I haven't written anything on the site for a while now. Not because I've been sitting around and contemplating my navel, but because I'm still not well, and have been trying to get my knee, which I injured in a fall a year and a half ago, fixed.
I wouldn't have thought this was difficult, but it has been. I've learned more than I ever wanted to know about knees, orthopedics, bursa sacs, minisci, ligaments, etc. etc. Not to mention the internal politics of medical establishments.
Because my (basically untreated) smashed knee has added such a painful new problem to my other health hassles, I now can't even walk very far at a time. I also can't stand, sit, or even lie down, without the knee joint stiffening and causing pain; crouching and kneeling are totally unbearable. The result is I can't do more than brief, rudimentary exercises. I used to exercise a lot, and liked it. Among other things, not exercising makes it hard to get my physical energy back even to the (meager) level that's possible when one is suffering from Fibromyalgia.
I would really like to spend at least part of the year (the cold, dark, wet part) having "writing sabbaticals" out in Tucson, AZ, which I visited a while back, and where my Fibro was much better; unfortunately the weather of the beautiful Midwest is not its (the fibro's) favorite climate. (I've always been fond of the desert, though, too.)
I mention this in case anyone knows of a nice little cottage (or even a condo with character) for sale in the Tucson area; now, while housing prices are so low, I might actually manage a down payment on a place which could give me and my brain a leg up, so that I could become meaningfully productive again.
As it is, living here and repeatedly failing to get my injury properly treated—due to what in effect is a conspiracy among some doctors—keeps disrupting not just my life, but also the centered mindset I absolutely need in order to write. The above-mentioned conspirators have closed ranks (nothing personal, just their own ineptitude), to cover their own asses against being slapped with a malpractice suit, which my son says is the thing they fear most. Great stuff for a TV series, or a medical thriller, but sheer crap in real life....)
What mental composure I have is too often decomposed by chronic frustration, chronic pain, and the need to compose emails in defense of my injury(!), trying to refute the distorted reports of those HMO-ho's—they're moonlighting "specialists," who specialize in getting you out of their office in under ten minutes. Everything bad you've heard about the problems of our country's "Health System" is true. Be very afraid.... Just don't be afraid to demand the kind of health care everyone deserves, for everyone! 'Nuff said.
I know you didn't visit this site because you want to hear about my medical problems. (Frankly, neither do I. They've just been too—present.)
So, thanks for your patience—and as a reward for listening, i'd like to give you all an update on the progress of my work (and a special bonus offer at the end of this missive). I know many of you are waiting for a new Cat novel. Here's the latest news:
At last I do have a storyline starting to evolve for the next book in the series. For me, stories form like galaxies spun out of cosmic (as in, "That's cosmic, man!") dust in my mind; this one has taken far too long. Overall, it's still fairly nebulous, but a few "hot spots" are visible, as creative gravity eddies them into the recognizable elements of a new solar system (unique, but located among certain familiar stars). The story brings Cat back to Earth, and into contact with some characters from Catspaw; it takes place shortly after Dreamfall, which means Cat is not in a very good mood. And I'm afraid that's all I've got to say about that, for now.
Largely that's all because before I can write that book, i have to finish what I'm working on now, and that means two projects: One is Ladysmith, my "early Bronze Age" novel, which is coming along slowly but surely, and will get finished before I'm (pre)history. I'm enjoying what my brain is coming up from the depths of Jung's "Magic Pool of Inspiration" with, so that's a good sign.
The other book I'm simply calling Heaven Belt, for now. That may sound familiar to you. If so, it's because the new book will include revised and somewhat expanded versions of the novel The Outcasts of Heaven Belt and the novella "Legacy," which were published together back in 1989 as Heaven Chronicles.
The "Heaven Belt" future history is unrelated to either the Cat books or my "Snow Queen" series. Instead, the "Heaven Belt" stories are linked to the "Zones of Thought" series created and written by my former husband (and still friend), Vernor Vinge. The upcoming book will also include a new novella, "Ammonite," which I am co-writing with Cliff Winnig, and will also feature a new Prologue by Vernor Vinge.
In addition, the whole "true story" behind the evolution of the book will at last be told, in a (nonfiction) Afterword to the book, explaining some heretofore unrevealed mysteries linking the original Outcasts of Heaven Belt with Vernor's "Zones of Thought" novels. The circumstances clearly require some background of their own.
I don't want to spoil all the revelations. But here are a few high points for those of you who are curious or loyal enough to be checking out this website.
For your eyes only, earlybirds (until the book comes out):
The original novel, The Outcasts of Heaven Belt was written in the early days of my career. it was originally a collaboration between Vernor, my husband at the time, and me. He had just begun teaching at SDSU. He was forced to balance his time between learning how to teach and developing courses, and also publishing math papers in journals. (The CompuSci Dept. was not on the horizon, at the time.)
Vernor had no time then to write fiction, and I was between stories, fretting about what to write next. One evening he dropped a ream-sized pile of notes in front of me, and said, "Why don't you write this?"
"This" was his immense store of notes and plot ideas for the book that would become The Outcasts of Heaven Belt. We discussed the story at length (including how to tell time in seconds—a concept that, before I started, I found far less instinctive than he did), and I wrote the rough draft. He critiqued it (he's an excellent editor, as well as an excellent writer), and I worked on it some more, until we were in agreement on everything, except one scene. He insisted that I remove it. I did, reluctantly, and sent out the manuscript. Several publishers turned it down.
Meanwhile, my own inner editor had become convinced that the scene we'd taken out needed to go back. I told Vernor I wanted to reinsert it, and he said, "If you do that, take my name off the book." So I did. I sent it out. It sold to Analog as a serial. Then it sold to Signet Books. I asked Vernor if he really wanted to leave his name off the book? He swallowed a big lump of something, and said, "Yes."
He then went on to say that he felt from then on we should always publish our work under one name or the other, not both. (We'd previously sold a story to Analog as a team.) Whoever was the main writer and did most of the work should take the credit, even if the other contributed considerable feedback; that way we could both build our independent careers.
At the time it had just become possible for a woman to have a career in the SF/Fantasy genre under her own name without using a male or gender-neutral pseudonym. (This was largely due to the feminism of the activist '60s, and the breakthrough work of Ursula K. Le Guin.) If a woman wrote in collaboration with a man, reviewers still tended to dismiss her as the less worthy, less-than-equal partner. So Vernor's decision was even more a true gesture of equality than just "sticking to his word," regret it or not—so that was how we proceeded with our writing, from then on.
What neither of us realized at the time was that Outcasts . . . was actually an event taking place in a "backwater swirl" of a vast future history Vernor had yet to really envision, one which he would someday call "The Zones of Thought", the setting for his Hugo-winning novels A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky.
The Outcasts of Heaven Belt became my first published novel, and after that I went on writing stories and novels, including two novelettes, "Media Man" and "Fools Gold," which together eventually became the short novel "Legacy," also set in the Outcasts universe. (My next novel, The Snow Queen, was my creation from scratch; it won the "Best Novel" Hugo in 1981.)
Vernor, who had already published a number of stories and a novel (all while in grad school!) when I met him, soothed his restless urge to write by editing over my shoulder.
But in 1978, he had no more heard the magical phrase "Zones of Thought" whispered in his subconscious, or discovered that it was the "open sesame" for a vast visionary future, than I had discovered how the "sybil network" actually functioned in The Snow Queen . . . what lay behind it, or lurked beneath it.
At this point, a sentence or three about this "had we but known" thing is probably appropriate: The subconscious mind is like Alice's nightmarish Wonderland, and the universe's most immeasurable holodeck; or call it Jung's "Magic Pool of Inspiration." Whatever. It's (indescribably) like a stasis pocket with a hole in it—infinitely large, but with a space-time conduit at the bottom. You are allowed to explore there, for as long as you can hold your breath and keep from blinking, with your hand submerged in . . . god-knows-what. Sometimes you pull out diamonds; sometimes, a good line of dialog. Sometimes it's unspeakable, vile and nameless . . . and what's worse, it knows where you live. You pays yer money and takes yer chances, and it's definitely not for everybody. (Artists of various types have been compared to shamans, as individuals who "pass through a membrane between our world and the unknown," to bring back a work of art to be shared with everyone.)
Vernor caught the tail of a vision called the Zones of Thought when he was writing the background notes for Outcasts . . .; over the years, instinctively, his subconscious kept reeling it in, until eventually an entire new universe popped into being in his thoughts.
What wasn't obvious to either of us, as evolving "kid writers," was that while sometimes the idea for "a good tale" is that and no more, and sometimes it's the "tail" of something far deeper and greater—your personal pocket universe. Only as new inspirations strike you, or the needs arises to examine in depth some detail you tossed off in a previous story, do your explorations take on greater form. You come to realize that, like our own world, your "virtual reality" can never be seen all at once; but when you need to know how the game of "tan" is played, for instance, it's always waiting there for you to come and check it out . . .
But back to reality: Very few people besides close friends have ever heard the story of how Outcasts . . . actually came to be, as our more recent works eclipsed it. Eventually, Vernor wrote the first two novels in his "Zones of Thought" future history . . . and certain elements in his mass of notes for Outcasts . . . became part of a much greater series of works. The resulting novels stand out unforgettably for many, many readers—myself included.
Oddly, however, the thing most remarked upon—by people who remembered Outcasts . . . and its satellite stories, at least—was the concept of using seconds to tell time. Did that mean the novels were related? Did they take place in the same universe? Of course they did. Obviously. We just hadn't realized it yet. (That truly happens. Someone compliments something in a story you wrote; you sneak off and look it up, and—it's true. You did do that, and it wasn't an accident—it was a reminder that your subconscious mind holds everything in its spacetime pocket.)
The "seconds" question started drifting through the aether at conventions, and one day I found myself talking about it with Cliff Winnig, a former Clarion student who had become a good friend. I told him the secret link between "the stories that told time in seconds," and he proposed the possibility of Pham Nuwen from Vernor's novels encountering characters from "Heaven Belt." I had always wanted to explore that corner of the future history some more, so the idea was appealing. (Writing, for me, is like reading a story I really want to read—just very slowly.)
We discussed whether it would work, and possibilities for who would want what, when, why . . . ? I took some notes, and we agreed to try collaborating on a story, pending Vernor's approval and feedback. (Normally I'm a loner; I'm able to give editorial feedback, but I don't write well with others. However, this was Cliff's idea, and I knew that not only did he have the potential to do this, he was also a great fan of Vernor's work, with a good hard science background.) It seemed like a promising project.
Vernor agreed, and gave us permission to "borrow" Pham for this side trip. He was even willing to contribute the Prologue that sets the story in motion (as well as closely overseeing how we dealt with his character—since none of us wanted Pham to do anything that would seem out of character, at any point in his own very long career.)
Vernor's remarkable mind, and chosen vocation will—like Pham's—be a presence at all times in the new novella, even when he's not visible onstage . . . .
And . . . that's it for now, folks. I hope it's enough to make you excited about the upcoming book. It's certainly tweaked my enthusiasm for finishing it. So much "life in the real world" has zoomed past like a truck in the night, in the time since we first discussed the new story, "Ammonite," that we'll all be old fossils if I don't finish soon. So I'd better get back to working on my fiction.
As the ever-courteous creators of Japanese entertainment say when speaking of their latest works: "Please look forward to it!"
And thanks for stopping by.
The Special Offer mentioned above? Here it comes:
Talking about new books always makes me think about books I've already written. One of my little-publicized ways of starting to write on a given day involves re-reading something I've already written.
So many people have emailed to tell me how much they enjoy Psion and Catspaw, I thought some of you gentle readers might like to gift one of these novels to a friend or relative. They're both available in trade paperback editions from Tor Books, and while many of you have written to tell me how much you love these books, it would help me in my effort to get more writing done if more people buy these two books. Writing a new Cat novel is one thing. Getting it published is another. Because there hasn't been a new Cat book in such a long while, it would make it easier for me to convince my publisher that people really want to see a new book about Cat, if more copies of those books sell. I know this is shameless promotion, but life is short. And the holidays are coming.
So if you would like to buy Psion or Catspaw as a present for someone, I'd be happy to send you a signed bookplate for it. It's my little offer to all you loyal fans. You can buy copies of either book through this website, or elsewhere, of course. If you want to take advantage of the offer of a signed bookplate, email me through this website, and we'll send details on how to get the bookplate. All it will cost you is a stamp and the cost of an envelope.
Thanks for all your support. I look forward to giving you new books to enjoy before too very long.
Joan D. Vinge