FF: Impossible, Improbable

August 12, 2022
Persephone and Wolfe

Here and there, I’ve been fitting in time to read, but mostly I’ve been writing or thinking about writing or dealing with a lot of demanding real-life stuff.  How about you?

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.  And it’s also a great place to tell me what you’re reading. 

Completed:

Mister Impossible by Maggie Stiefvater.  Audiobook.  Book two in her “Dreamer Trilogy.”  The first is Call Down the Hawk.  A lot of whining in this one, and several attacks of the stupids.

Too Many Cooks by Rex Stout.  Nero out of his accustomed haunts always amuses me.

In Progress:

A Most Improbable Journey: A Big History of Our Planet and Ourselves.  Non-fiction.  Jim liked it, so I’m giving it a try.  On the final couple of chapters.  The author seems to think he’s invented “what if” which is a little wearing.  However, I learned some cool things, especially about oceans, so I overall have liked this book.

Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge.  Audiobook.  I have read this at least twice, but the rich complexity of plot and characters is grabbing my attention all over again.

Also:

A copy of American Archeology I’d somehow overlooked.

Green Tomato Stage

August 10, 2022
Green Turning Red

Right now, I think I’m at the green tomato stage of my current book.  Like the tomatoes in this picture, it started as a tiny seed.  Now, as I’m almost done with my rough draft, it’s shiny and bright and full of potential, but needs a lot of ripening.

Aside for the gardeners among us: The tomatoes in the photo are Punta Banda, the seeds of which I purchased from Native Seed Search, as part of my quest to find tomatoes that would handle the very high temperatures we’ve been having.  As you can see, they’ve done very well.  Our high this summer has been 107F, so slightly cooler than the last two summers, where we peaked at 112F.  We had a brutally hot May, followed by an early onset monsoon that helped a bit.  Temperatures have settled into a, for us, relatively moderate high 90’s to low 100’s, and Punta Banda seems to love this.

If you want to know more about tomatoes, ask in the Comments, and I shall happily natter on.

As to the book…  I started my rough draft about a year ago, but I had a considerable number of interruptions, including dealing with editor’s notes on A New Clan (the fourth Star Kingdom book, written in collaboration with David Weber), producing new e-book editions of Artemis Awakening and Artemis Invaded, writing the short story “Fire-Bright Rain” (a prequel telling what happened when the Library of the Sapphire Wind was destroyed), working on a new e-book edition of Child of a Rainless Year.

I also did a lot of promotional work for my three new book releases: Library of the Sapphire Wind, Aurora Borealis Bridge, and A New Clan.

In January, after the holidays and final revisions to A New Clan, I immersed myself in my current novel.  I realized that I needed to shift one of the major elements of the plot, and once I did that, the characters started doing things, and I started merrily writing away.

Then, in February, I had Covid.  One of the odd ways it hit me was that I couldn’t use any back-lit devices, especially computer screens, without getting a headache.  What did I do?  I shifted to handwriting, which I actually enjoy.  I stayed in this mode for several weeks.  When I could bear the computer screen for more than a short while, I typed up what I had written.

I have great hopes I’ll get a lot closer to the end of the manuscript this week, so I’m off to find out what happens next!

FF: Nothing Quite, But Almost

August 5, 2022
Roary with Garden Backdrop and Book

Another crazy week, so I didn’t manage to finish much.

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.  And it’s also a great place to tell me what you’re reading. 

Completed:

Nothing!!!  Well, several magazines.

In Progress:

A Most Improbable Journey: A Big History of Our Planet and Ourselves.  Non-fiction.  Jim liked it, so I’m giving it a try.  We’ve gone from the formation of planets all the way to river systems.

Mister Impossible by Maggie Stiefvater.  Audiobook.  Book two in her “Dreamer Trilogy.”  The first is Call Down the Hawk.  A lot of whining in this one.

Too Many Cooks by Rex Stout.  Nero out of his accustomed haunts always amuses me.

Also:

I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but that’s okay.

Ready? Action!

August 3, 2022
Roary and Mei-Ling Action!

This week I had an insight as to why action scenes take a lot of words to write, but before I get to that, I want to alert local NM readers that they will find information about a used book sale to benefit local charity June’s Senior Pet Rescue at the end of this wandering.

As I was working on a major scene in the book I’ve been writing, I became aware of a vague sense of dissatisfaction.  I turned off my computer, wondering why the scene that was so clear in my head wasn’t coming out anything like that on the page.

After what felt like hours (but probably wasn’t more than a single hour), I realized that I was pushing the scene too fast.  Why?  The explanation is sort of twisted.  The scene is fast moving, with a lot happening to six different characters, all of whom have very different tasks to carry out.

So, there I was, “seeing” the story in my head with all six mini-plotline happening at once, but forced to compose it in prose that is linear.  This was making me feel as if I should use as few words as possible, so that if the action had to “line up,” at least the line would be short.  But this was absolutely the worst thing for me to do. 

One of the ironies about writing action is that something that takes seconds in the characters’ experience may need many more times the words.  A conversation can take place in, more or less, “real time.”  That is, if you read it aloud, it would take about the same amount of time as if it really happened. Plus, say five to ten percent additional text (the “he said” and descriptive details).  Even if there is a strong visual subtext—as in what people are looking at or doing as they talk—it usually doesn’t take more time.  So, a ten-minute conversation will take about eleven minutes or less to read aloud.  The action is the conversation.

But in an action scene—a fight, a chase, setting a trap, even solving a puzzle—the action will take far longer to present on the page than it does to happen.  Let’s look at a pretty economically written attack.

Sheena swung her long sword at the lead zombie, impacting just below the ribcage, her razor-edged blade slicing smoothly through the viscous guts.  The blade jolted into the spinal column and stuck.

I timed reading this aloud, and had finished the swing motion within the first half-dozen words, yet the rest—especially the result of this attack—the stuck sword blade—needs to be there.

Another irony about writing action is that a too heavily detailed fight scene will not increase the sense of drama.  Rather than increasing the excitement, too much attention to meticulous detail actually slows the action down.  Unless the reader is an aficionado of sword play or fast driving or lock picking, they’re likely skimming the details, eager to find out two things: What happened and why it happened.

That “why” is the reason to include details at all.  If it’s a foregone conclusion, then an action scene isn’t really needed at all.  Or so I feel.  It’s a definite balance between writing as a poor substitute for film, and writing as more immersive, often more personal way of getting into events.

When I went back to the scene where I’d been dissatisfied, I let myself use more words, while keeping in mind the underlying reason for the scene: what happened, why it happened, and where this scene will lead the next part of the story!

And now for the book sale… 

The Literary Cat Book Sale will be held on Saturday, August 6, 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

7012 Arroyo del Oso NE, Albuquerque.

Proceeds to benefit June’s Senior Cat Rescue.

All books One Dollar Each!!  Several thousand books will be on offer.

Featured books will include SF paperbacks from the 1950’s to 1990’s.  Mysteries.  Thrillers.  Suspense.  General fiction.  Non-Fiction.  Atlases.

Many jazz and blues CDs also $1.00 each.

Sorry.  No children’s books.

FF: I’m Not Sure

July 29, 2022
Persephone Claims to Know

I’m really not sure where the last week has gone.  Wait…  There were two different sets of visitors from out of town, and a lot of catching up from the trip.  And other Stuff of the necessary, but not writerly, kind. 

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.  And it’s also a great place to tell me what you’re reading. 

Completed:

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater.  Audiobook.  Fourth of her “Raven Cycle.”  I’ve read the whole series, but this one only once, so a re-listen seemed a good thing.  For those of you who enjoy audiobooks, the reader does an excellent job with this series.

The Wizard’s Way by H.P. and Jacob Holo.  If you like lots of action, people with secrets (especially about wizardry), and a fast-moving story, this is for you.  I quite liked the reason why pugs learn to fence.

In Progress:

A Most Improbable Journey: A Big History of Our Planet and Ourselves.  Non-fiction.  Jim liked it, so I’m giving it a try.  Just started.

Mister Impossible by Maggie Stiefvater.  Audiobook.  Book two in her “Dreamer Trilogy.”  The first is Call Down the Hawk.  Just started.  You can read this without reading the four volumes of the Raven Cycle, but it definitely helps to have read those first.

Also:

Almost done with Smithsonian.  Also, with the most recent Vogue.

Toadaly True Encounter

July 27, 2022
Signing at Poisoned Pen… (but first, toad encounter)

On my way out to pick liana beans, I went into the garage for a bag.  As I paused in the laundry room (right off the garage) to do a few things, I heard a very gentle thump from the door into the garage.  I opened it, looked down, and discovered a medium-sized toad sitting on the doorsill, waiting to be let in.

During the hottest part of the day, we often open the garage door just a few inches, so air will circulate and some of the heat will bleed off.  Obviously, the toad had come in then, and had spent the night in the garage.  Now that the garage door was closed, it wanted to leave and had politely knocked—probably because it was too short to reach the controls.

Mildly astonished (this happened once before, years ago), I gathered up the toad and carried it to our backyard, which offers much living better conditions for a toad. For the duration of the summer, we have resolved to leave the garage door open just a little during the day, so any venturesome toads don’t cook when the temperatures rise.

(We’ve been pretty routinely hitting a high of 105.  Since this is cooler than the high of 112 we hit in July the last couple of years, we’re not complaining.)

The bunny continues to reside in the yard.  It is getting bigger.  It also has a friend, a much smaller bunny who probably came through the same mysterious gap in the fence.  We will do our best to relocate them but, for now, thanks to the monsoon rains, there is more than enough natural forage for them, and they’re not dining on our veggies.

The first bunny has become, if not tame, at least less inclined to immediately run for cover when it sees us.  Hopefully we’ll be able to eventually herd it out through the gate.

As mentioned in the caption, the picture above is from my recent book event at Poisoned Pen.  Much praise to Patrick King, who put in a lot of advanced work on his interview questions, so that we had a lively and non-generic chat.  You can view the interview here.

I’m reaching the final stages of my current rough draft (set in the world of Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge), and am eager to find out exactly how the story will resolve itself.  The characters have dropped a few hints, but one of the things I really like about writing is watching exactly how the resolution ends up happening.

FF: There’s a Reason

July 22, 2022
Roary and a Story

On the road last week, I left my “at home” audiobook behind, and shifted back to a re-listen of the end of The Fellowship of the Rings.  When that was finished, The Two Towers was loaded up.  Being away did mean my reading time was more limited, but I still found a bit.

So that’s the reason my reading list looks so odd right now.

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.  And it’s also a great place to tell me what you’re reading. 

Completed:

The Mother Hunt by Rex Stout.  I liked this well-enough.  Side amusement was seeing how much of the plot would still work with DNA tests to confirm parents.  A substantial amount actually would have done so, which was nice.

In Progress:

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater.  Audiobook.  Fourth of her “Raven Cycle.”  I’ve read the whole series, but this one only once, so a re-listen seemed a good thing.  For those of you who enjoy audiobooks, the reader does an excellent job with this series.

The Wizard’s Way by H.P. and Jacob Holo.  Starts with lots of action, but now the reason for it is coming, and I’m tantalized.  By the way, this one caught me because of the cover.  It has a fencing pug!

Also:

Finished Smithsonian right in time for a new one to arrive.  Still reading that.

Helping Writing Thrive

July 20, 2022
Mostly Squash and Sunflowers

Last week I learned that A New Clan will be released as an audiobook from Audible.  This is the fourth Star Kingdom/Stephanie Harrington novel by me and David Weber.  Release timetable is not yet set, but I’ll be sure to let you know when it’s out.

We have some interest from Recorded Books in the two Over Where novels (Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge).  If you’re hoping for these to come out in audio, let them know!

Last week, our temperatures rose back into the low hundreds.  However, the monsoon rains circled around again, giving us some fresh moisture, including one storm that dropped seven tenths of an inch.  All of you dealing with floods, don’t laugh.  Here in our part of New Mexico, that’s a significant amount of rainfall.

As a result, our yard and garden are doing the best they have in the last three or four years.  We’re actually having a bit of trouble picking our way between some of the rows, which was not an issue in hot and droughty 2020 or 2021.  As anticipated, we’ve harvested our first tomatoes.  The new contribution are lianas, often called yard long beans or, sometimes, asparagus beans.

So, what’s the equivalent of a good soaking rain for a writer?  Obviously, it differs from writer to writer.  Although I’ve written in plenty of public places (classrooms, meetings, airplanes), I would no more seek out a coffee shop as an ideal place to go write than I would roast my bare feet over white-hot coals.  But there are plenty of writers (including some whose work I love) who go out of their way to write in coffee shops or in group writing sessions.

For me, my internal landscape matters more than the exterior.  If I’m too busy to read, my writing really suffers.  Re-reading definitely counts.  It’s a bit like listening to a familiar piece of music, with the bonus of being able to concentrate on what elements make me love it, rather than what happens next.

Hobby activity counts, since while my hands are busy, my subconscious feels free to wander.  Even my gaming time, which is a sort of storytelling, can stimulate my writing.  This is not because I reuse game elements, more because the freedom to be part of an evolving story with no pressure to produce a saleable piece reminds me why I love to share stories.

We’re just back from a trip, and I need to go out and crawl between the plants and see what might have ripened while we were away.  Then I think I’ll see what my subconscious came up with while the many hundreds of miles between Albuquerque and Phoenix spun out under the tires.

Beans, Sunflowers, Tomatoes

FF: Bitten and More

July 15, 2022
Characters Seek Advice from a Wolfe

It’s been a crazy, busy week, full of upheavals, as well as working around a hand Persephone bit (hard) last Thursday when she got scared while at the vet for her annual checkup.  (It’s almost better, thank you.  Yes, I did see a doctor.)  Books were a very welcome refuge.

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.  And it’s also a great place to tell me what you’re reading. 

Completed:

The Animal World of the Pharaohs by Patrick F. Houlihan.  This 1996 study is enjoyable and engrossing.  I really liked the ambition of this study.  From sacred animals to family pets, everything is covered.

The Rails that Bind: America’s Freedom Trains as Reflections of Efforts to Form Cultural Consensus and Indicators of the Weakness of Cold War Memory by Daniel Speer.  A William & Mary Honor’s Thesis.

Where There’s a Will by Rex Stout. 

Jenny’s Moonlight Adventure, story and pictures by Esther Averill.  A short story about courage.

Jenny and the Cat Club, story and pictures by Esther Averill.  Jenny, in case you wondered, is a little black cat who wears a red scarf.

In Progress:

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater.  Audiobook.  Fourth of her “Raven Cycle.”  I’ve read the whole series, but this one only once, so a re-listen seemed a good thing.  For those of you who enjoy audiobooks, the reader does an excellent job with this series.

The Mother Hunt by Rex Stout.

Also:

Finished Smithsonian right in time for a new one to arrive.  I feel bad for the painting that is mocked in one article.  I don’t think it merits it, for a variety of reasons.

Bookstores, Podcasts: the Wild Life of a Writer

July 13, 2022
Postcards, Bookmarks, Buttons

This week I have lots of cool things to tell you about, much of it related to my life as a writer, but not forgetting bunnies and veggies.

First, I’m doing an in-person event at Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona on Sunday, July 17th, at 2:00 pm.  We’ll have all three of my new books: Library of the Sapphire Wind, Aurora Borealis Bridge, and A New Clan (a Star Kingdom novel, in collaboration with David Weber).  For those of you who can’t make the trip to Arizona, Poisoned Pen does do signed books by mail order.  My understanding is that there may be a live simulcast of the interview.  Check Poisoned Pen’s website for details.

Oh…  At the signing, I’ll have with me the cool bookmarks, post cards, and other swag shown above.  I even have a limited number of stickers signed by David Weber, so you can have your copy of A New Clan signed by both authors.  The stickers are reserved for copies of A New Clan, but I should have enough bookmarks and postcards for everyone.

Second, if you’re wondering about Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge, this past weekend a new review came out that meets the remarkable challenge of being accurate, detailed, and spoiler free.  You can read H.P. Holo’s take on Library of the Sapphire Wind here.

I will be putting links to other reviews on my website as time permits.

Third, if you’ve ever wondered how David Weber and I work together on our collaborations, we did a very long interview with David Butler for Baen Free Radio. 

You can find Part One here:

https://www.baen.com/podcast/index/view/id/582

and Part Two here:

https://www.baen.com/podcast/index/view/id/584

As for the really important stuff…  The baby bunny is still in the yard, still leaving the veggies alone, although it is no longer running away quite as fast when we go out into the yard.  This may be a good thing (enable us to move it out of the yard) or a bad thing (if it starts deciding to augment its natural diet with our produce).  Jim has decided to fence the bed that has Swiss chard and arugula, as this would be the bed most likely to suffer if the bunny gets too brave.

 We’ve added a few string beans to our harvest, and I think we might get a few ripe tomatoes by the end of this week. 

On that note, I’m off to have some coffee, then get on to writing and other fun things.