Thursday, April 18, 2019



This image, taken from an art magazine I suspect, I titled "Inwit" or conscience. On the side, I wrote, "It is all faces and hands." Which is a crucial insight, maybe, into the art of characterization.

It's the white eyes that make this image so creepy.

Inwit almost became a character.

And as always . . .

I'm on the road again. If anything happens, I'll let you know.

Above: For those who came in late, my latest novel, The Iron Dragon's Mother, will be published in 67 days. To draw attention to this fact, I'm serializing the Image Book I made to help me imagine a strange world for the book.


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Another Page from the Image Book


This was probably the first image--a collage, obviously-- to be pasted into the Image Book. I filled the rest of the page with a sketch of a mountain with its shadowed side in light and its lit side casting a shadow parallel to the ground.  The rest of the page I filled with words. Or "words." This search for words is what the Image Book was all about. It was meant to, eventually, pull words out of nothing and place them on the page.

Above: For those who came in late, my latest novel, The Iron Dragon's Mother, will be published in 68 days. To draw attention to this fact, I'm serializing the Image Book I made to help me imagine a strange world for the book.


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Bureaucrat Has Left The Planet


Be patient with my title. All will be explained.

Gene Wolfe was a combat vet, a true and faithful husband, a practicing Catholic, and an accomplished engineer. He was also the author of The Book of the New Sun, the single greatest accomplishment of science fiction to date, and stories like "The Eyeflash Miracles," "Alien Stones," and "The Hero as Werwolf." Short fiction is not given its due these days but these and other stories by Wolfe will be read a hundred, a thousand years from now. I am not exaggerating here. He was one of our best.

But you want insight into his character. Well, okay. The first convention where I ever got to spend any serious time with the man, he and I and my wife, Marianne Porter, were sitting at a table and he started to tell us about a library book sale he'd been to the previous weekend. He was excited because he'd gotten several shopping bags of old books for two dollars each. Then he said, "Looking through them, books published a hundred year ago, so many had inscriptions like 'To Amelia from her loving Aunt Mame.' You look at them, so many inscriptions, and all these people are... are... they're all dead!"

And he almost burst into tears.

Afterward, Marianne said to me (keep in mind here that she immediately fell in love with him), "That is the most emotional man I ever met."

He was, and I don't think that was unrelated to his genius.

The first time I ever met Gene was long before, in the late seventies when he was working as an engineer but had already written  some of his most brilliant work, and I was struck by how astonishingly ordinary he looked. He was one of the most ordinary-looking men I had ever met. Later, upon retirement, he grew that wonderfully eccentric Gene Wolfe mustache and achieved an eccentricity befitting the man he was. But back then, in the Midtown Diner with Gardner Dozois and Susan Casper (I was definitely bottom man on the totem pole) he looked like the Continental Op--a man who would disappear into a crowd if you looked away from him for an instant.

Much later, I set out to write Stations of the Tide.

The protagonist of the novel was never named. Throughout, he was referred to as the Bureaucrat. It was important to the story that he be underestimated for most of the book and only revealed as extraordinary at the end. So when I created him, I thought of him being Gene Wolfe. On the outside, he was extraordinarily ordinary. But inside, he was... Gene Wolfe!

Not to discourage you from reading my novel but at the end the Bureaucrat wins. Of course he does. Inside, he's Gene Wolfe.

And now, goddammit, he's gone.

Vaya con dios, Gene. If God is just, you and Rosemary are together again.

And today's Image Book page . . .

Above: For those who came in late, my latest novel, The Iron Dragon's Mother, will be published in 69 days. To draw attention to this fact, I'm serializing the Image Book I made to help me imagine a strange world for the book.

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Image Book for The Iron Dragon's Mother


In the beginning is the word. For novels, at least. There's that moment when you write the first word and everything that follows becomes possible, and that's a wonderful sensation.

But--in my case at least, all writers having their own ways and methods--before the word comes the image. When I decided to write the novel that became The Iron Dragon's Mother, I began by compiling images that had the kind of "feel" I wanted for the novel. Strange and otherworldly. Archetypal. Evocative. Something to arouse the muse.

It occurred to me that other people might be interested in them, so I decided to share.

Above is the cover of the book.

Here's the inside cover. The pic was cut from an art magazine, I believe.

Two more images.The bottom one is not a collage but a newspaper photo (I think) altered with a pair of scissors. The flame was added by pen.

There are more than a hundred such images and I'll be sharing one or more a day until I've posted them all here, in order. Sometimes I'll have something else to talk about and then I'll put it at the top of the blog. But there will be a new page at the bottom of the post.

And your daily reminder . . .

Only 70 days until The Iron Dragon's Mother comes out!


Friday, April 5, 2019

Good Writing Advice That You Won't Take

Writers are perverse creatures, and gonnabe writers are even worse

Case in point: I'm going to offer some free and useful advice for the soon-to-be-published. Advice that would greatly increase your chances of getting your short fiction published. And none of you will take it.

As it happens, I was having supper a while back with a table full of literary types and we were talking about things that you can't tell new writers, because they'd refuse to believe a word of it. Then we got onto the subject of happy endings.

"Readers love happy endings!" exclaimed the editor of a major science fiction magazine.

To which I replied, "But writers..."

And everybody laughed.

So there you have it. If you want to make your fiction more saleable, write stories with happy endings. Preferably with space ships and planets and aliens and such. Because readers love those too.

You won't take this advice, though.  Because writers are perverse creatures.


Thursday, April 4, 2019

Moon Dust


Over on Facebook, there's a game I like to play which I call Art or N'art? When I'm at an art museum I'll take a photo of something that might be art... or maybe not. Then I post the photo and challenge whoever cares to state whether it's art or not. Sometimes,the bucket with odd items in it placed in a corner is N'art--cleaning supplies nobody has cleared away. Sometimes it's very challenging Art.

It's easier for me than for everybody else because I get to see if there's a label on the wall identifying the item as art. But it's fun for everyone because nobody gets mocked for being wrong. The point is that sometimes there's a thin line between art and the merely odd.

Up above is the most challenge I put to the Facebookers. Art? Or merely a classy lighting fixture?

Not to keep you in suspense, this is Spencer Finch's Moon Dust which is currently in the Baltimore Museum of Art.
The installation is based on the dust brought back on Apollo 17, the last voyage to the Moon. Which turned out to be chiefly silicon dioxide gas, iron, calcium, and magnesium. Finch translated this into bulbs of four sizes indicating the relative weights of the elements. They combine into molecules, and the whole is represented in three dimensions.

Lunar dust translated into a physical metaphor.




There's a great deal more could be said about the work. But I'll skip straight to my point...

This was a particularly difficult Art or N'art because the art served as a functional light source.  We (in the specialized sense of "most of us who care about art in the present moment") tend to think that art is not functional. If it hangs on the wall of a museum, it's art. If you can use it to clip your toenails or unclog a toilet, it's not.

But sometimes something is functional and art at the same time.

And then? It's art.


Tuesday, April 2, 2019

First Glimpses of The Iron Dragon's Mother Characters


I am, I am told, a more visual writer than is usual, in that making sketches and pasting pictures encountered in random magazines into my notebooks is a major element in my process of world creation. Most writers, apparently, don't do this.

The other day, I came across an old notebook from 2017 (that's it to the right) and in it were a few of the characters I was trying to bring to mind.. So I thought I'd share them with you.

Top: The Dowager as a young woman. 

She was a lot more innocent and vulnerable then. And far less dangerous.

Above: Raven.

Sometimes my entry is only a sketch--often, my take on the soul or innerness of a character. The sketch immediately above is of Raven, who started out as a minor character but quickly grew in significance.

I make no apologies for the quality of my drawing. We all have our crosses to bear.

Above: Nobody and her Shadow.

This is an interesting character because she never made it into the novel. That happens sometimes, and I'm sorry for it. The Shadow would have been a separate (though connected) character.

Above: Esme.

Strangest for last. When I first pasted this in my notebook, I had no idea who the character was. I wrote nelf on the picture itself. But I wasn't getting an elfin vibe from it at all. So I tried again and wrote Little Black Riding Hood. Which shows I wasn't even sure what piece of fiction she might go into. (I also wrote The Legion of Riding Hoods, which I still think would make an entertaining comic book title, on the facing page.) Finally, I listened to the picture itself and wrote Esme before her del with the Year-Eater underneath--and that one stuck.

Esme was going to be a minor character when she first appeared in The Dragons of Babel But she grew in significance as the novel went on. That she would pop up in The Iron Dragon's Mother  was completely unexpected.

What makes this picture particularly strange is that the girl shown is significantly older than the Esme in the books. The Year Eater is a mysterious entity and while everybody thinks they know what it means to make a deal with her, him, or it, apparently no one does.