A Shard in Horror's Broken Mirror

The first installment of my occasional series on aspects of horror, A Shard in Horror's Broken Mirror, is now up over on Black Gate! I think this one came out particularly well. Sounds pretty erudite, anyway, for having been somewhat thrown together on the fly--and I think it's pretty funny at times, too. But, of course, I'd rather hear what you think than tell you what I think about it!

Check out Black Gate every Monday for a new post from the Weird of Oz (yours truly). And check it out every other day of the week for all the other great posts on fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and gaming!

New Blog at BLACK GATE

I am now a regular blogger for Black Gate Online, one of the premiere websites for fantasy literature and anything speculative-fiction related. My posts appear each Sunday.

My recent blog post is one I am particularly happy with, but I fear it may have fallen through the cracks when it went up late Sunday. It may have been timing; it could also have something to do with where the "Read More" break came in the post--the introductory three paragraphs did not give a good indication (or any indication, really) of what the post was about. I was hoping the title--"The Weird of Oz Talks to a Troll"--would be intriguing enough for readers to read on, but I don't know. There have been no comments, so until the month's analytics are released, it's hard to judge whether anyone read it.

So, anyway, if you have a spare moment, would you click over there and check it out? At least I'll then have the satisfaction of knowing some of my friends read it. I think this post is one of the more amusing pieces I've written in some time, and I am rather fond of it. (And hey--feel free to link to it if you, too, think more people should read it!)

My final thoughts on MN Marriage Amendment

My final thoughts on the MN Marriage Amendment ballot (four quick points): 

1. I think most people by now realize that if they have a gay couple living next door to them, it is probably not going to affect you or me one iota whether or not that couple has a marriage license tucked away in a drawer somewhere. 

2. Most people also realize it's not going to turn straight people gay (as if homosexuality were somehow contagious and not a biological predisposition), nor is it going to "undermine marriage" (the divorce rate is about 50% now anyway--how could you further undermine it?). 

3. Yet those who favor the amendment do have strong views on marriage itself, its sacredness and sanctity. And that's where we get into a religious argument. Now, for the record, I am a strong supporter of religious freedom, just as I strongly support all our constitutional rights and liberties. If a pastor wants to preach from his pulpit that homosexuality is evil, that speech should remain protected. If a church congregation does not want homosexuals to be married in their church, that should also remain their choice. 

4. But as soon as they leave their church doors, walk over here to my street and tell you and me what we can and cannot do, they have crossed a line that also protects us. Then they have done violence to the separation of church and state, a separation that insures they do not enforce their own religious doctrine on everybody else. A particular religious doctrine may be right; it may be good: doesn't matter. Just as the church is protected in our country, so are we also protected from the church. 

In conclusion, remember this when you're deciding whether to vote against this new amendment to the MN constitution: You can believe that according to the Bible marriage should be between a man and a woman and STILL vote NO, simply on the basis that you don't believe the state is the proper vehicle for the enforcement of your religious views on others who might not share them. Remind yourself that historically, many used the Bible to argue that God was pro-slavery. The Bible was (and in some cases still is) used to enforce misogyny and limit the rights of women. For all the good one can glean from the Bible, no particular person's interpretation of it or any other religious text should ever be the final arbiter in determining the laws that will govern all the people in the land of liberty

A Fun Question for Readers

You have any disconnected literary flotsam floating in your head?

I'll give an example. I remember reading a YA book when I was a kid in which a minor character is an eccentric car dealer. Sometimes he sells a car to a deserving individual for far below its value, but he attaches a quirky condition. For instance, one lucky young man gets a car for a mere fraction of retail; however, he is required to wear a chicken suit whenever he drives it.

I remember neither the author, nor the book, nor even anything about the plot. I just remember that one quirky element.

So, do you have any such pieces of literary flotsam and jetsam bobbing around untethered in your memory? You may not remember the author or even the book, but some element or character impressed itself and has stayed with you. What is it? Discuss.

R.I.P. Andy Rooney

Andy Rooney, dead at 92. This news stirred up some mourning for a passing era in me, even though I was never a regular 60 Minutes watcher.

What it brought back was my main encounter with his work: back in the mid-80s, on one of our summer visits to my great-grandparents the Blakeways in Marysville, Kansas, I found a collection of his essays on the coffee table next to Great-Grandpa Gordon's reading chair. I guess I was really bored or something, because I picked it up and devoured that book. I don't know why a 12- or 13-year-old me found it so entertaining, but now, every time I think of Andy Rooney, it brings back memories of Marysville and those halcyon summers at my great-grandparents'. Fresh honey and catching fireflies in mason jars and hunting for nightcrawlers and driving the little riding tractor down the uneven sidewalks and cobblestone roads... Great-grandpa's infectious humor; great-grandma's mock-scolding of that retired train conductor's playful teasing of the great-grandkids.

Isn't it funny how books, like music, can create such associations, bringing back memories of the times and places you read them?

Wow, I thought Rooney was old back then. I was always somewhat startled to see he was still on the air. His departure into the great unknown really does mark the passing of an era. Can you hear him there, at the Pearly Gates: "Did you ever wonder why the gates are pearly? And why is it St. Peter who greets you? Isn't there someone else you'd rather see first when you get here? And does he ever get a day off?"

Capsule Review: The Aztec Treasure House by Evan S. Connell

The Aztec Treasure House: New and Selected EssaysThe Aztec Treasure House: New and Selected Essays by Evan S. Connell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

History is not often this enjoyable, so wryly is it told by the imaginative, enlightened—and enlightening—Evan S. Connell.

These twenty essays chronicle humanity’s insatiable curiosity for finding things—everything from the missing link to the northwest passage to the south pole to El Dorado to the philosopher’s stone. Here folly and bravery are unearthed in stranger-than-fiction accounts of eccentric individuals who filled in the maps back when much of the world beyond one’s borders was full of rumored wonders, dark secrets, awesome and mysterious treasures still waiting to be discovered. Bizarre charlatans shoulder their packs alongside unlikely heroes to tramp into the annals of history, sometimes leaving fastidious journals and logbooks, more often trailing enigmatic question marks in their wake. Connell brings them all back to life, like a seer conjuring up long-departed spirits. This literary medium has done his work well: I have never held a gold doubloon or an Aztec treasure in my hand, but by my time spent in The Aztec Treasure House, I am enriched. Go west (or east) young man (or woman), and get thee a copy!

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I finally read THE NAME OF THE WIND

The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicle #1)The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought this book directly from Patrick the year it came out, at the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, NY. He had kindly given me a lift from the airport in his rental car.

A chance meeting; I didn't know him (his name was only just beginning to be elevated to the first ranks of fantasy authors); we found some common ground in that both of us were teaching college English at that time (Patrick has since been able to quit his day job, as you know if you follow his blog). That was my first convention, and Patrick graciously shared some tips on convention etiquette that served my friends and me in good stead. By way of thanks, I bought his book (I believe he also bought something of mine that I was hawking at the time, so it was really a sort of swap). I set the book aside, intending eventually to get around to it (it is an intimidating doorstopper of a tome). Over the ensuing years, I noted the swelling praise and reputation as his star continued to rise. Last autumn I sat on a panel with him at another convention, something on world-building. I still hadn't read his book, though, and it was clear I would not again get an hour-and-a-half of Patrick Rothfuss to myself--he was now firmly ensconced in the rank of authors who cannot go anywhere without a mass of followers and fans vying for a moment of his time. I did not try, but I did give him a copy of my humorous little fantasy parody that was published last year, his name in the Acknowledgments for the advice that he shared with me on our first encounter those several years ago.

Okay, so that's how I came to have a copy of THE NAME OF THE WIND. Finally, this summer, I read it. What I have to say about it won't really matter a whit after all the great lights of the genre (and not a few from the mainstream as well) have weighed in, but this is just how it is when you read or hear or watch a work of art that is so good, that gives you such pleasure--you have to babble a bit. So here I go:

A couple days ago I walked from my home to the park downtown, my nose buried in THE NAME OF THE WIND. I may have done that at some time or other back in my younger days--walked and read at the same time--though I can't recall when. So when I say I could not put it down, I am not being hyperbolic or cliched. I literally could not put it down. Massive book that it is, I had it finished within a week, and I wished it were longer: tomorrow cannot come fast enough for me to procure a copy of THE WISE MAN'S FEAR.

Dickensian in its rich, full story and its colorful, unforgettable characters, it also has the verisimilitude of first-rate world-building and attention to detail. If you've read it or even a synopsis, you know that Rothfuss is not up to anything "new" here, and that is his great secret: he tells the oldest, most familiar tales with such a sure, deft hand that he sets a new standard. The book is nearly impossible to put down once you have fallen under the spell of its masterful storyteller (as a neighbor of mine can attest, who called out to me as I walked obliviously past, "Careful you don't walk into something!").

The story of Kvothe may be a type of tale that is as old as GILGAMESH; his stint studying magic at the University may remind you of A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA, but this enthralling account of a hero's rise sets the new high water mark.

Patrick Rothfuss the man once took me to the Saratoga Springs Convention Center in his rental car. Patrick Rothfuss the author can now take me anywhere.

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Joseph Conrad, on the artist's calling:

"He speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives; to our sense of pity, and beauty, and pain; to the latent feeling of fellowship with all creation--and to the subtle but invincible conviction of solidarity that knits together the loneliness of innumerable hearts, to the solidarity in dreams, in joy, in sorrow, in aspirations, in illusions, in hope, in fear, which binds men to each other, which binds together all humanity--the dead to the living, and the living to the unborn."

Rural America Writers' Center

I was lucky enough to be invited as the guest reader at the Rural America Writers' Center Third Wednesdays meeting this month. I read the first chapter of Knight Terrors: The (Mis)Adventures of Smoke the Dragon; "Roach Phobia," my first professional poetry sale (to Weird Tales in 2002); my introduction to Scott Dixon's short story collection Beyond Midnight; and my introduction to The Best of Every Day Poets One. It was a wonderful experience, and I am going to try to make it to as many Third Wednesdays as I can.

The Rural America Writers' Center in Plainview, MN holds a monthly meeting at the Jon Hassler Theater the third Wednesday of each month. Open to the public, the meetings, which begin at 7:00 pm, usually feature a guest author who reads for about forty minutes then takes questions. After a short social break (refreshments available), there is open mike. That goes anywhere from a half-hour to an hour, depending on how many sign up to read (readers are asked to keep it to 5-10 minutes). There are some very talented MN writers and poets who come from as far away as Austin and Winona to chat and share their own work or just to listen, and it's a great time. 

Note to self: At previous open mikes, I have read my flash fiction stories "The Only Difference Between Men and Boys" and "The Scarecrow" (I note this for my own quick reference, so that I don't forget and repeat something at a future open mike).

RAWC also publishes an annual journal, The Green Blade, a beautiful publication. Here's a link to their website:  http://www.jonhasslertheater.org/writers-center.html

Thanks again to the folks at RAWC for inviting me!