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So. Many. GOATS!

Everyone loves goats!

If you’re going to Gen Con and you’re interested in donating to a great cause, consider the Worldbuilder’s Party, an afternoon of gaming and goats. Lots of goats! Every ticket purchased will provide a goat for an impoverished family, via the wonderful Heifer International organization.

I’ll be tag-teaming with Brad Beaulieu to run the board game “Lords of Waterdeep.” He’ll be running games from 1-3:45 and I’ll be stepping in from 3:45 to 5:00. (Note: Since I’m a late addition to GenCon, I’m not listed among the participants.)

Here’s a link for more information. 

Gen Con schedule!

As of this morning, I have a Gen Con author page and an event schedule.  I’ll also post the schedule to my Upcoming Events page, and update that page as plans continue to develop.

Thursday, August 17:

Friday, August 18

  • 10:00 – Worldbuilding 101. With Richard Lee Byers.
  • 12:00 – Signing. With Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, and James Lowder.
  • 1:00-5:00 – Worldbuilders Party.  A gaming event organized by Worldbuilders, Patrick Rothfuss’s charitable organization. I’ll be running “Lords of Waterdeep” from 3:45-5:00.

Saturday, August 19

Constructing the iceburg

Last night, I had a very helpful Skype chat with my son Sean about the outline of my novel-in-progress. He asked a very important question about two of the characters:  “Why are they friends?”

This is one of those tip-of-the-iceburg moments in fiction. When two people from very different backgrounds are close friends who know each other’s secrets, the story of how they got to that place is important, even if it’s not the story currently being told.  So before I can go much further with the w-i-p, I need to sketch out that prequel story, if only in broad strokes.

I’m a history geek, and I believe in the value of knowing what happened and why. A knowledge of history lends insight and perspective to current culture and events. That’s equally true in fiction. Characters don’t simply appear on the page in chapter one. They lived full (if fictitious) lives before they got to this point in their stories.  The things they experienced will form the choices they make during the story-in-progress. I was reminded of this again this morning by a Twitter message from a Forgotten Realms reader. She wanted to know why Danilo Thann, in the novel Dream Spheres, felt such an immediate connection to Lilly, a tavern wench and his half-sister. This is the sort of question writers need to answer during the writing process. For those who are interested, here’s what that process looks like for me.

Family is important to Danilo, in no small part because his own family is so problematic. He’s the youngest of several siblings, most of whom are quite a bit older than he is. That’s isolating. To compound matters, he spent a large chunk of his childhood away from home for reasons that have not been (and will not be) disclosed. The archmage Khelben Arunsun, his purported uncle, played a big role in his life during this traumatic period. Their relationship, though close, has always been fraught. The frivolous facade Dan adopted as part of his role in the Harpers further distanced him from his business-oriented family. So did his interest in music. Musical study, to their way of thinking, was part of a nobleman’s well-rounded education, but there comes a point when a Waterdhavian merchant should pay other people to provide music so he can devote his time to the serious business of commerce and social maneuvering. For these and many other reasons, Dan feels like an outsider in his own family. That’s one of the things he shares with Arilyn. They are two socially and emotionally adrift people who found a harbor in each other.

When Danilo learned that he had a half-sister, he felt the personal impact of all those lost years, when he might have had a younger sister to protect and tease and love. But the more powerful emotion was that he was appalled his father could know of this girl’s existence for all those years, but never support or even acknowledge her. Waterdeep is a thriving, wealthy city, but the lives of the working poor are as difficult and tenuous as anywhere else in the Realms. A tavern wench works long hours. She’s viewed as a commodity and often treated like a whore, and there’s  little prospect of a better life.  Dan understands this, and feels responsible–no, he embraces the responsibility–for his newfound sister. The connection he feels with Lilly is immediate, personal, complex, and very powerful because of who is he, what he has experienced, and what he values.  The reader might not know all the particulars, and probably shouldn’t, but the writer must. Otherwise, the reader is unlikely to feel that a character’s choices flow from anything deeper and more profound than plot convenience.

I wish I could say that I’ve lavished this much thought on all my characters, but the fact is that Dan is one of my favorite fictitious people. He has been with me for over 25 years, and every now and then I still feel his presence, looking over my shoulder and commenting on a turn of phrase, wondering why on earth I sold my lute and never bought another, or critiquing the state of my wine cellar. (A conversation that usually begins with, “Why is it, precisely, that you don’t HAVE one?”)  I enjoy spending time with him.  What I find very encouraging and more than a little exciting is that I’m getting much the same feeling about my current novel-in-progress, and the new fictitious people whose lives are taking shape, both above and below the waterline.

The persistence habit

Over the years, I’ve written for several projects that, for various reasons, went off the rails before my story was published.  When  one such story reverted to me, I filed off the shared-world serial numbers and started sending it out in search of a new home.
 

I assumed this story was going to be difficult to place. It is a VERY odd little tale–a cyberpunk story set in a far-future abbey, the Order of St. Hildegard. The first-person narrator is what one Trusted Reader calls a “nunbot,” and the abbess is a biological computer based upon DNA taken from the relics of St. Hildegard of Bigen. Not my usual thing, but it does incorporate several familiar themes: music, history, and the complexity of human nature.

(NOTE: The image shows the shrine that holds the saint’s relics. In the story, the computer’s cabinet is a reproduction of this.)

 So far this year, “Synthetic Sanctity” has garnered five rejections. I do think it will find a home eventually. In the meanwhile, it’s a busy little ambassador, introducing editors to my work and, for the most part, garnering responses along the lines of “This one didn’t quite work for us, but send more.”
 
My point, and I do have one, is that rejections are not something to be feared, avoided, or mourned. To the contrary. Submitting a short story again and again helps build the “persistence habit,” and for me, at this point in time, that’s a valuable process.
 
The novel I’m working on is quite different from anything I’ve published. It’s bigger in both length and scope. Simply put, it’s a stretch. I’m determined (bordering on “obsessed”) but I’m finding that short story rejections form very useful calluses on the psyche. Anyone who has ever played any stringed instrument will know exactly what I mean. You can’t pick up the guitar or violin after months (or years!) away and play for hours the first time back. You’ve got to toughen up first. Every rejection leaves you a little bit tougher, a little better prepared to play longer and perform better.

Gen Con 2017!

I wasn’t planning to attend Gen Con this summer, but just this week the stars aligned and plans fell into place. I’ll be there from Wednesday afternoon through Saturday (leaving very early Sunday morning), and will be participating in the Writers’ Symposium.  Schedule of events coming soon.i

Hope to see many of you there!

June writing summary

Publications: 1

  • “Lorelei” was published in the reprint anthology Literal Illusions (Digital Fiction Publishing)

Work in progress: Several

  • New fantasy novel, details coming soon

Projects completed in June: 4 

  • Revised a story that was solicited for a shared-world anthology.
  • Revised a sf story written a few years back.
  • Wrote a review of How To Be a Tudor, by Ruth Goodman.
  • Wrote a review of The Private Lives of the Tudors, by Tracy Norman.

Submissions: 7

  • Submitted the two book reviews listed above to a paying print market.
  • Turned in the revision of a solicited short story.
  • Submitted revised short story. (This is the 5th market to which I’ve submitted. Persistence!)
  • Submitted a flash fiction story published in 2015 to a reprint market.
  • Submitted a story published in 2005 to a reprint market.
  • Submitted a story published in 2007 to a reprint market

Rejections: 1

  • The flash fiction reprint was declined. Editor asked to see more stories, both reprints and new.

Writing-related:

  • Started linking my books to my Amazon Affiliates page. If you plan to order one of my books, or a book I’ve reviewed and recommended on my blog, please consider following the link supplied, as I will receive a (teeny) commission on books sold through my affiliate links.
  • Mailed a set of the Songs & Swords books in Spanish translation to the winner of the May contest on Facebook group Forgotten Realms Archives. Donated a second set to a high school library in New Hampshire.

Doorways and mirrors

This anthology is coming together and is scheduled for an August release, but that’s not the subject of this post. It’s about a moment of pure joy that reminded me why I read and tell stories.

Hath No Fury was funded through a Kickstarter campaign. The editors encouraged the authors to offer rewards for higher levels of patronage, including Tuckerization, which allows a supporter to name a character after himself  or someone he knows. I’ve never encountered this practice before, and I had a hard time envisioning why anyone would plunk down $150 to name a character, but hey–why not. It’s important to be a team player. To my astonishment, someone bought the Tuckerization. When I learned who it was for, the motivation made perfect sense. The parents of an avid reader, a “dragon crazy” girl who just turned 13, are giving her a fictitious namesake.

This makes me ridiculously happy.

This dragon-crazy young girl will share a name with a dragon commander, a woman who possesses not only psychic power, but personal courage and a character arc that shows she can learn and grow.

I repeat: So ridiculously HAPPY!

It probably wouldn’t have hit me so strongly before the Wonder Woman movie. Viewer reaction to this movie demonstrates how much representation matters. A female superhero. A Jewish Wonder Woman. A few words spoken in the Blackfoot language. And from where I sit, a couple of badass fifty-something women doing just fine on the battlefield, thank you very much. Stories are doorways, but they are also mirrors. That moment of recognition can be very powerful.

When I started writing the story for this anthology, my goal was to tell an entertaining tale about a woman facing enormous challenges and temptations.  Social commentary or GO GIRL! cheerleading wasn’t part of the plan. But the thought that this story might mean something special, if only to one dragon-crazy girl, made me very happy.

Ridiculously so.

What I’m reading: How to Be a Tudor

This is one of the most engaging history books I’ve read in ages. Author Ruth Goodman is a social historian who takes a hands-on approach to Renaissance history. She has worked with museums, documentaries, and as an adviser to dramatic productions such as the BBC miniseries Wolf Hall. For several months she lived and worked on a reproduction Tudor farm. The result is a first person view of what it would be like to live in 16th century England.

Goodman’s focus is the everyday life of ordinary people. The book is organized from dawn to dusk, starting with the sort of beds you could expect to wake up in, how you would tend to personal grooming and what you’d wear. She digs down into the details, describing not just what people ate, but also how that food was produced and prepared. Every aspect of the day is described from the dual perspectives of research and experience. Goodman has roasted meat on an open fire, brewed ale, and made baked bread from heirloom grains. She has sewn clothing, made starched ruffs, and attempted to plough a field.

She’s not alone in this obsession: Living in the Renaissance is a Goodman family affair. Her daughter creates handmade silk ribbons for theatrical productions, and her husband, who is interested in the everyday art of the Tudor period, creates pigments and paints with period-authentic methods and ingredients.

As well as guiding you through a typical day, Goodman gives a sense of the seasonal work cycle, and on an even broader scale, how workers trained for various occupations. Along the way, she dispels some of the commonly held notions. Hygiene, for example, was a much bigger concern for Elizabethans that proponents of the “smelly history” theory would have us believe.

This book is a good resource for people who enjoy historical reenactments or write historical fiction, but anyone who’s interested in history is likely to enjoy author’s enthusiasm for her subject and her clear, engaging writing style. Highly recommended.

Trusted Readers

Yesterday I got revision notes from one of my favorite editors for a short story, and spent an hour in a Skype conversation with a Trusted Reader ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FRICKIN’ GLOBE about this and another story.  (Digression:  I love Skype. It’s pure magic.) The feedback from both gentlemen was invaluable, and will make both stories much stronger.

I always feel energized and full of new ideas after getting revision notes, so you’d think that I would have sought out other forms of feedback early in my writing career. Sadly, no. Working with Trusted Readers is a fairly new tactic for me. For various reasons, I had a long-held aversion to letting anyone see a story before it was “ready.” And since no story ever feels “ready,” it can be very difficult to let go of it.

Getting feedback during the writing process is helpful in several ways:

  • It’s a form of aversion therapy. Doing something that feels uncomfortable gradually stretches the boundaries of your comfort zone.
  • You’re more likely to finish a project. Once it becomes easier to submit your work, you’re less likely to spin your wheels in the Endless Revision Loop or get mired in the Procrastination Swamp.
  • You’ll gain perspective. Someone who’s outside of the story can point out problems that you’re too close to see.
  • If something in the story bothered you but you’re not sure why, chances are someone else will be able to identify the reason.
  •  Social interaction is one of the most powerful motivators for habit acquisition, and writing success is about 90% good habits.
  • Feedback is energizing, both emotionally and mentally. Whether it comes from a good editor or an insightful reader, you’ll tackle the story with new energy and new ideas.

An elven roundup

It’s a good idea to have a basic author bio (more than one, actually, in different lengths and tones), but I always seem to end up customizing. The other day, it was pertinent to note in a bio that many, if not most, of my stories involved elves of some sort.

That got me thinking about the various sorts of elves. Turns out there are quite a few varieties:

  • The Tolkienesque elves of the Forgotten Realms
  • The drow, the Forgotten Realms dark elves
  • Criminally-inclined elves who live hidden lives in modern-day Providence, RI
  • Linchetto, the “night elves” of Tuscan folklore
  • There’s a short story in the works featuring the kijimunaa, a leprechaun-like elf specific to Okinawa
  • I’m currently working on a new novel that includes a version of the alfar, the elves of Nordic mythology.

No stories about Santa’s elves yet. That’s a serious oversight on my part.