Readers and Writers

I don’t know of any writer who wasn’t a reader first. Once we learn how it’s done we tend to do a lot of it. When I was a kid give me a summer day with no chores pending and a book or two which I hadn’t read yet and I was a happy guy. Such idylls don’t last. Soon it’s off to work, or for the luckier, college first, then work, but the result is the same. The leisure time which helped make reading such a joy is likely gone. If you remain a reader, you fit it in when you can.

Or worse, you become a writer. Then reading strictly for pleasure is all but gone. Unless you have an independent source of income or a spouse with a job and a very forbearing attitude, you’re still going to have to work for a living, and still be there for your family, and still everything else involved in having a life yet make the writing work however you can. So that reduced slice of leisure time for reading? Yeah. Much smaller slice now.

Not good, right? Heh. It’s about to get even worse than that. Some poor sods find that it’s almost impossible to read fiction while you’re trying to write it. The only time you can lose yourself in a novel or story collection is when you’re not actively involved in your own projects. Good for reading and keeping up, lousy for getting your work done. Now, even if you’re one of the lucky sods who dodge that particular bullet, there’s another waiting, and it’s simply this—in order to write convincingly about any subject, even if what you’re writing is almost completely made up, there’s going to be research involved, which also involves—you guessed it—reading. Which means you’re going to spend that bitty slice of reading time reading only what you need to read, not necessarily what you want to read.

Yes, this sucks, unless you get really lucky and discover that doing research is one of your favorite things to do. In which case you will still get to enjoy your reading, it’s just going to be mostly non-fiction. For instance, that review of Terry Pratchett’s MORT I did recently? Yeah. I picked that book up at Flights of Fantasy Bookstore in Albany over a year ago. I just nowish got it into the reading queue, which is a good thing because my writing projects are currently dictating a solid shift in that queue. Let me run it down a bit:

The Encyclopedia of Fairies, Katherine Briggs, Pantheon, 1976.
Strange Tales From a Chinese Studio, Pu Songling, Penguin Classics, 2006.
(originally from about 1700CE).
A Field Guide to Demons…and Other Subversive Spirits, Carol & Dina Mack,
1998
In Search of the Supernatural, (original title, Sou-Shin Chi, or The Account of Seeking Spirits) Kan Pao,w/Kenneth DeWoskin & J.I. Crump, Jr, translators.
Original compilation 220 CE.
The World Guide to Gnomes, Fairies, Elves, and Other Little People, Thomas
Keightly, Grammercy Books, 1978 (orig. ed. The Fairy Mythology, 1880.
A Field Guide to the Little People, Nancy Arrowsmith with George Moorse,
Macmillan 1977.

And that list is not yet complete because I haven’t yet found everything I think I need. Suffice to say I’ll be concentrating in two separate (?) areas for the foreseeable future. I will get very little fiction reading done, which sucks. Yet I will be reading non-fiction on subjects I enjoy (whether the subjects themselves are fiction is another matter), and that most emphatically does not suck. True, the tension between writer/reader is never quite satisfied, especially when the writer and the reader are the same person. But sometimes, you get close.

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Speaking of reading, you can skip reading and have a story read to you by LeVar Burton (Star Trek, Roots, Reading Rainbow, and do I really have to tell you who he is?). The first three episodes of “LeVar Burton Reads” are now available for free on iTunes and Stitcher, including my own “Empty Places, Part 1.”

Here’s the description from the podcast:

“An accomplished thief is approached by a wizard who wants to send him on an unusual mission. The two embark on a journey together, matching wits along the way. “Empty Places” was collected in FANTASY: THE BEST OF THE YEAR (2005). “

Review: MORT by Terry Pratchett

Mort by Terry Pratchett, Harper edition 2013.

Death takes a holiday. Sort of.

It’s no secret that Death (an anthropomorphic personification, as he refers to himself) was one of Terry Pratchett’s favorite Discworld characters. Playing with Death for fun is, well, fun, but with a very serious subtext that’s never very far from the open and flat-out surface text. Where Death is concerned for each and every one of us, the last laugh is always on you. Regardless, Death as personified in Discworld is, in a sense, a human projection who is not human and can never quite get a handle on what being human is all about. He is curious about mortals. Or to paraphrase Sir Terry himself, “He doesn’t quite know where we’re coming from, though he does know where we’re going.” Continue reading

LeVar Burton Reads

I’ve told this story before, but in the current circumstance it bears repeating:

In an earlier version of the Writer’s Group With No Name we had a member who was working hard on a romance novel. We’d read excerpts and thought it promising, but the story wasn’t coming quickly or easily for her. In the meantime, most of the other members of the group were working on short fiction, getting stuff finished, and a few of us were selling. At times the meetings would turn into gripe sessions about slow markets, slower payments, incomprehensible editorial decisions, the usual. All true and the bane of working writers for practically ever, but our romance writer, working but still with nothing in shape to show an editor, was not impressed with the bitching. Continue reading

Walking the Tightrope

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.”

Yeah, those things? We have to write them ourselves. Continue reading

Review: Summerlong by Peter S. Beagle

summerlongSummerlong, by Peter S. Beagle, Tachyon, 2016

When is a mystery not a mystery? Obviously, when the mystery isn’t the point. Or the mystery.

Yes, that will require some explanation. It’s coming, but there are a few other things to cover first. Abe Aronson and Joanna Delvecchio are old lovers, as in both over fifty and they’ve been together for a long time. Abe is a retired history professor who attempts to brew beer, plays blues harmonica, and is writing a book on John Ball and the peasant’s rebellion. Joanna is a senior (as in ranking) flight attendant who likes to shoot hoops when she’s not worrying about her unhappy daughter, Lilly. Joanna is looking forward to her own retirement, after which she can fly anywhere in the world for free. They are almost but not quite living together in Abe’s home on an island off the coast in the Pacific Northwest. They are, in a word, comfortable with each other.

That comfort begins to unravel when, on a night out at the island’s only decent restaurant, they meet a new waitress named Lioness Lazos. She is, in a word, different, something that both Joanna and Abe realize right away. First, there’s her appearance, like someone who just stepped out of a painting by Botticelli. Her accent is unplaceable, she tells a story of her past which is almost but not entirely real, and in almost less time than it takes to tell about it, and at Joanna’s suggestion, she’s living in Abe’s garage. Then really odd things start to happen, like beautiful weather on the island, which isn’t known for this at all. And flowers blooming as they’ve never bloomed before, and Abe’s notoriously bad attempts at brewing beer suddenly start going right, and— Continue reading