Archive for the ‘Writing’ 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.

Love and Writing

February 14, 2018

This week I have good news to share.  My short story, “Can’t Live,” has been accepted for publication by Lightspeed Magazine.  I’ll definitely let you know when it’s available.

Pretty Persistent

I’ll come back to “Can’t Live” in a moment.

First I’d like to mention that a piece by me is featured in  Lawrence M. Schoen’s “Eating Author’s” blog.  In this regular feature, he invites authors to talk about memorable meals.  Since Lawrence has a wide view of what makes a meal “memorable,” I decided to talk about teaching Roger Zelazny to cook crepes – as well as a few other things that happened during the year we lived together in Santa Fe.  If you’re interested, the full piece is here.

Those of you who are regular readers of my Friday Fragments, where I list what I’m currently reading, may recognize Lawrence M. Schoen as the author of Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard, which I finished a week or so ago.   Barsk shares the same line between hard science fiction and sociological science fiction occupied by works such as Dune, where precognition and the question of what would happen if people could reliably foretell the future play a central role.  However, Barsk takes the concept in a complete different direction – for one thing, some characters can talk to the dead – providing an interesting read.

Since today is Valentine’s Day, I’d like to talk about love – in this case the love an author feels for a story – and how that love is tested when the author sends the story out into the world with the intention of placing it in a commercial marketplace

I’d love to brag that “Can’t Live” sold the very first time I sent it out.  Instead, I’ll note that the story was completed on December 2, 2016, sent out immediately, and whenever it came back, it went out as soon as I could manage.  I finally sold it on February 9, 2018 – some fourteen months later.  Along the way, “Can’t Live” had several near-misses, mostly of the “I love this but it doesn’t quite fit our needs” type.  It also suffered from a perception by some editors that it was horror, while purely horror editors did not see it as such.

I felt confident that “Can’t Live” worked.  Did this mean I didn’t feel doubt when it was repeatedly rejected?  I did.  At one point, after several rejections,  I sent “Can’t Live” to a friend who admitted she didn’t get what I thought was an obvious reference.  I considered her comment, then added a sentence to clarify.

I didn’t want to, but I did because her comment reminded me that writing is about communication, not about showing off how clever you are.

In August of 2017, when “Can’t Live” still hadn’t found a home, I decided to make it my reading at Bubonicon.  To my relief, the response was not only enthusiastic but spontaneous, generating a lot of discussion.  If you were in that audience, let me offer my sincere thanks.

At this point, this Wandering is probably looking like an object lesson in persistence.  Write.  Send out.  Send out again.  Eventually, you’ll find the right editor.  Happy ending.  And you’re probably wondering why I included a picture of a hawk.

(Other than that it’s cool, which it is.)

Persistence is not what I want to talk about.  What I want to talk about is how love can be blind.  Persistence is not a virtue if a writer refuses to think that her precious darling of a story is anything but flawless.  I’ve met far too many people – and not just writers – who think that pushing toward their dreams is in and of itself a virtue.  They love the dream, not the reality.

The best love you can give your dream balances a solid dose of realistic assessment against persistence toward a goal.  Don’t abuse your dream by refusing to see that maybe you need to make a change, add a sentence, cut a clever phrase.

Be like a Cooper’s Hawk that hunts not only by the classic soaring associated with hawks, but also by diving into bushes and shrubs, and even stalking on foot along the ground.  (We watched the hawk in the photo do all of these things in the yard right outside the office window.)

Love doesn’t mean never having to say you’re sorry.   Love means being adaptable.  Love means doing the very best you can.

Very Much a Fox

February 7, 2018

“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”  This saying is credited to Archiliochus, a Greek who was born sometime around 714 B.C.  The one “big thing” a hedgehog knows is, of course, how to roll into a ball, prickly side out, and thereby keep itself from getting eaten.  This is certainly a very big thing indeed.

Wild Horse!

I, however, am definitely a fox.  That’s why today’s WW is illustrated with a photo of one of my recent craft projects – one that, superficially, has nothing to do with my life as a writer.

Not all writers are foxes.  Some are very happy being hedgehogs.   Particular themes or settings or character types call to them, begging to be re-examined.

I remember one novelist I first encountered through her fictional re-telling of a certain fairy tale.  I was devoted to this book.  Later, she got a lot of buzz for a new novel.  As I read it, I came up short.  The setting was different.  So were the characters.  But it was that same fairy tale all over again.  When, later still, I was given a copy of her then newest novel.  I discovered that, for all the change in setting and time period, for all ostensible difference in plot, it was the same fairy tale all over again.  I found myself wondering what called to her so strongly about that particular story.

As a reader – especially in my younger years – I often became attached to one particular novel or series by a particular author.  When I was very young, I wouldn’t even try something else by that writer.  A good example of this is Kipling.  I first became aware of him through the Mowgli stories.  When I later learned these were part of the larger tapestry of the “Jungle Books,” I read those tales with suspicion.  They couldn’t possibly be as good as Mowgli.  I didn’t read Kim, a novel I now love dearly, for years and years because of some vestigial loyalty to my first love.

I think the tendency to choose one thing over all others comes out of our society’s constant desire to rank and rate things.  I’ve been part of heated discussions where I’ve been asked to defend my preference for Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan stories rather than his John Carter of Mars.   It’s as if a reader’s preferences are a sort of psychology test.  These days, this is constantly reinforced by seller sites that tell you, “If you liked THIS, then you’ll like THAT.”

I’m a dark chocolate person, a coffee drinker, a reader of SF/F.  Does this mean I never eat milk chocolate, drink tea, read biographies?  Hardly!

Happily, I got over a desire to make an author be one thing and one thing only.  It happened gradually, helped by the fact that I often read according to recommendations given by friends, rather than author name.  Nonetheless, I remember a seminal moment.  I was in the library, looking for something that I hadn’t read by Patricia McKillip.  I’d “met” her work through the Riddlemaster of Hed and its sequels.  I’d gone on to enjoy her standalone fantasy novels.  But when I pulled a McKillip novel called Fool’s Run off the shelf and I saw it was SF, I started to put it back.  McKillip and SF?  Then I thought.  But it’s McKillip.  And I read it, and it is now among my favorite of her works.

I think readers are often shaped to view who and what a writer is by the first piece we read by that writer.  For example, the first book I read by Maggie Stiefvater was The Scorpio Races.  I followed this with her different but similar “Raven Cycle.”  When I realized that her new novel, All the Crooked Saints, was going off in a completely different direction, I hesitated.  Then I gave it a try.  It turned out to be worth the read.

But for all that I had tunnel vision as a young reader, as a writer, I’ve never wanted to write the same thing or even the same way.  Indeed, a desire to write different ways, about different sorts of people, using different styles, was one of the bonds between me and the late Roger Zelazny.  In an essay about the impact of the works of Henry Kuttner on him as a boy, Roger said: “Even then, I wanted to write, and I decided that it would be something of a virtue to possess that sort of versatility.”

Here, Roger was talking about style, but the same applied to his content.  He wrote far future SF, near future SF, high Fantasy, swashbuckling sword and sorcery, stories that could make you weep, stories that could make you laugh aloud.  Definitely a fox.

And thank goodness that fox never got shut in a box.  Late in life, Roger wrote a novel called A Night in the Lonesome October.  If he’d been restricted to Amber or to the short stories that garnered him most of his awards, we would have missed a novel that every year – over twenty years after his death – I still get notes from people who need to tell me that that it’s October and they’re reading it again.

Making a fox be a hedgehog only makes for a very bad hedgehog.

And I am definitely a fox.  I write fantasy about wolves but I write other things, too.  Even far future SF.  Even questing Fantasy.  Even contemporary tales of gods among us.  And sometimes I stop and paint myself a horse, then adorn it with shining gemstones.

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.

Have Yourselves a Merry…

December 20, 2017

Right now I have a bunch of projects going.  If you’re a regular reader of these Wanderings, you can skip the next three paragraphs.

Wolf Cookie In Its Native Habitat

The most time-sensitive project is finishing off production for my novel, Asphodel, which I’m hoping to release in January.  I chose to self-publish Asphodel because it’s a bit odd and finding the right publisher might have taken years.  Sooner rather than later or maybe never seemed the right way to go.

I’m also working on putting together new e-books for “The Firekeeper Saga.”  Last April, Tor Books courteously reverted to me the rights to most of my works with them.  Since readers had complained that the Tor-produced e-books suffered from a lack of proofing, I’m putting out new editions.  The cover art will still be by Julie Bell, but with different design elements.  As a bonus, each book will include an original afterward about some aspect of the series.

Side by side with the above, I’m also writing a new Firekeeper novel: Wolf’s Search.  I’ve been handwriting a bit every day.  Pretty soon I’ll have the first story arc done.  Then I’ll type that up, which will give me a chance to review, while meditating on details of the second part.

So how do I keep from crumpling up and becoming overwhelmed, especially now that I have holiday preparations taking over all my remaining available time?

What I’ve realized recently is that I need to remember the fun part.  I really love writing.  Not just “having written,” but seeing a story evolve, getting surprised by a twist in the plot.  When I started doing self-publishing, I’ll admit, I wasn’t crazy about it.  Now I’m growing to enjoy having some influence on both internal and cover design.  I’m very excited by Asphodel and can’t wait to share it with you all.

As for the holidays…  I really like the frills and flourishes of this time of year.  Jim and I don’t have any kids.  This year we won’t have any holiday visitors.  But nonetheless we’ve been decorating.  We’ve even added a couple of new wreaths, one of which hangs on my office door where I can see it as I work, the other of which is on our bedroom door.

Although it’s a lot of extra work, I honestly enjoy sending out Christmas cards.  It’s a way of touching base with people I care about, as well as reminding myself how lucky I am to have so many interesting people in my life – some of whom have remained part of it for decades.

I really enjoy baking holiday cookies.  This year I’ve had to trim back on the more time-consuming cookies, but I’m going to do those as New Year’s cookies.  Meantime, last Sunday, Jim and I settled in and did the most complicated cookies of the lot: the frosted sugar cookies.  Ours never quite look like the usual…  I’m contemplating doing more sometime in the new year because I didn’t make nearly enough cats.  Or guinea pigs.  Or the fox…

As I’ve mused over this, I’ve realized that there’s an aspect of American culture that validates complaining.  A person who is happy is somehow lesser.  To get respect, you need to complain about how overworked you are, how tense, miserable, underappreciated, and all the rest.

Sure, not everything went as I might have hoped this past year, but disappointments aren’t what define me unless I choose to let them do so.  Meantime, I have wolves roaming in Christmas cookies forest!

Merry, merry, merry to you all!

So It Goes

December 6, 2017

Earlier this year, I noted that there might be times when the Wednesday Wanderings would be shorter than usual.

Writing Pens Dry

To my surprise, despite having met a lot of my aspirations – including producing new editions of my out-of-print novels Smoke and Mirrors and When the Gods Are Silent as ebooks; writing 150,000 words on a rough draft of a new novel/novels; starting a new Firekeeper novel, and writing some new short fiction – I’ve usually managed to write a fairly long Wednesday Wanderings piece.

However, I have a lot going on right now.  I’m working on the final production stages of my forthcoming novel Asphodel; doing cover art and proofing for the new e-book editions of the original Firekeeper novels (which will include short original essays on some of the aspects of my writing the series); and, of course, writing new material on c.

So this is going to be one of those weeks where the Wednesday Wanderings are brief because, while my life is intense, events of late don’t make for great anecdotes.

I encourage you to send me questions about what you’d enjoy hearing about over the next few weeks.  I always enjoy answering questions.

Now, off to find the purple spiral notebook in which I’ve been writing the new Firekeeper novel (working title: Wolf’s Search) and start scribbling!

Real and Imaginary Friends

November 29, 2017

This past week was crazy-busy, what with fitting in getting ready for Thanksgiving between writing (both fiction and non-fiction), and proofing.  I planned to give myself a full four-day weekend, but then a funny thing happened.

Constructing a Wizard’s Museum

Thursday I woke up in the night.  As I was drifting off again, I heard Blind Seer (a character from the “Firekeeper Saga”) talking in my head.  The only way I could keep him from repeating the same phrases over and over again was to promise him (or myself) that I would make time to write on Friday.

So I did.  This meant giving up doing yard work (which I like) on an absolutely lovely day, but… Well, as those of you who know the series are aware, Blind Seer is a very large wolf and can be very persistent if he chooses.

One of the tougher things I find about being a full-time, self-employed writer is balancing work time and play time.  Achieving this balance is more important than it may seem because, if I don’t take play time, my subconscious tends to fizzle up on me.  Making finding a balance a bit harder, at least some of this play time needs to be creative.  Watching television or even reading doesn’t always provide the necessary oomph.

The answer would seem obvious, right?  Schedule in play time.  Well, as with most obvious solutions, it’s not that easy.

As I explained to the prosecuting counsel when I was called for jury duty a few months back, if I don’t work, nothing gets done: business or writing.  I don’t have an assistant.  (Although my friend Julie Bartel, forever blessings on her head, helps me with my Facebook page.)  You’d be amazed at how many full-time, high profile writers have one or more assistants who handle not only routine business, but also more writerly jobs like proofing or reviewing copy edits.

Others have a non-employed spouse who handles the routine house running chores.  I don’t have that either.  Jim is an excellent partner who does his share, but he’s not at my disposal.

By the end of a typical day, even when I’ve anticipated having some time to listen to an audiobook and do some sort of craft project, I’m often too beat.  And when this happens too often, burnout starts wavering on the horizon.

Making matters worse, if I don’t make time to write as well as doing proofing and such, I become a person that I don’t like living with…  So clearing my desk of routine matters first to give myself “time to write” is also a strategy that doesn’t work.

So this weekend, I made sure to replenish my creative batteries by not writing (except on Friday).  I did manage a little craft time.  In addition to having folks over for Thanksgiving, we made time to see friends other days.

On Friday, our friend Michael Wester came over.  In addition to introducing him to the joy of throwing atlatl darts, we viewed some of Jim’s slides from a long-ago archeological project. Then we played a round of a very amusing tabletop game called The Wizard’s Museum.  I lost, but I had fun.

On Saturday, we went to Page One Books to help with their Indies First promotion.  In addition to doing my gig as a Guest Bookseller, I had a chance to visit with several of the local SF/F fans: Dawn, Mike, Erika, and Daisy.  I also enjoyed chatting with some of the other writers who shared my shift.

Sunday we hosted our usual role-playing game.  I’ve had people ask me if running a really complicated RPG drains my creative juices.  Actually, I’ve discovered that it does the opposite.  I find it invigorating to adapt my story around the dual random factors of what the dice indicate and my gamers’ whims.

But the work remains.  I have a list on my desk that I use to remind myself what needs to be done.  At least right now, a little bit here, a little bit there, seems to be the way to go.

Now, off to pull out a notebook and get back to scribbling.  Blind Seer is delightful in many ways, but I really don’t want him keeping me from getting my sleep!

Iron Hack

November 8, 2017

It probably says something about modern life that the last two conventions I’ve attended have included panels focused around encouraging would-be writers to examine how much writing can be done in a very short period of time.

Twenty Minutes Tick Down!

The panel I was on at MileHiCon took its inspiration from the “Iron Chef” cooking show.  In this case, the three secret ingredients were supplied by the audience moments before the writing started.  They were asked to give us a profession, an item, and a setting, all of which should be included in the story.  Our audience gave us a chef, a ray gun (specifically a toy ray gun), and a lunar colony.

Stace Johnson, the moderator, announced that we would have twenty minutes to write.  So the audience wouldn’t get bored watching us scribble and grimace, they were encouraged to take part as well.  Three of the panelists had some electronic writing device – a laptop or a tablet with keyboard.  I had a notebook and pen.  The fellow to my left did his writing on an unlined hotel notepad with a hotel pen.

Unlike most panels I’ve been on, the format of this one didn’t give me a chance to firmly set in my mind which names went with which panelists, but I want to assure you all four all dove into the challenge with enthusiasm.

Stace Johnson set his timer and we were off!  For your amusement, I’ll transcribe what I wrote in those twenty minutes.  (I’ll leave out the cross-outs and creative spelling.)

Gran Prix was scrambling eggs when Gordon Garb, the sheriff of Lunar West, came racing in, ray guns drawn.

 “Did you see him?”


“Ostrich Al!  He just swiped a load of diamonds from the shipping dock and headed this way.”

“Nope.  Sorry.  What would he have been doing here?

“No idea.  We figure he probably was meeting a confederate.  Anyone here but you?”

“No one.”  Gran Prix placidly pulled his mixer attachment out of the egg froth and extruded his griddle.  Then he poured the eggs onto the surface and started gently turning them with his whisk.

“Sorry for bothering you, Gran,” Sherriff Garb said.  “May I go out back?  Al might have circled around to the loading dock.”

“Sure.  Watch out for the chickens.”

Gran Prix slid the scrambled eggs onto a serving tray, activated the anti-grav boost, and sent it out into the dining room.  Out back he could hear that Gordon Garb hadn’t paid any attention to his warning about the chickens.

On the Moon, chickens ceased being the squat, slightly ridiculous creatures they were on Earth, and became the ferocious aerial warriors they had always imagined themselves as being.  When Sherriff Garb returned, he looked as if the sky – well, at least as if something – had been falling.

Grab Prix was now busy stir-frying chunks of fresh meat.

“Smells good, Gran,” Gordon Garb said as he availed himself of the spray mist washer attachment more usually used for cleaning veggies from the hydroponic gardens.

That’s where time was called, but if I’d had another twenty or thirty minutes, I could have finished the story.  I still might.  I’m happy to say the audience seemed to like my venture, although (and I completely agree) the “win” went to the fellow on my right who had written the tale of an alien chef and his very difficult to please client.  Unlike my piece, he managed to come up with more of an ending.

What was interesting was what the writers chose to seize on.  For me, setting combined with chef were the inspiration.  The ray gun (and an interesting chat I’d had with Eric Flint, Dave Boop, and Jim) gave me the “Wild West” note.  For Stace Johnson “toy ray gun” was the inspiration around which he centered his story.  The fellow to my left completely forgot the ray gun in his original draft, but worked it in at the last minute as he was reading his piece aloud.

So, what did I get out of this other than 250 words of prose?  Well, if I finish this, I’ll have a short story – possibly only a bit of “flash fiction,” but still, better than staring at the wall and brooding.

I also got a window into how the same topic can create wildly different stories.  At least four people from the audience read their selections, and not a single one of the nine pieces read aloud were the same.

I think this activity could be a great way of getting out of a dry spell.  Even if a writer doesn’t have an audience to supply the three ingredients, items like Rory’s Story Cubes which I wrote about a while back, or decks of image cards (which Artist GOH Carrie Ann Baade said she uses in some of her classes) would supply the prompt.  SnackWrites provides free writing exercises that might provide the seeds from which a story could grow.

I also learned how what’s going on in my day-to-day life fills in the gaps.  If I hadn’t had that discussion about Westerns, would I have made my setting Lunar West?  If I hadn’t been on a panel the day before in which chickens came up for discussion, would I have included the chickens?  This exercise was a good reminder that writers need to keep stimulating their imaginations by doing more than just staring at the screen.

On that note, I’m off to do some more stimulating things…  And definitely to do more writing!

Living Jewels

October 18, 2017

These days, pulled as I am between various projects, I feel like Persephone – no, not my cat – the goddess who lived between worlds because she had dined on the fruit of the Underworld and ever after could never be fully at home in either world.

Persephone and Pomegranates

I’ve finished a rough draft of the novel, possibly novels, I’ve been working on since April.  I’ve written a proposal and given it to my agent.  Now I’m reviewing the treasure chest of future projects.  Looking at the omens, I think the next one is likely to be Firekeeper-related, so I’m sinking myself into that world and those characters.

I’m also considering a short story.  This not as contradictory as it may sound.  I tend to get fidgety if I’m not writing, so doing something short is a good way to let my creativity relax so my subconscious is freed up.

This doesn’t mean I won’t be working on other promised projects.  Asphodel – my first original, self-published project – is still on track for release early next year.  The new cover art for the e-books of Changer and Changer’s Daughter is just about ready.  I have several e-book reprints in the works.  However, if all I did was editorial and administrative, I’d be unpleasant to live with.

In most retellings of the Persephone myth, the fruit she dined on was a pomegranate.  I have a thriving pomegranate shrub in my yard.  Seen from the outside, the fruit doesn’t look like much, but when you crack it open, it shines like jewels.

Nice when metaphor and reality fit so neatly, isn’t it?