Monday, April 17, 2017

Minicon Report

I went to Minicon late yesterday morning and stayed till 3:30 in the afternoon. Was on one panel -- about creating flawed heroes. Maybe because I was tired, I couldn't get engaged with the topic. Bought a pair of opal earrings from Elise Matthesen in the dealers' room. Got a ride home with Ruth Berman, took a nap, got up briefly and then went to bed for the night.

I did more thinking about the flaws in my heroes, trying to figure out if the panel could have been made better. Daisy's flaw in my story "Daisy" is she's an octopus. She can't drive a stick shift. She doesn't understand humans. She doesn't have a moral system. (Octopuses are solitary predators.) She needs to get to the ocean.

Loft, in the story I'm currently finishing for wizard anthology, has a flaw of being an utter jerk. But I'm basing my story on an Icelandic folktale, and he's a jerk in the folktale. So I didn't give him a flaw. He came with one. The problem in the story is to make him less of a jerk.

I said on the panel that I don't add flaws to my characters. The whole story -- the character, the setting, the problem -- seem to take shape together. How they take shape depends on what sets off the story. "Daisy" began with joking around on facebook. This led to the name Art Pancakes, which sounded like a good name for a gangster. I don't remember how the idea of a criminal bookkeeper octopus evolved, but it did -- and on facebook.

"Loft" began with an Icelandic folktale.

"Yu the Engineer," which is notes at the moment, comes from Chinese history. What is Yu's flaw? He is damn near flawless, though he's going to have a problem when he gets home from taming the Yellow River floods and has to confront a family he hasn't seen for 13 years. How pissed is his wife going to be? As with "Loft," I am beginning with an existing story. Then ideas leaf off it.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Michael Levy

Mike Levy has died. People in the SFF academic community will know him, also people attending local cons, where Mike was on wonderful panels on recent SFF. I have known Mike and his wife Sandy Lindow for decades. I can't express how great a loss this is. A bright, kind, thoughtful guy, a teacher and scholar and fan, human-hearted and civilized. One of my favorite people.

Here is a poem, not written about Mike, but it fits, sort of. Though I am not the slightest bit comfortable about losing Mike.

(In the Manner of Tu Fu)

We stop at a tavern outside the capital:
one last evening of wine
and composing poetry.
You will leave before daybreak,
taking the long dark road alone.

In the distance mountains loom:
deep gorges and high passes.
Clouds enfold the peaks.
Monkeys scream on the sheer cliffs.
The country ahead of you
is the stuff of legends.

In my mind I see
your tiny figure
diminishing and diminishing,
until you are invisible
in the distance,
while I lie warm
and comfortable under my quilt,
planning to rise late
and compose another poem.
Many of the classical Chinese poets were government bureaucrats, often sent away to be administrators in distant provinces. Classical Chinese poetry is full of leavetakings.

The Law of Jante

From The Guardian:
The Dano-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose wrote about it more than 80 years ago, setting down the regulating mechanisms that operate on Scandinavians from below, in what he called the Law of Jante. According to Sandemose, the 10 commandments that regulate our social behavior are:

1. You mustn’t think you’re special.
2. You mustn’t think you’re as good as we are.
3. You mustn’t think you’re smarter than us.
4. You mustn’t imagine you’re any better than us.
5. You mustn’t think you know more than we do.
6. You mustn’t think you’re more important than us.
7. You mustn’t think you’re good at anything.
8. You mustn’t laugh at us.
9. You mustn’t think anyone cares about you.
10. You mustn’t think you can teach us anything.
I think these ten commandments are a bit harsh. But a lot of them sound familiar to me as a Minnesotan.

MInnesotans like everyone to be on the same level, which can be very good and not so good.

Patrick says he heard the same kind of thing in Detroit: 'Don't get above your raising.' My friend John Rezmerski, who ended up as a college professor in Minnesota, said his mother wanted him to get a teaching degree and teach high school in the Pennsylvania paper mill town where he grew up. It's a common working class attitude. Members of the middle class compete against one another and getting ahead of your neighbors is fine. The working class tend to value solidarity.

I don't know this fits with Minnesota's Nordic heritage. But Minnesota has had a strong union movement and a strong co-op movement. The local political party that is affiliated with the National Democrats is the Democratic Farmer Labor Party. We understand solidarity -- part of the time, at least. The country and small towns have a long tradition of helping your neighbors out. But economic and social changes have gutted rural Minnesota. Instead of many small farms we have a handful of big farms, and the small town main streets are often empty.

Post Office

So I went to the post office to mail off my tax payments. I was there over an hour, standing in line. There was a chattery lady in a wheelchair, who never stopped talking. Several restless children. People who had problems when they finally got to the counter, which had only one clerk. For example, the young person with 35 letters that had to go certified mail. Do you know how long it takes to process 35 pieces of certified mail? I do now. The gentleman who had a complaint about another branch office and wanted to see someone in authority at this branch right now -- and was upset enough so he didn't hear the clerk telling him she was the only person in the office. She kept saying, "We only sell stamps." The woman who appeared to be actively hallucinating. She seemed to be on a phone, which I couldn't see, talking to star fleet.

I have no trouble with ambient noise in a coffee shop. I rarely notice other people's conversations. But I couldn't shut out any of the noise on this line. Epecially the lady who was saying, "Danger, danger" to star fleet.

This is the downtown office. I went after lunch hour, hoping for no line. I expected to see people in business attire, not people like the lady entirely in white, carrying a couple of white flowers. She got in a lively conversation with the member of star fleet.

I stopped on the way home and got a brownie the size of a house, ate it, came home and took a nap.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


This post is in response to a Fran Lebowitz interview in the NY Times. Ms Lebowitz said, "Books are better than life."

I replied:
I want to argue with the line "books are better than life." No. Books require a plot (usually) and meaning (often). SFF books usually require action and excitement. I like reading about action and excitement (a lot of the time) and debtor's prisons and wretched humans beings such as Mrs. Norris in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. But do I want to encounter all this in my life? No, except in books. Most of the people in Jane Austen's novels would be boring or enraging or both, if met in real life. Being inside a Dickens' novel would be a nightmare. London in the 19th century? Ghastly poverty? Amazing pollution? Inedible food?

What life has going for it is drinking coffee in the morning and reading facebook, talking to Patrick, seeing friends, making dinner, seeing a work of (so called) art such as Captain America: Civil War and discussing why it is so lousy. Life can be painful, because you can't close it like a book and say "that's enough of that, I can find something better on the shelf." In that sense, books are better, I guess.

Though I enjoy the minutia of life a lot. I couldn't write an entire book about activities of daily life, because it has no plot or meaning. It would have characters, but they would be doing nothing much, living ordinary lives. What makes books appealing is -- they are not life. They are different. The two can't be compared.

You can have books in life. (Always good.) But not life -- real life -- in books. I think I have that right. I think I will pull out a laptop and write.
Dust bunnies. There are rarely dust bunnies in books. Piles of filth, yes. Gigantic spider webs. Gigantic spiders. Dinners are rarely spoiled, unless the author wants them so. In books, the author has complete control. The reader has none. You cannot save Little Nell.

P.S. A friend of mine points out that it's possible to save LIttle Nell with fan fiction. True enough, and maybe one of the reasons for fan fic. It enables the reader to exert control.

New Post

I have not been on this blog for a month. Nothing much has happened. We had a mild -- too mild -- winter with almost no snow. I've gotten a little writing done. Did I mention before that I am a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award? If not, then I am. The same book -- my collection of hwarhath stories -- made the Honor List for the James Tiptree Jr. Award.

No other news that I can think of. I am about to brew tea in a lovely handmade pot I got from a friend who is a potter and then settle down to revise a story.

P.S. A friend points out that I have a new story in the March Issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. It is titled "Daisy" and is about an octopus who does double entry bookkeeping.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


Our part of Minnesota has no snow. These photos are of my brother's place in Upper New York State after the recent storm there. Those lucky people!

(I thought the blog needed more photos, and I thought winter needed some snow.)

Monday, February 13, 2017


Usually I take quick showers, one before I go to the gym and one after. Today I felt like a long shower after the gym, so I had one, with much scrubbing and standing in the hot spray.

I get my hair cut at a saloon with Aveda products and over time I have bought many of these, most of which I don't use. Today I used the body wash, the face lotion, the hand lotion... Boy it felt good. Then I got dressed, putting on my new cream-colored Smartwool socks. The socks will go with an Elise Matthesen necklace that I bought years ago, which combines amber colored beads and small figures of cats, carved (I think) from bone.

An editor at one of the New York houses disliked my work, in part because there is so much drinking of coffee. Yes, there is a lot. There are also descriptions of showers and meals and other small things that make life comfortable. As far as I know, I am the only SFF writer who has described a dragon flush toilet (in detail).


In other news, the short story got accepted. The contract will arrive soon. A couple of us did go out to a Korean restaurant on Sunday. It was good. I ate more than I should. All those little side dishes are irresistible. Pickled everything.

Sunday, February 12, 2017


I have a list of careers I might have liked, but didn't take up -- art historian, forensic accountant, paleontologist, space cadet, revolutionary thinker... I have added a new one after looking at a pair of Smartwool socks. I want to design socks -- not the shape or the fabric, but the patterns. It would take more graphic design training than I have, I think. But imagine spending your days designing lovely patterns to go on socks...

Friday, February 10, 2017


My blog doesn't have enough pictures. Here is a photo by Wendy Davis, which comes via Frans de Waal's public facebook page. Ravens in love.

More February News

I have decided that my current problem is not the cold, which is mostly over, but my usual midwinter malaise. My mood always drops when the darks are short and dark. In addition, I have not been getting out enough, due to feeling crummy, and that makes my mood worse. Plus there is Donald Trump.

I have a meeting of my poetry workshop Sunday, which will get me out. I hope to convince the other members of the workshop to repair to a Korean restaurant after. Patrick and I are running errands Saturday morning, followed in the afternoon by Carmen, broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera. The music is terrific, but I really dislike Don Jose. He is a stalker. I want the end slightly revised, so Carmen grabs the knife from Don Jose and stabs him to death, then flees back to the Roma smugglers in the mountains. I think a couple of lines would have to be rewritten, but not much. Anyway, opera on Saturday, poetry on Sunday. Monday I get back to writing.

February News

Once again I have lost track of the blog. The election of Donald Trump really distressed me, and I got an ugly cold in January. The cold is mostly gone, but Trump isn't going anywhere at the moment. Though he looks miserable in every photo I've seen of him since he became president. I don't think he likes the job. I figure he may stop trying to do it, and let other people run the country; or snap and take revenge on the rest of us for making him miserable. I don't think he'll quit, though that is possible. Will he be impeached? I don't think the Republicans will do him that favor, though you'd think they would be happier with Pence.


I just finished a story for a military space opera anthology and sent it off, having no idea if it will be accepted. I don't like war and see no reason to make it romantic or meaningful. So it's a dark little tale about PTSD. I'm not sure I like it, except it has a truly wonderful African Giant Pouched Rat.

Next I move on to another story for another anthology. This story is bleak in a way that doesn't bother me. It's Icelandic saga bleak, and it has lovely trolls and awful elves. I don't like elves.


I got out my eight inch Wurthof chef's knife this morning. I bought it years ago and have barely used it. I wanted a six inch chef's knife, but the guy in the kitchen store convinced me an eight inch knife was better. It feels awkward. I really did want the smaller knife. Anyway, I have decided I need to give the chef's knife another try. Green bean and carrot curry tonight, which requires much chopping.

I can tell I'm getting over the cold, when I start to think of cooking... And house cleaning. The dust bunnies are having litters of dust bunnyettes.