Fragments In the Interim

What interim? Rewriting a post that I started way back when and never got around to finishing. It was mostly about National Novel Writing Month, so it had to be at least a year ago. I discovered that I have about 60 posts in draft that WordPress saved for me, so I’m slowly going through them and discarding the ones I’ll never look at again.

In the interim: My new cell phone (my very first) takes pictures! I took a picture of my sad little plaster gargoyle, the only one of four that I managed to save from my apartment, with the idea that I would like to use him on the cover of a story or novel someday. The picture was fuzzy, and I hope that’s only because I was much too close, and not because the camera is a piece of garbage or the lens got smudged from my fingers. Will try again one of these days.

In the interim: Being able to do things on the internet that would ordinarily involve long, frustrating phone calls is a blessing. Sometimes a mixed blessing that almost makes it worthwhile to pick up the phone and make the call. I need to change my address for Social Security mailings. That involved the usual multi-step sign-up: name address, phone number, social security number, picking a user name and password, and three questions in case of ever needing a reset. For some mysterious reason, it didn’t like my address, and the bold red letters that told what’s allowed weren’t any help. Of course. And then my session terminated. Try again. Got that much done, thank you. Now I could go to my profile and change my address. Hit the final button and got a system error message. Oh well. I have until the end of the month to get my address up to date. It may take that long.

In the interim: I’m debating whether I can work on the revision of Gift of the Ancien and do all the prep work for NaNo at the same time. Reading Gift on my Kindle really does make typos, plot holes, bad sentence construction more visible, but making notes is a bit of a pain in the ass. I may just settle for highlighting, and then try to figure out later what I thought needed to be done.

The NaNo State of Mind

Well, I thought I was going to finally get around to writing Empire of Masks, but changed my mind yesterday. The reason I almost discarded it, in the first place, is that it’s an alternate universe slave fantasy, and I’m not going to be writing those any more. Maybe I could just call it a temporary lapse back into fantasyland, or maybe I’ll get around to it someday. But not now.

I’ve been working, off and on, on an SF dystopian story that wasn’t meant to be more than a fairly long short story. But its possibilities keep expanding in my head, and the plot is pretty solidly developed, so… I’ve already written about 6,000 words, but I’ll use them as a guideline for a complete rewrite, so that won’t be cheating — as if anybody even checks up on those things.

The story is currently titled “Disposable,” but I hope to find something better as I go along. It’s set in a displaced persons camp, in a US where climate devastation and an economic crash have brought to reality the far right’s fears of millions of Americans being locked up in “concentration” camps. It’s not going to be one of those simplistic disaster books that are churned out by the thousands. There will be plenty of background to make the present circumstances perfectly reasonable. And character development. No heroes, just real people coping with the grim realities that may actually be in our future.

Even though I keep saying I’m through with NaNoWriMo, the existence of that one intense month every year does something to get the inspirational juices flowing. From here on, I won’t bother with pronouncements that smack of certainty and then get knocked down. Just write, damn it.

Loss and Creativity

Last night, Dusk Peterson sent me a paragraph by Robert Silverberg about his “growing up” as a writer after a major loss to fire. While my apartment didn’t burn, the smoke and other damage was extensive enough that I lost a good 2/3 or more of my possessions, not even counting all the furniture. Unlike Silverberg’s loss, a great deal of my research and all of my drafts of finished and unfinished work was on my computer, which I did save, or in the cloud. Still, that kind of loss changes you in ways you can’t anticipate, or even understand until you’ve had time to absorb it and be able to look back at it objectively.

“I was never the same again. Until the night of the fire I had never, except perhaps at the onset of my illness in 1966, been touched by the real anguish of life. I had not known divorce or the death of loved ones or poverty or unemployment, I had never experienced the challenges and terrors of parenthood, had never been mugged or assaulted or molested, had not been in military service (let alone actual warfare), had never been seriously ill. The only emotional scars I bore were those of a moderately unhappy childhood, hardly an unusual experience. But now I had literally passed through the flames. The fire and certain more personal upheavals some months earlier had marked an end to my apparent immunity to life’s pain, and drained from me, evidently forever, much of the bizarre energy that had allowed me to write a dozen or more books of high quality in a single year. Until 1967, I had cockily written everything in one draft, rolling white paper into the machine and typing merrily away, turning out twenty or thirty pages of final copy every day and making only minor corrections by hand afterwards. When I resumed work after the fire I tried to go on that way, but I found the going slow, found myself fumbling for words and losing the thread of narrative, found it necessary in mid-page to halt and start over, pausing often to regain my strength. It has been slower and slower ever since, and I have only rarely, and not for a long time now, felt that dynamic sense of clear vision that enabled me to write even the most taxing of my books in wild joyous spurts. I wasted thousands of sheets of paper over the next three years before I came to see, at last, that I had become as other mortals and would have to do two or three or even ten drafts of every page before I could hope to type final copy. . . .”

Which got me to thinking. We all know that old saw about writing what you know. Never been a policeman? Then you shouldn’t create a character who’s a policeman. Nonsense, of course. We know that’s what research is for. But there is a way in which the saw is true, and Silverberg brought that out for me. Writers do need emotional experience, because that’s something you can’t research. If you haven’t experienced pain or loss, you’re not going to be able to write about it convincingly.

And that’s where many young writers fall down. Note that Silverberg listed all the things he hadn’t experienced, along with the emotions that would have accompanied them. Possibly, losing so much in a fire hit him harder than it might have because it was his first traumatic experience and he had no experienced emotional response to fall back on. Possibly. I remember reading that Aldous Huxley had a similar loss and simply walked away from it. But people also vary in their vulnerability and their ability to adapt, so that’s not necessarily a valid comparison.

After a traumatic dry spell of more than three months, I’m at work again. I’m continuing the revision of an almost-finished novel, and also preparing to write a completely new one next month. Right now, I feel that I’m back to my usual form. That may be accurate or premature. Only time will tell.

Getting This Show Back on the Road

Inspiration obviously isn’t going to come to my rescue and zap me out of the mental limbo I’ve been in for so long, so I guess I’ll have to do it myself. Maybe it’s something that old age makes worse, but having to make constant adaptations to new situations in the space of a few short months has been a bitch. Having enjoyed 15 years of sitting quietly in my own space, and having developed a life mode that worked for me probably didn’t help either. But I’m settled now (more or less) in an apartment that costs less than my old studio apartment, is close to twice the size, and has a sunroom that is goading me to return to indoor gardening. Maybe my “black” thumb was just the outcome of having only a few windowsills available for plants.

It’s been hard to make any decisions about writing — or do any writing — but I’m beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel. I wiped several projects that didn’t seem worth pursuing, but rescued one (thank goodness for memory stick backups), and may actually work on it during NaNoWriMo. Which is another decision that can’t seem to settle into yes or no. I’ve dropped out of NaNo, sure that it wasn’t worth devoting an entire month to one novel when I already had so many WIPs lying around, then went right back last year. And here I’m probably about to do it again, with a story that has hung around in the back of my mind for several years, but that isn’t economically worth it. Are any of my books, really?

Mainly, though, I need to get back to final edits for a couple of novels, and learning how to format properly for ebooks. Plus, shove out some blog posts that might be interesting to former readers. And I wonder how many of those are even still subscribed? I know I give up on a blogger when several months go by in silence, so we’ll see.

Hope, No Hope, and What the Heck

I’m having a hard time getting back to writing after an enforced period of life adjustments, including no computer. I gladly gave up pen and paper years ago, and despite my best efforts during the down time, there’s just no going back. I hate to think what that will mean for people like me in the event of societal collapse and the end of the power grid and the internet.

In fact, thinking about the oncoming future, for which my grandchildren are in no way prepared, makes writing about almost anything, and particularly writing and publishing, seem like a pointless exercise. Depressives shouldn’t start their day skimming over a dozen news sites and environmental magazines. But the world goes on and somehow I do too, in spite of being all too aware of the now-official sixth extinction, which has actually been going on for sometime, and the very real possibility that climate change can take some very sudden and nasty turns. Environmental scientists are beginning to speak openly of their despair that we will change the destructive ways that are destroying the natural world, and that may very well kill us.

All in all, my little trauma of losing my quiet cave after 15 years, of losing over half of my fairly skimpy belongings (which includes several hundred books), seems like pretty small potatoes. Granted, it hangs over me in a nearly invisible cloud that I’m fighting on a daily basis. After all, human psychology is far more effective at controlling our lives than logic can ever be. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I have post-traumatic stress disorder, but I’m not functioning at my laughable-by-anyone-else’s-standards best.

Still — I think I wrote sometime back that I would be expanding my blogging beyond literary topics to more or less whatever’s concerning or interesting me at the moment. So, you can take this post as a first step in that direction.

Two articles that have impacted on me lately, with reference to the above: When the End of Human Civilization is Your Day Job (that’s the despairing one). And one that looks on the slightly brighter side, but one that depends on you, not some outside power that’s going to come along and make everything okay: Beyond Hope

No Recent Posts – Big Life Change

The apartment building I lived in for 15 years had a major fire. As a result, I was a Red Cross refugee for two weeks, with minimal access to a computer. I’m more or less back — new state, temporarily (I hope) living with son, and hoping to get a place of my own sooner rather than later. Being back online is the biggest step toward normality for me, but I have lots of catching up to do.

But I’ll be back.


Water, Sex, Money

About the only time I envy people with money is when I want to buy a book that I can’t afford. I’d love to know what it feels like to plunk down 10, 15, 20 dollars or more without giving it a thought. No “Should I?” No “Can I afford it?” It must be nice. Right now, it’s a new novel by Paolo Bacigalupi that I’m yearning for. Wired posted the first chapter, and it sucked me right in. I loved The Windup Girl which, admittedly, is the only one of his books I’ve read so far, so I can’t say that I’m a fan. But if I could afford it, I probably would be.

I don’t know if The Water Knife will have the same dense, almost manic feel that rules The Windup Girl, but it looks to have the same immersive quality. The world is deep into a time when water can be so scarce and precious that it instigates wars. I don’t know how far along the timeline Bacigalupi places his novel, but we might be closer than the book anticipates, with water theft already becoming a matter of concern in drought-ridden California.

It’s the kind of book I practically drool over, both in the anticipation and the reading. And patience isn’t my strong suit.

It’s this kind of frustration that’s making me consider tweaking a novel-in-progress, purely for financial considerations. The story combines indentured servitude and coming of age. It would probably be about as popular as my hand slaves novels, which is to say: not very popular at all. But it would be easy to tweak it into a gay romance. I don’t do erotica. I don’t even do sex, so this would be very discreet — not even fade-to-black sex scenes. So, still not a tempting buy for readers (mostly women) who like to be turned on by male/male sex. (I honestly don’t get that at all.) It wouldn’t be HEA (happy every after), but HFN (happy for now), with even that possibility left up in the air. The male-romance crowd pretty much hates ambiguity, so between no-sex and no promise of happy ever after, maybe I’m shooting too many holes in my foot for it to even be worth the effort of making the changes.

I dunno. Some days, I think I’ll just give up writing. I’m pretty good at proof-reading. Maybe I’ll set me up a little business.

The New Serfdom — Again

I’ve been wrestling with one particular novel for two or three years now. The New Serfdom, which I’ve mentioned here before, has evolved drastically, moving Nolan,  the original main protagonist, to secondary position and moving Gil, the original secondary, into the primary. And somewhere along the way, the novel turned into something completely different from the original concept.

There have been, and still are, a lot of problems with trying to get it written (or rewritten). I didn’t know Gil well enough. And there are two, and possibly three timelines, to fit in so they don’t lose the reader. I’ve swerved back and forth between trying to “fix” it and just tossing and forgetting. Tossing and forgetting has been very tempting at times because the novel is now a complete mess. But the new version that has been evolving from the original keeps pulling at me. In almost every way, it’s much more interesting than the original and potentially more productive of the conflicts that are necessary to any novel, and of the world building that is necessary to a science fiction novel.

I’ve played around with making setting up a rough chronological outline that takes all the timelines into account, but that hasn’t worked. And the reason it hasn’t worked is that I haven’t worked out why this character or that character is present at a particular time and exactly what they are supposed to be doing. What I’ve been trying to do is exactly what many writers do successfully — work out the plot first — and that I can’t do, successfully. Just in case anyone is confused here, a story idea isn’t a plot. You can invent many different plots from one story idea. In fact, that’s been done — giving several authors a story idea and challenging them to come up with their own plots.

My books are much more about the characters than the plots, and for some reason, I’ve upset the balance in trying to work out a new version of New Serfdom. I will never be able to work out the timelines until I know exactly why each character is doing what he’s doing and why he’s where he is at a specific moment in time. And the only way to learn all that is to ask questions.

The working file for every novel I’ve written has a section called “questions.” The questions I ask, and how I answer them, determine more about the novel than does the plot. That’s where I need to focus my attention. Go through the old questions based on the original concept, throw out the ones that are no longer relevant, add the ones that will lead me to the answers I need now. Instead of an outline, which many writers of how-to books insist is an absolute necessity, my books are shaped by questions. And most of those questions are about the characters, not about the plot.

A lot of genre novels are mostly about the plot, which makes them fairly easy to outline. They’re about what happens, and when. Once you have that, the characters do what the plot demands. Adding depth to any of the characters is optional. But genre stories don’t have to be written that way. Some readers prefer depth, thank goodness, so it’s possible to write stories where the plot is determined by the characters’ motivations, rather than the other way around. The main protagonists determine the direction of the plot. If I don’t lose sight of that again, maybe New Serfdom will get finished someday.

A Future When I Won’t Be Here

You’d think someone as old as I am wouldn’t give a damn about the long-term future. And part of me doesn’t. It’s a great source of inspiration for science fiction, but it isn’t going to affect me one way or the other. My children are too concerned with their day to day concerns to think about it. My grandchildren? They will be the victims of today’s actions and inactions by those in power.

A small part of the long-term future is resources. Water is much in the news because of the drought in the far west of the US. Nestles and other companies are making fortunes bottling up the water that is in increasingly short supply. Fracking operations are draining and polluting underground water that cities draw on for drinking water. Maybe the drought will break next year. Maybe it won’t. Weather prediction is still just as much an art as a science.

The comments on a Gizmodo article on #droughtshaming in California are a good insight into attitudes pro and con water conservation. One point that got me was the statistics. Residential use of water in California is only 20% of overall consumption, and exterior landscaping is only 9% of that. So, while there are good reasons to shame  the celebrities who still maintain their swimming pools and green lawns, even a 100% switch to ecological common sense by the moneyed elite wouldn’t be more than a drop in the bucket. If all the lawns in California dried up and blew away, it wouldn’t make a dent in a failing water supply.

All of which made me think about the good old days when we were encouraged to recycle everything. Cities invested big bucks in recycling pickup, and sorting facilities. Most of them shut down when they proved to be mostly a financial drain. And, of course, the statistics showed the truth — that residential garbage was such an insignificant part of the country’s waste stream that if every citizen did their part, it wouldn’t make a dent.

I live kitty corner from a 24/7 convenience store, and for the last two months I watched the remodeling that involved huge dumpsters filled to overflowing as the inside was gutted and the outside was redecorated. I watched a small fake dormer torn down and replaced by a giant fake dormer that involved what was probably thousands of pounds of lumber and roofing materials. And all I could think about was that if I recycled every recyclable for my entire life, it wouldn’t amount to what that one store hauled to the dump.

The funny thing is that I do still recycle, but I’ve recently made a change. I still put paper products in the dumpster set aside for that behind my apartment building because paper recycling is fairly efficient, and paper sent to the dump would be worthless in the future. But glass and cans now go into the garbage. I think of it as my tiny contribution to a future when municipal dumps are a major resource in a society that has collapsed under the weight of its own stupidity and blindness.

Month by month, it’s becoming harder and harder for me to write — anything. I’m not written out, not with WIPs that still entice me to finish them. Not with new ideas steadily percolating. Not with the world bursting into flame everywhere I look. But it’s a good day when I write a couple of hundred words. It’s about relevance — the place you come to one day and say “What’s the point?”

A recent article in The Daily Beast asked “Are We Distracting Ourselves to Death?” That instantly reminded me of a book written by Neil Postman thirty years ago: Amusing Ourselves to Death. The answer to the Daily Beast’s question is, of course, yes. It’s just a replay of Postman’s book. I read over a dozen news sources, including independent and international, so I have a pretty good picture of what’s taking place in the world — the trends and patterns of international politics and how the average person views what’s going on. And the only possible conclusion I can come to about the value of writing anything is that it’s an exercise in futility, unless you write purely for the income.

I’ve never spent much time on social media, and have less and less motivation to do what little “promotion” I’ve been capable of. The effort is just too great for too little return. What difference does it make if 25 people sign up for my prison blog? The only people who will do that are already interested in the topic, and they are perfectly capable of getting the same information elsewhere, from dozens of sources. What difference does it make that I write novels exploring moral issues? The few people who buy and read them, are far more interested in the emotional issues of the characters. Give your reader someone they can cry over, and the rest of the content hardly matters.

I’m not so much bitter as realistic and very, very tired. I’m tired of reading about the dangers the human race is facing, and the overwhelming indifference and sheer denial of most individuals. I’m tired of living in a country that bills itself the champion of human rights and freedom, and that grips the rest of the world ever tighter in its fist, with military bases everywhere, and the ability to deal remote-controlled death wherever it wishes. The people of the United States have been conquered in an almost bloodless coup (unless you happen to be poor and/or black), and are now living in a military/corporate regime that is the real power behind the presidency.

But none of that matters because what the beautiful people are wearing is far more important, along with the pity parties that are becoming standard fare, as everyone moans publicly about their bad marriage, unhappy childhoods, their unappreciated books, etc., etc. Studies have shown that news items about abused pets or babies draw far more interest than stories about villages being wiped out, whether by nature or bombs, or about horrible injustices that take place daily. I don’t find that at all surprising.

Believe any of that, or not. I really don’t care. This post is just about how I feel, not an attempt to influence anyone.

Bentham’s Dream – Two

Everything about the interior that I was led through was also generic, so bland that we might have been in an ordinary office building. Even the carpeting underfoot was the heavy-duty, no-nonsense kind that said no money was being wasted on luxuries. Presumably, that wouldn’t be true of the technology.

Right from the first, this place was intended never to succumb to obsolescence. We knew that much. It had been built with the most advanced technologies of the time, with the intention of updating to keep the prison at the forefront of penal institutions. That it continued to function after almost a half century without the slightest hint of any significant problems, said a lot about its planners and builders. And also about the level of security that kept every advance a dark secret. How the hell they’d managed that, decade after decade, was something that I sincerely wanted to know. If there had been problems, would the news ever have leaked out? I suspected it would be one of the things I wouldn’t learn.

The man that stood up when we entered his office was almost as ordinary looking as Feldman, but I sensed a presence. I know that sounds crazy, but there aren’t that many men who can impress me without saying a word, and this one cranked up my nerves an extra notch. The warden of any supermax prison carries an extra burden, but Westminster is the only one where every prisoner is in solitary confinement for the remainder of his life. So many ethical questions still swirl around solitary; the idea of using it as a lifetime punishment — that’s still beyond the pale as far as a lot of people are concerned. That was the crux of it, really. Out where I normally worked, it was still a volatile issue, even when it’s temporary, even when it’s been modified to acknowledge its terrible mental effects. But it was the entire reason why this prison existed. And the first few seconds of being in this man’s presence told me that he was up to the job. More, he wasn’t someone I wanted to piss off.

“Mr. Stanton.” Chandler gave me a small nod and an even smaller smile, and reached across the desk. He was observing me, and I found that vaguely unsettling. I expected this assignment could be an unpleasant one, but I wasn’t prepared to be examined as if I was an entering prisoner. But I damn well wasn’t going to let the man intimidate me. I smiled back and shook his hand.

Chandler turned his attention to his deputy. “Mr. Feldman, please inform me when the new prisoner arrives.” And that was it. He came around the desk and took off without another word. He apparently took it for granted that I would follow him.
“We’ll start with the maintenance areas, Mr. Stanton. Then we will proceed to the cells and tower. That should give you the basis you need to understand the intake procedure you’ll be seeing afterwards. You will be recording audio throughout?”

Taking a deep, silent breath, I said, “Yes, I will. I’ll also be making text notes.” I pulled a slate out of my jacket. “If you and Mr. Feldman wish to review the material before I leave, I’m willing to wait. And you can download your own copy.”

A committee member had suggested that I record video or at least take photos, but that had been shot down by the chairman without comment. I’d been sure it would be. For a couple of seconds, I’d even debated with myself about the man’s intelligence. So, when it came time to sign the non-disclosure agreement, I wasn’t at all surprised that it was the strictest I’d ever seen. I couldn’t even make sketches  from memory, after leaving the prison. I’d thought about dashing off a couple of rough ones, just to have a memento, until I read the agreement. I wasn’t a fool. Even if I hadn’t been legally bound, I realized that even something so innocent could risk the security of the prison if they were ever found.

My inspections had always included tours that the administrators set up, hoping that I wouldn’t look any further or ask any uncomfortable questiosn. This one was impressive, strictly on point, without personal chatter or any sign that Chandler would welcome frivolous questions. And he sure as heck wasn’t the slightest bit interested in me. The man was all business, and if he was cooperating only because he didn’t have any choice, he kept his feelings about it well out of sight. He spouted statistics, and pointed out details that I might not have noticed on my own, with an assurance that said this was a man who stayed on top, always in control. It was reassuring, but in a way that gave me a chill. The prison would be run exactly as mandated, but it made me wonder how that translated to the inmates. Were they humans to this man, or just warm bodies to be managed? Maybe, during the course of the day, Chandler would reveal his humanity, but for the first part of the tour, he did a very good impression of an extemely well-designed and intelligent robot. But if he thought I was going to be distracted from my own goals, he was mistaken. I took it for granted that he was covering up something. And I took it for granted that, whatever it was, I would find it.

Our first stop was the kitchen, maybe to impress on me just how different this place was from a normal prison. Well, it did. It was antiseptically clean, with every surface, and every pot and pan sparkling. The odors coming from the huge pots on the stove, in preparation for lunch, were tantalizing enough to remind me that I hadn’t eaten breakfast that morning. One of the cooks, with a nod from Chandler, offered me a taste of a vegetable stew. It was delicious, and Chandler allowed himself a tiny smile that I was beginning to think of as a patented mask, at my surprise.

Given what I knew about the average diet and the quality of the food that prisoners were usually subjected to, my question was inevitable. “Is this how the prisoners normally eat?” There was every possibility that it was all theater, for my benefit. That’s why my normal inspections were always unannounced. There were wardens who hated my guts. They couldn’t tidy up the disgusting conditions before I saw them and they couldn’t bribe me to look the other way.

“Staff and prisoners eat the same food,” Chandler said, without seeming to grasp the implication of the question or taking it as an insult. “Proper nourishment contributes to good health and extends the lifetime. You might say it is part of the punishment.”

Was that official prison policy or Warden Chandler’s personal philosophy in action? Or an example of extremely dry humor? Whichever it was, it put me a little off-balance. There might be some interesting twists in this investigation. If Chandler had a philosophy at all, it probably wasn’t going to be like anything I was used to hearing about.

The statistics kept piling up as we walked through the laundry, the clothing depot, the housekeeping area, and a mobile medical dispensary. Chandler answered my questions concisely and briefly, but with a promise that I’d be able to quiz him in more depth after the tour. I resigned myself, making brief text notes, and marking the most important ones for priority in case the warden cut me off at some point. What I was most curious about at the moment was why there seemed to be no infirmary, just the mobile unit. But the recitation of facts went on, and didn’t give me much of a chance to break in with questions. Had he actually memorized a script for the entire tour?

“Westminster has 32 support staff and a rota of 21 guards…”

I broke in right there because I couldn’t let it go by. “How is that possible? You have… what? Some six or seven hundred prisoners! 21 guards for three shifts? I don’t understand.” His numbers had to be off somehow. Maybe his definition of “support staff” accounted for it.

“Since the inmates never leave their cells for any reason, the prison is designed to provide all services as efficiently as possible. That includes the number of personnel. All services are conducted in the prisoners’ cells, under conditions that require a minimum number of supervisory officers.”

The inmates never leave their cells! I stopped dead for a few seconds and had to catch up with him, jolted by that casual bit of information. It was a detail that no one knew about. And it immediately raised all kinds of questions about how this place was run.
“Mr. Chandler! What do you mean, they don’t leave their cells at all? Ever?”

Chandler stopped and turned when he realized that I’d fallen behind. “I mean exactly what I said, Mr. Stanton. Once a man enters his cell, the only way he leaves it is when life has left him. Oh, there is one exception. If there are any problems with the cell or its equipment that would make it difficult or impossible for the prisoner to remain in it, he will be transferred to another cell.”

“But that’s impossible! The effects of prolonged solitary confinement have been known for more than a  century. Not even the most despicable criminals deserve that. You’ve been allowed to operate without any outside oversight, but this…” My disbelief and indignation were in danger of carrying me away when Chandler raised his hand in a sharp gesture.

“I know what you are thinking, Mr. Stanton, but I assure you that your experience with solitary confinement has no relationship to what goes on here. Please have the courtesy not to judge until you see and understand how we deal with our prisoners.”

My face burned at being so openly chastised. And what the hell was I thinking, anyway, to criticise with so few of the facts in hand? If I blew this chance, it was unlikely that it would come again until a new warden took Chandler’s place. I didn’t even want to think about what such a serious mistake would do to my career.

It galled me, but I had to back off and apologize. There was every reason to expect that what went on here would be different, and there had been plenty of brainstorming about what that might mean. Now it looked like we’d all suffered a failure of imagination. “You’re quite right, Mr. Chandler, and I apologize. I assure you it won’t happen again. It’s just… It took me by surprise.”

“Yes, I suppose it would. I’m well acquainted with the methods of penal systems out there. Ours are quite different, as you’ll see.”

The warden’s expression was cool, but I didn’t detect any sign of anger. Either the man was just a cold SOB who didn’t let himself be affected by what anyone else thought, or he’d prepared himself for criticism. Was the smooth delivery of his patter rehearsed, as I’d thought, or was he one of those people who always have every detail at their finger tips? It wasn’t as if he was going to make a habit of giving tours. Why go to that kind of trouble for one intruder in his domain?

He went on with a recitation of the kinds of support staff employed by the prison, so an explanation of total seclusion was apparently going to come in its own good time. Or his good time. I kept part of my attention on the spiel, and the rest on trying to reconcile the small staff with the new knowledge. That would certainly allow a reduction in the number of guards needed, but even so, only 21 in three shifts of seven? That would mean a level of control I’d never encountered before, even in the most draconian supermax prisons. It had to be based on something more than just 24/7 cell restriction, which wasn’t that uncommon in high-security prisons. There must be other precautions. And for the life of me, I couldn’t imagine what they would be.

But the thought of anyone, even the worst of criminals, being condemned to solitary for the rest of their life, sent a pang of empathetic pain through me. Such extreme isolation had to lead to madness. I knew all too well what supermax conditions were like, and the statistics for mental breakdowns and suicides in their prisoner populations. I forced myself to abandon the problem for the time being. There was too much I didn’t know. Hell, I didn’t really know anything. At least, if Chandler had already revealed that much, he probably wasn’t going to evade a thorough explanation.

Hugo Awards, Autism, Website

Has anyone noticed the big to-do about the Hugo science fiction awards? Apparently a more or less far right group calling themselves Sad Puppies have hijacked the awards in order to prevent books and stories that they disapprove of from winning. This is another tempest in a teacup that has caught the attention of too many pundits. How important are the Hugos? Well, if you have $40.00 you, too, can vote. So all that’s necessary to swing the votes is persuade a lot of people to shell out their $40.00, and you can buy the awards.

I’ve never bought an SF novel because it was a winner of any award. And I daresay that’s true for most SF fans. Over time, novels of any genre stand and fall on their merit. Very few readers know or care what awards they won or lost.

. . . . .

I’ve been reading a series of articles and book reviews on Disability in Kidlit. Since April is Autism Awareness Month, the site is devoting the entire month to reviews of juvenile and young adult books about autism, and articles by writers with autism, discussing how literature affects the public’s view of autism, and how books by non-autistics and autistics differ.

It has me thinking more seriously than my usual idle pondering, about my own experiences of growing up on the spectrum, when Asperger’s Syndrome was a brand new diagnosis that very few people had ever heard of. I was in my 60s before I knew there was such a thing as a autism. I spent a couple of years delving into it, mostly because it initially seemed to explain a lot of my lifelong problems, including why the heck I seem somewhat eccentric to many people. The controversies, which still dominate discussion about autism, were interesting, but once I judged that I was on the high end of the spectrum, I went on to other interests.

Reading the series on Disability in Kidlit, I’ve been able to look at autism from a new perspective. I’m not in the least interested in writing “kidlit,” and there’s a definite limit to how much I would want to write about myself, but as an adult with “high functioning autism,” I’m aware of many issues that even the autobiographies I’ve read don’t cover. So, possibly, another writing project. Low priority for now, but since I’m a patchwork writing, I’ll let it build slowly, just like most of my projects.

. . . . .

Speaking of projects, I’ve shut down my “official” website and am transferrring all the material here. The free reads have already made their way over, and there’s a link in the top menu. A website has no value unless it has readers, and trying to attract readers for it is just one more miserable task that I don’t have the time and energy for.