Archive for September, 2014

FF: Identity Crisis

September 26, 2014

The Friday Fragments feature lists of what I’ve read over the past week.  They are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive list, you can look on my website.

Kwahe'e Reads in Bed

Kwahe’e Reads in Bed

This isn’t a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a few opinions tossed in.

This week, by purest coincidence, identity seems to be a recurring theme.


Recently Completed:

The Adventures of English: The Biography of a Language by Melvyn Bragg.  I really enjoyed this because Bragg anchors his discussion in solid example, not linguistic theory.  Recommended!

Sizzling Sixteen by Janet Evanovich.  Audiobook.  Vinnie is kidnapped.  His staff reluctantly decides to go to the rescue.

Necromancer by Gordon R. Dickson.  I read this years and years ago.  Revisits very well.  Oh…  For those of you unfamiliar with Dickson’s work, there are no zombies involved.

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan.  Although set in the same world as the Percy Jackson books, this sequel introduces some neat new characters while expanding on the “Great Prophecy.”  I enjoyed.

In Progress:

Tactics of Mistake by Gordon R. Dickson.  Somehow I missed this one.  I’m quite enjoying.

Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan.  Audiobook.  Percy was missing in The Lost Hero.  Now we know where he was.  So far, so good…  I only wish the reader was better.


I’m designing a new “chapter” for my on-going RPG, so I’ve been diving into my gaming manuals.  I prefer GURPS, third edition.

What are you reading?


TT: Mind and Body in Motion

September 25, 2014

JANE: Well, Alan, last time you promised to reveal all about your retirement plans.  I await revelation!

ALAN: Once we’ve moved house, the master plan kicks in. The first step is to get a dog. I’m sure the cats will have something to say about that, but I’m afraid they’ll just have to put up with it.

Lang may yer lum reek

Lang may yer lum reek

Partly I want a dog so that I will be forced to do some exercise by taking it for a walk. But mainly I want a dog simply because I want a dog. Unlike cats, dogs need company and I always felt that it would not be fair on the dog if I was away for long stretches of time at work – particularly since I used to travel a lot in my job. Sometimes I could be away from home for days and weeks at a time. I had a dog as a child, and I’ve always wanted another one. So a dog is high on the list of priorities.

JANE: Ah…  My cats and guinea pigs are completely spoiled by having me work at home.  If I leave for more than about three hours, I am greeted with worried looks and lots of clinging.  The situation is complicated because Jim works at home a couple days a week.  The animals are very indignant when he leaves.

Given how much more dependent they are by nature, I can’t imagine how a dog would react.  It would probably have a nervous breakdown if I left for more than five minutes.

So, you’re moved and you have a dog.  What next?

ALAN: I also want to indulge myself with some studying. All my life I’ve worked in a highly technical field and all my formal qualifications are in scientific and technical subjects. I’ve always read voraciously and widely outside those fields, but I’ve never formally studied things like history, philosophy, linguistics etc.: the so called “arts” subjects.

I’d really like to explore things like this in much more depth. Fortunately it’s easy to do that these days. There are a lot of free courses available on the internet. This is the decade of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). I intend to take advantage of them and dive in with my eyes wide open in wonder.

JANE: That sounds like fun.   One thing I love about being a writer is that research and study is a constant – at least for me.  Although I’ve only been posting them for a short time now, I’m already getting comments on my Friday Fragments to the effect that I read “all over the place.”  Believe me, if I was including the shorter material – magazine articles, excerpts from various books and encyclopedias – you’d see the diversity even more.

ALAN: I don’t find that odd at all. I do the same thing. There are so many interesting subjects in the world!

JANE: So, what else are you planning on doing?

ALAN: I’d like to do a lot more writing as well. Maybe I’ll blow the dust off the dead novels I started and never finished…

JANE: Ah, hah!  Jim also has three novels he wrote that he never managed to sell.  Eventually, he focused in tightly on archeology but there’s one story in particular that he periodically discusses going back and re-writing when he retires.

Don’t tell me about your novel ideas, but you can bet that when you finish one, I’ll be first in line to read it!

ALAN: Of course, you are in quite a different situation from me. As far as I can tell, writers never retire, they just keep on writing forever. Old writers never die, they just live happily ever after, as it were. What are your future plans?

JANE: Well, for one, even if I had a “real” job, I’m pretty far away from retirement age, so what I might do really isn’t something I’ve thought about.

And, honestly, the issue is a whole lot more complicated than you seem to realize.  Basically, if writers want to keep selling, they need to keep writing and publishing.  I know of one writer (who shall remain nameless) who believed he had a solid enough following that his backlist would keep supporting him and he could retire.

What he discovered was that he could not.  Readers are tempted to try a writer’s backlist because there is some sort of “buzz” about the writer.  This “buzz” can take many forms, but the best is generated by a new book.  A new book reminds people that a writer exists.

Now, the writer of whom I was speaking made his attempt to retire in the days before self-publishing but, as we have discussed elsewhere and at great length, self-publishing does not magically sell books without any effort on the writer’s part.  In fact, as I see it, self-publishing is the furthest thing from a quiet retirement. It’s being a writer, publicist, marketing specialist, and all the rest.

ALAN: And that’s a lot of very hard work indeed.

JANE: You must remember, in the U.S. we have nothing like your government retirement pension and, as I mentioned last week, Social Security pays out based on what you contributed during your working life.   Therefore, most Americans rely on savings and investments and/or retirement plans from their jobs to supplement this.  Most writers do not make very much money, therefore they will not have contributed much to Social Security, nor will they have savings and/or investments.

I know from discussing this with other writers that I am in the minority in having both.

Therefore, the only way for a writer to keep having an income is not to retire…

ALAN: On the plus side, there seems to be something about the mental activity involved in writing that keeps the brain and body young. I know several writers who are currently in their seventies, verging on eighties and they are still young and spry and productive. And look at Frederik Pohl who was still writing very high quality material well into his nineties!

Of course, that’s not true of everyone.

JANE: No, it’s not.  Far from it.  I saw firsthand how illness can slow down a writer’s production, even if that writer wants to write.  Even on his better days, Roger would often fall asleep over the yellow legal pad on which he liked to write.  On the bad days… forget it.  Writing is not a job you can do if you are feeling muddleheaded.

And, sadly, with aging comes a greater chance of some sort of physical debilitation, so the chance that writing productivity will slow or stop with age is something that too few writers take into account.

Honestly, it’s because I’ve seen this up close that I started salting money away for the future when I could, even if it meant going without some of the many indulgences I saw my friends enjoying.  I knew that I might be forced to give up my chosen career… That would be painful enough without also facing poverty.

ALAN: That’s a very sad picture of Roger. But I have to say I admire the hard-headed, pragmatic choices that you’ve made as a result. Lang may yer lum reek!

JANE: Uh, Alan…  I think I need a translation, I can get “Long may your…”  but?

ALAN: “Lang may yer lum reek” is a Scottish saying. Literally it means “Long may your chimney smoke,” the implication being that we hope you have enough fuel to keep the fire going throughout the year. But idiomatically it means “I wish you a long life and many riches.” Or (in the original Vulcan) “Live long and prosper.”

JANE: Ah…  Revelation!

Stuff and Sense

September 24, 2014

First some cool stuff…  Then the “sense” – the answer to a question I’ve been asked several times about the planet Artemis.

Cool Stuff 1: Tori Hansen has done an original painting for the cover of my forthcoming Wanderings on Writing.  I love it – especially since it captures something that I think is all too often missing from books on writing – the sense of fun!

Wanderings on Writing cover art

Wanderings on Writing cover art

Cool Stuff 2: Want a chance to win either an audiobook or signed hard cover of Artemis Awakening?  Take a look at my official Facebook page for details…

Cool Stuff 3: I’m experimenting with Twitter @JaneLindskold.

Cool Stuff 4: The cover art for Artemis Invaded is nearly done.  As soon as a final version is available, I’ll be sure to share it!

Now for the question…   This is a pretty direct quote:

“Why can Griffin understand the language of Artemis?  I understand that he studied it in advance of going to find the planet, but something like five hundred years have passed.  Wouldn’t it have changed more?”

The answer is that languages don’t change without reason.  In fact, left in isolation, a language will change very little.  In his book The Adventures of English: The Biography of a Language Melvyn Bragg provides a very entertaining discussion of how and why English evolved as it did – and why it still is evolving.

The biggest reason for a language to change is for the culture speaking the root language to be conquered by another culture.  This culture then imposes, with greater or lesser success, its own language on the conquered people.  Sometimes this leads to the original language dying out.  Sometimes – as with English – the root language adapts.

Trade is another way that new words enter a language.  So is conquest, where the language of the conquerors takes on terms from the subjugated people – often for goods, services, or cultural traditions that the original culture lacked.

But language doesn’t change without a reason.  Bragg provides two examples of languages that remained “preserved in the amber of history.”  These are Gullah, a dialect spoken in the Sea Islands and coastal areas of the southeastern United States, and a Cornish dialect spoken on the island of Tangier.  In both cases, the relative isolation of the populations led to the very little change in the language.

Artemis has far more in common with the people of the Sea Islands and Tangier than it does with the nations of Europe.  Although it is a planet, as far as outside influences go, Artemis might as well be an island.  In its entire history, it has not been conquered, nor has it entered into trade.

Artemis is not a “natural” society.  Its population was created for a specific purpose.  That purpose was best served if all the population spoke one language, so it was given a language complex and diverse enough to enable its population to cope in all anticipated situations.  When the seegnur visited the planet, they used this local language.  On Artemis no tower of Babel was built, nor did it fall, fragmenting speech into diverse forms.

Of course there are specialized vocabularies, especially related to climate and trade, that might not be shared by all the residents of the planet, but, what is key here is that the same words for the same items or actions or situations are used.

White is always white, never blanc or laven.  Black is black, not nero or kuroi.  Once a word is learned, it would carry over to any other part of the planet.

What about slang?

Slang usually develops within subsections of the population that, for one reason or another, don’t want to be understood by the larger population.  On Artemis,  slang has always been frowned upon because it would restrict communication with the seegnur.  This provision has held during the five hundred years since the slaughter of the seegnur and death of machines, since most of the population lives in faithful waiting until the seegnur come again.

How about jargon?

Jargon differs from slang in that it is usually specific to a profession, either as a verbal shorthand for commonly used terms or to name new developments.  Probably some bits of professional jargon have evolved, but not as many as you might suspect.  The people of Artemis are conservative – and I mean this in the old sense of the word “to conserve” or “ to preserve.”  Moreover, the lack of scientific and industrial development has meant that there has been very little need for new words.

Languages change for a reason.  At least in the parts of Artemis that Griffin has explored to this point, there has been no reason for the language to change.  Will this always be the case?  That remains to be seen…

Friday Festivities

September 19, 2014

The Friday Fragments feature lists of what I’ve read over the past week.  They are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive list, you can look on my website .

This is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a few opinions tossed in.

Kel's on top of her reading

Kel’s on top of her reading


Recently Completed:

W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton.  Audiobook.  As a reader who has usually enjoyed this series, this novel struck me as all too aptly titled. It was indeed a “waste.”  The text was repetitious and weighted down with pointless description.  Kinsey repeatedly lets herself be bullied by a host of unlikeable characters.  A sub-plot removes any sense of discovery and leads to more repetition.  Continuing characters have dead-end cameos.

The Demigod Files by Rick Riordan.  Audiobook.  Three short stories and a handful of amusing character interviews.  Reminded me that I’ve meant to go on with the adventures of Percy Jackson and his associates.

Finger Lickin’ Fifteen by Janet Evanovich.  Audiobook.  Light and fluffy, even for a series that specializes in fluff.  Still, I was in the mood for fluff.  Now I’m also craving barbeque.

In Progress:

The Adventures of English: The Biography of a Language by Melvyn Bragg.  Overall, this is still fun.  The chapter on pronunciation of various British dialects became tedious for this American reader until Bragg moved on to specific authors.

Sizzling Sixteen by Janet Evanovich.  Audiobook.

Within the Little While:

Quite a while ago, on the recommendation of a friend who is both a librarian and a classics major, I read The Lightning Thief, the first of Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” novels.  Up until my friend reassured me that Riordan knew his stuff, I had avoided these books.  Basically, I get cranky when it becomes evident that an author using mythological material didn’t bother to research beyond some tertiary handbook.  I was delighted with the Riordan’s handling of his material, especially how he managed to explain apparent “errors” in his world-design, like why virgin Athena has so many “half-blood” children.

Oh, I have quibbles, but that’s all they are…   (Goats don’t eat cans.  They lick off the glue.  So goat-bodied satyrs should be glue aficionados, not junk-eaters.)  I plan to continue reading Riordan’s work.

What are you reading?

TT: Frozen Beer

September 18, 2014

JANE: Alan! Alan! If I can drag you out from under your beach umbrella and get the beer mug out of your hand, I was hoping to ask what you plan to do with all the free time you’ve acquired in your retirement.

Monty Python's Holy Ale

Monty Python’s Holy Ale

ALAN: Now there’s a lot of assumptions built in to that question. I promise I will answer it, but there are several tangents I’d like to explore first, if I may?

JANE: Go for it!

ALAN: Firstly, it’s the middle of winter here. So if I really was sitting outside under a beach umbrella, the chances are very good that the beer in my mug would freeze solid and I’d have to drink it with a hammer and chisel.

JANE: Is the temperature really that cold?

ALAN: It has been very cold – but it is actually starting to warm up a little now. Last night was the first night in forever that we didn’t have the electric blankets turned on. And now that we are well past the solstice, I’m greatly looking forward to the start of the asparagus season in a month or so. Yummy!

JANE: I am not quite to envying you the asparagus, since my garden is going strong and we’re finally getting tomatoes.  We lost a lot of tomato plants early in the season, but the ones we planted later are finally showing ripe fruit.

 But we were talking about retirement…

ALAN: Yes, we were. You know it’s amazing how many people have asked me what I’m going to do with all that spare time. Many of them ask with a look of horror on their faces. It’s almost as though they themselves have no idea of how they’d cope if they didn’t have a job to go to. It seems like work is the only thing in their lives and they regard the thought of retirement with fear and trepidation…

JANE: Sadly, that’s true, especially for men.  So many men define themselves by their jobs.  I know Jim thinks of himself as an archeologist.  He plans to continue doing archeology even after he retires.  Not all professions provide that opportunity, so when the professional affiliation is gone, there is a real identity crisis.  Some people avoid that by dodging retirement.

ALAN: That’s exactly what happened to my grandfather. He simply refused to retire and just kept going in to work day after day after day. Eventually the powers that be forced him out – I’m not sure of the exact circumstances, but in his early seventies he was finally persuaded to retire. Once that happened, he was completely lost. He had nothing to do. He just sat in a chair feeling bored and waiting to die.  And, in a few short months, that’s exactly what he did. I was about 18 at the time and I found the whole thing quite scary. I felt it was an object lesson and I certainly didn’t want it to happen to me.

JANE: Absolutely!  My life provided me with a striking example of why retirement is something to be treasured, not avoided.  My father was a lawyer at the Justice Department, doing work with lands and natural resources.  He was offered the chance of early retirement and took it.  Then he went and worked in the same field for a private firm for a few years.  At last, he completely retired.  He travelled, both domestically and oversea, and had some adventures…

That choice made it a tiny bit easier for us when Dad was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and died comparatively young.  At least he hadn’t gone straight from working to dying.

ALAN: So we both have examples from our own lives. Hopefully we’ve both learned the lessons those examples teach.

A fear of retirement is an attitude of mind that is very common. I think it ties in quite closely with the everyday fear of losing your job because of circumstances beyond your control. Certainly it doesn’t help that in these hard economic times a lot of people are really under a lot of pressure to work over and above their normal duties. Some people put in a lot of overtime, and even when they aren’t physically present in the office, they still read and respond to emails and write reports. Work demands so much of some people that they don’t actually have time for any other interests! So if and when retirement or job loss comes, their lives are quite empty. That too I find very sad.

JANE: I thought that was mostly an American (as in resident of the United States) problem!  I am very un-American that way.  I avoid e-mail on the weekend.  Even when I do check my e-mail on the weekend – as sometimes is necessary – I give myself permission not to reply to anything related to work.  It’s the only way to stay sane.  Otherwise, especially being self-employed as I am, it would be too easy to feel “on the clock” all the time.

ALAN: No – I think it’s probably a worldwide phenomenon. A friend of mine is literally on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. He has a company-supplied cell phone which he is not allowed to turn off. Personally, I would never accept a job which had conditions like that attached to it. But some people, particularly those who live to work (rather than people like me who work to live) seem to have no problem with it.

JANE: But you don’t have to worry about that now that you are retired. So tell me, what are you planning to do with your new leisure time?

ALAN: Well, in the short term, we are planning on moving to a warmer and prettier area of the country. That means that we have to get our house into a state where we can realistically put it on the market. As a first step we are having it painted and even as I write this, Jimmy the Painter is outside slapping paint around. I am also moving some of our clutter into storage and (taking a deep breath) I am starting to dive into the paperwork and bureaucracy involved in selling a house and buying another one.

JANE: My sister is also in the process of moving. It sounds as if you and she are doing the same sort of jobs on either side of the globe. I wonder if that’s a sort of harmony…

ALAN: It helps to keep the globe in balance. If your sister wasn’t moving, it might cause the world to wobble, and that would never do.

JANE: I’ll tell her!  But that’s just the short term. What happens after you move?

ALAN: I’ll reveal all next time!

What City is This?

September 17, 2014

Funny thing.  I’ve lived in Albuquerque since December, 1995, and I keep encountering versions of the city that certainly aren’t the one I live in.  Now, if I lived in New York City or Los Angeles or one of the huge megalopolises I could understand the disconnect but, when you compare those cities by size, Albuquerque doesn’t come close to measuring up.

Open Spaces Center

Open Spaces Center

The 2012 Census put Albuquerque’s population figure at 555,417 and rising.  Still, even when all the surrounding residential areas (many of which aren’t particularly proximate) are lumped in, the entire population is smaller than many of the boroughs of New York City.  Manhattan, for example, has a population of 1,626,159 (2013 Census) – almost as large as the entire state of New Mexico, which, based on the 2012 Census, is just barely over two million.

So, what are some of the Albuquerques I’ve encountered recently?

The first was when I picked up a copy of Albuquerque: The Magazine when I was in the waiting room at my vet’s.  In this glossy publication, I read about nightclubs, boutiques, and restaurants I’ve never even seen.  I read an article about how hard some restaurants strive to ensure that the seafood they serve is fresh – a major challenge in our landlocked, hot and dry state.  I’d always assumed that, when I went to El Mariscos Altimar for their lovely “Seven Seas” soup or seafood chimichangas, the ingredients were frozen.  Apparently, not – or at least not always.  (That dish wasn’t one of the ones examined in detail.)

I also read about the struggles of a local boutique to supply cutting-edge fashion at “Albuquerque prices.”  (Are there really places where “regular” people pay $400.00 for a blouse without a second thought?)

I’m a jeans and tee shirt person.  I haven’t been to a nightclub for about twenty years – and that was for a promotional event, so I wasn’t really surprised that I didn’t know much about these aspects of the city.  I’m more likely to go hiking or to a museum than to a spa or boutique.

This past weekend, Jim and I went to the State Fair.  One of the things that had startled me about that issue of Albuquerque: The Magazine was how many of the things it focused on had little to do with the rich, multicultural fabric that influences Albuquerque the city, as well as the state of New Mexico as a whole.

In the Hispanic Arts building, I was drawn to a dramatic, unsettling painting on display in one corner.  It depicted various scenes of dissipation and violence.  A man snorted cocaine.  Another was indulging in some drug I couldn’t identify.  At the bottom, a burly man with a wolf’s paw on his hat was backed by two howling wolves – one of which appeared to be weeping.  Almost hidden amid this was a little girl with three sheep. The words “Prey” and “Pray” were written between the wolves and the little girl.  What fascinated me were the spirit figures near each human, stylized and seeming to blend Indian and Spanish influences.

The painting was called “Chronicles of Burque.”  This was an Albuquerque as alien to the one of Albuquerque: The Magazine as could be.  I suspect it might be familiar to viewers of the popular television show Breaking Bad, which was set and filmed here.  But once again, this wasn’t my Albuquerque.

So what is my Albuquerque?  I live on the Westside, which – at least as I must judge by the snide comments of one fellow I encountered at a meeting a couple weeks ago – is still considered by many of those who live on the east side of the Rio Grande River to be a barren wasteland, filled with nothing but tract homes and chain shops.  That’s true to a point, but it’s not the whole picture by far.

Jim and I don’t eat out often but, if we do, we have a wide selection of locally-owned restaurants from which to choose from – many of which have been in place since before I moved here and which continue to do thriving business, even as new chains – attracted by the 2012 Census figures – mushroom up.

Ours isn’t a rich area.  It does have its share of crime but, when we ride our bikes through the streets of interlocking residential neighborhoods, we are frequently greeted by our neighbors.  I still chuckle over the fellow who said: “If you’re out biking, it must be Spring!”  If I bike alone, I’m often asked where Jim is…

When we go to the grocery store, we’re greeted warmly.  Charley, the greengrocer, has been known to cut a slice from some newly-arrived fruit and say, “Try this.  It’s really good!”   We can count on being told how hot the green chile is this year – and often are offered a bit to take home and test.  These aren’t the sterile samples offered by latex-gloved professionals with frozen smiles, but examples of small town friendliness.  At another store, our usual checkout clerk will say, “You’re early today,” or “Running a little late, eh?”  Anywhere, it’s easy to strike up a conversation with a stranger.

We live within walking distance of Petroglyph National Monument and a short drive from the Open Spaces Center, both of which offer good hiking and history combined – hardly the image that those east of the river seem to hold of a culturally-sterile void.  Our local library branch is bustling and busy.  Kids play soccer in the flanking fields and dogs socialize in the dog park.  I could go on, but I hope you get the point…

My Albuquerque may not be fashionable, but neither is it creepily criminal.  It’s a friendly and relaxing place to live.  I wonder if every city has as many faces?

Friday Fragment Feature

September 12, 2014

The Friday Fragments feature lists of what I’ve read over the past week.  They are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive list, you can look on my website

This is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a few opinions tossed in.

Pretty Cover, but far too tranquil for the contents

Pretty Cover, but far too tranquil for the contents


Recently Completed:

Lord Demon by Roger Zelazny and Jane Lindskold.  It was weird.  I really got into this book and found myself forgetting that I was one of the authors.

Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich.  Audiobook.  Fun and fast-moving.  Lean, Mean Thirteen was more serious and I had the distinct impression the author wanted to have more opportunity to be silly.  I now have an urge to play Minion Fire.  Does it exist?

Someone Else’s Fairytale by E.M. Tippetts.  I started this one because it was by a local N.M. author whose work I wanted to try.  I finished because I really got into it.   The set-up sounds like a light rom-com.  Serious college student finds herself courted by popular movie star.  What won me were the complexities – many of which had nothing to do with romance.  Is there such a thing as a “relationship novel”?

In Progress:

The Adventures of English: The Biography of a Language by Melvyn Bragg.  Jim read this first and really enjoyed.  I’m only a couple chapters in and expect to stretch the read out over a couple very enjoyable weeks.

W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton.  Audiobook.

Within the Last Couple Months:

I’ve also been reading scatterings of mythology and bits from assorted craft books.

TT: Monumental Step

September 11, 2014

Choosing change is a lot easier than having it forced upon you, but even chosen transformation is a big thing, as Alan is about to reveal…

JANE: So, Alan, you’ve just taken a monumental step.  You’ve retired.  Aren’t you a bit young for that?

Bobcat of Leisure

Bobcat of Leisure

ALAN: Well, that depends on what you mean by “young.” The official age of retirement here is 65 and I haven’t (quite) reached that yet. So in a strictly pedantic sense, yes, I am too young. On the other hand, ever since my very first day at work, my ambition has always been to retire. Once I confessed that ambition in a job interview. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.

I’ve always regarded work as an irritating intrusion into my real life. So now that I’ve finally fulfilled my ambition, I actually feel quite happy about it. So in that sense, no – I don’t think I’m too young to retire.

JANE: There isn’t really an “official age” here.  It used to be that Social Security paid out the full amount at 65, but I believe that was changed recently to 67.  So, I guess you could say the retirement age used to be 65, but now it’s 67.

ALAN: One of the political parties in our upcoming election has a policy of raising the age of pension entitlement to 67. But at the moment that’s just a pipe-dream.

Of course, there’s no compulsion on anyone to retire at any age. You can carry on working as long as you want to (and as long as someone is willing to employ you!). But every New Zealander is eligible for a government pension from age 65. It won’t make you filthy rich and you might have to moderate your lifestyle a bit. But at least you have a regular, though fixed, income and you can budget around it.

JANE: Everybody?

ALAN: Yes, everybody. Rich man, poor man, beggarman or thief. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your circumstances are, when you reach 65, the pension is there for you.

JANE: That’s nice.  I’m not really sure how the fine details work out here – especially for people who haven’t contributed to Social Security.  Here in the U.S., what each person gets from Social Security is based on what he or she paid in during the time he or she was employed.

Is it the same there?  Does Peter Jackson get the same pension as you?  Do you get the same as that hypothetical “beggarman or thief”?

ALAN: Yes, he does, and, yes, I do. The pension is the same for everybody. It isn’t a contributory scheme in any sense.

JANE: Interesting.

There is an exception to the “get out based on what you paid in” formula.  Women who are married and didn’t earn an income can claim a Social Security pension based on their husband’s earnings.  (This is to cover for the fact that they were unpaid workers, raising children and maintaining the household.)

Again, I have no idea how this is worked out or if a married couple needs to file for it.  All I know is that the provisions exists.

I have been my own wage earner all my working life, so I never bothered to figure this out.  Probably one of our readers can fill you in.

ALAN: We don’t have any equivalent of that because our scheme makes no such distinctions, though the pension amount does increase slightly if you claim it for a couple. However, I am a little uncertain about Robin’s position because she is three years younger than me so, when I reach the magic age in a few months’ time, it may well be that we will have to live on a single person’s pension until she comes of age. But for the moment the point is moot since, now that I’ve retired, I’ll have no income at all until the pension kicks in next year. So for the next several months Robin, the cats and I will be living on savings.

JANE: No income?  Your job doesn’t pay a pension?

ALAN: It’s very rare for private companies to have a pension scheme for their employees. Certainly I’ve never had a job that had one, and neither have any of my friends. The general feeling seems to be that the provision of pensions is something best left to the government.

JANE: That’s interesting.  Many types of employment here offer a company pension as one of the benefits.  This pension is in addition to whatever government-based Social Security the person may draw.

Additionally, a person can set up an IRA (individual retirement account) in which they can save dollars to be drawn out after retirement.  There are several types of these.  Unless you really, really want, I’ll spare you the particulars.

ALAN: No – the devil is in the details, so you can spare me those. We do have a government-run scheme called Kiwi-Saver which is structured similarly to your IRA. I’m not a member. It was only introduced about five years ago and I never bothered joining. I was too close to the end of my working life to make it worthwhile.

JANE:  Ah, but IRAs are not government-run.  They’re run by private investment companies.

Let me give you a personal example: when I taught college, I was offered the option of participating in the college’s pension plan.  It was a good program, so I did.  When I left, I could no longer contribute, but I’d been there long enough to be “vested” so that money has sat there, pretty much always earning interest, and will be waiting for me to start drawing out when I choose to retire.

When I left teaching and started writing, I didn’t have a lot of extra income.  However, once I’d built up savings, I started investing in a SEP (an IRA for self-employed people).  I’ve done this for many years now, so that money is also waiting for me.

Additionally, when Jim retires, I can mooch off of his retirement pension from the State of New Mexico.  In fact, we can opt for a provision that, if he pre-deceases me, I can still draw on his pension.

I won’t be wealthy, but I won’t just be relying on what I have in the bank either.

ALAN: We have similar private superannuation schemes in which you invest during your working life and then draw on when you retire. I used to be in one, but I soon came to regard it as a gigantic rip-off. I made regular contributions, but the final total never seemed to grow much beyond the contributions I was making. All the interest it earned seemed to vanish into something called “fees.” So eventually I bit the bullet and pulled out of it. It cost me about $12,000 to leave the scheme, but I felt that was worthwhile. I invested the capital I took out of the scheme in long-term bank deposits and, even at today’s derisory interest rates, I still seemed to make more money than the so-called investment scheme earned. So yah, boo, sucks!

JANE:  So why did you retire early – especially since you wouldn’t have your pension?

ALAN: I was always planning on retiring at the end of the year, but circumstances at work changed and so I decided to leave a few months earlier than I had originally planned. If I’d stayed on at work, I would have had to do a lot of quite serious study and, by the time I came to the end of it, there would only have been a short time left for me to use my new knowledge and skills in my job. It all seemed a bit pointless; too much effort for too little return. So I decided to call it a day.

JANE: Isn’t it a bit of a shock, suddenly not having to go to work in the morning?

ALAN: No, not really. For the last few years I’ve only been working part time, so I am quite used to having days at home, days when I don’t have to go into the office. Retirement is just more of the same, really. The worst part is when pay day rolls around and nobody pays me any money! Now that’s a very weird feeling I’ve never had before.

In some ways I’ve been very lucky – I got my first job after I left university, and I’ve never been out of work since. There are not many people who can say that in this day and age. So of course a regular salary has always been part of my life. I’m going to miss that…

JANE: I’ve also worked pretty much steadily since I finished college.  Well, if one calls being a fulltime writer for the last twenty years “steady.”

In fact, I should get back to my work.  I’ll save asking you about what you plan to do with your acres of free time for later.

The Mysterious Puma

September 10, 2014

Do you say “poo-ma” or “pew-ma”?

This last week, I learned that Joe Barrett, who read the audio book of Artemis Awakening, chose to pronounce “puma” as “pew-ma.”  I have always said “poo-ma.”  To make things even more interesting, both pronunciations are absolutely correct.  I’m sure that’s why Mr. Barrett, who made a point of contacting me and going over pronunciations for character names, place names, and created words like “seegnur” never thought to ask.  He already knew…

Puma: Rio Grande Zoo

Puma: Rio Grande Zoo

Actually, how to pronounce “puma” was the least of my difficulties when I decided to have Adara’s demiurge be that particular type of feline.  My first challenge was which word to use when referring to the creature.  This was never a problem I faced when writing about Firekeeper and the wolves!

According to various sources, there are something like forty words in English alone for Puma concolor.  The creature apparently holds the Guinness world record for the animal with the most names.  The large number of names probably developed because of Puma concolor’s wide range across the Americas.  This meant that many different languages, indigenous and imported alike, took their turns giving the critter a name.

In fact, the puma’s adaptability was one of the reasons that it appealed to me for Adara’s companion.  I liked the idea of an animal that could be equally at home in jungles or deep snows.  It’s a strong swimmer, a good climber, and, although small compared to some of the “great cats,” amazingly strong.

(Aside: Even today, there is argument as to whether the puma is the smallest “great cat” or the largest “small cat.”  I’ll save the details but, oddly enough, purring has a lot to do with it!)

The most popular names for Puma concolor are puma, cougar, and mountain lion.  “Catamount” – likely a contraction of “cat of the mountains” – has been used, although, these days, it belongs more to dialect than to common speech.  The puma is also often called a “panther.”  This is a designation it shares with the melanistic (or black-coated) variants of the jaguar and leopard.  To differentiate, it’s often called a Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi), although the term “panther” has been used in other places than Florida.

The term “panther” has been corrupted to “painter” in the upper-Southern U.S. region, although, like “catamount,” you’re more likely these days to find the word used in a historical document, rather than in daily use.

I’ll spare you a list of different names and instead take you along the route I traveled when deciding what to call the creature on the planet Artemis.  Wanting to avoid both confusion and terms that had fallen out of general use, I focused in on the big four: puma, cougar, mountain lion, and panther.  I discarded “panther” pretty quickly because of the ease of confusion with the melanistic jaguars and leopards.  I might want to use them later, after all…

Next under consideration came “mountain lion.”  This had a lot going for it.  For one, the term “lion” immediately summoned up a feline.  However, I wasn’t crazy about “mountain” because these creatures are found in many of other types of terrain – including swamps and islands in rivers.  Since one reason I wanted to use this particular feline was its adaptability, why fix on a designation that would mean Adara would continually need to explain that it was only called a “mountain” lion?

That narrowed choices down to “puma” and “cougar.”  “Puma” offered the difficulty that many people were unsure how to pronounce it.  However, “cougar” offered an even bigger problem.

In recent years, “cougar” has become a slang expression for older women who choose to form sexual liaisons with younger men.  I knew that in time the slang expression would cease to be common currency.  However, I knew it would still be in use when Artemis Awakening was released.  Unintentional humor is always to be avoided.  Therefore, despite my fond memories of reading Charlie the Lonesome Cougar when I was in grammar school, I dropped “cougar” from the running.

I was quite happy to choose the word “puma.”  My first housecat had been a big golden tomcat formally named Gwydion, but affectionately called “Joe Stinky Puma.”  (Those of you who have read Changer and Changer’s Daughter may recall a cat called “Stinky Joe.”)  I’d always liked the word “puma” and, other than encountering some confusion as to how to pronounce it, most people seemed familiar with it.  Puma had the added benefit of only being four letters long – something that had a certain appeal given how many times I’d be typing it!

So that’s how Sand Shadow became a puma, and a little window into the convolutions of one author’s mind.

FF: Another Fragment

September 5, 2014

The Friday Fragments feature lists of what I’ve read over the past week.  They are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive list, you can look on my website.

This is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a few opinions tossed in.

What's in Your Book Bag?

What’s in Your Book Bag?


Recently Completed:

Border Ambush by Melody Groves.  Excellent setting details.  The Colton Brothers, Trace and James, reminded me of the brothers from the film Silverado.  James is the annoying one.  The really annoying one.

Light Thickens by Ngaio Marsh.  Audiobook.  This turned out to be a sort of sequel to a Marsh novel set twenty years earlier.  Once again murder haunts the Dolphin Theater – this time tangled up with the curse associated with the play Macbeth.  If you like theater (I do), you’ll enjoy the opening sections.  If you don’t, they may drive you crazy.

Recast by Seung Hui Kye.  Volumes 3-6.  I read the first three issues of this Korean manga a couple weeks ago and liked enough to order the rest from my library.  Some parts are great, but the author doesn’t seem to know where to focus.  Ending is far too sudden, making me suspect a cancellation.

Tied Up in Tinsel by Ngaio Marsh.  Audiobook.  A Christmas murder set in a house where the owner has gotten around the servant problem by hiring “oncer” murderers.  I like quirky characters, so I very much enjoyed.

When in Rome.  Ngaio Marsh.  Audiobook.  Roderick Alleyn in Rome in quest of a key element in an on-going drug smuggling investigation.  Murder crops up before long.

In Progress:

Lord Demon by Roger Zelazny and Jane Lindskold.  Yes.  You read that right.  I’m re-reading my own novel.  Since I haven’t read any of it since soon after its release in 1999, it’s almost like reading something written by someone else – a feeling enhanced because of Roger’s contribution.  Ask me why I’m re-reading it now!

Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich.

Within the Last Couple Months:

El Malpais, Mount Taylor, and Zuni Mountains: a Hiking Guide and History by Sherri Robinson.  I got this from the library as a resource when I was writing “The Hermit and the Jackalopes” for the forthcoming anthology The Change, edited by S.M. Stirling.  It was so fantastically written that I read the whole thing.