FF: Deceptive

March 22, 2019

Ogapoge Wonders What the Moon Would Taste Like

This week’s Friday Fragments are quite deceptive because they’re not going to reflect all the reading I’m doing to prepare myself to responsibly vote for this year’s Nebula Awards.   So, while it looks as if I’m reading very little, I’m actually reading quite a lot!

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:

Thud by Terry Pratchett.  Re-read.  I had forgotten just how brilliant this one is.

In Progress:

Our Oriental Heritage: The Story of Civilization by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  Continuing in China.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill.  Recommended by a Friday Fragments reader!  Just started.

Also:

Before bed, I’ve been re-reading one of my favorite manga because Jim is finally reading it, and this refreshes my memory so I can discuss it with him.

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Why I Wrote a Firekeeper Short Story

March 20, 2019

Rosemary Thriving And In Bloom

I really wanted to call this Wandering” When A Weed Can Be A Flower,” but I figured most of you wouldn’t read beyond the title, because you’d think I was talking about gardening esoterica.  Oddly enough, I am, but I’m also talking about writing.

As many of you know,  I’m currently immersed in writing a new Firekeeper novel.  If you don’t, you can get more details here.  Without spoilers, I can’t really go into details, so suffice to say that I reached a place where I realized that a certain plot point actually contained its own story.  However, inserting that story in the novel would make the novel drag.

This didn’t mean that this was a bad story.  It just didn’t belong in the novel.  Since I needed to work out the details anyhow, I decided to do so by writing a short story.

So, what the heck does this have to do with weeds and flowers?  Well, as the gardeners among us already know, sometimes the only difference between a weed and a flower is where it is growing.   In Jim’s and my yard, we let certain wild plants, such as globe mallow, grow to fill in the less rigorously cultivated parts of our yard.  There are lots of benefits to this.  The mallow thrives without needing any watering.  Even better, the pretty little salmon-colored flowers attract bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies.

Nonetheless, there are parts of the yard where the mallow is unwelcome.   Just the other day, I rooted out some mallow that was choking a couple of the rosemary plants we have growing along our east wall.  In this case, the mallow was definitely classified as a weed.

Even domestic plants can become weeds if they grow in the wrong place.  We’re very fond of a perennial called chocolate flower.  It uses little water, has lots of yellow flowers, and smells of bittersweet chocolate.  The finches and sparrows like to eat the seeds, which means they spread them around our yard.  This year, we’ll be uprooting some volunteer chocolate flower plants to transplant them elsewhere in the yard.

That’s what I did with the material that became the Firekeeper short story.  Rather than slowing a fast-moving novel with an eight thousand word flashback, I transplanted it into its own story.  “A Question of Truth” has its own plot, conflict, and characters, all of which are shown off to much better effect by not being buried within the novel.

I’ll let you know when the story is available.  It will provide you with a chance to see some of what Firekeeper and Blind Seer have been up to since they ran off into the sunset at the end of Wolf’s Blood.

FF: A Little Less

March 15, 2019

Kel Fell Over and Went Thud

Life was a little less fraught this week, so I did a lot of writing.  But I did read, too, and it was good for the soul.

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:

Snuff by Terry Pratchett.  Re-read.  I think I read this when it came out, and haven’t since, so it’s almost like a “new” book.  Sam Vimes may be my favorite Discworld character.

In Progress:

Thud by Terry Pratchett.  Re-read.  I had forgotten just how brilliant this one is.

Our Oriental Heritage: The Story of Civilization by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  Now into China.

Also:

I’m plowing through the Nebula nominated works.  Yeah.  Some people do vote for friends or for a cause, but some of us actually read the works and try to vote with the works only in mind.

I won’t necessarily list all of this reading because if something doesn’t grab me, I won’t finish it.

Here Be (Another) Dragon

March 13, 2019

Lurking On My Floor

I found another dragon.  This one is on the same floor tile as the one featured back in August.

(Wondering why I started drawing on my floor? Here you are…)

Last week was intensely stressful, so I didn’t get nearly as much writing done as I would have liked.  Even a story I thought I knew where it was going refused to take shape beyond the first few pages   This means that, rather than taking the weekend “off,” which I do so I can recharge my creative juices, I spent much of the weekend puzzling and puzzling.

By Sunday afternoon, the writing front, at least, was looking better.  (So was the plumbing.  And maybe the bit with the screwed up prescription.)  I haven’t finished writing the piece, so I can’t say for sure.  To celebrate the joys of the amorphous becoming solid, I sat down on the floor and traced out the dragon pictured above.

He’s a bit more fierce than I thought he would be, but I Iike how different he turned out from the sibling with whom he shares not only a tile, but even some of the same grooves.

Now…  Off to see if the  story will be as cooperative!

Shadow Dragon

FF: Fraught

March 8, 2019

Kel In A Basket With Pratchett

This week has been fraught with sick pets, breaking plumbing, and enough minor mishaps to make me wonder just which imp of the perverse we have caught the attention of…  When I get a moment, I do read, but moments have been few and far between.

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:

The Truth by Terry Pratchett.  Re-read.  Enjoyed.

In Progress:

Snuff by Terry Pratchett.  Re-read.  I think I read this when it came out, and haven’t since, so it’s almost like a “new” book.  Sam Vimes may be my favorite Discworld character.

Our Oriental Heritage: The Story of Civilization by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  Now into China.

Also:

The new Smithsonian, which seems to be getting slimmer and slimmer.<

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Cedar Waxwings! Flickers!

March 6, 2019

Cedar Waxwings Outside My Office Window

Sometime this last week, my little corner of New Mexico decided that Spring just might be a good idea.  For those of you who don’t know New Mexico weather, let me clarify…  This doesn’t mean we won’t have more snow.  Since I’ve lived here in Albuquerque, we’ve had snow as late as May.

It doesn’t mean we won’t have frost.  One year, after I planted my seedlings, in early May, we had a cold enough night that all the leaves were nipped off my peppers.  Oddly enough, the stems were fine.  I babied the shorn plants along, and we ended up with a good harvest.

Spring in New Mexico is not a gentle season with drip-drip-drop little April showers.  It’s a season of violent winds, dust storms, hot days, and freezing nights.

The signs of spring are subtle, but no less exciting for that.  One of my favorites is when the migrating birds start passing through and our summer residents return.  Just this week we saw our first quail, possibly the couple who routinely use our yard as one of their foraging areas.  We also saw the flickers (a sort of woodpecker) who have been co-residents of our yard for years.

Our winter resident juncos haven’t moved on, but we’re seeing some of the early migrants coming through.  In addition to the tough gang of juvenile robins who usually move in for a few weeks to take advantage of free water and great bathing facilities, we had new visitors.

When I first saw the cedar waxwings drinking from the pond, what clued me in that these slim brown birds were not our usual house sparrows and finches wasn’t the brilliant spots of red on their wings or the fact that the tips of their tails looked as if they’d been dipped in a bucket of bright yellow paint.  It was the way they drank: dipping in their beaks, then tossing back their heads with the enthusiasm of college students doing shots.

Then I took a closer look and saw the bright splashes of color, grabbed our favorite quick-ID bird book (Birds of New Mexico by Stan Tekiela) and made an identification.

Although most of the native trees and shrubs have the good sense to wait until later to start putting out leaves, the weeds and ground covers are starting to leaf out.  Wild mustard is a pain, but I do like spectacle pod and some of the other weeds which will give us our first flowers.

The calendar indicates that several more weeks must pass before Spring officially arrives, but the promise is flying through and splashing down in my birdbath.

FF: Finding Time

March 1, 2019

Kel Asks, “What Is Truth?”

Reading is taking something of a backseat to writing.  However, since I’ve learned I write better when I am making time to read, I’m cheerfully finding 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:

Making Money by Terry Pratchett.  Re-read.  Very much enjoyed.

Tales From The Nine Worlds by Rick Riordan.  Audiobook.  Short stories set in the “Magnus Chase” world.  Amusing, but mostly lacking the emotional punch of the novels.  Each story had a different reader to go with the different POV characters, a mostly successful element.  Possibly the best element was the framing device.

In Progress:

Our Oriental Heritage: The Story of Civilization by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  We finished India with the – at the time the book was written – contemporary figure of Mahatma Gandhi.  Fascinating additional element.

The Truth by Terry Pratchett.  Re-read.  This one moves me back in the Discworld timeline from the books I have been reading, but belongs to what I think of as the “Pratchett moves the Discworld out of the Fantasy Middle Ages” arc, so sort of fits.

Also:

I’ve been writing fairly steadily, so not much additional reading.

When Training Wheels Become Hobbles

February 27, 2019

Training Wheels Off

I thought about calling this piece “When Safety Nets Become Snares.”   Both images work for different reasons.  What am I talking about?  I’m talking about the increasing reluctance on the part of some writers to throw any material away – a tendency that has been exacerbated by writers drafting on computers.

I’m not talking about those cases when an author cuts scenes or chapters from a novel on the request of an editor or publisher.  That’s a completely different issue.  I’m talking about the tendency of some writers to hoard any scene, even as small as a paragraph, that they have removed in the course of refining a story.

I’ve actually encouraged new writers to do just this when they express panic at the idea of getting rid of anything.  Over and over I’ve heard variations on: “But what if I realize later that this is a key element in the book and I’ve lost it?”

I’ll reply, “Cut it, then, and paste it into a separate file.  You can retrieve it later, then work it back in if you discover that you really need it.”

However, this useful technique can begin to bog a writer down.  I’ve heard of writers who have more deleted scenes than completed novel manuscript.  I believe that some software packages marketed to writers promote the ability to create sub-files to store deleted material as an asset.

Training wheels are valuable when you’re learning to balance your first “two wheeler.”  But the day comes when you take them off.   When you get a new bike, you don’t put the training wheels back on.  You wobble, but eventually you find your balance.  You don’t hobble yourself for all time with that extra gear.  If you did, you’d discover that those training wheels actually pull you off balance.

“Okay,” you counter, “but a new story isn’t the same a new bike.  It’s a fresh project.  A new world.  New characters.  New plot.”

I agree.  That’s why I thought about this in terms of safety nets and snares.  Even highly trained acrobats or tightrope walkers often continue to use a net.  However, there is a difference.  Acrobats pride themselves on reaching a point where they don’t need that net, whereas the writers who keep hoarding material are, in a sense, falling and falling again, holding on to each fall, even after they’ve advanced the plot or character or setting beyond that point.

My feeling is that if a scene or a character or a setting are really, really crucial to the story, it’s possible to recreate what was deleted.  I’ve talked to many writers who spend time searching for that deleted scene only to discover that what they saved isn’t as wonderful as they remembered, that they end up rewriting it anyhow.

After mulling over this, I think the difference between training wheels and hobbles comes down to fears and phobias.  A deleted scenes file can be a great way to provide writers with a safety net as they learn how to thin, refine, and otherwise improve their work.  However, if a writer doesn’t gain perspective on what is effective, what isn’t, and keeps storing up material, then all that’s happened is that the ability to hoard deleted scenes becomes a hobble that keeps the writer from learning how to balance – that is, how to write without training wheels.

FF: Collaborative Reading

February 21, 2019

Persephone Makes Money Under the Table

This week I read the entirety of the first issue of DreamForge Magazine.  Now Jim is reading it, and we’re having a lot of fun discussing the stories.  I think of this as collaborative reading or at least a reading group of two.  I also very much enjoy seeing comments on what you’re reading.  Often it influences what I start looking for to read next.

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:

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett.  Before bed.  This is one I enjoyed much more on a second reading than I did on a first!

In Progress:

Making Money by Terry Pratchett.  Re-read.  Before bed.

Our Oriental Heritage: The Story of Civilization by Will Durant.  Audio.  We’re now to music and art in India.  This book was written in the mid-1930’s, before George Harrison of the Beatles made sure everyone knew what a sitar sounded like.

Also:

Reading a combination of short fiction from various sources and almost, almost catching up on my magazines!

Metamorphic Power

February 20, 2019

Transformation Moments?

What do my second grade teacher and DreamForge magazine have in common?  They both believe that there is power contained in stories.

Last week, I told you about Sister Stephanie, my first grade teacher.  My second grade teacher had just as great an impact, although it took a completely different form.  Physically, Miss Eileen O’Donnell was not at all like Sister Stephanie.  My long-ago memory recalls her as young and slim, with short, curling, brownish-black hair.  Compared to Sister Stephanie, Miss O’Donnell seemed very, very tall.

We first graders were already familiar with Miss O’Donnell because the first and second grade classrooms were next to each other and – I seem to recall – shared a connecting door.  That meant if Sister Stephanie had to step away for a moment, Miss O’Donnell would be the one who supervised us.  I don’t ever recall her having trouble, so her youth was no barrier to her being an authority figure.

Moving over into the Second Grade room seemed to me like a step on the road to adulthood.  Miss O’Donnell was very serious about reading, basic math, and any number of other subjects.  But it was in a subject that wasn’t even part of the curriculum where she had her greatest impact on me.

Although I’d only learned to read the year before, I rapidly read above my grade.  Miss O’Donnell made no effort to hold me back, even though I was less than perfect in spelling and phonics.  When I started outdistancing my classmates, she arranged for me to join an advanced reading group with the third graders.  This arrangement was probably made easier because her sister taught the third grade.  Once a day, I would walk downstairs to join Miss Patricia O’Donnell (who we referred to as Miss O’Donnell Third Grade)  and her advanced readers for exciting ventures into books with chapters.

But although this arrangement saved me from boredom, this wasn’t where Miss O’Donnell Second Grade had her biggest impact.  That, as with Sister Stephanie, took the shape of an unexpected gift: in this case a small burnt-orange hardcover book about ancient history.  It was a comfortable size for me to hold but, unlike most of the books for children my age, it had much more print than pictures.  I remember wondering if I could even read something so grown-up looking.  However, I was lured in both by Miss O’Donnell’s matter-of-fact confidence that I could and by the illustrations.

These were lush full-color paintings, not the simple line drawings or cartoons common in children’s books.   I don’t remember all the places and people that were featured in that book, but I do know that one of my favorites was the story of how the youth who would become Alexander the Great tamed his horse, Bucephalus.  Do you know the story?  The short version is that Alexander had the sense to notice that the horse no one could ride was afraid of his own shadow.  Alexander turned the horse toward the sun, so he could no longer see his shadow.  Then, shedding his own fluttering cloak, Alexander mounted and was able to ride the un-rideable steed.  The two were inseparable from that day forth.

At a time when horses in stories (and reality, for all I know) were still routinely “broken,” and relationships between animals and humans in the “real world” were characterized by domination, not understanding, this tale about trying to understand the “other” made a huge impact on me.

I think I also read about ancient Egypt for the first time in that book as well, so Miss O’Donnell is partly responsible for my novel The Buried Pyramid.  Most importantly, the little burnt-orange book taught me that history was about Story, not about dates and capital cities and the dry, abstract facts that so many classes focus on, probably to make testing easier.

Remembering how much that little burnt-orange book did for me is one of the reasons I signed on to be part of the team that’s putting together DreamForge: Tales of Hope in the Universe.  Stories – fiction and non-fiction – have the power to change the individual.  The individual has the power to change the world, maybe not always on a grand scale, but maybe, sometimes, just one book, one story, at a time.

Thank you, Miss O’Donnell Second Grade and Third Grade both!