Tag Archives: blogging

Hiatus, shortly.

Once again, Serial is going to hibernate — thankfully, I think, after all the wind and cold.

However, this time it won’t be for long. A new piece of short fiction called Coulter and the Gray Man will come to serial in about a week and a half.

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In case you come onto this at a later date, after this was posted I decided to move Coulter and the Gray Man up a week.

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614. Wind and Air

Over in Serial, starting tomorrow, there will be a short story that is technically a prequel to Firedrake and Scourge of Heaven, two novels set in the fantasy World of the Menhir. This short story, The Gods of Wind and Air, offers no insights into the novels. Instead, it exists to tell the story of a serf whose character and philosophy interest me, and to give me a chance to experiment with connecting poetry to prose in a manner new to me.

Short stories come to me rarely. The only other short story from the world of the menhir is set some years after the main action, and can be found in Backstory.

One of the reasons I am offering The Gods of Wind and Air now is that my life is temporarily full of chores. A tree I planted forty years ago has grown into a giant, and now has to be trimmed back one limb at a time, plus lots of watering of other trees and bushes during the long California summer, plus the fact that I am now writing full speed on Dreamsinger. In the next few weeks I may not be able to provide two posts a week, so I am giving you something to tide you over.

                   Now, about the story itself . . .

When Marquart and his little band first entered the Valley of the Menhir, the unseen narrator (me) said:

. . . the Weathermistress was cooking up something unpleasant in her cauldron of clouds.

It is about the only reference to the elder gods in that novel. Unfortunately, that line ended up on the cutting room floor.

The World of the Menhir has always been lousy with god. Most of them are more like Greek demi-gods than like world creators. They live on the ground, brawl and love and hate, and are fairly human except for having Powers. I find them more interesting than omnipotent beings.

First to arrive were the gods of Comai, who entered from another world and dominated the native humans. They were eventually ejected in a string of events too long to even précis. Then came a thousand years without gods.

The events that make up my novels and short stories begin when a new set of gods from yet another world enter the land of the menhir and take up residence, beginning the century long battle between the Damesept and the Remsept. A chunk of that story is found in Banner of the Hawk 1.

Even before the Comanyi arrived, there were home-grown gods like the Weathermistress. The serfs and free foresters still worship them, as well as the Flower of the Waning Day, a trio of Comanyi who helped humans drive out their brother-gods.

Not Pellan, though. He is mad at all the gods, and that is where our story begins — tomorrow in Serial.

Incidentally, if the title sounds familiar, stories called The blank of blank and blank are everywhere. I think they all stem from the classic title The Queen of Air and Darkness which was first a novel by T. H. White, then a novella by Poul Anderson, and recently another novel by Cassandra Clare. It is a title rhythm that sticks in the mind.

Also incidentally, the logo presented at the top of all these posts is a runeboard, which is a means of divination used throughout the World of the Menhir. It doesn’t appear in this short story, but it was the only piece of world-of-the-menhir artwork I had available to me.

Enjoy.

605. My Life as a Beaver

First I thought, this is too much about me. Then I thought, it’s a blog, stupid, go for it.

I am not a hoarder. Hoarders buy and store things they don’t need. I’m a beaver. I build things, and they accumulate. The tools also accumulate. Also the raw material for the next project, and there is always a next project.

Normally I keep my home life out of this blog, but I have to admit that my wife is also a beaver. It’s a good thing, really, or we couldn’t have had all these happy years together.

I always wanted to be a craftsman, but I grew up as a farmer’s son instead. Farming is a make-do profession. If a nail will do the job, don’t use a screw, and certainly don’t cut a mortise and tenon. We built a few barns when I was home, but the test of a barn isn’t how well it is built. If It doesn’t leak or fall down, it’s good enough. But it wasn’t good enough for me.

I took a semester of shop in high school, where I built a mahogany gun case for an aunt and a maple book case for a family friend. It was quite satisfying, but I needed all the rest of my time to prepare for college.

Once in college, I started a classical guitar, working where and when I could find space. I didn’t have the skills to do it right, but attempting it taught me skills I still use today. It sits, half completed in a closet; maybe someday I’ll complete it. Every successful craftsman has a few failures along the way, which is all right if he learns from them. Some years later I completed a dulcimer and later still the expanded range guitar shown here. I have a few more instruments in pieces waiting their turn.

That seems to be a pattern. I’ve finished quite a few novels, but I have at least as many more in pieces, waiting their turn.

Over the years I’ve built bookcases, tables, workbenches, cupboards, a bed, a couple of sheds, and all the other wood-based things a person on a teacher’s salary or a writer’s non-salary can’t afford to buy. I’ve also built for fun — fancy canoe paddles as family gifts, a cold-molded rowboat for the frustrated sailor that lives inside me, and other things too numerous to mention — or even remember.

Beavers gotta build stuff.

My wife lends a hand sometimes, and sometimes we build projects as a team. We spent a year of spare minutes building an arch to commemorate our (redacted) wedding anniversary. Her father and mother were both craftsmen, and she learned well before I ever met her.

Sometime in the eighties, we discovered quilting, and that’s something we do as a team. We design and build both together and individually. Over quite a few years, we designed better than a hundred quilts, most of which were built by a charity group in her guild to be donated. We built the three shown here ourselves; the designs are one each of hers, mine, and ours.

Beavers gotta design stuff.

The image at the head of the post is another project of ours. We built portable stands that carry 24 of these mini-quilts, and provide them for display in rest homes. We designed and built the stands; the mini-quilts come from guild members, including us.

In 2015 I decided my scheduled novel Cyan needed some support so I started this blog. A thousand plus posts later, I’m still at it.

Beavers gotta keep busy. Life can be boring if you’re standing still.

588. How Quickly Do You Write?

How long does it take to write a novel, a short story, or a poem?

Those who visit this site and register a like usually have websites of their own which I visit, so I know that many of you write. Many more of you would like to, or are just starting to. “How long does it take?” may not mean much to a poet, but anyone writing a novel has to wonder if she/he has a reasonable prospect of completing it.

I had that question myself when I started. I wondered if I could sit down and write every day until I had produced a novel. It seemed more likely that the well would run dry and I would end up going on to something else, but there was no way to know except by trying.

I began the day after Labor Day, 1975, and wrote five days a week. By Christmas, I had a novel. It was short, simple, and unsalable, but it was finished. I loved the process and I was hooked.

I started my second novel, Jandrax, the first of the next year, and had it finished by summer. That needs a little explanation. It was in the mid-seventies and the typical paperback novel ran about 50,000 words. Today a typical novel is, at minimum, twice that.

Novels in the seventies were often extremely fast paced. These days they are (to my taste) glacial. Comparing Gordon Dickson’s early novel Dorsai! to his late novel The Final Encyclopedia will show you what I mean.

Jandrax could have used more smooth transitions between scenes and less twitching speed. About another seven thousand words and another two or three weeks of attention would have helped. Still, it fit into its era and was published by Del Rey, but I would slow the pace if I were writing it today. A bit. Not much.

During 2017 I wrote a novel of about 90,000 words called The Cost of Empire. The rough draft took about four months and it went out looking for a home at the end of six. That is about twice the pace of my first published novel, which makes sense after all these years of experience.

Next I wrote Like Clockwork, a much more complicated novel. I worked from January to July of 2018; then I broke off and rewrote what I had as a novella for a sales opportunity that had come up. That didn’t pan out, so I went back to the original concept in October. I lost most of December and January to another project, then finished the novel at the end of February. Call it ten months of writing, spread out over fourteen months altogether.

Ten months vs. six seems about right for a complex vs. a straightforward novel at this stage of my life. The longest I ever took from concept to publication was just short of forty years, but that was a special case.

I write, rewrite, and polish — then polish again. Most authors with a long list of novels don’t do that. Louis L’amour clearly did little if any revising. His books are full of inconsistencies that he or an editor should have caught, but that didn’t keep him from being spectacularly successful. He wrote 89 novels in 38 years.

During World War II, Robert Sidney Bowen wrote about twenty air war novels for boys in five years. He said he could complete a novel in ten days and he never revised. No problem — considering their style and quality, revision probably would not have helped.

Lester Dent reportedly once wrote an entire Doc Savage novel over a weekend, although that amounted to taking two shorter works he had already written and blending them together.

I think we all want to write a bestseller in record time in a frenzy of inspiration. That dream probably won’t come true for any of us, but I know of at least once that it happened.

Colonel Robert Scott, WW II war hero, was recalled by the Pentagon for a tour America to stir up feelings of patriotism with his personal story of shooting down flocks of Japanese planes.

Near the end of that tour, Colonel Scott was asked by the Scribner (sic) publishing house to relate his experiences in a book. But he had only three days to do so before he had to report to Luke Field in Arizona as its new commander, so he simply spoke his recollections — 90,000 words — onto wax cylinder recording devices.*

Three days! God Is My Co-pilot became a best seller.

*The quotation is from his obituary in the New York Times.

585. A Life of Reading

Trying to write a post on The Road to Corlay has turned out to be tough. I remember the book clearly, and I didn’t remember it at all. That is, I remember how I felt when I read it. I remember the feel of its countryside, and the slow grace of its human interactions, but I can’t remember one name, and can hardly remember one scene. I would drop the whole thing, but I “made my brag” by posting the list early. I need to read Corlay again, but that poses a problem. I don’t have the time.

It was scheduled for today, but I’m going to have to postpone it for now.

I retired from teaching about seven years ago and went back to writing full time. I had written quite a few books in the seventies and eighties, before hunger sent me to get a day job, and a few more while I was teaching, but that wasn’t nearly enough to satisfy me. Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t about mortality. I plan to live to be a hundred because I’m just too damned busy to die.

The fact is, reading a book is ten times better than watching a movie, but writing a book is fifty times better than reading one. And takes fifty times as long.

Besides the hundred thousand words a modern novel demands, there are the other hundreds of thousands of words you have to go through while getting to the right ones. And there are all those books you have to burrow through looking for just the right bit of information or inspiration to help you understand how that next chapter is supposed to come out.

Just reading a book for fun gets lost somewhere. I read the things I need to read, and late in the evening I read comfort books, like the thirtieth Nero Wolfe, which isn’t that different from the other twenty-nine.

It wasn’t always that way.

I was an only child on a farm in the fifties. We had one black and white TV that got two channels, which my parents watched while I read. Of course I became a reader; what else was there to do. From the time I discovered the county library, there was no time I didn’t have a stack of books awaiting my attention.

But I didn’t talk about it. My mother read occasional romance novels but she didn’t talk about it. My dad read the Bible, but he didn’t talk about it. The habit started early.

I read books about hunting and outdoor life. I lived outdoors, but on a tractor. I never hunted, barely fished, and I had never seen a tent. The real outdoors wasn’t for play, it was for work, and that didn’t satisfy me.

Looking back, I know that the place I lived as a boy was rather lovely, in a muted sort of way. It was farm country, lightly populated by humans, but with plenty of birds, and occasional coyotes and possums. Nevertheless, every patch of ground was either under the plow or turned into grazing land. There was nothing truly wild. I wanted forests and streams, fish and game, and snow, along with the freedom to wander through them.

It was all available in books, along with a thousand other adventures all over the globe.

My school mates read because they had to read — but nobody talked about it. Nobody read science fiction. Nobody wanted to know any more about science than they were required to. I was reading and studying continuously, preparing to head for college to be a scientist — but I didn’t talk about it, because no one else really wanted to know.

When I got to college, one of my roommates was a science fiction fan. We talked about it, but only a little. By then, my habit of silence was pretty well set.

A lifetime later I started this blog. It’s the first time I’ver really talked about the books I love and why I love them, right here, talking to you —

Hi. You see, there was this book called The Road to Corlay . . . but I guess we’ll just have to chat about that later.

563. Another One Bites the Dust

I went to a local used bookstore today to find a copy of Heinlein’s The Rolling Stones. I can’t find a copy in my book room and none of my local libraries have it. That’s understandable; it came out in 1952 as a juvenile and it wasn’t his best work. I just wanted to see if my memory was correct after all these years as to his use of the barbecue roll, with paint. If that makes no sense, stick around. It will be in an upcoming Apollo post, as soon as I find a copy.

I walked into the bookstore. The proprietor said, “How are you?” and I replied, “Sad. You’re closing.” And she was. About a third of the shelves were empty and she was selling books by the bag, one to ten dollars, depending on the size of the bag.

I’ve completely lost count of how many used book stores have come and gone over the decades I have lived in this area. It always hurts to see one go, and every time a new one appears I know another book lover is buying themselves a heartache.

There are many things which are done for love instead of money. Blogging might be the new poster child for this way of life. Used bookstores are near the top, as well. Crafters fill the same niche.

If you go to a local boutique and buy some hand made jewelry, or any of a thousand other kinds of things you couldn’t buy at Wal Mart, you might be tempted to call them over priced. Maybe, from the consumer’s viewpoint, but I doubt if one in fifty crafters is making minimum wage. They always think they’ll make a little money when they start, but really . . .

A used bookstore as an investment? Hummm. I wouldn’t do it, although I’m glad there are people who do. Consider the mark-up (next to nothing) and consider how many customers come in each day. At least you have a lot of time to read.

I should talk. I do something even dumber than that. I write novels.

If you go to a used bookstore — in some town other than the one I’ve avoided mentioning, which no longer has a used bookstore — and look closely at the science fiction shelves you will find hundreds of writers you’ve never heard of. Some of them are pretty good and some aren’t. What they have in common, not counting Heinlein and a few like him, is that they probably never made a living by writing. A few achieved a bit of fame, but most of them didn’t. Many wrote only one or two books and gave up.

If you look at the names of the publishers, you won’t know it unless you’ve been following this for years, but many of them stayed in business by stiffing their authors. Others actually paid, but paid a pittance.

I don’t think there are too many of those completely dishonest publishers around any more. Times have changed. Now you can publish ebooks and stiff yourself.

Oh well, it’s a good life if you don’t weaken. And of course I don’t do it for the money — but I wouldn’t mind some.