Monday, October 24, 2016

Before The Cat Said Not So Much


Recently, Carl Slaughter asked me to make a few comments about all the collections I've published leading up to this year's highly-praised Not So Much, Said the Cat. The results are up on File 770.

To give you an idea of what the comments are like, here's some of what I had to say about my first collection, Gravity's Angels. Arkham House's editor, the late Jim Turner, used to call me up and say, “Listen, Swanwick, I don’t have time for any of your nonsense. I just need a question answered and that’s the end of it.”

And then:

“Hello, Jim. It’s good to hear from you,” I’d say. And with a harmless bit of gossip here and a comment about a hot new story there, I could keep him on the phone for hours. There aren’t many people I’d want to keep on the phone for hours, but he was right at the top of the list.
Jim’s original idea for the cover was to use Picasso’s Guernica as a wrap-around. But when he looked into it, the proportions were wrong. “I’d have to crop it to make it work,” he told me over the phone, “and you can’t cut up a great work of art!”
I will be grateful to my dying day that I resisted the urge to say, “Oh, go ahead, Jim.”

You can find the entire article here.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Truth and Hearsay


I am confident that sooner or later there will be a device capable of recording dreams and, shortly after that, an affordable consumer version of that device. Alas, I do not expect it to arrive in my lifetime. So it belongs to that throng of things which I can enjoy only in my dreams.

This reflecting was brought on by a dream I had the other day. I was eating a meal -- no, a repast! a feast! -- in a restaurant and it was all astonishingly delicious. And because it was the last dream of the night, I woke up with vivid memories of exactly how it all tasted.

I did not bother putting it down into words, of course. Rich... unctuous... crispy... the whole battalion of terms used by food critics could neither do justice to the dream-feast nor give you a good idea of how it tasted.

Here's the interesting thing, though. People will tell you that you can't experience taste or smell in a dream. Some will even go so far as to claim that it's impossible to dream in color. This last I know to be untrue because on those rare occasions when I dream in black-and-white, it's an unusual enough event that I marvel at it while the dream is still going on.

And now I know for sure that it's possible to experience flavors in a dream.

What's interesting about this is that for me this is a simple fact. For you, however, it's only anecdotal evidence.

Unless, of course, you've had a similar dream yourself. Then it's fact.

And every time someone declares what can and can't happen in dreams...

I wonder where they got their information from. How large was the study? How reliable was the methodology?

Surely they don't come up with such statements based on their own. Because then they'd be asking me to accept anecdotal evidence as fact.

Above: This is what a mailbox looks like in dreams. Except this is a real one I drove past today.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Gothic Philadelphia


In European Gothic literature, the horrors come from the past. But in Philadelphia Gothic literature, the horror is contemporary -- the serial killer, the vagabond lurking in the basement (something which come to think, some friends of mine discovered they had -- and in Philadelphia! -- so that part was prescient), the corrupt city fathers with a private club in which to practice their debaucheries.

Such, anyway was the essential thesis of a lecture given by Edward G. Pettit last night at the Glenside Free Library last night. Pettit is known locally as "the Philly Poe Guy," but admited he's an even bigger fan of George Lippard, author of The Quaker City or the Monks of Monk Hill, among many, many other works. (The guy produced over a million words a year before dying at the tragically young age of 29.)

Working in the tradition of Philadelphian Charles Brockden Brown, Lippard, along with Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Montgomery Bird, and Frank J. Webb, Lippard created a Gothic tradition that eschewed castles, monasteries, and other medieval sets and props for a literature of dark alleyways, locked doors, unlit basements... a strain that has never entirely left American literature and may currently be ascendant again.

I just now downloaded The Quaker City, easily the most scandalous book of its time, and read the introduction. In it, he wrote:

The motive which impelled me to write this Work may be stated in a few words.
I was the only Protector of an orphan Sister. I was fearful that I might be taken away by death, leaving her alone in the world. I knew too well that law of society which makes a vitue of the dishonor of a poor girl, while it justly holds the seduction of a rich man's child as an infamous crime. These thoughts impressed me deeply.  

Alas for George's sister, Lippard died young. But he left her provided for. You have to admire him for that.

Above: Edward G. Pettit. His presentation went over well. And he provided a reading list! So I was happy.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Most Expensive Ruby Slippers in the World


One of my favorite cartoons is titled Alice Meets Dorothy. Dorothy Gale looks pleased and Alice of Wonderland fame exclaims "Where'd you get those shoes?"

There were several sets of slippers employed in the making of The Wizard of Oz (the movie, I mean; the slippers in the book were silver), and one pair wound up in the Smithsonian, where they're one of that institution's most popular attractions.

Contemplate that for a moment. In a museum that contains the Hope Diamond, the flag that inspired The Star Spangled Banner, the Spirit of St. Louis, and artifacts from every great figure in American history, one of the most popular attractions, and by some accounts the most popular attraction is... a movie prop.

This is proof, if any were needed, of the power of a good story.

And these thoughts were occasioned by...

I saw a small item in the morning paper noting that the National Museum of American History is trying to raise three hundred thousand dollars to conserve Dorothy Gale's single best pair of shoes. Three hundred thousand dollars for a single pair of used shoes.

That's the power of a good story.

You can read what the Smithsonian has to say about the ruby slippers (and watch a video or two) here. You can read the StarTribune account of about the fundraising here. And if you want to contribute money for their conservation, the Kickstarter page is here.


Monday, October 17, 2016

This Baffling World


The cocktail shaker pictured above is the newest -- and, at three dollars, possibly the cheapest -- addition to my small collection of barware. It is also the most baffling.

A Pepsi Cola shaker? Seriously. What kind of cocktail involves vigorously tumbling a carbonated beverage in a cocktail shaker?

Other than a Cuba Mentos, I mean.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Vacation In A Box


Last week, you'll recall, I spent at Undisclosed Location, down the Shore, and did nothing.

Above is the diary that Marianne and I kept of that week. It contains pebbles, sea glass, mermaids' toenails, swan's down (from mute swans), a very handsome leaf, and so on.

The diary is nonlinear, not text-based, and adamantly unmonetizable.

Also proof, as I said, that I spent an entire week doing nothing.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Bob Dylan Setting Foot On The Road To Stockholm


Everybody's heard by now that Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Some people are getting snarky about it going to him rather than their own personal favorite singer-songwriter, and others are calling those people out for their snark.

Not me, though. I applaud the selection and feel that there can be no more sincere homage to the man than snarking about it. He was, after all, the king of snarkitude.

To prove it, here's an excerpt from the Nat Hentoff interview (you can find the whole hilarious thing here) in Playboy, back when he was only 24:

PLAYBOY: Mistake or not, what made you decide to go the rock-'n'-roll route?

DYLAN: Carelessness. I lost my one true love. I started drinking. The first thing I know, I'm in a card game. Then I'm in a crap game. I wake up in a pool hall. Then this big Mexican lady drags me off the table, takes me to Philadelphia. She leaves me alone in her house, and it burns down. I wind up in Phoenix. I get a job as a Chinaman. I start working in a dime store, and move in with a 13-year-old girl. Then this big Mexican lady from Philadelphia comes in and burns the house down. I go down to Dallas. I get a job as a "before" in a Charles Atlas "before and after" ad. I move in with a delivery boy who can cook fantastic chili and hot dogs. Then this 13-year-old girl from Phoenix comes and burns the house down. The delivery boy - he ain't so mild: He gives her the knife, and the next thing I know I'm in Omaha. It's so cold there, by this time I'm robbing my own bicycles and frying my own fish. I stumble onto some luck and get a job as a carburetor out at the hot-rod races every Thursday night. I move in with a high school teacher who also does a little plumbing on the side, who ain't much to look at, but who's built a special kind of refrigerator that can turn newspaper into lettuce. Everything's going good until that delivery boy shows up and tries to knife me. Needless to say, he burned the house down, and I hit the road. The first guy that picked me up asked me if I wanted to be a star. What could I say?

PLAYBOY: And that's how you became a rock-'n'-roll singer?

DYLAN: No, that's how I got tuberculosis.

You have to admit, that's not bad. Kid's got a future ahead of him.

Doesn't suffer fools gladly, though.

Above: Image swiped from GAMbIT Magazine. You can find their list of Dylan's 75 best songs here.