Monday, April 27, 2015

Soyez les bienvenus à la tour de Babel, modèle par excellence du cerveau humain caché à lui-même. C'est une réussite, d'atteindre l'incohérence en deux langues; alors, j'ai réussi, j'ai réussi.


Had I been born without a tongue,
Without capacity for speech,
And had I yearned, while very young,
To point at concepts out of reach:

The cadence of a song unsung;
The incandescent leaves of beech;
The lunar skull; diamonds hung
High and cold in winter's niche --

If I had been with stillness stung
And forced by gesture to beseech...

Would my life have been very much different?
Would I be any more baffled than I am right now?

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

Honesty

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.