Archive for November, 2010

Victims and Villains

November 24, 2010

Well… Last week and into this one, I’ve had the Cold From Hell. Since I didn’t

My Constant Companions

 even leave the house for the better part of last week, I fear I don’t have anything fascinating to recount. I’m also somewhat muddy in the thinking department.

Therefore, this week’s wandering is an expansion on a piece I wrote last spring for Magic and Mayhem site. They’d asked me to write about victims or villains in my fiction. I was rather shocked, since I didn’t think I wrote either. I’m actually rather passionate about the subject. So here’s what I gave them instead.

I try not to write either victims or villains. When talking about the characters in my books, I don’t even use the words “heroes” and “villains.” Protagonists and antagonists, sure, but not villains and never victims.

Yes. Some characters in my books become victims within the unfolding of events. Perhaps the character I’ve been given the most grief over is Citrine. I will admit that in the course of the “Wolf Series” (also known as the “Firekeeper Saga”), Citrine goes though a really bad patch.

As for villains, I’m a firm believer that no one, not even historical figures – like Stalin or Hitler – who were responsible for the deaths and torture of many thousands of people, gets up in the morning, rubs his or her hands briskly together, and says: “Ah-hah! I think I’ll do something really evil today.”

For this reason, in my novels you’re not going to find any glowing eye in the sky brooding over a devastated landscape. If characters dress all in black with skulls for jewelry, they’re into Goth fashion.

What you will find in my novels are people who commit completely heinous acts (like having their own child’s finger chopped off) and yet still manage to believe that what they are doing is all for the greater good.

Yes. I do believe in evil, but I also believe in the capacity of intelligent beings of any type to justify their actions so they come out as the “good guys.” Read interviews with serial killers. Most see themselves as the victims. The same goes for leaders of genocidal armies, mass suicides, or even professional torturers. It’s all the other guy’s fault or, at creepy best, a bit of fun that got out of control.

I’ve never been one of those writers – and I know some who do this – who deliberately create a character to serve as a victim in order to manipulate reader reaction. I’ve heard writers brag about doing this: creating the cute kid or kitten or whatever that is meant to die and so bring tears to the reader’s eyes.

When I hear this sort of discussion, I have to dig my nails into the palm of my hand and force a polite nod. I really despise such deliberate manipulation as sloppy writing and abuse of the reader.

If a character in one of my books is harmed, I feel it. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve wept for these fictional people. When I had to write the scene where Changer loses his eye – a scene that had to be “on-stage” – I wrote around it until I could get up the courage.

So, victims and villains. You’ll find them both in my works, but I never think of them as such. To me, they’re all people, doing what they do because that’s how the world has worked out for them.

Note: A version of this piece originally appeared on the blog site Magic and Mayhem in March of 2010.

Offered With A Grin

November 17, 2010

“Leave Migel alone!”

The voice on the other end of the phone is female, a rich contralto, melodiously flavored with a Spanish accent.

“Excuse me?”

“Leave Migel alone!”

“Uh… Excuse me? Who is this?”

“I am Migel’s girlfriend!”

I try to process this. The connection isn’t great – I suspect it’s coming in via a cell phone – but even so the voice is rich and theatrical, so much so that I suspect this call can’t be for real.

Revelation hits me. I was expecting a call from Jim right about this time. I bet this is Mary, one of Jim’s co-workers. (Mary was the lady with whom I was shooting bows and arrows, as I detailed in my wandering of September 29, 2010, “Chiles and Sherds and Other Stuff, Too”).

I can almost envision the scene. Mary is working closely with Jim right now. He says something like, “Hang on. I promised Jane I’d call her.” He punches in our number. Mary grins wickedly and takes the phone. “Let me talk to her.”

So now I smile. Two can play this game.

“I have no idea who Migel is. In fact, I’m waiting for a phone call from my husband.”

The voice falters only slightly, “Leave Migel alone!”

“I have no idea who Migel is. Who are you?”

The call goes dead. When Jim calls me, on schedule, two minutes later, he has no idea who that could have been. We resolve that it was a genuine wrong number.

But the incident stays with me. I find myself thinking what I’d say if the voice calls again. I dub her “Margarita” – both because the name is exotic, and because I wonder if a bit of alcoholic over-indulgence triggered the call.

“Listen, Margarita,” I think about saying. “If you can’t trust Migel to the extent that you phone perfect strangers to warn them off him, then is he worth it?”

“But it is not him I do not trust,” that remarkable voice responds. “It is the other women. You say you do not know Migel, so I will tell you. He is, how do you say it? Magnificio! Magnificent. Other men are dogs. He is a lion!”

“Still, Margarita. Consider. Male lions are really not the best husbands. They’re lazy and good for pretty much one thing. They leave all the hunting to the women, just lie around, looking, well, magnificio. Are you sure this is what you want in your life?”

“I live and breathe for Migel.”

“Pity you can’t trust him to live and breathe for you.”

Imaginary phone line goes dead.

I’m left wondering. Who was she? Where did she get that voice? I imagine an actress or singer. It would be a pity if that voice spent its life stocking groceries or taking orders for burritos to go.

Is there really another woman? Is Margarita right to distrust Migel? Where did she get the number she was dialing when she got me? Had she stolen Migel’s cell phone, perhaps? Was she going through his auto-dialer calling every number not clearly identified?

Ooh… That could cause some problems. What if she called Migel’s boss? Some important business contact? His great-aunt?

No… My name wouldn’t have been in his auto-dialer. Did she find the number written sloppily on a scrap of paper in his pocket and come to the wrong conclusion? For a while, a local garage had a number close to my own. What if Migel had taken his car in there?

What sort of person is Margarita that she would call a stranger rather than confront Migel? What sort of person is he? Does she fear him as well as love him?

One of the most commonly asked questions writers hear is “Where do you get your ideas?”

I offer you this with a grin…

Lindskold and Weber to Collaborate!

November 10, 2010

Last January 27th, I was out in the yard moving water from rain barrels into my tiny pond when my phone rang. Bucket still in hand, I answered it.

A familiar voice drawled, “Hello, Jane.”

A few stories

And I replied, “Hello, Weber.” I also went on dipping water. If you’ve ever met David Weber, you’ll know that there is nothing like a short conversation when he’s involved.

“Listen, I was wondering if you’d want to work with me on a couple of novels.”

I nearly dropped the bucket into the pond. Weber and I have been friends a long time. We’d talked about just about everything – and I mean that – except collaborating.

How long have Weber and I known each other? Well, let’s put it this way. When we met, Weber had one and a half novels out. I had two short stories, but since Starshore, the magazine that published the first one (“Cheesecake”), had died almost as soon as it brought my story out, I wasn’t sure that counted. My first “real” story, “Between Tomatoes and Snapdragons” in Dragon Fantastic hadn’t been out very long.

“Collaborating? I don’t know… But what do you have in mind?”

The next part of this conversation must be, for now, stamped Top Secret at the request of the publisher. Suffice to say, I got off the phone not at all certain I was going to say “yes,” but definitely considering.

There was a lot to consider. While Weber is an avid collaborator, I am not. I’ve done work in theme anthologies and shared universes. I finished two novels for Roger Zelazny (Donnerjack and Lord Demon). But I think my only real collaboration has been a Berserker short story, “Servant of Death,” with Fred Saberhagen in the anthology Man Vs Machine.

On the other hand, I’ve worked with Weber before. I’ve written three novellas set in his Honor Harrington universe: “Queen’s Gambit” (in Worlds of Honor), “Promised Land” (in The Service of the Sword) and “Ruthless” (forthcoming in In Fire Forged). All of these had been good experiences, even when Weber started doing things like insisting I had to include a bodyguard in a scene I wanted small and intimate, or nattering on at me about relative speeds of small inter-system craft.

I’d done these stories for two reasons. One, I like Weber a lot. (More on this in a minute). Two, I like writing Science Fiction. If you look back at my earlier novels, you’ll see that most of them are Science Fiction or at least fall into that strange, grey area often called “Science Fantasy.” Even when I write Fantasy, it tends to be what I have heard called “Hard Fantasy” – that is, no miracles out of left field, and that everything, no matter how weird, is somehow grounded.

However, once the “Wolf Series” (a.k.a. “The Firekeeper Saga”) became a hit, I found it harder to convince people I wrote SF. In fact, in this past year, I was asked in two separate interviews, by interviewers who had obviously taken the time to read the list of publications on my website: “What is this with you writing stories for David Weber?”

But even a chance to write science fiction (I think I can say that much without tearing the veil of secrecy) would not have been enough if I didn’t like David Weber.

We met for the first time at MOC, a now-defunct convention in South Carolina. We met again at another MOC. For some reason, we got in the habit of occasional phone chats. Then, one early spring, my phone rang.

“Hello, Jane?”

“Hello, Weber.”

“My car broke down. The sign I just passed said I’m nearly in Lynchburg, Virginia. Isn’t that where you live?”

It was. I went and collected him. His venerable Volvo went into a garage. It was there for eleven days. Weber stayed at my house for those days (although I have a memory that we attended an SF convention as part of that time). That visit changed what had been, to that point, a professional acquaintanceship into a deep and abiding friendship.

It’s a friendship that has seen us each through divorces. Weber was one of the few people who knew Roger was ill with cancer. He stuck by us through that, even coming out to visit. The last book Roger read was Weber’s Path of the Fury. He liked it a lot.

After Roger died, Weber was my greatest mainstay. He’d call daily. One day he found me so depressed that he stayed on the phone long distance (this was in the days that long distance cost money) for two hours, refusing to hang up until he managed to make me laugh.

Later, when we both started falling in love (with other people), we coached each other through the ups and downs. I might have run scared as my whirlwind romance with Jim began to get serious, but Weber talked me out of my panic. (“Don’t you dare run scared because you can’t believe lightning could strike twice.”)

I knew Weber was in love with Sharon long before he admitted it to himself. I mean, when every other word out of a man’s mouth is “Sharon says,” you need to be really slow not to catch on. When Weber came to visit, he bought Sharon so many gifts that I finally said, “Ok, Weber. You say you’re just friends, but does she know that?” He assured me she did.

Weber was right. The story of his and Sharon’s courtship is a long and very funny one. Jim says to this day that he regretted when they finally figured it out. He enjoyed coming home to hear the daily installments.

However, I will say (somewhat smugly) that I knew Weber was going to propose before Sharon did – and that Sharon (she really didn’t know they weren’t “just friends”) told me that she was going to say “yes,” before she told him.

Despite living many miles away and not seeing each other as often as we’d like – especially since Weber and Sharon set up family with three kids within one month (another too long tale that filled many, many hours on the phone) – we’ve stayed close.

So this isn’t a collaboration in the typical sense. I’m thinking of it as more like two good buddies finding a new sandbox in which to romp. As Baen Books permits, I’ll fill you in on more details.

Promise.

First Frost

November 3, 2010

I have a friend named Sally Gwylan with whom I talk just about every Monday. We’re both enthusiastic gardeners. This time of year what the weather is doing is of paramount interest.

On Monday, October 25, Sally and I discussed the long warm trend we’d been experiencing and how, what with the cloud cover and everything, it seemed likely that the gardens would get at least another week. Then, that very evening, Sally called back.

“I just checked the weather. The wind has blown the clouds out. We’re likely to get a frost tonight. I’m heading out to get those last cucumbers.”

I passed on the report and Jim raced outside to take advantage of the last light. He picked any tomatoes that were showing a blush of color. He also picked a bucket of green tomatoes. (We used these to make an excellent green tomato relish – my maternal grandmother’s recipe).

Since twilight was shifting into full dark, we decided to take a gamble on the remaining peppers and squash.

The next morning, I could see that the plants had definitely been damaged. I waited with trepidation for the air to warm. Albuquerque is at a mile high, so it wasn’t until mid-morning I was fairly certain that the damage had been bad but not complete.

The pepper plants were gone, but the fruit didn’t show any sign of frost burn. About two-thirds of the squash leaves were blackened and collapsed, but the under-story showed leaves that had survived. The zucchini we’d left were un-damaged and I picked all that were longer than about five inches.

Oddest was the sweet basil. We had a fairly dense planting stretching about four feet long. The plants were tall and bushy – just under chest-high on me. As I inspected the basil plants, I found areas where a branch was covered with wilted and blackened leaves, but the branch next to it still had green leaves. Nor was the survived/killed division neatly placed. Some branches that stuck up and out (and therefore logically were more exposed) were fine. Others right next to them were ruined.

Very weird.

As the following week unfolded, the garden made a bit of a recovery. More tomatoes showed color. We picked these to finish ripening inside. The cucumber vines, which I would have sworn were dead, yielded two more good-sized cukes, as well as a couple of little ones. There’s at least one zucchini considering getting on with growing.

But the end is in sight. I always dread this time of year, because I enjoy the garden so very much. This year in particular, where I grew so many of the plants from seed, it’s a little like losing pets. (You can look at “Wild Pink Haze,” April 14, 2010, to get a glimpse of these baby plants).

On the other hand, I find myself thinking about next year. Or even this winter. A neighbor gave me seeds for some hollyhocks that flower such a dark purple they’re nearly black. I’d like to start some of those. Then there is the question of lavender. I didn’t have any luck with my first batch, but I could try again over the winter. I might end up with seedlings for the spring.

As sorry as I am to see the garden of Summer 2010 go, I’m looking ahead, anticipating the next challenge. There are paths to be built. (We’re making our own pavers). Beds to be re-mulched. Branches to be pruned.

A while back (May 19, 2010), I wrote a wandering called “Forgetting a Child” about how a writer needs to always look ahead, not back. I see now, as I look at my beloved garden, nibbled nearly to death by approaching winter, that this philosophy extends into other aspects of my life as well.

Neat discovery…