Shifting Gears

I don’t shift gears well, as in flitting from one action to another. The first time I wrote that sentence I typoed it to “I don’t shift fears well.” Both are true, and maybe part of the same thing. See, right now it’s blog time. I set myself a deadline to do at least one blog post a week. Deadline being Monday, as in “today.” I don’t always make it, but at least when I don’t, I know which deadline I’m flubbing.

The thing is, it’s also Chapter 2 time. Which is sort of a made-up thing except that it could be anything else. Chapter 7 time, or a story where “that scene where the thing my heroine dreaded turned out to be the least of her worries” time. It just so happens that this time is actually Chapter 2 time. As in “Why, this is Chapter 2, nor am I out of it.” Except I’m writing this thing I’m calling a blog post instead of Chapter 2. What is Chapter 2? Good question. Remember, I’m a pantser, as in writing by the seat of my pants. See, I didn’t know that the norn Skuld was going to show up in Chapter 2 until she did. Why did she show up (It’s a book. Everything happens for a reason. Some say real life is like that too, but the jury’s still out on that one)? Good question. Frankly, I wanted to know the answer to that one myself. Right now the characters are hashing that out while I try to write it down. Or at least that’s what I was doing until the blog called.

A Pooka, a Banshee, and a Norn walk into a laundromat. It’s no wonder I’m confused. The real wonder is I’m not confused all the time. Rather like my “hero.”

 

Aednat frowned. “He’s looking confused again, so perhaps we’d better cut to the chase. Nudd, it wasn’t that you played a trick. It wasn’t even that it changed the past and present. No, the real issue is that no one anticipated it.”

Skuld nodded. “Or were able to factor your action into either the intent or necessity of the outcomes my sisters and I had projected.”

I bowed slightly in Skuld’s direction. “With all due respect, how is that my fault? As I said already, what I did to McReedy is no different than the sort of things I’ve done to mortals hundreds of times over the centuries. I’ve even done worse, the truth be known.”

If Skuld took offense, she didn’t show it. She simply said, “Not this time. You changed the past and the present, none of us saw it coming, and right now no one—including the norns–knows how you did it. That’s the different part.”

“Which means,” Aednat added, “that what you did was pure chaos. Or do we need to explain that part as well?”

Oh, crap….  They did not. Rather like looking up in the middle of the street and seeing a speeding garbage truck looming over you–you immediately understand the situation, even if that understanding doesn’t do you a damn bit of good.

 

Sorry, had a little bleed over there, which turns out to be the scene where our hero realizes just how much trouble he’s in, and why. Now, as soon as he tells me, we’ll both know.

Time to shift gears. Later, people.

 

“In Memory of Jianhong, Snake-Devil”

I’ve been dropping annoyingly vague hints here and there, but now it’s all out in the open—I’ve apparently started a new fantasy series. I didn’t really plan to do it and I certainly didn’t think I was ready, but then I’m not always in charge. I know writers who strongly disagree with that perspective. “I’m in charge and my characters do what I say.” And that’s often true even with me, as in sometimes I am and sometimes they do. But for me it usually works out better when the characters do what they want and I just follow closely and mark it all down, then cut out the bit where they stared at the horizon for an hour just for the hell of it and add the bit where one of them tripped and fell into the icy stream. Just for the hell of it. Or maybe because they deserved it…ahem. Where was I?

Right, the new series. The first one, “In Memory of Jianhong, Snake-Devil” is now up in Beneath Ceaseless Skies #226. I’ve already written and sold the second one and started blocking scenes for the third. As I said, after Yamada I wanted to do some stand-alone stories, since some of my favorites of my own work have been books or stories with no befores or afters, except what was implied in the story itself. I once attempted a few befores and afters in the case of Jin from All the Gates of Hell, because I liked the character so much, but none of them worked out. She was done, and thus so was I.

Pan Bao and Jing were different. I’ve had them in my head for a while, wondering what they were about. I first had him pictured as a bumbling Taoist priest kept successful (and alive) by his far more competent daughter, and there are still echoes of that, but the man himself turned out to be quite different. Then Mei Li showed up, and well, that was that. So it’s a series. I hope you like it. If you don’t I’ll write it anyway.

It’s not like I’m in charge.

Yamada and Beyond

Audible Edition

Audible Edition

Surprise package in the mail last week, from my publisher’s agent—physical copies of the The Emperor in Shadow audiobook. Just the thing for those long drives in vehicles that still have those, what were they called? Oh, right. CD players. I’m sure there are a few around…other than mine.

I wonder if I should preface this next section with SPOILER ALERT, or some such, but for those who don’t know, The Emperor in Shadow is the concluding volume in the Yamada Monogatari series. I’m not going to say that I’ll never write another Yamada story, because I don’t know that (he also has another sister we still haven’t met), but the main story arc is completed, since the series always had an endpoint and my only uncertainty was if I’d get it there in a reasonable time frame. The answer turned out to be yes. The publisher plans an omnibus volume which will gather all the Yamada stories, plus three stories not yet collected, plus the three novels. That is likely not to be out until 2018. After that, well I plan to be doing something else. I hope some of you are willing to stick around for that. More details when there are any to share.

 

Review: A Natural History of Hell by Jeffrey Ford

A Natural History of Hell: Stories by Jeffrey Ford, Small Beer Press, 2016

 

It’s more than a bit awkward at this point, wanting to get on with the review and wondering if I should first introduce the author, Jeffrey Ford, knowing all the while I shouldn’t have to do anything of the sort. Ford is, no exaggeration, one of the finest writers working in the field he’s chosen to be associated with. Or the field that chose him, since in our culture the kind of thing he tends to do has no real framework outside that of the fabulist. If he’d been born in South America he’d probably be considered a magical realist instead. No matter. It’s all pigeonholes and ways of talking about a thing, rather than the thing itself.

Did I just say all that? My apologies. But that’s what Ford’s work tends to do—send the reader off on tangents of thought and realms hitherto unexplored. After the story ends, of course. Until that moment, the story pretty much has you where it wants you.

There are thirteen stories in this collection, and all of recent vintage. Here you will find modern fairy tales, metafictions where a character named Jeff Ford is part of the story, biting commentaries on modern politics and insanity—lately almost one and the same thing–, observations on wealth and class, and none of the above. What you will really find, excusing the short-hand descriptive phrases attempting to categorize them, are stories. That’s what they are, first and foremost. The words attempting to categorize them above are cheerful failures. The stories are not. Nor are they cheerful.

Seriously. With a title like “A Natural History of Hell,” you were expecting sweetness and light? Oh, you’ll get that, too, but sparingly. There’s a dark, unflinching heart at the center of these stories. It looks in humanity’s mirror and describes what it sees, with neither fear nor pity to hinder it. There’s “The Thyme Fiend,” where only a cup of tea brewed from the herb of the title keeps the horrors at bay, until the time comes when they simply must be let in. Or “Blood Drive,” when an insane premise is logically followed to its insane conclusion and the world turns merrily on. One of my personal favorites, “The Angel Seems,” where common sense humanity shows that it has learned the proper way to treat a god.

Quibbles? Okay, fine. One or two of the endings did not quite come together for me. I only mention this at all because those cases were one of the few times I was forced out of the story into a consideration of plot, which normally you don’t even notice in a Ford story, even though it’s always there. Whatever strangeness is going on, you just go with it. If, for an instant, you can’t, it is noticeable. Fortunately, it is also very rare.

As much as I enjoyed this book, I do confess to being slightly put out by one story. We tend to get that way when we read a story someone else has written and sigh, “Damn. Why didn’t I think of that?” This happened in the centerpiece story, “A Terror,” where Emily Dickinson takes that famed carriage ride with Death. That line from HS English –“Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me” is all it takes to set it off. Not that my complaint matters. If I had written a story on this premise, it would not have been like this. Ford did it his own way, which now seems to me the only way, and he owns it.

He owns all of it. Thirteen stories only Jeffrey Ford could have written. Fortunately for us, he was around to do it. May he write many more.

 

Carousels and the Madness of Everyone

img_0625On Saturday Carol and I took a break and headed down to Cooperstown. Not, as you might have guessed, for the Baseball Hall of Fame, but rather for the Farmer’s Museum. Next trip will likely be for the James Fenimore Cooper Art Museum. We would have stopped this time but there was too much to cover and not enough day. Continue reading