Tuesday, January 30, 2007

language and translations

Another production of Brian Friel's Translations has opened on Broadway. Set in rural Ireland in 1833, it tells of the British Army ordinance survey after the country's conquest, to remap the land, changing all the Gaelic place names into Anglicized names that will better speed troop movements, and facilitate administrative functions. Overnight, a thousand years and more of local legend and myths associated with the original place names are repressed. The characters include a "hedgemaster," who teaches the locals in the forbidden Gaelic tongue, and also teaches some of the ancient Greek and Latin classics in the original tongues. He's aging, and one of his sons tries to carry on in his nationalist tradition, and the other cooperates with the British in their mapping efforts, thinking it will bring economic progress. A young British Lieutenant falls in love with one of the women students and adopts the Irish ways, causing problems. The play is so elemental in its problems and conflicts, particularly in the deep roots of language, informing who we are, and who we will become. Good stuff for a writer to ponder.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

gene robbers

Recently our Grange held a benefit for Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian, who owns an organic farm raising canola (rapeseed) plants situated near other farmers using Monsanto's genetic canola seed. Percy's crop became contaminated with the genetic strain (wind, birds, who knows?) and when it was discovered, Monsanto ordered him to pay for a license or to have his crop destroyed; otherwise he would face legal action. Our benefit was held to help him with his legal costs. It seems a case of intellectual property and patent rights gone amok. An article in the newspaper today discusses how patents are given to researchers on human genes they discover as markers of certain genetic traits, especially genetic disorders. So perhaps someone may actually own the rights to some genes we have in our body. I hope they don't find out about any of us pirates, and require us to license 'their' genes. Or destroy them. Might be a story hidden in there.

The other sci-fi story is doing okay, sixty-five pages, and moving.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


My recent issue of the 'Writer's Chronicle' had an ad for a new book titled "Against Workshopping Manuscripts," (It's a damnable thing, etc.) . I disliked workshopping when I first started a graduate program in creative writing, and it was a ragged process for the first one or two residencies on campus. However, I think people quickly came to see that the point was not only to highlight what was not working--and let's get past minor stylistic mistakes--but let the writer know in a constructive way why they thought it wasn't working, and just as important, what was working for the reader. In later residencies, it became a much valued process for author and critique responders both. Since then I've attended a couple of workshops in writers' conferences and it continues to be an interesting process. There may be nothing quite like having experienced workshoppers in one's personal writing group to enhance a writing life.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

graphic novels

The 2007 Printz Award for a YA novel was announced, and was "American Born Chinese," a graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang. I'm glad to see the recent successes of graphic novels; I also liked "Blankets," by Craig Thompson, a YA graphic novel I read last year. For some young readers the written novel will have a greater power for capturing imagination, but for others the graphic novel will retain a greater appeal. The graphic novels mentioned here had the story line and graphics developed by the same author. Being a (student) artist and writer myself, I'm intrigued by the combination. Last year I read "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay: a novel," by Michael Chabon, which described a team of an artist and a writer who developed comic book stories of the Fifties. I think the graphic novel has been an interesting development, and I wish all the authors a continued success.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

islands in the sea

I heard an interview of Michael Parker on NPR, about his new book of short stories, "Don't make me stop now." One of the stories was about an elderly black man and two elderly white sisters hanging on and living out their days on one of the Outer Bank Islands off the east coast--NC, I think. They're the last ones on the island. The man's son is trying to get him to leave, telling him those sisters don't mean anything to him, but there's some sort of relationship and he's staying. I love the idea of people trying to hang onto a disappearing way of life. Especially near the sea. I've read two memorable books about the near-last inhabitants of the Great Blasket Islands, off the west coast of Ireland, "Peig," by Peig Sayers, and "The Islandman," by Tomás O'Crohan. (Of course I've still got them on my shelf.) The island people finally grew weary of their hard existence and petitioned the government to resettle them on the mainland, in the late Thirties, I think. The books were written in Gaelic and translated into English. Great reading.

Friday, January 19, 2007

laying the groundwork

Blogspot has been acting overloaded lately, so I’ve missed an entry. The sci-fi revision seems to be going okay. The tendency is to get the technical scope and boundaries defined early in the story, and let the conflicts build from there, but there can be a risk of overloading the human-interest elements of the story line. I think the characters, other-worldly and human, are intriguing enough in their early interactions and dialogue to carry some of this technical load, but I’ll have to be careful. I'll be interested to see how my writing-exchange partner responds to this part. It’s a great thing to be able to share a Ms. with a writer-friend.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

a balance--humor and straight talk

The revision of my sci-fi story seems to be progressing okay. One of the large considerations has been how much of the tongue-in-cheek humor to retain from the original draft. I originally wanted something of a comic, bizarre effect, but the story also turned out to have a somewhat intriguing plot. How to keep the best of both? I think my strategy has evolved to developing the most believable dialog in the revision, and to retain any underlying humor in a straight-faced manner.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

free will--story theme

The 02Jan07 Times says "a bevy of experiments in recent years suggest that the conscious mind is like a monkey riding a tiger of subconscious decisions and actions in progress, frantically making up stories about being in control." Free willers generally hold that whatever choice you make is unforced and could have been otherwise, but it is not random. "That strikes many people as incoherent," a Dr. Silberstein said. Every physical system that has been investigated has turned out to be either deterministic, or random. "Both are bad news for free will," he said. I like that monkey riding a tiger image. There's a story waiting to be developed.

Monday, January 15, 2007

thematic material--tribal

I've often wondered why the U.S., almost alone among the leading, developed nations, has such a draconian social network of health care, unemployment benefits, welfare arrangements, and such. A recent article in the NY Times, about or by a researcher, suggested that it may be because of our diverse ethnic and racial population. People may feel that others outside the tribe ought to look out for themselves. I'd always thought extreme ambition was more the driving force. Other countries with a more homogeneous population might think more benevolently about their neighbor. I wondered if a tightly focused example of this tribal concept might be the theme of a short story, avoiding, of course, being anything like didactic.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


Motivation of the main character--this has slowed me to a degree in a current revision of my sci-fi novel. Of course, a motivation was already written into the plot, but it's so important to carry the reader along with a seamless, consistent understanding of the motivation of the character, or the writer may introduce a fatal interruption of the "fictional dream" (John Gardner, The Art of Fiction) for the reader. And everything may be lost. It's an especially nuanced task for sci-fi, where the extraordinary needs to be made believeable.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

recycling the mood of places

I'm reminded in the revision of my sci-fi novel that the site in the Andes where I worked many years ago was first used as a place setting in that story, and again last year was used as a place setting in a mainline short story that was published in the Oracle Literary Journal. I'd associated a lot of energy, mood, and drama with the place, and I feel I still have some meanings to work out about it in future stories.

Friday, January 12, 2007

sci-fi underpinnings

It's enjoyable to explore the use of real, philosophical underpinnings in writing sci-fi, but it's also important I think to make it seamless and unobtrusive when used in the story plot. I've had characters, even young ones in mainline stories, toss off allusions to some concepts of Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit geologist who did exploration in China in early Twentieth Century (he discovered remains of Peking Man). In a sense, Teilhard felt that all matter in the universe had a level of consciousness--even rocks. Young readers have liked that idea. In another sense, all components of creation become more complex as time advances. Think of man as a complex molecule, becoming ever more complex. Great underpinning for sci-fi, but keep it subsumed in an interesting, dramatic storyline.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

revision of old work

Finished re-reading and started revision of an old sci-fi novel I wrote perhaps fifteen years ago. It's the only sci-fi genre I've ever done. I wasn't too effective in getting it out to publishers--maybe two or three, and unsuccessfully--but that was the day of typewriters, and it was so hard to make revisions and still keep a clean copy. It's actually pleasurable now to revise and hone a Ms. on a computer. Anyhow, the plot and characters are pretty imaginative, and the Ms. is entitled "The Beryllium Eaters." It's set in Ecuador, where I worked once as a geotechnical engineer, and involves outer-space, bio-metallic creatures, who arrived at the time of the Inca conquests, and present-day people. I like the feeling of having another major writing project ahead of me for the winter months. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


There seems to be a lot of marvelous and creative venues available on the internet now--and for free. Amazing. I've posted four pieces of my art (watercolor paintings and art print) on a student art site hosted by a large British advertising agency, which I read about in the NY Times. I'll provide a link on my blog page when I get settled in. And then there's Google's blogging service--this page. I'm looking forward to posting things, perhaps daily, about my own writing and writers/writing that I'm interested in at the moment. I'll leave it at that for today.
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