Notes & sources (III)

The childhood home of John Washington Steele, better known as Coal Oil Johnny

The childhood home of John Washington Steele, better known as Coal Oil Johnny

So did you read it?

Of course I’m talking about the new story in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and now I’m here to tell you all about where it came from and whatnot. What a lucky reader you are today!

Now, Frank Tarr was one of my great-grandfathers, and George Tarr, his brother, a great-great-uncle. The family story goes like this: one winter, when they were in their early or middle teen years, they built themselves a log raft and rode it all the way to Pittsburgh, where they shot a man who tried to steal it from them; and they were banned from that city for life.

Is it true? There’s no evidence at all apart from the tale that’s come down to me, and those who tell it can’t have been much more than children when the two of them died. I’ve scoured the crime columns in Pittsburgh newspaper archives, found nothing. Still, I have no reason to doubt the gist. My off-the-wall version assumes that the story that the boys told when they got back was not entirely the whole truth.

And I, too, have not entirely told the truth: Frank’s name was actually Franklin Washington Tarr (1863–1942), and George’s (?1866–1948) middle name is not known to me. They had two brothers never mentioned in the story, Ulysses S Grant (1870–1933) and William (1875–?), as well as a sister, Mary Melissa (1872–1969). Their father, Martin, died in 1876; their mother Caroline M. Bemiss (1837–before September 1914) remarried, to George M. Staley (c. 1825–1896), before 1880.

My great-great-grandfather Martin — who according to his Civil War draft record stood five-foot ten, blue eyes, light hair, light complexion, farmer, 35 years old — served briefly during the siege of Petersburg, participated in the fall of Richmond and the pursuit of Lee westward, and was present at Appomattox: hence, no doubt, the name of his third son.

Little Hope, Pennsylvania, was (and in a sense still is) a real enough place; I am uncertain if Raymond’s General Store existed so early as circa 1880, but I haven’t let that prevent me from placing it there then.

I’ve drawn most of the rafting lore from J. Herbert Walker (editor), Rafting days in Pennsylvania. Oil Creek is not actually a section of French Creek but an independent watercourse that joins the Allegheny at Oil City, which French Creek itself then joins at Franklin. Much of the oil region is now a state park, well worth a visit; don’t miss Coal Oil Johnny’s house! The small museum at the site of Colonel Drake’s first well is excellent. The well itself is still producing, but not in useful quantity.

I don’t know why Martin Tarr removed from Venango to Greenfield just before the oil rush began. I’ve answered the question with my best guess. I’ve also exaggerated the difficulty of Venango farmland.

The Prince’s tale of the great well fire conflates accounts of several lesser fires. The descriptions are adapted from S.J.M. Eaton, Petroleum: A history of the oil region of Venango County, Pennsylvania. Its resources, mode of development, and value: Embracing a discussion of ancient oil operations; with a map, and illustrations of oil scenes and boring implements (which quotes in turn Austen Henry Layard and Robert Pollok) and Charles H. Harris (writing as Oof T. Goof), History of the Venango oil regions: showing where petroleum is found; the production of petroleum; the effect of the repeal of the government tax on crude petroleum; the location, depth, average production, and ownership of all the wells on the Central Petroleum Company, Boyd, Hyde and Egbert, Stevenson, Tarr and Wood Farms, Bennhoff, Pioneer, Great Western, Bull and other Runs; together with sketches of Petroleum Centre, Pioneer City, Shaffer, Titusville, Pleasantville, and territories, and other places of note in the oil regions.

I’ve extracted additional oil miscellanea from J.H. Newton (editor), History of Venango County, Pennsylvania, and incidentally of petroleum, together with accounts of the early settlements and progress of each township, borough and village, with personal and biographical sketches of the early settlers, representative men, family records, etc., by an able corps of historians, with illustrations descriptive of its scenery, private residences, public buildings, farm scenes, oil derricks, manufactories, etc., from original sketches.

(You’ve just got to love those nineteenth-century titles. They want you to know exactly what the whole book’s about.)

The Prince’s account of his life is adapted from John Washington Steele, Coal Oil Johnny: His career as told by himself, plus additional anecdotes of various oil-region figures as related by Hildegarde Dolson (see below).

The second half of the paragraph that begins “The ship’s side was worked all over…” is adapted from Mark Twain, The adventures of Huckleberry Finn, chapter twelve. The disappearance of the Chinese boat at the end of that same section is adapted from Herman Melville, Moby-Dick: Or, The Whale, chapter CXXXV.

Charles-Valentin’s remarks on his art of nauscopy are quoted from a short treatise in E. Littel et al. (publisher-editors), The museum of foreign literature and science, volume XXIII, August 1833, pp. 140-144.

The Pirate Queen is based — very loosely; her actual life was far odder than what I’ve shown here — on Zhèng Yī Sǎo, or Zheng’s Widow, a prominent female pirate in middle Qing China. The names she uses for North America and San Francisco are borrowed from Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel The years of rice and salt. You should read it, it’s very good!

The epigraph has been cut down to size without any editorial markings of the omissions. Go ahead and consult the source — it’s available online — if you want to know more about this fascinating subject. (All direct quotations and close paraphrases are from works in the public domain.)

Additionally, I am indebted to these secondary sources:

Robert J. Antony. Like froth floating on the sea: The world of pirates and seafarers in late imperial south China.

Mike Dash, “Naval Gazing: The Enigma of Étienne Bottineau,”, October 13, 2011.

Hildegarde Dolson. The great Oildorado: The gaudy and turbulent years of the first oil rush: Pennsylvania, 1859-1880.

Peter T. Leeson. The invisible hook: The hidden economics of pirates.

Dian H. Murray. Pirates of the south coast, 1790-1810.

Joseph Needham. Science and civilization in China. Volume 4, Part 3: Civil engineering and nautics.

Thomas J. Schlereth. Victorian America: Transformations in everyday life, 1876–1915.

Alan Trachtenberg. The incorporation of America: Culture and society in the gilded age.

George & Frank Tarr, Boy Avencherers, in ’Beeyon the Shours We Knowe!!!!’

Like most writers, I suspect, the last piece I finished is always my favorite. So it’s great to announce that my favorite story, “George & Frank Tarr, Boy Avencherers, in ‘Beeyon the Shours We Knowe!!!!’” is scheduled to appear in that epitome of publications, that model of magazines, that acme of anthologies, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edited by the nonpareil Scott H. Andrews.

New issues are available to subscribers before the rest of the sluggardly world gets a chance to cast eyeballs at pixels, so why not subscribe today?

More soon, including the smash-hit that’s sweeping the nation, “Notes & sources (III).”

Balticon 50

I’m going to Balticon on Memorial Day weekend. Are you?

I’ll be presenting a workshop:

Typography: Beyond Microsoft Word and CreateSpace templates
(Sunday 8–9:20 a.m.) Type is the dress our words are clothed in, someone said (could it have been Beatrice Warde?). Just as saggy sweatpants are fine for walking the dog, nobody cares how your email is formatted. But your books, now — wouldn’t a neatly tailored suit, or a sweeping ball gown, or natty plus-fours, or what-have-you — wouldn’t your books look better well and carefully dressed? Type has a five-hundred year history (not to mention the history of all the lettering arts), during which thousands of artists have developed methods, standards, and strategies for best presenting printed words to the reader. Every detail matters!

And I’ll be sitting on three panels:

Poetry in prose (Friday 5:30–6:20 p.m.) The mantra for modern stories seems to be simple, straightforward writing. Is there room for poetry and craft when audiences seem to prefer to skip to the action?

Cover it! The dos and don’ts of book covers (Sunday 5:00–5:50 p.m.) Panelists discuss elements of successful book cover design, what not to do, and offer tips and advice on how to make the packaging sell your work.

Positive, utopian and optimistic SF (Saturday 5:00–5:50 p.m.) Given the recent saturation of dystopian, post-apocalyptic and grimdark F&SF, what new directions stand to be opened by examining positive futures?

If you see me, be sure to stop and say hi. I’m not as unpleasant as I look.

Notes & sources (II)


And so there it is. A new story.

Unlike most stories, which need at most a short headnote, what this one really wants is a bibliography. And an apparatus criticus.

Here they are. Enjoy, O ye pendents of this fallen world!

The story’s title is an infamous remark made by James I/VI at the Hampton Court Conference. The two earliest printed editions (1604 and 1638) of The summe and substance of the conference, which, it pleased his excellent maiestie to have with the lords, bishops, and other of his clergie, (at which the most of the lords of the councell were present) in his maiesties priuy-chamber, at Hampton Court. Ianuary 14, 1603 report his remark with slightly different wording and spelling. I’ve picked out my favorite bits from each to make a composite version.

All dates in these notes and the text are Julian, or Old Style. All direct quotations and close paraphrases are from works in the public domain; biblical quotations are from the Wycliffe translation, with spelling sometimes modernized. While I have taken pains not to explicitly contradict anything known to be true (except as noted below), I am not a historian and have omitted many facts that happen to have been preserved; and all the material has been treated fictionally — for the excellent reason that this is a work of fiction.


Sections I & II. Henry, James, Richard, and Thomas Waklee (or Wakelee, Wakely, Waklyn, Walklee, Wakle, Whately, Wacklea, Wackly, Whacklea, etc.; at that time spelling names consistently was not a virtue much striven for) are all documented as living in New England about 1635 (give or take two years), but only Thomas’s name appears on a passenger list, departing Weymouth, in Dorset, 31 March 1634 aboard the Recovery bound for Massachusetts Bay (Robert Charles Anderson, The great migration, ser. 2, vol. VII, pp. 188-193). That these men were related by blood seems probable, but the exact nature and degree of their relation must, absent new evidence, remain conjectural, as must their origins in England. James is said to be a weaver in tax records (see XXVII below).

III & IV. James’s wilderness incident, and how Henry led him to safety, is adapted from a story in Henry Reed Stiles, History of ancient Wethersfield, pp. 686–687. The “shining things” are described in a deposition in Charles J. Hoadley (editor), Records of the colony or jurisdiction of New Haven, vol. II, pp. 86–87.

V & VI. Rev. Stone’s sermon at the mustering in Hartford is adapted from Captain Edward Johnson, Wonder-working providence of Sion’s savior in New England, pp. 112–113; he was chaplain to the expedition. Henry was awarded land in Hartford for his volunteer service in the Pequot War and additional land for another period of service shortly after (James Shepard, Connecticut soldiers in the Pequot War of 1637, p. 31). Reading the history of the conflict, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Uncas, lacking the power to kill his political enemies, manipulated the English into doing it for him.

VII, VIII, IX. Henry married Sarah Burt, widow of Judah Gregory, 4 September 1649 (Clarence Almon Torrey, New England marriages prior to 1700) in Springfield — then in Connecticut colony — but soon removed to Stratford, where he was one of the original settlers. Their children are named in Donald Lines Jacobus, History and genealogy of the families of Old Fairfield, vol. I, p. 628. Henry’s remarks about providence are adapted from an anonymous pamphlet, New Englands first fruits; in respect first of the conversion of some, conviction of divers, preparation of sundry, of the Indians, pp. 36–39 (corrected pagination; original has two signatures with duplicate page numbers).

X. James’s remarkable record of litigation, and the peculiar circumstances of his marriage to the Widow Boosey, are documented in Arthur Adams (editor), Records of the Particular Court of Connecticut, pp. 28-30, 43, 45, 46, 49, 51–53, 62, 63, 69–72, 74, 88–91, 99–102, 106, 108, 116–120, 132, 174, 179, 195, 196, 222, 224, 227, 229, 232–236, 240, 244.

XI. Dr. Rossiter’s report on the autopsy he performed on Elizabeth Kelly is preserved in the witchcraft supplement of the Samuel Wyllys papers, printed in David D. Hall, Witch-hunting in seventeenth-century New England, pp. 154-155; see also the comments in the Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 21 (1893), pp. 661-662. I also wish to thank Anatoly Belilovsky for pointing me in the right direction about the retrospective diagnosis.

XII. Sarah F. McMahon presents an admirable quantitative analysis of the colonial New England diet in “A comfortable subsistence: The changing composition of diet in rural New England, 1620-1840,” in The William and Mary quarterly, ser. 3, vol. 42 (1985), pp. 26–65.

XIII. For the “fine midsummer’s frolic,” see, for example, James George Frazer, The golden bough: A study in magic and religion, chap. LXVII, sec. 5: “The midsummer fires” (pp. 720–732 in the one-volume abridgment). Those present are named in Rebecca Greensmith’s confession (see XXII–XXV below). James was a constable in Wethersfield: Stiles, Wethersfield, p. 309. On 14 May 1677, Alice Waklee was fined £40 — a sum sufficient to purchase a small farm — for selling two gallons of liquor to Indians (Helen S. Ullmann [editor], Hartford County, Connecticut, county court minutes, p. 220). She confessed to selling one gallon, and there is no reason to suppose that this was a new enterprise of hers.

XIV. The hearsay that Henry listens to is based on depositions excerpted and summarized in Gale Ion Harris, “William and Goodwife Ayres: Witches who got away,” The American genealogist, vol. 75, no. 3 (July 2000), pp. 197–205. The water test is reported in Increase Mather, An essay for the recording of illustrious providences, reprinted in George Lincoln Burr (editor), Narratives of the witchcraft cases 1648–1706, p. 21.

XV. The story James tells the children is adapted from one told by John Higginson in a letter to Increase Mather (Mather papers, Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, ser. 4, vol. 8, pp. 285–286).

XVI. Henry was appointed in November 1659 to “watch over the youths or any disorderly carriages in the time of public exercises on the Lord’s Day or other times and see that they behave themselves comely, and note any disordering persons by such raps or blows as he in his discretion shall see meet” (Samuel Orcutt, A history of the old town of Stratford, p. 167). The story of Goody Bassett is also from Orcutt, p. 148.

XVII & XVIII. The administration of Wethersfield harbor is described in Sherman W. Adams’s essay “The maritime history of Wethersfield,” in Stiles, Wethersfield, chapter XII, pp. 536–595. James’s route home is based on the admirable map published by the Wethersfield Historical Society, drawn by Arthur C. Willard and W. Dudley Birmingham (February 1951) from data in Stiles and Adams, op., as they say, cit. Sarah’s lumber pies are based on a recipe in Robert May, The accomplisht cook or, the art & mystery of cookery, pp. 222–223. For puppydog-water, see Pepys’s diary (Latham and Matthews edition), vol. V, p. 78 (8 March 1663/64) and the note in vol. X, p. 605; the formula is from Mary Evelyn, The ladies dressing-room unlock’d, and her toilette spread, together, with a fop-dictionary, and a rare and incomparable receipt to make pig, or puppidog-water for the face.

XIX. In colonial America, the untimely death of a child was an almost universal experience. Although there’s no record that any of Henry’s children died young, only the names of those to survive to adulthood are known, and Stratford vital records have not been preserved complete.

XX. Ann Cole’s strange behavior is described in Mather, Illustrious providences, pp. 17–21, which is based on a letter (4 December 1682) from the Rev. John Whiting, who had been an eyewitness twenty years earlier (Mather papers, pp. 466–469). Rev. Stone’s handkerchief was certainly illegal; according to the sumptuary laws still in effect (but widely flouted), no one of an estate worth less than £200 was permitted to own gold lace.

XXI. Usury, though permitted in the New England colonies, as in England, at rates of up to eight percent, was generally regarded as sinful and iniquitous, until the 1699 Cambridge Synod determined that charging interest was consistent with scripture; see Cotton Mather, Thirty important cases resolved with evidence of scripture and reason.

XXII–XXV. The Hartford witch panic is summarized in Charles J. Hoadly, “A case of witchcraft in Hartford” in The Connecticut magazine, vol. 5, no. 11 (November 1899), and chapters VIII and IX of R. G. Tomlinson, Witchcraft prosecution: Chasing the devil in Connecticut. James’s route through Hartford is based on the map drawn by William S. Porter (1838) in Mary Kingbury Talbott and William S. Porter, The original proprietors of Hartford. Thomas Bracey accused James at Katherine Harrison’s 1669 trial (John M. Taylor, The witchcraft delusion of colonial Connecticut 1647–1697, pp. 49–50), but the deponent likely said something similar at this time. The early Hartford prison is described in William DeLoss Love, The colonial history of Hartford, pp. 286–289; he notes: “Some prisoners took with them such articles of furniture as they needed. […] Nathaniel Greensmith had there ‘One Bed well filled,’ ‘One Boulster,’ ‘One Rugg, one Blankett’ and ‘Two Blanketts,’ valued at £6 10s” (frustratingly, Love does not cite a source for his quotations). Rebecca Greensmith’s confession in open court is summarized in Whiting’s letter to Mather, p. 468; her further confession against her husband, herself, and others still exists in the Wyllys papers supplement. James’s opinion of witchcraft, while perhaps not usual, is not anachronistic; see, for example, John Hale’s A modest inquiry into the nature of witchcraft. Similarly, contemporary reaction to homosexual behavior was, despite the rhetoric of sermon and law book, usually quite muted; see Richard Godbeer, “‘The cry of Sodom’: Discourse, intercourse, and desire in colonial New England” in The William and Mary quarterly, ser. 3, vol. LII, no. 2 (April 1995), pp. 259–286. James and Rev. Stone’s arguments about Christmas are adapted from sources quoted in J. A. R. Pimlott, “Christmas under the Puritans” in History Today, vol. 10, no. 12 (December 1960). The accusation against James that Rev. Haines reads is adapted from transcripts of the 1677 trial of Nicholas Sension, of Windsor, Connecticut, quoted in Goober.

XXVI. James first fled to Rhode Island in late December 1662 or early January 1662/63, returned by early July, was indicted again in June 1665, fled again, and this time remained in Rhode Island, forfeiting all his Connecticut assets; I have compressed these movements to a single flight.

XXVII. The lives of Ann Cole, Katherine Harrison, Elizabeth Seagar, and Judith Varlett are epitomized in Tomlinson, Witchcraft. Alice is referred to as “Widow Wakelee” in Wethersfield tax records. Her fence disputes are in Ullmann, Court minutes. James granted power of attorney to Henry, who petitioned to be released from it, and was; and both James and Alice petitioned for divorce, but were refused; see Adams, Particular Court, for this and James’s other legal woes. For Thomas Waklee’s death, see Anderson, Great migration; Cotton Mather also mentions him in Magnalia christi americana. James’s penury is reflected in the token taxes assessed on him (Horatio Rogers, et al. [editors], The early records of the town of Providence, vol. XV, pp. 195, 210; vol. XVII, pp. 47, 51). Matthew Cole’s fate is noted in Hoadly, “Witchcraft.” Rev. Stone’s riparian tumble is actually how his son, also named Samuel Stone, died, but Rev. Stone seemed to me to richly deserve such a fate; see J. Hammond Trumbull, The memorial history of Hartford County, Connecticut 1633–1884, p. 263, quoting John Whiting’s letter to Increase Mather. A letter from the citizens of Rhode Island, complaining of James’s presence, is printed in J. Hammond Trumbull, Public records of the colony of Connecticut, from 1665 to 1678, p. 527.

XXVIII. Henry’s will is abstracted in Jacobus, Fairfield; it is actually dated 11 July 1689, with a codicil added 5 April 1690, and was exhibited 8 November 1690. The quoted legal language is adapted from Peregrine White’s will (1704).

XXIX. James was still alive in early October 1690, when a court ruled in his favor; another court order of May 1691 mentions that he had died recently (Hoadly, Records, pp. 35–36 and 44).

In addition to all the above, I am indebted to these secondary sources:

Alfred A. Cave, The Pequot War.

Gregory Robert Cunningham, The history of the Wakelee family since they were known in America.

John Putnam Demos, Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the culture of early New England.

Kai T. Erikson. Wayward pilgrims: A study in the sociology of deviance.

David Hackett Fischer, Albion’s seed: Four British folkways in America.

Richard M. Lederer, Jr. Colonial American English: a glossary.

Walter W. Woodward, Prospero’s America: John Winthrop, Jr., alchemy, and the creation of New England culture, 1606–1676.

“Or I Wil Harrie Them Out of This Land”

My new story, “‘Or I Will Harrie Them Out of This Land'” (yes, the double + single quotation marks are correct) is available today at Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

I say “new” but its gestation is actually older than that of the earlier BCS story “Sinseerly A Friend & Yr. Obed’t” (q.v. by all means). The series of stories that I’m currently working on — six planned, four completed, one in progress — all grew out of genealogical research.

I’m not your average genealogist. I prefer to think of myself as a scholar of ancestry. I’m not interested so much in who married whom and who begat such-and-such as I am in what can still be gleaned of how their lives were — how they felt, where they lived, what they loved. Most of that is lost, of course, irrecoverable irrevocably, since we lack time machines, which probably can’t exist; and we’re left with scraps and facts, brown-edged ledger books and lichened gravestones, locks of hair and page-shedding family bibles, deeds and plats, wills and censuses. Dust and grease. But I refuse to set any limits on the power of compassion and imagination. So I invent, I fib furiously, I conjure and conduct.

I discovered Henry and James early on in my research, although it took a while to prove the line of descent. As I turned the facts over like troweling a flowerbed, churning up rocks and roots, the fascination never quite jelled into narrative. Then another story demanded my attention, like a ventriloquist flapping his dummy’s jaw up and down; and as the rejection notes for this new story piled up, I thought: I just can’t write commercial fiction, I don’t have it in me, I should just give it up and do whatever I want. So I did.

I started (working title: “James” then “A Wethersfield Tale” then “A Witch” then “Concerning the Peculiar Incidents…” and so on) with the formal restraint that the story consist of twenty long paragraphs, each exactly five hundred words long. Each paragraph would in turn comprise five one-hundred-word sentences, for example, or ten fifty-word sentences, or what have you, in intricate patternings. Traces of this procedure still survive in the final version: dialog is preceded by an em-dash and has no other punctuation than commas and semicolons because at first the scenes were all run together into single paragraphs, and the numbering reflects the original structure of five-hundred-word chunks.

But then Scott H. Andrews of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, that prince of editors, that paragon of publishers, bought the other story, and I thought: Well, maybe, I might after all, perhaps…?

Let’s do this thing.

I relaxed all the constraints to just one: each (now numbered, with free paragraphing) section must be exactly five hundred words. Finished, the story tipped the scales at twelve thousand words, precisely, not counting a long epigraph.

Since it was written expressly for Scott, I sent it to him. He wrote back a month and a half later, asking for more time to consider it. Two months later, I queried its status, and a week after that we began exchanging long emails about my intentions and his reactions, culminating in a request to revise the story and resubmit it. I spent about two months doing so, pulling it apart, remolding the pieces, discarding and rearranging and supplementing, but still keeping to the five-hundred word rule. And it was now 14,500 words (exactly). I sent it back.

Two and a half months later, we had another spell of long emails, then Scott offered a contract. Don’t, beloved reader, count each section, because a month of adding and subtracting words saw a net loss of three hundred of them, making some sections a trifle longer, others a little shorter. And so here we are.

A story.

It’s surprising how much of it is true.

I can document that’s it true! And I even have some facts left over, like a handful of baby teeth.

(But all that’s for another post.)

Beneath Ceaseless Skies

It’s time again for that most pleasant of tasks: announcing the publication of a new story. A new historical fantasy, “‘Or I Wil Harrie Them Out of This Land,'” will appear in the April 28 issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies (No. 198).

It’s a modest little tale of two brothers in colonial Connecticut, and their two very different characters and fates. As before, I’ll provide copious notes on the historical and genealogical sources for the story when it appears.

Now we must wait. Hurry up, time! Faster!
UPDATE APRIL 22: The e-book version is now available at Weightless Books and Amazon.

The Galaktika controversy

A surprising magazine cover

A surprising magazine cover

I kicked a hornet’s nest a week or two ago. Galaktika is a Hungarian SFF magazine, highly regarded there, with a substantial print circulation. Don’t feel uninformed; I’d never heard of it either until it showed up in a Google search on my name (vanity, vanity; yes, I know). Turns out, they’d translated and published my story, “Sinseerly A Friend & Yr. Obed’t,” as “Tisztelltel szolg’, egy barát” — without my involvement, permission, or even knowledge.

Well, I emailed the publisher to complain (still no response after almost three weeks and multiple resends). I contacted another author whose name appears on the same cover — his story had also been pirated. I posted about it on an online writers group I belong to; other writers reported their experiences; and now a Hungarian journalist has weighed in. The article is in Magyar, but there’s an English summary at the end.

It’s a big mess, for sure. But I hope that, in the end, Galaktika will reform — although the comment from the editor-in-chief suggests that that may be unlikely. But I can still hope, right?
UPDATE 31 MARCH: The Hungarian Globe website now has an English version of the original story, plus an update at the end.

Up and coming!

Hey boys'n'girls, be the first in your neighborhood to get one!

Hey boys’n’girls, be the first in your neighborhood to get one!

So there’s this new book out. Up and coming: Stories by the 2016 Campbell-eligible authors. There’s over a million words of fiction in it, and a bit less than 8000 of them are mine.

The John W. Campbell Award is for the best new SFF writer; it’s presented at the same ceremony as the Hugo awards, although it is not itself a Hugo. “New” is defined as making one’s first professional sale in the last two years; in this case, 2014 or 2015 — so this is my first year of eligibility. “Best” is defined by however nominators and voters choose to define it.

The anthology includes work by most of the eligible authors, some 100-odd of them. (For a complete list, see Writertopia.) It’s the result of a colossal, generous, and heroic effort by S.L. Huang and Kurt Hunt, and is available, free of charge, from now until March 31, the deadline for Campbell nominations.

Nightstand VII

Yet another stack of books

Yet another stack of books

I sold a story (maybe I’ll tell you about it sometime) and as a little reward to myself (that story was a lot of work) I bought some beautiful things. To wit:

Hermione Eyre. Viper wine. Early one morning, sitting in the lounge at Readercon with my laptop, I read a review of this book at The Hysterical Hamster, and I knew, I just knew, I had to read it. I haven’t been disappointed.

John Bakeless. Turncoats, traitors, and heroes: Espionage in the American Revolution. I saw this at the Park Service bookstore at the Saratoga battlefield. I didn’t buy it then, but soon it was clear that I’d need it for research on a story that I’ve been turning over in my head.

S.P. Somtow. Jasmine nights. I recently borrowed Jo Walton’s What makes this book so great from the library. Her enthusiasm is so contagious that I made a list of must-have books.

Robert J. Antony. Like froth floating on the sea: The world of pirates and seafarers in late imperial South China. Years ago (how many? Three? Five? More? Years, I tell you!) I requested this book at the Library of Congress, only to be told that its status was “Internal loan: overdue.” I requested it again a year or two later, same status. And a few months ago: same. What…? Why? Turns out, members of Congress are allowed to borrow from the collection — fair enough, it’s their library — but there’s no mechanism in place to make them bring the book back. Obviously, I had no choice but to buy my own copy.

Hildegarde Dolson. The great Oildorado: The gaudy and turbulent years of the first oil rush: Pennsylvania 1859–1880. I consulted this book at the Library of Congress and enjoyed it so much I wanted to have a copy. And now I do.

John M. Ford. The dragon waiting. Jo Walton’s description of this book (Byzantines! Medicis! Leonardo! Vampires! Dragons!) was so intoxicating that naturally I bought it.

John H. Rhodehamel (editor). The American Revolution: Writings from the War of Independence. The best way, I’ve found, to write convincing period dialog is to read so much prose from that period that you start sounding that way yourself.

Terry Bisson. Fire on the mountain. See Somtow and Ford above.

A ship underground

The blue hardhats are archeologists.

The blue hardhats are archeologists.

There’s something about things underground — invisible, chthonic, potentially revenant — that excites the imagination. Treasure is all very well, but buried treasure! The pulse quickens. Entire vanished civilizations might lie underfoot; who can know? Stranger things might be found, and have been: buried armies, buried books, buried voids that had been bodies. It was once believed, and by the learned, not the ignorant, that metals grew underground, seeds of gold that, nourished by rising vapors, grew like vegetable roots and stems, into veins and pockets of mineral wealth. And once mined, the gold, if the earth were left fallow, would grow again. Perhaps it could even be encouraged to grow, as we encourage growth above ground with manure and water. Such was the alchemists’ dream; we too dream strange thoughts and should not scoff.

Last Tuesday, the coldest day of winter so far, I went down to the waterfront, braving the below-zero windchill, to see what the upturned soil had revealed this time. This area of Alexandria was once part of the bed of the Potomac River. An eighteenth-century landfill project to improve the harbor moved the shoreline about two blocks eastwards; the present Lee Street was formerly named Water Street, being the last before the riverside.

The excavation at 220 South Union Street is the fruit of the city’s long-delayed waterfront redevelopment plan. John Carlyle’s 1755 warehouse (site of the city’s first brewery in 1770) has already been unearthed, as well as a privy and the usual miscellaneous odds and ends — coins, buttons, broken crockery. Then about a third of one side of a scuttled ship turned up.

This was not unexpected. Then as now, landfills used whatever was at hand and cheap. Boat don’t float? In it goes! The construction site was opened to the public for two hours so that folks could come and gawk at this ship that foundered down into the earth, blackened timbers like the ribs of some fallen Titan, its long, inevitable journey interrupted by a return to sunlight and the upper airs.