Archive for the ‘My Stories’ Category

Daily Focus

September 27, 2017

Last week I didn’t end up needing to go back for juror selection, so that particular adventure is over.  This week’s adventure will start on Friday, when I head off to Silver City, New Mexico, to be one of the speakers at their biennial Southwest Festival of the Written Word.

Getting To Work

You can learn more about the Festival here.

I’ve never been to Silver City, and am really looking forward to seeing a new part of New Mexico.  It’s supposed to be a lovely part of the state, and autumn is one of the nicest times of the year for a long drive.   I’m also looking forward to talking about writing SF/F, and participating in an author’s roundtable.

Earlier this week, I went to Santa Fe to meet with Emily Mah Tippets, so we could consult about a bunch of on-going projects, many of which are going to get some of my stories into the hands of the people who want to read them, rather than them remaining in my office because I’m busy playing with the new idea that bounced into my head.

The reality is that, as much as big events like jury duty and book festivals provide topics to Wander on about, the real focus of my daily life is writing.  Last week, I wrote the final segment of a novel I started – more or less by accident – back in early April.  Actually, by the time I write the one scene I skipped and fill in a bunch of world-building elements, the project is probably going to turn into two novels.

So…  How could I have just skipped a scene?  And how could I write a novel (or two) without doing the world-building in advance?

Let’s talk about the scene first.  The short answer is that, while I knew what the end result of this scene had to be, I also knew the scene was important in and of itself.  The great mystery was that I didn’t know why the scene was important.  Rather than struggling miserably to just end up writing a lot of filler that I would end up rewriting later, I skipped ahead.

By the time I figured out why that missing scene was crucial, the book was surging ahead with plot complications galore that demanded my careful handling.  Rather than risk losing momentum (which is the same as being immersed in the story, which I love), I left that scene unwritten.  However, now that the story has a beginning, middle, and end, I can go back and write that scene.

As for world-building…  Well, sometimes I enjoy planning in advance, but sometimes I enjoy exploring the world along with my characters.  That’s what happened in this case.   As I discovered key elements of language, forms of clothing, magical arts, and the like, larger patterns that in turn shed light on the world and its cultures also appeared.  Rather than going back and putting these in, I created a second file in which I would periodically stop and write myself notes about things I needed to include later.

None of this material is filler.  For example, characters do need names but, unless the story is built around a name (such as The Importance of Being Earnest), I can quite easily be content with referring to even a major character as ABC or DEF.

The same is true of physical descriptions.  Again, unless what a character looks like is crucial to how the story is developing, the question of whether he is a golden-haired youth with deep violet eyes or she is a buxom maiden with dark-green locks and a distracting dimple can wait until later.

As interested as I am, delving into much of this material is going to need to wait.  I’ve promised myself that I’ll get several other new – and in their own way equally fascinating – projects moving along – which was one reason that I took a whole day away from writing to go off to Santa Fe and meet with Emily.

Now, however, I have nearly three days before I hit the road again.  You can be sure that some or all of those days will be occupied with writing that missing scene!

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Running the Rat Race

August 30, 2017

As I mentioned last week, this past weekend was Bubonicon.  I’m happy to report that it was an intense weekend, but a very good one.

My Third Panel of Bubonicon

For those of you who don’t know Bubonicon, I should mention that the mascots are Perry and Terry Rodent, so the reference to rats in the title of this piece is not in any way derogatory to the convention – far from it!

I had two panels on Friday.  This may not sound like much until you fill in that the first one was at 5:00 pm (Is the Stand-Alone Novel Dead?). This was followed by the Opening Ceremonies, which are a major event at Bubonicon, and not to be missed if at all possible.  I then had a dinner meeting before racing off to my second panel (Facts Behind the Fantasy: Research Impact) at 7:30 pm.

The panels were fun, and the meeting productive.  I have now met Linda Caldwell, who did the cover design for the new e-books of Smoke and Mirrors and When the Gods Are Silent.  Along with Emily Mah Tippetts, who is my e-pub guru, we discussed a host of future projects, both reprints and original fiction.

Then we went home to discover the pump on our little pond had stopped working…  But it was too late and too dark to fix it, so we admired the toads who were enjoying the still water and went to bed.

Saturday I was on the first panel of the day (Felines and Feline Aliens in SF/F).  This was very exciting for me, because I had my fan moment being on a panel with C.J. Cherryh, whose innovative aliens and alien civilizations are a seminal influence on the field.  I also had the chance to be on a panel with Ursula Vernon, who was back at Bubonicon, this time as Toastmaster.  And I meowed my introduction, which probably showed that I was already punchy!

Then Jim and I had lunch with writers (and dear friends) Steve (S.M. Stirling) and Janet Stirling.  Steve is amusing that early in the day (11:00 a.m. is early for Steve and thanks to an alarm clock error he’d been awakened at 10:00.)  After Steve toddled sleepily off to do his noon reading, Jim and I had a chance to tour the Art Show and a bit of the Dealer’s Room before my reading at 1:15.

This was very well attended.  Thanks to all of you who stayed to shiver in that very cold room!  I read my yet-unpublished short story “Can’t Live,” and took a few questions.  At that time, I revealed for the first time that forthcoming projects will include a new, self-published, Firekeeper novel…

(Did you read far enough to learn that?)

First, however, will come Asphodel, probably early in 2018, featuring cover art by Rowan Derrick, who also did the cover for my short story collection, Curiosities.  More on forthcoming projects in future Wanderings!

Fairly soon after my reading, Jim took off to buy a new impeller for our pump.  He was reassured that, given the number of plants thriving in the pond, the fish should be okay.

He returned in time to go with me to my next panel, SnackWrites: Writing Exercises. Moderated by Josh Gentry, host of the SnackReads site, this panel provided me, Robert (Bob) Vardeman, and M.T. (Matt) Reiten the challenge of having five minutes to show what we could write in response to a set prompt that we had not seen in advance.  The audience was encouraged to participate, and many did.  We had lots of fun and proved that five minutes is enough to get some decent writing done.

Whew!

We chatted with a few people after, then raced off to catch the second part of Artist Guest of Honor Elizabeth Leggett’s excellent presentation.  I always learn something about the creative process when I go to these – far more, honestly, than I do from most writer’s panels, given that I’ve been writing professionally now for some twenty-five years.  In her panel, Elizabeth offered a bonus lesson on perseverance as she showed just how many revisions she did on just one piece.

After that, it was time for the Mass Signing, followed by dinner with our much-missed friends, Mike and Yvonne (who moved to Virginia several years ago).  We added Ursula Vernon and her husband, Kevin Sonney, at the last minute.  However, as I had hoped, the group chemistry was great and I think a good time was had by all.  I certainly had a blast.

Sunday morning, Jim fixed the pond pump.  The fish were grateful.  I picked a lot of string beans and eggplant…  Gardens do not understand that you’re at a convention.  They keep growing.

Sunday, once again, I was on the first panel of the day (Pros Who Game: Gamemastering &Writing).  Then we went to the excellent interview of the two guests of honor (Sherwood Smith and C.J. Cherryh) by Ursula Vernon.  We had to leave a little before the end to get upstairs to help set up and run the Afternoon Tea.

The Tea was, as always, delightful.  This was my first attempt at judging the “hats and gloves” – a sort of friendly “hall costume” show, for which we give prizes donated by the Tea Team.  Betsy James was a good coach, and I think I’d enjoy doing it again.

After Tea clean-up, we stayed for closing ceremonies, and then stayed to chat for about 45 minutes with Mike and Yvonne.  Thus endth Bubonicon for another year…

On Monday, we discovered that Ursula and Kevin couldn’t get home because their flight is through Houston, so we picked them up at noon and went out to show them something of Albuquerque.  We hit the Rattlesnake Museum, then several shops in Old Town.  After that, we went by the zoo, where the much-desired the wombats and Tasmanian devils cooperated by being out and active.

Now it’s back to the “normal” week of writing.  On Friday, I left my characters about to discover some rather world-changing information.  Time to find out what they think of it.

Joy!

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.