A historical document, writ
in 1994 and reproduced here verbatim:
"AFTERWORD TO "HORSES
BLOW UP DOG CITY"
The Sycamore Hill Anthology, 1996)
Karen Fowler: This is a very muted story with
curiously disconnected characters. Within this dampened setting
the difficulties, but also the possibilities, for moving us
are enormous. We don't have to solve the mystery of Grover's
death, but we do need to solve the mystery of his absence. What
does it mean to the rest of Hanes' life that Grover is gone?
John Kessel: It's perfect. Don't change a thing.
I mean it. This is a great story. Loved the lute player.
Loved the fan in the clown suit. The street person on page two.
The Omnibot. The backstage scene. The names of Grover's performances.
Maybe a little more--but not much.
Carol Emshwiller: Stay muted. Don't add a lot
of emotion. I'm almost in agreement with John. So stay affectless.
Nancy Kress: The writing here is a pleasure,
smooth and detailed. You need more dramatization of scenes involving
Grover, and a more definite stance from Hanes. Without either
of those, we're just too distant from everyone's emotions.
Robert Frazier: This needs a child. The true
power of the story lies in the aftermath, in those left behind
in a suicide. Seeing the child and a struggling Lexene would
set the stage with the most powerful situation.
Bruce Sterling: Any story with popstars, media,
junk, bricolage, detournement, capitalist exploitation, hacking,
retrofitted apartments, Russian fan kids, and uprooted urban
artists with postmodern sensibilities has got to command my
attention. Now I want you to really rub our noses in it.
James Patrick Kelly: Although the writing is
wonderful, the characterization is too enigmatic. Grover's death
means little to us, everything to Hanes. Your story must be
telling us why.
Maureen McHugh: Illuminate the mystery at the
heart of this story.
Alexander Jablokov: There's a story here, but
you haven't yet written it. The story is the rise and eventual
destruction of an artist, a child-like artist. You have trouble
focussing on it, and keep distracting yourself. Still, somehow,
some of that tragic emotion comes through. Grab it and pull
it through the story.
Gregory Frost: The problem throughout for me
is specificity--that's what is lacking and what will fix it.
Mark Van Name: I had no trouble reading this
story, and I generally enjoyed the experience. Unfortunately,
at the end I just didn't care as much as I should have about
Jonathan Lethem: A Jonathan Carroll story minus
the intense emotions. Cute geniuses had better be suffering
hard or they're insufferable.
Michaela Roessner: A numbered dot puzzle without
the lines filled.
It is not at all a bad gig, blowing off most
responsibilities for a week and just being a writer in the company
of writers. One gets the urge to don the old velvet suit, take
up smoking a pipe, that kind of thing. Even the Sycamore Hillians
who write professionally for the other 358 days a year will
tell you that it's a cool deal. So for a semi-unknown (uh, that's
me, in case you were wondering) to join in with Mark and John
as one of the Secret Masters of Sycamore Hill, to be treated
as a peer by some of the bright lights of the literary sf community--what
more could I ask for? How, indeed, would I have known
to ask for such extracurricular activities: a late night dance
contest starring a frantically gyrating Alex; the endless quest
that Bob, Greg, and I undertook for the perfect spiral notebook;
the discovery of a cache of '50s pulp magazines that featured
Carol as the cover model. An exceptionally medicated game of
"I've Never" comes to mind, as do the three extra
hours of conversation with Karen while we waited for her plane
to emerge from the maelstrom in Dallas and take her home.
The payback for all the good times and writerliness
is your critique session. In many cases, a loose consensus will
develop--you'll get thirteen hammers, or thirteen puzzled looks,
or maybe thirteen paeans of praise. The folks at the tail end
of the circle (the ones who don't have some prized Freudian
or deconstructionist reading to trot out) usually hack away
at the opinions already expressed: "I agree with Carol about
the tone, and Jim's idea for a slight tweak on the ending is
good." That kind of thing. Even the heavyweights pay some attention
when a consensus develops. But what do you do when you get a
few hammers, some puzzled looks, and some praise? Is that worse
than a sound drubbing? No, it's not, but it does make you wonder
about whom to listen to when you're doing the rewrite.
Well, I took the advice of John, and Carol,
and Karen, so I didn't change a whole hell of a lot. If nothing
else, I am quite proud of the fact that my story caused Bruce,
who normally yowls about things like "the spearhead of
cognition" and "burning the motherhood statement,"
to scream at me during the critique for making my characters
seem criminally unemotional. Some folks wanted more puppetry,
and it's not there, probably because I find most descriptions
of new art forms in sf pretty tedious. Thanks are due to Bruce
and Greg for pointing out a potentially embarrassing error in
the tech of the story, and that's a good thing, since my day
job is computer journalism.
Is the story too muted? I guess it depends
on how sensitive your ears are...