June 30, 2008
June 14, 2008
It was a simple drive twelve miles north this morning to get to Skokie for Algis Budrys's memorial service. Laura was unable to join me so I went alone, and I found when I arrived at the funeral home that there was no one there I knew. Actually, I did meet Ajay's dear wife Edna back in 1985, but I wouldn't have expected her to remember that brief occasion all these years later.
I don't do very well in crowds where I don't know anyoneheck, I can get intimidated in crowds where I do know peopleso I sort of slinked around at the back of the room, feeling somewhat like an intruder. Two display tables helped me occupy myself. One was covered with an arrangement of various editions of Ajay's books. The other displayed a selection of interviews with and articles about him, both from print sources and online. On a widescreen television ran a slideshow of photos of Ajay and his family.
The service began not long after I arrived, and I found a seat toward the back. There were fifty or sixty people in attendance, I would estimate, and the number of chairs for everyone was almost exactly right. A pastor spoke for a few minutes about Ajay's greatness as a husband and a father and a writer, and offered a prayer. Then she turned the time over to Ajay's sons.
Jeff shared remembrances and appreciations of Ajay he had gathered from people online over the preceding few days. Among the poignant, funny, and just simply factual snippets he read, I was startled to hear a line I had written in a brief post on Monday. Tim expressed his good fortune at being able to spend many of his adult summers with his parents' house as a home base, and shared an observation an associate at a Renaissance fair had madethat no wonder he seemed so even-keeled, with parents who had always stayed together. Dave recounted the last years and final days of Ajay's life, when despite setback after setback, Ajay had remained cheerful and become even more of a sweet man. All three sons credited their parents with giving them the space to do their own thingas long as they did something. There was also much talk of Ajay's prowess as a bicycle builder and mechanicthe boys grew up having by far the best bikes around, at a time when 10-speeds were still exoticand stories like the time he singed his eyebrows off cleaning bike parts with gasoline.
After the boys spoke, Edna offered a few words in tribute to Ajay's humor and wit. She also recounted how, when they were young and living in New Jersey and playing a regular penny-ante poker game with Fred Pohl and others, they would all pay their poker debts to one another first anytime a check for a story arrived in the mail.
Next the pastor opened the service to remembrances from anyone who cared to share them. We heard moving and amusing stories both, from people like the massage therapist who worked with him the last three years of his life, the neighbor who eventually went into politics with Ajay as a close supporter and publicist, the young man to whom Ajay was a surrogate father figure, the director of the Writers of the Future contest who had worked with him for 24 years, the friend who first met Ajay in the '50s in the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society, the younger cousin whose family were fellow immigrants, and more.
Finally, after some internal wrestling, I stood up. You might not know it if you've heard me speak, but it terrifies me to talk in front of a group unprepared, especially a group of strangers. But none of Ajay's students had spoken up yet, and I thought at least one should. What I said, more or less, was that despite only really knowing Ajay for a few weeks during the summer of 1985, he'd had a profound influence on my early development as a writer, as he no doubt had on thousands of others. I said that what I carried with me was not just the serious lessons about writing that he imparted, but also the demented childlike glee in him that would manifest at the oddest times.
I recalled the epic water fights of our Clarion workshop, and Ajay squaring off against Damon Knight with water guns at our final barbecue. What dangerous opponents they were to any who crossed them! And I recounted a scene that is seared into my brain, how when Ajay spied a blue stuffed rabbit that seemed to show up as a Clarion mascot year after year, he got a demonic look in his eye, hissed, "I ... hate ... that ... rabbit!", and proceeded to bite, kick, and bludgeon it into oblivion. "If you knew Ajay at all," I said, "you can imagine what a startling sight it was to see him jumping up and down on that stuffed bunny."
What I learned from this, I said, was to try to remember to keep a spirit of fun about me, even when engaged in work what I consider to be serious work. I managed to get through my two minutes without resorting to a tissue, though it was a close thing.
After a couple of more remembrances, the mourners filed past the open casket one last timeAjay looked about as good as anyone I've seen in that situation, with a very short, neatly trimmed white beardbefore retiring to the parking lot. Edna thanked me for what I had said, which put me at something of a loss for words.
I had to be back home, so I didn't join the procession to the cemetery for the interment, but I trust it was as lovely and bittersweet a ceremony as the service at the funeral home. I will leave it to others to remark on Ajay's importance to the field of science fiction, but I can only remark right now on his importance to my science fiction. I'll never forget him because he was the first person to, with authority, give me serious reason to think I might really be capable of becoming a professional writer. In his curmudgeonly way, he told me I wasn't close to there yet, and he certainly let me know it was going to be a difficult process, with only a small likelihood of flashy rewards, but he let me know I had the potential.
One last thing I will never forget is how, on the last day of Clarion, Ajay brought to me a copy of the souvenir book we students had made with a selection of our stories, and almost shyly asked if I would sign it. Of course, all of us were signing one another's copies, like yearbooks, but there was just something in Ajay's approach to asking that made me feel like a king. I was seventeen, and he was a Golden Age giant, but he made it seem like those designations didn't matter. And they didn't.
I've started scanning some of my photos from Clarion '85, including what I think are some nice ones of Ajay and Edna.
June 12, 2008
June 9, 2008
I just heard from Geoff Landis that Algis Budrys passed away this morning. He was one of the great writers, editors, critics, and teachers of science fiction, and as the first week's instructor for my Clarion class in 1985, he certainly had a profound influence on my early development as a writer. I'm very sad to hear this news, especially given that I now live so close to Evanston, Illinois, where he made his home for so long.
I've pulled Rogue Moon down from the shelf and intend to start re-reading it tonight, something I've meant to do for a very long time.
April 30, 2008
Longtime readers may recall me railing against James Frey and the phenomenon of the invented memoir a couple of years ago. Rather than chilling the memoir marketplace, though, Frey was merely in the vanguard of a veritable explosion of exposed frauds that now includes such "memoirists" as Margaret B. Jones and Misha Defonseca.
The topic of these overly embroidered tales is much on my mind as, again, my memoir makes its way back into the marketplace. I feared two years ago that Frey's escapade would make a memoir more difficult to sell. Now I fear that he didn't make it difficult enough.
Nearly two months ago, Scott Simon on NPR's Weekend Edition delivered an editorial that made me stand up and pump my fist in the air. He made the interesting argument that the phony memoirist cheats in two ways: first, by weaving of his life an epic that never was; and second, by scanting the literary rigor a novel would have demanded. Listen here:
Writing and Truth in Fact and FictionSpeaking as someone who has labored for nearly ten years to produce a book that will hold up on both counts and provoke more than skepticism and cynicism, I can only add my fervent amen.
by Scott Simon
April 17, 2008
This just in. New agent loves new draft of Accidental Terrorist. "I've just read the additions/revisions and I have to admit I am elated.... [Y]ou've completely rounded out the long, strange adventure and added a whole new depth to the tale."
This puppy's on its way to editors again. Thank fucking Elohim.
April 14, 2008
See also shunncast.
April 7, 2008
February 26, 2008
Just a quick note from O'Hare, where I'm on my way to Utah to visit my dad, who is gravely ill.
If you're a member of Denvention 3 or were a member of Nippon 2007 and you haven't sent in your Hugo nominations yet, don't forget! The deadline is coming up fastSaturday, March 1.
For the record, my two original stories from 2007 were:
"Objective Impermeability in a Closed System" (audio)
"Not of This Fold" appeared on the preliminary Nebula ballot, while "Objective Impermeability" will be reprinted in Hartwell and Cramer's Year's Best SF 13. Both stories were originally published in my chapbook An Alternate History of the 21st Century, still available from Spilt Milk Press.
Hugo nominating form:
February 19, 2008
Last April I wrote the first draft of a story called "Care and Feeding of Your Piano." It's a short, humorous piece written entirely as excerpts from the interactive instruction manual for a bioengineered piano*.
Armed with some suggestions from my writing group, I sat in my Baltimore-area hotel room a month and a half later and spent two hours applying some heavy revisions to the sucker, which including reordering many chunks of text to achieve more comic juxtapositions. I sync'd the laptop with the USB memory stick I always carried as backupat least, I presume I did, because that had long been my habitthen rushed over to Balticon for my scheduled reading. I read that story and one called "Timesink" (which was then and is still forthcoming in Electric Velocipede) directly from my computer screen. The reading seemed to go over pretty well, at least according to Jamie Rubin, who was there.
In June, as I prepared to attend the Blue Heaven workshop, I got frustrated with all the cruft slowing down my laptop, so I wiped it and reinstalled Windows XP. At the end of that month, we moved to Chicago. As we unpacked, I became more and more uneasy the longer my black Manhattan Portage shoulder bag, which I was looking for, failed to turn up. I always carried my USB memory stick in a little Velcro'd pocket on the front of it. The shoulder bag has never turned up, one of the very few casualties of our move.
It wasn't until we'd been here a month or more that I went to the desktop machine to take another look at my revised version of "Care and Feeding." I was going to give it a quick polish-and-trim and get it out therefirst stop, New Yorker "Shouts & Murmurs" submission. (Why not, right?)
But what appeared before my eyes was not my lovely revised version of the story but my first draft. Apparently, in all the excitement of preparing for the move, I had never sync'd the memory stick to my desktop machine. Fine, I figured, I'll just have to get it off the laptop.
But it wasn't there either. That's when I remembered I had wiped the machine in June, and the story directory there was identical to the one on the desktop machine. With mounting horror, I tried a couple of different low-level scans on the laptop, but to no avail. The revised draft was gone.
It took me about another six months to work up the energy to tackle re-revising my first draft. That's what I did Sunday, taking a break from the minor revisions to The Accidental Terrorist that are my focus here for the next week or so. It took me all day to achieve what felt like a reasonably successful recreation of what I did in that Baltimore hotel room, far longer than those original revisions had taken. At the end of the day, I printed out the story and read it aloud to Laura while she cooked.
I made some notes on the manuscript as I read, as I usually do. Yesterday I went to the desktop machine to pull up the story and fix the elements I'd noted. What appeared before me was the original, untouched first draft. I was puzzled. I clearly recalled syncing the laptop to the desktop machine after printing the manuscript the day before, but perhaps I had goofed something up.
I turned on the laptop, which is where I had done the revisions. I brought up the story. I felt a knot in my stomach at the realization that this, too, was the original draft.
I had sync'd the wrong way, overwriting my revised draft with the original. I swear, something in my subconscious is out to get this story.
At least this time I have a printout of what I did. All I need to do is type it back in. (No scanner here for an OCR shortcut.) Of course, all the
stalling blogging I've done so far today will demonstrate how mountainous even that simple task seems to me right now.
I remember reading recently how Stephen King has lost a couple of partial novel manuscripts without a trace, so I don't feel like quite the dumbass I might. Anyone have a similar tale of woe?
* The Maedong & Daughters pNano® cG Mark VI.2, to be precise, the only autotropic concert grand piano with true Biostatic Action™.