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Spirit Deer 12

When he woke, the dream of his father would not leave him. He clung to it as he lay burrowed in the pile of pine needles that lined the floor of his shelter. Finally, Tim roused himself to put more wood on the fire. It was pitch black beyond the small circle of firelight. He had no idea whether it was early or late in the night.

He very carefully drew his splinted foot up and crossed it over the other so he could sit cross legged in the mouth of his shelter. He did not want to sleep again now. He nudged the remaining bark box of water and juniper berries onto the fire. Soon the smell of it swirled around him, setting his stomach to growling again. He sipped it as he worked.

Tim has saved some of the wood he had dragged up, setting aside those pieces best suited to the making of a deadfall. He was very hungry, and it might be days before his foot got well enough for him to walk out, so it was time to get food. He had seen squirrels about, and there were certainly many small rodents he had not seen, so he would make traps.

As he worked, he searched through his memory for other ways to find food. If he had been at a lower elevation, it would have been relatively easy. There he could have lived on the bounty of acorns and digger pine nuts, as his Miwuk ancestors had done.

Miwuks had not lived this high in the mountains. They had stayed down where the oaks were, since acorns were their major source of food. Tim would have to adapt his knowledge.

Tim caught his head nodding and realized that his thoughts had trailed off into a half dream. He laid the deadfall aside, and burrowed back into his pine needle bed.

* * *

Tim awoke confused. It took him a long time to sort out where he was. It was full daylight outside and his fire was down to embers. He sat up, then had to brace his hands against the ground until a wave of dizziness passed.

He dragged himself upright on his crutch and counted up the days. The total shocked him. Four days had passed since he had ridden away from home to spend the day with his grandfather, and he had not eaten in all that time.

The deadfall would have to wait. Tim needed food now!

Tim limped down to the ponderosa pine with the driftwood pile at its base, and found nothing but old, open, empty cones on the ground. There were a dozen pines in the immediate area, all ponderosas and Jefferies. He circled each one without finding anything edible. Above him he could see the cones, but they were mature and their scales were all flared open. Most of the seeds would have fallen out or have been harvested by squirrels.

One Jeffrey pine had been lightning struck. It had regrown twisted and dwarfed compared to its tall, slender mates. The remaining cones hung lower, but still well out of reach. Tim found a piece of down wood the right size for a throwing stick and tossed it up toward the cones. It was hard to be accurate while balancing against his crutch, but he managed to knock down five cones in about twenty throws. By that time, he was exhausted, so he gathered his cones and sat down against the bole of the tree to search them for nuts. more next week

374. Outdoor Education

In case you missed 364. The Core Story, let me remind you that Spirit Deer, now posting in Serial, began as a novel for adults, and only reached it’s present incarnation years later.

I wrote the original of Spirit Deer in 1975. By the mid eighties, finances led me back to college to add a teaching credential to my resume, and I began teaching middle school. I started  teaching sixth grade and worked my way up to eighth, over twenty-seven years.

One feature of sixth grade in central California schools was outdoor education week, during which the students lived in dorms at a foothills facility and went out twice a day for half-day hikes with naturalists. Teachers accompanied their students.

I had spent my childhood out of doors, and had added rock climbing, camping, and canoeing to my skill-set while in college. I still learned a lot preparing for outdoor ed, since my critter knowledge was based on Oklahoma and Michigan. That’s common. Any time a teacher has to brush up on a new subject, he learns a lot more than he will be able to teach his students.

I learned — then taught — all the common native trees and shrubs, the mammals and birds, a few of the reptiles and amphibians, and the manner in which the local Native Americans, the Miwuks, lived with nature. I took my students through a couple of weeks of intensive study before the week in the foothills, so they would be able to better appreciate their experience.

Even after I moved up to teaching seventh grade, I continued to go with the students on their outdoor ed week. When it came time to rewrite Spirit Deer, stripped to its core story, I called on that experience to tighten up my descriptions, calling trees out by their actual names this time.

One of the things that Tim-the-adult in 1975 did not have was the survival shelter that young-Tim builds in the present version. During the late 80s and early 90s, one of the hikes our outdoor ed students took was called the survival hike. They were taken to a place in the far end of the property and shown how to take a long piece of down wood, jam it into the crotch of a bush or tree, then stack shorter pieces of down wood against it. Next, they thatched the result with twigs, leaves, dirt, and moss, carpeted the floor with duff, then crawled inside their self-built shelter.

They were not taught how to make a fire. In the dry foothills of California, making a fire to  keep warm is a good way to burn down the forest. It happens every year.

They don’t do the survival hike any more. I can’t blame them. They trained hundreds of kids each week in what was a useful survival skill, but that also meant that hundreds of kids each week were ripping up the local environment. The area where the shelters were made eventually came to look like a bombed out battlefield.

Fortunately for young-Tim, he was one of those who learned how to make a survival shelter. It saved his life in the rewritten Spirit Deer.

#                 #                 #

There is another writer’s learning experience in this. When I was newly published, I met Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and started reading her St. Germain books. I was impressed, but also intimidated. Her descriptions of architecture, about which I knew little, and of the clothing worn by all classes of society, about which I couldn’t care less, made for a rich and dense reading experience. My own books were comparatively bare bones.

Then I read Path of the Eclipse, St. Germain book number four, which begins in China and ends in India, with an arduous journey through the lower Himalayas in between. About half way to India, I had an epiphany. In thousands of miles, Quinn had never called a tree by its name.

I had been holding myself to a false standard. She was writing the books that she wanted to write, and I was writing the books I wanted to write. Forget better or worse — they were supposed to look different.

Spirit Deer 11

He had placed his fire near a wrist thick manzanita with a convenient crotch. Now he searched through the pile for a twenty foot chunk of driftwood and dragged it back to his campsite. Working with one hand and hobbling along on his crutch made the job harder, but he managed to jam the heavy end of the log into the manzanita crotch. This would form the main beam of his survival shelter.

It took many more exhausting trips to the driftwood pile to find the four to eight foot pieces of driftwood that he piled against the main beam to form the walls of his tent shaped shelter. Then he spent an hour carrying dirt, moss, bark, and pine needles to mound over it, saving the best armloads of needles to make his bed inside.

Tim had built survival shelters a few years earlier during outdoor education week, but then there had been a dozen kids working together. Working alone, hobbled by his crutch, and weakened by hunger and exposure, it took Tim most of the afternoon to make his shelter. By the time he had finished, he put more wood on his fire, then simply crawled inside and fell asleep.

Hunger and cold woke him. Outside, it was growing dark, but he could still see well enough to make his way through the brush. He went to an aspen he had spotted earlier and cut two squares of bark. He folded these into boxes and laced the rims with bark strips. He filled them at the pool and stopped on the way back to his shelter to strip off some juniper berries. He put one of the bark boxes at the edge of the fire, knowing that it would not burn as long as it was filled with water.

It was raining again now, and Tim was glad that he had dragged wood up from the driftwood pile to keep his fire going through the night. He sat in the mouth of his shelter, hunched over because of its low roof, and sipped his juniper tea. It was very bitter, and it did nothing to ease the hunger he felt, but the warmth of the heated water went all through him and brought his body back to life.

He was lost and hungry, and he was trying really hard not to think about how his mother must be worrying. But the darkness held no terrors for him, and the fire was friendly. He loved the hiss of the rain falling into it, and the moist smell of fungus that came from his wood and dirt shelter. Surrounded by the familiar smell of the fire and the sound of the rain, he felt at home.

He burrowed into his pine needle bed and fell asleep.

Chapter 4

Tim dreamed of his father. Once again he was at the outdoor center learning how to make survival shelters, but this time his father was the instructor, and working side by side with the rest of the kids to bank the shelter with dirt and leaves.

Then Tim was hunting with his father and, in the manner of dreams, he did not feel strange that he had slid from one time and place to another. He smelled again the vivid smells of campfire and damp forest earth, and felt the warmth of his father’s presence. more tomorrow

373. The Introverted Author (3)

This the last of three posts of online notes for the Westercon panel
Fake it ’til you make it: a survivor’s guide for the introverted author

Today, if you are commercially published, it is expected that you will work to sell your own book. If you have self-published, you are entirely on your own. The internet allows authors the chance to reach out to potential readers. That means we have to use the opportunity, because every other newly published author already is.

Goodreads provides author’s pages. So does Amazon. Even though Amazon now owns Goodreads, they still operate separately, and you need to be on both. Goodreads provides a website as part of the author page. I use it, but I don’t suggest it as a main website.

You need reviews in both places. That’s where a gaggle of friends comes in handy — oops, I forgot. We’re introverts. That’s why we are on social media instead of down at the corner bar.

Facebook is supposed to be the answer. It wasn’t for me. I found that I was simply repeating on Facebook what I was already saying on my website, so I let it lapse. I don’t suggest that. Facebook allows your readers to share that they have found you, much easier than a website does, but in my case, I didn’t have the time to do both.

My own situation was unique. I had forty years of experience in a lot of fields. Writing, teaching, anthropology, archaeology, history, South Asian studies, maritime history, carpentry, musical instrument making, studying ecology, growing up with the space race, farming, growing up white on the edge of the South and learning how wrong we were by watching the civil rights movement, turning atheist in a Southern Baptist household and having to deal with that. On top of that, I had a lot of unpublished and under published material at hand.

If you are just coming in from Westercon, that probably seems like exaggeration. If you have been with me since this site started, you may be getting tired of hearing about it. I began a site with twin blogs, Serial which provides serialized fiction, and

Today, if you are commercially published, it is expected that you will work to sell your own book. If you have self-published, you are entirely on your own. The internet allows authors the chance to reach out to potential readers. That means we have to use the opportunity, because every other newly published author already is.

Goodreads provides author’s pages. So does Amazon. Even though Amazon now owns Goodreads, they still operate separately, and you need to be on both. Goodreads provides a website as part of the author page. I use it, but I don’t suggest it as a main website.

You need reviews in both places. That’s where a gaggle of friends comes in handy — oops, I forgot. We’re introverts. That’s why we are on social media instead of down at the corner bar.

Facebook is supposed to be the answer. It wasn’t for me. I found that I was simply repeating on Facebook what I was already saying on my website, so I let it lapse. I don’t suggest that. Facebook allows your readers to share that they have found you, much easier than a website does, but in my case, I didn’t have the time to do both.

My own situation was unique. I had forty years of experience in a lot of fields. Writing, teaching, anthropology, archaeology, history, South Asian studies, maritime history, carpentry, musical instrument making, studying ecology, growing up with the space race, farming, growing up white on the edge of the south and learning how wrong we were by watching the civil rights movement, turning atheist in a Southern Baptist household and having to deal with that. On top of that, I had a lot of unpublished and under published material.

If you are coming in from Westercon, that probably seems like exaggeration. If you have been with me since this site started, you may be getting tired of hearing about it. I began a site with twin blogs, Serial which provides serialized fiction, and A Writing Life which consists of mini-essays. It’s a blog site that is more like a magazine and it takes as much time as it sounds like it would.

If you are young, you certainly don’t have the option of doing what I’ve done, but you have other options in social media that I probably don’t even know exist.

Let’s circle back now to writers who aren’t yet published; who may not even have finished their first novel; who may not even have started their first novel. You can still blog about your process.

When I was just learning about blogging I came across the book How to Blog a Book by Nina Amir. I recommend it, although it didn’t work for me. My work habits don’t fit the approach, but if you are the kind of person who makes chapter by chapter outlines before you begin to write, check it out.

Making a blog is free and fairly easy on WordPress. Or do the equivalent on Facebook, or Twitter, or whatever comes out next. Then take this advice from an old curmudgeon who would never take the advice himself. Get all the support you get off the internet and hug it close. Thank the people who “like” you, and “like” their work in turn, if you find it worthwhile. If it helps you, go back to your favorite happy comments when you’re feeling low.

At very least, these people are offering a safe place to speak in “public”. It’s probably the only safe place on the internet. Don’t abuse it with the criticism. And don’t think that being liked, or “liked” by your fellow wannabes means much to the larger world.

Read and compare your best work with the best in the world. Don’t expect to be that good. Read Shakespeare for humility, and to steal his cadences. You already know his words; he was the first person to use half the words in the dictionary.

As an introvert, you should already know that Mama’s praise, and disdain from that bully down the street, both mean nothing.

Compare your work to the best and don’t expect to get to where they are right away. Or ever, if you are reading the masters. Compare your work to those who are successful in your field in order to set reasonable goals. Compare your work to published mediocrities and join the ranks of the thousands of writers who have said, “Hell, I could write better than that.” Then go out and prove it. But don’t think you’re there yet. There are a million mediocrities who also write better than that guy. They just aren’t married to the editor.

You don’t let the harsh words of those who don’t like you hold you back? Good. Now take the harder step, and don’t let the unearned praise of your friends make you complacent.

The last word, which is also the first word, on the subject of how to “Fake it till you make it,” is — Get a good day job. 

Do something you like, something you wouldn’t mind spending a lifetime at. You may never sell; even more likely, you probably will never make a living at what you write.

Don’t stop writing, but don’t bet your future on success.

Go to a large used book store, look at the science fiction section, and figure out how many books were written by people who only saw a few of their works published. Some of these books are classics. Some are mediocre. All of them were written by people who were not making a living at writing.

The old saw is, “Life is what happens while you are making other plans.” Turn that around. “Writing is what happens while you are living a good life.”

Want to be a veterinarian? Do it. Want to be a college professor? Do it. Want to be an organic farmer? Do it. Want to be a librarian? Do it.

Want to teach middle school science? Do it.

Keep writing on the side, and let success take care of itself.

Spirit Deer 10

Tim was completely familiar with the outdoors, but he had never realized before how much technology was tied up in a backpacker’s gear. A down sleeping bag seems so little to carry, but it represents the work of hundreds of people. Take the nylon shell alone; from the geologist, to the oil rigger, to the trucker, to the workers who run the refineries and factories that turn oil into nylon, to the workers who cut and sew the cloth into the final bag, it represents a chain of effort stretching through dozens of links.

Tim had taken his gear for granted before, taking care of it because it was expensive and because his father demanded care, but not really thinking about what it meant. He would never take it for granted again.

As he limped downward, the slope of the ground increased. Within a hundred yards, he could see better. He could look across a tree studded valley to another broken slope beyond. He worked his way gingerly downhill, holding his injured ankle above the ground and leaning heavily on the crutch. He knew that he would eventually come to a stream if he kept to the lowest ground.

The rain came again in scattered droplets, but luck was with him and it did not rain hard. He had to reach a source of drinking water and construct a shelter before the rain started again in earnest.

Now he was among low, twisted trees. The ground was very uneven underfoot. A gully some twenty feet across cut across his path and he was forced to detour along it. Eventually that gully widened into a miniature valley. Tim found a slide and worked his way down to the valley floor thirty feet below. On the way down, he fell and slid, stopping himself by digging his crutch into the talus like an ice axe. He lay panting for a while, until the pain in his ankle eased enough to let him go on.

The stream that had cut the valley was dry now. Once Tim found a pool, scarcely a foot across and drank there, saving the water in his canteen. There were a few wild flowers still growing so late in the season. Tim could not remember their names, but he chewed on them as he walked, and tried not to think of how hungry he was. There were probably many edible plants around him, but there were also poisonous ones, and he didn’t know which was which.

The sky had gone dark, although it was far from evening, when he came to the pool. A ponderosa pine growing close to the stream bed had been undermined some previous season and had fallen across the stream. Gravel and sand had shored it up, forming a natural dam. The pool was eight feet wide and stretched for thirty feet upstream, becoming more narrow and shallow toward its upper end. At most, it was no more than eighteen inches deep.  Last night’s rain had filled it with muddy water and there were tracks of small animals at the water’s edge.

Tim stopped short and did not approach the pool so that he would not leave his scent there. Then he searched about for a place to make his shelter. Another ponderosa pine grew a few dozen feet upstream. Like the tree that had dammed the creekbed, this pine had roots denuded by erosion and a mound of driftwood had gathered at its base. There were several willow saplings, shade killed and still dry beneath the ponderosa.

Tim chose his campsite with care, near the driftwood pile but above the flood line. First he cleared a small area of debris and built a ring of rocks. He cut tinder and fuzz sticks from the dead saplings and soon had a fire going. more tomorrow

372. The Introverted Author (2)

This is the second of three posts of online notes for the Westercon panel
Fake it ’til you make it: a survivor’s guide for the introverted author

Okay, you’re introverted. Welcome to the  club. Why else would we sit at home in front of a computer and talk to people who aren’t there.

There are actually three separate questions facing the Introverted Author — or the other kind, if there are any. How can you learn to write? How can you get published? And how can you get that published work into the hands of the right readers? Let’s tackle them one at a time.

Here is an entire lecture, given by Sinclair Lewis, supposedly when he was drunk.

“You stupid-looking sons of bitches wanna write? Well, gwan home and write!”

That wasn’t very useful, was it?

Some people have a natural talent for writing. They just write, with some degree of ease; everyone knows it, although it isn’t politically correct to say so. I have to confess to being one of those people.

I also have to say that, while it makes life pleasant to have that natural capacity, it doesn’t make writing well any easier. And it doesn’t make selling any easier. A would-be writer who has to learn to write by diligent effort, but has something to say that the public wants to hear, or who has a voice like the voice of his audience, will probably sell more and sooner.

Is there any help out there for young writers? Actually, there’s a ton. Possibly too much. There are classes and workshops galore. You can even get a college degree in writing. I suppose you could get a degree in writing, then turn around and teach writing, without ever having had a commercial publication. That seems to be the way it is done these days. It isn’t for me, but it might be for you. I seem to detect a sameness int the products of this system, but that may be prejudice.

It is certain that the writers of the 30s, 40s, and 50s, didn’t learn to write in classes or at conferences, but they did learn.

There is a certain amount of sameness in genre fiction anyway — virtually by definition. You can learn the requirements of the genre in class, or by careful reading of what has been recently published in your field. It doesn’t matter whether it is science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, or so-called literary fiction — which is just a genre with a necktie and a superior attitude.

Whatever comes first, classes and conferences or just extensive reading in your chosen field, what comes next is putting your butt in the chair and writing.

Writing is the easy part. Getting published is harder. I wish I had some good advice to give you about that. In fact, I wish I had some good advice to give myself.

Stick with it. Persevere. Don’t give up. Never say die.

Platitudes, just platitudes.

You can say it in reverse. If you don’t keep trying, you can’t succeed. That’s true, but it doesn’t guarantee anything.

I read this advice in a fishing book — “You won’t catch a fish if you don’t keep your lure in the water.” Now that sounds like a metaphor if I’ve ever heard one. But, really, what does it mean. If you keep the wrong lure, in the wrong pond, at the wrong time of day, you’re going to go home hungry.

Now there’s a metaphor.

Here’s my own story, in brief. I started writing full time in 1975. My first book, Jandrax, came out from Del Rey in 1978. My second book came out from Pocket Books in 1981. That book sold again in German translation in 1983.

My next publication came out this year.

That makes me the poster child for perseverance, but is anyone else willing to undergo a thirty-four year dry spell? I didn’t think so.

There are a thousand books which will tell you how to write your novel, and how to get it published. Read them if you want. I’ve certainly read my share, and most of them have at least some useful things to say. Then ask yourself, “How many successful novels has the author written?” And draw your own conclusions.

I know that’s all depressing, but I’m not here to lie to you.

When I was a young writer, there were only two paths to publication. You would find an agent if you could, or you would have to go it alone. Now the number of publishers willing to look at unagented submissions has shrunk, and at the same time it seems harder than ever to get an agent.

Today, self-publication forms a third path. I cay much about it, as I haven’t yet tried it myself. I plan to listen this weekend to those who have, and form some conclusions.

So let’s assume that you are recently published. If you have a commercial publisher, he may do something to help sell your book, but not much if you are new. That is both a disaster and an opportunity — which sounds like something out of a self-help book. Okay, let’s admit that, and take a look.

Back in the seventies and eighties, success for a book, once it was published, was in the lap of the Gods. Not the lap of the publisher because they were already working on the next book in the pipeline. Not the lap of the author, because there was absolutely nothing he could do to help himself. continued tomorrow

Spirit Deer 9

He stood again, propping himself with the juniper, and measured it against his body. Then he sat to cut his makeshift crutch to length. The narrow tip that he cut off would make a crosspiece later, but now he just jammed the base into his armpit and started out looking for firewood. It cut him painfully, but Tim couldn’t worry about that.

Everything was soaked from the rain. All of the down wood he dragged up had to be dried by the fire before it would burn. As he nursed the fire, he lashed a crosspiece onto his crutch with another strip cut from his shirt sleeve.

Rain soaked him through and turned the granite shiny in the firelight as the last light of day faded. Nearby, a nest of boulders caught the runoff and made a finger sized waterfall. Tim set his empty canteen under it, and had his first drink of water that day. It made him feel better.

Out there, a quarter of a mile away, were trees which would give him shelter. But he could not move his fire, and he could not be sure of starting another one with wet wood.

His second night on the slope was even more miserable than his first one.

* * *

Tim awakened when the wind began. The rain had stopped, but the wind was even more dangerous. It cut through him with a deadly chill. His campfire was nearly out, and so was the fire of life within his body. He knew that if he did not get warm soon, he would die.

He added new fuel to the fires and started a third one.  Within that triangle of fire, he stripped. Off came his left boot. His jeans would not go over his splinted right boot, so he split his jeans from waistband to cuff and pulled them off.

Off came his wool shirt and he sat nearly naked, shivering as he dried his shirt over the fire. When it caught fire, he squeezed the flames out with his fingers. The wind tore at his bare skin and carried away the heat from the fires, but he would not let himself take half measures. He held the shirt to the flames until it was dry, and when he put it on again the warmth was unbelievable.

Drying his jeans took even longer. By the time he had them on, and had laced up the split leg with strips cut from his handkerchief, the sky was beginning to turn light. He used his makeshift crutch to stand and turn around, but the clouds were so thick that he could not tell which section of the sky was lightest.

Tim knew that he had to get off the bald side of the mountain and into shelter before it rained again.

He could not put his fire out properly, but on this bare, wet rock it would do no harm. He scattered the wood with his crutch, and took stock. At his belt he had his knife, canteen, and the precious firestone in its canvas case. Since he had laced his pants leg with handkerchief strips, his pockets were empty.

Or were they? He suddenly realized that he had dried his jeans over the fire with the three remaining rifle cartridges in the pocket!

He swallowed hard and started down the slope. It was rough going with the crutch, but at least he could move. The crosspiece cut into his armpit, but he didn’t want to sacrifice any more clothing to pad it. When he got to cover, he would find something to use as a cushion. more tomorrow