Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Triskadekaphobic Beware

January 18, 2023
Coco Contemplates

Why?  This week marks the thirteenth anniversary of these Wednesday Wanderings.

Once again, despite deadlines, deaths, doom, and destruction, I haven’t missed a week.

This year, I’ve been happy to announce the release of three new books: Library of the Sapphire Wind, Aurora Borealis Bridge, and A New Clan (with David Weber).  I’ve also let you know as my backlist releases expanded, most recently with cult favorite, Child of a Rainless Year.  I’ve alerted you to on-line interviews, and where I’ll be showing up in person.

You’ve been among the first to know about upcoming releases, such as the third “Over Where” novel, House of Rough Diamonds, which is scheduled for October of 2023.

And you get to hear about what I’m working on as well.  This week, I’m still immersed in the page proofs for the mass market edition of A New Clan, as well as writing on SK5.

But I’ve also shared my garden with you, including experiments with growing tomatoes in increasingly hot summers.  And my various craft projects.  And sometimes just plain odd things (like the word “triskadekaphobia”).

My non-human co-residents, both ostensibly domesticated (cats, guinea pigs, fish) and ostensibly wild (lots of birds, the occasional rabbit, lots of lizards) have made repeated appearances.  If you want a weekly hit of animal cuteness along with an update about whatever I’ve reading, check out the Friday Fragments.

Oh, and I do talk about writing, especially when some new element occurs to me or someone presents me with a really neat question.  Some past bits on writing are included in my book Wanderings on Writing, which is definitely not a “how to” book, but more in the way of a bunch of short essays talking about various aspects of writing as an art, a craft, and a lifestyle.

This year, I hope to continue along that course… I welcome questions, either on individual posts or about topics you might enjoy hearing me wander on about.  I can’t promise I’ll be able to answer all of them, but I can promise to try.

Now, a little about how Stephanie and Karl made it back to Sphinx, then off to work on those proofs!



January 4, 2023
Mei-Ling Resolves

Recently, I’ve been repeatedly asked what I’m working on, and if I have any resolutions for 2023…  Here’s something like an answer.

I’ve just finished reviewing the page proofs for the mass market paperback of Aurora Borealis Bridge, the sequel to Library of the Sapphire Wind.  Both will be out in this new format in the first half of 2023.  However, you don’t need to wait.  Copies of the original trade paperback are still available, as is the ebook.

With this job done, I’ll be returning to writing the yet-untitled (longtime readers of these Wanderings will recognize a trend) next book in the Star Kingdom series, SK5, which I’m writing with David Weber.  Our most recent release, A New Clan, came out in June of 2022.

If I have a New Year’s resolution (which I don’t), it’s to get SK5 rolling before the end of January.  That’s when my husband, Jim, is scheduled to have shoulder replacement surgery.  Based on our past experiences (he’s had both knees replaced; field archeology is not kind to the body), Jim will be an excellent patient, and will work hard on his PT, but while he’s doing that, a lot of the jobs he handles around here will fall to me.

I’ve learned that if I have a book up and moving, so that the characters are “talking” to me, I find it much easier to keep writing when there’s an interruption.  I’ve written a bit, but not enough to feel I have built up momentum to carry me though.

There will be other jobs clamoring for my attention, too.  There will be editor’s notes for House of Rough Diamonds, the sequel to Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge.   I’ll be talking more about this as we get closer to its October 2023 release.

Then there will be page proofs for when A New Clan goes into mass market.  (It is currently available as a hardcover, e-book, and audiobook.)

Y’know, the New Year is just a few days old, and I’m already behind! 

Always Something New

December 7, 2022
Jerusalem artichoke tubers

This last week, I took a break and went out to dig up our Jerusalem artichokes.  We’ve been growing these for a good number of years, having gotten the tubers from my friend, Sally Gwylan.

This year, I was astonished to find the large clump featured in the picture.  Actually, it was even larger when I pulled it out, but a fair number of tubers fell free. 

One of the reasons I enjoy gardening is that there are constant surprises, often good ones.

I enjoy writing for much the same reason.

And, with that in mind, I think I’ll go write.

Jerusalem artichoke plants

FF: Better Short or Long?

December 2, 2022
Mei-Ling Reads about Lucy Locket

The edition of The Complete Miss Marple I’m listening to includes a short piece by Agatha Christie in which she muses how, although Miss Marple was featured in several novels, she always felt that her talents were best suited to short stories, while Poirot (who was certainly featured in many short stories) needed a novel to show off his particular talents.  Very interesting indeed, and this awareness of how character shapes the tale is probably why Agatha Christie could excel at both long and short form.

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 Frugal Gourmet Celebrates Christmas by Jeff Smith.  About two-thirds anecdotes both about Christmas holiday traditions and Jeff Smith’s family traditions.  The other third is, unsurprisingly, recipes. 

Last Curtain by Ngaio Marsh.  Audiobook.  Painter Agatha Troy can’t resist the lure of a commission to paint a larger-than-life actor at his home, surrounded by his family, who seem eager to try and top each other as the most peculiar.

Black As He’s Painted by Ngaio Marsh.  Audiobook.  Politically-charged diplomatic murder, with prowl-bys by Lucy Locket, a former stray who finds a home with a retired diplomat. 

In Progress:

Into the Vortex by Charles E. Gannon.  ARC.  Sequel to This Broken World.  Part epic fantasy, part mystery.  Secrets lead only, as is so often the chase, to greater mysteries. 

The Complete Miss Marple.  Audiobook.  I have listened to some of these short stories, but it’s interesting to hear how the choices made by a different reader cause subtle changes in interpretation.  And, yes, I’ve read all the stories many times. 


Still reading the latest issue of Smithsonian

Storytelling Tradition

November 23, 2022

“When you’re writing, do you ever feel that you’re participating in a long storytelling tradition?”

This very interesting question came last week from one of the frequent commenters on my WW.  My reaction was “Yes, and then again, No,” and so I decided to answer here.

So, here’s the “Yes.”  Yes, of course I do.  Remember, I have a PhD in English Literature (specializations in Medieval, Renaissance, and Modern).  I cannot be unaware of the massive numbers of works that have come before my own.

Even within my own chosen area (SF/F), I am aware of trends, tropes, and traditions.  Long before I started writing professionally, I read backwards to older works, as well as liberally sampling newer works.  Sometimes I’m startled to see a reviewer talking about a work being “fresh and new,” when I can place it squarely within an established tradition.  This doesn’t mean I lose respect for the author, but I usually lose some for the reviewer.

Here’s an example.  I really enjoyed T.J. Klune’s House in the Cerulean Sea, even though I could call just about every plot point in advance.  This didn’t matter, because the characters were lively, and I honestly cared about what happened to each and every one of them.  So, well-written, yes.  Fresh and new?  Not really.

“No” comes in when I actually start writing.  Then the dynamic is between me and my story.  I’ll admit—and accept that some of you will want to argue with me—that I’m rather disturbed by the number of new releases, many from quite well-established authors, that rely heavily upon a previous work, sometimes print, sometimes film.

To me that’s less inspiration than taking the easy route, especially when the new work is then marketed with a strong reference to the root work.  I’m much less likely to pick up the work if it’s presented that way.  And, yes, I feel that way about fairytale retellings, as well.  They need to bring something fresh to the original tale, not just change the time period or gender swap or some other gimmick.

So how do I balance the “yes” of my awareness of trends, tropes, and traditions, and my desire to tell a tale that’s all my own?

When I was writing the Firekeeper Saga (first book, Though Wolf’s Eyes), I was perfectly aware that I was a latecomer to the “feral child raised by wolves” tradition.  In fact, Kipling’s The Jungle Books have been favorites of mine since I was a child.  However, I felt I had my own tale to tell, chose plotlines that would not echo any of the Mowgli tales, and immersed myself in a world of my own creating.  Firekeeper is her own person, not a gender swapped Mowgli.

My most recently published novels, Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge, definitely are within the tradition of portal fantasy—the type of story where people from our world end up somewhere else, usually because their help is needed.  Moreover, my novels were written because of my frustration with the fact that in many of those works, the people going through the portal are quite young, often not even out of their tweens.  It has always seemed unfair to me that the fate of a culture, a kingdom, even an entire world rests on the narrow shoulders of a kid.

Yes.  There are portal fantasies (as well as a sub-section of time travel fiction) where the ones going through the portal are adults.  However, these are often a sub-set of military fiction, where the knowledge and skills of those stepping elsewhere will be used for war.  I wanted to do something different, more whimsical, but with lots of heart, but not sentimentality.

Once I started writing, I let my characters reference works of Fantasy and Science Fiction, but I made certain the world they were entering was not a copy of any previously written work or even of any culture on this Earth, past or present. 

So, back to the original question, and why I’d answer both yes and no.  Yes, I am very aware of my works being part of a tradition going all the way back to the days when storytellers told tales to eager listeners who knew story fed some mysterious part of themselves that they could hardly name.  But, no, I’m not going to ever be one of those authors who will take advantage of someone else’s work entering public domain to pounce on it, wrestle it into my vision, and ride it to my own benefit.

Inspiration is one thing.  Derivativeness is another.

Next question?

Buried Treasure

November 9, 2022
You’ll Find Buried Treasure

If I had a nickel for every time a would-be-published writer has said to me, “I know I’m close to professional level, but I wish I could talk to an editor and see what I’m missing,” well, I’d have a lot of nickels.

Heck, even if I counted the number of times that I stared at a rejection slip in those early days and made that wish, I’d have earned back a whole lot of wasted postage.  (Yeah, I go back to the dark ages where one had to mail in manuscripts, with return postage, if you wanted it back.)

What does this have to do with buried treasure?  Well, one of the incentives offered in the Tamson House auction is a Story Review with Dreamforge Magazine Editor Scot Noel

“Perfect for authors looking for feedback from an editor. DreamForge Magazine Editor Scot Noel will review your short story — up to 5000 words — provide feedback, and schedule a 1 hour Zoom call to discuss your story and answer your questions. Ideal for writers who are just starting out or are looking to level up their writing.

“You will send your story electronically and once Scot has had a chance to review the story, he will work with you by email to schedule a Zoom call at a mutually convenient time. (Story must be in English.)”

Why I think of this as “buried treasure” is that the auction headline only lists that Scot is offering a “story review.”  There isn’t room in the headline to list that this includes a one hour Zoom call, you need to click on the listing for full details.  Those of you who have looked into the extra fees charged by many writer’s conferences for a short chat with an editor (most of whom will not have looked at your work) will be able to testify what a terrific deal this is.

Oh?  Link to the auction site?  Sure…

There are other buried treasures on the site as well, many still available at the original bid level.  These include art (check out Elizabeth Leggett’s offering; it’s stunning), handmade items (the “Winter Queen” wrap by Yvonne Coats is impossibly elegant), and even arrowheads made by my own archeologist, Jim Moore.  There are also rare collectible books and art.

At least two authors are offering Zoom chats, and I have heard rumors that there will be more such incentives from authors, including naming rights, advance copies, and chats.

Am I offering one of those chats?  You bet! 

New offerings are being posted daily.  However, like for any sort of treasure, you’re going to need to dig.  The donations are being posted by two wonderful volunteers, and new offers usually appear at the bottom of the page.

Keep on digging!  You’re certain to find a special something, for yourself or as a gift.  And you’ll have the added satisfaction of knowing you’re helping out two very wonderful people.

More Mulch

November 2, 2022
Spoor of the Mulch Mole

Last week, we got a call from a local tree service, asking if we could use some mulch.  I’d been reading Bryony and Roses by T. Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon), a Beauty and the Beast retelling in which the “Beauty” is a gardener.  I was in the mood for mulch.  And while I did not have a Beast to help with the shoveling, an archeologist is nearly as good.

Ninety or so garden carts later, I will admit, Jim and I are much less in the mood for mulch.  Our back yard will soon be lightly quilted in a variation of shredded, chipped, and sometimes nearly sawdust wood matter, leaves, and in some instances dirt and gravel, probably scraped up from someone’s landscaping.  Hey, it’s free, so you can’t expect it all perfectly shifted and graded.

However, at this moment, much of the yard rather looks as if we’ve been visited by a very large, very strange mole.

I’ve finally caught up on a great deal of the paperwork and other chores I’d let lie fallow while finishing House of Rough Diamonds, the stand-alone sequel to this year’s new releases Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge.

I have a couple ideas for short stories.  Maybe I’ll see about writing one of those next.

FF: Return of the Shorter Novel

October 28, 2022

One fascinating thing about reading in a genre long enough is watching shifting trends.  I grew up reading shorter SF/F novels, watched the slow evolution toward the doorstop (aka “tree-killer”) novel, and now we’re back again to novels that probably come in at under 100,000 words.  While the opportunity for complexity and subplots are lost, so is a lot of fat and padding.

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. 


DreamForge Anvil issue 9.

Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire.  Audiobook.  Novel.  Stand alone in the “Wayward Children” series.  Equines and lies.

Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire.  Audiobook (read by the author).  Novel.  Book Five in the “Wayward Children” series.  Back to the Moors.

Bryony and Roses by T. Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon).  Novel.  A retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  Dark Fantasy, rather than horror or fairytale, with a liberal dose of Kingfisher’s humor, which is intelligently ironical, rather than sidesplittingly funny.  Well, except when it is…

Triple Jeopardy by Rex Stout.  Three novelettes.  All quite good.

In Progress:

Murder at the Bar by Ngaio Marsh.  Audiobook.  Yes, I know I’ve read this before, but I needed a good story to keep me doing paperwork.

Jack the Giant-Killer by Charles de Lint.  I have owned a copy for years, but I can’t remember if I ever read this one, so it’s a treat.


Latest Vogue and latest Archeology.

Frost Warning

October 26, 2022
Last Blooms

Back date: Monday.  Wind is up and rattling the windowpanes.  Frost warning for tonight, so I’ve been darting out to pick and cut.  The flowers are some of our late season zinnias, with a few random marigolds.

We have some green tomatoes to pick, a few peppers, a single eggplant, about three inches long.  I’m always reluctant to pick, because a freeze here might not kill the plant, and we’ve been known to go to mid-November before we get a decisive killing frost.

On the other hand, that wind is cold.  Green tomatoes will sometimes ripen, and even it they don’t, I have a great green tomato cake recipe.  I also have a great green tomato relish recipe, but I don’t think we’ll have enough for that this year.

This summer we experimented with a couple of new varieties of tomato from Native Seed Search: Punta Banda and Texas Wild.  Both were small varieties.  Punta Banda’s largest fruit was maybe golf ball-sized.  Texas Wild were very small, but with a delightful smokey sweet flavor.  They handled our hot summer pretty well, slowing down when we hit 105, but recovering much more quickly than other varieties did when temperatures dropped into the high nineties.

Most of our green tomatoes will come from a volunteer San Marzano I put in as a filler when we had a gap in one of the rows.  This didn’t handle the heat well, but when temperatures dropped to the low nineties, it really took off.  I’m almost reluctant to pick, because if the cold snap passes, these could continue to ripen.

On the other hand, if we do get that freeze…

Update: Tuesday.  Hit 28 last night.  Most of our vegetable plants are gone.  Birdbath froze.  Some of the local plants are still thriving.  Often proximity to a source of radiant heat (like the side of the house), or shelter from the wind (ditto) proved to be a contributing factor.

Y’know,  being a professional writer is hardly the world’s most predictable, profitable, or stable profession, but compared to gardening, it’s practically punch clock regular!


October 19, 2022
Roary Has Quiet Time

About two weeks ago, I printed Jim’s copy of House of Rough Diamonds.  Images of quiet time while he did his read-through danced in my head.  Yeah, I had jobs I’d let lie fallow while I finished the manuscript, proofed it, revised it. But I hadn’t realized just how many, or how time consuming they’d be to catch up on.

Nor did I count on the jobs that would pop up, as if sensing that suddenly I had Free Time! 

Some of these are not at all bad.  A short story I wrote for an anthology many years ago will finally be coming out.  (“Deception on Gryphon” in What Price Victory, in case you wonder.)  However, this has meant reviewing the copy edit, then reviewing the page proofs.

Other pop-up jobs have more to do with my making my living as a writer, which is running a small business.  These need to be done, no matter how much you’d rather be exploring that cool idea for a short story.

Let’s just suffice to say, not only haven’t I caught up, I haven’t had the time I thought I’d have to recharge.  I’d like that.  I really would.  But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years as a professional writer, it’s “Don’t count on quiet time.”

So, I’m going to go off and do some of that catching up stuff, because that’s as much a part of the job as writing the stories, doing the research, telling the tales.

But telling the tales is a lot more fun!