TT: Alan Robson, Reviewer

August 25, 2016

JANE: As I mentioned a few weeks ago, you’re also a book reviewer.  In fact, although I met you during a trip to New Zealand in 1995, in a very real sense, I got to know you through your “wot I red” columns.

How did you become a reviewer?

Cute Penguin with Socks

Cute Penguin with Socks

ALAN: Now thereby hangs a tale. Way back when I lived in England, in the early 1970s, I started a science fiction group because I thought it might be a good way to meet girls. It turned out to be a surprisingly successful ploy. But that’s another story…

JANE: Girls.  SF.  Meeting thereof…  Sounds like something the characters in Jo Walton’s Among Others might think was a good idea.  Go on.

ALAN: The group published a fanzine, because that’s what such groups do. I wrote to all the British publishers, announcing the publication and suggesting that if they sent me books, I could publish reviews of them in the ‘zine. Again, this proved to be a surprisingly successful ploy, and free books poured in. What could be better than that?

So I started writing reviews, and so did my friends. There were far too many books for one person to cope with (and, frankly, far too many of them were rubbish – it was very depressing).

Eventually the fanzine ceased publication because producing it was far too much work. Ceasing to publish a fanzine is also something that SF groups traditionally do.  But I did the right thing and I wrote to the publishers informing them that the ‘zine would no longer be appearing. However, it made no difference whatsoever. The publishers ignored my letters and the books kept piling up.

JANE: Somehow I have no trouble believing this.  Inertia is a powerful force.

ALAN: And publishers are not renowned for the efficiency of their administrative processes…

The years passed and I suspect that gradually the publishers began to notice that the reviews were no longer appearing. The flood of books eventually died to a trickle. Only Penguin, bless their little cotton socks, didn’t appear to notice that anything had changed and every time they published or re-printed a book they sent me a copy. Their most often re-printed author was John Wyndham. They never allowed any of his books to fall out of print and by the time I left England to come to New Zealand in 1981, I think they must have sent me at least eight copies of The Day of the Triffids.

JANE: Thus the illustration for this piece, courtesy of my friend, Cale Mims.

ALAN: I sometimes wonder if the people who now live in my old house in England are still receiving parcels of books from Penguin.

JANE: Quite possibly.  See above on the power of inertia.  Actually, I can see the seed of a story in this: someone moves into the house, boxes of books arrive; he becomes an SF fan.  Wait! Maybe it’s a she and she hunts up the former owner.  They begin to correspond…

But, getting out of my weird brain, your life as a reviewer didn’t end when you left England for New Zealand.  What happened next?

ALAN: When I arrived in New Zealand, I didn’t know a single person. However, SF groups flourished in all the major cities, so it wasn’t long before I had a social life again. I wrote intermittent articles and reviews for several local fanzines and eventually these metamorphosed into a regular column which nowadays is called wot I red on my hols (early columns had various other titles as I experimented with different approaches) – the odd spelling is a little joke about how school children might spell the phrase, and of course it’s exactly the sort of dull topic that an English teacher might assign for an essay at the start of a new term.

JANE: Well, if it had been an assignment given to me, I would have been relieved.  Most of my holidays were spent reading.  Much easier if I could just get to the important stuff.

ALAN: Me too. But a huge number of my school friends had never voluntarily opened the covers of a book in their lives. Such an essay would have been utterly beyond their capabilities (though I suspect one or two could have lied very creatively…)

JANE: I’ve read (or “red”) the column – I still do, in fact.  But many of our readers probably haven’t availed themselves of the option, even though you offer it for free download here.

Can you tell a bit more about it?

ALAN: The column is a kind of a diary. It takes the form of anecdotes about what has happened to me since the last column, interspersed with reviews of the books that I’ve been reading during that time. It’s an odd structure, but it seems to work and I have my fans.

The column has been published at monthly intervals since 1994. In all that time I’ve only missed one month. There was no column for April 2005 because in March 2005 I was busy getting married and writing a column was the last thing on my mind. But apart from that, month in and month out, there has always been a wot I red column to read. That’s a lot of reviews, and I’m rather proud of the accumulated body of work.

JANE: Well, now that we’re learned how you became a reviewer, I’ve got a tough question for you.  In fact, it’s so tough and so potentially inflammatory, that I’ll save it for next time.

ALAN: Why is it that I have suddenly been overwhelmed by a terrible feeling of existential dread?

JANE: (Lots of evil cackling…)

Being Honest

August 24, 2016

This week’s Wander is going to be about…  Nothing.

This isn’t because I haven’t been doing anything.  It’s the reverse.  I’ve been doing a great deal, but most of what I’ve been doing – while completely fascinating to me, and definitely connected to writing – has not taken a form that I care to discuss.

Scribbles

Scribbles

So, I’m going to be completely honest.  I could tell you I wrote ten pages in one day.  I could tell you that those ten pages were the end result of about ten days of nearly constant brainstorming, dead ends, obsession, false starts and the like.  I could tell you that in the end, what got me over the hump was turning off the computer, taking out a heap of scrap paper and a fountain pen of dubious functionality, and scribbling until all the varied bits and pieces began to fall into shape.

Would that be of interest?

I really don’t know.  But it would be honest.

I’ve noticed a trend of writers posting on-line how many words they wrote in a given day.  I’m not sure where this came from.  Maybe it’s an outgrowth of the NaNoWriMo mentality that presents production in and of itself as meritorious.

Well, if the end result of that production is something of quality, then I firmly agree.  However, if it’s merely moving fingers across the keyboard so one can see the little number counter at the corner go up and up and up…

Let’s just say I have my doubts.

Odd thing though.  Recently, I was talking with a relatively young writer who wondered if her goal should be to write a large amount of material (say, two hundred pages) or to limit herself to a still ambitious length (fifty pages), then focus on going over it.  My advice to her was to limit the length, focus on the editing and polishing, because one learns so much in the process of making the words communicate the story that’s in your brain.

But then, just a few days later, I was talking with a friend of mine – a published writer who has completed several novel-length manuscripts, as well as numerous short stories.  She’s good.  No doubt.  But any project takes her forever because she can’t let go of a sentence until it’s just right.  Her word count in a week usually measures in the hundreds, not thousands of words.  I’m always trying to get her to let go and just write, worry about the polishing later.

And me?  It’s about how the inside of my head feels.  How the Muse is feeling.  Right now she’s saying “Go write.  Don’t worry about what or where it’s going.  Just write.  There’s something there, waiting to find its way out.”

So, folks, that’s what I’m going to do.

I’ll also be preparing for Bubonicon, New Mexico’s SF convention.  I’m on four panels and giving a reading.  I’m also helping out with the Afternoon Tea.  And, for the first time, Jim and I are putting a couple of multi-media projects in the Art Show.

But I think it’s time for the scrap paper and semi-functional fountain pen.  The Muse is calling and I shall come…

FF: TV Appearance! Convention Prep!

August 19, 2016

Here’s some breaking news. On Wednesday, August 24, at 8:00 a.m., Jessica Coyle and I will be appearing on KRQE This Morning on KASA-2.  We’ll be talking up Bubonicon, New Mexico’s absolutely wonderful Science Fiction convention.  No idea exactly when we’ll go on (we’re not the entire show), but it should be fun.  If you can get the channel, grab your coffee and join us.

Kel Wants Jane to Sit Down and Read!

Kel Wants Jane to Sit Down and Read!

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 magazine articles.

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:

Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink.  Came across this used and couldn’t resist trying again.  Possibly the oddest “castaway” book ever.

Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie.  Audiobook.  Although Dame Agatha is best-known for her murder mysteries, she liked writing thrillers, too.  This one is set at a prestigious girl’s school.

Wolf’s Blood by Jane Lindskold.  Wow!  That’s a really long book.  I will admit to enjoying it, though.

In Progress:

Andy Buckram’s Tin Men by Carol Ryrie Brink.  Who would ever have thought that the author made famous by her historical novel Caddie Woodlawn also wrote SF?  I’m reading part for fun, but also as preparation for being on a “robots” panel at Bubonicon.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab.  Audiobook.  Interesting setting.

Also:

Wolf Hunting by Jane Lindskold.  Reading a series backwards has a weird appeal.  It’s a fascinating way to see just how characters grow.

TT: Series — The Conclusion?

August 18, 2016

JANE: Welcome to Part 4 of the Jane and Alan Tangent Trilogy about series…

ALAN: That’s the trouble with trilogies. Sometimes they just grow and grow.

JANE: Yep, and then they become tetralogies.  If there’s a word for it, we must not be the only people to do this.  So, where were we?

ALAN: As I recall, you were telling me about the unexpected sequel to Changer.

Three Lindskold Series

Three Lindskold Series

JANE: Right!  When I was asked if I would like to write a sequel to Changer, I was excited, but also a bit overwhelmed because I’d never written a series before.

I asked the editor if she had any strong feelings about what made a good or bad sequels – especially in a case like this, where the first story didn’t leave a lot of loose ends.  She said that she preferred sequels that didn’t simply reintroduce the same problem all over again.  I thought she had a point, so Changer’s Daughter introduces many new situations, while expanding the reader’s exposure to the athanor’s culture and introducing new complexities.

ALAN: That was one of the things I found attractive about it. The clash of cultures between Nigerian and Western folklore and mythology was unexpected and quite fascinating.

JANE: Thank you…  I really enjoy venturing into African mythology.  It’s as rich and much more varied than the more familiar European material.

Given that the publisher actually requested the second book, I’ve always been mystified that it then did its best make certain the sequel would not find the intended audience.

First Avon refused my initial choice of title (Changer’s Daughter).  My then-editor and I went through a vast list of possible titles.  The title higher-ups eventually agreed to was one title that in no way would signal that there was continuity.  Given that up until that point in my career I had only written stand-alone novels, there was no reason that readers would think that Legends Walking had anything to do with Changer.

Legends Walking was also given it a completely different package (style of cover art, cover typeface etc).  To this day, I still run into people who ask me for a sequel to Changer and, when I tell them there is one, they say “There’s a sequel!  I never knew that!”  It’s exquisitely frustrating and why, when I re-released both Changer and Legends Walking as e-books and print on demand, I gave Legends Walking back its original title.

ALAN: Speaking purely as a reader, I don’t find this at all surprising. Publishers marketing decisions constantly astonish me. In my more cynical moments I sometimes wonder if perhaps there is an international conspiracy of publishers whose goal is to sell as few books as they possibly can.

The New Zealand writer Phillip Mann, who we spoke about in one of our tangents, wrote a four book series under the general title of A Land Fit for Heroes. The first two volumes have the lettering of the title in the same font and in the same place on the spine. The third volume has the same font but the lettering is in a different place. The fourth volume has a completely different font and layout and looks nothing like the others. The books have pride of place on my shelves, but I hate looking at them because, considered as a set, they appear ugly and unbalanced.

But before I get carried away into apoplectic anger at the stupidity of that design, perhaps you can tell me more about how your Artemis series has developed.

JANE:  If I may back up slightly, there’s a key element to series that that professional writers are all too aware of, but most readers don’t seem to gather…  Except in a few situations, the author is not in control of how a series will develop.

Especially these days, contracts for more than one or two books are rare.  Even when an author does get a multi-book in a series contract, the author cannot be assured that the publisher will remain enthusiastic about the series.  If the initial book doesn’t do brilliantly, later books may be given no support by the publisher.  This, of course, means readers don’t find them, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In the days of old, a series would have time to garner followers.  However, these days it’s much harder to convince publishers of the need for continuing a series beyond maybe two books if it doesn’t “break out.”  I hate to say this but, in cases where a series is given additional volumes even when sales figures were not fantastic, almost always the publisher had signed for more than a couple of books and is now obligated.

ALAN: Perhaps that’s because there are so many more books being published these days than was once the case. Turnover is very rapid and the books simply don’t have the time to establish themselves, except for the very lucky few.

JANE: Maybe so, but I suspect it has a lot more to do with how many publishing houses are no longer independent, but need to answer to some multinational conglomerate owner.

Anyhow, this is what happened with the “Artemis Awakening” series.  Great reviews.  Lots of interest in “what next” on the part of both readers and reviewers.   But this wasn’t enough for the publisher.   Someone in the higher echelons of Tor Books sunk the ship before it could really set sail.

Whether there will be a third book remains up in the air, possibly indefinitely.  I would really like to write this book because, in addition to truncating the series, Tor also chose to set a very low word limit on the novels themselves.  This meant I had to juggle plot elements, sometimes being put in the position of having to provide foundations without being able to develop how those foundations supported the larger story.  I also had to write with less closure book to book than is my preference.

ALAN: There you go! I knew that the international publishing conspiracy to sell as few books as possible really does exist. And now you’ve just confirmed it.

JANE: I’m glad I’ve made you happy!

And before you ask… Yes, there are series that go on and on and on…  In fact, many a bestselling author finds him or herself in the opposite situation to the one I found myself in with “Artemis Awakening.”  Rather than having a series truncated before it can go anywhere, he or she finds that his or her career is now constricted by one property or, at best, two.  For a creative person, this can be stifling.   Sometimes the publisher will humor the author by releasing something outside of the series universe, but that’s a sop to Cerberus.  They rarely give the new work as much support.

ALAN: That must be both stultifying and frustrating.

You are also writing the Stephanie Harrington series in collaboration with David Weber. Does having a collaborator make any difference to the way you approach the series?

JANE: Very much so.  In the case of Stephanie, we’re somewhat limited in that these stories are prequels.  Therefore, certain events are already fixed within Honorverse history.   When you add into the equation that these novels were part of Baen Books experimenting with the YA market, we’re limited in that Stephanie’s age provides constraints.  At one point, Weber and I talked about transitioning Stephanie from YA to adult, and that may still happen.  Someday.  When he’s not so busy.

ALAN: That’s a problem with collaborating, isn’t it? Sometimes events overtake one or more of the collaborators and things have to lie fallow for a time. We’ve found that on our Tangents as well.

JANE: Indeed we have!

ALAN: And that probably brings us to the end of this trilogy.  Err…  I mean tetralogy… Thingy.

Don’t miss next week’s thrilling installment of “Jane and Alan Do a Completely Different Tangent!”

John Michael Poling: Writer and Artist

August 17, 2016

JANE: As most of you who Wander along with me every week know, storytelling fascinates me.

One type of storytelling I really like – although I lack the skills to do it myself – is the illustrated type.  Call it a comic book.  Call it a graphic novel.  Call it manga.  I read it and often find myself blown away.

Luckily for my sense of curiosity, my friend John Michael Poling not only writes comics, but does his own art.  I decided to amuse myself by asking him how he manages.

So, without further ado, here come the questions.

So, John, how long does it take you to draw a page?

John Michael Poling

John Michael Poling

JOHN: When I first started, about three years ago, it would have taken me two to three days to finish just a page, but now that I’ve got my system much more refined, one page a day is my speed, no matter the number of panels, or lack thereof, are involved.

JANE: How many panels, on average, on a page?

JOHN: Hmmm, I have no clue! Haha!  But seriously, it’s most likely an odd number since I really like working that way. I’ve noticed that I tend to use one, three, and five very often.

JANE: So why does it take you the same amount of time to draw a page that has only one panel, as opposed to a page with five?   Also, you note that one page a day is your “speed.”  How much of that time is actually spent drawing?  I know that a lot of my writing is done away from the actual keyboard.

JOHN: It’s all about size, I think. When it’s just a full page, I’ll break out the 18” x 24” paper. By contrast, if it’s only comprised of the panels, then I’ll use three of the 9” x 12”paper. I love to draw big.  As for actual time spent drawing, I’ll spend the first hour or so visualizing, then it usually takes me about two hours to get in the grove, and I’ll stay there as long as I can.  Short answer: four to six hours.

Eye See John's Art

Eye See John’s Art

JANE: I like how you have found ways to use your preference for drawing big to let you do what you do best, rather than hampering yourself by drawing small.

So, how many pages are there in a finished comic?

JOHN: Since I print and assemble all of my comics, the magic number is divisible four so that I efficiently use all sides of the paper.  Twenty-four pages is my current maximum number that I can do myself, because with the thick paper I use to print them out on, I can only staple seven sheets of paper at a time. Anything larger than that, I’d need a third party to print, and assemble, which would cost significantly more.

JANE: How do you design the story so it will fit the format?

JOHN: It honestly depends upon the project

Malditos is a series of full-page drawings where I had stumbled upon a story, and added monologues after the fact.

Token of Grace was originally a short, literary story I had written for an English Lit class in college, based on a specific series of events from my childhood, which I adapted into a single issue comic.

Hunters is a five-part series where each issue is reminiscent of the five act structure found on TV.  Specifically for it, there’s the hook, getting to know the antagonists, getting to know the protagonists, then they first meet one another/cliffhanger, and then the final climaxes and resolution.

JANE: I think it’s interesting that you list “getting to know the antagonists” before the “getting to know the protagonists.”   I tend to work in the opposite direction.

When you wrote Hunters did you think of it in little boxes or did you write a story before and break it up after?

JOHN: More often than not, I have a story in mind that I want to tell, and as I write it out in something more akin to a treatment, I begin to visualize it, and then I storyboard it.

JANE: So, more like a script for movie or television, then.  That’s interesting.  As I understand it, the average American comic book can have a separate writer, inker, and letterer.  Someone different may do the cover.  But it sounds as if you’re a one person shop.

Have you done any collaborative comics?

JOHN: Actually, Hunters is a collaborative series. It’s made from both photography with models, and my art and story. My childhood friend Joel Wigelsworth, an amazing photographer, is the one behind the camera, and in that series, I’m more like the writer, editor, producer, and director, where Joel would be the cinematographer.

JANE: That’s so cool!

Backing up a little, above you noted that you started drawing comics about three years ago.  I know you’d been writing fiction before that.  What brought you around to comics?

JOHN: Funny you should ask. I should properly say that I rediscovered my artistic skills three years ago, because, according to my mom, who showed me all the art of mine she saved, I was drawing around the same time that I started writing, which was age twelve.   Somewhere along the way I had stopped drawing, and continued writing, to the point where I had forgotten I knew how to draw for decades, but that’s not a full answer.

Nearly four years ago I was so overwhelmed by depression that one night I fell asleep, plagued by endless thoughts and desires for suicide, and when I woke the next morning they were still there. I voluntarily checked myself into short term care. I was only there for four days.  I needed the solitude to think, and by think, I mean write. The following eight months I decided to take some paid medical leave from my day job, and my psychologist asked me if I drew. I laughed, told him I was a writer, not an artist, and then he suggested I try. So I did. If I can draw, and write, then I’m going to have my cake, and eat it, too.

JANE: I think you’re really brave to admit how bad your depression became.  Many people wouldn’t, and so some people with depression remain feeling isolated.  Good for you!  And good for your psychologist for helping you find your “lost” ability.

The three projects you list above sound very different from each other.  What type do you think you’re more likely to try next?

JOHN: I’ve got three different comic series I’m currently working on. First, there’s the last issue of Hunters, which is taking longer than expected since I have to draw so many composite panels for the action scenes.  Then there’s Breaking the Sword, a very lengthy series based on our weekly, fantasy roleplaying game.  Finally, there’s Nothing to Fear and Survival.

Token of Grace is a part of an autobiographical series about my childhood, teenage, and young adult life.  Token of Grace is about violence, abuse, and strength.  Survival is about what it takes, and the cost, to survive Basic Training when you’re not straight, and no one believes when you say you are.

Nothing to Fear is about racism in America through the eyes of a young white man who didn’t understand what was happening to, or because of, his friends, who happened to be people of color.

JANE: Those are really incredible topics.  I love how you’re not afraid to tackle both sensitive subjects and feel free to adapt your weekly RPG.  So many writers feel they either need to be “literary” or “genre.”  You’re proving you can be both…  I bet they even overlap!

Where can my readers learn more about your work?

JOHN: My company is called  Dos Guerros Comics.  Our website is www.dosguerroscomics.com.  You can also find me on Facebook @dosguerroscomics and on Twitter @dosguerroscomix.  My Instagram account is zerocool1331.

JANE: Thanks!  Now, back to the drawing board for you, and back to fiction writing for me.  Once again, thank you very much!

FF: Completely Scattered!

August 12, 2016

This week, some of my pleasure reading has slid to make room for work-related reading and listening.

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 magazine articles.

Ogapoge Lounges

Ogapoge Lounges

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:

Girl in the Shadows by Gwenda Bond.  A lot of plot parallels to Girl on a Wire, but eventually the book takes its own turn and it’s an interesting one, indeed.

A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett.  Audiobook.  A collection of various talks and essays Pratchett presented over many years.  Good collection, overall, despite repetition.

In Progress:

Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink.  Came across this used and couldn’t resist trying again.  Possibly the oddest “castaway” book ever.

Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie.  Audiobook.  Although Dame Agatha is best-known for her murder mysteries, she liked writing thrillers, too.

Also:

Wolf’s Blood by Jane Lindskold.  First time I’ve re-read the book since I did the proofs about ten years ago.

Audio time is shared with listening to samples as a judge for the Parsec Awards for podcasts.

And I can’t resist an entry here and there in Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.

TT: Series, Con’t, Con’t

August 11, 2016

JANE: Welcome to Part 3 of the Jane and Alan Tangent Trilogy about series…

ALAN: In the first two volumes of this trilogy we highlighted several problems that writers of series have to come to grips with in order to keep the readers interested. You’ve been guilty of committing two fairly long and complex series (“The Firekeeper Saga” and “Breaking the Wall”).

Three of  Jane's Series

Three of Jane’s Series

How did you make sure that a reader who picked up a later volume in the series without having read the earlier volumes (or who had forgotten what happened in the earlier volumes) did not feel too lost?

JANE: Before I answer, would you mind if I explain why I write series in the first place?

ALAN: Please do. I’ve often wondered why writers choose to live in a fictional world for more than one book.

JANE:  Both series and stand-alone novels have creative advantages.  Once the setting is established, the author can concentrate on refinements and expansions without having to reinvent the wheel every time.  This is particularly crucial in “imaginary world” fiction – whether science fiction or fantasy – where the setting (and the background history) differs greatly from the “real” world.

In a series, the author has more options for developing characters, both from the pressure cooker of events within the novels and from the passage of time.  The same is true of situations, since everything doesn’t need to be wrapped up in one book.

A question for you… Do you prefer series or stand-alone novels?

ALAN: I much prefer stand-alone novels. I seldom buy any books that are part of a series. If I am already familiar with a writer’s work, I might make an exception. But I almost never buy series novels by writers I’ve never read before. Though having said that, I’ve just recently contradicted myself by buying the first volume of something that will probably turn into a series, written by an author I’ve never heard of! In my defense, I must say that the premise was so intriguing, I simply couldn’t resist it, and it turns out that the book is nicely stand-alone, so if the series never eventuates, I won’t feel any sense of loss.

JANE: You’re definitely in the minority – at least based on my fan mail and from comments I’ve heard from other writers, publishers, and, maybe especially, from readers.  For every stand-alone novel I’ve published, I’ve had requests for sequels.  I’ve even had requests for sequels to short stories!

Oddly, though, you’re right on the mark with reviewers, which you also are.  Most reviewers seem far more excited by stand-alone novels.

ALAN: I completely fail to understand the enthusiasm for sequels. Clearly, therefore, I’m perfectly qualified to be a reviewer.

JANE:  So, going back to your original question, my favored approach in writing books in a series has always been to try and make each book stand alone as much as possible. Please note the “as much as possible.”

Therefore, each book has a couple of issues I promise myself will be answered by the end of the book.  For Through Wolf’s Eyes (“Firekeeper Saga, book one) the issues were twofold: exploring Firekeeper’s first contact with those weird aliens called “humans,” and who would be chosen as King Tedric’s heir apparent.

ALAN: So were you deliberately trying to avoid cliffhangers?

JANE: Absolutely!

For Thirteen Orphans (the first “Breaking the Wall” novel) the issue to be resolved took the form of a problem: “Who is stealing the memories of a select handful of people and why?”  Since many of the Orphans didn’t even know of their peculiar heritage, investigating the problem provided a nifty way to explore the complex heritage of the Thirteen Orphans.

ALAN: So are you saying that each new volume expanded on and clarified things that previous volumes introduced? If so, doesn’t the reader need to have a good understanding of the background before reading new volume?

JANE:  Yes.  And that’s why it was harder to maintain the “stand-alone” feel for the Breaking the Wall series than it was for the early stages of the Firekeeper Saga.  However, even with the Firekeeper Saga, the time came where I had to accept that I could not keep the books stand-alones.

The complete change of venue in Wolf Captured did, however, enable me to focus on new events.  What background I did need to supply came gracefully in the form of Firekeeper and Derian thinking about those they had left behind.

ALAN: You’ve also written some quite short series. There are only two athanor books  and (so far) only two Artemis books. Does this make any practical difference to keeping the continuity comprehensible?

JANE: These series weren’t planned to be short, so, no, there was no practical difference on the level of planning.

In the case of the athanor books, I didn’t initially plan for there to be a sequel to Changer.  I thought writing one might be nice, but the series was not sold as a series, if you get my drift.  Changer, however, did well enough that the publisher expressed an interest in a sequel.   Changer’s Daughter (original published as Legends Walking) was my first attempt at writing a sequel.

ALAN: That’s interesting. I didn’t know there was such a thing as an accidental series.

JANE: Yep!  It happens more than you might imagine.  I can think of several such circumstances I know about for certain, as well as a couple where I strongly suspect this was the case.

My favorite is the author who wrote a tough and gritty combat-oriented SF novel, at the end of which most of the main characters – including the title character – were killed.  The book was an unexpected hit.  When the publisher hinted that a sequel would be welcome, the author had to do a lot of fancy tap-dancing.

ALAN: Ha, ha! Serves him right. At least it kept him on his toes… (You can groan now, if you want to.)

JANE: Groaning…  In fact, your pun has hit me so hard I don’t think I can keep going.  How about I finish telling you about series from the writer’s point of view next time?

ALAN: Sounds like a good idea.

Last To Know

August 10, 2016

Last week, one of my Twitter followers mentioned that of my books Changer was the one she was most likely to re-read.  However, she went on to say that Child of a Rainless Year had had a “profound ongoing effect” on her worldview.  Later, she clarified that she had first encountered Child when studying the sacred nature of liminal spaces.  My novel intersected with other events in her life at just the right time, and thereby benefited from the resonance.

Jane's Fan

Jane’s Fan

Here’s a great mystery for you…

The author is the last to know why a particular book (or series) hits a chord with readers while another does not.  This confusing state of affairs is complicated by the fact that one reader’s absolute “love until death” book is another reader’s “meh.”

Same book.  Different reader.  That’s the only difference.

I’m certainly not the only author who has discovered that my “fan base” is really something more like “fans” base.  When I’d go to signings with Roger Zelazny, he might as well have been two different authors.  There were those fans who’d come up clutching a digest magazine or one of his collections of short stories.  They’d almost always start by talking about how a certain story – most often “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” – had grabbed them when it first came out and how they had devotedly followed his work since.

The other fan base was solidly anchored in the Amber novels.  These two groups of fans intersected on some of Roger’s novels.  Even then, though, there would be a slight split.  Fans of Roger’s short work tended to veer toward novels such as Lord of Light or Creatures of Light and Darkness.  Amber fans would more likely have read Jack of Shadows or Changeling.

Of course there were true “Zelazny fans,” who read everything, long and short, that he had written, but these were far rarer than you might think.

At the point in my life when I was going to Roger’s signings, my publications consisted of only one novel and a handful of short stories.  However, as my own body of work branched out from my early standalone novels into series, I began to see similar patterns.

There are those readers who met my work with my first novel, Brother to Dragons, Companion to OwlsChanger and its sequel, Changer’s Daughter (aka Legends Walking) are another starting point.  The third starting point are the “Firekeeper Saga” novels (first book, Through Wolf’s Eyes).  As I saw with Roger’s fans, my readership does cross, but where a reader first encountered my work definitely shapes expectations of what a “Jane Lindskold” novel is and should be.

Since someone is sure to ask, where do my collaborative novels fit into this picture?  Has having written with greats like Roger Zelazny and David Weber affected my readership?  Yes and no.  I certainly have readers who first found my work because they liked Donnerjack and/or Lord Demon, who enjoyed the various Honorverse pieces they read and so decided to sample this new (to them) author.  However, to become fans of my work, they then had to find something they liked in my solo work.

Anyhow, here’s the strangest thing about being an author…  Readers may have their favorites, and they expect me to share their preferences.   I don’t.  I wrote all twenty-five or so novels, all seventy or so short stories because they took me somewhere I wanted to go, resonated with some part of my life and interests.

It’s lots of fun to find out how and when and why someone decided to pick up one of my stories, gratifying when that person has decided to keep reading.  But still, after all these years, after all those books, I have no better sense of what a “Jane Lindskold” reader is than I did at the start.

FF: Various, Sundry, Fun!

August 5, 2016

Weather is finally cooling into the mid-nineties, and we have rain.  That means I’ve been outdoors a bit more, but I’m still reading.

Kel Contemplates Wirewalking

Kel Contemplates Wirewalking

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 magazine articles.

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:

Armada by Ernest Cline.  Audiobook.

Harpist in the Wind by Patricia McKillip.  Final book in “Riddle of Stars” series.  I still love this series to pieces.

Girl on a Wire by Gwenda Bond.  I briefly met Ms. Bond at a literary gala in Santa Fe a few weeks ago.  Decided to try one of her novels.  A nicely non-formulaic YA novel, which is saying something because part of the plot riffs off (but doesn’t copy) Romeo and Juliet.

In Progress:

Girl in the Shadows by Gwenda Bond.  New protagonist but it looks as if the fictional Cirque American will provide some continuity.

A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett.  Audiobook.  A collection of various talks and essays Pratchett presented over many years.  Fascinating from a SF/F historical perspective in that “givens” change over time (as Pratchett himself comments in notes on older pieces).  Only flaw is that Pratchett is fond of certain phrases or comparisons.  That wasn’t a problem when these pieces were originally presented – often years apart – but jolts me some here.

Also:

Pratchett’s affection for Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable made me pull my copy off the shelf and start browsing.  Addictive!

TT: Series on Series (con’t)

August 4, 2016

JANE: Welcome to Part 2 of the Tangent Series “Jane and Alan discuss series…”

When we ended last time, we were discussing the decisions that need to be made when writing an on-going series.  One of these is whether to write each book so that a new readers can pick up in mid-stride or not.

The World's the Thing

The World’s the Thing

To recap slightly, series can be roughly divided into those that are only a series by virtue of featuring some continuing element, and those that are actually One Big Story broken into multiple books.  If you want more details, go here.

I put in the previous paragraph to illustrate what a writer of a series faces with each book – how much transitional material to supply.

ALAN: I think the mistake that Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter made in the five volume novel that is the Long Earth series was their assumption that the books did not need any introductory material to remind the reader about what had gone before. As I mentioned last time, they nearly lost me as a reader for the entire series because I had only very vague memories of the earlier books. Starting with book two, they just threw me in at the deep end, and I sank without a trace.

JANE: How much background to supply can be a huge problem.  I’ve always loved Roger Zelazny’s “Amber” series.   He made the opposite decision to Pratchett and Baxter.  Therefore, near the beginning of each book, there is always a recap.  Being Roger Zelazny, he usually did this very well, often inserting new material as well as reminding the reader of what had come before.

Providing a recap is a choice many authors make and, sadly, many do not do it well at all.

It’s funny but, when reading in print, I hardly notice these recaps because I can skim until I get to the new material.  However, when listening to the books on audio I become very aware of the recap.  I’ve heard similar complaints from some readers of e-books because it’s harder to skim in that format.

ALAN: I rarely listen to audiobooks so I’ve never come across the problem with that medium. But I don’t have any difficulty with e-books – I find it just as easy to skip over the material I want to avoid as I do with ordinary books.

JANE: That’s good to know.

ALAN: But we’ve been talking as if characters or plot situations are the only things that hold a series together.  It seems to me that setting can also be a unifying element. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld is probably the best example. He managed to tell so many different stories involving so many different characters, but the Discworld remained a constant element in all of them.

JANE: Discworld is a good example.  Now that I think about it, Pratchett’s experience with Discworld may have erroneously influenced him in believing that readers never needed recaps, because all the Discworld novels are, more or less, stand-alones.

Two other good examples of series that are united by a common setting are Andre Norton’s “Witchworld” and Marion  Zimmer Bradley’s “Darkover.”  Both feature not only different characters, but different parts of the world and even different time periods in the world’s history.

ALAN: And let’s not forget Charles de Lint’s urban fantasy city of Newford. Again we have a place providing a unifying element to a lot of different stories.

Outside of SF there is Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin stories which I think are unique in that they use both setting and character to provide continuity. Generally speaking, if you have just a rough knowledge of who Aubrey and Maturin are, and a vague appreciation of how they fit in to the storyline of the Napoleonic Wars, you can read the books in pretty much any order.

O’Brian died with only a few chapters of the next book written. The fragments were published, but nobody has tried to complete the novel or to write any more. A wise decision, I think. Certainly I would have enjoyed having more books to read, but I felt no great sense of incompleteness when O’Brian died. For once, I think this series works incredibly well no matter how you approach it.

JANE: Hmm… “Tried” is not precisely correct.  I know that Walter Jon Williams, who was a huge fan of the series and had written his own stirring sea sagas, tried to get permission to finish any uncompleted books, but O’Brian’s estate did not choose to go that direction.

Certainly, since O’Brian was already stretching to find things to have Jack and Stephen do that were credible, given their ages and Jack’s rank, not continuing the series was a wise idea.  (Although I’m sure Walter would have done an excellent job.)

ALAN: I’m sure he would. Nevertheless I’m happy with the decision that O’Brian’s estate made.

Have you noticed that there are very few humorous series? I suspect that’s probably because it’s quite hard to sustain a joke across a lot of books. Harry Harrison tried it twice with the Stainless Steel Rat books and also with the Bill the Galactic Hero stories.

The Stainless Steel Rat started off very well, but the later books are nowhere near as strong and nowhere near as funny as the earlier ones.  Bill the Galactic Hero was originally a stand-alone novel. It only turned into a series when Harry Harrison was persuaded to collaborate with several other writers on subsequent volumes. It was not a successful experiment.

JANE: Douglas Adams Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series had the same problem. The later books were nowhere near as good as the first one, possibly because the series was built around outrageous situations, and it’s pretty hard to top what he started with.

ALAN: After Douglas Adams died, Eoin Colfer wrote a sixth Hitchhiker novel. Most people disliked it.

JANE: I didn’t even try…

I think that Robert Lynn Asprin’s “Myth Adventure” novels worked well as a humorous series.  The humor was in the outrageous situations, but the characters evolved and grew so that there was a lot more than the capers holding things together.

ALAN: I enjoyed many of the books in that series. The humour got more subtle as the series progressed, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I have a question for you. You have written two very successful series (three if you count the two Athanor books) and you are currently working on another. What did you decide to do about the kind of problems we’ve been discussing?

JANE: That’s a very big question. I’ll take a deep breath and let you cross examine me in the next installment of this series.


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