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Dreams: A Rumination

March 22, 2010

1. I frequently dream of things that later happen, usually minor things, like ordinary chores or scraps of conversation. I’ve had dreams like this since I was little. I mentioned it to my mother once, and she dismissed it as coincidence. This is impossible. I suppose one could argue that ‘oh, you dreamed it, so you somehow contrived to bring it about.’. Uh, but why? And how could I possible dream a specific conversation; I could say what I said in my dream, but I can’t put words into the other person’s mouth.

2. For several years, I dream about people I knew in high school; some were good friends of mine, others classmates whom I liked well enough. These aren’t memories; we’re never doing things we actually did. Often we’re on secret missions or elaborate trips. This is easier to explain: Where have we all gone, and what have we done?

3. I’ve been reading Lovecraft, and he posits that dream-life is our real life; waking life is the illusion. I think this may vary from person to person. Many people claim they don’t dream, or else they remember dreaming, but never the dreams themselves. I’ve always been a...


Tags: chesterton, dreams, freud, lovecraft, psychology, writing

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August 17, 2009

Esme moved in with us at three a.m. We deliver newspapers, so we were up early. When we heard a cat outside, we thought it was the neighbor’s cat coming to say hi to Boogers, our old tom. But it was this gray striped tabby, with a long silky coat. We had never seen her before, and she immediately began to turn on the charm, hopping into laps, licking hands, and purring. Loudly. It worked; by the end of the morning, we had a new cat. She lived with us for nine and a half years, until we had to put her to sleep eighteen days ago.

Charm, aside, we quickly discovered she was an ornery cuss who liked things her own way, like most cats, only worse. Her long fur needed steady brushing, but if she wasn’t in the mood, that was that. Ditto for baths. Whenever we tried to trim the horrendous mats that developed every summer, she carried on like she was auditioning for the kitty version of The Exorcist-as Pazuzu himself. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

Yet she could be sweet. Often in the afternoons she would creep into the bedroom and curl up against...


Tags: cats, euthanasia, grief, pets

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Are We There Yet?

April 23, 2009


In 1936, Margaret Mitchell was awaiting the publication of her only novel, Tomorrow Is Another Day. It’s a good title, at once wistful and optimistic. And it’s the heroine’s personal philosophy; she repeats it many times in the story. But right before the book went to press, Mitchell instructed her publisher, Macmillan, to change it to a phrase that’s used once, only in passing: Gone With The Wind.

When does an author know when a book is ‘finished’? When have you stopped making your work better, and are now only making it different? It’s hard to answer that question. I’m getting ready to submit my second book to the publisher. I’ve gone through it many, many times now. I’m not finding any more typos; I think I can say I’ve caught them all (or at least I hope so) If not, I can still make corrections when I get the galley-proofs.

But-I don’t quite like the way I phrased that; let me rewrite it. Does this name suit this character? Can I find a better one? (I recently changed a character’s name back to what it was originally). Am I being tasteful with love scenes, or am I...


Tags: jrr tolkien, margaret mitchell, proofreading, revisions, the lorrondon cycle, writing

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Thirty Years and Counting

February 17, 2009

I don’t remember exactly when I began the story of the Lorrondons. So much of it existed only in my head for so long-as much of it still does. I know that by the late winter of 1979, when I began to write things down, these people were already becoming known to me. So, the beginning must have been the fall of 1978. I was twelve.

I was also perfectly miserable, both in my own mood and to other people. We had moved a year and a half earlier, and I still missed the large trees in the backyard of my former home. I was doing poorly in school, and had no wish to improve (I wouldn’t until the ninth grade). I skipped a lot of school and spent the time listening to records and reading.

Tolkien was my lifeline, as he was for so many unhappy kids. By the end of the school year, my grades had picked up (a smidge) and I had already lost track of how many times I had read The Lord of the Rings. I seldom went away without my copy of The Tolkien Reader. I read a wonderful novel called The Book...


Tags: le guin, science-fiction, self-publishing, the lorrondon cycle, tolkien, writing

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Transcending Genre

February 9, 2009

Sometimes nothing sticks in my craw as much as the word ‘genre’. And why is this? I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen variations on the following sentence: ‘This remarkable book transcends the genre’. Why is genre something that must be ‘transcended’ for a work to have merit?

Genre labels are limiting, constricting writers (and film makers) into stylistic straitjackets. Slap such a label on a book, and automatically, the cliches, ahem, spring to mind. Fantasy: That’s wizards and elves, right? Mysteries: Where’s the wry detective with baggage? Science fiction: Cue the Star Trek theme and snide comments about large-breasted women wearing as little clothing as possible. Historical fiction: That’s just a bodice-ripper.

Not always.

How does something ‘transcend’ its genre?

The phrase is used mostly by reviewers who don’t normally read the genre in question, and liked the book anyway. Therefore, the book can’t possibly be a typical specimen of that genre. It was too thought-provoking; the characters are too fully realized. The book was just too darn good. It must be an exception.

How many exceptions must there be before we realize that the rule itself might be bogus?

Let’s take mysteries. These days nobody...


Tags: dan simmons, fantasy, genre fiction, ruth rendell, science fiction, ursula le guin, walter mosely

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The Reading List

January 28, 2009

I've been making up my reading list for this year, and so far it’s another eclectic mix. Of course it isn’t set in blood-new stuff that sounds interesting comes out all the time, and I must be flexible. This year I want to reread more books than I did last year, things I haven’t read in several years, like Cold Mountain and Childhood’s End. Patrick Rothfuss’s sequel to The Name of the Wind comes out in April, and I must leave room for that.

After reading Stephen King’s The Dark Tower and Peter Matthiessen’s brilliant Shadow Country back to back, I decided I needed something light. (after Shadow Country, something by Brian Moore or Cormac McCarthy would qualify). So I’m reading Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch.

Pratchett is light, and frequently hilarious, but he’s never frivolous; behind the funny exterior, he has a lot to say about power, and the uses and misuses thereof, corruption, and the daily struggle to just keep one’s feet in an uncertain world. When I read his books I keep a pencil handy to mark these little insights; I think he’s as profound as Swift. Why he never quite gets his due critically...


Tags: cold mountain, dan simmons, reading, shadow country, stephen king, terry pratchett

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Is Publishing In Peril?

January 13, 2009

The publishing industry is in some distress these days. Consider the following.

Houghton Mifflin, Tolkien’s own publisher, froze acquisitions and laid off a bunch of people. This means they’re not buying any new manuscripts. It’s chilling, all right.

Borders Booksellers, the second-largest chain in the country, is undergoing a ‘restructuring’. Meaning, most likely, closed stores, lost jobs, and less selection at remaining stores.

Just last week, yet another phony ‘memoir’ was exposed-after a ringing endorsement from Oprah Winfrey and a movie deal. Herman Rosenblat’s touching story of two children helping each other survive to Holocaust, only to meet on a blind date years later, turned out to be a total fabrication. I think that’s three (or is it four?) fake memoirs in the past year. No industry needs that kind of black eye.

So, what’s to blame for all of this? The industry itself, of course.

Some time ago, I’m guessing the late seventies or early eighties, publishing decided to adopt the Hollywood model; acquire product that will move fast, build franchises/series/brand names (I’m always suspicious of a book whose author gets a bigger font size than the title). Work for the quick turnaround. Occasionally publish a smaller, ‘prestige’ book...


Tags: borders, independent publishing, oprah, phony memoirs, publishing, publishing conglomerates, the nation

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Happy New Year

January 5, 2009


I don’t make New Year’s resolutions-at least not the way most people use that term. I don’t vow to lose weight (don’t really need to) or get more exercise (get plenty already). But the first week of the New Year is a good time to begin things I’ve been thinking about anyway.

Part of this is the combination of the weather and post -Christmas doldrums. January in Southern Oregon tends to be cold and foggy, with intermittent rain and snow. And all the bright lights and festive decorations are put away for another year. With no more holidays to look forward too, it’s pretty dreary. Setting goals and beginning new projects raises the energy level. If you feel gloomy and depressed, just clean out your closets-you’ll feel better.

Of course, this may also be the reason that so many don’t keep their resolutions; the cold gloom all around them just screams ‘what’s the point’? Perhaps we should move New Year’s to the spring equinox. Warmer weather, the return of growing things, baseball-people might have more incentive. Just a suggestion.

Part of it too, I suppose, is that I’m getting older; time no longer seems limitless, the way it did...


Tags: dan simmons, housekeeping, new year, peter matthiessen, reading, resolutions

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December 24, 2008

Christmas had come around again. I unpack the ornaments and get out my cd's of medieval and Renaissance music. I make a list of little things my family might like. I hope that this year people will realize what this is supposed to be about; It's not about the acquisition of stuff.

I don't kow why I take this so personally, but every year when the commercials start, with their 'you need this or you'll die' or 'buy this or your wife will leave you' messages, I get a tad sick. God's gift to the world was the promise of redemption-not the promise of more goodies. Yet even self-professed Christians carry on as if more (and more expensive) stuff was only their due. It's not.

This attitude brings out the worst in people. Long before this year, when a man was trampled to death at a Wal-mart by people who wanted those bargains, news programs ran footage of shoppers fighting, shoving, and just generally behaving, well, like Shagrat and Gorbag fighting over Frodo's mithril shirt. I hope they went home and wept with shame. We're not talking about hungry people fighting for food, or people fighting for scarce medicine for their...


Tags: christmas, greed, materialism, wal-mart

Posted at: 10:57 AM | 0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink

The Pleasure of Slow Reading

December 8, 2008

I used to be a fast reader. I don’t know what my word-per-minute speed was, but I could zip through an eight-hundred page novel or biography in two afternoons (sometimes a day). Long books assigned in class held no terror for me. For twenty years I’ve kept a log of books, acquired in one column, read in the other. Every year I rejoiced as the ‘read’ column got longer and longer.

Then four years ago, I began having trouble seeing words on the page. They looked lumpy, as if somebody had smeared them with mashed potatoes. This, of course, sent me to the optometrist. During the exam she discovered what she called the worst cataracts she’d ever seen in anyone under sixty (I was, and still am, CONSIDERABLY under sixty).

Then two surgeries, two weeks apart. Lots of drops. My vision cleared up,  although I now needed reading glasses (I never got used to bifocals). Ten days after the second surgery, the retina in my right eye tore. I had the surgery to fix that less than a day after I noticed the tear. This meant two weeks off of work, doing nothing. This was not a vacation; nothing means nothing. No chores, no...


Tags: eye surgery, gormenghast, lawrence durrell, reading, reading speed, slow reading, stephen king

Posted at: 12:43 PM | 0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink

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