Archives for 2013

C. S. L. on slavery

Fifty years and a couple of days after he departed from the Shadowlands.

Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.

—C. S. Lewis, ‘Equality’ (collected in Present Concerns)

John Ciardi defines a man

A man is what he does with his attention
and mine is not for sale, though I’ll take cash—
and gladly—for whatever my attention
turns to for its own sake, when I’m finished with it.

Let this be my leave offering to the ghost
of J. T. Marshall, and of twenty others
who bought me cheap, and couldn’t afford me now,
because I can’t afford to be afforded
by anyone but myself, or I’d lose the ghost
of how I live, however I make my living.

And so to my last bonus, which is the first.
Any man can learn to learn from the wise
once he can find them: but learn to learn from a fool
and all the world’s your faculty.

—John Ciardi, from the Postscript to ‘Cal Coolidge and the Co’


To tide my 3.6 Loyal Readers over until The Grey Death is ready for release, and to keep the flag (as it were) flying, I’ve prepared a short collection of essais under the title, Death Carries a Camcorder. There will be six pieces in the collection, and those of you who have been following this blog will be relieved to know that you needn’t buy it – everything in the collection has been previously published here.

However, since I don’t have a tip jar and do have bills to pay, I shan’t take it amiss if some of you voluntarily shell out the $2.99 (or equivalent in your local dosh) as a token of appreciation or encouragement. (You can make it a token of whatever you want; I’m not proud that way. Just make sure to send me an email clarifying what it’s a token of, or I may persist in feeling appreciated and encouraged; and that would be a bad thing, assuming arguendo that you want me to feel differently.)

Sarah Huntrods has just delivered the cover design for the new book, as you can see in the attached image.

I think the old boy looks rather cheerful today, don’t you? Either he’s well pleased with his new technological toy, or that Karen Carpenter diet really works.

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Told by an idiot, No. 7

In 1916, after extensive study, French writer Georges Polti announced that all the stories in classical and modern literature could be reduced to 36 essential situations.

Futility Closet

Au contraire! There are only two possible stories in the whole of literature:

1. Something happens.

2. Nothing happens.

All True Literature is, of course, in the second camp. The other kind is vile pulp for the kiddies, and we turn up our noses at it to prove that we are Cultured People.

    H. Smiggy McStudge

One problem with writing fast

A lively discussion has erupted at The Passive Voice, in response to a rant by one of the usual suspects telling self-published writers to slow down and not write so much. Fast writing is not necessarily bad, and slow writing, Heaven knows, can be utter crud. Great novels have been written in a span of weeks or even days. But nobody ever wrote great novels at that pace, one after another, and kept it up for a span of years.

People point to Isaac Asimov as an exception. He was a man who wrote 500 books, so Wikipedia tells us, and Wikipedia wouldn’t steer us wrong, would it?

Well, maybe.

If you look up the word prolific in any really good dictionary, you will find a picture of Isaac Asimov sitting at his typewriter. ‘Prolific’ was the adjective most often applied to him as a writer, and the one he was most proud of. But even he had his limits. His average output from 1958, when he became a full-time writer, to about 1989, when illness took away his ability to work regularly, was (by his own reckoning) in the neighbourhood of 500,000 words a year. That’s 15 million words in all, or about enough to fill about 200 paperback books of the size that used to be usual in his younger days – say, 200 to 250 pages. (The average size of paperbacks began to balloon in the 1970s, but that’s another story.) Some of his nonfiction books were quite short, and a number of his stories and essays were published in more than one book; that brings us up well over 300, but it still leaves us far short of the number given by Wikipedia.

So how did he get to 500 books? Simple: he cheated.

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To the end of the world (and back again)

This past Friday I received two books from Amazon, and passed the whole night and most of Saturday morning in an orgy of reading. First, as an hors d’oeuvre, I read C. S. Lewis’s collection The Weight of Glory, which is much less known than it ought to be; it contains some of Lewis’s best work. The main course was The Last Dark, the tenth and absolutely last of Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books.

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Told by an idiot, No. 6A

Barbara Morgenroth inquires:

Question. My book Impossible Charlie was published by Atheneum and that French publisher attempting to steal it but that’s another issue. I republished it as Dream Horse. Is it still a book or did it lose credibility because I’m a nitwit indie publisher with the result that it is only halfway there now and we might call it a spook–Self Published (B)ook? It has the appearance of what a book looks like but it’s insubstantial and not all there.

Our Resident Expert replies:

Answer. Your book used to be real, but now it is indeed a spook — the ghost of a book that has turned into something dead and unnatural. However, we are prepared to overlook your fault, your fault, your most grievous fault, and absolve you of your literary sin. If a French publisher tried to steal it, why, that confers a halo of sanctity on a book that not even self-publishing can outweigh.

    H. Smiggy McStudge

Told by an idiot, No. 6

The self-publishing industry has allowed anyone with a computer and a small amount of money to call themselves authors. Not long ago, I read a fascinating article in the New York Times (unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find it when I did an Internet search) that questioned whether self-published authors should be called published authors. Rather, the article suggests, they are book writers who have their books printed. There is, I believe, a significant difference between authors published by traditional houses and self-published books in that the latter lack the processes that we can count on to ensure a minimal level of quality, both of content and style.

—Dr. Jim Taylor, ‘Are Self-published Authors Really Authors or Even Published?’

How glad I am that a sane, sensible, and official person has weighed in on this important issue. It is manifestly obvious that a self-published author is no author at all, and that a self-published book is not published. And since a book must have an author, it is surely evident that a self-published book is not even a book. What it is, I cannot say: a new variety of spam, likely.
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Science fiction or fantasy? A rigorous definition

If there’s a zeppelin, it’s alternate history. If there’s a rocketship, it’s science fiction. If there are swords and/or horses, it’s fantasy. A book with swords and horses in it can be turned into science fiction by adding a rocketship to the mix. If a book has a rocketship in it, the only thing that can turn it back into fantasy is the Holy Grail.

—Debra Doyle

Told by an idiot, No. 5

If it sells, it’s crap.

If it doesn’t sell, apply for a grant.

    H. Smiggy McStudge