FF: Lucky Reading

September 13, 2019

Coco the Baby Guinea Pig and Esteban

Welcome to Friday the Thirteenth!

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 I’m always interested in what you have to recommend!

Recently Completed:

While Gods Sleep by L.D. Colter.  An alternate take of Greek mythology.  Doesn’t re-tell any old myths, but instead they provide the underlying foundation for an original tale of a mortal caught up in divine machinations.

DreamForge, Issue Three.  Very much enjoyed the new issue.  The theme “Tales of Kindred” souls is played out in some very creative ways.

In Progress:

Esteban by Dennis Herrick.  This non-fiction text takes a look at one of the most important yet consistently under-represented figures in the history of the Spanish incursion into the American west.

The Gameshouse by Claire North.  I had a little trouble with the peculiar narrative voice in which the tale is told, but once I wrapped my brain around it, I found myself caught up in the story.  Maybe twenty-percent in.

Caesar and Christ by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  Just finished Herod the Great, and looking at Jewish culture under Roman rule.

Also:

Not much “also” this week…

Advertisements

Creative Coolness

September 11, 2019

Creativity Takes Many Forms

This past week was special because it brought two of my favorite opportunities to immerse myself in cool creativity: the New Mexico State Fair and the third issue of DreamForge magazine.

DreamForge readers, no worries.  I’m not going to provide any spoilers, but I am going to remind readers that this issue contains the first ever Firekeeper short story.  It’s called “A Question of Truth,” and is set shortly before the events in the newly-released Firekeeper novel, Wolf’s Search.

As with all DreamForge stories, “A Question of Truth” is non-dystopian.  As with all Firekeeper stories, the perspective is Firekeeper’s own.  What a wolf thinks is right or wrong can differ greatly from what a human would.  Moreover, Firekeeper and Blind Seer are very unusual wolves.  Part of my joy in returning to writing about them is considering how they’ve changed while keeping their own strong assurance of who they are.

DreamForge is available only by subscription, but you get a lot for that subscription, including  the option to sign up for a free digital subscription to Space and Time magazine.  Details are available at the DreamForge website.

I know that for a lot of people the words “State Fair” conjure up crowds, carnival rides, and overpriced junk food.  For me, the State Fair is closer to the harvest festivals of old.  I rarely make it onto the midway at all and, if I do, it’s to look at the carousel.  While I’ve been known to try some of the food weirdness (a deep-fried Snickers bar, for example), I’m more likely to be indulging in a cup of coffee and a slice of homemade pie at the Asbury Café, a long-time tradition run by a local United Methodist Church.   This year I had blueberry-rhubarb.

When I go to the Fair, I’m there to look at animals, plants, and art, in no particular order.  If I was absolutely forced to choose a favorite building, it would be the hobby building.  This is where you can find arts and crafts ranging from woodworking to needlepoint to rock collecting to photography to baking and canning to quilting and sewing to doll collecting to Lego constructions to leather work to stained glass to beading…  Well you get the idea.  These are all on display under one roof.  Often there is someone there to tell you all about their particular favorite or to give a demonstration.

Wait!  Maybe my favorite thing is the rabbit and poultry show.  The bunnies and chickens have a new building this year.  We walked all over until we found it.  (For some bizarre reason, there were no signs telling visitors where to go!)  It’s down at the western end of the dairy barn, inside the barn, in case you’re wondering…

Then there’s Sheep to Shawl, where you can watch a sheep being sheared, see demonstrations on how the wool is cleaned, carded, spun, dyed, and then transformed by a wide variety of techniques including knitting, weaving, crochet, and felting into everything from hats and gloves to toys and, of course, the promised shawls.

Then there are the art shows…  Not one or two, but at least five, if you count the school art, which I absolutely do!

I could keep listing, but lists don’t really capture how wonderful it is to be on the fairgrounds, surrounded by creativity in its many and varied forms.  I come away every time impressed and awed and just generally happy.

We’re going back on Thursday to see what we couldn’t manage on our first trip.  I can hardly wait!

FF: Alternate Interpretations

September 6, 2019

Kel Looks Smug

The latest issue of DreamForge magazine arrived this week.  It features the first ever Firekeeper short story, “A Question of Truth,” illustrated by Hugo Award-winning artist, Elizabeth Leggett.  If you’re waiting for your copy of DreamForge to arrive, and need a Firekeeper hit, remember that the new Firekeeper novel, Wolf’s Search is now available!

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 I’m always interested in what you have to recommend!

Recently Completed:

End of the Megafauna by Ross. D. E. MacPhee, with glorious illustrations by Peter Schouten.  Although intended for a general audience, the author relies on a glossary, rather than over-simplifying his topic.  So far well-organized and fascinating.

In Progress:

While Gods Sleep by L.D. Coulter.  I met the author (who also wrote “The Weight of Mountain” in DreamForge, issue two, at Bubonicon, and when I learned we shared an interest in mythology decided to try another of her works.  I’m about three-quarters through, and love her alternate take on Greek mythology.

Caesar and Christ by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  Taking a look at cultures deeply influenced by Rome, often by being conquered by the Romans or resisting being conquered by the Romans.

Also:

I’ve started the new issue of DreamForge, of course!

Crystals of Stories

September 4, 2019

Mei-Ling Researches Bats

Last week, when I mentioned I was reading about the extinctions of various paleo mammals, someone said, “So, shall we expect a story with mammoths and saber-tooth tigers soon?  Or are you going to be writing about mass extinctions?”

I have to admit, I was flummoxed.  I was reading the book (End of the Megafauna by Ross. D. E. MacPhee, with marvelous illustrations by Peter Schouten) because I’d seen a review and it seemed interesting.   But during the discussion that followed, I was reminded of a comment made the previous weekend at Bubonicon during the GOH interviews.

Somehow, research came up.  Alan Steele answered first and his answer was well-balanced, thoughtful, and very scholarly.  He researched both before and during a project, often for years in advance. Then it was Ursula Vernon’s turn.  She laughed and said (I may misquote, since I’m doing this from memory), “I don’t really research.  I write Fantasy.  I can change things to fit what I want.”

Well, that didn’t fit my impression of her books.  Since first meeting Ursula some years ago, I’ve read a lot of her books, both those written as Ursula Vernon and others published under her pen name of T. Kingfisher.  One of the things I love about her books is that underlying the rollicking stories is a lot of cool information about a wide range of topics.  A good example is Lair of the Bat Monster from her Danny Dragonbreath series.  You come out of this book knowing a lot more about bats than you ever knew there was to know.

Later, when we were chatting privately, I chided Ursula for underselling the amount of work that goes into even the most apparently lightweight of her books.  Her response was, in its own way, as thoughtful as Alan Steele’s.  She said: “But I don’t really research.  I just draw on what I’ve read and thought was fascinating.”  She then started telling me about a nifty book she’d been reading about perfumes, and we got sidetracked from there…

Often when both readers and writers think about “research,” we think about it in terms of schooldays of yore, of immersing oneself in a specific topic of more or less interest in order to produce a specific product.  That sort of research absolutely has a place in fiction writing.  I’ve done that, both before writing a project, during the writing, and then after to make sure I have specific points right.

But the other sort of research is probably more valuable.  Why?  Because you probably won’t even have ideas about new and thrilling topics if you never read outside of secondary sources and your existing interests.

I think this is why so much literary fiction deals with college professors and academics.  I’d also argue that it’s one reason why some writers start writing about writers and the business of writing.  In both cases, their interests have narrowed to what they are doing on a daily basis.  Becoming too immersed in a single field is another research issue, one that leads to some writers creating stories that are more and more specialized variations on a single theme.  That’s great if that’s what they want to write, but I’ll admit, both in my own writing and in my reading, I’m more eclectic.

Roger Zelazny routinely read up to five books at one time, dipping into each on a daily basis.  These included a volume of poetry, a biography, something non-fiction (often science or history related), something specific to a project he was working on or contemplating, and one or more volumes of fiction.  My reading is much the same.  Those of you who look at my Friday Fragments get part of my reading, but I don’t even try to itemize the articles I read,  nor short fiction.

Without my eclectic tastes, the “Breaking the Wall” novels never would have been written, because I wouldn’t have known enough about Chinese history, characters, and mythology to find myself asking the question that triggered the idea that led to the story.  The same is true for the varied cultures featured in the Firekeeper novels and elsewhere.  They’re not cultures from our world with the serial numbers lightly filed off; they’re evolved from the ground up based on what I know about how environment, politics, and religion (to name just three) have to do with how cultures are shaped.

My next read is likely to be a non-fiction book about a relatively minor historical figure.  Do I plan to write about him?  Not necessarily, but what I learn will definitely bubble up in some strange and wonderful way somewhere in the future.

FF: Extinction, Distinction, and Cloud Herders

August 30, 2019

Dandy Contemplates Sabertooths With Trepidation

Many thanks to those of you who came to my reading from the newest Firekeeper novel, Wolf’s Search, last Friday at Bubonicon.  I hope you enjoyed as much as I did!  Sorry about where I finished.  I promise, it wasn’t intentional. I really thought I’d finish the scene…

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.

Recently Completed:

Minor Mage by T. Kingfisher (which is a pen name for Ursula Vernon).  If we don’t get rain soon, I’m going to follow this young mage’s example and go hunting for the Cloud Shepherds!

In Progress:

End of the Megafauna by Ross. D. E. MacPhee, with glorious illustrations by Peter Schouten.  Although intended for a general audience, the author relies on a glossary, rather than over-simplifying his topic.  So far well-organized and fascinating.

While Gods Sleep by L.D. Coulter.  I met the author (who also wrote “The Weight of Mountain” in DreamForge, issue two, at Bubonicon.  Decided to try a longer work.  So far, quite mythic!

Caesar and Christ by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  Still on the Philosopher Emperors.  I didn’t get a lot of listening time last week.

Also:

The expansion of some scenes in Wolf’s Soul also showed me a need for some new scenes.  I’m feeling pretty good about this so far.

Weirdest Thing I Heard

August 28, 2019

The DreamForge Panel At Bubonicon

The weirdest thing I heard at Bubonicon this weekend weren’t Ursula Vernon’s tales of potatoes and her of exploration of the Dog Skull Patch.  It wasn’t even Alan Steele’s heart-stopping account of the fearsome Psycho Chicken, although that one (complete with sound effects) was pretty strange.

No, the weirdest thing I heard this weekend was this: “There’s a new Firekeeper novel?  I hadn’t heard!”

Now, before you think I’m a mad egoist who thinks that everyone spends all their time talking about me and my books, let me clarify.  Bubonicon is my hometown con.  Most of the people I heard this from were fans who regularly show up each year to buy my latest.  Many of them even are friends with people I know have bought Wolf’s Search.

So, set to the tune Paul McCartney’s “Silly Love Songs,” “Here I go again!”

There’s a new Firekeeper novel out.  It’s called Wolf’s Search.  Yes.  It’s somewhat shorter than the Firekeeper novels of yore, but I explain the reasons why this is so hereWolf’s Search does have its own story arc, and if seeking to find one thing led to finding another thing, well, the way I see it, that’s how life works.  If you’d like to know more about where you can get Wolf’s Search, here’s a link to my post of about a month ago.  And here are a few of the FAQ that have come up since.

I’d really appreciate your help in pushing out the word that Wolf’s Search exists.  The help of Firekeeper’s Pack will keep me jazzed as I work on getting Wolf’s Soul ready to put in your hands.  Here’s how even the shyest of you can be part of the effort.

Weirdness aside, it was a fun Bubonicon.  Our friends Scot and Jane Noel, of DreamForge magazine, came out from Pennsylvania.   Our Saturday morning panel on DreamForge (which in addition to us included Emily Mah Tippetts, Sarena Ulibari, Lauren Teffeau, and Elizabeth Leggett) was amazingly well attended.   Someone told me we had sixty or so people in the audience!

I lucked into a programming schedule that, while busy, gave me time to wander around, chat with people, visit the art show, and tour the Dealer’s Room.  A special bonus event was when Jim and I were interviewed by Kevin Sonney for his highly popular “Productivity Alchemy Live” podcast.  I’ll let you know when that’s available.  It’s a rare interview in that both Jim and I are featured.

This weekend we also let our new kitten, Mei-Ling, have the entire spare room to herself while we were gone.  Monday night, we let her join the household.  She promptly discovered the cat tree on the porch and after valiantly battling the toys hanging from it (including hanging from her teeth in mid-air after biting into the felted fish Rowan made for our cats, then losing her balance), she tucked herself into the little cubicle where she could watch both indoors and out, while feeling secure.  To our amusement, two of our other cats, Persephone and Keladry, took turns babysitting Mei-Ling through the night.

However, this morning, Mei-Ling has apparently wandered off to another dimension.  Before I get back to work, I’m going to go see if I can find the secret portal so I can call her back for lunch.

Then it’s off to writing.  I did manage to get back into the flow of Wolf’s Soul last week before the con took over my life.  I’m looking forward to getting back to it today.

FF: I’ll Be Reading From Wolf’s Search!

August 23, 2019

Persephone Traps The Kindle!

Today begins Bubonicon!  Programming for me starts at 5:00.  You all voted, so I’ll be reading from Wolf’s Search!  I’ll also be taking questions and telling you about some future projects.  If you don’t get there in time, I hope you’ll drop by and say “hi” during the Mass Signing on Saturday.  As long as I’m not actively putting graffiti on people’s books, I enjoy chatting.

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.

Recently Completed:

Theater of Spies by S.M. Stirling.  Book Two in his series set in an Alternate World War I.  The first, in case you’re interested, is The Black Chamber.

In Progress:

Minor Mage by T. Kingfisher (which is a secret identity of one of Bubonicon’s Guests of Honor, Ursula Vernon).  After reading several novels focusing on the Big Picture of war and destruction, the adventure of a twelve year-old mage with only three spells (none of which are terribly devastating) is proof that the microcosm works as well as the macro for creating an absorbing story.

Caesar and Christ by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  We’re now to the Philosopher Emperors.  I admire how Durant has used the first portion of the book, which is focused on Rome in her various incarnations from the founding now into empire to show why, when Christianity began to spread, Rome was such a fertile field for it the new religion’s spread.

Also:

Wolf’s Soul is now moving along.  After re-reading what I’d written before I took my hiatus to get Wolf’s Search through production, I realized there was a lot in my head that hadn’t gotten into the text.  Now I’m actually writing it, rather than just imagining it!

Carrots, Tree Rings, And A Question

August 21, 2019

Kuroda and Black Nebula

I want to ask your opinion on something but, before I do so, there’s a horticultural experiment I forgot to report on last week.

This involves carrots.  The Black Nebula variety have proven magnificent.  They carry their dark purplish-black color right to the core.  Sometimes even the “greens” should be called “purple-blacks” instead.  The first time I noticed this, I was very startled.  For one worried moment, I thought we’d discovered a strange new virus.

Even when the Black Nebula greens stay green, they’re purple at the base, which definitely makes distinguishing which carrots are which a lot easier.   The guinea pigs fully approve of “purple-blacks,” which is a good thing, since we grow the carrots partly to share with them.

Our other new (to us) carrot was the Kuroda, which we tried because it’s supposed to be very good at handling heat.  So far, that’s proven true, and the carrot itself is quite tasty.  The greens (which are green) are more delicate than those of the Black Nebula.  Ziggy O’Piggy shows a slight preference for these, while Dandy likes those “purple-blacks.”

One thing I definitely learned this year is that what most catalogs mean when they say “handles heat well” is not the sort of heat we’ve been getting in New Mexico lately.  We’re still routinely hitting between 99 and 100 daily in our yard, dropping to 59 to 61 at night.  Forty degree temperatures shifts are confusing our plants to no end.

We tried four types of beans that were all supposed to be good with heat: Purple Queen (bush), Dragon Tongue (bush), Rattlesnake (pole), and Red Noodle (pole).  Only the Red Noodle, which are a liana variety, have thrived.  The rest have either refused to grow at all or have given up.  I think next year we’ll go with the Red Noodle or another liana variety, and skip bush beans entirely other than the tepparies.

This week we had to take down most of a catalpa tree I planted soon after I moved into the house.  Even with us watering it regularly, the stress of the increasing duration of hot days was too much for it.  It is trying to come back from the base, so we took it down in the hope that, without the rest of the trunk to support, it will make a comeback.  There are types of trees that do this and, as this is not a graft, we’d get the same variety, not the rootstock.

Although taking down a tree that we’d had for over twenty years was hard, doing so provided an interesting data point.  The tree rings showed conclusively the results of the hotter, dryer summers we’ve had lately.  Given that some of the inner rings (which are from further back in time) reflect before we were routinely watering the tree, this proves how much less useful rainfall we’ve experienced the last ten years or so.  By “useful,” I mean rain that the tree could draw upon.  Our soil is very sandy so, while a gully washer may give us a lot of moisture, much of it runs off or drains away before the plants can use it.

Catalpa Tree-Rings

Hmm…  I’ve gotten carried away here and nearly forgot to ask my question.  This week is Bubonicon, right here in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  My first item of programming is Friday at 5:00 p.m., and it’s my reading slot.  I was thinking about reading from Wolf’s Search.  It will have been out only about six weeks by then, and I’m hoping that those in the audience who have read it wouldn’t mind.

Does that seem like a good plan?  I have a few short stories I could read, but I’m so immersed in Firekeeper and her world right now, that I’m eager to share this novel.  Copies will be available at the convention, so you won’t be left hanging.

Bubonicon’s schedule is now available on the web.  I hope I’ll see many of you there!

FF: Kitten Reveal!

August 16, 2019

Meet Mei-Ling!

Meet Mei-Ling, the newest member of our household.  She’s somewhere between two and three months old.  (She’s actually smaller than she looks in this photo.)  We adopted her from the Albuquerque Animal Shelter on Tuesday.  She’s a little shy yet, but very cuddly.  We hope she’ll eventually be a good playmate for Persephone, who has been missing Ogapoge, who we lost in late April.

Mei-Ling wants me to remind you about the other baby in our household.  This week marks one month from the official release of Wolf’s Search!  I am now sliding deeper and deeper into Wolf’s Soul.  I’ve also been spending some of my evenings working in the garden, and that’s cut into my reading time.

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.

Recently Completed:

Best Plants for New Mexico Gardens and Landscapes by Baker H. Morrow.   Microclimates are fascinating.  I started reading this for my garden and continued with my writing in mind.

In Progress:

Theater of Spies by S.M. Stirling.  Book Two in his series set in an Alternate World War I.  The first, in case you’re interested, is The Black Chamber.  About half-way in.

Caesar and Christ by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  We’re done with the “big name” emperors and taking a look at art, science, etc.  Just finishing art and architecture.

Also:

Re-reading and tinkering with bits of Wolf’s Soul as I move toward writing the final chapters.

Wolves, Gardens, And Cool Stuff!

August 14, 2019

Zinnias Uncaged!

This week, in addition to getting back into the storyline for Wolf’s Soul, the sequel to July’s new Firekeeper novel, Wolf’s Search, I did some work on another project (which I will tell you more about when the contracts are signed), saw a new depiction of Firekeeper (sneak peek below!), and assessed my garden.

As you may recall, Jim and I did a variety of experiments in our garden this year.  Now that it’s August, I’m trying to decide what worked and what didn’t.  Complicating matters were the depredations of a baby rabbit we dubbed Frippery Wigglenose Scamperbutt.

For those of you who have been in suspense, we did save the zinnias out front, and they are now looking marvelous.  As I suspected, once the leaves were large enough to get coarse and prickly, Frippery lost interest.   A greater availability of the wild plants that are a more usual part of his diet doubtlessly helped.  We’ve seen both him and PF “weeding” our front area’s gravel for us.  Nice to have helpful wild bunnies.

We tried several new varieties of beans this year.  Most didn’t really do well.  I think when catalogs say “good in heat,” they don’t mean New Mexico heat, and especially my yard.  However, a new variety of liana did great and we’ll definitely repeat.  Not surprisingly, given that they were originally bred by the indigenous peoples of Arizona, all three varieties of teppary bean have done fine and are beginning to set pods.

Well, except for those Frippery got to.  Those are a bit behind, and part of one row never did recover.

Our eggplant is doing pretty well.  Our squash (mostly zucchini) is thriving, so we’re giving up on what “everyone” told us to do, and will go back to planting in the early spring and simply praying the squash bugs don’t bother us.  Our peppers have been very slow.  I blame cooler than usual nights early in the spring.  However, some are finally coming on.

Tomatoes are mixed.  We’ve lost quite a number to curly top virus, but have enough to begin to decorate our salads.  And give the guinea pigs.  Ziggy’s new favorite food is tomato.

I’ll replant chard and arugula when daytime temperatures settle in the mid-nineties, rather than spiking over a hundred.  That should be coming soon, and hopefully we’ll have autumn greens.  The herbs are doing very well.  I have made the cats happy with lots and lots of catnip.  Soon I’ll be clipping basil to freeze for later pesto.

Speaking of growing projects of another sort (how’s that for a clever transition?), my friends at DreamForge magazine have announced a really cool new contest.

The topic is whether the current wealth of data that surrounds us is a good thing or not.  You can find more details at the link, but I’ll tell you right off: there is a cash prize, and the winning story will be published in the on-line edition of DreamForge Magazine.  Don’t forget, this means it will be accompanied by a full-color illustration, something increasingly rare these days.

This is also a good time to remind you that the first ever Firekeeper short story, “A Question of Truth,” will appear in the new issue of DreamForge.  The story is set before Wolf’s Search, so there won’t be any spoilers, but if you read it, you’ll know something that only Firekeeper and Blind Seer know!  It’s illustrated by Elizabeth Leggett, who gives her own twist to how the now early twenties, slightly more civilized, Firekeeper might look…

Elizabeth Leggett’s Illustration in DreamForge 3

DreamForge is only available by subscription.  They offer a variety of options including their lush print version, a combined print/digital version (for those of you who can’t bear to get fingerprints on your beloved magazines), and a quite affordable digital version.  Details are available here.

Now I’m off to pull out my colored pens and continue working on the reverse outline for Wolf’s Soul.  I got a bit worried last week that I wasn’t speeding along fast enough.  Then I realized I was tinkering and tightening along the way.  I can’t wait to start writing the thrilling concluding chapters.  Tune in next week and I’ll tell you if I managed!