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The world is changing. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. I sense it in the fact that ALONG THOSE LINES: THE BOUNDARIES THAT CREATE OUR WORLD is now available for e-book readers on Kindle and on Nook.


1:30 PM

The Distant Future

The year 2014.

Life on earth is drastically different than it was during the robot revolution of 2003. Humans are in control of most aspects of their lives now (with the exception of the Supreme Court, where Corporobots still sit in judgment of our campaign laws), and many foodstuffs we once feared extinct are now available from local vendors. But there is one crucial difference between that era and today:

The Verb 'To Bird' is now available for Kindle.

It is a wondrous time indeed.

2:39 PM

Pictures at an Exhibition

Yes, as you might guess from the title, I have Mussourgsky's orchestral suite of the same name playing right now. (Actually, he composed it for piano, and Maurice Ravel was the guy who orchestrated it.) It's actually somewhat coincidental, as I chose the music I wanted to hear, then settled in to write an entry, then decided on a topic, and then realized that the background music would offer me the perfect title for that entry. I love synchronicity.

But my point: Kelly and I recently went to see such an exhibition. Actually we went to see a wide variety of things, one of which was pictures at an exhibition, but the others were so numerous and varied that I'm not sure I have room or energy to mention them all right now. We ate foods of all nations--China, Japan, Vietnam, Mexico, Denmark, Scotland, Belgium, Jamaica, Russia, you name it--visited bookstores and cheese shops and taverns and coffee shops and bakeries, traveled by car and train and subway, saw old friends and new, old(ish) relatives and new, and wallowed in the muck that is New York City. I was there with a purpose--one I should be able to talk about soon--but the chance to do all of the above was greatly welcome after a long winter in the trenches.

One of the best bits, however, was our stop at the Museum of Modern Art. Kelly had been before--a picture of her standing beside Van Gogh's Starry Night was taken on that long-ago trip--but it would be my first visit. I don't think I appreciated just how many of the seminal works of modern art were held in MOMA's collection--everything from Rousseau's The Sleeping Gypsy to Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon--and getting up-close views of it all was a delight. I had no idea, for example, that Monet's Water Lilies is so freakin' huge (a triptych that filled an entire gallery wall) or that Dali's The Persistence of Memory is so tiny (only 9.5 X 13 inches). Indeed, it's really the size that allowed me to appreciate the Monet, which I've never found all that moving in reproductions, and to further marvel at the Dali, an image which looms large indeed in my thinking about art.

I had the chance to see some familiar names displayed more prominently than I'd have expected, too; Joan Miro and Giorgio de Chirico are all over the place, and I now have a better understanding of their importance to the twentieth century than I did before. Still, the name I was most intrigued by was one I'd never encountered before: Gerald Murphy. One reason he's not better known is that he produced only fourteen paintings during his career--and apparently only seven of them survive. This is something I expect to see written about the work of an artist from prehistory--the seven surviving plays of Sophocles, say. It shouldn't be true of an American artist who died in my lifetime. But there you have it: MOMA has one of those few, and it was both electrifying and strangely familiar, a 1929 painting titled "Wasp and Pear":

Murphy Wasp and Pear.jpg

If that mashup of geometry and anatomical precision seems familiar to you, you may be (as I have been for years) a fan of the art of Charley Harper. Murphy's style seems a bit more symbolic, a bit less naturalistic in its foundations, but it's hard not to see some of the same elements in his work that you'd see in a Harper painting such as this:


I have no idea whether Harper (who was 7 years old when Wasp and Pear was created) knew Murphy's work, or if it influence him; it's possible that he, like Murphy, was directly influenced by the technical drawings available in biology textbooks, rather than indirectly by the older artist. Still, it was nice to visit a building full of famed artists Seurat and Mondrian and Warhol and see the style of an old favorite being given some public approbation--a form of admission into the hall of heroes, sidelong through the Great Gate of Kiev, so to speak.

5:19 PM

Spring Cleaning

Whew. As of noon yesterday, I'm done with my responsibilities for the winter trimester, giving me a moment to look around the ol' website and realize that I haven't cleaned up in OH MY GOD PEOPLE ARE COMING OVER AND LOOK AT THIS PLACE. Yes, it's time for spring cleaning.

So what if there's a snowstorm coming Monday? It's still a good time to declutter my thoughts and let y'all know what the heck's going on.

First, you probably know by now that Along Those Lines comes out on May 13th. (And yes, you can pre-order it via that link.) I've been spending the last few weeks asking friends and acquaintances for blurbs, and I'm delighted by the ones the book has so far received. (Sorry--you have to wait to see them.) There's really no bigger boost to the ego than blurbs, when people whose writing talents you hold in high esteem say ludicrously complimentary things about your own writing. It's like someone you find incredibly hot walking up to you and flirting outrageously with you while your friends all watch. Why, yes, Ms. Torres, I thought your portrayal of Zoe was one of the hottest things ever on television...

Second, I have in my possession actual Advance Reading Copies of the book. Yes, real physical objects that work just like books, with covers and pages and numbers and everything! Mind you, many of the changes I made in the manuscript are not reflected in this version, which is why the cover has the words "Advance Uncorrected Proof" on it, but it's still a thrill to hold your book, even if it's technically more like holding an ultrasound than your actual baby. (Can you imagine if doctors gave you three-dimensional models of your baby before it was born? That's kind of eerie... but it might make a decent short story...) Here's the physical evidence:

140312-112307.jpgThird, I'm in discussions with a web designer to have updated and given some new features. More on that when we get closer to the actual redesign, but I can tell you that one change will (I hope) return to me some control over the sizing of images. In recent weeks, every image I try to post will only go up at one size, and that's often too big for the page. Other times it's exactly as big as the page. But those are currently my only choices. The one above appears to fit, but it would be nice to have the option of using smaller images again.

Fourth, I'm going to spend a little time on the road on this spring break, but for once I won't be spending most of it birding. (Okay, yes, I'll spend SOME of it birding...) I'm actually heading north to visit friends and relations in the Big Apple and environs, as well as to work on a Secret Project that you'll learn more about in the future.

Fifth, children. I have them. One of them has begun the application process for law school, which has resulted in a variety of discoveries for us all. Ian himself has discovered just how many of his relatives attended the University of North Carolina and how hard it is to list all of them on a single application form. Kelly and I have discovered that being English majors means proofreading essays even after your kids grow up and leave home. He has at least figured out that he'll need a break and has bought tickets to Bonnaroo in Tennessee this summer. Dixon, on the other hand, is perfectly happy where he is--in the middle of this third year in the BFA Theater Performance program at Virginia Commonwealth University--and is in rehearsal for his next role: Hamlet. But not in Hamlet. No, he's playing Hamlet in David Davalos' Stoppard-esque  prequel, Wittenberg, in which the Prince of Denmark spends his senior year at Wittenberg U. dithering over declaring a major, resulting in a fight between his two professors: Martin Luther and Dr. Faustus. The show opens on March 27th, and you can buy tickets here.

Sixth, I'm on break, and will therefore be logging off to play video games.

Talk to you soon!

10:57 AM


Along Those Lines will be published on

May 13, 2014

It's official!

11:58 AM

The irony of the writer's life is that the greatest obstacle to his writing is often the need to write. In my case, the last month has certainly involved a bunch of distractions from posting my thoughts here--travel, family, work, you name it--but I must confess myself ironically amused at how many of those distractions have involved writing in some way.

For one thing, there was the editing of Along Those Lines, which did, I'll grant you, involve a lot of reading as well as writing. In this modern age, the edit was done not on the printed page, but on a PDF. I simply highlighted all the places where changes needed to be made and explained the change in a marginal note... except of course that I used no highlighter and had no actual margins. It's a little weird not having a paper copy, but Paul Dry Books assures me that the next version of the book will be a physical ARC for me to peruse. And of course, I'll end up having to write in that, too.

There's also been the matter of doing publicity for the book, a task for which I have little natural talent, but I do at least have a fair number of friends who can help me by writing blurbs. These friends, however, must be asked to write blurbs, so a lot of my recent writing has been solicitations to writerly friends and acquaintances. A goodly number of them have accepted this onerous task and are even now looking over PDFs and/or awaiting ARCs so that they can accomplish it. I'm excited, since this group includes some wonderful writers who will make me look far better by association than I probably deserve. Paul Dry Books is gearing up for a couple of interesting attempts at publicity, and I hope to have news about them in a few weeks. And then I'll have to write that news here.

And naturally, there's been plenty of writing on student papers. As we approach the end of the winter trimester, I'm having the usual rush of students signing up for last-minute writing conferences. (The deadline for turning in revisions of papers is Friday, and I don't let them revise a paper until we've conferred about it.) Sure, I have to read them, and I have to speak with them about their work, but a surprising amount of what I'm doing involves writing comments and suggestions on their papers, which sort of seems unfair. I mean, I understand why I have to write marginal notes on my own writing--why do I have to share the wealth with others?

I've also done some writing on Facebook and Twitter, though those platforms tend to support only short bursts of thought, rather than the sustained pieces of thinking I usually try to write here, so I'm not sure they should count.

In the end, though, all of this writing is focused on writing about a piece of writing that already exists, except that it isn't in print yet, so more writing must be done in order to get it into print. And then, sometime in May, the book will be out and in everyone's hand and I won't have to write about it any more.

I hope by then I've still got something left to say.

11:38 AM

What Happens on Snowy Days

For one thing, the songbirds come hit the feeder--hard. I had made a special trip to the Food Lion to pick up supplies for a snowy day, and aside from the usual stuff (milk, juice, vanilla soy milk for our coffee), I snagged two bags of birdseed. (The usual sunflower-only bags were sold out; apparently unshelled black sunflower seeds are an important part of some people's snow-day preparations.)

After filling the feeder on our backyard dogwood tree, I returned to the house, and about a half-hour later, when I looked out back, I saw quite a lot going on in the branches of the dogwood. The first thing I saw, as is often the case on a snowy day, was the brilliant red of a male Northern Cardinal. There's simply no higher-contrast winter bird in the southeast. This one, however, had a breast of an even more intense red than usual, I believe, and his position in the near branches of the tree made him as visible as a bird could ever be.

He wasn't alone, however. A female was perched near him, and as I trained my binoculars around, I realized that the dogwood was practically dripping with American Goldfinches--a dozen or more. They're in their butterscotch winter plumage, which makes the males much harder to spot than they are when their lemon-yellow breeding feathers comes in, but when they move, you can pin them down fairly quickly, and they're smaller than anything else in the yard (except the boldly patterned chickadees.) There were always a couple on the feeder ports, and they'd exchange places with a few others every so often, not to mention yielding a place to one of the chickadees or titmice that were also making frenzied dives onto the feeder for seed.

Naturally, the classic "snowbirds" appeared: Dark-eyed Juncos were hopping from the dogwood's branches onto the feeder every so often--surprising for a bird that usually feeds on the ground--and eventually I saw the brownish-gray back of a White-throated Sparrow perched on a twig and--

Just a damn minute.

This dogwood isn't huge; it's probably only about twenty-odd feet high, and about that big in diameter. But its branches are still WAY higher than you'll typically see a white-throat hanging out. They're birds of the low shrubs and briars, lurkers under hedges, big-time ground feeders. Why the hell wasn't it on the ground, picking up all the spilled seed?

And then it hit me.

When small birds are gathered in large numbers in a confined space, it usually means they're keeping an eye on something. And when they're refusing to feed on the ground, it's because doing so isn't safe.

I quickly scanned the back branches of the dogwood and there he was: what I presume is the same immature Red-shouldered Hawk I first spotted back in November.

The hawk, now named "Wilberforce" for reasons too complex to explain at this juncture, was unsuccessful in claiming one of my yard's songbirds for his lunch. He dropped to the ground at one point in an attempt to seize a junco, but it escaped. He returned to the tree for a bit, allowing me to snap a picture of him (one which I'm having difficulty loading onto the site for some reason...), but before long he was sailing off to the pine trees in my neighbor's yard, where I hope he'll find better hunting.

But sometimes putting out food for the songbirds means putting out food for the predators, too.

3:48 PM

In Case You Missed It

Hmm. What's this?

Ah. That would be our Christmas card from 2013, taken by the lovely and talented Marissa Bolen.

And a Happy New Year to you!

10:41 AM

2013 in Review

Barring radical developments in the next few hours, I will finish calendar year 2013 having:

1. read 69 books, four of which were from my must-read list: Kage Baker's The Life of the World to Come, Terry Pratchett's Dodger, David Quammen's Spillover, and Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth.

2. finished and sold one book of my own, Along Those Lines: The Boundaries That Create Our World, due from Paul Dry Books in spring of 2014.

3. logged 20 new life birds (bookended with Short-eared Owl in Virginia in January and  Burrowing Owl in Utah in June).

4. totalled 164 bird species seen for the year.

5. raised my life list to 410 species, partly because I realized I had never added the Eurasian Treecreeper I saw at Blenheim Palace in 1999.

6. added three (Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana) to the list of states where I have logged a life bird, raising the total to 35.

7. added three (ID, WY, and MT) to the list of states I have visited, leaving only WI, MN, OK, ND, SD, WA, OR, and AK.

8. seen one son graduate from college and another win the Funniest Ram on Campus contest.

9. celebrated my 27th wedding anniversary.

10. completed my 50th orbit around the sun.

Busy year.

2:59 PM

Decemberween Update

(If you don't know, the term "Decemberween" comes from, now on seemingly permanent hiatus; it signifies a gift-centered winter holiday coming 55 days after Halloween.)

I hope nobody got coal or switches in a stocking, and further hope that nobody got involved in a fistfight with any grievance-waving yahoos complaining about the War on Christmas. (If such a contest even exists, the score is now something like 2013 to zero in favor of Christmas.) I myself had a busy, busy few weeks, culminating in a mad dash to North Carolina for our families back-to-back Xmas celebrations. We've basically been opening presents since Saturday and haven't quite finished yet, giving this particular yuletide a very Hanukkah-like "six crazy nights" vibe. Among my goodies were the usual: books (Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter's The Long Earth, John Varley's Slow Apocalypse, and G.B. Edwards' The Book of Ebenezer LePage, which trusted people have been urging me to read for about a decade now), CDs (The Red Clay Ramblers' It Ain't Right, Brian Eno's Here Come the Warm Jets, and the soundtrack to Northern Exposure), and DVDs (Season 5 of the aforementioned Northern Exposure and the stuffed-in-a-collector's-tin four-disc 25th Anniversary Edition of Mystery Science Theater 3000, featuring the long unavailable episodes Mitchell and The Brain That Wouldn't Die.) There was also clothing, a Charley Harper calendar and coloring book, and too much chocolate.

All that helped me get over one bit of disappointing news: it appears that the publication of Along Those Lines will be delayed until spring.

In some ways, this is good, as February 11th was coming toward me rapidly and I was getting a little concerned about trying to look over a proof while trying to get Woodberry's black box play ready for production on January 23rd. I was also a long way from done with my preparations for the book's release--for example, updating this website, planning publicity announcements and appearances, and contacting far-flung friends to tell them I'd be coming through. With the spring release, I hope to have time for all that. It does, however, mean that my plan to spend spring break on a reading tour will have to be abandoned, and that I don't get the rest of my advance for a couple more months.

Honestly, though, I'm most disappointed by the simple fact that the book won't be out. At this point, I've been working on bits of it for a decade, and at this point I'm really, really ready for it it to be a physical thing, rather than a plan. Writers sometimes compare the time between acceptance and publication to pregnancy, and at this point I kind of see the validity of the idea; I want this thing OUT of me, dammit.

In any case, the due date is now likely to be in April or May, and once I've got a firm date from Paul Dry Books I'll certainly post the information here. Have a happy new year and any other holidays you may wish to celebrate!

2:17 PM


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