Some Useful Thoughts from Outside the Field

Eric Owyoung is a composer and musician who performs with his band as Future of Forestry.  Like many another creative type, he also does teaching gigs (hey, my co-author and I have done them; it’s a way to even out the income stream), and he blogs about a recent one here.  It’s got some good insights, not least this one:

Do you have a creative goal like making an album of ten great songs?  If so, the worst idea is to try to write ten great songs. Set a goal to write 60 or more songs… no matter how bad they are, just barrel through them.  Chances are that 10%-15% of them might turn out pretty good. Learn from your mistakes.

Handy advice, I think, for the sort of writer who tends to obsess over crafting the perfect sentence in the perfect paragraph in the perfect story, only to end up crafting all the life out of it.  (The fast-and-slapdash types have, I sometimes think, an easier row to hoe:  They only need to learn how to do second and third drafts.)

And if you’re interested in Mr. Owyoung’s music, you can listen to some of it on his web site.

A Bit of Amusement

(God knows, we need it.)

If you were raised in (or have ever lived for an extended time in) the South, this is hilarious:

“Tennessee Williams with Air Conditioning”

(I read an article somewhere once† that attributed the rise of the modern South to the invention of air conditioning, which made it possible for people in that region to actually work from 9 to 5 in the summertime without turning into puddles of economically unproductive sweat. The writer of the article, as I recall, seemed to vaguely resent this.)


generic all purpose citation, bookworms, for the use of

The Play’s the Thing…

…wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.

Shakespeare in the Park is doing Julius Caesar this summer, not Hamlet, but the reference is an apt one nonetheless.

Somebody’s conscience (or self-love, or something) has definitely been caught by this year’s modern-dress, Trump-inflected production of Julius Caesar, and they’ve unleashed the flying monkeys roused far-right protesters to disrupt the performance.

Shakespeare himself would have no doubt at all about what’s going on here.  The twin questions of what makes a good ruler, and what can or should be done when the realm is suffering under a bad or unjust ruler, run like a streak of red through all his plays, from early ones like Richard III to later ones like Hamlet and The Tempest.  He never comes up with any definitive answers – he was a playwright, not a political philosopher – but he certainly gives the matter a thorough inspection from all sides.

Make no mistake, what he was doing was Serious Business.  The Elizabethan censors didn’t worry about bawdry†; they worried about sedition.  Fretting too obviously about, for example, whether or not it could ever be a good and necessary thing to overthrow a reigning monarch could definitely be regarded as seditious if there wasn’t a convincing enough veil of “this all happened a long time ago, or in foreign parts, or both” thrown over things.

Art mattered.  Shakespeare knew it.  The lords and the groundlings at the Globe Theatre knew it.  The Elizabethan censors knew it.

Furthermore, art still matters.  The people who put on Shakespeare in the Park know it.  The audience knows it.  And the alt-right protesters and those who egg them on sure as hell know it, or this production wouldn’t worry them so.


The general rule for reading Shakespeare, as articulated by Elizabeth Bear: “If it looks like a dick joke, it’s a dick joke. If it doesn’t look like a dick joke – it’s probably a dick joke.”

Summertime, and the Living Is Sneezy….

We’re now well into the time of hot, oppressive days and high pollen counts.  The cats, instead of sitting like little furry meatloafs with tails and paws neatly tucked in, are stretched out into longcats, and can be reliably used to find the spots with the best cooling cross-drafts.

Which are no good to the rest of us, because the cats own them.

Summer is not the most enjoyable time for doing work, but work nevertheless must be done (this is where I point, in a discreet parenthesis, to the “Editorial and Critique Services” link up at the top of the page), so I’ll leave you with a handful of links to amuse or interest you during the days when you’re not on vacation at the beach, or in a mountaintop cabin, or in a hermetically sealed and thoroughly air-conditioned hotel room, if such is your pleasure:

First, a clip of Jim Macdonald, my co-author, in his other role as a magician (complete with top hat!)

Next, a good (and funny) explanation of the context rules for the use of bad language, and a report on the discovery of the earliest known use of the f-word in written English.

And finally, a video demonstrating how to put on a set of late 14th-century armor.

Stay cool, and enjoy.

Photographic Evidence

Or, Robert Frost gets it right again.

Falling Wall

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall….

Tree roots and the freeze-thaw cycle, to be specific.

The freeze-thaw cycle is also responsible for frost heaves, which can give the roads up here a corrugated appearance in late winter and early spring, and likewise for the epic potholes that show up a little later.

Tales from the Before Time: Finding Fandom

The internet, as usual, has changed everything.

These days, any young sf/fantasy reader or watcher with access to a computer can connect with other likeminded souls in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.  They may not be able to meet up face-to-face, but that’s not necessary, and wasn’t necessary even in the olden days.  It’s enough, most of the time, just to know that there’s somebody else like you out there.

Back before the internet, things were harder.  If you lived anywhere other than a major city, your chances of encountering another reader who shared your particular obsession were low.  (I was fortunate; my best friend in high school also read sf, and the local news and magazine shop owner must have been a fan as well, because the shop carried all the new paperback releases and all of the major sf magazines, as well as some of the second-tier sf mags.)  As a result, a young fan’s reaction upon encountering a large, organized (for fannish values of “organization”, which is to say, not very) fan group, or a science fiction convention, was often something along the lines of “My people!  My people!  I’ve found you at last!”

A note:  It’s also necessary to understand that this era came not just before the internet, but before the Geek Ascendancy.  People who liked sf and fantasy and computers and techy/sciency stuff in general were pretty much universally regarded as weirdo loners, rather than as weirdo loners any one of whom might possibly have a greater net worth than the entire city of Chicago.

When a collection of weirdo loners (and yes – I, too, was a weirdo loner) come together and discover that they are not alone in their weirdo-hood after all, the community that is created has both good and bad features, and a lot of those features are connected like good and evil twins.  The fandom of those days, to give just one example, was tolerant of all sorts of social awkwardness and nonconformity (because we were entirely too aware, most of us, of our own flaws in that regard); the flip side of that virtue, unfortunately, was a willingness to put up with just about any bad behavior short of running away with the cash box.

Post-internet fandom is . . . well, it’s different, in ways that as a pre-internet fan I’m not entirely capable of understanding.  But the old pre-internet fandom is still around, and still inhabiting a lot of the same virtual and actual spaces as post-internet fandom, and the places where they rub up against each other sometimes chafe.

I’m not sure what can be done about this problem, or even sure that it is a problem of the needs-something-done-about-it variety.  The best we can do, I guess, is be kind to each other, and remember that we all love the same thing even if we don’t necessarily do it in all the same ways.