Good King Wenceslas

Ermordung_Wenzels

10th century depiction of Wenceslas’s attempt to escape assassination.

Today, December 26, is the Feast of Stephen. You may have heard the Christmas carol:

“Good King Wenceslas looked out / On the Feast of Stephen / When the snow lay round about / Deep and crisp and even. / Brightly shone the moon that night /Though the frost was cruel / When a poor man came in sight / Gathering winter fuel.…”

Wenceslas existed. He was actually the duke of Bohemia (he got a posthumous promotion by Holy Roman Emperor Otto I), and he was renowned for his piety and generosity to the poor. In fact, he was made a saint and is now the patron saint of the Czech Republic.

Sadly, he died in September 935 when a group of nobles led by his brother, Boleslav the Cruel, murdered him in Prague. He fled from his assassins to a church for sanctuary — according to legend, he was holding the church door handle when he was struck down. That handle is preserved at the entrance to the St. Wenceslas Chapel in Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral.

Wenceslaus

Photo by Sue Burke.

The carol concludes, fittingly for a generous saint:

“Therefore, Christian men, be sure / Wealth or rank possessing / Ye who now will bless the poor / Shall yourselves find blessing.”

The ‘Dying Earths’ anthology – exploring a big idea

DyingEarthsI always enjoy destroying the Earth.

Actually, I feel kind of bad about doing that. We have a nice planet. What I really enjoy are big ideas, so when I was asked to contribute to SSFWorld’s anthology Dying Earths, I thought, “What fun!”

Specifically, I was asked by the editors, Andrew Leon Hudson and N. E. White, for an ecological apocalypse — and I could interpret that theme broadly.

I had a head start thinking about that, given our own real-life ecological apocalypse. I also knew the Earth had gone through an ecological apocalypse — not by human hands — at the end of the Carboniferous Period. That led to some “what if” ideas, and soon I had a new, future apocalypse as a means to wreak destruction.

Dying Earths is out now as an ebook from Amazon for only $2.99, but it will also be available as a print-on-demand paperback early in the new year.

Stories from sixteen authors from around the globe are included: P.J. Richards, Daniel Ausema, Jez Patterson, Jeremy Megargee, N.E. White, Matthew Hughes, Andrew Leon Hudson, James Maxstadt, Lena Ng, George Bradley, Shana Scott, Christopher Stanley, Jude Reid, Scott J. Couturier, Kat Pekin, and myself.

You can read an interview of me and Matthew Hughes here.

‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ review (no spoilers)

I saw Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker yesterday, and it was the movie I expected — and I expected good things. The worst I could say was that it was formulaic, but it’s a guaranteed successful formula, so that’s not all bad. There were also a lot of fast plot twists and little surprises and jokes, even Ewoks and whatever those red-eyed sand critters were from the start of the first movie. Loose ends got tied up, and a few things were added just for nostalgia. Good fun.

As I said, it met expectations. Samuel R. Delaney had something to say about that in Shorter Views (page 121):

“Fiction exists as an extraordinary complex of expectations. Texts that fulfill all these expectations register as moderately good or mediocre fiction: the sort that one reads, more or less enjoys, but forgets immediately. What strikes us as extraordinary, excellent, or superb fiction must fulfill some of those expectations and at the same time violate others. It’s a very fancy dance of fulfillment and violation that produces the “Wow!” of wonder that greets a truly fine piece of writing — a truly wonderful story.”

The series from the beginning never sought to violate any story-telling expectations. It tried to recreate Buck Rogers-style movies, just with better production values. In a sense, those high values — revolutionarily high for their time — were the violation. Movie-goers could easily believe they were seeing strange alien worlds and beings, and watching amazing futuristic technology. Since then, every movie strives for top-quality special effects, although there’s a certain imaginative flair that Star Wars consistently delivers about its big, beautiful, believable galaxy, long ago and far away….

Perhaps Star Wars’ violation is that it brings viewers into the craft of creation even as it delivers a high-quality finished product. It consistently shows that much more exists in its galaxy, little details that add nothing except to create a richer-than-necessary setting. There’s more to explore than what falls within the confines of the story, and viewers can explore that in their own imaginations.

Is that exuberant and excessive world-building enough to vault it into the category of Wow!? Maybe. Critics complain, rightly, about problems with plots and characters, and the movie had its share, but I came away thinking about that glorious galaxy I had just visited.

The best, and last, Christmas tree ever

Beth And Us

This shot of us four Burke kids on Christmas Eve was captured from one of our grandfather’s home movies. Beth is the blonde. I’m wearing green. Lou is the baby. Mike is in back.

My sister, Beth, died in January 2014 of cancer. Her last Christmas was one of her happiest.

In December, Beth’s son and his wife came to visit, and they set up and decorated the tree. Beth had inherited the Christmas tree ornaments from my parents and grandparents, and although she was too ill to do more than watch them work, she was entranced. It was, my sister said, the best tree ever.

She described it to me over the phone (I had a long visit at Thanksgiving), and I could see it as she spoke because I knew so many of the ornaments.

My mother had made a canvas-work embroidery angel for the top of the tree. In keeping with family tradition, a little electric candle had been placed in her hands.

Some old, fancy glass ornaments had been my grandparents’, lovingly cared for by my parents and then by Beth. They were fragile and worn but exceptionally ornate. One had gold stripes edged with glitter and little holiday scenes hand-painted between the stripes.

My sister especially loved the ornament her son had made in grade school, a white paper bird with a long tinsel tail. There was also my ornament from kindergarten, green and red metallic disks glued together around a length of yarn. Other children’s artwork was hung up, too, chronicling a family that grew larger, and boys and girls who grew up. Some ornaments were gifts or careful purchases — each color, each sparkle, each light a story.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. “I can stare at it for hours.”

It held happy memories from her whole life, as merry as a Christmas tree could be — the best gift, the best tree ever.

My Goodreads review of “Living Revision: A Writer’s Craft as Spiritual Practice”

Living Revision: A Writer's Craft as Spiritual PracticeLiving Revision: A Writer’s Craft as Spiritual Practice by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beginning and even intermediate writers will find this book useful if they haven’t come to understand that revision — especially deep revision — gives them a chance to turn adequate work into something extraordinary. “Revision is a form of love,” Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew says. “Creativity is the capacity to see or make newness. Revision is the flourishing of creativity. It is the work of seeing with new eyes … revision is a natural consequence of growth.”

Experienced writers who have already learned that lesson will appreciate the step-by-step approach, helpful exercises, and “toolboxes” that she offers. For example, “Choose one moment in your story where a shift occurs … What of the before and after content belongs in your project?”

At every step, her voice is gentle, encouraging, practical, and, as the title says, spiritual. “The work of revision draws bits of heaven down to earth … the endeavor, regardless of success, is always worthwhile.”

But I think this book speaks too little of the joy of writing. It dwells on the struggles and painful self-discovery, as if writing was always grim labor, and glosses over the thrill of creation, the excitement of seeing a story shaped and reshaped into the thing of beauty you had hoped for, and the near-physical pleasure of doing work that feeds the soul. Writing is hard work, yes, but so is making music. Have you ever noticed how often singers and musicians are smiling onstage? When you write, it’s okay if you smile, too.

Revision doesn’t have to make your heart ache. Actors don’t bemoan rehearsal, and rewriting is the same process in a different art form. If revision is painful, maybe the problem is with your desk chair, not your writing skills or creative soul.

View all my reviews