FF: When An Author Is Too Good

June 18, 2021
Mei-Ling’s No Fool

When, this past week, I finished In the Frame by Dick Francis, I decided to try another of his novels.  However, the one we chose started out with a liberal dose of tension, including shouting matches, profanity, and both physical and vehicular violence.  I couldn’t take it, so I’ve put it aside for a time when my life is a bit less unsettle. 

Sometimes an author is too good at what they do!

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, 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.  And it’s also a great place to tell me what you’re reading. 

Recently Completed:

In the Frame by Dick Francis (Really by him, not by his son, Felix).  Audiobook.  I’m a sucker for stories that feature art, and the author’s note about how he came to write this one was fascinating.  Enjoyed very much.

In Progress:

Fool’s War by Sarah Zettel.  Future SF with intelligent AI characters.  Would be done, but my reading time this last week got traded for other things a couple of times.  It still holds up very well.  Recommended.

Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers.  Audiobook.  I could probably recite parts of this one along with the reader, but that’s okay.  Ian Carmichael does a brilliant job.

Also:

Not much.  This last week really wasn’t my own, and when it was, I wrote.

For Various and Sundry Reasons

June 16, 2021

This last week was one of those weeks when I’m glad that my work schedule includes scheduling time for the unexpected.

For various and sundry reasons that I will not bore you with, I had to get a new computer.  Let me reassure you that I lost no files that I can’t live without.  This situation qualifies as a major expense, as well as a major hassle that meant I didn’t have time, energy, or clarity of mind to write, even when most of my writing now is addressing editor’s notes for Aurora Borealis Bridge, the second of my two “Over Where” novels, which will be coming out Spring of 2022.

(The first of the two novels is Library of the Sapphire Wind.)

Throughout this process, I’ve had excellent IT support from my local ISP, which has once again earned my loyal support.

Last week I told you about the interview I’d be doing with David Barr Kirtley of Wired magazine’s “Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy” podcast.  I’m happy to report it went very well, and I think was a lot of fun for us both.  It should be out later this week, and I’ll post the link here next week, as well as to the Friday Fragments, if I have it by then.

One thing the pandemic transformed was how science fiction and fantasy conventions reach their audience.  In 2020, several went virtual.  In 2021, several, including Bubonicon, New Mexico’s longest running (and often only) convention, will be virtual again.

However, one aspect of this change that can be beneficial for someone like me, for whom going to any convention other than Bubonicon entails a great deal of expense and travel time (even relatively “local” conventions like those in Arizona and Colorado involve hundreds of miles of driving), is that I’ve found myself invited to participate in conventions I otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend.

Earlier this year, I did a panel and reading for Flight of Foundry, and this weekend I participated in the pre-recording of a panel about the forthcoming Space Western anthology, Gunfight on Europa Station, in which my story “Claim Jumped” appears, for LibertyCon in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  I’m also hoping to do a reading, and it’s possible another panel, all of which would have been out of my reach a year ago. That said, as with in-person conventions, I’ll need to budget my time and energy, because virtual or not, panels take a lot of time and energy, and if I’m thinking about space westerns, I’m not thinking about whatever I’m writing. So, for various and sundry reasons, I didn’t do as much work on Aurora Borealis Bridge as I hoped to going into the week, but here’s hoping that this week is less filled with the unexpected, and more with the writing I love and find so very stimulating and inspirational.

FF: Wise Fools

June 11, 2021

In addition to the books below, I also have been re-reading my own Curiosities (a short story collection) and Wanderings on Writing as preparation for the interview with Geeks Guide to the Galaxy that I did yesterday.  Interesting, re-reading both, as I’m distant enough from the material to almost read it as a stranger might.

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, 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.  And it’s also a great place to tell me what you’re reading. 

Recently Completed:

Bloodline by Dick Francis, actually by Felix  Francis, his son.  Audiobook.  A FF Reader recommended author!!!  He did a pretty good job, but his protagonist was too clueless for my taste.

Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles by Clamp.  Manga.  Issues 18-28.  An ambitious if not completely successful story.  I’m familiar with the first part of the story, because I just re-watched the anime, but it ended before the story did, and I felt drawn to finish it.  I’ve read it before, so I guess they were successful in that I wanted to read it again.

In Progress:

Fool’s War by Sarah ZettelI read this when it first came out and very much enjoyed.  Despite the title, SF, not Fantasy.

In the Frame by Dick Francis (Really by him, not by his son, Felix).  Audiobook.  I’m a sucker for stories that feature art, and the author’s note about how he came to write this one was fascinating.  Enjoying very much.

Also:

Still dipping into various sadly neglected magazines. 

Behind the Interview

June 9, 2021

Most of the time, when I talk about my life as a writer, I talk about the writing.  This week, here’s a behind the scenes glimpse at what goes into another aspect of my life: doing interviews.

There are many sorts of interviews.  By now I think I’ve done them all, most often as the one being interviewed, but sometimes as the interviewer.  Print interviews, especially these days, are often done, not with give and take, but with the “interviewed” being sent a list of questions and being asked to answer some or all.

Print interviews done this way definitely have pros and cons.  On the positive side, the “interviewed” has a great deal of control of the finished interview.  On the negative side, the “interviewer” often uses the same very generic questions over and over. This tends to lead to interviews with a flat sameness.  This sameness is probably useful if someone wants to do an article on “Twenty Authors Answer ‘Where Do You Get Your Ideas?’” but isn’t my idea of fun to either do or to read.

When I interview someone, especially if via e-mail, I only send a few questions in the first round, so that I can then respond to the answers and ask new questions that are direct responses to what the person being interviewed has said.  In this way, we avoid falling into rote.

Another sort of interview is the in-person interview.  With the growing popularity of podcasts, these are becoming more common.  There are two forms of this interview: the live and the pre-recorded.  Each has advantages.

Live interviews are a bit like roller coaster rides.  You get the pauses, the ums and ahs.  The unexpected laughter.  The occasional blooper.  If the speakers are good, live interviews are terrific.  If the speakers are inarticulate or under-prepared, then they’re deadly.

Pre-recorded interviews tend to be smoother because the dead air time has been taken out. Rambling answers can be trimmed, complete disasters removed entirely.  What pre-recorded interviews lack in unpredictability, they gain in polish.  If the editor (who is often the same person who does the interview) is good, a pre-recorded interview still maintains the sense of spontaneity.

As with print interviews, a great deal rests on the interviewer.  Some simply ask the same questions.  I’ve done interviews where I quickly become aware that not only hasn’t the interviewer read any more of the book in question than the jacket copy (interviews are frequently tied to new releases), but also the interviewer hasn’t read anything of mine at all.  In those cases, I’ll speak at greater length, filling in the elements that the interviewer should have covered.

Usually, I prefer not to see the questions for in-person interviews in advance, because then my responses won’t be as from the heart.  However, this doesn’t mean I don’t prepare.  I try to anticipate general questions, and think of examples.  For example, “Where do you get your ideas?” can be tightened to become “Where did you get the idea for The Firekeeper Saga or the Overwhere books?” by how I answer it. 

Tomorrow (Thursday), I’ll be recording an interview for the podcast “The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy” with David Barr Kirtley, which appears on Wired.com.  He’s picked an interesting topic: my short story collection Curiosities, as well as my book on writing, Wanderings on Writing.  I haven’t dealt with these very often in interviews, so it should be fresh and exciting.

I’ll let you know when the interview airs.  In the meantime, there are links to some older interviews I’ve done at my website: www.janelindskold.com.  You might enjoy.

Any questions?

FF: Selections From…

June 4, 2021
Persephone Revels

Featured in the picture is the new anthology, Worlds of Light and Darkness, which combines a selection of stories taken from DreamForge and Space and Time magazines.  I wrote the introduction in which I discuss why I feel writing stories with hope as a theme is far harder than writing grimdark.  Oh, and my story “Born From Memory” is one of the selections

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, 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.  And it’s also a great place to tell me what you’re reading. 

Recently Completed:

Forced Perspectives by Tim Powers.  Picks up with the characters from Powers’ Alternate Routes.  Full of chase scenes and daring escapes, paranoia, and a secret history that is a crazy-quilt from various sources.

In Progress:

Bloodline by Dick Francis, actually by Felix  Francis, his son.  Audiobook.  A FF Reader recommended author!!!

Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles by Clamp.  Manga.  Issue 18.  An ambitious if not completely successful story.  I’m familiar with the first part of the story, because I just re-watched the anime, but it ended before the story did, and I felt drawn to finish it.  I’ve read it before, so I guess they were successful in that I wanted to read it again.

Also:

A few magazine articles, mostly in Smithsonian.

Aren’t They Frightened?

June 2, 2021
Roary, Dandy, and Coco

Almost the first question we get when people learn we have both cats and guinea pigs is “Aren’t the guinea pigs frightened of the cats?” 

There are variations to how this question is asked: “How do the cats and guinea pigs get along?”  “Don’t the cats try to get at the guinea pigs?”

The answer is both very simple and very complex.  The simple version is “No, the guinea pigs aren’t frightened of the cats.  They all grew up together, and each thinks of the other as part of the family.”

The complex answer is, “But, of course, we don’t let the cats play with the guinea pigs, because they’d hurt them, even if they didn’t mean to do so.  We don’t let the adult cats have unsupervised play with kittens for the same reason.  Cats, after all, are pointy on five of their six endpoints.  Adult cats, as any cat owner who has tried to pill or groom an unwilling cat, can really pack a wallop.”

But, the truth is, the guinea pigs aren’t afraid of the cats.  Our cats are indoor only but—before our local weather went from too windy to extra hot, without a break—in order to give the guinea pigs a chance to stretch, we would put them in an outdoor, ground level hutch.

(They now have the same style hutch, but indoors, on a rolling tray.  It’s very posh.)

One day I watched a neighbor’s outdoor cat very carefully stalk up to the hutch, clearly expecting to intimidate the little rodents within.  Instead, it was the cat who ended up intimidated because the guinea pigs came happily over to the side to say “Hi!  Who are you?  We have cats of our own.  We like cats.”

I’ve also watched the guinea pigs very carefully push out a long blade of grass to a waiting cat.  I have no idea how the guinea pig knows that the cat wants the grass, but this has happened more than once, so it wasn’t coincidence.

Two of our three currents cats have a very unusual relationship with the guinea pigs.  Because Mei-Ling was extra shy, in order to socialize her, we ended up bringing in the spare guinea pig hutch and keeping her in there.  She lived in that space (which was roomier than the cat hutches at the shelter) for her first ten days with us.  Rather than viewing the hutch as a prison, she nominated herself an honorary guinea pig.

Now, every evening, when we move the guinea pigs from their hutch to their nighttime quarters, Mei-Ling provides an escort.  She never tries to get in with the guinea pigs or to take advantage of the lid being open to “get at them.”  She simply has made up her mind that they deserve an honor guard.

Roary, our medical foster (now firmly a member of the household), spent his first several months at least part-time in the spare hutch, because he was not supposed to stress surgical sites by too much running and jumping.  He also seems to view the guinea pigs as rather odd cats, and quickly joined Mei-Ling on escort duty.

But even Persephone, who has a hair trigger temper and never resided in a guinea pig hutch, never bothers the guinea pigs.  She likes sleeping on top of the hutch.  Maybe she finds the sound of them trotting about and discussing life relaxing.

So there you are!  A FAQ that has nothing to do with writing.  Please feel free to let me know if you have any questions about writing or about the background patter of the world in which I do my work.  Meanwhile, I’m off to write!

FF: Revision Immersion Continues

May 28, 2021
Dandy Dandelion Reads

I’m quite happily working on my editor’s notes for Aurora Borealis Bridge.  Whenever I’m in my “editor brain” I read differently, often hyper-critically.  In this case, because I’m both editing and writing new material, I’m definitely in an odd space.

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, 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.  And it’s also a great place to tell me what you’re reading. 

Recently Completed:

Hummingbird Wizard by Meredith Blevins.  Despite the title, a mystery with light brushstrokes of magical realism rather than a fantasy.

Poirot Abroad by Agatha Christie.  Audiobook.  A new combination of short stories in which the setting is supposed to be “abroad,” but they really stretched the justification, since most stories are still set in England.

The Golden Ball and Other Stories by Agatha Christie.  Audiobook.  Another compilation collection.  The first part are mostly Wodehousian romps, often with a ne’er do well young man as protagonist.  The second part was taken from her supernatural verging on horror collection The Hound of Death and other stories. 

In Progress:

Forced Perspectives by Tim Powers.  Picks up with the characters from Powers’ Alternate Routes whose experiences in that novel have reshaped them so that, whether they want to be or not, they are now linked to a world where the supernatural is now part of their nature.  (So is it “super” natural anymore?)

Bloodline by Dick Francis.  Audiobook.  A FF Reader recommended author!!!

Also:

Reading in the newly created DreamForge Anvil.  This format combines “writer tips and examination of process” with stories.  I’ll admit, I’m not reading anything but the stories. 

Talk to Me!

May 26, 2021
Mei-Ling!

The other day, someone asked me what was the most difficult thing I’d written.  The answer came easily…  These Wednesday Wanderings.

Why?  After over ten years, they’re starting to feel far too much like shouting down a well.  Sometimes I get a faint echo, but most of the time my words vanish into the depth.  Have I bored you or are my cats simply not cute enough?  <grin>

I very much appreciate those of you who react in some way, especially those who comment, but even those who take the time to hit a reaction button on Facebook or Twitter, where these are also posted.

I’m not looking for praise or evidence of devotion or anything.  Actually, I’d simply like to know what you’d like to hear about.  From time to time, I think about addressing one of the trendy topics of the moment, but that seems like inviting argument.

I’m very good at arguing, but I don’t particularly enjoy it.   Especially on social media, most of the time, those who want to argue have already made up their minds, so it’s a waste of energy, energy I’d rather spend writing.

Speaking of writing, last Friday I finished the editor’s notes for Library of the Sapphire Wind, which will be coming out Spring 2022, the first part of the “Over Where” duology.  It was a good process, and I think the book is a lot stronger for the revision—and I’m arrogant enough to say I thought it was pretty darn good before that!

This week, I’ll be diving into revising Aurora Borealis Bridge, which is the second part of the story.  The revised manuscript is due in by July 4th.  I want to get started at once because, as the death of my good friend Jan Stirling reminded me yet again, a tomorrow we can plan for is not promised to us, only hoped for.

So, talk to me…  I’d like to feel like I’m talking to at least one interested person, not just shouting down a well.

FF: Sinking Back Into

May 21, 2021
Persephone Is Sourcerous

This week I’ve managed to sink back into my writing, but still finding time to read.

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, 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.  And it’s also a great place to tell me what you’re reading. 

Recently Completed:

Midwinter Murders by Agatha Christie.  Audiobook.  Winter-themed short story collection.  Material includes a bit where Agatha Christie talks about the Christmas banquets she remembers from her childhood (and which were the setting for her novel, The Affair of the Christmas Pudding).

Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett.

Sourcery by Terry Pratchett.  Set relatively early in the Discworld, all the wizards except for the Librarian and Rincewind have very little individuality, which weakens the impact of a story in which the wizards are offered power beyond their wildest dreams. 

In Progress:

Hummingbird Wizard by Meredith Blevins.  Despite the title, a mystery with light brushstrokes of magical realism rather than a fantasy.

Poirot Abroad by Agatha Christie.  Audiobook.  A new combination of short stories in which the setting is supposed to be “abroad,” but they really stretched the justification, since most stories are still set in England.

Also:

Finishing up various magazines.

A Roaring Year

May 19, 2021
Roary Celebrates One Year Here

On May 13th, we celebrated a full year since Roary came into our lives as a seven-week-old medical foster.  (See here for when he first arrived.)

The term “foster fail” is very popular right now, so I want to make clear—this wasn’t a “foster fail.”  We intended to keep Roary from the start.  The only things that would have stopped our plans were if he turned out to be unhappy in our home, or our home (which includes other cats, as well as guinea pigs) was unhappy with him.  This didn’t happen. 

To our great delight, Roary not only proved to be everything we wanted—most especially a friend for shy Mei-Ling—but he also exceeded expectations.  He was a gentle companion to our elderly Kwahe’e, bringing a lot of joy to Kwahe’e’s final four months.  Even better, Roary convinced temperamentally-chaotic Persephone that he would make a great playmate. 

Interestingly, after spending the first two months of his life restricted to our spare guinea pig hutch (unless we could supervise him), Roary seems to have a lot of family feeling for Dandelion and Coco, our two guinea pigs. 

Roary and Mei-Ling: Great Pals

As a pandemic adoption, Roary’s new challenge is getting used to the idea that humans other than me and Jim can come into the house.  He was definitely spooky the first few times visitors came by, but to our great delight, Sunday night, when our gamers came over, he made a point of looking them over.  After they left, I saw him methodically sniffing where they had been sitting. 

Jim’s theory—and I agree—is that Roary got used to our gamers’ voices during the months we gamed via Zoom.  Therefore, even though they add four lively people to the household, they are less threatening than those humans who he didn’t get a chance to familiarize himself with, at least as sounds. 

We hope that once he learns that the gamers are actually potential admirers and friends, he’ll decide other guests are fine as well.  Certainly, the fact that Persephone likes guests should help. 

And who knows? Maybe Roary will even convince Mei-Ling to show her delightful bossy side to someone other than me and Jim.