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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Faculty Fun

Just got invited to speak at the Surrey International Writers Conference in Vancouver BC. Well, ok, it's actually in Surrey which is very close to Vancouver. I love western Canada, and I really enjoyed this conference when I spoke there in 2006. It is very well run. Lots of aspiring writers, eager to listen. Lots of authors (much more famous than I am) to listen to.

I had been writing as a hobby for about eight years when a friend and I decided that we needed to learn more about the business of writing. I had written about half of Song of the Beast by this time and felt as if I was learning the craft. But I had never met a published writer when I walked into my first writers conference in 1998 (Pikes Peak WC, where I am going to speak in April), and I felt as if I had found...... my home. I had always been extremely shy and introverted, and had never been able to walk up to a perfect stranger and start a conversation. But there I could walk up to anyone and say, "What do you write?" WCs are more expensive than science fiction conventions. They are usually multi-genre, and focus on the craft of writing and the business of publishing.

I am not getting much writing done this week, as I am in Texas visiting my mom. Today it was about 65 and gloriously sunny. The air smelled like spring. It reminded me why lots of people live here. (Come down in July and it reminds you why some of us don't any more.) Tomorrow, we're driving into East Texas, where it is even prettier - green hills and oak and pine woodlands. The redbuds and dogwoods likely aren't blooming quite yet, but it should be pretty anyway.

I'm flying home on Super Tuesday. Is it significant that Super Tuesday is also Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras? For those who are in a Super Tuesday primary state - go vote!

I'll be back to work on Wednesday.

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Monday, January 28, 2008


Life intrudes. Ended up driving a lot the past two days. I try to concentrate when I'm driving, so I can't say I come up with lots of plot ideas on the road. But I did manage to figure out a couple of things that were bothering me about this first scene. First, I have two characters going out to meet a sorcerer. My narrator Portier holds very firm ideas about magic, but somehow the fact that this particular sorcerer contradicts his ideas about magic never elicits a comment from him! He just seems to accept the possibility. Duh. And this gives me a great point of conflict for Portier and Ilario (as if they needed more!)

Second, I'm revealing way too much about one of my characters. He is a very complex man, and my first contact with him is peeling away too many layers. This particular "knowledge" smooths an area of conflict between two characters when we've only just begun to know them. One of the things I learned writing Transformation was the value of not telling too much too soon. Let information come out in a natural sequence. Let Conflict Fester.

Which is not to say a writer should purposely hold back information that is pertinent to a scene for the purpose of manipulating the reader - especially things your point of view character knows. Example: If your first person narrator encounters someone familiar and dangerous, it isn't fair to withhold the identity of the person or the nature of the danger. You have to consider, "what would really flash through a person's mind on such an occasion?" At least a name (or "my brother" or "the cop who killed my dad" or whatever) and what kind of danger this person presents. Or if you have your POV character keep looking in the box and never saying what's in it, you're building tension artificially. (If you don't catch that particular reference, never mind.) If the tension is "real" to the character (who knows the who and the why), it should feel real to the reader. Maybe tomorrow, I'll edit this to be clearer!

So what was the driving? Down to Boulder to visit kids Sunday and an excursion to the mountains to look at a couple of houses. Pete and I have been searching for "mountain property" for about twelve years. Lost the perfect place to a higher bidder back in 1998. Passed on a couple of places that we didn't understand were smashing deals. But now we may have found a place - it's a beautiful piece of ground with a weird house that would need lots of work. More later if that comes about. Today I zipped out to Evergreen in the mountains west of Denver. My niece just came home with a baby girl and needed someone to help amuse her two-year-old. Fun.
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Friday, January 25, 2008

Into Their Heads

Several tough days. I don't feel as if I'm progressing all that much. When other writers say they write ten pages a day, rain or shine, I shake my head...and feel terribly guilty. Yes, I can do that every once in a while, but not at the beginning of a brand new story. I am still feeling my way, exploring motivations and personalities and picking at details that will define the world. I'm still hunting names for things - for I can't move forward if I don't know. For example, what is the title of a Knight of Sabria? To be named a Knight of Sabria - Chevalier y Sabria, I decided- is a great honor, sort of like the Medal of Honor, except occasionally someone highly unlikely will end up with the title. And that somebody is Ilario.

Portier says of Ilario, his traveling companion in the first scene:

With a sigh I waved the fool onward, hoping to still his unceasing prattle with movement if I could neither send him back nor throttle him. Knight of Sabria, indeed. Ilario de Sylvae had been fostered since babyhood with his half-sister, Queen Eugenie, and had most assuredly never set foot near a battle. If the fop had ever drawn a sword outside Merona’s fencing halls, I’d eat my boots.
I am looking forward to working with Ilario. He must be the foil for stolid, morose Portier. His true nature lies somewhere beneath
such a panoply of red silk sleeves, lace collar, dark green waistcoat, gold link belt and bracelets, and uselessly thin and tight leather breeches deemed suitable for “rustic” excursions, one might think he had wrapped himself as a passion-gift for a court sweetheart.
But I am not sure how far beneath. That's the fun part.

The actual writing of these days has consisted of exposing Ilario and Portier's first venture together: They're seeking out someone to assist in the task the king of Sabria has set them. I've a year-old first attempt at this chapter (written as I played around with this story idea before) so the work is an amalgam of writing new words and modifying old words. I ought to just throw out the old ones, but that is very hard for me - and there are some descriptions and such that I really like. Eventually I will replace them, stripping and substituting pass by pass as I understand the situation better.

The first conversation between two principals is so important - revealing character, the state of the world, the present situation. It is tempting to throw simply everything into this stew. You want to ground the reader quickly, so that the import of the following scene is made clear. Quickly being the operative - and difficult word. I'll likely have to strip out a good deal of what I've stuck in. But for now, we're getting there. Tomorrow we'll meet Dante.
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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

His Name is Portier

I began the day browsing internet descriptions of Mediterranean landscapes - this book is going to be warmer than the Lighthouse Duet at least. One of my critique partners has set her story in a mythical France, and her descriptions are truly glorious. She finds the right words - mattoral, maquis, dust in the sunlight - so evocative that I am totally jealous and think how can I possibly dare go anywhere near that kind of scenery. By the time I landed on a website about Corsica, and found myself hunting photos, I decided enough was enough. I already know where my beginning scene would be set. Clearly I was avoiding the hard work. It was time to put some words on paper that were not in list form. Time to climb into the head of Portier de Savin-Duplais.

The problem is that I'm writing multiple opening paragraphs for this book. In one of them Portier muses over a trial that seemed to end the search for a traitor. Muses upon his own failure. This is a mature man deeply disturbed over events he has seen and participated in.

Our mystery is solved, the guilty party tried before the king and condemned to die for this most audacious plot. The golden kingdom of Sabria, the hope of the East, the glory of nations, rests easy again, its [a few choice lines]. So why can I not sleep?

Indeed this is the end of the story, reflected to the beginning. Some readers hate it when an author begins at the end. But it's never bothered me. I love evoking an air of mystery and disturbance. Seyonne's words at the beginning of Transformation (one of my favorite of all my openings) had to have been spoken after the resolution of the book.
Still, this might make a better ending, leading into Book 2.

I keep this and write another introductory paragraph that begins a wry [can I say that about my own words?] introduction to my narrator. Forthwith:

What fools has the god graced with a more awkward position than the poor relation of a king?

He expands upon this statement, using a bit of his personal history, and leads us through a brief exposition of youthful optimism and crushed hopes to his present self. And then he begins the story.

This is not the "action" beginning we are taught to seek for genre fiction - the chase, the discovery, the big payoff that occurs before we even know our characters. I have a feeling my critique partners are going to hammer me for this. And indeed, if I were critiquing, I probably would, too. It may very well change as things develop.

But I know Portier SO much better for having written it. I knew he was a failed student of magic - that was in my proposal. But I didn't know that:
After fifteen years of study, I could not charm a flea to sit a dog’s back.
I also discovered he is a librarian! He calls himself a curator. And he is in despair. Which explains why he jumps at an opportunity his more sober-sided self would not consider. I think he'll live to regret it... [ Carol smiles hugely. ]

This is exhausting. More tomorrow.
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Monday, January 21, 2008

MLK and elections

I read in the Denver Post yesterday about how many people still can't see themselves voting for a black man for president. It's just how we were brought up. It's just my nature...our nature...the region where I live...

Well, I remember the department store water fountains marked White and Colored from when I was a kid. I rode the city bus to school and black people had to ride in the back. My grandfather wouldn't allow black people in his house, and our neighbors were terribly worried that my parents would sell their house to a black family when we moved.

But a lot of remarkable, courageous people changed all that. Some of it in great sweeping, dangerous movements. Some of it in tiny steps. My parents sent my sisters and me to the first elementary school in my city to admit a black student alongside whites, and to the first high school to graduate a black student alongside whites. How huge those things seemed back then, and how small right now. On this day, I thank all those people for making this country more what it should be. And I urge everyone to think beyond the past.
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Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Mundane Side of Writing

For all the delights of playing goddess in my universe and the ever-strengthening lure of opening the file called UnholyAlliance.doc, I set this afternoon aside for other task pertinent to the writing life.

Caught up with email correspondence - a mess-up with a publicity flier for my regional writers group required me to retrieve my old Sent mail file from a CD to find out what exactly I had specified for my Breath and Bone blurb. And then I had to process several responses to a survey of former Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Writers of the Year. I volunteered for a task force to review and improve the process and the experience (I was the honoree in 2006), and I'm summarizing the data for the committee. I updated the web site with info about the blog. Read a couple of friends' entries in the Amazon Breakthrough novel contest and wrote a review for one. Read and critiqued the opening pages of a story from a student I'm mentoring. I spent some time looking at blogger functionality - the tech tips about displaying only the first paragraph or so and using a "Read More" button to expand it. Put it in the template, and took it out again. [Looks as if the "Read More" button will be there, even if there isn't any continuation. Not nice. Need more time to pursue alternatives.]

The biggest task of the afternoon [pursued while watching the NFL championship games - two pretty interesting games despite the lack of Denver Bronco involvement] was to work on the postcard design for the Lighthouse Books. I am about six months behind in printing postcards or bookmarks for the series. I should have sent out bunches to bookstores and handed them out at the fall conventions. But I was traveling and distracted and writing this book proposal and then it was Christmas...well, you know how it goes. When I choose tasks to squeeze into a busy time, I choose my favorite tasks and not the ones I struggle with.

I don't mind doing all these things, but I'd really rather write the story. Though I can't write while watching football.
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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Lines of Demarcation

In Navronne (re: Lighthouse Duet), pureblood magic is a commodity, used by both of the major religious communities. Danae magic is divine or at least an integral part of nature (however nature might have come into being. ) In Ezzaria (re: The Books of the Rai-kirah), religion is an important component of a seamless social/cultural structure, and the crumbling perception of this religion parallels the crumbling structure of Ezzarian society. No matter how I squirm and wriggle (because religious belief and practice always introduce complications) the lines separating magic/religion/supernatural truth/myth/superstition must be drawn in a fantasy world. Yes, even if religion is not a dynamic thread in the story. Why?

My aim is always to make my worlds real enough that readers can lose themselves in the action and interactions of the plot and characters. And at least so far, I haven't imagined a world where humans did not make some attempt to answer the questions - where did I come from? why am I here? who dun it? - and then codify the answers to those questions. While many humans look no farther than themselves to answer the questions, a goodly number of us do. Which means I need to come up with some answers for what people in my created cultures believe and how it fits with the magical structure I'm developing. Has religion co-opted magic? Has magic co-opted faith? Has the divine been proved human, implying that divine truth is yet unknown? [Mmmm, nope, I've used that one <-g->. ]

My musings on the pervasive nature of magic in Sabria and its historically controlling position have merged with my search for the right name for the local deity, leading me in a direction which leaves me with a somewhat uninvolved deity - at least in an ordinary Sabrian's perception. Of course, the truth of that worldview (or heavenview), as well as how the religious establishment has dealt with the magical (and political) establishment remains to be defined. I probably don't need to know this yet. And I'm left with the question of what ordinary people might fall back on in a personal crisis. I step back and look at my premise - the Veil - the region that separates the world of the living from the world of the dead, and it gives me an idea...[Carol scurries off to write this down.]
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Friday, January 18, 2008

Started and ended a war today

I worked mostly on the definition of Sabria's magic today. I had to clarify the differences between the popular perception of magic, the truth of magic, and the new truth of magic that we are going to learn throughout the series. That isn't always easy, especially when I'm trying to avoid the magical structures that I've used in other books. I figure that if I overlap with other books that are out there, that's unfortunate, but it's not intentional. If I overlap with myself, I'm cheating.

Anyway, I needed to understand why the power that drove Sabria's magic was failing, and how sorcerers got in the position where they. . . well, into a fairly ambiguous position in society. On one hand they live under some annoying legal restrictions, yet they have managed to squiggle their fingers into every pie, and now the status quo is changing out from under them. This meant I had to look to Sabria's distant past, and I discovered feudal Europe (not that this is Europe) where the powerful lords holed up in their castles were sorcerers, possessing books listing their family's spells and children who could be used as-- Well, I don't want to reveal spoilers, which could change dramatically over the next year - only process. The result of my musing was the Blood Wars - a century or so of systematic, magic-fueled violence. [Carol rapidly switches back and forth between her "nature of magic section" and "history" section.] The accord which ended this war [must find a name] installed a system which led to the more modern state of Sabria as we know it in the story, as well as laying a foundation for some of the very problems [oh, yes, some of them would be nasty] we will incur. Cool.

But if the perception of magic is such a formative force in Sabrian society, what is its relationship to religion? Oops. This is a topic I have studiously avoided so far, but which can't be ignored in any real society. I think that's tomorrow...
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Thursday, January 17, 2008

WIP - Week 1

So what happens in the early stages of a new novel?

I have a few documents that I started as I began developing this new story.
Timeline - to help me keep the backstory straight leading up to my opening - ages and timing for who knew what will be critical.
Glossary - to help me list new terms, names of characters and places as they come up.
World Notes - where I am defining a few major components of the world, especially the truth and popular perceptions of magic - which is the essence of the series' conflict. This won't be comprehensive, as I like to leave many things so I can invent as I go along. Somehow when it is written down, it starts to solidify, and in many cases that's not what I want at this point in the process.

I start the day by reviewing these documents, noting the new ideas that have cropped up since this project got serious, and I immediately get sidetracked. Where?

My thesaurus and my English/Latin, English/Greek, and Babelfish online translators - because I'm trying to think of just the right name for a governing body. Phillip Pullman, darn his hide, has used Magisterium.

My name books - because I can't get into a character's head without knowing his or her name.
The internet in general. Today's wanderings take me to a neobyzantine web site that I can't figure out for a while. It had smatterings of history of Orthodox Christianity and its roots in the Byzantine Empire. But then I realized it was some sort of byzantine nationalist site - no kidding.

Geez - these things EAT UP time...

Colorado weather today: Brrrr...frosty.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Dante lives!

Roc bought the proposal I submitted through my agent after Thanksgiving! It's a new three-book series about a couple of characters who have been hanging around in my head since my very first writing days (yes, one of them is named Dante) and a couple of newer characters who have joined them along the way. Here is the short blurb:

A beleaguered king hires a trio of unlikely confidential agents - a foppish nobleman, a disillusioned student of magic, and a brooding practitioner of the dark arts – to investigate murder and hauntings in a world where natural science has supplanted failing magic.

Current Mood: (in the totally bloggish tradition)
Excitement...and pleasure that my publisher wants to re-up me at a time when traditional fantasy is not the hot ticket in town...and immediate panic mode, because all I have written is some notes about "magic in Sabria" and a totally wrong few pages of a first chapter that I wrote just to get the feel of a couple of characters.
Due date: Feb 15, 2009. I'd best get cracking!

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Breath and Bone

First things first. My new baby is launched. Breath and Bone, the second and final volume of The Lighthouse Duet is out there as of 1/2/2008. My tenth novel, and I still can't quite believe I fell into this weird profession. Lots of writers claim not to care about reviews, but I can't believe it. Bad ones sting, and good ones give me a boost. And they shouldn't. I write for the love of it. The idea of a enchantment-addicted fellow who just wanted to have a good time and a warm bed and a bowl of hot something in his stomach getting caught up in the end of the world and the fae-like guardians of the earth just wouldn't stop nagging at me. But I really want others to enjoy his adventure, too.

Note that at the end of every post, you'll see a link that says "Read More of this post". So click on it, and...

... you'll see the end. Read more of this post!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Getting Started

Hello out there in the great echoing emptiness! I feel as if I'm hollering into one of those orange highway barrels, so that all I hear is my own voice. Editors, agents, readers, and that nagging part of me that says "you're falling behind on the minimal requirements of being a writer" have been after me for two years to put up a blog. Yet it seems quite odd to start blogging right when the most "blogworthy" events of a busy writing year have ended. In 2007 I

- published my ninth epic fantasy novel, Flesh and Spirit
- completed final revisions on my tenth novel, Breath and Bone
wrote my first piece of short fiction, a novella called "Unmasking," published in an anthology of romantic fantasy called Elemental Magic
- did regional speaking and signing events in Denver, Fort Collins, Telluride, Colorado Springs
- went on a signing tour from San Francisco to Vancouver BC, staying at a funky B&B in Haight Ashbury, watching The Tempest in 40 degree Ashland OR (outdoors!), and a parlor right out of Jane Austen on Vancouver Island along the way
- sweltered at Archon in St. Louis, ate seafood at Balticon, and introduced a writer friend to the folks at MileHiCon
- spoke at a regional writers' conference in Denver
- caught up with my writing network at the too-short World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs NY
- got treated like Queen for a Day as the Guest of Honor at the ICon Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Role-playing Festival in Tel Aviv, Israel, even though I wasn't Neil Gaiman or Orson Scott card or Tim Powers...

But, of course what this means is that I've had little time to sit down and fool with blog software. Just to decide which one to use takes some time. Maybe I should do MySpace or Facebook instead. Maybe I should just shift to a regular newsgroup instead of the Yahoo Forum. I'm already a contributing member of the DeepGenre blog but I don't seem to find time to post there, what makes me think I'll keep this blog current? Well, my fellow DeepGenre bloggers write long, erudite pieces, and sometimes I want something a bit more personal. My short posts tend to go to my Warrior of Two Souls group, but I like the thought of getting away from the Yahoo peculiarities.

But it's a New Year...and I'm starting a new book...and feel the need to get a handle on what I'm doing. And so much else is going on in the world. I haven't been so pumped about a national election since...maybe ever! I am so ready to see this country reclaim our lost credibility and purpose and-- Well all that is fodder for blog posts, so let's go!
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