Type your search keyword, and press enter

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.

Literal Illusion

“Lorelei,” a historical fantasy tale that takes place near the Rhine in pre-Roman times, has been published in a new reprint anthology.

Table of Contents:

Half-Dime Adventure – Don Webb
Cry Havoc – Julie Frost
Lorelei – Elaine Cunningham
These Walls of Despair – Anaea Lay
Lady of the Plagues – Elena Gomel
The Seventh Trap – Adam Knight
How Fox Fixed the Sky – Stephen Case
The Well – Gregory L. Norris
Found Things – Gerri Leen
The Heart of a Diamond – Lillian Csernica


May writing summary

Submissions: 4

  • Revised and shipped a solicited short story.
  • Submitted a short story written in April to market #1.
  • Market #1 was a Nope; submitted to market #2. As one does.
  • Submitted a poem written in 2016 to a literary magazine.

Accepted: 3

  • “Burning,” a story solicited for the anthology Hath No Fury (Ragnaroc Press)
  • “Royal Daughters,” a new short story, was accepted for Sword & Sorceress 32.
  • “A Great and Terrible Hunger,” a story written for Madness on the Orient Express (Chaosium, 2014) was accepted for the reprint anthology Killing It Softly 2 (Digital Fiction Publishing).

Rejections: 3

  • The story written in April was declined by Market #1, but the editor would like to see more submissions, which is a Very Good Thing.
  • A short story (a rewrite of a previously published bit of flash fiction) was declined by the editor of a themed anthology, but the editor would like to see more submissions and said (paraphrasing), “Don’t wait for the next submission window–just send me stuff.” That is an Extremely Good Thing. Rejections don’t get much better than this.
  • The poem submitted in May didn’t hit the mark. Not even close, I’m guessing. Probably I should stick to Halloween Haiku and the occasional limerick.

On an editor’s desk: 

  • I’m awaiting revision notes for a short story solicited for a shared-world anthology.

Work in progress: 

  • New fantasy novel
  • Non-fiction ebook
  • More short fiction

Writing related:

  • Sent codes for free Winter Witch audiobook to winners of the April giveaway on Facebook’s Forgotten Realms Archive group.
  • May giveaway on the Forgotten Realms Archive group for a copy of Elfshadow in Spanish translation.

Writing with my feet

Today I tried something new: Dictating scenes from my work-in-progress into Dragon Dictation, a free iPhone app,  while walking on the bike path.

This morning I walked 4 miles in a little over an hour, and when I came home and downloaded the transcriptions, I was stunned by the total: 2813 words.

Sure, it’s the roughest form of Draft Zero, but it’s a lot of raw material and more than I usually write in an entire day. Also, I find that the headspace inhabited when walking is different from that I experience at the keyboard. I’ve often observed that I “think with my fingers,” and there’s nothing wrong with that, but this morning I felt as if I was thinking on a different, less granular level. Not too surprising, I suppose. Why wouldn’t what your body is doing have an impact on how and what your brain processes?

I’ll be interested to see how this experiment goes. If it continues to yield productive session, I’m going to be getting a lot more exercise.

Cookies, anyone?

I’ve been baking cookies since I had to stand on a stool to reach the kitchen counter. It’s a thing I do. People like cookies, and I like baking cookies for them.

We all have our favorites and preferences. Some people have strong opinions on whether or not there should be nuts in brownies, but in general, no one feels the need to explain or justify the appeal of small, flat cakes.

No one says, “Well, I know it’s not exactly haute cuisine, but right now I could really go for a Snickerdoodle.” No one prefaces cookie-eating by making sure everyone knows that THEY know that chocolate chip cookies are omg SO FAR beneath them, and that they’re fully aware of the more sophisticated delights of croque-en-bouche and Poire à la Beaujolaise. And no sensible person expects a cookie to provide the Minimum Daily Requirement of any important nutrient. A cookie is not a spinach salad and grilled salmon. A cookie is a cookie.

If you don’t like cookies, I’m not going to argue that you should. But if you do, please allow yourself (and everyone else) to enjoy the experience.

There might be an analogy here to shared-world fiction. Or not.

Either way, here–have a cookie.

PS:  The photo is a batch of peanut butter cookies made with European style butter, good Madagascar vanilla, Guiardello 60% chocolate chips, and teeny Reese’s peanut butter cups.  I made them for an open gaming event at Rivendell Books & Games, our local game store. None of them survived the night. Just saying.

April writing update

April was an odd month. There was a lot of writing going on, but you wouldn’t know it from the summary below. A couple of small projects I’d hoped to finish were pushed back into May (or possibly beyond.)  On the bright side, I am very enthusiastic about the new novel, which will be the most ambitious story I’ve written since Evermeet, and considerably longer. I’m in learning mode, trying new things and submitting to new markets, and that’s a very exciting process.

Publications: 1

  • Renaissance Faire and Culture Magazine, Vol. 21 #3, Issue #109. A review of Edward IV, England’s Forgotten Warrior King: His Life, His People, and His Legacy by Anthony Corbet.  I was surprised to receive the “scribe’s copy” of this issue, as I’d submitted this review about a year ago and by now, I’d assumed it had been declined.

Submissions: 4

  • Wrote and submitted two short stories, on spec.
  • Submitted a previously published story to a podcast magazine.
  • Submitted “Synthetic Sanctity” to Market #4. (Persistence!)

Acceptances: 0

Rejections:  2 (or possibly 4)

  • “Synthetic Sanctity” was declined by Market #4. I got some very good feedback from two Trusted Readers, and am going to do a substantial rewrite before sending it out again.
  • The reprint story I sent to a podcast magazine was declined. This was a first step into audio for me (not counting the audiobook versions publishers have done of my backlist.) I’ve started listening to podcasts, and I’m going to practice recording my work-in-progress to make sure a story works for the ear. Lots to learn!
  • Not all rejections are definitive. Many publishers don’t respond at all unless they accept a story or article, so there comes a point at which writers have to call a submission’s “time of death” and turn off the life support. This month I’m pulling the plug on two essays written and submitted back in December. It’s always possible to be surprised a few months later, as in the Renaissance Magazine review, but in these two cases, it seems unlikely.

Work in progress:

  • First draft of an on-spec fantasy novel.
  • Revising a non-fiction ebook on habit acquisition.
  • Awaiting editors’ notes on two short stories submitted in March.

Projects in circulation: 3

After wiping the two essays off my submission slate, I have just three short stories out in the world–the two new ones submitted in April, and a story submitted to a reprint anthology.

Writing related:

  • Sent the graphic novel version of my Forgotten Realms story “The Great Hunt” to the winner of the March contest held on the Facebook group Forgotten Realms Archives
  • Ran a contest for April in Forgotten Realms Archives with two audiobook versions of Winter Witch as prizes.

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.