Yesterday afternoon I got to sit in on a discussion of my seventeen-year-old novel The Ragged World.
How did this come about, you ask. The public library in Swarthmore PA, the town where I live during the fall and winter, was chosen by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council to sponsor a series of book discussion programs. This fall the subject is Pennsylvania writers writing about Pennsylvania. The Ragged World
is set mostly in Delaware County PA outside Philadelphia (as is Swarthmore itself, town and college); the leader, Rachel Pastan--a novelist who teaches writing at Swarthmore College--had read it and decided to include it in the list.
The discussion quickly revealed that none of the attenders, not a single one, had ever read a science-fiction novel before. They approached my book with caution, but seemed to have gotten interested in the story, or at least in the characters and their relationships. I kept quiet for about half the hour, but then--and this was very cool--got my chance to talk about sf, what it can do, what it's good for, why people love it. How it can address problems (environmentalism in the case of this book) in ways that mainstream can't, run thought experiments, enter the future imaginatively, you know the kind of thing. I explained how I had read a lot of sf and fantasy as a kid, stopped reading it in college, then discovered Ursula Le Guin and realized it had become possible to write the stuff in a way that had genuine literary distinction. I told them about Sturgeon's Law. I said, with apologies to Rachel, that literary sf is harder
to write than mainstream fiction, because you have to do everything a mainstream novelist does in the way of plotting and creating rounded characters and textured settings, but also invent the world of your story from the inside out, whether this is another planet or a future or alternative earth. I waxed eloquent if I say so myself. Having been out of the classroom for some years now, I'd kind of forgotten how it feels to be passionately engaged in revealing the wonders of speculative fiction to a new audience, but, like riding a bicycle, it all came flooding back. ( Read more...Collapse )
I was born in Louisville, have lived part-time in Kentucky for the past ten years, AND Vols. II and III of my Holy Ground Trilogy are mostly or partly set in northern Kentucky. Any of these facts qualifies me to apply to hawk my wares at the 27th Kentucky Book Fair, held this past Saturday in the Convention Center in Frankfort. It's a huge annual event for the selling of books of every sort, and despite the economy, which had everybody nervous, once again it did well. All the KY papers cover the fair; see http://www.state-journal.com/news/article/4467663 for one informative story. In 1992 I sold nine hardcover copies of
Time, Like an Ever-Rolling Stream, which had just been published. This year I sold twice as many books, but most of the sales were mass-market paperbacks--not so good.
I wrote up a report for David Hartwell this morning, and will just copy that here and embellish it a bit:
The turnout was huge despite the downpour, people were definitely buying books, though maybe not spending as much on them as in other years. I sold 10 paperback Ragged Worlds
and 7 Time, Like an Ever-Rolling Streams,
the entire stock of those that I'd brought along, but only one hardcover Ragged
and only two (2) Bird Shamans
--disappointing, that last, since that's what I had gone there to flog. (One full set of hardcover Ragged-Time-Birds
did sell at the discounted library sale the day before.) It is NOT like a dealers' room. You have to be a huckster, snagging people as they pass by and pushing the product energetically, talking above the hubbub, for 7-8 hours without a break. I was better at that than you might think, but I got exhausted, and beyond exhausted. ( Read more...Collapse )
I did get the hieroglyphics right, the blogger replied, the internet continually astonishes.
It also occurs to me that I used some stuff from the homestead experiment in The Bird Shaman--the ducks, for instance, and a lot of gardening lore, known (and written about) previously but brought to a higher pitch of expertise that summer.
While idly Googling myself this evening, I was startled and kind of thrilled to happen upon a note, posted this very day, October 29TH, 2008, on a site called gpbookblog, about my 1995 nonfiction book Homestead Year: Back to the Land in Suburbia (Lyons & Burford). The blogger writes:
"Most people, especially SI FI readers, will know Judith Moffett for her science fiction. I am not a big SI FI fan but I did love Judith Moffett’s Homestead Year. Homestead Year is the true account of the year in which Judith Moffett attempted to live “off the land” of her suburban plot in Pennsylvania. She details every aspect from her complex garden to her bee hives from which she extracts honey. She even has ducks! And all of this is literally in her own backyard. She succeeds in many ways, fails in others but tells an interesting and compelling story along the way. If you are a gardener or just wish you were or you have ever dreamed of raising ducks in your backyard then you will definitely enjoy this book. Check your library and, of course, the regular online sources; Amazon, Albris, BarnesandNoble." (Also my attic, where some dozen mint copies can be found.)
Wow. It's arguable, and quite possible, that by running the suburban homesteading experiment that turned into this book, I make the tactical error from which my career in SF was never to recover. Having published a novel in 1987, then another 1991 and its sequel in 1992 (the thinking goes), I should have been beavering away at Vol. 3 that summer of '92, instead of digging fishponds for catfish and bluegills, herding Cayuga ducks into the garden with a wand, and hiving swarms. It was a great year, and I love the book that came of it, but there's no denying that taking on such a project was not the decision of a focused career-builder. So imagine my pleasure when out of the ether a person whose name I never heard before announces that she loved that old, long-OP book too.
I tried to leave a comment but I'm not sure I read the hieroglyphics right and it may not have worked. In case it didn't, I thought I would leave a comment here, so that if the blogger, Gayle Parks, should happen to be idly Googling herself some evening, she might come across it.
The current issue of F&SF contains a feature article by Susan Elizabeth Lyons, entitled Women Writing Science Fiction: Some Voices from the Trenches
). Lyons contacted 31 women writers and got 15 replies, one of them from me. I was included because Gordon Van Gelder, editor of F&SF, asked Lyons to include me; he thought the survey should represent at least one woman writer in the field whose career, after early promise, had NOT worked out.
Ironically enough, to the best of my knowledge this regrettable fact has nothing to do with my being a woman. I go into detail in the interview about what it does have to do with. Specifically, I discuss my difficulties when I tried to break back in with The Bird Shaman
. After my agent gave up, and I had to face the question of self-publication, the problems seemed to boil down to these: "The book was long; while I'd been out of the loop, length had become an issue. The book had 'midlist' written all over it. The book—and I found this difficult to credit—was still haunted [in 2006] by the poor sales numbers of my 1992 novel Time, Like an Ever-Rolling Stream
. And of course I and my work had long since dropped off the radar screen, a fact not much affected by the appearance in F&SF of versions of parts of the novel, in 1998, 2003, and [eventually] 2007."
I didn't mention it, but I'm pretty sure the subject matter also contributed to my difficulties. The Bird Shaman
deals with child sexual abuse, and it treats the Mormon Church in a way that members and leaders are bound to consider unflattering. Utah pioneer history has its heroic side, which is also reflected in the novel, but who among us weighs admiration as heavily as criticism?
Anyway, it's an interesting article that provides insight into the experiences of a number of high-profile women writers, and I recommend it.
My self-published novel The Bird Shaman gets reviewed by Faren Miller in the October 2008 issue of Locus, and she thinks pretty well of it. Self-published POD science fiction does not get covered by Publisher's Weekly or Library Journal or the NYTBR, ever so far as I know, which makes a Locus review an awfully important event for the book in question. By such slender threads does legitimacy dangle. It happens that Faren M reviewed this novel's entirely legitimate (St. Martin's) siblings, 16 and 17 years ago--I know, that's a long time--and so is uniquely placed to speak with authority about them all. And here is part of what she says:
"Judith Moffett began the trilogy now called Holy Ground back in 1991 with The Ragged World (reviewed in #360), a science-fantasy mosaic novel set in a future world where various human lives encounter the extraordinary when powerful aliens and their gnome-like intermediaries the Hefn intervene to save us from ourselves, in a near-future Earth threatened with ecological collapse.
"Sequel Time, Like an Ever-Rolling Stream (reviewed in #379) had the traditionally difficult middle-book task of chronicling failure without driving the reader away... Middle-Book Syndrome nearly capsized the entire ambitious project, for Moffett lost her big-name publisher and it has taken 16 years, and resort to a very small press, to bring the trilogy to conclusion withThe Bird Shaman. For fans and interested readers of the previous books, is it worth the wait? Indeed it is!"
To convey adequately how glad I am that she thinks so is difficult, but I expect you can guess. I'll add that even if you're not a fan or an interested reader of Volumes I and II, The Bird Shaman was deliberately written as a stand-alone; there's no need to be familiar with Ragged and Time to follow the action. Though it helps, naturally, and copies of both are still kicking around Amazon, to say nothing of the hardcovers and paperbacks of both titles stored in my attic.
A lot of things don't change because of this. But things do change a little bit, for the better.
I won't get to Capclave till Saturday afternoon, but here's (the programmed part of) what I'll be doing for the 24 hours I'll be there:
E.T. Phone Earth: First Contact and Alien Communication Sat 2pm Montrose
Lawrence Schoen, Judith Moffett, Tom McCabe, Victoria Janssen
What happens when humans meet aliens? How might we communicate with them? What barriers stand in the way? How have different SF stories, TV, and movies addressed this situation?
I used to lecture on this when I was teaching Science Fiction as Literature at Penn. As panel topics go, an oldie but a goodie. Alien contact sf is my favorite kind and almost the only kind I write.
Science versus religion Sat 5pm Plaza II
Sam Scheiner, James Morrow, Judith Moffett, Victoria Strauss, C. Alan Loewen
Must science and religion be adversaries? In an age of “teach the controversy” can there be compromises between them? How do we make Americans science literate at a time when more than half do not believe in evolution? What happens when scientific discoveries conflict with religious belief? And are they even speaking the same language?
I asked with special fervor to be on this one. I was brought up a Conservative Baptist; evolution was the concept that split me away from that church, but not, or not permanently, from an interest in things spiritual. Three of my four novels deal with established religions (Quakerism, Baptist Fundamentalism, Mormonism). In addition to wrangling Mormons, The Bird Shaman invents an ecological religion. Its Gaians are nature mystics and pagans; science in the form of James Lovelock's Gaia theory is the bedrock on which their movement is built. Lead me to it.
Reading Sun 12pm Twinbrook
This will be a selection from The Bird Shaman. Copies will be available from David Hartwell in the Dealers' Room.
I thought I knew all the bad things about self-publication. (I did know so many that it took me a VERY long time to decide to go that route.) Turns out there are lots of bad things I didn't have a clue about till they happened, and one of them is that none of the trade journals will review you. Not Library Journal
, not Kirkus
, not Booklist
, not PW
even if one of their regular reviewers requests
the book--doesn't matter how much they loved your other books. So I am extremely happy to report that The Bird Shaman
has had its first review, by Kilian Melloy, in the online gay magazine EDGE: Boston
. Herewith, a snippet for your delectation:
"This book is the long-awaited third installment in a trilogy that also includes the novels The Ragged World
and Time, Like An Ever-Rolling Stream
. It’s not necessary to be familiar with the previous books to enjoy The Bird Shaman
; author Judith Moffett works all the background relevant to the story at hand into the course of the narrative, creating a seamless and complete novel that stands alone quite nicely.
"Part of the reason this book succeeds so well as its own work comes from how well Moffett allows the tenets of her story to guide the character and the parameters of the world she builds, a place characterized by horse-drawn carriages as well as by exotic technological advances. In the process, Moffett explores the equally alien worlds of the extraterrestrials who rule earth with a heavy guiding hand, and the vanished tribes of indigenous Americans whose rock art provide the only clue to the visions that may have given cultures long vanished a glimpse at humanity’s dubious future."
Check out the full treatment at http://www.edgeboston.com/index.php?ch=entertainment&sc=books&sc2=reviews&sc3=fiction&id=79685
This is a little morality tale about how you never know which seemingly insignificant thing that's happening in the present will turn out to be meaningful somewhere way up there in the future.
At Readercon I was doing my stint at the autographing table when a guy came up and introduced himself as Marty Halpern. He said he'd waited at the end of the line (no, it wasn't all that long) because he wanted to ask me a question: Why the 16-year gap between Time, Like an Ever-Rolling Stream--Vol. 2 of my Holy Ground Trilogy--and the just-published Vol. 3, The Bird Shaman? A good question with a long answer. We fell into conversation. He had a signed copy of my first novel, Pennterra, which I hardly ever see nowadays, and we tried to figure out which con we might have both attended, where I might have signed it. Neither of us had a clue. The conversation went on for a while, however, and I found out some things about Marty and he found out some about me. You know the kind of thing. A pleasant con encounter, with no identifiable past and no probable future. He offered to send some suggestions about publicity after he got home, but I wasn't going to take that to the bank.( Read more...Collapse )
- Tags:barbara willner, gardner dozois, greg frost, homestead year, marianne porter, marty halpern, michael swanwick, morality tale, organic gardening, pennterra, sheila williams, susan casper
- Mood:weirded out