Thank goodness all fatuous chatter about which date starts the new Millennium is over. Arthur C Clarke and several other celebrated and desicated geeks will now have to retreat into a dignified silence. Fine chance. I once saw Arthur C Clarke. His trousers were terribly creased. Clarke claims to have predicted satellite television and is sending a DNA sample, a photograph and a handwritten message aboard a spaceprobe. The probe will use a solar sail to visit Pluto. Why? Those people on Pluto don't want the DNA of a man who can't iron his trousers.
I mean, the world turns on these small things, and now that I've officially ruled Millennial chatter illegal, I would like readers' minds to turn to important things. Like shoelaces.
Over the last few years I've noticed my shoelaces undoing themselves with alarming persistence. I have taken steps. I double knot. I try attempt complex nautical solutions involving something called whipping, and bowlines, all to no avail. And it's not just my problem. At a convention recently I saw author Joe Lansdale stoop and, as he waited for the lift to arrive, cuss his undone shoelaces. And Joe Lansdale is someone who can cuss with feeling.
Before you think, with all this talk of unironed trousers and errant shoelaces, that it is my sad hobby to chronicle the sartorial struggles of other writers, consider this. At a party over the festive season I met an excruciatingly boring bloke. Gripping a glass of Bucks Fizz in his tiny fist, he deliberately used his glum expression and depressed air to ensnare other partygoers. Trapped, I asked him what he did for a living. 'We import,' he said (and I don't know who the 'we' referred to unless he kept a pet rat in his pocket) 'ribbons and shoelaces and that sort of thing.' He might have used the word merchandise, but I can't bring myself to remember the conversation accurately.
Right, I thought, this is my opportunity. I'm damned well going to quiz him about my - and Joe Lansdale's and everyone else's - shoelaces. What the hell has gone wrong?
'Progress,' he told me plaintively. 'Laces aren't made from natural fibres anymore, and if you look at them under magnification,' (yes, I too had gone zzzzz at this point) 'you will notice the edges are perfectly smooth. That means the fibre doesn't bite and lock into itself in the knot.' My God! This was terrible news. I dragged this bloke round the party by his lapels and got him to repeat what he'd just told me. Bite and lock. 'And you can't get superior natural fibre laces, not even for ready money. No-one can be bothered for the small profits involved.' That's it then. More fucking progress. Because of some miraculous technology we have to go around looking like seven-year-old boys after a rough and tumble on the school playing field. Well I'm sick of it, you hear, sick of it. I tried to get a campaign going at the party. Useless. Apathy was there in the hundreds. And all the other party-goers responded as if I'd had too much to drink.
I'll be in Seattle for the World Horror Convention in May, and I'll try not to talk about shoelaces. At the moment I hope to undertake a tour up the West Coast from San Diego before the convention, signing books and ending up in Seattle. This is part of my quest to see if there is an America beyond the East Coast and New York, which I believe there is. Recently in my explorations I discovered a place which I have chosen to name Texas (see my account of being embraced manfully at the Alamo by a biker in About 3). I suspect there are other lands on the West Coast, waiting to be granted names, all full of indigenous populations. If I am proved wrong, and there are no people along this coast, I will unfurl my sail in search of a North-Western passage. More details nearer the time.
I've also been invited to attend the Brussels International Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Festival, Imaginaire 2001, March 9-11. French speaking readers are magnificent in their close-reading, but they do tend to ask rather disconcerting questions of authors: "Please would you comment on the ontological necessity for adequate intellectual dispensations of your underpinning character structure, especially in view of the ultimate deconstruction of death, redemption and the possibilities for formal narrative modes of optimism, especially with reference to your early work." This is my favourite question. Fortunately it comes up all the time, so I have the answer written down on a piece of paper somewhere.
My Greek publisher the splendid Bill Babouris tells me that there is a real conceptual problem in publishing Indigo in Greek translation. There is no Greek word for Indigo. (Like I said in the book, >there really is no Indigo< ) and this stunning news from Greece settles the argument. I think we've heard enough about it don't you?). If it were only a question of the title then the matter would easily be solved. But you can't have a novel which is >a metaphor for something missing< when according to the Greeks it was never there in the first place. Can you?
I've just seen the artwork for my Subterranean Press chapbook featuring the story Black Dust. It was produced by John Picacio and it gets the mood of the story perfectly. This guy is brilliant. You can see the artwork on this site. I get excited when the artwork and the story come together so well. You can also see the mock-up for the British version of Smokin' Poppy.
The new novel slewed to a halt over Christmas, but I'm happy to say I'm back up and running with it now. I lost my way after having to be Santa Claus at my son Joe's playgroup. I did it last year. You'd be surprised, but you just can't get people to put on the red suit. They get scared. They make excuses. They suddenly find their diaries full of mysterious appointments. One pleasant, fat old chap who lives over the road looked to me to be the prefect candidate. Seeking to offload the annual burden myself I rang his doorbell and put the matter to him. I thought he'd appreciate being drawn into the community as it were, since he lives alone. If there was one occasion when it's really an advantage to be old and fat it's this. You should have seen the expression on his face! You'd think I'd offered him a slab of garlic-flavoured chocolate to dunk in his festive glass of sherry.
So I did it again myself. I found a loud hand-bell this time and I went in and gave it hell. Must have overdone it because some - well fourteen or so - of the little kids started crying and hiding behind their mothers. So what, they should be scared, I say. This is Father Christmas we're talking about. This is a pagan spirit. This is one of the twilight gods come amongst you. Not just some miserable, anti-social fat old bloke who lives over the road.
Meanwhile many thanks to those who emailed me with explanations for the splendid and slippery Americanism "skanky". Clearly the term accretes regional variation in its application, and I will say to the waitress in Austin I was very wrong to use it on you. Crikey! Lucky I didn't get my face slapped and a plate of hot chilli tipped over my laptop! I'll be more careful in May.