Monthly Archives: April 2018

Symphony 132

His memory was there, but it was like a jigsaw puzzle that had been dumped on the floor. A lot of it was just scattered pieces, but large chunks here and there retained their structure. He remembered Lisa’s distress; he remembered talking with Bill about what to do, and arguing with Mrs. Cobb and Jim Pollard.

He remembered the fist coming in and the feel of grating teeth. That was very clear. But the rest of the fight was a complete mystery, and he would have to wait until nearly four to get his answers because Carmen and Bill were both at school.

# # #

When Bill came in, Neil’s first question was, “Where is Carmen?”

Bill laughed, pulled up a chair, and said, “Well, thanks. I guess you are getting better. She had a conference with a parent, but she will be along in a half hour or so.”

Bill reached out and took Neil’s hand, like a father taking the hand of his son. Neil squeezed his fingers. He said, “Where is Lisa?”

“They put her in a foster home. I don’t think she will be there long. Her mother is in counseling, and I think Lisa will be able to go home in a few weeks. With Pollard out of the picture, she will be able to think of her daughter again.”

Neil said, “I don’t have a clear picture of what happened after Pollard broke my jaw. I do seem to remember jumping him and hanging on.”

“I’ll say you did. That was the only thing that saved us. He’s right down the hall now, and when he leaves it will be to head for the county jail.”

“What happened?”

“It was the strangest thing. I was trying to get out the door to go for help when you came back to life, jumped on Pollard and dragged him down. He thrashed around like mad, but you had him in a grip that he couldn’t break.

“That’s when Judy Cobb went crazy. She had been standing there like she didn’t know what to do, but when saw him down, struggling and helpless, she started screaming curses and jumped right on him. She beat him with her fists until he shoved her off, then she hauled back and kicked him as hard as she could right in the crotch. That took the wind out of his sails.”

“She put him in the hospital?” Neil asked in awe.

“Not exactly.” Bill looked embarassed. “What she did, she got his attention and let me get to the next room. I grabbed the fire extinguisher and put a dent in his skull. That’s what put him in the hospital.”

Neil grinned, then cried out in pain. His eyes watered as he got control of himself again. “Don’t do that to me, Bill,” he said, “I’m in no condition to move my mouth.”


“So! You accused me of being a hothead. It seems you still have some steam in your boiler, too.”

“I have to admit that seeing a good friend getting beat up started my adrenaline pumping.”

You never called me that before, Neil thought.

Neil raised his hand and Bill took it without embarrassment. To change the subject, Neil asked, “How are my kids taking it?”

“Fine. Gina Wyatt came back to fill in for you. She says she misses teaching and was glad of an excuse to get back into harness.”

Neil said, “Oh.” He wasn’t sure that he liked a teacher as popular as Gina filling in for him. more tomorrow


Symphony 131


If he tried really hard, Neil could remember the ambulance, and the uniformed officers standing around taking statements; but it was vague, like a memory belonging to someone else, so he let it go.

A doctor said, “Can you feel that?” and Neil was surprised to realize that the pain had gone away. He tried to shake his head, but something was gripping him so tightly that he could not. He was trying to puzzle that out when the darkness came again.

Later he saw a moving grayness, like the unrolling of an unexposed film. Round objects swept into his field of vision from below and disappeared above. When he finally recognized them as electric lights, the grayness came into focus and became a ceiling sliding by above him. He felt the lurching of a gurney and the jar as they stopped. Hands lifted him into a bed, and he tried to say, “Where am I?” It came out as an infant’s shapeless gurgle.

Then the world went away for a century or so.

# # #

Neil was not sure when he wakened. The world was a slow, abstract dance of unrelated patterns for a time, and he could not judge how long that time was. Eventually the blur of light became a window, the swaying blot suspended above him became an I. V. bottle, and the smear of yellow close in at his right side became a blouse, with Carmen wearing it.

When she came swimming into focus, he said, “Blumurf.” She smiled and swept her hand across his forehead in a caress. Neil said, “Whisimulf.”

“I’m sure that makes sense to you, Love, but you are going to have to learn to talk with your mouth wired shut before the rest of us can understand you.”


She leaned over and kissed his forehead. There were tears in her eyes. She said, “You had us worried. You had me worried; the doctors said you were going to be fine.”


“What happened? You were very brave and noble and got the crap beat out of you. Don’t you remember?”

“You ‘ont sunn vry worrd t’me!”

Her mouth quivered and she bit her lip. Tears ran freely down her cheeks as she threw her arms around him. With her face buried in his chest, she whispered, “You’ll never know how scared I was!”

# # #

Things stayed blurry all that day. He knew it was Sunday because someone told him, but he couldn’t fit that into any kind of personal time line. He kept remembering his time of crisis in Oregon. He could remember that it was in his past, but it felt like last week, not a year ago.

If today was Sunday, then tomorrow was Monday and he would have to make up lesson plans for a substitute. He asked for paper and pencil, then sat for five minutes trying to remember what chapter of Macbeth they were studying before he finally remembered that he had been teaching that a year ago and five hundred miles away.

After that he just slept.

He slept until ten o’clock Monday morning, then woke clear headed. He found that his mouth was wired shut; his lunch consisted of mashed bananas and cream of wheat. His memory was there, but it was like a jigsaw puzzle that had been dumped on the floor. more Monday

483. Blogging Calendar

I actually post from six to eight times a week now,
but the disclaimer above was placed into my posts
in November of 2015. I’ll tell you why, below

I recently wrote a post called How to Get Readers for Your Blog. It was mostly for fun. You see, the only post I ever made with Porn in the Permalink got more views than anything I had ever written, even though there wasn’t a naked woman in sight. It cracked me up, and I wanted to talk about it.

I actually don’t know much about getting viewers. Of course, I’ve read every book on the subject. They all lie. That isn’t anything new, however. When I was a new writer in the seventies, I read every book about how to get published. They all lied, too.

I did get published, and I do get viewers — you’re here aren’t you — so I know something, but it’s a tricky world where they keep changing the rules.

I’m going to give you links to my three sparse posts of wisdom, and then I have one more thing to add.

Behind the Curtain

Wordcamp Sacramento

Blogging Hints

Most people who read our blogs are bloggers themselves, and most of them find us initially through Reader. It took me a while to figure that out, and longer to realize that those Reader posts go by fast. Did you look at Reader as your last post hit the airwaves? Go back in an hour and see if you can find it. You may have to scroll down a mile. Those Reader posts just keep on rolling in, and you (I, we) keep sinking out of sight.

You could repost every hour, but the powers-that-be would get very angry at you, and you can’t afford that.

After a couple of months as a new blogger, I realized that all my posts were going out between 7:30 and 8:30 Pacific Time because I am an early bird. Suppose someone lived in Boston. My posts would be reaching his Reader about 11 in the morning. If he/she wasn’t on her/his computer at that time, chances are that person would never find me. What could I do about that?

I went to my spreadsheet and made up a calendar, which I still update and use. Column one was the dates I post, skipping weekends, since I don’t post then. The second column was for the Serial post and the third was for the A Writing Life post. Words don’t do this well, so let me show you:

                    Dec. 14, 2015                 8:45                 8:55

                    Dec. 15, 2015                 9:45                 9:55

                    Dec. 16, 2015               10:45               10:55

                    Dec. 17, 2015               11:45               11:55

It is an artifact of a previous way of doing things that the A Writing Life post always comes ten minutes after the Serial post. The next set of numbers would repeat the hour and move both minute settings forward ten minutes, so that we get.

                    Dec. 18, 2015                  8:55                  9:05

This one worked for me, covering most of the US for most of morning and early afternoon by the time it had cycled through roughly a month. I could add details, but why bother? If you like the idea, you will certainly set up a posting calendar that meets your individual needs.

It looks logical, but can you tell me why more than half of my views come from every country other than the United States? I love it, but that part is a mystery.


UNRELATED, BUT FUN, and it fits into the spirit of this, on April 10, I hit 1000 posts.

Symphony 130

Neil knew he had to do something now to break Pollard’s calm and drive a wedge between him and Judith. “Mrs. Cobb,” he asked, “haven’t you talked with Lisa about all this? She must have come to you.”

“Lisa complains all the time,” Pollard cut in. “You can’t listen to her.”

“I was talking to Mrs. Cobb!”

Pollard’s face darkened. He said, “I can speak for myself, whenever I want to.”

“Yes. So you can. But can she?”

“Judy can talk for herself.”

“So, let her!”

Judith Cobb hunched down and looked miserable. Neil asked again, “Didn’t Lisa complain to you?”

Pollard glowered at her in silence. She shook her head.

Neil swiveled around to Bill Campbell and said, “I think one of us needs to talk to Mrs. Cobb alone.”

“No!” Pollard took her by the shoulder and half dragged her to her feet. 

Pollard was getting desperate. Neil felt his heart sink. This had started as attempted rape; it could end in murder.

“Judy and I just came to get her little girl,” Pollard shouted. “You’re trying to keep her from her own child. That puts you in the wrong. Now give Lisa to us or I’ll call the police.”

Bill Campbell said, “I already have.”

Pollard’s face went dark with rage. He bunched his fists at his sides and he was all but trembling. His powerful chest was straining the fabric of his shirt. Neil stepped between Pollard and Bill Campbell just as Pollard threw a hard right. He didn’t have time to dodge.

Neil felt his jaw move violently sideways with a dull snap, and saw the darkness coming in from the corners of his eyes. Bill’s desk top caught him across the buttocks and he fell, flipping backward like a stunt man in a movie. He landed on his hands and knees on the far side of the desk, swayed, then staggered to his feet again. The world skidded sideways and he fell back to one knee.

He felt hands on his shirt. Pollard jerked him upright, then hurled him backwards to slam into the wall.

This was not the way it was supposed to happen

Neil threw up his hands to ward off another blow to his face, but Pollard shifted and hit him in the stomach. It doubled Neil over, and he hit the floor again, on his knees this time. Pollard’s legs were in front of him, so he threw his arms around them and tried to pull him down. Something hit him hard at the base of the skull and he slid the rest of the way to the floor.

Neil rolled over. The world was a gray blur. He could see a swirl of interacting figures, like a strobe-lit dance, but none of it would come into focus. Bile tickled the back of his throat, and he fought against the need to vomit.

He was leaving Bill to face a raging bull alone. And after him, Pollard would turn on Carmen and Lisa. 


Neil forced himself to his feet again. He could barely support himself. He tried to bring the room into focus and failed.

Failed! How he hated that word.

He concentrated on Pollard, picked his figure out of the swirling mass before him and launched himself toward it. His arms would barely respond, but Neil managed to throw them around Pollard’s chest. He wrapped him up in a death grip and let his weight pull them both down.

He felt consciousness fading and willed his arms to lock, to cling so grimly that death itself would not loosen them. Then he saw the great, gray spiral that led down into blackness, and fell into it. more tomorrow

Symphony 129

Mrs. Cobb blinked back tears and nodded.

Pollard went on, “Mr.  . . . I didn’t get your name?”


“Mr. Campbell, Lisa doesn’t like me. Ever since Mrs. Cobb and I got engaged, she has been doing everything she can to break us up. She told Judy the same story about me trying to seduce her, but there’s nothing to it. Hell, she’s just a baby! I’m real sorry you folks got all caught up in it, but it is a matter between Lisa, her mother, and me.”

“I’m afraid that’s not true any more,” Bill replied. “When she came to us for help, that involved us. We can’t just pretend that it never happened.”

By shifting his position slightly, Neil could see the entrance to the parking lot through Bill’s window. He kept one eye on Pollard and the other looking for the case worker or the sheriff.

“I want to see my daughter,” Mrs. Cobb said suddenly.

Bill shook his head. “Not until the case worker gets here.” He had chosen not to mention the sheriff.

“You can’t keep a woman from her own daughter, man!” Pollard snapped. “Who do you think you are?”

Bill tried to divert him, but Pollard bored on relentlessly. “I don’t know who you think you are, but if you don’t let Lisa’s mother see her right now you are going to have me to deal with.”

Neil snapped, “You mean like Mrs. Cobb has had you to deal with?”

“What does that mean?” 

“Mrs. Cobb,” Neil said, “Mr. Campbell and I both know that your friend has beaten you on more than one occasion, and I suspect that he has beaten Lisa as well. We will know for sure before the night is over. Don’t you think it’s time to admit it, and get help before it’s too late. If you don’t protect your daughter, they may take her away from you.”

Judith Cobb looked stricken. She glanced at Pollard, then looked away quickly. She said, “I’m all right. Nobody beat me and nobody beat Lisa. And nobody tried to rape her.”

Neil could not figure her out. She was afraid of Pollard, of course. But was it the simple fear of a hostage, brought on by his power and his nearness, or was it more complex and twisted? Did she love him? Were her feelings for her daughter tinged with jealousy and resentment?

And where was that damned sheriff?

Pollard shot to his feet, knocking his chair back against the wall. It was a move of calculated violence. No one could say afterwards that he had lost his temper, yet the move had been supremely threatening. Here was a man who had not only sculpted his body, but had also taught himself how to use it skillfully as a tool for intimidation.

Pollard said, “Take us to Lisa now.” There was quiet menace in his voice. Mrs. Cobb had winced when he rose; now she lowered her head. He touched her shoulder and she flinched, then looked up again as steadily as she could.

“Mrs. Cobb,” Bill said, “you don’t have to be afraid. There are agencies which will help you.” He shifted his gaze to Pollard and added, “Starting with the sheriff’s department.”

Neil was so proud of Bill Campbell that he felt like applauding.

Pollard just looked at Bill. Nothing shook him. Before he built himself up, he must have had to learn when to speak and when to keep quiet. It seemed that he had never forgotten that lesson, and it made him doubly dangerous.

Neil had a sudden, sinking feeling. Suppose Jim Pollard stuck to his story.  Suppose Judith Cobb backed him up. Suppose the sheriff and the case worker believed them.

Pollard leaned over Bill Campbell’s desk and said, “I want to see her now. If you don’t take me to her, I’ll just go find her myself.”

He wanted a chance to intimidate Lisa! more tomorrow

482. Where’d Ya Get That Name?

I was writing a short story yesterday, called The Gods of Wind and Air. I knew the main character well enough, had an idea of who he was and what motivated him, and had a fair idea of what he was about to do. I had written the first paragraph and the last paragraph, so I knew where he and I were going together, but I didn’t know his name.

It needed to be reasonably short — five or six letter would be ideal. He was a peasant, with only one name and it didn’t need to be fancy, but it also didn’t need to look like he was an American. No Bill nor Tom nor even Andre need apply.

Usually by this stage in something I’m writing, I know all the main characters’ names, and minor characters are forgettable enough that their names don’t count. I didn’t want to stop the flow of things, so I went postal on the keyboard, firing off a hundred finger strokes at random while moving my hands in twin circles around the keyboard. Three seconds, four at the outside, and I had produced:

;dknclm,v mqrt09gyoweuhb sd; vkjqroifgowduh jnsdp;ogui48o uyecxvKsmvkrpifgvdwslhj merpiogiyfvcoldsjkjvm qp9fgvweujk mpf9gewqsiojksvbpo9irhgbcv anop;s’dkv90q8reudvbq][giu193reuojvbn fe][guy38ewyiush sjnf][5206yu08tr peldgjshdkv[w40efuy 2ieuochn we[]pgf0uhisdujvnmaw]p-0uyhgfovl;d klfop3yion[pqofgijeqhj

Somewhere in that mess would be letter clusters that would fire a spark in the old brain. Sure enough, there was a pel and an an which gave me Pellan, and my troubled peasant had a name.

If you plan to write a normal novel, you will need from dozens to hundreds of names. Sometimes that is easy. When I wrote Jandrax, the stranded colonists were French, three colonies removed from Earth, but still with French names. I went to Homo Hierarchicus, by Louis Dumont. It is a study of Indian caste by a French anthropologist which I had from my college days. Half of the scientists in the bibliography are French. I copied a long list of first names, a long list of last names, and chose at random from each. Then I cross-checked to see that I had not accidentally recreated some famous name — say, Marcel Proust. I did have a Marcel, but I made sure he had a different last name.

When I wrote Symphony in a Minor Key I needed a lot of Anglo and Mexican names. Where I live, that is no problem. I just went to the phone book to get twin, paired lists of first and last names.

Sometimes a reader has no trouble guessing where a writer got a name. In the western novel Flint, the villain is Porter Baldwin. Since Porter and Baldwin were two of the major locomotive manufacturers in that era, and the action revolves around frontier railroads, we have no problem figuring out where Louis L’Amour got PB’s name.

It’s not that easy when you are writing fantasy. I’ve never met anyone named Pellan, for instance. When I wrote my first fantasy novel, I needed names for five sub-lords (as I called them then). I happened to be listening to an early record (stereo, LP, 12 inch vinyl — it was a long time ago) by Ravi Shankar. In the liner notes, he explained the five parts of a raga, giving the Indian names for the movements.

Yes, you guessed it. I later modified them so that it was not so obvious. Just a piece of advice; if you are writing a fantasy about a pair of twins, and you happen to be listening to classical music — don’t name your twins Allegro and Adagio. Someone will notice.

Eventually, I needed so many odd ball names that I had a brainstorm. I bought a Find-a-word. They aren’t so popular anymore, so I will describe — a Find-a-word is a book of full page puzzles where each page is filled with letters in a grid. Your job is to find the words that are listed at the bottom of the page.

I used the Find-a-word to look for letter groupings that weren’t words, but could be in my fantasy world. Brilliant, I thought. In reality, I never found anything useful. Maybe you will have more luck. I offer the notion to you free of charge.

It’s no secret that most of the people who read A Writing Life are, or want to be, writers. If you will please look up and to the left, you will find a button that says Leave a reply.

I know you guys (and gals — and whatever) are out there. I can hear your breathing in the dark. Take five minutes and tell me what you do to find character names. I’m honestly curious.

Symphony 128

They sat quietly discussing options. The clock ticked and the phone remained silent. Bill decided to call the sheriff, but as he was reaching for the phone, they heard the sound of tires on asphalt, and the squeal of brakes. Neil cursed, and Bill snapped, “Listen, you damned hothead, let me do the talking. Don’t screw this up for us.”

Bill sat back at his desk. His face seemed placid, even serene. For the first time in months, Neil really looked at Bill Campbell, and realized that he was an old man. This was not his first crisis; it was not his fiftieth crisis. That experience gave him confidence.

It did not give Neil confidence. A man can get too used to doing only what seems possible, and letting the rest go. He can forget that sometimes it is necessary to reach beyond yourself, to put yourself at risk.

There was a knock at the door and a man put his head around the corner, calling, “Hello. Is anybody here?”

“Come on in,” Bill invited.

Neil got his first look at the boyfriend, and let out a slow breath. The man had once been small; possibly spindly. You could still tell it. He wasn’t more than five feet eight, but every inch of him had been made over by countless hours at the weight machine. His short blond hair was in deliberate boyish disarray and he had a ready grin. Likeable and domineering at the same time. He made you want to stay out of his way, or make friends fast. Neil was only an inch short of six feet himself and of athletic build, but he felt the daunted by such a powerful body.

Bill said, “May I help you?”

“I’ve come to pick up Lisa Cobb.”

“I’m afraid I can’t just let her go off with someone I don’t know. You are . . . ?”

“Of course. I’m Jim Pollard, Lisa’s mother’s fiancee.”

“I see. Well Mr. Pollard, I’m afraid that doesn’t help much, because I don’t know you personally. Please don’t misunderstand. I am only trying to take care of the children I’m responsible for, but I can’t let her go with you on just your say so.”

Pollard’s face grew dark, but he controlled himself and said, “Lisa’s mother is in the car. You know her don’t you?”

He slammed the door behind him without waiting for a reply.

Neil looked at Bill and asked with bitter humor, “Do you have a baseball bat?” Bill waved him to silence. He was dialing the sheriff.

There was a coil of barbed wire in Neil’s stomach as he waited for their return.

The door did not exactly slam open. It was under complete control, and Pollard never let it hit the wall, but he shoved it open with such force that the effect was the same.

Judith Cobb was as tall as Pollard, yet she looked dwarfed beside him. She smiled at Bill and Neil; then the smile became a twitch and disappeared. She could not hold it for more than a few seconds. Pollard had her by the arm. He looked as if he were giving her support; she looked as if she would fall if he let go.

Judith Cobb said, “Jim said that you wouldn’t let Lisa go with him because you didn’t know him. Where is she?”

Bill had made his decision. He motioned them to seats, then said, “She is with one of our other teachers, and I don’t intend to let her go until someone gets here from Child Protective Services. She tells us that Pollard tried to rape her.”

For a moment, Jim Pollard looked as if he would leap to his feet and strike Bill Campbell. Then he did something even more dangerous. He held his temper. He turned to Judith Cobb and said, “See, Judy. Now she is lying to these people. I told you she needed counseling.” more tomorrow

Symphony 127

Bill said, “It could happen that way. We aren’t the police.  We aren’t God. All we can do is what the law lets us do.”

“These kids are our responsibility!”

“Only in a limited sense. When they leave the playground, when they reach their homes, they aren’t ours any more.”

Neil thought, “Like Hell!” He had told Lisa he would make it right. He could not betray her. He could not let her go back into that house. She had been reaching out to him all year with her stories. He had coaxed her on, had led her to trust him, promising to make things right. He could not step back now, no matter what the law had to say.

We teach them love, and trust, and caring, and fair play. We are giving them poor armor for the real world of pain and rejection and betrayal.

The phone rang.

Bill reached for it, hesitated, then picked it up. He listened, winced, and said, “Yes, Mrs. Cobb. She is here. She missed the bus. I didn’t call you because I just found out.”

There was a pause, then he continued, “You don’t need to come in. I’m heading home in a few minutes. I will be glad to drop her off.” A longer pause. “No, it’s no problem. It’s not out of the way.” 

It was a wasted effort. Bill finally said, “All right, Mrs. Cobb. She will be here.” He hung up and told Neil, “She didn’t buy it. I wouldn’t have answered the phone, but it might have been Child Protective Services.”

“Now what?” 

“Now we hope they call before Mrs. Cobb gets here. Let’s go see what Carmen found out.”

In the outer office, Evelyn was putting on her coat.  Bill told her he needed her to stay on to wait for a call. They walked to the quad, knocked on Carmen’s door, and waited. Eventually, she came to open it. Lisa sat slumped in a chair with her back to the door. Carmen whispered, “Can you come back later?”

In a few words, Bill outlined the situation and asked, “Do you have enough to tell us what to do next?”

“Yes. Shoot the bastard if you have to, but don’t let Lisa go back to him.”

“Did he rape her?”

“Not yet, but if she goes home tonight, he probably will. He has been coaxing her for a month, first behind her mothers back and then openly. The mother won’t do anything. According to Lisa, he beats her mother, so maybe she is scared of him. Or maybe she is scared of losing him. I don’t know. Last night, the boyfriend waited until the mother was asleep on some sleeping pills he gave her, and then dragged Lisa into her own bedroom. She waited until he pulled his pants down and then ran while he was too tangled up to chase her. She spent the night at a friend’s house.”


“She didn’t tell me, and I don’t intend to ask.”

Carmen shut the door and went back to Lisa. Neil and Bill walked back to the office, and Bill sent Evelyn home. No call had come in yet from Child Protective Services. Neil cursed them. Bill pointed out that they had a limited staff. It was just bad luck that they had needed someone five minutes after work on a Friday night. As they were arguing, the phone rang. Bill scooped it up eagerly, listened, scowled, said, “Thank you,” and hung up. He said, “The duty worker is on her way. That was the switchboard with the message. I wish she had called directly so I could have talked to her!” more Monday

481. Asimov’s Good Life

I couldn’t sleep last night so I lay awake thinking of an article to write and I’d think and think and cry at the sad parts. I had a wonderful night.
                         Asimov, from It’s Been a Good Life, p. 157

When I was new to reading science fiction in the early sixties, Clarke, Heinlein, and Asimov were everybody’s big three. Bradbury was in the next rank, but not for me. I found him unreadable. Andre Norton was still out in the cold for most people, but she, Clarke, and Heinlein were my personal big three. Asimov didn’t make the cut. I read a few of his novels, didn’t like them, and moved on.

Recently I ran across his summary autobiography, It’s Been a Good Life, edited by Janet Jeppson Asimov. It reminded me that I knew very little about the man, so I took it home.

Asimov has three full autobiographies, and a list of publications that goes on for eighteen closely packed pages. After his death, Janet Asimov published autobigaphical excerpts under the title It’s Been a Good Life. At 238 sprightly pages, 98 percent by Asimov himself, it was just right for someone who wanted to be fair to an author who is an acknowledged master.

Searching my memory and his bibliography, I found that I had read four of his novels: Lucky Starr and the Moons of Jupiter, The Stars Like Dust, and a couple of his early robot novels, each only a few years after they were published. I thought the first two were just adequate and the robot novels were dull. By the time I got to Foundation, I decided to skip it, along with anything else he might write. My local county library was full of science fiction I enjoyed, so why bother with Asimov.

It occurs to me now that might have been an error.

Asimov says (p. 143) The 1950’s [were] the decade of my greatest science-fiction triumphs, [but as] the 1950’s ended, I [ended] most of my involvement with the field. (see below)

From 1960 onward, Asimov wrote everything on every subject. It seemed to me that he had written every third book in the library. I dived into one or another from time to time doing research for my own writing. They were accurate, easy to read, and cursory, which is exactly what they were supposed to be.

When the novel The Gods Themselves came out in 1972 it was his first SF novel in fourteen years. (Not counting one novelization of a movie.) He had gone from SF novels, to non-fiction, then back to SF novels as a more mature writer. That was a biographical arc I couldn’t appreciate when I was first reading him as a teenager, for the simple reason that it had not happened yet. When it did, I had already lost interest. Not trying his new works, given his reputation, was certainly my mistake

By the eighties he was writing SF novels and winning awards once again. In 1989, he wrote Nemesis. He said this about it, “My protagonist was a teenaged girl and I also had two strong adult women characters. I placed considerably more emotion in the novel than was customary for me.” That sounds more my style, since lack of emotion was my complaint about his early work. I think I’ll check it out.

One last note for writers and would-be writers: This book is a treasure trove. I agree with pretty much everything he says about writing, but go read it from a man with far more credentials than I have.


The brackets in the quotation are from Janet Asimov. She uses them to give context and continuity to excerpts which would otherwise be unintelligible. It is competently and smoothly done.


Full disclosure time: After completing this post, I obtained a copy and read the first few pages of Nemesis. Sorry, I still don’t like Asimov’s writing style, but that’s all right. Not everybody likes Shakespeare, either.

Symphony 126


Neil had a sudden vision of Jesse Herrera. He thought, “While I was wasting time on that worthless little son-of-a-bitch, this was happening.” But that was not fair. He had done all he could for Lisa. He had heard her cry for help and had made himself available to her. There was nothing else he could have done until she told her story.

He put Jesse and his anger out of his mind. This was not the time for self-indulgence. Neither anger, nor disgust, nor embarrassment, nor worry for his future had any place in this moment. Now, he could think of no one but Lisa.

First, touch her. Tell her in body language that she has not become strange and foul and soiled by what someone else has done to her. He took both her hands in his and murmured, “Honey, I’m so sorry you had to go through that. We’ll make it right, I promise.”

How? How will I make it right? 

He needed help. If ever there was a time in his life not to be stubborn about getting help, it was now. He pushed back the curtains that he had drawn to give privacy to his room during the sex education session, and looked across to the quad. Carmen was still moving about in her room. He said to Lisa, “Do you think you could talk to Ms. de la Vega as well as to me, since Ms. Kelly isn’t here?”

She could. Neil put his hand around her shoulder. She was trembling. He led her out the door and across into Carmen’s room. Carmen looked up, saw the distress in Lisa’s face, and opened her arms. Lisa pushed off of Neil and ran to her. Carmen went to her knees to hold her closer and looked questioningly over Lisa’s shoulder at Neil. He explained the situation.

Carmen put her face beside Lisa’s streaming face and rocked her gently. Without looking up, she whispered, “Get out. Go to Bill. Tell him what happened and leave this to me.”

Neil stopped only long enough to lock the door on his way out. He found Bill Campbell putting computer readouts into a briefcase in preparation for going home. He explained everything he knew.

Bill sat drumming his fingers on the desk top like a man who wanted to say, “Are you sure?” But he didn’t. He dialed a number and waited, then spoke into the receiver, “Child Protrective Services, please.” There was a long pause while he listened, then he snapped, “Well someone had better be on duty!”  After another pause, he said, “Take this message. We have a female child who is apparently in grave danger of a step-father rape. The step-father is still in the family. We just found out about it. We haven’t contacted the mother and we haven’t been able to verify the incident. We need the duty worker as soon as she gets home.” Then he gave his name and phone number and hung up.

“Switchboard,” Bill said. “The duty person is in transit. We just missed her by five minutes. When she gets home, she will call in and the switchboard will relay the message. But she may stop for groceries and who knows what. It might be an hour or more.”

“What do we do now?”

“That is a good question. The bus should be home by now, so we can expect a call from the mother. I don’t want to talk to Mrs. Cobb until the case worker is here, but I can’t lie to her to stall her off.”

“What can CPS do?”

“That all depends on whether or not they believe Lisa.”

“What do you mean?”

“Children do lie, and they have to consider that”

“Do you mean that we might not be able to help her? After she came to us — trusted us!” more tomorrow