Saturday, August 31, 2013

Puppy, Loss, and Change

Darcy at 16 weeks

On Book View Cafe blog, my husband has been blogging about our life and adventures with Darcy, which are now coming to a close. Darcy will be returning to his breeder, who will find him an owner capable of training him to his full potential.

Despite all our care and knowledge about dogs, our age (both of us in our mid-60s) and other competing demands on our energy made it increasingly difficult to give Darcy the training and attention that an smart, intense, high-drive dog needs. This was especially true since at 4 months, Darcy is entering adolescence and testosterone is upping the intensity. Even so, we have given him a foundation of house manners, basic commands (sit/down/come/leave-it/loose-leash walking) and excellent socialization with other dogs. He plays happily with the neighbor's two Labradors, who are big enough to enjoy the kind of rough and tumble that so often characterizes German Shepherd Dogs. At his breeder's, he'll have a chance to play with his sister until he goes to a new home. He's a confident, outgoing dog.

What brings our "temporary parenthood" to a close is a larger, human drama. Today I will be leaving for another state to help care for my dear friend and her family in the final weeks or months of her life. I posted pictures of us a few days back. She's asked me to be present when she dies. I feel honored and humbled by the request. One of the hard realities is that Dave, my husband, cannot manage Darcy alone. So life changes act like dominoes, one cascading into another. Life gets shaken up, fractured into pieces we sometimes don't even recognize. The shapes and colors are foreign, and yet as they settle into their new configuration, they find a harmony there as well. We know, intuitively if not in so many words, that change has brought us everything we love, but that all those things are ours "on loan." We are stewards, not owners. Of land, of animals, of the hearts of those we love and who love us. When these things pass from us, we honor them with our grief.

Darcy goes to the prospect of a full and happy life, doing work he and his ancestors were bred for. I go to offer myself to help ease my friend's passage, to fill her days with the joys of a long friendship, to care for her family. Dave has farewells and awakenings of his own. Our journeys are not identical, nor should they be. He will hold the space for me to return, my anchor, just as I do for him.

Lesson for today: Don't wait to tell the people you love how you feel.

"The Hero of Abarxia"

I'm so glad to see When The Hero Comes Home 2 is now available, partly because I'm tickled to be in an anthology with some amazing writers, and partly because my story, "The Hero of Abarxia," is a special favorite of mine. All right, I confess, all my stories have their places in my heart. Why would I submit anything less than a story I'm in love with myself?

In my novel-length work, I'd been revisiting my love of horses and the horse characters (one might say, the horse heroes) in The Seven-Petaled Shield, most particularly the middle volume, Shannivar, due out in December from DAW. So when this anthology opened up, that part of my creative mind pricked her ears, tossed her mane, and invited me to come for a gallop. And what a ride it was! This was one of those stories that just writes itself. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it!

The anthology is edited by Gabrielle Harbowy and Ed Greenwood, and also features stories by Chaz Brenchley, Mercedes Lackey, Juliette Wade, Cliff Winnig, Fanny Darling, and a whole bunch of other fine writers. The ebook edition contains bonus stories not found in the print version, and it's available now at a discounted price.

epub/Nook version.

mobi/Kindle version.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Writer's Life: Interruptions

When I first started writing, way back in fourth grade, I worked on one story at a time. It never occurred to me that it was possible to have multiple writing projects in different stages. As I got older, the pile of stories begun and then abandoned grew, too. I noticed how rare it was for me to return to a story once I’d run out of steam. I either wrote it all the way through or it ended up on the Pile of Doom. Through high school and college (summers), I completed more of what I began. My gift to myself after graduating college was to write a novella, and after graduated school, I finished my first novel. (All of these were utterly unpublishable, but they had beginnings, middles, and most importantly, endings.) I was still at the stage of On/Off writing.

Shortly after my first child brought joy and unanticipated chaos to my life, my writing career shifted into a new gear, with both fanzine publications and my first professional short story sale. Over the next decade or so, I had to learn a new mode of writing: On/Off/On/Off/On…. For one thing, I often had only very short periods of time in which to madly type out the scenes I had been rehearsing in my head (see my article, “How I Write When There Is No Time” in Book View CafĂ©’s Brewing Fine Fiction.) For another, I was writing both novels and short fiction. Sometimes I’d stick the shorter works in between drafts of the novels, which was helpful in terms of “clearing my head” so that I could return to the novel with fresh eyes. Sometimes, I had a specific market and deadline for the short story and had to set aside the novel in whatever stage it was in. I would do just that, with no special preparation, and then re-read what I had written to “come up to speed.” Most of the time, that would be sufficient to jog my memory about what I intended to come next. Occasionally I’d be left with the vague and disquieting feeling that I’d forgotten some brilliant plot twist or other element. Such are the risks of being a “pantser” (writing “by the seat of the pants”) instead of using outlines.

Gradually I made more sales, novels as well as short stories, and improved my skill at alternating projects in different stages (Project 1 first draft – Project 2 – outline – Project 1 revise – Project 2 first draft… revise). I experimented with sequential leapfrogging and with handling different projects at different times of day (mornings for revision, afternoons for first drafts, or vice versa). So far, so good.

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Moment of Authorial Glee

Some moments are true high points in a writer's life. Holding a copy of your first book (or an anthology containing your first published short story). Your first fan mail. The first time a reader comes up to you at a convention and says how much they enjoyed your work (even if you secretly fear no one has read it!)

Some moments never become blase -- or shouldn't. Seeing the cover painting for an upcoming release is always fraught with uncertainty. Did the artist "get" it (did the artiste even have a copy of the manuscript to work from?) Did sales glitz triumph over good taste? Did the gender, age, or race of the main character get altered?

I just saw the final cover painting for Shannivar, the second volume of The Seven-Petaled Shield, and am so filled with delight that I'm practically bouncing up and down. Alas, I cannot show it to you because it's not a real cover yet. It needs title, etc., which should be coming along shortly. I just needed to tell someone how right the folks at DAW and my amazing cover artist, Matt Stawicki, got it.

Shannivar is an Azkhantian warrior, that people being based partly on the Scythians and the Mongols. She's Asian, not white, and she's seriously kick-ass. The cover shows her beautiful honey-dark skin, black hair, and slanted eyes. She's wearing warm, colorful clothing that she can actually ride and fight in (as the cover shows!) Matt even got some wonderful details, like the wings on her vest, symbolizing her Golden Eagle clan, and the red hue of the horse her cousin is riding in the background.

Stay tuned for a peek at the real thing!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The "Middle Book" of a Trilogy

I’m in the process of proofreading  Shannivar, the second volume of a fantasy trilogy (The Seven-Petaled Shield). As is typical, I swing between elation at what I’ve accomplished (“This is brilliant!” “I nailed it!”) and wishing I could take the whole thing apart and put it back together right. I’m also reflecting on the challenges and joys of “middle books.”

Middle books present particular challenges that reflect whether they are truly the second of three parts or whether they are “the continuing adventures” of a successful-but-complete first book. A trilogy is like a three-act structure, only on steroids. The whole work gets fractal, if I’m using that term correctly. Overall, you have three books, but each book has a three-act or four-act architecture within it. And each scene has its own buildup and partial resolution of tension, etc.

In a successful trilogy, the second book soars. It takes off like a rocket from the firm foundation that has been established in the first book, using the unresolved or partially-resolved tension to get a running start. There’s a great freedom in middle books because the “problem” – the threat or goal – has already been established. It may be clarified or elaborated or modified, but we’re not starting from scratch. Now we have the freedom to ratchet up the tension, increase the stakes, have a gazillion things go wrong wrong OMG DISASTER. I wonder if many middle books have a soggy quality because they limit themselves to “getting from here to there” instead of “swamp-malaria-alligators-sinkhole-hurricane-ALIENS FROM SPACE-PLANET GO SPLODY!” Middle books work when every turn makes the situation exponentially worse and our characters have to work that much harder and suffer that much more.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Puppy and House Rules

Darcy is almost 12 weeks old, and well on his way to figuring out that our house has Rules. The learning process is faster for some things and slower for others, depending on how rewarding the undesirable behavior is and what the natural consequences are. He'll be about 85 lbs when full grown, so he has no "puppy license" indulgence. It's essential that he learn manners.

First, a few Rules:
  • Sit nicely for attention
  • Dogs are not allowed in the kitchen
  • Dogs get fed only from their bowl and only at mealtimes (except for training treats)
  • No paws on furniture or people
  • No chewing on anything but dog toys
  • Respect the cats
  • Crate is a fun and safe place to hang out
In addition, we have a few rules that pertain to walkies: walk on loose leash, sit when car, people or other dogs approach and wait for the release signal before moving on, that sort of thing. He's doing quite well with the sit/check-in. We always walk with a bag of tiny liver treats. Good behavior gets marked with "Yes!" and a tasty treat. Interestingly, the first part of this he "got" was the sit-when-car-approaches. He already had the idea of "when in doubt, sit." From there, it wasn't hard to watch for the slightest lowering-of-butt and reinforce it. From there, a full sit. We're in transition from sit-staring-at-car to sit-watching-Mom. Breaking the fixed stare is an important aspect of manners with a high-prey-drive dog like Darcy.