Archive for the ‘Random Wanderings’ Category

FF: Thanks For Good Books!

November 27, 2020
Dandelion Considers the Problem of Feegles

Thanksgiving weekend has always been a good time for reading, up to and including listening to audiobooks while I cook.

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

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

I’m always happy to hear what you’re reading, and even if I don’t read that specific book your suggestions often steer me to something related.

Recently Completed:

And Be a Villain by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  Wolfe needs work, which makes him make an unusual deal to solve a crime that happened in front of an audience but, nonetheless, has the police baffled.

Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett.  I’ll admit.  The first time I read this book, the Mac Feegles nearly kicked me out, as did the similarity of some plot elements to the movie Labyrinth.  But Tiffany and her serious determination to deal with what is there, rather than what people believe, won me over.

If Death Ever Slept by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  As a result of a bicker fest, Archie and Nero find themselves immersed in a murder investigation they never would have chosen to take on.

Hat Full Of Sky by Terry Pratchett.  The second Tiffany Aching book.  Over-confidence gets Tiffany in over her head.  Can she get out and find a hat of her own?

In Progress:

Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett.  The third Tiffany Aching book.  Once again, Tiffany dances in where angels would fear to tread.  Can she get herself out before all she loves freezes solid?

Black Mountain by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  Nero leaves not only his home (unthinkable) but his adopted homeland to return to Montenegro on the trail of the murderer of his long-time best friend. 

Also:

Recipes, which are a lot more fun than you might imagine.

I Can Still Be

November 25, 2020
Roary Is Thankful He Has Four Legs

Yeah… 2020 has been a rough year.  I’m not going to deny it.  However, I’m not going to forget to be thankful on Thanksgiving Day.

Before you sniff and say “What does she know about rough years?” let me say that 2020 was far from an easy year for me and Jim.  We lost two of our cats. Yes.  Kwahe’e was elderly, but that didn’t make it any easier when, the day after my birthday, I sat with my hand on his flank while he breathed his last.  And Kel…  As those of you who read my Acknowledgements to Wolf’s Soul know, her death was sudden and shocking.  Given that she’d been my writing companion, who perched on my desk as I wrote, I felt—still feel—her absence every day.

Jim was hospitalized twice this year.  Once suddenly, when a cryptic UT infection got bad enough to not only cause high fevers and other issues, but to put him at risk of a heart attack.  The other time was for knee replacement two months ago.  He’s still working hard on recovery, which has definitely complicated our lives on all sorts of levels.

As those of you who read my post last week already know, I also lost my long-time agent and dear friend.

I’ll stop there with the negatives, though, like most of us, I could keep on listing.  My point is, despite these personal sorrows, as well as the stresses I’ve shared with the rest of the world during this year of pandemic, I can find much to be grateful for.

As always, I’m going to start with the basics: being able to walk, talk, read, write.  Having access to medical care for myself and my pets.  Having a roof over my head, as well as a good husband and pets to share it with.  Having a garden to tend, even if sometimes the weather this year made me wonder if I would get any harvest.

The professional victories, like getting Wolf’s Soul out to my readers.  Like finishing my draft of the next Star Kingdom (aka treecat books aka Stephanie Harrington books) and getting the manuscript to David Weber.  Like writing a few more short stories.

The little joys, like how well Roary the kitten (who we took in as a medical foster) has recovered from injuries so severe that his initial medical evaluation recommended his left rear leg be amputated.  Like how shy Mei-Ling has gotten a little braver.  That Persephone likes them both.  That guinea pigs Coco and Dandy are besties. That my gamers have made it possible for us to continue to game via Zoom.

And as I bustle around tomorrow, cooking a meal I’ll only be able to share with friends by packaging up their portions and setting the containers out for them to pick up, I’ll be grateful to be able to cook and to have people I want to share with.

It’s hard, very hard, to find things to be thankful for when the sorrows, the losses, and the changes are much easier to remember and our current climate seems to be one of complaint.  Nonetheless, I’m determined to be thankful.

No Excuses

November 20, 2020
Roary Kicks at the Idea of ESP

As my WW noted, the past week or have been hard for me emotionally.  When I went out and scanned our bookshelves, I realized that I needed to re-read, because even if I didn’t remember the plot, I needed the reassurance that it would all turn out all right.

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

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

I’m always happy to hear what you’re reading, and even if I don’t read that specific book your suggestions often steer me to something related.

Recently Completed:

Talking to Dragons by Patricia Wrede.  Audio.  A direct-indirect sequel to Calling On Dragons. Calling ends with a problem that can only be solved by the next generation.  This is how they do that.  Manners are an important element, a trope taken, extended, and bent to good purpose.

The Mind Readers by Margery Allingham.  A later Campion, one that ventures into the realms of SF.  The question of how ESP might change society is very familiar to SF readers, but I suspect Allingham’s discussion was a real eye-opener to many of her mystery fans.

In Progress:

And Be a Villain by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  Wolfe needs work, which makes him make an unusual deal to solve a crime that happened in front of an audience but, nonetheless, has the police baffled.

Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett.  I’ll admit.  The first time I read this book, the Mac Feegles nearly kicked me out, as did the similarity of some plot elements to the movie Labyrinth.  But Tiffany and her serious determination to deal with what is there, rather than what people believe, won me over.

Also:

Finishing up a backlog magazines…  Smithsonian has had some really good pieces that last few months.  Also, brushing up on my herb lore.

Celebration and Sorrow

November 18, 2020
The Buried Pyramid and Smoke and Mirrors

Last week, I learned that my literary agent and long-time friend, Kay McCauley, had died.  Apparently, her death was “sudden.” I haven’t asked for details because her family has enough to deal with.  After all, details don’t matter.  Kay is gone, and I’m never going to pick up the phone again to hear her distinctive, movie-star husky voice say, “Well, dearheart…” and then launch into whatever triggered the call.

I met Kay first when I was twenty-six years old, at Lunacon in Tarrytown, New York. I was there to meet a writer who’d been kind enough to enter into a correspondence with me: one Roger Zelazny.  We all know the sequel to that story, so I’m going to skip it here.

Kay wasn’t really into the convention scene but, since Roger was the Guest of Honor, she’d arranged to host a private party for him.  Roger invited me and my then husband to attend, and of course we went.  I very much remember meeting Kay: a striking, petite, dark-haired woman, then in her mid-fifties, elegantly and fashionably attired.  I was a newly-minted Ph.D., doubtless casually dressed, because I hadn’t had any idea I would be invited to a major literary gala.

Kay and I didn’t talk much then, but we made up for it in the over thirty years to come.  She became my agent in, I think, 1992.  We met the next time at the World Fantasy Convention that year, once again at one of her literary galas.  We did talk for a bit, but she also encouraged me to talk with other people, including Avon editor John Douglas, who would eventually buy my first published novel, Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls.

But there was a lot more to Kay than fancy parties, elegant clothes, and book contracts.  She could be incredibly supportive as a friend and, for all many people might have thought her a gossip, she never ever revealed anything sensitive about any of her clients.

When Roger was diagnosed with cancer, Kay became one of our (because by then Roger and I were a couple) greatest supports, not only keeping business coming in, but checking on his progress and giving me someone to talk with because, since Roger didn’t want it let out he was ill, I felt very isolated.

After Roger died, when I was learning who had been nice to me because they liked me, and who had been nice to me because they wanted the connection to Roger, Kay stuck by me, even when she would have had a good excuse to ditch me.  (Conflict of interest with the Zelazny estate, which she and her brother also handled.)  Not only did Kay manage to carry out Roger’s wish that I complete his two unfinished works, Donnerjack and Lord Demon, she got me work under my own name.

Over the years, even a “brief” chat with Kay was a feast.  Probably because she bothered to get to know me as a person, she was able to connect, to get excited about even my odder ideas.  If you have loved any of my books—whether Changer or the Firekeeper books or quirky novels like Smoke and Mirrors and The Buried Pyramid—you owe Kay thanks, because she’s the one who got them out there.  You also owe her for books like Child of a Rainless Year, because she got me a few contracts that were for one Firekeeper book, one “to be named later.”  She also, at a time when everyone was saying it was “impossible” to get publishers to revert rights of novels, got me back the rights to all my works.  So, she’s indirectly responsible for Wolf’s Search and Wolf’s Soul.

Despite our initial link having been through Roger, when I started seeing Jim, Kay was thrilled.  When Jim and I got engaged after a seriously whirlwind courtship, she sent us a lovely English tea set.  When we got married not long after, she sent us a silver candelabra.  When I protested that she’d already sent us a present, her response was purest Kay:

“Dearheart, lots of people get engaged.  Not all of them get married.”

Oddly, for most of our long friendship, Kay and I didn’t meet in person; our contact was over the phone.   We’d talk for hours about everything and anything: business, sure, but also life and values, and the odd inter-relationships of people.  When Kay learned that I didn’t gossip, I became one of her confidants. I’d like to think that just as she helped me through some of the hardest times in my life, I might have helped her, too.

Eventually, Kay acquired enough clients in New Mexico that she started making an annual trip out here.  On her first one, Jim and I arranged to pick her up at her hotel soon after her arrival.  At that point, I hadn’t seen her for probably decades, and I wasn’t sure I’d recognize her, but I knew I’d know her voice.

So we waited at the hotel, near the reception desk where we could see and not be seen.  When the airport shuttle arrived, a lady not terribly unlike the one I’d met so long before came trotting up to the reception desk.  She gave her name, and as I was walking over to meet her, I heard her tell the clerk:

“I’m meeting a friend here.  We haven’t seen each other for years but…”

And, as her face was lighting up with recognition, I said “Hi, Kay.”  We chatted for a moment, then she dropped off her luggage and hurried down so we could spend some time together. That’s when something funny happened.  We discovered we didn’t know how to talk in person!  After so many years of being only voices, we both stalled.

This awkwardness vanished as soon as we were in the car, her in the back, me in the front, just voices again.  By the time we stopped for a meal, all awkwardness had vanished and never returned. 

I have so many, many memories.  Am I greedy for wanting more?  Well, for all I’m glad that Kay didn’t go through what my dad did with ALS, or Roger with cancer, I’m still going to miss her.  If that’s greedy, I’ll be greedy, because Kay was the sort of friend who never staled, never dulled, and always remained vital, I hope right up to the end.

Finishing Up

November 13, 2020
Persephone In Guardian Mode

This week I finished a lot of pieces that I’d been a couple of chapters from the end of last week. 

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

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

A reminder that I’m always happy to hear what you are reading!

Recently Completed:

Calling on Dragons by Patrica Wrede.  Audio. More broadly comic than the prior two, with (to this point) a lot less plot.  Kudos to the readers for “Killer” the rabbit turned into a donkey which gets turned blue and…

Mr. Campion’s Farthing by Margery Allingham and Youngman Carter.  A posthumous completion by Allingham’s husband.  Well-written but, like many of the post WWII Campion novels, has a grim note.   Also, much less series continuity.  Only a reader of the series would realize that Rupert is Albert’s son.

My Friend Mr. Campion by Margery Allingham.  A collection of shorter works, including the novella, The Case of the Late Pig.  Title of the collection comes from an essay Allingham wrote that provides the first piece.

In Progress:

Talking to Dragons by Patricia Wrede.  Audio.  A direct-indirect sequel to Calling On Dragons. Calling ends with a problem that can only be solved by the next generation.  This is how they do that.  Manners are an important element, a trope taken, extended, and bent to good purpose.

Also:

Not sure what next for my print read.  I have a lot of short stories on my Kindle.  I also have another Campion novel.  And ample research reading.  I guess I’ll figure it out!

Squirrelly

November 11, 2020
Rock Squirrel (Note the lovely pattern on the fur.)

When I was a kid growing up in D.C., squirrels were everywhere.  My dad even had an on-going battle with one who kept getting into the house’s attic.  He dubbed him “Bushy,” and did his best to keep him out, while Bushy did his best to keep getting in.

When I went to college in New York, Fordham University’s Rose Hill campus in the Bronx had lots of squirrels, including charcoal black squirrels.  Many of the campus squirrels were half-tame, and would come creeping up to students who were out on the central green in the hope of a handout.

When I moved to Virginia, squirrels were again omnipresent.  Therefore, I was rather startled when I moved to New Mexico to realize that there weren’t squirrels everywhere.  Some of the parks, especially those with taller trees, would have some squirrels, but these were uncommon enough to be worthy of comment.  The forests in the mountains had their share of squirrels but, especially after I moved to Albuquerque, I grew as accustomed to not seeing squirrels as once I had taken them for granted.

Eventually, I learned that urban New Mexico does have squirrels, but unlike the grey squirrels of my childhood, these are rock squirrels.  We have at least one who has taken to frequenting our yard, including competing with Skinny the Thrasher for our bird block.

As you can see, although rock squirrels can apparently do without water for long periods, that doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate having access.  As we shift into winter, we’ll see more of the squirrel, as he takes advantage of the seed the birds knock from the feeders.  Of course, he’ll have some competition.  Already, Skinny has made his disapproval clear, and there’s a scrub jay who also has opinions…

Here’s Looking At You, Kid!

Challenging Expectations

November 6, 2020
Perspehone Lounges

This week’s reading list includes some new-to-me works that have challenged my expectations, usually in a good way.

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

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

A reminder that I’m always happy to hear what you are reading!

Recently Completed:

A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny.  Almost done.  Enjoying all over again.

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia Wrede.  Full Cast Audio Productions version.  A friend reminded me of this charming series.  Originally published in 1990, this was one of the first series to take on what has now become a common trope: turning fairytale (especially Disneyesque) expectations for princess and princesses, wizards, witches, and dragons, on their head.

Searching for Dragons by Patricia Wrede.  Audio, also full cast, although not credited to that company; includes many of the same performers.  Focus shifts to a new main character, but many introduced in the prior book have key roles. 

In Progress:

Calling on Dragons by Patrica Wrede.  Audio. More broadly comic than the prior two, with (to this point) a lot less plot.  Kudos to the readers for “Killer” the rabbit turned into a donkey which gets turned blue and…

Mr. Campion’s Farthing by Margery Allingham and Youngman Carter.  A posthumous completion by Allingham’s husband.  Well-written but, like many of the post WWII Campion novels, has a grim note.

Also:

As I noted last week, I’ll be writing the Introduction to a reprint anthology featuring the best of DreamForge and Space and Time magazines, so I’m doing a bit of reading to get prepared for that.  I hadn’t realized that Space and Time magazine features as much horror and poetry as it does.  From the title, I’d expected a majority space opera and hard SF.

For the Birds (and Angie)

November 4, 2020
Drinking Buddies (aka Young Migrating Robins)

A few weeks ago, I asked folks what they’d like me to Wander on about. Angie requested more of Jim’s bird pictures. I had to wait until Jim was further along in his recovery from his knee replacement surgery, but now he’s up to messing with photos, so here are a few.

Remember that I’m always open to questions as to topics for the WW. It’s always fun for me to write about something I know someone wants to read about. Now, here are a few more birds…

Double Topknot Quail: A Frequent Visitor
Fluffy Dove: Awakening From a Nap

All Over Again

October 30, 2020
Roary Prepares for His First Halloween

Purely by coincidence, many of the books I’m reading this week are re-reads.  In many cases, it’s been decades since I read the original, so there are lots of little surprises along the way.

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

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

A reminder that I’m always happy to hear what you are reading!

Recently Completed:

Not Quite Dead Enough by Rex Stout.  Set during WWII.  This one turned out to be two novelettes, the title piece and one called “Booby-trap.”  Both were good, and it was nice seeing Wolfe pushed, repeatedly, out of his comfort zone.

Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes by Rick Riordan.  (Fictional) Percy Jackson serves as narrator of twelve accounts of the trials and travails of twelve Greek heroes.  Those not familiar with the series may find his occasional allusions to events and character in the series confusing, but Riordan doesn’t hold back as the contractions and just plain weirdness of many of these myths and legends are presented. 

In Progress:

A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny.  Almost done.  Enjoying all over again.

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia Wrede.  Full Cast Audio Productions version.  A friend reminded me of this charming series.  Originally published in 1990, this was one of the first series to take on what has now become a common trope: turning fairytale (especially Disneyesque) expectations for princess and princesses, wizards, witches, and dragons, on their head.

Also:

I’ll be writing the Introduction to a reprint anthology featuring the best of DreamForge and Space and Time magazines, so I’m doing a bit of reading to get prepared for that.

Behind A Night In the Lonesome October

October 28, 2020
My Copy of A Night in the Lonesome October

I don’t often write about the days when Roger Zelazny and I were close, because, quite frankly, even though he died in June of 1995, it still hurts to remember when we didn’t realize how little time we would have.

But this year I have a happy memory I want to share, one awakened by all the people who are reading one of Roger’s last novels: A Night in the Lonesome October.

Although Roger and I weren’t living together when he wrote that book, we were in touch pretty much daily.  We wrote long, serial letters to each other, and talked on the phone several times a week.  What many people don’t realize is that A Night in the Lonesome October was a book Roger had had in mind for many years before he actually wrote it.

As I remember it (and since I’m just Wandering on, I’m not going digging through my letters to document precise dates), Roger was telling me about books he hadn’t written but would like to write, and this lead him to going through his files and finding the letter he’d written Gahan Wilson, along with Gahan Wilson’s reply, which included a quick sketch of Snuff.

Or maybe Roger went through the files first, came across the letter, and that triggered him telling me about it.  I honestly don’t remember.

Anyhow, what I do remember is Roger telling me about the novel he’d wanted to write, and equally passionately had wanted Gahan Wilson to illustrate.

Then, almost before either of us realized what had happened, Roger was taken over by the book.  He typed happily away (yes, he either handwrote or used a typewriter).  The only time he forgot he’d promised to phone me was when the book took him over so completely that he lost a day.  He called me the next day and, when I asked him if everything was all right, he got this funny note in his voice and said: “I forgot to call, didn’t I?”

(Happily, although I was yet to have much published, I was a writer, too, so I understood.)

Later, when the book was done, Roger told me that he realized that the friendship between Snuff the dog and Graymalk the cat owed something to our friendship, including how easy we found it talk, even when the topic was something difficult or intimate. 

Even after A Night in the Lonesome October was finished, Roger continued to love it to bits.  If you can find the audiobook which he read, you should know that the reading was done all in one session.  Roger and the recording engineer were having such a good time that, since no one else was using the studio that day, they just kept going.

Roger did something similar at a convention, in Utah, I think.  (I wasn’t there.)  He started reading.  The audience kept listening, and since the room wasn’t going to be in use, he just read the whole novel.  A friend of mine who was there said very few people left, and those who did slipped out reluctantly.

Is there a moral to this story?  There just might be.  Roger wrote A Night in the Lonesome October at a time when publishers were more and more trying to steer their authors—especially those who had one or more popular series—to do most of their work in those series.

When Roger was writing A Night in the Lonesome October, he was supposed to be writing the first book in what was to be a big new series of three books at least.  (What I would eventually be asked to complete as one book, in case you’re wondering, that came out with the title Donnerjack.) 

But Roger gave in and listened to his Muse.  In the process, he wrote what many readers now say is their favorite of all his works.  Writing A Night in the Lonesome October also gave Roger a tremendous amount of pleasure, and fired up his imagination so that not only was he more excited about Donnerjack, he also started scribbling what would become the other book I completed for him: Lord Demon.

To Roger’s great good fortune, his editor at Avon Books, John Douglas, was excited to get an unexpected Roger Zelazny novel—and open-minded enough not to be annoyed that it was not written to fit the agreed upon formula of what a Roger Zelazny novel should be.  This time Gahan Wilson was available to do the art, and the project moved rapidly along.

Chaos and Order.  Opener and Closer.  Roger was definitely both.  I miss him still.  I always will.

I’d thought about inviting people to do  a “day by day” read through of A Night In the Lonesome October with me this year (especially since Halloween falls on a full moon), but Jim’s knee replacement surgery (and the recovery, especially) meant I didn’t have the time.  Having been lucky enough to find a new love, after I thought I’d lost my heart forever, I know better than to take my good fortune for granted.