What Asimov got right — and wrong

When SF writer Isaac Asimov visited the New York World’s Fair of 1964, he pondered “What will life be like, say, in 2014 A.D., 50 years from now? What will the World’s Fair of 2014 be like?”

He got a couple of things spectacularly right and a lot spectacularly wrong:

What he got right: You will see as well as hear the person you phone…the phone screen can be used to see documents and photos read passages from books…you will be able to direct-dial any spot on earth.

What he got wrong: Moon colonies…colonization of the continental shelves…suburban houses underground…ceilings and walls will glow softly, and in a variety of colors that will change at the touch of a push button…fully automated kitchens…fission-power plants will be supplying well over half the power needs of humanity…cars will be capable of crossing water on their jets…etc.

Asimov predicts the world of 2014

Speaking of right and wrong…

Talking about history in movies and books, Brad Kane says:

“History is not a thing of facts and dates…what matters is understanding the essence of our past…I’ve always felt the best history teachers are ones who are great storytellers.

There is a “grey line between history and mythology. History is often written by the victors and/or the historians, and no matter how “accurate” they might try to be, they’re only capturing one perspective on a given period or event.

“History starts to become mythology as soon as the ink is put on the page—names and dates might be accurate, but what really happened, and how it happened, and what it meant, are an interpretation.”

Forget the Facts, Tell a Story:

31 Day Blog Challenge, #11


In random order:

coffee, cherries, cats, dogs, wolves, lions, snow, books, friends, the stars, music, getting fanmail from people who liked my stories, exploring new places, finishing something difficult and knowing you did that thing well, loving someone who loves you back.

See Spot run…?

If this isn’t true, it ought to be.

14 Writers Put Their Writing Advice on Their Hands


Handwritten advice

Top cities for ‘detective travel’

Murder. Smuggling. Extortion. Here’s all the grit your guidebook won’t mention, but your favorite mystery writer will.

One example is my previous hometown of Cape Town, South Africa .

Guide books say: With Table mountain, the V&A waterfront and vineyards, Cape Town is South Africa’s jewel. (But *I* say it isn’t just South Africa’s treasure. It is the WORLD’S. This is one of the most beautiful places on the planet.)

Crime fiction says: Cape Town suffers from the same corruption, poverty and apartheid hangovers as the rest of South Africa, and has the body count to prove it. But writer Deon Meyer’s dusty city is far more exciting than the yawn-inducing destination portrayed in travel brochures.

Crime in life and fiction


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Why Teach English?

Adam Gopnik has some interesting thoughts on the subject. Here is his conclusion:

Why should English majors exist? Well, there really are no whys to such things, anymore than there are to why we wear clothes or paint good pictures…

No sane person proposes…an entirely utilitarian, production-oriented view of human purpose. We cannot merely produce goods and services, sell them to each other, and die. Some idea of symbolic purpose, of pleasure-seeking rather than rent seeking, of Doing Something Else, is essential to human existence…

No civilization we think worth studying existed without what amounts to an English department—texts that mattered, people who argued about them…It’s what we call civilization…

We need the humanities not because they will produce shrewder entrepreneurs or kinder C.E.O.s but because…they help us enjoy life more and endure it better. The reason we need the humanities is because we’re human. That’s enough.

Why English Departments?

31 Day Blog Challenge, #10


This sounds awfully self-serving, but if I have to pick one… then my eyes.

I inherited something a little special from my grandfather – a strange grey ring around my irises, it makes my eyes look rather rich and strange. And if I make sure to wear the proper shade of mascara and eyeliner, which I sometimes actually go to the effort of doing – and, strangely enough, after I’ve been crying – they turn green. GREEN.

I have chameleon eyes.

Why us? Not Amazon? Josie Leavitt, indie bookstore staffer asks a customer.

Other than price, Amazon doesn’t do anything for me,” the customer said. “We’ve gotten amazing authors to visit the school because of you. And you give to our school in so many ways, it just didn’t seem right.”  .

What can Indies do for you?

Kobo lets you can buy ebooks from your Indie Bookstore

Since Kobo unveiled its Kobo Arc tablet collection and new partnerships this week, we wanted to remind readers that they can buy digital books through their local bookstore using Kobo’s eBookstore.

How to buy eBooks in a real bookstore

Fox Sneaks Into Man’s Bed

Apparently it just wanted to cuddle.

I would cuddle with a fox, sir!


The snuggling fox

15 Writers and Their Bedrooms


Most of the Emily Dickinson’s writing was done at a small writing table in her bedroom.

Writers’ bedrooms


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Writers: Beware Muphry’s Law

Muphry’s Law is the editorial application of Murphy’s Law. It dictates that:

(a) if you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written; (b) if an author thanks you in a book for your editing or proofreading, there will be mistakes in the book.

John Bangsund wrote about it in The Society of Editors Newsletter several years back and gave some delicious examples.

“Muphry’s Law is no respecter of persons. The editor of the English translation of the Jerusalem Bible … lists the “principal collaborators in translation and literary review”, among them such eminent people as J.R.R. Tolkien and James McAuley. My copy is not just a first edition — it is a copy that got through before the press was stopped to correct a little mistake in Genesis, chapter 1:

‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God’s siprit hovered over the water.’ “

God’s siprit and His spirit are are equally holy, I presume.

Unh…that double are are in the previous sentence was NOT an intentional irony. Muphry!

There have been other misprints, Bangsund  wrote. “The original King James version of 1611 was riddled with them. In an edition of 1823 Rebekah’s damsels (Genesis 24:61) inexplicably became ‘camels’.”

And, he reported The Wicked Bible of 1632 left out one little word from the seventh commandment, thus instructing believers: “Thou shalt commit adultery.”

Muphry’s Law

31 Day Blog Challenge, #9


Procrastination, generalized anxiety, succumbing to self-doubt and from thence sliding into darker things that serve to hobble and paralyze me until I can fight free of them again…

Book of Kells Now Online

I remember, one rainy Irish morning, ducking into the Trinity College Library, and making my way towards its heart – its heart being a climate-controlled, illumination-controlled room with two glass cases in which, glowing like jewels, two medieval manuscripts lay open to the adoring gaze of those who filed past, struck into awed silence at the sight — The Book of Kells.


The Book of Kells – the four Gospels, plus additional ecclesiastical impedimenta and addendums – was created by Celtic monks from the Abbey of Kells (from whence in draws its name) in (they think) approximately 800 AD.

It is, quite simply, EXTRAVAGANT. Saints and Christian symbology vie with intricate Celtic knots and images of mythical beasts. It is Christianity melded and fused with myth and legend, a twining of the worlds of faith and imagination, done in glowing hues of inks extracted from lapis and gold leaf, and royal purple, and scarlet, many inks costly imports from faraway places, lavished on this book with full hearts and minds full of faith and inspiration.

You can’t really stand and stare for as long as you might want to – because others are following in your wake and it seems churlish to deny them the opportunity of being as dazed and humbled as you’ve just been by the merest sight of this book. So you pass on. And some, like me, actually close their eyes as they walk away, trying to trap and preserve the memory of that glow, to imprint it on the inside of their eyelids, so that they can find it there again when they drift into sleep, so that the glow and the glory might come into their dreams that night and give them strength, and courage, and inspiration. A glimpse of this book is a sip from a well of holy water – and blessed is the house that holds it, the library, the museum, the guardian of one of Ireland’s greatest national treasures.

I remember walking outside again, into the rain. And the world seemed transformed to me. Seeing what the monks saw made me look on my own surroundings with new eyes – and the rain was silver, and the sky was pewter gray, and the grass was a sparkling emerald green, and red bricks glowed warm russet against the gray. The world was full of colour.

It has faded, a little. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the wonder of that book. But even just the memory of it serves to light it up in mind’s eye. It is dark outside as I write this, and the night hides the world – but had it not been, had I written this in the daytime and glanced out into my cedars, I feel certain that I would have seen the glitter of gold as the weak winter sun filtered through the dark green of my cedars, the deep brave blue of the Steller’s Jays in the branches, the apricot belly of the little Douglas squirrel sitting up on its haunches right outside my door, the faded jewel colours and shrivelled browns of the remains of the autumn leaves on the ground. The Book of Kells illuminates, like that. Even in memory…

As part of the general celebration of St Patrick’s Day at Trinity, the Book of Kells in its entirety is now viewable online.

Book of Kells online


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A subway-only library for commuters

Chinese subway riders using Shanghai’s Metro Line 2 will soon have their own unofficial library. Pick up a book at one station, drop it off at any other.

The project was initiated by a bookstore, the subway line and the online education provider Hujiang.com.

“Now you can read a real book, rather than staring at the cellphone through the metro ride,” said Zou Shuxian, an Aizhi bookstore spokesperson, told the China Daily.

Library for commuters

31 Day Blog Challenge, #8


Well, it hasn’t been cleaned out for a while so probably lots of old receipts and notes I made to myself but forgot about in the depths of it. But usually – a number of pens, a hairbrush, a chapstick, a notebook, my purse, my keys, and sometimes, when I remember to bring it with me, my phone.

BILL WATTERSON: A cartoonist’s advice

zenpencis blog says…

“Bill Watterson is the artist and creator of (in my humble opinion) the greatest comic strip of all time, Calvin and Hobbes. I remember copying Watterson’s drawings relentlessly as a kid.

Calvin and Hobbes is cartooning perfection – that rare strip that has both exquisite writing AND gorgeous artwork. A strip that managed to convey the joy of childhood, absurdity of humanity and power of imagination all through the relationship between a boy and his stuffed tiger. And most importantly, a strip that was consistently laugh-out-loud funny.

“Bill Watterson is my biggest creative influence and someone I admire greatly as an artist. Here’s why:”

A cartoonist speaks


I got a little uppity yesterday and made a sign…Main Street Books

Writers should take a year off, and give us all a break

“What if everyone stopped scribbling for a year? Will Self could pull on his hiking boots, Martin Amis could sharpen his tennis serve, and we could catch up on our reading”

Should writers quit?

Police slay spider for teenage caller, and other tales from the police log

I love the…unh…unusual police log entries duly reported by our local alternative weekly. I’m glad to discover that it’s not only Bellingham police who have to deal with some strange calls.

Police slay spider


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What’s better than a thrift store?

100 percent off stores, of course.

In Baltimore, Portland, San Francisco, and other cities scattered across the United States and Europe, free stores are a practical protest of consumer culture.

The concept is simple: People bring in good-quality items they no longer want or need (toasters, air mattresses, artwork, clothing); and people who want or need those items take them home, free of charge, explains Victoria Kreha in Green American.

Bonnie Nordvedt, administrator of the Baltimore Free Store says, “The purpose of a free store is for everyone to rethink their shopping habits, spending habits, and general addiction to ‘newer-bigger-better.’ “

Free is better

31 Day Blog Challenge, #7


Hypocrisy, deliberate stupidity and unwillingness to learn when that thing that is to be learned doesn’t mesh with the ideas you already have.

The rampant misuse of the apostrophe in written English; you have no idea how many menus I have itched to take a red pen to.


The impersonal bottom-line-driven American healthcare (I grew up in a world where doctors made house calls).

Atonal jazz “jam sessions” which give me headaches trying to tease out a melody that just isn’t there — it’s just a cacophony of sax and bass.

That thing called “modern art” which too often is something that’s just out to create outrage or head-scratching puzzlement…

12 Letters That Didn’t Make the Alphabet

The alphabet, Mental Floss notes,  “is one of the first things you’re taught in school. But did you know that they’re not teaching you all of the alphabet? There are quite a few letters we tossed aside as our language grew, and you probably never even knew they existed.”

Alphabet additions

Weird wonderful words

Carmel Lobello offers us 18 uncommon or obsolete words that “we think may have died early. We found them in two places: a book called ‘The Word Museum: The Most Remarkable English Words Ever Forgotten’ by Jeffrey Kacirk, and on a blog called Obsolete Word of The Day that’s been out of service since 2010.”

Words such as Snoutfair, Wonder-wench

18 obsolete words, which never should have gone out of style

11 Amazing Book-Song Pairings

“When you love books and music pretty much equally and for many of the same reasons,” Jeannette says at BookRiot, “it’s inevitable that the two will tie themselves together in your head, often subconsciously. I know this happens to me a lot.

“Sometimes it’s obvious: Kate Bush’s “The Sensual World,” for instance, is based on Molly Bloom’s soliloquy from Ulysses, so that connection is pre-made.

“Sometimes it happens song first, sometimes book. It usually works basically like word association, so some of these may only make sense to me. These are the favorites that popped into my head when I sat down to start writing.”

Book-song pairs


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Is Fantasy Necessary?

“If the issues your story deals with are non-fantasy issues, why bring the fantasy in at all?” asks Pat Bowne in an article at The Royal Academy at Osyth Blog.

The answer to that is, because fantasy sometimes really is the “spoonful of sugar” that makes a bitter medicine go down.

Don’t get me wrong – I tend to agree with the thrust of Pat’s comments (read it all in the link below) about fantasy hitting late in a story “like a mound of mint frosting plopped onto a filet mignon.”

My fantasy is recognizable from the start, so there is no bait and switch with the steak. But it does not then follow that what remains is pure frosting and sweet enough to give you diabetes.

Real issues and characters are just as valid in fantasy as in ‘reality’-based fiction. My characters, however grounded in the fantasy-based world I have created, remain real people with real problems.

Good fantasy isn’t frosting. This may have been the problem with the novels of which Pat speaks, but good fantasy is self-justifying. Books by Ursula le Guin, Judith Tarr, Guy Gavriel Kay – by writers like Neil Gaiman and China Mieville — are VERY much not frosting, but definitely steak from an exotic beast.

That’s what’s glorious about the things these people write — it’s real without being oppressive. It’s sprinkled with just enough fantasy that the reality of it all doesn’t stick in your craw, or hurt unnecessarily if it strikes a little close to the bone.

Adding a layer of the fantastical onto the harsh and “real” things that you might write about is … well, magical.

Unneeded Fantasy

A language at risk of dying out.

The language of Ayapaneco has been spoken in the land now known as Mexico for centuries. It has survived the Spanish conquest, wars, revolutions, famines and floods. But now it’s at risk of extinction, the Guardian reports.

There are just two people left who can speak it fluently – but they refuse to talk to each other.

Language is important to everyone and everything — communication, the expression, transmission and continuation of culture, etc. … and sometimes in fiction.

My signature novel, The Secrets of Jin-shei, is set in a culture in which women have their own language. And that story idea came from a real language in ancient China that recently died out when the last speaker who had learned it from her mother died.

The dying language

31 Day Blog Challenge, #6


Taste: the coffee I just finished drinking

Smell: I could say likewise but THAT feels like cheating. So I’ll pick a smell from another time: the scent of summer twilight as the day cools down. You know what that smells like, of course.

Touch: the satisfying click of a computer keyboard underneath my fingertips.

Hearing: There’s an owl outside again, somewhere in the dark. I can hear the whooo-whoooos. I love it that we have owls in our woods.

Sight: Books. Surrounded by them, I am.
Common words with surprising aviation origins

Believe it or not, the Royal Air Force was the first to coin the term ‘gremlin.’

Earlier this week was National Aviation Day, which celebrates aviation and the birthday of Orville Wright. Inspired by this The Week decided to explore some common words and idioms that have their roots in flying.

Flying words

Quotes on writing from Elmore Leonard

Mysteries never have been my thing, but Elmore Leonard was a writer who truly knew his craft. And craft is essential to every writer.

He told Writer’s Digest, for example, that: “The main thing I set out to do is tell the point of view of the antagonist as much as the good guy….”

And that is something I always strive to do while writing fantasy.

Other Elmore Leonard quotes

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If you can buy a woman a drink in a bar…

…why not a book in a bookstore?


And if you make it a paperback, it would probably be cheaper than a martini in that bar.

Bookstore pass (read the comments)

31 Day Blog Challenge, #6
10 SONGS I LOVE RIGHT NOW, in no particular order:

“Have you ever really loved a woman”, Bryan Adams

“One more day” from Les Miserables

“Nothing’s gonna change my world” the Fiona Apple cover

“Love changes everything” from Aspects of Love (Andrew Lloyd Weber)

“Shake it Out”  Florence and the Machine (but I LOVE this version

“The day before you came” ABBA (I like story songs and this one is a great story…)

“Hallelujah”, Leonard Cohen

“Hotel California”, Eagles (what did I say about story songs…?)

“Va Pensiero” (“Nabucco” Verdi)

“E lucevan le stele” (“Tosca”, Puccini)

10 Bookstores in 10 Literary Cities
Bustle offers bookstores you don’t want to miss. I won’t step on their list, but I’ll offer a couple of bookstores from Bellingham — Village Books for new (and a few used) and Henderson Books and Michael’s Books for used.

Seattle: Elliot Bay Book Company

Elliot-Bay Books, Seattle

“The high wood ceilings, thoughtful and thorough staff recommendations, locally-crafted journals, and cozy café make Elliot Bay Book Company a favorite for a rainy afternoon. From literary fiction to cookbooks to religion to sex (the placement of the latter two next to each other seems entirely intentional), Elliot Bay has curated an incredible selection that probably includes the lesser-known book for which you’ve been searching.”
Image: Alyson Hurt

Bookstores in Literary Cities

During a conversation about book reviews, Daniel Abraham wrote:

“I explained to a friend not long ago that writers aren’t paid for writing stories.  We do that for free, many of us for years, before we see any money at all.  We get *paid* for presenting ourselves for the constant and casual judgment of others.”

Chicago’s contributions to English

Chicago’s history weaves through English, Chicago Magazine says, and identifies “the 40 words where the city’s voice speaks loudest”

You know, words like freak, pipe dream, and flea-flicker.

Chicago words


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