Monday, June 29, 2020

My Virtual Weekend


I had two virtual events over the weekend. One I saw but did not actively participate in. The other I anticipated in but did not see.

First was the Locus Awards Ceremony. I watched some panels and then the ceremony itself. My novel, The Iron  Dragon's Mother was up for Best Fantasy Novel... and lost. Which happens rather a lot. Marianne got curious and went to Wikipedia, where she found that only Robert Silverberg, Gardner Dozois, and Ellen Datlow have more Locus Award nominations than I do, though many others have more wins. 

So I'm the loser-est. Woot!

Anyway, it was fun. I wore my most colorful shirt (that's it up above) , and I wholeheartedly congratulate all the winners.

Meanwhile, in China, it was Youth Art Week.  So the Future Affairs Administration partnered with the China Academy of Arts to present a forum with the theme "Bits, Genes, Arts, the Future and Past of the Human Mind." Which is, you'll agree, a pretty big theme. For my part, I was asked to do a ten-minute presentation on communicating with human beings a thousand years in the future. So I did, and it came out pretty well.

If you're curious, you can see a video of my presentation here.

Like everyone else, I'm beginning to think this whole coronavirus pandemic thing is pretty boring. So it was pleasant to feel connected, briefly, with friends on the West Coast and in China. I'm grateful for that.

And speaking of Connie Willis . . .

As always, Connie Willis did a wonderful job emceeing. She makes it look effortless. In fact, she did so good a job, I think she should consider taking a leaf from the Romans by having a minion standing by her shoulder while she's entertaining the crowds to occasionally murmur, "Remember you're writer."

Just so she keeps on with the novels and stories.


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Devil's Ways


I'm in print again! My quite charming story "Of Finest Scarlet Was Her Gown" has been reprinted in Devil's Ways, a Dragonwell Publishing anthology assembled by Anna Kashina and J. M. Sidorova. I haven't seen a copy yet, but just look at those names!

Here's what Publishers Weekly had to say about it:

The Devil goes globe-trotting in this eclectic anthology that explores the many guises of the Dark Lord across cultures and ages. Persephone D’Shaun’s shocking “Nzembe” is a twisted tale of zombie-like creatures set in the plains of Africa with an ending some readers will find hard to stomach. An unnamed girl tries to steal back her heart from her winged lover in R.S.A. Garcia’s lyrical “Fire in His Eyes, Blood on His Teeth,” which draws from Caribbean folklore and the legend of Nanny of the Maroons. Feminist themes carry through many of the tales. Imogen Howson’s “Frayed Tapestry,” which follows an amnesiac woman and her manipulative husband, is a bit too on the nose, but elsewhere gender dynamics are handled more gracefully, as in “Of Finest Scarlet Was Her Gown” by Michael Swanwick, in which 15-year-old Su-yin follows her father into hell, where she must endure a series of horrible dates in order to save him from eternal damnation, and in Nancy Kress’s brilliant “Unto the Daughters,” a powerful reimagining of the story of Adam and Eve. Though horror fiends may be disappointed to find little blood-curdling terror, there are very few duds among these wide-ranging tales. Readers are in for a devilish treat. 

That, my friends, is what we call a rave review.

My congratulations to Anna Kashina and J. M. Sidorova for having created what looks to be one splendid book. When it arrives, I plan to put down whatever I'm reading and devoour every word of it, from cover to cover.

Except for my story, of course. I already know how that comes out.

You can find the book on the Dragonwell Publishing page here. Or, you know, have your local independent bookstore order it. Those guys are on the front lines of civilization and we want them still in business when the coronavirus is no more.


Monday, June 15, 2020

Gulliver's Wife... from Dragonstairs!


If there's a silver lining to this coronacloud, it's  that the self-enforced lockdown has led Marianne Porter to work on some interesting publications for Dragonstairs Press.

Case in point: Gulliver's Wife. This is a story I wrote in nine single-page chapters, based on illustrations by W. T. Horton. For it, Marianne has created a hand-sewn, signed, limited edition of 50, most of which will be available for purchase. From her press release:

When Gulliver was lost at sea, his wife did not stay at home, wringing her hands, but went out in search of him. Her voyage to the Moon and back and what she learned in the process are recounted in nine swift chapters, inspired by the Golden Dawn visionary artist, W. H. Horton. 
 Gulliver's Wife will be available for sale at, on Tuesday June 16, 2020 starting at noon, Eastern DST. 

The chapbook will cost, if I recall correctly, $13 domestic and $15 out of country.

Marianne does not take advance orders.

And if this is your sort of thing . . .

You might want to set your phone alarm for noon, if you hope to buy a copy of Gulliver's Wife. The last time Marianne offered a chapbook in an edition of 50 for sale, it sold out in 16 minutes.

She hates it when I tell her I expect this one to sell out even faster. But I do.


Monday, June 8, 2020

Retro-Review: "The Bucket of Blood" by John O'Hara

The Cape Cod Lighter by O'Hara, John

Sometimes I feel out of touch with all the world. Nowhere is this more obvious to me than in my admiration of John O'Hara's short fiction.

In his heyday, O'Hara was known for writing scandalous fiction in which adults had sex with people they were not married to and didn't necessarily like. Worse, he based much of his work on the sins and lives of people he knew. Consequently, for decades, his name was anathema in Pottsville, PA, his hometown. After his death, he was pretty much written off as a sociological writer of upper-middle-class East Coast America. If this makes you feel no obligation whatsoever to read his work... well, you're far from alone.

But then there's "The Bucket of Blood." The story begins as a profile of Jay Detweiler, alcoholic and former carnie, who becomes the owner and proprietor of the eponymous dive bar. It pauses to explain why the bar doesn't deserve that title and give the history of the other bar in town so-named and why it does. In wonderfully granular detail, it explores the interrelationships of the police, the politicians, and the underworld. It examines how a man can run an honest business in a dishonest world. This is a story such as Joseph Mitchell, the author of Up in the Old Hotel, might have written, had he devoted his life to fiction.

(Footnote: If you haven't read Up in the Old Hotel, order it now, via your favorite independent book store and read it as soon as it comes in. You'll thank me.)

This is as small-town a story as it's possible to imagine. Midway through it, Jay reflects, "It amused him to think back over his first year and to realize that in all that time he had lived in an area that was roughly four blocks by three," but in that space O'Hara created a world. One with vivid people--a criminal too stupid to live, an honest-enough crooked cop, a prostitute who has unrealistic ambitions that no honest reader could blame her for--and a small but carefully examined life spent as wisely and well as you and I can hope for our own.

Bob Dylan famously wrote, "to live outside the law, you must be honest." If you're like me, a little voice in the back of your head said, "Oh, yeah? Prove it!" This is John O'Hara's proof, written long before the first word of "Absolutely Sweet Marie" was penned. O'Hara had a reputation as a cold and sardonic writer. But this story has heart. It recognizes the accomplishment and virtue of a man most of us would never acknowledge exists. It grants him the same absolution that we, in our heart of hearts, devoutly pray for ourselves.

Oh, and I just want to say . . .

As a writer, I can look at a story and have a good idea of how much work went into it. Some of O'Hara's fictions, works that anybody would have been proud to write, could have been tossed off in an afternoon. Not this one. It took blood, sweat, and toil.

It was a work of love. And that love was the love of literature.

Which is why I admire this guy so much. Because he deserves it.

Above: I never have known why the collection was called that.


Gene Wolfe and Me

.ReReading Wolfe

I was interviewed recently for the ReReading Wolfe podcast on the subject, obviously enough, of Gene Wolfe. I cannot claim to have been a close friend of Gene's but I am proud of the fact that I was a friend. I first met him in the 1970s, corresponded with him off and on, and I've read pretty much all of his work. So I have opinions about him and, without falling over into the sin of idolatry, they're pretty much all admiring.

James Wynn and Craig Brewer did a great job with the interview. The questions were all spot-on. The answers were... well, I don't listen to my own interviews, so I don't know. Marianne tells me I did fine.

I do remember that I talked about Gene Wolfe's one big contribution to my novel Stations of the Tide, and that I told the story of the time when Carol Emshwiller told me she was in mourning because she'd just finished a novel and all the characters in it, with whom she'd lived so long, were gone. At a very minimum, that one is worth hearing.

You can hear the podcast here. Or go to the podcast site and poke around.


Wednesday, June 3, 2020

What I'm Working On Today


That's it up above--what I'm currently working on. This is all front-burner and middle-burner stuff. There's a lot more on the back burners, much of which will probably never get written.

Even through the fog of the Internet, I can see you doubt me. So I'll do a partial list. All stories but one are incomplete and some are only a few pages:

The small black book and smaller red booklet on the top are notebooks. I'm rarely without a notebook and I use them to jot down ideas and notions.

Loose papers below that: The text for a Dragonstairs Press chapbook, Phases of the Sun and Moon, which I'm currently working on. The blue folder immediately below that contains materials related to that project.

Loose paper sticking out: Notes for "Alice in the Night World." This is the story Marianne believes to be unpublishable. We'll see. It's coming along pretty well.

Tan folder: "Dream Atlas." Currently out on submission. So I'll take a moment off right now to file it. (Done! One of the pages had to be reprinted.)

Blue Folder: "Alice in the Night World."

Pink Folder: A Sherlock Holmes story.

Yellow Folder: Collaboration with a writer begun many years ago, which I'm trying to bing back to life.

Loose page: From an early draft of "Artificial People." Into the waste basket!

Brown accordion file: Research for an unbegun story set in the Permian.

Tan file: Gardner Dozois' brief notes for what became The City of God, our collaborative novel and his last. The book comes out from this August. I'm still trying to figure out what to do with his notes.

Pink folder: "The Last Days of Old Night."

Pink folder: My Mars story. Long, long ago Kim Stanley Robinson imposed an agreement on me (I never actually agreed to it; he did that for me) that I wouldn't write anything set on Mars and he'd leave the Moon to me. Since then he's set fiction on the Moon, so I figure I'm under no obligation to keep his promise.

Loose sheets: "Puck and the Lady," notes toward a story set in Winooski, Vermont, and outtakes from a story based on a concert by Lyric Fest at the Academy of Vocal Arts. Since there were two stories, I"m not sure which one.

Green folder: A Christmas story.

Green folder: "Annie Without Crow." This one is going pretty well, so I'm moving it to the top of the pile.

Tan folder: "Winter's King." I've been working on this for a decade or two, without much progress. But I still think there's something there.

Tan folder: "Coyote in Lublin." A Mongolian Wizard story.

Yellow folder: "Interview With the Robot."

Tan folder: Non-fiction piece. I'm aiming to have it done for 2027.

Green folder: Gulliver's Wife. a sort of mock-up with the illustrations. I just now printed out the final text and filed it. Marianne's Dragonstairs Press will publish the chapbook soon, probably next week.

Pink folder: Another critical essay for Dragonstairs Press, rather like The Third Frankenstein.

Blue folder: "Smoking Gun."  After years of neglect, I picked this up last week, put in a lot of work, improved it immensely, and decided I was not satisfied with the basic premise. Back to the bottom of the heap it goes.

Tan folder: "Venice Rising." Anybody remember Stan Robinson's "Venice Drowned"? When it first appeared, Gardner Dozois suggested I write a story with this title. I've been trying to make it work ever since. It's got some good stuff in it. Haven't given up yet.

Loose papers: The introduction to a book I'm not permitted to tell you about yet.

Blue folder: "A Writing Contest With God." Someday I'll make this notion work.

Tan folder: A major essay I've been meaning to revise and shop around for a couple of decades now.

Pink folder: "Puck and the Lady." I've reunited the loose version above with the one in the folder. I'll see what I can do with them later this afternoon. The opening is really quite nice. But where it goes from there remains a mystery.

Tan folder: A secret.

Tan folder: A Chrismoose Carol. One of many Christmas stories I've told in the past, this one starring the Misinformation Moose.

Blue folder: Research for a story I promised C. C. Finlay years ago when we were both at Launch Pad. Soon, Charles! Soon!

Tan folder: "Three Graces." Text for a story I wrote on an R. Crumb poster and gave away. I labeled the poster "1/2" and someday when I have the time I'll write it out on a second poster I kept for myself and have one of only two copies of the finished work.

Black Baen folder: Script for a table talk on how I wrote "Radio Waves" that I'll get around to filming someday.

Loose: Text for the next Dragonstairs Press Christmas chapbook. Also the text for next Autumn's written-on-leaves story.

Tan folder marked "Misc.": One-page openings to several short stories, including "The Maniac's Coin-Silver Ring, an intriguing title suggesting I once had an idea for the plot which I've completely forgotten.

Tan folder: A complicated and pretty damn cool (if I say so myself) promotional item for a friend's novel that she assures me now will never be finished. I'm trying to figure out a use or market for it.

Tan folder: A project I am not at liberty to tell you about.

Blue folder: "Dreadnought." I finished this story last week but I'm putting it in the pie closet to cool off because I still have worries about it. Marianne and Sean both think it's done, though, and their judgment is usually solid. We'll see.

So there you have it: Far less non-fiction than I usually have on my plate and swarm of uncompleted fiction. I honestly believe that most of it will be written someday. The stuff on the back burner, though? Most of it, probably not.

And to answer the obvious question . . .

This is how I write. Do I recommend that gonnabe writers do this as well? God, no! But this is how I write and I'm stuck with it.

Go thou and do not likewise. Unless, like me, this is the system you're stuck with. In which case, you have my profound sympathy.