Well, would you look at that.

A bit of random curiosity led me to look something up on Wikipedia. A detail in the article led me to a bit of mythology I hadn’t heard about before (or had forgotten if I had). Something like two weeks later — certainly not more than that — I have a short story.

Dear brain: you can stop wibbling over metrics now. In this calendar year you have written three pieces of flash fiction, one novelette that’s going into a fixup novel rather than making the submissions rounds, and SIX ACTUAL SHORT STORIES. Like you set out to do.

As I’ve said before, there are stupid games I can play around what counts and what doesn’t. And I stand by what I said before, which is that I didn’t have to write another longer-than-flash piece this year in order to feel like I’d accomplished something. On the other hand, there was no good reason not to write the story, once I had the idea for it. Except for the bit where I fell down a rabbit hole of reading up on early bronze-working and watching Youtube videos of people making weapons and armor, because I’m not quite incapable of writing something that doesn’t require research, but I come damn close.

The only real problem is, now I’ve messed up the balance for a future short story collection I want to do. The only way out of that trap is to write another story based on some kind of Near Eastern mythology.

But that, I can do in 2020.

A Tale of Two Nancy Drews

The general process of “what old, well-established properties can we adapt for movies and TV?” has recently swung around to Nancy Drew — not once, but twice. We’ve got the movie Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, and the CW’s Nancy Drew TV series.

As someone who used to inhale the Nancy Drew mysteries by the linear foot — the original novels, the 1980s continuations, and the Nancy Drew Case Files — I have . . . opinions.

The movie is surprisingly charming, and preserves what I remember of the feel of the original books, while updating things to the modern day. Nancy gets involved with George and Bess after a boy at their school posts a humiliating video of Bess, getting revenge for his cyber-bullying and landing herself in community service as punishment. From there she winds up helping an older woman solve the mystery of her apparently haunted house (generally following the plot of the book).

The actress playing Nancy is quite engaging, and has a fair number of witty lines. Bess is an adorable science nerd, and they cast a black actress as George. The evolution toward friendship with Helen is also pleasing. And while the movie as a whole is lightweight, not attempting to tackle any particularly weighty issues, that feels about right to me. I’m sad that there seems to be no news of them considering a sequel, because I’d happily watch another one.

The TV show is . . . hrm. For one thing, it centers on a murder — two of them, in fact, one twenty years in the past, but apparently connected to the present day. Nancy and all the rest have recently graduated from high school, but Nancy’s mother’s death from pancreatic cancer has left her family with crippling medical debt that has scotched Nancy’s dream of going to Columbia, and kind of wrecked her relationship with her father to boot. She’s in a relationship with Ned Nickerson (here called “Nick” instead of “Ned”), but his own dream of a football career crashed and burned when he spent a few years in jail for manslaughter, and their relationship proceeded from “acquaintance” to “sex” without passing through much of a “get to know one another better” stage (that comes later on). George is both Nancy’s and Bess’ employer at the restaurant she runs, and she is not a fan of Nancy, who didn’t do anything to defend her at school when her own reputation got trashed by rumors — true ones, as it happens — that she was having an affair with an older, married man. And you rapidly find out that Bess, who claims to be rich, is living in a van on the edge of town.

If you are looking for the tone you remember from the novels, you will not find it here.

In fact, it feels a lot like Veronica Mars, but with much less snappy dialogue. Which might explain another aspect of the show — because it feels like the writers were fishing around for a way to distinguish their show when the territory of “Nancy Drew, but noir” has already been so thoroughly explored, and consequently took a flying headfirst dive into urban fantasy.

I mean “somebody call the Winchester brothers” level of supernatural material. For the first few episodes, I was waiting for it to be revealed that somebody in town was leveraging the folklore about how the ghost “Dead Lucy” haunts the town — because that’s how things usually go in a Nancy Drew story! Round about the point where one of the characters gets possessed by the ghost of the more recent victim, I gave up on that interpretation. Not long after that, I gave up on trying to keep track of how many different ghosts and spirits are running around interfering with the plot. Half the clues come from the dead, rather than from investigation; George’s mother turns out to be a spiritualist (much to the disgust and embarassment of her daughter), and another character busts out with a full panoply for sending somebody on an astral quest to fetch back the spirit of a third character that’s gone wandering.

What. The.

It isn’t bad. I wouldn’t call it especially memorable — see above re: not having the snappy dialogue of a Veronica Mars — but it’s perfectly competent urban fantasy. It’s just that urban fantasy is not what I expect out of a Nancy Drew adaptation. I can’t remember if there was ever real magic in the novels (and I wouldn’t trust my memory even if I did; it’s been probably twenty-five years or more since I read any of them, and back then my ability to read fantasy into a story on the thinnest grounds was pretty impressive), but I’m certain they did not routinely feature Nancy insisting she needs to steal the cursed Roman coins so she can use their dark power to communicate with the ghost of the murder victim and ask who killed her.

But since I mentioned the casting of the movie, it’s worth noting that this version of George is surnamed Fan instead of Fayne and is Chinese-American, Bess’ actress is British-Iranian and the character is a lesbian, Nick is black, and the police chief is Native American. It reminds me of the line from a Supergirl episode where Cat eyes the characters who have come to talk to her and says, “You look like the attractive yet non-threatening, racially diverse cast of a CW show.” As pro forma as this approach can sometimes be, I do prefer it to the alternative. It’s certainly a lot less jarring to me than the ghosts.

Like I said, the show isn’t bad. I only wish I could go somewhere to get another dose of the more authentic Nancy Drew flavor: a heroine who’s plucky instead of bitter, a mystery that isn’t about death, and a haunting that turns out to just be someone playing tricks.

New Worlds: Demographics

The New Worlds Patreon moves into the final month of the year — the calendar year, that is. Since I began my Patreon in March of 2017, the New Worlds New Year comes at the end of February. 🙂 My lovely patrons have voted, and this month’s subject begins with demographics: the makeup of a given society, and (as part and parcel of that) the idea of “life expectancy at birth,” which is a number many people seem to misunderstand. Comment over there!

And it seems like a good time to mention again that all of this, the weekly essays and the yearly collections, is made possible by the steadfast support of my patrons. I’ve said before that this is a project I’d wanted to tackle for years, only I couldn’t figure out how to break it down into manageable pieces; it took this “one bite per week” approach to make it feasible. So if you’ve been enjoying the essays, please consider either becoming a patron, or promoting New Worlds to your own friends and social circles.

Special Things

The other day I was driving up to San Francisco in the rain + early stages of rush hour. But instead of getting frustrated and impatient the way I normally do, I found myself being much more agreeable about the whole thing, and feeling much more charitable toward my fellow drivers.

Because I was listening to Christmas music.

Which led me to think, “heh, I should listen to this all year round!” Except . . . that wouldn’t work. I have other music that sounds pleasant or cheerful, whose lyrics urge (not necessarily in these words) peace and goodwill toward my fellow humans, and it doesn’t usually produce this reaction. Because repetition has dulled its edge. It’s precisely because I don’t listen to Christmas music all year round that it can affect my behavior.

Slacktivist (the blogger Fred Clark) has talked about the irony of “but it’s Christmas!” as an argument for why somebody shouldn’t be a dick. In theory, we should not be dicks to each other at any time. It’s easy to let that slide, though, as the stresses and aggravations of daily life accumulate; Christmas — and other holidays in other faiths — are a reminder to step back and try to see the people around you as people, to reconsider whether you’re being as patient and charitable as you could be. Training wheels for the rest of the year.

But not in the way retailers want. They start trying to push that “special holiday spirit” on you earlier and earlier every year — but theirs is the spirit of commercialism, not peace. They may talk about opening your heart, but it’s actually your wallet they want to see open. Buy, buy, buy. The problem is, by using these signifiers of the season to sell that message, they dull the edge. They rob the “special things” of their power to move us.

I can avoid it somewhat, thanks to the structure of my life. I don’t remember the last time I went to the mall, and I don’t even go into individual retail stores (apart from the grocery store) often enough to get fully inundated with Christmas carols in October. I don’t watch broadcast TV, so I’m not being deluged with commercials about Black Friday deals in mid-November. I can easily delete the emails that hit my inbox, and they don’t blare music at me. I can keep the special things special. Not everybody can, though.

Anyway, today we hung the garlands (which I’ve been meaning to do for a week), and our decorations are set up in their usual places. We don’t have a tree yet because it’s been raining near-constantly, but we hope to fix that in the next few days. Our house is getting dressed up in its fancy holiday clothes. The lights will remind me of hope in a time of darkness. And as much as I’ll hate taking all of that down after Christmas, leaving behind the dull, workaday appearance my surroundings have the rest of the year, I know the reason this makes me happy right now is because it isn’t constantly there. It’s only here briefly, and because of that, it has more power.

Officially licensed Lady Trent art!

Those of you who follow me on Twitter will have seen me retweeting the progress shots of this, but if you missed it, the lovely people at Geek Calligraphy have made an absolutely lovely piece that is the very first Officially! Licensed! Lady Trent Fan Art!

Geek Calligraphy Lady Trent art

This is a LIMITED EDITION of only one hundred prints. So if you want one, get it while supplies last. (But you won’t be able to get 1/100, because that one’s miiiiiiiine.) The prints are 11×14″ and $55. And while you’re there, you can check out the rest of their store, which features beautiful calligraphy for all kinds of purposes.

Many thanks to the artist, Ariela Housman, and her teammate Terri Ash, for making this beautiful artwork happen!

Metrics continue to go “squish”

Back in September I wrote about the squishy metrics of my goal to write six short stories this year. You can read the details there, but the long and short of it is that last week I finished another story . . . ish. See, it’s flash. Again. Less than a thousand words long. Which, although it counts as A Thing I Can Submit, doesn’t quiiiiiiiite convince my brain I’ve hit the target.

Which is why I’ve decided that a different metric should apply here. See, in 2018 I set out to write six short stories, and managed five. In 2019 I set out to write six short stories, and managed five, plus a novelette that’s going into Driftwood rather than being submitted, plus three pieces of flash fiction. Whether that counts as “six short stories” or not is, by official decree, less relevant than the fact that I wrote more than I did the year before.

Of course, that’s dangerous in its own way. It risks engaging the gear in my brain that says so you should do even more in 2020! And it’s possible for me to play pernicious games around wordcount, fretting that writing more individual stories doesn’t count if their total length doesn’t add up to more than the previous year. Writers have a strong tendency toward neuroticism, and I’m no exception; I can always find a way to tell myself I ought to be achieving more.

So I’m also trying to shift my attention to something else more useful: my list of unwritten story ideas. That “six story” goal is the reason I prodded myself to write the most recent piece (and then sort of missed because it wound up only 640 words long), but there’s another reason as well, and that’s my short story collections. With the exception of Never After (which is a special case), I’m only collecting previously published stories, not new work. I (for slightly absurd reasons) wanted one more story based on some kind of Near Eastern source to go into an upcoming collection of works inspired by folklore and mythology, and knew I would feel much more satisfied if I managed to get that done this year. As of this most recent flash piece, I can check off that box, and move that collection one step closer to happening.

And that’s why I’m already casting speculative glances in the direction of another story concept. Writing that one (and selling it, of course) would complete the lineup for another collection — the last of the original set I had planned when I first started putting these together. So that’s high on my hit-list for 2020. In theory I could do it before the end of this year (and thus realio trulio achieve the goal of six short stories, no waffling about flash fiction required) . . . but I don’t think that’s likely to happen. It needs more composting first.

Goal for 2020: six short stories. Just like it was for 2019 and 2018. In the end, the final number doesn’t really matter, so long as setting that goal fulfills its real purpose, which is getting me to write more short fiction again.

My publications in 2019

For those of you who nominate for awards (or just want a reminder of what I’ve been up to lately), herewith my publications in 2019!

Turning Darkness Into Light

The Eternal Knot

“La Molejera”, Cirsova Magazine

Short stories
“Vīs Dēlendī,” Uncanny Magazine
“On the Impurity of Dragon-kind,” Uncanny Magazine
“This Is How,” Strange Horizons
“Sankalpa,” Beneath Ceaseless Skies

. . . it turns out that writing more short fiction leads to selling more short fiction. Who knew?

New Worlds, Year Two

I also published two collections, one of which is theoretically eligible for awards, as all but one piece in it is original? But since the total word count of Never After is small enough to fit into the short story category, I suspect that if there are any lower limits on the length of collections for award purposes, it’s fallen well beneath them. And The Nine Lands is all reprints.

(In theory my Legend of the Five Rings short stories are also eligible. But given that they’re part of a larger ongoing story written by many hands, and they’re only published through the game’s website, I figure there’s not much point in listing them. You’re either following the L5R story or not; nobody’s going to get much by dipping in and only reading the bits I’ve done.)

BTW, my impression is that the addition of Turning Darkness Into Light and “On the Impurity of Dragon-kind” is not enough to re-qualify the Memoirs of Lady Trent for the Best Series Hugo. (Someone brought that up at my Borderlands reading.) If I’m wrong about that, though, do let me know!

Forgotten fruits

Quince is one of those things I’d seen referenced in historical literature, but had never encountered in person. Although Wikipedia tells me it’s eaten fairly regularly in some parts of Europe, and there’s absolutely nothing preventing it being grown in the U.S., you’re not going to find it at your average supermarket here.

I suspect that’s in part because you mostly can’t snack on it raw, the way you can with apples and pears and oranges and bananas and all the other things commonly found in the produce section. You either have to cook it, or you have to wait for it to blet — that is, to go overripe and sort of (but not exactly) rotten. The same is true of medlars, another fruit we’ve largely forgotten. Also some varieties of persimmons; I suspect the one time I tried to eat ripe persimmon I may have been eating the wrong kind, as I found it unpleasantly astringent. But those I’m seeing around more these days — though still not at the supermarket. Persimmon trees aren’t uncommon in northern California, so not only the farmers’ market but possibly one’s neighbors may have their fruit on offer.

But if waiting for fruit to sort of but not exactly rot isn’t your idea of an appetizing approach, there’s always cooking. Which is why quince has come into my life: one stall at our farmers’ market sells it, and last year my husband (who makes jam) ventured to make quince paste. It’s very strong-tasting stuff — but if you pair it with manchego cheese (itself quite strong-tasting), a strange alchemy happens and you wind up with something amazing.

All well and good. But this year he wound up with a few extra quinces, not quite enough to make another batch of paste. So instead he decided to make quince-and-apple pie for Thanksgiving. It’s quite nice! Quinces are related to apples anyway, and they combine well. Which is good when your husband decides he’s got too much quince for one pie, but enough apple to fill it out and make two pies.

. . . during the Thanksgiving when your sister-in-law already has a store-bought apple pie and a small cherry pie, and is making a pumpkin pie. O_O Five pies (well, four and a half) for nine people. Um.

There are, of course, other things one can do with quince. Like poach them in sugar water with some spices. One might possibly suggest to one’s husband that this would have been more sensible than making a second quince-and-apple pie. One might not quite buy one’s husband’s argument that you really want larger chunks of quince for that, and he’d already sliced it all thin, so there was nothing to be done but make a second pie.

But hey. There’s always next year. And maybe I’ll find some medlars for him to poach instead.

New Worlds Theory Post: Duality

This year has a lot of months with five Fridays! And as long-term readers of the New Worlds Patreon know, the funding of my gracious patrons means that when there’s an extra Friday, there’s a theory post. This time around it’s on duality, and the narrative power that kind of basic opposition can generate. Comment over there!