Updating the Bibliography

I updated my bibliography, adding five stories. I am troubled by a sense that there may be more stories that have not come to mind. Most likely not.

The stories I added are dated 2018-2023. So, five stories published in five years. I am a slow writer. Even worse, I procrastinate when it comes time to send work out. When it comes back, as it sometimes does, it takes me a while to send it back out. Sometimes — as with “The Ghost of Hugo Chavez” — I go over the story several times, revising. I think the “Ghost” needs one more go-over. Then I will send it out, and it will almost certainly come back. There isn’t much of a market for stories about the remarkable political leader Hugo Chavez in the afterlife, set during the Covid pandemic, in the aftermath of the George Floyd demonstrations.

New Story

I have a story that just came out in F&SF. I haven’t seen the cover yet. It is about a six-foot tall cat, who stands on his hind legs and dresses in suits and wants to have a dragon.

I’ve been writing a fair amount of nice fiction lately. When I think about it, it makes me uneasy. Shouldn’t I produce something dark with a knife edge? Something suitable to this dark and disturbing era? Then I think, “No.”

From a review (in Amazing Stories) of the new issue of F&SF:

“Our first novelette is, Mr. Catt, by Eleanor Arnason, an endearingly enchanting tale, exploring the depths of a person’s true character when the chips are down and life gets difficult. Yes, we sometimes think of those with an overdeveloped sense of morality and high standards as a bit boring. Well, in Mr. Catt, we see how those qualities hide a deeper resolve: to always try and do the right thing. And how that tenacity can pay off in the most unexpected ways.”

Update: I now have the cover and have posted it.

Here I go again

Due to the self-destruction of Twitter, people are talking about going back to blogs. So here is a try by me.

I suppose I could describe what I have done for the past 2 years. Not much, due to Covid. I’ve spent too much time on facebook, which I enjoy. It’s a great way to keep in touch with people I like in the SF community. I have not done a lot of writing. Much of the time, I have felt written out. Though that feeling seems to be passing. Maybe I do have more to say. I worked on a story today, that may be almost ready to send out…

The other thing I have been doing is reading the news online, which I do not recommend. American politics seem progressively odder and more scary. There is a non-trivial chance that the war in Ukraine may lead to a nuclear exchange. Antonio Gramsci has a famous comment, which keeps occurring to me. “The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.”

A good time to write, maybe…

Writing

Maybe we need to talk about why one writes. For a very few writers, it’s for money, which they actually get from writing, and possibly fame and glory. Why do the rest of us write? I have always told stories. I told stories to my kid brother before I could read and write. Back then, I think I was motivated simply by my love of stories. Over time, I learned more and more about the techniques of writing, and a lot of fiction I used to enjoy became painful to read, because it was badly written. And I became more and more aware of how difficult writing can be. Not always. Sometimes I write stories that rush out and are a pleasure all the way. “Mr. Catt,” for example. Other stories are hard to write. Some I never finish. Or finish years later. When things go well, writing is a lot of fun. More fun than accounting, which is how I made my living for years. I LIKE accounting. As much as writing? No. But writers like to talk about the bad days.

Time for Another Post

Facebook is down nation-wide and maybe worldwide, which leaves me with free time. So here I am.

I’m a slow writer, and I take a lot of breaks from writing. However, in the last year, and especially in the past month of so, I have been getting fiction done. I have two stories out to editors: “Grandmother Troll,” which is based on Icelandic folklore, and “The Ghost of Hugo Chavez,” about a journalist who is assigned to get an interview with Chavez, the former president of Venezuela. This is not entirely easy, since Chavez died in 2013. Fortunately my protagonist has the address of a Marxist Medium and Tarot Reader, who can reach Chavez in the afterlife.

I have run “Ghost” through two writing groups, and they mostly like it, though it’s possible it won’t sell: a story about the George Floyd demonstrations in Minneapolis and Hugo Chavez in the afterlife might be too specialized. I am pretty sure “Grandmother Troll” will sell.

I just finished a science fiction story titled “Valet Parking” and a fantasy titled “Mr. Catt.” Both are kind of weird. I’ve decided at my age I can write what I damn well please and not worry about the rules of writing. I was never good at the rules of writing, in any case.

That’s it. Aside from writing, I have been hiding out from COVID and communicating with the world via Zoom and facebook. I am cautious enough so I’m not assuming the plague is over. Too many people are not vaccinated. The high points of my life right now are going to the Farmers’ Market — which is great at the moment, full of late summer and autumn produce — and the grocery store for things not available at the Farmers’ Market. I’ve managed to get to a couple of museums. Museums do not tend to be crowded, unless there is a special exhibit. You can wander through mostly empty galleries, feeling mostly secure. And the American Swedish Institute has really fine cardamon rolls for sale.

I hope the writing continues. Writing has always been my way of coping with life’s difficulties. My goals (I always have goals, even at my age) are writing, more exercise and healthy eating. Also, a booster shot.

The Current State of the Planet

There are huge floods in China. Siberia is burning, and our skies here in Minnesota are full of smoke from forest fires in Canada. The fires may spread into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota. We are now officially in a drought. The two city governments have told us to water our lawns on alternate days in the evening. Patrick mentioned turning off the tap while brushing teeth. I will have to remember to do this.

One of my pleasures in life is reading about paleontology. One of the things I have learned is how much the climate of Earth has varied over time, and how often changes in temperature have been connected with large scale extinction. A few degrees up or down, and a lot of lifeforms die.

I’m not saying humans will die off, though it’s possible, I suppose. Either there will be radical political and economic changes in society, and a lot of us will survive. Or this society will continue for a while, until it breaks down, and most of us will die.

One of my mistakes in Ring of Swords was having the human population of Earth be nine billion two hundred years from now. It should be much lower, and Earth should be much more damaged than I make it.

I solved the problem of what happens next in my Lydia Duluth stories by having alien AIs show up as human civilization is collapsing and offer humanity the stars, via an alien technology which is too complex or too weird for humans to understand.

This is a grim post. Sorry. On the other hand, humanity makes it through and to the stars in Ring and in the Lydia Duluth stories. That’s cheery.

Write What You Know, Show — Don’t Tell

https://scroll.in/article/999215/decolonising-creative-writing-its-about-not-conforming-to-techniques-of-the-western-canon

The above is pretty good essay about the godawful rules that are taught, or can be taught, in writing programs.

Reading about pruning adjectives and adverbs makes me want to add more of both.

 

 The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne,
 Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold;
 Purple the sails, and so perfumed that
 The winds were lovesick with them; the oars were silver,
 Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made
 The water which they beat to follow faster,
 As amorous of their strokes. For her own person,
 It beggar'd all description: she did lie
 In her pavilion, cloth-of-gold of tissue,
 O'erpicturing that Venus where we see
 The fancy outwork nature: on each side her
 Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids,
 With divers-colour'd fans, whose wind did seem
 To glow the delicate cheeks which they did cool,
 And what they undid did. 

 

Take out all the unnecessary words in the passage above. Then explain why Antony fell in love with Cleopatra…

And read my story “The Grammarian’s Five Daughters,” which is about the importance of nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs AND propositions.

I came to writing on my own via reading folk tales, fairy tales, science fiction, the Icelandic sagas, Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte… “Show , don’t tell” is absolute BS in science fiction, as is “write what you know.” The essay references the Iowa Writers Workshop. The head of the workshop used to fundraise from rich Midwesterners by telling them that American creative writing was a weapon against Communism. (The book MFA vs NYC has an interesting chapter on Iowa.)

Here is a quote from the above essay about the head of the Iowa Writers Workshop, in case you don’t want to read the entire piece:

“I learned that our current methods of teaching craft date back to at least 1936 and the creation of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the first MFA programme, which rose to prominence under Paul Engle, a white Iowan poet, who was invested in ‘Iowa as the home of the free individual, of the poet at peace with democratic capitalism, of the novelist devoted to the contemporary outlines of liberty.’”

I can see how a teacher in India would see these rules as western and colonial. But they are rooted in a specific kind of European and American literature at a specific moment in history… The bourgeois realistic novel of the 19th and 20th centuries… The American struggle against Communism and Socialism after World War Two…

This is the very famous opening of Austen’s most famous novel: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Austen is effing TELLING us.

I should probably stop now, before I get too agitated. I recommend the essay, and I absolutely agree that the rules this poor person learned should be unlearned. Depending on what kind of fiction you want to write, learn from folk tales, fairy tales, myths, science fiction, detective stories, Georgette Heyer romances, the stories written and told all over the world…

Andrea del Sarto

This is from a facebook discussion of craft vs content in writing. The argument was that many readers value content more than craft. It doesn’t really matter to them if a story is poorly written, as long as they like the message.

I wrote:

P.G. Wodehouse is frivolous. I have read him over and over, looking for content of redeeming social importance, and have not found it. But talk about craft! Boy, does that guy write well!

I think we need to add a third quality to content and craft. I just reread the poem “Andrea del Sarto” by Browning — about an artist who was supposed to have perfect skill, but lacked the divine spark, apparently due to his wife. Divine spark sounds corny, but there is something beyond skill. Maybe it’s included in ‘craft.’ The painter Caravaggio had it, along with skill. Passion? Honesty? Truth? It’s not the same as redeeming social (or spiritual) importance. It’s some kind of emotional or aesthetic force. I will also add that “Andrea del Sarto” is a scary poem to read if you are a writer. You think, have I done this? Have I tamped down whatever — passion, feeling, the divine spark — and created a calm, gray art like Browning’s Andrea? That is a deeply disturbing poem.

 Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
 Or what's a heaven for? All is silver-grey,
 Placid and perfect with my art: the worse!
 I know both what I want and what might gain,
 And yet how profitless to know, to sigh
 "Had I been two, another and myself,
 "Our head would have o'erlooked the world!" No doubt.  

Browning could be brutal…

The Surly Capybara and the Friendly Crocodile

I was looking at a photo of a capybara rubbing against a cat, and remembering all the photos of capybaras being mellow around other animals. Often they are lying down with other animals resting around them or on them. Turtles sitting on cabybaras, Ducks sitting on capybaras.

Suddenly I wanted to write a children’s book about a surly, unfriendly capybara. While all the other capybaras are rubbing up against cats and lying down so ducks can sit on them, my capybara walks around grumpily, cursing.

And the capybara will meet a crocodile, who wants to be friendly and loved and have ducks sit on him, but everyone is afraid of him because of his mouth full of sharp teeth. And somehow the two of them will become friends: the surly capybara and the friendly crocodile.

The capybara is named Bernice, and the crocodile is Fred. After they become friends (sort of), Bernice uses Fred to frighten people away. (Don’t bother me, ducks, or the croc will eat you.) Of course Fred finds out and is devastated. He goes off and sinks into a pool of water, with only his eyes and nostrils above the surface, and feels sad and lonely. Of course the capybara realizes that she actually likes and misses Fred. Even a surly cabybara needs at least one friend. She goes to him and apologizes to him. Slowly, grudgingly, Fred forgives her. He comes out of the water, and they lie down side by side, and ducks come and sit on them.

The end.

Discord

I am on an old-fashioned email list elsewhere, and there is discussion about moving the group to Discord. Knowing nothing about Discord, I read an article and was immediately horrified. It was described as having all your friends always around you. Yeeg. I really like the measured quality of a list. It doesn’t demand immediate attention. You don’t have to worry about losing track.

This led me to think about being a writer. I like written words. I like having time to think about them and revise them. If you write, you are likely to be passionate about communication — but not face-to-face communication. A fiction writer speaks through the masks of characters to an audience that is not present. There are a lot of removes here. Obviously, some writers enjoy face-to-face communication and are good at it. I’m not bad. I like doing panels and can enjoy talking to people at cons. But it’s a different experience from sitting alone, preferably in a coffee shop, and writing and rewriting till the scene works.

I miss sitting in coffee shops…

There is, I suppose, a control issue in writing fiction. There is certainly a craft issue. You don’t have this control or craft in the real world. There’s a T.S. Eliot line that is floating just outside my conscious mind. I tracked it down. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. “This is not what I meant at all. That’s not it, at all.” — In fiction and poetry, you can get the lines right.