Saturday, March 04, 2006


When an author dies, he or she takes with them everything they ever would’ve written. And often left behind are the many fans and readers who fell head-over-heals for their prose, characters, and sheer writing talent.

Such is the case with Octavia Butler. She died after a terrible fall on Friday, February 24th at the age of 58. Her story is unique in many ways, too. Not only was she brought up from humble beginnings, she was a woman in a predominantly male field: science fiction. And a black woman to boot. She struggled to get her first novel, KINDRED (1979), published after multiple rejections. But once it was picked up by a publisher, her career took off.

Two Nebula Awards, a board member for the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, and the only science fiction author to ever receive a "Genius Grant," Mrs. Butler was as large a figure in the SF community as she was in stature (well over six-feet). But her shy demeanor and calm grace was what most people remember about her. Having never had the honor of meeting her, I can only go off what I’ve heard, and it seems she was well-liked and respected by her peers.

It’s interesting (from a personal standpoint) that Mrs. Butler chose to live in Seattle, Washington toward the end of her life. My grandfather, Frank Herbert, lived there as well right before he passed away, and I started wondering if there was a common "pull" this area held for SF writers?

Perhaps it’s just coincidence.

Perhaps it’s a cosmic equation we’ll never understand.

Friday, March 03, 2006


I survived! Hallelujah!

In case you missed my last post, yesterday I went and gave a speech to 7th graders at the International School of Monterey (ISM) in Seaside, California. I was pretty nervous about it, too. Right up until about 30 minutes before my time to speak, I had no idea what I wanted to say. Several other presenters were going to simply introduce themselves to the class and then read a portion of a book to them.

And I thought, That was fine for younger kids. But 7th graders? They’ll fall asleep on me! So as I listened to the principal and teachers introduce us to the students, a thought popped into my head. I would NOT read to these young people. I would tell them about the stories in the MONTEREY SHORTS 2 anthology — and the research some of the authors went through — and see where that took me. Initially this sounded rather bland. I mean, who’d give a crap about this little book and any research that went into it. But delivering this material in a gripping way, I knew, could win over these kids.

My first focus would be on the girls. I needed to grab them, then try and hook the boys (mainly because, as I recalled from my own youth, guys at this age were interested in whatever the girls were because the guys were starting to get interested in girls). I told the class about a woman named Charlotte Layton who lived in the Pacific Grove area before it was even a town. I told them how she struggled with a wounded husband and watched him slowly die. Then, battling to keep food on the table, she became the first woman lighthouse keeper on the west coast. Right here! In our little nook of the world!

"Why was that such a big deal?" one girl asked.

"Good question," I said. "It’s a big deal because women didn’t have a lot of freedom and rights back then like they do today. Women didn’t hold such prestigious positions as ‘head lighthouse keeper.’"


Then I told the class about how I and another author went in search of the Monterey Pop festival of the 60s, driving around Monterey, and ended up gawking at Jimi Hendrix’s name carved onto the stage at the Monterey Fairgrounds.

"He carved his own name there?" a boy with curly blond hair asked.

"Yes he did," I answered.

"Wow," the boy said. "My dad loves Hendrix."

Then I told them how a famous stagecoach driver who beat-up bandits, wore a patch over one eye, drank like a fish, cussed like a trucker, and was the best stage whip in the West ...turned out to be a woman.

"No way!" they said.

"Yep," I replied. "And she’s buried in the Freedom Cemetery, just north of Watsonville. And, the fact that she was a woman masquerading as a man wasn’t the biggest shocker. The biggest shocker was that she was the first woman (we know of) to ever vote in the United States."

Every 7th grader, without exception, raised their hand to ask questions. They wanted to know how the authors found out all this ...stuff ...and why hadn’t anyone written about it before and was the lighthouse where Mrs. Layton lived still standing.

"Can I take my dad to see Jimi Hendrix’s name carved on the stage?" the blond boy asked.

"Yes you can," I said. And that was just about the last thing said before I had to leave. But I saw in their eyes that I had "caught on" with them. I hadn’t bored or talked down to them. I’d moved around the class and, when I replied to their queries, treated them like young men and women.

I think I had just as good a time as they did. At least, I hope so ...

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


I’m scared.

Tomorrow — as part of World Book Day 2006 — I’m scheduled to speak in front of hundreds of elementary school students about literature and its importance.

When I first decided to speak my thinking was that this would be pretty simple. Go in, talk a bit about reading, writing, and publishing, field a few questions, leave. But first impressions can be deceiving. Kids in this age-range here in the States tend to have an attention span of 3.5 seconds. So my biggest concern was how to grip their attention and hold it throughout my fifteen minute presentation.


Digging back into my childhood memories, I tried to remember what I was like during this time in my life. I recalled that I could hardly sit still in class, let alone listen to somebody babble on about a topic that held minimal interest for me. Fifteen minutes? That was, like, an eternity! Being a child has different rules, different mindsets, and distinctly different reasons about what you want to do and see.

So how to handle tomorrow...

Coming to terms with my advancing years, I decided to do something different. Kids are very tactile and visual, so the first thing I need to do is give them both and give it to them quickly. My writers group printed up postcards of our colorful cover art for the two anthologies we produced, so that felt like a good place to start. Give them something solid to hold onto, not just my words floating in one ear and out the other. Having watched some really good speakers in my day, I noted that most of the great ones never stood still. Sitting behind a podium and pontificating about the "need to read" won’t keep the kids' pliable minds on the subject, so I’m going to move around the room, make their eyes follow me, maybe wave my arms in an overly dramatic fashion when I come to a vital point.

Finally, I’m not going to talk down to them. Kids nowadays are watching planes bomb buildings in faraway lands, peeking at milk cartons with missing children on them, playing with X-Boxes, mini-DVD players, and other high-tech items which seem to make them grow-up faster than I ever remember doing (I played "Pong" when I was growing up. Anyone else?)

So my mind is resting a bit easier as I work on what I want to say to America’s future. I think. At least I know "how" to say it. Now I’ve got to work on "what". Oh God! Less than 24 hours to go!