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

“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.

Expectations

Back from a couple of days at Niagra Falls, first on the American side, and then on the Canadian. Tons of pictures, most of which I will not post here. Regular vacation shots, that kind of thing. I am going to post this shot from the gorge just beneath the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. Impressive, isn’t it? Watching the Niagra River as it speeds along the channel then makes a sweeping left turn just before it plummets into the gorge below is almost as impressive as the falls itself.

And yet, in the paraphrased words of the non-immortal Lord Voldemort, “I confess myself…slightly disappointed.”

The reason I am slightly disappointed is rooted in what appears to be a universal truth—Nothing is as good as you imagined it to be. Yes, Niagra Falls was incredible. Awe-inspiring. Beautiful. All those things, and yet…just not what I imagined. I’d been hearing about Niagra Falls all my life. I expected several hundred feet high, glistening rainbows everywhere (other than the few there were), a roar to drown out thunder! It was surely something, all right, just not quite all that, because nothing ever could be. It’s not a shortcoming of the Falls, it’s a hyper-heating of the imagination. Expectations.

Applies to many aspects of writing as well. Something along the lines of “I envisioned an Eagle and labored to produce a sparrow.” No matter how good (or bad) a finished book is, it’s never quite as good or pure or powerful or…whatever, as you envisioned it. That’s par for the course. Sometimes you get lucky and the book is different from what you imagined, and that’s almost always a good thing.

Speaking of different, there are other things to see aside from the Falls. There was a butterfly conservancy, which was lovely, and then there was Cham Shan Temple. Here my experience was likewise different, because I didn’t know about it ahead of time and therefore had no expectations whatsoever, so it easily exceeded all of them. I think perhaps it would be a good thing to approach other areas in life and work with the same attitude—no expectations, simply being open to the experience, whether it’s a vacation or a new story. That way it’s all about the discovery, and not about what you expect.

I can’t imagine that would ever be disappointing. Even slightly.