Reassurance, and a Digression

Still here.  Still writing, too, although given the pace of updates you’d hardly know it– as of last report, the first draft of the novel was 73% complete, so there’s a vague hope the second draft will be ready for critical comment before the end of the year.

I do not have as much time to devote to my art as I could wish.

That’s the reassurance dealt with.  Now, onto the digression:  I was reading something today which brought to mind King Cnut.  He’s less well known than his Anglo-Saxon propagandist’s version of himself, King Canute, which is a shame.  The “Free the Danelaw” telling of his story has him standing up to his ankles in water, yelling futilely at the incoming tide in a fit of shoe-wrecking hubris.  The other side of the story is a little more interesting.

There were, it seems, an awful lot of hangers-on, lickspittles, and blowers-of-smoke at the court of Cnut.  This makes sense, given the relative power of his kingdom; loads of victories, no neighbours that gave any serious worries, and ferocious armed forces on tap.  Cnut was troubled by this preponderance of yes-men, because when he said “Do we think it’s a good idea to raid Wantage again?” he wanted actual opinions and not a load of “Ooh, you can do anything because you’re so big and strong.”  Even when he told them that there were no wrong answers, there was a worrisome amount of scraping and cries of, “Of course, your Majesty, it is as you say, and your wisdom is infallible.”  He took to formulating a plan.

“I understand that I am the greatest king in the world,” he said to his assembled jarls.  A few, because there are always a few, rolled their eyes or considered the bottom of their mead-horns.  The rest, even those who might have heard of places like Constantinople, agreed loudly.

“So, anything I command will come to pass?”

A chorus of avid agreement followed.

“Let’s give that a try.  Court’s adjourned, and we’ll reconvene on the shore at the turn of the ebb.”  They being a seafaring lot, the members of the court has a good sense of the tides, so this wasn’t as obscure to them as it is to us modern watch-owners, and they all toddled out at the correct time.  There sat Cnut, on his throne, on the damp sand a few feet above the water line, wearing his best shoes.

“Since you’re all so certain of my powers of command, it will come as no surprise to you that I can order the tide to stay where it is, because I don’t want to wreck these really nice shoes I’m wearing.”

The eye-rollers, who had the sense to stand toward the back of the crowd, rolled once more.  The general murmur of agreement had somewhat less fervour than previously, but was still general.  After all, he is the great and awesome Cnut; I’m not going to be the one to say otherwise.

“Right.”  Cnut turned his head to yell over his shoulder.  “Oi!  Ocean!  Knock off that tide!  Stay right where you are!”

Five minutes later, the royal shoes were extremely damp.  They carried Cnut up the strand, where he stopped and said, “I hope you dummies get it– I may be your king, and a damn good king when compared to the others, but I’m also human.  I have limits.  I’m sick of you lot playing suck-up, and the next time you don’t give an honest opinion when I ask for one, remember this.  You’re in the court to be helpful, not decorative.”

He may also have had a couple of the more obsequious members of the court judicially murdered, because they were a fairly rough’n’tumble bunch, and nothing drives home a lesson like an execution.  History is silent on this point.

The thing which brought this to mind is this article regarding someone who has gone… a different direction than Cnut.  You might almost feel sorry for its subject; consider, if that emotion kindles in your bosom, the amount of misery he’s caused for others over the years.  Any price he’s currently paying is but a taste of the interest on his karmic debt, never touching the substance.

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Tossin’ and Turnin’

I was listening to a fellow speaking of human sleep arrangements lately, and on the way to his main point, he mentioned some people from the Solomon Islands objecting to what their London hosts thought was lavish treatment, a separate hotel room for each one of their party.  “What,” I’m told they asked, “if one of us has a nightmare?”

Dreams are funny things.  I can see how people can come around to the notion that they present a window on an actual separate reality, since there is sometimes such a wealth of detail in unfamiliar settings that it is very hard to credit the subconscious with such inventive powers.

…but then there are the dreams in which things are so deeply wrong that you really, really hope there’s nothing at all to that notion, because the partitions between the wings of the multiverse are just not thick enough if that stuff is on the far side.

Guess which sort I’m going to recount for you?  I have been battering away at the novel and a story for an anthology I’d quite like to get into, and so haven’t been able to run up stories for this enterprise in a while, but last night’s vision of global, possibly universal, destruction was so affecting, I thought I should at least try to squeeze some of it out of my head for presentation here.  So, if you ever wondered idly to yourself, “What sort of nonsense is running around inside the heads of writers,” I offer a small but vibrant sample.  Be careful to not get any on you, it is almost certain to stain your clothes.

A Poetical Interlude

I do not claim to be a poet.  The closest I approach the claim is to wish aloud that I had the attention to linguistic detail that real poetry calls for.  However, something fell out of me yesterday that looks vaguely like a poem, and it pleases me enough that I’m reproducing it here so I don’t lose it as it trundles along on Twitter’s endless conveyor belt.  It’s not deep, but it’s fun:

I call plural octopus
a crowd of octopodes
therefore
more than one rhinoceros
must be rhinocerotes.

(Nearly) First Published Work!

I’m very very very proud to announce that I have a story appearing on Trigger Warning: Short Fiction with Pictures.  I’m so proud, in fact, that I’ve de-linked the same story from this site for the moment, so if you want to read it, you’ll have to go over there.

I’m proud of this because it’s my first story to be published.  More or less.  During a recent spate of auto-Googling– because, occasionally, one does like to see how much attention the internet is paying– I found a couple of references to an article which was printed in Dragon, the monthly organ of, at the time, TSR Gaming (long since taken up by Wizards of the Coast).  This was not a huge surprise, since it was a high-circulation magazine, even before the dawn of the Nerd Age we currently live in.

More surprising was to find my name popping up on the Internet Science Fiction Database.  I entirely remember the story– the surprise is that anyone else took any notice of it.  It appeared in the ‘zine emitted irregularly and briefly by Regina Speculative Fiction Society, and when I use the contraction, I am speaking of the old version; a physical object, composed of pieces of paper passed through a photocopier and hand-collated (as photocopiers of the day had trouble with that sort of thing) before being stapled together and handed to subscribers.  It was not quite first-generation, as the editors had access to computer printing and so didn’t have to tape together bits of type-written material.  But there was tape involved in the paste-up.

It is a non-professional credit, to be sure, since The Spintrian barely managed to mail out any copies with the available budget.  While this more recent presentation of my work is not by the technical definition applied by the Horror Writers Association or the SWFA appearing in a professional market either, it is actually bringing in some payment.  Semi-pro, we might say.  A step on the path to greater things.

Apart from shouting “Hey, everyone!  LOOKIT WHAT I DONE!” I’m making this post to underline something we all occasionally forget– what we did in the past can be very hard to bury.  Alas, the original file of the story is locked up in Applewriter II formated 5.25-inch floppy discs which I may or may not still have in the house, so I can’t offer a glimpse at that old work of mine.  This is probably a good thing.  I seem to remember using some phonetic dialogue, and we all know how embarrassing that sort of thing can be.

Friends Helping Friends

A fellow writer and long-time friend had embarked on the path of self-publishing, and since [a] he is a friend, [b] competition between writers is illusory, a mere artifact of the neo-liberal economic thought which has infected the world since the 1980s, and [c] readers should be plentifully supplied with fixes, because it’s an addiction that has no toxic level of intake (which is how I know [b] is true), I’m inclined to promote his writing in a place where my writing lives.

So, if you have a moment to make a purchase, an evening free to read a one-person anthology, and a tiny amount of money you’re willing to pass through the scaly claws of Amazon to a deserving person, you could do far worse with your time and treasure than to have a look at Observing Strangers and other stories.  Indeed, if you’re one of the select who have plumped for Kindle Unlimited, you have already paid for it!  You’re stealing from yourself if you don’t read it!

The fact that the stories are actually entertaining should also encourage you.

An Oddity of Coincidence

I profoundly dislike this sort of thing.  It’s the sort of thing that kindles paranoia.

But let me explain.  Recently, I took out a subscription for Crave TV, which is like Netflix but more limited.  It focusses on television series, which is good and bad.  On the good, I’ve finally caught the episode of Band of Brothers that I missed, and the adaptation of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is quite splendid.  On the bad… well, it is TV.  It distracts.

Sometimes one seeks a distraction, though.  For example, when I have a migraine, I spend a lot of time crouching over a toilet (and I will not expand on that).  Not all of this crouching is actively engaged, and during the standby intervals, I welcome distraction as long as I can control the volume.  Unable to face the prospect of a second episode of the animated Star Trek, a work we may look upon and despair, I decided to give The Flash a chance.  When it first appeared on broadcast TV, I didn’t pursue it, for a variety of reasons, high amongst which was a failure of the show’s marketing to make it look at all interesting.  I had been a huge fan of the character from ages eight to ten, but that didn’t translate into an a sufficiently urgent curiosity in the show.

I discovered, in my infirm state, that it was… OK.  When seen on a small tablet.  Between… bouts.  So, when migraine stops in for a visit, I watch The Flash.  And when the third episode began last weekend, I had my unpleasant turn.  I will offer a small spoiler alert, although how much of a spoiler revealing the opening five minutes of a show which first aired a year and a half ago can be is debatable.

The episode opens with the assassination of several members of an organized crime family.  That family’s name is Darbinyan.

Which is the name of my victim in “The Third Act.”

Did I hear that right?  Why, yes, I did, confirmed by three repetitions.

Son of a….

When I was choosing the name for the story, which happened almost immediately in the writing process, my thoughts ran thus:

Danish… nah… Chinese… no…  the menace is a Scot, so let’s leave the UK out of it… well, how about Armenian?

[opens Wikipedia under “Armenian Family Names”, scrolls until something strikes as euphonious]

And that’s it.  At that point in my life, I had never seen nor heard the name Darbinyan.  It might have been Pasternak, Kim, Stonecalf or Khethiwe had my synaptic pachinko ball dropped a little differently.  No big messages, no profound motives, and certainly no external influences.  That’s what really bugs me; someone passing by this site who reads that story will think I lifted the name from the show, because the show aired before I posted the story.  Apart from this little rant, there’s nothing to indicate that I was not at all swayed by television in that particular choice.

Which brings us to the slightly eerie element in this real-life story.  The IMDB page for that episode reveals that it first aired on 21 October 2014, a year less a week before I posted the story.  But I started writing the story on 20 October 2014.  Isn’t that something?

I am not so foolish as to shout, “See? They copied me!” because I know that the script is written a long time before the show airs.  No doubt months before I produced the first mark on paper for “The Third Act,” one of the screenwriters for the episode did much the same sort of thing as me to select a name.

Which, given what happens in my story and that show, suggests that to a certain stripe of creative person living in North America there is something about “Darbinyan” that suggests victimhood.  I certainly hope this is not the case in the real world.

It’s a Day for Fools, Right?

My son was watching a video in which one of the characters calls out, “Step aside and let a real moron take care of this!”  That video is a whimsical mash-up of Team Fortress and some other game, and not a documentary of my efforts to launch a writing career, but the sentiment sort of fits.

Yes, I’ve been committing the classic error of the fool, and thinking about what I’m at.  Shall I share?

First, the submitting of stories proceeds apace, and most of the places I’ve sent them off to are gratifyingly swift in the turn-around.  Among the responses I’ve received, I want to single out Gallery of Curiosities for special mention; I did not get acceptance (sigh), but it was as civil and pleasant a rejection as one could possibly hope for.  Even if they’re not presenting something I’m writing… yet… I urge you to give them a listen.

While submitting stories, and of course writing more of them, as readers of what had once been an interesting (of a certain value of that word) blog about fountain pens have been kept informed about, I have also been idly reading what other writers are up to.  This is not just following the quite necessary “writers must read” advice, but looking at the blogs of some various writers and seeing what they have to say about how their lives are going.

This leads to the foolishness, in a round-about way.  Filtering into the head are two lines of complementary notions about making anything like a living at this.  On the side of short stories, which is what I’ve been devoting myself to since I got what I will call serious about the art, we find diverse rates of pay, the most likely being between 1¢ and 6¢ per word.  There’s higher, but also lower.  There’s also very discouraging things like one site, who I will not mention, who on the heels of offering the high end of that scale include an editorial comment along the lines of, “you get to keep the rights, but expect to make no money ever again out of a story we’ve printed,” which in its way is almost worse than being offered $5 and a free copy of the e-publication.

On the side of longer works, we have things like this fellow’s yearly revelation of his income as a writer.  Have a look, and see if it doesn’t make you ponder.  Yes, certainly, an established writer, a known name with many years of craft at his command, and even a fool knows better than to look at that and say, “Hey, I’mma get a BOOK DEAL and make loads of money!”

But here’s where this fool’s thoughts go; however you cut it, if you hope to one day make money that the household economy will actually detect, then you should be looking towards a novel.  I hope one day to do just that with my writing; if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have propose ways for people to send money down the sidebar of this very forum.

At this point, the fool’s thinking becomes somewhat disjointed.  Submissions of short stories are still useful, both in terms of “That’s this week’s groceries paid for!” when one gets accepted, and in terms of setting off any sort of small chime in the head of an editor to whom one would like to send the manuscript of a novel– I am assured that one of the better ways of getting one’s work into print is to have done so previously.  Thus, pressing on with short stories is not foolish, really, even though it eats the time that could be used in writing a novel.

So, how does a real moron handle this?  I’ve decided that I’m going to carry on banging away on the short stories until November.  When the next NaNoWriMo kicks off, I will indeed begin in earnest on one of the novel ideas I’ve got rattling around in my hope chest.  At the end of this coming November, I will shout triumphantly to the waiting world, “This thing is not quite twenty-five per cent finished!”  I may be a fool, but I can do math, and knowing how fast I emit fiction, there is no way I can finish a novel in a month.  Perhaps in the future, when I’ve got several novels pouring unexpectedly high rates of royalties upon me and don’t need The Regular Job, that could happen, but right now I can manage about 4,000 words a week, not a day.

Thus, come November, I’m contemplating a six-month hiatus in short stories while I slowly create a whole novel.  The practical effect here will be, I think, none at all; the new way of running this railway means I don’t lose much forward momentum pounding out little bits of original content, and unless all those words start to induce drag or act like rocks in a backpack working on a novel rather than a short story should not affect them.

The readers of my other enterprise are apt to become VERY bored with me.  It can’t be helped.  I’m pouring my fund of interesting into other vessels.  Hopefully, by this time next year, I’ll have a novel in hand and enough of a presence in the world of writing that it will attract a sympathetic editor.

April fool’s day is when fools get their wishes granted, isn’t it?

The Imbecile Confession

I am about to repost the majority of an entry from my other blog, because it mainly concerns the future of this one.  The direction of some references will be edited, to keep things from being too confusing:


 

[I]t all started last Sunday, when I went to a writing workshop under the direction of a Hugo-winning Canadian author.  The workshop had nothing at all to do with how to find a market for what one wrote; it was all about how to lay a solid foundation for a novel, based on notions the fellow had developed in the course of writing a lot of SF, but which apply to most genres as well.  Jolly useful information, too, but what developed out of it was what I can only think of as blindness resulting from a curse or a brain lesion fell away.  On Monday, I found I was able to uncover all sorts of paying markets for the sort of stuff that I write.

Had I looked previously?  Indeed so.  Not only that, but I had looked in basically the very same places I investigated on Monday on those previous attempts.  Having made this startling… I will say “discovery” because it was new to me, even though already well inhabited and supporting thriving cultures, I decided to get properly serious about making some submissions to places that offer money for stories.

Money for stories.  Fancy that!  Exactly what I have been trying to discover the alchemical principles for!

There is a substantial element of regret in this discovery, as over on the fiction site I have been rendering some of what I think of as pretty good stories unappealing, because most markets want stuff that hasn’t appeared anywhere previously.  I knew I was doing this, too, but in my earlier innocence, I saw no real alternatives by way of becoming known at all as a writer of fictions.  Had the blindness lifted six months earlier, I would have a lot more shot in my locker.

The way in which I intend to address this startling discovery of the obvious is probably self-destructive too, although hopefully only in the short term.  I’m going to carry on [at the older blog] much as I have done, intermittently becoming the sort of specialized interesting I once was while mainly just letting the world know that I’m plugging away and still rotating my pens.  Over [here], I’m going to stop being quite so profligate with my new material, which is where the self-destructive comes in– little flash fictions, such as [the] one I did up today, will appear in what I intend to be a pretty regular way (long intervals, though) while longer stories will get driven around the markets in search of a paying audience.  Once they have found a paying audience, and served their time of exclusivity, I will then post them on the fiction side of my online world; I will then be able to include an annotation along the lines of “Originally presented in the Fall 2016 edition of A Rather Splendid Periodical that Pays Good Rates to Authors”, which will be ego-boosting for me and hopefully drive some more eyes in their direction(s) so they may continue to pay the creative types.

Once I’ve got as many stories with of those annotations as not, I may begin to feel less like a great blundering infant.  I hope so.  These diapers look ridiculous.


 

I realize that this follows pretty briskly on the heels of an earlier announcement regarding the pace of presentations and its reduction.  However, the whole reason for my running this element of my online presence out was to try and supplement the meagre income that my day job provides, and while I’m not without hope in that direction, I have to say that thus far my family is not growing fat on the proceeds of the writing.  I love my readers, but my power to reach enough of them to make an observable income is limited; I have to turn to these suddenly revealed (such a baffling lapse!) markets in hope of being able to provide my son with some shirts that fit.

I will mention that the next story due here, the hinted-at flash fiction, will appear a week hence, because I am sticking to my policy of giving patrons a week’s preview of new stuff.  I’m going to have to examine the whole structure of my presence at Patreon, and pretty damn quick, too; I don’t want to make promises that my change of focus renders impossible to fulfill.

Me and HP: Some Thoughts.

I have in the past admitted that I am a fan of H.P. Lovecraft.  I have even, during one story announcement, made rather nervous shufflings about the implications of my fan status– “if I like him, am I like him?” and all that.  In that earlier examination of the question, I didn’t do much of an in-depth handling of the matter, but merely denied.  A few days ago, though, I read a small article in which another fan also touches on the problem of being a Lovecraft fan while being dead-set against racism, and I thought maybe I should also sit down and have a good wrestle with the matter.  It is, after all, Freedom to Read week; the celebration of intellectual freedom isn’t just about shouting “I wanna read it and you can’t tell me I can’t!”  There should be some probing of the urge.

I am, I should admit, a little hesitant to approach the matter openly, here on the treeless and gently undulating plateau of the Internet where everything can be heard and seen by everyone and for all time.  I know that almost anything I say will be inflammatory in some precinct.  However, I still think it’s a useful examination; the stakes of doing it in public will make me actually consider what I’m about.  Right?  Hopefully.

I had made a previous attempt to rationalize my affection for Lovecraft’s works that didn’t quite come to full rise, let alone get to the point where it could be even half-baked.  What I thought to do was give a brief examination of each of his published stories, sift it for what racist content it might hold– indeed, even for what content might with a nudge be interpreted as racist– and discover whether there was so much of it after all and whether it might have improved over time.  As you can see, I dropped it as foolish on a couple of fronts, and not just because I didn’t have the free time and depth of scholarship to do a proper job.

On the matter of asking if one story or another shows racism… well, there’s a certain subjectivity at work.  Taking “The Doom that Came to Sarnath” as an example, one might say that it’s a work that underlines the wickedness of racism; after all, would Sarnath’s doom have befallen it if the people of that city had just left the funny-looking dwellers of Ib alone?  That’s that, Hopeful Fan says, knocking figurative dust from his hands, and a job well done.

Except… the voice of Cynicism says otherwise.  Apart from the descriptions of the Ib folk, which are clearly meant to provoke loathing in the reader, one can also say that the people of Sarnath were right to try and wipe out those flabby creeps because their evil was such that it could rise up a thousand years later to take unnatural revenge on their destroyers.  The point of the story, says this voice, is to be thorough in your genocides– salt the ground, fill in the lake, don’t take any souvenirs home.  It’s an easy argument to make, and gains support from all the overtly racist material that Lovecraft put forth.  There’s no putting a shiny interpretation on the description (or even the name) of Buck “The Harlem Smoke” Robinson in “Herbert West – Reanimator“…

He was a loathsome, gorilla-like thing, with abnormally long arms which I could not help calling fore legs, and a face that conjured up thoughts of unspeakable Congo secrets and tom-tom poundings under an eerie moon. The body must have looked even worse in life….

…and one has to work very hard indeed to forgive the description of the sinister foreigners in “The Horror at Red Hook“:

The population is a hopeless tangle and enigma; Syrian, Spanish, Italian, and negro elements impinging upon one another…. It is a babel of sound and filth, and sends out strange cries to answer the lapping of oily waves at its grimy piers and the monstrous organ litanies of the harbour whistles.

From this tangle of material and spiritual putrescence the blasphemies of an hundred dialects assail the sky. Hordes of prowlers reel shouting and singing along the lanes and thoroughfares…, and swarthy, sin-pitted faces disappear from windows when visitors pick their way through. Policemen despair of order or reform, and seek rather to erect barriers protecting the outside world from the contagion.

That’s some overt racism, all right.  No painting over that.

The bigger of my stupidities in that earlier exercise, in my view, was to give way to the frequent observation which runs along these lines: “Oh, sure, HPL started out as a mad racist, but he was getting better, just like he was swinging from monarchist to socialist.”  I do, by the way, think there is a little truth in this position, although without a gifted trance-medium we can’t really know it was the case.

True or not, though, it just doesn’t matter.  The stuff of his which I like doesn’t fall comfortably into one era of his life; I think after he fled New York City he did level up in his writing, but there is also stuff from before and even during his New York days that I think has merit.  Even if it were incontrovertibly true, one couldn’t just say, “Well, he stopped being a racist in 1933, so I don’t have to worry about the views he held when he was writing in 1924.”  After all, in 1937 he stopped holding views of any sort, so by that logic there’s no point at all to wondering how his thoughts ran during his life.

Also, as much as people like me hope that Lovecraft was mending his ways as he got older, the same problems of subjective interpretation arise as did with the attempt at sifting.  In “The Shadow Out of Time“, Hopeful points out that the people of various times, races, and even species, all shoved for a time out of their own bodies by The Great Race, hang out and chat convivially.  That same Hopeful voice points out in the climax of “At the Mountains of Madness” we find a Lovecraft protagonist saying this of hideous semi-vegetable creatures:

…poor Old Ones! Scientists to the last—what had they done that we would not have done in their place? God, what intelligence and persistence!… Radiates, vegetables, monstrosities, star-spawn—whatever they had been, they were men!

…by which he means “humans,” of course.  Let’s not frolic off into a consideration of sexism in the early 20th century, as that’s a vast and noxious garden, too easy to get lost in.  You can see how Hopeful’s thinking is running, but Cynical has a few things to offer to balance them away.  The underlying horror of “The Shadow Out of Time” is not the ghastly things that chase The Great Race from past to future, but the fact that anyone may suddenly find themselves stuck in a body of something else.  The Elder Things who have been admitted to the fellowship of Men built Shoggoths, which one in a mood to do injury might describe as “uppity slaves,” and the fact that H. sapiens might be at length descended from Shoggoths is one of the elements of fundamental horror in that story.

I’ve got a little aside on that last point that I’d like to pursue.  It seems to me that however racist Lovecraft was at any given point in his life, he at least wasn’t trying to win people over to his point of view.  A lot of his writing which runs in that direction presents other races and the prospect of miscegenation as simply scary in and of themselves.  He’s not saying “Here’s why you should fear this,” but simply waving it around and shouting “Boo!”  Now… that certainly doesn’t forgive racism, but it perhaps lets some of the air out of it and renders it a little more pitiful than malicious.  It’s similar to a claustrophobe who hasn’t quite grasped that claustrophobia is not so deeply-felt in all people, and who includes in his horror fiction a lot of obligatory elevator rides– other claustrophobes will get a thrill, of course, but people without that deformity will just wonder at the strange literary tic.

If only, alas, people were as little hurt and offended by racism as enclosed spaces are by claustrophobia.  I could stop right here.  Since racism does hurt and offend, and it’s something of a virus of the imagination, even as relatively innocent an excursion as it seems Lovecraft made into it can’t simply be waved away.  The aside now ends.

This little self-examination began gestating quite a while ago, in fact, and the article I mention above merely induced a long-delayed labour.  As with most pregnancies, I had little idea of it being underway when I finished watching Wagner & Me, a film in which Stephen Fry (jewish) examined his enjoyment of the music of Richard Wagner (anti-semitic, rather popular with Nazis).  In fact, I had sort of forgotten about that film until I started in on this little essay, but in remembering it, I remember some of the conclusions he came to, and they help me drag myself towards my own.

Art and its creator are not the same thing.  At most, art reflects some aspects of the creator.  To take an extreme example, one may look at a pancake and never be troubled by thoughts that the person running the skillet has a radically different opinion on the matter of same-sex marriage; the pancake is delicious, and that’s what counts.  Art reveals somewhat more of the artist than a pancake does of its cook, but remember that it reflects only some of the artist, not the whole person, and sometimes inaccurately.  Beethoven’s “Eroica” doesn’t tell us anything about his declining hearing nor of the change of opinion regarding Napoleon he underwent between starting on composition and the initial performance.

Ah, yes, says Cynicism, but these examples are not writing.  Writing is words, not flapjacks nor instrumental music.  Words convey direct meaning, and a writer shows more by choice of words than does a composer by choice of notes.

Granted, although I think someone with a strong foundation in music theory might take issue.  Still, it is a distorted reflection, and we should be careful how much of the nature of the work we impute to the author.  Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle probably don’t want a large interplanetary object to actually smack into Earth, and yet they have written about it in some detail.  At least twice.

Still… still, that doesn’t address the racism of Lovecraft, which does not only appear in his writing, but in his letters and in things those who knew him have recalled into posterity.  That aside I made earlier is predicated on the acknowledged fact of his racism.  How do we get around it?

Let me show you something.  You may not like me for it.

Der_Alte_Hof

It’s not great art, but it’s better art of its sort than I could manage, and I think we can all grant that within limitations it’s a pretty enough picture.  The sort of thing one wouldn’t mind, perhaps, looking at for a month on the upper half of a calendar.  It is not in and of itself offensive.  However, I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of people who read what I’m writing would happily push the artist into a septic tank and hold him under until all bubbles stopped rising– the person who made that art was Adolph Hitler.

If you’re still with me after that ugly revelation, have another honest look at the picture.  It’s still… kind of pretty.  There’s no sign of the monster in human shape that brought it into existence in it (another aside– part of what makes Hitler troubling is that he was a human with many dimensions, and if he could be what he was then you or I could also, with the right shoves).  I admit that it takes a strong exercise of compartmentalization to hold onto those thoughts, but the picture is blameless.  What it reflects of its artist is only his skills and limitations as maker of graphic images.  One could almost wish it were somehow repellent, but there it sits.

What I want to take from this, and what Fry more or less took from his peregrinations, is that it is possible to separate the whole and diverse artist from the artist’s work.  In the case of Lovecraft, it takes a little more effort in certain works because the reprehensible is frequently side-by-side with the desireable.  “The Horror at Red Hook” is held to be one of Lovecraft’s more offensive objects, and it is, but the last eight paragraphs of the sixth chapter are a joy, if perhaps not much better as art than the painting above.  A taste, which I edit because it’s just so damn baroque and you’ve been reading a while now:

The corpse was gaining on its pursuers…, straining with every rotting muscle toward the carved golden pedestal…. Another moment and it had reached its goal, whilst the trailing throng laboured on with more frantic speed…. [I]n one final spurt of strength which ripped tendon from tendon and sent its noisome bulk floundering to the floor in a state of jellyish dissolution, the staring corpse… achieved its object and its triumph. The push had been tremendous, but the force had held out; and as the pusher collapsed to a muddy blotch of corruption the pedestal he had pushed tottered, tipped, and finally careened from its onyx base….

Purple, oh, so purple, but certainly not freighted with racism, even in the unedited form.  That’s what I read Lovecraft to get at, or in part it is.  His magnum opus, “The Call of Cthulhu,” when it’s not busy casting sidelong glances at people who are in any way browner than Lovecraft himself, is busily and in relatively economical prose giving a magnificent sense of the how little the vast immensity of all creation cares about people.  White? Black? Humanity as a whole is less than an insect!  That’s a wonderful and chilling concept, and that is also what I read Lovecraft for.

Let me end with an analogy, then, which is flawed as all analogies; please think of flavour and not of nutrition in what follows.  Lovecraft’s stories may be viewed as a plate of food.  The extravagant, adjective-crammed style is represented by a heap of mashed potatoes that are at least 15% cream and butter.  The finely-crafted horror is a perfectly cooked and seasoned slab of prime rib.  But then there are the overdone, leathery, unappealing Brussels sprouts of racism, revolting to all but a few insane people.  I approach Lovecraft stories as I approach one of these plates.  Aware of their nauseous presence but unwilling to assimilate them, I will pick around the Brussels sprouts to enjoy the rest of it.  In some cases there is little meat indeed, and the sprouts are actually mixed in with the potatoes– “The Street” and “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” fall firmly into that category.  Yes, I have tried it, and I still do not wish to taste it again.  If you find that the mere presence of the sprouts on the plate makes you gag too much to even take up a fork, I understand entirely.  I hope, if you are that way inclined, you understand that I’m here for the beef, I enjoy the potatoes, and I spit out any sprouts I encounter.

 

A Day I’m Not Fond Of.

I am, excepting the Bill Murray film, not a fan of Groundhog day. This is a state which stretches back to childhood, when I first realized the stupid joke upon which it is founded and realized that it was propounded by people who come from a latitude where astronomical spring and the local effects of that season actually line up. Winter, in the gross local-effect sense, can start in my little patch of the world as early as the first week of October.  It can last long enough to see the high school seniors struggling to their grad proms through drifts of snow only slightly reduced by the Sun’s power.  All hearing about the power of a rodent to see its shadow or not does is make me want to start punching people.

I was, in fact, unbecomingly pleased to hear that one of the Canadian incarnations of the prognosticating beast had died. One should not, except in the case of specific Hitlers, take joy from the death of a fellow being. Such is the state this day puts me in.

Having said all that– I’m using today to announce something that also displeases me.  I figure that I can’t taint this date in my own mind any more than years of gritted teeth have already managed.  There’s an apology involved, too.

When I began this little effort of mine last fall (and it was, uncharacteristically, autumnal here, but I digress), I had some misgivings about my ability to keep up with an unstated pace of a couple of new stories each month.  These misgivings have borne their unwelcome fruit, for my shot-locker is not bare but it doesn’t have much ammunition left in it.  Having caught the attention of some followers over the past few months, I find I now have to admit that I can’t maintain the pace.

In a desperate bid to garner sympathy, let me explain my writing process.  The first draft is done long-hand; some people will cry out at as being a slow way of doing things, but I find an advantage to it.  I’m not tempted to fiddle away with edits when I should be letting the creative centres of the brain run freely with their tongues lolling.  Also, in this initial phase of the activity, the actual words are coming no faster than the pen can race; images, perhaps, appear more briskly, but not the words to convey them.

Second draft is the point at which things pass through a keyboard.  Since I am at this stage editing and re-working some of the more convoluted stuff the “who’s this ‘syntax’ fellow?” creative centres uttered forth, this is not brisk typing.  A particular brisk patch recently works out to about 20 words per minute.  That’s not a complaint, mind you– I can transcribe faster, but when actually processing the material, I’m quite pleased with that sort of productivity.

Third draft, which is usually what you see in the stories here, waits until a couple of patient readers look through the second, pronounce certain elements of it still gibberish, and point out that I completely forgot a verb somewhere.  This is useful stuff, and I’d hate to do without, but it’s also the work of volunteers, who act only when other demands on their time allow.

Speaking of demands on time– there’s plenty clinging to me, too.  Thanks to job, and a son who really wants his dad to share in all his joys (mainly Thomas and Friends, but with occasional excursions into more sophisticated diversions, plus sleds, swimming, and/or bicycles), I can count on as much as an hour each day to perform the writing task.  Keeping in mind that, as Douglas Adams noted, “as much as” includes the amount none at all, I get absolutely giddy when I can get a moderate-length story shoved through first and second draft in the space of two weeks.  Third draft doesn’t take much work… once the notes come back.

Even leaving aside stories that curdle in the initial draft (usually a result of point-of-view error, but in some cases a more fatal deformity), to get things polished enough that I dare let them see the light of public scrutiny takes not less than three weeks.  Without a substantial change in the household finances letting me set the day job aside, or some kind of compassion blow-out which will allow me to ignore my family completely, that’s not going to change.

I’m not… wait, that’s insufficiently emphatic.  I’ll go again.

I’m not shutting down the operation here.  I’m just letting you know, you who have taken a moment to poke the “follow” button, that there will be a little less action here.  The occasional flash story will still appear, too– those things don’t take more than a week from mere notion to gem of deathless prose (hah!).  I’d rather reduce frequency than polish, and I’m hoping the various readers of my stuff are similarly inclined.