Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Easter Bunnies and Beta Readers

April 17, 2019

PF As The Easter Bunny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What You And I Want

March 27, 2019

This Will Make Sense

Monday I woke up with no idea what to wander on about for this week.  I did know what I wanted to be doing.  Last Friday I left Firekeeper and her associates in the middle of a very complicated situation.  As much as I wanted to keep writing into Friday evening, I’d wrenched my shoulder (either throwing atlatl darts or carrying buckets of water), and I had to get away from the keyboard.

So Monday (which is when I often draft the Wednesday Wanderings) came around, and I didn’t have any idea what to natter on about.  I really didn’t think you’d want to know that Jim and I drew plans for where to plant what in our garden, which is very complicated because this year we’re not only trying some new things, we’re rotating crops.

Or that I had a lot of fun coloring with special gel pencils a picture that had been printed on black paper.

Or that my RPG went well this past week, despite the fact that my players seem to be rolling a record number of fumbles.  (Jim is in the lead.  He’s being a very good sport about this.)

And I didn’t really want to spend a lot of energy trying to justify why these things should interest you, just because they really interest me.

Then it occurred to me that what most of you and I have in common is my writing, and that you’d probably like it if I didn’t put off getting back to that very complicated scene because I was trying to write a clever (or at least not hugely boring) essay.

So, I will leave you here and go and do what I want to do…  And I hope that it’s what you want me to do as well.

As always, I welcome suggestions as to topics for the Wednesday Wanderings.  Please feel free to make a suggestion in the Comments wherever you’re reading this or, if you’re shy, you can e-mail me at jane2@janelindskold.com.

Now, off to continue dealing with complications and consequences!  Woo-hoo!

Here Be (Another) Dragon

March 13, 2019

Lurking On My Floor

I found another dragon.  This one is on the same floor tile as the one featured back in August.

(Wondering why I started drawing on my floor? Here you are…)

Last week was intensely stressful, so I didn’t get nearly as much writing done as I would have liked.  Even a story I thought I knew where it was going refused to take shape beyond the first few pages   This means that, rather than taking the weekend “off,” which I do so I can recharge my creative juices, I spent much of the weekend puzzling and puzzling.

By Sunday afternoon, the writing front, at least, was looking better.  (So was the plumbing.  And maybe the bit with the screwed up prescription.)  I haven’t finished writing the piece, so I can’t say for sure.  To celebrate the joys of the amorphous becoming solid, I sat down on the floor and traced out the dragon pictured above.

He’s a bit more fierce than I thought he would be, but I Iike how different he turned out from the sibling with whom he shares not only a tile, but even some of the same grooves.

Now…  Off to see if the  story will be as cooperative!

Shadow Dragon

When Training Wheels Become Hobbles

February 27, 2019

Training Wheels Off

I thought about calling this piece “When Safety Nets Become Snares.”   Both images work for different reasons.  What am I talking about?  I’m talking about the increasing reluctance on the part of some writers to throw any material away – a tendency that has been exacerbated by writers drafting on computers.

I’m not talking about those cases when an author cuts scenes or chapters from a novel on the request of an editor or publisher.  That’s a completely different issue.  I’m talking about the tendency of some writers to hoard any scene, even as small as a paragraph, that they have removed in the course of refining a story.

I’ve actually encouraged new writers to do just this when they express panic at the idea of getting rid of anything.  Over and over I’ve heard variations on: “But what if I realize later that this is a key element in the book and I’ve lost it?”

I’ll reply, “Cut it, then, and paste it into a separate file.  You can retrieve it later, then work it back in if you discover that you really need it.”

However, this useful technique can begin to bog a writer down.  I’ve heard of writers who have more deleted scenes than completed novel manuscript.  I believe that some software packages marketed to writers promote the ability to create sub-files to store deleted material as an asset.

Training wheels are valuable when you’re learning to balance your first “two wheeler.”  But the day comes when you take them off.   When you get a new bike, you don’t put the training wheels back on.  You wobble, but eventually you find your balance.  You don’t hobble yourself for all time with that extra gear.  If you did, you’d discover that those training wheels actually pull you off balance.

“Okay,” you counter, “but a new story isn’t the same a new bike.  It’s a fresh project.  A new world.  New characters.  New plot.”

I agree.  That’s why I thought about this in terms of safety nets and snares.  Even highly trained acrobats or tightrope walkers often continue to use a net.  However, there is a difference.  Acrobats pride themselves on reaching a point where they don’t need that net, whereas the writers who keep hoarding material are, in a sense, falling and falling again, holding on to each fall, even after they’ve advanced the plot or character or setting beyond that point.

My feeling is that if a scene or a character or a setting are really, really crucial to the story, it’s possible to recreate what was deleted.  I’ve talked to many writers who spend time searching for that deleted scene only to discover that what they saved isn’t as wonderful as they remembered, that they end up rewriting it anyhow.

After mulling over this, I think the difference between training wheels and hobbles comes down to fears and phobias.  A deleted scenes file can be a great way to provide writers with a safety net as they learn how to thin, refine, and otherwise improve their work.  However, if a writer doesn’t gain perspective on what is effective, what isn’t, and keeps storing up material, then all that’s happened is that the ability to hoard deleted scenes becomes a hobble that keeps the writer from learning how to balance – that is, how to write without training wheels.

It’s All About the Writing

February 6, 2019

How About A Recipe For Apple Carrot Salad?

This last week I invented a lasagna recipe, because I didn’t like the ones in my various cookbooks.  It turns out that, for me, writing and cooking are quite similar.  I write.  I review.  (In the case of recipes, that means eating what I made.)  I edit.  And then I tighten and refine.

I also visited the Albuquerque Museum and learned (among other things) about how New Mexico played a role in the American Revolutionary War.  If you think the reason for the participation was an awakening idealism toward democratic ideals, well…  Let’s just say it’s a lot more complicated than that.  We also enjoyed the refurbished display about Albuquerque from its founding (well before the United States was a nation) to the present.

I also spent a tremendous amount of time working on Wolf’s Search and Wolf’s Soul.  When I had a moment, I checked on the Kickstarter for DreamForge magazine.  It’s moving along very well.  There are just a few days to take advantage of the cool incentives, and I hope you will.

I also did a bunch of the sort of business-related jobs that people, who imagine writers as simply sitting dreamy-eyed with pen in hand (or fingers on keys), are continually astonished to discover are part of being a published writer.

Wolf’s Search is more or less done but, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’m not moving it into production until Wolf’s Soul is complete, because that’s the best way for me to produce high-quality novels.  I’m still reviewing what I’ve written on Wolf’s Soul.  Since much of this was written while Jim was recovering from knee replacement surgery, there are places where I need to stop and double-check details or insert descriptions, so this is slower going.  However, I am moving along.

Now, I think I’ll go back and immerse myself once more in writing.  Which, it now occurs to me I do for much the same reason I invent recipes: because only I can tell the stories I want to tell.

Bedtime Stories

January 30, 2019

Sweet Dreamers

I was fascinated by the varied responses to my comment in my most recent Friday Fragments that I need to take care what I read before bed, because it will have an impact on my dreams.  As I’ve mentioned before, I dream very vividly, enough that I’ve been known to occasionally double check with Jim whether or not something actually happened or if I just dreamed it.

Most of the time, I don’t mind having such an active nightlife.  I’ve written stories based on dreams and figured out plot elements while I’m ostensibly sound asleep.  Sometimes, though, especially when I’m stressed, my dreams turn into nightmares.

Soon after we set up housekeeping, Roger Zelazny commented that he’d never seen anyone have as many nightmares as I did.  He promptly went out and purchased me the largest dreamcatcher he could find.  It still hangs by my bed, but I can’t say I’ve seen any influence on my tendency toward dreams and nightmares.

What is more effective is moderating what I read before turning out the light.  If I’m already stressed – as I will admit to being these days – I need to be particularly careful.  I had to put aside The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate for daytime perusal because the mood of tension that pervaded the book (pretty much every adult is either against Callie Vee’s aspirations or clueless) and the frequent death-of-pet chapters (interspersed with the odd dissection or so) gave my subconscious too much food for unpleasant thought.

Re-reading can work better for before bed because, even if a plot becomes tense I can reassure myself that I know how it works out.  Books with wonderful language also can be good bedtime reading.  It’s as if my subconscious fastens on the prose, independent of the content.  Poetry is a “sometimes,” but not often.  Sometimes I’ll read graphic novels or manga.  The illustrated format can sow seeds for interesting dreams .

I don’t read anything that’s meant to be scary, unsettling, or that might stimulate too much thought and keep me from drifting off.  I don’t read anything that’s directly tied to work or research for the same reason.

Do any of you read before going to bed or had that gone the way of the television and electronic device?  If so, I’m curious about whether you read before going to bed and, if so, what gives you the best sort of dreams.

Oh…  What am I reading before bed now?  Terry Pratchett’s Maskerade!

Dream Become Reality

January 16, 2019

Ogapoge Signs and DreamForge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wolf’s Search (and other projects) Update

January 9, 2019

Dandy Climbs Mount Manuscript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planning vs Dreading

January 2, 2019

What Creature Do YOU See?  (My Answer At The End)

As everyone knows, the big question at the heart of Science Fiction – and even most Fantasy – is “What if?”

Humans are certainly not the only creatures who plan.  Many animals store food for the winter. Many animals build nests and dens not only as residences, but also as protection from both predators and the elements.  Many types of animals live in small groups during the “fat” times of the year, then band together for mutual support during the harsher seasons.

In contrast, I’m tempted to say that humans are the only creatures that dread.  Then I remember how often I’ve seen domestic animals hide or cringe when they know they’ve broken rules and are dreading the repercussions. Let’s take this one step further.  Would so many dogs fear the sound of thunder if they couldn’t dread in the abstract?

Humans do seem to cross the line from practical planning into crazed dreading more easily than do other animals.  Where I live, the weather reports over the last week or so have provided an excellent example of this.  Meteorologists have luxuriated in predicting snowfall of record levels.  In most cases, this dreaded event has not occurred.  Anyhow, even if we did get a foot of snow, is there a need to keep harping on it?  Once you’ve laid in supplies, made alternate arrangements for social events or jobs, what difference is there in how much snow actually falls?  What will be will be.

As we begin the New Year, I find myself trying hard to balance planning and dreading.  Jim and I are going into 2019 with a host of unpredictable elements regarding ill or elderly family members.  Although the most difficult part of Jim’s recovery from his knee replacement surgery is completed, we’ve been told that he will need to work on rebuilding strength and flexibility for the next nine or ten months.  He also will be facing the challenge of how to arrange his new post-retirement life.  For someone who has been working one job or another since he was in his late teens, this is not a minor challenge.

Me?  Well, I have a host of writing projects to balance against each other, to the point that my planning is verging on dreading.  Every day I don’t move forward feels like moving backwards.  My “What If?” brain is surging full speed ahead, and not always in a very helpful fashion.

At times like this, I realize just how close are planning and dreading.  While I don’t want to do without the former, I realize the latter can be paralyzing.  Why do anything when you’re going to fail?

So, as the snow drifts down, as the cold causes the water in our pond to creep up the fountainhead, as I wonder just what unexpected complications the New Year will bring, I also try to remind myself that I’ve planned as far as I can.  Now is the time to stop asking, “What if?” and focus on “What next?”

I think that “next” just might be trying to write down some of the material I’ve been tossing around in my brain whenever there’s been time to think during this busy holiday season.

But I’ll also take the time to notice that the ice around the fountainhead has formed into the shape of a turtle.  And I’ll remember to smile.

Reclaiming Writer Jane

December 5, 2018

Mayhem and Chaos: Emblems of the Past Month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, off to write fiction!