Archive for April, 2018

FF: Lots of Variety

April 27, 2018

Ziggy Contemplates Chocolate

The last week or so, I’ve been taking up a challenge offered by some fans of cozy mysteries that they as formulaic as I’d come to believe.  I certainly liked those I’ve recently completed.

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.

What are you reading?

Recently Completed:

My Wicked Half Sister by E.M. Tippetts.  This series is really hard to classify.  The first book was more or less romance.  The next couple were CSI mysteries.  This one is what anime/manga would call “slice of life.”  Suffice to say, I’ve enjoyed them all.

The Easter Egg Murders by Patricia Smith Wood.  Loosely based on an actual murder here in New Mexico.

In the Bleak Midwinter by Julie Spencer Fleming.  Audiobook.  A WW reader recommendation.  Good characterization and setting.

In Progress:

Beneath a Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire.  Audiobook.  Just started.

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burns.  Middle grade novel.  A WW reader recommendation!

Also:

After watching the anime of Card Captor Sakura for the first time, I had a desire to re-read the manga.  Interesting to see the changes made between the storylines.  Unlike most of the time when such happens, I had no clear preference.  I’m curious which storyline the new Card Captor Sakura (“Clear Card”) will follow.

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Zoos: Changing Faces

April 25, 2018

Tiny Teacher

I’ve almost always lived near a good zoo.  I grew up in Washington, D.C.  which hosts the National Zoo.  My dad took us there frequently when we were small.  These were the days when you were still encouraged to feed the elephants peanuts, so my first memories of those magnificent creatures includes looking up into questing trunks while my feet crunched on peanut shells.  We also always made a point to go visit Smokey the Bear.  My dad would hoot at the howler monkeys and they would hoot back at him.

For the longest time, I treasured a memory of patting a white tiger kitten that had been let run around in an enclosure that was little more than a chain-link fence surrounding a grassy area.  I squeezed through the towering adults, hunkered down, and pushed my hand through to pat the big kitten.

As I grew older, I decided that I had probably imagined that incident.  Then, when I was a freshman at Fordham University, I went to the Bronx Zoo, which was an easy walk from campus.  There, in the building that housed the big cats, I read on a sign how the magnificent white tiger lounging on the other side of the bars had been born at that National Zoo at just the right time to match my memory.

What do you know?  I probably did pat that tiger.

As much as I treasure those memories, one of the things I am happiest about zoos is how I’ve seen them change.  When I was a child, many animals were kept in iron-barred, concrete-floored cages.  The exception to this were hoof stock.  They at least had dirt-surfaced or grassy holding areas.

The change started when I was a kid.  Signs began to include the little antelope head emblem that indicated an endangered or threatened species.  Holding areas began to include toys or play areas.   The message that the older style “zoological garden” had sent was “Here are animals for you to look at, just as you might go to a flower garden to look at flowers.”  Now the message was, “Here are rare creatures.  Treasure them.  They might not be around much longer.”

Change was a slow process and one that didn’t happen overnight.  My first visit to the Bronx Zoo was definitely a mixed experience.  While I delighted in finding my childhood dream had been a childhood reality, I also teared up when I saw that many of the big cats were being held in cages of the sort that had long vanished from the National Zoo.   However, during my eight years in the area (I stayed for graduate school), I saw exhibits change.  By the time I left, the concrete-floored cages were either empty – their occupants moved to much nicer areas – or the cages were being used to house much smaller creatures.  Enclosures had also been adapted so that vertical as well as horizontal space was useable.

Jim tells me that the Rio Grande Zoo – now part of the Albuquerque BioPark – has undergone a similar transformation during the years he’s been going there.  I’ve certainly seen changes during my twenty or so years as a visitor.  Many of the larger animals are housed in exhibits that are lower than the walkway, giving the animal room and privacy, freeing them from being encased within four walls and a ceiling.  Even those animals that live in more traditional “cages” often have access to more than one exhibit area.  Best of all, they can take themselves off exhibit if necessary.

I’ve heard some older people complain about how these changes make it harder for “the kids” to see the animals.  Funny, but I don’t see “the kids” doing much complaining.  In fact, they seem delighted with the need to search for the animals.  What used to be a shuffle from cage to cage is now closer to a treasure hunt.

During our visit to the building that housed reptiles and amphibians, we were right behind a trio of energetic kids – probably eight or nine years old.   They paused at every exhibit, no matter how small, searching for the snake or lizard or turtle or frog.  Every discovery was crowed over, the cleverness of the creature’s natural camouflage a never-ending delight.  Often they paused to read the sign, exclaiming over what the creature ate or some other neat fact.

There’s also a greater emphasis on preservation and breeding programs.  No longer are we just warned that a creature is endangered, we’re given a chance to be part of saving that species.  Recently, the Albuquerque BioPark has hosted events encouraging responsible purchasing, recycling, providing education about renewable resources, and similar topics.

In addition to giving humans a chance to see living representatives of exotic animals (as opposed to the taxidermy displays that were common in museums when I was young), zoos also provide homes for representatives of the local ecosystem.  On our last visit, Jim and I had a very nice visit with a Western screech owl who – because of a damaged eye that meant she couldn’t be safely released into the wild – is now a member of the education staff.  Several avian exhibits housed injured roadrunners along with the more exotic birds.  On another visit, we met the education team’s porcupine.

Zoos are no longer gardens for viewing animals; they’re places that seek to educate humans about the vast biosphere in which we live.  It’s a change I really enjoy, and one reason that – even though I usually don’t have time to visit the zoo more than a couple times a year – I have a membership that costs me more than the price of admission would.  It’s my way of saying I appreciate what they’re trying to do.

FF: Appreciated Your Suggestions

April 20, 2018

This Looks Interesting…

Thanks for the suggestions last week.  I have a list!

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.

What are you reading?

Recently Completed:

Implanted by Lauren Teffeau.  ARC of a forthcoming August release.  Cyberpunk where the cyber isn’t just window-dressing but it integral to an increasingly complex plot.

The Skyliners  by Louis L’amour.

In Progress:

My Wicked Half Sister by E.M. Tippetts.  This series is really hard to classify.  The first book was more or less romance.  The next couple were CSI mysteries.  This one is what anime/manga would call “slice of life.”  Suffice to say, I’ve enjoyed them all.

The Easter Egg Murders by Patricia Smith Wood.  I usually shy from “cozys” with cute titles, but I know the author and she has lots of grit so I’m giving her first a try.

In the Bleak Midwinter by Julie Spencer Fleming.  Audiobook.  A WW reader recommendation.  So far good characterization and setting.

Also:

I’ve been re-reading one of my favorite manga before bed.  Gives me really odd dreams.

Pruning Your Words

April 18, 2018

Asphodel Within a Tangle

Imagine me, sitting behind a table with my books spread out before me.  A lady with a pleasant smile comes up and starts examining the wide variety of offerings.

NICE LADY: “So when you write a book” – she is holding a copy of Asphodel – “do you plan it all out in advance?”

ME: “Not really.  I start with an impulse or idea – in this case, the idea of someone waking up in a tower and not knowing why she is there – and then I go on the adventure with my characters.  I’d get bored if I knew everything that was going to happen in advance.”

NICE LADY: “So, that means you don’t really plot?”

ME: “Oh, I definitely plot.  I simply plot as I’m writing, and then afterwards.”

NICE LADY: “Afterwards?”

ME: “That’s right.  After I’ve finished the story, I know what it’s about, so I can cut away the bits and pieces that don’t serve the story.  It’s like pruning a tree or shrub or even a tangle of vines.  Getting rid of extra material makes what’s left stronger.”

NICE LADY: “Oh…  Don’t you feel that wastes your time?”

ME: “Not at all.  Even those writers who outline in advance find that they need to do some shaping and trimming when they’re done.  It’s just a question of when you do the pruning.  In my case, I do most of it after I’ve written the full piece, not before.”

NICE LADY: “I’d think that plotting as you write would be confusing.  How do you keep track of who’s doing what and where?”

ME: “In my case, I do what I call reverse outlining.

 “This helps me keep track of who is doing what where and even when.  I talk about my technique both on my blog and in one of the essays in my book on writing: Wanderings on Writing.”

NICE LADY: “Thanks!  I’ll definitely keep what you’re saying in mind.  I thought I had to know everything about my book and characters before I started.  This is a relief.”

ME: “Glad to help.  Just remember, it’s okay to explore as you write but, at some point, you will need to free your plot from the tangle.  Otherwise, the story you’re trying to tell will end up strangled.”

FF: Back in the Game

April 13, 2018

Starlight: Child of the Wild West

The short story is completed, but working on it did take chunks of my week and weekend, so I’m moving slowly back into the reading game.

Right now, I’m in the mood for stories that can have plenty of tension, but will have a positive resolution.  Any suggestions?

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.

What are you reading?

Recently Completed:

Tempest and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce.  Audiobook.   As book one of what looks to be a two book series, lots of build-up for events that didn’t happen.  If you’ve read Pierce’s “Immortals” cycle, you have a strong sense where this series has to end.

In Progress:

Implanted by Lauren Teffeau.  ARC of a forthcoming August release.

The Sky-Liners  by Louis L’amour.  I’d be more annoyed at how the main female character is portrayed except that I’ve met woman who would behave just this way.  Is it sexist if it’s correct?

Also:

Making my way through magazines, but more keep showing up!

What Happened Next

April 11, 2018

To Quail Or Not To Quail?

Last week I told you about how Jim told recounted a dream he’d had, and how what he told me generated an idea for a short story.  Here’s what happened next.

After Jim told me about his dream, I scribbled a few pages.  Then, when I had spare time, I did research to round out my idea.   As soon as I could, I started writing, beginning with typing up what I’d written longhand.  It looked good.  It even looked great, but it also was getting long and the dramatic climax that had been my initial inspiration was nowhere in sight.

When I had written over 4,000 words (that’s sixteen pages, give or take) and the story was still a long way from completed, I had a sudden, horrible realization.  What I was setting up would only work if I turned my initial concept into a novel.  I’d thought my research would tighten down my options.  Instead, it had given me too many cool ideas.

As you know, I have nothing against writing novels.  However, I really didn’t think that the initial vivid image I’d garnered from Jim’s dream would be served by being an element in a novel.  Instead, it would be buried under a lot of other material.  It might even be squashed flat.

Reluctantly, I realized that if I were to serve my initial inspiration, I wouldn’t just need to re-write and tighten.  I would need to start over entirely.

Lots of writers quail at the idea of starting over.  They don’t want to “waste” what they’ve already written.  I’m not immune to that fear but, as I paced around my yard, I realized that the creative work I’d done to that point wasn’t wasted.  Some of the cool stuff I’d found in my research would certainly be useful later.  The fictional New Mexico mining town in which I was going to set the story was considerably more well defined.

So, on Friday, I put aside all the other jobs on my list and began all over again.  I wrote through Friday, although I did need to take a break to attend a meeting.  By close of day, I had replaced my initial 4,000 words, and was on my way toward the final scenes.

On Saturday, I’d hoped to go to a coin show with Jim and our friend, Michael Wester, but I cancelled so I could keep writing.  When Jim and Michael came back from the show, I stopped to have a sandwich with them, then I returned to writing.  By late afternoon, I had a rough draft with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

I also had assurance as to whether or not I’d written a better story, but at least I hadn’t let my initial inspiration become buried under too many words and too complex a plot.   I printed what I’d written, set it aside to mellow, and gave myself Sunday off.  Monday would be soon enough to give the story another look.

As of this writing, I’m still in the polishing and refining stage.  I’m only sure of one thing.  I’m glad I didn’t quail at the challenge of starting over again.  Sometimes, that’s the only thing to do if you want to write the best story possible.

FF: Behind the Curve

April 6, 2018

Ogapoge: Boxes With Lando

The short story I talked about in my Wednesday Wanderings this week has meant I’ve been doing less reading for fun as I do reading for research, so fewer books on the list.

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.

I’d love to hear what you’re reading!

Recently Completed:

Lando by Louis L’amour.  Reread.

In Progress:

Tempest and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce.  Audiobook.

Implanted by Lauren Teffeau.  ARC of a forthcoming August release.

Also:

Finishing off magazines before I’m overwhelmed by them!

Dreams Into Stories

April 4, 2018

Maybe Kel’s Writing

Jim and I often tell each other about our dreams.  One of the nice things about living with him is that, for the first time in my life, I share a bed with someone who dreams nearly as vividly as I do.  Jim doesn’t remember his dreams as often as I do or in as much detail but, when he does, they’re worth hearing about.

This past weekend, Jim mentioned a particularly vivid dream to me.  Even as he was telling me, I thought “This would make an interesting element in a story.”  No.  I didn’t go and write myself a little note.  I do that sometimes, but not often.  To be honest, I react to a list of story prompts the way I do to homework assignments.  I feel I’m somehow falling short if I don’t use them all.

Yes.  I know that’s ridiculous, but that’s the way my brain works.

Anyhow, I enjoyed Jim’s tale, then went on with my morning.  My mom was visiting.  When she came out to chat over coffee, I forgot entirely about Jim’s dream.  Later, when Mom needed some down time, I parked myself on the sofa to read.  The last thing I expected was for a story to start talking to me.

When it did, I grabbed a pen and some paper.  By the time Mom came out to rejoin us, I’d covered about four pages with scribbles.  The rest of the weekend, whenever I had a moment, I did some research to fill in details.

I’ve had other stories begin with dreams.  One of these, “Behind the Curtain of Flowers,” is included in my short story collection, Curiosities.  I’ve used elements from dreams in other short stories and even novels.  Pearl and Albert, two of the main characters in the “Breaking the Wall” novels (beginning with Thirteen Orphans), first introduced themselves to me in a dream.

In fact, now that I think about it, my earliest “stories” began with telling my dreams to my sister, Ann, who would listen with drowsy interest – and maybe a little doubt as to whether I was making some of it up.  Maybe I was.  Dreams do so often suffer from continuity problems!

I haven’t quite finished writing the story I started this weekend.  If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take advantage of my inspiration flowing fast and hot, and get back to writing!