Off The Deep End


Come on in, the water is fine.  Come in off the deep end.  What are you doing standing around there, looking on at the swimmers and wondering what it would feel like?  Dipping a toe in the water, thinking it’s too cold?  Going for a walk around the lake, then coming back again?

Why do you stand there envying the swimmers?  Why not jump in?

Yes, going in off the deep end feels like going insane, like losing control.  But it’s not, you know?  It’s more like gaining control.  More like being yourself.  Who else would you be?  Why would you want to be anyone else?

Speaking of going insane, you say – which is rude, since you’re on my blog. –  Well, I go, you know I’m not.  And you know it’s not that difficult to figure out what I’m talking about, don’t you?

I don’t believe that most people live lives of quiet desperation.  I do believe most people get what they’re working towards, sooner or later.

I just believe most people spend a lot of their lives anesthezising themselves so they don’t go for what they want.  It’s just one more hour in front of a reality show.  A moment of sitting here, sipping at a beer and then you can go to bed.  And then tomorrow there’s work to do.  And work is also an anesthesia.  Oh, it must be done, no doubt about it – people don’t owe you a living.  But if that’s all you do and then you come home and you say you don’t have the mind space for anything else, and you envy the people doing what they want to do – you’re lying to yourself.  Oh, yeah, you’re busy and tried and human – but if you really wanted it, you’d find a way to jump in: to go in off the deep end.

Is this about writing?  Sometimes.  I mean, by virtue of being me, that’s what I have experience with.  It’s also a lot of the people I know.  They talk about writing.  They talk a good game.  Next week, they’re going to finish their novel.  Next year they’re going to write that non-fiction book.  Next never, they’re going to finish those essays.

But I’m not completely stupid, nor do I live in a world of clones.  No, I don’t think everyone alive can, should or wants to be a writer.  But I’ve lived a long time and I’ve found that almost everyone wants to be something.  Sometimes they’re so afraid of that dream that they don’t admit it: even to themselves.

Sometimes it’s something artistic, but I don’t even know if that’s real, or if it exists because our culture expects most impossible dreams to be artistic in nature.  Maybe they are athletic.  Okay, you’ll never go into the Olympics, but does that mean you can’t run marathons?  Or maybe they’re something else entirely.  I’ve met people who REALLY wanted to be married.  I’ve met people who REALLY wanted to be moms.  I once met someone whose dream it was to become a secretary.  I know people who dream of working with wood, or cars, or…

JUMP.  Figure out a path to get where you want to go.  There usually is a way, even when it looks impossible.

Sixteen years ago some part of me had decided my dream of being a writer was impossible.  I didn’t know anyone in the field; most of the time I couldn’t send stuff out because we lacked money for postage; we didn’t have money to go to cons; I had two small children; I was an ESL speaker.

I didn’t admit to myself I’d given up, but one short story a year isn’t really trying.  And then I got sick with pneumonia, and I realized I couldn’t die – COULDN’T – with all the worlds unwritten within me.  And I came out of it ready to fight.

Of course, perhaps you’re afraid to find out that what you think is your dream, really isn’t.  This happens.  In our twenties Dan and I briefly joined an investors-and-get-rich-club.  These were people more or less in our circumstances who were buying houses, fixing them up, selling them, finding businesses to invest in, fixing them, selling their share.  I’m sure our friends who introduced us to it could now buy and sell us several times over, but here’s the issue: while we’d like to be rich, (who wouldn’t?) we found the whole PROCESS – scouting properties, buying, selling, scouting other properties, finding financing, etc – DREARY.  We never even started doing it, because the obstacles in the way were many (we didn’t know how to secure financing) and because we found the process BORING.

We decided we’d either never be rich or it would have to be made another way.  Part of this was that it wasn’t really our dream.  While we’d like to be comfortably well off – where we don’t have to worry about where the kids’ tuition is coming from (to dream, the impossible dream,) – and wouldn’t turn our nose up at a few million, the truth is we’d probably balk at the idea of having so much money that managing it is ALL we do and our whole concentration in life.  And this is where that group was headed.

You might find that.  You might jump in and decide you really didn’t want to swim in salt water, and your pond is over there.  Don’t be afraid of it.  It’s one more step towards becoming yourself.

Of course any dream worth having is not going to be easy to get to from wherever you are.  If it were, you’d already be doing it.  And of course there’s the possibility you’ll still want it, but will fail.  I’m not going to say it’s better to have loved and lost.  I’m going to say that other cliche: if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.  A different angle of attack might also help.  Remember NO ONE ever made it big in something without failing at other iterations… and sometimes failing hard.  What are you afraid of?  You can always try again.  While there’s life, there’s hope.

If you’ve read The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, remember what Manny said about Prof?  How he made it in Luna?  He got the job he could get, washing dishes, then moved on to babysitting, then opened his own creche, then moved on to opening a school, then to tutoring.  He made a lot of money, but also he was aiming towards a field, an area he wanted to work in.  He was, after all, a professor.

Now, would you say “I want to be a University professor.  I’ll start by washing a lot of dishes?”  No?  Why not?

Paths aren’t always easy or clear.  And sometimes you might not even be sure what you’re aiming for: you just want out of the situation you’re in.  A little more money would help you explore what you want to do…  So find a way to make a little more money.

I’m not going to say there’s dignity in every job.  There is, but some jobs purely suck.  I almost died of boredom working in retail.  But I survived.  And I moved on…

There’s this game I play with myself.  Let’s suppose somewhere thirty or forty years from now I’m on my death bed and I get a chance to send my mind/will back to myself now, to merge with my own.  I died unfulfilled, forgotten.  There was something I wanted me to do – fulfill that dream I never did in that life.

It’s my second chance.  It’s my only chance.  I was sent to this time and this place because from here I can reach my dream.  It won’t be easy.  It won’t be fast.  The path might not really be clear, but there’s a path, or I wouldn’t have been sent here and now.

So – how do I get to that dream of being a bestseller?  Well, if I start the short stories indie, maybe some people will discover me that way.  And I suck at publicity, but I can do blogs…  And then maybe…

Jump.  What are you waiting for?  Chart a course to your dream and change what doesn’t work, and keep moving.

Jump!  Go in off the deep end.

To Sleep, Perchance

One of those odd nights — does anyone else have these?  No, Sarah, just you — where I felt I slept too deeply and woke up as though I were at the bottom of a deep dark well, holding myself so resolutely "in" that my shoulders hurt from the strain.  No idea what these nights are all about.  Not going to give my head to anyone for shrinking, but I do hate them…

So, I’ve told you all I’m trying to finish the book, even as I try to do laundry, all before the fateful, fast approaching date to head South and East.  The question is… what novel I’m trying to finish.

Well, those of you who visit the diner know.  It takes place somewhere around 300 or so years after DST.  Things have changed.  For one space colonization has happened.  There are probably around 60 human worlds.  (How did the population expand that much.  Well, they have bio-wombs, but there are other reasons, though nothing you’ll hear of until Doc Les Johnson and I have time to finish a proposal we started mulling at ConStellation last year. — wink.)  Meanwhile Earth has become sort of a globular Belgium (at least in Belgium’s dreams) from which the human worlds are run.  So, why don’t the other worlds — many of which are explicit "states" of an entity called Human Worlds, the others are colonies, and some are trying very hard to be free worlds.  Others frankly, no one wants — kick free.  Well, because Earth has an iron clad grip on the means of transport.  Or at least on the men trained to make the transport work.

Anyway — it’s complex. Perhaps too complex.  To make things better, I’m stuck with an inadvertent unreliable narrator.  Inadvertent how?  Well, she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know.  And a counterpoint character who is slipperier than a heel and who had me fooled for a great part of this.  So…

In case you wonder, yes, indeed, I DO still have some hair.  Things fell in place beautifully about two days ago, but I’m trying to connect all the bits I have, before I forget all the twisty linky parts.

Mama said there’d be days like this

So the novel I’ve been working on — The Brave and The Free seems to be the working title. No, I don’t know why reversed — and which is, metaphorically speaking, all in pieces on the garage floor, possibly mixed with a clock’s innards, finally became clear last night. All of a sudden I knew which pieces went in, which pieces got chucked and which pieces were disguised as something else, and therefore will need a big reveal to make the reader understand them as well as a couple chapters of foreshadowing on the way there.

So… woke up at six thirty am today. Went on long walk while thinking. Came back energized and eager to write. Was reminded fifteen year old needs clothes for vacation. Cue in the shopping experience now even more fun with sullen teen. (His fault for having a massive growth spurt the last month.)

Right now I should be cleaning and taking the new bookcases to the attic. (What, don’t you buy bookcases everytime you go out? Why, I thought it was the law!) Only I am desperately trying to get some writing in, before the grand, glowing vision fades.

Oh, and by the way, the bed is still unmade and I have approximately three thousand loads of laundry to do. Wheee!

Footprints in our minds

(crossposted from mad genius club —

I suppose everyone has seen the hallmark-like poem that goes "Some people come into our lives and quickly leave, but others stay for a while, leave footprints in our hearts and afterwards we are never, ever the same."

For a while now, I’ve been thinking about writers and the special relationship between a writer and a reader. Those of you who know me have heard my occasional rant about the big conglomerates controlling publishing houses today and mandating publishing by the numbers. If anyone truly hankers to hear me get on my soap box, please feel free to ask. This isn’t it. This is more about how much – as a reader – I miss the way writers and readers used to have a relationship.

Continue reading “Footprints in our minds”

Holy Tectonic Plates, Batman!

So, you’re thinking, as you sit out there in the audience, chewing your gum – yes, I see you, did you bring enough to share with everyone? – and reading my blog so you can avoid getting any writing done,  you’re thinking "Once I get published, that’s it. I’ll know exactly what I’m doing, and everything will be perfect forever and ever amen."

Of course, if you’re already published, you’re probably aware that no elf came by with a magic wand and endowed you with the ability to write effortlessly. (If one did I don’t want to hear it. Lalalalalalalala.)

The truth is not just that it never ends. The truth is that it never stops being weird and painful. I’ve published now – counts on fingers – one, two three, seven, ten (removes shoes) fourteen novels, if you count a couple that are absolutely secret (if I told you they wouldn’t be secret, now, would they? However, the first bright boy or girl to come to my house, do the litter boxes, dust, sweep and cook dinner for the next week gets told the names and author name) and I’ve always been aware that there were things I didn’t do right.

Oh, come on, admit it, those of you who are writers know this. There’s things you can do, and things you can’t. You start out and – if you’re honest with yourself – you see all these huge flaws. You look at published stories and you wonder how the hell they do it. You know your stuff is not just different quantitatively – it’s not just "he does more of this" – but qualitatively. It’s a different beast altogether. You gape in wonder at the grownups stuff and you go "Oh, wow, if only I could write a story like THAT I’d be happy."

And you read and you study, you learn, you look for hints. And you collect your kicks in the… er… I mean rejections, advice letters and critiques. And you sit up in the cold, dark night and wonder if you’ll ever be a real writer and you know that when you get there, you’ll do everything perfectly and it will be EASY.

Continue reading “Holy Tectonic Plates, Batman!”

Why I Write The Things I Do

(You should read the post previous to this to know what the rant is all about.)

I’ve been accused — in fact, I’ve been accused recently and by someone who should know better — of writing to market.  This is not true, though it might not be immediately obvious.  What I choose to write — what I have to say in each short story or novel — I want to write.  Often desperately enough to do it — often — for the drawer.   And, hell, if I wrote to market, I’d write a lot more thrillers, romances and women in peril.

With one exception — my one write for hire book — I write a story when it chases me down, pins me to the desk and makes me type.  I write it because I must.

This doesn’t mean I’m writing Real Politik stories — all message no fun.  When I was a little kid I DESPISED the “goody-two-shoes” books that pushed the moral or religious POV.  There are no words for the level of bile and hatred I had for those so unsubtle as to have at the end something like — Moral: Good always wins and evil always loses.  Being who I am it immediately made me want to go out and write a story “proving” the opposite.

I feel exactly the same way about the politically correct pap the kids get assigned in school and half of what’s being cranked out by publishing houses, too.  It’s not, my friends, that I disagree with their contentions — I do indeed qualify a lot of them, like the whole men versus women thing, and others are so a-historical it’s not even funny, but in general — it’s that most of them are only repeating received wisdom and, furthermore, received wisdom that, disagree with it or not, no one will oppose.  Just like “Good always wins and evil always loses” is a load of patooey in real life.  BUT it is the way we all wish it were.  And at the same time it is a message repeated from all the churches and institutions catering to the young since there have been churches and institutions.

 In the same way the tenthousandth Empowered Woman Defeats Evil Males saga might posibly contribute to the self-esteem of some severely battered woman who SOMEHOW managed to avoid all other identical tomes rolling off the presses for the last twenty years at least.  For me they are just a “oh, heck, yeah.  Go sisterrrr.  YAWN” as I toss the book aside.  (This should not be interpreted to mean that all empowered women characters are a bad thing.  Or that you can’t have evil males.  In my upcoming DarkShip Thieves I have both.  In spades.  I mean a black-and-white dichotomy of women-good-because-they’re-women/men-bad-because-they’re-men.  And don’t even get me started on the men-as-supervillain school of same.  That’s where men are amazing beings who have kept all women enslaved for six thousand years, change history, suppress thought AND in their spare time display amazing mind-control powers.  “It was date rape.  He TALKED me into having sex, officer.  What could a poor woman do against his male mind-rays.”  {again this can’t be taken to disparage all cases of date rape}  But that’s a rant for another time.)  Most of them, these days, don’t even get me mad enough to want to write the exact opposite.  It’s just all too much of a muchness.

So, no, my books don’t have an obvious message.  They have messages, of course.  Usually several.  All of which fits into an overarching view of the world.  Mine.  I’m not preaching at people — there are things I just have to say and that I think are more likely to make an impact if you absorb them subconsciously through fiction.  Things like “Yes, you’re oppressed.  That doesn’t give you an excuse not to TRY.”  Things like “You’ll be much happier if you love others as well as yourself.”  And I’m sure quite a few more, if you look carefully…

All that said, and granted I’ve written things “for the drawer” which will not see the light of day till I’m dead or the kids put me in a mental institution and get custody of my work, whichever comes first, writing is essentially communication.  You write to be read.  Otherwise you’re just murdering a bunch of innocent Pixels and — if you print it — dirtying paper on one side.  

So when I write I try to maximize the chances that the books or stories will be accepted.  Much of this — at this point — takes place at a level I’m not even aware of.  Also — though it might not look like it — a lot of my writing planning is sub-conscious in the real sense.  Take Draw One In the Dark (advisable, really.  There will be a new cover for the paperback and that hard cover will be a collectible.  TRUST me.)  The characters — both main characters and Rafiel — came to me fully formed.  I have clue zero why Tom is short.  I just know I can’t change it.  I have no idea why Kyrie is KYRIE of all things.  (Not only does it mean Lord in Greek — apparently — but Kyrie Grace is the name of my friend Alyson’s daughter, which i did not want to steal.  The poor girl will grow up expecting to change into a panther.)  However, when I first vividly saw her in my mind I kept thinking that Kr was in there somewhere and and “i” sound too.  I tried Kris and Carissa and… you don’t want to know.  Finally it was borne upon me her name was Kyrie.  And from that moment on, I KNEW her.

Beyond characters, I often lack control over “voice.”  Each of my novels has a voice it wants to be told in.  Books in the same series have a slightly different voice.  Until I find the voice I can’t write the book.  This is responsible for 90% of my late deliveries.  (Health is responsible for the rest.)  I’ll find myself cleaning toilets, raking the yard and/or petting cats while I look for the voice.  Once it pops in my head — once the story starts speaking in its own voice, I’m home free, pretty much.

Given that, there are things I can control.  Above all, there are things I SHOULD control.  And those involve removing as many obstacles between story and reader as possible.

This is why I don’t write stories set in Portugal.  Without going into the other instances of it, let me point to you what “Portugal” conveys to the average American.

The first, and because of previous conditioning is “oppressed.”  If I’m not writing a story of someone (usually the US for these stories) oppressing Portugal, then I will have to consider very carefully whether to set it there.  (For those of you confused by this — every American has been conditioned by previous books to expect a book set in a small country to be a book of US oppression.  The editor who reads the book will expect it too.  If it’s not I’ll get a rejection telling me I dance around the point.  Or that they don’t understand what I’m getting at, or…)

Second, Latin country — and by this I mean that a lot of Americans — those not in the North East of the US at least — will assume Portugal is in South America.  Or that Portuguese speak Spanish.  Or that Portuguese are Hispanics.  This means that a book set in Portugal will NEED to be about Latin culture.  It will almost for sure have to feature a woman overcoming patriarchal society.  Or perhaps a book about the beauties of the Spanish language.  I simply haven’t felt like writing the type of book that would require this.  (Patriarchal society can be as well served by setting book in Victorian England.  And, oh, by the way, if I ever feel like writing a book about the beauties of the Spanish language, I’ll tell you. Don’t wait with sandwiches by the phone.)

[And here I pause to inform all those intending to deplore American ignorance to take a chill pill.  WHY should America know about Portugal?  Oh, the discoveries, you say?  yes, they should.  And the way the discoveries are taught in American schools is laughable, giving most of the credit to England.  That said, it’s still HOW it’s taught, and I can’t change it.  As for the rest, how much do my Portuguese readers know of small countries with which we haven’t had a war in forever?  If I say Outer Slovenia — without looking up in google, do you know if it exists?  And where would you place it mentally?  Requiring Americans to know geography impeccably is stupid.  It’s the corolary of men-as-super-villains.  As a proud American I’ll admit to many virtues.  But contrary to what you might expect, we’re not all assigned eidetic memories at birth or naturalization.]

Third, What do you mean, they’re not just like us? — The assumption in the US (and in the rest of the world, though Europeans travel more to other cultures by virtue of living in a geographical space where you can’t swing a cat* without hitting some poor peasant’s head in Outer Slovenia.  What Europeans don’t know about America and the American mind and way of life, otoh, could fill several books.)  Any book set in Portugal is immediately rowing against the current to get into an editor’s accept pile.  This is true of any book in an unusual location.  You can choose to beg exceptions in your characters lives to make them “almost American”, to stay “on the surface” so that the true differences don’t appear” (both of which negate the point of setting it in another country) or you’re going to have to explain every single thing, every step of the way.  And if you don’t, you risk giving the wrong impression of how you feel about some of these differences too.  One of my early stories set in Portugal got me a rejection accusing me of being a xenophobic American who’d never been out of the country.  This was based on one paragraph describing pastries kept not-under-refrigeration, but in glass domes on the counter top, in a deli in Portugal, which was normal in the early eighties.  (Though probably not now.)  It’s the small things, too.  I am sometimes still tripped up by this, as my own mind is still set for “what do you mean they’re not like us?” and my childhood and early adulthood was spent in Portugal.  At a workshop I almost came to cuffs with other writers over a scene in which someone makes a big bonfire with the photographs and letters of someone who just died.  “But why would anyone burn antique stuff,” was their thing.  And they couldn’t believe anyone did it without a special reason.  (The special reason is, of course, that in Portugal, if you don’t do that to the vast majority of such “inheritances” they’d be wading through old letters and papers, having had those since at least Roman colonization onwards.)

Because of all of those, if you set a novel in Portugal — PARTICULARLY if you grew up there and know the real country, not the image in people’s minds — you’re going to have a hard time selling it.  Unless you’re working on one of the themes above and intend to do the work necessary to heinlein in all the odd details without slowing the narrative down.

To me, what this means is that half of my Portuguese short stories never sell.  The other half take a long time to sell.  And most of them I have to distort in some way to make them ‘acceptable’. 

The game is not worth the candle.  I can write the same story and set it in a time with the same characteristics and which American editors and readers are familiar with — the history of the English speaking world provides a lot of places and situations — and avoid the hassle.

This doesn’t mean I won’t ever write a novel set in Portugal, just that I have yet to find a compelling reason to do so.  And there are other reasons NOT to.  Those, I’ll deal with in the next few days.

And now, back to the real work.


*I am required here– by Miranda who is glaring at me — to say that the cat swung is entirely metaphorical and that anyone attempting to swing an actual animal will have to deal with Miranda aka cat princess of infinite power.  Cats should be carried, cuddled and petted.  Not swung.  Or she will pee on your books.

Why I don’t write fiction set in Portugal

For those of you who have no idea why I’m answering this — there is a rather long (if polite) question in Portuguese a few entries back and because it is a polite question — for Portugal almost excruciatingly polite — it deserves an answer.

Considering I write historical fiction and that, if history were oil, Portugal would buy and sell the rest of the world, I imagine this looks odd to people from Portugal or of Portuguese descent.  Unfortunately I have many reasons not to write fiction set in Portugal — and this is not strictly true.  I sold a Portuguese History story to The Book Of Final Flesh and I sold a Henry the Navigator story to the Mammoth book of Historical Detectives (#3, I THINK.)  And one, very recently, to Universe.  And I’ve written several others.  I’ve just never published them.  But no, I haven’t tried to sell novels set in Portugal.  Unfortunately because, of course, if Portuguese History were oil, I’d have a fast track to becoming a multi-millionaire.

So, this post will set out, in generality, the reasons I don’t write fiction set in Portugal.  I will expand on this in other posts.  In fact, this post is little more than an outline.  There will be a post immediately after this expanding on point 1.

1 – Because no one will buy it.  And no, it’s not those racist Americans.  (First of all, get a grip on reality.  Which self-respecting racist sets out to hate whites belonging to the mediterranean sub-race.  Gee.  There are cogent reasons it doesn’t sell in the US, unless literary or small press and they would apply to practically any other country not Portugal.  Well, maybe Portugal too, but I doubt it.  You could knock me with a feather when I found out recently Portuguese are a protected minority.  To anyone out there intending to protect me, kindly stop it.  I have hands and feet and a nasty disposition.)

2- Because sources of reference for Portuguese history purely SUCK.  They’re better in the US than they are in Portugal as are most purely historical scholarly books — unless you’ve tried to buy in both countries, kindly shut up — but they still SUCK.

3 – I don’t write things set in Portugal in general because I know nothing of current day Portugal.  I’m fairly sure my parents think I abandonned the country.  I’d like to submit to them and you that the country left me behind.  I truly don’t recognize most of the places I grew up in — they’re paved and covered in stack-a-prole apartment buildings.  The only way for me to go home would be a time-traveling machine.  If anyone has one of those speak up.  I’d give ALL my current worth and a good part of my future for another hour with my grandmother.

4- I don’t generally write about past Portugal because I know nothing about past-Portugal.  I don’t mean historical.  One of the advantages of historical writing is that no one can pop up and say “I lived through the Spanish takeover, young lady, and the Spanish takover was nothing like that.  We didn’t FEEL like that, and that’s not what it was like in Freixo de espada a cinta.”  They CAN do this for my lifetime — the last almost half-century.  And they would be right and I would be wrong.  Part of this is that i left Portugal very young — 22 — and never lived in it as a self sufficient adult.  Part of it is that, while still in Portugal, I bought Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange Land on the title alone as “Oh, Lord, that’s how I feel.”

Okay, part one after I shower and have coffee.  Part one I’m afraid will have to go into “What a writer has to do in terms of where you set up the story and themes for it to make cogent sense and sell.”  Or “Sarah’s little book of secrets about marketing to editors.”  Mind you, given my track record of marketing to the public, the well-informed will take it with a barrel of salt, but this has been my experience as a professional writer.  Your mileage may vary.

Be Right Back.