TT: One Plus One Makes More?

September 28, 2017

ALAN: A lot of people have been posting their thoughts about the recent death of Jerry Pournelle. A common theme that runs through the comments is the suggestion that he will be remembered more for his collaborations with Larry Niven than he will for the stories that he published under his own name. There’s probably some truth in that – several of the Niven/Pournelle collaborations are generally regarded as classics of the genre.

Working (on naps) Together

JANE: Certainly the two Pournelle novels I recall reading – A Mote in God’s Eye and Lucifer’s Hammer – were both collaborations with Larry Niven.  I can’t remember if I actually read Footfall, but I heard a lot about it.

ALAN: I enjoyed those – but my very favourite of their collaborations was Inferno. Such a clever, subtle and funny book.

Collaborations seem to be very common in the SF world. Without even thinking about it, I’m sure I could reel off a dozen or more famous collaborations. And if I put my thinking cap on I could probably come up with at least a dozen more.

But I’d be hard-pressed to name many collaborations in other genres or in the mainstream of literature.

I wonder how collaborations happen?

JANE: We must shop in different bookstores.  Where I shop, increasingly, the shelves are full of “collaborations.”  Many of these are what I have heard called “junior/senior” pairings, which in some cases seems to be a polite way of saying “Big Name Writer” and “who the heck is that…”

ALAN: Or perhaps “who the hack is that…”?

JANE: Ouch!  That’s what’s so sad about these pairings.  Often the “junior” writer is viewed as just that – an opportunistic hack.  I’ve talked with several novelists, however, who have taken on such jobs in the hope of opening doors that will enable them to see their own beloved works published.

ALAN: To that extent such exercises are probably a good thing – anything that opens previously closed publishing doors has to be taken seriously. But nevertheless I remain dubious about both the morality of it and the quality of the work. I certainly don’t regard these as being collaborations in the true sense of the word.

JANE: I know what you mean.  My nephew enjoys both Tom Clancy’s and Clive Cussler’s works, but I’ve given up on buying them for him because so many are these sort of pairings.

ALAN: Ah yes – those… I don’t really consider those as collaborations at all. Clancy actually died in 2013, so clearly his contribution to the books that are still being published under his name has been minimal. So-called collaborations like these are really just cynical marketing exercises designed to keep famous names on the book covers so as to (hopefully) increase sales.

I think the only real collaborations are those where all the writers named on the cover have had a significant input to the story being told.

JANE: I agree.  When an author or an author’s estate starts franchising a well-known name, then any sense of collaboration vanishes.  I’ll avoid naming some obvious examples because I don’t know the circumstances firsthand and don’t want to risk maligning someone…

But there are many authors who appear as “senior” author on books that I suspect they’ve never even looked at.

ALAN: I’m absolutely certain of it. And the phenomenon is not a new one; it’s just that these days the publishers are rather more blatant about it than once they were. It used to be that the junior author got no credit at all, even though they’d done most, if not all, of the work!

A good example would be the Saint novels. They were all published with Leslie Charteris named on the cover as the only author. Nevertheless many of the novels were ghostwritten with little or no input from Charteris himself. Vendetta For the Saint (1964) was actually written by the SF author Harry Harrison, though his name appears nowhere in the credits. Harrison told me that Charteris just left him alone to write the story – though presumably Charteris did approve the final version since he was putting his own name on it!

JANE: I had no idea!

ALAN: Proper collaborations, such as the Niven/Pournelle books, are a completely different kettle of fish. In an interview published in Fantastic Reviews in 2009, Niven says that he and Pournelle would talk the story out between themselves until they knew it by heart. In that sort of circumstance it really doesn’t matter whose fingers actually hit the keyboard, the story belongs equally to both of them.

JANE: I agree.  I also think that the best collaborations are those where each author has something special to bring to the project.  My first collaboration with Roger Zelazny was like that.  He’d been asked to come up with a story for a computer game, but he knew nothing about either computers or gaming.

However, he was always intrigued by a new challenge.  He said he’d take the job if I could come on board as his collaborator (because I was a gamer, and somewhat familiar with computer games), and so Chronomaster was begun.  Sadly, Roger was gone before it came out.  He never would have agreed to what the publisher did – putting his name big and mine small – because we worked the story out together.

ALAN: The game itself is still available for download from obscure corners of the internet, though you will need some kind of MS-DOS emulator if you want to play it – it won’t run on modern computers.

There’s lots more to say about collaborations, both proper and improper. Perhaps we can continue the discussion next time…

JANE: I’d like that!

 

Advertisements

Daily Focus

September 27, 2017

Last week I didn’t end up needing to go back for juror selection, so that particular adventure is over.  This week’s adventure will start on Friday, when I head off to Silver City, New Mexico, to be one of the speakers at their biennial Southwest Festival of the Written Word.

Getting To Work

You can learn more about the Festival here.

I’ve never been to Silver City, and am really looking forward to seeing a new part of New Mexico.  It’s supposed to be a lovely part of the state, and autumn is one of the nicest times of the year for a long drive.   I’m also looking forward to talking about writing SF/F, and participating in an author’s roundtable.

Earlier this week, I went to Santa Fe to meet with Emily Mah Tippets, so we could consult about a bunch of on-going projects, many of which are going to get some of my stories into the hands of the people who want to read them, rather than them remaining in my office because I’m busy playing with the new idea that bounced into my head.

The reality is that, as much as big events like jury duty and book festivals provide topics to Wander on about, the real focus of my daily life is writing.  Last week, I wrote the final segment of a novel I started – more or less by accident – back in early April.  Actually, by the time I write the one scene I skipped and fill in a bunch of world-building elements, the project is probably going to turn into two novels.

So…  How could I have just skipped a scene?  And how could I write a novel (or two) without doing the world-building in advance?

Let’s talk about the scene first.  The short answer is that, while I knew what the end result of this scene had to be, I also knew the scene was important in and of itself.  The great mystery was that I didn’t know why the scene was important.  Rather than struggling miserably to just end up writing a lot of filler that I would end up rewriting later, I skipped ahead.

By the time I figured out why that missing scene was crucial, the book was surging ahead with plot complications galore that demanded my careful handling.  Rather than risk losing momentum (which is the same as being immersed in the story, which I love), I left that scene unwritten.  However, now that the story has a beginning, middle, and end, I can go back and write that scene.

As for world-building…  Well, sometimes I enjoy planning in advance, but sometimes I enjoy exploring the world along with my characters.  That’s what happened in this case.   As I discovered key elements of language, forms of clothing, magical arts, and the like, larger patterns that in turn shed light on the world and its cultures also appeared.  Rather than going back and putting these in, I created a second file in which I would periodically stop and write myself notes about things I needed to include later.

None of this material is filler.  For example, characters do need names but, unless the story is built around a name (such as The Importance of Being Earnest), I can quite easily be content with referring to even a major character as ABC or DEF.

The same is true of physical descriptions.  Again, unless what a character looks like is crucial to how the story is developing, the question of whether he is a golden-haired youth with deep violet eyes or she is a buxom maiden with dark-green locks and a distracting dimple can wait until later.

As interested as I am, delving into much of this material is going to need to wait.  I’ve promised myself that I’ll get several other new – and in their own way equally fascinating – projects moving along – which was one reason that I took a whole day away from writing to go off to Santa Fe and meet with Emily.

Now, however, I have nearly three days before I hit the road again.  You can be sure that some or all of those days will be occupied with writing that missing scene!

FF: Who Might Call?

September 22, 2017

With the possibility of further jury duty looming, I’ve been keeping my fingers on the keyboard, so it’s been audiobooks to the rescue.

Persephone Steals a Bit of Time

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:

Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett.  Does anyone know if Pratchett ever followed up on the hints that Susan and Lobsang might become an item?  I wonder what sort of kid Time and Death might have?

Before Midnight by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  A Nero Wolfe tale.

The Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  A Nero Wolfe tale.  The title refers to the very last scene in the book.  Very dry humor.

In Progress:

The Father Hunt by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  A Nero Wolfe tale.  When I’m stressed, there is nothing like a classic mystery novel.

Also:

A fair amount of short fiction, as well as a quick skim through Wolf’s Head, Wolf’s Heart by a certain Jane Lindskold.  I look forward to having the time to read this one again more slowly.

TT: Food to Die For

September 21, 2017

ALAN: Last time you were telling me about your cat Gwydion’s food allergies. I sympathise with Gwydion because I have similar problems myself.

Alan’s Bane

My mother told me that when I was very young, just moving on to solid food, she had to stop feeding me eggs because every time she gave me a bit of egg I would throw it up.

Apparently, my not eating eggs worried my grandmother. “You must feed him eggs,” she would say. “They are good for him.”

“How can they be good for him?” asked my mother. “They don’t stay inside him long enough to do him any good.”

My grandmother was not convinced by this argument and she would occasionally try and sneak bits of egg into my diet when I wasn’t looking. I continued to throw them up, much to her displeasure. Apparently this was a terrible waste of eggs…

It’s been a lifelong affliction. To this day, if I eat an egg, I do a lot of vomiting.

JANE: How can you manage?  Eggs are an ingredient in so many things!

ALAN: It seems to be a concentration effect – the more dilute the egg, the more likely it is that I’ll be able to eat it safely. So I’m fine with pastry and cake and similar things. But feed me an egg au naturelle and I can’t stomach it. Even the smell of an egg being cooked makes me feel nauseous.

JANE: I bet you don’t eat breakfast out very often.  At least here in the U.S., the majority of breakfast offerings begin with some form of egg dish, with your choice of carbohydrates, heavily salted meats, and something sweet.

ALAN: It’s the same here in NZ, so you’d definitely win that bet! But Robin does like her eggs, so we do occasionally indulge ourselves. The restaurants always seem quite happy to feed me just toast and marmalade. But your comment reminds me of something I’ve always found very puzzling. In American books and movies characters order their eggs cooked “sunny side up” or “over easy”. I can guess what “sunny side up” means, but “over easy” remains very puzzling. Can you explain it for me?

JANE: That’s an egg that has been cooked in a skillet, then gently turned over.  There are refinements, but that’s the basic idea.

ALAN: Ah – I think I understand. But you used another unfamiliar word in your explanation. What’s a skillet?

JANE: A skillet is a shallow pan.  It’s also called a frying pan, but I didn’t want to use that term because some people say that an egg over easy should not be confused with a fried egg because, in a proper egg over easy, the whites remain white, not browned.  Partially browned whites are apparently the mark of a fried egg.

ALAN: OK – I’ve got it now. So let’s get back to my food allergies… I did eventually begin to wonder if my reaction to eggs might be more psychological than physical. But one day I had dramatic proof that it wasn’t psychological at all – it was quite real.

Rosemary, my first wife, cooked a meal of schnitzel which looked and smelled absolutely yummy. Unbeknown to me, she had bound the breadcrumbs to the meat with an egg/milk mixture. The food was delicious and I gobbled it up. I had no idea that it had ever been within a million miles of an egg. Nevertheless I spent the rest of the evening worshipping the porcelain god.

JANE: Oh, that’s rough.  So dilution isn’t always the answer, I guess.  I bet Rosemary felt horrible.

ALAN: She was terribly upset and apologetic, of course, but it wasn’t her fault. After all, there really was very little egg involved. But from that day on, whenever she cooked schnitzel, she bound the breadcrumbs with just milk. I think that her schnitzel recipe was probably right on the borderline of what my body could tolerate – the egg was diluted, but not quite diluted enough…

JANE: Are you allergic to any other foods?  I’ve noticed that people who are allergic to one food are often allergic to several.

ALAN: Yes – and again it first manifested itself in childhood. My parents were very fond of Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut chocolate. And on special occasions they liked to treat themselves to that curious triangular Swiss chocolate called Toblerone, which also has nuts in it. Naturally they encouraged me to eat it as well. But every time I ate a piece, my tongue and throat would start to itch madly…

JANE: Uh, oh…

ALAN: My father was quite unsympathetic. “Scratch your tongue on your teeth,” he said. I tried that, but it didn’t help.

The itching seemed to get worse every time I ate anything with nuts in it. (I later learned that this is quite common with food allergies – the effect often increases with each exposure to the allergen.)

My worst attack came when I was in my mid-twenties. I was spending Christmas Day with some friends and they served a trifle which, unbeknown to me, had a lot of nut fragments in it. The familiar itching started and then, frighteningly, my throat swelled up and closed. I couldn’t swallow and I was struggling to breathe. So I spent the rest of that Christmas Day in hospital being injected with epinephrine.

JANE: That sounds horrible. Do you carry an epipen with you now?

ALAN: No, I don’t. Perhaps I should, but I find it very easy to avoid food that has nuts in it. I’ve had no real problems since that long-ago Christmas attack.

JANE:  So you’re allergic to tree nuts.  Are you allergic to peanuts as well?  Peanut allergies are becoming a major problem here in the U.S.

ALAN: I have no problems at all with peanuts. Since you are a gardener, you probably know that despite their name, peanuts are not nuts. They are classified as legumes, and I think they are very yummy. I just have to avoid the things that you described as “tree nuts”.  I’m perfectly fine with peanuts and cashew nuts and similar things.

JANE: I see. So as long as I promise not to cook you a nut omelet when you come for dinner, everything should work out well?

ALAN: Yes, that’s right.

JANE: That’s a relief!  Allergies are becoming so prevalent that I’ve heard people claim to be “allergic” on the slimmest of evidence, as if it’s somehow fashionable.    As for me, I’d be just as happy to do without.

ALAN (sneezing and reaching for the tissue box): Me, too!

Jury Duty

September 20, 2017

This week’s Big Adventure is that I’m on jury duty, specifically for the State of New Mexico, Bernalillio County, which is where I live.  When my summons arrived, I was asked to fill out several forms, including one that asked if I would incur any hardship if I were asked to serve.  I requested that I not be required to serve because I’m self-employed.  If I don’t work, there’s no one who can cover for me.

Documents in My Case

The county was sympathetic to my request, and reduced my term of being on call (not service) from three weeks to one.  I was also given the option to postpone serving for six months.  However, since I had no idea what my schedule would look like in six months, whereas this week had a certain amount of wiggle room, I opted to select this as the week I would make myself available to serve.

As required, I checked the county court’s website to see if my group number (not my juror badge number) was on the list for service on Monday.  Imagine my astonishment when, upon checking the appropriate page, I saw that one hundred and fifteen group numbers were listed.  Mine was in the fifth row.

Over the weekend, since I don’t know downtown Albuquerque very well, I’d gone to scout the area, including locating the appropriate parking facility.  Now, with a clear visual of the area in my mind, I found myself wondering how much time I should allow to get downtown, parked, and over to the courthouse by 8:30 a.m.  Even if each group contained only five people, the number of people attempting to park would be five hundred and seventy-five.  That many cars going to one parking garage would make a line that would stretch for miles.  The garage probably didn’t have that many places.

Jim and I discussed this and decided that – despite each juror having been assigned a separate badge number as well – the group numbers must indicate only one person.  When I checked in, I asked, and this proved to be the case.

So, as Juror Group 622, I took my seat in the jury assembly room.  The courthouse courteously provided both coffee and water, and I spent a comfortable twenty minutes or so sipping coffee and reading Terry Pratchett’s A Thief of Time.  No.  I didn’t pick this novel on purpose, but the irony of the title – since my time was being “stolen” by the requirement that I do my civic duty – didn’t escape me.

Eventually, a man came and explained that we had appeared in the jury pool because either we were registered voters, had paid taxes, or had driver’s licenses.  Basically, as is so often the case, because we were responsible citizens, more was being asked of us.  Those who don’t bother to vote, dodge their taxes, or drive unlicensed get off.  Oh, I know the state has to have some system, but once again… irony.

The assembled juror pool to which I belonged was short something like four people, all of whom, we were assured, would be hunted down and informed that they had behaved badly.  With that, about half of us (including several of the absent numbers) were instructed to go up to Judge Briana Zamora’s courtroom for voir dire.  For those of you unfamiliar with the term, voir dire is the process by which the judge and attorneys select the jury.

We were handed numbers that corresponded to a seating chart, then escorted into the courtroom.  Now, to my identity as Group 622, I added Seat 36.  We were greeted, sworn in, and then Judge Zamora told us the charge.  She also told us that it was likely that the trial would run for three to four days.

I can’t remember the exact wording of the charge, so rather than risk misrepresenting, I’m going to paraphrase.  The defendant (who was there) was accused of rape.  Complicating matters was that the alleged act had occurred in a correctional facility.

I’m going to jump ahead here and note something fascinating.  Voir dire had been going on for well over an hour – first the judge, then the prosecution had asked their questions – before it became evident that the fifty or so of us in the jury pool were confused as to what we thought the crime was for which we might be asked to sit on a jury.

The more literal-minded (I raise my hand here) thought that the incident in question had occurred between two inmates since all we were told was that it had occurred in a correctional facility.  Others had interpreted what was said to mean that if the incidence was “criminal,” it must be between someone associated in some form of non-inmate role and an inmate.  This latter turned out to be the case.

So, those of us who literally adhered to what was presented to us were incorrect.  Those who added (for whatever reason) information that was actually not presented were correct.  Given that over and over again we were told that we would be asked to view the matter in the light of the evidence presented, not in light of our preconceptions…

Well, let’s just say this misunderstanding did not give me a lot of faith in the system.

Since I wasn’t taking notes, I can’t take you through the long process of questions, rephrasing of the same questions, new questions, misunderstandings, and circumlocutions.  However, I will say that the number of times one or the other of the attorneys requested to approach the bench (or were called to the bench by the judge) was remarkable.

I mean that literally…  At one point, the gentleman seated to my left remarked “I wonder if we’re all going to get sent home.”

But, in the end, the questioning ended.  We retired to the juror room.  I enjoyed a nice chat about SF/F with several of my fellow potential jurors, then the names of those selected to serve were announced.

I wasn’t chosen.  On the one hand, given that I can ill afford most of a week away from my work, I am relieved.  On the other hand, I do feel I learned a great deal from my four or so hours in court, so this wasn’t a waste of time

I was reminded once again that words don’t mean the same thing to people, even when those people are all native speakers of the same language.  I was impressed by the thoughtful intensity which the members of my juror pool brought to their responses to the questions they were asked.  I learned that consent in sexual relationships is really, really important to many people – men and women, young and old.  And that people understand that “consent” does not apply in situations of unequal power.

I’m on call for the rest of this week.  My group may or may not be summoned again.   But if it is, Juror Group 622 will drive to the courthouse for her new adventure!

FF: Preconceptions

September 15, 2017

I think I’m finally “all better.”  Well, except for autumn allergies, and those are simply to be taken in stride.

Kel Loves to Model

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:

Clouds of Witnesses by Dorothy L. Sayers.  Audiobook.  Re-read.  A book about how preconceptions are, perhaps, the greatest cloud of all.

Jingo by Terry Pratchett.  Now that I think about it, another book about preconceptions.

Wolf’s Rain, volume 2, by BONES, Keiko Nobumoto.  Art by Toshitsugu Iida.  Manga.  Completes the tale.  I’ve heard the anime also has a less than full ending, but I’ll admit disappointment that the manga (which came later) didn’t fill it in more.  However, some of the best manga wolves I’ve seen.

Fairytale, volumes 6 and 7, by Hiro Mashima.  Manga.

In Progress:

Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett.  Read this soon after it came out in 2001, and maybe once since.  Time (heh-heh) for another read.

Before Midnight by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  A Nero Wolfe tale.  Oddly enough, time is a major element in this tale.  Synchronicity?

Also:

Finished my review of Through Wolf’s Eyes and will be padding along.

TT: Scratch, Scratch

September 14, 2017

ALAN: Now Jane, you were going to tell me about the course of injections (or “shots” as you called them) that you were offered to combat your allergies.

JANE: Don’t Brits use the term “shots”?  Interesting…  But too much of a tangent.  I’ll stick to the point.  Get it?  Point???

Prompt and Response

ALAN: Ouch! Nice bit of blunt speaking there…

JANE: Very punny…  Right!  Now to the topic.

After the test I mentioned last week, the doctor suggested I try shots.  Since I was hoping to avoid taking daily medication and I’m not at all worried about shots, I agreed.

I went in for my first shot the day before leaving for World Fantasy Con.  I mention this because this was late October, considered an “off” season for allergies.  I was astonished how little material was in the syringe, and therefore dismissed the fact that I felt a little “off” as trip-related stress.

When we came back, I went in for my second shot.  That evening, my arm started itching, deep down, almost as if under the skin.  I ran my fingers over the surface and felt a bump forming.  I was breaking out in hives.

ALAN: Oh, that sounds ominous. Were the hives particularly bad?

JANE: Oh, they were very bad.  I ended up with hives everywhere on the exterior of my body except for the insides of my mouth, my eyes, and my privates.  They lasted for five and a half months, during which time I also ran a constant low-grade fever.  Except when going out – which I did as infrequently as possible – I wore loose baggy clothing.

Probably the only good thing to come out of this was that I learned which allergy drugs worked best for me, because I could count how many new hives formed if I changed to a less effective drug.

ALAN: That sounds like a very severe reaction, though I do know from personal experience that very small amounts of allergens can cause reactions out of all proportion to their size, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised.

JANE: No one knows for sure why I reacted so intensely.  The best conclusion I was offered is that, unlike most people, I basically don’t have an “off season,” so the level of allergens in my system is always high, and the shots – minute as they were – were enough to kick my system over into a severe reaction.

ALAN: Since I get allergy attacks all year round, I suspect I don’t have an “off-season” either.

JANE: Needless to say, this reaction meant no more shots for Jane.  I manage my allergies with a careful routine of pills, drops, and inhaler.  (I have allergy-related asthma.)  Most of the time I’m fine, and very, very grateful to live in the twenty-first century.

ALAN: I do pretty much the same. When I get the first symptoms of an allergy attack, I take anti-histamine pills and use a nasal spray. They don’t have much effect on the first day, which is often quite severe. But eventually the drugs kick in and the second day is generally quite mild by comparison and by the third day I’m usually back to normal. But that first day is always a killer. I quickly get dehydrated because I never stop blowing my nose (you wouldn’t believe how much tea I drink) and I stagger through my day like a zombie.

JANE: Your dog, Jake, has allergies, doesn’t he?  How is his treatment going?  He gets shots, right?

ALAN: That’s right. I noticed that he was getting lots of rashes on his tummy and between his toes and, of course, he was constantly licking them (because they itched) which just made things worse. Generally the rashes ended up infected and he had to have antibiotics for the infection and steroid tablets for the rash. Very unpleasant for both of us.

Eventually, at a cost of nearly $500, I got him allergy tested. It’s a similar procedure to what you and I went through except that it involves taking a blood sample which is then screened against a range of allergens. Apparently it’s quite a complex procedure. There aren’t any places in New Zealand that can do it – his blood sample had to be shipped to a lab in America, one of the very few in the world that actually offers the service.

Just like you and me, Jake turned out to be very allergic to pollen, mainly from grasses and daisies and also something called Mugwort, whatever that might be.

JANE: Mugwort?  Aren’t those people who can’t use magic?  No, sorry.  That’s “muggles.”  How are you treating Jake’s allergies?

ALAN: For an extra $300 the lab formulated a vaccine specifically tailored to his allergens and he is currently in the middle of a course of injections which will go on for another four months or so. There is no guarantee that this will work – the success rate is only about 65%. But since the alternative is a lifetime of antibiotics and steroids, we decided the risk was worth taking.

JANE: I think you made a well-reasoned choice.   I hope Jake is in the group for whom the shots – I mean, “injections” – work.

I’ve only had one pet with allergies, my very first cat, Gwydion.  I acquired him as an amiable nine-month or so old stray cat.  After I got him to my apartment, I realized why he didn’t have a home.  Anything he ate came out liquid, including what should be solid.  At that point, my former roommate, Kathy, was working for a kind vet, who sent a device to take a stool sample.

Never having had a cat before, I had no idea how solid a cat’s stool should be, and tried to take a sample of the stinky, liquid goo.  Eventually, we got enough for a test which confirmed no worms or other parasites.  After other tests, the conclusion was food allergies.  Eventually, we found that Gwydion could eat only two foods without bad reactions.  And so that’s what he ate until his death at nineteen.

Have you had any experience with food allergies?  Human or otherwise?

ALAN: Yes – I am strongly allergic to a common food group and highly intolerant of a very common staple food item. I’ll tell you about them next time, unless an allergy attack gets in the way.

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…

FF: Healing Words

September 8, 2017

As I slowly get over the con crud from hell, ’ve been doing a lot of reading in folklore and mythology.  Short articles are a good fit with a foggy brain.

Kel Says “Cat Reign!”

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:

Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon.  Middle-grade,  lightly humorous, fantasy.  I very much enjoyed.  I’ll be reading more of this author’s work.

Ordeal by Innocence by Agatha Christie.  Audiobook.  One of her best non-Poroit, non-Marple tales.

Fairytale, volume 4, by Hiro Mashima.  Manga

Wolf’s Rain, volume 1, by BONES, Keiko Nobumoto; art by Toshisugu Tida.  Manga.  In an twist on the usual story development, this is adapted from an anime, and the artist and writer are not the same person.

In Progress:

Clouds of Witnesses by Dorothy L. Sayers.  Audiobook.

Also:

Have returned to my re-read of Through Wolf’s Eyes.  It’s been so long, I can almost read it as a stranger might.

TT: Ah-Choo!

September 7, 2017

JANE: So, Alan. We’ve been very literary of late. What high-brow topic shall we discuss next?

A Little Hoarse

ALAN: I have no idea. I’m currently having a massive sneezing fit from an allergy attack and my brain has turned to tomato soup

JANE:  Wow, to tomato soup?  That’s amazing.  I have allergies, too, but I’ve missed the bonus tomato soup element.

It just occurred to me that I’m dealing with autumn allergies, and you’re dealing with spring allergies.  Mine include tumbleweed, amaranth, and the omnipresent juniper.  What’s getting you?

ALAN: I don’t really know. My doctor calls it Non-Specific Rhinitis, which means that I sneeze a lot, nobody knows why, and every so often I turn into a rhinoceros. Now that he has given it a name, he feels that his job is done.

You seem to know exactly what causes your allergies to flare up. How did you find out?

JANE: I had a test – or perhaps what should be termed several tests, since what they did was draw a grid on my back and then poke me with tiny bits of various allergens to see where I reacted.  I still remember the nurse coming in, examining my back, and saying “Well, your pets are safe.  No reaction to any animal allergens.”

I was actually a little angry, since merely being allergic would not be reason for me to get rid of my animals – not if I could find a way (short of death) to manage the allergies, at least.

I’m also very attached to where I live.  Much of what I’m allergic to is common west of the Mississippi, uncommon “back East,” so I suppose I could try moving.  However, I really love living in New Mexico.  So, as long as I can manage my allergies, I’ll stay in the land of tumbleweed, amaranth, and much, much juniper.

Have you ever been tested for your allergies?

ALAN: Yes, I have. The test was similar to yours but on my arm rather than on my back. The nurse was very nervous. I was her first ever allergy test patient and she was worried in case she made a mistake. She carefully painted my arm with various common allergens and then scratched each stripe with a needle. After about five minutes, various of the scratches came up in itchy red lumps. The nurse was ecstatic. “I’m doing it right!” she yelled, her face wreathed in smiles. I was very pleased for her, but much less pleased to have an itchy right arm. The nurse measured the size of my lumps, smothered me with soothing cream, and wrote a report for my doctor.

JANE: That sounds as if you should have received definite results.  Why was the diagnosis “Non-Specific”?

ALAN: The tests were actually a little inconclusive because the allergens were spread across such a broad spectrum that it was hard to be precise about exactly what was affecting me. The pollen stripe, for example, was a mixture of common pollens, so goodness knows exactly what it was that I was reacting to. The only positive thing that came out of it was that I definitely wasn’t allergic to the cats.

Springtime pollen is the worst culprit, as you might expect, but I get attacks all year round, so obviously there is something else going on though nobody is quite sure what.

When I get a bad reaction, Robin is always very sympathetic, but she herself does not suffer from allergies at all, so while she realises that an attack is very debilitating, she doesn’t really understand just how it feels.

What about Jim? Does he have allergies?

JANE: Yes, he does, both plant and animal.  When we started dating, several of our mutual friends informed me that Jim was allergic to cats.  At that point, I had six cats.  I decided that, no matter how appealing I found Jim, I wasn’t going to give up my cats – and he’d better know that.  So, one day when he was visiting, we had the following exchange:

Jane: “I’ve heard from several people that you’re allergic to cats.  I feel it’s only fair to make clear that my cats are a non-negotiable element.”

Jim: “I was allergic but, maybe because so many of my friends have cats, I seem to have gotten better over the years.  Still, if I start having problems, well – I hate needles, but I’d get shots.”

ALAN: I’d certainly do the same as Jim. Fortunately I’ve never had to. Whatever it is that sets me off, it isn’t connected with the balls of fur that I wait on hand and foot.

JANE: I will admit, that exchange was when I started thinking Jim might be more than another pretty face.  And Bast, Goddess of Cats, was kind to him.  In the twenty-some years we’ve been together, he’s never had a bad reaction (even though a couple of our cats have decided that they must sleep on his pillow) and so he’s been able to avoid shots.

ALAN: It has been suggested to me that I might save myself a lot of misery by embarking on a course of injections to de-sensitise me to whatever it is that sets me off, but I’ve never bothered. My allergy attacks aren’t very frequent – perhaps once every month or so if I’m going through a bad period. So even though they do tend to knock me out and dehydrate me (I once used up six boxes of tissues in a single day; at least I think I did. My tomato soup brain was losing the ability to count…), I’ve never taken the suggestion any further.

Have you ever considered a course of de-sensitising injections?

JANE: Oh, that’s a complicated answer.  Can I save the response for next time?

ALAN: That’s probably a good idea – I’ve just come to the end of a box of tissues, and I need a cup of tea…