Archive for December, 2019

Christmas, Mah-Jongg, and More

December 27, 2019

Mei-Ling Wonders If She Could Be a Movie Star

More non-fiction than not right now.  I’m not sure where folk and fairytales fall in that.  Sometimes they’re more real than reality.

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 really enjoy hearing about what you’re reading!

Recently Completed:

Christmas: A Biography by Judith Flanders.  A fascinating look at how Christmas has been celebrated from its inception to the early 21st century.  Although the emphasis of the middle chapters is on European and American customs, the author does keep a global touch.  Fascinating anthropological/sociological approach, well-documented, with additional material available on a dedicated website.

Mah-Jongg: From Shanghei to Miami Beach by Christian Cavallaro and Anita Luu.  Beautiful illustrations.  Some very sweeping, unsubstantiated statements, but still a nice book.

In Progress:

The Making of The African Queen or How I went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall, and Huston and almost lost my mind by Katharine Hepburn.  Extremely chatty, reads as if it was narrated rather than written, with numerous asides.    I wish this was available as an audiobook with the same reader who read Me.

Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales From Around the World compiled by Kathleen Ragan.  I’ve been reading more than a few stories a day.  Just moved into Hawaii.  (The book is arranged roughly geographically, which is rather fascinating.)

The Age of Faith by Will Durant.  Part Four of “The Story of Civilization.”  Audiobook.  Solidly into the Dark Ages.  Justinian has died.

Also:

Archeology magazine.  As often, I have some definite bones to pick with how they present some material.  I realize this is for a general audience, but still…

Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2019

A Christmas Sampler

Hi Folks,

Today is Christmas.  Wishing all of you the best.  I’m spending the day quietly.  More noise next week.

FF: One Read Leads

December 20, 2019

Persephone Contemplates the Holiday Scene

Christmas prep led me to remember that I’d bought a book about the origins of various Christmas traditions, so I dug that from the to-be-read pile.  And reading Me led to another Hepburn.  All lovely.

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 really enjoy hearing about what you’re reading!

Recently Completed:

Me: Stories of My Life by Katharine Hepburn.  I read this many years ago, and am enjoying again.  Kudos to reader Bernadette Dunne who does such a phenomenal “Katharine Hepburn” voice that Jim went and picked up the box to make certain Hepburn herself wasn’t reading it.

In Progress:

Christmas: A Biography by Judith Flanders.  A fascinating look at how Christmas has been celebrated from its inception to the 21st century.  Although the emphasis of the middle chapters is on European and American customs, the author does keep a global touch.  Fascinating anthropological/sociological approach, well-documented, with additional material available on a dedicated website.

The Making of The African Queen or How I went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall, and Huston and almost lost my mind by Katharine Hepburn.  Extremely chatty, reads as if it was narrated rather than written, with numerous asides.    I wish this was available as an audiobook with the same reader who read Me.

Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales From Around the World compiled by Kathleen Ragan.  I’ve been reading more than a few stories a day.  We’re into China now.  (The book is arranged roughly geographically, which is rather fascinating.)

The Age of Faith by Will Durant.  Part Four of “The Story of Civilization.”  Audiobook.  Solidly into the Dark Ages.

Also:

Read a few more issues of Grimjack, just because.

A Vision of…

December 18, 2019

Kel has Christmas Dreams

‘Tis the week before Christmas, and all through the house,

All the creatures are stirring, including the compost bin mouse.

The cats are nestled, snug on our bed,

While visions of catnip toys dance in their heads.

Jim in his cowboy hat, and me in my cap,

Aren’t able to settle for any sort of nap…

Everywhere there is such a clatter,

I find myself wondering what is the matter.

*

I could go on, but I’ll spare you.

Christmas is a week away.  If you’re like most modern American adults, you’re feeling stressed, rather than merry.

(I don’t know how other nations celebrate these days.  Feel free to let me know.)

Daily, my e-mail and social media remind me how little time is left to buy things.  Buying gifts is apparently not enough.  On one passing feed, a woman extolled the joys of elaborate wrapping, adding how the “package embellishment” would serve as an additional gift.  Wow!  Jim and I are lucky if we manage to get the wrapping paper more or less straight.

Hey, I like Yuletide celebrations.   Jim and I don’t have kids, but we still decorate.  We make seven or eight types of cookies.  We provide gifts for both family far, and friends near.

I’ll admit, there are times I feel more like the Grinch than like Santa, especially because, being self-employed, I don’t get any paid time off.  I’m squeezing my holiday preparations in between keeping ahead of my various tasks.

So, what to do?

For me, surviving holiday stress always goes back to counting my blessings.  Here’s one.  I can make seven or eight types of cookies, even the ones with expensive ingredients like nuts.  I remember when I’d stretch the budget so I could make my family’s recipe of butterballs using real butter (not margarine) and walnuts.  I’d look longingly at some of the other recipes and think “someday.”

And, guess what?  It’s someday.  Not only did I make the butterballs with butter, I used butter for all my cookies. I made maple pecan cookies and hermits, both of which call for nuts.  It’s someday.

Today is your someday, too, even if this year hasn’t turned out quite as you dreamed.  Why?  Because we all dream bigger than it is possible to achieve.  That’s what dreams are about, envisioning big.

Nightmares, by contrast, are about envisioning small.  The monsters under the bed make you afraid to get up.  The lost boarding pass keeps you from making your flight.  The thing you can’t quite see that is chasing you keeps you from stopping, relaxing, assessing…

I’m sure many of you are having a rough time, feeling small, feeling stressed, maybe feeling sick or tired or something else that’s making all the sparkle dim, all the jingle dull.

Dream.  Not just “I hope 2020 is better than 2019,” but about what you might do today, tomorrow, next week…

Remembering to dream big is why, no matter how busy my life is with the holiday season adding numerous new tasks to my day I’m making time to read.  On the top of my list is the new DreamForge magazine.  I’ve only dipped in, but I see that the theme for this month is “The Risks and Magic of Hope.”

Hey, that’s cool.  That sounds like the sort of stories I want to read, the sort of stories I want to write.  Suddenly, I can feel my personal winter solstice happening: the sun is warming, hope is born.

May you find a blessing or dream, no matter how small, and use it to kindle your holiday fire.

FF: Differently Dynamic

December 13, 2019

Persephone Says: She Stole My Autobiography Title!

My current reading is full of differently dynamic characters, just the inspiration I need to get me through my insanely busy schedule.

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:

Witchmark by C.L. Polk.

 In Progress:

Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales From Around the World compiled by Kathleen Ragan.  I chanced on this and plan to give it a shot with a few stories a day.  Tantalized by the multi-culturalism and that the compiler sought overlooked tales.

Me: Stories of My Life by Katharine Hepburn.  I read this many years ago, and am enjoying again.  Kudos to reader Bernadette Dunne who does such a phenomenal “Katharine Hepburn” voice that Jim went and picked up the box to make certain Hepburn herself wasn’t reading it.

Also:

I’ve temporarily put on hold The Age of Faith by Will Durant.  Part Four of “The Story of Civilization.”  Audiobook.  Discussing the evolution of the early church into the medieval church, as well as the fading out of non-Christian religions and how their traditions persisted.

Endings Are Hard

December 11, 2019

Dandy and Coco’s Beautiful Endings

Last week, I finished making Jim’s corrections to Wolf’s Soul, then sent the manuscript off to my secret beta readers.  When I told a friend this, she said, “You must feel really good to have reached this point.”

I sighed and shook my head.  “Actually, after seeing all the typos Jim found in a manuscript I thought was clean, I’m beginning to feel as if this book is a mess.  Actually, I’m relieved he didn’t find many continuity issues, but I still am more apprehensive than relieved.”

As the year ends, a lot of writers are trying to finish off projects before the holiday season interrupts creative momentum.  On top of NaNoWriMo, which emphasizes speed of composition rather than quality on content, many writers end up feeling conflicted.  After all, you’ve written the first eighty or ninety percent of the story.  Surely the momentum is there.  How can wrapping up the plot take so much effort?

I’m here to tell you: Endings Are Hard.  Here are a few thoughts I’ve had over the years about why this is so.

So often one hears: “I had a great idea for my story, but now I don’t seem to be able to finish it.”  When you’re stuck about how to end your story, go back to that first idea.  What was it?  Have you addressed the questions that first got you fascinated?

My novel Through Wolf’s Eyes began with two questions.  One was plot-oriented.  Who would be King Tedric of Hawk Haven’s successor?  The second was thematic:  How would moving from human to wolf society effect Firekeeper?  Until both were answered, the story could not end.

Remembering your initial impulse works to keep you focused on your ending, whether you outline or, like me, are an intuitive plotter.  A short note – sometimes as little as one word – can keep you on track when you start to wander off target.  Get in the habit of writing this down at the very start so you can refer back when you get bogged down.

Can’t figure out what that initial impulse was?  It’s possible you started off without enough thought.  As Euripides said: “A bad beginning makes a bad ending” (Euripides, Aeolus).  Either you need to figure out what you meant this story to be about or you need to scrap it as a bad beginning that isn’t going anywhere.

Don’t be discouraged that you can’t find your ending.  You’re not alone.  Author John Galsworthy said, “The beginnings and endings of all human undertakings are untidy, the building of a house, the writing of a novel, the demolition of a bridge, and, eminently, the finish of a voyage” (Over the River).

Middles have their relationship to the end, too.  Author Walter Jon Williams has a good comment on taking ending into middles: “Inspiration will carry you through the first 100 pages.  After that, you need a plan.”  Walter has sometimes jokingly referred to the middle of a novel as “the fiddly middle bits.”  Remember, though, there’s no such thing as “fiddly.”  Every scene should move you along toward your end.

Again, the beginning – that inspiration – should be your guide.  You may find it difficult to end your piece if you introduced too many subplots or extra characters, just to move the book along.   How much research is too much?  Simply put, if you’re more captivated by researching than by the actual writing, it’s probably too much.  Another guideline is when you find yourself putting your research in because “I did it, so by God they’re going to read it!”

There different types of endings.  Which one is yours?

Conclusion vs. Closure or “Only English Professors love stories with inconclusive conclusions.”  This was one of my own first lessons, and I will be eternally grateful to my then editor John Douglas at Avon Books for teaching it to me.

The Cliffhanger?  This type of ending is chancy – especially if your audience is going to need to wait a long period of time for the next installment.  Even books in a series need some sort of closure.

When do you Need an Epilogue?  My opinion is rarely.  One of the pleasures of a story for a reader is speculating on what might happen in the on-going lives of the characters.  An epilogue can make the story die.  However, a good epilogue can remind the reader that the characters went on after the concluding battle.

Ending a short story presents its own problems.  A short story must be easier, right?  After all, there are fewer pages.  Actually, it’s not easier because so much needs to be packed into a few pages.  Roger Zelazny (who won a lot of awards for short fiction) said a short story should feel like the last part of a novel – give the feeling for what came before but focus on those final moments.

In other words, a good short story is one big Ending…

A few ending words on Endings…  It is my firm feeling that the story must end – and this applies even if that story is part of a series.  Writing a series that keeps postponing the ending is one reason why so many series are unsatisfactory or become weaker as they go on.

A strong ending is necessary for a book to be satisfying.  Many times I’ve read a book with a strong start only to be disappointed by the conclusion.  Conversely, I’ve read several so-so books that have risen in my estimation by having a solid ending that makes the rest of the book fall into place.  A strong ending does not necessarily need to be shocking or have a “twist.”  Indeed, an ending that “comes from nowhere” can be a huge turnoff.

Thinking back, I realize I was hard on myself when I told my friend I didn’t feel “relieved” to have finished Wolf’s Soul.  My apprehensions belonged to the “production” side of the process, not the creative side.  Creatively, I’m pretty pleased about the book…  Of course I have questions as to whether I communicated what I was trying to communicate, but that’s what editors are for!

FF: Transforming Images

December 6, 2019

Kel Approves

This week the unintentional theme seems to be transformation of tropes and texts and time periods.

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:

Angel Mage by Garth Nix.  Homage to The Three Musketeers, more to the movies than the books, in that the protagonists are much nicer, less grasping people than in the novels.  However, this is an homage, not a retelling.  Plot, characters, and setting are Nix’s own, and so the overlap of some names is actually startling.

In Progress:

Witchmark by C.L. Polk.  Just getting back into this one.  The setting seems to be an alternate WWI.  I’ve seen it called “gaslight fantasy” for that reason.

Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales From Around the World compiled by Kathleen Ragan.  I chanced on this and plan to give it a shot with a few stories a day.  Tantalized by the multi-culturalism and that the compiler sought overlooked tales.

The Age of Faith by Will Durant.  Part Four of “The Story of Civilization.”  Audiobook.  Discussing the evolution of the early church into the medieval church, as well as the fading out of non-Christian religions and how their traditions persisted.

Also:

I’ve put Grimjack created by John Ostrander and Tim Truman on hold for a bit.  The comics are somewhat fragile, and I am racing around right now.

The Quest For The Unholey Grail

December 4, 2019

Behold The Ominous Text!

A couple of weeks ago, I exploded my favorite covered casserole dish, thereby discovering that it could not be used under a broiler.  That was the first surprise.   The second was that, apparently, glass microwaveable/oven-safe covered casserole dishes have gone out of fashion–especially in my chosen color of cobalt blue.

Jim and decided to go questing for a new one.  Because a grail is a cup or chalice, and we were looking for a base (or liquid-holding portion) that was unbroken, I decided to dub this “The Quest For The Unholey Grail.”

We began our quest at a local thrift store.  Despite being able to answer what was our name, what was our quest and, most importantly, “What is Your Favorite Color?,” we did not succeed.  We expanded our search to an antique/collectible mall of the decidedly not upscale sort.

There we made our way past the booths of “Vinyl Records Are Now Trendy Again,” beyond the numerous cases of sparkling jewelry, beneath the sound of Angels Hark Heralding, deeper and deeper into darkening caverns celebrating the glories of the Material World.

A “Pyrex 15% Off” booth gave us reason to hope but, as when Arthur and his Knights face the denizens of Castle Anthrax, the beacon was deceptive.

Then, in the very back of the mall, in a booth that had various and sundry bits of kitchenware, on the bottommost shelf, at the base of a stack of no less than three different casserole dishes, we found what we were seeking.

Well, almost…  This dish was clear, not shining blue, but the diameter and manufacturer were the same.  We had retained the lid of our shattered dream dish.  Therefore, when a lady, small and elfin, who even offered to get me coffee from her car when I admired the scent of the brew she held in one hand, popped up and offered to take our new find up to the register, we decided to take the gamble.

At home, we were delighted to discover that lid and base fit each other as if created for that very purpose!  Sentimentally, we were happy that our bereft lid could be repurposed.  The price was very satisfactory as well.

Interestingly, the new dish has “DO NOT USE UNDER BROILER OR ON STOVETOP” in much larger letters than did the old.  I guess this means that I’m not the only one to make this mistake.

This quest resolved, I can move forth to my next task: reviewing Jim’s comments on Wolf’s Soul, which he finished reviewing Monday morning.  There is always another quest!

Healed Is The Shattered One!