Archive for the ‘Other People’s Stories’ Category

TT: Drabbling in Feghoots

October 10, 2019

The Thursday Tangents Collection

JANE: Today I’m happy to announce the return of my long-time collaborator, Alan Robson.  As we promised, we said we’d resume writing Thursday Tangents as soon as we had something we wanted to Tangent about…

Alan, I’ve lost track.  How long did we write the Thursday Tangents?  How many Tangents were there before we ran out of things to babble about?

ALAN: We wrote 356 tangents over a period of six years. Goodness me!

I collected some of them in a free ebook.

JANE: Wow!  I’d forgotten we’d been so chatty.

One of the things we talked about was your plans when you retired.  One of these was finally having time to write.  From our various e-mail chats, I know you have kept your promise to yourself, even if you haven’t quite yet written the Great New Zealand Novel.

In fact, it was one of your stories that made me decide we needed to Tangent once more.  When you sent me a “drabble,” I admit, I had no idea what to expect.

What is a drabble?

ALAN: A drabble is a short story of exactly 100 words, not including the title. Hyphenated-words-are-argued-about.

 A drabble is not 99 words, and it’s not 101 words, it must be exactly 100 words. It turns out to be surprisingly hard to cram an entire story into that number of words. It requires an awful lot of self-discipline together with very careful word choice and sentence structure, so it makes a really good writing exercise. There’s a very strong sense of accomplishment when you finally get it to work.

JANE: Why is it called a drabble?

ALAN: The form derives from a Monty Python sketch and it is named for the English novelist Margaret Drabble, though I doubt if she knows that her name has been borrowed for that purpose. It’s also a real word, believe it or not. It means to make something wet and dirty by dragging it through mud.

And it’s worth 10 points in Scrabble.

JANE: When you sent me your most recent drabble, I was quite taken with it.  Would you like to share?

ALAN: I’d be happy to. But before I do, I’d like to go off on a tangent, if I may, and explain that in British English, the word “Ass” simply means a silly person. It has none of the ruder connotations that it does in American English. So bearing that in mind, here’s a drabble about…

An Ass on an Asteroid

The asteroid called Ceremony was an amorphous lump of rock that tumbled end over end in its orbit.  I wasn’t looking forward to landing my spaceship on it, particularly with untold billions of people glued to their television sets watching my every move.

Delicately I manipulated the thrusters to match my orbit with Ceremony. When I was satisfied, I cautiously lowered the ship to a perfect landing. I switched the engines off, opened the hatch and stepped down onto the dusty surface. Then I announced triumphantly to the waiting billions, “I am the very first person to stand on Ceremony!”

JANE: Tah-dah!

What I love about this story is that it is more than a punchline for a joke (although it certainly qualifies as a joke as well).  It has a main character, a plot arc, even a dramatic climax.

Did you find it hard to squeeze all of this into so few words?

ALAN: Writing the story wasn’t that hard in itself. I’m getting reasonably proficient at creating a proper story structure and, in this case at least, the punchline dictated how the story had to work. The first draft came out at about 150 words and took something like thirty minutes to write. Then the hard work began. I had to trim and cut and re-write and juggle so as to edit it down to the required word count. That took about four hours.

JANE: Given the pun at the end, your drabble can also be considered to be a feghoot. Two birds with one stone!

Feghoots are humorous short stories that resolve with a pun.  Unlike a drabble, they don’t need to be only 100 words, so they can sneak up on you.

I learned about feghoots from my buddy, David Weber, who loves them.  One memorable night a few months after Roger’s death when I couldn’t sleep, Weber set out to break my dark mood. To do this, he told me dozens of feghoots, one after another.  It worked.

ALAN: Ferdinand Feghoot was the hero of goodness knows how many stories written by the anagrammatical Grendel Briarton who, under his real name of Reginald Bretnor, was a respected science fiction author and critic. The name of the form derives from the name of the hero of course, and the only rule is that the story must end with a terrible pun.

Feghoots were published intermittently in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction starting in the 1950s. They soon became wildly popular. Isaac Asimov and John Brunner and many other authors also contributed to the form. The very best feghoots were so terrible that you really wanted to scoop your eyes out with a spoon after you’d read them so that you wouldn’t have to read any more.

Reginald Bretnor died in 1992 and Ferdinand Feghoot appears to have died with him, which I think is a great shame.

JANE: I’d love to hear another of your drabbles.

ALAN: I can do that. Here’s one I wrote about:

The Revolting Crew

The mighty spaceship ploughed through the void between the stars. The crew were near to mutiny and the captain was deep in angry conversation with the artificial intelligence in charge of supplies.

“What happened?” he demanded. “Come on, Marie, you stupid machine. How could you allow such a situation to arise? How did you expect us to travel five hundred light years with no toilet paper?”

“What is it to me?” said Marie haughtily. “I have no need for toilet paper.”

The captain buried his head in his hands. “What am I going do?”

“Let them use cake,” suggested Marie.

JANE: That made me laugh out loud, which brought Jim in from the other room so he could read it.  And he laughed.  Congratulations.

ALAN: Thank you. If you’d like to read a few more of my drabbles you can find them on my website.

In all fairness, I probably ought to point out that, although my drabbles tend to be rather feghhootian (because that’s the way my mind works), drabbles don’t always have to be humorous. Gene Wolfe, Brian Aldiss and many other respected authors have all written drabbles that are dramatic and thoughtful and sometimes quite deep. A drabble is just like any other fictional form and therefore it can be used for any legitimate fictional purpose. That’s part of the beauty of it.

JANE: I may need to dabble in drabble one of these days…

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Walker With Sleeping Gods: Liz Colter

October 9, 2019

World of Mystery

Exciting News!  Alan Robson and I will be presenting a Thursday Tangent tomorrow, on a Thursday, even…  It will feature original fiction, thoughtful discussion, and everything you loved in the Thursday Tangents.  Make sure you don’t miss it.

Now, on to our regularly scheduled Wandering, a guest appearance by author, Liz Colter.

My encounters with Ms. Colter have occurred in mysterious stages, which is strangely appropriate, since that is how her fiction also seems to unfold.

I first encountered her as L. Deni Colter, the author of “The Weight of Mountains,” one of my favorite stories in DreamForge magazine’s second issue.

At Bubonicon in 2019, we were doing a panel on DreamForge before a surprisingly full room, given that it was early on a Saturday.  After the panelists had introduced themselves, moderator Emily Mah Tippetts announced that there were two other DreamForge authors­—John Jos. Miller and Liz Colter— in the room.  She then suggested they introduce themselves.

I’d known John for decades, but who was this mysterious “Liz”?  When she mentioned the title of her story, I was very excited.  Later, we ended up chatting.  Almost immediately, I knew I wanted to interview her.  In preparation, I read her most recent novel, While Gods Sleep…  But more about that later.  Let’s let her speak for herself.

JANE: Liz, I always start these interviews by asking the same question, so here it is…

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?

LIZ: I’m a came-to-it-later writer. I was a massive daydreamer when I was young and I nearly flunked out of grade school due to daydreaming, but it proves to me that I was always wired for writing fiction. On top of that, I’m English born and was raised with a very English mother who was a strict grammarian. My vocabulary tested high when she started me in 1st grade a year early, and reading and writing assignments were always strong areas for me in high school and college. I was also an avid reader from about age 10 onward, nearly exclusively science fiction and fantasy.

I might have come to writing earlier, but I stayed too busy after graduating from college, pursuing a lot of different interests, schools, and (as my biography will confirm) many careers. I never made time to write seriously until about twenty years ago when I found myself with a seasonal work break, a rainy winter, and my first computer. I started my first novel that winter and wrote 10,000 words in a week. I’ve never looked back.

JANE: Your official biography lists a wide and fascinating variety of careers including field paramedic, athletic trainer, and roller-skating waitress.  How did this very active lifestyle influence your writing?

LIZ: I’m a bit “Jack of all trades, master of none” but at least this has given me a wide range of interesting experiences and a fairly unusual knowledge base of draft horse farming, firefighting, emergency medicine, outdoor skills, and plenty of other things.  (That biography is by no means a complete list!) I’ve also had the privilege to meet a few true masters along the way.

As to how it’s contributed to my writing, in my early short stories I did what many beginning writers do and tried to write stories like ones I’d read,  avoiding things that were personal or unique to me. As my writing developed over the years, I’ve learned to draw more deeply from my past, not only from my experiences but, more importantly, from the feelings and truths that came with those experiences.

JANE:  In While Gods Sleep, Ty, your protagonist, is a locksmith.  Did you learn how to pick locks to get into his character?

LIZ: <laughs> No, that’s one skill I haven’t attempted to learn, at least not to the point of physically learning lock picking. That said, I am absolutely obsessed with getting details as accurate as I can in my stories. I fall down research rabbit holes constantly, so even the shortest of stories can take me far longer to write than perhaps they should.

Locksmithing was certainly one of the things I researched for While Gods Sleep. I did the standard Googling, but I also reached out on a writer’s forum and got responses from a couple of people who had practical experience and could answer my very specific questions.

JANE: Let’s talk a little about While Gods Sleep.  When I started it, I figured it would be a variation on the popular portal fantasy sub-genre, in which a character in our world is drawn into another.  The more I read, the more I realized you have two imaginary worlds here.  Why did you make that choice?

LIZ: I wanted this to be a contemporary fantasy but I used an alternate 1958 Athens, Greece setting for a couple of reasons. For one thing, I’ve never lived in Greece, so I set it far enough back in history to hopefully give it a contemporary and accurate feel, but not be tied down to getting every detail of present-day Athens correct.

My second reason for the time period was to give the world a slightly less realistic feel since I needed to alter the history of Greek royalty to incorporate the storyline for an important pair of characters. They were the main reason that my Athens ended up being in an alternate world. I could throw demigods and creatures into the real Athens, but I couldn’t change the history of the rulers without changing the world a bit.

JANE: And those rulers…  Shiver.  Shiver.  So good.  So creepy without ever being a cheat.  Nicely done!

Based on what I’ve read of your work, you very much like mythic material.  What draws you to myth and legend?

LIZ: It’s almost a which-came-first question for me between my love of speculative fiction or my love of mythology and folklore. One of my favorite books as a child was a beautifully illustrated book of Russian folk tales, though the biggest hook into reading I can remember was discovering Tolkien at age 10.

In junior high and high school I spent much of my free time in the library reading all the Kurt Vonnegut they carried as well as all the Greek mythology I could find. I remember doing a research paper around tenth grade and choosing Hindu religion and gods as the subject.

 I honestly don’t know what drives the passion. Perhaps it’s learning the classics or the draw of mythological archetypes. Maybe it’s a natural progression from the fairy tales and folklore I grew up on or the appeal of learning about the similarities and differences of myths and religions in different cultures. Probably, it’s a bit of all those.

JANE: Tell us a little more about your other works.  While you’re at it, tell us why you’ve chosen to publish under several different names.

LIZ: To date, I have three published novels—two of them Colorado Book Award winners—and two or three dozen published short stories.

On the pseudonym, I went back and forth at first about using one, but eventually published my early short stories under my full name, Liz Colter.

When my debut novel, A Borrowed Hell, was accepted for publication, first by Shirtsleeve Press, and later at Digital Fiction Publishing, I revisited the question. My protagonist was male and my hope was that the book would appeal equally to all readers, and so I made the decision to switch to a non-gendered byline, L. D. Colter.

The next novel I published as L. D. Colter was While Gods Sleep—hopefully the first in a set of contemporary, myth-based novels from different cultures.

My next published novel was an epic fantasy, The Halfblood War from WordFire Press (that first novel I mentioned earlier, which I started that rainy winter on the farm). While plenty of readers, like me, enjoy multiple sub-genres of speculative fiction, my contemporary and my epic fantasy novels were very different. I decided to use a slightly altered pseudonym for my epic fantasy, L. Deni Colter, to make it easier for readers to know what they’re getting from me, as I expect to continue to write both contemporary and epic. Both my newsletter and my website list all of my books, as do my other social media pages, so hopefully everything is easy to find.

JANE: You’re not the only author I know who uses slightly different names as a “code” to guide reader expectation.  It’s an interesting choice.  Can you give me a link to your newsletter, in case any of my readers would like to follow any of you?

LIZ:  They can sign up for my newsletter here.  I have a website, too, where all my secret identities are listed.

JANE: I’ve taken a lot of your writing time with this chat, so I’ll let you go.  I definitely look forward to our next in-person meeting, and to reading more of your work.

Quiet? Not So Much.

September 18, 2019

Reference Notebook, Recorder, Leather Tag

I should really give up planning on quiet weeks.  That’s what I intended for last week.  Quiet artistic meditation so I could mentally sort through the details as I moved into the final stages of Wolf’s Soul, the sequel to July’s new Firekeeper novel, Wolf’s Search.   The week didn’t work out that way.  Mind you, why it didn’t work out wasn’t bad…

I knew in advance Monday would be busy.  Not only did I have my usual Monday Chaos, Scot Noel and I were interviewed by the Sci Fi Saturday Night podcast.  We talk about a lot of things, including DreamForge magazine, projects to come, and my life in the desert.  It was a lot of fun.  You can tune in at http://scifisaturdaynight.com.  You’ll want talkcast 423.  Bonus: You can see a great older photo of me…

Tuesday I turned the tables and interviewed Hugo Award-winning artist Elizabeth Leggett over coffee, chocolate, and cats at my house.  The reason for the interview is that I’m writing her program bio for MileHiCon.  However, there was so much great stuff that I couldn’t fit into the program piece, I decided to transcribe the whole thing.  Since we talked for an hour and a half, the transcribing took a while.

By Wednesday, though, I had enough material to write the MileHiCon piece, which I did because…

Thursday, Jim and I had promised ourselves a full day at the State Fair.  We did and had a wonderful time seeing more animals, more art, and eating a weird variety of food not good for you. We hit one of our favorites—the “Home Arts” aka “Hobby Building”—after the schoolkids had gone home.  This led to my having made for me the magnificent leather tag you see in the picture.

The tag was made by artist Paul Q. Starke.  Before you sniff and say “So what?  I did leather stamping in grammar school!” let me tell you that just the wolf took at least twenty really hard strikes with the mallet to create that deep impression.  Lots of the lines—including the moon­—were drawn freehand with hammer and chisel.  I was absolutely awed.

Thursday we also ended up having an impromptu dinner with our friends Yvonne and Mike, which got us home rather later than planned.  And in the mailbox what should I find but…

A big fat envelope containing the contracts for three new Star Kingdom books featuring Honor Harrington’s ancestor, Stephanie Harrington, a lot of treecats, intrigue and adventure.  For those of you who don’t know, there are already three books in the series: A Beautiful Friendship (written by Weber solo, but with me in the background as consultant), Fire Season, and Treecat Wars.

The new novels don’t have titles yet, but we’ll be picking up with Stephanie at sixteen, shortly after the events in my yet unpublished short story, “Deception on Gryphon.”

Would you be surprised if I told you I was so keyed up I had trouble sleeping that night?

So, instead of Friday being a quiet day to meditate and maybe do some crafts, I ended up reviewing and signing contracts, then sending Weber e-mails to continue the discussion we’ve been having on and off these last few months.

This week I’m not even going to pretend is going to be quiet.  I have that interview to finish transcribing.  I have another interview to get started.  Doubtless Weber and I will refine details on Stephanie’s next adventure.

And, no, I haven’t forgotten.  I need to finish writing Wolf’s Soul, so that you can dive into the complicated tale of exploration and intrigue begun in Wolf’s Search.

I’d better get to it!

Creative Coolness

September 11, 2019

Creativity Takes Many Forms

This past week was special because it brought two of my favorite opportunities to immerse myself in cool creativity: the New Mexico State Fair and the third issue of DreamForge magazine.

DreamForge readers, no worries.  I’m not going to provide any spoilers, but I am going to remind readers that this issue contains the first ever Firekeeper short story.  It’s called “A Question of Truth,” and is set shortly before the events in the newly-released Firekeeper novel, Wolf’s Search.

As with all DreamForge stories, “A Question of Truth” is non-dystopian.  As with all Firekeeper stories, the perspective is Firekeeper’s own.  What a wolf thinks is right or wrong can differ greatly from what a human would.  Moreover, Firekeeper and Blind Seer are very unusual wolves.  Part of my joy in returning to writing about them is considering how they’ve changed while keeping their own strong assurance of who they are.

DreamForge is available only by subscription, but you get a lot for that subscription, including  the option to sign up for a free digital subscription to Space and Time magazine.  Details are available at the DreamForge website.

I know that for a lot of people the words “State Fair” conjure up crowds, carnival rides, and overpriced junk food.  For me, the State Fair is closer to the harvest festivals of old.  I rarely make it onto the midway at all and, if I do, it’s to look at the carousel.  While I’ve been known to try some of the food weirdness (a deep-fried Snickers bar, for example), I’m more likely to be indulging in a cup of coffee and a slice of homemade pie at the Asbury Café, a long-time tradition run by a local United Methodist Church.   This year I had blueberry-rhubarb.

When I go to the Fair, I’m there to look at animals, plants, and art, in no particular order.  If I was absolutely forced to choose a favorite building, it would be the hobby building.  This is where you can find arts and crafts ranging from woodworking to needlepoint to rock collecting to photography to baking and canning to quilting and sewing to doll collecting to Lego constructions to leather work to stained glass to beading…  Well you get the idea.  These are all on display under one roof.  Often there is someone there to tell you all about their particular favorite or to give a demonstration.

Wait!  Maybe my favorite thing is the rabbit and poultry show.  The bunnies and chickens have a new building this year.  We walked all over until we found it.  (For some bizarre reason, there were no signs telling visitors where to go!)  It’s down at the western end of the dairy barn, inside the barn, in case you’re wondering…

Then there’s Sheep to Shawl, where you can watch a sheep being sheared, see demonstrations on how the wool is cleaned, carded, spun, dyed, and then transformed by a wide variety of techniques including knitting, weaving, crochet, and felting into everything from hats and gloves to toys and, of course, the promised shawls.

Then there are the art shows…  Not one or two, but at least five, if you count the school art, which I absolutely do!

I could keep listing, but lists don’t really capture how wonderful it is to be on the fairgrounds, surrounded by creativity in its many and varied forms.  I come away every time impressed and awed and just generally happy.

We’re going back on Thursday to see what we couldn’t manage on our first trip.  I can hardly wait!

Crystals of Stories

September 4, 2019

Mei-Ling Researches Bats

Last week, when I mentioned I was reading about the extinctions of various paleo mammals, someone said, “So, shall we expect a story with mammoths and saber-tooth tigers soon?  Or are you going to be writing about mass extinctions?”

I have to admit, I was flummoxed.  I was reading the book (End of the Megafauna by Ross. D. E. MacPhee, with marvelous illustrations by Peter Schouten) because I’d seen a review and it seemed interesting.   But during the discussion that followed, I was reminded of a comment made the previous weekend at Bubonicon during the GOH interviews.

Somehow, research came up.  Alan Steele answered first and his answer was well-balanced, thoughtful, and very scholarly.  He researched both before and during a project, often for years in advance. Then it was Ursula Vernon’s turn.  She laughed and said (I may misquote, since I’m doing this from memory), “I don’t really research.  I write Fantasy.  I can change things to fit what I want.”

Well, that didn’t fit my impression of her books.  Since first meeting Ursula some years ago, I’ve read a lot of her books, both those written as Ursula Vernon and others published under her pen name of T. Kingfisher.  One of the things I love about her books is that underlying the rollicking stories is a lot of cool information about a wide range of topics.  A good example is Lair of the Bat Monster from her Danny Dragonbreath series.  You come out of this book knowing a lot more about bats than you ever knew there was to know.

Later, when we were chatting privately, I chided Ursula for underselling the amount of work that goes into even the most apparently lightweight of her books.  Her response was, in its own way, as thoughtful as Alan Steele’s.  She said: “But I don’t really research.  I just draw on what I’ve read and thought was fascinating.”  She then started telling me about a nifty book she’d been reading about perfumes, and we got sidetracked from there…

Often when both readers and writers think about “research,” we think about it in terms of schooldays of yore, of immersing oneself in a specific topic of more or less interest in order to produce a specific product.  That sort of research absolutely has a place in fiction writing.  I’ve done that, both before writing a project, during the writing, and then after to make sure I have specific points right.

But the other sort of research is probably more valuable.  Why?  Because you probably won’t even have ideas about new and thrilling topics if you never read outside of secondary sources and your existing interests.

I think this is why so much literary fiction deals with college professors and academics.  I’d also argue that it’s one reason why some writers start writing about writers and the business of writing.  In both cases, their interests have narrowed to what they are doing on a daily basis.  Becoming too immersed in a single field is another research issue, one that leads to some writers creating stories that are more and more specialized variations on a single theme.  That’s great if that’s what they want to write, but I’ll admit, both in my own writing and in my reading, I’m more eclectic.

Roger Zelazny routinely read up to five books at one time, dipping into each on a daily basis.  These included a volume of poetry, a biography, something non-fiction (often science or history related), something specific to a project he was working on or contemplating, and one or more volumes of fiction.  My reading is much the same.  Those of you who look at my Friday Fragments get part of my reading, but I don’t even try to itemize the articles I read,  nor short fiction.

Without my eclectic tastes, the “Breaking the Wall” novels never would have been written, because I wouldn’t have known enough about Chinese history, characters, and mythology to find myself asking the question that triggered the idea that led to the story.  The same is true for the varied cultures featured in the Firekeeper novels and elsewhere.  They’re not cultures from our world with the serial numbers lightly filed off; they’re evolved from the ground up based on what I know about how environment, politics, and religion (to name just three) have to do with how cultures are shaped.

My next read is likely to be a non-fiction book about a relatively minor historical figure.  Do I plan to write about him?  Not necessarily, but what I learn will definitely bubble up in some strange and wonderful way somewhere in the future.

Wolves, Gardens, And Cool Stuff!

August 14, 2019

Zinnias Uncaged!

This week, in addition to getting back into the storyline for Wolf’s Soul, the sequel to July’s new Firekeeper novel, Wolf’s Search, I did some work on another project (which I will tell you more about when the contracts are signed), saw a new depiction of Firekeeper (sneak peek below!), and assessed my garden.

As you may recall, Jim and I did a variety of experiments in our garden this year.  Now that it’s August, I’m trying to decide what worked and what didn’t.  Complicating matters were the depredations of a baby rabbit we dubbed Frippery Wigglenose Scamperbutt.

For those of you who have been in suspense, we did save the zinnias out front, and they are now looking marvelous.  As I suspected, once the leaves were large enough to get coarse and prickly, Frippery lost interest.   A greater availability of the wild plants that are a more usual part of his diet doubtlessly helped.  We’ve seen both him and PF “weeding” our front area’s gravel for us.  Nice to have helpful wild bunnies.

We tried several new varieties of beans this year.  Most didn’t really do well.  I think when catalogs say “good in heat,” they don’t mean New Mexico heat, and especially my yard.  However, a new variety of liana did great and we’ll definitely repeat.  Not surprisingly, given that they were originally bred by the indigenous peoples of Arizona, all three varieties of teppary bean have done fine and are beginning to set pods.

Well, except for those Frippery got to.  Those are a bit behind, and part of one row never did recover.

Our eggplant is doing pretty well.  Our squash (mostly zucchini) is thriving, so we’re giving up on what “everyone” told us to do, and will go back to planting in the early spring and simply praying the squash bugs don’t bother us.  Our peppers have been very slow.  I blame cooler than usual nights early in the spring.  However, some are finally coming on.

Tomatoes are mixed.  We’ve lost quite a number to curly top virus, but have enough to begin to decorate our salads.  And give the guinea pigs.  Ziggy’s new favorite food is tomato.

I’ll replant chard and arugula when daytime temperatures settle in the mid-nineties, rather than spiking over a hundred.  That should be coming soon, and hopefully we’ll have autumn greens.  The herbs are doing very well.  I have made the cats happy with lots and lots of catnip.  Soon I’ll be clipping basil to freeze for later pesto.

Speaking of growing projects of another sort (how’s that for a clever transition?), my friends at DreamForge magazine have announced a really cool new contest.

The topic is whether the current wealth of data that surrounds us is a good thing or not.  You can find more details at the link, but I’ll tell you right off: there is a cash prize, and the winning story will be published in the on-line edition of DreamForge Magazine.  Don’t forget, this means it will be accompanied by a full-color illustration, something increasingly rare these days.

This is also a good time to remind you that the first ever Firekeeper short story, “A Question of Truth,” will appear in the new issue of DreamForge.  The story is set before Wolf’s Search, so there won’t be any spoilers, but if you read it, you’ll know something that only Firekeeper and Blind Seer know!  It’s illustrated by Elizabeth Leggett, who gives her own twist to how the now early twenties, slightly more civilized, Firekeeper might look…

Elizabeth Leggett’s Illustration in DreamForge 3

DreamForge is only available by subscription.  They offer a variety of options including their lush print version, a combined print/digital version (for those of you who can’t bear to get fingerprints on your beloved magazines), and a quite affordable digital version.  Details are available here.

Now I’m off to pull out my colored pens and continue working on the reverse outline for Wolf’s Soul.  I got a bit worried last week that I wasn’t speeding along fast enough.  Then I realized I was tinkering and tightening along the way.  I can’t wait to start writing the thrilling concluding chapters.  Tune in next week and I’ll tell you if I managed!

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!

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.