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Got allergies? Get habits.

Here’s a link to a blog post on GIGID, but I also want to provide some background info here, as this is one of those rare times when I feel that I have something truly useful to say.

I’ve probably had seasonal allergies all my life. When I was a kid, we called them “spring colds,” and a lot of them probably did segue into viral infections. As an adult, I had a few years that were pretty much end-to-end respiratory issues. Sinus infections were frequent, asthma episodes were scary, bronchitis was a twice-yearly event, and I’ve been diagnosed with pneumonia at least five times. Many of these episodes were triggered by seasonal allergies.

Three years ago, we started a serious exploration of habits–how they’re formed, how they change, why they matter. My primary focus was getting healthy, and to that end I’ve been working on building a habit system–a group of habits that work together to achieve goals. Allergies are a type of inflammation, and I found that when you address other sources of inflammation, these pollen-intensive days are less likely to put you over the top.

I can’t claim to be completely allergy-free, but other than a mild cold this winter, I haven’t had a respiratory infection in over three years. The only asthma attack I had during this time was during a choir rehearsal, courtesy of an alto who was drenched in fragrant-yet-toxic chemicals. And last year, I got through both spring and fall allergy seasons just fine without any allergy medication. An occasional sneeze, eyes a little itchy at times, but that’s it.

I’m still amazed at the difference a few small habits can make. If an occasional doubt arises, it disappears when I backslide a bit and feel the impact of that behavior. So now that the spring allergy season is in full swing, I’m doubling down on the habits that got me this far. A few of them are listed in the linked blog article.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to stock up on green tea…

“Writing, rejection, and taking it like a pro”

That’s the tagline for author Aeryn Rudel’s blog Rejectomancy.com, which is one of the more helpful and inspiring author blogs out there. He’s extremely forthright about the writing process and the realities of the publishing industry. And one of those realities is rejection.

Just about everyone gets rejections, and they don’t stop once you have a publishing track record.

Take Jane Yolen, for example. She’s an incredibly prolific author with over 300 published books. She will frequently post on Facebook about what she wrote and submitted, what was accepted and what wasn’t. What strikes me about these posts is her ability to weigh each rejection for what it is, and act accordingly. Sometimes a book or poem just wasn’t a good match with a particular publisher, so she’ll try again elsewhere. Other times, she comments on plans to improve or rework something. The common element is that with each rejection, she’s learning something and moving on. That’s a great quality to emulate.

I’m working on that.

Last week, I had two rejections in two days. Neither one came as a surprise. One was a stretch, a market I never would have considered submitting to a year ago. But the story made it into the final round of consideration and the editor asked to see more stories, which is about as good as rejections get. The other was a reprint story which I submitted to a podcast magazine. Podcasts are a mystery to me, but since a lot of fiction is being consumed in audio format, it is past time for me to start learning about this part of the business. I liked this story, but I wasn’t sure it would work read aloud. In a way, it was helpful to have this suspicion confirmed. It’s a step forward in the process of writing for the ear as well as the mind’s eye.

Rejection isn’t something most people instinctively embrace, but on the other hand, it isn’t a thing to fear and avoid. It’s evidence that you’re working, stretching, risking. It’s an opportunity to learn. It’s building necessary traits such as perseverance and flexibility. It takes you a step closer toward the stories you want to write, and getting them out to people who want to read them.

Write what you know, for people who don’t know it.

“Write what you know” is good advice, up to a point, but it also comes with its own set of perils and pitfalls. One of the big ones?  When you are passionate and knowledgable about a topic, it’s easy to forget that not everyone shares your particular obsession.

I was reminded of this the other day while reading notes from a Trusted Reader. The short story I sent him presupposed a knowledge of 16th century Scottish/English politics, the basic vocabulary of the Scotts dialect, fairy folklore in general, and the stolen child/changeling trope in particular. This Trusted Reader is exceedingly intelligent, but his knowledge base contains none of those things. Which, in a very important way, made him an ideal reader for this tale.

Which brings us to today’s writing tip.

If your story is deeply rooted in a particular field, be it forensic medicine or Major League baseball, it will need to make sense to someone who isn’t a pathologist or a pitcher. When you know a subject very, very well, you may not be the best judge of whether you’ve provided adequate background for someone who doesn’t.  A reader who isn’t familiar with one or more of the story’s key themes and elements comes at the story very differently than you do. If something is confusing or unclear to him, you need to expand or clarify. He’s also more likely to see how the story works apart from the knowledge-specific references. Someone who’s not distracted by the minutia of folklore or Star Wars or coin collecting may see big-picture plot holes and character inconsistencies that are less visible to people who live and love the details.

I’m fairly new to the practice of sharing with Trusted Readers. For years, the notion of anyone reading anything Before It Was Ready was the sort of thing I contemplated only during nightmares. The kind of dream where you forgot to study for an exam, or you have to perform a piece of music you’ve never practiced and can’t sight-read because the score is nothing but blank paper, or you’re in a shopping mall during the Christmas rush and suddenly your clothes disappear and oops, there you are.  Giving someone a first draft to read feels a lot like those dreams. It’s way, way outside my comfort zone, but it’s worth doing. I’m pretty sure that if I’d started earlier, I’d be a much better writer today.

If you’re a writer who’s not ready to take this step, or who has yet to find Trusted Readers, writing what you know for people who don’t can be a challenge. In the first draft, you can splash expertise onto the page or screen until it looks like a Jackson Pollack painting, but when you’re revising, here’s a tactic that might help:  Bring to mind a friend, family member, or acquaintance–or an imaginary Ideal Reader, for that matter–who knows very little about the topic or the setting or the magic system, and try to envision a passage as it would appear from his point of view. If it leaves him scratching his imaginary head, you’ve got more work to do.

Free stuff! WINTER WITCH audiobook

Quite some time back, the good folks at Paizo Publishing sent me access codes for 5 free copies of the WINTER WITCH audiobook. These codes have been sitting around, collecting dust, so I’m giving away 2 of them on the Forgotten Realms Archive group on Facebook.  It’s a simple contest:  Add one comment to the post. Winners will be chosen by a random number generator at noon (EST) on May 1.

By Faerie Light: One review and two ideas

As a child, I read incessantly. One of the series that caught my imagination featured “the Littles,” a family of tiny humans who lived in the walls of a typical family house. Their size created significant challenges, as well as a new and intriguing way to view the world.

This notion has stuck with me over the years, and it’s the basis for “The White Tunic,” a story in this anthology. A young farmer strikes a bargain with a tiny fey warrior, who promptly takes him up on it. Before you know it, he has been seriously downsized.

In this review, the writer suggests using this notion in RPG campaigns. Since many of the people who read my stories are also gamers, this was something I had in mind while writing.  Shrinking your player characters would give them an interesting way to experience the world and their place in it.

Another idea, and something I do frequently when I’m out hiking, is to envision yourself the size of a bird or chipmunk and imagine what the world would look like from that perspective. This draws your focus to the environment in a way that you generally don’t experience when you’re moving through it as a human. The forest floor becomes more detailed and nuanced and important, the canopy both closer and more vast.

I’m fond of “The White Tunic,” mostly because it so clearly defines one of my primary storytelling values: Stories are all about possibilities, experiences, and seeing life–and perhaps yourself–a little differently than you did before.

March writing update

One of the new habits I’m working to establish is spending some time on the last day of the month to evaluate that month’s progress and to plan for the month ahead. For those who might be interested, here’s a summary of what happened in March.

Publications:  1

  • “Lorelei,” a previously published short story, was released in March as part of the Digital Fantasy Short Fiction line.

Projects completed: 3

  • Two short stories that were solicited for themed anthologies.
  • The first draft of a non-fiction ebook I’m writing on spec.

Submissions:  3

  • The two themed anthology short stories mentioned above
  • “Synthetic Sanctity,” an odd little tale I wrote a couple of years back, went to market #3. (Persistence!)

Accepted: 1

  • Heard back from the editor of one of the solicited stories via a form letter that said all the submitted stories were strong and none needed rewrites, only revisions. Close enough. So, yay!

Rejections:  1

  • “Synthetic Sanctity” made it to the final round of consideration for a women-in-sf anthology to which I submitted in December, but was declined with a very cordial note. I promptly resubmitted it to publisher #3. As one does.

Projects out in the wild: 6

  • Awaiting revision notes on the accepted story.
  • Awaiting editor’s response on the other solicited story.
  • “Synthetic Sanctity” is in the second round of consideration for its current submission.
  • Awaiting response on a story submitted in January to a reprint anthology.
  • No word yet on two essays, both submitted in December, both long shots.

Work in progress:

  • Finally working on a new novel!  I’m in the world-building, planning, and outlining stage.
  • Revising two solicited short stories.
  • Expanding and revising a non-fiction ebook on habit formation

Master of Spies Kickstarter!

The guys at Move Rate 20 Games have launched a new Kickstarter for their card game. I’ve played this game in a demo. It’s easy to learn and the game mechanics are solid. It’s a good social game or family game, but it would also be a good filler at a hardcore gaming session. Recommended!


Conflict and desire

This weekend we watched the first episode of Dexter, season 1, and I was struck anew by how good the writing was in the early part of that series. Intriguing characters, unusual premise, colorful setting, and the volume is turned way up on two crucial aspects of storytelling: conflict and desire.

Starting with the latter, these are people who want things, and want them in a big way. Dexter is compelled to kill. His sister Deborah is desperate to solve a case, not only because she wants out of vice and into homicide, but also to protect “her” hookers. An amorous lieutenant has her eye on Dexter. One of the homicide detectives is disgruntled about working on Friday night because that’s date night in Miami and he “has needs.” Not all desires are straightforward. Rita, Dexter’s radiant but damaged girlfriend, is afraid she’s losing him, and because she wants this nice, kind, “normal” guy in her life, she is prepared to start a sexual relationship she really isn’t ready for.

That last bit is also a source of conflict. Dexter is wary of this new development, which would change their relationship and take it into unfamiliar and possibly risky ground. But where conflict is concerned, he has a lot bigger fish to fry.

The primary conflict, of course, is the tension between Dexter’s need to kill and the fact that he’s surrounded by people who are trained to catch killers. One of the detectives senses that there’s something “off” about Dexter and is very open about his distrust. The friendly woman in the records room risks her job to give Dexter cold case files. We’re not sure why, but we’re pretty sure she’s starting to wonder what’s going on.  There’s the implied conflict of Dexter’s back story, and the hidden reason why he is what he is. Then there’s the new serial killer, who is “inviting Dexter to play” with friendly overtures such as tossing a decapitated head at his car and leaving a dismembered Barbie doll in his apartment’s fridge. As one does. Seriously, who just picks up the phone anymore?

This is a lot of desire and conflict for one episode, and it all propels the story forward. It’ a good reminder that compelling stories focus on characters who want something, but will have a very challenging time getting it.

Facebook giveaway: The Great Hunt

If you love the Forgotten Realms and are active on social media, you’re probably aware of two of the best fan sites on the web:  Candlekeep, and the Forgotten Realms Archives on Facebook. For the next few days, a post on the FR Archives site offers a copy of the comic book Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons Vol 7,  which has two stories:  an adaptation of “The Great Hunt,” a story about Arilyn Moonblade and Elaith Craulnober in the forest of Tethyr, and a Dragonlance story by Richard Knack.

This is my first and only attempt at writing a script for a graphic novel. I spent a ridiculous amount of time on this project, and, as usual, far more research than was probably necessary. The result condenses and deviates from the original story a little. The art is fun, even if the depiction of Elaith Craulnober does not fit his canon description.

Yeah, it’s a small thing, but as someone who has found many fictional “second homes” over the years, I understand the appeal of spending time in familiar places with old friends. And I appreciate the people who still visit the Realms, and who count Arilyn, Elaith, Danilo, and Liriel among their fictitious friends.

If you think you might enjoy this particular visit, stop by the Forgotten Realms Archives group on Facebook (if you’re not a member, you’ll need to join) and add a comment to the contest post. Winners will be chosen via a random number generator.