FF: Omens and Chaos

January 20, 2017

Lots and lots of research reading is not reflected in this Fragment.  Let’s leave it said that right now I’m a major contributor to increasing my library’s circulation figures.

Silver Welcomes Chaos

Silver Welcomes Chaos

For those of you just discovering this feature, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazine).

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.  Audiobook.  Enjoyed.

In Progress:

Welcome Chaos by Kate Wilhelm.  This was recommended to me back when Alan and I were Tangenting about books wherein Immortality is the governing trope.  Interesting.

Extreme Birds by Dominic Couzens.   This last week, the defense mechanisms of the newly hatched hoopoe won.  They will definitely find their way into a story, somehow!

Naruto.  Keeps getting darker as old lies and older rivalries surface.  Issues 57-61.

Also:

Guns edited by Gerald Hausman.  Anthology that contains my short story “Choice of Weapons.”  Still browsing through various pieces.

TT: Downside and Downright Funny

January 19, 2017

JANE: Last week, when you mentioned the “downside” of psionic powers, I immediately thought of the use of a telepathic link between dragons and humans in Anne McCaffery’s Pern novels.  On one level, it’s both dramatic and mysterious.  However, the sexual component verges on the creepy, since the dragons’ sex drive dominates any choice on the part of the human partners.psionic

This didn’t really come home to me in the first couple of novels, but when in the Menolly books her fire-lizards go into heat and she ends up having sex with the man who is bonded to the queen fire-lizard…  Well, for her sake, it was a good thing she already liked this guy a lot.  Even so, the situation gets a bit “rapey” for me.

ALAN: I gave up on the Pern stories before I got to the ones you mention here. Perhaps it’s just as well…

Clearly having psionic powers is a bit of a mixed blessing and can sometimes be actively dangerous. Zenna Henderson made very good use of this idea in her stories of “The People” who are humanoid beings from another planet. They were forced to leave their home world when it was destroyed in a natural disaster, and many of them ended up living on Earth, mainly in the American Southwest.

They have many psionic abilities (“Gifts”) including telepathy, telekinesis, prophecy, and healing. Nevertheless, they do not find life easy – the stories concentrate very much on the fact that The People are very different from the people among whom they live. The phrase “Different is dead” is used.

JANE: That’s super creepy…

ALAN: Of course, nothing is so serious that you can’t laugh at it. Henry Kuttner’s “Hogben” stories have been mentioned several times in the comments on our earlier tangents. We discussed them briefly in 2013.

But there are some stories that I absolutely love which you may not be familiar with because they were only published in England in two collections – Temps and EuroTemps

JANE: I did miss those.  Could you tell me more?

ALAN: They were part of a project by a British writer’s collective known as Midnight Rose. The core members were Neil Gaiman, Mary Gentle, Roz Kaveney, and Alex Stewart, but others came and went as well.

The Temps books assume that the United Kingdom and the European Union require all people who have psionic powers to register themselves with the government and place themselves permanently on call to solve crises as and when they occur. In return for their service they are paid a derisorily small stipend.

This being Europe, of course, the utterly inept governmental bureaucracy flounders from crisis to crisis, as do the psionically talented themselves, many of whom have powers that, at first glance, might seem to be less than useful…

JANE: All right, you have me hooked.  Tell me more!

ALAN: To give you the flavour of it, one story concerns a man whose talent can only be used in pubs. All he is able to do is telekinetically transport beer from other people’s glasses into his own. It makes for a cheap evening’s drinking, but that’s about as far as it goes. However, his bosses feel that he is the ideal person to visit a research establishment and investigate rumours of an Entorpy Ray… His boss’s secretary can’t spell Entropy and has accidentally added the misspelling “Entorpy” to her spelling checker’s dictionary. Now she is convinced that “Entorpy” is the proper way to spell the word because “…the computer says it is!” Nobody can convince her otherwise.

Strangely, the hero’s telekinetic ability does indeed prove useful in tracking down the Entorpy Ray. In a manner of speaking.

JANE: The group and even the theme sounds somewhat like a terribly British version of George R. R. Martin’s Wild Cards anthologies, although a lot less grim.

ALAN: That’s a good way of putting it – I think that’s exactly what these books are. You can find secondhand copies of the collections quite easily on sites such as Abe Books. They are well worth tracking down. Trust me, you won’t regret it!

JANE: Although overall the Wild Cards stories aren’t very funny, the stories that Roger Zelazny contributed do have their lighter moments. Roger often introduced humorous asides into even his darkest pieces and his Wild Card stories about Croyd Crenson, known as The Sleeper, demonstrate this aspect of his writing very well.

Croyd doesn’t sleep very often, but when he does he sleeps for weeks or sometimes months at a time. When he wakes up he has undergone a complete physical transformation and has a brand new set of superpowers which he has to identify through a process of elimination.

In “Ashes to Ashes”, he wakes up and tries to levitate, to become invisible, to melt a waste-paper basket with the power of thought and to make sparks arc between his fingertips. Disappointingly, none of these work. It finally turns out that this time round Croyd has the power to make people do anything he tells them to do, without question. This sometimes gets him into trouble when his orders are taken too literally:

“Just what the hell is going on here?”
Croyd turned and beheld a uniformed officer who had just crossed to their island.
“Go fuck yourself!” he snarled.

Anyone who wants to know what happens next really ought to read the story…

ALAN: It’s been years since I read the Wild Card books and most of the stories have faded from my memory. But Roger’s stories about Croyd Crenson have stuck with me.

According to a Wiki maintained by fans of the books, Roger only wrote four Crenson stories, but the Wiki mentions that he had plans for at least two more.

JANE: “Plans” probably is stretching it.  It would be more accurate to say he had ideas for at least a couple others, but time and inclination didn’t make it possible for him to coordinate with the Wild Cards consortium.  Those anthologies – and especially the “mosaic novels” – are more tightly choreographed than most ballets.

As our readers’ comments make clear, although we’ve been chatting about “post humanity” for weeks now, we’ve barely scratched the surface.  Nonetheless, I have a desire to move on to another SF trope…  But unless you’re clairvoyant, you’re going to have to wait until next week to find out which one!

Inner Space

January 18, 2017

Last week, after I explained why there will be a change in the nature of the Wednesday Wanderings, one of the “ghosts” expressed puzzlement as to why writing a relatively short essay each week should be an issue for a professional writer.

Food For Thought

Food For Thought

Here’s what I explained to her.  The biggest difficulty is the “brain space” that gets occupied coming up with topics for the posts.  As soon as I finish one, a corner of my mind is taken up with searching for the next topic.  Seven years ago, this was relatively easy, because there was a whole sheaf of things about me, my writing, my habits (which often spill back into writing) that were unknowns.  These days, someone could probably construct a moderately interesting biography of me from the over 360 Wednesday Wanderings posts alone – not to mention what’s in the Thursday Tangents and Friday Fragments.

Consequently, ninety percent of the topics I come up with are dismissed as “that’s too close to what I did back a few months ago…” and so get discarded.

But this time I’ll allow myself a repeat.  Most writers learn that they have only so much “writing” in them on a given day.  That amount can be built up over time, with practice, but whatever that amount may be is finite.  When the well is dry, the well is dry.

Over time, I’ve come to feel that what the well holds is not so much word count as inspiration.  If I exhaust my inspiration coming up with blogs, then it’s not there for writing fiction or even for proofing and editing fiction.   And unlike some of the other things I spend time on – reading, craftwork, gardening, even working on the role-playing game I run – writing blogs dries out the well and doesn’t do anything to fill it again.

That’s why possible topics from you are welcome.   If you’re shy (like last week’s ghost) or feel what you’re interested in asking is too long for a Comment, you can e-mail me at jane2@janelindskold.com.

A secondary consideration in why I’m backing off a bit on the Wanderings is that I have always tried to provide a quality discussion of whatever my topic is.  Maybe it’s the latent English professor in me but, whatever the cause, that’s how I am.

I realize my approach may not be in keeping of the nature of the “blog,” as opposed to older forms of communication media.  The other day on a prominent SF/F website (which I shall forebear to name), there was a featured post by a novelist regarding her work and research habits.  It was so filled with cutesy slang and so lacking in any real substance that I had to force myself to finish it.

(I forced myself to finish because I couldn’t believe a prominent site would publish such a vacuous piece, so surely this must develop into something.  It didn’t.)

When I finished reading the blog in question, I felt as if I’d eaten a stack of puffed rice cakes.  I was “full,” but I didn’t feel at all satisfied.  And then I started feeling annoyed that puffed rice had been offered as if it was good quality food.

This week’s photo is of Guns, the anthology edited by Gerald Hausman, to which I contributed the short story “Choice of Weapons.”  In the course of coming up with that story, I had some interesting ideas for another one…  Reading the stories and poems in the anthology has given me more food for thought.

So, what fills your creative well?  What drains it?

FF: Back!

January 13, 2017

With the holidays over and Jim in the field, I have more time to read.

For those of you just discovering this feature, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazine).

Look!  Walter's New Book!

Look! Walter’s New Book!

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Kim by Rudyard Kipling.  Re-re-re-listen, in part because I had the tape in the house and in part because I love it.

Impersonations by Walter Jon Williams.  A short novel in his Praxis sequence.  Deals with Sula on Earth, meetings with lost “relatives,” intrigue, and assassination attempts.

In Progress:

Extreme Birds by Dominic Couzens.   Great photos and short descriptions, focusing on oddities.  Still very interesting.  I need to restrain myself and only read a half-dozen or so entries a day so I absorb the material.

Naruto.  Keeps getting darker as old lies and older rivalries surface.  Issues 56-57.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.  Audiobook.  I found this on CD at the library, because I’m still having trouble with MP3 downloads.  I haven’t read in a long time, maybe since it was released and Roger gave me a copy.

Also:

Guns edited by Gerald Hausman.  Anthology that contains my short story “Choice of Weapons.”

TT: Now You See Me, Now You Don’t!

January 12, 2017

JANE: Last time you promised to tell me about a story in which teleportation was  used as a last-ditch mechanism to escape from great peril.  I’ve been speculating all week and I think I’ve guessed what it is.

ALAN: Yes, I’m sure you have, for the story I have in mind is a very famous one. The idea was used by Alfred Bester in his 1956 novel Tiger! Tiger! (aka The Stars My Destination).

Let's Go for a Jaunte

Let’s Go for a Jaunt

JANE: That’s the one I was thinking about!  However, it’s an older work, so many of our readers may have missed it.  Why don’t you explain the role of teleportation in the story?

ALAN: The novel is a science fictional re-telling of The Count of Monte Cristo which takes place in a society where everyone has the ability to teleport – Bester calls it “jaunting”. In a prologue, Bester tells us how the ability to jaunt was first discovered. A researcher called Charles Fort Jaunte accidentally sets himself on fire. He yells for a fire extinguisher and suddenly finds himself standing by the extinguisher even though it was more than seventy feet away from his bench. His fellow scientists, intrigued by this incident, put him in perilous situations in order to investigate the effect.

They seal Jaunte into an unbreakable tank. They open a valve that feeds water into the tank and then smash the valve so that the flow of water can’t be stopped. As he is about to drown, Jaunte suddenly appears outside the tank. After many further experiments on volunteers, most of whom die, the ability to jaunte is finally fully understood and society adopts the practice whole-heartedly.

JANE: I’d forgotten the prologue.  What I remember is the gripping way Bester uses jaunting in his novel.  It’s what elevates The Stars My Destination above a mere “retelling” of The Count of Monte Cristo into a powerful novel in its own right.

There’s no “burning man” in Dumas’ tale – nor the powerful implications behind his appearance.  I’ll stop there, lest I provide a spoiler.  But now there are two Bester novels these discussions have made me want to re-read.

ALAN: He has a lot of short stories which are well worth searching out as well. I think you have quite a lot of reading in your future…

JANE: It’s worth noting that, by giving his researcher the name Charles Fort Jaunte, Bester was deliberately recalling another researcher who – like Rhine, who we mentioned a couple of weeks ago – set out to collect information about phenomenon outside of areas admitted to by the scientific establishment.

Did you know that Charles Fort is generally credited with inventing the term “teleportation”?

ALAN: No – I didn’t know that.

JANE: So in his naming of his researcher, Bester was showing his own knowledge of teleportation lore.

Talking about Bester reminded me of one of the explanations for psionic abilities that I don’t think we’ve touched on yet.  I’m not sure where I first encountered it, but it’s basically that psionic abilities evolved in humans as a survival mechanism for a creature that was very poorly equipped to survive in a world where just about everyone else had fur, fangs, claws, and the like.

The theory is that abilities like telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and all the rest would have helped humans to survive but, once humans became tool users, these abilities were both less necessary and – in some cases – actually a problem.  Telepathy is great if it lets scattered hunter-gatherers communicate over long distances, but it’s a problem in a settled community.

In this view, then, psionics abilities are there, lurking in our DNA, waiting – as in the case of Charles Fort Jaunte – for extreme danger or a similar stimulus to activate them.  I find this a very appealing theory, more so than the idea of posthuman psionics suddenly evolving, which is highly unlikely without either a major genetic mutation or scientific tinkering.

ALAN: And even if that idea doesn’t work out in real life, it still makes an intriguing and powerful literary device.

But the appeal of having psionic powers also has its downside as Robert Silverberg makes abundantly clear in his superb novel Dying Inside (1972). David Selig has been a telepath all his life but now, in middle age, his powers are starting to fade away and he has to come to grips with this and try to live his life just like other people. But how do people do that? Selig has a real struggle to maintain his grip on reality as he loses the ability on which he has always been completely dependent for everything.

You can argue that the novel is an allegory – after all, we are all dying inside as our own very human abilities fade with age. But Silverberg does it so skillfully that the whole of the book is much greater than the sum of its parts. The poignancy of loss contrasts beautifully with episodes from early in Selig’s life when he was at the height of his powers. It’s a brilliant answer to the question of what it means to be human. The novel is Silverberg’s masterpiece.

JANE: It sounds pretty grim…

ALAN: Oh it has its lighter-hearted moments as well. At one point in his life David Selig makes a living writing reports and essays for college students to present to their professors. He guarantees the grade the reports will earn by lifting ideas from the minds of other students whose essays have already been written and graded. The higher the grade you want, the more expensive the paper…

JANE: Oh!  That’s cute.  As a former college prof, I firmly disapprove of course, but I love it!

ALAN: Stories such as the ones we’ve been discussing suggest to me that psionics really is a perfect literary tool for examining the human condition – though the literary mainstream continues to ignore it, which I think is a pity, and their loss.

JANE: I’m not sure we’re done with it – or with SF tropes either.  But, for now, I need to go contemplate all the things I left until “after the holidays.”  It’s a pretty scary pile.  I wonder if I can teleport away from it?

Seventh Anniversary!

January 11, 2017

I had to count on my fingers – twice – and then ask Jim to confirm before I could believe that the Wednesday Wanderings are approaching their seventh anniversary.

My first post, on January 13, 2010, was very short and intended more as a placeholder than actual  post.  Nonetheless, it received several Comments, showing me that there were interested readers “out there.”  It read as follows:

Fortuitous Offspring

Fortuitous Offspring

Starting on January 20th, I’ll be making weekly posts to this site.

They’ll be about whatever has caught my fancy, especially the odd stuff I see as I go about my day.

Maybe they’ll provide some insight into how one writer thinks.  Hopefully, they’ll be amusing.

Join me on January 20, 2010, and we’ll all find out.

Seven years later, I haven’t missed a single week.  Moreover, I’ve added the Thursday Tangents with Alan Robson, as well as the Friday Fragments.  Lately, I realized that the Wednesday Wanderings has become more ambitious than I initially intended.  The Wanderings have generated enough essays on writing to spawn a book – Wanderings on Writing.  They’ve hosted interviews with writers as varied as Darynda Jones and Jack McDevitt.  And – honestly – they take a lot of my time and attention.

There’s a lot I want to accomplish in 2017.  I plan to make an additional two or more of my Avon backlist titles available as e-books.  I’d like to write more short stories.  Over the holidays, I had an idea for a novel that I’m considering writing, then releasing as a serial.  I’ve learned that if I don’t read or make time for art/crafts, my writing suffers, so it will be out with the beads, clay, and maybe a try at decoupage…

Therefore, 2017 will see a change to the Wednesday Wanderings.  I’ll still check in each Wednesday.  Sometimes there will be longer pieces or interviews.  (I’m already in contact with Walter Jon Williams about doing one on his two new series.)  However, other times, I may just say “hi” and offer a short snippet about what I’ve done the past week.

Pictures may also drop off or at least reduce in quality.  Jim has been my faithful photographer since we started including pictures, but right now he’s directing a field project in Santa Fe.  While he still comes home at night, we’re more pressed for time.  Although you may not believe it, getting those three  original photos takes time and imagination.

For the foreseeable future, Alan and I will continue to write the Thursday Tangents, because we keep finding things we want to talk about both with each other and with you folks.  And the Friday Fragments  will also continue, because I hope to be reading more, not less.

I welcome – even encourage – questions or suggestions of subject matter that you’d like to hear me natter on about.  In seven years, I’ve covered most of the general topics readers ask writers about and I could use tinder for my fire.   I can’t promise to answer all questions, because I don’t always have answers, but I always write better when I know that at least one person would like to hear what I have to say.

Here’s hoping you’ll continue to join me on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  Here’s where there will be the first announcement of any public appearances.  (I’m reading at ASFS again in February, and I’m Guest of Honor at MiHiCon in October.)  Here’s where you’re most likely to hear about new releases, forthcoming works, and the like.

Now, I’m off to write an afterword for the forthcoming e-book release of Smoke and Mirrors.  Composing that has really had me reflecting on all that’s changed in the past 20-some years…  But for now, to write!

FF: Coming Together Slowly

January 6, 2017

Returning to routine has given me a little more reading time.

Kwahe'e Dreams of Birds

Kwahe’e Dreams of Birds

For those of you just discovering this feature, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazine).

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

The Commodore by Patrick O’Brian.  (Audiobook.)  I’ll be moving on to The Yellow Admiral as soon as I work out a downloading glitch with the library.

In Progress:

Extreme Birds by Dominic Couzens.   Great photos and short descriptions, focusing on oddities.  I had no idea there were birds with poisonous feathers, for example.

Continuing Naruto re-read and am up to issue 55.  Half-truths have been filled out in a lot of the recent volumes, creating a much more complex social and political picture.

Also:

Catching up on magazines.  Just finished Smithsonian’s December issue.

TT: The Psionics Challenge

January 5, 2017

JANE:  Happy New Year!  (I was so busy thinking about what next that I forgot to say this yesterday!)  Here’s hoping that 2017 is a year of peace and goodwill to all.

ALAN: And a Happy New Year to all of you from me as well.

Very Different Takes

Very Different Takes

JANE: Last time we talked about how editor John W. Campbell’s interest in psionic powers led to a great many stories taking a more serious look at the implications of these powers.  I can see you bouncing up and down and waving your hand, so why don’t you take over?

ALAN: Thank you.  One of my favourite writers from this period was Mark Clifton. He was an early adopter of Campbell’s enthusiasm for psionics. He’s largely forgotten these days, but in the 1950s he wrote some magnificent psi-based stories for Campbell which laid the groundwork for much that came later.

JANE: I fear I’m one of those who never knew of his work, so I can’t say I’ve “forgotten” him as such, but clearly I need enlightening.  Please tell me more.

ALAN: A good example of Clifton’s work is the very funny story “What Thin Partitions”. It was the first of a series of four novelettes about Ralph Kennedy, a personnel director (these days we’d call him a Human Relations director) who works for a large industrial company. A chemist in the company has invented something he calls a “chemical impulse storer”. It’s a sludge that can learn things from thought waves. The narrator has an argument with someone who gets very upset with him and who uses her telekinetic ability to completely wreck his office. The sludge learns how to repel gravity from this incident. The rest of the story concerns Kennedy’s efforts to reproduce the effect so as to make a fortune from selling gravity repelling capsules…

In this and other stories, Clifton offers a nice explanation of how psionic powers might work:

“…there may be any number of frameworks, separated from one another by perhaps the thinnest of partitions, each containing its own set of real world conditions, natural laws, consistent within itself, obeying its own logic, having its own peculiar cause-effect-sequences.”

JANE: And thus the title of his story…

ALAN: …which is actually a quote from Alexander Pope’s poem Essay on Man:

“Remembrance and reflection how allied!
What thin partitions Sense from Thought divide!”

Guess what the title of the sequel to Clifton’s story was?

JANE: Let me guess.  Perhaps “Sense From Thought Divide”?

ALAN: That’s exactly right! Clifton must have been very fond of Pope’s poem. He also wrote a story called “Remembrance and Reflection”, but Campbell didn’t publish that one. It appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1958.

Many of Clifton’s stories are now in the public domain and can be downloaded from Project Gutenberg. They are still very well worth reading. I think it’s a great shame that Clifton fell so quickly out of favour. Other people seem to agree with me – in 2010 he received the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award for unjust obscurity.

JANE: I’ll definitely need to look into his work.

As I mentioned last week, Campbell’s enthusiasm for psionics created a SF trope that went far beyond the covers of the magazines he edited.  Psi-powers began to show up everywhere.   One author who used them widely and thoughtfully was Marion Zimmer Bradley, most specifically in her “Darkover” series.  Although the planetary culture of Darkover has medieval trappings – swords, horses, fur-lined cloaks, and suchlike – the series began as a “lost colony” tale.

When some members of a stranded colony ship interbreed with the natives of the planet, psionic abilities enter the human gene pool, as well as a tendency for some people to have six fingers and a more willowy build.

The tales might have become mere sword and sorcery, with psionics instead of spells, except that Bradley created an elaborate psionic technology which used matrix crystals that amplified the abilities.  To me, especially as a college student (which I was when I first discovered the books, many of which had been written far earlier) this gave a solidity and reality to what would otherwise have been vague occult powers.

Oh…  I will add that there were consequences to the use of psionic powers, too, tremendous ones, which with the people of Darkover in the “present” time are still coming to terms with.

ALAN: Just to come a bit more up to date, I’m very fond of Steven Gould’s 1992 novel Jumper. The young David Rice discovers an unexpected ability to teleport himself – the power initially manifests itself when David uses it to escape from a physically abusive situation. Once he learns to control his teleportation, he uses it in several very ingenious ways to provide himself with money, food and shelter. In this novel and its several sequels Steven Gould carefully examines the long term consequences of teleportation and even speculates a little bit about the physics that might lie behind it.

JANE: Jumper also falls into the “wish fulfillment” category – but what’s different about Steve’s treatment is that David eventually has to face the moral and ethical implications of what he’s doing with his power.

ALAN: That’s what raises Jumper out of the ordinary. On the one hand we’ve got an exciting and ingenious story which asks what it means to be human and on the other hand we have the clever use of a very science fictional idea to try and answer the question.

Interestingly, the idea of teleportation first manifesting itself as a means of escape from peril has been used to great effect in other stories as well.

JANE:  I’d love to talk about that, but how about next time?

Non-Linear Planning

January 4, 2017

The last couple of weeks, I took off to concentrate on the holidays and enjoy the company of my visiting mother and on-holiday husband.

Keeping Track

Keeping Track

It was very good for me.  Among other things, I thought of an idea for a novel that I’m very eager to start researching.  However, although this is (of course) what I want to work on more than anything else (because shiny/new is exciting), I have a list of other projects I’ve promised myself to work on.

So, Monday morning as I was moving from asleep to awake, I found my mind wandering toward how could I find time to work on a new project while not letting the older ones go stale?

And late Monday morning, when checking my Twitter feed, I came across a link from Kate Eliot to a piece by Amanda Hackwith on a bullet journal which may provide the solution to my difficulty.

What I particularly liked about this idea was how Ms. Hackwith has adapted the idea of a bullet journal (which I had to look up, since I had no idea what she meant) to the erratic pulse points of a writer’s life.  As she notes in her blog post:

“The life of a writer means I have a hundred things to keep track of at once, but not always on a precise day by day itinerary. If I stuck to the traditional appointments + daily to dos format, my days would be a constant repeat of something like ‘Write word count, Edit X, read, check email anxiously.’”

Well, did this ever sound familiar!  Last year I started keeping a list on a scrap of paper under my computer monitor so I wouldn’t forget to do the things I do every week – like write these Wanderings, work on Tangents with Alan, write the Friday Fragments, make sure photos are taken for above – as well as those things that crop up more erratically (like updating my website News and Appearances).

And, of course, whatever I’m writing, because I usually have something going on in one stage or another – often in multiple stages or other.

Ms. Hackwith has some neat ideas for how to adapt the bullet journal to the differing demands of a writer’s life.  I’ll definitely try some, adapt others.  I already keep a journal for what I’m reading, but a list of books I’d like to read is a nice idea.

I also liked her idea of listing accomplishments.  On that slip of paper I keep under my monitor, I make checkmarks each time I do a repetitive task (work on a story, respond to a Tangent, edit a manuscript) and I cross off completed tasks.  And at the end of the week, I toss the slip of paper and start over.  This has led to a sense of Sisyphean toil.  The same jobs crop up, but with no record of what I’ve done over time, there’s very little sense of accomplishment.

An on-going record – like the one I keep for my reading – would give me that.  Good idea!

When I’m working on a long project, I keep track of word count.  However, I’ve found that when I’m not, I fail to keep any steady record of what I’ve been doing.  This leads to a (completely fallacious) sense that I’ve done nothing.

Right now, I’m contemplating a variety of projects.  I have a novel that’s pretty much done, but will need a final polish.  I want to get some more of my backlist out as e-books.  And then there’s the new Shiny New Idea.  Oh, and a couple more short story ideas…  And research…  And…

I think a non-linear method of tracking what I’ve done, as well as what I’d like to do, will be a good thing at this stage in my life.

An investment in a journal designed for flexibility seems like a good way to not only keep track, but to remind myself that – unlike Sisyphus – I am getting somewhere.

FF: Scattered!

December 30, 2016

I received all sorts of cool books for Christmas, including one on cowboy star Audie Murphy, a history of Wonder Woman, one on the gardens of New Spain (that’s where I live), as well as a couple gaming manuals.  (Warning, oh thou Hostages in the Court of the Faceless Tyrant, one’s all on the undead!  Blame Jim.)

Holiday Distractions in Action!

Holiday Distractions in Action!

In my spare time I’ve been dipping into these new books and a scary heap of accumulated magazines.  However, systematic reading has been preempted by visiting and other holiday fun.

For those of you just discovering this feature, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazine).

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Sorry…  Nothing!  Don’t mark me down…

In Progress:

The Commodore by Patrick O’Brian.  (Audiobook.)  Jack’s back on shore.  I always worry when he’s on land.  I think that’s why I’ve been scared to keep listening.

Also:

Continuing Naruto re-read and am up to issue 49.