Sep 07

Intended Intro for Oath of Gold

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

What’s the best/fastest/easiest/most efficient way to get published? What was it when you started?  (Not the way I did it, is the honest answer!)

Many writers have a stack of manuscripts gathering dust on a desk top or filling a box or two tucked into a closet or under the bed.  Some of them will end up with published books, and some of them won’t.  And the reasons aren’t always the relative quality of the books.  Sometimes it’s the decisions they make–the same ones I made that kept me unpublished for decades.

I started writing fiction at six (lousy fiction) and by high school had discovered and started writing science fiction (probably also lousy) and daydreamed about being a writer.  For money.  My very practical mother inquired how many cents a word writers got paid; ANALOG listed its pay scale.  And how many words would I have to write every month, even assuming every word sold, to make a living, she asked.  As a high school student, a minute of calculation immediately led to “I can’t write that much every month!”

Without further research, I gave up the notion of supporting myself by writing. “Everyone knew” that you had to write and sell short fiction before you could write a salable novel.  “Everyone knew” writing a novel took many years.  I accepted all that, and dropped “want to be a writer” in the same slot as “want to be a fighter pilot” and “want to own a horse ranch with 25 golden palominos, 25 collie dogs, and have a dozen children, including three sets of twins.”  Impossible.

Through college and after I continued to write (because I couldn’t stop) in a sort of wistful-hopeful way, vaguely expecting that if I was cut out to be a writer, someday a spotlight would beam down on me, and a James Earl Jones kind of voice would say “YOU are a writer!  Grasp the torch.”  It doesn’t work that way.

Meanwhile, I was doing other things and learning a lot.  Military service followed the history degree, and while in the military I programmed computers, learned to backpack and camp out on mountain trails, sew, do needlepoint, make jams and jellies from wild fruit, read topographic maps, identify local wildlife and plants (new to me: Virginia is not Texas), take better photographs with a good camera, and more.

I married, moved back to Texas with my husband after we left active duty, got a second degree in a different field, and started graduate school (my thesis committee consisted of a microbiologist, a geologist, and an ecologist.) Hiked, learned to ride over fences, learned to set a line of traps for research, started making my own bread, pickles, preserves, did very successful organic gardening on our tiny lot, raised a few chickens for eggs and meat.

Moved again, back to my home town, leased (and later bought) my first horse, moved again, joined the local volunteer EMS and learned a lot more about rural medical care and pre-hospital care than I’d imagined existed.  So none of that time was wasted, really.

We landed here, in a small town, where I had no prospects for employment other than volunteering (which I did–Library Board, elected to City Council twice, plus the EMS work.)  And–to keep my hand in, I thought–I audited a writing course at Southwestern University, telling myself it was a last chance and if nothing came of it I should quit writing.  That class, taught by the wonderful Dr. Lois Parker, changed me from a “hopeful but not practical” daydreamer to a determined writer.  Finally, finally, I began to treat writing in a businesslike way, the same way I had history, biology, chemistry, horse training.  I started sending in stories (all rejected, by the way.  Lots of them.)  When a tiny opportunity opened up to write a weekly news column for this town in the county paper, I applied–and got it.

Every week I turned in 800 words on whatever might interest people here–mostly not real news but personal interest events and chat.  School honor roll lists, a bake sale for the library, a loose calf in someone’s garden, family reunions, gold and diamond anniversaries.  “Real reporters” covered school board and city council business; I covered the other stuff.

There’s nothing like a weekly deadline, a defined word limit, and a paycheck (however tiny) to get a writer headed in the right direction.  Though it wasn’t “writing every day” it was writing with intent.  Besides the money, I got feedback from the folks in town every week when the paper came out.  When I started writing the Paks books I already had a couple of years of experience, and had learned more about the business of writing and publishing.

I joined what was then the Austin Writers League (now the Writer’s League of Texas.)  My income from the newspaper column paid for the gas to drive down to Austin and back once a month for meetings.  Soon after I finished the Paks books, AWL offered a one-day science fiction workshop.  So I found someone to care for our son that day and went to it. (My husband worked Saturdays.) Howard Waldrop, the instructor, said the most important thing I’d heard yet: Send your manuscripts to editors whose choices you like to read.  That one sentence got me my first two sales because I had been doing the exact opposite.  He also suggested that we all should attend that year’s NASFiC, in Austin.  I did that, too…with those two sales in hand.

“Bargains,” to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress III, and “ABCs in Zero-G” to Analog, were very different stories, both connected to personal experience.  “Bargains” is a Paksworld story, based on my own experience with a bargain horse; “ABCs…” is a hard-SF story straight out of my EMS experience.  I started it one cold winter night riding in the back of the ambulance on the way back from the regional trauma center after getting the last blood off the floor.

I never sold another story to Bradley, but I soon had two more sales to Stan Schmidt at Analog.  When they came out the following year, a young man named Joshua Bilmes saw them, liked them, and wrote me, saying if I ever wrote a book he’d like to see it.  I replied that I did have three completed books, but  they weren’t SF, they were fantasy.  He was willing to look at the first one. Then he asked for the others. Then he offered to represent me.  Meanwhile, I’d gone to my first WorldCon and asked Stan Schmidt what he thought of the agency Joshua then worked for and found out it was his, too.

That’s how I got an agent.  The same agent I have now, thirty-two years later.  He started trying to sell the Paks books, initially with no success.  There was considerable resistance then to a woman writing military fiction with a female soldier at the center of it.  I had somewhat huffy (my perception) rejections from a number of well-known male editors on that basis, firmly sure it was impossible/stupid/ridiculous to have a woman soldier in fantasy and even worse to have a woman *writing* it.  What could she know?  I did some muttering and grumbling in my lair.

The last rejection came from Baen Books, whose senior editor then (Betsy Mitchell) had liked the books, but Jim Baen had rejected them without reading, for the same reasons as the other editors.  But his comments got to me, via my agent.  That was the final straw.  I replied (not to the publisher, of course–I had that much sense–but to my agent in a fairly…firm…tone.)  Joshua claimed the paint peeled off the mailroom wall when my letter arrived.  I doubt that, since most of the letter was perfectly rational documentation of factual error, and anyway, I did know what I was talking about, harrumph, being a veteran myself.  (Hmmm…maybe there were a few scorch marks, after all.)

Joshua went back to Baen, pointing out that his writer was a Marine veteran, and the dismissive rejection without reading was an insult.  Jim Baen changed his mind, read the books, and then published them.  Moreover he told that story on himself, repeatedly. I respected his willingness to change his mind, and even more his willingness to admit error in public.   And now we’re here, all these years later, and the Paks books, in either the separate or omnibus edition, have been available ever since.

Thank you, Joshua, for persisting.  Thank you, Jim, for that change of heart.  Thank you, Betsy, for not just editing these books, but teaching me how and why editing decisions are made.   Thank you, Baen Books, for giving me that break and the start of my writing career.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sep 07

Intended Intro for Divided Allegiance

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

What’s your writing process?  How do you come up with all that stuff and how do you keep track of it?  These questions come up naturally considering the middle book of a trilogy, where there are more complications than resolutions.

The writing process is deceptively simple (even simpler now, with a computer and printer, because I don’t have to put a sheet of paper in the typewriter every few hundred words, use white-out, or literally cut and paste to make changes.)  Seat of pants on seat of chair, fingers on keys, GO.  And keep going.  For hours.  For more hours.  For days, weeks, months.  Stagger up now and then to use the facilities or input water and food.  Until it’s done.  Then edit, and edit again, and then start the next one.  Scream loudly when the power goes off in the middle of a backup, when a hard drive decides to self-destruct, when the backup hard drive is corrupted, when the roof leaks onto the computer (yes, it did) and then start again.  And again.  Until it’s done.

Everything else is a refinement.  Music: I write to music a lot, mostly classical music, which generates writing rhythm for me.  I need it less now (my mind can play music though not as well.)  Food: dark chocolate is particularly useful when the writing is harder than usual, otherwise something that doesn’t need time spent to prepare it.  Time: I started out writing in long solitary stretches, but learned, when we adopted an infant, to write long books in short (even five minute) bursts, holding a paragraph in my head while changing a diaper or feeding or cuddling the baby, then–the moment he was down for a nap–running in to write as fast as I could.  That had not been my plan–my plan was that the baby would love being in a sling snuggled against my front while I typed.  That was not the baby’s plan, and writing epic fantasy (or anything much) while a struggling screaming infant is whacking you with that tiny little fist destroys concentration on anything but the baby.

Remember: you don’t FIND time to write; you MAKE time to write, whatever it takes in terms of lost sleep, undone chores (other than feeding and cleaning that relate to the baby), no recreation (other than writing), no social life (other than baby/toddler/child.)  If you want the book written, it’s up to you to figure out how, because nothing but doing it will get it done.  You can (I did) write a book a year while caring for and home-schooling an autistic kid.  And you can enjoy both.  (No, I’m not saying it’s easy.  Just doable.)

I do my best first-drafting if I start fairly early in the morning, because I wake up at or just before dawn, completely awake and hungry.  I want food, some exercise (mucking out a stall will do; a short ride will do more–or, lacking a horse, a bike ride or swim or brisk walk) and then the story is live and nudging me to get in there and write.  Some days I could write straight through until late evening, but now I need a long break and a nap as well, before the evening surge of energy.  For the entire first volume, I had long mostly empty days to write in and a horse to care for and ride.  Even with the old typewriter and those uncooperative sheets of paper, it went fast.

Keeping track of the details was another issue.  I had charts (Paks’s recruit cohort: names, and who died when.)  Although I had technical-looking small maps of each combat encounter, I didn’t have area maps until the second campaign year, when one of my first readers commented that no matter which way an army approached a certain city, it had to cross a river.  Was the city on an island, she asked, and if so, shouldn’t I mention that?  It wasn’t.  I had created a city that jumped from side to side of its river.  A map fixed that.  That first map grew to cover all of Aarenis, and then spread north to cover the Eight Kingdoms.)

I kept lists of character names, place names, names of plants and animals, words specific to this story-world, short bits about legends, myths, religions, customs.  All these went into a 3 ring binder.  Many of these names required searching through various dictionaries (we have quite a few) to find what I needed, and some required the help of a friend who spoke Latvian.  (Why Latvian?  Old language believed to have very close ties to the original Indo-European.  Some wonderful root words in there.)

In November 1983, when our son arrived,  I was partway through the second book, had my reference notes tucked into the notebook, and a brand new computer (IBM PC with two floppy drives and 256K RAM) to replace the old Corona half-electric typewriter I’d inherited from my step-grandmother.  I had chosen WordStar for its versatility, and loved it.  Would still be using it, if it would run on newer machines.  Baby and all, having a computer to write on saved me a lot of time in both writing and editing, almost enough to keep on at the same pace.  Sleep was overrated, I thought.

Since my brain thought the story was all one thing (though too long to fit easily in a normal size volume) I had no “second book slump” with Divided Allegiance.  And that brings up the issue of a series versus a multi-volume story.  A series has separate standalone stories, each in one volume.  Detective series with the same detective/team in each are an example.  The story arc is complete in each volume, though elements (detective, sidekick, office politics) may carry through. Each book, standing alone, is rather like one in a row of storage units.  In contrast, a true multi-volume work has one main story arc that needs several volumes to complete, while each volume has sub-arcs in support of the main one (think Gothic architecture.)

This means that the middle part of a multi-volume work holds the keystone of the work–it’s the volume that holds the entire  story together.  It’s where the infinite possibilities of the rising curve are controlled, limited, and forced back down in a definite shape toward a definite end.  Which means the middle volume is where you find out if the initial concept has what it takes to center and control that long an arc.

Is there enough “stuff” in the story–not just wordage, but complexity, both in characters and plot–to sustain the tension of such a long arc?  A middle book may seem weaker (a less defined beginning and end for that volume) but have the strength, when the reader finishes the whole, to show that it’s the right middle, a true keystone.  Or it can fail, by not tying the others together–and the failure is usually a matter of attempting a perfect internal arc with too little connection to the larger one.

So, deep in the story as it developed through Divided Allegiance, I was excited to realize that it was behaving like a very strong keystone indeed.  Writing the actual keystone and the downward arc, however, was anything but the same fun I had had with Sheepfarmer’s Daughter.  Unlike readers (who had to survive the end of it to get to the final volume) I knew as I wrote that what seemed to be desolation would not last forever  but it was still hard when the characters’ flaws–clearly there in the first book–had their inevitable outcome in the second.  It’s still hard for me to read, years later.  But it would have been dishonest to make it easy.

Once into Oath of Gold I could see more of where the story was going.  I hurried on, in my increasingly short periods of writing, as we entered the home stretch of the race between my first book and our son’s becoming able to walk.  He beat me by five days, in early January 1985–but close enough.  The story was complete, all the parts in the right place.  Now it was time to turn 2500 sheets of paper covered with words into separate manuscripts ready for submission.  I would have had a nice long nap–but I had a very active toddler in the house.

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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?

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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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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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Jul 07

Rewrite Is Done!

Posted: under Life beyond writing, the writing life.
Tags: ,  July 7th, 2017

And that means I have more time for other things, many of which (including my posts here) have languished in the intense two-plus months of getting it done.

When I’ve recovered a bit, I’ll be going back to a more frequent posting schedule on all the blogs.   The next publishing thing (without a deadline, though) will be the second collection of Paksworld stories.   I need my head clearer to do the final editing on that, without bleed-over from science fiction & Vatta stuff.  I don’t know quite how long it will take; I may not get to it until after DragonCon.  Right now I’m working on health issues and all the stuff that didn’t get done that needs to get done (like washing and packing stuff to be given away.  I don’t have a daughter, and our son is now willing to say what he doesn’t care about inheriting.   So some of the china my mother had stays (because I still use it,) and some will find a new home.  Books and toys our son had–that he’s willing to part with–will go.  Clothes I don’t want anymore–some have already gone, but more will.   Papers need sorting.  And so on.   It will be a long process, because right now I can’t work on anything very long at a time.  But that will change.

I’m now back to riding the bike for exercise, making bread for better nutrition (if you’re going to eat bread, making it yourself means you know *exactly* what went into it), growing herbs (and will re-start the vegetable garden) again for better eating, and when I get the energy will start knitting again (it’s been more than a year.)  The priority is health, right now, including mental health (so having time to spend with friends, and time to spend outside with plants and animals, and time for enough sleep is part of it.)   I write better when I’m not exhausted, stressed, short of sleep, etc.

So–I hope within the year to have the next Paksworld fiction collection out, and maybe a collection on the science fiction side as well.    When I’ve reached whatever level of health & energy is possible,  then I can start a regular writing schedule and find out how much I can do without losing ground health-wise.  Until then,  I won’t be pushing myself to start another novel.

Thank you all for your support, and I will be posting more about ideas, about the writing process, and about Paksworld in particular.   I will be at DragonCon this year,  God willin’ and the crick don’t rise, or my widely-expressed opinions about our current political situation don’t land me on a no-fly list.  If you’ll be there, look me up.  I signed up to be one of the mentors in the writing track this year, so someone will be getting a one-on-one discussion about their work.  I don’t know the schedule at all, or how that program is set up.

 

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Mar 23

A New Old Thing

Posted: under Good News, the writing life.
Tags: , ,  March 23rd, 2017

As those of you with tattered old mass-market paperbacks with the woman on the black horse on the cover know,   Sheepfarmer’s Daughter came out in 1988, as did Divided Allegiance, and Oath of Gold came out in 1989.   To celebrate 30 years in print, Baen Books is going to put out an Annversary Edition of them next year, and asked if I would write an introduction to each volume.  Of course I said yes, and I’ve roughed out the first one and sent it on to Toni Weisskopf at Baen.

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Mar 09

Done (at least for now)

Posted: under Life beyond writing, the writing life.
Tags: , ,  March 9th, 2017

So INTO THE FIRE reached its appointed end yesterday–today has been filled with other chores–and now I’m going to comb the burs out of its mane, curry the mud-clumps off its back and belly where it rolled and wallowed, and present it to Editor with (I hope) nothing much for her to do but work her magic with the clippers to make it still prettier.

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Jan 23

Progress, Lurching Ahead

Posted: under Life beyond writing, the writing life.
Tags: ,  January 23rd, 2017

That was actually me at the Austin Women’s March, the lurching ahead thing.  I had a cane with four little cushioned feet.  And needed it.  I am not as spry, had been sick earlier in the week (er…wasn’t OVER being sick, either!)  and instead of being in the 70s and partly cloudy, the sun came out full on just before the march started, and it shot up to about 90-something.  It was a great march; I didn’t make it the whole way, but I made some of it, enough to know I’d put out all the effort I had.

But INTO THE FIRE is now over 125,000 words.   Progress forward has slowed because I’m rearranging.  In my “process” (a word that suggests far more rationality in the choice of what to do and where to go next than I actually achieve!)  whenever I get stuck I start a different scene that’s been perking along but doesn’t necessarily belong right there, where I was when I started writing it.  It used to be that I wrote in chapters, all wandering around from maybe 4500 to 6000 words…short-story length, though they were clearly not stories in themselves.   Awhile back (not sure when) I started trying to form longer strings.  It’s not as smooth in some ways, but in others the lack of chapter markings along the way allows things to be the length they need.  What’s much harder is finding  things.   It’s much easier to remember that the chapter where the rhinoceros charges a beehive and ends up with sticky honey on his horn, and then rubs his horn in the gravel and it’s not ordinary gravel but jewels and now he’s got a jeweled horn…is chapter ‘low twenties’ if not the exact number, than to remember that it’s page 437 in a manuscript with no internal markers.

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