Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Posts Tagged ‘The Icon Thief

Why I wrote The Icon Thief

with 6 comments

When I first began working on The Icon Thief, nearly four years ago, I had one goal in mind: I wanted to write a novel that I’d like to read myself. It would be a big intellectual thriller, packed with ideas and action, with characters I genuinely cared about, or at least found compelling enough to follow to the end. It could be read simply as entertainment—as an attempt to deliver as complete a modern novel of suspense as I possibly could—but would also reward readers who were ready to dig a bit deeper. It would be exciting enough on a surface level to keep the pages turning, but would also benefit from being read more closely a second time. It would be organized, inventive, and as clever as I could make it. From the start, if only because I love narrative complexity perhaps more than I should, I knew that it would have an expansive plot with multiple storylines that would converge as the novel progressed. Ideally, it would have a couple of big surprises, and an ending that would do justice to all that came before.

Whether or not I succeeded is something that the rest of the world will have to decide, now that the novel is finally in stores. For my own part, I’m more fascinated by how the novel evolved in ways that defied my own expectations. As I’ve explained over the past week, it took me down some unexpected byways, from the Rosicrucians to the art world, from Russia to Duchamp, and ended up focusing on an enigma that I’m still thrilled to have been the first novelist to explore. It’s a strange feeling: I know this novel almost line for line, but there are still parts that take me by surprise, or that I don’t seem to have invented myself as much as discovered by accident. Every writer, I suspect, can relate to this feeling, but this doesn’t make it any less striking when it happens to you. If The Icon Thief works, and I think it works well enough, it does so for reasons that I never could have predicted when I wrote out my first page of notes. And as with most novels, it wasn’t until I was finished that I understood what I was writing about in the first place.

If there’s a single thread that connects The Icon Thief to its two sequels, one of which I’ve already completed, the other of which I’m starting tomorrow, it’s the question of how we impose meaning on the world around us, even if there’s no larger meaning to be found. We’re constantly looking for structure in works of art, in history, and in the events of our own lives. Sometimes the patterns are really there; sometimes they’re the product of imagination, paranoia, or sheer intellectual will; and sometimes—as is ultimately the case in all three of these novels—they’re some combination of the above. As a writer, I’ve spent my life trying to find order in a disorderly world, and I’m pretty good at it, as are many of my characters. But reality always resists our best efforts to pin it down, and the readings of the world in which we’d most like to believe—whether because they’re reassuring, advantageous, or merely interesting—aren’t always true. And The Icon Thief and its successors are about coming to terms with this fact.

Of course, you should never trust what a writer says about himself, especially when he’s explaining why he wrote something. As literary critics know, a writer’s account of the reasons behind his work is often a kind of performance in itself—hence John Milton’s claim, for instance, that he wrote Paradise Lost “to justify the ways of God to man,” when we know that he actually considered a wide range of subjects before deciding on his final theme. Milton, it seems, just wanted to write a great poem. And one thing I’ve learned over the past few years is that every work of art is secretly about the process of its own creation. If The Icon Thief centers on the theme of information overload, then veers into a consideration of what it means to live a good life outside the systems that we impose on the world, it’s because I went through a similar journey myself while writing it. And if that journey is now drawing to a close, or at least entering a new phase, it’s certainly been a surprising one. What more can I say? The book is out now. And if you’ve come this far with me, I think you might like it.

Written by nevalalee

March 6, 2012 at 10:00 am

Duchamp’s doorway

with 2 comments

The door stands alone in its own room in the eastern wing of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It’s a little out of the way, tucked into a corner of the Marion Boulton Stroud Gallery, also known as the Galerie Rrose Sélavy. Nothing in the blandly worded placard at the entrance indicates that anything unusual lies beyond. When you peek inside, you see a small, dimly lit room, empty except for an old-fashioned wooden door, set into an archway of brick. If you’re particularly observant, you might notice that the room isn’t quite like any other at the museum—there’s a carpet on the floor, instead of concrete, and the walls around the door are covered in textured plaster. Most visitors simply glance around for a moment, take in the door, see nothing else, and head off to the next obligatory stop on the tour. Only a few notice the light coming through the pair of small holes drilled into the door at eye level. And even fewer—at least of those who aren’t aware of the secret—ever venture close enough to look inside.

Étant Donnés, to quote Jasper Johns yet again, is “the strangest work of art in any museum.” And it’s strange even if you don’t know the circumstances of its creation. Look through those eyeholes, leaning in close enough to catch the faint odor of fragrant wood, and you see, behind the door, the startlingly lifelike image of a naked woman lying on a bed of dry grass, her legs spread, a glowing lamp in one upraised hand. The woman’s head is concealed by the edge of a brick wall, making her seem faceless, but if you look carefully, you can make out a tantalizing lock of blond hair. In the background, there’s a forest, a blue sky with clouds, and even a moving waterfall. It’s an incredibly detailed tableau, quiet, mysterious, and meant to be seen by only one viewer at at time. When I first saw it in person, I had spent close to nine months preparing for that moment, but it’s far more startling to see it without any advance warning. As a museum guard remarked to another group of visitors as I was on my way out: “You can’t unsee that!”

Yet Étant Donnés remains strangely unknown, even among those who care about art, at least in comparison to its creator’s other works. This is despite the fact that the story behind its creation is as fascinating as any I know. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: for the last forty years of his life, Marcel Duchamp, the most influential artist of the twentieth century, claimed to have retired from art. Instead, he played chess at a very high level, gave occasional interviews, and oversaw the display and reproduction of his earlier works. After his death in 1968, however, it was revealed that he had spent at least twenty years working on a final installation, in complete secrecy, laboriously transporting it from one studio to another whenever he moved, confiding only in his wife. Whatever it meant, it had clearly been on his mind for decades: the first notes toward what later became Étant Donnés appear as early as 1934. And he had deliberately timed it so that the work would only be revealed when he was dead, perhaps so he could avoid being asked any questions.

These days, thanks to a ravishing study by Michael R. Taylor of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in honor of the installation’s fortieth anniversary, we know a great deal about how Duchamp made Étant Donnés, but still almost nothing about why. It was solitary, methodical work, involving much trial and error with body casting, materials for making the skin, and creating the trompe l’oeil effects. Many of his solutions are charmingly quaint, like a hobbyist making a diorama in his garage: the effect of the moving waterfall, for instance, is created by a revolving light bulb inside a biscuit tin. And that’s the strangest thing of all. Duchamp, more than any other artist of his generation, declared war on what he called “retinal” art, which appealed to the eye, not the mind, and was only interested in reproducing what it could see. His attempt to move past representation changed art forever. Yet the entire time, in secret, he was systematically experimenting to find ways to represent what is, for all its dreamlike trappings, the most classical subject of all: a woman’s body. And nobody knows why.

This is the enigma at the heart of Duchamp’s career—and at the center of The Icon Thief. Tomorrow, on the day my novel finally comes out, I’ll do my best to explain why this mystery has intrigued me for so long.

Written by nevalalee

March 5, 2012 at 10:27 am

Me and Marcel Duchamp

with 2 comments

Marcel Duchamp is the most influential artist of the twentieth century. It says so right on the cover of my book. And it’s true. More than any other modern figure, Duchamp—notably with his famous Fountain, which was recently named the century’s single most important work of art—forever shaped our understanding of what it means to be an artist, in which selection, process, and theory are just as important as the final result. (If nothing else, if you’ve ever wandered into a museum or gallery and wondered what the hell was going on there, that’s almost certainly due to Duchamp’s legacy, with its ongoing influence on all conceptual art.) Yet aside from Nude Descending a Staircase and a few other iconic pieces, Duchamp has never penetrated the popular consciousness to the extent of a Picasso or a Warhol, and even among those who care deeply about such things, many details of his work and his fascinating life remain essentially unknown.

Up until a few years ago, this was true of me as well. I’d like to say that my decision to write a novel about Duchamp was the result of a carefully considered intellectual process, but in fact, it was pure serendipity. While doing research on art history at the Brooklyn Public Library, I stumbled across the wonderful book Why Are Our Pictures Puzzles? by James Elkins, who explores the issue of why we’re collectively drawn to interpret and tell stories about pictorial works of art. In passing, Elkins mentions the strange theory of art critic Philippe Duboy, who postulates that Duchamp, while working as a librarian at the Bibliothèque Nationale, quietly erased and modified drawings by the artist Jean-Jacques Lequeu, as part of an obscure vendetta against the architect Le Corbusier. If this “theory” doesn’t make any sense, don’t worry: I ended up buying a copy of Duboy’s incredibly expensive book on the subject, only to find that I couldn’t make head or tail of it either. (For one thing, it gets its libraries mixed up: Duchamp actually worked at the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, so he couldn’t have made the changes that the author implies.)

Yet I’d been bitten by the Duchamp bug. And I quickly discovered that the hard part wasn’t constructing a conspiracy novel around Duchamp, but deciding which conspiracy to use. Even if you think, as I do, that Duboy’s book is a waste of time, and a model of how not to construct a conspiracy theory, you’re still left with an embarrassment of riches. You have Rhonda Roland Shearer’s controversial contention, for instance, that many of Duchamp’s readymades were actually carefully constructed by the artist, who built them in secret and passed them off as found objects for reasons that remain unclear. You’ve got the frequent attempts to link Duchamp’s work to alchemy, the cabala, and, yes, Rosicrucianism. You have the allegation, made in at least two books, that Duchamp knew the identity of the Black Dahlia murderer, a particularly juicy story that plays an important role in The Icon Thief. And then there’s the question of what Duchamp was really doing in New York City during the First World War…but for that, you’ll need to read my novel.

It’s easy to see why conspiracy theorists love Duchamp: his work is simultaneously designed to elicit and frustrate obsessive interpretation. Yet the endless attempts to pin him down as an alchemist, a secret revolutionary, or even a Rosicrucian have little to do with the man himself. Duchamp, more than any of his contemporaries, was the ultimate skeptic and outsider, unwilling to be confined to any one artistic school, even as he influenced them profoundly from the margins. For most of his life, he lived as simply as possible, with close to a complete indifference to money, in order to devote himself more fully to his work. He was, uniquely, a movement of one. And even as I toyed with his legacy in The Icon Thief, I found myself seduced by his example. He was brilliant, uncompromising, and impossible to classify. And although my book regards him from many different angles, often all at the same time, I hope my readers remember him, above all else, as a model of what the artistic life can be.

At the center of the book lies Duchamp’s final masterpiece, which he worked on in secret for twenty years, claiming all the while to be retired. On Monday, I’ll finally consider the enigma at the heart of The Icon Thief: the installation, revealed only after Duchamp’s death, that Jasper Johns has called “the strangest work of art in any museum.”

How I learned to love the Rosicrucians

with one comment

Why did I write a novel about the Rosicrucians? Mostly because they were available. The recent renaissance in conspiracy fiction has made it hard to find a secret society that hasn’t been done to death: Dan Brown alone has made it impossible to write about the Masons, the Priory of Sion, or the Illuminati—even if Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea hadn’t already done so—and Umberto Eco definitively took the Templars off the table, even if a wide range of authors have done their best to bring them back. As a result, when I began to think seriously about writing a conspiracy novel, and especially an homage to Foucault’s Pendulum, I realized that the Rosicrucians had one big advantage: there hadn’t been a major novel about them in years. Consequently, when most of us, including me, think of the Rosicrucians, the first thing that comes to mind is the modern incarnation about which Woody Allen says in Annie Hall: “I can’t get with any religion that advertises in Popular Mechanics.”

And yet much of the world was obsessed with the Rosicrucians for decades, almost from the moment they first appeared in a pair of manifestos published anonymously in Germany in the seventeenth century. The manifestos are famously impenetrable—I’m not sure I ever managed to get through all of them—but the story they tell set the standard for all secret societies to come: a brotherhood of learned men, originally eight in number, later thirty-six, quietly preparing for a revolution that would transform all of Europe. What kind of revolution? It isn’t entirely clear—and part of the fascination of the Rosicrucian tradition is that it promises so much while spelling out so little. The legendary founder of the Rosicrucians, a mysterious figure later known as Christian Rosenkreuz, emerges from a background of alchemy, magic, and Eastern mysticism, and whatever the Rosicrucians were planning was evidently based on a similar body of secret knowledge that, once revealed, would change the world forever.

The really strange thing is that the Rosicrucians did start a revolution, despite the inconvenient fact that they probably never existed. The idea of a secret society of learned men working to save the soul of civilization, which appears for the first time in the manifestoes, is incredibly compelling, even if the details remained obscure. It isn’t surprising, then, that readers across Europe hastened to found Rosicrucian societies of their own, like kids who start a secret club based on one they see in a comic book. On the scientific side, the manifestoes were the inspiration for a number of groups, dedicated to natural philosophy, that ultimately resulted in the Royal Society, and everyone from Descartes to Newton was accused of being a Rosicrucian. Meanwhile, Rosicrucian orders dedicated to magic and alchemy were founded in most countries, Rosicrucian imagery was appropriated by the Freemasons and other fraternal orders, and Rosicrucian novels were written by everyone from Edward Bulwer-Lytton (of “It was a dark and stormy night” fame) to Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Nothing lasts forever, of course, and eventually, interest in the Rosicrucians began to wane, supplanted by more exotic and terrifying societies, although the Rosicrucian strain in conspiracy theories never entirely went away. (Witness, for instance, the curious career of Walter Arensberg, who plays a small but crucial role in The Icon Thief, and about whom I’ll have much more to say later.) And as I continued to dig, I found that the Rosicrucians would take me, as a writer, in a lot of fascinating directions. Most promisingly, in light of my intended project, the Rosicrucians had a surprising influence on both the history of art and the history of Russia, where, as I learned from James Billington’s The Icon and the Axe, the Rosicrucians in Moscow were the first of the secret philosophical societies that would play such an important role in Russia’s evolution. It was a novelist’s dream: a genuinely mysterious tradition, long neglected, but rich in symbols and secrets, that would bind together much of the story I had in mind. And that’s when I decided that it was finally time to give the world another Rosicrucian novel.

This was all very well, but I still lacked one crucial element: an artist who would tie all these threads together. And as I’ll explain tomorrow, it was by the purest accident that I arrived at the final piece of the puzzle, the man whom André Breton called “the most intelligent man of the twentieth century.”

How to conspire in Russian

with 2 comments

On May 3, 2006, an unknown man in a blue blazer entered the crowded salesroom at Sotheby’s, one of the two great auction houses in New York, where he was handed a paddle and given a seat toward the rear of the floor. He sat quietly for the first part of the sale, then bought a Monet and a Chagall for a combined price of $7.5 million. Finally, to the surprise of the crowd, he began to bid on the most anticipated lot of the evening, the Picasso masterpiece Dora Maar au Chat. Bidding was intense, with at least five buyers competing fiercely, but the man at the rear of the room was relentless, waving his paddle as if trying to swat a fly. In the end, he won the painting for $95 million, the second-highest price ever paid at the time for any work of art. As the crowd erupted in applause, the buyer was surrounded at once by a circle of Sotheby’s staff. No one knew who he was or who his employer might be, but observers reported one tantalizing detail: based on his accent, he seemed to be Russian.

After the sale, there was intense speculation about the buyer’s identity, which remained shrouded in rumor and mystery. The truth may be somewhat more prosaic—it’s now widely believed that the bidder, although obviously inexperienced, was an agent for the oligarch Boris Ivanishvili—but the image of the unknown Russian, which I first encountered in a pair of articles in the New York Times and New York Magazine, sparked my imagination. At the time, as I mentioned yesterday, I looking for a story around which to structure a novel about the New York art world, and I knew at once that this incident would make for a sensational opening scene—and a fictionalized version does, in fact, appear as the first chapter of The Icon Thief. (As I’ve since discovered, there are two kinds of scenes that are impossible to mess up, no matter how hard a writer tries: an auction, and a jury delivering its verdict.) What I didn’t realize at the time was that this single story would determine the course of my life for the next four years, and shape my writing career forever.

I saw right away that the Russia angle would provide me with a vast amount of material, which is what every story idea needs in order to survive. Russian money had been driving prices in the art market for years, with oligarchs converting oil and gas dollars into Impressionists and Old Masters, so it would have been hard for any art novel to avoid dealing with the subject. Yet there was another aspect to this angle that was even more promising. As I explored the story’s potential, it gradually occurred to me that the art world, with its opacity and impenetrability to outsiders, provided an ideal setting for the kind of dense, layered conspiracy novel that I’d loved ever since reading Foucault’s Pendulum, and which I’d always wanted to write. And the history of Russia lends itself naturally to conspiracies, from the Oprichniki of Ivan the Great to the plots of Bakunin, from the Czarist Okhrana to the contemporary entanglements of politicians, oligarchs, intelligence officers, and organized crime. The figure of the unknown Russian buyer, I saw, gave me the entry point I needed.

I also discovered that even the most elaborate fictional inventions pale in comparison to the reality of Russia itself. Despite my background—I’m Finnish and Estonian on my mother’s side—I’d never given a lot of thought to Russia before, but I quickly found myself fascinated by its peculiar geographical and historical position. Russia, as Alexander Blok wrote, is a sphinx, with its head in Europe and its body in Asia, and the tension between these two halves of the Russian experience, which go a long way toward explaining the recurring role of conspiracies in Russian history, struck me as hugely important, as well as resonant with my own life. As a result, I’ve found myself thinking nonstop about Russia for years, over the course of three novels, all because of a single news story that caught my eye. And I’m nowhere near the end of it. As one of my characters says in City of Exiles: “If all you want are questions, then Russia is the country of your dreams. You never get to the bottom of it, no matter how much you try.”

At last, I had my subject—but to write a conspiracy novel, you need a suitable set of conspirators. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about how one particular secret society pressed itself on my attention.

Written by nevalalee

February 29, 2012 at 10:40 am

Love and money in the New York art world

with 2 comments

I’m not sure when I first realized that I wanted to write a novel about art, but living in New York certainly had something to do with it. I spent my first few years out of college at a financial firm in Times Square, working with investors and researching ideas for new investment funds. This particular company had its origins as a quant shop, breaking markets down to raw numbers and crafting computer models to take positions and manage risk—an approach that, needless to say, would be sorely tested a few years later. Around the same time, several art funds were announced with great fanfare, buoyed by rising prices and demand from wealthy investors who saw art as just another asset class. Most of these funds would be hit hard by the downturn, with one of the most prominent launches going down in flames. But at the time, I was fascinated by the question of what would happen if you applied quantitative investment techniques to valuing, say, a Rembrandt or Van Gogh. (For what it’s worth, I soon concluded that art investment would be a great basis for a novel, but not a viable business.)

I was also fascinated by the art world itself. Living in New York, you’re surrounded by contemporary art, and I spent a lot of my free time wandering through galleries and museums. (I became particularly intrigued by the figure of the gallerina, the sphinxlike female employee who occupies the front desk of most fashionable art galleries in Soho and Chelsea.) The art world, I began to realize, was nothing less than a point of collision between two very different kinds of people: those with the talent to make art, who are drawn to their work for anything but practical reasons, and those with the means to own it, who generally acquire their wealth in more pragmatic ways. Between the artists and collectors stands a third group, the art dealers and traders, who take their cues from both, and need to be especially smart, ambitious, and competitive. I’d already been intrigued by this dynamic at the company where I worked, which employed writers and artists—often in the mailroom—side by side with investment analysts. And it gradually occurred to me that there was a novel to be written about the tension between these two ways of seeing the world, which also seemed to dramatize some of the forces at play in my own life.

Of course, just because you have a general idea for a novel doesn’t mean you have a story yet. And I took a number of wrong turns before I figured out what my plot would be. Initially, I wanted to write a novel about an art critic, which I thought would fit nicely with my own background and interests as a writer. Along with my research on art investing, then, I read a lot of art history and criticism, and came up with a story about a critic who becomes obsessed with John Singer Sargent’s famous portrait of Madame X, and is drawn from there, inevitably, into a web of deception and intrigue. I spent a good six months on this project, repeatedly writing and revising the first fifty pages, before finally abandoning it as unworkable, leaving myself with a lot of raw material but nothing resembling a draft. Looking back, I don’t think that the story was a bad one: I simply lacked the necessary work habits—I didn’t know how to outline, for instance—as well as the time to devote to fiction. And it wasn’t until I finally quit my job that I really learned how to write a novel.

I didn’t return to my art world story right away. Instead, I spent two years writing a novel about India, which I still hope to publish one day, although it didn’t turn out quite the way I wanted. It was only then, as I began to look around for another project, that I remembered my earlier idea. I found that the Madame X plot no longer spoke to me, but the setting did: as I looked over my notes from several years before, I realized that the art world would provide the material for an infinite number of stories. All the themes I cared about as a writer were here: the tension between art and money, the limitations of the rational way of viewing the world, and above all, our need to find order and meaning where it may not exist. A work of art, after all, is only some paint on canvas: its value arises from the meaning that people attribute to it, turning it into an object with the potential to inspire love, hate, envy, and obsession.

I had my setting, but I still needed a story. Tomorrow, I’ll explain how the search for a story took me in directions I never could have expected, until I finally ended up, much to my surprise, in Russia.

Written by nevalalee

February 28, 2012 at 10:38 am

The book of lists, or the lists of one book

with one comment

As the early reviews for The Icon Thief start to trickle in, with just one week left until publication, I’ve taken a certain delight in seeing how reviewers tend to approach the book as a list of arcane topics, apparently thrown together at random. Publishers Weekly calls it a book about “the Rosicrucians, composer Erik Satie, the Black Dahlia murder, occultist Aleister Crowley, chess, the Soviet secret service, Lenin, and several obscure secret societies.” To the Mystery Lovers Bookshop, which has a positive review of the novel in its latest newsletter, it’s “a vast conspiracy that includes Rosicrucians, Lenin, ballerinas, and assorted secret societies.” Meanwhile, over on Goodreads, depending on which reviewer you believe, it’s either about “the Rosicrucian Order (Order of the Rose Cross), Ordo Templi Orientis, Cabaret Voltaire, Dadaism, and even the Society of Pataphysics,” or “Russians, Armenians, stolen art, murder, intrigue, and…Marcel Duchamp.”

So what should a reader conclude, aside from the fact that, to misquote Umberto Eco, the Rosicrucians have something to do with everything? In a way, this is exactly the response I was hoping to get when I wrote The Icon Thief, which I conceived as a kind of catalog of mysteries that could be sliced in any number of possible ways. In this, I was inspired by one of my own favorite novels, Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, which is equally prone to being discussed in terms of wild lists. A glance at the reviews in the tattered paperback copy I’ve owned since I was thirteen reveals no fewer than three separate lists of subjects, all them strikingly different: the Philadelphia Inquirer mentions “pagan rituals, World War II nostalgia, Brazilian macumba religion,” while Publishers Weekly goes with “the Rosicrucians, the Jesuits, the Freemasons” and the Sunday Times rattles off “numerology, James Bond’s foes, and the construction of sewers.”

Of course, every conspiracy novel, from Gravity’s Rainbow to the Illuminatus trilogy, lends itself to obsessive list-making: one of the genre’s conventions is the paranoid accumulation of facts and stories until both reader and protagonist are overwhelmed by information. What fascinates me is how much freedom a reviewer has when picking which subjects to emphasize—how one critic can list Erik Satie, for instance, who is only mentioned twice in the entire book, next to the Rosicrucians, whose history occupies a good chunk of the novel’s four hundred pages. The process of selection says as much about the reader as it does about the story itself, and can result in an infinite number of different lists, as Borges notes in a somewhat different context. He cites Carlyle’s joke about a biography of Michelangelo that didn’t mention the works of Michelangelo, and then says:

Let us greatly simplify, and imagine that a life consists of 13,000 facts. One of the hypothetical biographies would record the series 11, 22, 33…; another, the series 9, 13, 17, 21…; another, the series 3, 12, 21, 30, 39…A history of a man’s dreams is not inconceivable; another, of the organs of his body; another, of the mistakes he made; another, of all the moments when he thought about the Pyramids; another, of his dealings with the night and with the dawn.

Replace “life” with “story” and “biographies” with “reviews,” and you have a sense of what every author must experience when regarding the lists that readers extract from his work. A novel, in particular, contains so much information that it’s remarkable that its reviews can have anything in common at all, and it’s especially interesting when all the reviews of a big book tend to zero in on the same sentence, as recently happened with Edward St. Aubyn’s lines on irony. I’ve seen this process so often from a distance that I’m delighted to see it happen to my own novel—and I’m also tempted to make a few lists of my own. Over the next week, then, as we count down the days until the novel’s official release, I’m going to talk about a handful of narrative strands that I find personally important, and explain how they came about, with an eye to the process of trial and error that underlies the origins of any novel. Tomorrow, I’ll start with the apparently innocent question that changed my writing life forever: how do you value a masterpiece?

Written by nevalalee

February 27, 2012 at 10:03 am

News from all over

with 4 comments

On Saturday, my wife and I finally returned home after two amazing weeks in Hong Kong and China. It was a fascinating trip that took me from the mountains of Guilin to the heart of Beijing, upending many of my own preconceptions in the process, and I hope to share more thoughts about it soon. (Among other things, it taught me that if you don’t speak Chinese, the best way to ingratiate yourself with a large group is to eat as much as possible, and hope to impress with your chopstick skills.) In the meantime, though, since it’s been a while since I had the chance to update this blog in a timely fashion, I’d like to share a few tidbits of news that came up while I was away.

First off, I’ve just received the final version of the cover for The Icon Thief, and it’s a beauty. Artwork and text remain essentially the same, with one big difference: the cover now includes excerpts from three incredibly generous blurbs from the suspense authors Jesse Kellerman, Paul Christopher, and James Becker, all of whom were nice enough to read advance copies of the novel and share a few kind words. (Typography aficionados, including my mom, will also be pleased to note that the kerning between the “v” and “a” in my last name has been fixed. If you’re curious, you can compare the revised version against the original one here.)

Even more excitingly, my novelette “The Boneless One,” which came out in Analog earlier this year, has been selected by editor Gardner Dozois for inclusion in The Year’s Best Science Fiction, 29th Edition, or simply Best SF 29. Science fiction fans need no introduction to Dozois, but for the uninitiated, he’s a real legend in the field—he edited Asimov’s for many years and is arguably the most respected anthologist in science fiction today. Best SF is published in hardcover every year by St. Martin’s Griffin, usually in the summer, so you can look forward to seeing it in six months or so. I’ll post further updates as I receive them.

Obviously, given the number of science fiction stories published each year, ending up in an anthology like this is as much a matter of luck as anything else. (To give you a sense of the odds involved, out of the thirty-five stories chosen for this year’s anthology, “The Boneless One” is the sole story from Analog to make the cut.) Luck or otherwise, it still feels good, especially for a story that had a rocky road to publication, and which remains my personal favorite of my own short fiction. And I can only feel flattered, and humbled, to be included in such illustrious company, a fully annotated list of which can be found here. In all honesty, my own work aside, I just can’t wait to read these stories.

%d bloggers like this: