The Reagan I Remember

January 31, 2008

I am so sick of listening to the Republican Presidential candidates trying to lay claim to the “Reagan Legacy,” and if I hear John McCain say one more time that he was “a foot soldier in the Reagan Revolution” I’m going to puke.  It’s time for a reality check, folks.  Ronald Reagan might well have ushered in a new political era, one in which conservatism, specifically religious conservatism, proved transcendant, (and one which is, to all appearances, finally, mercifully drawing to a close) but to call him a Great President is to strain credulity to the breaking point.

The Ronald Reagan I remember embraced trickle-down economics, a financial theory that was discredited half a century before by the onset of the Great Depression.  He cut taxes for the wealthy, increased military spending to ridiculous levels, and thus presided over soaring budget deficits, incurring a debt of over a trillion dollars that to this day continues to be a drag on our national economy.

The Ronald Reagan I remember propped up repressive but pro-Western governments in Latin America and Africa.  He funded a civil war in Nicaragua, giving arms and money to the brutal Contra rebels in violation of United States law, and he raised the funds by selling arms to Iran in exchange for the release of American hostages, despite his claim that he would never, under any circumstances, negotiate with those who took hostages.

The Ronald Reagan I remember pushed for cuts in Social Security that were so draconian that members of his own party in Congress refused to go along.  He relaxed environmental controls on American businesses, setting back by decades national efforts to clean up our water and air.  During his presidency the gap between rich and poor widened to historic levels, more people fell into poverty and homelessness than at any time since the 1930s, increasing numbers of American workers found themselves working full-time but still earning too little to rise above the poverty line, the financial circumstances of African-American and Latinos worsened.  It was morning in America if you happened to be wealthy and white, but otherwise, good luck to you.

Of course, Reagan’s supporters always point out that he presided over the end of the Cold War.  Actually, they usually claim that he “won” the Cold War, as if the downfall of the Soviet Union was his doing alone; as if the presidencies of Truman and Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter, were all some sort of Cold War Preseason that didn’t count; as if during the period from 1947 to 1987 diplomats in the State Department, leaders of both parties in Congress, and our allies in Western Europe were just sitting there twiddling their thumbs waiting for the Gipper to come along and save them.  Give me a break.

Actually, when you think about it, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush have a great deal in common:  huge deficits, regressive tax policies, utter disregard for the environment, attempts to inject religion into our government and politics, unscrupulous Attorneys General (Edwin Meese was Reagan’s Alberto Gonzales), cavalier attitudes toward Constitutional limits on Executive power.  The only difference was that Reagan managed to do it all with charm and elegance and grace, while Bush comes off as bumbling and incompetent.  But in other ways they’re really quite similar; it’s just the times that have changed.  And thank goodness for that.

Today’s music:  Jerry Douglas (Restless on the Farm)

A Blog About Blogs

January 30, 2008

Today’s post can be found at http://magicalwords.net/.

A blog post about blogging.  Check it out.

Joshua PalmatierFor today’s post, I’d like to introduce you to a cyber-friend of mine, fantasy author, mathematics professor, and all around cool guy, Joshua Palmatier.  Josh recently released the third and final volume of his first trilogy, and in between his teaching responsibilities and working on his next fiction project, he took some time out to answer a few questions about his work.  

DBC:  First off, Josh, why don’t you give us a brief introduction.  Who are you?  What do you write?  How did you come to be an author of fantasy? 

JP:  I’m a mathematics professor who also writes fantasy novels, which is an odd combination, I know.  I have three books out from DAW at the moment:  The Skewed Throne, The Cracked Throne, and The Vacant Throne.  Obviously they’re part of a series.  I’m also working on a new book called Well of Sorrows, the start of a new series set in the same world as the Throne of Amenkor books.  I’ve also dabbled with short stories, none published, which for some reason tend to be more science fiction related, unlike the full-length novels.  I don’t think it was a surprise to anyone that I became a writer, since I’ve been reading since as far back as I can remember, almost always fantasy, science fiction, and mystery.  But it was an eighth-grade English teacher who set me on the road to writing.  She’d assigned a one page short story for class that had to be “Twilight Zone-ish”.  I ended up writing a story called “Aquantico” about a man looking out the porthole of a spaceship as it blasts off from his homeland, watching as it’s being destroyed by an insurgent ocean.  Yes, yes, it was an Atlantis rip off.  *grin*  But the teacher wrote a note saying that it was well written and that I should write more.  I think I heard an audible *click* in my head at that point, and I’ve been writing ever since. 

DBC:  You recently released THE VACANT THRONE, the third book in what you call the Throne of Amenkor series.  Without giving too much away for readers who might be interested in going back to read the first two volumes, THE SKEWED THRONE and THE CRACKED THRONE, can you tell us something about the series and about how this third book fits into the story arc? 

JP:  I can’t give away anything, huh?  Hmm . . . Well, the series is centered around one main character, a young girl named Varis, a thief living in the slums of the city called Amenkor.  The books are about how she learns to survive in the slums, about how she manages to escape them by becoming an assassin, and about how she reacts when she’s hired to kill the Mistress of the city, who sits on the Skewed Throne.  The throne contains all of the personalities of everyone who has ever touched it, including all of the previous Mistresses . . . and at this point in time, there are so many personalities in the throne that it’s essentially insane.  The books are gritty and filled with a lot of morally ambiguously questions that don’t often have nice answers, if they have answers at all.  Most of the those questions deal with death, and whether it’s right to take another life, if ever.  But they also touch on social issues such as privilege and power, mainly dealing with the Throne of Amenkor itself.  By the time we reach the The Vacant Throne in the series, the focus of the series has shifted from Varis’s personal struggle to survive, to the survival of the entire coast, which is under attack by an invading force from the sea. 

DBC:  Each book in a trilogy presents its own challenges for a writer.  A first book has to draw the reader in, get them excited about the world, the characters, the various plot threads, while also setting up conflicts and issues for the next two volumes.  The second book has to maintain the momentum of the first, while also giving readers a sense that progress in being made toward a final resolution, but not so much progress that there’s nothing left for book three.  What challenges did you encounter while writing book three of your series?  How did you resolve those challenges, and were you pleased with the final product? 

JP:  Gah!  I’d have to say that book three was the hardest to write.  I personally enjoy writing the second parts of trilogies the best, because that’s where everything goes to hell, and that’s always fun.  In the third book, you have to take the mess you created in book two and fix it.  Somehow.  I’m an “organic” writer, which means that I have a very rough idea of what happens in each book, and even that tends to change as I write, so taking all of the threads–all of the characters and plot–and somehow making it all come together with a nice resolution . . . that’s the biggest challenge.  For The Vacant Throne, I really just let the characters resolve the challenges for me.  I have to admit that my idea of what the book would be about, and the characters’ ideas, were completely different.  By the time I reached the halfway point of the first draft, I realized that everything I thought would happen was garbage, so I just let go and the characters finished the book for me.  In the end, it was a much better book than I had originally imagined and I’m extremely happy with the results. 

DBC:  When you’re not writing books, you’re a math professor, of all things.  Most people would assume that a math professor would be more interested in science fiction than fantasy.  Two questions:  First, do you also write SF, and if so what kind of issues do you focus on?  Second, in what ways, if any, does your work in mathematics influence your approach to fantasy, worldbuilding, magic, and the other aspects of writing the kinds of books you write? 

JP:  I have not yet written a science fiction novel, but I have one brewing.  Up to now, I’ve mainly written science fiction shorts.  Most of those deal with how science might highlight the problems of a character’s life in the future, such as how a literal “window” into the past might reveal to a man why his marriage ended in divorce.  Since these are shorts, they tend to be focused more on how science affects the individual, rather than a society.  As for how math influences my approach to fantasy . . . I’d have to say they influence each other.  In fantasy, even though there’s magic involved, that magic has to satisfy basic rules and those rules have to make sense.  Math provides many different structures that can be used as the basis for a magical system.  It also helps with more basic things like logical plot lines, and keeping all of those plot threads organized.  There’s more structure required for fantasy novels than it appears at first glance.  On the other hand, fantasy has to be creative to be interesting, and in order to do anything new in mathematics, you have to be creative, you have to think outside the box.  So writing fantasy keeps my mind creative enough that I can come up with innovative new approaches to solving mathematical problems.  So I think the two go better together than most would think. 

I started writing my first novel nearly fifteen years ago.  I signed my first professional contract a year later.  I was at the bottom of the Tor food chain at that point, and that first book needed a good deal of revision, so I didn’t become an Official Published Author until the spring of 1997, almost eleven years ago.  Since then, I’ve published eight more books, I’ve won an award, I’ve had books translated into more than half a dozen languages.  That first novel is in its fifth or sixth paperback printing.

And still, I find myself worrying about the sales of my latest book.  At Chattacon this past weekend, other con guests and I spent a good deal of time talking about the market for genre fiction, the difficulties inherent in making a career of writing, and the financial rewards — or lack thereof — of our profession.  Don’t get me wrong:  none of us was complaining.  We all agreed that we’d be writing even if we weren’t making a thing.  The fact is we have no choice in the matter; we have to write.  If we didn’t give voice to all these characters crowding our minds, clamoring to have their stories told, we’d be like those guys who stumble down the street mumbling to themselves.

But the upshot of it all was that everyone of us worries about the sales of our most recent release, and the terms of that next contract.  My wife is an academic, and while I don’t regret my decision to leave academia — not at all — there are times when I wish there was such thing as a “tenured writer.”  I love my job.  And I think that’s part of the reason I sweat the sales numbers, why all of us do.  I still fear the day when someone says to me, “Sorry, you can’t write anymore.  No one’s reading those books of yours and we can’t afford to publish books that don’t sell.”

My question to my fellow writers:  Any of the rest of you feel this way?  How do you cope with it?  What do you tell beginning writers when they ask you about the business side of writing?

Today’s music:  Old and In the Way — eponymous

Magical Words

January 27, 2008

As I mentioned in Friday’s post, Faith Hunter, Misty Massey, C.E. Murphy, and I have started a new blog at http://magicalwords.net.  This is a project about which all four of us are very excited.  Here’s an excerpt from my first post on the blog, which explains what we hope to accomplish with the site: 

When we first started talking about what we wanted this site to be, we agreed that it would be fun to discuss issues we encounter as writers of speculative fiction.  Each of us specializes in different subgenres of fantasy, and each of us has dabbled in other genres as well, be they science fiction, mystery, romance, or mainstream.  And in writing these various types of books, we encounter creative issues that are both universal to writers of fiction and quite specific to the type of books we’re writing.  The intersection of those concerns, the ways in which each writer deals with his or her creative challenges, can be fun to explore.  It can also be incredibly illuminating for seasoned professionals and beginners alike.  So that’s we hope to do here, when we’re not posting less heady stuff, or rants, or whatever else moves us on a given day.  We hope you enjoy it.  Please feel free to come by, and bring a friend or two.

So please do stop by the site and join the discussion.

Today’s music:  “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” on NPR

Chattacon

January 26, 2008

I’m back from Chattacon — it’s close enough to my home that I was able to attend the con last night and today, do some programming and catch up with old friends, and still be home for dinner.  (It helps that I pick up an hour on the way home — Chattanooga is on Eastern Time; I live in Central).

It was a good con, despite the fact that I had to stand in line for two and a half hours to register on Friday afternoon.  Fortunately, my friend John Hicks came down with his family and kept me company while I waited.  After dinner I attended the Meet The Pros reception and had a fun conversation with Eric Flint and several other folks about the state of the writing business today.  It was a conversation we continued this afternoon in a panel with Michael Stanwick, one of the con Guests of Honor, and Peter David.  Eric and I also did a panel with Lynn Abbey, the other writer Guest of Honor, and Geoffrey Girard on the relative marketing strengths of fantasy and SF.  Both panels went very well and benefitted from some excellent questions from the audience.

My day started with a reading, and that went well, too.  At some smaller cons, readings can be, well, sparsely attended.  On several occasions, I’ve done readings for one or two people.  This reading, though attracted a larger audience.  Not huge; maybe eight or nine. But it was a nice crowd.  I read the first chapter from The Horsemen’s Gambit, the second volume of my Blood of the Southlands series.  (The books is finished and with my editor right now.)  People seemed to like it a great deal, and I have to say that I’ve never written a chapter that was better suited to a reading.  It’s the perfect length, it demands no foreknowledge of the series or the world, and it gives some sense of resolution at the end.  As one of the people attending the reading said, it almost reads like a short story.

Anyway, I’m home now, and glad to be able to sleep in my own bed tonight.  But it was a good con.

First off, I’ve blogged today at a new site that I’ve launched with fellow fantasy authors Faith Hunter, Misty Massey, and C. E. Murphy.  The site can be found at http://magicalwords.net.  Come over and take a look.

Second, a very happy Australia Day to all my mates Down Under.  Australia Day, January 26th (by the time any of my Aussie friends see this post it will be the 26th there), commemorates the establishment of the first European settlement on the continent.  It’s similar in many ways to our July 4th celebration, in that occurs in midsummer and is generally celebrated with barbeques, beer, and fireworks.  Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!  Oi, Oi, Oi!

I’ll be in Chattanooga tonight and tomorrow for Chattacon, the first of several sf/fantasy cons that come to the Scenic City each year.  I’ll be there for opening ceremonies tonight, and will be busy tomorrow with a reading at 10:00 am, and panels at 2:00 and 3:00.  If you’re in the area, come by.  Chattacon is always a good time.

Happy weekend, all.

Today’s music:  Soundtrack from O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Yet Another Outrage

January 24, 2008

If you watched the Congressional Black Caucus’s Democratic Debate the other night you would have heard Hillary Clinton warning us about this.  And if you listened to NPR’s Morning Edition today, you would have heard the story from correspondent Guy Raz:  http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18357565

Apparently the Bush Administration and the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are in the process of negotiating what amounts to a treaty providing for a permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq.  This agreement would bind the U.S. to become engaged in military operations whenever Iraq faces external or internal threats to its security.  

The NPR article at the link given above can explain all this far better than I can.  But the most outrageous part of all this is that the Bush Administration and the Pentagon are negotiating this agreement in such a way that it technically is NOT a treaty and so requires no Congressional approval.  In essence, Bush and company are seeking to saddle his successor and all U.S. Administrations for decades to come with their Iraqi mess, and predictably, given this crowd’s past behavior, they’re sidestepping the Constitution in order to do it.  Never mind that 57% of the American public want U.S. troops home from Iraq within a year (See Rasmussen Reports polling site), this President has decided that we should have troops there on a permanent basis.  And so we will.

These people have no conscience.  They care not at all about the safety of American troops or about the international standing of our nation or even about the principles of Democracy, representative government, separation of powers, and checks and balances on which our nation was founded.  They care only for their crazed Neo-Con agenda.  I’d tell you all to call your Senators and Congressmen in protest.  But even that won’t stop them.  This is government by thuggery, rule by the deluded few.  It’s a travesty.  January 20, 2009 can’t come soon enough.

Today’s music:  Pat Metheny (Secret Story)

Today’s Post

January 23, 2008

Today’s Post can be found at www.sfnovelists.com

Enjoy!

The Giants? Really?

January 22, 2008

Thought about posting what my Aussie friends would call a little whinge.  We had another snow day today, though we didn’t get even a single flake of snow.  All based on a forecast that proved wrong.  And I’m dealing with stupid household stuff (malfunctioning refrigerator, plumbing issues, etc.) 

But you know what?  I’m not going to whine.  The New York Giants are going to the Super Bowl.  I’ve been a Giants fan since I was about seven years old, and just about every year (except 1986 and 1990) they’ve managed to break my heart, sometimes in creative and excruciating ways. (Though not as creative or excruciating as last year’s Mets meltdown.  But I don’t want to go there….)  Not this year, though.  I didn’t quite believe it at first.  I even waited a day to post about it, in case their win on Sunday was under an official’s review or had been nullified by a penalty.  But, no.  They really won.  I don’t know quite how they did it, but it’s not my place to ask questions.  I’m just going to enjoy the ride.

Today’s music:  Oscar Peterson Trio with Milt Jackson (Very Tall)

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