Archive for February, 2019

Metamorphic Power

February 20, 2019

Transformation Moments?

What do my second grade teacher and DreamForge magazine have in common?  They both believe that there is power contained in stories.

Last week, I told you about Sister Stephanie, my first grade teacher.  My second grade teacher had just as great an impact, although it took a completely different form.  Physically, Miss Eileen O’Donnell was not at all like Sister Stephanie.  My long-ago memory recalls her as young and slim, with short, curling, brownish-black hair.  Compared to Sister Stephanie, Miss O’Donnell seemed very, very tall.

We first graders were already familiar with Miss O’Donnell because the first and second grade classrooms were next to each other and – I seem to recall – shared a connecting door.  That meant if Sister Stephanie had to step away for a moment, Miss O’Donnell would be the one who supervised us.  I don’t ever recall her having trouble, so her youth was no barrier to her being an authority figure.

Moving over into the Second Grade room seemed to me like a step on the road to adulthood.  Miss O’Donnell was very serious about reading, basic math, and any number of other subjects.  But it was in a subject that wasn’t even part of the curriculum where she had her greatest impact on me.

Although I’d only learned to read the year before, I rapidly read above my grade.  Miss O’Donnell made no effort to hold me back, even though I was less than perfect in spelling and phonics.  When I started outdistancing my classmates, she arranged for me to join an advanced reading group with the third graders.  This arrangement was probably made easier because her sister taught the third grade.  Once a day, I would walk downstairs to join Miss Patricia O’Donnell (who we referred to as Miss O’Donnell Third Grade)  and her advanced readers for exciting ventures into books with chapters.

But although this arrangement saved me from boredom, this wasn’t where Miss O’Donnell Second Grade had her biggest impact.  That, as with Sister Stephanie, took the shape of an unexpected gift: in this case a small burnt-orange hardcover book about ancient history.  It was a comfortable size for me to hold but, unlike most of the books for children my age, it had much more print than pictures.  I remember wondering if I could even read something so grown-up looking.  However, I was lured in both by Miss O’Donnell’s matter-of-fact confidence that I could and by the illustrations.

These were lush full-color paintings, not the simple line drawings or cartoons common in children’s books.   I don’t remember all the places and people that were featured in that book, but I do know that one of my favorites was the story of how the youth who would become Alexander the Great tamed his horse, Bucephalus.  Do you know the story?  The short version is that Alexander had the sense to notice that the horse no one could ride was afraid of his own shadow.  Alexander turned the horse toward the sun, so he could no longer see his shadow.  Then, shedding his own fluttering cloak, Alexander mounted and was able to ride the un-rideable steed.  The two were inseparable from that day forth.

At a time when horses in stories (and reality, for all I know) were still routinely “broken,” and relationships between animals and humans in the “real world” were characterized by domination, not understanding, this tale about trying to understand the “other” made a huge impact on me.

I think I also read about ancient Egypt for the first time in that book as well, so Miss O’Donnell is partly responsible for my novel The Buried Pyramid.  Most importantly, the little burnt-orange book taught me that history was about Story, not about dates and capital cities and the dry, abstract facts that so many classes focus on, probably to make testing easier.

Remembering how much that little burnt-orange book did for me is one of the reasons I signed on to be part of the team that’s putting together DreamForge: Tales of Hope in the Universe.  Stories – fiction and non-fiction – have the power to change the individual.  The individual has the power to change the world, maybe not always on a grand scale, but maybe, sometimes, just one book, one story, at a time.

Thank you, Miss O’Donnell Second Grade and Third Grade both!

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FF: It Was a Good Week

February 15, 2019

Kel Stole My Bedtime Read!

This was really a good week for reading.  I wanted to read a T. Kingfisher book that didn’t have a kid as a protagonist, and wasn’t disappointed.  I also found that the Cleese autobiography went from side-rippingly funny to poignantly thoughtful.

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 Clockwork Boys by T. Kingfisher.   Not steampunk, despite the title.  Closer to sword and sorcery with the “sorcery” replaced by demons and ancient technology.  Complex multi-level characterization, a touch of romance, and dry humor make this unlikely tale work beautifully.

The Wonder Engine by T. Kingfisher.  Part two of the story begun in The Clockwork Boys.  Satisfying if bittersweet conclusion.  I really like that there are consequences.  And gnoles.  I liked the gnoles a lot.

So, Anyway… by John Cleese.  Audiobook, read by the author.  Intensely detailed, sometimes very funny autobiography focusing on Cleese’s formative years.  Don’t read this if you’re hoping for a lot about Monty Python.  Do read if you are interested in the complex journey of John Cleese.

In Progress:

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett.  Before bed.  Generates weird dreams and a strong desire for bacon sandwiches.

Our Oriental Heritage: The Story of Civilization by Will Durant.  Audio.  Doing medicine in India.  Some amazing things here.

Also:

This week I should finally see the first issue of DreamForge: Tales of Hope in the Universe.  It will definitely move to the top of my TBR pile!

Escaping the Girl Box

February 13, 2019

Climbing Out Into a Bigger World

Reading autobiography – especially of a contemporary figure – is an invitation to introspection.  As I’ve been listening to the audiobook of John Cleese reading his own So Anyway… I found myself wondering if I could remember my early teachers as clearly as he seemed to do.  After musing more, I realized that grades one through four all contained – if I had only known it at the time – major events that would shape who I am today.

Before I get into that, though, I want to thank all of you who backed DreamForge Magazine during its Kickstarter or who have signed up for a subscription.  DreamForge not only hit its goal, it hit all of its stretch goals, promising a lot of exciting reading.  Issue One makes its formal debut tomorrow – Valentine’s Day.

First grade took me to Holy Trinity Elementary school in Washington, D.C.  I was vaguely familiar with the place because my family attended church next door.  My teacher was Sister Stephanie, a sweet, gentle, but firm older woman who belonged to the Sisters of Saint Joseph.

Sister Stephanie did a lot for me.  She was the person who taught me to read, for one.  She provided a safe, organized environment for my first big venture away from home.  However, her biggest impact on my life had to do with not shoving me into a “Girl Box.”

This was about 1968.  Despite some long-haired students at nearby Georgetown University and other signs of the burgeoning counter culture, my environment was culturally conservative, although intellectually liberal.  Dresses and playsuits for little girls.  Gloves for formal occasions.  At age six, I was already what was then called a “tomboy.”  (Does that term get used anymore?)  I loved running around with the boys, chasing balls, playing tag.  I was terrible at girl games like jump rope.  (A year later, I would get my first pair of glasses, so there was probably a reason I was so inept.)

One day, for some mysterious reason, Sister Stephanie gave each child a little gift.  The boys received small cars or trucks.  The girls little baby dolls.  As she walked up and down the rows, handing out these surprises, my heart sank.  Baby dolls bored me to tears.  They didn’t do anything.  Toy cars, however, these rolled.  They seemed somehow alive, to invite adventure and excitement.

Hesitantly, I asked if I might have a car rather than a doll.  Sister Stephanie was clearly surprised but to my eternal – and I mean this – gratitude, she switched the baby doll she was about to hand me for a little truck.  It was brick red, about the size of a matchbox car, although far less elaborate.  Indeed, it was hardly more than a cast metal shape with wheels.  My vehicle was some sort of truck – but the details weren’t good enough to tell what type.

That didn’t matter.  I loved it.  I had it for years until it merged into my younger brother’s big box of such vehicles and was lost to me.  But that didn’t matter.  I’d been permitted a window outside of a world of babies and dress up as the only options for pretend.

Had Sister Stephanie been a different sort of person, I would have been gently ridiculed, told girls didn’t play with that sort of thing.  But instead of shutting the door, she opened it.  I ran through, out into a world that would never ever be able to convince me that there were “girl games” and “boy games,” no matter how hard it tried to do so in the years to come.

Thank you, Sister Stephanie…

FF: Singularly Mixed Up

February 8, 2019

This Cover IS Representative

My current reading is a mixture of fiction and non-fiction, with more new to me material than I have been perusing of late.  The mandatory pet picture will appear at the end, since I couldn’t get one of them to digitize and merge with the cover of Summer in Orcus.

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:

Maskerade by Terry Pratchett.  Re-read.

Summer in Orcus by T. Kingfisher.  A quirky portal fantasy with a varied cast and an unusual quest.

In Progress:

The Clockwork Boys by T. Kingfisher.  Despite the title, I have been assured that this is not steampunk.   It may become my new pre-bedtime read.

So, Anyway… by John Cleese.  Audiobook, read by the author.  Intensely detailed, sometimes very funny autobiography focusing on Cleese’s formative years.  I find myself wondering if I remember this much about early teachers and jobs…

Our Oriental Heritage: The Story of Civilization by Will Durant.  Audio.  We’re touring the complex cultural heritage of India.

Also:

Sampling a heap of National Geographic magazines that lay fallow.

The Late Pryderi With Ruby the Tiger

It’s All About the Writing

February 6, 2019

How About A Recipe For Apple Carrot Salad?

This last week I invented a lasagna recipe, because I didn’t like the ones in my various cookbooks.  It turns out that, for me, writing and cooking are quite similar.  I write.  I review.  (In the case of recipes, that means eating what I made.)  I edit.  And then I tighten and refine.

I also visited the Albuquerque Museum and learned (among other things) about how New Mexico played a role in the American Revolutionary War.  If you think the reason for the participation was an awakening idealism toward democratic ideals, well…  Let’s just say it’s a lot more complicated than that.  We also enjoyed the refurbished display about Albuquerque from its founding (well before the United States was a nation) to the present.

I also spent a tremendous amount of time working on Wolf’s Search and Wolf’s Soul.  When I had a moment, I checked on the Kickstarter for DreamForge magazine.  It’s moving along very well.  There are just a few days to take advantage of the cool incentives, and I hope you will.

I also did a bunch of the sort of business-related jobs that people, who imagine writers as simply sitting dreamy-eyed with pen in hand (or fingers on keys), are continually astonished to discover are part of being a published writer.

Wolf’s Search is more or less done but, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’m not moving it into production until Wolf’s Soul is complete, because that’s the best way for me to produce high-quality novels.  I’m still reviewing what I’ve written on Wolf’s Soul.  Since much of this was written while Jim was recovering from knee replacement surgery, there are places where I need to stop and double-check details or insert descriptions, so this is slower going.  However, I am moving along.

Now, I think I’ll go back and immerse myself once more in writing.  Which, it now occurs to me I do for much the same reason I invent recipes: because only I can tell the stories I want to tell.

FF: What I Didn’t Want To Read

February 1, 2019

Persephone Considers Devouring a Good Book

When the January/February issue of Smithsonian arrived, and I saw that the focus was “America at War,” I didn’t think I’d read much of that issue.  However, one reason I subscribe to Smithsonian is because I want to push my limits, especially as to subject matter. Turns out that a magazine I didn’t think I wanted to read I finished very quickly because  it was nothing like what I expected.  Interesting how that can be.

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 Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly.  Much more transparently pedantic and so much less to my taste.

In Progress:

Maskerade by Terry Pratchett.  Re-read.  Before bed.

Summer in Orcus by T. Kingfisher.  Lyrical and visually lush.  “Summer” is the name of the main character.

Our Oriental Heritage: The Story of Civilization by Will Durant.  Audio.  We’re touring the complex cultural heritage of India.

Also:

I’ve almost finished Sword and Sorceress 33.  Nicely varied.

I enjoyed Lawrence M. Schoen’s novelette “The Rule of Three” from Future Science Fiction Digest.