Intended Intro for Sheepfarmer’s Daughter

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

11 Comments »

  • Comment by Brenda O'Brien — September 7, 2018 @ 10:58 am

    1

    Post soon, please. It’s fascinating to hear the backstory of how Paks and her world came into being.


  • Comment by elizabeth — September 7, 2018 @ 11:44 am

    2

    That’s a good point. Why should you have to wait for the book and then find out it’s not there. OK. Takes a few minutes to convert to plain text (putting Word files directly into these blogs means lots of weird characters & spacing) and then they’ll go up.


  • Comment by Martin LaBar — September 7, 2018 @ 5:33 pm

    3

    Thanks for posting this (and for writing it). I just finished _Sheepfarmer’s Daughter_ (again) this morning.


  • Comment by Dale — September 8, 2018 @ 6:14 am

    4

    It’s like hearing a fresh new story about an old friend. Thank you!!


  • Comment by elizabeth — September 8, 2018 @ 8:30 am

    5

    OK–all the intros are posted now.


  • Comment by Richard Simpkin — September 11, 2018 @ 1:22 am

    6

    Baen said “intro”, but since it is not at the front, did they print it at the back? Would work well as an afterword.


  • Comment by Sharidann — September 11, 2018 @ 2:08 pm

    7

    Very interesting read…
    I knew about the D&D bit and the Stupid Good paladins but having the expanded version is really interesting.


  • Comment by Butterwaffle — September 12, 2018 @ 8:57 pm

    8

    Thanks for posting “the making of” Sheepfarmer’s Daughter! The part that really grabbed me about Paks’ story is her gradual realization that she was a paladin. It is strikingly different from the way people talk about themselves these days, where they identify the exact moment they decided to do X for a living, and a lot more like my own experience… although thankfully I was not forced to run away from home to escape an arranged marriage.


  • Comment by Sharidann — September 16, 2018 @ 1:21 am

    9

    Answer from Toni Weisskopf about a query on the missing forewords:

    “Good question. It looks like it did not make it into the printed book. I am very sorry for this. We’ll get it in the ebook version asap.”


  • Comment by Jackie — October 6, 2018 @ 9:55 am

    10

    So I thought of you and this story recently. My fiancé is really into D&D and got me involved too. He has a group that he plays with a few times a month over Skype and they did a one-off game in our honor when he’d taken me to meet them in real life in his old hometown. I picked a paladin character who was at least in part inspired by Paks, and the others all commented at the end that it was odd to have a paladin who made it through the entire game without losing a single hit point once. I mean, my character was brave and fought well, but I couldn’t see any point in, say, running straight up to the boss bad guy when standing out of reach shooting arrows would work as well and would keep me from harm. Or from stopping to talk to possibly neutral, possibly bad humanoid whose language I happened to speak rather than just charging in and attacking. Some of it was the luck of the dice, of course, but it was still fun playing a paladin who was NOT in fact “stupid good”, as you so eloquently put it.


  • Comment by elizabeth — October 6, 2018 @ 12:31 pm

    11

    Indeed. At one point, the two adults playing decided to also define “good” as “smart and good” and the kids who wanted to play less good characters found themselves regularly outsmarted. For at least some of them, it made clear that adult promotion of good behavior did not mean being a bumbling target for all the bad guys…it meant spotting the bad guys early on, figuring out what they were going to try, and intervening in ways that didn’t get the good guys hurt. Or at least not dead. Of course part of that was adult advantage. Eleven to fourteen think they’re smart and sneaky but they haven’t had the life experience of adults who’ve been variously in the military and in a highly competitive corporation or several. It’s kind of like my experience with Jack the Mighty Hunter I rode…lots of difficult horses had taught me to stick on in spite of the things he tried.


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