Posts Tagged ‘Ursula K. Le Guin’

In 1980, one of my stories appeared in a science fiction anthology called New Dimensions. I was a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America at the time, and the following year I learned that two people had recommended my story for a Nebula Award.

I never got anywhere in this process, so I don’t know the details, but I believe it ran approximately like this: If you collected enough recommendations, your story was entered in the playoff bracket. There followed a series of competitions, involving singing, dancing, evening wear, swimsuits, and hand-to-hand combat with erasers and typewriter ribbons. The stories that survived the playoffs entered the medal round. One story eventually won a Nebula. It all started with someone taking the trouble to say that she or he liked your story.

One of my two recommenders was Marta Randall. I’ve always appreciated this, Marta, wherever you are today, but since you’re the editor who bought the story for New Dimensions this was not a surprise.

The surprise was the other person: Ursula K. Le Guin.

What? The author of The Left Hand of Darkness, which taught this teenage boy that science fiction could be about something other than rockets and robots and fearless North American white men defeating dark-skinned alien hordes with the help of a few comic Irishmen, liked something I wrote?

“The only sensible ends of literature,” Nathaniel Hawthorne said, “are, first, the pleasurable toil of writing; second, the gratification of one’s family and friends; and lastly, the solid cash.” Not bad, Nat, but you forgot something: The otherworldly feeling you experience when something you wrote speaks to someone you don’t know.

Eventually I met Ursula and spent some time with her. I’m unsure how this began. Deborah had taken three of her writing workshops in Oregon – in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, on the McKenzie River, and at Cannon Beach; Ursula had a fine sense of place – so it must’ve been in the wake of the first one.

We had dinner a couple of times with Ursula and her husband, Charles. We met their cats. We stayed overnight at their Cannon Beach beach house, where our dog Emma, who had her moods, totally charmed them. Ursula thought that Emma, racing around us on the beach, looked like Isadora Duncan, her scarf jauntily thrown over one shoulder.

Benjamin Franklin said it best in his Autobiography: “When first you wish to make a favorable impression on a new acquaintance, send in your dog.”

In a discussion with Ursula about writing I referred to my challenges in getting published. I was probably making a joke, but she listened seriously and said, “I’ve never understood that.” She wasn’t being nice. Making nice was not her thing. Ursula could be quite sharp. In her presence, you never wanted to say something stupid (my forte). These four words were enough to make me worship her, but of course I already did.

We never saw them often, and in this century even less. An occasional email. Christmas cards. She drew pictures of funny cats and dogs in the style of Thurber. She called herself “Buntho.” She called Deborah “Gort” because she’s tall. She called me “Dominant Male” (misspelled “Donimant”) because I am. (Shut up.) She was there in the background of our lives, writing another book I want to read (Lavinia, Buffalo Gals), giving another interview or talk.

How lucky we all were.

Au revoir, Ursula. Thanks for the vote of confidence in me. If I had gotten as far as the swimsuit competition, I would’ve given it my best.

 

 

In the past few years, someone I loved, someone millions of people loved, died in January. Sadly, this January is no exception. Ursula K. Le Guin died on Sunday.

Unlike the other gods who have left us to muddle through life as best we can here on Earth Prime, I knew Ursula, a little. Deborah knew her far better than me. If our first corgi, Emma, was still around, she might be able to add something, as she once took a nap on Ursula’s feet. I’m upset, and this will take me a couple of days to find something intelligent to say. Until then, I leave you with the paper of record.

Here’s your guide to Run-DMSteve: Year Seven. What Year Eight will hold for this blog, I can’t imagine, but I thank you as always for reading along and for not accusing me of sexual misconduct.

Bands

Chuck Berry

The Righteous Brothers

Level 42 and P.M. Dawn

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, R.E.M., The Killers, Ray Charles

Jazz ghetto

U2 and The Beatles

Movies

Blade Runner 2049

Thor: Ragnarok

Absent friends and ancient family

Karrie Dunning

My Dad and the Kennedys

All the rest

My brilliant career

Ask Run-DMSteve returns after five years

Ask Run-DMSteve returns after one week

Ode to Half.com

Random Pick of the Day
Joni Mitchell, For the Roses (1972)

Joni Mitchell is one of pop music’s best writers, but her stratospheric soprano voice makes it difficult for me to understand her words. Compared to For the Roses, Kurt Cobain is giving elocution lessons on Nevermind.

The instrumental backing on For the Roses is spare, mostly Mitchell on the piano, but not as spare as on her previous release, the unsparing Blue. “You Turn Me on I’m a Radio” and “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” got the airplay. Those are great songs, but over the years, I’ve gravitated toward “Blonde in the Bleachers”:

She tapes her regrets
To the microphone stand
She says, “You can’t hold the hand
Of a rock ’n’ roll man
Very long
Or count on your plans
With a rock ’n’ roll man
Very long
Compete with the fans
For your rock ’n’ roll man
For very long
The girls and the bands
And the rock ’n’ roll man”

Forty years later, Pete Yorn tried to explain the rock ’n’ roll man in “Rock Crowd”:

Rock crowd throw your arms around me
I feel glad when you all surround me
It’s you, it’s you who grounds me
When you’re done put me back where you found me

There’s no hint on For the Roses to the direction Mitchell would take on her next release, Court and Spark, the album that defines her as surely Tapestry defines Carole King.

Random Pan of the Day
Marvin Gaye, In Our Lifetime (1981)

The title has nothing to do with Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time.

By this point in his career, Gaye was singing all the parts, playing most of the instruments, and writing most of the songs. But he wasn’t in a happy state of mind, as he was fighting with his ex-wives and trying to compete with upstarts Prince and Rick James. He was living in exile in Belgium. No offense to Belgium, but that’s my idea of an anonymous country. The man’s mood was reflected in the cover art: Angel Marvin and Devil Marvin face off above exploding A-bombs. I guess Prince really pissed him off.

The songs are non-stop party jams. Slow party jams. You can’t dance to them unless you’re one of these arrhythmic people who always go to the same dances I go to and who spend the night swanning around as if somebody had injected them with Lorazepam. If you played this at a party, you’d only get about three tracks in before somebody swapped it for a more exciting set. This is a clear case of the parts not adding up to a whole. You’ll remember some of the grooves days later, but none of the songs.

Gaye redeemed himself in 1982 with Midnight Love and his last hit, “Sexual Healing,” and then he was murdered. We can’t know what his third decade in the music business would’ve given us, but I’m sure it would’ve been worth hearing.

Mercy mercy me. Things ain’t what they used to be.