March 2007


I’ve been given my Ravencon Schedule. Thought I’d pass it along. Below you’ll find the panels I’m on, along with the program description and my commentary and pleas for help in formulating my b.s. (brilliant satire?) for each.

A Chance to Begin Again 3 PM Friday, April 20th
If you had the chance to restart/change the human race under a new set of guidelines, which book/author would you choose as a blueprint? (Think of H. G. Wells and The Time Machine.) Many writers have formed their own societies—some are considered idealistic, while others are perhaps too fantastic to comprehend.

Nice way to begin, don’t you think? I’m still mulling over the possibilities—Memoirs of a Revolutionist, Orlando Furioso, The Long Good-Bye, The Wind in the Willows, Shakespeare. Probably not the Bible, seeing how well George Bush is doing with that little experiment. Suggestions are welcome.

What I Learned From My Panel From Hell Experience! 7 PM Friday, April 20th
It seems like it is a tradition to have the Panels from Hell every year. So to change things a little, this is a panel where panelists share what good came out of their panel from hell.

As Boethius said after being on a really bad panel, there’s no such thing as bad fortune, since we learn from it. Come hear how The Fourth World was born from one such panel with the help of Rudy Rucker and some really kludgy software. I’ll also share my surefire secrets for how a sweet guy like me can piss off an entire auditorium full of people.

Autograph Session 8 PM Friday, April 20th
You know what this is. Look for the long, snaking line. I’m the guy next to the person all those people are waiting for. At Worldcon in Glasgow, I was next to Terry Pratchett. When Simon’s Shoestore sent me to a huge romance writers con in Ft. Worth, I was next to Nora Roberts. I’ve sat next to some really big names, I’ll have you know. So if you want to drop by, I’ll be glad to chat you up while you’re waiting for whoever’s sitting next to me. If it’s like last year, the table will be conveniently located by the bar. Oh yeah. I’ll sign stuff too, but it’s not necessary.

Revenge of the Mediocre Characters! 4 PM Saturday, April 21st
They’re not smart and they’re not stupid—they are the everyday character. How do we keep them mediocre without screwing it up? Are they good enough to keep a story interesting or do we have to have larger than life heroes?

As I’ve mentioned here a couple of times, I’ve been reading a lot of Murakami lately. (I’ve just finished The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle). If you want to see what a good mediocre character can do, check him out. I try to stamp out larger than life heroes wherever I find them, but they’re tough to kill, you know, like cockroaches. I’m not sure how the mediocre feel about that exclamation mark punctuating their panel, however.

Author Slamfest 10 PM Saturday, April 21st
Moderator has authors read snippets of their work, but … the moderator selects the page number on the spot, gives the author 10 seconds to pick a line or two and has them read them to the audience. Authors must bring a copy of ONE book.

You’ve got to love the sadist who dreamed this up. I haven’t chosen a book yet. I welcome suggestions. Something “voicy? I suppose. Sympathetic supporters to witness the spectacle are also welcome.

The Report Read “Routine retirement of a replicant…? 9 AM Sunday, April 22nd
Killing off characters—is there a new wave or are we just exploring the same old thing time and time again? How can writers be innovative in killing off their characters?

A great topic for first thing Sunday morning when the revelers will be feeling dead already. I often have the hardest time figuring out what dead is in my fiction, though it’s certainly clear enough in real life. Death, almost by definition, is the same old thing time and time again, isn’t it? Seems to me I remember a novel with that title once. I suspect between Six Feet Under and CSI in its many incarnations, innovative killing could stand to take a hiatus? Maybe each death might (ahem) mean something? Just a thought. What are yours?

Sniff-Sniff 10 AM Sunday, April 22nd
Tear-jerkers in science fiction, fantasy, and horror; is this just a romance genre issue or do we have them? If so name your best and why.

I’d love to hear suggestions here as well. If I don’t choke readers up at least a couple of times in a novel, I don’t figure I’m doing my job. Several sf movies come to mind, like Starman. I hear the music, and I have to reach for a hankie! I cried the first time I saw On the Beach. Print sf is less fond of tears. Robert Charles Wilson’s novels always have their poignant moments. Carol Emshwiller’s short stories can be quite emotional. Fantasy weeps often, it seems to me. Stories like A Portrait of Jenny, for example, are wrapped around a wistful sadness from beginning to end. So what are your favorite fictive cries? What does it say about the genre if we aren’t expected to cry over any of those innovatively killed characters in the last panel?

Song to Myself

Life it ain’t nothing but a dog upon a bone—
Something chewing something from a life that’s not its own,
What was left from someone’s dinner is now lying on the floor.
Do you think the dog ever wonders just what the man is for?

I need a break from you.
I need a break from you too.
I need a break from all of you.

I always thought this sadness was a disease for a younger man
The fellow racing rats, you know, the fellow with a plan,
Always looking over his shoulder and carrying a heavy load,
But when you get a little older, you start looking down the road.

I need a break from you.
I need a break from you too.
I need a break from all of you.

I found myself at sixteen and again at twenty-three.
I found myself so many times you’d think there’d be nothing left of me.
But I’ve still got a penny in my pocket and my head up in the clouds,
My mind in the gutter, and I’m inordinately proud.
So what have you got to say for yourself, you boring, useless sap.
I’m so tired of putting up with your boring useless crap.

I need a break from you.
I need a break from you too.
I need a break from all of you.

Life it ain’t nothing but a dog upon a bone—
Something chewing something from a life that’s not its own,
What was left from someone’s dinner is now lying on the floor.
Do you think the dog ever wonders just what the man is for?

While researching/reminiscing about the lovely Mexican town of Catemaco in Veracruz for a story I’m working on, I came across the following photo. The fish the fisherman hopes to catch will be delicious, in my experience. Laced with garlic cloves and fried whole, it’s a reason to live.

As I have for the last few years, I will be teaching a couple of literature classes at Virginia Commonwealth University this summer. The first (June 11-July 11, Monday through Friday 10:30-12:20) will be Science Fiction. The second, (July 12-August 10, Monday through Friday 10:30-12:20) will be Urban Fantasy. They are short, intense classes, including both books and films. The Urban Fantasy class is near full, but there’s plenty of room in the Science Fiction class. These are 200 level courses. The only prerequisite is a year of freshman English.
The books and films for the Science Fiction class:

Ray Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451
Philip K. Dick. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?
Ursula K. Le Guin. The Lathe of Heaven
Haruki Murakami. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
Robert Charles Wilson. Blind Lake
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
(1956)
Dr. Strangelove
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
(1978)
Blade Runner
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

The books and films for the Urban Fantasy Class:
Neil Gaiman. Anansi Boys
Sean Stewart. Perfect Circle
Kelly Link. Magic for Beginners
Jeffrey Ford. The Empire of Ice Cream
Haruki Murakami. Kafka on the Shore
Edward Scissorhands
The Sixth Sense

Being John Malkovich
Donnie Darko

I bet you never thought you’d see a headline like that here. I was waiting for the bus to take me to jury duty again this morning when I glanced over at the marquee outside the church across the street: TOO MANY CHRISTIANS ARE NO LONGER FISHERS OF MEN BUT KEEPERS OF THE AQUARIUM. I love it. Of course, all groups have their aquarium keepers.

Jury duty went as expected: We all go downtown, and the parties settle before there’s a trial. The case involved a huge insurance company vs. a Spanish surname victim. I can’t imagine I would’ve been selected anyway. “Mr. Danvers, can you think of any reason why you might not be able to render an impartial verdict in this matter?” Where do I begin? I could just read passages from The Fourth World, I suppose.

Good question. The wonderful novelist Lee Smith was once asked in a Q & A session whether she wrote every day. She repled, “I don’t always have something to say, do you?” Among the factors contributing to my silence have been a round of beautiful spring weather in Richmond, jury duty, a new computer that needed no end of fussing over, and a stubborn short story that refuses to properly end. And as Lee says, I don’t always have something to say. Perhaps I’m suffering from blog block.

I came across an article about Wilderness online in a journal called Colloquy—“Alice and the Wolf: Exploring Dennis Danvers’ Wilderness.” It’s by Peter C. Coleman. As a refugee from scholarship myself, it was a very weird sensation to read a scholarly article about my work, expecially a novel I wrote so long ago, so that the quoted passages were almost like reading a novel written by someone else. The article is really quite good, especially his discussion of the pivotal scene involving Alice, the Wolf, and Debra. I didn’t much like what he had to say about the ending, but who am I to complain? If you really want to see a botch job on the ending of the story, may I suggest the tv/film adaptation which gave me a migraine the first and only time I watched the whole thing.

Surprise, surprise. There’s a new book out called Generation Me that Simon & Schuster is giving the big push. Expect to hear lots of blather on radio and tv about what narcissistic losers the current generation of young people are. I’ve been teaching college English since 1969, so I meet a sample of college students every year. Except that women and minority students now take themselves more seriously than they did then, I don’t see a big difference.

The young are a convenient whipping boy or girl for whatever’s wrong with the world. The Virginia legislature recently banned cell phone use for drivers under 18. This is their way of not dealing with the fact that anyone driving with a cell phone is a bad idea. When I go about my pedestrian business and almost get run down in cross walks on a daily basis by people driving SUVs, clueless in Cell Phone Land, the drivers usually aren’t under 18. Cars kill more people than guns, year in, year out: 40,000+ in the US just like clockwork. Public hue and cry? Only about young drivers, especially young drunk drivers. Maybe a transportation system that puts everyone using it at the mercy of the competence of every other user is an inherently dumb (often lethal) system? When we boomers are all half-blind with the reaction time of drugged sloths, are we still going to blame the young for danger on the road?

It seems the only way the young can catch a break is by dying in Iraq. How narcissistic of them—sent there by leaders who seem to live in their own little world, racking up debt for those worthless young people to pay.

As she points out, the author of Generation Me is part of the generation she’s critiquing. Born in 1971, she has a Ph.D. in psychology and a weighty list of impressive publications. I’m sure it’s a good book, but I can’t help noticing that the self-esteem talk she criticizes seems to have worked out okay for her. The first issue of Ms. came out in 1970. I remember it. It was a big damn deal. My bright women students back then rarely dreamed of getting a doctorate. Many planned to find a husband in college before they graduated. (I kid you not). Things changed. If that means we now have a generation scoring higher on a narcissism scale because they believe they can be anything they want to be, I think the species is all the better for it.

All generations of young people are inexperienced and inadequately prepared to deal with life’s vicissitudes. I take that to be the young mammalian condition. So they figure it out, like every other generation. Books like Generation Me are part of that process I suppose. Let’s hope the young do a better job with the world than the mess we’re handing them.