Archive for September, 2020

FF: Pretentious? No Thanks!

September 25, 2020

What You Got, Mei-Ling?

As I mentioned last week, I was questing for a new audiobook to listen to.  I tried one, non-SF/F, much praised a few years back and found it so pretentious that I dumped it.  Then I found some old friends instead.

Yes.  I was an English Major.  Yes.  I read classics and even poetry for fun.  But any book that starts with a writer talking about writing and writer’s block and other self-indulgent twaddle loses me right off.

For those of you unfamiliar with 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.

A reminder that I’m always happy to hear what you are reading!

Recently Completed:

The Last Hunt by Bruce Coville.  Fourth book in the Unicorn Chronicles.  Audiobook.  Coming in on the last few chapters, with revelations coming fast and thick.

Look to the Lady by Margery Allingham.  Third book in her Albert Campion series.  Mysterious secret societies, chalices, monsters…  What more do you need in a non-fantasy mystery?

In Progress:

Might As Well Be Dead by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  A Nero Wolfe.

Policemen At the Funeral by Margery Allingham.  Fourth book in her Albert Campion series.  Introduces continuing secondary character, Uncle William Farraday.

Also:

The most recent Archeology, still, and, of course, my own work-in-progress.

I’m Writing

September 23, 2020

When Life Gives You a Brick

Today’s WW is going to be short because I’m writing.  Last week was insane.  Not all bad, just insane.  This week is going to have lots of interruptions.  Next week is going to be worse.

When the going gets tough, this writer gets writing.

Not everyone’s solution.  Not everyone’s way to cope.  But mine.

So, off to another land, one I hope to someday share with you all…

Take care!

FF: Trusted and True

September 18, 2020

Roary Is Now Much Taller Than an Eight Inch Book  (See Below)

I’m in transition with what I’m reading, started a new that’s an old, trying to decide what my next audiobook will be.

For those of you unfamiliar with 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.

A reminder that I’m always happy to hear what you are reading!

Recently Completed:

The Bible As History by Werner Keller.  This book’s title in the original German was Und die bible hat doch rechet which translates as closer to “And the Bible is Right” with “Right” in the sense of “Accurate.”  Interestingly, the last chapter dealt not with archeology but with what then (the book was published in the 1950’s) scientific theories from physics, astronomy, and otherwise might say about matters previously defined only by biblical texts.

In Progress:

The Last Hunt by Bruce Coville.  Fourth book in the Unicorn Chronicles.  Audiobook.  Coming in on the last few chapters, with revelations coming fast and thick.

Look to the Lady by Margery Allingham.  Third book in her Albert Campion series.  A good friend trusted me with her much-loved copy.  I feel very honored.

Also:

The most recent Archeology and, of course, my own work-in-progress.

Who Will Win? Baby Roary Or the Mass Market Paperback?

Real Writer?

September 16, 2020

Desert Four O’Clock

Long ago, at an Armadillocon, I believe, I was talking to a gentleman who, himself a published writer of mystery fiction, was also teaching writing.  Since we shared similar backgrounds—both professional writers, both had taught writing at the college level—he confided in me.

“The longer I do this, the more I wonder if we’re doing any of these people a favor, acting as if we can teach them to write.”

The funny thing about this exchange was that, by “to write,” we both understood that what he—and most of his students—meant by “writing” was “write well enough, originally enough, to be published.”

More recently, I expressed a similar doubt.  The person I was talking to immediately objected, saying that while it was true that many people lack the vision or talent to produce publishable work, that didn’t mean they shouldn’t write.

I agree… If being able to monetize a skill is the only reason to learn to do it well, then no one should sing or dance or play an instrument.  Paints should stay in the bottle.  Sketch books should never be opened.  Clay should remain in the wrapper.  Beads in the tube.

Unhappily, this encouraging comparison only goes so far because the expectations a writer will face are very different.  I do not think every person who sings, dances, plays an instrument, does some sort of craft encounters what writers always do: the expectation that to be a real writer, that writer needs to be a published writer.

Even if the writer starts out writing for the pleasure, for the excitement and diversion of creating a story, the expectation is that to “really” write, the writer needs to also publish.

I don’t know how many times I’ve been part of some variation of this exchange, either as the subject or overhearing it.

“So, you write?  Are you published?”

If the answer is “No,” “Not yet,” or some variation thereof, the dismissal on the questioner’s face is usually visible.

Therefore, from an early time in pursuing writing, the writer comes to believe that it’s not enough to write and have the pleasure of writing, the writer must also publish.

Let’s go back to our imaginary dialogue.

“Oh!  You’re published!  That’s cool.  Where?”

When the writer replies, then the cycle of interrogation continues.  Short story writers are asked if they’re going to write a novel.  Novelists are asked who their publisher is (with various rankings for small press, traditional publishers, indie pub, academic press, literary press—rankings assigned by the questioner).

(And, believe me, no one can be snobbier than an academic press author who was paid in copies to a “genre fiction” writer who actually makes a living from writing.  But that’s another topic entirely.)

Even if the writer can jump all of these hurdles, the next criteria seems to be public recognition.

“Have I heard of you?”  or even “Are you famous?”

Many years ago, I decided to volunteer at my local library.  I like libraries and, at that time, I was spending too much time alone.  I signed up to shelf read. The very nice librarians welcomed me and asked, “What do you do?”  “I write books.”  “Are you published?”  “Yes.  My first novel came out in 1994 and I’ve had a couple out since.  I also have sold a fair number of short stories, and written some non-fiction.”

Nods and smiles.  Clear disbelief.  It wasn’t until I made a gift of several of my books (mass market paperbacks from an actual New York publisher) to the librarians that they accepted me as a “real” writer.  Having written didn’t do it.  Having published did.

Another example:

I have a good friend who is a talented writer.  When she sold her third professional short story, she was excited almost more because this was her third professional sale (thus qualifying her to join SFWA if she wished) than because she’d sold it to the much-acclaimed magazine Clarke’s World or even because the story was longer than Clarke’s World usually publishes.  Nonetheless, they liked it enough to pay her full rates for a long piece.

Writing is the only art/craft form I can think of where the highest compliment people think they can pay you is to say “Wow!  This would make a great movie/television show.”

What’s weirder is that most of those people would agree that novels and short stories can tell a more complex story than any movie or TV show.  What’s the difference?  Exposure and money.

True, with the appearance of sites like Etsy, more and more hobbiests are being urged to “monetize” their work, with the unspoken hint that not only will this help pay for materials, it will make them “real” (painters, beaders, jewelers, wood workers, whatever).

But writers have been dealing with this practically since the invention of the printing press.  Heck, for all I know, from before that.

The project I’m working on right now is not “pre-sold,” which has gotten me the sideways eyes from some people.  Worse (in terms of my perceived “reality), I might go the indie pub route with it.  (More sideways looks.)  Never mind that I have my reasons for possibly making that choice.  Never mind that (as anyone who has looked at Wolf’s Search and Wolf’s Soul know) my quality control is very high.

Sigh.  I think I’ll just go write and leave the question of reality to other folks.

FF: Myself Distracting Myself

September 11, 2020

Dandy and Some of Library of the Sapphire Wind

You’ll see that I haven’t completed either of the longer works I was reading last week.  This isn’t because they aren’t good.  They are, but there’s one book I haven’t listed that I’ve spent a lot of time reading: my own manuscript of a work in progress, Library of the Sapphire Wind. Sometimes I’m so caught up, I read it on “break” as well as during work time.

For those of you unfamiliar with 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.

A reminder that I’m always happy to hear what you are reading!

Recently Completed:

The Rhine Gold (Das Rheingold) by Richard Wagner, first volume in “The Annotated Ring Cycle” which includes a new translation and annotations by Fredrick Paul Walter.  This lively and vivid translation also includes older illustrations, costume designs, and new “graphic novel style” line drawings.  I believe it’s due for release in 2020.  I received an ARC.  This is the first for four volumes in the series.

In Progress:

The Last Hunt by Bruce Coville.  Fourth book in the Unicorn Chronicles.  Audiobook.  This one contains several plot lines, and includes what might be considered several short stories within the larger plot.  Definitely an interesting structure.

The title is deception but The Bible As History by Werner Keller.  This book’s title in the original German was Und die bible hat doch rechet which translates as closer to “And the Bible is Right” with “Right” in the sense of “Accurate.”  This comes closer to reflecting the intention of the book, which was to compare biblical texts with then current archeological research and see how many passages in the Bible provide good guides to cultures and landscape features of the time.  Needless to say, since the book was published in 1955, more recent discoveries have invalidated some material, but this is still a very enjoyable read, excellently and fluidly translated by William Neil.

Also:

The most recent Smithsonian and a few articles here and there.

Pacing Oneself

September 9, 2020

You Don’t Need To Be In Motion To Be Racing

I’m not the first one to say it, nor will I be the last: Writing a short story can be a sprint, but writing a novel is more like a marathon.

For each, pacing is really important.  Last week, I wrote about how I found myself madly inspired by a short story idea, and  so wrote through my usual weekend off because I wanted to finish writing “Claim Jumped” while the inspiration was hot.

As soon as this was turned in, I pulled out the manuscript of a hobby project (working title is Library of the Sapphire Wind) that I’d been working on after Asphodel, through October of 2017.

I had to put Library of the Sapphire Wind on side because other projects had priority.  First, I got the rights back to the Firekeeper Saga and was now in a position to write the sequels I had wanted to write for years.  Then, as I was wrapping up Wolf’s Search and Wolf’s Soul, the contract with Baen Books for a continuation of the Star Kingdom series with David Weber was finalized, so SK4 had to be written.  Therefore, I reluctantly put my hobby project aside, roughly drafted at 150,000 words, but fully aware it needed further development.

During this time, I continued to put our new e-book editions of some of my backlist, including Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owl and all three of the “Breaking the Wall” novels (Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, and Five Odd Honors).

Now that I’m back to my hobby project, my enthusiasm is just as high as was when I was writing “Claim Jumped.”  In fact, because so much time has gone by, I’m in the midst of the delightful experience of reviewing with enough distance from the original writing that I feel almost as I do when re-reading a favorite novel.  I remember some bits, but others I’ve completely forgotten.  The urge to read to find out “what happens” (by which I mean, how a specific scene plays out) is very strong.

No matter how enthusiastic I feel, though, I’m reminding myself that at 150,000 words and growing (this project is likely to become two books, at least), I need to pace myself.  For me, that means not working through the weekend, as well as making time for hobbies and other creative outlets.

Aside: Ever since I got together with Jim, I’ve tried to take weekends off.  Losing Roger when I was thirty-two made it very clear to me at a relatively young age that one’s beloved may not always be with one.  Jim’s very supportive of my writing, but it’s important to me that he not feel imaginary people are more important than he is.

Also, I’ve learned that a few days of not actively working on a novel (although I do tend to think about the story throughout) actually makes me a better writer for the complexities involved in a multi-level storyline.  Craft time keeps my “front-brain” busy while my subconscious works on the story.

But, that said, I’m eager to get back to Library of the Sapphire Wind.  Catch you later!

FF: Interpretations

September 4, 2020

Persephone Reads

As I was writing this, I realized that much of what I’m reading right now deals with the ways different points of view shape how events and people are portrayed.

For those of you unfamiliar with 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.

A reminder that I’m always happy to hear what you are reading!

Recently Completed:

Dark Whisper by Bruce Coville.  Third book in the Unicorn Chronicles. Audiobook.  Nearly forgotten secrets revealed.  A very tense book, well done.

Expecting Someone Taller by Tom Holt.  A re-read, impulse chosen because I felt like smart humor.  This book contains the single funniest and yet oddly sensible summary of Wagner’s Ring Cycle ever.  Loved it all over again.

In Progress:

The Last Hunt by Bruce Coville.  Fourth book in the Unicorn Chronicles.  Audiobook.  An immediate sequel to the prior.  I saw that this series is being re-released.

The title is deception but The Bible As History by Werner Keller.  This book’s title in the original German was Und die bible hat doch rechet which translates as closer to “And the Bible is Right” with “Right” in the sense of “Accurate.”  This comes closer to reflecting the intention of the book, which was to compare biblical texts with then current archeological research and see how many passages in the Bible provide good guides to cultures and landscape features of the time.  Needless to say, since the book was published in 1955, more recent discoveries have invalidated some material, but this is still a very enjoyable read, excellently and fluidly translated by William Neil.

Also:

Smithsonian Magazine.  Nice assortment of articles so far.

Don’t Stuff Your Creativity in a Bag

September 2, 2020

Roary in a Bag

When the craft of writing is discussed, one of the points most likely to start an argument full of snooty opinions  and hot tempers is whether or not an author outlines a work in advance.

I’ve talked about this in in the past and, because I did a pretty thorough job defining terms then, I’m not going to repeat myself.  You can read it here. (Just skip the garden report.)  This Wandering is going to revisit the issue!

As I have said before, I definitely come in way over on the “intuitive” side of the sliding scale.  Honestly, I get bored if I know precisely how a story is going to work out.  Exploration along with my characters is what keeps me fresh.

But sometimes that exploration happens really, really fast.  When it does, well, I guess I could say I become one of those who outlines.

My recent slide over to the outlining side of the scale happened starting on August 21st.  I’d been offered a chance to write a story for a forthcoming “space western” anthology.  I’d tossed a few ideas into my subconscious, then pretty much left them alone while I worked on finishing the manuscript of SK4 (the fourth volume in the Star Kingdom series I’m writing with David Weber).  I handed the manuscript over to Weber on the afternoon of August 19th and was looking forward to a bit of a break before facing the next deadline.

However, Thursday night, the story started bubbling forth with so much energy I had trouble sleeping.  Friday morning, I started writing.  By Friday afternoon, I had 3,500 words.  That’s something over fourteen pages.

But here’s the interesting point, at least for me.  Usually I write complete scenes in the order they happen.  The one exception to this is when I’m writing more than one point of view.  Then I may write portions separately and intercut, although I rarely do that too far in advance in the plot.   This, however, was a short story with one point of view character.

As I was writing the opening, I suddenly “saw” the next scene. So, after I’d written as much on the opening as I needed to make sure I wouldn’t lose my sense of what was happening, I jumped ahead to scene two.  As I was writing scene two, the same thing happened.  So—after writing the establishing elements—once again, I jumped ahead.  This went on for hours.  By the time I finished, those 3,500 words were more or less an extremely annotated outline.

I don’t usually write on weekends but, apprehensive about losing this amazing inspiration, I wrote on both Saturday and  Sunday, fleshing out various scenes.  Far from getting bored, my creativity was fully engaged, I suspect because the pace kept me from thinking and re-thinking story elements.

I finished the story on Tuesday, bringing it in at something over 8,000 words.  Wednesday, I proofed, tightening up and polishing my hurried prose.  Wednesday afternoon, Jim started his read-through.  I went through and corrected the typos he found.  Then, on Thursday, I sent a copy of the story to my good pal, Paul, who loves both Westerns and SF.

Paul sent the story back to me by Friday morning with some good comments.  Once again, I polished, then sent the 8,000 word story, now titled “Claim Jumped,” off to the editor.

So, what’s the takeaway from this experience?

As I see it, it’s “Don’t get so invested in your image of yourself as a writer that it gets in the way of your writing.”  As I noted in the WW referenced above, there are a lot of people who get very superior about being “intuitive” or equally superior about “planning,” and sneer at those who write differently.

What’s important isn’t how you write, it’s that you write, as well as that, as I did in this instance, you feel invigorated and invested while you’re doing it.

Now, off for that break which—if I’m completely honest—seems to involve writing as well.