Archive for the ‘Random Wanderings’ Category

Hold Music

August 22, 2018

Ziggy Relaxes

The last week has been too full, so that right now I don’t have the mental energy to come up with a tidy little essay.

I hope that by next week things will have quieted down.

For those of you who will be attending Bubonicon, I hope to be there on Friday and Saturday.  Friday, I’ll be reading my latest Prudence Bledsloe story: “Dost Make Thee Mad.”  I’m also on a panel right after Opening Ceremonies.  Saturday, I have a couple of panels, and will be there for the mass signing.  Sunday I may or may not attend, so if you want anything signed, be sure to come to the mass signing.

For now, I leave you with a picture of Ziggy O’Piggy, relaxed and enjoying her personal armchair.


Thinning Pomegranates

August 15, 2018

Pomegranates — After Thinning!

Last week, I removed at least twenty pomegranates from the shrub that grows near the southwest corner of my house.   This was very difficult for me to do.  Three years ago, my entire harvest from that same shrub was about seven pomegranates.  Most of them set late enough in the season that they didn’t ripen.  Even those that did ripen only sort of did.  Turns out that while an unripe apple is edible if tart, an unripe pomegranate is pretty much inedible.

Then, summer of 2017, the shrub not only set fruit but early enough that the fruit ripened.  We had a delirious month or so when we had almost too many pomegranates.  I say “almost” because, by shelling them and keeping the edible portions carefully stored, we managed to eat every single fruit.  If I had been Persephone in Hades, I would have not only been doomed to spend all year in Hades realm, I would have had to travel backwards in time several millennia to make up for time owed.

So, this year when the shrub flowered heavily, I was delighted, but flowers do not mean fruit, especially in New Mexico where springtime features high winds that strip flowers from the boughs.  When lots of fruit set, I was delighted, but I didn’t do much in the way of thinning because last year quite a number dropped off on their own when temperatures mounted.

But this year, the shrub seemed determined to keep every single fruit it could.  Reluctantly, I thinned where clusters of three fruit had set and were all competing for nutrients not only on the same branch, but on the same node.  Then, last week I took a deep breath and removed one fruit from any doubles.  There are still a lot of pomegranates on that shrub.  It may be that I’ll need to thin again, but, right now, I’m making sure the plant gets enough water and hoping that I won’t need to thin further to achieve an excellent final harvest.

Thinning fruit isn’t a metaphor for one of the stages of writing, but it could be.  I’m sure those of you who write know exactly what I’m talking about…

Dragon on My Floor

August 8, 2018

Shadow Dragon

Monday afternoon, I had the delightful experience of looking down at a tile on my floor and seeing a dragon there.  I’ve looked at that tile hundreds, maybe thousands of times before, but this was the first time the light was just right to reveal the head and neck of a distinctly serpentine dragon.

Being a perfectly sensible person, I went and found a couple of pencils, then sat on the floor so I could quickly trace the outline.  Once that was defined, I thickened the lines, and generally enjoyed myself.

As I was doing this, Jim wandered in.  I’d been very sick earlier in the day, so the first words out of his mouth were, “Are you feeling okay?”  When I replied that I was doing much better, Jim looked down at the floor and said, “That’s a really cool dragon.”

I’m lucky to live with someone who thinks that drawing on the floor is a perfectly normal pastime.  Writers do any number of odd things that constitute normal activities, including staring into space, paging through magazines without noticing what they’re looking at, and worrying about the demise of serial commas.  Most importantly, they become passionately involved with the lives of people who don’t exist but, on some level, are far more real to them than most of the “real” people they encounter.

Eventually, I really should wash that tile off but, at the moment, I feel a far stronger inclination to go looking to see what other things light and shadow might reveal hiding on my floor.

Unexpected Voyage

August 1, 2018

Ziggy’s Unexpected Voyage

I just learned that my college Art History professor died back in January.  Her name was Irma R. Jaffe, PhD, and I doubt she knew who I was.  To her, I was just one of hundreds, probably thousands, of undergraduates who took her introductory Art History class.  To be fair, if you’d asked me about a class I took in college that had a major impact on me, this wouldn’t have been one that would have come to mind.

But when I saw the listing in Fordham’s alumni magazine that Dr. Jaffe had died at age 101, memories came flooding back.  Her class was where I first saw Etruscan art.  I remember Dr. Jaffe’s enthusiasm as she talked about the power of the “archaic smile.”    Her class was where I first became aware of the works of the Dutch master Jan van Eyck.  Her enthusiasm for his use of reflection was contagious.  No matter what time period she was talking about, she had the gift of making it seem special.

She encouraged her students – heck, it probably was an assignment – to go into Manhattan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I wasn’t an art major, but I fell in love with the place and went back repeatedly.  Even among the permanent exhibitions, there was always something new to discover.

I’ve been surprised how often over the last few days I’ve thought about something from those visits.  Survey courses are meant to provide a jumping-off point for further exploration.  This one was certainly successful.

I’ve also been thinking about how often we’re not aware of what will have an influence on us in the future.  It’s always wonderful and delightful when I realize that something like a long ago, almost forgotten, college course set me on an unexpected voyage of exploration, not only into an appreciation of art, but of the peoples and cultures who created it.

Interlocking Bits of Cool Stuff

July 18, 2018

Chuck, Me, and Weber

It took me forever to figure out how to organize a Wandering about all the cool things that happened this weekend at Congregate, mostly because I couldn’t figure out how to organize it.

Why was organization an issue?  Because so many of the things I want to tell you about interlock in all sorts of intricate ways.  I took a break to exercise and, while doing so, decided that the only possible organization was to set up a bunch of subheadings and leave it up to you to bounce around between them in whatever order you want.

So…  Here goes.

Hanging Out With Old Pals

The illustration for this piece shows me and two long-time friends, Charles  E. “Chuck” Gannon and David Weber.  Chuck and I were co-guests of honor, but we have also known each other since I was a junior in college.  Often reconnecting with old friends becomes awkward once the reminiscing is over.  Happily, Chuck and I immediately reconnected, touched on the past, and blasted into the future.

Weber and I have been buddies since he had one-and-a-half-published novels, and I had one published short story.  Yes.  We’ve collaborated with each other on many projects, but those are secondary to the fact that we’re sympatico.  His arrival with his wife, Sharon, and their son, Michael (who Jim taught to crawl, long story), was a great treat.  We did several panels on Friday before they had to depart to take Michael off to a summer internship.

Since this was the first time Jim and I had been at an East Coast con in a while, many friends came to the con.  Phyllis White, who was a consultant on my second novel, Marks of Our Brothers and provided many coyote stories for Changer, came with mutual friend, Chris Cowan.  Paul Dellinger, who has been my pen pal for something like twenty-five years, came – and ended up on so many panels we kept passing in the halls, but we did find time for some good visiting.

Yvonne Coats and Mike Collins, pals from New Mexico, now relocated to Virginia,came down.  Ursula Vernon and Kevin Sonney couldn’t do the con, but they came up and joined us for dinner Saturday night.

Scot and Jane Noel, with whom I did the Chronomaster computer game in 1995, came from Pittsburgh.  We discussed a new project that…  Well, look for the heading below.  Speaking of games, John Cocking, who I met as the son of one of my colleagues at Lynchburg College, materialized briefly at my signing, bought a copy of Asphodel, presented me with copies of his very cool-looking role-playing game Beyond the Wall, then vanished like the Cheshire Cat, leaving only his smile.

The Live D&D Game

This was a blast.  Chuck proved that his luck with dice has not improved in the decades since our weekly games.  Yes, folks.  He really did fumble twice in a row.  Thanks to Steve Long for organizing the adventure and for being patient with the barely-organized chaos that ensued.  I’ll keep you posted as to whether John Harkness (aka Funyons the Bard) did capture enough audio for a podcast.

Weber’s Long-Held Secret

Guess what?  There’s going to be a new Star Kingdom aka Stephanie Harrington aka Treecat book.  Weber has known for three months and kept the news to himself so he could tell me in person.  I’ll keep you posted.

Yes, Reader.  I did hug him.

A New Magazine

The project that Scot and Jane Noel brainstormed with me is called DreamForge the Magazine.  They brought with them the 2018 mockup issue and it looks fantastic.  I’m on the masthead as Senior Advisor and Creative Consultant.  You can see a little about it at  You’ll hear more about it from me as we get closer to taking subscriptions.  One thing I can say for certain: It’s going to be fantastic.

Why Congregate Was Particularly Terrific

Other than the fact that they had good coffee available all day?  Well…

So often, an out-of-region guest at a con ends up feeling like an outsider.  This isn’t because the locals aren’t welcoming.  Often it’s the exact opposite.  They’re so determined to be welcoming in the most formal sense of the word that the GOH is left feeling like Great Aunt Mildred at the family reunion.  Everyone is glad you came, but no one knows exactly what to say to you.

I mean after “I really love your books” and “What are you writing now?” what really is there to talk about?

What was special about Congregate was how much effort the staff and attendees put into making me and Jim feel we were not only welcome, but also worth getting to know.   Chuck Rizzo met us at the airport with not only a polite smile but with a chatty history of the High Point area where to con was being held.  (Who ever knew that there was a fashion week for furniture?)

Tera Fulbright, who was my contact person and the programming coordinator, met me at the registration desk in company with her daughter, Hannah, who had taken responsibility for presenting us with our special Guest of Honor swag bag.  Hannah (age eleven) was delightful, and I was so happy that Tera felt we could be greeted with such familial friendliness.

It just got better from there.  A person met once became an on-going source of smiles and friendly greetings that made me feel like I was welcome as more than a sort of performing animal.

But the best thing was that no one was intrusive.  As I mentioned above in “Hanging Out With Old Pals,” numerous friends made the trip to the con.  We often gathered in the comfy chairs in the lobby to visit, but although many people waved as they went by, no one tried to crash old home week.  That meant we could stay part of the con, but still catch up.  Such courtesy is a rare thing, and it meant I was much more willing to take time when I wasn’t occupied to chat with attendees.

This is getting long, so I won’t keep listing people…  I’ll just say “thank you” and I sincerely hope we meet again!

Conclusion of Utter Lack of Organization

Hope you enjoyed this sampler platter!  Now, off to catch up on my writing!

Crazy Busy, Busy Crazy

July 11, 2018

Kwahe’e Inspects the Laundry

The popular image of writers is doubtless created by high school and college literature classes.  These often present the lives of the writers only when those lives have some connection to their literary output.  Even when the personal is touched upon, there’s always an element of the dramatic to it.   They drink too much or have tempestuous affairs or eventually commit suicide.

Authors don’t do the laundry.  They don’t have sick pets.  They don’t worry about in-laws who are in and out of the hospital.  They don’t need to get to the grocery store.  And none of these things eat time and mental energy the author would rather spend writing.

Today, as I gear up to leave tomorrow for Congregate in Greenville North Carolina, I have all of those things going on.  At least I’m looking forward to Congregate.

Cons are always fun.  They’re one of the few times I get to talk to readers.  Unlike writers who live in more heavily populated areas, and so often hit a different convention every weekend, out here in the Wild West, our choices are more limited.  But Congregate is going to be extra special for a couple of reasons.

One is that by purest chance, the other Writer Guest of Honor is someone I’ve known since I was a college undergraduate.  Charles E. “Chuck” Gannon and I started hanging out when he was newly graduated from college.  Once a week, he and a couple other friends would make the trip from Upstate New York to my dorm at Fordham University for our weekly RPG.  Chuck and I gamed together steadily for about six years – through my last years as an undergrad, and through my grad work.  And we’ve stayed in touch since.  At Congregate, we’re not only going to be present as Author Guests, we’re donning our gaming hats for a two-hour live RPG session.

I’m going to play a paladin devoted to Freya.  If the technical challenges can be handled (as our group’s bard assures us they can be), the game should be available as a podcast.  I’ll let you know.

Another great thing is that one of my best buddies and, just as an aside, co-authors – David Weber – is dropping by Congregate on Friday.  We’ll do a couple panels, including one about writing in the Honorverse, something I’ve done for several novellas and two novels (Fire Season and Treecat Wars).

A bunch of other friends are coming as well, so although this is probably not the best time for me to travel, I’m really looking forward to this con.  I hope some of you will be there, and I hope you’ll come by when I’m signing and introduce yourselves.

A friend said I should remind people who won’t be able to be at Congregate about a few of my 2018 writerly news items.  I’ll do that.

First of all, January saw the release of a new original novel: AsphodelAsphodel stretches the limits of traditional narrative – but what’s speculative fiction for, if not that?  Asphodel is short, so I hope you’ll take a chance on it.  I’m confident you won’t regret it.  Of Asphodel, Publisher’s Weekly said: “This curious blend of fanciful vignettes, real danger, and existential mystery wends a twisting, pleasurable way through the powers of imagination.”

Asphodel can be found as an e-book from all major retailers (Amazon, Nook, i-Tunes, Kobo, GooglePlay) and as a print version from

There are also new e-book editions of all six Firekeeper novels.  In addition to the original novels, each e-book contains a short essay in which I chat about some aspect of the series.  Spoiler alerts are provided where necessary!

The early part of this year also saw the release of two new short stories: “Unexpected Flowers” in the May/June edition of Asimov’s and “A Green Moon Problem” in Lightspeed Magazine.

Coming up, hopefully soon, will be a new e-book edition of Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls.  The cover art is by Patrick Arrasmith, who did the art for the Tor Orb edition, but features a surprise element.  This edition will also include an essay about the writing of this – my first published –novel.

Don’t worry.  I’m still immersed in writing Wolf’s Search (Firekeeper 7) and its yet-untitled sequel.  The stories are closely intertwined, so I’m writing both.  Then I’ll polish the first part and get it to you.  We’re still talking months down the road, but it’s definitely going to be faster than if I used the traditional publishing route.

Speaking of traditional publishing, October 2018 will see the paperback release of my 2015 novel, Artemis Invaded.  This is the sequel to the 2014 release, Artemis Awakening.

So, there you are…  Crazy Busy.  I’m hoping that the bad stuff dials back a bit, but this is a Real Writer’s Life.  Now, off to change that load of laundry, then go pack my Hawaiian shirt for Congregate.  Hope to see some of you there!

FF: Innocence

July 6, 2018

Good Bedtime Reading

Innocence is definitely related to what you need to worry about, or so seems to be the subtext of the stories I’m reading 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.

What are you reading?

Recently Completed:

The Wicked + The Divine, graphic novel, by Gillen, McKelvie, Wilson, and Cowles.  Rereading at this point, volumes 1-4.  Waiting on five and six, which I think will take me beyond what I’ve already read.  Still intense and very good, although oddly innocent in light of current events.  I look forward to continuing.

In Progress:

The Betsy-Tacy Treasury by Maud Hart Lovelace.  I’ve re-read the first couple of volumes and am now reading Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill.

Growing Food in a Hotter, Dryer Land by Gary Paul Nabhan.  Very interesting.  I’ve been pleased about how many of the tricks he suggests I’m already aware of and use to my best capacity. Almost done.

Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey.  Audiobook.  Fourth in The Expanse series.  Enjoying to this point – although I’ve worried a lot about a couple newer characters.


Re-reading Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls by Jane Lindskold.  Still.  Because I’ve been writing a lot.

So, Harlan Ellison Died, And…

July 4, 2018

Meeting with Readers

As most of you probably know, writer Harlan Ellison died last week.  This Wandering isn’t going to be about Harlan Ellison.  However, to talk about what I want to talk about, I need to tell you a story, so bear with me.

My first meeting with Harlan Ellison happened like this.  Roger Zelazny and I had gone to a party at World Fantasy Convention being hosted by friends of our agents, Kirby and Kay McCauley, who couldn’t be there themselves.  The party was not one of those back to back, belly to belly, things, but relatively small – probably a couple dozen people.

The room was set up with a long table around which a bunch of people were gathered talking.  There was also a sofa and a group of chairs arranged in a conversation group.  Roger and I came in and went to greet our hosts.  Then Roger grabbed a soft drink and slouched down on the couch to chat quietly.  By then, I’d recognized several of those at the table including some members of First Fandom, Julius Schwartz, and Harlan Ellison.

The conversation was about influential people in SF/F publishing, past and present.  I realized that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear stories, so I knelt on the sofa, and turned around so I could both watch and listen.  Eventually, someone mentioned editor Cele Goldsmith, especially how many authors who would later go on to become prominent in the field had made one of their early sales to her.

A quiet young man who, like me, had just been soaking it all in, said softly, “She published Roger early, too.”  This was accompanied by a jerk of his head to where Roger had vanished into the sofa.  (The man could not sit up straight.)

Several people nodded agreement, but Harlan Ellison, whose back had been to the door, so he hadn’t seen Roger come in, said “Roger?  Roger who?” accompanying this with perfect mimicry of that jerk of the head.

The young man, his voice even softer, said, “Roger.  Roger Zelazny.”

With perfect showman’s timing, Roger unfolded himself and got to his feet, grinning.  Beaming in turn, Harlan Ellison jumped to his feet so fast his chair nearly went over.  He ran over to Roger, saying as he went, “Ladies and Gentlemen, you are about to see a short fat man hug a tall thin one.”

Whereupon he gave Roger a bear hug and the party resumed.  That’s how I met Harlan Ellison.  In less than a minute, I saw both the acerbic, well, sort of a jerk, and the truly kind and genuine man about whose generosity of spirit I would hear tales for years to come.

But, as I said, this isn’t about Harlan Ellison.  It’s about meeting writers.  Imagine the impression Roger might have made if his presence hadn’t been noted.  Those who saw him enter but not join the general conversation might have thought him standoffish or obnoxious, when he was neither.  He was just a person who preferred to chat in small groups to large.

And me?  My reaction to Harlan Ellison stories would always be colored by that first encounter.   Because of that, I realized that both Harlan Ellisons – the jerk and the gentleman – were part of one complex human being.

Some writers are very easy to meet.  Some aren’t.

Unlike actors, writers aren’t trained to be someone personable.  Some writers are very good at putting on a show.  Often, if you look into their backgrounds, you’ll often find something that explains the skill.  They have acted.  Or – like David Weber – they had a job that taught them from an early age how to work with the public.  Some are simply more extroverted.  They write in shop windows or coffee houses, stimulated by the chatter around them.

That actor who cracks a joke with you while scribbling the signature you paid for probably won’t remember you five minutes later.  I will, or at least I will try.  If you become a regular, I’ll definitely try to learn about you.  Why?  Honestly, I prefer knowing people to impressing fans.

Impressing is hard.  As Steven R. Donaldson once commented while he and I and Walter Jon Williams were waiting to go on-stage for an  author event in Jemez Springs, New Mexico, the problem with author events is that most of the time, people don’t really want to meet you.  They want to meet your characters – and in some cases, they expect you to be your characters.

But I’m not Firekeeper or Blind Seer.  I don’t have a secret “identity character” who is “really me” hidden in my books.  (As, for example, James Joyce represented Steven Daedalus as “him” or Maud Hart Lovelace admitted that “Betsy” was based on her.)  I’m a writer who loves to write and enjoys sharing the stories.

When Harlan Ellison died, people started trotting out their favorite “Harlan stories.”  Many revealed the kindnesses he kept hidden because being perceived as “an angry young man” (even after he wasn’t very young) was very profitable for him.  It may even have protected the more vulnerable him.

I don’t have a persona.  I’m just me.  I write stories.  I try to be friendly, but I’m also, a human with opinions – some of which you might not agree with at all.  But at least I’ll remember that you are a person, too – not just a prop in my personal stage show.

A Turning Point

June 13, 2018

Leonardo da Vinci: Artist, Scientist, Engineer

Not long ago, I was asked by a friend what were some of the turning points in my life.  Maybe because I recently finished Walter Isaacson’s biography of Leonardo da Vinci (which in itself was a follow-up to going to see a very interesting exhibit about da Vinci at the Albuquerque Natural History Museum back in March) I found myself remembering an exchange that occurred when I was probably a junior in college.

I don’t know what triggered the exchange…  I was an English major, and I’d certainly had more than my share of questions from concerned adults about what I planned to do after college.  I had spent a lot of my free time both reading Science Fiction and Fantasy, and playing roleplaying games, two activities that encourage big dreams.  I was probably feeling a touch wistful that the things I liked best didn’t seem to have much value in the post-college world that was creeping up on me with every semester.

Whatever the reason, I wandered out into the common room of the apartment and asked my roommate, Kathy Curran, “If you could be anything at all – no limits on education or even reality – what would you be?”

I expected her to pause and consider.  I certainly would have done so in a similar situation.  “What if” questions like that were a staple of my life.  I remember sitting side by side with my sister, Ann, with a catalog spread over our laps, picking what we’d get on each page if we could have anything there.   As we grew older, these “what if’s” turned into debates about whether nature or nurture meant more, or questions of ethics and theology.  (Yes.  Really.  I still have these sort of discussions with some family members.)

So the last thing I expected Kathy to say was “A Renaissance man.”  I blinked at her – both at her decisiveness and because I’d never thought about that as even an option.  Perhaps seeing my confusion, Kat went on.  “I’d like to know at least a little about a lot of things.”

I can’t overstate the impact of her words.  It was like a door blew open in my brain and everything reshuffled.  Up to that point, my life had been like the sketch from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “What is your name?  What is your quest?  What is your favorite color?”

Kathy showed me I could have it all.

A few months back, I wrote about how I thrive best when allowed some creative wiggle room.  I always did, but Kathy was the first person to show me that this was okay, to not make me feel I was somehow cheating if I wanted to read about science, or history, or learn some technique that had nothing to do with my future job.

Oh, and Kat?  Did she achieve her goal?  I like to think so.  We’re still in touch.  She’s a Biology professor who knows more about ticks than you would even imagine there is to know.  She’s also a gardener.  A beekeeper.  A painter.  A mom.  And I’m sure a lot of other things that I don’t know about.

Now, off to put a final polish on a high-adventure space opera short story I finished in rough last Friday.  Then I’ll go write more about Firekeeper, Blind Seer, and some people you don’t know yet: a story that has more than a little to do with the question “What do you want to be?”

Wrinkles and Doors

May 11, 2018

Cats Know All About Tessering!

Now that the new Firekeeper e-books are uploaded, writing is filling my time, but I hope to have a bit more time to read as well.

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.

What are you reading?

Recently Completed:

A Fountain Filled With Blood by Julie Spencer Fleming.  Audiobook.  So far I’m liking this series enough to keep going.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.  This childhood favorite held up well.  No.  I haven’t seen the movie.  I don’t tend to see movies based on books I’ve liked.  My quirk!

In Progress:

A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle.  I remember how confusing I found parts of the final chapter.  I wonder how it will re-read.

Out of the Deep I Cry by Julie Spencer Fleming.  Audiobook.  Just started.


Catching up on magazines.   Making good progress!