Open Office “normal” view

So, in the spirit of “if I have this problem, other people must also,” I write here a complaint and a proposal.

I really like the idea of Open Office and free, open source software. In general, I think it’s a great product. However, I still use my old version of Microsoft Word to write in. Why? Because Open Office doesn’t have the single most important feature I need as a writer: draft, or “normal” view (that’s the way you can view documents in Word that strips out all the margins and headers and shows a dotted line for page breaks). The only options in OO Writer are page layout view and this truly wonky web view. Both of which are entirely useless for composing long documents without unnecessary headaches. I’ve looked this up, and people have been complaining to them about this since 2002. The developers keep making vague noises that they might do something about it and then put it off into some indefinite “later” version of Open Office. It ain’t in version 3.0 either. It seems a little insane to me that the by far most sophisticated free word processor out there can’t get it together enough to implement a page view mode that’s been available since the early 90s in every other software package. And it’s stopping me from using it. I bought an ASUS so I could have something small bring to coffee shops and write, but unfortunately it’s linux-based and so I’m stuck with OO Writer. The more I use it. the more frustrated I get with the stupid layout view. Augh!

So…anyone else feel like this? Am I alone? Would you too use Open Office Writer if it could get itself together and give us a decent page view? Because if you take a few minutes and sign up on the open office wiki, you can then vote for the issue and write a comment. Maybe if enough writers do this, they’ll start to look at it seriously.

http://www.openoffice.org/issues/show_bug.cgi?id=4914

It’s issue # 4914. If you’re with me, go forth and agitate!

On the other hand, I’ve complained about this to a few of my friends and they seem to have no problems at all adjusting to the page layout view. Different strokes, I guess.

mexican holiday

I have discovered that the Speculative Literature Foundation has taken leave of their senses and decided to give me $800 to travel around Mexico. Needless to say, I’m ecstatic.

The press release is here. I’m going there to research a novel I’ve been planning and researching for at least four years. The working title is Revolution and Desire in the Mushroom Kingdom (I know, I’ll have to change it). Once I finish the second book of my trilogy, I think I’m going to work on this until something comes up. Like, the fifty other novels/short stories/work for hire projects I seem to have taken on.

vampire shagger

It’s official: I have become addicted to HBO’s True Blood. I was doing that full body roll-around-on-the-couch thing today while watching the fifth episode, and I remember from Veronica Mars what that means…

This is a bit strange since I seem to be entirely alone among everyone of my acquaintance in my enjoyment of this show. They all seem to hate it. Maybe I just have bad taste? Or maybe after I drank the bright red kool-aid big time and wrote and sold a vampire novel of my own I’ve become more forgiving of the genre? I don’t know, but I really do enjoy this trashy, back-door thoughtful show. I can’t wait till next Sunday.

And can I just say that I really love the way they’ve made Bill Compton so weird and awkward looking? Every once in a while there’s a certain angle and you think: oh wow, he really is handsome, but a lot of the time he looks…inhuman. Undead. Like you would imagine an animated civil war corpse should look. This being opposed to David Boreanaz.

p.p.s. also, the most awesome opening credit sequence ever. It is better than the show. Which still means the show is good.

is happy/sad a bit like wabi/sabi?

I was listening to my ipod today, while deep in the throes of completing my 2k on The Dread Novel, and came across this song (My Sister by Tindersticks):

The video is a little odd (I think it’s just some fan interpretation), but dig the lyrics:

Do you remember my sister? How many mistakes did she make with those never blinking eyes? I couldn’t work it out. I swear she could read your mind, your life, the depths of your soul at one glance. Maybe she was stripping herself away, saying:

Here I am, this is me
I am yours and everything about me, everything you see …..
If only you look hard enough

I never could.

Our life was a pillow-fight. We’d stand there on the quilt, our hands clenched ready. Her with her milky teeth, so late for her age, and a Stanley knife in her hand. She sliced the tyres on my bike and I couldn’t forgive her.

She went blind at the age of five. We’d stand at the bedroom window and she’d get me to tell her what I saw. I’d describe the houses opposite, the little patch of grass next to the path, the gate with its rotten hinges forever wedged open that Dad was always going to fix. She’d stand there quiet for a moment. I thought she was trying to develop the images in her own head. Then she’d say:

I can see little twinkly stars, like Christmas tree lights in faraway windows.
Rings of brightly coloured rocks floating around orange and mustard planets.
I can see huge tiger striped fishes chasing tiny blue and yellow dashes, all tails and fins and bubbles.

I’d look at the grey house opposite, and close the curtains.

She burned down the house when she was ten. I was away camping with the scouts. The fireman said she’d been smoking in bed – the old story, I thought. The cat and our mum died in the flames, so Dad took us to stay with our aunt in the country. He went back to London to find us a new house. We never saw him again.

On her thirteenth birthday she fell down the well in our aunt’s garden and broke her head. She’d been drinking heavily. On her recovery her sight returned, a fluke of nature everyone said. That’s when she said she’d never blink again. I would tell her when she stared at me, with her eyes wide and watery, that they reminded me of the well she fell into. She liked this, it made her laugh.

She moved in with a gym teacher when she was fifteen, all muscles he was. He lost his job when it all came out, and couldn’t get another one. Not in that kind of small town. Everybody knew everyone else’s business. My sister would hold her head high, though. She said she was in love. They were together for five years until one day he lost his temper. He hit over the back of the neck with his bullworker. She lost the use of the right side of her body. He got three years and was out in fifteen months. We saw him a while later, he was coaching a non-league football team in a Cornwall seaside town. I don’t think he recognized her. My sister had put on a lot of weight from being in a chair all the time. She’d get me to stick pins and stub out cigarettes in her right hand. She’d laugh like mad because it didn’t hurt. Her left hand was pretty good though. We’d have arm wrestling matches, I’d have to use both arms and she’d still beat me.

We buried her when she was 32. Me and my aunt, the vicar, and the man who dug the hole. She said she didn’t want to be cremated and wanted a cheap coffin so the worms could get to her quickly. She said she liked the idea of it, though I thought it was because of what happened to the cat, and our mum.

I especially love the way the music becomes almost jaunty while he says: "He hit her over the back of the head with his bullworker." This song is an almost wrist-slash worthy example of a thing I love in more milder versions in a lot of songs (and books, for that matter). It’s this incredibly taut juxtaposition of happy/sad warring within the same song. So you have these insanely depressing lyrics of a woman’s life which was just one tragedy after another layered over this moody instrumental, with hints of something really not right beneath it (saxophones wandering off into dissonant jazz scales), but this swinging sixties beat. Other songs that are less intense that feel like this to me? Brandy by Looking Glass. Chain Gang by the Pretenders. The happy/sad thing is what made Buffy great.

Anyway. Weird thoughts at the end of the day. I went to Hungary earlier this month, and there’s nothing cooler than realizing that dancing is the language that crosses all borders. You would not believe how much I danced. My knees can’t either.

in which I engage in self-promotion

A short story of mine (hard SF, would you believe?) that I had thought would be going up in September, is actually up this week at Strange Horizons. Read it! If any of you met me at readercon, I used an excerpt from this story for my “meet the prose” quote. The thing about Dante’s first ring and demons who have hox genes. My friend Kris really loves the part about the lip-creature. Now you have to be curious, right?

http://www.strangehorizons.com/2008/20080804/well-f.shtml

In other news, RWA was a very interesting and different experience from the average SF con. I really enjoyed it– especially the fancy dresses and free books. I went to the St. Martin’s Press party and it was swanky! Also, RWA is so much better organized and more useful than SFWA it’s sort of sad and pathetic. I think I’m going to join this week.

blind men’s bluff

For those of you who have not heard, anthology editor Jonathan Strahan recently announced his final TOC for the upcoming Eclipse Two anthology, published by Night Shade Books. Now, you might have thought that given the brou-ha-ha surrounding the cover of Eclipse One, those associated with the project would now be very sensitive to gender issues and disinclined to repeat the spectacle. Well, apparently not.

The TOC is (as far as I can tell) entirely made up of white men, with one white woman. I’m with ktempest: I find this sort of thing wholly unacceptable. And no, I refuse to look at some sort of long-term trend to confirm bias when it comes to an anthology. Anthologies are books, meant to be consumed as single projects. It’s not like a magazine, with subscribers, a regular production schedule and an expectation of future issues.

I’m re-posting here what I just wrote in the comments section of the original SF Signal announcement:

Jonathan,

So, you have created an anthology of white men and one white woman. The publisher’s copy for Eclipse One reads:

“Set to become a major event on the science fiction and fantasy calendar,Eclipse: New Science Fiction and Fantasy gathers together new science fiction and fantasy stories by the best writers working today.”

This is a general interest anthology. It’s being promoted as some sort of compilation of exciting new talent. And yet, that talent is as race and gender limited as anything that would have been published 30 or 40 years ago. I bet those editors thought they were gender/color blind, too. 13 white men and 1 white woman represent the best writers working today?

Honestly, when the women dropped out, did it occur to you to cast a wider net and ask more women for stories? To open a few more slots from the open call or extend it? To recruit a few of the dramatically underrepresented pool of writers of color (especially female writers of color), very few of whom ever seem to break through to the relative mainstream of our genre?

No one is saying you should accept a story by a woman or a writer of color just because you need to fill a quota. But a solicited anthology is only as good as the writers whose stories you solicit, and judging by this TOC (no matter what unfortunate first-round dropouts you had), you need to broaden your list. Any editor of a magazine or anthology not only considers the internal quality of each story but ALSO their relationship with each other. I hear all the time that a story might get rejected not because it was bad, but because, say, Peter S. Beagle beat you to the unicorn story slot. If you have a preponderance of AI stories, you might reject one you would otherwise have accepted. This type of “not just the quality of the story, but the quality of the market” balancing is an accepted and, indeed, *expected* part of the job of the editor. When Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling put out their fairy tale anthologies, no one wanted to read six sleeping beauty re-tellings, no matter how good they might individually be.

So HOW is it any different to consider another “not just the story quality” valence when weighing the effect of the balance of an anthology? How is it “affirmative action” or “quotas” or any of those other bogeymen to look at your TOC and think, “gee, I seem to have stuffed this with a lot of white guys. My readership might not like that anymore than an anthology with 7 romantic zombie stories, so let me try to balance things a little.”

There are so many excellent women and writers of color working in the field today that I find it astonishing that (when the first round of women dropped out) you could not have solicited several other excellent stories from them to help round out your anthology in all the ways people clearly care about.

Because I’m with Stephanie: I’ve seen enough of these all-male anthologies to last my lifetime.

I’d really appreciate thoughts/comments about this. This sort of thing frustrates me so much I never quite know what to do, but interaction is always good.

tant que je vive

And if you know exactly what I’m going to talk about already, I’m either your friend or need to become so immediately!

I spent about six hours last night re-reading choice bits of the end of The Ringed Castle (‘I reserve the right,’ said Lymond, ‘to change the metre.’) and Checkmate (‘Don’t be surprised: your sire loved me also?’) and have come away with an even deeper appreciation of just how seriously. fucking. good. Dorothy Dunnett was.

In a hundred years, if we haven’t destroyed ourselves in some nuclear apocalypse or global warming induced natural disaster, the Lymond chronicles will still be read by generations of precocious readers and writers of certain romantic sensibility. And a fraction of them will go on to a lifetime of admiration and informed, coy, clever emulation. The fact that I can read a book now and predict with what seems (anecdotally, at least) to be an uncanny degree of accuracy if the author has read the Lymond chronicles speaks to just how much of a nerve those books hit with people. And what I mean is, they change lives.

Sometimes I think of Lymond as the literary version of the Velvet Underground…not many people bought the record, but everyone who did started a band.

I have some vague ideas about how to turn this secret cabal of Lymond-lovers into a more public (and surely fascinating) discussion at a con, but I first need to figure out how many of them are going to be traipsing around Calgary come November.

In the meantime, as an all-too-brief illustration of the many, many layers of meaning that Dunnett was capable of infusing into every word, I give you this from Checkmate:

[WARNING: SPOILER AHEAD!!]

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on the condescension of adults

I will never understand how it is that perfectly reasonable, intelligent, precocious and curious children can grow up into timid, hidebound, ideologically paranoid adults who feel the need to police every errant word that might pass their precious babies’ dewy eyes. And by this I mean: by what reasonable standard can an eleven year old child not be allowed to understand what the word “scrotum” means (especially in reference to a dog’s genitals, and in the most clinical manner possible)? Why is it that sexually curious (and possibly active) fifteen and sixteen year olds shouldn’t be able to read about teenage homosexual relationships (Boy Meets Boy)? What on earth are we trying to “save” these children from? Reading, at the risk of pointing out the obvious, is an act of discovery, one that in some way uncovers some heretofore unknown aspect of our world. Writing is humanity’s best method of conveying all sorts of knowledge, including the bewildering complexity of our human interactions. And reading is perhaps any person’s best chance of entering another person’s head, and really experiencing the world from their perspective. So, to me, it seems like it should be a crime for some wrong-headed adult to restrict any child capable of understanding the material from reading anything they wish to. Yes, I am opposed to censorship of any kind because I at least remember the joy of reading as a young teenager. I know that if my parents had decided to vet my choices before I was allowed to enjoy them, many of my fondest reading experiences would never have happened. Maybe I wouldn’t have been able to read the Alanna series when I was twelve because she gets her period and falls in love with a much older man.

By book four, in fact, the Alanna series is rather singular among YA fantasy novels, which tend to be dramatically more conservative than their “realistic fiction” YA shelf mates. Judy Blume was telling young girls about their periods and (possibly ill-advised) sex with boys while YA fantasy authors were cleaning up after dragons and vain wizards. Now, I adore Patricia C. Wrede and Diana Wynne Jones (ask anyone), but at a certain point in my youth I had to wonder: where on earth was the sex? The periods? The sexual uncertainty? Why was it that these issues never seemed to make it into YA fantasy, but were staples of many realistic YA novels? And I think the reason goes straight back to these self-imposed gatekeepers of Young People’s Pristine Minds: librarians, parents and editors. For some reason, fantasy was always seen as skewing younger than more realistic YA, and thus much less adult content was tolerated. (I wrote an essay for Beatrice about the amorphous distinctions between YA and adult fantasy, but those distinctions of qualitative focus are, I think, a little separate from the sex, etc. I’m discussing here.)

But this is all ridiculous. Tweens and teens are perfectly capable of understanding and appreciating the subject matter of Boy Meets Boy or The Higher Power of Lucky. I treasured every morsel of truly adult content I gleaned form my reading in middle and high school. Every serious (not titillating) explanation of a sexual act or interaction was to me a valuable window into a world I wanted to know more about. And when I see adults struggling to board up these windows for kids far more isolated than I ever was, I get furious. Not every child is willing to rebel. Some willingly go along with their parents’ or librarian’s well-meaning (I suppose) damming of their intellectual outlets.

And even when the parents and librarians don’t censor, I sometimes feel like there is far too much self-censorship on the part of authors and editors, especially in fantasy. I mean, why is it that twenty years after Alanna had some decently explicit sex with Jonathon and George do we still see so little in YA fantasy? Why do we have to turn to realistic YA for some decent homosexual relationships? Why are we so afraid of “polluting” young minds with information that we all know, and could benefit ourselves from exploring further? What amazing condescension to these people we were, not so very long ago.

Yes, teenagers know about sex. Yes, they’d like to read about it. Yes, they know what prostitutes are, what drugs are, what death is, what war is, what disease is…THEY ALL KNOW. It isn’t some big fucking secret. Authors should write what they feel compelled to write, without the pinpricks of self-censorship, about subjects they feel are interesting to the people they want to reach, and that audience should in turn be able to read whatever the fuck they want. Does something make you feel uncomfortable? Then stop reading it. Or, even better, keep going. But for god’s sake, don’t you dare tell me or anyone else, no matter how young or impressionable you think they are, what you think they should read.

The Prioress

(More from the land of the Shift. This turned into a bit of a short story. Unfortunately, I’m not close to good enough at photoshop to illustrate it.)

Her name had been Greta, and she had been raised in Cheruk Syndicate in the days when Fox Speaker ruled the city. Her parents were Fallen—Goyles, as the less devout called them—but she was born healthy and entirely human. Fox Speaker took her on as his lover when she grew old enough, and taught her the ways of the ayahuasca, the peyote, the blue mushrooms which still grew on dung if you dared to brave the Shift. What spirits she touched shook her with their anger, their need for vengeance over what humans had done to their earth.

“How can we appease them?” she’d asked Fox Speaker, young and terrified and trusting.

And he had shown her.

Continue reading

Goyle Green

(The Shift began its life as a proposal for a SF television show, but I’m now in the process of turning it into a graphic novel script. The world is post-apocalyptic and sprawling, and I’m going to post various bits of things I write about both the world and the characters from the series. This helps with my creative process, and even better if I can interest other people in the project. At some point, I hope to find someone willing to work with me on sketching the characters and certain key locations.)

goyle-dissection.jpg

Jade Syndicate doesn’t throw their trash in the wasteland. Boss Jade is the only female syndicate head—and no woman with power takes for granted what she doesn’t understand. No one understands the Shift, that charred, virus-ridden stretch between the human protective force of teeming North City and the high, old-technological walls of Delphi University. Everything that isn’t City or University is Shift. Every part of the Earth, maybe, but no one in North City knows shit about geography. Pre-virus humans glorified their civilization, forgetting that without their supermarkets and computers and customer service centers, the majority of people on earth had a roughly stone-age grasp of technology. And when a virus eats up the land and kills 85% of them? The climb up that hill suddenly looks pretty damn steep.

So she doesn’t mess with the Shift, but Jade still has to do something with the living carcasses, the mind-bleached leftovers of her Goyles. Their power comes from the Shift, and until it drives them insane, she can use it to help control her corner of the city. Jade is grateful for your service, the disposal managers like to say to the incoming loads of gibbering half-humans. The Goyles are dispatched in a nominally humane way—no warm baths and soothing music, but sharp blades and a speedy efficiency that minimizes both pain and mess. Boss Jade tolerates pain; she hates unnecessary waste. Most bodies are kept in a giant cold room deep underground, protected by three levels of University-grade technological security. On any given day, as many as sixty Goyle bodies are laid out on identical silver gurneys. Jade Researchers use scalpels and saws and pickaxes to hack through the variegated hides of scales, feathers, rock and skin to see what lies beneath. Something in the Shift, the virus, has profoundly changed these humans; turned them into Goyles. With typical pragmatism, Boss Jade reasoned that she might gain an advantage over the other syndicates if she learned what else changed when one turned Goyle. In the cold room, anatomical anomalies are catalogued, photographed and detailed. Their bodies resemble animal carcasses if you squint in a certain way that all Researchers have learned to squint. And when these blood-drained cadavers have fulfilled all possible function, they’re shipped to a meat processing plant on the outskirts of her district, providing Jade with a hefty discount on the costs of producing glue, pet food and hot dogs.

Goyle family members are not notified.