Archive for March, 2010

Unexpected Pleasure

March 31, 2010

Last autumn, during the “back to school” sales, I bought myself a fabric day pack.

The main panel illustration

 I’ll admit it. Part of the attraction was that these packs could be decorated with Sharpie markers. You even got your choice of two markers with the pack. (I chose a turquoise one and a purple one).

I told a few of my artistically inclined friends about the promotion as well. One of them – Tori Hansen – decided to see what she could do. Later, when she showed me pictures of the pack she’d decorated as a present for one of her friends, I was awed.

Time ambled by and my own pack stayed in my office closet, undecorated. To be honest, the doodle of a flower I include as part of my signature is about the height of my drawing talent. I’m much more artistic with three-dimensional things like beads or clay.

Then I had a brilliant idea. Why not ask Tori if she’d decorate a pack for me? She asked what I wanted her to put on it. I confessed that I’d love some images from my books. I gave her free rein as to what to choose and waited to see the end result.

What Tori delivered just in time for me to take the pack to the Tucson Festival of Books was totally, unexpectedly, overwhelmingly wonderful.

By now, you’ve probably figured out that the image illustrating this piece is one part of this decorated backpack. It’s a pretty good photo (my husband, Jim, by the way, gets photo credits for all the photos that accompany my Wednesday Wanderings), but even so it doesn’t do credit to the richness of color and delicate shading of the real thing. (And remember, this is in Sharpie marker, not paint!)

I was thrilled by how many of my books Tori managed to evoke in just this one picture. The girl is Firekeeper, hair ragged because it has been cut with her knife. Those dark, dark eyes are intense and strong. The small photo posted here might not show it, but this girl is even scratched and scarred, just like the “real” Firekeeper.

Next to Firekeeper, as always, is her closest friend and most sardonic critic, the wolf, Blind Seer. I wonder what he’s telling the moon now? Perhaps he’s sharing another of his favorite proverbs.

Below Firekeeper is the two-headed dragon Betwixt and Between. Despite being a rubber toy only about seven inches tall, Betwixt and Between is a major character in my first published novel, Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls. The original sits on a bookshelf in my office, by the way. He’s a bit quieter than he is in the novel.

Another character from Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls is featured on one of the side panels. Abalone – short red hair bright as flame, her lips adorned with her signature blue lipstick – manages to look both tough and just a little bit vulnerable.

To Betwixt and Between’s left are a collection of mah-jong tiles – key elements in Thirteen Orphans and the other “Breaking the Wall” novels. Tori’s depictions are very accurate, including the complex character on the “Green Dragon” tile.

The “Breaking the Wall” books are also featured in two other locations, not shown in this picture. First, the animals of the Chinese zodiac (including the Cat) are depicted in a highly detailed band that encircles the top of the pack. Second, a head and shoulders portrait of Flying Claw is the main element of one of the side panels. This portrait is bordered by two perfect tigers – each not more than an inch and a half long.

Tori also managed to slip in an allusion to the athanor novels, Changer and Legends Walking, by inserting a raven above the portrait of Abalone and a coyote (distinctly different from the wolf on the front panel) beneath Flying Claw. I thought this was a very clever way of illustrating Changer who, although a shapeshifter, has a private fondness for these two forms.

So, next time we meet up, ask to see the pack. Whether at a convention or a book signing, you can be sure I’ll be carrying it with me!

What’s in a Name?

March 24, 2010

My parents thought they were doing me a favor when they named me Jane. My dad felt that “Lindskold” was enough of a name to saddle any kid with and suggested short first names. (Dad and his sisters were Ruth, John, and Mary, so I suspect he was following his own parents’ feeling in this).

As I understand it, Dad also favored naming his first kid for himself. Out of all the possible feminine forms of “John,” he and Mom chose “Jane” in honor of two of Mom’s close friends.

However, probably like most kids, I wasn’t crazy about my name. I was called “plain Jane,” taunted with “Hey, Jane, having fun with Dick?” (A taunt that took on a sexual edge once I realized what “dick” might be). I was repeatedly asked “Hey, Jane. Where’s Tarzan?” This last was always followed with howling and chest-thumping in the best movie Tarzan tradition.

When I was in school, I longed for a cool nickname. No luck. When I was in high school, I started spelling my name “Jayne” – as if that would make a difference. (I kept doing this through college, but began to drop the practice, except for friends, once I was publishing – my first publications were academic and pen names weren’t part of the picture).

I thought about the impact of names the other day while I was working on a project, digging through baby books, dictionaries, and other sources, looking for just the right names for several characters. There are various guidelines I have set for myself.

Names should be relatively easy to pronounce. If names have a meaning, I should be aware of it. If I’m using a “cute” variant spelling, I need to know why the character’s parents chose it.

I try not to have too many character names start with the same few letters to avoid confusing fast readers who tend to skim and read by shape. (As I myself do.) Sometimes I don’t follow this last rule. In Five Odd Honors, you’ll meet a character named “Parnell.” This name is close in “shape” to “Pearl,” but I liked both names and decided they were different enough I could live with the similarity of that initial P and final L.

Names can shape a character. Gaheris Morris in Thirteen Orphans was originally “Garrett.” My friend Chris Krohn came to a reading from the unfinished novel (oddly, this is something I rarely do). Afterwards, Chris told me there was a comedian with a very similar name. The general sound of the name was already in my head, so I didn’t want to change it too much. I came up with Gaheris. Then I had to ask myself what sort of mother would name her child after a knight of the Round Table. So a complex character background was born – one with consequences for Gaheris’s daughter, Brenda.

Sometimes characters’ personal histories will shape the name I give them. Firekeeper’s “baby name” was “Little Two-legs” because, to the wolves who raised her the fact that she walked on two legs was her most distinguishing feature. The fact that she qualified for the “adult name” of Firekeeper says a lot about how the wolves viewed their human foster child – despite Firekeeper’s own insecurities regarding how weak, “nose dead,” and otherwise inferior she is to the wolves.

It’s all great fun.

You know, now that I think about it, my parents did do me a favor naming me “Jane.” Not only did I spend a lot of time thinking about names, but also those taunts led me to reading books I might not otherwise have discovered. One day at a flea market when I was in about sixth grade, I came across a box of yellowed Tarzan novels.

After initially flinching to find my nemesis here as well, I was tempted. I bought a couple books for a nickel apiece. I loved them. Next time someone said, “Hey, Jane. Where’s Tarzan?” I began babbling about did they know that Tarzan was an English lord, that he could talk to animals, that he had this really big knife? That he was so cool.

Funny. The teasing stopped. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Signing Under the Palm Trees

March 17, 2010

We’re just back from the Tucson Festival of Books. What words best describe this two year-old event?

Colorful. Friendly. Busy. Active. Varied. Crowded.

Me and Dennis McKiernan before we went into the sun

Yes, in a United States of America in which we are constantly informed that no one reads anymore, this book festival was packed.

The Festival was held on the mall that bisects a portion of University of Arizona’s large and lovely campus. White tents adorned with pastel balloons sheltered both exhibitors and attendees from the sun. Even early in the morning, the aisles between these tents were busy. At mid-day, they were positively packed. The panels and author talks (given in lecture halls) were well-attended.

Although I was working (I had two book signings, a panel discussion, and gave an interview), Jim and I found time to walk around and enjoy the event. We were really impressed by how tightly the Festival remained focused on its chosen topic.

Yes. There was a food court. Yes. There were a few tents where people were playing music. Yes. There were some public out-reach groups handing out information but, overwhelmingly, this event was about reading and the joy it brings.

The attendees varied from babies in strollers (delighted to meet Pat the Bunny, Skippie John Jones, and other costumed characters) to teenagers and college students, to older people ambling along with walkers. Volunteers in pale yellow shirts decorated with hummingbirds were everywhere, eager to help you find the author event you wanted to attend.

The weather was a delight. Warm on Saturday, a bit cooler on Sunday, especially in the morning. Yet even on Sunday, the clear, bright sun never gave up on us. When we realized we were shivering, Dennis McKiernan and I simply moved our signing for Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore out into the middle of an aisle where we could stay in the sun.

Did I have fun? Definitely. Despite the crowds, the open-air format meant there was always room to sit and chat, whether with old friends (we were lucky enough to meet up with Charles DeLint, MaryAnn Harris, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Jim Frenkel, Joan Vinge, and, of course, Dennis McKiernan) or someone newly met (too many to list, but readers Samantha and Faith; Nancy the volunteer; and author Janni Lee Simner were all bright spots).

Am I sorry the excitement is over and I’m at my desk? No. I’ve already been back to writing. Stories are unfolding, and I have memories of palm trees, cacti, and lots of smiles to brighten my day.

Animated Enthusiasm

March 10, 2010

Ever want to talk about something and not know where to start?

That’s how I react every time I try to explain my interest in anime and manga. For one thing, I started watching/reading these now-popular illustrated story forms back when you usually had to start telling someone about them by explaining what they were. No one could even agree what to call them.

Back in the day (I’m talking about the eighties here), anime was often called “Japanese animation” or even “Japamation.” Anime was the easier form to find because translation didn’t offer so many challenges. I remember going to a Lunacon in 1989 (my first SF convention; maybe I’ll talk about that some other time) and stumbling on the anime room. There to one side of the projection screen sat a young man on a stool, freely translating from the Japanese as the story unfolded.

Translations were also made “by fans for fans” to be traded, not sold. Lots of my early exposure to anime was in this medium, via gifts from my well-connected friend Diana Bringardner. The translations weren’t always great, but there wasn’t the censorship that came up later when the first large scale attempts were made to issue anime for “Western” audiences.

Anime and manga are not cartoons and comic books, even if they superficially resemble each other. They’re both illustrated stories but, because in Japan illustrated stories are not automatically considered “children’s fare,” the content (oddly enough, even for the “children’s fare”) is much more complex and sophisticated than its American counterparts.

Like most American kids of my generation, my exposure to animation was either Disney films or short television cartoons. I loved animation (especially for fairytales, fantasy, and the like) because there were no clumsy costumes or bad sets to pull me out of the story. (Gee, that dragon is really a man in a rubber suit).

Still, even back then, I tasted hints that there was something richer and more complex out there, stories where the “reset” button wasn’t pushed at the end of each episode. (I mean, did Scooby Doo and Shaggy ever learn not to go off by themselves to look for the monster?)

Those hints came in the form of two animated shows that occasionally appeared on the mysterious and hard to get “UHF” channel on our TV: Kimba the White Lion and Speed Racer. No surprise to anyone, but Kimba was the one I preferred.

When I went off to college, I pretty much fell out of touch with any animation. I didn’t have a T.V. and personal computers were a long way into the future. In the mid-eighties, when I got my own place, I had access to a T.V. again. I discovered that American animation was now showing fantasy (which, if it was on the air when I was a kid, I missed). I watched He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and fell in love with the first season of Thundercats.

However, both these series had the “reset” button problem. Characters only learned a minimum from their experiences. In fact, continuity did not bear too close an examination. Characters changed at the whim of some “suit.” For example, I hated when Wiley-Kat and Wiley-Kit in Thundercats went from being rather daring tricksters to “cute kids always in trouble.”

After grad-school, I went off to Virginia to teach at Lynchburg College. There, at last, I discovered that anime was becoming more common. A friend brought over tapes of Urusei Yatsura and Robotech. In the early nineties, I met the aforementioned Diana Bringardner, who gave me Ranma ½ and a host of other offerings.

I was hooked. Here were animated stories with more consistency. Here were stories with consequences, where a character in danger sometimes died and injuries didn’t vanish a few seconds later. As a series unfolded, I would enthusiastically speculate on character background and motivation. More often than not, even in the lighter “kid-stuff” offerings, I would find those speculations rewarded.

I’ve stayed hooked. Now that both anime and manga are more widely available (even in my local library), I read and watch fairly widely. What’s on my shelf now? Full Metal Alchemist and Negima! in manga. I’m watching Sorcerer Hunters when I ride my exercise bike.

Speaking of which… Time for me to go ride. I hope you’ll join me when I periodically discuss some of my anime and manga favorites – or not favorites, even – on this page.

P.S. I’ll be in Tucson, Arizona this weekend for the Festival of the Book. I hope if you’re there, too, you’ll come and say “hi.”

Why Wolves?

March 3, 2010

I really don’t know why I love wolves so much. I just do.

Wolves are Family-Oriented

Certainly, Kipling’s The Jungle Book bears a great deal of responsibility. By the time I was in fifth grade I already knew the novel so well that when our teacher told us to memorize a poem for recitation in class, the poem I picked was “Mowgli’s Song,” subtitled “That He Sang at the Council Rock When He Danced on Shere Khan’s hide.”

I’m sure the teacher was rather startled when normally-shy me took my place at the front of the classroom and began, “The Song of Mowgli – I Mowgli am singing” and proceeded to recite that cool, ironical tale of vengeance and rejection.

I wasn’t shy that day. I felt those words burning in my heart and when I finished, “Ahae! My heart is heavy with the things that I do not understand,” I think I was surprised to find myself there in the classroom with my rather astonished classmates staring blankly at me.

My dad was involved with the Justice Department’s case to protect the wolves in Alaska. I remember asking him, “Dad, if they don’t want the wolves, can I have them?” This led to the first of many gentle lectures from many well-meaning adults that wolves weren’t anything like those in Kipling’s stories, but were ferocious, not very clean animals, that I wouldn’t like at all.

Funny thing. When I started my research for Through Wolf’s Eyes, the first of what would become the six-volume “Wolf Series” (sometimes called “The Firekeeper Saga”), I learned that wolves are much closer to Kipling’s depiction than to the ferocious creatures of fairytales. They are family-oriented, hierarchical, and, in their own way, rather legalistic.

When I met my first wolves, I was thrilled. I’d come to Weems’ Artfest in Albuquerque with Jim and a couple of friends. I had no idea that MaryAnn Weems gives over a large area of the building to animal-related charities. All I knew was that, when I turned into the smaller side room, there were wolves.

(Okay. There were dogs and cats, hawks and owls, but I have to admit, all I saw that day were the wolves).

The wolves were with an organization that rescued wolves and wolf-hybrids kept as pets. I’m not sure which one. I wasn’t thinking organizations. I was thinking that here, just inches from me, was a real wolf.

I knelt down so I could be at wolf’s-eye level. I must have asked questions – I usually do – but what I remember most about that moment was when the wolf leaned over the rope barrier and licked me on the face.

Jim, watching from a few cautious steps back, admitted later that to him it looked as if the wolf was “tasting,” but all I felt was friendliness of the gesture. I also noted that the wolf had a “dry” mouth (nothing of the “slobbering monster” here) and smelled less strongly than did most dogs.

At that moment, all the research reading, all the times I’d watched wolves on film or from a distance at the zoo, merged into an appreciation of wolves that was as powerful – more powerful even – than that idealistic fifth grader had felt so many years ago upon reading The Jungle Book.