Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Sic Transit Gloria Austin: Here Comes Maureen McHugh

Our Wednesday Child (Full of Woe?) Maureen F. McHugh is the award winning (a Hugo and a Tiptree, 2 Locus, a Lambda and many nominations) author of novels China Mountain Zhang, Half the Day Is Night, Mission Child, and Nekropolis. Her short story collection Mothers and Other Monsters was shortlisted as a finalist for the Story Prize in December, 2005. (You've got to respect a prize where the runners up get as much money as I did for selling my first novel.)

I first met Maureen on an exotic island somewhere off the west coast of England. Way, way off the west coast of England. Okay, it was within eyesight of Cape Cod. We were both teaching at Viable Paradise IV, the week-long SF & Fantasy workshop on Martha's Vineyard. Back then, she had unruly, tightly-curled hair, glasses, and this whimsical smile. She still has the glasses and the smile--and the hair, too, but it's straighter now.

The first day she stood up before the assembled instructors and students to give some quick rules for work-shopping critiques. I'll never forget what she said for two reasons--because of what she said and how she said it.

"Say something that is both true and useful." Also, on the subject of receiving critique: "Your story is like an organism, crafted in the lab, that you are releasing into the wild to see how it fares. You are observing its behavior, its ability to function in the wild. You cannot intercede on its behalf. You cannot protect it from attack. You cannot explain it to other organisms when they don't understand it. You're there to see if it succeeds or fails and how and why."

(I'm paraphrasing on both of these as VP IV was at the tail-end of the last century and who can be expected to remember stuff they experienced in a previous century?)

But as I said, the other thing that got me was how she said it. Her voice changed and I had to sit up suddenly, fighting an urge to snap to attention. Affable, yes. Easy going, yes. Spine of steel? Also, yes.

She's in the middle, this week, of moving from Cleveland, Ohio to Austin, Texas. A change this extreme may induce a degree of culture shock...but I'm sure Austin will recover.

No comments: