The Quest For The Unholey Grail

December 4, 2019

Behold The Ominous Text!

A couple of weeks ago, I exploded my favorite covered casserole dish, thereby discovering that it could not be used under a broiler.  That was the first surprise.   The second was that, apparently, glass microwaveable/oven-safe covered casserole dishes have gone out of fashion–especially in my chosen color of cobalt blue.

Jim and decided to go questing for a new one.  Because a grail is a cup or chalice, and we were looking for a base (or liquid-holding portion) that was unbroken, I decided to dub this “The Quest For The Unholey Grail.”

We began our quest at a local thrift store.  Despite being able to answer what was our name, what was our quest and, most importantly, “What is Your Favorite Color?,” we did not succeed.  We expanded our search to an antique/collectible mall of the decidedly not upscale sort.

There we made our way past the booths of “Vinyl Records Are Now Trendy Again,” beyond the numerous cases of sparkling jewelry, beneath the sound of Angels Hark Heralding, deeper and deeper into darkening caverns celebrating the glories of the Material World.

A “Pyrex 15% Off” booth gave us reason to hope but, as when Arthur and his Knights face the denizens of Castle Anthrax, the beacon was deceptive.

Then, in the very back of the mall, in a booth that had various and sundry bits of kitchenware, on the bottommost shelf, at the base of a stack of no less than three different casserole dishes, we found what we were seeking.

Well, almost…  This dish was clear, not shining blue, but the diameter and manufacturer were the same.  We had retained the lid of our shattered dream dish.  Therefore, when a lady, small and elfin, who even offered to get me coffee from her car when I admired the scent of the brew she held in one hand, popped up and offered to take our new find up to the register, we decided to take the gamble.

At home, we were delighted to discover that lid and base fit each other as if created for that very purpose!  Sentimentally, we were happy that our bereft lid could be repurposed.  The price was very satisfactory as well.

Interestingly, the new dish has “DO NOT USE UNDER BROILER OR ON STOVETOP” in much larger letters than did the old.  I guess this means that I’m not the only one to make this mistake.

This quest resolved, I can move forth to my next task: reviewing Jim’s comments on Wolf’s Soul, which he finished reviewing Monday morning.  There is always another quest!

Healed Is The Shattered One!

FF: Onna

November 29, 2019

Mei-Ling Stayed Up Late Reading

Last weekend we took off to Texas to see Jim’s family, so I had some reading time while in the airport and onna jet plane.

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.

Recently Completed:

Firebrandt’s Legacy by David Lee Summers.  Space opera of the swashbuckling sort.  A fix-up novel built around stories featuring the privateer Legacy and her crew.  The characterization is not static, as if often the case with “fix-ups,” and several secondary characters have repeat appearances, giving the universe more depth than is often seen in such novels.  Recommended for those who don’t mind SF where action and adventure comes first.

In Progress:

Angel Mage by Garth Nix.  Just started.

Witchmark by C.L. Polk.  Started on the plane.

Grimjack created by John Ostrander and Tim Truman.  Comic books.  Past the “Trade Wars” storyline and into Kalibos.  Grimjack is definitely an anti-hero, but one who tries to be more “hero” than “anti.”  Ever since “Requiem” he’s been trying harder.  Didn’t get to read much in this last week because of travel.

The Age of Faith by Will Durant.  Part Four of “The Story of Civilization.”  Audiobook.  At a massive sixty-one and a half hours, I’ll be back and forth with this one for a while!

Also:

Read a bunch of articles in the “in-flight” magazine.  Was particularly taken by one about Picasso’s “Blue Period,” when he was a young man, just developing  his own style.

Mysterious Picture

November 27, 2019

Beautiful Dream

So, what’s with the weird picture?  Read on, and you’ll find out!

As those of you who have been reading these wanderings for a few years have probably figured out, one of my pet peeves is how the “thanks” and the “giving” seem to have vanished from what is increasingly transforming into “Turkey Day,” or “Watch Sports Day,” or “Pre-Black Friday Shopping Event Day.”

If you’re reading this, you have so much to be thankful for.  You have access to some electronic device.  You have electricity.  You can see.  Or hear.  You can probably talk, maybe even walk.  It’s likely you can read.

I won’t keep on going, because by this time you’re either nodding or rolling your eyes.

So, as promised, here’s what’s with the weird picture.  Depicted are part of Jim and my harvest this year.  Predominantly featured are heritage Pima beige and brown tepary beans we grew from seeds gifted to us by Ursula Vernon (aka T. Kingfisher) (aka the writer/artist who wrote Digger and a bunch of other great stories).  Thanksgiving has its roots as a harvest festival, which is why I decided to feature the beans.

Ursula sent us the beans because she couldn’t grow them in her wet North Carolina climate, but didn’t think such rare beans should go to waste.  Despite the best pruning attempts of Frippery Scamperpaws Wigglebutt, our resident baby bunny this year, as well as a brutally hot mid-to-late summer, we managed a harvest that increased what we planted by at least six times, possibly as much as ten.

The majority of said harvest ended up in my soup kettle, part of a multi-bean soup that will provide many meals in the weeks to come.  Since Thanksgiving has its roots in harvest festivals, featuring these beans seemed very appropriate.

May your personal harvest of things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving multiply.  Please remember that what we so often take for granted (like walking, talking, breathing) are all very wonderful things!

Frippery Stalled At the Fence

FF:Trying Harder

November 22, 2019

Kel Sees a Camera and Poses

This has been a week for finishing up.  Next will be one for starting new.  Remember, folks, this is supposed to be fun, so don’t feel you need to report massive reading “progress.”  I like hearing from you, no matter what!

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.

Recently Completed:

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire.  Audiobook.  A regular reader of the FF asked, “Is this horror?  From what I’ve read, it sounds like it.”  My assessment is “Yes and no.”  Very strong elements of horror (with horror movies repeatedly alluded to by the narrative voice).  However, I think the novel is reaching for more.  Whether or not you think it does so will depend on the individual reader.

The Complete and Original Norwegian Folktales of Asbojornsen & Moe, translated by Tiina Nunnally.  A very interesting read but the “complete” means a certain amount of repetition of story types.  Recommended as a read in small bites unless you’re a folklorist who wants the “compare and contrast” experience.  Excellent translation, that strives to portray the Norwegian cultural vibe, something that even the original compliers admitted was difficult to do.

In Progress:

Grimjack created by John Ostrander and Tim Truman.  Comic books.  Past the “Trade Wars” storyline and into Kalibos.  Grimjack is definitely an anti-hero, but one who tries to be more “hero” than “anti.”  Ever since “Requiem” he’s been trying harder.

The Age of Faith by Will Durant.  Part Four of “The Story of Civilization.”  Audiobook.  At a massive sixty-one and a half hours, I’ll be back and forth with this one for a while!

Also:

Dipping and delving into the three Star Kingdom novels by Weber, and Weber and Lindskold as I get ready to start writing as of yet untitled Book Four in the series.

Didn’t Say That

November 20, 2019

Where Wolves, Cats, and Guinea Pigs Run Wild

The freebee advertisement magazine that shows up in our mailbox once a month contains a small amount of non-advertising content between the ads.  I always read the Albuquerque area gardening column, often skim through others.

A while back, while skimming a column that contains quotes connected by a theme (ex. Friendship, Wisdom, Joy), I saw one credited to Charles de Lint.  My initial pleasure turned into musing when I recognized the quote as from one of his stories.  In other words, Charles de Lint didn’t say that, his character did.

This may seem a fine point, suitable only for English majors and other content nerds, but it continued to haunt me long after the magazine went into the recycling.  In that particular case, the quote was probably pretty much in line with Charles de Lint’s own philosophical position.  (I do know him, and so am speaking from at least a moderately informed position.)

However, what if the quote had been from one of the antagonists in the same novel?  Crediting that quote to Charles de Lint would have been accurate on the same grounds the first quote was while, at the same time, doing de Lint a great injustice.

Think I’m obsessing?  Try this one on for size.

“My Precious.  My Precious.”  J.R.R. Tolkien.

I’ve met writers whose signature characters are incredibly wise, astonishingly competent, well-organized people but who, in their personal lives, make unwise choices, are unable to find their way in an unfamiliar environment, and whose offices look as if they’ve been repeatedly hit by whirlwinds.

Another common source of awkwardness is when the author is assumed to share the tastes and/or habits of a character.  I’ve lost count of the number of readers who are astonished to learn that not only don’t I have a wolf or wolf-like dog, I have never owned a dog, nor do I ever plan to do so.  Cats and guinea pigs are my non-human co-residents of choice.

Author/character identification can get awkward when a story touches on uncomfortable topics.  After The Dragon of Despair was released, I received an e-mail in which a reader lambasted me for being a child abuser, because of what happens to Citrine Shield in that novel.  Anticipating my response that Melina Shield is responsible for what Citrine goes through, the writer of that e-mail said (I paraphrase), “And don’t say Melina did it, because you created her and you did it.”

Wow! Apparently, the fact that I also created the people who rescued Citrine, as well as Citrine herself, meant nothing.  Because I could envision a horrible situation, I must be capable of committing such atrocities and of deliberately tormenting a child.  (Never mind that the child existed in a fictional universe, while I live in our consensual reality.)

Getting the author and characters tangled up increases with the attachment people feel to a book.  I’ve repeatedly had to inform astonished fans of Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light that he was not a practitioner of any form of Buddhism.   After all, he smoked and his characters smoked, so if one of his protagonists is Buddhist, he must have been Buddhist.  (As an aside, whether Sam was Buddhist or his world’s Buddha, or simply running a scam, is a question the novel leaves open to debate).

It seems that the closer a topic is to the emotional, psychological landscape, the more it is assumed, for good or ill, that this reflects the author’s personal views.  Therefore, a writer of Military or Espionage fiction can never have served in the military or been a spy.  Writers of alternate history do not need not to have lived in pre-Republic Rome or in Hitler’s Germany.  Writers of fairy tales do not need to have cut off the head of a horse to release a prince trapped inside.

But write about being depressed.  Write about a death in the family.  Write about a religious belief.  Suddenly,  it’s assumed that the author is writing autobiography.  In this day of social media—where readers may know more about the author’s personal life or experiences—the urge to read biography into the fiction has risen.  However, it’s always been there.

Write what you know involves research, but it also involves empathy.  Sometimes it involves delving into something that horrifies the writer, rather than what attracts.

Well, I’m off to draw up some notes for a novel in which one of my protagonists is a sixteen-year-old girl (which I was) and another is a treecat (which I never was).  Let’s complicate that matter by noting that said sixteen-year-old girl (Stephanie Harrington) was convincingly created by a man (David Weber) who had never been a girl of any age.  At the time the original Stephanie Harrington story was written, he wasn’t a father of a girl that age, so he couldn’t be said to be drawing on his parenting experience.

“I’m sorry, too.  Even my best words are not enough.”  Firekeeper, Wolf’s Search, by Jane Lindskold.

FF: Decided

November 15, 2019

Mei-Ling Pounces Grimjack

Last week I mentioned that I was considering re-reading something.  I decided to see what I thought of Grimjack, a comic book that Roger Zelazny introduced me to over two decades ago.  Roger liked Grimjack so much that he gave the eponymous protagonist a cameo in one of the later Amber novels.

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.

Recently Completed:

My second read-through of Wolf’s Soul.  I hope to finish making corrections  by today.

In Progress:

Grimjack created by John Ostrander and Tim Truman. Comic books.  Early in the series, this reads very much a short story collection.  There have been a couple of hints about how a character named Dancer (a sort of Spartucus-like figure) may be playing a behind the scenes role.  Grimjack is definitely an anti-hero, but one who tries to be more “hero” than “anti.”

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire.  Audiobook.  About a third in.  I hope to have time to listen to more this weekend.

The Complete and Original Norwegian Folktales of Asbojornsen & Moe, translated by Tiina Nunnally.  I’m reading a few of these before bed each night.  They can make for some very odd dreams!

Also:

Various articles, especially in the latest Smithsonian and Archeology.

As Green Leaves Fall

November 13, 2019

Autumn Has Arrived!

Although the ash tree in our front yard changes color, one of the weirdest things about autumn in New Mexico is how many trees shed green leaves.  Imprinting as I did on autumns where leaves turned red or yellow, sometimes brown, then dropped off the trees, walking through my yard and scuffing my feet through green leaves still feels subtly wrong, even after more years in New Mexico than I lived in D.C.

Many of the leaves that stay green are from trees that are not native.  Mulberries, in particular, tend to drop massive quantities of dark green leaves, often within a few hours.  Native plants, by contrast, tend to go brown, then quietly lose leaves a few at a time.

At this moment, we’re pretty much done with our garden.  We have a few determined radishes, which we’ve framed with bricks to help retain some daytime heat in the hope that they’ll continue to grow.  Otherwise, it’s clean-up time.  This was a great year for wild asters.  By the end of summer, it was hard to walk in the yard without pushing them aside.  Many of the plants grew over five feet tall.

Jim’s been pulling them, and after making several shirts unwearable because of the amount of aster seeds that stuck to the fabric, he’s decided to dedicate one shirt to this job.  He’s also dug our first compost trench, and a lot of these plants will go in there to become the basis for next year’s soil.

Hmmm… This reminds me…  Now that we’ve had frost, we really need to dig the Jerusalem artichoke tubers.  We store these in a bucket of loose dirt.  Over the next couple of months, we’ll add them raw to salads, or toss them in to bake with chicken.  Raw, they have a texture a lot like water chestnuts; cooked, the texture is more like a cooked carrot.

As our surroundings shift from summer into autumn, with a few days that distinctly feel like winter, I’m shifting from writing to editing, with some forays into research and development.  Wolf’s Soul has now been read through by me twice (once on my computer, once printed out and marked with a red pencil).  I’m currently making hundreds, quite possibly thousands, of small changes.  Then Jim get his reading copy.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the next Stephanie Harrington novel.  (For those of you who missed the news, David Weber and I have signed contracts to write three more.)  Weber and I have worked out the main plot element.  Much of my creative process right now involves working slowly backwards, creating story elements, especially about characters, that will help make the story “real” to me.

It’s fun.  Demanding, but the sort of challenge I really like.  I see a trip to the library in my immediate future…  But first, more manuscript grooming.  Catch you later!

FF: Immersion

November 8, 2019

Kel Makes a Reverse Q next to Quillifer

One reason the reading list below is so short is that I’ve been immersed in my second read-through of Wolf’s Soul.  This doesn’t leave much reading attention for anything else!

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 any of you do holiday-specific reading?

Recently Completed:

Quillifer The Knight by Walter Jon Williams.  I know the author, so I scored an ARC!  The writing style is reminiscent Rafael Sabatini or Alexander Dumas, so be prepared for descriptive embroidery, as well as swashbuckling adventure.  This novel is now officially available!

In Progress:

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire.  Audiobook.

The Complete and Original Norwegian Folktales of Asbojornsen & Moe, translated by Tiina Nunnally.  I’m reading a few of these before bed each night.  They can make for some very odd dreams!

Also:

I haven’t quite figured out what my next “fun” read is going to be.  I’m seriously considering a re-read of something I love. I’ll let you know next week!

When Ears Inspire

November 6, 2019

Colorful Costume

Ever since our friends Rowan Derrick and Melissa Jackson invited us to a theme Halloween party, Jim and I mused over what we should do for costumes.  The party’s theme was “post-Apocalypse,” riffing off Rowan’s long-time fondness for the “Fallout” series of computer games, as well as that she had some great decorating ideas.

Now, post-Apocalypse has never been one of my favorite settings.  Who knows?  Maybe I imbibed anxiety about nuclear war with my mother’s milk.  (I was born about a month before the Cuban missile crisis.)  I grew to adulthood under the shadow of the Cold War.  To this day, I remember college discussions in which many of my contemporaries stated that we’d see a nuclear missile attack before we graduated.  Certainly an awareness that for most of my life I lived in a “ground zero” location hasn’t helped.  (Yep.  I still do.)

However, there’s one book set in a post-Apocalyptic setting I really love: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.  It is not hopelessly grim, but lacks Mad Max romanticizing of how much fun it would be to all wear fur and ride motorcycles.  Maybe why this novel resonates with me is that it offers hope for a devastated future seeded by a medium I really understand and believe in: Books.

So, for a while Jim and I thought we might go as “bookleggers,” but a lack of affordable monks’ robes proved a stumbling block.  If we didn’t have robes, then we’d need to keep explaining what we were.  After all, like bootleggers, bookleggers tend to dress much like everyone else, because that’s the best way to avoid detection.

 Eventually, we settled on going as mutants.  In the third section of A Canticle for Leibowitz these “Children of the Fallout” have a very interesting role.

When we went to look for costume items, my creative conception took a swerve when I found myself irresistibly attracted to a set of brightly-colored cheetah ears with matching tail.  While Jim got a set of very nice wolf’s ears and tail, then accessorized so that he was transformed into a very swashbuckling mutant wolf-warrior, I wandered over to the bright side.  If you’ve read A Canticle for Leibowitz this isn’t completely out of line, although I admit, my interpretation was a bit unique…

I wish the photo showed my hair better, since it steaked in five very bright shades!

(In case you wonder, I already had the yukata and obi.)

Writers are always asked: “Where do you get your ideas?”  Well, in the course of this particular creative journey, I found myself musing over an idea for a short story.  If I write it, I guess my answer will need to be “A Canticle for Leibowitz and a set of cheetah ears in all the colors of the rainbow.”

FF: Knights, Alchemists, and Trolls

November 1, 2019

Clever Rogue Meets Clever Rogue

After reading well over half of The Complete and Original Norwegian Folktales of Asbojornsen & Moe, I have found myself wondering just how many family pets were beheaded by children who believed that this would release the prince/princess trapped within by evil trolls…

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.

I’m enjoying hearing what you folks are reading, too!

Recently Completed:

Sourdough by Robin Sloan.  Audiobook.  Enjoyable.

In Progress:

Quillifer The Knight by Walter Jon Williams.  I know the author, so I scored an ARC!  The writing style is reminiscent Rafael Sabatini or Alexander Dumas, so be prepared for descriptive embroidery as well as swashbuckling adventure.  This novel is a November release!

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire.  Audiobook.  Just started.

The Complete and Original Norwegian Folktales of Asbojornsen & Moe, translated by Tiina Nunnally.  I’m reading a few of these before bed each night.  They can make for some very odd dreams!

Also:

Finished my first read-through of Wolf’s Soul.  Overall, I’m feeling happy with it, but I’m too close to it.  I’ll take a few days away from it to clear my head before going through it again.