Books Meta Research Silk tent Writing

containing multitudes

Today, I am scanning. More specifically, I’m scanning the approximately three-hundred-page manuscript of my grandmother Louise’s memoir — or however much of that manuscript I can manage today before I go entirely nutty with boredom. This manuscript is the basis of my next writing project. I’d read a bit of it before and remembered it as being poorly written, so I’d only been hoping to get material for a novel from it — but, despite being a structural mess, it’s got chunks of snappy prose, sharp digs of wit, and a fascinating historical sweep. (The most obvious bit of historical interest: she lived with her family in a tent during the worst of the Depression.) My new plan is to edit her text and buttress it with some of my own writing, either fictional or non-, about Louise and my family. My father, especially, is excited about this plan — we spent an afternoon this week going through all the old photos Louise kept to accompany her manuscript (yes, I am very lucky, research-wise). I never knew Louise, since she died while my mother was pregnant with me, but I’m getting to know fragments of her now.

The best part, so far, has been the letter she included with the photos, instructing future family members on how the thing might be published; she admits to some roughness, but believes it might be edited into shape, and suggests that “perhaps the best way to handle it is through an agent. Libraries will always have ‘The Literary Market Place’ or something like it, giving names of agents and the whole procedure to follow, sending a m.s. 4th class special and all that.”

My publishing-savvy grandmother; I think we would’ve gotten along well.

In other news, the National Books Critics Circle blog has been interviewing authors who responded to the NY Times best 25 survey and asking them why they chose the works they did. So far, nobody’s explained a vote for Blood Meridian by admitting to a passionate love for conjunctions. “And” — it’s just so sexy!

Also, Sarah Monette is talking about Ursula Le Guin’s review of Hav, and discussing the similarities between Le Guin’s view of sf and her own concept of “hard fantasy.” These lines of Le Guin’s, which I’m stealing from Monette’s citation, interested me:

Hav is in fact science fiction, of a perfectly recognisable type and superb quality. The “sciences” or areas of expertise involved are social – ethnology, sociology, political science, and above all, history. … Serious science fiction is a mode of realism, not of fantasy; and Hav is a splendid example of the uses of an alternate geography.

I’m picky about the disciplines I label “sciences”; that happens when you’re the child of geologist parents. I consider history not a science, even in the broader sense in which Le Guin uses the term, but a liberal art, and therefore I’m a little more likely to agree with Monette’s label for this sort of work, since I think of the thought experiments I do as fantastic rather than science fictional. But, to contradict myself, I still find sf terms helpful when talking about all sorts of fiction — I thought of my second novel as a kind of first contact book, except with Greek gods rather than aliens.


  1. Have you ever read Asimov’s classic “Foundation” trilogy? If I remember correctly, he develops the idea of history as a science – psychohistory, in which mathematical formulae were developed to describe history and predict future events. I have them, if you want to borrow them.

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