Tuesday, April 17, 2007


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The new number is http://nballingrud.livejournal.com/

Saturday, August 19, 2006

It's Alive! It's Alive!

Ellen posted the table of contents to Inferno over at the Night Shade boards, and if it's possible I'm even more excited about the book than I was before. I get to be in the same book as Joyce Carol Oates! How cool is that? Not to mention personal favorites of mine, such as Laird Barron, Conrad Williams, and Lucius Shepard. Tragically, the release date is apparently not until October of 2007, by which time civilization may have crumbled.

Mia started first grade yesterday, an event which is world-altering to me, but which elicits little more than a rolling of the eyes and compression of the lips from her. Its chief effect, as far as she's concerned, is that she gets to get a new backpack. Last year's Dora the Explorer has been mothballed, and now she's sporting a sleek and sophisticated Hello Kitty triple-zippered wonderment, done in tasteful black with pink outlines and of course the Kitty herself, smiling mysteriously and at a jaunty angle. She also gets pocket-folders for the first time ever; one is bedecked with kittens, the other with flowers. When I told her I thought they were very cute, she quickly corrected me: "No Dad." (I'm not Daddy anymore.) "The flowers are cute. The kittens are cool."

I must also add that I've noticed, happily, a ruthless streak in her. Last week we celebrated her sixth birthday (it actually occurred while visiting her mom in Alabama, but of course we have to have a second celebration here at home) at a sort of year-round indoor fairground called Fun Depot. She rode the bumper cars there; at first I was a little worried because three boys (about eight years old, maybe) were holding court there, riding for free over and over -- probably the ticket taker's family -- and Mia can get her feelings hurt fairly easily. But as soon as she figured out how the controls worked, she turned into Mad Max ! Her little brows furrowed over an evil grin, her hands punched those controls forward, and she repeatedly knocked the bejeesus out of those other kids ... oh man. It made the heart sing.

Let's see, let's see ... there was an interesting exchange of opinions and assumptions over on Lucius's message board concerning a trio of short horror films that I highly recommend -- namely, Douglas Buck's Family Portraits: A Trilogy of America. I want to write about the films and some of the things being said about them, but just not at the moment. I'll get back to that in the next couple of days. (That'll be motivation not to let this blog go moribund for another month or two.)

I recently finished reading Michael Bishop's Brittle Innings, which -- without giving anything away -- is a wonderfully poignant novel about fatherless sons, wartime living in the American South, race relations, minor league and Negro League baseball, and Frankenstein's Monster. It is truly, truly a beautiful novel, and it's a wonder to me that it fared so poorly, and is so little remembered today. It's one of the warmest, saddest, sweetest fantasies I've read in a long time, and I hope it's destined for a second life somewhere down the road.

I'm just now starting James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, which of course promises to be a fascinating read. The sampled correspondence between Tiptree and Ursula LeGuin in the current issue of F&SF is well worth reading, too, if you haven't already.

Back in a few days with thoughts on Douglas Buck and his wonderful collection of short films!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Catching Up Again ...

Let's see, what's happened over the past month? Mia is visiting her mom for the summer in Alabama, where she's having a great time. She turned six just a few days ago. Six! In a month she'll be starting first grade! I could handle kindergarten; it was the start of school, yeah, but kindergarten inspired pride, and lots of Oh my God isn't that cute moments. (Like the first time she put on her backpack and marched down the sidewalk, like she knew the score.) But first grade? That's hard core, man! She's not a baby anymore; she's an actual kid!

I sold a short story called "The Monsters of Heaven" to Ellen Datlow for her upcoming horror anthology, Inferno. Thrilled about that, obviously. If she has any sort of reading up in New York after its release, I'm going to try to get up there for it. It's been way too long since I've been to NYC.

I've fallen in literary love: I've just begun reading Maureen F. McHugh for the first time, and I am just awestruck by her stories. I'm reading her collection from Small Beer Press, called Mothers & Other Monsters. These are the kinds of stories I've always wanted to write. This is what I dream of being able to someday do. I haven't finished the collection yet, but so far my favorite stories are "Laika Comes Back Safe," the best werewolf story ever; and "Oversite," which is so delicate and warm and heartbreaking that after I finished reading it I closed the book and closed my eyes, just feeling the story flow through me, the way great music does. I'm going to go out tomorrow and buy more copies of the book to give as gifts, and then I'm going to pick up China Mountain Zhang. Sorry to sound so fanboyish, but I haven't been this excited by a writer in a long time. I can't believe it's taken me this long to discover her.

I would like to go on in more detail about why I love those stories, but my computer is reacting so slowly that it takes me about two minutes to finish each of these sentences, and I'm about to throw the whole thing through the window. Since I'd probably regret that tomorrow morning, I'm just going to stop typing for the night.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Okay, There Is One Picture ...

My mom snapped one before the recital began. You can't see Mia's pink tutu, and in fact I'm wondering exactly what was going on here to result in such an odd composition ... but here you go.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Catching Up ...

So, Mia was wonderful at her recital. Of course I would say that, but it's true. At one point all the little girls had to pass bags of potato chips down the line until everyone had one; due to a minor mix-up, Mia ended up with two. I was afraid this would upset her, but she looked out at the audience and smiled and shrugged, eliciting an appreciative laugh from them. A minor thing, but it lit me up.

The Daddy-Daughter Dance also went well: I did not have any accidents, and when I did the leaping mid-air split my pants remained intact. I did land on that one kid, but she wasn't standing on her marking, so it was her fault, not mine. I am told she will walk again, so I don't know what everyone's getting all worked up about.

No pictures were allowed during the performance; they didn't want kids getting blinded by flashbulbs and pirouetting off the stage, which strikes me as sound reasoning.

My mother recently discovered an album of story rejections I started keeping back when I was about 20 or so ... I pasted each rejection letter on the left page and each first page of the story on the facing page. When she gave it to me I thought it would be amusing to reproduce those first pages here. Then I actually read them ....

You won't be seeing those pages.

They are bad enough that anybody who reads them will never trust me as a writer again. What amazes me is that they were written just a year or two before I got accepted into Clarion in 1992 (I know this because I recorded the copyright date on each page, complete with the carefully hand-drawn circled "c" (I note with some dismay that there is still not a copyright symbol on the keyboards)). Now, at Clarion, I remember being a barely competent beginner who got accepted, I think, because of a rudimentary ability to string coherent sentences together. I recently saw a list of titles of the stories I turned in there ... let me just say it was sobering. But, looking at these first pages ... wow. It was worse than I thought.

Anyway ... just finished a new, and I hope better, story called "The Lamentation." I'm about to finish "North American Lake Monsters," which I'd put on the backburner while I figured out some details in my head.

Nearly through reading Paul Park's A Princess of Roumania, which I had a difficult time getting into. I almost stopped reading it half a dozen times in the first 150 pages. I stuck with it partly because I've had good experiences with Park's fiction before, and partly because people like LeGuin and Crowley and Fowler gave it such high praise. I'm glad I did; once I finally settled into the book's conceit, I started really enjoying it. It's worth the effort.

Mia only has three days of kindergarten left; it's unbelievable to me. Yesterday there was an awards ceremony for the kindergarteners, and she won a good citizenship award, as well as a special award for her little saddle-stapled books, which she fills with stories and illustrations. She mis-heard "good citizenship" as "good singing," though, so she thinks she's been recognized for her wonderful singing voice. I haven't corrected her. She's about to go down to Alabama to visit her mom for the summer, and I want to hear all the singing I can:

"See you later, alligator,
Adios, cinnamon toast ... "

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Adventure of the Mummy's Eyeball

Mia hated the dance rehearsal. I mean, my lord. She performed all her moves hunched over, arms dangling like a gorilla, and half the time she literally had her tongue hanging out and her eyes half-closed. It was kind of embarrassing. She blamed it on being tired, but as soon as we got out of there she perked right up. I don't know if I should let her off the hook on this one or if I should make her go through with it, so that she knows when she commits to something she's going to have to follow through.

Anyway, today she told me some disturbing news about Reading Rainbow. Or -- maybe -- she has an active imagination. In any case, she told me that today her class watched a Reading Rainbow special on mummies.

"Mummies?" I said.

"Yeah, and then we dug a mummy hole in the playground and we actually found one!"

"My goodness. Was it gross?"

"No Daddy, it's just a mummy. But we found its eyeball, and that was pretty gross!"

"You found the mummy's eyeball?"

"Yeah, DJ found it!"

"Was he scared?"

"No, but I was. I said, DJ, put that eyeball down!"

"I hope he washed his hands."

"He didn't have to, because the eyeball was fragile."

"It was?"

Exasperated: "Yes Daddy, dead people are fragile! Duh!"

Here I started laughing. "They are, are they? How do you know this?"

"Reading Rainbow told me! Duh!"

I'm going to have to write a harsh letter to the folks at Reading Rainbow. Running specials about mummies and encouraging excavations is one thing, but teaching our children that dead people are fragile!? Come on. Those guys can take some serious punishment before they start to fall apart.

(I swear to God I don't let her watch my horror movies!)

Saturday, May 06, 2006

In Which I Dance

Or rather, in which I prepare to rehearse. Tomorrow is the first rehearsal of the Daddy-Daughter Dance, part of Mia's upcoming ballet recital in which -- you guessed it -- daddies dance with their daughters. Those of you who know me will certainly recognize the comic potential. I don't know what to expect, but I am fairly certain I will not actually have to perform ballet. As long as I am not expected to do much more than shuffle lazily about, I should be fine. There might be pictures. If so, they will be destroyed.

I recently finished reading Kevin Brockmeier's The Brief History of the Dead, and was disappointed. I'd go into the specifics, but it's easier for me to link to Matt Cheney's review over at The SF Site; I agree with most of what he says, although I think he's a bit more forgiving than I am.

I've since started reading Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe's Rifles. I've heard Cornwell's name pretty frequently as an example of good historical adventure fiction, but somehow managed not to read him until now. I'm about halfway through the book and it's a blast. It's not up there with Patrick O'Brian's astonishing Aubrey-Maturin novels, but then again I've just started. We'll see.

I also picked up Hal Duncan's Vellum, which I can't wait to start. Up until I started reading Duncan's posts on the Night Shade Boards, I thought my friend Neal Stanifer was the smartest person I knew. I guess that's still technically true since I don't know Hal Duncan, but damn ... I'd love to hear them debate ethics. In a steel cage. Two men go in. One man comes out!

Also: John Crowley has a blog! Why was I not informed!?