Saturday, April 4, 2015

So Brilliant, So Splendid, So Glamorous

I've noticed many comments online from people who never read short stories or never understand them. I've also seen comments by people who think that short stories must be short novels with fully-developed plots, as if Chekhov had never existed. These comments trouble me, because I love the power, the variety, the mystery of what short stories are and of what they can achieve. To these people I would say, Consider this:

"Somebody once wrote a story about a farmer’s wife somewhere in the middle west, miles from a town or even a neighbor. Everything about her life was drab and deadly. But there was a railroad track that ran beside the farm. Every evening, at dusk, she went down to watch the 20th Century Limited go by. It was ultra-modern, stainless steel. The cars were brightly lighted. She saw well-dressed people talking. Presently the dining-car came along. She could glimpse in the windows the white table-cloths and shining silver and the people dining. It was like fairyland to her. And this night she went down to the fence, and it went by. It had never looked so brilliant, so splendid, so glamorous. She yearned over it as never before. It went on. And she went back to the farmhouse wringing her hands. Because the railroad had made a new line, cutting off miles of distance to be run. And this was the last time the 20th Century Limited would run past the farm. From now on, until they tore up the track, the rails would be empty."

-- Murray Leinster, in a letter to his granddaughter, 1966.

Quoted in Murray Leinster: The Life And Works, by Billie J. Stallings and Jo-An J. Evans. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. 2011.

Thursday, April 2, 2015


Whenever I complete a story, I catch a glimpse of how little I know about craftsmanship and of how much I will need to learn before I can think of myself as a writer. Pacing a story, placing the reader at the centre of its action, describing events with clarity, economy, and force: these challenge me every time.

By the same token, whenever I take apart the failed stories of writers who know more about the craft than I will, ever, I realize that learning is a continual process, for everyone; that every new story is a test of the skills we own, of the skills we lack. What I gain from this recognition is not humility (which I would recommend for no one) but honesty.

I can only hope that readers, too, will be honest. If you find my stories flawed, unsatisfying, unclear, unconvincing, please let me know.

I'm here to learn.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What is a Shaggy Dog Story?

You ask, "What is a shaggy dog story?" and this brings to mind the years I spent as a janitor in a pickle factory. These were extraordinary pickles, the world's largest, cultivated in vats the size of zeppellin sheds and salted by cascades of water the size of Niagara, drawn from the nearby sea. As you can imagine, the combination of salt and pickle matter led to some challenging clean-ups, and in this I was aided by a series of books written by Marceau de Savon, famed cleanser to royalty and hygiene-advisor to the stars. The books were first-rate, as all the reviews testified (even Gore Vidal was impressed), but their great limitation became evident when I failed to discover the word "pickle" in the index. To make a long story short, I was forced to improvise, and eventually learned that the best way to clean up the residue of a pickle factory was to use the leftover dough from the hamburger bun factory next door. But to answer your question --  I've no idea.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

With Razor Eyes

Sometimes I stare at what I've typed, and wonder how James Blish, Damon Knight, or Joanna Russ would have torn it apart. Then I understand that I can only go forward if I read with razor eyes.

Monday, March 9, 2015

To The Darkling Sky By Die-Lon Drive!

Yesterday, the pharmacist called me "Monsieur DIE-Lon."

Her mispronunciation embarrassed her, but I thought it was a great, forceful name. I'm going to scream it out the next time I leap from a skyscraper and soar into the starry welkin.