Archive for the ‘My Stories’ Category

FF: Less Distracting

September 23, 2022
Mei-Ling Distracts

In addition to reading my own manuscript of House of Rough Diamonds, I’ve switched over to some lighter works or re-reads that won’t distract me from my editorial duties.

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:

Dabare Snake Launcher by Joelle Presby.  ARC.  A near-future novel about the complexities of building a space elevator.  Set in Cameroon, where the author lived for many years, and full of lovely detail about the local cultures, clashes between traditional and modern, and differing expectations.  Very much enjoyed.

In Progress:

Monster Punk Horizon by H.P. Holo.  Just starting.

Frog Kisser by Garth Nix.  Audiobook.  A re-read, because I felt like something less serious but still with heart.  A quest story featuring a cranky princess, a frog, a very large newt, a transformed otter, and a Royal Dog. 

Also:

American Archeology the current issue.  This is not the same magazine as the last couple of weeks.  Also, the new issue of Vogue.

FF: A Little Less

September 15, 2022
Mine!

You may have noticed I seem to be reading less.  That’s not really true.  As I noted below, I don’t always mention if my reading is scattered, and right now it is.  I’ve also printed a copy of my own manuscript, House of Rough Diamonds, and some of my reading time is going to that.

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:

Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge.  Audiobook.  I’d forgotten how many plotlines there were to resolve, but Vinge is hitting all the beats with elegant timing.

In Progress:

Dabare Snake Launcher by Joelle Presby.  ARC.  A near-future novel about the complexities of building a space elevator.  Set in Cameroon, where the author lived for many years, and full of lovely detail about the local cultures, clashes between traditional and modern, and differing expectations.  Very much enjoying.

Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien. Audiobook.  A car trip, again, so a few more hours to listen!

Also:

Archeology the current issue.  Almost done.

Five Minute Stories

September 7, 2022
Snackwriters!

Over the years, one of my favorite Bubonicon panels has become the “Snack Writes” panel, hosted by Josh Gentry.  Josh is fascinated by the question of how to fit reading and writing into days increasingly packed with work, various entertainment options, and the always important distraction of spending time with friends and family.

His “Snack Reads” website (on which he published my short story “Hamlet Revisited”) was part of the still-growing flash fiction trend.  Later, he produced “Snack Writes,” which provided short story prompts.  The panel has outlasted the website, and while the featured authors are required to read what they wrote, the audience has the choice whether or not to participate.

This year the participants were me, David Lee Summers, and the very brave Diana Rowland, who filled in for regular Robert E. Vardeman at the last minute.  Diana did great, and I hope she’ll join us again next time, even if Bob is back.

In our fifty minutes, Josh offered four prompts, two of which were single phrases (the others were a bit more detailed).  I’ll offer my end results, starting with the prompt.  I did not improve my prose, although I will not make you suffer my handwriting.

First Prompt: I am the squeaky toy of god.

Kibeth was filthy, and so her human had to take her to the groomer, thus missing part of Bubonicon.

How to explain?  Kibs had had to dig.  Something had been under the cherry tree.  At first, Kibs had thought it was a bird.  But it didn’t move.  A dead bird!  Even better!

Kibs went digging after it, deeper and deeper, driven by an impulse beyond sanity.  It chirped over and over: “I am the squeaky toy of god!”

Who could resist such a call?  Certainly not the Disreputable Dog.

But as the suds foamed around her, Kibeth heard the second part of the dead bird’s refrain: “I am the squeaky toy of God, and for me you will be washed clean!”

By my great good luck, right before the panel, I’d been told that my friend, Melissa Jackson, would be late because her dog had gotten into something and really needed a bath.  This combined with the dog in question being named for a character from Garth Nix’s novels Lirael and Abhorson, is why she is referred to as the Disreputable Dog.  Write what you know!

Second Prompt: Put them in the mixing bowl.

Take faith (in what?), take hope (not despair), take love (of one, of all, of that which is unique).  Put them in the mixing bowl.  Stir.  Agitate.  Subject to heat, to pressure.  What will you have made?  The great contradiction, even to itself, the great on-going project of every individual life: the immortal soul.

My ingredients here are the three things that remain: faith, hope, and love.  (Corinthians, 13:13.)  Back in my earliest writing days, I made a lot of “cold” submissions to theme anthologies.  I knew to have a chance, I had to avoid the usual takes on dragons or wizards or whatever.  That impulse hit me again with this prompt, and I set out to come up with an unusual recipe.

Many of the other contributions were creative variations on magical spells, which were certainly more amusing than my philosophical offering.  Nonetheless, I quite like it.

On that note, I’m off to do the sort of writing work that takes a lot more time than five minutes.  I’ve finished a rough draft of House of Rough Diamonds, the sequel to Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge.  Note: I’m using the term “sequel” in the sense of being subsequent, not in the sense that between them Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge leave you hanging. 

Take care!

Rats, But No Rain

August 31, 2022
Me and Sheila Finch on “Worlds Apart” Panel

Bubonicon weekend went very well but, except for a few sprinkles, we didn’t get our hoped-for rain.  This meant that we’d come home from a really busy day and needed to spot-water the suffering greenery. Then in the morning, before we set off for another really busy day, we’d be out there watering, or harvesting, or simply being amazed at what had happened while we were gone. 

It’s that time of year in New Mexico.

The mood at Bubonicon this year was one of merriment and hilarity, with an undercurrent of melancholy as we had to face that Roslee would not be there behind the table in the art show (but Kathy Kubica did a great job) or fans who’d become friends like Wanda June Alexander and Kevin Zander wouldn’t come wandering over to catch up.  And, oh my, were the panels sadder for Sally and John and Jan and others not being there to offer comments.

So, we were blessed beyond all hope by having as our featured stars four people who seemed determined to make us laugh, as they took on a ton of panels.  I had the pleasure of being on one panel with co-writer GOH Rae Carson, who managed to be thoughtful and very silly at the same time.  I didn’t get to be on a panel with our other writer GOH, Keith R.A. DeCandido, but I did get to let him know I’d discovered we just missed each other as students at Fordham.

Artist GOH, Chaz Kemp was stylish, cool, wise, and funny, whether when on a panel or hosting his table in the Dealer’s room.  And Toastmaster A. Lee Martinez, who I’d met a long while back when he published his first novel (Gil’s All Fright Diner) which both Jim and I loved, reminded me of that meeting and credited me with a lot more wisdom than I ever knew I had.  Thanks, Lee.

I was thrilled to hear from the con’s official booksellers, Who Else Books, that they’d sold out of Library of the Sapphire Wind, and were rapidly running out of Aurora Borealis Bridge.  Please, folks!  Give them and all the other booksellers an excuse to order a lot more.  The future of Over Where isn’t in the hands of Meg, Peg, and Teg—it’s in yours.

And you’ll do yourself a favor, too.  As I discovered when I did my reading and none of those who’d heard me read the same bit before at ASFS walked out, these are books that are not only worth reading, they’re fun to re-read, too.

My panels seemed to be focused this year on the nuts and bolts of writing: world building; the complexities of writing epic fantasy; the ups and downs of the writer/editor relationship.  Putting all this to the test, I joined SnackWrites once again.  I might even share some of my five-minute stories one of these days, if anyone reads far enough in the WW to make a request.

We went without meals to go to various readings, ate too many meals to hang out with friends.  Pity the scale didn’t average this out.  But seriously, I have a whole new appreciation of how readings may be the secret pleasure of a convention.

Now we’re back home, riding herd on the burgeoning tomato army, and finally able to settle in and write for a bit.  I finished a very rough draft of the next Over Where novel, House of Rough Diamonds, just a couple hours before departing for Bubonicon.  Now to go back and start polishing the words.  The diamonds will stay rough.  Wonder why?  You’ll get your chance to learn that in just a bit!

Season of Rat and Rain

August 24, 2022
Me Emoting

I’m back from Texas and a very nice book event at the Half Price Books flagship store.  If you’re looking for signed books, but can’t make it to one of my events, both Half Price Books and Poisoned Pen have signed copies of my most recent titles (complete with bookmarks) available.

Or you can come to Bubonicon this coming weekend (August 26-28) and get me to sign your copies in person.  I still have bookmarks, postcards, and buttons, as well as stickers signed by David Weber to go in our most recent collaboration, A New Clan.  I’ll definitely have these with me at the Mass Autographing on Saturday, and may have a few with me at other times.

So…  What is the season of Rain and Rat?  Let me back up a bit…  Marry an anthropologist (which is what an archeologist is) and a writer.  Have them live together for twenty-five years.  It really should come as no surprise if they start creating their own names for various seasons.

August is defined by two things.  One of these Bubonicon, which has as its mascots two rats, Perry and Terri Rodent.  The other important event is that it almost always rains on Bubonicon weekend, the last hoorah of the summer monsoon season. 

Other seasons include various holidays, and the ever-popular period in late Spring and again in late Autumn that we have dubbed “the Seasons When Jane Leaves Shoes All Over.” 

Hope to see some of you this weekend! 

Zinnias! Book Event!

August 17, 2022
Just Add Water…

Possibly the only thing that can compete for colorfulness with the zinnias growing alongside our front sidewalk are Tom Kidd’s cover art for my new books, Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge.

I’ll be doing a book event this coming Saturday, August 20, 2022, at Noon, at Half Price Books Flagship store in Dallas, Texas.  (5803 E. NW Highway Dallas, Texas, 7532).  Copies of Library of the Sapphire Wind, Aurora Borealis Bridge, and A New Clan (the fourth Star Kingdom book, with David Weber) will be available.

The schedule for the event includes my giving a brief talk and reading, followed by a question-and-answer session.  Then I’ll sign books.  I’m always happy to sign my older works as well, but you might want to check with the bookstore in advance, as policies regarding books not purchased at the store do vary.

I’ll also have goodies to give away, including bookmarks, post cards, and some very cool buttons featuring the cover art for A New Clan.  Even though David Weber won’t be there, I have stickers that he has signed, so that those of you purchasing A New Clan can have it signed by both authors.

Hope to see some of you there!

Goodies!

Ready? Action!

August 3, 2022
Roary and Mei-Ling Action!

This week I had an insight as to why action scenes take a lot of words to write, but before I get to that, I want to alert local NM readers that they will find information about a used book sale to benefit local charity June’s Senior Pet Rescue at the end of this wandering.

As I was working on a major scene in the book I’ve been writing, I became aware of a vague sense of dissatisfaction.  I turned off my computer, wondering why the scene that was so clear in my head wasn’t coming out anything like that on the page.

After what felt like hours (but probably wasn’t more than a single hour), I realized that I was pushing the scene too fast.  Why?  The explanation is sort of twisted.  The scene is fast moving, with a lot happening to six different characters, all of whom have very different tasks to carry out.

So, there I was, “seeing” the story in my head with all six mini-plotline happening at once, but forced to compose it in prose that is linear.  This was making me feel as if I should use as few words as possible, so that if the action had to “line up,” at least the line would be short.  But this was absolutely the worst thing for me to do. 

One of the ironies about writing action is that something that takes seconds in the characters’ experience may need many more times the words.  A conversation can take place in, more or less, “real time.”  That is, if you read it aloud, it would take about the same amount of time as if it really happened. Plus, say five to ten percent additional text (the “he said” and descriptive details).  Even if there is a strong visual subtext—as in what people are looking at or doing as they talk—it usually doesn’t take more time.  So, a ten-minute conversation will take about eleven minutes or less to read aloud.  The action is the conversation.

But in an action scene—a fight, a chase, setting a trap, even solving a puzzle—the action will take far longer to present on the page than it does to happen.  Let’s look at a pretty economically written attack.

Sheena swung her long sword at the lead zombie, impacting just below the ribcage, her razor-edged blade slicing smoothly through the viscous guts.  The blade jolted into the spinal column and stuck.

I timed reading this aloud, and had finished the swing motion within the first half-dozen words, yet the rest—especially the result of this attack—the stuck sword blade—needs to be there.

Another irony about writing action is that a too heavily detailed fight scene will not increase the sense of drama.  Rather than increasing the excitement, too much attention to meticulous detail actually slows the action down.  Unless the reader is an aficionado of sword play or fast driving or lock picking, they’re likely skimming the details, eager to find out two things: What happened and why it happened.

That “why” is the reason to include details at all.  If it’s a foregone conclusion, then an action scene isn’t really needed at all.  Or so I feel.  It’s a definite balance between writing as a poor substitute for film, and writing as more immersive, often more personal way of getting into events.

When I went back to the scene where I’d been dissatisfied, I let myself use more words, while keeping in mind the underlying reason for the scene: what happened, why it happened, and where this scene will lead the next part of the story!

And now for the book sale… 

The Literary Cat Book Sale will be held on Saturday, August 6, 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

7012 Arroyo del Oso NE, Albuquerque.

Proceeds to benefit June’s Senior Cat Rescue.

All books One Dollar Each!!  Several thousand books will be on offer.

Featured books will include SF paperbacks from the 1950’s to 1990’s.  Mysteries.  Thrillers.  Suspense.  General fiction.  Non-Fiction.  Atlases.

Many jazz and blues CDs also $1.00 each.

Sorry.  No children’s books.

Toadaly True Encounter

July 27, 2022
Signing at Poisoned Pen… (but first, toad encounter)

On my way out to pick liana beans, I went into the garage for a bag.  As I paused in the laundry room (right off the garage) to do a few things, I heard a very gentle thump from the door into the garage.  I opened it, looked down, and discovered a medium-sized toad sitting on the doorsill, waiting to be let in.

During the hottest part of the day, we often open the garage door just a few inches, so air will circulate and some of the heat will bleed off.  Obviously, the toad had come in then, and had spent the night in the garage.  Now that the garage door was closed, it wanted to leave and had politely knocked—probably because it was too short to reach the controls.

Mildly astonished (this happened once before, years ago), I gathered up the toad and carried it to our backyard, which offers much living better conditions for a toad. For the duration of the summer, we have resolved to leave the garage door open just a little during the day, so any venturesome toads don’t cook when the temperatures rise.

(We’ve been pretty routinely hitting a high of 105.  Since this is cooler than the high of 112 we hit in July the last couple of years, we’re not complaining.)

The bunny continues to reside in the yard.  It is getting bigger.  It also has a friend, a much smaller bunny who probably came through the same mysterious gap in the fence.  We will do our best to relocate them but, for now, thanks to the monsoon rains, there is more than enough natural forage for them, and they’re not dining on our veggies.

The first bunny has become, if not tame, at least less inclined to immediately run for cover when it sees us.  Hopefully we’ll be able to eventually herd it out through the gate.

As mentioned in the caption, the picture above is from my recent book event at Poisoned Pen.  Much praise to Patrick King, who put in a lot of advanced work on his interview questions, so that we had a lively and non-generic chat.  You can view the interview here.

I’m reaching the final stages of my current rough draft (set in the world of Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge), and am eager to find out exactly how the story will resolve itself.  The characters have dropped a few hints, but one of the things I really like about writing is watching exactly how the resolution ends up happening.

Helping Writing Thrive

July 20, 2022
Mostly Squash and Sunflowers

Last week I learned that A New Clan will be released as an audiobook from Audible.  This is the fourth Star Kingdom/Stephanie Harrington novel by me and David Weber.  Release timetable is not yet set, but I’ll be sure to let you know when it’s out.

We have some interest from Recorded Books in the two Over Where novels (Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge).  If you’re hoping for these to come out in audio, let them know!

Last week, our temperatures rose back into the low hundreds.  However, the monsoon rains circled around again, giving us some fresh moisture, including one storm that dropped seven tenths of an inch.  All of you dealing with floods, don’t laugh.  Here in our part of New Mexico, that’s a significant amount of rainfall.

As a result, our yard and garden are doing the best they have in the last three or four years.  We’re actually having a bit of trouble picking our way between some of the rows, which was not an issue in hot and droughty 2020 or 2021.  As anticipated, we’ve harvested our first tomatoes.  The new contribution are lianas, often called yard long beans or, sometimes, asparagus beans.

So, what’s the equivalent of a good soaking rain for a writer?  Obviously, it differs from writer to writer.  Although I’ve written in plenty of public places (classrooms, meetings, airplanes), I would no more seek out a coffee shop as an ideal place to go write than I would roast my bare feet over white-hot coals.  But there are plenty of writers (including some whose work I love) who go out of their way to write in coffee shops or in group writing sessions.

For me, my internal landscape matters more than the exterior.  If I’m too busy to read, my writing really suffers.  Re-reading definitely counts.  It’s a bit like listening to a familiar piece of music, with the bonus of being able to concentrate on what elements make me love it, rather than what happens next.

Hobby activity counts, since while my hands are busy, my subconscious feels free to wander.  Even my gaming time, which is a sort of storytelling, can stimulate my writing.  This is not because I reuse game elements, more because the freedom to be part of an evolving story with no pressure to produce a saleable piece reminds me why I love to share stories.

We’re just back from a trip, and I need to go out and crawl between the plants and see what might have ripened while we were away.  Then I think I’ll see what my subconscious came up with while the many hundreds of miles between Albuquerque and Phoenix spun out under the tires.

Beans, Sunflowers, Tomatoes

FF: Bitten and More

July 15, 2022
Characters Seek Advice from a Wolfe

It’s been a crazy, busy week, full of upheavals, as well as working around a hand Persephone bit (hard) last Thursday when she got scared while at the vet for her annual checkup.  (It’s almost better, thank you.  Yes, I did see a doctor.)  Books were a very welcome refuge.

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 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 Animal World of the Pharaohs by Patrick F. Houlihan.  This 1996 study is enjoyable and engrossing.  I really liked the ambition of this study.  From sacred animals to family pets, everything is covered.

The Rails that Bind: America’s Freedom Trains as Reflections of Efforts to Form Cultural Consensus and Indicators of the Weakness of Cold War Memory by Daniel Speer.  A William & Mary Honor’s Thesis.

Where There’s a Will by Rex Stout. 

Jenny’s Moonlight Adventure, story and pictures by Esther Averill.  A short story about courage.

Jenny and the Cat Club, story and pictures by Esther Averill.  Jenny, in case you wondered, is a little black cat who wears a red scarf.

In Progress:

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater.  Audiobook.  Fourth of her “Raven Cycle.”  I’ve read the whole series, but this one only once, so a re-listen seemed a good thing.  For those of you who enjoy audiobooks, the reader does an excellent job with this series.

The Mother Hunt by Rex Stout.

Also:

Finished Smithsonian right in time for a new one to arrive.  I feel bad for the painting that is mocked in one article.  I don’t think it merits it, for a variety of reasons.