Reality Skimming

Reality Skimming

Reality Skimming promotes optimistic SF -- stories that inspire us to fight the good fight for another day. Committment to larger projects, the writer's sense of mission, joy of reading, the creative campfire of the SF community and the love of deserving protagonists are celebrated. We believe in heroes and striving to be what we believe in. It is also a news hub for content related to the Okal Rel Saga written by Lynda Williams.

16Dec/12Off

Julia Anderson Interviews Lynda Williams

Interview with Lynda Williams by Julia Anderson (2006)

Q: What inspired you to write The Courtesan Prince?

A: I have always been fascinated by stories about mistaken identify. That's where someone is really a prince or important in some other way, such as having a magic power, but doesn't know it, and isn't treated that way to start.

Q: What are some of the main characters in the The Courtesan Prince?

A: Amel, Ann, Ranar and Di Mon are the view point characters. That means we see the story unfold through their eyes.

Q: How many books have you written?

A: I have published six books of fiction, so far. Another one is coming out in the fall of 2006 and I have the Guide to the Okal Rel Universe forth-coming from another publisher. So by next Christmas I will have eight books of fiction in print. I have also published some short stories and some non-fiction.

Q: How did you come up with so many interesting names?

A: Well, some people think the names are just confusing, not interesting. So thank you for calling them interesting. I made up a lot of the names in my "saga" when I was in high school, and teenagers seem to have a habit of inventing names.

Q: What is your favourite part of the story?

A: I like many parts, but I think I like best the part where Amel is greeted by a spaceship full of people as if he is a demi-god, and is so scared he doesn't even want to go talk to them.

15Dec/12Off

Synopsis of the Creative Process

Synopsis of the Creative Process

The Okal Rel universe is the product of decades of occupation by its original "parent", Lynda Williams, and co-developer Alison Sinclair (author of Legacies, Blueheart and Arthur C. Clarke Award nominee Cavalcade)

The authors met as undergraduate Chemistry students at the University of Victoria, in British Columbia, bringing with them worlds and characters evolved in childhood.

Their separate worlds came together on paper during the years that followed, evolving into the characters and situations of the Okal Rel Universe.

After graduation, Lynda and Alison remained in touch, and lived in the same city again for a period while both were obtaining post- graduate degrees at MacMaster University in Hamilton. Since then, they have kept in touch -- and the stories alive -- by e-mail.

Characters and events evolved, over the years, with repeated recasting roles, themes and preoccupations. The Universe stabilized in the mid 90s, and the first novel distilled from plans to cast it as a series, was published by Edge of Calgary in 2003.

Lynda may be writing most or all of the rest of the works set in the Okal Rel Universe herself, given Alison's other commitments and interests, but remains grateful to Alison for generously inviting her into the pro-world of science fiction and the many creative joys shared over the years.

15Dec/12Off

Collaborating Across Continents

First published on the website of Alison Sinclair

So how do two writers who have spent fourteen of their twenty-one years of friendship/collaboration separated by five hundred to three thousand miles actually produce a saga that details forty plus years of imagined events and sketches in a thousand more?

The Saga got its start early in our second year at University of Victoria when I spotted Lynda, whom I knew slightly from Maths 130, writing something with quotation marks in it and sidled up to ask her whatchadoin'?. She already had the Gelacks and Reetions well established - though in different form- and I was carrying around the Burdanians in embryo, so to speak, and for a time we combined forces. Gradually, however, Lynda's part of the universe proved the more playable (though the Burdanians went on to their own destiny) and she cheerfully made room for a sitting tenant. In student lounges and cafeterias and - I am ashamed to confess - classes, the Saga burgeoned,and has continued to flourish through the getting of five-and-a-half degrees between us, one husband and three children (Lynda's), moves from Victoria to Prince George, B.C. to Hamilton, Ontario, to Prince George (Lynda's) and from Victoria to Hamilton to Boston, U.S.A., to Leeds, England, and to Calgary (mine). We have contributed to the profits of phone companies in three countries and exchanged scenes and parts of scenes by hand, conventional post, the original OPUS/BBS network, E-mail in all its incarnations, and now FAX, the Internet and Web. What computer literacy I possess is owed in part to the need to keep the saga going.

We each have a cast of characters, usually ones we've introduced. Some we are quite possessive about; others, we toss back and forth. Generally, we write from the viewpoint of "our" characters - with THRONE PRICE, we each took one of the principles, more or less, except for those times when one or other of us got the bit between her teeth and ran with it, or, alternatively, got hopelessly bogged down and 'turfed' the fragments to the other. We pass what we have written back and forth for comments which usually run along the lines of 'I really like it ... but ... he/she wouldn't do that/say it that way!' (particularly of the characters we feel possessive about) or 'You're breaking the rules of this society/universe' (Lynda) or 'Isn't there a simpler way to do this?' (Alison). Simple matters we resolve by E-mail. Thorny questions (Chapter 23 of THRONE PRICE was a bear since we both had very different ideas as to what was allowable), complex scenes (those crowd scenes) and wild speculations we hammer out on the phone. My phone bill is something I am always very careful to keep out of sight when my Mum visits, and whenever I phone Lynda, I can hear childish wails of "Is it ALISON??" in the background.

I can't recollect at what stage we decided to try and carve the Saga into novel-sized pieces, but over Christmas/New Year of 1996/1997 I was house sitting for my parents in Victoria and Lynda came down to join me, with the intention of working on THRONE PRICE, which was then in the form of a cluster of draft chapters. The Great Victoria Snowstorm ensued and by the end of a snowbound five days we had a scene by scene outline of THRONE PRICE and portions of the subsequent books, FAR ARENA and AVIM OATH (which we were at that point trying to shoehorn into one immense book). Then we went back to our respective abodes to work on our respective halves. THRONE PRICE was complete and submitted by the end of September, came back for revision in November/December, and was resubmitted with extensive changes to beginning and end in March. This August it was officially accepted by EDGE.

15Dec/12Off

Eulogy to Broken Glass and Stupid Muses

Eulogy to Broken Glass and Stupid Muses

Late last night an accident shattered a decorative humidifier, called "the mist of dreams", that had doubled as a symbol of my muse since I became spell bound by it in a store window nearly a year ago: watching cool sheets of foggy mist trickle from a wide-mouthed, frosted bowl, held up by a floor mounted stand and bewitched by changing colors. I had been feeling down hearted about the prospect of ever getting even a fraction of my inner life translated safely into print when the "mist of dreams" captured my imagination, and I think my husband David knew what I was struggling with. That is probably why my eldest daughter Jennifer-who also believes in dreams-found her father receptive to helping her buy the "mist of dreams" for me, for Christmas: a mission that they undertook despite David's increasing concern about the family debt and Jennifer's very limited budget. My daughter contributed, for months, out of her weekly allowance, foregoing some of those small, personal pleasures that brighten good days and make bad days more bearable. I was moved by their gift. It gave me courage. And courage is exactly what anyone needs, today, in trying to sustain something as complex and emotional as the Okal Rel Universe, against the modern world's chaotic, 30-second windows of attention and the sci-fi scene's love affair with evil elves and hopeless endings.

The accident that shattered the "mist of dreams" was one of those wholly unexpected affairs that in retrospect seem inevitable. It had survived in my office since January. In early August, we emptied out the water in the "mist of dreams" and moved it to our bedroom, to make room for renovations in the basement. There were too many things stacked up in the bedroom in places where things shouldn't be, and a flick of David's dressing gown sent the "mist of dreams" tumbling while he was up and moving around in the dark last night, after getting up to tell the kids having a sleep over in the living room to settle down and go to sleep. All so very perfectly ordinary.

My initial reaction was relief, since the crash that woke me sounded alarming unique: both loud and dainty, like a million tiny icicles breaking in a brittle splash of audible grays, whites and silvers. David's voice, when he spoke, sounded as if he had killed a beloved pet: sort of flat and disbelieving. Once I figured out what had happened, my next reaction was numbness, but not so much for the "mist of dreams" itself, literally. I am becoming superstition in my old age, and that decorative humidifier stood for something important to me; something that I have felt slipping away from me, struggle by struggle, as my life changes. It stood for my ability to live in another world and to carry the that power in my heart like a secret weapon against all life's other challenges.

For a moment, lying in bed, with the sound of that fluid shattering still fresh in my ears, I thought: well, that's over. After all, I hadn't written anything new in months. It did seem like an omen. I am not young anymore and the forces I exert myself against to keep alive the promises made to my younger self are so much more tangible than the magic of a sulky muse that expects far too much accommodation from the real world. Maybe it was time to stop struggling.

David was still standing near the broken "mist of dreams", half awake and a bit shocked, trying to figure out what to make of the situation and needing to go back to bed again. I heard myself say, "It's only a thing."

Then my symbol-make brain machinery started up again. If I let this end something for me, symbolically, then was it "just a thing"? I don't believe in lying. And if it wasn't just a thing, what did it stand for? My silly muse, or the love that had purchased this useless thing of beauty to inspire me: the same love that made David behave with such uncharacteristic befuddlement, now he had accidentally broken it; and made Jenny determined I should have it. I thought about other people, also, who have lived in the Okal Rel Universe with me; stepped in and taken a look around; supported its development financially, or begun to contribute to its on-going construction. People who had cared, to some extent or another, about the magic I had so long taken for granted as a fixture of my own mental life.

Yes. The "mist of dreams" did stand for something. But it would be a self-indulgent, cruel irony to make its demise symbolize the death of the very thing it was given to me in order to encourage.

Instead, I decided that - superstitious or not in my "old age" - I am still a magician. And magicians make up their own rules for the power any talisman holds over them.

If, like a lot of things in middle life, my muse can't be taken for granted, the answer isn't giving up, it's getting into shape by working harder. Discipline is where I have been failing lately, and I owe it to myself and everyone one else who cares even a little, to stop sulking in my tent and get to work again.

The "mist of dreams" got knocked over. But now that the glass is broken, the wish it expressed is immortal.

15Dec/12Off

Flying Electrons by Alison Sinclair

Flying Electrons by Alison Sinclair

Collaboration in the Electronic Age

In the small hours of this morning the phone rang. Being my mother's daughter, I was bracing myself for disaster when I heard the brr-brr-brr-brr-chhh! of the FAX machine. One ... two ... three ... I know only one person who sends me multi-page FAXes at 3 am: Lynda Williams, my friend and literary collaborator. I sauntered through to the kitchen, collected the pages from the floor, and stood in my pyjamas reading about the impeachment of the Ambassador of Rire. I sat down at my own computer, composed a couple of interjections on behalf of the Ambassador's foster son, and FAXed them back. Then I went back to bed. That afternoon I received two E-mails from Lynda to let me know that she had uploaded the draft of that chapter to our electronic 'maildrop' so I could retrieve it for further tinkering. When I do so, I will deposit the chapter I have been working on, for Lynda's perusal, comment and editing.

In this way, over the next eight months or so, we will write a novel.

Oh yes, I should mention that Lynda lives in Prince George, B.C. and I live in Ottawa, Ontario. Before that Lynda lived in Prince George B.C. and I lived in Leeds, England and then in Calgary, Alberta. And before that Lynda lived in Hamilton, Ontario and I lived in Boston, U.S.A. ...

All in all it's been over twenty years since we discovered each other as undergraduates at the University of Victoria. The fruit of our collaboration is a long, shaggy Space Opera detailing the fortunes of the inhabitants of the Empire of Gelion and the Confederation of Rire (both originally invented by Lynda). Some of the early versions would offer rich material for blackmail if they fell into the wrong hands! Initially, we passed sheets of paper hand to hand, writing largely in dialogue with the barest of scene setting or description. When Lynda graduated and I stayed on an extra year, we mailed each other fat packages of handwritten and typewritten scenes, accompanied by pages of analysis. Sometime during our postal era, we each got our first computers, Lynda a TRS-80, and (somewhat later) myself one of the original MacIntoshes, and our individual efforts became more extended (and readable). While I was in Boston and Lynda in Hamilton, we subscribed to one of the first commercial E-mail services. Then we experimented with modem-modem file transfer over the phone, and via the OPUS-BBS system. With my move to Leeds came a University computer account, allowing me to correspond via Internet with Lynda, who was working as sessional College instructor in Prince George. Lynda founded her local Freenet, largely, she claims, so she could have a platform to keep up the exchange. The Saga enjoyed a brief on-line incarnation as part of a Speculative Fiction website maintained by Lynda. These days the bulk of our communication is by FAX, phone, and Internet, and we are in the process of building a website for the presentation of all our supporting material (www.okalrel.org). Lynda, with a Masters in Computation, is a self-described "baby UNIX guru" and is my first recourse when UNIX for Dummies lets me down. I am merely an enthusiastic end-user with a necessary facility -- as a member of the Macophilic minority -- for file conversion and transfer.

I can't recall when exactly we decided to try and carve the Saga into novel-sized pieces, but with the appearance of my first novel Legacies in 1995, publication ceased to be something that only happened to other people.Over Christmas/New Year of 1996/1997 we got together in Victoria B.C. to consider in detail how we would turn a section of the Saga into a self-contained novel.The Great Victoria Snowstorm arrived and by the end of five snowbound days we had a scene-by-scene outline of the first novel, titled Throne Price, and rough outlines of two more. We returned to our respective abodes and set to work.

Our shared cast of characters has been established over the past twenty years. There are those whom one or other of us regards as "theirs", and tends to treat with extreme possessiveness -- which was why I sat up at 4 am writing rejoinders on behalf of the Ambassador of Rire's adopted son. I knew he would have been more vigorous in defending his foster-father. There are other characters whom we lob back and forth, at will. Generally, we write from the viewpoint of "our" characters - Throne Price was told in alternating chapters, with each of us writing one of the two protagonists. Alternatively, there are times when one or other of us gets the bit between her teeth and runs with it, or, alternatively, gets hopelessly bogged down and "turfs" the debris to the other. Certain sections were entirely collaborative efforts, regardless of whose point of view was used. We pass what we have written back and forth for additions, amendments and comments, especially when the scenes written by one person involve a major contribution from the other's characters.

Over the years, we have largely worked out areas of jurisdiction. Most scenes have been discussed before writing, or have passed through previous drafts, so the second writer's revision tends to concern the details of speech and behaviour of "their" characters rather than the shape of the scene as a whole. Lynda has final say on what may happen in the two worlds and their societies, though since I like to write description I am often in charge of sets and props. I have final say on matters genetic and medical, since my educational background includes degrees in chemistry, biochemistry and medicine, and I am violently allergic to that line so beloved by Star Trek writers, "his DNA is rewriting itself" and other affronts to bioscience. Lynda has final say on matters computational, since her degrees are in general studies, librarianship and computation, and one of her pet peeves is the AI which is indistinguishable from human in all details, so beloved of SF in general. Lynda's ideas come to the fore in the building of the compu-communist society of Rire, where the ultimate democracy is realized by reliance on intelligent, but non-sentient, arbiters. Minor quibbles we resolve by E-mail. Major differences of opinion we hash out on the phone. The penultimate chapter of Throne Price took us well over a week to resolve since we each had very different ideas about what was permissible. Lynda resisted having my character postulate desperate and (for his culture) criminal solutions to the bind he was in, and I resisted denying him the use of his full intelligence to his efforts to escape. However, after a spell of daily E-mails and frequent phone calls, and revisions numbered a through f, we had a dramatic scene we both were very pleased with. And more importantly, we were still talking to each other! As Lynda has said, the secret of this kind of collaboration is that the work may be important, but the relationship is even more so.

And thanks to a meeting at a local science fiction convention one summer, the novel found a publisher, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, an emergent small press undaunted by the prospect of a series projected for nine books or more. As Throne Price started to wend its way through the publishing process, we met for five days in Calgary to block out the second novel and divvy up the writing. Which is how I come to be picking FAXes up of my kitchen floor at 3 am in the morning.

15Dec/12Off

Alison is On the Phone by Lynda Williams

Alison is On the Phone by Lynda Williams

Written Spring 2001

It's not easy having a mother who spends time in another world. Here's a poem I wrote for fun to capture the feeling in the house when my co-author calls, plus a little philosophizing on my part.

  • Oh no, oh no
  • Alison is on the phone.
  • Who will pour milk
  • wash dishes braid hair.
  • Motherhood becalmed
  • and deafened by
  • Oh no, oh no
  • Alison is on the phone.
  • Who will pour milk
  • wash dishes braid hair.
  • Motherhood becalmed
  • and deafened by
  •  
  • another universe
  • that half steals its changeling
  • creator standing between
  • sorting underwear and wiping tables
  • bound by sound and conversation
  • to the one thread unsevered
  •  
  • from childhood with its
  • radiating spider's web
  • of interests bound like flies
  • still struggling, escaped
  • or spoiled in their silk, waiting
  • undevoured
  •  
  • Alien as the chaos that predates creation
  • to the beings that minted my motherhood.
  •  
  • One day they might meet me there. One day
  • if I can cast it all wide on the sky. If it is big enough.
  • At least it's possible. Dreams that die in one brain cast
  • no shadows.
  • If it's there. If they look. They might just catch
  • my resonance.
  •  
  • How many are so privileged to leave a speaking ghost?
  •  
  • But I forgive them now if
  • they are rendered deaf
  • and becalmed in the effort
  • by their own siren creations. And
  • hope they will forgive me if
  • I tug at their sleeves in my
  • old age, all unaware
  • and cry my own rendition of
  •  
  • Oh no, oh no
  • Alison is on the phone.
  •  
  • another universe
  • that half steals its changeling
  • creator standing between
  • sorting underwear and wiping tables
  • bound by sound and conversation
  • to the one thread unsevered
  •  
  • from childhood with its
  • radiating spider's web
  • of interests bound like flies
  • still struggling, escaped
  • or spoiled in their silk, waiting
  • undevoured
  • Alien as the chaos that predates creation
  • to the beings that minted my motherhood.
  •  
  • One day they might meet me there. One day
  • if I can cast it all wide on the sky. If it is big enough.
  • At least it's possible. Dreams that die in one brain cast
  • no shadows.
  • If it's there. If they look. They might just catch
  • my resonance.
  •  
  • How many are so privileged to leave a speaking ghost?
  • But I forgive them now if
  • they are rendered deaf
  • and becalmed in the effort
  • by their own siren creations. And
  • hope they will forgive me if
  • I tug at their sleeves in my
  • old age, all unaware
  • and cry my own rendition of
  •  
  • Oh no, oh no
  • Alison is on the phone.