Author Archives: quintinkreth

McIntyre Interview with Quintin Kreth

Special thanks to Vonda. This project was only possible with her help and generosity. VondaVignette-PSDtoGIF

Throughout this term, I have primarily studied the life, correspondence, and published works of Vonda N. McIntyre, a Pacific Northwest science fiction author. McIntyre was born in Louisville, Kentucky on August 28, 1948 and has lived primarily in Seattle since  her family settled there in the early 1960s. She is a 3-time winner of the Nebula Award and also won the 1979 Hugo Award for her acclaimed novel Dreamsnake.

After McIntyre spoke to our class in early November, I decided that I wanted to go further in-depth with my questions and conduct an interview with her to share with the class. You now have that interview, below. To develop my questions, I worked in the University of Oregon’s Special Collections, mainly in the Joanna Russ and Ursula K. Le Guin papers. It was a really interesting experience to be able to read through the letters of someone only a few years older than myself experiencing an earlier moment in history. McIntyre’s letters gave me a different, and better, perspective on many of the issues facing the country and young women in particular in the 1970s.

For additional background on Vonda, please see Kelsie’s excellent Wikipedia article: Vonda N. McIntyre. It provides a nice biography and bibliography.

flourish

Quintin – In your early 20’s, you left your PhD program in genetics at University of Washington and consequently began to write for a living. At that time, did you think writing would be your career, or something to do with your BS in Biology? At what point did you consider yourself a professional writer, as opposed to an amateur? What did that change mean to you?

Vonda – When I quit grad school, it was because I realized that as a research scientist, I made a very good SF writer. I already considered myself a professional writer. I had sold several stories, beginning in the summer of 1969, and had joined SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America, now Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, www.sfwa.org ), and had some interest in my first novel.Walking on DNA

How did your relationships with other members of the sci-fi community change as you made the transition from fan/amateur to peer? (Especially Joanna Russ, Ursula K. Le Guin, James Tiptree, etc.)

I met Russ and Le Guin after I’d sold a number of stories.

Russ was one of my instructors at the 1970 Clarion Writers Workshop in Clarion, PA. Our relationship was generally that of teacher and student.

I met Ursula at the 1971 SFWA Nebula banquet in Berkeley, CA. After talking to her for about 37 nanoseconds, I asked if she would teach at the first Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle that coming summer. She agreed. (She was wonderful, and taught at all three sessions of the first incarnation of Clarion West, 1971-72-73.) She has always treated me as a peer, even when I was an ignorant pup, for which I’ll be eternally grateful.

I never met Tiptree. Our by-mail relationship began when Susan Anderson and I bought “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” for our humanist anthology of SF stories, Aurora: Beyond Equality. She called me when she knew Tiptree was about to be outed. She was afraid people would hate her for not being Tiptree. I don’t know of anyone who changed their high opinion of Tip/Alli after the revelation. I was glad to know her as both Tip and as Alli. Aurora

You spoke a lot with Joanna Russ about your take on the feminist movement in the 1970s as a young woman. What do you feel has changed for women today, both at the university-level in general and in the sciences specifically? What about for beginning female authors?

As I’m neither an academic nor a scientist, I’m not qualified to answer the first question. There’s a good bit of discussion going on about the subject on various science and academic blogs, and I encourage you to search them out.

I would have hoped that things would have changed more, forty years down the line, but you still run into people who think there’s little or no room for women (or people of color) in SF — as writers, as readers, as characters. I thought we already fought that fight in the 1970s, and am appalled by the abuse directed at women SF writers and writers of color. This despite their having invigorated the field with original work and new perspectives. You have to wonder what some people are afraid of. Emilie du Chatelet

Something Kelsie pointed out was the parallel between your apartment in Seattle getting robbed in college (and your files taken) and Snake having her journal stolen by the crazy in Dreamsnake. Did real life inspire fiction here? How do things in your own life inspire your writing?

I don’t remember consciously making that connection, but it certainly could have been an inspiration. I don’t often base stories on specific events in my own life. I think events have to go through a fermentation process before they’re fit for fictional use. Fermentation

As a young author, you didn’t hire a literary agent until after you won your first Nebula Award in 1973. Was this a conscious choice? I also saw that you continued to handle a lot of business affairs as an anthology editor and workshop organizer, even afterward. Do you like the financial management aspect of authorship, or was this a bit of Northwest DIY-ism?

At the time, a writer didn’t need an agent to submit short stories, and I believe that’s pretty much still true. The payment for short stories is so low, for most SF writers, that it isn’t worthwhile for an agent to negotiate a short story contract.

I negotiated the contract for my first novel myself. It ended up being a pretty good contract, partly because Fawcett Gold Medal, which published The Exile Waiting, had a decent boilerplate contract that didn’t require a great deal of negotiation, and partly because SFWA has a lot of information available for new writers about contracts. And also because the editor, Joseph Elder, was a good and fair editor.

Contracts these days are grabby and greedy. Often the most objectionable clauses are the least negotiable. Even with an agent watching your back, sometimes you have to say “No” and walk away.

When I was ready to submit Dreamsnake for publication, I was also ready to find an agent. I was lucky in my choice, Frances Collin, who still represents me.

I don’t particularly enjoy financial management. After Aurora, I didn’t edit another anthology till Nebula Awards Showcase 2004. I didn’t handle the finances of the first incarnation of Clarion West (1971-1973), and though I’ve taught at the second incarnation (1984-present), other folks run it — much more competently that I would have done. The Exile Waiting Cover Art

I grew up on the eastern side of the Oregon Coast Range, and I’m curious about how you were affected by your experience living at the Le Guin Cabin in Rose Lodge, Oregon? I understand you primarily lived there as you gained notoriety as an author and produced your first novel. How did the isolation of the PNW rainforest affect you? 

I was very grateful to have the cabin to stay in. I enjoyed the solitude. If I was notorious as a writer I was, I’m afraid, unaware of that. I don’t believe I’ve been back to Rose Lodge since I moved out of the cabin and returned to Seattle and, after a year or so renting a Lake Forest Park mother-in-law apartment, bought a house.

by Charles Le Guin

by Charles Le Guin

More so than other authors we’ve read in our class, you have worked in Hollywood and in television. What motivated you to take your work in that direction? Were you influenced by Harlan Ellison? Could you talk a bit about the upcoming production of The Moon and the Sun?

I haven’t worked in Hollywood or in television. I wrote some teleplays when I was a pup — if I wrote an on spec teleplay, the series was sure to be cancelled the day after I finished.

I wrote two screenplays at the Chesterfield Company’s Writers Film Project (sponsored by Amblin Entertainment and Universal Studios) in Los Angeles, one of which turned into the novel The Moon and the Sun, which is scheduled to begin filming in the spring of 2014. They aren’t, however, using my screenplay. I can’t tell you anything more than you can find on the Internet, except that it’s going to be beautiful.

You may be thinking of the tie-in novels that I’ve written, mostly for Star Trek. They were great fun, but they don’t qualify as “working in Hollywood.” Most tie-in writers don’t hang out on the set or with the actors or the producers or the directors. Most tie-in writers for movies don’t get to see the movie before the book has to be finished. You’re lucky if you see a few publicity stills. (Any or all of that may have changed since the last time I wrote a tie-in novel.) The deadlines were usually pretty ferocious, so mostly what I did was write till I was too tired to work any more, sleep for a while, get up, and go back to writing. VondaNMcIntyre_Starfarers600x900-1

I’ve blogged about tie-in work a couple of times. You might find the essays interesting, or at least amusing:

http://bookviewcafe.com/blog/2013/06/20/best-of-the-blog-writing-star-trek-novels-or-why-dont-you-get-a-morally-acceptable-job/

http://bookviewcafe.com/blog/2013/08/30/my-first-computer-osborne-i/

And of course the Starfarers Quartet started out as the best SF miniseries never made:

http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/starfarers/

http://bookviewcafe.com/blog/2009/10/18/casting-starfarers/

http://bookviewcafe.com/blog/2009/10/25/casting-starfarers-update/

http://bookviewcafe.com/blog/2009/12/27/the-starfarers-quartet/

http://bookviewcafe.com/blog/2010/03/21/starfarers-the-miniseries-cast/

Citations:

McIntyre, Vonda N. University of Oregon Special Collections (Eugene, OR), Joanna Russ Papers, “Correspondance with Vonda  N. McIntyre, 1970-1988,” Box 8, Folders 18-25. Accessed October-December 2013.

McIntyre, Vonda N. University of Oregon Special Collections (Eugene, OR), Ursula Le Guin Papers [RESTRICTED], “Correspondance with Vonda N. McIntyre,” Box 22, Folders 11-14. Accessed November 2013.


Anthropomorphism in Yesterday’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

I thought yesterday’s comic was timely, based on our class discussion

Here’s the comic, enjoy: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

 


Why Ygor? [Vonda]

Dear master, good master,

It seems like I have a lot of questions and very little time. This is a painful contrivance. I’m sure I won’t get a chance to ask many of them tomorrow, a lot wouldn’t apply unless someone had read your letters and I don’t want to waste their time. I put some thought into these, though. Hopefully, the chance comes later this week, some time. I feel that this entire term (esp. working in the archives), we have been less learning and more developing questions about fiction and authors that yearn to be answered. I want to know.

In your early 20’s, you left your PhD program in genetics at UW and began writing in order to make a living. At that time, did you think writing would be your career, or something to do with your BA in Biology? At what point did you consider yourself a professional writer, as opposed to an amateur? What did that change mean to you?

How did your relationships with other members of the SF community change as you made the transition from fan to peer? (Esp. Russ, Le Guin, Tiptree, etc.)

Something Kelsie pointed out was the parallel between your apartment in Seattle getting robbed in college (and your files taken) and Snake having her journal stolen by the crazy in Dreamsnake. Did real life inspire fiction here? How do things in your own life inspire your writing?

So, as a young author, you didn’t hire/find a literary agent until after you won your first Nebula Award in 1973. Was this a conscious choice? … I also saw that you continued to handle a lot of business affairs as an anthology editor and workshop organized even afterwards. Do you like the financial management aspect of writing, or was this a bit of Northwest do-it-yourselfism?

As a long-time resident of the Coast Range, how were you affected by your experience living at the Le Guin Cabin in Rose Lodge? … Did you spend more time there after the mid-1970s?

You spoke a lot with Joanna Russ about your take on the feminist movement in the 1970s as a young woman. What do you feel has changed for women today, both at the university-level in general and in the sciences specifically? … What about for beginning female authors?

More so than a lot of the other authors we’ve read in our class, you have worked in Hollywood and in television. What motivated you to take your work in that direction? Was it your influence from Harlan Ellison? … Would you care to talk a bit about the upcoming production of The Moon and the Sun?

Speaking of Harlan Ellison, I was really surprised in one of your letters to see that you came up with the term “Speculative Fiction” to describe his work. Is that correct?

You seemed to collect a lot of hotel stationary. What was the best you’ve ever found?

Hopefully, the opportunity arises sometime soon.

Sincerely,

Quintin Kreth.


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Crown of Stars, by the Estate of James Tiptree, Jr.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Crown of Stars is a posthumous collection of Alice Sheldon [aka James Tiptree, Jr.]’s unpublished short stories and those published in the final years of her career. It is copyrighted to “the Estate of Alice B. Sheldon” and was first published in 1988 by Tom Doherty Associates. Crown of Stars is 340 pages in length. As is common with posthumous printings of unfinished works, there are a few excellent, classic stories set amongst a number of awkward and disjointed pieces. Here we have ten short stories that generally represent Sheldon’s last contributions to literature, advertised to include her final burst of creativity.  I’m going to break the work down, story by story, since they vary vastly in tone and intended audience. I will mainly focus on the stronger works in the collection. A major flaw of this anthology is that it would be difficult for all the works to appeal to one person. The musical pairings are optional.

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looms.” Friedrich Nietzsche Alice Sheldon. 

The first two stories in Crown of Stars: “Second Going” and “Our Resident Djinn” are about God, gods, and the death of God. They are written for the middle-school level up. “Second Going” is the collection’s centerpiece, a true sci-fi classic. Narrated as a documentary from NASA’s chief archivist, we learn of humanity’s First Contact. Interstellar-wandering, telepathic aliens contact Earth after we launch our first mission to Mars, stating that they will meet with the astronauts once they arrive. The Angli (large, blue cephalopods) turn out to be benevolent, if technologically simple, space tourists. They are interested in spending several months exploring Earth, then moving on. They are puzzled, though, by the lack of temporal gods on Earth; which exist on every other planet they’ve visited. Hmm….  If you read just one story from Crown of Stars, this is the one.

The next two stories, “Morality Meat,” and “All This and Heaven Too,” are a microcosm of tonal problems in this anthology. “Morality Meat,” is easily the third best story here and a pure, white-knuckle sci-fi horror story. It’s also the most unabashedly feminist story, by a mile.  I won’t spoil the story for you, even though this work makes Animal Farm look coy and subtle.  Basically, this is the tale of a 16-year-old black girl living in a right-wing, dystopian future California. After being raped, she has become a single mother, since abortions are illegal. She is forced to give her baby up for adoption, since she cannot afford to feed two. The story is incredibly dark and is not suitable for children. It is thought-provoking and worth the read, but quite grotesque.

“All This and Heaven Too,” on the other hand, is a pleasant summer idle about young lovers, fairy-tale geopolitics, and ridiculous court intrigue. Set in a happy, utopian kingdom and an adjacent polluted, industrial  kingdom, the principalities’ heirs astonishingly fall in love. (Who’d have thunk it?) This story isn’t really suitable for adults. It’s insipidly sweet and not very well-written. It feels middle school. After reading taut horror in “Morality Meat,” I was really disappointed by this cheesy fantasy.  You wouldn’t expect to see them in the same collection, let alone side-by-side.

“Yanqui Doodle,” is the fifth story and might be the best overall. The US is fighting a full-fledged war in Latin-America and the Congressional Armed Services Committee is on a tour of the front and will soon stop at a field hospital to visit the wounded. Soldiers are encouraged to take government-issued drugs (mainly amphetamines) to become remorseless killing machines. A soldier is recovering from a landmine explosion in this field hospital and it quickly becomes clear that drug withdrawal is a far more serious concern than his wounds. This is also a horror story, although more psychological. I really liked it, both for the dark humor and intelligence, even if it isn’t very original.

The sixth story, “Come Live With Me,” and the second, “Our Resident Djinn,” are both good, light, fun stories that are both thought-provoking for adults and appealing to middle-schoolers.

Our last four stories, “Last Night and Every Night,” “Backward, Turn Backward,” “The Earth Doth Like a Snake Renew,” and “In Midst of Life,” are just not very good. Only the first was published before Tiptree’s death. “Last Night,” and “Midst,” are about humans made into Death’s servants. They are dull and fairly uninteresting.  “The Earth Doth Like a Snake Renew,” is just awful and unabashedly anti-feminist. I find it interesting that Russ’ criticism of Tiptree’s portrayals of women still hold water in stories written after Sheldon’s outing.

*SPOILERS* “Backward, Turn Backward,” is the most disturbing thing I have ever read. I hate myself for even picking it up. It’s horror, although not as scary as the other two, but the meaning and context is stomach-turning. It’s also anti-feminist and an awful, self-loathing thing. The story is a tale of a girl who ends up murdering the boy who saves her and makes her happy (though he doesn’t give her everything she always wanted) by shooting him in the back in bed, which also kills her due to time-travel. A few months after this was written, Alice Sheldon shot her husband, then herself, in their bed. It’s a murderer’s fantasy. I walked away convinced that Sheldon murdered her husband and that it was not really a willing double-suicide, as is sometimes suggested. If you’re researching Tiptree, I think reading this work would give you a bit of perspective. But, it hurts your soul.

It’s damn near impossible to summarize Crown of Stars. Flights of childlike fancy among horrors that scar the mind. Feminism and woman-hating are side-by-side. The contradictions are too much and the house falls. Consider reading some stories from this book, but not the whole book. Or, maybe, that’s just life and we all need to learn how to compartmentalize.


Hyperbole and a Half

Image

http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/

Hyperbole and a Half is a popular webcomic/blog that’s one of the best things to be produced on the internet in the last five years. Even if you haven’t read it, you’ve probably seen the images Allie Brosh has drawn for her posts. I recommend anyone read the “Best of” posts on the right sidebar. Her firsthand accounts of depression and anxiety would be interesting to anyone researching authors who struggle with mental illness. Brosh is an Oregon author and lives in Bend.


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