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.
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.
The beauty of a blog is that you can write whatever you want. The drawback for both me and the reader is the same. Too many days this is just me rambling on about whatever bright or shadowy butterfly has my attention at the moment. Yet, now and again, I can dispense some actual information. About me, of course, but after all this is my blog and—trust me on this–usually it’s better to let my Ego run free rather than my Id.
Ahem. First item of news: the series (still un-named) that began with “In Memory of Jianhong, Snake-Devil” continues later this month with “On the Road to the Hell of Hungry Ghosts” in the Ninth Anniversary Double Issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, which should be online toward the end of this month, so only a few weeks away. Pan Bao and the crew attempt a good deed, despite his better judgment. No telling what they’ll do next. Frankly, I can’t wait to find out myself. A podcast is also planned.
Now it’s time for the elephant in the room, or rather an explanation for the cover image above. A fan who had heard LeVar Burton’s podcast of “Empty Places” asked me why more of my work (and specifically those featuring Tymon the Black) wasn’t available on another platform, said platform I barely knew existed. So I checked it out and discovered that said platform currently wasn’t accepting new publisher accounts, so placing them there wasn’t possible for now. I also realized that, the two novels aside, the three shorter works starring Tymon had never been put together in one place for the time when it might be possible to make them available. So here they are, together for the first time in The Collected Tymon the Black: “A Time for Heroes,” the original novelette which later grew into The Long Look, “Empty Places,” (3rd episode of LeVar Burton Reads) and “The Devil of Details.” Two novelettes and a long short story, at about 25,000 words. I’ve made it available on the Kindle for now, though with luck it’ll be available Elsewhere later. At least if anyone is looking for Tymon the Black outside the novels, there’s a place to find him.
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.
On my desk is a picture (artist’s rendering, duh) of Amaterasu, the Japanese goddess of the sun. I keep it there because it’s a cool picture, but also because, in very general appearance, it reminds me of the character Mei Li, who is the Chinese snake-devil (or snake-spirit, depending on the translation and your point of view) in the series of stories I’m working on now. So how did I get from a Japanese sun goddess to a Chinese snake-devil?
Good question, to which I do not have an answer. Different origins, different—though distantly related—cosmologies. Yet I can glance up from working and think, “Yep. That’s her.” Even though it isn’t. Yet the picture helps me connect to the character. I do not know how this works, but I think it has something to do with patterns.
I’ll take for example something not related at all, except it is. I don’t have a very good handle on time at the moment, so late every evening when I’m too ragged to write, I try to put in at least ten minutes or more guitar practice. Since I am a slow study where music is concerned, I have to spend a lot of that interval on basic things like switching chords cleanly and in time. Which is a lot easier when you grasp how different chord patterns are related, say when you realize that a G major chord and a Cadd9 are the same shape (hand held in the same position) the only difference being what strings the middle and index fingers are on.
It’s sort of like that. Amaterasu and Mei Li are not the same (obviously), but in one I see elements of the other. I have never to my knowledge based my understanding of a character’s appearance on a picture of someone else. This time I did. Because…patterns?