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Meditation: Methods and madness

Learning to meditate can be a long, slow process. As I’ve previously discussed, I have a bad case of squirrel brain, and it’s never easy to get my thoughts to sit down and shut up. But I keep at it, a little every morning, and it’s starting to get a bit easier.

When I’m feeling particularly scattered, one thing that helps is starting out with a home-brewed chakra meditation. This gives me several things to focus on. I silently repeat the name of the chakra point and the related color as I breathe in, and on the exhale I focus on two qualities associated with that point and color. Moving my attention down the body also helps me identify and eliminate tension. (I carry an enormous amount of tension in my neck and shoulders, which probably explains the herniated disk. Being mindful of this, if only for a few minutes a day, does seem to help.)

Here’s my personal routine:

Crown: purple.  Knowledge, understanding.
Third eye: indigo, Perception, intuition.
Throat: blue. Communication, song.
Heart: green.  Life, love.
Solar plexus: yellow.  Breath, optimism.
Core: orange.  Motivation, creativity.
Base: red.  Strength, energy.

This gives my mind a lot to do. It centers on a particular physical area and checks in for tension, it envisions a color and sometimes a scene that embodies that color (an October landscape, for example), and it takes a moment to acknowledge values that are important to me. It’s a lot, but it’s also focused and deliberate, and it slows down the squirrel brain from a multi-directional dash to a more sedate jog. A couple of times through this routine, and I’m usually ready to simply follow the breath.

I’m not doing this because I’m an aging hippy, although admittedly, that description isn’t too far off the mark. The ability to focus attention is pivotal to creativity and productivity, and I’m determined to get a whole lot more of that going on. Meditation is one of the tools I’m using to turn things up a notch.

Winterhexe!

The German translation of Winter Witch will be released next week by publisher Feder & Schwert. They’ll have a page up late next week; I’ll provide a link when it’s available.

This might sounds like a dubious use of promotional energy, as most people who read this post probably won’t read or speak German, but you never know.

For example, I grew up hearing German spoken. Kinda sorta. My grandmother was Polish, and she often mixed up English and German words because hey–close enough. I just absorbed the meanings, as kids do, and not until I started taking German classes on a college level did I realize that I already knew a few bits and pieces.  A few years later, I took a class in German/English translation. And since I wasn’t the only person in any of those classes, I’m aware that not every American is monolingual as a matter of principle.

If German is not your thing, Winter Witch can be found on Amazon.com in French translation: La Sorciere de L’Hiver.

Gen Con 50

Since Gen Con badges sold out for the first time ever, I was expecting wall to wall people. There were lots of people, but there was also so much to do, in so many places, that the crowds never felt overwhelming. And everyone looked so happy to be there, so the general mood was upbeat and energizing.

Except for an occasional foray into the dealers’ hall and an afternoon spent gaming at the Worldbuilders Party, I spent most of my time at the Writer’s Symposium. It’s a great program, very well run. Some of the panels went better than others, but in general the people who attended asked good questions and seemed genuinely interested in the topics under discussion.  I was particularly impressed with the moderator of the Candlekeep seminar, which was packed with hardcore Forgotten Realms fans. He kept the tone upbeat and enthusiastic–no small feat when you consider that the fiction line has been put on indefinite hold and game products are few and far between. Thanks to the Dungeon Master’s Guild, there is new content coming out, and a lot of the discussion focused on this new(ish) venture.

The highlight for me was meeting people in real life with whom I’ve worked or communiated online–sometimes for years or even decades:  a longtime, hard-working moderator of the Candlekeep forum, several editors who have worked on my novels or short fiction, and a bunch of readers.  It’s a bit of a shock when people with grey hair tell me they’d read my books when they were teenagers, but then I do the mental math and yep, that sounds about right. Elfshadow was published in 1991.  Oy.

This was the first con I’ve attended in several years. Going forward, I plan to be more active in con attendance. Next up: Arisia!  Details to follow.

July writing summary

After several years away from writing novel-length fiction, I’m really enjoying the challenge of creating a new setting and getting to know new characters. That was my primary focus for July, but several smaller works in various stages of development and a surprise invitation to Gen Con filled out the month. Here’s the quick summary:

Publications: 1
Submissions: 5
Acceptances: 4
Rejections: 3
Projects currently in circulation: 4

Work in progress:

  • Writing Draft Zero of a historical fantasy novel, polishing the outline and proposal
  • Brainstorming and plotting an epistolary novella
  • Awaiting editor’s notes for a short story solicited for a shared-world anthology
  • More short fiction in various stages of development, because the story ideas just keep on coming and they will not leave me alone!

Publication: 

  • A paid review of How to Be A Tudor by Ruth Goldman, published in Renaissance Magazine, Issue #111

Submissions:

  • Short story (“Synthetic Sanctity”) submitted to Aliterate magazine 
  • Short story (“Dead Men Tell No Tales”) submitted to Ghosts and Pirates, a reprint anthology by Flame Tree Publishing
  • Book reviews submitted to Renaissance Magazine:
    • Anne Boleyn: The King’s Obsession by Allison Weir
    • The Irish Women’s 16th Century Getting Dressed Guide: Wear What the Renaissance Irish Really Wore by Kass McGann
    • The King is Dead: The Last Will and Testament of Henry VIII by Suzannah Lipscomb

Rejections:

  • “Synthetic Sanctity” was declined by two magazines:  Uncanny and Aliterate.  This is a very odd little tale, so I’m not surprised it’s taking a while to find a home. Six submissions so far. This story might be strange, but it’s persistent.
  • “White Tunic” was declined by a horror story reprint anthology. Again, no big surprise, since the story is closer to fantasy than horror but hey–worth a shot!

Work done in July to short fiction in the pipeline:

  • “Burning,” a short story for the anthology Hath No Fury:  Reviewed copyedits, sent in final version.
  • “Royal Daughters,” a short story for the anthology Swords & Sorceress 32:  Read page proofs, sent in final version.

Writing related:

  • Made last-minute plans to attend Gen Con 50.
  • Brainstorming ideas for a Patreon account

Books read:

  • Griffin and Sabine by Nick Bantock
  • Sabine’s Notebook by Nick Bantock
  • The Golden Mean by Nick Bantock
  • The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Richard J. Davison, PhD with Sharon Begley
  • Anne Boleyn: The King’s Obsession by Allison Weir
  • The Irish Women’s 16th Century Getting Dressed Guide: Wear What the Renaissance Irish Really Wore by Kass McGann

Books reading:

  • Focus by Daniel Goleman
  • How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker
  • The Hidden Lives of Tudor Women by Elizabeth Norton

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.