May 20

Horses: past and maybe future

Posted: under Life beyond writing.
Tags:  May 20th, 2019

Last year–I think I posted about this–I bought three mares, serially.   Mocha, a very pretty smoky buckskin half-Arab, half Quarter Horse cross…bucked me off hard the first time I swung a leg over her–before I was mounted completely–and gave me a concussion, and kicked my husband in the thigh in the same tantrum.   Not meant to be my horse partner, not at my age.

Molly, a much gentler red dun Quarter Horse, merely refused to walk around with me on her back (the trainer I’d hired to work on Mocha–who was also bucked off after a month of no bucking, had found Molly for me.)   Molly tried to drag my leg along fences, backed up in circles, etc.  Molly turned out to be an excellent kid horse, though, and one of the kids taking lessons on her found that Molly loved running barrels.  Former owner had no idea.  Mocha now lives on a ranch in California, where she’s been perfect for the rancher.  Molly now lives with a family whose daughter wants to do barrel racing.


And then there was Kallie, an Arabian mare I found online, and went to look at with my trainer–trail and endurance horse, supposedly, but when we got there she was lame in three legs, with a mouthful of teeth that hadn’t been cared for along with the feet.  But she gave me the look horses have given me before so I bought her in September.  Of the three lame legs, my trainer and I got two of them disease free…but the third foot finally couldn’t be fixed, and in early May we put her to rest.   I did get to ride her some, and she was a lot of fun.  We got along perfectly–she was a sweet and willing mare who wanted to please.  I knew it was a risk when I bought her and I don’t regret it.


So now I’m horseless again, but taking lessons from my trainer on one of her horses…and I have another horse in my sights.  Another Arabian (l like their personalities and their gaits)  who maybe, I hope, will be the horse I need for the years to come.   Heading off to North Texas again to take a look at him in a few weeks.  Grey, an inch taller than Kallie, and a really lovely horse.

 

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May 04

Aten’t Dead Yet (in fact, doing OK)

Posted: under Audiobooks, Collections, Deeds of Honor, Life beyond writing.
Tags: , ,  May 4th, 2019

We’ve had fifteen inches of rain in the last 30 days.  More than half an average year’s rainfall.  Five and a half of it in the previous 48 hours, running through the barn aisle into the dirt-floored horse stalls and loafing area.   Extraordinary rain starting last fall with a deluge and flash flood…so we have gorgeous wildflowers  and water running for weeks at a time across the near meadow.   My new horse is great except for the continuing physical problems; she spent a month at the vet’s getting started on fixing one of them, a deep-seated chronic hoof infection causing repeated abscesses.  The vet tells me the X-ray evidence and what he saw cutting on the sole of her hoof is that it’s been going on for years.   We won’t know if she can possibly recover until her hoof grows out completely, which may be in September, but maybe not since she can’t go out to be worked on wet ground–and working a horse is what stimulates hoof growth. However,  her abscess hasn’t recurred since March 25, when she came home from the vet clinic, and it’s been 4 full weeks since she came off the antibiotic.   After she came home, I was told I could ride her–should ride her–every day if possible, but most days it hasn’t been.  So almost every time I get on her is a re-start.  She’s got a great feel, when she calms down from “You’re going to get on me AGAIN?  I thought you gave that up forever!” and jigging a lot.   But we make progress in other ways.   I do what I can in the barn, though today…what a mess.  And it’s cloudy and there’s not a drying wind.   If not for the need to keep her bad hoof dry and clean (it’s always in a medicated wrap, inside a hoof boot, but water and mud can go over the top of the hoof boot if deep enough–hence restrictions)  I could be out shlooping through the mud with her.

And meanwhile, some Paksworld news.  The audio book of DEEDS OF HONOR will be starting production soon; I’m at the stage of communicating with the voice actor about pronunciations and such.    I’ll be working on that today….and  until it’s done.

I went to my first HS reunion ever (56th for those who’ve been going regularly) and that was very interesting.  I’m glad I went, though I was sick (caught a cold probably Easter Sunday, and was still in medias res on the Saturday after) and recognized only two people right off the bat.    Both I’d known in elementary school, and one before that.  It’s unusual for me to recognize people after a break–my lousy face recognition processor–so a relief to instantly know *that* had to be who it was.

It’s become obvious in the last year and almost-three-months since the concussion that it’s going to take a lot longer for some of the symptoms to resolve, if they do.  The remaining difficulties are typical of post-concussion problems–but overlap with typical age-related problems.   All very depressing, if you dwell on them, and I’m trying not to, though a writer having difficulties with language *at all* raises the anxiety level.  When typing, I make mistakes of a type I never used to make, thinking one word and typing another.  Plain typos I’ve always made–reversing letters, leaving one out.  But these are true cognitive (not fingering) mistakes.  Grrr.  I see them when I re-read a Facebook post or a tweet, but it’s annoying and scary both.   Fiction doesn’t hold together yet–the plot-daemon, that faithful assistant, seems to wake up only in spurts, and since I’ve never outlined  (teachers TOLD me I should always outline)  when I lose the scent or the tracks or whatever it is that has always led me onward…I sit there staring at the page with no idea at all what to do.  Yet in reading fiction, I’m back to my old speed and analytical ability (I’m plowing through Cherryh’s Foreigner series again, in which I’d missed a few books over the years, and holding the first sixteen books (so far) in my head and finding the connections, the foreshadowing, the ways she’s held this huge and complex and multi-layered series together.)  But I’m more easily distracted by real-world things, both good and not-so, when I try to forge ahead on either of the two projects begun and not really advancing.

But I intend to keep trying, while also working on general health issues (now better, not done yet, though) and pushing the envelope as much as possible.   The stories are in there somewhere.

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Feb 17

Things to Avoid

Posted: under Life beyond writing.
Tags:  February 17th, 2019

People who have already had three concussions should not get rear-ended at the end of a long day that also included dental excavations.  Not sure the dental stuff actually made the jarring of the rear-ending worse, but it *felt* like I’d not only had my brain shaken but been socked in the right cheekbone as well.  Useless as that is, I’m annoyed that my brain isn’t proof against all such blows and shakings.   I need it; it should just go right on zipping its little chemo-electric signals from neuron to neuron with undiminished speed and strength and accuracy.  And…because it’s not impervious to damage…it doesn’t.

Last Tuesday, I was stopped at an intersection and the car behind me ran into me.   It wasn’t a high-speed rear-ending and the car wasn’t totalled or anything.  I didn’t lose consciousness or break any bones or even get an outward scratch.  But I did get my brain shook, and as is typical with such injuries, when not too severe, I didn’t realize the size of the effect.   I was 27 miles from home, about…a little over a half hour drive, what with traffic lights, much of it in open country, and as once before I wanted badly to get home and in this case could remember the entire route…so I drove it.  Carefully, but (in hindsight) unwisely…by the time I got home, all I could think of was getting inside and flat on a bed.   When you’ve had a brain shake, you don’t (if you have a brain cell still functioning) take any NSAID pain medication for the headache…it risks making a tiny bleed worse, if the tiny bleed is the source of the headache.  Tuesday through Tuesday night was spent lying flat and wishing my head would quit hurting…dozing and waking, over and over.

Wednesday last week was a lost day.   I had intended to drive to the city to choir practice, and work on a Mozart mass with the choir.  Didn’t make it.  Knew I wouldn’t be safe to drive 50 miles in, on the Interstate, navigate rush hour afternoon traffic downtown, and drive back home after 9 pm.   (The restident retired doctor had something to say about that, too.)   I slept off and on most of the day.  Thursday was better, which is good, because I had a boatload of stuff that needed doing.  None of it involved driving, and I could rest between phone calls.  Friday also had an important business appointment I could not miss…but involved driving to the county seat and around town to do other errands than the main one.  That reactivated the headache; I came home and went to bed.  Slept between horse chores.  Saturday was mixed.   Felt pretty good early, but just driving to the local feed store (shavings, one sack of feed)  and the headache was back, though weaker.   I’m not in church singing Mozart, which bites, but I’m still not 100%.   And church is still a 50 mile drive away (and I don’t know the music well enough because I can’t learn the difficult stuff without actual rehearsals with the choir.  You Tube is not enough for me.)   Could be a lot worse.   I’m steady enough on my feet to muck out a horse stall, and hope later to do some ground work with the horse.   No driving today.

I have an online friend who endured two much harder rear-endings in close succession…full on concussion both times, and the two that close together gave her a much worse brain injury that affected her for years.   Mine was not as severe, and I think bothered me this much only because it was less than a year after the bucked-off-whacked-head-on-ground concussion last year.  But a definite reminder that getting your brain shook, with or without a direct blow, is never good for said brain, and you should avoid such things to the extent you can.  Wear the helmet if there’s a chance of it.  Know that the first thing a whack to the brain does is make the brain unable to recognize whether it’s functioning OK or not.  If you are conscious, it will be pushing its RESTART button over and over, and some things WILL work, and it will tell you everything’s fine now.  The brain thinks pushing the RESTART button makes everything perfect…but just as rebooting a computer can, at times, restore only part of its functionality and it needs rebooting again (and again) to bring up *all* the software with the current settings, the brain can reboot in segments, not as a fully functioning whole. (That’s my excuse for any remaining typos I didn’t see in this and correct already.)   I rehearsed the basic LOC protocol (are you oriented to person, place, calendar day, clock time?  Can you remember certain common facts and calculate some simple math?) and considered myself just fine, thanks.  That’s a good start, but it’s not everything.

So: take care of your brain.   You’ll want it, from time to time.  Can’t write without it.

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Jan 01

2019…And A Resolution

Posted: under Life beyond writing.
Tags:  January 1st, 2019

Like many people, I make resolutions with a real-life lifespan of weeks to months, rarely a year.  I’ve made a few that lasted for multiple years, but those things…take time, and none of us have more than 24 hours/day.  However, this past year was particularly rough on resolutions (except to stick with the dental work and the eye surgery and its results) so I’m trying again.   And one of the new list is to be more regular in posting here and on the Universes blog.  How “regular” that will be I don’t yet know.  I now have some hard limitations on computer time, especially keyboarding, so posts are likely to be shorter, replies to comments shorter, as I save “keystrokes” for writing stuff that might end up published if I can finish it.  But I have neglected the blogs and apologize to the regular denizens of Paksworld.

My newest horse, Kallie, is now home, and we’re stymied by weather on the riding side, though I’ve had plenty of refresher work in mucking out, cleaning hooves, moving things around, grooming, and changing horseware from one sheet or blanket to another.  I’d rather be doing that than have to drive 50 miles one way just to see her.  Here’s a picture of my last ride at the trainer’s place, on December 17.

We were just completing a down transition from trot to walk, and in the next step I gave her more rein and she stretched her neck.   She hadn’t wanted to slow.

A few days later, she came here, backed out of the trailer, and immediately put her head down to graze:

She has lost some of the muscle she’d built up from swimming and regular work to stall rest necessitated by back to back hoof abscesses, especially on her hindquarter.  This will come back when we can start riding the gentle rises and falls here.  But right now it’s too wet.

In the barn pen before the past week’s rains started:

It didn’t take long for her to eat all the grass in this 30 x 40 foot pen…and then it rained, and it rained, and it rained, and it rained.  And it’s raining today.  The south side of the barn is open to this pen, so there’s no way to keep her out of the churned mud without locking her in her stall, which she hates.  And stall confinement has its own risks to a horse’s health, esp. a horse like this.  She needs to move around.  Eventually the rain will stop…

 

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Nov 29

A Paks-ish Moment

Posted: under Uncategorized.
 November 29th, 2018

Some of you know I’m a confirmed horse lover.  Horse nut.  Horsey person.  (Take your pick.)

This has been the Year of Three Horses, but #3, Kallie, is definitely The One.  As it happens, she’s a red chestnut with a small star and though not as big as Ky (my first horse, and the one who was the model for Paks’s paladin horse)  she has a similar sort of attitude.    The two months and a week (I think that’s right) since I bought her have done wonders for her–or my trainer has; Kallie’s still in board and training “over there” with more facilities than I have here, including a swimming pool for horses.  She had multiple problems when I first saw her, but thanks to the pre-purchase exam vet and my trainer,  both of whom thought she had potential (though limited from what I’d been thinking), she is now walking and trotting sound, her teeth are no longer causing her pain and mouth injury,  and she has put on muscle in the right places from swimming and being carefully ridden by Trainer and by me.  She looks younger than she did two months ago, though she did have a relapse (hoof abscess) that means keeping a close eye on her.

The Paks-ish moments came at the first, and again occasionally, including today when I did some ground work and longeing with her in the stable arena.   First…she picked me.  When I first saw her, and the state of her front feet, and the generally depressed, miserable expression, I almost walked away.  Didn’t need another horse with hoof problems, and I could tell she had them, though not for sure what.   But after I’d spent a few minutes of closer examination, talking to her, watching her reactions, moving her around a little,  she gave me The Look.   The Look that means “I’m your horse, if you want me. Please want me.”   The expression went from depressed to hopeful.   And the next day, after the PPE vet found the problem with her feet and legs (as he was supposed to) and we discussed it, and then I discussed it with Trainer…I bought a horse that was, at the time, three-legged lame and had a mouthful of pain from lack of dental care.   And have not regretted it for a moment.   She is “hot”–that comes with the breeding (Arabian, mostly from Russian and Polish racing lines, and 1/4 from Crabbet) but she is not wild or crazy…she’s sweet, willing, wants to do the right thing and since we dealt with the multiple sources of pain and problems (vet, farrier, equine chiropractor and prescribed exercise) she’s been *able* to do the right thing, or learn how for the things she hadn’t been taught.  She was raced as a young horse (unsuccessfully), used as a trail horse, taught a little dressage, but basically wasn’t ever the #1 for her owner.  Now she is, and she’s blossomed.   She still has some incurable problems but management should be able to prevent their escalating.

Today,  for one moment (or several) I felt like Paks seeing her horse…she was prancing around, arched neck, tail up, “floating” above the ground in that gorgeous trot many Arabians have.  So beautiful, so elegant and athletic…and then she stopped and turned and looked at me, ears pricked.  “Was THAT good enough for a horse cookie?”

One month after purchase, she’s looking a lot better.   And she loves swimming in the circular pool and could do several laps.

Two months after purchase, she’s looking even better (even on a cloudy chilly day) and showing the effects of therapy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sep 07

Intended Intro for Oath of Gold

Posted: under Background, Life beyond writing, the writing life.
Tags: , ,  September 7th, 2018

What’s the best/fastest/easiest/most efficient way to get published? What was it when you started?  (Not the way I did it, is the honest answer!)

Many writers have a stack of manuscripts gathering dust on a desk top or filling a box or two tucked into a closet or under the bed.  Some of them will end up with published books, and some of them won’t.  And the reasons aren’t always the relative quality of the books.  Sometimes it’s the decisions they make–the same ones I made that kept me unpublished for decades.

I started writing fiction at six (lousy fiction) and by high school had discovered and started writing science fiction (probably also lousy) and daydreamed about being a writer.  For money.  My very practical mother inquired how many cents a word writers got paid; ANALOG listed its pay scale.  And how many words would I have to write every month, even assuming every word sold, to make a living, she asked.  As a high school student, a minute of calculation immediately led to “I can’t write that much every month!”

Without further research, I gave up the notion of supporting myself by writing. “Everyone knew” that you had to write and sell short fiction before you could write a salable novel.  “Everyone knew” writing a novel took many years.  I accepted all that, and dropped “want to be a writer” in the same slot as “want to be a fighter pilot” and “want to own a horse ranch with 25 golden palominos, 25 collie dogs, and have a dozen children, including three sets of twins.”  Impossible.

Through college and after I continued to write (because I couldn’t stop) in a sort of wistful-hopeful way, vaguely expecting that if I was cut out to be a writer, someday a spotlight would beam down on me, and a James Earl Jones kind of voice would say “YOU are a writer!  Grasp the torch.”  It doesn’t work that way.

Meanwhile, I was doing other things and learning a lot.  Military service followed the history degree, and while in the military I programmed computers, learned to backpack and camp out on mountain trails, sew, do needlepoint, make jams and jellies from wild fruit, read topographic maps, identify local wildlife and plants (new to me: Virginia is not Texas), take better photographs with a good camera, and more.

I married, moved back to Texas with my husband after we left active duty, got a second degree in a different field, and started graduate school (my thesis committee consisted of a microbiologist, a geologist, and an ecologist.) Hiked, learned to ride over fences, learned to set a line of traps for research, started making my own bread, pickles, preserves, did very successful organic gardening on our tiny lot, raised a few chickens for eggs and meat.

Moved again, back to my home town, leased (and later bought) my first horse, moved again, joined the local volunteer EMS and learned a lot more about rural medical care and pre-hospital care than I’d imagined existed.  So none of that time was wasted, really.

We landed here, in a small town, where I had no prospects for employment other than volunteering (which I did–Library Board, elected to City Council twice, plus the EMS work.)  And–to keep my hand in, I thought–I audited a writing course at Southwestern University, telling myself it was a last chance and if nothing came of it I should quit writing.  That class, taught by the wonderful Dr. Lois Parker, changed me from a “hopeful but not practical” daydreamer to a determined writer.  Finally, finally, I began to treat writing in a businesslike way, the same way I had history, biology, chemistry, horse training.  I started sending in stories (all rejected, by the way.  Lots of them.)  When a tiny opportunity opened up to write a weekly news column for this town in the county paper, I applied–and got it.

Every week I turned in 800 words on whatever might interest people here–mostly not real news but personal interest events and chat.  School honor roll lists, a bake sale for the library, a loose calf in someone’s garden, family reunions, gold and diamond anniversaries.  “Real reporters” covered school board and city council business; I covered the other stuff.

There’s nothing like a weekly deadline, a defined word limit, and a paycheck (however tiny) to get a writer headed in the right direction.  Though it wasn’t “writing every day” it was writing with intent.  Besides the money, I got feedback from the folks in town every week when the paper came out.  When I started writing the Paks books I already had a couple of years of experience, and had learned more about the business of writing and publishing.

I joined what was then the Austin Writers League (now the Writer’s League of Texas.)  My income from the newspaper column paid for the gas to drive down to Austin and back once a month for meetings.  Soon after I finished the Paks books, AWL offered a one-day science fiction workshop.  So I found someone to care for our son that day and went to it. (My husband worked Saturdays.) Howard Waldrop, the instructor, said the most important thing I’d heard yet: Send your manuscripts to editors whose choices you like to read.  That one sentence got me my first two sales because I had been doing the exact opposite.  He also suggested that we all should attend that year’s NASFiC, in Austin.  I did that, too…with those two sales in hand.

“Bargains,” to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress III, and “ABCs in Zero-G” to Analog, were very different stories, both connected to personal experience.  “Bargains” is a Paksworld story, based on my own experience with a bargain horse; “ABCs…” is a hard-SF story straight out of my EMS experience.  I started it one cold winter night riding in the back of the ambulance on the way back from the regional trauma center after getting the last blood off the floor.

I never sold another story to Bradley, but I soon had two more sales to Stan Schmidt at Analog.  When they came out the following year, a young man named Joshua Bilmes saw them, liked them, and wrote me, saying if I ever wrote a book he’d like to see it.  I replied that I did have three completed books, but  they weren’t SF, they were fantasy.  He was willing to look at the first one. Then he asked for the others. Then he offered to represent me.  Meanwhile, I’d gone to my first WorldCon and asked Stan Schmidt what he thought of the agency Joshua then worked for and found out it was his, too.

That’s how I got an agent.  The same agent I have now, thirty-two years later.  He started trying to sell the Paks books, initially with no success.  There was considerable resistance then to a woman writing military fiction with a female soldier at the center of it.  I had somewhat huffy (my perception) rejections from a number of well-known male editors on that basis, firmly sure it was impossible/stupid/ridiculous to have a woman soldier in fantasy and even worse to have a woman *writing* it.  What could she know?  I did some muttering and grumbling in my lair.

The last rejection came from Baen Books, whose senior editor then (Betsy Mitchell) had liked the books, but Jim Baen had rejected them without reading, for the same reasons as the other editors.  But his comments got to me, via my agent.  That was the final straw.  I replied (not to the publisher, of course–I had that much sense–but to my agent in a fairly…firm…tone.)  Joshua claimed the paint peeled off the mailroom wall when my letter arrived.  I doubt that, since most of the letter was perfectly rational documentation of factual error, and anyway, I did know what I was talking about, harrumph, being a veteran myself.  (Hmmm…maybe there were a few scorch marks, after all.)

Joshua went back to Baen, pointing out that his writer was a Marine veteran, and the dismissive rejection without reading was an insult.  Jim Baen changed his mind, read the books, and then published them.  Moreover he told that story on himself, repeatedly. I respected his willingness to change his mind, and even more his willingness to admit error in public.   And now we’re here, all these years later, and the Paks books, in either the separate or omnibus edition, have been available ever since.

Thank you, Joshua, for persisting.  Thank you, Jim, for that change of heart.  Thank you, Betsy, for not just editing these books, but teaching me how and why editing decisions are made.   Thank you, Baen Books, for giving me that break and the start of my writing career.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sep 07

Intended Intro for Divided Allegiance

Posted: under Background, Life beyond writing, the writing life.
Tags: , ,  September 7th, 2018

What’s your writing process?  How do you come up with all that stuff and how do you keep track of it?  These questions come up naturally considering the middle book of a trilogy, where there are more complications than resolutions.

The writing process is deceptively simple (even simpler now, with a computer and printer, because I don’t have to put a sheet of paper in the typewriter every few hundred words, use white-out, or literally cut and paste to make changes.)  Seat of pants on seat of chair, fingers on keys, GO.  And keep going.  For hours.  For more hours.  For days, weeks, months.  Stagger up now and then to use the facilities or input water and food.  Until it’s done.  Then edit, and edit again, and then start the next one.  Scream loudly when the power goes off in the middle of a backup, when a hard drive decides to self-destruct, when the backup hard drive is corrupted, when the roof leaks onto the computer (yes, it did) and then start again.  And again.  Until it’s done.

Everything else is a refinement.  Music: I write to music a lot, mostly classical music, which generates writing rhythm for me.  I need it less now (my mind can play music though not as well.)  Food: dark chocolate is particularly useful when the writing is harder than usual, otherwise something that doesn’t need time spent to prepare it.  Time: I started out writing in long solitary stretches, but learned, when we adopted an infant, to write long books in short (even five minute) bursts, holding a paragraph in my head while changing a diaper or feeding or cuddling the baby, then–the moment he was down for a nap–running in to write as fast as I could.  That had not been my plan–my plan was that the baby would love being in a sling snuggled against my front while I typed.  That was not the baby’s plan, and writing epic fantasy (or anything much) while a struggling screaming infant is whacking you with that tiny little fist destroys concentration on anything but the baby.

Remember: you don’t FIND time to write; you MAKE time to write, whatever it takes in terms of lost sleep, undone chores (other than feeding and cleaning that relate to the baby), no recreation (other than writing), no social life (other than baby/toddler/child.)  If you want the book written, it’s up to you to figure out how, because nothing but doing it will get it done.  You can (I did) write a book a year while caring for and home-schooling an autistic kid.  And you can enjoy both.  (No, I’m not saying it’s easy.  Just doable.)

I do my best first-drafting if I start fairly early in the morning, because I wake up at or just before dawn, completely awake and hungry.  I want food, some exercise (mucking out a stall will do; a short ride will do more–or, lacking a horse, a bike ride or swim or brisk walk) and then the story is live and nudging me to get in there and write.  Some days I could write straight through until late evening, but now I need a long break and a nap as well, before the evening surge of energy.  For the entire first volume, I had long mostly empty days to write in and a horse to care for and ride.  Even with the old typewriter and those uncooperative sheets of paper, it went fast.

Keeping track of the details was another issue.  I had charts (Paks’s recruit cohort: names, and who died when.)  Although I had technical-looking small maps of each combat encounter, I didn’t have area maps until the second campaign year, when one of my first readers commented that no matter which way an army approached a certain city, it had to cross a river.  Was the city on an island, she asked, and if so, shouldn’t I mention that?  It wasn’t.  I had created a city that jumped from side to side of its river.  A map fixed that.  That first map grew to cover all of Aarenis, and then spread north to cover the Eight Kingdoms.)

I kept lists of character names, place names, names of plants and animals, words specific to this story-world, short bits about legends, myths, religions, customs.  All these went into a 3 ring binder.  Many of these names required searching through various dictionaries (we have quite a few) to find what I needed, and some required the help of a friend who spoke Latvian.  (Why Latvian?  Old language believed to have very close ties to the original Indo-European.  Some wonderful root words in there.)

In November 1983, when our son arrived,  I was partway through the second book, had my reference notes tucked into the notebook, and a brand new computer (IBM PC with two floppy drives and 256K RAM) to replace the old Corona half-electric typewriter I’d inherited from my step-grandmother.  I had chosen WordStar for its versatility, and loved it.  Would still be using it, if it would run on newer machines.  Baby and all, having a computer to write on saved me a lot of time in both writing and editing, almost enough to keep on at the same pace.  Sleep was overrated, I thought.

Since my brain thought the story was all one thing (though too long to fit easily in a normal size volume) I had no “second book slump” with Divided Allegiance.  And that brings up the issue of a series versus a multi-volume story.  A series has separate standalone stories, each in one volume.  Detective series with the same detective/team in each are an example.  The story arc is complete in each volume, though elements (detective, sidekick, office politics) may carry through. Each book, standing alone, is rather like one in a row of storage units.  In contrast, a true multi-volume work has one main story arc that needs several volumes to complete, while each volume has sub-arcs in support of the main one (think Gothic architecture.)

This means that the middle part of a multi-volume work holds the keystone of the work–it’s the volume that holds the entire  story together.  It’s where the infinite possibilities of the rising curve are controlled, limited, and forced back down in a definite shape toward a definite end.  Which means the middle volume is where you find out if the initial concept has what it takes to center and control that long an arc.

Is there enough “stuff” in the story–not just wordage, but complexity, both in characters and plot–to sustain the tension of such a long arc?  A middle book may seem weaker (a less defined beginning and end for that volume) but have the strength, when the reader finishes the whole, to show that it’s the right middle, a true keystone.  Or it can fail, by not tying the others together–and the failure is usually a matter of attempting a perfect internal arc with too little connection to the larger one.

So, deep in the story as it developed through Divided Allegiance, I was excited to realize that it was behaving like a very strong keystone indeed.  Writing the actual keystone and the downward arc, however, was anything but the same fun I had had with Sheepfarmer’s Daughter.  Unlike readers (who had to survive the end of it to get to the final volume) I knew as I wrote that what seemed to be desolation would not last forever  but it was still hard when the characters’ flaws–clearly there in the first book–had their inevitable outcome in the second.  It’s still hard for me to read, years later.  But it would have been dishonest to make it easy.

Once into Oath of Gold I could see more of where the story was going.  I hurried on, in my increasingly short periods of writing, as we entered the home stretch of the race between my first book and our son’s becoming able to walk.  He beat me by five days, in early January 1985–but close enough.  The story was complete, all the parts in the right place.  Now it was time to turn 2500 sheets of paper covered with words into separate manuscripts ready for submission.  I would have had a nice long nap–but I had a very active toddler in the house.

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Sep 07

Intended Intro for Sheepfarmer’s Daughter

Posted: under Background, Life beyond writing, the writing life.
Tags: , ,  September 7th, 2018

Why did you write this story?   A question often asked, in one way or another, of writers about a book.  What prompted you, what inspired you, what led you…?

In the case of Paksenarrion, it was a combination of things that happened to reach critical mass at the same time.  I had been writing, and not publishing, for a long time: before every move I had boxes of pages of handwritten (mostly) stories and essays and poems, and after every move I had fewer (“I’ll never do anything with *that*”–or the movers lost one or more.)  I had almost decided to quit writing several times, but the writing bug was there, and I couldn’t.  Some submissions, no publications. But a few years before starting the Paks “short story” (it was going to be a short story…read that and laugh), I had audited a creative writing class taught by Dr. Lois Parker at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.  Why?  Because a clerk in a little bookstore in Georgetown, a student at Southwestern, recommended it, and I had just enough money to audit it.

Lois made clear, for the first time, the difference between correcting something (in the classroom sense of writing) and revision (making a story better, a more satisfying experience for the reader.  I’d always made As in English lit, English composition, but this was a different approach, and it convinced me to try again, seriously, to become a professional storyteller.

Following that class, within a month or two, I noticed that the county biweekly paper was looking for a new stringer in the town where I live.  I applied for the job.  It was relatively simple (town of maybe 650-700, cover local news but not local politics, we have a reporter assigned to that.)   But it had to be typed (and I hated typing) and it had to be 800 words, delivered on time, weekly.  A perfect beginner-pro-writer assignment that paid for itself with money, too:  five dollars a column paid for the gas to drive it down to the newspaper office, and the typewriter ribbons and paper I needed to write it–and other things.  After six months they raised my pay to six dollars a column and later eight and then years later(grand moment) fifteen.  That’s $780 a year.  At the time, many sacks of chicken feed.

I had made a pact with Lois that I would write more stories and actually submit them, for a couple of years, before considering quitting writing again.  In my own mind (as the collection of rejections began) I would have to cover every open wall space in my study with rejections, pinned up right next to each other (no fair leaving open spaces) before I could stop.  I kept a submission log on the closet door (title, date submitted, date returned, etc.)

Meanwhile, sometime after I’d started writing for the SUN, my husband started DMing for a friend’s son, and then for another family’s sons.  I had boys in the house playing D&D, too loudly to keep writing in the other room.  I came out and kibitzed.  They started using me as the rules person, available to look up things in the books.  Of course I started critiquing the rules.  “This is really stupid,” I said, probably too often.  I was particularly incensed over the simplistic good/evil/lawful/chaotic divides, and over the way paladins were interpreted (stupid good, seemed to be the approach.)

This may be unfair, but remember, I was a frustrated writer who couldn’t write those evenings because of a houseful of people.  I didn’t want to play the game; I wanted to redesign it (sign of a writer…we want it to be OUR way.) Another couple asked if their sons could join in…now there were five boys and three adults (that couple stayed because they liked the game) and the gravitational force finally dragged me in. “If you think know what a paladin should be, play one,” the adults said.  “If you’re going to gripe about the game at least play it.”  Grump.  But suddenly the paladin wasn’t an idiot like Roland, but a wily, competent war-leader, and the notion of “good” as “stupid” went out the window.

But it was a game, not a book, and more importantly, it wasn’t MY book.  I had been working in almost straight hard SF for years, not fantasy.  That’s where I saw my future as a writer; I had both military and science background (albeit I’d had to leave the graduate degree unfinished.)

Then several things happened.  The lurking depression that had been around for years, up and down, burgeoned into a serious clinical depression.  The foundational kid and his family including my best friend in this town, his mother, needed to move halfway across the country.  The kid was miserable at the thought.  The depressive episode was bad enough that I sought treatment (and it worked) and thought writing a story for the kid about his game character and mine might cheer him up in his distant “I hate this new place” mood.  OK, it was fantasy, but it was just a story for him, in particular, and I didn’t think about publication.

Until the thing came pouring out in a flood…not the short story I’d planned but a huge sprawling monster in which my game character dissolved and out came Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter.  Many thousands of words a day poured out (I don’t know how many; I was typing on my step-grandmother’s old half-electric typewriter and kept typing off the edge of the paper and off the bottom of it too.) My character and the kid’s character dissolved into the story, which had its own headstrong idea about where it was going.

Somewhere around 75 pages I realized that “short story” was not going to fit. Could it possibly be a book?  At something over 200 pages, I knew it wasn’t going to fit in one book because the story wasn’t anywhere near over.  (I didn’t have a word count until the following year, when we got our first PC.)  What the heck WAS it?  By this time, the family that had gamed at our house (the game died pretty much when the founding kid moved) were reading the story as it was written. Every few days I’d haul some more pages over to their house.  They liked it: both adults, both boys.  That seemed promising.

But what other things drove the story onward?  Both my first degree (history, mostly ancient and medieval) an interest that predated college and continued after it, and my interest in and experience with, the military.  For both, the interest not merely in the surface details of reigns and wars, weapons and tactics, but in the cultures and the people in the cultures, the ways they thought.  Along with my history classes, I had taken courses in archaeology and cultural anthropology and geology (joking that it taught me “history from the rocks up.”) Both my major professors in ancient/medieval history insisted on understanding the legal, economic, and social issues not just what happened when.  Among the books that became important in the research for Paksworld were F.S. Lear’s Treason in Roman and Germanic Law, K.F. Drew’s translations of the Lombard Laws and Burgundian Code, and Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror.   Books that got things wrong in history or military fiction also propelled the writing…because throwing a book across the room and saying “I could do better than that!” has pushed more than one writer across the line to serious interest in getting published.  In the late ’70s and early ’80s there were a lot of fiction books that got things wrong.  There probably still are, and they’re valuable as spurs to yet-unpublished writers to quit griping and start finishing your own books that do it right.

The first bit I wrote, for the kid in Salt Lake City whose mother told me he was miserable, did not make it into the final version…and that’s a good thing.  It never actually happened to Paks; it happened to a more amorphous person, the game character whose shape Paks burst out of about 4000 words later, when the flame had gone from the tinder to the real fuel, those big pickoak logs.  In the process of writing that book, everything I’d experienced in decades of living and doing turned out to be useful. And then…I needed to find a publisher.  (A story for the introduction to another volume.)

…………………………………………………………….

They were written and (I thought) mailed off to Baen in September 2017 (the dates on the files)  but since I had that whack in the throat in late August and was desperately trying to finish INTO THE FIRE (which required, to my sorrow, many more rewrites than it should have) it’s always possible I didn’t.  Or maybe they were too long, or for some other reason not considered suitable.

And now my internet connection’s down so I can’t send this until later.  Grumpish.

OK, back on.   Now:  I can wait to post the other two until the next volumes come out, or go on and post them this evening (there’s a visit to an eye surgeon between now and then.) What would y’all prefer?

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Aug 21

30th Anniversary Edition

Posted: under Good News, Sheepfarmer's Daughter.
Tags: ,  August 21st, 2018

The new 30th anniversary edition of Sheepfarmer’s Daughter is now out and about.   Hard to believe it’s been that long (though some days I feel more than 30 years older, but that’s another issue.  You will laugh–the other night I was awake and picked up a copy of it just to glance at…and two hours later I was hooked by my own book *even though* I knew what was coming.   Thanks to all of you–and all my other readers–who kept it in print and made celebration of its 30th birthday possible.

The year of fixing things is proceeding, with a consult on eye surgery coming up the first week of September, and renewed work on “What to do about the fact we aren’t getting younger and our wills have aged out and the guardianship on our son needs adjustment…”   Then I need a consult on the concussion aftermath, because we’re over six months and some things have bounced back to normal-for-me-before-this-concussion and some haven’t.   Reading speed picked up markedly in July and is now below what it was in my 20s  but way above where it was after the concussion.   (Honestly, nobody *needs* do read Dick Francis mysteries and other fiction of that length in an hour and a half.)   I can gulp an entire new book in one sitting again….no problem at all with holding concentration.  I’m also reading solid nonfiction as I had been doing (science and medical journals.)  But there are some things still not “there” yet, including balance.   OTOH, the teeth–wow, I did not realize how much they’d been hurting until (past the rather solid and definite pain of serious dental surgery over many weeks)  until after the final stuff healed…they didn’t.   At any rate progress has been made, and more will be made.

On the writing side, the very dry well is now wet at the bottom and Sunday, chatting on the phone with a writing friend, suddenly a plot fragment showed up in my head.  Not connected to anything I’d been doing, but in response to a joke my friend made.  And so…I think the writing of fiction may come back if I don’t strain it while it’s so small and fragile.  The fun of writing (nonfiction, about horses or knitting) is definitely coming back.  So there’s life in the old girl yet, and I’m looking forward to next steps.

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May 27

Changes, etc.

Posted: under Blog-page Update, Life beyond writing, the writing life.
Tags: ,  May 27th, 2018

You probably noticed the new page, the Privacy Policy notice required by the EU.  There’s one on all the blogsites now, but not on the websites, because my website guru is having trouble getting the hosting service’s server to do what she tells it.  She’ll get there.   On the 80 acres online blog, I had to stick it at the bottom of the Policies page because the bar for pages wouldn’t accommodate another button.

The original Paks books (three individual, not three in one) are about to come out in their 30th anniversary finery (which I haven’t seen yet, alas…unless my brain has wiped the cover art, which I wouldn’t think would happen.)

The derelict house next door, which we bought last year and had brought back up to code, is about to get renters into it finally.   They’d rather buy and I’ll probably sell to them in a year or so, if we get along as neighbors.  I’m not planning to move (though life is what happens while you’re making plans, or not making plans, as the case may be.)  I had the house cleaned before they were to start moving their stuff in, and it turns out the daughter of the lady who did the housecleaning (and boy is she good!  But she must never see the inside of MY house!)  is friends with the lady and her husband moving in.  They’ve worked in the same office, though now they’re in the same agency but not in the same office.   Small towns.   It makes me very happy to see that house looking as it does now, and I will be even happier to see it lived in.  It was so sad to watch it going to ruin.

Molly the horse and I have still not achieved cooperation (mostly my fault and due to my lack of energy and weakness and flabbiness) but still hoping that will come.  Mocha ( the taller and more skittish one) is still for sale at the trainer’s.

I’m working slowly on the Paksworld stories, as I said, but Cracolnya’s story still bothers me.  It’s…got a spot in it where I went off the trail, and I can’t spot that spot.  I’m going to consult two of my story-fixers and see if they can find it.

The great SF/F editor and writer Gardner Dozois died today and I’m just…whacked.   He lost his wife to cancer; everyone who knew him was worried about him but I thought (as did many others) he was doing a little better.  And then boom…he got sick, he got an infection, it took over, and…gone.

And that’s really all I have, for now.  Thank you all for your continuing support and kindness.

 

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