Imagination doesn't just mean making things up. It means thinking things through, solving [problems] or hoping to do so, and being just distant enough to be able to laugh at things that are normally painful. [Some people] would call this escapism, but they would be be entirely wrong. I would call fantasy the most serious, and the most useful branch of writing there is.
--Diana Wynne Jones

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

In Which I am Distracted by Snow and Cold Weather

The cold and snow wouldn't have been a problem at all if I didn't have a deadline to meet on my WIP. I like cold and snow. It could snow this hard every week all winter and I'd be good with that. When people say they hate the cold weather, they get blank looks from me.

But when it snows this much and gets this cold, and you have to wear a face-warmer up over your nose and neck, and jam down your beanie to meet the face-warmer, and take off your glasses so they don't fog up when you breathe, and you wear a million layers and cover all the remaining exposed skin with olive oil, just to walk the dog (yes, that picture you're generating of me is as alien-weird as you think), and your bum still feels frostbit when you get home, and the cat turns into a fluff-ball and the old dog gets all frisky and puppyish just because there's all this white stuff on the ground...well, that's when cold-weather Russian-related story-thoughts fly in with the wind-chill whether I asked them to or not.

It happened last year, too.

Sorry, Rat-brat, I still love you, and I'll get right back to work on your story soon, but Alex and his grey wolf and Firebird were calling. And my olive-oiled cheeks and the frost on my eyelashes and the sense that yes, winter could kill you if you were stuck out in it for not very long, pushed my thoughts in a Russian Fairytale and Gods of Winter direction. The cold felt personal. Like something was behind it. It's easy to see how ancient people in cold countries could think of Frost and Snow as personalities when you're freezing your eyelids off just walking down the street.

At least it's not brain-freeze, right?


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Eulogy on the Mini-Van

Dear Mini-van,

No offense, LYN, but first of all let me say how glad I am that it was you and not my kid.

I mean, my kid was inside...without a seat-belt...head-on collision...not her fault...and your air-bags deployed and all she got was a bad case of shock (you mean, I really could die in this car? The mini-van?  So humiliating!). She also got a few bruises, and an invisible piece of glass hiding somewhere in the skin of her pinky-finger.

And you, LYN, got death. Too bad the camera wasn't focused so we could all see just how dead, with the window all broken out and both drivers'-side doors caved in and the engine all squished and bleeding engine-juice all over the street.

 I'm so sorry, LYN.

Unfortunately, nobody else is. Especially not my girls, who have been forced to drive you to school and work.You've been made fun of a lot in your life, and you didn't deserve it.

We've been through a lot together. From the day we went to Jamba Juice with the kids to celebrate the new car...and went around a corner...and realized the cup-holders weren't exactly holding onto those enormous, top-heavy, smoothie-filled styro-cups.

Yes, you were baptized that day. The first of many night-mare clean-ups. The vomit when A had appendicitis was smellier, but the Jamba was stickier.

We named you after your license plate, but it was a good name.

You went everywhere with us. You car-pooled and partied and broke down on that trip to San Diego, which was how we got talking to the mechanic and found that perfect beach where all the locals go and the tourists don't know about, with tons of parking and the bathrooms right close by...which led to us finding that great little Mexi restaurant with amazing food and the server with blue hair...yes, LYN, that was thanks to your broken radiator. Or whatever it was that fell apart.

You helped us move furniture and haul lumber and kept it dry in the rain and snow, unlike a mere truck. You even survived C hauling his motor-scooter in you and spilling gasoline in the back. You went with us all those years of cutting Christmas trees in the forest and fit the whole family, plus the giant dog-crate for the German Shepherd, no problem, and you only got stuck some of the time.

With your studded snow-tires you took us skiing at Sundance more times than ought to have been possible for a front-wheel drive. The kids never liked to admit it, but you could climb up almost anything, just as long as it wasn't too steep. Or too slippery.

Ok, let's get real. Sometimes a person needs four-wheel drive and the mini-van WILL NOT make it up the road to the house and that person, sigh, will have to carry three crying kids up the hill in the dark in knee-deep snow while all the SUVs drive past.

Just kidding. They actually stopped and gave us a ride.

And hey, we were building memories, right?

And now you are gone. You had the best intermittent wipers, LYN. So many settings. The Subaru's wipers will never compare.

You were a good friend. You saved our daughter's life. And your final offering: a check from the insurance of the kid who failed to yield on a left turn and plowed into you. We're still waiting on that. But we'll think of you when we cash it.

A moment of silence, please.

Good-bye, LYN. You were a queen among mini-vans.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Literally? No Way.

Lately I've been mocking my family over the way they use the word "literally". I realize they only reflect what they pick up from current linguistic trends in society at large. But that's no excuse for them. I mean, they live with me. And "literally" is my current linguistic pet peeve. It literally is. Er, whatever.

Because, people, this word does not mean seriously. Or a lot. Or coincidentally. Or exclamation point! Or extra emphasis.

It means the opposite of figuratively. Like, I was literally hanging from that rock by my fingernails--yeah, they scratched lines down the surface of the rock and then ripped right off, because, well, fingernails aren't that strong.

As opposed to, I was literally hanging by my fingernails; meaning, I was figuratively hanging by my fingernails. 

Or, I was literally drowning in homework. Meaning, of course, metaphorical drowning. Because literal drowning in homework would seriously be a LOT of homework. Those witch-hunting people of 1600s Salem, Mass., used to call that being "pressed to death," and it's one of the things they liked to do to witches. They had some creative ideas. Literally.
Maybe that's the kind of action Jerry Falwell meant we should take when he once said, if we don't act now, the "Homosexual steamroller will literally crush all decent men, women, and children who get in its way and our nation will pay a terrible price."

Yep. Watch out for the gay-roller. It's coming down your street.

I also hear this kind of thing a lot: She was literally just eating rice cakes when she turned on the TV and someone was literally warning the world about how toxic rice cakes are. Yes, that would be a coincidence. No, the word "literally" isn't the one you want. Mainly because I'm sick of hearing it everywhere I literally go. Yes, every single time. Not really.

I'm going to start using figuratively as an emphasis word.

Figuratively, I hate cheese. 

Figuratively, I was walking down the street when I ran into my good friend, Bob, who also happened figuratively to be walking down the street. So we took a figurative walk together into fantasy land.

Which is where I mostly live anyway. There's very little that's literal in my world. Except during bill-pay time. Or tax time. Which is probably why I find the word "literally" so figuratively grating: because, seriously, people, who wants to live in a literal world? 

Fantasy is so much better. Yes, literally.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Creamsicles come through

The creamsicle-room worked. Or maybe it was my balance-ball chair. A new study shows that balancing helps you think, so you should wear high-heels for high-end shopping. Hmm.

The draft took me two weeks longer than planned, also a lot of cereal and cucumbers, because I didn't have to cook them, but the complete first draft of Amarath is officially finished and sent off to my writing group.

Miracles do happen. 

I like the end. It surprised me. My favorite kind of ending for a book I write is the kind where I'm as surprised as anyone else how it happened.

Thanks, Muse.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Locking the Door

I told several people that I am going to finish this draft of my current work-in-progress by August 8th, or lock myself in a room and not come out until I do. Even though the only available extra room with a door that shuts happens to be full of camping gear. And also has two bright pink walls and two bright orange ones (the girls couldn't agree on a single obnoxious color, so we settled for two obnoxious colors). Which gives the room a strange camping-with-creamsicles aura that may or may not be conducive to creativity.

Will sitting in the middle of this inspire the completion of my novel?

Unfortunately, what with my husband's birthday, and a family camping trip (yes, we do use that gear), and someone else's novel that I'm supposed to read and critique by Thursday, and also some silly appointments--does this mop of mine really need to be cut? Really? Does my kid really need his cavity filled?--that goal is in serious jeopardy.

So as of today, I am officially going into the creamsicle cave and not coming out, even for food.

Maybe for food.

That someone else cooks.

If you're cooking, you can shove it under the door. Or bring me creamsicles to go with the walls. Because, seriously, they're making me hungry.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Balancing Act

One of the most common discussions I have with other writers is how to balance writing with life. After a month of really big life-stuff (i.e. brain-surgery for my kid) getting in the way of my writing goals, I'm ready to karate-chop the not-so-big stuff so I can get back to the business of getting my latest novel finished. Eliminate the unnecessary! Ka-pow! Hi-yah!

So of course I was wasting time reading blogs. All right, I wasn't being very good. And then I came across Shannon Hale's latest blog post. Go here to see how she juggles mommy-life with writer-life. I was re-inspired. I wrote for four hours today and churned out four pages. That's a lot for me. I'm usually more like James Joyce, whose friend, according to Stephen King,

found the great man sprawled across his writing desk in a posture of utter despair:  "James, what's   wrong?" the friend asked. "Is it the work?"

Joyce indicated assent without even raising his head to look at his friend. Of course it was the    work; isn't it always?

"How many words did you get today?" the friend pursued.

Joyce (still in despair, still sprawled facedown on his desk): "Seven."

"Seven? But James, that's least for you."

"Yes," said James, finally looking up. "I suppose it is. But I don't know what order they go in!"

Ok, I'm not comparing the quality of my words to Joyce's, only the slowness with with I tend to eke them out.

So, four pages! Yes, that deserves an exclamation mark. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

In Which I am Reminded of Old Dreams

Ok, so April is almost over, but it is National Poetry Month, and I never gave even a nod to that, which seems oh-so-wrong. I didn't carry around a poem in my pocket on Poem-in-Your-Pocket day. And then Monday was Earthday, and I didn't say anything about that, either.

So here's my nod to NaPoMo and Earthday both, and also to the part of myself that has always been a little Thoreauvian and would like to run away to a cabin in the woods and be a hermit.

When I was seventeen, I told my friends that was my career plan. Except at the same age I also wanted to be the essay-writer for the back of Time Magazine, so I suppose I'd have had to own a computer. Or else come down off the mountain once in awhile to read the news and send off my essay. Which makes the whole hermit-in-the-woods thing seem not very hermitish.

Neither of those plans have come to anything. I'm married with five children and live in a city. Which isn't such a bad thing, after all. I do grow beans and write. And occasionally things are peaceful. Like when everyone's at school and I'm walking on the mountain or writing my brains out. But once in awhile I have to dust off Yeats and Thoreau.

So here's to what might have been:

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Apologizing to the Birds

We've all been going through a rough patch lately.

Some of the details are different.

We all cried for Sandy Hook. All those children. And that movie theater in Colorado.

And back in February there was my sixteen-year-old neighbor who died of complications from flu. Not swine flu, just normal flu. The kind your kids got this winter, too. One week he was playing water-polo and fouling people in basketball and the next week he wasn't here anymore. And no, he didn't have special health problems that made him unusually vulnerable.

And then the mom of one of my kid's friends died.
And then that same friend's brother died, too, just this week. Nobody knew any details.

And of course, Boston. We're all still reeling from that. Who bombs a marathon? Kills eight-year-olds? Tries to murder people gathered together to cheer on determination and hard work and human spirit? Who does that? Nails and metal shards exploding from a pressure-cooker? What a sorry use of potential creative talent.

The same day as the marathon bombs, a middle-school girl in my city went missing. Left for school and never got there. They found her yesterday, safe and whole, and we all cried again, this time with relief.

And then yesterday, there was that explosion in Texas.

And the Senate rejecting any gun-control legislation whatsoever, as though rubbing into our faces all those Newtown and Colorado deaths by military-assault-style weapons. As though saying yeah, the world sucks, and we're going to do our best to make it suckier.

But then there were also all those people in Boston rushing straight into the smoke to help. Ripping down metal barriers to get to the injured. Giving away their coats. Sharing phones. And all those runners running all those miles and then running some more to the hospital to donate blood and save some lives.

Of course they did.

Right? Wouldn't you? And the hundreds of volunteers, who didn't even know that missing girl, showing up to help search for her.

It's what we do, isn't it?

Yeah, there's horror in the world. A lot of it. There are people who try to make others suffer. It's the way this planet is. Sometimes it's the way some of us make it. But part of being human is reaching out and sharing the burden. Which people do, too.

Last night my son came into my room at midnight to tell me that his hair was crunchy from the gel in it and he couldn't sleep, so he was going to take a shower, ok? And, by the way, his friend's brother who just died? It was suicide.

I don't think my kid woke me up because his hair was crunchy. He didn't want to talk much, just let me know about that suicide. Somehow it made it a little easier for him to sleep, that he didn't have to be alone knowing really horrible things happen in the world.

When I thought about it this morning, I cried again. And thought of Alyosha's hero, Father Zosima in Brothers Karamazov, telling about his brother apologizing to the birds for the condition of the world, because he knew if he were just a little bit kinder, better, more generous, things would be better for that bird outside the window, and for every other creature and person on the planet. And then Alyosha going out and trying to live that way, as if he owed the birds.

Nobody steals Fred Roger's car
And I thought about that story I heard of the guy who stole Mr. Roger's car, and when he found out, gave it back. Because you just don't steal Mr. Roger's car--the man who sang, "you are my friend, you are special to me"? Because every kid who grew up watching Mr. Rogers secretly knew he loved us, even though we'd never met. We all need to feel that from someone.

What if we were all Fred Rogers and Alyosha Karamazov? Would people still bomb marathons?

Maybe. I wonder.

But we can at least keep on running a few extra miles past 26.2 to donate blood. And we can keep on talking, sharing the burden of all the suffering through the stories we tell. The stories that make us feel, yeah, people are good. They really are.

I don't think the terrorists won in Boston. Humanity did. Because the stories are bigger than the bombs. Maybe we'll even get to the point where we can apologize to the birds.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Going on year five...

"If you want to be a fiction writer, read fiction every day; write fiction every day; and after ten years you might produce something worth publishing."

               --Darrell Spencer (American novelist and short-story writer)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Barefeet: Signs of Spring

This week, I saw my first barefoot runner of the season. Granted, it happened to be 32 degrees at the time and I thought he was crazy, but it felt like seeing a daffodil blooming in snow.

Also, my crocuses bloomed.

Today was truly warm. So, I grabbed the dog and went running up the mountain in capri running pants and no wool whatsoever and not even an ear-warmer or gloves. I kept my (minimal) shoes on.

But that was only because the dog got into the shed yesterday and ate four-days worth of food, and he was clearly feeling the weight of all that naughtiness, and I didn't feel like dragging him along and carrying my shoes, too. Bad boy, Andre.

But I really wanted to take my shoes off.

Ok, so I'm addicted to bare feet. Yeah, it's a craving.

And also, it keeps me injury-free. For someone with a life-time of random running injuries and 15 years of knee problems, that's just short of miraculous. I plan on never having a running injury again. My knees feel fantastic. We'll see what happens when I try to ramp up the miles.

Not that I haven't had nasty set-backs. Like almost-stress-fractures when I tried to jump in too fast. And Achilles tendonitis that took forever to go away.

So, in case you're thinking of shedding your shoes, too, or just want to pretend you have, here's a little of what I've learned about how to run like a bare-footer:

*Keep your knees higher than you think. If you watch the Jamaicans--who grow up barefoot-- you'll notice they run with higher knees than the Americans--who grow up wearing shoes. And the Jamaicans win.

*Never hit the ground heel-first.

*In fact, never hit the ground. Bare-foot Ken-Bob says kiss it. The idea is to keep your feet light. Think: lift, not land.

*Bend your knees more than you think. Especially on downhill, try to bend as much as running uphill. Think butt-kick.

*Work into it slowly. Start with a tiny bit of barefoot in the grass and increase a little at a time. If you're transitioning from ultra-padded chunkers to minimal running shoes, only use the minimal ones 10 percent of the time as you build up strength. Or just take your shoes to a shoe-repair place and zero-out your padding. You've babied your feet all your life. They're weak. And thin in the soles. You'll get sore feet or stress-fractures or achilles tendonitis if you jump into minimal or bare too fast.

*Yoga. Helps everything without injuring anything. Just take that slow enough, too.

*Find the joy. If you've never run bare in the grass you don't know what I mean.

It's like extra-dark creamy Swiss chocolate for your feet. Or daffodils in snow. Fuzzy pussy-willows. Crocuses in the grass.

Like spring coming around at last. February banished.

See you in bare feet. :)

Friday, February 8, 2013

O, how I (ahem) love thee, Nameless One; let me count the ways

It's the un-namable month.

That time of the year.

Toxic air.

My lovely city: worst air in the nation. No, that's not a snow cloud.
Dirty, left-over snow.

Cheesy movies.

Sleezy underwear and barf colors in all the stores.

Death and sickness.

The good news:

Uh, let's see.

I'm writing. Yes, making progress on this book. At last. I mean, I don't dare go outside for fear I'll pass out from lack of oxygen, so might as well sit around with the lap-top, right?

And, ok, next week Megan Whalen Turner is braving the cloud and coming to the Life, the Universe, and Everything conference in Provo. I signed up for an LTUE pitch session with a New York Agent. Maybe I'll get the spot. Maybe not. First come, first pitch, and I signed up late. But still get to hear MW Turner impart her wisdom. Feeling cheerier already.

And oh, yeah (!): leaving the poisonous air for Newport, CA soon for my son's wedding. :) Apparently, even L.A.'s air isn't as bad as almost any air anywhere in my state.




Sea breeze.

And then when we get back, February will be almost over. March winds blowing in, and none too soon. So long, hairy-scary-February. Maybe we will survive you unscathed.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Death, Be Not Proud

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou are slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

                                     --John Donne

For Parker.

Love you, Allreds!

Friday, January 18, 2013

LeGuin in defense of fantasy

One of my favorite essays on a pet topic. Hope it's not illegal to post it here. Why do I write fantasy? For the same reason I read it: for pure delight, because it speaks true, and because I believe in the power of imagination. Here Ursula K. LeGuin argues eloquently in defense of fantasy. Love this.

Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?
"The Language of the Night" by Ursula Le Guin
This was to be a talk about fantasy. But I have not been feeling very fanciful lately, and could not decide what to say; so I have been going about picking people's brains for ideas. "What about fantasy? Tell me something about fantasy." And one friend of mine said, "All right, I'll tell you something fantastic. Ten yeas ago, I went to the children's room of the library of such-and-such a city, and asked for The Hobbit; and the librarian told me, 'Oh, we keep that only in the adult collection; we don't feel that escapism is good for children."'
My friend and I had a good laugh and shudder over that, and we agreed that things have changed a great deal in these past ten years. That kind of moralistic censorship of works of fantasy is very uncommon now, in the children's libraries. But the fact that the children's libraries have become oases in the desert doesn't mean that there isn't still a desert. The point of view from which that librarian spoke still exists. She was merely reflecting, in perfect good faith, something that goes very deep in the American character: a moral disapproval of fantasy, a disapproval so intense, and often so aggressive, that I cannot help but see it as arising, fundamentally, from fear.
So: Why are Americans afraid of dragons?
Before I try to answer my question, let me say that it isn't only Americans who are afraid of dragons. I suspect that almost all very highly technological peoples are more or less antifantasy. There are several national literatures which, like ours, have had no tradition of adult fantasy, for the past several hundred years: the French, for instance. But then you have the Germans, who have a good deal; and the English, who have it, and love it, and do it better than anyone else. So this fear of dragons is not merely a Western, or a technological, phenomenon. But I do not want to get into these vast historical questions; I will speak of modern Americans, the only people I know well enough to talk about.
In wondering why Americans are afraid of dragons, I began to realize that a great many Americans are not only antifantasy, but altogether antifiction. We tend, as a people, to look upon all works of the imagination either as suspect, or as contemptible.
"My wife reads novels. I haven't got the time."
"I used to read that science fiction stuff when I was a teenager, but of course I don't now." " " "Fairy stories are for kids. I live in the real world."
Who speaks so? Who is it that dismisses War and Peace, The Time Machine, and A Midsummer Night's Dream with this perfect self-assurance? It is, I fear, the man in the street - the hardworking, over-thirty American male - the men who run this country.
Such a rejection of the entire art of fiction is related to several American characteristics: our Puritanism, our work ethic, our profitmindedness, and even our sexual mores.
To read War and Peace or The Lord of the Rings plainly is not "work" - you do it for pleasure. And if it cannot be justified as "educational" or as "self-improvement," then, in the Puritan value system, it can only be self-indulgence or escapism. For pleasure is not a value, to the Puritan; on the contrary, it is a sin.
Equally, in the businessman's value system, if an act does not bring in an immediate, tangible profit, it has no justification at all. Thus the only person who has an excuse to read Tolstoy or Tolkien is the English teacher, because he gets paid for it. But our businessman might allow himself to read a best-seller now and then: not because it is a good book, but because it is a best-seller - it is a success, it has made money. To the strangely mystical mind of the money-changer, this justifies its existence; and by reading it he may participate, a little, in the power and manna of its success. If this is not magic, by the way, I don't know what is.
The last element, the sexual one, is more complex. I hope I will not be understood as being sexist if I say that, within our culture, I believe that this antifiction attitude is basically a male one. The American boy and man is very commonly forced to define his maleness by rejecting certain traits, certain human gifts and potentialities, which our culture defines as "womanish" or "childish." And one of these traits or potentialities is, in cold sober fact, the absolutely essential human faculty of imagination.
Having got this far, I went quickly to the dictionary.
The Shorter Oxford Dictionary says; "Imagination. 1. The action of imagining, or forming a mental concept of what is not actually present to the senses; 2. The mental consideration of actions or events not yet in existence."
Very well; I certainly can let "absolutely essential human faculty" stand. But I must narrow the definition to fit our present subject. By "imagination," then, I personally mean the free play of the mind, both intellectual and sensory. By "play" I mean recreation, re-creation, the recombination of what is known into what is new. By "free" I mean that the action is done without an immediate object of profit - spontaneously. That does not mean, however, that there may not be a purpose behind the free play of the mind, a goal; and the goal may be a very serious object indeed. Children's imaginative play is clearly a practicing at the acts and emotions of adulthood; a child who did not play would not become mature. As for the free play of an adult mind, its result may be War and Peace, or the theory of relativity.
To be free, after all, is not to be undisciplined. I should say that the discipline of the imagination may in fact be the essential method or technique of both art and science. It is our Puritanism, insisting that discipline means repression or punishment, which confuses the subject. To discipline something, in the proper sense of the word, does not mean to repress it, but to train it - to encourage it to grow, and act, and be fruitful, whether it is a peach tree or a human mind.
I think that a great many American men have been taught just the opposite. They have learned to repress their imagination, to reject it as something childish or effeminate, unprofitable, and probably sinful.
They have learned to fear it. But they have never learned to discipline it at all.
Now, I doubt that the imagination can be suppressed. If you truly eradicated it in a child, he would grow up to be an eggplant. Like all our evil propensities, the imagination will out. But if it is rejected and despised, it will grow into wild and weedy shapes; it will be deformed. At its best, it will be mere ego-centered daydreaming; at its worst, it will be wishful thinking, which is a very dangerous occupation when it is taken seriously. Where literature is concerned, in the old, truly Puritan days, the only permitted reading was the Bible. Nowadays, with our secular Puritanism, the man who refuses to read novels because it's unmanly to do so, or because they aren't true, will most likely end up watching bloody detective thrillers on the television, or reading hack Westerns or sports stories, or going in for pornography, from Playboy on down. It is his starved imagination, craving nourishment, that forces him to do so. But he can rationalize such entertainment by saying that it is realistic - after all, sex exists, and there are criminals, and there are baseball players, and there used to be cowboys - and also by saying that it is virile, by which he means that it doesn't interest most women.
That all these genres are sterile, hopelessly sterile, is a reassurance to him, rather than a defect. If they were genuinely realistic, which is to say genuinely imagined and imaginative, he would be afraid of them. Fake realism is the escapist literature of our time. And probably the ultimate escapist reading is that masterpiece of total unreality, the daily stock market report.
Now what about our man's wife? She probably wasn't required to squelch her private imagination in order to play her expected role in life, but she hasn't been trained to discipline it, either. She is allowed to read novels, and even fantasies. But, lacking training and encouragement, her fancy is likely to glom on to very sickly fodder, such things as soap operas, and "true romances," and nursy novels, and historicosentimental novels, and all the rest of the baloney ground out to replace genuine imaginative works by the artistic sweatshops of a society that is profoundly distrustful of the uses of the imagination.
What, then, are the uses of the imagination?
You see, I think we have a terrible thing here: a hardworking, upright, responsible citizen, a full-grown, educated person, who is afraid of dragons, and afraid of hobbits, and scared to death of fairies. It's funny, but it's also terrible. Something has gone very wrong. I don't know what to do about it but to try and give an honest answer to that person's question, even though he often asks it in an aggressive and contemptuous tone of voice. "What's the good of it all?" he says. "Dragons and hobbits and little green men - what's the use of it?"
The truest answer, unfortunately, he won't even listen to. He won't hear it. The truest answer is, "The use of it is to give you pleasure and delight."
"I haven't got the time," he snaps, swallowing a Maalox pill for his ulcer and rushing off to the golf course.
So we try the next-to-truest answer. It probably won't go down much better, but it must be said: "The use of imaginative fiction is to deepen your understanding of your world, and your fellow men, and your own feelings, and your destiny."
To which I fear he will retort, "Look, I got a raise last year, and I'm giving my family the best of everything, we've got two cars and a color TV. I understand enough of the world!"
And he is right, unanswerably right, if that is what he wants, and all he wants.
The kind of thing you learn from reading about the problems of a hobbit who is trying to drop a magic ring into an imaginary volcano has very little to do with your social status, or material success, or income. Indeed, if there is any relationship, it is a negative one. There is an inverse correlation between fantasy and money. That is a law, known to economists as Le Guin's Law. If you want a striking example of Le Guin's Law, just give a lift to one of those people along the roads who own nothing but a backpack, a guitar, a fine head of hair, a smile, and a thumb. Time and again, you will find that these waifs have read The Lord of the Rings - some of them can practically recite it. But now take Aristotle Onassis, or J. Paul Getty: could you believe that those men ever had anything to do, at any age, under any circumstances, with a hobbit?
But, to carry my example a little further, and out of the realm of economics, did you ever notice how very gloomy Mr. Onassis and Mr. Getty and all those billionaires look in their photographs? They have this strange, pinched look, as if they were hungry. As if they were hungry for something, as if they had lost something and were trying to think where it could be, or perhaps what it could be, what it was they've lost.
Could it be their childhood?
So I arrive at my personal defense of the uses of the imagination, especially in fiction, and most especially in fairy tale, legend, fantasy, science fiction, and the rest of the lunatic fringe. I believe that maturity is not an outgrowing, but a growing up; that an adult is not a dead child, but a child who survived. I believe that all the best faculties of a mature human being exist in the child, and that if these faculties are encouraged in youth they will act well and wisely in the adult, but if they are repressed and denied in the child they will stunt and cripple the adult personality. And finally, I believe that one of the most deeply human, and humane, of these faculties is the power of imagination: so that it is our pleasant duty, as librarians, or teachers, or parents, or writers, or simply as grownups, to encourage that faculty of imagination in our children, to encourage it to grow freely, to flourish like the green bay tree, by giving it the best, absolutely the best and purest, nourishment that it can absorb. And never, under any circumstances, to squelch it, or sneer at it, or imply that it is childish, or unmanly, or untrue.
For fantasy is true, of course. It isn't factual, but it is true. Children know that. Adults know it too, and that is precisely why many of them are afraid of fantasy. They know that its truth challenges, even threatens, all that is false, all that is phony, unnecessary, and trivial in the life they have let themselves be forced into living. They are afraid of dragons, because they are afraid of freedom.
So I believe that we should trust our children. Normal children do not confuse reality and fantasy - they confuse them much less often than we adults do (as a certain great fantasist pointed out in a story called "The Emperor's New Clothes"). Children know perfectly well that unicorns aren't real, but they also know that books about unicorns, if they are good books, are true books. All too often, that's more than Mummy and Daddy know; for, in denying their childhood, the adults have denied half their knowledge, and are left with the sad, sterile little fact: "Unicorns aren't real." And that fact is one that never got anybody anywhere (except in the story "The Unicorn in the Garden," by another great fantasist, in which it is shown that a devotion to, the unreality of unicorns may get you straight into the loony bin). It is by such statements as, "Once upon a time there was a dragon," or "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit" - it is by such beautiful non-facts that we fantastic human beings may arrive, in our peculiar fashion, at the truth.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Books 2012

The reading list for 2012 was shorter this year: final count 42 books. 

But I read what I wanted. I'm pretty happy with my reading year. 

Books. Cocoa. Butter cookies. Yes.
  • Discovered some old classics I'd never gotten around to, like Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway
  • Enjoyed my friend Brodi Ashton's paranormal debut, Everneath, a creative retelling of the Persephone story.
  • Found some new treasures, as some of my favorite Young-Adult/Middle-Grade authors kindly released new lovelies this year: Gary D. Schmidt, Jessica Day George, Rick Riordan, Patricia Wrede, Nancy Farmer. 
  • Did some more research for my current WIP, though some of that wasn't actual books. Learned a lot. Ate many persimmons, testing out some of what I learned. Just need to take that trip to Collinsville, Illinois, but that's on the schedule for April, because I found a new accountant who is helping me figure out taxes on a job that produces no money. Yet. Of course.
  • Finally got around to the Eragon series, thanks to a month of lying around with pneumonia. Except I didn't get to that last book, which my son kept forgetting to bring from his house.
  • Read aloud a lot with my kid. 
  • Rexamined my diet and running theories. 
  • And the time I spend just in thinking.

So, here's the list, in order from last read to first. Feel free to ask if you want my opinion about any of them. Happy to expound. 

  • What Came From the Stars, Gary D. Schmidt
  • Princess of the Silver Woods, Jessica Day George
  • Anson's Way, Gary D. Schmidt
  • 1491, Charles C. Mann
  • The Monk, Matthew Lewis
  • Marcello in the Real World, Francisco X. Stork
  • Mark of Athena, Rick Riordan
  • Eat and Run, Scott Jurek
  • Liar's Moon, Elizabeth Bunce
  • French Women Don't Get Fat, Mireille Guililiano
  • Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
  • Okay For Now, Gary D. Schmidt
  • First Boy, Gary D. Schmidt
  • Trouble, Gary D. Schmidt
  • Star Crossed, Elizabeth Bunce
  • The Far West, Patricia Wrede
  • Princess Academy: Palace of Stone, Shannon Hale
  • A Curse Dark as Gold, Elizabeth Bunce
  • Brisingr, Christopher Paolini
  • Eldest, Christopher Paolini
  • Eragon, Christopher Paolini
  • Land of the Silver Apples, Nancy Farmer
  • The Sea of Trolls, Nancy Farmer
  • The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde
  • Peter and the Secret of Rundoon, Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
  • Peter and the Shadow Thieves, Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
  • Princess For Hire, Lindsay Leavitt
  • Just Ella, Margaret Peterson Haddix
  • Wing of the Falcon, Cynthia Voigt
  • Peter and the Star-Catchers, Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
  • First Light, Rebecca Stead
  • Jackaroo, Cynthia Voigt
  • Elske, Cynthia Voigt
  • On Fortune's Wheel, Cynthia Voigt
  • Dicey's Song, Cynthia Voigt
  • Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Crossed, Ally Condie
  • The Thinking Life, P.M. Forni
  • Midnight in Austenland, Shannon Hale
  • Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Everneath, Brodi Ashton
  • The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro

Playing High and Dry with Sourdough

Lately I've been playing with dough. It's become a sort of a compulsion. Maybe because I'm tired of driving all the way to som...