Wednesday, March 22, 2006


I'm off to Turkey for the solar eclipse, and other entertainments less spectacular. Back on the 11th.

If I have time, a travel diary and pics will appear on my adventure diary.

Monday, March 20, 2006


I’ve recently finished reading one of those novels of adolescence. A pretty good one, too.

Reading it set me to thinking about the strategies that we employ to view our own past, and the way we turn the past into narrative.

It’s a given in this type of fiction that the narrator is passive. Experience is something that just happens to him. He isn’t living his life, he’s observing it, and from a vantage point of twenty or more years in the future. He’s not shagging flies in the outfield; he’s sitting on the bench, taking notes, and generating metaphors for use at some point in the future.

I would like to submit out that this kind of child exists only in fiction. Real-life children, even if they’re smart and bookish, are much more demanding of their environment than children in memoir-fiction. My memories of my own childhood are of an observant, quiet, mannerly, and bookish child— exactly the sort of boy we find in a novel of adolescence. But I was startled a while ago to find that none of my friends remembers that kid at all— they remember a Walter who was loud, active, commanding, even bossy. Though I remember myself as a quiet observer of my own experience, in fact I was doing my best to take charge of my life, and I guess everyone else’s, too. (I think I kept trying to fit my friends into the narratives I was generating in my head.)

I remember myself as being Amory Blaine, but apparently I more closely resembled Huckleberry Finn.

So I think I can confidently state that the passive literary child who observes his life without actually participating in it is a fictional convention without foundation in real life. It’s an example of a false voice. At best you can say that the narrator is looking back on his youth and remembering it wrong, but that isn’t an authorial strategy I’d recommend, or one that any writer is likely to cop to.

The voice found in bildungsroman isn’t that of the child, but the adult trying to recapture the salient points of his youth and work out exactly how he ended up where he’s at now. And where he’s at now is always a place both rueful and sad, otherwise he wouldn’t have to revisit his past in the first place. He’d have more grown-up things to do.

It’s odd, then, that I often find that the grown-up parts of these books tend to have a false ring to them. The past is distant, and that distance lends it a false authority. We choose what to remember, and we choose certain memories because they fit into a convenient pattern. The present is more uncertain, and when the narrative shifts into the present, the focus widens to include things that are inconvenient and unsettled. The narrative leaps from the past and settles into the present with a tinny clang.

Parents tend to disappear in these narratives (unless of course they’re inescapable and awful, and the whole point is to break free of them). The conflicts with peers, the formation of friendships, the stirrings of adolescence, and the betrayals of friends and lovers are much more conveniently portrayed if the narrator is somehow free of parental authority and wisdom. A parent who actually turns up at a convenient moment to give good advice would spoil everyone’s fun. A parent who’s in jail, or too depressed to leave the couch, or off committing adultery with an unsuitable partner, is much better fodder for fiction..

A convenient way to get rid of parents altogether is to set the action in a prep school. I would like to suggest that this is a bad idea. Writers who have themselves been to prep schools often find it irresistible to set fiction there, and nine times out of ten this is flat wrong. Prep schools are boring. They are all the same. They have been done. The average American public school, sitting in the middle of an entire, whole community, is much more interesting. If you’ve been to a prep school, allow me to counsel you to resist writing about it, unless by chance you’ve been to Hogwarts.

I think we tend to forget how loony a time childhood and adolescence actually are, and how even perfectly functional young people live detached from adult reality. I recall one writer describing his eleven-year-old as “an alien with a very thorough knowledge of popular culture.” I have yet to encounter a fictional young person who was as weird as I was at the age of, say, twelve, and though perhaps I’m an extreme case, I think the point is an important one.

I look forward to reading a book that captures childhood as a science fiction writer might capture a distant world.

Go forth and write it, reader. I have no inclination to do it myself.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Five Minutes to Live!

Whoah. Check out Five Minutes to Live, a collection of lost cinema classics. In their catalog we find:

Set in Hell (seriously) we find Bruce Lee going through an Egyptian like afterlife experience. Along his treacherous journey Bruce Lee has a major erection, befriends Popeye, and fights James Bond, Zatoichi, Emmanuel, an army of mummies, Dracula and his team of skeleton zombie assassins and “Clint Eastwood” in the character of the Man with no Name! Hong Kong 1976


Masked Mexican wrestling greats Superzan, Blue Angel & Tinieblas battle the evil Dr. Dallier and his menacing army of murderous dwarfs and killer mummies!

Will Superman/Shekhar be able to put a stop to Verma’s evil plan? Will he win Gita’s heart? Will he keep his double identity a secret? Will he be able to overcome the extreme budget limitations and fly?

Made in less than a month, this Star Wars rip off was released in Brazil a full 5 months before the original Star Wars hit Brazilian theaters, causing it to be a South American smash hit! Starring the Brazilian 3 Stooges, The Tramps; the film features just about every Star Wars character you can think of; as well as some of the most embarrassingly bad sets, special effects and disco dance numbers you will ever find in a movie. . Brazil, 1978

To show Xuxa that he means business, Satan kidnaps Xuxa's pet puppet dog Xuxo and holds him hostage in hell! How will Xuxa ever save her dear Xuxo and continue spray painting Brazil with her fashion challenged army of break dancing children? Will the talking worm spurt magic liquid on her finger? Brazil 1988

Mind melting Turkish version of the classic film, The Wizard of Oz. See the scarecrow get ripped to bits so the others may hide in his hay. One of our favorites. Turkey, 1979

Be in my Book!

I'm donating two items to an online auction for the Clarion Writers' Workshop.

#1. Be in my book! The winner of the auction will have his or her name used for a character in my next work of fiction. (I do not yet know what that work of fiction will be, it depends entirely on what sells next.) Anyone bidding should be aware that the character may not have the best moral character, and may come to a sticky end.

This is your chance for literary immortality!

#2. One-of-a-kind manuscript! I'm offering the original manuscript for my latest novel, Conventions of War. This manuscript is somewhat different from the published version, and exists only in this manuscript form (I don't even have digital backups of this version).

The manuscript is a bit battered, having been shipped to New York and back, and then having dropped off my office shelf. I do not believe there are any actual footprints on it, but I would be willing to step on a few pages at any new owner's behest.

I include a cover letter signed by me. The title page is missing. The manuscript also features light edits by Harper editor Diana Gill.

The auction begins on April Fool's Day.

For information on the auction, as well as a list of the many cool items offered, check out the Clarion Foundation Auction Page.

Monday, March 13, 2006


I haven’t been posting recently, in part because I’ve been busy with Authors’ Month activities.

I’ve been a full-time, professional writer for, oh god, 27 years. I’ve been on the bestseller lists of the Times both of London and New York. I’ve won literary awards. I’ve been published in France, Poland, and Croatia (to name three places which gave me free trips) and in Japan (where I’d very much like to go for free).

This year I was discovered by my home state, New Mexico, where I’ve been laboring in near-total obscurity for all those years.

For the most part, New Mexico is interested only in writers who write about New Mexico. The state is provincial and insecure that way— not that it doesn’t have reason for the insecurity, with so many citizens thinking we’re a foreign country, and writing to the Chamber of Commerce asking if they need shots to visit here. Local authors who write about Dubuque or New York or Russia tend to be ignored, let alone authors who write about other planets. Tony Hillerman is sort of a local god. (Not that this is a bad thing. I’d as soon pray to Tony as anyone)

After twenty-six years of benign neglect, I’ve suddenly been Discovered, and for no reason that I can see. And I’ve not just been Discovered by one group, but by several. For the past month I’ve been giving lectures in libraries and classrooms, been interviewed on television (okay, it was public access), appeared on panel discussions, and taught a writing workshop. (I overprepared, and gave my students a six-week Clarion course in 150 minutes. By the time I was done, they looked as if I’d bashed them over the head with an 800-page manuscript.)

In the middle of all this came the annual Jack Williamson Lecture in Portales, four days of concentrated fun, and far too much food.

It’s interesting being on the map after all this time. I’ve met a lot of new people, I’ve caught up with others I haven’t seen since I got booted out of college, and I got a nice check from the Albuquerque Tricentennial Commission, the first time I’ve ever taken government money for being a writer. I’ve done my best to be entertaining at wine-and-cheese parties. I’ve got a pocket full of business cards and bits of paper with scribbled phone numbers and email addresses. I’ve even sold some books.

It will be interesting to see whether I stay on the map after the current busyness subsides. (What the hell--- with Judy Chicago becoming such a big New Mexican, I can't see why I don't have a shot.) Whether I lapse into obscurity or become a local superstar, I’m cool with it either way.

Though I have to admit that it would be fun to have a side chapel in the Tony Hillerman cathedral.