FF: Decided

November 15, 2019

Mei-Ling Pounces Grimjack

Last week I mentioned that I was considering re-reading something.  I decided to see what I thought of Grimjack, a comic book that Roger Zelazny introduced me to over two decades ago.  Roger liked Grimjack so much that he gave the eponymous protagonist a cameo in one of the later Amber novels.

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:

My second read-through of Wolf’s Soul.  I hope to finish making corrections  by today.

In Progress:

Grimjack created by John Ostrander and Tim Truman. Comic books.  Early in the series, this reads very much a short story collection.  There have been a couple of hints about how a character named Dancer (a sort of Spartucus-like figure) may be playing a behind the scenes role.  Grimjack is definitely an anti-hero, but one who tries to be more “hero” than “anti.”

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire.  Audiobook.  About a third in.  I hope to have time to listen to more this weekend.

The Complete and Original Norwegian Folktales of Asbojornsen & Moe, translated by Tiina Nunnally.  I’m reading a few of these before bed each night.  They can make for some very odd dreams!

Also:

Various articles, especially in the latest Smithsonian and Archeology.

As Green Leaves Fall

November 13, 2019

Autumn Has Arrived!

Although the ash tree in our front yard changes color, one of the weirdest things about autumn in New Mexico is how many trees shed green leaves.  Imprinting as I did on autumns where leaves turned red or yellow, sometimes brown, then dropped off the trees, walking through my yard and scuffing my feet through green leaves still feels subtly wrong, even after more years in New Mexico than I lived in D.C.

Many of the leaves that stay green are from trees that are not native.  Mulberries, in particular, tend to drop massive quantities of dark green leaves, often within a few hours.  Native plants, by contrast, tend to go brown, then quietly lose leaves a few at a time.

At this moment, we’re pretty much done with our garden.  We have a few determined radishes, which we’ve framed with bricks to help retain some daytime heat in the hope that they’ll continue to grow.  Otherwise, it’s clean-up time.  This was a great year for wild asters.  By the end of summer, it was hard to walk in the yard without pushing them aside.  Many of the plants grew over five feet tall.

Jim’s been pulling them, and after making several shirts unwearable because of the amount of aster seeds that stuck to the fabric, he’s decided to dedicate one shirt to this job.  He’s also dug our first compost trench, and a lot of these plants will go in there to become the basis for next year’s soil.

Hmmm… This reminds me…  Now that we’ve had frost, we really need to dig the Jerusalem artichoke tubers.  We store these in a bucket of loose dirt.  Over the next couple of months, we’ll add them raw to salads, or toss them in to bake with chicken.  Raw, they have a texture a lot like water chestnuts; cooked, the texture is more like a cooked carrot.

As our surroundings shift from summer into autumn, with a few days that distinctly feel like winter, I’m shifting from writing to editing, with some forays into research and development.  Wolf’s Soul has now been read through by me twice (once on my computer, once printed out and marked with a red pencil).  I’m currently making hundreds, quite possibly thousands, of small changes.  Then Jim get his reading copy.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the next Stephanie Harrington novel.  (For those of you who missed the news, David Weber and I have signed contracts to write three more.)  Weber and I have worked out the main plot element.  Much of my creative process right now involves working slowly backwards, creating story elements, especially about characters, that will help make the story “real” to me.

It’s fun.  Demanding, but the sort of challenge I really like.  I see a trip to the library in my immediate future…  But first, more manuscript grooming.  Catch you later!

FF: Immersion

November 8, 2019

Kel Makes a Reverse Q next to Quillifer

One reason the reading list below is so short is that I’ve been immersed in my second read-through of Wolf’s Soul.  This doesn’t leave much reading attention for anything else!

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.

Do any of you do holiday-specific reading?

Recently Completed:

Quillifer The Knight by Walter Jon Williams.  I know the author, so I scored an ARC!  The writing style is reminiscent Rafael Sabatini or Alexander Dumas, so be prepared for descriptive embroidery, as well as swashbuckling adventure.  This novel is now officially available!

In Progress:

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire.  Audiobook.

The Complete and Original Norwegian Folktales of Asbojornsen & Moe, translated by Tiina Nunnally.  I’m reading a few of these before bed each night.  They can make for some very odd dreams!

Also:

I haven’t quite figured out what my next “fun” read is going to be.  I’m seriously considering a re-read of something I love. I’ll let you know next week!

When Ears Inspire

November 6, 2019

Colorful Costume

Ever since our friends Rowan Derrick and Melissa Jackson invited us to a theme Halloween party, Jim and I mused over what we should do for costumes.  The party’s theme was “post-Apocalypse,” riffing off Rowan’s long-time fondness for the “Fallout” series of computer games, as well as that she had some great decorating ideas.

Now, post-Apocalypse has never been one of my favorite settings.  Who knows?  Maybe I imbibed anxiety about nuclear war with my mother’s milk.  (I was born about a month before the Cuban missile crisis.)  I grew to adulthood under the shadow of the Cold War.  To this day, I remember college discussions in which many of my contemporaries stated that we’d see a nuclear missile attack before we graduated.  Certainly an awareness that for most of my life I lived in a “ground zero” location hasn’t helped.  (Yep.  I still do.)

However, there’s one book set in a post-Apocalyptic setting I really love: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.  It is not hopelessly grim, but lacks Mad Max romanticizing of how much fun it would be to all wear fur and ride motorcycles.  Maybe why this novel resonates with me is that it offers hope for a devastated future seeded by a medium I really understand and believe in: Books.

So, for a while Jim and I thought we might go as “bookleggers,” but a lack of affordable monks’ robes proved a stumbling block.  If we didn’t have robes, then we’d need to keep explaining what we were.  After all, like bootleggers, bookleggers tend to dress much like everyone else, because that’s the best way to avoid detection.

 Eventually, we settled on going as mutants.  In the third section of A Canticle for Leibowitz these “Children of the Fallout” have a very interesting role.

When we went to look for costume items, my creative conception took a swerve when I found myself irresistibly attracted to a set of brightly-colored cheetah ears with matching tail.  While Jim got a set of very nice wolf’s ears and tail, then accessorized so that he was transformed into a very swashbuckling mutant wolf-warrior, I wandered over to the bright side.  If you’ve read A Canticle for Leibowitz this isn’t completely out of line, although I admit, my interpretation was a bit unique…

I wish the photo showed my hair better, since it steaked in five very bright shades!

(In case you wonder, I already had the yukata and obi.)

Writers are always asked: “Where do you get your ideas?”  Well, in the course of this particular creative journey, I found myself musing over an idea for a short story.  If I write it, I guess my answer will need to be “A Canticle for Leibowitz and a set of cheetah ears in all the colors of the rainbow.”

FF: Knights, Alchemists, and Trolls

November 1, 2019

Clever Rogue Meets Clever Rogue

After reading well over half of The Complete and Original Norwegian Folktales of Asbojornsen & Moe, I have found myself wondering just how many family pets were beheaded by children who believed that this would release the prince/princess trapped within by evil trolls…

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.

I’m enjoying hearing what you folks are reading, too!

Recently Completed:

Sourdough by Robin Sloan.  Audiobook.  Enjoyable.

In Progress:

Quillifer The Knight by Walter Jon Williams.  I know the author, so I scored an ARC!  The writing style is reminiscent Rafael Sabatini or Alexander Dumas, so be prepared for descriptive embroidery as well as swashbuckling adventure.  This novel is a November release!

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire.  Audiobook.  Just started.

The Complete and Original Norwegian Folktales of Asbojornsen & Moe, translated by Tiina Nunnally.  I’m reading a few of these before bed each night.  They can make for some very odd dreams!

Also:

Finished my first read-through of Wolf’s Soul.  Overall, I’m feeling happy with it, but I’m too close to it.  I’ll take a few days away from it to clear my head before going through it again.

The Ritual of Not

October 30, 2019

Ritual Objects

I’m currently deeply immersed in my first full read-through of Wolf’s Soul, aka, Firekeeper Saga 8, aka, the sequel to this July’s release, Wolf’s Search.

As such, I do not have many lively tales to tell, so I tossed out a request for suggestions as to this week’s WW.  Almost immediately, I received two, which I will hereby intertwine with each other.

One, from writer and poet Mab Morris, asked me to talk about some of the difficulties involved in self-editing.  The other, from artist (and sometime writer) Elizabeth Leggett, asked me if I had any autumn writing rituals.

I don’t really have any seasonal rituals—except for coffee and chocolate.  Since coffee and chocolate have been a part of my writing routine since the writing wasn’t even fiction writing, I’m not sure if that counts as seasonal.  Let me take you spinning back in time…

It’s the mid-1980’s, when I was a full-time graduate student at Fordham University.  My first two years I held the Henry Luce Foundation Fellowship, which made me a research assistant, and sometimes teaching assistant, to John Dzieglewicz, S.J. My second two years, however, my scholarship involved my teaching several sections of English Composition.

So, there I was, taking classes, teaching classes, grading papers, and, at the end of the run, preparing for doctoral comps and writing my dissertation.  All at once.  Really.  I had four years of scholarship, and I going to waste any of it.

I was pretty poor, too, but my budget extended to coffee.  Then, by a stroke of great good luck, in a discount store I stumbled on a failed attempt to release some sort of dark Swiss chocolate in fat little bricks.  I have no idea why the release failed.  The chocolate was good: dense and heady.  I bought all I could lay my hands on and used it to fuel me as I charged through my demanding schedule.

Overall, I try to avoid getting trapped by writing rituals, because I’ve seen too many writers unable to function without their private gimmicks.  I’ll admit, though, I’ve kept this particular energy-booster, little reward, right up until the present day.  These days, dark chocolate-covered almonds, just a few, along with a mug of black coffee both start my day, and provide my mid-afternoon pick-me-up.  I can write without these, but I’ll admit, I look forward to them, especially at times like now when I’m self-editing.

The biggest difficulty in self-editing is staying sharp.  After all, I know what I meant to write.  The problem then is making sure I’m seeing what’s written on the page, rather than what I thought I wrote.  Making matters more complicated, I don’t do writer’s groups, so there’s no one but me to look at the work-in-progress.  I want to give Jim—my ever-patient first reader—as clean a manuscript as possible, so he can focus on the story, not on the typos.

I’m serious about that.  Ideally, a beta-reader should be able to focus on the story, not on proofreading.  The brain really does have different modes for editing and, for getting lost in a story.  Too many errors, and I lose Jim’s very valuable feedback as to content.  Sure, it’s nice to have him catch typos and all, but I’d much rather learn if the story is enthralling and captivating.

In order to stay sharp, I break my proofing sections into multiple little “bites,” rather than long marathons.  I do my first read-through on the computer screen, my next on a printed copy.  I seem to see the words differently in each form.

Maybe this two-stage proofing constitutes another ritual?  Or is it a ritual when it’s practical?

On that note, I’ll close. If you posted another suggestion for a WW, I’ll keep it in mind for the future.  If you didn’t, but you have a suggestion, please feel free to make it in the Comments.  Even if I can’t come up with an answer right away, I keep a list of suggestions for WW.

Now, off for one more nibble on the manuscript before I call it a day!

FF: Time To Read

October 25, 2019

Mel-Ling: Six Months Old And Growing

One thing I really like about road trips is having more time to read.  Jim and I drove up and back from MileHiCon, so we listened to a couple of audiobooks.   (We finished the last one after we were home.)  I also found a new-to-me Diana Wynne Jones book in the Dealer’s Room and read that…

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.

I’m enjoying hearing what you folks are reading, too!

Recently Completed:

Hardcore Twenty-Four by Janet Evanovich.  Audiobook.  Zombies in New Jersey?  Diesel on the scene, so you know it’s going to get weird.  I enjoyed the first three-quarters of this one, but the ending had some logistical/descriptive issues that really bothered me.

Look Alive Twenty-Five by Janet Evanovich.  Audiobook.  A solid novel, if sometimes very silly.  Not a complaint.  “Silly” is a crucial part of the series.  Good characterization and a lot less reliance on series tropes as filler than in the previous one.  One continuity issue from the prior book.  I’m beginning to wonder if this series is being written by at least two people.

The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones.  I’d not been able to find a copy of this one before this trip.  It’s more plot driven than many of her novels, and anticipates what has become a sub-genre in modern SF/F: the game as frame.  Bittersweet but satisfying ending.

In Progress:

Sourdough by Robin Sloan.  Audiobook.  Another slow story, very introspective, but I’m enjoying the internal journey of Lois.

Quillifer The Knight by Walter Jon Williams.  I know the author, so I scored an ARC!  The writing style is reminiscent Rafael Sabatini or Alexander Dumas, so be prepared for descriptive embroidery as well as swashbuckling adventure.

The Complete and Original Norwegian Folktales of Asbojornsen & Moe, translated by Tiina Nunnally.  I’m reading a few of these before bed each night.  They can make for some very odd dreams!

Also:

The first round of holiday shopping catalogs are coming in.  As ever, I enjoy looking at all the things our modern world holds.

I Said It All

October 23, 2019

Fred Poutre, Me, and Michael Kilman Discuss Mythology

I said it all this weekend at MileHiCon 51.  Seriously.  So right now I’m really stretched for things to say.

On Friday the topic was Urban Fantasy, what it was, what it is, what it might become.  I read from my Asphodel, part of the scene with the creepy cherubs and the cathedral.  Fun.

Later, much chatter with friends old and new.  Went to bed still vibrating from all the talk.

On Saturday, we started with the KaffeeKlatch, because why not?  Before I’d finished my coffee and bagel, I’d discussed art, representation, and the distinct possibility that maybe, just maybe, Milton’s daughters might have played an active role in the composition of Paradise Lost.

After a lovely panel (see photo) discussing “Building New Gods: Mythologies in SF&F,” I ended up talking for an hour with a Jesuit brother about how mythologies are developed.  I was so very glad I’d recently re-read Will Durant’s Caesar and Christ, since that meant I had my data points fresh.

Then I went off to a fun panel on how hobby activities can feed your creativity.  Carrie Vaughn was there costumed as the angel Aziraphale from Good Omens, and I did kumihimo with beads live.  Our other panelists were a costumer, and a nurse who kept insisting she didn’t do hobbies, but kept giving examples that proved her wrong!

Somewhere in there, we met the local chapter of the Royal Manticoran Navy (sometimes known as the David Weber fan club), and were made very welcome indeed.

Later still there was the mass book signing.  (I’d also done a signing Friday night).  That evening we had dinner with one of the author GOH’s, Marie Brennan.  After dinner, we sat up with Marie, discussing gaming and other things, as one does at these events.

Sunday we KaffeeKlatched again, during which we had the chance to meet and chat with the other author GOH, Angela Roquet.

After coffee, we let ourselves go watch some panels.  The thing about a good panel is that afterwards you want to talk about the new ideas.  Happily, we found several interesting folks with whom we could chat, including New Mexico friends David Lee Summers and Elizabeth Leggett.  One minor regret is we couldn’t be in two places at once, because I would have liked to sample the re-boot of the Fruits Basket anime.

Mid-afternoon I gave a talk on finishing Roger Zelazny’s two unfinished novels: Donnerjack and Lord Demon.  The audience wasn’t very large, but it was wonderful.

Later still, we went out to dinner with David Boop, editor of Straight Out of Deadwood, in which I have a short story, “Doth Make Thee Mad.”  If you’re short of ideas for your themed Halloween party, I would like to recommend “Weird West.”  You can get ideas for costumes from the stories…

Eh…  This really isn’t doing justice to the weekend.  Busy.  Lively.  Chatty.  Framed on either side with long drives through mountains and plains.  We saw antelopes, hawks, a bald eagle, and a squirrel who reminded us of our kitten, Mei-Ling.  Something about how it ran with its tail straight up in the air.

And here I am.  Still beat, because I probably talked to more people in three days than I usually do in a month.  Feeling happy, because I didn’t meet a single person who was even mildly annoying.  Happy, too, because when my head stops spinning, I’ll be back to Wolf’s Soul and immersed in my writing, which is one of my favorite places to be.

More Weirdness Than You Can Imagine!

FF: Food, Scripture, and Inspiration

October 18, 2019

Persephone Reaches Out

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.

I’m enjoying hearing what you folks are reading, too!

Recently Completed:

Mister Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.  Audiobook.  Slow build based around a puzzle reminds me quite a bit of Ready Player One.  A lot fewer fight scenes, less Eighties trivia, replaced by computer trivia.

Kebra Nagast edited by Gerry Hausman.  Interesting balance of anecdote and Rastafarian scripture.

Jerk From Jamaica: Barbecue Caribbean Style by Helen Willinsky.  Food and how it is prepared is a terrific window into a culture.  Helen Willinsky’s introduction alone would make this book a great find, but each section, sometimes each recipe, has a little write up that makes this a gem.  When winter comes, I want to try some of the recipes.

In Progress:

Sourdough by Robin Sloan.  Audiobook.  Another slow story, very introspective, but I’m enjoying the internal journey of Lois.

The Complete and Original Norwegian Folktales of Asbojornsen & Moe, translated by Tiina Nunnally.  I’ve read many of these stories in the older translation, but Tiina Nunnally’s translation removes the British interpolations and provides a greater sense of the Norwegian roots.  The various introductions include a lively foreword by Neil Gaiman, as well as the original introductions to various editions by Asbojornsen and Moe.  The latter provide a lovely perspective on the evolution of the text.

Also:

I’m not a great fan of post-apocalyptic fiction or film.  One exception is A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.  When we were invited to a post-apocalyptic themed Halloween party, I pulled out this favorite, re-read parts, and have resolved to attend as a booklegger—complete with a chest of books to share.

Beauty In Different Interpretations

October 16, 2019

Elizabeth Leggett, Emily Mah Tippetts, and Lauren Teffeau view Death

Theme can be a strangling cord or an inspiration.  Last weekend, Jim and I went to a gallery showing that demonstrated how a shared theme can inspire extraordinary leaps in creativity.

The show in question was Readings: A Celebration of Speculative Fiction Through the Lens of Tarot Art at Keep Contemporary Gallery in Santa Fe.

The show was curated by our friend, the Hugo Award-winning artist, Elizabeth Leggett.  In addition to her work, the show featured that of Lee Moyer, Sienna Luna, and Reiko Murakami Rice.

What we saw as soon as we came through the door was that, without any prior consultation, each artist had chosen a different way to interpret the theme.

Elizabeth Leggett has long drawn inspiration from the rich visual images in the prose of Ray Bradbury.  She chose to create twenty-two amazing paintings, each inspired by a different Bradbury story.  To help the viewer share her creative process, she provided a print portfolio with details on which card in the Tarot deck was depicted, a quotation from the story, and a short note about why she chose that particular image.

Lee Moyer was the only artist to make his contributions look specifically like playing cards.  The highly complex border design was silkscreened, but he added individual details to each border, including highly-individualized icons for each piece.  Mr. Moyer’s connection to the SF/F theme was to feature different writers as the figures on his cards.  Each was accompanied by a wonderfully eclectic selection of images related to their work.  We lucked out, and Mr. Moyer was available to provide a guided tour through his pieces, which definitely enriched the experience.

Rowan Derrick, Me, and Cale Mims with some of Lee Moyer’s Art

The other two artists provided only a handful of pictures, but these individual gems increased the overall glitter and shine of the exhibition.  The media and styles were very different from either Elizabeth Leggett’s or Lee Moyer’s work.

Looking at this show made me think about how theme anthologies have long been a staple of the Science Fiction and Fantasy field.  I’ve contributed to at least fifty.  In my opinion, those anthologies that have worked best have been those where the theme is vivid enough to provide inspiration, not just a unifying element, while at the same time not being so limited that the stories begin to seem more similar than they actually are.

One of the weird things about the human brain is that it draws connections where none actually exist.  This leads to superstitions like “deaths come in threes” or believing you’ll have bad luck after you break a mirror.   After a traumatic event, connections are manufactured in an attempt to force order on a chaos—maybe as a sort of perverse reassurance that the bad luck will end.

At their best, theme anthologies stimulate a writer to try and find a different twist on the theme.  At their worst, the reader begins to anticipate how each story will develop, based upon repeated tropes.

Many years ago, I heard a prominent magazine editor lament that he wasn’t getting more submissions from the same authors who he saw contributing to theme anthologies: “After all, they can write about anything for me!”  But what he was missing was that he, too, had a theme, and one that was much harder for a writer to be inspired by: the tenuous, tentative theme of “What the editor envisions the magazine to be.”

So, overall, I think I’m in favor of themes.  Perhaps the best themes are those that—like that for Readings—encourage individual interpretations, but avoid the marching in step that can happen with repeated tropes.