Archive for the ‘My Stories’ Category

Try, Try Again

July 19, 2017

This week began on a very positive note.  My short story, “Unexpected Flowers,” was accepted by Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.  This is the first time I’ve sold a story to that magazine, so I’m very pleased to have finally achieved that particular personal goal.

Unexpected Flowers

I don’t know which issue it will be in, but I promise to let you know as soon as I do.

“Unexpected Flowers” was written late this February.  It’s not very long: only about 1,400 words.   For that reason, I can’t tell you much about it without providing too much in the way of spoilers.  I will say that it’s a very mathematical story…

In case you’re wondering, “Unexpected Flowers” was not accepted the first time I sent it out.  Or the second.  Or the third…

Or the fourth.

This was my fifth attempt.

If you think that rejections hurt less when you’re an old professional (which I guess I am, although there are times I feel as if I’m still just getting started), the answer is “No.”  Honestly, I wanted to give up after that first rejection, but I did like the story, so I kept trying.

Submitting stories to short fiction magazines has changed quite a bit since I started in this field.  In some ways it’s easier.  Most magazines actually prefer electronic submissions, so there’s no need to go to the post office.  There’s no need to enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope with correct postage if you want your manuscript back.  (I started writing in the dark ages, in the days before disposable manuscripts.)

On the other hand, in some ways it’s harder.  One of the ways it’s harder is that most magazines request that you only submit one story at a time.  This means that if a magazine has a long waiting list – Asimov’s took three months to get back to me – then you’re not only tying up that story for a considerable time period, you’re also closing the door to that market if you come up with another story you think might suit it.

It also seems to me that there are fewer “professional” markets out there.  However, I haven’t sat down and done a studied comparison and contrast, so I can’t say for sure.

When I was first going to conventions with Roger Zelazny, a question I heard him asked over and over was “What do you think is the single most important thing for someone who wants to be a professional writer?”

His answer was always the same: “Persistence.  Keep writing.  Keep sending things out.  But most of all, keep writing.”

I kept this in mind as the rejections were coming in, went back to the market lists, reviewed my options.  I wrote a few more short stories, then a novel came and swallowed me.  I’m still mucking around in its gullet.

I also kept reminding myself of something so obvious that it might seem ridiculous: If you try, you have a chance of succeeding, but if you don’t try, you have no chance at all.

That’s cold comfort when the rejections are coming in, but when the acceptance happens, it’s really very sweet.  Now, off to do some more persisting!

TT: The Debate Heats Up!

June 22, 2017

JANE: So, here we go, tangenting off our Tangent, which was discussing whether or not Robert Heinlein put himself into his books.

Had Spacesuit, Did Travel?

Before we get back to that (because you still haven’t convinced me), I promised you a story about how careful writers – and those of SF and Fantasy in particular – need to be.  Why?  Because we have some of the brightest, most inquisitive readers there are.

ALAN: Indeed we do. Did one of them happen to catch you out in some way?

JANE:  “Catch out” may be too strong a term.  Here’s what happened.

When I wrote The Buried Pyramid, I carefully wrote out the bits in hieroglyphs.  I missed an error –the equivalent of a typo – though…  And, yep, a fan wrote to tell me about it.  Happily, she was a great person and, because of my error, I made friend who now sends me beautiful, handmade cards, but I blushed about that error for weeks.

ALAN: Good for you for admitting the mistake. I don’t think Heinlein would have been able to do that. The Heinlein Individual always knows how and why things work, without the possibility of error. Here Heinlein’s own personality comes out very clearly in the stories. In his autobiography I. Asimov the eponymous Isaac records:

“Heinlein was not the easygoing fellow that other science fiction personalities I knew and loved were. He did not believe in doing his own thing and letting you do your thing. He had a definite feeling that he knew better and to lecture you into agreeing with him. Campbell did this too, but Campbell always remained serenely indifferent if you ended up disagreeing with him, whereas Heinlein would, under those circumstances, grow hostile.”

The parallels with the Heinlein Individual are marked. Both Colonel Dubois in Starship Troopers and Jubal Harshaw in Stranger in a Strange Land (for example) exhibit this trait. They lecture at the drop of a hat (to be fair, it is Colonel Dubois’ job to lecture since he is supposed to be a teacher) and they do not allow disagreement. They are always right by fiat.

JANE: I have been on panels with numerous people who will lecture at the drop of a hat.  And, let me assure you, so many of them are convinced they are absolutely right.  Does that make them Heinlein?

ALAN: It depends on whether or not they are willing to listen to opposing points of view. I lecture at the drop of a hat as well (too many years as a teacher!) but I would never claim that I am always right. I have often been questioned and corrected by my students, and I just take it in my stride. Being a teacher is a wonderful opportunity for learning.

JANE: Indeed it is.  However, we only have Asimov’s word here for how Heinlein reacted and, from what I’ve read, Asimov wasn’t exactly the least opinionated writer out there.  Do we have an unbiased comment, or a clash of strong personalities who had to share the same stage?

ALAN: Oh it’s not just Asimov’s opinion. Heinlein had a very public and very hostile disagreement with Arthur C. Clarke when Clarke criticised some aspects of Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. Heinlein was strongly in favour of it and refused to allow any dissent at all.

Interestingly, Heinlein’s insistence that his opinions were the only correct ones does not mean that he never changed his mind about how and why the world worked. Asimov also records, somewhat cattily, that:

“Furthermore, although a flaming liberal during the war, Heinlein became a rock-ribbed far-right conservative immediately afterward. This happened at just the time he changed wives from a liberal woman, Leslyn, to a rock-ribbed far-right conservative woman, Virginia.”

I often wonder how such people reconcile their later beliefs with their earlier ones. Both sets of beliefs cannot possibly be correct because they are mutually contradictory and yet they must both be correct because the person holding them is never wrong…

JANE: Uh…  This example just violated your basic premise.  If Heinlein really was supremely confident, if he needed to always be right, there is no way a mere wife could change his mind.  In fact, given how little respect the opinions of women are given in many Heinlein novels, I’d argue that if Heinlein really was the Heinlein Individual, then a wife never could change his mind.

ALAN: Asimov found it puzzling as well:

“…I cannot believe he would follow his wives’ opinions blindly. I used to brood about it in puzzlement (of course, I never would have dreamed of asking Heinlein—I’m sure he would have refused to answer, and would have done so with the utmost hostility)…”

Asimov’s observation about Heinlein’s changing opinions does go a long way towards explaining why the Heinlein Individual in some novels views the rules of the world in a different way to the Heinlein Individual in other novels. Heinlein’s own ideas had changed in the meantime.

JANE: True.  So, is there any better proof that Heinlein “was” his characters than these thin psychological arguments?  Please don’t say that he used his stories to put forward his ideas and beliefs because, to a certain extent, whether deliberately or not, every writer does this.

Here’s an example from my own stuff.

After reading Child of a Rainless Year, my good friend Yvonne called to tell me how much she’d enjoyed it.  But (chuckling even as she spoke) she said, “The ending was so Jane.  You do all these things to the humans involved, but you make sure the reader knows the horse was okay and had a good home.”

ALAN: I can answer this to a certain extent – when Heinlein was at the Annapolis Naval Academy, his sport of choice was fencing and by all accounts he was very good at it. The hero of Glory Road is a fencer and the novel contains much fencing lore.

JANE: Roger Zelazny was a fencer in college, and was very proud of the fact that he’d been on the college team.  Based on that evidence, one could as easily say that Heinlein modeled the character in Glory Road on Roger Zelazny – or any of an infinity of people who have fenced.

ALAN:  Indeed so – I agree that it’s a very weak argument. But it’s about as far as I can go without introducing the kind of speculations that you’ve ruled out of bounds. Certainly there’s nothing quite like that about Colonel Dubois and Jubal Harshaw, the two characters who are most generally assumed to be representations of Heinlein the man.

But let me leave you with this little speculation. In Stranger in a Strange Land, Jubal Harshaw is described as:  “Jubal E. Harshaw, LL.B, M.D., Sc.D., bon vivant, gourmet, sybarite, popular author extraordinary, and neo-pessimist philosopher.”  Heinlein didn’t have the formal paper qualifications that Harshaw boasted of, but he demonstrably had every single characteristic in the list that defines Harshaw’s personality.

JANE: So, we take the parts we want and leave out what we don’t?  I’m not convinced.  If the text had read: Jubal E. Harshaw, graduate of the University of Missouri and the US Naval Academy, student of physics at UCLA, then all the rest… then maybe, just maybe, I’d be convinced.  However, given how general the rest is – most of that would apply nicely to my friend Walter Jon Williams, for example – I’ll take Heinlein’s side and say, no, he never put himself in his books as a character.

ALAN: And there I think we have to leave this fascinating topic. I wonder what opinions our readers have of it?

When the Gods Are Silent E-book Now Available!

June 7, 2017

Back in January, I promised you there would be lots going on in 2017.  The release of When the Gods Are Silent as an e-book – following on March’s e-book release of Smoke and Mirrors – is only part of my keeping that promise.  Let me start with When the Gods Are Silent.  Then I’ll drop a few hints about other projects I’m working on.

When the Gods Are Silent

When the Gods Are Silent is my 1997 mythic sword and sorcery novel.  It was my first attempt at writing what is often termed “imaginary world fiction” at novel length – that is, fiction where I created the entire world, as well as the characters and story.  My earlier novels: Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls; Marks of Our Brothers; The Pipes of Orpheus, and Smoke and Mirrors had all used some variation on our world or at least the mythic history of our world or a futuristic extrapolation.

So, in a way, When the Gods Are Silent is an older cousin of the Firekeeper novels which are set in a very complex imaginary world.

For those of you who already have When the Gods Are Silent, I will add that the e-book contains a bonus afterpiece talking about some of the things that influenced me when I was writing the book.

When the Gods Are Silent is available DRM free from Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iTunes, and Kobo.

Want to know more about When the Gods Are Silent?  Here’s the cover blurb.

Sharp-tempered, dangerous, yet fiercely loyal, Rabble is a skilled warrior who knows both too much and too little of her past.

Discovered unconscious at the side of the road by the Travelling Spectacular, Rabble willingly becomes a member of this eclectic band of wandering entertainers.  But her life and theirs are about to be disrupted by Hulhc, a prosperous farmer who is obsessed with finding the magic that vanished without warning over fifty years before.

Will any of them survive their search for the answer to a question about which the gods themselves are silent?

If you prefer print books, a limited number of the original mass market paperback are still available on my website bookstore.

 Prices include shipping and handling.  As always, signing and personalization are free!

Now…  How about what’s coming?

The other day, someone asked me if all I’m doing is working with getting my older material out.  The answer is “Absolutely not!”  I’m currently writing a new novel, which takes place in an entirely new setting.  The story will stand on its own but, already, the characters are hinting they have other stories to tell.

Moreover, I’m planning to bring out Asphodel, an extremely strange novel I wrote last year.  I’m reading the manuscript  of Asphodel to a group of friends.  When I’m done with that, I’ll give it a final polish and start getting it ready for the press.

Finally, I’m beginning to lay the groundwork for some projects that will take me back to some familiar settings and audience-favorite characters.  Since I want to finish a rough draft of my current novel first, you won’t see what I’m working on for a while.  So, let’s just leave it at “You asked and I’m listening.”

Consider going to my website and signing up for my mailing list, so you don’t miss any of the new releases, updates, contests, and promotions I have planned for the year to come!

Cat in a Fish Tank

May 17, 2017

Over the last several weeks – according to my records, we’ve just passed the mooniversary of my starting the actual writing of the book – I’ve been spending all my spare time working on a new novel.

Ogapoge in a Fish and/or Guinea Pig Tank

“What’s it about?” is the first question I usually get.  And that’s usually where I stall.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an intuitive plotter.  When I start a book, I have a strong sense that a story that’s been incubating in my subconscious is ready to go.  Then I go and find out what it’s going to be as I write.

This keeps me really excited, because I’m discovering along with my characters.  I’m usually a little ahead of them, but sometimes not much, and sometimes they surprise me as I’m writing.  I love it!

“Well, I get that,” is the usual follow-up.  “But what sort of book is it?”

“Uh…  Fantasy.  I guess.”

“What sort of Fantasy?”

And, again, I dig in my heels.  If you listen carefully, you may hear me growl.  Why?  Because categories are reductive.  Basically, they take a story idea and then reduce it to its lowest common denominator.  Tell me, does anyone ever fall in love with a story for its lowest common denominator?

I don’t.  Maybe I’m weird.

Probably am…  After all, my favorite books tend to be the ones that make the people putting labels on the spine uneasy.

When I’m writing something, the last thing I want to do is say “Well, it’s like this, except it’s not because…”  That reduces the story even before it gets started.

I’d like to think that even when my books seem to fall into a meme or trope or whatever, what they end up doing is surprising the reader by being something more or combining parts differently.  Expanding, rather than reducing.

Weird.  Yeah.  I guess.  The stories that burble out of my brains are like cats in fish tanks.  Unexpected, even when you know all the elements…

New Bermuda Triangle?

May 3, 2017

At least as far as delivery people are concerned, I apparently live in the Twilight Zone or the Bermuda Triangle or some such place.  And, no, I haven’t moved recently.  I’ve lived in the same house for over twenty years.

Hidden in Plain Sight

My suspicions began when my super-sweet mom ordered Valentine’s Day flowers for me and Jim.  The flowers never arrived.  Mom queried and learned the flower arrangement had been delivered to our address on a street some five blocks away.  Since her order was clearly for my address, the company agreed they should resend.  The new flowers were then sent to the same wrong address.

Mom sent my sister flowers, too.  Those flowers did arrive, but without a card.  Mom cancelled our order.  She sent me and Jim citrus from her garden instead.

I wrote a short story inspired by these mishaps called “Unexpected Flowers.”  It’s science fiction, because it’s about branching probabilities.  I ran it by a mathematician friend who complimented me for writing mathematics in prose.  So far the story hasn’t found a home.  Editors keep wanting it to have a definite ending.  Since I gave the tale as definite an ending as I could without spoiling the underlying science, I just shrug and send it out again.

My writing this story is about as good an illustration as you’ll get about what makes a writer different from most people.  Almost anyone would wonder about the reaction of the people who received the unexpected flowers.  Some people might muse over possible outcomes.

However, a writer actually goes beyond musing to start putting those thoughts down in a readable form.  In my case, my sister’s anonymous flowers provided the added kick.  I mean, anonymous Valentine’s Day flowers??  The possibilities as to what would happen if those arrived unexpectedly boggle the mind.

Why am I talking about this today, rather than back in February?  Well, recently I learned that a card my sister sent me never arrived.   Then this past week was Jim’s birthday.  Once again, delivery people may have lost a gift sent to us.  I hope the people who got Jim’s chocolates like creams.

I wonder if we’re living in a new Bermuda Triangle?  Now that I think about it, vanishing is only part of what makes the Bermuda Triangle special.  Things supposed to reappear there, too.

Hey, that might make an interesting story!

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.

Cookies!!

Cookies!!

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.

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!