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The ten thousand things and the one true only.

by Kip Manley

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So! Yesterday I finally wrote the last three paragraphs of no. 24, hurrah. It is just over eighteen thousand words long, which means there will have to be some cutting, but I’m not thinking about that right now. I’ve got another fifteen thousand-plus to write by January 3rd if I want to get back on schedule, and I’m still not sure what’s going to happen in the second act, much less the third, and I’m wondering if I should maybe so something to map out the middle ground to make sure I’ve got enough story but also enough room, like work up some fronts and countdown clocks, à la Apocalypse World?

While I’m over here—oh, let’s not call it procrastinating—I could maybe do something nice for you, like, I dunno, reveal the titles of the next few fits—

the thin ice; vilissima et infima; two sweetest passions; only borders lie; tends to crumble; Hands of an Angry; shiver and headache

—with, mind, the understanding that such things are even now subject to change. On a whim, even.

A note about the (most likely) title for no. 25, this one I should start typing on here any minute. —It comes from a Nabokov quote you’ll find littered all over the web:

Literature and butterflies are the two sweetest passions known to man.

—which always seemed a little, well, on the nose? For him? —So I went a-googling, to find the source, and thus whatever mitigating context, but that’s a little hard to do, what with the shorn quote itself being pasted up on every Tumblr and Pinterest and LiveJournal etc. etc. etc. Perseverance was called for, and eventually delivered. —A footnote ascribes the quote to an interview conducted in July, 1962, by Peter Duval-Smith and Christopher Burstall for the BBC, but the video isn’t on YouTube (that I can find), nor the printed transcript that appeared in the Listener; the only trace of it is Nabokov’s own transcript, which he reconstructed to weed out the inaccuracies he felt littered what had been printed by the BBC—and this famous quote? Appears nowhere in Nabokov’s version. —There is a passage it might’ve adorned:

You’re a professional lepidopterist?

Yes, I’m interested in the classification, variation, evolution, structure, distribution, habits, of lepidoptera: this sounds very grand, but actually I’m an expert in only a very small group of butterflies. I have contributed several works on butterflies to the various scientific journals—but I want to repeat that my interest in butterflies is exclusively scientific.

Is there any connection with your writing?

There is in a general way, because I think that in a work of art there is a kind of merging between the two things, between the precision of poetry and the excitement of pure science.

—but really, it would only have been so much sugar. “The precision of poetry and the excitement of pure science” is much better—but “two sweetest passions” fits more neatly in the space allotted.

And so.

—posted 14 days ago

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That’s one down, Kitty Carlisle.

So! I’ve finished the first pass at no. 23. I think it’s going to be called “ – the thin ice – ” but I’m not sure so don’t quote me on that. I’m not sure about a lot about it, actually. I mean I know it’s 16,036 words long, which isn’t the longest an installment’s been, but there’s still a couple of scenes to squeeze in but also some extraneous bits to trim or even cut away and also there’s the rearranging that needs to be done but I’ve written the last word of the last scene and already opened up the notecards for no. 24, which I don’t even know what it’s going to be called, but here’s where the scene between Becker and Pyrocles will go, and there the one with Jo and Luys, and all the bits to introduce Moody, if that really ends up being his name—

Ordinarily this isn’t how it works. Ordinarily what would’ve happened is by this point maybe half of it would already have been posted and then things would’ve gone dark for a week or two or a month or two as I tried to make the rest of it end up where it now needs to go given where it’s already been.

But this isn’t so much ordinarily anymore, or rather a new ordinarily is being assembled somewhere in the back of my brain without my direct input or awareness mind not that I’m in any way nervous about that fact why would you even think such a thing and maybe I can fit a Guthrie bit in, too? In the scene at Pioneer Square? Maybe?

Sorry. —So! While (ordinarily) you would’ve been seeing bits of no. 23, which may or may not end up being called “ – the thin ice – ”, by now, well, now, in what seems to be the new ordinarily, you won’t. You wouldn’t. You haven’t. —The second movement is where things take a turn, get contemplative, ruminative, when the shadows gather and deepen; usually scored at an adagio tempo, about 60 to 72 beats per minute. —I’m taking my time, is, I think, the takeaway here, uncertain, tentative, feeling my way through the negative space left by the clarion call of the first movement’s fanfare (allegro, 120 to 168 beats per minute. Roughly).

But the good news is that on or about the end of November I should be finishing the first pass of no. 24, assuming I keep on track, and figuring out the first inklings of the structure of no. 25. The plan—always keeping in mind what becomes of plans—is to have five or six rough numbers stacked up, ready to polish and release on something approaching a reliable schedule, starting in June or so of next year.

So. Something to look forward to? —Anyway. —One down; ten to go.

—posted 65 days ago

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All (thus far) in one.

22 zines; 2 paperbacks.

—posted 100 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of the spectacle.

What, for example, of those who flogged refreshments to the crowds, who put up the seating or cleared up the mess at the end of the day? What of the spectators who found the sun too hot or the rain too wet, who could hardly see the wonderful extravaganza that others applauded, or who found themselves mixed up in the outbreaks of violence that could be prompted by the spectacle?

Mary Beard

—posted 106 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of realism.

Suffice it to say that what distresses one about the Heinlein argument in general, when it is presented in narrative form, is that it so frequently takes the form of a gentlemanly assertion: “Just suppose the situation around X (war, race, what-have-you) were P, Q, and R; now under those conditions, wouldn’t behavior Y be logical and justified?”—where behavior Y just happens to be an extreme version of the most conservative, if not fascistic, program. Our argument is never with the truth value of Heinlein’s syllogism: Yes, if P, Q, and R were the case, then behavior Y would be pragmatically justifiable. Our argument is rather with the premises: Since P, Q, and R are not the situation of the present world, why continually pick fictional situations, bolstered by science-fictional distortions, to justify behavior that is patently inappropriate for the real world?

Samuel R. Delany

—posted 121 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of the roses.

Portland is a place where rich ones run away to settle down and grow flowers and shrubbery to hide them from the massacres they’ve caused.

Woody Guthrie

—posted 127 days ago

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Three hours widdershins.

So! Readercon. —There was gonna be a whole long con report thing like I haven’t done in a long long time but; but. It just wasn’t gelling. (A taste:

And then out in the hall there’s Greer Gilman, and here’s me, stammering at the sheer impossibility of taking up that one time, too many years ago, when on a whim I pulled an unassuming yellow mass-market paperback from the shelf of a Harvard Square bookshop and opened it up and there on the first page fell into those, those sentences, those goddamn words, that voice; the cadences which tug at my fingers even now, ringing and echoing will I or no in whatever I try to write myself—how—how do I, how do I take that, all that, and fit it somehow all into a flatly simple “Gosh, I, I really like your stuff.”

(—There was quite a bit more in that vein. So: not such a loss?) —Anyway. In and amongst the starstruck knee-knocking (I gave a copy of Dicebox to Samuel Delany! I pestered Ellen Kushner for a photograph! I told Paul Park how much I like Starbridge!), the old friends-rendezvousing (Emily Care and Epidiah drove down for lunch! I completely failed to recognize Vinnie!) and new friends-making (David Shaw made me a drink! Sofia Samatar made me stammer! Natalie Luhrs didn’t glue my hand to my beard! Daniel José Older thinks I look like Kevin Kline!), the Friday doldrums (I made a complete fool of myself in re: storyability! I was suddenly convinced my impostor syndrome wasn’t nearly as overwhelming as anyone else’s!) and the Saturday redounds (the cheeky Butts in Literature panel! the impromptu dance party!), the book-securing (American Shore! Starboard Wine! the Ben Jonson chapbooks!) and panel-attending (Theater and the Interrupted Ritual! Plot Without Conflict! a showing of The Polymath! The Gothic in 19th Century Science Fiction! Variations on the Theme of Unreliable Narrators! the aforementioned Butts!), I went and—gave a reading? did a reading? read?

I stood before a small (but select) crowd and read, aloud, words I had written: a first, for me. —That introductory party scene, and also the scene where the Axehandle confronts Mr. Lier—or was it vice-versa?—because one should always give some time to the antagonists, but mostly because my favorite magic tricks are the ones where the magician tells you exactly how they’re doing what they do even as they pull it off before your very eyes. (But perhaps I’ve said too much.) —It went well, well enough; thanks especially to Carrie Bernstein, Joshua A.C. Newman, Sofia Samatar, Felix Gilman, and Emily Wagner—small, as I said, but select.

Photo by Sofia Samatar.

—The Monday morning after—after helping tear down and pack up with the unflappable Stefan Krzywicki and the inimitable Jess Nevins and then cart across what felt like half this half of Massachusetts, and believe me when I tell you we will none of us hear that saying about the monkeys and the circus the same way ever again, and then there was a good eight hours of blissful oblivion in a basement room walled with more board games than I think I’ve ever seen in one place (and I, you should understand, have seen quite a few)—after that, on Monday morning, I sat down to breakfast with Emily Wagner. —I haven’t mentioned Emily much yet, have I.

“You know,” she said, as she forked up a bite from a blueberry pancake that was more blueberry than pancake. “This is all Amal’s fault.”

Amal El-Mohtar, honey-poet, critic of note, harpist and fencer, who’d challenged me to a duel, who’d boomed out my name when she learned I’d arrived, who’d pushed me out into the hall to meet Greer Gilman when I stammered something about those words, that voice. —“How do you figure?” I said, sipping some coffee.

“She wrote the poem,” said Emily. “In the Bordertown collection that you reviewed, and you liked it, and I said that I liked that, on Twitter, so you followed me, and I followed you, and here we are.”

And I looked around the here where we were, this train station refitted as a steampunk diner—excuse me, this diner decorated in an æsthetic of “Neo-Victorian Whimsy” (plus rivets), forty-five minutes or so north, by car, from Harvard Square, twenty-three years away from that unassuming yellow paperback, still on my shelves, an eighth of a day ahead of where I live now, across the country, a distance I’d be flying back later that day, a distance I’d covered the Thursday before, at the invitation of Readercon, at the urging of this person sitting across the table from me, this old friend I’d just met this weekend, this new friend I’ve known for years, as words, on a screen, who did an enormous amount of work to help pull all this together, the panels, the books, the readings, the butts, the dancing, the writers, the readers, and me and my knocking knees; who insisted I stay in their basement when I needed an extra night and was willing to drive through a Boston rush hour to get me where I needed to be—

I bought her breakfast. It was the least I could do.

—posted 138 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of stuff.

The role of “stuff” in fantasy fiction remains vitally important to fantastical stories and potentially serves to discipline fantasy readers into valuing certain cultural artifacts over others. Wikipedia has a page dedicated to a sizable—and incomplete—list of fictional swords with names. Certain artifacts are imbued with symbolic qualities (eg. King Arthur’s Excalibur and Holy Grail) and some magic systems are reliant upon material things (eg. wands in Harry Potter). Though economic systems within fantasy literature are usually underdeveloped or neglected by authors, artifacts remain fetishized, used both as a way of adding authenticity to the secondary world (the presence of swords signals to readers that they are situated within a particular genre and provides a pathway for authors to play with certain tropes), and developing the protagonist’s identity. But from where does this economic model originate and how, if at all, does this conceptualization of stuff impact present-day nerd consumerism? Because while the role of economic exchange is left ambiguous in much fantasy literature, the centrality of stuff like wands, crystal balls, amulets, and named swords is not.

Sarah Shoker

—posted 194 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of the out-of-doors.

This principle, it seems to me, is the ceaseless action of secluding oneself. Imagination about travel corresponds in Verne to an exploration of closure, and the compatibility between Verne and childhood does not stem from a banal mystique of adventure, but on the contrary from a common delight in the finite, which one also finds in children’s passion for huts and tents: to enclose oneself and to settle, such is the existential dream of childhood and of Verne. The archetype of this dream is this almost perfect novel: L’Ile mystérieuse, in which the manchild re-invents the world, fills it, closes it, shuts himself up in it, and crowns this encyclopædic effort with the bourgeois posture of appropriation: slippers, pipe and fireside, while outside the storm, that is, the infinite, rages in vain.

Roland Barthes

—posted 199 days ago

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Portland, divided into four fifths.

If you, Dear Reader, are not yourself intimately acquainted with the geography of the City of Roses, and find yourself occasionally wondering which went where when, yr. correspondent might direct you to a map of sorts, that easily fits most hands.

—posted 228 days ago

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