Archive for March, 2016

Series: Is There Another Word?

March 9, 2016

This weekend, Jim came to me and asked: “What’s the next book in the Narnia series?  I mean, in the order things happen, not the order that’s printed on the books.”

Which is a Series?

We Call Both Series…

To clarify why he was asking this, the numbers usually printed on C.S. Lewis’s classic Chronicles of Narnia are based on order of publication.  They begin with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, followed by Prince Caspian, on to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and so forth.

If, like Jim, you’re interested in reading the books in the order that events occur, then you want to start with The Magician’s Nephew, progress to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, then The Horse and His Boy, and only then on to Prince Caspian, This Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and The Last Battle.

(Actually, I’d skip The Last Battle, but that’s just me.)

Anyhow, this lead to a discussion between us as to what constitutes a “series” proper and what doesn’t…  Arranged by order of publication, the Chronicles of Narnia are only a “series” is the sense that this is the sequence in which the books were published.

This is very different from, for example, Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber or Carrie Vaughn’s “Kitty Norville” books or my own “Breaking the Wall” series or “Firekeeper Saga,” to give just a few examples.  In these books, not only does the order of publication and the order in which events unfold occur in sequence, but the events are closely related in time and usually revolve around the same protagonist or group of protagonists.

Sometimes, as in David Weber’s “Honorverse,” one series generates another that serves to flesh out or enhance the “main” line.  In Weber’s case, two of these are prequels: the “Star Kingdom” YA novels (two of which I wrote with him) and the “Manicore Ascendant” novels written with Timothy Zahn and Thomas Pope.  Two other series flesh out material that wouldn’t have fit into the “main line” Honor” novels:  “Crown of Slaves” with Eric Flint, and “Saganami Island” written by Weber alone.

In all of these cases, however, the books are tied either by order of events, protagonist, or both.

The Chronicles of Narnia are not alone in being widely viewed as a “series,” even though the only thing that holds the books together is that they occur in a shared setting with some overlapping characters.

Andre Norton’s ”Witch World” novels began tightly focused on just a couple of characters (Simon and Jaelithe), but quickly moved on to their children, then left them behind entirely to explore other portions of the world.  When I looked up “Witch World” up on Wikipedia, I found it interesting to note that the listing there did not refer to it as a “series” at all, but as a “project,” with the books within grouped into “cycles” according to location or other elements.

However, most people don’t speak of “Witch World” as a “project,” they call it a “series.”  The same is true with Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “Darkover” which not only wasn’t written in order (the first book published could be considered the last) but for which some of the earlier books were later rewritten, so that the same events could be presented in a more detailed fashion or more in line with how the characters had later developed.  Talk about confusing!

So, here’s my question…  Is there a term for these series that aren’t really series?  And what sort do you prefer?  Or do both have appeal?

FF: Like Potato Chips

March 4, 2016

It’s very strange but, although I’ve been writing a lot, I’ve also been reading a lot.  I’m in one of those moods where as soon as I put down one book, I need to restrain myself from picking up another.

I Wonder How This Tastes?

I Wonder How This Tastes?

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:

The Prestige by Christopher Priest.  Audiobook.  Good detail, but I did feel that one of the major plot elements was not satisfactorily resolved, which undermined the complexity, replacing it with a sense of…  dare I say “prestidigitation”?

Reality Boy by A.S. King.  Not a “fun” book, but a very satisfying one.  A.S. King continues to rise in my already high estimation.

Night Gate by Isobelle Carmody.  This upper level middle grade novel uses the “crossing into a fantasy world from our world” in a creative fashion.  And the dogs…  And goat!

They Do It With Mirrors, Seven Dials Mystery, and The Secret of Chimneys, all by Agatha Christie.  For some reason, this week I fell into a real Agatha Christie mood.  I’m finding her novels are like potato chips, I can’t eat – make that “read” – just one.

In Progress:

Od Magic by Patricia McKillip.  Audiobook.  I’d been meaning to get to this, but kept forgetting.  Enjoying.

Maskwork by Jennifer Foreman.  Part history of the form, part project book.  Entirely fascinating.

Winter Door by Isobelle Carmody.  Just starting.


Research reading of various types.

TT: Why Cross?

March 3, 2016

JANE: So, Alan, these last couple of weeks we’ve been talking about authors who write in more than one genre.  Up to this point – other than asking Gerry Hausman how he and Roger Zelazny came to write Wilderness – we’ve mostly been speculating.

Nagle, Williams, Roberts

Nagle, Williams, Roberts

What do you think about asking a couple of writers why they made the choices they did?

ALAN: I think that’s an excellent idea.

JANE: Although there are many writers who work in more than one genre, I thought I could ask three I know fairly well, since they live here in New Mexico: Pati Nagle, Walter Jon Williams, and John Maddox Roberts.

Are you familiar with their works?

ALAN: I’m very familiar with Walter Jon Williams’ SF but I’ve never seen anything by him that wasn’t SF. I’ve read and greatly enjoyed John Maddox Roberts’ SPQR historical mysteries. I’ve only read one book by Pati Nagle, an excellent SF novel called Pet Noir about the adventures of Leon, a genetically modified cat. I also have a historical novel by her – it’s called Glorieta Pass. But I haven’t read it yet.

I suppose the obvious first question is, where did they all start? And what made them start there?

JANE: Let me ask them…  Hang on!

Okay.  I’m back.  I found the answers quite interesting.

Most of our readership would be most familiar with Walter Jon Williams as a writer of SF, occasionally of Fantasy, but he actually started by publishing historical novels – although this was more by chance than otherwise.

Let me put it in Walter’s own words:

“That’s kind of a complex question, because I’ve been writing since I was a child.  I wrote and submitted in practically all genres, but the first books to actually sell were historical fiction.

I didn’t set out to be a historical fiction writer, it was editors who decided that, by buying the Privateers & Gentlemen series. “

ALAN: I’ve never heard of that series. What are the books about?

JANE: They’re grand “Age of Sail,” I believe in the same time period as the Patrick O’Brien “Aubrey and Maturin” novels.  After being out of print for a long time, they’re now available as e-books.

ALAN: That’s interesting. I love “Age of Sail” novels. (Alan does a google). Ah, here we are – all the novels are available as an ebook bundle from Baen books at a very reasonable price.

Clicketty-click. Click, click.

OK – I’ve bought them

JANE:  That’s interesting.  I didn’t realize they were available there.  I’m sure they are on other platforms as well, for those who prefer them.

Now, John Maddox Roberts has also written SF/F, but he’s probably best known for his SPQR Roman mystery novels.  Indeed, he’s been interested in writing historical novels all along, but his Rome was not his first choice.

Again, he explains the start of his writing career far better than I can:

“In 1973-74 my wife, Beth, and I were living in Scotland. I’d been planning to start writing seriously, so I borrowed a typewriter from our local baker and hammered out two books over a period of several months.  The first was a straight historical novel, set during the Hundred Years’ War. It was a novel I’d been planning for some time but I was also an avid SF reader and had some ideas for a science fiction novel so I tackled that next.  When we returned to Albuquerque in early 1975 I sent the sf novel to Doubleday because I’d been told they had a new sf editor who was looking for new talent. She bought it and I decided to concentrate on sf for the next few years. I’d sold my first novel to the first publisher I submitted it to and I was also told that wasn’t supposed to happen.”

ALAN: I first came across John Maddox Roberts with the SPQR novels and I absolutely loved them. But because of that, something in my head says that he is a historical novelist and therefore I have a deep reluctance to read his SF. Clearly this makes no sense, and I’m being stupidly biased. But nevertheless…

JANE: That is a problem for writers who write in more than one genre, and one reason that so many who do use more than one name.

 Pati (who publishes as Pati Nagle, P.G. Nagle, and Patrice Greenwood) also was interested in multiple genres pretty much from the start.

As she says: “I’ve always made up stories about whatever caught my imagination, so it’s hard to identify a single genre. My first experiments in writing for publication were science fiction, followed by fantasy. My first short story sale was fantasy. My first novel sale was historical fiction.”

ALAN: It sounds like she has had a foot in every camp right from the very beginning. Good for her. How many feet has she got? (Don’t answer that!)

Could you ask them why they’ve ended up writing the kind of things that their names are (these days) most closely associated with?

JANE: I could indeed ask, but since I suspect their answers will be fulsome and thoughtful, and may lead to other questions, how about we chat about that next week?

Blank Pages

March 2, 2016

This past week, I acquired a new blank journal.  I’d filled all my others (and one spiral notebook) when working on the mysterious “handwritten piece,” which I started back in mid-October, finished in mid-January, and have been typing up, revising, and suchlike since.

Dragon of Potential

Dragon of Potential

I’m up to 30,000+ words and have quite a ways to go.

But that’s neither here nor there.  As you can see from the attached picture, my new journal is very lovely .  The cover was sculpted in polymer clay by my friend (and fellow writer) Emily Mah Tippets.  It’s a solid little book, and I’m still debating what to put into it.

I don’t know how it is for most people in these days of computers, but blank paper has a lure for me that a blank computer screen does not.  It seems like the incarnation of potential, which is rather ridiculous, since realistically it’s the reverse.  After all, on a computer screen, you can immediately erase whatever you write or draw.  When you write on paper, even with a pencil, the impact is much more permanent.

I don’t keep a diary (although I do keep a record of my writing).  I keep a separate journal of what I’m reading.  And I have a handmade book in which I occasionally record random thoughts.

What would you put in a blank journal?

This week’s installment is on the shorter side because I’m nursing a sore shoulder and keyboarding puts a stress on it.

Funny thing.  Handwriting doesn’t cause me any pain at all, so, don’t worry…  I’m still writing.