Not a Blog

A Farewell to Phyl

January 18, 2021 at 5:04 pm
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My old friend Phyllis Eisenstein died on December 7, in Chicago.   The cause of death, I am told, was Covid-19, but Phyllis had been hospitalized for most of the year, following a cerebral hemorrhage last January.

I have been trying to write a memorial to her since her passing… trying, and struggling with it.   The holidays interfered, as they will, and of course I have so much on my plate… but mainly it was just hard.    There was so much to say, and it seemed that only days had passed since I wrote about the deaths of Kay McCauley and then Ben Bova.   Each one of those was a blow, and coming so soon one after the other… I confess, it left me in a dark place.   The closer you are to someone, the harder it is to do justice to their memory.  And Phyllis and I were close.

My old friend, I said… and damn, but that is true.   I had known Phyl for  half a century, I’ve realized, looking back.   We first met in Boston in 1971, at Noreascon I, the first worldcon I ever attended.   She was working the SFWA table at the con, greeting members and telling them about SFWA… a volunteer, giving of her time and effort to help out.   Phyllis did a lot of that; she had a generous soul.   I had only sold two stories when I turned up at Noreason and I was not yet qualified to join SFWA.  I had only attended one previous sf con, so I knew almost no one at worldcon… but Phyllis was warm and friendly, and I spent a lot of the con hanging around her at the table, and she introduced me to other writers, editors, artists, all sorts of people.   Phyllis, and her husband Alex, had been a part of fandom for a long time, and she seemed to know everyone.

I mean to write about all that, and more, but I also wanted to say something about her work, for Phyllis Eisenstein was a gifted and accomplished writer, one who never got the attention that I think that she deserved.    There’s a lot to say about that as well.   And I will.

The days have been flying by, though, and the demands on me have been building, and finally I concluded it was better to post this short notice than say nothing at all.   I will return to Phyllis and write her a much longer memorial, I promise… when I can.   Soon, I hope.

There has been too much death.   Phyl is the third friend I lost in the last two months of 2020, that most dismal of years.   And three other friends, people very near and dear to me, are struggling with very grave health issues even now.  It seems there is darkness everywhere.  The COVID death count keeps rising, there are fascists in the streets; the best lack all conviction, the worst are full of passionate intensity, and Kay and Ben and Phyl are all gone.

Be well, my friends.

 

Current Mood: sad sad

Words for Our Times

January 13, 2021 at 10:02 am
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Current Mood: anxious anxious

More Sadness

December 7, 2020 at 8:49 am
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The deaths just keep on coming in this worst of all possible years.

I was very saddened to read of the death of Ben Bova, another victim of Covid-19 (and Donald J. Trump).

Bova was a major science fiction writer, a hard science guy, talented and prolific.   I could not begin to name all his novels; the list is longer than my arm.   He wrote some good short fiction as well, including his collaboration with Harlan Ellison, “Brillo,” which became the basis (uncredited) of a short-lived TV series and one of Harlan’s famous lawsuits.

For all his accomplishments as an author, however, it was as an editor that Ben Bova had the most profound impact on the field… and on my own life and career.   When the legendary John W. Campbell Junior died in 1971, the Conde Nast Publications, publishers of ANALOG, chose Bova to succeed him.  For all his accomplishments, JWC had become increasingly idiosyncratic in his last couple of decades, and ANALOG had become moribund and out of touch.   Ben Bova came in and revitalized the magazine, welcoming a whole new generation of writers who Campbell most likely would never have touched (myself among them).   The changes were not without controversy.   During the first couple of years of his editorship, ANALOG’s lettercol was full of angry “cancel my subscription” letters from readers who insisted that JWC would never have published this or that story.   My own stories were the subjects of some of those complaints, along with work by Joe Haldeman and many others.   The complainers were not wrong; odds were, Campbell would never have bought the stories Bova did.

Back in the 70s, I was selling to all the magazines and most of the original anthologies, but ANALOG became my major market, and Ben Bova was the editor who had the biggest influence on my work.   Previous generations of SF writers were writing for JWC or H.L Gold or Boucher & McComas.   If I was writing for anyone, I was writing for Ben… at least some of the time.

My first sale to ANALOG was actually a piece I did for a journalism class at Northwestern, about computer chess: “The Computer Was A Fish.”   But fiction soon followed, lots of fiction… thanks in large part to Ben Bova.

I got my first cover on ANALOG with “The Second Kind of Loneliness.”   Ben bought that.   The cover was by Frank Kelly Freas.

My first Hugo- and -Nebula nominee (lost both) was “With Morning Comes Mistfall.”   Also published in ANALOG, by Ben.

The second Nebula loser, and first Hugo WINNER, was “A Song for Lya,” a novella from ANALOG.   Bought and published by Ben.   That year, worldcon went to Australia for the first time.   I was still directing chess tournaments to supplement my meagre (growing, but meagre) income from writing, and there was no way I could afford a trip down under, so I asked Ben Bova to accept for me if I won.   I did!  And he did!

Ben also bought “The Storms of Windhaven,” the first my Windhaven collaborations with Lisa Tuttle.   Got a cover for that too.

Oh, and “Seven Times Never Kill Man.”   That one got a Schoenherr cover (one that alledgedly inspired George Lucas to create the Wookiees).  And lost a Hugo, the same year as “Storms.”

Ben serialized my first novel, DYING OF THE LIGHT, in an abridged version called “Mockman.”   With a cover by Vincent di Fate.

And along about 1978, when Ben left ANALOG to take on the editorship of a new slick science fiction/ fact magazine called OMNI, he took me with him.  I published several stories there as well, most notably a novelette called “Sandkings” that some of you may recall.   It won the Hugo and Nebula both, and was the most successful thing I ever wrote until I began A GAME OF THRONES.

Looking back, it is amazing to realize how many of the stories that made my name were edited and published by Ben Bova.   Without him, I cannot say for certain that I would have had a career at all    He won four Hugo awards in a row as Best Editor, as I recall, and deserved every one.   If he had continued to edit, I have no doubt he would have won more… but writing was his first love, and in the 80s he returned to his own work.

His family and friends have my condolences.   I know he will be missed.

These are dark times… for science fiction, as well as the world at large.    I am still reeling from Kay McCauley’s death last month… from Gardner Dozois’s death in 2018… and now this.   The lights are going out.   Giants are passing.   We shall not see their like again.

 

 

Current Mood: sad sad

Farewell to Jerry Jeff

November 18, 2020 at 10:28 am
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I was saddened to read (somewhat belatedly) of the death of Jerry Jeff Walker.

While I never had a chance to listen to Jerry Jeff perform in person, I always liked his music… going all the way back to the 70s, when I first discovered him.   (Yes, I do like country, especially the sort that used to be called “outlaw” country, as performed by the likes of Willie Nelson, Townes van Zandt, Kinky Friedman, and Kris Kristofferson, all favorites).

Even if you don’t listen to country, you probably know one of Walker’s songs: “Mr Bojangles,” which was a hit for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and has been covered by many others.

Here’s another of my favorites from Jerry Jeff.

Current Mood: melancholy melancholy

The Queen of Agents

November 11, 2020 at 4:37 pm
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A very dark year got even darker a few days ago, when I learned of the death of Kay McCauley in New York City.

Kay had been my literary agent for many many years, and a big part of my life for even longer.   I have been trying to recall the first time I met her, but the memories are blurry.   I suspect the first time we spoke was by phone.   I had signed on with Kay’s brother, Kirby McCauley, along about the mid 70s, when I was a struggling young writer and he was a struggling young agent.   Kirby had come out of Minnesota to set up shop in the Big Apple, and in the early days he flew solo, working out of his apartment, representing the estates of a few giants and a lot of upstarts and neopros like me.   But he climbed, he climbed.  His client list grew, and some of his clients became stars… in no small part due to Kirby.   To the best of my recollection, Kay came out from Minnesota to join him in the early/ mid 80s, to help him manage a business that had become ever larger and more chaotic.   She soon became an indispensable part of the agency that was variously known as Kirby McCauley Ltd, then the Pimlico Agency, then Aurous.

Kirby died in September 0f 2014.   Hard to believe that it has been six years.  The years go by so very swiftly now.   I made a long post about Kirby and all he did for me shortly after his death on my old LiveJournal version of Not A Blog.  It is still up, so I won’t repeat myself here, beyond posting a link to:
https://grrm.livejournal.com/382006.html 

The agency carried on after Kirby’s death, and so did Kay.   She had been pretty much running things for a decade or more in any case, with Kirby advising from the sidelines, semi-retired.   And if Kirby had been the King of Agents at his height, his sister was indisputably the queen.

I have been trying to write this tribute to Kay for two days now, but the words come hard.   She was such a big part of my life… and the life of all her clients, I think.   Hers was an old fashioned sort of literary agency.   She did not have a long list of clients, and… indeed… was not eager to take on anyone new, though from time to time she made exceptions.   She took on Gardner Dozois when he finally left the agency he had been with for decades, and did great things for him.   (Gardner, love him, was such an Eeyore that he tried to argue when Kay got him MUCH bigger advances than he had been getting previously, protesting “No, that’s too much,” but Kay was having none of that).   She took on Vic Milan when so one else would touch him and made him the biggest and best sale he had ever gotten.   She did amazing stuff for many of her other clients too… but I will let them tell you about that.   And of course she and Kirby did great things for me.

Being one of Kay’s clients was not an ordinary writer/agent relationship.   To Kay, we were all family.   She loved her clients, and her clients loved her back.    There is no one like her.

(Mind you, Kay could be fierce as well.   She did not forget, and she did not easily forgive anyone who she felt had screwed her, her brother, or any of her clients.   You messed with Kay McCauley at your own peril).

The news of Kay’s death came as a total shock to me, and… I suspect… to most of her clients.   Kay was older than Kirby, and a decade or so older than me, but you would never have known it.   Her energy was prodigious.   She seemed like a force of nature, indestructible, tireless; I figured she would go on for decades.   I think all of us did.   She was working hard for her clients right up until the end.   In fact, she had just closed a deal for three more Wild Cards anthologies for us.   The contract is sitting on my desk as I type, awaiting my review and signature.  Kay would probably have phoned or texted in another day or two to scold me for not dealing with it more quickly.

She always loved Wild Cards; the books, yes, the characters… and all the writers as well.   For a number of years, she would fly out to Santa Fe on or about September 15 (Wild Cards Day) and throw a big party for all the Wild Carders.   We had one at my theatre, and several of them at Meow Wolf.  None this year, alas, thanks to Covid… but I know Kay would have made up for that next year.   Though she did not often come to worldcon, she was planning to attend CoNZealand and throw a party there.  Covid put an end to that as well, sad to say.  (FWIW, I do not believe she died from Covid).

Of course, dinner with Kay was always on the schedule whenever I visited New York.   The last one — the last time I saw her — was a year ago in October, when Kay and me and Tom Doherty and Diana Pho and my assistant Sid had a marvelous steak feast at Keen’s Steakhouse in NYC.   Tom and Kay had secretly arranged for the restaurant to present to present me with one of the clay pipes that have decorated the walls and ceiling of Keen’s since colonial days.  A rare honor.   I have never smoked,  but I was thrilled all the same.


SID & KAY at KEEN’s, October 2019

I have so many other memories of Kay… she has been a huge part of my life and career for so many years.   I remember when she went to Ashford Castle in Ireland with me and Parris, the meals we shared together, the day the three of us went hawking.   I wish I had a photograph of Kay with her hawk.   We had such a great time there, we often talked of going back.   Being Irish, Kay often talked of wanting to retire and move to a cottage in Ireland… a fond dream, but I knew she would never do it.  She might have started as a Minnesota gal, but Manhattan was in her blood.   I remember the times we visited City Island with Kirby, to feast on seafood at one of the waterside restaurants there.   So many toasts… great bottles of wine, champagne, and of course prosecco.  And great meals.   Which she always insisted on buying…  unless there was an editor along she could give the check to.   I think I only managed to pay for her dinner once, during a visit to Santa Fe, and to do that I had to get to the restaurant twenty minutes ahead of her and speak to our waiter, make special arrangements so the check next came to the table… elsewise she would have ripped it from my hands.

I remember how we wept together, on the phone, when Roger Zelazny died.

And again, decades later, for Gardner.

She was a great agent too.   And unlike many literary agents of her generation, she was not afraid of new media.   Kay never played a role-playing game in her life, but the first time I was offered an RPG deal, she learned all she could about gaming, plunged in, and got me a terrific contract.

Ah… I hardly knew how to start this, and now I do not know how to stop…

It is going to take me a long long time to get over her passing.   Years from now, I suspect, part of me will still find myself wanting to text her, or pick up the phone and call her.   She was always just a phone call away.

And I damn well better get that Wild Cards contract signed soon, or I know that Kay will haunt me.

If there is an afterlife, Kay McCauley is with her brother Kirby right now, and the two of them are negotiating better places in heaven for their clients.

((I will leave comments open on this one, but ONLY for comments about Kay.   Those of you who knew her, and have memories and tributes to share, please do.   I would like to read them)).

 

 

Current Mood: sad sad

For Veteran’s Day

November 11, 2020 at 8:27 am
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Every time Veteran’s Day comes rolling around, it brings to mind one of my favorite poems, the profoundly moving “Last of the Light Brigade,” by Rudyard Kipling.

To really understand this one, it helps if you know Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade.”   I am old enough to be part of a generation that learned that one in grade school.   It was not quite as ubiquitous in New Jersey as in the UK, but it was taught here, at least in the 50s.   In its own way the Tennyson is also a great poem… but the message of the Kipling resonates much more strongly with me.

Every November 11, we honor those who fell in our wars… even as we forget those who fought them, and survived.

 

Current Mood: contemplative contemplative

A Glimmer of Light

November 6, 2020 at 3:42 pm
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The past few days have been hard ones.   Like millions of others, I finally went to sleep on Tuesday night — very late, I stayed up as long as I could, watching the election returns trickle in — in a state of near despair.   Things did not look good at all.   By the time I woke up Wednesday morning, however, the picture had brightened considerably, and it has continued to brighten ever since.   A Biden victory now appears all but certain.  Arizona and Nevada are trembling on the brink, and Joe has moved ahead in Pennsylvania (which everyone saw coming) and even Georgia (which no one saw coming).   It should not be long now before he hits 270, and I can start to breathe again.

Maybe.  For a little while.

I have read too much history to be entirely sanguine, however.   I get very little reassurance from those who say “it cannot happen here.”   It can happen here.  It can happen anywhere.   Donald Trump has broken all the rules, and plainly he has no regard for democracy, for our traditions, for the rule of law, for anything beyond his own power, his own ego.   He is the worst president this country has ever had, and the first to really represent a threat to the Constitution, to the electoral process itself (no president in the past half century has ever floated the idea of a third term, or expressed admiration for the concept of “president for life,” but Trump has).    This is not the first close election in American history.   It is not even the first “disputed” election — through Trump has absolutely no proof for these absurd claims he is making — but where past candidates like Samuel Tilden, Al Gore, and even Richard Nixon had too much love for their country to risk ripping it apart, Trump loves no one and nothing but himself.   I do not expect a gracious concession speech from him, like the one Al Gore gave in 2000.   I do not even expect a grudging, sour concession.   He may need to be dragged from the White House.

And yet there seem to be millions of Trumpies who will believe any lie he chooses to tell, no matter how outrageous.   I mean, insane as it seems, when the new Congress assembles there will be a Q-Anon believer in the House of Representatives.   That sound you hear is the Founding Fathers spinning in their graves.   Regardless of what Trump may say and do, I can only hope that sanity will prevail in the days and months to come.   “Hope,” I said… but I will not pretend to be certain.   Not when armed men are being arrested on the way to the Philadelphia convention center, when militants are trying to kidnap the governor of Michigan.   I can only hope that these are outliers, a few fringe cases, who do not represent most Americans.

These are… interesting times.   And not in a good way.

I do not envy Joe Biden.   By the time he is sworn in, the death count from coronavirus may well have reached half a million.   Biden wants to unite us, not divide us, but that is easier said than done.   Let us hope that he can indeed bind up the nation’s wounds, as Lincoln once urged.  It will not be easy.

But at least there is a glimmer of light ahead.

I will dare to hope.

 

Current Mood: hopeful hopeful

Time to Vote

October 21, 2020 at 11:35 am
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I descended from my mountain holdfast for a few days this week, to make sure my vote was counted.

Early voting is open in many states.

If you want to vote by mail or with an absentee ballot, there are ways to do that as well.   But you have to ACT.

Or you can go to the polls on election day.   Masked, I hope.   Keeping correct social distance.

However you do it, please VOTE.  Covid makes it unusually challenging this year, but the future of our country, the future of democracy itself, is on the line this time around.

 

Current Mood: determined determined

Ugly, Ugly, Ugly

September 30, 2020 at 4:36 pm
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I have seen every presidential debate ever held.

I began taking an interest in politics when I was still in grade school.    The first presidential election I followed was the race between John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon in 1960.   I was twelve years old.   It was an historic occasion.

Most of you are probably way younger than me.   JFK died before you were born.   You may not even remember the day he was shot, let alone the election that won him the presidency, or the debates that played such a big part in that contest.   But fortunately you have YouTube.   Take a look.

 

Millenials, Gen Xers, Gen Zs, play a little of this.   The opening statements, at least.   The issues and controversies of 1960 are part of history now, and may not seem hugely relevant to us today (though some of them still are)… but it is the TONE of the debate that I want to draw your attention to.   This is what a presidential debate is supposed to look and sound like.   Two candidates exchanging views and ideas, debating facts, dealing with the issues of the day, all the while treating each other with respect.   It was a DEBATE.   Lincoln and Douglas would have been proud.   Maybe it was not the most exciting television in the world, but it gave us a good view of both candidates, where they agreed, where they differed.

I have seen every subsequent debate as well.   Nixon and Kennedy had three more of these, and I watched.   I was watching when Ford blew his election against Carter with a gaffe about Eastern Europe.   I was watching when Bill Clinton turned the 1992 race in the three-way debate with Bush the Elder and Ross Perot.   I saw Ronald Reagan debate Jimmy Carter, and John Anderson, and Walter Mondale.   I watched Obama against McCain, and Obama against Romney.   I saw all the good moments, and all the bad ones.

I have never seen anything like what I witnessed last night.

It was appalling.   Offensive.   Disgusting.    Donald Trump was bad four years ago in his debates with Hillary Clinton, but last night he set new records for being offensive, obnoxious, and rude.    He ranted, he raved, he shouted, he interrupted again and again and again and AGAIN, refusing to let Joe Biden finish a sentence without breaking in.   He spoke over Biden, he spoke over the moderator, he ignored the questions, he ignored the rules — rules his own campaign had negotiated and agreed to — he told shocking lies, and doubled down when called on them, he engaged in smears and personal attacks, he tried to discredit the result of the vote before most of America has even voted.

This was not the behavior of a president.   This was not the behavior of a presidential candidate.

This was the behavior of a schoolyard bully, an obnoxious child, the tinpot strongman of some third world dictatorship.

Look at the debate from 1960.   Can you imagine either Kennedy or Nixon engaging in behavior like this?   I am certainly no fan of Nixon, and he did some pretty shady things when he got into the White House (Watergate and all).   He said some pretty obnoxious stuff in his private moments as well.   So did LBJ.   So did other presidents, other candidates.  IN PRIVATE.   None of them would ever have behaved like Trump did in public.

It is not a question of Democrat v Republican, or Liberal v Conservative.   Nixon would not have behaved as Trump did.   Ronald Reagan would not have done so.   Nor Eisenhower, nor John McCain, nor Barry Goldwater.

Donald Trump disgraced the presidency last night.   He took a piss all over democracy.

All other issues aside — and there are hugely important issues being decided this year, from race relations to climate change to the pandemic — last night’s “debate” proved one thing beyond any doubt.   Joe Biden is a decent human being, and Donald Trump is not.

 

Current Mood: angry angry

Another Nameday

September 24, 2020 at 8:43 am
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I had a pretty nice birthday.   And thanks to all my fans and friends who sent me greetings by email, text, or (in one case) card.

Parris came up to the mountains to visit me in my fortress of solitude, the first time she has checked out the cabin, and I was thrilled and delighted to be able to spend some time with her.   She brought me a wondrous present, a  wolf from the same Santa Fe artist who made my ravens.   I will need to take a picture and post it here.  He’s marvelous.   My thanks to Dahlia, her right hand and assistant, for helping her make the trip.

My assistant Sid, who is an incredible baker (she owned her own coffee and pastry shop when she was only eighteen, before coming to work for me) baked us a birthday cake from scratch, a gorgeous… and delicious… red velvet cake with cream cheese icing.

I got several other nice gifts as well, among them some amazing old vinyl albums, including old Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers radio dramas, and an album of JFK’s speeches.   Which is uplifting and depressing at the same time, when one contemplates how far we have fallen.   My thanks to my friend Ti Mikkel for the thoughtful present.

Come evening, we watched the Emmy Awards.   A very strange Emmy night.   Jimmy Kimmel did a nice job hosting, playing to an empty auditorium, and I got a hoot out of the big robo-boxes that John Oliver and a few others received, with a big hand that burst out clutching an Emmy when the winner was announced.   Congratulations to all of this year’s winners…. and to the losers.    I have lost quite a few myself, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the bridesmaids… whether Emmy losers or Hugo losers.   It IS an honor just to be nominated.

In addition to the pandemic-inspired weirdness, it also felt odd for me personally.   For ten of the past eleven years, I have attended the Emmy Awards in LA… including last year, when GAME OF THRONES won its fourth for Best Drama.   But I have to say, it was much more relaxing to be watching from home.   The big Hollywood awards ceremonies are exciting, beyond a doubt, but they are also very stressful… and exhausting, especially for an old codger like me.

And there is no doubt, I am an old codger.   As of the 20th, I turned 72.   Damn.   When did THAT happen?   The years have gone by so quickly, it seems.  Inside I certainly do not feel 72.  Hell, scratch me and that kid who wrote those letters to Stan & Jack and stories for dittoed comics fanzines is right below the surface.   Truth be told, birthdays tend to depress me these days.   And this year… ancient as I may be, there is no doubt that 2020 is the worst year I have ever lived through (I never thought any year could be as bad as 1968, till now)… I think the occasion might really have gotten to me, if not for that fact I was surrounded by friends and loved ones.   Thanks to them, I did have a happy birthday.

Current Mood: happy happy