Quick Sip Reviews takes a look at Beneath Ceaseless Skies #235. Aside from the fact that they liked the stories, it’s nice to find a review site doing short fiction reviews. You don’t see that much anymore. Novel reviews are easy to find by contrast, and part of the reason for that is there is so much short fiction it’s hard to keep track of even for dedicated fans. Novels are a little more manageable, though in sheer numbers they’re not too far behind. Even so, it’s easier to specialize in one facet of our fractured genre at novel length and keep a handle on things that way: Space Opera, Mannered Fantasy, Alternate History, Historical Fantasy, Hard SF, whatever.
Short fiction is a little harder to categorize, at least at first glance, and you sometimes can’t be certain how to pigeonhole something until you’ve read it, and sometimes even then. It sounds rather crass and limiting, to “pigeonhole” like that. It sounds limiting—and it is–but how else to break down the avalanche of material into manageable chunks? Once upon a time it was easier, there wasn’t so much and everything in genre was either sf or fantasy, and a reader/reviewer usually preferred one or the other. Now I don’t know how anyone could hope to keep up.
There are still some places where short fiction is reviewed regularly. Locus does a decent job, and has top notch reviewers. Locus was and is the trade magazine for the sf/fantasy field and it’s in any practitioner’s best interest to keep on top of what’s going on, yet I have to confess I recently let my subscription lapse after (mumble) years. Why? I’m still trying to figure that one out myself. I think it has something to do with how I’m seeing myself in relation to the genre, and considering things that I once thought were true which now I know aren’t. Pretty vague, I know, but right now it’s the best I can do. I’d still recommend it to anyone with an interest in what’s going on in sf/fantasy. No one place covers the field better or more completely.
Standard Reminder: Since I’m now on a weekly schedule with the Story Time page, on Wednesday the 11th of October “The Trickster’s Wife” will be replaced by something else. Read it while it’s there.
Did I mention this already? Yes, well probably. Okay, I did. But that was before, as in it hadn’t happened yet. Now it has. Beneath Ceaseless Skies #235, Ninth Anniversary Double Issue is now live, leading off with the latest in the adventures of Pan Bao, Jing, and the snake-devil trying to be human, Mei Li. In this episode we meet a princess who has been lost for several hundred years and turns to our heroes for help. Pan Bao is either practical or greedy depending on your point of view, and ghosts—how else could she be lost for hundreds of years?—don’t carry a lot of money. Yet even ghost princesses are used to getting their way and this one, it turns out, is very persistent.
The process for writing these stories so far reminds me of the Yamada stories at least in one respect–I had to write several of them before I had a good enough grasp of the characters and the setting to attempt a novel. I think it’s going to be the same here. It’s a steep learning curve, but I think and hope the results will be worth it.
Standard Reminder: Since I’m now on a weekly schedule with the Story Time page, on Wednesday the 4th of October, “Another Kind of Glamour” will be replaced by something else. Read it while it’s there.
For those of us by our natures who are forced to figure things out as we go, there’s a part of the creation timeline I’ve come to refer to as the “Fits & Starts” stage, which is rather where I am now. In a short story it usually doesn’t last very long if the story is going to work. A book, if you’ll pardon the expression, is another story. It can last for chapters at at time and often does. If it lasts more than that, well, that’s a problem.
Fortunately for me, my characters usually sort that stuff out themselves, once I’ve got a handle on them and what they’re up to. Yet sometimes it seems that this “sorting out” happens when they insist on talking to each other for extended periods. Sometimes these are the sorts of conversations that the eventual readers needs to be in on from the start. Sometimes not. Or as one of Ursula Le Guin’s early editors of what became the Earthsea Trilogy is alleged to have said–“Ged is talking too much!” With all due respect to everyone involved, I think I know why.
I definitely know the time will come when, after the sorting out period and rough draft period, there will eventually come the rewrite period, and at least some of these fascinating (to me) conversations will have to end up on the cutting room floor, so to speak. Pity? No. Pitiless. When something once served the book but no longer does, “When it’s a drag on the flow, it has to go.” It’s our job to write it, and our job to cut it if and when the time comes when sections of the prose no longer serve the story. Chunks of any given book are completely necessary for us to write, and absolutely useless, nay counterproductive, for the reader to slog through. It’s sort of a paradox, but there are a lot of them in this process, so you just go with it.
As others have rightly observed, writing and then disposing of these chunks of superfluous wordage is not a very efficient way to go about the job of writing a book, and I heartily agree. I might find myself in envy of those people who can work all this out in a detailed outline before they even start. Then again, writing a hundred page outline of a three hundred page book doesn’t strike me as all that efficient either. Maybe writing is not supposed to be “efficient.” Maybe it’s just supposed to be done, and any way you can do it is the absolute best way there is.
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.
You know all those “author bios” you see when you read a story or book and have something like this pop up at the end?
“Johnny Authorboy is the author of many novels, of which he is the author. He likes cats and chocolate, but not together. He lives somewhere in Wyoming, but he’s not sure where because the road isn’t marked.”
Or maybe: “Elizabeth Page-Turner is the author of the bestselling “Empirical Empress” series for Goshwow Books. In her spare time she collects celebrity belly-button lint.”