Recent Reading: Storyteller

I've been reading Kate Wilhelm's Storyteller (Small Beer Press, 2005, $16.00 tpb), a combination memoir of the 27 years she and Damon Knight were guest writers/teachers at the Clarion workshops and a guide to writing well (in a both literary and professional manner).

Overall, this is a very nice book. It's short, less than 200 pages. The memoir portions are entertaining and historically informative. The suggestions and guidelines on writing are succinct and sensible.

A few things stuck out at me:

1) One of the writing exercises she suggests is to take a completed manuscript and cover up everything on a page except a single sentence, one sentence at a time, and examine the sentence in isolation, out of context with the rest of the manuscript. Does the sentence say exactly what you wanted it to say, does it say what it needs to say?

This is, literally, a way to line-edit a story. The thought struck me that it shouldn't be too difficult (he said, with the benefit of ignorance and inexperience) to develop a short program or wordprocessing macro that could extract one sentence at a time, display it in a separate window, allow it to be revised there, and then put back into the manuscript, replacing the original sentence.

2) Wilhelm says, at different points in the book, "Think of the worst incident in your life, and use it", and quotes Alfed North Whitehead: "Art is the imposition of pattern on experience." I think those two go together well. I've tried at various points to use real experiences in my life as the basis for stories. It's very difficult (and mostly unsuccessful); sometimes (usually) that "imposition of pattern" requires major revision and simplification of those messy, complex emotions and interactions to suit the purpose of writing a properly structured story.

And sometimes you find yourself writing about your life unconsciously, in a thematic rather than specific way, and only recognize the influences after the fact. There was a story I wrote about ten years ago, where I was going over the finished manuscript, and read over one character's physical description, and how that character acted in the story, and realized with a start, "Oh crap, it's Alan Bostick!" (I sold the story anyway.)


An Open Letter To "Bob Woodward"

Dear "Mr. Woodward",

Who are you, and what have you done with the real Bob Woodward?

Bruce Arthurs



Dr. William Frey, on republicansforhumility.com, has written "Confessions of A Repentant Republican", a long but thoroughly-reasoned essay on his disillusionment with the Bush/Republican administration and policies. Worth the reading time.

Hell has officially frozen over. Arizona Congressman and Bush-team-waterboy J.D. Hayworth stated on the Don Imus show that he would NOT want George Bush to campaign for him in a re-election campaign.

Weirdness. News article on "Rogue Taxidermy". And the website for the Minnesota Association for Rogue Taxidermy.

Our neighbor Anne, who writes online as "Talpianna", has started a blog of her own, Fluffy Cat Babylon, focusing on her cats. "Life In A Cat House" is particularly amusing. (Now if only she'd start a blog about books and writing....)

Several months ago, Molly of My Madeleine blog (about food, cooking,and her goal to work in the food industry) was struck by a car. Besides other injuries, she suffered a fractured skull and brain bruising that resulted in the loss of her senses of smell and taste. They've been slowly returning, and in her latest post, "Salsa, Rosemary, and James Bond", she writes evocatively of the sensation and feeling of regaining lost skills.

Update 11/13/05: Some non-working links fixed. (Thanks, Tal.)


Still Missed

In one of my filing cabinets is a file marked "Unpublished/Unpublishable". It contains material I've written over the years that, for one reason or another (too personal, too angry, too et cetera), I've chosen not to put in print.

What follows is something I wrote in November of 1980. At the time, I decided it was too personal, and that it probably said more about me than about the person I was writing about.

After twenty-five years, though... perhaps it's time:
Hilde, my wife, spoke the words to me when she came back from a shopping trip with Paul Schauble, who had spoken the words to her. These are the words that I heard:

"It's not Wednesday."

In 1975, July, I was attending the Westercon in San Francisco. It was the first major convention I had been to since being discharged from the Army and returning home to the West from the East Coast. I was at a room party, sitting off on one corner of a bed, alone and feeling uncomfortable in a group of people most of whom I did not know or knew only through fanzines and did not know how to start a face-to-face conversation with.

A young lady entered the room, and spoke with some of the other people in the room. She sat down on the bed, read my nametag, and began talking to me about my fanzine.

She began talking to me. It was as if I was an interesting person, which I did not believe myself. I talked clumsily back, in my low, semi-audible voice, and she did not seem to be bored. She did not seem to be bored, and I found that hard to believe. It was not a long conversation by some people's standards, perhaps ten or fifteen minutes, but by my own standards it was an immense stretch. We talked about my fanzine, how I felt about it, about what I had been doing since leaving the Army, about me. And she seemed to care, and she seemed to like me, and not once during that conversation did she glance around to look at anyone else's nametag, to find someone more interesting to talk with. (I broke the conversation off; as I said, by my standards, it was immensely long and I was suffering from... shock?... and I did not know how to cope with it at all.)

We never really saw each other very much. A few minutes talking at the Westercon two years later in Vancouver, some scatteed "Hi's" at another convention or two. We traded fanzines, though, and I felt I knew her from those. And I looked forward to each ccasional issue of her life, and I remembered the kindness she had shown to me at that Westercon in 1975, and I think I can say that I loved her.

It was not a mad, passionate type of love, although I suppose that if I had lived closer and seen her more often, I might have been goofy and foolish enough to succumb to that goofy and foolish madness. But it was more than what I felt towards most people in fandom, where the term "friend" is mistakenly applied to so many acquaintances. But she already had so many friends, who felt towards her as I did, and I never mentioned my feelings to her in the occasional letter I sent. And had I known that she would at last need a friend, any friend, I would have moved heaven and earth to have been there.

"It's not Wednesday."

Those are the words I heard Hilde speak. They were not the words she had said. Something, between my ear and my brain, had altered them, rejected the true words as unacceptable. Hilde repeated the words:

"Susan Wood is dead."

I wish it was Wednesday.