Archive for December, 2014

Pencils Have Erasers

December 31, 2014

Today is New Year’s Eve.   I’d like to reassure you before I start: this is a true story and I’m completely sober…

This week’s project is reading the proofs for Artemis Awakening’s mass market (that is, paperback) release this coming May.  As always I was tempted to skip.  I mean, I’ve reviewed this manuscript before.  In this day and age of computer formatting, what could possibly get messed up?

The Page in Question

The Page in Question

The urge to skip was even greater because this is the week between Christmas and New Year.  Jim has taken time off work.   The urge to make this week playtime was even greater because I went straight from undergrad to grad school, then from grad school to teaching college, then from teaching college to being self-employed.  The week between Christmas and New Year has pretty much always been my week “off.”

I’m glad I didn’t skip.  I hadn’t even gotten to the main text of the book when I came across the first error.  It came on the “Acknowledgments” page.  Instead of my expressions of gratitude to those people who helped me make this book a reality, starting with my agent, Kay McCauley, then going on from there, I was startled to read:

He felt a new emotion trembling through her: conciliation.  But the Michael felt he was up on a long ledge, a narrow hard space and, though Jessie was there too, it was she who had put them at risk.

He felt a new emotion trembling through her: conciliation.  But the ods is outlined in white lights, easy to locate.

He felt a new emotion trembling through her: conciliation.  But the Michael felt he was up on a long ledge, a narrow hard space and, though Jessie was there too, it was she who had put them at risk.

Finding a place to park the car is more difficult, but they finally come upon a space where Jessie can wedge the small car in.  Michael has no idea if the spot is legal or not.  It was she who had put them at risk.

As they might have said in the days of my childhood, “Like, wow, man… This is completely cosmic.”

Not only has my tidy little essay somehow been lost, it’s been replaced with something so horribly written that nothing so simple as proofreading can save it.  Is “conciliation” even an emotion?

I don’t think so.  Google offered the following definition of conciliation:

    • The action of stopping someone from being angry; placation. “He held his hands up in a gesture of conciliation”
    • The action of mediating between two disputing people or groups. “Many disputes are settled through conciliation by the official body”

Astonishing…  So, even though this should be my holiday, you can bet I’ll be reading slowly and carefully, just in case some confused computer somewhere has inserted more of the adventures of “the Michael” and risk-taking Jessie into the middle of Artemis Awakening.

Pencils have erasers for a reason.  Time is given for proofreading for exactly the same reason: No one ever means to make mistakes but, nonetheless, mistakes happen.

Meantime, I wish you all a happy and safe New Year’s Eve and a Happy, Happy, New Year!

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FF: Holiday Reads

December 26, 2014

I had other plans, but I ended up picking out a couple books with holiday themes.

Wondering what the FF is about?  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.Christmas Stockings

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

Recently Completed:

Sixth Grave on the Edge by Darynda Jones.  Audiobook.  Supernatural elements are become more important.  Character interactions  more complex.  Definitely stronger than the previous two in the series.

Nobody’s Damsel by E.M. Tippets.  Sequel to Somebody Else’s Fairytale takes the series in a different, enjoyable direction.  If you want to learn more about the author, check out this recent interview.

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett.  Why do we need imaginary creatures in our lives?  You might be surprised…

In Progress:

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper.  Not a Christmas books as much as  a book set at Christmas.  I am very fond of this tale.

The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Audiobook.  Miles finds himself longing for the “simpler” days of his previous adventures.  That pretty much says it all!

Also:

I gave in and read cookie recipes: sugar cookies, butterballs, maple pecan slices, meringues, peanut butter, lemon bars…  Now I have something to eat while I read the proofs for Artemis Awakening in preparation for the mass market release!

Christmas Music

December 25, 2014

JANE: Merry Christmas, Alan!  (And to all the rest of you, too!)

Since we’ve been discussing music for the last several weeks, I want to discuss Christmas music today.  I know we talked about it a little several years ago when we were discussing holidays, but it seems perfect for today.

Musical Christmas Wreath

Musical Christmas Wreath

ALAN: Bah! Humbug! Actually, there is something about the music at this time of the year…

JANE: Christmas music is very much at the heart of the holiday for me.  In a way, it’s the first decoration we put up.  The day after Thanksgiving, the ceremonial case that holds our Christmas CDs is removed from storage and parked near our little stereo.  We also listen to Christmas music in our vehicles, which helps lighten the mood as we deal with people for whom holiday preparations seem to be more a battlefield than a joy.

ALAN:  We don’t have any Christmas music per se in our house, but of course the radio is always full of it. There’s a tradition in England of writing a letter to The Times when the first cuckoos are heard singing. The superstition is that spring cannot be properly be considered to have begun until The Times has announced that first cuckoo… Similarly everybody knows that Christmas hasn’t properly started until The Times contains a letter announcing the first hearing of Bing Crosby singing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” on the radio.

JANE: When do radio stations start with the Christmas music there?  (And are you culturally on the same timetable as England, still?)

Here, at least in stores, both decorations and music started manifesting in mid-November.  If the purpose is to put people in the “holiday mood,” I think this is counterproductive, since they “stale,” by the actual holiday.

ALAN: Yes – New Zealand is on the same Christmas timetable as England. The radio is usually very civilised and we don’t get Christmas inundations until about the week before the day itself. But, as with you, the supermarkets seem to start gearing up in November. This annoys Robin a lot – her birthday is in November and she refuses to admit that Christmas exists until after her birthday has been celebrated!

JANE: I’m with Robin!  Now, I did take us a bit off topic.  Let me go back to music.

Almost always, the first Christmas CD we play is B.B. King’s A Christmas Celebration of Hope.  It was released a few years after we were married, so it belongs to both of us, rather than to one or the other of our past lives.

Are you familiar with B.B. King’s work?

ALAN: Indeed I am – he’s a hugely influential blues and jazz singer and player. And who couldn’t love a man who plays a guitar called Lucille?

JANE: I agree…  As would be expected, the pieces on the album are centered around B.B.’s guitar and vocals.  They vary from blues (“Please Come Home for Christmas,” “Blue Decorations,” “Back Door Santa”) to traditional, and, as the title of the album anticipates, even the most melancholy pieces hold a surge of hope.

Do you have a particular “holiday starter” song or album?

ALAN: Yes and no. Sooner or later the Band Aid song “Do They Know It’s Christmas” appears on the radio in one of its many incarnations and, trite though the song is, I have to admit it always gives me a lump in my throat because of what it represents. At the other end of the musical spectrum, I always enjoy Handel’s “Messiah.” That’s an awe-inspiring piece of music that epitomises Christmas for me. I absolutely love it.

JANE: Oh!  I’m so glad you’re inspired by a range of pieces!  Variety is what epitomizes Jim and my collection.  Pretty much as soon as I moved out on my own, I sought out copies of albums my family had owned.  These included A Jolly Christmas with Frank Sinatra, The Ventures’ Christmas Album, and The Carpenter’s Christmas Portrait.  These contain lots of classic Christmas songs, performed both in the traditional fashion and with some interesting twists.

Frank Sinatra’s take on “Jingle Bells,” for example, provides a marvelous transformation of what otherwise is a pretty simple piece.

ALAN: Sinatra was a musical genius whom I love a lot. Do you suppose he got his vocal chords on “Jingle Bells” by making Santa an offer he couldn’t refuse?

JANE: Now, now…

Lest I give the impression that Christmas music is all recorded in our home, I should add that I love to sing.  One of the worst Christmases for me in recent memory was one where I was hoarse for about a month and couldn’t sing…  I felt incredibly depressed.  Part of the reason I lean toward the albums I do is that they contain pieces I can sing with.  (Well, not The Ventures, that’s just silly, but a lot of the rest.)

I know most people giggle because they’re thinking of the video (which I’ve never seen and really should), but I actually think David Bowie and Bing Crosby’s duet on the adapted “Little Drummer Boy” is a beautiful, hopeful piece.  I love to sing with that one…

ALAN: A curious artistic juxtaposition, but you’re right, it works very well. Do you have any other artists and/or albums that you listen to at this time of the year?

JANE: Well, I won’t try to list them all, but there are a few associated with special memories.

When Jim and I got together, he quickly got excited by the idea of choosing his own music.  (Before we set up household, he’d always gone to his parents’ house.)  For several years, he’d buy a handful of compilation albums, then often buy an album by a specific performer.

We both liked Rosemary Clooney’s pieces, so he decided he’d buy me a Christmas album by her.  To his astonishment, there was only one, a then-new release called White Christmas.  He learned that although Rosemary Clooney had performed on everyone else’s albums, it wasn’t until relatively near the end of her life that anyone offered to record one centered around her.

ALAN: That’s weird! Whenever I think of her (which I admit isn’t that often, but still…),I always think of her as a singer. Maybe that’s because she played the “singing” sister in the movie, White Christmas.

JANE: Yeah, me, too!

On the other end of the musical spectrum, my mother gave us a copy of Christmas with Placido Domingo.  Neither Jim nor I are much into opera, but we decided to give it a whirl as we drove home from celebrating Christmas with her in Arizona.  We both treasure the memory of listening to that powerful voice belting out “White Christmas” as we drove among sequoia cactus that were lightly dusted in snow.

ALAN: Placido Domingo can make anything sound wonderful. What a voice!

Of course, carols are a sure sign of Christmas. Here I always get a little thrill when the Salvation Army Brass Band starts playing carols on street corners in Wellington. I’m a sucker for brass bands anyway, and the sallies seem to have a particularly good one. Also, if I can refer back to a previous discussion, Jethro Tull has an interesting take on the carol “Once in Royal David’s City.”  The track is called “Christmas Song” and you’ll find it on the This Was album.

Which reminds me: What Christmas Carol do they sing outside German lunatic asylums?

JANE: I don’t know, what Christmas Carol do they sing outside German lunatic asylums?

ALAN: God rest you jerry mentalmen, let nothing you dismay…

JANE: Ouch! That’s almost bad enough for a filk song. We’ll get to that next time, but for now I’m going to go sing along with Bing or whoever else is willing!

Merry Christmas!  Merry Christmas!

ALAN:  Merry Christmas!

Smiles and Clipboards

December 24, 2014

A few weeks ago, I read A.S. King’s excellent novel Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future.  As is so often the case with a good book, I found myself thinking about it long after I’d finished.  In this case, it wasn’t the main plot, but a relatively minor element that kept bouncing back at me.

Smile or Not?

Smile or Not?

Aside: I’m not going to talk about the main plot, because it’s so complex, sophisticated, and intertwined that I refuse to cheapen it by attempting to summarize it.  I will say this: Don’t read the reviews.  They focus on the wrong things.  Just read the book.  It isn’t that long.

Okay.  Back to Glory…  One day when visiting the local mall (for reasons having to do with her recently acquired ability to see the future), eighteen-year-old Glory has a chance meeting with a fellow a couple of years older than herself.  He’s at the mall doing an experiment for his psychology class.  The experiment is pretty simple.  He’s smiling at people, then noting their response, most importantly, whether or not they smile back.  His conclusion is that most people don’t smile back or, if they do, their smiles are insincere ones that never touch their eyes.

I found myself thinking about this because, honestly, this doesn’t match my experience at all.  When I smile at people, they tend to smile back.  So now I’m wondering why the great difference in responses.

Is it a male/female thing?  Is it an age thing?  What I mean is, is a middle-aged woman less threatening than a handsome young man?

Is it a regional thing?  In my travels, I’ve certainly found New Mexico in general to be a pretty friendly state.  I frequently get into conversations with perfect strangers while on line at the store or bank or whatever.  I recall that when my sister (who lives in suburban Maryland) visited about six years ago, she commented on the general friendliness. This extends to stressful times as well.  In the week before Christmas, I had happy chats with people on the long line at the post office.  In one over-crowded store, apologies and laughter were the soundtrack as customers dodged around each other.

So maybe it’s where I live.

Then I found myself wondering if Glory’s young friend wasn’t missing an important element in his experiment: his clipboard.

Clipboards immediately signal “officialdom.”  More than one detective novel or spy thriller has employed the trope of the investigator grabbing a clipboard and marching around asking people questions under the guise of being from some organization or other.

If a handsome young man smiled at me in a mall, I’d figure he was just in a good mood (or maybe smiling at some pretty young thing out of my line of sight).  If he was holding a clipboard, I’d expect him to follow-up by coming over and asking me to sign a petition for something or other.

Interesting…

So, what do you think?  How do people where you live (and we have readers all over the world) respond to a smile from a stranger?  What elements might influence your response?  Would gender?  Age?  And, what about the clipboard?

Happy Christmas Eve…  May you meet many smiles wherever you may be.

FF: Beginnings, Endings, and Old Ghosts

December 19, 2014

The holiday season has just gotten more complicated with the arrival of the mass market proofs for Artemis Awakening.  But that’s proofing, not reading…

Wondering what the FF is about?  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.

Ogapoge in Contemplation

Ogapoge in Contemplation

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

Recently Completed:

The Land of Dreams by Vidar Sunstol, translated from Norwegian by Tiina Nunnally.  I seriously loved this book.  It’s part detective story, part family story, part…  Is it a ghost story, or is our stressed cop going nuts?  Although the first book in the “Minnesota Trilogy,” I felt it stood well on its own.  I’m definitely reading book two.  Highly recommended.

The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan.  Audiobook.  I enjoyed this conclusion to the second story arc.  Riordan does a good job with his very large cast.  The gods are still jerks…

In Progress:

Sixth Grave on the Edge by Darynda Jones.  Audiobook.  So far no rough sex in this one.  Yay!  Supernatural elements are becoming more important, as are character interactions.  Stronger, I think, than the previous two in the series.

Nobody’s Damsel by E.M. Tippets.  What happens after “happily ever after”?   Well, when the courtship is whirlwind, a lot of past history still needs to be resolved.  Throw in an ugly kidnapping to awaken our protagonist’s worst memories and you have the ingredients for a gripping tale.

Also:

Well, those proofs are looming over my head.  I’d rather read cookie recipes!

TT: Writers Who Rock (or Folk) or Whatever

December 18, 2014

News Flash: If you enjoyed me interviewing Jack McDevitt, you might enjoy him interviewing me.  

Now back to the writers who do double duty as musicians…

JANE: Last time, Alan, you brought up Michael Moorcock’s involvement with Hawkwind and other bands.  This got me thinking about other writers who are more than casually involved with music.

Rocking Writers

Rocking Writers

One writer whose musical involvement won’t surprise anyone familiar with his work is Charles de Lint.  Along with his wife, MaryAnn Harris, he has written many songs – some of which allude to characters in his novels (like the Crow Girls).

I haven’t been to a World Fantasy Convention for some years now.  When I did attend, I stumbled upon Music Night.  The first time I went was by accident – I was avoiding being dragged into a bridge game – but, after that, Jim and I always marked it as a “don’t miss” on our calendar.

That’s where we first heard Charles and MaryAnn.  When they were guests at Bubonicon, we encouraged them to perform there, too, and they were great.

ALAN: Skill in one artistic area often implies skill in another. Writer/Musicians are not uncommon, particularly in the SF field where, as we’ve discovered, there’s already a large overlap. Joe Haldeman, for example, is a very skilful guitar player. And Stephen King, who never does things by halves, plays rhythm guitar in a group called The Rock Bottom Remainders. All the members of the group are writers and artists. There’s a book about them – it’s called Hard Listening and it’s a collection of essays by the band members, full of anecdotes about what it’s like being a rock star!

JANE: I may need to look at that collection.  However, I’ve heard from someone who has heard the band play that the members should stick to writing!

Another writer/musician is Emma Bull.  Along with Lorraine Garland (who for quite a long time was Neil Gaiman’s personal assistant), they performed as The Flash Girls.  I heard them perform at a Renn Faire and really enjoyed.  One of my favorites of their songs is “Amaryllis” – a joyful celebration of the unexpected.

Jim and I have an amaryllis bulb that we’ve nursed through at least five years now (we need to split it this year).  When it starts blooming, I wander around doing my best with the song.  Sadly, I can’t manage Emma Bull’s high notes, and need to transpose down.

ALAN: I can’t manage any notes at all, high or low. I love music, but I can’t play an instrument and I can’t sing a note.

What’s a Renn Faire? I’m guessing here, but is Renn a contraction of Renaissance? If so then I’d imagine a Renn Faire involves lots of dressing up, eating, drinking and singing in a medieval manner. That’s a very folkie thing to do, and indeed, “Amaryllis” sounds just like the title of a folk song…

JANE: Yep.  You’ve guessed right.  Renn Faires have gotten very popular here.  My understanding is that there are crafters, performers, and cooks who make a full-time living working the rounds of various faires.

Emma Bull also performed with SF/F writer Steven Brust in a band called Cats Laughing.  Among others, the band included Adam Stemple, the son of writer Jane Yolen, and now (although I do not believe then) a writer in his own right.

Geography played a role in these interactions, as all the participants then resided in the Minneapolis area.  I know Neil Gaiman supplied lyrics for some of The Flash Girls’ songs.  This geographic proximity led to an interesting crossover to Neil Gaiman’s seminal graphic novel, Sandman.

ALAN: Really? In what way?

JANE: In one volume, some of the scenes are set at a Renn Faire.  If you look carefully, you’ll see Emma Bull, Lorraine, Garland, and Steve Brust all pictured as some of the background musicians.

I happened to be there the day that artist Mike Zulli was being taken around by Neil so they could discuss scenes and setting.  It was very interesting to see that side of the visual story being developed.

ALAN:  I’m jealous – I’ve never seen or been involved in anything like that.

JANE: It was cool…  Speaking of Neil Gaiman, he’s another writer with an interest in music.  He wrote several of The Flash Girls’ songs: “Banshee,” “A Girl Needs a Knife,” and “Yeti.”  My understanding – although I haven’t witnessed this myself – is that he’s now performing as well, both with and without his wife, Amanda Palmer.

ALAN: That should be impressive! I think he’s a bit of a late comer to performing though – probably it’s Amanda’s encouragement that has got him onto the stage. In the days when I knew him, he wasn’t a performer.

JANE: Well, to musical performing.  He’s always given a great reading. Now, you take a turn.

ALAN: The late English writer Mick Farren produced a lot of very good and very dark SF and fantasy. He was also a rock musician and he played with a band that was generally called The Deviants – though the name did sometimes vary a bit (sometimes they were The Social Deviants and at one point in their lives they were The Pink Fairies). He had a wicked sense of humour which was often reflected in the lyrics of his songs and the titles of his albums. Who could resist buying an album called Mona –  The Carnivorous Circus or Eating Jello With A Heated Fork or (my favourite title of all time) Vampires Stole My Lunch Money?

JANE: Great titles…  I really like Eating Jello With a Heated Fork.

ALAN: I find it interesting that, apart from Michael Moorcock and Mick Farren (and a little bit of Neil Gaiman), all of the writer/musicians that we’ve discussed are American. I really can’t think of any other British, Australian or New Zealand equivalents.  (Can any of our readers help here?)

I also find it interesting that both Moorcock and Farren lived in America for many years. Furthermore both of them are called Michael. I wonder if this is a statistical anomaly, or is there something in the American water?

Do you have any other writer/musician examples?

JANE: You bet… John Shirley, who writes both prose and screenplays, has fronted several bands.  I was interested to learn that he also writes songs, and has written lyrics for many of Blue Oyster Cult’s songs.

One year, when Jim and I attended Armadillocon in Texas, we came back from dinner to hear some very good rock music coming out of the largest ballroom.  We later learned that the band features a good number of writers among its members, including David Lee Anderson, Warren Spector, Caroline Spector, Brad Denton, Steve Gould, and Rory Harper.

I asked Steve Gould about how permanent the band was and he told me that there were multiple bands over the years. The early on one was Los Blues Guys whose regular members were writers Rory Harper, Brad Denton, Martha Wells, Steve Gould, and cartoonist Scott McCullar.  Several other writers sat in including Emma Bull, Tappan King, and (Tor editor) Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

There was a later incarnation called Two Headed Baby, with some overlap.  Brad Denton apparently does a solo gig called Bland Lemon Denton, with occasional guest Lemonettes.

In case anyone wants to pursue this further, here’s a link to some recordings: http://eatourbrains.com/EoB/2008/11/28/thb-for-the-masses/

Have you ever encountered anything like this at British or New Zealand conventions?

ALAN: Apart from “proper” bands like Hawkwind, I don’t recall anything like this at British conventions that I attended – though having said that, I did once see an incarnation of Moorcock’s Deep Fix without Moorcock, so I’m not sure how authentic they were. But they gave a good show anyway, so I don’t suppose it matters.

JANE: I agree…

Writers aren’t the only people in the publishing industry who make music on the side.  Tor editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden has played guitar (both electric and acoustic) for forty-four years, but he says he’d only consider himself anything other than a “living room guitarist” for the last fourteen.

He plays in an intermittent band called Whisperado.  They have an EP called Some Other Place and a full-length album called I’m Not the Road, both of which are on iTunes, Spotify, CD Baby, etc. Patrick said that he plays “…electric guitar and sings occasional lead and frequent backup. Most of our songs are written by our bass player and fearless leader Jon Sobel, but we do some covers and there’s even a song written by me on the EP.”

So here we have an editor becoming a writer – with music as the midwife.  I love it!

ALAN: I was right. It is something in the water. That’s quite a wide ranging set of SF/Musical talent. I’m amazed and impressed.

JANE: When I was talking with Patrick about his music, he offered information about the NYC area writers who rock.

“I’m far from the most interesting musician even in the small cohort of NYC science-fiction publishing people, of course. Betsy Wollheim’s husband Peter Stampfel was in the super-influential 1960s folk band the Holy Modal Rounders and has done lots of recording since, including with They Might be Giants, Loudon Wainwright III, and other acts you may have heard of. I’ve never actually met Stampfel, mind you, but I understand he works for DAW in some capacity that includes editorial work. Even at Tor, I’m far outshone by the our director of publicity, Patty Garcia, who plays bass in a punk band called The Rats which does things like tour clubs in Portugal and on the West Coast.”

ALAN: I’m very familiar with They Might be Giants. They are a marvellously eccentric band and I have several of their albums.

JANE: One thing I discovered as we put this together is that the music scene and writing/publishing overlap a lot more than I ever realized.

Maybe after Christmas we can talk about that elephant in the SF closet…  Filk music!

Chatting with Jack McDevitt

December 17, 2014

JANE: This week, as an early holiday gift to all of you, I’m offering an interview with Nebula Award-winning author and personal favorite, Jack McDevitt.

(Turns to face victim.)

All right, Jack, ready to go?  Here’s my first question.

Some of Jack's Works

Some of Jack’s Works

In my experience, writers fall into two general categories: those who have been writing stories since before they could actually write and those who came to writing somewhat later.

Which sort are you?

JACK:  I knew from my earliest years that I wanted to write SF. Started my first novel at about eight. The title was The Canals of Mars. You might be surprised to hear that it didn’t sell. In my early teens I submitted a story to F&SF, and got an encouraging reply from Anthony Boucher. But I didn’t realize how much that meant. I won the Freshman Short Story Contest at LaSalle, and thought I was on my way. Then I read David Copperfield and realized I could never compete with Dickens. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that I did not have to compete with him. In any case, I wrote nothing more for 25 years. Finally got started when my wife Maureen talked me into trying my luck. So I guess you could say I came late to the feast.

JANE: You’re right…  So many would-be writers don’t realize how much a personalized rejection means.

 Next question: What draws you to writing science fiction?

JACK:  When I was four years old, I saw the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials. After that, fiction that never got above the rooftops just didn’t grab me the way Bradbury and Heinlein did.

JANE: Heh…  That’s great.  I’ve seen some of those serials and they’ve got real energy – an energy I certainly find in your novels.

You have two continuing series: the stories featuring Priscilla “Hutch” Hutchins and those featuring Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath.  What can you do by doing these two series that you couldn’t if you just stayed with one?

JACK:  Probably avoid running out of ideas too quickly. Priscilla deals with different types of problems than Chase & Alex. I’m not much interested in using villainous characters to drive plots, so I need different types of problems. Priscilla is usually involved in discoveries made during the early years of FTL flight, whereas Alex tries to chase down historical mysteries, like your own Griffin Dane.

JANE: Griffin and Alex would probably like each other.  I can see them arguing over beer.

Both Hutch and Chase are spaceship pilots.  Is there any particular reason that you prefer female characters in the driver’s seat?

JACK:  I used to do leadership seminars for the Customs Service. One of the exercises we ran involved putting five people together and putting them in a difficult situation that required them to communicate, make the right calls, and get good results. For example, we’d put them into a plane and crash the plane in Arizona during July. This was before the cell phone era, so they had no communication. All they were required to do was survive. Some groups were made up of special agents, others of customs inspectors, others of import specialists. They lived and died at pretty much the same rate. The only area in which we saw a difference was related to the gender makeup of the groups.

There were three types of groups: all male, all female, and mixed. The female groups showed a serious capacity for thinking things out and listening to each other, much more so than anybody else, so that had by far the best results. I suspect you’ll be surprised to hear who got the worst scores. It was the mixed groups.

We discovered that in the mixed groups the participants tended to assume standard roles: The males became more inclined to take charge, make decisions, and take foolish chances. The women became more submissive and just went along.

Going with female pilots who would not cave into dumb decisions seemed like an easy (and natural) call.

JANE: That’s great!  I’m really not surprised by what you learned.  I attended an all-girl high school and will be forever grateful.  Later, when I taught college, I offered an SF seminar.  To my astonishment, all seven students were female (and most were blond).  I’d taught some of these young ladies in mixed groups and I was thrilled to find how much more opinionated they were when there were no guys around.

 Alex Benedict walks the very narrow line between treasure hunter and archeologist, a division that defines his character in many ways.  I’m curious why you chose this background for him.  He’s smart enough that he could have had any number of career paths.

JACK:  Sure. Banker, maybe. Or real estate dealer. But none of that would be of any interest to a reader.

JANE: You’ve been married for quite a while, and seem happy that way, but none of your main characters seem to be able to maintain a relationship.  Why did you make that choice?

JACK: I don’t think that was actually a conscious choice. But our lives before we get married tend to have more tension and more surprises, which helps provide a more gripping narrative.

JANE: I’ve read (and loved) Coming Home, the latest installment in the Alex Benedict/ Chase Kolpath novels).  Can we hope for future stories with them?

JACK:  Coming Home has been interpreted by a number of readers as a wrap on the series. I’ve even occasionally thought of it that way myself. And that will probably stay in place until the first historical mystery that would capture Alex’s attention shows up.  

JANE: I’m definitely going to have Griffin e-mail Alex.  I want more stories about him and Chase!

In Coming Home, while doing research for something else entirely, Chase comes across a book that is clearly about Hutch.  (I giggled mightily.)  However, this confirms that they share the same universe.

JACK:  I don’t think Chase tells us whether the book was history or fiction.

JANE: You’re right…  Still, I was tantalized by the possible link.

 Many of Hutch’s challenges center around helping keep the space program active.  Is there a point at which it might be hard for you to carry her story forward without bumping into conflicts with the past history established for Alex and Chase?

JACK:  Until now, I’ve never thought of them as living in the same universe. I’ve reached a point at which I’m going to have to make up my mind.

JANE: Hey, how about Alex and Chase investigating what happened to Hutch after she vanished on her final flight?  Just kidding…

 I know you just finished a book.  Can you tell us anything about it?

JACK:  Beyond the Sky is a sequel to Ancient Shores, published in the mid-nineties. A star gate has been excavated on a Sioux reservation in North Dakota. Who put it there? Why? And where can it take us? Answers forthcoming.

JANE: Oh, wonderful!  I loved Ancient Shores.  You’ve got a reader.  Two, actually, Jim’s a fan, too.  He had a couple sick days recently and spent them reading Coming Home.

 Many of my readers are interested in writing.  Can you tell us a little about how a novel typically develops for you?  Do you write a little each day?  Write in bursts?   Have any tricks you’d care to share?

JACK:  I work every day for about seven hours. My objective is to get a complete first draft. That, as you certainly know, is the brute work. After that I can fiddle with it. My inclination is to set up a mystery. How did those people vanish out of the starship? There was no place to go, and the lander and the pressure suits are all still on board. Once I have the answer to that, a reasonable explanation, the novel pretty much writes itself. But the reasonable explanation is essential. I want the reader to wonder at the end how he could have missed it.  (That, incidentally, is Polaris.)

JANE: I remember.  I have a signed copy on my shelf!  Okay…  One final question.  If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

JACK:  Seriously, I enjoyed my time teaching leadership and management seminars for the Customs Service. Before that I was an English teacher. Either one provides a rewarding way to make a living. You won’t make big money, but you’re doing something that’s enjoyable, and providing a service at the same time.

JANE: And that’s a combination sure to make for a happy life.  Thanks for taking time to chat.

Any of you have anything you’d like to ask?  We can hope to drag Jack back.  Feeling too shy to ask directly?  You might consider signing up for his Facebook Fan Club.

Blue, Apprentice, Dreams

December 12, 2014

Busy time continues, so I’ve been “reading” more via audio, but I can’t give up stories!

For those of you new to this…  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.

Are We What We Read?

Are We What We Read?

Recently Completed:

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater.  Third in the excellent “Raven Boys” series.  This one lived up to the first two.  There will be a fourth.  I’m glad.

The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Audiobook.  I wish I’d read this sooner!  The excerpts I had read before didn’t give the mixture of humor and drama a fair showing.  There were times Jim and I laughed out loud – even while anxiously waiting for the next twist.  I’ll be listening to more.

In Progress:

The Land of Dreams by Vidar Sunstol, translated from Norwegian by Tiina Nunnally.  Just started.  The deceptively slow first few pages segues into a fascinating puzzle: Why are two men stark naked (except for matching running shoes) on the shores of Lake Superior.  And why is one of these men violently dead?

The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan.  Audiobook.  Just started.

Also:

A variety of magazine articles, feeding the Muse for a potential future project.

Rocking Through Fantasy and SF

December 11, 2014

JANE: Although David Bowie may be the big name rocker best known for using SF/F material in his works, he’s certainly not alone.  Both Fantasy and SF show up in the works of a wide variety of bands.  I’ve thought of several.  I bet you’ll have more to add.

Rocking Knights and Aliens

Rocking Knights and Aliens

Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” proved a popular inspiration for several bands.  Mountain’s song, “King’s Chorale,” is one example.  Led Zepplin’s “The Battle of Evermore” and “Ramble On” both refer to motifs from the novels.

Styx’s “Lord of the Rings” makes one of the most obvious connections, although the actual lyrics seem a bit at odds with the content of the novels.

Your turn!

ALAN:  To continue with your “Lord of the Rings” theme for a moment, in 1972 the Swedish musician Bo Hansson released an instrumental album called Music Inspired By Lord of the Rings. My copy seems to have vanished somewhere over the years – I may have to buy the CD. I feel an urge to listen to it again…

JANE: That sounds like something to inspire you through your daily chores!

When Jim learned what we were discussing, he suggested the band Uriah Heap’s album Demons and Wizards.  Cuts on it include “The Wizard,” “Traveller in Time,” and “Rainbow Demon.”

My list includes various pieces by Jefferson Airplane and its later incarnations, Jefferson Starship and Starship.  Paul Kantner was an SF reader and often returns to the motif that the best way for humanity to change and thrive would be to get on a starship and head out for new planets where, presumably, it would be easier to create a new society without all the baggage of the old.

A song that made a lot more sense to me once I listened to it with a “spec fic” mindset was Blue Oyster Cult’s popular “Don’t Fear the Reaper.”  Ignore the “grim reaper” idea and substitute a tale of a vampire and his human lover and suddenly all the images fall into place.

Okay…  I’ve babbled enough.  Your turn!

ALAN: Of course, I’m a little bit older than you and so my memories go back further in time than yours do. I remember that there were several rock and roll songs in the 1950s that played with SF, though in a much cruder manner than the more sophisticated examples you cite. The Ran Dells had a big hit with “The Martian Hop” and, in England, Don Lang and His Frantic Five used the Martian theme again in “Red Planet Rock”. And who could ever forget Sheb Wooley’s “Purple People Eater”?

JANE: I remember “Purple People Eater,” but I don’t think I’ve heard any of those others…   But then I didn’t start listening to popular music until some twenty years later and these weren’t exactly Top 40 material at that time!

ALAN: “Purple People Eater” does seem to have survived well, and it still gets occasional plays. However, you are right, the others have largely vanished from the world, though YouTube still knows about them. YouTube knows about everything…

For me the most important musical connection to SF will always be Jeff Wayne’s adaption of H. G. Well’s War of the Worlds. I think it’s just sublime and I’ve listened to it times without number. Not only is it a lovely piece of music in its own right, I think it perfectly captures the mood and the tone of Wells’ classic novel.

JANE: I’m not familiar with that album at all.  You say “adaptation”?  Is it something along the lines of a rock opera?

ALAN: Very much so – it’s a straightforward re-telling of the story in song with some narrative linking material. The narration (straight extracts from the novel) was provided by Richard Burton and the singers were David Essex, Phil Lynott (from Thin Lizzy) and Julie Covington. It takes the plot and the characters directly from the novel and, in a rather creepy section at the very end, finishes the story in the late twentieth century with a manned expedition to Mars…

The songs and the music are truly inspired!

JANE: That sound really good.  I think I need to see if I can find a copy.  Thanks for mentioning it.

ALAN: One last example – I’m also quite fond of Hawkwind – a band whose music has always had a science fictional feel to it.

Michael Moorcock wrote several songs for them, and their album The Chronicle of the Black Sword is a musical adaption of Moorcock’s Elric stories. I saw Hawkwind play the entire Black Sword sequence live at the World Science Fiction Convention in England in 1987.

JANE: And, of course, the band’s name “Hawkwind,” seems to have been taken directly from one of Moorcock’s characters…  The protagonist of The Jewel in the Skull and other eternal champion novels.

ALAN: No, no! I’ve heard other people claim this as well, and it’s an understandable mistake, but if you go back to the books you will find that the protagonist is called Dorian Hawkmoon. Though having said that, Hawkmoon/Hawkwind are so similar to each other that there may well be some degree of homage going on…

JANE: You’re absolutely right…  My error!  But I interrupt…  Go on.

ALAN: Moorcock himself, together with a group of friends who called themselves The Deep Fix made a very SF’nal album called At the New World’s Fair which I highly recommend.

As an aside, Moorcock also wrote a very silly novel, in collaboration with Michael Butterworth, in which aliens have planted a Death Generator in the centre of the earth which is broadcasting Julie Andrews music to everyone on the planet and driving them insane. The only cure is to shoot the victims with specially modified guns that blast Hawkwind music at them thus re-introducing temporary sanity. If you care, the novel is called The Time Of The Hawklords, but truly I cannot recommend it…

JANE: I think I need to see if there is a copy on my shelf…   (I never know what I have; my library is a combination of three people’s libraries, plus I’ve been given an astonishing number of books.)  It sounds like the right sort of horrible.

Roger Zelazny introduced me to Hawkwind’s music.  He was very proud of the fact that they had written a song based on his novel Damnation Alley.  I’ve looked everywhere for my copy and I can’t find it.  It’s actually really good – and very faithful to Roger’s story.

If anyone is interested, I see that lyrics, music, and various performances are available on the web.

Michael Moorcock is far from the only SF/F writer to delve into writing and performing music.  In fact, the list is so long that I think we’d better save that for next time.

To Talk or Not to Talk?

December 10, 2014

News Flash: The anthology Fantasy for Good was officially released yesterday.  In addition to my short story “Knight’s Errand,” it features a wide variety of both reprint and original stories.  All — and I mean every penny — earned by the anthology goes to the Colon Cancer Alliance.

At a loss for what to buy someone for Christmas? Consider doing good on many levels.  Your gift recipient will get a great book and you’ll help raise money to find a cure for colon cancer, a disease which robbed our field of both Jay Lake and Roger Zelazny.  Seriously…  What’s not to like?

And now, back to our regularly scheduled Wander…

Right now – well, not exactly “right now” because I’m writing this – I’m working on a short story to submit to the Shadows and Reflections anthology in honor of Roger Zelazny.

Storming the Brain

Storming the Brain

The deadline is the end of the year.  This sounded comfortably far off until it suddenly wasn’t far off at all, especially since my mom is coming for Christmas (yay!) and I plan to spend her visit with her and Jim, cooking a wide variety of good things and talking, not hidden in my office struggling to meet a deadline.

(There’s also the possibility that my kitchen is going to get torn up right before Christmas, just to add to the chaos factor.)

So last week I put all my other projects on the side and turned my attention to the projected story.   I wanted to set story in one of the two universes that Roger invited me to share with him: that of Donnerjack or that of Lord DemonLord Demon won because it would also give me a chance to play around with Chinese material again – something I haven’t had a chance to do since I concluded Five Odd Honors some years ago.

As those of you who read my Friday Fragments may have noticed, I re-read Lord Demon a couple of months back, rather surprising myself when I realized that enough time had gone by that I could read the novel without remembering writing it.  It’s a very odd experience to find yourself getting lost in a story you helped to write, but one I completely enjoyed.

While I was planning for this story, I was also getting Wanderings on Writing ready for press.  (In case you were on another planet and missed my happy dance and songs of joy, it’s now available as both an e-book and a POD.)   And I started re-reading my short fiction for the collection you folks requested.  Then the proofs for Artemis Invaded came in…  Suddenly, it was late November and my self-imposed somewhat before the end of the year deadline was looming.  I resolved to shift my priorities.

I started last week by re-reading the notes I’d written to myself when re-reading Lord Demon.   During the last week in November, I read Lafcadio Hearn’s book Some Chinese Ghosts.  This gave me some interesting ideas.  I decided that I wanted to set this story in Kai Wren’s past – before he became known as Godslayer and Lord Demon.  I did some calculations and worked out when this would be on the timeline of Chinese history, so I wouldn’t stumble into anachronism.

By last Wednesday afternoon, I felt as if I had a jigsaw puzzle spread out before me.  However, some mischievous imp had stolen the box, so I had no idea if I had all the pieces or even what the picture was.  That there was a picture, I felt certain.

I was sitting on the sofa, eyes half-shut, when Jim (who was at home that day) quit work and came out to join me.

“Everything okay?”

“I guess, I think… I can’t seem to get the story started.  I feel as if I’m missing some little bit that’s going to make it all fall into place but…”

“Want to talk about it?”

I almost said, “No, thanks,” since most of the time I find it best to keep my ideas under wraps until the words start flowing on the page (or computer screen).  This time, probably because I’d been fussing with various elements for months, I decided talking couldn’t hurt.  At the very least, I’d find out if Jim thought I needed to research some more.

So I started talking.

Have you ever tried to tell someone about a dream and found yourself unconsciously linking various elements, even though those elements weren’t actually linked in the dream?  Dreams were the first stories I ever told, my audience being my younger sister, Ann, who never seemed to tire of these twisted, inconclusive tales.

I had a similar sensation as I started talking to Jim.  When the cascade of words ended, he nodded enthusiastically, “I like it.  I think you should go with it.”

“Really?”  I considered for a moment.  “I think that helped.  Some of the things I said to you – I hadn’t thought about them that way.”

So the next morning, I started writing.  I got more down on Friday.  As word count goes, my production wasn’t anything to brag about, but it was a start.  Over the weekend, I considered where to go next and came up with a solution for…  Well, I won’t go into details.  I wouldn’t like the ideas to lose their freshness.

To talk or not to talk about an idea – whether for a short story, a novel, or any other creative venture – is a perennial question among writers.  Some swear by these “brainstorming” or “plot-busting” sessions, saying that the combined energy of the participants adds to the writer’s enthusiasm for the project.  Others tell cautionary tales about how talking too much can denature a story, robbing it of its freshness, sometimes to the point that the writer no longer feels any desire to write the piece – after all, the story has been told, worked out to the finest detail, so why bother?

I’m curious as to what you think.  Usually, I’d come down firmly on the “Don’t talk the idea to death” side, but my recent experience reminded me of the value of giving an idea – especially one that is hesitating to take shape – at least a little outing.

Thoughts?