Monday, September 30, 2019

In Which I Am Interviewed


I was interviewed recently by Jonathan Thornton for The Fantasy Hive. On the whole, a good interview, I think. I have got to teach myself to speak cleanly in these things, though. I'm so used to being able to revise and polish my first drafts that when it comes to demotic speech, I forget that it's "first draft, final draft."

Still, you may find it interesting. Here's a sample.

Well it was 1966, my sister sent home from college a box full of books she was done with, and one was The Fellowship Of The Ring. I picked it up one night after doing my homework, and I read it—I did not sleep a wink that night. And that turned me into a writer. That gave me the determination; I wanted to write that book. Not something like it, I wanted to write that book. It also turned me into a Fantasy reader. I started reading every piece of Fantasy I could find. It took me about two years to read everything that had been published. And at that point, because there was so little else, I started reading science fiction, because it gave a Fantasy-like kick.

If you're interested in the rest of Thornton's interview, you  can read it here.

And today's diagram . . .

Three diagrams today, all in service of creating Chapter 3. I didn't give the chapters titles in the book because I thought they would slow the flow of writing. But all 21 chapters have titles. This chapter's title is The Unicorn Hunters.

The top diagram shows the plot moving from left to right. The stretch limo comes up the allee. I have annotated that the mood is ominous and unhappy. Caitlin arrives at the castle. The servants come out to meet her. Rod appears and there is a squeal, spin, joy. He tells her "Don't single her out" in a whispered aside.  Caitlin meets her mother and, later, Aunt Hempie will appear.

I briefly toyed with the idea of Hempie having had an affair ("if you can call it an affair) with Caitlin's father, but discarded it as unlikely.  I also compared approaching the dowager to a gatherint storm, a thunderclap, and a downpour.

Those odd marks to either side of "Aunt Hempie" are uncertainty marks, by the way, a punctuation mark I created to mean "probably not" or "purportedly" or "a placeholder" or to indicate irony. Ironically enough, Hempie is one of those few characters whose first name stuck.

The second diagram starts with a triangle between Caitlin, her brother Rod, and their mother. Caitlin is also in a triangle with Hempie and a Bad Servant. (The bad servant never materialized, probably because the servants had been glamoured to be invisible to Caitlin) Then the diagram is extended to include Caitlin's Father. The dotted lines indicate that the relationships (or you might call them power dynamics) have not yet been defined.

To the side, I wrote Think Gormenghast.

Finally, the third diagram shows the relationships between Caitlin's Father, the Dowager, Caitlin, and Hempie. The Dowager and Father have been circled because one is facing a good reincarnation and the other a bad reincarnation. Two eggs is written below because whenever someone high-elven comes close to transcendence, they appear as an egg of light.

To the side, I wrote:

Father loved me.
Not as much as he did me.
Every bit as much.
Did he ever...
What? No! Ick. You're lying.
I liked it. You wouldn't have. That's the difference between us.

This is another possibility I decided against. The ick factor was too high. Also, Fingolfinrhod has an underlying sweetness that would preclude it. At any rate, I couldn't do that to him.

But you have to be willing to consider things that would be terrible mistakes if used. Otherwise, you never know where the boundaries are.


Friday, September 27, 2019

Dreaming of an Old Friend


I had a dream last night. In the morning, I wrote it down:

I dreamed I was in a factory. Looking out the window I saw a bus parked outside, filling up with people. It was extremely crowded, but I saw someone I knew. "Is that--?" I asked.
A voice beside me said, "Hello, Michael." I turned to see and it was Susan Casper and we were both sitting in the bus. She was decades younger than she was at the end, when age and illness had drained most of the joy from her.
We talked a bit, about ordinary things mostly. I asked where the bus was going and Susan smiled in that fond and slightly mocking way of hers and said, "I didn't tell you where I was going when I was alive--what makes you think I'd tell you now?" Mostly, though, we just hugged.
Then the bus was gone and Susan with it. I was standing on the street and living people were all that remained.

When I read this to Marianne, she said, "They were such a big part of our lives." Meaning Susan and Gardner both. As they were to so many others.

And on the diagram front . . .

I should have posted this yesterday, but I either got busy or was lazy and didn't. Mea culpa. 

Anyway, there are two diagrams today. The top one is a plotline/timeline. The loopy line represents Caitlin's path through the novel. The straight line down is Rod's abrupt departure from it. The straight line across is everything he does that we don't get to see directly. And the straight line up is his return to the plot. 

The triangle is much more interesting because in it I'm plotting out the family social dynamics in Castle Sans Merci. M is for Mother and R is for Rod, who hates his mother, as exemplified by his shouting "Mother you whore!" at her. C is for Caitlin and there's an undercurrent (no more) of incest between her and Rod. The relationship between Caitlin and her mother, the Dowager, is left unexplained because it's a big part of what the novel is about.

One of the chief purposes of these diagrams is that in the course of making them, they spin off ideas. By the first, I wrote Rod gives C. clues enough to follow up on though I had no idea what they might be.

By the second, I idly jotted down What supernatural creatures exist in the fields? and that threw off:

"Unicorns used to lay their heads in your lap."
"Yours too."

Which, rather changed, became a reminiscence of Fingolfinrhod's. The bracketed Borrowers became a childhood memory of Caitlin's about an encounter with one of the thumblings that lived in the wainscotting of Chateau Sans Merci.

On the facing page was pasted a picture of Caitlin's brother, along with a long list of possible names that spilled over onto and then up this page, where I decided on Fingolfinrhod. The realization that the name lent itself to multiple pet names was a big factor, I think. Second only to the sound of it.

If you're curious, you can find the page here.


Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Bones of the Earth E-Book Sale -- Saturday Only!


Just in time to give me something to write about in today's blog, I hear from Open Road Media that they're putting the e-book version of my novel Bones of the Earth on sale this Saturday. For one day only, the book will be available for $1.99.  Only in the United States, alas.

Here's what they told me:

Open Road will promote the feature via social media. We hope you can share the deal with your network as well. You can subscribe to the newsletters at the links below so that you will get the direct link to the deal on the day that it appears.

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The Lineup
The Portalist
Murder & Mayhem
A Love So True
The Archive
The Reader

And on the diagram front . . .

This is a very schematic diagram for Chateau Sans Merci and grounds. The castle is at the center. There's a long drive to it. The grounds are surrounded by woods. And it has both a swimming pool and a drowning pool. Neither of these feature in the novel. At this point, all I knew was that it was a posh joint, surrounded by woods, and that Caitlin would have to ask the chauffeur to pull over so she could puke at the sight of it.

Here's what that diagram became: 

Château Sans Merci was situated in the fold of the valley where graceful hills shaped like a giantess’ thighs met in a bosky thicket. Against this verdant backdrop, the dome and orange roof tiles of the château gleamed in the sun. The formal gardens surrounding the manor house, Caitlin knew from experience, swarmed with dragonflies, humblebees, fairies, and wasps. Not far below, the Amberwine emptied into a small artificial lake with a marble shrine to Astarte at the upper end and a decorative mill at the bottom. There was a dock on one side of the lake and a red lacquered moon bridge on the other giving access to a modest wooded island that the family used for picnics and the occasional midnight tryst.

It was the pleasantest aspect imaginable. Caitlin had to blink away tears – not of pleasure – at the sight of it. 

There is a great distance between the diagram and its realization. But the diagram is a necessary first step toward visualizing the great house where Caitlin spent an unhappy childhood.


Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Tuesday's Diagram


Okay, this is a good one. A diagram of the entire novel. I'll ignore the smaller diagrams, which are just workings out of relationships.

The diagram is read from left to right. The central line represents both the plot and the voyage of Caitlin through the novel. The first, level section is Chapter 1 with Helen V. The arrow coming up from below is Caitlin. They merge and then at the very end they part, going their separate ways.

On the line are marked specific events: the fractured leg, the escape, first appearances of Caitlin's brother and mother and, near the end, the appearance of Caitlin's again. Her fate at that point not yet determined. One swirl near the beginning introduces the virginity exam, her fellows, and her lawyer. Also a treacherous C. O. The line marked dragon is to indicate that Caitlin's dragon (or, rather, his shadow imprint, remains a constant presence for most of the novel.

The two swooping, criss-crossing lines represent Rabbit and a second boy, entering and leaving Caitlin's life through the novel ending up with the observation that C. was left with 2 loves & no guidance f / H.

What makes this diagram particularly interesting is that it gets almost everything wrong. At that point, I had been assuming there would be a romance for Caitlin which, in the actual writing, never materialized. (To be fair, she was on the run and didn't have the time for a serious relationship.)  The dragon urned out to be much less of a presence than I had thought it would.  The escape occurred after the introduction of Fingolfinrhod and the Dowager. Most significantly Helen never did become the rusted advisor that I'd thought she would.

Oh, and that treacherous C. O. never showed up.

But I had a goal to aim for! So it didn't matter that my speculations of how to get there were completely wrong. I was writing and progress was being made.


Monday, September 23, 2019

Gardner Dozois' Last Story


I've been meaning to return to short fiction reviewing for some time. So today I make a beginning. If I can find the time, this could become a regular feature on this blog.

Today, I review a story by an old friend.

"Homecoming" by Gardner Dozois
Fantasy & Science Fiction, Sep/Oct 2019
70th Anniversary Issue

Chance plays such a major role in our lives! It was chance that killed Gardner Dozois. He died not of a lingering illness but from a fortuitous disease picked up in a hospital whose staff chanced not to be competent enough to take care of his original complaint in a reasonable lenth of time. So when he wrote "Homecoming," he had no idea how close he was to death.

Nevertheless, it is hard to read this story as anything but his farewell.

The plot is deceptively simple. An old man comes to town. He has none of the symbols or accouterments of a wizard, but he is obviously no ordinary stranger. A young woman whose beloved grandfather is dying begs him to return the old man to health. He tells her he cannot and tries to explain that death is a natural part of living, but she is too young to understand what he is saying. So when he goes to the forest, she follows him and there she sees...

But I won't spoil the story for you. Anyway, one of the chief pleasures of a story by Gardner Dozois is his prose and his voice. Just listen to this sentence:

He went up the steep stairs to his room, his staff banging on the wooden steps as he climbed, like the sound of someone driving nails into a coffin.

Isn't that sweet? Doesn't it make you want to read the story?

Editor C. C. Finlay put "Homecoming" last of all the stories in F&SF's 70th anniversary issue and this position heightens the elegiac quality of the work. By chance, Gardner got the opportunity to say goodbye to all his friends and readers.

And also by chance . . .

My own story, "Ghost Ships" is in the same issue. It is about losing a friend, saying farewell, and acknowledging the transience of all life. It was not written as a farewell to Gardner. But by placing my story immediately before Gardner's, Charles Finlay turned my story into a memorial to the man who was my friend for almost half a century.

Editors are not wizards, of course. But they practice an art very much akin to wizardry.

And speaking of plot diagrams . . .

Two diagrams, actually. The two spheres are Earth and Faerie, the one Oneiric and the other Onomic.   Helen V.'s transport from Earth to Faerie is seen as An invasion, an irruption, an impregnation? Here, I was working out the underlying metaphysics of the worlds in my head. Bu as a happy spinoff of that thought, I came up with four crucial insights into the plot:

Quest to accept death

Quest to liberate mother

Quest to accept mother

Quest to liberate daughter

The plot underpinnings got more complex later on, but that was a good beginning. It's worth mentioning here that Caitlin never does realize she's on those quests. What Helen V. realizes is anybody's guess.

The smaller diagram shows Mother (the first time I acknowledged that in some sense Helen V. was one of Caitlin's mothers) and Daughter coming together. Then a key scene I was working on involving Rabbit and an Other. The supposition that there must be major drawbacks to each. (Yeah, yeah, I know. Plotting 101.) And finally, arrival at the Black Stone, after which, all is epilogue.


Friday, September 20, 2019

Love, Death & Robots at the Emmys


You may remember that some where ago, my story, "Ice Age" was made into a live action/animation hybrid for the Love, Death + Robots Netflix series.

Well, I have just heard from the series creators at Blur Studio that their series has won four Emmys and was nominated for a fifth. "Creating all 18 stories truly took a global village," they wrote in an email to it must be hundreds of people, and congratulated everyone involved.

My personal involvement lies somewhere between minimal and nonexistent here. But they did a beautiful job with my stoy--and the other 17--so I thought I should pass along their happiness.

Congratulations to everyone who did the real work!

You can read all about it here.

And the diagram du Jour . . .

events accelerate

the still moment of self

Everything fled from her: her [something], her hopes, her ambitions, her hopes of

My best guess is hat his is the moment of incursion when Caitlin passes through Hell Gate and everything changes. But it's also pretty clearly a map of the universe as experienced from within the self during an instant of perfect awareness. The green line is labeled Time.

The incoherence of the third line indicates how fast I was scribbling down this insight, hoping to pin it before it faded.

At the bottom of the page, where you can't read it, I later noted (a chimneysweep universe); this was a reference to the Elizabethan word for dandelions.


Thursday, September 19, 2019

Thursday's Diagram


A whole page today! With comments.


*** When will Helen feel compassion for Charlotte?

I think she does by the end of the novel; but I wouldn't swear to it.

[*?? The daughter who knows she has more power than her  Mom]

I don't think Caitlin ever realizes that. In most cases, it's not true anyway.

The top Venn diagram shows All and Nothing with an asterisk footed at the bottom You are here. I'm being playful, obviously, but giving the deep underpinnings some serious thought nonetheless.

The second, punnishly labeled Zen diagram,  shows Earth and Faerie overlapping, the two realms touching, and the two realms separate. 1 and 3 I understand. The question is which of the three relationships is the real one. And that I did figure out by the end.

*What  is Charlotte's nom de fugitive?

This will be obvious as soon as I realize the protagonist's name is not Charlotte but Caitlin.

Faerie is not unchanging -- is it timeless?

Now, having finished hte book, I think that Faerie is not timeless. But I wouldn't swear to it.

The diagrams will get less whimsical as I go deeper into the novel and begin to understand it better. The beginning is always the roughest part. But the significant part is that drawing diagrams forces me to ask questions that need to be addressed.


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 sipped and savored.

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.