Sunday, June 13, 2021

Cocktails at the Rosenbach



Marianne and I are fully vaccinated and the infection rates in Philadelphia are way down, so we've started doing things again.

Most of Saturday was spent at the virtual Laffcon, a free, one-day celebration of he works of R. A. Lafferty. For me,  the highlight was an interview with Greg Ketter and Bryan Cholfin, who back in the day created small presses to publish Lafferty's work. Which was by then deemed unprofitable by the major presses.

The major presses had a point. Both Greg and Bryan agree that Lafferty has an avid readership of somewhere between seven hundred and one thousand. Enough, as one of them put it, to ensure that they "didn't lose too much money." Certainly, nobody got rich. When asked if they might ever publish more of Lafferty's work, Ketter said that he was coming up on retirement age and might well return to the project after that. But Cholfin replied, "Not a chance!"

So there you are. Except to note that they both found Lafferty to be extremely genial and easy to work with. When one asked for a small alteration to a story, he replied, "Just write whatever you like."

Which is not how writers usually react to such requests.


But then, afterward . . .

Then, Marianne and I went to the Rosenbach, a museum and library harboring one of the world's greatest collection of rare books and manuscripts. (It has the only complete manuscript--there are several, but the others were broken up and sold in pieces--of James Joyce's Ulysses.) There, we took part in a cocktail workshop. Not that we don't know how to mix cocktails, but because it looked like fun and benefited a worthy institution.

It was held in the Rosenbach's garden and it was great fun. Also, far from the first time, Marianne and I found ourselves the oldest people there. I'm proud of that.


Top: The man in the striped Jacket is Edward Pettit, who organized the event. Expertise was provided by Nick and Lee,  from Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (bar supplies and tasting room) here in Philadelphia. The gin was from Tamworth Distilling, which is in New Hampshire but own by Art in the Age.


Friday, June 11, 2021

The Iron Dragon's Daughter in Czech!



I'm in print again! This time, it's The Iron Dragon's Daughter, appearing in Czech translation. There's the cover up above. Looks great, doesn't it?

 I wrote an introduction specifically for this edition which I don't feel free to share because intros are selling points for books. But I'll give you the title and the very beginning immediately below:


Foreword: My Years of Not Writing The Iron Dragon’s Daughter


Well over a quarter-century ago my wife Marianne Porter and I were driving from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to visit relatives. Our ten year old son Sean was in the back seat, engrossed in a hand-held video game and Marianne and I were talking first about fantasy literature and then about steam locomotives. I made a joke about the Baldwin Steam Dragon Works and Marianne laughed.


A mile farther down the road, I said to Marianne, “Write that down for me, would you,?”


That instant when I recognized that my quip was actually a story idea was when The Iron Dragon’s Daughter was born. Over the next few hundred miles…


The introduction goes on from there to the moment, years later, when I actually began to write.But to know that story, you'll have to buy the book. And read Czech.


Monday, June 7, 2021

In the Footsteps of Harriet Tubman



 Many years ago, wandering down the Eastern Shore, Marianne and I came across the above historical marker at Harriet Tubman's birthplace. It was pretty clear that the property owners down at the bottom of that long drive weren't thrilled with association of their land with a woman whom all decent Americans now consider a hero. As the current photo suggests, they're still not.

Well... as it turns out, Ms. Tubman was probably born elsewhere. Making this simply the place where she was first utilized as a field slave. At age six.

[long pause]

Back then, you'd have had to be a historian to locate other sites associated with "the Moses of her people." But times have changed. The foundation of a house belonging to her father, originally a slave but later free, has been found within Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and is currently being studied and preserved. As a result, an information center has been created just outside the refuge. Meanwhile, the state of Maryland has created a self-guided Tubman Byway driving tour, so you can go from site to site associated with her and with the underground railroad.

In an effort to shake off lockdown fever, Marianne and I made an overnight jaunt to Blackwater to ogle the bald eagles and other avifauna there. We thought we'd also take in the Tubman sites.

We're going to have to make a second trip.

As it turns out, there are a lot of sites to see and to appreciate them, you'd best read a biography and download the supplementary material explaining the stops on the tourist brochure map. But I can comment on two stops.

The second stop we made was the tourist info center. It contains the usual explanatory movie, a lot of bronze statuary, and explanatory graphics which, to be fair, did tell me things I didn't know. But it was just one of those places.

The first stop, though... Bucktown Village Store. Wow. It's a one-room clapboard store, the sort of place you'd zoom past without a second glance because it's obviously not important. But if Tubman's life were a novel, this is where it would begin. The twelve-year-old Harriet was in the store when a slave overseer, chasing a terrified young man, ordered her to grab him.

She did not. 

The overseer, in a rage, picked up a two-pound weight and threw it at the young man. It struck Tubman in the head, knocking her unconscious. This resulted in medical problems for the rest of her life, including epileptic seizures. The next day, she was back in the fields, bloody rag around her herrad.

Let me repeat. She was twelve years old.

In all the rest of her extraordinary life, she always worked for freedom and never for revenge. She was a far better human being than I can ever hope to be.

And . . .

On our way home, Marianne and I stopped for lunch in Denton. In front of the courthouse was an info-sign explaining that in the antebellum, there was a slave market there, where human beings were bought and sold. This would have been unthinkable back when I lived in the South.

The first step to reconciliation is admitting that something happened.

But also . . .

Driving across Maryland, I had to marvel at how little it had changed since Harriet Tubman's time. It's still damnably flat. It still alternates woodlands and farms. It's still a terrifying long trudge to freedom. The drive seemed to last forever. I cannot imagine what her flight felt like.


And finally . . .

The Harriet Tubman Museum of Cape May had to postpone their opening when the pandemic hit. But you can bet I'll be going there just as soon as it's safely opened.



 Above: That's it, the site of the first recorded act of defiance by Harriet Tubman, in all its sun-dusty glory.



Wednesday, May 19, 2021

My Advice for New Writers



New writers ask me for advice all the time. I tell them: Discard the opening pages setting the scene and start where the action begins. Rip out all the adverbs. Rewrite over and over until the story can't be improved upon.

But what they want to hear is: Clutch the manuscript to your heart. Flood it with love. Then send it out. Because it's perfect as it is.


Above: Photo by Mikey Mongol.




Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Mysteries of the Faceless King



Look what came in the mail! The collected Best Short Fiction of Darrell Schweitzer in two volumes from PS Publishing. With cover, end papers, and signature page illustrated by (of course) World Fantasy Award winning artist Jason Van Hollander. Which I received because I wrote the introduction to Volume 1: The Mysteries of the Faceless King.


I am not going to make a sales pitch here, because that's not the way it works. PS Publishing carefully chooses authors they know have a loyal following, and create beautifully-made and well-edited volumes in limited editions. Which then routinely proceed to sell out. That's just the way it is.


But I have to say something. So I'll just give you the very beginning of my intro: 

Once upon a time . . .


None of the stories collected herein begin with those words, though some come close. But they might as well. For Darrell Schweitzer writes a very traditional sort of story. His fiction is almost always fantasy, which is a mode nested deep in the roots of Story; usually horror, a mode as old as nightmares; and very often weird fantasy, a much more recent mode but one that is dear to his heart. Most could have been written a hundred years ago—or, with equal ease, a hundred years in the future. This is not a criticism. Timelessness is precisely what he is after.


 My introduction goes on from there, touching upon various aspect of Darrell's career. To know what I said, you'll have to buy the book. But I can share the single virtue that most contributed to his having a two-volume "Best Of" collection of his fiction: Steadfastness.


When Darrell was first starting out as a writer, there was very little market for weird fiction, which was what he most wanted to write. He wrote it anyway and sold it to magazines most people have never heard of, often for laughably little recompense. Over the decades, he worked as a reviewer, book dealer, interviewer, writing instructor, literary agent, editor, and God knows what else. During which time he surely learned what an uncommercial genre it was he had given his heart to. He wrote it anyway. He never gave up. He never stopped writing what he loved best.


So you wanna know how to get to Carnegie Hall? Stay the course.


Monday, May 3, 2021

An Unexpected Pleasure

a .


I was browsing Locus Magazine's top ten finalists list for the Locus Awards, pausing occasionally to reminiscently admire a work I'd already read when, unexpectedly down in the Best Collection list I came upon my name. 

The Postutopian Adventures of Darger and Surplus is up against some pretty impressive competition To begin, The Best of Elizabeth Bear and The Best of Jeffrey Ford, both from Subterranean and both (I can say this even without having seen either) pretty damn splendid. There's If It Bleeds by Stephen King who, setting aside how amazingly successful his career has been, is a terrific writer at short length. And The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by the astonishing Ken Liu and Nine Bar Blues by the equally astonishing Sheree Renée Thomas. Meg Elison, who is having a moment, is up for Big Girl. And Jane Yolen's latest, The Midnight Circus is in the running too, as I assume Jane Yolen's collections inevitably are whenever they appear.

I know nothing, I confess, about Everyone on the Moon is Essential Personnel (great title!) by Julian K. Jarboe or Analog/Virtual: And Other Simulations of Your Future by Lavanya Lakshminarayan. But, judging by the company they keep, I obviously should.

Short of winning one, this is the greatest pleasure of the whole awards process: going over the lists, reflecting on the works you've read and making mental notes to look up those you have not. If you haven't gone over the short list yet, you can find it on Locus Online here.

And, oh yes: Best of luck to all us nominees! 


Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Gratuitous Sex


For reasons of plot, I just now did a web search and discovered that my single most aphoristic moment has not been preserved online.

 Allow me to correct that. 

Back in the Eighties, when the transgressions of the New Wave were still fresh in everybody's minds, as was the indignation with which the Old Wave greeted them, I was on a panel about sex where somebody from the audience asked me what I felt about gratuitous sex. Conventional wisdom was that sex was okay in a story if it was necessary to the central idea but otherwise not.

"I'm in favor of gratuitous sex," I said. Then, after the briefest of pauses, "And I believe it has its place in fiction as well."

Roars of laughter and applause.

NOT, I assure you, because my bon mot was all that bon. But because in that more innocent age, most of the people in the audience had had sex with one or more new partners within the past day and were hoping to repeat the experience soon.

Anyway... feel free to quote me. I don't expect to be saying anything half so clever anytime soon.