Monday, July 24, 2006

So I finally caved in . . .

. . . 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.


  1. Re Angel Flights: When I was taking flying lessons, there was a guy in the club who came across as kind of surly and difficult. Then someone told me he flew Angel Flights, paying for the plane use for them out of his own pocket--did lots and lots of 'em. See, you never know.

    Welcome to the world of blogging! I'll add you to the links on my blog. We can create a network of religious-left bloggers! And don't worry, you'll get the hang of links, and images, and all that in no time.

  2. Hooray! More Susan fixes on the way--very big, very good news.

    Interesting to hear your beliefs are Reform Jewish, since it seems pretty clear your theology isn't. On the other hand, while I'm happily Reform Jewish when it comes to theology, it's slowly dawning on me that socially, my little family and I are a much closer fit with the Conservative congregation in our neighborhood than the Reform. Which raises the question--what will we do about the Bar Mitzvah? Only nine more planning years . . .

    Read about Bishop Schori's (?)(can't seem to get back to check the spelling) election and of course immediately recognized her from your description. Will be interested in the coming years to see whether the rest of the denomination kicks you guys out!

    Congratulations on your blog, Susan, I hope you will come to love posting on it!



  3. Welcome to Blogtopia.

    There should be a strange little icon on your posting window, along with the i for italics and the b for bold, that doesn't seem to represent anything in particular. That's the one for inserting links.

  4. Thanks to all for the comments!

    Becky: I've added you to my links, too (I figured out how to do it on the sidebar, although doing it within actual text will remain daunting for a while, I think).

    Avedon: Thank you for the tip! I'm not seeing that icon yet, but I'm still falling over my feet on this planet, so I'm sure I'll find it in due course.

    Claire: How do you distinguish between "beliefs" and "theology"? For me, those are sort of the same thing, but maybe you're using different definitions. Anyway, yeah, my theology's Christian, but maybe parts of my practice are closer to Reform Jewish? Who knows? (And does it matter?) And this was based on a Beliefnet quiz, anyway, which means it can't be taken too seriously!

    Good luck with the Reform/Conservative tension. I have other friends negotiating that one. So you're not alone, if that's any comfort!

  5. I for one am annoyed by the improbable pessimisms in many books.

    Like the many Japanese books I've read featuring not one, not two, but three or more suicides.

    I'll take improbable optimisms, thanks. :)

  6. Cool! I'll enjoy watching this develop. I've put you as one of my home pages.

    And in the process of trying to comment on this I ended up starting my own. Chrysalis Dreams is it's name. Haven't figured out all the ins and outs yet. But it was fun. A work in progress. (g)


  7. Beliefs = things we believe.
    Theology = things we believe about God.

    I've heard more than once (from more than one Reform rabbi)that one can be an excellent Reform Jew without actually believing in God at all.

  8. Hi, Emily and Lee! Thanks for the comments! And hi again, Claire. I'm not sure that my beliefs with a big B -- my Beliefs about the Big Stuff, versus my beliefs about what I feel like having for breakfast -- are so different from what I believe about God. I'll have to chew that one over. Thanks for the good for thought!


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