Tales of Tales ~ Part 3: Winter Bewitched

Today I’m thinking about the story, “Winter Bewitched,” another tale in my collection To Unimagined Shores. This one was described by a colleague who critiqued it as a genre noir story in disguise. It’s set in an unusual fantasy setting, but it is a detective story at heart.

In a chicken-and-egg sort of conundrum, I can’t recall whether I saw this piece of fantasy art first and that inspired the characters of the scribe Jalia and her shapechanging companion, Gemmel, or if I had the characters in mind and went looking for a piece of art to help me visualize them. In any case, this is how they exist in my mind (except that Jalia has no magical abilities, though they are depicted here). The art is by Kay Allen, a wonderful artist who had a gallery at epilogue.net for many years but who seems to have disappeared from there. The only place I can find some of her art now is at artwanted.com, and this picture isn’t there, so I’m very grateful that I saved a copy of it for my reference.

I initially wrote this story for a winter-themed anthology (themed anthologies again!), which did not pan out, but it was included in the first Third Person Press anthology, Undercurrents. The original title was slightly different, but one of my editors suggested that perhaps it gave away the end of the story, so I followed her wise advice and changed it. However, now I always have to stop and think to remember which is the actual title.

We were six days out of Salabad when we crossed the sudden border into winter. One moment the air was warm and dry blowing down from the steppes, and then a frigid breeze sprang up, a rime of frost appeared on the trail ahead, and the sky darkened to the colour of yesterday’s gruel.

I reined in the mare to slip my warm Surcyian cloak over my head, and Gemmin scampered ahead. When his paws hit the frost he turned back, a look of unmistakable dismay on his feline face. Three leaps took him from the ground to my shoulder. He kneaded his long toes into the collar of my cloak as a lock of my hair blew over the crown of his head, giving him a comical auburn topknot.

Enchantments, Jalia, he nuzzled into my ear, in a tongue few mortals would have understood. Gemmin was most comfortable conversing in the words he’d taught me, the language of the strange, inaccessible place of his birth.

I nodded. “A witch, a curse, the usual sort of thing,” I told him. “If you can believe tavern tales told by a half-drunk barkeep.” We were still in the steppes, and at least another fortnight’s travel from the higher altitudes where snow might normally be expected.

Jalia wrote it down? Gemmin asked.

“Of course I did. What kind of scribe lets a good tale go to waste? At any rate, a frosty ground means we’ll have to find lodgings for tonight, whether we can afford it or not. I doubt we’re still being pursued. It was only the price of a meal, after all.”

Jalia beckons trouble always, Gemmin chided me, his whiskers and hot breath tickling my ear.

I’d like to write more stories about these characters; their relationship is complex and is a lot of fun to write. Perhaps someday soon one of them will come knocking on my brain with a problem they need to solve…

If you missed the earlier blog post, I’m currently running a contest to win a copy of To Unimagined Shores. Click the link to get all the details, and take a moment to enter. Or if you can’t wait, you can buy a print or ebook copy (in multiple formats) from thirdpersonpress.com, amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords.

Tales of Tales ~ Part 2

Today I’ve picked another story out of the table of contents for To Unimagined Shores to talk about a little.

“Little Things” is my first-ever published story. It appeared in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s FANTASY magazine in 1997. It’s also the first story I wrote about what turned out to be a series character, a young mage’s apprentice named Albettra. The funny thing about this sale is that I vividly remember getting a postcard in the mail simply telling me that this story was “on hold” at MZBFM. At that time I wasn’t even sure what that meant, but I knew it wasn’t a rejection, so I was ecstatic! I don’t actually remember getting the acceptance letter. The brain is a funny thing.

This was also the first story I’d submitted anywhere. Its sale made me think that this whole getting-published thing was not going to be so difficult after all. Ah, the golden optimism of the beginning writer!

“That ill-begotten son of a cantankerous sow has gone too far this time!” he bellowed, stalking the room with beard aquiver. “The man is a mountebank! A copper coin would be too much to pay for one of his spells! A lying charlatan, that’s what he is, and he dares to spread rumors about me!”

“Zipnax?” I hazarded the name in a small voice.

“Of course, Zipnax! Bah! The name makes my tongue shrivel to say it!” Nissio was flailing his arms wildly now, his robe fluttering madly and his beard flying in every direction.

I was cautiously working my way around to the other side of my worktable. I had never seen the old fellow so angry and I knew I’d feel a lot safer with something solid between us. When his erratic pacing took him near a wall he’d take an angry swing at it with a wizened fist. There couldn’t be much physical strength left in the man, but it didn’t take much to set the walls of the rattletrap cottage swaying. Dust was floating lazily down from the ceiling again and I stifled a sneeze.

“To accuse me of stealing!” the old mage was ranting now. “Imagine me, stealing one of his pitiful ideas!”

Bam! His fist hit a wall.*

The origins of Albettra herself and the idea for this story escape me now, they’re so far back in the mists of time. I do like Albettra, though, and I like the way she keeps turning up in my brain with a story idea in tow. She’s sometimes unsure of herself but feisty when she needs to be, and determined to win out in the end. I suppose, if I get all psychological about it, she’s a bit of a reflection of myself as a writer.

There are four Albettra stories in To Unimagined Shores. I’d like to know what you think of her as a character, if you happen to read them. You can do that in the comments section of this blog, on my Author Central page at amazon.com, or over at Goodreads.

If you missed the earlier blog post, I’m currently running a contest to win a copy of To Unimagined Shores. Click the link to get all the details, and take a moment to enter. Or if you can’t wait, you can buy a print or ebook copy (in multiple formats) from thirdpersonpress.com, amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords.

*My more astute writerly colleagues will notice a fair bit of passive voice in this excerpt…probably in the whole story. It’s interesting to note that at the time this story was written/published, it was not considered such a stylistic anathema. It’s an example of the ongoing evolution of writing style that I find fascinating. Anyway, it didn’t feel right to me to re-edit previously published stories for this collection, so I left things like this alone.

Tales of Tales ~ Part 1

To celebrate the release of my short story collection, To Unimagined Shores, I thought I’d do a series of blog posts about some of the stories in the collection. Where the inspiration for the story came from, or maybe something interesting that happened while I was writing it, or where it was published.

I’m starting with a little story called “The Big Freeze,” since it was one of the stories I read at last night’s launch. It’s also one of my favorites (although as writers, are we supposed to say things like that? I don’t know…but I guess I also don’t care!).

As I look through the table of contents for To Unimagined Shores, I realize that many of the stories I write have a common idea spark: a call for submissions for a themed anthology. I begin pondering ideas to fit the theme, and usually after much mental cogitation come up with a story idea. Now, I don’t always finish writing the story by the anthology deadline, so in many cases I end up sending the story elsewhere. But that’s all right, because the idea spark has served its purpose.

“The Big Freeze” is one of those stories. It was published in Australia’s Semaphore Magazine last year, but I initially wrote it years ago, in response to an anthology call. The idea of the anthology was that all of the stories should be based around a saying about “Hell”–going to Hell in a handbasket, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, etc. I started thinking about “when Hell freezes over”–what might cause such a thing to happen? How would the denizens of Hell react? And what would be the repercussions on Earth?

Here’s a little snippet from “The Big Freeze”:

“Is it getting…chilly in here?”

Beelzebub, the Devil, the Prince of Hell, (or Lord B., as he preferred his most intimate minions to call him) shifted uneasily on the polished red marble of his throne and stroked the tips of his horns. There was no doubt about it. They felt decidedly and unnaturally cool.

He’d been thinking it for some time, but now that he’d finally spoken the words, they hung hesitantly in the sulphurous air like lost souls unsure if they were in the right place. Imps ranged at humming computer terminals around the perennially smouldering room looked up, then glanced at each other. One rubbed his scaly hands together.

“You know,” he chittered slowly, “now that you mention it, my mouse hand’s gone a little cold.”

Another imp nodded. “And my tail. I thought I was getting a chill in my tail, and now I’m sure of it.”

“Right.” Lord B. straightened on his throne and bellowed, “Mr. Snizzle! Get in here!”

A slight, harried-looking demon entered the room at a trot. A pair of tortoiseshell spectacles perched on his nose, and he wore an unexpectedly conservative waistcoat tailored in tasteful ebony silk. “Yes, Lord B.?”

“Mr. Snizzle, run a diagnostic on the temperature controls. This room is falling below acceptable heat standards. Even the imps have noticed it.”

Mr. Snizzle, Lord B.’s administrative assistant, was well-versed in interpreting the subtleties of his employer’s speech. After several centuries in his current position without a vacation, that was hardly surprising. The relative politeness of the Devil’s request worried him. He nodded briskly and hurried back to his own computer to run the heat diagnostics…

As you might guess, “The Big Freeze” is meant to be a fun story—and it got some laughs at last night’s reading. I also read it for an audience in Second Life a while back.

If you missed the earlier blog post, I’m currently running a contest to win a copy of To Unimagined Shores. Click the link to get all the details, and take a moment to enter. Or if you can’t wait, you can buy a print or ebook copy (in multiple formats) from thirdpersonpress.com.

Contest ~ Win a Copy of To Unimagined Shores

To celebrate the launch of my short story collection on Tuesday, I’ve decided to have a contest. :)

Two winner(s) will each receive a free copy of the book (print or ebook, winner’s choice).

What you have to do: Tell me the inspiration for/provenance of the book’s title.

But there’s a twist, as well. You can either:

  1. Name the specific literary reference (minimal internet search skills should get you there) OR
  2. Make up a brief story about where the title might have come from (where “brief” means 250 words or less).

I will sort the entries into two piles, one for each type of entry (of course only CORRECT answers will go into the literary reference pile), and at the end of the contest, draw one random winner from each pile.

Contest is open NOW. Contest ends DECEMBER 15th, 2011, midnight Atlantic time.

How to enter: Send your entries to me at wordsmith101 (at) excite.com, or use the email form on this website. If you’re sending a story, please type it right into the body of the email. Please use the subject heading “Contest: Reference” or “Contest: Story” as appropriate.

Additional Details, Disclaimers, and Fine Print: Anyone may enter. Well, except my editors. I’m not even sure they know the answer to the question, but still, I should disqualify them just for the look of the thing, right? I will draw the winners on December 16th and notify them via email. I will also post the winners’ names here, so please be sure you’re okay with that before you enter. Please enter only one side of the draw (either literary reference or story). If you enter both, I won’t disqualify you, but I will place the appropriate one of your entries into whichever side has the most entries at that time. Naturally, the odds of winning will depend on the number of entries received. And we all know the vagaries of the internet; if your email goes astray, gets stuck in the inter-tubes, is swallowed up by a minuscule black hole, or fails to reach me because you typed the email address wrong or for any other reason, I’m not responsible. If you send me a “story” entry, I will not use it for any other purposes and I claim no right to it. I promise, it will not form the basis for my next novel. If you win and request the print version, it will be mailed to you via regular parcel post at my expense. If you win and request an electronic version, it will be provided in .epub, .mobi, and .pdf formats. If you need a different, more exotic format, I may or may not be able to provide it. I’ll try, but I can’t make any guarantees. If either of the categories receives NO entries, then of course no prize will be awarded for that category. Whew! Did I miss anything?

I look forward to seeing your entries!

Peacemaking at the Barricades ~ 2011 style

Years ago (October 1999 to be exact), I read Bruce Holland Rogers‘ wonderful essay, “Peacemaking at the Barricades” in an issue of the long-gone-and-lamented Speculations. It was one of the first issues of Speculations I received–possibly the very first–and I shudder to think that I might have come *that* close to missing this piece. It made a very big impression on me and caused me to deliberately change the way I looked at other writers–particularly those who wrote things that, frankly, I didn’t appreciate, understand, or even simply “get.”

The essay begins:

You can’t stroll very far in the City of Literature without coming to an intersection where writers stand at opposing barricades. From behind toppled desks and stacks of books, the two sides hurl erasers and slogans at one another…

The opposing sides Rogers talks about in the original essay spring from debates over such issues as Popular fiction versus Literary fiction, Authenticity versus Money, Process versus Product, and Writing to Inspire versus Writing to Entertain; in short, how we as writers choose what to write and how we define personal success. However, fast-forward to 2011, and I think we have to add another set of barricades: traditional publishing versus self-publishing.

Which is interesting in itself because that is a debate that has been had before, and has been ongoing ever since I first set foot in the City of Literature. But it has been more of a back-alley squabble, a simmering pot on the stove. The last year or so of sea-change in the publishing world has brought the pot to a full rolling boil, and the squabblers front and center at the main intersection barricades. The old debate is new again, dressed in new clothing mainly due to the advent of ebooks.

There’s a lot of…let’s be kind and call it “discussion”…these days about the future of publishing, the future of writing, and the choices and decisions writers should be making. Everyone seems to have an opinion on these matters, and it’s very, very easy of course, in our Internet-centric world, for writers to…let’s be kind again and say “share their opinions.”

Okay, that should be a good thing, right? Because sharing knowledge, experience, and advice with other and newer writers is something that the writing community as a whole is very generous with. Unlike some other professions, where insight and understanding are hoarded like precious secrets from “the competition,” writers in general like to help other writers succeed. And because we’re used to doing that, we want to share our knowledge, experience, and advice on the whole future-of-publishing issue.

However, I think it’s time to take a step back and make sure that what we are doing really is sharing knowledge, experience, and advice, and not trying to re-define other writers’ definitions of personal success. Because when we do that, that’s when the barricades go up and the spitballs come out and suddenly we’re choosing sides and throwing erasers again.

So how do we do that: offer opinions and advice without causing the barricades to go up? In his essay, Rogers offers three bits of advice, which I’ll paraphrase (I would love to be able to point you to the whole essay, but I haven’t been able to find it anywhere online).

  • First, respect the feelings of other writers and don’t make “sweeping, self-justifying pronouncements about what success is.” You can offer your advice and expertise without disparaging those who hold differing opinions.
  • Second, when you want to lash out in the debate, stop and think about why you care so much. As Rogers says, “you wouldn’t rise to the bait if the bait didn’t appeal to you.” Make sure you understand why you want to argue your points so strongly.
  • Third, think about what the other side might actually be able to teach you. Don’t just knee-jerk into defense when they hit a sore spot. Think of it like getting a story critique. Sometimes it’s hard to hear, but maybe there is something you can learn from it.

In this current Great Debate, you may think the “other side” (whichever it is for you) is desperate, ignorant, foolish, selling out, just plain wrong, or fill-in-your-favorite-epithet-here. Whatever you think, of course you should feel free to share your knowledge, experience, and advice. But there’s no need to indulge in any of these epithets to do that, and when we do, we undermine the very advice we are trying to proffer. The more…let’s say strident…we get in making our case, the less likely it becomes that anyone is going to put credence in what we say, let alone be swayed by it.

We are all making our own way through the City of Literature as best we can, and we can’t really choose anyone else’s path for them. We can show them signposts and point out obstacles that we’ve encountered, but each writer is following his or her own map–and we have to let them do that.

Rogers sums it up better than I can:

The longer we stand at the barricades, flinging erasers and recounting the myths of how doomed and deluded the other side is, the harder it becomes to cross the street and find out what those other successful writers know that we don’t.

And that’s a shame

Photo credit: ricohman
Thanks to @ChuckWendig over at terribleminds.com for making me think about things in this context.

Summer Reading Wrap-Up

I suppose, since the first day of fall is imminent, it’s a good time to revisit my summer reading list and see how it fared. No need to actually click back to the link, I’ll reproduce the updated version here:

Murderous Magick by Michael A. Stackpole
Remake by Connie Willis
Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland… by Catherynne M. Valente
Suspense and Sensibility by Carrie Bebris
Darwin’s Radio by Greg Bear (a book club book, if we get our book club active again–it’s next on our list, IIRC)
Steam and Sorcery by Cindy Spencer Pape
Wit’s End by Karen Joy Fowler
The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross
The Strange Case of Finley Jayne by Kady Cross
Industrial Magic by Kelley Armstrong
Barrington Street Blues by Anne Emory
The Native Star by M.K. Hobson
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
Spiral Hunt by Margaret Ronald
The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma
The Thackeray T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (eds.)

Wow, so the planned list did not take much of a beating. I did start several more from this list, but they fell to the allure of other titles.

However, this doesn’t mean it was not a good summer for reading. Far from it. I believe I mentioned in the initial post that I am very much swayed by things that come to my attention, and I have no trouble shooting something straight to the top of by TBR pile if I’m in the mood for it. So in addition to the two titles crossed off above, I also read (or in some cases listed to the audio book of):

V and A Shipping by J.R. Murdock
The Secret World Chronicle: World Divided by Mercedes Lackey et als.
The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis
The President’s Vampire by Christopher Farnsworth
Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear
Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern
The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko
The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud
Tithe by Holly Black
Blackout by Connie Willis
All Clear by Connie Willis

I enjoyed all of these books to varying degrees, but the standouts for me were the two Connie Willis titles. However, they were all worth the read/listen, and definitely come recommended by me.

I also met my reading goal for the year, set back in January on Goodreads, so everything I read for the rest of the year is gravy. :)

A Garden of Stories and Words

I’ve been trying to remember how long it is that I’ve been listening to podcasts. Quite some time, for sure…if I open my old podcatcher and look at some of the dates, it’s been at least five or six years. I haven’t listened to a huge variety of podcasts over the years, but I’ve listened to a lot of episodes of the ones I like.

I love podcasts because they are perfectly suited to my preference (or possibly obsession) for multitasking. I can listen while I clean, while I do laundry, while I walk, while I drive…and especially while I garden.

Gardening, of course, is rewarding in and of itself, and I do enjoy the instant gratification of pulling weeds. However, at my house, it’s a solitary pursuit most of the time, unless I recruit kids or husband to help out–so yeah, like I said, most of the time, solitary. And a great chance to listen to podcasts and audiobooks.

I think my first combination of listening and gardening was Mike Stackpole’s The Secrets podcast. Around that time I was also listening to a lot of episodes of Escape Pod, so that summer was a nice mix of storytelling and writing advice. Throw in some regular episodes of This Week In Science, and my brain got just as much of a workout as my arms and back.

Not long after that (maybe the next summer) I added Writing Excuses into the mix, and found Decoder Ring Theatre. I still had a steady diet of Escape Pod stories on the go as well, but I discovered Podiobooks, where I still find a lot of great stories to listen to. I’ve spent literally hours in the yard and had them fly by like nothing, because as I methodically pull weeds and prune shrubs and spread mulch, I’m really transported to other worlds and times, or considering how to improve my own stories with the advice I’m hearing. (Of course this list of podcasts doesn’t include everything I listen to, but this post was only going to be so long, you know?)

And as the pictures show, it’s paid off. I likely would not spend as much time in the garden if I didn’t have podcasts to listen to, because they enhance the experience so much. I can actually look at portions of the yard or even certain plants, and associate them with a story. Which simply makes it all that much more enjoyable.

Summer Reading List

I generally read a lot of books in the course of the summer. It’s not that I’m not as busy in the summer–far from it! It’s just that summer reading is…part of summer for me. So last night I wrote up my summer reading list.

I actually have a huge To Be Read list…or rather, not so much a list as a pile…not so much a pile as several piles…and scattered volumes, and ebooks queued and waiting on my Kobo and my phone, and things I want to read but haven’t yet acquired. So, yes, I have a lot of books waiting to be read. You know that t-shirt, the one that says, “So many books, so little time”? I should just be wearing that one all the time. (Because, you know, it works both ways for me, reading AND writing. But anyway…)

So I sat down and looked over all the myriad possibilities and came up with a pared-down list that says “summer reading” to me. I thought I’d share here. And if you’re on Goodreads, you can check up on me there to see how I’m doing.

(The list is in no particular order, just as I came across them.)

Murderous Magick by Michael A. Stackpole
Remake by Connie Willis
Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland… by Catherynne M. Valente
Suspense and Sensibility by Carrie Bebris
Darwin’s Radio by Greg Bear (a book club book, if we get our book club active again–it’s next on our list, IIRC)
Steam and Sorcery by Cindy Spencer Pape
Wit’s End by Karen Joy Fowler (which I started reading last night, actually)
The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross
The Strange Case of Finley Jayne by Kady Cross
Industrial Magic by Kelley Armstrong
Barrington Street Blues by Anne Emory
The Native Star by M.K. Hobson
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
Spiral Hunt by Margaret Ronald
The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma
The Thackeray T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (eds.)

Heh, no, I have NO illusions that I will read ALL of these books over the summer. If I were taking the summer off from writing I could, but I’m certainly not doing that. But this is likely the list I’ll be choosing from. Unless I see something that catches my eye and I just dive into it. I’m like that, as a reader. The TBR pile is often ignored as I pick up something on a whim. But I like to have room for spontaneity in my reading.

Photo by xandert

Help Rebuild the Slave Lake Library

Alberta author Judith Graves recently blogged about efforts to rebuild the Slave Lake library, which was destroyed in a fire just days ago. We all understand how important our libraries are to our communities, and if we all do just a little, we can make this happen.

Details of how you can help (with donations of books or funds) can be found on the Peace Library System website.

Please consider helping out with this worthy project.

The Chain Story

A while back, I wrote here about The Chain Story Project, Michael A. Stackpole’s ongoing online anthology. Today my own story in the chain, “The Longest Distance,” went live.

You can reach it from the main project page at http://chainstory.stormwolf.com, or since you’re already here, from the link in the right-hand sidebar. :)

It’s been an interesting process and fun to participate. It helped me finish a ten-year-old story, and creating the “cover” artwork was cool. And much, much easier (and faster!) than writing the story itself!