FF: Awkward Moment

May 20, 2022
Persphone Pounces the Moon

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. 

Completed:

Moon Flash by Patricia A. McKillip.  Many people are surprised to find she wrote SF as well as Fantasy.  In memory of her recent demise, I decided to re-read this.  Although it has a sequel, it is its own story.

The Moon and the Face by Patricia A. McKillip.  Sequel to Moon Flash, although its own story.

Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire.  Audiobook.  Re-listen.  Plot and characterization take second place to description in this tour of the compass points.   Fourth in her Wayward Children series.

In Progress:

The Riddlemaster of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip.  Re-read.  First in the “Riddle of the Stars” fantasy trilogy.  A long-time favorite of mine.

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Audiobook.  Spies, intrigue, and hints of romance in this sideline novel in her popular Barrayar setting/Vorkosigan saga.

 Also:

Okay, for those of you who read this far, awkward moment.

I started Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers as an audiobook (with the same reader as the prior two of hers in her “Wayfarers” series).  Unlike the prior two, in which plot is slim but made lively by vivid characters, from whose problems the worldbuilding is worked in, this one—for me—lacked either characters or plot, but seems to be the author’s world-building notes presented via talking head characters.  I’m a long-time SF/F reader, so very few of the world-building details are new enough to me to hold my interest. I am willing to eventually give the book another try, but if anyone has read it and can brief me, either in the comments or via e-mail, I’d be interested in feedback. 

A Least Favorite Job

May 18, 2022
Words Into Terrain

Last week, I promised to reveal what is one of my least favorite jobs as a writer.  It’s making maps.

You’d think that as a long-time gamer, I’d have mapping down to a science.  I mean, I’ve been gaming since I was not quite eighteen, and have been running games for almost as long.  But, nope.  It doesn’t work that way.  Lately, when our games need more detail, gamer Rowan (also cover artist for Asphodel) takes my rough drawing and starts gridding.  She’s amazing that way.

I have no trouble envisioning the terrain in which my stories are set.  I just don’t seem to be able to draw it.  For many stories, I don’t need a map.  Maybe I can access real maps of the locations involved, as I did for Child of a Rainless Year or Thirteen Orphans and the other “Breaking the Wall” novels.  Or maybe the focus is tight enough or on something other than moving through a landscape, so I don’t need a map.

Or maybe I can get away with a very general map, noting where locations are in relation to other locations.  That’s what I did with the early Firekeeper novels, although later I needed more detailed maps.

So, what do I do when I need a detailed map?  I turn to my husband, Jim.  As many of you already know, Jim’s an archeologist, and making maps is a part of his professional tool kit.  The maps he draws are very detailed, and even include elevations, which is definitely useful when the challenge of crossing a bit of terrain is part of the story.

When Jim needs to help me out, I start by giving him a verbal portrait of the landscape, including the rationale behind various terrain features.  This narration is often accompanied by a rough map by me, drawn not with images, but with words.  Jim then translates this into a sketch, which, in turn, often reveals to me additional ramifications of the terrain.

Sometimes these ramifications even become plot points.

We’re still roughing out the current map, but you can get a glimpse of Jim’s work, as well as the very little he has to work from, in the accompanying photo.

Now, off to do what I like doing far more than I like cartography.  Writing!

FF: In Honor of McKillip

May 13, 2022
Roary Poses

In honor of the recently late Patricia A. McKillip, I’m re-reading one of her lesser-known works, the SF novel Moon Flash.  I read it years ago and learned she brought to SF the same lyric beauty and sense of wonder that is hallmark in her fantasy.  It’s also relatively rare in her canon in that it has a sequel.

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. 

Completed:

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chamber.  Audiobook. At this point, structure is two intertwined novellas, each of which is interesting in its own right.  This one has more of a middle grade/coming of Age vibe than A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.

The Sound of Murder by Rex Stout.  Third person narration featuring Alphabet Hicks in the role of detective.  At the time of publication, it was centered around relatively cutting-edge technology.  Plastics, for one, sound recording for another.

The Red Box by Rex Stout.  Even without looking this one up, I could tell it’s clearly early in the series.  Archie is more of a thug.  Cramer actually lights a cigar.  Wolfe’s bookmark is ebony…  Oh, if you wonder, it’s the fourth in the series.

In Progress:

Moon Flash by Patricia A. McKillip.  Many people are surprised to find she wrote SF as well as Fantasy.  In memory of her recent demise, I decided to re-read this.

Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan Maguire.  Audiobook.  Re-listen.  Plot and characterization take second place to description in this tour of the compass points.   Fourth in her Wayward Children series.

Also:

Overall, the new Archeology magazine has some good articles, but the one of Egyptian “demons” had me wondering if the illustrations had been pulled from the wrong file, since in at least two places they not only fail to illustrate the text, they undermine it.

Gardener: ’Tain’t Whatcha Think

May 11, 2022
Chocolate Flowers

Monday morning, as I was out in our yard, preparing various containers for seeds while on stand-by in case Jim needed help as he set up our swamp cooler, I found myself thinking about the term “gardener,” as applied to writers.

As you may know, in this context, “gardener” is used as a synonym for what I prefer to call an “intuitive plotter,” but is often referred to by the inelegant term “pantser,” which in turn is short for “seat of the pants plotter,” (a term that in my opinion is only slightly better).

Whatever you call it, a gardener is a writer who does not outline in advance of writing, and may not seem to plan much in advance at all.

So, it was when I worked out my novels, Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge, which have been praised by award-winning reviewer Alan Robson, who noted that the story elements “have very significant roles to play in advancing the plot, and every time the plot advances the story exposes another intricate layer and we learn more and more about the way that the world of Over Where works. I’m astonished that Jane Lindskold managed to hold a structure as complicated as this one in her head while she was writing it, and I’m impressed at the skilful way in which the twists and turns reveal themselves so gradually and yet so inexorably.”  (Phoenixzine, May 2022)

By contrast, when I worked with David Weber on the forthcoming A New Clan, my natural tendency to not plan in advance had to be moderated by the need to work with another author.  In turn, Weber moderated his own desire to brainstorm in exhaustive detail to accommodate the fact that if I have it all figured out in advance, I feel the story is told, and am less enthusiastic.

Well, as I knelt there in my yard, stirring up dry soil, adding additional potting soil, soaking the planting medium in stages to make sure it was uniformly damp, and only then adding in the seeds—these spaced according to their specific needs, and those needs dictated by where that particular planter was going to be placed—I found myself thinking for the hundredth time how inappropriate the term “gardener” is for an intuitive plotter.

I wandered on at greater length about this subject here, so I’ll point you that way, and summarize.  (The first part of this other post is about our garden that particular year, but I suggest you read it, especially if you don’t garden yourself.)

Just as a gardener does not plant without acquiring a lot of advanced knowledge, so an intuitive plotter does not get ideas from some abstract ether.  A lot of work goes into preparing the “soil,” to learning about what the seeds need, to learning about the environment in which the plant or the story will grow.

A great example are the chocolate flowers featured in the photo above.  Jim and I like flowers, but we also like to work within the needs of our environment, which is hot, dry, and fairly brutal.  Chocolate flowers thrive in poor soil, without need for additional watering once they are established.  A bonus is that local birds love the seeds, so we not only get to watch the birds, they help spread the plants in our yard.

(The name “chocolate flower” comes from the scent of the flowers, which is not unlike bittersweet chocolate.)

So, for all you folks who think you can just zen your way into a story, without any foundation at all, remember, the planning goes in, whether before, after, or along the way, but one way or another, you’re going to need to do the work.

Speaking of which, I’m off to pull out scrap paper and work on one of my least favorite jobs…  Maybe I’ll talk about what that is next time.

FF: Expectations

May 6, 2022
Roary Is Definitely NOT a Red Shirt

This week, my reading made me think a lot about expectations.  That’s always a good thing.

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. 

Completed:

Red Shirts by John Scalzi.  I’d wanted something light and funny, and this filled the bill very nicely.  However, the three Codas at the end where what made this book a winner for me.

In Progress:

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chamber.  Audiobook. At this point, structure is two intertwined novellas, each of which is interesting in its own right.  Thus far, this one has more of a middle grade/coming of Age vibe than A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.

The Sound of Murder by Rex Stout.  Not a Nero Wolfe, but featuring Alphabet Hicks in the role of detective.  What’s fascinating about this one is that at the time of publication, it was centered around relatively cutting-edge technology.  Plastics, for one…

Also:

A bit more short fiction.  And the new Archeology magazine just came in!

Spring Brings

May 4, 2022
Mystery Lizard

We’re having a very dry spring here in our corner of New Mexico, but our little pond (128 gallons empty) is nonetheless home to a ridiculously large crop of tadpoles.

We also seem to have a new—to us, that is—type of lizard which has taken up residence in our yard.  It’s not either our two usual types: the blue whiptail and the fence lizard.  It’s featured in the picture above and I would love if anyone can help us out with figuring out the type.  It seems to have settled in on the west side of our yard, and even chosen a favorite basking rock.

Winds have been high, and temperatures all over the place, so other than a bit of transplanting, we haven’t yet put the garden in.  However, we’re getting ready.  I’ve started some tomatoes from seed.  We’re going to try two new, to us, varieties this year, both of which we acquired from Native Seed Search, and which are supposed to handle high temperatures well.

Now that the excitement (and considerable extra work) related to the releases of Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge only two months apart is ebbing, I’m segueing into more writing. 

Whenever I need to think, I wander outside, weed a little here, water a little there.  It’s definitely nice to have a chance to spend more time outside. Be well

FF: Lots of Short

April 29, 2022
Persephone Falls, Too

I’m finishing off my reading for the Nebulas, which means I’m reading a lot of shorter work now.  Even if I like a piece, it must pass the final hurdle of needing to be Science Fiction or Fantasy to get my vote.  If setting details could be filed off, and the same tale told as mainstream, even if it’s good, it won’t get my vote.

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. 

Completed:

A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger.  So far quite promising, but I’m only a few segments in.

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire. Audiobook. Ghost story, with some interesting twists on what a ghost is.

In Progress:

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chamber.  Audiobook.

Also:

Time travel via back issues of Vogue.  I keep old issues so I can tear out interesting pictures when time permits.  As I scavenge, I find myself back in 2019, when no one had heard of pandemics.  A bit creepy, to be honest.

Kids Are Alright, But…

April 27, 2022

New Books, New Podcasts

Several weeks ago, David Butler and I discussed Aurora Borealis Bridge, as well as wandering into a bunch of other topics, for Baen Free Radio.  The chat is now available on video or audio only.

Since Aurora Borealis Bridge is the second book in the Over Where series, there will be spoilers.  You might enjoy starting with our chat about Library of the Sapphire Wind which is also available on video or audio only.

The other day, a long-time friend commented that the Over Where books are not the only ones I’ve written where the protagonist is not a younger person.  Mira, the main character in Child of a Rainless Year, is in her early fifties.  What many readers, looking at the silver-haired me of these days, might not realize is that when I wrote Mira, I was actually in my early-forties.  I used my husband, Jim (who is ten years older than me), as a touchpoint for getting right what she would have had available to her as a kid.

My original plan for the “Breaking the Wall” books (Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, Five Odd Honors) was to have some of the older Orphans be the point of view characters.  Brenda Morris became a point of view character at the request of Tor’s Tom Doherty, who said he felt the Firekeeper readers expected me to be writing about a younger character.

In reality, writing about characters older than me was more common than not early in my writing career.  Older people can be much more interesting to write about.  They’ve had life experiences that go beyond first kiss or getting a date to the prom or first jobs or dealing with annoying parents and/or teachers…  Well, you get the point.

This is not to say that I don’t like writing about younger people.  I taught college English for a good number of years, and there’s nothing like reading freshman essays to give you a realistic appreciation of the mindset of people in their late teens and early twenties.  What I love the most is that on some topics, they can be as sophisticated as people much older than they are, while in others they are enchantingly naïve. 

For this reason, I resolved that the Over Where books would have competent characters in all age ranges, and that if someone made mistakes, it would not be because they were a “behind the times” senior or a “dumb kid.”  It would be because they were people, and people, no matter the age, level of education, or amount of life experience, are perfectly capable of making mistakes.

On that note, I’m going to wander on back to my writing, and see what my characters are getting up to now.

Journeys in Print

April 22, 2022
Mei Ling Stalks the White Hart

I’ve been really busy, as I get back into my writing, but I’m still finding time to read.  I seem to have been reading a lot of stories in which journeys, not necessarily quests, are a theme.

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. 

Completed:

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers.  Audiobook.  Non-military space opera setting.  Good aliens.  Structure is more like interlocking short stories than a novel, but very good. 

The White Hart by Nancy Springer.  Celtic flavor fantasy in which love in its many forms, rather than merely romance is a driving force.  Lovely prose.

In Progress:

A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger.  So far quite promising, but I’m only a few segments in.

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire. Audiobook. Just started.

Also:

“A Psalm for the Wild-Built” by Becky Chambers.  Novella.  Richly descriptive, with focus on conflicts within the self, rather than without.  Sort of a non-dystopian “Canticle for Leibowitz” meets some of Clifford Simak’s more pastoral work.  Definitely, SF for more reasons than setting.

Child of a Rainless Year

April 20, 2022
Original Cover, New Cover

As I promised last week, I’m going to wander on about the latest novel in my backlist to have a new e-book release, this one with cover design by Jane Noel.

Oh! By the way, the new e-book release contains new content in the form of a short essay about some of the impulses behind the novel my longtime pen pal, Paul Dellinger, has called “a love letter to your adopted home state.”

Child of a Rainless Year was initially released in 2005 from Tor.  Since these WW didn’t exist then, I feel I must tell you a bit more about the novel.

Here’s the new cover copy…

Personal History Shrouded in Mystery

Even before her mother vanished, Mira was beginning to realize that her upbringing was far different from that of the children around her.  She has no idea who her father was.  Her mother, Colette, was a distantly elegant figure, more interested in keeping Mira isolated than in being part of her upbringing.

Then, when Mira was nine, Colette vanished without a trace. Mira was adopted by loving foster parents, and let herself forget the mother she had hardly known.

That changes when Mira comes into her inheritance.  She learns that not only does she still own the peculiar house in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where she had lived as a child, but that the question of what happened to Colette still haunts her.

Seeking closure, Mira returns to Phineas House, but the more she learns, the more she realizes that Colette was not what she seemed, and that their family is intertwined with mystical secrets that have influenced not only Mira’s own life, but the history of the city they have warped by their very presence.

At the time of its release, Child of a Rainless Year received numerous glowing reviews.  Here’s the starred review from Booklist:

“Lindskold conjures the atmosphere of nontourist New Mexico, beautifully evoking Las Vegas’ long, turbulent history while spinning a fantastic yarn about Mira’s odd inheritance. Neither an explosive story nor an edge-of-the-seat-thriller, the novel’s strength lies in the unfolding of Mira’s character.” 

Alan Robson reminded me this past week that he’d also given it a glowing review.  Here’s an excerpt of his June 2005 review.

“There are some very special books in the world; books that take you away from yourself and transport you to another place from which you do not want to return. When you read one of these special books, you start to resent the intrusions of reality. It begins to seem pale and thin by comparison. Mundane things like eating and sleeping just get in the way of the transcendental experience of reading that special book and you can’t wait to return to it.

Child of a Rainless Year by Jane Lindskold is one of these very special books.”

Alan caught something about the novel that many people missed, so I’m going to take the liberty of quoting a bit more:

“This is a fantasy novel and fantastic things are happening right from the very first page, though that does not become clear until much later on in the story. We are introduced so seductively to the world behind the world that we simply don’t notice until suddenly it is all around us and even the most bizarre circumstances seem so natural that we simply accept them as a matter of course.

“One of the things that makes this book such an absorbing read is its astonishing sense of place and character. The tiny town of Las Vegas (yes – it really exists) is drawn in all its brown and dusty glory. You can taste the grit as you breathe. And all the characters in the book, even the spear-carriers, step alive from the page and demand their moment of glory. Mira in particular is so real and so vivid that she becomes extremely easy to identify with. Her problems quickly become your problems, and you want them to be solved just as much as she does. The pages almost turn themselves. It becomes vital that you find out what happens next, and nothing must be allowed to get in the way of that.

Child of a Rainless Year is the most perfect piece of storytelling that I’ve ever read.”

For those of you who don’t like e-books, I also have the original hardcover available in my website bookshop.  As always, signing ad personalization are free!

Now, off to write something new!