. . . and started a blog, largely at the urging of Patrick Nielsen Hayden, my editor at Tor Books, who thinks this would be an interesting place for me to post my homilies, among other things. I'm a complete newbie at this, which means that I don't know how to insert links in my text yet, but I'm sure I'll get the hang of it eventually.
Why this blog? I'm a fantasy and science fiction writer who's written two novels, FLYING IN PLACE and THE NECESSARY BEGGAR. A third novel, SHELTER, is forthcoming sometime next year. Those three books are from Tor. A short-story collection, THE FATE OF MICE, will be out from Tachyon Publications in February. I've been leery of blogging partly because it seems like shameless self-promotion, but, well, I have work to promote, so why not? And several far-flung friends (hi, Claire!) have asked me to keep a blog so they'll have a better sense of what I'm up to.
I'm also almost (I think) licensed as a lay Episcopal preacher in the Diocese of Nevada. I began attending church when I was 38, much to the consternation of many of my family and friends; when I started preaching, my devoutly atheist father said, "Well, of course. You already write science fiction!" It's a funny line, but there's quite a bit of truth to it: both faith-based writing and SF/F deal with realities not acknowledged by literary realism. I've been trying to suss out the personal and intellectual connections between the two for several years now, and I thought keeping a blog might help.
I identify as a proud member of the Christian Left (one of those people the Christian Right would define as the Christian Left Behind). This is fitting, since my current diocesan bishop is Katharine Jefferts Schori, the historic first-female Presiding-Bishop-elect of the national Episcopal Church. Beliefnet informs me that my theology is actually 100% Reform Jewish, possibly because deeds rank rather higher in my personal theology than disembodied faith does. I'm a big fan of incarnation.
And that brings me to the title of this blog. It's a phrase John Clute used to describe the plots of my two novels, and it's been driving me batty ever since I read it. C'mon: does anybody ever complain about rickety contrivances of doing BAD in fiction? I ask you: are the villainies perpetrated by the bad guys in popular fiction ever particularly simple? Why can't we have the reverse once in a while? I've been obsessing about this for months now (particularly since the happy ending of THE NECESSARY BEGGAR seems to be what readers who dislike the book dislike most about it), and this morning it finally hit me: CLAIM that negative label! Recontextualize it! Redeem it! Wear it as a badge of honor!
I believe very deeply that human contrivances of doing good, however rickety or elegant, are a lot of what hold the world together. Judaism talks about tikkun olam, the repair of the world, which is what people do when they perform even the smallest good deed. I think we're all surrounded by good deeds, most of which we never see or recognize; they don't tend to get on the evening news, and they're drowned out by all the very real and terrible horrors that do get on the evening news (none of which I wish to minimize). But they still count.
I started going to church partly to motivate myself to do more volunteering, although I still don't do as much as many other people I know. I've helped out with Family Promise, a program in which homeless parents and children are housed and fed by faith congregations, and I work four hours a week as a volunteer chaplain at a local hospital. One of the things I've discovered about volunteering is that once you start doing it, you discover how many other people are doing it, and how many forms it takes.
One example: several years ago during one of my parish's Family Promise hosting weeks, I was talking to a mom whose daughter had some sort of blood disease. It was sufficiently rare that it couldn't be treated here in Reno; she and her daughter periodically had to go to Las Vegas for treatment.
For those of you unfamiliar with Nevada geography, Vegas is 400 miles from Reno. That's a substantial journey even if you're comfortably middle-class, let alone if you're homeless. "Where do you stay when you're down there?" I asked the mom. "And how do you get there?"
"We stay at Ronald McDonald house," she told me. Duh: yes, of course, I should have thought of that. "And we fly down with Angel Flight."
I'd never heard of Angel Flight, so I asked her about it. It's an air-transport network that provides free transportation to patients who need specialized medical treatment. Flights under 1,000 miles are handled by individual pilots who have their own small planes; longer trips use donated seats on commercial or corporate jets. Transplant organs get moved this way, too.
Who knew? The logistics of this service must be staggering: positively rickety, in fact. And yet the flights go on, and as a result, some people who need medical treatment and couldn't receive it otherwise are getting it. (Too many others, tragically, aren't. Don't get me started on the miserable state of healthcare in this country.)
There are causes for optimism, even amid all the crud.