Friday, January 31, 2014

The Knitting, er, Writing Life

I'm always impressed by how often writers are creative in other ways. We're musicians, dancers, singers, sculptors, painters, and martial artists as well as story-tellers. (Or maybe these are all other ways of telling stories and it's all the same thing.) Many of us are also knitters or crocheters. That's one of Vonda N. McIntyre's beautiful beaded sea creatures on the right.


I like to knit for a lot of reasons. For one thing, I learned from my mother (and I still have a pair of her double-pointed needles from her own youth). I love the soothing, repetitive movements. I love that I can do it and something else at the same time. I love that when I'm done I have something beautiful and useful to give away. (I do a fair amount of charity knitting, which you can read about here.. I love that friends will scavenge yard sales for supplies for me, thereby creating a living "knitwork" of love throughout the community.

But most of all, I love the enduring lesson of Writing According to Knitting: It doesn't matter how many mistakes you made, you can always unravel the dratted thing and start over. Maybe other people don't need this lesson repeatedly drilled into their brains, but I do. For me, it's the essential underlying principle of revision. If a first draft, like a knitting project, is so well within my skill and comfort zone that I don't make any mistakes, all it takes is a light polish (read: blocking) and I'm done. But I'll never get any better that way. I have to try things I've never done before, often things that call for concentration, consistency, and staying in touch with the tension of my hands or the tension in the story.

It's fine to stretch beyond my abilities. In fact, it's necessary. And delirious and terrifying. But you know what? If I make an awful tangle of it, I can always go back and do it over. And over, until I either set the project aside until I'm more adept or my skills come up to snuff.

So take a flying leap off the edge of reality. Push the envelope harder than you thought possible. Try something you've always believed impossible. Take risks and then grow to meet them.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

"Going Silent"

When I notice that someone I've been following on a social media site (including a blog) has "gone silent," I want to know why. Some of this is idle curiosity of the gossip type. Occasionally, the reason can be much more serious than such happy occasions as the person taking a vacation or being buried in an engulfingly-wonderful work project. My own excuse for not posting more regularly this year is that I'm happily wending my way through editorial revisions (that is, revisions in response to feedback from my editor) for my June DAW release, The Heir of Khored.

On at least one occasion, quite a few years ago, the other person's silence was due to a life-threatening situation that prevented the person from obtaining help. Only the concern of friends who noticed brought the necessary assistance. (In this case, the person had been incapacitated and without food or water for 48 hours in a closed apartment in the summer.) I was one of the people that took action for our friend, asking someone local to to a welfare check on the person, and I came away from the experience with a profound respect for the power of social media to create positive communities that not only nurture and enrich our lives, but can literally save them.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A minor bit of brag

My post, Contrary Writing Advice: Don't Finish This Story!, which appeared earlier in this blog, has been reposted to the blog of Science Fiction Writers of America..You read it here first!

Happy writer smile, and wishes for many playful, delicious story beginnings to you all.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Write What You Love

Larry Brooks interviewed best-selling author Philip Margolin on his latest book and a bunch of related writerly topic. This comment from Margolin struck home for me.

Don’t try to figure out what you must write to get published or make the bestseller list; write something that excites you. If you look at most first novels, even ones that aren’t particularly good, they all have a certain energy that comes from a writer getting an idea that excites them.

I think this is right on target. If you look at what's hot now, you're looking into the past. A traditionally published book often takes about a year from its acceptance to its appearance in bookstores. Many times the lead time is longer. The manuscript must be edited and revised, copy-edited, and proof-read. Cover art must be commissioned, sketches reviewed and approved, and cover designed. Sales teams need catalogs about six months in advance. That's not counting advance reading copies (ARCs) to review venues like Publisher's Weekly. Finally, the book must be printed and distributed so that it is available at your corner bookstore on or slightly before the release date.

Even with epublishing, which does not require the long lead times for preparation and distribution of the physical book, there is a gap between the finished product (which hopefully has been through a similarly-rigorous process of editing and proofreading, not to mention cover art and design!) and the initial conception of the author -- the decision to write this particular book. Writers vary in how long it takes to write a novel. This involves not only the speed of creating that first draft but on how much revision the draft needs. And how committed we are to making each book the very best we can, which means both learning our craft and not turning out hastily-written slip-shod work. For most of us, care requires time.

So the ebook or print book you see in the stories may have taken anywhere from 6 months to 6 years in creation. Who wants to be that far behind the times? More to the point, who wants to spend that much of your writing career imitating what someone else was excited about 6 years ago?

Fads will come and go, tastes will change with the seasons. Publishers merge or fold and even more arise. Wonderful books receive lousy promotional support and fizzle. Mediocre ones catch the public's fancy and make pots of money. We as writers have zilch control over any of this. I truly believe that chasing the market is not only futile, but deadly to our creative lives.

The only way to have a satisfying career is to write what you love. It is not enough to guarantee commercial success, but without it, you might as well take a job as an accountant. The paycheck's a whole lot more reliable.

If you've enjoyed this essay on nourishing yourself as a writer, please check out my collection, Ink Dance: Essays on the Writing Life. It's filled with stories, advice, commiseration, and inspiration.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Contrary Writing Advice: Don’t Finish This Story!



I love to take conventional wisdom and turn it on its head, following the tradition of rules are made
to be broken but first you have to learn them. Beginning writers make mistakes. At least, I did, and I don’t know anyone who’s gone on to a successful writing career who didn’t. At some point, either a teacher or a more skillful writer points out, “Don’t do this” and why it’s a bad idea. Sometimes we figure it out for ourselves. I wonder if in the process of expunging our mistakes we also ignore that kernel of wisdom or inner creative impulse that led us to make the mistake in the first place.

For example, we get told, “Avoid passive verbs, especially the verb to be.” But sometimes that is exactly the right verb and if we contort our prose to avoid it at all costs, we end up with…well, contorted prose.

The writing rule to Always Finish What You Start is equally worthy of a challenge, yet it rarely is. The rule is practically engraved in granite, creating a sense of obligation to slog through stories, no matter how much we’ve grown beyond them. We end up with trunk stories (stories that are so flawed as to be unsellable and are therefore relegated to the proverbial storage chest) when we could have been writing the very best new stories we’re now capable of. The second rule, to move on to something new, is a good one most of the time, as is the commiseration, Not every story succeeds. I’m all for taking risks in our writing with the understanding that we’ll occasionally go splat into the Quagmire of Drekness from time to time.

Is there any value to starting things we don’t finish? (Or allowing ourselves to not finish what we start?) That is, aside from dropping projects that just aren’t working and using our time and creative energy more productively? I think there is.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sneak Peek: STARS OF DARKOVER cover!








  Table of Contents

All the Branching Paths by Janni Lee Simner
The Cold Blue Light by Judith Tarr
Kira Ann by Steven Harper
Wedding Embroidery by Shariann Lewitt
The Ridenow Nightmare by Robin Wayne Bailey
Catalyst by Gabrielle Harbowy
The Fountain’s Choice by Rachel Manija Brown
House of Fifteen Widows by Kari Sperring
Zandru’s Gift by Vera Nazarian
Late Rising Fire by Leslie Fish
Evanda’s Mirror by Diana L. Paxson
At The Crossroads by Barb Caffrey
Second Contact by Rosemary Edghill and Rebecca Fox
A Few Words For My Successor by Debra Doyle and James D.Macdonald
Cover designed by Dave Smeds


Look for it in June 2014 in both ebook and print editions.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

BOOK RELEASE: Ink Dance: Essays on the Writing Life.

I've put together a collection of essays on writing - craft, survival, inspiration, career, and many other topics. Here it is, new from Book View Cafe! If you've enjoyed my blogs here, check it out!




A cup of inspiration, a dash of understanding, and a generous serving of wisdom for writers new and old. From the desk of writer and editor Deborah J. Ross comes a collection of warm, insightful essays on the writing life: including getting started, negotiating with the Idea Fairy and creating memorable characters, writing queries, surviving bad reviews, dealing with life’s interruptions, confronting creative jealousy, and nourishing yourself and your creative muse.

It's available in epub and mobi versions (so you can read it on your Kindle or Nook, as well as other ereaders) and you can download a sample chapter. Only $2.99.

Monday, January 13, 2014

I Can Haz Bragtiime Now?

Over on The Book Smugglers, Andrea K. Host offers a grand and rich list of women writers of science fiction and fantasy. And she included me!


Here's what she says about my work:

Under the name Deborah Wheeler there are two science fiction novels: Jaydium (combining time travel and possibility) and the planetary adventure Northlight (where aranger in exile tries to track down a lost friend and discovers layers of conspiracy).

As Deborah J Ross, along with a number of books in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover world, the author has recently embarked on a grandly epic fantasy series revolving around a broken shield that is the key to keeping the whole world in one piece.

I am majorly stoked.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Azkhantian Tales - More Ebook editions

My short story collection, Azkhantian Tales is now available from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com. (And from Book View Cafe, the original publisher!)

Across the Azkhantian steppe, warrior women ride to battle against foes both human and supernatural. From the world of The Seven-Petaled Shield come four fantasy tales, originally published in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword & Sorceress.


Prophecy links a mother and daughter in an unbreakable bond.
A young woman defies tradition to become a shaman.
When twins are magically divided, the survivor searches for the other half of her soul.
A warrior woman discovers that to wield a magical blade dishonorably carries a heavy price.

This collection includes a previously-unpublished Introduction.Only $1.99!

J. R. R. Tolkien on Fantasy

A lovely quote, worth re-reading over time:

Recovery (which includes return and renewal of health) is a re-gaining—regaining of a clear view. I do not say “seeing things as they are” and involve myself with the philosophers, though I might venture to say “seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them”—as things apart from ourselves. We need, in any case, to clean our windows; so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness or familiarity—from possessiveness. Of all faces those of our familiares are the ones both most difficult to play fantastic tricks with, and most difficult really to see with fresh attention, perceiving their likeness and unlikeness: that they are faces, and yet unique faces. This triteness is really the penalty of “appropriation”: the things that are trite, or (in a bad sense) familiar, are the things that we have appropriated, legally or mentally. We say we know them. They have become like the things which once attracted us by their glitter, or their colour, or their shape, and we laid hands on them, and then locked them in our hoard, acquired them, and acquiring ceased to look at them.
[…]
Creative fantasy, because it is mainly trying to do something else (make something new), may open your hoard and let all the locked things fly away like cage-birds.

The whole article is here.

Monday, January 6, 2014

GUEST POST: Mary Rosenblum on How To Handle Bad Reviews

Paul Klee
What do you do when you get the really nasty review?

You know, we don't teach writers about reviews and reviewers and we should. Everybody thinks of 'good' and 'bad' writing as a standard. If it's 'good' editors and readers will love it! If it's 'bad' nobody will publish the story and readers will hate it. Alas, that mean that many authors who had a really good story felt like failures when they couldn't sell it to a publisher, when it was a matter of simply not suiting the publisher's target audience. The quality of the book was excellent, the publisher felt it wouldn't get the huge numbers of sales they needed in order to show a profit.

Self-publishing has let authors take their stories directly to readers and they vote with their mouse-clicks. You either sell or you don't, but we all know that it's a bit of a slow process at first, that self-publishing is all about the long tail. Meaning your sales are probably not stellar at first, with only one or two books out. So, the feeling of 'success' or 'failure' gets put on hold. Gotta wait to see how many people like it…

Enter the reviewers.

We love Authority. Authorities Know A Lot. Authorities Pass Judgment and They Are Gods. Reviewers Are Authorities And Therefore, They Are Gods.

Really?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Nice review of COLLABORATORS

Starship Reckless offers a thoughtful pairing of novels from 2011/2012 and now. Collaborators was one of the current novels discussed.

Collaborators shows how a non-terrestrial culture interacts  with a stranded human starship whose crew, bolstered by its formidable  technology, forgets that they are not gods and interfere heavily in the  politics of two adversarial nations.  The major conflict is nuanced by  ambiguities and dilemmas on all sides and at many levels.

Wheeler’s Quaker beliefs are visible (including the refusal to  indulge in charismatic saviors) and the parallels to the havoc wrought  by imperial-nation interventions on earth are clear.  The alien biology  and first-contact dynamics are handled unusually deftly; the narrative  polyphony weaves complex melodies and harmonies.  Wheeler’s world is effortlessly immersive and teems with fully realized characters.

(For those of you new to this blog, Deborah Wheeler was my former name and I still use it for novel-length science fiction. Although I am married to a Quaker and attend Meeting, I am myself not a member.)

Friday, January 3, 2014

For Your Award Consideration...

Now that 2013 is over, it's the season of award nominations.For those of you who might be
nominating work for the Nebula and Hugo Awards, here are my own offerings:


Novels:

  • The Children of Kings (with Marion Zimmer Bradley), DAW, 3/13
  • Collaborators (as Deborah Wheeler), Dragon Moon Press, 5/13
  • The Seven-Petaled Shield, DAW, 6/13
  • Shannivar, DAW, 12/13

Novelette:

  • “Among Friends” (Quakers, the Underground Railroad, and a slave-catching automaton), F & SF (3-4/13)

Short story:

  • “The Hero of Abarxia”, When The Hero Comes Home 2, ed. G. Harbowy, Dragon Moon Press
  • “Pearl of Tears,” Sword & Sorceress 28, ed. E. Waters, MZB Literary Works Trust

Thursday, January 2, 2014

[Personal] 2014 - The Year of the Hike?

Photo by Cleo Sanda
2014 looks to be The Year of the Hike. Already been on one, in addition to jaunts with the West Park Women's Walking Society.

Some background. When Dave and I were courting, we developed a custom of hiking on Sunday afternoons, usually on the trails in back of my house, where we could take Oka. Somehow, those went by the wayside when we moved into our current together-house. We have access to a lovely road that leads into town (the afore-mentioned West Park) but it's paved and has only a few gentle hills. Recently we've been talking about getting back into hiking, taking advantage of our current dog-hiatus to go places we can't take a dog. So, Waddell Creek (Los Osos State Park) - just gorgeous. And as soon as I figure out how to get my phone to talk to my computer, I'll put up pics.

The West Park Etc. evolved from various pairs of us becoming exercise-buddies. The walk into town, a nice outing with the added benefits of taking stuff to the bank, post office, library, etc., is beautiful and there's not much traffic. Often, it was just me and one of my neighbors, one of whom also works at home, the other used to work night shift. In recent months, a musician has not only joined us but often is the Organizing Whirlwind. Thanks to my friends, I'm now back to doing that walk about five times a week, and I can tell the difference in my endurance and leg strength.

The incredibly mild weather has made these walks even more pleasurable, plus there's the push to get them now before it rains. When it rains. If it rains. Please Rain God, let it rain.