Archive for January, 2018

New Bookcase!

January 31, 2018

I want to thank those of you who have written to express enthusiasm about my new novel, Asphodel.  Some of you have been very eloquent, and I appreciate your taking the time to share your delight. Now the tough part, for me.  I’d like to ask for you to please share your reactions with people you think might also like Asphodel.  Word of mouth is the best publicity.  These days you can “talk” to a lot more people by leaving reviews on bookseller websites.   It only takes a short time and may help sales.

Jim’s Artistry

An added bonus is that you can also encourage the author!

Speaking of books…

One of the extremely cool things Jim did over his extended holiday break was build us a new bookcase for our office.  (He also built us a new laundry hamper that doubles as a cat perch and scratching post.)

When we had our office built onto our house some dozen or so years ago, we also purchased matching office desks.  These came “to be assembled,” except apparently the shippers didn’t think that the tops arriving intact was a requirement.  Four tops were delivered before we received two that didn’t have a crushed side along one edge.

After the desks were assembled, we had two spare desktops.  Jim was prepared to cut them up and put them in the trash, when I had the brainstorm that if we put legs between them, they’d actually make a pretty classy coffee table that could go in front of the picture window.  Jim did this and we were very happy.

But a dozen years of cats running and sliding, strong sunlight, the occasional open window, and one mystery spill, made the once spiffy coffee table look a bit shabby.  And for some reason we really needed more room for books.

Once again, my problem solving abilities and Jim’s gift for making dreams into reality came into play.   In front of the large window in our living room, we have a rough pine box.  This box serves many purposes.  It stores board games.  It’s a low table.  It’s a backrest for people who sit on the floor.  And, most importantly, at least according to our four feline co-residents, it is the perfect place to sit and watch birds.

We humans appreciate that the rough wood doesn’t show damage from cat claws, or from the occasional splash of rain.  Therefore, when Jim and I started considering what we’d like to use to replace the office coffee table, we rejected many options as too delicate.  Glass-topped  furniture didn’t appeal, because that’s just something else that needs to be kept free from paw prints and dust.

Eventually, Jim decided that he could build us a bookcase.  He found some rough finished wood intended for accents on walls or decks.  A great advantage of this was that it was already stained and grooved so that pieces would fit tightly together, making a beautiful top.  He found molding with a leaf and vine pattern for the top and front edges.  He bought lumber and nails. Then he set to work.

When Jim was done building, he painted everything but the top matte black, so that the new bookcase coordinated with our desks, which have light colored wooden tops and black sides.  Magnificent!

In case you wonder, the books on the shelves are part of our working library of history, archeology, and linguistics.  The ornaments are, starting at the top left: a kaleidoscope that was a gift from our friends Scot and Jane Noel, because they really liked my novel, Child of a Rainless Year; next a blue and silver fabric dragon I bought at my first ever SF con – Lunacon in New York; then a Japanese bento box I use to store the parts for small craft projects in process.   On the right is a black and white cat stuffy that, except for the red chiles on its fur and whiskers, is a ringer for our cat, Kwahe’e.  This cat was a gift from Sharon and David Weber on one of their visits to New Mexico.  Finally, on the bottom is a faux bronze statuette of wild horses that was a gift from Jim’s parents.

Best of all, the new bookcase is cat-approved.  They’re up and down from it all day, and state categorically that they’re the finest ornaments of all.


FF: Decisions!

January 26, 2018

I did pick a novel to read, and enjoyed.  Now I’m meditating on which will be my next audiobook.  Decisions, decisions!

Kwahe’e Rests After Having Writ

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, 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 magazines.

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 Dark Prophesy: Book Two of the Trials of Apollo by Rick Riordan.  Audiobook.  Looking forward to Book Three, which comes out later this year.  We’re already sure we know who the third evil emperor will be.  Pretty obvious – which isn’t bad.  Just obvious.

And Having Writ… by Donald R. Bensen.  Alternate history from 1978.  Nice twist is having events related from the POV of an alien.  Glad I skipped the intro, though, as it had a major spoiler.

In Progress:

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater.  I tried this one in audio and gave up because of the reader.  Now into the print version.  Very different from other work by her that I’ve read.


The Dragon of Despair by Jane Lindskold.  About a third through.

TT: Jackboot Fandom

January 25, 2018

ALAN: While we were talking about themes in costuming, I remembered a rather disturbing trend I observed that I think began in the 1980s – a lot of fans started dressing in futuristic, militaristic uniforms and stalked around conventions waving science fictional weapons of one sort and another.

Future Soldier

This group was so prominent that it even had a name. We referred to these people as “Jackboot Fandom” (at least that’s what we called them over here). I didn’t like the trend at all.  The glorification of militarism that it implied made me feel very uncomfortable. But for a long time, I seemed to be in a minority of one. I remember I was on a convention committee once and I suggested that perhaps we ought to have a weapons policy to try and curb this sort of threatening display. My suggestion was ridiculed.

Perhaps I was ahead of my time. These days, weapon policies are very common and Jackboot Fandom has all but disappeared, thank goodness.

JANE: The late 1980s was when I first started attending cons, but I can’t speak to Jackboot Fandom specifically.  If it was there, it was part of the general landscape.

Certainly there are still are people who dress in a semi-military fashion.  Let’s face it, a uniform is a pretty easy costume option.

ALAN: Indeed it is, and I have no objection to it per se. But when it is taken to extremes, it can be more than a little threatening and it makes me feel uneasy.

JANE: I agree.  As you noted, weapons policies are now a common element at conventions.

I remember many years ago attending a convention where the con-com took “peace bonding” weapons to an extreme clearly meant to make swaggering around in a costume with a weapon look ridiculous.  Swords and guns were tied into place with liberal amounts of fluffy pink ribbon.

ALAN: What a brilliant way of cutting the Gordian knot. Ridicule never fails!

JANE: I don’t believe this particular element survived more than a con or two, but while it lasted, it made its point.

What’s interesting is that these days the fans in military costumes are often involved with convention security.  In the U.S., this began in the mid-1970’s with a group that still exists today: The Dorsai Irregulars.

The Dorsai Irregulars were founded by Robert Asprin who asked permission from Gordon R. Dickson to name the group after his super-solider race, the Dorsai.  The need for the Dorsai Irregulars was linked to a factor we discussed a few weeks ago – the growth and fragmenting of fandom.  When everyone wasn’t part of the same small “family,” problems – including harassment and theft – began to crop up.

Conventional security groups didn’t understand fans and often made matters worse – so the fans decided to police themselves.  You can read more about the Dorsai Irregulars and their history here.

ALAN: I think that’s a good idea, but I suspect that fandom in New Zealand is probably still a bit too small to need the formality of that kind of organisation. Though having said that, we certainly do have a need for some mechanism to cope with harassment and the like. Recently our conventions have followed trends from overseas and have set out specific harassment policies with designated people who can be approached if problems develop.

JANE: Harassment policies are a great idea.  Even just the statement that certain types of behavior won’t be tolerated creates a safe space.  But sometimes that safe space meets unusual challenges.

Back when I lived in Lynchburg, Virginia, a convention I was associated with was being harassed by the Christian evangelist Jerry Falwell and his followers.  Our local fans were warned in advance not to rise to the bait and they didn’t – not even when Falwell and some of his followers went into the restaurant and made loud comments about “That Satanic D&D convention.”  When this didn’t work, Falwell and a few of his cronies stood in the lobby and began to sing hymns.

The only response they got was led by the Klingon club who headed convention security: They led the polite applause.  There was something so lovely about the towering, apparently militaristic, Klingons leading the effort to “turn the other cheek” and offer the “soft answer that turns away wrath.”

ALAN: That must have been quite a sight to see! I always enjoy it when “christians” find themselves out-christianed.

JANE:  As was mentioned in the comments a couple weeks ago, David Weber’s Royal Manticoran Navy has a very visible following, complete with uniforms.  However, RMN club members are not all militaristic.   Several times, I’ve encountered a fellow who dresses up as a member of the clergy.  I believe he even performs religious services.  Although the RMC sometimes offers convention security, their main focus (outside of Weber’s fiction, of course) is fundraising for charity.  One of their pet charities (pun intended) is big cat rescue, in honor of the treecats who are key elements in the series.

You can read more about the RMC here.

ALAN: And of course it’s only a short step from cosplayers to furries. On the surface, furries are just cosplay people who like to dress up as furry animals, and they are definitely a genuinely interesting, and often extremely cute, sight at conventions. But the fact that they are a recognised (and recognisable) sub-group suggests that perhaps there is rather more to them than just that.

JANE: Oh!  I was Guest of Honor at a furry convention some years ago, and found out a lot about the complexities of that particular fandom.  Let’s talk more about it next time!

Asphodel: My Latest Novel!

January 24, 2018

In these Wanderings, I’ve mentioned Asphodel on and off as I’ve been writing it.  Now Asphodel is available as a trade paperback.  Prefer e-books?  You can also find Asphodel on Kindle, Nook, i-Tunes , GooglePlay, and Kobo.


 Now that Asphodel has been released, I feel more comfortable talking about it.  Don’t worry.  There won’t be any spoilers.

First, here’s the jacket copy:

Prison or Refuge?

Nameless in a doorless tower graced with seven windows, she is imprisoned.  Who is her jailer?  What is her crime?

After she discovers the secret of the seven windows, the nameless one, accompanied by two impossible companions, sets forth on fantastical journeys of exploration.  But, for the nameless one, learning her name may not be a welcome revelation, and the identity of her jailer will rock the foundations of a tower that has come to be as much refuge as prison.

From various comments, I’ve gathered that some people think that Asphodel belongs to one of my existing series.   That isn’t the case.  It’s a stand-alone novel, and likely to remain so.

Asphodel had an interesting starting point.  The only writers’ group I belong to is called First Fridays.  First Fridays was founded by Tony Hillerman, Norm Zollinger, Madge Harrah, and several other New Mexico authors to be a place where professional writers could meet up and talk shop.  Its only rules are that First  Fridays has no officers, no agenda, and that all members must be professionally published.

These days the format of the meeting is a sort of round table, where everybody present takes a few minutes to talk about what they’re doing.  One day, after about half the group had talked – mostly about business – Paula A. Paul said: “Isn’t anyone writing?”

Her words hit me between the eyes.  I realized that, since I’d finished my last project, many weeks had gone by without me writing any fiction.  Non-fiction, certainly.  But no fiction.  Business considerations seemed to take all my time.  Worse, whenever I started thinking about writing something, all that business stuff started chattering in my head.  The buzzwords of the moment.  The latest argument on social media.

I realized I didn’t really like the inside of my own head very much.

Paula’s words continued to haunt me.  After a few days, I said to Jim, “I’ve got to start writing again.  I don’t know what and I don’t want to know what.  But I want to write the way I used to write, just because I love it.”

And Jim, bless him, said, “Go for it.”

To keep myself from falling into old patterns, I divorced myself from my computer.  Instead, I took out an address book that had been part of a set my sister-in-law, Beth, had given me one year for Christmas.  I pulled out a box of colored pens, sat down at the kitchen table, and promised myself one hour a day just to write.

The first word I wrote was “Asphodel.”  The story flowed from that point.  Whenever I found myself thinking too hard, I’d pull out my set of Story Cubes, grab a few at random, throw them down, and then work whatever hit me into the story.  I changed color pens a whim.  When I started, I thought I’d only be writing a short story but, when I finished the address book, I found there was more story there.  I grabbed a notebook in which I keep track of birthdays and started writing on all the blank pages.  When I was done with that, I found another partially-used blank book.  Finally, I ended up with a spiral notebook.

When I finally wrote “The End” I found myself curious as to how much I’d written.  I started typing and discovered that I had something like 58,000 words – too long for most short fiction markets and, anyhow, the story defied most market categories.

Jim was curious about what had been keeping me so absorbed all those weeks, so I printed him a copy.  When he started coming home and telling me about where he was in the story, what he was wondering about, I began to wonder if I’d accidentally written something that was coherent to someone other than myself.  As a test, I asked a couple of friends I could trust to be brutal with me if they’d read it.  They both did, both liked it and both said they hadn’t wanted it to end.

I balked at writing more for no reason other than to write more.  But I promised to keep myself open to the idea that there was more story.  And a few weeks later, the characters started talking in my head, picking up as if we’d never stopped.  I wrote more, gave the manuscript to a few more friends – deliberately picking some who I thought would hate it.  No one did.

As a final test, I read the whole manuscript aloud in twenty-minute intervals to my gaming group.  Not only did they seem taken with the tale, they didn’t have any trouble remembering what was going on, even though a week, sometimes more, would have gone by between readings.

So, I decided that I wanted to share the story with a larger audience.  My agent offered to shop the manuscript around, but I was so closely immersed with the tale by now that self-publishing seemed the best option.  Rowan Derrick (who as one of my gamers was familiar with the story) agreed to do the cover, taking on my request to put together a photo mosaic that would be both surreal and firmly anchored in the material of the novel.

And now, here it is…  My paper ship built from scraps and colored ink.  I hope you will climb aboard and take the trip – discover for yourself the secret meaning of Asphodel.

FF: Making Up My Mind

January 19, 2018

With the impending release of Asphodel taking a lot of my spare time, I haven’t picked my next novel to read, but have been reading the most recent Smithsonian before bed.

Can She Break the Glass?

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, 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 magazines.

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 Wind in His Heart by Charles de Lint.  Very strong.  I liked it!

Page: Protector of the Small, Book Two by Tamora Pierce.  Audiobook.  Re-read.

Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones.  Re-read.  Well worth it!

In Progress:

The Dark Prophesy: Book Two of the Trials of Apollo by Rick Riordan.  Audiobook.  Just a few chapters in.


The Dragon of Despair by Jane Lindskold.

TT: Envisioning Stories

January 18, 2018

JANE: As you were saying last time, Alan, fan costumes aren’t necessarily restricted to costumes based on visual media.  This is absolutely true…  In fact, clever readers of these Tangents may notice that the fans who were shown last week cosplaying Sailor Moon (media) are shown cosplaying characters from a novel.


Do you have any cool examples?

ALAN: Yes I do. In 1979 the Worldcon was held in Brighton, in England. I was there, and at the masquerade (that’s what we call the formal costume contest and presentation) I saw the most breathtaking costume I’ve ever seen. A very beautiful (and very courageous) woman appeared in front of the crowd as the heroine of Robert Silverberg’s award winning novella, Nightwings. She was completely naked apart from a G-string and a huge pair of wings.  The wings were hooked across her shoulders and attached to the G-string at waist level to help balance the load.  The wings themselves were so enormous that she needed two handmaidens to support and carry them behind her. The applause for her costume was deafening, and not just because she was naked and beautiful, but because the whole effect was simply stunning. She really was the Nightwings character.

The BBC had a camera crew at that convention and you can get a glimpse of her on Youtube here.

She appears roughly 20 minutes into the film.

If you watch the whole thing, see if you can spot me. I am briefly on camera, but if you blink you’ll miss me.

JANE: I looked but I couldn’t find you, but then I’m not sure I’d recognize me from 1979, much less someone else.

ALAN: As we’ve said, the idea of dressing up to attend a convention has never really gone away.  These days all kinds of brilliant costumes are in evidence. The people who do this are called cosplayers, and often they combine their interest in costuming with a passion for live role-playing.

JANE: Did you know that the word “cosplay” is actually Japanese?  It has its roots in Japanese anime/manga fandom, and is an abbreviation of “costume/costuming play.”  Such pseudo-English words are fairly common in modern Japanese.  A few years ago, “cosplay” started being applied to costuming in general, and so made its way into English.

ALAN: That’s interesting. I didn’t know the derivation. I’d assumed it was just a Humpty Dumpty portmanteau word.

JANE:  And it is…  Just with an origin a bit more eclectic than most.

Live action roleplaying (or LARPS) started showing up around the time I was first attending conventions.  I believe that the initial impetus was related to the popularity of vampire fiction and, in particular, to a series of roleplaying games then published by White Wolf.  Vampire: the Masquerade was the first of these.  As the title indicates, the idea is that vampires live among us, masquerading as normal humans.  Therefore, the initial LARPers actually didn’t wear costumes.

However, even without costumes, they stood out at cons because they used a variety of poses to indicate whether the character was using magical abilities.  One of the most common, as I recall, was hands crossed over the chest, which meant that the person was invisible.  So you’d have these people (usually dressed in black) pacing around the convention with their arms crossed over their chests, not interacting with anyone because they were invisible.  It was, to put it mildly, surreal.

ALAN: Of course it was – this was at an SF/F con and a con is not a con without a touch of the surreal somewhere around.

JANE:  But getting back to what we were saying earlier, even leaving out those costumes where the influence may be as much media-based as from the text – for example, Harry Potter or Game of Thrones or various comic books — there are many examples of fan costumes based on novels.  Roger had numerous photos of fans costumed as characters from his Amber novels.  When Tamora Pierce came to Bubonicon, a group of fans (featured in today’s photo) did a complex group costume as characters from her Tortall universe.    I’ve even heard of fans cosplaying Firekeeper.

ALAN: Costumes can also often be thematic rather than being derived from specific literary or other media characters. So, for example, we may have cyberpunk or steampunk costumes, beeping or ejecting clouds of steam. And in these days of the fear of a zombie apocalypse, hordes of the undead are not uncommonly seen lurching around conventions.

Did you know that in 2011, Wellington City Council actually implemented a Zombie Apocalypse Plan (known as ZAP)?

JANE: Are you kidding?

ALAN: ZAP had its serious side – Wellington has regular earthquakes and, being a coastal city, is very susceptible to tsunamis. Anything that makes the populace consider the consequences of a disaster has to be a good thing, if only to force them to prepare for it by laying in supplies of food and water. And vinyl records, of course.

JANE: Vinyl records?

ALAN: Yes. ZAP suggests that the very best way to dispose of a zombie is to hurl a vinyl record at its head so that the skull is pierced through and through.

One councillor commented that it was about time the city had an effective zombie policy. “We haven’t had one before,” he said, “and look what happened. I’m surrounded by zombies on the council.”

Just in case any of our readers think I’m joking, information about ZAP can be found here.

JANE: I believe you, even without the link.  You wouldn’t lie to us!

In addition to costumes based on published fiction or literary themes, there are costumes based on a character from a role-playing game or from the costumer’s work-in-progress.  I always enjoy these because they’re a reminder of how many different forms the creative impulse can take.

ALAN: But as wonderful an addition to a convention as costumes can be, sometimes they can indicate an unsettling trend.  Maybe we can talk about that next time.

Chatting With Walter Jon Williams

January 17, 2018

JANE: This week I’m interviewing Walter Jon Williams, the award-winning author of numerous science fiction and historical novels, about his latest release: Quillifer.

Walter and Quillifer!

So, Walter, I always start interviews with this question: 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?

WALTER:  I decided I wanted to be a writer as soon as I knew there were such things as writers, which was before I had learned to read or write.  I would dictate stories to my parents, who would write them down for me.  Fortunately, none of these efforts have survived.

JANE: Your latest release is Quillifer.  To the best of my knowledge, this is your first Fantasy novel.  What drew you – who are best known for cyberpunk (Hardwired) and space opera (the Praxis series) – to trying your hand at Fantasy?

WALTER: Sometimes the universe just gives you a story and tells you to write it.  I took a 90-minute walk while listening to an audiobook of Peter Ackroyd’s biography of Shakespeare, and by the time I came home I had six books plotted and the name of my character.

That happened a number of years ago actually, but I hesitated since I knew that I’d have to give up my SF career to write a six-volume fantasy.  Then I managed to sell Quillifer to one publisher and a continuation of my Praxis SF series to another, so I ended up living in the best of both worlds.

But the main reason I’m working on the series is that I find Quillifer an irresistible character.  I hope readers find him likewise.

JANE: Quillifer (who insists on being called only by his surname) is very much the “charming rogue” type of character.  In this, he’s definitely a first cousin to one of my favorite of your characters – Drake Magistral whose story is told in the three “Divertimenti” novels: The Crown Jewels, House of Shards, and Rock of Ages.

What is the appeal of this sort of character for you?

WALTER: Rogues see through pretense.  Han Solo punctures the solemn nonsense of the Star Wars movies, Flashman exposes the hypocrisies of the Victorian era, Rhett Butler laughs at the South’s code of chivalry, and Loki is the one you watch in the Thor movies.

Rogues tell the truth.  And of course rogues are very charming, which they have to be if they’re going to go around telling the truth all the time.

And one note: Quillifer isn’t Q’s surname, exactly, it’s the only name he’s got.   He doesn’t need another one.

JANE: Thanks for the correction.  I’d missed that!

Although Quillifer is definitely a Fantasy, in many ways it reads like a historical novel.  The world-building – from architecture to commerce to religions and style of dress are all very solidly grounded.  I assume your travels about the world had a definite influence on this.  Is that correct?  Did any specific countries influence this book?  What else did you draw upon?

WALTER: I was aiming to make the world as real as I could, and I did my best to build it brick by brick.  Many of the settings in the novel are based on places I’ve been, though of course they’re all mixed together, so you end up with buildings from Gdansk in a setting from Turkey, and inhabited by people from Dorset.

Once I started doing research I kept finding out absolutely factual stuff that was far more fascinating than anything I could invent.  Turnspit dogs, for example— a now-extinct breed of dog trained to run in oversize hamster wheels, turning the spits before a fire.

And King Arthur’s Court, which is in Gdansk, Poland.  You might have thought that King Arthur had his court in Britain somewhere, but you’d be wrong!  King Arthur’s Court was a high-gothic clubhouse for rich bourgeoisie, who dressed up as knights and held feasts and jousting and other entertainments.  They were cosplaying the Middle Ages in the actual Middle Ages.  I just couldn’t make up something like that.

JANE: I agree!  I knew about turnspit dogs, but not about the cosplaying.  Very cool…

Happily, Quiliifer has its own plot and a very satisfying conclusion.  Earlier, you said you have plans for other novels in the series.  How many can we look for?

WALTER: I’ve contracted for two more, which will appear at approximate two-year intervals, Quillifer the Knight in 2019, and the third in 2021.   If the first three books do well, I’ll write the next three, and take Quillifer from the age of eighteen into old age.

JANE: You mentioned you have other projects you’re working on.  Can you tell us more about these?

WALTER: I’m also working on the Praxis, the Science Fiction Series That Wouldn’t Die.  The publisher tried to put an end to the series after the third book, but couldn’t stop the public from buying them.  All three of the first books have been through many printings, and have never been out of print, and it’s been fifteen years!  So now I have a new editor, and he’s acquired three more.  Right now I’m dealing with the editor’s notes for The Accidental War, which should appear in September of this year.

I’d like to thank my editors Joe Monti and David Pomerico for agreeing to let me alternate books.  Working alternately on Quillifer and the Praxis will keep me from getting stale on either project.

So I’ll be busy for the next several years, and I hope readers will enjoy the books if they can find them, which in these days of collapsing bookstore chains is beginning to be a problem.

JANE: Thanks for taking time out of what sounds like a very busy schedule to chat.  Now I shall release you to go write.  I, for one, will definitely be reading The Accidental War when it comes out.

FF: Making Time to Read

January 12, 2018

Jim’s finishing off a long holiday, but even with that pleasant distraction there’s been some time to read.

Keladry Poses With Her Namesake

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, 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 magazines.

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:

First Test: Protector of the Small, Book One by Tamora Pierce.  Audiobook.  Re-read.  Warning…  This book has a tough first third.  Pierce does not pull her punches as to how hard a road Keladry will need to travel to become even a page, much less achieve her dream of becoming a knight.

In Progress:

The Wind in His Heart by Charles de Lint.  Over halfway.  Enjoying!

Page: Protector of the Small, Book Two by Tamora Pierce.  Audiobook.  Re-read.  Obviously, I’m hooked all over again.


Wolf’s Head, Wolf’s Heart by Jane Lindskold.  I want to go visit New Kelvin for real.

TT: A Serpent in Paradise?

January 11, 2018

JANE: So, last time you were talking about how a larger club can embrace numerous sub-fandoms.  Certainly, that can work but from what I’ve seen – and please remember, I’m not in any clubs — the biggest conflict seems to be at the convention level, when a sub-section of the group wants to have media guests.

Sailor Moon!! at Bubonicon

Unlike author and artist guests, who attend for free or (in the cases of Guests of Honor) for expenses only, media guests are expensive and often do little more than a canned presentation, then sit and sign photographs of themselves (for which they charge even more).  The movie Galaxy Quest captures this very well.

I’ve seen more than one group fragment over this.

ALAN: We don’t have this problem – we have a national media convention called Armageddon which is run as a business (and which, I am told, makes a healthy profit).

The national SF conventions themselves are much smaller affairs, run by volunteers, and they seldom have media guests because Armageddon takes over that function for them.

JANE: There are media conventions here, too.  That isn’t really what I’m talking about.  The problem that can arrive is when a convention that’s more like what you describe as your national SF con develops a group of fans who can’t understand why a media guest can’t be added to the roster.

ALAN: Despite what I just said, there have been occasions when our national conventions have had media guests. If you are careful about who you invite, it can work out surprisingly well. One year our national convention had Danny Don Jules (the actor who played Cat in Red Dwarf) as the guest of honour. He turned out to be an absolutely wonderful guest – he was fun, he was funny, he was very approachable and best of all he was a very knowledgeable science fiction fan who was absolutely thrilled to have been chosen to play a part in an SF television show. It was one of our more memorable conventions – everyone had a ball!

JANE: How did Mr. Jule’s participation come about?

ALAN: I presume the organiser just felt like it and so she wrote to him care of the BBC. That’s just the kind of thing she would do, and she was astonishingly successful at persuading people to come and be guests at her conventions. She was very good at what Granny Weatherwax calls “Headology”.  She put together several excellent conventions by all by herself, with minimal help from other people.

JANE: She was lucky and I guess your national con must have a good budget!

ALAN: No. They are all self-funding from membership fees and the like. There are no external funds for the convention to draw on.

JANE: Impressive!

I’ve attended various conventions that featured media guests.  Most were, sadly, pretty unmemorable. Some didn’t even seem to know much about their own characters or shows.  Knowing that those people were being paid large amounts to smile and sign their name, when I was racking up expenses to be there and doing multiple program items for which I carefully prepared in advance…  Well, I’ll just leave it there.

However, some years ago, New Mexico Tech had a very small SF convention.  The organizer had a family relationship to Nichelle Nichols who played Uhura on Star Trek.  She was amazing.  Not only didn’t she mind being at a con that was small and without a lot of frills, she was thrilled to be free to walk around and be part of the event.  She went and watched the belly dancers, talked to anyone who wanted to chat, and – although I will always regret missing this – apparently went to a campus bar and tried to get the uptight students to dance.  I would have danced with her, no question.

But, as with your story about Danny Don Jules, Ms. Nichols had a lot to offer as a person.  Her speech was not only about Star Trek but about the responsibilities of being a role model.  Anyone further from the whining has-beens of Galaxy Quest could not be imagined.

George Takei was also delightful the two times I crossed paths with him.  So I think media guests may have something to offer – but only if they’re permitted to be more than talking heads for their fictional selves.

ALAN: Media SF/F invites another aspect of fandom to blossom forth – costuming. Some of the costumes can be quite elaborate and are often more than just a simple copy of what the characters wore on TV or in the movie. I remember once seeing a delightful pink dalek trundling itself down a hotel corridor.

JANE: Most conventions here have formal costume contests, as well as informal “hall costumes.”  Some conventions give prizes for both.

Costumes can be a great way for fans to shout out what they’re interested in.  Our local con has some pretty magnificent storm troopers from Star Wars who show up, as well as people meticulously costumed as characters from various anime and comics.

I’ve actually learned about various shows by asking what inspired a particular costume.

ALAN: Not all costumes are necessarily movie-based.  I remember one in particular…  But let me see if I can find a picture of it to share.  Then I can tell you about it next time.

Eighth Anniversary (Almost!)

January 10, 2018

This Saturday is the eighth anniversary of the Wednesday Wanderings.  In all eight years, I haven’t missed a single week.  Many of my posts specifically on writing can be found in my book Wanderings on Writing, but there’re also available on the site.

Wanderings on Sofa

I certainly plan to continue with these Wanderings in 2018.  While posts will include announcements of new projects, interviews, and progress reports, doubtless I’ll wander on about whatever’s on my mind.

This brings me to the matter of memory foam.  Last week, Jim and I replaced the pad on our futon sofa.

Side note for cat owners: If you have a problem with cats using your sofa as a scratching post, you might want to consider a futon sofa.  Although the initial outlay is similar to that for a “real” sofa, the three basic elements – the frame, the pad, and the cover – can be replaced separately.  An added bonus is that most futon frames are made of wood or metal, which doesn’t look nearly as much like a scratching post to a cat as do the arms, legs, and backs of a standard sofa.  Best of all, you get an extra bed out of the deal, one that’s a lot more comfortable than most sofa beds.

Anyhow, the first pad we bought for our futon sofa had been built much like that for a “real” mattress featuring a combination of springs and padding.  It had a lot more bounce than the usual cotton batting futon, and did well by us for many years.

However, archeology is profession that is not particularly kind to backs.  Eventually, Jim hinted that he’d like to get a replacement pad.  When we went shopping, we discovered that there was a new option – a pad made completely out of memory foam.  We tried it in the store, liked it, made our purchase, and took it home.

After removing the old pad, we cut away the packaging that covered the folded memory foam pad.  We expected it to stay folded but, to our amazement, it slowly unfolded, flopping open flat.

No problem, right?  After all, we had to put the new cover on, and that could only be done with the mattress flat.  We worked the new cover around, admiring how tightly it fit, then shoved the frame and pad into the sitting position.  We arranged the pad into place and stood back to admire the effect.

The memory foam pad – still “remembering” that it should be flat – popped out of the frame, flat as a board.  After several more attempts to get it to stay in place, including sitting on the pad, we called the store.  The manager gave us a few tips, including suggesting that we position the pad then place something heavy on the seat while the memory foam set into its new position.

We were at a loss as to what to use to provide even weight.  Then Jim remembered that we had boxes of my out-of-print hardcover novels in the garage.  We brought in six boxes, positioned the pad once more, then – while I sat on the sofa to hold it in place – Jim set the boxes down.  We left it this way overnight and the next day all was well.

The behavior of the memory foam, especially its unwillingness to give up what it “remembered” as normal, made me think about my own life as a writer.  A lot changed in 2017, and I expect more to change in 2018.  No doubt, there will be times when my mental landscape will want to spring back into old patterns, but I plan to be stubborn and push back.

If I learned one thing in 2017 it was that while the new patterns can be tough, there’s a lot to like as well…