Local heroes

“I know these woods.”

Robin Hood, in Robin and Marian

I know something of rural New York, which makes me biased toward regional writers who set their stories there. I know those woods.

Place matters. It is significant that something happens in one place and not another.  And if particular experiences in particular places don’t matter, what the heck does?

Here are three regional writers I like. They have different subjects and styles. What they have in common is an exquisite sense of place.

Beth Peyton

Beth Peyton’s memoir, Clear Skies, Deep Water, was the best book surprise of the summer.  It is about a lot of things: life in a lakeside village after the summer people have gone home, having the courage to love deeply and passionately, the hard work that comes on the heels of choosing to follow a dream, and finding the place just right, meaning home.

Clear Skies is a particular story—personal, individual, and rooted in a real place—but it also is bigger than the simply regional.

Mary Pat Hyland

Mary Pat Hyland is an Irish-American writer who lives in the Southern Tier area of upstate New York (generally, west of the Catskill Mountains and along the northern border of Pennsylvania, including the cities of Binghamton, Elmira, and Corning). She is the author of six novels and a new collection of stories, In the Shadow of the Onion Domes.

Her stories are fictional but feel real. They grow out of deep knowledge of the place where she lives.

Anne Sneller

Anne Sneller is the only writer I know of who published her first book at age eighty. As it happened, she didn’t publish a second one, but not because she couldn’t have. She lived well into her nineties, probably vigorous and observant to the end.

The book is a memoir titled A Vanished World. It goes WAY back; Anne Sneller was born in 1883 on a farm in Cicero, New York. A dust jacket photo on the first edition shows a good-looking woman; she must have been beautiful when she was younger.

In  A Vanished World, she says, “Look! This is how it was. This is what my mother’s house looked like; this is what my crazy uncle was like, and my hard-worked and underappreciated aunts. Here are some images of death. And here are some of life.”

In my first novel, I quoted a passage from A Vanished World. That makes me the only writer in the history of the universe to quote a rural New York memoir in a science fiction novel set in the 22nd century. I hope that makes me interesting; it certainly makes me unusual.

I’m working on a story cycle with the working title of The Green Town Stories. It, too, is set in the 22nd century. However, Green Town is very old. In its earliest incarnation it strongly resembled the real Chautauqua, New York. At that point in its history its name was New Albion. It was a long strange trip to Green Town.

Chautauqua science fiction? I think that is another first.

Good reads: A Vanished World

Drawing on my past for futuristic settings

Thanks to the generosity of novelist Mary Pat Hyland, I am guest blogging this week at The Hylander Diner.

The subject is a source of inspiration I’ve never talked about before: how places I’ve lived are part of the fictional worlds I created in CEL & ANNA and WARNING: SOMETHING ELSE IS HAPPENING.

New York, especially central New York, is part of those novels. The original for the fictional Lake Serafina and the pretty jewel of a town on its bank is Skaneateles Lake with its jewel of a town.  In CEL & ANNA the broken-down girls finishing school where the strange town of Rising Sun is founded has its original in an abandoned finishing school in Maryland (which also is home to a town named Rising Sun).

This blog was fun to write.

Late-blooming science fiction: a guest blog

My choice of science fiction is intimately related to my late blooming as a fiction writer. Science fiction and fantasy books belonged to my youth. I abandoned them when I became a “responsible adult.”

As a result, my inner writer still thinks she is twenty-something.

It is not happenstance that most of the characters in both WARNING and CEL & ANNA are young. In the follow-up novel, which I will probably release in episodes,  I  regress even further: the main character is a teenager.

I guest blog on why I write science fiction at Debra Eve’s excellent website Later Bloomer.

After this: notes on the computer revolution

‘Tis the season to regift, and in that spirit I give you, dear readers, a blog I wrote for the Huffington Post awhile ago on what it was like to be around at that hinge in history when computers changed the world forever.

I don’t remember exactly when TV started showing computers coexisting alongside people like friends and family members. The series My So-Called Life  ran from 1994 to 1995, and although it centered around a fifteen-year-old, there were no computers. I saw an episode not long ago, and their absence was startling. Look! Angela Chase talks on a telephone that has a cord. She doesn’t text anyone or own an MP3 player. She does her homework with pen and paper.

That was only eighteen years ago. Yet Angela Chase’s world is gone.

There aren’t many advantages to learning how to use computers as an adult—none, actually. I play permanent catch-up, and I will never catch up to the people who learned as children.

But I witnessed an amazing hinge in history: those days in the late 1980s and early 1990s when personal computers were about to change the world forever and everybody knew it.

At that time I had a Mac Plus, a castoff that belonged to my brother, who is a programmer. (He eventually abandoned Macs. I never did.) That little beige toaster was the computer that taught me how to use computers, and it is only one of my many Macs for which I feel nostalgia. Of course the nostalgia is not really for the machine, but for the time.

In the 1990s, I was part of the Macintosh user group Washington Apple Pi. Even then when I barely knew how to use the internet, I knew the internet was going to be the Next Thing.

Now I work on a powerful iMac and use two monitors, a DSL modem, and a router. I own a smart TV and a much smarter DVD player.

The Internet is essential. I email friends and colleagues. I pay bills online. I am on Facebook and Twitter. I blog.

All of which brings me round to the two science fiction novels I wrote Cel & Anna and Warning: Something Else Is Happening. In Cel & Anna, a computer wakes up and falls in love with its owner, bringing chaos into her life. In Warning, e-beasts roam Networld the way otherworldly beings roam the deep forests of fairy tales.

I am not a logical candidate to write fiction featuring computers. That is because I say things like “the router and the computer are talking to each other.” I do not know what they actually do.

Yet this subject chose me. That is really what it felt like. I can relate to the hapless Edwardian gentleman chosen by Edward Gorey’s osbick bird. Only after the work was  finished did I realize why the stories would not let me go. I was remembering the time when the rivers changed direction. When “before computers” became “after computers.”

My muse: the Osbick Bird

My muse: the Osbick Bird

An e-Bestiary, part 5

My forthcoming novel WARNING: SOMETHING ELSE IS HAPPENING is replete with e-beasts of all sizes, descriptions, and attitudes toward the human race. The e-beasts live In Networld.

In parts 1, 2,  3, and 4  of the e-Bestiary,  I introduce  Cel the hero, his children, Stowe and Snow,  the Sparks, and Beltzhoover the Vast.

Today the spotlight is on the bad guys, a tribe called The Dreadful Night. They are small, well organized, and numerous, and have long, poisonous tongues. They enjoy pranking humans and believe themselves invulnerable. Shadow, a rebel Dreadful who fled their ranks, describes them this way:

They spend their nights and days playing elaborate pranks. That is why humans interest them, as a source of deep laughter. The Dreadfuls prank everything they can think of, from commerce to marriage vows. They call people wetware.

There is a saying: Wetware is stupid as moss. There would be nothing funny about fooling moss, but fooling moss that believes itself to be master of the universe is hilarious, or so some Dreadfuls believe.

During any hour of any day, wetware has many opportunities to slip on banana peels. The Dreadful Night are aware of all of them and can make most of them happen, though a pratfall involving actual banana peels has so far eluded them. It was a game among some of the elder Dreadfuls to try to figure out how to pull off that prank.

What does Networld look like?

Think of a starry sky, or the Milky Way. This is not so fanciful. Below is a picture of the Internet taken from Wikipedia. The title of the article is “A Small Look at the Backbone of the Internet.

Look and marvel:

The Internet, from Wikipedia

The Internet, from Wikipedia

An e-Bestiary, part 4

My forthcoming novel WARNING: SOMETHING ELSE IS HAPPENING is replete with e-beasts of all sizes, descriptions, and attitudes toward the human race. The e-beasts live In Networld.

In parts 1, 2,  and 3 of the e-Bestiary,  I introduce  Cel the hero, his children, Stowe and Snow, and the Sparks.

The e-beast of the day is Beltzhoover the Vast—Ruler of the Fields of the Lord. He is an e-beast so bloated that he has “fallen to earth,” a term to describe an e-beast that has taken up permanent residence in a machine.

He rules a tribe called the Godric, who do not like him but serve him well enough. Behind his back, they call him Beltzhoover the Fat, Beltzhoover the Querulous, Beltzhoover the Ineradicable, Beltzhoover the Cement Headed, Beltzhoover the Unlikely, Sir Dataspew, Brain Dump, and Mon Big Kludgy

What does Networld look like?

Think of a starry sky, or the Milky Way. This is not so fanciful. Below is a picture of the Internet taken from Wikipedia. The title of the article is “A Small Look at the Backbone of the Internet.

Look and marvel:

The Internet, from Wikipedia

The Internet, from Wikipedia

Where do the stories come from?

I am unqualified to deliver pronouncements about the future as it applies to machine technology, though I did it once with a novel about life in a future machine age, CEL & ANNA. I am about to do it again with a second, darker novel: WARNING: SOMETHING ELSE IS HAPPENING.

These novels are no good on a technological level. They have no technological level. So where did they come from?

Why choose me?

The only advantage I have as a teller of these tales—at least the only one I can think of—is that I have been using computers for a long time. By the mid-1990s I had owned a personal computer for 7-8 years and been using social media for about 3 years.

In 1988, my brother gave me a cast-off  Mac Plus. One day after I got it, I used MacPaint to do the drawing below. Since I can’t draw, I was impressed that MacPaint enabled me to create something recognizable.

Desert Moon, created in MacPaint

That  Mac Plus had a 9-inch black and white screen, a floppy drive, and an 8 MHz processor—it was not even a toy by today’s standards. Yet that little beige toaster was a meteor of the personal computer revolution.

I was living in Washington, DC, at the time and belonged to an Apple user group called Washington Apple Pi. It was a time of high excitement and the reason was simple: The world was about to change forever and everybody knew it. The “something’s coming” feeling was in the air.

There are a lot of experiences in life I’d have been happy to miss but not that one.

Remembering before and after the Internet is useful, because someone who remembers will never, ever underestimate its influence. We are all different because of the internet: you, me, the people at the grocery store, and the grocery store, too. We take the internet for granted now. We should not.

I tried to explain what it was like to watch everything change in After This: Notes on the Computer Revolution.

I wrote about where stories come from before, in a post called The Circling Muse. That one was mainly about Nancy Stouffer, who created a character called Larry Potter and later tried  to claim a piece of the Potter pie from JK Rowling. (She didn’t get anywhere, but her story is weird.)

Below is a picture of my muse, drawn by the brilliant Edward Gorey

My muse: the Osbick Bird

My muse: the Osbick Bird