Archive for the ‘Random Wanderings’ Category

Face the Strange

March 14, 2018

Questions for all of you…

After something like seven years, Alan Robson and I are considering retiring the Thursday Tangents, although we reserve the right to change our minds at any point and do a special feature or more.

Persephohone: Valiant Assistant!

This has me thinking about what other changes I might want to make in how I reach out and talk to you – and you – and you – and you.  Social media is a somewhat one-sided conversation, but I really prefer a conversation to an advertising platform.

I hope you folks do, too.

In the ten years I’ve been doing this blog, a lot has changed.  Some things are minor – for example, Facebook won’t post the smaller pictures I prefer for my blog, so lots of you are missing the photos.  Since I’ve been told by a reliable source that some people tune into the Friday Fragments especially to see which of my cats or guinea pigs are serving as that week’s Super Model, this is a problem.

Maybe I’m just too text oriented, but I don’t like how large photos split the post.  Should I use a larger picture and put it at the top?   Or maybe text first, larger picture at the bottom?  Or am I worrying too much and you really don’t care if you see a picture?

What about content?  When I started the Friday Fragments, people regularly weighed in with what they were reading.   I discovered some books (and sometimes became addicted to a particular author) because of the comments.  Lately, though, folks aren’t sharing.  I’m considering dropping the Friday Fragments entirely, and maybe substituting a short post mentioning one title instead.

What do you think?

Sometimes I have a lot to talk about but when – as now – I’m immersed in creating something, I don’t have a lot to say.  I’m not one of those authors who likes to talk about a work-in-progress.  Until a book is done, it’s between me and the characters.

But I like to touch base at least once a week, if for no other reason than I personally hate when authors I “follow” only seem to appear when they are shouting out about their newest project.  Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I feel used.

Therefore, I welcome questions or suggestions for topics.  If I don’t have thoughts on a matter or don’t consider myself enough of an expert, I’ll be honest.

So, as David Bowie once put it, this is a time of “Ch-ch-ch-changes.”  I’m facing the strange challenge of finding how to make social media work for me… but equally importantly for you as well.

I hope you’ll let me know what I might do that would be best for you!


Three Heartbeats (Maybe Five)

March 7, 2018

This week’s installment is going to be very short because I can’t think of anything to say.

Hearts of Stone

I’m writing.  I’m doing a bunch of interviews.  I’m proofing.

Writing, proofing, taking care of business are the three heartbeats of my life.

Oh, and taking care of cats and guinea pigs.

And trying to reserve my evenings to spend with Jim.

But over and over: writing, proofing, and taking care of business.

Bah-dum, Bah-dum.  Bah-dum.

New Bookcase!

January 31, 2018

I want to thank those of you who have written to express enthusiasm about my new novel, Asphodel.  Some of you have been very eloquent, and I appreciate your taking the time to share your delight. Now the tough part, for me.  I’d like to ask for you to please share your reactions with people you think might also like Asphodel.  Word of mouth is the best publicity.  These days you can “talk” to a lot more people by leaving reviews on bookseller websites.   It only takes a short time and may help sales.

Jim’s Artistry

An added bonus is that you can also encourage the author!

Speaking of books…

One of the extremely cool things Jim did over his extended holiday break was build us a new bookcase for our office.  (He also built us a new laundry hamper that doubles as a cat perch and scratching post.)

When we had our office built onto our house some dozen or so years ago, we also purchased matching office desks.  These came “to be assembled,” except apparently the shippers didn’t think that the tops arriving intact was a requirement.  Four tops were delivered before we received two that didn’t have a crushed side along one edge.

After the desks were assembled, we had two spare desktops.  Jim was prepared to cut them up and put them in the trash, when I had the brainstorm that if we put legs between them, they’d actually make a pretty classy coffee table that could go in front of the picture window.  Jim did this and we were very happy.

But a dozen years of cats running and sliding, strong sunlight, the occasional open window, and one mystery spill, made the once spiffy coffee table look a bit shabby.  And for some reason we really needed more room for books.

Once again, my problem solving abilities and Jim’s gift for making dreams into reality came into play.   In front of the large window in our living room, we have a rough pine box.  This box serves many purposes.  It stores board games.  It’s a low table.  It’s a backrest for people who sit on the floor.  And, most importantly, at least according to our four feline co-residents, it is the perfect place to sit and watch birds.

We humans appreciate that the rough wood doesn’t show damage from cat claws, or from the occasional splash of rain.  Therefore, when Jim and I started considering what we’d like to use to replace the office coffee table, we rejected many options as too delicate.  Glass-topped  furniture didn’t appeal, because that’s just something else that needs to be kept free from paw prints and dust.

Eventually, Jim decided that he could build us a bookcase.  He found some rough finished wood intended for accents on walls or decks.  A great advantage of this was that it was already stained and grooved so that pieces would fit tightly together, making a beautiful top.  He found molding with a leaf and vine pattern for the top and front edges.  He bought lumber and nails. Then he set to work.

When Jim was done building, he painted everything but the top matte black, so that the new bookcase coordinated with our desks, which have light colored wooden tops and black sides.  Magnificent!

In case you wonder, the books on the shelves are part of our working library of history, archeology, and linguistics.  The ornaments are, starting at the top left: a kaleidoscope that was a gift from our friends Scot and Jane Noel, because they really liked my novel, Child of a Rainless Year; next a blue and silver fabric dragon I bought at my first ever SF con – Lunacon in New York; then a Japanese bento box I use to store the parts for small craft projects in process.   On the right is a black and white cat stuffy that, except for the red chiles on its fur and whiskers, is a ringer for our cat, Kwahe’e.  This cat was a gift from Sharon and David Weber on one of their visits to New Mexico.  Finally, on the bottom is a faux bronze statuette of wild horses that was a gift from Jim’s parents.

Best of all, the new bookcase is cat-approved.  They’re up and down from it all day, and state categorically that they’re the finest ornaments of all.

Eighth Anniversary (Almost!)

January 10, 2018

This Saturday is the eighth anniversary of the Wednesday Wanderings.  In all eight years, I haven’t missed a single week.  Many of my posts specifically on writing can be found in my book Wanderings on Writing, but there’re also available on the site.

Wanderings on Sofa

I certainly plan to continue with these Wanderings in 2018.  While posts will include announcements of new projects, interviews, and progress reports, doubtless I’ll wander on about whatever’s on my mind.

This brings me to the matter of memory foam.  Last week, Jim and I replaced the pad on our futon sofa.

Side note for cat owners: If you have a problem with cats using your sofa as a scratching post, you might want to consider a futon sofa.  Although the initial outlay is similar to that for a “real” sofa, the three basic elements – the frame, the pad, and the cover – can be replaced separately.  An added bonus is that most futon frames are made of wood or metal, which doesn’t look nearly as much like a scratching post to a cat as do the arms, legs, and backs of a standard sofa.  Best of all, you get an extra bed out of the deal, one that’s a lot more comfortable than most sofa beds.

Anyhow, the first pad we bought for our futon sofa had been built much like that for a “real” mattress featuring a combination of springs and padding.  It had a lot more bounce than the usual cotton batting futon, and did well by us for many years.

However, archeology is profession that is not particularly kind to backs.  Eventually, Jim hinted that he’d like to get a replacement pad.  When we went shopping, we discovered that there was a new option – a pad made completely out of memory foam.  We tried it in the store, liked it, made our purchase, and took it home.

After removing the old pad, we cut away the packaging that covered the folded memory foam pad.  We expected it to stay folded but, to our amazement, it slowly unfolded, flopping open flat.

No problem, right?  After all, we had to put the new cover on, and that could only be done with the mattress flat.  We worked the new cover around, admiring how tightly it fit, then shoved the frame and pad into the sitting position.  We arranged the pad into place and stood back to admire the effect.

The memory foam pad – still “remembering” that it should be flat – popped out of the frame, flat as a board.  After several more attempts to get it to stay in place, including sitting on the pad, we called the store.  The manager gave us a few tips, including suggesting that we position the pad then place something heavy on the seat while the memory foam set into its new position.

We were at a loss as to what to use to provide even weight.  Then Jim remembered that we had boxes of my out-of-print hardcover novels in the garage.  We brought in six boxes, positioned the pad once more, then – while I sat on the sofa to hold it in place – Jim set the boxes down.  We left it this way overnight and the next day all was well.

The behavior of the memory foam, especially its unwillingness to give up what it “remembered” as normal, made me think about my own life as a writer.  A lot changed in 2017, and I expect more to change in 2018.  No doubt, there will be times when my mental landscape will want to spring back into old patterns, but I plan to be stubborn and push back.

If I learned one thing in 2017 it was that while the new patterns can be tough, there’s a lot to like as well…

Inspiration and Calendars

January 3, 2018

On New Year’s Day, I ritually opened my two wall calendars for 2018.  The one that’s going in the kitchen where I’ll see it every day and where it will serve as command central for Jim and my life over the next year is the annual Julie Bell and Boris Vallejo Fantasy calendar.

This Year’s Selection

I chose this one for several reasons.  One is that Julie Bell is the cover artist for the Firekeeper novels, and much of this year is going to be centered around the Firekeeper Saga.  As many of you already know, I’m in the process of writing Wolf’s Search, the seventh Firekeeper novel.  I’m also preparing the first six novels for an updated e-book release.

Julie Bell very kindly offered me a deal that will enable me to use her artwork for both the e-books and for Wolf’s Search, so having her art where I can see it every day will remind me that unexpected good things can happen.

I’ve also had a liking for Boris Vallejo’s art since those days of yore when a bonus for membership in the Science Fiction book club included bookplates featuring “Golden Wings,” his wonderful painting of a warrior woman riding a winged horse.  I’m certain that looking at his and Julie’s artwork daily will remind me of that younger, dreamier, more optimistic me.  I’m going to need that this year.

My office calendar is completely different.  It features brightly-colored mosaic cartoons, mostly of owls, although several other forest animals are included.  Some pages incorporate brief inspirational sayings like “It Takes Courage to Fly” or “Have Patience and the Storm Will Pass.”  Since in 2018 I’m definitely flying in different skies – starting with the self-publication of my novel Asphodel either in late January or early February – I’ll appreciate the reminders that I’m not the only person who needs encouragement.

After all, sayings like these wouldn’t end up printed on calendars if the need was unique, right?

A bonus to my office calendar is that the mosaic approach is something I want to try in several of my own art/craft projects, so seeing these images every day will remind me of something I’m looking forward to pursuing further.

Last year’s experiment with using a bullet journal went very well, and I’ll be continuing using one this year.  One thing I learned is how important it is to date entries. I did some of this last year, but I’ll be doing even more in 2018.

For example, I was very down on myself for the lack of progress I was making in getting Asphodel out.  Then I went back to the page dedicated to that book in the journal and realized that at this time last year I hadn’t even finished my revisions, nor had I begun the final proofing, which included several months reading the manuscript aloud to a group of friends.  Suddenly, rather than feeling as if I’d been slacking, I realized how much I had achieved in a relatively short span of time.

When you work for yourself, it’s really easy to lose perspective.

Now it’s time for me to go write fiction…  Catch you later!

It’s Never Too Late

December 27, 2017

A belated Merry Christmas to you all…  We’re back from spending the holiday in Arizona with my mom, aunt, and a plethora of cousins.

Cookie-Press Butter Cookies

Before Christmas – when I mentioned that I was trying a new (to me) butter cookie recipe – some folks asked whether, if it worked out, would I share the recipe.  It did and I will.

Sure, it’s after Christmas, but is there ever a wrong time of year for butter cookies?  These cookies are shaped using a cookie press.  Mine (a Wilton Preferred Press cookie press) includes disks for hearts, flowers, a pumpkin, and what I’m pretty sure is a Thanksgiving turkey.  If that isn’t a hint that it’s never too late to make butter cookies, then I don’t know what is.

One of the difficulties of cookie press cookies is that if the dough is too soft, the cookies will not hold their shape, and the dough will come out of the press in lumps and gobs.  For this reason, many cookie press recipes are heavy on flour and, consequently, taste like solidified library paste.  Therefore, the dough is often colored with food coloring, maybe so you’ll ignore the lack of flavor.

This recipe works best if you allow time for it to firm up for the fifteen to twenty minutes that puts it in the Goldilocks Zone of neither too warm (soft and sticky) or too cold (hard as a rock and certain to break your press).

The following recipe is adapted from an article published in The Washington Post, December 4, 2002.  Yes.  That’s the right date.  It took me over a decade to get around to trying these.  The author is Elinor Klivan, whose book Fearless Baking was a new release at that time.

Now, without further chatter…  Cookie-Press Butter Cookies:

2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature.

2/3 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt (Note from Jane: If you use salted butter, just skip this salt)

2 large egg yolks

2 tsp vanilla extract

Colored sugar for decorating (optional)  (Note from Jane: Go light on this to accent the cookies, not cover the details.)

Beat together butter, sugar, and salt until blended and smooth.  (I use an electric mixer, but this should be doable by hand as well.)

Blend in egg yolks and vanilla.  Gradually add the flour until dough is evenly mixed.   Don’t worry!  The completed dough should be slightly sticky.  Chill dough as noted above.

Preheat oven to 350. (If you’re going to chill the dough, then shape the cookies, time your oven heating accordingly!  Why waste energy?)

Get out cookie sheets.  Note: DO NOT grease, or cookies will not adhere to the surface when extruded from the cookie press.  Select your disk of choice.  Pack dough into cookie press, following instructions for your press.   Follow cookie press directions to shape cookies.

Sprinkle colored sugar on before baking.  (Note from Jane: My experience is that with shapes that have a holes in them, like the wreath, you end up with as much sugar on the cookie sheet as on the cookie, so I didn’t add ornamental sugar to those.)

Let cool, then enjoy!


November 22, 2017

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays.  We’ll be having a few friends over for dinner.  Jim and I will provide the main course (including stuffing and potatoes and cranberries) and pies.  Our friends are bringing the side dishes.

Turkey Pot by Mary Weahkee

I love Thanksgiving because I celebrate it as an outgrowth of the traditional harvest festival, a time to pause and appreciate.  Thanksgiving is about being grateful for what I have – and I have a lot: a great husband, a home, and the chance to spend a lot of my time doing things I love, like writing.  I could keep listing, but I think you get the idea.

This time of year, I also try to look the things that I often view as stressful and negative from the “thankful” side.  Just one example…

We have two geriatric cats with kidney failure.  Taking care of them involves giving them subcutaneous fluids three times a week.  We’ve been doing this for well over a year for both of them.  Neither of them really likes getting fluids, so the sweatshirt I wear as my “armor” is beginning to be more holes than shirt.

But I’m grateful that Kwahe’e and Ogapgoe are responding well to treatment, that their kidney levels are more are less stable, and so they are enjoying their lives.  (As I write this, Ogapoge is bouncing back and forth between the kitchen table and the top of the microwave, apparently just for the fun of it.)

I’m grateful that I can afford the treatment – which in addition to the fluids involves regular bloodwork.  I’m grateful that I have Jim’s strong and steady participation in the process, because it’s definitely a job I couldn’t do solo.  Really, it’s worth the stress.

Being thankful is why I’ll be participating in “Indies First,” a sub-section of Small Business Saturday that focuses on independent bookstores.  Between 2:00 and 3:30 (maybe a bit later, depending), I’ll be at Page One Books here in Albuquerque acting as a Guest Bookseller.

Since this time I’ll not be focused on doing a reading or talking about a specific book, I’ll have time to chat with people, which will be really nice.  Page One will also be offering door prizes, a chance to sign up for drawings for free books, and lots of available staff to help you get a start on your Christmas shopping.

If you can’t make it, Page One now provides mail orders for signed books, both those in stock and special orders related to their many author events, so you may be able to find somethings special for the readers on your list, as well as supporting a small business.

I hope to see some of you there.  Now, off to make a pecan pie!

FF: Changing Seasons

October 20, 2017

When I’ve had spare time,  I’ve been shelling pomegranates.  While I do so, I listen to audiobooks.

Kel Wants a Hippogriff

For those of you just discovering this feature, 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:

Death of a Doxy by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.

Prisoner’s Base by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.

In Progress:

The Compleat Enchanter by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt.  I’ve read the first two installments (The Roaring Trumpets and The Mathematics of Magic). Now reading The Castle of Iron.  I’ve also read the Afterword, where L. Sprague de Camp discusses collaborating with Fletcher Pratt.  Very timely in light of the discussion Alan and I have been having in the Tangents.

Fairy Tail, volume 10, by Hiro Mashima.

Champagne for One by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  In case you wonder, these are really short!  I’ll probably finish this one today.


Anyone else’s mail beginning to fill with holiday catalogs?

TT: Fred Pohl — Team Player

October 12, 2017

ALAN: As we mentioned last time, Pohl was a great collaborator. He wrote some short stories with Isaac Asimov (published as by “James MacCreigh”). He wrote a novel with Lester Del Rey (Preferred Risk by “Edson McCann” in 1955). He also collaborated with the oddly symmetrical Thomas T. Thomas on Mars Plus! (1994), a sequel to his own 1976 novel Man Plus!  He wrote a lot of first class novels with Jack Williamson. And of course there are the famous novels that he wrote in the 1950s with his close friend Cyril Kornbluth. Despite being more than fifty years old now, these last can still be read with pleasure today. They are genuine classics.

Two To Carry the Book

I suppose everybody has to have a hobby…

JANE: From what I’ve gathered, Fred Pohl’s participation in the SF world was rich and multi-faceted.  He was a member of the Futurians, a group dedicated to “radical politics and the conviction that sf should be forward-looking and constructive” according to The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

Pohl was also an editor for various magazines, including Astonishing Stories, Super Science Stories, Galaxy, and If, among others.  He also edited original anthologies.

ALAN: And when he was sitting in the editorial chair, he would sometimes buy stories from his writer self and then publish them under a pseudonym so as to conceal what he was doing! How’s that for having your cake and eating it too?

JANE: Gee…  I guess self-publishing has a more noble pedigree than I’d ever realized.

For a period following World War II, Pohl was also an agent.  I suspect that his roles as author, SF think tank member, editor, and agent put him in a position to find people who had a great idea that they couldn’t quite bring to fruition.  At the very least, there were probably some marvelous brainstorming sessions.

ALAN: Cyril Kornbluth and Isaac Asimov, with both of whom Pohl collaborated, were also Futurians.  So there may well be something to what you’re saying. And certainly in his book about the history of the Futurians (The Futurians ,1977), Damon Knight makes it very clear that one thing they all really loved to do was talk about anything and everything.

JANE:  Let’s move from generalizations to specific cases.   You seem very fond of Pohl’s collaborations with Cyril Kornbluth.  Was there something special or unique in these that the books would not have had if they had been written by either Pohl or Kornbluth alone?

ALAN: That’s difficult to answer because Kornbluth died quite young (he was only thirty-five), and so his output was small. He only wrote three novels under his own name and all, with the possible exception of The Syndic, are minor works

However his short stories often exhibit the same sardonic cynicism that is used to great satirical effect in his collaborations with Frederik Pohl.  We also see a similar emphasis in the novel Gunner Cade (1952) by “Cyril Judd”, another collaboration, this time between Kornbluth and Judith Merril.

Pohl, in his solo works, exhibited many of these same traits, and so I suspect that the Pohl / Kornbluth collaborations do not really showcase anything special that the other collaborator did not have, rather the two of them were so similar in their views (and their talents) that they struck sparks off each other and somehow the whole was far greater than the sum of the parts.

JANE:  That sounds like a reasonable conclusion.

Jack Williamson had a long relationship with Fred Pohl as a collaborator.  Interestingly, the collaborative partnership grew directly out of the fact that Pohl was Williamson’s agent.  Let me quote directly from Seventy-Five, a Jack Williamson tribute anthology.

“…when a story called ‘The Bottom of the Abyss’ failed to work, he turned to his then-agent Frederik Pohl, and together they turned out three juvenile stories about Jim Eden and his undersea adventures.  Later, when a story about ‘The Iron Hand’ stalled, working with Pohl again resulted in the ‘Starchild Trilogy.’  All subsequent books co-written with Fred Pohl were planned at the outset as collaborations.”

ALAN: That’s interesting. I wasn’t aware that the ‘Starchild Trilogy’ came about because Williamson got stuck. It was one of my favourite stories when I was a teenager and I read it multiple times. So naturally I’m very pleased that he and Pohl got together and finished it.

JANE: What about Pohl’s other collaborators?  Anything special there?

ALAN: The Asimov collaborations (just a couple of short stories) are of no great interest.

The 1955 collaboration with Lester del Rey (Preferred Risk) is interesting, but for all the wrong reasons! One of the great strengths of the Pohl/Kornbluth collaborations was the biting satire that they applied to various institutions. Pohl returned to this satirical theme with Lester del Rey and together they attempted to do for the insurance industry what Pohl and Kornbluth had done for advertising (The Space Merchants), corrupt business practices, corporate law and propaganda (Gladiator-At-Law), and sociology and politics (Search The Sky). Unfortunately Pohl and del Rey did not strike sparks off each other in the way that Pohl and Kornbluth had done and Preferred Risk reads like a very pale imitation of the much more sucessful collaborations with Kornbluth.

JANE: What about Mars Plus?

ALAN: Pohl’s original book Man Plus! was such a hugely successful, award winning novel that the last thing it really needed was a sequel. So while there’s nothing about Mars Plus! that you can really complain about, it nevertheless feels a bit wishy-washy in comparison.

JANE: Of course, the hugely successful award-winning novels are the ones publishers want sequels to…

So, which collaborative author or pair do we look at next?  Whisper in my ear so we won’t have any spoilers!

ALAN: Whisper whisper.

JANE: Ah!  That might be very interesting indeed!

WW: The Short of It

September 13, 2017

Back in January, as I celebrated the seventh anniversary of the Wednesday Wanderings, I mentioned that with my transforming schedule, there might be times when my Wednesday Wandering post would be less ambitious.

Happy Hollyhock

Guess what?  This week is one of those times.

Probably as a result of being sick for close on two weeks, I’ve fallen behind on a bunch of routine jobs.  The one thing that I haven’t let slide is my writing.  However, even that has taken up a greater percentage of my reduced pool of energy, and I’m not writing as much.  It’s frustrating, but when the writing goes well the high is well worth the effort.

As I begin to feel better, I’m adding back into my life many neglected tasks, none of which make for fascinating Wanderings, unless you want to discuss whether or not you balance your checkbooks.

The long and short of it is, I’m very busy but rather boring right now.

In fact, I’d welcome any questions that I might use as seeds for future Wanderings, because I envision this happening again as a few self-imposed deadlines take up more of my creativity.

On other fronts, despite almost no rain, the garden is doing well.  The wildlife is okay, although the toads are less visible now that they need to dig in to stay damp.

On that note, have a hollyhock and envision me busily typing away!

Catch you next week…