Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Why Write

From facebook:
I am going to talk more about writing, because it's better than talking about politics. I have a lot more control. I have been mulling and brooding over why I write. I never wrote for money, because I always thought it was a hugely unreliable source of income; and I never wanted to have to rely on publishers. What happens if the publisher wants changes you don't want to make, and you have to pay the rent? What happens if the payments don't come on time, and you need to pay the IRS?

I think I have written for undying fame, though I'm not sure that was ever an serious plan. The trouble is, only a handful of people become famous and even fewer remain famous, and there is no way one can tell whose work will survive or be discovered later. Well, Ben Jonson said that Shakespeare wrote for all time. So sometimes you can tell, if you are Ben Jonson. Even short term -- in your lifetime -- fame can fade, if you ever get it.

30 years ago I told the editor John Douglas that I wanted to be respected by the people in the field I respected. John made a polite, dubious, Canadian noise. I think an evil fairy was listening and gave me exactly what I asked for.

archy the cockroach wrote "expression is the need of my soul." I always remember this quote as "self-expression is the need of my soul."

If you write and spend time in the SFF community you quickly learn that your chances of fame and fortune are not good. So why write? That's the question I ask, as I age and have less energy. I guess I could argue that writing is mental exercise. If you hold a novel and half a dozen short stories in your mind and work on them in your mind, the mind is certainly getting exercise. I know parts of my memory are in really good shape.

Self-expression is important, as archy the cockroach points out. I have always used writing as a way to cope with a world that often confuses and angers me and to make something beautiful and intelligent (I hope) in a world that often seems ugly and stupid. I am talking about the human world here. There are things about the natural world I don't like -- tape worms, parasitic wasps, cancer, horrible infectious diseases -- but they don't bother me the way human folly does.

Love of making stories up. I made up stories before I could read or write and told them to my long-suffering kid brother. They were about a community of squirrels who lived in a grove of oak trees and struggled with evil cats.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Writing a Story a Week

This is from facebook:
I am going to start a discussion of writing a short story a week. How does one do it? Why does one do it?

Do you have the time to write a story a week? If you have kids, a day job, other responsibilities that take your time and energy, maybe not. If you have the free time, it's possible. 1000 words a day for seven days will get you a story. That's doable.

The problem is, how good is the story? And can you do this for 52 weeks? As an exercise, it sounds interesting and maybe worth doing. However, you are likely to write a lot of fiction with flat characters, a sketchy setting and a stereotyped plot. Not to mention a style that is bloated or slippery or both. Good fiction usually requires thinking and revision. Once in a long while I've written a story that seemed handed over by a muse. All I had to do was type and the story came out and was good. But this is very rare.

Why do it? To get yourself in the habit of writing consistently, and because it's practice.

It's a really good idea to NOT beat yourself up if you don't make production in a project like this. .

It strikes me as a saner project than NaNoWriMo. To write a 50,000 novel, which is not really a novel length, you have to do a steady 1,700 words for 30 days, and novels are a lot harder to plot than short stories.

I will add to all this that I am really bad at writing stories to order or as a project. But if I did it more, I might get a lot better.

Lou Harris

I never know whether this kind of thing should be shared on a blog. My uncle Lou Harris has just died. He was the last of his generation in my family and a truly interesting guy. I don't mean Minnesota interesting, I mean interesting interesting. He was John Kennedy's pollster in the 1960 election. I think that was the first election in which a politician used polls seriously. It was certainly an early example. And if he'd been in his prime and doing Clinton's polls, she would have campaigned in Wisconsin.

Patrick just said Lou would not have enjoyed seeing Trump in office. Though he would have -- in his prime -- had a damn interesting analysis of why it happened.

He was almost 96 and in failing heath, so this did not come as a shock. I remember him as a much younger man, holding forth in his living room or arguing politics with my uncle Fritz.

A friend of mine comments there was a time when everyone would have known who Lou Harris was. Yes. For a long while he was THE political pollster. You live long enough and you realize most people fade. It's disturbing, but it happens. My father's art history book continues, but only because Pearson keeps it in print, and less and less of it is his. New co-authors have taken over. I grew up in the shadow of these larger than life people, and they shrank and shrank and were gone.

Sunday, December 18, 2016


I'm replying to a comment by delegar on a previous post:

When discussing politics in art, we should remember of classic feminist slogan: the personal is political.

There is nothing that is not soaked through with ideology and politics. The question is, do you know what the politics of your fiction are? If you are not consciously political, then you are repeating the memes of your culture, which are often lies.

On Writing

From facebook:
I like to tell young writers there are three things they must avoid: complexity, ambiguity and irony. All three are bad, but irony is the worst.

Humor is iffy, unless it is done broadly in a story that is obviously humorous. Ha-ha, laugh riot is okay. And there's a good chance you won't be taken seriously unless you write seriously.

Saturday, December 17, 2016


I am using a comment I made elsewhere, in reference to a person who argued that you shouldn't talk about politics on facebook if you were an author, because it would piss readers off and damage your brand. The purpose of social media is to promote your brand...

I wrote: "When I read an essay like this one, I realize I know absolutely nothing about being a writer. I write stories. Editors buy them. If an editor doesn't buy a story, I send it to another editor. Sometimes no one buys the story. That is the sum of my knowledge about writing. All the cool stuff about branding passed me by. I am good at bookkeeping, and I wish I was better re contracts. But marketing is a mystery."

To which I will add: When I encounter a person who self-promotes nonstop, I tend to edge away. They come across as a narcissist or clueless or -- worst of all to a Minnesotan -- someone who is bragging.

Announcements of new books out are, of course, okay. Descriptions of writing techniques and problems are interesting. (I can only write with a quill pen, while hanging from a chandelier.) (That isn't me, by the way. I write sitting in a chair, usually with a computer, though sometimes with a ballpoint or rollerball.)

Discussions of the business of writing and publishing are also interesting, if I think the people involved know what they are talking about.

It's the sense that I am the target of marketing that bothers me. If I want ads, I will turn off all the ad blockers...

Thursday, December 01, 2016


I swear to God that I just heard Bob Christianson on MPR announce a piece as "Elmer Fudd sings Gershwin." It struck me as odd that anyone would have recorded such an album and that MPR Classical would play it. The piece was clearly Gershwin, but with no vocal. It turned out it was Joshua Bell plays Gershwin. I need to get my hearing checked.

County by County

From the Washington Post, the election county by county. Notice that Minnesota voted for Trump, except for the Twin Cities Metro Area, the northeast Arrowhead, which is Duluth and the Iron Range, and one southeastern country, which might be Rochester...

We might need a county by county or state by state analysis. The blue in the Dakotas is mostly reservations, I think.

The area around Madison is blue, also Milwaukee. Detroit and Flint are blue. If I am reading correctly, Toledo, Cleveland and Youngstown are blue. So cities, including the old industrial cities, are blue. What does this do to my theory that losing the Great Lakes industrial belt has hurt the Democrats? In need of more research. You can't make bricks without straw.

It's good to remember that the old industrial cities are heavily people of color...

My Uncle Lou is in his 90s. A time like this, I need a damn good pollster, but he isn't anywhere close.

I don't know what to think...


My mood has been lifting. Do I think the current situation is bad? Yes. But I can't remain anxious all the time.

I have a Lydia Duluth story coming out in Clarkesworld in December, and my crooked octopus bookkeeper will come out in F&SF in March.

Now, it's time to move on to not yet finished stories.

The Election

From facebook:
I am trying to think through the election results. What I come back to is the Great Lakes industrial belt, aka the Rust Belt. The Great Lakes used to be lined with iron mines, steel mills, car plants, tire plants, glass plants. You used to be able to predict the economy by car orders, since it was car manufacturing that drove the industries around the Great Lakes. All these plants had been unionized by the CIO in the 1930s. The workers got good wages, and for the most part -- urged by the unions -- they voted Democratic. All the Great Lakes states had rural areas, which were mostly Republican. But the plants and the workers gave the states a good chance of voting Democratic. So what happens when the Great Lakes industrial belt dies, due to outsourcing and automation? And why did the Democrats think they could do without union workers and unions?

Remember that these industrial unions were integrated, and there was large black working class in the cities around the Lakes. The black workers still had to deal with prejudice, which is why the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM) was founded in Detroit in the late 1960s or early 1970s. The history of unionism around the Lakes was a long struggle to overcome racism and form a unified working class. What has happened around the Lakes is not as simple as white racism. It's the gutting of American industry and the breaking of the industrial unions. We know from the example of Germany that it's possible for a modern western nation to preserve its industry and its unions. (Though neoliberalism has taken a toll in Germany.) American business made a decision to destroy the industrial heartland, and the New Democrats were okay with this.

The problem is more complex that I have made it. Trump did best in rural counties. Some of these voters might have been ex-industrial workers. There are -- or were -- plenty of mills and mines in rural areas. But I suspect most were not. The death of small towns, due to big box stores and industrialized agriculture was probably as important. (I'm guessing here. I just don't know.) Yes, voter supression may have been a factor. Yes, racism and sexism were a factor, as seen in the Trump rallies. The FBI intervening in the election probably hurt Clinton. So, a complex of issues. But losing the big industrial cities and the unionized working class can't have helped.(I don't mean Clinton lost the big industrial cities. She didn't. But the cities have been gutted. There is block after block of empty lots in Detroit.)

In the states where the race was close, any one element could have tipped the race.

Do I think the jobs could come back? Yes, but it will require a strong push by the government, and Trump is not likely to do it. We need lots of infrastructure repair, which can't be easily outsourced to Asia, and the government has ways to reward or pressure businesses. For example, Bernie Sanders new bill. "Sanders' legislation, the Outsourcing Prevention Act, would prevent companies sending jobs overseas from receiving federal contracts, tax breaks, or other financial assistance; claw back federal subsidies that outsourcing companies received over the past decade; impose a tax of either 35 percent of the company's profits or an amount that equals the money saved by moving jobs overseas, whichever is higher; and imposing stiff tariffs on executive bonuses like golden parachutes, stock options, and other gratuities."

Time Travel

From facebook:
I am reading Time Travel by James Gleick. According to him, the fascination with time travel is due to fear of death. This is BS. I want time travel because I want to see what living Mesozoic dinosaurs look like, and I want to see the future. I want time travel because it might be a way to visit the stars. It's interesting to think about because of the potential paradoxes and because it challenges the basic rule of cause coming before effect. All in all, it is nifty -- and modern. Gleick begins his book with the H.G. Wells story. Apparently you don't get time travel before you get the modern idea of time and change. It comes after Darwin and Marx. (No question Wells was influenced by Darwin. I have no idea if he was influenced by Marx, but The Time Machine is about class warfare as well as evolution. The Morlocks and the Eloi are certainly "the mutual ruin of the contending classes.")