Both Present and Coming Soon

Both Present and Coming Soon is one way to describe Beneath Ceaseless Skies Special Double Issue #250, in that part of the issue went live on April 26th, containing stories by K.J. Parker and Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam. Part 2 will go live on May 3rd (Thursday) with the balance of the issue, which is “Silence in Blue Glass” by Margaret Ronald (you gotta love that title) and “An Account of the Madness of the Magistrate, Chengdhu Village,” which is the longest title I’ve ever used for any story, so unlikely anyone will remember it. Just remember this coming Thursday. The link is up there.

This is the third story in the adventures of Jing, Mei Li, and Pan Bao, which officially makes it a series, by my definition, though I’m at the point of wondering where it’s going to go, as in remain short stories or eventually morphing into novels, the way Yamada did. Plus I’m wondering just how long I really should spend in 5th C BC Warring States Period of what will eventually become China. There are other things I need to write and only so many usable hours in the day. Not to mention we’ve started yet another major DIY renovation project with its own demands.

I’ll sort it out, which is just another way of saying it isn’t sorted at all, yet.

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Present…With an Explanation

All right, I’ll cut right to it–I had planned to have a review of Peter S. Beagle’s In Calabria (Tachyon, February 2017) before now. That the book is over a year old is as good an example as any of how useless I am to anyone as a review blogger, which makes me no never mind since that was never my intention here in the first place. Once I reviewed for magazines with deadlines and everything and I never missed one, but then I was usually getting paid for it. Now I pay for my own books, I review what I want to when I want to, thanks very much, and that’s all there is to it.

Ahem. Slight digression there. Regardless, I’m not ready to review the book because I’m not through reading it. That’s taking a while, and not because it’s a doorstop. It is definitely not. It’s a slim volume beautifully produced by Tachyon Publications, lovely to look at, and at first glance the sort of thing any halfway decent reader could tear through in an afternoon. So could I, if it was a book by almost anyone other than Peter Beagle. So some of you might understand that I am going slowly, savoring, and am in no bloody hurry to finish.

Another reason is that I always–always–approach Beagle’s work with a bit of caution, if not trepidation. Peter Beagle is never a light read, and I never come to it lightly. I understand that I might have my heart ripped out; it’s a risk that comes with anything of emotional depth and utter truth. I’m embarrassed to say how long it took me to get to his The Innkeeper’s Song, but in my defense I did so, but long after any such review would have served either the author or the publisher’s interest nearly as much as something less reverent but more relevant and–most important–timely might have. I’ll have to give my regrets in advance here, too.

Will I have it next time? Doubtful. But I’ll likely be a chapter or two closer, for what little that may be worth to anyone other than myself.

Sorry (Not a Bit Sorry).

Perspective

I’ve been playing a game of “dueling temperatures” with an old friend via email. I moved to New York State from Mississippi. My former home does not handle winter well. That is, when actual winter conditions occur, which is rare. But a lot of the south, from Texas to Georgia has seen significant snowfall, whereas here the temperatures have varied from -17F to +43F. So snow one week and rain the next. Then everything freezes. The difference is, an inch or three of snow down there is a “We’re all gonna die!” situation. They’re not equipped for it because it happens rarely and you don’t spend your budget on snowplows that are (almost) never going to be needed. So how difficult things are is mostly a matter of perspective.

Which applies to almost everything.

Whenever I’m feeling down about how little I’ve accomplished, it’s good to stop and remember that there was a time, writing wise, when I had accomplished exactly nothing, except to write a bunch of beginner stories that no one other than I and much put-upon First Reader were ever going to see. When I had written novels but never sold any, but then graduated to an entire four book series. Now when I’m holding fire on three novel projects, I can remind myself that I can do this, I’ve done it before, and there was a time when none of that was true.

It’s too easy to forget that, no matter what stage you’re at. If you’ve written stories but not sold any (if that’s your goal), at least you’ve written. Same for writing a novel. Maybe you’ll publish, maybe you won’t, but most people who start a novel never finish it, and maybe you did. That’s something, and it’s a whole lot more than nothing.

Perspective.

Declaring My Ignorance in the New Year

“You know, you talk a lot about writing for someone who doesn’t know much about it.”

That thought comes to me at least once a year; sometimes more, and here in the New Year the thought came early, and why not?  It’s always true. Yes, I talk about it a lot. No, I don’t know much about it. You’d think perhaps I would by now, but no. I don’t know if it’s simple Zen as in “It’s always the first time” or an even more simple inability to learn. Maybe some of both. But then, I wasn’t the first to notice that “No one knows how to write a novel. They only know how to write the last one.” Well, maybe Stephen King.  Isaac Asimov probably did, and Andre Norton is likely. There have to be exceptions. I’m definitely not one of them. In general, you learn to write the one you’re doing—if you’re lucky—and hope for the same on the next one.

There. Everything I know about writing a novel. Not much, is it? Short stories are about the same, just shorter and there are usually more of them. Which explains why I have so many false starts and almosts and not quites littering my hard disk. Some stories I haven’t yet learned how to write. Some I likely won’t live long enough to finish, and that’s just the way it is.

Sorry about the introspection; I get that way sometimes, and in the turning of the year doubly so. I think this was triggered by an incident at the last Flash Writer’s meeting, where someone, feeling a little less than confident, referred to a few of us present as “natural writers.”  I have to beg to differ. For a start, I’m not a “natural” anything. I’ve only been writing thirty years in order to pass for one, and a polished story says nothing about how it got there, or that in order to complete a 500 word assignment I had to write 750 words and then cut out the ones that didn’t fit. Sort of like growing the birch tree before you attempt a canoe.

On that “natural” thing, I will admit to one exception: I can recognize a plot when I see one. Not as in “The Gunpowder” plot, but a narrative plot. At about age ten or so I had my grandmother convinced that I was psychic, all because I could watch a television show I’d never seen before and tell her what was going to happen before it did. It wasn’t paranormal, I just recognized the story plot, and most of the ones used on TV at the time weren’t that complicated. I was surprised that everyone couldn’t do it. Which does not mean I can necessarily plot well or easily, only that, after the fact, I’m reasonably sure that a piece has one.

So, on the first day of 2018, here’s me explaining, mostly to myself, what little I understand of the process. Clearly, I have a lot to learn. I hope to learn some of it in this New Year. I hope your New Year’s wishes fare better than mine are likely to do.

Story Time: The White Bone Fan

Today’s Story Time is “The White Bone Fan,” Originally published in Japanese Dreams: Fantasies, Fictions,& Fairytales, Lethe Press, 2009. The story is a stand-alone excerpt from what eventually became the novel  All the Gates of Hell published in 2013. This is the kind of thing I was working on when I was also working on the Yamada series. One sort of fed into the other, and vice versa.

As always, “The White Bone Fan” will remain online only until Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018. Next year.