Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Event and Eventful

April 26, 2017

This coming Saturday (April 29th), I’ll be over at Page One Books here in Albuquerque between 3:00 pm and 4:30 to help out as they join in the Independent Bookstore Day celebration.

Me at a past Page One event

Why are we celebrating independent bookstores?  Well, the folks at Page One explained this so well, that I’m just going to quote them.

“Independent bookstores are not just stores, they’re community centers and local anchors run by passionate readers. They are entire universes of ideas that contain the possibility of real serendipity. They are lively performance spaces and quiet places where aimless perusal is a day well spent.

“In a world of tweets and algorithms and pageless digital downloads, bookstores are not a dying anachronism.  They are living, breathing organisms that continue to grow and expand. In fact, there are more of them this year than there were last year. And they are at your service.”

This coming Saturday (April 29th), I’ll be over at Page One Books here in Albuquerque between there, ready to try and show you where to find just the book you’re hoping to find.  If I can’t, I’ll hand you over to one of Page One’s staff members.

Even if you aren’t looking for a specific book, I hope you’ll drop by and chat.  This is one of those rare events where I can just relax and visit – no panels, no scheduled events.   I hope you’ll come by…  Interested in a complete list of participating authors?  Look here.

Otherwise, this last week was marvelously busy.  I think we’ve finalized the cover art for the official When the Gods Are Silent e-book.  It’s pretty dramatic, in keeping with the trend I started with the cover art for the e-book of Smoke and Mirrors.

What?  You didn’t know that Smoke and Mirrors is now available as an e-book?  Yep!  It is.  Even if you already have a copy, this one includes an original afterpiece.   You can read more about the new e-book here.

I’m also immersed in writing a new novel.  The idea came to me a few weeks ago, hybridized with one I’ve been considering for the last several months, and has now taken over my creative brain.  I’m enjoying myself a great deal.

What next?  I’m really not certain.  There are a lot of variables in flux right now, so I’m focusing my sights on the immediate future, rather than investing too much energy in worrying about even a month from now.

Now, off to write.  My characters are about to…  Well, I’ll just need to start writing and find out!

Opening a Vein?

April 19, 2017

“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”  So said Ernest Hemmingway.

Where I Write

Actually, there’s some doubt that Hemingway actually said this.  Variations on this statement have been attributed to a wide variety of people for a far longer time than you might imagine.  These include sports writer Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith, poet Reverend Sydney Smith, philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, and writer Paul Gallico (to provide a not at all conclusive list).

If you’re interested in variations on the quotation and where it might have originated, you might like to look here.

What I want to talk about is not the source or who said it first.  I’m more interested in the concept.  Do you need to be seated in front of a typewriter – or at least have some writing implement (computer, tablet, pen and paper) at hand?  Do you need to bleed to write?  If you do need to bleed, how much blood do you need to shed?

As with most statements like this, I both agree and disagree – but more importantly, I think that many people misunderstand what Hemmingway and the others who have made variations on this statement mean.

Let’s start with the simple part.  Do you need to be parked in front of your writing device of choice to write?  Yes and no.  I’ve done a tremendous amount of writing far away from any writing device.  Maybe “writing” is stretching the point.  “Composing” might be more appropriate – and that gets to the heart of what’s meant by “bleeding.”

The Hemmingway quote above apparently appeared first in a book published in 1973.  (Hemmingway died in 1961.)  It – and many unattributed variations of the same – link the physical act of writing (on typewriter, computer, or whatever) and the “bleeding” of composition so tightly that I believe the meaning of “bleeding” has become distorted.

An earlier version of the same quotation – quite possibly material Hemingway may have unwittingly paraphrased – came from then-famous writer Paul Gallico.  In his 1946 book Confessions of a Story Writer, Gallico wrote:

“It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader. If you do not believe in the characters or the story you are doing at that moment with all your mind, strength, and will, if you don’t feel joy and excitement while writing it, then you’re wasting good white paper, even if it sells, because there are other ways in which a writer can bring in the rent money besides writing bad or phony stories.”

Note that although Gallico mentions “the page” and “good white paper,” his emphasis is not on the physical act of writing but on the emotional investment.  The really important statement is the first part of the second sentence.  This is so important that I’m going to repeat it:

If you do not believe in the characters or the story you are doing at that moment with all your mind, strength, and will, if you don’t feel joy and excitement while writing it, then you’re wasting good white paper, even if it sells…”

Here it’s made clear that by “bleeding” these writers didn’t mean putting oneself through some sort of endurance trial.  They’re not talking about staying locked in place until you write your quota or do your homework or whatever metaphor you prefer.  Yet lately, on panels, on social media, I keep encountering the idea that what defines “real” writers is that they produce quantities of words on a page (or a computer file or whatever).  The question as to whether these words mean anything, whether they have any heart, gets lost in an emphasis on production.

I have several works in progress right now.  One of these is beginning to look as if it may be a new novel.  I’m in the exploratory stages now and so I’m not putting as many words down on the page as might be expected.  Instead, I’m busy bleeding…

This weekend I landscaped a portion of my yard.  (Go look at the photo.  Doesn’t it look pretty?)  While I was weeding, raking, prying up the roots of bunch grass with the tip of a shovel, I was also composing.  I was thinking about the six characters around whom the story appears to be taking shape.  Each of them have different goals.  Many of them have secrets.

But I’ve been thinking about little things, too.  The things that make me believe in the characters.  What will the chain smoker do when her cigarettes run out?  What will the knitter bring with her?  How do the three characters who didn’t plan on this turn in their lives feel about it?  How do those who did plan deal with disappointment?

When I think about these things, I’m not chalking up any word count or page count, but I am bleeding.  I’m also getting excited, looking forward to the time when I’ll get back to the keyboard and see how the words fit around the idea.

Meantime, I can enjoy the landscaping, rather than having frustrated myself by trying to come up with words for no other reason than I’m “supposed” to do so to be a “real” writer.

Where to Start?

March 15, 2017

On the heels of last week’s Wednesday Wanderings, I came down with a terrific cold.

Several Steps

This cold really was “terrific,” in all senses of the word.  It came on so suddenly that, in the archaic sense of the word, it elicited a degree of terror.  It was – to borrow just a few synonyms from the more formal definition – prodigious, formidable, and intense.  And, finally, in the most informal sense of the word, the cold was terrific – that is “extremely good” – in that it ebbed almost as quickly as it had initially occurred, making possible my keeping my Sunday engagements, both of which I would have been sorry to cancel.

As I write this, the infirmity lingers, although to a much lesser degree, making me grow tired rather faster than I would like, muddling my thought processes, and, in general, impeding creativity – including coming up with a way to start a story I’m determined to work on this week.

On Monday, I was sitting staring at my computer screen, wishing that I could focus.  In the end, realizing that I was wasting my time, I decided to go and take care of some routine chores.  As is my custom whenever possible, I turned on an audiobook – in this case a novel I have not read for many years: Wilkie Collin’s seminal detective novel, The Moonstone.

Imagine my astonishment, even my amusement, when, within a very few sentences, Gabriel Betteredge, who narrates that section, began to talk about the difficulty of knowing exactly where to begin a tale.  In Gabriel’s case, he goes back to his own youth, when he first took employment with the family of the woman who – these many decades later – he continues to serve, now in the capacity of steward and butler.

Although Gabriel apologizes repeatedly for including so much about himself – rather than focusing more tightly on the events surrounding the disappearance of the titular moonstone (a yellow diamond, by the by, for those of you who haven’t read the novel, not the blue-white semi-precious stone with which most of us are familiar) – his ramblings do an excellent job of sketching several of the primary characters, the setting, and the household dynamic.  As these prove key to understanding the mystery that will unfold, perhaps Gabriel isn’t wasting either his or the reader’s time as much as he thinks.

However, although Gabriel’s ramblings lay the foundation for the story that will follow, Collins did not depend upon them to supply the novel’s narrative hook.  That is given in a short earlier section – one which sets up the history of the diamond and how the cursed gem came into this quiet corner of England.

Side note: As I mentioned last Friday, Josh Gentry’s SnackReads/SnackWrites site has just reprinted my piece on narrative hooks, so I won’t bother to go into my feelings about that particular literary device except to say that I firmly approve of it.

So, what should I do?  Perhaps I should go and verbally sketch some of the characters who are flitting so vividly through my imagination, including the scene that I envisioned?  Perhaps I should write a little history of the immediate setting?  Perhaps I should write a list of some of the events I think may happen?  Perhaps I should consolidate some of the research I have been doing these several months?

Perhaps I should follow Gabriel Betteredge’s example and go consult a copy of Robinson Crusoe.  Well…  Maybe not that.  Defoe’s novel may provide unfailing guidance for Gabriel, but I’m not sure it would prove anything but an appealing distraction for me.

But certainly I could try any of the other ideas.  None of the material may make its way into the final work, but certainly it would be better than staring in frustration into the white light of my computer screen.

Do you have any particular way you get started on a new project?  I don’t mean only writing – I mean anything that involves taking the first step on the path that will lead from inspiration to reality.

Lion or Lamb?

March 1, 2017

The classic March 1st question is whether  March is coming in like a lion or like a lamb.   Well, based on what I’m seeing here in New Mexico, I’d say either a very temperamental lamb or a lion who is feeling mellow enough that he wants a tummy rub.  As any of you who are familiar with cats know, an invitation to a tummy rub is not a promise of peaceful behavior.

Lion and Varied Lambs

Lion and Varied Lambs

In my errands around town, I’ve noticed that some optimistic fruit trees are already flowering, mostly ornamental pear, apricot, and what I think is ornamental cherry.  Happily, none of my fruit trees (peach, apple, pomegranate) are showing the same level of optimism, but I am seeing buds fattening out.

My writing lately has been very lion and lamb as well.  On the lion side, I wrote a short story last week.  It wasn’t very long – only 1,400 words – but I enjoyed seeing what had been inchoate impulse take shape.

On the lamb side, I’ve been immersed in research for a potential longer project.  I’ve finished the non-fiction reading (at least for now) and am going to turn to some myth and folklore.  Then I’ll probably do some freewriting to see if various elements begin to tumble together, or if there’s a sense that I need to find more.

I’m also still working on getting Smoke and Mirrors ready to re-release as an e-book.  Depending on how long I take to get various elements resolved, the new edition could be ready for readers before the end of March.  I’m finding that preparing an e-book  is a lot like spring weather: sometimes intense and full of bustle, other times focused on quiet growth.

On the side, Sunday I took a few hours to work on multi-media craft project. Like many of my stories, this is something I’ve wanted to do for many years, but I had never quite settled on how to begin.  Now I’ve begun, and am eager to see how it develops.  It’s sort of large, but I’ll worry about where to put it when I’m actually done…

The way my life is right now, changeable weather feels just right.  Lion or lamb?  How about lion and lamb?  And maybe a few other things besides!

Unpredictable Future

February 22, 2017

This past week was very stressful, in large part because of a variety of events I couldn’t have predicted but which took up a great deal of time, emotional energy, and even brain space as I tried to arrive at the best solution for various difficulties.

Kwahe'e Considers

Kwahe’e Considers

By interesting coincidence, my reading matter involved both a memoir (Jill Price’s The Woman Who Can’t Forget: A Memoir) and historical fiction (Patrick O’Brian’s The Hundred Days).  As I read these, once again, I found myself thinking about how much of what creates stress (whether in a piece of fiction or in reality) is not knowing the resolution.

I talked about this a little back in early 2014, in my wandering “Light, Not Necessarily Fluffy,” so you may choose to consider what I have to say an expansion.

Jill Price frames her fascinating memoir with an anecdote about the day she contacted the memory specialist who would help her understand that she wasn’t crazy or maladjusted, that there really was something different about the structure of her brain that contributed to how she retained and processed “autobiographical memory.”

The choice to begin with this piece of information provides a sense of structure to the memoir overall, but it also diminishes the sense of stress.  Even when Ms. Price discusses how at various times in her life her memories would overwhelm her to such a great extent that she couldn’t get out of bed or be supportive of people who needed her, this sense of stress is modified by the reader’s awareness that a time will come where she will get help, will find people who will understand her.

Equally, when Ms. Price talks about her husband, Jim Price, several times she makes statements like “in the short time we would have.”  This warns the reader to expect the tragedy to come, modifying the stress involved in her account of her husband’s death.  It even causes the reader to be more alert to certain biographical elements, such as her mention that Jim Price suffered from type one diabetes.

The Hundred Days provides an interesting expansion on how pre-knowledge of outcomes colors one’s reaction to events.  Many, if not all, readers of these books will immediately catch the reference to Napoleon’s escape from Elba and the short-lived resurgence of French military power.  However, Jack Aubrey, Stephen Maturin, and the rest of the characters have no idea that it will all be “over” in a mere hundred days.  They feel intense excitement and varying degrees of anxiety that the reader cannot fully share.

Interestingly, the title of the novel in the series immediately prior to The Hundred Days intensifies rather than diminishes stress.  The Yellow Admiral may not mean much to most readers.  Indeed, since (at least for Americans) “yellow” is slang for “cowardly,” someone who has not yet read the book might believe it is going to be about an admiral who lets cowardice keep him from fulfilling his duties.  However, within the novel, O’Brian relatively quickly lets the reader know that, in this context, “yellow admiral” is a term used for someone who has been (effectively – I’m not going to get into the complexities here) passed over for promotion

The Yellow Admiral is set in the period following Napoleon’s first surrender, when many ship commanders (including Jack Aubery) are “put on shore” – their reactions to the newly declared peace tainted by their awareness that peace also means an end to active duty and coveted promotion.  By titling the book The Yellow Admiral, O’Brian leads the reader to fear that bold Jack will face this dreaded fate.

I won’t tell you what happens!

Another good example of how foreshadowing can lead to an increased sense of tension occurs in the opening of Jo Walton’s The King’s Peace.  The narrator, an old woman of 93, looks back and (among other things) says, “Fifty years and five it is, since Urdo fell…”  So, from the third paragraph we know when the king will die.  From other things she says, we know who his successor will be.  We know that the culture will change radically.

How a reader will react to such foreknowledge is a gamble the writer takes, but one thing is certain.  No one in “real life” knows how their story will end.  Maybe the sense that someone (if only the author) does is one of the appeals of fiction.

Expectations and “The Dark Crystal”

February 15, 2017

Prompted by my listening to an audiobook version of Jim Henson: A Biography by Brian Jay Jones, last Saturday Jim and I watched The Dark Crystal.  Although I hadn’t seen the film for decades, I’d seen it many times before.  I think I also read a novelization because, as we watched, my hindbrain filled in details that weren’t on the screen.  Jim, on the other hand, had heard about the movie, but never seen it.

The Dark Crystal

The Dark Crystal

(For clarity’s sake, I’m going to refer to my husband as “Jim” and Jim Henson either by his full name or as “Henson.”)

I was very interested in what Jim’s reaction to The Dark Crystal would be, as well as how his reaction would compare to that of the original audience for the film.  As you may or may not know, The Dark Crystal was not well received.  A great deal of this had to do with the expectations the original audience brought to the theater with them.

At the time when The Dark Crystal was released, Jim Henson was very well known.  However, mostly for his Muppets, which had already broken into the adult viewer market with The Muppet Show, the characters from which had even crossed over to the big screen.

Therefore, the audience attending the film thought they knew what “a Jim Henson production” meant: colorful, wildly over-the-top characters, humor (both broad slapstick and ironic and dry), and bouncy musical numbers.  They definitely did not expect a solemn, even dark, fantasy film.

Although the silly, over-the-top elements were definitely part of Henson (Brian Jay Jones’s biography notes that, early in his career, most of Henson’s Muppet sketches ended either with an explosion or with someone being eaten by someone else), there was a lot about Henson’s work his Muppet fans probably didn’t know.  Henson periodically longed to drop anything to do with puppets and do independent films.  Even when working with puppets, he was most fascinated with how they could be used to push expectations, not with following established trends.

Henson had to persist for years to get The Muppet Show on the air, because American television and movie executives “knew” that puppets were only for kids.  In fact, The Muppet Show’s original backers were British, and the show was filmed in England.

A side note.  Apparently SF/F fans were more receptive to the than were the general public.  My guess is that in addition to not having the same expectations, they were familiar with the tropes being used.  Many may have already been familiar with Brian Froud’s art, since his Faeries had been very well-received.  Jim Henson must have been aware that the SF/F crowd could be a core audience, because he gave a presentation on the film at a Worldcon prior to the film’s release.

So, what did Jim think of The Dark Crystal?  He liked it quite a lot.  However, he also brought very different expectations to the viewing.  In contrast to the original audience for The Dark Crystal, although Jim was definitely familiar with the traditional Muppets, he was also familiar with Henson’s later work, most especially with Labyrinth, a film that is one of my personal favorites.

(Labyrinth did even worse than The Dark Crystal on its original release, but has since found a solid following.)

Labyrinth and the Dark Crystal share several elements: a plot that relies on fantasy tropes, sets and characters indebted to the art of Brian Froud, and the use of sound as a form of language.  Labyrinth has more humor than does The Dark Crystal.  It also includes human characters as well as puppets, a formula Jim Henson had used repeatedly, whereas the closest The Dark Crystal comes to human characters are the two gelflings, Jen and Kira.

Jim also is a long-time reader of Fantasy fiction, as well as an anthropologist – possibly the perfect audience for a film that attempts to create a world and its creatures pretty much from scratch.  When I asked Jim if he had found the plot a bit too trite or formulaic, he grinned and said, “I’ve always had a weakness for that sort of story.”

Expectations again…

So, there you have it.  None of us really see or read anything fresh.  We bring our expectations with us, then let them shape our reactions.  The real question is whether, for you, “That’s not at all what I expected” can be construed as praise or criticism.

Interesting thought indeed.

Unexpected Impediment

February 8, 2017

This past Thursday, I had an emergency root canal.  This pretty much undermined any plans I had for the week.

Elegant Impediment

Elegant Impediment

Well, not the root canal itself.  That was easily and efficiently handled by an endodontist and his assistant.  In fact, I left the endodontist’s office feeling better than I had since Monday, when what had been an occasional twinge turned into intermittent waves of burning pain that eventually spread from the vicinity of the tooth to flow along my left upper and lower jaw, then to below my ear and up the side of my face.

“Intermittent” is the reason I didn’t call the dentist sooner.  When the pain would quit – often without warning, certainly not in response to anything in particular – I’d think “Oh, it’s over.”

But it wasn’t.  As the week went on, and the surges became more common and the ebbs less so, I accepted that I needed help.

I learned that these waves of pain are not at all uncommon when a tooth nerve is “flaring.”  I also learned that most upper molars have three roots, but I only had two.  This caused both the endodontist and my friend Melissa (who is a dentist) a great deal of delight.  Apparently, two roots is an upper molar is rather rare.  It’s nice to make specialists happy.

What else did I learn from this experience?

Well, I learned that the actual root canal procedure is not much worse than having a difficult cavity filled.  However, I also learned that the aftermath can be – especially in the case of a situation like mine where there was a lot of pain – far worse than any cavity.

Because of the intensity of the pain I’d been in, the endodontist sent me home with prescriptions for both 800 mg of ibuprofen and a narcotic concoction.   While I was grateful to know the pain would be kept at bay, the treatment left me loopy and tired.   I ended up sleeping most of Friday afternoon.  When I was awake, I couldn’t read anything that demanded analytical thinking.  So much for the research I’d planned to immerse myself in.

Or for getting end of the year paperwork together.

Still, even as I was feeling sorry for myself, I was also incredibly grateful.  I found myself thinking how glad I was not to live in the days of yore when not only weren’t there charming dental professionals to remove the source of the pain, there weren’t x-rays to let them see the problem or carefully constructed tools to do the work.

If you were lucky, someone yanked out the tooth and you didn’t get an infection.  They didn’t send you home with the means to control the pain.  You might get a swig of something or you might be told to stop whining and get back to work.

Yeah…  Pain control – especially in historical or fantasy fiction – is something that is given far too little attention.  Characters get wounded, wipe off the blood, then hurry back to the adventure at hand.   There are numerous justifications for this, including “who wants to read about someone actually dealing with pain and suffering,” but still…

Another thing this little diversion got me thinking about was how many writers I know who don’t plan for impediments in their schedule.  They say to themselves: “I can write a book in six months.  I’ll add on two weeks to read through and edit, then move on.”  Then, they get sick – or their kid, spouse, or pet has an emergency or something breaks – and they find themselves running behind.  This, in turn, leads to the stress of having missed a deadline, which can further slow a writer up and…

So here’s a bit of advice.  When setting up a schedule for yourself, factor in a week or two for things to go wrong.  The date you give to your editor or whoever you’re turning the project in to includes this extra time.  Don’t let having allowed for extra time make you lazy.  Work as if you didn’t factor it in.  At the very worst, you’ll finish early.  But, at the best, you have breathing room for those times when a little twinge turns into a big deal.

You’ll thank yourself and so will the people you work with.  Trust me on that!

Now, off to catch up on all the things I didn’t get done.  One of these will be reviewing the short story I’m reading Friday night at the meeting of the Albuquerque Science Fiction Society.  Details are available on my website.

Brain Stretching

February 1, 2017

This last week was all about brain stretching.  I immersed myself in volumes on illustration, fonts, and related areas of book design.  I stared at letters and pictures until I could see them as shapes, not as information symbols.

Lucky Canister!

Lucky Canister!

Did I enjoy myself?  Get back to me on that.  I feel like someone who has just run a marathon and hasn’t stopped panting.  My mental muscles are still aching.  Oh, and someone just walked over and told me that the race is far from over, it’s only starting.

When my mind was saturated with information, I took a sideways turn into using my hands so my head could recover.  I’ve been wanting to try decoupage.  I’d even bought a jar of ModPodge several months ago, but it had just sat in my closet, waiting for the right time.  When I found a book specifically about using ModPodge (as opposed to several I’d looked on about decoupage, all of which seemed to assume you wanted to reproduce Victorian effects or things you could achieve far more easily with a  cheap decal), I knew the time had come.

Because I’m a practical person, and because Jim and I have just about no available wall space, I decided to decorate a canister that, at some future date, I could use to store something.   Then I went and stared at various types of paper, looking for what would appeal.

I was about to give up until I could make a trip to the craft store when, stuck up on a high shelf, I glimpsed the remnants of a craft project I’d tried – and failed to complete – some years before.

My sister, Ann, had given me a kit which promised to show you how to make a hanging globe from the scarlet and gold envelopes the Chinese use to hold New Year’s “lucky money.”  I’d not done very well with it – although whether the fault was mine or the kit’s is anyone’s guess.  But I’d loved the paper and couldn’t make myself throw away the envelopes.  Thus, there sat the partially completed project, a mute reminder of failure, for several years.

Now I grinned, pulled down the partially formed globe, and, before I could think my way out of it, started cutting up the envelopes.  Where possible, I preserved the diamond shapes that had been part of the original project but, when I couldn’t, I allowed myself to just keep pieces and trust they’d come in useful.  Then I started putting on the ModPodge.

I was about half-way through when I realized that what I was doing was actually related to the research I’d been doing.  As with fonts and illustrations, I was making myself look at the envelopes not as envelopes, or as carefully folded diamonds meant to be fit together, but as paper.  The image printed on the envelopes had a distinct orientation which I preserved, but when I needed a small piece to patch a gap or create a border, I looked not at the picture, but at the underlying pattern until I found what I needed.

The process was extremely satisfying.  Three coats of sealant gave gloss that, if possible, brightened the original scarlet and gold, as well as protecting the paper.  As a final touch, I slid the tassel that had been intended to hang from the bottom of the original folded paper globe over the knob on the lid.

And there my new canister shines.  I’m not sure what I’ll put into it.  Maybe some of the guinea pigs’ treats.  Maybe tea bags.  Maybe…  Who knows?

As if doing this one project opened up a storehouse in my mind, I have ideas for related projects.  The same book contained instructions for making votive candle holders.  I’d liked the tops, but found the bottoms boring.  However, I’ve thought of some very interesting alternatives involving polymer clay, wire, beads, even gravel from my landscaping.

More brain stretching…  As I have written elsewhere (see “Walking Away from It” in my Wanderings on Writing), sometimes the best way to solve a creative project is to think about something else for a while.  You may be surprised at what comes forth.

Jim’s Influence

January 25, 2017

Today, January 25th, is Jim and my twentieth wedding anniversary.

Jim and I have known each other since sometime probably in early autumn of 1994, having met a few months after I moved to New Mexico to live with Roger Zelazny.    After Roger and I settled in, I told him that the only part of my past life I really missed was gaming.

Solid Support

Solid Support

Roger said, “I think George has a group.  I’ll see if he knows of anyone who is looking for players.”  Apparently, George spoke with his group because, when I attended my first Bubonicon, Melinda Snodgrass came flowing up (she was all dressed up, having come directly from having lunch out with her then-in-laws) and said, “I’m Melinda.  George says you’re looking for a gaming group.  Would you like to join ours?”

The group Roger and I joined was mostly writers – George R.R. Martin, Melinda Snodgrass, and Walter Jon Williams were all in that initial game.  But there were non-writers as well: Chip Wideman, Carl Keim, and…  Jim Moore.

Except that for a long time, to me, Jim was just “Jim.”  I don’t think I learned his surname until a year later.  He was just the good-looking archeologist with the quirky sense of humor who held his own very well with the quick-witted and verbally agile writers.  I gathered that, like most of the others, he was in his forties.  (Carl Keim and I, both in our early thirties, were the babies of the group.)

If you want to see what Jim looked like then, there’s a snapshot on my website under “About.”  It was taken by my dad, a year or so into our marriage, during a summer when the cosmos we’d planted did the best they ever have…

As a writer, I’m very lucky to have Jim as a partner.  Many writers’ families – even their immediate families—are not interested at all in what they do.  Many are not even interested in SF and F.  If they attend conventions or book events, they’re often out of their depth or just along for the free vacation.

Jim, however, was a long-time SF/F reader even before I met him.  He’d attended conventions and, since so many of his friends were professional writers, he already knew a great deal about what a writer did and does.  In the twenty years we’ve been married, he’s built on that foundation, so that he has knowledge as extensive as any member of the profession.

Unlike many author spouses – even those who are interested in SF/F – at book events Jim’s always available to help out.  At a book fair, he’ll stand for hours at my side, flapping books (that is, opening them to the correct page to be signed).  He listens with endless patience to me giving variations of the same reading or talk, then dissects the event with me after.

While I’m signing or chatting with readers, Jim stays near enough to help, but also chats with people.  We’ve noticed that people too shy to “take up Jane’s time” will often bring their questions to Jim.  Since he’s always up-to-date on what I’m doing, he’s good person to talk to… And he’s interesting in his own right, being as passionate about archeology as I am about writing.

People often ask me – especially since archeology crops up from time to time in my writing – whether the fact that Jim is an archeologist is an influence on my choice of topic.  The answer is “no” and “yes.”  I was interested in archeology long before I met Jim.  I wrote the first version of The Buried Pyramid before we got together.  However, Jim has definitely contributed his knowledge to subsequent works.

My short story “Out of Hot Water” (from the anthology Earth, Air, Fire, Water edited by Margaret Weis) had its genesis in a visits to Ojo Caliente, where Jim was directing a dig.  When I was writing “Like the Rain,” for the anthology Golden Reflections (edited by Joan Spicci Saberhagen and Robert E. Vardeman), Jim’s extensive research library came to my assistance numerous times.  And he agreed to be a character in my short story “Jeff’s Best Joke” (originally in Past Imperfect, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Larry Segriff; reprinted in my collection Curiosities).   There are other examples, less direct, but in definitely places where Jim’s input mattered.

Jim has a role even in those stories that aren’t obviously archeological.  He helped me narrow options when I was asked to come up with a series concept, and therefore is definitely the godfather of Firekeeper and all her friends.  He is extremely patient with my tendency to become obsessive about whatever it is I’m researching at a given time.  Even better, he’ll get involved with my research, going on trips, taking photos, suggesting possible areas I might want to further delve into.

When a work is done, Jim will put aside whatever he’s reading, pull out his pencil, and go through the manuscript.  He’s learned I really mean it when I say I don’t want praise, I want an honest opinion.  In turn, I promise that even if I don’t agree with a given comment, I’ll make a note of what he has said.  If someone else says the same thing, I’ll admit that obviously I’m not communicating what I thought I was communicating and that revision is necessary.

Jim even has the tenacity to take the occasional photo of camera-shy me, which is far more of an ordeal than you may realize, especially if the photo isn’t a candid one.  And, for many years now, he’s made time to take photos for the Wednesday Wanderings, Thursday Tangents, and Friday Fragments.

So, Jim’s definitely an influence on many levels, almost certainly in ways of which I am unaware, because sometimes the author is the last to figure these things out.  Best of all, twenty years in, I can definitely say I’m hoping for at least twenty more.  That’s got to be good, right?

Inner Space

January 18, 2017

Last week, after I explained why there will be a change in the nature of the Wednesday Wanderings, one of the “ghosts” expressed puzzlement as to why writing a relatively short essay each week should be an issue for a professional writer.

Food For Thought

Food For Thought

Here’s what I explained to her.  The biggest difficulty is the “brain space” that gets occupied coming up with topics for the posts.  As soon as I finish one, a corner of my mind is taken up with searching for the next topic.  Seven years ago, this was relatively easy, because there was a whole sheaf of things about me, my writing, my habits (which often spill back into writing) that were unknowns.  These days, someone could probably construct a moderately interesting biography of me from the over 360 Wednesday Wanderings posts alone – not to mention what’s in the Thursday Tangents and Friday Fragments.

Consequently, ninety percent of the topics I come up with are dismissed as “that’s too close to what I did back a few months ago…” and so get discarded.

But this time I’ll allow myself a repeat.  Most writers learn that they have only so much “writing” in them on a given day.  That amount can be built up over time, with practice, but whatever that amount may be is finite.  When the well is dry, the well is dry.

Over time, I’ve come to feel that what the well holds is not so much word count as inspiration.  If I exhaust my inspiration coming up with blogs, then it’s not there for writing fiction or even for proofing and editing fiction.   And unlike some of the other things I spend time on – reading, craftwork, gardening, even working on the role-playing game I run – writing blogs dries out the well and doesn’t do anything to fill it again.

That’s why possible topics from you are welcome.   If you’re shy (like last week’s ghost) or feel what you’re interested in asking is too long for a Comment, you can e-mail me at jane2@janelindskold.com.

A secondary consideration in why I’m backing off a bit on the Wanderings is that I have always tried to provide a quality discussion of whatever my topic is.  Maybe it’s the latent English professor in me but, whatever the cause, that’s how I am.

I realize my approach may not be in keeping of the nature of the “blog,” as opposed to older forms of communication media.  The other day on a prominent SF/F website (which I shall forebear to name), there was a featured post by a novelist regarding her work and research habits.  It was so filled with cutesy slang and so lacking in any real substance that I had to force myself to finish it.

(I forced myself to finish because I couldn’t believe a prominent site would publish such a vacuous piece, so surely this must develop into something.  It didn’t.)

When I finished reading the blog in question, I felt as if I’d eaten a stack of puffed rice cakes.  I was “full,” but I didn’t feel at all satisfied.  And then I started feeling annoyed that puffed rice had been offered as if it was good quality food.

This week’s photo is of Guns, the anthology edited by Gerald Hausman, to which I contributed the short story “Choice of Weapons.”  In the course of coming up with that story, I had some interesting ideas for another one…  Reading the stories and poems in the anthology has given me more food for thought.

So, what fills your creative well?  What drains it?