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Monday, 9 July 2012

ZENNA HENDERSON.

Blogs are logs on the fire, providing fuel for my fiction. Once Karen Woodward persuaded me to go blogging, I resolved to create blog entries destined for publication in collected form. My plan was to bundle blog posts with short stories.
   The first experiment of that kind led to the publication of my INCOMPLETE UNCOLLECTED SHORT WORKS. Looking beyond that, to keep this blog alive, I decided to publish eighteen blogs at a time. Generating around 30,000 words of material.
   This, I’d bundle with 75,000 words of fiction you couldn’t get elsewhere. Why sell free content? You might as well ask why make content free? I make the blog posts available on the internet to tempt readers. Come by and come buy. Shades of Christina Rossetti. Welcome to The Goblin Market.
   Why sell free content? The blog won’t be around for all time. If I’m determined to write material worth collecting, collected that material must be. Shades of Churchill, not Yoda. Up with which I will not put.
   Blog posts fall away, one by one. They are displaced down the internet’s page, until they drop into the archive. In a collected edition, there’s no hunting around for what you are after. The blogs appear in book format. One followed by the next. This REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE is fated to appear in a volume with that title.
   I sell fiction. The blog posts are thrown in. Not for nothing – rather, for convenience. I sense my readers champing at the bit. There is no need to research Zenna Henderson while waiting for my chat to start. Zenna was an American schoolteacher who wrote school-based stories featuring aliens. That’s pretty much all you need to know, while reading fiction you can’t get elsewhere. The main drive of a typical story would involve a strange family. Moving to a small town. (Or the small town is full of aliens, and the teacher is the Outsider. Zenna would vary the pace.)
   Only the schoolteacher notices that the new pupil is rather strange/odd/weird/special. Supernaturally or scientifically way out there. I liked Zenna’s material. Folksy charm. Some whimsy. A straightforward approach that was part old-school/part schoolyard.
   Flashback.
   I was deep in conversation with the Red Queen. She was one of the early influences on my work as an author. We lived in a cupboard, once. Well, there was room for us. And for her art. For my fiction. We chatted. (I feel it important to repeat this level of detail, for those who haven’t trawled through the archive. Even if that is rather wearying on the dedicated reader in a collected edition.)
   A story grew from the chat. Mira E. This story had no connection to a singer named Myra or Ellen. I was in my own private stationery cupboard, chatting to the Red Queen in the days when the dinosaurs ruled the earth. Our own private stationery cupboard, I should say. We had half-shares.
   I was told a tale of Mira E. The Red Queen fell to the subject with relish. Mira E. Not a person. A blue bicycle. One I’d seen a few times. The Red Queen’s inability to maintain her balance created the literary opporchancity.
   Where do your ideas come from? From some unknown designer, who coined the name for the bike. The Red Queen fell off her bicycle and scraped the G away from MIRAGE. Thereafter, the bike was known as MIRA E.
   The name reminded me of an author’s work. Guess who. Zenna Henderson. I decided Mira E. would fit the bill. Bolting the name to the style, I wrote about a teacher who encountered an alien pupil. Much later, I encountered a Myra who also happened to be an Ellen. This musical Myra E. Well, I’ve blogged about her. I set myself to thinking.
   Were there any songs by my favourite singer, burbling away, that I could use as inspiration? Tori Amos offered me greetings from the choirgirl hotel. The song Black-Dove (January) was an obvious candidate, with its mention of the scary house by the woods – the one I’d written of years before. References to a spaceship and living on the other side of the galaxy helped.
   That song was followed by one called Raspberry Swirl. I was hunting for sound-images that would bring the world of Mira E. to life. What I wanted to do was take the story fragment I wrote for the Red Queen, and expand it into an episodic novel.
   Go back to the initial source of inspiration. Zenna Henderson. Write a few stories that could be gathered in a loose format. Bundle the sequence with my blog posts. Why tell you this? To let you know what happens next, as far as these blog posts go.
   I’ve spent months setting up writing projects, and being guided by my writerly colleagues. Writers who dragged me out of the cold and threw blankets around me so that I’d thaw.
   There’s no wisdom to share with my blog’s audience. Self-publishing is an endless experiment. It runs from the time we begin to self-publish all the way through our deaths and into the decades beyond our deaths. (Courtesy © law.)
   I’ve had setbacks. A gremlin-based crisis or two. Plain sailing’s no challenge. My plans are under constant revision and development. This is the way things are, for now. Blog in three batches of six, then attach short stories or a short novel to the bundle. Sell that bundle of kindling on the Kindle. In addition, put out regular books.
   Will I change plans again? Almost certainly. I didn’t write by committee. At Kacey Vanderkarr’s urging, I participated in a committee-style writing leap. With no double to take the knocks on my behalf.
   I do all my own publicity-stunts.
   What do I believe? That nothing is set in stone. We continue to learn. Alien viewpoints must be explored, on the off-chance that we get something useful from them. I don’t write by committee. But I gave the notion a shot, anyway.
   I thought I’d have killed my blog by now. Withdrawn from author-author contact. Both items were on a list I meant to score off. I find blogging more useful than I thought possible. Author-author contact? I daren’t attempt to put a price on it.
   Where did it lead? Back to the Red Queen. Who telephoned me as I was blogging, and became an integral part of the story. I kept thinking of Mira E. She deserved to be more than a half-baked character in a story fragment from so long ago that the piece was (koff koff) originally written by hand.
   So I thought of Zenna as Tori’s music played. This blog post is housed inside a published volume. Right after this post ends, the Zenna Henderson-ish tales of Mira E. begin. At least, in my mind’s eye. In the future that comes to me, courtesy the opinion that all writing is time travel.
   Right now, the blog post is just a file on my computer. Soon, it’ll be out there on the internet. Some time after, this post will serve as an introduction to Zenna Henderson-ish stories. If I do things this way, I goad myself into action. Someone has to.
   Who are my stories about? The People? Henderson’s name for the characters she created. You’ll find them all over the place. In stories about aliens. Countless television shows. Zenna had perhaps the subtlest influence on popular culture of any writer I care to think of.
   The alienated youngster who turns out to be alien. It sounds like a very old idea, now. Well, it is. My stories are in tribute to her. Though one step to the side, perhaps. I’m writing about a People, if not the People.
   You should all know the words to the song I’m about to sing. SOURCES OF INSPIRATION ARE MEANINGLESS. Why? Because sources are often personal, and removed somewhat from the original material. Often I’ve enjoyed books by authors who cite appalling writers as influences. That doesn’t diminish the effort so-called appalling writers threw into their stories.
   Zenna came across as an old-time writer, even back in the day. That’s what I took from her fiction. The idea that you should try hard, though not too hard. Do what you have to do in writing, to be satisfied with your own work. You did the job. Don’t play to some half-imagined gallery, looking for plaudits.
   You can pick up a copy of her work quite easily on Amazon. There are complete collections of her People stories available. As for her religious undertones/overtones, those you may choose to take or leave. The religious angles haven’t stopped readers seeing what they want to see in Zenna’s fiction. Part of her success came about through a universal feel to her tales.
   What will I write about, in my pocket-version of the slice of land I’ve rented in Zenna’s world? I can’t get away from the idea of a story about a schoolteacher, faced with the problem of dealing with an alien child. In that tiny, kinda scary, house. By the woods…

NEXT EVENT: REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE (VOLUME 1) IS PUBLISHED.

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Update. Eventually, I divorced the blog posts from the novel. An edited version of this post remains at the start of MIRA E. HERE'S A BLOG POST ABOUT THAT.

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