Post of Welcome

Tell me about yourselves.  I’d like to hear from others.  I know a lot of writers and an enormous number of readers.  But I don’t have to know you previously in order for you to make this site work. Start by adding a comment to this post.

20 thoughts on “Post of Welcome”

  1. Hello, Bertie! What a lovely idea this is! A haven for “wordies” — those of us who revel in the correct use of words such as arrogate and celerity. Those of us who have read paragraphs out loud from The Black Horse just so we could hear them roll off a human tongue!

    I read voraciously as a child, and I can still summarize plots of books I read from the Monterey public library (for instance, Mr. Bass’s Planetoid, and nearly every Dr. Dolittle book, as well as a series of nonfiction nature guides by Herbert S. Zim), the Croton-on-Hudson library (where I discovered the Landmark books, history for young people — I read about Eleanor of Acquitaine and read Bruce Catton’s take on the American Civil War,and read about Jim Bridger), the West Los Angeles Public Library (my first science fiction — Heinlein’s Between Planets and The Rolling Stones, some pseudonymous Asimov’s about Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus, Lucky Starr and the Moons of Jupiter, as well as a picture book I probably checked out five times showing how to do Japanese brush painting), the Brentwood branch of the LA Public Library, where I read Michener’s Bridge at Andau and endlessly checked out Alan Lomax’s book of American folk songs. I read Enid Blyton and Elizabeth Goudge. I read Cecilia Holland’s Firedrake at the Portland, Oregon, library during a spell as a jobless adult; I also checked out library books on lacemaking and weaving. Once I could access the adult library, I read anthologies assembled by Terry Carr and Judith Merrill, novels by Robert Silverberg, Frederik Pohl, Arthur C. Clarke, C.L. Moore, Brackett. And then, as the field changed, I read Vonda McIntyre, Marta Randall, Joanna Russ, John Varley, Connie Willis.

    Then came a phone call from a friend: I know you’re tired of the long commute to your job, and Locus has an opening in Oakland. What’s Locus, I asked? I bought books at Other Change of Hobbit, but I’d never heard of this news magazine. I applied for a job there anyway. And by the end of the week, I’d assembled a page of “Publisher’s Row” news (forthcoming books) and helped research a writer’s obituary. I stayed five years, and helped Locus grow from 28 pages in black plus one color, to full color and 56 pages. I learned to select and crop photos, went to sf conventions (I had attended one or two, I think, before this), learned to take competent photographs of authors, met some of the cover illustrators.

    I never was too terrific at news gathering — I heard the title of a new Gene Wolfe novel incorrectly, and told Charles Brown that Castle of the Otter was coming out. (The correct title was Citadel of the Autarch. And somehow, this error was attributed incorrectly to another staff member. Believe me, it was *my* error; I burned with embarrassment for weeks.) But I was good at keeping things consistent, even though I’d never heard the term “style sheet”, and I knew enough not to mess with the columns that Fritz Leiber sent us (though some other authors, including Norman Spinrad, had learned to trust my judgement enough so that they permitted me to make small, appropriate changes to their contributions).

    And I got to listen to writers talk about writing, to artists talk about illustration, to publishers discuss plans for cautiously expanding their sales so that they could afford to publish talented but unknown writers. I learned that some writers create a hundred or two hundred words a day and rarely rewrote. Others agonized over every word, rearranging sentences and paragraphs over and over, writing and then discarding whole sections of their novels. I learned phrases like “narrative flow” and “story arc”, “first person narrative” and “omniscient narrator”. I came to the job with a fair grasp of English tenses. My parents had spoken good English, so I can usually rely on “what sounds right”. Studying Russian for three years had taught me a lot about noun cases. To this day, a lot of my editorial knowledge is sort of buried in my head, and only appears at certain opportune moments. (I also know that I’d have been a better editor if I’d had teachers with stronger literary backgrounds, wider vocabularies, a stronger grasp of style and form, teachers who could have helped me make the jump from high school to college classwork. So I have always felt privileged that I got to be an editor at all, and to have learned the skills that did come to me.)

    I look forward to the conversations here.

    1. Oh, Rachel, what a story! I too love the words arrogance and celery, although I don’t care for the taste of either.

      Your history in words in amazingly speckled. Sparkled. I came through the public library system in a similar fashion, although grabbing at different books as I could reach them. Getting my adult library card at the age of seven was a plus. Having only one decent teacher of English Literature in High School was a minus. I think we reach even at Heinlein Juveniles.

      I’m only learning crude editing skills now, at the age of 66. ALBATROSS – and I still have the ingrained manuscript habit of referring to anything over 60,000 word in all caps, though Ron tells me it’s outdated and looks odd – was edited for me by a most excellent and unexpected phenomenon named Nancy Palmer. I hope we can hear from her soon. She is an excellent mystery.

      But I would never dare edit myself. I don’t think anyone ought to. Perhaps we can have a mutual editation society, in which there is enough mutual admiration that we all don’t leap at each other’s throats. I spent a large sum of money to a person of some reputation to edit D & R and never got an MS back. That reminded me of my old days of saving money to send my manuscripts to Scott Meredith for review, never realizing there were two branches of the corporation and that one of them was a con game for fools such as myself. So gullible I am that I did it twice.

      Now young writers are coming up without any editorial face before them – just a brief tour of how to e-publish on Amazon. The difference is so obvious in the first few pages, which I now have learned to call ‘The Front Matter’. Does it not bother you when you have no idea when the book in your hands (more exactly, on your Kindle) was written? And this clumsiness doesn’t necessarily reflect any flaw in the young person’s writing style, either. It just sends a bad impression. I shall have to try to do better with my front matter. Back matter, too.

      I feel so sorry for the young folk. We – people in the business for twenty years or more – came up feeling we had a one in a thousand chance of making it to print. Rather like a salmon swimming upstream. But the writers, today, can’t even know IF they’ve done it. They can see their books on offer and have no inkling whether they will be read and loved by others or ought to be so. And all that is aside from the ever-dimmer goal of making a living publishing books.

      I was extremely lucky in my life’s timing, having gotten into the market just at the time people were buying a lot of fantasy and in getting out of it – as a money-making effort, anyway – before the paradigm of publishing (Gawd, I just coined an awful phrase!) leaves them in their older years wondering what has happened. That may be a sort of Pollyanna-ish way of describing a physical difficulty, but there remains the fact that I’m a salmon who has swum upstream and yet isn’t dead yet.

      Perhaps one day soon there will be a sort of course given in academia or a trade school, which covers both composition and the craft of publishing. Then the young writers won’t be so much adrift.

      Speaking as an old reader, however, I’m still a bit at a loss trying to find something to fill my voracious maw. It’s not like picking through the vegetables at the market anymore. One can’t tell a thing about a book without buying it because there are so many out there, spread higgildy-piggildy. I’m often reduced to waiting for the next issue of S&SF to see what Charles has to say. But he can’t keep up with me.

      Perhaps you can help. I mean – advise me what to read. Or perhaps you, with your worldly background, could help with designing the sort of course I just thought up. I myself am too cloudy-minded, and I’m just learning, anyway.

      And, as you can see, Rachel, I still like to write with a lot of white space in between paragraphs. I think of it as giving the reader. Or me. Time to breathe.

      1. Voracious reader? I can relate.
        Libraries? Havens, worlds of discovery. I still walk into them at every opportunity to see what everyone else is reading.

        But how to recommend stuff you haven’t already read? Do you perhaps have an existing running list for at least the past few years?
        To combine self publishing / good new read subjects in one reply:

        You’ve read the Silo saga ‘Wool’, ‘Dust’.. by Hugh Howey?
        In one of the early interviews he mentioned that there was never going to be a better time to self publish. It went a bit like this:
        The planet is currently still being flooded with smartphones that become instant e-readers. They are still multiplying at speeds that existing book digital adaptations cannot keep up with. Besides, focus tends to be on NEW content. New books, new authors.
        More devices than content available for them – at the moment. Think about it: This particular jump happens only from no phone (or non-smart phone) – to smartphone (big screen). Updating your smartphone won’t affect this, so this gap is finite – it can’t last. Ergo, no time like the present to get your content published.

        I thought that was fairly clever and straightforward.

        He’s obviously thought about it some more since:

        1. I haven’t yet heard of Hugh Howey, but I most certainly shall investigate him now.
          As for having a running list, I’m afraid I’m not so organized! If YOU want to create one and post it here, sim, I’d be grateful. I apologize for the klugeyness of the website as it presently exists. It’s newborn, and without hair or feathers.

          1. Okay then – best start with ‘Wool’.

            As for apologies, are you kidding? To discover you’re there at the other end – fantastic. Hair / feathers optional.
            Besides, klugey = awkwardly designed, inefficient, clunky?
            A new word! Thanks.

            No list until I hear back from you re. Wool. If you like it I’ll know where to start.

          2. sim, it will be a small while, because just this morning I was hit with an inspiration to re-invent the sequel to Albatross, which is titled Shimmer. I am so excited by this I think I might have to go have a short lie-down to recuperate. But I WILL get back to you. Promise.

  2. I am currently immersed in The Bread Bible and King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion. I have been baking bread for about 50 years. When I do it, I do it to the exclusion of all other creative activities, so I guess the reading I am doing is of more *active* than my usual plop on the bed with a book. I learned to bake bread while living in a commune in Eugene in the early 70’s. Our money making activity was making and selling giant vats of granola to the food co op. Once a week, two of us would spend a night in the local bakery prepping and constantly monitoring and stirring the huge trays of baking cereal. The smell was intoxicating.

    And one of us might make bread. I still have the original recipe somewhere. I think it’s for some ridiculous number of loaves, 12 or 24. The recipe used the autolyse, or sponge, method of allowing a time for the yeast to work with flour, honey, and powdered milk before the salt and butter are added. I think because the recipe called for resting the sponge that it probably originated from Tasajara. (Tasajara is a Zen monastery east of San Francisco. They published a bread book which was immensely popular in the hippie dippy world I inhabited. I still have an old one even though it’s not my original copy. My ex husband wrote an inscription in the front which says something about our breaking bread together for the next 50 years. I just read that for the first time since he gave it to me and the whole sadness of that divorce mess washed over me.)

    At any rate, one of us would bake what we referred to as “the people’s bread.” The smell of the baking granola and the soothing repetitiveness of bread baking are sensations I have never lost. Over the years when I have dipped into bread making, I have experimented with a lot of different flours and recipes, but the actions and the aromas have been pretty consistent in their ability to calm me.

    Last month I started to bake again. It started innocently enough with a couple of loaves of quick bread, cranberry orange, for a Christmas Eve dinner party. But I made a lemon glaze for it and had a lot left over. That reminded me that Tasajara has a nice recipe for a braided lemon loaf which is finished with lemon glaze. So there I went, down the rabbit hole. My grandson looks at videos on my phone and I have one of him, pre-walking, sitting on my kitchen floor in a shaft of sunlight, eating with great delight fresh out of the oven bread I was tearing into small bits and giving him. He was watching one in the car as my daughter and I were headed to the market. He asked me to make bread for him again. So, of course.

    Then last week my daughter said I should show her again how to make bread. And I became curious about all the different methods and whether I ought to teach her “mine” or possibly a smattering of a few. So I bought the two bread books above and started to read. The Bread Bible in particular is very in depth. It’s not exactly new information, but it’s very well done. The author has a lovely chapter about growing up and her relationship with bread. Both books talk a lot about how different cultures feel about and bake bread.

    And don’t get them started on sourdough. Over the years I have nurtured a few sourdough starters I made myself. But the nurturing in these books is similar to adopting a wild animal baby that requires constant care. I am glad this was not the information about sourdough I received as a novice bread maker. But I am ready to begin a new starter today and I will try and keep to the Bread Bible’s method until I can’t tolerate the finickiness.

    And I may revisit James Beard’s bread book. He waxed rather poetic about certain breads in there and I might try them. He was certainly a man who liked to eat and I may as well take his word for it.

    1. Ron was the bread-baker in our house. How ironic, now that he has to watch his carbohydrate intake to the point he can’t eat a whole apple.

      I, on the other hand, can eat as much as I please (and now that my teeth are full and sharpened I DO please) and have no talent for bread-baking at all. And my mother’s mother (the unexpected Saami) was a baker. She had her own shop in the ethnic district of central Cleveland in the twenties through the forties. She never learned a word of English but oh could she bake. I once reproduced her special bread. Just once. it involves a lot of egg-yolk in the mixture and the white pasted on the outside to make it shiny. And because of the amount of sugar she added the yeast produced holes large enough for a child to get two or three fingers through them. It was bread that didn’t need butter. Not even for a gluttonous child.

      I made it once and now I don’t have any idea how I did it. The only cookbook I’ve ever used was Irma’s, because of all the peculiar recipes one could find lost in it, from alligator to whale. I did make the mistake of making soda bread, (which is what the West Coast Irish call ‘bread’. The yeast variety, far less common, was called ‘cake’. Sweet cake was ‘gateau’. Now that I think of it, it could be that in so damp a climate, yeast is unreliable. But I don’t really know.) I forgot to say why my effort was a mistake! It was because she had confused the word ‘teaspoon’ with the word ‘cup’. So you can see how I was led into failure. It must not have been a popular recipe for that error to have survived the numerous previous edits of the book.

      All I know about baking bread could fit in a nutshell, which is about the amount of rich bread poor Ronnie can eat. And that’s such a shame.

      1. Porridge and Pots

        I was thinking about Dolly Smith’s essay on bread-making and bread books as I stood over my weekly pot of porridge this morning. My weekly pot of porridge is necessary and fulfilling, but also temperamental, as the proportions need to be exact, and there is no knowing how much water any particular batch of cut oats wants to absorb. So making porridge is an activity always on the edge of catastrophe, as anyone knows who has had to clean the volcanic overflow of half-cooked oats from the stove-top.

        This morning I was thinking how often porridge is dismissed in the public mind, whereas bread is considered the staff of life. (Why does life need a staff, anyway? Is life lame?) Anyway –
        Porridge, made from oats, is a complex substance. As complex, really, as we want it to be. Whether it is taken in the direction of sweetness, as is the U.S. tradition, (where we call it oatmeal, although oat-meal is merely the grain of which it is made,) or cooked savory, with onions and herbs and perhaps small bits of organ meats – this bowl of boiled oats has the ability to become different things in the mind.

        A child’s winter breakfast. A casserole. A haggis.

        I considered the sheep’s stomach that traditionally forms the outer covering of a haggis and I’ve decided that it is something like Christmas stuffing – which was originally stuffed down the inside of a cleaned goose or turkey as a way to contain the bread and to add flavor, and is now generally removed from the bird altogether. For many years we have been told that it is healthier not to have our stuffing – well – stuffed. I suppose the sheep’s stomach is no more necessary for haggis than the hole in the turkey is necessary for stuffing.

        So I imagine I will take the next batch of oats-in-boiling-water that I make and veer in in the direction of haggis: onions, herbs, some bits of this or that for protein and cook is slowly in a pot.

        The pot. That’s the other thing I was thinking about as my porridge tried to run over the sides.
        The pot.

        In many European traditions the boiling pot was the beginning and the end of all things. Many of the old gods and goddesses had a pot into which the dead disappeared and reappeared again, transformed. Like food. I know the Dagda had such a pot. In fact, there exists in Ireland a large pot on which is engraved an entire history of men being killed, tossed into the pot and coming out again. That is a famous pot – self-referential, one might say. Many other important people of Europe had such pots, and I’d bet a little bit of money that in other cultures important figures had pots too. I just don’t yet know about them.
        And then there is the grail. I don’t want to get into a long discussion about the grail, because so many other people have done it better. But it makes me think of both the womb and the grave and everything else that is pot-shaped.

        So many of our human stories contain magic pots of various sizes, shapes and implications that if I were the sort of person who likes to say “The thing that distinguishes humanity from other animals is – “

        If I were that sort of person, I might say that the thing which distinguishes us from all others is using pots. Thinking that pots are important. Using pots as symbols of this, or of that.

        But I’m not that sort of person at all. I’m just making porridge and wondering if it has burned badly while I sat in the next room writing all this.

        1. Well yes. The container is important. I have never owned a bread machine, and so, when a loaf of bread is finished, there are many bits and bobs of measuring implements, at least one bowl, and the loaf pan to be washed. They are almost all very old pals of mine. I have had the same spatula for scraping down the same bowl for many years. The loaf pan is old Pyrex (back from before the name was sold, and the “P” became lower case, and the new people started to make it without the lovely borosilicate which keeps it from shattering at rapid temperature changes.) So my Pyrex loaf pan is an important pot to me. As is my straight sided mixing bowl. Near vertical sides are best for proofing the bread.

          As far as staff of life, who knows. Ossified bread from Pompeii, public ovens in Rome, fossil grain seeds mixed with ancient human debris, all point to grains and bread being really important to survival. And no one ever waxed poetic about a bowl of oatmeal, a jug of wine and thou. The portability factor maybe?

        2. I discovered (probably on a morning when I hadn’t washed the dishes) that oatmeal cooks up quite well in a frying pan. So for years, that’s how I’d make it on work mornings.

          It helps to know how hungry you might be. The oatmeal packages all suggest a fairly small serving. I need more, so I tend to make oatmeal with a full cup of water and half a cup of rolled oats, or even 1.5 cups and .75 cups. I put out the frying pan (typically one that’s got an aluminum bottom and some sort of washable interior) and pour in the amount of water that seems right for the morning. I add a shake of salt. And I turn the burner on. While I wait, I measure the oats. I’ve used steelcut but typically I used rolled old-fashioned organic oats. If you like raisins or currants, add some now. When the water just starts to boil, I gently sprinkle in the oatmeal flakes. Don’t just dump it all in and start stirring. In fact, if you can manage, don’t stir at all. Just tap any clumps of floating oats with the side of a wooden spoon so that the clumps sink under the water. When you see that all the oats are under water, turn the burner down to simmer.

          Go take your shower. Don’t dawdle forever (and this is not a good recipe for any days where you plan to wash your hair and then use a blowdryer). But most of the time, when you get back to the kitchen, your oatmeal is perfect. A little bit nutty, a bit crunchy around the edge, cooked just right.

          Turn it into a bowl, add milk and however much brown sugar you like, and enjoy. If you’re running late, put in too much milk and pour the whole thing into a large coffee mug, and you can drink it on the way to the bus or whatever, like a warm smoothie.

          And give the pan just a quick rinse before you run out the door.

          Now, my friend Hank does oatmeal completely differently. He steams his in the top part of a double boiler, and he adds the salt to the bowl
          before he pours on his milk. I’ve had his, and it’s softer than mine, but also very tasty. I think the timing is about the same.

  3. Bertie, I’ve always suspected that part of oatmeal’s popularity was that it could be cooked overnight in a banked woodstove. But I have no proof.

  4. I have recently moved house and I am currently unpacking books that have been in storage for over six years. I have been putting old friends aside in a ‘to-be-reread’ pile, and all your books are piling up with other old friends. I thought I should take this opportunity to tell you how much I have enjoyed your books, and how I treasure them.

  5. Oooh, here I am, late to the party, and see what I’ve missed! All the library tales, and the hearty delicious porridge, and the wonderful memory-inducing bread. Hmmm….

    I will skim only over the libraries for now, except to say they saved me, and more than once; I think librarians are rather like a combination of Guardian Dragon, Lady of the Lake, and Don Quixote, and I never met a-one I didn’t like, even the gruff ones, because dragons are often gruff to protect their treasures, aren’t they?

    Pardon me, I’ve been reading rather a lot of Diana Wynne-Jones. She summons the run-on sentences in me. I feel I’m among friends here, so I am going to take off my editor hat, and let the words out to run where they will. I’ve been using the tech-bits of my brain today. The Wynne-Jones helps shuffle that off.

    Have you read her work, by the way? I found her only rather late in my adulthood and, sadly, after her passing. She’s much loved outside the U.S., from what I can see, but rather less well known here. If I’d read her books as a child, I’d have clutched them tight and never let them go. She’s odd and wonderful. I strongly suspect J.K. Rowling must have read her as a child; I KNOW Neil Gaiman did. He’s written about it.

    Porridge and bread: porridge may have less written about it because, done well, it’s lovely and nourishing. Done poorly, it’s abominable. A penance. Unless, I suppose, you were brought up with it poorly made, and with a very hungry young body welcoming whatever fuel was to hand. We had our oatmeal simply, and always for breakfast. I confess to a preference for the even more finicky corn-meal mush that my mother made. Perhaps because I gobbled it down before it had a chance to turn to concrete. (Odd: I don’t recall having made that for myself in my adulthood. At all.)

    My memories of bread are more complex. A friend recently took into her home a young man displaced from his …erm, complex… family of origin. He was missing many important skills necessary for adulthood. One friend offered to teach him to do laundry. Another offered to teach him to balance a checkbook. I announced, inspired, “I will teach him to make BREAD!”

    Silence. And my friend gave me SUCH a look. “Bread? Make bread? But bread’s so easy to buy!”

    I was taken aback. Who wouldn’t want to know how to make bread? Doesn’t everyone want to know how to make bread? My son can make pretzels and naan bread and asked, one memorable Christmas, for a spice grinder, so he could crush his own flax seeds to make flax seed rolls! (We gave him the spice grinder.) (I was afraid my manly father-in-law wouldn’t appreciate my teaching my son baking. To the contrary, he once sent back the bread at a restaurant, scolding them that they weren’t as good as his grandson’s.) After thinking about it for a couple of days, I realized: my friend grew up in Philadelphia, where there were bakeries galore, and supermarkets in every neighborhood. I grew up in the country, and small towns, in West Virginia. My mother didn’t drive, and my father left the state for sometimes weeks at a time. Going to the store meant, at best, a ride from someone. Or a hike of a couple of miles. Or, when we were deep in the country: doing without.

    Bread is not a notoriously shelf-stable food. Flour, on the other hand, keeps very well, if you store it correctly. Bread can be made in a few hours. Biscuits can be whipped up with no forethought at all, and can support a savory dinner, or be the foundation of breakfast. Broken open, with berries and powdered sugar or a drizzle of maple syrup, they’re desert.

    I have wonderful memories of my mother’s bread making. Heedless, as children will be, I never asked her to teach me. Or thought I’d run out of time to ask the question. I was thirteen when she died, after a long illness that left no room in our lives for things like baking. So when I found myself, as an adult (in the days when the Internet was not at hand), hungry to make bread, I had to teach myself. I didn’t have the financial resources to take a class… but I did have a library. And a stubborn streak. My hero reference librarians sent me on a quest for the best books, and I read so many I lost count.

    Bread dough has a feel to it when it’s right. When you know that feel, you can touch a lump of dough and tell if it’s ready to form, or if it needs more of … something, water or flour. Or time. It’s not hard to do, once you know the feel. But that “feel” is difficult to describe in words. If you’re teaching yourself… well, it takes time. It took me months to learn to make a dough with the qualities that would yield up the loaf I wanted. My son got it right the first or second time he tried, because he had an example, and a guide to explain what the dough needed to be its best.

    (I will avoid making any too-obvious analogies to writing here.)

    Anyway, I’ve meandered around long enough. Good to see you all! I’ll check back in soon.

    1. I never really thought about the connection between bread as ‘ the staff of life’ and reading as my staff of life. I know that for many years, when I had perhaps $1.37 cents in my pocket for the evening, I would go into a supermarket and price all the canned fish or cottage cheese and wind up leaving to buy a used paperback instead and reading myself to sleep instead of eating. Don’t mean to sound pitiful. It was my reasoned choice. I decided to be hungry rather than have nothing to read. Didn’t hurt me much.

  6. I just found a copy of Twisting at a local 2nd hand bookstore. I’ve read Tea so many times.. It was so wonderful, and is; an old friend. 1st read it in the early 80s, when I was in my early 20s.

    I wanted to respond to an unexpected public invitation to say something of myself on an author’s site, an author whose work meant a real difference to me.

    But I haven’t any stories to tell right now. I am grateful to reach out, say hello! and I’ll be back.

    Skoal! (with chiltepin water) L’chiam!
    and may the peace of the chea and the Force be with you all.

    Liz in Tucson

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