Naming Favorites

A few years ago I heard someone ask Vonda N. McIntyre which of her novels was her favorite. Her answer? “The one I’m working on now.”

It’s possible that she meant that she was most excited about that particular book, the one she finished just before she died. It is a brilliant book.

But I took it more generally to mean that whatever she was working on at the time someone asked that question would be her favorite.

I like that idea, though I suspect it’s rather a romantic one. After all, writers who become known for certain books often find themselves in a position where they have to keep writing them long after they’re sick of the subject.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle famously tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes so that he could quit writing those stories, but it didn’t work. I suspect strongly that his favorite Holmes story – assuming he hadn’t become so sick of doing the work that he didn’t like any of them by the end – would not have been any of the later ones he wrote.

I’m sure many other authors have felt something similar, though they’ve kept it to themselves since people were paying them to keep writing the same thing. After all, most writers need the money. Continue reading “Naming Favorites”

Shakedown Cruise and Writing Retreat

I’ve headed back to my favorite part of Cape Cod for Writing Retreats, this time as my first expedition in the Mothership! Here I am taking command, ready to leave, having worked the dock crew’s fingers to the bone getting everything ready.

A few minutes after this is taken, I hit the spacelanes, full of confidence.

You know, everything looks different from the bridge of this ship. I like this perspective. My, aren’t those F-150 pickups the most adorable little cub trucks? Wait—is that a Ranger like mine, or a toy truck? Must be a toy. My Ranger isn’t that little.

The confidence takes a hit an hour in, when I make a stop and discover what I forgot to pack: my wallet. Drivers license. Money. Credit cards. Nooooo! Grumbling, cursing, 180 turn. Back home for the wallet. Then back onto the spacelanes, somewhat deflated. The more so when the Check Engine light comes on. Gritting my teeth, I forge ahead. Real spacemen don’t stop for no stinking Check Engine lights! Would Neil Armstrong have stopped? Hell no!

(Okay, I eventually stop and scan the code. Non-mission-critical. Steady on course, Mr. Sulu.)

I arrive and set up in the dark. Why does this always happen? Connect water—check. Connect power—check. Remove bike from bed in back and lock it to the picnic table—check. Check that we’re level. Oh no. The site isn’t level. I jockey back and forth in vain. I wonder if this is why there’s a bag in the back marked “Levelers” full of oversized Lego pieces. I wonder what to do with them, hoping it doesn’t involve jacks. The internet comes to my rescue. It doesn’t involve jacks, but we’re not done setting up yet. It’s gonna be a long first night. Well, at least the wifi router in the cabin connects to the campsite wifi without trouble. (Yet…heh-heh.) Things will look better in the morning. Repeat after me.

Here’s the Mothership in daylight. Things do look better.

And here’s what you do with those oversized Lego pieces. You drive up onto them.

And here’s what you do to reward yourself. The campground is literally right next to the bike path.

The learning curve has begun.

Fight the (Sedative) Power

The Author, aged 1. Note cheerful gape.

Until I was about five, I could not breathe through my nose. Literally. If I tried to hum I would run out of air and have to gulp for breath before I turned blue and fell over. I had that expression common to the adenoidally-impaired: a sort of gape that might have been cute on a five year old, but makes you look stupid at 6. My adenoids and tonsils were so persistently swollen that the only thing to do was to yank them.

Me being, even then, me, I was hugely excited about this. Going to the hospital and staying over night. An operation! Whee! So the day of the event I was delivered to the hospital first thing in the morning, checked in and dressed in hospital togs, and given a sedative by suppository (I was not thrilled by this–no one had said anything about having things shoved up my butt, but I was an easy-going child, and it was all so exciting!).

It was so exciting, in fact, that when the sedative began to do its job, I fought it off.  Continue reading “Fight the (Sedative) Power”

Meet the Mothership

Here at the Star Rigger Ranch (the Boston outpost of the Treehouse), we have made a major addition to our family: a 2010 Winnebago Era campervan, propelled by a Mercedes r/o/c/k/e/t/ diesel engine, with a mere 24-foot parking footprint. In other words, a whale. Hence one of the names we’ve given it: Moby Van. Mostly, we call it the Mothership. Continue reading “Meet the Mothership”

Mother’s Day

A few years back, a man I passed on the street wished me a happy Mother’s Day. I thanked him. He was a man in his 40s, trying to be friendly to an older woman. He meant well.

But I’m not a mother and I will never be one. At this point in my life, I’m not only far past the point where I could get pregnant in the ordinary manner, but also too old to be considered as an adoptive parent.

I still have my uterus, so I suppose I could be implanted with a fertilized ovum and carry it to term. You hear of people past menopause doing that these days, usually to help a relative. While it’s fascinating that such technology exists, I’m not going to do that, either.

I don’t have any regrets about not having children. It’s not that I don’t like young people. Many of them are delightful and I have a lot of friends who fall into the age range where they could be my kids – some even my grandkids.

But I don’t feel like I’m missing anything by not having kids of my own. Continue reading “Mother’s Day”

There Be Dragons, Yes, Dragons in the Stars!

Dragons everywhere! Dragons in the Stars: A Novel of the Star Rigger Universe has just appeared in its first new print edition in… well, I don’t want to think how many years. Never mind that—here it is! If you’re one of those people who likes paper books better than ebooks, look no further, because I think this is a pretty frickin’ nice edition, if I do say so myself. And presentation aside, dragons roaming the interstellar Flux is just not something you see every day. Continue reading “There Be Dragons, Yes, Dragons in the Stars!”

Love and Death: Would You Like a Little Romance with Your Action?

Crossing genres is hot business these days: science fiction mysteries, paranormal romance, romantic thrillers, Jane Austen with horror, steampunk love stories, you name it. A certain amount of this mixing-and-matching is marketing. Publishers are always looking for something that is both new and “just like the last bestseller.” An easy way to do this is to take standard elements from successful genres and combine them.

As a reader, I’ve always enjoyed a little tenderness and a tantalizing hint of erotic attraction in even the most technologically-based space fiction. For me, fantasy cries out for a love story, a meeting of hearts as well as passion. As a writer, however, it behooves me to understand why romance enhances the overall story so that I can use it to its best advantage.

By romance, I mean a plot thread that involves two (or sometimes more) characters coming to understand and care deeply about one another, usually but not necessarily with some degree of sexual attraction. This is in distinction to Romance, which (a) involves a structured formula of plot elements — attraction, misunderstanding and division, reconciliation; (b) must be the central element of the story; (c) has rules about gender, exclusivity and, depending on the market, the necessity or limitations on sexual interactions. These expectations create a specific, consistent reader experience, which is a good thing in that it is reliable. However, the themes of love and connection, of affection and loyalty, of understanding, acceptance and sacrifice, are far bigger.

In my own reading and writing, I prefer the widest definition of “love story.” Continue reading “Love and Death: Would You Like a Little Romance with Your Action?”

The Purpose of Life

As most readers of this blog know, I write a daily senryu (a haiku-like verse) and post it on social media. My purpose is to capture what’s on my mind each morning.

Back in March I wrote this one:

Productivity
is not the purpose of life.
Not civilized yet.

I am not a professional philosopher nor a religious leader, so my pronouncements on the purpose of life are strictly those of a lay person. But I do have opinions.

I have read excellent fiction of late from people who, in addition to writing complex and thought-provoking novels, do fascinating and important work in their day jobs. I’m extremely impressed by the ability of people like Malka Older, Arkady Martine, and Andrea Hairston, just to name three, to do great work in more than one direction.

The New York Times did a piece on Stacey Abrams this week that left me exhausted just reading it. She’s leading the important fight for fair voting, might run for governor of Georgia again, and is turning out novels while finding time to read work by others.

Clearly some people are able to be usefully productive in a lot of different ways at the same time. In the case of the people I mentioned, I hope they continue to do all the things.  Continue reading “The Purpose of Life”

Feeding Frenzy

One of the preoccupations of our household for the last few months has been what to feed the Elder Statesdog.

Emily is now 15+, which is a substantial age for a mid-sized dog. And for 14 and a half of those years she has been an enthusiastic, occasionally rapacious, eater. That changed last summer, when she started picking at her food… and having GI problems with which I will not burden you. The vet prescribed a (very expensive) specialized low fat diet, which immediately put an end to the GI issues, and which she ate happily (with a side eye of “I was always hungry, you dopes. You just weren’t feeding me right.”)

Fast forward to the fall, when she began to disdain the new food. Rather than go back on her old diet (of which we had quite a lot–half a bag of kibble and a flat of the wet food) we started feeding her rice and canned chicken, about which she was quite enthusiastic. And that lasted through… about the end of the year? At which point she decided that that wasn’t any good either. 

How does Emily show her displeasure? She snouts: which is to say, she gestures with her nose all around the bowl, as if she were trying to bury the bowl and its contents. This spring there has been a whole lot of snouting going on.

So the feeding frenzy has been ours, not hers. She may not be skin-and-bones these days, but she’s very skinny. So we’ve gone back and forth between the old food, the new food, rice and chicken, egg-and-hamburger, and some days, a steady diet of treats, just so she has some calories in her. She thinks the all-treats-all-the-time diet is just swell (she particularly likes the supermarket brands–the fancier desiccated liver or reindeer shreds from the pet store are okay, but she’s a Milkbone/Beggin’ Strips girl at base). So she’s getting them. And getting spoiled, and why not? She’s a 105-year-old Moldavian Leaping Dog.

We’re not going to be able to keep Emily going forever, we know that. She has cataracts, she’s rather deaf, and if she stands anywhere for more than a minute or two, her hind quarters begin to sink toward the ground as her muscles fatigue. Yet, if we take her out of a walk she still wants to chase a ball–a few times, anyway, before she stands with the ball in her mouth, looking at me as if I’m the Idiot.  She’s a very old dog. And we have decided that whatever makes her happy and keeps her comfortable is what we’re feeding her. The vet concurs.

Still focussing on little things

An Australian prime minister got into much trouble for quoting (many, many years ago) that “Life wasn’t meant to be easy.” We’re so busy focussing on the big picture and the life-threatening health issues that sometimes the small pass us by. I’m a constant reminder to others that the small is also important. And that life is not always easy and it’s seldom simple or straightforward.

I turned sixty on 25 April, and had a good (but small and quiet) birthday. I wanted to do All the Things, but pandemic is pandemic. It’s just as well I wasn’t impossibly ambitious because I had a bit of an infection in a joint on my right hand. It became quite severe very quickly and I’m still on antibiotics for it. Today is the first day I’ve been able to type anything that long since then. Everything hurt, including sleep.

That’s my reminder. Turning sixty is no big deal. Ignoring a sore finger can become one, if one doesn’t take care.

I needed the reminder, because around me all kinds of people have moved back into normal life… and I can’t do anything like that until I’m vaccinated. I receive my first shot on 21 May.

I’ll be very busy the next few days, for I have until Friday to catch up on everything delayed due to the hand-that-would-not work. I can’t put any of it off, for the edits of a novel are about to come through. The novel was delayed by pandemic ramifications (it affects our lives in so many ways) and I’m really looking forward to seeing what a US editor makes of my Australian voice. So I’m going from bad to wonderful, via a busy path.

Today was an in-between day. I was well enough to do an hour’s work and three hours of meetings. The rest of the time I complained at people, obtained more medication, and told everyone “May the Fourth Be With You.” I watched a bit of Star Wars, for it seemed the right thing to do.

I started writing this after midnight. This post, then is my first step towards much writing of various kinds.  In fact, you are the first readers of anything more than two painful sentences in nine days.

I’ll report back in a fortnight and let you know how everything went. In the meantime, don’t do what I did! If something hurts and you have no idea why, take it to the doctor as quickly as possible.

Because of the pandemic, I planned to celebrate my birthday for as long as it takes. I’ll start again when I stop hurting. Soon. Very soon.

Our prime minister complained for the rest of his life that we’d all missed the critical second part of his quote. Malcolm Fraser had paraphrased George Bernard Shaw and was trying to tell us all that life could, nevertheless, be delightful. Like my birthday. Like seeing friends through Zoom. Fraser made a tactical error in assuming that the press cared about communicating the second half of his quote but right now… his idea wasn’t far removed from my everyday.