Thoughts . . . by Mark Rich

. . . scribbled . . . scrawled . . . trimmed . . . typewritten . . . grubbed up . . . squeezed from circumstance . . .

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Culture of Collaboration

In Steven Silver's review, I like that he uses the phrase "culture of collaboration" in relation to the Futurians. Cyril's personality seems to have included a considerable appreciation for working in a cooperative manner. This stood him in good stead with the other Futurians, in learning the ropes of his craft while spending weekends in their company. It also put him in the position of having his talents being used to others' advantage, unfortunately. He was a writer of such conscious ability that I believe he knew what he was providing to his elders, including Wollheim, in terms of writing quality. At the same time, however, I believe he little realized how much he was giving away in terms of writing value.

In the biography, I begin the work of establishing to what degree the young Cyril Kornbluth wrote works which later would be attributed to other, senior writers.

The "collaborative culture" mainly involved Dirk Wylie/Harry Dockweiler, Richard Wilson, and Kornbluth, with Wollheim and others also participating. Perhaps because of his personal power in the group, the "collaborative" work involving Wollheim tended to be on a contractual basis -- which is why at least some of Kornbluth's writings disappeared from sight. Kornbluth's most important writing partnership during Futurian days was probably, indeed, with the Futurian chief -- although until Wollheim's papers become available it will likely remain unknown how many stories Kornbluth wrote that would end up attributed to the older Futurian.

Cheers ...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Author Shot

An Author Shot

Actually no more than portions of two hands, one of them hidden within a wrecked leather glove, are visible here of the author. In most of my previous lives I looked like what these hands hold, however; and no doubt in my next earthly cycle, having earned enough cosmic bonus points by writing the Kornbluth biography, I will return to the simple and contented state of once more looking this way.

March is not quite over and already Bufo americanus has come twice into my life, both times because of my spadework. As best I could tell, fortunately, I hurt neither one. (Last year Martha dug up two, too, around this time of year.) A few days ago I uncovered one next to the blueberries; yesterday, I spaded up some dirt to fling it deeper into another garden plot -- and saw this upside-down, pale-bellied thing with gangly limbs akimbo where I had tossed the spadeful.

I brought it inside to let it say hello to Martha; and since Martha happened to be photographing a few small items in the kitchen, I thrust the philosophic creature into digital immortality -- a little close to the camera, admittedly.

Cheers ...

Short, and Huge

It will be interesting watching reviews as they appear -- presuming that more do appear -- to see what aspects of the book they choose to mention, out of the many presented in the biography. Some reviewers will come at it without realizing how many new topics are being addressed in the book, how many facts are being published that have never reached print before, and how many areas that were previously fogged over by historical obfuscation are being shown with some clarity for the first time. Most will have no idea to what degree such historical obfuscation was imposed upon Cyril's story by others whose careers impinged upon his, and whose careers were lifted and perhaps even created thanks to his literary muscle.

The scope of the biography took on ambitious proportions, during its writing -- and while I undoubtedly fell short in some areas, I can state as a simple factual matter that the resulting book contains an incredible amount of information. I say "incredible" because the amount still seems so to me -- even a year after finishing the task of completing the manuscript. The book, paperback, measures fifteen-sixteenths of an inch across the spine (according to the nifty brass-and-wood Craftsman caliper I picked up at an auction), has more than 400 pages of text comprising well over 200,000 words ... and it has thirty-four chapters, each of which is split into various subsections ... so how could any single review of a few hundred words length, or even a few thousand words length, consider all its aspects?

Such a short life, and so huge a subject.

Cheers ...

Monday, March 29, 2010

New Review of the Kornbluth Biography

Another favorable review has just appeared. Steven H. Silver has reviewed C.M. Kornbluth: The Life and Works of a Science Fiction Visionary at SF Site (

A snippet: "Rich's work is a wonderful memorial to Cyril Kornbluth. ... C.M. Kornbluth: The Life and Works of a Science Fiction Visionary succeeds admirably at being what other author autobiographies only hope to achieve. For anyone interested n the evolution of science fiction, as both a literary genre and a culture, Rich's work is required reading."

Happily, Silver recognizes that the level of scholarship in CMK is of a different level from that which is found in many histories of science fiction. Happily, too, he understands that the book is deeply concerned with larger science fiction history.

It was no exercise in cameo portraiture -- and how nice for that to be noted.

Cheers ...

Cheaper Coin

I wonder if the advent of electrical refrigeration made possible not only the wider distribution of national beer brands but also the gradual lowering of quality of those national brands. Over the course of a relatively few decades, the populace grew accustomed to drinking beer cold -- which meant that the populace grew used to tasting fewer of the beer's flavors, because of that coldness. Once the popular palate's expectations were lowered, beer quality could be altered in ways that "had no effect" on flavor.

Some beer recipes presumably remained the same, from the later 1800s, when several famous brands reached for and achieved national prominence, through to the later 1900s: yet even if the recipes were "the same" on paper, the brewing industry's practices and procedures and additives changed, so that the results changed.

What was it like to drink, for instance, a Pabst or a Budweiser in the 1890s? Production had increased to an unprecedented degree -- yet the grains were being grown without intensive use of industry-produced chemicals, on soils that were relatively unstressed. The flavor must have been marvelous -- or it would have been, could our contemporary taste buds be transported back for a sip of that bygone beverage.

To the then-contemporary taste buds, though, it was simply good beer.

Cheers ...

Friday, March 26, 2010

Oil and Soil

Once you have begun to realize that local products are often superior to nationally or globally distributed ones, it becomes an ethical choice on multiple levels to use those local products.

Normally as consumers we adopt a non-ethical viewpoint, which we call "cost-economy" -- which is money-cost economy. Money-cost economics are deceptive economics because of Western industrial society's continuing habit of deferring debts into the indefinite future by the expedient of assigning zero monetary value to nonrenewable resources. The cost of "cheap" mass-farmed corn, for instance, is based not only on price-supports for the intensive use of petroleum products in the corn's growing, harvesting and distribution, with those price-supports helping raise at an ever-greater rate the real debt related to that dwindling resource -- but also on soil cost. In the U.S., the soil cannot be brought back to farmland from the Gulf of Mexico. Yet money-cost economics means that the sole sensible activity for the consumer is to buy the corn that is "cheapest."

Money-cost economics is the bedrock philosophy of our Age of the Masses. It has been a cheap age in many senses of the word.

Cheers ...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Toward Oblivion

Dedication to the small press is, I think, admirable. If you are a writer, there is little or no pay for the writing you do, true enough. Yet even in professional publications there is little pay for what you do.

It was more the failure to realize much financial reward from professional magazines that nearly drove me out of science fiction, after writing quite a bit for those magazines in the early to middle 1990s. The low payment of the small press helped not at all -- but hardly worsened the situation. The small press never offered much promise, in terms of payment. I had been involved in the small press since the 1970s and knew what it was to write "for the love of it" -- for the testing of the spirit that it represented, for the challenge, and of course for the reward ... the reward, that is, of accomplishment.

In some ways small-press accomplishment is lasting in a way professional-press accomplishment often is not. It has a life that is sustained, oddly enough, by its very inconsequence; by its being positioned somewhat askew to the hustle-bustle currents of the mass-production marketplace; by its outsider status. Commercial books are pulped by the thousands -- perhaps by the tens and hundreds of thousands -- and if not pulped then are forgotten by the millions, if not by the tens and hundreds of millions. Commercial books rush headlong into the oblivion toward which small-press books creep with patient fortitude -- with a motion that often seems no motion at all, it is so slow.

The strange conundrum is that small-press books advance toward those double mystery doors of Success and Impact (even if they might be doors leading to Scant Success and Vanishingly Small Impact) so slowly that total oblivion has trouble overtaking them.

Cheers ...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Spectrum Circus

I heard from Heidi Lampietti, of RedJack Books, the other day. She had news of a website she is helping launch, which is dedicated to guiding readers toward works of interest in the realm of independent-press publishing. She is out front with her situation of also being a publisher.

What she has done there at Spectrum Circus, too, is to offer a review of my collection of stories Across the Sky, published by Fairwood Press. Again she is out front with the information that she, who writes the review, is a friend of mine -- also another of my publishers ... and how like the small press that is: for however large this country of letters is that we inhabit, the small press seems always a small world. We become friends easily with one another. And since so few of us are around to read one another's books, we end up commenting on the works of people we may like already as people ... although it is almost impossible, given that the small press is what it is, that the reading and writing aspects of a personality would not make up a large part of our idea of someone. If we know anything about someone's writing, it affects how we see her or him; and likewise the other way around.

And how like the small press, too, this new effort is: hopeful, idealistic, small-scale. One must do one's small part. That seems a core belief that helps spur us forward. Those of us involved in the small press, that is.

The web address of this new review is:

Cheers ...

Last Wednesday's Sourdough Pancakes

No two batches of sourdough pancakes are alike -- partly because the ingredients and proportions vary from time to time, and partly because the sourdough starter is never the same from day to day. My sourdough starter, though, is almost always primarily rye, with some oats.

1 cup: rye flour
1/2 cup: buckwheat flour
a teaspoon more or less: baking powder
pinch: salt
whisper: cinnamon
about a quarter or third of whole: mandarin-orange peel, or tangerine peel (we happened to have the former), finely chopped

Mix all that in one container.

2 cups: sourdough starter
4: eggs
splash: vanilla

Mix that; add to it the dry ingredients; add water to achieve a desirable not-too-thick consistency. I perhaps added not quite enough water. Mine was not a flowing batter -- rather something between that and a spooning batter.

A Scottiedog loves her pancakes with butter and maple syrup -- which is why we make rye-buckwheat pancakes. We keep her away from wheat and corn; but we cannot keep her away from a breakfast table with sourdough pancakes.

Cheers ...


Is there anything more difficult to acquire than a realistic expectation?

The problem is that you cannot know what to expect of a place unless you have been there -- and unless you know what has transpired in that place since the last time you were there.

The problem is further that if you have an expectation about a place you hope to reach, then you yourself are a part of the conditions leading to your being in that place -- and, too, are a part of the place itself, once you have achieved it and are there.

(I was thinking about publishing, among other matters, in jotting down the above -- and now am visualizing grape vines in late summer laden with fruit, and covered with protective netting -- that the voracious birds get under anyway.)

Cheers ...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Unintended Consequences

I have been engaged in some early-spring digging in the garden -- expanding a plot that started as a circle a couple years ago, and that last year I joined with other, likewise expanding garden plots. I am edging its lower border with miscellaneous rocks we have picked up off at road cuts, and "paving" a section of the adjoining walking path with wood chips I scavenged from the village compost pile just this afternoon.

As I was digging out shovel-bites of lawn, I was occasionally finding dandelions. When your blade slices through them, you see circular root cross-sections that are bright white in contrast to the dark clay. These I dutifully was digging up, in hopes of minimizing the weeding to be done later in the season.

And of course while doing so, the winemaker's worry beset me ... one that will seem a silly worry to most people.

Will we have enough dandelions, this spring? We keep reducing the amount of lawn in the back yard -- which means the numbers of large, well-established dandelions keeps going down ... but without them where will we harvest our deep bowls of golden-brilliant blooms for winemaking?

As I said, a silly worry -- for most folks.

Cheers ...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Dandelion Wine

Dandelion wine has a reputation as a homemade wine -- with the reputation being that it tastes like one ... or at least tastes sweet.

From the beginning of my wine-making efforts I thought dandelion wine had no more need to be a sweet wine than did any other; and because I based my first effort on a Victorian recipe that called for quite a few cut-up pieces of fruit of the citrus variety, that first wine was not only dry but puckery -- and nothing at all like the one dandelion wine I had tasted before, which was a syrupy and distinctively yellowish concoction from Amana.

Yet that first Amana wine had a particular flavor -- one that ended up being submerged by citrus in our first wine -- maybe in our first several. It was an odd experience, dealing with masses of bright-yellow flowers first and next with great handfuls of chopped yellow lemons -- odd, and wonderful: for it was a process that seemed unlikely in the extreme to reach palatable conclusion, but did.

Yesterday after descending from my afternoon project dusty and hot, in the insulation-flecked jacket I wear when working in the attic (I was doing some necessary work to keep out bats and hornets -- I chose a chill day in case there were overwintering wasp colonies up there, which fortunately I did not find ... although I have one more area to check over), Martha announced she was ready for dandelion wine. The day had started well below freezing, but had quickly become comfortable, sunny, inviting ... so once I was de-dusted I opened one of our wines that we had bottled in October.

A success? I think so. I will need to check over last spring's recipes soon, to make sure I understand what I did with this particular one. That sunny dandelion flavor is coming through very nicely; and the wine has body; and it is beginning to be sweet without being predominantly sweet.

It was a nice first-of-spring taste.

Cheers ...

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Martha, who is reading a P.G. Wodehouse novel, found within a single paragraph the phrases "gave me the pip" and "a bit of all right" -- which were two favored phrases of our friend Roxie Alexander (Associate Professor and then full Professor, Beloit College), whom I knew briefly as advisor/teacher and for many years as a good friend. She and I were drinking buddies, after a fashion. (A rather good fashion, I will say.) She was an Anglophile even if of Scottish-Kansan extraction. The fact that she taught English literature -- especially Chaucer -- and the fact that she was an excellent, conscientious teacher, as opposed to merely a dutifully sound one, may have influenced her tendency to gather, adapt and regularly deploy the colorful or idiosyncratic phrases she came across; but I think most of us who knew her well regarded it as a deeper matter than that. It was a vital part of who she was. She had a respect and love for words and usage.

"Gave me the pip" is used in reference to being somewhat sharply irritated; and it is said of a person and not a thing. The phrase, "That's a bit of all right," is used in reference to a meal -- or at least in my memory the phrase made its appearance exclusively in relation to good cooking. I usually heard it from Roxie's lips in relation to Roxie's own cooking, as it happens. She was not wrong about most things but never wrong in her estimation of her Kansas cooking -- and oh, my, her pot roasts with carrots and potatoes cooked alongside ... In any case, both phrases have their places in Martha's and my roster of phrases because of Roxie, not because of P.G. -- although it is far from impossible that P.G.'s usage lurks behind her use of these phrases.

Part of the reason these phrases seem so natural to us, and ring so true in our internal ears, is that Roxie never tried to adopt or appropriate a foreign accent. She was Kansan and was proud to be Kansan; and she kept to her Kansas roots to such an extent that her roots spread their tips to other countries. So her phrase, "Gave me the pip," went something like, "And she did This and That and she GAVE ME the PIP." You never needed to know what a pip was, to know what she meant. (I asked her once what the pip was, in that phrase. I believe we ended up talking about seeds.) Similarly, there was nothing of pseudo-British poise, gentility and dryly self-possessed demeanor in her use of the phrase, "That's a bit of all right," which she usually said as, "WELL-LL, That was a bit of ALL-LL RIGHT." "A bit of all right" may seem like a tentative and not-quite-approving phrase, on the face of it. Roxie could render the most shy and reticent phrase of English hidden-in-closet indecisiveness into an expression of radiantly triumphant fact. She was brilliant in that way.

Anyway, Roxie gave us "the pip" while never giving us the.

Cheers ...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Spent-Grain Hardtack

A week or two ago, Martha started a porter that calls for several types of dark malt together with a peat-smoked malt. All this malt went to good use, being boiled in the wort. After the boil, though, it seemed a shame to just compost the wet grains.

In Amherst, Wisconsin, we once had a spent-grain bread made from spent-malt leftovers from Central Waters beermaking. In that bread I believe the malt was milled by some means. The spent grains at the point when they emerge from the wort are not only toasted but also boiled, however -- so are easily chewed even when left whole.

I dumped the spent grain in a bowl, poured on a couple scoops of sourdough starter, then added enough flour to make a dough. Since the quantity of spent malt was greater than that of flour, I anticipated trouble in the kneading. After working it a while, though, the dough did begin to behave in a doughlike way, even though its texture was heavy. Because of that heaviness I decided to spread it out on a cookie sheet that has a raised edge, then left it to rise for four or five hours before baking.

Truthfully I had no idea if the results would be palatable. They did turn out unusual. Visually, I had a pan of brownies. Chocolate, in fact, would have gone well with the burnt taste of the dark malt. It was chewy and oddly nice-flavored, and made a pleasant accompaniment to a beer or a whisky. And it was substantial. We nibbled it tentatively, and over the course of days found ourselves eating it readily. It made perfect road-trip food: compact, not crumbly, and sustaining.

That I put in no chocolate is fortunate, actually, since Lorna has a great liking for the crusty, chewy-crunchy stuff -- especially with a bit of cheese or peanut butter.

Cheers ...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Advice to Roofers

Writers generally have few suggestions to roofers except to turn down the lousy radio. Roofers generally know their business, and wisely keep their radios blasting, it just so happens, so that the muttered expletives that are a professional's response to roofing mistakes will go unheard.

Writers asking roofers to turn down the lousy radio obviously know not whereof they speak, in other words.

Nevertheless, from my many and arduous sun-drenched minutes of roofing, I can offer you one piece of advice. This is to place your open jar of roofing nails -- an old mayonnaise jar is what I have, which I believe marks me as very nearly professional -- anywhere except next to your open can of roofing cement. In case you do not know, roofing cement is black, tarry gunk.

I offer this advice to help you avoid the inevitable error of reaching into the mayonnaise jar for another nail, and finding your hand in the black, tarry gunk.

This advice will also help you avoid dipping your spreading knife into the roofing-cement can to fetch up another glop of black, tarry gunk, only to find that you have stuck your black, tarry knife into your jar of nails.

If you are not a writer, consider how lucky you are: for a writer will not feel satisfied at committing one error, if two are available. Of the above two mistakes, for example, I attended to the first matter over at one end of the roof and, having learned my lesson, went down to the other end of the roof, where I promptly attended to the second. In other words, rather than repeating my first error, I came up with a new one to commit. Doing a new thing is a virtue, of sorts.

Now that I have done them, though, they are no longer new: so you may as well come up with your own.

Cheers ...

Volunteer Labor

Our last-Sunday traipsing took us through Newburg Corners -- a ridgetop village where once we stood in the freezing November wind for a day simply to be present at an auction. Martha pointed out the vineyard near the road. Thick and unruly, the vines still offered their last-year tangles to the eye. What a lot of trimming it would take, too, to move down those long rows with clippers in hand. I suppose that as you grow more experienced, you wield those clippers with more efficiency; and I know it is possible to do the clipping even in spring -- which may be the intent of these growers. Maybe time simply got away from them.

We had one bit of voluntary vine-clipping done for us, this winter. Thank you, rabbit. It was the senseless kind of clipping that rabbits will do, any time of year: a simple snip of the stem, for the sheer pleasure of shearing. The rabbit left the top part of this thin vine unnibbled, and did no gnawing upon the lower stem. It simple severed the stalk.

Why? Well, I recall a rumor going around the village here that rabbits might actually have a smidge of sense in their noggins. When our rabbits got wind of this insulting notion, one of them promptly thought to quash it by an act of senseless snipping.

We do, at least, have the consolation that our rabbits have not an iota more sense than anyone else's.

The vine so snipped was my volunteer wild grape, which I had trained to a nice vertical beginning. The snip is not fatal to the vine nor to my designs -- only to the idea that a rabbit's head has much function beyond ear-support.

Cheers ...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On Focus

Physical labor seems, sometimes, to create a mental state similar to that which can be entered through the act of writing. Tuesday, I was working on the southeast porch roof -- filling in where earlier construction workers had left gaps between sheets of plywood, and cutting out one rectangle of soft plywood that was still moist from the last snow-melt and rains, for replacement. Not having scraps of quarter-inch plywood, I looked around my supplies and settled on an old tobacco lath as being perfect for this minor task. I sawed it into short lengths and nailed the results in place.

This being former tobacco-growing country, the leftovers of that type of agriculture are still to be found at garage sales and auctions, hereabouts.

All that done, I rolled out some of the tar paper that I have been picking up at auctions against the arrival of exactly this task.

Afterwards, wearied and well-warmed by the activity, I was playing idly with Lorna in the yard. At one point I noticed how absorbed I was in looking fixedly at one spot in the grass -- not a special spot but simply one that with its tangle of brown and green grass blades and with its background colors of the soil presented the eye with a natural composition. The clarity and detail in the bright sunlight; the combination of order and disorder: it held me so that I was sitting and intently looking; and the rest of me was tired enough that it simply complied with that absorption, that overpowering focus. The focus removed me from the rest of my surroundings.

That absorbed state is not one to aim for, in writing. I imagine it is one of those targets you can only miss if you take aim. It seems instead to be state you may enter, after having applied yourself year in and year out to your task.

Cheers ...

Author Copies

Although I've received scant personal comment on C.M. Kornbluth: The Life and Works of a Science Fiction Visionary since January and early February, that was a fairly heady period of time. I had only a few extra copies at hand from McFarland -- and I still have yet to buy more, since the investment is so costly, at the level necessary to obtain a reasonable author's discount ... so I had to pick and choose to whom to send them. My parents had to receive a copy, of course: without their support we would never have managed the move a few years ago, here to Cashton; and we would have been much harder pressed to survive the downturn of the past two years, after the magazines for which I wrote a number of monthly columns shriveled up and blew away in a chill December breeze.

The other extras went to a few good souls who had helped me out -- not to all of them, since I had only that handful of copies. From one of those people I heard nothing; and I have yet to learn, actually, if he saw it and appreciated what it represented, before his death. Phil Klass was quite ill and hospitalized, around the time those early copies arrived. I can only hope Fruma showed him the book, and perhaps pointed out the ways in which I put to use his memories -- especially in the final chapter, hidden at the end of the short "analysis" subsection of the book. There, I drew upon Phil's experiences as a way of suggesting an important aspect of Cyril's character. The option of writing that chapter would have been closed to me without knowledge of the particular way in which Phil faced the trial of his involvement in World War II, and the way in which he dealt with the implications of that trial's ending.

Cheers ...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Regarding winter as a period of cold storage has more value than we knew. Yesterday afternoon Martha was cleaning out from the garden some flower stalks we had left up for the birds -- for perches and cover, and for the flower seeds. Once that clearing-out was accomplished, she went grubbing for root vegetables, and came up with an attractive assortment: a long parsnip, a number of stubby carrots, a few red globes of onions.

For supper she cooked a mix of whole grains -- barley, oats, rye and wild rice, I believe -- with some vegetable broth for part of the liquid. (We save our vegetable ends and peels when cooking, and make broth-startings with some regularity.)

Those vegetables, though ... so very sweet -- so different to tongue and tooth from how they seemed in the fall! Martha suggested growing them in the fall and leaving them all in place for spring harvest -- when we are far more pleased to have some kind of harvest -- or even any kind of harvest. The fall months get to be a bit overwhelming, in the harvest department.

Cellaring root vegetables underground and under snow certainly takes less effort than any other option. Plus it seems to greatly improve the produce.

... and I suppose I might view the demands of house, garden and winemaking as being the way daily life enforces some holding periods on writing -- even some periods of cellaring, although in the case of writing it is more over summer that the cellaring takes place, than over winter.

Yesterday afternoon, rather than tending to some necessary work on the book, I was on the southeast porch roof. I was removing several courses of rolled roofing for replacement. This is not the usual time of year for such work, in these northern regions. As unseasonably warm as it was, though, I figured I could do this bit of roof-improvement before spring rains come -- so that when they do arrive I can be indoors working merrily away with fewer concerns about water dripping onto the miscellaneous furniture projects that await me within that enclosed porch.

Cheers ...

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Legacy Less Thorny

To continue my notes concerning the shadow of Eliot: what seems to me surprising is that I could be for so long so oblivious to his echoing similarity to Poe.

A suspicion that occurs to me is that I was resisting echoing Eliot's cadences myself to such a degree that I kept myself from hearing those cadences elsewhere.

I think the musical influence, however, was of most significant impact. I responded (albeit with a great deal of incomprehension) to Pound's poetic effluences -- and as I recall Pound had a pivotal role to play in the revival of J.S. Bach -- another writer to whose work I responded (albeit with a great deal of wrong notes and finger-tangling).

"Emotional enervation" -- one of Wilson's descriptors, as I recall, for Eliot's works. How nice not to be young any more, so that even the mere idea of an emotionally enervated poise, for rhetorical purposes, seems ridiculous. And how nice to begin hearing a particular metric without feeling the restraining tug of reservation ... to understand poetic lines in the light of a tradition that included Eliot but which cannot be said to have been his.

Cheers ...

Sunday Gambol

Sunday, with the day looking so fine, we dedicated largely to non-productivity. We headed into Minnesota to check out an auction, where we saw almost nothing of interest to us, then visited the towns of Hoka, Minnesota, and Lansing, Iowa, where in both cases the antique or old-junk shops were closed. Lorna had chances to romp in some new places, at least. Martha and I were also thinking that our gallivanting served to keep us out of the garden while the breeze and sun were doing some de-muckifying.

Later in the afternoon, then, we poked around yard and garden. The work I had put in last fall, creating a few more footpaths here and there, paid off, since we were able to wander around without sinking in. With the snow gone, I pulled the two mulched vines from their leaf-and-straw coverings -- the Concord, and the Canadice. In my mind I go back and forth: should I continue training the vines for future winter-mulching, or should I now risk them as uprights?

I may have written here before that I was a little foolish in wanting a Concord. Yet the idea of having that basic American grape exerted too strong a pull. We are slightly out of the Concord's proper zone. All the same, we know Concords have grown and flourished to the north of here. Last summer I also spoke with someone who has Concords growing vigorously on their property not far to the west of here -- yet I believe they are located a bit lower in elevation, so that they may be benefiting from the slight climate-altering effects of the Mississippi river and valley.

From my brother Kenneth I learned last year or the year before, by the way, that Canadice, the Finger Lake, is pronounced there not to rhyme with Canada geese, which is how I had been saying it. It rhymes instead with can-of-dice.

It is a gambling vine, then. So maybe I should prop it up vertically and see how it weathers next winter.

Cheers ...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Illusion of the Legacy

As I noted earlier, I faced the difficulty of accepting, or warding off, the influence of a verbally powerful Modern. The familiar intonations of his poems had a way of locking into the workings of the creative mind and bending and swaying and affecting whatever that mind was attempting to voice. Those familiar tones came from Eliot -- and came accompanied by the disturbing baggage of his flirtation with the political philosophy -- if you wish to call it philosophy -- that came near to destroying Europe in the early 20th.

Edmund Wilson pointed out to what degree Eliot owed his apparent inventiveness and even his metrical sense to French Symbolist precedent. Discovering Wilson's insights, not long ago, did much to relieve my mind -- for it had seemed hard to imagine such a champion of the sere, dried and defeated, as Eliot was, to also be as commandingly inventive as he seemed.

I wonder now if it might not have been that tension itself that gave Eliot's poems much of their power.

The other part of the puzzle -- I want to say, "of course" -- is Poe. Back in the 1980s, for some reason, I readily saw that Eliot's critical approach was not dissimilar to Poe's. For some reason I failed to have the same understanding of the relation between the Poe and Eliot metrical senses ... I think because I was struggling to such a degree myself with a personal metrical sense that was being unnecessarily complicated through, but perhaps fertilized by, so much study of musical notation and musical composition.

Cheers ...

Blink of Eye

Sunlight strikes yard and garden this morning -- and what seems extraordinary, to the winter-accustomed mind, is not only that this run of gray and cloud-covered and drizzly days has ended but also that the snow-cover that seemed so lastingly permanent only days ago is gone. From the last sunlit day to this one seems a long, slow blinking of the eye -- with the landscape transforming while the eye's lashes were closing and obscuring the white-buried yard -- so that what is suddenly there, when the eye reopens this morning, is a mixture of the green and light browns of the areas of lawn around the garden plots, and the surprising, deep, wet darkness of the gardened areas -- that clayey loam we have been working at improving, these last few years.

The skeletons of the grape vines, so visible from the kitchen window before the eye blinked, nearly disappear in this color-laden flood of new visual information.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Unexpected Boost from The Operaphile

The esteemed and dedicated administrative assistant at McFarland & Company Lori Tedder has sent me another review of C.M. Kornbluth: The Life and Works of a Science Fiction Visionary -- one which appeared in an unusual venue.

The biography seems to have been featured at the beginning of the radio program "The Operaphile" at the end of January. What I received were some pages from a typescript. In handwriting on the first page appears the notation, "Aired 30 Jan 10 WFOS-FM."

Do opera fans respond to the fiction of Cyril Kornbluth? Apparently so. (And I suppose if I had gone on in the Classical music field, I would have found nothing too unusual about it -- being one who has attended operas.) The comments were quite favorable:

"How many of us who started with science fiction or, rather, 'sci-fi,' during the 1950s remember reading Kornbluth's short stories in almost every anthology that was released during that rich period? I'll be we all do. In fact, look through almost any anthology published today and you'll see one of his stories."

While that is not quite right-on, it constitutes some positive wishful thinking. The host or commentator of "The Operaphile" goes on, "True, a sizeable portion of Kornbluth's later work (he died in 1958 at the age of 35), like other postwar fiction writers, either focused on or was certainly influenced by two factors, the Red Scare and The Bomb. But, unlike less talented authors, even those stories and novels have much we can still enjoy.

"Mr. Rich's exhaustive work is not just the life of C.M. Kornbluth. It is also a biography of the science fiction movement that was largely started by Hugo Gernsback in the 1920s and '30s with pulp magazines like Amazing Stories. Science fiction stories and novels were certainly published before that but it was now given a new name and a devoted following of boith fans and writers that continues today. A highly recommendable book that is an excellent read."

The minor quibble is, of course, that Cyril actually died at age 34. But that is a fact I failed to snatch away from the back-cover copy when I had a chance -- so it is just about fixed in the pixels. And I suppose if he had passed his 34th birthday and was on his way to his 35th ... which date is more meaningful? I cannot say.

Cheers ...

Friday, March 12, 2010

That Particularly Thorny Legacy

In working on poetry, which is a matter I attend to daily even if usually not for too long a period at any one sitting, I have come to recognize, or perhaps come to grips with, a not altogether salutary influence. I have no idea what the circumstances are for young writers in this day and age, but when I was a child and then still when I was growing a bit older the presence of T.S. Eliot, or that of his works, loomed and thrummed and intoned. His works had a way of doing this -- at the back of your mind, if not right in your face. When I was younger the concern was not to be imitative of Eliot; when older, it was to balance, somehow, in my mind, the attractiveness of Eliot's verbal music, so markedly present in some of his poems, against the negative aspect of his exhausted and autumnal conservatism and the even more negative aspect of his leanings toward fascism. It has seemed to me that partly through their examples Eliot and Pound helped stamp the mark of greatness upon Joyce and Hemingway, among the prominent Moderns of that period. The former pair's tonal brilliance -- sparingly meted out in the one and profligately splashed onto the canvas of global history in the other -- when combined with their fascist leanings made the quite-different brilliancies of Joyce and Hemingway seem untarnished and invigorating in comparison.

What was troubling, however, was the lasting attractiveness of the models of Eliot and Pound -- more particularly the former, because of his stern, upright correctness of appearance and his public assumption of authority. Pound seemed destined to err, at very least politically -- but always quite humanly. His variety of pride seemed to require that he go full-throttle into the vortex.

Cheers ...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ten to Five

In the last wine-making entry, as you may have noticed, I spoke of putting a ten-gallon stoneware crock to use -- with a five-gallon glass carboy to hold the results when going on to the next step in the winemaking process.

While I am unsure how it works in other sorts of food preparation involving crocks, with winemaking it seems that a one-gallon crock yields liquid results of less than a gallon for the secondary fermentation. If we would fill the crock to the brim, near to spilling, maybe everything would match right down the line: one-gallon stoneware for primary -- to one-gallon jug for secondary -- to one gallon of bottled wine for aging.

Filling a crock so extremely full is not my method. Some wines call for stirring, during primary fermentation: so you need a bit of extra space, for agitating it without making a mess. More significantly for our current set-up, it almost always happens that I am moving crocks and fermenters around. Last fall the primaries were in my rear work room -- while the wine-making work took place in the kitchen, which is several rooms away. Now, you try moving a crock full to the brim without making the precious wine-makings quiver and slosh.

Wear rubber clothes, if you do.

With the ten-gallon crock, I figured I could prepare a batch to fill the five-gallon carboy to an ideal level. Not so. It fell short. Maybe I lost enough liquid through evaporation; maybe I misjudged in the first place.

That crock, by the way, stayed on the work bench. I am foolhardy, but not to the extent that I would attempt to lift a massive piece of stoneware full of none-too-light liquids, let alone carry it anywhere. The makings moved into their secondary from right where the crock sat -- although I did carry that five-gallon glass secondary out to the kitchen for bottling, somehow managing not to stir up the lees despite the distance.

Cheers ...

The Real Wizard of Oz

I have read Rebecca Loncraine's The Real Wizard of Oz -- the first biography of L. Frank Baum I have had the pleasure of taking in. The book offers a great deal of information and some quite valuable and insightful perspective. The difficulty it presents, however, is its occasional imprecise language (some effort seems to have been expended in making passages poetic and evocative), and its lack of footnotes. I am in the position of wanting to cite a book on this subject and am feeling a bit irritated that it is impossible to know where exactly the various facts (or "facts") in the book were found, and whether the insightful perspectives were suggested by other Ozmaticians -- there must be legions -- or were the insights of Loncraine herself.

The book does end with a few pages of general notes on sources. (As did I for the Kornbluth biography, Loncraine spent time in Syracuse for this one. She, however, had grant support.) While the notes she provides are helpful, they still are of almost zero value in establishing where any particular bit of say-so came from.

Several lines toward the end of the book echo with the stated purpose of this "Vines, Wines and Lines" blog: "His writing became inextricably linked to gardening at Ozcot, the process of tending and pruning plants mapped onto the process of telling stories" (p. 266); and "Digging about in the garden, hat on and cigar in mouth, strangely mirrored Baum's writing process, in which he dug about in the turf of his own mind. And for Baum, both writing and gardening were an essentially intuitive process" (p. 267).

I am puzzled at a "process" being "mapped onto" another "process" -- which seems at least fuzzy in its expression; but I am not at all satisfied with "turf" in the second quotation. The garden-pottering Baum would have been digging about in soil or dirt or such. He might have been alarmed to think he had turf in his mind, as a dedicated flower grower.

What a minor quibble -- yet if examples of hazy language were not somewhat common in the book it might have gone unnoticed ... or if yet more questions were not being stimulated within the same passage. Why "strangely" mirrored? And should the second sentence not read, "For Baum, both writing and gardening were essentially intuitive processes" -- ?

Cheers ...

Thinking about Wonderland

One pair of books I may have been giving inadequate weight in attempting to understand the Modern century (in my current work) is Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871) -- books that were, indeed, part of the middle period of that time-period -- and which, strikingly, had their first impact at the same time Jules Verne's novels were having their early and likewise enormous impact. Verne's novels were also satirical, and also relied on an absurdist approach -- although not the same absurdist approach that Dodgson-Carroll employed. The Alice books like the Verne books are "extraordinary journeys."

In a somewhat unrelated note, how interesting that Charles Carroll (of Carrollton), last surviving signer of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, should die in the year Charles Dodgson should be born -- in 1832. It is not of significance -- just a fun, odd coincidence.

Cheers ...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Thinking in Terms of Quantity

I put off bottling the five-gallon carboy of LaCrosse grape wine for a goodly amount of time. Besides the fact that I have other, smaller secondaries awaiting bottling, I was aware of the number of firsts involved in this particular batch.

It is wine No. 58, in our record-keeping book -- yet, at the point I took the deep breath and began bottling it, this last Sunday afternoon, it was No. 1 in terms of being the first grape wine we would have a chance to sample. It was also our first batch of wine to be made in so large a quantity; and it was our first batch to go into one of these hefty and quite attractive glass carboys.

On top of all that, never before I had faced so much bottling.

Doing grape-picking for Vernon Vineyards for a while, in the fall, had already made me realize what potential there was, in fruit-gathering. So I had started thinking in terms of tackling quantity, someday -- when a grape-picking opportunity arose, late in the season -- after the first snows, in fact ... although the day Martha and Lorna and I were out among the vines was sunny and warmish and lovely.

As chance would have it, the day before, at an auction in Sparta, we had picked up a ten-gallon stoneware crock, Red Wing -- an older one, with the large wing-stamp.

The timing was such that we bought the crock one day and poured into it some five or six gallons of fruit-pressings the next, and started this LaCrosse wine on its primary fermentation.

Cheers ...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Earthy Themes

Of the garden wines we have made thus far, black currant stands highest as an agreeable winter-evening wine. Its darkness matches the opaque red-purple of the darker red-grape wine. Its flavor, its piquancy, stops just short of assaulting the tongue with its assertive tang.

As I remember from a week or two ago, when Martha and I opened a bottle of last fall's black currant, it may have fallen short, as a wine, in its body -- that sense to the tongue of having a palpable presence beyond the liquid essence -- something different from its sweetness. Even so the black currant occupies a wine glass with authority. The curious drinker cannot help but wonder: what deep thoughts did those pendulous clusters have, while deepening in hue to such light-absorbing darkness at the height of summer?

You can only imagine they were not thoughts of inconsequential frippery. These berries meditated on earthy themes ... regarded with equanimity the days of dry heat and those of persistent wetness ... ignored that brightly extravagant and somewhat show-offy red currant next door.

Cheers ...

Monday, March 8, 2010


Black currants seem quite a different beast, metaphorically speaking, from red ones.

The peculiar taste component of the currant, which is far away and in the distant hazy background of the flashy but mild-mannered red currant, comes to the fore in the black. In the bushy plant itself the flavor is so strong that sometimes in walking by and brushing the leaves you can catch the scent in the air. Last year shortly after the post-harvest trimming, when I made a trip back to that southeast-yard compost pile where the trimmings went, the scent seemed so strong that I took from those old canes the youngest leaves from at or near the tips. When drying them, the tangy, resin-resonant, un-berryish forwardness of this flavor spread from the dehydrator in the kitchen -- we have a couple electric dehydrators -- and through the house. Now and then a few pinches of dried leaf go into a teapot of evening mint, where the black currant makes itself known with its air, or aroma, of forthright self-importance. If this tincture has medicinal qualities I have no idea. It certainly should -- although then it might be insufferable in its presumptions.

Cheers ...

Friday, March 5, 2010

Whose Name Shall Go Unmentioned

Many of our garden wines are of a lighter nature -- suited for that sun-blasted day of mid-summer, especially. Wines that are lemon-tinted, peach-colored, lightly blushed, verging on the clear ... somehow on a winter's night when chill pervades the rooms and we contemplate turning up the thermostat instead of reaching for a cooling draught of cellar-aging garden-essence, many of the homegrowns seem not to be the evening's ingredient quite being called for.

At such a moment a dry red of the grape variety might come to mind ... but the house recently has had no dry reds -- except the bottle of cooking red, sitting beside the refrigerator.

That one is amusing in its origin. It is our only wine picked up at a garage sale. In a garage in a nearby village we found a wine-making kit, which seemed worthwhile buying for the spare equipment. It included an airtight, sealed bag of grape pressings, however. I thought to myself, Why not? So into a small crock the purply stuff went.

The answer to Why not? is that the kit came originally from one of those execrable super-blights to American commerce Whose Name Shall Go Unmentioned, where people shop for lowest quality, at lowest cost to personal wallet, and at greatest cost to society.

The wine, which we more-or-less call Whose Name Shall Go Unmentioned Wine, is awful, of course. Which is why it sits beside refrigerator awaiting tomato sauces.

Cheers ...

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Not everything turns out, that is an experiment.

In my several decades of figuring out what a story is, I sometimes have taken the approach that almost everything is worth trying. As a writer you cannot know what will trigger the unconscious into action: and triggering the unconscious into action, it seems to me, is one task of the creative sort.

You are attempting to frame thoughts in terms of symbols; and the creation of symbols seems to be a task to which the conscious mind thinks itself equal at least as often it proves itself not so.

In the 1990s I went through periods of excessively fast writing in an attempt to prevent overmuch intervention of conscious thinking. The approach works, at times: it seems suited especially for the creation of imaginative miniatures which are irrational in nature but which seem to have some sort of elemental balance. You cannot expand such stories, or continue them fruitfully at much length: they are what they are. They are like doodles in ink. You can, however, rewrite them -- with difficulty. In the past, several times, I have sent such stories to gather their dozen rejection slips before being capable of noticing some basic errors, missteps or mistakes that might be corrected without doing violence to their symbolic coherence. Sometimes I think stories that contain a considerable number of unconscious elements become partly invisible to the conscious mind, which is the mind capable of doing good editing.

Most often, fast writing leads to meaningless writing. Yet the task I set myself, that of doing the writing and finishing the job at whatever speed necessary, is not meaningless. It expands the possibilities of writing, even if the result of any particular effort might be complete failure.

There comes a point, in any case, when it becomes hard to tell what "slow" or "fast" means, in relation to composition -- for what matters is the degree of engagement.

Cheers ...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Kornbluth Book Progress

On March 1, C.M. Kornbluth: The Life and Works of a Science Fiction Visionary officially went into print. That day, feeling I should do something about it, I started a blog at Goodreads to keep track of the book's progress. Since "Vines, Wines and Lines" is my main blog, however, I figured it would do no harm and perhaps do some good to have the postings appear here, as well. The following is based on my first two postings at Goodreads, on March 1 and 2. I am not planning to post there daily.

Since fiction books by both Mark Rich and Ezra Pines (an alter ego of mine) have gone unreviewed, by and large, within science fiction, I am curious if this book's fate will be different. I personally feel this to be an important biography. If none of the major magazines in the field treat it as such, however, the book's chances at having impact are greatly diminished.

The first review of the book -- a thoughtful and positive one -- seems to have been one written by Herve Hauck (my apologies for having no accent markings available) for his Guide Hervelen des Ouvrages de Reference des Science Fiction -- which I only discovered this last week. He posted his review on January 27. Of the biography he writes that it "est extremement solide et s'appuie sur de nombreuses sources (ouvrages divers, interviews avec les protagonistes ou la famille, echanges de courrier, documents archives). Le resultat est un ensemble d'une grande solidite factuelle et d'une lecture tres interessante d'autant plus que la narration integre parfaitement le cadres plus general de l'histoire du genre."

On the other hand, the first print review of C.M. Kornbluth, having appeared in a publication with a February cover date, may have appeared at the same time as, or before, the French review. This is no more than a paragraph in Reference & Research Book News, February, 2010, page two (which I know about thanks to Lori Tedder at McFarland & Company). It is but three lines long -- so hardly more than a notice.

What distinguishes this from an earlier on-line "review" of the book, of a paragraph's length, which was plainly not a review since its author, even within so small a space, made it clear he had not read the book, perhaps not even skimmed it?

The third sentence of this one is as follows: "Kornbluth was an unusual man of unusual habits and views, and Rich incorporates those traits into his biography of the humorous and cynical writer who continues to be regarded as one of the great science fiction authors."

That sentence, a fairly complex one, covers a lot of ground. It does so in a manner, moreover, that suggests at least some reading of the text. This News seems to have a particular format to be followed, for each title: and within that format this "news" includes review-type evaluation.

Cheers ...

Winter Mulching

Given our uncertainty as to the hardiness of our grape choices, at the end of our first season we pressed all of them down for mulching. Although the mulch was not much, and probably insufficient, the depth of snows that winter made it a simple matter to heap deep, white hills over them. The effect was picturesque, with each additional snowfall making the hills taller until late winter: two rows of rounded mounds running down the yard.

This winter only two vines are pressed down and mulched. One is the new Concord -- a silly choice for our region, but one I made all the same out of wanting to have an example of the basic American grape in our yard. I trained it at a low angle, last summer: and I will keep doing so, to give the trunk a permanent incline low to the ground, for continual winter mulching of this sort. (We talked with someone from the region who has healthy Concords growing in the normal manner. So the option may be open of risking an upright trunk.)

My round-about-and-thither thoughts lead me to wonder about devising covers for my various manual typewriters, for the summer -- because in those months other demands on my time result in their getting little use. Dust does little harm the fine old mechanisms -- but that little is enough, no doubt, to make it worth giving them more protection than I do.

Mulching them with old manuscripts ... now there's a thought ...

Cheers ...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Tugging the Wires

One unexpected pleasure in working with grape vines is that of working with wire. Sunday after pruning I tightened the wires strung along the two grape rows, using a pair of pliers that happened to be in my coat pocket -- the wrong ones, but the ones at hand -- and my bare hands.

When I first strung the wire I was pleased to find how useful certain old pliers are. Picked up in auction batches of old tools, these are various pliers that have no teeth or serrations for gripping: so they bend and turn wire without damaging it, which over the long run might weaken it. One pair -- you might think of a squared duck's bill, to imagine its jaws -- is especially good for twisting two strands together.

I use steel posts to support the wire, something that may need to change, at some point. So far, though, it seems adequate, even though it means the upper wire is not as high as might be desired.

This morning I was wrestling with the structure of my current book -- doing my best to stretch the supporting wires taut, as it were. Had I known at the beginning of writing the book what I now understand, I might not have to struggle so, in tugging it into a somewhat straight line. Yet it seems never the case that you understand what to do until you are done doing it. (Which is a thought that, this year, calls to mind my raising the southeast porch of the house, which was sagging. By the time I truly knew what I was doing, the job was done. I could undo it now, and do it again better ... but will I? Ha!)

The grape-support wires sagged last summer under weight of vines and grapes -- and certainly my early structure for my book was inadequate for containing the turnings of ideas and knowledge that I encountered and gained, while actually writing.

Cheers ...

Monday, March 1, 2010

Luxuriant but Unproductive

Our Kay Gray grape vines, two in number, are so far our least productive. They were two of our first three planted -- it must be three years ago already. Nursery-purchased, potted and not bare-root, they have done well in establishing themselves and in growing luxuriantly, if not in producing fruit. The fault may lie in our not having purchased them bare-root: for our other bought-potted grape vine also has barely produced. Perhaps more likely, my inept pruning of them in their second winter is to blame. Had I done better at that, we might have seen more fruit last year. I was too timid, apparently, to take the vines down to properly spare winter skeletons.

Before December I had pruned the other vines in the back yard, leaving these Kay Grays for another day. I finally started on one of the vines on a cold day in January or early February, and then finished that vine and did the complete pruning of the second one yesterday afternoon. Although we have thick snow on the ground, as of yet, the air temperatures climbed into the thirties, making for pleasant working.

At this point, for me, pruning calls for a goodly amount of standing and thinking: a vine, especially one incompletely pruned the prior winter, offers quite a few decisions to be made. That second Kay Gray -- what a wild unruly longhair of a grape vine! I had left on shoots growing from the lower trunk, had let a second trunk start to thicken ... but even given the wealth of choices for this pruning, I had to weigh each snip of the shears twice and three times before committing myself and the vine to the irrevocable.

Kay Grays are a white grape, one of the Elmer Swenson hybrids developed in Wisconsin. Its reputation as being one of the heartiest of Swenson varieties helped guide our choice, as I recall. As to how the fruit is, for winemaking -- we have no idea, as of yet. A vanishing few went into this or that wine, last year. So few bunches formed that I put little effort into defending them from the feathered grapivorous fleas that clustered so to our clusters last summer.

Cheers ...