Mental Health Day

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017 12:58 pm
rolanni: (Default)

People have been behaving badly on the internet.  What a surprise.

I'm reminded of a story I read once, true or not, who knows, which was to the effect that, when switchboards first became a Thing, the newly-organized phone company had initially hired boys as operators, because -- cheap labor.  Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that something about having all that access acted on boys like catnip on cats; they began pranking callers, and just in general behaving badly.  Couldn't seem to help themselves, really, poor things.  So the phone companies fired the boy operators and hired women, because -- cheap labor.  And that worked out much better for all concerned.

Personally, I think there's a genetic disposition, a kind of allergy to electrons, so that when people with this allergy are exposed to this allergen, they behave as badly as possible.  Remove the electrons, and they revert to being perfectly innocuous and civilized members of society.


In other news, I've taken up meditation, as part of my project to avoid a Major Depressive Incident, such as I experienced last year.  As we all know, depression makes us stupid, and I'm still finding errors that I made during the last (really bad, by my standards; maybe one of the Biggest since records started to be kept, some 40 years ago) -- some serious, but none, thank ghod, fatal, though one was particularly scary.  So, anyway, despite a lifetime of crash-burn-rise-up-eventually-slighty-sooty, I'm now trying to alter the pattern, and to be proactive.  Which means, yes, meditation, and also ruthlessly slashing toxic -- and even perennially irritating -- people out of my life.

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, expect to see me less.  I'll try to pick back up posting more regularly here (this blog is mirrored at Eagles Over the Kennebec).  I love you all, but -- survival is important to the appearance of more stories.

So, that.

Yesterday, Steve and I took a mental health day.  We went down to Old Orchard Beach, where it was foggy and windy(!) and too chilly to sit on the beach and read, which had been my Plan A.  We did a short beach walk, then went down to Wells, where it was also foggy and windy(!), and stood around on the public landing, watching the kites, and Steve took pictures with his new camera.

After, we crossed over to Sanford, and stopped for lunch at the Cockpit Cafe at the airport.  And there we saw George W. Bush arrive, and board the (Embraer Legacy twin-jet) plane that had been waiting for him.

On the way home from Sanford, we made one more ocean stop -- at Pine Point -- and then came home, where I continued the electron-free theme (not totally true, since I'm reading an ebook), until it was time for the evening meal, a glass of wine and a chapter read outloud from The Cat Who Saw Red (yeah, it's a re-read; we decided to do the Cat Who's in order to follow Qwilleran's arc).

This morning, I baked peasant olive bread while Steve went to cardio-gym, and also figured out the penultimate scene in the cheater story.

I may not have reported here that I bought myself a chair side table (a so-called C-table) for the reading corner.

Here are some pictures:

This first was taken when the table came home. At the time the photo was snapped, it had been in the house for less than five minutes:

This is what the table looks like, unadorned:

And here is Sprite, reasserting her claim:

rolanni: (Flying Monkey!)

Dear Google.

Please stop writing to me from a no-reply address to tell me that GoogleTalk is dead.  I know GoogleTalk is dead and I mourn its passing every day.  No, Hangouts is not just as useful, only cooler; Hangouts is an annoyance and a sham, and I would be delighted to tell you in-depth exactly how I feel about it and its non-functionality, if you had the guts to write to me from an address I could reply to.

But, no.  Anonymous scolding is all you know.

No love,


* * *

Dear Eset.

First, you tell me I need to buy a new license.  Then, I decide if I still want to use your product, and, if I do, I pay you.

Downloading the product to my laptop under the guise of an "update," then telling me that in order to "activate" it, I have to purchase a license?  So uncool.

No love,


* * *

Dear Internets.

Please stop repeating this silly, insulting question: "How do I write believable women characters?"

The correct question is, "How do I write believable CHARACTERS?"

The answer to the correct question is, "By observing people and by exercising imagination and empathy.  These three things are your most powerful tools, as a writer.  Keep watching, keep dreaming, and keep writing until you get it right."

Also, know that you aren't going to get it right the first time, or the fifth time, and by the lights of some, you will never get it right.  Do the best you can.  You can start writing without knowing how to do All The Things.  Writing is a lifelong learning process, with many, many accomplishments to unlock.  The only way you can start unlocking is by starting in to work.



* * *

Dear Backbrain.

Thank you.  I believe that did in fact improve the story and moves things along more quickly.

Worth every bit of lost sleep and gnawed fingernails.

Keep up the good work,


* * *

Dear Trooper and Sprite.

Boy, are you guys workaholics.

Princess Sprite overlooking the basement

Princess Sprite overlooking the basement

Trooper takes the high ground

Trooper takes the high ground

rolanni: (Ghost Ship)

So, in reference to the latest PSA, someone asked this, seemingly simple, question:

Uh, you DO have one more "Theo book" coming along some day, don't you?

The answer to this question is. . . not simpleNot only is it not simple, I'm not certain I can adequately explain what we're attempting with this sequence of five books, of which Dragon in Exile is the first.  Possibly, I could explain it. . .less disjointedly. . .to another writer (who isn't Steve), but readers and writers are separated by the fundamentals that bring us together:  writers write; readers read.

So, I'm going to try to explain what we're doing; apologies in advance if it makes no sense as you read it here.  We trust that the execution will be more illuminating.

. . .

Steve and I are now embarked on the writing of, as stated above, a sequence of five novels.  These five novels, in their entirety, are the. . .sequel, if you will, to I Dare and to Dragon Ship, in particular.  Discerning readers will have noticed that there are many people in play, and many. . .unsettled situations left at the end of those two novels.  You will also notice that there are several. . .Big Problems still on the board to be solved.

Solving those Big Problems is going to take the combined talents of All of Those Characters.  (Even Rys, who, when "his" book was pitched, was never intended to survive his redemption.) Theo, for instance, can't solve All the Problems by herself.  Theo doesn't even know what All the Problems are.

(We, ourselves, don't see Theo and her adventures as being a spin off books.  In our view, Theo is very much entangled in the troubles that were introduced in Agent of Change, and which have only gotten more tangled since.)

The only way that we can proceed, being the writers that we are, is to continue as we began, and braid the character and story arcs until we reach the Thrilling Conclusion.

What this means is that it's extremely doubtful that we will be writing a one character/one problem novel within the Five Book Dash.  The reason we pitched five intertwined novels is that we knew we couldn't reasonably cope with all the necessary characters and arcs in one novel, and to write another Theo novel at this point in the Universe. . .would be cheating.

So, we've broken the characters and the problems out into sets, all aimed at the Thrilling Conclusion.  Some characters will move through several novels.  Some will vanish on a mission, and not be seen. . .for a while.  This will probably produce some very odd books and some folks will grow impatient with us for writing endless stories where "nothing happens".  (Just got our first reader review of Dragon. . . in which the novel is described as being an unending series of lunches, tea breaks, and dinners in the snowy summer of Surebleak.)  We expect to see some readers lose patience.  We hope that most of you will stick with us.  We really think that we can pull this off, and that ultimate arrival will be worth the journey.

. . .that's all I've got.

And now I need to go to work.

rolanni: (agatha primping)

. . .apparently the next in a series of posts about history.  Who knew?

Asyouknowbob, I do some wandering up and down the internets, and I read a lot of strange and beautiful and inspiring and awful* and puzzling and infuriating stuff, just like you do.

Lately, in the course of my passage up and down, I've come across some essays, written by different people, at different times, reacting to different impetuses, all earnest and heartfelt, and every one taking as their theme:

I read fiction and I'm increasingly depressed, because I don't see myself anywhere.

Now, on one level, I can relate to this frustration.  After all, when I started reading science fiction, back in the 1960s, I didn't see me there, either.  By which I mean, not me, specifically, because who would want to write about me?  But girls and/or women with an adventurous spirit who were aching to get out there and buckle some serious swash; solve their own problems; pilot their own damn' spaceship; or, yanno, run the family carousel.

Now, the way I handled this problem was, when I got old enough, and good enough, I wrote stories with me in them -- by which I mean, not me, specifically, because I'm even more boring as an adult than I was as a kid** -- but stories in which girls and women take care of business, and who are just as smart/capable/funny/sexy/scary as their male colleagues.

I know this isn't a route that's open to everyone, and herein lies the problem.  You might think that writing a blog post appealing to authors to put you -- transperson, man of color, Thai woman, whatever -- into stories would, yanno, move writers to do that.  I mean, I know a lot of writers, and we're a pretty decent lot, all told, and mostly we write in order to make people happy, by which I mean satisfied, so why wouldn't we oblige the people making such simple, and on-point requests?

Well. . .because there's an obverse side to every coin.  And for this one, for every person who wants to see themselves in fiction, there's at least one other person of the opposite view, who will fall like fifteen tons of granite paving stones onto the head of writers who are seen to be "appropriating" their lifestyle, culture, society. . .

The point of these folks is that writers who are not authentic, who haven't lived in the culture, for instance, are going to automatically Get It Wrong, and besides that, they have no business writing about something they can't possibly understand.

Writers aren't necessarily any fonder than anybody else of having fifteen tons of granite paving stones dropped on their heads.  Just sayin'.

Lest you think otherwise, I actually have some sympathy for the obverse point of view, too.  But, truthfully?  Not much.

Because, see, every time I write about somebody who isn't me -- by which I mean me, Sharon Lee, nearsighted, overweight, manic-depressive scifi writer -- I'm writing about someone I don't fully understand.  I'm not, for instance, a man, though I've met a lot of men, and happened to have married a man.  I'm not a norbear; I'm not a ghetto kid turned mercenary soldier; I'm not a sentient spaceship -- Look.  There are just an infinite number of things in this universe that I Am Not, and never will be, 'k?

And yet I have the moxie to try to write about some of those things that I will never be.  Can never be.  I bring certain skills to the task of trying to capture those things and relate them convincingly:  Imagination; research skills; a technique called If This Goes On; and another called, What If?  . . .basic tools, but, used properly, they go a long way toward helping a story and/or character achieve verisimilitude.

"Verisimilitude" means "the appearance of being true or real."  In terms of fiction-writing, it means that the story I'm telling you has to hang together, and feel real while you're reading it.  That's the contract between the writer and the reader, that the story will deliver while it's being read.  Second thoughts after you're done is only Monday morning quarterbacking.

So. . .the middle ground here is. . .what?

I think the best that might be done is to ask that writers try their best to write stories that include people like you, and that they do their research and not perpetuate racist/sexist/ageist/whatever-other-kind-of-ist-there-is-this-week stereotypes.  I mean, I think we can do that, as a group; hell, many of us are doing that.  But I think, too, that some of you could take matters into your own hands.  Write you.  Join the club.  Teach us.

I think, too, that we're just going to have to take it as a given that writers are going to get things wrong.  We know that, better than anybody.  I mean, y'all have seen the little disclaimer on the acknowledgements page, where the author calls out by name all the people she asked for help?  And then she says, "If there are any mistakes in this book, they're mine"?  We know that we're gonna get something wrong, despite having done the best we can.  None moreso, I imagine.

Granite paving stones are not really productive; the only thing you're going to accomplish by dropping them on the heads of writers is writers who will retreat into writing what they know.  *yawn*  So, sure, tell us what we did wrong.  Teach us.  And, if you really believe that only authentic people can Get It Right, I can't see anything except that you're stuck -- write it the Right Way, and show us how it's done.


*in it's original meaning, "inspiring reverential wonder"

**Though I did write a character who was living in kind of the same place in her family that I lived in my family, before I got old enough, and moved out. But that wasn't so much writing me as it was using my experience to make the character real.  Which is different; Aelliana isn't me; I just lent her some of my history.

First line meme

Saturday, March 12th, 2011 10:47 am
rolanni: (Caution: Writing Ahead)

. . .shamelessly stolen from matociquala — first lines from “my” works in progress.  I’ll note that my list is much shorter than hers, so if you want more tasty nuggets, hie yourself over to her LJ.

“Intelligent Design”
It was, Er Thom yos’Galan Clan Korval thought, an entirely unsubtle letter.

The book currently known as George:
Inside the duct, it was hot and wet — nothing new there, thought Kezzi, shifting her weight carefully.

Untitled Kate Archer short story:
When I was a kid, my grandmother had a dog.

Originally published at Sharon Lee, Writer. You can comment here or there.
rolanni: (Marvin's not happy)

Day-job continues to be a stern chase. Got in and spent the usual 20 minutes reseating the usb connections from my keyboard and trackball into Mac so I could actually do my work. Sigh. It was 65F/18C in my office this morning when I arrived. I fear Mac likes the cold even less than he liked the extreme heat of summer.

After my computer was working, I got into sorting piles of stuff into piles of stuff that actually have something to do with each other. I made two — or was it three? — job talk posters. I started setting up interviews for the last set of three candidates, made photocopies and sorted them into their own piles; set up limo appointments, took in and processed a cool half-dozen electronic applications for the late-breaking surprise! search.

I’m still missing the whole “easy” part of that last. I can see that it might look easier to them what has no idea of the process and are distressed by huge stacks of file boxes reminding them that someone had to handle and process all that paper. But I’m not actually finding it easier to do. In fact, it seems to add about three steps to what I used to do.

At home, I managed to do a little bit of actual work — about 500 words on “Intelligent Design,” — which was like pulling hen’s teeth. Definitely looking forward to the weekend and having an attention span to bring to this story.

And, yes, as those of the cognescenti knew immediately upon looking at the title of today’s post — today’s earworm is “Electric Avenue.” I blame Pandora, which for some reason decided that I needed to listen to a string of old Motown.

Onward. But not right now.

Progress on “Intelligent Design”
1,731 out of 10,000 words OR 17.3% complete

Originally published at Sharon Lee, Writer. You can comment here or there.
rolanni: (booksflying1.1)

We got a letter from a long-time reader the other day, who, perplexed by the fact that Steve and I aren’t Rich and Famous Writers, as we clearly deserve to be (a thesis, by the way, that I agree with completely), mounted a study to figure out why this was so.  The results of study led the reader to the conclusion that we lacked the readership enjoyed by Author X (as a fer-instance) because Author X has better cover art.  The reader therefore directed us to instruct our publisher to get us cover art like that gracing the books of Author X, so that we, too, could become New York Times bestsellers.

Now, I have no doubt that our correspondent is well-meaning, and that the expressed concern regarding our continued state of non-famousness, or at least, non-richness, is genuine.  However, there are a couple things. . .off-center about both the conclusion and the directive to us.

Let’s do the easy one first:  Authors do not dictate to publishers.  Authors do not commission cover art.  Authors may, in this enlightened day and age, actually get to consult on the cover art for their books.  Sometimes.  Other times. . .not so much.  Some authors, the rare writer-illustrator, get to do their own cover art.  These folks are the exceptions.

Now, leaving aside for the moment the whole can of worms that is “better” in terms of art, our correspondent appears to have missed a couple of important nuances.

The first, and most glaring, is that Author X writes Urban Fantasy, and thus her covers are Urban Fantasy covers — specifically of the tits-n-tatts variety (which, as a reader of this particular author’s work, make me nuts, because while, yes, the heroine is indeed kick-ass, she is not tattoo-entwined, as depicted.  I can offer textev.).  Now, there’s no question that these covers are effective sales tools — for Urban Fantasy books.  For space operas, they kinda suck rocks.

This is because genre cover art is shorthand; it is not designed, necessarily, to illustrate a particular scene from the book, nor is its mission (see my parenthetical, above) to accurately portray the characters.

The Mission Number One of cover art is to get the book into the hands of a prospective reader.  Note that our concerned reader had this bit dead on.

The way cover art sells books is by accurately “reporting” to prospective readers what’s inside the box.

Thus, this cover. . .

Cover for The Dragon Variation by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

. . .accurately reports that there is action and romance inside.  A reader — I should say a reader of genre science fiction — who is looking for action-romance will not be misled in their buying decision should they purchase this omnibus, and they are primed to be pleased with what they will find inside.

This cover. . .

. . .promises magic, adventure, perhaps some romance.  I happen to like this cover very much — full disclosure: I’ve been happy with almost all of our cover art, in terms of accuracy of reporting and reader allure — despite the fact that the two front-ground characters look nothing like the people I described in the story; nor is the horse, while bat-winged, particularly my bat-winged horse.  The art accurately reports what kind of story is between the covers, and invites the browsing bookstore customer to pick the book up and have a look at the first page or two.

Once the art has done its job — enticed the browser to pick the book up and look at the text — my job as an writer begins.  I’ve got a paragraph, maybe a page, to grab the reader’s imagination and convince them to buy this book, out of the hundreds of others right there in the science fiction section, or the thousands inside the boundaries of the bookstore.

The argument could therefore be made that the first pages of our novels are weak, while Author X is strong in the force.  It could be that there are more romance readers (a huge market segment) seeking out Urban Fantasy than will take a chance on a scifi novel.

The truth of the matter is, nobody actually knows which books will have “it” and become bestsellers.  If we did, we’d all do it, right?  I mean, we’d be idiots, not to.  The best any of us can do is the best we can at what we do; hope for good art, good marketing support, a steady breeze in the sails, and kindly people at port.

Originally published at Sharon Lee, Writer. You can comment here or there.

rolanni: (lit'rary moon)

I begin with a disclaimer:  I am not a writer of genre Romance.

This likely says more about me than it does about genre Romance, and really, for a while I thought that I would write Romance.  It could’ve gone that way; my reading, ‘way back when mass market paperbacks cost 35, 45, 60 U.S. cents, was split between SF and Romance, with a hearty side of Mystery.

At that time, Romance was pretty much all relationship, all the time; and SF was pretty much action-adventure with some cool shiny things tossed in for squee, and relationships both few and shallow. Obviously, this over-simplifies, but grant that the past is a distant country and we did things differently there.

What I found as a reader, ‘way back then, was that each genre was wanting in something that I did want — more action in the love story, and more love in the action story.  It could, as I said, have gone either way when I finally uttered that Fateful and Explosive Sentence “I can do better than that!” which graduates Readers to Writers.  But, when I landed, I came down on the side of SF, and have ever since plotted to include relationships (not just romantic relationships) in my work.

It might have been that the action-adventure in SF that seduced me, but I think, now, that I knew subconsciously even as a proto-writer that I could not do my best work under the constraints of HEA.

For those who are not Romance readers, “HEA” means “Happily Ever After” and it was for many years the mandated Romance novel ending.  I have been on Romance writer lists where the HEA is often a topic of intense conversation.  I think that perhaps the field is expanded enough now — and enough of the newer writers who came down on the Romance side of the equation had a love of SF/F or action-adventure — that there is a little give, some room for ambiguous endings.

Notice that I say ambiguous.  In genre literature it is of course one of the writer’s goals to leave the reader wanting more of this.  Therefore, a story that ends “and then they all died” (while apparently appealing to a certain subset of readers) really isn’t the way to go if the writer envisions a long-term career.

Ideally, a genre story gives the reader hope for the future, and a nice kick of satisfaction — the hero and heroine pledge their love; the murderer is discovered; the world is saved — each according to its own peculiar and particular rules.

Ideally, the ending of any particular story is predicated by everything that has gone before.  The ending ought not devalue the characters, nor their sacrifices and lessons.  This is why (IMNSHO) not all stories can have happy endings.

I was on a panel discussing SF Romance and Romantic SF at Oasis.  One of the very interesting questions posed by the moderator was how each of the panelists made their characters worthy of a happy ending.

This is a question that makes sense to a Romance writer, and to Romance readers.  The characters will have a happy ending; it’s mandated by the form. Therefore an important part of the tension of the story is how the reward will be earned.

In SF — and in Fantasy — it is by no means certain that the characters will achieve a personal happy ending.  They may do everything “right,” grow morally and spiritually; be brave, upstanding, true; see the resolution of their efforts fulfilled — and still be denied a Happy Ever After with the love(s) of their life.

I personally believe that this is. . .truer, and more resonant.  Sadly, I have read SF Romances (Science Fiction written from the stance of the conventions of the Romance genre) where the mandated HEA warped the entire shape of the story and negated everything that the characters had achieved.

In Romantic Science Fiction (Science Fiction that includes a strong Romance sub-plot while adhering to the conventions of the SF genre), the lovers may part, if the plot so demands, perhaps to meet again — or not –  when their respective work is done, thus allowing the character’s growth to continue beyond the end of the story.

One of the many interesting things said by my co-panelists at Oasis was the observation by Gennita Low, who writes espionage romances, that she tries to give her characters a happy ending, while realizing that — given the nature of her characters, in this example a professional assassin — the happy ending cannot be forever, or even, perhaps, for very long.

This felt true to me.  “And they lived happily ever after, for as long as they could,” is something I can accept, as a reader, and as a writer.

Notice that the Liaden Universe® novels tend to deliver “And they lived happily ever after, for as long as they could,” endings.  Given our characters, and the lives they lead, it does sometimes happen that a major character will die.  We try to keep these deaths to a minimum, and to handle them as respectfully as possible — by which I mean, as the character would have wished.  But!  Our characters know they live dangerously, and they know that sometimes things Just Go Horribly Wrong. On more than one occasion one character or another has given voice to a variation of, “Life isn’t safe; people die here.”  Which is something that we all know to be true.

As a writer, I would say that this knowledge increases the tension for the characters and for the reader, but it’s certainly not something that I could get away with in a HEA mandated Romance novel.

So, that’s why I write SF/F, and why I’m interested in the shift toward a middle ground, as Romance woos SF and SF tries to commit to relationships.

Originally published at Sharon Lee, Writer. You can comment here or there.
rolanni: (Dr. Teeth)
Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. -- Flannery O'Connor
rolanni: (shigure)
Back, oh. . .twenty years or so ago, I was employed as a copy editor on night-side news at the local newspaper. My job was to fact-check articles submitted by the reporters; put those articles into house style; rearrange them, if necessary; and write a headline. House style at that point was the Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual.

Newspaper work is the Very Basic Level of copy editing. The text has to be punctuated and capitalized consistently according to the manual, the spelling has to be right, the sentences have to be straightforward, the quoted facts have to be correct, the headline has to be unambiguous, and all of this is subservient to having the paper up and off the floor at midnight.

Because newspapers are copy edited story-by-story, this is a precise, but relatively simple operation -- especially when compared to copy editing something as complex as a novel; and trebly so, when the novel in question is part of an on-going series.

Ideally, an on-going series will have one copy editor who has worked with it from Book the First, and begun compiling her bible then. (If the case of the Liaden Universe®, the copy editor's bible would now be into many volumes.) Most of us? Don't get that lucky.

In the case of the Liaden books. . .

I remember our editor at Del Rey calling us up to yell at us for having turned in such a bad manuscript, that had required so much work from the copy editor, and adjuring us to Do Better with our next book. Since she already had the next book on her desk, that wasn't going to happen, but I did go through our copy of the manuscript and the mass market of Agent of Change when it arrived, and tried to derive house style.

I did the same thing when Conflict of Honors came out, only to find that? Some of the changes that had been made "to style," so I thought, in Agent either didn't get changed, or were "fixed" in another way for Conflict. I mentioned this to our editor, whose response was, "That's not how it's supposed to work."

Yeah, guess not.

We did one more book with Del Rey. I confess that I didn't check house style on it, and our editor didn't mention anything about how much work the manuscript had required when listing our other failings, so maybe we'd finally gotten the hang of it.

The next book we saw published was Plan B, with Meisha Merlin, which was, I'm pretty sure, copy edited. We never saw an edit letter, or a copy edited script, or any queries, but there had clearly been somebody riding herd on the sentences. Later books with Meisha Merlin certainly were not copy edited, and in the case of I Dare, even the authors' corrections were ignored.

Embiid, though, did copy edit the manuscripts; it was done by one person who was familiar with the series -- who was in fact a fan of the series -- (and who, in passing, remarked on how clean the manuscripts were in general (sigh)), so in terms of having been edited, the ebooks through Crystal Dragon have had the most consistent hand, though they (like Meisha Merlin) accepted the three Del Rey books as-was, because they had already been copy edited.

All of which is in service of explaining: (1)why there is no Liaden Universe® bible, and (2) why reading the previous books (even if she had time, which really, she doesn't) isn't going to help a copy editor brand-new to the series derive Rules.

Making matters worse is the fact that we are idiosyncratic writers. It matters to me how things look on a page, as those who have heard my How I Name Characters riff will recall. I do try to limit my use of Random Capitals in manuscript, and to clean up those that inevitably sneak through, once the Heat of Creation has passed off. Writers, though, are notoriously bad at cleaning up their own stuff. Which is why, thank ghod, we have copy editors.

A copy editor's first care is consistency. Therefore, a request for a Rule might be: Is it house or House?

The answer -- it's both -- isn't immediately useful, though in the Liaden Universe® it happens to be true: "house" a structure in which people live; "House" the clan entire; the people who make up the family.

"Is it dragon or Dragon?" yields a similar "it depends" answer, and the copy editor might soon come to suspect that the authors are toying with her.

The copy editor's other care is clarity. The text must be as accessible as possible to as many people as possible. There is, therefore, a wish to have every person and place properly named when they first come on-screen, and every funny thing -- like "cantra" -- explained immediately.

Clarity is a good thing. However, there can be too much of a good thing, so the tension between the copy editor and the authors is: How much clarity is too much? and, How smart do you think your readers are?

Apparently, we expect a lot from our readers. We expect that they, like we, can figure things out from context. We expect that they, like we, have read in a variety of genres, and from a variety of authors, including works in translation. We expect that our readers own dictionaries, and that they're not afraid to use them. We expect, in short, that our readers like to read, and, more, that they like words.

Since we're only writing space opera; it's possible that we're 'way too big for our britches, here, but we were long ago committed to the course.

So -- a slightly fuller explanation of the tension created by the edit letter -- necessary tension, which, if we managed to explain ourselves correctly, should be the basis, at last for a Liaden bible, and more consistently edited books.

And now, back to the couch! you can see, my helpers are still on the case:

rolanni: (what it's like)
By the time I left work yesterday, it was 34F/1C, snow falling from the sky and the snow that was already on the roads melting. That was Strange and Interesting. It continued to snow into the evening, the temperatures dropped and this morning, with pink-edged grey clouds giving way silver-blue sky. . .my car was frozen shut. I didn't have any luck trying to get in, and Steve did go out to do the honors, though probably he shouldn't have done, and off I drove. The roads were snow covered and slick until I got into town proper, when they reverted to just wet, and so to work, only a few minutes late.

I've had a headache for the last couple days; stupid thing just won't quit. Not bad enough for Big Drugs, and not really responsive to aspirin. Yesterday, I napped for a couple hours after work. That didn't really help; and it was waiting for me when I got up this morning.

In and around all that excitement, the edit letter for Mouse and Dragon landed, and the poor copy editor wants, as copy editors do, Rules. The facts of High Tongues, Low Tongues, modes, and pilot hand-talk are frustrating her, which is understandable for someone coming to the universe cold. Worse, Mouse and Dragon is all-Liaden-all-the-time, so there's not even the relief of a naive viewpoint to help explain things.

This means trying to condense twenty years worth of world-building into succinct sentences and paragraphs -- and forming occasional Rules. I don't know that I'm the best person for the job, frankly, headache or no. Steve's doing his pass today, in-between naps, and we'll compare notes this evening.

In the meantime, I have a few things to do for the day-job, and an after-work trip to the grocery store scheduled (I got paid! I can buy food!), then to home. And maybe a nap.

How's your day shaping up?

If This Goes On

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009 10:47 am
rolanni: (Herself)
Boring writing post follows.

This rumination is brought to you in equal parts by those who think that all ideas presented in a science fiction novel are "believed" by the author, and by considerations for the presentation I'm to give in February.

You have been Warned.
* * *

Science Fiction, for those of you who are tuning in late, is the literature that asks What If? What If we could harness some passing migratory birds and hitch a ride to the moon? What If there were giant, sentient, space-going turtles? What If I could download my personality into a starship?

As you can see, a lot of science fiction has its world-building and its storytelling firmly rooted in What If?

But What If? has a cousin -- the Second Principle, if you will: If This Goes On. . .

If This Goes On. . . is an extrapolation. The writer takes something -- a trend, an idea, a law, and explores it, takes it out to its limit -- or to a limit. If This Goes On. . . is a playground where we can test out these notions and possible outcomes, without. . .physical. . .danger. There is, I'll warn, some potential for discomfort, but nothing fatal should happen. It's just a game, right? A Thought Experiment.

In Fledgling, Delgado is designated as a Safe World -- a concept that has its roots very much in If This Goes On. . .. Let me see if I can retrace the thoughts that led us there. . .

Back in February 2003, the crew of the space shuttle Columbia died when their spaceship came apart around them on re-entry. It was a terrible thing. Seven bright, brave people -- gone from us, and horribly, foreknowing their deaths.

A lot of people were upset by this disaster -- I was, certainly -- and there was a great public sharing of grief. I expected the grief and the public lamentations.

What I didn't expect was the call of some people to end the space program, because the loss of life was unacceptably high.

Granted, the tragedy. Granted, the loss of seven brilliant lights, which diminishes us all. Seven heroes, the like of which we will never see again. Heroes, like Scouts, lead the way. They draw danger to themselves, and make the path safer for those who follow. They know that they might not survive.

Well. . .fair enough. We're not all heroes. Most of us, we just want to live our lives, love and be loved, write our books, do our work, raise our kids. We want to be comfortable. To be safe.

In search of comfort and safety, we form into communities: colleges, say; or SF fandom. Places where we can go about our work, our lives and the raising of our children without being concerned that some random danger will intrude upon us. When something goes wrong inside our safe places -- someone steals a bike, or breaks a window, or grabs somebody off the sidewalk -- that's a violation not only of our own safety and comfort, but of the integrity of the whole community.

We work hard to keep the boundaries of our neighborhoods safe; and those who venture outside -- the heroes, the rash or the mad -- they take their own chances, as adults, wisely or not. There is no safety fencing around Mount Everest; people still fight fires. Adults determine their own level of acceptable Danger. Or -- another way -- Acceptable Safety.

This seems reasonable, right?

Adults also decide for children. And children must, naturally and always, be safe.

"Oh," a friend will say, "I really want to go to that exhibition, but really, my kids shouldn't be exposed to such images -- they're too young."

Hire a sitter, you suggest.

"Oh, goodness, no. There are so many crazy people out there; so many things happen. My children wouldn't be safe!"

If this goes on. . .

And so, back to science fiction, and the planet Delgado. A Safe World, by intent, and desire. Its citizens value safety, and accept certain constraints and regulations, as the price of being perfectly safe. Let's look at that -- it's OK; we're going to do it in a novel; it's a game. You might feel, a little, uncomfortable. You might think the whole thing's swell.

You. Might. Think.

. . .and that, oh dearly beloved, is a Good Thing.
rolanni: (Phoenix from Little Shinies)
...wild turkeys, that is. Milling around on lawns, driveways, and other locations from which they may not legally be shot. Luck or Intent? You decide.

I must say that I'm looking forward to the PT session on Thursday evening. 'nough said.

The rolling bag's first day of use encountered some minor problems; nothing that couldn't be noodled out. I do not work on the most accessible college campus ever; the Quad is terraced, so lots of outside stairs and not so much with the ramps. My usual route to work encompasses one short stairway (excluding the three flights once you're actually inside the library), and my goal today was to identify a route where there were no outside stairs between the Roberts parking lot and the library.

In fact, I was not able to identify a completely stair-free route from Roberts to the library. However, I did find a route that did not require portage, to wit:

Leave the Roberts lot, walk up the Bixler mini-park under the trees, just like always. At the top of the mini-park, do not turn right, as usual, but continue sort-of straight ahead, proceeding through the hole in the math building to the stairs beyond, pulling the rolling bag up the ramp beside the stairs. That done, walk to the opposite side of the Quad, turn left, use the ramp to go around Lovejoy to the service road, turn right onto the walkway, bearing right to go up the ramp, and viola! you are on the ground floor of the library. From here, one may decide to fold the handle and carry the bag up three steep flights, or to invade the stacks and take the elevator. I opted for the elevator.

Alternatively, I guess I could walk across the bottom of Sorority Row to the pond road, then just pull my little blue wagon behind me up the road. May try that tomorrow.

Must also investigate the ins and outs of the math building before it gets Really Cold. The walk cross-quad is nice now, but I'm thinking that won't be the case when we've got a windchill of 20 below.

In other news and for those keeping score at home, "Hidden Resources" has been completed, with a Final Draft Weight of 8,730. This is somewhat above the target word count of 7,000, but the editor says no worries.

Still to-do: The forward for The Dragon Variation, a possible short story for an anthology that starts reading in January, oh, and Ghost Ship. The backbrain has busily been offering up tidbits of Ghost Ship this last while, which is nice, if not chronological. Backbrains are hardly ever chronological.

Tonight, I have me some databasin' to do, and the ever-popular dishes to wash. Then, I intend to retire to the couch and Rest My Arm(tm). Perhaps I shall view a film.

Work goes on

Monday, October 5th, 2009 07:17 pm
rolanni: (drosselmeyer)
Progress on "Hidden Resources"

2157 / 7000
rolanni: (Dr. Teeth)
I've either gotta get a shorter to-do list or a longer weekend.

Astute followers of this journal will note that I have not caught up my email. I have, however, brought the SRM bookkeeping up to date and balanced both checkbooks. Also? The dishes are done, which wasn't even on today's list. Go, me.

"Hidden Resources" is going a little slower than I had expected, given that I have An Outline (pauses to allow the audience to gasp in admiration). I think the problem has to do with the fact that I had begun a story similar to this one a few years back, and abandoned it when I realized that I hadn't thought things through to the point of actually having, oh, a plot. What I did have was a very cool setting. I kept distracting myself by trying to bring that setting to mind, and explaining to myself, kindly, that Nothing I did today could possibly be as wonderfully perfect as that which I had previously constructed.

To which I say now and publicly, "Pfui."

In other news, there's less than 24 hours remaining on the current Ebay auction to clear Sharon's file cabinet. Somebody stands to get a heckuva bargain, here. Maybe it'll be you. Take a look

Progress on "Hidden Resources"

1104 / 7000

Collaboration, Part I

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009 02:15 pm
rolanni: (drosselmeyer)
Down in another thread, which I of course cannot find now, someone (yes, yes, I have no brain) asked how Steve and I collaborate. I promised to write up one of our riffs, which I will do, but in the meantime, this is pretty much what it looks like.

Yep, still raining

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009 06:26 pm
rolanni: (blackcatmoon)
Tomorrow is supposed to be warmer, with sun. Err, sun? Friday? Even warmer! With definitive sun! Ocean, here I come!

The day-job was variously frustrating and. . .annoying. For instance, the bindery says they shipped five copies of a bound thesis to me, in my melant'i as The History Department, in June; UPS claims it was delivered and signed for by "X." Except there is no "X" in the mailroom, or, indeed, in any signing capacity anywhere on campus. After several hours of trying to track down the shipment, I finally achieved a lead late in the day. It might have gone over to the music library. Why? you ask. Beats the heck outta me. The woman with the Definitive Answer will be in tomorrow. In the meantime, the bindery Does Not Understand why I'm not eager to pay their bill. *sigh*

I uploaded some more pictures to the Facebook album. There are a couple pictures that include other people and (my terrible memory), I'm not entirely sure who everyone is. If anybody can help me out there, I'd appreciate it.

In other news, I need to write two stories, and my brain has blessed me with the lead to the first. This is good. Good brain; have a cookie.

I now need to write to a vendor who charged me twice for one thing, and who has not answered my first email on the topic. I really would rather solve this off the record, so to speak, but I will file a consumer complaint with PayPal, if necessary.

Then! I think I'll find my husband and see if he'd like to do lunch.

Just a reminder for you collectibles folks: The auction for the submission manuscript of Agent of Change, with assorted goodies, doesn't go over until Sunday. You still have time to bid!

OK, this is scary

Thursday, March 19th, 2009 06:25 pm
rolanni: (drosselmeyer)
It's always startling when I'm reminded how much more my back-brain knows than I do. From BabyNamer:

"Keleigh: Its source is Ceallach, an Irish Gaelic name meaning "Strife, war"."
rolanni: (Eat Drums!)
So, the earache -- has subsided. The doctor finds no evidence of infection, which is sorta what I thought we were going to find, but is reassuring anyhow. I have anesthetic drops, to treat the pain, should it return, which we of course hope it will not. Kind of a wash at the doctor's office, except for the verified no-infection. That's a win.

Among the many reasons that I don't often write about writing in this LJ, we have this: The blogosphere is full of people who have thought more deeply than I have about all aspects of writing and are telling everyone they know, and large numbers of people they don't know, all about it. With so many thoughtful and talented people expounding, who's going to care what I think?

Occasionally, however, I care what I think, as in the question of jewel-colored eyes. And I also care what I think about what we'll call Absolutist Writing Advice. "Don't use cliches; they're a sign of amateurish writing," is an example of such advice. Sounds simple enough on the face of it. In practice...a little dicier. Sometimes, the cliche is what you want, really. If you're clever, you might twist it a bit, to suit the vernacular of the world you're working in -- science fiction's pretty forgiving that way -- and hey, presto! you have world building. Sometimes, a character will state a cliche, and then you have characterization.

See, the thing about writing is that there are no Absolutes. Even "start every sentence with a capital letter and end it with a period" is subject to flaunting if you can pull it off. By "pulling it off," note, I don't mean "being cutesy-clever and thinking no one will notice." I mean pulling it off by producing work that is so damn good, it's obvious to even the meanest intelligence that there was no other way to do [whatever it was you did], and that, yes, it Needed to Be Done.

The other problem with Absolutist Advice is that it tends to focus on a single "problem" of writing, as if that thing exists in a vacuum. The notion, for instance, that topaz is just a fancy brown, so why not just say brown, ignores such things as the demands of the rest of the sentence (and the paragraph in which that sentence lives), the viewpoint of the character describing whatever that brown object may be, and (again) the world in which this observation-and-description occurs.

Sentences have rhythm. "Brown" has one syllable; "topaz" has two. It is not at all inconceivable that you will wish to write a sentence in which the word topaz will make the words around it sing.

It's not easy, what we're doing here on the page, and behind the words. It is art -- small "a" art, but art, just the same -- and as such it is not rule-bound. Such rules as we have are...more like guidelines, really, and almost begging to be broken.

Yes, we can write simply, but we should not write stupidly. And for the love of ghod, let us not write boringly.

Progress on Mouse and Dragon
Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
3,965 / 100,000
rolanni: (drosselmeyer)
Somewhere around the blogosphere lately, I came across a statement to the effect that a character with jewel-toned eyes must fall under suspicion of being a Mary Sue. People, after all, don't really have violet eyes, nor emerald, and therefore writers should give over already pretending that they do.

To which I reply: Hooey.

I'm in the business of telling lies, for Thing One. If I tell you that Er Thom yos'Galan, for a handy example, has purple eyes, my job is to convince you that this is so. And I Swear To You that Er Thom is not a Mary Sue.

For Thing Two, it seems to me that we are impoverishing the language, if we insist that Sally has brown eyes, and Jon has brown eyes, and Clara has brown eyes and -- Wait, wait! Sally's eyes are more yellow than brown -- may I say that they are amber-colored? Just to, yanno, distinguish her eyes from Jon's, which have a slight red tinge to them, like a mud puddle that's been agitated by a sudden rain shower. And Clara's eyes -- they're so brown, they're almost black. And then there's Julie, who has silver eyes -- not grey; silver, with a dark ring around the iris. And Sam, who's got grey eyes, too, but steel-colored, really, not like Julie's at all...

People -- and characters -- are unique. Why not use descriptors that celebrate their uniqueness?

So, anyway.

Today, there was cereal for breakfast, and afterward vacuuming, more laundry, and fish and potato salad for supper. Very soon now, it will be time for dinner, and! Tomorrow is Monday.

Progress on Mouse and Dragon
Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
2,552 / 100,000

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