Scattered Writer With Chances of Sense

I was talking to someone yesterday on the concept of non-fiction cannibalizing fiction.

Banish the gruesome image from your mind.  Despite my late, great argument with THE non-fiction writer who shall not be named, she didn’t try to take a bite out of me.  (She wouldn’t have a chance.  I write for Baen and my commenters make shivs out of dictionary covers.  No refined place, this According To Hoyt.  In fact I think the lady called us barbarians.  Or something.)

What I meant though is the extent to which writing blog posts precludes writing fiction.  The answer must be… I’m not sure.

When I did the blog tour for Darkship Thieves, non-fiction was a new endeavor.  It took me a day to write a thousand word essay, the same it took me for a short story or 10k words on a novel.  Sometimes, if the mind was slow, it took me a week.  For six months I did nothing but blog tour (I want to book another of those, so if you have a blog and are willing to host it, email me at sahoyt – at- hotmail -dot – com.  I should start in early to mid October and carry on through December, at which time I’ll start blogging for A Few Good Men, as well because it comes out in March.  If you have a blog and wish to host me, you get to lay restrictions on me or whatever you’d like.)  This helped sell Darkship Thieves.  It did NOT help my income, though.  (Payment is at least a year later by contract and besides, that one has barely earned out now, two and a half years later.)  So it was part of the annus horriblis of 5k income.

If I wrote the nonfiction, I couldn’t write fiction all day or, sometimes, for a week.

Clearly I’ve defeated that, since I roll out of bed and write this blog.  (Well today involved dealing with kid issues before blogging.  And so, I’m scattered and late.)

However, I’ll confess some posts take it out of me, and make it hard to concentrate on fiction.  Also, some posts require a lot of energy.  I’m postponing one (probably till Saturday) because it will either be a full out rant or… well… in either case, it will require energy.

I remember reading a Shakespeare Scholar who said if he was writing the sonnets while he wrote some play (I think Two Gentlemen of Verona) no wonder it was such thin gruel.   This puzzled me at the time, but it is true.  Say I’m mid novel, and someone asks for a short, and the short comes out heavy and hot (not that way you pervs!) rushing forth full of life.  I have to take a day before I resume the novel, or the novel will be pathetic and lifeless till I forget the short.

With the blog I have to walk the fine line of still making the posts interesting enough to be worth your time (and occasional money.  This babbler works for tips) and not draining the novels of energy and excitement.

Still on the third hand, as some people have pointed out, there is such a thing as publicity and not exactly by design, this blog seems to be my best tool for that.  I didn’t plan it that way – facebook is so much less work.  It is just the way it is.  The number of fan letters I get that say “I read your blog and bought this book–” outweighs all other methods of promo save the blog tour.

So, what to do?  Well, I’ve tried writing a week of posts in advance.  The problem is, because the posts proceed from “what is passing at the moment” it’s very hard to conjure seven topics I feel passionate about one after the other.  I’ve managed four, and it takes me pretty much a full writing day.

This is not to announce I’m giving up the blog – as I said, it seems my most effective publicity tool.  OTOH it takes a lot of time and effort.  But then I gave up sleep for lent three years ago, so mwah ah ah ah ah.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that anything else you do that involves words can cannibalize your writing, and you need to be aware of that.  Teaching or talking in panels does that for me.

While I’m not like the young writer who thought she had a quota of words and couldn’t even talk on the phone for fear of wasting them – I am conscious of a limited supply of “push”, of energy to give the words.  And sometimes, I simply won’t have it.  Which is when I sit here going “uh…. duh.”

What to do about it?  I don’t know.  Part of this, and part of the reason I think the blog is effective is that I ENJOY the blog and ya’ll’s contributions.

Honestly, though, the greatest drain is “what to write about.”  Yeah, just fresh from a trip to DC, I can tell you that my GPS is trying to kill me.  And it was the perfect post for a day when I didn’t have much brain.  Yes, I’m contemplating a post on conspiracy and sociability.  And a post on revolutions.  And a post on whether women are needed.  (The guys can shut up now.  Like all the idiot men who say men are no longer needed – that’s what is going to turn into a rant – I happen to imagine myself as the sole surviving woman in a world full of males.  Oh, wait… my female friends and female commenters in this blog can stay too.  There’s enough for all of us.  As for the rest of women… sucks to be them. 🙂   And lest someone takes offense, of COURSE I’m joking.  It is a rebuttal to the New York Time’s continued attempts to Onionize itself, by printing an article on how men are obsolete.)  Those will all be serious posts and therefore energyy draining, but probably worth it.  And I have a guest post on hand from my friend Tedd Roberts.

On the other hand, that’s all I have on deck, right now.  No other post ideas.  So… all of you… what would you like to hear about?  I noted Beth making notes for low tech societies.  If my upbringing is worth something it is first hand knowledge of those and there are surprising accomodations.  And I or one of the people here who research/read history for fun can probably elucidate stuff I don’t now.  By that I mean not just “tell us about your childhood” but “How did people get around this?” or “did you have that?” or “I’m writing in society x – how did they do y?”

Then there is the fact some of you might be crazy enough to solicit my opinion on serious issues.  There’s a lot of opinions in here, and they’re worth what you pay for them.  And we can go into more Human Wave stuff, but ask me questions, please, because I’m finishing two novels and I’m writer of very little brain.  Stuff like “Sarah, how does human wave reconcile distopias?  You’re aware your books are not all fluffy bunnies?” are welcome.

Also, I will take guest posts.  If you think it’s worth it, I wouldn’t mind doing a guest post once a week or so from different people each time.  Just let me know what you wish to blog on, and if you’re one of the regulars I’ll probably take it.  (Though I might tweak it, she says, not thinking RES will want to do a guest post, but afraid of the punny depths he’d sink to.)

Also none of you have sent me announcements of upcoming stuff.  Have you all been idle?  (Cracks whip.)

Anyway – send questions my way, either via email or in comments here.  Questions, suggestions, oranges, characters…. whatever you have on hand.  I can ramble about a lot of things, but I need to be pointed in A direction first.

And now I’m going to take my scattered self and go work on Noah’s Boy.

147 responses to “Scattered Writer With Chances of Sense

  1. I love reading what you write. Fiction *and* non-fiction. I lurk more than take part in discussions, though. I’m more or less the quiet fan, sitting close to the front to compensate for my poor eyesight. Totally blend in with the crowd, but suffused by a glow of “gosh, she’s great” and sheer joy at being able to read what you write. It makes my Kitteh-Dragon ears quiver with delight. Thank you!

    • I’m more or less the quiet fan, sitting close to the front to compensate for my poor eyesight.

      Those are the ones you really need to watch. After the tragedy, everyone will say, “but…she was so…normal…”

    • So…there’s no way to go back to the beginning of the comments and just comment on the thread itself? WordPress sucks canal water. And not the semi-clean canal water like, say Illinois or Missouri. Boston Harbor-type canal water.

      Speaking of scattered writer, I have a scene that takes place in a ruined Washington DC and was Google-Earth’ing it last night when I realized that the square that represents the boundaries of the D.C. are actually visible in large part by roads and even where a line of trees runs along it with open meadow “outside” the border.

      What’s nice, though, was that I was previously and completely oblivious to the fact that on two of the for corners of the square, there are actual stone markers that show where the district boundary is. VERY cool. I’m not quite sure why, but, again, VERY cool.

  2. Ideas? I’ll repost something I wrote on FB, I’d love a professional opinion/discourse on the possibilities or pitfalls.


    I had a thought, as I disentangled another novel I wrote about a century ago.

    I’ve got too many POVs, readers lose track of who’s who and where they are. And, this being part of a series, there are things going on with other regular characters that happen at the same time, but they don’t really have anything to do with this particular plot.

    So, instead of _just_ rewriting a 120K book, perhaps I ought to rewrite it into three of four novellas, or short novels. Are we so trained to expect Big Fat Fantasies, that taking the same information in smaller chunks is unacceptable? Or has our frantic modern pace of life arrived at a place where several straightforward stories, quicker to read, with less confusion would be a relief?

    Is a mishmash of novels, novellas and shorts a good way to write a series, or just a tangle no sensible reader wants to enter?

    • I have always had a soft spot for books which were collections of related stories – e.g. The Adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat by the late, great Harry Harrison. Later in the series they become more monolithic novels, but the first “book” is several stories which linearly and in visibly defined steps trace the origin and development of the character. (IIRC they were originally published separately.) But put them between the same pair of covers and they’re one big sprawling adventure.

      • Also a novel now is 50k words, just about. Can be less. When rereading a novel — I paid 4.99 for! — on the kindle, I realized it was maybe 30k words. Pam, a lot of the Simak’s are too. Don’t believe me? Go count. The thing is, on the rewrite I noted it, because I had half an hour to re-read it in and I made it. In the original read through — slower, more leisurely — I did not feel defrauded by the short length. I still don’t.

        • I have largely disconnected my sense of “what it should cost” from the length of a work. Not because it isn’t more work for the writer – obviously it is. But because I see it as paying for an experience. If I’m happy with the experience, it amuses me and makes me think and so forth, then I’m happy to pay. If not, it doesn’t make any difference to me that I got five pounds of rotten apples for a dollar instead of two pounds for a dollar. Volume discounts on crap are not an incentive to buy crap unless you own a fertilizer factory.

          The relationship does still hold at the very lowest and very highest ends of the curve – if you try to sell me an eight-page short story for any price, it had better be some kind of seriously good short story. If I download the sample and don’t see, in the page and a half of text I get, that it is the spiritual heir of “Baby Shoes,” I ain’t buyin’ it. Similarly, if you want ten or twenty bucks out of me, the experience by definition had better last a while, or I won’t be happy with the price of admission. But in the middle, don’t really care – might be more tempted to take a flyer on a .99 special, but 1.99, 2.99, 3.99, all up in there, not too worried about the length v. price.

          • Incidentally, I made this argument to a panel at WorldCon and was told that while it made sense, it was elitist. I hadn’t thought of that.

            • I disagree. Vehemently. It’s not elitist: it’s capitalist. It’s voting with your pocketbook. Readers (as all other consumers) have been doing this as long as resources have been exchanged for words, albeit with a few aberrations. To call it elitist implies that there is one overarching standard that governs What Is Good and Right and SHALL BE READ BY ALL. In writing, as in other commodities, past a certain point of quality – in this case simple readability – it all boils down to “what I like” for the individual reader. It’s the reason Twilight has sold so well: lots of readers like it. Simple, though unsatisfying. So don’t pay good money for bad apples, and don’t feel bad that there are people who will look down their noses at you for reading schlock.

              • By some arguments even readability is not a necessary standard, witness Fifty Shades Of Grot. An important and often overlooked standard, even more significant than readability, is that a book not insult me, p-ss me off or otherwise compel me to put the book down and walk away from it. I can read the unreadable book if the story and characters are sufficiently compelling, but there are limits to what I will tolerate from even the most readable of books.

                This is where, in a con suite, I would rise to my feet, thrust one fist into the air and start the chant of “Human Wave, Human Wave, Human Wave, Human Wave, Human Wave … “

        • It ain’t the words in the novel, it’s the novel in the words. Insert reference to Lincoln’s answer to the question: How long should a man’s legs be?

        • My OUTLINES are 50k words.

          • Mine used to be. All I can say is “things change.” I’m not going to say it’s for the best — I’m just going to say that writing is a very odd job.

            • It seems to me that as we are no longer limited by the paper cuts that the length of books is as much a matter of fashion as is the length of skirts. And to continue with the analogy: the content and style might be likened to the cuts and colors for the season. Who in the halls of fashion cares if you will look good in these clothes, it is all you will find in the stores. To beat on the well used drum at the center of this circle — indie publishing should allow the story’s needs to dictate the length and styling of your book.

    • Well, I have over 60 short stories and novellas featuring my MC and her associates. I find that leaves me a lot more flexibility – I can mention episodes in passing, then go back and fill in the gap, or not. I can write a “campaign” of stories that lead to a single climax, but without the weight of “Ye Novel” and all the demands it puts on me. And digressions become features, not bugs. 🙂 I’m planning on publishing the stuff as batches of stories in the MC’s chronological order (more or less). Given how people are reading little bits here and little bits there during commutes or on flights, a collection of linked short stories make sense for sales.

      My novel needed to be novel length because of 1) the subject and 2) the “cast of thousands.” It is about 85K words at the moment, probably going to stay there. (As an aside, my non-fic books also run around 85K. Maybe I’m allergic to writing tomes.)

      • Mentioning episode in passing, to be filled in later?? Appalling! Shameful! The great Dr. Watson would never do such a thing! Did Heinlein do that? I think not! Repent your evil and slothful ways.

        • What bothers more is the mentioned episodes that never were recorded.

          • Barry Hughart did worse than that. He had whole volumes “missing” in the mists of time. It really freaks out new readers.

            • Is that something like Leonard Part 6?

              • Not sure. “Bridge of Birds” is the first volume and either “The Story of the Stone” or “Eight Skilled Gentlemen” is the tenth volume. There were supposed to be four more books but the publishers treated him almost as badly as they treated Our Host.

                • Oh. I thought it was contrived to have missing volumes. “Leonard Part 6” is the name of a Bill Cosby spy spoof movie. During the intro, they mention that Leonard Parts 1 through 5 were too highly classified for the public.

                  • It has both “missing” volumes (lost in the mists of time) and volumes that didn’t get written but were planned by the author so it is like “Leonard Part 6” in that sense.

                    • OTOH, sometimes it is best for everybody if those missing volumes STAY missing. cough*Star Wars*cough

                    • Someday…probably when my youngest is a teenager or thereabouts, either ShortFatDirectorGuy will die, or will allow someone else to reinvent the canon from scratch, maybe a family member or some such.

                      If the same people that handled the CGI trailers for the Star Wars MMO handled the re-done movies, we would have a much, much different Star Wars universe.

                    • I have only one thing to say on this topic: HAN SHOT FIRST.

                    • Suggesting otherwise is a whitewashing of history that would put Pravda to shame.

                • Story of the Stone is the middle. Eight Skilled Gentlemen is the “last” — and yes. Well, not as bad. He left before they could. I wish he would go indie.

                  • So very much YES. I would LOVE to get more Master Li novels.

                  • I was just looking for him on Amazon, hoping to find some indie, but there’s nothing there. I love those books. (I am amazed that everyone here loves all the same books I do. Well, maybe not THAT amazed, come to think of it.)

    • With ebooks being what they are, if things are reasonably priced (no 7.99 short stories for me unless A: there is no other way to get it, and B: you are one of my FAVORITE authors, and probably C: I know you need the money)… I see no reason why a mishmash of novels, novellas, and shorts wouldn’t be feasible. I believe I know one author who’s got a bunch of shorts and a few novels out, for instance, and I am personally still dithering about whether a particular story is a single novel or a pair of novellas. Or a novella and a novel. *gnars on the story idly, but has to finish That Other One first*

      I would probably try to have a good number of the short-stories be stand-alone enough to be picked up as inexpensive samplers, to give people a taste for the world…

      • No 7.99 short stories for me either. I have a price list that I use for my fiction. If my shorts are really short, I put five together, check the word count, and then price accordingly. I used to price at .99 until I started reading Dean’s blog. I then realized that I was underpricing my work and that was just as bad as overpricing.

    • If you don’t get left dangling, then, as a reader, it’s a great way to read a series. The worst part of a book is always when it’s over and pieces that weren’t necessary to the overall plot got left dangling, but you *know* there must have been more there originally. Unfortunately, many authors who start something like this end up quitting and leaving the main story unfinished and never finishing it. This so annoys meI tend to wait until I’m sure the series is going to finish/not quit halfway before I start reading/buying.

  3. I’ll request a topic for a future blog post: what is the value of writing in tight third person versus first person? On a related note, how does one pull out of tight third person into a more distant third person? (This was discussed in comments a while back, but I, for one, would love to see more.)

    • On a related note, how does one pull out of tight third person into a more distant third person?

      Are you referring to “tight” as being the third-person description of what a single “head” can see, hear, etc, and “more distant” being omniscient?

  4. I have a sequel to my novel started, and I find the same thing – if I write on short stories, I can’t seem to get much good on the novel. Since right now I am concentrating on shorts the novel perforce languishes. I have a deal with myself that once I get one more short done, I can make the next two publishings compilations of similarly-themed shorts, which gives me a month and a half to work on the novel. It probably won’t be finished in that time – I do have a day job – but that should knock out most of it.

    Richard Feynman relates an anecdote in his autobiography (it has to do with where photons come from) about his son claiming that his “word bag” had run out of a certain word, and therefore he couldn’t say the word anymore. It’s not that bad, as you say, but there is something to it. 🙂

  5. Free-range Oyster

    A thought I had yesterday I’d like your input on: Human Wave Fantasy. Does it exist? Can it exist? I started thinking about it because you mentioned (I can’t remember where now, I lose track in all the fun discussions that go on here) that fantasy always seems to be looking backward. There was once a golden age and now we live in its ruins, we are the descendants of a once-great empire, the world was pure once and you blew it up you bas- Er, anyway, they so often seem to be (as I put it to the Oyster Wife) looking back toward Eden and never forward to Zion. Even Tolkien, PBUH, fell into this.

    But not all are like this. Having read them most recently, Garth Nix and Brandon Sanderson both come to mind. While some of their books do have that element of the remains of a golden age, the stories are about building a new golden age; moving forward, not scrabbling in the ruins.

    TL;DR version: Can the principles of Human Wave be applied to other speculative fiction, and would the result still be Human Wave?

    • I think you can have Human Wave Fantasy, but only for certain prerequisite situations. Change *must* be possible in the society. So not so much Disney Princess-style royalty or where you can’t go for a walk without stubbing your toe on a rock covered with prophecies that will ALL come true, so help you Ghu. A Beowolf-era warleader, or a system of royalty like Europe had up to WWI (very much subject to realpolitik) could be made to work.

      • Tolkien’s fantasy looked backward because it all took place after the Fall and before the Resurrection (to take the Christian view) and because it was an epic world tied to the elegy/despair thing that pagan societies had going.

        The idea that you can have eucatastrophe on the grand scale is the stuff of Christianity and Judaism, mostly, and hence it works out in fairy tale and in many knightly romances also. (Though Charlemagne having cruddy sons didn’t help the Matter of France have a happy ending, that’s for sure.) However, even if there’s an unhappy ending in a Christian epic, the heroes are going to end up in a Better Place having fun, not mobbing around in the gloomy Elysian Fields as starved vampire ghosts.

        • Don’t forget that the Norse warriors also end up in a better place 😉

          • Only those who died with sword* in hand.

            *Sword, in this instance, standing for all possible weapons.

            • Well – I suspect since my Norse ancestors had some really strong women (if you look at the women in my fam) and that the women had their own heaven w/o those warriors 😉 I suspect that we have only heard about the Warrior heaven because they were more flamboyant.

              • BTW Women’s wisdom (magic or whatever you call it) has always been hidden from the males. Some of this wisdom is still being passed down from mother to daughter. However, I see a lot of it getting lost because of the feminist movement (trying to turn us into little men.)

        • the Matter of France suffered from the way the people in it were based on real life — and had real descendents, who were involved in politics.

          Even in the Middle Ages, the Matter of Britain increased and that decreased because King Arthur was a neutral.

        • However, even if there’s an unhappy ending in a Christian epic, the heroes are going to end up in a Better Place having fun, not mobbing around in the gloomy Elysian Fields as starved vampire ghosts.

          Like … really LIKE

      • How about the Derynie books by Katherine Kurtz? You have a fantasy setting, with a collapse caused by greed and hubris, a very nasty reaction, and then rebuilding and improving toward something better. With sword fights and magic tossed in. A few people look back, but most look forward.

      • Princess of Wands?

      • Off topic, but taking the opportunity …
        Sabrina, I am two thirds through The Long Way Home and loving it. More please.

    • I would cite Tolkein’s LotR as HW fantasy. The first few of Anthony’s Xanth books are HW as well. Perhaps the Valdemar books — I haven’t read far enough in to say definitively. Lawrence Watt-Evans’ Ethshar and his Obsidian Chronicles, yeah, and Stasheff’s Warlock In Rhyme … others as well.

      It is not the SF that makes HW wave, it is the attitude of the characters; the only time a HW hero just rolls over and dies is when he rolls over onto a grenade.

      • Anyone want to debate whether Conan is HW? Or Turtledove’s Videssos cycle?

        • Conan himself would be a HW character, possibly, but the overall setting is a world in deep decline from previous cultural/scientific/magic highs. A dystopian fantasy world, perhaps?

          • Free-range Oyster

            You make a good point, Scott, about the characters versus the setting. That in itself may be a topic for our lovely and skilled hostess to elucidate: how much of HW philosophy rests on the overall tone, and how much on the actions of the specific characters?

            That’s why I mentioned Tolkien as falling into the Back toward Eden camp. The Third Age of Middle Earth always seems to be looking back: to the days of the Silmarils, to the Two Trees, to the glory days of Gondor, etc. On the other hand, most of the characters are focused on making the world better, which they recognize only they can do. The victories made possible by the humble hobbits are IMNSHO fundamentally HW – the triumph of bourgeois values and attitudes. The Return of the King is packed with examples of the vital importance of resisting despair and nihilism, particularly the cases of King Théoden of Rohan and the Steward of Gondor.

          • One point to consider is that it is almost universally a characteristic of the human condition to view the past through rosy lenses. There are deep psychological reasons for this (probably worth a blog post, in fact) but the trait is too broadly common to be disputed. Thus HW should recognize that desire and write in response to it, giving us characters who “Do not go gentle into that good night.”

            • One point to consider is that it is almost universally a characteristic of the human condition to view the past through rosy lenses.

              It’s difficult not to do when the landscape is studded with massive, ancient ruins and you and your sidekicks keep turning up little ancient trinkets that can destroy the world.

            • My fav. poem, which was a comfort in the hospital when I was going through some pain, agony, and chemo. RAGE, rage, at the dying of the light–

            • One point to consider is that it is almost universally a characteristic of the human condition to view the past through rosy lenses.

              *beth pauses, consults one of her character emulations, and giggles at his indignant response*

              Yes, yes, there was indeed great magic back in the days before the wars — great magic abused by people, and it’s this character’s job to make sure THAT NEVER HAPPENS AGAIN. (Not, I might add, by suppressing the magic-ology, but by making sure that the really bad stuff doesn’t fall into the hands of Rank Idiots, while supporting research into cool and useful new magitech.)

          • If you set a story in a planetary system at war, where one of the planets has become the equivalent of the Warsaw Ghetto and your heroes have formed an underground to fight back in the face of overwhelming odds — what setting could be more dystopian or reaction more Human Wave?

            As I understand it, Human Wave is about not about the setting but about character. It is hopeful. It is has people who remember/have found/find that there is something more important than the immediate or the self. It can tell us about not giving up and giving in even when it seems like the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Or it can tell a story where things aren’t so bad, but someone makes it in some way better. Whatever, it should not leave you wanting to give up.

      • Last Herald Mage strain a little at being HW, at least for me. A little too much fated doom (and waaay too much angst in the second book, but that’s just me.) looming over everything.

    • Well, I’m certainly trying. Manipulating myth and urban fantasy with a little paranormal thrown in, but with characters who are strong, self-reliant, rugged individualists. And optimistic about the future of humanity, even though they’re going through hell personally at the moment.

  6. I’m such a newbie that all my learning experiences are fresh to me, and I’m still bumptious enough to offer them.

    I do first drafts early in the day and find it much harder to do them later, but one thing I find I can do is push the novel along in other ways. By this I mean not just keeping my Scrivener files organized and so forth, or proofreading “finished” chapters, but specifically drilling my high-level outline for the next few scenes down thru the “In this chapter, 5 scenes, these POVs, one-line summaries” into actual proto-scenes, where I fill the page with snippets of dialogue, good quips (if I have any), reminders of what has to be covered re: action, response, props, and so forth. I find this energizing but not demanding in the same way as the full first draft work. It also takes the taste of any other word work I’ve done that day out of my head.

    Then, next morning, the first draft of that proto-scene just writes itself. Honest to god. I wish I could get word counts like that all the time.

    I picked up this tip from someone guest posting on the SFWA site and she was absolutely right. For me, anyway.

  7. BTW, you asked about WIP… I’m about 2/3 of the way thru my first novel (fantasy, will be about 200K words, to finish Oct/Nov). My intuitive plot structure architecture from when I dove in has been validated by some after-the-start professional reading (thank goodness) and all the major beginner rewrites (multiple POV now instead of just one, etc.) have been completed.

    Knitters, in my experience, fall into two classes. Those who, when making a sweater, like to attach the pieces as they’re finished, or who like to knit in the dangling bits as they go along, and those who like to do all that work at the end. I fall into the first group, and I love the comfort of feeling like the “revised draft & rough proofread (AutoCrit)” chapters already done are up to snuff so that at the end all I’ll need to do is make final decisions about loose plot ends (I track them as I go along, knitting them in, as it were) and check for final proofread before beta readers. I love not having some huge chunk of work waiting for me then.

    Is it true for everyone that the last 1/3 of the book is a blast? The ratio of exciting scenes to ordinary ones seems much denser, all the action is getting more compelling, and it’s like watching a long television serial in my head, where each night there’s a new episode to plot in detail so I can write it in the morning. It’s a hoot! (Let’s hope my half-dozen initial readers agree.)

    My only regret is that I originally assumed this sort of book would be more like 100-120K words, but looking at it, I don’t think it’s overweight. I think that’s what the fantasy genre calls for. Certainly it seems to be what this story needs. Alas, that means two/year at most (while working).

  8. Is it easier to write non-fiction/blog posts in the evening, after having cranked out the day’s fiction? Does that reduce the blockage of the Fiction channel?

  9. How about a discussion of what a good editor does? I have read much personal praise of Ben Bova and Lester Del Rey, and tales of Campbell are legendary in SF. But what is the difference between constructive editing and destructive?

  10. I do have to say I don’t agree with the NYT either. As a man I never feel obsolete….I do on occasion feel like last years model though. :p

    • As is often true, Brad Paisley answers the question years before anyone asked it:

    • I’ve been reading the NY Times daily, on dead tree and dead pixel, since the mid-1980s and can proudly say, with the exception of William Safire, John Tierney, Sports (scores only) and the date I have agreed no more than a handful of times over that period. There used to be a blog dedicated to daily correction of the Times, but the author was finally overwhelmed by the task. When they cannot properly identify such details as what neighborhoods certain NY streets are in, nor the direction of traffic on said streets, you can appreciate how their big picture reporting is more distorted than a window made from 500-year old beer bottle bottoms.

      • I think that come from the fact that most of us missed the point when Journalism died on sensationalism sword. It is rather sad when the Enquirer actually has to work to be more absurd than the rest. It use to come easy for them. A few more years they might have to move to actual journalism just to be different and the NYT for 3 headed alien babies.

        • I think the NYT may have had reports about 3 headed alien babies in their convention coverage, but for some things I only scan their headlines. I was once wont to scourge myself by reading Dowd & Krugman, but eventually concluded I had never been so evil as to make that punishment suitable. I have NEVER done anything so vile as to require reading Tommy Friedman, Chuck Blow or Bobby Herbert.

          • Heinlein said of Times Magazine that it might be right but never when Heinlein was present. Having lived through some newsworthy moments, I’ll say the same for Time and Newsweek and The New York Times. For the things I was present at (the Portuguese revolution, say) it often seemed they were reporting on things that existed ONLY inside their own heads, so every revolutionary was a weirdly sainted Che… Everyone who opposed them evil rich people (to make a point here, at one time the SOCIALIST party was fighting the people in power — mostly Maoists — I THINK it was 78, though that might have been the year of eighty governments. Or both.) And as a foreign language student, I kept seeing these papers, on the rack. It was mind-boggling.

            • Wayne Blackburn

              “…weirdly sainted Che…”

              When referring to those news sources, this statement is redundant. They ALREADY think Che is sainted.

        • Hey, the Enquirer broke the Edwards thing. Since then, I’ve taken to calling it “America’s Newspaper of Record.”

  11. I’m working my way through deep much in my current novel, as people begin finding they have to change their ways, not only of doing things, but of what they have to do. We’re progressing back from a very high-tech spacegoing society to just one small step above hunter/gatherer. The high-tech that everyone’s used to is either dying or dead, and they need to learn how to accomplish things using what they have left – mostly a few metal implements and their knowledge that such things as laser rifles — as well as levers and pulleys — USED to exist, but bows and arrows are the highest technology they have they can use. It’s triply hard since I can no longer find my “Foxfire” books…

    There’s one topic that I’d like to see fully discussed – not just our host coming up with the words, but a true online discussion among the entire group. That is promotion and publicity. That’s the hardest thing for me to do. I spent thirty years keeping myself from being distinguished from the rest of the herd as a matter of principle and self-preservation (Truthfully, I had a price on my head from the time I graduated from Intel school until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Everyone in my field did, regardless of service. It was double in Vietnam, where killing a photo interpreter would get you $25,000 US from the NVA.). Now I need to “stand out in a crowd”. It just feels awkward and makes me feel ill at ease.

    • I can’t remember the name of the books – sorry… but there were a bunch of books where an anthropologist went to the Appalachian Mountains and wrote down how the people there made soap, medicines, outhouses, etc so that they could live better than the hunter/gather cultures.

      Well… well… it was the Foxfire books. We used those books to help us when we were living w/o electricity, water, and had to haul in gasoline. It wasn’t the greatest life, but better than hunter/gatherer. (You can find the foxfire books on amazon– just found them).

      • I read a couple of the anthologies a long time ago and they were really cool. It covered everything from blacksmithing(including making coal for the fire) to building a log cabin. Some of the others had a lot of information that would also be good for camping. Just a lot of nice information all around.

  12. Well, bother. I had a whole long thing about my Upcoming (when the author gets the cover to me, which will trigger me doing a copy-edit pass, and then putting WURDS on the cover) Thing, but my browser crashed. Darn Google-Maps!

    I would, however, love to know more about the flora, fauna, and climate of your birthplace. Though I fear I’m kind of going to hit my world’s version with a Past Magical Apocalypse kind of thing. Lost Magics hidden in Deadly Lands. (Some should Stay Lost, which is of course why I have a protagonist sitting in the middle of some ruins there.)

  13. Dorothy Grant

    Here’s one that’s been bedeviling my brain since I first read rants from a local about folks from the pacific northwest losing their new homes in Southwestern canyon country to fires, because they’d allowed tall trees to overgrow their houses.

    Transients to an area tend to bring misfortune on themselves by using the right survival and coping mechanisms in the wrong environment. What gets them isn’t what they don’t know about, but what they think they do know. Being wrong feels exactly like being right – right up until the moment reality delivers a correction.

    How do you learn when you move to a new area, a new culture, a new world? How do you learn what’s important to survive and thrive, when it may not be obvious, and when it may be radically different from what you know is good and true?

    • Dorothy – my hubby is in emergency management for the State of Nevada. At this time every state has websites on what the dangers are in your new area and how to make your home or area safe. Just look for the State and Emergency Management (or OEM, depending on the State). It just takes a little research. Besides when they went to the nursery for those trees the customer should have been warned about the dangers. We do that here because fire and flooding (plus earthquakes) are real dangers.

      Don’t be shy– go talk to the State reps… Even Harry Reid (yep… I am going to say something good about him) supports emergency management sites in Nevada. 😉


      • BTW I have also lived in Japan, South Africa, Panama, and Germany. We were contracting for the US military. Each of the bases had information on the dangers of that country. Sometimes getting in touch with the Embassy before you go to a new area (country I mean), will give you good information.

        • Dorothy Grant

          That’s an excellent start, Can, and thank you. But there’s far more than just emergency planning – or, perhaps I should rephrase, why are intelligent people the stupidest tourists?

          From not knowing how to haggle at flea market, to not knowing to stay MUCH further away from moose and bear than the distance at the zoo, to not realizing the etiquette of alway shutting gates you go through in farm country, to not making eye contact and greeting everyone or waving at passing traffic in NYC, to which parts of town to avoid after dark Land which in daylight)… How do we expect people to gain the accumulated local customs and mores?

          • Dorothy – most of that is sheer stupidity… and training. They don’t know and they don’t know to care. I have lived in farm country so understand the rules there. As for other things– like making eye contact — sometimes it is hard to not do those things when you are hard-trained to look people in the eye and wave. (yep… I went through some of those things because I didn’t realize that training is different in different areas).

            Plus there is the prejudice about different areas. Farmers considered city dwellers rude. City dwellers think rural dwellers are rubes and idiots. It is just different training and very hard to override.

            Walking up to a moose though or bear (some folks would put honey on their baby’s lips so that they could get bear kissing pics–yes, the inevitable happened) is just sheer stupidity. All those cute books of cute anthropomorphic animals. Animals are dangerous when they feel threatened or hungry… or many other things.

            • Tame or wild – animals are dangerous… yes – that cute doggie or cat can hurt you too if you are not aware of what the cute animal is doing.

              • Wayne Blackburn

                Like the reporter who got bitten by Bush’s dog when he bent down and reached straight for the dog’s head without giving the dog any chance to check him out first.

                • RE: Wild animals. Sometimes, you just don’t have a choice. I was fishing up in Grand Lake a few years ago. I was going back to my car to go to our cabin at twilight. There were two moose about 10 feet from the trail. I didn’t pass them at first, but after discovering that the rest of the area was a bog, I walked s l o w l y along the trail. Neither moose got up, and I made it to my car. The next day, fishing at the same spot, a moose walked up to ME, smelled me, walked back about ten or twelve feet, and lay down. I was a pretty nervous critter for the couple of hours that moose lay there. Eventually he left. I wish I’d had a camera.

                  • Ummm… Mike – just don’t go anywhere near a moose during breeding season. I have heard stories. 😉 Very bad-tempered animals sometimes… You were very very very lucky or just smelled right.

                    • Dorothy Grant

                      The worst moose encounter I have had was on a bright moonlit night, at somewhere south of thirty degrees below zero, when I opened the outhouse door and found a moose entirely filling the packed path between the high snow berms back to the cabin.

                      I’ve encountered far more pissed-off moose, and momma moose protecting her calves, and moose riled up at an off-leash dog – but the utter sinking despair of knowing there’s no good way to get back to the warmth when it’s cold enough to hurt to breathe still ranks as my worst.

                      Still “common sense” is only sensible after the first time you’re told – watch a baby make a beeline for the bright and shiny flame until they learn that it hurts. I used to build a repertoire of stories to inform and entertain the tourists: while they were laughing, they were also learning, possibly for the first time, that large animals are unpredictable and dangerous, bears really do like pic-a-nic baskets, mosquito repellent really is a must outside of city limits, we don’t “turn off” the northern lights in the summer, going off-trail will get you lost, possibly fatally, and tidal flats are very bad places to be without a watch set to current time zone and a a tide table.

                      Have y’all ever set out, as authors, to make your stories learning devices on how to handle the world – or found it creeping in anyway?

                    • Have y’all ever set out, as authors, to make your stories learning devices on how to handle the world – or found it creeping in anyway?

                      Good question. Particularly when it comes to the idea of Human Wave, have you deliberately set out to demonstrate an object lesson or argument for a point of view in your story? Or has your story ever been hi-jacked by one? Or is it that, because you are so saturated by a world-view it comes out anyway?

                    • My brain doesn’t work that way. I recently re-read something I wrote which I thought had NO overtones of my beliefs (this was my “keep your head down and your mouth shut” phase) and was shocked at how much of the “individual against grinding down bureaucracy” and “parents should be more responsible for their kids” and “look after those who can’t look after themselves, clobber those who WON’T look after themselves” is in that book. And I thought I was being quiet!

                    • I’ve written a few “don’t leave the car” w/o water in the desert stories. We have so many people who die that way. They go by themselves on trails and die of —heat exhaustion, blizzards, etc. etc. We sometimes find their bodies next spring (if they kept on the trail)–eaten by the wild animals… bones and maybe a backpack.

                    • I could tell stories, also if a moose is in a snowmobile trail and doesn’t want to move; it has the right-of-way, turn around and go back the way you came or find another way around. While I have never had one actually attack me in that situation I have had them so close they were blowing snot on me while I was struggling to get my snowmobile turned around, and a friend of mine videod one stomping, horning, flipping and generally completely destroying a snowmachine.

                      I had a bull in the rut chase me and my dogs out of the road one day, we had to circle around in the brush to get back to my truck, because he didn’t want to allow anybody to walk down the road he had claimed.

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      Haven’t had any real encounters with dangerous wildlife myself, but there was a story out of Maine, I think, several years ago: Some guys in a pickup truck saw a moose trotting down the road and one of the guys decided to see what riding a moose was like (don’t remember if alcohol was involved). Anyway, he got the driver to pull up next to the moose and jumped on. According to the story, the moose promptly left the road, and took the guy for a ride through the woods, while he hung on for dear life until being scraped off by a low-hanging branch.

                    • Another note Dorothy –
                      My hubby is in emergency management (I know I mentioned it before). He suggested to look for meetings or classes that are run by the community that have emergency management in the title. Most of the meetings are open meetings. I know that Nevada has open meeting laws so that civilians can go to any of these planning meetings.

                      You will gain an education on what is happening in your community especially emergency planning wise.

          • Some of it is certainly cultural training. Daddy, on a trip to the middle east with his second wife and her three children, absolutely embarrassed those children when he started to haggle price with the merchants.

            • My dad is a naturally polite man, and then he got army linguist training on top of that. He doesn’t drink much, or that often, and he really doesn’t like spicy food. But when a Russian granny found out that the American tourist spoke good Russian, and hauled out the homemade pepper vodka for Dad to drink, he by-God managed to finish the bottle with her and stay pleasant and cheerful the whole time. Because it was an honor and a kindness, and he wasn’t going to tell her no.

              Dad actually did manage to get back okay (with Mom’s help) to where they were staying, and to stay awake so as not to suffer the worst effects. Mom found the thing a lot funnier in retrospect than she did that night, though.

        • Dorothy Grant

          Pardon my autocorrect, Cyn! Must remember to look up from the phone keyboard to check the mangling before hitting send!

          • Hi Dorothy – I mangle with the best. 😉

            • Dorothy Grant

              Heart stopping moment #543: after my older niece learned the word “mangle”, it became her new favorite word. She loved to mangle the playdough with a garlic press. Then she proudly toddled into the kitchen to tell us “I mangled the cat!”

              …It took a while to get the playdough out of its fur.

              • that one made me laugh – oh the poor poor cat 😉

              • I respect a mangle. In boarding school we used a ringer washer. Because my Momma had told me horror stories I knew to check for the safety lever. This was a very good thing because my closest friend (at the time) once got her hair caught in the ringer when we were doing our laundry.

                • Wayne Blackburn

                  Oh, yeah, got my fingers caught in ours when I was little. Mom reacted pretty fast, so I really didn’t get hurt, but it scared the heck out of me.

    • This reminds me of the church organised effort to help Hispanic immigrants to America, providing such useful information as: If a police officer stops your car to issues a ticket, DO NOT offer the officer a bribe. DO NOT ask if you can just pay the officer and save the court inconvenience.

      • In Portugal we once got into an almost impossible situation because Dan refused to disobey a one-way sign right in front of the police station. BUT by not disobeying it, he took us down a medieval street and almost got the car hung up. FUN. The concept of “It’s Portugal. If the police stops you you pay squeeze. THAT’s why that sign is there.” just didn’t make it into his brain.

        • Wayne Blackburn

          As many times as I have read my Heinlein, it doesn’t really make in my brain either. I could probably force it, if I trusted the person telling me, but that would count as a major feat.

  14. The subject I’d love to hear about is how to flesh out a story. I’ve had a story idea stuck in my head for nearly a decade now, and it’s stubbornly refusing to acquire any more details. I know how the protagonist acquires the special powers he gets, and how he manages to link up with others who’ve acquired similar powers. I also know what the villain’s plan is, and what the good guys will have to do to stop him. What’s still lacking is two things: one minor detail, how the good guys find out about the villain’s plot; and one MAJOR detail, who these people are. Right now they’re just concepts in my head, not real people. I don’t know their dreams and aspirations, I don’t know their past except as it touches on the main plot, and I don’t even know what drives them to use their powers to help others instead of using those powers to, say, make millions at poker. (Imagine playing poker against an empath!)

    So what’s the step I’m missing? How do I take these vaguely people-shaped outlines in my head and turn them real?

    • Ummm – start giving them names? Really – I don’t get anymore than what you have when I first start writing the story. The details, descriptions, and motivations come when I am actually writing. They flesh themselves. The details— they come when you start writing what they are doing, how they are feeling, and how they meet. 😉 Hey you have a pantster story waiting to be written…

    • Make choices. Choose an environment, a timeline, the ethnicity of a character. Pick eye color, height, weight, childhood traumas.

      Select everything you can think of – and then let the characters tell you what isn’t right. Believe me, they will.

      Right now they have nothing to work against – so there are too many possibilities.

      Invariably, much of what you pick will be right. So it will be tweaking, not invention, to improve the parts that aren’t right (no – I can’t be short – you want me to peer over people’s heads…).

      If the story has lived in your head for a while, your subconscious has already figured a lot of this stuff out, and is waiting for the opportunity to tell you.

      More often, it is fear of getting things wrong – and ruining a perfectly good idea – that causes things to get stuck. So follow the fear. You can even ask yourself these questions on paper: Why is it so hard to pick a weight for character X? Then your subconscious gets another chance to talk to you: it controls your hand and your pen as you write things out.

      Works for me. Now if I could just get started on…

    • Well, this may not work for you, but try character rolls. I still have my game master gear, and when I get utterly stuck for a human or humanoid character, I pull the boxes out from under the bed and roll a character, leaving out attributes that might not fit the proposed story. Even if I don’t use what the dice provide, the process seems to jog things loose.

      • Ooh, I like. I knew buying all those dice would come in handy someday! 🙂

        Welp. A lot of the suggestions are boiling down to “just write something, then you can correct it later — but if you don’t write anything down, the page will be blank forever.” Which I already know in terms of writing non-fiction, but somehow my brain hadn’t been connecting that idea to fiction writing. Funny, that. Anyway, I should have enough to go on now. Thanks to everyone who replied with a suggestion.

  15. I quit blogging because I hadn’t written a decent piece of fiction in over three years. COULD NOT blog and write at the same time, the former just took too much out of me. Then again, my blog posts required a lot of research, especially all the gun stuff, and after writing one of those, who had time/stamina left for fiction?
    Since I quit blogging I’ve written three novels, finished a fourth, and am 2/3 way through a fifth. I’ll be releasing two new novels in the next two months, despite the needs of senior-level college papers in History (x2) and French.

  16. Posting half to assure you my computer hasn’t exploded (yet). Not taking the time to read the comments as I’m trying to get some art done in hopes of paying (even eventually) for said computer repairs, but I wanted to post. :B

    I think you’ve already written something along these lines, but I’m sort of struggling right now with how much or how little realism is necessary in a contemporary story. It’s not that I want to skip over research entirely (I’m doing my fair share) and I certainly don’t think I’m likely to be guilty of too much infodumping on the research I have done. But it’s a little difficult for me to find information on a certain… subculture (? if that’s what it is) . So unless I can find someone who works in this field and is willing to sort of tip their hat about possibly celebrity-compromising goings on (I don’t want the dirt, I want the dish), so it’s largely speculation based on a bit of personal experience and some degree of rumors and research. For the other, I have a particular story I want to tell, but I don’t care about what happens outside of the character dynamics and while I feel strongly that people won’t be reading this particular story for anything outside of that, I don’t want for people who know this… “subculture” (it sounds so seedy when it’s so not. lol) to pick up the story thinking it’s going to be about it.

    Okay – from that disjointed ramble, it probably becomes fairly obvious why I’ve been largely MIA lately. That’s pretty much my state of mind.

  17. I find the internet highly detrimental to getting anything written, but surprisingly I also find hard physical labor the same. Surprisingly because I find it very beneficial for thinking up new ideas, solutions to problems in the story (such as WHY the MC has a very high pain tolerance, or why he mistrusts women, or is deathly afriad of rats, etc.) and new storylines; but not to actually getting the current story from my to typed format. I thought August I had a bunch of free time, I would get my winters wood cut, and get a bunch of writing done, then I started having people calling me wanting me to cut them firewood, so I figured a little extra money is always nice. Next thing I know, August is over, I’ve cut 30 cord of firewood, and written something like 3 paragraphs. What I figured out is that while I may have solved some problems and came up with a bunch of new story ideas, when I come in from doing hard work I want to relax, and working on writing is not relaxing.

    • Bearcat – I thought that I would have some writing time too. My problems were mostly health related – tooth broke, fevers, stomach flu, and so forth. It was not fun– I need to start back again cause I just lost two months to all of this nonsense.

  18. Sarah, I sent you my list of upcoming stories recently published or to be published later this year. Thanks for helping to spread the news of my work. And also I sent you my blog address for your blog book tour.