Archive for February, 2014

TT: The French Queen of Scots

February 27, 2014

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  Page back one for what some days are like, even for a writer…  Then come back and join me and Alan as we venture into the life of a queen whose life reads like the most astonishing fiction.

JANE: One of the things I found most peculiar about Mary Queen of Scots was that, in her early life, she would have considered herself French. In fact, she married into French royalty.

Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots

ALAN: Absolutely correct. Mary was the daughter of King James V of Scotland. However, she was only six days old when he died and she became Queen of Scotland. Clearly, she couldn’t reign in her own right and a council of regents was appointed.

Mary’s mother was French, and Mary spent her childhood in France. In 1558, when Bloody Mary was busy dying, Mary (Queen of Scots) married Francis, the Dauphin of France. He inherited the French throne the following year and Mary became Queen Consort of France. However, the idyll didn’t last long. Francis died in 1560 and the newly widowed Mary returned to Scotland.

JANE:  Poor girl!  Maybe it’s just romanticizing, but some of the history I’ve read indicates that she genuinely loved her first husband – the boy she’d grown up knowing she would someday wed.  And what a comedown…  From Queen Consort to resident queen of a wild and (by French standards) barbarous land.

No wonder she was open to those who coaxed her into considering that she might rule in England instead.  As I recall, she had a claim as good as many had used to claim that throne, certainly better than the one Henry Tudor used to launch the campaign that eventually saw him crowned Henry VII.

ALAN: Yes, she certainly did. Henry VIII was her great uncle. Also, when Mary was only six months old, Henry arranged with the Scottish regents that when Mary reached 10 years of age she would marry his son Edward, uniting the two countries. Obviously, this all fell apart when Edward died. The connection to the English throne was tenuous, but it was definitely there.

JANE: Interesting.  I’d forgotten about the betrothal to Edward.  So, what happened next?

ALAN: When Bloody Mary died, Elizabeth inherited the English throne. Elizabeth was fiercely Protestant, and the English Catholics regarded her reign as illegitimate. They saw Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, as having a more legitimate claim to the throne. Not surprisingly, Elizabeth regarded Mary as a very real threat to her reign.

JANE: Yes.  And this apprehension may have been even more justified because from the start Mary had trouble holding on to her Scottish throne.  Therefore, it could be assumed she might be looking for another throne to occupy.  Even so, it’s hard to believe that canny Elizabeth had much to fear from Mary Stuart.  Mary returned from lively, Catholic France to a dourly Protestant Scotland.  Although she made no attempt to stop the Protestants from worshipping as they wished, still there was widespread disapproval at Mass once again being celebrated in the royal residence.

She was only eighteen when she returned to Scotland, beautiful, lively, light-hearted, and – at least from the evidence of history – light-headed as well.  Her next marriage, 1565, was to her cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, a youth still in his teens, Catholic, and of bad character.

What happened next is the stuff of high drama.  I’m sure that Shakespeare would have loved to do a play about it, but, as we’ve noted, he was very careful to avoid controversial contemporary subjects.

ALAN: The marriage itself was controversial right from the start. Mary and Lord Darnley were first cousins and, according to Catholic rules, they were not permitted to marry without a papal dispensation. Since they had no such dispensation, many Catholics considered the marriage to be illegitimate.

Furthermore, Elizabeth was strongly opposed to the marriage – as cousins, both Mary and Darnley had a claim to the English throne. Their children would have a very strong, combined claim. Elizabeth didn’t like that thought at all.

JANE: Did Mary and Darnley have children?

ALAN: Yes – they had a son who would grow up to become James VI of Scotland and James I of England. Elizabeth was probably quite correct to be concerned.

JANE: The marriage had a tragic ending, as I recall.

ALAN: Indeed it did. Darnley demanded that Mary make him co-sovereign of Scotland alongside her. This would give him the right to inherit the throne if he outlived her. Mary refused to do it. Now the writing was on the wall and the marriage began to disintegrate. Darnley was also very jealous of David Rizzio, Mary’s private secretary. There were even rumours that Rizzio, not Darnley, was really the father of Mary’s child! It all came to a head in 1556 when Darnley and his co-conspirators murdered Rizzio in front of Mary’s eyes at a dinner party in Holyrood Palace.

Rizzio was stabbed 56 times and stripped of his jewels and fine clothes. Within two hours of his death, he had been buried in the cemetery at Holyrood.

JANE: Ah, a classic example of Scottish subtlety and guile.   What a way to end a dinner party!

ALAN: I hope he had time for dessert before he got killed.

JANE: Were they serving blood pudding?  Sorry, very bad joke…

ALAN: Don’t apologise – I sniggered. That makes it a good joke.

Things didn’t stop there. Darnley and Mary were now living apart of course. Towards the end of the year, Mary met with her nobles to discuss “the problem of Darnley.” Divorce was discussed, though that probably wasn’t a practical solution given the church’s attitude towards it. It seems likely that the nobles at that meeting conspired to get rid of Darnley by other means…

JANE: More Scottish subtlety?  Uh, oh… Run, Darnley, run!

ALAN: In January 1557, Mary invited Darnley to Edinburgh. She visited him daily and rumours of a reconciliation began to spread. Early in the evening of 9th February 1557, Mary visited again and then left to attend the wedding of a friend. In the small hours of the following morning, a huge explosion destroyed the house and Darnley’s body was found in the garden. He was dressed in his nightshirt, which presumably meant that he had fled in some haste from his bedroom. However, his body had no sign of injury – he could not have been killed by the explosion. It would seem that he had been strangled, probably after the explosion took place.

JANE: Gosh!  I knew Darnley was killed.  I had no idea the situation was so dramatic.

 I wish I could get away with stuff like this in a novel…  I can just see the reviewers: “Unrealistic!”  “No grasp of the realities of politics.”  “The author has no control of her material.”  Sigh…

Now, it would be lovely to say that after this Mary had learned her lesson and settled down to quiet, responsible sovereignty.  However, this was only the beginning of her troubles.  Shall we continue with them next time?  I need to go add a few explosions and bodies in nightshirts to my current novel.


There Are Days Like This, Too

February 26, 2014

Hi, folks…  I seriously hate to disappoint, but right now I’m so immersed in the mechanical details of life that I don’t have a lot of fascinating stuff to wander on about.

A View From the Bridge

A View From the Bridge

I spent a lot of last week pulling figures together for my taxes.  I’m incorporated, so the filing date is earlier than if I were just filing personal taxes.  This year, by really bad coincidence, the deadline for getting figures to my accountant and for handing in the manuscript for AA2 is the same: March 1.

So, last week, while Jim finished reading the manuscript of AA2, I assembled figures.  I’m pretty organized already but, since I like to hand everything over to my accountant in order (no shoeboxes of receipts for me), there’s always time spent on this.  Being organized about professional deductions and suchlike was a lesson I learned from Roger Zelazny back when I sold my very first short story.  In addition to congratulations, he sent me a tax organizer with a note clipped to it that said something like: “You’re a pro now, lady.  Keep track.”

Jim really got into AA2, so he finished reading several days earlier than I expected.  On one level this was great, because I finally had the chance to talk with someone about the characters and events that have been obsessing me since I started writing this book back in June of 2013.

(Just for the heck of it, I stopped to re-read the WW for 6-05-13 about starting AA2.  I felt like a time traveler!)

However, knowing the manuscript was days away from being ready to be handed in didn’t help my desire to concentrate on crunching numbers.  So I alternated back and forth, getting something done on both, but by the end of the week nothing was finished.

So this week it’s back to the numbers and the typo corrections, and figuring out how to do a few formatting tricks that I haven’t had to do since I shifted over to Word from Word Perfect the middle of last year.

And, so, of course, just when I needed my brain sharp and acute, the juniper and cedar pollens (both of which I am acutely allergic to – seriously, I have the paperwork to prove it) spiked.  When I visited my asthma/allergy specialist on Monday, I was informed I had a fever.  Not a very high fever, but enough to explain why I’d been feeling a bit disconnected from the world around me.

When people ask what I do and I say that I write, I can tell by the dreamy look in their eyes that they’re envisioning me in a book-lined study with soulful music playing in the background, perhaps sipping tea, and nibbling a thin cookie while the Muse whispers in my ear.

No such luck.  The books are there, true, but I rarely write to music and when I do it’s more likely to be something pretty hard rocking.  My drink of choice is black coffee, and a treat would be dark chocolate, popcorn, or, rarely, a donut.

And the Muse rarely whispers.  Usually she grabs on hard and shakes – or has to be coaxed into talking to me at all.  It’s an interesting relationship.  One I wouldn’t trade for all the world.

But for a professional writer tax prep, manuscript formatting, and, yeah, even fevers (and no sick leave!) are as much a part of the picture as the creative side.  That’s where I am right now.

By next week I hope to have the taxes done, the manuscript off, and the fever gone…  Juniper and cedar will still be pollinating, though.  Oh, well…  Guess you can’t have everything!

TT: Bloody Mary

February 20, 2014

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  Page back one and find out why “truth” is one of the elements that can make a difference between a flat character and a well-realized one.  Then join me and Alan for a look at the fascinating tragedy that was the life of Bloody Mary.

JANE: I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I didn’t realize there was a difference between Bloody Mary and Mary Queen of Scots until some years ago, when I read a biography of Queen Elizabeth I and learned that these Marys were two different people.

Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary

ALAN: It’s a common mistake. Somehow the passage of time has blurred the two queens together in the popular consciousness. But they were indeed two very different people.

JANE: Bloody Mary came first, so let’s start with her.  She was actually Elizabeth’s half-sister, right?

ALAN: Yes, that’s right. When Henry VIII died, the succession was quite clearly laid out. Henry was succeeded by Edward VI, his son by Jane Seymour. Second in line was Mary, who was his daughter by his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Elizabeth, Henry’s daughter by Anne Boleyn, was third in line.

Edward was too young to rule directly and a council of regents ruled for him. They continued his father’s Protestant reforms. Both Edward and the council were afraid that Mary would undo their reforms (she was a devout Catholic), and they attempted to remove her from the line of succession by naming Edward’s cousin, Lady Jane Grey, as his successor, much to Mary’s annoyance.

Edward died of an illness before he reached his majority and Lady Jane inherited the throne. But she reigned for only nine days. Mary had a big army and, despite her Catholicism, was seen by many as the legitimate heir. She was proclaimed Queen on 19 July 1553. Lady Jane was accused of high treason and sent to the Tower. She was executed on 12 February 1554.

JANE: How did Mary get her nickname?  Was there any suspicion that she had something to do with Edward’s death?   Poison maybe?  Surely executing Lady Jane wouldn’t have been enough.

ALAN: Whenever a king died, rumours of poisoning circulated. But there was never any real evidence that Edward died that way, even though the contemporary conspiracy theorists saw his death as evidence of a Catholic plot. A post-mortem found “the disease whereof his majesty died was the disease of the lungs”. The reported symptoms suggest that he probably died of tuberculosis.

JANE: Poor fellow.  So Edward died and Mary took over.  As I recall, she didn’t have a peaceful reign.

ALAN: Mary ruled England for five very turbulent years. She reversed the Protestant reforms of her father and her brother, and declared England to be a Catholic country again. She failed to reverse the dissolution of the monasteries – the new landowners were too influential to allow this – but she was reconciled with Rome.

Mary revived the old Heresy Acts that Henry VIII and Edward VI had repealed and, using them as an excuse, she began to persecute and eventually execute influential Protestants. More than 280 people were burned at the stake. It’s not hard to see how she earned her nickname of Bloody Mary.

JANE: I agree.  How odd that a queen who exercised so much power should be virtually forgotten today.  Maybe we should blame too much drink.  Do you have the Bloody Mary cocktail over there?

 ALAN: Yes – it’s a mixture of vodka and tomato juice with Worcester sauce and a dash of cayenne pepper to give it bite. Pretentious people put a stick of celery in it and sometimes a paper umbrella. Salt, black pepper, and a squeeze of lemon are also occasional ingredients. Since you don’t drink alcohol, you’d probably prefer the Virgin Mary. It’s the same drink, but without the vodka. Perhaps you could have two celery sticks to compensate for the absence of vodka.

JANE: I’ll take two sticks of celery, as long as that doesn’t make you think me pretentious.  I like celery.  Now, while I munch my celery stick, tell me more about Mary’s reign.

ALAN: While all this religious reform and slaughter was going on, Mary was also husband hunting. A husband, and eventually an heir, would effectively remove her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth from the line of succession. She married Prince Philip of Spain. It was not a popular marriage – the Protestants hated him because he was a Catholic and the Catholics hated him because he wasn’t English.

JANE: Poor Mary, she couldn’t win, could she?  I suspect that Philip was also hated because he was Spanish – and I believe Mary’s mother, Catherine of Aragon was also Spanish.  This would have seemed like too much Spanish influence in the English court.  However, being a princess, Mary couldn’t have wed an English Catholic without marrying beneath her station, so she really didn’t have many choices.

ALAN: Indeed not. And to make matters worse, she couldn’t even get pregnant properly. In September 1554 her periods stopped, she put on a lot of weight and threw up each morning. Clearly she was pregnant! There was much rejoicing at the court. But eleven months later, with no baby yet on the scene, people began to have their doubts. Mary’s tummy receded. There had never been a baby at all. It had been a false pregnancy which Mary interpreted as God’s punishment for having tolerated heretics in her realm. The Protestant burnings increased.

Philip returned to Spain and it was two years before Mary saw him again.

JANE: Well, that wouldn’t make her bearing an heir any easier.  What an ungrateful man!  I mean, she married him to serve as a stud, didn’t she?  Did he ever come back?

ALAN: Philip returned to England in 1557, mainly to try and persuade Mary to support him in some European war or other. Soon after his visit, Mary announced that she was pregnant again. She was due to give birth in March 1558. However, once again there was no baby. Foiled in her attempt to remove Elizabeth from the line of succession, Mary was finally forced to recognise Elizabeth as her lawful successor.

By now she was very weak and ill, and in a lot of pain. She died on 17th November 1558. Her symptoms suggest that she was suffering from uterine cancer or possibly ovarian cysts.

Four hundred or so years later, on 17th November 19 umpty ump, the baby who would grow up to be my wife Robin was born. How’s that for a coincidence?

JANE: Ah, so the queen of your heart is the reincarnation of Bloody Mary?  Watch out for her knitting needles!

I know a bit more about Mary, Queen of Scots, than I do about Blood Mary.  Her history is even more complex.  Let’s move on to her next time.


February 19, 2014

This is a Space Alien. True or False?

Perhaps one of the most interesting questions to ask yourself when designing a major character is what does that person think is “true.”

Such issues come up frequently in SF/F.  Characters learn that those they’ve worshiped as gods are mere mortals – perhaps suffering from delusions of grandeur, perhaps kind souls willing to accept the burdens of presumed deity to lead their followers toward higher ideals.  Or they learn that what they have taken for “the world” is a spaceship.  Or science reveals the existence of parallel universes that lead to questions of what – if anything – is “real” and absolute.

Another popular SF/F gambit is to rewrite some religious, mythological, or historical event in a fashion that provides an alternate explanation for why events unfolded in the manner that they did.  Tim Powers does this frequently, rearranging actual historical events so that his interpretation makes more sense than does actual history.  A device – such as the Mask featured in Fred Saberhagen’s novel Mask of the Sun (and its offspring, the rather cool collection Golden Reflections, edited by Joan Saberhagen and Bob Vardeman) –  might enable probabilities to be manipulated.

Nor do these truths need to be the “big truths” of religious faith or patriotism or some philosophical ideal.  Indeed, sometimes the smaller truths define a person even more – and a revelation that violates those small, personal truths can lead to considerable upheaval.

Let’s take a character – call him Oscar – who believes with all his heart that his mother was a virtuous woman who was a virgin when she married and never strayed thereafter.  What would happen to Oscar if he learned that she’d had a lover beforehand?  Even if that lover had been her future husband, still, if Oscar had lived a life of strict self-discipline because he wanted to live up to his mother’s example, then he might feel as if the foundations of his behavior had been shattered.  He might wonder if all his self-sacrifice was worth the effort.

Or perhaps Oscar wasn’t at all self-disciplined and had spent most of his life lambasting himself for not being able to live up to his mother’s example.  How would he feel if he learned that the ideal never existed?

What if he found that his virgin angel mother hadn’t just “slipped once” but had been far from either virgin or angel?   Then how would he react?  How would his relationship with his mother change?  How would his own behavior change?  Would he go wild in reaction?  Would he become a sanctimonious prude, determined to show her up?

Don’t forget the ripple effect!  How would Oscar’s relationship with the rest of his family change – especially if he learned that one or more people he trusted had been lying to him?   These might have been outright lies or lies of omission – withholding information, rather than directly distorting it.  Which would be worse?

Would Oscar be angry?  Resentful?  Would he feel foolish – wondering if people had been sniggering behind his back all this time?  Maybe he’d be a bighearted person who would decide that the failings of long ago are to be forgiven.  Still, I wonder if he’d ever trust easily again.

The “truth” doesn’t need to be related to sex, of course.  Honesty is another area around which “truth” tends to form.  What if Oscar had always believed his father had been an honest businessman or politician, then learned that his father had been systematically embezzling or accepting bribes?

What if Oscar was a young knight who strove to live up to the example of his valorous king and ruler only to learn that the king had, in his own days as a fighter, been less than knightly?  What if Oscar was a spaceship pilot who believed that the ships he took out into the void were the result of careful construction and meticulous planning, only to learn that the science was dubious, the design haphazard, and his own life viewed as disposable?

What happens when heartfelt truths are neither violated nor betrayed, but come up against other interpretations of reality?  Monotheism confronting polytheism, both sincerely believed in, provides good grounds for internal conflict.  So does the conflict between sociological or political philosophies such as socialism, capitalism, and totalitarianism.

Leaving aside the “heavy” issues for a moment…  Even changes in what is known to be “true” about a thing can be fun.  I’ve always thought that Bilbo wasn’t as grimly afraid of the One Ring as he should have been because he couldn’t help but think of it as a sort of toy that let him play pranks.  In his charming “Chronicles of Prydain,” Lloyd Alexander has the Golden Pelydryn, a powerful magical orb, remain hidden in plain sight, the “bauble” of the young, seemingly frivolous, chatterbox Princess Eilonwy.

The odd thing is that, even when everyone in Eilonwy’s circle knows that the “bauble” is far more than a bauble, still, truth is not enough to restore to it appropriate wonder and awe.

“What is truth?” asked Pontius Pilate.

Whatever the answer, I’ll offer that knowing what truths your characters hold near to their hearts is the best way to make them come to life.

TT: The Great Corn-Flour Mystery

February 13, 2014

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  Page back one and help me decide just how important certain title elements are to readers.  Then come back and join me and Alan as, for the very first time, we fail to solve a linguistic mystery!

JANE: I enjoyed reading your “wot i red on my hols” column.  There’s something nice about reading about someone else’s summer vacation when, outside my window, the mourning doves are gently pecking at the skim of ice on the bird bath.

A Bowl of Corn-flour?

A Bowl of Corn-flour?

However, as usual, I find myself needing a translation from your English to my English.

You mentioned that when you and Robin met your friends at the place you were renting, you did a baggies to decide who got what room.  What the heck is a “baggies”?

ALAN: “Bags” or “baggies” is a children’s game, sort of. If a group of children all want some desirable object, the first person to say “Bags I have …” gets the object. Having “bagged” the object, it is a sacred rule that nobody else can have it. Nothing overrides the overwhelming power of bagging the object. The action of bagging is known as a baggies. And as I said in the article, you can’t break a baggies.

JANE: I’d heard the phrase “bags I have” – possibly in a Narnia novel – but
never the word “baggies.”

ALAN: It might be a regional variation – certainly it was common in the North of England on both sides of the Pennines when I was a child.

JANE: And you are much younger than C.S. Lewis.  It’s likely the term would evolve over time.

When you were talking about the incredibly complicated shower, you mentioned that the instructions were written on a piece of A4 paper.  What’s A4 paper?  Is it paper specially coated for use under water?

ALAN: No, not quite. It’s the standard paper size used for printing reports and letters and articles etc. For various mathematical reasons that I won’t bore you with, but which have to do with easy halving and doubling, it measures 210 by 297 millimetres (8.3 in × 11.7 in). It’s used by every country in the world except North America.  (No, I’m not exaggerating and I’m not poking fun, I’m simply stating a fact.) If you lived outside of America, you’d print your manuscripts on A4 paper.

JANE: Seriously?  Wow.  That has some interesting ramifications for everything from computer printers to notebooks.  Our standard size is 8.5 inches by 11 inches.  Your paper would be too tall!

ALAN: I have an amusing story about A4 paper.  Microsoft used to supply their training manuals printed on American letter stationery and bound in three ring binders. Obviously they wanted students to be able to incorporate sheets of paper with their own notes into the material. It’s a laudable idea, but utterly impractical outside of the USA.

Once we had a visiting Microsoftie over from America. I pointed out to him that American letter stationery simply doesn’t exist here (no matter how hard you try, you just can’t buy it). Furthermore, you can’t buy three-ring hole punches either, because we don’t use three-ring binders at all. All our loose leaf binders are two-hole binders designed for A4 stationery. As a result of this, it is actually completely impossible for New Zealand students to bind their own notes into the manuals. The Microsoftie looked at me incredulously. “You’re kidding me, right?” he said.

Even when I showed him a two-ring binder and a sheet of A4 paper, he still refused to believe that I was telling him the truth. But I was…

JANE: Fascinating. I love three ring binders… I have two on my desk right now!   They also fit my bookshelves perfectly.  If I moved to New Zealand, I guess I’d have to adjust my shelves, too.  How horribly inconvenient!

ALAN: Sometimes the world is an inconvenient place.

JANE: While we’re talking about elements of your English that I can’t understand, I was reading an Agatha Christie short story last night that mentioned something called “corn-flour.” It appeared to be a beverage of some sort. Do you know what this is? I could check a dictionary, I suppose, but your definitions are usually more complete.

ALAN: I’ve no idea what sort of context made it appear to be a beverage. Corn flour is exactly what the name implies, it’s flour milled from corn. It tends to be a bit coarse and slightly yellow in colour. I cook with it a lot – I use it for thickening sauces and for coating meat and fish with seasoned flour. It probably has baking uses as well, but I don’t do baking so I’m not sure about that. Can you quote the context where you found it? I’m very puzzled by the beverage implication.

JANE: What you mention using sounds very much like what we call “corn meal.”  We also have “corn starch,” which is white, very finely ground.  Corn starch is what I’d use as a thickener for gravies etc.  Corn meal can be baked with – that’s the main ingredient in corn bread.

I wondered if Dame Agatha might be have been referring to something like what we call corn meal mush or even grits, both of which would be served in a bowl. However, both are thick enough that the verb “drink” which is used several times seems odd to me.

Let me give a few quotations and see if they help.

ALAN: Okay – you’ve got me intrigued now.

JANE: The story in question is The Tuesday Night Club and the title story of the collections with almost the same name (add “Murders”).  My copy doesn’t give a more precise date for it.

Here are a few lines: “Mr. Jones had gone down to the kitchen and demanded a bowl of corn-flour for his wife, who had complained of not feeling well.”

Later: “Miss Clark… told us that the whole of the bowl of corn-flour was drunk not by Mrs. Jones but by her.”

Later: “it is nicely made, too, no lumps… Very few girls nowadays seem to be able to make a bowl of corn-flour nicely.”

Later: “You drink up the bowl of corn-flour.”

So, I toss this puzzle into your lap. I certainly don’t think it’s sloppy writing on Dame Agatha’s part. Especially where food plays a role in a story, she’s very careful.

ALAN: This one is just weird. You’re right, Christie is obviously talking about a drink, but I’ve never heard of corn-flour being used this way, and I can’t find anything in any of my cookery books. I went googling and discovered that there’s a young girl in England who has a rare liver disease. She has to drink a corn-flour mixture every day, for reasons which are not clearly spelled out in the article. The comments on the article amount to “Oh, yuck!”, which suggests that the commentators have never heard of drinking corn-flour before, either.

I also found several references to a Mexican / Aztec drink called Atole which is based on corn-flour, often with other additives such as chocolate. We have some drinking chocolate in the kitchen cupboard and the list of ingredients includes “Starch (Maize and Tapioca)”. I’m guessing here, but perhaps Christie’s reference is to something like this but made by hand rather than from a pre-prepared package? Maybe Agatha Christie’s archaeologist husband had come across it in the field, as it were? But if that is the case, why does she call it corn-flour rather than chocolate (or whatever)?

I truly don’t know…

JANE: How very strange. I have had atole-based drinks, but don’t think Max Mallowan would have come across them since they are very American and his work was solidly Middle Eastern.

My guess is that she is referring to something Victorian, from the reference in the story about how it’s hard to find a cook who can make a good dish of corn-flour anymore.

ALAN: That’s a good guess – perhaps it’s something revolting that the
Victorians did which has gone out of fashion simply because it’s revolting.

JANE: Perhaps our readers can help here. Anyone have an idea?

A Book by Any Other Name

February 12, 2014

Most of you know that my current project is finishing off the second book in my new “Artemis Awakening” series.  You also have probably noticed that I keep referring to the book as AA2, rather than by a specific title.  This is because my editor, Claire Eddy, and I are still discussing possible approaches to titles for books in this series.

Two Approaches

Two Approaches

A little background for those of you who haven’t been following this project from its earliest permutations.  When I proposed the series to Tor, “Artemis Awakening” was the series title.  The first novel in the series was going to be called Huntress.  However, a strange thing happened the longer I worked on the book.  I found myself referring to the book not as Huntress, but as “Artemis Awakening.”   I decided my subconscious was trying to tell me something.  I e-mailed Claire and suggested that we retitle the book with the series title – but keep “Artemis Awakening” as the series title as well.

Claire was very receptive to this.  After all, many series end up being called by the title of the first book in the series, even if there’s an official series title.  A good example of this is Game of Thrones.  The series title is actually “A Song of Ice and Fire,” but even before the popular TV series came out, you’d hear people talking about the new “Game of Thrones” book, not the new “A Song of Ice and Fire”  book.

(Aside:  I wandered on about titles, my own and others, back in the WW of 7-10-13.  Also, if you’d like a glimpse of the original proposal for the series, I included it in the Wandering for 8-22-13.)

Anyhow, once we settled on Artemis Awakening for the title of the first book, I began to think of the next book in the series as Artemis Invaded.  However, Claire wasn’t sure this was a good idea: “My only concern is that the sales folks might want something slightly different to make it clear to the reader that they don’t already own the book.”

Claire has a point.  Publishing enterprises are made up of various “tribes.”  Authors see books differently than do editors.  The views of authors and editors can vary radically from those of people involved in marketing and publicity.  These can all vary yet again from those held by the people in production.

However, while I could see Claire’s point, I really wasn’t sure.  I’ve had some bad experiences when a title in a series varied too widely from that of other books in the series.  Here are two examples.

Back when I was with Avon, my novel Changer was released.  It remains a strong seller to this day.  (I know because I reprinted it as an e-book and POD, so I see the sales figures.)  It has a devoted following.   However, someone at Avon decided my suggested title for the sequel – Changer’s Daughter – wouldn’t do.  (I was never told why.)  Eventually, the novel came out titled Legends Walking.  To this day I have people say “What!  There was a sequel to Changer?  Where can I get it?”  (Which is why I reissued Legends Walking as Changer’s Daughter, with a note that this is, except for an all original introduction, the same story as Legends Walking.)

I had a similar experience with the third “wolf book” at Tor.  I had no idea what to give it as a title so I put “The Dragon of Despair” on the manuscript as a working title.  I fully expected to change it to something with ”Wolf” in the title.   However, someone in marketing at Tor said: “Keep it!  Titles with ‘dragon’ sell.”  (This despite the fact that Tor had at least one other book with “dragon” in the title coming out about the same time…)  Anyhow, I had a similar experience with The Dragon of Despair.  “New book!  Great!  But when are you doing another Firekeeper book?”  Happily, Julie Bell’s fantastic cover art tied the book to the previous ones in the series, so there wasn’t quite the same level of confusion.

A good example of using titles to tie a series together is used for David Weber’s  “Honor Harrington”  series.  The first novel was called On Basilisk Station.  Weber and Jim Baen decided that alternate titles (starting with number two, so no one could miss this was a sequel) would have “Honor” in the title.  I seriously think this has helped.  Moreover, from the start, “Honor Harrington” has been prominent on the cover, so that there would be no confusion as to whether The Short Victorious War and Field of Dishonor belonged to the same series.

Another series that used repeating title motifs well was Robert Lynn Asprin’s “Myth” books: Another Fine Myth, Myth Conceptions, Myth Directions, and others.  Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” novels almost all had “Foundation” in the title.  I’m sure we can all think of other such examples.

True, neither these nor the Honor Harrington books repeat the title’s structure, only a key word.   Even so, I’d like some sort of continuity between the titles of the books in the “Artemis Awakening” series.  I want people to be able to “find” the books by ear and eye, something that I think is becoming more and more important as shopping is done on-line and cover art is often reduced to an image the size of a postage stamp.  We can’t count on people going into a book store and looking at the cover and saying “Ooh…  There’s a girl and a wolf.  That’s that series I like.”

So, what are your feelings about titles within a series?  Does it help to have something to clue you in that this is the next book in series in which you’re interested or do you find yourself scratching your head in confusion and saying “Haven’t I already read this?”

Please weigh in!  The title of the second book in the series could be influenced by your reply!

TT: Revolts, Plays, Picnics, and Novels, Too!

February 6, 2014

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  Page back one to where I answer a bunch of questions about how I self-edit.  Then come back and join me and Alan as we look at the reaction Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries – and what that has to do with bicycle clubs.

JANE: Last time we dealt with Henry’s motivations and mechanics for dissolving the monasteries.  However, you’ve promised that this was far from the end of that matter.  I can hardly wait!

What Does This Have to Do With Anything?

What Does This Have to Do With Anything?

ALAN: Not surprisingly the dissolution of the monasteries did not go down well, and there were several revolts over the next couple of years. These are known collectively as the Pilgrimage of Grace. Many religious houses were charged with helping the rebels. The heads of these houses were declared traitors and summarily executed. The monks and nuns were forced out into the community and left to fend for themselves (it’s unclear whether or not they were required to remain chaste) and, of course, all the assets of the houses were confiscated.

JANE: Did any monastic houses survive?

ALAN: Yes, some of the richer ones who could prove they were not involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace and whose annual income exceeded £200 continued to exist – largely because they were rich and could afford to pay the king what I can only describe as protection money.

The King’s Commissioners paid regular visits to these monasteries and much informal pressure was applied to persuade the abbots to increase the stipend they paid to the crown. Resistance was largely futile – the Abbot of Glastonbury showed a distinct disinclination to part with any of his assets. He was executed and his monastery (probably the wealthiest in England) was destroyed. A cynic might say this happened because Glastonbury was one of the wealthiest monasteries in England…

The whole process took about four years and more than 800 monasteries were dissolved.

JANE: This all sounds dramatic enough to turn into a novel or two.

ALAN: And someone has done exactly that. There’s a wonderful series of historical mystery stories by C. J. Sansom that are set during these turbulent times. The first book is called Dissolution and the events in it take place in 1537. Matthew Shardlake is a lawyer and a long-time supporter of Reform (though he is starting to have his doubts about its implementation). He is sent by Thomas Cromwell to investigate a horrific murder at the monastery of Scarnsea on the Sussex coast. The monastery itself will soon become a casualty of Henry’s policies and is in the process of winding down. The combination of murder mystery with the social, political and theological intrigues of the time makes for utterly enthralling reading. Sansom brings the times marvellously alive and I recommend his books unreservedly.

JANE: They do sound good.  I’ll need to look for them.

ALAN: Henry’s policies have left a legacy that is still visible today. All over England, monastic ruins stand as mute witnesses to Henry’s excesses. The remains of Fountains Abbey are a prominent landmark which is close to Halifax in Yorkshire where I was born. I remember picnics there with my parents, and a school trip where the class was told the story of the dissolution of the monasteries while we stood in the shadows cast by the tumbled walls of the Abbey itself. That was a very effective way of bringing history to life!

JANE: That does sound like a wonderful field trip.  I’m always awed about the sort of historical trips you could take where you grew up.  I lived in Washington, D.C., so I went to some wonderful places, not only in D.C., but in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, but written United States history goes back only a few centuries…  Even here in New Mexico, where, because of Spanish settlement the writing historical record goes back much further than on the East Coast, our history is only a few centuries old.  Ah, but I tangent.

ALAN: You live in the New World, but these days I live in an even Newer World than you do. Here anything more than about 100 years old is considered truly ancient. That’s quite a contrast to the area where I was born and brought up in England, where we can trace our history back for more than a thousand years…

But to get back on track – the playwright Alan Bennett, he of The Madness of King George fame, wrote a delightful play for the BBC. It was called A Day Out and it concerns a bicycle club who have a day out cycling from Halifax to Fountains Abbey. The Abbey itself has quite prominent part to play!

JANE: Does the abbey serve only as location or is this a time travel story?

ALAN: No, there’s no time travel involved. Much of the play takes place among the ruins of the Abbey and it makes an elegant backdrop to the action.

JANE: Darn… I had visions of monks on bicycles riding off to the future where they could either be poor, chaste, and obedient or disobedient, wealthy, and unchaste – but not be held to a double standard.   Maybe I can write that story someday.

ALAN: Let me know when you do. I want to read it!

JANE: More seriously, the reality those monks and nuns faced seems very grim nor, do I imagine, would their situation have gotten much better after Henry VIII shuffled off this mortal coil.  Religious wars did not end with his death – in fact, they intensified.  They’re nearly as confusing to an American as Henry VIII’s string of Anns and Catherines.  Perhaps we can wend our way into that maze another time.

Next week, though, I have a question or two about some more mysterious English terms.

How Do You Edit It?

February 5, 2014

What am I doing right now?  I’m immersed in self-editing AA2.  It’s an intense process and, while I’ve touched on it in bits and pieces in the past, I had a series of questions from one of the newer readers of these Wanderings that made me think this would be a good time to take a different look at the process.

Sonata for Red Pencil and Paper

Sonata for Red Pencil and Paper

So here are the Questions.

“I know you don’t outline.  But do you edit at all as you write?  Do you do an entire draft and go back through it?  How many times do you go through the book before it goes to an agent or editor?  How far along is it before Jim reads it?  How much does his feedback factor in?  What other first readers do you count on?

Answer 1: I don’t outline.  Really.  Before I start a novel, I have a general feeling about it, but I really don’t know where it’s going until shortly before I get there.  However, I do organize, pretty stringently.  I call this process “Reverse Outlining.”  Since I wrote about that process back in July (WW 7-24-13), I won’t go into details here.

Do I edit as I write?  Yes.  However, this tends to be minimal (altering a word or two).  I’ve known writers who begin their writing day by re-reading what they wrote the day before and carefully grooming it.  Then they move onto the next day’s writing.  I do that occasionally, but usually only when I need to jog my memory as to where I was last session.  Otherwise, I pick up where I stopped and go on from there.

Answer 2: Yes.  I pretty much write an entire draft of a novel (or short story) before I go back through it.  There are two exceptions.  One is if I have a major interruption in the writing process, such as a long trip or a several weeks’ break because another writing obligation comes up.  Then I need to go back and find out what I’ve actually written, in contrast to what I’d thought about writing.  If my reverse outline is up to date, sometimes I just consult that.

Answer 3: How many times do I go through a manuscript before I send it off to my agent or editor?  At least twice, often three times.  The first review is on the computer.   In this reading, my primary goal is to fill in details I left out.  I’ve never been a writer who slows down the flow of a good yarn because I can’t remember the color of a secondary character’s hair or the day of the week or suchlike.  When I come to such a point, I slam in square brackets, sometimes with a note to myself inside them like [color?] and keep going with the story.

This is also where I check continuity and tighten prose, removing duplicate descriptions and other elements that creep in when (for the writer) weeks have passed, when for the reader only a chapter or so has gone by.

I do my second read-through on a hard copy of the manuscript.  This is a step I never, ever, ever skip.  I seat myself squarely at the table with no fewer than two red pencils at hand and a red pen in case I want to write an additional paragraph.  (I write faster in ink than in pencil.)  I am as ruthless as possible in this reading: cutting, augmenting, rephrasing, whatever it takes.

Back when I was first getting started, I’d often read the manuscript aloud.  There’s no better way to catch clunky sentences or omissions.  I still do this with short stories.  An added bonus is that reading a manuscript is great training for giving public readings.

Another reading of sorts occurs when I am incorporating my changes into the manuscript.  This forces me to take another close look.

Answer 4: How far along is the manuscript when Jim reads it?  How much does his feedback factor in?  Jim doesn’t see the manuscript until I’m done with these first two or three readings and have made all the corrections.  Basically, he doesn’t see the story until it’s as good as I can possibly make it.

Occasionally, if I like a particular line or something, I might read it to him.  He’s very patient about hearing parts of novels with no context.  However, I don’t look for feedback as I write.

Jim’s feedback is very important.  Although it might surprise those who think of archeologists as mere grubbers in the dirt, a lot of the work involves writing.  Since Jim’s a project director, he also does a considerable amount of editing.  So I’m really lucky in that my first reader is both a writer and a professional editor.

If I disagree with one of Jim’s comments, I make a note of it.  If I hear the same comment from another reader, then I take it as a given that I have failed in some way to communicate my intent.  Then I will do my best fix the error.

Answer 5: What other first readers do I count on?  This varies from book to book, based on who has time and who I can trust to be ruthless with me, if such is called for.  Much as I love hearing that I’m someone’s favorite author or that I write wonderful books, such praise isn’t helpful when a book is still in the evolving stages.  Heck, even questions about a book that’s published can be useful.  Sometimes, if I’ve left something out, I can put it in later in the series (assuming there is a series).  Reader comments aren’t always useful because some readers want to dictate a direction for the series that I never intended, but I’d rather have them than not.

Another important thing I look for in a first reader is a familiarity with science fiction and fantasy as a genre.  Readers who don’t know the conventions of the genre may praise where praise isn’t really due.  (I remember a long-ago colleague who was fascinated by my use of the term “credits,” rather than money in Smoke and Mirrors.)  Or they may get flummoxed by some standard genre element and want more explanation than is due.

Answer Six: Wait!  There was no Question Six.

Time for me to haul out the red pencils and get back to work.

If you’re interested in other bits I’ve written about revising, editing, and taking criticism, you might enjoy the Wanderings for 2-08-12 (“When It’s There…  But It Isn’t”) and 2-15-12 (“Two Heads or Too Many Cooks?”).

This doesn’t mean I don’t invite other questions.  By all means, bring ‘em on!