surrounding the tragic Sir John Franklin Expedition. In 1845, Sir John and two ships - HMS Erebus and HMS Terror - along with 126 men made an attempt to find and force the Northwest Passage connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans above Canada. They disappeared completely. In the next 30 years, England and other nations mounted what is - to this day - the largest search-and-rescue operation in history. A few skeletal remains were found, but the real mystery of what happened to the two icebreaker ships and their crews has not been satisfactorily explained.
My novel is an historical-suspense tale with horror overtones. Besides the terrible ice and weather of the Arctic, something is stalking the survivors of the Erebus and Terror.

What are your goals for the future?

I don't set a lot of specific goals. Rather like the sailing captains of yore, I never say "I'm going to . . ." some specific destination. I merely record in my log that I'm "bound for."

In the immediate future I simply look forward to continuing writing and to having the opportunity to write and publish more books like THE TERROR for wider mainstream audiences. I've just begun a novel about the dark and strange last few years of Charles Dickens.

Which of your characters is most like you?

That's not for the author to say, even if we might have an opinion. But as Henry James said, the author is present in "every page of every book from which he sought so assiduously to eliminate himself."

What were some of your favorite books as a kid, and which books influence you the most at the present?

There are too many books that were important to me as a kid, and which affect me now, to list in a small space. As with all of us readers, some books caught my imagination more than others and certain books and novels were very important to me at various stages of my life.

Where Adventures in Space with Rip Foster might have been a seminal work for me when I was 10 and Proust's In Search of Lost Time might have been when I was 40, it's all a continuum.

Why fantasy?

Even though I've won the World Fantasy Award, I don't consider myself as having ever written fantasy per se. I simply enjoy using the tropes and protocols of various forms - sometimes genres - of imaginative fiction.

What are some of your research methods and how large part do they play in your writing process?

I don't call most of my reading in preparation for writing a novel as "research" - I tend to associate that word with scientists and real scholars - but I do read very widely and sometimes deeply in preparation for the majority of my novels. Some books, such as The Crook Factory about Hemingway's year of playing spy in Cuba or The Terror based on actual people and events in the 1840's require a huge amount of reading and note-taking. As I mentioned, I'm currently working on a novel I'm calling The Great Oven -- or perhaps Drood -- about the last five years of Charles Dicken's life, and once again Im experiencing that sense of being totally immersed in another time and place - and in other people's minds - as I read scores of books, biographies, and sources in preparation.

Do you read your own books?

Only to proofread and revise them.

What is your favorite of all the books you have written and why?

I don't have a single favorite any more than most parents choose one of their children as a favorite, but I resonate to certain lesser known titles - Phases of Gravity, The Hollow Man, and my novella "The Great Lover."

Recently a movie studio has been producing truly execrable scripts in an attempt to adapt my first novel, The Song of Kali, and their attempts at vandalism, of dumbing the tragic tale down, reducing it to formula, and slapping on a totally idiotic happy ending, remind me of how important that book was to me. And how difficult it was to write.

If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three things would you want for you and why?

A beautiful brunette, a full-sized inflatable Zodiac raft, and a 75-horsepower Johnson outboard motor.

If you were given the One Ring, what would be the first thing you would do?

Sorry. I refuse to sharecrop in other writers' universes. I'd have to refuse the gift.

If you were to own several monkeys and/or midgets, how many would you own, and what would you name them?

The last time I checked, it was illegal to own midgets or any other kind of human being. And monkeys have never appealed to me that much, although I find it ironic that aviator Charles Lindbergh - who is buried in perhaps the most beautifully sited cemetery on earth on the far reaches of Maui near Hana - has the graves and headstones of various chimpanzees and one orangutan as his closest graveside neighbors. (They were the pets of the owner of Pan American Airlines at the time - the friend who brought Lindbergh to Maui in the first place and who sold him the property for the pilot's own home along the coast.)

Thank you for being so kind to answer these questions for us. We wish you the best of luck with your future work.

A short interview with Conrad Williams

A brief biography taken from

Conrad Williams was born in 1969 and has been in print since 1988. He has sold around 80 short stories to a diverse range of publications and anthologies.

He is the author of three novels, 'Head Injuries', 'London Revenant' and 'The Unblemished'; three novellas, 'Nearly People', 'Game' and 'The Scalding Rooms'; and a collection of short stories, 'Use Once then Destroy'. He is a past recipient of the Littlewood Arc Prize and the British Fantasy Award.

He lives in Manchester with his wife, the writer Rhonda Carrier, their sons, Ethan and Ripley, and a monster Maine Coon cat called Reddie.

Why horrors? Did you like horrors as a kid, too?

Yes I did. I loved all the old monster films - Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the Werewolf... One of my favorites, and still is, is the 1933 original King Kong. The Hammer House of Horror TV series around 1980 was a big thrill for me.

Your books are in print for 12 years. Reading your earliest writings now, are you satisfied with them? Would you change anything in your past work?

I am satisfied with them, but there's always something you feel you could have done to improve them. Best to just ignore that frustration and concentrate on the next one!

How would you entice somebody to read your work?

I hope the work speaks for itself and doesn't need any enticement.

What advice would you give to young writers?

Write. Keep writing. Fail. Fail better.

What can your readers expect from you next?

I've got a few novellas coming out this year - The Scalding Rooms from PS Publishing and Rain from Gray Friar Press. I'm working on a new novel, but I've only just started that. And stories in Ellen Datlow's Inferno and Cemetery Dance's The British Invasion.

What is your favorite memory from your carrier?

Selling my first short story, aged 19, after a summer of typing and packaging and posting. And winning the Best Newcomer Award from the British Fantasy Society in 1993.

When did you decide you were going to work with books?

As soon as I started reading.

What is your motto?

Get a move on.

If you were an alien, what would you look like?

A piece of shrubbery.

If you were to own several monkeys and/or midgets, how many would you own, and what would you name them?

Just the one. A monkey. And I'd call him Geoff.

Thank you for your time and patience. We wish you the best of luck with your work. :)

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Internalizing the Differences

Ever since I read this post over at Fantasy Bookspot a couple of weeks ago, I have been pondering and rethinking my own take on the gender issue when it comes to story telling. I was going to post something about this a few days ago, when my attention was diverted by the arrival of a story collection that Nalo Hopkinson co-edited called So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy. Reading that collection and the comments that Hopkinson and fellow editor Uppinder Mehan made about the hows and whys of these stories taking place was thought-provoking.

Although there are very few photos of me available online, I would probably be presumed by most readers to be a Caucasian male. While my religious background (Catholic) and sexual orientation (heterosexual) may or may not be easily determined by reading electronic black words on an electronic white backdrop, there is much in what I have chosen to read that reveals (perhaps) an ambivalence towards my own US Southern upbringing.

A great many readers will claim that gender and race do not matter when it comes to reading a tale. I say to that, "Bullshit!" It does matter, even if it might only take subconscious forms. From the types of tales that people are trained by their sociocultural backgrounds to prefer to how one views the world and its relationships with the fictional stories written within in, people cannot help but to view things through their own prism.

I used to have bookmarked (before my old computer blew up and I lost all of those countless links) an article written by an African-American woman (sadly, I'm forgetting her name now, as it's been about two years since I read this) who talked about how important it was to her to read of brown-skinned people in stories such as Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea series. I recall that article sparking a lot of discussion on the various blogs and websites...then fading into the backdrop.

So when I read the stories contained within So Long Been Dreaming, I could not help but think of that article and how the stories presented in this collection come at the issues of Exploration and First Contact (among other SF/F tropes) not from that of the Explorers, but of those being Explored. Stories that dealt with issues such as forced assimilation or of self-denigration due to pressures from a somewhat alien and yet overarching "other" culture. Stories that are not just based on our various pasts but also on our presents and possible futures.

When I read novels by a Nalo Hopkinson or an Octavia Butler or a Laura Restrepo (to name just three of the many women authors that I've read in recent years), I cannot help but to detect a "difference" in their writings, a je ne sais quoi that is eluding me now but which I want to understand better, to internalize it into my own understandings of the world around. Speculative fiction, or fiction of any sort for that matter, deals at its core with how we view the world and its peoples. As much as we might wish to "escape" from the oft-sad realities of how groups of people have treated other groups of people, there are still many elements of "the White Man's Burden" visible and active under the surface of a great many tales. Some extol those elements, while others struggle to deal with it, but yet there it is...that 800 lb. gorilla looming over us.

Perhaps that is why that when I read a Hopkinson or a tale by a Latina such as Isabel Allende, I cannot but help notice the different texture and paralanguage behind the written words printed on the pages of their novels. That does not mean that I value them more or less than those of WASPs or men of other cultures, only that there is a "difference" in there...and I am often drawn toward that, trying to process it, understand it, and relate it to my own understanding of the world around me, which is perhaps one of the few ways that cultural diffusion can truly triumph over cultural imposition.
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