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Category: A Writer’s Desk

Altered States

Posted in A Writer's Desk, Just for Writers, and Plot

I had a dream a while ago…

I was standing motionless, and all around me there were crowds of people going about their business. The scenes shifted, but the situation remained the same.

None of them could see me. There was a sense of removal, not as if I were a ghost but as if they could have seen me if they'd wished to, but none of them so chose. So I felt not just ignored, but left out, rejected.

Suddenly, one of the men turned to me, looked me in the eye, and declared “There you are,” welcoming me back to the human race (and waking me up).

The odd emotions stayed with me, and catalyzed into an important bit of fiction, and I wanted to analyze how that worked.

An Anniversary Story

Posted in A Writer's Desk, and To Carry the Horn

10 years ago, on October 9, I indie-published To Carry the Horn, the first book of a fantasy series.

This wasn’t the culmination of a long-standing dream with lots of childhood wishes, false starts, and abandoned projects. No, it was my very first bit of story-telling, ever. I skipped the “childhood illustrated scribbles”, “fanfic circulated amongst teenage friends”, etc., and waited until I was 58 to write my very first work, not as a short story, but as a 442-page entry for a 4-books-plus-stories series.

And I would probably never have fully embraced the endeavor without the company and encouragement of other writers and indie publishers, many of the folks on this blog, and others like you.

You see, when I started, I didn’t know any other writers socially, and had barely heard of indie-publishing. Of course, I had devoured thousands of books (I married the only man I ever met who had more books than I did – we’re talking circa 2000 book boxes worth of storage). My genre favorite was SFF, but I had never been moved to create a story myself.

And then… one morning, my husband and I were driving to one of the weekly fox hunts in Virginia where we and a few others followed the hunt by car (yes, this can be done). Along the way we lamented the uncertainties of retirement, what we would do with all our “stuff”, and so forth, and then one of us suggested, “We should just retire to Elfland. We could hunt, and fish, and I bet they read a lot of books…” and – WHAM – Cernunnos whacked me over the head and told me to get going. I began dreaming plausible plot threads that night.

The first struggle was all about “gee, that stinks, doesn’t it?” – experienced taste vs beginner’s writing – but it didn’t take all that long to settle on a form and process that worked for me. (I had taken up various musical instruments and forms from scratch and had a pretty good idea of what the whole new-craft-from-standing-start process was like, including the psychology of self-doubt and disappointment that comes with the territory.)

Once the writing was under control, I faced all the indie publishing challenges that everyone does, as one of the pioneers. It helped that I was a data nerd already, with a career in tech and data analysis and small businesses.

It was finding the communities of writers (and indies) that really gave me my final confidence to just commit and start publishing. (Although by then, the sheer joy of writing would have swept all barriers away.) Ten years later, and I’m still having a ball. 8 books (2 series) and a few stories are out, 2 ½ books of a new long series are written (and will be released when book 3 is done), and nothing will stop me now, Cernunnos willing and the creek don’t rise.

I just wanted to give thanks to some of the folks who counsel and encourage writers and indies – you have no idea how much that’s worth to people you may never meet in person. Keep it up, and they’ll return the favor!

Living in imaginary worlds

Posted in A Writer's Desk, and Setting

It's not enough, when writing about an historical or fictional world, to just imagine the physical differences (oil lamps, horses) or cultural differences (harems, rites of passage), and then explore how those differences play out in a character's life. It's the intellectual differences, the things that create the equivalence of “future shock”, that I find particularly compelling.

This cartoon resonated with me because I so clearly remember my (irrational but visceral) outrage when I first encountered the history of the OED (Oxford English Dictionary), which began life as a series of handwritten or typed scraps of paper shoved into pigeonholes in a repurposed greenhouse. This, for a dictionary containing hundreds of thousands of entries and citations. I suddenly flashed on an image of the labor involved in the simple clerical creation and moving about of all that data in the absence of computers.

Somehow, the thousands of man hours to build the pyramids or dig a canal was something I took for granted, something I couldn't really envisage doing myself, so I have a certain distance from it. But I'm a computer-native, and I felt, to my fingertips, what the labor would have been to wrangle all the data for the OED over multiple lifetimes. That was something that hit home to me.

Make things like that resonate with your characters. Make your readers feel that.

Writing with no end in sight

Posted in A Writer's Desk

An article about an older woman writing old women characters caught my attention today.

I'm not yet all that old (67) but there's lots of Alzheimer's in my family (and no long lives) and I can get a bit gloomy guessing how long I have to function adequately (and yes, as in the referenced article, I've acquired my last puppy, too — nothing but older dogs from now on). Despite that, I've started what is intended to be quite a long fantasy series (finishing the 3rd book now before starting to release the first 3). I'm keeping in mind the fate of long-running detective series where the hero gets too old too quickly, and beginning it with a prequel where my hero is 15 (then 20, by book 2).

It's a challenge. My explicit model (not for the story or setting, but for the slowly developing age of the hero and a long series) is C. J. Cherryh's “Foreigner” series: 1st book: 2004, 21st book: 2021, and still going. (Cherryh had already written dozens of books in SFF by then.) One of her major secondary characters is yet another old woman, soon to die at this point in the long story, and she is just as complex and functional (in her way) as anyone could want.

I find that when writing a standalone novel or a short series you can put just about any characters you want into the mix, but when planning a long series, you have to be more cautious about the “team” that constitutes the core — many of them are going to be with you for a long time, and you can't just kill them off, one per book, when you get tired of them, nor can you just accumulate the individual series book's new characters into the team promiscuously without that getting out of hand. You have to give the reader's view into your world a particular continuing focus to make things effective, and characters they can remember from book to book.

But an author's age/health does enter into series planning. I'm glad I had not yet begun releasing the first two books, because a health crisis interrupted everything for a year and a half (all better now), and makes me wary of the “book per year” minimal requirement. On the other hand, a shorter series (3 or 4 book, say) tends to have an overall series arc (like a fantasy quest) that you really need to complete, while a long series often ends without an overall arc — just the evergrowing weight of a team's long life with some sort of satisfying action at the end of each book. If the series ends prematurely with the author's life, less harm is done. So, I plan to keep plugging away on this new series and, with any luck, I'll live forever and start another long series or two afterwards.

I’m Back

Posted in A Writer's Desk

It's been way more than two years since I've been posting here regularly, and don't think I haven't missed it!

I plead a number of excuses… First, I was just finishing Fragments of Lightning, the 2nd book of The Affinities of Magic. Then I had to do my taxes, and that got… complicated.

So there I was, finishing the bookkeeping in March of 2020, when I got the news. No, not the Kung-Flu, but a whole different “big C”. Sigh…

The good news is that I'm not only all fine now (in fact, much healthier than I've ever been, and a lot lighter, too), but I'm back in the saddle and halfway through the 3rd entry for the series: Dustings of Blue.

When I got out of the hospital/chemo phase last fall, I still had 2019 taxes (late) to finish, and then 2020, and then we bought a house (not moving for quite a while yet)… you get the idea. And while the hospital didn't kill me, it did kill my laptop (powersurge), and it took forever to restore my (backed up) full environment — the brain fog really didn't help as I labored on two years of bookkeeping all at once.

But I'm in great shape now, and damned eager to be writing again. Grateful, too — it could all have been much worse, but I was lucky.

My official plan now is to live forever.

Bad puppy

Posted in A Writer's Desk

My taigan puppy (now somewhere north of 90 lbs) has recently passed his one year birthday, with no diminution of his playfulness.

Last night, he progressed from stealing things off my desk when I'm not in my office (and tearing them apart) to deciding to see what my laptop tasted like.

Apparently he decided it made a pretty good chew toy.

The laptop is still functional, but since I can see the bare electronics and the cover frame snaps won't stay closed I'm clearly going to have to replace the entire top section.

What a relief, thought I through my rising blood pressure, that I plumped for the Service Warranty when I bought this machine two years ago. I live in the middle of nowhere and having a technician come out to my home office was a great help with my last PC.

This morning I settled down with what patience I could muster and wasted a couple of hours with Lenovo lining up support, only to discover that, no, my warranty does not cover accidental damage; I could upgrade to add that, but only in the first 90 days; and that they would send me a box so I could ship it to a “depot center” for price estimate and repair.

So, not only will I get to pay full cost for whatever this will be (expensive), but I will have to do without my primary business machine for at least a week. And to add insult to injury, I'm an hour's drive from the nearest FedEx drop off.

He tested both corners, of course — agents of chaos being thorough.



Fortune cookie

Posted in A Writer's Desk, Just for Writers, and Marketing

Image of a fortune cookie I'm currently knee-deep in improving my complete mailing list and newsletter setup so that I can start to launch improved marketing via Facebook ads. This requires all sorts of retooling for digital stationary, branding, automation, landing pages, onboarding… the whole megillah). Lots of learning curves and emails-to-customer-support to clear up the messy details.

The result will be better newsletters for everyone, significant incentives and offers for signing up, and hopefully a larger group of more engaged readers. If you're already a subscriber (one of my select few) I'll be telling you separately in more detail. (Once I figure out how to, using all-new tools…)

In the midst of all this productive diligence, just the sort of message that every writer of fantasy likes to receive was sent my way via dinner tonight:

“A way out of financial uncertainty is discovered as if by magic!”

It's not magic — it's bloody hard work!