SAFARI seems to no longer work
for comments...use another browser?

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Day of ghosts

Templeton is one of those odd places where the past and present and the real and unreal get jumbled. I blame that on Fenimore Cooper’s literary shenanigans, but also on ghosts.

On Sunday it seemed that everyone wanted to talk about ghosts. F. S. talked about the laying of ghosts. E. told about the 900-year old European castle that was the scene of her childhood, a place stirring with spirits—one of whom told her that she would inherit 'the pin of the heiress' but be the last. A prophetic ghost. For here E. is, an American and no noble. A. told me about Mr. Ruggles, whose body lies in the Christ Church yard but whose spirit seems to have been exceedingly restless. Mr. Ruggles made many appearances at A.'s former home on Pine Street. And A. said that his wife, L., perceived more spirits in the house than he—seven, in fact—and that a girl who helped care for his mother once captured by photograph the dim image of a little girl in party dress, sitting in a closet. A friend brought over a Ouija board, and they quarried lots of information from the spirit world that later was confirmed as true; however, the then-rector of Christ Church told A. and L. not to do it again, and they stopped.

So Templeton-ian!

All ectoplasm and cold spots and haunted objects...

I’m going to have more to do with ghosts, I see. Story-wise, that is. They keep trickling in, and we’re almost hemmed in by them in the neighborhood, hard by the hanging ground and the oldest houses in town. Even the stone wall across the way has its ghost: an Iroquois kicking-chief. But I’m glad that our house hasn’t collected any extra inhabitants over the past 198 years.

Illustration by Sulamith Wulfing
"Fear," from

Friday, January 27, 2006

Thoughts on Mozart @ 250

Karl Friedrich Schinkel, 1815
Stage set, the Egyptian starry sky
for the Queen of the Night,
Mozart's "The Magic Flute"
Gouache, 463 x 616 mm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin
download source: s/schinkel/magic_fl.html

Those of us with neurologically-interesting families stick together. So happy birthday, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart! He has been in my noggin of late, and, in fact, I wrote a poem about him that's about to come out . . . If you feel like exploring, NPR has a lot about him on its website at the moment: And you can play "musical dice" under the heading, "Mischievous Mozart." Here are some of my favorite quotes by and about Mozart, quarried from Wiki and elsewhere.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
"I find consolation and rest in Mozart's music, wherein he gives expression to that joy of life which was part of his sane and wholesome temperament."
"Mozart is the highest, the culminating point that beauty has attained in the sphere of music."
"Mozart is the musical Christ."

How wonderfully out of step with the age! Or is it? I think that beauty is returning to art after long exile, like the sea after a long absence--with a great rush and a dangerous pounce. And the joy of life: I think this is the thing that I value so much in the best writing: that unmistakable vigor and exuberance that makes black marks on the page live.

George Snell
"21 piano sonatas, 27 piano concertos, 41 symphonies, 18 masses, 13 operas, 9 oratorios and cantata, 2 ballets, 40 plus concertos for various instruments, string quartets, trios and quintets, violin and piano duets piano quartets, and the songs. This astounding output includes hardly one work less than a masterpiece."

“Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.” --Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart, child of wisdom: here is the deep pleasure of art, to be lost and reborn in creation, the soul at once destroyed and made anew and magnified. We have done our best to intellectualize the arts in the past century; we have tried to make art a workshop of intelligence and imagination. Often we haven't even bothered with the imagination . . . But Mozart, undeniably in the pantheon (and yes, there is still such a thing, despite all the inroads and brutal hackings of theoretical criticism and the fragmenting of literature and the arts into armed camps) of the greatest artists who have ever lived, finds genius to be located in the operations of love.

“I pay no attention whatever to anybody's praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings." --attributed to Mozart

Right. Noted, jotted down, remembered.

Charles Gounod
"Mozart, prodigal heaven gave thee everything, grace and strength, abundance and moderation, perfect equilibrium."
"Mozart exists, and will exist, eternally; divine Mozart - less a name, more a soul descending to us from the heavens, who appeared on this earth, stayed for a little over thirty years, and left it all the more rejuvenated, richer and happier for his appearance."

Karl Barth
"It may be that when the angels go about their task praising God, they play only Bach. I am sure, however, that when they are together en famille they play Mozart."

"As death, when we come to consider it closely, is the true goal of our existence, I have formed during the last few years such close relationships with this best and truest friend of mankind that death's image is not only no longer terrifying to me, but is indeed very soothing and consoling, and I thank my God for graciously granting me the opportunity. . . of learning that death is the key which unlocks the door to our true happiness. I never lie down at night without reflecting that--young as I am--I may not live to see another day. Yet no one of all my acquaintances could say that in company I am morose or disgruntled."
--from a Mozart letter to his dying father

Such words are interesting from one so young, and seldom heard in our own times, when we can expect to live long enough to forget about death and, when we think about it, dismiss the idea or pick up a magazine that promises that soon we will be virtually immortal, either through renewal of our very cells or through the uploading of our minds to machines.

Yet Mozart says, "Death is the key which unlocks the door to our true happiness." For this and other lines that express his faith that God will look on him with love and compassion, it is possible to discern a Mozart for whom the other world is just behind the door, the wall, the next room. The extreme sense of life one feels in his music is cojoined to a sense of death that has now, for most, drained away as modern and postmodern life has chugged onward, believing in its own progress. And yet his words suggest the idea that each is essential to the other, that Mozart's very abundance and gusto is linked to another realm.

"Mozart tapped the source from which all music flows, expressing himself with a spontaneity and refinement and breathtaking rightness." ~ Aaron Copland

Going to the fount is the aim of every real artist's journey. I love this quote from Copland because it yokes such opposites--"spontaneity and refinement" and makes me think of Wallace Stevens' praise of the finding of "rightnesses."

"Mozart is the greatest composer of all. Beethoven created his music, but the music of Mozart is of such purity and beauty that one feels he merely found it — that it has always existed as part of the inner beauty of the universe waiting to be revealed." ~ Albert Einstein

It is curious what sympathy Einstein had with artists, and here is a key--that the greatest art is a revealing of the mystery and beauty of the universe. Such a sensation is common enough with artists. The statue is only waiting to be revealed in the stone. The character appears whole. The story or song floods in. Einstein, then, is a sort of artist of the universe by being a revealer of its beauty.

"In Bach, Beethoven and Wagner we admire principally the depth and energy of the human mind; in Mozart, the divine instinct." ~ Edvard Grieg "Mozart's music is the mysterious language of a distant spiritual kingdom, whose marvelous accents echo in our inner being and arouse a higher, intensive life." ~ E.T.A. Hoffmann

E. T. A. Hoffman ought to know about distant kingdoms . . . Here he answers without shoddiness or an attempt to be "useful" something that boards of education are always wearily going over and turning into dolor and chalk dust: why should we 'have' art? What use is it? How much of a half-credit does it deserve, and how shall we assign it a proper grade? The "divine instinct" that Grieg finds in Mozart is the ability to fly directly to another realm of being, a "distant spiritual kingdom." Its "language," returned to our world with its boards of education and smart artists and glittery trash and a thousand another things, allows us to understand something we have not understood and to be more alive: to be more "intensive" in our living. This is a kind of answer that nonplusses politicians and school boards and those who worship at the altar of measurable credit and "use." It is a kind of analogy to the idea that the kingdom of heaven begins on earth: that even now, having heard the immortal language of another world in Mozart's singing, we can choose to expand and flower in a better and higher light.

Some other favorites: "Mozart has reached the boundary gate of music and leaped over it, leaving behind the old masters and moderns, and posterity itself." ~ A. Hyatt King "A light, bright, fine day this will remain throughout my whole life. As from afar, the magic notes of Mozart's music still gently haunts me." ~ Franz Schubert "A world that has produced a Mozart is a world worth saving. What a picture of a better world you have given us, Mozart!" ~ Franz Schubert "I listened to the pure crystalline notes of one of Mozart's concertos dropping at my feet like leaves from the trees" ~ Virgil Thomson. Leonard Bernstein: "Over it all hovers the greater spirit that is Mozart's — the spirit of compassion, of universal love, even of suffering — a spirit that knows no age, that belongs to all ages." There are buckets of both angelic and amusing praise for Mozart at Wikipedia, so go find your own favorites at

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Blogs of more-than-passing Palace interest

Somehow I stumbled into a California bookseller-and-writer's blog that I liked very much--Jarvenpa's "outside the windows" ( Now she has begun a brand new blog about her reading, and she has a wonderful piece about my Adantis books:

I did, indeed, love George MacDonald, although what I remember most from early childhood is At the Back of the North Wind and a paperback collection with a rainbow-winged bird on the cover. The title story was "The Golden Key," about Mossy and Tangle. At a little older age I found The Light Princess (and those wonderful Sendak illustrations) and then Phantastes and Lilith and the fat 2-volume Eerdman's collection, The Gifts of the Christ Child. I don't think that I read the Princess stories until I went to London for a month when I was barely 20.

Thank you, elusive Ms. Jarvenpa...

I'd also like to recommend a young girl's blog: It's new, but I happen to have great confidence in the writer.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Best young adult novel of 2005

from "The news about books was positive in 2005"

"It was a really good year for the burgeoning category of young adult (YA) fiction, writing aimed at those teen-age readers whose tastes are a bit different than those of adult readers but much more sophisticated than juvenile fans. Ingledove by Marly Youmans was the best of the YAs but Gentle’s Holler by Kerry Madden was also a strong offering. As Simple As Snow, by Gregory Galloway, fit the YA model but was every bit as complex and nuanced as any adult novel. The Cottonmouth Club by Lance Marcus featured some good clean fun in the Louisiana countryside."

--Greg Langley, Books Editor, The Baton Rouge Advocate, January 8, 2006

Friday, January 20, 2006

New York Diary

Illustration: Fra Angelico's
The Apostle Saint James the Great Freeing the Magician Hermogenes,
ca. 1429–30
Fra Angelico (Italian, 1390/5–1455). Tempera and gold on panel; 10 x 8 7/8 in. Collection of Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

The Bus

Usually I drive or take the train, but this time I tried the bus. Chilly going south; warm going north. The bus is counter-intuitive. On the way down, all the riders seemed to know one another’s troubles and minor events, interacting with the driver, flamboyantly sharing the New York Times. On the way back, there were heaps of college students, particularly Japanese students going to Delhi.

Cell Phones (that nuisance, sometimes curious) on the return journey

A SUNY-Oneonta student was talking about his flight. The plane kept dropping by 700-foot increments until the oxygen masks deployed and everybody panicked. Behind me was a New Yorker heading upstate—a friend? girlfriend? relative?—had arrived home and found three armed men in the house. One held a gun to her head; one shot her father.

January 17

Sharyn November

Sharyn, the editor for my upcoming Firebird (Penguin) paperbacks, was exactly as I had imagined her, except slightly less Valkyriesque—that is, she proved a mere 5’9”. (Those of us on the hobbity side of height, of course, think it would be perfectly marvelous to be anywhere above 5’3”.) Scads of red hair, voluble, lots of gusto, interesting in appearance and manner: in fact, I think that she should have been a Robertson Davies character. She asked me for a story for the next Firebirds anthology. And she mailed off a batch of Firebirds for me, so I’ll know more about her sensibility soon.

January 18

Horrible wind and rain, so I didn’t go to the Fra Angelico show at the Met as planned. Instead I stayed in until the wind died down a bit—at the Incentra Village House on Eighth between 12th & Jane—and then walked to Union Square in the rain. On the way I bought R an elegant black velvet dress for the middle school Cotillion…

Margaret Ferguson & Sabeth Albert

We had lunch at the Blue Water Grill, and I was glad to find that FSG seems to be expecting another children’s book from me. It was a pleasant, peaceful spot in the day. I’d never met Margaret before and liked her very much.

Liz Darhansoff

An altogether satisfactory meeting with my agent, despite the fact that the scene for what is called “literary” fiction seems worse than ever… Evidently I left my umbrella as a memento, but it seems as though there’s plenty of use for it in the city.

Datlow & Schanoes & Vandermeer & the KGB Bar

Ellen Datlow is another interesting figure, easy to meet and very knowledgeable. She steered me around all evening. KGB was jammed to such an extent that I didn’t know Elaine and Stephanie had come from FSG until after the whole thing was over. I met heaps of editors and writers and sundry attached parties and got invitations to submit material and also to be on a radio show that starts at the ungodly hour of 5:00 a.m. Live. In NYC. Maybe someday…

I read my brand new story, “The Smaragdine Knot,” and Jeff Vandermeer read from Shriek and from his “Secret Lives”—all funny and well done. Veronica Schanoes introduced me and mentioned the fact that I used to wear lizard earrings. However, she didn’t say that I was a mere child at the time. She has a piece on line at Endicott Studio, “How to Bring Somebody Back from the Dead.” Jim Freund recorded the reading for WBAI 99.5, and I suppose one may be able to find it via

I have no idea where we went for dinner, but there were hordes of people who came along, and the food was mostly Szechuan. Jeff gave me the nutshell version of his theory of marketing. Ann told me that he’ll often do four or five hours of “business” per day. He is notable for and somewhat unique in being such a good promoter of his books, I think; most writers don’t seem to be able to write and promote well. On the bus ride home, Rick Bowes told me that there used to be a Fenimore Cooper plaque on the St. Mark’s Bathhouse! Now there's a queer thought…

January 19

Elisabeth Dyssegaard

I had breakfast at French Roast with my elegant former editor at FSG, and we talked about the possiblility of a nonfiction book for her new house, Smithsonian Books. I do have some Templeton-related ideas. What a strange little village it is, with a good deal of history, more than most dots on a North American map.

Fra Angelico

The show: so marvelous that I almost missed my bus.

"This first major exhibition of Fra Angelico’s work since the quincentenary exhibition of 1955 in Florence—and the first ever in this country—reunites approximately 75 paintings, drawings, and manuscript illuminations covering all periods of the artist’s career, from ca. 1410 to 1455. Included are several new attributions and paintings never before exhibited publicly, as well as numerous reconstructions of dispersed complexes, some reunited for the first time. An additional 45 works by Angelico's assistants and closest followers illustrate the spread and continuity of his influence into the second half of the 15th century." --thus saith the Met

Flew back to the Incentra in a magic taxi and marched double-time to the subway. Blue line closed. Managed to take another to Times Square and walk the infinite underground corridor to the Port Authority. Miles of tile. It’s rather like walking through the world’s largest bathroom but never getting to the point.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Ursula Underground

Penpal Ingrid Hill sent me this interesting shot of an Ursula, Under billboard--part of a "tube advertising campaign" that seems especially right for the London Underground.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Reading with Jeff VanderMeer at KGB's Fantastic Fiction series

Art work by Scott Eagle, for Jeff VanderMeer's
City of Saints and Madmen: The Book of Ambergris

January 18,
Wednesday, 7 p. m.

KGB Fantastic Fiction series
directed by Ellen Datlow & Gavin J. Grant
Marly Youmans & Jeff Vandermeer

at KGB Bar
85 East 4th Street (just off 2nd Ave)
New York, NY 10003

Jeff Ford has a piece about the double reading on 14theditch, the January 11th post. (Skip the bit about The Wolf Pit, as it's not quite right--a novel for adults! And that gets discussed in the comments, as does more about A. Segur...)

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

2006 Post-Epiphany Bookish Resolutions from the Queen of Procrastination & assorted news

A picture for "Little Christmas"
or Epiphany:
Marie & Godfather Drosselmayer
& the Nutcracker,
an illustration by Adrienne Segur
for "The Nutcracker"
in The Snow Queen
and Other Stories.

Now that the Twelfth Night pageant and the Royal Feast have passed, I ought to get around to making resolutions. After that, I may send out my Christmas cards. Or wait until Valentine’s Day. Unless perhaps I put it off until next year. I’m not committing to a resolution on that one.

1. Keep writing stories. (May as well. I can’t fight it; I’m on a jag, so I may as well resolve to do the thing that I know I’ll do.)

2. Go back to the novel that was interrupted by Life & Death. Finish. (The first portion was written as a novella that is forthcoming in Argosy Quarterly 4, if Argosy Quarterly 4 ever comes out...)

3. Get the new poetry ms. in order. That shambles in the office is reaching absurd heights (as, knee-deep on the floor and ditto if standing on my library table.)

4. Figure out what to do with all these stories and novellas that are lying about in drifts. At least stack the dratted things. Keep publishing them, but what about gathering some of them into collections?

5. Find more contemporary poetry that I like. I’ve gotten lots of pleasure out of Charles Causley and Kathleen Raine, and I was idiotic enough not to know their poems three years ago.

6. Don’t sit on a tuffet and wait for poetry requests in that annoying, lazy way. Send out some of those poky little envelopes with the SASE inside.

7. Think about whether to do and what to do about nonfiction requests.

8. Don’t say “yes” to too many things, and don’t blog about things that should be stories or poems. That wears them out.

9. Don’t bother with the other 1,998 resolutions as promised in the header. Nobody will read that far.

* * *

News & Rampant Confusion

December was a fairly good month, with lots of requests. Requests for poems, requests for stories for magazines and anthologies, even an anthology request for a story based on the winning words from the national spelling bee. Alas, I realized that The Wolf Pit has gone out of print not only in the FSG hardcover but also in the Harcourt paperback. I had hoped that winning a national award would help it recover from the blow of arriving in this world mere days after 9-11, as well as in the choppy wake of FSG's The Corrections and my editor's departure. What does one do, these days, with an out-of-print novel? I frequently get requests for Catherwood, and that one has been out of print for years. Creative Commons license and free downloads? Re-publish with something like the Back-in-Print program? Sell subscriptions, the way Samuel Johnson did? The world of publishing has changed, and there are, oddly enough, options and choices.

Update, 11 January: The Wolf is not out of print! Mere rampant confusion and havoc of the mind in evidence! I take back some of the above...

Words from a Master Bookseller

From writer, reader, and bookseller Robert Grey: I always felt that the essence of being a great frontline bookseller was not selling people what everyone else was reading, but creating in-house bestsellers out of books few people had even heard of. That will also be my new mission at Fresh Eyes Now. Talented readers want to make their own discoveries, to feel "this book is my book." The non-blockbuster world appeals to them, as it has always appealed to me.

And some brand new news that just flew in

Though I was tickled to learn that the two FSG children's books were coming out from Firebird in paperback this year, I was also a little bemused that nobody had bought foreign rights. Now FSG has sold Chinese translation rights for Ingledove to Sharp Point Press. Google tells me that Sharp Point Press is not mainland China but Taiwan (Chinese complex characters).

Friday, January 06, 2006

Love Letter to The Scarlet Letter

A curious thing is what happens to those writers who publish a promising, vigorous book but detest what they experience of the "business" side of books so much that they never try to publish again or else go dormant for many years. Here's a lovely site by a writer who has devoted herself to raising arcane breeds of sheep (Shetland, English Leicester Longwood, Black Cotswold, Navajo Churro, Jacob, and Icelandic) and making needlework reproduction kits, among other things. If you're interested in antique samplers, books on needlework (lace, embroidery, bed rugs, and more), reproduction samplers, charts of antique needlework, Scandinavian linens appropriate to antique-style samplers, or needlework tools, this is a useful and beautiful site to know. If you're not, it may pique your interest all the same. There's a lot of the lavish here, arabesque curls fit for the scarlet A on the bosom of Hester Prynne. The books also include some memoirs, histories, and novels. From time to time, the owner organizes a conference, or publishes an anthology of essays on needlework. She has invaded my work--a woman who makes reproduction samplers is the main character in one of my stories.

One of the genuine glories of the internet is that it links not pages but people. Years ago I emailed this site with a thank you for carrying my novel, Catherwood. (It still has another of my novels.) I'm not a very good correspondent, thanks to the over-stuffed nature of my life, but the correspondence that ensued was intensely enjoyable. And I manage a letter now and then. Despite the unflagging attentions of Theodora the calico and Lady Azure the stupid-but-teddy-bear-cute Persian from Mars, I still have some pristine feathers from Smoke Ham Farm peacocks that are no doubt screaming the Wisconsin sky into dangerous splinters at this very moment. "Smoke Ham Farm was established in 1986 with the goal of preserving endangered breeds of domestic livestock, alongside endangered nineteenth century midwestern ethnic vernacular farm buildings. Today, six breeds of rare and endangered sheep, numerous poultry, waterfowl, and cattle, reside in fourteen restored pioneer log and timber frame buildings on the 93 acre farm, located in the southeastern Kettle Moraine Forest." Doesn't that sound enticing? Yeats said one had to pick between perfection of the work or of the life. This sounds like a fullness and perfection of life.

I wonder what other fascinating things writers who turned their backs on the world of publishing have done...

Monday, January 02, 2006

Good-by, hello--

Photo courtesy of
royalty-free, by wrhoanaz

Michael's famous New Year's Eve dinner
with a rambling-around-Delhi narrative
& good company
'White Ladies'
Moët & Chandon Champagne
Cartlidge & Browne Chardonnay
Tale Caju
Spicy cashews with cumin & peppers
Gobi Ka Shorva
Soothing cauliflower soup with coriander
Onion pakoras
Tala Gosht
Lamb kebabs with yogurt & pita
Cardamom-scented rice cream with painted saffron topping
Lahori chicken curry with whole spices & turnips
Indian-spiced spinach with corn
Mangos, persimmons, & cream
Fireworks over snow to follow
"Compare with me, ye women, if you can."
--Anne Bradstreet, from a poem about her husband, c. 1640
Goodby, 2005--
you were cruel to me as a fairy, wild & heartless,
with death and havoc in your blackthorn wand.
Hello, 2006--
here's hoping that you are a happy child,
with a tender heart for mortals!