Friday, April 23, 2010


Photos by Boaworm, licensed under Creative Commons. The top two are the original eruption, the photogenic lava fountain. The bottom photo is the ash plume from the second explosion under the ice. This is what closed down Europe.

Pictures of the Eyjafjallajokull Eruption

I decided to get rid of most of my pictures from the Icelandic eruption, since it occurred to me that the photos are protected by copyright; and while I was happily grabbing images from all over the Internet, I didn't bother to get the credit information.

I know there is fair use of text, and that high profile blogs do a lot of quoting. As far as I know, there is nothing like fair use for images.

So here is a selection of photographs from the Boston Globe, which have been properly credited.

I think it's time I put some emotional distance between me and the volcano. There is more to life than volcano eruptions...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Thinking about YA and Midschool

I like the fact that YA novels are comparatively short, though they are getting longer; and coming of age and finding oneself is a great theme.

Historically a lot of good and great fantasy has been written for the young, though people who like fantasy often read across age lines. I do. I don't care if Diana Wynne Jones is shelved at Children's or YA or Adult. I read all of her.

I like fairy tales, folk tales, myths, legends, adventures -- the stuff you used to get as a kid and maybe still do.

I notice that Harry Potter and Philip Pullman are shelved in Midschool, rather than YA, so that may actually be the kind of book I am really interested in. I think the Pullman trilogy is way dark -- and way adult in its thinking -- for kids, but what do I know? I think the Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud is adult also. Both trilogies have kids as main characters, so this makes them kid books, I guess.

Breaking Out

Lyda Morehouse and I were talking about what makes a break-out writer.

I have some sense of what makes a mid-list writer: competent writing skills, reasonable production, the ability to listen to advice from agents and editors -- who may not always be right, but do have some idea of what's commercial. It's how they make their living, after all.

But I have not a clue what enables a writer to break out. Luck is part of the answer, I think. Another part is help from a publisher. Books tend to do better if they are promoted.

The agent Donald Maass gives classes on how to write break-out, bestselling novels. So he may know. There are apparently people who study the market and do write sucessful books. But more people try to do this than actually succeed.

I have been reading Diana Wynne Jones YA and midschool novels. She is a fine writer with a wonderful imagination and sense of humor. Her books are special. I wish I could be as successful (and funny and charming) as she is.

But I am pretty sure she was helped by the Harry Potter craze, though she was selling before that. I noticed it was easier to find her books in bookstores after Harry Potter, when midschool shelves filled with fantasy. And the one book of hers I can always find is Howl's Moving Castle, which was made into a movie by Miyazaki.

So, a lot of talent, a unique voice, steady production, and two pieces of luck.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I just subscribed to Iceland Review. I am supposed to get a book on puffins, plus an issue devoted to the volcano. Puffins and a volcano. What could be better?

P.K. Dick was right in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? As we become more remote from nature, as animals become more rare, we become obsessed with them. I notice that the things I buy -- jewelry and objets d'art -- are almost always animals. This was not true when I was younger and nature was less endangered.


The volcano seems to be slowing down a bit...

Airports are opening in Europe. The Iceland Review says now is a good time to come and see the volcano, since travelers trapped in Iceland can now go home, and hotel rooms have opened up.

I think I am going to pass. I am looking at a lot of writing: the sequel to Ring of Swords, five stories in various states of completion, and the starts of two YA novels, one a fantasy and one science fiction.

I'm having trouble deciding what to work on. The obvious answer is, finish the one story that needs only minor changes, then move to the Ring sequel, and work on the other stuff on the side. The big project is the Ring sequel.

It shouldn't be this difficult. Maybe I need to follow the example of the volcano and simply go ahead and get the job done.

You don't see Eyjafjallajokull stalling around and getting distracted from the task at hand.

Note: I can now spell the name of the volcano, or the glacier over the volcano, but in no way can I pronouce the name. Maybe I need to give it a nickname: Eyja.

Monday, April 19, 2010


I worry about people thinking that I have turned into a person who posts obsessively on a topic, such as tiny dogs or pet rats.

I am always interested in Iceland, especially as the US becomes a creepier and creepier place; and I find science and nature a refuge, when I am discouraged by human behavior.

Right now I'm worried about aging and retiring in a country that has no interest in the well being of its citizens. So I take refuge in science and nature, which is -- at the moment -- the volcano.

It's only a volcano. It's not nearly as dangerous as people.

Being Poor with Volcanoes

Quote from Icelandic photographer Ragnar Sigurdsson in the New York Times:

I just love volcanoes and the Northern Lights. I’m very happy to live here in Iceland even though we’re broke. We’re poor, with beauty.

Ragnar's photos of the volcano are awesome.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


The translation of the stanza from the Voluspa below looked funny to me, so I checked a couple of other translations and the original in Old Norse.

I think it should be translated as:

The sun turns black.
Earth sinks into sea.
Bright stars
fall from the sky.
Steam and fire
gush forth.
Intense heat plays
with heaven.

Not much different, except for lines five and six, which were the lines that puzzled me.

I could easily be wrong. My Old Norse is very old.

In any case, it sounds like a volcanic eruption.

On the Ground in Iceland During a Volcanic Eruption

From the Iceland Review Online:

“We tried driving into the darkness and it was like we had stepped into another dimension. We felt it was the end of the world as described in Völuspá, the old Icelandic Poem that tells the story of the end of the world called Ragnarök or Götterdämmerung in the famous opera by Wagner.

“We saw nothing. The windshield filled with ash and we did not dare leave the car. It was like the sun had gone out in the middle of the day,” said Iceland Review editor Bjarni Brynjólfsson and photographer Páll Stefánsson. “It is not only fine ash but rough small grains. We did not dare go further. After three kilometers we felt we had gone too far. So we returned to Skógar. The ash is so thick that it was like driving through snow...

"The Völuspá says:

"The sun turns dark,
earth sinks in the sea,
the fair, bright stars
disappear from the heavens.
Sizzling blazes
around the tree of life,
colossal heat plays with
the heavens."


Patrick and I drove up to Duluth and spent a few hours wandering around Canal Park. The sky and the lake were both bright blue.

Coming back, I worried about money. We have both been out of work for a year now. I wonder if it's time to admit defeat and say we are not going to work again.

As far as I know, 15-20% of the working population is still unemployed or underemployed. It looks as if the government is just going to live with this -- and with the kids who are not going to find jobs when they leave school, and the people who can no longer pay the mortgages on their underwater homes, and the people who have lost part or most of their retirement.

Listening to Ben Bernanke and Tim Geithner, it seems this is the way it is. Too bad, but there's nothing that can be done.

Though how much -- a trillion? -- was spent on bailing out the banks. The bankers still have their jobs and bonuses.

Reading the New York Times this evening, it seems as if the Icelandic volcano is a bigger deal than the collapse of the world economy. The disrupted air travel is more inconvenient and painful than what millions upon millions of ordinary people around the world are going through, due to the financial crisis.

I feel as if the people without jobs have vanished.

At least I am writing. My young heroine has gotten a job as a maid. It isn't what she wants to do with her life.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Daily Report

I had a very unproductive day: exercised in morning, then went grocery shopping, then finished reading a Diana Wynne Jones fantasy, then made tea and looked for volcano pictures on the Internet.

I was planned to write or clean house, but the day was warm, and I was sleepy.

Radar Image of Volcano

Thursday, April 15, 2010


The eruption is looking less fun to me. It's gone from being a Hawaiian-style photogenic lava fountain to being explosive. The plume -- made of steam and ash and fluorine -- rises more than 30,000 feet.

The Icelandic government has evacuated farm families in the area and there has been some rescuing of sheep. But no one in the country seems very worried by this particular volcano. It's the next one over, which usually erupts at the same time, that makes people uneasy. Let's all keep our fingers crossed...


Most people I'm reading on Eruptions, a volcanology blog, don't think there's a big risk of the nasty volcano going off. However, there is one morose Icelander who is a volcano hobbyist posting on the blog, and he is worried. He is doing his own modeling of the eruption, and so far he has been right.

I suppose we wait and see...

New Eruption in Iceland

It turns out the volcano was not winding down. A new eruption began yesterday, this time under the glacier, which has produced a flood of melted water. The flood has cut through Highway 1, the ring road that goes around Iceland.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Short But Sweet Review in Publishers Weekly...

Tomb of the Fathers Eleanor Arnason Aqueduct (, $15 paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-933500-36-2

Lydia Duluth—interstellar traveler, holovid location scout, and star of several of Arnason’s short stories—explores the purported lost home world of the matriarchal, lizardlike Atch in this stand-alone adventure. She’s joined by her occasional lover Olaf Reykjavik; Vagina “Gina” Dentata, a modified pseudo-ape; Precious Bin, a male Atch; and several artificial intelligences (one of which resides in her head). Lydia discovers warlike female Atch descendants who have killed off the males and now reproduce by cloning, but when she and her team try to leave, they’re trapped by a slightly barmy AI intent on keeping the violent Atch from traveling in space. Fans of Arnason’s dry wit, entertaining character interactions, and complex, imaginative futures will be delighted by this tale and the promise of a forthcoming Lydia Duluth collection. (June)

Thursday, April 08, 2010


I just saw the movie in 2-D, since that is what is available now. More than anything else, it reminds me of Miyazaki. The floating mountains are like the floating island in Laputa. The forest is like the forest is Nausica. The amazing flying warships are like the warships in Laputa and Howl's Moving Castle. The amazing flying animals are like Kiki on her broom and the dragon in Spirited Away. Saving the environment is a key theme for Miyazaki.

And it reminds me of Star Wars, though in Avatar the cool military high technology is brutal and ugly and a failure.

It reminds me of Iraq.

It reminds a lot of people of Dances with Wolves, a movie I have never seen. James Cameron has said Avatar shares themes with Wolves and that the ending is an homage of Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke.

What interests me is the difference between the way it's discussed in this country, and the way the rest of the world sees it. The discussions here are about technical problems: how the movie works as a movie or as science fiction. The rest of the world seems entranced by the message, which is -- as Gilad Atzmon and Evo Morales point out -- about capitalism and imperialism and saving the planet.

Avatar in Palestine

From AOL News, February 12:

The conflict in the Middle East took on an especially cinematic quality Friday, when activists representing a small Palestinian village dressed up like the oppressed aliens from the blockbuster movie "Avatar" before staging a demonstration in front of the Israeli West Bank barrier...

In an interview with AOL News, (Mohammed) Khatib explained how the idea to impersonate Na'vi, the movie's subjugated blue-skinned race, sprouted in Europe. There, a Palestinian author and documentary filmmaker named Liana Badr was so moved by the film's similarity to the Palestinian experience in the West Bank that she recommended it to Khatib.

Unfortunately, Khatib and his fellow villagers couldn't just rush off and catch the next matinee – there are no cinemas in their area, he said. Instead, an activist snagged a bootlegged copy for them last Sunday.

"After we watched it, we began to do research on the film and discovered how much attention it was getting around the world," Khatib said of the film... "We learned that Chinese villagers had adopted the name of the mountain range in the film for their own mountains, that hundreds of millions of people around the world saw and sympathized with the Na'vi."

Immediately drawing a parallel between the Israelis who have joined their movement and Avatar's human hero-turned-alien Jake Sully, Khatib and his fellow activists began planning the event. Ibrahim al Kadi, a visual artist from a nearby village, was recruited to handle makeup. Others gathered rubbish to use as makeshift props.

Six days later, five protesters, including three Israelis, marched up to the Israeli Army blockade in full Na'vi gear. As they chanted for an end to the occupation of their lands, a bevy of journalists and various onlookers followed. Israeli forces responded by firing dozens of rounds of tear gas and sound grenades at the movie impersonators.

"At first they were surprised," Khatib said with a laugh. "But then they began shooting and we felt like it was a scene from the movie again, except it was real, and it was taking place in the village."

Evo Morales on Avatar

From the Huffington Post, January 12:

Bolivia's first indigenous president is praising "Avatar" for what he calls its message of saving the environment from exploitation.

A self-proclaimed socialist, Evo Morales says he identifies with the film's "profound show of resistance to capitalism and the struggle for the defense of nature."

James Cameron's "Avatar" tells of the mystic, nature-loving Na'vi – tall blue creatures who inhabit the planet Pandora and must contend with humans intent on grabbing its resources...

Morales' comments were reported Tuesday by the official news agency ABI.

ABI said he watched the film with his daughter Sunday in his third-ever trip to the movies.

Gilad Atzmon on Avatar

From the web log of Israeli musician Gilad Atzmon, December 30:

Avatar may well be the biggest anti War film of all time. It stands against everything the West is identified with. It is against greed and capitalism, it is against interventionalism, it is against colonialism and imperialism, it is against technological orientation, it is against America and Britain. It puts Wolfowitz, Blair and Bush on trial without even mentioning their names. It enlightens the true meaning of ethics as a dynamic judgmental process rather than fixed moral guidelines (such as the Ten Commandments or the 1948 Human Right Declaration). It throws a very dark light on our murderous tendencies towards other people, their belief and rituals. But it doesn’t just stop there. In the same breath, very much like German Leben philosophers, it praises the power of nature and the attempt to bond in harmony with soil, the forest and the wildlife. It advises us all to integrate with our surrounding reality rather than impose ourselves on it. Very much like German Idealists and early Romanticists, it raises questions to do with essence, existence and the absolute. It celebrates the true meaning of life and livelihood.

It is pretty astonishing and cheering to discover Hollywood paving the way to the victorious return of German philosophical thought.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Facing the Blank Page

When I began writing, I felt I could not write unless there was inspiration, a sudden descent of the muse or whatever. In more recent years, I feel I can push along without the muse. However, it's hard to start without something: an idea that interests me, a compelling image.

Ring of Swords began with an idea or maybe a question. Could I write a military space opera, considering that I have no use for the genre?

A YA I am working on now began with two images: a baby, wrapped in a blanket, left on the lip of a fountain; and a boy climbing out of second story window on a rope or knotted sheets, while a girl stands in the street below and watches him.

Sometimes a story begins with nothing except a sentence that is somehow evocative. If I'm lucky, other sentences arrive.

When I first began writing, I would feel my way to the end of the story, having little idea of what lay ahead. The advantage of this was: writing was interesting to me, because I didn't know what would come next. The disadvantage was: I got stuck a lot. Sometimes I got stuck for long periods of time. A Woman of the Iron People took thirteen years to write, because I stopped for years in the middle.

Nowadays, I am more likely to have at least a partial plot. It may make the writing process less surprising and interesting, but it's easier to move ahead if you know where you are going.

I usually have several stories going at once. If I am not able to continue one, I move to another. Right now, I have a novel that's in the revision stage, plus the openings for two YAs, plus five works of short fiction in various stages of completion.

I don't recommend this. I suspect it's better to have fewer projects and work on them consistently. But I rarely have to face a completely blank page, because there is always something that is begun or partially done.

Wishful Thinking

The volcano could perk along erupting like this for a couple of years. I hope it does. Iceland could use the tourism dollars, and I would like to go to Iceland next year and drive the ring road, Highway One, that goes around the island. It would be nice to stop off and see an active volcano.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Thought for the Day

I have become a volcano bore.

Another NASA Photo

From the Iceland Review Online:

Lava continues to pour out of two fissures near Eyjafjallajökull as the eruption near the Fimmvörduháls Pass enters its third week. This satellite image shows the eruption on April 4, 2010. The original fissure—originally about 1,000 meters (3,000 feet) long and composed of several distinct vents—has coalesced into a single vent. The new fissure is hidden under a volcanic plume, likely composed primarily of steam. Black lava flows reach several kilometers north from the vents, eventually spilling into Hvannárgil and Hrunagil Canyons. This image was acquired by the Advanced Land Imager (ALI) aboard NASA’s Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite.

Sunday, April 04, 2010


I went to Minicon Saturday and Sunday.

The con felt pleasanter and more interesting than in prior years. I liked the programming and the dealers' room, especially Dreamhaven's books and Elise Matthesen's jewelry.

I told Greg Ketter of Dreamhaven I had a couple of small press books coming out and tried to set up a meeting with Moshe Feder, who edits for Tor on a contract basis. I wanted to hear what's going on in the New York publishing scene, since I am way out of touch. However, he was tied up for lunch, and I had to get home in the afternoon to finish making corrections on the chapbook manuscript, due at the publisher's today.

The con remains fairly small, around 400 members, which makes it larger than Diversacon, smaller than Marscon and Wiscon, and much smaller than Convergence.

My sense is, the long transition from a large regional con to a small local con has been mostly -- maybe entirely -- completed.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Crediting the Quote

I thought I ought to credit the quote about The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged posted below. (The site where I found it gave no credit. The quote is so fine that this seemed wrong.) I input the first line of the quote into Google and got 103,000 results.

Most of those I checked also gave no credit for the quote. Two or three credited the blog Kung Fu Monkey. I went there and found the quote, not attributed to anyone else. Kung Fu Monkey has it, till I learn otherwise.