Archive for the ‘Other People’s Stories’ Category

FF: This Is A Blank

July 3, 2020

Kwahe’e Is Never Unpleasant

I’ve been writing like a mad fiend, which does cut into my reading time…  But the weekend is coming!

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

The Tyrant’s Tomb by Rick Riordan.  Audiobook.  Trials of Apollo, four.  Quite good, although I felt as if Riordan lost some of his usual grip on mythic elements and use of humor in non-humorous settings.  Nonetheless,  I enjoyed.

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers.  As with her prior novel, a story in which timing is a key element.

In Progress:

For once, this is blank because I probably won’t have time until Saturday to figure out what I’m reading next.

I think I need a break from classic mystery.

Also:

Earlier in the year, I subscribed to a couple of short fiction magazines, in addition to DreamForge, which I read pretty much as soon as I get my copy.  I’ve been dipping into these.

FF: Next Year, I Guess

May 29, 2020

Nothing Frightens Persephone

Just learned that Bubonicon, New Mexico’s largest SF/F con, will not be being held this year.  This will be the first time I won’t be there, I think, since 1994.  I might have missed one year in there, but I don’t think so.  I’ll really miss seeing those of you I usually get to chat with there.

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

The Black Dudley Murder by Margery Allingham.  This is the book that introduced Albert Campion as a Bertie Woosterish twit, who might actually not be so twittish.  Allingham had no idea he would become the protagonist of so many future works.

Death On the Air and other Stories by Ngaio Marsh.  Audiobook.  Also includes some non-fiction by her about her own work, and the script for a play.  The final essay of advice to a young writer is still about 90% valid, only aspects of the business had changed.

The Fear Sign by Margery Allingham.  I had to skip several because they’re not in my collection, but this is a good one with a treasure hunts and it introduces Amanda.

In Progress:

Flowers for the Judge by Margery Allingham.  A locked strong room mystery tied to a disappearance many years before.

Trickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce.  Audiobook.  I read this when I came out and haven’t since, so, again a re-read with a new read feel.

Also:

Writing.  Beading.  Sneezing.

FF: You Must Remember This

May 1, 2020

Mei-Ling Embraces Miss Marple

I’m just about finished with the biography of David Bowie I’ve been reading.  My general impression of this book overall is that the editor has an agenda.  This is a good time to remind people that “biography” and even “autobiography” are not fact, but a delicate dance between fact and opinion, because the writer, compiler, or editor makes choices as to what to include and how to lead into various sensitive issues.

With David Bowie: The Oral History, I was particularly annoyed by the lack of a bibliography, since without that the editor is creating the impression that he spoke to each and every person, and at the time the book was compiled when, in fact, he is clearly cherry-picking from a host of sources.  That said, reading it was an interesting intellectual exercise.

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Last Ditch by Ngaio Marsh.  Audiobook.  Largely from the POV of Alleyne’s now-grown son.  Minor complaint, in the light of having also recently read Spinsters in Jeopardy is that there is no mention of the fact that this is not the first time Alleyne’s job put his son at risk.

Spinsters in Jeopardy by Ngaio Marsh.  Audiobook.  This one goes back to when Alleyne and Troy’s son, Ricky, was six.  A bit of an initial jolt after him being a young man in Last Ditch.  Also raises the question of why the kids of detectives are so often precocious and rather bratty. 

In Progress:

Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories by Agatha Christie.  I could probably recite some of these aloud, but I needed something both absorbing and yet familiar to read before bed.  My dreams have been loaded with anxiety.

Pasttime by Robert B. Parker.  Audiobook.  Just starting.  I read this years and years ago, and cannot remember anything but that I liked it.

David Bowie: The Oral History compiled by Dylan Jones.  Bowie is dead.  Editor is mixing reactions of friends and family to the event with a look at the cultural impact not only of Bowie, but of reactions to his death.

Also:

Smithsonian magazine, which has apparently been put on a diet.  The letter’s column contains a reference to the Covid-19 pandemic, which brings the issue into current events.

FF: Peeking Out

April 24, 2020

Mei-Ling Peeks

This week I’ve been writing more, reading less, but I’m still immersed in story, from which vantage I peek out at the world.

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Tied Up in Tinsel by Ngaio Marsh.  Audiobook.  Once again Alleyne’s name is pronounced “Al-ay-n”) throughout.  It’s pronounced “Allen.”   Oddly enough, Marsh doesn’t mentions how his name is pronounced in some books, but in some she does.   If I was wearing my English prof hat, I’d be tempted to read the series in order and see if there is a pattern.

But I think I’ll write about the denizens of the planet Sphinx instead.

DreamForge, Issue Five.  Coincidentally, many of the stories deal with parallel worlds, but it works.

In Progress:

Last Ditch by Ngaio Marsh.  Audiobook.  Largely from the POV of Alleyne’s now-grown son.

David Bowie: The Oral History compiled by Dylan Jones.  The big question of whether Let’s Dance was selling out or not.  Sometimes Bowie is taken way to seriously.  This is the man whose first major single was “The Laughing Gnome.”

Also:

Archeology magazine.

FF: Delving Into The TBR

April 3, 2020

Persephone Reaches For A Good Book

At Christmas I was given two very different books about David Bowie.  I put them aside for when I’d need a distraction and this week decided there would never be a better time.

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

What’s in  your TBR pile that’s getting air now?

Recently Completed:

Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions by Henry Lien.  Second book in the series.  Unlike many series featuring a talented over-achiever as a protagonist, this one looks squarely how being better than just about everyone can make that person difficult to deal with. While at times Peasprout verges on unlikeable, I didn’t give up on her.

In Progress:

Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton.  Audiobook.  Despite being weighed down by the need for a good edit (repetition and redundancy in particular plague this), there are moments that remind me why I’ve read this entire series.

David Bowie: A Photographic Memoir Through the Lens of Terry O’Neill.  Mostly photos, spiced with reprints of text from interviews that O’Neill provided the visual images for and some pithy quotes by O’Neill.

David Bowie: The Oral History compiled by Dylan Jones.  An ambitious project, looking at David Bowie’s life through snippets from interviews with friends and family from childhood on.  Of interest is an afterword featuring material from Bowie’s cousin debunking the well-released theme that Bowie was haunted by the specter of familiar insanity. By contrast with the other, no photos other than those on the cover.

Also:

Dipping into short fiction…

FF: C is for Comfort

March 27, 2020

Persephone Loves Comfort

This last week the unfolding news wasn’t exactly tranquil.  Like many people, I turned to old favorites for some of my reading time.  However, I also finished reading for the shorter categories for the Nebula awards.  This year, I was particularly impressed by the novella category.  As the week has rolled on, I’ve moved to two books that are new to me.

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

And I really enjoy hearing about what you’re reading!

Recently Completed:

Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie.  Audiobook.

When in Rome by Ngaio Marsh.  Audiobook.

In Progress:

Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions by Henry Lien.

Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton.  Audiobook.  I put off finishing this series, because we’ll never get to Z.

Also:

And research.

Dynamic Dreaming

February 26, 2020

Four Issues Holding a Wide Variety of Hopes and Dreams

Like Gaheris Morris in my “Breaking the Wall” books, I have a secret life.  I’m not a member of a secret occult cabal (or if I am, I’m not quite ready to admit it), but I am part of something nearly as incredible: I’m the official Senior Advisor and Creative Consultant for DreamForge, a full-color, fully-illustrated magazine dedicated to just about every sort of SF/F fiction there is with one exception: No Unredeemable Dystopia.

How I came to my secret identity is a complicated story.  The short version is that when friends decide they’re going to do something impossible, incredible, and insane—but really, really cool—I think you have two choices.  You can stand aside and later regret not helping out.  Or you can leap up on that runaway stagecoach and do everything in your power to help keep it on the road.

I’m not rich enough to fully fund the magazine, so I did the next best thing.  I offered to do what I could to help out.  Part of that was helping them find quality writers and artists.  Part was contributing stories.  Part was offering a Kickstarter incentive. Part was simply giving Scot and Jane Noel, the creative team behind DreamForge, someone to run ideas by.

Working with DreamForge has been terrific and uplifting.  Now DreamForge is moving into its second year.  Once again, we’re doing a Kickstarter.  My incentive went before I could even mention it on a WW, as did that of Hugo Award-winning artist Elizabeth Leggett, but there are some very cool ones left.  DreamForge’s Kickstarter ends on March 7, and I want to encourage you to go take a look.

Now…  Here’s something for those of you who didn’t run away at the sniff of a Kickstarter…

If you wanted to read my Firekeeper short story, “A Question of Truth,” which appeared in DreamForge Issue Three, here’s a link.  If you like it, why not wander over to the Kickstarter and join into supporting the magazine?  Some of the incentives are embarrassingly reasonable.

Will you find any Jane Lindskold stories in the forthcoming issues of DreamForge?  In fact, you will.  My story “The Problem With Magic Rings” is scheduled for Issue 6.  It’s a sword and sorcery romp featuring the same unlikely band of heroes as in my short story, “A Familiar’s Predicament,” which appeared in Sword and Sorceress 33.

I’m going to stop here and hope you’ll at least go take a look at the Kickstarter for DreamForge year two.  The magazine is lovely, full-color, gorgeous, and, best of all, full of stories that fight against the darkness.

Backgrounds, Foundations

February 5, 2020

One of the Cards from the Exhibit

Last week my writing mostly focused on background work for various projects.  There now exists an updated and extensive list of characters from the first three Star Kingdom novels.  Cover copy has been written for the upcoming new releases of my three “Breaking the Wall” novels.  Stuff like that…

Then, this past weekend, as a change of pace, Jim and I went to see the Jim Henson exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum.  One of the pleasures for me in the exhibit was seeing how various projects and characters developed.  I’m not really a “making of” sort of viewer.  I’m the sort who wants to believe for those couple of hours that whatever place I’m viewing and the people who live in it are real.

However, seeing how Henson and his team brought script and characters together—especially how the process evolved over time, and as different collaborators became regulars in the team—was fascinating.  I found myself feeling better about the amount of background work I’d been doing for my own projects.

It also made me think about a comment Beverly Martin, one of the regular participants in my FF, had made about a book she was reading.  Let me quote her:

“It is kind of suffering from middle book syndrome – lots of words but little movement in the main plot. I get that they move on horseback, but does the story have to move at the same pace?”

Even as I understood her point, I found myself thinking about what it implied.  For one, there’s the question of “main plot.”  When I was a very young reader of the “Lord of the Rings” novels, my least favorite novel was The Two Towers, especially Frodo and Sam’s journey.  There were none of the clashing armies, none of the hints of romance, none of the moments of humor that livened not only the other two books in the series but the other major plotline.

Frodo, Sam, and Golem’s journey was a tale that moved not only “on horseback” but on foot, through the mud, up endless staircases, and, even worse, into increasingly thick bogs of distrust, suspicion, and even outright hatred and betrayal.

And, as an older reader, I realize that this is the most crucial part of the entire epic tale, without which not only the climax of the story, but also the concerns felt by the rest of the Fellowship and allies would seem groundless, shallow, and weak.

I’m not saying this is the case for the book Beverly is reading.  (If you want to know which one, you can look on the FF for last week.)  Sometimes writers do lose touch or reach a point where they are indulged because they can be counted on to sell a fair number of copies to loyal fans.

A friend of mine recently confessed that she wishes a writer whose work she used to love received more editing because she had found his more recent works “turgid.”

One thing I’ve learned is that the answer to what makes a book “slow” varies widely, not only from author to author, but from reader to reader.  The other day, I had a lively chat with a friend who is reading my Wolf’s Head, Wolf’s Heart for the first time.  He had numerous questions about the “societies” that are mentioned as a background element in the cultures of Hawk Haven and Bright Bay.  I could tell him a considerable amount that never made it to the page.

Almost every novel I’ve written, particularly if it belongs to a series, has a host of background material that may never make it onto the page.  If there’s a point where things seem to “slow down,” perhaps because I’m providing background material or seem to have strayed from the plot…  Well, maybe I haven’t strayed.  Maybe I know a little more about what the “main plot” is than a reader who may be misled by anything from jacket copy to what the characters themselves think is important.

Which brings us back to the behind the scenes elements of the Jim Henson exhibit.  A friend had enthused that Jareth and Sarah’s costumes from the iconic ballroom scene were on display.  I was certainly eager to see them.  In the end, while I appreciated the opportunity, I could have done without.

Gowns and jackets meant to be filmed, meant to be seen with perfect lighting picking up the highlights, may not look as wonderful on a dummy in a case.  I’ll take the illusion.  I’ll take the story.  But, y’know, I’d also take Jareth’s jacket!  (Or the wonderful silver pendant.)

And I’ll keep writing more material than the reader will ever see, because, just like the support rod that’s invisible but makes the puppet’s arm movements possible, so background that is only hinted at supports the rest of the story.

This Is One of Those Weeks

January 29, 2020

Apprentice Treecat With My Annotated Copy of SK1

This is one of those weeks…  Nothing bad.  Just lots of things.  What’s really weird is that all these things actually mean projects are moving ahead, but I feel as if  I’m getting nowhere because I’m not working on what I thought I’d be working on.  Does that make any sense?

So here are a few of the new things.  The covers for the new e-book versions of the three “Breaking the Wall” novels have been completed.  Cover art and design was done by my long-time friend, Jane Noel, and takes a completely different approach from the covers done originally by Tor Books.

We’re working on the interior design right now…

I’m grounding myself once again in the universe of the Star Kingdom novels that I co-write with David Weber.  (Another long-time friend.  I’m seeing a trend here.)  It’s been over seven years since I’ve written a new novel in that universe, and I’ve had to ground myself in characters and locations major and minor, even in those little tricks of language that make the collaborations have the “voice” of the Honorverse.

Such as, you ask?  Well, for example, treecats are often described as “flowing” from place to place.  Or that when writing treecats “talking” to each other, contractions are never used.  Or that the treecats think of themselves as “The People” and humans as “two-legs.”  And that’s just the treecat stuff.  Unlike in most of the Honorverse novels where the characters are adults, and as such fairly set in their habits, our main characters are changing in ways big and small in every book while in some way remaining organically “themselves.”

What else?  I’ve read/am reading some neat things that I’ll be providing blurbs for.  If you want a hint as to what, take a look at my FF and guess!  Unlike some authors who provide generic blurbs, I only blurb stories I’ve read, and then I try to provide blurbs that in some way reflect a the work.

In case you’re wondering, Wolf’s Soul is still with my copy editor.  I talked with her earlier this week, and she’s hard at work.

On a personal front, Jim and I celebrated our twenty-third anniversary this past weekend.  We went up to Santa Fe to try okonomiyaki, which it turns out we both really like.  And then we wandered around, looking at all the pretty things.

While chatting with a friend about all of this, I had an insight as to how I deal with too much all at once.  Triage.  What must be done, or the project stalls completely, comes first.  Next comes what moves a project along.  The wild idea of the moment—like messing around with the lovely blank journal Jim gave me for our anniversary—that comes last.

So, off to check something off the triage list!

Endings Are Hard

December 11, 2019

Dandy and Coco’s Beautiful Endings

Last week, I finished making Jim’s corrections to Wolf’s Soul, then sent the manuscript off to my secret beta readers.  When I told a friend this, she said, “You must feel really good to have reached this point.”

I sighed and shook my head.  “Actually, after seeing all the typos Jim found in a manuscript I thought was clean, I’m beginning to feel as if this book is a mess.  Actually, I’m relieved he didn’t find many continuity issues, but I still am more apprehensive than relieved.”

As the year ends, a lot of writers are trying to finish off projects before the holiday season interrupts creative momentum.  On top of NaNoWriMo, which emphasizes speed of composition rather than quality on content, many writers end up feeling conflicted.  After all, you’ve written the first eighty or ninety percent of the story.  Surely the momentum is there.  How can wrapping up the plot take so much effort?

I’m here to tell you: Endings Are Hard.  Here are a few thoughts I’ve had over the years about why this is so.

So often one hears: “I had a great idea for my story, but now I don’t seem to be able to finish it.”  When you’re stuck about how to end your story, go back to that first idea.  What was it?  Have you addressed the questions that first got you fascinated?

My novel Through Wolf’s Eyes began with two questions.  One was plot-oriented.  Who would be King Tedric of Hawk Haven’s successor?  The second was thematic:  How would moving from human to wolf society effect Firekeeper?  Until both were answered, the story could not end.

Remembering your initial impulse works to keep you focused on your ending, whether you outline or, like me, are an intuitive plotter.  A short note – sometimes as little as one word – can keep you on track when you start to wander off target.  Get in the habit of writing this down at the very start so you can refer back when you get bogged down.

Can’t figure out what that initial impulse was?  It’s possible you started off without enough thought.  As Euripides said: “A bad beginning makes a bad ending” (Euripides, Aeolus).  Either you need to figure out what you meant this story to be about or you need to scrap it as a bad beginning that isn’t going anywhere.

Don’t be discouraged that you can’t find your ending.  You’re not alone.  Author John Galsworthy said, “The beginnings and endings of all human undertakings are untidy, the building of a house, the writing of a novel, the demolition of a bridge, and, eminently, the finish of a voyage” (Over the River).

Middles have their relationship to the end, too.  Author Walter Jon Williams has a good comment on taking ending into middles: “Inspiration will carry you through the first 100 pages.  After that, you need a plan.”  Walter has sometimes jokingly referred to the middle of a novel as “the fiddly middle bits.”  Remember, though, there’s no such thing as “fiddly.”  Every scene should move you along toward your end.

Again, the beginning – that inspiration – should be your guide.  You may find it difficult to end your piece if you introduced too many subplots or extra characters, just to move the book along.   How much research is too much?  Simply put, if you’re more captivated by researching than by the actual writing, it’s probably too much.  Another guideline is when you find yourself putting your research in because “I did it, so by God they’re going to read it!”

There different types of endings.  Which one is yours?

Conclusion vs. Closure or “Only English Professors love stories with inconclusive conclusions.”  This was one of my own first lessons, and I will be eternally grateful to my then editor John Douglas at Avon Books for teaching it to me.

The Cliffhanger?  This type of ending is chancy – especially if your audience is going to need to wait a long period of time for the next installment.  Even books in a series need some sort of closure.

When do you Need an Epilogue?  My opinion is rarely.  One of the pleasures of a story for a reader is speculating on what might happen in the on-going lives of the characters.  An epilogue can make the story die.  However, a good epilogue can remind the reader that the characters went on after the concluding battle.

Ending a short story presents its own problems.  A short story must be easier, right?  After all, there are fewer pages.  Actually, it’s not easier because so much needs to be packed into a few pages.  Roger Zelazny (who won a lot of awards for short fiction) said a short story should feel like the last part of a novel – give the feeling for what came before but focus on those final moments.

In other words, a good short story is one big Ending…

A few ending words on Endings…  It is my firm feeling that the story must end – and this applies even if that story is part of a series.  Writing a series that keeps postponing the ending is one reason why so many series are unsatisfactory or become weaker as they go on.

A strong ending is necessary for a book to be satisfying.  Many times I’ve read a book with a strong start only to be disappointed by the conclusion.  Conversely, I’ve read several so-so books that have risen in my estimation by having a solid ending that makes the rest of the book fall into place.  A strong ending does not necessarily need to be shocking or have a “twist.”  Indeed, an ending that “comes from nowhere” can be a huge turnoff.

Thinking back, I realize I was hard on myself when I told my friend I didn’t feel “relieved” to have finished Wolf’s Soul.  My apprehensions belonged to the “production” side of the process, not the creative side.  Creatively, I’m pretty pleased about the book…  Of course I have questions as to whether I communicated what I was trying to communicate, but that’s what editors are for!