May First Already??

Posted: May 1st, 2014 under snippet, Story, the writing life.
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How did that happen?   I keep combing Crown, looking for possible snippets  that aren’t spoilers, but…the last book in a group is more spoiler than anything else.    Especially for a group of readers who are as sharp as you folks, who seize on the slightest clue and go straight to intelligent speculation.  Even when you’re off the mark, you’re interestingly off the mark (and sometimes, I confess, make me wish the story itself had gone that way.)   Hence the shortage of snippets from Crown.

What I can offer, sort of, is snippets from stories that will turn up in the related short fiction collections and background information that might lead…anywhere. 

And I can also reveal problems…such as The Story With More Background Than It Needs, a classic case of infodump swamping the story proper.  Remember when I said I had an idea about a knitting controversy story?   It’s pushing 6000 words right now, but a cold reading today (“cold” = long enough after writing on it to see it clearly) reveals that too many of those words are about the wrong thing.  Although background is interesting, it’s not that interesting when nothing happens.  Yea, though I write with words of 24k gold studded with Burmese rubies…if it’s all background, readers will soon look away.

Example of overmuch background on minor character–this is the protagonist’s aunt, and most of the background has nothing to do with the story.

Down the row, Grallin saw her aunt limping along with Seb carrying a hip basket for her, and Tia carried a bag that, Grallin knew, held their food for the day and water jugs.  Effa had been unlucky in marriage–her husband died of a fever after three years leaving her with two infant daughters–and then she tripped and broke her leg in two places.  No one had offered to marry her after.  She and the girls had lived first with Grallin’s mother and then with Grallin.  Two years before, the elder had married, but the younger had not.  Effa was a skilled spinner, able to make even yarn out of any fiber, any gauge from laceweight to the heaviest.

Readers need only know that Effa is Grallin’s aunt and holds down the booth for her when Grallin is away.   So this is the only time readers will see all that excess baggage stuffed into one paragraph (if the story proper grows, some of it might slip in, bit by bit, where the reader needs it, but otherwise…it’s the box of papers in the back closet that has something important in it, but sorting through the grocery receipts someone kept is a pain.

Sometimes the background is needed, and early on, so it must read more like a story of its own.  Here’s a bit from a story introducing someone you’ve met in the books as a young girl:

When the duke’s men rode into the vill and demanded a maid or two to take back to the main house for training, Farintod’s father pushed her out into the lane.  “Here she is,” her father said, his hands firm on her shoulders.  “A true parrion for cooking she has.”

 The soldiers looked her up and down.  “She’s over-young,” the leader said.  “How can you be sure?”

 “She makes good bread.  Better than most.  Take her and see,” her father said.  He pushed harder, sticking his thumb under her shoulder-blade to make her stand tall.  “A hard worker, too.  She’s stronger than she looks.” 

Readers don’t need to know what her father hoped to gain by offering his daughter–what favor from another family, perhaps, or even from the steward who oversaw the serfs in the nearby villages.  None of that enters the story, and it’s the only time the village, or the girl’s family, appears in the story.  But the day she was taken away, and what happened, is all important in making her the woman she became at the start of the present-day in the story, when one of the kitchen maids has been hurt.

A story trying to outgrow its writer’s intentions may not offer good snippets in its early stages, because the writer can’t tell how spoilerish any part of it is, yet.    But here’s one that may turn out to be a bad spoiler, yet…probably won’t, by stopping in time.

His grandfather led their two horses–ponies, the townsfolk called them–to the door, just visible in the light from the lamp inside.  No saddles, but wool-stuffed pads held on with a girth and a sheepskin over all.  His grandfather accepted the pack his mother handed him, and threw himself up onto the lead horse’s back.

Oktar had seen that before but never accomplished it.  Town boys who rode used saddles, with stirrups, and climbed on boxes to mount.  His father picked him up and set him on the horse.  “Don’t fall off,” he said.  “And learn better.” 

“But shoes–” Oktar said, fumbling in the dark for reins.  He couldn’t find them.

“Horsefolk don’t walk,” his grandfather said from ahead of him.  “They ride.”  He clucked to the horses and they moved off down the dark street. 

I’m not sure of the names yet.  I’m not sure of a lot of things about this story and it wants to grow.  But teasing out which of the things I’m being handed are first-person experience and which are that person’s memory (in other words, am I being given the story by the boy, or by the man remembering when he was a boy?)  is so far being difficult.   It was easy with Farinthod; here it’s still tangled.  Also, though I personally find every detail I’ve ever read about horse-based cultures fascinating, and every detail about horses fascinating, that does not mean all those details belong in the story.  Enough…not everything.

For instance, the kid has to learn the horse nomad trick of having the horse lift him up (a trick I learned from a Paint mare named Pokey.)   Pokey willingly let children too small mount otherwise  straddle her neck as she grazed, and with a tug on her mane would lift her head so they slid back to her withers and thence by squirming, onto her back.     I also learned how to climb up over her rump, using  tail and hocks as rope and steps.   Pokey was a VERY child-safe and patient mare.  When she was grazing, you could lie down on her back and gaze at the sky with your head on her rump.    You could sit sideways on her.    You could crawl under her.  She never stepped on anyone, never spooked.   M-, whose family owned her, would ride her bareback across town, with her two little sisters on behind, and I (much younger than M-, but older than S- and C-) could ride behind them, back to their house.

But the grandfather’s words in this snippet are the echo of something I heard a man say when I was a kid, about King Ranch horses.  Someone asked him why the King Ranch horses never came to the local horse shows.  “King Ranch horses don’t show.  They work.”  (That was not true later, but it was certainly believed where I grew up.)




  • Comment by KarenH — May 1, 2014 @ 9:40 am


    Thanks for the snippets. Counting down the days…

  • Comment by Iphinome — May 1, 2014 @ 6:20 pm


    Thank you your Ladyship, this snippets are a lovely gift.

  • Comment by Susan Malcolm — May 1, 2014 @ 9:29 pm


    I’m appreciating not only the snippets, but the glimpses into the writing process. It is so fascinating to learn how much goes into your wonderful stories!

  • Comment by GinnyW — May 2, 2014 @ 1:21 pm


    Lovely choices. Thank you!

  • Comment by Karen — May 11, 2014 @ 9:07 am


    I laughed out loud over your, “Yea, though I write with words of 24k gold…” because there have been so many times when your ability/willingness to expose me to the very fabric of lives lived in conditions I had never before imagined often creates its own sense of drama for me.

    But I’m a fiber arts person, so reading about a “background” character who might be involved in a knitting controversy just makes me want to say, “…but some of us who knit really want to read about all of the internecine struggles over “the ‘right’ way to hold your yarn and needles!” Even knowing what it means that I’m probably in the minority of all readers in caring about such details can’t keep me from being fascinated by stuff I don’t know as well (because I’m more-than-slightly aware that if there are different schools of thought that can be quite vitriolic about something as seemingly innocuous as whether or not you “throw” the yarn when you’re knitting or “scoop it,” I can only imagine just how something as interactive as the relationship a rider develops with differently schooled equines — and I hope I don’t need to mention that schooling can’t change the fact that the manner in which each equine temperament responds to that schooling is probably just as variable as there are breeds and conformations and — most of all — individual horses with individual experiences that temper their behaviors).

    I know of very few writers who manage to somehow weave (and I’m using that word quite deliberately here!) a tapestry of plot and… the word, “character” doesn’t seem quite enough to describe everything I’m so eager to read about that I hope will unfold in the coming book. I only know that every time you burrow deeper into the “skins” of your “characters,” I feel like mine own grows a bit in the process.

  • Comment by elizabeth — May 13, 2014 @ 8:42 am


    Karen: The knitting story has become…complicated. Figuring out which strand to follow has become…more complicated. It’s like the inside of a striped sock I just took off the needles Sunday, which has a “mane” of loose ends down the middle of the sole, only in the case of a story the number of ends left loose has to be in proportion to the size of the story. (That may also be preferable in the case of socks, but this pair of socks was used to test new yarn–its gauge and its striping potential–so there are stripes whose loose ends could not be carried along until the next stripe of that color.) The underlying knitting issue is top-down v. toe-up (Tsaian knitters knit socks top-down; in Aarenis most knit toe-up), but there are also differences in dyestuffs, color preferences, and of course the breeds of sheep (and thus wool types.) Since there’s no internet and no knitting magazines, how people knit socks is how their family (or close friend) knit socks. Also there are no cable needles and thus no need to bother with the “magic loop” methods of knitting small tubes on long cables. Everybody has pointed sticks of some kind.

    Fuzzy: Agree on the risk of losing traditional skills, but heartened at the resurgence of DIY interest at the same time…there will be at least some people who know how to do stuff, though the population isn’t saturated with such skills. On the “figure it out yourself” front…that’s a cultural difference, and an opportunity difference. Culturally, some people are never encouraged to experiment–they are taught from childhood to learn from someone, and do it that way, or hire someone to do it (if they can afford it.) Traditional skills were taught this way–people learned to make bread or jam, or sew or knit, or build a shed or make a cabinet from those who were already doing it. Innovation came in the details (and some cultures frowned on even the slightest.) On the opportunity side, time is a necessary condition of figuring it out for yourself, along with a willingness to make mistakes, accept failure as part of the process, and enough knowledge to have a clue where you’re headed. I did not start making socks for years because of a very crowded schedule…but when I came back to knitting, 40 years after having first learned to knit, I had a few essential skills (including knitting in the round) and abundant material to learn from to get me past specific difficulties. The same was true of cooking, basic carpentry (use of saw, hammer & nails, drills, etc.), gardening, and sewing.

    As for dogs in Paksworld…I don’t know why dogs did not intrude themselves right away, since I like dogs. There are a few “onstage” and a few more mentioned in conversation (as when “Eyes” is explaining about her blinded relative being saved by the farm dogs) but they haven’t come onstage much. (In contrast to the Vatta’s War series, where the puppy Ky’s crew members rescued from a trash bin has a more prominent role, both in helping the Toby get past his trauma and in (finally!) biting a bad guy.) You’ll notice there are also few cats (and I like cats, too.)

    Iphinome: Thank you for mentioning an excellent source!

    Nancy: I’m glad you like the background-work bits. I miss them when they aren’t there in other books, so I put them in to satisfy myself. Great to know they satisfy readers, too.

  • Comment by Chris — May 26, 2014 @ 11:13 am


    A knitting story??!?!! Hurray!!!!!

    Hope it organizes itself into something writable and readable. Many knitters will be happy to read it, wherever it’s headed. Also: more power to the socks!

    Tech help always available if needed 😉

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