Aug 11

News, Views, and Other Stuff

Posted: under Life beyond writing.
Tags:  August 11th, 2020

Whoa, it’s been WAY too long since I was back here.   There’s both good news and sad news on several fronts, so let me get to it.  Since the last post here was about Tigger, I’ll update horses first.  Tigger was doing better and better until October 11 last year, when something panicked him while I was leading him, saddled, as part of his ground work before trying to ride him again (which was going to have to be bitless, because of the permanent injury to his tongue, found at teh vet visit.)   He broke loose from me, raced around the north lot, either flat out or bucking, alternately, and the tack began to fall off in sections…stirrups, saddle pad 1 and 2.   In a final burst of speed, he headed for the 5 foot plus fence between the two lots and tried to jump it.  He didn’t make it, (broke the top pipe at a weld with his chest) and the impact threw him over backwards.  He was, as you might imagine, badly injured.   He’s alive, but not riding-sound and probably never will be.  I’ll spare you the description of all the injuries, but the one that hasn’t healed up is in his back.   Injuries like these *can* heal in enough years (the spine fuses) but in addition when he fell over, he whacked the back of his head–where head and neck meet, on the ground too.   He lost all the confidence he’d gained in the months here, and the two weeks in the vet hospital being treated for multiple cuts (some very deep), an injured eye, and so on did not help his mental status.  He’s still beautiful, though.

He now has a companion that I *can* ride, a black and white horse of no known parentage, a “steady Eddy” personality, named Ragtime (Rags, in daily use.)   Rags is smaller than Tigger and of a completely different build.  Conformationally, he’s an inferior horse, but in practice he’s a pleasant horse to walk around on, and easy to manage though somewhat pushy.  He’s six this year.

May, 2020,  Tigger and Ragtime when the grass was green

Meanwhile, I had started a new book–not a Paks book, but a book I thought might be easier to write, set in the Vatta universe.  It was intended to be the third book in Vatta’s Peace, but I knew I’d have to let it develop any way it wanted to, and not push for the same speed of writing that I used to have.   It’s still just called NewBook (no title) and it’s now just over 100,000 words.  Slowed down somewhat but not completely by the pandemic and moderate self-quarantine: everyone in our family is at increased risk (R- and I by age, plus pre-existing conditions that *some* politicians think make us unworthy of care) and our son as a disabled person whom some politicians also consider not worth saving.  This is a GOP-dominated state, and some of our state leaders and other political talking heads have been eager to say that this group and that group don’t really matter.    When our governor decided to re-open the state (after a late and incomplete closure and no real “wear a mask” statement) our case numbers were still rising, and Memorial Day was right in front of us.   To say I was angry at this gross disrespect for human life is to put it too mildly.  Our national and state leaders kept making it clear that the rising death toll didn’t bother *them* because they insisted the deaths weren’t that important.   As one right-wing pundit in Texas said about the increasing deaths, “It’s mostly elderly and Hispanics.”  Thank you so much, you smug arrogant scum, I thought.   I was not surprised, but definitely angry, when the recommended emails, letters, and calls to my representatives at both state and federal level has zero effect.  A story began to take shape in my head in  June, but I tried to stick to the book.

Even as a friend in New Zealand was describing the approaching end of their shutdown because of rapidly declining cases (NZ now has had no new cases for over 100 days)  and I was anticipating being an online program participant in their WorldCon, we experienced spike after spike,  including in my hometown and its county and those adjoining, down on the Border.   And then my husband’s younger brother and his wife came down with  COVID-19 in Houston, his wife went into the hospital, was intubated, and died.   We were not close, but that was the week they moved morgue trailers into our state, and shipments of body bags, and of course I was sad (and angry) about their situation even before she died.    I couldn’t write at all at first, or think clearly enough to do the prep work for the panels I was supposed to be on or moderate, so I withdrew from programming, and when my brain started functioning better…the story came out.

That story is now up on my website (link on the front page) at

I expect to get comments on it either on Facebook or on the Universes blog, also housed on the website, but if so moved you can put them here.

Comments (11)

Sep 13

Tigger’s Progress

Posted: under Life beyond writing.
Tags:  September 13th, 2019

Tigger is revealing himself to be smart, alert, interested in communicating and gaining facility in that, and athletic.  We have passed some critical milestones.  About a week after the previous post, my then vet became my former vet, and I went back to some vets I’d had before.  Tigger has now had his first full-on visit to that vet clinic, where everything went very well indeed, and things said by former vet became more obviously false.  Tigger has continued to mellow, but mellow-for-him, not what everyone would call mellow.  The big vet visit turned up the reason for his bitting difficulty…an injury to his tongue that’s left a transverse groove (probably actually a scar) across his tongue.  So for the present, he’ll be retrained to go bitless.   In the meantime, he’s stretched his neck a lot, and is less likely, even when excited, to suck it back and imitate a giraffe with it.  He’s fed at ground level, even though it means wasted hay, is outside grazing a lot, etc.  He is trusting us more, comfortable with the routine, though still not fond of being brushed.  We’re doing some desensitization by a slower process than many trainers, because I have the time…no rush to get him “finished.” If you want to read about the current challenges, they’re detailed on my FaceBook posts.

Pictures follow:

Relaxed and moving forward in a disunited canter…better use of his neck and back

But in the presence of something scary…the head’s higher and the tail stiffly upright, the gallop 4-beat but correct in form

And in the suspension phase those hooves are *really* off the ground

He’s a lot of fun and takes up quite a bit of my time.  It will be well into October before I can expect to get on him.  I’ve ridden completely trained horses in a halter and shank but he’s going to be a challenge.  The Marrakai horses in Paksworld were not modeled after pure Arabians but they were modeled after part-Arabs.  They do look something like this but with a bit more bone.

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Aug 01

Tiptoe to the Barn….

Posted: under Life beyond writing, the writing life.
Tags: ,  August 1st, 2019

Where the new resident now appears to be headed for permanency….a ten year old gelding whose new barn name (didn’t have one before that I know of) is “Tigger.”  Tigger looks somewhat like Kallie, except that he’s shorter in the back with a longer hindquarter…in other words better basic structure.   Here he is at the training facility where I bought him, all spiffied up for his portrait.

And here he is at home, very cautious about those dangerous-looking jump blocks. Who knows what horrors might be in them?

A week plus later, he’s more relaxed, turning to come toward me in the late evening light.  ‘Oh, it’s you…got any of those carrot things?”

Like all horses, he has some dings and some training challenges.  He injured one leg as a young horse and has an impressive scar on his left knee that does not affect his action at all.  He also has a splint bump on the cannon bone of the same leg, also not affecting his movement.  No data on whether these injuries occurred at the same time.  These are blemishes that interfered with his planned halter career, but not a problem for the use he will have here.

More challenging is a clearly very settled habit of balling up his tongue behind the bit.  As this is not good for him, or for me as a rider,  and convincing a horse that automatically balls up his tongue when the bit enters his mouth is known to be a difficult fix, I’ve decided to retrain him for bitless riding.  So far, at the groundwork stage, using his usual flat webbing halter and clip-on reins, it’s going well.  Having his tongue balled up behind the bit would certainly explain his rather, um, strong contact when being ridden (both observed with another rider and while riding him for the test.)   I was told “You have to keep a tight hold on him, and really pull to stop him.”  I love his forward-going nature, and his alertness, but prefer to have a horse light in the bridle.  Without the bit in his mouth, he seems to need only consistent training to be light.

He also needed dental work that will be done this coming week, within his first month here, and the vet may find an explanation for the bitting problem other than someone not doing a good job of introducing him to it.    I know his mouth is small, with a flat palette, so it may be the bits being used with him were simply too big.   If the vet thinks he might ever carry a bit,  I’ll work him bitless for 6 months or so and introduce a different, thinner bit designed for horses with small, sensitive mouths.   In about two-three weeks, if all goes well with the prep work, including at least a week of ground driving with the saddle on, I’ll be on his back using a halter with reins attached (the mildest form of bitless)  and with my trainer’s help we’ll decide which of the several bitless bridles might suit him best…he gets a vote, of course.  Sidepull, rope halter with reins, flat halter with reins, Micklem Multibridle, Dr. Cook’s Bitless Bridle, etc.

In the meantime, ArmadilloCon starts tomorrow and I’ll miss several days work with him.  Love the people at DilloCon but will miss my new horse.  He’s a real character, and I can hardly wait to be riding him when he’s showing off like this, taken at the training facility and shown on his sales page (now removed, alas.)

On the writing side, after he arrived and began settling in…I wrote the first new fiction (very short, very rough draft) that actually finished a story since the concussion.  And I’m starting slowly on the next Vatta book, the third in Vatta’s Peace.  Horses are not a distraction…they’re inspiration.

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Jun 16

New Horse, New Beginning

Posted: under Life beyond writing.
Tags:  June 16th, 2019

I drove up to North Texas yesterday to see a thirteen year old flea-bitten grey Arabian gelding.  This is the picture I had seen before going up to see him:

Vanguard Prestige

He looks darker in this picture because he was wet–sweaty-wet.

Today, after a long trailer ride, he arrived shortly after I got home and looked like this:

For another view of the different in width of forehead and mouth, here’s the equine copycatting a giraffe in eating leaves off a tree.

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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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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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