Paul Kincaid reviews ANGELS AND YOU DOGS on the SF Site
Paul Kincaid reviews ANGELS AND YOU DOGS on the SF Site. The review begins:
“I get the impression that Kathleen Ann Goonan would like to live very far away from the rest of us, in a remote cabin somewhere, preferably where it snows a lot. This is not necessarily a place to escape the present, but rather a place where one might encounter, understand, and perhaps even embrace the future.”
He gets the right impression–I perpetually await snow! And, because I am in Florida most winters, I live in a somewhat Proustian state of perpetual longing for that ur-space of creativity, which for me seems to be the isolation that snow imposes. Perhaps longing is better than reality–flying off the road in my Ford pickup, busted water pipes, reviving the cooking skills of my Midwestern ancestors at a time when winters were harsher and colder and there were no grocery stores . . . oh, heck, the reality is still tempting! There is the cozy necessity of laying in a good supply of wood, down and wool clothing and canned goods and sturdy boots, and other pleasures. But there is also the daunting realization that my wood-splitting skills and strength have atrophied somewhat over the years.
I prepared for this, as a child. Sure, I had a calling for writing, but perhaps more importantly, I had a calling for wilderness. I read many Tales of the Frozen North, James Oliver Curwood in particular, and SNOWBLIND, and THE COUNTRY OF THE POINTED FIRS, and WE TOOK TO THE WOODS, books in which isolation seemed to bring moral fortitude and the associated search for identity into sharp relief. I emerged from used book stores with sacks of depression-era books about Living Off The Land. I studied the Boy Scout Handbook to hone my survival skills. I wanted to Live in the Woods on a Nickle a Day. I practiced knots, slapped bannock bread (an unhealthy mix of white flour, baking soda, and water) into frying pans, had my father build a portable camping kitchen. The places that enchanted me were cabins far back in the woods, on lakes big and small, in Michigan. In my formative years as a young adult, I did live in such places in the mountains of southwest Virginia, near the West Virginia state line, experienced deep, isolating snows. During those snows I tramped through a world mysteriously transformed, was buffeted by invigorating winds, pelted by rain, hail, sleet, and snow, took evocative photographs, stoked wood stoves, and got a lot of painting and writing work done.
My grandmother’s antique snow globe burst in one such setting; I left for my job as a Montessori teacher–you see, I have been in the world of humans, and for many, many years–after dressing under my electric blanket (for I always let the stove go cold at night) driving a ribboning high road over said snowy mountains, was immersed in a world of children and their parents for the day, and returned to find that my beautiful snow globe, my emblem of fantasy, had frozen and burst–not unpredictably–during the day.
Perhaps I simply long for childhood days in Cincinnati–far from being a wilderness!–where my mother and I trekked intrepidly through the snow, took buses everywhere, and enjoyed many a snowy day. A month in Michigan every winter could not have hurt. My deepest happy memories are embedded in the snows of childhood.
I am a bit surprised at how strong this germ of what fosters my own creative life is in these stories. I think that most creative people used to thrive in isolation, free from chatter, and probably still do. How else is one to get work done? And if this work is the most important thing in one’s life, and if one’s attention is fragile, as is mine, than it is much better to gaze at snowy mountains than to rent a windowless room, as do some writers, and to ensure that if a visitor braves long, snow-covered roads, cutting trees blown over the road with the chain saw one keeps in the truck for just this purpose, it must be for a very good reason. Writing through the night resembles writing during days of snow. There is metaphorical isolation, and the comforting knowledge that I will not have to start a fire in the stove at dawn because electricity will brew the coffee.
I know, but do not understand, that many creative people enjoy working on teams, collaboratively. Perhaps I would enjoy it too. I enjoyed the collaborative dance of teaching preschoolers where I and other adults slipped unobtrusively in and out of each child’s sphere with those light suggestions that are the essence of teaching, forming that creative world, that low buzz of concentration, that seems a single entity when it works, when light builds in the room. Perhaps that is how team-building and maintaining a fictional digital world works, and how it feels–more than the sum of its parts.
(As an aside, I always opened my school on snow days. I’d drive crunchy, slippery, unplowed roads in the dark, put my key in the door, open another kind of world that I’d built from a dream, welcome ten children rather than fifty, tell my employees to stay home, and delight in the brilliant, white day, with children.)
The most important point is that I am not really alone in wilderness. In fact, I am never alone. The world, whether in city, in wildness, in that in-between space of country, is alive for me. We intersect with one another. I am not sure that I nourish it, but it nourishes me. The characters in my stories and novels, who are fictions, ghosts, build themselves in such spaces and are my companions. They insist on themselves.
No one ever said that writers are normal, did they?
Most people spend much of their time surrounded by fictional people and stories, via television. Television fills those quiet, creative spaces and tramples on the quiet voice of Thought, but obviously most people do not feel that their time in this world, their time to think and to create, is limited, as do I. People may be watching said television with others, they may discuss the characters and plots with others, but they are, essentially, alone when they engage with that screen. They are tethered to it. They bend over their phones and watch, alone; they buy more cable options so they can watch their own shows, sucking down these worlds like I suck down solitude.
I like fiction, too. I have my own television, which is filled with fictional worlds in which characters insist on and argue for their own existence, reveal their lives in dialogue. I can best hear and see it, and think about how to transmit it, however engaging it may be to others (one never knows), when alone. Writing is active, not passive, and it is kind of like a virus. It takes over one’s life. Writers who publish are those who cannot turn off that urge. Happy writers like myself have families who understand this urge.
And I hasten to add that I have written many more short stories than these fourteen, bursting! with engagement and . . . and . . . . Well, come to think of it, the main character in “A Love Supreme,” which appeared in October’s DISCOVER MAGAZINE, is an agaraphobe . . .
For works just bursting with Engagement, see: The Novels of Kathleen Ann Goonan. And keep an eye out for “Bootstrap,” a story of collaborative engagement, in MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW SCIENCE FICTION, out next year, and “Sport,” in ARC early next year. You’ll see!
And great thanks to Paul Kincaid for his wonderful review.