Archive for February, 2022

FF: Proofs and More

February 25, 2022
Mei-Ling Envisions Herself as a Dragon

This week I’m reading the page proofs for A New Clan, my June release.  This is the third of my Stephanie Harrington Honorverse prequels co-written with David Weber.

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.  Two of the series I’m trying right now are due to FF reader mentions.

Completed:

The Blue Girl by Charles de Lint.  Re-read.  Something always overlooked about de Lint’s work is the undernote of horror in many pieces, including this one.

The Dragon and the George by Gordon R. Dickson.  A portal fantasy where the portal is astral projection.  Characters are down on their luck grad students. 

All About Me! by Mel Brooks.  A memoir.  Upbeat.  Bonus.  Read by the author.  He even sings some of his lyrics.  After childhood, focus is mostly around his work, but there are touching bits about his family here and there.

Twilight of the Gods by Richard Wagner, translated and annotated by Frederick Paul Walter.  Ragnarök was too serious for while I was feeling cruddy, so I’m starting again now.

In Progress:

Trickster in the Front Yard by Jim Belshaw.  Non-fiction.  A collection of this Albuquerque newspaper columnist’s work from late 1990’s into early 2000’s.  Alternatingly laugh out loud funny and very touching.  The columns post the original September 11 attack are an interesting window into the mindset of that moment.

Cytonic by Bradon Sanderson.  Book Three in the Skyward YA series.  Just started.

Life by Keith Richards and James Fox.  Memoir.  Audiobook.  I read the book in print soon after its release, but some of the temptation of the audio version is that Keith Richards is listed as among those reading. 

Also:

Some scattered short fiction, and articles from magazines that are coming in in anticipation of the beginning of the month.

Change Your Mind

February 23, 2022
Finches Consider Their Options

It’s okay to change your mind about something you’re writing.  That’s what I’ve recently done with a plotline of a novel I started late last summer, and recently returned to working on. 

My life has changed a lot in many ways over the last six months.  In large part due to these changes, a major plotline that seemed very compelling back when I started the piece in August of 2021 not only no longer held my attention, I was actively opposed to working on it.  Since this did not apply to other plotlines in the same piece, which were developing easily and held my interest, I gave myself permission to let this plotline go.

Does this mean that prior effort was “wasted”?  Not at all.  The plotline may still come into the book at a later point.  Or it may be the heart of a later book.  Or it may simply have been a wrong turn.

I’ll know when I finish writing what I’m now happily working on.

One of the great freedoms to writing something on spec is that you don’t need to answer to anyone except your Muse when creating a story.

Sure, you can still change your mind, but there’s an extra step if you have sold or placed the piece based upon a proposal.  It’s not right to drop, say, a twisted romance on an anthology to which you’ve promised a dark fantasy sword and sorcery adventure.  Not only would the editor have every right to reject the new take, you’ll probably have seriously damaged any reputation you had for reliability or professionalism.

Nor, of course, if you’re writing in a series can you suddenly change established elements from prior published works. Firekeeper will never have been raised by giraffes, for example.

In fact, the longer the series, the more restrictions develop.  Finding good stories that fit into the established material is simply one of the challenges of writing a series. If you can’t find a good story, take a breather from that series.

I’ve watched so many writers push and push to keep working on a story that has lost its “zing.”  They seem to have forgotten that part of writing well is writing about something that has your full enthusiasm.

Or so I feel, at least.  As always, I’m happy to hear arguments to the contrary or examples of where an author managed the reverse.

Meanwhile, I’ll go wander off and get back to writing. I can’t wait to find out what’s next.

Sick Days Reading

February 18, 2022
Roary Sniffs a Good Book

This last week, I was pretty sick, but not too sick to read.  However, since longer material seemed a bit demanding, I started off with a lot of short fiction.

And, apparently, an interest in titles with the number three in them…

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.  Two of the series I’m trying right now are due to FF reader mentions.

Completed:

Vintage Murder by Ngaio Marsh.  The first of her books set in New Zealand.  It’s hard to imagine now, but she had to fight to use and “exotic” setting, even though it was her homeland.

Nine From the Nine Worlds by Rick Riodan.  Audiobook.  Short stories set in his “Magnus Chase” series.  Definitely requires familiarity with the series, but light fun within that context.

Captured Within Waking Moments by Alan Allinger.  Short story collection.  Contemporary mythic fantasy.  Mostly very gentle, without being pablum.

DreamForge Anvil, magazine, volume six.  I waited to read this because it has the last published story by our good friend, John Jos. Miller.  It’s a good story, my favorite out of a good collection.

Three Witnesses by Rex Stout.  Nero Wolfe short stories.

Three Men Out by Rex Stout.  Nero Wolfe short stories.

Three Days to Never by Tim Powers.  Re-read, but it’s been a long while.  More akin to Declare than Last Call, with a spy thriller feel.

Wild Robert by Diana Wynne Jones.  Illustrated very short novel.  Although having its own story arc, it could also have been the opening to a novel.

In Progress:

The Blue Girl by Charles de Lint.  Re-read, but since I haven’t read it since soon after its original release, it’s the best of old and new.

All About Me! by Mel Brooks.  Audiobook. A memoir.  Upbeat.  Bonus.  Read by the author.  He even sings some of his lyrics.

Twilight of the Gods by Richard Wagner, translated and annotated by Frederick Paul Walter.  Ragnarök was too serious for while I was feeling cruddy, so I’m starting again now.

Also:

Two heavily illustrated volumes: David Bowie: A photographic memoir.  Through the lens of Terry O’Neill.  Also, David Bowie Icon, a collection of visual images with short pieces by the artists.  I guess this is the grown-up version of sitting in bed with a picture book when you’re sick.

Creative Convolutions

February 16, 2022
Mei-Ling Demonstrates Creative Convolutions

Last week I mentioned how, when I’m trying to coax my brain into writing, I go back to setting a goal of writing at least twelve sentences a day, each day of the work week.  I asked if anyone wanted to know how that worked out, so here I am to report.

Since I was getting back into a novel manuscript that I’d been working on a couple of months ago, I had several good starting points to work from, places where I’d left gaps in what I’d written, and needed to fill in.  That got me through twelve sentences a day and a bit more Monday through Wednesday.

However, Wednesday night, I felt ill, had a horrible night’s sleep, and generally approached Thursday not in exactly my best form.  Still, the great thing about setting a limit as low as twelve sentences is that writing that much doesn’t seem insurmountable.

Did I make it?  I’m not exactly sure.  I really was feeling cruddy, and forgot to count.  What I did do was review what I’d done the day before, realize that I was at the end of my “filling in,” and that I needed to move on to what would come next.

When I retreated from my computer to curl up on the sofa with a stack of books to read, I would pause periodically and think about what I wanted to write next.  I also got the Friday Fragments written, a process which took a bit more energy than it usually does.

Friday morning, while I felt a heck of a lot better than I had, I certainly wasn’t doing great.  Staring at a computer screen intensified my aching head.  So, after doing my morning check-in, I gave myself permission to retreat to the sofa with something to read.

There, to my astonishment, I was hardly settled in with my latest read, when how to work my way into the next scene popped into my head.  I might have felt cruddy, but I didn’t feel too cruddy to get up, gather up my faithful clipboard and favorite fountain pen, return to my nest of blankets, and start writing.

“Maybe I can do twelve sentences today, after all,” I thought, and although the first eight or so sentences came hard, not only did I write my twelve sentences, I ended up writing quite a lot more.

“How much?” you ask.

Honestly, I don’t know.  I was writing on unlined scrap paper, but my handwriting varies widely in size, and I tend to write in an informal shorthand, using initials for names and other shortcuts.  But I did cover ten sides of paper before petering out.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, including the essays included in my book, Wanderings on Writing, there is no one way to be a writer, to loosen up one’s creativity.  However, for me, permitting myself creative convolutions is definitely one of the best tools for making certain the writing happens.  Even if what I end up with is a sloppy mess that will need to be typed over later, that’s definitely more satisfying than not writing at all.

Now to see what happens this week, because yesterday’s twelve sentences are done.  It’s today’s twelve that matter.

FF: So Many Ways

February 11, 2022
Persephone Has Stolen My Office Chair

This week my reading is practically a syllabus in the many ways a story can be successfully told: from epic drama to mystery and intrigue to a spicing of humor, I found that all of these tales worked for me.

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.  Two of the series I’m trying right now are due to FF reader mentions.

Completed:

The Hermit of Eeyton Forrest by Ellis Peters.  I enjoyed the story, but my writer self had the added bonus of watching three plotlines, none of them “subplots” weave together in an amazing fashion.

Year of the Griffon by Diana Wynne Jones.  Audiobook.  Very well done.  A semi-sequel (same setting, some overlapping characters) to her highly amusing Dark Lord of Derkholm

The Golden Spiders by Rex Stout. I always forget how much of a thug Archie could be in the earlier books. Glad Stout moved away from that.

Siegfried by Richard Wagner, translated and annotated by Frederick Paul Walter.  Excellent detail for both those new to the material and those familiar with it.

The Nursing Home Murder by Ngaio Marsh.  In this context, “nursing home” indicates a small private hospital.  A tale very tied to its time period, technology, and cultural passions.

In Progress:

Vintage Murder by Ngaio Marsh.  The first of her books set in New Zealand.  It’s hard to imagine now, but she had to fight to use and “exotic” setting, even though it was her homeland.

Nine From the Nine Worlds by Rick Riodan.  Audiobook.  Short stories set in his “Magnus Chase” series.  Definitely requires familiarity with the series, but light fun within that context.

Twilight of the Gods by Richard Wagner, translated and annotated by Frederick Paul Walter.  Just started.

Also:

I think that’s it, actually…

The Week After

February 9, 2022
Looking to Write a Twelve

The week after a new book comes out is always a bit strange.  Especially for a writer like me, who doesn’t belong to a writer/critique group, and who uses only a very limited circle of “beta readers,” it’s a bit like introducing your new beau to your family.  Will what you love come across to others?

This can get in the way of actually writing.  I’ve known some writers who freeze up even after they’ve sent out a piece to a potential market.  I don’t have that problem, mostly because I learned all too long ago that market response is glacially slow, and even response on a project that was solicited (such as a novel under contract or a story for an anthology) can take a while.

So, last week, even though I wanted to get back to writing, the need to do promotional stuff kept reminding me that Library of the Sapphire Wind was really “out there.”  This week I hope to get back to writing, and I’ll do it by going back to a trick I developed way, way back in the days when I had to fit my writing time in to teaching college fulltime (five courses, often five preps, which is a heck of a lot of work).

In those days, I was corresponding on a regular basis with Roger Zelazny.  One day, he mentioned in passing that he tried to sit down three or four times a day and write three or four sentences.

I’ll admit, my first response was indignation.  I barely had one time in a day when I could write: three to four times sounded positively decadent.

But a little imp whispered in my ear: “Three times four is twelve.  Surely you can make time to write twelve sentences in a day.”

And that became my goal.  Twelve sentences, no cheating with a bit of “yes/no” dialogue.    The next day, no matter how much I’d written the day before—because sometimes twelve sentences was enough to get me going and I’d write a whole lot more—start over with twelve sentences as my goal.

To my astonishment, this worked.  During the five years that I taught college fulltime, I wrote several novels, numerous short stories, this in addition to writing a non-fiction book (a biography of Roger Zelazny for Twayne) and a quantity of non-fiction.  I even started selling, so I was writing up to professional levels.

These days I write fulltime, so having time to write shouldn’t be as much of an issue, but with the new demands on a writer (such as writing blogs like this one), my time to write is still impinged upon.  I still need to find a way to get my head into the space to write.

And when I do, I turn back to those twelve sentences…  Surely, no matter what, I can write twelve sentences.  Right?  I can revise the later or cut them.  But I’ll be writing.

This week, that’s my goal.  Anyone interested in knowing if I achieve it?

FF: High Note

February 4, 2022
Flowers for the Launch!

This week’s high note was book launch day for my Library of the Sapphire Wind.  Here it is, in all its glory, with celebratory flowers from my friend, award-winning artist, Elizabeth Leggett.  Kindly note how she coordinated her bouquet to the colors of the cover!

Many of the mysteries below are re-reads, but it’s been a long time for many, and in some case this is my first time actually reading, rather than listening, to them.

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.  Two of the series I’m trying right now are due to FF reader mentions.

Completed:

The Hallowed Hunt by Lois McMaster Bujold, Audiobook.  Set in the World of the Five Gods, but in a completely different area.  Almost done.

Enter a Murderer by Ngaio Marsh.  I felt like classic mystery, and haven’t read this one for a long while.  The second Inspector Alleyne, and her first featuring the theater as a setting.

A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh.  Her first Inspector Alleyne.  A murder game goes awry.

Monk’s Hood by Ellis Peters.  Brother Cadfael on the trail of a murderer who used one of his topical ointments to poison.  A touch of Cadfael’s personal history spices this one nicely.

In Progress:

The Hermit of Eyton Forest by Ellis Peters.  Three plotlines cross in an initially confusion fashion, but seem to be coming together very satisfactorily.

Year of the Griffon by Diana Wynne Jones.  Audiobook.  A semi-sequel (same setting, some overlapping characters) to her highly amusing Dark Lord of Derkholm

Also:

I tried Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline.  Despite Will Wheaton’s excellent reading on the audiobook, I just couldn’t get past the shortsighted egocentrism of so many of the characters, especially as the crisis grows grim for a large segment of the planet’s population.

How Library of the Sapphire Wind Came to Be

February 2, 2022
I Want to Read It First!

My new novel, Library of the Sapphire Wind is available!  You can find it in print or e-book, at the vendor of your choice.

Now for one of the jobs I find hardest as a writer: trying to figure out how to say what the book is “about” without spoilers or merely reciting the plot.  As Charles de Lint once memorably said, “I used as many words as I needed to tell the story,” so summarizing the plot seems a bad idea.  In this case, that would mean something over 104,000 words for Library of the Sapphire Wind and about the same for its forthcoming sequel, Aurora Borealis Bridge (in your hands April 2022).

So maybe, since you can read the jacket copy on the book, or a longer version of the jacket copy here, I should talk instead about how this story came to be.

I started writing this novel in April of 2017.  Yes.  You have that right: about five years ago.

My trigger was a wealth of “portal fantasies,” some excellent, some not so, that were coming out.  Good or bad, they all seemed to feature kids, often high school-aged or younger.  I found myself wondering why there are so few portal fantasies with adults as those going through the portal.

I decided to write one, and that I’d up the gain by using not only adults, but older adults.  I also decided that I would avoid a couple of the classic elements of portal fantasy.  Most importantly, my characters would not be trapped, and they would make a conscious decision to take on their new roles.  I also decided that when designing the world into which they are summoned, I’d feel free to pull out all the stops.

My love for therianthropic figures goes back a long way.  However, other than some of the animal/human mythic characters in Changer and Changer’s Daughter (originally published as Legends Walking), I really hadn’t used them in any longer fiction.  I have also tended to hold back on magic and magical items, in part because they’re so often abused in speculative fiction.  This time, I decided to go ahead and let magic play a major role.

Although I wanted adults to be my “summoned,” I have absolutely nothing against younger people.  In fact, the five years I spent teaching college full-time gave me a great appreciation for that age group.  Therefore, I decided to link up Meg, Peg, and Tessa (aka Teg) with three twenty-somethings.  These young people are what, in their culture, is called a “holdback,” that is they have some issue they need to deal with before they can move on.

Those issues are at the heart of the story, and lead to the search for the Library of the Sapphire Wind.

The story took fire from the start and by October of 2017, I had a very rough draft that totaled 150,866 words.  Yes.  You read that right.  And, no, I don’t usually write that fast.  I discussed the book, now titled Library of the Sapphire Wind with my agent, who expressed enthusiasm, but wanted a finished draft before she shopped it around.

Shortly thereafter, I had to put the manuscript aside because other writing projects came up (including the chance to write the two new Firekeeper novels, Wolf’s Search and Wolf’s Soul).  Right after that I had to get to my next collaboration with David Weber, A New Clan.

Therefore, I didn’t get to pick up Library of the Sapphire Wind again until August of 2020.  I re-read the manuscript, decided I still loved it, and started revising.  Revising also included filling in a lot of worldbuilding, language design, and fleshing out plot elements. In the process, the manuscript grew to the point I knew I had to split it into two books.

Around this time, my agent, Kay McCauley, died.  I considered indie pubbing the books, as I had the new Firekeeper novels, but I really wanted to see if they could reach a larger audience.  Since I was already working with Toni at Baen on A New Clan, I decided to try her.  To my astonishment, in a very short time, as measured by traditional publishing, I not only had an offer but Toni knew where she wanted to put the books on her schedule.

And that’s now, and here is Library of the Sapphire Wind, finally able to be placed in your hands.  Enjoy!