Archive for March, 2011

Taking Risks

March 30, 2011

This weekend we planted lilies: thirty-six to be precise, in shades of pink,

Pecan Mulch, Cobbles, and Gargoyle

 white, and yellow.

It’s an experiment. Along the sidewalk leading to our front door is a narrow bed that, until this weekend, was occupied by some really shabby creeping juniper. That juniper would never quite die, but no matter what I did it never quite thrived either. In fact, its main purpose in life seemed to be collecting wind-blown leaves.

Well, the juniper is gone now and in its place will hopefully be a cascade of color and tall stalks covered with frilly leaves. And if it doesn’t work? Well, we’ll have learned something.

(Oh! We couldn’t fit all thirty-six bulbs along the sidewalk. The extras are now in the bed backing our little pond, where they’ll get to share space with herbs and string beans.)

Yes. Spring is blowing its way into northern New Mexico. When the winds take a break, Jim and I are outside, clipping, raking, grooming, and digging compost into the soil of the garden beds.

When I moved from south-central Virginia to New Mexico (first Santa Fe, then Albuquerque), I had to learn to garden all over again. A friend (who had grown up in the Baltimore area) said to me: “You’re used to putting your plants up on little hills so they won’t get rotted out by too much rain. Here you’ve got to plant in little hollows so the water will flow to the plant.”

I nodded, then did things as I always had. Within a few weeks – you’ve guessed it – I was putting the plants into hollows to collect the moisture. I’ve learned a lot in my fifteen or so years of gardening in New Mexico, enough so that I’m one of the people folks come to for advice. That doesn’t mean I know it all. Every year is different.

This year we’re watching anxiously to see what damage our perennials took from the record cold levels. So far it’s been interesting. Plants we were sure we’d lose are back. However, our beloved apricot failed to put on its usually magnificent display of blossoms. We don’t always get fruit, but we’ve never failed to have flowers. It’s starting to leaf out, so we didn’t lose the tree, but why no flowers?

Every day we walk slowly around the yard, inspecting what’s coming up, clipping a bit here, weeding a touch there. We have an unusually intimate relationship with our garden. When I bought this house in late 1995, the only things (other than goatheads – a particularly vicious weed) growing in our back yard were two dying rose bushes and a battered juniper.

We saved the juniper, but other than that we can honestly say that everything growing in our yard we put in: every tree, shrub, vine, and herb. Even the wild plants are cultivated in a sense, since we choose to let globe mallow, asters, and various wild grasses and flowers grow, while weeding out pretty much everything else.

Last week, my wander was into the subject of whether literature changes anything. This mutated in the Comments section into a thoughtful discussion of how a book or poem – or even a balanced non-fiction treatment of some issue – can lead to personal change by exposing the reader to something new and different.

Taking risks seems to be important to personal growth (as well as garden growth). When I started this piece, I thought how different these two wanderings were. Looking back, maybe that’s not so much the case after all.

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Changes Nothing

March 23, 2011

The other night, I dreamed I was talking with my former dissertation

A Few More Books

 director, Dr. Philip Sicker, about a recently published critical study of the poet W.H. Auden.

This led to a long discussion of the often quoted line “poetry changes nothing” from Auden’s poem “In Memory of W.B. Yeats.”

Yeats, you see, believed poetry (and plays and fiction) could change things. Some people say he was right (after all, the Irish political landscape changed markedly in his lifetime, possibly in part because Yeats helped create a modern Irish cultural identity). Some people (and not Auden, by the by; read the whole poem) say poetry changes nothing.

My dissertation director and I (remember, this is a dream) went on to discuss whether or not literature does change anything. In the course of this, Dr. Sicker admitted that he’d tried some of my stuff, “but it just didn’t work for me.”

Aside: I have no idea whether or not Dr. Sicker has ever read anything non-academic that I’ve written. Other than a few e-mails many years ago, we long ago fell out of touch.

I said, “Well, I can see why. When I think back to the books we read in your Modern Literature classes, most of them were about people who didn’t do much, certainly didn’t change much. These books were basically about self-reflection. Sometimes, at the end, the person seemed to be moving toward change, but we rarely saw the change happen.”

I went on, “The message in those books seemed to be ‘You can’t change anything.’ No wonder they don’t have much general appeal. No wonder young people turn to computer games or genre fiction for entertainment and inspiration. The implicit message in computer games and genre fiction (in which I’m lumping SF, Fantasy, Mysteries, and Thrillers) seems to be, ‘If you’re careful enough, if you plan, if you try and try again, you can change things.’”

Dr. Sicker nodded, but about that time (just before 5:00 a.m, dear lord) one of the cats decided she needed her ears rubbed. Abruptly awakened, I came out of the dream with a clear memory of the discussion and spent the next twenty minutes, until the alarm went off, thinking about it.

“Poetry doesn’t change anything.”

I just don’t see it. Literature – in which I’m now lumping both “literary” and “popular” materials – has changed so many things, on so many levels for me, has introduced new ideas, has upset me or delighted me. Even those much maligned computer games have taught me things: patience, attention to detail, the value of cooperation.

Wandering slightly sideways, I’ll add that, from comments I’ve had from readers here and there over the years that I’ve been a fiction writer, sometimes my writings have been a gateway into a change of life or at least a broadening of thought.

Does it matter if the changes a story affects are on a small scale? Not really. After all, isn’t that the implicit message in all those introspective literary fiction novels – that the smallest scale matters just as much as the largest?

Has a story changed your life? Made you think differently? Maybe even led you into a career choice? I’d love to know.

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?

March 16, 2011

I’m feeling really “up” today. An event I’ve been looking forward to for

Hard At Work

 months has finally arrived.

David and Sharon Weber are here in New Mexico for a visit. As I mentioned in an earlier wander, Weber and Sharon are long-time, much-valued friends. (See “Lindskold and Weber to Collaborate: November 10, 2010)

In fact, I should probably explain why I always refer to this dear friend by his surname. It’s really pretty simple. At the time when we met, there were a lot of “Davids” in my life. So this newest one became “Weber.” Over the years, “Weber” has become something of an inside-out pet name. I actually feel weird calling him anything else.

Anyhow, Weber and Sharon had an invitation to attend the Tucson Festival of the Book. They decided that if they were “in the neighborhood” – which out here in the Wild West includes anything in a 500 or so mile stretch – they might as well drop in.

Weber and I had another, somewhat more practical, reason for wanting to get together in person. As I mentioned earlier, Weber and I are working on a project. Now, at long last, I can reveal some details.

For many years, Weber has wanted to do stories about Stephanie Harrington. Those of you who are fans of the Honor Harrington stories may recognize Stephanie as a historical figure – Honor’s multiple “greats” grandmother, the person who, as a girl of eleven was the first human to encounter the sentient native race on the planet Sphinx dubbed “treecats.”

Unlike her granddaughter some six hundred years later, Stephanie is not a spacer. She’s certainly not a soldier. However, this doesn’t mean Stephanie is any sort of wimp. Stephanie loves the wild green reaches and can’t wait to explore them. She’s smart and innovative, but far from perfect.

The first book in the series – scheduled for release in October 2011 – is a solo by Weber entitled A Beautiful Friendship. It’s intended for an audience of twelve and up, much like the classic “Heinlein juveniles” or the novels of Andre Norton that were gateways into SF/F for so many of us.

 The novel A Beautiful Friendship is spun-off from the novella of the same title, but contains tons of new material.  The novel spans several years.  When it starts, Stephanie is eleven (close to twelve).   When it ends, she’s fourteen.

My book – written in rough draft, but not yet titled; that’s one of the things we’re working out this trip – picks up shortly before Stephanie’s fifteenth birthday. I don’t want to put in spoilers, but I don’t think I give away too much when I say that it features forest fires, furious action, first love, and, treecats.

In fact, for those of you who like non-human intelligences (or “other bloods,” as I call them in the Firekeeper series), these books should hold lots of interest. For the first time in any Honorverse novel, a treecat is a main point of view character. Moreover, this isn’t a treecat in the future, when humans are an accepted part of history, but one who is dealing with first contact with an alien species – and with the growing awareness that the universe is a lot larger than the spreading forests of Sphinx.

Weber and I have a lot of ambitious plans for this series. I hope you’ll come and join us for the adventure.

Meanwhile, I’d better go get dinner ready. (Weber likes to cook and has volunteered to help). Joan Saberhagen is filling the final place at our little kitchen table and doubtless the conversation will be lively, cheerful, and probably a bit noisy…

Life-Long Fascination

March 9, 2011

Paul’s comment last week about how seeing the movie of The Thing led him

The Door Into Simak

 to the realization that a movie might be based on a story – and how that awareness contributed to a life-long fascination with the roots of things – made my mind do one of those sideways jumps.

In this case, I started thinking about how I came to my fascination with Science Fiction and Fantasy. For me, the gateway was mythology. Unlike many SF/F readers, I can’t tell you what was the first SF/F book I read. Nor am I going to claim to be one of those precocious readers who wasn’t even out of diapers before I was reading the encyclopedia.

As far as I know, I learned to read when I was in first grade. Whatever Sister Stephanie did to teach me, she must have done it right. Certainly, my mother must have played a big role in contributing to my enthusiasm. I don’t remember her reading to me specifically, but do I remember her reading to me and my siblings. By second grade, Miss O’Donnell was arranging for me to read with her sister’s – also Miss O’Donnell, a source of endless fascination for some reason – third graders.

Believe it or not, this is going somewhere…

When I was in third grade, my family moved. The new area’s school system had a reputation for being excellent. It might well have been. What it lacked was order and discipline. My parents had no way of knowing that I was doing well in third grade because most of the material was a repeat of second grade. My teacher, Mrs. Cox, was a nice woman. She read to us, too. I remember her reading from the Beverly Cleary books about Henry and her laughing so hard that she choked when Henry (in a contest with another boy over who really owns the dog Ribsy) yells something like: “Horsemeat, Ribsy! Horsemeat!”

In fourth grade, my world changed. I was put in what was called an Open Classroom. My teacher was a sweet young thing named Miss Campbell. Her mandate was based on a philosophy that children learn best at their own pace and doing what they want.

They expected me to learn long-division. They gave me a free pass to the library. What do you think I did? I read. That’s when I became seriously addicted to mythology. My favorites were two books by the D’Aulaire’s, their lavishly illustrated Greek and Norse myths. I took these out so often I came to think of them as “mine.” Later on that same year, I read both the Iliad and the Odyssey – adult versions – because so many of the characters were already old friends.

And somehow this led to Science Fiction and Fantasy. As I said, I don’t recall my first venture into either. I do remember that one of the reasons I started seeking out SF/F was because of summer reading. Once a week, my mom took us with pretty regular fidelity to the local library. I don’t recall her editing our choices. Her only rule was that we could take out as many books as we could carry.

I’d been reading “children’s books,” but the chapter books I liked (often horse stories or things like Nancy Drew) were bulky and heavy. Science Fiction and Fantasy came in paperbacks, lots and lots of them displayed on a big spinning wire rack. Westerns came in paperback, too. (This rack was up against a wall). I read a bunch of those as well. Oddly, I didn’t get into adult mysteries until a year or so later, when I started babysitting.

However, if weight and bulk considerations led me to SF/F, it was SF/F that led me back into the hard cover shelves. I still remember the first author whose books I went looking for, going to the card catalog, then to the intimidating, dusty reaches of the adult shelves.

Clifford Simak. I don’t remember which book I found there, but when I’d read all the paperbacks the library had of his stories, I had to find more of his odd, twisting perspective.

So what led you to SF/F? A specific book? Movies? Comics? A television show?

Oh… And I’m still lousy at long-division, but at least there are calculators to help with that!

Rock By The Road

March 2, 2011

The other day, Jim and I decided to take advantage of a pleasant afternoon –

The Rock Itself

 New Mexico weather is nothing if not changeable – to go for a walk.

As we wandered along a path that had been my regular walking route before I got my bicycle, Jim said, “Isn’t this about the place you picked up that core?”

I nodded and pointed back to the approximate place, thinking about how sometimes a willingness to be wrong can show you how much you’ve actually learned.

It went like this… I used to walk pretty much the same route every day. One day, after a particularly heavy rain shower, I noticed a piece of stone that looked to me as if it had been worked. Now, you must understand, over the years Jim and I have been together, I’ve seen a lot of people bring him what they’re certain are arrowheads or stone tools of some sort. Jim is always unfailingly gracious, but with a very few exceptions, usually what he tells them is that what they have is actually just a bit of gravel or broken stone.

Still, after many days of looking at this piece, I went over and picked it up. It sure looked worked to me. I almost tossed it back. Then I decided to take it home. I figured Jim would tell me it was a naturally broken chunk of rock, but that in the process I’d learn a little more about stone tools.

After dinner that night, I showed Jim my “find,” reassuring him as I handed it over that I wouldn’t be in the least hurt if he told me it was broken gravel, that all I wanted to know was how he could tell the difference.

Jim turned the rock over in his hands a few times, grinned and said, “Yes. This is a core. I can’t be absolutely sure, but it looks like Pedernal chert.”

I blinked, completely astonished. “You mean I was right? It is an artifact?”

“Yes. A core. See here and here? This is where someone knocked pieces off.”

He went on to explain that this artifact probably wasn’t local, that such things are sometimes found where gravel has been mined and moved. Since the area where I’d found this core was near to both a road and a school, that was likely how it had come to be there.

Even so, I was pretty delighted. I realized I’d learned a lot in my casual studies of Jim’s lithics. I also realized I’d learned another lesson – one that was a whole lot more important. Don’t leave the rock by the road because you know you’re wrong. You might surprise yourself.

I bet just about everyone has their own rocks in the road. I’d love to hear about yours.