Feb 23

Tuesday Toolkit for Writers

Posted: under Uncategorized.
 February 23rd, 2016

Every person has a toolkit, a set of skills (physical, mental, emotional) that they use to navigate their life.   When you learn something–anything–it becomes part of that toolkit, and the more tools you have, the more of life’s challenges you can handle with less strain than the person without those skills, that knowledge, that attitude.

It’s easy to imagine what tools you need for “basic getting along” when you look at small children who don’t have them yet, and how we help children develop: they need to be able to communicate with others, manage their own bodies and their own emotions, complete the “activities of daily living” (dressing and undressing, keeping themselves clean, feeding themselves, etc.)   I have a book, written maybe 25 years ago, that lays out in detail the skills those authors thought a disabled child had to learn before he or she could live independently.  I was a grown woman who’d been living independently for decades and I hadn’t mastered all those skills!   (I call a plumber or electrician to do some of the things that book mentioned.)

But what about writers?  What is–or should be–in a writer’s toolkit?  What skills, in and out of writing, does a writer have to have,  what’s nice-to-have but not that necessary and what are the specialized tools that are only needed rarely, or by some specialists?   On some Tuesdays I’ll be writing about the writer’s toolkit, and today’s tool is…

Curiosity.  Whether writing nonfiction or fiction or plays or poetry, a writer needs a good stout lump of curiosity.  Trained curiosity.  Focused curiosity.   Curiosity about words (what’s the word for that thing on the end of a fabric shoelace?   What did nice mean before it meant what it means now?), about language as a whole, about, well, everything.   People–what they do, how they do it, and why they do it.    Machines–how they work and how they fail.   Plants, animals, soils, rocks, landforms, weather.

Curiosity keeps new information flowing toward the writer, and that fills the well of imagination, where it can combine with older sensory impressions, facts, opinions, ideas and provide the meat that clothes the bones of a story.   Curiosity makes the research fun, rather than a burden.   The person without curiosity has little motivation to learn, to do any research, to pay attention to other people, to the sights and sounds and smells and flavors of a location.   And that makes for very shallow, very dull writing.

Writers with a high Curiosity Quotient never run out of ideas because they never run out of questions.    “I wonder…” is a thought that should be in every writer’s head at least once a day.  “I wonder why that guy just slammed his mug down and left the coffee shop.   Angry?  Scared?  Just remembered something important?”   “I wonder what’s under this street?”   “I wonder what exactly happens when a goose is sucked into a jet engine–what breaks first?”

Curiosity bothers some people.  It bothers parents when their kids ask embarrassing or inconvenient questions.  It bothers many teachers when a student asks a question that’s off-topic or unexpected, not in the book.  “Don’t look–don’t touch–don’t ask–” is thrown at a lot of kids (at me, too)  and so as adults many people have trained themselves not to let their curiosity out of a box.

But to be a writer, you need curiosity, the kind that leads you to read more, explore more, listen more, look more, smell more, taste more.   A writer’s curiosity is broad, not confined to one topic or one field of knowledge.   Encourage your own curiosity (exercise it if it’s weak!)  It’s OK  to spend a week or a month or a year following a new rabbit trail down the hole and through the whole burrow.   Next week or month, something else will grab your interest.  That’s fine.  Even if you’re working a full-time day job, raising children, and short of money…there are ways to keep your curiosity busy and your imagination’s well filling.

When I was much younger, and of a lower economic status than most other students, I was asked why I wanted to study physics (that being unusual for a female in those days) and answered that I was very curious.  Some wag in the group sneered “I can see that!” and everyone laughed.   (I didn’t yet know that retorting “Fourth term fallacy” might have turned the joke back on the sneerer.)   I did learn that admitting have wide-ranging curiosity–just wanting to learn–wasn’t acceptable for girls like me, but the habit was formed.  I didn’t quit being curious; I did quit talking about it.

I have no idea what that person is doing now, but I can say that being curious–wanting to learn, to understand what I learn, to stretch my mind and stuff more into it–has been a great strategy for me in more than writing.

(mirrored on Universes blog)

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Nov 12

Cold Welcome

Posted: under Uncategorized.
 November 12th, 2015

Confirmation today that the title Cold Welcome has been approved for the new Vatta book.  Hurray! says the writer.

Though of course I want a warm welcome for it when it finally appears.    But it’s certainly not the kind of reception Ky Vatta expected on her first return to Slotter Key since she left as a disgraced former cadet captaining an old, inefficient, cargo ship slated for destruction at the end of the voyage.

Revision continues on the manuscript, with one bleary eye on the calendar.

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Jul 31

Century Celebration x Thousand

Posted: under Uncategorized.
 July 31st, 2015

A fancy way of saying that the manuscript just made 100,000+ words a few minutes ago, and thus made it to that mark by midnight of July 31.  Almost didn’t, but did.

In August, I need to throw at least another 20,000 words into the cauldron, stir vigorously, and start pulling out the things that don’t belong, adding the things that go in last or (confession time) were just forgotten,  and so on.  And so on.   Serious driving for daily words will continue until the 120,000 point–after that it’s revision, revision, revision,  which often means the word count goes up and down like a yo-yo.

What can I tell you?   I like how the story’s shaping.   It needs a lot of revision, but the skeleton’s basically sound (barring some places where the arm bone isn’t connected to the backbone, and the foot bones are three feet away from the ankle bone and so on.)   I think it will be  a good Vatta story.  The main characters have come back to life and feel real though one or two still have a big of haze at the edges.  (Not Ky.  Not Rafe.  Not Stella.)

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Apr 14

Thursday in Austin

Posted: under Uncategorized.
 April 14th, 2015

On Thursday at 11:30 am, I will be the author guest at Coffee with the Author,  an event sponsored by Holy Grounds, the coffee/book/gift shop at St. David’s Episcopal Church downtown.   There’s a half hour interview/Q&A/etc.  with Jennifer Stayton of KUT keeping the program on track and on time.   Afterwards, lunch downtown sounds like a good idea–including at St. David’s.

This should be fun; I’m really looking forward to it, and hope for good weather so we can enjoy the outdoor terrace–but if it rains there’s plenty of inside space too.

For those in the area but unfamiliar with the venue, St. David’s is between San Jacinto and Trinity, between 7th and 8th–it, and its parking garage, take up the whole block.   The entrance to the church is across the street from the Omni Hotel.   There’s parking available in the garage (you can sign in at the main desk to get a parking voucher) or you can take a bus.

The bookstore will have copies of The Speed of Dark and Oath of Fealty if you don’t have them already and I will be bringing, for show & tell, the proof copy of Deeds of Honor, the print-on-demand paperback of my first indie-published eBook.

If you’re in the area, and can come, I’d love to see you there.

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Feb 02

Concert Report (brief)

Posted: under Life beyond writing, Uncategorized.
Tags:  February 2nd, 2015

The concert on January 26 was amazing.   Everyone had worked so hard and so well getting ready for it, and the weather (which had been icky all week–that kind of “weeping” cold winter rain)  cleared off so it was a perfectly clear, sunny afternoon, not too hot or too cold.    The musicians were *wonderful*–not just talented musicians but genuinely nice people, lovely people.   And though I’d been just a little scared of bringing a chamber music string quartet to this community…it was a hit.  Everybody liked it (well, maybe the 10 yo boy was tired of it by the long second half, but not the rest).   I could feel the electricity from audience to musicians and back.   Everything I’d worried about (how will the acoustics be in that space?  What about having only one restroom?  What if not enough people come?  What if, what if, what if (a novelist can imagine complications and disasters VERY easily)  didn’t happen and better things did.

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May 28


Posted: under Uncategorized.
 May 28th, 2014

A reminder for those interested that I’ll be doing the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer Chat with Bryan Thomas Schmidt this evening.    On Twitter, follow the hashtag #sffwrtcht  starting at 9 pm Eastern Time (US), 8 pm Central, 7 pm Mountain, 6 pm Pacific,  and for all others, 0100 UTC and you can do the calculations.   If it IS starting at  0100 where you are, I hope you’re not following, unless you’re usually up in the middle of your night.

I hope it will be fun for all.  Bryan sent me a bunch of questions to have answers ready for,  so I could fit them into 140 characters.    I think he understands long-form writers.

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Nov 22

No Rest for the Weary

Posted: under Uncategorized.
 November 22nd, 2013

I have been informed that I’m not posting often enough.   I thought (hoped) that posting to comments, answering questions there, etc., would keep the natives from expressing restlessness, but that didn’t work.    So…well…I can’t say anything more about the Other Story that’s with an editor.    I can’t say anything about the story for which I haven’t decided on a market.  I can’t say anything about the ideas churning in my mind for another CHICKS anthology.  So what can I say? Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar 10


Posted: under Uncategorized.
 March 10th, 2013

Because LiveJournal tells me I have plenty of space to upload pictures, but the upload function appears glitched this afternoon…I’m uploading pictures here.  Apologies.   As you know, I’ve been making socks for myself.   The latest pair, of a lovely variegated blue with some purple, gave me a problem I’ve never had before, and have now solved, and I really wanted to show it off.

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Feb 25

Hosting Site Maintenance Downtime

Posted: under Uncategorized.
 February 25th, 2013

My hosting site just announced a major refurbishment (changing out servers, etc.) to begin this Friday night, March 1,  at 10 pm, and expected to last at least 4-6 hours, maybe longer.   So if you find the Paksworld site and this blog down on Friday night, do not worry.   Try it again Saturday morning and if it’s still down…be patient.  I don’t expect it will be unless gremlins attack, but we should all be sufficiently tech savvy to know that hooking new things up quite often is a gremlin magnet.

Meanwhile, back to work.    Someone has survived a fire in a warehouse; someone has had a disagreement with an adviser; someone’s expecting a baby; someone’s up to their chest in rapidly rising water and it’s raining cats, dogs, horses, and dragons.

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Oct 25

Writer Recovery

Posted: under Uncategorized.
 October 25th, 2012

OK, I’m back.   Awake, aware, capable of independent movement and thought.   The thoughts are whirling a bit right now (happy at being out of their cage, I expect.)    Now…where were we?   Oh, yes.  Post trip report on book, etc.

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