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?

Comments (12)

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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May 09

What’s Ticking Over in Writer-Brain

Posted: under Life beyond writing.
Tags:  May 9th, 2018

It’s been a difficult four or five months; those of you who follow on Facebook (now the more frequently posted version) may know about the death of Mac, the remaining horse after Illusion died, husband’s surgery, horse searching, the concussion following first horse’s very efficient bucking, the extensive dental work (now entering the third month), another tick bite by a Lyme carrying tick and the subsequent medication, the second horse purchase (older, quieter, but…it turns out…equally not the cooperative mount I was hoping for), and so on.  And of course *everyone* is having a difficult time with our peculiar Administration and Congress.

So that’s why the long silence.  I decided I would not try to write fiction this year at all…if it comes, it comes, but I’m not going to commit to anything.  I’m out of choir for now, and hope to get back in, but I’m not sure I can manage it due to the necessary driving at night…I need another cataract surgery.   The dental stuff, which started on my birthday in early March, as soon as I dared risk it after the concussion, has been…well, if you’ve had 9 root canals done in multiples and a pulled tooth and a bunch of other stuff, you know my feelings.  Or some of them.  And it’s not over yet.  I thought it was, but it’s not.

But things are once more beginning to tick over in writer-brain.  Some are leftover tags of the Vatta books that want a conclusion; some are leftover tags of Paksworld.  I’ve been doing a little light revision of the next bunch of Paksworld stories, for instance, and have a scene and a notion of where it’s going in a third Vatta’s Peace book.  Most days, however, get no fiction done at all.  Other things fill the time, including trying (so far unsuccessfully) to get fitter in the wake of the concussion.  My right leg is refusing to relearn that most natural (to me) of movements, swinging out and over a horse’s back.  The house next door, that we bought and renovated last year as a possible rent house has renters moving in.  I have not been able to knit since the concussion, or bake bread (weird…but just can’t…hoping that comes back!)  and initiative is way down, though intellectual curiosity is back, and I’m reading a lot of serious nonfiction again.

For your pleasure (?)  here are some pictures.

Mocha, first day here, January 10

Mocha with trainer, late February–now for sale

Molly-second day here, mid-April

Molly – three days ago. Red dun, has the dark stripes

Mocha had no papers…supposedly 3/4 Quarter Horse and 1/4 Arabian.  Molly is a 14 yo registered Quarter Horse, locally bred but her breeders retired and moved away years ago, and she’s not really suited for breeding anyway, IMO.  Others might disagree.  She’s a little shorter than Mocha, with more substance (bone), but she was used as a lesson horse in a program for children and she hates being bridled and isn’t fond of being ridden.  She doesn’t buck (big improvement) but is otherwise in need of retraining, which I’m trying to do between dental stuff and concussion effects and a few other physical problems.

Other than that, both husband and son are doing well.

 

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Dec 06

Aha! Book Depository Has UK Edition

Posted: under Deed of Paksenarrion, Good News, Life beyond writing.
Tags: ,  December 6th, 2017

If you’re desperate for a whole, not falling apart, Deed of Paksenarrion, my agent informs me that the UK edition is available via this link:

https://www.bookdepository.com/The-Deed-Of-Paksenarrion-Elizabeth-Moon/9781841498546?ref=grid-view&qid=1512606716611&sr=1-1

I did not know that.  But now that I’m informed, I hope it relieves any angst that comes from waiting to find out what covers Baen’s going to put on the 30th anniversary issues.   We’re getting wintry mix precip this evening.  I did not brave the highways and bridges to go to and from choir and am about to turn this off and go stretch out in bed with a mug of hot chocolate with *two* marshmallows in it.  I hope your evening is going as well.  (And yes, I am thinking about the victims of the huge California fires.)

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Nov 17

Goodbye, Hello…Paksenarrion Editions Switching Around

Posted: under Deed of Paksenarrion, Editions, the writing life.
Tags: ,  November 17th, 2017

I found out only this afternoon that the omnibus edition of THE DEED OF PAKSENARRION is out of stock, and being retired (after 25 very successful years in print!!)  so that the debut of the 30th anniversary of  edition of Sheepfarmer’s Daughter (to be followed at intervals by Divided Allegiance and Oath of Gold) can step onto the stage without the venerable edition sniping any sales.   It’s unfortunate (in my eyes) that the stock ran out right before the holidays, when (as all authors hope) Christmas stockings are filled with our books (OK, my books are what I’m hoping people get as gifts…<G>)   There are still a few copies at Amazon, and may be a few at some stores.   If you hurry.  But it’s not going to be reprinted.   At least, not until the 30th anniversary books have had their run.   I may have a box or two in the storage unit, and will look, but it’s not going to be hundreds of books.  Right now, with Thanksgiving coming on, I don’t have time to look for them.

So what will be coming in the 30th Anniversary editions?  Well, for one thing I wrote an essay for each book, which you’ll have to read to find out what it says.   Trade paperback size, new covers, all that.  And the omnibus is still available as an e-book, just not as an in-the-hand monster.  Guess I should get busy and see if I can finish the BIG map and get it ready to print out as a poster.  Someone might want to buy one, maybe?   (The irony would be if, after I finished that map, painted it, and printed it up all prettified…I found the long-lost original map and they didn’t look anything at all alike.  But as in real life, what one map-maker maketh, another map-maker re-maketh, only…differently.

 

 

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Nov 12

Recognition

Posted: under Craft, the writing life.
Tags: ,  November 12th, 2017

When I was in that stage of adolescence when you may (if not in angsty despair) daydream longingly about being famous someday so people will admire you and you’ll have tons of friends and all the people who think are being nasty to you now will be stricken with either remorse or envy (or maybe both)….yeah, I did that.   Never mind that I wasn’t about to DO anything to prepare for such a situation (like, maybe, consider how to deal with it if it happened, or pick some likely scenario for achieving said “fame”) but I was sure that *someday* my light would shine and all those people (like her, and her, and him, and them…) would realize they’d missed their chance to get in on the ground floor.

Another thing is that when you are in that stage of adolescence, filled with awareness of your own pain and looking for a place to dump it, you don’t realize that the people you’re daydreaming about playing “if they could see me now” with are also playing the same set of fantasy games using you as one of the people they want to impress someday.   “She thinks she’s so smart, well, *I* will have my doctorate!”  or “He thinks he’s so great because his daddy has a car agency–I will have a whole corporation and sit at the top of the tower with windows bigger than anybody’s.”   In a few years you realize that everyone is the protagonist of their own story, and you’re not as wildly different as you thought (and maybe they thought too) and the intensity of the desire for fame as fame erodes (or doesn’t) as you reach adulthood and Real Life (tm.)

By the time I had written some books and gotten published, I was over that.  I thought.  It had been years–decades–since I expected any recognition for anything I did.  I was a middling alto in a good alto section–strong, reliable, but not exceptional in any way.  I was a decent graduate student but not a standout.  Then we moved here, and I joined the local EMS and became, by stages, an EMT-paramedic, and I was good at it, but again, not the best.  I knew the odds in publishing long before I had publishing credits; I looked at my skills and thought I was good enough to get published, but no longer expected the daydream of world acclaim, great reviews, major prizes like the writers we studied in English class,  that I’d clung to in junior high and part of high school.   I was a plodder, a workhorse, someone who could get the job done, but without the glam and glitter that takes someone from “Oh, yeah, I remember her/him…they wrote books or something didn’t they?  Or was it they invented something?”

Like most writers, I passed some other writers who had less success, as measured by reviews, the advances on contracts, and so on, and was passed by other writers who had more.   Like most writers, I faced the green-eyed monster of WriterEnvy, who points out that so-and-so who just got a seven figure contract or a movie deal or whatever is really no better at the *craft* of writing than you are, and wants to make you dislike/hate/waste time muttering about that person instead of just doing your own work and making it better as you can.

But then I discovered the thing that no one told me about, but that’s shriveled that green-eyed monster all the way to dust.  The recognition that’s not fame, not glitzy or glamorous or involved with headlines or interviews on TV or movie deals…a different kind, that feeds the writer’s soul and instead of inflating the ego, inflates gratitude.   And that’s the recognition that comes from someone who has no intent to flatter, but just wants to tell you how your work affected them, how it made a bad day, or experience, or situation better…how they held onto that story or book, coming to it again and again for refreshment, for courage, for inspiration.  And there is nothing–no amount of money, no prize–that will both build up and bring down a writer like that.  It’s the ultimate proof that you got it right that time.  It makes the days in front of the keyboard (or however you write), the aching back, the sore butt, the stiff neck, the burning eyes, all worth it because someone, somewhere found a hand that pulled them out of a sucking mudhole of despair.

Some books pulled me through hard times.  Some passages in those books still echo inside.  They weren’t all great books.  They weren’t all good all the way through.  But from them I got nourishment, strength, that I needed right then and wasn’t getting anywhere else.  And no, I didn’t write those authors because I was too timid.  I didn’t want to bother them.  (I’m sorry, I think to their memories…I’d been taught not to bother people. and figured I’d be a bother to you, too.)

So here’s the thing, if you’re an early -career writer, or someone who hasn’t started submitting yet and wonders if it’s worthwhile to write if you don’t find recognition from reviewers, critics, juries for the big prizes, and your publishers in the form of very large checks with many zeros.  That’s not all the reward there is.  That’s not even the best, not even the BIG checks and the fame that means total strangers recognize your face as you walk through an airport.   There’s still recognition you may treasure when someone tells you (in person, or email, or snail-mail) that something you wrote pulled them through a hard time.  It may be a minor part of your book–one incident, one phrase even–or it may be a character, or a setting.  You cannot know when you’re writing what will be the handhold someone needs.   It’s scary to start off on the long journey of writing not knowing if you’re going to save a life (as we did not know, opening the door for the ambulance to come out, if we would save a life that time or not.)   It seems, I’m sure, such a tiny little hope to balance the amount of work you’ve come to realize is needed.

But it’s there.  And it’s a treasure that doesn’t fade like the review, or the critic’s assessment, or vanish into bread and electricity and taxes like the amount on a check.   It’s the true gold, imperishable, and once you’ve had one…you know it’s worth it.   Oh, you may still be seduced by other measures of success, if you can get them, but if you get another…and another…of those golden nuggets, you’ll begin to realize how valuable they are, compared to the rest.   Years later, when your income drops again (and writers’ incomes go up and down like badly played yo-yos)  and your editor and your agent are sighing when they talk to you and far less interested than they used to be (if that happens)…that golden recognition will still be there.  Your work helped someone you didn’t know. That’s on your celestial resume.

(crossposted to Universes)

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Sep 07

The Good News & The Good News

Posted: under Conventions, Editing, Good News, Life beyond writing.
Tags: , ,  September 7th, 2017

Editor has accepted the manuscript of INTO THE FIRE (after the second rewrite) and it’s now in production.  Once the copy edits have come and gone, I’m off the contractual hook, so to speak, with the time to arrange for the medical and dental procedures I need.   Whew!   Because an eye with a cataract in it does not get better on its own, nor does a dental situation.

DragonCon was fun but challenging, as the throat injury was still causing discomfort and some loss of voice strength, and the knee injury didn’t allow the kind of fast, steady walking that going from hotel to hotel makes much easier.  OTOH, I made it, so there.

Renovation on the house next door that we bought to rent has gone well, and it’s now time for the flooring crew to put in the new floors.  Then installation of appliances, final plumber visits and electrical visits, and it’ll be about ready to go.  In the meantime I need to have a talk with our lawyer about “being a landlord of residential property.”  The basics; I’ve never done this before.

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Aug 28

And Now….

Posted: under Conventions, Life beyond writing.
Tags: ,  August 28th, 2017

Shifting attention from hurricane (since it’s moving away from us) without shifting attention from needs of those still being affected, and soon to be affected, by its continuing capacity for destruction, I’m starting the final prep for DragonCon.  I won’t be online as much; I have a lot to do each day I have left.  Thanks for all your good wishes and prayers; please keep those really suffering in this mess in the same good wishes and prayers.   (And the sun just came out–actual sun on the ground and real shadows for the first time since, um…late last week.)

Gotta run.  There’s a bit longer post over on Universes.

Comments (1)

Aug 26

Harvey: Not an Invisible Rabbit or My Childhood Friend

Posted: under Life beyond writing.
Tags:  August 26th, 2017

Hurricane Harvey’s outside edge reached us about an hour and a half ago: rain and a slowly but steadily increasing wind (not overly strong–about 15 mph, says the weather, with gusts to 23.)    We are in a good place for having a hurricane coming over us, and much luckier than those closer to the coast or, inland, closer to the eye.   We have supplies, we’re over a hundred miles from the eye, we have both distance from, and elevation above, the nearest watercourse.

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