Creating this story was a lot of fun. It’s set in the Darkover universe. I thought to myself, what’s the one thing that will really upset a Comyn lord? Answer: a woman who knows how to use a sword. Enter Nakatomi Madoka, born in the Japanese enclave on Samarra, one of the moons of Darkover. Madoka hires out as a mercenary to Gavin Alton, a Comyn lord who is up to something he doesn’t want other Comyn to hear about. This shady business involves the first matrix crystal discovered on Darkover in a very long time. The power it contains is worth killing for. Madoka must move fast and strike hard to make sure she’s not the one who ends up dead.
I love this cover art so much I plan to have it made into a T shirt. Come see me at BayCon 2023! I’ll be wearing the T shirt there!
I am delighted to announce the appearance of my new short story To Reach For The Stars in JEWELS OF DARKOVER, the latest anthology set in the Darkover universe. The anthology is now available for pre-order in both ebook. The trade paperback edition will become available on the release date, May 2, 2023.
Appearing in this anthology marks a new milestone in my writing career. Way back when I was in high school, I read BRISINGAMEN by Diana L. Paxson. “The gift of an ancient necklace, the legendary Brisingamen, gives Karen Ingold the extraordinary powers of the goddess Freyia and leads her into a perilous confrontation with the evil Loki.” I’d already been a big fan of sword & sorcery, so this blew my mind. This novel introduced me to the genre now known as urban fantasy. I wrote a fan letter to Diana Paxson. Much to my astonishment and joy, she replied with a kind and gracious note on stationery that featured a pen and ink drawing of Hildisvini, Frejya’s boar or “battle swine.”
Years later, after I’d begun to publish my own fantasy stories, I had the honor and the pleasure of appearing alongside Diana Paxson on panels at SF/F conventions.
Now, almost forty years after reading BRISINGAMEN, I’m proud to say my story To Reach For The Stars appears on the same Table of Contents with Fire Seed by Diana L. Paxson.
Hello, folks. I hope you are all safe and well. I’ve been doing my best to keep on keeping on.
One of the biggest challenges a writer can face is the problem of chronic pain. Back in the days when I was younger and stronger, I was in a car accident that damaged my left knee. I can still walk, thank God, but time has taken its toll. My right knee has been taking up the slack ever since the accident. The result is Degenerative Joint Disorder in both knees.
Chronic pain is exhausting. It sucks away all energy and the power to concentrate. It makes sleep difficult and medication necessary. I know that my writing is different now than it was when I first began selling my work and seeing it published. That is so frustrating. If not for the pain, maybe I could write more and write better. Maybe I could endure the endless labor of online self-promotion more successfully. I am a mother of two boys, so what little time and energy I have to write is precious to me. Chronic pain robs me of that.
And yet…. The need to write continues. The desire to publish continues. Compulsive behavior? Maybe, but for me it’s a good thing. On the bad days when I just don’t have it in me to do the work, I ask myself, “How bad do you want this?” Days go by so fast now, running into months and years. There is no “later.” There is no “tomorrow.” If I don’t get something done right now, today, when will I get it done? It’s so hard. When I can’t stand up, when I can’t walk across the room, it seems impossible.
That’s when doing it matters the most.
Yes, there are times when I cut myself some slack and accomplish whatever I can actually manage to do that day. There are times when I look at my To Do list and just start laughing. As Dirty Harry once said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” I interpret that statement not as knowing what you can’t do, but knowing how much or how little you can do on that particular day. It’s the habit of making the effort that matters. If I don’t bother to make the effort, it gets easier and easier to just leave the work for some other day.
Dorothy Parker once said, “I hate writing. I love having written.” That sums it up. The labor of writing feels dreadful, but the satisfaction of knowing you did the work is immense. My favorite unit of writing is a twenty minute free write. Keep that pen moving. Just get the words down. The great part about free writes is the way I can just keep plowing forward, and not stop to think until the timer goes off. Then I get to bask in the pleasure of having written.
In the past week I sent three short stories out to market. Write, edit, submit. Rinse and repeat. Yes, my body aches and my mind get worn out, but I won’t give up. Each moment of success adds to all the ones that have come before it.
When I set out to write The Wheel of Misfortune (Best Indie Speculative Fiction, Volume One), I asked myself what if one of the spirits of Japanese folklore who punish the wicked came after Dr. Harrington? How could the hero of my Kyoto Steampunk series possibly be wicked? This was a great opportunity to explore the early days of Dr. Harrington’s career as a member of the Royal College of Physicians. A serious error in judgment comes back to haunt Dr. Harrington ten years later in the form of the wanyudo, the Soul Eater.
Some people think plotting your story before writing it takes all the spontaneity and adventure out of the process. I disagree. I need at least some idea of where I want to go, if only for that day’s writing. I need a target to focus my aim and build momentum. There’s still a whole lot of adventure to be had just getting from one end to the other in a single scene.
When I began writing fiction, the how-to book that gave me the best advice suggested completing a first draft, then literally cutting apart and pasting together chunks of text. That seems ridiculous now in the age of Scrivener and Evernote. I’m a hands-on kind of person. Crafting provides me with much-needed occupational therapy. This tendency has led me to rely on scene cards for building plots for my longer projects.
Time This can be the century, the year, the season, the hour, whatever you need.
Place Where does this scene occur? You can be as general as galaxy or as specific as a patch of sand on the beach.
Point Of View (POV) Which character’s head is the reader inside? Change of time and/or place requires a scene break. The same is true for a change of POV.
Goal What does the POV want to accomplish during this scene? This can also be whatever the POV wants to avoid doing.
Opposition What prevents the POV from achieving the scene goal? Another character? A natural disaster?
Inciting Incident This is also referred to as the Problem Situation, the change in the POV’s life that sets the story in motion.
Resolution How does the scene end? Is the goal achieved?
Disaster This is one word for the end of scene hook, the twist that raises the stakes and heightens tension and suspense. This is what will keep your reader turning pages.
I find using 4 x 6 notecards gives me the most flexibility when it comes to lining up scenes in different ways. Wondering where to put that exposition? Trying to figure out where a flashback won’t ruin your pace? Scene cards are your friend. Scrivener provides something similar, but I can tolerate only so much screen time. Notecards don’t put you at risk for the dangers of digital eyestrain.
It’s OK if you can’t fill in all the info on every card right away. Story ideas evolve. That’s part of the fun, and another big advantage of scene cards. You can create several variations on the same scene card. Play around with the possibilities. Be sure to keep the cards you don’t use. You never know when those ideas might come in handy!
#NaNoWriMo2022 is coming. 50,000 words in just thirty days. I am an eight year veteran of NaNoWriMo, and I still find the prospect of writing 1,667 words a day quite intimidating. I have number of works-in-progress underway, but this year I choose to start a new novel project. Where do I start?
For me it’s all about the characters. I have written plot-driven stories. (As a matter of fact, I found out just yesterday my latest plot-driven short story has been accepted by an anthology!) When I start a story, I tend to start in the middle of an argument between one main character and the antagonist or a minor character who gets chewed up and spat out. Open with conflict. Show the reader why the main character’s life has just been drastically complicated by the problem situation.
“The only good writing is intuitive writing. It would be a big bore if you knew where it was going. It has to be exciting, instantaneous and it has to be a surprise. Then it all comes blurting out and it’s beautiful. I’ve had a sign by my typewriter for 25 years now which reads, ‘DON’T THINK!’” Ray Bradbury
They key to writing from the heart of your character is to know what that character wants. Sometimes it’s more useful to know what the character does not want. People tend to make more of an effort to avoid something that will cause them pain, whether physical or emotional.
What’s ironic about this is how struggle makes a good story. The survival instinct might compel your main character to avoid what hurts. That’s sensible, but it makes boring reading. Throw your characters into the deep end and make them figure out how to swim. Characters have to learn something in the course of their character arcs. They have to change. If the main character is still the same person at the end of the story, that can be done to good effect, but most readers want to see that character fight hard, fight smart, risk everything, and win. That creates a satisfying reading experience.
Think of your character as a piece of iron hot from the forge. You put that red hot iron on the anvil and you beat on it until it takes on the shape of the tool you need. A wrought iron candle holder. A horseshoe. A sword. Beat on that character. Raise the stakes. Make it hurt. Heat and pressure will turn a lump of molten metal into a work of art.
I am delighted to announce that I will be appearing in person at BayCon 2022! It’s been a long three years. I can’t wait to participate in these panels. BayCon has some really exciting programming this year!
New work suggests there’s a correlation between Autism Spectrum Disorder and Transgender/Nonbinary flavors of gender. But correlation is not causation. So is a link? And it now looks like female autistics are massively underdiagnosed, so what does that mean for nonbinary folks who may need help with ‘subclinical’ ASD issues? What about ADHD? Is there another link there that’s been overlooked?
Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Pat MacEwen (M), John Blaker
Exotic locales challenge writers to get readers up to speed while keeping the story going. What weird settings have our panelists used and how did they solve the problem—well enough for the editor to buy, anyway.
Jay Hartlove (JayWrites Productions), C. Sanford Lowe (C Sanford Lowe) (M), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press)
Come find me at BayCon and get a sticker for your badge!
I enjoy writing by hand. I keep a personal journal along with writing first drafts in my work notebook. As satisfying as this is, there are two drawbacks to this approach. First, if I’m doing a timed free writing session where the goal is to blow past the internal editor, I often can’t read my own handwriting afterward. Second, I then have to spend the time typing in all those pages. That makes a drastic difference in terms of getting stories polished and out to market.
Last week I decided to plow through all the notebooks I’ve been piling up. That meant organizing the ideas and random scenes and large chunks of developing stories. I was delighted to discover quite a few I’d forgotten about writing. This prompted me to indulge in two of my favorite activities: shopping at the Dollar Tree and buying office supplies. Here’s the new binder for the various bits and pieces related to my Kyoto Steampunk stories.
I’ve got more stacks of notebooks to go through. That means more binders, more dividers, and the hunt for more stickers and whatnot to do the decorating. Dollar Tree, here I come!
Lexico.com defines quandary as “A state of perplexity or uncertainty over what to do in a difficult situation.” This is a perfect description of the difficulties I’ve faced when trying to balance a career as a professional writer with being the mother of two special needs boys.
In 1993 I joined the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association as an Active Member. In 1998 my older boy Michael came into the world at only 23 weeks. That he survived the next three and a half months in the hospital is nothing short of miraculous. The writing I accomplished during that time consisted mainly of the notes I kept in pretty hardback journals, documenting Michael’s growth, his tiny but meaningful milestones, the tests and surgeries and growing list of medications. Once Michael was allowed to come home, life became crowded with doctor appointments and physical therapy sessions. I tried to make the best use of the time available, editing manuscripts while in transit to the various appointments.
In 1998 John came along. Now I had two babies to care for. At that time it was just me while my husband was at work during the day. This is when I developed the habit of writing at night after the boys were asleep. Not the best plan when I wasn’t getting much sleep anyway. John was getting better and better at climbing out of his crib. At age two Michael developed seizure disorder, so I lived with one ear listening for any strange sound that might indicate John had escaped or Michael might be in distress. It’s very difficult to achieve the state of creative trance necessary for writing when one’s attention is constantly divided.
When Michael turned three and was eligible for the Early Start program, one of the benefits was nursing care. Thanks to the RNs who helped out and the support of my family, I wrote Ship Of Dreams. Getting that manuscript research took two solid years, then writing it meant daily labor. I suffered a disk crash that cost me two months’ work. (Words of wisdom: “Finish it!” and “Back it up!”) I found a literary agent who sold the book to a publisher. I’d been having some success with selling short stories and writing nonfiction pieces.
This might sound wonderful, and it was, but it meant struggling against my own fatigue, emotional exhaustion, and what I later learned were the symptoms of PTSD. When your brain already feels like dead coral, it’s almost impossible to summon up the energy needed to string words together. By that I meant just making sense when you’re talking to another person, never mind the effort required for creative writing. How was I going to keep writing? How was I going to complete projects, edit them, and do the marketing work?
There have been many times when I’ve wanted to “do it later.” As many wise people have said, later never comes. Today is tomorrow. I asked myself, “How badly do you want this? How badly do you want to work toward a Hugo, a Nebula, a World Fantasy Award?” The answers to those questions drove me to find ways to do the work even while attending doctor appointments, during hospital stays for Michael, and then facing John’s difficulties.
John had been hitting all the developmental milestones up until age four. We knew he had speech delay. The speech therapist was the first one to suggest we get John evaluated by a neurologist. The neurologist diagnosed John with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. At that time I knew nothing about “autism” other than the really drastic examples most people think of when they heard that word. Mind you, this was twenty years ago when a lot less was known about neurodiversity. I was in shock, frightened, depressed, and overwhelmed. Managing Michael’s care was already a complex challenge. Now John’s doctor and therapist appointments would have to be shoehorned into an already tight schedule. How on earth was I going to maintain a writing career when I couldn’t even manage a regular night’s sleep?
So I learned how to write whenever I had a few minutes. Free writing. Word sprints. Call it what you will. These bursts of writing are manageable, fun, and can be fit into a car ride, sitting in a waiting room, while having a meal in the hospital cafeteria. It’s not always comfortable, and it’s not easy, but practice promotes adaptation. I’ve written a total of seven novels and quite a few short stories. Now that some family issues and the first shock of the pandemic have settled down somewhat, I hope to move forward with editing and polishing these novels.
Living in today’s world makes it even harder to maintain a creative life. So many of us have had to take on the role of caregiver to a family member. Believe me when I tell you it’s essential to carve out some time for yourself, and for your creative work. Somewhere in your waking hours there will be fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, maybe even a whole hour. Use it. Sit down and take a good look at your daily schedule. You may find you have more time than you realize, it’s just a matter of making choices about what you spend that time doing.
I am one of two Municipal Liaisons for my region, which is Santa Cruz County in California. In the spirit of helping this year’s participants, both the new folks and those returning, allow me to offer some ideas based on how I get ready for the mad dash from one end of NaNoWriMo to the other.
National Novel Writing Month is all about writing 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s 200 pages. 1667 words each day. Half a novel. A full roughdraft, maybe. Whatever you want to write, in whatever way you want to write it. Everybody’s creative process is unique. Feel free to do whatever gets you to the 50k mark by November 30.
Last year I wrote Silk & Steam, the first novel in my Kyoto Steampunk universe. It took me some time after the end of NaNoWriMo to come up with an ending that was really strong. Now I’m rewriting to make the whole manuscript live up to that ending. I want that novel to be the only novel in my head right now, so for this year’s writing project, I need to go in a different direction.
For the 20th Anniversary of NaNoWriMo, I plan to write short stories. Six short stories, 1700 words each. That’s more than a story a week, so this is going to be a real challenge. My best time up to now has been total of three weeks for writing a short story start to finish with editing and polishing. During NaNoWriMo I’m going for six complete first drafts. This means I have to do a lot of planning before November 1.
Where do I start my planning for six brand new short stories?
I start with the monsters. The yokai, which more accurately translates as “bewitching apparition,” are the supernatural creatures of Japanese folklore. Each of the seven stories in the Kyoto Steampunk series features a particular yokai. So I need six new yokai, and I’m thinking about a location where Dr. Harrington and his family would be likely to find all six.
I already have subplots in motion given the seven other stories already published. A quick list of where all of my main characters are at the end of the novel provides a starting point for each of them. At the moment I’m considering the possibility of writing each story from a different character’s viewpoint. If I create one basic story and then provide each character’s personal stakes in those events, I might be able to create quite a mosaic that brings the world of Kyoto Steampunk to life.
And so the new stories begin to grow!
Is there such a thing as too much preparation? The answer to that depends on whether you’re a planner, a pantser, or somewhere in between. I identify as a plantser. I need a certain amount of planning to get the shape of the story. Then I set the timer and throw myself into the scene. On the days when the words won’t come out easily, a word sprint is your best friend.
What do you do to get ready? How do you decide what project you want to work on? I’d be delighted to hear about your process. We’re all here to help each other through the 30 day marathon that is NaNoWriMo.
I'm a professional writer living in Northern California with my husband and two sons. Fantasy in various forms is my reading and writing pleasure. I'm a history buff, a Japanophile, and I love to learn about language(s). I enjoy making jewelry, using natural materials such as wood, bone, semiprecious stones, and seashells. I collect bookmarks and wind chimes.