Writing

A relative is being taken off a ventilator and almost certain to not survive. So I have been retreating into Old Norse literature (in translation) and have been reading Egill Skallagrimsson’s poem “Sonatorrek,” The Grievous Loss of Sons, which he composed after the deaths of two sons. It is also about the loss of relatives in general. It’s an amazing poem, full of kennings and Egill’s fierce, difficult, grieving personality. He was a terrible man, brutal and violent and avaricious. He starts the poem by saying it’s hard to compose a poem when sobbing heavily and then goes on and composes the poem. Anyway, I ended by writing a poem that riffs off Egill’s poem, and I have to footnote the damn thing, since it has at least one kenning, and a couple of references to Norse myth, also a reference to a theory put forward by an Icelandic volcanologist that the loss of country’s glaciers will result in more eruptions, after the weight of ice is gone from volcanoes.

As for Egill, after he complains that he can’t kill the sea for drowning his favorite son, and says he is giving up entirely on worshiping Odin who has betrayed him, finally ends by saying:

He who does battle
And tackles the hell-wolf
Has given me the craft
That is beyond reproach And the nature That I could reveal Those who plotted against me As my true enemies.

The craft beyond reproach is poetry. I don’t know about the second half of stanza. I think it translates as, Odin gave me wit enough to know my enemies. But Egill was such a difficult person that he was certain to make enemies. They didn’t sneak up on him. Anyway, he is satisfied with the poem, which is considered to be the greatest of skaldic poems, and says he is ready to die. He’s 80 and blind and no longer able to kill people he doesn’t like, so it isn’t as if death will be premature.

 
 

Mr. Catt and Posts

I have not posted anything in a month, so now I am making three posts: on language, on pears and on my writing. I am most of the way through the sequel to “Mr. Catt” and am still uncertain about the story. But that is typical. I will show the story to my two writing groups when I am done, make revisions, then send it out and let editors decide about the story.

Pears

There’s an orchard that shows up at the Farmers’ Market when the apples show up, late August or September. In addition to apples, they sell small, green, hard, crisp pears. I have a sudden need for small, green, hard, crisp pears. I will have to wait.

Kidding

As far as I know, the phrase “kidding on the square” has gone entirely out of use. But it’s so neat and useful. I was teasing Patrick and also being serious. “Kidding on the square” is a perfect description.

I mentioned this to friends, and they didn’t know the phrase. I found it in early 20th century fiction, mostly crime novels. Maybe pulp SF as well.

Mr. Catt

I am writing a sequel to my Mr. Catt story and have reached the point when I despair of it being any good. That usually happens. I push through the despair and continue writing.

Aside from that project, I have to finish revising two almost done stories. And then move on the assembling two collections, one of Lydia Duluth stories and one of miscellaneous stories. I am trying to set up a schedule for writing. Otherwise I procrastinate.

Toward the end of her life Le Guin said she could no longer write fiction. She lacked the energy. I am trying to avoid getting to that point. Right now, the world looks pretty awful to me. Writing fiction is an escape.

Farmers’ Market Report

The Farmers’ Market is back in serious operation. I got kalamata olive bread, craisin wild rice buns, and asparagus. There was lots of asparagus. I had to restrain myself and not buy too much. That was it for my purchases, though there was more bread, eggs, cheese, green onions, herb sets, lettuce sets, flowers and flower plants, tomato plants…

Literary Fiction

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/books/2023/05/12/yellowface-kuang-book-review/

The above link is to a Washington Post review of a ‘literary’ novel by R. F. Kuang.

I checked Kuang’s Wikipedia entry. She has previously published fantasy. I wonder if part of the problem — for this reviewer — is SFF does not focus on character the way ‘literary’ fiction does. Someone trained in SFF may not develop characters to the satisfaction of a literary reviewer. In addition, the reviewer here complains of info dumps, which are often okay in SFF — and necessary and interesting. Though they are less interesting if the dumps are about the contemporary real world. (I am struggling with a dim memory of a story, I think by Lin Carter, which is a parody of Gernsback’s Ralph 24C41+. The protagonist rides a contemporary NY subway, while explaining how the subway works and what a scientific miracle it is. The story is very funny.)

To a considerable extent, SFF is about information: a different society, strange creatures, weird ideas… The people often exist not as complex personalities, but as guides to the environment and the ideas.

And you describe an environment differently if it isn’t real. The reviewer here complains that Kuang doesn’t do a good job of describing the publishing world as it is. I bet Kuang doesn’t know enough about the publishing world. However, accuracy of detail and the conviction that the author has gotten the real world right does not work in SFF. Rather than recording the real world, the SFF writer invents.

I love Jane Smiley’s Moo, because it’s about a Midwestern land grant university. I grew up in a Midwestern land grant university. Smiley is 100% correct (and funny as hell) about department secretaries. But the pleasure of recognition is different from the pleasure of surprise.

Having written that, I remember that much realistic fiction introduces us to new places and societies. Dickens’ London is very different from the American Midwest circa 2000. I think the question of how SFF is different from Dickens is too complex for me right now. And I tend to think of Dickens as SFF. Remember the magalosaurus dragging its way up a London street at the start of Bleak House. The line between the animate and inanimate is often unclear in Dickens. Houses are described in human terms. Humans are described as being like machines. (I can’t remember the name of the guy in one novel who chugs around like a steam tugboat.)

I am going to stop here. I have to go out and buy asparagus at the Farmers’ Market.

Weather

We have had several 80 degree days the past week. Right now it’s 33 degrees with light snow. We are under a winter weather advisory, with 4 inches of snow possible. The weather in Minnesota has always been a bit dramatic, but the early spring heat is new and almost certainly due to global warming. The snow in April is not out of the ordinary.

There used to be a columnist at the Minneapolis paper named Don Morrison. When he got the job in Minnesota, he asked someone who had lived here about the weather. “Well,” the guy replied. “There is a lot of it.”

Spring

The high today was 82 F.

I wore sweat pants, a tee shirt and a cotton shirt over the tee shirt. I felt way overdressed. People were passing me in shorts and sleeveless shirts. The air has a softish spring feeling. The trees are budding. And I am hearing new birds, which trill rather than going chip-chip like English sparrows. I think they are house finches. I saw one clearly. It was about the size and shape of a sparrow, but had a touch of red on its chest.

The high is going down to 54 on Saturday. Therre is a chance of snow showers on Sunday and Monday. Ah, spring!

Con Report

Minicon, the local SFF convention, was this past weekend. I am having trouble getting back to con going after the epidemic, which is still with us. So I only spent five hours there on Saturday. I had two panels and a poetry reading.

I moderated one panel — on humor. I wanted to do the panel because I think of my own work as mostly funny, even the stories where people die. Partly this is my Nordic sense of humor. The Icelandic sagas are full of laugh riot death scenes. And partly — it seems to me — both humor and SFF are about surprise. That shock of “I wasn’t expecting that” can happen in humor and in SFF. (There is humor and SFF that relies on meeting expectations, but I am less interested in this.) Anyway, I was asked to moderate and said yes.

As it turned out, I hadn’t done enough prepping. The panel was unfocused. I have given more thought to humor in SFF since. One thing that the panel did not emphasize: the Brits are masters of SFF humor. Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams, Monty Python, Terry Gilliam — who is actually from Minnesota, but left long ago. We should have mentioned John Sladek, a Midwesterner who spent a lot of time in England. A very funny writer.

The panel also stuck to English language writers. We should have mentioned Stanislaw Lem and Italo Calvino and maybe The Journey to the West, the great Chinese novel which is both fantastic and funny.

And there is more than one kind of humor: parody, satire, slapstick, wit, punning and other forms of wordplay. We didn’t talk about that.

So, not a great panel. Though not a disaster. I figure con panels have a rule of three: one third are okay, one third are good, and one third are disasters.

Then there was a group poetry reading with a tiny audience in a huge room. It was a successor to Lady Poetesses from Hell, which used to draw a good audience. I think changing the name was a mistake. But it is hard to keep the old name when so many of the Lady Poetesses are not with us — passed on, moved out of state and very, very ill. Old age is not fun.

The second panel I was supposed to be on was in the early evening. It was on world building in SF and F. It could have been interesting. But I was feeling tired. So I went home.