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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Treasure Hunts

I think I last wrote about research back when I was just beginning to work on Unholy Alliance. But I wouldn't want you to think that was the last time I went hunting the wonderful details that can make a fictional world real. Here are a few places I've visited in the past couple of weeks (not counting Chicago where I was visiting family over Thanksgiving!) I'll leave you to guess what mayhem I've conjured from them...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coppice (A lot is written about the flaws of Wikipedia - not entirely correct info, amateurish, incomplete, unreliable - but it is a great jumping off point and often leads to other links.)








Complete Mediterranean Wildlife Photoguide (Sterry)
English Through the Ages (Brohaugh)

And, as always, my treasured Roget - not an imitation thesaurus or word finder or synonym finder, but the real Roget's Thesaurus, where you can look up words by their semantics and find that word that's on the tip of your tongue but just won't come.


And here are two more I just had to add



http://smallfarms.typepad.com/small_farms/2006/04/freerange_pigs_.html Who can resist an article called Free Range Pigs?

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Attacking a Scene

This scene, the start of a new chapter, is driving me crazy. Two of my investigators are supposed to be leaving Castelle Escalon on an urgent mission. They believe they are closing in on the guilty party. But Something Will Happen before they can leave. The scary Forces of Order arrive and threaten Partner Two. This is a dangerous risk of exposure, and will introduce a Change of Direction in one of the partners that we will see play out through the end of the book.

You can likely see the trouble here - subtlety. I need the scene dramatic enough to be compelling, and yet its truest consequence must be essentially unrecognizable. Ouch. Why do I DO this to myself? Needless to say, this scene has bugged me for days now. I can't seem to get it right.

So, to begin. They are supposed to be leaving the palace, so Partner One is waiting in the stableyard. Partner Two does not show. The crochety stableman (a very minor character who will appear on occasion throughout the books) is griping at Partner One that he needs to get gone because he is upsetting the horses. Part of the stableman's irritation is that there are "guests'" horses that have been there since before dawn. (Hint, these belong to the above-mentioned Forces of Order who are causing the delayed arrival of Partner Two.) I like this crochety guy. I like the fact that the Forces of Order got here very early. Partner One suspected they were coming, but assumed it would be after he was long gone.

First time through: Partner One is annoyed at the delay and marches inside to roust Partner Two. He finds the Forces of Order already ensconced with Partner Two.

Problem: Logic and inference. The Forces of Order would never question people inside the royal residence (certainly not long enough to cause the dramatic change of direction I plan). They would retrieve offenders or witnesses and take them to their own bailiwick. This is part of the essential balance of power in Sabria. [Same reason police really want to take suspects down to the station and not question them at Mafia headquarters.]

Also I'm totally not sure of how Partner Two is going to react to this, which is a question I'm going to have to resolve sometime, but I don't have enough evidence as yet. How can I understand his motivations and make the reaction real, when I don't see him before or during the action?

Second attempt: Partner One takes repeated trips to the stableyard gate to "see if he's coming" and gets an eyeful of the Forces of Order removing three witnesses from the palace. The witnesses are cloaked and hooded to hide their identity. I really like this custom (invented on the fly!) and so I want to keep it. But the logical consequence is that Partner One can't be sure whether or not Partner Two is one of these three hooded witnesses. He rushes into the palace, finds someone to ask, and gets the story of the "removal."

Problem: all the real action is off screen. The scene comes off as passive. One of the most important people involved is never seen. And, as Partner One is not going to be able to do anything about this "questioning" I've set up a truly boring scene where everything of consequence has already happened or is hidden. Whatever reaction Partner Two has to the event is hearsay.

Much gnashing of teeth here on my part.

Third attempt: Partner One takes repeated trips to the stableyard gate to "see if he's coming" and gets a glimpse of two sentries (from the Forces of Order). Uh-oh. Anxiety - he didn't see this coming so soon - propels him into the palace. (Already I have better emotional context.) He gets into place just as the first of the witnesses has been "hooded" and the second is being rousted...and Partner Two will be next. More anxiety. Partner Two has been delayed by a cordon of Forces of Order, and is fuming. Partner One sneaks/talks his way through the cordon [already more action] and joins Partner Two - so we will see them together "before" the event...and something subtle in Two's behavior after the event will hint at the change I'm trying to enable... Oh yeah, this is much, much better...

I'm off! Third time's the charm and all that.

So why include the stableyard at all, you might say. That seemed to cause all the difficulties. Why not have Partner One see the arrival of the Forces of Order from inside?

Because he just wouldn't be there. His residence is in another part of the palace entirely. To have him in place "just right" to see these happenings from the beginning would be contrived. The two partners would never agree to meet inside the palace as they are supposed to be antagonists, one forced into subordination to the other. Their meeting for the journey would occur at the last possible moment. Character and situational logic - as I have created it - must prevail. Yes, I as the author can force circumstances to make anything happen, but especially when the stakes are high and difficult - getting this event to happen with all its subtleties - I don't want to plant a neon arrow sign outside the door, saying "Look At This! Look at This!"

Maybe I've got it now. I'll keep you posted.

Update: Option three worked out even better than I imagines. Once I got moving on it, instilling more of a sense of danger, the elements came together. I had valuable, revelatory time between the two partners that will contrast marvelously with their later encounters. I was able to examine and instill motivation of Partner 2's reaction to being "hooded," as well as drop in details about the customs surrounding the Forces of Order. And I left something important in Partner 1's hands that ties the action both to previous plot points and future ones. If only it hadn't taken me a WEEK to get this right. This is why I'm slow, folks...

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Fast Times at Surrey BC

In 2006 I was first invited to the Surrey International Writers’ Conference (SiWC) in Surrey, British Columbia (just outside Vancouver). I enjoyed it immensely, so I was delighted to be invited back this year.

SiWC is similar to many other writers’ conferences in providing a weekend packed with information for aspiring writers of commercial fiction in multiple genres. Workshops address varying aspects of the writing craft and the publishing business. The conference also provides direct contact with representatives of the publishing industry, including opportunities to pitch completed work to editors and agents and get on-the-spot critiques. SiWC is large – something like 800 attendees – very professionally run, and attracts a terrific faculty that, I’ve got to say, intimidates me! This year it included Diana Gabaldon, Anne Perry, Phillip Margolin, Robert Sawyer, Meg Tilly, Jack Whyte, and many others.

So what did I do in my four days?

First off, a master class. Master classes are intensive three-hour workshops given on the day before the conference proper. Attendees must pre-register. Mine was called Unforgettable Characters, and combined information from a couple of shorter workshops on characterization and voice that I’ve done at other conferences. I thought three hours would give me tons of time for exercises, but darned if I didn’t find that the “text” ended up filling the time available! OK, we did get in a couple, but most of those I’d planned got sent home as homework. It was not half so exhausting as I expected – though I’ve got a much better idea now of what actually FITS in three hours.

On Friday morning the conference proper began with opening ceremonies and introductions. During the day’s program, I sat on a panel discussion on The Science of Inspiration. Six of us gave our personal “how we got started” stories, and talked about how we approached creativity. We could have delved a bit deeper with fewer panelists (something I’ve learned at sf conventions) but attendees did have time to ask some interesting questions.

Next I had the first of my two blue-pencil workshop sessions. Blue-pencils are a standard at Surrey. Visiting authors sit for 90-minute sessions, offering 15-minute consultations to attendees. The attendee can choose to talk about publishing or ask specific questions about writing or marketing, but most choose to use the time for the author to review the first few pages of their manuscripts. I think it's a terrific idea.

Before I did my first session in 2006, I was really nervous. What if I couldn’t think of anything to say? What if the writing was truly awful? Much to my relief, neither was a problem. After about ten years of critiquing, I’ve learned to read on multiple levels, from grammar to plotting to voice, which means I can always find something to say – even if it is, “Wow, I really have nothing but nits to give you about this great piece! Is it finished?” [I actually said that to one attendee this year.] And on the other side, the pieces were good, better, and excellent. No true duds.

Day Two started with another opening session at which I gave a short “keynote” speech. I talked about my experience with my first writers’ conference, where I felt like I found my home in the community of writers, and the one a short year later when I read the opening of Transformation for the editor who would buy my first seven books. It was pretty simple compared to some of the other morning and evening talks! But people did seem to appreciate it. And I got in a plug for fantasy as not only a legitimate genre, but the oldest literary genre. Always have to be the apostle of fantasy!

I also did a workshop on fictional world building and another blue-pencil session on that day.

On the last morning, I pulled out one of the first workshops I ever did, about how to write a novel without outlining. Interestingly, I think this one was the best received of all of them. I think it gives hope to those who, like me, find it impossible to conceive the progress of an entire story before actually writing it. Every author has to find his or her comfortable position on the spectrum from complete, detailed outlining to "typing Chapter 1, then saying, 'what next?' ”

In between all these activities were opportunities to network with other faculty members, and visiting agents and editors, and spend time with the attendees at meals. The SiWC staff are lovely, welcoming, and take really good care of both faculty and attendees. It was stimulating and fun. I’ll go back any time!
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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Democracy Lives

Back from two weeks in Canada [more about marvelous Surrey Writers and World Fantasy later] to election night. I'll get back to "business" in the next posts. For today...

...please excuse exuberance.

Hooray! Hallelujah!

Will never forget seeing Jesse Jackson in the Chicago crowd weeping. As one who remembers seeing Selma and Birmingham, firehoses and church bombings on the news...this is truly awesome. Intelligence and temperance and full intent to bridge the divides: I've got to believe the country and world will be better.

And now to shake off election addiction! I've got a murder to solve...
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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Reader Mail

I love reader mail. Mostly the people who write me are happy with the books and want to tell me what struck them especially, or they want to find out if I’m going to write more in a particular world. [Yes, all right, all right, maybe someday I’ll get around to a Song of the Beast sequel .] To hear from a happy reader helps me through discouragement and reminds me that I’ve “done this before and it turned out ok.”

But some readers go beyond and expose something of their emotional involvement with the stories, and that is most gratifying as well.

Jarod wrote:

What struck me most of all in the book [Breath and Bone] was the way you wrote Valen's addiction. I'll admit that, at first, I didn't like it at all. I found that I disliked the character, the weakness, and my own difficulty in relating to his plight, being free of such addictions myself. I was frustrated that he couldn't just get on with life and be a "normal" protagonist and, well.. make choices that I myself might have made. It took me a while to realize that my reaction was a "good" one, in that it meant that you (as an author) created a believable and very flawed character whose weaknesses were a central part of his being--and wrote those weaknesses so powerfully that I wanted to skip the scenes for the sheer discomfort they caused me (but
I didn't skip them!). I surely can learn a lesson from this, that a flawed protagonist is much more interesting, and that writers must not be afraid to show those flaws and embrace them, lest the story dull.

How beautifully this articulates the storyteller’s art! Thanks, Jarod.
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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Torture Whys and Wherefores

Valt writes me:

I saw you did a "Torture Panel" at WorldCon. What I would have given to have been present for that. I looked up Elaine Isaak since I am not familiar with her work and though I squirmed a little with the idea of a castrated main character, I cannot imagine anyone rivaling you for Most Torturous Authoress. There have been times where I've had to set your books down (for long periods) just because they hurt too much, yet I am always inexplicably drawn back into them. Masochism might be an explanation, but it's always so expertly handled. When do you decide that anything more would just desensitize your readers and no longer be as powerful?

Good question. I DO think torture and mayhem can overwhelm a story. And I never want to use it gratuitously.

First, why do I do it at all? Because my characters invariably are involved in terrible and world changing events. One of the things an author of heroic adventure has to do is present her characters with challenges, with opportunities to alter course, with the need to do things that are repugnant or life-changing in order to accomplish the deeds that solve the story’s problem. People don’t change themselves in fundamental ways as a result of small things. The stronger the character, the tougher the challenge must be.

How do I try to ensure I don't go too far?
  1. I make sure the violence is necessary for the story’s believability.
  2. I try to keep the worst parts “off screen” or at least at a distance. Readers may see only the results.
  3. I try never to sexualize it.
  4. I try to keep the events in proportion to the result I’m trying to accomplish.

REVELATION spoiler behind the Read More tag...

Some people have asked me why Seyonne’s terrible captivity lasted so long in Revelation. This is probably the longest and most difficult of all my “torture” scenarios. But here was a man whose entire life, entire being, entire training had been devoted to removing the rai-kirah from the souls of human beings or to getting himself back in the position where he could do so. And on the scant evidence of a few mosaics, his own instinct for truth, and his determination to set his child free, I wanted him to take one of those rai-kirah into his own soul. The meant I had to strip him down to his essence--his compassion and yearning for justice--in order to get him to do it. Otherwise I could not believe he would do it.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008


Before I left Colorado, I mailed in my 2008 ballot. I didn't want some Canadian snowstorm to delay me getting home in time to vote. What an honor and a privilege.

Please make sure you vote. This is not an election to sit out. Lots of states have early or mail-in voting. Take advantage if you can because lines are going to be long on Nov 4. Don't let anyone take this privilege away from you.

If anyone out there doubts that this is a critical election, please read beyond a few of the headlines of the past couple of months. I’ve been through a number of elections, and never have I had one that has literally kept me awake in the night. Between our crashing economy, our two wars, upheavals in eastern Europe, genocide in Africa, our melting polar caps, we have got to turn a corner in this country, and it is going to take all of us, doing our best to change our habits and get beyond the politics of division.

After a particular obnoxious news segment the other night, I sat up and wrote a long rant about this election, about some of our society's bad habits (including my own) and about the candidates. I've actually let this post sit for a couple of days as I cooled off - though I really haven't changed my opinion at all.

But as I avidly browsed the web for election news from up here where the Canadians are exhausted by their own recently concluded (and divisive) election, I came upon a piece that expressed, in intelligent, reasoned terms, my own beliefs and feelings about this race. Some people might bristle at the source, but if you are interested enough to go behind the "more" button, maybe you might want to read the editorial. If you'd rather not mix up fantasy authors and politics, that's ok. I ust couldn't let the time go by.

Whichever you choose, please
Listen! Read! Think! Vote.

NY Times editorial

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Friday, October 24, 2008

High in British Columbia

Nope, I haven't disappeared from the face of the earth. For the past few days I've been traveling north to visit friends and attend two events in Canada. This week it's the Surrey International Writers Conference.

What a lovely welcoming, professional conference. Extremely well organized with some 800 attendees. The faculty always leaves me a bit intimidated: this year Diana Gabaldon, Anne Perry, Robert Sawyer, Phillip Margolin, and so forth.

The hotel is terrific. My view from the 12th floor is the BC mountains, the rivers and bridges of Vancouver/Surrey area (the Fraser River Valley, I guess.) And the gorgeous autumn colors that are about gone back home. Cool and misty in the mornings.

So far I've done a three hour master class, called "Unforgettable Characters" and an hour and a half of "blue pencil workshops" which are one-on-one meetings between author and aspiring author. Fifteen minutes to talk marketing, read and critique a few pages, or talk concept. I met with six very interesting people so far, and, despite the ever present "oh, gosh, I hope I can think of something useful to say" willies, I've managed to come up with some comments. This conference also makes breakfast and lunch times for networking among the authors, editors, and agents who have come here to be on the faculty. As such I've met a couple of editors from Tor books, a Canadian teacher/lecturer on web presence and marketing, and a couple of editors from Warner and Little Brown. Also a very cool actor/writer from UK who was going to do a workshop on "battle". Unfortunately I was scheduled during that time. Bummer. This afternoon I"m on a panel about "inspiration." Tomorrow and Sunday I do more workshops. All fun, but a bit exhausting.

More from World Fantasy next week! (And no I haven't forgotten about Portier and the rest. I actually got some good work done on the plane (always a good sign) and have had a productive discussion with my good friend Brenda about a hiccupy place in the opening chapter. All to the good!

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Monday, October 13, 2008

The Turning Point

Every author will recount the difficulties of the wretched middle of a book’s development. "It’s all crap," he’ll say. "It’s as boring as watching paint dry." "I’ve got the focus all wrong." "This will never come together."

All the gleeful laying out of enticing clues, and ambiguous new characters, and discovery of new magic has long given way to the difficult, often frustrating work of
- creating tension, and upping the tension with each twist and turn of the plot
- choreographing climactic action
- developing scenes that actually forward the plot and don’t just recapitulate
- getting to the nitty-gritty events that impact your characters’ growth and change.

The end still seems as distant as ever and may be less clear than when you started. The threads of logic have gotten tangled. There are too many characters and no clear villains. You can’t figure out how the heck to get from Eltevire to Vernase because you already set Vernase within a day’s travel of Merona, and at this point in the book you just don’t want your characters traveling for a week. Chapter 17 turned into two chapters when you realized you’d been so determined to get through it, you’d let your poor captive investigator escape the very torment he’d been investigating [never let him off easy just to get that chapter done], and there are still at least two entire story arcs you haven’t touched yet. Uh...yeah, this is getting personal.

Well maybe this isn’t the exact set of circumstances that drive every author up the wall when she reaches approximately 2/3 of the way through a new book. These are certainly the ones that have popped to my mind over the past couple of weeks. Plus we’ve been in and out to a family wedding in Seattle and spent one day driving mom into the mountains to see the glorious aspens, and a couple more doing handouts for the Vancouver conference that is coming up Real Soon Now. And, holy moly, this presidential election is SO distracting [more on this in another post you may or may not want to read!]

But, as it happens, my little cadre of fellow writers set up another mountain retreat for this past weekend. I hadn’t thought I’d be able to go, but I desperately needed some concentrated, relatively undistractable time, and my ES (Extraordinary Spouse) had a ton of work to do for a client, too. Two full days of writing and some twenty pages later and I’ve reached the Turning Point, where my investigators emerge from a near catastrophe and put together the chain of evidence in an entirely different way to point the spotlight (or the spyglass, as may be) on a totally unsuspected suspect. And what do I find?

I had actually laid in enough clues for them to draw this conclusion. I had actually put them through enough of a wringer to force them to look at things a different way. I’ve left myself pointed in exactly the direction I meant to go all along.

OK. I still worry about the focus and the missing spark and the wordy first chapters the fact that I’ve still got a lot of story to tell, and I’ve got one BIG motivation still to work out. But details in past chapters can now be refined and enhanced because I’ve put together this piece of the story. I can probably rip out a few extraneous pieces because they weren’t needed. I can strengthen the presentation of the main characters because now I know that at this particular point in chapter 21, the three are in harmony. I can make sure the pace of their change from their first meeting to this point is clear. And I can lay in the "festering sores" that will send it all to heck, because now I know when the descent must begin.

I woke up this morning with one idea for revising an early scene, because now I'm seeing a particular character's arc more clearly.

Last night driving home from Denver on a very misty, cold dark night, I realized that one "consequence" I had set up for the end was just really tooooo dark. And this morning upon waking, I knew what I had to do about it, because it fit perfectly with another character's arc.

I'm hoping for more such revelations this week, if I can keep my reacquired focus.

I’m still in the wretched middle, but maybe…just maybe…I’ve turned the corner.
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Monday, September 29, 2008

From Sale to Shelf: Part 4

Once I return the copyedited manuscript, I feel as if the book is truly complete. I go back to work on the next project. But there are a few things left to look at: cover art galley proofs, and ARCs.

Sometime in the next weeks, my editor will send me a jpg cover image or an actual cover flat. This is the first time I get to see the cover and it is always a "gulp" moment. Will it match my vision? Will it be striking enough to draw new readers? Will the back copy give away secrets? Will it reflect my own words? Would it make me want to read the book?

I have been fortunate with covers. All the artists have been excellent, even if their vision didn't match mine. Several of my covers have actually given me goose bumps! (Revelation, Restoration). Some covers have fit my image exactly (Daughter of Ancients, Son of Avonar) or even taken my vision one step farther (Revelation). Some have been beautiful or striking - which is the most important function of covers - despite not fitting my image of the person or scene depicted (Flesh and Spirit, Breath and Bone, Restoration). Only two have disappointed. Proof is left to the reader...

Once I have the cover image, I need to start thinking about marketing tasks - making bookmarks, fliers, updating the website, and so forth. Mostly I procrastinate...because I don't like the marketing stuff, but I DO like starting a new book!

But at sometime a month or six weeks after the copyedits have gone in, I'll receive another bundle of pages in the mail from my editor.

These are the galleys or proof pages, the typeset pages printed just as they'll look in the book. For a mass market paperback (the smaller format) I'll see two facing pages per 8 1/2 x 11 sheet. For a trade paperback, I'll see one page per sheet.

This is the first time I see the "book design," the typeface, the chapter headers, the beautiful drop caps they have at the beginning of the Flesh and Spirit chapters, or how they handled the narrator sections in Song of the Beast or the "Part" divisions in Breath and Bone. This pass is really for hunting typos, misspellings, or any other mistake that might have been entered in the typesetting process. These are typically very few.

The tricky thing is that the lines and paragraphs are now set tightly on the page. R
emoving or adding a word or even a comma requires the whole line to be re-typeset. If the word or punctuation is in the middle of a paragraph, the entire paragraph must be reset. If the length of the paragraph changes, it pushes or contracts the text that follows it. Typesetting is expensive.

But as with any time I read the manuscript start to finish, I find things I want to change. Can I do that? Yes, within reason.
1. Certainly errors must be fixed. Those aren't optional. Typesetting errors aren't "charged" to me!
2. I can certainly tweak a word, phrase, or even a sentence, if I see a critical need. The trick is to replace a removed word with something of similar length. I've even gone through and changed a made-up word or a character name - simple replacements are the easiest to deal with.

3. For slightly more complicated changes, if I can make restricts the resetting to a single paragraph, not changing the page length, I'll usually do it.

4. The toughest pieces to deal with are places where I think the prose needs to be tightened, ie. words removed and not replaced. I have actually squeezed this through on one book, in places where the actual chapter page length has not changed. My editor was merciful.

I absolutely cannot do anything that will change the page numbering. The entire rest of the book would have to be reset = Very Expensive.

Once I've made all the changes and fixes, I pull out those pages. I make sure the marks are very clear - don't want to introduce more typos or errors! And then I count the number of pages. And then I try to figure out if that number will make my editor nervous or, heaven forbid, cause the publisher to charge me the cost of retypesetting!! I don't have a set number I'm allowed, but I can get a creepy feeling if the stack of pages is more than about 25. I read each one and decide if this is critical. I keep all error fixes that I've found. But some of my own changes... Honestly, some things a reader will never notice, and I reluctantly pull them out.

I ship off the proof pages that contain corrections, and now I'm really finished. The next time I see the book it will be bound. First, I'll see the ARC (Advance Reader Copy). This bound book has no cover art, and the text is essentially the uncorrected text. It is produced at the same time as the proof pages, and is sent out to reviewers, bookstores, and the like. Sometimes they show up on ebay!

But one day a padded envelope shows up in the mail with my first real copy of the book, real cover, corrected text, and I sit and read and say, "Wow, did I really write this? It looks like a real book!"

Any questions?

My cover artists
Luis Royo: Flesh and Spirit, Breath and Bone

Matt Stawicki: Revelation, Restoration, Song of the Beast, Son of Avonar, Guardians of the Keep, The Soul Weaver, Daughter of Ancients

Kevin Murphy: Transformation

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Friday, September 26, 2008

That nagging feeling

Sometimes when I write a scene, I get a nagging feeling that something is not right. It most often happens when I have a plot point that I'm ready to include.

Today's example: Character A is in trouble. Character B comes to his rescue and demonstrates something. I want some additional things to happen, some curiosity and doubts about who could have done this amazing thing,building up to the revelation that it was Character B. I write the scene as I envision.

I reread it, tweaking words. I tweak more. OK, I've given Character A too much of a hint that Character B is doing the amazing thing. Why wouldn't he recognize what's going on right away?

What do I do about this?

Make Character A "foggier" from the bad guys' brutality. Reread. Tweak more words. Still feels wrong.

Remove all early hints of Character B's action. I really don't want Character A to seem stupid. Even bashed in the head he wouldn't miss what's going on, which makes my "delay" and building question seem stupid and contrived. Wrong.

So Character A must consider and dismiss the possibility that Character B is doing this. As I begin to rewrite yet again, I realize how convoluted this is getting, and the fact that I have now spent DAYS on this one scene. It Is Not Working.

Time to rethink. I must either skip the intervening build-up to the revelation OR give Character A an ironclad reason for believing it couldn't be Character B.

Oh...oh... The answer comes. The ironclad reason why he won't believe it. And the way that particular misconception plays right in to what the bad guys are trying to do to Character A already... DELICIOUS! One more rewrite and I'll be on my way forward.

Should I have made myself skip over the knot for the time being and continue forward with the story, planning to come back and fix it on another pass? Maybe. But I find I can't progress until it "feels right."

I just can't allow my preconceived ideas of a scene to stand without proper attention to character motivation and a reasonable analysis of "what would he know and when would he know it." Even if it takes three days. What if the solution changes the course of the story?

In this particular case, I don't think it changes anything farther along. But I'll see if things feel right as I get there.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

From Sale to Shelf: Part 3

So I've finished revisions and mailed in a new manuscript. Now I'll usually go on to writing the sequel or whatever is next on the schedule. Some authors end up in multiple revision rounds, but fortunately, I've never had to do that. The principal work on this book is done, but not everything. So what comes next?

Many people are under the misapprehension that what editors do is correct grammar and spelling mistakes in a manuscript. Back in Part 2 of this post, I hope I gave a better idea of what an involved editor brings to the table. But someone still has to look at the details.

At some time a few weeks or months after I've submitted my revisions, I'll receive a fat package in the mail which is the exactly the same thick parcel I sent in with my revisions. My editor may have made a few changes as she read - I've never seen much more than a few sentence alterations, usually in regular gray pencil. But someone has gone in and made red marks all over the place. That person is a copyeditor.

Copyeditors are detail people who have three main tasks:

  1. to read for spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Thanks to some great teachers and boring homework back in my school days, I don't have much problem with these, though I'll say that figuring out whether a compound word is actually two words (half sister), hyphenated (half-hearted), or a single word (halfbreed) is my weakness. The CE will make her own dictionary of names and made-up words so that she can make sure they're always spelled and capitalized consistently, too.

  2. to mark up the manuscript for the typesetter, using traditional typesetter's markings to denote things like chapter or section headings, italics, ellipses, em- or en-dashes, specially formatted sections like letters, poetry passage, or epigraphs. This ensures such things are handled consistently throughout the book and enforces the publishers' particular typesetting "style."

  3. to read for continuity, eg. making sure a character doesn't have green eyes on one page and brown eyes on the next.

A good copyeditor will note other things she runs across during this very detailed read, and write a query in the margins about anything that seems problematical. I've had CEs catch errors that no one else has.

Once I receive the copyedited manuscript, my job is to answer all queries to make sure the CE hasn't uncovered a logic error or some such, and to review every change and mark the CE has made to ensure they are correct. I can undo any of them by writing stet in the margin. I'm not supposed to change "stylistic things" like how the chapter headings are to be typeset or how ellipses or em-dashes are handled.

But I occasionally have reasons to violate certain rules, and I want to make sure they remain as I wrote them. For example, you'll notice that even when Aleksander is referred to as "the Prince," Prince is always capitalized. Usually prince would only be capitalized when used in conjunction with his name, as in Prince Aleksander. I did this to reinforce the narrator Seyonne's view of Aleksander (you'll have to read the rai-kirah books to find out what that view is!) And sometimes my worldbuilding will mandate certain word usage or spelling that is not standard English. That's why I get to review.

Something else happens at copyedit time. In reviewing copyedits, I always sit down and read the whole story from start to finish one more time. And this is my last chance to make any wholesale change to the text. I've always got sentence or word changes to make, and because of my tendency toward wordiness, every pass demands I trim and tighten. So I end up removing a lot of words and phrases. Occasionally some larger issue arises. For example, when I realized that The Soul Weaver was not the end of the D'Arnath series, but the third of four books, I went back in at copyedit time and rewrote the ending.

I usually have about a week to ten days to do this review, and, in truth, it rarely takes that long. It involves one good detailed read with my green or blue pencil in hand (don't want to confuse my marks with the CEs marks). I also keep my handy-dandy Webster's Guide to Punctuation, my Oxford English dictionary (to confirm those compound words as CE's sometimes get them wrong, too), and a list of typesetter's marks close by. Any change I make has to be marked for the typesetter, too.

One always hears horror stories about copyeditors who change things they shouldn't or even rewrite pieces of the story. I did have one copyeditor who "corrected" a few long sentences by chopping them up and entirely changing their meaning, but those were easily fixed. The motivation was good, but the execution flawed! Thank goodness, all my other experiences have been great.

So are we there yet?

Not quite. Tune in for Part 4...
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Monday, September 22, 2008

A Gift for the Autumnal Equinox

As on the summer solstice, I can't help but dream of Navronne and Aeginea, the world I created for the Lighthouse books. Here is another snippet, a deleted scene. No spoilers, only very minor revelations about the world for those who have not read the books. For those who have, you'll remember the particular incident from Flesh and Spirit, I think...

The moon settled lower, swelling, brightening for that last moment as it touched the white cliffs and vanished. Fascinated, appalled, Kol watched the human man scrape the hole in the dark soil with a flat stone and lay his dead friend to rest. Though the gentle dignity of this completion must be considered in its turn, the more astonishing events of the night demanded his attention first. Only now did the truth of what this man had done penetrate his understanding.

Earlier on this very evening, Kol had watched the human murderers slaughter one of their own kind apurpose to defile this holy place. He had believed his friend Aniiele dead - poisoned by the victim's blood and torment - and these beauteous lands she nurtured lost forever to the memory of the long-lived. Once Kol turned his back on the meadow, even he would not be able to find it again, save by purest happenstance. Its vigor would fade, its plants and beasts weaken. Rage had threatened to undo him as he had witnessed the violation, the lively, graceful Aniiele’s fate so cruelly and deliberately sealed as she slept away her season in the sweet earth.

The Law of the Everlasting forbade the long-lived to interfere in human affairs unasked. Lacking weapon-skills to match the gross brutality of human conflict, they had been forced to endure the slaughter of their kind through this sort of violation. The Scourge, they called it.

The murderers had vanished, leaving the dying victim’s tainted blood seeping through the veins of earth. But just as Kol’s grief and anger had swelled to breaking, the Cartamandua-son had arrived and changed everything. How was it possible?

Human words bore no power over life and death. The man’s unsavory use of the fragrant nive', mixing it with blood, would disgust the most depraved of the long-lived. The death blow he’d struck upon the victim he named friend should have accrued its own violation atop that of the Scourge. But, indeed, the son of the despised Cartamandua had set the dying victim free of his tormented fate...and with him Aniiele and her meadow. How had he done it?

Kol scrambled higher in the great oak to watch. The dark-haired man laid gifts with the dead, then shoved dirt over the body, hauled stones to shield the turned earth from predators, and sat for a while beside the grave. It was tempting to speak to him, to ask what he had done and why. But Tuari had extended the Law to forbid human contact for all but sentinels. Kol cared nothing for Tuari Archon or his presumptuous attempts to amend the Law of the Everlasting, but these lands lay too near Moth’s range. He dared not overstep when she might be watching. Not yet, at least.

When the human rose and limped slowly down the slope, Kol was tempted to follow and discover if the Cartamandua-son might seek out the Scourge-wielders and challenge them for what was done to his human friend. But his relief and joy at Aniiele’s salvation could not wait to be expressed.

Brushing bits of bark and leaf from his skin, he rose from his crouch, angled his feet for proper balance on the branch, and stretched his arms skyward. Thought and worry and wonder flowed out of him, as he allowed the music of the meadow...of the pool...of the willows...of the grass and trees and wood...to surge in his blood. The gards of his power, scribed on his flesh as he had passed through the changes of childhood and youth, began to glow the cold blue of a mountain winter sky.

Summoning strength and awareness, alight with this one night’s grace in a world doomed to grief and breaking, Kol leaped from the top of the oak, and when his feet touched solidly to the grass, he whirled and spun and leaped to the meadow’s music until the coming of the dawn.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

From Sale To Shelf: Part 2

So I have shipped off my baby. But that doesn't mean I'm satisfied. I've been immersed in it for a year or longer, and haven't had a chance to set it aside and get some distance on the story. Awaiting my editor's reaction forces me to do that. But I always find myself making lists: fix that scene where I glossed over the magic, make the romantic angle stronger. If this is the last book in a series, I have to be giving thought to what's next, as well, ie. writing a proposal. And if it is not the end, I'm already starting to write sequel. I should have plenty of notes to go on. But there's a lot of work yet to do on the current work!

Cover ideas:
As I'm waiting to hear what my editor thinks about the book, I work diligently on a small but meaningful task. I am not a visual artist. Though I have definite opinions about cover art, I have no desire to actually design a cover. Which is a good thing, as I, like most authors, have no say in my covers. Covers are considered the province of marketing folks who study what readers actually respond to. But what I do is offer ideas of key scenes (like D'Sanya at the siege of Avonar) or key elements (like the mask for Flesh and Spirit). And after several disheartening experiences with back cover copy that revealed plot secrets, I decided to offer sample copy. Though it is always modified (seems I use too many words and sentences that are too long!) I am gratified that they've begun to pick up my suggestions. The copy on the Lighthouse books is almost my words. I usually spend a whole day fooling around with these things.

But the Big Job is still ahead. Maybe three weeks, maybe six, after my submission, Anne will send me a revision letter. So what do revisions entail?

Editorial revision letters - at least the ones I've gotten - are not as scary as they might sound. You've got to remember that the editor's job is to work with you, the author, to make the book the best it can be. No one writes perfect prose, and the surest mark of an immature writer is saying "I'm not going to let anyone mess with my words" or "I don't want to be forced to change anything." My editors do not rewrite my words, but they certainly read them. Carefully. Thoughtful revision brings the craft of writing to bear on your manuscript, making your art and passion accessible to your readers.

The revision letter will list the things that bothered the editor, maybe one page worth, maybe ten pages worth. Some editors are much more detailed than others. My first editor was extremely detailed, and I learned a lot from her. Anne is more general in her comments, but I've learned to interpret her "symptoms." The notations might be as small as a word choice or phrase that is unclear, or as large as a scene or subplot that doesn't seem to work or fit in the overall arc of the story. Sometimes the issue is pacing or an action scene with unclear choreography. I have never been asked to cut a scene, change the plot, or add or remove a character. Nor have I ever been forced into a change.

Usually I agree with my editor's remarks. Having a new, experienced set of eyes looking at the work will always reveal holes! Sometimes I disagree, and that's ok, too. It's my book, after all. But I will always take a careful look. Sometimes the problem the editor reports is really a symptom of a different flaw altogether. If she says a particular scene does not seem to fit in the arc of the story, and I believe it does something important, then I probably haven't done a good job of bringing out the necessary details.

I usually have my own long list of issues by the time I get the editor's list. The idea of revisions is to make the book better and stronger and clearer to the reader, to enhance tension and conflict to grip readers from the opening page and draw them through the story. Of course, if the editor sees a major problem with story or, as sometimes happens, with the overall length of the book, negotiation is in order. Sometimes publishing requirements must be taken into account. But at no time is control of the story out of my hands.

I usually have six or eight weeks to do revisions, and I love the process. Having set the book aside for a few weeks gives me a more objective view. So the first thing I do is read it again, from start to finish. I listen for pacing and word use. I watch for ordering - making sure that each sentence follows from the ones before, that I haven't stuck the cart before the horse. I look at the development of my principal characters, making sure their growth and change is logically developed, and that their motivations are clear. Sometimes it just astonishes me that some particular piece "got by me." I watch for plot holes and logic errors. Sometimes I rewrite my pivotal scenes and find that now I understand characters and plot, the words flow much better.

By the time I'm done, I feel truly finished. When the deadline comes around, I send Anne a new printed copy.

Is it really finished yet? No way! Tune in for part three.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

From Sale to Shelf: Part 1

One of my readers said it surprised her to learn that selling a book wasn't the "end" of the writing process. I figured a number of other people might share Valt's mystification, so I thought I'd step through the entire process over the next few posts.

To start:
My publisher is Roc Books, an imprint of New American Library, which is a division of the publishing giant Penguin Putnam. My editor, Anne Sowards, works for Penguin, editing books for Roc and also for Ace, another fantasy/sf imprint of PP. Imprints are specialized divisions that produce books of related styles/genres. My agent, my business representative, is Lucienne Diver of the Knight Agency. In brief: editors work with words, while agents work with contracts.

Transformation and Song of the Beast were written before my first sale. When my first editor read Transformation back in 1999, she, with the approval of her managers, made me an offer to publish the two books. My agent, who is my business representative, negotiated the deal. As a result of the negotiation, the deal actually included three books: Transformation, Song of the Beast, and the unwritten sequel to Transformation that was later called Revelation.

Literary contracts specify the specific book/s to be published. If the work isn't written as yet, the contract specifies the type of work it will be, the subject matter, genre, tentative title. Contracts also specify the delivery date of the manuscript (so the publisher can schedule a release date), the specific rights the publisher is buying (some subset of North American rights, translation rights, audio, electronic, book club, film, gaming, spinoffs, and others), and many other particulars. Agent Kristin Nelson has done a great series explaining all the common clauses of literary contracts on her blog Pub Rants.

For my newer deals I sell books before they are actually written - on proposal. Sometimes the proposal is a multi-page synopsis (The Sabrian Veil series). Sometimes it's only a paragraph (Flesh and Spirit). As always, my editor has to decide if she wants the book/s enough to sell the deal to her superiors. Sometimes the editor has to fight for a book, because there are many other fine proposals and they can't buy them all. Just because an author has published before doesn't ensure the proposal will be accepted. But assuming it is, hooray! - my agent negotiates the new contract. Once it's signed, I start writing. [See my first Unholy Alliance post for how I go about that.]

I've only missed a contracted date once (yes, obstreperous Valen was the reason). I negotiated a new date beforehand.

Now skip forward a year or so...

Whoa, not quite yet. There are a few other things that go on before the book is written, depending on the editor. Some editors require outlines or more detailed synopses. Thank goodness, my editor does not. If you've been following the way I write, you see that is not at all a part of my process!

If the book I'm writing is a sequel, I might need to provide an opening scene to stick in the back of the previous book as a teaser. And there are all those other things that go on all year, every year: marketing the last book, doing conferences and conventions, blogs and forums and newsletters, and updating the website, and networking...

But most of the time is writing, writing, and the due date approaches inevitably.

So I have agonized and plotted, written and rewritten, making the manuscript the best I can make it. I'm always up late the night before - just like college! - but at last I ship off a paper copy to New York. And then, I wait.

Tomorrow...the book is not nearly done yet. On to Revisions...

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Colorado Gold

Just a quick review of the Colorado Gold Writers' Conference. This conference is presented every September in Denver by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. I try to go if I can, as it is a group of people I enjoy hanging around. It is not the biggest conference, nor does it pull in the kind of big name presenters that the Surrey International or even Pikes Peak does. But it certainly is a place where a beginning writer can feel welcome and learn a lot. And I think it is improving in quality every year. Here were the highlights of my experience this year...

I don't do the editor/agent critique or pitch sessions, as I have quite enough on my plate at present, thank you very much. But I do enjoy meeting these guests when I can. Some are very nice about hanging around the convention spaces and visiting. Some run off to be by themselves when they're not working.

I also enjoy meeting the attendees. At the Friday night welcome buffet, the organizers took a page from some other conferences and designated genre tables where attendees could sit with the agents, editors, or guest authors to talk about fantasy or romance or historical writing. And after the buffet (maybe too short a time to talk very much) and introductions (maybe a bit too long) and Writer of the Year speech (maybe a bit too short) came the booksale. This is a great event where a book dealer comes in (this year my friends Ron and Nina Else from Who Else books in Denver) and provides each of the guest authors wiht a table and a supply of books. Attendees can talk to the authors, get books signed, and buy them that night. Very well organized and very nice both for the authors and the attendees.

Another good thing - the hospitality suite. After the evening's activities, guests and attendees can mingle with daquiris, margaritas, or other drinkables in an informal setting. Always fun to catch up with old friends and meet new.

I did two workshops, one of them my standard revision workshop, and one a new one on persona voice that I think went off very well. (Voice being "the expressive communication of fictional characters.") I can tell the attendees are comfortable with the conference format, as many seem to feel free to come up afterward and talk or comment.

I attended a couple of workshops, too, which says to me that the organizers are really trying to come up with new and interesting ideas for experienced authors as well as beginners. One workshop on promotion, given by Bella Stander, was excellent, as was another on the uses of herbs, given by Laurey Patten. There were several more I'd like to have attended, but had conflicts. Agent Kristin Nelson, of the excellent PubRants blog, gave a well-received two part workshop on queries. Fortunately I got to visit with all three of these women at other times during the weekend.

Of the various keynote speeches, I'd have to say the one from Shirley Jump was the best. Short and to the point. Well presented. Careers have ups and downs. Persist. Write.

In between all this I sat around in the nice conversation areas in the hotel, talking to all sorts of people - which is always the best.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Epic Fantasy Week

Check out epic fantasy week on my agent, Lucienne Diver's blog. There have already been postings on promotion from Lynn Flewelling, and series and story arcs from David Coe. Next up...

Diana Francis on worldbuilding, me own self on developing fantasy heroes, and then Sarah Hoyt on writing fantasy in a scientific world. Enjoy! Read more of this post!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Fits and Starts

Yes, I've been a faithless blogger of late. I blame it on more interruptions - this time a family reunion for my mom's 90th birthday (a VERY happy occasion). And in between, I've been working on a lot of those "extraneous matters." Workshop handouts. Travel arrangements. An impromptu fill-in appearance on a publishing panel at the Tattered Cover bookstore. Of course, I've acquired a couple more extracurriculars - like a blog post on heroes for "fantasy week" on my agent's blog. [Beginning 9/15/08.] I've just returned from the Colorado Gold Writers Conference, and before you know it, I'll be off to Vancouver and Calgary.

Lest you feel that my three investigators have been neglected, let me assure you I have inched forward. I am in what is known (mildly) as the cursed middle. I've set up many threads. Some are going to work. Some are not. But I have reached a turning point, where a new piece of evidence shifts Portier's head (unfortunately with a bit of blood and bruises) into a new way of thinking. All the things he assumed he knew take on a new shape. Perhaps it is not the black moment, but it is a crux of the story, and a piece I never thought I'd reach.

Sorry for the long silence. I'm on now, and plan to keep up!
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Tuesday, August 19, 2008


One of the great pleasures of my writing career has been my discovery of the writers’ retreat. Now you may read of Writers’ Retreats in writing magazines and online. Many of these offer exotic locations, motivational speakers, gourmet food, brainstorming sessions, massages, workshops, or critiquing. Some offer uninterrupted time in fancy locales. Most of these are very expensive.

It works just as well – ok, better – to find a group of serious, motivated writers – your critique group, perhaps, or people you know reasonably well – and set up your own retreat. It can be a LOT less expensive. The idea is to get away from the everyday and focus on writing. Leave the spouse and kids (promising to make it up to them later when you are relaxed, focused, and elated from your writing progress.) Leave the laundry, the phone, (preferably) the internet, the dust on the furniture, and the soccer games behind. The keys to a successful retreat?

1. Location
Find yourself a comfortable location: cabin, lodge, condo. Look into YMCA facilities (you don't have to be Y, M, or C to rent their cabins and such.) Or maybe someone's mother has a lake cabin (as long as it has electricity!) or a timeshare.

Living near the Rocky Mountains, I am fortunate to have a choice of places. One of my groups rents a basic mountainside "housekeeping" cabin at a YMCA family camp that has about 100 cabins scattered over several mountainsides. Every cabin has mountain views and full kitchens and possible elk sightings. (These are not luxury cabins, but clean and functional with heat that works well even in January and fireplaces.) My other group congregates in a funky old hotel in Fairplay, Colorado that has a ghosts (so I hear), a great view, never emptying coffee and teapots, and a very cool sunroom that we take over with tables, surge protectors, extension cords, and laptops.

A site that provides visual inspiration makes a huge difference, plus provides good walks for times when your rear end goes to sleep from sitting too long. You really don't want to have to share the space with non-writing (ie. chatty) other guests.

2. Food
Arrange for good, non-time-intensive meals. My YMCA cabin group splits up the meals – one person cooks Friday dinner, one does Saturday, one does breakfasts. For lunch and snacks we share out whatever we bring, plus tea, coffee, wine, and cookies. We keep it simple but make it good. The others work while cooking is going on, but we all stop and talk and share as we eat.

The hotel in Fairplay provides continental breakfast, afternoon cookies/popcorn/fruit, and, for a special rate, a Saturday night dinner. Everything else is on the economy, which, in Fairplay is limited, but decent, and within walking distance.

3. (and most important) People
Pick the right people. People who want and need to spend the weekend writing. People who don't crack gum, require music (without headphones), or talk too much. People who don't get grouchy when an occasional writing conversation flows from a grammar question or "what is the word for ___ " question or "Eureka! I finished chapter 15!" People who are courteous about taking longer conversations outside, or sharing surge protector outlets or reference books.

You can adjust the activities by mutual consent. If someone gives massages or reads Tarot (and you're into that) or you decide to get together and read what you've written in front of the fire in the evening, that's great. But get these big three right, and you will be amazed at how the energy flows.

(And yes, I finished Chapter 15! Eureka!)

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Back from WorldCon

What a great party! I’m still not caught up on either sleep or writing, but thought I’d take a moment out to give an overview before I forget it all.

The Program

I didn’t get to many panels. One about agenting - as my agent was on it, I wanted to know what she had to say. Not much I hadn’t heard, but a good intro to the basics of the publishing business. I urge any hoping-to-be-published writers to attend a conference or convention where reputable agents put on this kind of panel. SO much info that is good to hear. One about marketing, which didn't give any answers to the great question, "What works?"

As for my own panels, the one I was most worried about was one called Is SF the new mythology?"

We talked about how myth feeds our own work, and the difference in works one might describe as myth-based and those you wouldn’t. Think not just Hero’s Journey, but works that strike you "where you live," touching on visions common to us all, eg. Platform 9 3/4. What kid hasn’t dreamed of finding the magical amidst the mundane, the fairy house in the nest of grass? And we put forth some names of writers we felt wrote books that one would describe as mythic (McKillip, Kay, McKinley, Kushner et al).

I was the only writer on a panel about moving into the convention community from outside "fandom." I felt a bit beleaguered at first, as another panelist who has worked convention programming for many years talked about the sense of arrogance and "entitlement" she feels from authors trying to get on convention programs. I outlined my own experience of being wholly unaware of fandom and conventions before being published, and the feeling of being an outsider with no credentials but my one published book. When told how important it was to remember that the people running conventions were volunteers, I pointed out that all writers who attend a convention (other than the guests of honor) are also volunteers, who often spend a great deal of money to attend. I think by the end, we had come to a better mutual understanding of fan and writer feelings. Too bad we had only a few attendees to benefit from all our hard-won wisdom.

The Torture Panel was just Elaine Isaak and I on an evening opposite the Masquerade. But we had twenty or so people to hear us talk about why we put our characters through such hard times, and what were the limits we saw or imposed on ourselves. It is always a great topic and Elaine was most companionable. I loved her buttons: You Do Not Want to Be the Hero of My Book.

I had a standing room only kaffeeklatsch with some old fans and some new who got to sit around asking me questions for an hour. I love that. I did a reading from Unholy Alliance for a decent-sized crowd. And some people actually brought books for me to sign. All good.

Attendance seemed modest at the panels this year, maybe because they jam-packed some panels with the really big names – Willis, Niven, Haldeman, Shinn, et al, and populated the others with us lesser knowns.

The People

The best thing about a con is running into people. When I went to my first WorldCon in 2000, I knew NO one. My agent, whom I had met once for about ten minutes and my editor, ditto, were supposed to be there, but I wasn't even sure I could recognize them. And of the other 5998 or so souls, I knew not one. This year, as I walked into the hotel and convention center in Denver, I saw familiar faces everywhere. Who were they?

The Roundtable: Back in 2000 I met a fellow newly published, first-time author on the My First Novel panel. She remains a great friend to this day. At the next WorldCon, I met her writers' group. Then, at World Fantasy in 2000, I ran into a woman I knew from a writers conference in Denver, and she introduced me to some people she had met at other World Fantasy Conventions. Over the years these two connections have grown into a network of published and aspiring writers who stay connected in between World Fantasy Conventions. We call ourselves the Roundtable Writers, which doesn't signify anything in particular except for sharing ups and down, triumphs and rejections (AND PARTIES) with terrific like-minded friends. I wish you all to find such a group.

Warriors: About ten members of my WarriorOfTwoSouls yahoo group came to the con from Illinois, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas, California, and Denver. It is great having such cool people to hang out with for lunch and after panels (for my readers ARE the coolest and most intelligent of readers). We found a fine Italian cafĂ©, shot the breeze in the Sheraton after my Torture panel, played with Theresa’s Kindle reader (I still prefer paper and multiple pages to access at once, but they are pretty cool gizmos.)

Locals: For once WorldCon came to Denver. So I saw lots of familiar faces from MileHiCon and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.

Booksellers: To a writer, booksellers are our best friends. I always enjoy running into Dwayne Wilkins, the sf buyer from University Bookstore in Seattle. At that first WorldCon, when Transformation was a mere six weeks old, he came up to me and said, "Your book is selling well." I’ve loved him ever since. As I am 5'2" and Dwayne is at least 6'13", it is tough to hold a conversation in a noisy room. But we work it out. I caught sight of Ron and Nina Else, the big hearts behind Who Else Books in Denver, who unabashedly support regional authors. And I waved to Alan Beatts and Jude Feldman from San Francisco’s Borderlands, and the folks from Larry Smith Books who actually DID have copies of Breath and Bone at this convention.

Broaduniverse: I stopped a minute to talk to Lettie and Kathleen “womaning” the BroadUniverse table. BU is an organization that supports women writing speculative fiction. They print a "What’s New" brochure each year, listing new releases from members, sponsor rapidfire readings at cons (really sorry that I had a conflict this year!), and even sell members' books at the table. It is a great organization, and I wish I had time to contribute more to it. You can find great articles, news, and info about BU and women writers at http://www.broaduniverse.com.

Agents, editors, and other "pros": I’ve gone to enough conventions now, that I’m starting to meet up with some of the same people. Not only my own agent, and (sometimes, but not this time) my own editor, but some from other agencies and publishing houses. It was a pleasure spending some time with Rani Graff, my Israeli publisher, and to meet Jessica Wade, who works at Roc with my editor. I am not the world’s best networker, but I ran into some people I met at Westercon in Seattle a number of years ago, and had drinks and dinner with members of the Oregon Writers Network, which must be a great deal of fun as the members are all so friendly. Saw Ken Scholes who just sold a major series and had lunch with John Pitts who is selling stories. I met Devon and Laura, two new Ace/Roc authors whose books will be released this fall. And I hung out with Jeanne Stein who writes urban fantasy for Berkely and Mario Acevedo who writes really noir (like really, really noir) humorous vampire detective novels. All in all, a great time.

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Saturday, August 2, 2008

Peripheral Matters

It would be lovely to think that a full-time writer gets to spend full (work/creative) time writing. But just this week, the variety of other endeavors involved in a writing career struck me especially hard. So what's going on?

Preparing for the World Science Fiction Convention

First, logistics: I don't fly this time, but I've got two airport runs to make, one for a good friend traveling in from Vancouver on Tuesday to be my roommate, and the second for two more good friends flying in from Baltimore to attend the con. Then I've got to schedule a dinner with my agent, a critique group meeting on Wednesday night to arrange as our remote member will be in town for the con, a lunch with readers from my online group, and decide matters like "do I take the car and pay the exorbitant nightly parking at the hotel or have the ES (Exemplary Spouse) drop us off?"

Second, prepare for my program items. Some are fun - like choosing what to read at my reading - Breath and Bone or teaser bits from Unholy Alliance. This can take time, and usually involves tough decision making. Some are easy, like preparing for the Torture panel and the Joining the Convention Community panel - that's just making a few notes. But the "SF as modern mythology" panel which I am to moderate is a bit more obtuse. What does that topic mean? Who are the other panelists? Do I know enough about this topic to ask intelligent questions to keep the discussion on track. I've been peeking at Joseph Campbell sites and exchanging emails to the panelists to get their take on where the discussion should go.

Preparing workshops for two upcoming writers' conferences

If there weren't handouts due to volunteers by Sept 1, I wouldn't even be thinking about workshops right now. But one of my workshops for the Colorado Gold conference is brand new. "What is This Thing Called Voice?" It's a topic I've got several pages of notes on, but I need to choose a focus [hearing voice vs. writing voice] and formulate a coherent script before I can pass on a handout. This can take two or three days to do. And then I'll need to do some run-throughs before the conference. In October I'm doing the Surrey Writers Conference, and I've got one workshop that I need to expand from a two hour to a three-hour class, mostly choosing some good exercises, and one workshop that I need to review as I haven't done it for about four years. That's at least a day and a half prep, plus run-throughs as the con gets closer.

WD (Wretchedly Delayed) Postcard/Bookmark Development

Aarrgh. Here it is WorldCon and I've still not done new postcards/bookmarks for the Lighthouse books. Part of this is my dallying because using tools like Corel or Publisher or whatever is something I do rarely enough that I have to relearn them each time. And my version of Corel is very old and it is the one thing that just won't run right on Vista. C _ _ P! Part of the problem is that I have to DECIDE things like postcard vs. bookmark, and then figure out what is needed - CYMK , 300dpi bookcover, trimmed to the right size, and then the back - which quotes? same blurb as on the F&S cards, new one for the "series" card, which fonts...etc. I can't afford to just dump all this in the lap of a professional. Wish I could. Now it is very late and I don't think I'll be able to get them done in time for the con. Phooey. But I needed to do them anyway.

Travel arrangements

The only thing I have to book is my trip to World Fantasy in Calgary for early November. I've been trying to watch fares. See if there is any wiggle room. No doubt it will be more expensive than if I'd booked it three months ago. I'm going to be in Vancouver the previous weekend. It would make sense to stay over a couple of days with my friend in Vcr and travel straight to Calgary, but I think the fact that the writers conference is booking the Vancouver trip and I'm booking the Calgary trip is going to make the whole thing too complicated. I'll just fly home and turn around and leave again two days later.

Critique prep

Can't forget to read my partners' work. They give me such useful feedback, this has to be a priority. And, as many, many writers will tell you, doing critique is at lest as valuable as receiving it. It just takes more time.

Well, here I am. The days seem to race past, and I really do like to THINK before I write. Don't want to waste either my time or yours, dear reader.

These tasks don't even cover email, reading blogs/posts/whatever, or even just reading. I'm reading two manuscripts for blurbs right now. Just finished one. Now to write the blurb...it was good. Then to finish the other one.

Such is a writers' life. Each thing fun in itself, but the scheduling, ow...
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Monday, July 21, 2008

Waking the Fire

This has been a busy summer. Family business has occupied most of my time since early May. Writing days have been rare and discontinuous, requiring constant restarts, which is just deadly for my development style. It didn't help that I was caught in the deadly middle of the book, the oft-mentioned "it's all crap" stage.

I was beginning to panic. Deadlines don't move, and I'm determined to get this book in on time. I feel as if I used up all my slacker chits on the Lighthouse books - two books instead of one, five months late with the first, a month late with the second. [Yes, Yes, many authors are constantly late, but I'm a good girl, you see.]

I've mentioned some things I've done to restart - rereading, rewriting, rethinking. But last Friday when I sat down to work, I decided I HAD to get moving. I was going to work Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, all in a row. The blessed spouse took care of several things that would have taken me away - he is the most supportive and generous of companions. And so what did I do?

I had to get reacquainted with the book - approximately 225 pages at present.

#1 - I started again at the beginning. Re-re-worked the new opening to include a couple of possible character "expansions" for my narrator Portier, who is actually the least fleshed out of my three agentes confide. One of the ideas is going to work. The other might be too much of a secret in a story where everyone has secrets. We'll see. I just laid the groundwork that can be easily removed later.

#2 - Spent a whole day with my "Conspiracy File". The biggest problem with a long layoff is losing the plethora of detail and "continuity information" in my head. Usually I maintain this store of info throughout the development of a book. But never have I had this kind of interruption [all good stuff, by the way, except for a few weeks where my mom was sick - thanks to those who were worried!]

What I did with the conspiracy file was to methodically go through my current list of clues, the current evidence against each suspect, the current progress in the revelation of the world's magic, and the current developments in the arc of one particular character of central importance. As I went through these things, I found myself referring more and more to the manuscript. Rewriting bits. Adding in a few bits that I had put in my conspiracy file, but had never gotten into the actual text.

#3 - Picked up a stack of critiqued pages from my writers group. I had not sat down to incorporate [or not] my critiquers' comments in the spring when I was trying very hard to forge ahead in the story to lay down as much as I could before the life disruption. But I felt this was the time, because it took me back into these earlier chapters while looking through alternate eyes. This is the great value of critique partners - forcing yourself to look at your writing through different eyes.

By this morning, I had gotten through all the comments and was sitting in the middle of Chapter 14 - the last full chapter I wrote. And all of a sudden, I found myself jotting down a list of "things that need to happen next" and writing an entirely new paragraph that opens the next scene. My head is full. My fingers are poised. I am anxious to find out what happens next. Hooray!!!
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Hot Days, Cool Films

When the hot days hit the Colorado front range, the spouse and I start looking for cool places to hide out in the late afternoon. We have air conditioning, but hate to turn it on for just a few hours a day. We're fortunate here to have cool nights and lovely mornings. Movie theaters work very nicely. I'll say we've seen three great summer movies.

The Dark Knight: the blockbuster of blockbusters. Enjoyed it very much. It is indeed dark. It is indeed well acted. Heath Ledger and Christian Bale - both excellent (though I still don't like his "Batman voice"), and who couldn't love Michael Caine's Alfred? Maggie Gyllenhal takes over the role of Rachel. I like her as an actress, but somehow she just didn't fit my image of a big city, assistant DA. Casting is so much more than ability. I've liked Aaron Eckhart since Erin Brockovich (though I do miss the earring!) He fit the role as the noble DA beautifully, but his story struck me as the weak spot. I'm just not sure I bought "what happened" to him. What I found the best was how the film addressed the moral dilemmas of the hero. I am looking forward to seeing the film again, which is always a good sign for me.

I might have enjoyed Iron Man just a little bit more. Robert Downey Jr was great as Tony Stark, the wealthy arms merchant captured by terrorists. Gwyneth Paltrow fun as girl Friday Pepper Potts, Jeff Bridges nicely patronizing as Tony's old friend and business partner. (Oh, Starman, how far you have fallen...) Was it the engineer as hero that made this a more "fun" film than the Dark Knight? Was it the complex, interesting relationships between these people? Sometimes excellent characters in a film don't "fit" together, but these did. I knew I was watching a comic book movie, but it was thoughtfully done without being grim. Robert Downey made Tony witty and smart and lovable and heroic all at once. I like smart.

And for the third film, maybe my favorite of the three?

It's got to be Wall-E. The Pixar folks have topped themselves with the tale of the diligent, sturdy robot left behind to clean up the garbage-smothered earth while the human population is off... Well, I really don't want to do spoilers. But I loved every minute of this film. Funny, beautiful, graceful - who would think a robot romance could result in the very definition of dancing? Good story. Unexpected heroes. Unbelievable detail in the animation. I particularly loved Wall-E's collection of interesting "stuff" he found as he worked. Can't recommend this enough. Of course, if you don't enjoy animation or such...well, as with all works of art - even books - to each his own opinion.

Still lots of films in the backlog, but these three will be keepers for my collection.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Me, Myself, and I - Part 2

Yes, I've been absent for a while. A family illness has kept me from the keyboard and I'm just getting back into Unholy Alliance.

First order of blog posting was a follow-up to my Deep Genre post about first person writing. I thought a reader's comment was worth a second part. So, if you're interested in the topic, check out Me, Myself, and I - Part 2. In summary:

the post covers ways to address some of the common writer problems with first person, such as conveying knowledge outside the POV character's grasp, keeping up tension, and so forth. Read more of this post!

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Little Solstice Gift

Summer solstice greetings! It is a beautiful day here in northern Colorado - mild, a gentle breeze, and the glorious smell of much-needed rain after a small shower this afternoon. I am not one to venerate the seasons' changes - only revel in the seasons themselves. But in honor of some who do mark the changes, albeit they are beings of my own creation, I'm offering you a scene I wrote when I was trying to get a handle on a very particular form of magic in Flesh and Spirit. Timewise, the scene would precede the opening of Flesh and Spirit by a day or two. There may be slight discrepancies with the final history/magic.

WARNING: this scene could be considered a very mild spoiler for Flesh and Spirit or Breath and Bone. Some would also rate it PG13.




His name glided through the moon shade like a hunting owl to settle in gentle urgency on Kol's bare shoulder. Rare to hear it spoken by any voice but his own in this long parched season of disaffection. Since those who ruled in Aeginea had silenced his sister Clyste, he had walked and danced and celebrated his waking seasons alone. Only in the Canon, at seasons’ change, did he dance with the others.

No matter the rare occasion; he could not attend the call. The grove suffered, and his kiran was yet steps shy of its completion. His sinistre leg held firm in the center of the grove, knee bent, thigh muscle warming quickly with the strain. He swept the same-side arm low, gathering the scents of shy violet and foxglove and hairy-stemmed campion, resistant in its deadness, and grasping the sounds of clicking beetles and the dry stalks rustling in the night breeze. He stretched his opposed arm skyward and let the rill of moonlight travel the arc of his length, caressing arm and hip, thigh, and extended leg, all the way to his toe that touched the unhealthy earth beneath the grass.

Refine the position - the hand’s curve, the toe’s point - lower the sinistre knee yet again, until the thigh heats like midsummer’s sun. He shifted and stretched, deeper, farther, as if his old vayar, Rafael, yet lived, goading him beyond his limits. Now, a full breath. Pause and hold. A perfection of stillness to settle the spirit.

Reaching deep for strength honed over seasons of practice, he drew in his limbs, sharp and sudden as a frighted doe bursts through the brake. Whipping out the dexter leg, he spun on his set foot, opening heart and mind and flesh to the ebbed life of the grove.

Oak and ash, wax-leaved hawthorn…as his own thoughts he knew them. Coaxing their faint music to life, he flexed his dexter leg to spin again, and again, and thrice ten more before leaping into the air, legs full extended fore and behind, in the exaltation of the grove. His will and his straining limbs…the movements…whatever perfection and grace he could bring to the kiran…drew the songs from trees and grass and moonlight and wove them together into a single pattern that infused the grove with life and power. He dropped softly onto his toes, coiled tight, knees bent, his arms raised in sinuous unity above his head.

“Sweetly done.” Moth perched in an oak split down its bole, her long, lean shadow reaching across the grass almost to his feet. She swung one leg idly, the snake sigils that wound from hip to ankle lacing her shadow with streaks of sapphire. "Thy kirani are the most exquisite of anyone’s, Kol. Could we but breed a thousand of thee to dance such patterns, we might repair the Canon and reclaim our rightful territories before the moon grows old.”

He dipped one knee, stretching the other leg behind to make a straight line with his inclined back, and swept hands from head to earth in a quiet allavĂ© to relinquish his bond to the grove. Moth’s interruption, so close upon the end of the kiran, annoyed him. He preferred to relinquish slowly, allowing the last energies of the dance steps to pass from his body into the kiran-hai - tonight, the grove - so that no energies would be wasted. His purpose was not to savor the lingering pleasure for himself, but to quicken the kiran-hai so that it might be sooner reconnected to the Canon, the living pattern of the world.

“What brings thee here, Sentinel? Not to discuss my kiran postures or this sad little grove.” He released his position and sat cross-legged on the grass, pleased to feel the faint beat of life beneath his groin. Before he’d begun the dance at sunset, this patch of earth and trees had existed season upon season without pulse or vigor. Surely no guardian had danced here for longer than his own lifetime.

Moth stretched her dexter leg up the tree, exposing herself to him, knowing he would be aroused from the kiran, the more so with its abrupt ending. She fluttered her lashes. “I would discuss postures with thee, Kol, in any season.”

Her body was indeed lovely and smelled of woodrush and willow and ripe female. But she had never seemed to grasp that he found her cold, biting manner unpleasing and her narrow thinking ungenerous. “Why hast thou come, Moth?”

“The watchwards at Clyste’s well have wakened.”

“Breached? By whom? Tell me it was not some blighted human!” Though Clyste’s indefinable spirit yet lived radiantly in the fields and forest nourished by her well, the mind and will that had shaped her singular being had long since lost cohesion. Any quickening of the barriers that confined her to her resting place must signal an intrusion and no act of hers. A breach could mean her death.

“Not a breach, graceful one. The disturbance was but a certain…awareness…roused in Clyste’s sianou lands, as if she stirred in her dreams. Hardly anything at all. But you made me promise to tell thee of the smallest change.” Moth traced one finger along the fine-drawn vine that encircled the swell of her breast. “I hoped for thy gratitude.”

Kol considered possibilities. Such awareness as Moth described signified nothing with regard to Clyste’s fate. That had been sealed many seasons ago with bindings of myrtle, hyssop, and hatred, and could not be reversed. But anything that sparked his sister’s lingering essence enough to trigger the watchwards was worth investigating. He had promised both his lost sister and his dead foster brother to mind the lands watered by the Well, as they had believed the place a nexus for the world’s change.

“Didst thou report this to the archon, Sentinel?”

Even in the dark he felt her smile. “Tuari would forbid you to act on it. So…not yet.”

The lie tainted the air like fen gas. Moth did not understand subtlety.

“Report the incident as thou wilt.” He phrased his speech as carefully as he designed a kiran. “It was a likely a bull elk’s bugling or a wolf’s howl that caused the quickening thread. My sister dearly loved autumn song. But I can chase lost dreams no longer. With so few of us left here in the hills, I’ve too much work undone to hare after rumors, even for Clyste’s sake. And I’ve had too little time for pleasure out here so long alone…”

He joined Moth by the tree, reached up, and twined his fingers in hers that yet teased at her breast. Then he pulled her down to the living grass and in explosive fury yielded her the unspent energies that by right and need belonged to the grove.

Only after she had sauntered into the night, smug in her small victory and most certainly bearing a report of his long-awaited submission straight to those who ruled in Aeginea, did Kol set out for the Well. He held little hope for the world’s change. But no treacherous human would sully the waning seasons of Clyste’s gentle life, and no dull-sighted archon such as Tuari would prevent him seeing to it.

A relaxing and joyous solstice to all!
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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Me, Myself, and I

For the first time in forever, I posted on the Deep Genre blog.

The post is an answer to a question about whether one can overuse the words I and myself when writing in first person.

The short answer is: Yes, of course! The post talks about some techniques to minimize the problem. Read more of this post!

Friday, June 13, 2008

I Love It When That Happens

OK, hopping back into the saddle after another six days of family fun...

I assumed it would take me another two days or so to start moving forward, but I guess I did just enough in those few days between my mom's move and this latest digression to fuel some clear thinking. As I might have said before, a little distance gives perspective. First off, I realized that I had left a huge wrong turn in the plot.

PLOTTING RULE: Always consider alternatives to your characters' choices. Is what you plan for them to do next what they would really do next?

Case in point: Portier and Ilario had discovered that a young sorceress had been imprisoned by some nefarious individuals and used for nefarious purposes. The only name she spoke before she died was that of a man missing for almost a year. Her clues hint that he is held by the same captors. And what did my intrepid fellows do?

Went off to an afternoon "salon" to investigate another piece of the puzzle, because that's what I needed them to do: meet some people and discover that their critical deadline (and I mean DEADline) had just been moved up. Very tense. I was focused on the steps in unraveling the puzzle of the royal assassination attempt, rather than this parallel plot layer of the missing conte. DOH!

It was clear the girl had been held in the very palace where my investigators were staying. She had escaped her captors only three days previous. Of COURSE they would do their best to see if the missing man might still be held there! Which took them into the royal crypt and uncovered new artifacts, new evidence, and allowed Portier to get some insights into Ilario and his relationship to his half sister, Queen Eugenie, and get his own first view of this woman who is a crux of the conspiracy. Is she or isn't she trying to kill her husband?

That is, a good, spooky, revelatory action scene inserted itself. I love it when that happens!
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Monday, June 2, 2008

Some Common Questions

Inspired by a comment on my last post, here are a few questions I get asked frequently.

Will you read and/or critique my manuscript?

Sorry, I won't. Between my own writing, critiquing work of my critique group partners, and reading manuscripts for the various workshops, blurbs, and such that I "sign up" for, I have no time to read other manuscripts. I believe all writers need to establish their own group of first readers - people who are serious readers, serious writers, and who will be honest about their reactions to your work. Family members or personal friends tend to give support (which we all need, as well) rather than detailed feedback. I enjoy the give and take of an excellent critique group, and have learned as much by reading other people's work critically as I do by their critiquing mine.

For a few more questions and answers...

I have an idea for a story. Will you write it and split the profit?

Nope. Ideas are everywhere. I have more ideas than I could possibly write in my lifetime. And to be blunt, an "idea" is far less than half the work of producing a book!

Where do you get your ideas?

Everywhere. The Lighthouse Duet came to be from a feature story I heard on NPR, in combination with a remembered scene from a YA novel about Roman Britain, and some stuff I knew about monks preserving classical literature during the Dark Ages. The Rai-kirah books resulted from an attempt to turn the concept of a fantasy hero from the cliched "naive, noble-hearted young boy or girl with a kindly wizard mentor, elf and dwarf companions, and a noble destiny awaiting him or her at the end of a quest" on its head. And so was Aleksander born. Song of the Beast came about when I decided to pick another unlikely hero - a musician who lacked and was unlikely to acquire any skills of war. Etc. Etc.

Has anyone ever stolen one of your ideas?

I sincerely doubt it. Just as I do, most writers have more ideas than they can possibly use. And it is in the execution...the writing...that a book comes to life. Ten writers could set out with the same premise and come up with ten wildly different stories. Example? How many stories have been written about cruel slaveowners and their mysterious slave? I like to think I did something unique with that idea. If my books stand up well, then anyone who lifts one of my characters or some particular worldbuilding idea will be shown up as a cheat. I love the concept of Amber...the essential core of a world and an endless variety of reflection worlds that one family can travel. But why would I want to write a story based on that idea and pretend it's my own?

Now if someone is stealing your actual words, whole passages...well, plagiarism is another matter altogether.

Is anyone ever going to make a movie of your books?

I would likely have to sell a whole lot more of them! (Notice the ones that get made with any success at all have sold a few billion copies. Word of mouth. Word of mouth. Word of mouth.)

How do I get started writing fantasy (or any kind of fiction)?

This is fodder for an entirely new post. But in short: Read. Write. Learn the craft. Constantly and interchangeably.

I'll do more questions in another post.
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