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Danny Adams

[ website | Bio of a Silver Fox ]
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Silence Your Brain, Or Ramp It Up [Oct. 1st, 2014|11:33 pm]
[Tags|, ]
[Current Location |Tuning Out The Static Land]
[Current Mood |Distracted]
[Current Music |"Wherever You Will Go" by the Calling]

A few weeks ago Laurie wanted to attend a Quakers meeting and asked me if I'd like to come along. I did, having been interested in the Quakers for a long time but never having attended one of their meetings - I am curious if nothing else, and that was a good enough reason for me. Plus I suspected I might get a lot out of it. And also, the meeting house is an hour away when you hit all the green lights (in Roanoke, Virginia to be specific) and I work most Sundays, so there was no telling when I might ever make it back there. So off we went.

I left half-an-hour early in case there were traffic issues, of which there were none, meaning we had a half-hour to walk up and down the street the meeting house was on - a street filled with brightly painted Victorian and Edwardian houses. I hadn't thought to bring a camera but my cell phone was good enough to take a couple dozen pictures. I went to the meeting in a good, calm frame of mind. That doesn't mean my mind was quiet. But then, it rarely is.

For those who don't know, Quaker meetings don't follow the traditional pattern of Christian services. There is no sermon, no singing, no passing of the tithe plate. There is, however, a great deal of silence. The people who speak are the ones who are motivated to stand and speak - which can be anyone attending. During the hour Laurie and I were there, three people spoke, lasting a total of about five minutes. The rest was quiet, leaving people to their own thoughts, or meditation, or listening for the still small voice of God, or simply trying to clear their mind. And that was the time in which I discovered that silencing my mind is a lot harder than I thought.

This isn't the first time I've discovered this, by any means. I've always been a daydreamer, or had things running through my head, however you want to look at it. In school as a kid (and sometimes older), in church (ditto), taking walks, even when reading or watching TV. Something is always going on in my brain; as often as not it's a story idea. During times when I was supposed to be meditating, or doing yoga, I didn't have much luck clamping down on my mental livestreaming. Within the first two or three minutes of silence among the Quakers, my brain was automatically playing out the next two chapters of No Word in Death's Favor.

This time I thought I would be prepared. I was going to be in a good, calm, relaxing place. So how could I not keep my brain silent for that little while? But what I didn't realize until I got there was that running like a river under the silence was a palpable intensity of feeling and emotion. I might as well have been in a church where the sermonizing was powerful and the music loud, and all of it right in front of me. I certainly wasn't going to have any luck keeping my mind quiet. But at that point I decided this really wasn't necessary.

At least not at that moment. Sooner or later there is likely going to come a time where I just need to stop thinking, even if it's only so I can get to sleep. But being at the Quaker meeting made me decide that it's not shushing my brain that's needful. The energy is going to be there; I should just put it to good use as long as it's going to insist on running around like a wet toddler escaping the bathtub anyway.

It seems to me that the problem has been that I'm trying to tone down my thoughts or eliminate the thinking entirely. That plainly hasn't worked. Instead, what seems to work better is when I ramp up whatever is going through my head. This sounds counter-intuitive, but so far I've had some success with it. What I have to do is be a lot more selective about what I'm ramping up - or understand that I'll just let this thought have reign for a little while. If a thought is distracting me or it's depressive, not anything I really want to be dealing with, I let it get itself out for a few moments and then I pull a bait-and-switch on it. I wish I could be less vague but I'm still figuring out exactly how the process works. All I can do at the moment is liken it to telling it, "All right, you've done your screaming. Now let's move on to something else."

This doesn't always work, of course. Some thoughts - especially the depressive ones - are incredibly tenacious no matter what I've tried. Those I usually have to ride out - or I find something else to distract myself with. But as I go I'm starting to catalog things to switch over that I already know have power enough to get me concentrating on them instead. Even if I can't knock down a thought process I don't want, I can dilute it.

I'm still working on the complete silence part. The farthest along I've gotten there is muted background thoughts accompanied by quiet music.

In the meantime, and since I haven't done this for awhile, here's a Progress Report on something that's been claiming a lot of my brain time lately.

PROGRESS REPORT FOR 9/30/14Collapse )
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Don't Write What You Know, Know What You Write [Sep. 17th, 2014|06:55 pm]
[Tags|, ]
[Current Location |Still Much In My Head]
[Current Mood |hopefulhopeful]
[Current Music |MacKenzie's Pipes and Drums]

Well, two months since my last blog entry. Let's see if I can get back in this habit after a crazy-busy summer.

Every now and then I have to do something writing-related...but not writing remember or get a handle on how it is I do what I do. In today's case I spoke with a group of eight upperclassmen about research - all kinds of research, since four of the students are doing a non-fiction thesis, and four a creative writing project. This was an English class taught by a professor I've known my whole time here at Ferrum, Lana Whited, who is probably best known off campus as the editor of The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter. Lana was familiar with Lest Camelot Fall, asked me to contribute an essay to her new upcoming Harry Potter anthology, and so invited me to come talk to her class about the way I do research.

This was where my brain stumbled.

I've done research for so long and do it so often that if I don't do something like give a presentation about it now and then, it becomes so ingrained that I have difficulty explaining how I do it. That was the case here, too, to the point where last night and this morning I had to sit down with Laurie so she could help me break it down and remember all the major points I should be talking about. What I ended up doing was a whirlwind through the major points, unstructured but rather based on reading the prologue of Camelot followed by the occasional question from Lana, and then a question-answer round with the students, though I did hit all the highlights.

And thus breaking down my process, here are a few of the points I made:

  • This is the Golden Age of research. When I grew up your library had books, magazines, and newspapers--at the time there wasn't even any interlibrary loan, at least where I lived--and if they didn't have what you needed, you were out of luck. (Maybe you'd get lucky and find something at the local bookstore, but that was also hit and miss.) Nowadays almost everything is out there somewhere online if you know how to find it.

  • I don't usually dispute Stephen King, but I counseled that they avoid his advice of "Write the story first, and then do your research". I know why he advises this, but so many of my storylines, plot points, characters, and just cool stuff in general have come from research that I did before any writing commenced. in Camelot, for example, the characters of Gerralt and Drystan--Mordred's sons--were a straight-up research discovery. I hadn't even realized Mordred had sons, but in many of the early Welsh stories, there they were.

    So by all means make your outline, and don't get so buried in the research you never start writing or you sink your story with too much research...but never discount it in the pre-writing stages entirely.

  • Don't "Write what you know", but "Know what you write". I know that "Write what you know" is usually badly misinterpreted, but that's a big reason why I rearranged it. I say write about anything you want - but make sure you know what you're talking about. James Michener used to say that he got so well-versed in the places and eras he wrote about that he could teach a master's level class in them after his books were written. I don't know if you should go that far, but my own research has always been extensive, and I also gave the example of Laurie writing the biography of J.K. Rowling for the upcoming Harry Potter anthology. Laurie spent hours upon hours reading about Rowling, reading and watching interviews of her, watching Rowling's speeches, and so on, for a biography that would only be 2,000 words. Yet it isn't a biography of dry dates and facts but rather, thanks to all that work, one getting at the core of who Rowling is and what drove her to wrote the Harry Potter books, along with why she wrote them as she did.

    But I also explained that this didn't just mean places and things, but also your own characters. Get to know them as well as your best friends, and the places those characters live as well as your own home. And then, quoting Ernest Hemingway's "tip of the iceberg", don't put 90% of what you know in the story. But knowing them that well fleshes them out and makes them believable.

  • Don't just stick to the library, but do boots on the ground research whenever you can. Approach people who are experts in their fields. Talk to them. Most people, if they have time, are happy to share what they know with you, if they believe you're passionate about it too and will do right by the material. I gave them my favorite personal anecdote about this - how a descendant of the Apache leader Geronimo gave me a story about Geronimo's days hiding in the mountains of Arizona that I never before or since ran across in a book, but which went into my novel Copper Heart. I'd say there's an even chance that if I'd stuck to books I would never have run across that story, and yet it was a pivotal moment in Geronimo's life.

  • Read broadly, and don't just stick to researching in your own discipline. I've long since lost count of how many times I've seen articles that say things like "We don't know who built the great Chaco temples in New Mexico, or why they abandoned them, or who built the massive cliff dwellings in the Southwest, or why people abandoned those." If you think to ask the Hopi themselves, which I did, they'll give you long and detailed explanations about who built them and why they were abandoned.

  • Everything is research. I get ideas from everywhere: articles in magazines and newspapers, snippets of overheard conversations, people watching, history books, and wondering about the answers to questions I come up with. Anything from a war to someone's personal quirk or manner of speech might end up in a story or poem. A good researcher is someone who always keeps their senses open and is ready to note anything.

  • And finally, to make a point rather than showing any disrespect, I went to the class wearing a Shakespeare's Skum t-shirt featuring cartoon versions of Shakespearian villains which I bought a few years ago at the Maryland Renaissance Faire. The point was this: We all got into writing for a reason, and a big part of that reason is that writing is simply fun. It's hard to remember that sometimes when you're buried in research, or you have deadlines breathing down your neck, but sometimes you need to remember not to take yourself or the work too seriously, but step back and enjoy it. In my case, when I need to do this now and again, wearing the Shakespeare's Skum t-shirt - or my Shakespeare in the Empire Tour t-shirt, designed by my friend Dan Fahs many years ago and which features Shakespeare as a Klingon per Star Trek VI - helps me remember that.

    The professor greatly enjoyed the presentation and thanked me enthusiastically afterwards. I hope the students enjoyed it just as much. Better still, I hope they got something worthwhile out of it.
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    "Sometimes I Water Handsome Weeds / Just To See What They Will Be..." [Jul. 16th, 2014|04:55 pm]
    [Tags|, , ]
    [Current Location |A hazy channel between Shalakar and Kal'Andar]
    [Current Mood |hopefulhopeful]
    [Current Music |"For Jerryanne" by After Jack]

    I know I've been off of Live Journal for awhile when it takes me a moment to remember my password.

    I've been spending a whole lot more time doing New House stuff than doing new writing, but I have been getting a bit done, and New House isn't the only thing to blame. Since this is the (still-untitled) For Fun Fantasy Novel, I decided to up the stakes and the fun by making it experimental across the board. I still write story notes, for instance, but I've done next to no outlining, writing by pants-seat instead. Trying it out to see how it feels.

    I'm also doing most of the world-building as I go. I come up with a great many of my story ideas by writing the story anyway, so this may not be that much of an experiment, but it's still intriguing to see what extra stuff happens to pop in my brain as I'm typing. I've had a few surprises, and many of them have been wound up in the manuscript, or notes to use for later.

    I may write out of chronological order - ward off writer's block by skipping ahead to places where I already know what happens. I've usually avoided this because I do come up with so many ideas as I'm writing that things may change radically by the time I get to the previously written part, but it's not without precedent. When I hit a major block during the writing of The Course of Heaven ages and ages ago, I skipped ahead to the last third of the book. That worked spectacularly well; I finished that third, something like 50,000 words, in a month. I'll plow straight ahead when I can, but will hold my breath and dive in to other pools when I can't.

    More vaguely, I'm also pursuing parts of the story I might not have if I was writing more typical to my process. Like the lyrics of my entry title say, watering the handsome weeds. I'm a big fan of weeds anyway, especially since I don't consider many of them them to be weeds. There's one thing I'll miss about my Old House, and that's the fact that if you waited a week or so beyond when most normal people would mow the lawn, the whole front yard would explode into a riotous mix of oranges, yellows, and purples...all from what most people consider weeds. If I had consistently mowed when I was "supposed" to, I would have never have seen all those wildflowers blossom year after year.

    I'm hoping this book works along the same principle.

    All of this makes the traditionalist in me nervous. I spent years building a writing process, and I've had some successes with it, though admittedly not as much as I would have hoped or always in the places I like. With my Shenandoah series, Arizona series, and To Murder an Empire out there, I've got plenty of material to submit to publishers, which gives me a lot of breathing space to play and experiment. So that's what I'll do, while I have the chance.

    (I do wish I could think of a title I like, though. That always makes me feel better no matter what other challenges are going on with the work-in-progress.)

    So, five chapters in. And the inaugural Progress Report, even though it opens with chapter five:

    PROGRESS REPORT FOR 7/13-14/2014

    New Words: 4100 (3500 / 600 ) on unnamed fifth chapter. (I may not have chapter names, just the names of the characters they center on.) Royal wastrel Jared, who is also in command of an army company, gets burned (some of his men literally) by accidentally creeping up on the edge of a secret.

    Total Words: 17,750.

    (Here I almost wrote "Book Year" out of habit. Thanks, last eight novels I wrote!)

    Reason For Stopping: Finished the chapter / Added some details, then re-finished the chapter.

    Mammalian Assistance: At any given time, Vegas the Writing Assistant and Nate the Fae Catcher test out their new spot atop a small bookshelf beneath the Writing Room Window.

    Exercise: One walk with Tucker and one walk with Laurie and both dogs around the neighborhood.

    Stimulants: Just apple cider. Non-hard.

    Opening Passage(s): I don't really care much for it but it works well enough for filler until I go back through . . .

    “Shal’s bones, what is that wretched smell?” the soldier riding just behind Jared whined.

    Jared suppressed the urge to pull the young idiot nobleman from his saddle and beat him to death with his own helmet. Jared had ordered quiet, but Ridyard, come straight to their punishment legion from the Shalkarian capital, was green, and well-born, and having trouble following orders from anyone who wasn’t his parents, General Nayim included. They rode through damp marsh-forest where the trail was little better than a cow’s wish, giving an enemy plenty of chances to make an ambush, and the wet would muffle most sounds of the hidden. They shouldn’t be riding at all through country like this, only marching — any rougher and the horses wouldn’t be able to move. But General Nayim ordered them to reach the coast in three days, and they had already burned through half that time negotiating the hoof-sucking path and humid, fetid air that choked the breath out of soldiers and horses alike.

    Darling Du Jour: Nothing springs out at me.

    Submissions Sent Out In June: 2 to magazines.

    Total Submissions Out Right Now: 11 to magazines, 2 to book publishers.

    Non-Research / Review Books In Progress: The Oxford History of Britain by Kenneth O. Morgan; Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD, by Peter Brown. Also reading a speculative book as a Publishers Weekly review that I'd love to rave about here except I can't tell you what it is.
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    "Why Are You The One To Write This Book?" [Jun. 13th, 2014|04:47 pm]
    [Tags|, ]
    [Current Location |Awaiting The Bittersweet Weekend Land]
    [Current Mood |contemplativecontemplative]
    [Current Music |"Let It Go" with Jimmy Fallon's elementary school instruments]

    Over the past few days I've been scouring publisher websites trying to find a place I'd like to send my first Arizona book to. Along with the usual suspects, I've also been perusing the guidelines of various university presses that publish historical fiction, especially the sort based in the Southwestern U.S. And over and over again I see them requiring authors to answer the same question in a cover letter:

    "Why are you the one to write this book?"

    It's almost as ubiquitous as another question I'm seeing often: "What is your marketing plan?" (You show me yours and I'll show you mine!) Like the marketing question, however I feel about a publisher asking it, I can understand the motivation behind asking why. As often or more often than not they receive proposals for books rather than full finished manuscripts. And in the case of the university presses, most of their catalogs are non-fiction and, unlike the paper tiger's share of news outlets these days, their reputations can be made or broken on accuracy. There's still the "historical" in historical fiction, and I know they don't want to publish an historical novel that proves to be wildly inaccurate.

    So there are a lot of answers I suppose I could give. All of them entail the amount of research put into the novel one way or another, which also dovetails with another question they ask about the scope of your research. But really, the one I may end up giving boils down to one simple reply.

    I'm the one to write it because I've already written it, and no one else did.

    Take my Arizona books. From the very first day of my first trip out to Arizona in 1987 I knew I wanted to write a giant, multigenerational historical epic about it. The idea never left my mind; on and off over the years I created characters and storylines, and decided which historical events I wanted to rope into my corral. But I never wrote it. This was partly because I was waiting for someone else to do it - preferably someone actually from Arizona. (Or, hope against hope, my giant multigenerational historical epic inspiration James Michener himself.)

    And I waited, and waited.

    A quarter-century passed like this. By that point I'd written my Shenandoah novels, so I decided just to go ahead and write the Arizona novel (which became a series) myself.

    So again...I am the one to write these books because I'm the one who did. Ditto with the Shenandoah novels. (The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia attracts a lot of authors who like the Civil War, but anything set before that is scant, and afterwards practically nonexistent.)

    Hey, I gave everyone else a whole generation to write it, and nobody stepped up. So there you go.

    I think that may be my reply from now on if anyone asks me why I should be the one to do something, or who do I think I am to do it.

    Or if I haven't done it yet, I'll just reply "I'll answer that once I've done it". I think that covers plenty of ground.
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    How Jay Lake Saved My Life [Jun. 2nd, 2014|12:37 pm]
    [Current Location |Alive And Well]
    [Current Mood |contemplativecontemplative]

    This is not the entry I would like to have returned to blogging with after a month-long hiatus. But then again, this is an entry I hoped I wouldn't have to write for a long time, because (for reasons I'll make plain shortly) I wasn't going to write it while Jay was still with us. And I'd hoped that despite everything, he would still have years yet. But his passing yesterday after the six-year bout with cancer(s) that he documented so thoroughly over the years has gotten me reflecting about many things, of which this one item I'll share publicly because it's one example of his generosity.

    To sum up: Jay Lake in all likelihood saved my life. I mean that literally.

    I never met Jay in person, but we became Live Journal friends about nine years ago or so. I'd started hearing his name from other writer friends who blogged on LJ, and was instantly fascinated by his posts about the writing process as well as his fearless political posts. (Some people said he had a reputation for being arrogant or condescending; I never saw that. He was frank and unashamed of his beliefs and his writing, and didn't suffer fools, and I think this rubbed a few people the wrong way. But those tend to be the sort of people who need to be rubbed the wrong way. Anyway.)

    In the summer of 2009, I was bitten by a spider on my left arm. The bite got swollen; I was advised to ice it. The swelling went down and I thought nothing more of it for a few weeks as I went about my normal routines, which included a 45-60 minute workout three to four days a week. Then both arms started swelling up again. I resumed icing them. This time I knew I'd need to see a doctor about it, but while I had insurance, I wouldn't be able to get to a doctor for a few days. At the time money was super-tight and I was, as the saying goes, living from paycheck to four days before paycheck. I was a few days away from a paycheck, thus I was a few days away from seeing a doctor.

    Now one of Jay's political leanings was being an unabashed supporter of Obamacare, and he had numerous lively discussions about it on his blog. I commented on one of these at the time, citing my frustration about not having money for a doctor visit. It was a passing remark, bolstering some comment about medical expenses that he'd made, and I thought no more about it.

    At least I didn't think about it again till the next day, when money showed up in my Paypal account with the note that it was from Jay Lake, telling me to go to the doctor. I won't say how much but it covered the next two visits...out of what became five appointments over the course of two weeks.

    Because that's the kind of person he was. And he refused to let me pay it back, instead insisting that I pay it forward.

    So to the doctor I went. She checked out my arms and was horrified. The swelling I thought had gone "down" was in fact the fluid in my arm hardening - hastened by the ice I'd been using. Between that and my workouts, the doctor told me that it was an almost complete certainty that within the next few days a piece of that hardened fluid would have broken off, caused a block somewhere, and likely become fatal. In other words, that few days' wait for my paycheck that Jay eliminated very well could have been lethal.

    I got a round of antibiotics - also paid for with the money Jay gave me - with instructions not to exercise beyond a gentle walk for a month.

    I told Jay all of this. He still wouldn't accept any repayment. His first cancer had been going for a year by this point and I told him I knew about his own health issues; he told me he'd been helped this way in the past and was now passing that help along. Eventually he did consent to me sending him a signed copy of The City Beyond Play, but that was all.

    I did also vow to him that I wouldn't tell anyone about this publicly. That was my idea - he never asked it of me. I was just afraid people might start begging him for money if I did.

    Two months ago, at last, I was in a position to pay it forward, and with Jay in mind I did so. A friend who was unemployed and uninsured had to be rushed into an emergency surgery, and wasn't sure how she could pay for it. I sent her the amount Jay had sent me. I knew it wouldn't have as profound an effect as his donation did for me, but I could do it, so I did.

    And I let Jay know that I had. Despite being what I know now was so close to death, he sent me back an e-mail thanking me for letting him know and - because he was still generous even then - wishing both my friend and me good health.

    So while many people are remembering Jay's personality, his Hawaiian shirts, his stories and his writing work ethic, I'm remembering him for my existence.

    Thank you, Jay. I won't forget, and I'll keep paying it forward whenever I can.
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    Our Story Thus Far [Apr. 23rd, 2014|09:39 pm]
    [Tags|, , ]
    [Current Location |Two Steps Closer Land]
    [Current Mood |optimisticoptimistic]
    [Current Music |Frozen]

    Things are still rolling along, and so long as they do I feel like I can actually breathe.

    Inspections and exterminations of The House are done. Title search is underway and should be finished soon (at least I hope it will, but The House has only had one owner in all its nearly fifty years - the owner which also had it built, and who happens to be my employer). I may have a closing date by tomorrow; for all that, I might've gotten one today except the closing lawyer was out. Nearly all of my books are packed, and I can still walk through every room amid the cardboard box canyons. I've also had two offers of free-loan pickup trucks, which is especially nice.

    Only two of our animals have ever changed residences before, and they've long since gotten used to the idea of all the boxes being packed. The others are blissfully unaware and simply think the stacks are cool places to lounge atop. Or stand guard.




    I still don't have my car back, but the engine has arrived and the mechanic has retrieved his engine lifter, so I'm hoping that won't be much longer either.

    Book Snatch posted an interview with me yesterday which was especially fun, particularly the question about the weirdest thing I'd ever done. Even filtering it to only stuff I'd talk about in public, that remained a pretty wide field.

    The Still-Unnamed For-Fun Fantasy Novel also continues. It's up to 7300 words at the moment, three scenes that will probably comprise chapters 2 (the first scene I wrote) and 3. I'd probably be farther along except I keep going back and rewriting chunks of chapter 2, and sooner rather than later will change and expand the ending. I'm still in Seat Of My Pants mode just as a fun experiment. Today the book revealed that one storyline will involve about half the characters and the attempt to build a giant library and museum on the edge of the desert. There will be politics and cultural convolutions surrounding that, but so far it's different enough from Pillars of the Earth that I'm not too worried about it seeming derivative.

    And it's been consistently warm and sunny for the past few days, which always makes me happier regardless of whatever else is going on.

    Anyway, I feel change in the wind, I'm relatively happy thus far with the Triple-F Novel, I've caught myself looking forward to the summer. Please, Universe, don't do anything to mess that up. :)
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    Writing As Nerve Therapy [Apr. 13th, 2014|08:26 pm]
    [Tags|, ]
    [Current Location |A Canyon Of Boxes]
    [Current Mood |Wheel-Spinning]
    [Current Music |"Fly Me To The Moon" ala The Virginia Gentlemen]

    Friday might have been a watershed day for the 2014 As Holding Pattern part of my life, but it fizzled out with a whimper.

    The bank approved my loan for The House over a week ago; now I'm waiting for the USDA underwriters to process the paperwork, and they estimated it might be done by the end of this past week, but I heard nothing from them or the bank by Friday afternoon. Likewise, the new engine for my poor car was estimated to arrive by Friday as well, but I heard nothing from the mechanic. After all the shenanigans the non-local branch of the bank I'm dealing with were doing with my loan until I caught them out - nearly delaying it long enough for them to raise my interest rate a second time, which might still happen if this process extends into May despite my ultimatim to get the closing moving by this week - and hitting the one-month anniversary of my car being towed to the mechanic, it's safe to say I was a bundle of nerves.

    So when Saturday came with me still stuck in the same Holding Patterns, I decided to try easing my nerves with a bit of writing. (This is a time-proven remedy.) In this case I tried out one of the scenes for the Still-Unnamed For-Fun Fantasy Novel, and wound up knocking out 2100 words. I haven't looked at it since I wrote it so I don't have much of an idea if it's any good at all yet, but those are 2100 more words than I had on Saturday morning. I'm pleased just to have gotten it done at all, and it did help soothe me a bit. It seems like good Chapter 2 material, if I can decide what I want to write as Chapter 1.

    It would also be a full chapter. After writing three novels where each chapter was an era covering years or sometimes decades, a 2100-word chapter feels pretty good.

    So anyway, some amelioration accomplished. It was warm out too, and I also capped the day with a butter popcorn-filled movie night (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) with my friends Sam, Leah, and Sam's daughter Heavenly-ann, along with some snuggly cats and puppies. All of the above helped calm my nervous wreckness as well.

    But now that I'm mostly calmed down, I've got to gear up for a reading I'm giving tomorrow - an excerpt from Lest Camelot Fall, which I'll be presenting as part of National Library Week (alongside two other campus authors) at the campus library. And that's nerve-wracking not just from the whole reading in public thing, but even at this late date I still haven't decided yet what I'm going to read. (I have several possibilities, but I'm fussing back and forth through each one over and over, deciding on one and then discarding it, deciding and discarding, like a manic writer who can't get past that first paragraph until it's perfect.)

    I'll probably write some more on For-Fun Fantasy novel tomorrow, then. With the hope that it's warm out. And maybe I'll even get some good news about The House or my car.

    In the meantime, Tucker was happily calm today because he got to visit his cow buddies again. He's usually good to go after a short belly rub too.


    And it doesn't hurt to get a car ride that doesn't end at the vet, either.


    Maybe I should find my Tucker Zen.
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    Oh Hi, Excitable Brain, I Remember You [Apr. 10th, 2014|10:31 pm]
    [Tags|, , ]
    [Current Location |Where The Book Pursues]
    [Current Mood |mischievousmischievous]
    [Current Music |"The Entertainer" by Scott Joplin]

    As those of you who read this journal know, I have a dog named Tucker, also known by his extended nickname of Tucker the Big Dog. (He's not that large, actually, but this distinguishes him from our other pooch, Weezie the Little Dog.) In his younger years...and he might still try this now at the age of 12...he would stand at our front door, look outside, look at me, look back outside, look back at me, and promise that if I let him outside without leash or line he would be good, he really really would behave himself, no really.

    But if he did manage to get outside he would burst away like he'd been blasted off the surface of the Earth by a meteor strike. He would run and run and run and there was no stopping him. He could be a mile away in five minutes. He would run up and down the streets, through the woods, all over campus, all over the mountain we lived on. Sometimes he would come close by us, maybe less than ten feet away, but with a big grin on his face that told us he was playing and had no intention of being caught.

    Usually the only times we would catch him were when someone else tricked him into coming to them by offering pettings or treats, if he got stuck in something like a fence, or when he was finally done hours later and would show up on the porch as if he had not instigated a five square-mile dog hunt.

    Tucker pretending to be oh so yes-daddy-I'm-just-a-poor-innocent-dog! Rub my belly please?

    I'm telling this story because this is what my brain is doing to me now. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you; I just have to remember to chase it.

    My historical novels over the last few years, including my historical fantasy To Murder an Empire, have been like taking Tucker out on his leash. Sometimes we go around the neighborhood or campus, or sometimes we go hiking in the mountain woods. They're pretty orderly and methodical. Hiking can lead to a lot of uncharted territory, but there's no wild running off hither and yon to follow every scent or chasing after every little noise just beyond the trees ahead.

    But then along comes the for-fun fantasy novel I wrote about a couple of days ago. It's just like Tucker. It stood at the door saying "Please just let me out, I'll be good..." And I fell for it, and it took off. And now I'm chasing it all over the neighborhood and the forest and the mountains, frenetically writing down every snatch and scrap of idea that it comes across and shoots after.

    Of course, this time I'm enjoying it. I don't have to worry about the book getting hit by a car, or shot by a grumpy reclusive neighbor, or bitten by a sick animal, or whatever. I've decided just to let it bolt whichever way it wants while I run after it breathlessly, filling pages and scrap paper full of names and places, bits of world-building, and even a plot point or storyline here and there. So far I've been able to keep up with it just so long as I keep a sharp eye out.

    Eventually I'll catch up with it and put it on a leash (i.e., an outline)...for a little while. Then once it's rested I'll probably let it take off again. Just to see where it goes. I need the exercise and to whip myself into a bit better shape.

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    The Fun Of Writing For Fun [Apr. 8th, 2014|06:08 pm]
    [Tags|, , ]
    [Current Location |Days From A New Place (I Hope) Land]
    [Current Mood |Contrary]
    [Current Music |"I'm Against It" by Groucho Marx]

    It's been three weeks now since I've done any writing, at least beyond this blog, and this is not a state I'm happy with either physically or mentally. It seems to be one of the holding patterns that have characterized 2014 thus far - in this case, I didn't want to start writing the next Arizona Book yet, I've only just begun researching the Mississippi River Book, and I'm still waiting for a yea or nay on the Secret Project. So I was wondering what I might write next in the meantime, at least when I snatch time away from packing and the other house buying-related rigamarole.

    An odd answer came unbidden to me last night: Write something for fun.

    This is almost a foreign concept to me. I mean, sure, I have fun with everything I write. If I didn't, I wouldn't write it. But this wicked notion was to write something only for fun. Not with an eye to publishing, with absolutely no self-editor, but just writing whatever I felt like writing and however I felt like writing it and with a minimum (or no) research involved. Like an extended NaNoWriMo.

    It wouldn't be the first time I've done this, though it has been a long time. The last time I wrote a novel solely for the pleasure of it was back in 2005, with my so-far one-and-only young adult fantasy novel The Dark Horse. This was also an experiment to see if I could write YA fantasy. I'm not that great at objectively judging my own work so I still don't know whether or not I can write YA fantasy, as I've never submitted the book anywhere in all that time. (Maybe I should now. But that's another post.)

    I say the idea popped into my head last night. But I think it's been boiling for awhile.

    I've had various bits and pieces of a fantasy novel drifting into my head over the past few months. Characters, scenes, and locales with a bit of world-building. It seems very loosely based on the ex-Roman Imperial world of the 7th-9th centuries A.D., though not so close as to require huge chunks of historical research. I'm particularly fascinated by an assassin with an extremely unusual specialty. I'm also fond of some various ancient locales built underneath modern locales. But none of those started coalescing until last night's idea...and then further solidified when I happened to wake up with the idea of swiping some characters and countries from a couple of fantasy novels I wrote in the early 90s for it too. Not the old storylines, just the populations. (And coincidentally I found my notes for those books - though not the books themselves - today while looking for something else.)

    This would be, to say the least, an interesting experiment. I would write a general outline, a file of characters and places, and my standard "Here's What Happens In The Book" pages of notes, added to randomly as I thought of things. But it wouldn't be intended as a primary project; it would be written around other things, most likely. It would be written in fits and starts as I snatch bits of time for it. It would be written with no expectations - except that it was being done for fun.

    I wonder if that's even possible for me at this point. No expectations, I mean, and only for fun, and not with an eye to publishing (though reserving the right to try after the book is done). Just free-flowing, no angst, no headaches or heartaches writing.

    And something that would keep me from going three weeks or longer without writing again. That's just untenable for me, and it's gotta go.

    And really, I kind of like the idea of completely writing a book off the top of my head, rather than one partly driven by research or another author's notes and outline. The Dark Horse was the last time I did that. This may be the most appealing part of all.

    Now, since I seem to be behind on my quota of Internet Animal pictures, here is a picture of Tucker the Big Dog visiting one of his bovine buddies:

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    Oh Look, Snow (With 8 Pictures) [Mar. 25th, 2014|08:50 pm]
    [Tags|, , ]
    [Current Location |Winter Wondersomething]
    [Current Mood |Semi-Hopeful]
    [Current Music |"I Feel Fine" by the Beatles]

    Don't let the title fool you. I really actually honestly do love snow, quite a lot. I usually complain by the end of each winter that we didn't get enough / any snow, and even after the record-breaking quantities we've gotten this season I'm still not tired of it. (I know, I know. Feel free to throw a virtual snowball-with-rock-inside at my e-head.)

    It's just that I feel better and am generally happier in warmer weather. Good things seem better and bad things seem less bad and more manageable. And here in the currently indecisive climate of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, I've been teased several times with more characteristic spring-like weather. So I know what I'm missing - and remembering that last year it also snowed in April.

    On the other hand, that doesn't stop me from taking lots of pictures (nothing does, except armed guards standing beside signs ordering NO PICTURES watching me watching them). Plus I don't think I've fulfilled my Internet Animal Pictures Quota yet. So here are some dog-and-scenery shots from this morning's walk in the mountain woods, starring Tucker and puffy snow.


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