Friday, November 11, 2016

Hillary Clinton’s Maginot Line (or How Do We Fight and Win Tomorrow's Political Battles?)

Generals who plan to fight the previous generation’s war are bound to lose. Hillary Clinton had 8 years to crate a presidential campaign, and she spent 8 years building a political Maginot line.
Hillary’s primal political experience at the national level was the DLC of the 90s. After being kicked around by Regan's Republican Party, the Democratic Party essentially followed the “New Labor” model of cozying up to big business and the moneyed elite, at the expense of the working class And labor unions. Essentially the DLC Democrats split the baby in half, trying to be “Republican Light”… pro business, but with liberal social values. And with the charismatic Bill Clinton leading it, this was enough to keep the executive branch, even if it meant losing legislative branches of the government.  The 1990s Gingrich revolution was possible because Democrats abandoned its labor and working-class base.
So it was utterly predictable that the centerpiece of Hillary Clinton’s Presidential bid was the Clinton Foundation. Cozy up to big money. Get the support of the moneyed elites. Signal, both in dog whistles and in overt speeches, that the wealthy and the powerful have nothing to fear from a Clinton White House… she was one of them.
The problem is she did this in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis. She did this in the wake of President Obama winning 2 elections on the promise of CHANGE.  One of the Cornerstones of her presidential bid was something that worked in 1992, but was surely going to be an Achilles heel in 2016. She could have spent 6 years building up a populist base… building up a coalition that could splinter the lower class/lower-information foundation-stone of the republican party. Instead she went with what she knew.  It probably seemed like a safe bet.
But then she went on to make another “safe bet.”  Her time at the State Department could have been spent building up her bonafides as a genuine progressive leader in the realm of foreign policy... she could have been a vocal counterpoint to Obama’s hawkishness… but instead she was the vocal hawk in the Obama administration.
This hawkishness was a cornerstone of Clinton’s Campaign. If you are going to be a woman, and want to have a chance of leading the free world, you better be ready, willing and able to bomb the shit out of everyone and everything. That seems to have been the conventional thinking of her campaign.  Her foreign policy was a weird fusion of Neo-Con imperialism, and Cold War Democratic “pragmatism,” which, given the absence of a cold war, required reigniting one. 
This foreign policy can be summed up quite clearly, by her campaign speech on Israel. Again… she went with what she knew.  She went with what worked in the 90s. She promised another 4 years of the same foreign policy.. the same wars… the same bombing and the same imperialism. The same surveillance state and endless war on terror.  It is unsurprising that in a “change” election, promising more of the same wasn’t very compelling.
Another cornerstone of her campaign was “another 4 years of Obama… I’m sort of like Obama, right?”. The expectation that the racial coalition that Obama had put together would turn out in full force for her… because she was a minority too(?!).. a woman. But turnout was lower for her among these ethnic voting blocks then it was for Obama… In large part because of the economic and foreign policy triangulation she chose.  And the women? White women voted for trump at a 53% rate. There was a serious misunderstanding of gender solidarity in this country… at least in the context of presidential elections.
And finally, the main message of her campaign seems to have been “That other guy is scary and horrible and incompetent. So you better vote for me or else.” And she wasn’t wrong… Trump, or (frankly) any other republican who was running was scary and horrible and incompetent.  But this was the central message of the John Kerry campaign, when Bush won a second term. It was not a compelling campaign message then, and it wasn’t in 2016.  It’s a message that one goes with when one has nothing better to offer.  Vote for me or else we will lose Obama Care… we will lose the right to Abortion… we will lose the racial and gender equity we’ve gained… etc etc. 
Except most of the people she needed to convince and excite and get the vote of were not the beneficiaries of these “gains.”  Its hard to get an abortion in Red States. Racial Equity and justice isn’t terribly visible when the police continue to kill POC with impunity, literary every day. And throughout the rural red states where governors refused to expand Medicare coverage, Obama Care isn’t something to protect, because it hasn’t done anything for most people.   This fear that she shamelessly stoked (Russian agent! Putin! Putin!!) was ultimately not compelling enough, to enough voters.

I hope the Democratic Party learns the right lessons from this defeat. And to be frank… after 30 years of watching the democratic party form a circular firing squad, and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, I’m not terribly hopefully.
But I have children. I’m fighting now, for their future. I don’t have the privilege of despair or denial or disengagement. The struggle is long, and exhausting. But I’ll keep fighting. I am tired, and filled with rage and horror and frustration.  I had hoped that the Bush Regime would be the most horrible thing that I would have to explain to my children.  It turns out it is not. There are far worse horrors in the world, and they are banging on our doors.
But I will keep fighting. I hope others are willing to continue as well, with eyes wid open, and a willingness to face hard truths about our Maginot Lines and conventional wisdom.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Depictions of, and Insights Into Media, Power, and Ethics (Plus a Side-trip Down the Spike Lee Trivia Rabbit Hole)

So... I have felt for a long time now that the movie Network perfectly captured, at a very early date, the political and financial pressures that drive modern media. wanted to put Network into a larger film and historical context, and point out some of its inspirations, and some of the things it inspired.

Network can be seen as a foundation of media criticism, because it eschews the self aggrandizing narratives that usually go along with Hollywood movies covering journalists and the media. From All the Presidents Men, to Good Night And Good Luck, the roll of the reporter, or journalist is usually a heroic one, or at least is tangentially friendly to the idea that the 4th estate is in irreplaceable pillar of Democracy. Network doesn't wear those tinted glasses, and that's one reason why it has withstood the test of time, and why TV shows and movies obviously inspired by it (Newsroom, for example) don't quite ring as true. Network, I want to jump to a classic, underrated movie that is usually considered in the context of Noir, or Jazz; that movie is The Sweet Smell of Success.  While the narrative focus is on that of the small time PR hack played by Tony Curtis, the driving engine of this movie is the indomitable character of J.J. Hunsecker... Played by Burt Lancaster, and based on real life columnist Walter Winchell.  The technology may change, but the dynamic is the same.  J.J. Hunsecker is a Mid-20th-Century Matt Drudge, power mad, and paranoid. Watch this movie with an eye on the relationship between the Media and the political machinery, and watch how personal drama's influence both. Smell leads nicely into the thematic inspiration for Network... which is A Face In the Crowd. This movie chronicles the rise from obscurity too fame, of a folksy country singer who ends up with his own national television show. While his public persona is that of all around nice guy, he is in fact an angry, mean drunk. One of the beautiful ironies of this movie is that the folksy, yet secretly angry-mean-drunk is played by Andy Richards, who turned in this performance before he became the folksiest every-man of 20th century American television. This movie captures perfectly how the media manufactures fame, and eats up and chews out the people it uses, and also captures the strange relationship between fame, Media, and politics.  If Hunsecker from Sweet Smell... is Matt Drudge, then the Andy Richard's character in A Face In The Crowd is Michael Savage.

From A face in the Crowd, lets jump forward to Spike Lee's massively underrated classic Bamboozled.  Which is in direct dialog with A Face In the Crowd, and Network... but adds the complicated issue of the media's depiction of race into the mix. This movie is  powerful, and filled with amazing performances. The depiction of race, and issues of complicity and collaboration with the media industrial complex's racism is at the heart of Bamboozled, and it can be painful to watch at times. But it should not be missed.

 It was from the Spike Lee himself, in the film's directors commentary, that I learned of the existence of the movie A Face In the Crowd, and how Lee was consciously making a film in this tradition.  What went unsaid, however, was some of the other cultural references in Bamboozled. Lee didn't give away everything in the cliff notes, and one of the biggest mysteries for me in Bamboolzed was the origins of Pierre Delacroix's accent. In one memorable scene, the character's own father confronts him, saying "N****r, where the fuck did you get that accent?" years, I never found an explanation for Pierre's accent. Spike Lee seems to never have commented on it publicly, and neither (from what
I've been able to find) has actor Damon Wayans who turned in an absolutely stunning performance.  In 2013 (at the Noir City Film Festival), I discovered the 1951 Argentinian adaption of Richard Wright's novel Native Son, starring non-other than Richard Wright himself. And it it, he has a unique, idiosyncratic, and vaguely European accent that is clearly the inspiration for Pierre Delacroix's accent. Mystery solved! Given this accent would have been completely out of place for the character Wright was playing, I can only assume it was in fact his  actual accent, and not an affectation for the film... though I would love to find some recordings of the author to confirm this. am sure there some who probably took this Richard Wright allusion for granted, but I feel like its an obscure enough tidbit that it should be mentioned... and I've never seen it mentioned anywhere, in any conversations about Bamboozled, Damon Wayans, or Richard Wright.

Please let me know if there are any other films or TV shows that fit into this cycle of media and political criticism. As I alluded to above, I'm painfully familiar with Newsroom. :)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Yet Another TFA Review: (Spoilers)

My favorite part of the movie was the Musical cue, when Han Solo died.

I spent most of a month trying to figure out where I heard it before. Upon my second viewing, about ten minutes after Han died, I realized it was from Cemetery man.

Check it out:

Cemetery man Score:

Han Solo Death scene:

pretty cool, right?

I'm pretty sure this means that a zombie Han Solo is going to come back at some point.  I mean, that's the only thing that makes sense, right?

Friday, November 13, 2015

On Statues, History and Community...

Let me make something absolutely clear. I will never tell someone what they should or should not be offended by.  I also feel that a larger,  more inclusive and welcoming tent is a better tent, and that any changes that make the tent more inclusive are generally good. Got it?  Good. I don't want anybody to misunderstand where I'm coming from, though Goddess knows someone probably fucking will.

Have you out there ever been really angry at Conservative right wingers in america?  Okay, let me refine the question. Have you ever felt uncomfortable critiziing the policies of the Obama Administration because the other people critizing him are raving fucking lunatics screaming about Muslim Manchirian Candidates and socialist FEMA trailers?  Seriously. Its hard to be a left leaning critic of the Obama Adminstration because MOST of his critics are fucking crazy, and you face the real danger of getting lumped in with the crazies.

I feel like that right now. Because I have an opinion on the relevance of the World Fantasy Award trophy, but the REASONS for that opinion have little in common with the kind of rabid culture-war/Sad Puppy/GamerGate confluence that has included grandstanding, bloviating, death threats and other horrible fucking things.

Most of the rhetoric from people opposed to changing the award statue do NOT seem to interested in talking about why a silly statue, based on a silly sketch by Gahan Wilson might be important or relevant to 21st century Fantasy literature.  Instead they want to behave like spoiled children who have had toy taken away from them.  Fuck you and all you spoiled, entitled fuck-ups who have derailed any meaningful conversation about this. You are the reason we can't have nice things.

And one of those nice things is the ability to have a conversation, to politely disagree, and to be willing to accept the choices made by others, even though you disagree with them. 

Your rhetoric, and your threats, and your animosity and resistance to change do nothing to make the Fantasy genre and the community that has grown up around it better, in any aesthetic or moral way.  You are all Cthulhu cultists who would rather destroy the world instead of seeing it change. You are the problem.

But there are always people like you. It is in your nature. And the rest of the world will move on, and you will fade into the night, and be remembered poorly, if at all.

The people I don't want to fade away are the people who created the world fantasy award.  They helped create something good and lasting and important to the broader literary community. I want the judges from years past, and the adminstrators, and the board members who have shepherded this unweildy mass of craziness from year to year, and decade to deacde to be remembered, and respected for their contributions to to the community.

And I would like their reasons for doing things, and the icons they chose, and the shit that was important to them to be remembered and respected in its proper context.

The first world fantasy convention was held in Providence, Rhode Island, as a tribute to HPL . The people who attended, and helped create the award were inspired by WEIRD fiction as much as it was by High Fantasy. "The Extruded Fantasy Product" craze had not yet come to dominate the publising industry, and the label "fantasy" was still a very big-tent label that encompassed all the "weird fiction"of the 20th century.

Some contemporary commentators don't see the connection between horror, and fantasy fiction, and that is just one more reason why this history should be remembered. I often hear "what does horror have to do with fantasy" and it is a conversation that I would like to see carried out in a respectful, wide ranging way -- contemporary weird fiction and horror fiction writers are a very important part of the Big Tent that I spoke of earlier. I hope in the wake of the currently ugliness, this important history... of the award, of the genre, and the people who created the award is not lost or dismissed.

Over the course of my professional career I have worked with and published the work of many people who were involved in the Fantasy community in the 70s, when this award was created. I invite anybody who has personal recollections of those conventions to contact me, publicly, or privately, and please share this history. 

I am not interested in getting into a shit-slinging contest with anybody. I am not interested in attacking this decision, nor the people who made it, nor the people who advocated for it. I'm intersted in the history of the Fantasy genre and the people who helped shape it. I would love to see a host of primarly source materials come to light. Convention reports and Convention histories. Fan histories. Writer's auto-biographies (published and unpublished) and their first hand observations. As anybody who attends world fantasy knows, it is a secrete carnival of folks who LOVE fantasy fiction, filled with circles within circles within circles. The world Fantasy convention that I go to is not the world fantasy convention that other people go to. And that is part of the magic. And this applies to the literature as well. The stuff that moves me may not be the stuff that moves others, but it is all part of a larger tradition.

These are the types of things that I would like everyone to remember. These are the types of conversations I would like people to have. The shit-slinging cultists who just want to destroy everything should be ignored until they fade into the night.  But don't let the productive and important conversations about our genre's history go away or be forgotten. Remembering and talking about this tradition honors the history of the genre and the people in it far better than a single face on an awards trophy.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Course topics: eras and themes

Chronological Examinations of Science Fiction:

Pre-pulp SF, and the early Gernsbeck Years
(Wells, shelly, Jules Verne, ??, Amazing)

Planetary Romance and the later pulp years
Burroughs. Burroughs Burroughs. EARLY FANDOM.

Golden Age of SF
Camble/astounding. House writers and the big 4. Camble ideas as written by various house writers (mirror themed novels). Non-astounding Golden Age material. Compare US to British in this era (very different mix. Also, Orwell, and non "genre" science fiction of era).  Serial Structure... or why those golden age novels are structured the way they are. Fix Ups.  Transitions from Fantasy markets to Science fiction markets (How Pern and Darkover became science fiction). Fandom.

The New Wave
Early Galaxy deviations from the golden age norm, and other new Wave Anticedents.  Feminist SF. New worlds/morchock and Harrison.  Changing standards of paperback publishing (more explicity sex allowed) and now that fueled the later half of the new wave period.  Again, not differences/similiarites in Britsh/American SF during this period. Fandom.

Gibson's first published shorty story, Fact Sheet Five, through the publicaction of Snowcrash, which offically ended the "cyberpunk" era. Cover some antecedents. (brunner?). 

Trends in Modern SF (The last 30 years):
New Space Opera, Dystopia, Steampunk, HardSF Renascence,  and other big fat reprint anthologies

Thematic and other ways to look at SF

Young Adult and juvenile Adventure Science Fiction:
 Tom swift to Heinlien to Suzanne Collins

Feminist Science Fiction Revolutions
The Language of the Night (Le Guin, 1979) and How To Suppress Women's Writing (Russ, 1983).

British Science Fiction Traditions and trends
Orwell, brunner and Ballard, with Whindim and others.  Banks. New Space Opera.

Utopian Traditions: advocacy vs observation
Early pre SF utopian Novels, Rand, KSR, etc etc 

Dystopian Literature
Brave New World, Orwell, brunner, ballard, Kim Stanly Robinson, Atwood, paolo.

Apocalyptic and post apocalyptic literature
M. P. Sheil, Walter Miller, The Road, Kim Stanley Robinson

 Alternate History
Turtledove to Kim Stanley Robinson. Steampunk.

Paradox of Other in Science Fiction literature
Disproportionately homogenous nature of Science fiction literature and fandom, and how this is at odds with its immigrant roots and thematic concerns. Writers of Color, and how minority writing communities view Science Fiction. Passing vs not passing (pseudonym)

How Science Fiction won the War and made itself irrelavant.
larger examination of science fictions influence and presence in other facets of popular culture, and how this impacted the literature of SF.

Science Fiction and Imperialism:
British and American science fiction. Steam Punk and Alternate history. Dystopian reflections on empires in decline.

Dying Earth Traditionns in SF
Hodgson, Jack Vance, Wolfe and beyond...

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Survey of Science Fiction?

Every time someone comes into the bookstore and says they are teaching a class on Science Fiction, I get excited. And just about every time I talk to them, I end up sad and disappointed. Either they have a very narrow and skewed vision of what science fiction is, or they have very little real experience with science fiction literature, and probably know less than their students. 

I'm not trying to be catholic or anything... but words have meanings. Even words used to described science fiction.  When you say "Speculative fiction is real, and Science fiction is not..." I get concerned. When you say "Hard SF... Like Robert Heinlein" I get REALLY concerned.  I know there's plenty of back and forth discussions about terms and labels and meanings... but there are some very real, and useful classification systems that have proven to be valuable in creating a shared language to talk about science fiction, or have at the very least have been beneficial in terms of sparking debate and critical dialog.

So instead of bitching about the dearth of quality Science fiction course work out there, I'll try and do something about it.  I  am about to embark on a full set of course work and syllabus, modeled after various English lit programs, designed to convey a complete view of Science Fiction Literature..... A Science Fiction Certification program, if you will. Get this certificate and you should be able to confidently, and competently teach an Science Fiction class. Or at least argue about it online in a really well informed manner.

The beginnings of any English degree is usually the dreaded "Survey" Course:
British Lit 1600-1800, followed by British lit 1800 - 1920. Followed by Modern British Literature.  I'm sure all you English majors remember the bane of the Norton Anthologies, and the undergraduate reading lists...   Survey courses are usually not terribly exciting stuff...

Except... Most people don't have a sense of science fiction as a literature.  They have a sense of the pop culture and movie bits... but science fiction lit is mostly invisible...

First first stop is to gather together all of the "Written as text books" anthologies, and examine how and why they were organized.  I'm leery of a straight chronological overview...  its all well and good to start out with H. G. Wells and Jules Verne... but I don't think they are the best place to START talking about science fiction... The history and prehistory might be a good upper division specialty course, but I don't think it should be the first thing a modern reader with no genre experience should be presented with. Science fiction is a populist literature about the present.  It should be fun. Not dusty and dry and unrelated to the contemporary reader's life.

I remember when The Norton Anthology of Science Fiction first came out there was a huge outcry from SF grognards. "Where was Heinlein" and "This is focused to much on contemporary writers" where the two big complaints I remember.  Looking back, these two things seem to be one of the books strong points, and not weaknesses. (sorry Bob... its true... Your work doesn't age very well.  I'd slot Heinlein into two different SF courses:  "Golden Age"  and "Juvenile and YA SF")

Anyway... That's where I want to start... Anthologies that serve as a Survey of Science Fiction Literature:

  • There was The Norton Anthology of Science Fiction edited by Ursula K. Leguin.
  • There was Age of Wonders edited by David G. Hartwell
  • and There's the Weislian Anthology of Science Fiction edited by Arthur Evans and Istvan Csicsery-Ronay

Who else has attempted to create a "survey course" framework for Science Fiction, via Anthology?  I'd love to hear about any others out there... either contemporary, or older ones.... Getting a sense of the different frameworks to present the genre is what I'm looking for. Barring an actual anthology, I'd love to see course syllabi and reading lists from teachers who have attempted this on their own.

Please pass this query around, and make any recommendations in the comments or send me an email, if you prefer. Right now I'm focused on presenting SCIENCE FICTION... but I'll consider ancillary course work in Fantasy and horror fiction down the line. :)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Jay Lake, The City Imperishable, and Me.

So this was hard to write. I've been putting it off for a while.  A lot of people have written a lot of stirring obituaries and remembrances of Jay Lake.  That's not really what this is though. This is more about me. And it seemed pretty crass to write about myself in immediate wake of someone else's personal tragedy. So I waited, and I thought a lot  about stuff.  And then I ran into this picture online, and felt that I had to write  something. Amanda Downum took this picture at Wiscon 30. Thank you Amanda. You photo  helped get off my ass and down to the business of writing and remembering.

Jay lake started out as a colleague, and writer who I was hearing a  lot  about. And then a distant but regular convention friend.  And then he became an author that I published.  And then  he became a disappointed and frustrated author that I published. It was the first time that I had really failed as a publisher.  Sure, I had books that had done worse, but there were lower expectations for those books.  This was a book by Jay Lake... the shiny, up-and-coming-super-star short-story-writer that everyone was talking about. This was supposed to be his amazing commercial debut.  He  was going to be the next China Mieville. And it didn't happen.  And this was the first time I could point to a specific mistake I made that directly impacted the sales in a negative way.
One of the reasons Jay went with Night Shade was because we always put out really good looking books.  But Trial of Flowers had a disaster of a cover, and it was my fault. We were ramping up our schedule  and trying  to more books sooner, but our proccess hadn't changed, and we were still producing them the same way we had always done them. There were time pressures and new  artists to work with, and I was in charge of  it  all. And I failed him. It  was a simply adequate piece of art  with a mediocre to  solid cover design, but what really sunk it was somewhere in the communication between the Artist, the Cover  Designer  and Me, the color  profile of the artwork's tiff file got changed to something that wasn't CMYK, and it got sent  to the printer. And when it  came back, the color had shifted and looked terrible.  And  we didn't catch it until we had 5K copies in the distributors warehouse.

Jay never out-right confronted me  about it, but I knew  he wondered why his book looked so bad, while most of  the other Night Shade titles looked substantially better.  And I tried to make  it up to him by publishing a sequel to the book... with the hopes that  I could  turn the sales of the two books around some how. And Madness of  Flowers got  a pretty good looking cover that I was proud of. But I never got the series to take off. And due to some miscommunications  between me and my business partner (and conversatiosn between my businesses partner and a third party) Jay had an even worse experience with Night Shade the second time around.

I had asked to see an early draft of Madness of Flowers, because I wanted to give Jay a hands  on edit. I loved Trial, and was eager to try and make Madness the best it could be.  My partner Jason didn't know this was an early draft, and was complaining to someone about the bloated manuscript Jay had  turned  in. I think the word Unprofessional was used.  This  got  back to Jay who was understandably pissed off about the characterization. If there was one thing Jay was, it was utterly professional.  I had some tense  words with my partner, and I contacted Jay and apologized profusely, but the damage was already done.

We were never close after this incident, and I failed to find a bigger audience for the two City Imperishable  novels.  Jay moved up to a bigger publisher, and over the years he was cordial and professional towards me, but I never felt like I could make it up to him. I let him down. He was the first author who I felt I had failed... utterly failed.

For me, Trail of Flowers was the next Perdido Street  Station.   It was a smart, funny, baroque to the point of grotesque epic novel, filled to the brim with ideas, all executed  flawlessly. The characters were a diverse cast of hilarious over and under achievers.  I  loved that book, AND its sequel. There are passages from it that still haunt  me. There could  only be ONE reason why that book didn't take  off  and become a huge hit, and that  was because of  THE COVER, WHICH I HAD SCREWED UP...  Except....

I  remember having conversations with a reader at  Borderlands. He didn't know of  my connection to the book. We were just two fans talking about fantasy novels. And he said, "yeah... I kind of liked it, but it was just TOO MUCH...  to dark and graphic."

"Really?" I asked. "How  so?"

"Well, the book  starts off  with a dwarf masturbating  to all tall person getting murdered and tortured for his gratification. Later that dwarf  is anally raped  in graphic detail, and the author spends  a lot  of time describing the injuries and sutures the dwarf  needs in his ass.   Then there's the main character.. the one raised and abused by the dwarf? He gets off by torturing people  in his  S&M Dungeon beneath his office...."

"I guess, when you list all those things back to back like that..." I said, trailing off.  Trail  of Flowers  was  a dark book.  It was filled with all kinds of  nastiness.  But I felt it was filled with a lot  of other stuff too, and the Nastiness  sort  of  mirrored the world I was living in...
US run Torture camps in Iraq  were on the news  every night...  So all the nastiness in the book seemed kind of  minor compared  to the atrocities that were happening every day.

In retrospect, I have to think that the horrors that were going on in the world around Jay as he was writing them had a direct impact on The City Imperishable books.  The the setting for those two books was the last remaining shell of a former imperial empire... the city was and its inhabitants were living in a past where they were the center of the world, while the rest of the world had moved on. It  was the crumbling remanent of a failed empire, filled by myopic and self important  citizens who didn't realize their  time had passed. It's  possible these books were attempts to make sense of the America that Jay was living in. I don't think they were ever evaluated in that context, and I didn't promote them or push them in that way either.  When you are in the middle of something, It's sometimes easy to miss the obvious.

And as the publisher, I didn't see the obvious... the obvious fact that while I loved the books, they were a bit far from the fantasy mainstream. Sure, the benchmarks were being moved to the dark and grim side of things... And since them, "Grim Dark fantasy" has become the new black.  But there are STILL a lot of readers for whom China Mieville is just too gross and icky.  The City Imperishable books are a bit further down the icky spectrum. They were too in your face, and gross and dark for a lot of fantasy readers at the time they were published. And that right there is another perfectly legitimate reason why the books didn't find a wider audience.  But the cover... man. That was on me.  I'm sorry Jay.

I ran into Jay at San Diego Comicon last year.  I had heard he was going to be there. We exchanged pleasantries, and I idiotically said "I'll see you later" when we parted, even though I knew I wouldn't.  When Jay first came down with cancer, it terrified me, because Jay was my age.  And he had a beautiful young daughter who needed him. He was a living breathing example of just how cruel and uncaring the universe is. Every time Jay won another battle, and pushed off cancer for another week, or month or year, I cheered for him. I quietly kept up with his battles via the internet. He generously shared his experiences with the world, and I was one of those folks who watched from afar.  I sent him a letter once... a long detailed letter that was filled with my fears of my own mortality. I told him what an inspiration he was. But it was a letter about my own insecurities, so I'm not surprised I didn't hear back from him.

When my own daughter was born, I  thought of Jay's daughter... who I had met once at a Night Shade launch party for Doug Lain's collection. She seemed like such an incredible little girl. Smart, articulate, filled with confidence and wonder. Even during that short time that I met, I could tell that one of the best things Jay helped create was his daughter.  And she was always at the center of Jay's life. Once again, Jay was an inspiration... in this case, he showed me what happens when you work hard at being the best father you can be.

Speaking of inspirations... There is an embedded little Easter egg... an anecdote about The City Imperishable books.  Jay never admitted it, but I'm pretty sure the character  "Jason The Factor" was based in part on my business partner Jason. The Jason in the book was an accountant and money changer and lender... Jason real life  handled  all  the accounting  and sent out all the checks for Night Shade.  Jason in the book had a kinky S&M  torture dungeon below  his office,.  Jason in real  life... well... maybe its too much information... but yeah. Jason liked it rough and kinky, and he had  been known to over share now and again, so I'm pretty sure Jay new about this side of Jason. Was the name "Jason" just a coincidence? Maybe. But I think Jay was a funny, savvy irreverent writer who packed a lot of different things into his prose.

Jay was one of the first friends I lost because I was his publisher. He wouldn't be the last.  And my experience  with Trail... and the reception it received  from some  readers and reviewers... That was an important lesson... about being honest with one's self, editorially. Aesthetic blinders can cause you to misread the marketplace, and make sales predictions and promises that you just can  meet.  But that experience  with the cover.... That  was  the one that really haunted  me.  For  a while  it didn't help... it caused  me to freeze up, put things off  and ignore obvious problems. Being the one guy, ultimately in charge  of and responsible for everything... It was pretty overwhelming at times. Its  one of the reasons Night Shade started hiring staff, and paying people  to be responsible for stuff.  Which led to new sets of problems and stresses.

But there  were many instances...  where, at the last minute, I shit -canned art that just wasn't right, and found something else... or  I didn't settle on a mediocre design... or I just kept working it over and over until the right combination of artist, and concept and design appeared.  I  didn't want to be the guy who destroyed someone's career  with a bad  cover... Because I had felt I had  already done that once, and once  was enough.