Freezing in a Storm?

On Tuesday night I attended a talk by the author and rancher John Erickson. He’s best known by most people as the creator of Hank the Cowdog, a growing and very popular series of children’s books about, well, Hank, a cowdog, and his associates and human family. However, Erickson’s first books were non-fiction histories and discussions of ranching and the Texas Panhandle. His book, Through Time and the Valley is one of the things that re-kindled my interest in regional history. He was reading from and talking about his latest non-fiction, Prairie Gothic, based on his family’s history.

During the Q and A after his main talk, someone asked him how he could keep going after the horrible fire last year that burned up his home and all the fences and grazing on the ranch. “If I were in that kind of [life]storm, I’d freeze,” the questioner explained. Continue reading


Filk and Folk-Tales

So, I broke down and bought a used CD of Songsmith, filk-music from Andre Norton’s Witchworld universe. Some of the songs are very, very specific to the Witchworld, and in some cases to the novel of Songsmith. But a few others could be our-world folk songs without half trying, in part because Norton drew on a very rich language of legend and mythology to build her world. Continue reading

Hamburg: A seaport without a sea

Hamburg, Germany is a major seaport… except it is 60 river miles inland from where the Elbe and the Atlantic meet. Cuxhaven is the seaport-on-the-sea. As strange as this sounds, a quick check of the map shows that most major ports on the North Sea and Baltic are well inland, up rivers that feed into their respective seas. My readers who sail are nodding and saying things like, “That’s because the Saxons and Slavs weren’t stupid,” and “If you’ve ever been there in winter, you’d stay away from the water, too.” Continue reading

Fur in History: A Quick Overview

So there I was, trotting along under the January stars, pleased that I had found my fur-lined winter hat, and my fur neck-piece, and my fur muff, and thinking about fur, who wore fur, fur in art, and realized that I have not yet seen a book about the history of fur. The North American fur trade, yes, lots and lots of books, because my early childhood was spent at a place where two major rivers and multiple trading trails crossed, trade routes that predated Europeans by quite a while. So I grew up reading about fur trappers and beaver and that sort of thing. But what about fur in world history? Fur is a no-no for some people today, although that seems to be changing a little, and no one seems to shed tears over lining a hat with rabbit, or using rabbit fur to make felt hats. Back in the day, before central heat, fur meant survival and was one of the most important trade items around. Fur carried status, even squirrel and other “low-class” furs. Continue reading

Stick a Fork in it – Fantasy Novel Edition

The draft of the Chinese-inspired fantasy novel is done. I have a cover located. I need a title.

The plot: A dragon, Count Chang, finds a girl he thinks is the Chosen One, a human of the old blood who carries the magical power needed to heal a sick river and to convince the humans to stop making things worse. Leesan, being the youngest daughter of a foreign family, has absolutely no desire to take on any responsibility or to think for herself, let alone learn magic. The other dragons, including the Western King, need her to act, lest the Great Sky Emperor, king of the gods, lose his patience with them and sort things out himself, remaking the world and punishing the dragons in the process. Count Chang just wants the glory of having found the person who can fix the problem, not the responsibility for actually working to solve things.

No one gets what they want, as you can imagine.

Some title ideas include:

Lord Chang and the River

Healing the Great River

The Dragon and the Land

The Curse of the Yellow Hills

Pearl’s Daughter

Any of these sound better than others? Any suggestions for something else?

Languages and Stories

No, not how fancy or plain, active voice or passive. Alien languages and non-English in my fiction, and why I do it.

I seem to have a knack for learning foreign languages. I catch inflections and accents easily, to the extent that I speak German with a Bavarian-Austrian accent rather than American. Having the ability to recognize patterns helps immensely, and my long span of musical adventures also helps, because I pick out phrases and sounds very quickly. This overflows into my writing, as long-time readers know. Continue reading

Put Castle Here

When you do something regularly for a while, or when your final exam grade depends on learning how to see and evaluate certain terrain and aquatic features, you develop a bit of skill. If your survival depends on reading the landscape properly, the learning curve is a lot steeper. And if you are exposed to something, even though you are not trying to learn how to read the land, after a while you start doing it. I can’t not evaluate a stream as I walk past it. And I can’t go through rolling or mountainous countryside without mentally adding strong points, choke-points, and castles. Continue reading