Archive for February, 2020

FF: Like Windblown Leaves

February 21, 2020

Persephone About to Make Her Mark

I’m still coming down from getting the new “Breaking the Wall” e-books out.  If you missed my WW post, I hope you’ll take a look.  They’re a lot of fun and now you can get the entire series for less than the price of one novel.  Even better, I think you’ll like them!

For those of you new to this column, 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:

Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones.  A fun romp.

Stiff by Mary Roach.  Audiobook.  Enjoyable.  Made me think a lot about medical donation of cadavers.

In Progress:

Paladin’s Grace by T. Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon).  Set in the same world as her “Clocktaur Wars” (which despite the title aren’t steampunk, more sword and sorcery) and Swordheart.  So far, enjoyable.

Double Sin and Other Stories by Agatha Christie.  So far two Poriot, one Miss Marple.  I’m familiar with these, but still enjoying.

Also:

Some research reading.  Right now.  Poisons.  I may need a good source on hallucinogens, too.

Breaking News! Breaking the Wall!

February 19, 2020

Three New Covers!

As I’ve been promising, there’s a sparkling new e-book reissue of my three “Breaking the Wall” novels: Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, and Five Odd Honors.  Read on to learn more about the series, extra content, and to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the cover design process.

First a word of reassurance…  Not into e-books?  Don’t worry.  Print copies are available at my newly revamped website bookstore.

The “Breaking the Wall” series was originally released from Tor Books starting in 2008 with Thirteen Orphans.  While Tor’s books were completely gorgeous, the new e-book covers better reflect the urban fantasy element of the series.

The new e-books each contain bonus content in the form of an essay about the “making of” the series.  These are expanded versions of pieces I wrote for Tor.com back in the day, with a lot more detail into my emotional journey as I wrote.

Never heard of the “Breaking the Wall” series?  Here’s the cover copy for the new edition of Thirteen Orphans.

A Dangerous Inheritance

Brenda Morris has no idea that her father, Gaheris, has a secret life.  He is the Rat: a key member of the curious cabal known as the Thirteen Orphans.  When she is nineteen, Brenda learns that all the omens show that Brenda will be his heir.

Brenda may inherit her place far sooner than anyone wishes.  Unseen enemies are stalking the Thirteen Orphans.  If Brenda does not join Pearl Bright, the Tiger, as she gathers the surviving Orphans to stand against their enemies, soon the Orphans—and their generations-long mission—will vanish, even from memory.

Bonus material includes an expanded version of the essay, “Why Thirteen Orphans?”

Interested?  You can find the new e-books at the following vendors:

Amazon: Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, Five Odd Honors.

Nook: Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, Five Odd Honors.

Kobo: Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, Five Odd Honors.

i-Tunes: Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, Five Odd Honors.

GooglePlay: Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, Five Odd Honors.

So, why the big change in the cover art?  It’s certainly not because the original art by Sam Weber wasn’t gorgeous, because it absolutely was.  However, over the years I’ve learned that these covers didn’t give most readers any idea that this series was urban fantasy.  The reviewers (who had the text in hand) caught on immediately, as this quote from Library Journal shows:

“This new series launch deftly mingles the fascination of the mah-jongg tiles and the animal lore of the Chinese Zodiac with a modern tale of discovery and danger.  This urban fantasy should appeal to fans of Charles de Lint and Jim Butcher.” Library Journal on Thirteen Orphans

When Jane Noel came on board as the new cover artist, I asked her to come up with covers that would say at a glance what sort of books these were.  First, she researched cover art associated with urban fantasy, and noted that they often emphasized the characters over the plot or setting.  With this in mind, she decided to feature one of the point-of-view characters, Brenda Morris, with one of the other key characters.

Jane Noel also decided that a series called “Breaking the Wall” should feature a wall appropriate to the book in question.  So, Thirteen Orphans has a zodiac wheel, reflecting the characters’ discovery of their relationship with one of the animals in the Chinese zodiac.  Nine Gates, which provides the first glimpse of the mysterious Lands Born from Smoke and Sacrifice, features a wall opening into the lands.  Five Odd Honors features a gate opening into…  Well, I’m not going to say too much, in case of spoilers.

The process of working with an artist who had read the books in the series several times was fascinating, showing me, once again, how the reader and author see the books in different ways.

So, there you have it…  Please let me know if you have any questions, and I’ll answer either in the Comments or in next week’s WW, depending on how much detail is needed.  Go on now: Break the Wall!

FF: Sweet Reads

February 14, 2020

Mei-Ling Offers You Her Heart

It’s Valentine’s Day, so here’s a cute kitten for you…

For those of you new to this column, 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: The Official Autobiography of Elton John.  Audiobook.  Read in part by Elton John, but not the majority.  Quite enjoyable window into long career and the changing world in which it has taken place.

The Cassandra Project by Jack McDevitt and Mike Resnick.  For those who asked, it’s very different from the Lightspeed short story that inspired it.

In Progress:

Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones.  Just started.

Stiff by Mary Roach.  Audiobook.  Just started.

Also:

Still looking at kumihimo beading articles.  I think I’m feeling bold enough to try something longer or more complex.

Mei-Ling Eats Her Heart

Footprints in the Air

February 12, 2020

Dripping Wet Polar Bear

On some levels, I feel as if I’ve been running on a hamster wheel these last several weeks—working really hard, but going nowhere.

Of course, that’s an illusion.   The new “Breaking the Wall” e-books are polished, formatted, and being uploaded as you read this.  Wolf’s Soul is still with my meticulous copy editor, but I’ve been writing the cover copy.  And I’ve been working on background for the fourth “Star Kingdom” novel.

Thing is, all of these projects have lots of steps that—if done right—leave no footprints.  Next week, I’ll tell you about some of those for the new “Breaking the Wall” e-books, including why there’s such a big change in the cover art, and about the extra content.

Especially at times like these, I need to do something that reminds me there’s a world outside of my office.  Although New Mexico has four seasons, including winter temperatures cold enough for snow, for a week or so in February, we get a warm spell.  This lasts just long enough to let us hope we’re done with freezing and below.  Last Saturday was clear, sunny, with temperatures in the low 70’s, so Jim and I went to the zoo.

Like us, the animals were really enjoying the weather.  For the first time in “real life” I saw a gorilla stand up and pound his chest.  The siamang family was putting on an arboreal exhibition so dramatic that we stood and watched for quite a long while.  The black and white lemur tribe was sunbathing (completely adorable, with arms outspread) and so cheerful that they entertained us with a loud chorus during which each member very seriously concentrated on his or her own part.

Jasmine, the elder of our two young elephants, was playing with the ducks in the elephant pond.  The ducks seemed amused and, rather than flying away, just paddled slowly out of reach.  Jazzy’s little brother, Thorn, sucked water up his trunk, then squirted it onto some of the plants—and his own head.

Most of the cats were napping, but the jaguar was roaming his new, quite large, enclosure, going up and over his cat bridge.  One of the polar bear twins was swimming and diving, quite evidently showing off.  Three of the Mexican wolves were trotting around their enclosure, including leaping over and around the many downed trees that provide interest to their home.

One thing I really like about our zoo is that all the animals have the option of taking themselves off-exhibit.  This means that if they’re out and about, they’re more likely to be active and seem unphased by their human audience.  It’s really much nicer for all of us.

As if encouraging me to get back to work, this week is supposed to be overcast and maybe snowy.  So I’ll get back to striding along, getting things done, even if no mark of my labors remains.

Y’know “walking on air” is often used as a metaphor for feeling really good.  Think of me there, walking on air, leaving no footprints, but making progress nonetheless!

FF: Rocketing!

February 7, 2020

Mei-Ling Contemplates Secrets

This week I’m starting a bunch of new titles.  I’ve also been reading some shorter stuff, including more kumihimo beading articles.

For those of you new to this column, 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:

Gulp by Mary Roach. Audiobook. Non-fiction look at the digestive system, starting with the sense of smell (because odor/aroma is closely tied to eating) and ambling on through areas almost tangential to the topic but nonetheless fascinating.  The book ended with material on the various new (then) treatments for digestive disorders.  Fascinating!

Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones.  Re-read.  Humor conceals a deceptively complex plot.  Mild warning.  Both narrators start out grumpy.  They get better.  And this book contains an affectionate look at SF cons, rather than the more usual snark.  Enjoyable, I would think both for those of us who know them well, and for those who have never attended.

In Progress:

Me: The Official Autobiography of Elton John.  Audiobook.  Read in part by Elton John, but not the majority.  Quite enjoyable thus far.

The Cassandra Project by Jack McDevitt and Mike Resnick.  Just started.

Also:

Reading and re-reading parts of the “Breaking the Wall” novels.  The new e-books are almost ready!

Backgrounds, Foundations

February 5, 2020

One of the Cards from the Exhibit

Last week my writing mostly focused on background work for various projects.  There now exists an updated and extensive list of characters from the first three Star Kingdom novels.  Cover copy has been written for the upcoming new releases of my three “Breaking the Wall” novels.  Stuff like that…

Then, this past weekend, as a change of pace, Jim and I went to see the Jim Henson exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum.  One of the pleasures for me in the exhibit was seeing how various projects and characters developed.  I’m not really a “making of” sort of viewer.  I’m the sort who wants to believe for those couple of hours that whatever place I’m viewing and the people who live in it are real.

However, seeing how Henson and his team brought script and characters together—especially how the process evolved over time, and as different collaborators became regulars in the team—was fascinating.  I found myself feeling better about the amount of background work I’d been doing for my own projects.

It also made me think about a comment Beverly Martin, one of the regular participants in my FF, had made about a book she was reading.  Let me quote her:

“It is kind of suffering from middle book syndrome – lots of words but little movement in the main plot. I get that they move on horseback, but does the story have to move at the same pace?”

Even as I understood her point, I found myself thinking about what it implied.  For one, there’s the question of “main plot.”  When I was a very young reader of the “Lord of the Rings” novels, my least favorite novel was The Two Towers, especially Frodo and Sam’s journey.  There were none of the clashing armies, none of the hints of romance, none of the moments of humor that livened not only the other two books in the series but the other major plotline.

Frodo, Sam, and Golem’s journey was a tale that moved not only “on horseback” but on foot, through the mud, up endless staircases, and, even worse, into increasingly thick bogs of distrust, suspicion, and even outright hatred and betrayal.

And, as an older reader, I realize that this is the most crucial part of the entire epic tale, without which not only the climax of the story, but also the concerns felt by the rest of the Fellowship and allies would seem groundless, shallow, and weak.

I’m not saying this is the case for the book Beverly is reading.  (If you want to know which one, you can look on the FF for last week.)  Sometimes writers do lose touch or reach a point where they are indulged because they can be counted on to sell a fair number of copies to loyal fans.

A friend of mine recently confessed that she wishes a writer whose work she used to love received more editing because she had found his more recent works “turgid.”

One thing I’ve learned is that the answer to what makes a book “slow” varies widely, not only from author to author, but from reader to reader.  The other day, I had a lively chat with a friend who is reading my Wolf’s Head, Wolf’s Heart for the first time.  He had numerous questions about the “societies” that are mentioned as a background element in the cultures of Hawk Haven and Bright Bay.  I could tell him a considerable amount that never made it to the page.

Almost every novel I’ve written, particularly if it belongs to a series, has a host of background material that may never make it onto the page.  If there’s a point where things seem to “slow down,” perhaps because I’m providing background material or seem to have strayed from the plot…  Well, maybe I haven’t strayed.  Maybe I know a little more about what the “main plot” is than a reader who may be misled by anything from jacket copy to what the characters themselves think is important.

Which brings us back to the behind the scenes elements of the Jim Henson exhibit.  A friend had enthused that Jareth and Sarah’s costumes from the iconic ballroom scene were on display.  I was certainly eager to see them.  In the end, while I appreciated the opportunity, I could have done without.

Gowns and jackets meant to be filmed, meant to be seen with perfect lighting picking up the highlights, may not look as wonderful on a dummy in a case.  I’ll take the illusion.  I’ll take the story.  But, y’know, I’d also take Jareth’s jacket!  (Or the wonderful silver pendant.)

And I’ll keep writing more material than the reader will ever see, because, just like the support rod that’s invisible but makes the puppet’s arm movements possible, so background that is only hinted at supports the rest of the story.