Archive for the ‘Random Wanderings’ Category

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.

Also:

Catching up on magazines.   Making good progress!

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Pruning Your Words

April 18, 2018

Asphodel Within a Tangle

Imagine me, sitting behind a table with my books spread out before me.  A lady with a pleasant smile comes up and starts examining the wide variety of offerings.

NICE LADY: “So when you write a book” – she is holding a copy of Asphodel – “do you plan it all out in advance?”

ME: “Not really.  I start with an impulse or idea – in this case, the idea of someone waking up in a tower and not knowing why she is there – and then I go on the adventure with my characters.  I’d get bored if I knew everything that was going to happen in advance.”

NICE LADY: “So, that means you don’t really plot?”

ME: “Oh, I definitely plot.  I simply plot as I’m writing, and then afterwards.”

NICE LADY: “Afterwards?”

ME: “That’s right.  After I’ve finished the story, I know what it’s about, so I can cut away the bits and pieces that don’t serve the story.  It’s like pruning a tree or shrub or even a tangle of vines.  Getting rid of extra material makes what’s left stronger.”

NICE LADY: “Oh…  Don’t you feel that wastes your time?”

ME: “Not at all.  Even those writers who outline in advance find that they need to do some shaping and trimming when they’re done.  It’s just a question of when you do the pruning.  In my case, I do most of it after I’ve written the full piece, not before.”

NICE LADY: “I’d think that plotting as you write would be confusing.  How do you keep track of who’s doing what and where?”

ME: “In my case, I do what I call reverse outlining.

 “This helps me keep track of who is doing what where and even when.  I talk about my technique both on my blog and in one of the essays in my book on writing: Wanderings on Writing.”

NICE LADY: “Thanks!  I’ll definitely keep what you’re saying in mind.  I thought I had to know everything about my book and characters before I started.  This is a relief.”

ME: “Glad to help.  Just remember, it’s okay to explore as you write but, at some point, you will need to free your plot from the tangle.  Otherwise, the story you’re trying to tell will end up strangled.”

TT: Goodbye For Now…

March 29, 2018

Hands Around the World

ALAN: I just checked, and our first Thursday Tangent was published on 1st June 2011. So we’ve been writing them for almost seven years. And in all that time, we haven’t missed a single week. I think we deserve to be very proud of how chatty we’ve been. If my arm was long enough, I’d reach across the world and give you a congratulatory pat on the back. And if your arm was as long as mine, I’m sure you’d do the same for me.

JANE: You are a properly restrained Yorkshireman, no matter how long you’ve been in New Zealand, and never mind how long you’ve been with your exuberant Australian wife.  If you think I’d settle for a pat on the back, you’d be wrong.  I’d give you a hug so tight you might need to worry about your ribs.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve often been asked how we got started writing the Tangents.  It’s pretty simple.  I’d write one of my Wednesday Wanderings posts, then Alan would say something in the Comments.  I’d answer, and sometimes we’d go back and forth right there.  Other times, the discussion went sideways, and we’d continue it via e-mail.  I had so much fun that eventually I asked Alan if he wanted to take them public and so we did.

ALAN: When you suggested that we start writing the Tangents on a formal basis, I found the thought very scary. But it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done. Even when the discussion veered off into areas that I knew little or nothing about, the research I had to do to bring myself up to speed was fascinating and it taught me a lot.

JANE: I agree that the Tangents have been a heck of a lot of fun.  I’ve learned a lot, too.  The time we compared healthcare systems was incredibly enlightening.  I also really enjoyed our long journey through every British king named Henry – with quite a few who weren’t sandwiched between.

Do you have any particular favorites?

ALAN: Yes. The ones where you explained the jargon and the vagaries of the American educational system that had puzzled me so much when I came across references to it in novels were really quite enlightening.

JANE: I’ll always be happy to translate American language and customs for you!

A reminder to our readers…  Alan has done a free e-book that contains all of the Thursday Tangents.  You can download it here It makes great short reading for when you’re stuck waiting on line or in a waiting room or whatever.

ALAN: Actually, the e-book contains only a sample of the Thursday Tangents. We’ve written more than 350 of them and, even in these digital days, that’s an awful lot of information to put in a single book.

But there’s an index and links to all of the Tangents here.

JANE: Thanks for the correction!  350?  Wow!  I had no idea we’d been so noisy.

As I said above, Alan and I enjoy chatting.  If we come up with another topic or so, I’ll post them as a special feature to my blogsite.  I’ll let you know in advance when one is coming, but you can always check the blogsites Tangent category from time to time to see if new posts have shown up on the site.

ALAN: Let me conclude this chat with something else that is probably new to you.

There’s a British satirical magazine called Private Eye which has a poet in residence whose “name” is E. J. Thrib (17½). Whenever a famous person dies, E. J. Thrib (17½) writes a poem which is always titled In Memoriam and whose first line is always:

So. Farewell then…

Thrib usually mentions something appropriate about the deceased and often compares some notable characteristic of the deceased with his friend Keith (or sometimes with Keith’s mum). Thrib’s poems generally have no rhyme, no rhythm, little reason and often they make very little sense. Nevertheless, E. J. Thrib (17½)’s opening line has become world famous in the UK and is very much a part of Britain’s culture.

JANE: I’ve never heard of that.  Are you going write us a verse?  Please do!

ALAN: Not me – but perhaps E. J. Thrib (17½) can oblige. I’ll ask him.

E.J. THRIB (17½):

So. Farewell then Thursday Tangents.
Sines and portents fill the page and each writer
Cosines their name on the dotted line at the end.
But only when the angle is right.
What will Keith’s mum read now
On bleak Friday mornings when
The coffee is cold and the breakfast toast
Lacks marmalade to spread?

JANE: Damnit!  You’ve made me tear up, which is ridiculous.  Therefore, I refuse to say “farewell” instead I’ll say, “until next time”…

FF: Reading the Wild West

March 23, 2018

Kel: A Cat of the Wild West

I’m glad to hear that folks enjoy this list of what I’ve been reading.  This week’s reading took an unusual turn when I felt a sudden craving for Westerns.

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.

I’d love to hear what you’re reading!

Recently Completed:

Mustang Man by Louis L’amour.  Audiobook.  I have a sneaking fondness for Nolan, a would-be bad boy Sackett.  Reread.

The Case of the Toxic Mutants (Dragonbreath 9) by Ursula Vernon.  Mutants have never been so cute.

The Man From The Broken Hills by Louis L’amour.  More red herrings in this one than in a fish market. Reread.

In Progress:

The Sackett Brand by Louis L’Amour.  I have an old fondness for this one.  Reread.

Knight-Napped (Dragonbreath 10) by Ursula Vernon.

Tempest and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce.  Audiobook.  Just started.

Also:

Wolf’s Blood by Jane Lindskold.  About three-quarters done.

And some back issues of magazines, because I’m so far behind!

Close Up and Personal

March 21, 2018

Sparrow a Glance

I want to thank all of you who took time to comment in response to my Wandering last week.

If you weren’t around, basically, I asked for feedback both as to what you might like to see in the Wednesday Wanderings, and whether I should continue doing the Friday Fragments.  I also asked about how important the photos were to you.

Based on the enthusiastic response to the Friday Fragments, I shall continue doing them.   Although many of you expressed how much you liked when I specifically commented about a book, I don’t plan to increase the frequency of such comments.  Writing a review column is a serious job, one I’m not interested in taking on.  To do a good job writing reviews, one needs to offer more than one’s opinion.  If you’re interested in a good review column, I suggest Alan Robson’s once a month “wot i red on my hols.”

In the Friday Fragments, I’ll make sure to remind you that I’d be happy to hear what you’re reading.  Indeed, I am!  I might not get to a specific book for a while, but I do keep a list of books that seem interesting.

I was happy to learn how many of you look forward to having the Wednesday Wanderings appear in your mail box or on some other aspect of your social media as a regular part of your weekly reading.  Therefore, I’ll keep writing them.

However, I have one request.  A short comment, even a couple of words, would help keep up my morale.  I’m not asking you to comment every week or even every couple of weeks – although I deeply appreciate how people like James, FuturePastSite, Louis, Dawn, and King Ben’s Grandmother find something to say.

It’s hard “talking” into a void.  I mean, I’ve taught college freshman English Composition at 8:00 a.m.  Writing the Wednesday Wanderings is tougher because I can’t even see if people are awake!  That’s what I meant when I said I’d like to have a “conversation.”  My schedule doesn’t permit me to run on-line writers’ prompts or the like.

Moving on our discussion of the photos, Jim and I will probably do some experimenting.  For one, he’s gotten a new lens that, once he gets the hang of it, will allow a greater range of images.  However, I reserve the right to go back to a little picture tucked in the corner.  In the end, text is the way I communicate best.

One thing several comments reminded me of was that I should feel free to return to topics that I talked about years ago.  Ten years is a long time.  While I’ve tried hard to not repeat myself more than is necessary, I think maybe I should loosen up.

In a week or so, Alan and I will chat a bit about the future of the Thursday Tangents.  I appreciate those of you who took the time to express enthusiasm for our public conversations over these last seven years.   We certainly won’t fall silent forever, but it’s time for us to rest our fingers.  I promise to alert you in the Wednesday Wanderings when there will be a Thursday Tangent Special Feature.

On that note…  Our nearly final Thursday Tangent of the regular run goes up tomorrow.  In it, I ask Alan a question that I really hope some of you will also weigh in on.

With that as a teaser, I’m off to run with the wolves!  Tah!

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!