It’s glorious out. 41 F. No wind. A bright, clear, intensely blue sky. The snow on the Farmers’ Market roofs is melting, and the falling drops of water shine in the sunlight. I put on a light jacket, but didn’t bother to zip or to take a scarf. Very nice. I got a loaf of craisin walnut flax bread and a loaf of wild rice bread and then came home. Because I slept badly, I plan to spend the day lazing.
I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep. I don’t usually remember dreams, but this time I remembered a fragment of one. I was at a party, in a room full of people. No one was wearing masks. I think I was a teenager at a party of my parents’ friends. A couple were leaving early to go to the opera. People thought they were going to a local performance. I pointed out, in a somewhat obnoxious teenage way, that operas don’t begin at 7:30. Therefore, they must be going to an HD broadcast of the Met, which would begin at 8:30 EST and 7:30 CST. (I think operas usually start at 8, but this was a dream.) That was most of the dream: a party with no masks, an opera performance in a movie theater. The only other thing I remember is there were mosquitos in the room: only a few, but large and with red bodies, full of blood. Since mosquitos carry diseases, I figure they were a warning of plague. Not a nightmare, but strange and possibly unsettling.
1. The thing about sci-fi is simplicity: a plot running like a monorail straight into distance, characters who lack complexity. The hero slays a dragon. Three moons rise, one after another. Lacking a steed, the heroine summons a dragon out of the turbulent sea. 2. A reader says: “I don’t understand. Nothing like that has ever happened to me. “The trains here Mostly run on time. Most days we dine a little after eight. “Little happens here that we cannot with ease anticipate. “Quirks of character are what engage and make me want to turn the page.” 3. None the less the three moons rise, shedding rosy light on a vast plain. An alien wizard with compound eyes pauses briefly to explain how things happen in this place outside ordinary time and space.
Having successfully added two publications or potential publications to this blog, I went and looked at my old blog. It looks pretty shabby compared to this one; and because I have not been paying attention, the comments — 3.6 thousand of them — are mostly spam. I can’t figure out how to delete comments in groups. I will work on that another day. Right now I am pretty happy with being able to add publications with covers here.
And I am happy to have a good looking blog. The amazing pattern on the home page is from a page of marbling hand done by Galen Berry. Years ago I worked for the Minnesota Center of Book Arts. I bought a couple of pages of his wonderful marbling in the MCBA shop and asked him if I could use them in a blog. He said yes, if I credited him. So here is the credit: Galen Berry. If you ever want a marbled cover for a book, he is the guy to go to. https://marbleart.us/
Somewhere along the line, I lost a couple of years. I know what happened to 2020: the plague. I am less sure about 2019. The answer may be Donald Trump, a master of chaos. The unending series of crises on the news may have distracted me from writing and maintaining my website. I am used to the ordinary upsets of modern life, but Trump is special.
The crises he created were both malevolent and nuts. The awful treatment of refugees and immigrants, which is against national and international law; the deliberate wrecking of government departments, including the national parks and the US postal service. (A lot of people love the national parks, and almost everyone loves the post office. It got a 91% approval rating in a poll last year.) The pointless tariff fight with China, which ended up hurting American businesses and farmers. It’s as if he hated the US and its people and was determined to break the country and make its people miserable. I could go on, but everyone knows this stuff.
Through most of my adult life, writing has been my way of coping with the real world: analyzing it, criticizing it, and escaping it. But this time writing did not work. This was not just due to the Trump Administration, though it was four years of one damn thing after another. I think my faith in myself as a writer has been eroding for some time. I’m not sure why. Maybe age and getting tired. I could no longer see the point of writing.
At the same time, I’ve been having trouble reading. A friend of mine, who is a publisher and has to read many book-length manuscripts, gave up social media because she thought the constant jumble of unconnected short messages damaged her ability to concentrate. I think this may be true. I love facebook. Unlike writing fiction, writing for facebook gives immediate feedback. I block people who bother me, so mostly I get likes or friendly comments. What more could a writer ask for? Photos of cats are always welcome. Landscapes are also good. One of my facebook friends takes lovely photos of Minnesota winter woods: bare trees with their shadows lying on unmarked snow. I even like photos of people’s dinners. If the dinner looks especially good I ask for the recipe. Maybe if I spent less time with facebook I could read and write more.
In any case, I seem to have started writing again. It began this spring with writing poems. I have written poetry most of my life, but never a lot of it; and this time I wrote a fair number of poems in a short period. Then — in the fall — I moved on to short stories. I have finished two and am most of the way done with a third. Why the creative juices started flowing in Trump’s last year as president I don’t know.
This is a new post, after years of silence, written in the middle of a plague. What have I been doing during the past year? Staying home, going out wearing a mask, avoiding other people, communicating via facebook and Zoom, getting a little writing done.
I miss hanging out in coffee shops, going to restaurants, seeing friends, seeing the occasional Marvel superhero movie in a movie theater… All the ordinary things…
The day is glorious: a bright blue sky with little puffy clouds like grazing sheep. The fruit trees are blooming. The lilacs are blooming. The tulips are blooming. Plants I can’t identify are blooming. It used to be, before global warming really hit, that spring here was short, with one perfect week in May when everything bloomed. This is that week.
One thing I hate about aging is the deterioration in my typing. The wrong words keep appearing. When I talk I sometimes say the wrong word and often can’t remember the right word. I was at a meeting of people I have known for years recently. They are more or less my age. The entire conversation was full of “what did you say?” — due to decline in hearing — and “I can’t remember the name.” I used to think that Shakespeare was too negative in his — or rather Jacques’ — seven ages of man:
The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Now I am not so sure Jacques was wrong. Of course, he was a jerk and cynic. Here in St. Paul it’s a glum, gray day and I am recovering from oral surgery. I might be more cheerful on another day.
This is April 14, 2018 in St. Paul
I decided to add a few anthologies and magazines with fairly recent short stories to the grid on the home page.
Why are my short stories and short story collections fairly recent, and my novels are not?
A distinguished editor told me in 1994 or 95 that, given the publishing business then, my career as a novelist was dead. I had never liked dealing with the New York houses, and I did like dealing with magazine and anthology editors, who mostly seemed like nice people. (The New York book editors also seemed like nice people, but there were too many screw ups.) So I switched over to writing short stories, novelettes and novellas. I wrote in series: the hwarhath stories, the Lydia Duluth stories, the Big Mama stories. The hwarhath and Big Mama stories have come out in collections, and one Lydia Duluth story — Tomb of the Fathers — has been published as a stand alone. It got way too long and is almost a novel according to Nebula Award rules. I have called Tomb a novel in my bibliography.
Since the early 1990s, publishing has changed a lot. The New York houses have consolidated into — what? four mega firms? — that have lost interest in mid-list authors. As a result, small presses are much more important than they used to be. Self-publishing has become a more or less attractive alternative, now that ebooks can be sold on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. (It used to be you’d end with boxes of self-printed books and no good way to market them. According to a friend of mine, 5,000 paperbacks fit under a standard size ping pong table. She knew, because that’s where she kept her self-published mystery.)
So was I right to switch to short fiction? Maybe not, given that there are really fine independent presses now, and self-publishing no longer requires a ping pong table.
On the plus side, I really like the novelette and novella lengths. They are long enough to have richness and complexity, but not so long that I get tired of writing.