Archive for the ‘Going Places’ Category

Pretty Nonsense

May 31, 2017

Recently, I mentioned to a friend that, as an interruption in a busy weekend that was too full of Things To Do and too little with fun, Jim and I had dropped into an antiques and collectibles mall.  My friend asked, “Out of curiosity, what interests you most?  Furniture?  Jewelry….?”

Junk?

My answer probably didn’t surprise her.  “Neither.  Weird stuff.  Oddities.  Sometimes flat-out junk.  Occasionally, I’ll buy one of those jars full of odds and ends of costume jewelry or buttons.  My short story ‘The Button Witch’ came directly from making such a purchase.”

It did, too

Often I don’t buy anything at all.  I just wander around, soaking in all the things that people have decided are important enough to keep, that other people have decided are important enough to buy.  I’m not looking for inspiration as such but, without such fueling stops, after a while the only things I would end up writing about would be cats, gardens, and guinea pigs.

Sometimes, though, we do buy something.  Old books, especially ones long out of print, are favorites.  No surprise there.

Last year Jim bought me a magnificent Chinese brocade shawl lined in velvet.  When I protested I had nowhere to wear such an elaborate thing, he said, “You can wear it to the Bubonicon Afternoon Tea.”  So I did.

Another time I bought a battered wooden lap desk.   I took it home, sanded it (with a little help from Jim) and then sealed it with “pecan” Minwax.  It still looks a bit battered, but shiny.  I’m considering covering the lid with a collage of cancelled postage stamps, and then using it to keep my stationery.  However, I need a lot more stamps before I can do that…

Such trips, where what we’ll see is completely unpredictable, are like mini-holiday for the brain.  I’m curious.  What do you do when you’re feeling a need for stimulation?

Event and Eventful

April 26, 2017

This coming Saturday (April 29th), I’ll be over at Page One Books here in Albuquerque between 3:00 pm and 4:30 to help out as they join in the Independent Bookstore Day celebration.

Me at a past Page One event

Why are we celebrating independent bookstores?  Well, the folks at Page One explained this so well, that I’m just going to quote them.

“Independent bookstores are not just stores, they’re community centers and local anchors run by passionate readers. They are entire universes of ideas that contain the possibility of real serendipity. They are lively performance spaces and quiet places where aimless perusal is a day well spent.

“In a world of tweets and algorithms and pageless digital downloads, bookstores are not a dying anachronism.  They are living, breathing organisms that continue to grow and expand. In fact, there are more of them this year than there were last year. And they are at your service.”

This coming Saturday (April 29th), I’ll be over at Page One Books here in Albuquerque between there, ready to try and show you where to find just the book you’re hoping to find.  If I can’t, I’ll hand you over to one of Page One’s staff members.

Even if you aren’t looking for a specific book, I hope you’ll drop by and chat.  This is one of those rare events where I can just relax and visit – no panels, no scheduled events.   I hope you’ll come by…  Interested in a complete list of participating authors?  Look here.

Otherwise, this last week was marvelously busy.  I think we’ve finalized the cover art for the official When the Gods Are Silent e-book.  It’s pretty dramatic, in keeping with the trend I started with the cover art for the e-book of Smoke and Mirrors.

What?  You didn’t know that Smoke and Mirrors is now available as an e-book?  Yep!  It is.  Even if you already have a copy, this one includes an original afterpiece.   You can read more about the new e-book here.

I’m also immersed in writing a new novel.  The idea came to me a few weeks ago, hybridized with one I’ve been considering for the last several months, and has now taken over my creative brain.  I’m enjoying myself a great deal.

What next?  I’m really not certain.  There are a lot of variables in flux right now, so I’m focusing my sights on the immediate future, rather than investing too much energy in worrying about even a month from now.

Now, off to write.  My characters are about to…  Well, I’ll just need to start writing and find out!

Reimagining

November 23, 2016

This weekend, I went to an art show called “Fantasía Fantástica: Imaginative Spaces and Other-Worldly Collage” at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.  This features the works of four artists, all of whom create using a variety of found or repurposed materials.  Although all four artists are considered Latina/o, they work outside of the (to quote the brochure) “narrow definitions of what is considered Latina/o art.”

As Peter said last week: “Art is an ongoing conversation the future is having with the past,” and this show seemed built around that idea.

A Different Look

A Different Look

One of the reasons I wanted to see this show was because it involved collage and the use of unusual materials.  Rachel Muldez, for example, uses materials from nature: oak galls, magnolia seed pods, bits of wood or stone, tiny dried vines.  Nick Abdalla builds abstract sculptures from a variety of found objects, including wickerwork, placemats, animal horns, and scrap metal.  Color was downplayed in the majority of his works, which invited the viewer to look more closely at the shapes.

Cynthia Cook’s and Carlos Quinto Kemm’s art fit more closely into what people usually mean when they say “collage” in that the works were flat (more or less) and were intended to be hung on a wall.   That didn’t mean they were in the least “same old, same old.”  Cynthia Cook uses found objects – or as she herself calls it “trash metal, trash glass” – as not only elements in the collages but in creating the frames.  Carlos Quinto Kemm’s multi-layer collages are so densely populated with images that the three of us (I went to the show with Jim and our friend Michael Wester) spent a great deal of time exploring the details. “Did you see that tiny monkey in the corner?”  “Is that a turtle or a griffin?  “I really want to know the story behind that woman.”

Another reason I wanted to go to this show was the promised fantasy element.  I’ve seen many SF/F art shows.  These are always fun but, after a while, a degree of sameness does creep in – and not only due to the fact that certain artists mail their contributions to shows all around the country.  There are always dragons (and I like dragons), vampires, fairies, as well as works inspired by visual media productions – both new favorites and older “classics.”

I wanted to see what Fantasy meant to people outside of the SF/F community.  Certainly there were similarities such as mermaids and dragons, but there were differences too.  Religious elements –  and not only Christian – had a larger place.  There was a sense of a dialogue between a historical culture and an evolving present.  Mystical searching seemed to reverberate though many of the works, an impression confirmed by the artists’ statements accompanying the show.

Among the interesting elements was the time these artists were willing to give to permit a piece of art to evolve or to find the right place for a particular found object.  Several of the artists mentioned how a certain item might stay in their studios for years until the time came to use it.  Lately, maybe because November is NanoWriMo, I’ve seen a lot of emphasis on working hard and fast – as if that also means working at one’s best.  This show was a good reminder that a work that takes weeks or months to write may be years or even decades in gestation.

I found a bonus in the statement that accompanied Nick Addalla’s work.  He’s been involved in various forms of art for over forty years, and is recently retired after being a teacher at UNM for twenty.  About his current work he says: “I am learning to PLAY again…  Hours and hours of serious and totally involved play, getting lost in the MAKING.  No ambitions.  No goals.  No need to justify.  Just doing.”

That really spoke to me.  After years of writing to deadline, wondering what the next job will be, I’ve been doing a lot of creative “play” that has been very satisfying.  I’m feeling happier about my recent decision to permit myself a chance to explore my own creative ventures with less concern about where the story might “go.”

Seriously, these narrow definitions can really impede a writer’s creativity.  A couple of weeks ago, I came across a plaintive Twitter post from a well-known YA writer who was commenting on her own work in process:  “Is this even YA anymore?”

Should she need to worry about that?  Shouldn’t she just be permitted to write the best book she possibly can?  But the fact is that, in these days of “if you like this, you should read that” marketing, stories often aren’t permitted to be themselves, they’re trimmed and altered so they can be presented as a “portal story” or a “space opera” or a…  Well, you get what I mean.

In the handful of days since we saw Fantasía Fantástica, I’m already seeing the world  differently.  A friend sent a beautiful card.  I’m saving it with a future collage of my own in mind.  I’m smiling as I think about the short story I started last week, a story inspired by my allowing myself a foray into visual art.  It’s all good.  In fact, it’s all great!

Moving Along Now

November 16, 2016

Thanks to everyone who weighed in last week regarding branding as it applies to books and your awareness of them.  I’ll keep you posted on developments.  Please feel free to keep sending me comments, either on the post or to my work e-mail: jane2@janelindskold.com.

A Pile of Ongoing Projects

A Pile of Ongoing Projects.

Currently, I’m focusing in on the writing/editing side of things.  Last week, Jim finished reading the manuscript for a novel I wrote on spec.  The original manuscript was 54,000 words, but I recently expanded it to a tidy 72,000.  One of my jobs this week will be polishing the expanded version and getting it to a few beta-readers.

I’ve also selected which of my out-of-print Avon novels I’ll be getting ready for e-book publication.  Smoke and Mirrors, originally published in 1996, is a far future science fiction novel about what happens when a very unlikely person becomes among the few to realize that there just may be hostile aliens infiltrating human-inhabited worlds.  It’s more thriller than war story, because I prefer the small picture to massive troop movements.

If you can’t wait for the e-book, I still have some copies of the original mass market paperback of Smoke and Mirrors.  See my website bookstore for details.

I’m also writing a short story, because I’ve learned the hard way that if I’m not doing something creative, I get very, very grumpy.

This past weekend featured several fun and creatively stimulating events.  Friday, I read my yet-unpublished short story “A Familiar’s Predicament” at the monthly meeting of the Albuquerque Science Fiction Society.  I very much enjoyed the discussion afterwards.  Particular thanks to the lady who cheered at the story’s resolution.

Saturday, Jim and I went to the New Mexico Archeological Council’s annual conference.   Although Jim’s paper was the last of the day, we went early enough to listen to most of the other papers.   Even though this is technically outside of my “field,” I find such events very creatively stimulating precisely because the papers are outside of what I would usually be reading and thinking about.

Many of the papers we listened to had to do with the crossing of the various cultures that have settled the region now known as New Mexico.  In addition to the “alien invasions” represented by the incursion of peoples from Europe, there were culture clashes and cross fertilizations between the numerous indigenous peoples – many of whom spoke completely different languages and practiced widely varied religions.  By contrast, modern “America” looks positively homogeneous.  How many cultures have occupied this landmass is worth remembering, especially in these days when there is a rising myth that the United States was once a monoculture.

Sunday, I had a lovely time running my on-going roleplaying game.  Running a game is an entirely different type of storytelling.  I very much enjoy the stimulus of setting up a situation, then seeing how my players react as they discover something.  This week in particular was full of discoveries.  I can hardly wait for next time…

But, for now, I’m off to split my time between pen and paper and keyboard once more.  The stories are calling, and I must come!

Behind the Schedule

August 31, 2016

Overall, last weekend’s Bubonicon was a great deal of fun.  I had a chance to catch up with some people I only see at conventions.  I made a few new acquaintances who just might become friends over time.  I even had a couple of very interesting meetings.

Chatting with Folks at the Tea

Chatting with Folks at the Tea

I was on four panels, all of which went well.  My reading of the short story “Choice of Weapons” was well-received and generated some very interesting questions.  I signed books ranging from some yellowed copies of my early Avon Book titles to my most recent efforts – the “Artemis Awakening” novels, my short story collection Curiosities, and my non-fiction Wanderings on Writing.

Signing books brings me to my one uncomfortable encounter at the convention.  Following my first panel, a man came rushing up to the speaker’s dais and thrust a small stack of books at me.  “Can you sign these?” he said.  I replied that, in fact, I couldn’t.  The man looked astonished.  “You can’t?”  “No,” I said.  “I need to go feed my husband.”

Then again, on Saturday following a panel, the same man materialized with the same small stack of books.  “Can you sign these?”  “No, I’m sorry.  I can’t.  I have a prior engagement.”  When the man looked shocked, I went on, “That’s what the Mass Signing is for.  I’d be able to sign them then.”  The man never showed up, and I will forever wonder if he decided I was so rude he wouldn’t bother.

Now, unlike some authors, I don’t mind signing books outside of the usual schedule.  In fact, I did a great deal of impromptu signing throughout the convention.  However, at those times, I didn’t have another commitment.  This brings me around to today’s look behind the schedule – or, as I could have titled it: “What You May See as Open Time Just Might Not Be So.”

This year my Bubonicon schedule was relatively full.  On Friday, I was on the first panel of the convention at 4:00 pm.  This ended at 5:00, leaving Jim and myself just an hour or so to get dinner before both the Opening Ceremonies (which, unlike at many conventions, are a big deal at Bubonicon) and my second panel of the evening.  If we hadn’t eaten when we did, I would not have been able to remain coherent through my second panel!

My Saturday schedule did not officially begin until my reading at 1:30 pm.  However, we arrived at the convention early.  Once there, I met up with Josh Gentry, editor of Snackreads, to discuss a possible expansion of his webzine.  We talked until right before my reading.

After my reading, I then had about a twenty-minute break, during which I discussed “Choice of Weapons” with some of those who had attended and also signed a few books.  I then went on to a panel, directly after which I had arranged to meet with Steve (S.M.) Stirling and his wife Jan for an early dinner.

I went directly from dinner with the Stirlings to the Mass Signing.  After the signing, I had an informal meeting with Jeremy Brett from Texas A&M regarding the possibility of my putting my papers in their repository someday – Mr. Brett was very persuasive – as well as engaging in some more general chat.  Eventually, Jim and I went home, where we medicated elderly cats and fixed a broken pond pump.  And collapsed!

Sunday I was once again on the first panel of the convention.  (I don’t mind early panels and the concom knows this; what I don’t handle well are late panels!)  After that, I attended my first and only event of the convention – the excellent interview of co-Guests of Honor Rachel Caine and David Gerrold by Toastmaster Joe Lansdale.

From there, Jim and I went out to our car, collected our contributions to the Afternoon Tea, went and helped set up, and then worked the Tea (delightful as it is, it’s still work) for the next two hours.  After this, we helped with clean-up, and then had a few minutes to quietly sit down and chat with folks before the Closing Ceremony.

I never saw the entire Dealer’s Room or Art Show.  Why?  Because if a fan wanted to chat, I stopped and did so.  After all, being there to talk with fans is part of my job, and I take it seriously – but my desire to engage with fans doesn’t mean I feel I must go without food or be late for previous commitments.

Back in 2011, I wrote a Tangent about some aspects of convention etiquette.  It doesn’t seem like a bad idea to repeat a few of those points here, especially those related to talking with an author outside of scheduled events.  If you’d like to read the full piece,which touches on a broader spectrum of the experience, you can find it here.

Otherwise, here’s the bit that pertains to today’s Wander with a few additions.

A lot of well-meaning fans often insert themselves into what are private conversations.  When this happens, the author is at a loss.  On the one hand, it’s a compliment that someone likes your work enough to want to stop and chat.  On the other, you were just talking to a friend.  Maybe you were saying something that wasn’t meant for general consumption.

I hate being rude to a fan, but what to do when the fan is rude, especially when the rudeness persists over an entire weekend?  I’ll admit that I have asked for a moment to finish what I’m about before turning my attention to the newcomer.  If that makes me rude…  Well, I don’t know what the solution is.

Fact is, it’s hard facing the expectations placed on an author at a convention.  I walked down a corridor early one morning and overheard the following statement: “I was just in the elevator with Lois McMaster Bujold.  She didn’t even look at me.  She’s so rude!  I’m never going to read one of her books.”

I wanted to shake the speaker.  She judged a writer based on an elevator ride?  An elevator ride where the writer did nothing worse than not look at her?  Wow!  It’s enough to make me afraid to walk over the threshold of my hotel room into public areas!

Okay.  Not really.  But I think you see what I mean.

So meet the author by all means.  Chat.  But remember to extend the courtesy you would to any other human being.  Wait for an opening.  If you want to chat, have something to say other than “I love your books,” because, reasonably, the only polite response the author can give you is “Thank you.”  Questions are good, because they open up the chance for conversation.

And please understand, just because the schedule says that the author doesn’t have another event immediately after, this doesn’t mean the author is free.  Moreover, accosting him or her on the speaker’s dais directly after a panel is just about the worst time to do so because the author is trying to clear out so the next event can start.

If you absolutely must talk with an author right after a panel, wait outside the room.  Even then, remember, he or she may not be available right then.  That’s why most conventions schedule signings, whether group or individual.  If you can’t make the signing, then ask the author if there is a convenient time when he or she might sign your books.

I know a number of regular convention attendees read these Wanderings.  Perhaps you might have a few tips to offer or interesting anecdotes to share about your own experiences.

Off to Pittsburgh!

June 29, 2016

Last week, Jim and I spent several days in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  There’s nothing like travel to remind you how varied the U.S. can be.  We left Albuquerque during a series of dry days where temperatures topped 105  degrees, then arrived in Pittsburgh to rain and 72 degrees.

Me, Scot, and Jane Among the Dinos

Me, Scot, and Jane Among the Dinos

On Friday, our friends Scot and Jane Noel picked us up and took us to see some of the sights of downtown Pittsburgh.  As you may recall, I worked with both Scot and Jane on the computer game Chronomaster.  After the game was released, we stayed in touch. Since then, we have worked on a variety of projects, including an art contest for which I wrote the short story “Born from Memory” to go with the first place winning piece.

Last time we saw Scot and Jane was in New Mexico where we took them to see various things, including the petroglyphs near our house.  This time, the sights were a lot greener and more brightly colored.  We started at the Phipps Conservatory which amazed and delighted us with its marvelous variety of plants and sculptures.  Again I was fascinated by what a difference a shift in climate can make when growing the same plants.   I grow Swiss chard, but I’ve never had any success with the “Bright Lights” variety.  At Phipps, not only were they successful, their chard had leaves big enough to wrap a baby in!

After we’d finished with the Conservatory, we moved on to sample the Carnegie Museum.  We didn’t have time to see anything close to all of the exhibits, but we very much enjoyed the dinosaurs, gems and minerals, and a few other fascinating and beautiful things.  We also enjoyed what we saw of Pittsburgh itself, especially the widely varied architecture and numerous bridges and tunnels.

On Saturday, my sister, Susan, and two of her kids took us to Meadowcroft rock shelter.  In the world of archeology, Meadowcroft is famous for being one of the places where their discoveries broke the “Clovis first” theory of human habitation in the New World, pushing back the span of human habitation by several thousand years.

We were extremely lucky that James Adavasio, who directed the excavations at Meadowcroft, was in the area and giving a lecture.  Adavasio is an excellent speaker, with a wide breadth of interests.  One of the elements of his talk was showing how the theories put forth in early archeology – in which the work was done almost solely by men – were shaped by the male perspective to the point of ignoring the contributions of women and children.  He managed to be humorous, as well as informative.  I know that Jim and I enjoyed the subsequent tour all the more for having heard his talk.

Afterwards, we toured a model Indian village complete with a variety of dwellings.  I found myself taking feverish mental notes (and asking Jim to take a few photos) of some of the different types of shelters.   We also had a chance to throw atlatl darts at a deer-shaped target.  We all missed…  According to the docent, this meant we should all have only salad for dinner, as a reminder of how hard it can be to put meat on the table.

The weekend wasn’t all museums, conservatories, and academic lectures, of course.  We went and watched my young nephew play baseball, hiked, talked about books, and even played Clue.  This last led to us renting and watching the very silly movie based on the game…

I discovered that, after something like thirty years, I still remember how to play badminton.  Jim’s whiffle ball pitching got a thumbs-up from our baseball loving nephew.

Now that we’re back in New Mexico, those rolling green hills and that strange atmospheric phenomenon called “rain” seem more like myths than reality.  And I have a short story to review.

Funny thing.  Much as I enjoyed my holiday, I’m looking forward to getting back to the writing.  Life is pretty sweet.

Bugs Just Wanna Be Plants

April 27, 2016

This past Sunday, Jim and I went (along with our friends Michael and Chip) to the Botanical Gardens.  Our specific goal was to see the new Bugarium, an enclosed display featuring various kinds of insects.  The Bugarium offered a really interesting selection, including local insects most people never see, as well as various exotic selections from around the globe.  The displays included both subterranean and subaqueous types.

Walking Stick Revealed!

Walking Stick Revealed!

Additionally, besides the daylight section, there was a small but well-arranged jungle-at-night exhibit.

Not all of the insects were locked behind glass.  The leafcutter ants had an enclosure (surrounded by water, to keep them in) that extended up to the ceiling where an artificial vine enabled them to carry off their finds – on the day we were visiting, they had miniature roses, as well as leaves – to their nest.

Another “open” exhibit was a small outside pond, alongside which was a sign discussing the various types of dragonflies that one might see.  Jim and I particularly enjoyed this because our own small pond attracts at least three different types of dragonflies and now we could put names to them.

The Bugarium featured a great deal of educational material, but managed to make learning about bugs fun.  I very much enjoyed the hand puppet selection, including the very large spider that used all five fingers to create some realistic spidery motions.

In the name of diversity – or maybe only available display space – the Bugarium included one non-insect exhibit.  These were the naked mole rats from the Zoo (which is the Botanical Garden’s sibling within the Biopark system).  Naked mole rats have never been on my “favorites list.”  In fact, if asked if I wanted to hold a tarantula or a naked mole rat, I’d opt for the spider.

Ridiculous reaction, I know, especially for someone who, in general, likes rodents.  I don’t think my reaction to the naked mole rats is due so much the naked part, as the squinched up eyes.  Even when in a luxurious enclosure with plenty of food, the naked mole rats always just look uncomfortable…

By contrast, many of the insects appeared positively smug, especially those who specialized in various sorts of camouflage.  The Bugarium offered a wide variety of “walking stick” insects.  These came in shades from dark brown to pale green.  Most were rather twiggy, but a couple gave the impression of having bark.

I was interested to learn that the praying mantis family includes – in addition to the sleek green creatures I am familiar with from my yard – a wide range of colors.  There were even some dark brown types with rough protrusions that looked as if they had bark.   These were hard enough to find in a small tank.  If they’d been on the trunk of a tree, they’d have been completely invisible.

I didn’t write down the name of my favorite insect of the day, but it was called something like a “walking leaf.”  As with the walking stick insects, these insects had decided that the best way to get through life was to look very much like what they were not.  These didn’t stop with looking like a cluster of green leaves, they’d taken the art of camouflage to the point that some of the “leaves” were “nibbled” or “browning” around the edges, just like natural leaves.

Very cool!

Although visiting the Bugarium had been our main reason for going to the Botanical Gardens, we did walk around the entire facility.  We’ve been going to the facility since it opened, but one of the great things about gardens is how they change from year to year, even without anything “new” being added.

The Bugarium was this year’s new exhibit, but we enjoyed seeing how well last year’s new addition – the desert rose garden – is developing.  Last year it looked more like a construction site with some pathetic rose plants dotted around it.  This year it promises to start developing.  Definitely a return is in order later this summer.

We finished by visiting the aquarium.  It’s small but choice.  The big tanks include various types of sharks, rays, and even a couple of sea turtles.  The smaller exhibits include sea horses, squid, and jellyfish.  My personal favorite were some blue jellyfish with light yellow dots.  They looked more like swimming mushrooms than anything aquatic.

I was delighted to read that our Botanical Gardens have begun to get national attention, having been chosen by several travel sites as worth making the trip to visit.  Pretty nice having them within a short drive from my own home.

Now…  Time to go see the zoo.  I hear the new carousel is open and I love carousels!

But first, a mystery trip.  If all goes well, I’ll be telling you about that next week.

When You Don’t Know

April 13, 2016

How do you know what questions to ask when you don’t know you don’t know that there’s even a question?

Any Questions?

Any Questions?

This past weekend, I was the Featured Speaker at the UNM Writer’s Conference.  I had a wonderful time, and especially enjoyed having the opportunity to answer questions.  But the experience also left me with the above question.

Let me back up and explain…

Although the UNM Writer’s Conference was a “general” event – embracing writers of non-fiction, as well as of fiction in many different genres – there were a fair number of people there who were specifically interested in writing SF.  These people were serious enough about their writing that they had paid the relatively steep admission price.  (To be fair to the conference, this did include a nice box lunch, as well as coffee and snacks, and the possibility to sign up for a pitch session with an agent or an editor.)   Despite this, many of those I spoke with didn’t appear to know much about the SF/F field, nor did they appear to have done their basic pre-conference homework.

I am still feeling a little bad about giving a young man a hard time when he didn’t recognize my name.  Why?  Well, I certainly don’t expect everyone to know who I am.  Far from it!  I’m not a household name, even in the SF/F field.  However, I was the Featured Speaker for the conference.  If I had been paying to attend such an event, I would have researched every listed writer (in this case, there were only about six).  Then, especially for those who were writing in my chosen genre, I would have read at least one of their books.

(As those of you who read my Friday Fragments know already, I sought out a novel by Margaret Coel, the conference’s Guest of Honor, just because I felt I would get more out of contact with her if I understood something about her work.)

If you’re reading this, Nathan, I apologize.  I hope that the questions I did answer for you showed that I took you seriously.  And I hope that your pitch session went brilliantly.

However, this young gentleman was not the only would-be SF/F writer who showed a lack of awareness of the SF/F field.  Of the seven or eight people I spoke with, only two knew about Bubonicon, our highly-regarded local SF convention.  Given how important the SF/F convention is – not only to the field in general, but for authors as a means of learning about the field, having an opportunity to interact with readers, and, maybe, even to network – this really surprised me.

Back in the Dark Ages, when I started writing, I wasn’t a convention goer.  However, I knew that such conventions existed.  I even knew that they involved activities other than “serious” writing discussions.  This was in the Days Before the Internet, so I couldn’t easily research everyone who was expected to attend.  However, I did look up the listed guests, so that if I met any of them, I could speak intelligently.  My research also helped me to choose what panels I wanted to attend.  And, no, I wasn’t the grey-haired old wolf you all know.  I was twenty-six.

That brings me back to my original question: How do you know what questions to ask when you don’t know you don’t know that there’s even a question?

Well, here’s one option available to aspiring writers these days.  If you “follow” or otherwise interact with a writer, editor, or publisher via Social Media, and he or she uses a term you’re not familiar with, look it up!

A writer might say “I’m Guest of Honor at Such and Suchcon this weekend.”  If, instead of letting this odd reference slide by, you looked up Such and Suchcon, you’d then find out that this was an SF/F convention.  If you read the listed activities, you might see terms you don’t know, like “cosplay,” or “steampunk,” or “fan programming.”  By the time you’d looked those up, you’d have come to realize how vast and varied the field you are interested in has become.

Your next step should be to see if there is a similar event in your area.  As an experiment, I just Googled “SF con + NM.”  This gave me not only Bubonicon, but several other related conventions and a Wikipedia listing of SF conventions in general.

Honestly, this is the sort of research you would be doing if you were searching for a job in a specific area, and that’s what writing (and selling ) SF/F is.  Looking for a job.

All right, I’m curious, how would you go about figuring out what questions to ask when you don’t know you don’t know that there’s even a question?

Off to the Balloon Fiesta!

October 14, 2015

I guess there’s some truth to the old saying that people who live in an area are the ones least likely to attend the events that bring tourists to town.

When Pigs -- and Other Things -- Fly!

When Pigs — and Other Things — Fly!

I thought about that this past Thursday as Jim and I sat in slowly creeping traffic on the way to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.  Although this event has been going on (under various names) for a long time, we’d never been to it together.  It had been about twenty years for me and even longer for Jim.

One reason we hadn’t gone before was that our house is right on the flight path taken by lots of balloons, so we see balloons up close almost every day.  We’ve come to recognize the various patterns used by the companies that give rides, and even notice when they add a new balloon to their fleet.  It hardly seemed worth getting up the early hour required and joining crowds to attend the Fiesta.

So what made us change our minds?  Well, as those of you know who have been reading these Wanderings (or Tangents or Fragments), Jim is a pretty good photographer.  When I came across a listing for a contest with the theme of autumn in New Mexico, I encouraged him to enter.  He did and, while he didn’t win any of the main prizes, his photo was among the “honorable mentions” which came with four tickets to the Balloon Fiesta.

It seemed like an omen.

We decided to drive over, rather than taking the Park and Ride, since the price of the Park and Ride included the tickets we already owned.  Besides, we were going on a Thursday, not a weekend.  The traffic shouldn’t be too bad, especially if we left early.

We left our house before 5:30 a.m., which seemed plenty of time given that the event didn’t start until 7:00 a.m., and we’d normally need only twenty minutes to get to the Balloon Park.  We were wrong.  Traffic slowed to a crawl the closer we came to the park.  As we came within a mile, people walking along the paths that paralleled the road were going faster than the vehicle traffic.  I realize this is usual in some parts of the country, but it isn’t in Albuquerque.

We finally arrived and were parked by 7:30.  Happily, the balloons had only just started launching, so we had plenty to watch.  We’d chosen our day because it fit Jim’s work schedule, but an added bonus was that this was one of the days when “special shapes” were featured.

Special shapes are balloons that aren’t crafted in the usual “balloon shape.” You know what I mean – the one where there’s a wide upper dome that tapers at the bottom, providing a place for the gondola to hang.  There’s a variation on this “usual” shape that’s more like an American football – tapered at top and bottom.  These are more commonly used in racing and agility events.

Special shapes vary considerably.  Some are the usual shape with additions.  A good example of this sort was an elephant we saw: the main balloon was pink, but extensions in the shape of ears and a trunk had been added on.  The effect was very convincing.  Another along this theme had side panels featuring three different clown faces.  On this one, the extensions were used to give dimensions to the clown’s headgear.  Oh!  And I can’t forget the one that looks like Carmen Miranda’s head, complete with her signature crown of various sorts of fruit.

Many special shapes don’t bear any resemblance to a classic balloon shape.  They’re more like the huge inflated figures that you sometimes see suspended over parade floats – the difference being that these are free flying sculptures.  We were treated to an amazing variety.  There were three flying pigs – one with wings, one without, and a third costumed as Spiderman.  There was “High Kitty,” a tribute to the famous “Hello Kitty.”  There was the shoe belonging to the Old Woman who lived therein, complete with a child out on the roof.  There was a wizard, with a black and white cat in his backpack.  Oh!  And the heads of Darth Vader and Yoda rose majestically side by side.

There was a full-body beagle, complete with floppy ears and wagging tail.  An orca, leaping through the sky with an enormous grin on its face.  An enormous alarm clock.  Three bumblebees, two of which – as they rose into the air – “held hands” so convincingly that Jim and I were sure the two envelopes were stitched together.  They weren’t – it was the skill of the pilots that enabled this to be carried out.

And these were only a few…  And for every special shape, there were many, many classic balloons in every color you can imagine and a few patterns – like the two that appeared to have been made from batik fabric – that I would never have anticipated.

Because special shapes aren’t as easy either to inflate or to pilot, it’s a lot less certain whether they’ll be able to go up.  Wind that a “normal” balloon can handle with a little care can ground a special shape.

We were very lucky.  Not only was the wind so light as to be unfelt on the ground, the air currents kept bringing the already launched balloons back over the field, so we were able to see them from various angles and at a wide variety of elevations.  By the time the last balloon launched and some of the earlier risers were coming down, Jim finally stopped taking pictures and I realized that I was both cold and hungry.

From one of the numerous concession stands, we bought pretty good breakfast burritos and ate them, watching the balloons all the while.  Eventually, we joined the crowds, stopping to watch some Indian dancers, to look at the offerings of various vendors, and to amble through the art exhibit.  Then we made our way back to our car and joined the crawling traffic.  This time it didn’t seem nearly as bad because we had balloons to watch as we made our way home.

Off to Arizona

September 30, 2015

This past week, Jim and I completed the last scheduled trip in this fast-moving September.  On Sunday, we drove to the Phoenix, Arizona area so that I could take part in the premier event in the SFAZ Author Reading and Signing series.  Nearly two years had passed since we had made the drive to Arizona, and we quite enjoyed the trip.  It’s a fairly long drive – nearly five hundred miles each way – but if you like stark scenery, it’s quite lovely.

Blood Moon Omens

Blood Moon Omens

Leaving west from Albuquerque, we drove along I-40 through what Jim said archeologists (and probably other people) call the Red Mesa Valley.  Words don’t quite capture the setting, because “valley” to most people implies a dip in the landscape.  The Red Mesa Valley isn’t so much a “dip” as a wide, flat area bordered on either side by huge sandstone mesas (and probably some buttes) which tower up to frame the landscape in various shades of red and orange.

The lack of vegetation any taller than piñon or juniper (and the occasional line of cottonwoods, huddling along the rare watercourse) adds to the impact of these mesas.  This is a landscape so devoid of trees that many times I saw a cow taking advantage of the small amount of shade cast by a telephone pole.

Sadly, the Red Mesa country does not stretch all the way to Phoenix, or even all the way to Flagstaff.  (More about Flagstaff in a minute.)  Eventually, the mesas vanish or are, at best, distant outlines on the distant horizon.  You’re driving through the middle of nothing.

Remember Eagles’ song with the bit about Winslow, Arizona?  I bet the reason the girl in the flatbed Ford slowed down when she saw a man standing on a corner was because she was so astonished to see anything at all.  Winslow and its neighboring (as in about forty miles away) town of Holbrook are set in some of the most hypnotically repetitious landscape I’ve had the pleasure to travel through.

You find yourself commenting on freight trains, cows, or the occasional hawk because scrubby grass and shrubs aren’t exactly notable.  Happily, near Holbrook, someone has constructed a bunch of the worst dinosaur sculptures you could ever hope to see.  But their lack of realism doesn’t matter.  They’re painted in bright colors and break up the monotony.  I love them.

Sometime after we left the Red Mesa country, Jim and I turned on a recorded book.  We’d brought along The First Eagle by Tony Hillerman.  Hillerman’s mysteries are set in the same general area through which we were driving.  His protagonists drive hundreds of miles just to question a suspect.  I first encountered these novels when I still lived in Virginia.  There – among the crowded woodland, where a field can become a forest within a couple of years (if someone doesn’t take care to grub out the saplings) – the landscape Hillerman described seemed almost alien.  Now that I live among it, it still has the power to evoke awe and wonder.

Jim hadn’t read any of Hillerman’s novels, so now these are among our first choices when we know we’ll be driving in through the West.  One bonus is that sometimes we pass a setting featured in the novel.  This time it was the Hopi Travel Plaza and the town of Flagstaff, Arizona.

Flagstaff, Arizona, is everything that Arizona is not supposed to be.  Set among the San Francisco Peaks, the piñon and juniper give way to towering Ponderosa pines, the area is green and lovely, if not exactly lush.  It’s cooler, too, a welcome break from the heat of the lowlands.  While I can’t quite figure out why anyone would settle in Holbrook or Winslow, I have no problem understanding why travelers heading west decided to break their journey in Flagstaff and then decided to stay.

Leaving Flagstaff, we dropped down into hot, dry reaches again.  Soon the saguaro cactus began to make their presence known, standing out even among a landscape full of weird-looking plants with twisting limbs and an ample array of not just thorns, but spikes.

Phoenix is a vast, sprawling metropolis about which, I feel, the less said the better.  Many towns, including Scottsdale, where the SFAZ book event was being held, have been swallowed up and now exist as little more than enclaves within the greater creature.  Our drive there on Tuesday was accented by a quick, violent rainstorm, which is how rain tends to fall in the desert, when it bothers to fall at all.  Jim had to pay attention to the incredibly complex traffic patterns, but I got to enjoy a magnificent double rainbow.

The SFAZ event was held at the quirky SIP Coffee and Beer House.  Victor Milan, Melinda Snodgrass, and myself were seated at a long table of highly polished dark wood set at one end of the long room.  Attendees sat at tables for two or four arrayed around the room.  It was a nice setting in many ways, evoking the classic literary coffeehouse.

However, no matter how great for mood, low light isn’t wonderful when trying to give a reading…  I mentioned this as I was struggling both to read from the opening of Artemis Invaded and keep an eye on the clock. To my surprise, one of the patrons slipped his portable reading light into my hand!  It definitely helped.

After we gave our readings, we took questions.  These were many and quite varied, which made for a fun time for the panelists.  After, we had a chance to chat in a much more relaxed fashion than is usual at a book event.  I was particularly happy to meet reader Emily Newman, a winner of this summer’s “Help Make Artemis This Summer’s Hot Destination” contest.  It was also nice to catch up with writer Mike (Michael A.) Stackpole, who I hadn’t seen forever.

Now we’re home…  An inch plus of rain fell while we were away, so much of the garden is still going strong.  The lunar eclipse was eerie and strange.  But now I’m ready for normal.  I look forward to getting back to my various projects, including an idea I have for a story…