Saturday, April 30, 2011

Accidental Communities in Writing

I've been working on a story for the next Sword and Sorceress and thinking about the special pleasure of re-visiting the anthology series. My first professional sale was to the very first  volume (1984, DAW) and began my relationship to Marion as my editor. For a time, the celebrations of those two events overshadowed more quiet aspects. That anthology contained stories by writers who'd already established themselves, but for others, this was either a first sale or close enough. Thus began a very special fellowship of those of us who got our start in publishing by appearing together in Marion's anthology. Many of my writerly friendships began with "Hi, I'm Deborah. We both had stories in Sword and Sorceress," as if that were a secret hand-shake.There is no secret hand-shake, but there are ways of opening a conversation (especially if the next part is, "and I loved your story!")

Friday, April 29, 2011

Internet Conversations

I've been experimenting with various ways to be present on the "intarwebs," as my kids call this cyberspace universe. I started years ago on GEnie, and some of those friendships have lasted and deepened over the years. It was all text, of course, but for many of us, the format promoted conversation and fostered a sense of community. Not that there weren't flame wars, of course. I quickly learned to UNMark certain topics! For a number of years, GEnie was going to go away, everyone would run around being upset, and the upsetness further served the sense of loyalty to one another. Eventually, GEnie really did die, and I was one of those online during the final countdown. Dueling Modems got set up as a "bolt-hole" and eventually many people migrated there and to the topics. I did, although I found the format much less easy to use.

My kids dragged me into LiveJournal by the simple strategy of informing me that if I wanted to know what they were doing (both of them being on their own), I should read theirs.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Can I Write If I'm Grieving?

In a way, this post follows from ones I've previously written, about how to "settle" into writing, how and whether to write when the inspiration isn't there. And writing as a path to healing. Yesterday I had a nice topic all picked out, and then in the early evening, I received news that my dear friend and Quaker mentor had died. I spent most of last evening in shock and sorrow, and today's not much better. I keep a box of tissues handy. But one thing I've learned is that as long as I can write, I can move through even terrible and dark times.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Overcoming the Inertial Hump: Settling Down to Write

It often seems to me that we writers walk a high wire tightrope (or is that a redundant phrase?) On the one hand, the world is filled with excuses not to write, diversions and distractions. The would-be writer who does nothing beyond researching his novel and never writes a word is an object lesson here. Life is full of things that "need" our attention. On the other hand, we're told over and over, directly and indirectly, that professional writers sit down and write. They put in their page or word quotas, come rain or shine. I've read how-to books that contain specific instructions on how to "train" yourself to write at the same time every day, no matter what else is going on or how you feel.

Sometimes, I feel like a ping-pong ball, bouncing between two "shoulds." I should attend to my inner muse, let her lead me, write only when I'm inspired. Or I should approach my writing day in a professional and craftsmanlike manner, applying fanny to chair at precisely 9 am and immediately pouring forth the next scene. The fact is, neither works for me.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

RPGs: Controversies R Us

Over on BVC blog, I posted a response to a column on SF Signal on the relationship between RPGs and sf/f writing. My view is that there's an overlap but not a causal connection. I seem to have gotten a bunch of people upset (this is a good thing). Check it out and let me know what you think. It's not a matter of who's right and who's crazy, but that we all have different experiences and if we listen to one another, we can learn stuff.

How Gossip Can Trash Your Writing Career

Volumes have been written about ways to offend a prospective agent or editor: unprofessional queries, manuscripts printed in purple ink on yellow paper in Gothic font, annoying phone calls, even stalking -- the story of the manuscript pushed under the door of the toilet stall is legendary.These tactics backfire not just because they are obnoxious and immediately communicate that the writer has not a clue about publishing protocol and appropriate behavior. They constitute an abuse of the agent’s or editor’s time (and eyesight).

Editors and agents are, it goes without saying, human beings with hopes and dreams, families and outside problems. They have good days, bad days, and times they use less than perfect judgment. Most of them love their work and want to love ours. Now more than ever, the publishing industry is under tremendous pressure -- implosion might be a more apt description. In addition to their regular duties, most editors find themselves staggering under the burden of more and more non-editorial work, not to mention worrying about how they’re going to buy groceries if the firm goes belly-up. Anything that a writer does that adds to the crap level in an editor’s life must raise the question, “Is this worth the hassle, when there are a dozen equally promising projects that don’t come with strings?”

Monday, April 25, 2011

Why I'm a Writer: Work of the Heart

Recently, I've been reading Lapham's Quarterly, the Spring 2011 issue "Lines of Work." (Lapham's Quarterly is a trade paperback sized journal that includes contemporary as well as historical essays on a given topic; it's a wonderful and rich potpourri of ideas, a cross-cultural education in itself.) One of the recurring themes that struck me was how work that is meaningless ends up alienating the worker from himself. "Putting in time," performing tasks that have nothing to do with who we are, that offer nothing of nourishment to us except a regular paycheck, all these things mean that we are not and cannot be ourselves for the greater part of our days. Life is difficult enough and short enough as it is. What a waste of something precious.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Interview: Deborah and Northlight

Blogger "Cookie's Mom" interviewed me about Northlight here. She asked questions no one had ever posed before, and I had a great time talking about the characters and the history of the book.

Here's what I said about Kardith, who's got to be one of my all-time favorite characters:

I'd written a bunch of strong, competent women in my stories for Sword & Sorceress (ed. Marion Zimmer Bradley) and I'd spent a fair amount of time hanging around with other women martial artists. In the '80s and '90s, there was this amazing network of women writers who also practiced martial arts. I didn't base Kardith on any one person, but I did learn about how women make their way in a man's world (the dojo, the physics laboratory, etc.). But characters who are always strong get boring quickly, and from the first, I realized there must be something really dark in Kardith's past life to make her so unafraid of physical risk. What's the opposite of physical risk? Emotional risk. And why would she be so terrified of it... ?


Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Book of My Friend

One of the most rewarding and most challenging aspects of being a social person and a writer is that I've been able to meet, chat with, and sometimes becomes friends with many of my favorite living authors. (I have yet to figure out how to do that with Jane Austen or Robert Louis Stevenson.) I've experienced all kinds of variations of the theme: Deborah = newbie, friend = established pro; Deborah = established pro, friend = newbie; Deborah and friend both started careers about the same time, swapped critiques, agonized over reviews, etc., and the kicker: Deborah = established pro, established friend writes first book.

Friday, April 22, 2011

What's in a Name?

Over on Book View Cafe's blog, Laura Anne Gilman posted some insights about to why writers use pseudonyms. One of the most common reasons to avoid the spiral of bookstores ordering fewer and fewer copies of each successive book when sales are disappointing. This can happen to any writer and does not necessarily reflect the quality of the book. She points out, "There is nothing shameful about this: It’s a useful tool, and shows that the publisher still has faith in your ability to tell a good story/win readers."

A writer who's prolific might use more than one name, particularly if she is writing in more than one genre or subgenre. You probably can name a handful without thinking. My favorite is Barbara Hambly, who writes historical mysteries featuring Abigail Adams under the name Barbara Hamilton.

There are also personal reasons for using another name, ranging from having a sensitive day job to having the same name as another writer.

Here's my story, which includes a bunch of reasons.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Reader Responsiveness and New Technology

This is a follow-up to yesterday's post in which Marion discusses why she ended The Shattered Chain the way she did, and the unhappy feedback she'd gotten from some readers. This was part of our early correspondence, in a letter dated 1980. Both her letters and mine were written on typewriters (I have carbon copies of mine -- remember carbon copies?)

Readers have always written to authors. Well, within historical times, anyway. There have been times when letter-writing and -reading occupied a significant portion of a person's day, particularly if that person had no other vocation. Think of the voluminous collections of letters that illuminate our understanding not only of the lives of the people involved, but of times and places.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Marion on THE SHATTERED CHAIN ending

Recently, someone asked me why Northlight ended as it does with regard to the relationship between Terris and Kardith. The reader felt confused about the reciprocality of feeling and whether they were ever going to get together. I answered that it's a measure of the respect and care they have for one another that they don't jump into a stereotyped "happy ending." Each still has growing and healing to do. The story gets these characters to the place where they can make those choices, where their futures are not longer enslaved to the past. To me, this is what makes Northlight a love story: love heals us. Love helps us grow.

The reader reaction reminded me of something Marion told me about how some readers were upset at the ending of The Shattered Chain (Jaelle choosing Peter Haldane). They felt angry, their expectations betrayed. I think that no matter how a writer puts together the pieces of a non-stereotyped ending, people will read through the lens of their own experiences and agendas. Marion wrote in a letter in 1980:

My own feeling about the "unsatisfactory" ending of SHATTERED CHAIN was that Jaelle, being brought up to age 11 or 12 in the Dry Towns (and sexuality is perfectly ell established by five or six, most psychologists now feel) would be pushover for any man who resembled her loved/hated cousin but was not overtly exploitive.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The First Million Words, and Treasures Within

Marion used to say that the first million words were practice, but I have never taken that literally. It's important to give ourselves time to develop as writers, to work and work and hone our craft. Sure, there are rare writers whose first efforts are so good that they sell, but for most of us--particularly those of us who began writing as children or teens--those early stories represent a sort of flopping-about, trying to figure out what makes a good story and how to tell it.

I was in high school when I first started sending stories out, and pathetic amorphous things they were, too. I never got so much as a personal note scribbled on a form rejection slip. A girl in my English class sold a story to a big magazine, or so I'd heard. When I tried to congratulate her, she shrugged as if anyone who really wanted to could be published in a national magazine. I was devastated. I really wanted it, after all. The inescapable conclusion was that I was no good and never would be. The best revenge, they say, is living well. Or in this case, having two shelves of books with my name on or in them.

Monday, April 18, 2011

On the Pricing of E-Books

I think I'm finally settling on what works for me in pricing my ebooks. At first, I waffled all over the place, like a bit of straw buffeted this way and that by every passing idea. And boy, people are full of ideas about this subject. Most of them, however, jump on the bandwagon to lower prices...and lower them some more... They point to phenomena like Amanda Hocking, whose ebooks sell for $2.99 on down. Sometimes, reading these opinions feels like being nibbled by extremely timid but persistent piranhas. Oh, it's just a little bite. You won't miss it. It won't hurt a bit.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

What Goes Around Comes Back With Roses

Last night, I returned from a potluck and worship sharing with our local Quaker meeting to find an email waiting for me with the news that I had been accepted to attend Launch Pad astronomy workshop at the University of Wyoming. It's a NASA-funded workshop for established writers, a sort of “crash course” in modern astronomy science through guest lectures and observation through the University of Wyoming’s professional telescopes. I'd sent off my application some time ago and more or less forgotten about it, except for the occasional wistful thought that although I didn't stand much of a chance, it sure would be wonderful.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Gratitude in Action

As I adjust to the idea of being 64, I'm profoundly grateful for all the blessings in my life. I live in an incredibly beautiful place with a wonderful partner who never ceases to amaze and delight me. I have close, supportive relationships with two fantastic daughters and a sister who's stood by me through terrible times. I've walked through those times, and healed enough to be able to use my own experiences as a wellspring of compassion for others. I have work that I love, work that allows me to continually explore the passions in my life.

Yesterday, over 80 people downloaded the omnibus edition of my first two novels at Book View Cafe. Some perhaps did so just because it was free, but I like to think that most of them experienced what I intended, a celebration of abundance and a sharing of what is meaningful to me. The "When I'm 64" giveaway is over (though you can purchase the omnibus as well as separate novels), but I'm still thinking of ways to "pay forward." Here are a few things that spring to mind. If you have others, please join in.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Ebook giveaway reminder...

Jaydium and Northlight in one omnibus edition, multi-format DRM free, my birthday gift to you!* Click on over to Book View Cafe here and grab yours TODAY ONLY!

A gorgeous and extravagant bouquet of flowers arrived yesterday from a dear friend in Venice (Italy, not California!) so I've had a running start on local celebration. I'm jellyfishing through the morning, getting ready for a nice slow yoga practice and then Mozart and Marion (aka work on The Children of Kings).

*And if you enjoy them, the best way to say thank you is to post a review. Just be sure it's for the ebook edition and not the old print one.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Way In

Or maybe it's The Way Out or The Way Through... What I'm talking about is that leap from story idea to sense of story. Many times, I'll start with something that's just a kernel, a notion, an image, a bit of a scene, an emotional flash. There may be a character...or not. Or a place...or not. Just some bit of thought that perks itself up and says, "I'm going to be a story when I grow up."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fears of Financial Insecurity

Gloomies alert! The sky is gray and drippy. It's tax season. There are a gazillion other reasons to feel less than perky. All worry is divided into two parts: the part that I can deal with or set aside...and the part that makes me nuts. Nuts as in, I can't stop chewing it over, I'm vulnerable to making really bad decisions in a state of panic, I make myself and everyone around me miserable...I can't let go, even when there's nothing to be done.

Money's one of those issues. When my monkey-brain pictures me as a homeless bag lady in about 2 weeks, I need some ammunition. One of my strategies is to understand that when it comes to money, writing is a feast-or-famine endeavor.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Deborah's "When I'm 64" Birthday Present -- to YOU!

Will you still need me
Will you still read me
When I'm 64?

I'm turning 64 on Friday! Yes, it's tax day, so you have no excuse for not celebrating with me.

My novels, Jaydium and Northlight, will be available as multi-format ebooks FREE at Book View Cafe on April 15th. Please pass the word and enjoy the stories!

Queer-Welcoming Anthology Adventures

Today's my day to blog over at Book View Cafe, so do the clickie thing and check out Deborah recounting editing Lace and Blade.

Edited 9/11/11. Since this post went up a while ago, it's been hard for readers to find it in the general BVC blog, so here it is in its entirety:

The recent brouhaha about an anthology (in which a number of authors withdrew their stories after one author was told to change her M/M to heterosexual) highlights for me how much power an editor has in establishing the tone of the anthology. This happens not only through the selection and editing of the stories, but on a much more fundamental level of concept and outreach. The editor’s vision for the book and the care and inclusiveness with which the authors are invited have a profound effect on what gets submitted and by whom.
In 2007, I was asked by Vera Nazarian of Norilana Books if I’d like to edit an anthology. This was something I’d thought about for a long time. I’d had both wonderful and awful experiences from the writerly standpoint, and I had formed opinions about how I wanted to treat my authors. I also thought it would be a great thing to work with my favorite writers and to meet new ones. After some discussion, we arrived at a topic: romantic, swashbuckling “sword & sorcery” fantasy with wit and intelligence. The title, Lace and Blade, was one Vera came up with to describe this particular flavor of fantasy.
Because we wanted to bring the first volume out the following Valentine’s Day and time was short, I decided to make the first volume by invitation. Tanith Lee had already agreed to send a story, and I contacted a number of authors that I knew either personally or professionally, authors I could count on to understand the concept and deliver fine stories. I specifically stated in the guidelines:
This is not “Romance” but “romance,” a play of sensibilities, a vision of something wondrous but not sentimentalized, from bittersweet to transcendent, stirring the heart, but not stereotyped “love stories.” I have no objection to happy endings (or heterosexuality, or monogamy), but I do not require them. … Alternate sexuality is welcome, although this is not specifically gay-themed — these are stories of the heart, not the plumbing.

In other words, I wanted to see stories of love and adventure for all of us, queer and straight. I believe that we all benefit by celebrating love (and courage and compassion) in its wondrous and diverse forms.
One of the authors I contacted was BVC’s Chaz Brenchley. I’d read a little of his work and loved it. He sent me “In the Night Street Baths,” which featured an intimate relationship between two eunuchs, complete with a steamy sex scene (steamy in more than one sense, since it takes place in the baths). I say intimate rather than romantic because of the subtlety and complexity with which Chaz portrayed an unusual relationship. One doesn’t typically think of eunuchs of having love lives, let alone sexuality, so the story is startling and disquieting as well as deeply moving.

Many of the other stories fell comfortably within the parameters of traditional heterosexual fiction, beautifully rendered but not likely to discomfit the conservative reader. (Or so I thought. It turns out that the only reader reviews on that objected to sexual content found it all to be distasteful.) I was pleased that my anthological “tent” was big enough to include them all. It offered “something for everyone,” and “something to enlarge most people’s reading experience.”

I’d worked with Marion Zimmer Bradley for long enough, as an author she edited as well as a personal friend, to know that the narrower the scope of an anthology and the more rigid the guidelines, the deeper into the slush pile you have to dig. The stories that can hit a tiny target and offer excellent quality are few and far between.

I wanted excellence and I also wanted stories that pushed me–and my readers–just a little over the edge, that made my world larger and richer and more filled with possibilities. Chaz and BVC members Sherwood Smith and Madeleine E. Robins, Tanith Lee, Mary Rosenblum, Robin Wayne Bailey, Diana L. Paxson, Dave Smeds and Catherine Asaro sent me stories that answered the spirit of the premise in rainbow profusion. Reader response suggested that although not every story was to every reader’s taste, every reader found something to love, and every story reached the hearts of some readers.

After the anthology came out, Steve Berman of Lethe Press contacted me to reprint Chaz’s story in Wilde Stories 2009: The Year’s Best Gay SF. Other stories in the first volume appeared on LOCUS Recommended Reading, and Mary Rosenblum’s “Night Wind” was a Nebula Finalist.

We’re all different in what delights and inspires us, not just queer/straight and male/female, but as individuals. I suspect that the differences between one person and another are far greater than between sexually/gender-identified groups. And I hope to play a small part in creating a world in which no one feels invisible or excluded.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Hero of Queer-Welcoming Fiction

Via Jim Hines's LiveJournal entry, Wicked Pretty Things and the Erasure of LGBTQ Characters, a story that makes me so angry and so sad, it's beyond words.

Last month, Jessica Verday withdrew her story from the Wicked Pretty Things anthology after receiving a note from the editor which stated that her story “would have to be published as a male/female story because a male/male story would not be acceptable to the publishers.”

The publisher apparently denied such a bias, and the editor apologized. Whose fault it was and where the misunderstanding (if such it was) occurred is not within the scope of this blogpost. What happened next is. A group of authors pulled their stories from this and other anthologies from that publisher. Now to the awesome part.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Path Through the Woods: Thinking Clearly

Life is full of aggravations, reversals, and Things To Get Upset About. We can look at some of them and shrug. Even though they may be spectacular and full of melodrama, we have the choice of how much power we grant them to disrupt our lives (read: derange our minds). That is, going nuts over this particular issue or situation is optional. Thank goodness we don't all go bonkers about the same things at the same time! How concerned and upset we are is a spectrum, and we can move deeper into engagement or we can withdraw and turn our attention elsewhere.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Thinking About Story Beginnings

Kay Kenyon is not only a terrific writer, but she has a wonderful gift for explaining story construction. If you're a writer, even an experienced writer, I urge you to follow her blog, Writing the World. Lately, she's been talking about where stories begin and how to engage the reader's interest. Since I'm definitely in the camp of Wrong Point Of Entry Writers, I always appreciate new and helpful ways of looking at the issue.

Friday, April 8, 2011


No, not walking back and forth in an agitated manner...

Not controlling the speed of action and rise of tension in your story...

The insight that came to me over morning oatmeal had to do with pacing myself. That is, balancing the outflow of words (ideas, scenes...) and "refilling the well."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Handful of Easy Reading Fantasies

I've been having way too much fun with these,

Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones. Any new book by Jones is a delicious treat, a reason to put down whatever else I'm doing and curl up with a cup of tea. This one, however, came with special poignancy because I received it just after I learned of her death. So I opened the pages with a kind of sadness, not wanting to admit that in many ways, this was farewell. (If there is another book to be published posthumously, I don't know of it.)

And found magic. Within a few paragraphs, her clear prose and unaffectedly direct storytelling had drawn me into a world in which magicians bequeath not only fine old houses but fields-of-care as well. Only in this case, the old magician left it "rather too late," meaning without personal instruction as to exactly what a field-of-care is and how one cares for it. A few pages later, Andrew Hope is struggling not only with his magical inheritance but with the two classically-Jones abrasive and recalcitrant retainers, Mr. Stock (who expresses his disapproval in the form of boxes of gigantic and inedible vegetables) and Mrs. Stock (no relation to Mr. Stock, who expresses hers by waging war as to the positioning of the piano in the living room). By the time young Aidan (the boy on the rainbow-hued cover) arrived, I had become part of the household as well.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Groupmind questions

I'm still tinkering with the layout and content here. What would you like to see, or see more of, and what's annoying and useless?

A list of other blogs of interest?
Blog post history? Archives?
More stories and excerpts to read? (And which do you prefer?)
Bookstore slide show? (Is this distracting or fun and/or useful?)
Links to ebooks on Book View Cafe? Kindle? Nook?

Any other items on your blog wish list?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Rape Crisis Center benefit... thank you, Jim Hines

Mob Psychology, Author Tantrums, and Compassion

Nathan Bransford offers some great insights into the recent events you may have been following: an author didn't like an online review and proceeded to respond in a rather ill-considered and childish way. That's not the problem; the disturbing event was what followed, a sort of feeding-frenzy on the part of hundreds of commentators. They not only pelted this author with scorn, but attacked her book with "faux" five-star reviews or scathing ones. There was a sense of "blood in the water" jumping-on-the-bandwagon delight in pointless cruelty.

Yep, cruelty. Because as unprofessional as the author's response had been, no one deserves what's happened to her. Sarcasm and lashing out and outright attacks have never led anyone to examine and improve their behavior. If anything, such a response solidifies and validates the author's combative stance.

More Thoughts on Writing and Healing

Some years back, my sister gave me a copy of Louise DeSalvo’s Writing as a Way of Healing (Beacon Press, 1999). It sat on my shelf as I debated whether its contents would be grim or admonishing. I was wrong on both counts. Although my fiction writing is just that--fiction, as in “I made it all up, I truly did”--the book presented me with two invaluable gifts.

The first is that when we tell the truth, we improve not only our emotional but our physical health, and there’s research to prove it. DeSalvo writes specifically about autobiographical narratives of trauma or other difficult situations. I think the same holds true in a broader sense for all writing. It does not matter that my character is not me or these things never happened in my own life. I can still tell the truth, the truth of my heart, the truth of my spirit. When I do that, something unfolds within me and is given space to breathe, to stretch, to grow into a different shape.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Story And Self: Challenges to Revision

Juliette Wade presents some interesting thoughts on self and story in the context of the revision process. She makes the point, and entitles her blog, "Revisions: Your Story Isn't You." So I've been thinking about different ways of looking at the relationship:

1. Your Story Is You. Many of us have had the experience of being so enmeshed in a story (or characters) that we just can't hear criticism of the words on the page as distinct from a personal attack. Sometimes it's because we see so much of ourselves in the characters. They are, after all, having the adventures we wish we could have, or they are the people we wish we were. So we develop a selective blindness about them as characters, often in terms of inconsistent motivation, their lack of significant shortcomings, or perhaps even the reverse, that their mistakes don't make sense (a la Italian opera plots).

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Strength in Numbers: AKA the Chaz Brenchley Fan Club Conspiracy

It's no secret that an author's career rises and falls on sales numbers and that the ranks of publishers willing to stick with an author they love as that author develops (or even publish work that is good and wonderful rather than commercial crap) are few and far between. If you don't know at least a dozen authors who've been dropped for less than stellar sales figures, you aren't paying attention. (Sorry if that sounded a bit strident; too many of these authors--the best there are--have been my friends, so I'm a bit vehement on the subject).

Friday, April 1, 2011

Healing as We Write

As a follow-up to yesterday's blogpost, I've been thinking about how we heal through our writing. What is it about story-telling that knits up bleeding wounds and helps us to find a new balance in our lives?