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'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.