Sunday, August 31, 2008

Decatur Book Festival

I have a confession to make. Even though I live right outside Atlanta, and am very involved in science fiction fandom;, Farmerphile, Farmercon...I have never been to DragonCon. The reason is my real job. Most of the year it is a normal 40 to 50 hours a week, but in football season, it is a wearying 70 hours a week, with a big chunk of them on the weekends. DragonCon falling on the opening weekend of college football is a problem.

I did however manage to get some hours off yesterday (Saturday August 30th) to go to the Decatur Book Festival. Normally I just go in the afternoon when I'm done working, but this year I wanted to see a panel with Kevin J. Anderson, John Scalzi, Tobias Buckell and Cherie Priest that started at 11:15. The panel was really well done, for seemingly being off the cuff for the most part. There were lots of laughs.

After the panel there was a book signing where things seemed to be going well, since the dealer was running out of books by all of the authors (I got one of the last hardcovers of Zoe's Tale). The strangest part of the day came when I finally got to the end of the line and John Scalzi says to me, "You look familiar," and then Cherie Priest agrees with him. I suppose it could have been from me stalking them in the hallway downstairs before the panel (just kidding, but I did see them down there). But my best guess is that when I emailed John a couple of weeks ago asking if he would like to contribute an article to Farmerphile, he may have taken a few minutes to check out more of the site than just the Farmerphile page and saw the pictures from Farmercon90. I gave him a copy of issue #11, just as a way of saying thank you for getting back to me, even though he said he wasn't familiar enough with Phil's work to write a good article for me.

I then told Tobias Buckell that Chris Carey said "Hello," and gave him a copy of issue #13 which contains an interview with Chris and an excerpt from The Song of Kwasin, a novel that Phil Farmer started and Chris Carey completed. Tobias seemed glad to hear of Chris, said he was "good people" but that they hadn't really kept in touch much, although he did know Chris was working on this book.

After the signing I hit the Georgia Antiquarian Booksellers Association dealer's room, usually the best part of the weekend for me. This year however I managed to escape their clutches with my money still in my pocket. I was tempted to buy a signed copy of The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon, but it was $60 and I was pretty sure I could find it cheaper online. I did see a hardcover first printing of The Green Odyssey, but at $3000, I'll just have to keep saying hi to it each year as I've been doing for several years now. Although I think it was only $1500, four or five years ago. I also met a man who does book restoration and custom binding. I am thinking about having him redo a really beat up ex-library copy I have of The Green Odyssey.

I did buy one other book, but it was outside at one of the many dealer's tents. Most of the dealers are publishers, but this was from a local bookstore, Eagle Eye Books, which has a lot of signed stock on their shelves. I picked up a signed copy of Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox for cover price. Since Colfer lives in Ireland I figured I wouldn't come across too many of his books signed anytime soon, and my kids really like his stuff. We've done a lot of it on tape during the long car rides to my in-laws in St. Louis, to Florida, etc... He is probably my favorite YA author right now, although I don't read (or listen to) that many YA books.

Now in its third year the Decatur Book Festival keeps getting a little bigger and a little better. Being the same weekend as Dragoncon, hopefully they will continue to attract more science fiction authors who can come to town for both events.

Perhaps in answer to the Decatur Book Festival, last year Gwinnett County (where I live), launched the Gwinnett Reading Festival. It will be held in October but unfortunately all of the information currently online is from last year's event.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Oh No! Not another, "What I'm Reading List."

Yup, as I mentioned in my opening blog, keeping a blog about what books I am reading is one of the reasons I started doing this. However, this is more for my benefit than anyone else. I find that if I am tracking something like this, especially publicly, it forces me to not be so lazy (some of you may call it getting at least five hours of sleep a night) and read more. So really, you probably don't want to read any further, but if you insist on not hitting the back button...

Over the years I have found it convenient to have different books in different locations, rather than lugging one book with me everywhere I go. So yes, I read three or four, sometimes even five, different books at a time. The trick is to not read two books by the same author at the same time. This is what I'm reading now:

In the bedroom: Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell. Checked this out from the library because I hate meeting an author (even at something like a book signing) and having to admit that I have never read anything by them (see below). I am enjoying the book, but because I have been getting to bed so late I have not been able to read more than 25 pages at a time. I usually read until I fall asleep somewhere between midnight and 2:00am.

In the downstairs bathroom: I just finished Big Money by one of my favorite authors, P. G. Wodehouse. Not as much fun as a Jeeves and Wooster novel, but almost nothing in this world is. I finished that library book and had another ready to take its place; Death of a Gentle Lady by M.C. Beaton. I really enjoy her Hamish Macbeth series (can't stand Agatha Raisin though) but I have to admit that you can't read the more recent ones without reading the earlier ones. At some point she appears to have decided that anyone reading a Macbeth novel has read all of the previous ones and so are familiar with the characters. The first 20 to 30 pages fly along so fast they read more like a book report synopsis of the book. By the time Hamish has a murder to solve things settle down to a more novel-like pace.

At the office: Monday I finished reading The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw. I try to read either some non-fiction or "literature" (you know, Cervantes, Hemingway, Faulkner...that--usually pretty good--old stuff) every couple of months between all the science fiction I have piled up. I usually do these on tape though. I am now reading The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi. I devoured the first book in this series, Old Man's War, last week. I actually finished it in less than 24 hours after I got it from the library. This is something I almost never do, I just don't have time and do need a least a few hours of sleep now and then. But, I really couldn't put it down. I'm taking it easier with The Ghost Brigades. By the way, when I say I am reading a book "at the office" it pretty much means, in the bathroom at the office. I may actually read more "at the office" than anywhere else...

Another thought about reading Old Man's War in one day. Sometimes I go through periods where I read several books in a month, and sometimes I only read one book over several months (having a Kakuro book in the downstairs bathroom killed my average earlier this year). Right now I am in one of those phases where I am reading a lot. Hopefully this blog will keep me there.

In the car: For the record, books on tape (and cd) saved my life. When I was driving to work five days a week, stuck in the car for 15 or more hours a week, forced to listen to the crappy radio stations we have in Atlanta, I had a lot of stress in my life. I would come home from work in a bad mood ready to kill someone, all because of the traffic. This changed the day I started listening to books in the car. I may talk about this more later, but this blog is long enough already.

Last week I tried to listen to the Modern Scholar series' Giants of Irish Literature by George O'Brien. It started off well, the historical background information in the first (of fourteen) lessons was really interesting. I enjoyed the lessons about Oscar Wilde, but by the time we got to Yeats I found my mind wandering while listening and that was it. If a BOT can't hold my attention I'll usually finish that tape (or disc) then give up. The Modern Scholar series on the whole has been fantastic; respected college professors recording their lectures. I am grateful my library system carries so many of these.

So now I'm listening to Slan Hunter by A.E. van Vogt and Kevin J. Anderson. I mostly picked this up because Kevin Anderson, like Tobias Buckell and John Scalzi mentioned above, will be together at a panel and book signing at the Decatur Book Festival this weekend. And as I said, I hate meeting an author having not read any of their work. I'm enjoying the book as I still love "classic science fiction" but I do have one problem with it. I know it is a direct sequel to a book written in the 1940s, and the events are taking place right after the events in Slan, but I think Kevin could have done more to make book read less dated.

For example, instead of having a member of the secret police demand that a nurse give him the "carbon copies" of all the recent records, why not just ask for "copies" and let the reader fill in their own minds if these are paper, digital or something else. He could also mention the large banks of computers, which seems outdated enough in this age of miniaturization to keep the book enough like the original, without mentioning the punch cards and making the book sound really dated. Don't get me wrong, I'm enjoying Slan Hunter, I'm just not sure why he did this.

Ok, that is all I'm reading at the moment. The question now is how often do I update this? Anytime I finish one of the above books and start on something else? Or when I've finished them all? Or maybe just once a week? And perhaps more importantly, will the next blog be under 1000 words? I have the feeling that a competent writer could have conveyed the information in this blog in 1/4 the words (and without using so many parenthetical statements as I have a bad habit of doing). It also occurs to me that I could have read about 100 pages in The Ghost Brigades, or an entire Hamish Macbeth novel, in the time I have spent on my first two blog posts today.

Why blog, why now? You really don't have time for this...

Thanks me, good question.

Over the last ten years I have thought about starting blogs on several topics. Yes, I said ten years, it was at least that long ago that I wanted to keep a log (didn't know what a blog was back then), of the books on tape I was listening to. The plan was to review both the books and the readers. I was listening to so many that I had favorite readers the way normal people have favorite actors.

Back then I was commuting to work five days a week, stuck in traffic for a minimum of 10 hours a week (fifteen being more the norm) and I would also bring by BOTs into the office and listen to them there. So I was listening to at least 50 books a year in addition to the 50 books a year I was reading.

However, now I only go into the office two or three times a week and I live closer to the office so I spend much less time in the car. Because of this I not only don't get through as many BOT (or Books on CD these days) but I often go weeks between BOTs actually listening to the radio (NPR and Dave Ramsey mostly). So that is reason number one, to talk about BOTs and how they changed my life; more on that later.

The second reason I decided to take the plunge is that everything else I do online is in the third person. Because the website I do about Philip José Farmer, is about him, owned by someone else, and many people contribute to it on a regular basis, I always say "We have added..." or what have you. The only myspace page I have (or want) is Phil's. Not that I'm complaining, I love Phil dearly and consider it an honor to be his "voice" online, but I sometimes might want to say things online that do not reflect the views of the management...

The third reason I'm doing this is to start a discussion about Philip José Farmer and the best way to get his books back into print. Understand I am not Phil's agent, I can't do anything without the agent's permission and in the past the agent has been less than receptive to most of my ideas. So far Farmerphile: The Magazine of Philip José Farmer has been my only real triumph in this endeavor.

The fourth reason I'm doing this is because I want to write. Publishing Farmerphile has been an amazing project for me. I've learned more about writing by watching Christopher Paul Carey edit it, than I ever did in school (doh! stupid engineering degree). I've noticed however that just about every single person I know is a better writer than I am. Hopefully blogging, if not daily then at least weekly, will force me to improve my writing. I have several stories and at least one book I want to write...but then again, don't we all.

So, why start blogging now? Well it's John Scalzi's fault. Ever since I discovered his blog, Whatever, I have been checking it several times a day. It has supplanted Doonesbury and Dilbert as the first thing I read when I get online each day. His blog often takes me to other blogs and I've now created a folder in my links with a dozen blogs in to check daily. Luckily most of them don't update daily or I'd really never get anything done.

So this is it, I'm taking the plunge. I have a lot on my mind, but will I really have time to write about it? More importantly will I be able to post blogs that are under 500 words, or will I always blather on like this?