Monday, January 17, 2022

My Encounter With Ron Goulart's Roommate

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Ron Goulart has passed away, alas. I only met the man a few times, but I read about a bajillion of his books. (He was nothing if not prolific, and his works were inevitably entertaining and a fast read.) But I do have a story to share  with you that is almost about him--my encounter with Ron Goulart's college roommate.

Our meeting took place at a chemical and biological warfare conference in Maryland. Skipping over a great deal of interesting  material, at lunch I found myself sharing a table with a number of attendees who introduced themselves by name and affiliation. Dr. John Doe of Fort  Ditrick, Dr. Jane Roe of Johns Hopkins, and so on. They were baffled when I gave my affiliation as SFWA. As it turned out, there was one other freelance writer at the table, a journalist,so we of course began talking shop.

"Have you ever heard of a writer named Ron Goulart?" he asked.

"I love his stuff!" I replied.

"Well, we were roommates in college," the man said. "I don't know if you've read his Jose Silvera stories?" (Jose Silvera is a two-fisted freelance writer who can write 40,000 words on any topic overnight but has to rappel down skyscrapers and break into his editor's office with flash grenades to get what he's owed. The stories featuring him are among Goulart's funniest.) "After graduation, we both went to New York City and I'd tell him stories about how difficult it was to get paid for writing assignments. He found my stories greatly amusing and based Silvera on me."

Cool, I thought. 

Then, in the uncanny way these things happen, a couple of weeks later, I ran into Goulart. So I told him I'd met his old college roommate.

"I didn't have a roommate," he said. Then, when I told him about the conversation, "Those stories weren't based on somebody else. They were based on my experiences with editors." He was gently amused, but not at all surprised. These things happen to humorists.

So I'd had lunch with a fictitious character impersonator. Which is a strange experience indeed but one that prepared me, some years later, for the discovery that somebody was impersonating one my characters. But that's another story for another time.

Vaya con Dios, Ron. And if there are any of Jose Silvera's editors out there: Pay up, you cheap bastards!

 

Above: Has there ever been a more appropriate title for a Ron Goulart novel?


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Thursday, January 13, 2022

Introducing . . . Dune!

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Look what came in the mail today! It's the new Centipede Press edition of Frank Herbert's magnum opus Dune.

This is one beautiful book. Boxed, generously illustrated by Mark Molnar, with an afterword by the author's son, Brian Herbert, (even the inside of the slip cover is illustrated!) and more decorative elements than I have the technical terminology to list. And it sold out pretty much the instant it went on sale. 

I have the good fortune to own a copy because I wrote the introduction. That's a big deal for me because Dune was one of my formative books. I can remember staring at it in a grocery store spinner rack (ask your grandmother), trying to decide whether to spend 95 cents on it. That was a lot of money when I was 17!  Almost enough to buy three regular SF paperbacks. On the other hand, it looked like it might be something special.

So I splurged. And I have never regretted that decision.

 



Above, Top: Book, box, and interior of dusk jacket. Above, Bottom: Fold-out map. Pretty nifty, eh?


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Monday, January 10, 2022

Playing Hooky

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Yesterday, I wrote not a word. No fiction. No non-fiction. Nada. Instead, Marianne and I went to Bombay Hook.

Winter birding is a lot more bracing than warm weather birding. Also, there are a lot fewer birds. But the first bird we spotted was a bald eagle, so I have no complaints. We saw great blue herons at regular intervals, which was not surprising, but also a lot albas, which was. Aren't they supposed to be in North Carolina by now?

Highlights of our day include a blue winged teal, buffleheads, a red-headed merganser, and a harrier hawk--on the ground! I've never seen a harrier on the ground before. They are swift daughters of the wind. 

Pictured above is Shearness Pond, half covered with iceand glimmering with sunglade.

It was a good day. One worth living.


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Wednesday, December 29, 2021

The Legions in Time Anthology!

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Look what came in the mail! Legions in Time is an anthology of science fiction stories in Chinese created by publishing company Shanghai Gaotan Culture Co., Ltd.   

The anthology was named after my story, "Legions in Time," which is within.  I will not pretend that this doesn't delight me. Particularly since Ray Bradbury's classic, "A Sound of Thunder" is published there as well.

(Right here I was tempted to pretend to gloat over one-upping Bradbury. But I won't. Because there are at least twenty people on the Internet today who cannot understand a jape.)

As always, when such a thing happens, I think of the translator and hope they did a good job. I think of the readers and hope they like the story. And then I start daydreaming about China and all the wonderful things I've seen and admirable people I've met.

Then I wonder how "Time criminals of the Dawn Era--listen and obey!" sounds in Chinese?


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Ebook Sales! IN THE DRIFT Today & TALES OF OLD EARTH Sunday!

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 Open Road, publisher of many of my ebooks, has announced two separate one-day sales!

TODAY, December 29, 2021, my first novel IN THE DRIFT is available for $1.99 in the US and Canada. This is via Portalist, I believe. Or you can find it in the Open Road Media catalog here.

And on FRIDAY, December 31, 2021 (New Year's Eve, as if you didn't know), my short fiction collection TALES OF OLD EARTH goes on sale for $1.99 in the US only. You can find it on my page in the Open Road Media catalog here. But don't go buying it before Friday or you won't get to save a few bucks.

Both sales are one day only, alas.


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Monday, December 27, 2021

Short Fiction Review: "To the Honorable and Esteemed Monsters Under My Bed"

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The year 2021 (C.E. or A.D. according to taste) is almost over. It contained many good things including, most recently, Magister Nicolaus Copernicus, our new Christmas cat, so I will not complain about the pandemic. My New Year's resolution for 2022 is to return to writing the occasional short fiction review. Here, ahead of time, is the first fruit of that glad resolution:

 

“To the Honorable and Esteemed Monsters Under My Bed” by E. A. Bourland, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September/October, 2021.

 

For several reasons, this story ought not to work. The idea that the monsters under a child’s bed are real was done to death long ago. Its diction is decidedly twee and the boy’s voice is not that of an eight-year-old as it purports to be. The fate of the boy’s sister, who has disappeared, drives the plot but is never revealed. Moreover, at the end, the story, which was strongly grounded in a kind of reality, turns meta. Any one of these factors would be enough to sink pretty much any fiction. Plus, it is told in epistolary form, which is an open temptation to any writer to get lazy.

 

Yet work this story does. To begin with, it has considerable charm. Here’s how the first letter opens:

 

To: The honorable and esteemed monsters under my bed

From: Boy

Greetings, Ferocities

 

I dare the impertinence of addressing your toothy conventicle. I hear you down there,     creaking, muttering, grinding your teeth, scrabbling your claws. Your horriblenesses, how you overwhelm me with dread! Indeed, so frightened am I, I dare not lie back in       restful repose, but rather can only sit upright in this bed, one arm extended from the      redoubt of my blanket to compose by moonlight this letter, which I hope you might          spare from your diabolical schedule a moment to consider.

 

Bourland clearly loves words, not indiscriminately but well. The whimsy of the elocution is nicely balanced by the physicality of the sounds of “creaking, muttering, grinding […], scrabbling.” Language like this can accomplish a lot. Immediately, it establishes the character of the boy—his self-assurance, his intelligence, and his lack of fear above all.

 

Under-the-bed monsters are notoriously less clever than they think themselves. So they write back:

 

To: Tasty Little Boy

From: Monsters

Dear Little Boy,

 

Well, now. Good evening. Heh heh heh! We have received your missive and discussed     your    request but must respond in the negative. As monsters, our dedicated mission is to   instill nocturnal dread in children. […] Kindly dangle your eight-year-old toes off the end of the bed to allow us toe-tasties.

 

Back and forth the correspondence goes, with the boy protected by a nightlight and two stuffed animals, one of which has been captured by the monsters. The monsters try to trick the boy into their clutches and he, of course, consistently outwits them. In the course of these exchanges, the reader learns that the boy’s absent father is a space-hero, off on a prolonged mission to save humanity. Also that the boy is pushed around by bullies at school, that his teacher is a petty tyrant, and that the man who has taken the father’s place in the mother’s affections is a “banging-threatening-looming” sort who may be responsible for the sister’s disappearance.

 

Briefly, it is possible to read this story as a war between imagination and reality, with reality having all the power. Happily, this is not the direction the plot takes. Instead, the boy escapes bullies, teachers, and his B-T-L father substitute. Not, however—and this is essential—through trickery but by honoring a difficult pact he has made with the honorable and esteemed creatures under his bed. Because he has made a promise and honored it with a sacrifice, the ending, in which he becomes a genuine hero, feels earned rather than declared by auctorial fiat.

 

It all, mirabile dictu, works perfectly.

 

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Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Parable of the Creche

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Posting this tale is a Christmas tradition with me. Every word of it is true and I share it because... Well, because human beings are difficult and yet, somehow, lovable too. Enjoy!

The Parable of the Creche

When first I came to Roxborough, more than forty years ago, the creche was already a tradition of long standing.  Every year it appeared in Gorgas Park during the Christmas season. It wasn't all that big -- maybe seven feet high at its tip -- and it wasn't very fancy. The figures of Joseph and Mary, the Christ child, and the animals were a couple of feet high, and there were sheets of Plexiglas over the front of the wooden construction to keep people from walking off with them. But there was a painted backdrop of the hills of Bethlehem at night, the floor was strewn was real straw, and it was genuinely loved.

It was a common sight to see people standing before the creche, especially in the evening, admiring it.  Sometimes parents brought their small children to see it for the first time and that was genuinely touching.  It provided a welcome touch of seasonality and community to the park.

Alas, Gorgas Park was publicly owned, and it was only a matter of time before somebody complained that the creche violated the principle of the separation of church and state.  When that complaint finally came, the creche was taken out of the park and put into storage.

People were upset of course. Nobody liked seeing a beloved tradition disappear.  There was a certain amount of muttering and grumbling.

So the kindly people of Leverington Presbyterian Church, located just across the street from the park, stepped in. They adopted the creche and put it up on the yard in front of their church, where it could be seen and enjoyed by all. 

But did this make us happy?  It did not. The creche was simply  not the same, located in front of a church.  It seemed lessened in some strange way, made into a prop for the Presbyterians. You didn’t see people standing before it anymore.

I was in a local tappie shortly after the adoption and heard one of the barflies holding forth on this very subject:
 
The god-damned Christians," he said, "have hijacked Christmas."



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