Archive for the ‘My Stories’ Category

I’m Writing

September 23, 2020

When Life Gives You a Brick

Today’s WW is going to be short because I’m writing.  Last week was insane.  Not all bad, just insane.  This week is going to have lots of interruptions.  Next week is going to be worse.

When the going gets tough, this writer gets writing.

Not everyone’s solution.  Not everyone’s way to cope.  But mine.

So, off to another land, one I hope to someday share with you all…

Take care!

Real Writer?

September 16, 2020

Desert Four O’Clock

Long ago, at an Armadillocon, I believe, I was talking to a gentleman who, himself a published writer of mystery fiction, was also teaching writing.  Since we shared similar backgrounds—both professional writers, both had taught writing at the college level—he confided in me.

“The longer I do this, the more I wonder if we’re doing any of these people a favor, acting as if we can teach them to write.”

The funny thing about this exchange was that, by “to write,” we both understood that what he—and most of his students—meant by “writing” was “write well enough, originally enough, to be published.”

More recently, I expressed a similar doubt.  The person I was talking to immediately objected, saying that while it was true that many people lack the vision or talent to produce publishable work, that didn’t mean they shouldn’t write.

I agree… If being able to monetize a skill is the only reason to learn to do it well, then no one should sing or dance or play an instrument.  Paints should stay in the bottle.  Sketch books should never be opened.  Clay should remain in the wrapper.  Beads in the tube.

Unhappily, this encouraging comparison only goes so far because the expectations a writer will face are very different.  I do not think every person who sings, dances, plays an instrument, does some sort of craft encounters what writers always do: the expectation that to be a real writer, that writer needs to be a published writer.

Even if the writer starts out writing for the pleasure, for the excitement and diversion of creating a story, the expectation is that to “really” write, the writer needs to also publish.

I don’t know how many times I’ve been part of some variation of this exchange, either as the subject or overhearing it.

“So, you write?  Are you published?”

If the answer is “No,” “Not yet,” or some variation thereof, the dismissal on the questioner’s face is usually visible.

Therefore, from an early time in pursuing writing, the writer comes to believe that it’s not enough to write and have the pleasure of writing, the writer must also publish.

Let’s go back to our imaginary dialogue.

“Oh!  You’re published!  That’s cool.  Where?”

When the writer replies, then the cycle of interrogation continues.  Short story writers are asked if they’re going to write a novel.  Novelists are asked who their publisher is (with various rankings for small press, traditional publishers, indie pub, academic press, literary press—rankings assigned by the questioner).

(And, believe me, no one can be snobbier than an academic press author who was paid in copies to a “genre fiction” writer who actually makes a living from writing.  But that’s another topic entirely.)

Even if the writer can jump all of these hurdles, the next criteria seems to be public recognition.

“Have I heard of you?”  or even “Are you famous?”

Many years ago, I decided to volunteer at my local library.  I like libraries and, at that time, I was spending too much time alone.  I signed up to shelf read. The very nice librarians welcomed me and asked, “What do you do?”  “I write books.”  “Are you published?”  “Yes.  My first novel came out in 1994 and I’ve had a couple out since.  I also have sold a fair number of short stories, and written some non-fiction.”

Nods and smiles.  Clear disbelief.  It wasn’t until I made a gift of several of my books (mass market paperbacks from an actual New York publisher) to the librarians that they accepted me as a “real” writer.  Having written didn’t do it.  Having published did.

Another example:

I have a good friend who is a talented writer.  When she sold her third professional short story, she was excited almost more because this was her third professional sale (thus qualifying her to join SFWA if she wished) than because she’d sold it to the much-acclaimed magazine Clarke’s World or even because the story was longer than Clarke’s World usually publishes.  Nonetheless, they liked it enough to pay her full rates for a long piece.

Writing is the only art/craft form I can think of where the highest compliment people think they can pay you is to say “Wow!  This would make a great movie/television show.”

What’s weirder is that most of those people would agree that novels and short stories can tell a more complex story than any movie or TV show.  What’s the difference?  Exposure and money.

True, with the appearance of sites like Etsy, more and more hobbiests are being urged to “monetize” their work, with the unspoken hint that not only will this help pay for materials, it will make them “real” (painters, beaders, jewelers, wood workers, whatever).

But writers have been dealing with this practically since the invention of the printing press.  Heck, for all I know, from before that.

The project I’m working on right now is not “pre-sold,” which has gotten me the sideways eyes from some people.  Worse (in terms of my perceived “reality), I might go the indie pub route with it.  (More sideways looks.)  Never mind that I have my reasons for possibly making that choice.  Never mind that (as anyone who has looked at Wolf’s Search and Wolf’s Soul know) my quality control is very high.

Sigh.  I think I’ll just go write and leave the question of reality to other folks.

Pacing Oneself

September 9, 2020

You Don’t Need To Be In Motion To Be Racing

I’m not the first one to say it, nor will I be the last: Writing a short story can be a sprint, but writing a novel is more like a marathon.

For each, pacing is really important.  Last week, I wrote about how I found myself madly inspired by a short story idea, and  so wrote through my usual weekend off because I wanted to finish writing “Claim Jumped” while the inspiration was hot.

As soon as this was turned in, I pulled out the manuscript of a hobby project (working title is Library of the Sapphire Wind) that I’d been working on after Asphodel, through October of 2017.

I had to put Library of the Sapphire Wind on side because other projects had priority.  First, I got the rights back to the Firekeeper Saga and was now in a position to write the sequels I had wanted to write for years.  Then, as I was wrapping up Wolf’s Search and Wolf’s Soul, the contract with Baen Books for a continuation of the Star Kingdom series with David Weber was finalized, so SK4 had to be written.  Therefore, I reluctantly put my hobby project aside, roughly drafted at 150,000 words, but fully aware it needed further development.

During this time, I continued to put our new e-book editions of some of my backlist, including Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owl and all three of the “Breaking the Wall” novels (Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, and Five Odd Honors).

Now that I’m back to my hobby project, my enthusiasm is just as high as was when I was writing “Claim Jumped.”  In fact, because so much time has gone by, I’m in the midst of the delightful experience of reviewing with enough distance from the original writing that I feel almost as I do when re-reading a favorite novel.  I remember some bits, but others I’ve completely forgotten.  The urge to read to find out “what happens” (by which I mean, how a specific scene plays out) is very strong.

No matter how enthusiastic I feel, though, I’m reminding myself that at 150,000 words and growing (this project is likely to become two books, at least), I need to pace myself.  For me, that means not working through the weekend, as well as making time for hobbies and other creative outlets.

Aside: Ever since I got together with Jim, I’ve tried to take weekends off.  Losing Roger when I was thirty-two made it very clear to me at a relatively young age that one’s beloved may not always be with one.  Jim’s very supportive of my writing, but it’s important to me that he not feel imaginary people are more important than he is.

Also, I’ve learned that a few days of not actively working on a novel (although I do tend to think about the story throughout) actually makes me a better writer for the complexities involved in a multi-level storyline.  Craft time keeps my “front-brain” busy while my subconscious works on the story.

But, that said, I’m eager to get back to Library of the Sapphire Wind.  Catch you later!

Don’t Stuff Your Creativity in a Bag

September 2, 2020

Roary in a Bag

When the craft of writing is discussed, one of the points most likely to start an argument full of snooty opinions  and hot tempers is whether or not an author outlines a work in advance.

I’ve talked about this in in the past and, because I did a pretty thorough job defining terms then, I’m not going to repeat myself.  You can read it here. (Just skip the garden report.)  This Wandering is going to revisit the issue!

As I have said before, I definitely come in way over on the “intuitive” side of the sliding scale.  Honestly, I get bored if I know precisely how a story is going to work out.  Exploration along with my characters is what keeps me fresh.

But sometimes that exploration happens really, really fast.  When it does, well, I guess I could say I become one of those who outlines.

My recent slide over to the outlining side of the scale happened starting on August 21st.  I’d been offered a chance to write a story for a forthcoming “space western” anthology.  I’d tossed a few ideas into my subconscious, then pretty much left them alone while I worked on finishing the manuscript of SK4 (the fourth volume in the Star Kingdom series I’m writing with David Weber).  I handed the manuscript over to Weber on the afternoon of August 19th and was looking forward to a bit of a break before facing the next deadline.

However, Thursday night, the story started bubbling forth with so much energy I had trouble sleeping.  Friday morning, I started writing.  By Friday afternoon, I had 3,500 words.  That’s something over fourteen pages.

But here’s the interesting point, at least for me.  Usually I write complete scenes in the order they happen.  The one exception to this is when I’m writing more than one point of view.  Then I may write portions separately and intercut, although I rarely do that too far in advance in the plot.   This, however, was a short story with one point of view character.

As I was writing the opening, I suddenly “saw” the next scene. So, after I’d written as much on the opening as I needed to make sure I wouldn’t lose my sense of what was happening, I jumped ahead to scene two.  As I was writing scene two, the same thing happened.  So—after writing the establishing elements—once again, I jumped ahead.  This went on for hours.  By the time I finished, those 3,500 words were more or less an extremely annotated outline.

I don’t usually write on weekends but, apprehensive about losing this amazing inspiration, I wrote on both Saturday and  Sunday, fleshing out various scenes.  Far from getting bored, my creativity was fully engaged, I suspect because the pace kept me from thinking and re-thinking story elements.

I finished the story on Tuesday, bringing it in at something over 8,000 words.  Wednesday, I proofed, tightening up and polishing my hurried prose.  Wednesday afternoon, Jim started his read-through.  I went through and corrected the typos he found.  Then, on Thursday, I sent a copy of the story to my good pal, Paul, who loves both Westerns and SF.

Paul sent the story back to me by Friday morning with some good comments.  Once again, I polished, then sent the 8,000 word story, now titled “Claim Jumped,” off to the editor.

So, what’s the takeaway from this experience?

As I see it, it’s “Don’t get so invested in your image of yourself as a writer that it gets in the way of your writing.”  As I noted in the WW referenced above, there are a lot of people who get very superior about being “intuitive” or equally superior about “planning,” and sneer at those who write differently.

What’s important isn’t how you write, it’s that you write, as well as that, as I did in this instance, you feel invigorated and invested while you’re doing it.

Now, off for that break which—if I’m completely honest—seems to involve writing as well.

FF: Taking It Easy?

August 28, 2020

“Hold Still, Mei-Ling! You Will Get Your Picture Taken!”

I was going to take time off last week to celebrate completing  a draft of SK4.  But a short story galloped into my imagination so instead I ended up writing right through the weekend.  Anyone want to place bets as to whether I figure out how to unwind this coming week?

Remember to join us for free at Virtual Bubonicon this Saturday.  Convention website is here.  Information on the panel I’m on is in this week’s WW.

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Maddigan’s Fantasia by Margaret Mahy.  Excellent.  Post-apocalyptic magical realism with both science and magic, and a protagonist who, while annoying at times, is worth rooting for.

DreamForge Magazine, issue six.  I very much enjoyed.

In Progress:

Dark Whisper by Bruce Coville.  Third book in the Unicorn Chronicles. Audiobook.  I’m almost done, but writing cut into my listening time.

Expecting Someone Taller by Tom Holt.  A re-read, impulse chosen because I felt like smart humor.  This book contains the single funniest and yet oddly sensible summary of Wagner’s Ring Cycle ever.

Also:

Archeology Magazine, finishing one in time for the next to show up!

Virtual Bubonicon and a Couple of FAQ

August 26, 2020

Prickly But Lovely!

I really thought that once I finished SK4 and turned the manuscript over to David Weber (which I did last Wednesday afternoon), I’d be taking a break.  Instead, a short story idea leapt out from the underbrush and insisted on being written.  I’m still working on that now, so today’s WW will feature a couple of updates.

Bubonicon is going virtual this year, and I’m on one of the live panels.  The topic is “Creating Worlds: Fun With Flora & Fauna.”

Here’s the description:  “Okay, you’ve created your alien world. How difficult is it to fill with believable flora and fauna? Is it necessary for most or all of the fauna to be predators? Do all the plants need teeth, poison, or strangling vines? Yes, heroes need problems to overcome, but do we fill our worlds with flora and fauna for the purposes of entertaining the reader or to make everything more believable? “

We’re on at 6:00 pm, Saturday, August 25th.   Attendance is free.  For more information check out their website.

Ever since Wolf’s Search came out, and even more since Wolf’s Soul came out, I’ve been repeatedly asked a couple of the same questions.   (If you haven’t heard about Wolf’s Search and Wolf’s Soul, the two new Firekeeper novels, there is a lot of information on my newly updated website: www.janelindskold.com.)

Q: I want a hard cover.  Where can I get one? 

A: For now, you can’t.  If you prefer print to e-books, you do have the option of purchasing trade paperbacks via Amazon.com.

However, if there is sufficient interest in hard cover editions, I’ve spoken with a small press publisher who has agreed to work with me. One option would be an omnibus volume featuring both novels.  Another would be separate volumes, with maybe the option of a slipcase.  One thing.  Since I would be working with a small press, these would not be cheap.  They would be pretty, though…

Q: Are the Firekeeper books available as audiobooks?

A: No, they are not, nor do I intend to do them as such myself, even though I have been assured I am an excellent reader.  If you are interested in audiobooks of the Firekeeper Saga, the best way to get them is to approach the audiobook publisher of your choice and express your interest.

Firekeeper pack member Michelle Marks recently did this.  She made an appeal to other Firekeeper fans in a Comment on my Facebook page.  I’m taking the liberty of sharing her post here:

“Hi all. If any of you wish to lend your voice to mine and request the Firekeeper series on Audible, you can e-mail the request to content-requests@audible.com. I would love to share this series with those in my family who prefer Audiobooks. I e-mailed them today and they have sent an initial response but the more requests we have, the more likely it will be to happen. Thanks for your time!” 

Remember, publishers rarely listen to authors (because it is assumed we love our books), but they will listen to readers (who it is assumed will spend money on a product).  Speak out!  If I’m approached by an audiobook company who offers to pay me for the rights to make audiobooks, I’ll definitely be receptive.  (I’m an audiobook fan myself.)

On that note, I’m going to go finish writing my story.  Since it’s a space western, today’s photo is of the magnificent prickly pear in our side yard!  Tune in next week for some chat about the craft of writing!

Unexpected Smile

August 12, 2020

Roary Admires the Cover of Wolf’s Search

Last week ended with an unexpected bit of good news.

The cover for Wolf’s Search (seventh book in my Firekeeper Saga) was one of the works included in the long list for the Chelsea Award in the Best E-book or Paperback Cover category.  Wolf’s Search is in very fine company as you can see here.

The credit for this achievement goes not to me, other than in that I had the very good sense to select a lovely piece of art, but to artist Julie Bell, who gave me permission to use her “Andre” for the cover art.  If you’re interested in owning a print of the piece, it’s available at her on-line shop.

Further credit goes to Linda Caldwell, who did the cover design, including the titles, format, and otherwise adapting Julie Bell’s art to the needs of my novel.

What else?  SK4 (the fourth book in the Star Kingdom/Stephanie Harrington series I’m collaborating on with David Weber) is now in Jim’s hands, and I’m using my “free” time to do a bunch of things to prepare for the next book.

Although these books are set in the Honorverse, they’re prequels set some 400  years in the past.  This means that, while much of the world building  must be done from scratch, it also must be careful not to violate anything in the future.  Another challenge is that this series features treecats in a more central role, which means developing an alien culture and its first contact with humans—while, once again, not violating anything that happens later.

So my current task is gathering together the results of numerous scattered conversations with David Weber, then creating reference documents.

I’m also working with my friend Jane Noel (art director of DreamForge magazine) on updating my website.  She’s doing all the pretty stuff, and I’m writing text.

Anyhow, I’d better get back to it.  Catch you later!

Little Sparkles

August 5, 2020

Kumihimo bracelets, lanyards, and key-chains

A lot going on here…  I’m now immersed in getting a copy of SK4 (the yet untitled fourth book in the Star Kingdom series I’m writing in collaboration with David Weber) into Jim’s hands.  My website is undergoing some revision, so it’s going to look a bit weird for a few weeks.  Also, I appreciate how many of you have signed up for my mailing list.  I will be doing a drawing for a giveaway before the end of summer (I hope), and mailing list people will get their own special “thank you” at that time.

Lately, when I’m not being a writer, a small business owner, or cat wrangler, I’m definitely spending a lot of time on my garden.  Monday night, it got bombarded by hail, but most of the plants have survived.  Yay!

Another favorite hobby activity is beadwork.  A couple of years ago, courtesy of a birthday gift from my sister, Ann, I became devoted (Jim would probably say “addicted”) to doing kumihimo with beads.  I mentioned my new interest at the time, but I thought I’d share where that has taken me nearly two years later.

The photo shows a limited assortment of the pieces I’ve created: limited, because I’ve given quite a few bracelets and several keychains as gifts.  Recently, I graduated to making longer pieces.  Ironically, I’d intended to use these as badge lanyards for future conventions but, now that everything has gone virtual, I guess I’m making them so I’ll be ready when there are conventions again!

I will admit, as much as I enjoy the bracelets, there’s something very satisfying about making a thirty inch or so rope.  These involve approximately 1,800 beads per finished piece, each of which is braided in individually.

Unlike my writing, which takes many months before anyone other than me gets to see the finished project, or a gardening project, which also takes a long time to develop, kumihimo gives me something to look at and enjoy within a few hours (although the complete project takes longer, depending on length and complexity).

There’s probably something profound there about creative contrasts, but I haven’t figured it out.  What I do know is that I really enjoy my little sparkles!

Once Again, I Was Reminded

June 24, 2020

Supported By Portulaca

Once again, this past week, I was reminded that the best way for me to write is to set the bar very low and see what happens.   On Friday, smoke from fires in Arizona were making me very headachy.  That, combined with having to make numerous phone calls and other distractions, meant that by the time I was able to settle into writing, I thought I was too tired to get anything done.

Nonetheless, I kept a promise made to myself  long ago to try to write at least twelve sentences every work day.  Within an hour and a half, I had written an astonishing ten pages on SK4.

How I came up with twelve sentences as my personal “low bar,” was something I evolved back when I had had a fulltime job as a college English professor.  Something  Roger Zelazny said about his own work habits got me thinking and…   Well, I’ve wandered on about this before, so rather than repeating myself, I’ll just suggest you look here.

I don’t typically write ten pages a day, so I was completely astonished.  I was also reminded that being upset with myself because I don’t think I can make a “good day’s work” is the best way to keep myself from getting anything done at all.

On that note, after a public service announcement, I’ll be off to write some more.

It’s been a while since I reminded you and, knowing that many people don’t read these posts every week, I’d like to note that Wolf’s Soul, the eighth book in the Firekeeper Saga, is now available.  Wolf’s Soul winds up the story begun in last July’s Wolf Search.  I’ve been getting e-mails and messages from readers, as they finish reading the book.  I appreciate the overwhelming enthusiasm readers are showing for the direction in which Firekeeper and Blind Seer (with me as scribe) took their story.

If you are so inclined, we’d all appreciate spoiler-free reader reviews on the bookseller’s website of your choice.  Word of mouth is the best publicity a book can ask for.  In these days of isolation, word-of-electron is even more important.

Now…  Off to write!

Romping and Roaring

May 20, 2020

Roary 3

As those of you who have read the Acknowledgements to my new release, Wolf’s Soul (Firekeeper Saga 8, for more details go here), you know that a few months ago, my much, much beloved cat Keladry died without warning, probably from a stroke or aneurysm.

Kel had self-appointed herself my assistant, so her loss left a particularly big hole.  I still expect her to come running when she hears my computer go on or to be able to reach over and pat her when I pause to consider what next.

But, if there’s anything I’ve learned from the losses in my life, it’s that choosing not to love as a protection against the pain of loss is a soul-destructive course of action.

And so, meet Roary.

After we lost Kel at the end of February, we wanted to get a new feline as soon as possible. Kwahe’e (who is now over eighteen and increasingly fragile) has always liked newcomers, but we weren’t sure how either Persephone or Mei-Ling would react.   Persephone is sweet but can be aggressive, while Mei-Ling is very shy.  Right now, Kwahe’e provides the balance between them.

Kwahe’e: Roary’s Calming Influence

However, there simply weren’t kittens available at the shelter until recently.  At the end of April, the shelter started posting kittens to the website (the site provides individual listings for adoptable animals).  However, with the Covid-19 shutdown, the shelter is closed except by appointment.  Therefore, once the site started showing more than an occasional kitten, I made us an appointment.  The closest date I could get was a week out and…

Yep, you got it, by that date (which was a week ago) there were no kittens listed at the shelter.

That Wednesday morning, I had a phone call checking if we were still coming in.  I explained that we were specifically looking for a kitten, and asked if they had any who weren’t listed on the site.  The lady (Cassie) said, no, the only available kitten was at the other shelter and appointments couldn’t be switched.

Very reasonably, Cassie tried to interest me in several young adults. I explained why we needed a kitten, explaining that we’d adopted Mei-Ling from the shelter last August as an excruciatingly shy kitten and, although we’d done a lot to help her be brave, we felt she’d be intimidated by someone bigger than her.

Roary and Mei-Ling

I asked, “Do you have any kittens who aren’t ready for adoption, but who we could reserve?”  Cassie replied, “We’re not doing reservations, but I could talk to our foster-care coordinator and explain your need.”  About twenty minutes later, I heard from a very enthusiastic lady named Carolyn.

Apparently, a kitten who had been brought into the shelter as an injured stray–something had attacked him and sliced through the leg muscles on his left leg so that they literally peeled off the bone (this is called “gloving”)–was now recovered from surgery.  He was doing well, but needed to go to a foster home while he finished healing.  The city shelter has a “foster-to-adopt” program, as long as the household does not exceed the limit for number of cats.  We don’t.

I gave Carolyn my references, including our vet clinic, who we’ve been using for over twenty years, through some remarkable pet adventures.  Then I got off the phone and bounced off the walls in excitement until Jim got home from running errands.

I valiantly withheld my news until Jim had a chance to wash his hands and mask, although I’ll admit, this was a struggle.  As I expected, Jim was as thrilled as I was, so I phoned Carolyn back asked when we could come get our new foster.  She said, “Come any time,” and we were out the door with Jim’s mask still slightly damp.

Our new foster was seven weeks old, white with random black spots.  The shelter had called him “ItsyBitsy,” but we’re going to call him Rorschach, Rory (or as Jim wants to spell it “Roary” because he can be very loud) since his blots form different pictures when he moves or bends.

Roary spends his unsupervised time in our spare guinea pig hutch to keep him from climbing and jumping, but he’s very playful and active.  He still has a little trouble with the left leg, but he’s certainly doing his P.T. to rebuild the damaged connections. If you look at the first photo, you can see the healing incision.  It’s pretty impressive.

Roary and Persephone

Best of all, unlike when we brought Mei-Ling home and Persephone completely panicked, our excitable girl seems to really like her new “little brother.”  We guess that this is because kittens are no longer a new concept.  She hisses at him a little, but isn’t terrified or hostile—more like “Keep your distance, squirt.”

 Mei-Ling is also interested in Roary.  Rather than going to hide, she loves to watch him and even lets him play within a few inches of her, as long as she doesn’t get pounced.  Apparently, her great fear is unfamiliar humans, which makes me think she must have had some bad experiences before she ended up in the shelter.

So, we’re optimistic.

Look forward to more pictures of Roary.  My guess is that he’s going to be a really big cat, because in just a week he’s visibly grown.

No matter how big he gets, Roary will never fill the hole that Kel left, but that’s not how love works.  You never stop loving those you’ve lost.  You don’t try to replace them.  You just open up to new love, new experiences, new challenges.