Archive for December, 2013

TT: Boxing Day

December 26, 2013

The Wednesday Wandering is short.  The picture is really cute, though.  Take a look.  Then fill your mug with something warm, before you join me and Alan as he straightens me out as to what Boxing Day really is.

JANE: So, Alan, I hope you and Robin had a Merry Christmas.  Or, as I believe you Brits put it, a “Happy Christmas.”



ALAN: Actually, we use both phrasings, so really you can’t go wrong however you say it. I hope you and Jim had an equally Merry/Happy Christmas.

JANE:   We did.  We still are, actually…  We don’t give up on Christmas easily.

I believe today is what you call Boxing Day.  I remember being completely confused about this term when as a kid I first came across it in fiction set in England.  I couldn’t figure out why the day after Christmas would be devoted to a sport in which large, mostly naked men beat on each other.

Then someone told me that Boxing Day had to do with undecorating.  That makes more sense.

ALAN: Undecorating? That’s a lovely neologism, but I’m a bit confused as to what you mean by it.

JANE: You know, taking down all the Christmas decorations and putting them away in boxes until next year.

ALAN: Oh no! Not at all! It’s terribly bad luck to take the decorations down so early. You aren’t allowed to take them down until Twelfth Night. It’s also terribly bad luck to take them down after Twelfth Night as well, so you really have a rather narrow window of opportunity to get it right. I quickly lose count and I’m never very sure when Twelfth Night actually is. Perhaps I’m doomed to a lifetime of bad luck.

JANE: You make me feel good.   Jim and I like leaving our decorations up until at least Twelfth Night.  We go through so much work to put them up, it seems a shame to rush to take them down.  Twelfth Night, in case you want to put it on your calendar, is January 6.

Still, despite your ignorance of this particular date, you seem to have had quite a lucky life.

ALAN: Maybe the superstition is broken. Shakespeare really didn’t care for it at all. That’s why the sub-title of his play Twelfth Night is What You Will.  (A nice anticipation of today’s teenage angst phrase “Whatever!”)  From this I deduce that the Christmas decorations in the Shakespeare household came down at any old time. Perhaps even on Boxing Day…

JANE:  You are being silly again – and Shakespeare would have loved it.  January 6, in addition to being Twelfth Night, is also the “Feast of Fools,” basically, a time when anything goes.   I suspect that’s what Shakespeare was referring to in his subtitle.

By the by, I can’t resist mentioning, the very first Wednesday Wandering (1-20-10) was about attending a performance of the play.

Now, you’ve told me what Boxing Day isn’t. How about telling me what it actually is?

ALAN: I suspect the name and the practice may well date back to feudal times and perhaps even earlier. On Boxing Day, the Lord of the Manor would traditionally reward the peasants for a year of hard work by giving them Christmas Boxes, or presents. Certainly in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries members of the aristocracy would give Christmas Boxes to their servants. The tradition was very widespread and percolated down through the ranks. My father always made a point of leaving a Christmas Box (that was the phrase he used) for the postman, the milkman and the binman.  Rumour had it that if you didn’t give them a Christmas Box they’d take their revenge on you. Letters would be lost in the mail, the milk would be sour and rubbish would accidentally spill all over your front yard.

JANE: Did that really happen?

ALAN: No, not really. They’d all have lost their jobs if they did that sort of thing. But it makes a nice story. I think the practice may have died out with my father’s generation though. Certainly I’ve never left Christmas Boxes and none of my friends indulge in the practice. Mind you, mail deliveries are being reduced to only three days a week, you simply can’t get milk delivered to your house anymore, and all that the binmen do these days is sit in their great big roaring truck and press buttons. The truck does all the hard work of picking up the bins and tossing the rubbish into itself. I can’t help wondering if there’s a connection between the lack of Christmas Boxes and the reduction in service.

JANE: Interesting thought.  I would have thought gift giving would wait for Twelfth Night, since that is also the Feast of the Epiphany, which celebrates when the Magi gave gifts to the Christ Child.

ALAN: So tell me, since you don’t seem to have the concept of Boxing Day, what exactly do you do on the day after Christmas?

JANE: Sleep.  Eat leftovers.  Revel in having time off to relax with friends and loved ones.  This year my mom is here and I’ve been enjoying her company.

ALAN: Oh yes – we do that as well. And Boxing Day is also a public holiday, just like Christmas Day. But the poor old shopkeepers don’t get time off. Boxing Day is when the big after Christmas sales start, and every shop in the country is packed with people hunting down bargains. I suppose it’s the equivalent of your Black Friday.

JANE: Black Friday is similar, but not the same.  We also have big after Christmas sales.  Black Friday starts the holiday shopping frenzy.  It’s the day after American Thanksgiving, which is always held on a Thursday.  Since many people take the Friday off from work, it became a day to go out and start the holiday shopping.

There is no set agreement as to the origin of the term.  I’ve heard that retailers originated it because that would be the day they could be sure to be “in the black” for the year’s sales.  I’ve also heard it was originated by police officers somewhere in, I think, Pennsylvania, because of the traffic tangles and other problems that originated when everyone went shopping at once.

ALAN: You mentioned earlier on that Twelfth Night is also called the Feast of Fools. But actually Boxing Day is also, somewhat foolishly, a role-reversal day in addition to all its other virtues.

On Christmas Day the household servants would have been rushed off their feet looking after all the guests. So on Boxing Day they were allowed a day of rest and the lords and ladies would look after them, serving them food and drink. I believe that still happens in the army – the officers all act as servants to the other ranks on Boxing Day. We used to do it at school as well – on the last day of term before the Christmas holidays, the senior boys would serve lunch to the juniors.

JANE:  I’m fascinated.  You mentioned that you thought the tradition of giving gifts to servants on Boxing Day might have its roots in feudal or even earlier times.  I think “earlier” is probably right.  England’s culture was influenced by the Romans.  In December, the Romans celebrated Saturnalia, a seven day festival that began on December 17th.    As one of my books describes it, Saturnalia was “marked by carnival, exchange of gifts, feasting, license and misrule, and a cessation of all public works.  Masters served slaves; kings were chosen by lot, usually from among criminals or slaves…”

Seems to me that Boxing Day is simply Saturnalia moved a little later on the calendar probably because the dates earlier in December became associated with the Christian feast of Christmas.

ALAN: Oh that sounds like fun. Feasting, license and misrule. Let’s go with that!

JANE: In the U.S., we don’t have a formal feast of misrule associated with Christmas time, but there are those who feel it is a time to give gifts to those in the service industry in the form of tips to hairdressers, letter carriers, and the like.    So, I suppose the Christmas Box is alive and well here, if not there.

ALAN: Tipping. I don’t understand tipping. We never do it, which really makes life so much simpler and prevents embarrassment.

JANE:  Tipping customs confuse me, too, but I can at least try to explain.  However, let’s save that for next time.


Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Persephone Under the Tree

Persephone Under the Tree

From me and Jim.

From Kwahe’e, Ogapoge, Keladry, and Persephone.  (Cats)

And from Lilybett, Silver, Usagi, Serenity, and Snowdrop.  (Guinea Pigs)

The fish don’t have names… but they join us all in wishing you a celebration of lightness and brightness, whatever religious denomination to which you belong – including none at all.

The days will hold more sunlight.  May you share that sunlight with those whose lives you touch.

TT: More Lust! More Marriage! More Music!

December 19, 2013

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  Page back one to where I take a look at the often painful subject of Writer’s Block.  Then join me and Alan as we finish our journey through the lives and wives of Henry VIII.

JANE: Guess what?  I came across another reference to the “I’m Henry the VIII” song the other day – and this time it actually has an impact on the actual king.  I think this is a pretty good trick, given that the song wasn’t written until 1910 and Henry VIII died in 1547.

Henry VIII and Some Screen Selves

Henry VIII and Some Screen Selves

ALAN: Since I’m a science fiction fan, I’m guessing that time travel is involved here. Am I right?

JANE: Not quite… According to George MacDonald Fraser’s excellent book The Hollywood History of the World: “It is said that Alexander Korda [director of The Private Life of Henry VIII] conceived the film after hearing a cockney taxi-driver singing: “I’m ‘Enery the Eighth I am.”

(Note, the title of the song is given in a different version than I’ve encountered elsewhere, but one does not monkey with a direct quote!)

In this film, Henry was played by Charles Laughton, who presented the king as, to quote Fraser: “a deplorable caricature… a childish, selfish, posturing buffoon, a vain, ranting thing without intelligence or stature…. [a] gross, belching creature who strutted and postured and threw chicken-bones over his shoulder.”

Despite evidence to the contrary, this is the version that has stuck in the modern imagination.  Not long ago, Jim and I were unwinding to an episode of The Muppett Show and there was Zero Mostel, costumed after Henry VIII in the famous Hans Holbein portrait, doing yet another variation on the theme.

My understanding is that Henry VIII was actually an imposing and handsome man, at least in his youth.

ALAN: In his youth, Henry was a big, strong man, well over six feet tall and appropriately proportioned. He was often described as extremely handsome. He was very athletic and he excelled at hunting and jousting. In 1536, a jousting accident left him unconscious for two hours. After that his athletic activities tapered off and he began to put on weight. Late in life, he became grossly obese and required the aid of mechanical devices to move around. He was covered with pus-filled boils. An old jousting wound in his leg re-opened and proved impossible to treat, becoming severely ulcerated. He must have been in a lot of pain.

JANE: Oh, gross…  But you’re right, he must have hurt all the time.

ALAN: It is reported that Henry’s diet consisted largely of roast meat, and modern analysis of his symptoms suggests that he was suffering from scurvy and probably Type II diabetes as well since he almost never ate any fruit or vegetables.

JANE: That’s an interesting insight.  Probably explained his inability to heal as well.

Now, having disposed of movie-inspired myth, let’s get back to lust and marriage.

Henry rushed into marriages one, two, three, and four (or null, as the count may go).  I suppose he rushed into number five (or four) as well.

ALAN: Actually, not.  For a time, it seemed that Henry had given up on marriage. But three years later, when he was 49 years old, he married Catherine Howard who had been one of Anne Boleyn’s ladies-in-waiting.

JANE: Wait a minute.  This makes for his second Catherine.  We’ve already had two Annes.  Now we have two Catherines.  I’m beginning to feel much better about my chronic confusion regarding which wife was which and fit in where.

So how did Henry feel about Catherine II?

ALAN: Henry was delighted with his new wife and showered her with gifts of land and jewellery. However, Catherine was less than delighted with her new husband and soon embarked on an adulterous affair with a courtier called Thomas Culpeper. She also appointed an old lover called Francis Dereham as her secretary.

JANE: Well, given the condition you relate Henry being in, I can’t say I blame her.

I was right to anticipate lust and marriage.  At last, Henry VIII was getting some well-deserved payback at last.  This is starting to sound like a soap opera!

ALAN: Rumours of Catherine’s pre-marital affair reached the ear of Thomas Cranmer. Dereham was arrested and, under torture, admitted the affair. However, he denied having relations with the queen after her marriage, claiming that he had been supplanted in her affections by Culpeper.  Culpeper and the queen herself were arrested and interrogated.

JANE: How did Henry react to this?

ALAN: He flew into a rage and then went hunting. Culpeper, Dereham and Catherine were all executed.

JANE: While Henry was hunting?

ALAN: No – the hunt didn’t last that long! There was still the formality of a trial to be gone through, and these things take time. But the result was never in doubt.

JANE: Do you know whether they were beheaded or hanged and drawn and quartered?  The method seems to be some indication of Henry’s mood.

ALAN: Dereham and Culpeper were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Catherine was sentenced to be beheaded. Both men pleaded for mercy. Culpeper, who had been a close friend of Henry’s in his youth, had his sentence commuted to a simple beheading. Dereham’s sentence was not commuted and was carried out in full.

JANE: Ah, that regal mercy…

Okay.  Who’s the next victim?  I mean wife!

ALAN: In 1543, at the age of 52, Henry married his last wife, Catherine Parr.

JANE (with a cry of anguish): Not another Catherine!

ALAN: I fear so – we can’t argue with the facts of history.

By all accounts, they were happy together. Catherine was very close to all three of Henry’s children and personally helped with the education of Edward, Henry’s son by Jane Seymour, and Elizabeth, his daughter by Anne Boleyn. She persuaded Henry to pass an Act of Succession in 1543 which clearly set out the status of the children, bringing both Elizabeth and Mary (his daughter by Catherine of Aragon) legally into the line of succession to the throne. Edward, Mary and Elizabeth were first, second and third in the line of succession.

JANE: Very neat and tidy.  I guess Catherine was pretty certain she wasn’t going to supply any children.  Henry had a son by this point, so he didn’t need to worry…

Well, actually he did need to worry.  First though, let’s resolve the current generation.  What happened to the generous-spirited Catherine?  Did she survive her husband?

ALAN: She survived him by a year. After Henry died, she married an old flame, Sir Thomas Seymour. He was  actually the brother of Jane Seymour, Henry’s third wife. Small world, isn’t it?

Anyway, she soon became pregnant, but died in childbirth in 1548. She was only 35 years old…

JANE: So if Catherine strongly suspected that she wouldn’t have children with Henry (as her part in setting up the succession seems to indicate), it must have been because of Henry.  I wonder if he was beyond sexual intercourse by that time.

One more question.  Early on, you said that Henry had either six wives or four.  The marriage to Anne of Cleves was annulled.  Who was the other unlucky wife?

ALAN: That depends…

Henry married six women. That is incontrovertible. But whether or not they were all his wives is quite a different question.

If you are Catholic, then Henry had four legal marriages: Catherine of Aragon, Jane Seymour, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr. If you are a Protestant, he also had four legal marriages: Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr.

As you noted, the marriage to Anne of Cleves was annulled. An annulment is not a divorce – it means that, legally speaking, the marriage simply never happened. Henry actually annulled his marriages to Anne Boleyn, and Catherine Howard prior to their executions, so it can also be argued that, from his point of view, he really only had two wives: Jane Seymour and Catherine Parr!

And I’m sure a legal / theological brain could come up with other equally valid uxorial combinations…

JANE: Wait…  Wouldn’t he still have viewed his marriage to Catherine of Aragon as valid?  I’m not sure how even the Protestants could have ruled this one out.

ALAN: No, not at all. Remember, it was Henry’s attempt to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled that triggered his break with Rome in the first place.  The pope refused his request, so the Catholics continued to consider the marriage to be legal. But in order to be able to marry Anne Boleyn, Henry had the marriage declared null and void by Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury. So as far as the Protestants were concerned, his marriage to Catherine of Aragon never actually happened at all!

JANE: Well that certainly straightens that out!  What an incredibly twisted tale.  It doesn’t end with the Henries, of course.  In fact, despite all the care he took, the succession of Henry VIII is worth looking at…   Oh…  And we never did get to those monasteries.  But it’s the holiday season.  They may need to wait.

Writer’s Block

December 18, 2013

A few weeks ago, I invited readers of these Wanderings to let me know if there was anything they’d like to hear me wander on about.  Several people sent suggestions. Oddly, all were sent to my e-mail, rather than to the blog site.  Feel free to write me at if you have something you’d like me to write about, but you’re too shy to post it here.

One of the topics I was asked about was Writer’s Block.  That particular issue caught my attention this week because, while I haven’t been blocked, I’ve had so many competing demands on my time that I found it hard to get back into my current novel (the sequel to Artemis Awakening) after I finished the short story I mentioned a couple weeks ago.  I finally gave myself permission to get the packages out, do the Christmas cards, plan holiday menus, and, basically, clear the decks so I could be a writer again.

My Salvation

My Salvation

So…  Here’ s the question.  “You always hear about ‘writer’s block.’  What do you do when you get ‘stuck’ creatively?    Does taking a break get you back on track?  How often does it happen?  What’s the worst you’ve ever experienced?”

Okay.  Let’s start with defining writer’s block, because there are a lot of misunderstandings about what it is.  Writer’s block is completely different from being “stuck” – that is, uncertain about where to take a story or how to resolve a problem in the plot or how to develop a character.  Pauses in the development of a story are something that every writer faces.  I talked some about how I deal with these hitches in the writing process in “Walking Away From It” (WW 8-11-10).

Writer’s block is completely different.  Writer’s block is a crippling inability to write.  I’m a disciplined and determined writer.  If I hadn’t encountered writer’s block personally, I think I’d be inclined to believe that it’s just an excuse not to write.  However, I’ve had it.  I know it’s real.  And really terrible.

Here’s what happened…  Many years ago, when I was teaching at Lynchburg College in Virginia, I also was working hard on getting established as a fiction writer.  Every day, no matter how demanding my day job, I’d make time to write.  When I finished a story and polished it, I’d send it out to one of the SF/F magazines.  Then I’d put it out of my mind and start something new.  When a story came back with a rejection, I’d go over it, then send it out again.  (This was in the late 1980s or early 1990s, so neither disposable manuscripts nor electronic submissions and correspondence had become routine.)

There came a day when I had five short stories out.   I was feeling hopeful that one of them would get published.  I came home from work, unlocked the tiny mailbox in my apartment house entryway, and found every single story I’d sent out smashed into the box.  Each had a form rejection.  I’m not sure that anyone had even looked at them.

My gut lurched, but I didn’t realize how hard that torrent of rejection had hit me until I sat down that evening to write.  I’d been working on a story.  I curled up with my pen and clipboard (I always wrote rough drafts long-hand) and my hand began to shake.  I couldn’t write a single word.   The story had vanished.  All I could envision was more rejection.  Maybe the couple of stories I’d already sold had been flukes.  Maybe I didn’t have what it took.

I gave myself that night off and graded papers instead.  The next night, I sat down to write.  Again, I started shaking.  Night after night, this went on.   It was horrible.  I could write letters.  I could write material for my classes.  I could write non-fiction.  But writing a story was impossible.

(I’ve got to pause here.  My heart’s racing with remembered fear and pain.)

What saved me was that my desire to tell a story was stronger than my fear that no one but me would ever read it.  I was teaching a course on mythology and one of my students asked, “Dr. Lindskold, I just don’t get this Orpheus guy.  What is it he does?”  I considered, then I said, “Well, Shannon, did you ever hear the story of the Pied Piper of Hamlin when you were a kid?  Orpheus was like that, except that it wasn’t just children or rats that were charmed by his music, it was everything,.  Even rocks or trees would try to get closer to him when he began to sing.”

And as the discussion continued, as we moved on to the eventual tragedy of Orpheus’s life, a small part of my brain that had been too long dormant came alive.  “What if,” it said, “Orpheus didn’t die?  What if he escaped the maenads?  What if he somehow lived to become the Pied Piper?”

That night, I took out pen and paper for the first time in forever.  I wasn’t writing, I assured myself.  I was just making a few notes.  Every page I filled, I slid to the back of my clipboard unread, unreviewed.  After all, I wasn’t writing.  Eventually, I had more than the clip could hold.  I put these in a folder and stuffed the folder on a shelf.  I kept writing until I had the longest thing I’d ever written.  Somewhere along the way, the block was beaten.

If this were a movie, I would then sell the novel immediately, win awards, and thumb my nose at those who had rejected me.  What happened in reality was that, even though this was a long piece, it wasn’t long enough.  When I sent it out, it got rejected.  However, eventually I expanded it, adding a second part to the story.  It would come out many years later as my third published novel, The Pipes of Orpheus.

I hope that answers the questions.  To me, writer’s block is different than simply getting “stuck.”  Since it has its roots in something more complex, simply taking a break won’t be enough to fix the problem.  It’s called “writer’s block,” not “writer’s stuck” for a reason, and being blocked is hell for a writer.  To answer the one remaining question, it’s only happened once to me.  I hope and pray it never happens again.

Have any of you been blocked?  How did you deal with it?  How do you deal with being stuck?  I’m sure we’d all enjoy hearing how you get back into sync with your Muse.

TT: Maligned Anne, Sickening Jane, Enter Another Anne

December 12, 2013

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  Page back one for news about interviews, audio books, and deep insights into the behind the scenes discussions of editors and authors.  Then come back and join me and Alan as we wend deeper into the maze of the life and wives of Henry VIII.

JANE: We left Shakespeare’s play without discussing the climax. However, so the play doesn’t provide a spoiler for history, why don’t you go first?

The Play's Not Quite the Thing

The Play’s Not Quite the Thing

ALAN: Anne Boleyn bore Henry a daughter, Elizabeth, but she failed to provide him with a son. She miscarried at least one male child and Henry, who was desperate for a son and heir, became increasingly distant from her. He took a mistress, Jane Seymour.

Then, probably in close collaboration with his Chief Minister Thomas Cromwell, he had five men, including Anne’s own brother, arrested and accused of treasonable adultery by having sexual relations with Anne. She too was arrested and tried on charges of adultery and incest. The evidence was thin and unconvincing. Nevertheless all were found guilty, all were sentenced to death and all were executed.

JANE: That’s incredibly ugly.  It’s also probably one of the reasons that Shakespeare chose to end his play where he did, with the christening of the infant princess, Elizabeth, and a few grandiloquent speeches.

Anne’s fall would have made great drama (and has, in fact, made for great movies in modern times), but there’s no way that Shakespeare could have dealt with the material without impugning either King Henry VIII or Anne Boleyn – the parents of the late and much revered Queen Elizabeth I.  Once again, Shakespeare stayed on the safe side of the political line.

So, how did Anne die?

ALAN: Anne was sentenced “to be burned alive or beheaded, at the king’s pleasure”. Henry’s pleasure was that she should be decapitated. Normally this would be carried out with an axe, but for some reason Henry declared that she should be beheaded by sword. None of the English executioners knew how to do that and so a hasty search was mounted to find a suitably qualified man in Europe. A man called Rombaud, from Calais, was appointed to the task.

JANE: Ah…  Enter the suspicious Frenchman.

ALAN: Anne was escorted to the scaffold by two hundred Yeomen of the Guard and numerous councillors, aldermen and officials. She was blindfolded with a linen handkerchief and then Rombaud withdrew his sword from beneath the straw where he had hidden it to avoid upsetting Anne with the sight of it. He severed her head with one stroke.

JANE: Shakespeare the dramatist (rather than the man careful for his head) probably would have loved to do that scene.   One could do a lot with the kindness of a French executioner and the cruelty of an English king.

ALAN: There’s a music hall song about the ghost of Anne Boleyn:

With her head tucked
Underneath her arm
She w-a-a-a-lks
The Bloody Tower…

JANE:  Lovely!  British music halls clearly benefited from the depredations of Henry VIII. So, did Henry VIII wait a respectable amount of time before taking Wife Number Three?

ALAN: Not in the least. One day after Anne’s execution, Henry announced his engagement to Jane Seymour. Ten days later they were married. A year later, Jane gave birth to a son, but she caught an infection and died a few days after the birth. Henry again found himself in need of a wife…

JANE: Well, he didn’t divorce or execute her.  I suppose that’s good.  Who was next?  Oh…  And for context, how old was Henry at this time?

ALAN: Henry was 46 years old when Jane died. Time was not on his side. Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s chief minister, suggested that an alliance with the largely Lutheran Low Countries of Germany and Holland would be politically advantageous in the event of a Catholic attack on England. The Duke of Cleves, though nominally Catholic, had many Protestant sympathies.  He had a daughter called Anne. Perhaps she would make an ideal wife…

JANE: So, did Anne of Cleves make an ideal wife, as Cromwell had promised Henry?

ALAN: Not really. Henry had never met Anne and he was anxious to ensure that she would be attractive enough to make a good queen. The painter Hans Holbein was sent to paint her portrait and, on the basis of the picture, and the advice of his courtiers, Henry agreed to the marriage.

JANE: Attractiveness as the basis for a good queen?  When he wanted sons?  That’s twisted.  I hope he got what he deserved.

ALAN: Oh indeed he did! When Anne arrived in England, Henry was somewhat shocked to find that her appearance did not really match the flattering portrait that Holbein had brought back. Indeed, it is said that Henry referred to her as “a fat Flanders mare.”

Despite Henry’s misgivings, the marriage went ahead. But the wedding night was not a success. Henry confessed to Cromwell that he found Anne so unattractive that he completely failed to consummate the marriage.

JANE: Well…  That would be a problem, since he wanted another son.  Still, I think our Henry is sounding increasingly shallow.

ALAN: He was obviously thinking with his other brain, the one that most men think with. It wasn’t giving him good advice, and Henry quickly reconsidered the advisability of his marriage. Anne was commanded to leave the court after a few short months, and Henry sought an annulment on the grounds of non-consummation. Anne quite happily corroborated Henry’s account – doubtless she was just as anxious as Henry to remove herself from a marriage that was now completely untenable.

JANE: And that might have gotten her murdered, given that Henry might have had Katherine poisoned, definitely had Anne Boleyn executed, and had executed his once close friend Thomas More.  I’d want out, too.

What happened to Anne afterwards?

ALAN: Henry was anxious to appear generous. After all, he didn’t want to upset his allies too much! He gave Anne a very generous settlement which included Hever Castle, the former home of the Boleyns. Anne and Henry actually became very good friends, and she was referred to as the king’s beloved sister. She often appeared at court, and Henry decreed that she must be given precedence over all the women of England except for his own wife and daughters.

She died aged 41 in 1557, probably of cancer, having outlived Henry himself and all of his other wives.

JANE: She definitely came off better than any of his wives to that point.  Earlier you mentioned that Henry’s wives can be counted as either six or four.  I’m guessing that Anne of Cleves is one of the ones who can be left off the count because of the annulment.  Is that right?

ALAN: Yes, that’s right. Legally speaking, an annulment means that the marriage never took place at all!

JANE: So we have a middle-aged king with a son and heir, but no “spare,” only a couple of problematic daughters.  (Problematic because of how the marriages to their mothers ended.)  Things are looking uncomfortable.

ALAN: Ah…  But it’s not over yet! Henry VIII still had two more wives to marry and some monasteries to dissolve. How about we talk about that next time?

Hear Me, See Me

December 11, 2013

Be reassured!  My ego isn’t going nuts.  Jim and I were listening to the album Tommy, by The Who, this weekend.  When I sat down to write about a couple of neat new things going on related to my work, but outside of the realm of print, I couldn’t resist the echo.

Small Rodents aka Guinea Pigs

Small Rodents aka Guinea Pigs

The first “hear me, see me” is to announce that the rest of the Snack Reads You Tube interviews with Josh Gentry are now available.   Josh is the fellow who brought out my short story, “Hamlet Revisited,” as well as my collaboration with Fred Saberhagen, “Servant of Death.”

You can find them at

The second “hear me” is a new development I’m really excited about.   Artemis Awakening will be produced as an audio book from Audible.  This is the first time one of my novels has been done as an audio book.  As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m a serious audio-book junkie, so this is nearly as neat as having my first book come out.

Right now I’m listening to a biography of Winston Churchill’s early life.  Before that I listened to David McGinnis Gill’s excellent, if very odd, Soul Enchilada.  Each of these productions has featured a certain amount of interpretation on the part of the reader.  The Churchill reader does an imitation of Churchill’s distinctive accent when reading quotations from Churchill’s letters or speeches.  The reader for Soul Enchilada does a phenomenal job of providing the widely varied accents of not only the El Paso, Texas, teenagers who are the main characters, but also of various devils, one of whom speaks (sometimes) with a British accent.

Now that I’m going to have the chance to hear one of my own novels read by a professional, I find myself wondering what it’s going to sound like.  At this year’s Bubonicon, GOH’s Brent Weeks and Tim Powers were asked how they felt about the audio productions of their works.  Tim Powers said he never listened to his stories read because he didn’t want to hear them interpreted.  (Of course, he also admitted he doesn’t do readings because going to readings bores him.)

Brent Weeks told a very funny story about how one of his tough guy characters was given a “surfer dude” accent – something that drove those familiar with the series crazy.  Ironically, when the audio book company responded to protests and changed the reader, listeners familiar with the first interpretation started complaining.

I’ve never listened to someone read one of my stories.  A good friend gave me the audio book production of  the anthology In Fire Forged, which includes my novella, “Ruthless.”  I haven’t screwed up my courage to listen to it yet, but I probably should.  I wasn’t asked anything about pronunciations of names and some of the space ships are named for my cats, who have very odd names indeed.

(I named the ships after the cats as placeholders, in case David Weber needed to put in the proper nomenclature for the Honorverse.  Turns out there wasn’t a set nomenclature, so now the Honorverse has ships named after my cats.  I wonder what the reader made of names like Kwahe’e, Ogapoge, and Pryderi?)

I’ve heard good things about Audible productions, so maybe someone will get in touch if they have any questions for me about Artemis Awakening.  Really, though, as long as the reading is clear, easy on the ear, and not too insane in interpretation, I think I’ll be happy.

What else?  I had an experience this weekend that I found oddly amusing.  My agent, Kay McCauley, was in the area and threw a large literary party to which she invited not only her clients (myself, George R.R. Martin, Melinda Snodgrass, Ian Tregillis, Vic Milan, and others), but also some luminaries of the publishing world who were in town.  These included editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden of Tor Books.

I’ve worked with Patrick on and off for years.  (His wife, Teresa, was my editor for the Firekeeper series, Child of a Rainless Year, and The Buried Pyramid.)  However, for various reasons, we hadn’t met in person for many years.   As a literature student, I’d often read about high profile writers’ groups, such as the Inklings (which included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien) or the Algonquin Round Table (aka “The Vicious Circle).  I wondered what sorts of topics were discussed.

Well, now I can let you in on the secret.  Take a high level editor and a prolific author.  Put them together and they’ll discuss…  small rodents.  Seriously.  Patrick and I had a lovely time talking about guinea pigs and hamsters, the variations in their personalities, and surprising intelligence.  He even showed me videos of his and Teresa’s current co-resident, the hamster, Sophie.

Oh…  We discussed other things, too, even literary things, but I think we had the most fun with rodents.  And fun’s important.   In fact, Tom Doherty of Tor Books, who was also at the party, summed it up best over dinner: “I have the best job in the world.  I get to read for a living.”

I’ll agree with Tom.  I get to read too… and write!

TT: Global Fire, Fortunate Beer, and (T.) More

December 5, 2013

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  Page back one and take a closer look at the chaos that is a professional writer’s life.  Then join me and Alan as we delve into sex, scandal, fire, and saints.

JANE: Last time I got so caught up in our discussion of historical realities that I didn’t get to mention that this early period of Henry’s marriages is what Shakespeare focused on for his play.  It isn’t his best play, but it’s worth at least mentioning.

Fire Extinguishers

Fire Extinguishers

ALAN: And why not? Everybody loves stories involving sex and scandal. The formula continues to be popular even today!

JANE: Sadly, Shakespeare didn’t do a great job, even with such fine material.  The play is so weak that to this day there is argument as to whether or not Shakespeare even wrote The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eighth.  However, there are a few things that aren’t in doubt at all – one is when the play was written.  Often there is a considerable amount of wiggle room but this is the play that was being performed when a historical catastrophe took place.  Want to make a guess on which one?

ALAN: Well it can’t be the Spanish Armada since that had long been destroyed by that time. So I’m at a bit of a loss. What was it?

JANE: It was the burning down of the Globe Theatre, which occurred on June 29, 1613.  The fire was directly tied to the singular spectacle with which this play was put on.  We tend to think of special effects as a modern obsession, but they’re as old as stagecraft.  In this particular case, a short cannon was fired off as one of the effects.  Apparently, one of the wads of paper with which the cannon was loaded landed in the theater’s thatch.  The smoke was ignored as “but an idle smoke” (to quote eyewitness Sir Henry Wotton) and, by the time anyone realized that there was a fire, it had spread “consuming within less than an hour the whole house to the very grounds.”

ALAN: Given the way people crowded into theatres in those days, that must have been quite terrifying. Was anyone hurt?

JANE: I’m glad you asked.  Wotton touches on this specifically, noting: “only one man had his breeches set on fire, that would perhaps have broiled him, if he had not by the benefit of a provident wit put it out with a bottle of ale.”

ALAN: Beer! Such a versatile fluid.

JANE: Returning to a more serious look at the play (well, as serious as I care to get), the date can also be fixed by the likelihood that the play was written to be performed to commemorate the wedding of King James I’s daughter, Elizabeth, to the Elector Palatine, a leader of the continental Protestants.  This would explain the play’s focus on the rise of Protestantism, the importance of the character of Archbishop Cranmer (who as you noted last time had Lutheran sympathies), and the grand finale, the christening of a certain…

ALAN: Wait!  Before we get to that, there’s someone really important we shouldn’t forget.

JANE: Go for it.

ALAN: You mentioned him a week or so ago, the famous SF writer and Catholic saint, Sir Thomas More.

More was a friend of Henry and a skilled theologian who had helped Henry prepare the arguments supporting his divorce from Catherine. But as Henry moved further and further away from Rome’s authority, More found himself less and less able to support the king’s position.

More was appointed Chancellor in 1529, and he used his position to campaign actively against the progress of the Reformation which he increasingly came to regard as heretical. He spied on suspected Protestants, paying particular attention to publishers who might be printing Lutheran books. He arrested many people who were found possessing, transporting or selling the books of the Reformation. Six people were burned at the stake for heresy during More’s time as Chancellor.

JANE: I’ve always thought it really weird – and completely confusing – that two of the king Henries had close friends called Thomas who initially helped them with their quarrels with the church, then later actively campaigned against them.  The other one is I’m thinking of Henry II with his Thomas Becket.

ALAN: You wouldn’t believe it if you read it in a novel!

Things came to a head when More refused to take an oath rejecting the pope’s jurisdiction over the church in favour of the King’s. His power and reputation, as well as his long friendship with Henry kept him safe from prosecution, for the time being, but the writing was on the wall and eventually he resigned the Chancellorship.

He continued to campaign against Henry’s Reformation statutes and refused again to take the Oath of Supremacy when it became law in 1534. Not even Henry could save him this time, and perhaps he didn’t want to, for by now it was clear that More’s opinions could do the king nothing but harm.

In 1535, Sir Thomas More was found guilty of treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. As an act of mercy for his old friend, Henry commuted this sentence to decapitation.

JANE: Some mercy!

Moving back to Shakespeare for a moment, it’s interesting to note that, although there is evidence that the subtitle of Shakespeare’s play may have been “All is True,” this play takes the most liberties with the flow of historical events of any of the Bard’s English history plays.  The action covers events that happened over twenty years, but compresses them and sometimes even shifts the sequence.

ALAN: Just like the modern movies that claim to be “based on a true story.”  There’s really nothing new under the sun, is there?

JANE: You are so right!

The final spectacle of a play filled with spectacles (not eyeglasses, special effects) is the christening of Henry’s infant daughter with his new queen, Anne Bullen… but I am letting drama get ahead of history.  Let’s move on to this lady – better known by another spelling of her name – next time.

Chaos: aka, the Professional Writer’s Life

December 4, 2013

On the night of November 24th, I had a dream that provided the seed for a short story.  This was good.  The deadline for the project was the end of November.

Taking Care of Business

Taking Care of Business

No.  I hadn’t been procrastinating.  Far from it.  I’d been trying to come up with an idea for this story for quite a while.  Problem was, I was also deeply immersed in writing the sequel to Artemis Awakening.  That was moving along so well, I was reluctant to stop.

I’ve heard of writers who can work on more than one project at the same time, but that’s not me – at least not in the formative writing stage.  I have managed, for example, to review the copy-edited manuscript for one project while writing new material for another.  However, most of the time, I’ve found that I work most effectively one project at a time.  If something time-sensitive comes up, I need to put aside what I’m working on and shift over completely.

So, since AA2 was moving along very well, the last thing I wanted to do was stop.  That’s probably why the Muse kept withholding inspiration for the short story.  I’d touch base with the project’s editor, promise I wasn’t going to bow out at the last minute, and then say to myself, “But I have a few more weeks and the novel is going so well…”

Then,  on November 22nd, everything went haywire.  I’d given my talk on “The Mythic Impulse” at UNM the night before and felt great.  The next morning,  I woke up with a nasty sore throat that mutated into a raging cold within a few hours.  I dosed myself with cough stuff and lozenges, then got back to work.

Demands on my attention were already attenuating my intentions.  On the 19th, I’d received (with plenty of lead time for once) the page proofs for Artemis Awakening.  They weren’t due until December 13th, so I figured I’d have time to write the short story, then get to the proofs.  However, I couldn’t come up with a short story idea.

That’s when the Muse stepped in.  As I’ve said before, I’m an intuitive plotter.  From the dream I had, I only remember one image and one bit of information.  I was (and was watching) a dark-haired man who was kneeling in front of a large chest in a somewhat crowded room.  He was pulling out various things, holding them to the light, and inspecting them.  I remember specifically a strand of rough gemstone beads – amber, I think.  I knew without any explanation that this man was going through the belongings of a recently deceased wizard, looking for dangerous items.

When I woke up, I knew I had my story.  But I also knew I was going to need to shift my priorities around.  AA2 was going to need to be slid to the back burner.  Frustrating, since I was so close to the end I could almost see it, but probably a good idea, because if I rushed it, I was going to do a lousy job.  I’d already dipped into the page proofs for Artemis Awakening when I’d started getting sick, since I could focus in and review while sipping tea.  Now I put those aside as well.

Monday afternoon, I typed an opening paragraph or so for the short story, beginning with the line: “The worst thing about taking out sorcerers is the clean-up afterwards.”  Tuesday and Wednesday, I wrote during every available moment.  This is not as easy as it sounds, since Thursday was Thanksgiving, and Jim and I were expecting people over.  This meant trips to the store and making sure I had bread dried for stuffing and…

By Wednesday night, I had a rough draft.  Thursday (Thanksgiving) morning, I went over the draft again, filling in and polishing.  Friday, I read the draft out loud to Jim, catching an astonishing number of typos.  Overall, I felt pretty good about the story.  After adding my changes, I e-mailed a draft off to my friend, Paul, who often does me the kindness of proofreading.   Then I went to work again on the page proofs for Artemis Awakening.

Paul sent me back the file over the weekend.  When I looked at his notes on Monday, I realized he’d found an astonishing number of typos and missing commas and suchlike – proving once again that a writer is the worst person to review her or his own stuff, especially when the story is fresh and time is tight.

Monday is my busiest day of the week for a lot of reasons so, much as I wanted to, I couldn’t address Paul’s notes right off.  Still, I had every reason to believe I’d be able to get the story in by deadline.

Ah, hah!  The careful ones among you will already have noticed that I had missed that end of November deadline.  What I didn’t mention was that during my correspondence with the project’s editor, he had told me I could have to the end of the year if I needed.  I chose not to delay.  The page proofs for Artemis Awakening were going to pull me out of my work on AA2 anyhow.  I had the inspiration for my story.  Time to get both done.

So that story and page proofs are what I’m up to this week.  Next week, maybe I’ll be able to merge myself back into AA2.  Of course, Christmas is coming.  I’m having guests…  But I have two deadlines in March and February is a short month…  Looks as if chaos won’t be going away any time soon.