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When Secret Codes are USELESS

Normally, secret codes are awesome and exceptionally useful.My family has used codes forever. I have friends from middle school who still have their membership ID cards from all the secret clubs I invented…that I can’t tell you about, because they’re all SECRET.

You had some too. I know you did. Maybe you still do. Don’t tell me. It’s okay.

My parents have a secret code between them that they use at parties. Like me, EVERYONE knows my dad. And like me, Dad is horrible with remembering names sometimes. If Dad remembers the person, he’ll go up and say, “Hi, Daniel! You remember my wife, Marcy?” If Dad does not remember the name of the person, he’ll simply go up and say hello. This is the cue for Mom to walk up and say, “George is so rude. Hello, I’m Marcy. And you are…?”

It’s a brilliant strategy. Feel free to adopt it. You’re welcome.

People have all sorts of secret codes with their friends. And lovers. And agents.Some are spoken. Some are not. Some are there to let the other person know there’s an intruder in your house. Some are there to let the other person know if you’re being forced to do something against your will. Some are there to protect the innocent. Some are there to not bring attention to the guilty.

And then social networking comes along, where people start coming up with all sorts of secret codes so that they can communicate with their close circle of friends in public without having to write a mass email in which you inevitably forget someone. I have one of these codes. I instituted it almost two years ago, when a certain event was set in motion. If and when I was ever notified that said certain event ever came to fruition, I was going to post a particular word on Facebook and Twitter: UNICORN.

I posted the word this morning. Apart from a few humorous comments on Facebook, no one has said a thing. NO ONE. I called  Gypsy this morning.

Princess: Did you see my tweet this morning?
Gypsy: Um…I think so…
Princess: The one that said “unicorn?”
Gypsy: Oh, right. Yeah, I did.
Princess: Do you remember what that means?
Gypsy: Hold on. I’m thinking. “Unicorn” means something to B…
Princess: No, not that one.
Gypsy: The hippie and I have our own meaning for it…
Princess: *sigh* Obviously not that. MY unicorn. The original one. Before yours, before B’s. You really don’t remember?
Gypsy: Nope. Sorry, hon.

You know, I miss the days without smart phones and Google and social networking. I miss the days of secret club ID cards laminated in clear shelf paper. I miss the days when alphabetizing the periodic table to pass secret notes in class was a cool thing. I miss picking blackberries and lying in a field for hours looking for four-leaf clovers. I miss when people weren’t so distracted by a sensory-overloaded ADD world so much that they actually remembered things.

It’s a cool, crisp day today. I’m going to go find a field to run barefoot in. If any of you chuckleheads end up remembering why UNICORN is important, give me a call.

Until then, your ID card is officially revoked!!! :-p

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Genre Chick Interview: Peter S. Beagle

Alethea Kontis: You call yourself an “occasional musician.” How much do you play/sing anymore?

Peter S. Beagle: I don’t have any regular gigs now, as I used to when I lived in Santa Cruz. I haven’t really had one for well over 20 years. So I sing on occasion, when I’m asked. A couple of weeks ago in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the annual Nimrod Journal gathering, there was a party, where a lady with a very nice voice and I passed a guitar back and forth. I sang my songs, she sang folk songs. It was nice. I’ve been missing that. My business manager, Connor Cochran, tells me that next spring in Chicago I’m going to get a chance to do a real gig as part of a big weekend art show/music show event based around The Last Unicorn. Going to have to do some practicing to get ready for that.

AK: Tell us about the 52/50 Project. How is it going?

PSB: I should probably take a moment here to explain. The 52/50 Project is basically a demanding birthday present I gave myself back in April, when I turned 70 and simultaneously celebrated the 50th anniversary of selling my first book. The idea was simple. I love writing both poetry and song lyrics, but I hadn’t done either in years, except for sneaking some fragmentary song lyrics into a few of my stories. So at Connor’s suggestion I made the crazy commitment to write a new piece every week for a year, with ten of them based on subscriber suggestions. Every Sunday or Monday I send Connor what I’ve written, then he polishes my “liner notes,” typesets everything, comes up with an illustration, and sends the result out via email to subscribers. Bit by bit we’re recording all of these, too. Subscribers will get free MP3s of those as they’re ready.

AK: Has it been a challenge to produce something fabulous and new once a week?

Lord, yes. No sooner is something online on Monday than I’m worrying about the next week. Usually it takes me until Wednesday or Thursday before I figure out what the hell I’m going to do. Then I have to write it, which is exciting, challenging, and of course scary, too. But we’re at week 30 and I haven’t missed one yet, so I think I’ll make it.

AK: Can people still subscribe? (I do, and I bought a subscription for a friend. I love it!)

PSB: People can still subscribe at http://www.conlanpress.com, all the way through to the end. It’s only $25, and whenever they join they’ll get everything that was done up until then, in one big burst of email attachments. After that they’ll get each week’s new song lyric or poem on the regular Monday schedule.

AK: You travel and do so many appearances–what do you like best about conventions?

PSB: I very much like seeing people I don’t usually see except at conventions–I’ve made some friends of surprisingly long standing that way–and each individual locale has its own peculiar charms. I love the fact, for example, that when we go to Baltimore we always stay with the same people, because April keeps lox in the refrigerator whenever I’m there, and her husband Travis brews beer. You couldn’t ask for more, or at least I couldn’t. And I have my own room there, which is a nice change from the usual run of Motel 6s or Super 8s that Connor and I stay in to save money. (Though even that has had some benefits, because I’ve learned to sleep with the light on while Connor stays up all night working.)

AK: How do you feel about the latest trends in the fantasy genre, such as paranormal romance and steampunk? What themes would you like to see make an appearance…or a comeback?

PSB: One thing I would like to see slack off is the endless factory-made Tolkienesque trilogies. I’m not usually in favor of the death penalty, but for these things I’ve thought about it: felony trilogy writing. But really, I don’t have a sense of trends in any particular field. I just read whatever jumps off the library shelves at me, without much of a particular pattern to it. Fact is, the overwhelming majority of what I read these days is in other fields: mysteries, poetry, biographies, and general nonfiction, especially history. When I read fantasy it tends to be for a project, or else because it’s something written by a friend, or is some old favorite I’m revisiting. I’m always glad–since he is long-gone–that I called Poul Anderson after I reread three or four of his fantasy novels in a row, just to tell him “I know you wrote these 40 and 50 years ago, but I just wanted to let you know that they hold up beautifully. I hope my stuff holds up that late in the game.” It was a joke between us that I loved his fantasy but couldn’t make heads or tails out of his science fiction.

AK: What were your favorite books/poets/musicians as a child?

PSB: Back then I did read more fantasy than I do now, and I’ve always told people that what turned me in that direction was being sent The Wind In the Willows by a favorite teacher while I was sick and staying home from school. For musicians, I loved blues, and my buddy Phil and I grew up particularly interested in Josh White. We were constantly sitting up at night trying to figure out how he did this or that on guitar. Phil got to where he could do an almost perfect vocal imitation of White, and I did pick up a few fingering and tuning things. And I’ve always known way too many Broadway musicals by heart. A couple of nights ago I was watching a program on one of my old favorites, Johnny Mercer, and found myself singing along with very nearly every song on the show. I also listened to classical music because that’s what my parents were always playing. They took me to see Segovia when I was about nine. And by pure chance I came into contact with a lot of ‘50s country music, because one of my friends took pity on me and built the crystal radio set that I was supposed to make for shop class. It would only bring in one station, which played nothing but country music. I was so grateful that I would come home, sit down to do my homework, hook up that crystal set, attach the ground wire to the radiator, put on my headphones, and listen to whatever it brought in. As a consequence I have to have been the only Jewish kid in the Bronx who knew about Hank Williams, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Little Jimmy Dickens, Patsy Cline, and all those folks. I was only 12 or 13 when Hank Williams died, but I understood the grieving in the country music world.

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The Clockwork Jungle Book

I’m honored to be part of the newest issue of Shimmer magazine: The Clockwork Jungle Book. Inside are twenty fabulous steampunk fables by some of the hottest names in SF:

Shedding Skin; Or How the World Came to Be, by Jay Lake
The Jackdaw’s Wife, by Blake Hutchins
The Student and the Rats, by Jess Nevins
The Mechanical Aviary of Emperor Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar, by Shweta Narayan
Kay’s Box, by Marissa Lingen
Otto’s Elephant, by Vince Pendergast
The Monkey and the Butterfly, by Susannah Mandel
Message in a Bottle, by James Maxey
The Clockwork Cat’s Escape, by Gwynne Garfinkle
The Wolf and the Schoolmaster, by James L. Cambias
A Garden in Bloom, by Genevieve Valentine
And How His Audit Stands, by Lou Anders
The Story In Which Dog Dies, by Sara Genge
A Red One Cannot See, by Barbara A. Barnett
The Fishbowl, by Amal El-Mohtar
His Majesty’s Menagerie, by Chris Roberson
The Emperor’s Gift, by Rajan Khanna
The Clockwork Goat and the Smokestack Magi, by Peter M. Ball
The Giant and the Unicorn, by Alethea Kontis
Mockmouse, by Caleb Wilson

An excerpt from “The Giant & The Unicorn”:

In the beginning, the Toymaker fashioned the Box. In the second year, he scattered his power throughout the Box and made the heaves and the stars. In the third year he cast the cogs and wheels, the grasses and the trees. In the fourth year he formed the animals: the bear, the fox, the dragon, the griffin, the monkey, and the unicorn. In the fifth year he forged the Giant, in his own image, so that the Giant might rule and maintain peace over this great land. In the sixth year he uploaded Sentience and Symbiotics; he breathed life into his creations and set them free. He looked down upon his work and knew it was good.

In the seventh year, spent from his task, the Toymaker lay down and died…

Purchase your copy of The Clockwork Jungle Book in hard or electronic copy at the Shimmer website.

Also check out the fun interview I did with Anne for the issue! Find out which dead authors I would love to talk to, what authors I wish I could write like, things I wish for my characters, some writerly advice, and a whole section about things I do that no one ever asks about.

And soon there will be an audio version of the story available, read & acted by yours truly (I had SO MUCH FUN), so watch this space for more info!

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