Archive for October, 2018

Hard Right Turn

October 31, 2018

Jim’s Halloween Diorama: Beaded Spiders By Jane

So, today is Halloween, and with singularly poetical timing, Jim is having knee replacement surgery on the one day of the American calendar when it is considered perfectly appropriate to wear a mask.  The surgeons should be very happy.  This event is the next hard right turn in our lives, which I hinted about at the end of last week’s Wednesday Wandering.

Depending on when you’re reading this, I’m either getting ready to go to the hospital, am at the hospital, or maybe even am home from the hospital and racing around taking care of all the chores that I didn’t do because I spent the day at the hospital.

For the next few weeks, my social media presence may be limited.  Unlike some people who would doubtless be posting updates every half-hour or so, that’s just not my thing.  And, hey, I don’t even own a smartphone, so even if it was, I couldn’t.  I will check and respond to e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook as I can, but taking care of Jim and our home are going to be my first priorities.

Jim is a good candidate for knee replacement, being more or less in shape (other than having a knee that doesn’t work right), relatively young, and supremely determined.  Nonetheless, despite the fact that these days almost everyone either knows someone who has had knee replacement surgery or has had some joint replaced, that doesn’t change that this is a major surgical procedure with a long recovery period.  (As in several months, minimum, perhaps a year before full strength and flexibility returns.)

Yes.  We know that Jim needs to do his PT.  Yes.  We do know pain control is important.   Yes.  We do know he’s going to hurt like hell but, in the end, be so glad that he did this.  Thank you.  Please don’t share your horror stories about what went wrong for you or for a friend of a friend.  We’ve heard those stories.  They don’t help.

Since Jim has always done his share of chores around our house – up to and including cooking, laundry, and pet care – I’m going to have a lot of extra work, above and beyond being the only driver and the main caregiver.  If and when I have any extra energy, I hope to put it into writing.  That may be a fantasy.  I won’t know until I get there.

So, Happy Halloween.  Wish us more treats than tricks…  I’ll catch you when I can!

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FF: Rolling Along

October 26, 2018

Ziggy Wants to Be Harriet for Halloween

One thing I like about travel is having more time to read.  On road trips, audiobooks come into their own.

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:

Earthquake Weather by Tim Powers.  Good and creative, although – my personal opinion – the characterization is not as strong as in the prior two novels.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen.  Audiobook.  To my surprise, I really enjoyed.  Almost despite herself, Catherine is blessed with a solid dose of common sense.

Swords Against Death by Fritz Leiber.  A Friday Fragments reader mentioned the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser tales, and I couldn’t resist re-reading at least some.

Turbo Twenty-Three by Janet Evanovich.   Audiobook.  We find these books good for road trips since the reader is brilliant, and the plots not overly demanding.

Little Red Rodent Hood by Ursula Vernon.  Harriet the Hamster Princess is appealed to by a child in distress… but is everything as it seems?

In Progress:

Swords in the Mist by Fritz Leiber.

The Moons of Barsk by Lawrence M. Schoen.  Audiobook.

Also:

I almost never get a chance to read the convention program when I’m at a con, but I often read it after.  I’m currently dipping into the gorgeous one from MileHiCon.

Wild West Weekend: MileHiCon 50

October 24, 2018

Just Part Of The MIleHiCon 50 GOH Line-up

Where do I start?  Cool panels?  Meeting up with friends too long not seen in person?  Getting a chance to chat with writers and artists whose work I’ve long admired?  Learning I was a key member of the archer team defending Gondor?

I guess I’ll be boring and go chronologically…

But first I’d like to thank two people who helped make the con special for me: readers and Firekeeper fans, Jason and Christine.  These hard-working people separately found time during their very busy weekends to travel to MileHiCon to meet me.  You can’t possibly understand how honored I am.  I hope you had fun.

So…  This weekend’s adventure in more or less chronological order…

Jim and I had a good drive up from Albuquerque to Denver, arriving just about an hour before Opening Ceremonies for MileHiCon 50.  For this landmark occasion, MileHiCon had invited back all past Guests of Honor.  An astonishing twenty-five or so were able to return, making for a showcase to rival most major conventions – and with everyone a whole lot more accessible.

Thanks to a suggestion by Jim Van Pelt, each author had a special Guest of Honor sash to wear.  After putting these on, we quickly scurried into alphabetical order.  Then one by one, we paraded down the red carpet and took our seats on the stage.  I think it was Jeanne Stine who, looking at the stage burdened with lines of chairs, said: “I hope that doesn’t collapse!”

Opening ceremonies were followed by a meet and greet combined with a Guest of Honor signing event.  By chance, I ended up sitting next to Lawrence Watt-Evans.  I’d never met this gentleman before, but he has a special place in my writing life.  He sent me my very first rejection letter.  While he didn’t take my story, he also didn’t crush my hopes and dreams, for which I will always be grateful.

Later, when Jim and I wandered into the bar to find out what the Author’s Networking event was about, we ended up bumping into Steve Brust and accompanying him to his “office” (the outdoor smoking area) where we spent a very happy half-hour or so while Steve quizzed Jim about various archeological theories, and Jim happily dove in to give what answers he could.  (Yes.  I am sensitive to cigarette smoke, but chatting with Brust was worth it!  Besides, he sat upwind from my lungs.)

Saturday morning, we rose early enough to attend the KaffeKlatch in the con suite.  When I was a MileHiCon GOH last year, I’d been assigned this event and immediately became hooked on it as a laid back way to chat with fans and guests.  This year we scored big, because both Jack McDevitt and Barbara Hambly were on deck.  We settled into a side room and enjoyed a free-form chat loosely organized around various media influences on SF and F, going all the way back to radio serials.  I was grateful that my pen pal Paul Dellinger had long ago educated me both in classic SF film and TV, and in those great radio dramas.

Later, I had a panel on “Whatever Happened to… Questions Definitively Not Answered in Your Books.”  This rapidly segued into what might have been called “Who Is Your Audience? And What Mistakes Are You Most Embarrassed By?”  It became very lively…

After that, we snagged lunch, did a quick tour of the excellent art show and dealers’ room, then went off for the oddest GOH presentation I have ever been part of.  Each GOH had been asked to send seven images that would be turned into slides.  We each then had four minutes to make our presentation.  It went astonishingly smoothly, except for when the slides stuck at Jack McDevitt who did a brilliant job of adlibbing while the show was unstuck.  Kudos also to Carrie Vaughn and Rob Sawyer, who each did impromptu presentations for a GOH who wasn’t able to be there for their slides.

The PackaGOHcha was immediately followed by a mass signing, during which I had a chance to briefly catch up with long-time friend, artist Liz Danforth.  After the mass signing, I had my shared GOH presentation with Jack McDevitt.  We had a great time discussing why we love SF, assisted by some very thoughtful questions and comments from the audience.

That was the end of my programming for the day but, after we’d had some dinner, we decided to try something new, so we went off to listen to the Artist Roundtable discussion.  The topic of discussion was how to handle mailing art to convention shows.  Even though neither Jim nor I are artists nor do we have any plans to become such, we very much enjoyed this chance to see another aspect of the convention scene.  An added bonus was a chance to chat after with artist Chaz Kemp and his writer wife, Carolyn.

Sunday began again with the KaffeeKlatsch, for which this time I was an official host along with the aforementioned Chaz Kemp.  Attendance was lighter than Saturday (doubtless because so many people had been up way too late), but it was a great way to get ready for the day.

Later that day, we were back in the con suite to help Carrie Vaughn celebrate the release of her new novella Paranormal Bromance.  It’s set in the same universe as her “Kitty” books and features three “Millennial” generation vampires.  If the sample she read is any indication, Paranormal Bromance is going to be both funny and thoughtful.  As a bonus, Carrie explained to me what the term “Bromance” means…

Then we raced down to attend the GOH presentation by artists Lubov, Teresa Mather, and Liz Danforth.  Despite difficulties with the visuals, these three talented artists gave a great presentation.  I was especially delighted when Teresa Mather devoted her presentation to the work she has done on carousels throughout the country, but all of it was fascinating.

My Sunday panel was titled “Creating Fictional But Meaningful Religions.”   Since I love mythology and anthropology, I’ve been on quite a few similar panels.  This was, by far, the best.  The panelists were well-informed and actually stuck to the topic – using examples from their own work and those of other authors to illustrate both the complexities and rewards involved in creating meaningful religions.

That was it until closing ceremonies.  Once again, the format had been cleverly adapted to allow all the Guests of Honor their moment in the spotlight without ever becoming repetitious.  However, not one of us knew what would be expected until we entered the room and took a seat at the front of the room: each of us would be responsible for introducing the person on our right.  Given that we’d grabbed chairs at random, this was quite a challenge.  Happily for me, I was to introduce Lawrence Watt-Evans with whom, as noted above, I have a bit of personal history.  Barbara Hambly introduced me with true panache, given that until this weekend we hadn’t spoken for more than a few minutes.  She ended by revealing my key role as a defender of Gondor.  Now I understand all those curious dreams…

Even when the con had ended, the fun wasn’t over.  Author/editor David Boop took me, Jim, Steve Brust, and John Forrest out for a wonderful traditional Japanese dinner followed by a jaunt to The Inventing Room for ice cream desserts made on the spot with (among other ingredients) liquid nitrogen.

The drive home from Denver included great wildlife viewing including herds of antelope, scattered deer, red tailed hawks, ravens, and what we’re pretty sure was a beefalo.  I know this last isn’t a wild creature, but, hey, seeing one was pretty wild!

Now it’s back to writing before life does its next hard right turn.  Stay tuned next week for an update as to what that will be…

FF: Murder, Heresy, and Earthquakes

October 19, 2018

“Dandy” Dandelion Reads

I’ll be at MileHiCon this weekend.  I hope to see some of you there!

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:

Murder at the Bar by Ngaio Marsh.  Audiobook.

The Heretic’s Apprentice by Ellis Peters.  Audiobook.  More thoughtful than many Cadfael novels because of the frank discussion of heresy and free will.

In Progress:

Earthquake Weather by Tim Powers.  Almost done, but this is a long novel.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen.  Audiobook.  When I was assigned this book in high school, I didn’t have the background to catch all of Austen’s tart social critiques.

Also:

Getting ready for MileHiCon has taken some  of my reading time, but I’ll make up for it with audiobooks on the road.

Growing Research

October 17, 2018

Blue Speckled Tepary Beans

Last year, I was doing research into desert ecosystems for a story project.  Among the books I read was a short one produced by the Arizona Desert Museum about how various plants and animals adapt to an environment that not only gets very little water, but which also experiences extremes of heat and cold.  The plants mentioned included those that had been domesticated by the indigenous populations.  One of these was a type of bean I’d never heard of before: the tepary bean.

Tepary beans were said to grow in high temperatures, need very little water, and produce beans that are flavorful and very high in protein.  What wasn’t there to like?

Love at first sight is an irrational reaction, so I’m not going to attempt to explain why, but I fell madly in love with the idea of adding tepary beans to our garden.   Oh, I can give logical arguments, such as in recent years we’ve been dealing with temperatures peaking in the low 100 degree range for weeks at a time during the summer, but such logic would diminish my irrational obsession with the idea.

Plants of the Southwest here in Albuquerque carried seeds for a couple different tepary varieties. I chose the one that had a shortest growing time.  That the “blue speckled tepary bean” also sounded rather pretty was an added incentive.

For the next few months, I mulled over where to plant the seeds.  Although we are enthusiastic gardeners, we’re also practitioners of what has sometimes been called the “oasis watering” strategy.  In this, only limited areas (the “oasis”) receive regular watering.  The rest are watered more irregularly.  In our case, we often water by hand using “grey water.”

My research showed that even though tepary beans were listed as needing very little water, they did benefit from being planted in flood plains or other areas that experienced at least limited deep soaking.  I recalled that, in the long bed on the southwest side of our house, there was one row where anything we planted died.  We’d come to the conclusion that its orientation combined with the closeness to the side of the house (which soaks up heat) made this area too hot.

(For those of you who garden, yes, we did make sure the area was getting water.  Yes, we did rotate crops.  Yes, we did amend the soil, including regular trench composting to add slow-releasing nutrients.  Yes, we dug over the soil to assure salts hadn’t built up in that area.)

Since this row had become more or less waste space, we decided to put the tepary seeds in there.  After all, part of the appeal was that they were supposed to thrive on heat and low water.

The seeds germinated rapidly – far more quickly than the bush beans and lianas that we put in around the same time.  The plants leafed out quickly as well.  We observed that during the heat of the day, the leaves would re-orient, almost folding so as to receive less direct sunlight.  Fascinating!

Although the tepary bean plants leafed out quickly, they didn’t flower.  I did some research and decided that maybe – even in that hot, brutal zone – they were getting too much water.  Since we use soaker hoses, it was easy to move these to one side so that the bean plants received less water.  Soon we began to see flowers, tiny pale pink blossoms that shared the tendency of the leaves to hide during the heat of the day.

Later, these produced small pods holding (on average) three to five seeds.  For quite a while, we thought we might only get back what we had planted.  The minute seeds took forever to fill a baby food jar.  Then, late summer, when the bush beans had long ceased to produce, we began to discover more and more tepary pods.  Soon we filled the baby food jar and moved to a larger jar that held about a cup.  We filled that, and moved to a two cup jar.

We quickly learned we needed to pick the pods as soon as they were dry because – unlike most beans (where you can just pick the entire plants and the beans will stay in the pods for later harvest), when a tepary bean pod dried, it twisted in on itself, releasing the beans, sometimes at a distance from the original plant.  We learned that a pop and rattle from the cupboard where we stored the unshelled beans meant that the beans were shelling themselves.

As of this writing, that jar is full and we’ll probably get at least a quarter cup more.  That may not sound like much, but that’s many, many times more than we initially planted.

We plan to save some seeds for next year’s planting, and intend to try some even less hospitable parts of the garden, just to see how much the tepary beans can take.  We might even try a second variety.  There’s one called Santa Rosa that isn’t as pretty, but produces a larger seed.

So, from research for a story came a very interesting gardening project.  We have yet to cook any of the beans, but I’ve heard that tepary bean humus is very tasty.  I’ll let you know!

FF: Company

October 12, 2018

Ogapoge Reads!

Jim’s been away most of this week – he gets home this evening .  In his absence, books have been my companions.  Well, books and cats and guinea pigs and even the fish.  But I’ve been reading a lot.

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:

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.  Audiobook.

Last Call by Tim Powers.  Lived up to good memories so I decided to read the entire “Fault Lines” trilogy.  It’s an unusual series in that the first and second books are completely independent of each other.

Expiration Date by Tim Powers.  Bonus for this one is that it’s set in the three days leading up to Halloween.  Very seasonal!

Summer of the Danes by Ellis Peters.  Audiobook.

In Progress:

Murder at the Bar by Margery Allingham.  Audiobook.  Among her many gifts, Allingham writes phenomenal dialogue and dialect.

Earthquake Weather by Tim Powers.  This is the first time I’ve read this in tight sequence with the previous two.  Interesting to see how elements from the prior novels are woven in from the very start.

Also:

Still looking at various magazines.  The first of the “shop for Christmas” catalogs came in this week as well.

Not Teasing

October 10, 2018

Growing Obsession

Somehow I doubt that if you’re reading this, you want to know how much rain we had on Sunday (about two tenths of an inch) or how many tomatoes we picked yesterday (about a quart of cherry tomatoes and another quart or so of romas), or how the pomegranates are doing (very well, we’re harvesting two or three every other day).

These things are very important to me.  Weather and the garden are two of the foundations of my life in autumn.  Another is pet care.  Another is…  Well, the point is, what I figure you check these Wanderings out for mostly is news about my writing.

This impression is confirmed by how “hits” go up markedly when I talk about some aspect of my work.

I’ve been writing a lot but, since I’m not one of those writers who wants to share every detail along the way, I’m caught in a bind when it comes time to write a Wandering.

Some people have commented that I’m a “tease,” when I comment that I’m busy writing or that I just finished an exciting scene, but don’t share anything about the content.  The reality is, I’m not teasing.  A tease is trying to get a rise out of those teased.  I’m not.  I’m just reporting the facts.

Why don’t I like to talk about a work in progress?  Because the story is evolving as I write.  Unlike, say, my good buddy, David Weber, who had a pretty firm idea where the Honor Harrington story arc would end way back when he started the series over twenty years ago, I really don’t know where Firekeeper, Blind Seer, and the rest are heading.  I’m on the adventure with them, a ghost chronicler hovering along behind, transcribing like crazy.

But the process isn’t that linear.  Sometimes while I’m writing a scene, I realize something about a character that gives him or her a lot more dimension.  When I’m polishing my rough draft, I’ll slide in some of this information.  This is one reason I don’t workshop works-in-progress, and rarely do readings from unfinished works.  Until the exploration is complete, I myself don’t know what’s going to happen.  What happens later may change the details I preserve.

When I stopped writing last Friday evening, I had no firm idea what Firekeeper, Blind Seer and the rest would encounter next.  On Monday morning when I sat down to answer the weekend’s accumulated e-mail,  I suddenly realized what Firekeeper, Blind Seer, and their companions were going to see when they moved along a particular passageway.

Sound crazy?  I guess it would to some people, but I bet it doesn’t to everyone.  The creative process is as varied as are those who create.  Mine has worked for me for a good number of books now, so I hope you’ll bear with me.

Ask me about the teppary beans!  I can tell you all about those.  Maybe next week?

FF: A Time and a Place

October 5, 2018

Kel Knows Not to Look Too Closerly at Medusa’s Web

Beginning some re-reading this week…  There’s a time and a place for that, too!

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 Wright Brothers by David McCullough.  Audiobook.  Non-fiction.  Very good.  Author’s contentions strongly supported by primary source material.  McCullough himself reads this one, which is a plus or minus, depending on your tastes.

Medusa’s Web by Tim Powers.  Very much enjoyed.

And Another Thing…  by Eoin Colfer.  Set in the universe of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”  Mostly harmless.

In Progress:

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.  Audiobook.  While waiting for other books to arrive, delving into an old favorite.

Last Call by Tim Powers.  Decided I was long over-due for a read of this particular favorite of mine.

Also:

The beginning of the month has brought numerous magazines to our door.  I’m sampling a few, fiction and non-fiction.

The Pleasure of Process

October 3, 2018

Go For It!

This past weekend, I finished my first kumihimo beaded bracelet and started a new one.

You can see the finished bracelet in the picture above.  What you can’t see is how close that bracelet came to never existing.  When I wrote about beading last week, that beaded piece was about three inches long (the finished coil is seven inches) and I knew it had flaws.  By the time I was done, there were a few more errors.  And the bracelet was too long because an unclear element in the instructions led me to use too many beads.  I have fairly small wrists, so after I attached the findings (fasteners), the bracelet slide right over my hand.

So I thought “Why not just cut it up, salvage the parts, and start over?  You’ve learned a lot about doing kumihimo from this.  Now you can make one that’s the right length has fewer errors.”

And another part of me said, “This is the first time you’ve done one of these.  It’s not as if you plan to sell it or enter it in a competition.  No one but you is probably ever going to notice the errors.  As for the length, you can work with that.  Get rid of the findings that came with the kit, and see if you have any smaller ones.”

That’s what I did.  One advantage of having done beading for so many years is I have an extensive kit of findings.  I also know what options are available.  The faster I eventually used was a magnetic clasp scavenged from a different bracelet that I’d meant to repair for years.  That bracelet was a little snug (which is why it had broken), so I put a new set of findings on it.

Tah-dah!  Now, not only do I have my very first kumihimo project to wear and enjoy – flaws and all – I finally fixed the other bracelet.

While I was sorting  through my kit, I found myself thinking about how easy it is when focusing on what you hope to achieve to forget the pleasure of the process.  Another project I’m involved with right now is a brand new SF/F magazine called DreamForge.  Will it be a success?  I certainly hope so.  I certainly believe it should be.  However, whatever the future brings, nothing will ever take away the pleasure that Scot and Jane Noel, me, art director Mike Zingarelli, and a few others have had in the process.

Please take a moment to look at DreamForge’s first Table of Contents.  When Scot writes about each of the pieces he selected, you can hear how thrilled he is.

My Jim makes arrowheads.  (Yep.  That’s one of his in the picture.)  His favorite material is obsidian, which is fragile, fussy, and often has hidden flaws.  But even when an arrowhead doesn’t come out just as he wanted, he keeps making new ones, not because he’s trying for perfection, but because he enjoys the process.

When following my friend Tori Hansen on Twitter, I learned about something called “Inktober,” which is basically a hashtag that encourages artists to draw one picture a day.  I’ve very much enjoyed looking at various people’s offerings.  To me, the focus of Inktober is on process, not perfection.  Draw a picture.  Post it.  Leave it.  Go do another.  This is the opposite – at least to me – of events like NaNoWriMo, which focus so hard on the end goal (write 50,000 words in a month) that the pleasure of the process is lost.  Writing becomes a race, not an art, not a craft.

My writing this last week went out of control.  I wrote over twice my self-assigned length.  Immersed in the process, I had a wonderful time.  Will I write that much again this week?  Probably not, but I’m starting this week with a strong reminder to myself that even with the writing that is my job, I can take pleasure in the process.

Oh…  The new bracelet I’m working on?  It’s an experiment in which I’m deliberately using slightly off-sized beads in different shades of blue in attempt to get both visual and tactile texture.  So far, so good, and if it doesn’t work out, so what?  I will have enjoyed giving it a try.