Tag Archives: memoir

499. Triple Tease

Thomas Anderson of Schlock Value has an ongoing love/hate (largely hate) relationship with blurbs. I mostly share his view, but things have changed since the era, mostly the 70s, which he reviews. When Cyan came out, I had the chance to write the blurbs myself. In fact, I was asked to write three blurbs of 10, 25, and 75 words, from which the publisher would choose.

Squeezing a whole novel into twenty-five-words-or-less is an interesting exercise. I decided to try it again on the novel I’m presently writing, Like Clockwork, but with a variation. 10, 25, and 75 is really hard. I’ll wait until the book is finished for that, but I did write short, shorter, and really short candidates.

Here are the results.

=========

The year is 1850. The year is always 1850. Now it is November and a year’s worth of progress toward understanding is in jeopardy. In a few weeks will come Midwinter Midnight, when the Clock that Ate Time will reset, it will be January first once again, and all that has been gained will be lost from memory.

Snap, who helped to build the Clock and regrets his actions; Balfour who was another man in another life; and Hemmings, formerly a computer, who now figures differently — these three, with Pilar, Eve, Lithbeth, Pakrat, and old man Crump are determined to set Time free again. And if they fail . . .

The year will be 1850. The year will be 1850 forever.

119 words

=========

The year is 1850 — again. A year’s worth of progress toward understanding is in jeopardy. In a few weeks it will be Midwinter Midnight, when the Clock that Ate Time will reset, it will be January first once again, and all that has been gained will be lost from memory.

50 words

=========

The year is 1850 in a this alternate London, where time has no hold. There are only a few weeks left to restart the future.

25 words

=========

How’s that for a tease?

Advertisements

496. Bob Dylan, Nobel Laureate

There is something about blogging that I didn’t expect when I started. Since these posts are opinionated, but not totally opinion, I find myself doing research from time to time to keep my facts straight. That means I occasionally learn things I would never otherwise have known.

It’s a major bonus.

I was aware of Bob Dylan’s selection by the Nobel committee, and his reticence regarding the event, but I didn’t know the full outcome. I wanted to make an off-hand comment about it in another post, but didn’t want to make a fool of myself, so I checked out the facts.

The Nobel committee awarded Dylan the prize for literature last October “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

Can a song be true literature? I would say yes, although rarely; about as often as a poem is or a novel is. Does Dylan’s work rise to that level of gravitas. Again, my answer is yes; the only other songwriter who comes to mind who worked at that level was Leonard Cohen. Paul Simon just misses the cut.

Dylan took a very long time replying to the committee, fueling speculation that he would refuse the honor, but he finally complied, and eventually provided his Nobel lecture, which is the only requirement attached to the prize.

His lecture was also my prize for checking out the facts. It is superb. I’ve provided a link below.

The lecture, actually more of a biographical essay, is written in the same intelligent but not over-educated voice that we hear in his songs. This is entirely appropriate; it is pure Dylan. He tells of the early impact of Buddy Holly, and then of American folk, then shifts to a personal analysis of three classic books, Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front, and the Odyssey. He presents their complexity, their unflinching view of the rough truths of life, and the manner in which each makes statements which require the readers engagement. Much in these books is not spelled out and nailed down, just as much in his songs is not. These three books are offered for their influence on Dylan’s work.

I found the essay intelligent and moving, and instead of providing a blow by blow, I recommend that you use the link below to read it for yourselves.

I will only quote one short passage, from near the end:

Our songs are alive in the land of the living. But songs are unlike literature. They’re meant to be sung, not read. The words in Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be acted on the stage. Just as lyrics in songs are meant to be sung, not read on a page. And I hope some of you get the chance to listen to these lyrics the way they were intended to be heard.

I hope you will take the time to read the whole essay. Meanwhile, I think I’ll go dig up some of those old LPs I bought while I was in college during the sixties. He has a rough voice and I don’t like his harmonica playing, but oh, those words!

494. We Can Have Archaic and Eat it Too

Marquart rode into my life on horseback. The day after my epiphany, I had a couple of hours off. I was in the Navy at that time, working as a dental technician in an oral surgery, and we had back-to-back cancellations. I wasn’t a writer yet, just an over-committed reader, but I had written the first chapters of a dozen novels. That was usually as far as I got before the impulse ran out.

I took that two hours to write Marquart and his companion’s entry into the Valley of the Menhir. You can see what it eventually became over in Serial today, but it took a long time to reach that level of sophistication.

When Marquart first rode into the valley, forty-six years ago, he was riding a horse. It was all very medieval because I hadn’t done any world building. All of the religious aspects aspects of the story, enreithment, the relation of souls to bodies, and both to ai — even the existence of ai — were nowhere in my mind. It was just a bunch of soldiers in armor riding horses into a valley populated by deer and dotted with oaks. The only fantasy element was a werewolf. I didn’t even know then that shapeshifters were not native to the world of the menhir, having been brought in through the Weirwood menhir from the world of Lorric by the Shambler. I didn’t even know there was a Shambler, nor any of the other gods that you met during the last two weeks.

After two hours I had a short chapter, and the next customer knocked on the door, ready to have his wisdom teeth extracted. I put the chapter in a drawer. I wasn’t a writer then, and had no intention of becoming one.

Three years later, I decided to give writing a try and got hooked. Two years after that I pulled out that chapter, dusted it off, and started world building.

All this was about the time of the fantasy revival led by Ballantine, and there was no lack of books on how to create fantasy worlds. Purists were arguing that a simply medieval world hardly qualified as fantasy. I could see their point. Although it never kept me from enjoying fantasies that did not rise to that standard, I decided that horses just weren’t going to work for me.

During those Navy years I had lived near the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. On one trip there I had seen okapi, had fallen in love with them, and now added them to the book. That lasted about a week before I realized that I needed a true fantasy creature, not just a real one most people had never heard of, so I created kakais in okapi’s much jazzed-up image. Their heavily sloped backs — much sharper than okapis —  gave me the need and opportunity to design strange saddles which would require unusual practices for troops in the field. They also gave me reason to design a harsh culture for the riders of the plains, the Dzikakai (literally, men of the kakai) who were going to be the perennial enemies of the people of the Inner Kingdom.

Okapi.

Eventually, I populated the world of the menhir with a mix of “normal” and created critters. Besides kakais, I brought in tichan as bovine substitutes, added krytes (described and used for plot purposes)  and jaungifowl to my list of birds, made my bears red, and kept ordinary squirrels and deer.

Plot building, world building, and language building all took place as I wrote successive drafts. I don’t recommend the technique. Not only did it take me decades to finish the project, but I ended up with at least a hundred thousand words of text that had to be cut out as the project grew out of hand. Maybe a few chunks of that will end up in Serial late this year, but most of it will never be read by anyone but me.

Still, I doubt if this particular fantasy could have been written any other way, so I guess I shouldn’t complain. At least that’s what I tell myself.

During all this, I went to Westercon 33 in Los Angeles in 1980. I sat in the audience of a lugubrious discussion of what the magic horses in Lord of the Rings ate, and whether it was Tolkien’s responsibility to tell us. (My answer, unspoken as I gritted my teeth, was, “No, you damned fools, it wasn’t!”)

This was followed by a spirited but deeply nerdy debate on the use of language in fantasy. The language of the Inner Kingdom in VOTM was just beginning to come together for me, so I perked up my ears. The idea of archaic language was floated, and someone said that it should only be used as a spice in regular English. The concept spice morphed into general food terms, and the metaphor had become almost embarrassingly labored when one member of the audience stood up and said:

“Are you trying to tell us that we can have archaic and eat it too?”

I wish I had said that. Maybe sometimes we do try too hard.

493. Lost Classics

I have been cleaning out a house where I used to live. It’s a little like archaeology. This was the house where I wrote some of my early novels, and it is the place I have been keeping the older and less often accessed half of my books. Every place I go in the house, a good memory looks back, and every box of books I open brings a forgotten smile.

I found an old A Common Reader catalog. I wish I had kept all the ones I received in those days, but who knew that A Common Reader would go out of business and make them irreplaceable. I’ll tell you about it in a future post.

One of the odd books I ordered from that odd catalog also turned up, Lost Classics by Michael Ondaatje, Michael Redhill, Esta Spalding, and Linda Spalding. You only need the first name to find it on Amazon, but fair is fair. I quote from the introduction:

A book that we love haunts us forever . . . it is in the act of reading, for many of us, that forged out first link to the world. And so, lost books . . . gnaw at us.

I know the feeling. Although, to be honest, I try not to lose my favorites, which is why it takes two houses to hold my library.

Lost Classics comes from Brick: a literary journal. In 1998, the editors ran a Lost Classics issue, and thereafter they were inundated with additional material from their readers. This was collated into the volume on the desk in front of me. You can still get it from Amazon, even though it came out in 2000.

Seventy-four writers provide short essays on somewhat more than that many lost books. They range from slightly forgotten to seriously obscure, but they all fascinate. Searching the index, I find that when I first read Lost Classics nearly two decades ago, I had already read two, The Highwayman by Phillip Noyes (one of only two which really weren’t lost) and N by E by Rockwell Kent. A couple were on my to-read list, and I made a point of finding and purchasing Islandia by Austin Tappan Wright. On full disclosure, it was too dense to penetrate.

That leaves nearly eighty unaccounted for, and that is the point. These are books you will probably never see, but the joy here is reading what they meant to those who did read them.

These are strange people, but I think they will be familiar to you. I will give you just one example:

I cannot find the book and the two or three people to whom I might have lent it have no memory of it, have never heard of it. But I have a clear memory of a Saturday in the summer of 1990, during the year when I tried to live one month in Dublin followed by one month in Barcelona and managed not to live much at all . . . the book hit me hard. I started reading . . . and I am still recovering, in certain ways, from what I learned.

Which reader was that? Which book? I won’t tell you. You will have to find a copy and seek it out for yourself. If you like old things, or odd things, or obscure things, you owe it to yourself.

491. Menhir Beginnings

What you are going to see in the next few months in Serial is Marquart’s story. It bears the title Banner of the Hawk because the hawk is Marquart’s kladak (personal symbol), but you won’t see him or his banner until the third week.

As I have told too many times, I had an epiphany in 1972, a vision of a young boy in a castle, looking out at a frozen landscape, trapped in other peoples expectations. His father has recently been killed and he is being raised now by relatives who assume that he will grow up to avenge his father and retake his lands.

The boy, Tidac, has other ideas. His memory of his father is of a violent and overbearing presence who drove him to silence. Tidac is relieved that he is gone, and has no desire to spend his youth preparing to avenge him.

Marquart is that father.

I know that doesn’t sound like anyone you want to spend time with, but trust me, Marquart evolved far beyond that original impulse between then and now.

What I will present in Serial is approximately the first quarter of the first novel of a two novel series. I still plan to find a real home for it, so that is all I am willing to commit to a blog. I call it the menhir series or just menhir, but that is not a good name for public use. It implies that there are any number of books, but there are only — and will be only — two. I have told the complete story and there will be no further sequels. There are other novels set in the same world, however.

The story begins with the coming of two Gods from another world. That was covered Monday and Tuesday. Eighty years later, one of the original pair of Gods is about to die at the hands of his son, whom he has seriously mishandled. This sets up a problem concerning Marquart, his brother, his father, and his son, all of whom are still off stage (and Tidac isn’t even born yet). Starting today, that problem gets handled — very  badly — by the remaining goddess and her offspring.

If this seems like a lot of backstory, bear in mind that it is setting up two long novels, not just this excerpt. Also, I refer you to E. E. Smith’s Triplanetary which has the longest backstory in the history of backstories. Comparatively, this is nothing,. I will admit that the way in which the essential background to the world we are going to inhabit is laid out through action, dialog, and foreshadowing, took me forty years to get just right.

Marquart’s story is a tragedy in the Shakespearean sense. That is a type comparison, not a comparison of quality. Marquart is a strong man faced with a situation he does not understand. His enemies are invisible to him. He is beset by personality traits he does not understand, stemming from events that occurred before his birth. He never stops fighting, yet in the end, he becomes his own worst enemy. Even though it is eventually necessary for me to wean the readers’ affection from Marquart and transfer them to his son, I think you will still be sorry to see Marquart go.

At least, if I have done my job correctly, you will be.

Take Me With You

A few days ago the local cattle drive went by. Because it is timely, and the novel excerpt was already in place, I’ll just shoehorn a brief observation in between Cost of Empire posts.

I have mentioned the drive before; it is an institution in the corner of the foothills where I live. Every spring about this time a local cattleman drives a few hundred of his cattle from pastures here in the lower foothills to others higher up the Sierra. Local cowboys and would-be cowboys (and cowgirls) volunteer to ride. Wouldn’t you?

A few dozen of us who don’t have horses always line up to watch. Every spring, and every fall when they return, my wife and I jump into the pickup, watch the herd go by, the drive backroads to leapfrog their progress and watch again. We usually manage a third time before they move out of range.

It may seem like cheap entertainment to you, but I grew up on a dairy farm, and every farm boy wants to be a cowboy. No exceptions.

This year, on our third stop, about a dozen dairy cows in an adjoining pasture ran to the fence, bawling, to watch the herd go by. It was almost as if they were saying, “Take me with you!”

I had a vision of a half dozen ill-dressed farm kids in the 1860s, standing outside their sod schoolhouse, watching a covered wagon moving west and wishing that they could share in the Great American Adventure. I’ll never write it, but I’ll bet there’s a good novel in there somewhere.

Symphony 136

John Teixeira stared at his son, slowly shaking his head.  He said, “Son, I am proud of you. Why haven’t you been doing this kind of work all along?”

“Now,” Neil interjected quickly, “the favor you offered. I’m taking you at your word, and asking one. I am asking you, ‘Don’t spoil the moment.'”

John reached out for his son’s hands and said, “Of course. I am just surprised — and pleased,” he quickly added.

“Do you remember the last conversation we had, about how Oscar wants to be proud to be Chicano. Today he was, and if you were proud of him as a Chicano, I don’t think he’ll ask much more.”

John Teixeira swallowed hard and smiled to cover his feelings. He said, “I am proud of my son as anything he really wants to be, as long as he does his best at it.”

Oscar Teixeira looked eleven years old and eleven feet tall.

# # #

Carmen came to relieve Janice at the wheelchair, and managed to push him across the playground with one hand on the handle and one hand holding his hand. The children were milling around with their parents or wandering off toward the buses. Most of them had already come by to say hello to Neil, but a few more drifted in to welcome him back. There was much hand squeezing and hugging. It made him uncomfortable; it always did. But at the same time, it thrilled him.

Then he saw Lisa Cobb. She was standing with two strangers, waiting by Carmen’s car. As he rolled up, Lisa stepped forward, very proper and terribly embarrassed. She put out her hand for an adult hand shake, and Neil used it as a lever to pull her in for the hug she really needed. She backed away, biting her lip, and simply said, “Thank you.” Then she rushed to the woman and hid her face in her skirts.

The woman enfolded her in the kind of totally safe embrace that Neil could never provide. She said over Lisa’s head, “I’m Mrs. Bowman. The county uses me as a short term foster mother, so I see it all. Lisa told me a lot about what happened. She is one lucky little girl that it was stopped before things went any further. And she is lucky to have people who care for her like you two.”

“We are lucky to have kids like Lisa to care for,” Neil said.

“Coming here today was completely her idea. She didn’t know if she could go through with it. She’s still embarrassed by the whole thing. I told her the sooner she started living a normal life, the better. Then when she saw you, she had to talk to you even though that embarrassed her worse than anything.”

Lisa slipped under Mrs. Bowman’s arm and stared at Neil from its shelter. He said, “How do you feel, Hon?”

“Okay. I’m okay now.”

“How is your mother?”

“She’s getting better. They let me see her yesterday.”

She dropped her head and said, “I’m sorry about your jaw and all.”

Neil said, “Look.” He drew back his lips and showed her the wax covered wires. “I never had braces before.”

She giggled and then slipped around behind Mrs. Bowman, looking very young indeed.

# # #

On the way back to his apartment, Carmen said, “You just added another member to you fan club.”

“Jealous?”

“You just hurry up and get well, and I’ll show you how jealous.”

finis