Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Isn’t Necessarily Right

May 29, 2019

Mama Gets Ready

Despite the picture, this Wandering isn’t about birds, it’s about writing.  Well, it’s about birds, too, because the birds are what started my thoughts wandering down this trail.

When I was a kid, everyone knew that animals—especially “simple” animals like the sparrows featured in these photos—were basically organic computers programmed by that mysterious force called “instinct.”  Simple animals didn’t teach their young.  At best the young “imprinted” and thus became organic photocopies of their parents.

Turns out, what everyone knows isn’t necessarily right.  Even sparrows—like the delightful family Jim photographed on our bird block—teach their children.  How well in this case is an interesting question, since bird blocks aren’t exactly natural, but we watched for quite a long while as Mama Sparrow taught her kids to feed themselves.

Isn’t That Delicious?

I hope those lessons will extend to encouraging them to sample the plants we have growing in the backyard, many of which we let go to seed to provide food for the birds.

It turns out that “bird brained” birds aren’t the only animals who teach or at least learn by example.  I’ve seen many guinea pigs teaching their young what is and isn’t safe to eat.  Even when they’re not related, younger ones will look to their seniors for guidance.  This can cause a few unintentional ripples down the chain.  We’ve had a couple very dietarily opinionated guinea pigs convince their associates that something perfectly fine—even beneficial for guinea pigs—is “yucky.”  Currently, it’s carrots.  Sigh…

Many types of wild canines not only teach their young to hunt, they take advantage of their ability to regurgitate at will to carry back live prey—small rodents are a favorite choice—so the kids can practice in the safely of the home.

Nonetheless, despite ample evidence to the contrary, humans continue to superimpose their preconceived notions on animals, rather than viewing the animals as distinct individuals.  Not all cats cold-shoulder their humans when they’ve been away.  Mine tend to follow me around, apparently to make sure I won’t do it again.  But who knows?  Maybe they’re more like teenagers hiding the pizza boxes and beer bottles so their parents won’t know they’ve had a party.

My friend (and fellow writer) Walter Jon Williams once pointed out to me a minor error in one of my novels.  I sighed and said, “Well, I guess that makes this an alternate history, then.”  He laughed and very kindly replied, “It’s not what you know you don’t know that’ll get you; it’s what you don’t know you don’t know that gets you every time.”

That’s a good piece of advice to remember when writing.  Next time you start writing a standoffish cat or an eager-to-please dog or a faithful steed or a stupid cow or…  Well, you get the idea.  Next time you start to write what everyone knows, take a closer look.  It’s highly likely that what everyone knows isn’t actually true.

Now that I think about it, that’s good advice for life as well.


Storyteller, Not Only Writer

May 22, 2019

Past Adventures In The Court Of The Faceless Tyrant

People—especially other writers—often ask me why I run a roleplaying game (and have been for many years) when prep for the game takes up some of my writing time. Last Sunday’s game demonstrated one reason.  I’m still grinning at the memory as I type this.

Sunday night I sprang a plot twist on my players. It was terrific watching eyes widen as, one by one, people caught the implications of what was unfolding.

Dominique, the unwitting foil for my revelation, did a brilliant job of playing her part as Persephone who, daring to hope for a very special Midwinter gift from her long-time crush, instead realizes that he’s proposing to her – in the form of inviting her to join a conspiracy.

I had no idea what Dominique/Persephone would do or say.  Being ready to react appropriately was definitely an adrenaline high.  She gave me a lot to work with.  After everyone left, Jim said he half-expected Dominique to really burst into tears. It was improv theater at its best.

My fiction-writing self usually waits years to see how a novel will be received. Often, I never hear.  Worse, when I do hear, most responses are not about what I wrote, but about what I didn’t write.  By contrast, my game master self gets to see the response in real time.

Running my weekly game jazzes me for my daily writing, maybe because my players are such excellent collaborators.  Nonetheless, I have no desire to reveal a novel until it’s done. Why?  Different type of storytelling, I guess.

I often define myself as a storyteller, not a writer.  I realize that’s not precisely true.  I am a writer.  I love the process of finding the right words to portray a character or describe a setting.  I love refining these elements until they’re as close to perfect as I can get them.

My earliest stories were told aloud, mostly to my two younger sisters.  Later, I daydreamed elaborate plots with only me as an audience.  My current two favorite forms of storytelling are descendants of those early experiences.

Now I’m off to be my prose writer self, who has been busily scribbling all over the manuscript of Wolf’s Soul in a quest for the perfect words and cadence.  Nonetheless, my oral storyteller self is already anticipating next week’s game when…  Well, we’ll just need to see!

Skinny Has Friends!

May 15, 2019

Skinny Shares Lunch With A Friend

Our co-resident Skinny the thrasher has been expanding his social circle!  As I told you in a Wandering about a month ago, we first met Skinny when he was using our bird block as a source of food during his struggle to survive after being orphaned.  He has since claimed our yard as his territory.  Until this spring, Skinny didn’t seem to have many friends, but now things are changing.

Last week, we saw Skinny not only sharing “his” bird block with another thrasher, but actively feeding it.  We think, but aren’t certain, that Skinny’s friend is a juvenile.  However, some courting behaviors mimic parent/child behaviors.  Our guess is based on how, in the photos Jim took, the bird being fed seems to have a shorter, less curved beak, which is one of the few ways young thrashers differ from fully mature.  If so, then Skinny may have a family.  Adult thrashers take turns minding the nest and the young, which might explain why we haven’t seen two adults foraging together the way we did the two thrashers we assume were Skinny’s parents.

Skinny has also come to something of an agreement with P.F., the cottontail who likes to hop up on the bird block and stuff himself.  Possibly because an earlier incarnation saved his life, Skinny considers the bird block “his.”  Although he has never seemed to mind sharing it with the sparrows, finches, quail, and doves, he was not happy to have this large, furry creature plop himself on top and munch away.

However, last week, Jim got pictures of P.F. and Skinny sharing the bird block.  This doesn’t mean they don’t still compete from time to time.  We’ve seen Skinny sneak up on P.F. and poke him right on his fuzzy rump.  And we’ve seen P.F. launch himself for the top of the block, never mind who else is there.  All in all, Skinny seems the more territorial, while P.F. is simply opportunist.

Skinny and P.F. Have A Lunch Date

Our toads are also back, and our teeny-tiny pond is once again hosting both nightly singalongs and copious quantities of tadpoles.  We saw one of last year’s tadpoles perched on the edge of the pond, contemplating whether he could manage to leap down into the water.  Hey, four inches is a long way when you’re only about half an inch tall!

Wolf’s Search is now off to the copy editor, and I’m reviewing Wolf’s Soul before moving along to writing the conclusion.  Time to curl up with a stack of paper and a red pencil or three.  Catch you later!

Catnip, Italian Parsley, Zinnias

April 24, 2019

Alyssum, Hollyhocks, Marigolds

Catnip, catmint, Italian parsley, garlic chives, tomatoes, alyssum, blanket flowers, cardinal vine, chocolate flowers, Cyprus vine, hollyhocks, marigolds, portulacas, zinnias.  Other than all being plants, what do these have in common?

If you guessed that these are all domestic plants that already have or can be expected to volunteer in my yard this year, you’d be right.

As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, my yard does not provide the most gentle of climates.  Over the years, I’ve come to treasure those plants that seem to have domesticated us as much as we have domesticated them.   The results are often surprising and even quite lovely.

Often by late summer the vegetable bed on the east side of our shed looks as if portions have been quilted because of the amount of alyssum that volunteers from seeds scattered by past generations.  Yes, the alyssum takes some of the water that could go to my peppers and eggplant, but the plants also provide a natural organic mulch that keeps our sandy soil from becoming burning hot during the day.  And, well, they’re pretty, too.

Over the years, I’ve come to enjoy these volunteer plants quite a bit.  Sure, some get weeded out, but a lot more get transplanted or just enjoyed where they’ve sprouted.  Does this make for a rather chaotic and disorganized yard?  Only superficially.  I tend to think of it as working with nature, rather than forcing nature to work with me.  And since I’m the one who introduced the majority of these plants to the environment, well, this strikes me as making a compromise.  Maybe the parsley isn’t growing quite where I intended but, hey, I have parsley.

Not surprisingly, my stories come to life in a very similar fashion.  I come up with ideas, but how they germinate and the way they fit together often surprises me.

That happened this past weekend.  I’d been sliding elements for the final section of Wolf’s Soul around in my head, waiting to see how they would fit together.  Then, last Friday, as Jim and I were putting dinner together, I had one of those “aha” moments.  Leaving Jim to handle the final touches, I went and scribbled all over a piece of scrap paper and tucked it under my monitor.  I pulled it out on Saturday morning, crossed out one line, added a couple more.  Now I’m merrily writing away.

Is the story what I thought it would be when I started writing it?  Absolutely not, but like my alyssum quilted vegetable bed, the results are turning out surprising and even quite lovely.

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.

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

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!