Archive for July, 2021

FF: Still Rather Mythic

July 30, 2021
Persephone’s Stressful Regard

Looking at this list, I see my reading is quite mythic still.  The Moomin books may not be anyone’s official mythology, but they have that feelings nonetheless.  They’ve been my before bedtime reading because The Stress of Her Regard (which is excellent) was giving me nightmares! 

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.  And it’s also a great place to tell me what you’re reading. 

Recently Completed:

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers.  Audiobook.  I don’t usually read two books by the same author at the same time, but someone failed to return my print copy of this one, and finding that there was an audio was tempting.  One complaint.  Accents are important in this, as if voice pitch, and, while the reader is good, he rarely gets these right.

The Valkyrie by Richard Wagner, translated and annotated by Frederick Paul Walter.  This new translation is lively and accessible.  Although I know the basic story, I found myself having trouble putting this down.  Illustrated both with modern line drawings and a host of archival material.

Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson.  Translated by Elizabeth Portch.  Probably my favorite.  There’s a magical realism feeling I quite like.

In Progress:

The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers.  The “secret history’ in this novel comes from a combination of events in the lives of several of the most prominent figures in English literature, including Byron, Shelley, Keats, and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.  Read this, and you’ll never read their poetry and fiction quite the same way…

Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor.  Audiobook.  So far, I’m liking…  Uses some of the same themes as Akata Witch (the outcast who makes a virtue of her difference), but in a very different manner.

A Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson. Translated by Elizabeth Portch.  Realizing I got these out of order, I went backwards.

Also:

I’m back to working on getting new e-book versions of my backlist up, and so re-reading Artemis Awakening

Mixed Impressions

July 28, 2021

“So, this is where the magic happens,” said a guest upon seeing my office for the first time.

I agreed, because I knew this was meant as a compliment about my writing.  Even then, though, I was thinking how, weirdly enough, my office is where the least magical part of my story creation is likely to happen.  My office, my desk, my computer, are just where the stories get written down.

Well, most of the time.  Actually, a lot of my stories start out handwritten because, as I’ve mentioned before, there seems to be a more direct channel between my imagination and a form of transcription when pen and paper is involved.

Where does the magic happen?

On the edge of falling asleep.  In the shower.  When weeding the garden.  Cooking.  Washing dishes.  Folding clothes.  Doing something crafty.  In the middle of a conversation, when something said sparks an idea…

I rarely have a magical creative moment when staring at the computer screen, willing myself to write.  On the other hand, I do set myself goals when working on a project.  An artistically poised dilletante is definitely not how I see myself.  I’m proud of the fact that I make deadlines, and that I work hard to make sure that I do.

Does this give you a mixed impression of what it’s like to be the writer that’s me?  If so, perfect!  I am nothing if not a suite of contradictions that come together to create stories.

I’m curious.  Where do your “magical moments” happen?  I’m definitely not restricting this to writing.  They might be related to some other art.  Or even something to do with your job or the classes you’re taking.  Inspiration belongs to all of us.

Oh!  The associated photo is of a goldfinch among the Russian Sage in our yard.  I thought the mingling of tiny bird and even more minute flowers had a definite impressionist feel.

FF: Mythic Fiction

July 23, 2021
Roary Pokes His Nose in a Good Book

My reading this week is richly indebted to myth and folklore: Arabic, Biblical, Norse, Egyptian, and more.  Although The Valkyrie has become foundation material in its own right, as with the works by Powers, Wagner used mythic as a foundation for a story unique to his own vision.   

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.  And it’s also a great place to tell me what you’re reading. 

Recently Completed:

Declare by Tim Powers.  I’ve only read this one once, and I know a lot more now about the time period in which it is set.  The problem with secret history/alternate history as a form, is if you don’t know what’s being played with, you miss some of the fun.  This was good but had an atypically detached narrative voice that (based on a comment within the book itself) was clearly intended, but I don’t think served the material well.

In Progress:

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers.  Audiobook.  I don’t usually read two books by the same author at the same time, but someone failed to return my print copy of this one, and finding that there was an audio was tempting.  One complaint.  Accents are important in this, as if voice pitch, and, while the reader is good, he rarely gets these right.

The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers.  The “secret history’ in this novel comes from a combination of events in the lives of several of the most prominent figures in English literature, including Byron, Shelley, Keats, and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.  Read this, and you’ll never read their poetry and fiction quite the same way…

The Valkyrie by Richard Wagner, translated and annotated by Frederick Paul Walter.  This new translation is lively and accessible.  Although I know the basic story, I found myself having trouble putting this down.  Illustrated both with modern line drawings and a host of archival material.

Also:

I’m debating whether or not to renew some magazine subscriptions…  I don’t seem to have time to catch up…

Here Come the Sunflowers

July 21, 2021
Can You Find the Bee?

I really like sunflowers.  For one, they grow two crops: first flowers and then birds (when our avian co-residents come for the seeds).  Jim and I like the flowers, and the cats like watching the birds.  Actually, we humans enjoy watching the birds, too.  Good all around.

If you look closely at this picture, you can see that the bees also enjoy the sunflowers.

This year, we discovered another reason to appreciate sunflowers.  Almost by chance, we planted some at the far western end of one of our raised beds.  Once they got started, we realized that, with their large leaves and thick stems, the sunflowers were providing a sun screen that ameliorated the temperature in what had been, to that point, one of the hottest of our beds.  As an added bonus, the stems are providing a natural trellis for the tepary beans.

I’m already making plans for expanding this natural sunbreak to another bed next year.

But for now, we’re quite happy just to enjoy what we have.

(P.S.  For the gardeners among us, the variety in the photo is called Candy Mountain Hybrid.)

FF: Powering Up

July 16, 2021
Roary Says: “I Declare!”

This week I’m immersing myself in the weird worldview promulgated in the fiction of Tim Powers.

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.  And it’s also a great place to tell me what you’re reading. 

Recently Completed:

Legion by Brandon Sanderson.  Audiobook.  This is a compilation of three novellas that are so interdependent that I don’t think the third would have the same impact if you hadn’t read the first two.  First is good, often funny.  Second has more complex plot, quite good.  Third is much darker, but has a fairly satisfactory conclusion.

In Progress:

Declare by Tim Powers.  I’ve only read this one once, and I know a lot more now about the time period in which it is set.  The problem with secret history/alternate history as a form, is if you don’t know what’s being played with, you miss some of the fun.

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers.  Audiobook.  I don’t usually read two books by the same author at the same time, but someone failed to return my print copy of this one, and finding that there was an audio was tempting.  One complaint.  Accents are important in this, as if voice pitch, and, while the reader is good, he rarely gets these right.

Also:

Finished the most recent issue of Smithsonian

Seizing Opportunity

July 14, 2021
A Opportunity Accepted

Many thanks to all who helped Jim decide which photo to enter in the little local contest.  With your prompting, he chose “After the Dustbath.”  Responses overall were interesting, but this one seemed to hit people both on an artistic level, and on an “awww-so-cute” level.  It also seemed to appeal because of the sense of motion it contains.

Several comments (as well as e-mails) asked me about Jim’s photography.  So, here’s my very amateur attempt to reply.  First of all, all four photos featured last week were hand-held, no tripod.  Jim used a long telephoto lens for most of the photos, although “Cedar Waxwings” was taken with his regular lens.

None of these photos were taken at a zoo, aviary, wildlife preserve, or any location where the birds’ freedom of motion was restricted.  Three, in fact, were taken in our yard.  The sandhill cranes were photographed at a facility created as a rest stop for migrating wildlife.

In the case of the photos taken at our house, Jim often had minimal time to prepare.  The set-up was likely something like this:

“Hey!  Quail out front!  With chicks!”

Camera is then grabbed, pointed, focused, and photos are taken.

Jim doesn’t have any of those fast clicky devices used by professional photographers who specialize in action shots.

The photo accompanying this piece was taken in our back yard, by flashlight (held by me), for no other reason than that we’d never seen a toad actually sitting on the lily pads of the miniature waterlily in our teeny pond.  The toad knew us so wasn’t scared.  In fact, he started singing, and thus the photo.

This brings me to the value of seizing opportunity.  So often I’ve encountered people who refuse to do something because they don’t feel sufficiently assured in advance that it will be worth their while or “pay off.”  The recent trend of self-publishing and the related one of “monetizing” crafts has added to the sense that no one should do anything for any reason except to make money.  That’s such a pity.

The two novels I recently sold (Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge aka “The Over Where Duology”) were written without any promise of anything except that I’d really have a great time writing them.  And I did.  Even if these books had never sold, nothing could have taken that joy from me.

The Firekeeper books, my most popular series to date, come from the same happy place.  I wrote Through Wolf’s Eyes because I wanted to, even though I was surrounded by people who held forth that a professional writer like me, who already had several published novels (including some like Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls and Changer, which had received a lot of critical acclaim) should never take on such a big project without a contract.

But I did, and in addition to making me happy, I made a lot of other people happy, too.

So, seize the opportunity, whether to write or craft or dance to your favorite song…  Or join our toad friend, and sing for no other reason than that you feel like doing so.  Joy is its own reward.

FF: Writing to the Editor

July 9, 2021
Persephone Contemplates the Evolving Nature of the Hero

Remember how I complained last week that an article in Smithsonian mispresented Albuquerque?  It ended up bugging me enough that I wrote a letter to the editors.  I’ll let you know if they choose to print it.

Maybe if they don’t, I’ll post it here!

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.  And it’s also a great place to tell me what you’re reading. 

Recently Completed:

The Quest for Theseus by A.G. Ward (editor and author).  A heavily illustrated (with photos of art, coins, etc.) look at how the myth/legend Theseus of Theseus evolved, and how different time periods seized on different aspects of the story.  Five authors contribute material, with Anne G. Ward contributing the bulk.  Much enjoyed.

In Progress:

Legion by Brandon Sanderson.  Audiobook.  This is a compilation of three novellas that are so interdependent that I don’t think the third would have the same impact if you hadn’t read the first two.  First is good, often funny.  Second has more complex plot, quite good.  Third…  I’m still listening to it, but it’s gotten very dark and very scary, in part because the author has done a good job of making me care about his characters.

Also:

Two issues of DreamForge Anvil.  This is a new iteration of the magazine once known as DreamForge.  It’s sort of a hybrid between a fiction magazine and a writer’s workshop.  Behind the scenes looks at editor’s notes and author response are available, and some articles deal with the craft of writing.  I’m only reading the stories, and glancing at the editor’s notes.

The stories are not as strong as those in DreamForge, in part because many are shorter, and many are “beginner” pieces.  However, this does not mean they are weak, and as with all stories, your reaction may be different from mine!

Help Jim Decide!

July 7, 2021
Quail Family

Jim is considering entering a photo in a little contest for bird photos. He’s narrowed down to four choices, but isn’t sure which might have the most appeal.

Can you take a look at the four I’ve posted and put your vote in the Comments? If you want to say why you chose it, I’m sure he’d enjoy hearing that, too.

Meanwhile, I’m busy catching up and all the things I let lie fallow while I finished up work on my two “Over Where” novels: Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge. Enjoy the pictures!

Cedar Waxwings
After the Dustbath
Sandhill Cranes Reflecting

FF: And Now

July 2, 2021
Baby Quail

In this photo, a baby quail marches happily across the gravel in our front area. You may need to look carefully, as he is not much bigger than the gravel!

This is one of the about a dozen chicks (featured with their dad in this week’s WW) who have been delighting me and Jim.

I’m happy to announce that I’ve finished the revisions to Aurora Borealis Bridge, the second of my forthcoming “Over Where,” series.  While I catch up on various and sundry jobs, I’m feeling a bit more ambitious about my reading.

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.  And it’s also a great place to tell me what you’re reading. 

Recently Completed:

Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayer.  My library doesn’t have this as an audio, so I pulled this one off my reading shelf.  Many people dislike because it’s “mystery light,” but I love the language, and the focus on the characters.

Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie.  Audiobook.  Poirot doesn’t appear until toward the end, making me wonder if Christie was encouraged to change a “stand alone” into a series book.  Either way, he does a good job.

In Progress:

Legion by Brandon Sanderson.  Audiobook.  Just started.  I rather like Sanderson’s opening author’s note.

The Quest for Theseus by A.G. Ward (editor and author).  A heavily illustrated (with photos of art, coins, etc.) look at how the myth/legend Theseus of Theseus evolved, and how different time periods seized on different aspects of the story.  Five authors contribute material, with Anne G. Ward contributing the bulk.  I’ve dipped into this, but never read cover to cover, and am looking forward to it.

Also:

Back issues of Smithsonian.  I’ve reached the current one, and enjoying, despite a very annoying misrepresentation of Albuquerque that implies it owed its relative stability to the arrival of the railroad, when it had been in place long before.