Archive for February, 2016

FF: Not As Much As I’d Like

February 26, 2016

For those of you just discovering this feature, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazine articles.

Ogapoge Does Super Cute

Ogapoge Does Super Cute

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

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

Recently Completed:

War of the Planet Burners by Dennis Herrick.  A forthcoming small press novel.

Sammy Keyes and the Search for Snake Eyes by Wendelin Van Draanen.  Middle-grade mystery.

In Progress:

The Prestige by Christopher Priest.  Audiobook.  Twisted and convoluted.

Reality Boy by A.S. King.  Just started.


Various magazine articles.


TT: Into Mystery and Elsewhere

February 25, 2016

ALAN: I’ve noticed that when SF writers do stray outside their genre, they tend to write mystery stories of some kind. Both Jack Vance and Fredric Brown wrote award-winning mystery novels.

One Author, Various Flavors

One Author, Various Flavors

JANE: Really?  I had no idea.  What were the titles?

ALAN: Jack Vance won an Edgar award for The Man in the Cage and Fredric Brown won an Edgar for The Fabulous Clipjoint.

Indeed, you could argue that Brown was more of a mystery writer than he was an SF writer. Certainly he was much more prolific in that genre. His bibliography on Wikipedia lists twenty-four mystery novels and only five SF novels…

And Isaac Asimov wrote some rather good classical mysteries as well.

JANE: Time to go check my bookshelves and see if I have either of those first two.

I’ve heard that about Asimov and I’ve read his Murder at the ABA.  In 1975, when the book is set, the ABA was the largest convention for booksellers – and consequently attracted a lot of book publishers and writers as well.  It still exists in a slightly different form as the BEA.

Anyhow, if you can get beyond the singularly most annoying first person narrator I’ve encountered in a long while, it’s not a bad mystery.

ALAN: It’s been years since I read it, so I don’t remember that. I just remember enjoying the mystery.

JANE: Above you said: “I’ve noticed that when SF writers do stray outside their genre, they tend to write mystery stories of some kind.”

To me this is fairly reasonable, since even when a story isn’t an obvious “whodunit,” much SF has a similar problem-solving ethic.

ALAN: I completely agree about the problem-solving ethic. That overlap is probably the reason why so many SF fans are also mystery fans. And vice-versa, of course.

In the UK, the genre boundaries have always tended to be a little more blurred than they are in America. H. G. Wells wrote across the spectrum and perhaps British writers have taken their inspiration from him.

Brian Aldiss has written several well-regarded mainstream literary novels. The Horatio Stubbs trilogy is particularly good in its depiction of youth caught up in war. And as a bonus, the first volume of the trilogy (The Hand Reared Boy) is the best novel about masturbation since Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint!

JANE: This last is a recommendation??? After I read Graham Joyce’s The Tooth Fairy, I felt grotty for weeks!

ALAN: Of course it’s a recommendation. The book will keep the average teenage boy enthralled and occupied for ages!

I also think you can make a good case for the majority of Christopher Priest’s books being SF-related mainstream novels as well, if that makes any sense. The Separation, for example, is set very firmly in the Second World War. They even made a movie from his novel The Prestige. It’s about feuding stage magicians…

JANE: I’ve heard about The Prestige, though I haven’t read it or seen the film.  I’ve always meant to, since David Bowie played Tesla in it…

ALAN: Priest’s contemporary, J. G. Ballard cut his literary teeth in the SF world, but he soon left it far behind. I’m particularly fond of his semi-autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun about life in Shanghai under Japanese rule in the 1940s.

I don’t know if James Blish absorbed some of that influence or not, but around about the time he moved permanently to England, he wrote a stunningly brilliant historical novel (Dr. Mirabilis) about the life of Roger Bacon.

JANE: That last one sounds interesting.  I’ve always been interested in Roger Bacon.

Certainly, there are American writers who have done/are doing the same.  In fact, one could argue that there is a subset of “literary” writers who write SF/F, but because they were/are embraced by the literary community, they often get praised for doing what’s old hat in our field.  A few examples…

Margaret Atwood regularly writes what is basically SF/F, but (so I’ve heard) doesn’t think she is doing so.

Michael Chabon’s Summerland was delightful, but certainly contained no surprises in terms of the material he used (a blending of myths, legends, and contemporary material) for anyone familiar with the works of Charles deLint, Neil Gaiman,  Roger Zelazny, or, if I dare say so, Jane Lindskold.

Norman Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost was published as mainstream fiction, but…  Well, look at the title!

Some SF/F writers find this annoying.  Maybe because I realize how under-read in genre fiction most “literary” critics (who often have academic backgrounds) are, I just sigh.

ALAN: Similarly, in Britain we have Doris Lessing, a Nobel Prize winning writer whose Canopus in Argos: Archives sequence are pure SF novels. I never liked them much, but they have their admirers. John Clute is particularly fond of them.

Lessing herself was an avowed SF fan. I used to see her sometimes in the SF bookshops of London, browsing the shelves and buying armfuls of lurid paperbacks, just like I was doing. She was a guest of honour at the Worldcon in 1987.

JANE: So it sounds as if Doris Lessing, bless her, wouldn’t mind being called an SF writer as well as a literary one.  How refreshing!  Someone who recognizes that it’s not an either/or sort of thing.

ALAN: She was proud of her SF work, and very happy to be thought of as an SF writer. Similarly, there is an up and coming British writer called David Mitchell who is winning lots of mainstream plaudits for novels such as The Cloud Atlas. Like Lessing before him, he seems to be quite impatient with genre boundaries and is more than happy to admit the influence of SF on his work.

Kingsley Amis was also a big SF fan. He published a very perceptive critical examination of the genre (New Maps of Hell) and in the 1960s, with Robert Conquest, he edited the Spectrum series of SF anthologies. He wrote several extremely good SF novels as well. The Alteration is an alternate history in which the Reformation never happened and the Catholic Church continues to dominate world affairs. Russian Hide and Seek is set in a future England that is a subject nation of the USSR. But my favourite is The Anti-Death League, a very odd novel indeed – conspiracy theorists will love it!

JANE: I’ve read – and enjoyed – New Maps of Hell.  Oddly enough, although I really liked Amis’s Lucky Jim, I don’t think I’ve read any of the titles you mentioned above.  Clearly I need to give some a try.  I think that both The Alteration and The Anti-Death League sound interesting.

I’m assembling quite a list!

I also have an idea for next time…   Here in New Mexico, we have quite a few writers who have been successful in more than one genre.  Why don’t we ask them why they’ve branched out?

Action Figures!

February 24, 2016

Do you like action figures?  Collect them?  Did you play with them as a kid?  If so, what sort appeals to you?

Getting into the Action

Getting into the Action

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about action figures…  And that’s gotten me thinking about action figures and their connection to stories.

 Although I know some purists will differ, for the purposes of today’s Wander, I’m going to include figures that some might call “dolls” in the discussion.   Since, according to Wikipedia, the term “action figure” was first coined by Hasbro for their G.I. Joe line, and the early G.I. Joes were clearly dolls, just dolls meant for boys rather than girls, I think I’m on safe ground.  And, of course, figures of this sort pre-date Hasbro coining the term.  “Tin soldiers” filled the need long before plastics came along.  They were followed by any number of rubber and plastic figures.

As I see it, there are three general classes into which action figures fall: figures that are essentially illustrations of a specific character from comics, television, or movies; figures with some story, and figures without a backstory .

Dolls tied to specific television and movie characters go back a long way.  Their shapes have changed along with affordable materials, until today you may purchase a highly poseable representation of the character of your choice, complete with characteristic equipment.  Although still marketed to children, many adults collect these as well.  Indeed, there is a sub-market of high-priced figures meant for adults.

When I asked on Twitter why people collect action figures, Jas. Marshall replied: “As a talisman w/the traits of the character. Ex: I have a River Song figure from the ep where she made a Dalek beg for mercy.”

Jas. Marshall is in good company here.  The attachment to figures of potent characters as talismans probably began back in prehistory.  Often these would have been figures of gods or demigods but if, as Christopher Knowles persuasively argues in his book of the same title “our gods wear spandex,” then these action figures are part of a venerable tradition.

Figures with some story have also been around for a long time.  Barbie started out as a fashion doll, basically, a miniature model which girls could costume as they chose.  However, over time, Barbie acquired a sister (Skipper), a boyfriend (Ken), and various friends.  Even when I was a girl (a long, long time ago) there were books telling about their interactions.  These stories weren’t very detailed.  The one I remember had to do with what Barbie was going to wear to a picnic; the kicker was that after spending page after page trying on different outfits, Barbie arrives at the picnic to find that everyone is wearing the same dress.  Nonetheless, these slim books did give a sense of potential stories involving Barbie and her friends.

Today, of course, Barbie has moved into the class of figure with a full and detailed backstory, which is presented in movies, books, and comics.  She has a great deal of company in this.

One of the most fascinating evolutions related to action figures and story is the “Ever After High” line of dolls/action figures.  These dolls are supposed to be the descendants of various fairytale characters.  Some are happy to follow the tradition set by their parents.  Others want to break the mold and make their own stories.

Author Shannon Hale tells on her website how she (an already established author of YA and middle grade fiction) was approached to write the backstories for these characters, up to and including novels.  What’s fascinating about this to me is that these were dolls that hadn’t yet been released.  Other than alluding to traditional fairytales, they were not tie-ins to any existing story.  However, having a story in place was clearly meant to make them more compelling.

That’s rather cool.  I plan to read the first book in the series, because I want to find out more.

Providing a toy with a backstory is not unique, certainly.  However, a more common mechanism for getting the story out has been a cartoon series (Jem; He-Man and the Masters of the Universe) as the marketing tool of choice, not the old-fashioned, so often maligned book.

However, despite the mechanism being in place for promoting action figures as part of an existing story, there are plenty of figures that are provided with only the thinnest of stories: sometimes only a name and a few lines of text.  Some of the figures in today’s picture fall into that category.  The animal-warrior figures are from Papo and are listed in their catalog simply as “Mutant Lion” and “Mutant Tiger.”  Who mutated them, why they were mutated, and whether they are unique or part of a larger culture is left to the imagination of the owner.

The producers of the I Am Elemental figures go out of their way not to provide a backstory for their characters, even though in other ways these masked figures greatly resemble higher-end superhero action figures (which are usually tied to some comic franchise or other).  I Am Elemental’s website makes clear they are prompting a “play experience where girls are the creators of their own stories.”

Obviously, I have action figures, including the ones in the illustration.  Although I don’t have any that I’ve purchased because of their association with a favorite series or movie, I do own a couple.  For example, I have a blue-haired anime figure that Jim bought me, not because she was the heroine of Sakura Wars (which I’ve never seen), but because, at that time, the character I was playing in a friend’s RPG happened to have blue hair.   So, my figure is named Yunome Ame, not Sakura.

And, believe me, if I saw the right figure from a favorite show, I wouldn’t hesitate to join Jas. Marshall in giving it shelf-space as a talisman.

That said, most of my figures have been purchased because of a sense that there’s a story there.  In some cases, the story has been written.  The pale-featured young woman on the horse in today’s illustration would become Blackrose in my short story “Hunting the Unicorn.”  A certain two-headed dragon given as a gift by a college friend would become Betwixt and Between in my first published novel Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls.

I rather like to think that someday I’ll find the right story to go with the Mutant Tiger and Mutant Lion.

So… Do you like action figures?  Collect them?  Did you play with them as a kid?  If so, what sort appeals to you?  Have any of them ever given you a story?

FF: As Worlds Evolve

February 19, 2016

This week I continued several series, which made me think some about the form.

Kel Does Her Supermodel Thing

Kel Does Her Supermodel Thing

For those of you just discovering this feature, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazine articles.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

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

Recently Completed:

Seeds of Rebellion (Beyonders 2) by Brandon Mull.  Suffers from “middle book of a trilogy” syndrome.  Additionally, inclusion of a larger number of adult characters mean that our teen protagonists begin to seem like “extras.”  Given the number of times both Rachel and Jason muse if they’ve fulfilled the role for which they were summoned to this fantasy world, I wonder if the author was subconsciously wondering the same thing.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.  Audiobook.  Enjoyed all over again.

Kitty’s Big Trouble by Carrie Vaughn.  Audiobook.  Despite the title, much less dramatic than the last couple in the series.  Chinese material expanded the “universe.”  The inclusion of film as inspiration/source material appropriate for this series, which (like much of the “paranormal urban fantasy” sub-genre) seems more based out of movies than folklore.

In Progress:

The Prestige by Christopher Priest.  Audiobook.  Just started.

War of the Planet Burners by Dennis Herrick.  A forthcoming small press novel.


Quite a bit of scattered short material.

TT: Crossing the Border

February 18, 2016

ALAN: We were talking about writing outside of your genre comfort zone. I remember being very impressed with your novel The Buried Pyramid. The fantasy elements don’t kick in until about half way through the book, and the first half is a grittily real bit of historical scene-setting. It seems to me that the book could easily have grown up to be a proper historical novel if you’d decided to take it that way. Have you ever considered writing non-SF/F novels?

In and Out of Genre

In and Out of Genre

JANE: Not really.  I guess I have a weird brain, but what interests me are stories that incorporate “speculative” aspects as part of the normal world – much as I do in The Buried Pyramid.  It just seems more natural.

ALAN: I’m not sure I really understand what you mean by that. Can you give me an example?

JANE: Well, to the ancient Egyptians, their gods were part of their day-to-day existence, not reserved for “temple” or whatever.  So, it seemed natural to me that at some point in the course of the events detailed in The Buried Pyramid the gods would decide to join in.

Another good example are my short stories with Prudence Bledsloe.  The stories are historically accurate to the post-Civil War American West – the so-called “Wild West.”  For the story I finished a few weeks ago – “Choice of Weapons” – I spent a huge amount of time checking historical dates to make certain that the elements I wanted would have been possible within the historical context.

However, Prudence is a werewolf.  I was actually surprised when a friend mentioned that her husband considered this an odd thing.  To me it’s completely natural.

ALAN: Me, too, in the sense that it doesn’t take me by surprise when something like that happens. I suspect most SF fans would feel the same way. It’s a sure sign of a misspent youth – being indoctrinated with the SF/F point of view on the way the world works in your formative reading years often means that you start to expect this kind of thing to happen. Indeed, there can be a vague feeling of disappointment when you read stories in other genres and there aren’t any werewolves (or whatever) in them.

JANE: I agree!  What’s odd is that my friend’s husband does read SF.  He’s a big fan of Neil Stephenson, who I think you also like.

ALAN: True – but I think Stephenson’s best novels (Crypotonomicon and The Baroque Cycle for example) are the ones that are closer to historical fiction than they are to science fiction. Which is what this tangent is all about, of course!

JANE: Funny, I’d never thought of it that way, but Cryptonomicon is definitely historical fiction with a twist.

Anyhow, to continue answering your question, if I’m writing science fiction, I prefer to include aliens or other weirdness.  I’m not interested in a potential future that is just more of us doing more of the same things except somewhere else.

I have written a couple of non-SF/F short stories, though.

ALAN: What? Proper stories? No SF/F elements at all? Tell me about them.

JANE: Both came about because of invitations to write for theme anthologies.   Oddly, both were published in 2001.  Some fifteen years later, I really can’t remember which I wrote first.

One was for an anthology of murder mystery stories edited by Anne Perry, with the assistance of John Helfers of Tekno Books.  For those who don’t remember, Tekno Books was the company run by Martin H. Greenberg and which, whether acknowledged on the book or not, probably had something to do the majority of anthologies published in the 1980’s (when I started being aware of publishers; Marty was working in the field even earlier) through 2011 when he died of cancer.

I mention this because I never had any contact with Anne Perry, only with John.

ALAN: You know I’ve always found it ironic that Anne Perry, who is a convicted murderer, makes her living writing murder mysteries. Of course, you could say that she is obeying the dictum to “write what you know,” so actually it isn’t ironic at all!

JANE:  Ouch!  Anyhow, I can’t remember if John contacted me by e-mail or phone, but I think it was phone because I recall an exchange something like this.

JOHN: Jane, I know you usually write SF/F, but would you like to do a straight mystery story?

JANE: Absolutely!  I love mysteries.  Other than SF/F, it’s probably the genre I read the most.

JOHN: Well, this is for a theme anthology where all the mysteries need to be somehow tied to the horoscope.  Knowing how you love myth and folklore and such, I thought it would be right up your alley.

JANE: That does sound cool, but you must be getting a lot of serial killer stories.

JOHN: (long pause)  No, I don’t think we have any.

JANE: Okay!  I’ll do one.

And I did.  It was called “Slaying the Serpent,” and appeared in Death by Horoscope.  I did a lot of research not only into the horoscope, but into forensics, profiling, and typical serial killer behavior…  At least of the more flamboyant type.

ALAN: Why on Earth (or off it) did you immediately think of serial killers? Is that your secret superpower?

JANE: Oh, there was a notorious serial killer who was dubbed “The Zodiac Killer.”  He was active in the  1960’s and 1970’s, I believe.  Seemed perfectly logical to me that everyone would recall him.

The other “proper” story  I wrote was a historical, for a collection of Civil War spy stories edited by Ed Gorman, titled The Blue and Gray Undercover.  I’d lived in Virginia for about five years and wanted to set my story in terrain I knew well.

A man named Jed Hotchkiss quickly caught my fancy.  He was a cartographer, the first person to map the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.  His maps were considered key to Confederate victories in that area, especially that of Stonewall Jackson at Stony Creek.

Obviously, in wartime, a cartographer can’t work openly, so Hotchkiss and his associates qualified as spies.  The techniques they used to cover that they were actually collecting data were fascinating.

ALAN: Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scout movement, made maps of enemy fortifications and highlighted the positions of their heavy artillery. He concealed the maps in sketches of butterflies; the maps were presented as elaborate markings on their wings…

JANE: Oh!  That’s really cool.  I had no idea!

Suffice to say, I really enjoyed both the historical research and then finding a way to tell a story that would be more heart-gripping than a mere info dump.  The story is called “The Road to Stony Creek,” by the way.

ALAN: I wonder how other writers feel about this kind of thing? Let’s explore it more next time.

Art Reacting to Art

February 17, 2016

Recently, I was asked “What inspires you?”   Although the question could have been intended in a more general sense, I immediately thought about it in terms of writing, since writing is one of my central passions.

On-going Discussion

On-going Discussion

As those of you who have read my Wanderings on Writing and my afterpieces to the stories in my collection Curiosities already know, I find inspiration in a lot of places.  However, this question ended up muddling together with my thoughts on the original Star Wars movie (aka “A New Hope”) and thereby inspired today’s wander.

Neither Jim nor I had watched Star Wars for at least twenty-five years.  (We arrived at this estimate because we’ve been together for twenty and had never watched it together.)  Back in January, we went to see “The Force Awakens” with our friend Michael Wester.  Following that, we decided that we really should re-watch the film that created the phenomenon.  This past weekend, we finally got around to doing so.

While we thought that “Star Wars” held up quite well (both to our memories and to its place in cinema history), especially after seeing “The Force Awakens,” we were stuck by two things that neither of us had really considered when (at ages twenty-five and fifteen respectively) we had seen the original film.  One, how uniformly white (unless alien or robotic) the Star Wars future was.  Two, how very few females there were in it.

Especially given that classic Star Trek had already created a future in which both women and people of varied ethnic backgrounds were clearly visible, this stuck us as a big step backwards.  I was further struck that – especially since so many people praise Princess Leia as a landmark female character, capable of taking action even while filling the role of the central element in the “rescue the princess” motif – no one seems to have noticed Leia was also the only human female character in the film.  (I’m deliberately omitting Luke’s aunt, since a couple lines and dying off-stage does not a character make.  That’s hardly better than an extra.)

Did this bother me at the time?  Heck, no!  I was fifteen.  If there were any characters I wanted to be, they would have been Han Solo or Chewbacca, not Luke or Leia.

But as I was musing about this, it blended with the question I’d been asked about inspiration, which led me in turn to think about how much writing is done as a reaction to some other work of art (in which I most sincerely include movies, television, and the like).

Reactive inspiration comes in many forms.  For purposes of this wander, I’ll divide them into the general, the desire to fill in the blanks, and, lastly,  those stories that are written in reaction to being angered or offended by an element in another work.  These elements of reactive inspiration are not, by any means, completely isolated from each other.

General reactive inspiration is the most simple.   Sometimes it comes from a negative reaction to another piece as in, “I could do as good a job as that!  If he/she can get published, then why can’t I?”  The positive variation on this is, “I love what X writes, so I want to write it, too.”

Fill in the blanks is another form of reaction.  A good example is Neil Gaiman’s story “The Case of Death and Honey” reprinted in his recent collection Trigger Warnings.  Although on one level Gaiman’s story is part of the almost too vast canon of fiction written using Sherlock Holmes, it distinguishes itself by not just providing another gas-lit adventure, but by seeking to supply a reason why Sherlock Holmes took up beekeeping in his retirement.

Fill in the blanks is also, of course, the source of a huge amount of fan fiction, a topic I have dealt with elsewhere and so won’t repeat here.

My initial contact with Roger Zelazny grew (in part) out of a reaction that he had really missed a lot of potential story regarding the three princesses of Amber (as opposed to the nine princes) and a desire to fill in the blanks.

However, although both general and fill-in-the-blanks are certainly valid examples of reactive inspiration, a much more interesting form of writing can occur when Author B has a strong reaction to some element in a piece by Author A.

A good example is how Joe Haldeman wrote The Forever War as a reaction to Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.   In this case, the field benefited by acquiring not one but two stories dealing with a similar theme – but from widely different perspectives.

I once heard Vonda McIntyre discuss how her Nebula award-winning novel The Moon and the Sun came from her reaction to the ending of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

When I was talking about this subject with a friend, he mentioned reading in an interview in Amazing magazine how Ted White wrote his novel By Furies Possessed in reaction to the classic Star Trek episode “This Side of Paradise.”

I’ve often wondered if the “Chani” of C.J. Cherryh’s Pride of Chanur and sequels were written as a direct response to Larry Niven’s Kzinti from his “Known Space.”  If they weren’t, it’s an amazing example of zeitgeist in action.

Sometimes the reaction is more generalized.  For example, if I’d been thirty, not fifteen, when I first saw Star Wars, I likely would have reacted by writing fiction that explained where the rest of the women were in this future – and along the way providing a lot more cultural and ethnic diversity.  Also, Chewbacca would have gotten a medal along with Han and Luke.  (Even at fifteen, I was seriously bothered that he was left out, since he took all the same risks as those two humans.)

Although I wasn’t there to do that, other writers took up the challenge, so that the question today is not “Why Rey?” but “Why hasn’t Hasbro failed to produce Rey action figures?”  Sometimes reactive fiction really can change the world.

Of course fiction can be (and much SF/F is) written in reaction to larger social, political, or scientific trends (or perceived trends), but that’s a whole ‘nuther source of inspiration.

At its richest, reactive inspiration can lead to a complex exploration of a topic, an expansion of what is seen as possible, to the point that the once all-white, nearly all male “Star Wars” universe has made great strides in envisioning a more complex future tapestry both in terms of gender and race.  (There are still some white hat/black hat problems, but I’ll spare you that…)

At its worst, reactive inspiration becomes a reductive element, creating smaller and smaller communities, none of which will work with, much less acknowledge, the other.

I know where I’d like to be…  How about you?

(Thanks to Ruth Stone, who asked the question.  I hope she enjoys this reply.)

FF: Assorted Flavors

February 12, 2016

This week has mingled older and newer works.

For those of you just discovering this feature, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazine articles.

Persephone Poses

Persephone Poses

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

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

Recently Completed:

Going Bovine by Libba Bray.  Audiobook.  Very different from her “Diviners” novels, but an interesting read.

Murder at the ABA by Isaac Asimov.  Pretty good mystery.  Fascinating time capsule look at publishing in 1975.  How much has changed…  How much has not!

Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix.  Audiobook.  Lighter than much of his stuff, Regency romance crossed with a good adventure.  Shows a fondness for both.

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman.  Short story collection.  Varied and interesting stories..

In Progress:

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.  Audiobook.  I’ve read these before, but a revisit has been amusing.  I’d forgotten how well Doyle did setting.

Seeds of Rebellion (Beyonders #2) by Brandon Mull.  Just started.


Not much!

TT: Exploring Wilderness

February 11, 2016

ALAN: Recently I re-read Wilderness, a novel that Roger Zelazny wrote in collaboration with Gerald Hausman. The reason that I picked it up again was because I was about to go and see the move The Revenant. One strand of Roger’s novel centres around the same story used by the movie. Hugh Glass, an early nineteenth century trapper, was mauled by a grizzly bear. His companions deserted him, leaving him to die. But somehow he survived. Slowly his wounds healed and he dragged himself back through the wilderness, seeking revenge on the men who left him behind. (The other strand in the story tells of John Colter who, almost a generation before Hugh Glass, made a dramatic escape through the wilderness, hotly pursued by Indians).

One Take on the Tales

One Take on the Tales

As an aside, The Revenant is an excellent movie, and Wilderness is an excellent novel. But it raises some questions in my mind. Perhaps you can help me with them?

JANE: I’ll try.  I actually know Gerry Hausman fairly well.  In fact, I just finished writing a short story for an anthology he’s editing.  So, if there’s a question I can’t answer, I can ask Gerry.  Go ahead!

ALAN: The novel is quite untypical of Roger’s work in that it is a piece of historical fiction based on a true story. Do you have any idea what motivated Roger to venture so far out of his normal area of work?

JANE:  In part, you can blame Gerry Hausman for taking Roger in this direction.  Among Gerry’s talents is that he is a professional storyteller.  He has a wonderful deep voice and spins out a tale so you can practically imagine you’re there.  After returning from Sun Valley, Idaho, where he’d told the story of John Colter, he…  Well, let me have him tell you in his own words:

“…when I returned from this trip I confided to Roger that it would be neat if we might tell the story together but I suggested we’d merge two men into the novel and one would crawl while the other ran. He picked the crawler, Hugh Glass, and I picked the runner, John Colter. Roger liked the idea a lot and suggested we call it ColterGlass, and that became the original title.”

ALAN: So how did the writing work? Who did which bits? I’ve always found the mechanics of collaborative writing interesting, particularly since you and I started collaborating on these tangents.

JANE: Ah-hah! I don’t need to guess about this, since Gerry mentioned it in his e-mail:

“When he [Roger] was ready to write he asked me to do one chapter on Colter to start it off. I did. I was a little nervous showing it to him. At that time I’d never written an historical novel. It was daunting. But I did the first chapter and Roger came over for dinner and after we ate and joked around he sat down in my little studio in Tesuque and read the first chapter of Colter Glass on my computer. He looked up from the page, six or so, and said, ‘This is great, Gerry, let’s go with it. I will write chapter two about Glass getting mauled by the bear and you should have it by sometime next week maybe.’ That’s how we worked for the rest of that school year. He’d write one, I’d write one. I think both of us were excited about the trajectory of this story and the fact that it was new territory for each of us. He’d never done a Western before and of course I hadn’t either.”

ALAN: One thing always puzzled me when I read the novel for the first time. It’s told in alternate chapters, with two completely separate stories going on. John Colter’s dramatic escape from the pursuing Indians, followed by Hugh Glass’s slow crawl out of the wilderness. But in real life, those two events happened many, many years apart. I was always curious as to how (and if!) those time differences would finally be reconciled in the novel.

JANE: Here’s what Gerry had to say about that…

“Looking back on it I remember that he remarked to me that the book had elements of ‘the future’ in it. Anyone who reads the end of the novel realizes that there is a view from space – that was Roger looking down from afar, imagining how an astronaut would see the marvelous spinning gyre of Mother Earth. The way the novel also weaves a pattern out of the men’s two separate but not unlike life stories is also on the edge of sci-fi. We manipulate time a good bit, don’t we? And whether old man Colter really met young man Glass is open to conjecture. Some historians say it really happened, but in this genre nothing is provable. It is all conjecture.”

ALAN: Yes indeed. When I got to the end I remember thinking that it could only have been written like that by someone who felt comfortable with what I suppose I have to call the science fictional way of looking at the way the world works. What did the reading public make of it? How well did it sell?

JANE: As I recall, the book was well-received.  I went and looked at the reviews, and they were very solid, both from professionals and in “reader reviews.”

I’m not sure about sales figures though, and I’m not going to ask Gerry that one, because that’s not considered polite!  However, I wouldn’t be surprised if, with the release of The Revenant, it isn’t finding a whole new audience.

ALAN: As far as I know, Roger only wrote one other non-genre novel (a thriller called Dead Man’s Brother), but it wasn’t published until many years after his death.

JANE: I think that’s right.

ALAN: Have you ever written outside the SF/F field?

JANE: I have and so have a number other SF/F writers.  Maybe we can explore that next time.

Stories from Odd Places

February 10, 2016

I’ve mentioned before that one of my hobbies is beadwork.  I hadn’t done much beading for a while, but when I picked it up again this autumn, I made a strange discovery…  Rather than taking away from my writing time, beading seems to have triggered something in my creative subconscious, so that I’m finding that my writing is coming more easily.

Two New Projects

Two New Projects

(I also seem to have found a story in the beads, but I’ll get to that in a moment.)

As an added bonus, I have completed some cool projects.  The two bracelets pictured were done in even count flat peyote stitch, using Japanese delica beads.  To give you a bit of perspective, the longer one is about six inches long.  Both use thousands of beads.

For the dragon, I adapted a pattern by Suzanne Cooper from her book Adorn Thyself, but changed many of the colors so I could use beads I already had in my stash.  This meant a lot of checking and rechecking, but I like the end result.

The snowflake bracelet is adapted from an amulet pouch pattern in another of Suzanne Cooper’s books: Dancing Light.  The center follows her pattern, but the outlying areas are my own adaptation.   Cobalt blue is one of my favorite colors, so I’d always wanted to do this pattern, but hadn’t really wanted to make another amulet pouch.

I also made a couple of pairs of earrings and, in searching for just the right beads, I may have found a story.

I’ve been doing various forms of beadwork since I was a kid, when my mom taught me how to sew sequins and beads onto felt.  This is a relatively simple process with a lot of immediate reward, so I became hooked for life.  In college, I bought an inexpensive bead loom and did a lot of flat work – much of which I still have.  I mostly did it for the pleasure of the process, without thinking about length or what I’d use the end result for.

In an odd way, now that I think about it, those pieces are a lot like early writing exercises: attempts to get something to fit together, to see how various elements (colors, textures, bead sizes, types of thread) would work together.  As with my writing, I’m self-taught, although I do use books as resources.

While I learned a lot about beading and beads from making loomed pieces, I also learned that I don’t really enjoy the process of stringing a loom.  Moreover, pieces are limited by the width and the basic structure of the loom.   Finishing loomed work is a complete pain and, as I was discussing with a lady at a bead shop just a couple days ago, if you mess up, the whole project is ruined.

I turned to making earrings using brick stitch.  Not only didn’t these require a loom, they permitted me to experiment with using a wide variety of different beads for fringes.  Again, I made many pairs of earrings, often for the pleasure of experimenting with colors, lengths, weights, and the like.  I have a lot of these still…  I should see what condition they’re in, since I didn’t know as much about thread at the time.

I’d seen pouches woven entirely woven from beads (as opposed to fabric or leather pouches with beads added on).  I think Dancing Light was the first book I bought that showed the technique for even count tubular peyote stitch.  The explanation was excellent, and I still return to it when I need a refresher.

Lynchburg, Virginia, where I was living at the time, didn’t have great sources for beads, so I had to settle for relatively expensive beads sold for embroidery work.  Unlike most of the beads sold at the chain hobby store in town, these could be counted on to be evenly sized – something that I’d learned when doing loom work was absolutely essential.

Because of buying these beads, I also took up doing small bits of bead embroidery.  I’d never much liked embroidery with just thread, but toss in beads!!  That was a different matter entirely.

When I moved to New Mexico, I discovered I was in an excellent place to find beads.  Sharon Weber – wife of David Weber – shares my interest in beadwork, so when she and Weber would come to visit, we’d hit the stores.  One of the best birthday presents I’ve even been given was when they gave me the pattern and all the beads to complete a beaded amulet pouch with a wolf motif.  (You can see a picture of it here on the FAQ page of my website.)

I continued expanding my techniques – and my collection.  With so many larger beads available, I was very tempted by bead stringing.  It’s a lot more complex than it looks – especially when working with crimp beads, which is what you use to attach findings (that is, various fasteners) to beading wire.

Along the way, people started giving me beads.  These might be leftovers from a project or something seen at a flea market or yard sales, too irresistible to pass up.  They might be part of a kit or an old necklace, too worn to wear, but begging to be recycled.

And, of course, I impulse-bought some myself, as well as buying beads for a specific projects.

This past weekend, when sorting through beads, looking for just the right beads to make a birthday present for a friend, I came across a bag of beads I’d bought through the mail.  When they arrived, they were more shoddy than advertised, so they’ve sat in a plastic bag, too interesting to throw out or pass on, but not right for the initial reason I’d purchased them.

Then, this weekend, they inspired an idea for a story.  I don’t like to talk about stories before they’re written, but I’m intrigued by the challenge.  I’m going to see if I can fit it in between tax prep and typing up that longer piece I handwrote over the last few months.

When I look back over this rambling (and very incomplete) history of my love for beadwork, I’m fascinated to see how it parallels my love for and interest in various types of writing.

I like to experiment.  I don’t like being locked into a particular structure.  I don’t like doing the same story (or piece) over and over, but I do like expanding on a skill or technique (which is why I do enjoy writing series or short stories with continuing characters).  I like bright colors and evocative patterns.

Is it any surprise that doing one feeds the other?  I know many of you have creative activities you’re involved in: not just writing, but music and various visual arts.  Do you have anything you do that – although seemingly unrelated – intensifies your “main” passion?

Reading Time and Then Some

February 5, 2016

As those of you who read the Wednesday Wanderings already know, I had all four wisdom teeth out on January 27.  Recovery gave me a lot of time to read…

Kel Contemplates Pop Divadom

Kel Contemplates Pop Divadom

For those of you just discovering this feature, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazine articles.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

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

Recently Completed:

Kitty Goes to War by Carrie Vaughn.  Audiobook.  Not the war I anticipated, but an interesting story nonetheless.

Maddigan’s Fantasia by Margaret Mahy.  I really liked this one.  Quite different from Alchemy, but inventive in a different way.

Somebody to Love? A Rock-and Roll Memoir by Grace Slick with Andrea Cagan.   1998 autobiography (with Ms. Cagan’s role in the collaborative writing process explained more than usual, which appealed to me).  Ironically, when I went to look up if Slick had updated the volume, I learned that Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson (both founding members of Jefferson Airplane) had just died, on the same day, both age 74.

Bluefeather Fellini in the Sacred Realms by Max Evans.  I read Bluefeather Fellini last year and wanted to read the sequel.  This book is hard to categorize, but I found it oddly fascinating.

In Progress:

Going Bovine by Libba Bray.  Audiobook.  Very different from her “Diviners” novels, but in ways I find appealing.

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman.  Short story collection.  About four stories in.  Saving the introductions to individual pieces until I’ve read the story.


While in waiting rooms, I looked at some alien texts: People magazine and its ilk.  Clearly, I live on a different planet.  I don’t know who two-thirds of these “celebrities” are or care about two-thirds of the topics discussed.