Hey, Remember This Story I Live-Wrote For You Back In 2010? It's Done.

Past members of the Clarion Write-A-Thon may remember a weirdie little tale I wrote while you watched called “The Sturdy Bookshelves Of Pawel Olizsewski.”  It was about a very strange and unwitting magician who made some very incredible bookcases, and one (bad) reporter’s discovery of a whole new field of magic.
Since I wrote it during the Clarion Echo (two drafts!), I felt it was only right to finish it during the Clarion Echo, and so yesterday on a plane flight I completed the final draft.  Which means, if you feel like donating $5 to the Clarion Echo to get access to the community, you’ll get to see something really special: an author, explaining why and what he changed upon every step of the drafts he did, right up until he finished it and sent it out for professional publication.
The story, if you’re curious, now starts like this:

When people asked me about Pawel Oliszewski’s bookcases – which they inevitably did, especially for the brief period I was paid to answer their questions – I told them my story in strict chronological order.  I explained how I moved next door to Pawel, a quiet Polish accountant, when my mother died.  I told them how, over the course of seventeen years, my neighbor gifted me with seven fine specimens in his legendary line of improbable bookshelves.
No, I wasn’t willing to sell them.  Yes, he offered me more bookcases – roughly four a year, actually.  Yes, I turned him down – the man would have filled my house with bookcases, if only I’d let him.  Yes, I still have them all – the specimens I currently possess are specimen #89 (Vickers hardness test: 970 MPa), specimen #113 (Vickers: 1325 MPa), specimen #234 (Vickers: 2250 MPa), and the much sought-after late-era specimens #269, #287, #292, and #304 (effectively untestable).
Yes, it is an irony that each of the bookcases are worth more than my house now.  Oh no, I’ve never heard that one before.
But above all, I tried to tell the origin of the bookcases honestly – the tedious hobby of an asocial immigrant who specialized in awkward pauses.  This was an error.  People wanted Pawel’s garage workshop to be a magical wonderland – wanted Pawel himself to be a sage armored in wise silence.
The official biography – which I did not write, despite being both a professional obituary writer and a good friend to the Oliszewski family – jostled the facts around, made it seem as though Agnes knew there was something special about Pawel’s craftsmanship all along.
But no.  His bookcases were boring, as was Pawel, as was I.  Ask yourself: if anyone had seen anything of interest in that quiet accountant, wouldn’t the world have heard of his bookcases years ago?  Wouldn’t they have discovered Myra Turnbull’s purses and Jeb Guhr’s model planes?
No, the truth was there all along; it was just tedious.  Easily overlooked.  Like me.
Still.  I’m going to tell you the way I’ve always told it.  Strict chronological order.  Just to channel a bit of the old man’s magic.
Are you interested now?

But it used to start like this:

Once a month, every month, for thirty years, Pawel Oliszewski built a bookcase.  It was not a particularly pretty bookcase — an undecorated, chest-high white ash box with three plain shelves slotted into grooves — but  though Pawel never seemed to take pleasure from making them, he never varied them either.  Each bookcase was a perfect clone of the last, to the point where his children took to putting their father’s bookshelves in different rooms of the house.  When stood next to each other, they looked like strange, unearthly dominoes.
No one would have mistaken Pawel for a craftsman.  By the time I met him, having moved out of my apartment and into my recently-deceased mother’s old house when I was forty-five, Pawel was a quiet, beer-bellied Polish immigrant with prematurely white hair and soft hands.  He made a decent living as a tax accountant, and never took vacations that I saw; his only time away was on weekends, in his workshop, making bookcases.
And he built precisely three hundred and sixty identical bookcases before dying.
Pawel’s rationale for building so many bookcases was a subject of much debate among his friends and family — who, it must be said, were not avid readers.  His wife Florence told me that when she met me, perhaps feeling a little guilty for her lack of literary enthusiasm once she discovered I was a staff reporter for the Norwalk Hour.  Still, she was a friendly woman with frosted hair who pressed my hand between her manicured fingers and told me, despite my protests, how exciting reporting must be.
“I give it a month,” she said, offering me a glass of vodka and tea.  “You’ll get your bookcase soon enough.”
No one quite knew why he built the same bookcase over and over again.  All Florence knew was that one day in the early 1980s, Pawel had lamented that his desk job was making him fat.
“So take up a hobby,” she’d offered.  “Do something with your hands.”
“I like that,” Pawel had said cheerfully, though he did not grin.  As I soon learned, Pawel met every happiness with a thin-lipped approval and a curt nod.  So he had signed up for the Spring Woodcrafting 101 course at Norwalk Community College, where he made his first bookshelf.

In any case, if you donate $5 to the Clarion Echo (and email me to tell me your LJ user name, and have a bit of patience while I add you, as I’m travelling), you’ll get full access to the Clarion Echo archives, where you can not only see every version of this story from start to finish, but watch me live-write a novel, and go back for a second draft of a story I have been commissioned to write.  I think it’s really quite fascinating, and would have killed back when I was an unpublished writer to have this view into how an author sees the weak points of his tale and corrects them.
And even if you’re not interested, please donate if you can.  I’m writing to raise money for the workshop that literally transformed my life, and they need some cash, and throwing it at them will help the next generation of writers.  So please!  Give the best people in sci-fi a hand.

Fuck Sports Bars. I Want A Cooking Show Bar.

I don’t need to root for the Yankees.  I need a bar where I can sit with a rowdy crowd of other cuisine fans and boo Krissy on Master Chef.  I wanna thump some stranger on the shoulder when Mary nails the Beef Wellington on Hell’s Kitchen, people who’ll bullshit with me about how they’d transform that leftover meatloaf on Chopped, get into friendly arguments because they think Rodney the Pie Man should be the Next Food Network star and I firmly believe that Sinmaster Russell should get in.
A place like that, though, couldn’t just be a sports bar, brimming with Budweiser and reheated potato skins.  No, this would need to be the gastropub’s gastropub, a place with thirty perfectly-selected beers and beautifully-cooked appetizers, served beneath the big screens.
And before the Mystery Box is revealed, you can pay a fee to be one of the six tasters – and when the ingredients are on the table, the bar’s chef will begin cooking furiously along with the contestants, given the same challenge in the large and very visible kitchen so you can watch either the local show or the game show.  (Assuming they have the proper ingredients on hand, of course.)  When it’s done, he’ll serve you up what he would have done with the Iron Chef ingredient of cauliflower, and you can critique it before the crowd.
Where is this bar?  Why does it only exist in my mind?  Can someone local make this for me?  Please?

Perhaps The Most Wonderful Reading Of My Story Yet: "Riding Atlas"

A while back, I pointed you at my consanguination-as-drug-trip story “Riding Atlas,” which starts like this:

They were naked, now, on a dirty mattress.
“Neither of you have eaten or drunk anything for twenty-four hours?” Ryan asked, hauling equipment into the room: sloshing plastic buckets, packs of hypodermic needles, coils of tubing, straps. “And no drugs in your system? This is a pure trip. Just two bloods commingling. Any impurities will stop Atlas from getting inside you.”
Stewart didn’t answer. He was too distracted by all the naked couples. The attic floor was covered with bodies, lying belly to swollen belly on bedbug-blackened box springs. Their arms were thrust out above their heads, ears resting on their biceps; they clasped hands like lovers, each couple’s circulatory systems knitted into a single bloodstream.
Stewart felt his arms itch where the needles would be inserted, anticipation and fear churning into a sour mix in his gut. But Tina was ready, as she always was for things like this. She’d dragged him here, telling him they had to do this now, before they outlawed consanguination just like they’d outlawed LSD.
She stared up at Ryan with adoration as he strung the wiring above them with efficient motions. Her breath came in excited hitches.
Though his girlfriend was dry-humping Ryan with her eyes, Stewart took satisfaction in the way Ryan refused to look back. Ryan had wanted to take her to Atlas, but Tina had insisted her boyfriend should be her first time. And Stewart had gone along with it — because if he didn’t, Ryan would.
Once you’d exchanged the most vital bodily fluid, Stewart thought, sex was almost an afterthought. That must be why the consanguinated fucked so much. But Tina kept insisting this wasn’t about sex…

And I was glad when horror podcast Pseudopod picked it up for the dramatic reading, because a) I love all audio productions of my stories, and b) this is a particularly squicky story and I wanted to hear how it would feel when read by a pro.
Imagine how thrilled I was to hear that my friend Christopher Reynaga had been tapped to read the tale!   And let me tell you: he read my story like I want to read it.  His performance is stellar, and I want you to all to thunder forth and hear his narration.  So.  If you have forty minutes to have me poor some mingled blood in your ear, and feel like hearing what happens about two lovers who decide to join a circulatory system, well…. go to, my friends.

What's That? There's A New Interface? It's Terrible!

I can’t believe they changed the old, user-friendly version to this new crappy look.  It’s ugly, it’s nonfunctional, and it’s sure to drive the old users away.  How could they sift through all the available options and choose this awful look?
…what site am I talking about?  All of them.  Doesn’t matter.  Every time Facebook twitches, every time Gmail has a new look, it sends a spill of vomitous hate out to my Twitter-feed.  (God forbid Twitter actually changes its look.)  People fricking hate site redesigns, program redesigns, you name it.
I ignore them, because I remember two things:
1)  Back in the first days of Windows, when nobody was quite sure how to turn a complicated word processor into a GUI look and three titans battled for control of the market, they did a study.  Which word processor was easiest for people to use?  And so they did hundreds of tests putting the then-tiny Microsoft Word up against the juggernaut of Wordperfect for Windows, and Lotus’ well-reviewed-but-never-well-selling AmiPro.
They found that 90% – that’s 90%! – of the people agreed that one word processor was easiest to use.  That word processor?
The one they were familiar with.
That’s right, the user interface didn’t matter – what mattered was that you’d already done the hard work of parsing the user interface.  Once you knew how to save a document and how to print to an envelope, the program you used magically became “good” – even if you’d forgotten how ridiculous it was to learn in the beginning.  What people hated, it seemed, was the effort of relearning things.
2)  When I first redesigned StarCityGames.com (back when I still had significant input into the design process), I premiered a mostly red-and-yellow version of the site, to try to differentiate it from all the other blue-and-black Magic sites out there.  I got a lot of hate mail from people telling me the new design was awful, why did I go with those colors, how dare you fuck it up?  I saved them all in a folder.
Nine months later, I did another redesign, this time switching to the “classic” colors of green and yellow, since I though the red-and-yellow was a little eye-searing.  I also got a tide of hate mail.  But I compared.  Of the people who complained violently, discussing how the old look was better, about 10% were the people who’d emailed to bitch how terrible the old new look was.
That’s when I decided that most people just hate change.
This isn’t to say there aren’t terrible user interfaces out there – Windows 8 is a major misfire to me, and Facebook’s thankfully-aborted two-column content made it impossible to know where a given news item might fall.  But mostly, when I hear people whining that this new look is awful and unusable and clunky, I mentally substitute “I have to learn things again.”  And realize that once they’ve learned it, 90% of those people will settle down and be content.
Until the next change, of course.  Then they’ll hate it all over again.

I Have To Worldbuild The Past: On Birth Control

One of my favorite authors, Daniel Abraham, said this yesterday:
I keep thinking that, since it happened before I was born, I’ve failed to grok how much reliable birth control changed things. Thousands of generations with one risk/reward set for sex, and two with the new rules. I expect the species to still be freaked out.
Thing is, he’s right.  I was thinking what the world must have been like in the days when women could just get pregnant for having sex, and there was no consistent control over it, and I found myself slipping into my “science fiction worldbuilder” mode: what would be the ramifications of that decision?  How would that affect society? Because it was such an alien concept to me that I had to back into it.
Which was bizarre, because for me, sex has never been linked to procreation, except accidentally or when specifically desired.  Don’t want a kid?  You’ve got your IUD, your pill, your shot, and arguably condoms… the female body has ways of shutting that stuff down, and they’re all called science.  Sex is for pleasure – and if you approach it carefully, usually without too much danger of pregnancy happening.  I’m usually far more worried about my friends catching STDs than having unwanted children.
But yeah, when I go back a century or two, sex and procreation were pretty much inseparable, a sloppy entangled risk you could reduce only unreliably.  Maybe you could turn that 1-in-20 shot of getting pregnant into 1-in-100 if you pulled out and were careful, but… it still happened.  A lot.
And pregnancy was a sentence, in those days.  Dying during childbirth was a serious possibility, so getting pregnant was a potential death sentence even if you felt comfortable giving away the child.  And if you didn’t want to give birth?  Abortion, back in the days before we understood sanitation and proper surgery, was equally dangerous, if not more so.  You could take abortaficients, but those were like chemotherapy – a semi-controlled poison that may or may not work, and may actually kill you.
Sex was, in many very real ways, a direct link to death, and certainly to a different kind of life.  Back in the days when people literally starved to death for lack of government assistance, an extra mouth to feed could be a strain you couldn’t afford.  Especially if you were a single mother who would have to work, without the assistance of a full-time partner, without the concept of “days off” or “restricted workdays,” as even the comparatively genteel work of being a maid was literally a seventeen-hour day job, six days a week.
Which, as a guy who thinks of sex as more porn than babymaking, is deeply unsettling to contemplate.  That concept that all of this hideous slut-shaming I fight against has a kernel of old truth buried inside it – sleeping around could literally kill you as a woman, and on some level the mothers who were telling women to not give it up were speaking from some aspect of knowledge that hey, if he knocks you up, maybe you bleed out from this unwanted child.
There’s a bit of male privilege contemplating this alternate world, of course, but I also think it’s something that a lot of women who dismiss feminism also don’t ponder too heavily.  The concept that women can control their bodies is as natural to recent generations as the concept that we can have drinking water without cholera – which is to say, such an assumed thing that we forget all of the titanic societal changes that emerged to make that seemingly trivial feature happen.
So of course we’re still having battles over abortion, and birth control, and female reproductive rights.  It’d be eerie if we didn’t.  We’re dealing with the legacy of a whole culture based at least in part of thinking that sex had consequences, and we removed that like a magician whisking a cloth out from under some wine glasses, and now we have this vestigial set of terrors and ingrained shame fighting against a newer world where in fact we don’t have to worry about that.  I’m not saying the fine conservative legislators of Texas are fighting for the right cause – but it’d be like if we suddenly removed the need to eat, and then expected that nobody would fight to protect the legacy of eating animals as a noble and protective cause instead of the gratuitous and then-inexcusable barbarism it would suddenly become.
(Some would argue that it is already.  Mayhap they’re right, which only proves my point.)
But sometime just before I was born, women got handed a fantastic new power, one that shifted the very rules of biology.  We’re still working that out.  And I forget, in my assumption of these scientific miracles, just how fantastic and world-changing that shift continues to be.