Continued from Delany and Butler post
Delany with his white hair, long white beard and rotond body made him look not too unlike a Santa Claus trying to go incognito by wearing a black suit. He talked very shortly about his relationship to SF, mostly how he hasn't written any in 20+ years but still loves it, and then moved on to read for about 15 minutes from his book Atlantis Model 1924, a narrative based on the life of his uncle who moved from the deep South to NY City by himself at the age of 17. The portion he read told about his uncle's experiences both as a tobacco farmer and a school teacher. The passage was a good example of Delany's stuff: a nice blend of dark and sometimes bawdy humor with vivid descriptions written in a lurid Faulknerian style of prose. Not for everyone, but I enjoyed it. Note that he picked a passage that was not sexually charged. I would have been amused if he had read Hogg. But that would have chased off most of the audience. It occurred to me sitting there, listening to his deeply resonant voice, that aside from his experimentations with subject matter and form, despite the often provocative nature of a lot of his work, Delany is first, foremost and lastly a superior story teller.
A little Q&A followed the readings. Most questions were not too profound. The requisite "Where do you get your ideas?" popped up 4-5 times, and they both handled that worn out query pretty well. Here are some of my favorites (these are paraphrased, based on my notes....and should not be taken for word for word quotes):
Q: I'm writing a novel. How do I know which character to pick for my primary character?
Delany: Figure out which character goes through the most pain or change. That should be your main character.
Butler: I'd pick 3-4 favorites, and do one book for each of them.
Q: How long does it take to write a novel?
Butler: You start a novel the moment you are born and continue working on it for your full life until it's totally written.
Q: Are the politics of today shaping what you write? Do they direct what themes you choose, and if so, how?
Delany: They are beginning to. It's difficult to say what shape they will take within my writing until I finish it.
Butler: I'm constantly reading the newspaper, and used it to forecast a lot of the events that occurred in my novels. Now I'm frightened by the idea that I may, in some small way, have prophesized the winding down of America. It makes me very angry to see the same problems, the same themes I wrote against 20 years ago resurfacing. I'm too mad about it to write about it. My next book is an escapist vampire novel. I wrote it to get away from everything.
(as an aside, a Vampire novel from Butler makes perfect sense. One of her several series is about a race of telepaths, and its easy to see her spinning off into Vampire-land in a Storm Constantine kind of way)
Q: How do you feel about the current state of science fiction? (asked by a very angry man in a star trek t-shirt who seemed to be all about agendas).
Delany: I think Science Fiction is as healthy as it ever was. The best work I see now are by the writers working a little on the feminist fringes. Writers like L. Timmell Duchamp, Kelly Link, Candas Dorsey are doing very interesting things, but people aren't as aware of them since they primarly write short fiction, not novels.
And this one was my favorite, from a boy of roughly 16
Q: I'm an aspiring writer, and I was just wondering if things you ever wrote ever caught on fire and you had to start all over again. I'm asking because this has happened to me three or four times now and I don't know what to do.
after a little chuckling from about everyone in the room:
Delany: I can honestly say that's never happened to me. The only thing I can suggest is to invest in a reliable fire extinguisher.
After the Q&A, people lined up to get books signed by one or both of the authors. There were several books available by each author, but I had brought my own. I was between three women in line, and we got into some interesting little talks about books, publishing, and the election.
I didn't have much to say to Butler except "thank you", but will say she was very pleasant. Delany seemed pleased that I brought a very well read, dog-eared copy of his memoirs The Motion of Light in Water; I thanked him for a critique of a very awful story of mine he did at a writer's conference four years ago in Cleveland, and he graciously nodded like he remembered me. I know he didn't, but it was still nice of him to pretend.
Tonight Gargoyle has the launch reading for their new issue at Chapters Books here in D.C, conveniently located one block away from my job. According to the website, Lida Husik is reading and she's always worthwhile. Looks like a good issue, too. Full report sometime tomorrow.