Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Super Wandery Wandering

March 31, 2021
Wandering On High

Some of you may have seen an “out of stock” notice for Wolf’s Search on my website bookshop.  I’m happy to announce that my new supply arrived last Saturday night, and it’s now back in stock.

What?  Website bookshop?  What’s that?  You can find it here.  Shipping via Media Mail is included in the price for orders within the U.S..  At least for now the prices remain the same, although if some of the dreaded changes predicted for the U.S. do happen, I may be forced to charge more because I’ll be paying more for shipping.  Signing and personalization is free, which is a good deal, when you consider that you pay extra for signed items from sports and media stars.

The shop includes a large number of my older works, and will for as long as I have copies.  Then they will go out of print, possibly forever.  Since not all my older works are available as e-books (I’m working on these, but I only have so much energy, time, and money), this may be the best way to find some of my older works.

Wandering off on another point…  As I recover from a long extended course of writing, I’ve been catching up on chores: shredding, filing, sorting.  Shredding is proving to be a lot like time travel, bringing up memories of trips gone by, even older technologies.  In one file I’d missed, I actually found a physical plane ticket as issued by a travel agent.  (Remember those?)

I’ve also been going through magazines and tearing out pages with interesting pictures.

It’s very odd, but while I’m a visual enough writer that I could sit with one of those artists the police use to create sketches of suspects and work toward perfect portraits of my characters, I often have trouble without a visual to start from.  I know what they look like, but since I don’t cast media personalities as my characters, I can’t say: “Just like the guy who plays X in Y, but only blond with blue eyes.”

But I love visual images, and browsing through them often stimulates my imagination, thus the file.

I’ve been mulling over a lot of things lately.   Most of these are either not coherent enough for me to discuss or would take a lot of research for me to write about here, because I tend to specifics, not generalizations.  I guess you could say they’d make better panel topics than essays or blog posts.

Right now my thoughts are a tumbling kaleidoscope of images, and I’m waiting to see what story they will shape.

Secret Writerly Wisdom

March 24, 2021
Amaryllis Budding Forth

Life has been quieter than usual, even, and that’s saying something.  Although we’re working on getting parts of the yard ready for spring, we won’t be doing  much planting for several more weeks.  Heck, the majority of the garden won’t go in until early May.

I’m not writing anything I’m ready to talk about.

So, here’s my secret writerly wisdom: Writers who are writing are usually pretty boring people.

If they’re telling you about trips or cons or lecture tours or the cake they baked or their daredevil hobbies, they’re not writing.  What you’re soaking up is the Not Writing.

The realized writerly life is about as fascinating for the outside observer as watching paint dry.  There’s change and transformation, but even watching an amaryllis grow (they can grow several inches in a day) is probably more enthralling.

Oh…  Why is our amaryllis caged?  To keep Roary from biting it, of course!  He still tries, and we’re going to need to uncage it soon, but at least the buds are getting to form.

Adaptability

February 24, 2021
Adapting to Uncomfortable Situations

For many years, my standard answer to the often-asked question: “What do you think is the most valuable quality for a serious writer?” has been “Persistence.”

I still stand by that because, without persistence, a writer won’t write, won’t finish, won’t proof, won’t eventually learn about markets, and all the rest.  However, this last year has made me think about a trait I’d like to add: Adaptability.

I sold my first short story in the late 1980’s.  My first novel came out December of 1994.  Since then, I’ve seen publishing change dramatically.  Most, if not all, of the tidbits my dear Roger Zelazny shared with me about the marketplace wouldn’t apply today.  Time and again, I’ve had to adapt.

But that’s not what I’ve been thinking about.  I’ve been thinking about adapting as a useful skill for a writer.  Why? Well, because when something goes wrong, all that persistence can be made switch direction.

Here’s one example.  Late in 2020, I was just beginning to exchange e-mails with David Weber, with whom I’m writing the “Star Kingdom” novels, narrowing down what we’d be putting in the fifth novel (SK5) in the series.  Then he was diagnosed with Covid-19.  He inaugurated the New Year by spending  nine days in the hospital and, as of this writing, is still less than his usually energetic self.  Has this impacted on my schedule?  Of course…  How could it not?

Nestled In

Here’s where adaptability comes in.  One thing I learned a long time ago was that when a project is finished and sent out, forget it and move along to something else.  Although I thought I’d be writing on SK5 by now, I’m not.  Instead, I’m contently nestled in with a project that has, in revision and self-editing, morphed from one very long, unwieldy book into two much more reasonable-length novels. 

Sounds self-evident, doesn’t it?  It’s not.  You won’t believe how many creative people get stuck with what “should have been” and so miss out on the chance to work on something that might give them a lot more pleasure than fussing.

Now, forgive me for not chatting longer, but if I work steadily I can finish off my revision of another chapter or two before I need to take a break and work on…  Bleah.  Tax stuff. 

Catch you later!

One Won Twenty-one

January 1, 2021
Mei-Ling Is Ecstatic Over My Christmas Book

Happy New Year!  Featured above is the Christmas book I curled up with last week.   I hope you managed to chill from the holiday rush as well.

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

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.  And it’s also a great place to tell me what you’re reading.  I’ve discovered a lot of good books that way.

Recently Completed:

The White Cottage Mystery by Marjorie Allingham.  This was a Christmas gift from Jim, an early, pre-Campion novel.  It’s a good story in its own right, with the extra bonus of seeing how it’s first life as a magazine series influenced the style, and even things like paragraph length.

Wild Magic: Immortals Book One by Tamora Pierce.  Audiobook.  It’s funny, but I like Alana a lot better in these books than I do in her own series. 

In Progress:

Armenian Folk-tales and Fables retold by Charles Downing.  I enjoyed the translator’s note at the beginning.  I’m about a third in.  Armenian heroes definitely have the best horses.

Wolf Speaker Immortals Book Two by Tamora Pierce.  Audiobook.  Daine is a year and a half older, now facing the consequences of a dark time in her past.  Warning for wolf purists: the wolves are more like dogs in their body language, with a culture built more around human idealizations of wolves than “real” wolves. 

Also:

I’ve been doing a lot of unstructured writing, testing out my new pens and loosening up my writing.  Feels good.

Getting Ready

December 30, 2020
Now All I Need Is Black Coffee and Some Paper!

We’re just a few days out from the New Year.  Now that my Christmas preparations are taken care of, and we’re in the middle of that lovely liminal space between holidays, I’ve been readying myself to start back into my writing routine.

Over the years, I’ve been given some lovely mugs celebrating my work as a writer, and I’m marshalling these along with a new fountain pen to launch me into creative mode.

Although the majority of my writing is done on my computer, I often start a new piece longhand.  Maybe because I started writing fiction longhand, it’s as if there’s a hotline between my writing hand and my Muse that isn’t always there with the keyboard.

Even my choice of keyboard is made to provide the absolute least interruption between the Muse and getting the story into a form I can share with other people.  I use a very old keyboard on which I’ve worn away about half of the letters from frequent use.  (I really need to get some of the stickers that have been recommended to me.)  I even have a back-up of the same old model for when this one goes, because the point for me is not thinking about the act of writing.

In that way, I guess my root perception of myself is as a storyteller rather than an author or writer.  I’m just a storyteller who prefers to use writing as the way to tell my stories.  However, as my gamers can tell you, I can spin a pretty decent yarn with nothing but the spoken word.

One of my self-assigned challenges for this year may be to use a cool digital voice recorder Jim gave me for my birthday to make short audio files of some of my work.  However, on the whole, I don’t really like to listen to myself composing.  For that reason, I hope that—unlike my buddy David Weber—I don’t find myself needing to transition to voice-activated software.

That said, if the choice is that or not telling stories, you can bet I’d learn.

Now, although I’d promised myself a break (or maybe even because I took a break), I wrote a bit (longhand) the other day that got me through a rough patch in my current novel revision.  I think I’ll go insert it into the manuscript, then see if the Muse wants to talk some more.

Baking and Decorating

December 23, 2020
Persephone Unpacks the Tree

Busy time here, as we squeeze in decorating and baking into our already busy lives. Here and there, I’m even finding time to write.

Our young cats, Mei-Ling and Roary are enjoying the changes and fuss, quite possibly because Persephone greets it all with enthusiasm.

Blissed Mei-Ling

Wishing you and yours a happy whatever your choice of celebration is!

Roary Samples the Tree

Flickering

September 30, 2020

A Flicker Feeding in Front

Jim had total knee replacement surgery on his left knee yesterday (Tuesday, 9/29/20).  The build-up to this is part of the numerous disruptions over the last several weeks.

As you may have gathered, Jim’s not only my husband and best friend, since his retirement and, even more, since Covid-19 shutdowns, he’s taken over all the errands.

Now it’s my turn, as well as taking over everything he does around the house–which is a lot.

So, if I’m a bit slow responding to Comments or e-mails, this is why.  First priority will be taking care of him and keeping the household running, second will be writing.

The picture, by the way, is of a flicker (which is a sort of woodpecker) on the brand new bird block we got so Jim could bird watch while he’s not able to move around as much.  At the rate the flicker is going (as well as the other birds), we may need another really soon!

I’m Writing

September 23, 2020

When Life Gives You a Brick

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

When the going gets tough, this writer gets writing.

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

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

Take care!

Real Writer?

September 16, 2020

Desert Four O’Clock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, you write?  Are you published?”

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

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

Let’s go back to our imaginary dialogue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pacing Oneself

September 9, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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