Sep 22

Sweeping Through Horngard

Posted: under Editing, Life beyond writing, Revisions, the writing life.
 September 22nd, 2023

Among the Horngard progress notes:  finding the good picture of the mountain (one of three mountains–now I can’t find the images of the other two…they were on the old computer with the dead drive)  on which the site of Horngard is based.  I had tried to reproduce something like it myself, but my sketch looked like a pair of upside down funnels or cooling towers.  When I found the picture of Mountain #2, and was able to enlarge it on the screen, I realized *WAY* later than I should have, that a computer monitor makes a really good light table.  Yes, you don’t want to put a lot of pressure on it, but it doesn’t take much, and a gel pen doesn’t leak through ordinary printer paper.  Why do I need a visual?  Because, as a major location for much of the action in this book and at least one more, it needs to make sense, and real mountains involve real curves, real roughness, real rock characteristics.  This image will be edited to bring both horns of Horngard into closer height, and then I’ll bring in another part of the same general area to back it with other mountains and add a connecting ridge.  I looked at many other glacial valleys of different widths and depths in the same mountain ranges for comparison before making even light dotted-line ideas of where to go next.

In the story itself, and thanks to the comments received in a Discord writing group I’ve joined, I’ve made substantial changes to the front end, especially with the goal of being more inviting to people who haven’t plowed through the previous ten Paksworld novels and multiple shorter works.   Now I’m on cleanup….no fossils should be left when I’m done but there sure are fossils to find.  In one, someone who cannot be there IS there…and then ISN’T there again.  No, Paksworld does not include teleportation.  No, M’dierra is NOT with Camwyn on his first arrival at Horngard.   She has no magery.   (The ellven transfer patterns aren’t teleportation, really and they’ve mostly been disabled and nobody in this story is an elf anyway.)   Even Dragon *flies*, albeit in his own air, from place to place.   Large lumps of infodump have been scraped off the actual muscle and bone (wish I could do it that fast and easily with the fat, but…such is life.)

There’s a lot of family drama, now that I’ve written fiction covering three generations of some families and two of some others…at that point interactions are inevitable and motivations for doing/not doing things, and cooperation/competition, reveal their personal roots at times.  Some of this I find amusing (the eldest Marrakai, whose mother proves to know more about him than he knew she knew) and some annoying (Beclan Mahieran/Verrakai still prickly and very far from humble) , and some just lovely (to me anyway.  King Mikeli’s wife removing all the stuffy rose and burgundy velvet and lace and crowded heavy furniture in the Queen’s quarters, so that Mikeli and she have a lovely, serene, space that doesn’t remind him of his overbearing mother.  The young sprouts are now adults, the older sprouts are older,  the children are young sprouts (or at least older) and the world is about to change for a lot of people who thought, once again, they had it all laid out properly and the carpets nailed down.  Surely, THIS TIME all the energy spent will result in a stable setting for reasonable people.  Bwah-ha-ha, says the writer.

The family stuff underlies the characters but they’re living in a world with political machinations, religious difficulties, economic waves, and cultural differences that can often lead to disruption and even wars.   In the no good deed goes unpunished category, the return of stolen water (to make jewels) that occurred in Crown of Renewal is great for areas of drought, but allows those who live south of the desert in Aarenis to move back north and some of them are…difficult.

Anyway, as soon as I get M’dierra out of the chapters where she doesn’t belong, and anyone else who’s sneaked in while my back was turned, forward momentum will return.  Cleaned up two other chapters today.

Or…I think so.

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Sep 01

Strategic Writing

Posted: under Craft, Editing, Life beyond writing, Marketing, Revisions, the writing life.
Tags:  September 1st, 2023

Since early 2001, I have been the only earning member of our family.   Luckily for me, the timing coincided with the largest advance I’ve ever received.  But a writer’s income depends on continued writing–even with books already out earning royalties, they eventually slide down the publisher’s priority list as their sales drop.   Gaps in publishing lead to sagging income and when it sags enough, the writer starts burning through savings, if they’re lucky enough and canny enough to have them.  Or, as I did, have a relative who leaves them something more substantial than “dinner out after the funeral” or debts, which is what many are left with.   My last full-size book came out in 2018, five years ago.  Five years in publishing is easily the average employment time for editors in some companies, and being out of the mix for five years is…not great.  If the Horngard novel sells to someone, it still would not be out until 2025, most likely.  That’s 7 years without a release.  I’m well down the staircase.  Which is way better than it could be.

The good response to Deeds of Youth and going to ArmadilloCon gave me enough confidence to break out of the concussion + Covid inertia I’d also struggled with, and join an online writing group on Discord (for which I purchased an actual webcam and microphone because I could not remember the password for the laptop…I wasn’t using it enough.)   The online writing group does the usual “read stuff, discuss the stuff,” thing, which I used to find very helpful with my first-readers, but my original first-readers are now (but for one, who’s in that writing group and got me into it)  older, have health and/or vision problems, and just can’t respond quickly.  It took a few weeks, but this past week the group sank its collective teeth into the new shorter piece, “Final Honors.”  I should mention that nobody else in the group is writing anything like what I write, even those nominally within the umbrella of SF/F.   I like that.   It’s a check on whether what I write might be attractive to people who aren’t already fans, or even reading in the genre.   The comments I got were very, very valuable in helping me consider the revision of that story…and the Horngard novel.  Editors are always looking, in series/same universe works, for the possibility (or not) of introducing new readers to that body of work.  I’ve never been that great at it in fantasy, though I’ve been successful (to a point) with SF.

As well as the question (from several) “Are you considering this for appeal to your current fans or people unfamiliar with your work?” one bold person asked “Are you looking to make money, or just write for yourself and friends?”   I think I blinked about four times, processing that.  Because I do write for myself, always have even when making money at it…AND I depend on an income because I like to eat (maybe too much) and so does my family including two horses.  The consensus of the group was that the short story needed considerable work to make it accessible to readers not familiar with my work (and pointing out things I hadn’t thought of as lacking–which is good to know–like making clear which unfamiliar names are people and which are cities) and then a lack of consensus on the story’s possible appropriate length.   At the end of the discussion, I was full of new ideas, new insights, which is the best possible outcome of having your work looked at.  More than one person, more than one viewpoint coming out of a different readership.  Story is Story, but there are places where SF/F demands more of readers than most other genres, and if you want to expand the total readership of the genre, as well as your own work, you need to provide clues as well as handholds.

Hence this post, because I’ve spend several days looking back at recent work, finding the same gaps and rough spots as in “Final Honors” in the other stories, in terms of making the work more accessible, and those gaps and rough spots would be a serious barrier to acceptance of the Horngard novel even within genre.  Eyes wide open here.  So what to do about it, given the limited writing time enforced by eyesight, health, probably length of life?  Like many writers, I have a perfectly functional (?) *practical* brain  alongside WriterBrain’s wild talent for running off in the wilderness and coming home with big game in the form of books.  Practical Brain is in large part shaped by my mother’s Engineer Brain and it is willing to look firmly at numbers, probabilities, stress points, failure analysis…all that stuff.  So the challenge is “1. How to write what will satisfy me when it’s done..2. .satisfy my existing fans when it’s done…and 3. at least not repel (and preferably attract) new readers.  I want to write within Paksworld for awhile, both long and short, because the Plot Daemon’s successor generates better plot there.  I know that background best, I’m able to stay “in character” there best.  And I want stories that are true to Paksworld, not “other.”   I’m reasonably sure that existing Paksworld fans will be happy with those, though if I can get back to the earlier “tighter” writing, they’d probably like that better, and they never did seem to like anything fluffy or too lightweight.  Keep the depth of place and character.  And those fans–you readers among them–won’t want boring infodump in the service of bringing in new readers.   Insert all necessary handrails on the stairways, and light switches in the deep levels, to give new readers a fair chance of following a story.  The group I’m in can definitely help me with that, by telling me what they stumbled on, where they felt lost, etc.

So I’ve gone in and consulted WriterBrain, who was chomping at the bit to get back to writing itself, explained that we were going to have to revisit several stories and re-vision them, and so far (not having actually started) WriterBrain is willing to do that, as long as it doesn’t mean “just cutting.”   And WriterBrain would like more input from the critics.  OK.  That can be arranged, every Tuesday evening.   There is a danger that this group’s ability to be “the outsiders” to my work may decay with constant exposure to it, but since they prefer to chomp down on what are to me *minute* amounts per person per week (very practical,  but for a LOOOONNNGGG form writer like me, 1500 words isn’t even a day’s work, let alone a week’s)  that probably won’t happen for several years.  And–despite grumbling over the need (self-created) to get the webcam and the microphone…wow is the image and sound quality better.   The friend who rescued me back in May from the tech collapse and office chaos told me which to buy.   They’re not built into the computer–they’re completely separate and stored elsewhere when not in use because I’ve heard about what happens if you have a live cam on your computer all the time–eventually you forget it’s live, with unfortunate world wide exposure you didn’t want.

Now that I’ve written down what the plan is, I can go back to throwing ingredients into the bowl without measuring, stir them up with whatever implement is handy, and bake until the kitchen smells “right”.    WriterBrain is happy with that.  PracticalBrain would like a flowchart and blueprint, *with* dimensions, thank you, but is muttering only softly when I say “You’re a consultant, not the designer. We’ll get back to you.”  PracticalBrain, who sounds like my mother, never gives up completely.  It’s WriterBrain who if really upset goes off in a huff for days.

See you later.  I’m opening WriterBrain’s gate.

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Aug 07

ArmadilloCon 2023: Great Time

Posted: under Life beyond writing.
Tags:  August 7th, 2023

I had a great time at ArmadilloCon August 4-6, even though a variety of transport problems resulted in a later start and later arrival than planned so I was driving in the full blaze of a very hot day–the only kind we’re having this summer.   I had a box of books to consign to Siros Books  in the dealer’s room and managed to spill the box on the sidewalk outside the hotel (A major DUH moment) but the books survived, and the paired stacks of DEEDS OF HONOR and DEEDS OF YOUTH in their red and green matching covers looked quite spiffy on the table, I thought.   They didn’t last long, though.  Quite an ego boost to the writer to see the stacks shorten and the requests for signing tthem.

Since I hadn’t been sure I’d be in shape to come, I hadn’t applied for programming…so I had plenty of time to sit around listening to people and talking to people and touring the art show and dealer’s room more than once, and pestering people at the registration desk, and eating in the con suite where there were plenty of other people to listen and talk to.  Relaxing and fun.   And I found a home for a roaster oven.   I have two of them (one was my mother’s, the other was mine) and they were absolutely wonderful in the years I was doing really big T-day dinners and a few other big dinners….there’s no easier way to roast a couple of turkeys while leaving the stove oven open for anything else.  We often had the ovens and stoves in both houses fully scheduled for the big parties.  Now I’d just as soon have one of them gone, because it will prevent me from yielding to the temptation to do it “just one more time” when I know none of the usual people involved have the energy for that anymore.  Including me.  I like having one (great way to make chili, for instance.)

Came home to some urgent stuff to be done…among the things, as I heard driving into the carport, was satisfying the two equines that their Chief Cookie-donor hadn’t disappeared forever.  I’m not kidding you–Tigger recognized the car coming down the drive and was whinnying loudly “Where  have you BEEN?  We are STARVING!  We haven’t had treats in DAYS!  How COULD you!!”    This continued nonstop as I unloaded the car, dragged things inside, put the dirty stuff in the wash, and came out the back door with their replacement tub of treats. (Popper Mints, which they like almost as much as Mrs. Pastures Horse Cookies,  but not nearly as much as Stud Muffins.)   Having been robbed of tribute, I then retreated to the house and fell asleep for several hours.  They got their regular evening feed from me, shortly before sundown.  Still very hot.

 

 

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Aug 03

My Precioussss….

Posted: under Craft, Life beyond writing, the writing life.
Tags: , , ,  August 3rd, 2023

Arrived this week as two BIG, HEAVY  boxes was a used copy of a 45 year old  Oxford English Dictionary.   Our Compact OED, which I used heavily while writing the Deed of Paksenarrion, Surrender None, and Liar’s Oath, is beyond my eyesight now, even with reading glasses and a magnifying glass..  But it was invaluable.  At that time I still had my HS graduation thesaurus as well, but the Compact OED gave me enough of the history and alternate meanings of words to provide a precision the thesaurus was never meant to achieve.  But as I said, with succeeding years it became harder to use it once my eyes started giving me more and more difficulty.  That row of cream-colored volumes in the picture is  of the 13 volumes of the 1978 printing of the Oxford English Dictionary.  12 volumes + supplement volume.   The words sit over there, chattering quietly to one another, bumping elbows sometimes, from volume to volume.  And I’m renewing my acquaintance with this very senior member of the family of Engilsh dictionaries, first met in Fondren Library of Rice University.  It’s not the latest…but it contains things from before the first.  One of the words I looked at yesterday, when it arrived, is referenced to a Psalter in 885 CE with another reference to it in 1000 in Beowulf.  

 

The advantage of such a research tool for writers?   Great is too narrow a word.    It’s historical, which means the etymology of the words goes back to the first recorded print source in England, and usage is recorded as “Obs” or “Archaic” but not ignored to give just the modern.   That’s how I learned today that “deploy” was originally cognate with “display” in the sense of “spread out to be more visible.”  Troops deployed meant a close formation opened out…not at all what it means in US usage today.  Any recorded use of the word from the first time it’s known to have shown up is included.  It’s that long because there’s information in there, most of it information useful to writers.   If you want every word to fit (“the right word in the right order”)  like a puzzle piece with the other words, it helps to know more, to grasp its entire history, the forces that shaped it.

The latest printing runs to 20 volumes, so of course has even more words, and takes up half again as much space, but this one is close to the one I used at Rice from time to time (actually, I mostly got into it for fun and relaxation and satisfying curiosity.)  I also played around in dictionaries of various sciences.  But I knew enough of the OED to know I wanted one.  We pounced on the Compact OED as soon as we heard about it; we used it for decades, including playing OED Scrabble with friends (any word that was in the OED was fine, but only in the main entry, not all the variant spellings….except in some sessions.)   Made for slow Scrabble, but two of the other players would run a game of chess concurrently, one would read a book, and I would play with the dictionary between needing to look things up.

Anyway, I’m already enjoying this moderate monster.  I’ve done only two directed searches so far; most of it’s been opening a volume randomly, looking on the two visible pages to see what looks interesting and writing down any unfamiliar words.  That got me “fife-rail, eadi, luddock, lue, maritage, marish, pun (not *that* pun), punatoo, starkle, stote, sumph, hopdog, hore, hoppet, and huik”, none of which I knew, and several pages of history and past usages of “stark,” some additional usages of “stot” …both words I thought I knew.   Today I looked up a word from Lee & Miller’s book Trade Secret….“replevin” as in “a writ of replevin” and got its complete etymology and expanded meaning.   Plus other words last night and today I didn’t actually write down (silly me; I don’t have an instant very sticky memory for words the way I did as a younger person, when absorbing vocabulary was easy.)  But I’m getting the kind of “deep awareness” of many of the words that made me confident in Paksworld when I started it and will restore some of that “feel” in Horngard.  For instance, there’s a scene in which Our Hero is talking to some displaced persons in hill country, who speak a variant dialect.   The OED has plenty of those–genuine  archaic terms and spellings linked to their usage in different counties in the UK, so…I can sprinkle them in where they go.

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Jul 26

Horngard I Progress: Fixing Beginnings

Posted: under Craft, Editing, Revisions, the writing life.
Tags: , ,  July 26th, 2023

Horngard I has a new first chapter, new first section of the first chapter, and everything is now “clean” through C-3.   One segment that was second in C-1 is now at the end of C-2, and other segments (aside from the very first, which is new) have been shifted around (often more than once, like quilt pieces) to find their best spot.  General tightening to make the new arrangement work better.   And so on.  Chapters will need to be re-numbered, at least (right now there are two C-3s, one helpfully saved as C-3+) and more splits and/0r joins may need to be done as this revision progresses.   Since re-numberiung this many chapters (34 now, will likely be 35 if I don’t find more largeish cuts to make) is tedious and it’s easy to make mistakes, relabeling the second “overlapping” chapter and leaving re-numbering to the end seems to work more smoothly.  For me, anyway.

This, and maybe some subsequent posts, is a “technical writing” post.   How do you fix the front end of a book–what decisions are involved, what actions need to be taken, and what natters most?  Though it’s a “how-to” and “how-not-to” post, it is not (except for Rule One–maybe)  a black-and-white prescription.  As always, my way is NOT the highway, but a crooked path through the wilderness.  If you find yourself in the wilderness with your book (first or thirtieth) it’s a reminder to look at that first chapter you were so happy with six months ago.  Maybe it could be where the problem with the book started.

Rule One  Don’t bore the reader.  Bored readers don’t finish the book unless they need it to pass a test.  If they’re bored on page one, they’re done with it.  This is why even bestsellers don’t sell to everyone…someone’s bored, they don’t buy the book.   If you leave the finished book alone for a few months to…um…ripen or rot…and then you start to read it, and you find yourself skipping the first chapter after the first page…be sure to have no fewer than five people read that first chapter alone (no reward visible) and listen to their comments.  “Starts kinda slow…” means “I was bored.  “I guess we’ll find out what it’s about later on, huh?” means “I was bored.”   And so on.   Reader boredom anywhere in a book damages it, but reader boredom at the start kills it.

The most common cause of boring starts is starting before the action.   The writer often needs to start writing before the book starts; the writer certainly can spend words and time on setting up when/where/who/how the start is going to happen, and ease into the story itself…but the reader, especially the modern reader, wants to feel, from the first page at least, that they’ve stepped into a strong narrative current and are being pulled along.  Doesn’t have to be a roaring flood, but does have to be a current.

A contribution to boring starts that will overwhelm even starting where the story itself starts is too much information too soon.   (And if that sentence was a boring, there’s your clue.)  If you have even a touch of “instructor” in you, you’ll be tempted to demonstrate your knowledge, as well as your storytelling.   I have a large bump of instructor, since I’ve tutored individuals and taught classes…and like many instructors, I’ve been sure my lessons were interesting and useful to my captive audiences of students.  But…the students didn’t have much choice.  As a writer, your readers have many choices of what to read, and as a fiction writer, they didn’t come to you to learn about the English civil war, the pastimes of medieval peasants, how a ‘tall ship” is rigged, or exactly how to grow food for your family on a quarter acre.  If you write fiction, your readers are fiction readers, and they want a good story.  Story needs to be there in that critical first few pages.  So don’t front-load your book with description, a history lesson, or the things that fascinate you about the story you’re telling…tell the story itself.

How does this relate to what was wrong with my earlier beginnings to Horngard I?   Here comes Rule Two:  Get important characters into the first scenes.  Characters make stories.  Introduce the characters readers will be following at the beginning.  Not–as the old Bobbsey Twins books used to do it, with a page of “Let’s get to know the Bobbsey twins” infodump–but instead with a name, an action, and a glimpse of their thoughts, feelings, selfhood from inside.  It can be in an immediate crisis (Paks and her father having a row, Brun climbing a cliff being shot at, Ky called out of class and forced to resign), or in a calmer but still active situation (Gird setting off with a basket of fruit for the required tax, Heris taking command of a civilian’s personal yacht, or–in the present case after fixing the problem–a young man riding out of the foothills toward a city, thinking what he’s been told to do.)  In the previous version of Horngard I’s beginning, I had Dragon flying around looking at the old citadel and remembering and thinking and planning and then going away again.  Followed by a long scene with some bad guys dealing with their own problems –neither bad guy likely to attract a reader’s interest on his own– and the co-protagonist, who is now up first, not showing up for pages and pages and pages.  Oops.  Stories are *about* someone as well as something.   Dragon is not a character.  Dragon is a Force, or Power…not a deity, but the personification of transformation, or change.    Yes, a dragon can fry you with its breath, but it’s more like plate tectonics than a character.

Rule Three:  Get someone doing something in the first scenes.  Stories are about someone doing something that matters to them (and hence to the still-imaginary and future reader.)  Character sitting on the bank fishing and nothing’s biting?  Quickly boring.  Character sitting anywhere and just musing…quickly boring.  Character riding toward a city still confused about what he’s supposed to do…most readers can think of branching lines of possibilities in that.    Another character on a fractious horse on a dangerous mountain path near a cliff…again, readers can imagine multiple possibilities there, too.  Both of those are a) doing something and b) doing something that has potential problems all over, leading reader to mild suspense.  Will this confused character be unable to function in the noise and confusion of a city?  Will he get robbed? Will he find someone who can clear things up for him?  Will the character on the fractious horse end up in pieces at the bottom of the cliff?   If one character (not of these two alone, any two) thinks of the other, wants to find the other, wants to avoid the other,  wants to kill, or save, or make love to the other, that adds another layer of possibility to the plot, and raises the reader’s interest.  If they’re both going to the same city, especially.  The reader will have several questions in mind that the reader wants answered.   Questions the reader wants answered count as “suspense.”   Suspense is good reader-glue.  The sooner in a book the reader wants to read the next page, the better.

Notice…I broke all three rules in that first chapter.  Boring instructional glop in the first section (OK, it had Dragon, who’s not intrinsically boring, but also not a character the reader will identify with at all.)  Minor characters loosely connected with a minor character in earlier books, unpleasant, doing not much besides talking & planning, in the second section.  They did at least mention they were planning to kill the person in the next section but they didn’t actually DO that, or even approach it more closely, until several chapters later.   Third section finally introduced a character, but not one of the major characters, and what was she *doing*?  Sitting (SIGH) and signing a contract and thinking about the general state of things.  Then she heads off for lunch.  That’s really riveting storytelling, right?  Er…um….no.  It’s not.

New start: Start of plot, major character shows up in Significant Clothes (knight in shining armor on fancy horse) with definite immediate goal (get to city, get to banker…oh, so there’s MONEY involved?!) and confusion about how to accomplish future goal.  Dragon in his past (hmm), memory loss, and according to Dragon, important future.   Then another major character shows up, headed to the same city, from farther away, on a steep and dangerous mountain trail on a fractious young horse next to a cliff where the rocks below are decorated with bits of wrecked wagons and skeletons.  Both characters are named.  So  previous readers in that story-universe have an advantage and almost certainly put 2 and 2 together and get the right answer, but new readers are being handed information they need when they need it…and their minds will correctly decide that both these guys are important, and since they’re headed for the same city, might meet.    Another important minor character from previous books, tightly connected to Major Character 2 is also in that scene.  Next scene down, another important minor character is connected to Major Character 1.  Then Major Character 2 drops a final clue.  Even new readers are now oriented to two major characters’ relationships to  the most significant secondary characters and their potential relationship to each other, their ultimate goals as they see them, and some of the difficulties foreseen by characters and writer.

More coming another day.

 

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Jul 23

The List Grows

Posted: under the writing life.
Tags: ,  July 23rd, 2023

Those of you hanging out here and commenting often ask questions or impart information that tweaks my brain and gives me new ideas.  I can’t begin to give a whole list of examples, but several in the comments to the previous post are doing that this morning.  And I had already started a list of things to look up when my OED comes.  (The nuances of difference between identification by seal, design, sigil, mark…just as a start.)   Viking stuff was never my area of study in college…I first read a translation of some sagas years later, without any real discussion.   I think I need some books as well as the OED to clarify my understanding of just how different (or not) Viking culture is/was from Germanic, eastern Baltic, Anglo-Saxon, and which words come from, or were filtered by, which.  This is getting exciting-er and exciting-er, says the child who never quit wanting to understand *everything*.   I have Lear’s work on the difference between the concept of treason in Roman and German cultures (one of the foundations on which I built Paks’s world…still visible in the US, by the way.  The influence of Roman thought in our foundation is very clear, and the influence of Germanic ideals of *personal* loyalty to a leader rather than loyalty to the abstract law/Constitution is very clear in politicians of the Trumpian stripe…antithetical to the concept of a constitutional Republic.

So that’s another set of words to dig into.  How it will emerge in fiction…I don’t know yet.  But I know my fiction has always needed deep cultural roots, well entangled with one another.   If getting back in the room with the most academic of the books, and reviewing the books I used that first two years of writing Paks , and playing with the Big Kids’ dictionary cleans up some of the head injury damage to brain function from the injuries…excellent.  And fun, in any case.

Now back over to the fiction side of life; I’ve been alternating this with stretches of editing in Horngard, with the notes I made when my agent called right beside me.

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Jul 22

On The Way

Posted: under Life beyond writing.
Tags: ,  July 22nd, 2023

Feeling like the luckiest writer EVER…my used, older, OED has been wrapped in bubble wrap and will be shipped on its way to me on Monday.   I can sense already the storm of words, the OCEAN of words that is about to flow into my mind.   I remember the feeling from the day–after I’d learned to use her old college dictionary–the she introduced me to the largest book in the house: the unabridged dictionary that came with the 1950 Britannica.  And I was allowed to use it on the floor (I couldn’t lift it yet)  and start discovering its abundance.  My mother believed in children learning lots of words, and their meanings, and expected me to be able to give the dictionary meaning of any “big” words I used.   Our dictionary was as big as the biggest on our high school, for ordinary words (there was a Dictionary of Science and Technology added in about 1961, I think.   There was an Encylopedia of Science and Technology, also new, but one volume disappeared into the Librarian’s “Not without me watching you” special hidey-hole.  By rumor (I never saw it) there was a drawing of (gasp!!!) a penis.    I thought the restriction was stupid; I’d been raised with art books showing unredacted gods, goddessed, athletes, etc.  and had (being a girl) learned how to change diapers.  Saying to the HS Librarian “It’s just a penis” would’ve gotten me banned from the library altogether so I didn’t.

Meanwhile, the office cleanup has restored unto me access to the Gilbert Murray translations of Greek dramas, and the rest of the treasures (to me) in that corner.   A lot of my ancient history sources are there, many of them picked up in used bookstores (esp. Kendrick’s, that used to be in the Village west of Rice;  as in HS I preferred books to food at times.  Multiple translations of some famous works, only one of others…I had my preferences, having read different ones in class and in the library.  One shelf (a raw board when I bought it) has curved up at the end, making the Roman sources unhappy on that end and crowding the books in the curved part.  It’s mostly paperback (not mass-market–the variably sized “trade paperbacks” sold in the college bookstores.)   I read through the Greek poetry book a few days ago, picking out favorites.  Have to watch it, though, because Paksworld was not given the same kind of cultural background that Europe got…it was intentionally stirred together from a different mix, just to see if I could, while avoiding (as much as possible) really *obvious* steals from specific cultures that might object.   I will be diving back into some of the older stuff–I used to have a rotation of foundation books that I re-read in a steady round, with the new things riding on top, but that fell apart as home-schooling Michael and writing a book a year took over every available minute.   I meant to get back to it, but like many well-laid plans, Stuff Happened.

Churning of the books is about to start getting serious,  as I found a home for my 11th edition Britannica (pre-WWI…!  Amazing old photographs, drawings, maps.  And words…names of places that now have new names.)  I used it a lot at one time, but haven’t lately.   It’s going to someone (two someones) who want it, will use it, appreciate it.  I want to find *future* (not immediate) homes for books I’m still reading fairly regularly but that should not just be dumped in a trashpile.   There are some discardable books that *could* go in a trashpile in every room, that can be set out in a library sale or (if damaged enough, like the one old pb I picked up that immediately shed its pages like a tree in late autumn), so the aggregate space available for (of course) new books may reach 20 linear feet.  Wouldn’t THAT be fun?  Yes, it would.   Will I discard all the lightweights, all the “trashy” ones?  No.  There are awful 3 am times when only a solid gulp of strong medicine will hold the mind together and allow sleep.

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Jul 20

Etymology

Posted: under Background, Contents, Life beyond writing.
Tags: , , ,  July 20th, 2023

I am not a professional in etymology or linguistics or languages overall…BUT we did manage to afford the  Compact OED* way, way, WAY back when it was new(ish) and used to use it for (among many other things including research) playing Scrabble with friends.  OED Scrabble was a lot of fun, if slow enough to allow two people to play chess on the side.   And back in those days I could read the OED without a magnifying glass or glasses by putting my nose maybe half a centimeter above the paper, at which point the tiny print was in focus.  ANYway.   I now need reading glasses and the magnifying glass that came with the set.

*OED Oxford English Dictionary.  I always yearned to own the full version but it was and undoubtedly is still, incredibly expensive in its full expanse.**

** I had to look it up.  20 volumes, 4 feet of shelf space, $1,215 from Amazon.  That’s new.  What have I got I could discard to gain four feet of shelf space?   There’s not another place in the house to put another bookshelf.  Certainly not the 2013 Britannica.  Or the 1950 Britannica.  Not any of the nonfiction; that’s my personal research library.   (Looking with narrowed eyes at the fiction shelves.  How much of that am I going to re-read?  Yes, it’s also reference, but…I have just be attacked by a massive lump of book hunger.  And older, not up to date ones aren’t as expensive…there’s a lovely earlier 13 volume version, about what I remember from college.  Used, yes, but very nice, with proper volume covers…YUM.)  Writers need words.  They need to *understand* words, in the depth of time those words have been used.  They need words sitting around them, emitting all the nuances…filling their heads with words…beautiful, sensual, luscious, practically chewable, words.

Yesterday, in conversation with my agent, who had had someone else look at the Horngard ms., it turns out the first question to be answered, from the third person was “What is a paladin?” because all that cane immediately to his mind was Dungeons and Dragons paladins and even a cursory reading on Horngard revealed that nobody in *that* book thought of paladins the way whatisname did (sorry, but the head injuries are playing serious games with name memory today.  I can clearly remember the stuff in the rule books that so infuriated me about the abuse of the paladin concept, but not the name of the man who wrote them…wait…Gary.  Gary something…starts with G also.  Not Geronimo, shorter than that.  Gorgon, Griffin, Grimaldi….Gary-Gary-Gary…yes, this is a problem.)  By chewing on the old problem of “Why on earth did you write rules that made “lawful good” essentially include “stupid” and why did you let people start at level zero as paladins (and stupid-good) when the actual paladins (there were some) were all experienced and expert fighters??   I was then motivated to go haul out the second (heavy!!) volume of the compact OED and look up the history of the word and see if I’d remembered any of that.

I’d remembered it wrong, OK? But here’s the straight scoop from the Compact OED.  It goes back to Charlemagne’s court.  Now remember–this is post-Western Roman Empire time and Europe was mostly a seething (thinly seething) mass of little realms–Charlemagne (just means Charles the Great) of the Carolingean dynasty (became king of the Franks in 768,, King of the Lombards from 774, and was crowned as the Emperor of the Romans by the Pope Leo III  in 800, and died in 814.)  I regard those dates as…iffy, because of later calendar changes and I don’t know how much slippage was accounted for, but I could be wrong.  8th to 9th century Common Era, anyway.  Who were the Franks and the Lombards?  Funny you should ask.  They *had* been among the invaders who toppled the Western Empire, handily tucked into one or more of the Goths & Vandals tribes.  I happen to have a translation of the Lombard Laws from a pre-Charlemagne period, (like the Burgundian Code I also have a translation of, both of these researched and done by my medieval history prof,  Katharine Fischer Drew, then chair of the History Department of Rice University, may her name be remembered for good scholarship AND being a really good history teacher and administrator.   Both of those legal codes were intentionally modeled on their view of Roman Law (the first codified law either bunch of barbarians had ever seen)  but the difference between the stately and determinedly “universal” approach of the Romans and the decidedly particular and individual approach of these Germanic tribes is both notable and  useful to fiction writers wanting to add a little verisimilitude to their sometimes unconvincing narratives.

Back to Charlemagne.  Because Pope Leo III, wanted to recreate a more stable and uniform Europe (e.g. the Roman Empire),  with Roman Catholics in charge and no more Byzantine invasions and persecutions, he gave Charlemagne the title of Emperor of the Romans, although the actual crowning ceremony occurred in what is now France, not in Rome (Leo III had fled Rome.  It’s a really *lively* period of history which makes clear that interesting times may be interesting but get a lot of people killed, displaced, and wishing for nice boring peace for long enough to raise a family.  Some people are never satisfied–or rather, in any situation some want it to last and some want to change it.  Charlemagne’s father was Pippin (not Tolkein’s Pippin); that’s how Charlemagne inherited the crown of the Franks; his brother had the Lombards but when his brother died, Charlemagne just snagged that crown, ignoring his brother’s heirs.  Nice fellow.  As you can imagine, becoming and staying king, and gaining more meant wars and so Charlemagne as a feudal sovereign had fighting men–good ones, or else–under him.  Specifically twelve peers,  who were “of the palace” (hence, through a couple of spelling wiggles, paladins,  “palace warriors” the paladin title meant, who were directly sworn to him.

From Charlemagne’s court, the term spread with bards, writers, etc. and was helped along by Chretien de Troyes and his tale of Arthur and his Round Table and others.   Suddenly the Matter of Britain got involved.  Then the courtly romances of somewhat later medieval times.  Various other attributes got tacked on to the requirements for paladins (being polite to women, being clean, being pious.  The “parfit gentil knight” thing.  Galahad, not Lancelot.  Oh, and of course the Chanson de Roland was part of it, and even the Welsh poet Taliessin.   In German mythology, as expressed in Wagner’s operas and their preceding legends, the perfect knight might be tangled in pre-Christian mythologies as well.  The term was sometimes used for the exceptionally brave alone but more often for a cluster that included “presentable at a palace” (so the bravest soldier in the army, a terrific fighter, if too rough and cruel…couldn’t be a paladin.  Looking at Charlemagne’s time, this must have been a later addition.)  Courage, fighting ability, courtesy.  Often righting wrongs on his own, a knight errant off doing great things.  Since the Holy Roman Empire included most of Europe at one point, it also included staying within the bounds of Holy Roman Catholicism, and included Spain-to-Germania.  Not, however, Scandinavia. Vikings were immune to the romantic nature of paladins, until later.

My first experience with the word was in stories *about* the middle ages, the knights in shining armor approach.  But a degree in history, most of it ancient & medieval, gave it a lot more dimension…[[Gygax.  That was the guy’s name.  FINALLY.  Gary Gygax.  OK, sorry I couldn’t remember it faster.  The memory isn’t totally gone, it just has an extremely slow name-finding function.]]   Besides Dungeons & Dragons (before that arrived, in fact) but after writers like Scott & Tennyson & the spate of Arthurean fiction that popped up at intervals, there was a TV series called “Have Gun, Will Travel” with a main character names Paladin.  He wore black, carried a gun, shot people, and usually in the course of an episode, righted some wrong or other.  Modern paladin that sort of, but didn’t entirely, sit right with me when I watched it.  Like an unromantic Zorro (yes, I watched that one too.)

Paksworld paladins are based on the older form, as most of you know. However, the intrusion of functional magic in various forms in Paksworld allows paladins to do things that Charlemagne’s palace warriors could not.  Keeping their powers limited and sufficiently different from the magicks of others felt necessary to me, though the ability to light a fire or even a candle from a finger almost tempted me to give paladins “ordinary” magelight.   Nope.  Paks & others get the bright white “reveals the truth” kind of light.  What else?  They can’t be fooled when it comes to good/evil or truth/lies.  They have an innate ability to heal–it’s from their patron saint or a god, and it goes beyond what a Marshal can do.   They can protect others from magical fear (an evil projection from some evil source).  They are charismatic–natural leaders, and leaders for good.   But also they have the skills of expert warriors, including tactical skills developed from years of training & experience.  They are courteous, “presentable at court.”  They are typically active as paladins alone, going out on quests to accomplish an assignment (right a wrong, find a missing king, stop something bad) though they may associate with a crowd trying to do the same thing.  They’re no all alike, and they don’t feel allegiance to exactly the same good powers.  Paks and Dorrin, for instance, came from very different backgrounds (as did Gird and Falk).   Aris and Seri, the two young paladin figures in Liar’s Oath, one of them born Old Human and one of them born magelord, leading the most vulnerable people of Luap’s kingdom down-canyon and away, hoping to get them back to Fintha…were fully paladins and connected to the old high gods of Old Aare, Sunlord and Sealord and Windlord.  They had known Gird personally…they were “his children” nonbiologically but not “his” paladins.

It’s all perfectly clear now, right?  My rough-and-ready telling here didn’t buck you off into the mud, did it?

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Jul 19

Mistakes & Errors & Writing

Posted: under Craft, Editing, Life beyond writing, the writing life.
Tags: , , , , ,  July 19th, 2023

I once bought my husband a book entitled “Mistakes and Errors in Surgery” written a long time ago but fascinating in its dissection of typical surgical errors.  And I love the title.  The sound of it, the rhythm and mouth-feel of the words.  Da-DUM, da-DUM-da, da-DUM-da-da.   (Yes, some writers hear/feel word sequences like this.)

So last night was an example of mistakes and errors in writing on a computer.  I had finished (probably) the last  edits on a story called “Final Honors” which is not a sequel to the previous story with a major character but a distant echo…seven years later, nothing in between written (yet.)   Still frustrated that MS Word does not include an e-acute-accent in its “special characters” you can insert, and also does not include a u-circumflex–both of which my previous Word had in its list–I wondered if those were available from the keyboard itself in some way.  A combination of Control with a vowel, or maybe one of the function keys with something, so I skipped several pages  and tried out a few things.  That was a huge mistake.    CTRL with lower case a deleted the story and the backup with the same name and a different time-stamp, and the other backup with the same name and a different time-stamp.  Gone.  I still had the drafts with a *different* filename  but the longest of those was about half the length of the final.  OOPS.  I retrieved the longest, and quickly wrote a precis of the missing part–I couldn’t hope to replace 3000 words word for word, and trying to do so will blue memory of the plot itself…even that took hours (and the help of Beethoven, because that second half of the story had been written to three Beethoven symphonies, each offering a mood-tone that worked for that part of the story.

Along about 2 in the morning, with my brain seizing up no matter how many times I played the 3rd (Eroica) from the funeral march on, I gave up and went to bed, telling myself firmly that I needed to treat this as an opportunity to write a *better* story, rather than grieve over the Truly Stupendous Powerful Story now gone forever, and went to bed.  Woke up tired, stiff as a board, and dabbled with it today, still not ready to tackle it again.  It’s not on deadline or anything, so letting it sit and marinate isn’t all that bad.

This afternoon, still tired and in need of sleep, I started to go down for a nap when the phone rang.  And lo! it was my agent.  And lo! he wanted to talk about Horngard!    And all the story-writing I’ve done since the latest head-bang has really cleared my brain’s plot-thingie (used to be my plot daemon and I really wish he’d come back because he was fun, but I now have a modernized version, smooth and metallic, not the Scots-accented engineer of the Inchcliffe Castle…this one, so far, just extrudes plot into prose without chatting me up or scolding me.)   In writing and editing these short stories, keeping them short-story length, I’ve become able to recognize the glop that sometimes extrudes along with the plot.  Sometimes it’s infodump.  Sometimes it’s story-stuff that’s not part of *that* story but another…like the side stories I wrote while writing Paks in the first place–things that happened, that I had to write, but that weren’t main-line-express-train plot for the book.

Today, I heard from my agent.  He’d had one of his people look at Horngard I since he’d led me through revisions several times and gotten–um–over-familiar with it, would be one way of saying it.  So today I got the other guy’s opinion.  Not familiar at all with the Paksworld books, and thus a really fresh viewpoint.  My problems with both the failed Vatta book and Horngard I once Joshua read it, was that I wasn’t yet able to completely understand what he was driving at…I could not see, when re-reading the book to try to work on it…what was wrong and what might fix it.  Horngard I understood more, but still not completely.   Now, looking at James’s comments, it’s clear and I can also see that the part Joshua really wanted me to cut, which I considered necessary, IS necessary but not in its present form, and in its present form, it practically is a nice side story…it sits *beside* the book, on a siding, not the main track.

So I will start–not tonight because I’m still fighting a week’s sleep deficits–tomorrow, on Horngard I again, for what we all hope will be the final (until it sells or doesn’t and meets a real editor) cleanup.  Chapter whatsit will be gone, replaced with a stout coupling between the cars that were before and after it.   What was carried IN chapter whatsit will be compressed to the plot-relevant-only and put where it will do the most good.   I have (out of my agent’s hearing, more or less) pledged to myself to remember I’m not writing the epic fantasy equivalent of The Eustace Diamonds, in which vast amounts of wordage are expended on details of manner, dress, architecture, internal workings of this or that bar, this or that court, etc., all fascinating  to some readers (I’m one of them) , but in terms of my genre of fiction, could easily be handled in a novella.  The widow is a dishonest cheat who is illegally hanging on to her late husband’s family jewels, which jewels are part of the estate and thus entailed, she’s lied about everything.  In fact, the widow in The Eustace Diamonds has done what Trump has done with the classified documents…in her case using some unwitnessed comments of her late husband the way Trump has used the “Clinton Socks Case” (IOW, the reader is led to believe that the late husband did NOT tell her they were hers to do with as she pleased but lied about her justification, just as Trump has lied about the Presidential Records Act and the “Clinton Socks Case.”  At any rate, the train of Horngard needs to stay on the main track and plow ahead through snow and flood and dubious bridges and all that.   No detours.  No stops to admire the view, or the wildflowers, or wander off to discover the weirdities in Guild League regulations compared to the Code of Gird.  That’s what side stories and data on the site are for.  CHARGE!

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Jul 16

I WAS WRONG!

Posted: under Life beyond writing.
Tags:  July 16th, 2023

Monday is not the 18th.  It is the 17th.

THAT means DEEDS OF YOUTH does NOT go live on Monday, but on Tuesday.   My husband’s birthday is not Monday, but Tuesday.   I finally figured that out TODAY.  Despite looking at a calendar repeatedly and being SURE that Monday was the 18th.

So sorry for misleading previous posts!!!

I can say that when it goes live as an ebook (TUESDAY)  it should be up for ordering the Print-on-Demand edition.

 

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