Archive for May, 2022

FF: Hidden Value of Re-Reading

May 27, 2022
Mei-Ling Ponders a Riddle

As I have been re-reading Patricia A. McKillip’s “Riddle of the Stars” trilogy, I’ve been impressed by how early in  the novel she planted hints of the solution to the final riddle, hints I certainly missed the first time I read the book, but which make the books all the more satisfying.

Re-reading is often dismissed as “comfort” and “lower stress,” and I absolutely agree that I often re-read for this reason.  However, especially as a writer, it’s also a terrific way to study the art and craft of what I do.

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. 

Completed:

The Riddlemaster of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip.  Re-read.  First in the “Riddle of the Stars” fantasy trilogy.  A long-time favorite of mine.

Heir of Sea and Fire by Patricia A. McKillip.  Re-read.  Second in the “Riddle of the Stars” fantasy tribology.  McKillip made a daring move in this book, changing the POV character, and so expanding numerous elements while moving the story forward.

Harpist in the Wind by Patricia A. McKillip.  Final in the “Riddle of the Stars” fantasy trio logy.  A rich and ambitious novel, and a fine conclusion to the tale.

In Progress:

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Audiobook.  Spies, intrigue, and hints of romance in this sideline novel in her popular Barrayar setting/Vorkosigan saga.  Almost done.

By the Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie.  Re-read.  Tuppence and Tommy.

 Also:

A variety of short non-fiction.  As pandemic restrictions ease, Vogue returns to more photo spreads, but attempts to continue its socially aware material as well.  However, an article on knees shows that fashion’s obsession with unrealistic body goals continues.

Toads and Bunnies

May 25, 2022
Look on the Roof!

Interesting wildlife news from our yard…  Topping the list is this adorable toad sitting on top of the Toad House that our friends Gail and John Miller gave us many years ago after we expressed our enthusiasm that our little pond had attracted real, live toads!

For those of you who don’t know, I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which is officially “high altitude grassland,” because we’re supposed to get 7.5 inches of rain a year.  Lately, we’ve gotten quite a lot less, but haven’t been reclassified to desert, yet.  Therefore, toads and tadpoles (of which our tiny pond is currently supporting quite a few) are very exciting.

Less exciting is discovering after several bunny-free years, a juvenile rabbit has gotten into our back yard.  So far it has eaten the newly sprouted Swiss Chard and arugula; two eggplant plants (which retailed at something like four dollars apiece, so definitely not cheap); and portions of two rows of newly sprouted tepary beans.  We can replant the beans, thank heavens, and hopefully we’ll be able to score more Swiss chard seeds, but I am less than enchanted—especially since I can’t find out how it got in.

I mean, just because my latest releases—Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge—are portal fantasies doesn’t mean I want my yard to be a wild rabbit’s magical kingdom of Lunch.

I’ve only seen the bunny twice, and maybe it spotting me will convince it to go elsewhere.  However, as a precaution, Jim is busy with chicken wire and trying to block gaps in the fence. We can hope, but hope can always use a little help.

Off to go look for it again…

FF: Awkward Moment

May 20, 2022
Persphone Pounces the Moon

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. 

Completed:

Moon Flash by Patricia A. McKillip.  Many people are surprised to find she wrote SF as well as Fantasy.  In memory of her recent demise, I decided to re-read this.  Although it has a sequel, it is its own story.

The Moon and the Face by Patricia A. McKillip.  Sequel to Moon Flash, although its own story.

Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire.  Audiobook.  Re-listen.  Plot and characterization take second place to description in this tour of the compass points.   Fourth in her Wayward Children series.

In Progress:

The Riddlemaster of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip.  Re-read.  First in the “Riddle of the Stars” fantasy trilogy.  A long-time favorite of mine.

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Audiobook.  Spies, intrigue, and hints of romance in this sideline novel in her popular Barrayar setting/Vorkosigan saga.

 Also:

Okay, for those of you who read this far, awkward moment.

I started Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers as an audiobook (with the same reader as the prior two of hers in her “Wayfarers” series).  Unlike the prior two, in which plot is slim but made lively by vivid characters, from whose problems the worldbuilding is worked in, this one—for me—lacked either characters or plot, but seems to be the author’s world-building notes presented via talking head characters.  I’m a long-time SF/F reader, so very few of the world-building details are new enough to me to hold my interest. I am willing to eventually give the book another try, but if anyone has read it and can brief me, either in the comments or via e-mail, I’d be interested in feedback. 

A Least Favorite Job

May 18, 2022
Words Into Terrain

Last week, I promised to reveal what is one of my least favorite jobs as a writer.  It’s making maps.

You’d think that as a long-time gamer, I’d have mapping down to a science.  I mean, I’ve been gaming since I was not quite eighteen, and have been running games for almost as long.  But, nope.  It doesn’t work that way.  Lately, when our games need more detail, gamer Rowan (also cover artist for Asphodel) takes my rough drawing and starts gridding.  She’s amazing that way.

I have no trouble envisioning the terrain in which my stories are set.  I just don’t seem to be able to draw it.  For many stories, I don’t need a map.  Maybe I can access real maps of the locations involved, as I did for Child of a Rainless Year or Thirteen Orphans and the other “Breaking the Wall” novels.  Or maybe the focus is tight enough or on something other than moving through a landscape, so I don’t need a map.

Or maybe I can get away with a very general map, noting where locations are in relation to other locations.  That’s what I did with the early Firekeeper novels, although later I needed more detailed maps.

So, what do I do when I need a detailed map?  I turn to my husband, Jim.  As many of you already know, Jim’s an archeologist, and making maps is a part of his professional tool kit.  The maps he draws are very detailed, and even include elevations, which is definitely useful when the challenge of crossing a bit of terrain is part of the story.

When Jim needs to help me out, I start by giving him a verbal portrait of the landscape, including the rationale behind various terrain features.  This narration is often accompanied by a rough map by me, drawn not with images, but with words.  Jim then translates this into a sketch, which, in turn, often reveals to me additional ramifications of the terrain.

Sometimes these ramifications even become plot points.

We’re still roughing out the current map, but you can get a glimpse of Jim’s work, as well as the very little he has to work from, in the accompanying photo.

Now, off to do what I like doing far more than I like cartography.  Writing!

FF: In Honor of McKillip

May 13, 2022
Roary Poses

In honor of the recently late Patricia A. McKillip, I’m re-reading one of her lesser-known works, the SF novel Moon Flash.  I read it years ago and learned she brought to SF the same lyric beauty and sense of wonder that is hallmark in her fantasy.  It’s also relatively rare in her canon in that it has a sequel.

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. 

Completed:

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chamber.  Audiobook. At this point, structure is two intertwined novellas, each of which is interesting in its own right.  This one has more of a middle grade/coming of Age vibe than A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.

The Sound of Murder by Rex Stout.  Third person narration featuring Alphabet Hicks in the role of detective.  At the time of publication, it was centered around relatively cutting-edge technology.  Plastics, for one, sound recording for another.

The Red Box by Rex Stout.  Even without looking this one up, I could tell it’s clearly early in the series.  Archie is more of a thug.  Cramer actually lights a cigar.  Wolfe’s bookmark is ebony…  Oh, if you wonder, it’s the fourth in the series.

In Progress:

Moon Flash by Patricia A. McKillip.  Many people are surprised to find she wrote SF as well as Fantasy.  In memory of her recent demise, I decided to re-read this.

Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan Maguire.  Audiobook.  Re-listen.  Plot and characterization take second place to description in this tour of the compass points.   Fourth in her Wayward Children series.

Also:

Overall, the new Archeology magazine has some good articles, but the one of Egyptian “demons” had me wondering if the illustrations had been pulled from the wrong file, since in at least two places they not only fail to illustrate the text, they undermine it.

Gardener: ’Tain’t Whatcha Think

May 11, 2022
Chocolate Flowers

Monday morning, as I was out in our yard, preparing various containers for seeds while on stand-by in case Jim needed help as he set up our swamp cooler, I found myself thinking about the term “gardener,” as applied to writers.

As you may know, in this context, “gardener” is used as a synonym for what I prefer to call an “intuitive plotter,” but is often referred to by the inelegant term “pantser,” which in turn is short for “seat of the pants plotter,” (a term that in my opinion is only slightly better).

Whatever you call it, a gardener is a writer who does not outline in advance of writing, and may not seem to plan much in advance at all.

So, it was when I worked out my novels, Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge, which have been praised by award-winning reviewer Alan Robson, who noted that the story elements “have very significant roles to play in advancing the plot, and every time the plot advances the story exposes another intricate layer and we learn more and more about the way that the world of Over Where works. I’m astonished that Jane Lindskold managed to hold a structure as complicated as this one in her head while she was writing it, and I’m impressed at the skilful way in which the twists and turns reveal themselves so gradually and yet so inexorably.”  (Phoenixzine, May 2022)

By contrast, when I worked with David Weber on the forthcoming A New Clan, my natural tendency to not plan in advance had to be moderated by the need to work with another author.  In turn, Weber moderated his own desire to brainstorm in exhaustive detail to accommodate the fact that if I have it all figured out in advance, I feel the story is told, and am less enthusiastic.

Well, as I knelt there in my yard, stirring up dry soil, adding additional potting soil, soaking the planting medium in stages to make sure it was uniformly damp, and only then adding in the seeds—these spaced according to their specific needs, and those needs dictated by where that particular planter was going to be placed—I found myself thinking for the hundredth time how inappropriate the term “gardener” is for an intuitive plotter.

I wandered on at greater length about this subject here, so I’ll point you that way, and summarize.  (The first part of this other post is about our garden that particular year, but I suggest you read it, especially if you don’t garden yourself.)

Just as a gardener does not plant without acquiring a lot of advanced knowledge, so an intuitive plotter does not get ideas from some abstract ether.  A lot of work goes into preparing the “soil,” to learning about what the seeds need, to learning about the environment in which the plant or the story will grow.

A great example are the chocolate flowers featured in the photo above.  Jim and I like flowers, but we also like to work within the needs of our environment, which is hot, dry, and fairly brutal.  Chocolate flowers thrive in poor soil, without need for additional watering once they are established.  A bonus is that local birds love the seeds, so we not only get to watch the birds, they help spread the plants in our yard.

(The name “chocolate flower” comes from the scent of the flowers, which is not unlike bittersweet chocolate.)

So, for all you folks who think you can just zen your way into a story, without any foundation at all, remember, the planning goes in, whether before, after, or along the way, but one way or another, you’re going to need to do the work.

Speaking of which, I’m off to pull out scrap paper and work on one of my least favorite jobs…  Maybe I’ll talk about what that is next time.

FF: Expectations

May 6, 2022
Roary Is Definitely NOT a Red Shirt

This week, my reading made me think a lot about expectations.  That’s always a good thing.

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. 

Completed:

Red Shirts by John Scalzi.  I’d wanted something light and funny, and this filled the bill very nicely.  However, the three Codas at the end where what made this book a winner for me.

In Progress:

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chamber.  Audiobook. At this point, structure is two intertwined novellas, each of which is interesting in its own right.  Thus far, this one has more of a middle grade/coming of Age vibe than A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.

The Sound of Murder by Rex Stout.  Not a Nero Wolfe, but featuring Alphabet Hicks in the role of detective.  What’s fascinating about this one is that at the time of publication, it was centered around relatively cutting-edge technology.  Plastics, for one…

Also:

A bit more short fiction.  And the new Archeology magazine just came in!

Spring Brings

May 4, 2022
Mystery Lizard

We’re having a very dry spring here in our corner of New Mexico, but our little pond (128 gallons empty) is nonetheless home to a ridiculously large crop of tadpoles.

We also seem to have a new—to us, that is—type of lizard which has taken up residence in our yard.  It’s not either our two usual types: the blue whiptail and the fence lizard.  It’s featured in the picture above and I would love if anyone can help us out with figuring out the type.  It seems to have settled in on the west side of our yard, and even chosen a favorite basking rock.

Winds have been high, and temperatures all over the place, so other than a bit of transplanting, we haven’t yet put the garden in.  However, we’re getting ready.  I’ve started some tomatoes from seed.  We’re going to try two new, to us, varieties this year, both of which we acquired from Native Seed Search, and which are supposed to handle high temperatures well.

Now that the excitement (and considerable extra work) related to the releases of Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge only two months apart is ebbing, I’m segueing into more writing. 

Whenever I need to think, I wander outside, weed a little here, water a little there.  It’s definitely nice to have a chance to spend more time outside. Be well