Archive for October, 2020

All Over Again

October 30, 2020
Roary Prepares for His First Halloween

Purely by coincidence, many of the books I’m reading this week are re-reads.  In many cases, it’s been decades since I read the original, so there are lots of little surprises along the way.

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:

Not Quite Dead Enough by Rex Stout.  Set during WWII.  This one turned out to be two novelettes, the title piece and one called “Booby-trap.”  Both were good, and it was nice seeing Wolfe pushed, repeatedly, out of his comfort zone.

Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes by Rick Riordan.  (Fictional) Percy Jackson serves as narrator of twelve accounts of the trials and travails of twelve Greek heroes.  Those not familiar with the series may find his occasional allusions to events and character in the series confusing, but Riordan doesn’t hold back as the contractions and just plain weirdness of many of these myths and legends are presented. 

In Progress:

A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny.  Almost done.  Enjoying all over again.

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia Wrede.  Full Cast Audio Productions version.  A friend reminded me of this charming series.  Originally published in 1990, this was one of the first series to take on what has now become a common trope: turning fairytale (especially Disneyesque) expectations for princess and princesses, wizards, witches, and dragons, on their head.

Also:

I’ll be writing the Introduction to a reprint anthology featuring the best of DreamForge and Space and Time magazines, so I’m doing a bit of reading to get prepared for that.

Behind A Night In the Lonesome October

October 28, 2020
My Copy of A Night in the Lonesome October

I don’t often write about the days when Roger Zelazny and I were close, because, quite frankly, even though he died in June of 1995, it still hurts to remember when we didn’t realize how little time we would have.

But this year I have a happy memory I want to share, one awakened by all the people who are reading one of Roger’s last novels: A Night in the Lonesome October.

Although Roger and I weren’t living together when he wrote that book, we were in touch pretty much daily.  We wrote long, serial letters to each other, and talked on the phone several times a week.  What many people don’t realize is that A Night in the Lonesome October was a book Roger had had in mind for many years before he actually wrote it.

As I remember it (and since I’m just Wandering on, I’m not going digging through my letters to document precise dates), Roger was telling me about books he hadn’t written but would like to write, and this lead him to going through his files and finding the letter he’d written Gahan Wilson, along with Gahan Wilson’s reply, which included a quick sketch of Snuff.

Or maybe Roger went through the files first, came across the letter, and that triggered him telling me about it.  I honestly don’t remember.

Anyhow, what I do remember is Roger telling me about the novel he’d wanted to write, and equally passionately had wanted Gahan Wilson to illustrate.

Then, almost before either of us realized what had happened, Roger was taken over by the book.  He typed happily away (yes, he either handwrote or used a typewriter).  The only time he forgot he’d promised to phone me was when the book took him over so completely that he lost a day.  He called me the next day and, when I asked him if everything was all right, he got this funny note in his voice and said: “I forgot to call, didn’t I?”

(Happily, although I was yet to have much published, I was a writer, too, so I understood.)

Later, when the book was done, Roger told me that he realized that the friendship between Snuff the dog and Graymalk the cat owed something to our friendship, including how easy we found it talk, even when the topic was something difficult or intimate. 

Even after A Night in the Lonesome October was finished, Roger continued to love it to bits.  If you can find the audiobook which he read, you should know that the reading was done all in one session.  Roger and the recording engineer were having such a good time that, since no one else was using the studio that day, they just kept going.

Roger did something similar at a convention, in Utah, I think.  (I wasn’t there.)  He started reading.  The audience kept listening, and since the room wasn’t going to be in use, he just read the whole novel.  A friend of mine who was there said very few people left, and those who did slipped out reluctantly.

Is there a moral to this story?  There just might be.  Roger wrote A Night in the Lonesome October at a time when publishers were more and more trying to steer their authors—especially those who had one or more popular series—to do most of their work in those series.

When Roger was writing A Night in the Lonesome October, he was supposed to be writing the first book in what was to be a big new series of three books at least.  (What I would eventually be asked to complete as one book, in case you’re wondering, that came out with the title Donnerjack.) 

But Roger gave in and listened to his Muse.  In the process, he wrote what many readers now say is their favorite of all his works.  Writing A Night in the Lonesome October also gave Roger a tremendous amount of pleasure, and fired up his imagination so that not only was he more excited about Donnerjack, he also started scribbling what would become the other book I completed for him: Lord Demon.

To Roger’s great good fortune, his editor at Avon Books, John Douglas, was excited to get an unexpected Roger Zelazny novel—and open-minded enough not to be annoyed that it was not written to fit the agreed upon formula of what a Roger Zelazny novel should be.  This time Gahan Wilson was available to do the art, and the project moved rapidly along.

Chaos and Order.  Opener and Closer.  Roger was definitely both.  I miss him still.  I always will.

I’d thought about inviting people to do  a “day by day” read through of A Night In the Lonesome October with me this year (especially since Halloween falls on a full moon), but Jim’s knee replacement surgery (and the recovery, especially) meant I didn’t have the time.  Having been lucky enough to find a new love, after I thought I’d lost my heart forever, I know better than to take my good fortune for granted.

Mythic and More

October 23, 2020
Mei-Ling Inspects the Heroes Outside of Her Cave

I’m splitting my energy in a lot of directions, but I’m still managing to snag time to read.  Sometimes it’s not much, but I’ve learned that if I don’t read, my writing suffers!

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:

Tether’s End by Margery Allingham.  Fifteen book in her Albert Campion series.  As is often the case as the series went on, Campion is a background character.  Some similarities to Tiger in the Smoke, with a trickster figure as adversary.

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan.  Audiobook.  First in her “Memoirs of Lady Trent.”  Extremely mannered, detached narrative style may not be for everyone.  I enjoyed enough that I will probably continue with the series.

In Progress:

Not Quite Dead Enough by Rex Stout.  Set during WWII.  Archie is enlisted and serving as a Major.  His task, convince Nero Wolfe to take on a case.

Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes by Rick Riordan.  (Fictional) Percy Jackson serves as narrator of twelve accounts of the trials and travails of twelve Greek heroes.  Those not familiar with the series may find his occasional allusions to events and character in the series confusing, but Riordan doesn’t hold back as the contractions and just plain weirdness of many of these myths and legends are presented. 

Also:

After a year off, I’m back to running my RPG, so I’m reading a lot of material related to building the current adventure.  Rather fun…

Disproportionately Happy

October 21, 2020
When Life Hands You Bird Seed

One thing I’ve learned is to allow myself to be disproportionately happy about the little things.

Like Jim’s mostly using a cane now, and is able to extend the time between his doses of pain medication and muscle relaxants.  Sure, we have a long way to go before he’s “back to normal,” but there’s a lot to be said for cherishing improvement.

A much dryer than usual autumn means that we’re not getting much from the garden, but every bite of sweet basil and homegrown arugula is a pleasure.  The Swiss chard is making a comeback, now that it doesn’t need to fight the heat, and every week I’ve been able to add a few little eggplant to dinner.   There are even a few tiny tomatoes and I know I’ll be cutting a lot of still ripening peppers when we get our killing frost warning.

Then there’s the little tiny baby fish in our pond.  Earlier this year, some predator wiped out all the goldfish in our teeny little pond.  Those fish were our friends.  They came to the sound of our voices.  We got new ones (we always rescue a few from the “feeder fish” tank at the pet store) and they’ve all made the summer.  But best of all, about two months ago we spotted a tiny little darting bit of silver grey that is now about an inch of white goldfish with orange spots.  It’s a scion of those we lost, a little bit of continuity.

How about the squirrel who ate (at a conservative estimate) eighty percent of the bird block we bought so Jim could take bird pictures?  That squirrel really annoyed the birds, and we’re back to putting seed in the feeders (which the squirrel can’t get to), but the bonus was some very cute squirrel pictures.

We even found a source for horse manure to use in next year’s garden! 

Little things.  Bright little things.  The background “music” to which I compose my stories.

This weekend, on Saturday, I’ll be hosting a Kaffee Klatche and participating on a panel at the this-year-virtual MileHiCon.  No problems finding a seat, and you can make sure your coffee and tea is just how you like it.

 Off to write now.  Be well!

FF: Dragons and Tricksters

October 16, 2020
Gangly Roary: Almost Seven Months Old

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:

Death of a Dude by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  A Nero Wolfe.  This one takes Archie, and later Nero, to Montana, outside of their usual comfort zone.

Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham.  Thirteen book in her Albert Campion series.  Often regarded as the best in the series.  I’m not sure I feel that way, but it’s very good.

In Progress:

Tether’s End by Margery Allingham.  Fifteen book in her Albert Campion series.  As is often the case as the series went on, Campion is a background character.  Some similarities to Tiger in the Smoke, with a trickster figure as adversary.

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan.  Audiobook.  First in her “Memoirs of Lady Trent.”  Extremely mannered, detached narrative style may not be for everyone.  Despite a singular lack of romance and being set in a nicely developed imaginary world, has something of the feel of the better Regency Romance. 

Also:

Weber sent me his notes on SK4, so I spent a fair amount of reading time on that!

Your Turn, Folks

October 14, 2020
A Painterly Presentation

My life the last couple of weeks hasn’t been focused on exciting writer things.

(Is there such a thing as an exciting writer thing?)

Basically, I’m a caregiver (because Jim is recovering from total knee replacement) who is doing a lot of chores, and finding time to write in between.

Honestly, I tried really, really hard to think of something to Wander on about that wasn’t a repetition of the last two weeks’ Wanderings and I couldn’t.

So, it’s your turn folks!  Help me out.  Ask me some questions about projects past and present, or some aspect of my writerly life, or even about hobbies or gardens or…

Pretend this is a very small virtual con and you’re attending my “An Hour With…” session.

If I can give a short answer, I’ll put answer in the Comments.  If I can’t answer briefly, I’ll answer in next week’s WW.

FF: Mostly Mystery

October 9, 2020
Mei-Ling Reads

One of the things I really like about reading older mysteries is that the prose can be so incredibly good. 

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:

Traitor’s Purse by Margery Allingham.  Tenth book in her Albert Campion series. This one is tense, with Campion suffering amnesia and finally facing how screwed up his priorities are. 

Right to Die by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  A Nero Wolfe.  Published in 1964, the speech in the first chapter could have been made by many a Civil Rights activist today. 

More Work for the Undertaker by Margery Allingham.  Twelfth book in her Albert Campion series.  A return to her pre-War type of settings, with quirky characters and a very localized problem.  Introduces Charlie Luke, who will become Campion’s “active” police ally in later books.

In Progress:

Death of a Dude by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  A Nero Wolfe.  This one takes Archie, and later Nero, to Montana, outside of their usual comfort zone.

Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham.  Thirteen book in her Albert Campion series.  Often regarded as the best in the series, it deals with PTSD in a very creative manner.

Also:

As usual, the beginning of the month brought in a bunch of periodicals, and I’ve been doing what might be called “channel surfing,” if that could be applied to print media.

Recovery Time

October 7, 2020
Agnes and Asters

First, apologies if the formatting is wonky on this.  For reasons known only to them, WordPress has eliminated their easy Classic Editor in favor of Cumbersome Block Editor.

As I mentioned last week, my husband, Jim, had total knee replacement on his left knee on September 29th.  He came through surgery very well.  However, the recovery is a long one, even for someone is in relatively good shape such as Jim.  We know this, because we’ve been through it before, about two years ago, when he had his right knee replaced.

Long?  What do I mean?  A year before full endurance and mobility return, although there are definite improvement stages along the way, including not needing a walker (shifting to a cane), needing little or no pain medication, and being able to drive again.

As of this writing, Jim is rattling around the house on a walker, doing limited in-home PT, and trying to reduce how much pain medication he’s taking without going overboard.  He’s an over-achiever, so a long recovery like this one can be frustrating. 

As for me, I’m trying to balance between helping too much and not stepping in when he’s over-doing.  As for writing…

Well, as I’ve said repeatedly, I can write pretty much anywhere: in company or alone, longhand or on my computer.  The one thing that can make it hard for me to write is uncertainty, because that’s when my storytelling brain switches over to trying to figure out how to deal with the different logic paths that evolve out of the uncertain element.

Take the day of Jim’s surgery.  After I dropped him off at the hospital, because I couldn’t be with him in pre-op or recovery, only once he was in his room, I reluctantly went home.  I then started working out what needed to be done before I went back.  As I worked through the list, I also was mentally timing events.  Since I hadn’t been informed of any delay, I assumed that surgery was happening on time, at around noon, as I’d been informed. 

You can imagine how I was thrown for a loop when I got a call from Jim at 12:30 that there had been a delay, and that, in fact, there would be another delay.  I’ll skip the details, and just say that he didn’t go into surgery until somewhere around 3:00 pm.  Those hours of uncertainty, including whether or not I’d be able to go see him before visiting hours ended, were creatively null.

Oddly enough, once he was in surgery, I was able to write for about an hour and a half, because whatever happened I wasn’t “on deck” to deal with it.  When the indecision kicked in again (How did it go?  When will the surgeon call?  Will there be time for me to go see him today?), I was booted out.

Now Jim’s home.  There’s a certain element of disruption, but often I can find a time— usually when he’s napping—where the uncertainty ebbs, and I can write.

There you have it!  Thanks to those of you who have sent Jim good wishes.  I’ve been passing them along.

Than Never

October 2, 2020
Persephone: Jim’s Nurse

Sorry this is late but, as I posted Wednesday, Jim had total knee replacement surgery on Tuesday and my sense of what needs to be done when got completely messed up.  But here I am, reading away and eager to hear about good things to read from you!

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:

Might As Well Be Dead by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  A Nero Wolfe.  Convoluted but fun.  There’s more continuity in this series than I remembered, including what today would be considered “spoilers” for devices in past novels.

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

Champagne for One by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  A Nero Wolfe.  Archie is the only one present to insist that an apparent suicide was actually a murder.  Nice element of additional tension.

In Progress:

Traitor’s Purse by Margery Allingham.  Tenth book in her Albert Campion series.  I read the ones between this and Policemen At the Funeral earlier this year, so skipped ahead.  This one is tense, with Campion suffering amnesia and finally facing how screwed up his priorities are.

Right to Die by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  A Nero Wolfe.  Published in 1964, the speech in the first chapter could have been made by many a Civil Rights activist today. 

Also:

While sitting in the hospital with Jim, when he napped, I worked on my current work-in-progress.  I’ve finished my re-read and noted areas that need work.  Very excited.