Sunday, August 27, 2023

Red Fox Blue Moon on Sale this Wednesday from Moonrise to Midnight


There will be a blue moon this Wednesday, August 30th, which means that Marianne Porter's nanopress Dragonstairs Press will be selling 69 lovingly crafted and scandalously affordable copies of Red Fox Blue Moon starting at moonrise--and then burning any unsold copies at midnight.

Here's Marianne's press release:

Red Fox Blue Moon is another of Dragonstairs' blue moon projects.  This is a 5 1/2” by 4 1/4” hand-stitched chapbook, numbered, and signed by author Michael Swanwick. 

Roxy first appeared in Little Narnia, the publisher's Roxborough back yard,  in April, 2023. She had nipples like daggers, strongly suggesting that she was eating for a family of youngsters. Always, she came through around 2:30 a.m. Very quickly, the neighborhood's feral cats learned to stay away at that time. This is the story of how she saved the world. Well, her world.

As with Dragonstairs' previous blue moon projects, Red Fox Blue Moon is issued in an edition of 69, available only briefly, during the full, blue, moon.  After that time, all unsold copies, and all other physical relics (drafts, paste-ups, rejected designs) will be burned.  The fire will be recorded and shown on the web.

Sales will span the blue moon, the second full moon in August.  Red Fox Blue Moon will be available August 30, 2023 from 7:48pm (moonrise) to midnight.  Time given is specific to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and is Eastern Daylight Savings Time.  Visit to purchase.

Shipped Domestically, Red Fox Blue Moon, $11

Shipped Internationally, Red Fox Blue Moon, $12

And you may well ask . . .

Why publish on a blue moon? Why 69 copies? Why burn the unsold copies?

Simply put, this is done in emulation of  Tunglið forlag (The Moon's Publishing Company), a Reykjavik publishing house that publishes books in editions of 69 during a full moon--and then burns all copies that don't sell that day.

The complete story can be found here.

Above: Three of the chapbooks with selfie by Roxy, employing a Cabela trailcam.


Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Jack Dann on Alternate History


Look what came in the mail yesterday!

Jack Dann, who lives in Australia where summer is winter and people walk upside-down on their hands, some time back decided to get an advanced degree in literature. God knows why. It's not his job to write academic analysis of other writers. It's academics' job to write academic analysis of his work.

But never mind that.

An offshoot of that quixotic literary enterprise is this book. I haven't read all of it yet. But I did, with the aid of its index, read every bit of it touching upon me.

I'm a modest man, but human nevertheless.

The heart of this book is a long virtual interview Jack did with a number of writers he quite reasonably thought would have worthwhile thoughts about the literature of alternate history.

And so we did. I'm going back immediately after posting this to read Jack's synopsis of the whole. But the richest parts of this fruitcake, it seems to me is in the clash of opinions as to exactly what alternate history is and should be . The opinions are vivid and expressed without self-censorship.   Sometimes the juxtaposition of voices is actively comic. As here: 

Michael Swanwick: Speaking only for my own work, not anybody else's, I feel strongly that the deviance from actual history should be both colorful and comprehensible to the reader. As familiarity with history declines not only in America but around the world, this last becomes increasingly more difficult to achieve.

Harry Turtledove: Thou shalt not bore the reader.


(Although if you have to be one-upped on this particular subject, having it be by the King of Alternate History takes some of the sting out.)

Literary theory is my guilty pleasure. So I'm going to enjoy the heck out of this book. It's possible you will too. You already know which side of this particular fence you're on..



Monday, August 21, 2023

A Quick Visit to See Whistler's Mother

Marianne and I made a quick jaunt to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see James McNeill Whistler's Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1. Better known as Whistler's Mother, it's a painting you normally have to go to the Musée d'Orsay in Paris to see.

And, yeah, it's a great painting. The flatness and stillness of the composition are striking, and it seems to me to be a work that recognizes that abstraction is on its way. The old woman's face--you can see that she's thinking, but there's not the least clue as to her thoughts--makes this a very mysterious work. 

The PMA has made a small and very interesting show of the painting's visit to Philadelphia, its first since the late nineteenth century, by pairing it with paintings and etchings by Cecilia Beaux, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Dox Thrash, Alice Neel, and Sidney Goodman of their mothers (or, in Beaux's case, of her sister, since their mother died when they were young). All were artists with Philadelphia connections and some of them were definitely in dialogue with Whistler's painting. Tanner's painting in particular benefits from seeing how brilliantly he contrasts his portrayal of his own beloved mother with the painting which he definitely saw in person. It's a beautiful and moving painting that you could look at for a long, long time.

But what's most interesting about the show is that all the other portrayals of mothers are portraits, meant to convey a great deal about their subjects' personalities. But not Whistler's. His mother is an element in a composition, much like a bunch of grapes in a still life. In fact, she was a last-minute addition, drafted into the picture when the scheduled model fell ill and couldn't sit for it.

A terrific little one-room show and one I highly recommend if you're in the area. It runs until October 29.

And I wish I knew . . .

 I wonder what the original model, the one who fell ill, was like. Was she as old as Whistler's mother? Or was she a woman in the prime of her life? Whistler was baffled that everyone wanted to know about his mother. But that fact, and the unreadability of her expression, were definitely factors in its popularity. Would the painting be as famous today if the model had showed up? I have no idea.

If you happen to know, I'd be grateful for your posting the information in the comments below.


Monday, August 14, 2023

The Buildings Are Barking: Diane Noomin in Memorium by Bill Griffith


A couple of decades ago, I was in the waiting room of the Jiffi-Lube with the pervasive smell of free coffee and well-fingered copies of Sports Illustrated while my car's oil was being changed when an  ordinary-looking man struck up a conversation. He was a widower and he wanted to talk about his late wife. What a remarkable woman she was. How much she meant to him and they to each other. And, finally, how their time together, over so many years, made life bearable for him now that she was gone.

Then the mechanic came in to tell him his car was ready. He smiled and shrugged and apologized for boring me. Then he was gone, taking his ordinary story with him.

What an extraordinary thing a good marriage can be!

Which brings me to this review of The Buildings Are Barking: Diane Noomin in Memorium by Bill Griffith. Noomin and Griffith were both underground cartoonists back in the day. Griffith is best known for Zippy the Pinhead which, improbably, became a daily newspaper comic strip. Noomin was best known for Didi Glitz, a loud-mouthed, abrasive, transgressive, big-haired, short-skirted portrait of everything the cartoonist ever feared becoming... and yet possessed of a humanity that is hard to deny. I had no idea before picking up this 24-page comic that the two of them were married.

The book is heartfelt.

It is first of all a convincing portrait of grief. It is also a paean to Griffith's wife and an acknowledgement of all she meant to him and to his work. It is a recognition of Noomin's importance as a pioneer feminist cartoonist--and a major one. And it is a prayer by a heartbroken man that he may someday find solace. 

But to me the most moving part of the work is the last panel of page 18 when Griffith is about to write about what his wife was like when they first met... and cannot. He is interrupted by one of his regular characters, Ko-Ko the Clown, who leads him into a final fantasy that closes the book quite nicely. The caption reads: '"She was... um... she was..."

Here I must insist on my authority as a professional writer for most of my life. I read this panel as the author reaching to describe who his wife was, independent of him, and failing. Not because he couldn't put it in words but because if he did those words would go on forever. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent, as Wittgenstein said.

So Griffith cut to the conclusion. As a fellow husband, I have to respect that.

This is a short work, only two dozen pages long. But if a picture is worth a thousand words, then by my count this is something like 140,000 words long. Which is to say, it is a novel.

Oh, and as for what Diane Noomin was like? Griffith's portrait of her on the cover says it all: She was a talented, competent, confident, and attractive woman who knew her husband loved her.

And here, in parvum, is her ordinary/extraordinary story.


Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Remembering the Monday Morning After the Death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.



Moving from Vermont to Virginia at age 17, back in the sixties, was like suddenly being teleported to an alien planet.

My parents had rented a house for a year in Highland Springs, just outside of Richmond, to give them time to search for a permanent home. The day after we moved in, our next-door neighbor—a pleasant young man with a blond buzz cut, a police cadet—moved out and the FBI and the State Troopers promptly showed up to go through the house. He was, it turned out, a violent white supremacist and there were slogans and symbols painted on all the interior walls, and that’s all we ever learned. Friday and Saturday nights, moonshiners of violent repute sold cheap hootch to broken-down alkies in a patch of scrub woods not two blocks away. Some of my new friends paid a visit to a radical rightwing Mom & Pop store and brought back Minuteman stickers and anti-Catholic newspapers for me.

I was a Catholic. It had never occurred to me that there were people who would like nothing better than to kill me for that.

And then there was race.

Back in Winooski High, there were roughly two hundred students. Only two of them were Black because there was only one Black family in Winooski and they only had two kids. Vermont was very white back then. But in Highland Springs High School, there were something like six hundred students. It had just six Black students and those only because the school was under a court order to integrate. Exactly one percent in each case, but for very different reasons.

I never did get to know either of the two Black students in Winooski. They were extremely popular, and it was hard to get anywhere near them. But in Virginia I did become friends with one-sixth of the school’s nonwhite population. His name was Ron and I quite liked him. He was smart, forthright, optimistic, and when the two of us competed for the same summer job at the weather station at the airport, he won. It was a close thing. But he was just a little overall better than me.

Then, on Thursday, April 4th 1968, a gunman named James Earl Ray assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

My friends Daphne and Robert were out bowling that evening, when the news was patched into the intercom system. Everybody but they two cheered. Then one man began to sing God Bless America and all the rest joined in. Robert hustled Daphne outside. She barely made it into the parking lot before throwing up.

Things were pretty solemn at school the next day. All I remember of that, other than Daphne’s story, was that at the end of classes, I casually said, “See you on Monday,” to Ron.

“Oh, I won’t be here Monday,” he said. “I’ll be in jail.”


“All of us are going to riot this weekend. It’s the only thing we can do to make ourselves heard. The police will arrest everyone. So I’m not sure exactly when I’ll be back.”

Ron said that so casually, as if it were the most normal thing in the world.

And when I came back to school on Monday morning, for the first time in my life I was attending an all-white high school.


Above: The image of the old Highland Springs High School building was taken from the Richmond Times-Dispatch. I'm sure the new building is much better integrated than the old one was when I was a senior there.