Janni Lee Simner
15 July 2014 @ 02:09 pm

I remember, not long after moving to the desert, coming upon a broad, sandy dry gully that was labelled a “river.”

I believe, at the time, that I laughed.

After two decades of living in the desert, I don’t laugh anymore. The desert may save her rivers for special occasions, but when they come out (generally after a good hard rain), they come out in force, and don’t hold anything back.

So a couple nights ago, after a good soaking downpour, we walked down to one of the local washes to visit the river. We weren’t the only ones, because walking to the wash one of the things you do, after it rains.

(Best viewed in HD / high definition.)

The video didn’t catch the thick palm trunk, or the tree branch as tall as I was, that were both tossed downstream as if they were styrofoam-light. Or the tire that came rolling down the wash on its edge, as if it were surfing the river, until it was thrown back onto its side. Lots of flotsam and jetsam came floating by too, soda cups and water bottles and the like.

But always, it’s the water itself that most draws the eye and the ear, all that power roaring downstream.

By the next day, the wash was once again dry.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner

CAPITOL CITY (PANEM) — Capitol University sophomore Jayden Sanderson studies a 3D simulation of a lush forest. He zooms in on a river that flows placidly through the trees. “There.” He points to a spot where the river’s bank broadens out. “It doesn’t look like much, but there’s just enough mud here for a Tribute to camouflage himself. The gamemakers didn’t count on that. The probabilities and projections always change once you add the human factor to a game. That’s the challenge.” The game design student smiles, making clear that as a hopeful future gamemaker, it’s a challenge he welcomes.

But as the Capitol gears up for the 100th annual Hunger Games, not all citizens share Sanderson’s enthusiasm. Many question whether, in this era of unprecedented prosperity for Panem, the games have outlived their usefulness.

“Sure, the Games held Panem together during a tumultuous period in our history,” says District 7 mayor Raymond Mason. “But I think it’s safe to say no one’s thinking of rebellion now.” He laughs as he gestures to the living room of his spacious townhouse, as if to prove his point. Such luxuries, a generation ago unthinkable for even the mayor of this once-impoverished lumber district, have become increasingly common among all District residents. “The Games have served their purpose. It’s time to move on.”

Hortensia Cooper, however, says Mason makes the mistake of assuming the Games’ benefits are purely political. “The economic benefits are undeniable,” insists Cooper, who serves as acting director of the Capitol Chamber of Commerce. “The prosperity we see today is a direct result of the Games, and stopping them now could propel us into a fiscal depression the likes of which we haven’t seen since the dark days of the rebellion.”

Quintillian Booth, chair of the nonprofit advocacy group Panem Remembers, counters that running the Games has a cost, too, one that can’t be measured purely in dollars and cents. “We must also consider the cost of 2,302 young lives lost since the Games began.” That’s 23 Tributes a year, plus an additional 24 for the 50th Quarter Quell. “And who can forget the 74th Games, which didn’t have a winner?” Booth asks.

It was after the 74th Games—the same Games Sanderson now studies in his classes—that this debate began. That was the year District 12 Tributes Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark shocked viewers by taking their own lives and leaving the Games without a victor. “Yeah,” Sanderson admits with an uneasy laugh. “The gamemakers didn’t count on those poison berries, either.”

“If you weren’t alive then, it’s hard to understand the horror of that moment,” says Madge Undersee, mayor of the coal-mining district Everdeen and Mellark hailed from. “When we realized what Katniss and Peeta had done, well, it changed the way we thought about the Games forever.”

Graecina Sand agrees the way we think about the Games has changed. “We’ve taken the lessons of the 74th Games very much to heart,” says this year’s Head Gamemaker, “and we’ve made quite a few changes since then. Those changes include relying solely on trained volunteer Tributes, nanobots that see to it the slain die instantly and without pain, and a ban on poisonous plant life. “We’ve moved well beyond the barbarism of our ancestors,” Sand says. “The Games today are quite humane, and taking part is a choice and a privilege, as anyone who watches the Tribute interviews can attest.” That watching those interviews is now optional is another, more recent, reform.

Yet Cooper insists, “Today’s Tributes have less choice than we’d like to believe. The sums paid to the families of those who enter the Tribute training pools is quite substantial. For young people whose families are struggling to put food on the table, there often isn’t any other choice. In the old days the process was at least somewhat democratic, but today’s Games target the Districts’ most vulnerable residents.”

Still, with recent Games budget increases and new scholarships focused on mentoring promising game design students from outside the Capitol, the Games don’t seem set to end any time soon. Recent legislation seeks to open participation to immigrants from beyond Panem’s borders as well.

“The Hunger Games are a defining part of who we are as a nation,” says President Coriolanus Snow, who like Undersee personally remembers the 74th Games. “They have a long and storied history that I see no need to apologize for. Indeed, it is an honor to be a part of it.”

Written after coming upon a fanvid with its own take on the 100th Hunger Games.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner

Kate Gilmore had already had careers in theatre and as a legal secretary before she came to writing fiction in her fifties. She joins the long haul series today to talk about her winding path that led her to a professional writing career—and the ways in which that path has continued to wind since then.

Although I spent much of my time in college writing plays and vaguely planning a life in the theatre, it was not until my 52nd year that I saw myself as a professional writer for the long haul. The idea arrived suddenly and took root in what most people would regard as poor soil.

My husband, Jack, was taking a vacation from tedious, annoying work as a high level programming consultant and writing a book about the early days of computers. I was sort of supporting the family as a legal secretary. This was a specialty I had acquired during a previous hiatus in the family fortunes—the time when I finally decided I would have to do something to make money. I was a terrific typist who could spell and construct a grammatical sentence, so temp work led to law offices and more substantial jobs. Thus at 52 I stood on the threshold of an actual career. There was still a lot of drudgery and much to learn, but I found the law interesting, and my final group of lawyers loved me.

So what happened to derail this attractive scenario? Well, I was in Central Park and, I think, contemplating a poem, when I realized that all I wanted to do was write and write and write, whether paid and admired or ignored and periodically impoverished. I have no idea why this happened but suppose it must have been bubbling along in my subconscious for some time. Obviously, I would have to give up my job, a major (and exciting) decision.

On an impulse, I asked an old friend to help me make up my mind. “Sally,” I said, “Jack has accepted a new and very well paid consulting job, and I am longing to stop working and write. What do you think?”

This query had a predictable outcome. Sally, who had known us for some years, pointed out that the consulting job would not last forever and said I should stick with my new career. “Think benefits,” she said, “and perhaps even some modest old age security.” I thanked her warmly and the next day gave notice to my three well-loved lawyers, one of whom actually shed a few tears. I was off to write for the long haul.

Did I ever regret this decision? Not for a minute that I can recall. Jack and I continued our chicken-feathers existence (chicken one day, feathers the next), and I began a novel that I intended to publish. I wrote, pretty much through thick and thin, using temp jobs to stuff in the cracks.

My first book was a teenage caper inspired by our fourteen year old son, who was leading a colorful and, to us, alarming life as a graffiti artist in the New York subway system. It told of a small group of middle class kids whose ambition was to paint the word PEACE in glowing, graffiti style letters on an international jet plane. Of Griffins and Graffiti was great fun to write, but I failed to take into account what was then, in the 80s, a rabid hatred of all things graffiti, the art as well as the trash, the people who produced it, and, of course, my jolly little book. This loathing was felt throughout the entire publishing world so far as I could see during a year of sending it around, but eventually it occurred to me that the Brits might not feel the same, and Penguin, at that time entirely British, snapped it up.

I don’t think that manuscript acceptance or rejection is any faster now in the electronic age than it was when my early books were making their stately way through the mail, over the transoms and into the slush piles where they awaited the attentions of a “first reader”. Houghton Mifflin mislaid my second book during this process, but eventually it was found and appreciated by a senior editor, Matilda Welter, who promptly called me. I shall always remember the sound of her voice, which was somehow both silvery and warm, when she told me that Remembrance of the Sun was beautiful, and she would love to publish it. There was only one problem, and I was to do as I thought best. In those days HM had a rule that young adult novels should not be more than 200 pages long. That left me 200 to cut. I gulped and agreed.

I learned a lot from Matilda Welter, not only a lot of clever ways to cut so a manuscript would appear shorter than it really was, but many ways to get rid of stuff that even I, after the initial pain, would never miss. We waged small wars, most of which I won, over what she sometimes felt was my too literate English, and we had increasingly luxurious lunches together as management came to admire my writing and Matilda published three more of my books.
It was a halcyon period for someone who was rapidly becoming addicted to writing. The books were extremely various. Even the research was fun, and I still have all the books I acquired for the ones I didn’t know much about. Two others were rooted in my life experiences—not memoirs but also not from the entirely invented world of the novel.

Remembrance of the Sun was the fictional story of the love affair between an American teenage girl and an only slightly older Iranian boy on the verge of the revolution that overthrew the Shah. I was there at that time with my family; and I had as well an intense, if strictly imaginary, emotional involvement with an Iranian man.

Then, after the admittedly splendid Enter Three Witches was written and published, came Jason and the Bard, drawn on my summers with Shakespeare Under the Stars and, like the Iran book, researched only in my head. This one was fun for me but not popular, having been judged “elitist” because the young actors and stage techs spouted Shakespeare (as I happened to know they would).

The Exchange Student, about a young traveler from a planet that had lost its animals, took me five years to finish what with delightful research at various zoos and the study of many books. Nevertheless, my still faithful publisher gave me a contract and waited patiently.

Matilda, for health reasons I had not understood, retired after the publication of The Exchange Student. The disastrous effect of losing one’s editor is an old story I have since heard a number of times and can confirm. The editor I inherited did not want my next book about an American girl stranded in Venice, so I published it on Nook and, typically, did nothing to sell it.

Then came the recession and a wretchedly new Houghton Mifflin where the idea of two sequels to The Exchange Student was entertained and then dropped. In this climate it was folly to even contemplate writing two unwanted books, but once I had the idea I plunged like a retriever into a duck pond and wrote steadily for another five years.

And now, at last, I have arrived at the theme of this blog. I have had trouble getting my trilogy published and expect to have more, but what a joy it was to write those sequels! Others have said it, and I will add my two cents worth: When I am working on a novel I feel a kind of deep contentment, a self-confirmation. Writing is, I think for most of us, extremely hard work. Yet I am glad to get up in the morning and go to my computer and begin again to do what somehow I feel I am meant to do. Yes, even if there is a problem, a block, a part that doesn’t work, I tell myself that it will resolve. The story will flow on, and the pleasure will still be there.

Kate Gilmore lost her heart to the theatre as a student at Antioch in the 1950s, where she participated in at least 80 theatre productions and took on nearly every theatrical task, from writing to directing to prompting. Along the way her verse play, Dark Wind Light Wind, was performed as the senior project of her friend Niela Miller. After college she went on to write more plays until meeting her husband, mathematician and computer game designer John Gilmore. She spent the years that followed living in New York, Italy, London, Iran, and rural New Hampshire while raising their two children.

She sold her first novel, Of Griffins and Graffiti, at the age of 50-something and has gone on to publish five more books since then, including Remembrance of the Sun and Enter Three Witches. She’s also written a series of science articles for teens for Earthwatch expeditions focused on subjects ranging from Australian frogs and Madagascan lemurs to cocoa farming in Ghana and medicinal plants of antiquity.

Previous Writing for the Long Haul Posts

- Kelly Bennett on Quitting Writing
- Pete Hautman on the book that will save us
- Elena Acoba on touching reader lives
- Steve Miller on building a writing life
- Sharon Lee on remembering we’re not alone
- Betty G. Birney on always challenging ourselves
- Nora Raleigh Baskin on making deals with the writing gods
- Sean Williams on unpredictability and luck
- Deborah J. Ross on writing through crisis
- Sharon Shinn on managing time
- Marge Pellegrino on feeding the restless yearning to write
- Sarah Zettel on embracing ignorance and writing your passions
- Uma Krishnaswami on honoring unreasonable exuberance
- Jennifer J. Stewart on finding community and support
- Sherwood Smith on keeping inspiration alive
- Mette Ivie Harrison on defining success
- Jeffrey J. Mariotte on why we write
- Judith Tarr on reinventing ourselves
- Kathi Appelt on the power of story
- Cynthia Leitich Smith on balancing business and creativity

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner
27 June 2014 @ 10:51 am

Annita Harlan was one of the first people I met when I moved to Tucson. A writer, botanist, lover of the desert, and fellow Icelandophile, among many other things.

Also, she loved music.

She will, needless to say, be missed.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner
16 June 2014 @ 02:34 pm

Dear Book,

So there I was, just about ready to give up on you, when you offer me … that. A reason to write you, and a glimmer of what you’re really all about.

Was it the threat of being trunked that made you give in?

Or did you actually choose to wait until the most frustrating possible moment to give up the first of your secrets?

Just wondering,


P.S. Unless it’s all a lie. We’ll have words if it’s all a lie. And I don’t mean the words on your pages.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner
13 June 2014 @ 06:11 pm

As many of you know, my first sale was to one of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover anthologies, and that sale gave me my first glimmer of hope that I could build a professional writing career. I recently had a story appear in a second Darkover anthology, produced by MZB’s estate, and I tremendously enjoyed returning to one of the places where my career began.

As some you also know, this week Marion Zimmer Bradley’s daughter revealed in public that her mother abused her.

I read and reread her daughter’s words this week. I read, too, portions of MZB’s own court deposition (from her husband’s trial, also for child abuse) that I hadn’t read before. Then yesterday I took a deep breath, and I added up the advances from my two Darkover sales, my Darkover royalties, and (at his request) my husband Larry Hammer’s payment for his sale to MZB’s magazine.

And then we made a donation to the anti-abuse charity RAINN for that amount. I’ll donate any future Darkover royalties, as well.

I remain proud of the Darkover stories I’ve written, and I respect the many fellow writers who also got their start on the pages of MZB’s anthologies and in her magazine. MZB played a huge role in many of our careers, and it’s not my intention to deny that, or to deny how deeply many readers were touched–and in some cases saved–by MZB’s work.

But I also can’t deny the harm caused by the flawed creator of that work. What I can do is see to it that my having written in her worlds goes towards fighting those same hurts and abuses in the places they’re happening now.

So that’s what I’m doing.

And I’m posting about it here–though this feels more like a personal decision than a public one–because silence about abuse creates the illusion of acceptance, and illusions gain power over time, and so sometimes, speaking aloud is more important than staying comfortable.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner

So on the livejournal version of last week’s post about the hard-to-define magic-y mythic-y lyrical fantasy genre, the subject of books that have this feeling without being fantastical came up.

Dacuteturtle talked about how some of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories have this feeling for her. Rachelmanija talked about how “secret garden” books do.

I realized that for me, this is a huge part of the appeal of, say, the Icelandic family sagas, which are often light on the magic (and vague about its nature), and which for lack of better terminology I’ve been describing as having the feel of Tolkien, with less magic and more lawsuits. Rymenhild talked about medieval myths and allegories on the livejournal post, which one could argue are either fantasy or a genre of their own. I’d add Beowulf to her list, once one adds the poetry of the Seamus Heaney translation. (Or, I’m guessing, the original old English.)

The contemporary examples that most readily come to mind for me are Deborah Noyes’ Plague in the Mirror (whose the timeslip is the only magical element) and Francesca Forrest’s Pen Pal (which feels magical yet doesn’t have anything that’s inarguable magic, though it does have things that arguably are).

Anyway, this all got me to thinking. Lots of folks talk about whether fantasy can achieve the same things realism can, with the spoken or unspoken assumption that a fantasy work is somehow more worthy or literary if it does.

But we don’t talk nearly so much about whether realism can achieve the things fantasy does, and reach for those heights. And whether it might be more worthy on some level if it does so, too.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner
16 May 2014 @ 06:12 pm

So, there’s a certain kind of book I’m always on the lookout for. It’s not the only kind of book I’m on the lookout for, but it is the kind of book I adore when I find it.

I think of the genre as lyrical mythic fantasy. Books that can be spare, but not so spare as to lose that lyricism–this isn’t the genre of transparent prose. Books that can be dense, but not so dense that they lose a certain lightness and flow. Books that are deeply, richly immersive. Liminal perhaps. Transporting, but not only transporting. Books that make you believe the mythic is just through that veil over there, and that make you believe this as much or more through sheer language as through cleverness of worldbuilding.

You can see how this might be hard to describe. I’m not sure I’ve ever fully succeeded. When I mention what I’m looking for, I often get recs for straight up fantasy-adventure with a dash of interesting world-building. That’s not what I’m looking for (or not what I’m looking for when I talk about this kind of book–of course I like other kinds of books, too, and many books I adore don’t fit into this at all). I know what I do want when I see it, which of course is not very useful if one is looking for recommendations.

Examples include The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, The Changeling Sea, The Underneath, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, The Last Unicorn, maybe Moonheart and Mythago Wood (it’s been years since I read those last two, so they could have changed in memory). It almost, but not quite, includes The Blue Sword, but if I mention the Blue Sword, I get all the wrong sort of recommendations again. I just started Sorrow’s Knot, which looks like it might fit though I’m not far enough in to that yet to be sure. If Miyazaki wrote novels, it would include some but not all of his work.

Of course, all of this is highly subjective, and a book that fits this description in one reader’s mind won’t in another’s. That’s how reading works, after all.

But I thought I’d go ahead and ask, and see what I might discover. If any of the above resonates for you, and you think you might know the sort of book I’m talking about … any recommendations?

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner
14 May 2014 @ 11:48 am

Bones of Faerie is five years old this spring! I’d get all sentimental, only Liza isn’t really the sentimental sort, so instead here’s a Book Smugglers’ “Old School Wednesday” review.

“Bones of Faerie is an unexpectedly lyrical and beautifully written book – I am an immediate fan of Janni Lee Simner’s haunting prose, which captured me from the first eerie chapter. It’s a poignant, elegiac novel about a world ravaged by magic and the children who have grown up in its ruins. It is Liza’s world that is so captivating, that draws you in and defines Bones of Faerie …”

Also, the Zombies, Run! episode I wrote is now live! Specifically, it’s Season 3, Mission 6: Career Day: “Mysterious giant footprints have been spotted–could this be related to the Phantom of Abel?” I had a blast writing this, and of course, I jumped ahead and ran the mission out of order just so I could hear it. It was a blast, running to my own words–but of course, the real blast is thinking of other people running to my words.

Because, after all, we are all Runner 5.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner
04 May 2014 @ 02:15 pm

The birdbath is frozen,
There’s snow on the ground,
Anything worth saving
Will survive on its own.

Water flows along curbs and down drains,
Seeking anything that craved sunshine–
The flowers sagged with bees,
The pithy dead stems,
Wintering insects.

For the butterflies’ sake I can adapt,
But it’s going to take a lot of work.

Gardening for Climate Change

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.