The Sophisticated Idea of Discourse: Samuel R. Delany

Samuel R. Delany

Samuel R. Delany


At Temple University, where you currently teach, you place a lot of importance on the individual sentence.


Yes. It goes back to the notion that what happens in the mind of the reader when the reader moves his or her eye from word to word on the page—that’s what a story actually is. What the language calls up in your mind can also make you think in a rich and vivid manner. How it makes you think about what it evokes, including its place in the world—that’s particularly important. And how it makes you think about it must be supported by certain discourses. If those discursive models are rich enough, they inculcate the sophisticated idea of discourse itself that I’m striving for. For forty years, that has been and remains my project.

Frequently, those discursive models are in conflict with simpler discourses. When that happens, for some people it will be as interesting and as exciting as a good chess game. Others will not pay that much attention to the discursive conflicts. For them it’s not so interesting. But, as I did, listening to the students after my MIT lecture and reading what some of them went on to write me about the experience, I have the impression that a certain number were hungry for the kind of experience they had there and took from it something I can recognize as what I’d wanted to give. It’s not a message, but an experience of seeing the world and the topics it comprises at a certain level of complexity, of potentiality, of relationship—a complexity and relationship that intricately entails, even as it empowers, the pursuit of beauty and joy.

From Wikipedia:

Samuel Ray Delany, Jr. (pron.: /dəˈleɪni/; born April 1, 1942), also known as “Chip”, is an American author, professor and literary critic. His work includes a number of novels, many in the science fiction genre, as well as memoir, criticism, and essays on sexuality and society.

His science fiction novels include Babel-17, The Einstein Intersection (winners of the Nebula Award for 1966[and 1967 respectively), Nova, Dhalgren, and the Return to Nevèrÿon series. After winning four Nebula awards and two Hugo awards over the course of his career, Delany was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2002. Since January 2001 he has been a professor of English and Creative Writing at Temple University in Philadelphia, where he is Director of the Graduate Creative Writing Program.


Interview with a Master: Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card

Fiction Factor: Why did you decide to retell Ender’s Game from Bean’s point of view?

Orson Scott Card: I didn’t. I decided to tell Bean’s story, and the three chapters that took place in Battle School got way out of hand and became a whole novel by themselves. So much for outlines. I think the parallel novel worked out rather well, but it was certainly not my plan when I started writing it.

FF: How do you feel about schools using Ender’s Game in their curriculum?

OSC: I’m always a bit worried when students are forced to read a book of mine in order to get a grade. The danger is that the readers will be hostile to the book because of that, and no story can survive a hostile reading. But so far it seems to be doing little harm, and from what I hear, most students actually end up enjoying it.

From Wikipedia:
If teachers attempt to teach Ender’s Game using the standard methods used in literary analysis in the American university, I think they’ll be in for some pretty rough times, because I deliberately do NOT follow the tenets of modernism that are permanently enthroned in the elitist ac-lit culture, in which obscurity and coded meanings are embraced and clarity and story are regarded as childish or low class. But if teachers look at Ender’s Game or Ender’s Shadow as a road into discussing real-world ethical and moral issues, current events, history, and family life, I think they’ll be well rewarded by the kinds of things their students discover and care about in the book.

FF: During your book signing, you said that in your earlier works you used violence to show something important was going to happen but now you use more subtle means. Would you give an example of what those means are?

OSC: I use the character’s own attitude and experiences to let the reader see how important the events are in the character’s life. Instead of having the character smacked in the head with a brick, I have the character smacked with an emotional surprise that only FEELS like a brick. Works better, less blood.

FF: Do you feel this change in your writing came from growth as a writer or from personal experience?

OSC: With time, a writer learns new skills – or learns to trust more subtle tools to accomplish the task at hand.

FF: Your stories are character driven and the focus is not on the settings. How much time do you spend creating your worlds before you write?

OSC: I create the society’s rules in great detail, because all the ethical and social dilemmas depend on them. I spend very little time working on the visual milieu, because what character’s see so rarely matters in their decisions.

FF:Have you ever suffered from writer’s block and if so, how do you overcome it?

OSC: Writer’s block is my unconscious mind telling me that something I’ve just written is either unbelievable or unimportant to me, and I solve it by going back and reinventing some part of what I’ve already written so that when I write it again, it is believable and interesting to me. Then I can go on. Writer’s block is never solved by forcing oneself to “write through it,” because you haven’t solved the problem that caused your unconscious mind to rebel against the story, so it still won’t work – for you or for the reader.

FF: What inspired the names in the Tales of Alvin Maker series?

OSC: I use a lot of occupational naming and the old Puritan virtue-naming, plus your traditional American names and the names of existing historical figures. A few names have separate histories, such as “Alvin,” which is taken from Joseph Smith’s older brother, and “Calvin,” which is chosen merely because it rhymes with Alvin. Peggy is my mother’s name and it was fun to use it. While I’m very careful with my naming of characters, and always make sure the names seem to come from a plausible naming tradition, it’s not really important that my readers “get” where the names come from.

FF:What pros and cons surround the e-publishing industry, and how do you envisage the future of e-publishing?

OSC: Electronic publishing is great for marginal books. I think peer-reviewed academic, scientific, and scholarly journals should all be converted to electronic publishing, and that all dissertations should be put online as a matter of course. Most university press publications could much more profitably be published electronically, with the expense of printing reserved for books where it makes economic sense.

E-publishing is also a hopeful replacement for the vanishing backlist. But for first-run fiction and nonfiction, people still prefer a tangible book, as well they should. Unless the price of ebook readers comes down to less than the cost of a single hardcover, and unless ebook machines become usable in all the circumstances where one can read a paperback, I see no future for dedicated ebook machines.

Ebook publishing will really take off, I think, when somebody invents microcharging on the internet. The idea is simple enough: Every ISP should be encouraged to subscribe to a single microcharging protocol. When you sign on to a website that participates, you will be notified that reading each poem, for instance, will cost you ten cents, and each story will cost a quarter. This is so cheap that it’s not worth stealing, and only the simplest encryptions will be needed. The customer could set ceilings – alert me each time the charges from one site reach one dollar, for instance – so that scam artists could not charge you for every mouse click on their website – but if a story or poem (or writer or poet) got a following, those tiny charges could soon add up to enough money to at least pay for the website.

FF:How did you break into the publishing business?

OSC: I was a playwright for several years, and did all my horrible amateur writing for the stage, where actors and audiences made me keenly aware of what good, clear writing consisted of, and how to construct a scene. Thus by the time I turned to fiction, I already knew enough and had mastered enough of the fundamentals of storytelling that I sold the first story that I wrote specifically for publication. It was called “Ender’s Game” and though I had a few missteps after that, and it took me four novels before I actually understood novel structure, almost all my work was published on first submission. Thus I have no stories to tell of noble persistence in the face of rejection. I simply served my apprenticeship somewhere else.

FF:What advice would you give beginning writers?

OSC: For those who are thinking of becoming writers “when they grow up,” my advice is: Writers never grow up, so don’t wait, start now. The publishers don’t care how old you are, they only care if the story is good. And since every writer has about ten thousand pages of utter drivel in them, you might as well start now so you can get a good portion of that out of your way while you’re still young. After all, you learn more about writing from writing a 100,000-word manuscript than you ever will from any writing class or writing book (and I say that as a teacher of writing classes and a writer of writing books).

For those who are trying to decide what to major in in college in order to become a writer, my advice is: Why are you going to college? Why would you limit your education in such a way – and at such an expense? Instead, get a real job and have a real life, so you know real people (as opposed to surrounding yourself with academics and academic life, which leads you to write stories in which all the characters are prone to commenting on word choice and clichés, and periodically drop references to Moby-Dick into their conversations). Write your brains out, and whenever you aren’t writing, read something – preferably nonfiction books or magazine articles about subjects in which you have never had any interest, since those topics will of course be the ones you know least about. Within a few years you’ll have a much broader and more comprehensive education than any of the college grads, and you’ll be a much better writer of stories about real people.

For those who think there’s some secret that published writers know and unpublished ones don’t, or those who believe that it’s “who you know” and not how you write that makes the difference, my advice is: You’re thinking of Hollywood. In the world of publishing, it’s WHAT you know and HOW you write that make the difference – that and the blind luck of happening to submit your work to an editor who gets it. No editor or publisher that’s worth anything is going to buy your work because it has an endorsement from a big-name writer or because you happen to know their cousin. There are no shortcuts. If you know how to handle point of view and you end the story that the story’s beginning promises, you will eventually sell your work.

From Wikipedia:

Orson Scott Card (born August 24, 1951)[3] is an American author, critic, public speaker, essayist, columnist, and political activist. He writes in several genres, but is primarily known for his science fiction. His novel Ender’s Game (1985) and its sequel Speaker for the Dead (1986) both won Hugo and Nebula Awards, making Card the only author to win both science fiction’s top U.S. prizes in consecutive years. He is also known as an advocate for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which he has been a lifelong practicing member, and as a political commentator on many issues, including opposition to homosexual behavior and the legalization of same-sex marriage.

A film adaptation of Ender’s Game is currently in development, and is set for release on 1 November 2013. Card is co-producing the film.

Am I Free to Go? by Kathryn Cramer

*Pulled from*
~ This is a little longer than what I normally post, but I assure you that it is a good read.
~Meyer Lane

The line between utopia and dystopia…is, often, who you are. Or who your neighbors think you are.

Read “Am I Free to Go?”, a new original short story by Kathryn Cramer, the editor or co-editor of over two dozen science fiction and fantasy anthologies.


For most of my life I have allowed myself to think that jail is for other people. People I don’t need to think about. Drug dealers, career criminals, gang members, embezzlers, guys who don’t pay their child support. People getting what they deserve. But here I am. Again.

You want me to talk about utopia. Utopia here in the mountains. Utopia by the lake. Our utopia.

How I hacked the bio-monitoring system. How I took it over. The password to the artificial intelligence in the water treatment plant. Security holes. Intelligent agents. My keystroke loggers in the county equipment. My fascination with high-tech botany. All that. I’ll tell you, but it will take a while. But I guess we’ve got all night. It seems that I’m not going anywhere.

Who knew that the cops are all chipped like dogs? It’s a beautiful thing.

I know how this story begins. Here’s the sequence:

  • I was hauled out of bed by cops in the middle of the night.
  • I escaped out the side door with my kids.
  • We hid in the woods for hours.
  • We came back to the house eventually.
  • We hid in the basement.

Maybe I should be saying this with PowerPoint, projecting it all on the wall. Helvetica Bold.

  • I got arrested.
  • I spent the night in jail.

Understand that this story sits on the surface of my skin, lives on the backs of my arms, and some days, there are no words. It’s a jail-based utopia we live in.

The story starts in my bed. 11:30 p.m. A flashlight shining in my face. Police. What do the police want? Why are they in my bedroom?

Think fast. Don’t even consider using the W word — as in “do you have a warrant?” Respect authority if you want to come out of this alive.

I was asleep. This had never happened to me before. I handled it a lot better the next time.

Above the bed hangs a wedding kimono I bought in Tokyo, white with wide red borders embroidered with golden peacocks and red cherry blossoms. Henry’s got more shoes in the closet than I own, and there’s this whole suitcase of neckties . . .

OK. I get lost, following details down holes. I think you call it “avoidance.”

A friend of mine who is also a psychotherapist told me, “You need to stop thinking of this place as utopia. It’s not utopia. It’s a police state. The state troopers train here and they get to practice on us. Once they are competent to do their jobs, they get sent elsewhere.”

I’ll try again.

3:00 a.m. The police come in holding floodlights. The kids and I are back from our escape and are hiding in the basement, in my office, sleeping on gym mats and some of my quilts. The sheriff’s deputy—whose name I have repressed; let’s call him Officer Friendly—stands on the cement steps in my office diagonally across the room. Next to him is a plainclothes cop filming the scene with a great big video camera.

Somewhere there exists a videotape of my arrest.

Officer Friendly said, “Come over here so you don’t traumatize your children.”

I didn’t move. I stared him down, saying, “That horse is already out of the barn.”

We had been hiding in the woods for hours, and they were hunting us with cars and floodlights, and, I later found out, police dogs. When it seemed like this would go on all night, I let us back into the house, entering through my office using the key I’d left outside . . .

I didn’t leave my kids. Not except in handcuffs. I knew when they found us that there was nothing more I could do.

Officer Friendly hauled me to my feet, telling me I was under arrest, and handcuffed me.

He never read me my rights. He wasn’t big on cop formalities.

That night, as the cops were hauling me barefoot out my front door in a T-shirt and pajama bottoms and handcuffs, without my purse, I said to them, “Please don’t let out the cat.”

(The cops who raid my house have this habit of leaving the front door standing wide open.)

A short cop on my porch said, “You really screwed up,” as I was being stuffed in the squad car.

Officer Friendly charged me with resisting arrest for flinching when he grabbed me so hard that he left fingerprint-shaped bruises on my arms.

His paperwork would later say that this scene took place in Ticonderoga. He was not good with facts. Facts do not play a big role in his world.


I hate that man.


Here are some hard-won facts from time sheets it took me a long time to get. On August 16, Officer Friendly punched in at 11 a.m. He didn’t punch out again until 6 a.m. on August 17; he billed it as twenty hours, though it was actually a nineteen-hour shift. The day before that, he’d worked noon until midnight. And the day before that, his timesheet shows he worked a seventeen-hour shift.

His partner’s timesheet shows she worked eighteen and a half hours covering the night of my arrest, and that she worked thirty hours in the two days previous. I have the documentation. I can prove it.

What else is on the videotape? Dishes in the sink? Henry’s piles of science fiction novels? The cat box? Or maybe they have videos of the inside of my neighbor Frank’s house, which they searched three times in the middle of the night without a warrant.

Afterward, Frank bought himself this great T-shirt to commemorate that night; in all capital letters, it says “INNOCENT BYSTANDER.”

The DA dropped all three charges. The downside of the DA dropping all charges against me is that my morbid curiosity as to what data they collected will never be satisfied. Or hasn’t been yet, anyway.

I have lost a lot of sleep trying to think about this. In the middle of the night—Was it last night? How long have I been here?—I got out of bed to look at my photos from about one month after the first home invasion.

And there they were: Henry’s photos of my bruises. He took them a couple of days after, but for some reason I didn’t upload them to my account until a month later. I’d thought I’d lost them.

There are four, two of each arm with and without flash. Henry took them at the instructions of my lawyer after my first appearance in court. I am wearing a sleeveless white shirt with pink cherry blossoms.

Below my arm is a construction of Tinkertoys; in the background, a brass sculpture that resembles Jonathan Livingston Seagull that my son bought at a yard sale.

There is something about the way I am holding my arms—more like a martial arts posture than a victim displaying an injury.

There is nothing in these photos that expresses how Henry feels. They’re purely instrumental, depicting bruises to be shown in court as part of my criminal defense.

One is the photo I copied for the quilt I never made, entitled “Officer Friendly Leaves a Bad Impression on Mother.” I bought pink fabric for my skin and blue and purple fabric for my bruises . . .

How odd that I wanted to make all this about me.

The way here was gradual. The environmentalism behind the creation of this place was simultaneous with the passage of the Rockefeller drug laws. The white rural poor have been disenfranchised to make way for a protected wilderness where there are no jobs. And so the State built prisons in the woods and shipped in the black urban poor in order to create jobs.

Then the money ran out and in came the tax rebellions, and the tax caps. The county built the Public Safety Building with the idea of renting out cells to the state and to the Feds and to Immigration Services, but the market collapsed.

And so they all had to get a lot more flexible about how all those empty cells were filled. They began taking prisoners from other states; prisoners from other countries; corporate prisoners; corporate prisoners from other countries: men, women, and children from nowhere, incarcerated for no reason.

So here we sit, you and I.

My fantasy was that I would exhibit the quilt at the county fair a dozen yards from where Officer Friendly would be at the sheriff’s department booth, fingerprinting little children—to prepare them for later life. I wanted to take a picture.

Did you know that the State now keeps a database of the kids’ biometrics? The equipment package that cops use at fairs is billed on the manufacturer’s website as “an important new tool in combatting juvenile delinquency.” The kids come away from the booth with a helium balloon, a couple of sheriff’s department temporary tattoos, a spiffy looking ID card, and a chipped dog tag.

The other day I found my photos of the escape route. I don’t remember taking them, but they exist. A day after the home invasion, I apparently walked the escape route with my camera.

I was arrested about three a.m. on the seventeenth. The long, leisurely process of getting me into a jail cell lasted most of the rest of the night. No one was in a hurry to allow me to get some sleep. So I spent most of the day of seventeenth sleeping off my misadventure.

They had me shower before my mug shot. But it confused them when I asked to comb my hair. Having me wash my hair before the photo was a deliberate tactic to make me look ridiculous. My wet hair was sticking out every which way; in the photo I probably look quite insane. I smiled for the mug shot.

I never did find out what they do about brushes and combs in that jail.

About 5:30 a.m., my captors gave me a bed. It may have been later, since Officer Friendly’s time sheet records him as punching out at six. It was cold in my cell, maybe sixty degrees, maybe colder, and the blanket they gave me was thin.

August 17 was the hottest day of the year! I looked it up.

The previous summer, without Henry’s permission, I brought home a friendly cat named Bro from the animal shelter. He’d lived in the shelter for a year and a half; he was a kitten who’d never been adopted because of his runny nose. I wasn’t looking for a cat, but he charmed his way out of the cage. He’s a teddy bear of a cat with minky black fur.

The first night Henry and Bro spent under the same roof, Bro got up on our bed and went to sleep between my legs with one large paw stretched up my bare thigh.

In the morning, Henry insisted I find the overfamiliar cat another place to live.

I got a friend to take him, but the cat’s sneezing was disgusting, and her husband didn’t like him either, so eventually the cat, now renamed “Darth,” was once again ours. By crying a lot and locking myself in the bathroom, I persuaded Henry to let me keep the cat, who we then renamed “Ambrose.”

Our kids were still in the school in Westchester County, so we spent time in Westchester, even though I hated it there. We had new neighbors who’d bought an enormous house up the block. They built themselves an executive hen house. Raising chickens in our suburb is prohibited by the zoning. The wife, I’m told, trapped and rehomed the neighborhood cats because she wanted to have free-range chickens.

Brosie disappeared. I was heartbroken. Never name a cat after Ambrose Bierce!

In mid-August, I got a cell phone call from a nervous man who wouldn’t identify himself. He had taken the cat to the vet. The vet had discovered that the cat was chipped and that the cat was mine. On August 14, we drove down to Westchester to retrieve the hot cat from our screened porch where the man had dumped him.

I don’t know why that guy believed he could remain anonymous. I took his phone number from caller ID and ran it by my databases, and had his home address, income bracket, mother’s maiden name, SAT scores, and how the traffic flowed on his commute.

When I told the cops not to let the cat out, I was afraid that if they did I’d never see Brosie again!

I remember the small rectangle, my cell window. The walls were thick, and so it was set deeply into the wall. As I settled down to go to sleep, the sky was pink, tinged with fuchsia, and strands of barbed wire were silhouetted against the sky. I could see in my mind’s eye the sunrise unfolding at home.

I imagined the water still as glass, still enough that even Camel’s Hump could be seen in reflection; a dark blue sky, intensely pink clouds, a few yellow spots; the sky growing pinker with a fierce yellow stripe along the horizon, and the pinkness fading until the sun rose over the horizon, making a wide stripe of orange across the lake to our shore. I imagined the buttery yellow light that would have enveloped us in our hiding place had we stayed hidden and not returned to the house. At dawn, the heron would be feeding in the brook, and shorebirds would be flying low, in formation, over still water.

As I huddled under the blanket and tried to get some sleep, I considered whether to get a divorce. Henry couldn’t reach me on the telephone and so had called the cops and had given them permission to go into the house to see if I was home. That is what had set this all in motion: Henry’s phone call.

I decided that—other than the fact that the cops had just come barging into my house in the middle of the night and hauled me out of bed, yelled at me and refused to leave, hunted me through the woods, roughed me up and arrested me, driven me around in the hot dark of the squad car to God-knows-where for what seemed like hours, and thrown me in jail with the intention of having complete strangers carry off our kids—my life was actually going well. In some respects I was finally getting what I wanted: I was making my escape from Westchester County, from the prison of living in someone else’s utopia.

Just before we left Westchester for the summer, Benjamin got stuffed in a locker at school and locked inside; the school’s vice principal, presumably with an eye toward avoiding a lawsuit, had tried to explain to me how the incident might be about three-quarters Ben’s fault.

That same week I intercepted our neighbor, the daughter of a notoriously bad-tempered opera diva, chasing my son across our front lawn screaming and trying to ram him with a baby carriage—with her baby daughter in it. Benjamin had gone to her porch two doors down and had asked to play with her son. She didn’t want them to play together.

I told her to get off my lawn and never come back. I threw a few more words at it than that.

Henry talked me out of calling the police. Who knew what wild counteraccusations she might make? I had the phone in my hand. But he had a point. If she was crazy enough to do what she had already done, facts were obsolete. She acted like laws do not apply. Most of the local cops were Italian, and her mama was a famous opera star. Who would they believe? Put the phone down, Margaret.

Suburbia red in tooth and claw.

Considering where we’d come from, my home invasion and abduction didn’t seem so bad. I decided that I should not let a bunch of SWAT-team wannabes take my new life away from me.

A half hour later, I was awakened by an announcement on the PA system that I needed to make my bed and prepare for cell inspection.

After the inspection (to make sure I hadn’t acquired any weapons in the half hour since I’d been shown to my cell) I opted out of breakfast and went back to sleep.

The Department of Corrections website says that the prisoners raise their own lettuce there: it’s a pilot project that the DOC compares to “the massive greenhouse that’s a favorite family attraction at Walt Disney’s Epcot Center.” I’m sorry I didn’t get to see that before my release. Maybe next time I go to jail, I’ll bring my family.


But anyway, the photos.

So on the morning of the eighteenth, I was up at quarter after seven photographing the sunrise. It was a hazy, sticky day. The sun had already risen but was just breaking through heavy clouds. The dominant colors in the photo are a brownish gray and a pale apricot.

A little while later I was drinking coffee with a former prison guard. We sat in the morning sunshine on his porch that overlooks the lake. I had come to talk, to try to understand what had happened to me. I showed him the bruises. He told me, “It’s like Russia over there at the sheriff’s department. They have their own rules . . . Back when I worked as a correction officer, after I’d worked a double shift, late in my shift, I was like, well . . .” He made a face and didn’t finish that sentence. Working as a prison guard changes you.

A couple of guys who get arrested every once in a while told me how lucky I was to have been arrested after the Public Safety Building was built, because the old county jail was “a hellhole.”

Before I lived here, I didn’t used to have friends who worked as prison guards, nor indeed friends who got arrested.

Prison guards are different than one would expect. There is a type. They tend to have a certain emotional openness, expressiveness. One day when I was at the animal shelter, a man walked in accompanied by his son. He wore full black body armor, like RoboCop, with the name of the prison printed on the front. He and his son were carrying a big dog cage, and inside was a litter of kittens. He’d rescued them from a snowdrift where the hungry kitties were eating birdseed.

These guys sometimes say things like “If you’re arrested you’re guilty. As a former correction officer, I know that anyone arrested is guilty. That’s just how I think.”

In the late afternoon, I took pictures of the roses I’d planted, pink roses, red roses. Then the fragrant white rugosas closer to the steps.

Next come the photos of the stone steps. The camera angles are odd. When I looked at these photos the other day, it was at first hard to understand what I’d had in mind. I thought one of the kids had gotten hold of my camera. When I looked at them in sequence I realized I was looking at the escape route; how three barefoot people escaped from a house full of cops. It was safety.

Descending the steps, the viewer is looking down. There is a large, flat granite boulder flecked with garnet. Greenery runs down the left side; lower, the leaves on the trees are upside down. The next step is half-covered with hypnum moss, as are subsequent steps. The moss I had mail ordered from a company in Pennsylvania; it came in irregular sheets peeled off rocks, packed in tissue paper. I had planted it the previous season, using it carefully on the steps to give the illusion that the stones had been there for ages.

When we had the yard landscaped, after the backhoes were done, I built the yard ecology from the bottom up. Ecologies are complex things. All the parts work together to make the whole.

I sprinkled genetically engineered fungi I’d ordered from a start-up in Oregon that replaced the soil fungi the backhoe had scraped off, thereby making for healthier soil, and also created a powerful wi-fi zone that covers my whole yard, taking advantage of the networked properties of fungal mats, using nearby trees as antennae. It is more than a fungal wi-fi network, really. It’s also a data storage medium, cloud computing but without fickle corporations—anarchist street tech used for circumventing Internet shutdowns by oppressive governments. It makes my high-end computer hardware run a lot faster, though it’s got an interesting trickle of traffic through my fiber-optic connection.

After the high-tech fungi, I sprinkled on the really expensive designer grass seed: It’s a special dwarf grass I almost never have to mow because it just doesn’t grow very high. Also part of the mix are tiny nitrogen-fixing clovers, and these little flowers that look like chamomile and are supposed to give a sort of mellow feeling if you walk barefoot on the grass. There was this night when the grass first came up when I walked out into the yard after a rain, and the baby lawn was intensely alive, making a sound just beyond the range of human hearing.

All this stuff washes down to the lake in runoff. I wonder what I’ve contributed to the local ecosystem.

Next picture: farther down the steps. These boulders still show the scratches from the backhoe. Yes, I absolutely did tell Officer Friendly that if he didn’t have a warrant, then he and his merry band needed to get the fuck out of my dining room. That is what I was pondering at this point in our descent, that maybe things might have gone better if I hadn’t told them to get the fuck out of my house. There is a little bit of my mail-order moss, but less than on the steps in the previous photo. In preindustrial times, pillows and mattresses were sometimes stuffed with hypnum moss; its Greek name means that it induces sleep.

Next picture: the last third of the stone steps. The bottom one has lots of mail-order moss. Then we are on open ground.

I should say that I don’t think the cops had any idea that there was a set of stone steps there; and that they had not noticed the spiral staircase in my house; that they thought the apartment had only one entrance and exit. So all eight of them blocked my front door.

When they began to talk about waiting for someone to come and take away the kids, we escaped out the side door. Apparently, they didn’t notice we were gone for quite a long time. Officer Friendly was outside my house badmouthing me to my neighbors, claiming I was upstairs passed out an hour and a half after our escape.

After construction of the wall was complete, I had bombed the whole hillside with wildflower seeds I bought from an organization in Vermont. The next photo shows purple clover, a yellow black-eyed susan, and an orange blanket flower at the base of our stone wall. A few weeks earlier, there would have been bright red poppies, splattered like blood all over the wall. But by August, they were done.

The next photo shows the view from the woods where we were hiding. It is taken from the shadows. There are small trees on the right hand side, bushes on the left side toward the lake; in the foreground is the fence line of the water treatment plant, and behind the fence are cement wastewater storage tanks that contain the reed beds that cleanse the water.

The water treatment plant hums, even in winter. And in August, the night is full of the songs of crickets and frogs and American toads, which are especially partial to the reed beds, and the soft sounds of water lapping on the shore. You would think that on a hot August night, it would have been buggy down by the lake, but that night the shoreline was impossibly hospitable. The ground was soft, the air was warm, and the emerald night was singing.

I should never have told anyone in case I ever need a place to hide again.


The next photo is a not very interesting shot of the ground, except that I now understand that this is the spot where we hid, sleeping in a pile like gorillas.

When I was in the second grade, the Seattle police department had a PR campaign in the schools sponsored by Sears Roebuck: “Officer Friendly” would come to your school and all the kids would get Polaroids taken sitting on his cool motorcycle. My childhood Officer Friendly was a muscular Aryan type, about five foot eight, with a big-toothed smile and a gun. My parents still have my snapshot in a box somewhere. Later, when we were on car trips and saw a cop giving out a speeding ticket, my father would say, “Looks like Officer Friendly just made a new friend.” I do that, too.

At the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle when Ben was small, Henry looked at the gorillas sleeping in the enclosure and remarked that that was my ideal arrangement of the family bed. Ever since, it has been a joke between us.

Our local Officer Friendly is much taller, a skinhead with an elaborately tattooed left arm that he hides behind his back when getting his picture taken for the paper for rescuing dogs or saving babies. The tattoos are detailed in a way that vibrates with significance—a bulging eye that looks terrified, and a mouth that is trying to open but is glued shut—suggesting that they are the consequence of more than a drunken evening in the tattoo parlor. After he’d broken my silence while booking me, I asked him about his tattoos. He was really pleased that I’d noticed them, but changed the subject.

The final photo makes me sad; it shows the lawn along the north side of the water treatment plant fence, the route by which we returned to the house. My admission of defeat.

Immediately thereafter (and from the same time sequence) there is a photo of me sitting in my office wearing a tie-dyed tank top and the opal necklace that I bought in Brisbane. It shows the bruises on both my arms. I gather from the caption that my daughter took the picture. This means she also went on the walk with me, revisiting our escape.

After that, and from the same day, there are a couple of photos of double rainbows, dark pink roses after the rain, and a downed tree in the rainy dark, and someone in a uniform who resembles Officer Friendly’s partner, shining her flashlight into a silver metallic car that has a fallen sumac tree on it.

She is the one who actually signed two out of the three charges against me. Officer Friendly was incredibly rude to her while I was in custody. He blamed her for all his mistakes.

He mangled the facts so badly that, even though I was trying to remain silent, I interjected a correction, explaining that what he had just said was impossible. He said, “Shut up. This doesn’t pertain to you.” I wondered if he could define “pertain.” He was drafting criminal charges against me. To who else could they possibly pertain? I remember feeling sorry for her for having to work with such a sadistic moron.

I have no recollection of taking these photos, yet they exist.

Prison gangs clean the area around the water treatment plant each spring. I can watch them from my living room window. I try to find out when they are coming, so I can pick through the debris that washed in with the spring thaw before they cart it off. I find the most interesting objects to use in my garden: pieces of blue-and-white pottery, pieces of rusty metal in interesting shapes, croquet balls run over by lawn mowers. If I don’t get there first, all the good stuff is gone. The prisoners leave the shoreline clean.

I spent two summers pulling glass out of the hillside after we built our big stone wall. For decades, glass bottles had been thrown down the hill. At times, it seemed that the whole hillside was made of glass, brown and blue, and green, and white. I kept picking it up until the job was done.

Then, when I really needed it, when I needed to flee barefoot with my children in the middle of the night, my efforts were repaid. The grass was soft and safe. I had healed the hillside and the favor was returned.

I had to sit handcuffed in the lobby of the jail intake area. The stools you sit on have no backs and are small, even for me. It was after five in the morning and I felt exhausted. I was reminded, while sitting there, of what we were told in Psych 101 about how to sleep deprive a rat: You put the rat on a flowerpot large enough for it to stand on but too small for it to sleep on. You have this flowerpot in a bowl of water. If the rat falls asleep, it falls in the water and wakes up. The stools in the jail waiting room were like that.

I think I spent about three hours in handcuffs, for no particular reason except that I was being put in my place. Officer Friendly handcuffed me when he arrested me, and I don’t think the cuffs were taken off again until they made me shower right before the mug shot. It is possible that they were briefly taken off for my fingerprinting, but I don’t think they were.

My captors were complaining about how tired they were, bragging about how far beyond a double shift they were, claiming to have worked eighteen, nineteen hours. Officer Friendly claimed to have been awake for twenty-four hours.

I felt so sorry for him. I apologized for my role in his sleep deprivation. No one answered and there was a long silence as though they hadn’t realized that I could hear.

I had another wave of these generous feelings about twelve hours later, seven hours after Henry bailed me out, when—during the late afternoon—I suppressed the urge to send the sheriff’s department flowers.

Even now, the mental image of the flowers I intended to send them has a supersaturated, hyperreal quality: a dozen moist long-stem deep red roses in a container wrapped in red foil, with a wide red velvet bow.

In the 1980s, it used to annoy me that my grandmother would take pictures of her hybrid tea roses and mail them to me. Now I take pictures of my roses and post them on the Internet. What kind of ancestral nonsense made me think of sending roses? I cannot reconstruct why I felt at that moment that they deserved to be sent roses, except that the stripes on my prison uniform were the same color red.


Sometime during that day, the lady from Child Protective Services interviewed me. I said some things I shouldn’t have, but in retrospect, I was surprisingly lucid in my dealings with her, under the circumstances. She shook her head at the drama of the previous night and the way the deputies had terrified me. She said, “I hate it when they do that.”

A year later, when I was having lunch in a restaurant, I overheard two CPS workers gossiping about who was getting promoted and why. The subject came around to my CPS lady, the one I’d met with: They agreed that she was too compassionate, put too much time in to getting clients to tell her what they needed. The woman immediately behind me said, “Who cares what they think they need? If they knew what they needed we wouldn’t be visiting in the first place.”

Did you know that jail is mostly empty? The county claims they are making money with this new privatization deal, but I saw only one other inmate the whole time I was there, and only from a distance: A tall blonde over six feet with shoulder-length hair, doing laundry. Her skin had a translucence suggesting she hadn’t been exposed to daylight in a while. She was wearing the same kind of red-and-white striped uniform I was, except it looked much better on her. I saw her only for a moment. There was no one else.

That jail is brand new. The walls are bright white, and there is a broad band of grape color about eight feet up, I guess to make the jail look more cheerful or maybe because the cell blocks are color coded. Or maybe it’s purple because it’s the women’s section. Each jail cell has a stainless steel sink/toilet combo thing and a bed. Just after they put me in my cell, I lay across my bed with my head toward the door and my legs up the wall in a yoga pose. That’s when I was looking at the pink sky through the barbed wire, relaxing into my predicament, letting the pink noise of the sky talk to the tension in my hamstrings.

A while back, when the county officials were saying they needed to privatize more facilities in order to build office space for themselves, I had to bite my tongue to keep myself from suggesting that they rent office space in the Public Safety Building (i.e., the jail) so each of the county officials could have his own sink and toilet in the same finish you see in Westchester kitchens on ten-thousand-dollar Sub-zero refrigerators.

Remember the hearings on privatization and the creation of the Prison Enterprise Zone in which civil liberties were suspended to make this a more commercially viable environment for prison privatization? Remember that noisy guy who said, “You like living in your tree-hugging environmentalist utopia, but this doesn’t come for free. Someone’s got to pay for all these trees. There’s no more free lunch. Someone’s got to pay!”

I know just the office he deserves. A room with a view. That guy chose “What is your father’s middle name?” as his password security question. He is named after his dad.

I used to know what T-shirt and what pajama bottoms I wore that night. The T-shirt had words printed on it, a phrase mildly though not extremely ironic. I can’t remember anymore. The pajama bottoms were, I think, pale blue flannel. I think I was wearing the ones with garden gnomes, not the ones with snowflakes.

It bothers me that I can’t remember what I was wearing. I know I used to know.

When Ben had a two-hour school delay because of snow, I drove him to school, but the roads were really bad. Once you get off the state highways over there, instead of sanding and salting the roads, they use mine tailings. I barely made it up the big hill. After dropping him off, I decided I wasn’t driving back down that hill, so I went the long way, past that other prison. It was snowing hard and in the switchbacks I was driving down the middle of the road in low gear so as to keep as far as possible away from the guardrails.

I noticed there was a white car behind me, and eventually I realized the car behind me was a sheriff’s deputy. The whole way, I was trying to read his plate number in the rearview mirror. When the roads flattened out and he finally passed me, I saw that the plate number ended in a three and not a seven, so it wasn’t Officer Friendly.

Whoever was behind the wheel was trying to do me a favor. The road conditions were horrendous and getting worse, and there’s no cell phone reception in that area.

Please, God, don’t let me hit a guardrail. The scene that keeps playing in my mind was this: I fishtail and take out three guardrail posts and spin backward across the middle of the road and bounce—and my car is bleeding transmission fluid into the snowbank and black plastic pieces of my car are all over the road. I look down over the steep embankment where I almost went. And Officer Friendly gets out of the squad car, striding heroically in my direction, a helpful smile on his face. Which fades to a frown. He says to me, “Aren’t you the woman who filed the Freedom of Information request to find out how much overtime I work?”

Or maybe he would just pretend he didn’t know me and I didn’t know him. Maybe we difficult middle-aged women from suburbia all look alike and he wouldn’t remember me at all.

I didn’t used to be like this.

My purse was in the front hall. In a wicker chair at the top of the stairs. They could have offered me the opportunity to take my purse along to jail, in which case, I could have gotten out my Amex gold card and paid my own bail, and somehow someone would have had to drive me home.

I’m pretty sure this wasn’t part of the plan. It would have underlined the complete superfluousness of arresting me if Officer Friendly had had to turn around and drive me home at four a.m.

I don’t remember if the bail hearing was before or after Officer Friendly had his little chat with me about my right to remain silent. He has unorthodox ideas about Miranda rights, if you can call them ideas; Miranda rights don’t apply if a cop is up past his bedtime.

I attempted to invoke my right to remain silent by remaining silent.

Officer Friendly told me I had the right to remain silent, but if I remained silent, he said, he would find more things to charge me with and I would be very very very sorry.

I was scared.

I began to talk.


About three weeks after the home invasion, someone at his desk at work in the sheriff’s department began sending me harassing messages over the Internet, calling me a “drunken slut” and threatening to “expose” me. By their own account, Officer Friendly’s team had spent three hours “repeatedly searching” my house. They had complete access to its contents including medical records, financial records, computers . . . I took the threat seriously.

The problem with me is that I can find more trouble to get into in my own dining room . . .

I had to marvel at his misfortune. If you were going to harass someone from your computer in a government office in this county, I was about the last person you would want to pick on. It’s that relentlessness, that grinding obsessiveness, for which I get paid.

What kind of an . . . well, never mind. I’ve already met them. I know what kind.

At the gala last summer up at the golf course, the woman behind me talking loudly had been seeing a man she met on the Internet who, as it happens, was a freelance computer tech who did work for the county. (Stories that begin “I met him on the Internet” almost never end well.) He persuaded her to let him charge nonrefundable plane tickets for a romantic getaway on her credit card. And then he said he couldn’t go and she was stuck footing the bill. She said, “You know how he got me to trust him? You know how? He told me his password. He said, ‘My password is syzygy28. If I can trust you with that, you can trust me with anything.’” I wrote syzygy28 on a cocktail napkin and tucked it down the front of my evening gown.

When I got home I sat down at my keyboard the way a pianist sits down at a concert piano. The window was open, and I could hear the toads in the reed beds singing in four-part polyphony.

Syzygy28 wasn’t his password on the county admin account; it was the password to his main personal account. He had sixteen user IDs on ten dating sites; what dating sites do if you don’t visit every day is repeatedly email you your user ID and password. So I had a wide selection of passwords to try on the county system. His county password was cassan0va666, using a zero for the O. He has a whole network of accounts with all kinds of interesting stuff in them, enough that I can pour boiling oil on his parade for years and years.

I set up mail forwarding in all his accounts to dummy accounts so as to make it difficult for him to lock me out if he figured out he’d been hacked.

But that was unnecessary; he never did figure it out. I was tempted to warn off the women he was defrauding, but I know from experience that such women do not welcome helpful advice.

I need to tell you the story of the shower again, because I didn’t tell it right the first time. I tried hard to make that experience about me, but there is a way in which it is not about me at all, in fact quite the opposite. The shower during booking is a process engineered to remove identity. It is when they take your clothes and your jewelry. The opal necklace: It’s a rough-cut Queensland opal. When I was in Brisbane, I went opal shopping. The Queensland opals have this amazing spatial quality, like you could go inside and go for a long walk. They are almost more like places than gemstones. The ones that seemed to contain whole worlds, I couldn’t afford. The one I bought is like the door of a cave leading to magical blue and green; a portal to a hiding place that’s just up the path.

When instructed, I took off the necklace and handed it to the prison guard who was a blond kid barely out of high school. She was wearing rubber gloves.

She instructed me where I was to soap myself and how I was to wash my hair and never took her eyes off me.

The shower process is engineered as a psychological transition intended to create docility. A lot of the rest of the experience I describe involves a personal interaction between me and someone else or someone being capricious, but other than the possibly malicious timing, the shower was exactly what it is supposed to be. The extent to which I try to make the shower about messing up my mug shot, I am avoiding the impersonal nature of the system behind the shower procedure. The mug shot is not a school picture.

The most beautiful thing about the way the computer tech had set up the county system was it allowed for remote installation of software on all county equipment so that he could do his job without having to walk into the office. Installation could be done globally. On what drives would you like to install these keystroke loggers? Select ALL. We were in. My invasion had begun.

What I had achieved was invisible admin access to the county system and access to the State systems that had information about who held the leases on the privatized prisons and copies of the contracts. That was what I needed.

Even better, the system also talked to all the county cell phones for all county agencies. Not only did I give them all keystroke loggers, but I turned on GPS position logging. The phone directory identifies the phones being tracked, last name first. I color coded them by department, and set up an RSS feed to a KML; the KML tracks in real time every county employee’s cell phone on a map. With a slider bar, I can walk the map backward and forward in time.

I trained the network of intelligent agents to receive, process, and archive in the fungal cloud in the yard the incoming data from the keystroke loggers, which was already being displayed on one of my monitors in beautiful green spikes like blades of grass.

I also gave it an audio track hooked up to my speakers, keyed to the phones coded as belonging to the sheriff’s department, so I would be able to hear the approach of deputies and in particular I would be able to hear any sudden convergence of deputies in the area of my house.

Vernichtungswille: the desire to annihilate.

I connected all that to my machine’s security, such that if they kicked in my door—presuming I’d remembered to lock it—and came to take my machine, all trace of this operation would have fled into the yard before they were halfway up the stairs.

I wish I’d thought to track the state troopers, too

When I emerged from my trance, there was a devil mask in cut paper glued to the dishwasher. In the hallway, blue-and-green snowflakes decorated the walls. On closer inspection, they were cut from the phone bill that had come in the previous day’s mail. Luckily, the glue that the kids had used to attach them to the walls was rubber cement, so they peeled off easily.

A pizza had been acquired from next door and had been eaten, apparently some hours earlier. My purse was open and all the cash in my wallet had been removed and replaced with candy wrappers.

The kids were each at their own computers. My daughter was watching a DVD of the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup and was laughing as Harpo climbed into the lemonade. Benjamin was playing a computer game involving monkeys and was happy because he had just leveled up.

I checked the voicemail. Henry had left seven messages. Apparently, the kids had not felt it necessary to answer the phone.

The initial ecstasy when you come to own a computer system is followed by a hideous dropping away of the veil once you realize that no matter how radioactive the data, if you flash it around and can’t provide a legal provenance, then you are going to jail. Federal prison. This stuff now comes under the antiterrorism laws because these are government computers. And the trial would be secret, if there were a trial at all.

So you’re patient; you file Freedom of Information Act requests that the opposition may not feel they need to respond to. And you think that maybe they know what you’ve done and are just waiting and hoping that you have issues with impulse control.


For most of my life I have allowed myself to think that jail is for other people, people I don’t need to think much about. People getting what they deserve.

How do people come to deserve things? What do I deserve? What do you deserve? I deserve an ice cream. You deserve a spanking. She had it coming to her. And he deserves to disappear into a jail cell for a very long time.

If you’re arrested, you’re guilty.

Your moment of decision is at three a.m. when they open your bedroom door. Can you keep your cool?

What is most interesting about the prison privatization project is that it is failing. This world has no shortage of venues where you can suspend someone from the ceiling and beat the bottoms of their feet with a rubber hose and hook up a car battery . . . Despite our civil liberties being suspended here in the enterprise zone, our utopia is just not globally competitive in the atrocities market.

There are a few contracts. The purple block of the Public Safety Building is leased to a 501(c)(3) that promotes “Nordic rejuvenation”—sounds like Swedish massage . . . I’ve read the business plan.

So I’m in the New York State system, and I start seeing references to something called the bio-monitoring system. It’s being deployed for checking whether people have hunting licenses and it works twenty miles from the nearest road. The idea works like this: If you fire a gun, the system uses some kind of Internet to check whether there is a hunting license in proximity and tries to match the gun to a license. So if you fire the gun and lack a proper license, the Department of Environmental Conservation cops arrive, perhaps by helicopter, and you get a very expensive ticket plus their bill for transportation.

And prisoners are chipped: the chip is injected between the shoulder blades. If they escape, they can be tracked even if they hide in the forest. Ironically, the denser the forest, the better the bio-monitoring system works because of the density of the fungal mats in the ground, and because there are so many trees to act as antennas.

My water treatment plant is part of the bio-monitoring system. It’s an AI that functions as a major hub. My mail-order fungi had long since added themselves to its network when the flood waters briefly overflowed into the tanks. That’s where the unexplained traffic through my Internet connection was coming from. The network password is syzygy29.

Same consultant. Same security holes!

Our Cassan0va doesn’t know me, but he and I have had quite the relationship. Almost a partnership. One system administrator and his bad habits can take me a very long way. Further, I guess, than I really wanted to go. I got carried away.

Let’s be sensible. Let’s get back in touch with reality. Lock your doors at night. Wash the dishes before you go to bed. Consider your bedroom: How would you look to a cop, sprawled on the bed like that? Consider it from their point of view.

It’s not that I didn’t try other solutions. I talked to my elected representatives. I wrote letters. I filed complaints. I filed Freedom of Information requests. But at a certain point, you lose faith in reality as you knew it, sliding sideways to a place where police come into your bedroom with a gun in the middle of the night if they find a door to your house unlocked. They define an open door as a door it is possible to enter without kicking it down.

Be sensible. Think about it. Would you rather have the cops haul you out of bed, or the robbers? The fundamental difference between police and criminals is that the police have rules they must abide by. If there are criminals in your bedroom you can report them to the police.

Would you rather have the cops haul you out of bed, or the robbers? The answer to this riddle is that the cops are supposed to haul the robbers out of bed and leave me out of it.

Hacking the government, any government, just isn’t a very good idea. Just because I can enter a computer system doesn’t mean I should. Surely, there is another solution, something I could have done differently.

If the police come into your house in the middle of the night, you can report them. Don’t argue when they are in your house. Ask for an explanation of what is happening, but in a quiet, calm tone of voice. Phrase it, “I would like to understand what you are doing in my house.” Not, “What the hell are you are doing in my bedroom in the middle of the night?”

In the morning, drive over to the police station and speak to the sergeant. The cop will call you after a few days and explain himself. If you are calm and patient and understanding, he might even apologize, might even admit that he made a mistake, that they came into your house in the middle of the night with their guns drawn, but when they saw your beautiful little daughter asleep in her bed, they realized their error and put their guns away. Which is why they weren’t pointing guns at you when they woke you up.

You may have some legal rights, but you need to understand that when the cops are in your bedroom at three a.m., this isn’t the right time to articulate the fundamental principles of human rights. You may think you should be recording this surreal conversation, but don’t go for the mp3 recorder even if it is right there on your desk, because at three a.m. the police may think it’s a gun.

It’s probably a good thing that you don’t have a gun. If you have a gun in your nightstand in case of intruders, it might get you killed. Stop and think. Think of it from the cop’s point of view. The cops have come into your house expecting you will be angry, that you may freak out. They are just doing a job. Their job is to protect themselves while on the job. That’s why they had their guns drawn in the first place.

That’s all water under the bridge now. Once I was in, I couldn’t just walk away. I had to do something.

I don’t even own a gun. I have a gun phobia. I am not advocating violent revolution, though I understand that may be the consequence of what I have done. This is not a call to arms.

I did not abduct children and make them fight a war. I did not buy them from the revolutionary forces as so much military surplus. I did not import them to the US on the pretext of rehabilitating them. I did not hide them in a jail in the Adirondacks. I merely set them free. What would you do in my place?

Understand that these are children that I have liberated. The oldest of them is fifteen and they’ve been through some very bad stuff. They were bought as a batch by a private military contractor. The prison contract with the State of New York is in the name of a pharmaceutical company, and there is a budget line from somewhere else that appears to be military.

I couldn’t just leave them inside.

There are no little boys in your barn. The boys are all still inside. The child soldiers hiding in your barn are all girls, very damaged little girls.

I knew you’d want to help. I knew you’d want to help me.

I have been inexact if I’ve called this a police state. It’s not a state at all. The state, disempowered and defunded, has withered away. Withered and wilted, it has dropped its petals all over like blood on the ground. The police remain, but really, there is no longer any state. Only power that has a logic of its own and the apparatus of a state that is reanimated by power.

We can win this thing. We can win.

Are you detaining me? Or am I free to go?

“Am I Free to Go?” copyright © 2012 Kathryn Cramer

From Wikipedia:

Kathryn Elizabeth Cramer (April 16, 1962) is an American science fiction writer, editor, and literary critic.


Ray Bradbury, The Art of Fiction No.203 (Part 1)

** Interview pulled from the Paris Review**



Why do you write science fiction?


Science fiction is the fiction of ideas. Ideas excite me, and as soon as I get excited, the adrenaline gets going and the next thing I know I’m borrowing energy from the ideas themselves. Science fiction is any idea that occurs in the head and doesn’t exist yet, but soon will, and will change everything for everybody, and nothing will ever be the same again. As soon as you have an idea that changes some small part of the world you are writing science fiction. It is always the art of the possible, never the impossible.

Imagine if sixty years ago, at the start of my writing career, I had thought to write a story about a woman who swallowed a pill and destroyed the Catholic Church, causing the advent of women’s liberation. That story probably would have been laughed at, but it was within the realm of the possible and would have made great science fiction. If I’d lived in the late eighteen hundreds I might have written a story predicting that strange vehicles would soon move across the landscape of the United States and would kill two million people in a period of seventy years. Science fiction is not just the art of the possible, but of the obvious. Once the automobile appeared you could have predicted that it would destroy as many people as it did.


Does science fiction satisfy something that mainstream writing does not?


Yes, it does, because the mainstream hasn’t been paying attention to all the changes in our culture during the last fifty years. The major ideas of our time—developments in medicine, the importance of space exploration to advance our species—have been neglected. The critics are generally wrong, or they’re fifteen, twenty years late. It’s a great shame. They miss out on a lot. Why the fiction of ideas should be so neglected is beyond me. I can’t explain it, except in terms of intellectual snobbery.


There was a time, though, wasn’t there, when you wanted recognition across the board from critics and intellectuals?


Of course. But not anymore. If I’d found out that Norman Mailer liked me, I’d have killed myself. I think he was too hung up. I’m glad Kurt Vonnegut didn’t like me either. He had problems, terrible problems. He couldn’t see the world the way I see it. I suppose I’m too much Pollyanna, he was too much Cassandra. Actually I prefer to see myself as the Janus, the two-faced god who is half Pollyanna and half Cassandra, warning of the future and perhaps living too much in the past—a combination of both. But I don’t think I’m too overoptimistic.


Vonnegut was written off as a science-fiction writer for a long time. Then it was decided that he wasn’t ever a science-fiction writer in the first place, and he was redeemed for the mainstream. So Vonnegut became “literature,” and you’re still on the verge. Do you think Vonnegut made it because he was a Cassandra?


Yes, that’s part of it. It’s the terrible creative negativism, admired by New York critics, that caused his celebrity. New Yorkers love to dupe themselves, as well as doom themselves. I haven’t had to live like that. I’m a California boy. I don’t tell anyone how to write and no one tells me.


Yet you did receive the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. How important was that for you?


It was a fantastic evening. There was a real problem getting back to my hotel room, though. The hotel where they held the ceremony in New York was so huge, it filled me with despair. Since my stroke, I walk very slowly. I saw a sign that night that said, next restroom: two hundred and eighty miles. The registration desk was on the eighth floor. You have to wait ten minutes for an elevator just to go up and register! That night some of the women were taking me back to my room and I said, For God’s sake, where’s the men’s room? We couldn’t find one. One of the girls said, There’s a potted palm over there, why don’t you go use it? So I went over. Nobody saw me. At least I don’t think so.


Was that award a signal that science fiction had become respectable?


To some extent. It took a long time for people simply to allow us out in the open and stop making fun of us. When I was a young writer if you went to a party and told somebody you were a science-fiction writer you would be insulted. They would call you Flash Gordon all evening, or Buck Rogers. Of course sixty years ago hardly any books were being published in the field. Back in 1946, as I remember, there were only two science-fiction anthologies published. We couldn’t afford to buy them anyway, since we were all too poor. That’s how bereft we were, that’s how sparse the field was, that’s how unimportant it all was. And when the first books finally began to be published, lots of them in the early fifties, they weren’t reviewed by good literary magazines. We were all closet science-fiction writers.


Does science fiction offer the writer an easier way to explore a conceptual premise?


Take Fahrenheit 451. You’re dealing with book burning, a very serious subject. You’ve got to be careful you don’t start lecturing people. So you put your story a few years into the future and you invent a fireman who has been burning books instead of putting out fires—which is a grand idea in itself—and you start him on the adventure of discovering that maybe books shouldn’t be burned. He reads his first book. He falls in love. And then you send him out into the world to change his life. It’s a great suspense story, and locked into it is this great truth you want to tell, without pontificating.

I often use the metaphor of Perseus and the head of Medusa when I speak of science fiction. Instead of looking into the face of truth, you look over your shoulder into the bronze surface of a reflecting shield. Then you reach back with your sword and cut off the head of Medusa. Science fiction pretends to look into the future but it’s really looking at a reflection of what is already in front of us. So you have a ricochet vision, a ricochet that enables you to have fun with it, instead of being self-conscious and superintellectual.


Do you read your science-fiction contemporaries?


I’ve always believed that you should do very little reading in your own field once you’re into it. But at the start it’s good to know what everyone’s doing. When I was seventeen I read everything by Robert Heinlein and Arthur Clarke, and the early writings of Theodore Sturgeon and Van Vogt—all the people who appeared in Astounding Science Fiction—but my big science-fiction influences are H. G. Wells and Jules Verne. I’ve found that I’m a lot like Verne—a writer of moral fables, an instructor in the humanities. He believes the human being is in a strange situation in a very strange world, and he believes that we can triumph by behaving morally. His hero Nemo—who in a way is the flip side of Melville’s madman, Ahab—goes about the world taking weapons away from people to instruct them toward peace.


How about writers younger than you?


I prefer not to read the younger writers in the field. Quite often you can be depressed by discovering they’ve happened onto an idea you yourself are working on. What you want is simply to get on with your own work.


How early did you begin writing?


It started with Poe. I imitated him from the time I was twelve until I was about eighteen. I fell in love with the jewelry of Poe. He’s a gem encruster, isn’t he? Same with Edgar Rice Burroughs and John Carter. I was doing traditional horror stories, which I think everyone who goes into the field starts out with—you know, people getting locked in tombs. I drew Egyptian mazes.

Everything went into ferment that one year, 1932, when I was twelve. There was Poe, Carter, Burroughs, the comics. I listened to a lot of imaginative radio shows, especially one called Chandu the Magician. I’m sure it was quite junky, but not to me. Every night when the show went off the air I sat down and, from memory, wrote out the whole script. I couldn’t help myself. Chandu was against all the villains of the world and so was I. He responded to a psychic summons and so did I.

I loved to illustrate, too, and I was a cartoonist. I always wanted my own comic strip. So I was not only writing about Tarzan, I was drawing my own Sunday panels. I did the usual adventure stories, located them in South America or among the Aztecs or in Africa. There was always the beautiful maiden and the sacrifice. So I knew I was going into one of the arts: I was drawing, acting, and writing.


Where did you do your acting?


One day in Tucson, Arizona, when I was twelve, I told all my friends I was going to go down to the nearest radio station to become an actor. My friends snorted and said, Do you know anyone down there? I said no. They said, Do you have any pull with anyone? I said no. I’ll just hang around and they’ll discover how talented I am. So I went to the radio station, hung around for two weeks emptying ashtrays and running out for newspapers and just being underfoot. And two weeks later I wound up on radio every Saturday night reading the comics to the kiddies: Bringing Up Father, Tailspin Tommy, and Buck Rogers.


You seem to have been open to a variety of influences.


A conglomerate heap of trash, that’s what I am. But it burns with a high flame. I’ve had my “literary” loves, too. I like to think of myself on a train going across America at midnight, conversing with my favorite authors, and on that train would be people like George Bernard Shaw, who was interested in the fiction of ideas. He himself on occasion wrote things that could be dubbed science fiction. We’d sit up late into the night turning over ideas and saying, Well, if this is true about women in 1900, what is it going to be in the year 2050?


Who else would be on that train?


A lot of poets: Hopkins, Frost, Shakespeare. And writers like Steinbeck, Huxley, and Thomas Wolfe.


How has Wolfe helped you?


He was a great romantic. When you’re nineteen, he opens the doors of the world for you. We use certain authors at certain times of our lives, and we may never go back to them again. Wolfe is perfect when you’re nineteen. If you fall in love with Shaw when you’re thirty it’s going to be a lifetime love. And I think that’s true of certain books by Thomas Mann as well. I read Death in Venice when I was twenty, and it’s gotten better every year since. Style is truth. Once you nail down what you want to say about yourself and your fears and your life, then that becomes your style and you go to those writers who can teach you how to use words to fit your truth. I learned from John Steinbeck how to write objectively and yet insert all of the insights without too much extra comment. I learned a hell of a lot from John Collier and Gerald Heard, and I fell madly in love with a number of women writers, especially Eudora Welty and Katherine Anne Porter. I still go back and reread Edith Wharton and Jessamyn West—The Friendly Persuasion is one of my favorite books of short stories.


The Martian Chronicles, your first major success, was called a novel, but it’s really a book of short stories, many of which had appeared in pulp-fiction magazines during the forties. Why did you decide to collect them as a novel?


Around 1947, when I published my first novel, Dark Carnival, I met the secretary of Norman Corwin, a big name in radio—a director, writer, and producer. Through her I sent him a copy of Dark Carnival and wrote a letter saying, If you like this book as much as I like your work, I’d like to buy you drinks someday. A week later the phone rang and it was Norman. He said, You’re not buying me drinks, I’m buying you dinner. That was the start of a lifelong friendship. That first time he took me to dinner I told him about my Martian story “Ylla.” He said, Wow, that’s great, write more of those. So I did. In a way, that was what caused The Martian Chronicles to be born.

There was another reason. In 1949, my wife Maggie became pregnant with our first daughter, Susan. Up until then, Maggie had worked full-time and I stayed home writing my short stories. But now that she was going to have the baby, I needed to earn more money. I needed a book contract. Norman suggested I travel to New York City to meet editors and make an impression, so I took a Greyhound bus to New York and stayed at the YMCA, fifty cents a night. I took my stories around to a dozen publishers. Nobody wanted them. They said, We don’t publish stories. Nobody reads them. Don’t you have a novel? I said, No, I don’t. I’m a sprinter, not a marathon runner. I was ready to go home when, on my last night, I had dinner with an editor at Doubleday named Walter Bradbury—no relation. He said, Wouldn’t there be a book if you took all those Martian stories and tied them together? You could call it “The Martian Chronicles.” It was his title, not mine. I said, Oh, my God. I had read Winesburg, Ohio when I was twenty-four years old, in 1944. I was so taken with it that I thought, Someday I’d like to write a book like this, but I’d set it on Mars. I’d actually made a note about this in 1944, but I’d forgotten about it.

I stayed up all night at the YMCA and typed out an outline. I took it to him the next morning. He read it and said, I’ll give you a check for seven hundred and fifty bucks. I went back to Los Angeles and connected all the short stories and it became The Martian Chronicles. It’s called a novel, but you’re right, it’s really a book of short stories all tied together.


One of the most popular stories in the book is “There Will Come Soft Rains,” about a mechanized house that continues to operate after the atomic bomb has been dropped. There are no people in that story. Where did you get the idea for that?


After Hiroshima was bombed I saw a photograph of the side of a house with the shadows of the people who had lived there burned into the wall from the intensity of the bomb. The people were gone, but their shadows remained. That affected me so much, I wrote the story.


Some of the passages in The Martian Chronicles, as well as some of your other books, are intensely lyrical. Where did that lyricism come from?


From reading so much poetry every day of my life. My favorite writers have been those who’ve said things well. I used to study Eudora Welty. She has the remarkable ability to give you atmosphere, character, and motion in a single line. In one line! You must study these things to be a good writer. Welty would have a woman simply come into a room and look around. In one sweep she gave you the feel of the room, the sense of the woman’s character, and the action itself. All in twenty words. And you say, How’d she do that? What adjective? What verb? What noun? How did she select them and put them together? I was an intense student. Sometimes I’d get an old copy of Wolfe and cut out paragraphs and paste them in my story, because I couldn’t do it, you see. I was so frustrated! And then I’d retype whole sections of other people’s novels just to see how it felt coming out. Learn their rhythm.


What about Proust, Joyce, Flaubert, Nabokov—writers who tend to think of literature in terms of style and form. Has that line of thought ever interested you?


No. If people put me to sleep, they put me to sleep. God, I’ve tried to read Proust so often, and I recognize the beauty of his style, but he puts me to sleep. The same for Joyce. Joyce doesn’t have many ideas. I’m completely idea oriented, and I appreciate certain kinds of French writing and English storytelling more. I just can’t imagine being in a world and not being fascinated with what ideas are doing to us.


You’re self-educated, aren’t you?


Yes, I am. I’m completely library educated. I’ve never been to college. I went down to the library when I was in grade school in Waukegan, and in high school in Los Angeles, and spent long days every summer in the library. I used to steal magazines from a store on Genesee Street, in Waukegan, and read them and then steal them back on the racks again. That way I took the print off with my eyeballs and stayed honest. I didn’t want to be a permanent thief, and I was very careful to wash my hands before I read them. But with the library, it’s like catnip, I suppose: you begin to run in circles because there’s so much to look at and read. And it’s far more fun than going to school, simply because you make up your own list and you don’t have to listen to anyone. When I would see some of the books my kids were forced to bring home and read by some of their teachers, and were graded on—well, what if you don’t like those books?

I am a librarian. I discovered me in the library. I went to find me in the library. Before I fell in love with libraries, I was just a six-year-old boy. The library fueled all of my curiosities, from dinosaurs to ancient Egypt. When I graduated from high school in 1938, I began going to the library three nights a week. I did this every week for almost ten years and finally, in 1947, around the time I got married, I figured I was done. So I graduated from the library when I was twenty-seven. I discovered that the library is the real school.


You have said that you don’t believe in going to college to learn to write. Why is that?


You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught. The library, on the other hand, has no biases. The information is all there for you to interpret. You don’t have someone telling you what to think. You discover it for yourself.


But your books are taught widely in schools.


Do you know why teachers use me? Because I speak in tongues. I write metaphors. Every one of my stories is a metaphor you can remember. The great religions are all metaphor. We appreciate things like Daniel and the lion’s den, and the Tower of Babel. People remember these metaphors because they are so vivid you can’t get free of them and that’s what kids like in school. They read about rocket ships and encounters in space, tales of dinosaurs. All my life I’ve been running through the fields and picking up bright objects. I turn one over and say, Yeah, there’s a story. And that’s what kids like. Today, my stories are in a thousand anthologies. And I’m in good company. The other writers are quite often dead people who wrote in metaphors: Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne. All these people wrote for children. They may have pretended not to, but they did.


How important is it to you to follow your own instincts?


Oh, God. It’s everything. I was offered the chance to write War and Peace for the screen a few decades ago. The American version with King Vidor directing. I turned it down. Everyone said, How could you do that? That’s ridiculous, it’s a great book! I said, Well, it isn’t for me. I can’t read it. I can’t get through it, I tried. That doesn’t mean the book’s bad. I just am not prepared for it. It portrays a very special culture. The names throw me. My wife loved it. She read it once every three years for twenty years. They offered the usual amount for a screenplay like that, a hundred thousand dollars, but you cannot do things for money in this world. I don’t care how much they offer you, and I don’t care how poor you are. There’s only one excuse ever to take money under those circumstances: If someone in your family is horribly ill and the doctor bills are piled up so high that you’re all going to be destroyed. Then I’d say, Go on and take the job. Go do War and Peace and do a lousy job. And be sorry later.

The Object of Desire – Interview with Tanith Lee

* Excerpt from Science Fiction and Fantasy Chronicles interview with Tanith Lee


Tanith Lee

Tanith Lee

sffchronicles: You have said that you never know what you will write until you write it. Does this mean that you never plan ahead? Have some sort of idea where you want a story to go but leave the details to inspiration? Or that you make plans but are always ready to change them if a better idea comes along?

Tanith Lee: All of those. Sometimes there is only atmosphere, or a strongly — even vaguely — seen mental image, (as it was with The Birthgrave — and strong, this one: a white female-being curled up inside a waking, blood-red volcano. No more, no less). As I get into a book/story a certain amount of — not planning, more self-discussion and conjecture — occur, which are often immensely fascinating for me. Inspiration (or whatever it is) always supplies vast amounts of detail. Characters constantly arrive from ‘nowhere’. And in many scenarios the main character is the one who appears first and foremost, before any real aspect of the plot becomes at all clear. I can site Sabella in the latter case, also Esther and Judas Garber (Thirty-Four, Disturbed by Her Song) And very decidedly, Azhrarn, Prince of Demons, in the Flat Earth sequence. Though, in the instance of Azhrarn, of course, I already had the seed of the idea for the first story. Sometimes also my husband (writer/artist John Kaiine) will suggest a theme, twist, or whole plot. These are always striking and generally tempting, and I have assayed many, especially for shorter fiction — as endless ‘Thanks to JK’ credits show! The essential of the drowned mask in Faces Under Water (Venus Quartet) was his. Not to mention the overwhelming whale in the Lionwolf Trilogy. Speaking of Lionwolf incidentally, a medium told me I would write that. She said she saw snow and a strange moon, and a lion that was also a wolf. To which I found I added ‘and also a man… and a god.’ And there the 3 novels begun.

Occasionally, even before I start work, I have a definite outcome in mind — this is more usual for me when writing short fiction than with novels. But how I get there is by my constant method: I sit down with pen and paper ( I always write longhand — unreadable scrawl with the spelling skills of a year-old duck) and then I take the Dictation. And yes, also things can and do change. Sometimes I get the shock of my life ( another one, in writing it happens quite regularly) or am, as they say, ‘surprised by joy’. Now and then minor characters become major ones ( Guri in Lionwolf… the Pet in Don’t Bite the Sun), the wicked turn out to be innocent, the beautiful and good to be monsters, Heaven to be Hell, etc:—

sffchronicles: You have written most of your books in one draft, yet your prose is elegant and assured. Do you revise as you go along? Or does it simply come out of your subconscious fully formed? How much changes as the story you wrote out in longhand is typed into your computer?

Tanith Lee: Thank you! I do revise a little as I go along. When it flows, as a rule I don’t need to change more than perhaps the odd word or emphasis. Sometimes I need to add in a short passage, or remove ditto, or move an existing one up or down the line. Sometimes the scrawl is so uncivilized I realize even I won’t be able to translate it by the hour I again reach that point during typing, so I rewrite it slightly more legibly. As I type out the MS I may also change some small thing. Rarely does it amount to much. Now and then, luckily for me not often, I may struggle (at the longhand stage) over a tiny paragraph or piece of continuity. I’ve found, across time, (having been writing since 9, that’s roughly 55 years) that the best way here is to leave the wretched thing alone and go on regardless. Almost always, a while later on returning to the scene of the crime, I can sort it out in 10 minutes or less. Here and there I may, and have become, stuck. In some of the huger novels, especially the early ones, a certain amount of these stickings seemed very much in the nature of the beast. One swam, floated and flew for 150-200 pages — than ran into a granite mountainside. But by slow, persistent hacking with a mental axe, or scraping with a mental knife — or sometimes blowing the whole confounded mess up with mental high explosives — I’d eventually emerge into the light.

Worse by far than these hold-ups are, however, the very few novels/stories that simply would NOT start. A fine example of this is the first Piratica book. I’d engaged enthusiastically to write about pirates (there is another thing I need to add about this engaging-to-write business — I’ll come to that —). It was, though, to be a YA scenario. I don’t pull punches, whatever I write, but obviously in work for a younger audience, I firmly believe in keeping the worst sorts of violence off-stage. And so I had to face up to how difficult this would be, when dealing with some of the most blood-gulpingly ruthless and foul thieves on Earth. The book duly went into hiding. After about 5 false starts, (some of the material of which I was still able to use later in the book) my genius husband suggested (it’s by now fairly well known, so not too much of a spoiler, I hope) that with my heroine at least I could begin — not among throat-cutting crews, but with the talented actors who played them in The Theatre. (Actors are some of my favorite people). And inside a couple of days the book was off and sailing fast. Certainly, as it progressed, the real vile wickeds came in, but by then we all had our sea-legs, and there were, for me — as opposed to my characters — no problems at all.

My other comment on this is, though, that frankly I’ve always hated writing to order — that is from an already developed idea — and this is now, unfortunately, usually entailed in any sale which is obliged to include a (‘detailed’) synopsis. (I hate and resist synopses. They are, to me, chains. The only good synopsis, again for me, is the one prepared from an already completed work.) For this reason any pre-writing notes I offer a publisher carry the warning that ‘author may make changes’. And so Author does!

Yes, my work comes from somewhere or other that seems to have very little examinable relation to me either physically, or experience-wise. And I think I’ve established I prefer to be the bus, not the Driver. I am the vehicle, I take the Dictation, I gaze at the pictures appearing on my mind-screen, listen to the dialogue and the music, describe and report. For this reason I only deceive under instruction, where guided to, and never, therefore, lie. What I get I pass on. I’m a journalist — and I’ve been places even I, sometimes, can hardly credit.

sffchronicles: In a book like Venus Preserved where so many plotlines converge in such a complicated manner, was there any sort of rough outline, on paper, or in your head?

Tanith Lee: None. Pre-start, I knew this: Much of Venus was undersea and protected beneath an air dome: we would be dealing with the future. My leads were a male singer (Picaro) and a female gladiatrix (Jula). I was going to tackle the preposition of revitalizing the dead — which I’d already postulated the ill-advisedness of in a short SF story from the ’70’s, called The Thaw (published Asimov’s.) The book, too, had one strong connection back to the first novel of the Quartet. These are marker posts, obviously, not plotlines. (Near the end of the saga, which I admit I found extremely harrowing to write, I was startled out of my wits by the apposite revelation of the triple 6.) But really all this sort of thing is the typical Lee working day.

sffchronicles: Do you ever get the idea that your subconscious mind is running far ahead of you, working out different contingencies while you’re still in the early stages of a project?

Tanith Lee: Yes, I do, but I’m never entirely convinced it’s just my sub consciousness — although doubtless that will have its paws on the book as well. The inspiration and motivation seem to build from so many non-physical areas — genetics I never rule out, i.e. genetic memory — or those elusive yet maybe fundamental elements: World consciousness and Group awareness. What I call the boys and girls in the backroom backbrain. They take their very useful share of the work too, often bringing a needless flaw or error to my attention, or solving some obscure correlation of character action or psychology.

sffchronicles: For Cold Grey Stones, your new anthology, you wrote a story in four hours. Is it usual for you to complete a story in less than a day? And the stories you write at lightening speed, do you think that parts of them are already there in your subconscious, just waiting for the right story to come along?

Tanith Lee: On the speed — less often now than when I was younger, but as with the one you mention, it does still happen. This one came from ‘nowhere’ — as so many seem to — and again its last words surprised me, so I must conclude those backbrain boys and girls were on to it as soon as I was. It is a very short short though. Sometimes even when my writing gallops for me, sheer physical tiredness (not mental) makes me pause, or lay off till the next day. I think the most I ever wrote in 8-9 hours was a passage in Vazkor, Son of Vazkor (1st of the dual sequel to Birthgrave.) It amounted to about 17 long page-sides in rough — around 9-10 thousand words. But I was late twenties then. Now I judge my most recent bulk scribble was about 5-6 thousand words, in a contemporary novel, (due out late this year, I think, from Immanion: Ivoria). Some of these things do wait in the wings, very definitely, either on a scrap of paper with a tiny note, or title, or else unconsciously picked up from something or other I can usually, subsequently, identify. The Greyve— the story for Cold Grey Stones — didn’t relate to anything, so far as I know — aside from the collection’s title. But then, I might well be the very last to know…

sffchronicles: Are you ever intoxicated by words — your own or anyone else’s?

Tanith Lee: Regularly — by others. ( I read whenever I can, and some very wonderful writers.) With my own stuff I’m more often than not permanently intoxicated just by the sheer act of writing — the bus is allowed to be drunkenly happy with the drive. Sometimes a line, a phrase — more frequently the conjuring of an image seen by me, either in so-called real life, or on the inner screen, extremely excites and pleases me. I never feel these are mine — by which certainly I don’t mean I’ve stolen them from others. (Though for sure, reading geniuses can educate and enable any writer who is open to it.) It’s just that for a split second I feel This is it. Which, translated, is: This has caught some Essential — what I/we/the bus-Driver/s were after. It doesn’t intoxicate as such. It’s — like coming home.

sffchronicles: It seems that more and more of your novels and collections are published by the smaller presses. Do you feel that the smaller and newer presses allow you more freedom?

Tanith Lee: In many ways they do. Often they are run by writers themselves, and of high caliber. They know, of course, what writers hope for and try to accomplish, and exactly how they do NOT wish to be edited. An intelligent 2nd line editor is invaluable — one should always be one’s own 1st line editor. I have had the delight with working with 2 or 3 of these in the past, and now — with the writers I spoke of — very often. Even, once, one quite wonderful copy editor.

The good editors are gold. The rest… I rest my case.

From Wikipedia:

Tanith Lee (born 19 September 1947) is a British writer of science fiction, horror and fantasy. She is the author of over 70 novels and 250 short stories, a children’s picture book (Animal Castle) and many poems. She also wrote two episodes of BBC science fiction series Blake’s 7. She was the first woman to win the British Fantasy Award best novel award (also known as the August Derleth Award), for her book Death’s Master (1980).

She also writes under the pseudonym Esther Garber.[2]

Advice from Saladin Ahmed

Author of the debut fantasy novel Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed, shares his advice for writers.

Q: What is your method for overcoming writer’s block?
A: People hate this answer, but: I don’t suffer from writer’s block. I have loads of ideas, snatches of dialogue, plot twists, bits of description, etc., floating about in my head. What I suffer from is worse than writer’s block: TWIN TODDLERS! So finding time and space to write are bigger issues for me than getting words onto the page once I have the time and space to do so. I guess the flip side of this is: If you find yourself sitting there, having carved out the time and space to write, BE GRATEFUL FOR IT! And use it to put something – anything – down on the page.

Q: What are your favorite or most helpful writing prompts?
A: Describe a familiar food from the point of view of someone who is completely unfamiliar with it.
More a trick than a prompt, for novels: Write the first three chapters. Then write the final chapter. Think of everything in between as a bridge (though one with inclines and declines).

Q: What is the most valuable advice you received as a young writer?
A: “Treat it like a job.” – (Pretty much every seasoned science fiction and fantasy writer I’ve ever met.) I used to write poetry, and poets are generally adverse to thinking of writing this way. Genre novelists aren’t, and (to speak in broad generalities) their refreshingly pragmatic ethos is one that continues to inspire me.

From Wikipedia:  Saladin Ahmed (born 1975) is an Arab-American science fiction and fantasy writer and poet. He has been a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award and the Nebula Award for Best Short Story. His fiction has been published in book anthologies and magazines such as Strange Horizons, Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, Clockwork Phoenix 2, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. His novel trilogy The Crescent Moon Kingdoms is currently being published by DAW Books.