The Ones That Stick With Us

There is no reliable connection between a writer’s skill and popularity. I mean, I wish there were; it would make things easier. But just when you’re ready to point to writers like [REDACTED] and say, “See? If you’re popular, you suck,” you run into a Gaiman or a Martin and go, “Uh, well, okay, sometimes they’re popular on account of being really good.” The reverse case requires no special proof: especially with the increase in self-publishing, there is no shortage of writers who richly deserve their obscurity.

But then there are the frustrating cases, the ones where we want to grab the entire reading public by the lapels, shake them, and say, “Why haven’t you read this, you lunatic?” These writers can make us think we’re in a secret cabal, we are the ones who know. When we throw out the names of books or authors to someone we’ve just met at a convention, and the person says, War For the Oaks, our eyes get big, and we squee and say something that comes down to, “Oh, you too are initiated into the Secret?”

I use Emma Bull’s work as an example because her books are a classic case: known to so few it frustrates us. But those few love them with an intensity that seems to make up for the lack of popularity, like there’s some sort of law of Conservation of Squee. No, there is no such law (cf Martin & Gaiman), but it sometimes it seems like it—the fewer who know, the more intense the love and the deeper and more lasting and more powerful the effect.

If there were such a law, it would explain Pamela Dean. Even fewer people have heard of her than of Emma, a fact which constantly makes us grind our teeth (Emma’s teeth included, and yes, Emma, I am revealing things about your teeth), but those few! They meet in secret, and, when no one’s around, they say, “Tam Lin.” “I know! Just…” “Yeah. Wow.” And then they talk about Juniper and Gentian and Rosemary, or The Dubious Hills, or The Secret Country Trilogy, in hushed voices, as if for fear of scaring away the magic.

I am mentioning this now because, thanks to self-publishing, her work is becoming more available. Older, out of print works, and previously unpublished works are or will soon be for sale via print on demand or as e-books.

I am mentioning this because I would like all of you to be a part of the secret cabal whose lives have been changed.

The website is here. Do yourself a favor, and become part of the secret. Maybe it won’t be so secret any more, and we’d all like that very much.

A New Internet Experience

I’m staying with my friends Doug and Caliann in central Texas for a few days. They have dairy goats.

This morning, Caliann got on her goat forum and replied to someone with, roughly, “Goats have different metabolisms than cows. If you feed your goats that nutrient combination, you’ll kill them.”

And I thought, “Wow. An internet disagreement that actually matters. How strange.”

Viable Paradise

This was my second year teaching at the writer’s workshop Viable Paradise on Martha’s Vineyard, MA.  I have no idea how to talk about it.  I mean, there’s only so many times you can say, “Holy crap, wow!” before it gets old.  But, holy crap, wow.

I can’t mention the students by name, because I’ll leave someone out, and that would be wrong.  But, like last year, they were all as geeked about writing process as me.  Amazing, amazing week.

Thanks to my roomie, Stevie Chuck, who did several wonderful things (including talking Jenphalian into showing up) capped by swapping rooms at Just The Right Time.  Patrick gave a talk about publishing history and its current state that I thought was going to be dull and academic until suddenly it came into a focus with a snap of, “this is why your career is where it is.”  And music; fun, fun music.  Teresa on exposition was her brilliant self, and then she cured my scurvy.  Forever.  Jim and Dr. Doyle, who do the parts of this that I could never do, were wonderful throughout.  Bear spoke of plotting and a bit more came into focus; I’ll be trying some of it out in my current book.  Scott was delightful, and his explanation of plot tomatoes cleared that up wonderfully.  Sherwood?  It astonishes me how small she is, for having that much knowledge; you’d think she’d need to be bigger to contain it all.

And the staff.  Mac makes things work, Bart makes things happen, Chris is the one who is always there when something needs doing.  I’m tempted to leave Pippen out, to continue the joke, but I can’t on account of how much work she does (and the fact that she’s utterly adorbz).

But, really, the students made it all magical.  There was a moment during a critique session when one of them applied (perfectly) a subtle and nuanced approach learned in a critique the previous day.  You could feel the learning taking place.  That’s the sort of shit I live for.  Well, that and writing.  They kind of go together.

Off to Milehicon in Denver this weekend; I wonder if I’ll have come down by then?