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The ten thousand things and the one true only.

by Kip Manley

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Eight for a wish.

19,204 words, this draft. A trend I’m not terribly fond of, I must admit. But at least the first draft of no. 30 is finally, finally done, though you should know that by “done” I don’t mean what I meant when I said the first draft of no. 29 was “done,” or no. 28 either, or nos. 27, 26, 25, et cetera, etcetera, for that matter.

A word, perhaps, about process? —The drafts I write are fairly polished: they begin where they’re going to begin, the end up where they’ll end up ending up, and they get there pretty much how they get there, sentences complete, dialogue neatly tied off, mostly, to a degree. I write them one word after another, start to finish, with very little skipping around, and for all that I like to imagine myself a fly-by-night, turn-on-a-dime, pants-seated improviser, the truth is I write to a pretty specific outline, one that’s pretty well fixed before I type the first word. It’s just not written down, really, beyond a simple list of scenes, usually just the names of key players, sometimes a location, or an action. Nothing more. I’ve already got the feel of the thing in my head, the weight of each scene, how it sits in the hand, a sort of synæsthetic proprioception that the list merely helps me keep straight. —Writing, then, largely consists of finding the actual-words-in-an-actual-sentence that will best fit to that inarticulable feel in the palm of my mind. (Helps to explain, perhaps, my meagre daily word counts: the fixed, unyielding goal is four hundred words a day: minuscule, perhaps, but enough to hypothetically complete a draft in a month; in terms of actual words set down in actual sentences, my average is south of two hundred words a day. Over the course of writing no. 30 alone, it fell from one hundred eighty three words or so a day to one hundred seventy words a day. —Another trend I do not like.)

Revision’s simple enough, then: each scene re-typed, descriptions rejiggered, reshuffled, removed (I tend to stick in too many to start, and all at the beginning); dialogue sanded and buffed, felicitized or awkwardified as needed; every now and then a scene’s shifted from here to there, or back again—the weight of actual words can sometimes warp a scene’s fit and feel to a whole new shape. Sometimes, a scene’s removed; sometimes, it’s replaced with something else entirely. The tyranny, of those actual words. —Then one more pass, to fit everything into the iron constraints of the 36-page ’zine format (me, a formalist! Who’d‘ve thought), and a final proofing pass (not as thorough as could be, I’ll grant, but I get what I pay for), and we’re done and on to the next.

But this draft! This draft. (Fuck this draft.) The shapes of the scenes keep slipping through the fingers of my mind, and the actual words I end up with suddenly make the shape of what happens next taste impossibly foul. (I did say it was synæsthetic.) Whole scenes written down in this “done” draft are not what they will need to be, will have entirely different people doing and saying rather different things someplace else, or probably will, or should. I realized about halfway through I actually didn’t know why what was happening was happening, or rather I came to suspect that the verse I was singing was really the chorus, which knocked the whole foyer off-kilter. (Synæsthesia! Just run with it.) —Ordinarily, when I lose my footing like this, I dry up; I poke and poke; I run up daily counts in the dozens, the handfuls, the goose-eggs. I usually wipe out the scene in question and start again, fitting new words to the shape, or weighing the shape itself against the words. A few times I’ve gone right back to the start. But not this time; not this draft. The words never petered out, per se? I just kept stacking them, one actual, actually wrong word after another, and my outline’s lit up blinking red in my mind’s eye, every written scene notional post-its: adjust, cut, rejigger, rewrite from scratch, do something, please for the love of Christ. The last two scenes aren’t even scenes as such, just copious notes as to what ought to happen, if and when, the sort of thing I never do. Placeholders.

So. But still. Done. Or “done.” Or maybe the issue isn’t that word; maybe the issue is that when I say a “draft” of no. 30, I don’t mean the same thing I meant when I spoke of a “draft” of nos. 29, or 28, or 27…

(And of course it’s the next one, no. 31, that’s supposed to be the big showstopping heavy-hitter. This one was just supposed to move the pieces into place. Make certain character A gets to point B knowing fact C in time for event D, for various values of A and B and C, etc. —Like they say, theorists study strategy; professionals study logistics.)

—posted 244 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of good fences.

As the world of the literatures of the fantastic was (we knew even then) much more extensive than the world of anything that we might end up defining as English-language science fiction (hence SF), our initial overall challenge was to work out how to sort the traffic: anything we licensed as SF please park here; everything else go somewhere else (but we knew not where).

Any initial arrogance about defining our terms was quickly chastened. The task, we decided pretty soon, was not exactly to create a universal definition of SF, for we knew (by then) that this could not be done; the task was to create an encompassing but porous boundary marker that would convince us that it plausibly enclosed something or other that fitted better inside than out (and which should be written about). Clearly we needed to operate within a narrower remit than E. F. Bleiler had applied to the construction of his brilliant Checklist of Fantastic Literature (1948), which included without distinguishing amongst them “science fiction, fantasy and weird books in the English language,” and making no claim to completeness. Bleiler’s superb book was a sampler; for our part, in order to create a work of reference that left nothing out, we would attempt to adhere to a description of SF “defined” as a marriage of the various definitions of the genre that were then current. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction would be, in other words, a tenement. The published result was an interwoven edifice of entries within a boundary line marked SF, exceedingly fuzzy, leaking every which way; an eruv that did not safely distinguish the sacred from the profane. The moat protecting our tenement was a water margin.

But it worked for a while, and in a way it still works, partly because our “definition” of SF as being essentially whatever everyone else thought it was seemed sufficiently broadchurch to allow users and scholars to make use of us without surrendering their own takes on the matter. Our deliberate refusal to know exactly what we were talking about—our refusal to know what SF truly was—was, I continue to think, a good model for writing encyclopedias.

John Clute

—posted 288 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of the gratuitous.

Before we decided film should tell stories, we were content with the Lumière brothers’ slices-of-life and Méliès’ magic tricks, with workers leaving factories and trains arriving at stations, with the miracle that pictures were moving at all. And a young film viewer’s ontogeny recapitulates film-historical philogeny. Young children are at a protocinematic stage of development: they enjoy picture books and nonsense nursery rhymes, improvisational dance, scribbling with crayons, and other repetitive, relatively drama-free, narrative-free, content-free entertainments. They are attracted to cinema for its motion and its color and, for lack of a better word, its “magic.” Uncorrupted by exposure to more sophisticated entertainments, they ask no more of motion pictures than that they be what they are: motion-pictures.

As cinema grew up and learned to talk in the 1930s, it developed more rules and conventions. And as children grow, they learn how a movie is “supposed” to go; they internalize the beats of the structure. Most people spend the rest of their lives watching a type of film they were taught to enjoy in their childhood. Those who venture into the world of international film, art film, and counter-cinema may find that it’s not just about developing a taste for the slow or unusual, or getting out ahead of our desire for traditional narrative—it’s about getting back to our cinematic state of nature. Perhaps our mistake is in wanting to use films, to have them cater to us and keep us from boredom, rather than to see them, love them, and respect them as the free, precious, ephemeral things that they are.

Lauren Wilford

—posted 298 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of the cheapest and the lowest.

Consider the barrenness of the notions that earthly things fall because they sink to the earth’s center or that fire rises to the empyrean home of burning suns and stars (i.e., the Aristotelian teleologies in physics). Yes, they accord well with our sense that falling and rising are peculiarly interesting aspects of the observed world. For centuries, however, the former made it harder to get to the Newtonian insight that all matter attracts all matter—and the Earth just happens, in a boring, quantitative way, to be the largest lump around. Similarly, the latter made it harder to see that anything less dense floats in anything more dense. Fire isn’t heading home. It’s just buoyant in a limited, measurable sense that has nothing to do with its romantic and sentimental associations.

Ditto for Galileo’s distinction between primary and secondary qualities; ditto for entelechies in biology. The mechanization of the world picture had its costs: One could no longer appreciate Dante in the same way, because Satan’s imprisonment at the Earth’s center—as far as possible from the heavens—had become a matter of sound physics and cosmology.

Such developments have moved around considerations of the Platonic overworld until it becomes the object of most of Rilke’s poetry, or—in another direction—the Symbolique of that extraordinary psychoanalyst, whose seminars I attended for four months during my second stay in Paris…

Timothy Hasler

—posted 306 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of Iubhdhán’s house.

I have a house in the land to the north, one half of it red gold, the lower half of silver.

Its porch is of white bronze and its threshold of copper, and of the wings of white-yellow birds is its thatch, I think.

The candlesticks are golden, with a candle of great purity, with a gem of precious stone in the very middle of the house.

But for myself and the high-queen, none of us are sad; a household there without old age, with yellow curly-crested hair.

Every man is a chess-player, there are good companies there without exclusion; the house is not closed against man or woman going to it.

unknown Irish author,
twelfth to thirteenth century

—posted 314 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of more.

The brevity-is-best rule seems to be supported by a much sounder maxim which reads: “Always send them away wanting more.” But that is a one-sided view. We can observe this maxim by giving them less than they want; we can also observe it by making them want more than we give them. The latter policy is clearly better.

Henning Nelms

—posted 322 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of pleasure.

Before my first queer encounters, I had never fantasized about strictly pleasuring my partner. If my fantasies included me, they were muddied by abnegation and rooted in haphazard thrusting that happened to me. Who else could my fantasies include, you ask? Jessica, the cousin from Run’s House; the woman who ran my favorite boutique; Jennifer Lopez, and Wesley Snipes in Money Train—anyone but myself, really.

But the more I fantasized about women—local artists and coffee shop baristas—the more frequently I entered my own fantasies. And I began to fantasize about the pleasure I could give and could receive by other people desiring me. As I read about Delany performing fellatio on strangers at The Venus and The Capri, people he’d never invite home or have non-sexual relationships with, I began to pleasure myself in a plethora of ways and unabashedly.

I followed the footsteps of The Mad Masturbator, a man Delany encountered in the theaters who masturbated so much he could literally fall asleep while other people got him off, and touched myself as frequently as possible. It took years, but finally I discovered what Oprah and my mother meant when they said I could do it myself.

Natalie Frazier

—posted 330 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of confidence.

Using the last name of LaPlante, they lived on Commerce Street, a quiet, well-kept trailer park in a more run-down part of Dallas, from April 1949 until March 1950. Their neighbors regarded Sally as a typical 12-year-old living with her widowed father, albeit one never let out of his sight except to go to school. But she seemed to enjoy taking care of her home. She would bake every once in a while. She had a dog. La Salle provided her with a generous allowance for clothes and sweets. She would go shopping, swimming, and to her neighbors’ trailers for dinner. And while La Salle, as LaPlante, set up shop again as a mechanic, Sally attended Catholic school once more, at Our Lady of Good Counsel. (It, too, no longer exists, absorbed into Bishop Dunne Catholic School by 1961. The trailer park will be replaced this year by a posh apartment complex.)

A copy of Sally’s report card from her time at Our Lady of Good Counsel between September 1949 and February 1950 indicates she was a good student, with her only C+ grade coming in Languages in her final month there. Otherwise, she got primarily As and A-minuses, with the occasional B, the latter mostly coming towards the end of the school year. Her worst subjects were Geography and Writing. She also missed 10 days of school in September because she was hospitalized for appendicitis, spending at least three nights at the Texas Crippled Children’s Hospital (now the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children).

Sally’s apparently happy demeanor in Dallas grew more pensive after the operation. Josephine Kagamaster, the wife of La Salle’s business partner in the shop, remarked Sally did not move like “a healthy, light-hearted youngster,” and heard La Salle say the girl “walks like an old woman.” Otherwise, the consensus about Sally and her “father” was that they “both seemed happy and entirely devoted to each other.” Nelrose Pfeil, a neighbor, said, “Sally got everything she ever wanted. I always said I didn’t know who was more spoiled, Sally or her dog.” Maude Smilie, living at a nearby trailer on Commerce Street, seemed bewildered at the idea of Sally being a virtual prisoner: “[Sally] spent one day at the beauty parlor with me. I gave her a permanent and she never mentioned a thing. She should have known she could have confided in me.”

Sarah Weinman

—posted 340 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of incantations.

Max then goes on to make a point that I might well have made myself if I’d thought to put it so explicitly: while the technologies in our far-future SF now look more and more like numinous magical powers, our daily life is perfused by magical devices that obey relatively predictable rules—utter the right incantation and Siri tells you the weather. Which means we as readers are coming to expect an almost mechanistic causality to inform the magic in our fantasies.

Charles Stross

—posted 348 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of longing.

The 12th century was the age of courtly love: songs of courtship and admiration, tales of daring knights and worthy ladies. The courtly love tradition is thought of as quintessentially heterosexual, and yet a few works survive in which a woman addresses her sentiments to another woman, such as the lone surviving lyric of Bieiris de Romans. And during that era, in a convent somewhere in the vicinity of Tegernsee in Bavaria (Germany), a cloistered woman longed to be reunited with a dear friend. She poured her heart out in a passionate poem, written in Latin and, by some quirk of fate, copied into a collection of writings that survived the ages. Her name is unknown—she identifies herself simply as “A” and her love only as “G”, whom she addresses as “my only/singular rose.”

To her, G’s absence is “like someone who has lost a hand or a foot” and she laments, “I want to die because I cannot see you. What can I—so wretched—do? Where can I—so miserable—turn?” Her thoughts turn to past delights: “I recall the kisses you gave me, and how with tender words you caressed my little breasts.” And yet perhaps there was more to their story. “Come home, sweet love!” she concludes. “Prolong your trip no longer. Know that I can bear your absence no longer… remember me.” Shall we not imagine that G returned to the woman who found her “so lovely and full of grace [and] who… with such deep affection loves me”?

Heather Rose Jones

—posted 356 days ago

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