Archive for the ‘My Stories’ Category

Veering Off Target

March 25, 2020


Saturday afternoon Jim and I were out in the yard throwing atlatl darts, as one does on a lovely spring afternoon.  One of my shots hit the edge of the stacked hay bales we use as targets, veered right, went through a cedar tree and then through both sides of a five-gallon bucket we had set to catch rainwater under a gutter.

The bucket slowed the dart—yep, despite the darn things being taller than I am, the proper term for them is “dart”—thus preserving the thirty-two gallon trash can filled with water that was there.

So, good luck?  Bad luck? Raw chance?

How you choose to see it is up to you.  Or who you are, I suppose.  The bucket would say “bad luck.”  The trash can “good luck.”  The dart “raw chance.”

All I know is that I need to get another bucket…

Dealing with what I can is how I tend to function.  On that note, I’ve had a lot of queries as to how Jim and I are doing in these days of social isolation and such.

I’m happy to report that very little has changed.  I already work from home.  Jim is now retired, so not only doesn’t he need to go into work, he’s available to run what limited errands we need run.  This keeps asthmatic me one step away from random infection.

Certain things are slowing down.  Wolf’s Soul is to the stage where I need to review a print proof.  Since I use Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, needless to say, there’s a slowdown.  I’ll get the proof when I get it.  The e-book is pretty much completed, but I’m holding it so I can release both books at the same time.  This also enables me to make sure any errors I catch in the print version can be fixed, if necessary, in the e-book as well.

With the new e-book versions of the three “Breaking the Wall” novels out, and Wolf’s Soul as far along as I can take it for now, I’m moving my creative energies over to working on the yet untitled fourth novel in the “Star Kingdom” series I’ve been doing with David Weber.  I’ve been working on SK4 through all the rest, but much of that work has been in the form of research rather than actual prose.  My hope is to get prose written this week.

I may be writing longhand for a bit, because that’s often a good way to convince my brain to go sideways into a new universe and set of characters.  We’ll see.

I wish for you what I wish for myself: May you turn bad luck into good luck, and embrace what chance hands you.

Dynamic Dreaming

February 26, 2020

Four Issues Holding a Wide Variety of Hopes and Dreams

Like Gaheris Morris in my “Breaking the Wall” books, I have a secret life.  I’m not a member of a secret occult cabal (or if I am, I’m not quite ready to admit it), but I am part of something nearly as incredible: I’m the official Senior Advisor and Creative Consultant for DreamForge, a full-color, fully-illustrated magazine dedicated to just about every sort of SF/F fiction there is with one exception: No Unredeemable Dystopia.

How I came to my secret identity is a complicated story.  The short version is that when friends decide they’re going to do something impossible, incredible, and insane—but really, really cool—I think you have two choices.  You can stand aside and later regret not helping out.  Or you can leap up on that runaway stagecoach and do everything in your power to help keep it on the road.

I’m not rich enough to fully fund the magazine, so I did the next best thing.  I offered to do what I could to help out.  Part of that was helping them find quality writers and artists.  Part was contributing stories.  Part was offering a Kickstarter incentive. Part was simply giving Scot and Jane Noel, the creative team behind DreamForge, someone to run ideas by.

Working with DreamForge has been terrific and uplifting.  Now DreamForge is moving into its second year.  Once again, we’re doing a Kickstarter.  My incentive went before I could even mention it on a WW, as did that of Hugo Award-winning artist Elizabeth Leggett, but there are some very cool ones left.  DreamForge’s Kickstarter ends on March 7, and I want to encourage you to go take a look.

Now…  Here’s something for those of you who didn’t run away at the sniff of a Kickstarter…

If you wanted to read my Firekeeper short story, “A Question of Truth,” which appeared in DreamForge Issue Three, here’s a link.  If you like it, why not wander over to the Kickstarter and join into supporting the magazine?  Some of the incentives are embarrassingly reasonable.

Will you find any Jane Lindskold stories in the forthcoming issues of DreamForge?  In fact, you will.  My story “The Problem With Magic Rings” is scheduled for Issue 6.  It’s a sword and sorcery romp featuring the same unlikely band of heroes as in my short story, “A Familiar’s Predicament,” which appeared in Sword and Sorceress 33.

I’m going to stop here and hope you’ll at least go take a look at the Kickstarter for DreamForge year two.  The magazine is lovely, full-color, gorgeous, and, best of all, full of stories that fight against the darkness.

Breaking News! Breaking the Wall!

February 19, 2020

Three New Covers!

As I’ve been promising, there’s a sparkling new e-book reissue of my three “Breaking the Wall” novels: Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, and Five Odd Honors.  Read on to learn more about the series, extra content, and to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the cover design process.

First a word of reassurance…  Not into e-books?  Don’t worry.  Print copies are available at my newly revamped website bookstore.

The “Breaking the Wall” series was originally released from Tor Books starting in 2008 with Thirteen Orphans.  While Tor’s books were completely gorgeous, the new e-book covers better reflect the urban fantasy element of the series.

The new e-books each contain bonus content in the form of an essay about the “making of” the series.  These are expanded versions of pieces I wrote for back in the day, with a lot more detail into my emotional journey as I wrote.

Never heard of the “Breaking the Wall” series?  Here’s the cover copy for the new edition of Thirteen Orphans.

A Dangerous Inheritance

Brenda Morris has no idea that her father, Gaheris, has a secret life.  He is the Rat: a key member of the curious cabal known as the Thirteen Orphans.  When she is nineteen, Brenda learns that all the omens show that Brenda will be his heir.

Brenda may inherit her place far sooner than anyone wishes.  Unseen enemies are stalking the Thirteen Orphans.  If Brenda does not join Pearl Bright, the Tiger, as she gathers the surviving Orphans to stand against their enemies, soon the Orphans—and their generations-long mission—will vanish, even from memory.

Bonus material includes an expanded version of the essay, “Why Thirteen Orphans?”

Interested?  You can find the new e-books at the following vendors:

Amazon: Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, Five Odd Honors.

Nook: Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, Five Odd Honors.

Kobo: Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, Five Odd Honors.

i-Tunes: Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, Five Odd Honors.

GooglePlay: Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, Five Odd Honors.

So, why the big change in the cover art?  It’s certainly not because the original art by Sam Weber wasn’t gorgeous, because it absolutely was.  However, over the years I’ve learned that these covers didn’t give most readers any idea that this series was urban fantasy.  The reviewers (who had the text in hand) caught on immediately, as this quote from Library Journal shows:

“This new series launch deftly mingles the fascination of the mah-jongg tiles and the animal lore of the Chinese Zodiac with a modern tale of discovery and danger.  This urban fantasy should appeal to fans of Charles de Lint and Jim Butcher.” Library Journal on Thirteen Orphans

When Jane Noel came on board as the new cover artist, I asked her to come up with covers that would say at a glance what sort of books these were.  First, she researched cover art associated with urban fantasy, and noted that they often emphasized the characters over the plot or setting.  With this in mind, she decided to feature one of the point-of-view characters, Brenda Morris, with one of the other key characters.

Jane Noel also decided that a series called “Breaking the Wall” should feature a wall appropriate to the book in question.  So, Thirteen Orphans has a zodiac wheel, reflecting the characters’ discovery of their relationship with one of the animals in the Chinese zodiac.  Nine Gates, which provides the first glimpse of the mysterious Lands Born from Smoke and Sacrifice, features a wall opening into the lands.  Five Odd Honors features a gate opening into…  Well, I’m not going to say too much, in case of spoilers.

The process of working with an artist who had read the books in the series several times was fascinating, showing me, once again, how the reader and author see the books in different ways.

So, there you have it…  Please let me know if you have any questions, and I’ll answer either in the Comments or in next week’s WW, depending on how much detail is needed.  Go on now: Break the Wall!

Backgrounds, Foundations

February 5, 2020

One of the Cards from the Exhibit

Last week my writing mostly focused on background work for various projects.  There now exists an updated and extensive list of characters from the first three Star Kingdom novels.  Cover copy has been written for the upcoming new releases of my three “Breaking the Wall” novels.  Stuff like that…

Then, this past weekend, as a change of pace, Jim and I went to see the Jim Henson exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum.  One of the pleasures for me in the exhibit was seeing how various projects and characters developed.  I’m not really a “making of” sort of viewer.  I’m the sort who wants to believe for those couple of hours that whatever place I’m viewing and the people who live in it are real.

However, seeing how Henson and his team brought script and characters together—especially how the process evolved over time, and as different collaborators became regulars in the team—was fascinating.  I found myself feeling better about the amount of background work I’d been doing for my own projects.

It also made me think about a comment Beverly Martin, one of the regular participants in my FF, had made about a book she was reading.  Let me quote her:

“It is kind of suffering from middle book syndrome – lots of words but little movement in the main plot. I get that they move on horseback, but does the story have to move at the same pace?”

Even as I understood her point, I found myself thinking about what it implied.  For one, there’s the question of “main plot.”  When I was a very young reader of the “Lord of the Rings” novels, my least favorite novel was The Two Towers, especially Frodo and Sam’s journey.  There were none of the clashing armies, none of the hints of romance, none of the moments of humor that livened not only the other two books in the series but the other major plotline.

Frodo, Sam, and Golem’s journey was a tale that moved not only “on horseback” but on foot, through the mud, up endless staircases, and, even worse, into increasingly thick bogs of distrust, suspicion, and even outright hatred and betrayal.

And, as an older reader, I realize that this is the most crucial part of the entire epic tale, without which not only the climax of the story, but also the concerns felt by the rest of the Fellowship and allies would seem groundless, shallow, and weak.

I’m not saying this is the case for the book Beverly is reading.  (If you want to know which one, you can look on the FF for last week.)  Sometimes writers do lose touch or reach a point where they are indulged because they can be counted on to sell a fair number of copies to loyal fans.

A friend of mine recently confessed that she wishes a writer whose work she used to love received more editing because she had found his more recent works “turgid.”

One thing I’ve learned is that the answer to what makes a book “slow” varies widely, not only from author to author, but from reader to reader.  The other day, I had a lively chat with a friend who is reading my Wolf’s Head, Wolf’s Heart for the first time.  He had numerous questions about the “societies” that are mentioned as a background element in the cultures of Hawk Haven and Bright Bay.  I could tell him a considerable amount that never made it to the page.

Almost every novel I’ve written, particularly if it belongs to a series, has a host of background material that may never make it onto the page.  If there’s a point where things seem to “slow down,” perhaps because I’m providing background material or seem to have strayed from the plot…  Well, maybe I haven’t strayed.  Maybe I know a little more about what the “main plot” is than a reader who may be misled by anything from jacket copy to what the characters themselves think is important.

Which brings us back to the behind the scenes elements of the Jim Henson exhibit.  A friend had enthused that Jareth and Sarah’s costumes from the iconic ballroom scene were on display.  I was certainly eager to see them.  In the end, while I appreciated the opportunity, I could have done without.

Gowns and jackets meant to be filmed, meant to be seen with perfect lighting picking up the highlights, may not look as wonderful on a dummy in a case.  I’ll take the illusion.  I’ll take the story.  But, y’know, I’d also take Jareth’s jacket!  (Or the wonderful silver pendant.)

And I’ll keep writing more material than the reader will ever see, because, just like the support rod that’s invisible but makes the puppet’s arm movements possible, so background that is only hinted at supports the rest of the story.

This Is One of Those Weeks

January 29, 2020

Apprentice Treecat With My Annotated Copy of SK1

This is one of those weeks…  Nothing bad.  Just lots of things.  What’s really weird is that all these things actually mean projects are moving ahead, but I feel as if  I’m getting nowhere because I’m not working on what I thought I’d be working on.  Does that make any sense?

So here are a few of the new things.  The covers for the new e-book versions of the three “Breaking the Wall” novels have been completed.  Cover art and design was done by my long-time friend, Jane Noel, and takes a completely different approach from the covers done originally by Tor Books.

We’re working on the interior design right now…

I’m grounding myself once again in the universe of the Star Kingdom novels that I co-write with David Weber.  (Another long-time friend.  I’m seeing a trend here.)  It’s been over seven years since I’ve written a new novel in that universe, and I’ve had to ground myself in characters and locations major and minor, even in those little tricks of language that make the collaborations have the “voice” of the Honorverse.

Such as, you ask?  Well, for example, treecats are often described as “flowing” from place to place.  Or that when writing treecats “talking” to each other, contractions are never used.  Or that the treecats think of themselves as “The People” and humans as “two-legs.”  And that’s just the treecat stuff.  Unlike in most of the Honorverse novels where the characters are adults, and as such fairly set in their habits, our main characters are changing in ways big and small in every book while in some way remaining organically “themselves.”

What else?  I’ve read/am reading some neat things that I’ll be providing blurbs for.  If you want a hint as to what, take a look at my FF and guess!  Unlike some authors who provide generic blurbs, I only blurb stories I’ve read, and then I try to provide blurbs that in some way reflect a the work.

In case you’re wondering, Wolf’s Soul is still with my copy editor.  I talked with her earlier this week, and she’s hard at work.

On a personal front, Jim and I celebrated our twenty-third anniversary this past weekend.  We went up to Santa Fe to try okonomiyaki, which it turns out we both really like.  And then we wandered around, looking at all the pretty things.

While chatting with a friend about all of this, I had an insight as to how I deal with too much all at once.  Triage.  What must be done, or the project stalls completely, comes first.  Next comes what moves a project along.  The wild idea of the moment—like messing around with the lovely blank journal Jim gave me for our anniversary—that comes last.

So, off to check something off the triage list!

Wandering For Ten Years

January 15, 2020

That Was The Year That Was

January 13th of 2010 saw my first Wednesday Wanderings post.

A decade.  Ten years.  Fifty-two weeks a year.  And I haven’t missed once.  I think that makes for 520 essays, plus this one today.

Sometimes, like today, the post has been relatively short.

Other times, the posts have been long essays, often on writing. Some of these became Wanderings on Writing, one of the few books on writing that focuses on the unique concerns encountered by a working writer of science fiction and fantasy.

Other times these Wanderings have been about life, or new releases, or trips.

There was that time we saw a camel in someone’s yard…

For seven years, I also wrote the Thursday Tangents, which my friend, Alan Robson of New Zealand.  You can download some of these as a free e-book here.

A bit over five years ago, I started the Friday Fragments, which gives you a glimpse into my reading habits and provides you with the opportunity to influence them.

I’m always open to suggestions as to possible topics for these Wanderings.  Please feel free to make suggestions for the year to come.

Lots of things have changed in these last ten years.  One thing hasn’t.  I’m still a writer.  And now I’m off to write.

Projects Update: Wolf’s Soul and Others

January 8, 2020

Kel’s On Top Of 2020

About this time last year, I wrote a comprehensive update about what I was working on and what could be expected in the year to come.  Seems like a good time to do the same thing again…

As promised, 2019 saw the release of Wolf’s Search, the seventh book in the Firekeeper Saga and the first new book in the series in about a decade.  2020 will see the release of Wolf’s Soul, the second part of the story.  The manuscript is written, polished, and I’m getting feedback from my secret beta readers.  After that’s in, I’ll give the manuscript a review, send the manuscript to my copyeditor, and shift into production.  If all goes well, the book should be available to you in just a few months.

I don’t plan to delay the release of Wolf’s Soul for promotional hype, gathering pre-orders, or the like.  The first announcement of availability will be via my newsletter.  Then I’ll mention it here, as well as on my social media.

Another almost completed project are{is} three new e-book versions of the “Breaking the Wall” novels (Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, and Five Odd Honors).  Each e-book will have new cover art by Jane Noel.  There will also be extra content in the form of essays about how the idea for the series evolved, as well as quite a lot about how elements of mah-jong played a role in the development of the magic system.   We’re working on cover art and design, then they’ll be ready to go.  Again, the first announcement will be on my newsletter, but I’ll mention it here as well.

If you’re not into e-books, I still have copies of the hardcover print editions available at my newly revamped website bookshop.

Contracts have been signed for three new novels in the “Star Kingdom” (aka “Stephanie Harrington”) series that I have been writing with my long-time friend, David Weber.  The series to this point consists of A Beautiful Friendship, Fire Season, and Treecat Wars.  These books are prequels to the “Honor Harrington” novels and, unlike those, take place mostly planetside.  For this reason, there’s a lot more about the treecats, their home lives, and culture.  We’ve started writing the first (yet untitled) book in this new series, and writing this will be my first focus in 2020.

I also have some short fiction forthcoming, including “The Problem With Magic Rings” in DreamForge and “The Greatest Jewel” in a Masters of Orion anthology.  And, yes, I’m continuing to work with DreamForge magazine, which has just completed its fourth issue and first year!

It’s possible that other books in my backlist will be made available as new e-books.  Whether that happens will be a question of time and energy.  I wouldn’t have been able to do what I have with the “Breaking the Wall” books without the help of my husband, Jim, artist Jane Noel, and frequent proofreader, Paul Dellinger.

I’d like to write more short fiction, and may well do so.  There’s also a 150,000 word rough draft manuscript that I’m hoping to get back to and expand, probably into two books.  I’d like to start with that before the year is over.  We’ll see if that’s a bit optimistic on my part…

So, another busy year with many new stories being written.  Any questions?

A Vision of…

December 18, 2019

Kel has Christmas Dreams

‘Tis the week before Christmas, and all through the house,

All the creatures are stirring, including the compost bin mouse.

The cats are nestled, snug on our bed,

While visions of catnip toys dance in their heads.

Jim in his cowboy hat, and me in my cap,

Aren’t able to settle for any sort of nap…

Everywhere there is such a clatter,

I find myself wondering what is the matter.


I could go on, but I’ll spare you.

Christmas is a week away.  If you’re like most modern American adults, you’re feeling stressed, rather than merry.

(I don’t know how other nations celebrate these days.  Feel free to let me know.)

Daily, my e-mail and social media remind me how little time is left to buy things.  Buying gifts is apparently not enough.  On one passing feed, a woman extolled the joys of elaborate wrapping, adding how the “package embellishment” would serve as an additional gift.  Wow!  Jim and I are lucky if we manage to get the wrapping paper more or less straight.

Hey, I like Yuletide celebrations.   Jim and I don’t have kids, but we still decorate.  We make seven or eight types of cookies.  We provide gifts for both family far, and friends near.

I’ll admit, there are times I feel more like the Grinch than like Santa, especially because, being self-employed, I don’t get any paid time off.  I’m squeezing my holiday preparations in between keeping ahead of my various tasks.

So, what to do?

For me, surviving holiday stress always goes back to counting my blessings.  Here’s one.  I can make seven or eight types of cookies, even the ones with expensive ingredients like nuts.  I remember when I’d stretch the budget so I could make my family’s recipe of butterballs using real butter (not margarine) and walnuts.  I’d look longingly at some of the other recipes and think “someday.”

And, guess what?  It’s someday.  Not only did I make the butterballs with butter, I used butter for all my cookies. I made maple pecan cookies and hermits, both of which call for nuts.  It’s someday.

Today is your someday, too, even if this year hasn’t turned out quite as you dreamed.  Why?  Because we all dream bigger than it is possible to achieve.  That’s what dreams are about, envisioning big.

Nightmares, by contrast, are about envisioning small.  The monsters under the bed make you afraid to get up.  The lost boarding pass keeps you from making your flight.  The thing you can’t quite see that is chasing you keeps you from stopping, relaxing, assessing…

I’m sure many of you are having a rough time, feeling small, feeling stressed, maybe feeling sick or tired or something else that’s making all the sparkle dim, all the jingle dull.

Dream.  Not just “I hope 2020 is better than 2019,” but about what you might do today, tomorrow, next week…

Remembering to dream big is why, no matter how busy my life is with the holiday season adding numerous new tasks to my day I’m making time to read.  On the top of my list is the new DreamForge magazine.  I’ve only dipped in, but I see that the theme for this month is “The Risks and Magic of Hope.”

Hey, that’s cool.  That sounds like the sort of stories I want to read, the sort of stories I want to write.  Suddenly, I can feel my personal winter solstice happening: the sun is warming, hope is born.

May you find a blessing or dream, no matter how small, and use it to kindle your holiday fire.

Endings Are Hard

December 11, 2019

Dandy and Coco’s Beautiful Endings

Last week, I finished making Jim’s corrections to Wolf’s Soul, then sent the manuscript off to my secret beta readers.  When I told a friend this, she said, “You must feel really good to have reached this point.”

I sighed and shook my head.  “Actually, after seeing all the typos Jim found in a manuscript I thought was clean, I’m beginning to feel as if this book is a mess.  Actually, I’m relieved he didn’t find many continuity issues, but I still am more apprehensive than relieved.”

As the year ends, a lot of writers are trying to finish off projects before the holiday season interrupts creative momentum.  On top of NaNoWriMo, which emphasizes speed of composition rather than quality on content, many writers end up feeling conflicted.  After all, you’ve written the first eighty or ninety percent of the story.  Surely the momentum is there.  How can wrapping up the plot take so much effort?

I’m here to tell you: Endings Are Hard.  Here are a few thoughts I’ve had over the years about why this is so.

So often one hears: “I had a great idea for my story, but now I don’t seem to be able to finish it.”  When you’re stuck about how to end your story, go back to that first idea.  What was it?  Have you addressed the questions that first got you fascinated?

My novel Through Wolf’s Eyes began with two questions.  One was plot-oriented.  Who would be King Tedric of Hawk Haven’s successor?  The second was thematic:  How would moving from human to wolf society effect Firekeeper?  Until both were answered, the story could not end.

Remembering your initial impulse works to keep you focused on your ending, whether you outline or, like me, are an intuitive plotter.  A short note – sometimes as little as one word – can keep you on track when you start to wander off target.  Get in the habit of writing this down at the very start so you can refer back when you get bogged down.

Can’t figure out what that initial impulse was?  It’s possible you started off without enough thought.  As Euripides said: “A bad beginning makes a bad ending” (Euripides, Aeolus).  Either you need to figure out what you meant this story to be about or you need to scrap it as a bad beginning that isn’t going anywhere.

Don’t be discouraged that you can’t find your ending.  You’re not alone.  Author John Galsworthy said, “The beginnings and endings of all human undertakings are untidy, the building of a house, the writing of a novel, the demolition of a bridge, and, eminently, the finish of a voyage” (Over the River).

Middles have their relationship to the end, too.  Author Walter Jon Williams has a good comment on taking ending into middles: “Inspiration will carry you through the first 100 pages.  After that, you need a plan.”  Walter has sometimes jokingly referred to the middle of a novel as “the fiddly middle bits.”  Remember, though, there’s no such thing as “fiddly.”  Every scene should move you along toward your end.

Again, the beginning – that inspiration – should be your guide.  You may find it difficult to end your piece if you introduced too many subplots or extra characters, just to move the book along.   How much research is too much?  Simply put, if you’re more captivated by researching than by the actual writing, it’s probably too much.  Another guideline is when you find yourself putting your research in because “I did it, so by God they’re going to read it!”

There different types of endings.  Which one is yours?

Conclusion vs. Closure or “Only English Professors love stories with inconclusive conclusions.”  This was one of my own first lessons, and I will be eternally grateful to my then editor John Douglas at Avon Books for teaching it to me.

The Cliffhanger?  This type of ending is chancy – especially if your audience is going to need to wait a long period of time for the next installment.  Even books in a series need some sort of closure.

When do you Need an Epilogue?  My opinion is rarely.  One of the pleasures of a story for a reader is speculating on what might happen in the on-going lives of the characters.  An epilogue can make the story die.  However, a good epilogue can remind the reader that the characters went on after the concluding battle.

Ending a short story presents its own problems.  A short story must be easier, right?  After all, there are fewer pages.  Actually, it’s not easier because so much needs to be packed into a few pages.  Roger Zelazny (who won a lot of awards for short fiction) said a short story should feel like the last part of a novel – give the feeling for what came before but focus on those final moments.

In other words, a good short story is one big Ending…

A few ending words on Endings…  It is my firm feeling that the story must end – and this applies even if that story is part of a series.  Writing a series that keeps postponing the ending is one reason why so many series are unsatisfactory or become weaker as they go on.

A strong ending is necessary for a book to be satisfying.  Many times I’ve read a book with a strong start only to be disappointed by the conclusion.  Conversely, I’ve read several so-so books that have risen in my estimation by having a solid ending that makes the rest of the book fall into place.  A strong ending does not necessarily need to be shocking or have a “twist.”  Indeed, an ending that “comes from nowhere” can be a huge turnoff.

Thinking back, I realize I was hard on myself when I told my friend I didn’t feel “relieved” to have finished Wolf’s Soul.  My apprehensions belonged to the “production” side of the process, not the creative side.  Creatively, I’m pretty pleased about the book…  Of course I have questions as to whether I communicated what I was trying to communicate, but that’s what editors are for!

Didn’t Say That

November 20, 2019

Where Wolves, Cats, and Guinea Pigs Run Wild

The freebee advertisement magazine that shows up in our mailbox once a month contains a small amount of non-advertising content between the ads.  I always read the Albuquerque area gardening column, often skim through others.

A while back, while skimming a column that contains quotes connected by a theme (ex. Friendship, Wisdom, Joy), I saw one credited to Charles de Lint.  My initial pleasure turned into musing when I recognized the quote as from one of his stories.  In other words, Charles de Lint didn’t say that, his character did.

This may seem a fine point, suitable only for English majors and other content nerds, but it continued to haunt me long after the magazine went into the recycling.  In that particular case, the quote was probably pretty much in line with Charles de Lint’s own philosophical position.  (I do know him, and so am speaking from at least a moderately informed position.)

However, what if the quote had been from one of the antagonists in the same novel?  Crediting that quote to Charles de Lint would have been accurate on the same grounds the first quote was while, at the same time, doing de Lint a great injustice.

Think I’m obsessing?  Try this one on for size.

“My Precious.  My Precious.”  J.R.R. Tolkien.

I’ve met writers whose signature characters are incredibly wise, astonishingly competent, well-organized people but who, in their personal lives, make unwise choices, are unable to find their way in an unfamiliar environment, and whose offices look as if they’ve been repeatedly hit by whirlwinds.

Another common source of awkwardness is when the author is assumed to share the tastes and/or habits of a character.  I’ve lost count of the number of readers who are astonished to learn that not only don’t I have a wolf or wolf-like dog, I have never owned a dog, nor do I ever plan to do so.  Cats and guinea pigs are my non-human co-residents of choice.

Author/character identification can get awkward when a story touches on uncomfortable topics.  After The Dragon of Despair was released, I received an e-mail in which a reader lambasted me for being a child abuser, because of what happens to Citrine Shield in that novel.  Anticipating my response that Melina Shield is responsible for what Citrine goes through, the writer of that e-mail said (I paraphrase), “And don’t say Melina did it, because you created her and you did it.”

Wow! Apparently, the fact that I also created the people who rescued Citrine, as well as Citrine herself, meant nothing.  Because I could envision a horrible situation, I must be capable of committing such atrocities and of deliberately tormenting a child.  (Never mind that the child existed in a fictional universe, while I live in our consensual reality.)

Getting the author and characters tangled up increases with the attachment people feel to a book.  I’ve repeatedly had to inform astonished fans of Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light that he was not a practitioner of any form of Buddhism.   After all, he smoked and his characters smoked, so if one of his protagonists is Buddhist, he must have been Buddhist.  (As an aside, whether Sam was Buddhist or his world’s Buddha, or simply running a scam, is a question the novel leaves open to debate).

It seems that the closer a topic is to the emotional, psychological landscape, the more it is assumed, for good or ill, that this reflects the author’s personal views.  Therefore, a writer of Military or Espionage fiction can never have served in the military or been a spy.  Writers of alternate history do not need not to have lived in pre-Republic Rome or in Hitler’s Germany.  Writers of fairy tales do not need to have cut off the head of a horse to release a prince trapped inside.

But write about being depressed.  Write about a death in the family.  Write about a religious belief.  Suddenly,  it’s assumed that the author is writing autobiography.  In this day of social media—where readers may know more about the author’s personal life or experiences—the urge to read biography into the fiction has risen.  However, it’s always been there.

Write what you know involves research, but it also involves empathy.  Sometimes it involves delving into something that horrifies the writer, rather than what attracts.

Well, I’m off to draw up some notes for a novel in which one of my protagonists is a sixteen-year-old girl (which I was) and another is a treecat (which I never was).  Let’s complicate that matter by noting that said sixteen-year-old girl (Stephanie Harrington) was convincingly created by a man (David Weber) who had never been a girl of any age.  At the time the original Stephanie Harrington story was written, he wasn’t a father of a girl that age, so he couldn’t be said to be drawing on his parenting experience.

“I’m sorry, too.  Even my best words are not enough.”  Firekeeper, Wolf’s Search, by Jane Lindskold.