October 2006



I’ll be at the WFC in Austin, November 2-5, staying at the Fairfield, the overflow hotel. It sounds like the main hotel is in some sort of suburban mall complex. How Texas. Too bad it’s not actually in the city. Austin is one of the cooler towns in Texas. I was there summer before last, briefly, visiting my first wife, Kathy. She visited Sarah and me for a week in Richmond last spring. I hope to see her while I’m in Austin.

This will be my first WFC. I’m not on the program. I’m not autographing (sitting alone at a table for an hour, in my experience). There are several panels I’m interested in, readings I want to hear, folks to get caught up with. Other than that, I’ll just be hanging out. I hope to meet a few new folks. No one can accuse me of getting out too much.

What I miss most about Texas (not a long list, admittedly) is good Mexican food. Richmond’s getting better, but the best place here wouldn’t last a week in Austin. As long as there’s decent Mexican food I can hike to from the Fairfield, the trip will not have been in vain. The other thing I miss about Texas—okay, the list is two items long—is the Texas sense of humor and irreverance.

Austin is one of those towns where a lot of left leaning Texans end up. I probably know a couple dozen people who live there, people I’ve lost touch with over the years. Maybe one of those people will read this and show up at the Fairfield with Mexican food and beer. It’s a fantasy convention after all.

Now he’s done it.  Allen is attacking Webb for characters and incidents in his novels.  Setting aside for the moment that George couldn’t write a novel if his life depended on it, let’s take this idea for a test drive.  It’s called fiction, George.  By your reckoning Tolstoy would favor women throwing themselves in front of trains.  Kafka would be pro insect.  Shakespeare encourages teen sex and suicide pacts, blinding people with your bare hands, and letting old people wander around without proper medical care.  As for me, I favor young impressionable boys being raised by a man with lizard genes and a multiple personality and time-traveling anarchists taking on the CSA.  Right.  I hope my fellow Virginians are as disgusted as I am by this insult to our intelligence.  Two more years of W is bad enough, but six more years of Senator Macaca?  And Jim, if you’re listening, I hope you sell a ton of books, and thanks for running.

Who would’ve thought that Virginia would be a key state in the upcoming election?  Until Senator George “Macaca” Allen started running against himself—not hard admittedly—there was no contest.  I’ve never lived anywhere I voted with the majority.  I grew up in Texas, so I believe that’s to my credit.  The Dixie Chicks make me proud I’m a Texan, but I agree with their assessment of George W.  And though it’s hard to imagine, Allen may be even dimmer than W.  These faux good old boys seem to spend a few brain cells in the transformation from rich kid to plain folks.

We’re also blessed with a “Marriage Amendment” vote.  I believe in marriage—I’ve done it four times.  This cumbersome amendment would make my current household “approximating marriage” illegal.  So the Commonwealth after nearly ten wonderful years wants me to screw up a good thing by getting married a fifth time?  Are they nuts?  What I love is that in a society which claims to separate church and state there’s a referundum to “uphold the sanctity of marriage.”  I’m sorry.  Sanctity doesn’t sound like a state function to me.  If the various churches wish to define marriage this way and that, fine.  The state shouldn’t concern itself with such issues.  Contracts, property, medical access—all these are state issues and would be affected by this homophobic amendment.  Vote NO.

I enjoyed Capclave. I wasn’t staying at the hotel, so I didn’t partake of the party scene, but the two panels I was on went well, and the ones I attended were consistently interesting. The highlight for me was Stan Robinson’s lecture on time and the novel Friday evening. I was struck by how much smarter his conclusions and insights were than the rather unimaginative panel I moderated at James River Writers Conference in which the panelists clung to the notion that there was a right pace for a novel, and once you found it you hit cruise control and away you go. Stan argued for a much more sophisticated view that encourages a more symphonic variation in pace. His comments helped me see some of the pacing problems in a manuscript I’m working on and has given me ideas for revision—always a good thing. I also heard James Morrow read a bit from his novel in progress, an homage to Frankenstein. Naturally I was interested having just written my own satiric but affectionate homage in The Bright Spot. We shared panelist duties after his reading, so I got to meet him and talk briefly, a very nice man. I’ve always liked his work. In general, the programming was a little chaotic—no moderators specified, everyone pretty much plugged in last minute—but with folks like Michael Dirda and Paul Park on the panels, they still managed to be consistently interesting, if not always on the stated topic. I’ll most likely be back. Next year the GOH will be friend Jeffrey Ford, and I definitely don’t want to miss that.

Outside of the con, Sarah and I visited the National Zoo pandas early Saturday morning and pretty much had them to ourselves except for a couple of photographers with lenses the size of sewer pipes. Saturday night we had dinner with old friend Denny Dobbin who had graciously let us stay at his place.

I will be at Capclave this weekend in DC—the Silver Spring Hilton, to be more precise. I don’t go to many cons, but this one is only an Amtrak/Metro ride away and has as its motto “where reading is not extinct” with a dodo as its mascot. And if that’s not enough, Kim Stanley Robinson, a fave, is the GOH. I don’t have a definite schedule yet, but I’ll be on a couple of panels, as well as in a “conversation pit.” Sounds inviting, doesn’t it? If you’re there, say hello. I’ll buy you a coffee.

This is Richmond’s second year to host this event, and I highly recommend it. Even though the name is Folk Festival (and the O in folk is a lute) the one thing you won’t hear is coffeehouse style folk music. Yesterday Sarah and I heard everything but, all excellent in a gorgeous riverside setting with perfect weather. We plan to return today. Check it out. National Folk Festival.

The is the first of the godstories I wrote. It’s quite silly. I trust God can handle silly.

The Berovian National Orchestra

While passing by Earth on his way to a barbecue the Qwilps are throwing in his honor, God moves through the usual tide of human prayers like a sewer worker in waders. Humans are big prayers—me, me, me, me, please, please, please, please, why, why, why, why. Make me good, make me rich, make me forget, make an appearance, make a religion, make the bastards pay. Thy will be done, kingdom come, save my bum, thank you, thank you, thank you. Forgi—

“Oh, leave off it,? God mutters and stops just long enough to interrupt Larry King Live to say he wants to ask humans—his favorite species in all the universe, he assures Larry—to do him, God, a personal favor: “I’d like a concert,? he says. “Something real pretty. I’m especially fond of the Brandenburg Concertos, but anything will do. Surprise me. Mornings are good. I’ll plan on January 26th. Sorry I don’t have time to talk, but I’m expected somewhere else.? Lots of somewhere elses, actually, but God doesn’t elaborate. (more…)

I enjoyed my moderating duties. Both panels went well. The organizers of the conference went out of their way to advise moderators to maintain a low profile in the discussion. There was only one time I had to chew my moderating tongue. During the pacing panel Q & A one of the panelists advised avoiding dialogue as an enemy of good pacing because real conversation is filled with deadwood, giving a lengthy example of tape-recorded conversation. What about Chandler? Mamet? What’s that dude’s name, Shakespeare? Who ever said dialogue is real conversation? The words on the page are never what’s being represented there—the description is not the countryside—even when what’s being represented is words. The best advice I ever had about dialogue was from playwright and novelist Jim Pendleton who said good dialogue is action. People are acting on each other when they talk. Every line of dialogue should be a significant action. Do you include every “hi Bob? or “well, uh?? Of course not. No more than you would describe every leaf or drop of blood. That doesn’t mean you avoid forests or murders.

The social consciousness panel was a lively bit of serious fun with poet Elena Georgiou, Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Mark Holmberg, and GQ staff writer Andrew Corsello coming at the subject from radically different directions and ending up at the same place: Socially conscious writing begins and ends with empathy, the experience of it and the desire to pass it on.

I also attended a panel on the community of poets with Elena, Christian Peet, and Joshua Poteat, moderated by Cheryl Pallant. I always go to the poetry panels. It’s so easy to find a chair. Most of the people there could’ve been up front. The audience was a who’s who of Richmond poets. I asked a question and got a page full of answers. Elena and Christian have a press and poetry journal, Tarpaulin Sky, publishing some excellent poetry.

I will be at the James River Writers Conference again this year as a moderator on two panels, one on “Pacing” and the other on “Socially Conscious Writing.” The Conference is this Friday and Saturday at the State Library of Virginia.