The Facts Most Astounding


"If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal — that is your success. All nature is your congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself. The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated. We easily come to doubt if they exist. We soon forget them. They are the highest reality. Perhaps the facts most astounding and most real are never communicated by man to man. The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched."


Henry David Thoreau




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The Writing Day July 24 2014

Writing, writing, writing.  Love writing.  Don't even mind the paperwork.  I'm a green writer, writing, editing, revising on my computer. 

Up to 46,000 words on the current novel in progress, Returnee.  It's straightforward science fiction.  I hadn't planned to write it, having started two others, Road Lessons with Savanna and Insertion Point.  Road Lessons is a cozy, the second in a series.  Insertion Point is science fiction.  I was writing the two of them and then had this idea, and Returnee just took off.  Love it.

Meanwhile, I continue to endure frustration with the publishing process.  Which course should be followed.  Well, I want to take the traditional route through an agent and publishing house with a books on shelves in airports and book stores, books that I can wave at friends and put on my shelf.  I'm romantic that way.  Or maybe it's naive.  Know how many new writers are out there, seeking to be published?  I don't know but I think it's a zettabyte full.  The traditional publishing paradigm isn't user friendly.  Write a synopsis.  Make it one, two, five or twenty pages.  Include a few sample pages, perhaps five, ten, the first chapter or the first three or the first five.  Submit to an agent, hope to hear from them, if you don't, which you likely won't, repeat, repeat, repeat.  Years can be involved.  Meanwhile, my soul feels like its being sucked away.

I've looked at shortcuts.  Maybe, I mused, I should go to a pitch conference.  Stand before a panel of editors, publishers and agents and make a spiel for why my baby book should be given a chance to be published.  Perhaps I should go for epublishing or self publishing or print on demand or something else, some other hybrid of what and how the book can find a market place.  Each has its drawbacks.  Besides, like a bride, I have my heart set on something else.

So, I'll continue writing, just because it's fun.  I enjoy conceiving of these ideas, giving birth to the story presenting it, finding and exploring the characters and their situations, envisioning the details involved in the mounting problems and the resolutions, whether it's a serial killer, a nutjob computer genius, or a human coming to earth for the first time.  I may not be getting paid for it but it's substantially more satisfying than my paying job.  

Time to write like crazy, again.   

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The Water and the Net

Must admit that I was a bit frustrated, and ended up channeling some of my wife's frustrations.

My wife's frustrations are about water and water rights.  She and I watched as cities, counties and states sold their watering rights to others, like Coca Cola, for a bit of money now.  "Why, look at all the water we have," they laughed.  "And those fools are going to pay us.  We'll use all that money to build schools and improve our roads, subside civic improvements.  Woo hoo, we're rich!"

Fast forward a few years and those same places are running out of water.  Doesn't matter how much money they have;  they can't get water.  Sure, they still have a lake full of it, a cistern, a stream, but they don't have the rights to it.  They sold those rights so companies can use their water to profit. 

Here in Ashland, our water comes from mountain snow packs.  People like to ski on mountain snow packs.  Companies like to build places to use for resorts to house those people in luxury and offer them food, drink and entertainment, like shows at night, when they're not skiing.  So a local association wanted to expand their ski resort.  "It won't affect the water supply at all," they assured everyone.  "And having a resort will bring in more tourists, create new jobs and add money to the local economy." 

My wife and I were like, are you nuts?  You're going to risk your water source for a few extra dollars?  "Sure," almost everyone replied.  "It won't hurt anything."

Fast forward just two years from when that measure was narrowly defeated.  The resort didn't open last year.  No snow.  Enduring extended drought conditions, we're close to water rationing.  And people still see no reason not to expand the ski resort. 

She's frustrated that they can't perceive the gaps in their logic.  It reminds us of our warnings about the dot com burst, the housing bubble burst, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  We had good reasons for worrying about these things and we were ignored until disaster stared people in the face.  Then they asked, "Who knew?"

Well, we knew, damn it.  And you didn't listen. So we get frustrated.

This is where my frustration comes in.  A friend sees no problem with going forward with ending Net Neutrality.  "It'll work out," he says.  "We should let them charge for faster service.  Why should a medical record and a movie being downloaded have equal footing?"  My response is that under the proposed systems, it would have nothing to do with whether it's a movie or a medical record.  It depends upon who is willing to pay more for greater speed.  In that sense, to me, it has a direct corollary with wealth inequality. 

He didn't see that at all.  To him, it would all be about establishing priorities based on content.  Movies and amusement would have lower priorities.  No;  that's not what's being proposed, I told him.  It's a simple, pay what the market will bear principle. 

To me, an open Internet is critical to a well functioning democracy, equality and a free market place.  In my mind, which can be a scary place and where I have been demonstrated to be wrong many, many times, there is one Internet and if you start charging people more for faster downloads, you're going to squeeze people out because they won't be able to afford it.  Pshaw, he said, in effect.  It'll work out.

Yes, I've heard those words or similar before. 

The war in Iraq will be a cake walk.  It'll pay for itself. 

There is no housing bubble.  The market will self correct.

There is plenty of water.  We will never miss it. 

Such confidence that "it'll all work itself out" seems weak and misguided to me.  Nature works itself out.  The rest of us sweat it out.  And when we don't, we pay the consequences. 

It frustrated me, talking to him, just as it frustrated me when I protested the planned invasions, warned people that a housing bubble was on the horizon, and winced as they said, a ski resort will not affect our water supply.  They're expressing blind confidence that I just don't seem to have.

Now let's talk about GMO crops.....

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Song of the Earth



A little while back, 'your favourite novel' was suggested as a theme for a blog post. I wonder, if I perform this task with aplomb, do I get to marry the Prince? Maybe it would be easier to empty the pond with a thimble, or hew down the whole forest and chop the trunks into logs before nightfall.

Certainly it isn't easy to see the wood for the trees. A battery of titles springs to mind.

Readers are hooked on fiction for a myriad reasons. Pure entertainment and comedy are always indispensable. But so are those stories providing escape into another time and place, or insight into someone else's dilemma, a sharing of the mental, emotional and spiritual journey of those who have suffered and triumphed and whose wisdom we can adapt to our own experience. For many, it's fascinating to be drawn into the Byzantine maze of the criminal mind. Then there are authors who inspire us with their dazzling command of language, the picturesque metaphors, the smells, sounds, tastes, textures and colours of another state of being, realms we cannot visit by any other mode of travel than through the written word.

The only criterion which unites them all is that they must be well-crafted in order to linger in the memory.

If I mention one or two, I feel an injustice is done to a hundred others.

I love Anya Seton for her authentic recreation of history, the rich tapestry of interwoven realities from serfdom to kingship, Jane Austen for her arch and wicked humour and, of course, for Mr Darcy! Then there's Susan Hill for uncovering the dark nuances of an 'dinary' psyche; Anita Brookner for her microscopic forays into hidden crises within the mundane. There's William Golding for his archaeology of human nature stripped of civilisation and bereft of redemption. Perhaps this is better realised in RITES OF PASSAGE than LORD OF THE FLIES. The proposition of being confined aboard a vessel on voyage (during the Napoleonic Wars) with its set of characters representing the social compass, is, perhaps, a tamer analogy of our common experience. The imagery of D H Lawrence and his understanding of the treaty between his characters' inner selves, and of the anatomy of possession, is compelling and, for me, has been life-changing.

Virginia Woolf, too, is a writer like no other. She will alter your perception of the world for ever. Her stream-of-consciousness technique is irresistible. The sheer fluidity of her prose, the eclipsing and falling away as the spirits of her protagonists interact with each other, modify and change each other, now darkening and lightening the mood, now opaque, now transparent, motiveless, free-floating. The sheer rhythm of THE WAVES is hypnotic. It seems freed of the striving and yearning and wistfulness of TO THE LIGHTHOUSE.

But if I really do have to play the game and settle for one novel on my desert island, it would have to be SUNSET SONG by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. It describes (records?) the effects of the First World War on an isolated Scottish community with heart-wringing poetry and humour.

This Scottish writer died in 1935 at the age of thirty-four, a tragic end to a promising career. His output was phenomenal. It was as if he sensed that he didn't have long. (He might be compared to André Gide who cited fear of imminent death as his main incentive to write!) Gibbon managed to concertina the normal pace of maturity into less than two decades. Meanwhile, he was developing a mastery of language which is stunning and enthralling. His voice is truly original. Such was his imagination and empathy, that he could so convincingly describe childbirth that some readers thought the author must be a woman writing under a pseudonym.

SUNSET SONG is the first of a trilogy (A Scots Quair) about rural life, just inland of the East Coast of Scotland, below Aberdeen, at the turn of the twentieth century. It has been described as a 'crofting elegy, as eloquent in its championing of human rights as it is lyrical in its celebration of the natural world.'

It follows the life of Chris Guthrie whose mother, ground down and debilitated by endless child-bearing, poisons her young twins and commits suicide. With two older children despatched to relatives in Aberdeen, Chris and her brother, Will, are left to help their father run the farm. Will, however, soon grows tired of the deadly grind and, yearning for freedom, runs off to Argentina with his bride to seek his fortune there. When their father falls victim to a stroke shortly afterwards, Chris is hard put to hold things together. After his death, she wonders whether she should consider urban life and a teaching career, but the pull of the land, its rhythms and its turning seasons, are in her blood and bone. Enter Ewan Tavendale, a young farmer who wants to marry her. Together they try keep their way of life going under the threat of mechanisation and the calling of brave hearts to the Great War. These two factors are soon to alter the face of the landscape and horizon that belong to this folk heritage. The drumbeat of the wider world impinges and Ewan enlists as a soldier, only to lose his life, while Chris gives birth to a new generation.

This close-knit community is full of well-drawn characters. You can feel the pulse of them, hear their mannerisms, in time with the pulse of the land itself. They are funny and sad, tragic, joyful, disgruntled, mischievous. And all of their dialogue is bound into one long narrative prose poem that echoes of fable and rings with the cadences of the old Scots tongue. It is sprinkled with a wealth of descriptive Gaelic words, explained in a glossary at the end of the book.

Finally, as the community assembles at the prehistoric Standing Stones to uncover a memorial to those who have died, Chris clasps the hand of little Ewan, and feels somehow consoled, having learned that his father was shot as a deserter. He had realised the futility of war and had wanted to come back to her and the bairn, to Kinraddie and the precious land he had lost.

"And then, as folk stood dumbfounded...the Highland man McIvor tuned up his pipes and began to step slow round the stone circle and Blawearie Loch, slow and quiet, and folk watched him, the dark was near, it lifted your hair and was eerie and uncanny, the 'Flowers of the Forest' as he played it.

...It rose and rose and wept and cried, that crying for the men that fell in battle, and there was Kirsty Strachan weeping quietly and others with her, and the young ploughmen they stood with glum, white faces, they'd no understanding or caring, it was something that vexed them and tore at them, it belonged to times they had no knowing of.

He fair could play, the piper, he tore at your heart marching there with the tune leaping up the moor and echoing across the loch, folk said that Chris Tavendale alone shed never a tear, she stood quiet, holding her boy by the hand, looking down on Blawearie's fields till the playing was over. And syne folk saw that the dark had come and began to stream down the hill, leaving her there, some were uncertain and looked them back. But they saw the minister was standing behind her, waiting for her, they'd the last of the light with them up there, and maybe they didn't need it or heed it, you can do without the day if you've a lamp quiet-lighted and kind in your heart."

It's no spoiler to reveal that in Book Two, CLOUD HOWE, the widow takes up with the minister.

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Latest Comments

Ken Hartke Sofia's Bakery
20 May 2018
Thanks, Rosy, -- glad you liked it.
Ken Hartke I Promise
20 May 2018
I am so looking forward to your return -- I love your writing and wish you well. From my youth I've...
Stephen Evans I Promise
20 May 2018
Sometimes when I am dealing with deep anxiety I find that work (by which I mean writing), and the f...
Rosy Cole Sofia's Bakery
20 May 2018
I just love this, Ken. As appealing to the senses as a painting. Thanks :-)

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