Over on a mailing list I’m on, there’s been a discussion about how wrong the movies and TV often are about guns (e.g. how easy it is to hit a target while jumping, running, etc.), which led to a discussion of how wrong fiction often is about other things, like horses and computers.

I’ve learned that the more you know about anything (computers, horses, guns, medicine), the more you realize that fiction and the popular press get them completely wrong. It’s really not a good idea to believe anything you read.

When writing popular fiction, you will never be able to satisfy 100% of your readers with the accuracy of your portrayals (the TV show ER had several doctors on staff as technical advisers, and they often disagreed even with each other), so there’s no point in researching too much or worrying too much about getting it 100% right. Furthermore, even completely accurate facts, backed up with research and personal experience, may bounce the reader out of the story if they conflict too much with the reader’s expectations. But if you rely only on what you remember from reading fiction, not only will your facts be wrong but the story will be lazy, flabby, and unsurprising.

It’s a balancing act. The trick is to do just enough research that you can surprise your readers (the average reader) with unexpected details that make the work feel fresh and realistic.

Often the only way to get to that point is to do too much research and then, reluctantly, leave a lot of the really cool stuff out.

Potlatch and Clarion West

I have received my programming schedule for Potlatch (February 24-26 in Seattle):

Saturday 10:00 AM: Walter Miller Reading
Saturday 4:00 PM: The Author as Reader
Sunday 1:00 PM: E-Publishing Panel

The complete Potlatch program is available online.

I will also be leading a section of the Writers’ Workshop on Friday afternoon (sign-ups for which are already closed). Potlatch is one of my favorite small conventions and I’m looking forward to this year’s edition with great eagertudinosity.

On a related note: as you may know, Potlatch is closely associated with the Clarion West writers’ workshop, of which I am a proud alumnus and supporter. Applications for this year’s workshop, with seven fabulous instructors including Mary Rosenblum, George R. R. Martin, and Chuck Palahniuk, are now open, but the deadline is March 1. Apply now!

Portland International Film Festival, part 1

Word count: 24965 | Since last entry: 13070

Our films in this year’s Portland International Film Festival will be crammed into just a few days due to lots of travel in February. We’re seeing one or two films a day for a week, and that’s it.

So far we have seen…

Target (Russia) reminded me a lot of Kubrick, especially A Clockwork Orange. Stately in its pace, full of intriguing ideas, with gorgeous cinematography and subtle but effective touches to convey the near-future Russia of 2020, it’s beautifully made. But it drove us out of the theatre with its relentless violence, appalling misogyny, numerous scenes of ugly joyless sex, and complete lack of any admirable qualities in its characters. It takes a lot to make me walk out of a movie, but this film managed it. this review is pretty much the one I would write if I wanted to spend any more time thinking about this film, which I don’t.

A Cat in Paris (France) was a delight. An animated film with a colorful, energetic visual style that reminded me of Lynda Barry, it was full of adventure, humor, and fun. Tightly plotted, with serious tension, great moments of humor, and some genuine human emotion, this film works at multiple levels. The villain manages to be ludicrous and seriously threatening at the same time, there are some delightfully unexpected visual tricks, and the score is fabulous. Also, the cat (although smarter than the average cat) is a cat, and manages to be the film’s central character without talking, fetching things (other than a dead lizard), or doing anything else impossible for a cat in the real world. Highly recommended for adults and kids.

Hello! How Are You? (Romania), an Eastern European You’ve Got Mail!, was a bit of a mixed bag. A romantic comedy about a long-married couple who each begin an online flirtation with a stranger, the best thing about this film is the subsidiary characters, especially their horndog son whose self-aggrandizing audio diary provides unconscious insight into the lives of his parents. This is a movie about sex and romance, and how sometimes getting what you thought you wanted is the worst thing that can happen. And, although I describe it as a romantic comedy and I laughed out loud on many occasions, the overall impression I came away with is sweetly sad. A reminder, as many romantic comedies are, of how important it is to communicate with one’s partner.

SFWA Northwest Reading Series now featuring ME! This week!

As you may know, the Science Fiction Writers of America have been holding a quarterly reading series at the Kennedy School in Portland. They are also inaugurating a reading series in the Seattle area. See for more information.

Ted Kosmatka, one of the scheduled readers for this week’s readings, has had to drop out due to a death in the family, and I’ve been asked to step in. So if you’d like to hear me read from my upcoming story “The Last Days of the Kelly Gang” (a steampunk power-armor story set in the Australian Outback in 1880), along with John A. Pitts (Portland and Seattle), Ken Scholes (Portland), and possibly a special guest star (Seattle), you can come to the readings as follows:

Tuesday, January 31
7:00 PM – 8:30 PM
McMenamins Kennedy School, 5736 N.E. 33rd Ave. Portland, OR 97211
RSVP (optional) at

Wednesday, February 1
7:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Wild Rover Restaurant and Pub, 111 Central Way, Kirkland, WA 98033
RSVP (optional) at

Both events are free and open to the public. Beer, wine, and other typical bar fare will be available for purchase. Dancing is optional, but not discouraged. Hope to see you there!

P.S. Because of the extremely late notice, I hope that you will help me out by mentioning this reading in your blog, Twitter, Facebook, or Sub-Etha Mental Communicator Stream. Thanks!

Alpha Workshop auction

The fabulous Alpha SF/F/H Workshop for Young Writers (ages 14-19) will be held July 18-27, 2012 in Pittsburgh, PA. At Alpha, students can meet others who share their interest in writing science fiction, fantasy, and horror. They can learn about writing and publishing from guest authors, including Tamora Pierce and Kij Johnson. Also, they will write and revise a short story during the workshop. Applications are due March 1, 2012.

The workshop is currently holding a fundraising auction, where you can bid on items from Ellen Kushner, John Joseph Adams, Elizabeth Bear, Theodora Goss, and many more, including me!

The auction runs through January 20 and can be found at href=” Go and bid!

Guadalajara: summary and photos

Word count: 11895 | Since last entry: 1962

So that was Guadalajara. All in all, even if I hadn’t gotten sick I think I would give it a mixed review. Though Guadalajara is the second biggest city in Mexico, there didn’t really seem to be a lot of different things to do there. Where were the theatres, the major museums, the department stores, the galleries? Guadaljara’s population is comparable to San Diego, Phoenix, or Philadelphia, but it just felt like an enormous, sprawling small town. Street after street was crowded with tiny shops, and more than half of them were tightly shuttered, with no signage or other information whatsoever about what they might sell or when they might be open.

Lack of information and infrastructure was a general problem. There were no bus maps or schedules available, and many places were not open when they were supposed to be (nor was there any indication that schedules had changed). Bus stops were rarely identified by signs and even when they were the bus might not stop there, even for Mexicans (on the other hand, you could generally flag one down wherever you spotted one). I had to wonder how the country functions at all. To some extent I believe that the answer is that it doesn’t, not the way Americans expect; the other answer is that it functions quite well at a local level. Most people know where and when their bus runs, when their shops are open, and when there are changes they find out simply because they are there every day. But it’s hard for a tourist.

We did eat pretty well (and I am not going to fault Guadalajara, or any particular food or restaurant, for making me sick; these things do just happen when you expose yourself to unfamiliar microbes), but I wasn’t impressed by the variety and quality of the food on offer. France or Italy is a place you go for the food. Japan astounded with the wide variety of very different Japanese cuisines and the astonishing deliciousness of each in the hands of its specialist chefs. Even German cuisine, though unbelievably heavy by modern US standards, often surprised me with the subtlety of its flavors. But the Mexican food we found in Guadalajara was largely variations on a theme, and not much different or better than good Mexican food we’ve had in the States.

But. The people were uniformly friendly and very generous with their time and information. The little streets with their hand-painted signs were real and picturesque in a way that, for example, the Africa and Asia themed areas of Disney’s Animal Kingdom can only approximate. Our B&B was fabulous. We did have one extraordinary meal, at El Sacromonte, and visited some delightful small museums.

So, mixed review. But I think I would go back, because I was really only able to give it two full days of touristing and I think it deserves more than that. And it was an experience of a world different from my usual, which is what travel is all about.

And now, some photos.

The delightful sunny entrance area of our B&B

The tub was decorated with original art and Aztec-style sculptures

The sink was equipped with large dual mirrors, yet you could not see yourself (note the weird floating elbows)

Los Arcos, the Arc de Triomphe of Guadalajara. There’s a museum at the top but it was closed.

Weird-ass tentacled tortoise-shell-baby-head sculptures

Masks of scary Indigenous People at the ceramics museum

Detail of one of the masks

Santiago (Saint James) comes down from heaven, in the form of a caballero, to whip those scary Indigenous People into submission. Not shown: the Three Kings, who also come to help.

The very impressive Templo Expiatorio

Interior of the Templo Expiatorio. Did not get a good shot looking up into the light-filled stained-glass spire.

The Delta-Winged Queen of Heaven

Another DWQH. She may or may not be the Virgin of Zapopan.

You may have heard that Mexico is inexpensive, but it is not! (A fib. Mexico uses the $ sign for pesos, and each peso is worth about 11¢ US.)

Gualalajara, days 3-4

Word count: 9933 | Since last entry: 131

Not my best vacation days ever.

Yesterday I woke up with an upset tummy. Took some Pepto-Bismol, but after I could eat only a few bites of Francisco’s yummy homemade tamales I realized that what I really needed was to go back to bed. Which I did. And stayed there all day, sleeping off and on. I spent a little more time in the bathroom than usual, but mostly it was just a sore tummy and a total lack of energy and appetite. Apart from sleeping, I read The Windup Girl (which is going to leave me very confused about what country I’ve been in) and wrote a minimal amount of words just to keep up the streak. Francisco fixed me a boiled-rice concoction from his grandmother’s recipe (“it’s good for the body”) but I couldn’t drink more than half a cup of it.

I don’t know what it was specifically that did me in. Kate also had some tummy troubles but wasn’t laid low the way I was, which means that it was either the barbacoa at 9 Corners (which was the only thing I ate that she didn’t) or else I was just more susceptible than she was. She had a fairly low-key day of touristing without me.

Somewhat better this morning; well enough to fly home, anyway. By the time we hit LAX (which is where I am right now) I was positively chipper. We have a 5-hour layover here, so we got passes to the United Club and are making use of its quiet, comfy chairs, wifi, and snacks.

I’m not going to let this put me off of Mexico completely, but it’ll be good to be home.

Guadalajara, day 2

Word count: 9802 | Since last entry: 163

After another fabulous breakfast, we walked downtown toward the Museo de la Ciudad (City Museum) with stops at the Templo Expiatorio (a lovely church whose spire is completely done in stained glass, also featuring the Delta-Winged Queen of Heaven), a bakery, and some weird-ass sculptures of creatures with turtle bodies, twelve-foot tentacles, and baby heads. The museum told us a bit of Guadalajara history, though the text of the exhibits was written in more complex language than the House of the Dogs and thus was harder for me to understand.

We had lunch at La Chata (as seen on Rudy Maxa’s PBS TV show, though we didn’t realize this until we arrived) where we split the “house special platter,” then went to catch a #706 express bus to Tlaquepaque, but when a #707 came by Kate changed her mind and said “okay, we’re going to Tonalá instead.” On the way I kind of panicked, because as I tracked our progress using the Maps app on my phone, the bus (for which we had nothing resembling a route map) didn’t seem to be heading anywhere near Tonalá, in fact it was heading off into the wilds of nowhere. Then I discovered that there are at least three and possibly as many as five towns and localities called Tonalá in this vicinity, and though we were not heading for the one Google Maps found for me, we were heading right for the one that Kate wanted.

It wasn’t a market day in Tonalá (we had avoided that deliberately, because it’s jammed on market day) but for this reason many of the shops were closed. Nonetheless, we had a good time browsing many small shops selling handicrafts, furniture, and art. Curiously, we saw no postcards, T-shirts, or any of the other usual tourist kitch at all. Then we visited the ceramics museum (where we saw an exhibit of tiles showing various concepts of the Nahual, the mythical totem animal of Tonalá; amazingly detailed ceramic sculptures; and dozens of ceramic masks from the annual ceremony of St. Santiago Whips the Indigenous Peoples Into Submission Day — you can’t make this shit up) and the Regional Museum (a tiny place with a small exhibit of ceramics including a bunch of interesting funeral urns).

After a brief stop for some kiwi-strawberry iced tea, we caught a bus to Tlaquepaque for dinner. But on the way, Kate checked her guidebook and discovered that two of the things she wanted to see there would be closed by the time we got there, so we just stayed on the bus until it got back to Guadalajara. Had dinner at the 9 Corners Bierria, yummy carne asada al carbon and barbacoa, then caught another bus back to the B&B, where I wrote up my notes for the day and enough words of fiction to satisfy my new year’s resolution. No promises about whether or not it’s going to be worth keeping…

Brain dead now. G’night!

Guadalajara, day 1

Word count: 9639 | Since last entry: 1146

So here we are in Mexico. It actually smells somewhat different from home, a dusty spicy sort of smell. But it doesn’t feel as foreign as Japan or Thailand, or even Italy. More foreign than Canada or Australia, though.

Our language study has paid off. My comprehension isn’t nearly as good as I would like it to be, but I can communicate well enough to ask “is the restaurant Caffe Mondo near here?” and kind of understand the answer. Kate is still doing most of the talking, but at least I can make out the signs at the museums.

The Guadalajara airport is all spruced up for last year’s Pan American Games. At Customs you press a button and get a red or green light indicating whether you’ve been randomly selected for screening, and the taxis (all of which are new) are dispatched from a central window where you pay in advance. Both of these are designed to prevent corruption by removing power from individuals who might otherwise shake the tourists down.

Our B&B is in a rather industrial area but very nice inside, and our host is friendly and chatty. The dog, Nuahal, is one of the quietest, most polite little dogs I’ve ever met. I’m not a dog person but I could actually like this one. This morning’s breakfast was fabulous: strong coffee; OJ; cocoa; fruit with yogurt (with flax seeds) and granola (with pepitas and bee pollen); light omelet with ham, mushrooms, and peppers and a fiery tomatillo salsa; delicious beans; and aerodynamic tortilla chips with holes in.

This morning we started off by taking the bus downtown to the tourist info office in city hall. It wasn’t there any more, but we did see a couple of enormous and rather insane murals by the famous local artist Orozco. We did find a TI eventually, where we got maps but, alas, no info on the buses. We also stopped by the Teatro Degollado to find out about availability of tickets; we saw a huge Christmas-themed sand sculpture and the famous bas relief of the founding of Guadalajara, but the ticket office was not open (though the sign on the wall claimed it was supposed to be). From there we walked to the Rotunda of Famous Guadalajarans, then to the Casa de los Perros (House of the Dogs), once the home of a famous dog fancier and now a museum of journalism. There we saw famous revolutionary newspapers (looking rather like fanzines), old printing presses, UPI wire photo machines, and an old radio studio; upstairs, an exhibit on the Spanish diaspora and a fun exhibit of prints by students from the museum’s printing workshop on the topic “Insectos Santos.” The bathroom held some surprises: you must pick up toilet paper on the way in, and the urinals had valves rather than flush handles (but the sinks had push buttons).

With some difficulty we found a mercado, where we had tacos al pastor and tortas ahogados (sandwiches “drowned” in sauce) for lunch, then took the bus back to our B&B for a nap. After that we went back out by bus to Los Arcos (an interesting monument, but the museum within was closed), the Orozco museum (closed for painting, but they let us in to see the one mural still on display) and the statue of Minerva (in the middle if a very busy traffic circle). So the theme for the day is “we went there, but it was closed.” I gather this is kind of par for the course in Mexico.

By then it was dinner time, so we made our way to the above-mentioned Caffe Mondo, but in keeping with the theme of the day it had been replaced by a yogurt shop. Fortunately, Kate knew of another nearby restaurant, El Sacromonte, where we had an excellent dinner (me: Pollo El Delirio, stuffed chicken breasts with a pineapple-sesame sauce; Kate: lengua) and finally walked back to the B&B. Total walking for the day, according to Kate’s pedometer: 18,940 steps (8 miles, 700 calories). I logged my food and exercise as best I could and came up with a net of 123 calories BELOW my target for the day… no wonder we don’t gain weight while traveling.

After returning home for the day I wrote a few hundred words on the novel. Following a suggestion from Mary Robinette Kowal, I’m not paying such close attention to the voice and it’s going much, much faster (I wrote over 800 words in less than an hour on the plane). Of course, this will mean more work later.