4.5. The Waiting Room (The Gray Area)

Virginia Gaskell finds herself on the other side of the portal that lured her in, greeted by an extremely exuberant (and strangely familiar) receptionist, some squawking avians that aren’t quite okay with her love of chicken fajitas, and further mysteries about how the universes rupture into each other. (Running time: 7 minutes)

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Written and directed by Edward Champion

CAST:

Virginia Gaskell: Chris Smith
Receptionist: Zachary Michael
Demon: Pete Lutz
Ed Champion: Edward Champion
Bird People: Fiona Thraille, Benjamin Macon Fort
Sound Design and Editing by Edward Champion

Foley Sources: Edward Champion

Special thanks to Sacha Arnold, Austin Beach, Matthew Boudreau, Jason Boog, Christopher Byrd, Jen Elyse Feldman, Claudia Berenice Garza, Pam Getchell, Jen Halbert, Gabriella Jiminez, John Osborne, Tom Parsons, Michael Saldate, Marc Anthony Stein, Georgette Thompson, and many others I may have inadvertently forgotten for their invaluable help, feedback, kindness, inspiration, and support during the production of this episode.

Thanks for listening!

4. Loopholes (The Gray Area)

As a thriving empire faces war with ferocious barbarians, a mischievous scholar named Minerva hopes to bring law and civilization to a great realm populated by talking birds, giant rats, gregarious knights, elemental gods, and menacing malasanders. An unanticipated dispute among the knights gives Minerva an opportunity to uphold the doctrine of moral principles, but Minerva finds herself testing her loyalty to her aide-de-camp while helping others to learn what honor, empathy, and identity really mean. (Running time: 32 minutes)

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Written and directed by Edward Champion

CAST:

Minerva: Rori Nogee
Eris: Gerrard Lobo
Henrietta: Monica Ammerman
Fire: Samantha Cooper
Watson: Christopher Akpobiyeri
Boleyn: Rachel Baird
The Magister: Sarah Golding
Talking Birds: Alan Barrows
Knights: Michael Charles Foote, Jim Kampfil, Matt Leong, Pete Lutz, Tanja Milojevic, John Xavier Miller III, Julia Morizawa, Hans Detlef Sierck, Fiona Thraille, Richard H. Thorndyke, Jack Ward, Tao Yang.

Sound Design and Editing by Edward Champion

Foley Sources: Edward Champion, jobro (CC), _def (CC), Taira Komori (CC), avakas (CC), Martin-Eero Kõressaar (CC), the_toilet_guy (CC), the_toilet_guy (CC), Shanay Groen (CC), jason130178 (CC), baryy (CC), huggy13ear (CC), HDM2013 (CC).

Music: “The Long March Home” by Tim Juliano (licensed through NeoSounds)

Art: Rushen (CC)

Special thanks to Sacha Arnold, Austin Beach, Matthew Boudreau, Jason Boog, Christopher Byrd, Jen Elyse Feldman, Claudia Berenice Garza, Pam Getchell, Jen Halbert, Gabriella Jiminez, Argyria Kehagias, John Osborne, Tom Parsons, Rina Patel, Michael Saldate, Marc Anthony Stein, Marjorie Stein, That Podcast Girl, Georgette Thompson, Neil Varma, Jo Anna Van Thuyne, and many others I may have inadvertently forgotten for their invaluable help, feedback, kindness, inspiration, and support during the production of this episode. We are especially indebted to Robert Cudmore, Matthew McLean, and Steve Schneider, whose collective insight, inspiration, unfathomable generosity, and encouragement were vital during the development of this highly ambitious story.

Please be sure to also listen to A Scottish Podcast, which is run by many of the fine people who made this program possible, Lost in Williamsburg, whose work with overlapping dialogue has served as partial editing inspiration, and Tom Parson’s forthcoming Organism.

We also recently launched Inside the Gray Area, a behind-the-scenes podcast available for Patreon subscribers who contribute at the $5/month level. Become a Patreon member and enjoy access to this, along with our annotated scripts, which contain many key references that will help unravel the bigger story.

Thanks for listening!

3. Fuel to the Fire (The Gray Area)

An artisanal mustard retailer from Astoria finds herself in a strange realm with the ability to set things on fire. Meanwhile, Ed Champion continues his investigation into Miss Gaskell’s disappearance, meeting a woman in mourning who may hold the answer to his own strange curse. (Running time: 19 minutes)

Written and directed by Edward Champion

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CAST:

Maya: Noelle Lake
Fire: Samantha Cooper
The Knight in Several Universes: Austin Beach
The Disgraced Villager: Pete Lutz
The Vengeful Field Hand: Sarah Golding
Villagers: John Xavier Miller III, Michael Charles Foote, Hans Detle Sierck, Tao Yang, Jim Kampfil, Tim Torre, and Kilgore Lehrer
Ed Champion/Johnny: Edward Champion

Edited by Edward Champion

Foley Sources: Edward Champion, the_toilet_guy (CC), Snapper4298 (CC), CGEffex (CC), soundmary (CC), Dynamicell (CC), Huggy13ear ()CC), YleArkisto (CC)

Music: “The Long March Home” by Tim Juliano (licensed through NeoSounds) and “Local Forecast – Elevator Music” by Kevin MacLeod (CC.)

Art: Kyle Nishloka (CC)

Special thanks to Sacha Arnold, Matthew Boudreau, Jason Boog, Richard Brooks, Christopher Byrd, Claudia Berenice Garza, Jen Elyse Feldman, Pam Getchell, Jen Halbert, Gabriella Jiminez, John Osborne, Rina Patel, Scott Phillips, Michael Saldate, Marc Anthony Stein, Fiona Thraille, That Podcast Girl, Georgette Thompson, Jack Ward, and many others I may have inadvertently forgotten for their invaluable help, feedback, kindness, inspiration, and support during the production of this episode.

Please be sure to also listen to LucyD Podcast, a new supernatural audio drama, and Rick Coste’s The Fiona Potts Interview if you enjoy audio dramas about interdimensional portals.

The Bat Segundo Show: Paolo Bacigalupi

Paolo Bacigalupi recently appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #369. Mr. Bacigalupi is most recently the author of Ship Breaker. His short story collection, Pump Six, has been recently issued in paperback.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Attempting to juggle several bleak futures.

Author: Paolo Bacigalupi

Subjects Discussed: How to stay writing after getting four novels rejected, Schopenhauer and the will to write, Mr. Bacigalupi’s bleak temperament, the relationship between personal temperament and fictional temperament, why short fiction markets are more open to a dark vision, talking specifically about specifics, imaginative detail in Bacigalupi’s early stories, William Gibson and hyperspecificity, permitting the reader to fill in the gaps, improvisation and what details emerge from the memory banks, devising an imaginative concept vs. the influence of phrasing, the relationship between language and spontaneity, the importance of manipulative violence, whether or not addicts can be sympathized with, stylistic momentum, past tense verbs and participles, getting annoyed with language tics, getting self-conscious about repetition, the frequency of words, the mysterious obsession of the (ology) site, John Banville, using the word “spray,” dreaming space, cannibalizing from the four unpublished novels, uprooting reader expectations through the Windup reading order, origin stories, the disadvantages of writing within established universes, cheshires and megadonts, contending with the logical fallacies of a really cool imagined creature, how the location of a calorie company created numerous narrative variables, the influence of Katrina on the Windup universe and the Ship Breaker universe, descriptive teeth and metaphorical Teeth, the inspirational qualities of biting and tearing, body metaphors, analyzing one’s own writing patterns, J.G. Ballard, Empire of the Sun, speculative narrative extrapolated from details in the present moment, consequential details vs. making things up, global warming, liquified coal, applying an aesthetic to data points, Lewis Carroll, missing hands and facial scars, Heinlein’s Friday, the Dauntless, James Lennox Kerr, Patrick O’Brian, Citizen of the Galaxy‘s heavy influence, and extrapolating from facts vs. extrapolating from books.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Bacigalupi: It’s almost all improvisation, actually. Very little is planned out. There’s a detail that I have in my bank. And I use it. And you’re always acquiring material, whether that’s from visiting your in-laws or whether that’s from reading a novel. If it’s somebody else’s novel, you’re reading some natural history of the world. Whatever it is. You’re always gathering material. And so then it’s just there. And I don’t even know why, oh, at this moment, I’m looking for a detail that does this kind of a thing. I want to indicate the scope of the world. Or in this particular case, I want to indicate the scope of the calorie companies. Things like that. And, okay, where can I go to do that? What do I have in my repository that seems like it’s a useful tool for that? And then I’ll start pulling things down. So is there an intention that I have? There’s something I want to illustrate. There’s an experience I want to get deeper into. Then which pieces are going to go into it? That’s very much on the fly.

Correspondent: In terms of this being on the fly, how does this work in relation to you devising an imaginative concept versus language? Does phrasing sometimes kickstart a concept more than what you have in the bank, so to speak? I mean, I note for example “cillin” instead of “penicillin.”

Bacigaulpi: Right.

Correspondent: Little things like that we often find in your universes.

Bacigalupi: Right.

Correspondent: So the question, I suppose, is how much language motivates the spontaneity versus how much some leg that you have motivates that particular spontaneity?

Bacigalupi: I don’t know. It’s sort of a combination. You know, the spot where I actually remember a piece of language inspiring me to write a story was more connected to “The People of Sand and Slag.” When I wrote that short story, there had been a little piece of microfiction that I’d written. I had written a paragraph. And it was all about these people lying out on the beach and chopping each other up. And it was sort of compelling. But I didn’t have any idea what to do with it. But I liked the prose. I liked the rhythms of it. And there was something so bizarre about it that I knew that I liked it. That became a part of the bank. That went in and sat there for a very long time until, much later, I was starting to play around with some other concepts for “The People of Sand and Slag.” And suddenly that thing was there. Oh, I get it. These people are immortal. These people are regenerative. They can do all of these things. And this is the perfect illustration for this cascade. And so this piece of — we’ll call it “poetic prose,” and almost none of it survived or entered into the story. But the prose of that, the experience of it for me, resonated for me strongly enough that it could then form an entire piece.

Correspondent: Well, I’m glad you brought that up. Because I actually do want to ask about a recurrent theme. It’s here in Ship Breaker as well. In “Sand and Slag,” we have violence directed towards girls or women. The Windup Girl has that with Emiko. “The Fluted Girl,” of course, has that. And it concludes on an act of revenge. I’m curious as to why you are really drawn to the kind of really degrading violence towards girls and women like that. Whether it’s just part of the bleak temperament or you feel that that’s really a good way to get the audience to feel sympathy towards these particular characters. Or whether it’s just an environmental reality that you need to convey.

Bacigalupi: Honestly, I think this actually comes in different moments for different stories.

Correspondent: Yes.

Bacigalupi: And you’re really illustrating very specific things. The violence that you see for Emiko is pretty manipulative violence. Because you’re really trying to get to a point where you generate enough empathy for her, so that later on she can go on a slaughterfest. And that you feel that that’s entirely reasonable. One of the things that’s interesting to me is that I felt very comfortable depicting her being degraded at one early point in the story and yet I didn’t depict her doing the slaughter later on. And the reason is, I don’t want to lose — I want to maintain character empathy in her. And if you see more than just the blood on the walls, if you see her tearing every single piece of meat and bone out of every one of her enemies, then you might not have that later empathy for her at the very end of the story. And so a lot of this is just manipulation honestly. It’s just flat-out manipulation. And it’s interesting. So in “The People of Sand and Slag,” the guy is the one being dismembered as an experiment in sex fun. And so I’m not sure. It definitely shows up every once in a while. “Softer,” the woman is definitely killed by her husband. And that one too has some disturbing aspects. Who knows? Maybe I’m a misogynist.

Correspondent: I’m not going to go ahead and put that label down. But I am curious about this. We’re talking about manipulation vs. empathy. And this also leads me to ask you about Lopez in Ship Breaker. The father. He’s a very brutal character. I’m wondering if there were efforts on your part to try to make him more sympathetic. When does a character, I suppose, become violent? Almost serving as a manipulative way to get the audience to sympathize with the hero?

Bacigalupi: Right. Yeah, with Lopez — Richard Lopez, he’s sort of based on my own — I had a next door neighbor who was sort of a crystal meth addict. And so I’ve never really had much sympathy for addicts anyway. And so I was perfectly happy to have that villain role fulfilled by him. Honestly, I wanted to illustrate a certain — in a lot of ways — over-the-top idea about what point you look around at family and say that family is no longer family. That they aren’t really valuable anymore. That they need to be done away with. And I tend to think of almost all human relationships as contingent relations. Everything is dependent on good behavior. I don’t really believe in the idea of family as family, or that friends are friends. It’s whether or not, every day, you’re sort of earning your friendship or earning the connections and support of your family. And vice versa. And so, for me, I just really wanted to illustrate Richard Lopez’s break with any sense of his obligations. The mutual obligations of family.

The Bat Segundo Show #369: Paolo Bacigalupi (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Mary Robinette Kowal

Mary Robinette Kowal appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #356. Ms. Kowal is most recently the author of Shades of Milk and Honey.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Confusing magic with milkshakes.

Author: Mary Robinette Kowal

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: I wanted to start with the specific language in this book. The specific Jane Austen template that you laid out. You took great care to mimic Jane Austen’s particular spellings. You used chuse with a U instead of choose with double O. Shew instead of show. Surprize and teaze spelled with a Z. But on the other hand, you didn’t, for example, hyphenate today. And things along those lines. And nuncheon! Jane Austen never used nuncheon!

Kowal: That’s not true. She used it twice.

Correspondent: When? And where?

Kowal: She used it in Lady Susan and Sense and Sensibility.

Correspondent: Ah, okay. Well, in any event, the hard choices of vocabulary. I wanted to first of all start with how this came about. Why go ahead and emulate this language? Was the idea here to create a series of limitations with which to approach a long-form novel? What came first here?

Kowal: I thought that language reflects society very closely. The reason I wound up using some of her spellings, it’s really an affectation. I am trying to pretend that this is something that could have been written then. I deviated from her spellings in places where I thought it would be confusing. In places where I didn’t feel the word was going to appear often enough for a reader to get used to it. An example of a word that was confusing was that she spelled stayed – like stayed at home – S-T-A-I-D.

Correspondent: That’s right.

Kowal: Which is a different word now. The word sofa appears, I think, once in the novel. And she spelled it S-O-P-H-A. And there’s not actually a reason to stop people. I actually thought that they were going to make me change all of the spellings. But I guess you can think of it as dressing up in Regency clothes, but remembering of course that it’s still going to a costume party.

Correspondent: By “they,” are you referring to Liz Gorinsky?

Kowal: Yes.

Correspondent: Or the copy editors?

Kowal: Well, Liz Gorinsky. The production department. I thought that someone in the editing line was going to say, “Hey, we need to change that.” The copy editor, once we had decided with Liz and marketing to keep the spellings — and we did lift out some of them – then I gave the copy editor a style sheet that said, “These are the correctly misspelled words. Please do not change them.”

Correspondent: Which words didn’t make the cut? I’m curious.

Kowal: Sopha. Staid. All of the to-days and to-morrows.

Correspondent: Oh! So those were originally spelled that way in your original draft.

Kowal: Yeah.

Correspondent: Okay. Wow.

Kowal: I can’t remember what some of the others were. But I did a find/replace. I can’t remember where I found it, but I found a Jane Austen spelling list. And I went through and did a find/replace on everything. And then they went back and undid that. So it’s funny. There’s a couple of places. I know that there’s at least one chuse that we missed and it’s still spelled with two Os. But you know.

Correspondent: Well, goodbye to that, I suppose.

Kowal: You know. Second edition.

Correspondent: Well, this is interesting. Because I’m wondering if it took you several practice tries to write in this particular meticulous style.

Kowal: I would read a chapter of Jane Austen and then write a chapter of Jane Austen. So I was reading Persuasion while I was writing this. And one of the things I picked up from the puppetry is that I frequently have to mimic somebody else’s style. So once I decided to do this, I sat down and started reading Austen. And then the reason that I was writing right after finishing reading a chapter was because I knew that the language would stick and the rhythms would stick. But I don’t really think I did a practice run.

Photo: Annaliese Moyer

The Bat Segundo Show #356: Mary Robinette Kowal (Download MP3)

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Review: Inception (2010)

A good filmmaker doesn’t need to be invitational, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. But if an auteur can’t inveigle an audience, if he doesn’t have a basic understanding of showmanship, then the least he can offer is a distinctive voice. Alas, Christopher Nolan offers neither quality with Inception — a hopelessly unimaginative film that has been overly esteemed by many. Inception is reliant on perfunctory globetrotting, lights dangling atop ceilings, and repetitive amber hues for its “look.” It does contain an admittedly intricate plot structure, which cannot be immediately discounted. But when a film feels as dead as a greedy investment banker’s onyx soul, one isn’t exactly enlivened to clap. In fact, nearly all of the characters resemble Goldman Sachs employees hungrily hording your tax dollars: slicked back hair, lifeless eyes, and needlessly expensive suits. It can’t be an accident that the dollar amount of an expensive wallet is mentioned several times, or that the reason this group is invading a man’s head concerns some cartoonish explanation of the global energy market. In other words, this is a film with a childish understanding of our world; a Tinkertoy assemblage you’d gladly celebrate if it were handed to you by a five-year-old, but not from the 39-year-old man who has made Insomnia, Memento, Following, The Prestige, and two passable Batman movies.

It is truly a sad sign of American cultural decline that the rich now exist to be worshiped rather than depicted with anything approaching dimension. Inception‘s emphasis hardly inspires an everyman identification point, much less audience sympathy. Here is a cinematic opportunity to explore the dream state — to plunge into the depths explored by David Lynch, Guy Maddin, Terry Gilliam, Ken Russell, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and countless other cinematic fantasists still alive and working today. Nolan has been given a $160 million budget to get a mass audience to confront its deepest visceral fantasies, but, with Inception, the collected reveries resemble a pedestrian heist movie. It would be one thing if Nolan possessed the theatricality of someone like Arch Orboler, the wackiness of Dan O’Bannon, or the outré singularity of Italo Calvino, but his derivative vision of snowbound fortresses invaded by machine-gunning skiers or decaying seaside cities is divested of such punch or possibilities.

Consciousness should resemble something more than a bad pulp novel. In Inception, you won’t find phantasmagorical creatures or perverse sexual encounters. You won’t find a dream that is truly dangerous. For this is a movie that has been rated PG-13 — a rating explicitly designed to prohibit human truth from the multiplexes. But you will find plenty of mindless gunfights and tedious slow-motion images of a van falling off a bridge, along with the fine comic actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt underused as a guy floating around zero gravity collecting twined bodies into an elevator. (Why the repeat images? Well, the film’s final few reels take place in three, later four, separate levels of the dreamworld, with each level operating on a different unit of time. What passes during seconds in the top level will be weeks on the second level and months on the third level. This permits dreams within dreams within dreams. It’s a clever hook, but Nolan overplays his hand by treating his audience like a bunch of unthinking baboons who can’t remember the club sandwich atmosphere even after the fifteenth series of cutaway shots.)

It’s never a wise idea to name a protagonist after a salad, but our man Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a flinty expert at invading people’s consciousnesses. He carries the mental detritus of his dead wife, storehousing these memories in various levels of his mind and unable to control these stray elements from invading a dreamscape. And while there’s a certain appeal in seeing an old school elevator traveling between internal cerebral levels, there’s simply no emotional impact with a foot-crunched wineglass or a totemic top. Nolan introduces numerous projections of the subconscious — figures who detect when the mind is being invaded and start attacking intruders like white blood cells. But Nolan is crass and careless with his semiotics. The symbols serve merely to demonstrate that Nolan is the guy driving the car, rather than presenting us with any real insight into trauma.

Recruited by a rich man named Saito (Ken Watanabe) to plant a motivation inside a corporate heir’s mind, Cobb assembles a predominantly male group of operatives, with the token female played by Ellen Page — a precocious student who seems capable of grand conceptual innovation, but who spends most of the film staring doelike at DiCaprio or offering banal responses to “surprise” twists.

The film fills every spare moment with so much expository chatter that we never get a chance to marvel at the world Nolan’s setting up. Cobb and his cronies are never permitted a moment to breathe. Nolan doesn’t seem to understand that film is a visual form, not a chatty medium. He’s taken the same minimalist approach that he offered with his two Batman movies — neuter the images with austerity so that they feel “real,” but don’t bother to layer the mise en scène with elements that capture our imagination. And even then, the dialogue is so crummy, so indicative of a man who read a slim Baudelaire volume over the weekend and thought himself a philosophical giant, that it’s hardly worth dredging up. We get bad pulp ultimatums (“Do you want to take a leap of faith or become an old man living with regret willing to die alone?”), laughably specific training lessons (“You have two minutes to design a maze that it takes one minute to solve”), and vapid declarations of life experience (“Do you know what it is to be a lover?”). Even poor DiCaprio, who delivers a fairly lively performance under the circumstances, is directed to talk like a two-packs-a-day Batman near the end, barking “I feel guilt” in one of the film’s many phony emotional revelations.

Taken with the film’s limited worldview, a place where people exist solely to betray each other, there is little excitement here in relation to the human spirit. Indeed, the “cognitively dissonant milkshake of rage, fear, and, finally, absolving confusion” that Jonathan Lethem identified within The Dark Knight is more applicable to Inception. The film feels like some feral holdover from the Bush Administration. It’s a love letter to conservatism, a chapbook steeped in cruelty and duplicity, where the only real evolution comes with how well you can screw over your partner.

One feels needlessly bullied by this movie. Nolan is so keen to show off how clever he is that the film’s internal workings are more adorned than felt. It’s as if Nolan is some obnoxious conversationalist at a cocktail party who can’t take the hint that he’s hardly the smart charmer he thinks he is. Unfortunately, because cinema is a passive experience, you can’t pour the punch bowl over the smug man’s head.

While I suspect the film’s numerous defenders will point to the fact that the dreamworld here is flat because most of Inception takes place inside a privileged man’s head, I must point to Mary Harron’s American Psycho, Kubrick’s needlessly condemned Eyes Wide Shut, and even Cameron Crowe’s flawed Vanilla Sky as examples of dormant and often dangerous desires explored in contemporary cinema. These filmmakers understood that even the most comfortable members of society can be driven to, respectively, homicidal rage, restricted perversion, and self-evisceration in their dreams. No such luck with Inception. We’re promised Limbo, a mental sublevel so intense that the dreamer eventually returns to the real world as a mental vegetable. One imagines Bosch landscapes or truly terrifying images. But what do we get? Some tame universe that looks like it was whipped up in UDK over a few days by some bored kid.

So this film will dazzle any dummy unfamiliar with Bergman or Bunuel. It will entice any viewer who has set the fantasy bar quite low. It will make a good deal of money. And there’s little that anyone can say to dissuade the inevitable march of capitalist progress. But the hyperbolic comparisons of Nolan with Kubrick are foolhardy. There used to be a time in which we didn’t compare a common pickpocket dressed in a flashy suit with a criminal mastermind who had the decency to respect the mark. But in a post-BP, post-bailout age, it comes as no surprise that our affluent cultural thugs would be declared the new Jesii by lifeless critics who are too diffident and too easily seduced by a shiny bauble. Ain’t that a kick?

The Bat Segundo Show: Catherynne M. Valente

Catherynne M. Valente appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #266.

Catherynne M. Valente is most recently the author of Palimpsest.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Looking for a way into a secret city.

Author: Catherynne M. Valente

Subjects Discussed: Writing a novel with four character perspectives, how structure influences perspective, the importance of numbers, color theory, thriving on restriction, Neal Stephenson, the importance of flow and reading out loud, Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, synesthesia, the purpose of puns, being a child of the Internet generation, Italo Calvino and the literature of the new millennium, planning a book entirely in one’s head, PersonalBrain, on not outlining a novel, having semiotics for breakfast, writers with kinks, multiple topographies within Palimpsest, perceptions of New York, the individual relationship to a city in relation to one’s individual sensibilities, genre classification, New New Weird and mythpunk, thinking while doing other things, the factors that cause Valente to write very fast, fighting the forces of marketability, chick lit, a future project involving the myth of Prester John, the problems with accessibility, the addiction to story, geek outreach and the publishing industry, Lev Grossman’s article, the communal experience, novel patches, the book as a permanent medium, secretive networks, the Kindle and the Sony eReader, Cory Doctorow, the bridge between print and online, Eric Kraft, and the signal-to-noise ratio in e-books.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

valenteCorrespondent: Which number is your favorite? Or maybe one of your five favorite numbers?

Valente: Oh, my favorite number!

Correspondent: Do you do this on a single digit scenario?

Valente: I’m going to have to go with seven.

Correspondent: Seven!

Valente: Actually, a little girl came to one of my Orphan’s Tales readings. She came up to me after and said, “Why are there all those sevens in your book?” And I love seven. It’s a prime number. And it’s a typically mystical number. And it’s fascinating to me. But I almost never use it in structure. Because it doesn’t fit very well. It’s kind of an ornery number that way, which, I suppose, is why I’m attracted to it. Because I’m kind of ornery myself.

Correspondent: Well, you know, Neal Stephenson told me that seven was the ideal number of guests at a dinner table.

Valente: Oh, wow. I hadn’t thought about that.

Correspondent: What are the applications of seven? Not just to your fiction, but also to your general life?

Valente: Well, I guess it’s the number that I don’t use though. Seven is a number that doesn’t occur in nature very often. There aren’t too many seven-leafed or seven-petaled plants. That is why it’s a mystical number. Because it exists outside of the world. And so I don’t actually use it all that much. When I’m arranging things, I go with three. I go with four a tremendous amount. Of course, four is a very thorny number in Eastern culture. Because there’s four noble truths. But four also means death in Chinese and Japanese. And so they will often, much as our number thirteen, consider it unlucky, remove it from hotel rooms, and things like that. But I love the number four. I love the number eight. But seven is the number apart. So I use it in fairy tales all the time in terms of time. Seven days, seven years, seven months. There’s a character named Seven in The Orphan’s Tales. And that particular character deals with coins that have a seven-pointed star on them. But seven, I love, because it’s weird.

Correspondent: What’s your position on The Magnificent Seven or The Seven Samurai?

Valente: Well, of course, those come from Seven Against Thebes! Which is a wonderful ancient Greek play. I’m a classicist. So I always go straight back to that. And, of course, Seven Against Thebes comes from the seven dragon teeth that Cadmus planted in the earth. Yeah. Seven’s great.

(Photo credit: Ellen Datlow)

BSS #266: Catherynne M. Valente (Download MP3)

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