Writing, Books, Painting, Politics, Neuroplasticity
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Posts from — July 2009


The BiergartenThis is a photograph taken in the spring of 1945, in Muchengladbach Germany by my father, Thomas E. Goonan.  He and the 610th, and ordnance company, advanced through France in a giant convoy of command cars and materiel following immediately behind troops mopping up the Battle of the Bulge. 

He and his friend John Wallace, who star in IN WAR TIMES as Sam and Wink, were billeted in an intact row of townhouses on Noiserstratten, which had a summer house in the courtyard behind the house.  Tom and John converted this space into a Biergarten after renovating the local phone system, providing it with a sound system for playing jazz records, beer and wine from local sources, a cooling system for the beer, and a bar from a local volkspark. 

IN WAR TIMES, which won the 2007 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel of the Year, is based on my father’s self-written memoirs.  The fictional characters, Sam and Wink, are engaged in building a “device” which will end war, based on the plans of a mysterious Hungarian physicist/MD who left the Manhattan project to work on a more positive alternative.

This is how they stocked their Biergarten:

We discovered that combat troops had liberated a winery nearby.  A couple of guys went over.  They had big horizontal storage tanks of wine.  When the combat troops got in there they liberated it with tremendous energy.  There weren’t many corkscrews around, so they just broke  the necks off the bottles and took their chances gulping it down.  They all got drunk and kept filling their broken bottles at the tap.  The last guy was too drunk to turn it off.  When we got to it the wine was a foot deep in a huge cellar.  We looked for kegs that hadn’t been opened and hauled out what we could recover.

 We sent a truck to Maastricht every week.  De Kroon brewery there made wonderful beer.  The deal was that we got to buy a liter per week for each guy in our organization as long as we had empty barrels to change for their full barrels.  We went around Gladbach liberating glasses and mugs, beer cooler and piping and those oh-so-precious barrels from bombed-out biergartens.  I estimate that we’re drawing close to 2800 liters per week for C Company.

For more information about IN WAR TIMES, go to www.goonan.com and click on the IN WAR TIMES links.

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July 22, 2009   No Comments

“The Amazing Dancing Chairs” at Flurb, a comment

Rudy Rucker, a science fiction writer who publishes FLURB, a webzine (www.flurb.net), sent me this comment:
New comment on your post #445 “Flurb #4”
Is it an essay? Is it a story? Is it a new, previously unseen hybrid, a coyote-dog, laughing, singing, barking, howling hilariously at the amazed confusion that thrills me right now, as I sit here just after finishing Kathleen Ann Goonan’s wonderful “Amazing Dancing Chairs”? Tune in next time for more . . . and thanks to you all who brought this chunk of loveliness into my life.
Chris Noto wrote the comment; his blog is at  http://chrisnoto.blogspot.com/
You can read the uncategorizable piece at http://www.flurb.net/4/4goonan.htm
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July 19, 2009   No Comments

On organization: A Work In Progress

I’m still trying to figure out the hierarchies here, hence “Recent Posts” in two columns, and “The High Cost of Medical Care” in what I consider two categories.  No time to ponder it here; I’m leaving to deliver 200 copies of CRESCENT CITY RHAPSODY to Virginia Tech, where it will be taught next quarter.  I hope to work on this later this week.

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July 19, 2009   3 Comments

Obama's Health Care Plan

From Washington Post, July 15th:

“Republicans criticized the surtax as a job-killing tax increase that would fall disproportionately on small businesses, whose owners often report earnings on their personal tax returns. “You can’t tax the job creators and expect them to create jobs,” said House  Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio).”

Oh, really?  Hmmm.  I would say that if a small business owner is putting all of that on their personal taxes, they need to find a new accountant.  Seriously.

Not only that.  If they really are raking in that much money, it seems that they could afford to share a bit more with their employees, in the form of health insurance. 

A few gold stars for me:  When I had my business, my personal income was a miniscule fraction of that amount, and there was no fancy accounting, either.  (Our accountant turned out to be a crook, and eventually ended up in prison, but he rather ignored our business early on because he could see that there wasn’t anything he could skim off.)  And even so, insurance for our employees was a priority.  Health, dental, and vision.  Sure, it was expensive, but you know what?  They did a lot of the work, too.  Couldn’t have done it without them.  They deserved it. 

The quote is taken from  “Health Care Plan Would Add Surtax on Wealthy”

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July 15, 2009   No Comments

Private Gravity: A Poem

 I used to think not in pictures (as I do when thinking about how to paint something:  actually, thinking through the process of how-to-paint-those mountains, people, clouds, etc.) nor, exactly, in words.  Instead, I thought in lines of poetry.  They approached me whole, as if from a distance, as if already composed.  Therefore, I concluded (being at that time a philosophy major) that my poems emerged from the Forms, as in Platonic.  When I began to write short stories and novels, I soon realized that they did NOT come from the Forms!

I looked for a poem I wrote years ago about that particular process, and could not find it.  Instead, here is a poem I published in Asimov’s (one of the best-paying markets for poetry, anywhere) years ago:

     Private Gravity



we circle

one another.



by internally generated forces

our gravity grows strong

and turns to time:


loose memories pressed together

become weight


which fuels this swing of spheres

through empty space. Thoughts


long trapped by coldsleep

are roused by unavoidable programs.


Fueled by new proximity 

they flare to life inside us 

and we circle, unable to halt,

pulled by private gravity


into the heart 

of singularity.


–Kathleen Ann Goonan

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July 14, 2009   No Comments

BORN ON A BLUE DAY by Daniel Tammet

Subtitle: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant. And, yes. Tammet’s mind is indeed extraordinary.

Tammet is actually very high-functioning, on the Asberber’s end of the spectrum. The Blue Day of the title is the day on which he was born, Wednesday, which are, for him, blue. He is a synesthete, and I have always been fascinated by synesthesia. I think I have synesthetic tendencies, because I wrote a story when I was sixteen–some day I’ll find it, I suppose–about objects falling out of the back of a truck on the Beltway which turned into solid sounds and colors that blocked the road, and which everyone experienced in the same synesthetic way. One aspect of synesthesia–and someone correct me if I’m wrong–is that sounds, days of the week, whatever, are always consistent in sound or color or smell.  However, if some of my circuitry is thus wired, it is not much; I am not anywhere near what is described as a true synesthete. 

For Tammet, numbers have the characteristic of color, or sometimes other qualities. He says, “I can recognize every prime up to 9,973 by their pebble-like quality. It’s just the way my brian works.”

He was born in 1979, and has had an active and interesting life.  It helps that he can learn new languages very quickly, usually in a week.   He recognised early that he was gay, and has lived with his partner, Neil, for many years.

He set a new world record for reciting digits of pi, which was to 22,514 digits without error in ffive hours and nine minutes. When asked why he learned this, he said: “Pi is for me an extremely beautiful and utterly unique thing. Like the Mona Lisa or a Mozart symphony, pi is its own reason for loving it.”

In LIGHT MUSIC, Su-Chen was an Asperger’s girl born on the moon colony. When the rest of the colony vanishes, she and an adult, Io, return to an Earth very much changed in the previous decades.

Io hears what she has always called “the music of the spheres;” Su-Chen can actually play it. Io decides that this ability is heritable.

In THIS SHARED DREAM, I have a thirteen-year-old musical prodigy who “hears” people whom she loves, and develops a notation to express this, and plays them. (I’m a big fan of From The Top,” an NPR show featuring highly skilled young musicians who consistently amaze me.)

At any rate, I’ve always been interested in how the brain works, how the brains of those who are different than most of us work, and why they are different.  I will put this on my shelf next to THINKING IN PICTURES by Temple Grandin.

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July 14, 2009   1 Comment

Playing With Photos

Red LeafI’m trying to see if I can surround a photo with text.  This is, of course, a maple leaf.  I take a lot of photos with an eye to using them in or for a painting, at some point.  When Painting Woman is allowed to surface, she sees everything as a potential painting.  She sets up the painting, creates a palette, thinks about shadows, what to leave in and what to include, and how to do it.  For the leaf:  paint a base color of golden orange?  Layer on the red?  Paint the red (to put it simply), etch out the veins with a pin, and add gold?  I dunno.  Each attempt is an exercise in itself, just for the pleasure of finding out what works.

When I’m in full painting mode, it can be a nuisance; it’s all I think about.  Clouds, mountains, faces, interesting juxtapositions of form and color:  I think constantly about How To Paint This as I see.  I am therefore processing images rather than words, plot, dialogue, etc. during those times when I am away from my keyboard.  When I’m writing, I’m full into it.  I go to bed with scenes–dialogue, motive, The New Thought That Illuminates The Whole, etc.– unfolding in my mind, and have to get up and write them down, for they are ephemeral.  When I allow myself to relax into default, which seems to be painting mode, I’m not that way.

For many years, I was always in Poetry Mode.  Lines came into me one at a time, wherever I was, stimulated by all I saw and heard.  “Private Gravity” is a poem I published in Asimov’s (one of the best-paying markets for poetry!) years ago.  I will make it the next post.

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July 14, 2009   2 Comments

How do you know that you (or others) are book geeks?

This is actually a Premium Salon tabletalk question, and I can’t afford to join–particularly just to say something!  But what immediately came to mind was:  “When you long for HDTV only because then you could read the titles of the books behind people who are being interviewed in front of their own private library.”  That I can’t read those titles on my regular TV, no matter how close I get to the screen, is always a source of frustration.

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July 12, 2009   No Comments

Hollywood Storm

Here’s a picture from Hollywood, Florida, taken just before a thunderstorm.

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July 12, 2009   6 Comments

After Long Absence

I have turned in a draft of THIS SHARED DREAM to David Hartwell at Tor, and await his response.  My nascent blog, begun two years ago, went into a long hiatus after my mother passed away, and, with a book under contract, I plunged into research and the fitful, frustrating, and rewarding process of writing a novel.

The big news last year was that IN WAR TIMES won the Campbell Award; it was also the ALA’s Best Adult Genre Novel of 2007.  As those of you who read IWT know, my father Thomas E. Goonan’s WWII memoirs, written and edited by him, were the backbone of the novel, and he went to Lawrence, Kansas with me to be recognized at the ceremony. 

2009 has been a busy year.  In January, I heard that I was one of four finalists (Bruce Sterling, Tim Powers, and Nalo Hopkinson were the others) interviewed for the post of Professor of Creative Writing at UC Riverside, but I was not selected.  It is moot now, as the post has been dropped because of California’s budget debacle.  It is unfortunate for two reasons:  Nalo, who got the post, would have done a marvelous job, and because the post required a concentration on teaching the writing of Science Fiction, New Weird, Slipstream, Interstitial, ect., which is quite unusual in our stratified two cultures of writing here in the US:  High and Low.  More on this issue soon, but on my web page at www.goonan.com, there is a link to a talk I gave at the Library of Congress for the sf fan club of Library employees touching on this issues.

During the winter of 2009, I took a four-day workshop with Alan Cheuse in Key West, stepped up my bike-writing and swimming, and chose gloriously brilliant and saturated Caribbean colors for our tiny conch (old-timer’s) home in Florida–deep sky blue, golden yellow, and a reddish pink.  Most houses around us are painted in meek, drab, Palm-Beach-Fitting-In shades of brown, chosen by those who rushed in the early nineties to snap up all the houses and flip them, so I am immensely pleased.  Also, of course, I wrote. 

We entertained the Haldemans, friends from Cleveland (a marvelous evening of playing guitars, singing songs like Truck Stop Girl, Heartlessly Hoping, For Free, Friend of the Devil, and such, often refreshing our memories with lyrics from the internet), relatives, and neighbors.  I arrived at ICFA, and spent a wonderful evening discussing philosophy (one of my double majors, along with English), religion, and literature with Jim and Kathy Morrow and Patrick O’Leary, but had to leave the next morning because my father was in the hospital; he has since recovered.  Guesting at the Eaton Conference, and, in June,  and the SFRA Conference in Atlanta (where I heard a great paper about CRESCENT CITY RHAPSODY).

“Memory Dog,” shortlisted for the Sturgeon Award, came in second.   It was a very strong list of about twelve, and, though of course I wish that the story had won, I was pleased that it placed.  If you wish to read it, it is available right now with a one-click at your favorite online bookseller, or in bookstores, in YEAR’S BEST SF: 14, edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer.

Presently, I’m reading BORN ON A BLUE DAY, by a high-functioning Asperger’s savant:  fascinating.  I love books that illuminate how the brains of unusual people work.  Also, SEDUCED BY HITLER, about how ordinary Germans functioned and felt during the Nazi regime (more on that later), and about ten other books, on which I will eventually comment.  Just finished THE COMEDIANS, by Graham Greene, whose work I save for dessert after finishing a project, along with Ross Thomas.  SEX AND WAR, for my ongoing novel, is by two physicians who have been on the front lines of conflicts in the past decades, in which they present their theories about what causes war.

In fact, most of my reading in the past year has been research for THIS SHARED DREAM, and I will post short reviews of them in time.  I do want to have a painting interlude; painting has been quite bottled up lately due to time constraints, and Painting Woman becomes impatient when Writing Woman prevails. 

But soon, I must ship several hundred copies of CRESCENT CITY RHAPSODY to the bookstore at Virginia Tech, where it will be taught there this fall (Joe Haldeman taught it at MIT a few years ago).  Veronica Hollinger will teach QUEEN CITY JAZZ this year, too.

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July 11, 2009   No Comments