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.

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...


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.

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.


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


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.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The Pre-War (or Eternal War) World

I have been thinking about writing about what it is like to live in a crumbling empire. Maybe I should, now that the Icelandic volcano is maybe slowing down.

I had a conversation with a couple of other science fiction writers when the Soviet Union collapsed. I pointed out that the US was not that much more stable than the USSR. One of the other writers said, "Absolutely. I give the US three more years."

This is typical of SF writers. We always think things will happen more quickly than they do. Anyway, that was 1991. Now, 23 years later, the US government and empire looks more and more dysfunctional. But it could still continue for decades. There is even (I suspect) some possibility that it could straighten itself out and keep going.

Immanuel Wallerstein, who is worth reading, says no. This crisis cannot be fixed. We are in for 50 years of chaos, as the whole world destabilizes. The question, according to Wallerstein, is -- what comes next? Will we build a better world, or will the bad guys build a worse one?

Right now the "first world" nations, the US and Europe and Japan, are all stuck in economic stagnation, which shows no sign of ending.

The US government seems unable to work on any of the country's problems, though it does manage to do an effective job of suppressing civil liberties.

America is entering another war. I have spent my entire life watching the US fight wars and covert wars. The old goal was to put a "more friendly" and "freedom loving" government in place. Usually this meant a rightwing dictator, such as Pinochet in Chile or the Shah in Iran. The goal these days seems to be to smash nations and create failed states, unable to protect their citizens or their natural resources. We see this in Iraq and Libya.

As climate warming gets worse and as resources become more limited, I expect there will be more wars -- to control oil, minerals, water, maybe land. And there will be civil wars, which the Pentagon appears expect here, among other places. It's the only explanation I can see for giving military equipment to American police departments.

The US should be planning for global warming, repairing old infrastructure, building new windmills, solar energy farms, dikes. Insulating every building in the country, for heaven's sake. Painting roofs white. This is not happening. Instead the money goes into war and policing and to the top 1%, who must be planning to buy themselves a new planet.

Boy, it is hard to write about this stuff. It's painful and angering. I can't imagine the greed and fear and failure of imagination that has gotten us here.

So what do we do?

It seems to me we are dealing with a huge failure of imagination. The people in power in the US and Europe ignore the huge environmental and social problems that the face the planet -- and them, since they are stuck here. SF writers turn to urban fantasy, when we should be talking about redesigning Earth. The time requires something like Kim Stanley Robin's Mars trilogy or Pamela Sargent's Venus trilogy. I'm not the person to write this.

Writing Science Fiction

Charles Stross has posted on why he is shifting away from writing science fiction to writing urban fantasy. I found his reasons interesting, though I don't agree with him. I am trying to work back to something close to science fiction, though I am not sure my crooked bookkeeper octopus is scientific, even though they are amazing creatures. (This is a reference to a current story, which no one needs to understand.)

My take on writing SF is that science and technology are changing so quickly now -- and in so many ways -- that it's difficult to imagine the future. Stross mentions that FTL seems unlikely. Yes, but theoretical physics is in a really strange state right now, and I'm not sure anyone knows what is possible.

I heard Greg Ryman talk about the mundane SF movement a number of years ago. Among the ideas that he dismissed as unreal was nanotechnology, which was happening when I heard Ryman. It's real. Biotechnology is real. Robots are real. We don't know if AI will happen, but lots of people think it's possible.

The other problem with writing SF is climate change, which is happening right now, in the context of a political and economic system that does not seem able to act. How do we write about this? It's real. It's horrifying. It may foreclose our future. I could write really dark, dystopic YA science fiction, but I don't want to.

I am not much interested in urban fantasy or in dystopian YA. We (writers and people in general) need to find a way forward and an idea of what kind of future we want. I would like science fiction to work on this, though it won't be easy.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Literary Gentrification and Cultural Appropriation

This is from a 2010 review of Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue by Hal Parker. I found it in Foz Meadows' blog:
Reappropriating genre literature under the aegis of high culture has become a familiar convention of postmodern literary fiction; really, “literary genre fiction” is arguably a genre of its own at this point. Even more common is the practice of saturating a novel in a given milieu to such a degree that the milieu itself comes to serve as the “brand” of the novel. There, however, lies the rub: While Mr. Chabon is white, much of the milieu providing the “brand” of Telegraph Avenue (soul and jazz music, Blaxploitation films, the Black Panthers, Oakland and its environs) is unmistakably black. What this means is that “literary genre fiction” now runs the risk of becoming a kind of sophisticated “literary gentrification”—a process by which a predominantly black milieu is appropriated by a white novelist as a springboard. Put simply, is the story of “Brokeland,” whatever it may be, really Mr. Chabon’s to tell?
I don't have an opinion on Chabon's book, which I have not read. But I kind of like the term "literary gentrification," especially since I don't have to worry about doing it myself, since I am not a literary writer.

I wrote an essay at Strange Horizons about "Writing What You Don't Know," which is about cultural appropriation, and I don't want to repeat myself, except to say I'm not entirely comfortable with the term cultural appropriation. Per the online Merriam Webster, appropriate means:
1: to take exclusive possession of : annex (no one should appropriate a common benefit)
2: to set apart for or assign to a particular purpose or use (appropriate money for the research program)
3: to take or make use of without authority or right
Meaning # 3 is the one we are talking about here, I think. But humans constantly borrow from one another, and they usually do it without authority or right. Every culture is made up of bits and pieces taken from other cultures; and this is done without respect for trademarks, copyrights or patents, which are all recent concepts, tied to capitalism and the theory that ideas are products that can bought and sold.

I prefer terms such as racism, exoticism, disrespect or ripping off without credit to explain borrowing we don't like.