FF: Summer Reads?

June 22, 2018

Dandelion: A New Member of the Book Club

Jim was away last weekend, so I listened to audiobooks and did crafts.

Do you have different “summer reads” than the rest of the year?

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, 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 magazines.

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.

What are you reading?

Recently Completed:

Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants by Alison Maloney.  Interesting with lots of details not only about Edwardian servants, but how their lives compared to those of their Victorian counterparts.

The Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters.  Audiobook.  Re-read.

The Sanctuary Sparrow by Ellis Peters.  Audiobook.  Re-read.

In Progress:

The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling.  Just finished the very unsettling “The Undertakers” and am about to begin “The King’s Ankus.”

Growing Food in a Hotter, Dryer Land by Gary Paul Nabhan.  Very interesting.  Makes me want enough land to try some of the suggestions.

The Towers of the Sunset by L.E. Modisett.  Audiobook.  Interesting way of writing a series – the world is the only continuing character and the books are non-linear within the series.   I was very confused at first.  This book is the second in the series.

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse.  No.  Not the movie with Bowie.  A “grail” story told part in the past, part in contemporary times.  So far I’d say a novelette’s worth of plot, lots of setting infused with running around and being confused because plot elements are withheld to pad the limited story.  Not bad, for all that.  I’ll probably finish it.

Also:

Still reading magazines.  A recent National Geographic with a focus on plastic waste was interesting but too focused on the problem.  I would have liked a bit more awareness of the problems those same plastics have eliminated – and how to eliminate plastics without reintroducing those problems.

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The Word Count Myth

June 20, 2018

I’ve noticed a trend lately that emphasizes using word count as a means of indicating that a person is a truly dedicated writer.  The higher the word count, the more dedicated.  The lower the word count, the less.  No word count?  Proof of the poseur.

Shake It Off

According to my computer, the paragraph above is forty-five words long.  By my estimate, I typed at least two hundred words as I sought the right terms, the right cadence, the best way to get my point across.

There was an entirely false start, where I talked about how last week my hands actually ached for days because I’d done so much typing as I both finished off a short story and continued writing on Wolf’s Search (aka Firekeeper Seven), my latest novel-length project —  not to mention typing e-mail, blog posts, and keeping a presence on social media.

High word count is not an indication of a better writer, a more dedicated writer, or a more inspired writer.  It can be all of those, but it can also be an indication of a weaker writer who doesn’t care about the quality of the prose being produced, of a wordy writer who uses ten “meh” words rather than searching for the two with more punch, or of the uninspired writer who describes a banquet, or an item of clothing, or a bit of landscape just to be doing something.

Do I keep track of my word count?  Absolutely, but daily, not each session and certainly not, as one enthusiast on Twitter encouraged writers to do, every half hour — checking back in at the end of that time to share their success as proof of their commitment to the craft.

At the end of each writing day, I mark down the word count for that day.  At the end of the week, I subtract the total from the total of the previous week, giving me a sense of what I completed.  However, I do this with the awareness that word count is only a very general measure.  The next week I might cut numerous paragraphs because I’ve found a better, stronger approach.  Or tighten down sentences.

Yes.  Horror upon horror.  I might lose words.

If keeping track of your word count encourages you, by all means, do it.  However, don’t let the current fad for equating high word count with “winning” make you feel like a loser.  Writing isn’t a competition.  It’s an art.

Leonardo da Vinci completed very few paintings, but no one would ever say he wasn’t a “real” painter.  Think about it!

FF: While Awaiting

June 15, 2018

Tepary Beans Read

Every audiobook I tried to request from the library was out, so I went back to some old favorites.  Each book has had a different reader, which has been a little unsettling.

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, 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 magazines.

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.

Do you have different “summer reads” than the rest of the year?

Recently Completed:

The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall.

Have Sword Will Travel by Garth Nix and Sean Williams.  Audiobook.  Great fun.

Monk’s Hood by Ellis Peters.  Audiobook.  A Brother Cadfael novella. Re-read.

St. Peter’s Fair by Ellis Peters.  Audiobook.  Re-read.

In Progress:

The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling.  I’m up to “How Fear Came.”

Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land  by Gary Paul Nabhan.  Just starting.

Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants by Alison Maloney.  Interesting with lots of details not only about Edwardian servants, but how their lives compared to those of their Victorian counterparts.

The Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters.  Audiobook.  Re-read.

Also:

Bouncing between various magazines.

A Turning Point

June 13, 2018

Leonardo da Vinci: Artist, Scientist, Engineer

Not long ago, I was asked by a friend what were some of the turning points in my life.  Maybe because I recently finished Walter Isaacson’s biography of Leonardo da Vinci (which in itself was a follow-up to going to see a very interesting exhibit about da Vinci at the Albuquerque Natural History Museum back in March) I found myself remembering an exchange that occurred when I was probably a junior in college.

I don’t know what triggered the exchange…  I was an English major, and I’d certainly had more than my share of questions from concerned adults about what I planned to do after college.  I had spent a lot of my free time both reading Science Fiction and Fantasy, and playing roleplaying games, two activities that encourage big dreams.  I was probably feeling a touch wistful that the things I liked best didn’t seem to have much value in the post-college world that was creeping up on me with every semester.

Whatever the reason, I wandered out into the common room of the apartment and asked my roommate, Kathy Curran, “If you could be anything at all – no limits on education or even reality – what would you be?”

I expected her to pause and consider.  I certainly would have done so in a similar situation.  “What if” questions like that were a staple of my life.  I remember sitting side by side with my sister, Ann, with a catalog spread over our laps, picking what we’d get on each page if we could have anything there.   As we grew older, these “what if’s” turned into debates about whether nature or nurture meant more, or questions of ethics and theology.  (Yes.  Really.  I still have these sort of discussions with some family members.)

So the last thing I expected Kathy to say was “A Renaissance man.”  I blinked at her – both at her decisiveness and because I’d never thought about that as even an option.  Perhaps seeing my confusion, Kat went on.  “I’d like to know at least a little about a lot of things.”

I can’t overstate the impact of her words.  It was like a door blew open in my brain and everything reshuffled.  Up to that point, my life had been like the sketch from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “What is your name?  What is your quest?  What is your favorite color?”

Kathy showed me I could have it all.

A few months back, I wrote about how I thrive best when allowed some creative wiggle room.  I always did, but Kathy was the first person to show me that this was okay, to not make me feel I was somehow cheating if I wanted to read about science, or history, or learn some technique that had nothing to do with my future job.

Oh, and Kat?  Did she achieve her goal?  I like to think so.  We’re still in touch.  She’s a Biology professor who knows more about ticks than you would even imagine there is to know.  She’s also a gardener.  A beekeeper.  A painter.  A mom.  And I’m sure a lot of other things that I don’t know about.

Now, off to put a final polish on a high-adventure space opera short story I finished in rough last Friday.  Then I’ll go write more about Firekeeper, Blind Seer, and some people you don’t know yet: a story that has more than a little to do with the question “What do you want to be?”

FF: Keeping Up With The Stories

June 8, 2018

Kel and the Penderwicks

I’ve been writing obsessively, so my print reading has dropped off, but I’m still managing at least some!

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, 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 magazines.

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.

So, tell me what you’re reading!

Recently Completed:

Leonardo daVinci by Walter IsaacsonAudiobook.  I enjoyed.  Minutely detailed at points, but nonetheless absorbing.  Lots of repetition for key points.  This is advantageous for an audiobook.

In Progress:

The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall.  Closing book in a middle grade series I enjoyed.  This one has touches of YA concerns, but the POV character is younger.

The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling.  I’m up to “The White Seal.”

Have Sword Will Travel by Garth Nix and Sean Williams.  Audiobook.  Amusing middle-grade with some thoughtful comments on aspiration and reality.

Also:

Now reading latest National Geographic.

Why I Write Both

June 6, 2018

Right now my work schedule is complicated.  I’m writing a short story on a relatively tight deadline, while I’m also forging ahead on Wolf’s Search (aka, Firekeeper 7).

The other day, a friend asked me which I liked better, writing novels or writing short stories.  The truth is, I like both about the same.  This is not the case for all writers.

Short and Long

I have friends who write novels to pay the bills, but their hearts are given to elegantly crafted short stories.  One writer I greatly admire works best at novella to novelette range.  Several writers I know can’t write short to save their lives.  Even a novella is a struggle.

For me, novels are great because they give me room to explore complicated intertwining stories.  Even when I write long – and I’ve written novels in the 200,000 word range – I don’t write “fat.”  I ruthlessly prune my prose so that even descriptions serve more than one purpose – such as giving both dimension to a character and details of an economy in the description of a meal or an article of clothing.

So, for me, writing a novel isn’t an exercise in being lazy, in not having to make every word carry some part of the story.  A novel is a place where I can tell more complex story, often one involving multiple people, each of whom has his or her own agenda.

This is one reason I find the recent emphasis on Main Characters or “MC” that has been cropping up in a lot of writing quizzes and prompts very frustrating.  To me, every character should feel as if – if you were given a chance to find out more about him or her – they would be the protagonist of their own story.  But I wander off topic.

So, why do I write short stories?

Every writer I know usually has more ideas for stories than time to write those stories.  Sometimes when I get a cool idea, I realize it will fit beautifully into a novel I’m working on.  More often, however, the idea will need its own story.  My first decision is whether that story will be short or long.

Simply put, there are ideas that are best served at a shorter length.   My “Unexpected Flowers” (recently published in Asimov’s) is under 2,000 words.  I could have turned it into a novel, perhaps an elaborate bit of literary fiction full of footnotes and clever cross-referencing as the alternate universes became more and more elaborately differentiated.  However, I don’t think it would have been a stronger story for more length.  It might well have been weaker.

In the last month or so, I have scribbled down at least three new ideas to explore when I have more time.  It’s possible one of these may become a novel, but I don’t think so.  Each one strikes me as the sort that will have more punch if told at shorter length.

Do I set a length limit when I start writing?  Usually not.  Sometimes an invitation to write for a specific project will come with an upper limit as to how long the story can be, but in those situations part of my brainstorming is coming up with a story that can be written within those assigned limitations.   If I feel the proposed story spiraling into more and more complexities, then I either put that story idea aside for another time, or I refine.

Now I’d better get back to writing.  I’ve been working on the novel earlier in the day, then the short story in the afternoon.  That may well switch, but for now, it’s a system that’s working.

Catch you later!

FF: Welcome to June

June 1, 2018

Kwahe’e Dreams Bagheera Dreams

June is here, bringing with it much sneezing and warmer temperatures…

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, 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 magazines.

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.

What are you reading?

Recently Completed:

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss.

In Progress:

Leonardo daVinci by Walter IsaacsonAudiobook.  Minutely detailed at points, but nonetheless absorbing.  Reads as if published originally in excerpts, with lots of repetition for key points.  This is actually nice for an audiobook.

The Jungle Books by Rudyard KiplingAn old favorite, but it had been a  long time since I read the whole thing, rather than bits and pieces.

Also:

A new Smithsonian arrived this week.  I’m sure it’s thinner.  One article dealt with something I’ve wanted to see happen for a long time: a concentrated effort to deal with invasive species by harvesting and consuming.

The Most Important Part

May 30, 2018

Completion and Inspiration

This has been a great week for feeling good about myself as a writer.

My short story “A Familiar’s Predicament” has been accepted for publication in the next Sword and Sorceress anthology.  This was a cold submission to a very limited market, so the acceptance felt very good.  I’ll let you know when it comes out.

Speaking of things coming out, my short story “A Green Moon Problem” is now live at Lightspeed Magazine.  You can read it on-line or download it.  There’s even an audio version, which I admit to thinking is pretty neat.  The “Author Spotlight” interview is worth reading, since it delves into the details of how the story came to be.  However, for this reason, it contains a number of spoilers.  Consider yourself warned and read the story first!

Later on release day, I had a foreign magazine request permission to translate “A Green Moon Problem.”  That was a nice pat on the head!

As you may recall, earlier this month my short story “Unexpected Flowers” came out in the May/June edition of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.  Last week, when reviewing that particular issue of the magazine, Adam Troy Castro praised “Unexpected Flowers” in these words: “There’s the short story, ‘Unexpected Flowers’ by Jane Lindskold, unquestionably one of the great short stories of this or any other year.”

Big smile!

I also did a lot of writing.  Wolf’s Search is now nicely taking shape.  I still have a lot to write and, even after the rough draft is completed, I’ll be spending time polishing.  However, Blind Seer has stopped growling at me.  In general, I’m feeling good about the shape of the evolving narrative.

I also started fleshing out the details of another short story…

So, which is the most important of these?  While the praise for “Unexpected Flowers” was terrific, and the really positive reactions to “A Green Moon Problem” were great, and having “A Familiar’s Predicament” accepted for publication made me glow, the best part was the writing.

Why?  Because writing is something I can influence.  Next week I won’t have a new story out.  Or someone might decide they absolutely hate “Unexpected Flowers” or “A Green Moon Problem.”  Getting another acceptance isn’t really likely, although I do have another story or two out there being looked at, so it’s not impossible.  (So’s a rejection!)

But writing is something I can do that relies on me.  I’m my sole audience, my biggest critic.  I haven’t started keeping track of my daily work count because, to this point, I’ve been going back and forth, fleshing scenes out, cutting extraneous detail, writing myself notes, and things like that.  Sometimes a hard day’s work has ended up with a negative regarding words written.  But as long as the story gets better, I go to bed feeling good.

This is not saying that last week’s reminders that there are people out there I’ve never met who think my stories are worth reading don’t make sitting down to write day after day feel a little less futile.  Writing is a very solitary job.  Positive feedback, when it comes, feels good.

Now, off to do more writing!

FF: Some Thought-Provoking Reads

May 25, 2018

Hollyhock Toad Borrowed My Kindle

I’ve been writing a lot this week, but I’ve still found time to read.  How about you?

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, 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 magazines.

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.

What are you reading?

Recently Completed:

Out of the Deep I Cry by Julie Spencer Fleming.  Audiobook.  This author is showing a not unappealing tendency to intertwine close looks at social issues with her mysteries.  The historical sections in this one leave me with no doubt that I’m glad I was born when I was – especially for medicine.

The Sacerdotal Owl and Three Other Long Tales by Michael Bishop.  A forthcoming collection of three novellas.  Very much enjoyed.  The problem is writing a blurb when I want to write an academic paper.

One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters.  Audiobook.  Second book in her Brother Cadfael series.  An old favorite.

In Progress:

Leonardo daVinci by Walter IsaacsonI’ve been wanting to read this since we went to the daVinci exhibit a month or so ago.  Just starting.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss.  Enjoyable, although I admit to wishing that she hadn’t felt a need to include Sherlock Holmes.  But that’s my private bugbear and not a reflection on the author.

Also:

Almost done with the latest Smithsonian.

Toads, Gardens, and Stuff

May 23, 2018

Look Carefully. He’s There!

Today’s picture shows one of the residents of our yard.  This little toad (here shown in his hole) has chosen to make his residence under one of the hollyhocks in the bed against our east wall.

I’m very impressed…

Why?  Because this bed is about twelve inches off the ground.  This toad stands maybe two inches tall – if he’s not lounging flat, which happens to be his preferred posture.  So, if he were a human who stood six feet tall, that would mean he would be capable of jumping thirty-six feet in a single jump.  Talk about superhero moves!

Yep!  It’s now late spring, moving rapidly into summer, and, once again, my yard is providing me with a great deal of amusement.  If I were naming the seasons, I think I’d call this one “Potential,” because everything is fresh and green, we’re putting in new plants and seeds, as well as experimenting to see if we can make what failed last year succeed this time around

Last summer was particularly hot and dry – even for New Mexico where months go by with no rain at all.  So, why do I garden?  Isn’t that wasteful?  Shouldn’t I be more ecologically sensitive?

Well, I suppose from one perspective what I do could be seen as wasteful.  It’s easy to buy vegetables cheaply in the store.  Of course, they don’t taste as good, and they aren’t as good for you, but it’s possible.  So responsible gardening provides us with better tasting, healthier food.

Jim and I are very responsible.  When it rains, we collect water.  When it doesn’t rain, we water using soaker hoses, which saturate the ground while losing less water to evaporation.  We have designated specific high use areas – all of which are either raised beds or sculpted in one way or another to preserve water.  Borders around plants and mulch are two of our most frequently used tactics.

The majority of our yard relies on low water use plants.  We even – brace yourself, especially those of you “back East” to whom weeds are anathema and a green velvet yard is the goal of many – let weeds grow.  Of course, we don’t think of them as weeds.  We think of them as native plants.

Growing native plants has several additional advantages.  They are usually adapted to low rainfall.  They provide food and shelter for birds and small animals.  (We often leave native plants to go to seed for this reason.)  They hold down the loose soil, preventing erosion from wind and rain.

True, many of New Mexico’s native plants have stickers and thorns, but we choose what plants to pull, what to leave.  After over twenty years tending this one small ecosystem, we have a lot fewer plants with stickers, a lot more with flowers and nutritious seeds.

As a result, I can pause in my writing to watch finches busily harvesting spectacle pod seeds, or robins tugging up tufts of dry grass with which to line their nests.

We also provide water – although not a lot.  We have a tiny pond and a bird bath.  However, these are enough to attract a wide variety of birds and insects, including bees.  A little later in the summer, we’ll have dragonflies and butterflies.

The fact is, human land use has removed the sagebrush, wild grasses, and the like that formerly helped keep the ecosystem able to support itself even during dry years.  So while in one way we’re still being very human, in another, we’re being ecologically sensitive, providing food, water, shelter, nesting areas – and even damp places where toads can dig their holes.

I’m off to write now but, when I need to stop and ponder the next twist of the plot, I’ll wander outside, pull a few weeds, maybe plant a few more seeds.  Thus an additional benefit of gardening is that it makes me a more productive writer – a win-win situation all around!