Archive for January, 2015

Sink into a Good Book

January 30, 2015

Spending more hours at my desk this week, but still some time for reading…

For those of you who are new to this feature, the FF 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.

Kel Sinks In

Kel Sinks In

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

Recently Completed:

Tamsin by Peter Beagle.  Audiobook.  Read by Peter Beagle.  I’m still not precisely certain why all the material set in NYC couldn’t have been condensed to one chapter.  That said, I found it smooth reading.  The book really became a “don’t want to stop” once the setting shifted to Dorset, though.  I loved both the conclusion of the plot and Jenny’s final conversation with a hedgehog.  And Beagle was a very engaging reader – one who could make you forget that a man was reading a story narrated by a teenaged girl.

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer.  Although smoothly, even richly written, with a well-designed setting (although one that held surprisingly few “oh, wows” for me), this book confirmed that, for me, great writing and cool premise can’t trump strong characters.

In Progress:

A Brother’s  Cold Case by Dennis Herrick.  I’m a sucker for mysteries where current events are rooted in past events.

Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Audiobook.  This time the runaway train seems to be in Miles’s own neurological system.  I’m only just started, but I have a strong suspicion of what happened.  Be fun to find out if I’m right!

Also:

After cleaning up lots of administrative stuff, I’m back to re-reading my own short fiction for the collection you folks requested.  As I commented to Darynda Jones in our recent interview, I’ve discovered that, in the afterpieces, I’m writing about writing again…

Seems to be an addiction.

TT: Cats in Strange Places

January 29, 2015

News Flash: Darynda Jones interviewed me, focusing in on my new book, Wanderings on Writing.  It’s really lots of fun.

JANE: Last time, duty called before I got to tell you about my cats and motels.

ALAN: Yes! That sounds like a story with possibilities. Tell me more.

Rhiannon Shelves Herself

Rhiannon Shelves Herself

JANE: Years ago, when I was planning my cross-country move between Virginia and New Mexico, I received many warnings about how badly my cats would take spending the night other than where they were accustomed.  I received much advice – bring the cats’ baskets, toys, favorite blankets and other comfort items, recorded music they know to provide a familiar audio background, preferred foods, water from home, and more.

If I had followed this, it would have necessitated my having a much larger vehicle than my small sedan, since it was already filled pretty much to the brim with two humans, six cats in carriers, their litter boxes and other gear, my computer, a few other things I didn’t want to trust to movers, and a small amount of clothing.

ALAN: I’d have given you the same advice. How did it work out?  Did the cats panic without their accustomed comforts?

JANE: Not at all.  Only one, Mannawyddan, who was the shyest in any case, was at all upset.  The other five checked out the room, admired the king-sized bed (mine is only full-sized), located where I’d put their litter boxes and other comforts, then marched to the door into the motel corridor, clearly expecting me to let them out to see their new domain.

The second night on the road, even Mannawyddan wanted to go see the motel.

ALAN: I’ve never had to put my cats in a motel – pretty much everywhere here can be reached in one day. But I have had to move cats into new homes, and I’ve been amazed at the different coping methods they’ve used the first time they see their new home.

JANE: My cats have reacted to new houses much as they did to motels – a little trepidation, then easy adjustment.  What are some of the different tactics you’ve seen your cats use?

ALAN: The first cats I moved with were Ginger and Milo. They were brother and sister, so you might have expected them to react similarly. But no. Ginger explored the house using a strict left hand rule. She kept her left side close to the wall so that she only had to guard her right hand side from hidden perils. She examined every room like that, then she was happy.

JANE: That’s very clever!  She also would have been good at solving mazes, since I think the tracing one wall is a recommended way to solve them.

What did Milo do?

ALAN: Milo adopted a different, but just as effective, technique. He started from his food bowl where he took a fortifying nibble. Then, suitably fortified, he set off in a straight line until his courage failed him. Then he came back to his bowl, had another nibble, and did it all over again in a new direction.

JANE: Courage in food.  Very feline.  Very human, now that I think about it.

What did Harpo and Bess do?

ALAN: Harpo and Bess are not related so, not surprisingly, they reacted very differently. By and large, Bess was actually much braver than Harpo. She was quick to come out of her travelling cage and she looked around her wide-eyed and amazed. Who knew there were such places in the world? She made sure that Robin and I were always in sight and she walked with us hither and yon and it wasn’t long before she was reasonably comfortable with the strange new rooms.

Harpo, on the other hand, initially refused to come out of his cage at all. When we finally poured him out, he quickly found a dark corner to huddle in, and there he stayed complaining bitterly at the unfairness of it all. I assume he had little explores here and there during the night when we weren’t looking because we found traces of him in the morning – vomited-up fur balls and the like – but mainly he just huddled and howled.

JANE: Poor baby!  The mighty hunter missed his accustomed jungle.

ALAN: All the advice we got said to keep them inside the house for a fortnight to get them used to the look and feel and smell of the place before we let them outside. If we let them out too soon, said the pundits, they might start to hitchhike back to Wellington. However, Harpo has always been an outside cat and after three days of almost non-stop howling, we couldn’t stand it anymore, and so we opened a door and showed him the world. He looked at it suspiciously and then trotted outside to explore the garden. He quickly found a nice soft pile of earth to empty himself into (Robin’s herb garden) and then he was happy. He jumped over the fence into next door’s garden and vanished. We worried about him all day, but he was back by tea time, so we considered him properly settled in.

JANE:  Good fertilizer for the garden.  You can thank Harpo when you have gigantic parsley.  Back when I lived in Virginia, I happened to look out the window right when a neighborhood cat was leaving a deposit in my vegetable garden.  The plant to which he had tended grew markedly larger than one just a foot or so away.

What did Bess do once the wide open spaces were available to her?

ALAN: She’s always been much more of an inside cat. She is used to coming and going at will, but mostly she stays asleep inside. Initially, she refused to go outside at all (far too scary). One day she did take a few tentative steps into the garden, but a leaf spiralled down from a tree and spooked her and she dashed back inside. She spent a lot of time staring out of the window and she saw a lot of birds – she likes birds. Eventually, they tempted her outside. She’s not brought any back yet, so I think they are wise in the ways of cats. Now she is coming and going as she pleases, so she too is now feeling properly at home.

The next big adventure will be territorial disputes. We’ve seen several other cats around so sooner or later the borders will have to be settled…

JANE: Ah, questions of territory.  That’s a complicated issue. I’ve got an interesting story, but I’ll save it for next time.

Chatting With Darynda Jones

January 28, 2015

JANE: Today, I’m talking with Darynda Jones, author of the phenomenally popular, award-winning Charley Davidson Series.   (If you haven’t read these, they’re darkly humorous, rather as if Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum learned she had been born with a really dangerous supernatural destiny.)  Darynda is also the author of the YA Darklight Trilogy.

I Love the Red Cover Particularly

I Love the Red Cover Particularly

I first met Darynda at Bubonicon, New Mexico’s SF convention.  As I recall, we were both at the opening ceremonies and Craig Chrissinger, one of the con chairs, introduced us, telling me that Darynda was a new writer, with her first novel either coming out soon or just out.   I don’t remember which, and since First Grave on the Right was a February release, I can’t say for sure.

Any chance you do, Darynda?

DARYNDA: HA! I can barely remember my children’s names, a fact they find annoying. While I definitely remember meeting you that first time (as I was beyond honored), I do not remember where I was at career-wise. Those early days are kind of a blur, and I’ve only been published four years.

JANE: Just four years and all those books?  Astonishing!

All right, then.  I always start these interviews with the same question, so here goes:

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?

DARYNDA: I am of the former sort. I started writing before I could actually write and would even pick up sticks and any random piece of paper floating by and pretend to write my masterpieces. Oddly enough, I started writing plays first and would then put on very elaborate productions, but since I couldn’t actually write and my actors had no written lines to memorize (nor could they read), the plays quickly deteriorated into chaos. Good times, baby.

JANE: You have mentioned several times that the late Jack Williamson – author of such phenomenal classic SF novels as Darker Than You Think and The Humaniods – was one of your teachers.  Can you talk a little about that?

DARYNDA: Yes! I had the enormous honor of taking a class with him before he passed away, God rest his soul. It was like sitting in the presence of greatness. We would start out the class with Dr. Patrice Caldwell, who is a force of nature and probably missed her true calling: standup comedy. Then the graduates would go to Dr. Williamson’s house, sit around his dining room table, and talk writing. It was surreal to say the least. I couldn’t get enough, and for the first time in my life, I was disappointed when the semester ended.

JANE: That really must have been wonderful.  I met Jack several times and chatted with him a little, but I never had the chance for that sort of roundtable.  I did get to contribute a story to The Williamson Effect, the collection in Jack’s honor, though.  That was great…

Back when we did that book signing together, when both of us had new YA releases (I think mine was Fire Season), you mentioned that Charley Davidson and Lorelei, the protagonist of the Dark Light Trilogy, have a rather incestuous relationship, that Lorelei is, in a sense Charley’s older sister, even though she’s younger and lives in a different universe.

Could you share the story?

DARYNDA: Haha! Yes, Lorelei came before Charley by a couple of years. I wrote the first in that YA series then started on the Charley series and, believing the Darklight Trilogy would never sell, I cannibalized my own work by stealing many of the plot points and character traits from the YA. Huge ones. I even fashioned parts of Charley after Lorelei.

I paid for that. While Charley sold first, the YA trilogy sold about a year later, so I had to rethink my entire foundation and figure out how to set Lorelei apart. Thankfully, by then Charley had evolved into a much sassier, sarcastic version of Lorelei, so it wasn’t too difficult, but trying to reimagine the entire foundation of the YA trilogy for the next two books in the series was way harder than I thought it would be. Lesson learned.

JANE: I had a similar experience on a smaller scale.  I didn’t think The Buried Pyramid would ever sell, so I borrowed traits from one of the secondary characters for Derian, in the Firekeeper books.  Then my agent (who loved The Buried Pyramid) managed to sell it and I had to scramble to re-write.

One of the things that keeps me reading the Charley Davidson books is the odd balance of humor and really serious issues – including that Charley doesn’t always solve her case, or at least not to her satisfaction.

This is not something that one encounters often in this sort of book.  What drew you in that direction?

DARYNDA: I wanted the series to be ongoing (thankfully, my editor did too), so I wanted to tie up most ends while leaving others unraveled until the next book, or even six books later. I wanted fresh questions to arise while old ones were being answered.

And, while fiction is not meant to be a mirror image of reality, sometimes the outcomes are just not what we want and I feel that fiction needs a little of that disappointment so we can be grateful for what does go our protagonist’s way. I think disappointment can be used to drive our characters. To force them to do better next time. To set goals. To learn from their mistakes.

Charley does a lot for the departed, and that right there is a conundrum. There’s really not a lot she can do for that character. He or she is already dead. But she can help the character find peace and give them the ability and the desire to move on.

JANE: That’s a really great insight as to why your characters have so much dimension.  I appreciate it.

I’m sure you’ve been asked this a million times, so I’ll make it a million and one.  Where did you get the idea of using quotations from tee-shirts, bumper stickers, and suchlike as chapter headings?  Have you gotten to the point where you need to make them up or do you keep piles of catalogs?  And has anyone ever offered to print up some of your quotes on shirts?

DARYNDA: You may not believe this but I have NEVER been asked that! Not once! I actually came up with the idea because I wanted to start off each chapter with a bang, and I was writing a scene in the first book where Charley was wearing a T-shirt to her college graduation that had ‘jenius’ written on it. It cracked me up, especially considering the circumstance, and the idea to start every chapter with a T-shirt or bumper sticker quote hit me. I did a lot of research to make sure I could even put them in my books. I used to make up a couple per book, but I haven’t done that in a while.

I do keep a list of quotes I can use. I’d been saving them even before the idea hit me. Now I get a lot from readers. They are always sending me some great one- or two-liners. My assistants have created a Zazzle store called Grim Girl Apparel that has many of the quotes up for sale on various items, and what miniscule amount of money we make off them goes toward giveaways for the Grimlets, my street team.

JANE: That’s really cool…  And I am jazzed to have been the first to ask!  Maybe there will be a spike in sales at Grim Girl Apparel.

One of my favorite more recent characters is Quentin, the Deaf boy who shares some of Charley’s sensitivity to the supernatural world.  What gave you the impulse to create him?

DARYNDA: I do love me some Quentin, mostly because he is based on my oldest son, Jerrdan, and named after my little brother. I also have a degree in sign language interpreting, am a certified interpreter, and have taught ASL and interpreting as well. I guess because of all this, I really wanted a Deaf character in the books.

I love showing people tidbits about Deaf culture and what it’s like to be Deaf in a hearing world. They face 10 challenges for every one of ours, and my son amazes me every day. He is independent and strong and gorgeous. Both my sons are! And some of the stories I write about Quentin have really happened. (Not the seeing-dead-people thing, thank goodness.) But he is a joy to write about.

JANE: I won’t provide spoilers, but I’ve loved Amber’s attempts to communicate in sign language – especially the mistakes.

I’m not exactly a prude (my novel Smoke and Mirrors featured a prostitute as the main character), but sometimes the degree of violence in the sex scenes in the Charley books leaves me wondering why you took that direction.  I noticed that this had backed off some in the most recent book, Seventh Grave and No Body.  Any reason?

DARYNDA: I decided when I first began this series to go big or go home. I love action and I love writing it. The sex scenes are the hardest part of the whole story for me to write, and I am no prude either. I quite enjoy the act, but if I haven’t written a sex scene that makes your toes curl, I have not done my job.

Still, everyone is different. Some hate them. Most of my readers love them. Either way, I have to write both the action and the sex sequences according to my target audience, those who love paranormal/urban fantasy and romance. I read both. I know what my audience expects. And I love to keep my readers hovering on the edges of their seats, wondering what Charley will do next. It’s all about those surprise twists your readers never see coming. Keeping it fresh is what will bring your readers back again and again, and my readers are amazing. I’m horridly grateful for each and every one.

JANE: Practical…  And you’ve certainly made my toes curl, so you’re doing your job.

For those readers of this interview who haven’t yet tried Darynda’s books, I’d like to stress that there’s a lot more to them than hot sex and warped humor (although there’s both of those).  The last couple of books in particular have started revealing what looks to be a complex supernatural conspiracy that has me completely hooked.

But, speaking of “doing your job,” I should let you go and do that.  Thanks ever so much for your time!

DARYNDA: THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HAVING ME!!!

FF: Lost in Print (and Audio)

January 23, 2015

This past week, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, figuring out what would go into what cabinet.  That gave me a bit more time with recorded books.  I rewarded myself with one day when I let myself read without watching the clock.  Bliss!

Ready to Read!

Ready to Read!

So what exactly are the Friday Fragments? The FF 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.

Recently Completed:

The Book of Kells by R.A. MacAvoy.  Set in Ireland something over a 1,000 years ago, the plot intertwines with intricate historical detail much like the Celtic knotwork of the title.  I found myself tangled up in historical details in the middle, but enjoyed the book a great deal.

The Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner.  Audiobook.  Middle grade.  In a city where protecting the children from any and all dangers has become the excuse for an increasingly dictatorial regime, the greatest thing one can steal is oneself.

Chobits.  Manga.  The complete series.  Interesting tale that starts out looking like a romantic comedy and evolves into a meditation on identity, the nature of relationships (including “mere” friendship), and love.  In these days where Social Media is coming to dominate so many people’s lives, even more timely than when first written.

In Progress:

Tamsin by Peter Beagle.  Audiobook.  Read by Peter Beagle.  The first part of the book could be any book about a major life transition but Beagle is so good that his rather whiny narrator (who knows she’s whiny) still held me.  I’ve just gotten to the ghost.

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer.  Just started.

Also:

Isn’t this enough?  <grin>  My to-be-read shelf is crammed, but I’d love to know what you’re reading.  There’s always room for more.

TT: Moving with Cats

January 22, 2015

JANE: Last week, we were talking about things you found difficult to live without when you and Robin moved.  Noticeably omitted were your cats, Harpo and Bess.

When you moved house did you bring the cats with you in the car?

Kwahe'e Contemplates Travel

Kwahe’e Contemplates Travel

ALAN: No, definitely not. The cats both hate car journeys (I think they associate the car with visits to the vet). Harpo howls and Bess shivers with fear. Both sets of symptoms are unpleasant and upsetting, so there was no way I was going to put either them or us through the trauma of a 300 km journey.

JANE: So what did you do?

ALAN: About a week before we moved, we put the cats in the local cattery. They don’t like it, but at least it’s familiar – they’ve been there many times before. Then we started packing up the house, something else that would have upset them if they’d seen it.

JANE: How did you get them from the cattery to the new house?

ALAN: There’s an organisation called VenturePets who, for an inordinately large fee, will transport and deliver your pets door to door. So once we’d got the majority of our furniture unpacked and ready for the cats, VenturePets picked them up from the cattery, flew them on a commercial flight to the nearest airport, picked them up when they landed, and delivered them to us. The lady in the cattery sent me an email when they were picked up and she told us that Harpo howled all the way down the driveway to the van.

JANE: I know that when my mom has flown with her cat, she’s been required to have it tranquilized.  Were Harpo and Bess cats tranquilized?

ALAN: No – VenturePets doesn’t believe in drugging the animals they transport. And a vet friend of mine tells me that the practice of tranquilising animals under these circumstances is much more for the benefit of the owners than it is for the benefit of the animals!

JANE: I presume they both arrived safely?

ALAN: Yes. The lady who delivered them to us told us that Harpo howled at the top of his voice all the way from the airport to our house. She sang nursery rhymes to him to try and make him feel better. But it didn’t work.

JANE: Maybe she didn’t sing them very well.  Or maybe he would have preferred folk or filk…

ALAN: No, I think he’s more of a jazz fan…

Have you ever moved with your cats? How did they (and you) cope with the trauma?

JANE: I’ve moved with my cats several times.  The first time was from New York to Virginia, the second from Virginia to New Mexico.  Maybe because I used house call vets for routine care back when I lived in both New York and Virginia, my cats didn’t react too badly to car trips.  Well, I should probably qualify that.  I did have one cat, Gwydion, who reacted badly.  Precisely forty-five minutes into any car trip, he would get carsick.

ALAN: How did you figure out the timing?

JANE: Back when I lived in Virginia and needed to drive to New York, I’d make the trip via my mom’s place in Maryland.  The cats (who loved my mom) would then go stay with her for a few days.  The first time we made this trip, Gwydion threw up.  Usually, I’d have brought a roll of paper towels, but I didn’t have them.  However, there was a roadside stop just down the way, and we solved the problem, cleaned Gwydion up, and finished the trip without further incident.

The next time we made the trip, at exactly the same point, he threw up again.  With the store as a landmark, I then calculated back to past trips and realized that we had a pattern.

Eventually, we made good friends in Virginia who would cat sit when we travelled, so this wasn’t a problem until the day I left for New Mexico from Virginia.  I didn’t take much when I left, shipped my books ahead, and only took my six cats and a few things that I wouldn’t trust to shippers with me in the car.

ALAN: How far apart are New Mexico and Virginia? Don’t answer that – I haven’t unpacked my atlases yet, but I do have an internet connection…

(Alan goes googling…)

Gosh! That’s a really long drive.  You certainly couldn’t do it in one day.

JANE: No, I couldn’t.  What I did was drive as far as North Carolina to meet Roger, who had flown from New Mexico, so he could share the trip.  This was a several hour drive, so by the time we got there, Gwydion had already done his throwing up for the day.

The cats and I collected Roger, and we drove west until we couldn’t take it anymore. Then we found a motel that would accept pets.

Now, Roger had been diagnosed with cancer by this time.  He was seeing an alternative medical practitioner who was doing a good job in helping him manage the side effects of the chemo drugs.  He’d mentioned our plans to her, including that Gwydion got car sick.  She gave him a tiny bottle of a homeopathic remedy called something like Be Still.  We were to give Gwydion a few drops orally, then renew – I think mid-day, but it’s been nearly twenty years, so I don’t remember the exact timing – by placing a few drops on the fur between his ears.

ALAN: Did it work?

JANE: To my complete and utter astonishment, it did.  By then, Gwydion was about eight years old and his pattern was firmly established.  But with this treatment, he didn’t throw up.  Nor was he dopey or drugged.  Because of his problems, I’d positioned his carrier so that I could reach him from the front seat, so I could see him easily.  He was calm, bright-eyed and alert.

ALAN: In some ways I’m not surprised it worked. My late cat Porgy (the Best Cat Ever) had several serious illnesses during his short life and he was very stressed as a result. The vet recommended something similar to us. We didn’t anoint him with it though, we put it in a gadget which had a heating element that vapourised it. The fumes (said the vet) contained calming pheromones. Initially I was sceptical, but it definitely worked and it helped him a lot.

Rather like your Gwydion, my Bess is a vomiting cat. She generally throws up after breakfast and after dinner because she’s greedy and gobbles her food too fast. Once I had a long and illuminating discussion about cat vomit with the checkout lady at the supermarket who was interested in the brand of cat food I was buying. Isn’t it amazing what subjects break the conversational ice and lead to a lifetime’s friendship?

JANE: Yes, it is…  I have a couple more tales about travelling with cats I’d like to share. I’d also love to hear how Harpo and Bess settled into their new abode.  However, my current crew are asking me to pay attention to them, I’ll leave my stories until next time.

Lustrum Review

January 21, 2015

Those of you who have read my novels, Changer and Changer’s Daughter (aka Legends Walking),know that once every five years, the immortal athanor gather to catch up both on business and with old (in some cases, very, very old) friends.  These meetings are called lustrum reviews –  lustrum being a period of five years, as a decade is ten.

Five years!!!

Five years!!!

Five years ago, I started writing the Wednesday Wanderings.  Since then, the same site has come to include the Thursday Tangents (co-written with award-winning New Zealand reviewer, Alan Robson) and, just this past year, the Friday Fragments, an informal look at what I’ve read the previous week.

The Wednesday Wanderings are also directly responsible for my most recent book, the non-fiction, Wanderings on Writing, which is a collection of and expansion upon those pieces I’ve written about the art and craft of writing – with a bit of advice about how to fit writing into your day-to-day routine added in for good measure.

The Wednesday Wanderings are the best place to learn what’s going on in the world of Jane Lindskold.  Not only will you find out about evolving projects, release dates, appearances, reviews, and contests, you’ll also get a look behind the scenes at how stories evolve, since very often some issue related to what I’m working on at a given moment triggers that week’s essay.

I’ll also talk about other stuff, completely unrelated to writing, like my garden, craft projects, and role-playing game.

Sometimes I bring questions to the readers of the Wednesday Wandering, such as last February’s discussion of what should the title be for the second book in my “Artemis Awakening” series.  The final decision – Artemis Invaded (due for release June of 2015) was directly influenced by reader feedback.

Another area where the readers of the Wednesday Wanderings were able to provide valuable feedback was regarding whether I should put some time into a re-release of one of my out-of-print novels, or put together a short story collection.  The short story collection “won” resoundingly, and is now over half-completed, including – at your request – original afterpieces about each story.

Reader comments sometimes provide the seed that grows into a later Wednesday Wandering column.  A recent example is “What English Professors Love” (WW 1-07-15), which grew out of a question asked by Chad Merkely.  I welcome questions, as well as suggestions as to topics you might enjoy hearing about.

Too shy to comment on the site?  An e-mail to jane2@janelindskold.com will reach me.  Your ghosthood will be respected!

Yes.  I do post to Twitter but, if you’re looking for more than a quick news flash, the Wednesday Wanderings are the place to be.

This coming year, there’s a lot to look forward to…  In addition to the promised short fiction collection, there will be the release of Artemis Awakening in mass market paperback, Artemis Invaded in hard cover (and e-book), and several new short stories.

I’m also planning to expand the author interview series I started late last year, so that every month or so, without ever going anywhere else, you’ll be able to “meet” other authors and hear about their works.  My promise to myself and my guests is that I’ll try to come up with unusual questions, firmly based in their works, rather than the generic one-size fits all so common on the web.

And, of course, you’ll be among the first to learn about new developments.

Over five years, the Wednesday Wanderings community has expanded into a friendly, interesting place to be.  Whether you’re a new arrival or a regular reader, I hope you’ll not only hang around, but invite your friends to join us!

FF: Back to Books

January 16, 2015

The proofs for Artemis Awakening in mass market are in, the kitchen mostly done. Just a reminder, since there seems to be some confusion.  Artemis Awakening is currently available in hard cover and ebook.  The sequel, Artemis Invaded will be out in June of 2015.

So what exactly are the Friday Fragments? The FF 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.

Recently Completed:

Construction Supervisor

Construction Supervisor

Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Audiobook.  Miles’ gets to Earth but – between terrorists and intrigue – doesn’t see much of it.  Good expansion of the complicated politics that are crucial to this series.

The Other Inheritance by Rebecca Jaycox.  Reggie’s dad is from the Other.  Reggie is the last user of a very, very powerful form of magic.  Debute YA in the “chosen one” vein.

In Progress:

The Book of Kells by R.A. MacAvoy.  Set in Ireland something over a 1,000 years ago, the plot intertwines with intricate historical detail much like the Celtic knotwork of the title.

The Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner.  Audiobook.  Middle grade.  Just started.

Also:

Reassembling my kitchen, a process at least as twisted and complex as MacAvoy’s novel.

TT: Things You Can’t Live Without

January 15, 2015

JANE: So, Alan, a few weeks ago, when you and Robin set forth for your new home, you mentioned that you’d discovered a few things – in which you included services – that were very hard to get along without.

ALAN: Ah yes – now thereby hangs a tale…

Vital Necessities

Vital Necessities

The plan was that we’d travel up to our new house and we’d have a couple of days before our stuff arrived so that we could decide where everything ought to go. That’s fine in theory of course. But in practice it meant we actually had a few days without any stuff at all. In retrospect, perhaps it wasn’t the wisest decision we’ve ever made.

JANE: Before your stuff arrived??  Where did you sleep?  Did you stay in a motel?  Use sleeping bags?

ALAN: Ah, we had that covered. Just before we set off we bought an air bed and a pump and we packed some sheets and pillows to bring with us as well. Also, Robin decided that since we were moving to a new house, we obviously needed a new bed which meant that our current bed could be a spare for visitors. So one of the big plans was to go out and buy a bed before our stuff arrived.

JANE:  Ooh…  I have very mixed feelings about those air beds.  They’re great in theory, but not so much in practice.  For one, if it’s at all cold (which given that it’s summer there, wouldn’t have been a problem for you), they can get very cold, because the air doesn’t retain body heat the way a regular mattress does.

They also have a tendency to develop slow leaks.  Jim and I both remember a trip we took where our host put us on an air bed that, by morning, had us sleeping on the carpet.  It was not a very thick carpet either…

How has your experience been?

ALAN: Our experience has been just like yours – and we are still having all these problems today. You see, we bought and paid for a magnificently comfortable and enormously large bed. Then we learned that the mattresses are all made to order, so we’d have to wait for some time before we could actually sleep on it. We’re still waiting. We’ve been here more than a month now and we’re still sleeping on the air bed on the floor. And that’s likely to continue for a few weeks yet. So I can truly say that one of the things it’s very hard to get along without is a bed. These old bones ache in the morning after a night on a rather squishy air bed.

JANE: But you said above that you kept your old bed to be used by visitors.  Surely it didn’t take a month to arrive.  Couldn’t you have used that?

ALAN: I suppose we could – but we didn’t want the cats to think that the spare bedroom was actually our bedroom. We wanted them to realise just where we (and they) were supposed to spend the night right from the start. Also, we had guests just after Christmas, so we’d have had to use the air bed for ourselves while they were here. You can’t expect guests to sleep in discomfort – and anyway, one of our guests has just had an operation on her foot and she isn’t physically capable of getting on and off something as low down as an air bed. So we really didn’t have any choice.

JANE: Well, that makes sense.  Very kind of you, too.   In anticipation of our recent kitchen remodel (cabinets and counters), Jim and I carefully packed away cooking tools in order of our likelihood of needing them.  The final step was putting a small selection of dishes and pots in a box so we could get to them as needed.  We weren’t having any appliances replaced, so we could more or less eat normally.

Or that was the plan.  On Day One, they pulled out the appliances to get at things behind them, so we ended up going out for dinner.  How did you handle eating?

ALAN: Eating was easy. We just went out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s not the cheapest way to live, but on the plus side, we did find some lovely restaurants that we intend to go back to if we ever get rich again. Also I made sure to hide the coffee pot and some coffee before the moving men arrived to pack up the old house. Robin and I are both coffee addicts and the thought of several days without coffee was more than we could bear. Unfortunately I forgot to pack any mugs and spoons.

JANE: Oh, dear…  I’m also a coffee addict and I can’t imagine what I would do without my beloved Joe.  What did you do?

ALAN: All was not lost. At the last minute, the moving men asked me if I wanted them to pack the dirty crockery in the sink. That’s when I realised what I’d done (or, more accurately, what I’d not done) and I rescued two mugs and a teaspoon from them. So when we arrived at the new house, the first thing I did was the washing up!

Then I made coffee.

JANE: That’s great!  And very appropriate.

How did you feel about going without an internet connection for several days?  I know I felt severe withdrawal symptoms during those days I knew I couldn’t “talk” with you.  However, I could assuage my loss by communicating with other people.  You were cut off entirely.  Going “unplugged” for a day or so each week is becoming trendy here in the U.S.  How did you feel about it?

ALAN: Going cold turkey on my internet connectivity was actually the hardest thing of all to do without. As Joni Mitchell sang:

“…you don’t know what you’ve lost ’till it’s gone.”

I hadn’t realised just how much I depended on being connected to the world. In moments of desperation, when the withdrawal symptoms got to be too much to bear, I could use the data connection on my phone to check web pages and send short emails, but I really don’t like doing that. The screen on the phone is too tiny and the keyboard is impossible to use when you’re a ten-fingered touch typist. And anyway, my data allowance is small, and the charges become very expensive after I’ve used the basic allowance up.

I’m starting to think that internet connectivity should be a basic human right along with power and clean water.

JANE: Is it really that pervasive in your life?

ALAN: Yes it is; I use the internet for pretty much everything – all the way from trivial things like checking the daily news through to more important things like paying my bills. I haven’t received a paper bill in the mail, or paid a bill with a cheque, for several years now. Every single financial transaction that I make is electronic these days.

JANE: I wish I felt that confident about internet security!  However, we have the same options here and I know many people who do all their business on the net.  I do just about all my business this way but, in the end, I find I like human contact, too.

And until cats and guinea pigs can type, some of my best buddies are going to be off-line.

Speaking of which, I’d love to hear how Harpo and Bess took the move.  Maybe next time!

Unreadably New? Boringly Formulaic?

January 14, 2015

The Comments to last week’s WW wandered (as well they should) onto the subject of why so many early twentieth century artistic works – in which literature, music, and visual arts were all included – became so stylized as to be enjoyed by a limited group, often, but not always, made up of those who were specialists in that particular field.

Formula

Formula

This contributed to a split between popular culture and “unpopular” Culture that remains to the current day—although, as heteromeles noted, very amusingly, some of the techniques of  Culture have been borrowed by pop culture to very interesting effect.

This got me thinking about which side of the division I come down on – at least in regard to SF/F, a field in which I both write and read.

As a long-time reader of SF/F, there are certain books I read which – while not bad in and of themselves – simply stick too close to formula to provide me with much pleasure.  Therefore, if they have any weaknesses at all, those weaknesses stick out, leaving me feeling worse about the book than I might have if the same weaknesses had appeared in a less formulaic piece.

Basically, I don’t much care for a novel where I can inform Jim, as I have from time to time: “Okay.  Here’s what’s going to happen, in this order.”  I really dislike books where characters seem churned off a template – something that happens all too often when a writer is either trying to catch hold of a trend or writing his/her variation on some story he or she loved deeply.

Formulaic settings, especially those that use elements drawn from some other work – whether Tolkien or the latest video game or some movie – also annoy me, especially since the further from the source material the work gets,  the less reasonable the combinations.

Does this mean I love innovative works?  No, not automatically, especially if I can “see” the author doing a variation on the Joycean “look at me” that I mentioned in last week’s piece.  Literary special effects don’t impress me unless they serve the story.  Otherwise, they’re just as much of a yawn – and frequently more annoying – than formulaic fiction.

The annoying factor in innovative works was well-illustrated by the New Wave SF/F “movement” some decades ago.  Since Alan and I discussed this in a Tangent back in 2013, I won’t repeat myself.  I’ll just add that please don’t expect to impress me by inventing a new word or pronoun or inverted narrative style or using weird fonts.  Been there, done that, rode that pony.  Innovation is when these things serve the story, rather than the story being a Christmas tree on which FX lights have been strung.

When I started reading SF/F, there were a lot of magazines serving the genre – and this was way down from a couple decades earlier.  Now there are hardly any, yet SF/F has never been more in the popular eye.  My personal opinion is that the magazines began to serve not the wider readership but the narrower one that nominated for awards.  In doing so, they lost the audience who wanted a good, ripping yarn.  They might have won the battle of getting some SF/F recognized as Literature, but they lost their readership.  A Pyrrhic victory, indeed.

Yet is formulaic completely horrible?  Is new and innovative completely great?

I really don’t think the question is so simple.  Formulaic fiction is most often attractive to those new to the genre.  There was a series a few years back – I won’t name the titles, since I haven’t read the series in full myself – that sold amazingly well, despite the fact that just about every element in the books was transparently cut and pasted from popular movies and books of the previous decade.  A young cousin of mine was in love with these books but, when we talked about them, he admitted he’d never read any Fantasy before, so what was derivative in the extreme to me, was new and fresh to him.

As an aside, I’ll note that there seems to be a serious glut of retold fairytales out there – in prose, graphic novels, on television, and even in “fashion dolls.”  So clearly the audience for the familiar story is alive and well.

I can take pleasure in a book that has elements of formula, if the author does something fresh within the formula.  The easiest way to grab me is with a character or set of characters I get attached to.  Next comes an innovative setting.  Both will keep me going through some variation of “Character discovers he/she is the Powerful One everyone has been Waiting to Save the World.”

I’ll admit, probably because writing is my craft, innovative storytelling techniques that serve the story excite me a lot.  A couple years ago, a friend suggested I try YA author A.S. King.  I did.  Her Please Ignore Vera Dietz blew me away. I’ll admit, while I told Jim I liked it, I didn’t press him to read it, because I wasn’t sure he’d like the style.

Recently, I read A.S. King’s Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future and was, again, impressed by how the narrative tricks served the story.  But reading her books isn’t easy – and not just because (at least in these two examples) her main characters begin depressive.  I couldn’t sit and read a string of her novels in a row, any more than I’d down a bunch of cups of espresso in one sitting – at least not if I expected to sleep without my head buzzing in circles.

So, which side do I come down on?  Probably slightly in favor of innovation.  There’s a reason I don’t read Romance novels.  A variation on the same story doesn’t interest me.  However, I’ll take a good story with not a single bell or whistle over a dull story slumming in fancy prose.

Which way does the balance between the two tilt for you?

FF: Too Busy Even to Read

January 9, 2015

Since last the last Friday Fragments, we have lost a beloved pet and had our kitchen torn to shreds for remodeling of cabinets and counters that is on-going as I write.  Add to this that I really, really, really had to finish the proofs for the mass market edition of Artemis Awakening and I haven’t had much time to read.

Wondering what the FF is about?  (At least most of the time?)  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.

RIP Snowdrop

RIP Snowdrop

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

Recently Completed:

Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Audiobook.  Any novel where one of the on-going elements is “Why is the Main Character Even Involved in this Story?” has an integral weakness.  Despite this, I enjoyed, especially the Cetagandan world-building.

In Progress:

Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Audiobook.  Barely into it…

The Other Inheritance by Rebecca Jaycox.

Also:

Several magazine articles since my stack was getting unwieldy.