Tuesday, June 9, 2020. “Patience is the maker of all good things.” This from a chapter entitled “Neelay Mehta,” in The Overstory by Richard Powers (New York: W.W Norton & Co., 2018), 92). I’m a late comer to this book, published as it was in 2018. But then I don’t read much fiction. Whereas at any one time I’ll be reading several non-fiction books, virtually all hinged to mythology and mythography. Such is the nature, in my case, of the practice, the vocational juju, the inspiration and the dynamics of the muse. So that fiction, be it science fiction or anything else, exists for me in kind of parallel inspirational universe, providing little squirts of energy from outside the realm of comparative mythology.
Powers, for his part, name drops many myths and mythologies within The Overstory: Gilgamesh, Vishnu; references to Islam and Buddhism to name a handful. And I’m only one-hundred twelve pages into the hefty five-hundred page book. Hence, I’m drawn to the thing straight away and keen to discover more myth nuggets but also disappointed that the rewarding modern mythological substance of the first chapter, whereby Powers moves the myths forward in his own terms, has been diminishing with each chapter. That, and the mythic resonance of the trees themselves seems to have fallen off – the entanglement is lacking in that sense.
Meanwhile, on a practical note, it strikes me that we’re told as authors never to expect to sell a book to any publisher if it exceeds 100,000 words, which amounts to about four-hundred pages. Uh huh. Unless you’ve managed to somehow become a money-making author in which case it seems they immediately leverage their marketing clout by way of demanding their books be allowed to enter the marketplace closer to their original dimensions. My wife reads a lot of fiction, authors like Kristin Hannah or Joyce Carol Oates, especially Oates – they seem keen to release stout tomes on principle, as if to demonstrate the magnitude of their market influence, their rarefied position of authorial authority.
I’m talking out of my ass right now for I know nothing about any of these authors. Whereas I at least read somewhere, probably within Astounding by Alec Nevala-Lee (hyphenated author names? – ugh!), that Heinlein disdained being edited. I don’t. But then I’m new to the process of professional editing and, too, as an indie authorpreneur in charge of hiring my own editor, I’ve likely had a very different experience from that of anyone like Heinlein who endured the rigid formalities and marketplace concessions essential to traditional publishing. That, and I’m keen to absorb the objectivity of anyone who connects with my story. Heinlein:
In any case it isn’t necessary to know how–just go ahead and do it. Write what you like to read. If you have a yen for it, if you get a kick out of “just imagine–,” if you love to think up new worlds, then come on in, the water’s fine and there is plenty of room.
I shall assume that you can type, that you know the accepted commercial format or can be trusted to look it up and follow it, and that you always use new ribbons and clean type. Also, that you can spell and punctuate and can use grammar well enough to get by. These things are merely the word-carpenter’s sharp tools. He must add to them these business habits:
1. You must write. 2. You must finish what you start. 3. You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order. 4. You must put it on the market. 5. You must keep it on the market until sold.
The above five rules really have more to do with how to write speculative fiction than anything said above them. But they are amazingly hard to follow–which is why there are so few professional writers and so many aspirants, and which is why I am not afraid to give away the racket! But, if you will follow them, it matters not how you write, you will find some editor somewhere, sometime, so unwary or so desperate for copy as to buy the worst old dog you, or I, or anybody else, can throw at him (Robert A. Heinlein, “On the Writing of Speculative Fiction”, Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy: 20 Dynamic Essays by the Field’s Top Professionals, (New York: Davis Publications, Inc., 1991), 10, 11).
Regarding Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, I plowed through it last year and if it weren’t for the off-putting extrapolations upon Hubbard’s revolting existence I would say I really liked the book. Biographies distort and always, it seems, their authors seem keen to balance anything good about a person with at least an equal portion of negativity, as if it’s de rigueur to present everyone as a play of opposites. It’s a fair enough logic because we indeed are a play of opposites and everything in between but I think a lot of writing and reading time gets wasted on the muck raking. Frankly, it seems Nevala-Lee was determined to rank Asimov above Heinlein in the end – he begins and ends the book with Asimov and sci-fi readers tend to be especially devoted list makers. I can talk because in some sense I possess such tendencies myself though they’ve diminished over the years and mostly apply to my discernment in music listening. I only accuse Nevala-Lee in this way because his attributions in regard to each man’s struggles in old age seemed imbalanced – Heinlein is portrayed as a cranky, mildly embittered old man where Asimov is portrayed more sympathetically. And he even mentions as one point that when Asimov published this or that he’d finally, after trailing Heinlein throughout the decades, surpassed him in, I don’t know, some level of achievement that is entirely arguable. Asimov, for his part, certainly seemed the most single-minded of all the authors discussed – hell, he managed some four-hundred “books” in his fifty or so year career. Meanwhile, Hubbard’s psychological oddities are best described as clinical and the absurdity of Scientology speaks for itself. Hell, within the study of the psychology of religion he, along with every other charismatic cultist, would require his own chapter. Heinlein’s quirks had to do with his out-sized aspirational pride, his idea of the so-called competent man commingled with his sense of his own inadequacies – I won’t say insecurities because we all suffer from them – which seemed to pivot upon his libertarian bent that too often manifested as nationalism, attributable mostly to the way in which his vocational schism – he wanted to have seen action in WWII but couldn’t because of his health – kept him bound to current events. Always the artist-craftsman suffers when he allows himself to follow the news, let alone begin thinking he can affect it, I’ll leave it at that.
Asimov, though he apparently held down a professorship, which makes no sense given his prolific output – where in hell did he find time to write twenty stories a year for forty years while also teaching and writing non-fiction? – apparently held to his craft more elegantly but then damaged his legacy by way of being a verified lecher, to the point where, these days, he would’ve been pilloried along with every other middle-aged, white male who grabbed some ass out of turn. J.W. Campbell? In the end, he seemed to embody, at various points in his career, all the faults of his writers: a predilection for zany pseudo-science that would’ve been better left to the pages of his sci-fi (Hubbard), obsessive and compulsion preoccupation with establishing his personal impact far beyond the appropriate limits of his vocation (Heinlein), and a kind of blindness to established social graces (Asimov). In short, Campbell too often embodied the stereotypes of the sci-fi reader as a perpetual adolescent. In defense, however, of all these men and Campbell in particular because he was breaking the trail more than anyone, they created the genre as it exists today. That is, for all its geeky and untoward aspects, sci-fi indeed changed the world and still does.
Despite its darker and dystopian streak, science fiction offers a vision of the world into which many fans still long to escape. It reached maturity at a time of economic depression and war, in which there was no guarantee that the future would be bright, and it was uniquely positioned to provide America with the new mythology – or religion – that it needed (Alec Nevala-Lee, Astounding, (New York: HarperCollins, 2018), 5).
There you have the perfect book blurb, which of course doesn’t appear as such. Oh well, they should’ve asked me. Elsewhere in the “Prologue,” and more humorously, Nevala-Lee quotes the observation of a fan: “The real golden age of science fiction is twelve.” A nice semantic twist that gets to the heart of the wonderment that arguably peaks in adolescence. Science fiction, in my terms, then, does well to express both personal and cultural mythology: wonderment (awe), cosmology (and number of versions), sociology (I’d argue that its devotion to sociology is my least favorite aspect of the genre), and pedagogical psychology. It’s all there, hence, at its best (Hubbard’s lunatic fringe aside), it’s a fully functioning mythology possessing all the attendant resonance and potentially transformative power in both cultural and personal terms.
The Overstory, then. “Nicholas Hoel,” the first chapter, is worth the price of admission, which is to say the price of the book: the writing is lyrical, transporting, captivating; the plot evokes everything about the mythology of trees and the nature of our entanglement with them that the book’s image promises. There is no mythology, remember, without an image. (That’s Joseph Campbell for those who are new to this blog). But then the book doesn’t need any kudos from me – something like 55,400 ratings and 8,600 reviews at this writing. Holy Thor. I can’t even imagine such a welcome for one’s work. What’s it like to have so many ratings, reviews and followers – whole tribes of folks discussing your work, being scholarly about it – that couldn’t read it all, let alone respond to it all and get anything else done. You are yourself mythologized, or in the process of being mythologized, akin to the chestnut tree in Power’s story that survives generations of men and any number of cosmic threats to become something, well, mythic.
Just as I’ve upgraded the website with a functional shop – only hardcover, paperback and eBook are available so far and the pricing will improve when I establish coupons for readers – sales and ratings of the novel have stalled. So be it, I’ll find a way to keep pushing. Otherwise, I’m pleased to have sold ten copies in exactly two months – one each in France and Germany and three in the U.K. (where exactly? – I long to know). The other five are attributed to the U.S. but the geographical data hasn’t come through NPD Bookscan yet. And the folks who have been kind and intrepid enough to purchase the book need time to read it, don’t they? Only then can the prospect of a review, cosmically frightening as it is, become realistic. A nice review would do wonders to boost the book’s “social proof” and hence draw more readers. I respond to reviews, after all. But, meanwhile, no matter; patience is the builder of all good things. And it’s the practice of one’s vocation, not the results of the practice that matter, that bestow the experience of being properly alive, in the end. Nevertheless, I found this on phrases.org https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/all-things-come-to-those-who-wait.html:
This proverbial saying was used by the English poet Lady Mary Montgomerie Currie (1843-1905), under her pseudonym of Violet Fane, in her poem Tout vient a qui sait attendre:
ALL hoped-for things will come to you
Who have the strength to watch and wait,
Our longings spur the steeds of Fate,
This has been said by one who knew.
‘Ah, all things come to those who wait,’
(I say these words to make me glad),
But something answers soft and sad,
‘They come, but often come too late.’
DOP1 (2012) VINTAGE POST:
Thursday, November 01, 2012.
There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve. It is the pious slave-breeder devoting the proceeds of every tenth slave to buy a Sunday’s liberty for the rest. Some show their kindness to the poor by employing them in their kitchens. Would they not be kinder if they employed themselves there? You boast of spending a tenth part of your income in charity; maybe you should spend the nine tenths so, and [be] done with it.
For the record, this captures the problem of zcob and from what I can tell, the food business in general; maybe all business. Of course employing people at less-than-living wages isn’t a problem isolated to food service, but I’m not going off on a global economy rant because like Thoreau, I think it’s all about getting your own shit together versus spending time worrying about somebody else’s shit. Only then, through “all who by their lives and works are a blessing to mankind” are we going advance the good in the world.
Friday, November 02, 2012.
Today I have zero interest in touring or playing music, but that is not a threat to me. It has happened before. The muse is out and about and no doubt visiting with someone else, making magic. – Neil Young, Waging Heavy Peace
Yesterday, at dinner, Angie asked me how this new thing was going – what was working, what wasn’t, how it was going. I said it was going okay and that I felt like I was figuring things out. Dinner: Mussel Soup with Saffron and Tomato, from Dean & Deluca’s Cooking with Wine Cookbook, which is an outstanding dish. In the photo, Angie has her face in the soup because it smells so good. I have another more artful photo that makes the soup look a little more appetizing, but this picture shows how we eat most nights. The stock was a bottle of white wine. I can’t remember what I used, but it turned out well:
Monday, November 05, 2012. I finished Waging Heavy Peace and enjoyed every minute of the experience. Most bios, auto or not, make me feel sad or bad or uncomfortable in some disagreeable way, mostly I think because they’re either so poorly written – too breezy or too tedious – or they just fail to capture a life outside of the chronological events. The continuity of life, the fullness of life, seems left out in favor of sort of a history of notable periods, as if the ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the rest of the story isn’t worth mentioning. My disappointment probably stems from my need to try to learn something about how to live from these folks who live so-called interesting lives, lives supposedly worth reading about. What makes a life worth reading about? Humor helps. If you can write about your life so that it expresses a self-effacing humor and hilarity, then you’ve got more going than I do with this dop. The dop is humorless and that’s why it sucks. I’m not a funny person, nor a funny writer. Reading me is a chore. It takes effort and patience and then the reward is not forthcoming, I know. “Life,” says Neil,
is just a big test, and if you try hard, you fail. If you don’t try too hard and fail a little but have a good time, maybe that is success. I’ve seen some really happy and content people in this life, and I am not one of them all the time, just some of the time….
I’m not doing well lately. When I first quit zmo, I felt energized to be me. To do whatever I was going to do. Write, read, walk, blah, blah. The vocations, whatever. It’s been over a month. I’d never go back to zcob or anywhere that doesn’t pay money that matters to me. I’d like to be who I am and get paid to do it. I write an essay and then I’m dried up. That’s not being and artist, writer, or creative person. I’m a home cook. I write in a journal. I walk, listen to music, phycomythologize and think entrepreneurially. But what the fuck do I actually do that has any economic potential? I want vocations, not hobbies. Hobbies, like I’ve bloviated ad nauseum about before in this piece of shit tome, are just shit that you’re interested in regardless of your ability. You can be talentless in something and still do it. Poorly. That’s called a hobby. Yes, anything worth doing is worth doing poorly in the beginning, but a hobby is something that’s way past the beginning and you’re still shitty at it.
I made Potée for dinner this weekend. I called it an “ancient harvest” meal. According to Saveur’s French cookbook, where I got the recipe, it’s one of that country’s oldest recipes. It’s simmered pork shoulder, smoked sausage and vegetables, mostly left whole: it’s rustic, traditional, straightforward and an exemplar of everything that’s stood the test of time and appears simple. Like all such recipes, it’s only good when you begin with good ingredients and cook them with care.
The photo’s a little harsh, but it tastes better than it looks. Which is what these boiled dinners are all about it think. The same would apply to pot-au-feu for example, the difference being that potee is pork and pot-au-feu is beef. While there’s none of the appealing caramelization and deep colors of roasting, sautéing or even braising – the food is nonetheless cooked to an appealing doneness: tender and sweet. I was concerned that anything simmered for a few hours in just water would have all its flavor and texture cooked right out of it, but this is understated goodness. Very satisfying. Not the best food for leftovers because the veg doesn’t hold up well, but I’m glad we made it. I had to use my big 27-quart pot from the hh days, which felt good.
Sustainable happiness. It’s something I’d like to achieve. I suppose it’s my choice, my state of mind. But it depends at least somewhat on the state of affairs so to say, the circumstances of one’s life. The facts of existence. I’m not happening. At all. This little experiment peaked early and is fading fast. Fading right the fuck out. I disappoint myself because I seem to have absolutely no innovative ideas – I just play off what already exists and that’s why I go nowhere creatively. I don’t create so much as contrast, compare and reproduce. It’s the razor’s edge alright. Insanity and going off the rails is what looms. I can’t just cook meals at home and drone on in this journal for the rest of my life. Can I? I’m asking the fucking question. Because the facts are that I’m going to be doing just that. And I’ll be considering myself fortunate – my goals have diminished that much – to not be working at some shit job getting paid shit for doing nothing but worthless shit for some worthless shit’s so-called “business.” Whew, again and again with the bile. It’s been three years, man. Three years, a bunch of money spent, very little of it made back, and a failed business is all I have to account for that time. If it wasn’t for my wife looking forward to what I cook for dinner, I’d be disappeared. Vanished as a human. I don’t need friends – I couldn’t care less about friends anymore – I don’t even really know what they’re for except to maybe cook dinner for. To hang out with and eat and drink with. My mind is occupied with becoming occupied. I don’t need diversions and hanging out. I need engagement and diving in. I need my horses in the fields. I need the engine pulling a load. I need a fucking job to do. Except the last thing I need is a shitty job and every fucking job is shitty. I gotta get to the gym. I’m sitting here typing in my gym clothes procrastinating under the guise of writing. I need to keep my feet literally moving or I’m going to lose it, so off I go, weights, aerobics and maybe some slugs into the punching bag just to make sure I’m alive….
I went to the gym, did my thing, worked off some of the alcohol bloat from the weekend and got the juices flowing. I gotta keep acting “as if” I know what the fuck I’m doing and that I’m actually doing something (besides being a kept man). Tonight for dinner is green curry chicken, an old standby and one of Angie’s favorites. No kaffir lime leaves or lemon grass at Busch’s of course but I’ll improvise with lime and lemon zest. Tomorrow, I want to stock up on some provisions so I can cook for the rest of the week and into the weekend. I’ll make beef stock tonight also.
Tuesday, November 06, 2012. I look at this photo, from Saveur Cooks Authentic French, and wonder what was going through Julia’s mind as she held her first published work and posed for the camera:
From Walden again:
If one listens to the faintest but constant suggestions of his genius, which are certainly true, he sees not to what extremes, or even insanity, it may lead him; and yet that way, as he grows more resolute and faithful, his road lies. The faintest assured objection which one healthy man feels will at length prevail over the arguments and customs of mankind. No man ever followed his genius till it misled him. Though the result were bodily weakness, yet perhaps no one can say that the consequences were to be regretted, for these were a life in conformity to higher principles. If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal – that is your success. All nature is your congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself.
 Henry David Thoreau, Walden…, 54.
 Ibid., 55.
 Neil Young, Waging Heavy Peace, (New York: Penguin Group, 2012), 315.
 Ibid., 442.
 Thoreau, Henry David, Walden…p.165.