It has been nearly a year since my last entry last February in which I said that something had happened but that I didn’t want to comment just then.
What happened?Many of you already know.My ex-wife died suddenly, a little more than a year ago now, on January 18th, 2009.She had an attack of asthma one night and help didn’t get to her in time.
This entire last year has been dark and dreary indeed.Dadou and I had divorced, and had remained on good terms, but that doesn’t mean that my demons leave me in peace.My thoughts and feelings, needless to say, are complex.
What I want to say here (and what I’ve been saying all year to the many people I’ve spoken with) is that no matter how much you love someone—wife, husband, your life partner, your children, your parents, your friends—no matter what your differences or difficulties, try to love them a little more each day, because one day, all of a sudden, they may no longer be there.
I wrote this entry last December, but am only now getting around to posting it.No problem.It’s valid for today too, even the snow.
Much has happened since my last entry in July.
I went to another Villa Diodati workshop in October.It was in the south of France this time, in the hills above Antibes.A wonderful place, where I workshopped with wonderful people.The result is that my story Birthday has since been published on line at Tumbarumba, with many thanks to Ben Rosenbaum.
I left for a month in the States just after the workshop.I saw family and friends, hiked in the mountains, and went round the used book stores.I was over there for the election, in fact.I had promised, way back last spring, to comment here upon the election campaign from time to time, but then I never mentioned it again.Needless to say, I’m content with the outcome.The television coverage of election night in Grant Park in Chicago was moving, just moving.
But I know that real change will be long in coming.
We have snow here.Hardly half an inch, not even. The real snow line is just above the city.The surrounding hills and forests have a substantial coating.Friends of mine living up there have nearly half a foot.Seen from down here in town, it’s beautiful.
I must post again soon.Something has happened that I must comment upon, but I don’t want to do that just now.
Once again it's been a while since I last posted here. It's not for lack of inspiration (I've always got something to write about), but for lack of time. First and foremost there are my courses to prepare, materials to write (especially in this summer season of prep students who need specially adapted exercises to help them see for themselves the ins and outs of the English verb tense system, the fine points of higher level grammar, etc.). Then there are my professional projects, a single chapter in a (I hope) forthcoming book on educational theory, a book of English grammar (grammar according to Olsen, that is) with practical exercises for EFL learners, and a long-term multimedia language learning project that a colleague and I have put together. And then, finally, there is my fiction.
Sometimes it's a curse to have a day job that you love.
In the midst of all this I still manage to follow a few forums and read a few blogs, and I've been struck by some recent controversies that appear to have shaken the world of speculative fiction writing (at least in the foro-blogosphere: feisty editor rejects story with apparently racist epithets in the rejection letter that author then posts on blog, provoking outraged reactions far and wide which, in turn provoke further reactions). And I have to wonder, how do writers find so much time to blog? If I had that kind of time, I'd spend it on my fiction.
I spent a fun evening recently, with aliettedb and beth_bernobich, during Beth's family's Parisian escapade. And I'm looking forward to the next Villa Diodati workshop, to be organized in the south of France by jeffspock in October. And I've learned, via Aliette, that The Men in the Attic received honorable mention in Gardner Dozois's 2007 Year's Best anthology. So, onward and upward.
It's been a while since I last posted here. That means that I'm busy, and life is good.
I recently took part in the second get together of the Villa Diodati workshop. You can read Aliette de Bodard's report here and Floris Kleijne's here. I'm sure that other reports will soon be up. Let me just say that these workshops are a true pause in life, when a few of us get together for good food, good company, and good work (reading and critiquing each others' stories, brainstorming help sessions for works in progress, writing exercises, etc.). Here at home I'm already lucky to have my writing friends Lois and Des (I think the three of us would agree that we don't get together often enough).
Today was our first day of warm temperatures. I had a glass of white wine out on the balcony this evening. It was 18° C around 7 p.m. I know it's premature to say that spring is here. The forecast for tomorrow, indeed for the coming week, is horrible. But I couldn't not take advantage of this pleasant evening.
And France is voting again tomorrow. It's the second round of the municipal elections, after last Sunday's first round. All the mayors of France are up for election or re-election at the same time. In Besançon our mayor was re-elected last week, so tomorrow is nothing to get excited about. But this election has been turned into a referendum on the first 8 to 10 months of Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency.
Sarkozy deserves some comment here. I didn't vote for him, and am certainly no fan of his policies. Elected with a comfortable majority last spring, he is, now, after many clumsy moves, quite low in the polls. This is amazing! He had everything going for him, and he blew it from the start. He could have calmly pursued his policies, and implemented his reforms, but instead he has got himself into controversy after controversy over a wide variety of questions. Yet another example of how people in general, and politicians in particular, are their own worst enemies.
A former neighbor of mine recently died. I learned of it barely in time to make it to the funeral. I almost didn't go, but now I'm glad I did. I lived across the street from Jean-Jacques for more than eight years. Though we never became close we were on good terms. He played the guitar in a band and was a fan of American music, particularly Country and Western. A few times I transcribed the words of some country hit for him. In the years after I moved out of the neighborhood I'd sometimes run into him in town, and once or twice I was invited to his home for a barbecue. His life went on, much as mine did -- a divorce, children grown and gone. He became a grandfather, I haven't (not yet anyway). And now he's suddenly gone, 54 years young. Younger than me. Farewell Jean-Jacques. I wish I'd known you better.
My novelette The Men in the Attic (Interzone 213, December 2007) has garnered a few reviews and blog mentions here and there.Though the comments are globally positive and encouraging for me, there has been no great praise and no bashing either.It’s nevertheless interesting to see the different takes that different readers will have on a story.
You can see some of the reviews here, and here.I’m immediately struck by the differing assumptions that the reviewers made.For one the story takes place in “…an unnamed country and an unnamed time…” whereas for the other it’s “The USA has become a tyranny…”.Another review can be seen here.I immediately noticed that the reviewer has made a small error with his mention of “…a second dissident…” whereas it’s really the third.A small error, I insist, but I’ve seen much bigger errors in some reviews recently, and such errors make me wonder about a reviewer’s credibility.That same reviewer goes on to say “…isn’t really a satisfactory climax to the story, which ends at a fairly arbitrary point.”However, one of the aforementioned reviewers says, “…if in the end it doesn't quite fulfil its nightmare promise it's a close-run thing.” I accept these criticisms, but I’m struck once again by the differing appreciations.I’ll say more on the ending in a moment, but first let’s move on to the blogs.
One blogger has this to say.I’m struck by: “What I disliked in this story is the sense of impending doom.... But just as I thought this was duly being delivered, an intriguing get-out scenario appeared, which redeemed the tale for me.”Not exactly in opposition to the earlier mention of an unsatisfactory ending, but it gives me some encouragement.In fact I knew very well that the ending could dissatisfy some readers.I chose my ending for a reason.If individuals had satisfactory outcomes in their struggles with dictators there would be far fewer dictators.
On we go with the blog comments.One had this to say.All I can say is that I liked this too.Next we have this.I’ll let it speak for itself.
The last that I’ll cite is here.I’m very sensitive to something that is said here “I can imagine lots of neat cyber stuff but I need to see some reasonable level of extrapolation—not just magical brain dumps with no serious changes in society to go with it.”This is a useful comment to me.Yes, in The Men in the Attic I did not focus on serious changes in society that might well be brought about by the technological innovations I used as a premise.Again, I had a reason for it.My horror of dictatorship prevailed.Other serious changes in society were not my concern.Though I accept the justifiable criticism, I will nevertheless ripost and say that this came from a proponent of mundane SF, and, good grief, can the mundanists ever take so much of the fun out of science fiction.
We often talk about successful stories or failed stories.I’d like to talk about successful or failed reviews.An example of what I’d call a failed review can be seen here.The scathing comments at the end of the review of the first story serve no purpose.If a reviewer must bash a story or its author, he/she would do better to be brief and even subtle.
In my short career (two published stories so far) I haven’t yet attracted what I’d consider to be a failed review.The reviews and blog comments I’ve seen have all been reasonable, with reasonable (though abrasive once) comments that helped me gain insight into the craft of writing.Authors will likely focus on and integrate the message of a successful review, and make better use of it in their future writing. That, I think, is my case.
Association Planète Mars This is the French chapter of the Mars Society. I've been a member for about two years now. I went to the annual general meeting last year, and in 2006 the association hosted the Euro-Mars convention in Paris. Another annual meeting will be taking place later this winter. It's a great source of contacts and information for a science-fiction writer. We have a website here. And a forum here. So brush off your high school French and come have a look. Yes, I'm working on Mars stories at the moment.
Here in France we're observing the centenary of the birth of Simone de Beauvoir. There have been several televised round table discussions recently, along with the film Les Amants du Flore. I've read many of her works, especially her autobiographies. I should point out that the writings of the great French existentialists of the post-war era--Beauvoir, Camus and Sartre--were what I was weaned on, meaning they were my standard reading fare when I was in university. I particularly recommend Beauvoir's autobiographies--Memoires of a Dutiful Daughter, The Prime of Life, The Force of Circumstance, and All Said and Done. They constitute a detailed chronicle of the origins, heyday and decline of the existentialists.
What I'm particularly sensitive to at the moment, though, is the famous Beauvoir-Sartre model of the couple. They had a pact, from the start, which was that theirs would be an open relationship. They could each have other partners in their life, but they were each to remain number one for the other. I once heard Beauvoir say in a television interview that, though the relationship withstood the threat from the "third parties", it wasn't without difficulty. Problems arose when the "third party" of the moment was no longer content to be third. Beauvoir didn't have the problem too often, she went on to say, but for Sartre it was quite frequent. As a professor, well-published author, and brilliant philosopher, women flocked to him, especially his young women students. Some sensational details of their life together (glossed over in the autobiographies) are getting more public attention now, such as the fact that their own physical intimacy didn't last beyond the first ten years of their relationship. After that the relationship was platonic. Both, however, had any number of liaisons. Beauvoir had a long-term relationship with both Nelson Algren and Claude Lanzmann. Sartre, too, had other relationships of long duration, but he continued, long into his career, to be pursued by many young 'admiratrices'.
What strikes me in all this is that Beauvoir seems to have met the challenge of, and succeeded in living free of bourgeois constraints. Sartre, on the other hand, seems to fall into the familiar category of the brilliant professor and older man who attracts young women by the dozen.
Iowa and New Hampshire are behind us now, with the Democratic campaign still wide open. I'm happy about that and I'm happy about the Republican results too.
I saw a panel discussion on French TV last night (political talk shows are really big in this country), with a number of American writers, including Susan George and Jake Lamar. They were saying that an Obama victory in November would go a long way towards restoring America's reputation in the world, particularly with respect to Arab and black African nations. I've read this elsewhere too. I wish I could believe it. An Obama presidency would have certain advantages, I'm sure (and at this point I'd be happy to see him in the White House), but I wouldn't like to be in the next president's shoes (whoever wins) when it comes to solving the problem of Iraq. More generally, though, I wonder just how free the next president will be to implement progressive policies in such complex areas as foreign policy and health care, to say nothing of environmental issues. I hope that a Democratic victory next November won't be just a prelude to disappointment.