FF: Sitting and Waiting

October 13, 2017

News Flash: Today at 4:30 p.m. on KURU 89.1, GMCR radio, I’ll be doing a half-hour interview. The show is called Use Your Words: Writers Speak.  If you can’t get that station, the interview should be archived, at some point, at http://gmcr.org/category/use-your-words/.

Ogapoge Approves of Greebo

This week I’ve done a lot sitting in waiting rooms, so I’ve also done a lot of reading.

For those of you just discovering this feature, 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:

Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich.  Audiobook.  We finally finished this driving back and forth from Santa Fe on Tuesday.  Not the strongest plot – in fact, there was a strong sense of “Oops!  I forgot to tie up that loose end!” but good enough as a distraction on the road.

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett.  Fun and thoughtful enough that the next book I chose to read was…

Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett.  New Orleans heavily seasoned with fairytale motifs.

Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers.  Audiobook.  Re-read.

In Progress:

Death of a Doxy by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.

The Compleat Enchanger by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt.  At MiHiCon at the end of October, I’m on a panel on humor in SF/F and this is an interesting way to prepare.

Also:

Still working on the most recent Smithsonian.  Almost done with the article on Russia.

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TT: Fred Pohl — Team Player

October 12, 2017

ALAN: As we mentioned last time, Pohl was a great collaborator. He wrote some short stories with Isaac Asimov (published as by “James MacCreigh”). He wrote a novel with Lester Del Rey (Preferred Risk by “Edson McCann” in 1955). He also collaborated with the oddly symmetrical Thomas T. Thomas on Mars Plus! (1994), a sequel to his own 1976 novel Man Plus!  He wrote a lot of first class novels with Jack Williamson. And of course there are the famous novels that he wrote in the 1950s with his close friend Cyril Kornbluth. Despite being more than fifty years old now, these last can still be read with pleasure today. They are genuine classics.

Two To Carry the Book

I suppose everybody has to have a hobby…

JANE: From what I’ve gathered, Fred Pohl’s participation in the SF world was rich and multi-faceted.  He was a member of the Futurians, a group dedicated to “radical politics and the conviction that sf should be forward-looking and constructive” according to The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

Pohl was also an editor for various magazines, including Astonishing Stories, Super Science Stories, Galaxy, and If, among others.  He also edited original anthologies.

ALAN: And when he was sitting in the editorial chair, he would sometimes buy stories from his writer self and then publish them under a pseudonym so as to conceal what he was doing! How’s that for having your cake and eating it too?

JANE: Gee…  I guess self-publishing has a more noble pedigree than I’d ever realized.

For a period following World War II, Pohl was also an agent.  I suspect that his roles as author, SF think tank member, editor, and agent put him in a position to find people who had a great idea that they couldn’t quite bring to fruition.  At the very least, there were probably some marvelous brainstorming sessions.

ALAN: Cyril Kornbluth and Isaac Asimov, with both of whom Pohl collaborated, were also Futurians.  So there may well be something to what you’re saying. And certainly in his book about the history of the Futurians (The Futurians ,1977), Damon Knight makes it very clear that one thing they all really loved to do was talk about anything and everything.

JANE:  Let’s move from generalizations to specific cases.   You seem very fond of Pohl’s collaborations with Cyril Kornbluth.  Was there something special or unique in these that the books would not have had if they had been written by either Pohl or Kornbluth alone?

ALAN: That’s difficult to answer because Kornbluth died quite young (he was only thirty-five), and so his output was small. He only wrote three novels under his own name and all, with the possible exception of The Syndic, are minor works

However his short stories often exhibit the same sardonic cynicism that is used to great satirical effect in his collaborations with Frederik Pohl.  We also see a similar emphasis in the novel Gunner Cade (1952) by “Cyril Judd”, another collaboration, this time between Kornbluth and Judith Merril.

Pohl, in his solo works, exhibited many of these same traits, and so I suspect that the Pohl / Kornbluth collaborations do not really showcase anything special that the other collaborator did not have, rather the two of them were so similar in their views (and their talents) that they struck sparks off each other and somehow the whole was far greater than the sum of the parts.

JANE:  That sounds like a reasonable conclusion.

Jack Williamson had a long relationship with Fred Pohl as a collaborator.  Interestingly, the collaborative partnership grew directly out of the fact that Pohl was Williamson’s agent.  Let me quote directly from Seventy-Five, a Jack Williamson tribute anthology.

“…when a story called ‘The Bottom of the Abyss’ failed to work, he turned to his then-agent Frederik Pohl, and together they turned out three juvenile stories about Jim Eden and his undersea adventures.  Later, when a story about ‘The Iron Hand’ stalled, working with Pohl again resulted in the ‘Starchild Trilogy.’  All subsequent books co-written with Fred Pohl were planned at the outset as collaborations.”

ALAN: That’s interesting. I wasn’t aware that the ‘Starchild Trilogy’ came about because Williamson got stuck. It was one of my favourite stories when I was a teenager and I read it multiple times. So naturally I’m very pleased that he and Pohl got together and finished it.

JANE: What about Pohl’s other collaborators?  Anything special there?

ALAN: The Asimov collaborations (just a couple of short stories) are of no great interest.

The 1955 collaboration with Lester del Rey (Preferred Risk) is interesting, but for all the wrong reasons! One of the great strengths of the Pohl/Kornbluth collaborations was the biting satire that they applied to various institutions. Pohl returned to this satirical theme with Lester del Rey and together they attempted to do for the insurance industry what Pohl and Kornbluth had done for advertising (The Space Merchants), corrupt business practices, corporate law and propaganda (Gladiator-At-Law), and sociology and politics (Search The Sky). Unfortunately Pohl and del Rey did not strike sparks off each other in the way that Pohl and Kornbluth had done and Preferred Risk reads like a very pale imitation of the much more sucessful collaborations with Kornbluth.

JANE: What about Mars Plus?

ALAN: Pohl’s original book Man Plus! was such a hugely successful, award winning novel that the last thing it really needed was a sequel. So while there’s nothing about Mars Plus! that you can really complain about, it nevertheless feels a bit wishy-washy in comparison.

JANE: Of course, the hugely successful award-winning novels are the ones publishers want sequels to…

So, which collaborative author or pair do we look at next?  Whisper in my ear so we won’t have any spoilers!

ALAN: Whisper whisper.

JANE: Ah!  That might be very interesting indeed!

What’s Good About Stereotypes?

October 11, 2017

These last couple of weeks my pleasure reading has largely centered around rereading some of the works Dorothy L. Sayers and Terry Pratchett.

This Will Make Sense. Honest!

Last Sunday, as I was cutting up apples for an apple/quince pie, it occurred to me that both of these authors get a lot of mileage out of using stereotypes to develop creative three-dimensional characters.

Yep.  You read that right.

I know, this seems a complete contradiction.  One of the worst things critics can say about a book is that the characters are stereotypes.  Yet both Sayers and Pratchett are repeatedly praised for their thoughtful and well-developed characters.  How can they be both?

What exactly is a stereotype?  Well, to oversimplify, a stereotype is when something – I’m talking about characters in this Wandering, but this can apply to plots or settings or nationalities and many other things – is oversimplified down to a few highly recognizable details.  The thing is, the reason stereotypes work is that there’s usually a grain of truth at the heart of them.

The first time I attended an archeological conference with Jim, I was bemused to find my weathered, long-haired, bearded husband fit in very well in the company of his tribe.  The fact is,  many male archeologist do wear their hair longer and are often bearded.  Why?  More hair protects the neck and face from exposure.  Also, if you’re living somewhere without running water, shaving is a real nuisance.  Weathered skin comes with working outdoors in all sorts of conditions.  Sunblock can only do so much.

I can already hear the “buts…”  Hold onto them.  I’m getting there.

Stereotypes certainly have a negative side.  However, the negative reaction to stereotypes has become more pronounced in recent years both as a very justifiable reaction to profiling and a cultural obsession with individuality.   The reality is that, not so long ago, people delighted in wearing the badge of their particular tribe.  And, no, I’m not talking about the traditional peasant dress of European cultures or Native American tribes.  When I was in college, the “preppie” look was all the rage.  Before that there were hippies, beatniks, and red necks.  These days we have Goths and so on…

I’m sure you can think of others.

The trick with using stereotypes effectively is knowing when and how to give the stereotype the twist that turns the character into a three-dimensional person.  An added bonus is the fun that comes when the stereotype acts out of type – or when another character judges the supposedly stereotypical character on appearances alone.

Remember I said I’d come back to your “buts”?  There are always exceptions to the stereotype – so much so that the phrasing for reacting to such has become standard in and of  itself.   “I never would have imagined you were a…” Fill in the blank: librarian, soldier, police officer, kindergarten teacher.  Or, by contrast, “He was so typically a fill in the blank that it was a surprise to find out that he fill in the blank.”

Terry Pratchett so often uses stereotypes as the building blocks of both his characters and plots that I could write an entire book on how cleverly he subverts, inverts, and probably even coverts expectations.  I’ll restrain myself to just one example here.

The classic “Mother, Maiden, Crone” triad is at the heart of his three original witch characters: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick.  However, right from the start he starts playing with the stereotypes.

Granny Weatherwax is not just the wisest because she’s the oldest – the crone (though never call her that to her face, not if you want to keep on having a face).  She’s the wisest because she’s what you might call an intellectual witch with a specialization in “headology.”

Nanny is definitely a mother…  In all senses of the word.   She’s matriarch of an impossibly large clan, deliverer of numerous babies, and definitely an “earth” mother type.  In fact, the word “earthy” was probably invented for hard-drinking, gluttonous, highly sexual Nanny.

Margrat is the modern witch.  Let her speak for herself:

“Witches just aren’t like that… We live in harmony with the great cycles of Nature, and don’t do no harm to anyone, and it’s wicked to say we don’t.”

The next line is the kicker that swerves the stereotype around into reality:

“We ought to fill their bones with lead.”  (Wyrd Sisters)

Dorothy Sayers often carries her use of stereotypes  as far as giving her characters names that reflect some aspect of their character – although even there, she’s often being sly.  Lord Peter Wimsey is thought by most who meet him to be the stereotypical British peer: idle, drawling, “a bit of an ass.”  Even his family motto “As my Whimsy takes me” seems to support this view.

But Sayers swerves this hard to one side because it turns out that where Peter’s whimsy takes him is in on unflinching quest for discovering the truth.  Those who judge him on stereotypical surface traits are in for a shock.  Is the rest a lie or pose?  Not at all.  It’s just another part of a complex human being.

I could go on at greater length, but I shall restrain myself.  After all, I might fall into the stereotype of the author, former professor of English, who cannot restrain herself from pedantic exposition.  Instead I’ll go off and paint a horse…

FF: When I’m Writing

October 6, 2017

When I am immersed a difficult or complex part of a project, I still read, but very often I re-read, because this lets me moderate the extra voices in my head.  Think of it as a literary soundtrack meant to be enjoyable and even stimulating, but not distracting.

Kel says: Sink into a Good Book!

For those of you just discovering this feature, 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:

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers.  Audiobook.   This book was published in 1934, and still speaks to many issues.  Two that immediately come to mind are writing from the heart, rather than only the brain, and the challenges that face professional women in a way they do not their male peers.

On Bowie by Rob Sheffield.  The author notes at the end that this book was written in a month, and that Bowie’s now-classic album Low was also done in a month.  I must admit, I didn’t see a correlation.

In Progress:

Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich.  Audiobook.  Jim and I often listen to Stephanie Plum novels on road trips.  We were so taken by the scenery, that we didn’t quite finish, but doubtless will – maybe while running errands or doing a puzzle.

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett.  I believe this was the first Pratchett I read, a gift from a delighted Roger Zelazny.

Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers.  Audiobook.  Re-read.

Also:

I’ve moved on to the most recent issue of Smithsonian.

TT: Let’s Do It Together!

October 5, 2017

JANE: Last week, when we started talking about collaborations, proper and improper, you said you could think of dozens of collaborations in SF without even trying very hard.

Hauling the Book Along

All right, I’ll give you a harder challenge.   Can you find an example of an author who has done both what you would consider proper and  improper collaborations?

ALAN: Oh that’s easy! Just look at the many writers that Arthur C. Clarke “collaborated” with over the years. Many, but by no means all, of these collaborations are the usual marketing exercises where Clarke contributed nothing but the basic idea and then left his collaborator alone to make of it what he would.

When the collaborator was a genuinely skillful writer, the result is best considered as a reasonably good stand-alone novel by that writer, so to that extent they can be regarded as successful. But when the collaborator was less skilled, the result was generally dire.

For example, I refuse to admit that that Clarke’s standalone novel Rendezvous With Rama had any sequels…

JANE: As much as I wanted to find out more about Rama, I agree.  The sequels didn’t have the same sense of wonder and mystery.

Since we’re not admitting those “improper” collaborations exist, it seems unfair to blame Clarke for doing such without another example.  Can you provide at least one?

ALAN: Yes, and I have documentary evidence for it. In an Afterword to Richter-10 as by Arthur C. Clarke and Mike McQuay, Clarke remarks that:

“…this is the first time that I have given an idea to another author to develop entirely as he wished. But it may not be the last: I’ve discovered that this gives me all the fun of creation—but none of the lonely hours slaving away at the keyboard.”

So clearly we need to look at his dual bylines with a degree of scepticism.

JANE: Indeed we do.  Simply supplying a seed idea is not a collaboration!

Before I become too dismayed by this tendency in an author who still provides the “C” in the “ABC’s” of SF, can you supply an example of Clarke doing a proper collaboration?

ALAN: I think I can.  I might be on slightly shaky ground here, but I suspect that the novels he wrote with Stephen Baxter were genuine collaborations.  After all, Baxter and Clarke were friends. Also, the Afterword to their novel The Light Of Other Days talks about the thinking behind the story and the authors consistently refer to themselves in the first person plural.

At one point they remark that “Any errors or omissions are, of course, our responsibility.”  So it does look like they were both involved.

Furthermore I’m sure that there are Clarkean stylistic flourishes all through the four books that they co-authored.

JANE: Can you provide examples?

ALAN: Yes – but you might disagree with me. After all, style is a very subjective thing. But it seems to me that these words, again from The Light of Other Days, are pure Arthur C. Clarke:

“Fingers of green and blue pushed into the new deserts of Asia and the North American Midwest. Artificial reefs glimmered in the Caribbean, pale blue against the deeper ocean. Great wispy machines labored over the poles to repair the atmosphere. The air was clear as glass, for now mankind drew its energy from the core of Earth itself.”

JANE: Ooh…  That’s nice.  I agree.  Either Clarke or Baxter doing his best imitation – which is part of quality collaboration.

ALAN: A completely unambiguous example of a proper Clarke collaboration is his final novel, The Last Theorem. This was completed by Frederik Pohl when Clarke finally admitted that he himself was too old and too frail to finish it. In his blog, Pohl was at pains to point out just how closely Clarke was involved in the writing process. At one point he says:

“There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to do the book, but I looked forward to Arthur’s notes. When they arrived, they amounted to around a hundred pages of notes and drafts, some sketchy, some quite completely fleshed out.”

And then later on he remarks that:

“Arthur promised to go over every page as I wrote it and to make comments as useful as he could generate.”

The whole blog post about the writing of the novel makes fascinating reading. You can see it here.

So clearly Pohl considered the novel to be a genuine collaboration, and he should know because he was one half of probably the very best SF collaboration of all time

JANE: Should we talk about Fred Pohl as a collaborator next?

ALAN: It’s certainly something he was really good at. There was a time when he appeared to be collaborating with pretty much everyone in sight! Perhaps it was something in the water.

Let’s collaborate on that topic next time.

 

Misty Mountains, Silver City

October 4, 2017

When Jim and I left Albuquerque for Silver City last Friday, the weather was overcast with occasional light rain, so we didn’t have much incentive to stop along the way.  Nonetheless, the mists and clouds made our drive through the mountains in the Gila Wilderness breathtakingly beautiful.

Silver City

In addition to lots of lovely mountain scenery we saw deer, wild turkeys, and — crowning glory — a grey fox!

Our hotel was the historical Murray Hotel in the old part of town.  This was definitely a great location to be staying both for the events related to the Southwest Festival of the Written Word itself and for general touring.   When we arrived we were surprised to find that the hotel didn’t have a parking lot, so we parked directly behind the hotel, on Yankie Street, then walked around to check in.

When we did this, I asked about parking.  Veronica, the very friendly clerk, confirmed that the hotel didn’t have any dedicated parking, but added that we were welcome to park in a small lot on the next street.  Because I was concerned about how narrow the street behind was, we did this…  Turns out this was a very, very good idea.

(In a story, the preceding sentence would be called foreshadowing.)

After we had checked in, we walked over to the Festival headquarters.  Despite this being Friday late afternoon in a college town, the streets were almost empty – not only of vehicles, but of pedestrian traffic as well.  Later, as we walked around, we discovered the reason.  Most of the shops closed at 5:00.

We needed dinner, so we reluctantly skipped the Opening Ceremonies and keynote speaker, Stella Pope Duarte’s, talk.  After a nice meal, we walked around so Jim could take pictures and we could get a sense of our surroundings.  A few galleries were open.  When we popped in, we found everyone universally friendly and happy to chat.

That night we were awakened by a thunder and hail storm.  The next day, we learned that –depending on where in town you were – between two and a half and three inches of rain had fallen in about an hour.

Remember the street we’d originally parked on?  The one directly behind the hotel?  Over breakfast, one of the people we were chatting with told us that the street had been at least fifteen inches deep in water.  Veronica’s kind recommendation saved us almost certain damage to our vehicle.

After breakfast – during which we had the chance to make up for missing the keynote speaker’s talk by talking to her over bagels and coffee – Jim and I set out to see more of the historic district.  Jim particularly wanted to take advantage of the soft light for photos.  The destruction from the storm was evident everywhere, including pavement that had buckled under the strain and mud heaped against the curbs.  It was probably a good thing that many of the curbs were well over a foot high, because otherwise the sidewalks would have been buried.  As it was, more than one shop was being mopped out by diligent owners.

Jim and I discovered the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market, where we bought fresh pineapple quinces that were touted by the farmer’s young daughter as “full of tropical goodness” and assorted apples from a farmer who gave God full credit for the quality of his wares.

Once stores opened around 10:00 a.m., we popped into a few of the quirkier ones.  Then, just before 11:30, I availed myself of the Tranquil Buzz Coffee Shop’s kind promise to give free coffee to speakers, and so fortified headed off to the El Sol Theater for my first program item, a chat with local writer, Frost McGahey.

Unlike far too many “interviewers” I’ve dealt with, Frost had really done her homework.  This raised the level of our chat above the sameness that often makes so many “meet the author” type events rather bland.  Perhaps inspired by Frost, the audience also came up with a number of really interesting questions.  We chatted right up to the wire, then I went out and signed books.

After that, Jim and I went to have lunch at the Little Toad Creek Brewery.   Over lunch, we chatted with two other participants: Peter Riva and Sharman Apt Russell.  While Jim and Peter discussed recent archeological discoveries, Sharman and I delved into why writing about the natural world fascinates us both.

Following lunch, since I didn’t have another program item until 4:30, Jim and I set out to continue our exploration of historic Silver City.  By now the sun had come out, changing the quality of the light, so Jim was busy with his camera.  The streets were less flooded now, but Yankie Street behind our hotel still had a creek running down the middle – and this with a storm sewer audibly roaring beneath.

Once again, before my program item, I availed myself of the Tranquil Buzz’s coffee, and then went to the Seedboat Gallery to take part in a seven-author round-table discussion.  Our moderator was J.J. Amaworo Wilson, who – despite having arrived from a book tour in Australia only a few nights before – was well-prepared and very, very funny.  The participants were lively and interesting.   I’ve made a note of several whose works I want to look up in the future.

Every so often, J.J. would halt the flow of questions so that he could quiz the audience.  Many of the quiz questions were built around scathing Goodreads reviews of the works of famous authors, with the prize going to the first person to identify which author had been publicly humiliated.  What amazed me was how fast people in the audience were to catch on.  I’ll admit most cheerfully that, except for some of the most obvious, I was completely lost.

Following the round table discussion, Jim and I retired to our room to rest, then headed off to a potluck dinner at J.J.’s house.  There we linked up with Adrienne Celt, a talented young writer who also does the weekly web comic loveamongthelampreys.  I’ve long been curious as to what it takes to produce a web comic, as well as what sort of person might write one.  Adrienne was extremely patient about my numerous questions.  I hope she enjoyed our chat as much as Jim and I did.

After this very full Saturday, Jim and I were happy to retire to the Murray Hotel to unwind, and finally sleep, this time without a thunderstorm breaking up the quiet of the night.

Sunday morning dawned bright and clear.  After a chance conversation with a newly arrived guest, we learned that the road through the Gila Wilderness was now clear of storm debris, so we decided to take the opportunity to see the Black Range again, this time in sunlight.  We stopped numerous times along the way, including the tiny town of Kingston, and the only slightly larger town of Hillsboro.

We made it home in time to get some groceries, reassure that cats and guinea pigs that we were back, check the garden, and then… Well, it was Sunday night, so we hosted our weekly role-playing game.

Now I’m back behind the desk with my head full of stories.  Time to put some of them into written form.

FF: Out and About

September 29, 2017

This week I was away from home on Tuesday and writing like someone possessed to make up for being away.  This did cut into my reading time.  Still, I managed.

Ogapoge’s the Coolest Cat

For those of you just discovering this feature, 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:

The Father Hunt by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  A Nero Wolfe tale.  Choppier than usual ending but I think even Nero Wolfe would say “satisfactory.”

In Progress:

Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers.  Audiobook.

On Bowie by Rob Sheffield.  As is so often the case with books ostensibly about Bowie, this book is more about the author’s reactions to Bowie’s work than about Bowie or Bowie’s work.

Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich.  Audiobook.  Jim and I often listen to Stephanie Plum novels on road trips.  They’re light, character-oriented, and seem to go well with being in constant motion.

Also:

Archeology Magazine is keeping up with alternately annoying and impressing me, depending on the article.  Makes me wonder about the editorial staff.  A lot.

TT: One Plus One Makes More?

September 28, 2017

ALAN: A lot of people have been posting their thoughts about the recent death of Jerry Pournelle. A common theme that runs through the comments is the suggestion that he will be remembered more for his collaborations with Larry Niven than he will for the stories that he published under his own name. There’s probably some truth in that – several of the Niven/Pournelle collaborations are generally regarded as classics of the genre.

Working (on naps) Together

JANE: Certainly the two Pournelle novels I recall reading – A Mote in God’s Eye and Lucifer’s Hammer – were both collaborations with Larry Niven.  I can’t remember if I actually read Footfall, but I heard a lot about it.

ALAN: I enjoyed those – but my very favourite of their collaborations was Inferno. Such a clever, subtle and funny book.

Collaborations seem to be very common in the SF world. Without even thinking about it, I’m sure I could reel off a dozen or more famous collaborations. And if I put my thinking cap on I could probably come up with at least a dozen more.

But I’d be hard-pressed to name many collaborations in other genres or in the mainstream of literature.

I wonder how collaborations happen?

JANE: We must shop in different bookstores.  Where I shop, increasingly, the shelves are full of “collaborations.”  Many of these are what I have heard called “junior/senior” pairings, which in some cases seems to be a polite way of saying “Big Name Writer” and “who the heck is that…”

ALAN: Or perhaps “who the hack is that…”?

JANE: Ouch!  That’s what’s so sad about these pairings.  Often the “junior” writer is viewed as just that – an opportunistic hack.  I’ve talked with several novelists, however, who have taken on such jobs in the hope of opening doors that will enable them to see their own beloved works published.

ALAN: To that extent such exercises are probably a good thing – anything that opens previously closed publishing doors has to be taken seriously. But nevertheless I remain dubious about both the morality of it and the quality of the work. I certainly don’t regard these as being collaborations in the true sense of the word.

JANE: I know what you mean.  My nephew enjoys both Tom Clancy’s and Clive Cussler’s works, but I’ve given up on buying them for him because so many are these sort of pairings.

ALAN: Ah yes – those… I don’t really consider those as collaborations at all. Clancy actually died in 2013, so clearly his contribution to the books that are still being published under his name has been minimal. So-called collaborations like these are really just cynical marketing exercises designed to keep famous names on the book covers so as to (hopefully) increase sales.

I think the only real collaborations are those where all the writers named on the cover have had a significant input to the story being told.

JANE: I agree.  When an author or an author’s estate starts franchising a well-known name, then any sense of collaboration vanishes.  I’ll avoid naming some obvious examples because I don’t know the circumstances firsthand and don’t want to risk maligning someone…

But there are many authors who appear as “senior” author on books that I suspect they’ve never even looked at.

ALAN: I’m absolutely certain of it. And the phenomenon is not a new one; it’s just that these days the publishers are rather more blatant about it than once they were. It used to be that the junior author got no credit at all, even though they’d done most, if not all, of the work!

A good example would be the Saint novels. They were all published with Leslie Charteris named on the cover as the only author. Nevertheless many of the novels were ghostwritten with little or no input from Charteris himself. Vendetta For the Saint (1964) was actually written by the SF author Harry Harrison, though his name appears nowhere in the credits. Harrison told me that Charteris just left him alone to write the story – though presumably Charteris did approve the final version since he was putting his own name on it!

JANE: I had no idea!

ALAN: Proper collaborations, such as the Niven/Pournelle books, are a completely different kettle of fish. In an interview published in Fantastic Reviews in 2009, Niven says that he and Pournelle would talk the story out between themselves until they knew it by heart. In that sort of circumstance it really doesn’t matter whose fingers actually hit the keyboard, the story belongs equally to both of them.

JANE: I agree.  I also think that the best collaborations are those where each author has something special to bring to the project.  My first collaboration with Roger Zelazny was like that.  He’d been asked to come up with a story for a computer game, but he knew nothing about either computers or gaming.

However, he was always intrigued by a new challenge.  He said he’d take the job if I could come on board as his collaborator (because I was a gamer, and somewhat familiar with computer games), and so Chronomaster was begun.  Sadly, Roger was gone before it came out.  He never would have agreed to what the publisher did – putting his name big and mine small – because we worked the story out together.

ALAN: The game itself is still available for download from obscure corners of the internet, though you will need some kind of MS-DOS emulator if you want to play it – it won’t run on modern computers.

There’s lots more to say about collaborations, both proper and improper. Perhaps we can continue the discussion next time…

JANE: I’d like that!

 

Daily Focus

September 27, 2017

Last week I didn’t end up needing to go back for juror selection, so that particular adventure is over.  This week’s adventure will start on Friday, when I head off to Silver City, New Mexico, to be one of the speakers at their biennial Southwest Festival of the Written Word.

Getting To Work

You can learn more about the Festival here.

I’ve never been to Silver City, and am really looking forward to seeing a new part of New Mexico.  It’s supposed to be a lovely part of the state, and autumn is one of the nicest times of the year for a long drive.   I’m also looking forward to talking about writing SF/F, and participating in an author’s roundtable.

Earlier this week, I went to Santa Fe to meet with Emily Mah Tippets, so we could consult about a bunch of on-going projects, many of which are going to get some of my stories into the hands of the people who want to read them, rather than them remaining in my office because I’m busy playing with the new idea that bounced into my head.

The reality is that, as much as big events like jury duty and book festivals provide topics to Wander on about, the real focus of my daily life is writing.  Last week, I wrote the final segment of a novel I started – more or less by accident – back in early April.  Actually, by the time I write the one scene I skipped and fill in a bunch of world-building elements, the project is probably going to turn into two novels.

So…  How could I have just skipped a scene?  And how could I write a novel (or two) without doing the world-building in advance?

Let’s talk about the scene first.  The short answer is that, while I knew what the end result of this scene had to be, I also knew the scene was important in and of itself.  The great mystery was that I didn’t know why the scene was important.  Rather than struggling miserably to just end up writing a lot of filler that I would end up rewriting later, I skipped ahead.

By the time I figured out why that missing scene was crucial, the book was surging ahead with plot complications galore that demanded my careful handling.  Rather than risk losing momentum (which is the same as being immersed in the story, which I love), I left that scene unwritten.  However, now that the story has a beginning, middle, and end, I can go back and write that scene.

As for world-building…  Well, sometimes I enjoy planning in advance, but sometimes I enjoy exploring the world along with my characters.  That’s what happened in this case.   As I discovered key elements of language, forms of clothing, magical arts, and the like, larger patterns that in turn shed light on the world and its cultures also appeared.  Rather than going back and putting these in, I created a second file in which I would periodically stop and write myself notes about things I needed to include later.

None of this material is filler.  For example, characters do need names but, unless the story is built around a name (such as The Importance of Being Earnest), I can quite easily be content with referring to even a major character as ABC or DEF.

The same is true of physical descriptions.  Again, unless what a character looks like is crucial to how the story is developing, the question of whether he is a golden-haired youth with deep violet eyes or she is a buxom maiden with dark-green locks and a distracting dimple can wait until later.

As interested as I am, delving into much of this material is going to need to wait.  I’ve promised myself that I’ll get several other new – and in their own way equally fascinating – projects moving along – which was one reason that I took a whole day away from writing to go off to Santa Fe and meet with Emily.

Now, however, I have nearly three days before I hit the road again.  You can be sure that some or all of those days will be occupied with writing that missing scene!

FF: Who Might Call?

September 22, 2017

With the possibility of further jury duty looming, I’ve been keeping my fingers on the keyboard, so it’s been audiobooks to the rescue.

Persephone Steals a Bit of Time

For those of you just discovering this feature, 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:

Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett.  Does anyone know if Pratchett ever followed up on the hints that Susan and Lobsang might become an item?  I wonder what sort of kid Time and Death might have?

Before Midnight by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  A Nero Wolfe tale.

The Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  A Nero Wolfe tale.  The title refers to the very last scene in the book.  Very dry humor.

In Progress:

The Father Hunt by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  A Nero Wolfe tale.  When I’m stressed, there is nothing like a classic mystery novel.

Also:

A fair amount of short fiction, as well as a quick skim through Wolf’s Head, Wolf’s Heart by a certain Jane Lindskold.  I look forward to having the time to read this one again more slowly.