Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Writing is Work

This is a comment on a post by the facebook colleague. He spent 40 years working in a bank and writing in his free time. Now, he is free of the bank and able to write full time. People ask him what he's doing. He says writing, and they don't take him seriously. Their response is, "That's nice. Do you think you'd be able to walk my dog, or trim my garden, since you aren't working?"
I don't get that kind of condescension much anymore, because I have not stayed in contract with people who don't understand I'm a writer. But I know this conversation well. I think it comes from several places. People think of work entirely in terms of money, rather than personal satisfaction or social value. If it doesn't pay a living wage, it isn't work. And people have no idea -- none at all -- how writing is done and how publishing works. I tell people I'm a writer and they ask, "Have you published anything?" They think of writing as either (a) Stephen King or (b) a hobby. Since I am obviously not Stephen King, writing must be a hobby for me. No, it is not a hobby. I have organized my entire life around being able to write, even though I've not been able to make a living at it and so have had day jobs -- many day jobs; I get bored and quit. Now I old enough to collect Social Security, and I'm writing full time. It feels good. It's hard work, and it's real work.

Saturday, May 11, 2013


I just read "A Diamond As Big As The Ritz" by F. Scott Fitzgerald as research for a story I'm writing. I'm sure I've read it before, but not for many years. It's a combination of a tall tale and King Solomon's Mines and chock full of class hatred. If this is any indication Fitzgerald did not like the American rich much at all.

Literary Fiction

Bits of a discussion on facebook:
I am trying to figure out why I am so hostile to post WWII literary fiction. My current theory is it's due to all the periodicals I read as a kid. My parents subscribed to The New Yorker, the Sunday New York Times, The London Times Literary Supplement and -- when it began to be published -- The New York Review of Books. I read them all. (I also read cereal boxes.) I think they gave me lasting negative impression of literary fiction.

My reading in literary fiction is spotty at best. I liked Moo, The Robber Bride, Possession -- though I liked Byatt's collection of short stories The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye better. One of Alice Munro's collections really impressed me, but I can't remember the title. I love Calvino's Invisible Cities and all of Borges.

I love the novels of Paco Ignacio Taibo II, though I am not sure he is literary...

Gary Wolfe told me years ago that you can introduce science fiction to anyone by finding out what kind of mainstream fiction they like. There will always be SF that's similar. The women literary writers I like are like LeGuin. The men write fantasy. Invisible Cities reminds me of Disch's essay on building pyramids in Minnesota...

My prejudice is obviously that -- a prejudice. When I like fiction, I move it out of literary fiction category, so I can continue to dislike literary fiction. I do the same with horror. I don't like horror. When I like something, it is not horror.

I think that I needed to draw certain lines to become the writer I wanted to be. Critics of the immediate postwar era were sexist. Women could not be good writers. I can remember being sad as a high school kid, because I wanted to be a poet, and women were not good poets. At the time, my favorite poet was Emily Dickinson. Why was science fiction a better venue? Maybe because criticism was less important there. And I wanted to write about real things -- police states and the threat of nuclear war.

I'm not defending my attitude toward literary fiction by the way. It might have made some sense when I was a kid, but both SF and the mainstream have changed. I'm trying to think my way out of the prejudice.

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Four Day Visit by my Brother

Sunny day here. Patrick has spent the day napping, due to feeling ill. I am feeling tired. Because my brother is arriving tonight, I am still cleaning. Yesterday Patrick said, "Do you think he will notice dust?" I said, "Of course not. He's not the kind of person who checks the top of picture frames." Then I thought, OMG I haven't dusted the picture frames. So I did it today, but only the ones that were easy to reach.

Years ago, my brother came for a visit. Before he arrived, Patrick said, "You two will have a huge argument about something pointless, and then you'll go to an art museum, and your brother will straighten pictures." So my brother arrived, and we had a huge argument over whether US Senators are paid too much or too little. Then we went to the Walker Art Center. There was a Russian Constructivist show on. My brother looked at a trio of paintings that were not especially good, though maybe of historical importance. He said, "That isn't art, and it isn't even straight." And he straightened the pictures.
Patrick drove my brother and me south along the Mississippi. We went through the Prairie Island reservation and looked for the reservation's small herd of bison. They are in a large area with a high fence. This time they were close to the fence and the road: three large adults chowing down on bales of hay and then a group of 15-20 juveniles simply walking along further back from the fence. We saw a lot of white pelicans on Lake Pepin, which is a wide place in the river, and we stopped in the town of Pepin. My favorite jewelry store, BNOX, is closed during the week. But the owner was out front planting flowers, and she opened the store for us. So -- bison, birds and jewelry. A nice sunny day.
Patrick, my brother and I went to the Minneapolis Art Institute and looked at the East Asian collection, which is impressive. We did not touch the art, though my brother and I remembered touching the jade mountain as kids. It was not in a plexy case when it was at the Walker, and we could use our fingers to walk up the steps carved in the mountain. I couldn't see any signs of our finger marks. It's better that it's in a case now.
During my brother's four day visit spring arrived. The grass has turned green. The trees are leafing out. Forsythia and magnolias are blossoming. The sky is a very specific, bright and clear spring color.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

More from Facebook

More from the facebook discussion of writing. I love sercon, serious conversation, and I managed to get a pretty good discussion going on facebook. This makes me happy.
I have my own arguments with science fiction, though the field has changed so much that many of my arguments are with a previous generation. Anyway, the vision of SF as a field of working writers -- pound it out, send it out, get paid and to hell with art -- can be offensive. But the focus on gritty reality can also be helpful. Learn the rules of the game and keep up on them, because they change, and don't whine. Or rather, whine with your friends in a corner. Everyone needs to whine sometimes. But don't publish your whining.

And as David Gerrold wrote in a comment earlier -- remember that you write because you love writing. The action itself. The making of stories. I tend to forget how passionate my love of fiction can be. How good I feel when I read something I love, and how happy I can feel when the writing is going well.

SF and Literary Fiction

This started as a comment, responding to a comment by Foxessa on the previous post. Then it got too long.

Foxessa wrote:
Um, the resources for learning publishing in NYC -- even for the class so despised by this genre -- are incredibly numerous. For pete's sake, they teach courses in it at NYU, even, that bastion of literary writing. Ah-hem.

Why is it so important to genre writers to believe such nonsense about fiction writers who don't do genre?

A single clueless writer is no more representative of anything than an sf/f clueless self-published writer -- and there are throngs of them too.

I am the genre writer in question here, and I was curious about how people who are not SF, romance or mystery writers learn practical information, because I didn't know. I have since found out more about "literary" networking. There are classes on publishing in writing programs, as Foxessa notes. There are organizations such as PEN. There is the entire network of writers employed by universities and colleges. There is The Loft in Minneapolis, which is the largest "literary" organization in the country. I should have thought of The Loft. It's in the next city over, and the guy who teaches many of practical knowledge classes started as a science fiction writer, then became an editor, agent and manuscript fixer. I have known him for decades.

So, as it turns out, there are plenty of ways for "literary" writers to get practical information. The author of the Salon article used none of them. It makes him look even more clueless.

My question was based on ignorance and curiosity, and now I know more than I knew before. That is the purpose of questions.

Why are genre authors prejudiced against non-genre authors? For many years writers and critics of "literary fiction" sneered at science fiction. They haven't entirely stopped. This has produced a lot of piled-up-through-the-decades anger. The walls between science fiction and mainstream fiction have slowly broken down, and the anger is no longer entirely appropriate. But I hold grudges for a long time.

I have more to say about post WWII American literary fiction, but I've decided -- after struggling with the topic all day -- that I will not write more at the moment. I don't think I know enough to be coherent.

Saturday, May 04, 2013


Another post from facebook. It's really too long for facebook.
I just read another Salon essay by a frustrated literary writer, who has self-published his fourth novel as an e-book and can't get any reviews. His previous three novels came out on paper from New York houses. He seems to have no idea what he's doing, and I guess my question is, how do you find out if you are a literary writer? An SF writer can gather information about publishing and promotion at cons, the SFWA bulletin, the SFWA site (I assume), online discussion groups, blogs... I think the same is true of romance and mystery writers. Does anything comparable exist for literary writers? The only thing I could think of is writing workshops. There are a zillion literary writing workshops, or were the last time I checked.

I was amazed by how hurt and clueless he was. He published three novels and was dropped. Well, this is painful, but it happens to many writers. He and his agent decided that he should self-publish his next novel as an e-book. As far as I can tell, he did not consider changing his name (if the problem was prior sales) or going to an independent publisher. Neither he nor the agent appeared to know anything about e-publishing.

My two writing groups have self-published print-on-paper collections. It's not that expensive. We did it more for fun than anything else and have not made a serious effort at marketing. But you end with a concrete object, which local bookstores can carry. There is always a display of local authors, even at Barnes and Noble. There is a chance of getting a review at the local paper, if you have a tangible book. There are awards given by associations of independent publishers, and your book might win. (Remember that you have become an independent publisher by putting out your book.) Awards are always nice, even small ones. And you have something you can put on your shelf. You may have many copies to put on your shelf.

I guess what I'm saying is -- the two obvious ways to promote are through a genre community, if your work is genre, or through a regional community. Authors have to live somewhere. If you are an unsuccessful novelist in New York, you might consider moving to a place that has fewer writers.

And I have not a clue how to promote an e-book, if you are an author without a following.

Friday, May 03, 2013

House Cleaning

Off facebook, a a running account of house cleaning, not because I find it interesting. Au contraire.

It was snowing when I got up, and the snow continued all morning and into the afternoon. So this is house cleaning on a snowy May day.
I find the best way for me to do housework, which I do NOT enjoy, is to do it slowly, with many breaks to do things such as go on facebook. This doesn't work if you are pressed for time. I also find it helps me to NOT be systematic. For example, I have started in the bathroom and then decided to clean the top of the refrigerator, which was terribly dusty. Once I climbed a step stool to work on that, I realized that the built-in wine rack above the refrigerator was also terribly dusty. We never use it, though I suppose we could store bottles of mineral water up there. Anyway, I dusted both, then tried racking the Pellegrino. It doesn't work. The bottles aren't the right shape. Back to the bathroom now. It is still snowing.
The snow continues, though it's falling more lightly, and there is no accumulation. Another house cleaning tip: have plenty of thick, white, cotton bar cloths. They are super for dusting and drying
Another tip: Be curious, but not obsessive. What is in the medicine cabinet? And while you are in there, clean the shelves and also the dust which has piled up on all the fragrance and lotion and soap samples you have collected, but never used. But if the goal is general cleaning, do not dive into a closet which is going to take hours. Files will probably require a day of their own, also cleaning out the computers.
Bathroom is done. Furniture moved from living room, so the roomba can vacuum. First load of wash into dryer. Now on to the kitchen...
I have finished the kitchen, more or less. The living room can't be dusted till the roomba is done. The hall can't be mopped, because the living room furniture is in the hall. The clothes are not dry yet, which means I cannot make the bed.
Two more tips for house cleaning. Stop when you begin to get tired and frustrated.

Tip number two: always begin house cleaning several days before house guests or a party, so you can stop when you begin to get tired and frustrated and still have time to get the job done.

Tip number three: Consider whether you want everything you found under the kitchen counter. All those plastic bags, most of which are not large enough to be used in the garbage can. The wrapping paper that gets used once a year. The reusable grocery bags sent by grateful good cause organizations. The broken down cardboard boxes, saved for a reason you cannot remember...
The snow has stopped. Per NOAA, rain will follow.

Thursday, May 02, 2013


NOAA predicted a winter storm(in May) for yesterday. 7 inches of snow were possible in the Twin Cities. Alas, it missed us, going south and east. Owatonna, a town about an hour south of the Cities, got fifteen inches. I have friends in Menominee, Wisconsin, an hour and a half east. They have lovely wintery photos and tree branches breaking due to the weight of the snow. I have nothing except damp sidewalks and streets.


Patrick and I saw the Reichenbach Fall episode of Sherlock last night. It's a tour de force emotionally, due in the good part to the acting. The two leads were wonderful as usual, and the guy playing Moriarty was terrific. But I'm not sure the script works. I don't really believe the twists or the explanations. Because of the way the show is paced -- very quickly, with many jumps -- I don't find it especially easy to follow, which I don't mind. But I will have to watch it again to decide about the script. The other problem is -- it's a cliffhanger. Good thing there will be another season.

Mark Gaddis has said there's a clue hidden in the Reichenbach Fall episode, which tells viewers how Sherlock survived the fall at the episode's end. Patrick went on line and discovered there are entire sites devoted to explaining what the clue might be. He spent a couple of hours looking at them, but stopped himself before he watched a video reenactment of the fall made by a zealous fan, showing what might have happened. But he bookmarked the video.

I am struggling with a short story at the moment. It's SF and intended to be funny. I had a solution to the narrator's problem, but it required one coincidence too many. I worry about plausibility when writing comic SF. Do the writers of Sherlock worry? The cliffhanger at the end of the first season is resolved when Moriarty gets a call on his cell phone. Apparently it's Irene Adler, offering hims a deal he cannot refuse, if he will let Sherlock and John live. Likely? Not really. For one thing, how does she know what's going on? And how does she manage to call at just the right moment?

And yet they have an insane smash hit... Of course, it really helps to have Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman and all the other wonderful English actors.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013


Rain intermixed with today. I met with Lyda and Naomi to write in a coffee shop. We do this every week, and it's really important to me.

I got work done on a new story, which I think will be pretty good.