Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Yesterday

I walked to my second favorite coffee shop yesterday. On the way I came to a rail crossing, with a train stopped on it. Several people, runners mostly, climbed between the cars and went on their way. I decided not to do this. Instead, I sat on a comfortable ledge in the sunlight and paid attention to day -- blue sky, red maples, a tall cottonwood with fluttering yellow leaves -- and took notes for a poem. The train finally moved on.

I tend to rush too much and to spend too much time indoors. It was wonderful to stay in one spot and bask in sunlight.

On the way back, I walked along the river. The trees there were were mostly yellow. The sky, as mentioned, was bright blue. So, a blue and gold day. I finished proofing my second novel at the coffee shop. Today I will start the third. I'm doing this, because Aqueduct Press is planning to bring out ebook versions, which I may or may not have mentioned before.

I'm taking notes for the afterwords I want to write. I liked my first novel and have mixed feelings about the second novel. I kept wanting to rewrite it as I proofed it. But I am not going to do that, and there is something about the novel that is interesting. I can't put my finger on it. Patrick likes it, because Shortpaw the giant mutant rat is based on him.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Trivia

This is from a facebook post. I worry now and then that my posts are too much about myself.
The problem with posting about myself is the endless trivial updates. Terry Bisson described my blog as a description of putting on a jacket. First you put an arm into one sleeve, then...

Terry was not being mean, just noting the obvious. Rereading my old novels, I notice how much they are about the trivia of life: eating, sleeping, using bathrooms, having a cup of coffee, having another cup of coffee... Now and then there is an epic conflict, then a nap. There's far too much drinking in my second novel, which was written in Detroit. Well, Detroit was a hard drinking town.
Of course people assured me that my posts were fine. Anyone who thought they were too trivial kept quiet, as people will.

But I guess I would argue that day-to-day events matter. That's what life is about for most of us. The big things -- love, birth, death, revolution, dramatic personal conflicts or achievements -- do happen, but not most of the time, at least for most Americans. Though more and more of us have to deal with proverty. That tends to be grinding, rather than dramatic.

What constitutes dramatic personal achievement differs. I worked with a guy -- a white guy from a working class background -- whose ambition was to not end in Stillwater State Prison, as all his brothers had. He did it. His life was kind of rough. He was kind of rough. But he stayed out of prison. Could I write a story about that? Maybe not. But someone could. In context, it was a triumph.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Farmers Market

I went to the Farmers Market. We're into the fall produce now: apples. winter squashes, lots and lots of brussels sprouts, which Patrick hates. Also beets, which he also hates. I got parsley, cranberries, carrots, green onions, a butternut squash and a pumpkin. The pumpkin looked a reasonable size outside among larger pumpkins. Now it looks huge. I am going to carve a jack o' lantern, I hope. And make cranberry sauce. And bake the butternut squash.

Fall Colors

We drove down the river yesterday. The day was sunny with a crystalline blue sky, and the colors were pretty darn fine. The river bluffs are covered with forest, mostly hardwood, with a lot of oaks. The oaks are turning yellow, orange, red, red-brown and brown. Here and there are patches of birch and aspen, which are an amazing, bright, pure yellow. It's not easy to bird watch from a moving car, but I did see three hawks and an eagle, also a cluster of white birds too far away to make out. Maybe gulls, maybe swans, maybe pelicans.

Friday, October 17, 2014

On Being an Aging Woman

This is a review of a new book of essays by Ursula K. LeGuin. I need to order it at once, if only for this essay:
I am a man. Now you may think I’ve made some kind of silly mistake about gender, or maybe that I’m trying to fool you, because my first name ends in a, and I own three bras, and I’ve been pregnant five times, and other things like that that you might have noticed, little details. But details don’t matter… I predate the invention of women by decades. Well, if you insist on pedantic accuracy, women have been invented several times in widely varying localities, but the inventors just didn’t know how to sell the product. Their distribution techniques were rudimentary and their market research was nil, and so of course the concept just didn’t get off the ground. Even with a genius behind it an invention has to find its market, and it seemed like for a long time the idea of women just didn’t make it to the bottom line. Models like the Austen and the Brontë were too complicated, and people just laughed at the Suffragette, and the Woolf was way too far ahead of its time...

That’s who I am. I am the generic he, as in, “If anybody needs an abortion he will have to go to another state,” or “A writer knows which side his bread is buttered on.” That’s me, the writer, him. I am a man. Not maybe a first-rate man. I’m perfectly willing to admit that I may be in fact a kind of second-rate or imitation man, a Pretend-a-Him. As a him, I am to a genuine male him as a microwaved fish stick is to a whole grilled Chinook salmon.
I think I understand her. I am younger than LeGuin by 13 years, and that may make a difference. I don't feel quite as much that I am a second-class male. But I certainly remember growing up with society telling me all the things a woman couldn't do, including be a good writer. My mother and her sisters were feminists. My favorite fiction writer was probably Jane Austen. My favorite poet was Emily Dickinson. None the less, the social message was powerful. I can remember being heartbroken sometime in high school, because I wanted to be a poet, and women were not good poets.

As it turned out, I am much more of a fiction writer than a poet, though I still write poetry now and then.

I remember the message that women were second-rate men. I'm not sure I bought it entirely, thanks to my mother and her sisters.

LeGuin also writes about getting old:
Here I am, old, when I wrote this I was sixty years old, “a sixty-year-old smiling public man,” as Yeats said, but then, he was a man. And now I am over seventy. And it’s all my own fault. I get born before they invent women, and I live all these decades trying so hard to be a good man that I forget all about staying young, and so I didn’t. And my tenses get all mixed up. I just am young and then all of a sudden I was sixty and maybe eighty, and what next?

Not a whole lot.

...If I’m no good at pretending to be a man and no good at being young, I might just as well start pretending that I am an old woman. I am not sure that anybody has invented old women yet; but it might be worth trying.
I need to think what messages I have gotten about aging. Not good ones, I imagine. And I need to get the LeGuin book. In fact, I just ordered it.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Iceland Photos

I decided I need more pictures, so here are three photos from the Guide to Iceland website, a good place to go for lovely photos and information on tourism in Iceland. Of course you want to go to Iceland... Look at how cute the horses and puffins are. Look at the vast, bleak, empty landscape of the mountains...

Columbus

Happy Indigenous Peoples Day. The City of Minneapolis just changed the name of day. I hope St. Paul does the same. I don't like Columbus. In any case, Leifr Eiriksson found the Americas long before he did, and there was a Norse settlement in Greenland, just off the coast of North America, for hundred of years. Basque fishermen apparently found the Newfoundland fishery before Columbus found the Bahamas. They must have landed now and then for water or other supplies. So they, like Leifr, beat out Columbus. But they kept the rich fishery secret, for fear of competition.

After Columbus came the Spanish Conquest and a flood of precious metal into Europe, helping to power the rise of capitalism. So, unlike the Viking and Basque discoveries, his discovery changed history -- horribly for the natives of the New World. In honor of the day, here is a poem by Andrew Marvel.
Bermudas

By Andrew Marvell

Where the remote Bermudas ride
In th’ ocean’s bosom unespy’d,
From a small boat, that row’d along,
The list’ning winds receiv’d this song.

What should we do but sing his praise
That led us through the wat’ry maze
Unto an isle so long unknown,
And yet far kinder than our own?
Where he the huge sea-monsters wracks,
That lift the deep upon their backs,
He lands us on a grassy stage,
Safe from the storm’s and prelates’ rage.
He gave us this eternal spring
Which here enamels everything,
And sends the fowls to us in care,
On daily visits through the air.
He hangs in shades the orange bright,
Like golden lamps in a green night;
And does in the pomegranates close
Jewels more rich than Ormus shows.
He makes the figs our mouths to meet
And throws the melons at our feet,
But apples plants of such a price,
No tree could ever bear them twice.
With cedars, chosen by his hand,
From Lebanon, he stores the land,
And makes the hollow seas that roar
Proclaim the ambergris on shore.
He cast (of which we rather boast)
The Gospel’s pearl upon our coast,
And in these rocks for us did frame
A temple, where to sound his name.
Oh let our voice his praise exalt,
Till it arrive at heaven’s vault;
Which thence (perhaps) rebounding, may
Echo beyond the Mexic Bay.

Thus sung they in the English boat
An holy and a cheerful note,
And all the way, to guide their chime,
With falling oars they kept the time.
A lovely poem, but not the reality of conquest.

Lovecraft

Russell Letson wrote a comment on my Morris post, arguing that Lovecraft derives from the 19th century tradition of gothic fiction, which is often dark and horrific, and that this tradition is very important to modern fantasy. Therefore, Lovecraft is important. I think I have his argument right.

My attitude is based on prejudice. I don't like horror. If I do like a story -- "The Mask of the Red Death," for example, which I have been thinking about lately, due to Ebola -- then it isn't horror.

I need to think about whether gothic fiction is about fear of The Other...

I still want the World Fantasy Award to become a Morris chair, containing a dragon or an octopus. If an octopus, the creature should be holding an open book and reading.

Follow Your Passion

I found this article at Daily Kos:
Telling a child, or an adult for that matter, not to follow their passion is wrong, and trying to determine a career path at such a young age is criminal. What kind of society will we become if we stop dreaming? Who will reach for the stars? Who will create the great works of art, the next great American novel? Who will be the next Elvis? Who will figure out the next breakthrough in energy creation? If we don't follow our passions, if we don't dream, we fail as a society.

Following your passion and doing what you love is not about a job, it is really about a life journey. Everyone has different talents, everyone has different passions. Some people were born to write, others were born to weld. But everyone should have the opportunity to discover what they were born to do and then have the ability to chase that dream. They may fail, they may have to change course. But at least they will never look back and wonder, "What if?"
I have mixed feelings about 'follow your passion.' It's comparatively easy to do if you come from a well-off family and can get an education and access to the field you dream of. The more money your family has, the easier it is. It's a lot harder, if you are poor. Sometimes, you don't even know that the thing you love -- or would love -- exists or that it's possible to make a living from it. Poor kids know that it's possible to make money from music and sports. But what else?

Writing is one of those jobs which people dream of. But it's hard to make a living at it. Most of the writers I know have a spouse or partner with a steady job, or a day job of their own, or both. If they are truly free lance, they hustle like crazy. Right now, genre writers are expected to produce two novels a year. (It used to be one novel a year.) And they are expected to do most of their own promotion. A lot of writers are self-publishing their backlist or novels that they weren't able to sell to publishers. So they do the entire job, or hire people to do it: copy edit, design the book, get or make cover art, produce the e-book version, handle marketing and sales.

I guess my response to 'follow your passion' is, do it, but know what you are getting into, and have a plan B if things do not work out. Know how you are going to pay the rent, and have a plan for retirement. The chances that lightning will strike, and you will have a best seller, are not great.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Morris

The question of the World Fantasy Award, which is a bust of H.P. Lovecraft. There are two problems with having Lovecraft as the award. One is, he was apparently a poisonous racist, and hated of the The Other is apparently key to his fiction. (I am relying on other people's opinions. I haven't read Lovecraft for years and don't intend to go back to his work.) The second problem, as I see it, is -- he is not important to the development of modern fantasy. Horror, probably yes. But not fantasy, which derives from 19th century fantastic fiction: gothic fiction, children's fantasies, William Morris, maybe Wagner. I don't want to put Wagner on the World Fantasy Award, because he was a jerk.

William Morris was a white guy, and I would like a bit more diversity. Still and all, Morris was a remarkable person. The award could be called the Morris and could be a cube covered with Morris wallpaper patterns.

Or the award could be a miniature Morris chair, maybe containing a tiny dragon.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Orchid

I got an orchid last Christmas. After it stopped blooming, I kept it, because it still looked green and healthy. Now it has bloomed again, and here it is.

Rambling While the Coffee Brews

This is a post from the Wyrdsmiths' blog, written when I noticed that all the recent posts have been by Lyda Morehouse.
Sheesh. Lyda is carrying this blog by herself at the moment. That isn't fair. I have been pretty good about updating my personal blog. But I've been really bad about doing the Wyrdsmith's blog.

I have a problem: I have spent most of my life in Minnesota. Minnesotans don't brag, which means self-promotion is very difficult. Even giving news is hard, if the news is positive. On the other hand, I don't like giving bad news. Why depress my readers, especially in the time of year when the days shorten and the holidays approach? We should be happy now. The leaves are turning. The days are crisp and clear. The last flowers are blooming. Halloween in coming, followed by Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I need to convince my partner Patrick to drive out into the country, so we can see the ghosts hanging from trees and the leaves in bright orange pumpkin yard bags. And I need to think about buying a pumpkin at the Farmers Market and carving it.

Good news. I started all this by talking about good news and self promotion. Remember to check my column at Strange Horizons. Sometimes I say something interesting. The next column, not yet up, is about the World Fantasy Award. The object itself is a very ugly bust of H.P. Lovecraft. Does it need to be changed?

I have a collection coming out in November from Many Worlds Press. It's fantasy stories based on Icelandic literature and folklore. Trolls! Ghosts! Vikings! Elves! The Devil! Puffins! A gigantic hydroelectric dam!

The title of the collection is Hidden Folk.

The coffee is now brewed and in my cup. I can stop self promoting.
It may not be obvious, but I usually post at Wyrdsmiths when I have a story out or some other kind of good news. I have a fair amount of good news, but of course it's hard to share, due to the Minnesota personality.

Anyway, here are two pieces of good news. I now need to think about the topic of the next essay. Maybe I will write about Charles Stross's decision to move to urban fantasy.