Archive for April, 2015

Maps: Limiting or Grounding?

April 8, 2015

News Flash: Artemis Invaded is now available for pre-order as an audiobook from  When the book is released on June 30th, it will be in your library and available for download.

And now, To Map or Not to Map…  a writerly question.

Roger Zelazny's Map of Amber

Roger Zelazny’s Map of Amber

As many of you know, over the last couple of Thursday Tangents, Alan Robson and I have been discussing street naming conventions – or rather, lack of conventions.  At one point, I mentioned the map that appeared in the Firekeeper novels.  This led to me being asked how much time I put into mapping out an area before beginning a story.

The answer is simple.  Very little.  Sometimes none at all.   The “map” I used when writing Through Wolf’s Eyes and Wolf’s Head, Wolf’s Heart was scribbled on the back of an old envelope.  Its main purpose was to make sure that I was consistent when referring to directions.  I guess it served because when my editor (Teresa Nielsen Hayden) approached me, requesting a map that could be included in the novel, she clearly assumed that I had one.

Happily, for me, Jim is a fine cartographer.  He drew the map (complete with contour elevations) that was adapted for the novel.

Nor am I the only writer to work this way.  Steve Brust was recently asked if the rumored maps that would be accompanying a forthcoming work would be based on his “real” maps.  Steve’s response was interesting:  “I have maps of some stuff that I use so that I only contradict myself on purpose. But I don’t like to let them out of the house.”

(I particularly like the bit about “contradicting myself on purpose”!)

Roger Zelazny had an elaborate poster-sized map of Amber printed, but this wasn’t because he felt he needed it in order to write the novels.  It was simply because it amused him to do so.  (He could be quite whimsical.  He also had pencils printed with something along the lines of “Property of Castle Amber Library.”)

When The Visual Guide to Castle Amber was commissioned by Bill Fawcett and Associates Inc., Roger spoke with the writers, artists, and cartographers.  A detailed map of the castle, including floorplans for many of the individual rooms, was included in the book.  Then, in the next novel, Roger arranged to have a very violent battle take place so that large portions of the castle’s interior would need to be rebuilt – freeing him from having to construct his stories according to a map.

On the other hand, I’ve known writers who lavish considerable attention on the maps of their fictional realms.  Every mountain range is detailed, usually with little triangles.  (I’ve lived in the midst of two different mountain ranges, and I’ve yet to see a mountain that looks like a triangle, especially up close.)  Every river is named (sometimes three or four times, especially if the mapmaker is a fan of Tolkien).  Major cities are indicated and minor towns…   Forests.  Oceans.

Advocates of maps say that charting out their terrain in advance of writing helps keep them grounded, to visualize the realities of the landscape.   However, what too many mapmakers forget – especially those born into this era of fast and easy transportation – is that distance is not just a matter of miles, it’s a matter of, well, as a certain hobbit put it, getting “there and back again.”

Especially if you’re writing a story set in a low tech environment, travel conditions matter as much as miles as measured.  Muddy roads will slow you down.  Paved roads will speed you up.  (There’s a reason the Romans built so many roads… )  How heavily encumbered you are is crucial.  Pack and riding animals don’t speed you up.  They may actually slow you down – but if weather conditions are good, they may increase how far you can go on a given day.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m a gamer.  My favorite gaming involves dice, paper, and a group of compatible souls.  What I’ve learned from gaming – both from running numerous games and from being a player – is that when telling a story the macrocosm matters a lot less than the microcosm.  That is, the precise distance between you the nearest city matters a lot less than who is standing closest to you when trouble hits.

When writing, I’m much more likely to make a quick sketch of who is where when combat or some other conflict is an element.  I’m more likely to sketch a map of a small town or the interior of a building than I am of a continent.  Part of this has to do with the fact that I rarely write from an omniscient narrative point of view.  Instead, I take pleasure in seeing a scene close up and personal, just as my characters would.  Sometimes this means knowing where, for example, Brenda’s bedroom is in relation to Pearl’s.  Or who is sitting across from whom during an acrimonious debate.

There are times, however, when I agree that a detailed landscape map is very useful.  One of these is when writing in collaboration with someone else.  Especially for Treecat Wars, David Weber and I used maps to make sure that each of us were visualizing terrain elements in the same fashion.  You don’t know until you’ve attempted to write with someone else how relative words like “close” and “far,” or “just a short walk,” can be.

Another time when a map is crucial is when writing fiction set in an actual setting.  This applies whether you’re writing in a contemporary setting or hundreds or even thousands of years earlier.  Writers of contemporary fiction have some interesting tools available to them.  Resources like Google let a writer “see” a location as it is at a given moment.   This can be very useful and a lot faster than getting someone to run over there and take a photo for you.  Since “given moment” is just that – a moment – there are drawbacks, too.

Long before Google, I wrote a short story where I described a local museum, including the statues out front.  By the time the story was published, the statues had been moved.  The story still worked, thank goodness…   However, I had several local readers comment about this discrepancy.  Now, courtesy of the web, anyone can be the equivalent of a local reader.

Should this paralyze you?  Make you spend hours on researching your setting?  Honestly, I don’t think so.  As long as you don’t have rivers running uphill or major avenues running the wrong direction, readers will understand that transient details (which, in my case, included huge metal statues of dinosaurs) can change.

As I mentioned above, stories set in a historical context may also demand maps.  One of the first resources I go to when working on a story in a historical setting is Shepherd’s Historical Atlas.  While not perfect or all-inclusive, it is clear and useful – especially for making sure that the name you’re using for a given location or geographical feature is correct for the time period.  These maps can’t give you travel times between two points, but at least they can give you an idea of the miles involved and the terrain features.

So what about SF?  Why does mapmaking seem to be more associated with Fantasy than SF?  I think one reason is that while Fantasy is often set in some form of imaginary world, SF is likely to be set in some variation of reality as we know it.  Even if the story touches down on an alien planet, the contact is often restricted to one area (a starport city, for example).  If it isn’t, high tech transportation makes the question of whether a forest or river or even an ocean is in the way not a matter for consideration in the story.  Take a look, though…  The closer the story comes to creating a new world and exploring it in detail, the more likely it is that maps will show up!

So to map or not to map?  My answer would be map as much as you need to tell your story, but never make the mistake of thinking that the map is the story, nor that having a map available to the reader means you are freed from the responsibility of writing prose that makes your setting live and breathe.


FF: Landscapes of Change

April 3, 2015

For those of you who are new to this piece… The Friday Fragments feature lists of what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include either short fiction or magazine articles.

The Fragments 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 under Neat Stuff.

Kel Attempts to Keep Me from Reading

Kel Wonders What I’m Reading

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

Recently Completed:

Diplomatic Immunity by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Audiobook.  I liked this one.  Bujold deserve praise for the skill she shows  in writing a later book in a series, in which characters from earlier in the series are reintroduced.  So many authors would either fall into info-dump or so little detail a newer reader is confused.  She walks the balance with grace.

Beyond the Blast: Wasteland and Shelter in Nuclear Fiction.  A Master’s thesis by my friend, Rowan Derrick.  Fascinating and intelligent treatment of a complex topic.

In Progress:

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.  Audiobook.  A fascinating, complexly structured novel.  I’m really fascinated.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison.  Just started.  Already has violated clichéd expectations.  That’s good.


Still spending a lot of time reading my own stuff…

TT: Directionless in the Big City

April 2, 2015

ALAN: Before we carry on with this week’s tangent, did you realise that this is our 200th conversation. Good heavens, aren’t we chatty!

JANE: That seems incredible…  I’ve had so much fun.  I salute you and invite you to ask me a question to get this historic 200th Tangent started.

Washington D.C.,:Past and Future

Washington D.C.:Past and Future

ALAN: One question that springs immediately to my mind is that if a city like Washington is so carefully planned, who actually did the planning in the first place? Was it done by committee or was there a presiding genius? And another question – just how rigidly do the builders stick to the plan? Do the realities of construction ever force changes to be made to the plan?

JANE: As is so often the case with history, the simple answer and the one that most closely embraces the truth differ substantially.  The simple answer regarding Washington D.C. was as follows: George Washington chose the site for the city.  He then appointed a committee who, in turn, selected a Frenchman, Pierre Charles L’Enfant, to design the city.  L’Enfant did.

Reality is a bit more complex.  L’Enfant was chosen to design the city.  He laid out a lovely plan that involved streets radiating out from the Capitol – then called “The Congress House.”  This, in itself, shows how in the perception of the young United States of America, the Legislative Branch, rather than the Executive, was viewed as the most important.

L’Enfant had grand, sweeping ideas, including what – especially for that time – were astonishingly wide streets.  From the start, he encountered protests from existing landowners.  He annoyed various important – and sometimes only self-important – people with his tendency to want to keep control of the plans.  Eventually, he was fired.

ALAN: Poor chap! So he got fired for doing what was asked of him. That’s not very fair..

JANE:  Since when are politics ever fair?  And, believe you me, building the capital city for a brand new nation – at a time when brand new nations were not at all the usual thing – was a very political event.

So, from the start, the plan for Washington, D.C., was distorted by the desires of people who were thinking of their immediate goals, rather than of creating a perfect planned city.

Some years ago, I wrote a short story called “Tigers in the Capital.”  It’s a free-flowing narration in which L’Enfant, still alive in the story’s present day, talks about all the changes his beloved city has undergone and how those alterations to his original plan have led to many of the nation’s problems.  All the facts about D.C.’s evolution, well – at least all of those except those that applied to the futuristic part of the story – are accurate.  In the end, I was beginning to convince myself…

ALAN: So the actual answer to my original questions about how it came to be designed is “all the above.”

JANE: Thou art supremely correct, my friend!

I realized we have – in the best fashion possible – tangented away from your original question as to whether roads in cities in the United States are named in such a fashion that you can tell which direction they run simply by whether they are a street or an avenue.

ALAN: Yes – I was most impressed by that scheme. Directionally challenged people such as myself would find it a great help. I never know what direction I’m facing in and I need all the help I can get!

JANE: As I said earlier, sadly, this is not the case.  Sometimes a street won’t even have a same name along its entire length – much less keep the same designation.  A good example of this is Montaño Road, which runs east to west through most of Albuquerque, which changes its identity at where it crosses Interstate 25.  At this point it becomes Montgomery Boulevard.

Please note, neither of these are “streets” or “avenues,” thus violating the neat provision you mentioned earlier that all, uh, roads that run north-south are called “avenues” and all those that run east-west are “streets.”

ALAN: We sometimes have the opposite happening. There’s a street in Auckland called Great South Road which passes through several suburbs. It keeps the same name all the way, but every time it reaches a new suburb the buildings start numbering again from the beginning. So, 42 Great South Road (for example) may well exist in half a dozen locations…

JANE: Oh!  That would be completely maddening.  We do sometimes have streets (or roads or avenues) with the same name, but they usually possess some additional designation, like “SW” or “NW.”  Zip codes (which I believe you guys call “postal codes”) can also help clarify which particular street is indicated.

Is there anything to help you figure out which 42 Great South Road you want or do you need to drive up and down, staring at signs and saying “Ah-hah!  There’s the sign for the eye doctor’s office.  This must be the 42 Great South Road we want!”

ALAN: No, there’s nothing to help you identify the 42 Great South Road that you want. You just have to keep going until you find one that looks right. And if it proves to be the wrong one, you just get back in your car and keep going. However, since the numbering starts again with each new suburb, one possible solution is to wait until you reach the appropriate suburb before you start checking the numbers. Unfortunately this turns out to be a much harder problem to solve because the suburbs aren’t sign-posted…

JANE: That sounds like purest insanity…  I recall an Agatha Christie novel in which the mystery hinged on an incorrectly delivered piece of mail because, at the time the story was written, houses had names, not numbers.  I’d thought that would be impossible these days, but I see the concept could easily be updated to happening in Auckland.

 I think you’d like living in Albuquerque – at least from the question of having an easy solution to being directionally challenged.  Directly east of the city is the great up-thrust bulk of the Sandia Mountains.  This makes it very easy – in fact, nearly impossible not – to know which way is east.  After that, all other directions are easily deduced.

When I first came house hunting here, I was very puzzled that my realtor would give me directions based not on “turn right” or “turn left” but “turn east” or “turn west.”  When I asked her to please clarify, she enlightened me as why she gave directions that way.  After that, I rapidly joined the confident navigators of Albuquerque.

My mother, who, like you, has never been certain about directions, was very impressed when she’d hear me saying things like “Jim, the place we want is just a bit further south.”  We let her in on the secret and, to this day, when she visits us, she will occasionally chirp up with “We’re going north now, aren’t we?” or similar comments, just for the pleasure of it.

ALAN: Oh, your mother is a lady after my own heart. I’d say exactly the same thing for exactly the same reason. Please tell her that we are soul mates.

Meanwhile, there’s an author you mentioned recently in your Friday Fragment who I’d really like to talk about…

JANE: Whisper in my ear… [Listens.]  Oh!  Absolutely!  That would be wonderfully fun.

Firekeeper and Mowgli Crossover Announced!

April 1, 2015

News Flash: Tonight, at 6:45 p.m. I’m keynote speaker for UNM’s “Intellectual Hooliganism” colloquium.  My talk’s title is “Inverting the Rules or Why We Love Fools.”  It’s free and open to the public.  For more information, contact UNM Hobbit Society at, call Dr. Leslie Donovan at (505) 277-4313 or visit the UNM Hobbit Society website at

And now for some breaking news…  Negotiations have been concluded between the estate of Rudyard Kipling and Obsidian Tiger Inc. for a crossover series featuring my own Firekeeper and Kipling’s archetypal feral boy, Mowgli.

Meeting of Feral Minds!

Meeting of Feral Minds!

Mowgli, as many of you know, is the central character in Kipling’s seminal works, The Jungle Books, which feature such stories as “Mowgli’s Brothers,” “Kaa’s Hunting,” “Letting in the Jungle,” and “The Spring Running.”

Firekeeper is introduced in Through Wolf’s Eyes.  Her adventures continue through six volumes, concluding (at least at this point in time) with Wolf’s Blood.

The Kipling estate has long been seeking someone to expand upon Mowgli’s adventures, especially someone who “has actually read the books, rather than only seen the movies.”  Additionally, they wanted someone who understood at a gut level Mowgli’s essentially mythic nature.  In a recent press release, the estate says:

“In Jane Lindskold, we have found the writer we feel Rudyard Kipling would have chosen himself to introduce Mowgli to the twenty-first century.  As works like Changer and Legends Walking (aka Changer’s Daughter) demonstrate, Lindskold is completely comfortable writing about larger-than-life mythic characters.  Her collaborations with Roger Zelazny and David Weber show a singular talent for working with another author, blending voices, and yet bringing her own distinctive contributions to the work.”

Why do these stories as a crossover with the Firekeeper novels, rather than simply continuing Mowgli’s own story?  Again, we turn to the press release:

“We felt that keeping Mowgli locked in a historical context, one that could not help but eventually cross with some uncomfortable political realities, as Mowgli leaves the Jungle, would become stultifying.  Yet, if we kept Mowgli locked in the Jungle, we would violate Kipling’s own sense that, eventually, Mowgli needs to expand, to, in fact, grow-up.”

Will the stories take place in Firekeeper’s own universe then?  Well, yes and no. Again, we turn to the press release:

“In the first novel, Firekeeper and Blind Seer will venture into the Old Country.  There they will find a gate that opens – not to another part of their own world – but to Mowgli’s Jungle.  Some years will have passed since the events Kipling recorded in “The Spring Running” and Mowgli will be feeling restricted by village life.  When he hears the wolves of the Seeonee Pack howling about the arrival of a “stranger, strange,” (this last a deliberate evocation of the opening of Through Wolf’s Eyes), he will be drawn to investigate and will meet this strange pair, and investigate the causes of this trans-dimensional gate.

“Eventually, Mowgli will, with Gray Brother, join Firekeeper and Blind Seer in their explorations of the Old World.

“We don’t see any shortage of stories.  However, we’ve been approached by Hayao Miyazaki, who is interested in seeing his Princess Mononoke and her giant wolves included in this fascinating human/wolf pack.”

Ahem…  April Fool!  Not the part about the talk, but the part about Firekeeper and Mowgli…

Hope to see some of you tonight!  No fooling!