My Labors Are Not Ended

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But I am going to take a rest for a bit.

Above you see a shot of my cat Lenora resting in front of the “To Read Science Fiction” section of my Library, the enormous book collection I’ve been accumulating over the last quarter century. I have books older than that, of course, but they’re stored in my mother’s house in my hometown. It’s only over the last 25 years or so have I been accumulating my own personal library.

But why am I, if not resting, at least thinking about it? I finished organizing the books in my Library.

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I have an enormous amount of papers, bills, bric a brac and other memorabilia still to organize, file, trash or donate, but the Library itself is organized, at last. It’s even possible to use it.

How organized? Well…

Religion, politics, economics, the environment, women’s studies, Ayn Rand, read books, Lovecraft, centaur books, read urban fantasy, read science fiction, Atlanta, read comics, to-read comics, to-read science fiction magazines, comic reference books, drawing reference books, steampunk, urban fantasy, miscellaneous writing projects, Dakota Frost, books to donate, science fiction to-reads: Asimov, Clarke, Banks, Cherryh, miscellaneous, other fiction to-reads, non-fiction to-reads, general art books, genre art books, BDSM and fetish magazines and art books, fetish and sexuality theory and culture, military, war, law, space travel, astronomy, popular science, physics of time travel, Einstein, quantum mechanics, Feynman, more physics, mathematics, philosophy, martial arts, health, nutrition, home care, ancient computer manuals, more recent computer manuals, popular computer books, the practice of computer programming, programming language theory, ancient computer languages, Web languages, Perl, Java, C and C++, Lisp, APL, the Art of Computer Programming, popular cognitive science, Schankian cognitive science, animal cognition, animal biology, consciousness, dreaming, sleep, emotion, personality, cognitive science theory, brain theory, brain philosophy, evolution, human evolution, cognitive evolution, brain cognition, memory, “Readings in …” various AI and cogsci disciplines, oversized AI and science books, conference proceedings, technical reports, game AI, game development, robotics, imagery, vision, information retrieval, natural language processing, linguistics, popular AI, theory of AI, programming AI, AI textbooks, AI notes from recent projects, notes from college from undergraduate through my thesis, more Dakota Frost, GURPS, other roleplaying games, Magic the Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons, more Dakota Frost, recent projects, literary theory of Asimov and Clarke, literary theory of science fiction, science fiction shows and TV, writing science fiction, mythology, travel, writing science, writing reference, writers on writing, writing markets, poetry, improv, voice acting, film, writing film, history of literature, representative examples, oversized reference, history, anthropology, dictionaries, thesauri, topical dictionaries, language dictionaries, language learning, Japanese, culture of Japan, recent project papers, comic archives, older project papers, tubs containing things to file … and the single volume version of the Oxford English Dictionary, complete with magnifying glass.

lenora at rest in the library 2

I deliberately left out the details of many categories and outright omitted a few others not stored in the library proper, like my cookbooks, my display shelves of Arkham House editions, Harry Potter and other hardbacks, my “favorite” nonfiction books, some spot reading materials, a stash of transhumanist science fiction, all the technical books I keep in the shelf next to me at work … and, of course, my wife and I’s enormous collection of audiobooks.

What’s really interesting about all that to me is there are far more categories out there in the world not in my Library than there are in my Library. Try it sometime – go into a bookstore or library, or peruse the list of categories in the Library of Congress or Dewey Decimal System Classifications. There’s far more things to think about than even I, a borderline hoarder with a generous income and enormous knowledge of bookstores, have been able to accumulate in a quarter century.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

-the Centaur

Why Resist Breaking the Mold?

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Emily Dickinson, barely known as a poet in her lifetime, ranks impossibly large in our own. Yet when her complete works were first published, she was dismissed by the critics. Author Thomas Bailey Aldrich dispensed with her thus:

“It is plain that Miss Dickinson possessed an extremely unconventional and grotesque fancy. She was deeply tinged by the mysticism of Blake, and strongly influenced by the mannerism of Emerson … But the incoherence and formlessness of her — versicles are fatal … an eccentric, dreamy, half-educated recluse in an out-of-the-way New England village (or anywhere else) cannot with impunity set at defiance the laws of gravitation and grammar”.

Yet now Aldrich is all but lost to literary history, while Dickinson looms larger and larger in our minds. Collector of folktales Andrew Lang said “if poetry is to exist at all, it really must have form and grammar, and must rhyme when it professes to rhyme. The wisdom of the ages and the nature of man insist on so much” … yet history has proved him so wrong, and equally forgotten him.

The truth is, an eccentric, dreamy, half-educated recluse in an out-of-the-way town anywhere can, with impunity, defy the laws of gravitation and launch her poetry to the stars, and no-one unwilling to make the trip has the power to stop her.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Emily Dickinson bending space and time with the power of her mind. Emily’s portrait taken from the Todd-Bingham Picture Collection and Family Papers, against a backdrop of star streaks taken by John Fowler, both from Wikimedia Commons.

Write Your Own Damn Sentences

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Recently I’ve been reading a lot on sentence construction – in particular the “little books” Mark Doty’s The Art of Description: Word into World, Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence (and How to Read One), and Bruce Ross-Larson’s Stunning Sentences, not to mention essays scattered across half a dozen books. I’ve enjoyed all this writing on writing, and I think all of it has been useful to me, but, as usual, there’s one bit of advice I find myself encountering, find myself willing to take, yet find myself reacting against:

Find examples of great sentences to emulate.

On the one hand, I agree with this: finding great examples of sentences, then deconstructing them, imitating them and attempting to progress past them is a great exercise for writers, one I intend to follow up on (in my copious free time). On the other, focusing on exemplars of great sentences in the past, like it or not, encourages a mindset of focusing on the greatness of writers of the past, idolizing them, and then following in their footsteps.

I’m extremely allergic to the “idolizing the greats” syndrome. There have been greats in history, no doubt: great writers and thinkers, leaders and followers, heroes and villains. And there are people you will encounter that will impact you like no other: prophets whose principles will change your life, philosophers whose thought will change your mind, and authors whose writing will strike you like a physical blow. But they won’t affect everyone the same way, and they won’t solve your problems for you.

There are no secrets. It’s all up to you.

Having said that, let me undermine it by recommending the following book of secrets: First Thought, Best Thought by Alan Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, William S. Burroughs and Diane Di Prima – an audiobook by four authors of the Beat Generation, talking about their experimental methods of poetry. I recommend the Beats because, like the Beats, I feel the need to counteract “conservative, formalistic literary ideals,” but unlike the Beats, I don’t reject those ideals: I just want more tools in my toolbox.

The Beats don’t recommend emulating the past; they recommend finding ways of producing text that violate the norms. Ginsberg used breaths and rhythms. Burroughs cut words and sentences up and pasted them together until he had a whole page of, potentially, gibberish, which he then would mine for gems – perhaps finding a paragraph or even just a sentence out of an entire page of cut-up. Each author had their own method of breaking out of the mold. And a mold breaker … is a tool you can use.

So don’t just find sentences to emulate. Write your own damn sentences. Cut up words on a page until they’re confetti and rearrange them until they make sense. Build a program that writes random sentences. Throw down Rory’s Story Cubes. Try magnetic poetry. Learn rap. Take improv. Stay up all night until you’re loopy with sleep deprivation. No matter what crazy ideas you have, write them all down, then winnow through them all and pick the best ones – the ones that hit you like a physical blow.

THEN go back to the tools for sentence analysis from all those little books, and use them to make more of your own.

Seriously, what do you have to lose? Try the exercise. If you don’t like what you produce, you may learn that your inspiration lies in understanding the past and building on it to create something new. If you do like it … you may add something to the world which, while its parts may come from the past, is in its whole … wholly new.

-the Centaur

Pictured: a truly bizarre photographic composition that occurred by chance, and which I could not have planned if I tried.

The Doorway Cracks Open

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At last! DOORWAYS TO EXTRA TIME is available for preorder on Amazon! The book’s out August 13 … that makes it almost exactly two years from conception to publication. For your amusement, I thought I’d dredge up the original call for submissions that I sent to the Write to the End and Dragon Writers groups way back in September of 2011:

DOORWAYS TO EXTRA TIME

In our busy world of meetings and microwaves, car radios and cellphones, you always hear people wishing they could get an extra hour in the day.

But what if you could?

DOORWAYS TO EXTRA TIME is an anthology that explores ways to get extra time (be it an hour, a day, or a decade) and the impact it would have (whether upon a single life, a family or an entire world).

We’re looking for stories with a touch of the fantastic—whether mystical, magical, mechanical, or just plain mysterious—but they can be set in any time or any genre: contemporary or historical, science fiction or fantasy, horror or magic realism. We could even find a place for a nonfiction essay if it was truly exceptional.

In short, show us something showstopping, and we’ll make time for you.

Suggested Length: full stories from 3,000 to 7,000 words and flash fiction under 1,000 words. We will accept good stories up to 10,000 words but it’s a hard sell.

Due Date: January 31st, 2012

Editors: Anthony Francis and TBD

The theme’s still the same, but due date January 31st, 2012? Really? HAHAHAHA no. As you all probably know, the estimable Trisha J. Wooldridge signed on as my coeditor and helped me make this a much stronger (and more diverse!) book. Thank you, Trisha, for helping make DOORWAYS possible!

So, please, everyone, preorder and enjoy!

-the Centaur