FF: Linked Activities

January 17, 2020

Dandy Considers The Stars

I’m working on three projects at once, so my reading time has tapered off, but since I’ve learned that for my brain reading and writing are linked, I’m making time to read.

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 I really enjoy hearing about what you’re reading!

Recently Completed:

Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales From Around the World compiled by Kathleen Ragan.  Keeper for my shelves.  Recommended that readers take it a few stories at a time, because it’s easier to think about themes.  Editors notes are usually good, but sometimes less scholarly than I would have liked.

In Progress:

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson.  Recommended by Alan Robson, my former Tangent’s collaborator and a regular FF reader!

The Age of Faith by Will Durant.  Part Four of “The Story of Civilization.”  Audiobook.  Still immersed in Islam.

Also:

Catching up on magazines…  I have a couple that came before Christmas I haven’t even looked at yet.  Sigh!  But I’ve finished American Archeology and Archeology.  Now reading Smithsonian, the cover story of which is an issue I’ve read about in the prior two mags.  Interesting to see the different take.

Wandering For Ten Years

January 15, 2020

That Was The Year That Was

January 13th of 2010 saw my first Wednesday Wanderings post.

A decade.  Ten years.  Fifty-two weeks a year.  And I haven’t missed once.  I think that makes for 520 essays, plus this one today.

Sometimes, like today, the post has been relatively short.

Other times, the posts have been long essays, often on writing. Some of these became Wanderings on Writing, one of the few books on writing that focuses on the unique concerns encountered by a working writer of science fiction and fantasy.

Other times these Wanderings have been about life, or new releases, or trips.

There was that time we saw a camel in someone’s yard…

For seven years, I also wrote the Thursday Tangents, which my friend, Alan Robson of New Zealand.  You can download some of these as a free e-book here.

A bit over five years ago, I started the Friday Fragments, which gives you a glimpse into my reading habits and provides you with the opportunity to influence them.

I’m always open to suggestions as to possible topics for these Wanderings.  Please feel free to make suggestions for the year to come.

Lots of things have changed in these last ten years.  One thing hasn’t.  I’m still a writer.  And now I’m off to write.

FF: More Fragmentary Than Usual

January 10, 2020

Fang-Glorious Persephone

This week I seem to be reading more short works, which is unusual for me.  It’s been satisfying, though.  Who ever thought a Father Brown story (“The Invisible Man”) would have distinctively steampunk elements?

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 I really enjoy hearing about what you’re reading!

Recently Completed:

The Great British Detective edited by Ron Goulart.  Chronological short story collection, one per author.  I thought I’d just read a few, but I found it surprisingly addictive.

In Progress:

Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales From Around the World compiled by Kathleen Ragan.  I’ve been reading more than a few stories a day.  Moving up through Africa.  (The book is arranged roughly geographically, which is rather fascinating.)

The Age of Faith by Will Durant.  Part Four of “The Story of Civilization.”  Audiobook.  Having finished off the Roman Empire, Durant has swirled back to focus on other prominent civilizations of the time.  More on Islam.

Also:

Catching up on magazines…  I have a couple that came before Christmas I haven’t even looked at yet.  Sigh!

Projects Update: Wolf’s Soul and Others

January 8, 2020

Kel’s On Top Of 2020

About this time last year, I wrote a comprehensive update about what I was working on and what could be expected in the year to come.  Seems like a good time to do the same thing again…

As promised, 2019 saw the release of Wolf’s Search, the seventh book in the Firekeeper Saga and the first new book in the series in about a decade.  2020 will see the release of Wolf’s Soul, the second part of the story.  The manuscript is written, polished, and I’m getting feedback from my secret beta readers.  After that’s in, I’ll give the manuscript a review, send the manuscript to my copyeditor, and shift into production.  If all goes well, the book should be available to you in just a few months.

I don’t plan to delay the release of Wolf’s Soul for promotional hype, gathering pre-orders, or the like.  The first announcement of availability will be via my newsletter.  Then I’ll mention it here, as well as on my social media.

Another almost completed project are{is} three new e-book versions of the “Breaking the Wall” novels (Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, and Five Odd Honors).  Each e-book will have new cover art by Jane Noel.  There will also be extra content in the form of essays about how the idea for the series evolved, as well as quite a lot about how elements of mah-jong played a role in the development of the magic system.   We’re working on cover art and design, then they’ll be ready to go.  Again, the first announcement will be on my newsletter, but I’ll mention it here as well.

If you’re not into e-books, I still have copies of the hardcover print editions available at my newly revamped website bookshop.

Contracts have been signed for three new novels in the “Star Kingdom” (aka “Stephanie Harrington”) series that I have been writing with my long-time friend, David Weber.  The series to this point consists of A Beautiful Friendship, Fire Season, and Treecat Wars.  These books are prequels to the “Honor Harrington” novels and, unlike those, take place mostly planetside.  For this reason, there’s a lot more about the treecats, their home lives, and culture.  We’ve started writing the first (yet untitled) book in this new series, and writing this will be my first focus in 2020.

I also have some short fiction forthcoming, including “The Problem With Magic Rings” in DreamForge and “The Greatest Jewel” in a Masters of Orion anthology.  And, yes, I’m continuing to work with DreamForge magazine, which has just completed its fourth issue and first year!

It’s possible that other books in my backlist will be made available as new e-books.  Whether that happens will be a question of time and energy.  I wouldn’t have been able to do what I have with the “Breaking the Wall” books without the help of my husband, Jim, artist Jane Noel, and frequent proofreader, Paul Dellinger.

I’d like to write more short fiction, and may well do so.  There’s also a 150,000 word rough draft manuscript that I’m hoping to get back to and expand, probably into two books.  I’d like to start with that before the year is over.  We’ll see if that’s a bit optimistic on my part…

So, another busy year with many new stories being written.  Any questions?

FF: Old Friends, New Year

January 3, 2020

Mei-Ling: Exhausted From Chasing The Moving Finger

We drove to the Phoenix, Arizona, area over the Christmas holiday, so a bit more fiction time.

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 I really enjoy hearing about what you’re reading!

Recently Completed:

The Making of The African Queen or How I went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall, and Huston and almost lost my mind by Katharine Hepburn.  Extremely chatty, reads as if it was narrated rather than written, with numerous asides.    I wish this was available as an audiobook with the same reader who read Me.  As Hepburn might say “Great fun!”

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers, Audiobook.  This is an old favorite of mine, especially as read by Ian Carmichael, but Jim didn’t know it, so it was our audiobook on the drive.  Magnificent in many ways, and as it starts during the winter holidays, perfect.

The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie.  Audiobook.  A dear friend gave me a copy of this old favorite, and I couldn’t resist re-listening!

In Progress:

Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales From Around the World compiled by Kathleen Ragan.  I’ve been reading more than a few stories a day.  We’ve finished Polynesia, Australia and are now into Sub-Saharan Africa.  (The book is arranged roughly geographically, which is rather fascinating.)

The Age of Faith by Will Durant.  Part Four of “The Story of Civilization.”  Audiobook.  Having finished off the Roman Empire, Durant has swirled back to focus on other prominent civilizations of the time.  We did the Persian Empire, and are now looking at the rise of Islam within the context of Arab culture.

Also:

A few more issues of Grimjack. Holding up pretty well, but more episodic than I remembered.  Oddly, the Munden’s Bar “filler” tends to have more continuity.

Oh, Cookie Tree…

January 1, 2020

This Past Week’s Creative Venture

Oh, Cookie-Tree, Oh Cookie-Tree…  How clueless were those instructions.  Oh, Cookie-Tree, Oh, Cookie-Tree.  Lack of organization and clarity were obstructions…

This is just one of many carols that wandered through my mind as Jim and I struggled to make a “simple” cookie tree this Christmas Eve.  As you can see from the picture, we succeeded.  The end result even looked cute and, amazingly, tasted good, too.  But there were times in the process when I seriously wanted to pull out scissors, tape, and start reorganizing the instructions.

I am, after all, a writer.

In those days of yore when I taught English Composition (aka, writing essays), I taught “process analysis” writing.  I would have given these instructions a C.  They didn’t fail because some of the component parts (like the recipe for the sugar cookies) were well-written.

But even those had problems…

As you celebrate the New Year, let me amuse you with the tale of our adventure.

The adventure of the cookie tree started when my mother bought a kit.  The box showed an ostensibly simple project.  Make twenty star-shaped cookies of graduated sizes (cutters included).  Build a stack from the bottom up, cementing each cookie to the next with a dab of frosting.  Add frosting embellishments using the included pastry bags and tips.  Add a final star at the top.  Tah-dah!

I’m one of those boring, methodical people who read instructions in advance, so the first thing I did was remove the accordion-fold brochure.  Reading these instructions was an exercise in futility.  In addition to the “basic” instructions, there were instructions for three different styles of tree.  All the instructions were in three languages.  However, the languages were not in separate sections, but in sequence for each stage of the process, so it was incredibly easy to miss a section in your preferred language.

Nonetheless, I read the instructions.  Jim read them.  Right off, we rejected “royal icing” in favor of the workhorse buttercream cookie frosting Jim has memorized.  Not only didn’t Mom have the ingredients for “royal icing” (the kit didn’t list what extra items you needed on the outside, only on the inside; since this kit looked so easy, she hadn’t opened it in advance), but also any icing that the instructions warn you will break down in certain circumstances is not my idea of fun.

(No.  I don’t remember what exactly would cause the disintegration.  Butter, maybe?  In any case, something incredibly common.)

First, I set off to make the cookie dough.  The instructions said “Do Not Chill,” so I took a section of the dough and started rolling.   I’m really, really good at rolling cookie dough thin and even.  (Want evidence?  See my Christmas WW for pictures of my cookies.)  However, even with a floured rolling pin and all the usual precautions, the dough stuck.  So I chilled it.  That helped.  But when the first round of cookies came out of the oven, rather than being the sharp-edged items shown in the photo, they were star-shaped blobs.

Deck the trays with vaguely star-shaped blobbies…

Even after being chilled, the dough was so soft that the larger cookies (say the first five sizes) had to be rolled directly on a cookie sheet.  Because the dough spread when baked, this meant the largest cookies had to be baked one at a time, because more than one cookie would merge with its neighbor.  At ten to twelve minutes per cookie, this meant hours of baking time, with someone (Jim usually) having to stay alert to the possibility of burning cookies.

Remember those “basic instructions”?  They did note that rolling on a cookie sheet “might” be necessary.  They did not include any hints on how to deal with all the flour left on the cookie sheet that would otherwise burn.  I’m an experienced baker, so I knew to clear it away.  I also found myself wondering how people would cope who did not happen to have (as we did) six or seven available cookie sheets and a selection of rolling pins that would fit within the confines of a rimmed cookie sheet.

After many hours, we had twenty-one cookies of graduated sizes and a few to spare.  (More on spares later.)  Jim had made the first batch of frosting and, using the delicate touch acquired from many years of archeological digs, he began assembling the cookies into a tree-stack.  He also figured out that a lumpy dab of frosting would invite breaking cookies as the stack grew, so carefully spread the frosting mortar over the contact areas.

While Jim was mortaring the tree together, I was rolling and baking the surplus dough.  That made at least three dozen more cookies, practically enough for another entire tree!  I found myself wondering why the kit hadn’t included a smaller recipe.

When Jim was done, we had a tree-shaped cookie stack, but we couldn’t proceed to the next step because the “mortar” was still wet, so the cookies would slide.  Thus, assembling the tree ended Day One.

Since we wanted the cookie tree to be ready for the evening of Christmas Day, Christmas morning, after coffee, presents, and breakfast, Jim and I mixed up frosting.  The pastry bags included for the frosting were so flimsy that splitting was guaranteed.  Happily, Mom had a couple of sturdier ones.

Jim tinted the icing (the kit recommended several very specific colors of food coloring but, of course, didn’t include them), and we took turns frosting the “branches” with myriad tiny icing stars.  That part was fun, if distinctly messy!  A scattering of ornamental jimmies (also not included, but Mom had some in slightly different colors) finished the task and we set the tree aside to dry.

I did resist, barely, my urge to edit the instructions…

That can wait for manuscripts, which I’ll be getting back to later this week.

Oh!  By the way, Happy New Year!  May your New Year be sweet and creative, whatever your chosen medium.

Christmas, Mah-Jongg, and More

December 27, 2019

Mei-Ling Wonders If She Could Be a Movie Star

More non-fiction than not right now.  I’m not sure where folk and fairytales fall in that.  Sometimes they’re more real than reality.

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 I really enjoy hearing about what you’re reading!

Recently Completed:

Christmas: A Biography by Judith Flanders.  A fascinating look at how Christmas has been celebrated from its inception to the early 21st century.  Although the emphasis of the middle chapters is on European and American customs, the author does keep a global touch.  Fascinating anthropological/sociological approach, well-documented, with additional material available on a dedicated website.

Mah-Jongg: From Shanghei to Miami Beach by Christian Cavallaro and Anita Luu.  Beautiful illustrations.  Some very sweeping, unsubstantiated statements, but still a nice book.

In Progress:

The Making of The African Queen or How I went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall, and Huston and almost lost my mind by Katharine Hepburn.  Extremely chatty, reads as if it was narrated rather than written, with numerous asides.    I wish this was available as an audiobook with the same reader who read Me.

Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales From Around the World compiled by Kathleen Ragan.  I’ve been reading more than a few stories a day.  Just moved into Hawaii.  (The book is arranged roughly geographically, which is rather fascinating.)

The Age of Faith by Will Durant.  Part Four of “The Story of Civilization.”  Audiobook.  Solidly into the Dark Ages.  Justinian has died.

Also:

Archeology magazine.  As often, I have some definite bones to pick with how they present some material.  I realize this is for a general audience, but still…

Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2019

A Christmas Sampler

Hi Folks,

Today is Christmas.  Wishing all of you the best.  I’m spending the day quietly.  More noise next week.

FF: One Read Leads

December 20, 2019

Persephone Contemplates the Holiday Scene

Christmas prep led me to remember that I’d bought a book about the origins of various Christmas traditions, so I dug that from the to-be-read pile.  And reading Me led to another Hepburn.  All lovely.

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 I really enjoy hearing about what you’re reading!

Recently Completed:

Me: Stories of My Life by Katharine Hepburn.  I read this many years ago, and am enjoying again.  Kudos to reader Bernadette Dunne who does such a phenomenal “Katharine Hepburn” voice that Jim went and picked up the box to make certain Hepburn herself wasn’t reading it.

In Progress:

Christmas: A Biography by Judith Flanders.  A fascinating look at how Christmas has been celebrated from its inception to the 21st century.  Although the emphasis of the middle chapters is on European and American customs, the author does keep a global touch.  Fascinating anthropological/sociological approach, well-documented, with additional material available on a dedicated website.

The Making of The African Queen or How I went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall, and Huston and almost lost my mind by Katharine Hepburn.  Extremely chatty, reads as if it was narrated rather than written, with numerous asides.    I wish this was available as an audiobook with the same reader who read Me.

Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales From Around the World compiled by Kathleen Ragan.  I’ve been reading more than a few stories a day.  We’re into China now.  (The book is arranged roughly geographically, which is rather fascinating.)

The Age of Faith by Will Durant.  Part Four of “The Story of Civilization.”  Audiobook.  Solidly into the Dark Ages.

Also:

Read a few more issues of Grimjack, just because.

A Vision of…

December 18, 2019

Kel has Christmas Dreams

‘Tis the week before Christmas, and all through the house,

All the creatures are stirring, including the compost bin mouse.

The cats are nestled, snug on our bed,

While visions of catnip toys dance in their heads.

Jim in his cowboy hat, and me in my cap,

Aren’t able to settle for any sort of nap…

Everywhere there is such a clatter,

I find myself wondering what is the matter.

*

I could go on, but I’ll spare you.

Christmas is a week away.  If you’re like most modern American adults, you’re feeling stressed, rather than merry.

(I don’t know how other nations celebrate these days.  Feel free to let me know.)

Daily, my e-mail and social media remind me how little time is left to buy things.  Buying gifts is apparently not enough.  On one passing feed, a woman extolled the joys of elaborate wrapping, adding how the “package embellishment” would serve as an additional gift.  Wow!  Jim and I are lucky if we manage to get the wrapping paper more or less straight.

Hey, I like Yuletide celebrations.   Jim and I don’t have kids, but we still decorate.  We make seven or eight types of cookies.  We provide gifts for both family far, and friends near.

I’ll admit, there are times I feel more like the Grinch than like Santa, especially because, being self-employed, I don’t get any paid time off.  I’m squeezing my holiday preparations in between keeping ahead of my various tasks.

So, what to do?

For me, surviving holiday stress always goes back to counting my blessings.  Here’s one.  I can make seven or eight types of cookies, even the ones with expensive ingredients like nuts.  I remember when I’d stretch the budget so I could make my family’s recipe of butterballs using real butter (not margarine) and walnuts.  I’d look longingly at some of the other recipes and think “someday.”

And, guess what?  It’s someday.  Not only did I make the butterballs with butter, I used butter for all my cookies. I made maple pecan cookies and hermits, both of which call for nuts.  It’s someday.

Today is your someday, too, even if this year hasn’t turned out quite as you dreamed.  Why?  Because we all dream bigger than it is possible to achieve.  That’s what dreams are about, envisioning big.

Nightmares, by contrast, are about envisioning small.  The monsters under the bed make you afraid to get up.  The lost boarding pass keeps you from making your flight.  The thing you can’t quite see that is chasing you keeps you from stopping, relaxing, assessing…

I’m sure many of you are having a rough time, feeling small, feeling stressed, maybe feeling sick or tired or something else that’s making all the sparkle dim, all the jingle dull.

Dream.  Not just “I hope 2020 is better than 2019,” but about what you might do today, tomorrow, next week…

Remembering to dream big is why, no matter how busy my life is with the holiday season adding numerous new tasks to my day I’m making time to read.  On the top of my list is the new DreamForge magazine.  I’ve only dipped in, but I see that the theme for this month is “The Risks and Magic of Hope.”

Hey, that’s cool.  That sounds like the sort of stories I want to read, the sort of stories I want to write.  Suddenly, I can feel my personal winter solstice happening: the sun is warming, hope is born.

May you find a blessing or dream, no matter how small, and use it to kindle your holiday fire.