Archive for the ‘My Stories’ Category

Easter Bunnies and Beta Readers

April 17, 2019

PF As The Easter Bunny

First, a follow-up to last week’s WW about Skinny the Thrasher.  The day after I wrote about Skinny’s rivalry with PF the Cottontail Rabbit for access to the bird block, we spotted them both eating from the block at the same time.  If we see them again, we’ll try for a picture.  In the meantime, as we lead into Easter, here’s a picture of PF as the Easter Bunny!

As some of you already know, last week a short post on my FB and Twitter feeds accidentally triggered something I feel is only courteous to address in more than a few sentences.

When I posted a brief comment about how I’d just realized that I’d forgotten to put chapter breaks into the manuscript of Wolf’s Search that I’d sent to my secret beta readers, I expected to be teased about my forgetfulness.  What I didn’t expect was the outpouring of requests for information about how to become one of my beta readers.  Some requests were from people I recognized as long-time readers, but others were from people for whom this was the first time I remembered seeing a comment.

When these requests continued, even after I’d responded in the Comments, I decided I’d better explain.

Here’s the short answer.  You probably cannot become a beta reader for me.  Unlike some authors, I don’t solicit comments about my work from the general readership.  I never have.  I am not likely to change.  My first reader has always been my husband.  After Jim, I usually ask a few friends for feedback.  Who these are varies widely, according to the project.

(If you’re still interested in why I work this way, read on…)

For example, one of the people I asked to read the manuscript of Asphodel was Alan Robson, with whom I collaborated on the Thursday Tangents for close to seven years.  From our many discussions, public and not, I knew that Asphodel was the sort of book Alan didn’t usually read.  When he read it and liked it, my feeling that I had something special in Asphodel was reinforced.

For Wolf’s Search, you’d probably be surprised to learn that none of my secret beta readers were fanatical about the series.  One hadn’t even read the last several books.  This was because I wanted to make sure that Wolf’s Search could serve as a “gateway book” into the series.  (Admittedly one with some spoilers, but still more a stand-alone novel than otherwise.)

Yes.  I do know some authors regularly send out copies to beta readers who are strangers or rabid fans of the series.  For some authors, especially those writing long series with long, long books, this helps them to catch continuity errors so they can focus on the new material.  For others, I am sad to say (based on hearing them say this), soliciting beta readers is merely a marketing ploy – an attempt to make readers feel they have been part of the writing process, even if they have not.

Maybe my attitude toward showing a book before it is polished was influenced by my relationship early in my writing career with Roger Zelazny.  Roger generally didn’t share his completed manuscripts with anyone except his editor.  When he did, he usually had a specific reason, up to and including impulsiveness.  (Full disclosure: I read the manuscripts of his last several novels well before publication.)  Roger also didn’t belong to any writers groups.  Hard as it is to believe in these days when social media makes it seem as if every writer shares everything, including deleted scenes and false starts, there are many writers who want their readers to see only the finished story.

More likely my choice then and now to keep unfinished drafts to myself is simply one of the many ways that Roger and I were alike.  Writing for me is not a collaborative process.  I don’t belong to writers’ groups because comments on a work in progress would stall me, not encourage me.  Even Jim doesn’t hear much about a story until it has been completed.  And after the work is completed, a very few readers are all I need to assure me that I haven’t missed some really obvious error.

Writers are very different in what they need.  I am the type of writer I am.  I hope you will not be offended if I continue as I have for these twenty-five or so years that I have been offering you my stories and unveil my works only when they are complete.

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Metamorphic Power

February 20, 2019

Transformation Moments?

What do my second grade teacher and DreamForge magazine have in common?  They both believe that there is power contained in stories.

Last week, I told you about Sister Stephanie, my first grade teacher.  My second grade teacher had just as great an impact, although it took a completely different form.  Physically, Miss Eileen O’Donnell was not at all like Sister Stephanie.  My long-ago memory recalls her as young and slim, with short, curling, brownish-black hair.  Compared to Sister Stephanie, Miss O’Donnell seemed very, very tall.

We first graders were already familiar with Miss O’Donnell because the first and second grade classrooms were next to each other and – I seem to recall – shared a connecting door.  That meant if Sister Stephanie had to step away for a moment, Miss O’Donnell would be the one who supervised us.  I don’t ever recall her having trouble, so her youth was no barrier to her being an authority figure.

Moving over into the Second Grade room seemed to me like a step on the road to adulthood.  Miss O’Donnell was very serious about reading, basic math, and any number of other subjects.  But it was in a subject that wasn’t even part of the curriculum where she had her greatest impact on me.

Although I’d only learned to read the year before, I rapidly read above my grade.  Miss O’Donnell made no effort to hold me back, even though I was less than perfect in spelling and phonics.  When I started outdistancing my classmates, she arranged for me to join an advanced reading group with the third graders.  This arrangement was probably made easier because her sister taught the third grade.  Once a day, I would walk downstairs to join Miss Patricia O’Donnell (who we referred to as Miss O’Donnell Third Grade)  and her advanced readers for exciting ventures into books with chapters.

But although this arrangement saved me from boredom, this wasn’t where Miss O’Donnell Second Grade had her biggest impact.  That, as with Sister Stephanie, took the shape of an unexpected gift: in this case a small burnt-orange hardcover book about ancient history.  It was a comfortable size for me to hold but, unlike most of the books for children my age, it had much more print than pictures.  I remember wondering if I could even read something so grown-up looking.  However, I was lured in both by Miss O’Donnell’s matter-of-fact confidence that I could and by the illustrations.

These were lush full-color paintings, not the simple line drawings or cartoons common in children’s books.   I don’t remember all the places and people that were featured in that book, but I do know that one of my favorites was the story of how the youth who would become Alexander the Great tamed his horse, Bucephalus.  Do you know the story?  The short version is that Alexander had the sense to notice that the horse no one could ride was afraid of his own shadow.  Alexander turned the horse toward the sun, so he could no longer see his shadow.  Then, shedding his own fluttering cloak, Alexander mounted and was able to ride the un-rideable steed.  The two were inseparable from that day forth.

At a time when horses in stories (and reality, for all I know) were still routinely “broken,” and relationships between animals and humans in the “real world” were characterized by domination, not understanding, this tale about trying to understand the “other” made a huge impact on me.

I think I also read about ancient Egypt for the first time in that book as well, so Miss O’Donnell is partly responsible for my novel The Buried Pyramid.  Most importantly, the little burnt-orange book taught me that history was about Story, not about dates and capital cities and the dry, abstract facts that so many classes focus on, probably to make testing easier.

Remembering how much that little burnt-orange book did for me is one of the reasons I signed on to be part of the team that’s putting together DreamForge: Tales of Hope in the Universe.  Stories – fiction and non-fiction – have the power to change the individual.  The individual has the power to change the world, maybe not always on a grand scale, but maybe, sometimes, just one book, one story, at a time.

Thank you, Miss O’Donnell Second Grade and Third Grade both!

Escape Into the Dream

January 23, 2019

Rowan, Dominique, Jim, Melissa, Cale (me up front)

What do escape rooms and a new magazine have in common?  Keep reading and I’ll tell you!

Last Sunday, as our Christmas present, Jim and my gamers (Cale, Dominique, Melissa, and Rowan) took us to our very first escape room.  This one was called Nefertari’s Tomb, and it was both visually and intellectually very, very satisfying.

Escape rooms are basically complex puzzles built around a plotline.  For Nefertari’s Tomb, the story was that we had been hired by a definitely shady individual who claimed to have found access to a hidden tomb of Nefertari, wife of Ramesses.  Our job was to blast our way in, solve the various puzzles, and get out with as much loot as possible.  We had one hour in which to do this.  The timer started running the second our introductory briefing had ended.

(In the interests of not providing spoilers for those who may want to enjoy Nefertari’s Tomb themselves, that’s all I’ll say about this particular escape room.)

Our group has been gaming together for something like six years now, so we’re very used to working as a team.  This was an advantage when two years ago we all went to Meow Wolf in Santa Fe and solved the imbedded puzzle.  It was even more of an advantage this time because, with the timer running, we had to split up and hit different puzzles simultaneously.

How did we do?  Well, our game master told us that if we didn’t have the highest score ever for the room, we were definitely in the top three.  He looked both pleased and a little awed when he said this.  We were rather pleased ourselves.

So, what does this have to do with a new magazine?  Last week, I talked about DreamForge: Tales of Hope in the Universe.  The Kickstarter for this lushly illustrated magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy hit its base goal this Monday.  They’re now working toward the stretch goals.  DreamForge is the brainchild of Scot Noel, but the team working on it includes Scot’s wife, Jane, who is putting her artistic talents into layout, design, and illustration; artist, Mark Zingarelli, who is art director; Leah Segal on research and support, and Jamie D. Munro who is the Editorial  Assistant.  Oh, and me.  Scot calls me “Senior Advisor and Creative Consultant,” which basically means I believe in the value of this project enough to donate my time to helping out.

As with my gamers in the escape room, those of us on the DreamForge team are working toward our goal both separately and together.  It’s a very 21st Century team.  I’ve only met Scot and Jane.  As for now, Mark and Leah are sparkles in my e-mail or voices on the phone during conference calls.  Jaimie’s in Australia…  I mostly interact with him on Twitter.

The Kickstarter remains live for another sixteen days.  Some of the incentives are really great.  One that’s easy to overlook is the Founder’s Bonus.  This includes personal feedback on up to five story submissions.  Feedback of this type is the sort of thing writers dream about getting, instead of the form: “Thank you very much, but your story doesn’t suit our needs this time.”  Now you can assure personalized feedback for five stories – and get a cool magazine as well.

Aren’t a writer but know one?  Consider giving a Founder’s Bonus subscription.  Help your favorite writers achieve their dream.

Now, speaking of dreams, I have a couple of novels that I’m working on, and dream of someday actually finishing.   I’m off run with the wolves…

Dream Become Reality

January 16, 2019

Ogapoge Signs and DreamForge

This time last year I received a letter from a longtime friend that – although I didn’t know it at the time – was the beginning my signing on to be part of a new, ambitious, and very exciting project.  That project is DreamForge Magazine: Tales of Hope in the Universe.  This February 14th – yes, Valentine’s Day – that dream is going to become reality.

Did this take me away from the novels you want me to be writing?  No.  Actually, any of you who are looking forward to the new Firekeeper novels should give DreamForge a vote of thanks.  From May of 2018 on, Jim and I met with personal challenge after personal challenge.  I really think these would have dragged me down if I hadn’t had Scot’s enthusiasm for impossible dreams as an example.

What’s exciting about DreamForge is that it’s a truly visionary magazine.  It’s about hope and vision.  Let me quote Scot from the essay he wrote for the rare Issue 0: “Why a magazine?  The simple answer is this: in fiction and the world in general, we’ve seen the novelty of dark and grim perspectives grow to a commonplace expectation.  Everyone, it seems, assumes that the world has already gone to hades in a handbasket and a good apocalypse might be what’s needed to freshen it up.  We disagree.”

And Scot really does disagree.  I might have been the first person to tell him he was insane, but I’m certainly not the only one.  But he kept pushing, and in July when we met up at Congregate in North Carolina, Scot handed me and Jim copies of Issue 0.  I melted.  The paper felt like ultrasuede.  The colors were lush.  The art – by Scot’s wife who is another person who has caught Scot’s insanity – was rich and beautiful.  Even better, this artistic approach wasn’t reserved for the cover.  This whole magazine was a jaw-dropping reminder of why I’d fallen in love with Science Fiction and Fantasy.

David Weber had come to Congregate so we could visit.  I introduced him to Scot, who, of course, showed him Issue 0.  We didn’t even have a chance to ask Weber if he would maybe someday be interested in contributing.  He read the banner, looked at Scot’s introduction and said very, very seriously: “When you’re ready to take stories, contact me.  This is the sort of thing we need – not more dystopia.”

Worried that DreamForge will be cotton candy, feel-good, empty of content?  Well, those of you who know my work may have read my short story “Born From Memory.”  I wrote that originally for a contest Scot ran, and reprinted it in my short story collection, Curiosities.  It’s not cotton candy.

Scot talks about DreamForge with even more enthusiasm than I do.  I want to encourage you to check out the DreamForge website.  Even better, check out their new Kickstarter.  Some of the limited offerings are mind-bogglingly great.  Scot wants to create not just a magazine, but a community for those of us who believe in dreaming big – and there is room even for those of you who don’t think you can spare the money for a subscription.  That’s the sort of person Scot is.

Wolf’s Search (and other projects) Update

January 9, 2019

Dandy Climbs Mount Manuscript

In case you’re wondering, the stack of paper you see in today’s illustration is indeed related to the new Firekeeper project.  Please keep reading…  There’s a lot more to tell.

When I started writing the book I called Wolf’s Search, I honestly thought I could write a Firekeeper novel that would be manageable as a self-published work.  I still think so, but there have been some changes to my original plan.

Change number one should make most of you who like Firekeeper and her world happy.  The original novel was going to be about 100,000 words – or roughly half the length of one of the longer novels in the series.  Now it’s going to be something in the region of 200,000 words, but published as two separate novels.

Why?  Several reasons, most of which have to do with self-publishing.  As I learned when I produced the e-book reprints of the first six Firekeeper novels, proofing a very long manuscript takes a considerable amount of time.  Even a small handful of changes mean the entire book needs to be reviewed from start to finish because, as anyone who has ever done computer formatting can tell you, glitches repaired may reveal glitches yet unseen.  Trust me on this.

Another reason has to do with the price point on a physical copy of the book.  As I discovered when I produced the print-on-demand versions of Changer and Changer’s Daughter (formerly known as Legends Walking) through CreateSpace, the longer the book, the higher the price per copy.  There is a point where – and Changer and Changer’s Daughter come pretty close to this point – I can’t afford to do a print-on-demand and make back my investment.

When I realized that the story that had started out to be 100,000 words wanted to be a typical Firekeeper novel – that is roughly twice that length — I considered simply putting out a single, longer book.  However, for the reasons mentioned above, I was reluctant.  Moreover, when I reviewed the first six Firekeeper novels, I realized that if they were published today (or forty years ago), each would have been published as two novels.  However, since they came out in the heyday of the Big Fat Fantasy Novel, they came out as one.

As I was anguishing over whether to produce two books or one, something weird happened.

 As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m an anime fan.  When the first new episodes of a story I am irrationally fond of came out, I pounced.  I didn’t care that there were only twelve episodes.  (A typical season of this series is twenty-four.)  I wanted more of the story.  I didn’t want to wait until all twenty-four were done.

It occurred to me that maybe Firekeeper’s fans felt the same way about a Firekeeper novel.  Maybe they would be happy to get a shorter Wolf’s Search sooner, and a bit later Wolf’s…   Well, I haven’t settled on the title, but I’m thinking about calling it Wolf’s Soul.

So that’s what I’ve decided to do.  Step number one will be writing the entire 200,000 word manuscript.  What you see above is 145,000 words, so I still have a lot more writing to do.  Right now, I’m reviewing what I have written before going into the final writing splurge.

When the entire rough draft is done, then I will polish only the part that will be Wolf’s Search.  While that is in review and production, I will start polishing Wolf’s…  as yet untitled.   I hope you’ll enjoy reading Wolf’s Search and speculating on what is to come, just as I’ve enjoyed watching the first twelve episodes of my anime, and speculating (I’m still waiting and hoping that there will be more) about what is to come.

For those of you who have read this far and are wondering about other projects.  Yes.  As far as I know, I will be writing a new Star Kingdom novel with David Weber.  That is one of the reasons I’m so passionate about making sure that the new Firekeeper novels are written at least in rough draft.  I’m capable of writing prose for one project and editing another, but I find it difficult to write two new projects at the same time.

And, yes, there are other works I want to do.  So very many…  I’ll tell you about them as they come closer to reality.

A Writer’s Predicament

December 19, 2018

Cuddle Up With a Good Story

Last week my author’s copy of Sword and Sorceress 33 arrived, brightening my day and tempting me to curl up and read.  My story in the collection is titled “A Familiar’s Predicament.”  If one of the characters in the story looks just a little like the dragon in the picture, you can just say I was writing about what I know.

I’ve owned that particular soft-sculpture piece since 1989.   I acquired it at the very first SF con I attended:  Lunacon in Tarrytown, New York.  I went there to meet a writer with whom I’d exchanged several letters: Roger Zelazny.    Memorable times.  I certainly didn’t know when I was wandering the Dealer’s Room, trying to decide what to get as a souvenir, that I was at a major turning point in my life.  If I’d been told that I was, I would have been completely wrong about what that turning point was.  You see, I had my first big job interview the following week…

Not knowing when a turning point is coming is at the heart of “A Familiar’s Predicament,”  along with a cast of odd and surprising people.  I look forward to writing more about all of them in the future.  I hope you’ll take the time to meet them, as well as enjoying other stories in the collection.

To this point, I haven’t given into the temptation to curl up and read other stories in Sword and Sorceress 33, mostly because when I have spare time from domestic duties, helping Jim with his PT, and getting ready for the holidays, I’ve been writing.

Yes.  Once again, I’m deeply immersed in the new Firekeeper project.  I’ve had a few queries as to why I’m not done yet.  The simplest answer is that, unsurprisingly, the story turned out to be more complex than I thought it would, so it’s longer.  I’ll have more to say about the book once I have a complete draft done, but I don’t like talking about works in progress in too much detail.  Something superstitious in me is afraid I’ll jinx them!

Now I’m off to do a few holiday prep things, so I can free up my thoughts enough that I can go run with Firekeeper and Blind Seer.

Reclaiming Writer Jane

December 5, 2018

Mayhem and Chaos: Emblems of the Past Month

This week I made an effort to reclaim some of my identity as a writer.  It wasn’t easy and I deliberately did not keep track of my word count because I knew it would be a struggle to get anything written.  But I did write.  Even better, I finished the scene in the new Firekeeper novel that I’d been working on when everything was interrupted by Jim’s knee replacement surgery.  This week I hope to move beyond that scene and get into the next plot arc.

A lot of elements contributed to my writer brain starting talking to me again.  One was Jim becoming increasingly mobile.  Right after Thanksgiving, he was told he could start using a cane.  Almost immediately after that, he started forgetting to use his cane.  This awareness on both our parts as to how much more confident he felt about his ability to walk really freed me from keeping a metaphorical ear cocked in case he needed me to get something, remind him of something else, or any of those myriad jobs that go into being a caregiver.

Don’t get me wrong.  Jim’s not “healed.”  Yesterday marked the end of Week Five since the surgery.  We’ve been told to expect at least three months before he is anything close to “recovered.”  Even then he’ll have further work to build his strength and endurance.    So we’ve not even reached the half-way point.  Jim’s not driving nor doing any chores that involve crouching, lifting, walking on uneven surfaces, carrying heavy objects, or…  Well, you get the picture.  But life is no longer a series of problems to be solved.  We’re accustomed to our new routine.

I guess I must love to tell stories because as soon as my imagination was freed up even a little, I found myself musing about aspects of the Firekeeper novel I’d been working on before Jim’s surgery.

Here’s a trick that might be useful for those of you who write longer works like novels.  If you know you’re going to be interrupted for whatever reason – and remember to include “good” interruptions like trips, holidays, and the like – then stop in the middle of a scene where you have a good idea what comes next.  Doing this makes it a lot easier to start again.

If you write yourself to a stopping point, you may find it a lot harder to get your mind back into the story.  Even though I don’t outline or plan out in advance, still I usually have a sense of the overall arc a book is going to take.

(My subconscious is calling me a liar, reminding me of a plot twist that just hit me this weekend.)

This sense of certainty increases the closer I get to a specific scene, so not finishing that scene gives me a place slide back into the story again.  It also can help to go back and polish about a page prior to that scene, just to get back into the flow.  Even with this preparation, starting up again was not perfectly smooth.  There were fits and starts, but eventually I came to the end of the scene in question.

Various events led me to not writing over the weekend.  However, because I’d primed the pump, I found myself thinking about where I’d take the story next.  By Monday, I was eager to get writing again.

Last week I also had a phone meeting with David Weber regarding the next Stephanie Harrington project.  This was followed by a bunch of e-mails as we refined points.  Rather than this new project dampening my enthusiasm for Firekeeper, I found that brainstorming with Weber encouraged me to brainstorm with myself.  I’m sure part of the reason I didn’t feel added pressure is that we won’t be starting the new Stephanie book until well into 2019, since we both have other things to finish.

Then, just because I’m insane, I’ve started a complicated new plotline for the RPG I’ve been running for almost seven years now.  Yep!  It seems as if my writer brain is trying to make up for having been on “hold” for the last month.

So, I’m feeling pretty cheerful, looking forward to writing more, and spending time with Firekeeper, Blind Seer, and the rest.  Of course, there’s Christmas looming, and my mom’s coming to visit, but as with Jim’s surgery, I’ll plan for the interruption.

Now, off to write fiction!

My Current Story (Life AND Fiction)

November 14, 2018

Thinking Wolf Thoughts

Yesterday, Jim had the staples removed from his knee.  Today the work begins on having the tub in the front bathroom converted into a walk-in shower.  In case you were wondering, life here has not settled down.  And that means I’m not doing much in the way of writing.

Since Jim’s knee replacement was to his right knee, he won’t be driving for at least another month.  This means that, for the next month, I’ll be not only running routine errands, but also taking him to his various out-patient appointments.  Definitely a change from my preferred hermit lifestyle.

Still, as the unpredictable elements diminish one by one, I find that my “writer brain” is slowly coming back into play.  A long time ago, I learned that it isn’t being busy that gets in the way of my writing, it’s when my imagination is occupied solving other problems.  As someone who solidly shoulders personal responsibility, I tend to address each problem as if it’s a logic tree: If this, then that.  If not that, then this.  And so on, often out to several branches.

That’s sort of how I write, too.  Not logic trees, but immersing myself in my characters and living the story with them – including weighing various choices as they would.  So, right now, I guess you could say that the story I’m writing is that of how Jim and I coped with having his right knee replaced.  As that story moves closer to being completed, I have more room in my imagination for other stories.

That includes the new Firekeeper novel.  A few weeks back, I left Firekeeper, Blind Seer, and some folks you don’t know newly arrived in the ruins of the original university in Azure Towers.  Why?

Well, that’s a bit too complicated to go into here.  But maybe, just maybe, I have time to go write a few more sentences about what they encounter before Jim’s physical therapist arrives.  Shall we see?

Not Teasing

October 10, 2018

Growing Obsession

Somehow I doubt that if you’re reading this, you want to know how much rain we had on Sunday (about two tenths of an inch) or how many tomatoes we picked yesterday (about a quart of cherry tomatoes and another quart or so of romas), or how the pomegranates are doing (very well, we’re harvesting two or three every other day).

These things are very important to me.  Weather and the garden are two of the foundations of my life in autumn.  Another is pet care.  Another is…  Well, the point is, what I figure you check these Wanderings out for mostly is news about my writing.

This impression is confirmed by how “hits” go up markedly when I talk about some aspect of my work.

I’ve been writing a lot but, since I’m not one of those writers who wants to share every detail along the way, I’m caught in a bind when it comes time to write a Wandering.

Some people have commented that I’m a “tease,” when I comment that I’m busy writing or that I just finished an exciting scene, but don’t share anything about the content.  The reality is, I’m not teasing.  A tease is trying to get a rise out of those teased.  I’m not.  I’m just reporting the facts.

Why don’t I like to talk about a work in progress?  Because the story is evolving as I write.  Unlike, say, my good buddy, David Weber, who had a pretty firm idea where the Honor Harrington story arc would end way back when he started the series over twenty years ago, I really don’t know where Firekeeper, Blind Seer, and the rest are heading.  I’m on the adventure with them, a ghost chronicler hovering along behind, transcribing like crazy.

But the process isn’t that linear.  Sometimes while I’m writing a scene, I realize something about a character that gives him or her a lot more dimension.  When I’m polishing my rough draft, I’ll slide in some of this information.  This is one reason I don’t workshop works-in-progress, and rarely do readings from unfinished works.  Until the exploration is complete, I myself don’t know what’s going to happen.  What happens later may change the details I preserve.

When I stopped writing last Friday evening, I had no firm idea what Firekeeper, Blind Seer and the rest would encounter next.  On Monday morning when I sat down to answer the weekend’s accumulated e-mail,  I suddenly realized what Firekeeper, Blind Seer, and their companions were going to see when they moved along a particular passageway.

Sound crazy?  I guess it would to some people, but I bet it doesn’t to everyone.  The creative process is as varied as are those who create.  Mine has worked for me for a good number of books now, so I hope you’ll bear with me.

Ask me about the teppary beans!  I can tell you all about those.  Maybe next week?

Emotional Continuity

September 19, 2018

Elephants Remember

News Flash! Editor Deborah J. Ross interviewed me about writing, my story in the forthcoming issue of Sword and Sorceress and other things.

In it, I touch on how negative influences have had a strong impact on my writing.  Here’s an example.

Last week, I took a week off writing to immerse myself in various aspects of the Firekeeper universe before moving into the next part of the story.  One of the complications about writing the seventh novel in a series is how easily it is to gloss over small details.  Add to this that I haven’t written a Firekeeper novel in over a decade and the complexity grows.

By coincidence, my pleasure reading included a series I am enjoying very much – especially for the evolving relationships of the central suite of characters.  I’m not going to go into details, but something I read made me think about an often neglected element of continuity – emotional continuity.

When something traumatic happens to a character, something that is key to a great deal of the action of that particular book, and then in the next book, something similar (but not identical) happens, I expect the characters to comment, to remember.  When they don’t, my sense that the characters are “real” suffers.

I’m not saying that the author must provide  a full recap of past events, not at all.  However, real people remember what happened to them and those memories influence how they act in the future.  Indeed, one could argue that our core self consists of an accumulated suite of experiences.  Whenever something new happens, we seek to understand it by relating it to what we have experienced before.  When something recurs, the most common reaction is “Here we go again!”   Even new experiences are often understood by how they relate to past ones: “I’ve had milk chocolate with fruit and nuts, but never with chile pepper flakes!”

The importance of emotional or experiencial continuity is one reason that senility is such a horrible thing,  not only for the sufferers, but for those who love them.  The person you once knew is vanishing, in part because he or she cannot make those little connections to past events that are the heart of identity.   PTSD is another side of emotional continuity.  In this case, rather than remembering too little, the person is subjected to remembering too much – even to having traumatic experiences “flashback,” contaminating what in reality is a pristine or unconnected situation.

When I’m writing stories featuring continuing characters, what’s most important to me is to establish the sense that the characters have emotional continuity.  To me that’s more important than dates or order of events.  After all, humans do forget such details.  We’ve all had those discussions as to whether it was two or three summers ago that Uncle Joe got that horrible sunburn.  The sequence of events is less important than what those events did to us, and how our future actions are influenced by them.

Another element that goes into writing believable emotional continuity is making sure everyone doesn’t react the same way.  Let’s go back to Uncle Joe’s sunburn.  Uncle Joe is going to remember the pain, and maybe how dumb he felt for forgetting to renew his sunblock or for falling asleep out on the beach.  Aunt Reba is going to remember not only her concern for Uncle Joe, but the fact that their long-planned anniversary outing ended up cancelled.  Cousin Buck is going to remember how annoyed he was because Dad getting sick meant he had to call off the date he had with the pretty lifeguard.  And so on…

When I read a book in a series where the characters seem to remember events perfectly well, but not react to current events in light of past experiences (especially when those experiences were traumatic), my sense that they are real begins to ebb.  When they start reacting in light of events from decades before, but seem to forget what traumatized them two years ago, then I feel the fingers of a plot-driven author stirring the pot, rather than feeling the characters actually exist.

Does this ruin the read for me?  Not necessarily, but it definitely makes me acutely aware of how I don’t want to do that to my characters – or to my readers.  In thinking about what bothers me as a reader, I strive to become a stronger writer.

Now…  Off to write!