Archive for the ‘Other People’s Stories’ Category

Metamorphic Power

February 20, 2019

Transformation Moments?

What do my second grade teacher and DreamForge magazine have in common?  They both believe that there is power contained in stories.

Last week, I told you about Sister Stephanie, my first grade teacher.  My second grade teacher had just as great an impact, although it took a completely different form.  Physically, Miss Eileen O’Donnell was not at all like Sister Stephanie.  My long-ago memory recalls her as young and slim, with short, curling, brownish-black hair.  Compared to Sister Stephanie, Miss O’Donnell seemed very, very tall.

We first graders were already familiar with Miss O’Donnell because the first and second grade classrooms were next to each other and – I seem to recall – shared a connecting door.  That meant if Sister Stephanie had to step away for a moment, Miss O’Donnell would be the one who supervised us.  I don’t ever recall her having trouble, so her youth was no barrier to her being an authority figure.

Moving over into the Second Grade room seemed to me like a step on the road to adulthood.  Miss O’Donnell was very serious about reading, basic math, and any number of other subjects.  But it was in a subject that wasn’t even part of the curriculum where she had her greatest impact on me.

Although I’d only learned to read the year before, I rapidly read above my grade.  Miss O’Donnell made no effort to hold me back, even though I was less than perfect in spelling and phonics.  When I started outdistancing my classmates, she arranged for me to join an advanced reading group with the third graders.  This arrangement was probably made easier because her sister taught the third grade.  Once a day, I would walk downstairs to join Miss Patricia O’Donnell (who we referred to as Miss O’Donnell Third Grade)  and her advanced readers for exciting ventures into books with chapters.

But although this arrangement saved me from boredom, this wasn’t where Miss O’Donnell Second Grade had her biggest impact.  That, as with Sister Stephanie, took the shape of an unexpected gift: in this case a small burnt-orange hardcover book about ancient history.  It was a comfortable size for me to hold but, unlike most of the books for children my age, it had much more print than pictures.  I remember wondering if I could even read something so grown-up looking.  However, I was lured in both by Miss O’Donnell’s matter-of-fact confidence that I could and by the illustrations.

These were lush full-color paintings, not the simple line drawings or cartoons common in children’s books.   I don’t remember all the places and people that were featured in that book, but I do know that one of my favorites was the story of how the youth who would become Alexander the Great tamed his horse, Bucephalus.  Do you know the story?  The short version is that Alexander had the sense to notice that the horse no one could ride was afraid of his own shadow.  Alexander turned the horse toward the sun, so he could no longer see his shadow.  Then, shedding his own fluttering cloak, Alexander mounted and was able to ride the un-rideable steed.  The two were inseparable from that day forth.

At a time when horses in stories (and reality, for all I know) were still routinely “broken,” and relationships between animals and humans in the “real world” were characterized by domination, not understanding, this tale about trying to understand the “other” made a huge impact on me.

I think I also read about ancient Egypt for the first time in that book as well, so Miss O’Donnell is partly responsible for my novel The Buried Pyramid.  Most importantly, the little burnt-orange book taught me that history was about Story, not about dates and capital cities and the dry, abstract facts that so many classes focus on, probably to make testing easier.

Remembering how much that little burnt-orange book did for me is one of the reasons I signed on to be part of the team that’s putting together DreamForge: Tales of Hope in the Universe.  Stories – fiction and non-fiction – have the power to change the individual.  The individual has the power to change the world, maybe not always on a grand scale, but maybe, sometimes, just one book, one story, at a time.

Thank you, Miss O’Donnell Second Grade and Third Grade both!

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Bedtime Stories

January 30, 2019

Sweet Dreamers

I was fascinated by the varied responses to my comment in my most recent Friday Fragments that I need to take care what I read before bed, because it will have an impact on my dreams.  As I’ve mentioned before, I dream very vividly, enough that I’ve been known to occasionally double check with Jim whether or not something actually happened or if I just dreamed it.

Most of the time, I don’t mind having such an active nightlife.  I’ve written stories based on dreams and figured out plot elements while I’m ostensibly sound asleep.  Sometimes, though, especially when I’m stressed, my dreams turn into nightmares.

Soon after we set up housekeeping, Roger Zelazny commented that he’d never seen anyone have as many nightmares as I did.  He promptly went out and purchased me the largest dreamcatcher he could find.  It still hangs by my bed, but I can’t say I’ve seen any influence on my tendency toward dreams and nightmares.

What is more effective is moderating what I read before turning out the light.  If I’m already stressed – as I will admit to being these days – I need to be particularly careful.  I had to put aside The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate for daytime perusal because the mood of tension that pervaded the book (pretty much every adult is either against Callie Vee’s aspirations or clueless) and the frequent death-of-pet chapters (interspersed with the odd dissection or so) gave my subconscious too much food for unpleasant thought.

Re-reading can work better for before bed because, even if a plot becomes tense I can reassure myself that I know how it works out.  Books with wonderful language also can be good bedtime reading.  It’s as if my subconscious fastens on the prose, independent of the content.  Poetry is a “sometimes,” but not often.  Sometimes I’ll read graphic novels or manga.  The illustrated format can sow seeds for interesting dreams .

I don’t read anything that’s meant to be scary, unsettling, or that might stimulate too much thought and keep me from drifting off.  I don’t read anything that’s directly tied to work or research for the same reason.

Do any of you read before going to bed or had that gone the way of the television and electronic device?  If so, I’m curious about whether you read before going to bed and, if so, what gives you the best sort of dreams.

Oh…  What am I reading before bed now?  Terry Pratchett’s Maskerade!

Escape Into the Dream

January 23, 2019

Rowan, Dominique, Jim, Melissa, Cale (me up front)

What do escape rooms and a new magazine have in common?  Keep reading and I’ll tell you!

Last Sunday, as our Christmas present, Jim and my gamers (Cale, Dominique, Melissa, and Rowan) took us to our very first escape room.  This one was called Nefertari’s Tomb, and it was both visually and intellectually very, very satisfying.

Escape rooms are basically complex puzzles built around a plotline.  For Nefertari’s Tomb, the story was that we had been hired by a definitely shady individual who claimed to have found access to a hidden tomb of Nefertari, wife of Ramesses.  Our job was to blast our way in, solve the various puzzles, and get out with as much loot as possible.  We had one hour in which to do this.  The timer started running the second our introductory briefing had ended.

(In the interests of not providing spoilers for those who may want to enjoy Nefertari’s Tomb themselves, that’s all I’ll say about this particular escape room.)

Our group has been gaming together for something like six years now, so we’re very used to working as a team.  This was an advantage when two years ago we all went to Meow Wolf in Santa Fe and solved the imbedded puzzle.  It was even more of an advantage this time because, with the timer running, we had to split up and hit different puzzles simultaneously.

How did we do?  Well, our game master told us that if we didn’t have the highest score ever for the room, we were definitely in the top three.  He looked both pleased and a little awed when he said this.  We were rather pleased ourselves.

So, what does this have to do with a new magazine?  Last week, I talked about DreamForge: Tales of Hope in the Universe.  The Kickstarter for this lushly illustrated magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy hit its base goal this Monday.  They’re now working toward the stretch goals.  DreamForge is the brainchild of Scot Noel, but the team working on it includes Scot’s wife, Jane, who is putting her artistic talents into layout, design, and illustration; artist, Mark Zingarelli, who is art director; Leah Segal on research and support, and Jamie D. Munro who is the Editorial  Assistant.  Oh, and me.  Scot calls me “Senior Advisor and Creative Consultant,” which basically means I believe in the value of this project enough to donate my time to helping out.

As with my gamers in the escape room, those of us on the DreamForge team are working toward our goal both separately and together.  It’s a very 21st Century team.  I’ve only met Scot and Jane.  As for now, Mark and Leah are sparkles in my e-mail or voices on the phone during conference calls.  Jaimie’s in Australia…  I mostly interact with him on Twitter.

The Kickstarter remains live for another sixteen days.  Some of the incentives are really great.  One that’s easy to overlook is the Founder’s Bonus.  This includes personal feedback on up to five story submissions.  Feedback of this type is the sort of thing writers dream about getting, instead of the form: “Thank you very much, but your story doesn’t suit our needs this time.”  Now you can assure personalized feedback for five stories – and get a cool magazine as well.

Aren’t a writer but know one?  Consider giving a Founder’s Bonus subscription.  Help your favorite writers achieve their dream.

Now, speaking of dreams, I have a couple of novels that I’m working on, and dream of someday actually finishing.   I’m off run with the wolves…

Dream Become Reality

January 16, 2019

Ogapoge Signs and DreamForge

This time last year I received a letter from a longtime friend that – although I didn’t know it at the time – was the beginning my signing on to be part of a new, ambitious, and very exciting project.  That project is DreamForge Magazine: Tales of Hope in the Universe.  This February 14th – yes, Valentine’s Day – that dream is going to become reality.

Did this take me away from the novels you want me to be writing?  No.  Actually, any of you who are looking forward to the new Firekeeper novels should give DreamForge a vote of thanks.  From May of 2018 on, Jim and I met with personal challenge after personal challenge.  I really think these would have dragged me down if I hadn’t had Scot’s enthusiasm for impossible dreams as an example.

What’s exciting about DreamForge is that it’s a truly visionary magazine.  It’s about hope and vision.  Let me quote Scot from the essay he wrote for the rare Issue 0: “Why a magazine?  The simple answer is this: in fiction and the world in general, we’ve seen the novelty of dark and grim perspectives grow to a commonplace expectation.  Everyone, it seems, assumes that the world has already gone to hades in a handbasket and a good apocalypse might be what’s needed to freshen it up.  We disagree.”

And Scot really does disagree.  I might have been the first person to tell him he was insane, but I’m certainly not the only one.  But he kept pushing, and in July when we met up at Congregate in North Carolina, Scot handed me and Jim copies of Issue 0.  I melted.  The paper felt like ultrasuede.  The colors were lush.  The art – by Scot’s wife who is another person who has caught Scot’s insanity – was rich and beautiful.  Even better, this artistic approach wasn’t reserved for the cover.  This whole magazine was a jaw-dropping reminder of why I’d fallen in love with Science Fiction and Fantasy.

David Weber had come to Congregate so we could visit.  I introduced him to Scot, who, of course, showed him Issue 0.  We didn’t even have a chance to ask Weber if he would maybe someday be interested in contributing.  He read the banner, looked at Scot’s introduction and said very, very seriously: “When you’re ready to take stories, contact me.  This is the sort of thing we need – not more dystopia.”

Worried that DreamForge will be cotton candy, feel-good, empty of content?  Well, those of you who know my work may have read my short story “Born From Memory.”  I wrote that originally for a contest Scot ran, and reprinted it in my short story collection, Curiosities.  It’s not cotton candy.

Scot talks about DreamForge with even more enthusiasm than I do.  I want to encourage you to check out the DreamForge website.  Even better, check out their new Kickstarter.  Some of the limited offerings are mind-bogglingly great.  Scot wants to create not just a magazine, but a community for those of us who believe in dreaming big – and there is room even for those of you who don’t think you can spare the money for a subscription.  That’s the sort of person Scot is.

TT: A Wizard of Change

February 15, 2018

JANE: Last time you mentioned that the first of Ursula K. Le Guin’s  novels you read was A Wizard of Earthsea.  That was certainly the first of her novels I read.  By the time I read it, all three of the first books in the sequence were out, so I don’t so much think of “Earthsea” as consisting of three novels as one.   I was probably in my early double digits at the time, the exact target audience for the series.

Ged’s Story

It worked for me very well.  I was swept up not only by the mythic feeling of the story, but because Ged’s grand journey is so deeply rooted in reality.  For all its dragons and wizards, Earthsea felt distinctly real.  This ability to make unreal places real is something that I would continue to admire in Le Guin’s work.

ALAN: I had much the same reaction as you, though I was older than you (in my twenties) when I first read the books. It’s probably worth mentioning that fantasy novels were few and far between in those days, and any new addition to the canon was always met with glad cries of glee, no matter how good or bad it was – but the Earthsea books were clearly something special and, in later years when sprawling, derivative fantasy doorstop novels seemed to be everywhere, it became more and more obvious just how special and how well-crafted Le Guin’s fantasies were.

My copies of the books were published by Puffin, which was an imprint that Penguin used for children’s books. So officially, I suppose, I was far too old to be reading that childish rubbish. But I couldn’t see that it mattered. A good book is a good book, and there was a depth and a maturity to the Earthsea stories, as there is to all the best “Young Adult” fiction, which transcended categories.

JANE: I agree!  What’s great about the Earthsea books is that they grow with the reader.  A kid might be caught up in Ged’s quest.  An older reader starts wondering about the consequences of impulsive actions.  And so on…

The Earthsea books also contributed to an element of my mental landscape as a writer.  This happened when LeGuin’s fourth novel in the sequence, Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea was published in 1990.  Tehanu was published with much fanfare as a work in which the writer who – by then – had become a feminist icon made amends for having been so sexist in her earlier works.

ALAN: If I remember rightly, Le Guin’s protagonists up to that point had mostly been male. But I’m not sure that’s inherently sexist in and of itself. Can you elaborate?

JANE: I agree with you that male protagonists alone were not enough to make Le Guin’s books sexist.  Indeed, “male as protagonist” was still a major part of the landscape in the late 1960’s.  Even when I started writing many years later, I automatically envisioned my protagonists as male.

For example, Sarah in Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls started out as Sam.  I made a conscious choice to write women – and women as I know them to be – which has led to me being identified as a writer of “strong female characters.”

ALAN: Perhaps I’m in a minority here, but I have no problem identifying with the protagonist of a story, be they men or be they women. So I consider both you and Ursula Le Guin to be writers of “strong characters”. For me, the adjective is not necessary.

JANE: I’m like you in that.  No one was more surprised than I to be praised for creating “strong female characters.”  I just wanted to include more characters who were female.

But the problem Le Guin created in Earthsea was more complicated than having her protagonist be male.

Le Guin’s lack of respect for the feminine went further than putting her women in the background.  Phrases such as “Weak as a woman’s magic” and/or “Wicked as a woman’s magic” occur in the Earthsea books.   Ged’s first teacher is a woman, and she leads him and his considerable magical talent astray by her manner of teaching.

Le Guin’s admission that she had basically been blind to her own cultural biases had a huge impact on me.  I’d already begun to write more female characters.  (Once again, I must remind our readers that publication date and writing date are not the same; although my first novel would not come out until 1994, I was already absorbed in writing.)  Le Guin’s admission made me wonder what my own blind spots might be.

ALAN: A question that worries me as well. I’m sure I must have them, but I don’t know what they are…

I do remember the fanfare that greeted the publication of Tehanu but I never wholly agreed with it. Certainly Le Guin’s view of women in the world of Earthsea did perhaps leave something to be desired, but she didn’t impose that point of view on her other literary worlds.

In 1969, only a year after the publication of A Wizard of Earthsea, she published The Left Hand of Darkness, a novel that was deeply preoccupied with gender issues and the societal roles played by men and women.  So in light of that, the claims made for Tehanu were perhaps a little disingenuous.

JANE: I agree with you – and I felt so at the time.  Nonetheless, I’m grateful to Le Guin’s admission because it set me questing for what I might be blind to and led me to write more varied characters and situations as a result.

ALAN: And it seems to me that the quest was successful – a lot of your characters and situations have stuck in my mind for years. If that’s the result of Le Guin’s influence on your writing, then good on her!

But there is another aspect of her work that I think we ought to talk about. Next week, perhaps?

Chatting With Walter Jon Williams

January 17, 2018

JANE: This week I’m interviewing Walter Jon Williams, the award-winning author of numerous science fiction and historical novels, about his latest release: Quillifer.

Walter and Quillifer!

So, Walter, I always start interviews with this question: In my experience, writers fall into two general categories: those who have been writing stories since before they could actually write and those who came to writing somewhat later.

Which sort are you?

WALTER:  I decided I wanted to be a writer as soon as I knew there were such things as writers, which was before I had learned to read or write.  I would dictate stories to my parents, who would write them down for me.  Fortunately, none of these efforts have survived.

JANE: Your latest release is Quillifer.  To the best of my knowledge, this is your first Fantasy novel.  What drew you – who are best known for cyberpunk (Hardwired) and space opera (the Praxis series) – to trying your hand at Fantasy?

WALTER: Sometimes the universe just gives you a story and tells you to write it.  I took a 90-minute walk while listening to an audiobook of Peter Ackroyd’s biography of Shakespeare, and by the time I came home I had six books plotted and the name of my character.

That happened a number of years ago actually, but I hesitated since I knew that I’d have to give up my SF career to write a six-volume fantasy.  Then I managed to sell Quillifer to one publisher and a continuation of my Praxis SF series to another, so I ended up living in the best of both worlds.

But the main reason I’m working on the series is that I find Quillifer an irresistible character.  I hope readers find him likewise.

JANE: Quillifer (who insists on being called only by his surname) is very much the “charming rogue” type of character.  In this, he’s definitely a first cousin to one of my favorite of your characters – Drake Magistral whose story is told in the three “Divertimenti” novels: The Crown Jewels, House of Shards, and Rock of Ages.

What is the appeal of this sort of character for you?

WALTER: Rogues see through pretense.  Han Solo punctures the solemn nonsense of the Star Wars movies, Flashman exposes the hypocrisies of the Victorian era, Rhett Butler laughs at the South’s code of chivalry, and Loki is the one you watch in the Thor movies.

Rogues tell the truth.  And of course rogues are very charming, which they have to be if they’re going to go around telling the truth all the time.

And one note: Quillifer isn’t Q’s surname, exactly, it’s the only name he’s got.   He doesn’t need another one.

JANE: Thanks for the correction.  I’d missed that!

Although Quillifer is definitely a Fantasy, in many ways it reads like a historical novel.  The world-building – from architecture to commerce to religions and style of dress are all very solidly grounded.  I assume your travels about the world had a definite influence on this.  Is that correct?  Did any specific countries influence this book?  What else did you draw upon?

WALTER: I was aiming to make the world as real as I could, and I did my best to build it brick by brick.  Many of the settings in the novel are based on places I’ve been, though of course they’re all mixed together, so you end up with buildings from Gdansk in a setting from Turkey, and inhabited by people from Dorset.

Once I started doing research I kept finding out absolutely factual stuff that was far more fascinating than anything I could invent.  Turnspit dogs, for example— a now-extinct breed of dog trained to run in oversize hamster wheels, turning the spits before a fire.

And King Arthur’s Court, which is in Gdansk, Poland.  You might have thought that King Arthur had his court in Britain somewhere, but you’d be wrong!  King Arthur’s Court was a high-gothic clubhouse for rich bourgeoisie, who dressed up as knights and held feasts and jousting and other entertainments.  They were cosplaying the Middle Ages in the actual Middle Ages.  I just couldn’t make up something like that.

JANE: I agree!  I knew about turnspit dogs, but not about the cosplaying.  Very cool…

Happily, Quiliifer has its own plot and a very satisfying conclusion.  Earlier, you said you have plans for other novels in the series.  How many can we look for?

WALTER: I’ve contracted for two more, which will appear at approximate two-year intervals, Quillifer the Knight in 2019, and the third in 2021.   If the first three books do well, I’ll write the next three, and take Quillifer from the age of eighteen into old age.

JANE: You mentioned you have other projects you’re working on.  Can you tell us more about these?

WALTER: I’m also working on the Praxis, the Science Fiction Series That Wouldn’t Die.  The publisher tried to put an end to the series after the third book, but couldn’t stop the public from buying them.  All three of the first books have been through many printings, and have never been out of print, and it’s been fifteen years!  So now I have a new editor, and he’s acquired three more.  Right now I’m dealing with the editor’s notes for The Accidental War, which should appear in September of this year.

I’d like to thank my editors Joe Monti and David Pomerico for agreeing to let me alternate books.  Working alternately on Quillifer and the Praxis will keep me from getting stale on either project.

So I’ll be busy for the next several years, and I hope readers will enjoy the books if they can find them, which in these days of collapsing bookstore chains is beginning to be a problem.

JANE: Thanks for taking time out of what sounds like a very busy schedule to chat.  Now I shall release you to go write.  I, for one, will definitely be reading The Accidental War when it comes out.

FF: Holiday Competition

December 15, 2017

I haven’t been able to read – especially print – as much as I like.  When I’m not writing Wolf’s Search or proofing the final stages of Asphodel, I’m writing Christmas cards, wrapping presents, and fantasizing about baking cookies.  (Maybe this weekend…)

The Desert Willow Outside My Office

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, 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:

Quillifer by Walter Jon Williams.

The Sword of Summer: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book One by Rick Riordan.  Audiobook.  A re-listen.

In Progress:

The Long Sunset by Jack McDevitt.  Advanced review copy of the April 2018 release.

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater.  Audiobook.

Also:

Not much!

Shining Legacy

December 13, 2017

On Saturday, Jim and I drove up to Santa Fe to have dinner at the invitation of Warren Lapine who, along with Trent Zelazny, co-edited the tribute anthology to Roger Zelazny, Shadows and Reflections.  Jim and I arrived early enough to walk around the plaza and enjoy the glittering lights.  As we were turning to head toward the restaurant, we encountered our dear friends, Steve (S.M.) and Jan Stirling, and learned they were going our way.

The Santa Fe Plaza

Several other contributors to the anthology were part of Warren’s dinner party.  These included  Trent Zelazny, Gerry Hausman (and his wife, Lorry), and Shannon Zelazny.  Rounding out the festive board were Warren’s wife (and frequent partner in things editorial), Angela Kessler, and the aforementioned bonus guests: Steve and Jan Stirling.

We met at the San Francisco Street Bar and Grill, which, in an earlier incarnation, was a place that Roger very much enjoyed, so this seemed like a nicely appropriate setting.

Chat was lively and general, one of those lovely occasions where everyone – even people who hadn’t met before – quickly arrived at the conclusion that we were all friends.

A few words about the Shadows and Reflections anthology, for those of you who are curious.  It includes both fiction and non-fiction.  The introduction by George R.R. Martin is a reprint of a piece he wrote in 2009.  The final piece, by Shannon Zelazny, who was in high school when her father died, is probably my favorite bit in the entire book.  Of all the many biographical remembrances of Roger that I have read, Shannon’s comes closest to capturing the man I knew, loved, and lived with.

There’s also a little known short story by Roger, “There Shall Be No Moon!”

The other fiction draws on a wide variety of Roger’s universes, from the science fiction Isle of the Dead (Steve Brust’s “Playing God”) to the sword and sorcery Jack of Shadows (Lawrence Watt-Evans’ “The Lady of Shadow Guard”).  Gerry Hausman (who co-wrote the novel Wilderness with Roger) contributed “Nights in the Garden of Blue Harbor,” based on a story idea Roger gave him.  One thing that’s nice about the collection is that both Roger’s short and long fiction are represented as sources of inspiration.

My own piece, “The Headless Flute Player” is set in the same universe as Lord Demon, one of the two novels that, at Roger’s request, I completed for him after his death.  It’s a prequel to the novel, and incorporates a few ideas Roger casually mentioned that someday he’d like to use in a story.

Full disclosure.  I haven’t read the entire anthology yet, so I can’t tell you much about the stories.  What I hope is that this anthology inspires readers to go back and read the original works that have inspired such devotion and enthusiasm over twenty years after their author’s death – and in many cases, several decades after they were originally written.

One wonderful thing about Roger’s writing is how well it has held up to the test of time and how it can still stir the heart and imagination.  Not a bad legacy at all…

FF: Not Quite Killing

November 3, 2017

Last week a killing frost was announced.  When Jim and I returned home from Denver and MileHiCon, we discovered that there had been frost, but not quite killing.  And that a rogue pomegranate evaded being picked…

Persephone In Mythic Mode

For those of you just discovering this feature, 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:

Fairy Tail, manga, volume 12 by Hiro Mashima.

Another Fine Myth by Robert Asprin. 

Myth Directions by Robert Asprin.

Fer-de-lance by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  Interesting not only as a story, but to see how the characters of Nero, Archie, Fritz, and Theodore started out before Stout solidified their personalities.

In Progress:

Myth Directions by Robert Asprin.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire.  Audiobook.

 Also:

Much background reading as I ease myself back into the Firekeeper universe after ten years away.

TT: Blendings

October 26, 2017

ALAN: Last time we discussed how Roger developed a meta-style that allowed him to complete a novel that Philip K. Dick had been unable to finish.

A Few More Mixes

I recall that when you were both here in New Zealand, Roger said that he was trying to do something similar in order to complete a novel fragment that Alfred Bester had left behind when he died. This collaboration was eventually published as Psychoshop.

When I read it, I was again impressed by the skill with which Roger blended his and Bester’s voices together. However, I was less than impressed with the novel itself. I felt that Psychoshop was a rather weak novel probably, I suspect, because the fragment that Bester left behind was itself very weak – a shaky foundation on which to build.

JANE: What I remember about that project is that Roger was incredibly excited by the idea of completing something by Bester.  He was a great admirer of Bester’s work, and this was a chance to try to slide into Bester’s style and mindset.  I don’t recall at this point how much of Bester’s work Roger had to go on, but the concept of a store that sells what you need…

Well, interesting as it is, it’s loaded with potential problems from the start.

ALAN: Indeed it is, and of course Bester wasn’t there for Roger to bounce ideas off. That must have made things difficult.

Roger went on to write two novels in collaboration with Fred Saberhagen. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to remember that Fred and Roger were close friends, so of course nothing could be more natural than to write stories together.

Rather like the collaborations with Thomas T. Thomas, they wrote one SF novel (Coils, 1982) and one fantasy novel (The Black Throne, 1990).

JANE: You’re absolutely right.  They were good friends.  Of the two novels they co-wrote, I’m particularly fond of Coils, but I couldn’t recall Roger ever telling me how he and Fred came to write it.  I asked Joan Saberhagen, and she said:

“In 1982, Fred and I were involved in creating computer games through our company Berserker Works Ltd. Seems likely to me that during  one of our social meetings, the guys would start discussing gaming and computers and such.  Can’t remember any specific instances though. Do remember our being up at Roger’s place and trying to talk him into using one of the early Apple computers for writing. Well, I believe, he always preferred his trusted typewriter.” (e-mail, 10-05-2017)

ALAN: Was she right about Roger and computers?

JANE: Oh, absolutely.  Fascinated in the abstract, but he never used one in practice.  Fred always claimed not to trust computers – and that was why he created the Berserkers – but he was definitely computer literate.  Roger would have enjoyed asking him questions, and I’m sure the seed of Coils were planted in that way.

ALAN: I’m mildly surprised at Roger’s lack of computer knowledge. His impressive fix-up novel My Name is Legion makes use of some very sophisticated computer ideas…

Anyway – back to Roger and Fred. How did they come to write The Black Throne?

JANE: What I recall Roger telling me is that The Black Throne began because of the Poe Parties Joan and Fred used to hold.  After a chat with Fred at one such party, Roger wandered off to Fred’s office, borrowed a typewriter, and wrote a rough treatment that they later built on.

Joan recalls something similar: “Yes, that seems quite likely. I was pretty busy being hostess at the parties, but, perhaps because the situation was somewhat unusual,  I do have a vague memory of Roger coming down from Fred’s office when the party was breaking up. Of course, I had no idea why he had been up in the office. I do know that both fellas were avid Poe fans. And, shortly after the Party, work on the book began.” (e-mail 10-05-17)

ALAN: Do you know how they handled the writing process?

JANE: Funny you’d ask that, because I asked Joan the same question.  Here’s what she said:

“As I recall, Fred wrote the first draft, Roger the second. Can’t remember how many passes they went through. I know they both felt the collaboration went exceptionally smoothly. I’m reasonably sure Roger did the final clean-up as to my mind Roger’s beautiful word play is all over that manuscript.“ (e-mail 10-05-17)

ALAN: I find the mechanics of collaboration endlessly fascinating…

Roger also wrote three novels with Robert Sheckley. Sheckley is one of my favourite writers. He wrote some brilliantly funny (and often very odd) stories. And of course I’m a huge fan of Roger’s writing as well. But I must confess that I felt their collaborative novels did neither of them any favours.

JANE: I will admit, they aren’t my favorites either.  I liked If At Faust You Don’t Succeed, but then I have a weakness for Faust stories.  The others were okay, but not really my flavor.

ALAN: The terrible pun in the title put me off the book straight away. And reading the book did nothing to correct that first impression.

Roger also collaborated on a novel with Gerald Hausman. We discussed this in detail as part of another Tangent.

JANE: We definitely did.  Rather than repeating ourselves, if anyone’s curious, they can look here.

ALAN: And finally, Roger collaborated on a short story with Harlan Ellison. This was part of a project that was eventually published as Partners in Wonder, a collection of fourteen short stories, each of which was an Ellisonian collaboration with another writer. Of his collaboration with Roger Zelazny, Ellison has this to say:

“…in a career lifetime of writing violent and frequently loveless fictions, this is one of the few times I feel my work has reached toward gentleness and compassion, and I don’t think I would have been able to do anything even remotely like it, had it not been for Roger.”

And that, I think, speaks volumes about the benefits of collaborative writing.

JANE: I agree… I certainly feel that way about our collaborations.  I enjoy how our chats lead me into areas I never would have gone on my own.

ALAN: That reminds me.  I have a question for you about a different sort of blending.  I’ll save it for next time.