Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Once and Future Rye


Consider the strange fate of rye whiskey. From the earliest days of the Republic to the onset of Prohibition, it was the American tipple. From Monongahela to Sonoma, if you stopped in a roadhouse and ordered a shot of whiskey, rye was what the barkeep poured into your glass.

Yet by the 1950s, rye was perilously close to being forgotten. Where bourbon emerged gloriously from the Great Depression, self-mythologized and available from a constantly growing number of distilleries, only a handful of bottom-shelf brands of rye survived... and those, it has to be said, only at the benevolent toleration of a few bourbon distilleries.

The recent resurrection of rye whiskey is one of the few signs that the Twenty-First Century may have something to offer civilization worth the keeping. So the proprietors of The American Martini Institute and The American Martini Laboratory propose to present the history of the Whiskey That Was America here in a series of posts and tastings.

To celebrate this we opened a bottle of "Single Barrel" and "Genuine Small Batch" Dad's Hat Pennsylvania Straight Rye Whiskey. This is a pricey bottle we were saving for a special occasion. Which this is! According to the hand-printing on the label, this was bottle 100 from cask 4, barreled on 9-2-14 and bottled on 4-18-18. It's "cask strength," which in this case means an astonishing 124.6 proof.

First, we did a taste test. The color was dark and lovely. The nose was a strong caramel. The rye had flavors of brown sugar, caramel, cinnamon and--a touch of nutmeg? The alcohol could be felt. And the total impression...

Wow. This is one lovely drink. Perfect for sipping and lingering over. Rye is not often drunk straight. But this version cries out to be savored straight.

Nevertheless, we then used it to prepare a cocktail:

3 ounces rye
1 ounce sweet vermouth
2 dashes cherry bitters
chill and serve with a spiced cherry

Again, wow. The Manhattan is a regal cocktail to begin with. It's also one that allows the quality of the rye to shine through. As it did here. This was a distinctly delicious drink, as good a Manhattan as anyone at the American Martini Institute has ever had.

Also, it carries a punch.

(Note that the AML uses cherries spiced in-house and not those dreadful candied things they sell in a jar. It makes a tremendous difference.)

In future weeks, there will be more more posts tracking the rise of rye whiskey, its tragic downfall, and its wondrous rebirth. Telling the story of the Whiskey That Was America and might well yet be again.

Meanwhile, back on the diagram front . . .

Two small diagrams today. First:

Reading the line from left to right yields a map in parvoThe  of The Iron Dragon's Mother. The first section is Helen's story. Then the pilot (Caitlin) enters the picture. Both continue onward. There is a climactic scene with Caitlin's mother (though I forget which one. Then, after a brief coda, Helen and Caitlin part ways. Helen in one direction and Caitlin and her mother in another. There I commented: (But that is another story, and one that will never be told this side of Spiral Palace.) So I obviously had a specific end in mind. It wasn't the ending that I ended up with, though. That one caught me by surprise.

Between the diagrams, it reads: Skin Walker: Native Am. -- walks in the skins of others This was not meant to be cultural appropriation but inclusion. It was one of my ambitions to include everyone in the novel. It can't be done, of course--there are too many of us for that. But I was trying to exclude as few of us as possible.

As it turned out, I couldn't find a place to use a skin walker, so it's a moot issue.

The second diagram:

This shows the entirety of the novel in parvo again. The original plan was that most of the novel would deal with Caitlin's false mother and the resolution would deal with her true mother. Apparently, at that time she only had two.

(The green scribble is the crudely-drawn head of a giant, commenting, "You are little people in more senses than you know.)


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Another Diagram


The Wheel of Ixion

This was an early effort to work out the philosophical underpinnings of The Iron Dragon's Mother. They got much more complicated later on. But here, there's still a dichotomy between Earth and Faerie. The two chief things they have in common are Life and Death. But it's not at all certain that death is the same thing for the fey as it is for mortals. For one thing, they have the possibility of being reborn, while on Earth (my Earth, which is not necessarily the same as the real one) that's not an option.

The single most relevant word in the myth of Ixion is "forever." This is the arrangement both words are given and there's nothing to be done abut it.


Monday, September 16, 2019

La bohème on Independence Mall


When metropolitans are asked why they live in a major city, they usually cite art museums, symphony orchestras, the opera... and when they're asked when was the last time they took advantage of any of those things, they usually say, "Well..."

Saturday, Marianne and I went to Independence Mall to see La bohème. This was a recording, played over big screens and speakers, of a performance of Puccini's crowd-pleaser that played at the Academy of Music last year. 

It was glorious.

It was free.

And it had Independence Hall as a backdrop.

No dis to places where you can see eagles and bears whenever you wish, have the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop, or have trout streams running right through the back yard if you're lucky. But if you want to listen to opera on Independence Mall, you've just got to come to Philadelphia.

And today's diagram . . .

Time to get to work.

I don't know what the upper diagram marked "hot" romance and no romance was meant to indicate--it was an early notion that got dropped at some point. The lower diagram, though, shows the emotional movement Caitlin goes through in the first chapter.

Imagine the line as being Caitlin's life. It begins with cameraderie (sic; it should be camaraderie) with her fellow dragon pilots. The dragon enters as a presence as she goes into flight. They perform the snatch to the accompaniment of banter. Then Helen enters the picture. Followed by a descent (both physical, to the base, and moral) into deceit. The actual writing doesn't follow the diagram exactly, since it begins immediately after Helen's intrusion. But Caitlin's life follows the pattern, so it's ideation time not wasted.

In the course of drawing the diagram and thinking about it, three thoughts occurred to me so I jotted them down. They were

The oldest recorded 
words are these:
Things are not as 
they once were

"You're in an
odd mood"

Dragons do 
not have 
moods; we
have fates

Half the purpose of drawing diagrams is to see the shape of things to come. The other half is to bring thoughts like these, observations and scraps of dialogue, into existence.


Tuesday, September 3, 2019



Just a reminder that I'll be reading at the Brooklyn Commons Cafe tonight, along with Gregory Feeley. Opening time 6:45 p.m.

Be there or be square!

And the sixth diagram  . . .

More a doodle than a diagram, I'm afraid. The triangle represents what I thought would be the central relationships of the novel--Brigitte (Caitlin), Helen, and the dragon. Below it, Helen and Brigitte come together at the beginning of the second chapter. (That's the circle.) They travel together for most of The Iron Dragon's Mother. Then, at the end of the novel, there's another major moment and one of them leaves. This part of the novel stayed the same through its entirety.

There wasn't any compelling reason to diagram out the novel at this point. I was just hoping that doing so would nudge some related observation about its shape into being. Not this time, however.


Monday, September 2, 2019

Reading Tomorrow! NYC! With Exclamation Marks!

I'll be reading from my new novel, The Iron Dragon's Mother,  tomorrow at The Brtookly Commons. Also there to read from his work will be Gregory Feeley. Either one of us would be enough to make the evening worthwhile. (He said modestly.) So I see no reason for you not to attend.

Provided you live close by enough to do, that is.

Here are the deets:

September 3, 2019

7:00 p.m.

The Brooklyn Commons
388 Atlantic Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11217

I look forward to seeing you there.

And in the ongoing series of plot diagrams . . .

First of all, Faerie has three hemispheres. This is canonical. I was trying to visualize it at the top of the page.

On the bottom of the page, technically speaking, is a cladogram. Which means that I was feeling a bit puckish when I drew it. So I started with Language, from which derived Un-Truth, from which derived Deliberate Entertainment, which gave birth to Fantasy and Mimesis. 

Some would disagree with my construction of the cladogram, of course. But they would be wrong.


Sunday, September 1, 2019

Diagrams 3 and 4


There are a lot of diagrams on the next two pages but I'll throw them out all at once because they were all drawn at the same time, trying to glimpse the same elusive white whale of a plot.

On the verso, a movement from yin-yang to spiral. A triangle establishing that briefly, Caitlin's name was Morgan. The same trite idea of combining Helen and Caitlin into a single entity. Also a reminder to re-read the Baltimore Catechism.

On the recto, I seem to have briefly renamed Helen Maggie. Another diagram opposing age and you, something (probably innocence) and treachery. A reminder to reread the great Amos Tutuola. Also, still caught up too enthusiastically in the notion of storytelling, are notes to conflate Sinbad and Gilligan's Isle,  and a beginning to a fairy tale version of The Beverly Hillbillies:

There was a poor man who found treasure on his land and was suddenly rich.

Also an exchange between Caitlin and Helen (who, remember, was a TV producer) which I quite like, even though I didn't use it:

"Why do you lie so much?"
"Kick a rock. That's the truth. Tell somebody how it felt. Now you're in my territory."

And . . .

One more diagram, a short one and a rude one. It's titled Shortening the Way  and below the stylized rocket takeoff is captioned The novel at its simplest. At this point, I was considering giving Helen and Caitlin different names, both beginning with the letter M. Terrible idea.


Saturday, August 31, 2019

Diagram 2


Here's the first overall diagram of the novel and it's amazing how unlike what The Iron Dragon's Mother eventually became my first thoughts of its structure are. I appear to have intended to blend Helen and Caitlin (then Charlotte) into single character.

Terrible, terrible idea.

Below the diagram I wrote:

This is the novel

At this point the young woman is or can be the storyteller

No, let the storyteller die

Also major deviations from what the book became. Yes, the nature of story is a big subtext and, yes, Caitlin must learn how to lie. But the idea of her becoming a storyteller is... let's say inappropriate.


Friday, August 30, 2019

Dragon Pilots


So what do dragon pilots look like? Tough, competent, dangerous. Pictured above are two pages from the second Prose Notebook for The Iron Dragon's Mother. The two young ladies are Sibyl and Ysault. You probably can't make out the text (and if you can, you probably can't make sense of my handwriting) but the picture was originally titled "Sibyl and Ashley." I gave all the dragon pilots Irish names, but that doesn't mean they're of Irish descent. It seems to be a convention among high-elven families for naming their female half-elven bastards.

There's a lot of plot that I decided not to use on that page, incidentally. Cat is invited to to join the Resistance. Helen interviews Sibyl out of compassion. And there's a reference to a "straggler with three packs of Marlboros." None of which made it into the novel.

Also, I worried a lot over what kind of swagger Ysault had.

And because some people like them . . .

Not everybody, but many people are fascinated by the use of diagrams to build a story. So at the bottom of these posts, I'm going to serialize the diagrams I drew in my Prose Notebooks to help see my way forward.

The first one covers the first chapter.

So far as I can tell, the only elements that remain of this diagram are the television  and the Tibetan Book of the Dead.  The triangle opposes "her" (Helen) with "what she doesn't live up to (dying roommate)" and "What she hates (Nurse Wretched)." The last is an obvious reference to Nurse Ratched in Ken Kesey's novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Both were replaced by a trio of more recognizably human nurses.

I do like the fact that after the notations:

Dis in context

I commented This is what reading too much criticism does!


Thursday, August 29, 2019



She is always mute because she is the voice of the Goddess.

As I never tire of boasting, the mere I have bubbling away on my laptop, the less I have to talk about. Today is a perfect example. I'm currently working on an interview and five introductions for projects I'm genuinely excited about. But I cannot yet talk about any of them.

Instead, I offer a page from my Prose Notebooks for The Iron Dragon's Mother. These are not the same as the Image Book. They're filled with my scribblings as I was writing the novel, many plot diagrams, workings-out of locales and the like. I'll be sharing a sampling of them in the coming month or so.

And an explanation . . .

Today's page is a rarity for me: a copy of someone else's work. The original is a painting by Jay DeFeo, a near-great artist who nearly destroyed her career by working obsessively on an enormous painting titled  The Rose. You can look it up online but that's no substitute for standing in its presence. For one thing, it's ten and a half feet high. Also, it's massive.  There are literally hundreds of pounds of paint on it, to the degree that it's more like a bas-relief than a flat painting. It has an astonishing presence. You could look at it for hours.

And eventually, you'll come to the conclusion that it's great but that it could be greater. That if DeFeo had changed it just a smidge it would be something even more wonderful.=. DeFeo came to this conclusion herself, which is why she spent years obsessively on the one single painting. It almost stopped her dead.

There's much more to her story and I encourage you to learn it.

Back to the Prose Notebooks, though. The sketch above is a crude copy of one of DeFeo's later (and considerably smaller) paintings It hit me hard when I saw it. This, I thought, is what the Voice of God looks like. And since so much of my work is about the Silence of God, it seemed inevitable that she would have a place in the novel.

The messenger never makes an overt appearance in The Iron Dragon's Mother. But she's never very far away.


Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Is There Something About Me Irish?


You wouldn't know it to look at my name, but I'm Irish to the bone.  Or, rather, American Irish. There's a difference. That fact has been one of the great shapers of my personality.

To mark my third visit to Ireland, and so I'd have something to give away while at the Dublin Worldcon, I wrote six flash essays, all autobiographical, on that condition. Three are set in Ireland and three in the States. Marianne took these essays and made them into a chapbook, titled Is There Something About You Irish? To understand the title, I'm afraid you'll just have to read the chapbook.

As is usual with Marianne Porter's Dragonstairs Press, the chapbooks are lovingly made, hand-sewn, and seriously underpriced. They are signed and numbered in an edition of 60, of which 36 are available for sale. Eleven dollars domestic, twelve dollars overseas, postage included.

You can find the Dragonstairs  Press site here.

Unusually for Marianne, there are two other publications yet available, though in small numbers. You can find them directly below the latest chapbook. Then you can wander down below them to see everything  else that Dragonstairs has ever placed on sale, all of which have sold out.

And an apology . . .

For the two weeks I was in Ireland, I managed perhaps one blogpost. I apologize for that. Partly it was that I was busy. But mostly it was electronic technology and me... we just don't understand each other very well, I'm afraid.

But I'm home where everything is familiar and back on track. More blogposts on a more regular schedule are forthcoming.

Really. I mean it this time.


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

"Ghost Ships" in F&SF


Look what came in the mail! The Dragonstairs Press rug is delighted.

The putting-together of a magazine issue is a delicate art. For the 70th anniversary of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, obviously a lot of big names were required. But they also had to fit into a set number of pages. So it's possible for the editor and the publisher to like a story quite a lot but be unable to fit it in just because of its length.

Which is how I almost didn't make it into this particular issue. Long tale short, my story, "Ghost Ships" is the penultimate story in the issue. Gordon Van Gelder told me that he and C. C. Finlay both particularly wanted my story because it was about grief and mourning and they felt it belonged alongside Gardner Dozois' last story, "Homecoming," which is about the death of someone who isn't exactly a wizard but... well, I'm not going to spoil the story for you.

Given that between the time he sold the story to F&SF and the current issue, Gardner died, it's hard not to read this story as his farewell to us all. Placing it at the end of the issue was a graceful tribute to a man who always thought of F&SF as the single best SF magazine that wasn't edited by himself.

As for my story, here's what I wrote about it, as it was used in the introduction:

This work is in a long tradition of ghost stories where the author identifies himself as the protagonist and swears that every word is true. However, it breaks with the tradition in one way; every word of it is true. When my wife, Marianne Porter, read it for the first time, she said, "This is an essay." Which is factually correct, but I wrote it as if it were fiction. Only the names of the people involved were changed, for reasons which should be obvious.

The magazine arrived yesterday and so far I've only read two stories--Gardner's and mine. But it has a stellar lineup and I'm confident that I'll enjoy every word of it.

And for those who like a peek behind the curtain...

During the process of selling the story, signing the contract, writing things to be used in the intro, proofing the galleys, etc., etc., it was revealed to me that my story might or might not make it into the 70th anniversary issue. In retrospect, I got something close to a running commentary: "The kid is barreling toward first. The outfielder scoops up the ball and throws! It's going to be close.! The kid slides! The first baseman has the ball and is reaching down for the tag! Aaaaand...."

Gordon showed me a copy of the issue at the Dublin Worldcon and apologized for "jerking me around." But the apology was unnecessary. I already had a story placed in one of F&SF's anniversary issues. Which is like winning a Hugo: Devoutly to be desired, but after the first one, the pressure is off. It's nice to win another award and it's very happy-making to be in another anniversary issue. But if I hadn't made it in, my heart wouldn't have been broken.

So, really, given the situation, I was the ideal person to be jerked around.

I'll be writing more about "Ghost Ships" elsewhere, sometime in the near future and when I do, I'll let you know where you can find it. I'm particularly proud of this story because it took enormous amounts of craft to write it and to make it work. And it says something. That's always desirable in fiction.


Sunday, August 18, 2019

A Linguistic Footnote


I was having dinner with The Fabulous Pat Cadigan last night (as well as other good friends) when Pat, reminiscing, almost settled a small mystery I've been wondering about for over 35 years: the origins of the word cyberpunk.

Gardner Dozois, who was often credited with inventing the word because he was the first to apply it to people like William Gibson in print (and who, when told another person claimed precedence, "Let him have the credit; it never did me any good!") always said that he'd first heard it in conversation. From Pat Cadigan, he thought.  

So, as I said reminiscing, Pat told me that in 1979, she was either listening to the radio or watching TV (the restaurant was noisy), when Cars by Gary Numan came on. After the song, the DJ-or-VJ said, "Well, there's some cyberpunk for you."

Not long after, Pat carried the word into SF on foot... and the rest is rather well-documented.

The actual creator of the word may never be known. Unless it was on TV and somebody chances to stumble across the tape. And even then, who knows who the music jock himself got it from?

Language is a mysterious thing and endlessly wallowable-in.

Above: Pat, mugging for the camera in Helsinki.


Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Iron Dragon's Daughter & the Dublin Worldcon


The Dublin Worldcon begins today! So I'll be busy all weekend.

Meanwhile, there is a flash sale of The Iron Dragon's Daughter as a Kindle Daily Deal TODAY ONLY at The ebook will be downpriced to $1.99.

So if you're an ebook reader and curious about the first book in the Iron Dragon trilogy, this is a good opportunity.

But you'll have to act fast.

Meanwhile, I've got people to schmooze and Smithwick's to drink.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Bones of the Earth Ebook Sale!


I leave for Ireland on Sunday! (But--a friendly note to criminal opportunists, the house will be occupied by My Son the Black Belt) So I'll be spending the day running around and doing things that have to be done.

While I'm away, I'll do my best to keep you posted. Brace yourselves for a flood of photos of people having way too much fun in one of the most beautiful countries on the planet.

Meanwhile, I got an email from Open Road Media. As follows:

I am pleased to let you know that Bones of the Earth will be featured in BookBub, a daily ebook deals newsletter with millions of subscribers, on 8/10/2019. The ebook will be downpriced to 1.99 across all US retailers on that day, and Open Road will promote the feature via social media.

You can subscribe to BookBub here so that you'll get the direct link to the deal on the day that it appears in the newsletter.

So if you're an ebook reader and love dinosaurs (as who doesn't?) and don't already have my dinosaurs-and-time-travel novel, this is a good deal.

But, if I read this correctly, it's a one-day-only good deal. So be prepared to pounce!


Tuesday, August 6, 2019

A Horror Movie for Trees


After posting a new picture from the Image Book every day (almost) for over three months, I have reverted to my old, slovenly ways--promising three posts a week and immediately being a day late with Monday's.

The problem is that I'm feverishly working to have a promised story finished, polished, and delivered before flying to Ireland. Which means writing it over and over and over again. There up above is my wastebasket, en route to the recycling bin.

I buy paper by the case, and frequently. When trees go to horror movies, they see my office. "Don't go in!" they shriek at the innocent young fir on the screen. "Swanwick needs paper!!!"

There's got to be an easier way to write. But I haven't found it yet.


Friday, August 2, 2019

The Iron Dragon Notebooks


If there is a theme to this blog--and who knows?--it would be that whenever I'm busiest and most productive, I have the least to say. Conversely, when I have announcements galore, I'm rarely getting much of anything done.

Right now, because I am waist-deep in any number of very interesting projects that I cannot yet talk about, I have almost nothing to say. So I thought I'd share a few pages from the Iron Dragon Notebooks, compiled as I was writing The Iron Dragon's Mother, to keep my notes and thoughts in one easy-to-find place.

Don't worry, I'm not going to share every page of them, the way I did with the Image Book. But when  it's a question of dipping into them or letting the blog lie too long fallow...

Here's an interior page with a picture of Caitlin's half-brother Fingolfinrhod that I think really captures him. As the text in the bottom left corner puts it:

Long, tall, regally thin
A pale flame
Fey in the truest sense
Knowing but kind

The pages are largely taken up with the attempt to find a name for the character. Apparently he came close to being named Echthelion, hard thought that is to imagine.

At this point, Caitlin was still named Charlotte.

Finally, here's the inside cover of Book I.As you can see, I was originally thinking of calling it Mother of Dragons. The success of a Certain Show on HBO put the kibosh on that.

It's probably just as well. The Iron Dragon's Mother seems to be the title the book was meant to have.


Thursday, August 1, 2019

A Wondrous Strange World


Look what popped up today... a rave review not for The Iron Dragon's Mother, but for The Dragons of Babel, the second book in my accidental fantasy trilogy.

The reviewer (or, almost, essayist) is Jonathan Thornton and the review appears at The Fantasy Hive. I won't say a lot about it because a positive review can be almost as entertaining as a blood-letter, if the reviewer is knowledgeable enough. So you should consider reading it.

The piece does identify the insight that is central to all three books (The Iron Dragon's Daughter being the other): That this is a wondrous strange world we live in, and though we go to fantasy to escape into worlds unlike our own, it is the duty of fantasy to at some point reconnect with reality and comment upon it.

More than that I will not say, because I'm getting perilously close to humblebragging here, and I am a modest man.

You can find the review here.


Wednesday, July 31, 2019

My Worldcon Schedule


Wow. In less than two weeks, I'll be back in Ireland! Wandering the desolate beauty of the Burren. Discovering the Ring of Kerry for the very first time. Returning to Tara. Drinking Guinness in a Dublin pub.

Oh, yeah, and there's this Worldcon thing.

The Dublin Worldcon committee have given me my marching orders, and I have to say that it's a pretty nice schedule. It's spread out over three days, gives me a reasonable amount  of free time, and includes a reading, a kaffeeklatsch, and an autographing session. Also, the panel topics are pretty interesting.

So kudos to the scheduling people. I really do appreciate their hard work.

Here's my schedule:

Friday, August 16

Unwritable stories
Format: Panel
14:30 - 15:20, Stratocaster BC (Point Square Dublin)

Every author has that perfect story that just refuses to be written. From wilful characters to wandering narratives and gaping plot holes, our panellists share the stories that would have even defied the Greek muses themselves. What made these stories so hard to write? What traps did they hold? And whatever happened to those old untold tales? Will they ever see the light of day or will they remain locked away in a hidden drawer?

Jacey Bedford (M), Karen Haber, Nina Allan, Jay Caselberg, Michael Swanwick

Saturday, August 17

Reading: Michael Swanwick
12:00 - 12:50, Liffey Room-3 (Readings) (CCD)

Autographs: Michael Swanwick  
 15:00 - 15:50, Level 4 Foyer (CCD)

Kaffeeklatsch: Michael Swanwick
17:00 - 17:50, Level 3 Foyer (KK/LB) (CCD)

Sunday, August 18

The author as a fellow traveler on the hero's journey
Format: Panel
10:30 - 11:20, Odeon 4 (Point Square Dublin)

Many authors, unsurprisingly, form a strong emotional bond with their characters, experiencing the joys and frustrations of the story along with them. How does this affect the writing process itself? What about the impact on the writer's critical engagement with their own work? How much does an author's engagement depend on their personality, their approach, or the type of story being written?

Dr Kristina Perez (Macmillan ) (M), Michael Swanwick, Karen Simpson Nikakis (SOV Consulting LLC -SOV Media), Naomi Kritzer, Daryl Gregory


Monday, July 29, 2019

Carol Emshwiller, Remembered


Saturday I went to New York City for a memorial in the honor of Carol Emshwiller. I will not enumerate who was there and what transpired, other than to note that her children and other family members did her proud.

I was one of those who stood up to talk about Carol. Here, roughly, is what I said:

I won't try to compete with Gordon [Van Gelder, who spoke immediately before me] in analyzing Carol's fiction. She was a very fine writer, with a vision all her own, and I am particularly fond of Carmen Dog, but I want to talk about her as a friend.

I don't remember when I first met Carol. But I vividly remember being at some-damned-event-or-other when she saw me and exclaimed, "Michael! It's so good to see you!" We then proceeded to have a really splendid conversation about pretty much everything on earth.

Later, I told all this to Marianne and a little bemusedly said, "So I guess Carol and I are good friends."

We were, too. Carol wouldn't kid about something like that.

Every time I saw her, she always greeted me by saying, "Michael! It's so good to see you!" And after we had parted, I always found myself thinking: Maybe I should try being a better person. It seems to work for Carol.

The last time we met was at the New York Review of Science Fiction Reading Series, when her eyesight was so diminished that when I said hello, she had to ask me who I was. But one thing was certain: Whoever I was, she was glad I was there.

Carol was that rarest of creatures, a writer who could talk matter-of-factly about her own fiction. One time, I saw her first and said, "Carol! It's so good to see you! What are you up to?"

"I'm in mourning," she said. "I just finished writing a novel"--this would have been Ledoyt--"and all these people I've been living with for years are gone. It's like they all died! I'm bereft." Then she asked, "Doesn't it feel that way to you, too?"

I considered the question seriously. "No," I said. "When I finish a novel, I feel like I've stopped persecuting my people. I imagine them running down the street, waving their hands in the air, saying things like, 'I'm free!' and 'I'm going to eat a hamburger--and nothing will happen to me!' and 'I'm going to move to Albany and get a job in a hardware store!'"

But maybe that's just because she was a better person than me.

Now she's gone. And I'm bereft. I'm in mourning.

I'd like to think that that's because I've become a better person. But no. It's because Carol was alive in a way that no fictional characters can be. In fact, she was alive in a way that very few living people are. She had a gift for life. She was good at it. It was not wasted on her.

Carol freely shared her friendship and with her joy. But in life nothing is really free. This is something you learn, if you live long enough. The price for someone's presence in your life is the pain you feel at her absence. When she's gone, the only question that matters is: Is the joy her life brought you worth the sorrow you feel at it ending?

In Carol's case? Yes. Yes, it was.

It was worth every tear.


Friday, July 26, 2019

Of a Swallowtail Farm and the Final Image Book Picture


Pictured above is Marianne's swallowtail farm on the front porch. She didn't set out to raise butterflies. But it turns out that swallowtails love parsley. So they come unnoticed to lay their extremely small eggs, which hatch into extremely small caterpillars, which then proceed to eat and eat and EAT. Growing all the time.

Remember reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar when you were small? Something like that.

The caterpillars put away an astonishing amount of parsley and grow to a respectable size. Then they disappear. Sometimes during the night, they crawl away from the pot and go... somewhere. We've never been able to determine where.

The world is full of mysteries. One of them is on our front porch.

Marianne also has a second patch of parsley, which is used in her cooking. There's something unspeakably cool about going out in the middle of winter to brush the snow off the parsley and bring in a few sprigs for garnish.

When she finds a swallowtail caterpillar on her cooking patch, Marianne plucks it off and removes it to the pot on the porch.

And from the Image Book . . .

This is the very last image in the book. Put there because it's obviously a photo of the Triune Goddess. Most of the images of women taken from fashion and art magazines are far more glam than I would have liked. This one has the right edge of scariness. These are three dangerous women.

I first saw this image in an ad for the Cafe Luxembourg (West 70th St., NYC) in, I think, the New Yorker. It definitely raises in the mind an expectation of a rather louche drinking hole, probably somewhere high up in a skyscraper. Imagine my surprise when I ate there and discovered a cheerful, street level eatery with fish and chips and grilled rack of lamb on the menu.

Ah, well. The sinful bar of my dark imaginings surely exists somewhere in New York.


Thursday, July 25, 2019

Young Caitlin


This is one of the saddest images in the entire book. Caitlin did not have a happy childhood. Which is why it's hardly ever referred to in the novel.


Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Things Simmering Away


This glitterati life! I've been signing tip-in sheets for an unannounced future project. It sounds glamorous. But five reams of signature sheets is a lot of work.

Every now and then, Marianne will ask if she can sign just one of the sheets for me. "No," I say.

"But it'll be much rarer than the others!"

"Speciously put, but no."

I cannot remember ever saying no to Marianne on any other request. But the people buying an autographed book expect it to be autographed by the author. I won't betray that trust. Even for a mischievous wife.

And in the Image Bopk . . .

The top image is labeled A MAP OF THE WORLD.

Below, where it says "the Crown of Thorns," is actually a label for tomorrow's image.

This is the last page of the book, incidentally. Only the inside and outside back covers to go.


Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Great Footnotes of Western Literature


If I were an organized man, I would have carefully saved all my favorite footnotes in a series of notebooks and be well on my way to pitching The Oxford Book of Footnotes to a doubtless receptive publisher.

Alas, I am far from that organized. Still, occasionally a footnote rises up to charm me. Most recently, it happened in a paper I'm reading titled Lud-in-the-Mist as Memento Mori: Existential anxiety and the Consolations of an Aestheti Theology in Hope Mirrlees's Fantasy Novel. Here's the footnote in question:

2 Brian Attebery notes that Lud-in-the-Mist has never been "read as an important Modernist text, not even in an article on Mirrlees as Modernist poet (Boyde) or in a book-length study of Jane Harrison's influence on Modernism (Carpentier)" (Stories 59). Given the religious argument I advance below, I would suggest that this oversight springs in part from a distaste for "things religious" among those who have shaped the Modernist canon.
Which is a nice, tight, two-sentence essay. To it I would only add that in my experience most academics find the novel baffling simply because it is fantasy, a genre they tend to be poorly read in. They're like early travelers to a distant land. They don't understand the customs and the language... well, it's weird.

Above: Only a few more excerpts from the Image Book to go.


Monday, July 22, 2019

A Day in the Life


There are all kinds of interesting projects simmering away on a variety of metaphoric stoves. None of which I can talk about yet. So I'm forced to fall back on What I'm Doing Today.

Not much, as it turns out. Some time ago, I wrote a story called "Sparks and Embers," which I had decided was not a success and put it aside. This morning, I picked it up, changed the title to "Artificial People," did a light rewrite of the text, and gave it a new ending.

The result? Much better. Eminently publishable. Not one of my best.

Life is too short to waste on a story that isn't one of my best. So back into the pile mulching away on my desk it goes. I'll pick it up again sometime and see if I can make it sing. Until then, it simply must wait.

This is the glamorous, excitement-packed life of a working writer.

And from the Image Book . . .

Not a lot to be said about today's images. The typewriter is a reminder that artifice and lying are thematic to the novel. The murky figures, possibly drowned, are an evocation of the fast that Faerie is, in many ways, an inversion of our own world--which its inhabitants call Aerth.

Only five more of these to go, by the way.


Sunday's Blog Post: A Letter from the Goddess


Number 103 in a series of 108. The text reads:

"A Letter from the Goddess."

Dearest Cat,

[A series of indecipherable word-length dashes]

                                                Your loving persecutor,

And at the bottom:

"The Black Stone."


Saturday, July 20, 2019

Love, Death, and Emmys


This is nothing about me directly. But I've just learned that Love, Death,& Robots, the original Netflix cartoon series that included my short story, "Ice Age," has received two Emmy nominations for outstanding short form animated series and outstanding sound editing. 

I feel this should be celebrated for two reasons: First, because the series uses the streaming video concept brilliantly by animating each story at the length it properly should be. The Procrustean bed of television, which routinely pads stories that are too short for a fixed format or stints those that are too long, has at last been tossed aside. I( will continue this metaphor no further; that way lies disaster and Thog's Masterclass.) Second, because Tim Miller, co-founder of Blur Studio, did a lovely job of adapting my story, hewing very closely to what I wrote. The few changes he made were, I blush to admit, improvements.

I wasn't expecting that.

Anyway, kudos to all involved. I'll be rootng for them.

And in the Image Book . . .

Rather a dull one, I'm afraid. But at least it's not glamorous. Are you aware of how difficult it is to find archetypal images of women in popular culture hat aren't glam?  I'll be writing more about that later.

Above: Image 102 out of 108. Almost done!


Friday, July 19, 2019

Reading in the Rain


Yesterday, Marianne and I drove to Baltimore for the Charm City reading series at Bird in Hand Cafe, hosted by The Ivy Bookshop.  The weather was threatening. Then, an hour before the scheduled event time, the heavens tore open and produced a real frog-strangler. Rain so heavy that cars pulled off the road, wind that tore branches off the trees, and for a decorative flourish... lightning!

All the old hands at this kind of event will tell you that this is a recipe for disaster.

But while the turnout was much smaller than it would have been, there was a good sized crowd of mostly the core attendees. Leslye Penelope and T. Eric Bakutis and I read gallantly from our works, and received a warm reception, and afterward many of us went to the ramen restaurant next door.

So it was a good evening. I'm sorry if you missed it.

That's Leslye up above, reading from her Song of Blood and Stone.

And speaking of autographed books . . .
I autographed some of the stock for The Ivy Bookshop--and they do mail orders. So if you need an autographed copy of The Iron Dragon's Mother, you can contact them. Be sure to specify that you want an autographed copy, though. They also have the unautographed version, for those who prefer their books not scribbled in.

Their website can be found here.

And in the Image Book . . .

The text says it all: A glimpse of the Goddess. Not a goddess, mind you. The One That matters.

Above: For those who came in late, I've been posting images from my Image Book to help promote my recently-published and wonderfully entertaining novel The Iron Dragon's Mother. We're getting near to the end of the series. Only seven more to go!


Thursday, July 18, 2019

In Case You Die . . .


A lovely evening last night at Charm City. I'll blog about it tomorrow. Right now... breakfast and then the Visionary Art Museum. Which I may yet blog about the day after tomorrow.

And from the Image Book . . . 

This was just a joke. I saw the words In case you die... in an advertisement, was tickled by them, and added a goldfish and the words ...have a goldfish. It had nothing to do with The Iron Dragon's Mother.

Yet, strangely enough, the goldfish made it into the novel. Here, from a scene in the goblin market:

A luminous goldfish swam past Cat then darted back to join a dozen of its kind circling a silent smiling-mask-faced gorojumo.

 Mysterious are the ways of creativity.

Above: For those who came in late, as a way of drawing attention to my newly-published novel, The Iron Dragon's Mother, I'm serializing the Image Book I put together as a way of helping me to visualize Faerie and its inhabitants. There are eight more images yet to come.