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Dec. 16th, 2013

Christmas Tree

ADVENT

Advent is my favorite season, more so than Christmas itself. It's that delicious time of anticipating glorious treats ahead, a time when anything I can dream of just might happen. I like the blossoming decorations, the carols, the cards, crowds of people with smiling faces (well some of them, at any rate!) I like the chill in the air and the possibility we might have snow -- in Southern California, a white Christmas is a very slim possibility, but I can see snow-capped mountains from my balcony. And in church, the advent candles are lit, one more each week.

Yesterday at St. Luke's, the creche was blessed. One by one, families in the congregation carried the figures to the creche by the baptismal font, while the congregation sang advent hymns. The sheep were placed in position, the shepherds, and all of the other familiar players in the Christmas story. What to me was so moving was that some of those families of adults and starry-eyed children, were gay.

Love is all you need. Yes, indeed. I'm anticipating a time when nobody in the world would find that unusual at all.

Dec. 3rd, 2013

pen

WORK-IN-PROGRESS

I’ve never been much good at plotting. The only time I attempted a chapter-by-chapter plot was a long time ago, with my second novel. The first one had turned out just fine without my attempts to lay down rules and guidelines for the characters to follow, but I was an insecure new writer and everyone was telling me I should learn how to plot. The result was that at first I could hardly write one paragraph after another. Then the characters took the story off the rails in spite of my maps. I happen to feel that the story or novel isn’t truly “alive” until the characters do or say something I didn’t plan, so I wasn’t too alarmed. (Another way of saying this: I trust my subconscious to know more about writing than my conscious mind, the planner.) But it messed up my pretty plot. Since then, I’ve eased up on myself – and on my characters.
The new novel is no different in this respect. I know where I’m headed and have a fairly good idea of the scenery along the route. What I don’t have is the Triple A road map. I did make the decision to alternate chapters between the two major characters (but they’ve violated that rule already). I’m going along for the ride and enjoying the view. So it brought me up short when I suddenly realized that the book falls into three parts and I’ve just finished Part I. Whether the parts are equal in length or not, I don’t know yet. But I saw the first of the minor story arcs and it’s complete. I’d known about the major arc of the book, of course; that’s what made me start writing it in the first place. This is an exciting discovery for the author!
Teaching creative writing for all those years was both a blessing and a curse for me. It made me far too conscious of my “process” – something which I’m convinced would’ve done better staying unconscious. (I wrote an article about this, “Creativity in the Fish Bowl,” about creating a story from scratch in full view of my students.) But I’m starting to think I’m finally getting all the pieces of the puzzle together – at this late stage in my career. I’m letting my characters live their own stories, but at the same time I can entertain thoughts about structure without derailing the whole process.
This book is consuming me in a way no other novel managed. I’m even over my horror of first drafts (think: pulling teeth). And I dream about it almost every night. It’s a change for me not to be writing science fiction, but then again, what we don’t know about life in 1st century Britain is enormous. Imagining how it might’ve been is not that different from describing worlds that have not yet come into being.
This may not be the most efficient way to write a novel (or a short story, for that matter). But I seem to be stuck with it, and  it works for me. As they say online, YMMV.

Nov. 28th, 2013

dining out

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

Happy Thanksgiving to all my family and friends. I'm thankful for the privilege of knowing you.

And if you celebrate it, Happy Hannukah! (I just saw it called, "Thanksalatke.")

Latkes or turkey, enjoy but don't over-indulge.

Nov. 15th, 2013

pen

HANDWRITING

   I’ve been following the latest education flap concerning the teaching (or dropping) of cursive handwriting. Those who are against cutting it from the syllabus claim that somehow learning cursive wires the child’s brain for greater things. The silliest argument I read this morning wailed about future anthropologists and linguists not being able to read documents from our time because they wouldn’t know cursive! Oh yeah? I can read a lot of medieval scripts  – admittedly, with some difficulty – without being able to write as those scribes did. And how did anyone figure out Egyptian hieroglyphics?
   On the other hand, there is something to the notion that the brain treats handwriting and typewriting differently. Though I type all my fiction and non-fiction first drafts (but not poetry), I have to write my notes by hand. I’ve tried but I absolutely can’t get my raw thoughts down any other way. That’s why I was so panic-stricken when my notebook went walkabout after the Eaton Conference last spring. I think the exception about poetry is a clue, at least to the way my own brain is wired.
   But why is cursive the gold-standard anyway? It’s an ugly, overly loopy script. When I was in school, they abandoned cursive  – which had replaced the elegant copperplate of my grandparents’ time – for something more simplified with the name “Marian Somebody-or-other” who I suppose is the person who invented it. Then in college, they advocated for italic script, very pretty, but I never fully mastered it. Why is one style better than another – except for aesthetic reasons?
   What do you think?

Nov. 5th, 2013

tree

ME, RICHARD BURTON AND MEMORIES

   When I was in high school in London, I had a big crush on the actor Richard Burton . (This was way before he betrayed my adoration by marrying Liz Taylor.) My best friend and I used to go across town to see him at the Old Vic Theatre; we did this for two years. Since this was Shakespeare in rep, he performed a number of roles -- everything from Hamlet to Sir Toby Belch. We saw all the plays multiple times, and lined up every night outside the stage door to get his autograph on the program. I credit this full-scale immersion in Shakespeare with getting me to choose a career in English literature. (No kidding, I could quote dozens of lines on the final exams!)
   Sometime in my final year, the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas died, and our teacher told us there would be a memorial/homage performance of some of his work by Welsh actors and actresses at the Globe Theatre. I was not a fan of modern poetry at the time, but I'd go to anything that had Richard Burton on the bill. Burton recited "Fern Hill" that night, and although my friend and I couldn't understand its rich imagery at the time, we were brought to tears by the powerful emotion of the poem. (As Archibald MacLeish said, "A poem should not mean/But be.")
   Fast forward too many years, and this week I bought a disk of Burton reading Thomas, including "Fern Hill." Wonderful, just as I remembered. But there was a bonus: To fill out the disk, the producers had included two prose readings from Thomas's work -- recorded at that concert. And somewhere in the audience laughter at Thomas's comic genius as rendered by Hugh Griffith and Emlyn Williams are the voices of two London schoolgirls. If I try hard enough, I think I can hear my younger self.

Oct. 21st, 2013

me 4

ORYCON 33

Here’s my schedule for OryCon 33, Portland, November 8-10:
Friday, Nov 8, 3- 4pm

“Synopsies, Summaries, Book Descriptions and Other Horrors”
Few things exasperate writers more than condensing their masterworks into a single page synopsis – or worse, a 150 word book description. What to include, what to exclude, and strategies to keep it fresh.

Friday, Nov 8, 4.30- 5pm

Reading

Saturday, Nov 9th, 12- 1pm

“How a writer’s workshop affected my life”
The pros and cons of attending writer’s workshops.

Saturday, Nov. 9th, 2- 3pm

Autograph session

Saturday, Nov. 9th,  3- 4pm

“Organizing a successful critique group”
A good critique group can make or break a writer... Ground rules, ideal numbers, etc.
[Since I recently came back from a three day annual workshop of my regular Asilomar Writers’ Consortium, I think I’ll have a lot to say in two of those sessions! We’ve been meeting twice a month in local groups (mine is in Southern California) and gathering for “retreats” once a year with the full group, for over thirty years now. I never send anything to an editor before it’s passed the scrutiny of my group for “beta testing.” I’ve learned so much in craft from the group over the years; the full-group gatherings are like taking a Master Class.]

Aug. 24th, 2013

me2

MOVIES AND PREJUDICE

   Watching the movie THE BUTLER this afternoon, especially the scenes of the early 60s, I was reminded of my own experience of those days.
   My husband and I were graduate students at Indiana University, in Bloomington, a campus that changed color every summer as students from the Deep South came north to work on their advanced education. We had the good fortune to get to know a couple who shared a lot of characteristics with us – both husbands were going for advanced degrees in musicology, both wives were English majors, and we both had infant daughters. The second summer of our friendship, 1961, I remember we made a trip together, a few miles out of Bloomington, to rural Brown County, to enjoy the trees, push the babies in their strollers past the pretty shops and eat in one of the nice little restaurants. It was the first time I had experienced first-hand the hostility of racial prejudice. People on the streets turned and stared at us. The waitress had a hard time smiling, but probably remembering the tip she might get, was at least civil if cold. “But at least it’s getting better!” we told each other.
   Maybe it is. Soon nobody will stare at mixed race couples, gays holding hands, Muslim women wearing scarves – anybody who’s “not like us.”
   I certainly hope so.

Jul. 11th, 2013

me2

HOMOPHOBIA, TOLERANCE AND ENDER’S GAME

I’ve put off writing about the coming release of the movie, Ender’s Game, and my reaction to it. But this touches on something so important to me that I couldn’t just dismiss it. For those of you who might’ve been busy with your own life and thus missed the memo, I’ll give a little background.
Orson Scott Card, a science fiction and fantasy author, wrote a Young Adult novel several years ago, Ender’s Game, a classic piece about an otherwise unpromising boy from a rather ordinary family who is called to practice skills that will save humanity from the depravations of an alien invader. So far so good; an enthralling adventure tale that kids – especially boys – will respond to. I gave it to my own grandson to read. Jung and Campbell would recognize the version of the Hero’s Journey that unfolds here. I must admit that at the time I read the novel myself, I didn’t pick up on the questionable sub-texts, other than to wonder at the ethics of recruiting a young kid to commit genocide. But hey, mythic heroes frequently slaughter the opposition, and that’s the subject of a different blog. I ran into Scott a couple of times, on the SF convention circuit, and he was always pleasant to me – perhaps because we both shared a love of Rudyard Kipling which we’d discovered serving on a panel on “favorite authors.”
I began to read hostile reviews of Scott and his work, complaining that he was openly anti-gay. While that wasn’t a good thing in my eyes, I accepted that his church (he’s a Mormon) taught him intolerance just as mine taught me tolerance. I didn’t see that it made any difference to my acceptance/non-acceptance of his work. If we refuse to read work by authors who are assholes, we will soon find ourselves reading little but Disney versions of life.
Then came California’s Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage struggle that was heavily funded by out-of-state entities such as the Mormon Church. And I became aware of the rants Card published about what he perceived as the evils of homosexuality. He didn’t do it just once; he did it over and over. I’ll spare you the rabid diatribes; you can look them up for yourself. Intolerant is too mild a word. He also contributed money to support Prop 8. After a while, the poison of his words was so sickening, I decided I couldn’t read any of his fiction again, mostly a personal issue between my beliefs and my reading preferences. Well, as you know, gay marriage is on its way to being accepted throughout the nation. And Ender’s Game has been made into a movie, with  – not unexpectedly – some outcries to boycott it.
To boycott something I dislike  is already a hard thing for me to decide, let alone try to influence others. Boycotting this film will hurt those who made it or acted in it, far more than Card, who has already been paid. So I was hesitating about what would be  “right action” for me here, when Card wrote the next chapter. Apparently getting wind of a proposed boycott against the film, he has publicly stated that the issue of gay marriage is now “moot,” and therefore people shouldn’t consider his previous statements as a reason not to see it. Note: No apologies for the hate speech. No acceptance of the damage his financial support of Prop 8 did to so many lives. No evidence of re-thinking his position. Just a plain, “It’s over. Give me the money.”
Am I overstating this situation? Possibly, but not by much. If anything, I am more appalled by the most recent statement than I am by the original verbal persecution. Hateful and hate-filled people can grow and change. After all, wasn’t Saul the persecutor of the Jews whom God called to become Paul the great apostle?  Orson Scott Card hasn’t grown or changed. He is still a hard-line, intolerant homophobe who wants us to be to tolerant of him. I for one will spend my money elsewhere.

Jun. 4th, 2013

me2

THE SFWA BULLETIN KERFUFFLE

I’m late coming to the party. I belatedly realized there was a commotion over the latest edition of the SFWA Bulletin; I had it sitting on my bedside table but hadn’t opened it yet. It’s not like it’s the most important publication I receive in a week.
Even if I had looked at it, I probably wouldn’t have read the offending article, the ongoing “dialogue” between Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg. I find their pieces boring and not useful, a couple of old dinosaurs patting each other on the back about the way it used to be. I ignore their ramblings.  I question the editorial wisdom of keeping these dialogues going in the pages of SFWA’s public face. Are we that short of useful material to publish?
And if I had read the latest piece for some reason, before learning about the uproar, I would probably have dismissed it as stupid, or (at best) a dumb but conscious attempt to be provocative, or perhaps a tone-deaf attempt to be ironic. Hardly worth the paper it was printed on.
This leads me to say that while I understand how offensive their comments were to women in the SF field, I think we’re in danger of over-reacting to the importance of this in the big picture. Resnick and Malzberg don’t speak for SFWA – even though they’re given space in a SFWA publication. (Anybody can send in an article to the editor. I have one appearing in the next issue.) Now the beleaguered editor, Jean Rabe, has felt it necessary to resign, and a committee has been appointed to look into the matter.
Someone suggested that any woman worth her salt (in other words: a feminist) would be up in arms over this.  I don’t know about that. I’m a lot older than most of the women posting on the subject, and I’ve felt first-hand the sting of gender discrimination, in our field and elsewhere. If you know me, you know I don’t back down quickly or quietly  in the face of bullies, male or otherwise.  But really, I think this is making too much of something that is quite capable of sinking under the weight of its own stupidity.
There are many, many worthwhile causes to be fought for in this sorry world. Hunger, child abuse, homelessness, gay rights, elder abuse, poverty, religious intolerance, animal welfare, the environment, world peace – pick one and work to improve the situation! My father used to say, “I don’t care what you call me, just don’t call me late for dinner.” Let me get to the table to eat the fruits of my work and talent, and I don’t care if you call me lady or bitch.
Because I’m probably a bit of both

May. 29th, 2013

pen

WARNING FOR NEW WRITERS

This is a story about a horror press abusing its authors,but it contains warnings that apply all over the spectrum. Newer writers with little experience of the publishing field can easily fall prey to these predators.

http://stantlitore.com/2013/05/26/warning-for-writers-beware-tony-giangregorio-and-open-casket-press/
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