Archive for the ‘Random Wanderings’ Category

Tales of Indomitable Spirit

June 12, 2019

My Jim Was The Model For the Fellow On the Right

Last week I read the second issue of DreamForge Magazine.  Full disclosure.  I’ve been involved with DreamForge since it was but a twinkle in the mind of editor Scot Noel.  I’m officially the magazine’s Senior Advisor and Creative Consultant.  This is an unpaid position.

Why am I helping with DreamForge, especially at a time in my career when I have very little money or time?  Because I believe that even when—maybe especially when—the world around us seems a dark and scary place, there’s room for fiction that advocates hope.  Even more than hope, DreamForge seeks stories that advocate striving against the odds, although the dice seem weighted against you.

Issue One (subtitled “Tales of Hope In the Universe”) did an excellent job achieving this goal. Issue Two (subtitled “Tales of Indomitable Spirit”) does even better.  As much as I’d like to talk about individual stories, I’m going to let you discover them on your own.  Instead, I’m going to touch on a few of the elements that make this issue particularly fascinating.

I’ve been surprised at how many potential readers have missed that DreamForge is a full-color magazine.  Every story is illustrated.  Even the short-shorts have a small illustration.  The lay-out is gorgeous, accented by tiny, loving details like individualized dingbats.  (Dingbat is the name for those little doohickeys that signal a pause in the story.)  So “Sid” has tiny wheels, while “Haunting the Present” has little dragons.  The magazine’s paper is heavy, and the print size (three cheers) is large enough to read comfortably.

A few design elements changed between the first and second issue.  Since Scot Noel does a great job of explaining why on page twenty-three, I’m not going to repeat him here.  Suffice to say that some elements of Issue Two’s format are different, but I found the magazine in no way inferior.

“Okay, Jane,” you’re saying, “the magazine is pretty.  I get that.  It’s positive.  I get that, too.  What will I find if I actually buy and read this magazine?”

You’ll get six good, meaty short stories.  You’ll also get eleven shorter stories.  These last are the result of a contest Scot ran challenging writers to offer him their “best futures.”  Among these seventeen stories are hard SF, soft SF, sword and sorcery, contemporary fantasy, and something that just might be a future fairy tale.  One of my personal favorites was told from the point of view of a rhinoceros.

What you won’t get is optimistic fluff or vague utopias.  As Scot says in his submission guidelines, he isn’t looking for utopias or Pollyannaish chirpy stories or even “Tomorrow will be a better day.”  He’s looking for stories about people who, when confronted with big challenges, don’t fold up and moan, but continue to strive.  That striving takes many forms, but what the stories share is someone trying.

You also get a poem.  Then there are several non-fiction pieces by Scot.  One of his essays poses the question “Can We Be Saved?” then shocks by saying in the third sentence: “I hope not!”  Why?  Well, I’ll let Scot tell you.  The essay is on page three.

Scot’s other non-fiction contribution is “How To Write For DreamForge: Part One.”  It’s a fascinating piece, even for non-writers, because it gets into the guts of what Scot’s vision is for good non-dystopian fiction.  It starts with a brief discussion of a short story opening that, on the surface, looks great.  By the time Scot has dissected it, you really have a better understanding of where the weak points are lurking.

Does the magazine have flaws?  Well, of course, but these are mostly because Scot is still learning how to put a magazine together.  The print version doesn’t clearly note that David Weber’s contribution, “A Certain Talent” first appeared in The Williamson Effect, a tribute anthology to the late, great Jack Williamson, so that one of the main characters in Weber’s story is actually one of Jack’s.  I also would have liked to see short bio sketches of the contributors in the print version because, especially when I like a story, I want to know what else the author has written.

DreamForge is currently only available by subscription.  Print, digital, and print/digital combinations are all available.  Even better, DreamForge is working on an agreement with Space &Time magazine that will permit subscribers to opt in for a free digital subscription to Space &Time.

If you subscribe now, you’ll also be set to get your copy of the first ever Firekeeper short story.  “A Question of Truth” is scheduled for Issue Three, illustrated by Hugo award-winning artist, Elizabeth Leggett.  For the foreseeable future, the story will only appear in the magazine!

Imagine.  Engage.  Inspire.  Join us at DreamForge, where we’re connecting Dreamers: Past and Future!

Advertisements

FF: Not Always To Be Sneered At

May 10, 2019

Persephone Devours a Book

Game fiction is, often with great justification, sneered at.  Why?  Well, in the worst game fiction, you hear the dice rattling  However, when written by a talented author, the story can benefit from all the effort that went into designing the setting and backstory for the game. Another benefit is that good gaming fiction—like the best games—is strongly character driven.

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

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

Recently Completed:

The Throme of the Erril of Sherill by Patricia McKillip.  Quest fantasy, a bit on the light side.  Not what I’d recommend for a first reader of her work, although there is some clever language and marvelous description.

In Progress:

The Life of Greece by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  Touring the various city states.  In Athens now, examining the question of tyranny within an ostensible democracy.

A Gathering Evil by Michael A. Stackpole.  Dark Conspiracy game setting published by GDW.  Uses the amnesiac protagonist very well to introduce a complex setting.  Sly situational humor enlivens a serious action/adventure plot.

Also:

Wolf’s Search edits have taken a lot of reader energy…

Wary of Robins

May 8, 2019

African Pygmy Falcon

About a week ago, Jim and I went to the zoo.  While we were there, we met the magnificent gentleman in the picture above.  He is an African pygmy falcon, and I’m pretty sure that sparrows larger than he is routinely visit our bird feeder.

While we were chatting with his handler, the falcon—I didn’t catch his name, but I think it was something like “Hugh,” so he’ll be Hugh here, today—kept anxious watch around him.  I thought he might be wary of the humans, but this wasn’t the case at all.  Hugh’s handler explained that Hugh worries a lot about robins.  It seems that even though Hugh is half their size, the local robins know a raptor when they see one, and are certain that any moment he’ll fly off on a bloodthirsty rampage in which no robin will be spared.

Hugh does not appreciate this acknowledgement of his perceived ferocity, especially since a robin is way out of his class as potential prey.  Hugh dines on insects, small mice, and smaller birds.  He’s very swift, reaching speeds of forty-five miles an hour and diving at up to twice that.  He brakes using his tail feathers, so he doesn’t transform himself into a puff of feathers and optimism when he hits his target.

I would have been excited to see Hugh at any time, but since one of the characters in Wolf’s Search is a small falcon, I found this up close and personal time very useful.  True, Farborn is a merlin, so he’s a bit larger than Hugh, but who am I to scoff at serendipity?

For those of you who are saying to yourself, “Why does the name Farborn sound familiar?” I’ll add that Farborn appears as a character in Wolf’s Blood.  His role is small but crucial.  In Wolf’s Search, he’s still coming to terms with the ramifications of those events.

Now I’m off to continuing grooming the manuscript of Wolf’s Search…  Catch you later!

Germination

April 3, 2019

Eggplant Seedlings

Hi!  I don’t suppose you’d like to hear about the relative germination percentages between tomatoes and eggplant, would you?

The seed starter was getting crowded, so last weekend we finally got around to taking out the plants and moving them into their next generation containers.  These are repurposed yogurt containers: not fancy, but they do the job.

The seed starter has seven rows with room for seven plants per row.  We gave one row to cherry tomatoes (Sweet Million), three rows to Roma tomatoes, and three to ichiban eggplant (Millionaire Hybrid variety).  Well…  That was the plan, at least.  It’s possible that we planted two rows of cherry tomatoes and two of Roma, and if so we’re going to have too many cherry tomato plants.  We’ll know later on…

Why so many eggplant?  Because we expected what happened: while 100% of the tomato seed germinated, only about two out of seven eggplant seeds germinated.  We’ve resealed the seed starter and are giving the slowpokes a chance to germination.  Meanwhile, Jim is eating more yogurt because we’ve run out of containers.

So, we do have at least fifteen eggplant seedlings, but we can’t count on all the plants surviving.  This is the thing about gardening.  Not every plant survives.  It’s completely possible that by the time we move the seedlings into the ground in May, we might have half of what we started with.  The same could be true of the tomato plants.

Why did we start our own seeds?  For the eggplant in particular, we were looking for a particular variety.  For the tomatoes, variety is one issue, but another is that we’ve had some problems with finding what we want from greenhouses, especially now that a few franchises seem to have taken over supplying just about everywhere.  These franchises aren’t sensitive to what will do well in our particular climate.  Then there’s the problem that we’re seeing more evidence of disease in these plants than when we were able to shop for locally grown plants.

Aside: We grow a lot of other plants from seed, but those seeds (radishes, carrots, beans, squash, various herbs, numerous flowers) will go directly into the ground, rather than being started in advance.

Also, growing plants from seed is fun.  It’s fascinating.  It’s rather – if you’ve stayed with me this long – like writing.  Not every idea germinates.  Some seem promising, but wilt after the first few lines.  Others are crippled by complications along the way.  But those that work out are very satisfying, indeed.

Last week’s writing was definitely a difficult one for idea germination, but once I gave up on a couple of approaches and found my way, I was very satisfied.  Now, I’m off to see if I can pick up where I left off.

Remind me and, in May, I’ll tell you how many plants survived to being moved outside – and then, later still, I’ll let you know how many took and bore fruit when faced with the myriad challenges of a New Mexico summer.

FF: Deceptive

March 22, 2019

Ogapoge Wonders What the Moon Would Taste Like

This week’s Friday Fragments are quite deceptive because they’re not going to reflect all the reading I’m doing to prepare myself to responsibly vote for this year’s Nebula Awards.   So, while it looks as if I’m reading very little, I’m actually reading quite a lot!

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

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

Recently Completed:

Thud by Terry Pratchett.  Re-read.  I had forgotten just how brilliant this one is.

In Progress:

Our Oriental Heritage: The Story of Civilization by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  Continuing in China.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill.  Recommended by a Friday Fragments reader!  Just started.

Also:

Before bed, I’ve been re-reading one of my favorite manga because Jim is finally reading it, and this refreshes my memory so I can discuss it with him.

Why I Wrote a Firekeeper Short Story

March 20, 2019

Rosemary Thriving And In Bloom

I really wanted to call this Wandering” When A Weed Can Be A Flower,” but I figured most of you wouldn’t read beyond the title, because you’d think I was talking about gardening esoterica.  Oddly enough, I am, but I’m also talking about writing.

As many of you know,  I’m currently immersed in writing a new Firekeeper novel.  If you don’t, you can get more details here.  Without spoilers, I can’t really go into details, so suffice to say that I reached a place where I realized that a certain plot point actually contained its own story.  However, inserting that story in the novel would make the novel drag.

This didn’t mean that this was a bad story.  It just didn’t belong in the novel.  Since I needed to work out the details anyhow, I decided to do so by writing a short story.

So, what the heck does this have to do with weeds and flowers?  Well, as the gardeners among us already know, sometimes the only difference between a weed and a flower is where it is growing.   In Jim’s and my yard, we let certain wild plants, such as globe mallow, grow to fill in the less rigorously cultivated parts of our yard.  There are lots of benefits to this.  The mallow thrives without needing any watering.  Even better, the pretty little salmon-colored flowers attract bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies.

Nonetheless, there are parts of the yard where the mallow is unwelcome.   Just the other day, I rooted out some mallow that was choking a couple of the rosemary plants we have growing along our east wall.  In this case, the mallow was definitely classified as a weed.

Even domestic plants can become weeds if they grow in the wrong place.  We’re very fond of a perennial called chocolate flower.  It uses little water, has lots of yellow flowers, and smells of bittersweet chocolate.  The finches and sparrows like to eat the seeds, which means they spread them around our yard.  This year, we’ll be uprooting some volunteer chocolate flower plants to transplant them elsewhere in the yard.

That’s what I did with the material that became the Firekeeper short story.  Rather than slowing a fast-moving novel with an eight thousand word flashback, I transplanted it into its own story.  “A Question of Truth” has its own plot, conflict, and characters, all of which are shown off to much better effect by not being buried within the novel.

I’ll let you know when the story is available.  It will provide you with a chance to see some of what Firekeeper and Blind Seer have been up to since they ran off into the sunset at the end of Wolf’s Blood.

Escaping the Girl Box

February 13, 2019

Climbing Out Into a Bigger World

Reading autobiography – especially of a contemporary figure – is an invitation to introspection.  As I’ve been listening to the audiobook of John Cleese reading his own So Anyway… I found myself wondering if I could remember my early teachers as clearly as he seemed to do.  After musing more, I realized that grades one through four all contained – if I had only known it at the time – major events that would shape who I am today.

Before I get into that, though, I want to thank all of you who backed DreamForge Magazine during its Kickstarter or who have signed up for a subscription.  DreamForge not only hit its goal, it hit all of its stretch goals, promising a lot of exciting reading.  Issue One makes its formal debut tomorrow – Valentine’s Day.

First grade took me to Holy Trinity Elementary school in Washington, D.C.  I was vaguely familiar with the place because my family attended church next door.  My teacher was Sister Stephanie, a sweet, gentle, but firm older woman who belonged to the Sisters of Saint Joseph.

Sister Stephanie did a lot for me.  She was the person who taught me to read, for one.  She provided a safe, organized environment for my first big venture away from home.  However, her biggest impact on my life had to do with not shoving me into a “Girl Box.”

This was about 1968.  Despite some long-haired students at nearby Georgetown University and other signs of the burgeoning counter culture, my environment was culturally conservative, although intellectually liberal.  Dresses and playsuits for little girls.  Gloves for formal occasions.  At age six, I was already what was then called a “tomboy.”  (Does that term get used anymore?)  I loved running around with the boys, chasing balls, playing tag.  I was terrible at girl games like jump rope.  (A year later, I would get my first pair of glasses, so there was probably a reason I was so inept.)

One day, for some mysterious reason, Sister Stephanie gave each child a little gift.  The boys received small cars or trucks.  The girls little baby dolls.  As she walked up and down the rows, handing out these surprises, my heart sank.  Baby dolls bored me to tears.  They didn’t do anything.  Toy cars, however, these rolled.  They seemed somehow alive, to invite adventure and excitement.

Hesitantly, I asked if I might have a car rather than a doll.  Sister Stephanie was clearly surprised but to my eternal – and I mean this – gratitude, she switched the baby doll she was about to hand me for a little truck.  It was brick red, about the size of a matchbox car, although far less elaborate.  Indeed, it was hardly more than a cast metal shape with wheels.  My vehicle was some sort of truck – but the details weren’t good enough to tell what type.

That didn’t matter.  I loved it.  I had it for years until it merged into my younger brother’s big box of such vehicles and was lost to me.  But that didn’t matter.  I’d been permitted a window outside of a world of babies and dress up as the only options for pretend.

Had Sister Stephanie been a different sort of person, I would have been gently ridiculed, told girls didn’t play with that sort of thing.  But instead of shutting the door, she opened it.  I ran through, out into a world that would never ever be able to convince me that there were “girl games” and “boy games,” no matter how hard it tried to do so in the years to come.

Thank you, Sister Stephanie…

FF: Not Before Bedtime

January 25, 2019

Persephone Thinks She Looks Like a Pink Lynx

I’ve found that whatever I read before bed really colors my dreams, so I need to choose carefully, especially when I’m feeling stressed.  Like now.

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

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

Recently Completed:

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly.  Reread.  A historical novel with a tween character who learns about evolution and the value of knitting.

In Progress:

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly.  Just started.

Our Oriental Heritage: The Story of Civilization by Will Durant.  Audio.  We’re up to Persia.

Also:

Continuing the short fiction reading, including some of the pieces in Sword and Sorceress 33.  However, as a SFWA member, I’m also doing “homework” from various sources.  Sometimes I’m thrilled.

Planning vs Dreading

January 2, 2019

What Creature Do YOU See?  (My Answer At The End)

As everyone knows, the big question at the heart of Science Fiction – and even most Fantasy – is “What if?”

Humans are certainly not the only creatures who plan.  Many animals store food for the winter. Many animals build nests and dens not only as residences, but also as protection from both predators and the elements.  Many types of animals live in small groups during the “fat” times of the year, then band together for mutual support during the harsher seasons.

In contrast, I’m tempted to say that humans are the only creatures that dread.  Then I remember how often I’ve seen domestic animals hide or cringe when they know they’ve broken rules and are dreading the repercussions. Let’s take this one step further.  Would so many dogs fear the sound of thunder if they couldn’t dread in the abstract?

Humans do seem to cross the line from practical planning into crazed dreading more easily than do other animals.  Where I live, the weather reports over the last week or so have provided an excellent example of this.  Meteorologists have luxuriated in predicting snowfall of record levels.  In most cases, this dreaded event has not occurred.  Anyhow, even if we did get a foot of snow, is there a need to keep harping on it?  Once you’ve laid in supplies, made alternate arrangements for social events or jobs, what difference is there in how much snow actually falls?  What will be will be.

As we begin the New Year, I find myself trying hard to balance planning and dreading.  Jim and I are going into 2019 with a host of unpredictable elements regarding ill or elderly family members.  Although the most difficult part of Jim’s recovery from his knee replacement surgery is completed, we’ve been told that he will need to work on rebuilding strength and flexibility for the next nine or ten months.  He also will be facing the challenge of how to arrange his new post-retirement life.  For someone who has been working one job or another since he was in his late teens, this is not a minor challenge.

Me?  Well, I have a host of writing projects to balance against each other, to the point that my planning is verging on dreading.  Every day I don’t move forward feels like moving backwards.  My “What If?” brain is surging full speed ahead, and not always in a very helpful fashion.

At times like this, I realize just how close are planning and dreading.  While I don’t want to do without the former, I realize the latter can be paralyzing.  Why do anything when you’re going to fail?

So, as the snow drifts down, as the cold causes the water in our pond to creep up the fountainhead, as I wonder just what unexpected complications the New Year will bring, I also try to remind myself that I’ve planned as far as I can.  Now is the time to stop asking, “What if?” and focus on “What next?”

I think that “next” just might be trying to write down some of the material I’ve been tossing around in my brain whenever there’s been time to think during this busy holiday season.

But I’ll also take the time to notice that the ice around the fountainhead has formed into the shape of a turtle.  And I’ll remember to smile.

FF: Under the Tree

December 28, 2018

Ziggy Is VERY Impressed

Santa, well, actually, my husband, Jim, gave me a phenomenal present for Christmas: audiobook versions of the first five volumes of Will (and later Will and Ariel) Durant’s ambitious historical synthesis: The Story of Civilization.  In the past, I’ve read some of the volumes, and I own the entire set in print.  This last can be very useful when the audio makes a reference to an illustration.  I’m incredibly excited!

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

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

Recently Completed:

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper.

Greenwitch by Susan Cooper.

In Progress:

The Grey King by Susan Cooper.

Our Oriental Heritage: The Story of Civilization by Will Durant.  Audio.  I’ll be listening to this for a while…

Also:

The Lost Prince by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  Audiobook. I had to give up on this one.  Too pedantic.  It’s possible that some of this may have been due to the reader’s style, so I may eventually check out in print.