Wednesday, October 29, 2014


It has been a beautiful autumn. Now it's ending. The temps have fallen from the 70s to the high 40s. The trees in the nearby park have mostly lost their leaves, though there are still a few with bright yellow foliage. There is one red tree, a maple, of course; and one tree covered with lovely, rich brown foliage. It's an oak, of course.

I wrote this post last year in November:
This time of year I praise the oaks
That keep their leaves when other trees are bare --
Red, brown, orange, yellow-brown,
Like banners in the cold fall air,

Flaunting their persistence. They won’t give in,
Though snow flies in winter’s icy gust.
Their roots wait deep in the frozen ground
For spring to come, as come it must
A clunky little poem, but I like it, because I like oaks.

Writing the Other, Writing Oneself

I just suggested a panel for next year's Wiscon:
Writing the Other, Writing Oneself.

This is yet another cultural appropriation panel. I want to discuss the issue from the point of view of writers. Can one write about other cultures? How can it be done respectfully? Maybe it would be better and safer to simply not write about people different from oneself, if one is a member of the dominant culture. But this is constraining. One is denying oneself so much. There is also the question of minority members writing about dominant culture. Are there any problems in doing this? It's not cultural appropriation, according to the academic definitions, but it is writing outside one's experience. Is one true to oneself when doing this?
I didn't include another obvious topic: why does one write about the other?

When I was going over my third novel, I realized how much there was about nonwhite cultures: a black magical kingdom based very loosely on West African kingdoms and a group of Anasazi who escape the great drought into another world -- and then are preyed on by dragons. I wanted to write a fantasy that was not the typical faux Tolkien, faux medieval Europe mishmash. This was back in the 1980s. I wrote the novel more or less in a vacuum. No one was talking about cultural appropriation. As far as I remember, no one was complaining that the fantasy worlds were too white. (I'm sure someone was complaining. But not around me.) Now I want to think about the topic of using other cultures.

Having said the above, I now wish I had written more about the black kingdom and Father Lucien Dia, a Catholic priest from Senegal who discovers that he actually a magical creature from another world. And I wish I had done more research.

Monday, October 27, 2014


This is an essay in The Guardian on transrealism, a term made up by Rudy Rucker. It appears to describe a mash up of realism and SFF.

Here is my comment from facebook:
Realistic fiction into which intrudes something weird is a good description of much 1950s SF. Writers like Kornbluth, Tenn and Sturgeon could write painfully realistic slice of life stories with something truly strange in the middle. I remember the story about the property agent who rents the 13th floor of his building -- which floor does not exist, except it does. Sort of.

As the comments in The Guardian point out, we already have the term Slipstream. We also have Interstitial, a term I hate, because I can neither spell nor pronounce it.

I am slowly, grudgingly coming to the realization that SFF is probably not adequate as a term, because the boundaries around SFF are becoming increasingly fuzzy. Maybe Fantastika works.
Or maybe we should stick to SFF and realize that it is imperfect. Many terms are imperfect.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

This and That

More daily life trivia...

Last night was a live broadcast of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. The first half of the program was two short pieces by Charles Ives and a Mozart concerto, all played by pianist Jeremy Denk, a new artistic partner at the SPCO. The second half was the Eroica, which was oddly thin and uninspired. Patrick said, "What are we listening to? We were supposed to be listening to Beethoven." I said, "This is Beethoven." Very strange. But the earlier works were fine.

I was thinking that there's a lot of fine music in the Twin Cities. But, in fact, almost every metro area has an orchestra and most have an opera company.

Also yesterday, I passed through the Farmers Market on my way to a coffee shop and was not able to pass a cheese vendor. I bought a chunk of cheese -- made from Jersey milk, very buttery and pungent -- and asked her about her farm and animals. Her cows are a mix of Jersey, Angus and Highland Scottish. I mean, the individual animals are a mix. I asked what they looked like. The answer was "Varied." The farm also has one Jersey, which I assume produced the cheese I bought.

I am trying to imagine an animal that is a Highland, Angus, Jersey mix. The farmer said the cows produce very rich milk.

Today is running errands. I need more paper and toner, since I still printing out my third novel and proofing it. The first has gone off to Aqueduct Press, with corrections made.

The most interesting part of this project is the afterwords I am planning to write. I want to put the novels in context: what was going on in my life when I wrote them. And I want to give my reaction to them many decades later. And I want to add interesting stories. For example, Patrick found himself in an unsafe neighborhood in Chicago many years ago, with five large, young men surrounding him. They wanted his belongings. It was night and pouring rain and there was no one around except the five young men. So he recited the prayer to the Great Fish in To the Resurrection Station, because it was the only prayer he could think of. A bus appeared out of nowhere and drew up next to him. The door opened. He told the young men, "This is my bus," and climbed on.

A genuine miracle. As far as I know, it's the only time one of my characters has performed a miracle. I told Patrick not to rely on the Great Fish in the future. You get only one miracle from the Fish.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


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


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.