Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Mental Stretch

September 28, 2022
Dancer at Aki Matsuri

This past weekend, Jim and I took a break from the on-going tumult that has been our lives and went to Aki Matsuri, the Fall Festival hosted by the New Mexico Japanese-American Citizens League.

In the course of our several hour visit we walked around a lot, and visited various displays.  We talked with the bonsai growers, and chatted with a young man who does both digital art and traditional ink brush painting.  We sampled matcha (a frothed green tea), served after eating a citrus candy (sort of like a fruit gummi) “because matcha is bitter.”  We admired the ikebana, and got into a discussion of how combining roses and chrysanthemums gives a very New Mexico twist to an autumn arrangement.

In one of the display areas, a potter paused in spinning clay to encourage me to give yet one more try to folding an origami crane, assuring me that the person doing the demonstration was very good.  I knelt down on the floor and did my best with a square of purple paper.  It’s certainly not the best crane ever, but what will stay with me is the memory of the kindness of my sensei, as well as of how the potter, and the woman demonstrating tea ceremony, cheered us through fold after fold.

We also sat down and watched first a display of taiko drumming, then four Okinawan dances, then, finally, a cosplay exhibition.  These three demonstrations, so different from each other, were not only fascinating in themselves, but a vivid reminder of how much there is not only to Japanese culture, but to any culture.

I also did something very important for me as a writer.  By going to the festival and doing things I don’t usually do (including trying to fold that darn crane), I kept my creative brain from stiffening up.  It felt good to mentally stretch.  Almost without my willing it, I could feel new ways of looking at things taking shape.

Some of these will show up on the page almost immediately.  Others may shift around and take months, even years, to find their way into print.

And, y’know, I even feel encouraged to try folding another crane.

Five Minute Stories

September 7, 2022

Over the years, one of my favorite Bubonicon panels has become the “Snack Writes” panel, hosted by Josh Gentry.  Josh is fascinated by the question of how to fit reading and writing into days increasingly packed with work, various entertainment options, and the always important distraction of spending time with friends and family.

His “Snack Reads” website (on which he published my short story “Hamlet Revisited”) was part of the still-growing flash fiction trend.  Later, he produced “Snack Writes,” which provided short story prompts.  The panel has outlasted the website, and while the featured authors are required to read what they wrote, the audience has the choice whether or not to participate.

This year the participants were me, David Lee Summers, and the very brave Diana Rowland, who filled in for regular Robert E. Vardeman at the last minute.  Diana did great, and I hope she’ll join us again next time, even if Bob is back.

In our fifty minutes, Josh offered four prompts, two of which were single phrases (the others were a bit more detailed).  I’ll offer my end results, starting with the prompt.  I did not improve my prose, although I will not make you suffer my handwriting.

First Prompt: I am the squeaky toy of god.

Kibeth was filthy, and so her human had to take her to the groomer, thus missing part of Bubonicon.

How to explain?  Kibs had had to dig.  Something had been under the cherry tree.  At first, Kibs had thought it was a bird.  But it didn’t move.  A dead bird!  Even better!

Kibs went digging after it, deeper and deeper, driven by an impulse beyond sanity.  It chirped over and over: “I am the squeaky toy of god!”

Who could resist such a call?  Certainly not the Disreputable Dog.

But as the suds foamed around her, Kibeth heard the second part of the dead bird’s refrain: “I am the squeaky toy of God, and for me you will be washed clean!”

By my great good luck, right before the panel, I’d been told that my friend, Melissa Jackson, would be late because her dog had gotten into something and really needed a bath.  This combined with the dog in question being named for a character from Garth Nix’s novels Lirael and Abhorson, is why she is referred to as the Disreputable Dog.  Write what you know!

Second Prompt: Put them in the mixing bowl.

Take faith (in what?), take hope (not despair), take love (of one, of all, of that which is unique).  Put them in the mixing bowl.  Stir.  Agitate.  Subject to heat, to pressure.  What will you have made?  The great contradiction, even to itself, the great on-going project of every individual life: the immortal soul.

My ingredients here are the three things that remain: faith, hope, and love.  (Corinthians, 13:13.)  Back in my earliest writing days, I made a lot of “cold” submissions to theme anthologies.  I knew to have a chance, I had to avoid the usual takes on dragons or wizards or whatever.  That impulse hit me again with this prompt, and I set out to come up with an unusual recipe.

Many of the other contributions were creative variations on magical spells, which were certainly more amusing than my philosophical offering.  Nonetheless, I quite like it.

On that note, I’m off to do the sort of writing work that takes a lot more time than five minutes.  I’ve finished a rough draft of House of Rough Diamonds, the sequel to Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge.  Note: I’m using the term “sequel” in the sense of being subsequent, not in the sense that between them Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge leave you hanging. 

Take care!

Season of Rat and Rain

August 24, 2022
Me Emoting

I’m back from Texas and a very nice book event at the Half Price Books flagship store.  If you’re looking for signed books, but can’t make it to one of my events, both Half Price Books and Poisoned Pen have signed copies of my most recent titles (complete with bookmarks) available.

Or you can come to Bubonicon this coming weekend (August 26-28) and get me to sign your copies in person.  I still have bookmarks, postcards, and buttons, as well as stickers signed by David Weber to go in our most recent collaboration, A New Clan.  I’ll definitely have these with me at the Mass Autographing on Saturday, and may have a few with me at other times.

So…  What is the season of Rain and Rat?  Let me back up a bit…  Marry an anthropologist (which is what an archeologist is) and a writer.  Have them live together for twenty-five years.  It really should come as no surprise if they start creating their own names for various seasons.

August is defined by two things.  One of these Bubonicon, which has as its mascots two rats, Perry and Terri Rodent.  The other important event is that it almost always rains on Bubonicon weekend, the last hoorah of the summer monsoon season. 

Other seasons include various holidays, and the ever-popular period in late Spring and again in late Autumn that we have dubbed “the Seasons When Jane Leaves Shoes All Over.” 

Hope to see some of you this weekend! 

Green Tomato Stage

August 10, 2022
Green Turning Red

Right now, I think I’m at the green tomato stage of my current book.  Like the tomatoes in this picture, it started as a tiny seed.  Now, as I’m almost done with my rough draft, it’s shiny and bright and full of potential, but needs a lot of ripening.

Aside for the gardeners among us: The tomatoes in the photo are Punta Banda, the seeds of which I purchased from Native Seed Search, as part of my quest to find tomatoes that would handle the very high temperatures we’ve been having.  As you can see, they’ve done very well.  Our high this summer has been 107F, so slightly cooler than the last two summers, where we peaked at 112F.  We had a brutally hot May, followed by an early onset monsoon that helped a bit.  Temperatures have settled into a, for us, relatively moderate high 90’s to low 100’s, and Punta Banda seems to love this.

If you want to know more about tomatoes, ask in the Comments, and I shall happily natter on.

As to the book…  I started my rough draft about a year ago, but I had a considerable number of interruptions, including dealing with editor’s notes on A New Clan (the fourth Star Kingdom book, written in collaboration with David Weber), producing new e-book editions of Artemis Awakening and Artemis Invaded, writing the short story “Fire-Bright Rain” (a prequel telling what happened when the Library of the Sapphire Wind was destroyed), working on a new e-book edition of Child of a Rainless Year.

I also did a lot of promotional work for my three new book releases: Library of the Sapphire Wind, Aurora Borealis Bridge, and A New Clan.

In January, after the holidays and final revisions to A New Clan, I immersed myself in my current novel.  I realized that I needed to shift one of the major elements of the plot, and once I did that, the characters started doing things, and I started merrily writing away.

Then, in February, I had Covid.  One of the odd ways it hit me was that I couldn’t use any back-lit devices, especially computer screens, without getting a headache.  What did I do?  I shifted to handwriting, which I actually enjoy.  I stayed in this mode for several weeks.  When I could bear the computer screen for more than a short while, I typed up what I had written.

I have great hopes I’ll get a lot closer to the end of the manuscript this week, so I’m off to find out what happens next!

Ready? Action!

August 3, 2022
Roary and Mei-Ling Action!

This week I had an insight as to why action scenes take a lot of words to write, but before I get to that, I want to alert local NM readers that they will find information about a used book sale to benefit local charity June’s Senior Pet Rescue at the end of this wandering.

As I was working on a major scene in the book I’ve been writing, I became aware of a vague sense of dissatisfaction.  I turned off my computer, wondering why the scene that was so clear in my head wasn’t coming out anything like that on the page.

After what felt like hours (but probably wasn’t more than a single hour), I realized that I was pushing the scene too fast.  Why?  The explanation is sort of twisted.  The scene is fast moving, with a lot happening to six different characters, all of whom have very different tasks to carry out.

So, there I was, “seeing” the story in my head with all six mini-plotline happening at once, but forced to compose it in prose that is linear.  This was making me feel as if I should use as few words as possible, so that if the action had to “line up,” at least the line would be short.  But this was absolutely the worst thing for me to do. 

One of the ironies about writing action is that something that takes seconds in the characters’ experience may need many more times the words.  A conversation can take place in, more or less, “real time.”  That is, if you read it aloud, it would take about the same amount of time as if it really happened. Plus, say five to ten percent additional text (the “he said” and descriptive details).  Even if there is a strong visual subtext—as in what people are looking at or doing as they talk—it usually doesn’t take more time.  So, a ten-minute conversation will take about eleven minutes or less to read aloud.  The action is the conversation.

But in an action scene—a fight, a chase, setting a trap, even solving a puzzle—the action will take far longer to present on the page than it does to happen.  Let’s look at a pretty economically written attack.

Sheena swung her long sword at the lead zombie, impacting just below the ribcage, her razor-edged blade slicing smoothly through the viscous guts.  The blade jolted into the spinal column and stuck.

I timed reading this aloud, and had finished the swing motion within the first half-dozen words, yet the rest—especially the result of this attack—the stuck sword blade—needs to be there.

Another irony about writing action is that a too heavily detailed fight scene will not increase the sense of drama.  Rather than increasing the excitement, too much attention to meticulous detail actually slows the action down.  Unless the reader is an aficionado of sword play or fast driving or lock picking, they’re likely skimming the details, eager to find out two things: What happened and why it happened.

That “why” is the reason to include details at all.  If it’s a foregone conclusion, then an action scene isn’t really needed at all.  Or so I feel.  It’s a definite balance between writing as a poor substitute for film, and writing as more immersive, often more personal way of getting into events.

When I went back to the scene where I’d been dissatisfied, I let myself use more words, while keeping in mind the underlying reason for the scene: what happened, why it happened, and where this scene will lead the next part of the story!

And now for the book sale… 

The Literary Cat Book Sale will be held on Saturday, August 6, 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

7012 Arroyo del Oso NE, Albuquerque.

Proceeds to benefit June’s Senior Cat Rescue.

All books One Dollar Each!!  Several thousand books will be on offer.

Featured books will include SF paperbacks from the 1950’s to 1990’s.  Mysteries.  Thrillers.  Suspense.  General fiction.  Non-Fiction.  Atlases.

Many jazz and blues CDs also $1.00 each.

Sorry.  No children’s books.

Helping Writing Thrive

July 20, 2022
Mostly Squash and Sunflowers

Last week I learned that A New Clan will be released as an audiobook from Audible.  This is the fourth Star Kingdom/Stephanie Harrington novel by me and David Weber.  Release timetable is not yet set, but I’ll be sure to let you know when it’s out.

We have some interest from Recorded Books in the two Over Where novels (Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge).  If you’re hoping for these to come out in audio, let them know!

Last week, our temperatures rose back into the low hundreds.  However, the monsoon rains circled around again, giving us some fresh moisture, including one storm that dropped seven tenths of an inch.  All of you dealing with floods, don’t laugh.  Here in our part of New Mexico, that’s a significant amount of rainfall.

As a result, our yard and garden are doing the best they have in the last three or four years.  We’re actually having a bit of trouble picking our way between some of the rows, which was not an issue in hot and droughty 2020 or 2021.  As anticipated, we’ve harvested our first tomatoes.  The new contribution are lianas, often called yard long beans or, sometimes, asparagus beans.

So, what’s the equivalent of a good soaking rain for a writer?  Obviously, it differs from writer to writer.  Although I’ve written in plenty of public places (classrooms, meetings, airplanes), I would no more seek out a coffee shop as an ideal place to go write than I would roast my bare feet over white-hot coals.  But there are plenty of writers (including some whose work I love) who go out of their way to write in coffee shops or in group writing sessions.

For me, my internal landscape matters more than the exterior.  If I’m too busy to read, my writing really suffers.  Re-reading definitely counts.  It’s a bit like listening to a familiar piece of music, with the bonus of being able to concentrate on what elements make me love it, rather than what happens next.

Hobby activity counts, since while my hands are busy, my subconscious feels free to wander.  Even my gaming time, which is a sort of storytelling, can stimulate my writing.  This is not because I reuse game elements, more because the freedom to be part of an evolving story with no pressure to produce a saleable piece reminds me why I love to share stories.

We’re just back from a trip, and I need to go out and crawl between the plants and see what might have ripened while we were away.  Then I think I’ll see what my subconscious came up with while the many hundreds of miles between Albuquerque and Phoenix spun out under the tires.

Beans, Sunflowers, Tomatoes

Bookstores, Podcasts: the Wild Life of a Writer

July 13, 2022
Postcards, Bookmarks, Buttons

This week I have lots of cool things to tell you about, much of it related to my life as a writer, but not forgetting bunnies and veggies.

First, I’m doing an in-person event at Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona on Sunday, July 17th, at 2:00 pm.  We’ll have all three of my new books: Library of the Sapphire Wind, Aurora Borealis Bridge, and A New Clan (a Star Kingdom novel, in collaboration with David Weber).  For those of you who can’t make the trip to Arizona, Poisoned Pen does do signed books by mail order.  My understanding is that there may be a live simulcast of the interview.  Check Poisoned Pen’s website for details.

Oh…  At the signing, I’ll have with me the cool bookmarks, post cards, and other swag shown above.  I even have a limited number of stickers signed by David Weber, so you can have your copy of A New Clan signed by both authors.  The stickers are reserved for copies of A New Clan, but I should have enough bookmarks and postcards for everyone.

Second, if you’re wondering about Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge, this past weekend a new review came out that meets the remarkable challenge of being accurate, detailed, and spoiler free.  You can read H.P. Holo’s take on Library of the Sapphire Wind here.

I will be putting links to other reviews on my website as time permits.

Third, if you’ve ever wondered how David Weber and I work together on our collaborations, we did a very long interview with David Butler for Baen Free Radio. 

You can find Part One here:

and Part Two here:

As for the really important stuff…  The baby bunny is still in the yard, still leaving the veggies alone, although it is no longer running away quite as fast when we go out into the yard.  This may be a good thing (enable us to move it out of the yard) or a bad thing (if it starts deciding to augment its natural diet with our produce).  Jim has decided to fence the bed that has Swiss chard and arugula, as this would be the bed most likely to suffer if the bunny gets too brave.

 We’ve added a few string beans to our harvest, and I think we might get a few ripe tomatoes by the end of this week. 

On that note, I’m off to have some coffee, then get on to writing and other fun things.

Dancing in the Rain

June 22, 2022
Lilies in the Rain

This week, the big news is we finally, finally, finally got RAIN!  It started on Friday, and has continued for several days, bringing along with the moisture lower temperatures, and, even better, for wildfire beleaguered New Mexico, a reduction in fire risk.

When Friday evening brought us the first of several possible storms, I headed out while it was still raining to start moving water out of the 32-gallon trash barrels under our downspouts to additional containers.  Yes.  It was dark. Yes.  It was wet.  But this was a cause for celebration.

Several subsequent storms have definitely brough rainfall at our house to up over an…  inch.  Yes.  You read that right.  Over one inch.  Not yet to even one and a quarter, although we have hope.

For all of you who are in flood zones or places that get a lot of rain, more than an inch of rain in one series of storms is a big deal for our area.  My part of New Mexico is classified as “high altitude grassland” because we “average” 7.5 inches of rain in a year.

That half of an inch is what keeps us from being classified as desert.  Lately we haven’t been getting it.  Jim and I have most of our yard mulched and landscaped with native plants, but even those have been suffering.   I’d been worried we were going to lose a couple of trees because we couldn’t give them enough water to help them deal with temperatures over a hundred, high winds, and no rain.

There are lots of songs that associate “rainy days,” and sad times, but let me tell you, that isn’t the case in New Mexico, especially in this year of record fires. 

Saturday night, we joined some very kind friends for a ballgame at our local minor league park.  The game was rain delayed, but I didn’t see a single sour face from the ticket takers getting drizzled on, to the littlest kid.  Instead, there was a definite party atmosphere.

So, with a feeling of celebration, I’m off to do my writing. 

Pretties and Interviews

June 15, 2022
Pretties for You

Last week saw the release of A New Clan, the fourth Star Kingdom/Stephanie Harrington novel, written by me and David Weber.  I’ve been asked a few times if I’ll be doing any book events, since I’ve had three books out in the last six months.

(The other two are Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge, two books in my new “Over Where” series.)

I’m happy to report that I will have a couple of book events out here in the wild west.  On July 17, 2022 at 2:00 p.m. I’ll be at  Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, AZ.

August 20, 2022 at Noon will see me in Dallas, Texas, at Half Price Books (5803 E. NW Highway Dallas, TX 75321). 

August 26-28, 2022 will see me at Bubonicon in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

In addition to the books, there will be some nifty swag, including bookmarks, postcards, and buttons.

If you’re interested in hearing me talk about these new projects, I’ve done a few interviews.  The most recent is with Paul Semel, and you can read it here.  I’ve also done a few with the Baen Free Radio Hour.  Weber and I did a really long one, that should be posted any day now, although quite possibly in installments.

In person, I’m happy to sign books not specifically related to the event.  However, you might want to check with the bookstore in advance, as different stores have different policies related to bringing in material.

If you can’t make any of these events, feel free to post questions to the Comments.  There’s also Contact information on my website:  I do my best to answer promptly, but I’m sure you know what gets priority…

Yep.  That’s it.  Writing the next story! 

FF: Storm Breaks

June 10, 2022
Roary Plays Kaiju

Last week, I mentioned I was doing a lot of brainstorming.  This week, I’ve been turning that into prose.  Also, with the release of A New Clan, known to longtime readers of my WW and FF as SK4, the latest Star Kingdom / Stephanie Harrington novel, I’ve had lots of little jobs to do.

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. 


The October Man by Ben Aaronovitch.  Audiobook.  Novella.  Listed as book 7.5 in the series, it’s a standalone set in Germany.

Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi.  The opening few pages are a downer for those of us who remember early 2020 all too well, but don’t worry, Jamie Gray won’t be dumped on the street in the midst of a building pandemic.

In Progress:

Solstice Wood by Patrician A. McKillip.  Contemporary fantasy, but with a tie to her novel not-contemporary novel Winter Rose.  I can see a re-read of that coming up when I can lay hands on a copy of Winter Rose.

False Value by Ben Aaronovitch.  Audiobook.  Peter Grant undercover… as Peter Grant.


Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon), which I read as an advanced copy, is now out. Jim and I both very much enjoyed this tale of a young woman who goes after a prince who believes that abusing his wives is completely within his range of rights. Although marketed as a “dark fairytale,” it has a lot of Kingfisher’s weird and wonderful sense of humor as well.

Speaking of storms…  We’re having a very dry spring.  If any of you have surplus rain you can send, our garden would be grateful.