Archive for the ‘Other People’s Stories’ Category

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!

FF: Transforming Images

December 6, 2019

Kel Approves

This week the unintentional theme seems to be transformation of tropes and texts and time periods.

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:

Angel Mage by Garth Nix.  Homage to The Three Musketeers, more to the movies than the books, in that the protagonists are much nicer, less grasping people than in the novels.  However, this is an homage, not a retelling.  Plot, characters, and setting are Nix’s own, and so the overlap of some names is actually startling.

In Progress:

Witchmark by C.L. Polk.  Just getting back into this one.  The setting seems to be an alternate WWI.  I’ve seen it called “gaslight fantasy” for that reason.

Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales From Around the World compiled by Kathleen Ragan.  I chanced on this and plan to give it a shot with a few stories a day.  Tantalized by the multi-culturalism and that the compiler sought overlooked tales.

The Age of Faith by Will Durant.  Part Four of “The Story of Civilization.”  Audiobook.  Discussing the evolution of the early church into the medieval church, as well as the fading out of non-Christian religions and how their traditions persisted.

Also:

I’ve put Grimjack created by John Ostrander and Tim Truman on hold for a bit.  The comics are somewhat fragile, and I am racing around right now.

Didn’t Say That

November 20, 2019

Where Wolves, Cats, and Guinea Pigs Run Wild

The freebee advertisement magazine that shows up in our mailbox once a month contains a small amount of non-advertising content between the ads.  I always read the Albuquerque area gardening column, often skim through others.

A while back, while skimming a column that contains quotes connected by a theme (ex. Friendship, Wisdom, Joy), I saw one credited to Charles de Lint.  My initial pleasure turned into musing when I recognized the quote as from one of his stories.  In other words, Charles de Lint didn’t say that, his character did.

This may seem a fine point, suitable only for English majors and other content nerds, but it continued to haunt me long after the magazine went into the recycling.  In that particular case, the quote was probably pretty much in line with Charles de Lint’s own philosophical position.  (I do know him, and so am speaking from at least a moderately informed position.)

However, what if the quote had been from one of the antagonists in the same novel?  Crediting that quote to Charles de Lint would have been accurate on the same grounds the first quote was while, at the same time, doing de Lint a great injustice.

Think I’m obsessing?  Try this one on for size.

“My Precious.  My Precious.”  J.R.R. Tolkien.

I’ve met writers whose signature characters are incredibly wise, astonishingly competent, well-organized people but who, in their personal lives, make unwise choices, are unable to find their way in an unfamiliar environment, and whose offices look as if they’ve been repeatedly hit by whirlwinds.

Another common source of awkwardness is when the author is assumed to share the tastes and/or habits of a character.  I’ve lost count of the number of readers who are astonished to learn that not only don’t I have a wolf or wolf-like dog, I have never owned a dog, nor do I ever plan to do so.  Cats and guinea pigs are my non-human co-residents of choice.

Author/character identification can get awkward when a story touches on uncomfortable topics.  After The Dragon of Despair was released, I received an e-mail in which a reader lambasted me for being a child abuser, because of what happens to Citrine Shield in that novel.  Anticipating my response that Melina Shield is responsible for what Citrine goes through, the writer of that e-mail said (I paraphrase), “And don’t say Melina did it, because you created her and you did it.”

Wow! Apparently, the fact that I also created the people who rescued Citrine, as well as Citrine herself, meant nothing.  Because I could envision a horrible situation, I must be capable of committing such atrocities and of deliberately tormenting a child.  (Never mind that the child existed in a fictional universe, while I live in our consensual reality.)

Getting the author and characters tangled up increases with the attachment people feel to a book.  I’ve repeatedly had to inform astonished fans of Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light that he was not a practitioner of any form of Buddhism.   After all, he smoked and his characters smoked, so if one of his protagonists is Buddhist, he must have been Buddhist.  (As an aside, whether Sam was Buddhist or his world’s Buddha, or simply running a scam, is a question the novel leaves open to debate).

It seems that the closer a topic is to the emotional, psychological landscape, the more it is assumed, for good or ill, that this reflects the author’s personal views.  Therefore, a writer of Military or Espionage fiction can never have served in the military or been a spy.  Writers of alternate history do not need not to have lived in pre-Republic Rome or in Hitler’s Germany.  Writers of fairy tales do not need to have cut off the head of a horse to release a prince trapped inside.

But write about being depressed.  Write about a death in the family.  Write about a religious belief.  Suddenly,  it’s assumed that the author is writing autobiography.  In this day of social media—where readers may know more about the author’s personal life or experiences—the urge to read biography into the fiction has risen.  However, it’s always been there.

Write what you know involves research, but it also involves empathy.  Sometimes it involves delving into something that horrifies the writer, rather than what attracts.

Well, I’m off to draw up some notes for a novel in which one of my protagonists is a sixteen-year-old girl (which I was) and another is a treecat (which I never was).  Let’s complicate that matter by noting that said sixteen-year-old girl (Stephanie Harrington) was convincingly created by a man (David Weber) who had never been a girl of any age.  At the time the original Stephanie Harrington story was written, he wasn’t a father of a girl that age, so he couldn’t be said to be drawing on his parenting experience.

“I’m sorry, too.  Even my best words are not enough.”  Firekeeper, Wolf’s Search, by Jane Lindskold.

When Ears Inspire

November 6, 2019

Colorful Costume

Ever since our friends Rowan Derrick and Melissa Jackson invited us to a theme Halloween party, Jim and I mused over what we should do for costumes.  The party’s theme was “post-Apocalypse,” riffing off Rowan’s long-time fondness for the “Fallout” series of computer games, as well as that she had some great decorating ideas.

Now, post-Apocalypse has never been one of my favorite settings.  Who knows?  Maybe I imbibed anxiety about nuclear war with my mother’s milk.  (I was born about a month before the Cuban missile crisis.)  I grew to adulthood under the shadow of the Cold War.  To this day, I remember college discussions in which many of my contemporaries stated that we’d see a nuclear missile attack before we graduated.  Certainly an awareness that for most of my life I lived in a “ground zero” location hasn’t helped.  (Yep.  I still do.)

However, there’s one book set in a post-Apocalyptic setting I really love: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.  It is not hopelessly grim, but lacks Mad Max romanticizing of how much fun it would be to all wear fur and ride motorcycles.  Maybe why this novel resonates with me is that it offers hope for a devastated future seeded by a medium I really understand and believe in: Books.

So, for a while Jim and I thought we might go as “bookleggers,” but a lack of affordable monks’ robes proved a stumbling block.  If we didn’t have robes, then we’d need to keep explaining what we were.  After all, like bootleggers, bookleggers tend to dress much like everyone else, because that’s the best way to avoid detection.

 Eventually, we settled on going as mutants.  In the third section of A Canticle for Leibowitz these “Children of the Fallout” have a very interesting role.

When we went to look for costume items, my creative conception took a swerve when I found myself irresistibly attracted to a set of brightly-colored cheetah ears with matching tail.  While Jim got a set of very nice wolf’s ears and tail, then accessorized so that he was transformed into a very swashbuckling mutant wolf-warrior, I wandered over to the bright side.  If you’ve read A Canticle for Leibowitz this isn’t completely out of line, although I admit, my interpretation was a bit unique…

I wish the photo showed my hair better, since it steaked in five very bright shades!

(In case you wonder, I already had the yukata and obi.)

Writers are always asked: “Where do you get your ideas?”  Well, in the course of this particular creative journey, I found myself musing over an idea for a short story.  If I write it, I guess my answer will need to be “A Canticle for Leibowitz and a set of cheetah ears in all the colors of the rainbow.”

FF: Knights, Alchemists, and Trolls

November 1, 2019

Clever Rogue Meets Clever Rogue

After reading well over half of The Complete and Original Norwegian Folktales of Asbojornsen & Moe, I have found myself wondering just how many family pets were beheaded by children who believed that this would release the prince/princess trapped within by evil trolls…

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.

I’m enjoying hearing what you folks are reading, too!

Recently Completed:

Sourdough by Robin Sloan.  Audiobook.  Enjoyable.

In Progress:

Quillifer The Knight by Walter Jon Williams.  I know the author, so I scored an ARC!  The writing style is reminiscent Rafael Sabatini or Alexander Dumas, so be prepared for descriptive embroidery as well as swashbuckling adventure.  This novel is a November release!

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire.  Audiobook.  Just started.

The Complete and Original Norwegian Folktales of Asbojornsen & Moe, translated by Tiina Nunnally.  I’m reading a few of these before bed each night.  They can make for some very odd dreams!

Also:

Finished my first read-through of Wolf’s Soul.  Overall, I’m feeling happy with it, but I’m too close to it.  I’ll take a few days away from it to clear my head before going through it again.

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…

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!