FF: Beginnings, Endings, and Old Ghosts

December 19, 2014

The holiday season has just gotten more complicated with the arrival of the mass market proofs for Artemis Awakening.  But that’s proofing, not reading…

Wondering what the FF is about?  The Friday Fragments feature lists of what I’ve read over the past week.  They are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive list, you can look on my website.

Ogapoge in Contemplation

Ogapoge in Contemplation

This is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

The Land of Dreams by Vidar Sunstol, translated from Norwegian by Tiina Nunnally.  I seriously loved this book.  It’s part detective story, part family story, part…  Is it a ghost story, or is our stressed cop going nuts?  Although the first book in the “Minnesota Trilogy,” I felt it stood well on its own.  I’m definitely reading book two.  Highly recommended.

The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan.  Audiobook.  I enjoyed this conclusion to the second story arc.  Riordan does a good job with his very large cast.  The gods are still jerks…

In Progress:

Sixth Grave on the Edge by Darynda Jones.  Audiobook.  So far no rough sex in this one.  Yay!  Supernatural elements are becoming more important, as are character interactions.  Stronger, I think, than the previous two in the series.

Nobody’s Damsel by E.M. Tippets.  What happens after “happily ever after”?   Well, when the courtship is whirlwind, a lot of past history still needs to be resolved.  Throw in an ugly kidnapping to awaken our protagonist’s worst memories and you have the ingredients for a gripping tale.

Also:

Well, those proofs are looming over my head.  I’d rather read cookie recipes!

TT: Writers Who Rock (or Folk) or Whatever

December 18, 2014

News Flash: If you enjoyed me interviewing Jack McDevitt, you might enjoy him interviewing me.  

Now back to the writers who do double duty as musicians…

JANE: Last time, Alan, you brought up Michael Moorcock’s involvement with Hawkwind and other bands.  This got me thinking about other writers who are more than casually involved with music.

Rocking Writers

Rocking Writers

One writer whose musical involvement won’t surprise anyone familiar with his work is Charles de Lint.  Along with his wife, MaryAnn Harris, he has written many songs – some of which allude to characters in his novels (like the Crow Girls).

I haven’t been to a World Fantasy Convention for some years now.  When I did attend, I stumbled upon Music Night.  The first time I went was by accident – I was avoiding being dragged into a bridge game – but, after that, Jim and I always marked it as a “don’t miss” on our calendar.

That’s where we first heard Charles and MaryAnn.  When they were guests at Bubonicon, we encouraged them to perform there, too, and they were great.

ALAN: Skill in one artistic area often implies skill in another. Writer/Musicians are not uncommon, particularly in the SF field where, as we’ve discovered, there’s already a large overlap. Joe Haldeman, for example, is a very skilful guitar player. And Stephen King, who never does things by halves, plays rhythm guitar in a group called The Rock Bottom Remainders. All the members of the group are writers and artists. There’s a book about them – it’s called Hard Listening and it’s a collection of essays by the band members, full of anecdotes about what it’s like being a rock star!

JANE: I may need to look at that collection.  However, I’ve heard from someone who has heard the band play that the members should stick to writing!

Another writer/musician is Emma Bull.  Along with Lorraine Garland (who for quite a long time was Neil Gaiman’s personal assistant), they performed as The Flash Girls.  I heard them perform at a Renn Faire and really enjoyed.  One of my favorites of their songs is “Amaryllis” – a joyful celebration of the unexpected.

Jim and I have an amaryllis bulb that we’ve nursed through at least five years now (we need to split it this year).  When it starts blooming, I wander around doing my best with the song.  Sadly, I can’t manage Emma Bull’s high notes, and need to transpose down.

ALAN: I can’t manage any notes at all, high or low. I love music, but I can’t play an instrument and I can’t sing a note.

What’s a Renn Faire? I’m guessing here, but is Renn a contraction of Renaissance? If so then I’d imagine a Renn Faire involves lots of dressing up, eating, drinking and singing in a medieval manner. That’s a very folkie thing to do, and indeed, “Amaryllis” sounds just like the title of a folk song…

JANE: Yep.  You’ve guessed right.  Renn Faires have gotten very popular here.  My understanding is that there are crafters, performers, and cooks who make a full-time living working the rounds of various faires.

Emma Bull also performed with SF/F writer Steven Brust in a band called Cats Laughing.  Among others, the band included Adam Stemple, the son of writer Jane Yolen, and now (although I do not believe then) a writer in his own right.

Geography played a role in these interactions, as all the participants then resided in the Minneapolis area.  I know Neil Gaiman supplied lyrics for some of The Flash Girls’ songs.  This geographic proximity led to an interesting crossover to Neil Gaiman’s seminal graphic novel, Sandman.

ALAN: Really? In what way?

JANE: In one volume, some of the scenes are set at a Renn Faire.  If you look carefully, you’ll see Emma Bull, Lorraine, Garland, and Steve Brust all pictured as some of the background musicians.

I happened to be there the day that artist Mike Zulli was being taken around by Neil so they could discuss scenes and setting.  It was very interesting to see that side of the visual story being developed.

ALAN:  I’m jealous – I’ve never seen or been involved in anything like that.

JANE: It was cool…  Speaking of Neil Gaiman, he’s another writer with an interest in music.  He wrote several of The Flash Girls’ songs: “Banshee,” “A Girl Needs a Knife,” and “Yeti.”  My understanding – although I haven’t witnessed this myself – is that he’s now performing as well, both with and without his wife, Amanda Palmer.

ALAN: That should be impressive! I think he’s a bit of a late comer to performing though – probably it’s Amanda’s encouragement that has got him onto the stage. In the days when I knew him, he wasn’t a performer.

JANE: Well, to musical performing.  He’s always given a great reading. Now, you take a turn.

ALAN: The late English writer Mick Farren produced a lot of very good and very dark SF and fantasy. He was also a rock musician and he played with a band that was generally called The Deviants – though the name did sometimes vary a bit (sometimes they were The Social Deviants and at one point in their lives they were The Pink Fairies). He had a wicked sense of humour which was often reflected in the lyrics of his songs and the titles of his albums. Who could resist buying an album called Mona –  The Carnivorous Circus or Eating Jello With A Heated Fork or (my favourite title of all time) Vampires Stole My Lunch Money?

JANE: Great titles…  I really like Eating Jello With a Heated Fork.

ALAN: I find it interesting that, apart from Michael Moorcock and Mick Farren (and a little bit of Neil Gaiman), all of the writer/musicians that we’ve discussed are American. I really can’t think of any other British, Australian or New Zealand equivalents.  (Can any of our readers help here?)

I also find it interesting that both Moorcock and Farren lived in America for many years. Furthermore both of them are called Michael. I wonder if this is a statistical anomaly, or is there something in the American water?

Do you have any other writer/musician examples?

JANE: You bet… John Shirley, who writes both prose and screenplays, has fronted several bands.  I was interested to learn that he also writes songs, and has written lyrics for many of Blue Oyster Cult’s songs.

One year, when Jim and I attended Armadillocon in Texas, we came back from dinner to hear some very good rock music coming out of the largest ballroom.  We later learned that the band features a good number of writers among its members, including David Lee Anderson, Warren Spector, Caroline Spector, Brad Denton, Steve Gould, and Rory Harper.

I asked Steve Gould about how permanent the band was and he told me that there were multiple bands over the years. The early on one was Los Blues Guys whose regular members were writers Rory Harper, Brad Denton, Martha Wells, Steve Gould, and cartoonist Scott McCullar.  Several other writers sat in including Emma Bull, Tappan King, and (Tor editor) Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

There was a later incarnation called Two Headed Baby, with some overlap.  Brad Denton apparently does a solo gig called Bland Lemon Denton, with occasional guest Lemonettes.

In case anyone wants to pursue this further, here’s a link to some recordings: http://eatourbrains.com/EoB/2008/11/28/thb-for-the-masses/

Have you ever encountered anything like this at British or New Zealand conventions?

ALAN: Apart from “proper” bands like Hawkwind, I don’t recall anything like this at British conventions that I attended – though having said that, I did once see an incarnation of Moorcock’s Deep Fix without Moorcock, so I’m not sure how authentic they were. But they gave a good show anyway, so I don’t suppose it matters.

JANE: I agree…

Writers aren’t the only people in the publishing industry who make music on the side.  Tor editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden has played guitar (both electric and acoustic) for forty-four years, but he says he’d only consider himself anything other than a “living room guitarist” for the last fourteen.

He plays in an intermittent band called Whisperado.  They have an EP called Some Other Place and a full-length album called I’m Not the Road, both of which are on iTunes, Spotify, CD Baby, etc. Patrick said that he plays “…electric guitar and sings occasional lead and frequent backup. Most of our songs are written by our bass player and fearless leader Jon Sobel, but we do some covers and there’s even a song written by me on the EP.”

So here we have an editor becoming a writer – with music as the midwife.  I love it!

ALAN: I was right. It is something in the water. That’s quite a wide ranging set of SF/Musical talent. I’m amazed and impressed.

JANE: When I was talking with Patrick about his music, he offered information about the NYC area writers who rock.

“I’m far from the most interesting musician even in the small cohort of NYC science-fiction publishing people, of course. Betsy Wollheim’s husband Peter Stampfel was in the super-influential 1960s folk band the Holy Modal Rounders and has done lots of recording since, including with They Might be Giants, Loudon Wainwright III, and other acts you may have heard of. I’ve never actually met Stampfel, mind you, but I understand he works for DAW in some capacity that includes editorial work. Even at Tor, I’m far outshone by the our director of publicity, Patty Garcia, who plays bass in a punk band called The Rats which does things like tour clubs in Portugal and on the West Coast.”

ALAN: I’m very familiar with They Might be Giants. They are a marvellously eccentric band and I have several of their albums.

JANE: One thing I discovered as we put this together is that the music scene and writing/publishing overlap a lot more than I ever realized.

Maybe after Christmas we can talk about that elephant in the SF closet…  Filk music!

Chatting with Jack McDevitt

December 17, 2014

JANE: This week, as an early holiday gift to all of you, I’m offering an interview with Nebula Award-winning author and personal favorite, Jack McDevitt.

(Turns to face victim.)

All right, Jack, ready to go?  Here’s my first question.

Some of Jack's Works

Some of Jack’s Works

In my experience, writers fall into two general categories: those who have been writing stories since before they could actually write and those who came to writing somewhat later.

Which sort are you?

JACK:  I knew from my earliest years that I wanted to write SF. Started my first novel at about eight. The title was The Canals of Mars. You might be surprised to hear that it didn’t sell. In my early teens I submitted a story to F&SF, and got an encouraging reply from Anthony Boucher. But I didn’t realize how much that meant. I won the Freshman Short Story Contest at LaSalle, and thought I was on my way. Then I read David Copperfield and realized I could never compete with Dickens. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that I did not have to compete with him. In any case, I wrote nothing more for 25 years. Finally got started when my wife Maureen talked me into trying my luck. So I guess you could say I came late to the feast.

JANE: You’re right…  So many would-be writers don’t realize how much a personalized rejection means.

 Next question: What draws you to writing science fiction?

JACK:  When I was four years old, I saw the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials. After that, fiction that never got above the rooftops just didn’t grab me the way Bradbury and Heinlein did.

JANE: Heh…  That’s great.  I’ve seen some of those serials and they’ve got real energy – an energy I certainly find in your novels.

You have two continuing series: the stories featuring Priscilla “Hutch” Hutchins and those featuring Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath.  What can you do by doing these two series that you couldn’t if you just stayed with one?

JACK:  Probably avoid running out of ideas too quickly. Priscilla deals with different types of problems than Chase & Alex. I’m not much interested in using villainous characters to drive plots, so I need different types of problems. Priscilla is usually involved in discoveries made during the early years of FTL flight, whereas Alex tries to chase down historical mysteries, like your own Griffin Dane.

JANE: Griffin and Alex would probably like each other.  I can see them arguing over beer.

Both Hutch and Chase are spaceship pilots.  Is there any particular reason that you prefer female characters in the driver’s seat?

JACK:  I used to do leadership seminars for the Customs Service. One of the exercises we ran involved putting five people together and putting them in a difficult situation that required them to communicate, make the right calls, and get good results. For example, we’d put them into a plane and crash the plane in Arizona during July. This was before the cell phone era, so they had no communication. All they were required to do was survive. Some groups were made up of special agents, others of customs inspectors, others of import specialists. They lived and died at pretty much the same rate. The only area in which we saw a difference was related to the gender makeup of the groups.

There were three types of groups: all male, all female, and mixed. The female groups showed a serious capacity for thinking things out and listening to each other, much more so than anybody else, so that had by far the best results. I suspect you’ll be surprised to hear who got the worst scores. It was the mixed groups.

We discovered that in the mixed groups the participants tended to assume standard roles: The males became more inclined to take charge, make decisions, and take foolish chances. The women became more submissive and just went along.

Going with female pilots who would not cave into dumb decisions seemed like an easy (and natural) call.

JANE: That’s great!  I’m really not surprised by what you learned.  I attended an all-girl high school and will be forever grateful.  Later, when I taught college, I offered an SF seminar.  To my astonishment, all seven students were female (and most were blond).  I’d taught some of these young ladies in mixed groups and I was thrilled to find how much more opinionated they were when there were no guys around.

 Alex Benedict walks the very narrow line between treasure hunter and archeologist, a division that defines his character in many ways.  I’m curious why you chose this background for him.  He’s smart enough that he could have had any number of career paths.

JACK:  Sure. Banker, maybe. Or real estate dealer. But none of that would be of any interest to a reader.

JANE: You’ve been married for quite a while, and seem happy that way, but none of your main characters seem to be able to maintain a relationship.  Why did you make that choice?

JACK: I don’t think that was actually a conscious choice. But our lives before we get married tend to have more tension and more surprises, which helps provide a more gripping narrative.

JANE: I’ve read (and loved) Coming Home, the latest installment in the Alex Benedict/ Chase Kolpath novels).  Can we hope for future stories with them?

JACK:  Coming Home has been interpreted by a number of readers as a wrap on the series. I’ve even occasionally thought of it that way myself. And that will probably stay in place until the first historical mystery that would capture Alex’s attention shows up.  

JANE: I’m definitely going to have Griffin e-mail Alex.  I want more stories about him and Chase!

In Coming Home, while doing research for something else entirely, Chase comes across a book that is clearly about Hutch.  (I giggled mightily.)  However, this confirms that they share the same universe.

JACK:  I don’t think Chase tells us whether the book was history or fiction.

JANE: You’re right…  Still, I was tantalized by the possible link.

 Many of Hutch’s challenges center around helping keep the space program active.  Is there a point at which it might be hard for you to carry her story forward without bumping into conflicts with the past history established for Alex and Chase?

JACK:  Until now, I’ve never thought of them as living in the same universe. I’ve reached a point at which I’m going to have to make up my mind.

JANE: Hey, how about Alex and Chase investigating what happened to Hutch after she vanished on her final flight?  Just kidding…

 I know you just finished a book.  Can you tell us anything about it?

JACK:  Beyond the Sky is a sequel to Ancient Shores, published in the mid-nineties. A star gate has been excavated on a Sioux reservation in North Dakota. Who put it there? Why? And where can it take us? Answers forthcoming.

JANE: Oh, wonderful!  I loved Ancient Shores.  You’ve got a reader.  Two, actually, Jim’s a fan, too.  He had a couple sick days recently and spent them reading Coming Home.

 Many of my readers are interested in writing.  Can you tell us a little about how a novel typically develops for you?  Do you write a little each day?  Write in bursts?   Have any tricks you’d care to share?

JACK:  I work every day for about seven hours. My objective is to get a complete first draft. That, as you certainly know, is the brute work. After that I can fiddle with it. My inclination is to set up a mystery. How did those people vanish out of the starship? There was no place to go, and the lander and the pressure suits are all still on board. Once I have the answer to that, a reasonable explanation, the novel pretty much writes itself. But the reasonable explanation is essential. I want the reader to wonder at the end how he could have missed it.  (That, incidentally, is Polaris.)

JANE: I remember.  I have a signed copy on my shelf!  Okay…  One final question.  If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

JACK:  Seriously, I enjoyed my time teaching leadership and management seminars for the Customs Service. Before that I was an English teacher. Either one provides a rewarding way to make a living. You won’t make big money, but you’re doing something that’s enjoyable, and providing a service at the same time.

JANE: And that’s a combination sure to make for a happy life.  Thanks for taking time to chat.

Any of you have anything you’d like to ask?  We can hope to drag Jack back.  Feeling too shy to ask directly?  You might consider signing up for his Facebook Fan Club.

Blue, Apprentice, Dreams

December 12, 2014

Busy time continues, so I’ve been “reading” more via audio, but I can’t give up stories!

For those of you new to this…  The Friday Fragments feature lists of what I’ve read over the past week.  They are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive list, you can look on my website.

This is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a few opinions tossed in.

Are We What We Read?

Are We What We Read?

Recently Completed:

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater.  Third in the excellent “Raven Boys” series.  This one lived up to the first two.  There will be a fourth.  I’m glad.

The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Audiobook.  I wish I’d read this sooner!  The excerpts I had read before didn’t give the mixture of humor and drama a fair showing.  There were times Jim and I laughed out loud – even while anxiously waiting for the next twist.  I’ll be listening to more.

In Progress:

The Land of Dreams by Vidar Sunstol, translated from Norwegian by Tiina Nunnally.  Just started.  The deceptively slow first few pages segues into a fascinating puzzle: Why are two men stark naked (except for matching running shoes) on the shores of Lake Superior.  And why is one of these men violently dead?

The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan.  Audiobook.  Just started.

Also:

A variety of magazine articles, feeding the Muse for a potential future project.

Rocking Through Fantasy and SF

December 11, 2014

JANE: Although David Bowie may be the big name rocker best known for using SF/F material in his works, he’s certainly not alone.  Both Fantasy and SF show up in the works of a wide variety of bands.  I’ve thought of several.  I bet you’ll have more to add.

Rocking Knights and Aliens

Rocking Knights and Aliens

Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” proved a popular inspiration for several bands.  Mountain’s song, “King’s Chorale,” is one example.  Led Zepplin’s “The Battle of Evermore” and “Ramble On” both refer to motifs from the novels.

Styx’s “Lord of the Rings” makes one of the most obvious connections, although the actual lyrics seem a bit at odds with the content of the novels.

Your turn!

ALAN:  To continue with your “Lord of the Rings” theme for a moment, in 1972 the Swedish musician Bo Hansson released an instrumental album called Music Inspired By Lord of the Rings. My copy seems to have vanished somewhere over the years – I may have to buy the CD. I feel an urge to listen to it again…

JANE: That sounds like something to inspire you through your daily chores!

When Jim learned what we were discussing, he suggested the band Uriah Heap’s album Demons and Wizards.  Cuts on it include “The Wizard,” “Traveller in Time,” and “Rainbow Demon.”

My list includes various pieces by Jefferson Airplane and its later incarnations, Jefferson Starship and Starship.  Paul Kantner was an SF reader and often returns to the motif that the best way for humanity to change and thrive would be to get on a starship and head out for new planets where, presumably, it would be easier to create a new society without all the baggage of the old.

A song that made a lot more sense to me once I listened to it with a “spec fic” mindset was Blue Oyster Cult’s popular “Don’t Fear the Reaper.”  Ignore the “grim reaper” idea and substitute a tale of a vampire and his human lover and suddenly all the images fall into place.

Okay…  I’ve babbled enough.  Your turn!

ALAN: Of course, I’m a little bit older than you and so my memories go back further in time than yours do. I remember that there were several rock and roll songs in the 1950s that played with SF, though in a much cruder manner than the more sophisticated examples you cite. The Ran Dells had a big hit with “The Martian Hop” and, in England, Don Lang and His Frantic Five used the Martian theme again in “Red Planet Rock”. And who could ever forget Sheb Wooley’s “Purple People Eater”?

JANE: I remember “Purple People Eater,” but I don’t think I’ve heard any of those others…   But then I didn’t start listening to popular music until some twenty years later and these weren’t exactly Top 40 material at that time!

ALAN: “Purple People Eater” does seem to have survived well, and it still gets occasional plays. However, you are right, the others have largely vanished from the world, though YouTube still knows about them. YouTube knows about everything…

For me the most important musical connection to SF will always be Jeff Wayne’s adaption of H. G. Well’s War of the Worlds. I think it’s just sublime and I’ve listened to it times without number. Not only is it a lovely piece of music in its own right, I think it perfectly captures the mood and the tone of Wells’ classic novel.

JANE: I’m not familiar with that album at all.  You say “adaptation”?  Is it something along the lines of a rock opera?

ALAN: Very much so – it’s a straightforward re-telling of the story in song with some narrative linking material. The narration (straight extracts from the novel) was provided by Richard Burton and the singers were David Essex, Phil Lynott (from Thin Lizzy) and Julie Covington. It takes the plot and the characters directly from the novel and, in a rather creepy section at the very end, finishes the story in the late twentieth century with a manned expedition to Mars…

The songs and the music are truly inspired!

JANE: That sound really good.  I think I need to see if I can find a copy.  Thanks for mentioning it.

ALAN: One last example – I’m also quite fond of Hawkwind – a band whose music has always had a science fictional feel to it.

Michael Moorcock wrote several songs for them, and their album The Chronicle of the Black Sword is a musical adaption of Moorcock’s Elric stories. I saw Hawkwind play the entire Black Sword sequence live at the World Science Fiction Convention in England in 1987.

JANE: And, of course, the band’s name “Hawkwind,” seems to have been taken directly from one of Moorcock’s characters…  The protagonist of The Jewel in the Skull and other eternal champion novels.

ALAN: No, no! I’ve heard other people claim this as well, and it’s an understandable mistake, but if you go back to the books you will find that the protagonist is called Dorian Hawkmoon. Though having said that, Hawkmoon/Hawkwind are so similar to each other that there may well be some degree of homage going on…

JANE: You’re absolutely right…  My error!  But I interrupt…  Go on.

ALAN: Moorcock himself, together with a group of friends who called themselves The Deep Fix made a very SF’nal album called At the New World’s Fair which I highly recommend.

As an aside, Moorcock also wrote a very silly novel, in collaboration with Michael Butterworth, in which aliens have planted a Death Generator in the centre of the earth which is broadcasting Julie Andrews music to everyone on the planet and driving them insane. The only cure is to shoot the victims with specially modified guns that blast Hawkwind music at them thus re-introducing temporary sanity. If you care, the novel is called The Time Of The Hawklords, but truly I cannot recommend it…

JANE: I think I need to see if there is a copy on my shelf…   (I never know what I have; my library is a combination of three people’s libraries, plus I’ve been given an astonishing number of books.)  It sounds like the right sort of horrible.

Roger Zelazny introduced me to Hawkwind’s music.  He was very proud of the fact that they had written a song based on his novel Damnation Alley.  I’ve looked everywhere for my copy and I can’t find it.  It’s actually really good – and very faithful to Roger’s story.

If anyone is interested, I see that lyrics, music, and various performances are available on the web.

Michael Moorcock is far from the only SF/F writer to delve into writing and performing music.  In fact, the list is so long that I think we’d better save that for next time.

To Talk or Not to Talk?

December 10, 2014

News Flash: The anthology Fantasy for Good was officially released yesterday.  In addition to my short story “Knight’s Errand,” it features a wide variety of both reprint and original stories.  All — and I mean every penny — earned by the anthology goes to the Colon Cancer Alliance.

At a loss for what to buy someone for Christmas? Consider doing good on many levels.  Your gift recipient will get a great book and you’ll help raise money to find a cure for colon cancer, a disease which robbed our field of both Jay Lake and Roger Zelazny.  Seriously…  What’s not to like?

And now, back to our regularly scheduled Wander…

Right now – well, not exactly “right now” because I’m writing this – I’m working on a short story to submit to the Shadows and Reflections anthology in honor of Roger Zelazny.

Storming the Brain

Storming the Brain

The deadline is the end of the year.  This sounded comfortably far off until it suddenly wasn’t far off at all, especially since my mom is coming for Christmas (yay!) and I plan to spend her visit with her and Jim, cooking a wide variety of good things and talking, not hidden in my office struggling to meet a deadline.

(There’s also the possibility that my kitchen is going to get torn up right before Christmas, just to add to the chaos factor.)

So last week I put all my other projects on the side and turned my attention to the projected story.   I wanted to set story in one of the two universes that Roger invited me to share with him: that of Donnerjack or that of Lord DemonLord Demon won because it would also give me a chance to play around with Chinese material again – something I haven’t had a chance to do since I concluded Five Odd Honors some years ago.

As those of you who read my Friday Fragments may have noticed, I re-read Lord Demon a couple of months back, rather surprising myself when I realized that enough time had gone by that I could read the novel without remembering writing it.  It’s a very odd experience to find yourself getting lost in a story you helped to write, but one I completely enjoyed.

While I was planning for this story, I was also getting Wanderings on Writing ready for press.  (In case you were on another planet and missed my happy dance and songs of joy, it’s now available as both an e-book and a POD.)   And I started re-reading my short fiction for the collection you folks requested.  Then the proofs for Artemis Invaded came in…  Suddenly, it was late November and my self-imposed somewhat before the end of the year deadline was looming.  I resolved to shift my priorities.

I started last week by re-reading the notes I’d written to myself when re-reading Lord Demon.   During the last week in November, I read Lafcadio Hearn’s book Some Chinese Ghosts.  This gave me some interesting ideas.  I decided that I wanted to set this story in Kai Wren’s past – before he became known as Godslayer and Lord Demon.  I did some calculations and worked out when this would be on the timeline of Chinese history, so I wouldn’t stumble into anachronism.

By last Wednesday afternoon, I felt as if I had a jigsaw puzzle spread out before me.  However, some mischievous imp had stolen the box, so I had no idea if I had all the pieces or even what the picture was.  That there was a picture, I felt certain.

I was sitting on the sofa, eyes half-shut, when Jim (who was at home that day) quit work and came out to join me.

“Everything okay?”

“I guess, I think… I can’t seem to get the story started.  I feel as if I’m missing some little bit that’s going to make it all fall into place but…”

“Want to talk about it?”

I almost said, “No, thanks,” since most of the time I find it best to keep my ideas under wraps until the words start flowing on the page (or computer screen).  This time, probably because I’d been fussing with various elements for months, I decided talking couldn’t hurt.  At the very least, I’d find out if Jim thought I needed to research some more.

So I started talking.

Have you ever tried to tell someone about a dream and found yourself unconsciously linking various elements, even though those elements weren’t actually linked in the dream?  Dreams were the first stories I ever told, my audience being my younger sister, Ann, who never seemed to tire of these twisted, inconclusive tales.

I had a similar sensation as I started talking to Jim.  When the cascade of words ended, he nodded enthusiastically, “I like it.  I think you should go with it.”

“Really?”  I considered for a moment.  “I think that helped.  Some of the things I said to you – I hadn’t thought about them that way.”

So the next morning, I started writing.  I got more down on Friday.  As word count goes, my production wasn’t anything to brag about, but it was a start.  Over the weekend, I considered where to go next and came up with a solution for…  Well, I won’t go into details.  I wouldn’t like the ideas to lose their freshness.

To talk or not to talk about an idea – whether for a short story, a novel, or any other creative venture – is a perennial question among writers.  Some swear by these “brainstorming” or “plot-busting” sessions, saying that the combined energy of the participants adds to the writer’s enthusiasm for the project.  Others tell cautionary tales about how talking too much can denature a story, robbing it of its freshness, sometimes to the point that the writer no longer feels any desire to write the piece – after all, the story has been told, worked out to the finest detail, so why bother?

I’m curious as to what you think.  Usually, I’d come down firmly on the “Don’t talk the idea to death” side, but my recent experience reminded me of the value of giving an idea – especially one that is hesitating to take shape – at least a little outing.

Thoughts?

FF: Older Space Opera, New YA Fantasy

December 5, 2014

Again, a really busy time, so I’ve been “reading” more via audio, but I can’t give up stories!

For those of you new to this…  The Friday Fragments feature lists of what I’ve read over the past week.  They are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive list, you can look on my website.

Kel and Ruby Stole My Book!

Kel and Ruby Stole My Book!

This is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison. Audiobook.  The reader is excellent, capturing the main character’s twisted but essentially good-hearted personality well.

The Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge by Harry Harrison.  Audiobook.  Also fun, but time for a break before I start finding the idea a life of crime appealing.

In Progress:

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater.  Third in the excellent “Raven Boys” series.  So far, living up to the previous two…

The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Audiobook.  My friend Rowan mentioned recently that our library had most of his series as audio.  I’d always meant to read more, so I’m giving this a try.

Also:

A variety of shorter Chinese material.  The trick is knowing when to stop!

TT: Folkie into Glam — David Bowie

December 4, 2014

JANE:  We’ve been talking about the close connection between folk and rock.

It would probably shock those who are familiar with David Bowie as the wildly-costumed, makeup-wearing  glam rocker to realize that many of his earlier songs were solidly folk.

ALAN: I didn’t know that. Tell me more!

Changes...

Changes…

JANE: Once it’s pointed out, the relationship is obvious.  “Changes,” which appeared on the album Hunky Dory, sounds very much like something Bob Dylan might have written.  In case anyone might miss the influence, the “B” side of the album includes the ironical “Song for Bob Dylan” which begins with a salutation to “Robert Zimmerman” – which was Bob Dylan’s actual name.

ALAN:  I know the song “Changes” but I’ve never heard of the album. But from what you say, the influences are clearly there.

JANE: It’s a good album.  You might want to try it.

A good place to find Bowie the Folkie is the compilation album Starting Point.  It includes songs like the chart topping “The Laughing Gnome,” the creepy “Please Mister Grave Digger,” and the plaintive and eerie “We Are the Hungry Men” and “London Boys.”

Are you familiar with these?

ALAN: I certainly know “The Laughing Gnome.”  There was a time when it was never off the radio. But I haven’t heard of the others. In the extras on my DVD of the movie Labyrinth Bowie says, somewhat ironically, that he probably got the part of Jareth the Goblin King on the strength of “The Laughing Gnome.”

JANE: “The Laughing Gnome”’ is quite silly, perhaps showing the influence of the British music hall tradition more than folk.  It reached number three on the UK charts in 1973.  Bowie, however, tried to play the song down for many years.  If it got him the role of Jareth, well and good.  I love Labyrinth.  (But really, the two characters are nothing alike.)

As I mentioned, the songs on Starting Point show both the influence of folk and the British music hall tradition.  Bowie’s next piece to get widespread recognition, “Space Oddity,” begins with a very folkie strummed guitar.   Interestingly, despite the song’s folk roots, Major Tom would begin Bowie’s journey away from folk and into rock – though it would not be a clear break.  The album Space Oddity is very folk-influenced, and the album I mentioned above, Hunky Dory, post-dates this transition.

ALAN: I never liked “Space Oddity,” though I seem to be in a minority of one in that opinion. I find the lyrics almost embarrassingly naive. However, I absolutely love “Ashes to Ashes” in which we meet Major Tom again and find out a bit more about his motivation (…we know Major Tom’s a junkie…)

JANE: “Space Oddity” is not one of my favorites either, though I don’t dislike it.  “Ashes to Ashes” – or so I have read, although I can’t remember where – grew out of the urban legend that in the opening countdown, Bowie was not referencing a space ship launch but a junkie counting down until the drug hits.  (According to what I read, they do this.  I have no personal experience.)

However, Bowie is the ultimate trickster.  If he says something directly in a song, then I’m going to look at it sideways and wonder…

ALAN: Trickster is a very good word. I think it sums him up well – you never really know what he’s thinking. He looks at the world in an odd way. But whatever is on his mind will generally turn out to be clever, and often quite funny as well.

JANE: Agreed!  One of the things I love about Bowie’s work is the same transitions and changes that seem to (at least based on my reading) annoy both many of his fans and music critics alike, all of whom want him to stay in one place, one time.

This isn’t to say I like each stage equally, but I respect Bowie as an artist who will not let himself get stuck.

And, one element remains a constant…  Want to guess what?

ALAN: Bowie reinvented himself so many times that I’m not really sure what you mean by this. Surrealism, perhaps?

JANE: Close, but not quite…  The unifying element is science fiction…  Early on there was the futuristic dystopia of “London Boys” – a theme that would be picked up in the later Orwellian album Diamond Dogs and in many of the songs in his three Berlin albums.

The title of one of Bowie’s albums, The Man Who Sold the World, seems a clear allusion to Heinlein’s story, “The Man Who Sold the Moon.”  Bowie was considered to play the part of Valentine Michael Smith in Heinlein’s novel Stranger in a Strange Land, so I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume he was familiar with Heinlein’s work.

Major Tom from “Space Oddity” resurfaces in “Ashes to Ashes.”  Ziggy Stardust – the persona even non-Bowie fans have heard of – is a space alien and the albums from those years are full of SF references.

ALAN: Oh! Of course. Silly me. There’s a lovely scene in the movie of Ziggy Stardust’s last performance where Bowie is in the dressing room putting on his Ziggy persona, ready to go on stage. His (then) wife Angie is fussing around helping him. Eventually Bowie sends her away and turns back to his mirror. “What do women know about makeup?” he mutters to himself.

I love many of his songs, but it’s his personality that really appeals to me. All his interviews (except the early, incoherent ones where he’d ingested so many drugs that he wasn’t really there) show a delightful sense of humour and a charming ability to laugh at himself. The makeup comment is absolutely typical. I saw him in concert a decade or so ago and, while I enjoyed the songs a lot, I also found the informality and humour of his performance irresistible.

JANE: You’ve seen him in concert?  I envy you…  I was always either too poor or too far away, so I’ve missed that pleasure.  My sister, Susan, did give me her program from the “Glass Spiders” tour.  It’s one of my treasures.

ALAN: I don’t normally go to concerts because I hate crowds – I get claustrophobic and I have anxiety attacks. But hey! This was David Bowie. It was an open air show and, of course, it was pouring down with rain. The backing band was huddled under an awning, but Bowie was prancing about on a proscenium that stretched out into the crowd, and despite the weather, he was obviously enjoying himself hugely, laughing and joking between songs.

“Come on in,” he said to the band, “the water’s lovely!”

They shook their heads and stayed under their awning. At the end of one song, someone brought him a large towel. He stretched it out and pretended to strum it like a guitar. “Oh, look,” he said. “It’s an air towel.” Then he rubbed it over his soaking wet hair. “Now it’s a hair towel!” He laughed hugely.

It was a wonderful concert.

JANE: Sigh…

“Glass Spiders” starts like a story, “Up until one century ago…”  The concert (I do have the video) was full of SF images blended into surrealism.

Even later albums include SF material and themes.  Heathen – which is my favorite among Bowie’s later albums – contains “Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship.”  His most recent album (not counting re-releases), The Next Day, has the bouncy “Dancing Out in Space.”

It’s rather nice to think that if I even met David Bowie, we could find a common ground in books…

ALAN: And of course he isn’t the only musician with an SF interest. Perhaps we can explore that next time?

Speak Now

December 3, 2014

NEWS FLASH: Wanderings on Writing is now available as both a paperback  (from Amazon Create Space) and e-book.   Now to our regularly schedule Wandering…

“Can I help you find something?”  That was my opening line as I took part in the Indies First promotion this past Saturday at Page One books.  Most of the time the response was something along the lines of “No, thanks.  I’m just browsing.”   I did have a few “hits,” though.

On lady said hesitantly, “I’m looking for Things Fall Apart by Ch…”  She stopped, obviously uncertain.  I finished for her, “Chinue Achebe.”  She brightened.  “That’s it!”  I snagged one of the regular booksellers, who knew where to find a book, and handed her off.

Missed and Opportunity

Missed and Opportunity

I had a few other good chats.  One young woman said she was “Just browsing,” but seemed to invite further conversation.  I said, “What do you usually read?”  She said, “I used to read a lot of things, but now I’m an engineering student and I don’t have much time.  I did just read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and now I’m reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

Greatly cheered, I asked her if she knew that the translator of those books lived right here in Albuquerque.  When she said she didn’t, I went on, “I can give you a great piece of trivia I learned from him.  Do you know what the original title of that book was?”  She shook her head.  I grinned, “Men Who Hate Women.  For some reason, they didn’t think that would sell here.”  The young woman laughed, “Having just finished the book, I can understand that title, but I never would have read the book if it had been called that.”

We chatted a little more, then she drifted off to continue browsing.   I got a break from inflicting myself on perfect strangers when two people I’d met at my signing for Artemis Awakening came in.  We recognized each other, and fell to catching up.  Both are avid readers.  Later, one of the booksellers – Craig Chrissenger, who is also one of the con chairs for Bubonicon – joined us.  He convinced the couple that they needed copies of my Changer and Changer’s Daughter (aka Legends Walking).

While I was signing their books, the woman said, “I can’t believe you’re here, just talking to people.  I have an urge to jump up and down and say ‘This is Jane Lindskold!  Come and talk to her.’”  Later, as they were leaving, she actually snagged a woman I’d seen, but hadn’t spoken to because she seemed a little shy, and said, “This is Jane Lindskold!”  The woman smiled broadly, the shyness leaving her face.  “I know.  I have some of her books and we talked once.”  I grinned back.  “I though you looked familiar!”

On the way home, I found myself thinking about shyness and how being shy created a couple of missed opportunities for me.  I grew up reading Andre Norton’s novels.  However, the one time I could have spoken with her, I was too shy.  It was at a World Fantasy convention.  I’d sold some short stories and had a novel in the pipeline, but I wasn’t really used to the whole convention environment.

Andre Norton was sitting somewhere – it’s been a long time, but I have a vague impression she might have been waiting to go be on a panel or had just finished one.  Anyhow, Roger Zelazny, with whom I was hanging out, went over to speak with her.  In addition to being long-time writers, they had the connection of both being from Ohio.  I hung back, feeling as if I’d be intruding.  In the back of my thoughts, I also figured there would be another place, another time.  There wasn’t, though.

I did have later contact with Andre Norton, when I made a cold submission to one of her “Cat Fantastic” anthologies and sold her a story.  I still have the letter she sent, but I never did have the chance to tell her how much her works meant to me.

The second opportunity missed was also at a World Fantasy.  Diana Wynne Jones was attending.  I went to one of the panels she was on and so, when she came into a later panel, and sat down right in front of me, I was tempted to tap her on the shoulder and thank her for her wonderful books.  Cursed shyness reared its head again…  I didn’t, thinking “She’s ‘off-duty,’  just here to see this panel.  I shouldn’t bother her.”

Again, I never had another chance.  When Ms. Wynne Jones died a few years ago, my regret that there would be no more wonderful books from her was made stronger because I’d been handed an opportunity to tell her how much I loved her work and missed it.

I learned my lesson, though.  The last time I attended a World Fantasy, I noticed that several of the older “regulars” weren’t in attendance.  As the mass signing was winding down, I saw that Patricia McKillip, whose works I hugely admire, currently didn’t have a line.  Now, Ms. McKillip isn’t elderly or anything, but I wasn’t going to let chance pass by again.

Asking Jim to cover my spot and tell anyone who might happen by that I’d be back in a moment, I marched over to where Ms. McKillip sat.  I introduced myself, reminded her that we’d been on a panel back in 1995 (the fact that I remember the date shows what  big deal it was for me), then launched into a short speech about how much I admired her work.  I ended by saying, “I’ve always meant to tell you and now I have.”  She smiled with warmth and humor and replied, “And you’ve done a very good job, too.”

Sure, I felt a little silly, but I was glad I did it.  Now that I think about it, I’ve rarely regretted telling someone I admire what they do and sharing my enthusiasm.   I’ve even made a friend or two that way. What I’ve regretted is holding back.

And, you know, this doesn’t just go for authors or artists or the like.  As we wander into the darkness of winter, consider sharing the light of your joy with the people close to you.  You won’t regret it.

What Would Miss Marple Think of Charly?

November 28, 2014

It’s been busy, so I’ve been “reading” more via audio…  How do you handle the busy times?

The Friday Fragments feature lists of what I’ve read over the past week.  They are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive list, you can look on my website.

Guinea Pigs Don't Read Books?

Guinea Pigs Don’t Read Books?

This is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking by Olivia Lang.  Non-fiction.  A remarkably well-written and fascinating look at several American writers (Tennessee Williams, John Cheever, Ernest Hemmingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Raymond Carver) and the role of alcohol in their lives.  Neither preachy nor apologetic in tone.  The inclusion of medical information on how alcohol works on the brain – and why those workings would be particularly appealing to these men was a great element in the puzzle.

Fifth Grave Beneath My Feet by Darynda Jones.  Audiobook.  Weak start.  Charly and Reyes’ sex life still annoys me.  However, the novel changed focus about half-way in, introducing some interesting prophesies.  I’ll probably continue on to Number Six.

4:50 from Paddington and A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie.  Audiobooks.  All my holds refused to come in – I’m now Number 1 on the list for three different audiobooks! – so I quickly downloaded a couple old friends.  I love Miss Marple.

Some Chinese Ghosts by Lafcadio Hearn.  Short but interesting.

In Progress:

The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison. Audiobook.  Alan Robson’s mention in his wot i red on my hols column of a recent autobiography of Harrison gave me a desire to re-read.

Also:

Got the proofs for Artemis Invaded done and off to Tor.  I’ve been doing a lot of research reading, including an atlas so large I need to put it on a table to look at it.


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