Mrs. M and I spent the afternoon helping some friends clear out their apartment. Unfortunately, the presence of stairs renders me less useful than I might otherwise be (which admittedly isn’t much to begin with, but is even less with a bum knee.) But today’s work being done, I settled downstairs a few moments ago and realized that while I have been writing lately, it hasn’t been here. So let’s do something about that.
I found myself approaching the recent election with a degree of fatalistic serenity. I knew that I would find myself appalled whoever won, and I was right. I have little patience for the Current Occupant’s efforts to cry foul, but I have no illusion that the nouveau regime will be anything other than a different kind of corrupt venality. Consequently, I find myself rooting for at least a Republican split in the Georgia Senate runoffs, because I remain firm in my belief that gridlock is a feature, not a bug. Now on to more interesting matters. (Well, interesting to me, anyway. We’re all entitled to our hobbies.)
As I said, I’ve been writing of late, having put together a couple of short stories inspired by artworks my dad created. A few days back, Mrs. M was rearranging a downstairs closet, and found a few of Dad’s works I had forgotten about. At least one of them seems to want me to write something, but I’m not sure what yet. Dad primarily did landscapes — he said he couldn’t paint or draw people very well, although at least one painting (which hangs in our foyer) and some of his pen-and-ink works suggest otherwise to me. But some landscapes seem to offer me more stories than others, so we shall see.
On a whim, I submitted one of those stories to a Highly Esteemed Periodical a few weeks back. It was my first submission to this particular HEP in about 30 years. They used to bounce those stories back to me with alacrity. Honestly, the stories deserved no better, and were bad fits besides, but they seemed to return to me so quickly that I suspected an editor actually lurked in the University of Kentucky’s mailroom to prevent the folks at HEP HQ from having to deal with it. Of course, the last time I sent something to HEP, I met the young woman who would eventually become Mrs. M. There are rejections and acceptances in this world, it seems.
In any case, this time I promptly received a form e-mail from HEP acknowledging my submission. However, it also informed me that I would only hear from them again if they were interested in running the story. Fair enough, except they included no time frame. This leaves me wondering how long I should allow the story to languish before I give up on HEP and see if it can find a home elsewhere.
This isn’t quite beyond the pale, I guess; a leading magazine in my primary genre has a turnaround time that approaches the geological — I had a story bounced there some eleven months after I submitted it, and I’ve known people who waited a full year before getting the news (including at least one acceptance.) I can only suspect that the broadening of the funnel’s mouth brought by electronic submission has clogged the transom over which stories have been submitted. (Always remember — my metaphor mixer has a Puree setting.) Back when a writer had to pay postage and include a SASE to get a rejection, it at least forced a level of earnestness from the author, who was serious enough to pay Uncle Sam’s ante. (As opposed, I guess, to Uncle Sam’s Auntie. I think her name was Nomianism.) This theory may also explain why pay toilets are generally cleaner than the free version. These days, however, it only takes a would-be author a couple of clicks to add his or her horse apple to the editorial Augean Stables. So, slower.
In this regard, I find myself somewhat nostalgic for the prompt rejections I received those decades ago. But hope springing eternal as it does, I find myself willing to give HEP a certain amount of slack before I give up. To continue the allusion to Pope, stories “never are, but always to be accepted.”
And speaking of publishing, certain corners of the reading world were roused this week by J. Michael Straczynski’s announcement that he (as executor of the estates of Harlan and Susan Ellison) is seeing to the completion and publication of The Last Dangerous Visions, the long awaited third installment of the speculative fiction anthologies that Ellison edited. [Side Note: The second installment, Again Dangerous Visions, was my introduction both to Ellison’s work and to adult-level SF. I found it on Dad’s shelf when I was about eight, a year or so after its publication in 1972. How twigs get bent.]
The book is now 46 years overdue. Over those years, some of the stories Ellison accepted were withdrawn and published elsewhere, and others were reverted to the writers. And of course, the genre has developed in different directions (thanks in no small part to the groundbreaking done by the first two DV anthos) over the years, and ideas that were fresh and yes, dangerous, in the early 1970s may be past their expiry dates. Straczynski acknowledges this, and pledges to do the best he can to make things as right as he can for the writers in question. He also notes that some of the genre’s current “heavy hitters” (to use his term) have agreed to contribute work to TLDV.
But the part that made me smile was this one:
The Dangerous Visions books also have a long, rich history of launching new voices and new talents, as well as helping solidify the careers of those on the cusp of larger success. So The Last Dangerous Visions will present stories by a diverse range of young, new writers from around the world who are telling stories that look beyond today’s horizon to what’s on the other side.
In addition, for one day, as the editing process wraps up, one last slot will be opened up for submissions from unknown and unpublished writers. One day, one writer, one new voice, one last chance to make it into The Last Dangerous Visions.
I haven’t written SF in a very long time, but I’m tempted. In any case, I look forward to seeing TLDV next spring.
Another book I plan to read came out in May. It’s Bouton: The Life of a Baseball Original, by Mitchell Nathanson. I’ve mentioned in the past that Jim Bouton was one of the figures of my youth who taught me that it was okay not to fit in, that though being an oddball had its challenges, it also had its own value. Consequently, his book Ball Four is one I read every year or two, and I enjoy it every time. Indeed, last year I loaned my copy to a student of mine, who is both a promising writer and a star pitcher on the Mondoville baseball team. Reason magazine offers a review that seems encouraging, so that’s one for the Christmas list.
I continue to go to the YMCA to walk on the indoor track, putting in about 3-4 hours a week, in installments of 30 minutes to an hour. The length of any particular walk is contingent on how much spare time I have, my level of knee pain, and whether or not I’m bored with the music coming up on my iPod’s shuffle. I usually walk in the middle of the afternoon, when one of the facility’s day care groups is at play on the gym floor below the suspended track.
They appear to have grown used to my routine as well. One kid makes a point of waving to me each day as I make my way around the track. I wave back, or offer a casual salute. I hope it pleases the kid as much as it does me.
Over the course of the past week, I found time to watch Scott Frank’s miniseries version of Walter Tevis’s The Queen’s Gambit. It’s getting rave reviews, and I think for good reason. I’ve never been a serious chess player, but that’s not necessary to enjoy the series. The story is never less than well executed, and a number of shots and sequences in the series are absolutely gorgeous. While the final, climactic episode hit a few too many expected notes, the preceding episodes earned them, and the epilogue was note perfect. Definitely recommended.
I’ll go ahead and wrap things up here with some music. I’ve talked before about my band from my first trip through grad school, The Groovy Kool. We called our style “folkadelic”, but really it was a subgenre commonly referred to as “jangle pop,” owing a great deal to the Beatles and Byrds via early R.E.M. We weren’t that great — some nights, we might not even have been particularly good (depending on who ingested what between sets) — but we spent a few years playing mostly original material with clean hands and composure, and got a little airplay there in the Lexington, KY area.
We were somewhat late to that particular party, forming around 1988, but the previous five years had seen a lot of activity in the genre. Bands like Guadalcanal Diary, Let’s Active, and others had become a staple of college radio, and bands in that vein blossomed across the country. The Captured Tracks label has assembled a 28-track compilation called Strum and Thrum: The American Jangle Underground 1983-87. I listened to it this evening, and I think it’s going on my Christmas list.
Here’s the leadoff track, by The Reverbs, a group that did one EP in 1984. One member went on to play in the somewhat better known Velvet Crush. I suppose I’ll know more about them when I get the set. Here are the Reverbs, with “Trusted Woods.”
See you soon!