Archive for June, 2014

TT: Flatlands… Oops! Flat Roofs!

June 26, 2014

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering? Page back one and hear about Adara the Puppy, contests, and offer a few thoughts on short stories. Then join me and Alan as we world-build our way into the question of flat roofs.

JANE: Last time I promised to unravel the mysteries of flat roofs. Between my husband, Jim, being an archeologist and our good friend, Chip, being a roofing estimator, I know more about flat roofs old and new than I ever thought possible. To really understand the phenomenon of the flat roof – at least in the American Southwest – you need to know a bit about the region.

Flat Roof, Note Parapet

Flat Roof, Note Parapet

Unravelling the mystery involves distinct similarities to the sort of world-building one does when writing SF or Fantasy.


ALAN: That sounds fascinating. Tell me more.

JANE: All right, here goes. First, you need to understand that the original southwestern flat roofs were built in areas that lacked two things: rain and long pieces of timber. The long, hot summers and the fact that, even in mid-winter, days can be pleasant and sunny (if not overly warm) also played a role.

Sloping roofs need beams to create the slope. To make beams, you need large pieces of timber. In many parts of the southwest, large pieces of timber simply aren’t there. The nearest trees are small and scrubby. Cottonwoods are notoriously soft (and explosive, but that’s another matter entirely). If you want roof beams, you need to go up in the mountains, cut the trees, then haul the logs all the way back to where you live.

This was done but these beams then became highly valuable items. Are you familiar with the “old wood problem”?

ALAN: No – I’ve never heard of it.

JANE: This is a problem archeologists out here encounter when they try to date a structure (actually, anything at all) by wood or wood residue. Wood can be dated in several ways, including C14 dating and dendrochronology.

ALAN: Ah yes! I know all about that. C14 dating measures the concentration of radioactive Carbon-14 in organic material such as wood. Since it decays at a known rate, the concentration gives a measure of the age of the material.

Dendrochronology is where you cut a Beatle in half and count the rings in order to calculate the age of the drummer. Hmmm… That doesn’t sound quite right…

JANE: Ouch! But, you’re almost right. Dendrochronology is also known as “tree ring dating.” And since I anticipate jokes about dating services for trees, I’m not going to ask you if you know how that works. I’m going to be grim and serious and focus on roofs.

The old wood problem arises for a number of reasons, but I’m going to stick to the one that has to do with roofing beams. Since the beams took a lot of labor to acquire, when a group left an area, they’d let the houses go back to mud and stone, but they’d often take the beams with them. This means that archeologists can’t assume that the date they get from testing the wood is the same as the date for the structure. The beams might, in fact, be the equivalent of family heirlooms, handed down for generations.

ALAN: That must have made the reading of the will rather tense. Which child will get which bit of the roof? And think of the bargaining afterwards! “I’ll swap you three joists for a gable truss…”

JANE: Actually, I suspect there would have been discussions quite like that – even if the terms were different.

Now, back to flat roofs… Out here the main types of beams are usually referred to by their Spanish names. Vigas are tree trunks, usually stripped of their bark and smoothed. Latillas are slimmer, either cut from saplings or from long branches. None are cut into planks or joists. They’re just pieces of wood, valued for their length and hardness as much as anything else.

Now, imagine you’re a Pueblo Indian. You’ve carefully constructed your house either from adobe (a blending of mud with straw) or from mud mortared stone or some combination of the two.   If you used adobe, you coated the exterior with various forms of mud plaster.

The time has come for the roof. First you lay down vigas, then crosswise you put a dense layer of lattias. Then you layer on other materials: brush, smaller branches, dry grass, and suchlike.   When this is in place, you start layering on mud. Techniques varied, but the end result was a very thick roof – one or two feet thick was not uncommon.

ALAN: That sounds rather like thatching – though thatched roofs do slope because they are built on joists, and there isn’t a final covering of mud. But the layering of other organic material is typical of the type.

JANE: Good comparison – but thatching wasn’t done here, probably because there wasn’t sufficient timber to build the joists necessary to support the roof so that it would properly drain.

The southwestern style flat roofs not only kept out the worst of the rain and snow, they provided extra living space. The evidence is that – except in the worst extremes of weather – the rooms were used more for storage than as living space. Additionally, the thick walls and roofs provided excellent insulation, making for rooms that were cool in the summer and would retain heat in the winter.

When the Spanish came to the area, they adopted similar building techniques. I believe they were the first to introduce “canales” – channels or canals that encouraged runoff into gutters that jutted over the side of the structure so as not to erode the mud walls. This rain was often caught in rain barrels and stored for later use.

Until the railroads made transportation of building materials practical, variations on this type of structure continued. Re-plastering and otherwise repairing the houses was an annual event.

ALAN: We do have some houses here that are built to look like that. They are known as “Spanish Style” houses.

JANE: Yes… And that ties into my next point.   In modern times, various architects admired the appearance of both “pueblo” and “territorial” style architecture and sought to emulate it for modern structures. However, since they were no longer designing roofs at least a foot thick and made of absorbent materials, all the problems you listed last time occurred – without the advantage of creating trout fishing ponds.

Often these modern flat roofs were covered in tar and gravel. This would seal the roof for a while but, eventually, hollows would appear, creating weak spots, which, in turn would create leaks.

Nonetheless, architects and home owners persisted in wanting the look of “traditional” southwestern architecture and that demanded flat roofs (or a combination of flat and peaked roofs).

These days, advances in building materials make flat roofs possible to construct with fewer leaks. In new construction, a parapet running around the edge of the roof often conceals the fact that the roof is actually not completely flat, but is pitched to encourage runoff. This, in turn, is channeled into the modern version of canales.

ALAN: So the flat roofs are actually optical illusions? How clever.

JANE: That’s it! And, as I mentioned all those years ago when I visited New Zealand, New Mexico remains stuck on brown as the only acceptable color for houses. Even though modern frame stucco construction is no long constrained by the color of mud, the majority of houses are some shade of brown with color reserved for trim.

ALAN (to the tune of “The Hippopotamus Song” by Flanders and Swann): Mud, mud, glorious mud…

JANE (singing along): …nothing quite like it for cooling the blood.

And the house.

ALAN: (sung to the tune of “Food, Glorious Food,” from Oliver!”) Mud, glorious mud…

JANE: (singing along) “Hot Tar and Gravel!”

And while we’re talking about roofs, I have a few questions about how the climate in your part of the world influences construction.   After all, there’s not only world-building – the world influences buildings!


Namesakes, Contests, and Short Stories

June 25, 2014

It’s been busy here. (Is it ever not?) However, the sequel to Artemis Awakening, tentatively titled Artemis Invaded, is now revised and turned into my editor at Tor. I’ll admit to feeling pretty satisfied—and impatient to see the book out. We’ll need to wait until next June, though.

Now it’s time to turn my energies to new projects.   Among these will be a couple of short stories and maybe, if I can get my act together, that short story collection you folks requested a while back. I’ll fill you in as soon as these come closer to being realities, rather than dreams.

Adara the Puppy

Adara the Puppy

Artemis Awakening hasn’t even been out for a month and already it’s having an influence. One of my vets has named her new puppy after Adara the Huntress. Adara the Puppy is very small and lives in a household with two large (but friendly) adult dogs, several cats, a rabbit, and assorted wild animals who are being fostered. Her owner says she chose the name to give the puppy something to grow into. I hope the name’s an inspiration.

I’ve got to admit, I giggled for about a week after finding out and couldn’t resist sharing. Isn’t she cute? I’ve seen a short video of her and her two adult canine companions and it’s quite clear that in her mind Adara the Huntress isn’t too big a name.

On other fronts, for those of you who like to write book reviews or enter contests, you might want to check the contest we’re running from my Facebook page: write a review of Artemis Awakening, provide a link, and be entered into a drawing to win either a signed, personalized hardcover or an audio download of the novel. If you’re interested, check this.

The other day I found myself thinking about the strange dichotomy involved with me and short stories: I like to write short stories but I’m actually not much of a short story reader.

This was brought forcefully home to me when I was recommending Laini Taylor’s collection Lips Touch Three Times to a friend. I heard myself saying, “I don’t usually read short stories, but I really liked this. Of course, there are only three stories and they’re long enough that they’re more or less novellas…” Later in the same conversation, I mentioned that among my future projects I was looking forward to writing two short stories. I definitely heard the disconnect.

So, obviously, I need to think this through. First, there are definitely authors whose short stories I not only read but seek out. Roger Zelazny and Charles deLint both spring to mind.   I bet if I thought longer, I could come up with others. There are those authors who are often better at a shorter length. I really like Walter Jon Williams’ novels, but I think some of his strongest work is shorter. His novel This Is Not A Game is structured like two interconnectednovellas and is all the better for it.

When I think back, I’ve actually read a lot of single author short story collections and, in most cases, enjoyed them. So what’s my problem?

Well, for one, I’m not a big fan of gimmick stories, no matter the length. I’m also not a big fan of inconclusive endings. Both of these are more likely to happen at shorter lengths, rather than longer. I have read too many short stories that are in reality descriptive vignettes. Someone has a clever idea or image and thinks that’s all a story needs. It doesn’t.

Fact is, a short story needs everything a novel does – and needs to present it within a smaller space – or at least with fewer words.   (I leave the image because for me stories do seem to occupy a physical space. And I don’t think it’s just a lump of pages.)

Roger Zelazny said – I’m not sure just where – that a short story should feel as if it was the final chapter of a novel. Maybe that’s why I like his shorter works. He doesn’t leave me hanging. I certainly have tried to follow that advice with my own short stories and so am surprised how often when I finish reading a story aloud, the immediate response is “But what happened next?” Of course, I get that with my novels, too.

Short stories are also more often driven by ideas than by characters. I’ve written a lot of stories for theme anthologies. Sometimes the theme is very generalized – dragons, let’s say, or angels – and sometimes it’s more specific – alien pets or girls, guns, and monsters. I enjoy the challenge of trying to come up with a story that won’t resemble anything else in the collection. That often means starting with a list of the usual – big dragons, wise dragons, nasty dragons – and vowing to avoid these.

Once I’ve made my list, I start musing about who the main character will be. For a short story, usually I try to keep the focus on one POV character. Sometimes I’m in the mood to write about a certain type of person. Other times the theme dictates it. For the Mother, Matron, Crone collection, for example, a female protagonist was pretty much a given.

Between these two I arrive at my setting. Plot comes last of all. To avoid slipping into vignette-mode, I make sure I know what the conflict will be… even if I don’t know the resolution. But I make certain there is a resolution. Just about the only people who like stories with indecisive endings are English professors – and that’s because it gives something to discuss in the classroom.

Any recommendations of good short story collections out there? I’m not talking “Year’s Best” or “Nebula Award stories” or like that – I can’t help but read those with my critic brain on. I’m just looking for a good read…

TT: What’s on the Rooftop?

June 19, 2014

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering? Page back one where I wander on about how gardening considerations and writing considerations are not as dissimilar as they might seem. Then join me and Alan as we examine our severely battered roofs.

JANE: Hey, Alan, remember when I told you about how my house had been pummeled by hail, ruining the roof on the sun porch?

After the hailstorm

After the hailstorm

ALAN: Yes, I do. It must have been a frightening experience.

JANE: Turns out the repair is going to be a lot more complicated than anyone imagined at the time. The company that built the porch in the first place has gone out of business. Happily, for us, there is another company that makes a similar product, but the panels will need to be custom fabricated. We’re still waiting on that.

Didn’t you tell me that you and Robin are having your roof replaced? I hope it’s going a lot more smoothly.

ALAN: We’ve not had the whole roof replaced, but we have had some very extensive repairs. About a year ago, after a big storm, we had some leaks in the roof. The cats took exception to being dripped on, so we got a roof man to investigate. He told us that there was some corrosion round the nails, and he recommended that we have the nails replaced with screws and have the holes resealed. We did that (it took a couple of days) and the leaks went away. The cats were happy again.

JANE: How cats react to storms is fascinating. Currently, Jim and I share our home with four. Each one reacted a little differently to our barrage of hail. Persephone went to the window to watch, then decided she’d seen enough and hid. Ogapoge – who is such a big bruiser that everyone assumes he is scared of nothing – went into his favorite hiding place, the file drawer in my desk.

Kwahe’e looked as if he was going to get scared, took a look at me and Jim, decided we weren’t hiding, and snuggled down to await developments. My favorite reaction was Kel’s. She analyzed the situation, clearly decided one roof just might not be enough, and went into the knee-well on my desk. She didn’t hunker down or look scared. She looked as if she’d moved into a cat-sized residence.

I hope that your repairs ended your problems.

ALAN: Well, they did and they didn’t. Certainly the leak went away, but round about the time you had your hail damage, we had another big storm and the roof started to leak again. A different roof man came to investigate. He reported that the first man had not done a very good job – there were still nails and corrosion in some of the harder-to-reach nooks and crannies. So we had those fixed as well.

JANE: Nails and screws? What sort of roof do you have?

ALAN: The roof is made of corrugated steel which is nailed (well, screwed now) to the joists. That’s probably the most common roofing system here. I must confess that when I first came here from England, I thought it all looked a bit crude. I’d grown up in a house with a slate roof and when I bought a house of my own, it had a roof made of ceramic tiles. But I’ve got used to the look of steel roofs now and these days I rather like them. But there’s a dramatically rusty one on a house just down the road from us which really looks quite ugly. I can’t imagine how it stays watertight, if indeed it does. The house is generally very dilapidated so I suspect it’s a rental property.

JANE: Interesting variations… I really don’t know what the roof was on the house where I spent most of my childhood. The house was so tall and the roof so steeply pitched that I never went out on it. I think the roof on the house where we summered was some variation on asphalt shingles. That’s a pretty common material here in the U.S. It’s what my current house has. However, I have lived in a house with a metal roof, when I lived in Virginia.

ALAN: Ah! So it’s not just an antipodean phenomenon. That’s interesting.

JANE: My house in Virginia was – by American standards – quite old. Most of it had been built before the Civil War. I think the “new” rooms were added in the 1880’s. The house was roofed in metal – what is usually called a “tin roof” here, although I have no idea if it was tin or some other metal. In any case, I was very surprised to learn that care for this roof included keeping it painted. Since the house was fairly tall and had a very steep pitch (I am seeing a trend), I arranged for the roof to be painted by professionals.

My cats (a different crew then) were all quite calm until I made a flippant comment about there being monsters on the roof. Then, between one breath and the next, they all melted into hiding. Seriously. I do not exaggerate. I had a friend visiting at the time and he could bear me witness.

ALAN: Our cats paid no attention at all to the man banging on the roof. But a couple of months ago the largest seagull I’ve ever seen in my life went stomping all over the roof with his size ten hob-nailed boots on. Every so often he stopped and had a really loud peck at something as well. He spent more than an hour marching around up there. The cats were initially puzzled, but then Harpo, the cat who isn’t afraid of anything except the things he is afraid of, went and hid in a deep, dark cupboard, and Bess came for a reassuring cuddle.

JANE: Do you folks typically paint your roofs like I had to do?

ALAN: Yes – lots of the roofs are painted. There’s always a section in paint shops devoted just to roof paint, though I’m really not sure what makes roof paint different from any other kind of paint. A house I lived in a few years ago had a roof that had been covered with some sort of adhesive which had what appeared to be gravel embedded in it. It looked very attractive and was highly effective at keeping the weather out.

I’ve seen flat roofs in some American movies and TV shows. They strike me as really rather a dumb idea. With a sloping roof the rain can easily run off and water the garden. Surely with a flat roof the rain will just collect into large lakes? I have a surreal picture in my mind of whole suburbs full of people sitting on their roofs and fishing for trout…

JANE: You are absolutely right that flat roofs are a stupid idea. However, answering your question involves a bit of history and even archeology. Perhaps we should save it for next time…

How It Goes… Or Grows

June 18, 2014

Life here has continued insanely busy… I’m happy to report that the two events this weekend for Artemis Awakening went really well. I had a great time talking with the folks at the Albuquerque SF club on Friday evening. The questions were wide-ranging and thoughtful. Answering them gave me an opportunity to talk about some world-building considerations, including oddities like linguistic drift. I must have not been the only person to have fun, since a bunch of those attending also showed up at Page One Books on Sunday afternoon to buy copies of the novel and get them signed. It was also great to both catch up with some of my long-time readers and meet some new ones.

Replanted Radishes

Replanted Radishes

Remember the Cover Art contest I talked about a of couple months ago? (If you don’t, see the WW for 1-29-14.) The winners have been chosen and are really amazing.   If you’d like to see which pieces won, you can look here: It’s amazing how many really good pieces were submitted. I’m still mulling over which of the winners will inspire my promised short story.

However, writing that will need to wait until I respond to my editor’s comments for the second Artemis book (probably to be titled Artemis Invaded). I’ve been so busy with promotional stuff (including the pop quiz, two short essays for the Writer’s Read site, and a completely different Q&A for the Riffles site)that I’ve had to put my writing more or less on hold. I’ve promised myself that this week writing moves back to getting priority.

Here at home, Jim and I are viewing our garden with some anxiety. First there was the plague of grasshoppers, then the hail storm, and now our already-battered plants are being harassed by high winds. We had to replant a lot of seeds – probably because the winds have been persistent enough that the seeds were buried beyond their ideal germination depths. This past weekend, we went out and purchased three tomato plants to replace ones the grasshoppers harassed and the hail finished. We also over-indulged in jalapeño pepper plants.

I’m pretty worried about two other tomato plants that are holding their ground, despite nearly having their stems snapped. I’ve been tempted to give up (except I hate giving up on anything that’s struggling to stay alive) and buy new, large plants. Of course, those might not handle the winds as well… If they got battered, they’d break, not bend.

As I was writing about my concerns regarding our garden,I realized how similar they are to worries I have – and have heard other writers express – when a story is “planted,” but doesn’t seem to be thriving. So often the impulse is to rip out and replant, rather than trusting that with time and effort the plant – or story – will survive and thrive.

Certainly, especially after the hail storm, our east bed looked very pathetic. The pepper and eggplants had shredded leaves and bruised stems. In two cases, the stems on pepper plants had snapped. The temptation was to give up on them entirely. But, as I said, we have a lot of trouble giving up on something that’s alive and trying to keep living. We decided to give them a chance. Now, a couple of weeks later, all but the two plants that had their stems snapped have recovered. We have a Hungarian pepper just about ready for picking. A few eggplant have set. The rest of the plants have flowers.

If we’d torn them out and put in new plants, would they have done better? Not necessarily. These plants, battered as they were, had put roots down, roots that sustained them when the winds have blown. Admittedly, the situation has been harder on the west side of our yard, since winds here are often from the west or south. Still, roots are often a lot more important than foliage, especially when the going gets tough.

That’s true with stories, too. Sure, revising is valuable, but I’m a firm believer that you need to have something to revise before you start in on the story. It’s one thing if you realize that what you’d thought was a vegetable plant is a weed, but too often writers get insecure about the value of what they’d initially “planted.” Maybe they think about it too much or talk about it too much, and don’t write very much. A story can lose its freshness that way.

Sometimes, the best thing to do is see if with a little attention the story will start growing again. At the very least, your efforts to take the project forward may help you see if you need to rip out the whole garden or maybe just a plant or two. One thing is for sure, if you keep ripping out, your plants will never flower, much less set fruit.

The same, or so I’ve found, can be true for stories…

TT: How to Wield a Club

June 12, 2014

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering? Page back one and hear about my recent signing trip to California. Then come back and join me and Alan as he attempts to explain the intricacies of actual club membership to me.

JANE: Last week when we were chatting about the gentlemen’s clubs, I realized that I still didn’t know enough to effectively use one as a setting in a story. The clubs I’ve come across in literature often have odd names and bizarre rituals. Is that reflected in real life?

Pureeing an Orange with a Club

Making Orange Fool

ALAN: Yes, it is. Perhaps the most peculiarly named club is Boodle’s, which was founded in 1792. It was named after its head waiter, one Edward Boodle. It is by far the most prestigious of the gentleman’s clubs and everybody who is anybody is a member. It is world famous for serving a dessert called Boodle’s Orange Fool.

JANE: A “fool”? What’s that?

ALAN: The essential nature of a fool is pureed fruit and sugar stirred into whipped cream (though cheaper versions may use custard). The name comes from the French verb “fouler” (for those of you who don’t speak French, that’s pronounced “fool-eh”) which means to mash or to press. And that’s exactly what you do to the fruit before mixing it with the base. Boodle’s Orange Fool is a particularly elaborate variation on this basic dish. It incorporates sponge slices and orange and lemon zest to intensify the taste.

JANE: Hmm… Sponge? Like what you use to wash the dishes?

ALAN: No, not quite. I imagine that kind of sponge would taste rather too much of soap and might rebound off the teeth in a somewhat disconcerting manner. I actually meant sponge cake…

JANE: I’m glad. That was a singularly disgusting image.

Now, you were about to reveal some of the bizarre rituals… I’m prepared to take notes!

ALAN: I’m not sure if the clubs have rituals as such, but some of them definitely have some rather eccentric rules.

JANE: Darn… I was hoping for something really juicy that I could use in a story. Well, I’ll settle for rules.

ALAN: The Caledonian Club (based in London) requires all its members to be of Scottish descent.

The Traveller’s Club insists that membership is only open to those people who have travelled out of the British islands to a distance of at least 500 miles from London in a direct line. I’m not sure whether or not this implies that the members believe in the concept of a flat earth, but they do seem to be ignoring the more subtle ramifications of spherical geometry…

JANE: I really like the image of the club rules being updated to allow for the curve of the planet. Or maybe someone could write a science fiction story where the rules of the club are interpreted literally, and various people go through great trials to succeed. There would need to be some incentive… Maybe the club has a lot of money or something…

But I digress. Writers are good at that! Give me another example.

ALAN: Damn you! Now I want to read that story. Go away and write it at once. But before you do that, let me tell you about the Reform Club, which was founded in 1836 with the avowed intention of promoting acceptance of the Reform Act of 1832 – whatever that might be. Even today, members of the Reform Club are required to declare their support for the Reform Act, though I would not be surprised to learn that few, if any, of them have any idea what that entails. Certainly I know nothing about the Reform Act – but on the other hand I have never been proposed for membership of the club, so I lose no sleep over my ignorance.

JANE: These rules do have story potential. However, I’m still puzzled as to the logistics of club membership.

In some stories, when a character is going up to London from elsewhere, he’ll often say something along the lines of “I’ll be staying at my club.” Does this mean that clubs are boarding houses?

ALAN: Very much so. It was (and presumably still is) very common for young men who had moved to London for the first time to live at their club for two or three years while they settled in and searched for more permanent accommodation

JANE: Well, that would make life easier.

One thing I’ve always wondered is how all of this is paid for. Is there a flat fee that covers everything or do you pay a club membership fee and then the meals, drinks, rooms, and all the rest are extra?

ALAN: The clubs charge very high fees which means, in practical terms, that membership is generally restricted to the very wealthy. Consequently, particularly in the older, more traditional clubs, the members all tend to come from the upper classes.

JANE: So everything is free after you pay the membership fee? That could be a good deal, actually.

ALAN: I don’t understand what you mean.

JANE: Right! Let me give an example, using a couple of Agatha Christie’s characters.

Tommy Beresford comes up to London from the country village where he and Tuppence are currently residing. Since Tuppence is staying in the village to keep an eye on the suspected German Spy, Tommy decides to stay at his club.

A room is available, so he leaves his bags, then goes down to the bar. There he sees an old friend, Colonel Whatsis, who also belongs to the club. Over drinks, ordered by Tommy, they discuss the ramifications of a new submarine plan. Colonel Whatsis departs and Tommy – tired from his journey – decides he’ll just dine at the club, rather than going out.

He does so. In the morning, he goes back to the club, picks up his bag and…

Here’s where my question comes in. Does Tommy owe anything more for the room, the drinks, and the dinner or is that all covered in his annual club membership fee?

ALAN: Yes, he still has to pay for his room, the drinks, and his dinner. The membership fee only gives him right of access. Everything else must be paid for. I vaguely recall reading stories of financially embarrassed members desperately playing hide and seek with angry bar managers waving overdue bills…

JANE: Right! Hmm… Especially in the case of dinner or drinks, this must have been a nightmare for the managers. If Bertie orders a whiskey and soda for himself and an orange juice for Gussie, who pays for the orange juice? Gussie, is, after all, a member and presumably can pay his own bar bill…

But I am thinking like a writer again… And I suppose it wouldn’t matter too much, since most of the members knew each other and if Gussie hit Bertie up for too many orange juices, Bertie could speak with him.

ALAN: And Bertie would have no problems with the speaking of severe words to Gussie if the occasion arose. Bertie and Gussie would certainly have known each other since their early childhood and therefore would not be at all backwards about coming forwards in such matters.

Because club members generally come from the same class, most of them would have attended the same public school and gone to the same university. And, socially speaking, their families would have mingled, mixed and inter-married for centuries. So one way of thinking of a club (particularly if it is one of the older, more hidebound and exclusive ones) is as a formal clique almost deliberately designed to exclude the hoi-polloi!

JANE: I can see why that would trouble someone who wasn’t born into that “set.” I’d like to say there’s no such thing as financial exclusion here in the democratic U.S. but, of course, there is. It takes different forms and possibly can be broken through more easily – after all, if a gentleman’s club’s rules insist you must have attended a certain school, there’s no way around that – but it exists.

ALAN: Yes, and because it is the nature of such organisations to attract movers and shakers (whether by right of birth or right of riches) it’s easy to see why these clubs have such an influence on the world at large. I’m pretty sure that something similar (though perhaps not quite so formal) must exist in most countries.

JANE: I’ve been trying to think if there is anything like the British gentleman’s clubs in the U.S. The only one I can think of off the cuff is the Skull and Bones at, I think, Yale. People always talk about that as a place where important people (including presidents) network, but I’ve never been certain if this is “for real” or conspiracy theory gossip.

ALAN: It certainly sounds like the kind of thing we’ve been discussing and it does seem to suggest that the clubs are not a purely British phenomenon. Though perhaps the British variations are more eccentric than most…

JANE: Certainly they’re quite eccentric, but when I think of the Shriners in their funny hats or what I’ve heard about Masonic lodge rituals, I don’t know if you folks have a lock on eccentricity. What you do have is a much longer tradition and one that seems designed to perpetuate those traditions – good and not so good – as long as members are willing to pay the dues.

I appreciate the clarifications… One of the difficulties about writing anything set in another culture is figuring out what “everyone knows,” so no one explains.

ALAN: I know about the Masons, we have those too. One rolled up trouser leg, funny handshakes, and far too much influence with high ranking policemen. But what on earth is a Shriner?

JANE: I honestly don’t know, except that they sponsor a circus that raises money for various charities. Maybe our readers can fill us both in. I’d be grateful!

Home from California

June 11, 2014

So, folks, I’ve been to a Mysterious Galaxy, out on the Borderlands…

Really!   That is, I’m back from California where I did signings for Artemis Awakening at Mysterious Galaxy bookstore in San Diego and at Borderlands Books in San Francisco. I had a great time at each event.

Sand Shadow

Sand Shadow

The signing at Mysterious Galaxy was an evening event. I’d been up since 5:30 a.m., pulling together loose ends before getting on a plane. I’ll admit, by the time 7:00 p.m. California time rolled around (8:00 p.m. my time), I was running on caffeine and good fellowship. Happily, there was plenty of both. I started my evening with a very enjoyable dinner with some my Lindshield cousins who live in the San Diego area.

The Lindshields took me off to Mysterious Galaxy. To my delight, there were already people waiting. I chatted with these – a few of whom I’d met several years before – as I climbed up behind the high reader’s table and unpacked my things. Among the items was the stuffy toy puma who is featured in the accompanying photo.

Sand Shadow is a custom creation. The original toy is from Wild Republic, but on the original the eyes are all wrong, even a little creepy. It took me a couple of days to figure out why. All at once, it hit me. The original doesn’t have “cat’s eyes.” Its eyes are small and round. I immediately enlisted input from some of my artistically talented friends. They agreed with my conclusion. Then Tori took on the task of giving Sand Shadow her proper look, courtesy of agile “make-up” application using Sharpie markers. Jim and I finished off the project with a colorful selection of hoop earrings and a bag for Sand Shadow’s marbles.

Original version

Original version

Seriously, an earring-wearing, marble-playing puma will make sense once you’ve read the book! It isn’t even a comic element.

Although each event shared elements – I read the first chapter of the novel; I took questions; I signed books – they were each unique. At Mysterious Galaxy, a couple of the regular “Commenters” on the Wednesday Wanderings and Thursday Tangents showed up. I’d met Nicholas a few years back, but this time I got to meet his mother, Ann, and his brother, Michael.

“heteromeles” also showed up, revealing his identity when he came up to have his copy of Artemis Awakening signed. He gave me the option of his screen name or his “real” name. Of course, I picked “heteromeles.” After all, what’s a name if it’s not what you call a person?

In San Francisco, my cab got me to the bookstore a little early. Fortified with an excellent cup of coffee and a buttery bittersweet chocolate croissant from the store’s café, I went to peruse the offerings. After I complimented a young lady who was in the same section for her very “anime” ensemble (the pink streaks in her long hair were especially nice), we fell into conversation. We rapidly discovered a large number of shared interests, including the works of Tamora Pierce and several anime/manga titles. I think we were both delighted when we learned that she had come to the store specifically for my reading.

After the Borderlands signing, most of those attending melted away, but my young lady friend (Eva),and an avid local reader named Corky, joined me up at the front desk where I was signing stock for the store. We ended up having a very good discussion about cover art that works and that doesn’t – a discussion in which several people who had come up to pay for their books offered their own opinions.

I’m happy that those who attended these events seemed to have a good time. Before a book event, I always need to fight down a sneaking suspicion that my readers expect me to be one or more of my characters. I’m not, of course, so it’s nice when no one seems too terribly disappointed.

This weekend I’ll be doing two more book events, this time here in Albuquerque. On Friday, I’m speaking at the meeting of our local SF club. Then on Sunday – Father’s Day – I’m doing a reading and signing at Page One Books.   Times and locations are available on my website,

Speaking of authors who aren’t like their characters, George R.R. Martin is once again proving that he’s not at all like the grasping, greedy, self-absorbed, murderous people he writes about. Instead, he’s showing himself more like a classic super hero, determined to use his power for good. This time those who are benefiting include wolves and the hungry humans of Northern New Mexico.

To quote George directly:

“I’ve signed on with to raise funds for the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary in Candy Kitchen, NM and the Food Depot here in Santa Fe.  It’s a kind of kickstarter lottery, where donors get a chance to win the grand prize — a trip to NM, a day with me, and a helicopter ride to Wild Spirit for a private tour of the sanctuary.

“There are all sorts of lesser prizes as well, depending on donation levels — signed maps, signed books, premiere tickets, tuckerizations, even one of my old hats.

“Details are here.”

I’ve long been a supporter of Wild Spirit (you can read more about my experiences with itvia links on my website homepage). I’m thrilled that George is helping the organization keep going at this difficult time. And there’s a nice parallel in his helping humans keep “the wolf from the door.” Even if you aren’t in a position to sign up, I hope you’ll help spread the word.

On that note, let me wander off and see if I can finish off my re-read of Artemis Invaded. (Working on that was what I did when I wasn’t at bookstores.) I’m a couple chapters from the end, and things have gotten tense!

TT: A Mysterious Locale

June 5, 2014

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering? Page back one for an update on our plague of grasshoppers, highly destructive hail, and a few new things related to the release of Artemis Awakening.

JANE: Hey, Alan, remember when you asked me questions about high schools in the U.S.?

Different Clubs

Different Clubs

ALAN: Oh yes – that was 21st June 2012. We had a discussion that we ended up calling “Bizarre Education.” That raised so many questions that we followed it with several weeks of tangents as we tried to pin down the peculiarities.

JANE: Well – just as you were able to read and enjoy American fiction in a high school setting without necessarily knowing what a yearbook or a letter sweater was – as we discussed Wodehouse, I realized that I’ve read a ton of British fiction without precisely understanding a setting that occurs over and over again.

ALAN: What is it? I’ll be happy to explain if I can. Just let me unpack the oars for my Delphi Coracle…

JANE: Ouch! A subsidiary Omniscient Transportation LTD, no doubt.

What I was wondering about was the omnipresent club.   Clubs seem to be a major part of the social life, but I really don’t understand how they work – or maybe I should say “worked,” since I’m not sure if they still exist. Let me give a few examples…

Bertie belongs to The Drones. Other Wodehouse characters belonged to other clubs. I seem to recall an Explorer’s Club being mentioned. Oh, yes, and Eustace and Claude are quite eager to get into the Seekers, even though they are already, apparently, members of the Drones.

Mycroft Holmes belonged to the Diogenes Club, but I don’t recall Sherlock ever mentioning belonging to a club. Watson might have, though…

Whenever Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion’s rather mysterious biography is mentioned, his clubs are always included. I believe he belongs to at least three, one of which is the Junior Greys. Therefore, apparently it’s possible to belong to more than one club.

So what is a club? I have a feeling that there’s more to it than just a few people with similar interests choosing to hang out together – like our local SF club or something.

ALAN: Essentially a club is a gentleman’s home away from home where he can meet likeminded people, relax from the stresses and strains of everyday life, perhaps do a little informal gambling and gossiping, some eating and some drinking. And where he can read The Times, a gentleman’s newspaper if ever there was one.

The gentleman’s club has long been a mainstay of upper class society. The oldest of the clubs is White’s which was founded in 1693 and which is still going strong today. If you look up the details of the lives of wheelers and dealers of the English world in Who’s Who, you will find that they always list the clubs to which they belong.

JANE: Sounds good! How do you join a club?

ALAN: Paradoxically, you don’t – at least not directly. A current member has to propose you for membership. Once proposed, you will be introduced to the committee and other club members. You will spend some time with them socially. Eventually, the committee will vote on your proposed membership and if you are deemed acceptable, you will become a member.

Traditionally, the vote is a secret ballot. Those voting will be in possession of two clay balls, one white and one black. A white ball is a vote of acceptance, and a black ball is a rejection. With most clubs, a single black ball is sufficient to reject a proposed membership. Should the proposed member be blackballed, the member who proposed him will often be forced to resign his membership on the grounds that he had introduced unsuitable elements to the club.

JANE: Dear, lord! That’s rather harsh, isn’t it?

ALAN: Indeed – but things seldom reach that stage. Generally, the member who proposes an unsuitable candidate will be spoken to informally long before the vote is taken and the membership proposal will be withdrawn so as to avoid embarrassment all round.

JANE: I can see why they’d want to handle it that way. With all the stress involved, it seems astonishing that someone would want to belong to more than one club. However, such seems to have been common.

ALAN: Oh, it is. The world record seems to have been held by the late Earl Mountbatten who claimed to have belonged to nineteen clubs. And membership is still an important social force – if you are a member of the aristocracy or a politician, club membership is pretty much de rigeur.

JANE: That makes it sound as if these clubs still exist.   Are they still important?

ALAN: They do still exist and they do still have an important social and political role to play.

JANE: Really?

ALAN: Yes, really. Prince Charles held his stag night party at White’s. Then, six days after Charles’ marriage to Lady Diana Spencer, White’s celebrated the wedding with a party to which members were allowed to bring women as guests, the first time that women had been allowed to cross the threshold of the club since 1947 when White’s had held a similar party to celebrate the wedding of Charles’ mum, the then Princess Elizabeth.

JANE: Are women still not allowed to enter Whites?

ALAN: As far as I can tell, the party to celebrate the royal wedding was the last time a woman set foot in White’s. To this day, it remains exclusively a gentleman’s establishment. However, many other clubs have embraced the social changes of the late twentieth century and do now allow women on to their premises. Some have even taken the extraordinary step of allowing women to become members of the club! I can almost hear the curmudgeons hiding behind their newspapers and muttering, “Country’s going to the dogs, I tell you!”

JANE: I hear them even now… Smell the reek of their ever-present cigars, which has permeated the aged oak beams.

These clubs sound like great places for networking. I noticed that, when I asked you for a definition of “club,” you immediately segued into “gentleman’s clubs” as if they were one and the same. If women weren’t allowed in to the gentlemen’s clubs, did they have clubs of their own?

ALAN: Some women’s clubs were formed in the nineteenth century, but none of them have survived, at least not in their original form. There are several women-only organisations such as the Soroptimists which is actually an international volunteer group that seeks to improve the lives of women around the world, but that kind of thing is really rather removed from the original idea of a club.

JANE: I agree. The Soroptimists sounds more like the sort of clubs I’m familiar with here in the U.S.: Kiwanis or Knights of Columbus or suchlike. There is certainly a social aspect to these, but they also raise funds for Causes of various types.

You said that the British gentlemen’s clubs also had a political role to play. Let me guess… Is it something like the proverbial smoke-filled room where secret deals are made?

ALAN: Very much so. The clubs are an ideal setting for politicians to hold discreet, informal meetings away from the public gaze. Political friends and political enemies who wouldn’t be seen dead together in public, but who all belong to the same club, can thrash out their differences in private and reach some kind of consensus. A surprisingly large number of political decisions have been taken in this way, though it’s hard to give chapter and verse because of the tradition of confidentiality.

JANE: The phrase “have been taken” rings oddly to my American ear. We would say, “have been made” or “have been reached.”

ALAN: That’s interesting. On my side of the pond you can “make” a decision and you can “take” a decision and both phrases are used interchangeably. However “reaching” a decision sounds a little clumsy to me. It’s not an unheard of thing to say, but it’s a rare construction and I would certainly never use it.

JANE: I wonder why the difference evolved. I mean, a decision is like a journey. You go through the process examining the alternatives, rather like stages in a journey, then “reach” a decision. Makes sense to me!

ALAN: I strongly suspect a European influence here. Personally I blame the French with whom we have had an uneasy linguistic relationship for the last two thousand years or so. Certainly in French one always takes a decision (“prendre une decision”) and that may be why we still use the phrasing and you don’t.

JANE: Ah! Voila! Revelation! <grin>

ALAN: Back to the gentlemen’s clubs and their political influence. In a formal sense, some clubs deliberately organise political debates and conferences on public affairs. The Commonwealth Club is particularly fond of doing this, and the heads of state of several Commonwealth countries have spoken there.

JANE: So, some clubs have a public identity, as well as a private one. That makes sense – while complicating the issue. But I will admit that I have more questions buzzing in my brain. Next week, perhaps…

Hail Storms and Reviews

June 4, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, I told you about plagues of grasshoppers and early reviews for Artemis Awakening. This week we still have grasshoppers, the good reviews keep coming, and we’ve been pummeled by hail.

After the Storm

After the Storm

 In all fairness, although the grasshoppers remain omnipresent (four followed Jim into the house last night, distracting the cats from their dinners),they don’t seem to be harming our garden too much. We’re going to need to replace some veggies, replant some seeds, but our garden hasn’t been stripped bare, as I had dreaded.

 A friend told me that the grasshoppers have been getting swept up into the skies by the Spring winds. There are now so many grasshoppers up there that they are registering on the weather radar, which can’t figure out what sort of storm they represent. Predicting the weather in New Mexico is hard enough with grasshoppers confusing matters!

 If the grasshoppers haven’t let up, neither has the favorable attention being paid to the newly released Artemis Awakening. One of my favorite reviews appeared in Romantic Times. The first paragraph reads:

 “Lindskold’s world of Artemis is instantly captivating. The lovely cover art is eye catching, but it was Adara and the planet as a whole that kept this reviewer interested and excited. Artemis is so brilliantly constructed that Adara’s world will blossom right before readers. Sci-fi fans will definitely love the mixture of fantasy and alien life, and pure fantasy readers will enjoy the rich world of Artemis.”

 I was also surprised – and delighted – to learn that Tor Books had arranged to have the first chapter of Artemis Awakening included in Lightspeed Magazine’s new “Women Destroy Science Fiction” issue. Given the title, you might wonder why I’d be happy but, as the editor’s introduction makes clear, the title is meant ironically. Women don’t destroy science fiction – we just write it. The writing takes a wide variety of forms, many of which are represented in this issue.

 Anyhow, although the plague of grasshoppers hasn’t been as destructive to our property as we had feared, the hail storm we had about ten days ago has done a great job of making up for it. The storm hit late afternoon on a Friday. Jim and I were quietly reading when a light rain started to fall. Given how dry our spring has been, we were completely delighted.

 However, when a few minutes later the skies went from grey to black and the temperature plummeted, we looked at each other in apprehension. The winds started howling from the west. Moments later, the rain lashed down so hard that the gutter over our front window overflowed like a waterfall. The rain slackened and the winds swirled around as if trying to decide on a new direction.

Instead, hail began, never much larger than a standard marble, but in such quantities that we had drifts in the yard. In a way it was lucky that so many of our garden plants were still small, since they didn’t provide a lot of surface area. Even so, within seconds, the eggplants looked as if they’d decided that piercings were the new vegetable fashion statement. Our radish leaves were so scrambled that I was glad the veggies are underground. Our hollyhocks were transformed into pink and red confetti.

The biggest damage was to the roof of our sun porch.   I’d conservatively estimate that there are 5,000 holes, each about the size of a standard paper punch. Thankfully, the roof is double-paned, so we didn’t have water pouring in through the holes, although the winds –   which ultimately settled on “east” – forced so much water in under the porch door that we were mopping it up and tossing it out into the saturated yard by the three gallon bucket.

And all within about ten minutes…

So we’ve had insurance adjusters in and new roof panels are being fabricated. The hollyhocks have budded forth and soon – hopefully – all this destruction will be a memory.

Meanwhile, I need to pack for California. I’ll be in San Diego at Mysterious Galaxy on Friday, in San Francisco at Borderlands Books on Saturday. The following weekend, I’m doing a couple gigs right here at home in the Land of Enchantment.

(Are plagues of grasshoppers and pummeling hail enchanting?)