Michaeline: Lois McMaster Bujold and Three Questions about Writing “Penric’s Fox”

Exciting August news, all! Lois McMaster Bujold came out with a new Penric novella on August 8, 2017! Hang onto your time-travelling imagination caps: “Penric’s Fox” is actually book three, following “Penric and the Shaman” by about nine months, and before “Penric’s Mission” (NB: as of 2017 08 08. Your mileage and chronometer may vary).

"Penric's Fox" title cover with a castle, a fox and a ghostly young woman in elegant medieval robes.

“Penric’s Fox” follows further adventures of Learned Penric, court sorceror for the princess-archdivine. It’s about 37,400 words, so if you read “Penric’s Demon” and “Penric and the Shaman” as well, you’ll have a good chunk of fantasy to enjoy this weekend! Follow it up with the older Penric in “Penric’s Mission” and “Mira’s Last Dance”. (Image courtesy of Lois McMaster Bujold)

“Whaaa?” Not to worry — all the stories can stand on their own, and who is going to quibble when we have the chance to see Penric in action again?

So, go. Make a liter of  something seasonal and delicious, find your favorite reading pillow, and download the book. When you’re done, come back here and see what Lois has to say about the process of writing things.

EMD: I suppose the first question is why did you write a follow-up to “Penric and the Shaman” (the second Penric novella) and not a follow-up to “Mira’s Last Dance”? I mean, I’m grateful for whatever you’ve got, but it is a question that comes up.

LMB: This was the story that wanted to be written first. I am considering a follow-up to “Mira”, yes, but those ideas were not ripe at the beginning of this year (2017), and then the key idea that this story was awaiting suddenly slotted in, so.

The delay proved to be, as is often the case, good for the other set of ideas as well, as a few more have joined that collection since January that I could not have foreseen. For me, a story in the process of assembling itself is like a box of loose objects rattling around aimlessly, till some connecting idea drops in and things suddenly get interesting. (Note that some of those pieces may also prove to be wrong ones, like two jigsaw puzzles mixed together. Sorting those out can also take some time.) Trust me, stories only look inevitable in retrospect.

Some of the ideas for “Penric’s Fox” had been kicking around ever since I was developing backstory prior to starting what became “Penric’s Mission”, but they weren’t necessarily stories yet. The seven years I jumped over to get to Penric at age 30 were full of experiences that were important to him but not necessarily story-like, though I needed to know roughly what they were before I could write him at that later stage. It was basically the same sort of task as developing any new character’s backstory before starting them off on a tale for the first time, even though the reader will never see most of it.

I should also note that one of the developments in the tale came from watching the family of foxes that denned under my garden shed earlier this year, not something I could have anticipated. There’s nothing like Continue reading

Michaeline: Exercise Your Whimsy Muscles

I just got back from a trip to Tokyo, and one of the highlights was an Arcimboldo exhibition at the National Museum of Western Art . Arcimboldo was a 16th century artist famous for making portraits of Hapsburgs out of vegetables, animals and various household items. If you want to talk about whimsy, this guy made a career out of whimsy!

Rudolph II portrait made up of fruits, vegetables and flowers. Very green and fresh.

Hapsburg emperor Rudolph II as Vertumnus, the Roman god of the seasons. Click on the photo in order to see the amazing detailed work. Check out the ear of corn! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

 

But at the same time, he was very serious about his humor. You can see that his fruits and veggies and animals are all very anatomically correct, almost like botanical illustrations. And putting them together to make recognizable faces took a special eye for composition as well as a lot of hard work, I should imagine. Continue reading

Michaeline: Summer Camp at Home

Three kids camping in the backyard with a tent made of a sheet over a clothesline. Complete with darling puppy.

Or making believe in Camp-land! Turn your backyard into a summer camp for intensive writing! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

At work, school’s out, but we had some special classes for summer. The original concept was to provide something fun and like a summer camp, buta camp with no budget, and that finishes in 60 to 90 minutes. It’s understandable that with those kind of constraints, our “camp” is more “class”, but I wanted to get back to the original concept this year, so I started googling “summer camp language activities”.

And as with so many things in life, I didn’t find what I’m looking for, but I found something useful. I came across a camp that had such a sensible format and division of activities that I thought, “Hey, I could do this at home with my writing.” An auto-camp, if you’ll excuse the bad and old-fashioned pun.

This particular camp divided the day into six one-hour periods. The classes either go toward a major or a minor, with majors being something the kids want to delve into more deeply. Minors are one-shots that can be completed in an hour, and they provide a chance to explore new things.

So, on a vacation day, in theory, I could minor in laundry, American comedy TV and ratatouille, while majoring in writing, with a “class” in reading old material, one in writing new material, and a third in blogging. Six hours done, I could go outside, build a charcoal fire, grill some meat and pitas and enjoy strumming my ukulele under the stars – and go to bed with a clear conscience that I’d done good work that day.

I had the opportunity to give my summer camp idea a dry run two weeks ago, and results were . . . well, let’s say that results were mixed. I planned to major in writing, of course. I was going to read old material for two classes, cook lunch for one class, have a nice lunch, and then write for two classes and blog for the third in the afternoon, with a nice nap stuck in there somewhere.

Almost immediately, my plans went awry. Continue reading

Michaeline: DIY Art

A baby looking into the mirror, much like a famous picture of Alice kneeling on the mantlepiece looking into Wonderland.

Everyone is an artist of some kind. Art is definitely something you should try at home, kids! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

All of us blogging here are DIY artists. We write, therefore we are. I suspect a great many of our readers also recognize themselves as creators. Last week, I talked a little bit about how all of us are creating art in our daily lives – whether it be expanding bread and water into herbal iced tea and pretty crackers with cheese and cucumber slices, or taking sackcloth and sandals up a notch to a sundress with really cute sandals. Or maybe you are taking some basic fictional elements, adding a few nuggets from the news or history, and coming up with your very own, do-it-yourself story, specially tailored to fit your tastes.

Jeanne in the comments last week linked to a very interesting piece from The Atlantic about bucket list art exhibits.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/07/yayoi-kusamas-existential-circus/528669/

The biggest thing that struck me after reading the article was how so many of these experiences sound like something we could re-create ourselves, should we wish to go through the time and effort. The article talks about an art installation where Rirkrit Tiravanija made Thai curry at a Chelsea gallery . . . and the Museum of Modern Art. (From the MoMA blog.) https://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2012/02/03/rirkrit-tiravanija-cooking-up-an-art-experience/ I once missed the chance to watch a man make curry for Lois McMaster Bujold. This man does this in different venues, and while I don’t think he’d call it art, it sounds like it could be.

Yayoi Kusama’s mirrors remind me of childhood dressing rooms with three mirrors providing a glimpse into infinity. An infinity of grey carpet and slightly soiled beige walls, but there I was, right in the middle, multiplied over and over again. It wasn’t as beautiful as Kusama’s work, but it left a vivid memory.

A woodcut from 1857 showing Tanabata willows covered with wishing strips and summer decorations. A light wind is blowing and making them flutter above the rooftops.

The wishing trees of Tanabata are a very old tradition in Japan, and as you can see, they make striking art that also is suitable for other artists to recreate. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Yoko Ono’s Wish Trees are very much like the Tanabata wishing trees of the summer season in Japan. The difference is that people don’t fold up their papers like they might for Ono’s Wish Tree, but write their wish on a piece of thick paper, and hang it up on the bamboo or willow branch for the world to see. I’ve done this many times, and it’s so interesting to see the elementary scrawl of school children wishing for games and toys, or sometimes good grades and once in a while, something even more poignant. Peace for the soul of a family dog, or Continue reading

Michaeline: What does art do for us?

A man holding a giant sprig of dill seed while flying on a griffin that is carrying some sort of prey, and there's another man-sized bird on the dill.

What does art do for us? (Detail from “The Garden of Earthly Delights” via Wikimedia Commons)

Last week I came across a transcript of a lecture that Brian Eno gave. http://speakola.com/arts/brian-eno-john-peel-lecture-2015

Eno says (well, I read between the lines of Eno’s speech and understand) that people spend a lot of time embellishing the basics of the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. You know, the one where the base of our need pyramid is largely physiological. Air, food, water, clothing, shelter and sometimes sexual competition.

I can see it all around me. It’s not just food – it’s avocado toast or the miracle of technology that is a tuna casserole in the middle of Nebraska. It’s not just shelter – it’s Versailles, or a tiny hermitage. (YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXpDPekGB3Q3:25 Crow’s Hermitage, by Tiny House Lover) It’s not just clothing, it’s a Bob Mackie gown, or it’s a store-bought pair of jeans that have been repurposed into a waistcoat (and bespangled with recycled buttons). And it’s not just sex, it’s rule 34 of the internet: if you can imagine it, there’s porn of it online. Anyway, I whole-heartedly concur with Eno that we spend a lot of our lives making and consuming art daily, even if we don’t consider ourselves artists.

What does art do for us? Well, Eno points out four things, and I embellish on them. Continue reading

Michaeline: Secure Your Belief Systems!

A Japanese ghost or demon in a long kimono

Dead or alive, when Grandma is happy, everyone’s happy. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Long story, and we’ve got time, don’t we?

So, I cleaned house for much of the morning. Last night, my mother-in-law said, “The Temple is coming tomorrow at 9:30.” No, not the whole thing – just the Buddhist priest, who comes a couple of times a year to . . . I’m not quite sure what the theological underpinnings are. To bless the house? To say “hi” to our deceased family members with a speedy little sutra? At any rate, he comes, he recites a prayer before our household altar, then he has a little tea and some cookies, and heads off to the next household. The most important dates are spring equinox, fall equinox and Obon, which people in my area reckon to be about August 15.

Today is July 8. The nearest date of any legendary significance is Tanabata – the star festival when the lovesick weaver and shepherd get to cross the Milky Way and have a night of joy before heading back to work. That’s officially on the seventh day of the seventh month, but time isn’t a straight forward concept in Japan. The holiday is often reckoned by the Buddhist calendar, which is moon-based and wanders through our Gregorian year like a tipsy secretary at the office picnic. That would put 7/7 (Buddhist style) on August 28, this year. But for the sake of convenience, people in my area usually celebrate it in early August.

Interestingly enough, Wikipedia tells me that this celebration was originally from a “festival to plead for skills”. Huh. I ought to get me some of that action. Mark it on my calendar for August 28 . . . .

Ahem, excuse me for wandering off. Let me get back to the point: I spent the morning cleaning up the living room and tatami room for the priest, and then while I was in the shower, I started resenting the situation. You know how it is. You start to do something because it’s the Done Thing, but as soon as you get a moment to yourself, you start Continue reading

Michaeline: Start with the Windows

A view of the gardens and fountains from the music pavilion out the French doors. Many windows.

Music or books . . . who starts with the windows? And who starts with the basement? (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s a new month and a fresh start! I’m still playing around more on my ukulele than I am writing, but writing is always somewhere on my mind. I was goofing around on a jazz blog, and stumbled upon a post where the blogger talks about composing a song. He says:

1. Decide what kind of tune you are aiming for.
2. Choose a structure and a key.
3. Work out a chord progression on which to build. (You might prefer to start by inventing a melody, but for me that would seem like building a house by putting in the windows before laying the foundations.)

Well, I have to tell you, those three tips stopped me in my tracks. I ALWAYS start with the windows! That is to say, I’ve got a character, and I flail around for a conflict or inciting incident, and that naturally leads to another character in opposition to the first.

I figure I can stick the genre on later, and my structures feel organic – they feel like they grow straight from the character.

But then again, I wonder Continue reading