Archive for the ‘My Stories’ Category

TT: Food of the Gods

April 27, 2017

ALAN: In your novel Thirteen Orphans, we are introduced to Your Chocolatier, Albert Yu’s Chocolate Emporium. It is described so sensuously that the smell and the taste waft off the page. How much of that is wish fulfillment and how much of it is personal experience?

Chocolate Flower and Thirteen Orphans

JANE: If dreams are wish fulfillment, then that’s where Albert Yu’s shop has its origin.  One night I had a particularly vivid dream in which an elegant older lady was making her way through a very high-end shopping mall.  Her destination proved to be an exclusive chocolate store.  The dream was so vivid I could smell the aroma of cocoa, even taste the small square of chocolate – maybe one inch to a side – that the old lady ate.

That’s how I met Albert Yu and Pearl Bright – and developed a desire for a chocolate that exists only in dreams.  I’m glad I was at least able to translate the sensation into words!

ALAN: Wow! That’s a powerful dream. I wonder if Kage Baker ever dreamed like that? Her novels of The Company are a positive paean of praise for chocolate. She analyses its charms in great detail and it was in her novels that I first came across the word “theobromine” which, it turns out, is the active ingredient mainly responsible for the effect of chocolate on the human mind and body.

JANE:  Ah, see, that proves you’re not a chocoholic…  I’ve known that forever.  Here in Albuquerque, there’s even an expensive chocolate shop called Theobroma.

Do you know that “theobromine” means “food of the gods”?

ALAN: I’d not actually noticed that, but once you told me, my (very small) classical education kicked in and it made sense.

JANE: See?  Classical educations can be useful!

As names go, Theobromine is certainly an improvement over “xantheose,” the original name for this particular alkaloid.  I tried to look xantheose up on-line to see what it means, but the search engine kept redirecting me to theobromine.

Eventually, I went and checked several of my elderly print dictionaries, including the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary and Webster’s New Third International Dictionary.  I struck out there, too, except to learn that “xanth” is a common prefix in the names of derivatives and compounds.

(Gee, I wonder if Piers Anthony knew this?)

Anyhow, you’re a retired scientist.  Can you tell me what xantheose means – if it means anything?

ALAN: Yes I can, sort of. The -ose suffix indicates that the chemical is a sugar. You’ve probably heard of sucrose, glucose, fructose and the like, but it’s a large family of chemicals and many other sugars exist.

Xanth, as far as I can tell, comes from the Greek Xanthos meaning yellow, so xantheose is, presumably, a yellow sugar. I suspect the name might have been changed to theobromine because actually the chemical is an alkaloid rather than a sugar, though the distinction is blurred. Many alkaloids contain sugar groups in their structure…

Alkaloid names tend to have an -ine suffix attached to the plant name that the alkaloid is extracted from (strychnine, for example, is an alkaloid found in the nut of the tree Strychnos nux-vomica). Theobromine follows this naming convention (theobroma is the genus of the cacao plant) but is itself a very misleading name because the chemical does not actually contain any bromine at all – even though the element bromine is approximately the colour of chocolate.

All in all, the nomenclature of this compound is really rather a mess, whichever name you choose…

JANE: Rather like chocolate itself…  Seems appropriate somehow.

Y’know, in those same “hols,” you mentioned that you had just read Piers Anthony’s second autobiographical work How Precious Was That While.  From your comments about it, I gathered that you had read his other autobiographical work, Bio of an Ogre.  Does he ever say where he got the name “Xanth” for his Fantasy world?

Did it have anything to do with chemistry or the color yellow?

ALAN: There’s nothing about the derivation in How Precious Was That While. I can’t really comment about Bio of an Ogre because it’s been many years since I read it, and I no longer possess a copy – it was a casualty of the Great Library Purge of 2014…

But getting back to chocolate for a moment – about a 20-minute drive from where I live is Silky Oak Chocolate. They have a cafe and shop where you can buy handmade chocolates and they also have a Chocolate Museum which tells the story of 3000 years of chocolate history. They have a huge collection of chocolate paraphernalia, including a 2,500 year old Mayan Chocolate pot.

From the descriptions on their website, I suspect that their stock corresponds rather closely to Albert Yu’s stock. If you ever come here for a holiday, I promise to take you there.

JANE: (suspiciously) Just take me there or buy me a piece of chocolate?  The latter would be delightful, the other would be torture.  Wait!  Except that I’m a grown-up and can buy my own chocolate.  Really, there are wonderful advantages to being an adult.

Count me in…  Now to figure out how to manage a holiday in New Zealand.

ALAN: You’ll love it as long as the weather is on your side…

JANE: That sounds ominous.  What do you mean?

ALAN: I’ll tell you next time.

Smoke and Mirrors E-book Available

April 5, 2017

As I told you folks back in January, one of my goals for 2017 is to make some of my older out-of-print books available as e-books.

Smoke and Mirrors: New Cover!

I’m happy to announce that I’ve achieved one step toward that goal.  My 1996 novel Smoke and Mirrors is now available as an e-book.  It includes a new-to-this-edition afterpiece by me, looking back on writing the book.

You can purchase the Smoke and Mirrors e-book from most of the major e-book retailers including Kindle, Barnes and Noble, I-tunes, GooglePlay, and Kobo.

Not into e-books?  I still have some copies of the original mass market paperback available through my website bookstore.  If you purchase one, let me know if you’re interested and I’ll e-mail you a copy of the afterpiece.

This past weekend, at the event for the Guns anthology, I was chatting with James, a long-time reader of my stuff.  He asked what I had coming out new.  When I mentioned that I didn’t have anything “new-new” but that that Smoke and Mirrors was finally available as an e-book, he looked puzzled.

Smoke and Mirrors?  I don’t think I know that one.”

I had to laugh.  “It’s an older work, over twenty years old now.”

Talking with James reminded me that while, to me, Smoke and Mirrors has remained a part of my mental landscape these twenty-some years, this certainly isn’t the case for much of my readership.  With that in mind, let me share the cover blurb I wrote for the e-book.

(As a side note, it’s really hard to write a non-spoiler-filled blurb, especially for a short book with one point of view character!)

How do you fight an enemy who can, literally, change your mind?

From the moment she first senses the whispers of the alien mind within the thoughts of her current client, Smokey – touch telepath, industrial spy, and high-end prostitute – becomes an unwitting player in a conflict that may be as old as humanity.

Determined to protect herself and her young daughter, Smokey soon realizes that the stakes are much, much higher.

After millennia of setting up the field, the aliens may be making their final move.  If Smokey is to defeat them, she must win the respect and trust of people who despise her – perhaps at the cost of those she loves the most.

Of course, there’s a lot more to Smoke and Mirrors than just this conflict.  Because I feel awkward talking about my own stuff, I’d like to quote an article that came out soon after the novel’s original release .  For those of you who don’t like spoilers, I’ll warn you that maybe be spoilers – or at least a sense of some of the plot elements  –  so skip if you want to avoid these!  I did cut a phrase here and there to eliminate the most obvious spoilers.

“…Lindskold’s Smoke and Mirrors is a nicely realized examination of a future social order with a highly progressive attitude toward sexuality and the family.

“In Smoke and Mirrors there are a gay married couple, a daughter of a gay man and a bi-sexual woman (who is a legal and highly respected prostitute), a multi-racial marriage, and a family formed from a child and two couples (one gay, one straight).  All of these situations are completely normal in Lindskold’s future society.

“Lindskold also does an excellent job of examining human emotions and the relationships between lovers, and between parents and children.

“Most compelling is her examination of a human psyche under control and struggling against that control.  This material… shapes the novel’s central themes about humanity’s need for spiritual, emotional, and intellectual independence and freedom.

“As well, Lindskold’s exploration of planetary colonization is detailed and thoughtful, with depictions of the societal and scientific aspects of terraforming a desert world and of living on a humid jungle planet.

“Finally, there is what every fine deep-space science-fiction novel must possess, a wondrous evocation of another world spinning under an alien sun, what science-fiction writer Elizabeth Lynn called ‘a different light.’

“And this Jane Lindskold does with great mastery.”

            John Nizalowski, Telluride Times-Journal, January 1997

Now that the e-book of Smoke and Mirrors is complete, I’m moving on to another of my older works, When the Gods Are Silent, a sword and sorcery adventure.

I haven’t given up on writing new work, but I will admit that while I’m still learning the e-pub ropes, this is cutting into my creative energy.  Still, I have at least two, maybe three, ideas nagging at me, not ready to be written yet, but I think that will come.

Traditionally Non-Traditional

December 21, 2016

This weekend as I rolled and cut Christmas cookies, it occurred to me that my approach to writing and my approach to Christmas have a lot in common.  Both are infused with an awareness of traditions, but both are definitely infused with my own twist as well.



Take Christmas cookies.  I’ve always loved making them.  One of my earliest memories of Christmastime is of our family friend “Aunt” Meredith coming over and (along with my mom) showing us how to make a delicate cookie she called a “sugar cracker.”  These were rolled very thin, with an unforgiving dough that could only be rerolled a limited number of times.  Therefore, it was crucial to fit as many cookies as possible onto each sheet of dough.

I continued to make these for many years.  However, almost from the start, I began adding differently shaped cookie cutters.  It’s been a long time but, if I remember correctly, my family’s collection included a tree, a star, a bell, a Santa, a candle, and a reindeer (my personal favorite).  I started by duplicating those, but soon added a teddy bear, a dog, and a duck.  Someone gave me a set of “bridge” cutters, so I had a heart, a diamond, a club, and spade.  Then there was the circus set that added an assortment of animals…  And on and on, until my current collection fills a large plastic “underbed” clothing storage box and smaller box as well.

The sugar crackers were too delicate to frost, but were instead painted with a mixture of egg yolk and food coloring.  We’d have three colors: yellow, red, and green.  After a few disastrous experiments, we learned to follow Mom and Aunt Meredith’s example, dabbing on tiny bits of “paint” – light brush strokes of green to suggest needles on the tree, minute dots of red and yellow for ornaments. When the cookies were baked just right, the egg yolk “paint” would puff and become shiny.  These were definitely the most elegant Christmas sugar cookies around.

I continued to make them for many years but, when I got together with Jim, he really preferred frosted sugar cookies.  Since he was the one who would be eating the majority of them, I found a more robust cookie recipe and he asked for his mother’s frosting recipe.  We also started collecting sprinkles and various shapes of little sugar doohickeys.

However, my old traditions didn’t vanish entirely.  I still roll the cookie dough very thin and I still try to get as many cookies as possible out of each rolling.  I suspect this contributes to the flavor.  I’ve been told by people who consider themselves connoisseurs of frosted sugar cookies, ours are very, very tasty.

I also added a very spicy gingerbread cookie to the mix, mostly because this gave me an excuse to use even more cutters.  We decorate these with a thin border of piped icing, although I noticed that this year the process was evolving and a few colored doohickeys were being added as accents.

Meantime, our neighbors have gotten used to receiving not only Christmas trees (I have five different shapes of these) and bells and stars – as well as a host of other, more usual Christmas shapes – but the odd unicorn, pickup truck, hedgehog, or bat.  The variety of shapes makes decorating far from rote, which in turn stimulates amazing creativity.  (We often invite friends to join us, because it’s so much fun to see what they come up with.)

And, as I was thinking as I spent several hours rolling and cutting, my writing has evolved much as my cookies have.  True, every writer brings his or her “take” to stories but, unlike some writers, I’m not really interested in doing variations on the same thing over and over again.  One reason SF/F appeals to me is that there’s room for “different.”  And readers seem to enjoy that, too.

In this day and age when digital bookselling sites like nothing more than being able to compare one work to another – the “if you like this, you’ll like that” approach – maybe my twisting isn’t the best thing.  Nonetheless, I find being traditionally untraditional keeps me fresh and my writing from going stale.

Now, off for a cookie and some coffee…  There’s a gingerbread rhino that’s calling my name.

Taking on a Challenge

December 14, 2016

This past weekend, I received the good news that the anthology Guns, edited by Gerald Hausman, is now available both as an e-book and as a trade paperback from Speaking Volumes press.

Guns features my short story “Choice of Weapons,” which, in turn, features Prudence Bledsloe.  More about that in a bit…

Find Prudence's First Appearance

Find Prudence’s First Appearance

When Gerry first approached me about writing a piece for Guns, I’ll admit, I wasn’t at all certain I wanted to write a story for the collection – even though Gerry has been a good friend for over twenty years and I hate turning down a friend.

However, I feared a collection of stories about guns would cater to a certain romance that lingers around weapons – including firearms.  Only a few weeks before, there had been yet another massacre that couldn’t have happened if one person didn’t have access to far too much firepower.  Years ago, my friend Mike Bishop lost his son Jamie in one such senseless massacre.  These aren’t passing news events.  They’re horrible, painful, and scar the survivors forever.

I shared my concerns with Gerry and received his assurance that his planned anthology wasn’t meant to romanticize guns.  What he was hoping for was a collection of stories (and poems and essays) in which guns would be a central element.   He wasn’t going to provide any guidelines beyond asking that the stories include guns in some significant fashion.  He was looking to see what would happen when he did.

Time travel moment…  I’ve just read Gerry’s introduction to the completed collection.  It’s great! It also articulates his goals far better than I could.  The intro’s worth the price of the collection all by itself.

So, I didn’t want to add to the romance, but I knew the issue of gun ownership and use was more complicated than that.   My husband is a gun owner and has been a serious target shooter, up to and including loading his own ammunition.  All gun owners aren’t wild-eyed, attention seeking, hate-filled people.

Moreover, my refusal to look at the issue wasn’t going to magically make it go away.  All it would mean was that I wouldn’t need to think about how to best approach a complex issue.  I found myself thinking how a friend once accused me of encouraging dangerous behavior by writing about wolves – because I was encouraging people to think of them as something they weren’t.  (Aside: She’d never read any of my Firekeeper books.)

So, after careful consideration, I decided to write a story.

When I started mulling over possible approaches, Prudence Bledsloe immediately occurred to me as a perfect central character.  Prudence rode into my life in in my short story, “The Drifter,” which first appeared in the anthology A Girl’s Guide to Guns and Monsters, edited by John Helfers.  “The Drifter” was later reprinted in my short story collection, Curiosities.

“The Drifter” is set in the American West after the Civil War, a time and a place when carrying guns was relatively common.  Because of this, I wouldn’t need to manufacture reasons for my characters to be carrying guns or being willing to use them.

However, for reasons that those of you who have read “The Drifter” already know, Prudence doesn’t exactly need to use a gun, which makes her situation more interesting to write about – especially as related to guns.

Jim and I brainstormed several possible story ideas but, although I plan to write at least one of those stories, I rejected them for Gerry’s anthology.  Although guns would have been featured, I didn’t feel that guns or the issues surrounding their use were central enough to the story.  If I was going to write a story for Guns, I didn’t want the weapons to be mere window-dressing.  I was going to…  (brace yourselves)…  bite the bullet and deal with the complex issue.

I’m not sure when the position the Japanese took regarding gun use and ownership first came into my mind but, once it was there, I couldn’t get rid of it.  I did some research and…  Well, if you want to know what I did with what I learned, you can read the story.

“Choice of Weapons”  debuted when I read it at Bubonicon this past August.  One thing that really pleased me was finding that the story generated discussion, not only about guns, but about the expectations readers bring to a story and how they feel when those expectations are not met.

“Choice of Weapons” is not your usual Western.  Guns is not your usual anthology.  In it you’ll find reprints and original work, poetry and prose, and a lot of thoughtful looks at a complicated subject.  In his introduction, Gerry expresses a desire to find a vocabulary through which the complex issue of guns and what they mean to people can be discussed.  I think he’s well on the way to his goal.

I hope you’ll give the collection a try.


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!

What to Do?

November 9, 2016

Last week, I handed Jim a copy of the expanded manuscript of a novel I wrote on-spec, and then turned my mind to other projects.  One of these involved climbing up into the crawlspace over our library and moving boxes around until I found the copy-edited manuscripts of a couple of my earlier novels.

(Many thanks to Cale Mims who sacrificed part of his day off, got scruffy dirty, and helped me move boxes up and down and down and up so I could get to the boxes at the very back.)

Nix Example

Nix Example

In any case, the project I mentioned a few weeks ago is underway – getting some of my early novels released as e-books.

(By the way, I still have a few copies of some of these available in the original mass market paperbacks.  Chad Merkley scored the last one of Pipes of Orpheus.  Consider taking advantage of these while I still have them, either for yourself or as unique holiday gifts.  Unlike sports and movie stars, I don’t charge extra for signing and personalization.  Take a look at my website bookstore at  If you don’t see what you’re hoping to find, feel free to query.  I may be able to work with you.)

Preparing the manuscripts is only part of the job and the one I feel most equipped to do.  The one that I’d love to solicit your input on is the importance of cover art, branding, and other elements of the general “package.”  On and off over the years, we’ve chatted about cover art, so many of you know that I find the whole question of what goes into the visual presentation fascinating.

However, fascination doesn’t mean I consider myself an expert.  It’s more along the lines of “I know what I like when I see it.”

Anyhow, it’s been suggested to me that while I’m at it, I should consider “branding” my work.  What’s “branding,” you may ask?  (I did.)

Branding has a lot of different meanings, but the one that applies here is that of designing a visual presentation that simultaneously serves two purposes.  The first is presenting the work in a fashion that will convince the reader to at least take a look at the book.  The second is sending the message “This is by that writer you like.”

A good example of effective branding has been used by the publishers of Mercedes Lackey.  Whatever she’s writing, the same font is used for her name and the book title.

Another good example is when many years ago Roger Zelazny’s work was re-released with covers that played off the same theme: black background, “mandala” art, with the cover dominated overall by the author’s name and the book’s title is white.

Branding is very common for series.  It signals the reader “Here’s another book in that series you liked.”  The challenge with branding for an author’s work – especially when that author (like me) writes all sorts of different types of stories, even within the same genres – is finding an approach that can encompass a wide variety of types of stories.

It’s been very interesting to see the different approaches.  One that caught my eye was a relatively recent re-release of Agatha Christie’s work that used her signature for the author’s name, and a relatively simple font for the title.  The cover art was also minimal.

Cover art and font can be very important.  I can think of at least two authors I discovered because the cover art made me pause and pick up the book.  One of these was Tamora Pierce’s “Protector of the Small” series.

The other was Garth Nix’s “Old Kingdom” series.  I remember that one in particular because the cover of Sabriel literally made me stop in mid-step on my way down an aisle in the library and take a closer look.  When I picked up the book, I remembered that my friend Rowan Derrick had raved about this series.  But, even without that, I might have tried them anyhow.

Recently,  Nix restarted the series, first with the release of the prequel Clariel.  Then, this October, with Goldenhand, which carries the story that ended with Abhorsen forward.  When I bought Clariel, I was disappointed to see that the package had changed.  The same font was used, although in a slightly more cursive mode, but gone were the iconic depictions of the characters.  They’re dramatic covers, certainly, but would they have stopped me in mid-stride?

No.  In fact, to me, these are covers that are selling an established series to the established fans of the series.  If you know the “Old Kingdom” series (previously called “the Abhorsen trilogy”), then you know the enigmatic markings that dominate the covers are charter marks, the basis for the mysterious magic used by those who do not practice dangerous “free magic.”  If you don’t, they’re just doodles.  The tiny band of illustration at the bottom did nothing for me.

What is cool is how Garth Nix’s name has been turned into a sort of icon in a box, perfectly suited for a wax seal or branding iron.  I really like how it looks!

So what to do?   I’d like to come up with an interesting and provocative way to present my novels, works that range from science fiction to fantasy, and are all over the place within those two diverse genres.

Is author branding something that you find appealing?  What sort of branding approaches have worked for you?  Which haven’t?  Have any turned you off?

I’d love to hear!  Your answers will help me make some major decisions in the months to come.

Extra Incarnations

June 1, 2016

The other day, I saw a shirt that read: “People who say you only live once have never read a book.”  Needless to say, this resonated with me.  It also made me think about a question that I get asked a lot, although perhaps never in more detail than a few years ago by my friend, Jane Noel.

Some of My Lives

Some of My Lives

Jane asked, “How do you relate to your characters?  Who are your favorites?  What do you have in common with them?  How long do they stay with you after you finish their story?  Are there some that you just don’t like?”

I never really answered Jane’s questions except in the most general sense.  The last of her questions is the easiest to answer.

Of course there are some characters I “just don’t like.”  As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I can get into my antagonists’ heads and develop their motivations.  They may know perfectly well that something they’re doing would be viewed by society as “evil” or “wrong.”  However, even understanding that when these characters do something self-serving or cruel, they don’t necessarily see themselves as “evil,” doesn’t mean I need to like them.

Honestly, outside of fairytales, few characters do see themselves as “evil.”  But I’ve discussed that elsewhere, and so will leave the topic behind for now.

Jane’s other questions were much harder for me to answer.  I think I put off answering them until today because I never saw the right way to explain how I feel about my characters.

Unlike some writers, I don’t write protagonists who are thinly veiled, sometimes idealized, versions of myself.  And I don’t write secondary characters who exist only to be foils to the protagonist or plot elements to move the story along.

I’d get bored out of my mind if I wrote only protagonists who were meant to be me (whether in a Fantasy setting or with a switch of gender or species or whatever).  I realize some people write to work out their personal problems or to provide themselves with the satisfaction of being the hero in fiction that they can’t be in reality.  However, until I saw the shirt mentioned above, I didn’t really realize that I write precisely not to be myself, but to explore a whole bunch of different incarnations.

In that light, Jane’s questions become much easier for me to answer.

How do I relate to my characters? I relate to my characters as if they are interesting people about whom I happen to know a whole lot more than you are ever privileged to know about the “real” people in your lives.  Because I know so much about them – often much more than ever makes it to the page – I feel a deep sense of empathy with them, even when they are doing something I don’t really like or think is wise.

“Who are your favorites?”  I don’t really have favorites.  Even though I’ve spent much more time with Firekeeper (six long novels beginning with Through Wolf’s Eyes) than I have with Mira from Child of a Rainless Year, each of them took me places and gave me experiences I could not have had without them.  So I care deeply for them all.

“What do you have in common with them?”  Well, as I said above, I have their entire lives in common with them.  Since this question could also mean, “What aspects of your life do you draw on for specific characters?” I’ll go on and say too many and too varied for me to even try to list.  Something non-writers often forget about characters – even main characters – is that writers don’t create them just by recycling parts of themselves and their own experiences.

“How long do they [your characters] stay with you after you finish their story?”  They stay with me forever.  However, I do develop a certain amnesia regarding the details of how the book or story itself was written.  That’s actually very cool.  When I have had to review older work – as when Tor re-released Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls or when I re-read a bunch of my shorter work to compile my short story collection, Curiosities – I found it was possible to read those older works almost as if a stranger wrote them.

It was very nice to realize that Jane Lindskold the Reader actually is a fan of the works of Jane Lindskold the Writer.

So, Jane Noel (and the rest of you), there’s an answer to the question of how I relate to my own fictional characters.  It’s been fun to have a lot of different incarnations.  I look forward to having many, many more.

Oh…  This is a good time for me to remind you that I welcome reader questions.  I have a lot more fun writing the Wednesday Wanderings when I know that at least one person will be interested in what I have to say.

The Muse Makes an Unexpected Call

March 30, 2016

If last Thursday morning you’d asked me what I’d be doing Thursday afternoon, I might have said reading.  I might have said crafting.  The previous day I’d spent several hours figuring out how to make origami bunnies.  It seemed appropriate with Easter coming up.

Origami Bunnies and Evolving Story

Origami Bunnies and Evolving Story

I probably would have said I’d be putting some time into preparing for the new episode of the role-playing game I would be running on Sunday.  I certainly wouldn’t have said I’d be writing as fast as my fingers could move.

But that’s precisely what happened.

Afternoon came.  I’d finished my daily session of typing up the “handwritten project,” and was doing a quick check of my various social media sites before shutting down.  Something went by on Twitter that made me wistfully think: “I’d like to be writing a story now.  Something short that’s not for someone else.  Too many of my ideas lately have been novel ideas.  Short would be nice.”  My next thought was, “Well, why not?”

So I let my hindbrain wander.  Jim usually calls me around 2:00 pm.  By the time he called, I had grabbed a piece of scrap paper and covered it with a possible opening, as well as a few notes to myself.  I told him I might have an idea for a story.  He encouraged me, but didn’t ask for details, because he knows that talking about a story before I’ve written it often sours the idea for me.

After we got off the phone, I went to get my exercising out of the way so I wouldn’t be distracted by an awareness of a job yet to be done.  Then I started writing.  I wrote until I had to start dinner – and, actually, while cooking, until juggling the two became impossible.  Then I reluctantly stopped, mostly because I knew I couldn’t finish the story that night and wanted to have some energy come morning.   I’d written about 2,000 words.  Although I’d stopped putting words down, I kept thinking about the story all evening.

Friday morning, I took care of the e-mail that absolutely could not be put off, then started writing.  I wrote until my fingers were stiff, then took a break to go out with Jim (who had a half-day) for about an hour.  When we came home, I started writing again.  I was so completely absorbed that I lost all sense of time and place – except for the imaginary time and place developing under my fingers.  By late Friday afternoon, I had a rough draft done – just under 8,000 words total.

I don’t normally  work on weekends, but this past Saturday was an exception.  I was so excited about the story and so eager to have Jim read it, that I re-read and edited the manuscript that afternoon, losing a few hundred words as I tightened.  He then read it and, as we were cooking dinner, we talked about the story in some detail.

I also e-mailed my gamers, apologizing because I wasn’t going to be as prepared on Sunday as I’d hoped, and offering the consolation prize of my reading the story that had taken the time I’d meant use for game planning.  To my pleasure, they were enthusiastic about being read to, so Sunday’s gaming session started with a reading.  As I read the story aloud, I caught a few more typos – reading aloud is always a good way to proof, because you can’t skim.

Monday, I made the changes and sometime this week I’ll send the story out.  I’m not sure exactly where, but if I place it anywhere, you can be sure I’ll let you know.

However, whether or not the story sells, the really important thing is that I have written the first short story I’ve done in years for no other reason than because I felt like it.  Of late, I’ve had just enough “by invitation” work to fill my time and to provide a different sort of stimulation for my imagination.    While I’m sort of sorry not to have a set market, it was fun to write completely free of constraints.

And, no, I don’t regret the time spent earlier in the week on origami bunnies.  I actually think that concentrating on a completely new and different task proved helpful in loosening up my creative muscles.

Do I regret the time I spent planning for my game?  Again, no.  Actually, for this story, some of the planning I’d done for a previous game slid in sideways and provided me with my starting idea.  The story that resulted had nothing at all to do with the game, but the research turned out to be like a graft on a plant – flowering out something related to but completely different from the root stock.

So this week I’m back to typing up the handwritten project.  I’m almost done with it, then, based on my experience with this recent short story, I’m going to take the time to read the manuscript aloud to myself, just to see how it flows.

And between times, I’m going to allow myself time for crafts and reading and all the rest.  However, you can bet I’ll be ready to drop everything if the Muse comes to call.

Brain Stretches

January 27, 2016

The last couple of weeks have been amazingly creative.

Some of you may recall my mentioning that I was writing out a piece long-hand, in part to break with my usual procedures and freshen up my brain.  Well, the story kept getting longer and longer, but now it is done.  Make that “Done in rough draft.”  I’ve been told that my handwriting is pretty much illegible to anyone except me or a very patient cryptographer.  Therefore, I will need to type it all up if I want anyone else to read it.

Messy Scraps of Creativity

Messy Scraps of Creativity

That’s all right with me.  I found the return to writing long-hand (something I used to do much more often) a wonderful experience.  I’m sure I’ll be doing it again.

However, that project had me so completely obsessed that I nearly let a deadline slide by.

Therefore, practically before the ink was dry on the handwritten piece, I launched myself into a new project.  The story I’d been asked to write was for an anthology of stories in which a gun is an element.  The editor (Gerry Hausman, with whom Roger wrote Wilderness) made it very clear he wasn’t looking for stories that were pro-gun or anti-gun; he was just tossing the topic out and waiting to see what would come in.

Since – as those of you who have read my short story collection Curiosities know –  I’ve been wanting to do another story set in the West with my character Prudence Bledsloe, I decided this was the perfect opportunity.  After all, guns and the Wild West go together like chocolate and peanut butter.

Funny thing was, once I started trying to narrow my ideas down, I discovered that finding the right story was a challenge.  As we drove around doing our errands, Jim and I bounced ideas back and forth.  We came up with two that were interesting in terms of the character and setting, but not right for the topic.  Then, when we were home and unpacking groceries, I had a flash.

Frequently, my reaction to having an idea for a story – no matter how much thinking I did to get to that point – is to think “Well, everyone probably is doing the same thing.”  So, leaving Jim to cook dinner, I rushed off to my office to e-mail Gerry and make sure no one else had taken that angle.  He got back to me quickly, encouraged me to go for it, and I started filling in my research.

I finally started actually writing the story last Wednesday.  I finished a draft on Friday.  Jim read on Saturday, and I turned it into Gerry on Tuesday.  (That’s yesterday…)

As a side result, I have two more stories about Prudence I’d like to write and that handwritten piece to type.  Since I wrote the story long-hand and in notebooks of widely varying size and style, I have no idea how long it is, but I suspect I’m going to need to set time aside over the next couple of weeks.

What’s really interesting to me is that last October, when I decided to start the handwritten project, I was feeling a bit “dry.”  My days were full, but something was missing.  As I started thinking about Christmas gifts, some of which I almost always make by hand, I realized that what was missing was time for crafts, for using my hands for something other than typing.

I decided that making that time was crucial – and not just because I needed to get gifts done or they wouldn’t be there to give.  I started by resuming beading.  I got out my polymer clay and addressed the challenge of making a camel for a Nativity set I’ve been making for my sister – this without any pattern or guideline or training at all in sculpting.  The day I pulled that one off I could actually feel my hands tingling, as if new nerve connections were being forged.

Even doing the story hand-written felt like a craft project.  I wrote on papers with different textures, drew little doodles on the pages to help myself visualize, and in general did everything that I could to loosen up.

Oddly enough, even with all the time spent with beads and clay, pen and ink, I found myself writing more – not less.

I’ve just taken on a new brain-stretching  exercise.  For many years, I’ve wanted to learn to do origami.  Despite looking at numerous books and various techniques, I discovered that I am very, very bad at it.  After a while, I began to feel guilty about the paper squares that were being sacrificed to my attempts, and let origami slide.

However, when shopping for a new office calendar, I came across a page-a-day calendar that features instructions for making a variety of origami figures.  The calendar pages are square, printed on one side with patterns just like “real” origami paper.  Even better, the calendar was marked seventy-five percent off…  Even I couldn’t see this as a “waste.”

So I’ve been struggling along, giving mountain folds and valley folds and all the rest a try.  I’m doing miserably when it comes to origami, but as far as stretching my brain, I can feel the tingle.

Over the last ten years or so, more and more emphasis has been put on the need for older people to do puzzles or other challenges to keep their brains limber.  What my experiences over the last few months have taught me is how important it is for a writer to keep the brain limber.  What may seem like a waste of time in terms of word count and productivity may be exactly what is needed to become even more creative!

Text vs Expectations

January 6, 2016

When is reading like winter weather?

I’m not sure I’m putting that right, but let me muddle my way in…

Lobo of Light, courtesy of River of Lights display

Lobo of Light, from River of Lights display

It’s always neat when someone contacts me to let me know they’re reading one of my works.  Whether it’s a newly released book or one of my older ones that this person has just discovered (thus “new” in the sense that the New World was “new” to the Europeans), something about the opening  segments of the work has stirred enough enthusiasm that the reader has gone to the trouble of letting me know.

While I enjoy knowing that something I’ve written has stirred up that level of excitement and anticipation, I often wonder what the end reaction will be.  As those of you who read my works know, I rarely write the “usual” story.  What do I mean by this?  Well, let me give an example.

Many years ago, I was doing a signing for one of the Firekeeper books.  I don’t think it was as early as Through Wolf’s Eyes, but it might have been.  In any case, a couple – I’d guess they were in their twenties – chanced by.  The young woman was interested in the books, and asked me what they were about.

I gave a thumbnail sketch, mentioning the competition for the position of King Tedric’s official heir, and how Earl Kestrel, who was the only major noble without a candidate to back, went looking for King Tedric’s youngest son, Barden, only to find a settlement destroyed by fire.  Soon after confirming that many of the settlers had died, Earl Kestrel and his group encounter a young woman who claimed to have been raised by wolves.

At this point, the young man cut in and, with an evident sneer in his voice, said, “And, of course, she turns out to be the missing princess.”   I replied with deceptive mildness (I was actually pretty peeved), “You might be surprised.”

I can’t recall if the young woman actually purchased a copy or if she let her boyfriend’s sneer divert her.  I hope she did end up reading the book.  She (and especially he) would have come in for a surprise or two.

So, whenever someone picks up one of my books and lets me know how excited they are when they’ve only read a few chapters, I always feel strange.  Unless the reader is familiar with my tendency to turn tropes sideways, he or she is probably going to not have those expectations met.  Whether this is enjoyable or not has more to do with what that reader wants than with what I’ve written.

What does this have to do with winter weather?  I don’t know how it is where you live, but in the part of New Mexico where I reside, winter weather is very unpredictable.  The worst snowstorm we’ve had in the years I’ve been here (at a conservative measurement, we had fifteen inches) was on a day where light flurries were predicted.

I think that reading one of my books is a lot like New Mexico weather.  You can definitely count on a few things, but don’t expect the plot to follow neatly along the usual tropes.  The young man and young woman who meet in chapter one may or may not (but probably not) end up in love.  The action will not be interrupted for a routine sex scene.  Fight scenes will only be detailed if something in the course of the action will add to your understanding of the characters or provide some other crucial detail.

Honestly, is anything more empty than a fight scene where you know the protagonist will be victorious?  Oh, yeah, I know what.  A car chase.  That’s pretty vapid, too.

Funny thing is, a lot of that empty action does a great job (at least for some readers and a surprising number of reviewers) of masquerading as thrilling content.  For me, it’s the equivalent to the TV weather announcer getting all excited about snow that hasn’t fallen, that may not fall, and that, in fact, isn’t really an issue until it has fallen.

I don’t mind a plot I can predict as long as I enjoy the journey.  I had the basic plots of Libba Bray’s first two “Diviners” novels accurately predicted relatively early on.  That didn’t matter, since she did some great things with characters and setting.  I enjoy a good classic mystery novel, even though the expectation is that the detective (professional or amateur) will solve the crime.  Why?  The details of the investigation, how the pieces fall together, are interesting in themselves.

However, when – as is too often the case in epic fantasy, the new urban fantasy, much military SF, and increasingly some sorts of YA Fantasy – the story is nothing more than a recombining of usual tropes, I’m not likely to stick with it beyond the first book.  In the end, I feel as if I’ve listened to the weather forecast, cancelled my plans, bundled up, and been met with heavy clouds but nothing to get excited about.

What’s sad for me is when readers are disappointed in one of my books because they had their expectations set and didn’t find them met in the text.

I guess my books are more like wolves made from light, chanced upon on a winter’s night, unexpected, but clearly recognizable for what they are.