Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Fencing Your Creative Space

June 27, 2018

Fence, Lattice, Trumpet Vine

This last week or so, I’ve had a lot of challenges getting into my writing zone – none of which have anything to do with whether or not I like what I’m writing (I do) or whether I have a sense for where the story needs to go next.  (I know that, too.  Blind Seer has stopped complaining and is eager to start running.)

The national political scene has certainly been full of distractions, both breaking news and then considering the implications of various developments.

On a more personal level, Jim’s mom was in the hospital for a week.  I’ve known her for over twenty years.  In violation of all the stereotypes about the relationship between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, I honestly like her.  As of this writing, she’s home again, but this is only the beginning.

We have three pets with health issues.  A good part of my day is spent dealing with these.

One of the trials of being a writer is that the “What if” that makes me a storyteller doesn’t politely restrict itself to whatever fictional project or projects I’m working on.  It immediately grabs hold of any unfinished story and starts working on it.

This impulse is very well-illustrated in my short story “Unexpected Flowers,” which was just published in the May/June issue of Asimov’s Magazine.

Basically, then, the more stressful things that are happening, the more my subconscious starts spinning stories, most of which are not the ones I’d prefer to be writing.  Sometimes these stress-generated stories create a barrier that slows down my ability to my reach my writing zone and produce fiction.

So, is this my way of confessing that I failed to write last week?  That Firekeeper and Blind Seer remain stalled on their latest journey?

Actually, not.  I had a very productive week’s writing – not just in the sense of word count (although that was more than satisfactory), but in how the next part of the story is taking shape.

So, how did I get around the stress and find my writing zone?

I think that the most important thing was reminding myself that I’m writing because I want to write, and that I want to finish the stories so I can share them with other people.  When writing is your job, rather than your hobby, it’s easy to start classifying it as yet another stress.  Modern American culture is tends to deem “work” as something you do because you must.  That view is reflected in song lyrics.  (“Everybody’s working for the weekend.”)  It’s in acronyms like TGIF.

And believe me, being a full-time writer is a lot of work.  I don’t get any time off, not even when I’m asleep.

But another technique for managing involves fencing off stress.  This means if the national news is dragging me down, I make sure I’ve written before I start reading articles.    That means reminding myself that worrying won’t keep my mother-in-law out of the hospital.  It means getting various medications into various ornery animals, and then forgetting that I need to do it all over again later on.

“Good fences make good neighbors,” said Robert Frost in his much-quoted poem.  Good mental fences give a writer a route to the zone where the stories happen.  Now, after an appointment or two, I’ll be writing again.  Catch you later!



The Word Count Myth

June 20, 2018

I’ve noticed a trend lately that emphasizes using word count as a means of indicating that a person is a truly dedicated writer.  The higher the word count, the more dedicated.  The lower the word count, the less.  No word count?  Proof of the poseur.

Shake It Off

According to my computer, the paragraph above is forty-five words long.  By my estimate, I typed at least two hundred words as I sought the right terms, the right cadence, the best way to get my point across.

There was an entirely false start, where I talked about how last week my hands actually ached for days because I’d done so much typing as I both finished off a short story and continued writing on Wolf’s Search (aka Firekeeper Seven), my latest novel-length project —  not to mention typing e-mail, blog posts, and keeping a presence on social media.

High word count is not an indication of a better writer, a more dedicated writer, or a more inspired writer.  It can be all of those, but it can also be an indication of a weaker writer who doesn’t care about the quality of the prose being produced, of a wordy writer who uses ten “meh” words rather than searching for the two with more punch, or of the uninspired writer who describes a banquet, or an item of clothing, or a bit of landscape just to be doing something.

Do I keep track of my word count?  Absolutely, but daily, not each session and certainly not, as one enthusiast on Twitter encouraged writers to do, every half hour — checking back in at the end of that time to share their success as proof of their commitment to the craft.

At the end of each writing day, I mark down the word count for that day.  At the end of the week, I subtract the total from the total of the previous week, giving me a sense of what I completed.  However, I do this with the awareness that word count is only a very general measure.  The next week I might cut numerous paragraphs because I’ve found a better, stronger approach.  Or tighten down sentences.

Yes.  Horror upon horror.  I might lose words.

If keeping track of your word count encourages you, by all means, do it.  However, don’t let the current fad for equating high word count with “winning” make you feel like a loser.  Writing isn’t a competition.  It’s an art.

Leonardo da Vinci completed very few paintings, but no one would ever say he wasn’t a “real” painter.  Think about it!

Why I Write Both

June 6, 2018

Right now my work schedule is complicated.  I’m writing a short story on a relatively tight deadline, while I’m also forging ahead on Wolf’s Search (aka, Firekeeper 7).

The other day, a friend asked me which I liked better, writing novels or writing short stories.  The truth is, I like both about the same.  This is not the case for all writers.

Short and Long

I have friends who write novels to pay the bills, but their hearts are given to elegantly crafted short stories.  One writer I greatly admire works best at novella to novelette range.  Several writers I know can’t write short to save their lives.  Even a novella is a struggle.

For me, novels are great because they give me room to explore complicated intertwining stories.  Even when I write long – and I’ve written novels in the 200,000 word range – I don’t write “fat.”  I ruthlessly prune my prose so that even descriptions serve more than one purpose – such as giving both dimension to a character and details of an economy in the description of a meal or an article of clothing.

So, for me, writing a novel isn’t an exercise in being lazy, in not having to make every word carry some part of the story.  A novel is a place where I can tell more complex story, often one involving multiple people, each of whom has his or her own agenda.

This is one reason I find the recent emphasis on Main Characters or “MC” that has been cropping up in a lot of writing quizzes and prompts very frustrating.  To me, every character should feel as if – if you were given a chance to find out more about him or her – they would be the protagonist of their own story.  But I wander off topic.

So, why do I write short stories?

Every writer I know usually has more ideas for stories than time to write those stories.  Sometimes when I get a cool idea, I realize it will fit beautifully into a novel I’m working on.  More often, however, the idea will need its own story.  My first decision is whether that story will be short or long.

Simply put, there are ideas that are best served at a shorter length.   My “Unexpected Flowers” (recently published in Asimov’s) is under 2,000 words.  I could have turned it into a novel, perhaps an elaborate bit of literary fiction full of footnotes and clever cross-referencing as the alternate universes became more and more elaborately differentiated.  However, I don’t think it would have been a stronger story for more length.  It might well have been weaker.

In the last month or so, I have scribbled down at least three new ideas to explore when I have more time.  It’s possible one of these may become a novel, but I don’t think so.  Each one strikes me as the sort that will have more punch if told at shorter length.

Do I set a length limit when I start writing?  Usually not.  Sometimes an invitation to write for a specific project will come with an upper limit as to how long the story can be, but in those situations part of my brainstorming is coming up with a story that can be written within those assigned limitations.   If I feel the proposed story spiraling into more and more complexities, then I either put that story idea aside for another time, or I refine.

Now I’d better get back to writing.  I’ve been working on the novel earlier in the day, then the short story in the afternoon.  That may well switch, but for now, it’s a system that’s working.

Catch you later!

The Most Important Part

May 30, 2018

Completion and Inspiration

This has been a great week for feeling good about myself as a writer.

My short story “A Familiar’s Predicament” has been accepted for publication in the next Sword and Sorceress anthology.  This was a cold submission to a very limited market, so the acceptance felt very good.  I’ll let you know when it comes out.

Speaking of things coming out, my short story “A Green Moon Problem” is now live at Lightspeed Magazine.  You can read it on-line or download it.  There’s even an audio version, which I admit to thinking is pretty neat.  The “Author Spotlight” interview is worth reading, since it delves into the details of how the story came to be.  However, for this reason, it contains a number of spoilers.  Consider yourself warned and read the story first!

Later on release day, I had a foreign magazine request permission to translate “A Green Moon Problem.”  That was a nice pat on the head!

As you may recall, earlier this month my short story “Unexpected Flowers” came out in the May/June edition of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.  Last week, when reviewing that particular issue of the magazine, Adam Troy Castro praised “Unexpected Flowers” in these words: “There’s the short story, ‘Unexpected Flowers’ by Jane Lindskold, unquestionably one of the great short stories of this or any other year.”

Big smile!

I also did a lot of writing.  Wolf’s Search is now nicely taking shape.  I still have a lot to write and, even after the rough draft is completed, I’ll be spending time polishing.  However, Blind Seer has stopped growling at me.  In general, I’m feeling good about the shape of the evolving narrative.

I also started fleshing out the details of another short story…

So, which is the most important of these?  While the praise for “Unexpected Flowers” was terrific, and the really positive reactions to “A Green Moon Problem” were great, and having “A Familiar’s Predicament” accepted for publication made me glow, the best part was the writing.

Why?  Because writing is something I can influence.  Next week I won’t have a new story out.  Or someone might decide they absolutely hate “Unexpected Flowers” or “A Green Moon Problem.”  Getting another acceptance isn’t really likely, although I do have another story or two out there being looked at, so it’s not impossible.  (So’s a rejection!)

But writing is something I can do that relies on me.  I’m my sole audience, my biggest critic.  I haven’t started keeping track of my daily work count because, to this point, I’ve been going back and forth, fleshing scenes out, cutting extraneous detail, writing myself notes, and things like that.  Sometimes a hard day’s work has ended up with a negative regarding words written.  But as long as the story gets better, I go to bed feeling good.

This is not saying that last week’s reminders that there are people out there I’ve never met who think my stories are worth reading don’t make sitting down to write day after day feel a little less futile.  Writing is a very solitary job.  Positive feedback, when it comes, feels good.

Now, off to do more writing!

As You Wish

May 16, 2018

A Couple Newer Offerings!

This week was filled with all sorts of cool things.  I’m going to share a couple of them.  Then I’m going to answer a request I’ve had from a bunch of people.  So, read on!

To my great pleasure and astonishment, my novel Asphodel received a terrific review from Publisher’s Weekly.   Why astonishment?  Because it’s never easy to have a book reviewed by PW and it’s even tougher when the book doesn’t have the backing of a major publishing house.  So, I’m very excited and because I’m excited, I’m going to share the review.

If you don’t like spoilers, read the first two lines, then the last line.  However, the spoilers aren’t the bad sort that give away resolutions, and one of my delights in this review is that the reviewer clearly “got” the book.

Okay…  Without further delay:

“Longtime fantasist Lindskold’s beguiling puzzle throws an inventive, amnesiac heroine into a magical world with undercurrents of forgotten trauma. An unnamed narrator awakens in a tower without any sense of her identity. Seven windows looking out on a distinct landscapes provide her only entertainment. She crafts companions by tying a pillow into the shape of a rabbit and drawing a sensible, living paper doll named Muriel. With these two friends, she projects herself in disguise into the scenes outside the tower. The trio stops thieves in an urban setting, hunts for a unicorn, rides giant seahorses, and engages in a dangerous battle with nightmarish, winged cherub heads. The narrator’s lack of hunger, thirst, and fatigue allows for endless exploration and the slow discovery of the rules of her powers. The companions’ excursions increase in daring until a visit to an Egypt full of gods and magic sparks the narrator’s desire to recollect her own identity. Searching for her past, however, exposes the bleak truth of her existence in the tower. This curious blend of fanciful vignettes, real danger, and existential mystery wends a twisting, pleasurable way through the powers of imagination.” (Publisher’s Weekly)

If you’re interested in purchasing Asphodel, you can find a full list of links (as well as some other cool stuff related to the novel) here.

On the writing front, I’m now back into Wolf’s Search, the forthcoming seventh Firekeeper novel.  Folks have asked me when it will be released and, for now, my answer is “When it’s ready.”  That said, for a variety of reasons – including the excitement about this book and wanting to get new material in your hands sooner, rather than later – I’m likely to make this book shorter than the previous books in the series.

I also have a couple of short projects I really want to work on before the shine fades off the ideas.  So there’s likely to be a lot of new Jane Lindskold fiction appearing here and there.  Running with the wolves seems to have been good for all aspects of my creative life.

And now for the request…  Several people mentioned having trouble finding the new Firekeeper ebooks, so (with the help of my pack member, Julie Bartel) I searched out links for you and am going to include them sorted by title.  All except the Amazon link will take you to where you can purchase an epub file.  Kindle, of course, requires a mobi file, so that’s what Amazon sells.


Through  Wolf’s Eyes: Amazon/Kindle ; Barnes and Noble/Nook ; Kobo ; iTunes ; Google Play

Wolf’s Head, Wolf’s Heart: Amazon/Kindle ; Barnes and Noble/Nook ; Kobo ; iTunes ; Google Play

The Dragon of Despair: Amazon/Kindle ; Barnes and Noble/Nook ; Kobo ; iTunes ; Google Play

Wolf Captured: Amazon/Kindle ; Barnes and Noble/Nook ; Kobo ; iTunes ; Google Play

Wolf Hunting:Amazon/Kindle ; Barnes and Noble/Nook ; Kobo ; iTunes ; Google Play

Wolf’s Blood: Amazon/Kindle ; Barnes and Noble/Nook ; Kobo ; iTunes ; Google Play

So, there you are.  I hope that you will consider purchasing these e-books and/or encouraging your friends to do so.  Please remember that pirated works cost you quite a lot, at least if you enjoy an author’s work.  Why?  Because authors who cannot earn some or part of their living through their work end up unable to write because they’re busy teaching or selling real estate or whatever it takes to keep home and hearth together.

Also consider posting reviews to the various e-bookseller sites.  This encourages the bookseller to promote the work, which in turn brings new readers to the series, which in turn hopefully makes it possible for the author to earn a living.

Now I’m off to see what Blind Seer and Firekeeper have gotten themselves up to…  Good reading to you all!

What Happened Next

April 11, 2018

To Quail Or Not To Quail?

Last week I told you about how Jim told recounted a dream he’d had, and how what he told me generated an idea for a short story.  Here’s what happened next.

After Jim told me about his dream, I scribbled a few pages.  Then, when I had spare time, I did research to round out my idea.   As soon as I could, I started writing, beginning with typing up what I’d written longhand.  It looked good.  It even looked great, but it also was getting long and the dramatic climax that had been my initial inspiration was nowhere in sight.

When I had written over 4,000 words (that’s sixteen pages, give or take) and the story was still a long way from completed, I had a sudden, horrible realization.  What I was setting up would only work if I turned my initial concept into a novel.  I’d thought my research would tighten down my options.  Instead, it had given me too many cool ideas.

As you know, I have nothing against writing novels.  However, I really didn’t think that the initial vivid image I’d garnered from Jim’s dream would be served by being an element in a novel.  Instead, it would be buried under a lot of other material.  It might even be squashed flat.

Reluctantly, I realized that if I were to serve my initial inspiration, I wouldn’t just need to re-write and tighten.  I would need to start over entirely.

Lots of writers quail at the idea of starting over.  They don’t want to “waste” what they’ve already written.  I’m not immune to that fear but, as I paced around my yard, I realized that the creative work I’d done to that point wasn’t wasted.  Some of the cool stuff I’d found in my research would certainly be useful later.  The fictional New Mexico mining town in which I was going to set the story was considerably more well defined.

So, on Friday, I put aside all the other jobs on my list and began all over again.  I wrote through Friday, although I did need to take a break to attend a meeting.  By close of day, I had replaced my initial 4,000 words, and was on my way toward the final scenes.

On Saturday, I’d hoped to go to a coin show with Jim and our friend, Michael Wester, but I cancelled so I could keep writing.  When Jim and Michael came back from the show, I stopped to have a sandwich with them, then I returned to writing.  By late afternoon, I had a rough draft with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

I also had assurance as to whether or not I’d written a better story, but at least I hadn’t let my initial inspiration become buried under too many words and too complex a plot.   I printed what I’d written, set it aside to mellow, and gave myself Sunday off.  Monday would be soon enough to give the story another look.

As of this writing, I’m still in the polishing and refining stage.  I’m only sure of one thing.  I’m glad I didn’t quail at the challenge of starting over again.  Sometimes, that’s the only thing to do if you want to write the best story possible.

Dreams Into Stories

April 4, 2018

Maybe Kel’s Writing

Jim and I often tell each other about our dreams.  One of the nice things about living with him is that, for the first time in my life, I share a bed with someone who dreams nearly as vividly as I do.  Jim doesn’t remember his dreams as often as I do or in as much detail but, when he does, they’re worth hearing about.

This past weekend, Jim mentioned a particularly vivid dream to me.  Even as he was telling me, I thought “This would make an interesting element in a story.”  No.  I didn’t go and write myself a little note.  I do that sometimes, but not often.  To be honest, I react to a list of story prompts the way I do to homework assignments.  I feel I’m somehow falling short if I don’t use them all.

Yes.  I know that’s ridiculous, but that’s the way my brain works.

Anyhow, I enjoyed Jim’s tale, then went on with my morning.  My mom was visiting.  When she came out to chat over coffee, I forgot entirely about Jim’s dream.  Later, when Mom needed some down time, I parked myself on the sofa to read.  The last thing I expected was for a story to start talking to me.

When it did, I grabbed a pen and some paper.  By the time Mom came out to rejoin us, I’d covered about four pages with scribbles.  The rest of the weekend, whenever I had a moment, I did some research to fill in details.

I’ve had other stories begin with dreams.  One of these, “Behind the Curtain of Flowers,” is included in my short story collection, Curiosities.  I’ve used elements from dreams in other short stories and even novels.  Pearl and Albert, two of the main characters in the “Breaking the Wall” novels (beginning with Thirteen Orphans), first introduced themselves to me in a dream.

In fact, now that I think about it, my earliest “stories” began with telling my dreams to my sister, Ann, who would listen with drowsy interest – and maybe a little doubt as to whether I was making some of it up.  Maybe I was.  Dreams do so often suffer from continuity problems!

I haven’t quite finished writing the story I started this weekend.  If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take advantage of my inspiration flowing fast and hot, and get back to writing!

Collaborating With Myself

March 28, 2018

Worlds I’ve Made My Own

As those of you who read my Friday Fragments know, over the last few months, I’ve been re-reading the entire Firekeeper saga.  One reason is because I’m grooming the books for a new release as high quality e-books, each of which will include an original, never before published essay about some aspect of the series.

The other reason I’m doing this re-read is that I’m re-familiarizing myself with Firekeeper and her world.  The first book in the series, Through Wolf’s Eyes, was published in 2001.  It was written about two years before.  The sixth (and at that point final) novel in the series, Wolf’s Blood, was published in 2007 and, again, was completed close to a year before.

Now that I’m writing Wolf’s Search, I want to make certain I have all the little details of the series fresh in my mind.  Of course I remember the major elements, but these books take place in a rich and multi-faceted world, full of complex cultures and even more complicated people.  I have a good memory, but it’s not perfect.  Then, too, I’ve thought a lot about those characters and what might have happened to them in the years since I turned in Wolf’s Blood.  I needed to separate out my speculations from what actually made it onto the page.

As I was working my way through Wolf’s Blood last week, scribbling down small notes here and there whenever I came upon an interesting tidbit, I realized that the process was very similar to what I do before writing a story set in another writer’s universe.

I’ve done several of these.  Probably the best known of my collaborations are those I’ve done with my buddy David Weber, set in his Honorverse.  I’ve written two novels with him (Fire Season and Treecat Wars), as well as contributing  three novellas and a yet unpublished short story to Honorverse anthologies.  I’ve written a Berserker short story with Fred Saberhagen.  Stories set in another author’s universe include a couple of stories for S.M. Stirling (one “Draka”; one “Emberverse”), a story for the Golden Reflections anthology (set in the universe of Fred Saberhagens’s Mask of the Sun), a short story “Child of the Night” in a Jack Williamson tribute anthology, and  a story set in Larry Niven’s “Man-Kzin War” series.

And, of course, there are Donnerjack and Lord Demon, the two novels I completed posthumously for my much beloved Roger Zelazny.

For each of these pieces, no matter how long or how short, I immersed myself in the original writer’s prose and, if appropriate, specific universe.  When I do this, I’m not just looking for information, I’m looking for elements of style, tone, and pacing.  I want the reader to feel they’re stepping into that particular universe, not a pale imitation.  Sure, my take will be a bit different from the original author’s, but I want this to be the difference between where in the room you’re standing, not a completely different house.

This week I realized that, as I am writing Wolf’s Search, I’m collaborating with my past self – the Jane Lindskold who lived between 1999 and 2007, a woman who during that time spent at least part of that year immersed in the world of Firekeeper and her associates.  Collaborating with myself is sort of neat.  It’s also more than a little weird.

My modern self definitely wants to bring what I’ve learned in the years since 2007 to Wolf’s Search.  After all, I’ve written eight or nine other novels, as well as many short stories.  If I didn’t learn anything in doing that, then I’ve just been spinning my wheels, and I’m not that sort of person.  At the same time, the Firekeeper Saga has its own voice, and I want that voice to be present and familiar, even though this is going to be a new story.

Now that I’ve finished my re-read, I’ll be writing more quickly.  Wolf’s Search is already becoming a deeper, more complex story than I had originally anticipated.  But that is something to talk about later…

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.