Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Breaking News! Breaking the Wall!

February 19, 2020

Three New Covers!

As I’ve been promising, there’s a sparkling new e-book reissue of my three “Breaking the Wall” novels: Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, and Five Odd Honors.  Read on to learn more about the series, extra content, and to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the cover design process.

First a word of reassurance…  Not into e-books?  Don’t worry.  Print copies are available at my newly revamped website bookstore.

The “Breaking the Wall” series was originally released from Tor Books starting in 2008 with Thirteen Orphans.  While Tor’s books were completely gorgeous, the new e-book covers better reflect the urban fantasy element of the series.

The new e-books each contain bonus content in the form of an essay about the “making of” the series.  These are expanded versions of pieces I wrote for Tor.com back in the day, with a lot more detail into my emotional journey as I wrote.

Never heard of the “Breaking the Wall” series?  Here’s the cover copy for the new edition of Thirteen Orphans.

A Dangerous Inheritance

Brenda Morris has no idea that her father, Gaheris, has a secret life.  He is the Rat: a key member of the curious cabal known as the Thirteen Orphans.  When she is nineteen, Brenda learns that all the omens show that Brenda will be his heir.

Brenda may inherit her place far sooner than anyone wishes.  Unseen enemies are stalking the Thirteen Orphans.  If Brenda does not join Pearl Bright, the Tiger, as she gathers the surviving Orphans to stand against their enemies, soon the Orphans—and their generations-long mission—will vanish, even from memory.

Bonus material includes an expanded version of the essay, “Why Thirteen Orphans?”

Interested?  You can find the new e-books at the following vendors:

Amazon: Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, Five Odd Honors.

Nook: Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, Five Odd Honors.

Kobo: Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, Five Odd Honors.

i-Tunes: Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, Five Odd Honors.

GooglePlay: Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, Five Odd Honors.

So, why the big change in the cover art?  It’s certainly not because the original art by Sam Weber wasn’t gorgeous, because it absolutely was.  However, over the years I’ve learned that these covers didn’t give most readers any idea that this series was urban fantasy.  The reviewers (who had the text in hand) caught on immediately, as this quote from Library Journal shows:

“This new series launch deftly mingles the fascination of the mah-jongg tiles and the animal lore of the Chinese Zodiac with a modern tale of discovery and danger.  This urban fantasy should appeal to fans of Charles de Lint and Jim Butcher.” Library Journal on Thirteen Orphans

When Jane Noel came on board as the new cover artist, I asked her to come up with covers that would say at a glance what sort of books these were.  First, she researched cover art associated with urban fantasy, and noted that they often emphasized the characters over the plot or setting.  With this in mind, she decided to feature one of the point-of-view characters, Brenda Morris, with one of the other key characters.

Jane Noel also decided that a series called “Breaking the Wall” should feature a wall appropriate to the book in question.  So, Thirteen Orphans has a zodiac wheel, reflecting the characters’ discovery of their relationship with one of the animals in the Chinese zodiac.  Nine Gates, which provides the first glimpse of the mysterious Lands Born from Smoke and Sacrifice, features a wall opening into the lands.  Five Odd Honors features a gate opening into…  Well, I’m not going to say too much, in case of spoilers.

The process of working with an artist who had read the books in the series several times was fascinating, showing me, once again, how the reader and author see the books in different ways.

So, there you have it…  Please let me know if you have any questions, and I’ll answer either in the Comments or in next week’s WW, depending on how much detail is needed.  Go on now: Break the Wall!

Backgrounds, Foundations

February 5, 2020

One of the Cards from the Exhibit

Last week my writing mostly focused on background work for various projects.  There now exists an updated and extensive list of characters from the first three Star Kingdom novels.  Cover copy has been written for the upcoming new releases of my three “Breaking the Wall” novels.  Stuff like that…

Then, this past weekend, as a change of pace, Jim and I went to see the Jim Henson exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum.  One of the pleasures for me in the exhibit was seeing how various projects and characters developed.  I’m not really a “making of” sort of viewer.  I’m the sort who wants to believe for those couple of hours that whatever place I’m viewing and the people who live in it are real.

However, seeing how Henson and his team brought script and characters together—especially how the process evolved over time, and as different collaborators became regulars in the team—was fascinating.  I found myself feeling better about the amount of background work I’d been doing for my own projects.

It also made me think about a comment Beverly Martin, one of the regular participants in my FF, had made about a book she was reading.  Let me quote her:

“It is kind of suffering from middle book syndrome – lots of words but little movement in the main plot. I get that they move on horseback, but does the story have to move at the same pace?”

Even as I understood her point, I found myself thinking about what it implied.  For one, there’s the question of “main plot.”  When I was a very young reader of the “Lord of the Rings” novels, my least favorite novel was The Two Towers, especially Frodo and Sam’s journey.  There were none of the clashing armies, none of the hints of romance, none of the moments of humor that livened not only the other two books in the series but the other major plotline.

Frodo, Sam, and Golem’s journey was a tale that moved not only “on horseback” but on foot, through the mud, up endless staircases, and, even worse, into increasingly thick bogs of distrust, suspicion, and even outright hatred and betrayal.

And, as an older reader, I realize that this is the most crucial part of the entire epic tale, without which not only the climax of the story, but also the concerns felt by the rest of the Fellowship and allies would seem groundless, shallow, and weak.

I’m not saying this is the case for the book Beverly is reading.  (If you want to know which one, you can look on the FF for last week.)  Sometimes writers do lose touch or reach a point where they are indulged because they can be counted on to sell a fair number of copies to loyal fans.

A friend of mine recently confessed that she wishes a writer whose work she used to love received more editing because she had found his more recent works “turgid.”

One thing I’ve learned is that the answer to what makes a book “slow” varies widely, not only from author to author, but from reader to reader.  The other day, I had a lively chat with a friend who is reading my Wolf’s Head, Wolf’s Heart for the first time.  He had numerous questions about the “societies” that are mentioned as a background element in the cultures of Hawk Haven and Bright Bay.  I could tell him a considerable amount that never made it to the page.

Almost every novel I’ve written, particularly if it belongs to a series, has a host of background material that may never make it onto the page.  If there’s a point where things seem to “slow down,” perhaps because I’m providing background material or seem to have strayed from the plot…  Well, maybe I haven’t strayed.  Maybe I know a little more about what the “main plot” is than a reader who may be misled by anything from jacket copy to what the characters themselves think is important.

Which brings us back to the behind the scenes elements of the Jim Henson exhibit.  A friend had enthused that Jareth and Sarah’s costumes from the iconic ballroom scene were on display.  I was certainly eager to see them.  In the end, while I appreciated the opportunity, I could have done without.

Gowns and jackets meant to be filmed, meant to be seen with perfect lighting picking up the highlights, may not look as wonderful on a dummy in a case.  I’ll take the illusion.  I’ll take the story.  But, y’know, I’d also take Jareth’s jacket!  (Or the wonderful silver pendant.)

And I’ll keep writing more material than the reader will ever see, because, just like the support rod that’s invisible but makes the puppet’s arm movements possible, so background that is only hinted at supports the rest of the story.

This Is One of Those Weeks

January 29, 2020

Apprentice Treecat With My Annotated Copy of SK1

This is one of those weeks…  Nothing bad.  Just lots of things.  What’s really weird is that all these things actually mean projects are moving ahead, but I feel as if  I’m getting nowhere because I’m not working on what I thought I’d be working on.  Does that make any sense?

So here are a few of the new things.  The covers for the new e-book versions of the three “Breaking the Wall” novels have been completed.  Cover art and design was done by my long-time friend, Jane Noel, and takes a completely different approach from the covers done originally by Tor Books.

We’re working on the interior design right now…

I’m grounding myself once again in the universe of the Star Kingdom novels that I co-write with David Weber.  (Another long-time friend.  I’m seeing a trend here.)  It’s been over seven years since I’ve written a new novel in that universe, and I’ve had to ground myself in characters and locations major and minor, even in those little tricks of language that make the collaborations have the “voice” of the Honorverse.

Such as, you ask?  Well, for example, treecats are often described as “flowing” from place to place.  Or that when writing treecats “talking” to each other, contractions are never used.  Or that the treecats think of themselves as “The People” and humans as “two-legs.”  And that’s just the treecat stuff.  Unlike in most of the Honorverse novels where the characters are adults, and as such fairly set in their habits, our main characters are changing in ways big and small in every book while in some way remaining organically “themselves.”

What else?  I’ve read/am reading some neat things that I’ll be providing blurbs for.  If you want a hint as to what, take a look at my FF and guess!  Unlike some authors who provide generic blurbs, I only blurb stories I’ve read, and then I try to provide blurbs that in some way reflect a the work.

In case you’re wondering, Wolf’s Soul is still with my copy editor.  I talked with her earlier this week, and she’s hard at work.

On a personal front, Jim and I celebrated our twenty-third anniversary this past weekend.  We went up to Santa Fe to try okonomiyaki, which it turns out we both really like.  And then we wandered around, looking at all the pretty things.

While chatting with a friend about all of this, I had an insight as to how I deal with too much all at once.  Triage.  What must be done, or the project stalls completely, comes first.  Next comes what moves a project along.  The wild idea of the moment—like messing around with the lovely blank journal Jim gave me for our anniversary—that comes last.

So, off to check something off the triage list!

Projects Update: Wolf’s Soul and Others

January 8, 2020

Kel’s On Top Of 2020

About this time last year, I wrote a comprehensive update about what I was working on and what could be expected in the year to come.  Seems like a good time to do the same thing again…

As promised, 2019 saw the release of Wolf’s Search, the seventh book in the Firekeeper Saga and the first new book in the series in about a decade.  2020 will see the release of Wolf’s Soul, the second part of the story.  The manuscript is written, polished, and I’m getting feedback from my secret beta readers.  After that’s in, I’ll give the manuscript a review, send the manuscript to my copyeditor, and shift into production.  If all goes well, the book should be available to you in just a few months.

I don’t plan to delay the release of Wolf’s Soul for promotional hype, gathering pre-orders, or the like.  The first announcement of availability will be via my newsletter.  Then I’ll mention it here, as well as on my social media.

Another almost completed project are{is} three new e-book versions of the “Breaking the Wall” novels (Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, and Five Odd Honors).  Each e-book will have new cover art by Jane Noel.  There will also be extra content in the form of essays about how the idea for the series evolved, as well as quite a lot about how elements of mah-jong played a role in the development of the magic system.   We’re working on cover art and design, then they’ll be ready to go.  Again, the first announcement will be on my newsletter, but I’ll mention it here as well.

If you’re not into e-books, I still have copies of the hardcover print editions available at my newly revamped website bookshop.

Contracts have been signed for three new novels in the “Star Kingdom” (aka “Stephanie Harrington”) series that I have been writing with my long-time friend, David Weber.  The series to this point consists of A Beautiful Friendship, Fire Season, and Treecat Wars.  These books are prequels to the “Honor Harrington” novels and, unlike those, take place mostly planetside.  For this reason, there’s a lot more about the treecats, their home lives, and culture.  We’ve started writing the first (yet untitled) book in this new series, and writing this will be my first focus in 2020.

I also have some short fiction forthcoming, including “The Problem With Magic Rings” in DreamForge and “The Greatest Jewel” in a Masters of Orion anthology.  And, yes, I’m continuing to work with DreamForge magazine, which has just completed its fourth issue and first year!

It’s possible that other books in my backlist will be made available as new e-books.  Whether that happens will be a question of time and energy.  I wouldn’t have been able to do what I have with the “Breaking the Wall” books without the help of my husband, Jim, artist Jane Noel, and frequent proofreader, Paul Dellinger.

I’d like to write more short fiction, and may well do so.  There’s also a 150,000 word rough draft manuscript that I’m hoping to get back to and expand, probably into two books.  I’d like to start with that before the year is over.  We’ll see if that’s a bit optimistic on my part…

So, another busy year with many new stories being written.  Any questions?

Endings Are Hard

December 11, 2019

Dandy and Coco’s Beautiful Endings

Last week, I finished making Jim’s corrections to Wolf’s Soul, then sent the manuscript off to my secret beta readers.  When I told a friend this, she said, “You must feel really good to have reached this point.”

I sighed and shook my head.  “Actually, after seeing all the typos Jim found in a manuscript I thought was clean, I’m beginning to feel as if this book is a mess.  Actually, I’m relieved he didn’t find many continuity issues, but I still am more apprehensive than relieved.”

As the year ends, a lot of writers are trying to finish off projects before the holiday season interrupts creative momentum.  On top of NaNoWriMo, which emphasizes speed of composition rather than quality on content, many writers end up feeling conflicted.  After all, you’ve written the first eighty or ninety percent of the story.  Surely the momentum is there.  How can wrapping up the plot take so much effort?

I’m here to tell you: Endings Are Hard.  Here are a few thoughts I’ve had over the years about why this is so.

So often one hears: “I had a great idea for my story, but now I don’t seem to be able to finish it.”  When you’re stuck about how to end your story, go back to that first idea.  What was it?  Have you addressed the questions that first got you fascinated?

My novel Through Wolf’s Eyes began with two questions.  One was plot-oriented.  Who would be King Tedric of Hawk Haven’s successor?  The second was thematic:  How would moving from human to wolf society effect Firekeeper?  Until both were answered, the story could not end.

Remembering your initial impulse works to keep you focused on your ending, whether you outline or, like me, are an intuitive plotter.  A short note – sometimes as little as one word – can keep you on track when you start to wander off target.  Get in the habit of writing this down at the very start so you can refer back when you get bogged down.

Can’t figure out what that initial impulse was?  It’s possible you started off without enough thought.  As Euripides said: “A bad beginning makes a bad ending” (Euripides, Aeolus).  Either you need to figure out what you meant this story to be about or you need to scrap it as a bad beginning that isn’t going anywhere.

Don’t be discouraged that you can’t find your ending.  You’re not alone.  Author John Galsworthy said, “The beginnings and endings of all human undertakings are untidy, the building of a house, the writing of a novel, the demolition of a bridge, and, eminently, the finish of a voyage” (Over the River).

Middles have their relationship to the end, too.  Author Walter Jon Williams has a good comment on taking ending into middles: “Inspiration will carry you through the first 100 pages.  After that, you need a plan.”  Walter has sometimes jokingly referred to the middle of a novel as “the fiddly middle bits.”  Remember, though, there’s no such thing as “fiddly.”  Every scene should move you along toward your end.

Again, the beginning – that inspiration – should be your guide.  You may find it difficult to end your piece if you introduced too many subplots or extra characters, just to move the book along.   How much research is too much?  Simply put, if you’re more captivated by researching than by the actual writing, it’s probably too much.  Another guideline is when you find yourself putting your research in because “I did it, so by God they’re going to read it!”

There different types of endings.  Which one is yours?

Conclusion vs. Closure or “Only English Professors love stories with inconclusive conclusions.”  This was one of my own first lessons, and I will be eternally grateful to my then editor John Douglas at Avon Books for teaching it to me.

The Cliffhanger?  This type of ending is chancy – especially if your audience is going to need to wait a long period of time for the next installment.  Even books in a series need some sort of closure.

When do you Need an Epilogue?  My opinion is rarely.  One of the pleasures of a story for a reader is speculating on what might happen in the on-going lives of the characters.  An epilogue can make the story die.  However, a good epilogue can remind the reader that the characters went on after the concluding battle.

Ending a short story presents its own problems.  A short story must be easier, right?  After all, there are fewer pages.  Actually, it’s not easier because so much needs to be packed into a few pages.  Roger Zelazny (who won a lot of awards for short fiction) said a short story should feel like the last part of a novel – give the feeling for what came before but focus on those final moments.

In other words, a good short story is one big Ending…

A few ending words on Endings…  It is my firm feeling that the story must end – and this applies even if that story is part of a series.  Writing a series that keeps postponing the ending is one reason why so many series are unsatisfactory or become weaker as they go on.

A strong ending is necessary for a book to be satisfying.  Many times I’ve read a book with a strong start only to be disappointed by the conclusion.  Conversely, I’ve read several so-so books that have risen in my estimation by having a solid ending that makes the rest of the book fall into place.  A strong ending does not necessarily need to be shocking or have a “twist.”  Indeed, an ending that “comes from nowhere” can be a huge turnoff.

Thinking back, I realize I was hard on myself when I told my friend I didn’t feel “relieved” to have finished Wolf’s Soul.  My apprehensions belonged to the “production” side of the process, not the creative side.  Creatively, I’m pretty pleased about the book…  Of course I have questions as to whether I communicated what I was trying to communicate, but that’s what editors are for!

Didn’t Say That

November 20, 2019

Where Wolves, Cats, and Guinea Pigs Run Wild

The freebee advertisement magazine that shows up in our mailbox once a month contains a small amount of non-advertising content between the ads.  I always read the Albuquerque area gardening column, often skim through others.

A while back, while skimming a column that contains quotes connected by a theme (ex. Friendship, Wisdom, Joy), I saw one credited to Charles de Lint.  My initial pleasure turned into musing when I recognized the quote as from one of his stories.  In other words, Charles de Lint didn’t say that, his character did.

This may seem a fine point, suitable only for English majors and other content nerds, but it continued to haunt me long after the magazine went into the recycling.  In that particular case, the quote was probably pretty much in line with Charles de Lint’s own philosophical position.  (I do know him, and so am speaking from at least a moderately informed position.)

However, what if the quote had been from one of the antagonists in the same novel?  Crediting that quote to Charles de Lint would have been accurate on the same grounds the first quote was while, at the same time, doing de Lint a great injustice.

Think I’m obsessing?  Try this one on for size.

“My Precious.  My Precious.”  J.R.R. Tolkien.

I’ve met writers whose signature characters are incredibly wise, astonishingly competent, well-organized people but who, in their personal lives, make unwise choices, are unable to find their way in an unfamiliar environment, and whose offices look as if they’ve been repeatedly hit by whirlwinds.

Another common source of awkwardness is when the author is assumed to share the tastes and/or habits of a character.  I’ve lost count of the number of readers who are astonished to learn that not only don’t I have a wolf or wolf-like dog, I have never owned a dog, nor do I ever plan to do so.  Cats and guinea pigs are my non-human co-residents of choice.

Author/character identification can get awkward when a story touches on uncomfortable topics.  After The Dragon of Despair was released, I received an e-mail in which a reader lambasted me for being a child abuser, because of what happens to Citrine Shield in that novel.  Anticipating my response that Melina Shield is responsible for what Citrine goes through, the writer of that e-mail said (I paraphrase), “And don’t say Melina did it, because you created her and you did it.”

Wow! Apparently, the fact that I also created the people who rescued Citrine, as well as Citrine herself, meant nothing.  Because I could envision a horrible situation, I must be capable of committing such atrocities and of deliberately tormenting a child.  (Never mind that the child existed in a fictional universe, while I live in our consensual reality.)

Getting the author and characters tangled up increases with the attachment people feel to a book.  I’ve repeatedly had to inform astonished fans of Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light that he was not a practitioner of any form of Buddhism.   After all, he smoked and his characters smoked, so if one of his protagonists is Buddhist, he must have been Buddhist.  (As an aside, whether Sam was Buddhist or his world’s Buddha, or simply running a scam, is a question the novel leaves open to debate).

It seems that the closer a topic is to the emotional, psychological landscape, the more it is assumed, for good or ill, that this reflects the author’s personal views.  Therefore, a writer of Military or Espionage fiction can never have served in the military or been a spy.  Writers of alternate history do not need not to have lived in pre-Republic Rome or in Hitler’s Germany.  Writers of fairy tales do not need to have cut off the head of a horse to release a prince trapped inside.

But write about being depressed.  Write about a death in the family.  Write about a religious belief.  Suddenly,  it’s assumed that the author is writing autobiography.  In this day of social media—where readers may know more about the author’s personal life or experiences—the urge to read biography into the fiction has risen.  However, it’s always been there.

Write what you know involves research, but it also involves empathy.  Sometimes it involves delving into something that horrifies the writer, rather than what attracts.

Well, I’m off to draw up some notes for a novel in which one of my protagonists is a sixteen-year-old girl (which I was) and another is a treecat (which I never was).  Let’s complicate that matter by noting that said sixteen-year-old girl (Stephanie Harrington) was convincingly created by a man (David Weber) who had never been a girl of any age.  At the time the original Stephanie Harrington story was written, he wasn’t a father of a girl that age, so he couldn’t be said to be drawing on his parenting experience.

“I’m sorry, too.  Even my best words are not enough.”  Firekeeper, Wolf’s Search, by Jane Lindskold.

As Green Leaves Fall

November 13, 2019

Autumn Has Arrived!

Although the ash tree in our front yard changes color, one of the weirdest things about autumn in New Mexico is how many trees shed green leaves.  Imprinting as I did on autumns where leaves turned red or yellow, sometimes brown, then dropped off the trees, walking through my yard and scuffing my feet through green leaves still feels subtly wrong, even after more years in New Mexico than I lived in D.C.

Many of the leaves that stay green are from trees that are not native.  Mulberries, in particular, tend to drop massive quantities of dark green leaves, often within a few hours.  Native plants, by contrast, tend to go brown, then quietly lose leaves a few at a time.

At this moment, we’re pretty much done with our garden.  We have a few determined radishes, which we’ve framed with bricks to help retain some daytime heat in the hope that they’ll continue to grow.  Otherwise, it’s clean-up time.  This was a great year for wild asters.  By the end of summer, it was hard to walk in the yard without pushing them aside.  Many of the plants grew over five feet tall.

Jim’s been pulling them, and after making several shirts unwearable because of the amount of aster seeds that stuck to the fabric, he’s decided to dedicate one shirt to this job.  He’s also dug our first compost trench, and a lot of these plants will go in there to become the basis for next year’s soil.

Hmmm… This reminds me…  Now that we’ve had frost, we really need to dig the Jerusalem artichoke tubers.  We store these in a bucket of loose dirt.  Over the next couple of months, we’ll add them raw to salads, or toss them in to bake with chicken.  Raw, they have a texture a lot like water chestnuts; cooked, the texture is more like a cooked carrot.

As our surroundings shift from summer into autumn, with a few days that distinctly feel like winter, I’m shifting from writing to editing, with some forays into research and development.  Wolf’s Soul has now been read through by me twice (once on my computer, once printed out and marked with a red pencil).  I’m currently making hundreds, quite possibly thousands, of small changes.  Then Jim get his reading copy.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the next Stephanie Harrington novel.  (For those of you who missed the news, David Weber and I have signed contracts to write three more.)  Weber and I have worked out the main plot element.  Much of my creative process right now involves working slowly backwards, creating story elements, especially about characters, that will help make the story “real” to me.

It’s fun.  Demanding, but the sort of challenge I really like.  I see a trip to the library in my immediate future…  But first, more manuscript grooming.  Catch you later!

When Ears Inspire

November 6, 2019

Colorful Costume

Ever since our friends Rowan Derrick and Melissa Jackson invited us to a theme Halloween party, Jim and I mused over what we should do for costumes.  The party’s theme was “post-Apocalypse,” riffing off Rowan’s long-time fondness for the “Fallout” series of computer games, as well as that she had some great decorating ideas.

Now, post-Apocalypse has never been one of my favorite settings.  Who knows?  Maybe I imbibed anxiety about nuclear war with my mother’s milk.  (I was born about a month before the Cuban missile crisis.)  I grew to adulthood under the shadow of the Cold War.  To this day, I remember college discussions in which many of my contemporaries stated that we’d see a nuclear missile attack before we graduated.  Certainly an awareness that for most of my life I lived in a “ground zero” location hasn’t helped.  (Yep.  I still do.)

However, there’s one book set in a post-Apocalyptic setting I really love: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.  It is not hopelessly grim, but lacks Mad Max romanticizing of how much fun it would be to all wear fur and ride motorcycles.  Maybe why this novel resonates with me is that it offers hope for a devastated future seeded by a medium I really understand and believe in: Books.

So, for a while Jim and I thought we might go as “bookleggers,” but a lack of affordable monks’ robes proved a stumbling block.  If we didn’t have robes, then we’d need to keep explaining what we were.  After all, like bootleggers, bookleggers tend to dress much like everyone else, because that’s the best way to avoid detection.

 Eventually, we settled on going as mutants.  In the third section of A Canticle for Leibowitz these “Children of the Fallout” have a very interesting role.

When we went to look for costume items, my creative conception took a swerve when I found myself irresistibly attracted to a set of brightly-colored cheetah ears with matching tail.  While Jim got a set of very nice wolf’s ears and tail, then accessorized so that he was transformed into a very swashbuckling mutant wolf-warrior, I wandered over to the bright side.  If you’ve read A Canticle for Leibowitz this isn’t completely out of line, although I admit, my interpretation was a bit unique…

I wish the photo showed my hair better, since it steaked in five very bright shades!

(In case you wonder, I already had the yukata and obi.)

Writers are always asked: “Where do you get your ideas?”  Well, in the course of this particular creative journey, I found myself musing over an idea for a short story.  If I write it, I guess my answer will need to be “A Canticle for Leibowitz and a set of cheetah ears in all the colors of the rainbow.”

The Ritual of Not

October 30, 2019

Ritual Objects

I’m currently deeply immersed in my first full read-through of Wolf’s Soul, aka, Firekeeper Saga 8, aka, the sequel to this July’s release, Wolf’s Search.

As such, I do not have many lively tales to tell, so I tossed out a request for suggestions as to this week’s WW.  Almost immediately, I received two, which I will hereby intertwine with each other.

One, from writer and poet Mab Morris, asked me to talk about some of the difficulties involved in self-editing.  The other, from artist (and sometime writer) Elizabeth Leggett, asked me if I had any autumn writing rituals.

I don’t really have any seasonal rituals—except for coffee and chocolate.  Since coffee and chocolate have been a part of my writing routine since the writing wasn’t even fiction writing, I’m not sure if that counts as seasonal.  Let me take you spinning back in time…

It’s the mid-1980’s, when I was a full-time graduate student at Fordham University.  My first two years I held the Henry Luce Foundation Fellowship, which made me a research assistant, and sometimes teaching assistant, to John Dzieglewicz, S.J. My second two years, however, my scholarship involved my teaching several sections of English Composition.

So, there I was, taking classes, teaching classes, grading papers, and, at the end of the run, preparing for doctoral comps and writing my dissertation.  All at once.  Really.  I had four years of scholarship, and I going to waste any of it.

I was pretty poor, too, but my budget extended to coffee.  Then, by a stroke of great good luck, in a discount store I stumbled on a failed attempt to release some sort of dark Swiss chocolate in fat little bricks.  I have no idea why the release failed.  The chocolate was good: dense and heady.  I bought all I could lay my hands on and used it to fuel me as I charged through my demanding schedule.

Overall, I try to avoid getting trapped by writing rituals, because I’ve seen too many writers unable to function without their private gimmicks.  I’ll admit, though, I’ve kept this particular energy-booster, little reward, right up until the present day.  These days, dark chocolate-covered almonds, just a few, along with a mug of black coffee both start my day, and provide my mid-afternoon pick-me-up.  I can write without these, but I’ll admit, I look forward to them, especially at times like now when I’m self-editing.

The biggest difficulty in self-editing is staying sharp.  After all, I know what I meant to write.  The problem then is making sure I’m seeing what’s written on the page, rather than what I thought I wrote.  Making matters more complicated, I don’t do writer’s groups, so there’s no one but me to look at the work-in-progress.  I want to give Jim—my ever-patient first reader—as clean a manuscript as possible, so he can focus on the story, not on the typos.

I’m serious about that.  Ideally, a beta-reader should be able to focus on the story, not on proofreading.  The brain really does have different modes for editing and, for getting lost in a story.  Too many errors, and I lose Jim’s very valuable feedback as to content.  Sure, it’s nice to have him catch typos and all, but I’d much rather learn if the story is enthralling and captivating.

In order to stay sharp, I break my proofing sections into multiple little “bites,” rather than long marathons.  I do my first read-through on the computer screen, my next on a printed copy.  I seem to see the words differently in each form.

Maybe this two-stage proofing constitutes another ritual?  Or is it a ritual when it’s practical?

On that note, I’ll close. If you posted another suggestion for a WW, I’ll keep it in mind for the future.  If you didn’t, but you have a suggestion, please feel free to make it in the Comments.  Even if I can’t come up with an answer right away, I keep a list of suggestions for WW.

Now, off for one more nibble on the manuscript before I call it a day!

I Said It All

October 23, 2019

Fred Poutre, Me, and Michael Kilman Discuss Mythology

I said it all this weekend at MileHiCon 51.  Seriously.  So right now I’m really stretched for things to say.

On Friday the topic was Urban Fantasy, what it was, what it is, what it might become.  I read from my Asphodel, part of the scene with the creepy cherubs and the cathedral.  Fun.

Later, much chatter with friends old and new.  Went to bed still vibrating from all the talk.

On Saturday, we started with the KaffeeKlatch, because why not?  Before I’d finished my coffee and bagel, I’d discussed art, representation, and the distinct possibility that maybe, just maybe, Milton’s daughters might have played an active role in the composition of Paradise Lost.

After a lovely panel (see photo) discussing “Building New Gods: Mythologies in SF&F,” I ended up talking for an hour with a Jesuit brother about how mythologies are developed.  I was so very glad I’d recently re-read Will Durant’s Caesar and Christ, since that meant I had my data points fresh.

Then I went off to a fun panel on how hobby activities can feed your creativity.  Carrie Vaughn was there costumed as the angel Aziraphale from Good Omens, and I did kumihimo with beads live.  Our other panelists were a costumer, and a nurse who kept insisting she didn’t do hobbies, but kept giving examples that proved her wrong!

Somewhere in there, we met the local chapter of the Royal Manticoran Navy (sometimes known as the David Weber fan club), and were made very welcome indeed.

Later still there was the mass book signing.  (I’d also done a signing Friday night).  That evening we had dinner with one of the author GOH’s, Marie Brennan.  After dinner, we sat up with Marie, discussing gaming and other things, as one does at these events.

Sunday we KaffeeKlatched again, during which we had the chance to meet and chat with the other author GOH, Angela Roquet.

After coffee, we let ourselves go watch some panels.  The thing about a good panel is that afterwards you want to talk about the new ideas.  Happily, we found several interesting folks with whom we could chat, including New Mexico friends David Lee Summers and Elizabeth Leggett.  One minor regret is we couldn’t be in two places at once, because I would have liked to sample the re-boot of the Fruits Basket anime.

Mid-afternoon I gave a talk on finishing Roger Zelazny’s two unfinished novels: Donnerjack and Lord Demon.  The audience wasn’t very large, but it was wonderful.

Later still, we went out to dinner with David Boop, editor of Straight Out of Deadwood, in which I have a short story, “Doth Make Thee Mad.”  If you’re short of ideas for your themed Halloween party, I would like to recommend “Weird West.”  You can get ideas for costumes from the stories…

Eh…  This really isn’t doing justice to the weekend.  Busy.  Lively.  Chatty.  Framed on either side with long drives through mountains and plains.  We saw antelopes, hawks, a bald eagle, and a squirrel who reminded us of our kitten, Mei-Ling.  Something about how it ran with its tail straight up in the air.

And here I am.  Still beat, because I probably talked to more people in three days than I usually do in a month.  Feeling happy, because I didn’t meet a single person who was even mildly annoying.  Happy, too, because when my head stops spinning, I’ll be back to Wolf’s Soul and immersed in my writing, which is one of my favorite places to be.

More Weirdness Than You Can Imagine!