Archive for the ‘My Stories’ Category

Fear of the Wrong Thing

February 28, 2018

This past week, I was asked a couple of thoughtful questions on my Facebook page.  I’m answering them here, where I have the leisure to provide more than a “sound bite” response.

Me, Brenda Drake, and Gabi Stevens

First though a bit of news!

To celebrate the release of Asphodel, I took part in Marshal Zeringue’s Campaign for the American Reader.  In the Page 69 Test, we dive inside Asphodel to answer the question: “If you were in a bookstore and randomly opened to page sixty-nine, would you be hooked?”  For Writer’s Read, I talk about some of what I’ve been reading.  Even if you regularly read my Friday Fragments, you’ll find something new here.

The Page 69 Test: Asphodel

Writers Read: Jane Lindskold

Now to those questions (which I tightened up a bit here):

Tish Kemper asked: “How do you move past the fear of writing the wrong thing? I have this story inside me, and I can’t really start to write because each time I try the fear of ‘the wrong thing’ keeps me going back and dismantling everything.”

Jen Keats added: “I always worry what I write isn’t going to be ‘good enough.’ I see all these authors making intricate worlds and characters…  Does that all happen the first time around or is there a ton of editing and research etc. Does one have to use a thesaurus/dictionary to get it that good, or is it just that I’m not a very good writer?”

The simple answer, which someone actually was kind enough to post to my Facebook page by way of encouragement, boils down to: “Just write.  You can polish later.”

I agree with that, but I’d like to go into some of the issues more deeply.

Tish says “I have this story inside me.”  That’s good.  That’s great.  The first question to ask yourself is “Who is my intended audience for this story?”

This past weekend, when I did a book event at Page One Books, one of the questions we were asked was “Why did you start writing?”  Both Gabi Stevens and I had the same answer.  We started writing to create the stories we wanted to read, but couldn’t quite find.  For both of us, then, our first audience is always ourselves.  This is one reason I write my first draft rough and without worrying too much about the finer points.  I’m finding out what the story is.

If, on one level, you’re just writing the story because it’s inside you and you’d like to see it, then there is no way you can tell it wrong.  Writing is always communication, but maybe this story is you talking to yourself, telling that fairy tale you always wanted to read or putting into firmer shape some of your best daydreams.  Or maybe you’re looking for a way through some personal issue.

If you’re looking to share that story with a larger audience, then you’ve set yourself a tougher challenge.  Remember, writing is communication.    Let’s say you’ve written that rough first draft just for you.  Now you think it’s a story you might want to share with other people.  At this point, your task is to make sure the language says what you want it to say.

Here’s where Jen’s question fits in.  She asked: “Does that all happen the first time around or is there a ton of editing and research etc. Does one have to use a thesaurus/dictionary to get it that good, or is it just that I’m not a very good writer?”

My answer is: No.  It doesn’t happen the first time around.  It doesn’t even happen the first book around.  Most writers have a bunch of short stories or a novel or two that they wrote as they were learning their craft.  Sometimes they come back and use what they learned along the way to make that early effort better.  That’s what I did with my novel The Pipes of Orpheus.  So don’t despair if your first effort isn’t as good as you want it to be.   Put it aside and come back later.

And, no, you don’t need to use a thesaurus or dictionary.  In fact, if you are repeatedly using either of these tools, you’re just being artificial.

Does this mean you don’t need a wide vocabulary or knowledge of grammar?  Absolutely not!  You need both.  But as far as I can tell, writing is the only craft where people think they can skip the basics and move right onto professional quality work.  Sorry, but just as if you wanted to be a painter, you’d need to learn something about brush strokes and blending colors and perspective, so if you want to write professionally, you’re going to need to learn the skills.

There’s no quick way around this.

Because writing is communication, at some point in the process, you’re going to need to share the story with someone else.  Some people join writers’ groups.  Some people have “beta readers.”  (The assumption is that the writer is the “alpha” reader.)  When I wrote Asphodel, I not only asked my usual “beta readers” to take a look at it, I deliberately asked some people who I wasn’t sure would get into the story to take a look.  The fact that a widely varied set of readers found something to like in Asphodel gave me confidence that I had communicated my vision.

This Wandering is getting long, so let me add that my book Wanderings on Writing contains a bunch of essays about writing.  These range from basics, such as narrative hooks and research strategies, up to and including more global themes such as heroes and antiheroes or world-building.  The essays were adapted from my Wednesday Wanderings.  If you poke around the site archive, you can find some of the same material.

I hope these answers will help not only Tish and Jen, but other would-be writers as well.  Any other questions?


Looking From the Inside Out

February 21, 2018

News Flash! February 24, 2018, 4:00 pm: Fantasy Fiction Spectacular at Page One.  I’ll be signing my latest, Asphodel, along with authors Brenda Drake and Gabi Stevens.  For more details go to

The last week or so, I’ve been reviewing what I have written on Wolf’s Search, the forthcoming seventh Firekeeper novel.

What’s in a Description?

Side Note:  There is no set release date for Wolf’s Search.  The novel will come out when I’m finished, and it’s as good as I can make it.  Because of how I write, I can’t tell you what it’s going to be about. All I can do is reassure you that this isn’t going to be one of those new novels in a series that jumps to the next generation. Okay?

One of the things I’ve been doing as I review is fill out characters’ physical descriptions.

“What?” you say “You mean you don’t work those out in advance?”

Not always.  Not usually, even.  Unless what a character looks like is important to some element of the plot, I often wait to get to know the characters before worrying about what they look like.  Adara in Artemis Awakening and Artemis Invaded is a good example of a character whose physical description I needed to work out in advance, both because of how it would influence Griffin’s first reaction to her, then because of her unusual genetic background.

In my “Breaking the Wall” novels (beginning with Thirteen Orphans) all the main characters have at least one Chinese ancestor.  How strongly the Chinese physical traits show was something I carefully worked out, basing it on how old the character was (therefore, how many generations closer to their Chinese ancestor), the ethnic background of their other forbearers, and a few other factors.  Even in the same family, different combinations come out, so I had some leeway.

I know that lots of writers “cast” their characters using movie and television actors.  Possibly because I don’t watch a lot of television or movies, this doesn’t work for me.  The closest I come is paging through magazines, focusing especially on advertisements.

Honestly, though, I don’t think the fact that I don’t watch much in the way of movies or television is why I don’t use visual aides to design my characters.  I think it’s because I write my characters from the inside out.  That means how they look isn’t very important.  Who they are is what is important.  From there, what elements of their physical description best show who they are tend to naturally come into focus.

Firekeeper is a good example.  When you think about it, she’s incredibly ordinary.  Average height.  Average build.  Brown hair, slightly curly.  Dark brown eyes.  What’s interesting are the things her life has done to her, especially the scars.  Her eyes draw a lot of attention, too.  People tend to see them as darker than they actually are.  For me, this is a result of her inhuman way of looking.  Unless it’s necessary for her to focus down tightly, Firekeeper keeps a wide focus, alert as any wild animal to changes in her environment.  Her body language is also subtly “wrong,” again a result of her upbringing among wolves.

In my newly-published novel, Asphodel, I took this tendency to not describe my characters to a new extreme.  The narrator (I can’t give you her name without a spoiler) not only doesn’t know what she looks like, she’s afraid to find out.  In Asphodel, characters change appearances repeatedly, but you – and they – always know who they are.

There are definitely times when a character’s physical appearan

ce plays into the story.  Blind Seer will always be a bit of an outlier because blue eyes are rare among wolves.  Sometimes a character’s physical description isn’t an issue at the time the character is introduced, but becomes so later on.  Derian Carter is considered relatively ordinary in the first three Firekeeper books, but in book four (Wolf Captured), his red hair causes him to really stand out.  He’s also tall and used to being so, so when he encounters people much taller than him, he’s always startled.

Remembering things like that is part of the fun.  And it’s definitely one of the reasons that I enjoy writing physical descriptions after I get to know the characters, rather than in advance.

New Bookcase!

January 31, 2018

I want to thank those of you who have written to express enthusiasm about my new novel, Asphodel.  Some of you have been very eloquent, and I appreciate your taking the time to share your delight. Now the tough part, for me.  I’d like to ask for you to please share your reactions with people you think might also like Asphodel.  Word of mouth is the best publicity.  These days you can “talk” to a lot more people by leaving reviews on bookseller websites.   It only takes a short time and may help sales.

Jim’s Artistry

An added bonus is that you can also encourage the author!

Speaking of books…

One of the extremely cool things Jim did over his extended holiday break was build us a new bookcase for our office.  (He also built us a new laundry hamper that doubles as a cat perch and scratching post.)

When we had our office built onto our house some dozen or so years ago, we also purchased matching office desks.  These came “to be assembled,” except apparently the shippers didn’t think that the tops arriving intact was a requirement.  Four tops were delivered before we received two that didn’t have a crushed side along one edge.

After the desks were assembled, we had two spare desktops.  Jim was prepared to cut them up and put them in the trash, when I had the brainstorm that if we put legs between them, they’d actually make a pretty classy coffee table that could go in front of the picture window.  Jim did this and we were very happy.

But a dozen years of cats running and sliding, strong sunlight, the occasional open window, and one mystery spill, made the once spiffy coffee table look a bit shabby.  And for some reason we really needed more room for books.

Once again, my problem solving abilities and Jim’s gift for making dreams into reality came into play.   In front of the large window in our living room, we have a rough pine box.  This box serves many purposes.  It stores board games.  It’s a low table.  It’s a backrest for people who sit on the floor.  And, most importantly, at least according to our four feline co-residents, it is the perfect place to sit and watch birds.

We humans appreciate that the rough wood doesn’t show damage from cat claws, or from the occasional splash of rain.  Therefore, when Jim and I started considering what we’d like to use to replace the office coffee table, we rejected many options as too delicate.  Glass-topped  furniture didn’t appeal, because that’s just something else that needs to be kept free from paw prints and dust.

Eventually, Jim decided that he could build us a bookcase.  He found some rough finished wood intended for accents on walls or decks.  A great advantage of this was that it was already stained and grooved so that pieces would fit tightly together, making a beautiful top.  He found molding with a leaf and vine pattern for the top and front edges.  He bought lumber and nails. Then he set to work.

When Jim was done building, he painted everything but the top matte black, so that the new bookcase coordinated with our desks, which have light colored wooden tops and black sides.  Magnificent!

In case you wonder, the books on the shelves are part of our working library of history, archeology, and linguistics.  The ornaments are, starting at the top left: a kaleidoscope that was a gift from our friends Scot and Jane Noel, because they really liked my novel, Child of a Rainless Year; next a blue and silver fabric dragon I bought at my first ever SF con – Lunacon in New York; then a Japanese bento box I use to store the parts for small craft projects in process.   On the right is a black and white cat stuffy that, except for the red chiles on its fur and whiskers, is a ringer for our cat, Kwahe’e.  This cat was a gift from Sharon and David Weber on one of their visits to New Mexico.  Finally, on the bottom is a faux bronze statuette of wild horses that was a gift from Jim’s parents.

Best of all, the new bookcase is cat-approved.  They’re up and down from it all day, and state categorically that they’re the finest ornaments of all.

Asphodel: My Latest Novel!

January 24, 2018

In these Wanderings, I’ve mentioned Asphodel on and off as I’ve been writing it.  Now Asphodel is available as a trade paperback.  Prefer e-books?  You can also find Asphodel on Kindle, Nook, i-Tunes , GooglePlay, and Kobo.


 Now that Asphodel has been released, I feel more comfortable talking about it.  Don’t worry.  There won’t be any spoilers.

First, here’s the jacket copy:

Prison or Refuge?

Nameless in a doorless tower graced with seven windows, she is imprisoned.  Who is her jailer?  What is her crime?

After she discovers the secret of the seven windows, the nameless one, accompanied by two impossible companions, sets forth on fantastical journeys of exploration.  But, for the nameless one, learning her name may not be a welcome revelation, and the identity of her jailer will rock the foundations of a tower that has come to be as much refuge as prison.

From various comments, I’ve gathered that some people think that Asphodel belongs to one of my existing series.   That isn’t the case.  It’s a stand-alone novel, and likely to remain so.

Asphodel had an interesting starting point.  The only writers’ group I belong to is called First Fridays.  First Fridays was founded by Tony Hillerman, Norm Zollinger, Madge Harrah, and several other New Mexico authors to be a place where professional writers could meet up and talk shop.  Its only rules are that First  Fridays has no officers, no agenda, and that all members must be professionally published.

These days the format of the meeting is a sort of round table, where everybody present takes a few minutes to talk about what they’re doing.  One day, after about half the group had talked – mostly about business – Paula A. Paul said: “Isn’t anyone writing?”

Her words hit me between the eyes.  I realized that, since I’d finished my last project, many weeks had gone by without me writing any fiction.  Non-fiction, certainly.  But no fiction.  Business considerations seemed to take all my time.  Worse, whenever I started thinking about writing something, all that business stuff started chattering in my head.  The buzzwords of the moment.  The latest argument on social media.

I realized I didn’t really like the inside of my own head very much.

Paula’s words continued to haunt me.  After a few days, I said to Jim, “I’ve got to start writing again.  I don’t know what and I don’t want to know what.  But I want to write the way I used to write, just because I love it.”

And Jim, bless him, said, “Go for it.”

To keep myself from falling into old patterns, I divorced myself from my computer.  Instead, I took out an address book that had been part of a set my sister-in-law, Beth, had given me one year for Christmas.  I pulled out a box of colored pens, sat down at the kitchen table, and promised myself one hour a day just to write.

The first word I wrote was “Asphodel.”  The story flowed from that point.  Whenever I found myself thinking too hard, I’d pull out my set of Story Cubes, grab a few at random, throw them down, and then work whatever hit me into the story.  I changed color pens a whim.  When I started, I thought I’d only be writing a short story but, when I finished the address book, I found there was more story there.  I grabbed a notebook in which I keep track of birthdays and started writing on all the blank pages.  When I was done with that, I found another partially-used blank book.  Finally, I ended up with a spiral notebook.

When I finally wrote “The End” I found myself curious as to how much I’d written.  I started typing and discovered that I had something like 58,000 words – too long for most short fiction markets and, anyhow, the story defied most market categories.

Jim was curious about what had been keeping me so absorbed all those weeks, so I printed him a copy.  When he started coming home and telling me about where he was in the story, what he was wondering about, I began to wonder if I’d accidentally written something that was coherent to someone other than myself.  As a test, I asked a couple of friends I could trust to be brutal with me if they’d read it.  They both did, both liked it and both said they hadn’t wanted it to end.

I balked at writing more for no reason other than to write more.  But I promised to keep myself open to the idea that there was more story.  And a few weeks later, the characters started talking in my head, picking up as if we’d never stopped.  I wrote more, gave the manuscript to a few more friends – deliberately picking some who I thought would hate it.  No one did.

As a final test, I read the whole manuscript aloud in twenty-minute intervals to my gaming group.  Not only did they seem taken with the tale, they didn’t have any trouble remembering what was going on, even though a week, sometimes more, would have gone by between readings.

So, I decided that I wanted to share the story with a larger audience.  My agent offered to shop the manuscript around, but I was so closely immersed with the tale by now that self-publishing seemed the best option.  Rowan Derrick (who as one of my gamers was familiar with the story) agreed to do the cover, taking on my request to put together a photo mosaic that would be both surreal and firmly anchored in the material of the novel.

And now, here it is…  My paper ship built from scraps and colored ink.  I hope you will climb aboard and take the trip – discover for yourself the secret meaning of Asphodel.

Shining Legacy

December 13, 2017

On Saturday, Jim and I drove up to Santa Fe to have dinner at the invitation of Warren Lapine who, along with Trent Zelazny, co-edited the tribute anthology to Roger Zelazny, Shadows and Reflections.  Jim and I arrived early enough to walk around the plaza and enjoy the glittering lights.  As we were turning to head toward the restaurant, we encountered our dear friends, Steve (S.M.) and Jan Stirling, and learned they were going our way.

The Santa Fe Plaza

Several other contributors to the anthology were part of Warren’s dinner party.  These included  Trent Zelazny, Gerry Hausman (and his wife, Lorry), and Shannon Zelazny.  Rounding out the festive board were Warren’s wife (and frequent partner in things editorial), Angela Kessler, and the aforementioned bonus guests: Steve and Jan Stirling.

We met at the San Francisco Street Bar and Grill, which, in an earlier incarnation, was a place that Roger very much enjoyed, so this seemed like a nicely appropriate setting.

Chat was lively and general, one of those lovely occasions where everyone – even people who hadn’t met before – quickly arrived at the conclusion that we were all friends.

A few words about the Shadows and Reflections anthology, for those of you who are curious.  It includes both fiction and non-fiction.  The introduction by George R.R. Martin is a reprint of a piece he wrote in 2009.  The final piece, by Shannon Zelazny, who was in high school when her father died, is probably my favorite bit in the entire book.  Of all the many biographical remembrances of Roger that I have read, Shannon’s comes closest to capturing the man I knew, loved, and lived with.

There’s also a little known short story by Roger, “There Shall Be No Moon!”

The other fiction draws on a wide variety of Roger’s universes, from the science fiction Isle of the Dead (Steve Brust’s “Playing God”) to the sword and sorcery Jack of Shadows (Lawrence Watt-Evans’ “The Lady of Shadow Guard”).  Gerry Hausman (who co-wrote the novel Wilderness with Roger) contributed “Nights in the Garden of Blue Harbor,” based on a story idea Roger gave him.  One thing that’s nice about the collection is that both Roger’s short and long fiction are represented as sources of inspiration.

My own piece, “The Headless Flute Player” is set in the same universe as Lord Demon, one of the two novels that, at Roger’s request, I completed for him after his death.  It’s a prequel to the novel, and incorporates a few ideas Roger casually mentioned that someday he’d like to use in a story.

Full disclosure.  I haven’t read the entire anthology yet, so I can’t tell you much about the stories.  What I hope is that this anthology inspires readers to go back and read the original works that have inspired such devotion and enthusiasm over twenty years after their author’s death – and in many cases, several decades after they were originally written.

One wonderful thing about Roger’s writing is how well it has held up to the test of time and how it can still stir the heart and imagination.  Not a bad legacy at all…

Change(r) of Approach

November 15, 2017

Some of you may remember that a while back I invited feedback regarding new cover approaches for my novels Changer and Changer’s Daughter.  Everyone agreed that these books would be hard to represent in a simple picture, so I received few suggestions.  Nonetheless, perversely encouraged, I decided to forge ahead.

Changer E-Book

If you’re familiar with Changer and Changer’s Daughter (aka Legend’s Walking), feel free to skip the next two paragraphs.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the novels, I’ll offer a short description.

Changer and Changer’s Daughter are classic urban fantasy.  By this I mean that they have more in common with Neil Gaiman’s American Gods or the mythic fiction of Charles de Lint and Terri Windling than with the paranormal romance novels for which marketers have appropriated the term “urban fantasy.”

You won’t find vampires, werewolves, or Faerie Folk in these novels.  You will find the athanor: deities and creatures whose tales are told in myths and legends from all over the world.  The athanor are neither static nor fixed in their roles, but pursue rivalries and goals old and new, even as they struggle to adjust to the modern world where they find hiding in plain sight much, much more difficult than it once had been.

Changer’s Daughter E-Book

When, at the request of readers who were eager to share the now out-of-print novels with friends, I decided to bring the books back into print as both e-books and trade paperbacks, I was in a dilemma as to what approach to use for cover art.

The original covers from Avon were interesting, even lovely, but they didn’t really suggest anything about the content of the novels.  When I was doing bookstore signings for Changer, the most common comment I received from people who wandered into the bookstore was “Oh, I love Tony Hillerman’s novels.”  This was not encouraging since (while I love Hillerman’s work) it’s a stretch to find anything in common between these books except that they share (in part) settings in the American Southwest.

The friend with whom I was working on the reprint project suggested we use coyotes.  This approach fit one aspect of the novel.  The Changer begins the novel as a coyote.  His daughter Shahrazad is a coyote pup throughout.  You can see these covers on my website and on-line.   They still adorn the trade paperback edition.

However, with the recent resurgence of interest in urban fantasy of the “mythic” sort, I felt a yearning to try for cover art that would get across the idea of urban fantasy.   I started by searching the stock art sites where I had successfully found art for the covers of the e-book editions of When the Gods Are Silent and Smoke and Mirrors.

While I found some interesting art, I failed to find two pieces by the same artist – or even featuring similar approaches – that would meet the challenge of representing the individual works, while indicating that the books belonged to a series.  I solicited opinions, but none of the many suggestions worked out.  Finally, my friends Rowan Derrick and Cale Mims (both of whom had read the books) suggested that perhaps a magic circle done in a street art fashion would provide an appropriate mood and tone.

Although a magic circle isn’t featured in either of the books, the idea of urban magic is an important element in both.  Since the art was going to be on an e-book – and therefore had to be effective on a relatively small “thumbnail” scale – I decided against a circle as too constraining.  Instead, I went with a fragment of a spell scrawled in colored chalk on a cinderblock wall.   I deliberately chose colors that would echo the southwestern setting of portions of both novels. The crackle of lightning suggests the spell coming to life.

The design was a laborious process but, in the end, we arrived at something that I felt said both “magic” and “urban” – and maybe even “mythic.”

For now, the coyotes will remain on the paperback, the new art on the e-book.  Why not?  In the world of the athanor, gods and monsters wear many faces.  Why shouldn’t the books that tell their story have different faces as well?

Wolves at the Door

October 25, 2017

Outside, the wind is roaring.  Inside, my “to do” list of projects is also mightily gusting.  In fact, it’s longer than I can possibly get done before I depart for MiHiCon early Friday morning.  I’m looking forward to being one of MiHiCon’s author Guests of Honor, along with Eric Flint.  Although I’ve corresponded with Mr. Flint occasionally, I’ve never met him, and am quite looking forward to the opportunity.

Just Some of My Wolf Stuff

If I read the schedule correctly, you should be able to join me, Eric, and Carrie Vaughn for coffee on Saturday morning at the 9:00 a.m. Kaffeeklatch.

In addition to panels and interviews, I’ll be doing a reprise of my much-praised talk, “This is the End: Concluding Your Story or Novel.”  I came up with this topic after I noticed that there’s lots of material out there about getting started, but not nearly as much about finishing.  I’ve met many authors who have a book “almost” done, so I thought that talking about how to make the “almost” go away would be worthwhile.

Of course, I’ll end up talking about other things, too, because you can’t talk about the end without discussing other parts of the process.

During my “Hour With,” I will either read a short story or something from my forthcoming novel Asphodel, depending on my mood and whether the audience wants an ending or not…  I’ll also take questions about projects past, present, and future.  There are a lot of these!

I haven’t visited Colorado in a while and I’m hoping the weather will cooperate.  I used to drive to Colorado a couple of times a year when my dad was still alive, so the journey is certain to be very nostalgic.

My inside life has been full of wolves as I gear myself into beginning writing the seventh Firekeeper novel.   After a long break from Firekeeper, Blind Seer, and the rest, I find myself really excited about spending time with them again.

A small warning to those of you who are hoping for a nice trip down memory lane, complete with a golf bag full of token appearances of any and all characters.  That’s not going to happen.  I waited to write a new Firekeeper novel until I had a fresh new story so, while you’ll definitely hear about many of your old friends, we’re off to see new places, meet new people, and face new challenges.

This means that those of you who aren’t familiar with the series don’t need to worry that you need to read thousands of pages just to try out a new book.  However, this is definitely going to be a new Firekeeper novel, not merely one set in the same universe.  It begins within a year or so of the events chronicled in Wolf’s Blood, and Firekeeper and Blind Seer will be at the heart of the action.

That’s about all I have to say about the book right now…  However, if you’re the sort of person who likes to re-read a series before starting the new book, you might want to get started.  Some of those earlier books are long.  Don’t have copies anymore?  I have copies of all the hard covers except for The Dragon of Despair for sale in my website bookshop.

If you prefer e-books, you might want to wait before buying copies.  New editions will be coming out – hopefully sometime early in 2018.  In addition to the text of the novel, the new editions will have an afterpiece dealing with about some aspect of the series.  These editions should also be free of the numerous typos/formatting errors that plagued the Tor editions.  Careful proofing is one reason they’re not ready yet!  It takes a while to carefully read something that long.  I can only do a few hours a day.

So…  Time’s a-wastin’!  Hope to see you this weekend!

Daily Focus

September 27, 2017

Last week I didn’t end up needing to go back for juror selection, so that particular adventure is over.  This week’s adventure will start on Friday, when I head off to Silver City, New Mexico, to be one of the speakers at their biennial Southwest Festival of the Written Word.

Getting To Work

You can learn more about the Festival here.

I’ve never been to Silver City, and am really looking forward to seeing a new part of New Mexico.  It’s supposed to be a lovely part of the state, and autumn is one of the nicest times of the year for a long drive.   I’m also looking forward to talking about writing SF/F, and participating in an author’s roundtable.

Earlier this week, I went to Santa Fe to meet with Emily Mah Tippets, so we could consult about a bunch of on-going projects, many of which are going to get some of my stories into the hands of the people who want to read them, rather than them remaining in my office because I’m busy playing with the new idea that bounced into my head.

The reality is that, as much as big events like jury duty and book festivals provide topics to Wander on about, the real focus of my daily life is writing.  Last week, I wrote the final segment of a novel I started – more or less by accident – back in early April.  Actually, by the time I write the one scene I skipped and fill in a bunch of world-building elements, the project is probably going to turn into two novels.

So…  How could I have just skipped a scene?  And how could I write a novel (or two) without doing the world-building in advance?

Let’s talk about the scene first.  The short answer is that, while I knew what the end result of this scene had to be, I also knew the scene was important in and of itself.  The great mystery was that I didn’t know why the scene was important.  Rather than struggling miserably to just end up writing a lot of filler that I would end up rewriting later, I skipped ahead.

By the time I figured out why that missing scene was crucial, the book was surging ahead with plot complications galore that demanded my careful handling.  Rather than risk losing momentum (which is the same as being immersed in the story, which I love), I left that scene unwritten.  However, now that the story has a beginning, middle, and end, I can go back and write that scene.

As for world-building…  Well, sometimes I enjoy planning in advance, but sometimes I enjoy exploring the world along with my characters.  That’s what happened in this case.   As I discovered key elements of language, forms of clothing, magical arts, and the like, larger patterns that in turn shed light on the world and its cultures also appeared.  Rather than going back and putting these in, I created a second file in which I would periodically stop and write myself notes about things I needed to include later.

None of this material is filler.  For example, characters do need names but, unless the story is built around a name (such as The Importance of Being Earnest), I can quite easily be content with referring to even a major character as ABC or DEF.

The same is true of physical descriptions.  Again, unless what a character looks like is crucial to how the story is developing, the question of whether he is a golden-haired youth with deep violet eyes or she is a buxom maiden with dark-green locks and a distracting dimple can wait until later.

As interested as I am, delving into much of this material is going to need to wait.  I’ve promised myself that I’ll get several other new – and in their own way equally fascinating – projects moving along – which was one reason that I took a whole day away from writing to go off to Santa Fe and meet with Emily.

Now, however, I have nearly three days before I hit the road again.  You can be sure that some or all of those days will be occupied with writing that missing scene!

Running the Rat Race

August 30, 2017

As I mentioned last week, this past weekend was Bubonicon.  I’m happy to report that it was an intense weekend, but a very good one.

My Third Panel of Bubonicon

For those of you who don’t know Bubonicon, I should mention that the mascots are Perry and Terry Rodent, so the reference to rats in the title of this piece is not in any way derogatory to the convention – far from it!

I had two panels on Friday.  This may not sound like much until you fill in that the first one was at 5:00 pm (Is the Stand-Alone Novel Dead?). This was followed by the Opening Ceremonies, which are a major event at Bubonicon, and not to be missed if at all possible.  I then had a dinner meeting before racing off to my second panel (Facts Behind the Fantasy: Research Impact) at 7:30 pm.

The panels were fun, and the meeting productive.  I have now met Linda Caldwell, who did the cover design for the new e-books of Smoke and Mirrors and When the Gods Are Silent.  Along with Emily Mah Tippetts, who is my e-pub guru, we discussed a host of future projects, both reprints and original fiction.

Then we went home to discover the pump on our little pond had stopped working…  But it was too late and too dark to fix it, so we admired the toads who were enjoying the still water and went to bed.

Saturday I was on the first panel of the day (Felines and Feline Aliens in SF/F).  This was very exciting for me, because I had my fan moment being on a panel with C.J. Cherryh, whose innovative aliens and alien civilizations are a seminal influence on the field.  I also had the chance to be on a panel with Ursula Vernon, who was back at Bubonicon, this time as Toastmaster.  And I meowed my introduction, which probably showed that I was already punchy!

Then Jim and I had lunch with writers (and dear friends) Steve (S.M. Stirling) and Janet Stirling.  Steve is amusing that early in the day (11:00 a.m. is early for Steve and thanks to an alarm clock error he’d been awakened at 10:00.)  After Steve toddled sleepily off to do his noon reading, Jim and I had a chance to tour the Art Show and a bit of the Dealer’s Room before my reading at 1:15.

This was very well attended.  Thanks to all of you who stayed to shiver in that very cold room!  I read my yet-unpublished short story “Can’t Live,” and took a few questions.  At that time, I revealed for the first time that forthcoming projects will include a new, self-published, Firekeeper novel…

(Did you read far enough to learn that?)

First, however, will come Asphodel, probably early in 2018, featuring cover art by Rowan Derrick, who also did the cover for my short story collection, Curiosities.  More on forthcoming projects in future Wanderings!

Fairly soon after my reading, Jim took off to buy a new impeller for our pump.  He was reassured that, given the number of plants thriving in the pond, the fish should be okay.

He returned in time to go with me to my next panel, SnackWrites: Writing Exercises. Moderated by Josh Gentry, host of the SnackReads site, this panel provided me, Robert (Bob) Vardeman, and M.T. (Matt) Reiten the challenge of having five minutes to show what we could write in response to a set prompt that we had not seen in advance.  The audience was encouraged to participate, and many did.  We had lots of fun and proved that five minutes is enough to get some decent writing done.


We chatted with a few people after, then raced off to catch the second part of Artist Guest of Honor Elizabeth Leggett’s excellent presentation.  I always learn something about the creative process when I go to these – far more, honestly, than I do from most writer’s panels, given that I’ve been writing professionally now for some twenty-five years.  In her panel, Elizabeth offered a bonus lesson on perseverance as she showed just how many revisions she did on just one piece.

After that, it was time for the Mass Signing, followed by dinner with our much-missed friends, Mike and Yvonne (who moved to Virginia several years ago).  We added Ursula Vernon and her husband, Kevin Sonney, at the last minute.  However, as I had hoped, the group chemistry was great and I think a good time was had by all.  I certainly had a blast.

Sunday morning, Jim fixed the pond pump.  The fish were grateful.  I picked a lot of string beans and eggplant…  Gardens do not understand that you’re at a convention.  They keep growing.

Sunday, once again, I was on the first panel of the day (Pros Who Game: Gamemastering &Writing).  Then we went to the excellent interview of the two guests of honor (Sherwood Smith and C.J. Cherryh) by Ursula Vernon.  We had to leave a little before the end to get upstairs to help set up and run the Afternoon Tea.

The Tea was, as always, delightful.  This was my first attempt at judging the “hats and gloves” – a sort of friendly “hall costume” show, for which we give prizes donated by the Tea Team.  Betsy James was a good coach, and I think I’d enjoy doing it again.

After Tea clean-up, we stayed for closing ceremonies, and then stayed to chat for about 45 minutes with Mike and Yvonne.  Thus endth Bubonicon for another year…

On Monday, we discovered that Ursula and Kevin couldn’t get home because their flight is through Houston, so we picked them up at noon and went out to show them something of Albuquerque.  We hit the Rattlesnake Museum, then several shops in Old Town.  After that, we went by the zoo, where the much-desired the wombats and Tasmanian devils cooperated by being out and active.

Now it’s back to the “normal” week of writing.  On Friday, I left my characters about to discover some rather world-changing information.  Time to find out what they think of it.


Try, Try Again

July 19, 2017

This week began on a very positive note.  My short story, “Unexpected Flowers,” was accepted by Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.  This is the first time I’ve sold a story to that magazine, so I’m very pleased to have finally achieved that particular personal goal.

Unexpected Flowers

I don’t know which issue it will be in, but I promise to let you know as soon as I do.

“Unexpected Flowers” was written late this February.  It’s not very long: only about 1,400 words.   For that reason, I can’t tell you much about it without providing too much in the way of spoilers.  I will say that it’s a very mathematical story…

In case you’re wondering, “Unexpected Flowers” was not accepted the first time I sent it out.  Or the second.  Or the third…

Or the fourth.

This was my fifth attempt.

If you think that rejections hurt less when you’re an old professional (which I guess I am, although there are times I feel as if I’m still just getting started), the answer is “No.”  Honestly, I wanted to give up after that first rejection, but I did like the story, so I kept trying.

Submitting stories to short fiction magazines has changed quite a bit since I started in this field.  In some ways it’s easier.  Most magazines actually prefer electronic submissions, so there’s no need to go to the post office.  There’s no need to enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope with correct postage if you want your manuscript back.  (I started writing in the dark ages, in the days before disposable manuscripts.)

On the other hand, in some ways it’s harder.  One of the ways it’s harder is that most magazines request that you only submit one story at a time.  This means that if a magazine has a long waiting list – Asimov’s took three months to get back to me – then you’re not only tying up that story for a considerable time period, you’re also closing the door to that market if you come up with another story you think might suit it.

It also seems to me that there are fewer “professional” markets out there.  However, I haven’t sat down and done a studied comparison and contrast, so I can’t say for sure.

When I was first going to conventions with Roger Zelazny, a question I heard him asked over and over was “What do you think is the single most important thing for someone who wants to be a professional writer?”

His answer was always the same: “Persistence.  Keep writing.  Keep sending things out.  But most of all, keep writing.”

I kept this in mind as the rejections were coming in, went back to the market lists, reviewed my options.  I wrote a few more short stories, then a novel came and swallowed me.  I’m still mucking around in its gullet.

I also kept reminding myself of something so obvious that it might seem ridiculous: If you try, you have a chance of succeeding, but if you don’t try, you have no chance at all.

That’s cold comfort when the rejections are coming in, but when the acceptance happens, it’s really very sweet.  Now, off to do some more persisting!