Archive for the ‘Random Wanderings’ Category

Beauty In Different Interpretations

October 16, 2019

Elizabeth Leggett, Emily Mah Tippetts, and Lauren Teffeau view Death

Theme can be a strangling cord or an inspiration.  Last weekend, Jim and I went to a gallery showing that demonstrated how a shared theme can inspire extraordinary leaps in creativity.

The show in question was Readings: A Celebration of Speculative Fiction Through the Lens of Tarot Art at Keep Contemporary Gallery in Santa Fe.

The show was curated by our friend, the Hugo Award-winning artist, Elizabeth Leggett.  In addition to her work, the show featured that of Lee Moyer, Sienna Luna, and Reiko Murakami Rice.

What we saw as soon as we came through the door was that, without any prior consultation, each artist had chosen a different way to interpret the theme.

Elizabeth Leggett has long drawn inspiration from the rich visual images in the prose of Ray Bradbury.  She chose to create twenty-two amazing paintings, each inspired by a different Bradbury story.  To help the viewer share her creative process, she provided a print portfolio with details on which card in the Tarot deck was depicted, a quotation from the story, and a short note about why she chose that particular image.

Lee Moyer was the only artist to make his contributions look specifically like playing cards.  The highly complex border design was silkscreened, but he added individual details to each border, including highly-individualized icons for each piece.  Mr. Moyer’s connection to the SF/F theme was to feature different writers as the figures on his cards.  Each was accompanied by a wonderfully eclectic selection of images related to their work.  We lucked out, and Mr. Moyer was available to provide a guided tour through his pieces, which definitely enriched the experience.

Rowan Derrick, Me, and Cale Mims with some of Lee Moyer’s Art

The other two artists provided only a handful of pictures, but these individual gems increased the overall glitter and shine of the exhibition.  The media and styles were very different from either Elizabeth Leggett’s or Lee Moyer’s work.

Looking at this show made me think about how theme anthologies have long been a staple of the Science Fiction and Fantasy field.  I’ve contributed to at least fifty.  In my opinion, those anthologies that have worked best have been those where the theme is vivid enough to provide inspiration, not just a unifying element, while at the same time not being so limited that the stories begin to seem more similar than they actually are.

One of the weird things about the human brain is that it draws connections where none actually exist.  This leads to superstitions like “deaths come in threes” or believing you’ll have bad luck after you break a mirror.   After a traumatic event, connections are manufactured in an attempt to force order on a chaos—maybe as a sort of perverse reassurance that the bad luck will end.

At their best, theme anthologies stimulate a writer to try and find a different twist on the theme.  At their worst, the reader begins to anticipate how each story will develop, based upon repeated tropes.

Many years ago, I heard a prominent magazine editor lament that he wasn’t getting more submissions from the same authors who he saw contributing to theme anthologies: “After all, they can write about anything for me!”  But what he was missing was that he, too, had a theme, and one that was much harder for a writer to be inspired by: the tenuous, tentative theme of “What the editor envisions the magazine to be.”

So, overall, I think I’m in favor of themes.  Perhaps the best themes are those that—like that for Readings—encourage individual interpretations, but avoid the marching in step that can happen with repeated tropes.

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FF: Odd Roads

October 4, 2019

Persephone Vogues!

I hope some of you will join me and Jeffe Kennedy at Page One Books in Albuquerque, 4:00 pm this Saturday for a book event featuring my Wolf’s Search and her The Orchid Throne.  I’ve been looking for the right hat, but may need to settle for bringing cookies…

While I’m at it, here’s a teaser for next week… Alan Robson and I will be back with a really amusing Thursday Tangent featuring drabbles and feghoots.  Don’t know what these are? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

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.

And I’m always interested in what you have to recommend!  No unreliable narrators, please!

Recently Completed:

Caesar and Christ by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  A rich and detailed survey of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire.  As background “music” are the forces that would lead to the acceptance of what would become Christianity.

In Progress:

The Bends In The Road: A Memoir by Svenn Lindskold.  Svenn is my great-uncle, half-brother of my paternal grandfather, a relative I met only after I was an adult, but whom I’ve come to really like.

Mister Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.  Audiobook.  Rich description, so far very light characterization and plot, but we shall see…

Kebra Nagast edited by Gerald Hausman.  Just started.

Jerk From Jamaica: Barbecue Caribbean Style by Helen Willinsky.  Food and how it is prepared is a terrific window into a culture.  Helen Willinsky’s introduction alone makes this book a great find.

Also:

Research can take me down some very odd roads.  Right now, that includes Vogue.  What surprises me is how excellent the writing is, and how often thoughtful cultural issues are discussed.

Wish Come True

October 2, 2019

Kel And A Friend

If you’ve been wanting a chance to hang out, visit, and even hear me read, drop by Page One Books here in Albuquerque this coming Saturday (October 5) at 4:00 p.m.  To celebrate Wolf’s Search (the seventh novel in the Firekeeper Saga), I’m doing a book event with the lively and vivacious Jeffe Kennedy.  Her latest release is The Orchid Throne, the first volume in her new Forgotten Empires fantasy series.

Not able to make the signing?  Well, I’ve heard your wishes, too.

When Wolf’s Search came out in July, I received numerous queries as to whether copies could be purchased directly from me.  I’m happy to announce that my website bookshop has received an extensive facelift, and Wolf’s Search is now available.

Also available are numerous books from my backlist, as well as some newer releases.  Prices include U.S. shipping by Media Mail, free signing and/or personalization.  Don’t see what you’re looking for?  Feel free to query me.  I may be able to help you.

Remember: Signed Books Make Great Gifts!  With that in mind, my Bookshop page provides links to some of my favorite independent bookstores.  Their helpful staff might be able to help you find that rare book you’ve been looking for or secure a rare signature.

On the short fiction front, many of you have expressed a fondness for my character, Prudence Bledsloe, who made her first appearance in “The Drifter” (first published in The Girl’s Guide to Guns and Monsters; also available in my short story collection, Curiosities).  Prudence’s second adventure was “Choice of Weapons,” included in the anthology Guns, edited by Gerald Hausman.

Now, just in time for Halloween, Prudence rides again in the newly released collection, Straight Out of Deadwood, edited by David Boop.  Prudence needs a place to hole up for the winter, but it turns out that the small town where she takes the job of schoolmarm is hiding a deep, dark secret—one that not even Prudence, who is far more than she seems, may be able to handle.  “Doth Make Thee Mad” is a story of twisted vengeance and an unlikely savior.

Finally, for those of you who are eagerly awaiting Wolf’s Soul, I’m happy to report that I’m just about done with the rough draft, and will be shifting over to polishing and refining, possibly by the end of the week.  If all goes well, I should have it to you by early in 2020.

On that note, I’m off to write.  Catch you later!

No Trick, A Treat!

Search No More: Wolf’s Search Is Available!

July 17, 2019

Take Flight!

That’s right!  Wolf’s Search, the seventh book in the Firekeeper Saga, is now available as both e-book and trade paperback.   You can acquire the ebook at the following on-line retailers: Amazon; Barnes and Noble (Nook); Kobo; Google Play, and iTunes.  The trade paperback is also available at Amazon.

As of this moment, Wolf’s Search will not be available in most bookstores.  Eventually, I will have copies of the trade paperback available directly from me, but I’m not set up for retail by mail of this title at this time.  On the other hand, you can still get hardcover copies of most of the earlier books in the series through my website bookshop.

Important note!  Wolf’s Search begins about six months after Wolf’s Blood.  However, it is not necessary to read the previous six books to follow the events in this one.  Readers new to the series will, of course, experience some spoilers, but Wolf’s Search does not require detailed knowledge of prior events in order to enjoy the story. In other words: No Homework Necessary!

Still with me?  Want to know what Wolf’s Search is about?  The best spoiler-free option I can offer you is the cover blurb:

Transformative Journey

Blind Seer has run at Firekeeper’s side since the wolf-woman first crossed the Iron Mountains into human-held lands.  Now it’s her turn to run alongside the blue-eyed wolf as he sets out in search of someone who can teach him how to use his magical gift—on his own unique terms.

The pair’s search will take them to the far side of the world in the company of allies who include a young woman scarred by war, a falcon who believes himself a traitor, and an old friend… or possibly enemy.  Together they will fight battles from before they were born, climb mountains, cross badlands, eventually unveiling a threat that will reshape not only Blind Seer, but his belief in what he most desires.

Wolf’s Search’s cover art is by Julie Bell.  You can purchase a print of her original art here.  Her “Andre” doesn’t have Blind Seer’s blue eyes, but is still gorgeous.

If you’d like a little backstory about why the publishing format of Wolf’s Search differs in some ways from the earlier books in the series, you might want to read this post I wrote back in January.

I guess that covers the basics.  Feel free to ask questions.  I ask you to be considerate about asking questions that contain spoilers.

Wait!  I can anticipate one question at least.  Yes.  There will be another Firekeeper novel.  Its working title is Wolf’s Soul.  I often slip progress reports into my Wednesday Wanderings and Friday Fragments posts, so keep checking in to be among the first to know what’s going on.

Blue Sky Writing

July 3, 2019

Blue Sky With Hawk and Clouds

I’m going to start this post by saying that I know I’m wrong, and by thanking James, Emily, and Paola for making statements that converged in this Wandering.

Not long ago, I saw a series of posts where an author was providing step-by-step instructions to his readership how to buy his forthcoming release so as to put it on the bestseller lists.  Something in me cringed.  Not because he was wrong, but because I have a lot of trouble doing that sort of thing.

Last weekend, I had an e-mail from a very nice reader asking me why she couldn’t pre-order Wolf’s Search.  I explained that I was still in the last stages of polishing, so it wasn’t up for pre-order.  When it was done, I’d simply post it for sale.   The fan was very nice about that.

However, a lot of current publishing lore, both traditional and independent, would tell me that I am wrong.  My job is not to write the best book I can and then get it to my readers pretty much as soon as it’s ready.  My job is to hold onto the manuscript, build up “buzz,” then release the manuscript at the optimal time to maximize initial sales.

In case you hadn’t heard, initial sales—or in some cases orders or pre-orders—are what “bestseller” lists measure.  Most bestseller lists don’t measure actual sales.  Most don’t measure reader excitement.  Most don’t measure reviews.  What they measure is hype.

Once upon a time, for the majority of books and authors, this was not the case.  Books did not need to hit the bestseller list to be considered worth reading or successful.  Yes.  There were exceptions.  Ever wait to buy the hardcover of your favorite Big Name until it was deep-discounted at the local Big Box Book Store?  Those books were part of making that book a bestseller—books that were pre-ordered but never bought.

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been told I’m wrong and old-fashioned in my approach to publishing.  I was late getting into social media because I’m basically shy.  I’m not comfortable itemizing every minute of my life.  I’d feel funny posting eight or ten pictures a day of my cats or the birds in the yard or the toad that was heading off to bed this morning as I got up.

This isn’t to say those people are wrong or crass or anything.  I actually enjoy some of those sort of posts, even if I can’t post that way myself. Time I spend thinking about shouting out or worrying about the latest marketing trend is not only time I don’t spend writing, it’s also time I spend being anxious, upset, and afraid. And when I feel that way, I don’t write.

I found this definition of blue sky thinking on-line: “Blue sky thinking sessions are open to all creative ideas regardless of practical constraints.”  I guess that makes me a blue sky writer.  I look to the mountains east of Albuquerque (the Sandias) and end up putting dragons there.  This makes for an interesting life.  Perhaps more important to you, it makes for the stories you read.  (The dragon in the Sandias was featured in my short story “Spellsword” in the anthology Spell Fantastic.)

Once upon a time, a writer’s job was to create; now many view writing as just one part of the job.  I know I’m wrong.  I get that the world has changed.  But writing is what I do. Am I wrong not to cultivate the lists, to try to be a bestseller, to build my fan base through something other than writing the best stories I can?  Maybe.  But if I want to write, for me, I’m right.

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!

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.