Archive for September, 2019

FF: Weighted Toward Non-Fiction

September 27, 2019

Mei-Ling And Kwahe’e Share Memories

This week is a mix, but weighted toward non-fiction.  I think it’s about time for a fiction binge…

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.

And I’m always interested in what you have to recommend!  No unreliable narrators, please!

Recently Completed:

Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles by Clamp.  Manga.  Issues 23-28.  Complex story, perhaps one of the few I’ve read in any form that tries to deal with the consequences of precognition when there is more than one with the ability, and everyone involved has different goals.  Ambitious, so not completely successful, but I admire the ambition.

Esteban by Dennis Herrick.  This non-fiction text takes a look at one of the most important yet consistently under-represented figures in the history of the Spanish incursion into the American west. Despite occasional forays into “narrative non-fiction,” which is a form I personally dislike, I enjoyed this book.

In Progress:

The Bends In The Road: A Memoir by Svenn Lindskold.  Svenn is my great-uncle, half-brother of my paternal grandfather, a relative I met only after I was an adult, but whom I’ve come to really like.

Caesar and Christ by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  We’ve finished with Jesus and the early church, and are now back to a rapidly decaying Roman empire.

Also:

A bunch of shorter stuff, including the latest American Archeology that may get a letter from me regarding inconstant terminology in one article.  Where were their editors?

Is Your Homework Done?

September 25, 2019

A Bonsai Maple Forest

I used to get asked that question by my parents—a lot.  Now I ask it of myself, especially at times like now when I have several writing projects that are crying out for me to get one done so I can move onto the next.

There’s Wolf’s Soul, the sequel to July’s new release, Wolf’s Search.  There’s the new Star Kingdom book with David Weber, for which I signed contracts a couple weeks ago.  There are various other projects, including a short story that started hopping up and down after a recent exchange of e-mails with Alan Robson, my former Thursday Tangents collaborator.

Here’s the problem.  And the big secret. Back in school, getting your homework done before goofing off was almost certainly productive behavior.  However, when you’re a writer like me there are times that staring at a screen or keyboard or pad of paper or whatever is precisely the worst way to get your creative juices flowing.

The same can be true of any profession that calls for an element of right brain thinking, or even non-thinking.  There’s a value to daydreaming, staring at the wall, doing a craft project, or any number of things that look like goofing off to someone on the outside.

Many years ago, I wandered on about how walking away from whatever you’re working on can actually be the best thing for those of us who draw upon our subconscious to get our work done.  Inspiration comes from the quiet corners of the mind, and sometimes the Muse doesn’t answer on demand.

So, why is there a picture of a bonsai at the start of this Wandering?  Two reasons.  One was that this weekend Jim and I went to Aki Matsuri, the Japanese Autumn Festival, and this was a display we really enjoyed.

The other is that bonsai are a good metaphor for a creative life that looks, from the outside, like what it isn’t.  Bonsai look like lovely, natural forests in miniature, but actually they are the result of a lot of crimping, cramping, cutting, and restricting.

For me, my creative life doesn’t work that way.  Mine is more like my yard which, right now, is overwhelmed with wild asters, going every which way.  Yesterday I sat in the yard and stared at them.  And then my Muse started whispering in my ear…

Wild Asters And Other Aspects Of My Yard

FF: The Distorting Lens of Perspective

September 20, 2019

Persephone Is No One’s Pawn!

Perspective is one of the least discussed elements in writing, whether fiction or non-fiction.  This week I seem immersed in many stories in which who said what about whom, as well as who may have flat-out lied are very important.

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.

And I’m always interested in what you have to recommend!  No unreliable narrators, please!

Recently Completed:

The Gameshouse by Claire North.  Three novellas interconnected by a developing plot.  Of these, I enjoyed the first (“The Snake”) the most.

Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles by Clamp.  Manga.  Issues 17-22.  I read this a long time ago, recently purchased and watched the anime, including the movies and OVAs.  Remembered there was more to the story, and hunted these out.  I’ve heard this referred to as a “tour of the Clampverse,” but it’s far more than that.

In Progress:

Esteban by Dennis Herrick.  This non-fiction text takes a look at one of the most important yet consistently under-represented figures in the history of the Spanish incursion into the American west. Over half-way done.

Caesar and Christ by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  The question of the historical Jesus has finally been reached.

Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles by Clamp.  Manga.  Issue 23.

Also:

Back to writing on Wolf’s Soul, which has necessitated a certain amount of re-reading since I was away from the manuscript for a while.

Quiet? Not So Much.

September 18, 2019

Reference Notebook, Recorder, Leather Tag

I should really give up planning on quiet weeks.  That’s what I intended for last week.  Quiet artistic meditation so I could mentally sort through the details as I moved into the final stages of Wolf’s Soul, the sequel to July’s new Firekeeper novel, Wolf’s Search.   The week didn’t work out that way.  Mind you, why it didn’t work out wasn’t bad…

I knew in advance Monday would be busy.  Not only did I have my usual Monday Chaos, Scot Noel and I were interviewed by the Sci Fi Saturday Night podcast.  We talk about a lot of things, including DreamForge magazine, projects to come, and my life in the desert.  It was a lot of fun.  You can tune in at http://scifisaturdaynight.com.  You’ll want talkcast 423.  Bonus: You can see a great older photo of me…

Tuesday I turned the tables and interviewed Hugo Award-winning artist Elizabeth Leggett over coffee, chocolate, and cats at my house.  The reason for the interview is that I’m writing her program bio for MileHiCon.  However, there was so much great stuff that I couldn’t fit into the program piece, I decided to transcribe the whole thing.  Since we talked for an hour and a half, the transcribing took a while.

By Wednesday, though, I had enough material to write the MileHiCon piece, which I did because…

Thursday, Jim and I had promised ourselves a full day at the State Fair.  We did and had a wonderful time seeing more animals, more art, and eating a weird variety of food not good for you. We hit one of our favorites—the “Home Arts” aka “Hobby Building”—after the schoolkids had gone home.  This led to my having made for me the magnificent leather tag you see in the picture.

The tag was made by artist Paul Q. Starke.  Before you sniff and say “So what?  I did leather stamping in grammar school!” let me tell you that just the wolf took at least twenty really hard strikes with the mallet to create that deep impression.  Lots of the lines—including the moon­—were drawn freehand with hammer and chisel.  I was absolutely awed.

Thursday we also ended up having an impromptu dinner with our friends Yvonne and Mike, which got us home rather later than planned.  And in the mailbox what should I find but…

A big fat envelope containing the contracts for three new Star Kingdom books featuring Honor Harrington’s ancestor, Stephanie Harrington, a lot of treecats, intrigue and adventure.  For those of you who don’t know, there are already three books in the series: A Beautiful Friendship (written by Weber solo, but with me in the background as consultant), Fire Season, and Treecat Wars.

The new novels don’t have titles yet, but we’ll be picking up with Stephanie at sixteen, shortly after the events in my yet unpublished short story, “Deception on Gryphon.”

Would you be surprised if I told you I was so keyed up I had trouble sleeping that night?

So, instead of Friday being a quiet day to meditate and maybe do some crafts, I ended up reviewing and signing contracts, then sending Weber e-mails to continue the discussion we’ve been having on and off these last few months.

This week I’m not even going to pretend is going to be quiet.  I have that interview to finish transcribing.  I have another interview to get started.  Doubtless Weber and I will refine details on Stephanie’s next adventure.

And, no, I haven’t forgotten.  I need to finish writing Wolf’s Soul, so that you can dive into the complicated tale of exploration and intrigue begun in Wolf’s Search.

I’d better get to it!

FF: Lucky Reading

September 13, 2019

Coco the Baby Guinea Pig and Esteban

Welcome to Friday the Thirteenth!

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.

And I’m always interested in what you have to recommend!

Recently Completed:

While Gods Sleep by L.D. Colter.  An alternate take of Greek mythology.  Doesn’t re-tell any old myths, but instead they provide the underlying foundation for an original tale of a mortal caught up in divine machinations.

DreamForge, Issue Three.  Very much enjoyed the new issue.  The theme “Tales of Kindred” souls is played out in some very creative ways.

In Progress:

Esteban by Dennis Herrick.  This non-fiction text takes a look at one of the most important yet consistently under-represented figures in the history of the Spanish incursion into the American west.

The Gameshouse by Claire North.  I had a little trouble with the peculiar narrative voice in which the tale is told, but once I wrapped my brain around it, I found myself caught up in the story.  Maybe twenty-percent in.

Caesar and Christ by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  Just finished Herod the Great, and looking at Jewish culture under Roman rule.

Also:

Not much “also” this week…

Creative Coolness

September 11, 2019

Creativity Takes Many Forms

This past week was special because it brought two of my favorite opportunities to immerse myself in cool creativity: the New Mexico State Fair and the third issue of DreamForge magazine.

DreamForge readers, no worries.  I’m not going to provide any spoilers, but I am going to remind readers that this issue contains the first ever Firekeeper short story.  It’s called “A Question of Truth,” and is set shortly before the events in the newly-released Firekeeper novel, Wolf’s Search.

As with all DreamForge stories, “A Question of Truth” is non-dystopian.  As with all Firekeeper stories, the perspective is Firekeeper’s own.  What a wolf thinks is right or wrong can differ greatly from what a human would.  Moreover, Firekeeper and Blind Seer are very unusual wolves.  Part of my joy in returning to writing about them is considering how they’ve changed while keeping their own strong assurance of who they are.

DreamForge is available only by subscription, but you get a lot for that subscription, including  the option to sign up for a free digital subscription to Space and Time magazine.  Details are available at the DreamForge website.

I know that for a lot of people the words “State Fair” conjure up crowds, carnival rides, and overpriced junk food.  For me, the State Fair is closer to the harvest festivals of old.  I rarely make it onto the midway at all and, if I do, it’s to look at the carousel.  While I’ve been known to try some of the food weirdness (a deep-fried Snickers bar, for example), I’m more likely to be indulging in a cup of coffee and a slice of homemade pie at the Asbury Café, a long-time tradition run by a local United Methodist Church.   This year I had blueberry-rhubarb.

When I go to the Fair, I’m there to look at animals, plants, and art, in no particular order.  If I was absolutely forced to choose a favorite building, it would be the hobby building.  This is where you can find arts and crafts ranging from woodworking to needlepoint to rock collecting to photography to baking and canning to quilting and sewing to doll collecting to Lego constructions to leather work to stained glass to beading…  Well you get the idea.  These are all on display under one roof.  Often there is someone there to tell you all about their particular favorite or to give a demonstration.

Wait!  Maybe my favorite thing is the rabbit and poultry show.  The bunnies and chickens have a new building this year.  We walked all over until we found it.  (For some bizarre reason, there were no signs telling visitors where to go!)  It’s down at the western end of the dairy barn, inside the barn, in case you’re wondering…

Then there’s Sheep to Shawl, where you can watch a sheep being sheared, see demonstrations on how the wool is cleaned, carded, spun, dyed, and then transformed by a wide variety of techniques including knitting, weaving, crochet, and felting into everything from hats and gloves to toys and, of course, the promised shawls.

Then there are the art shows…  Not one or two, but at least five, if you count the school art, which I absolutely do!

I could keep listing, but lists don’t really capture how wonderful it is to be on the fairgrounds, surrounded by creativity in its many and varied forms.  I come away every time impressed and awed and just generally happy.

We’re going back on Thursday to see what we couldn’t manage on our first trip.  I can hardly wait!

FF: Alternate Interpretations

September 6, 2019

Kel Looks Smug

The latest issue of DreamForge magazine arrived this week.  It features the first ever Firekeeper short story, “A Question of Truth,” illustrated by Hugo Award-winning artist, Elizabeth Leggett.  If you’re waiting for your copy of DreamForge to arrive, and need a Firekeeper hit, remember that the new Firekeeper novel, Wolf’s Search is now available!

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.

And I’m always interested in what you have to recommend!

Recently Completed:

End of the Megafauna by Ross. D. E. MacPhee, with glorious illustrations by Peter Schouten.  Although intended for a general audience, the author relies on a glossary, rather than over-simplifying his topic.  So far well-organized and fascinating.

In Progress:

While Gods Sleep by L.D. Coulter.  I met the author (who also wrote “The Weight of Mountain” in DreamForge, issue two, at Bubonicon, and when I learned we shared an interest in mythology decided to try another of her works.  I’m about three-quarters through, and love her alternate take on Greek mythology.

Caesar and Christ by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  Taking a look at cultures deeply influenced by Rome, often by being conquered by the Romans or resisting being conquered by the Romans.

Also:

I’ve started the new issue of DreamForge, of course!

Crystals of Stories

September 4, 2019

Mei-Ling Researches Bats

Last week, when I mentioned I was reading about the extinctions of various paleo mammals, someone said, “So, shall we expect a story with mammoths and saber-tooth tigers soon?  Or are you going to be writing about mass extinctions?”

I have to admit, I was flummoxed.  I was reading the book (End of the Megafauna by Ross. D. E. MacPhee, with marvelous illustrations by Peter Schouten) because I’d seen a review and it seemed interesting.   But during the discussion that followed, I was reminded of a comment made the previous weekend at Bubonicon during the GOH interviews.

Somehow, research came up.  Alan Steele answered first and his answer was well-balanced, thoughtful, and very scholarly.  He researched both before and during a project, often for years in advance. Then it was Ursula Vernon’s turn.  She laughed and said (I may misquote, since I’m doing this from memory), “I don’t really research.  I write Fantasy.  I can change things to fit what I want.”

Well, that didn’t fit my impression of her books.  Since first meeting Ursula some years ago, I’ve read a lot of her books, both those written as Ursula Vernon and others published under her pen name of T. Kingfisher.  One of the things I love about her books is that underlying the rollicking stories is a lot of cool information about a wide range of topics.  A good example is Lair of the Bat Monster from her Danny Dragonbreath series.  You come out of this book knowing a lot more about bats than you ever knew there was to know.

Later, when we were chatting privately, I chided Ursula for underselling the amount of work that goes into even the most apparently lightweight of her books.  Her response was, in its own way, as thoughtful as Alan Steele’s.  She said: “But I don’t really research.  I just draw on what I’ve read and thought was fascinating.”  She then started telling me about a nifty book she’d been reading about perfumes, and we got sidetracked from there…

Often when both readers and writers think about “research,” we think about it in terms of schooldays of yore, of immersing oneself in a specific topic of more or less interest in order to produce a specific product.  That sort of research absolutely has a place in fiction writing.  I’ve done that, both before writing a project, during the writing, and then after to make sure I have specific points right.

But the other sort of research is probably more valuable.  Why?  Because you probably won’t even have ideas about new and thrilling topics if you never read outside of secondary sources and your existing interests.

I think this is why so much literary fiction deals with college professors and academics.  I’d also argue that it’s one reason why some writers start writing about writers and the business of writing.  In both cases, their interests have narrowed to what they are doing on a daily basis.  Becoming too immersed in a single field is another research issue, one that leads to some writers creating stories that are more and more specialized variations on a single theme.  That’s great if that’s what they want to write, but I’ll admit, both in my own writing and in my reading, I’m more eclectic.

Roger Zelazny routinely read up to five books at one time, dipping into each on a daily basis.  These included a volume of poetry, a biography, something non-fiction (often science or history related), something specific to a project he was working on or contemplating, and one or more volumes of fiction.  My reading is much the same.  Those of you who look at my Friday Fragments get part of my reading, but I don’t even try to itemize the articles I read,  nor short fiction.

Without my eclectic tastes, the “Breaking the Wall” novels never would have been written, because I wouldn’t have known enough about Chinese history, characters, and mythology to find myself asking the question that triggered the idea that led to the story.  The same is true for the varied cultures featured in the Firekeeper novels and elsewhere.  They’re not cultures from our world with the serial numbers lightly filed off; they’re evolved from the ground up based on what I know about how environment, politics, and religion (to name just three) have to do with how cultures are shaped.

My next read is likely to be a non-fiction book about a relatively minor historical figure.  Do I plan to write about him?  Not necessarily, but what I learn will definitely bubble up in some strange and wonderful way somewhere in the future.