Friday, August 29, 2014

GUEST BLOG: Juliette Wade on "Gatekeepers - you're one, too"

There are always gatekeepers.

I think when we writers most commonly use the term we're thinking of editors, because editors are he most famous. We think of the magazine slushpiles and those assigned to read them, whether they be designated first readers or head editors. We think also, of course, of the agents and editors in the novel-publishing world. Gatekeepers are the ones who get to say to you,

"Alas..."

or to put it less gracefully,

"No."

Here's the thing, though. The editors and agents aren't the only gatekeepers here. Every one of us who participates in this enterprise is a gatekeeper. It's just that the job of gatekeeping without an official title is far more complex, and more likely to go unnoticed.

Say I'm online and I get approached by someone I don't know, asking to connect or even to have a live hangout with me. How do I know that person is for real, and not some sort of spammer/scammer?

Or...

Say I'm at a convention and someone wants to come up and talk to me about my writing, or their writing, or writing, or science fiction and fantasy in general. And I have somewhere to go, or I feel uncomfortable, or I've been deluged by fans (not that this happens to me!) and have had enough, etc. etc. I say no or back out of the conversation. There are plenty of perfectly legitimate reasons to do this. Some of them have to do with mental bandwidth and exhaustion rather than anything else.

However, this is also where inclusiveness succeeds or fails.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Tajji Diaries: Alarm Clock




Dogs, like many other animals, are Creatures of Schedule. They seem to feel most secure when recurring events are predictable – the sun comes up, monkeys get up, we go walkies, then breakfast, then nap, then playtime…and so forth. They love rituals, like the one Dave has created for putting on the harness. It’s a version of Keepaway, with great romps through the living room, corridors, and open dining area. Her body language says it’s great fun, and she stands willingly when it’s all over. Interestingly, Tajji understands that this is a game to be played only with Daddy Monkey. Mommy Monkey is all business when it comes to gearing up, hence the harness is donned not in the living (Keepaway) area but in the mudroom.

To everything there is a season…
A time to pounce on cats, a time to be rubbed against,
A time to nap, a time to romp,
A time to cuddle on the monkeys’ bed, a time when doggies are not allowed on the bed…
A time to be lazily retired, and a time to impose order on the household.

Now that Tajji has settled into her new family, she feels it is incumbent upon her as the resident dog to impose some degree of order upon her monkeys. We noticed very early on that if either of us closed the door behind us and it did not latch, Tajji would very shortly poke her nose in, ascertain we were okay, and then withdraw. She was keeping an eye on us! (This was a little disconcerting at first in the bathroom.)

Monkeys and doggie do not always agree on what constitutes a proper daily schedule. Dave gets up quite early, but especially when I’ve had a rough night, I’ll sleep in, hauling myself out of bed between 7:30 and 8:00 am.

Tajji has other ideas.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

And Now A Word From The Cats…



Shakir and Gayatri
I’ve been blogging about Tajji, our newly-adopted retired seeing eye dog, all the training we’re doing with her, how she’s recovering from the stress of many years of service. The cats have played no small role in helping her to adjust, and she in turn has provided them with interest and amusement.

“What’s that? Oh, you’ve brought us a dog to play with. She’s very big and very, very furry.”

“Um, this dog is exceptionally rude. She moves too quickly and looks directly at us.”

“Um, this dog is also exceptionally stupid. Sure, she’s finally understood how to greet us politely and that we don’t like big things moving fast in our general direction. But when we tell her we’d like to play, she acts brain-dead. And what’s with her bowing to us? What the heck does that mean?”

“Shakir has finally educated the dog to the point where they can romp, even if the dog does get carried away. He bestows upon the dog the great honor of grooming her, despite getting a mouthful of fur – the dog is incredibly furry! But she seems oblivious of his signals that he’d like her to groom him in return. Gayatri is of the opinion that being slobbered all over does not constitute grooming.”

Both cats have now marked the dog as Theirs by rubbing their jaws along her muzzle or feet. But cats have lives beyond taking care of the dog. They engage in various typically feline behaviors, each having staked out several prime napping areas (that vary according to seasonal sunlight).

Gayatri has turned out to be musical. She’s an extremely vocal cat and will meow loudly under many different circumstances:

“Where have you been? How dare you neglect me for this long?”

“I’m starrrrving!”

“Out! Now!”

"Pick me up! Nooooowwww!"

“I know you want to nap but I want to knead your stomach more.”

“Piano! What is that sound! I must sing with it!”

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Tajji Diaries: “Cats and Dogs Living Together…”


Shakir invites play

In recent blog posts, Dave and I have discussed Tajji’s progress in dealing with other dogs. Tajji is our newly (5 months) adopted retired seeing eye dog, a 10 year old German Shepherd female who had major reactivity issues, especially with small dogs. The extraction of a fractured tooth has resolved her chronic pain, and enrollment in a reactive dog class (“Reactive Rover” taught by Sandi Pensinger of Living With Dogs, using only positive techniques, never punishment) has given us all tools to continue progress. 

It’s time for an update on Tajji’s adventures in Living With Cats. For the 8 years of her working life, she did not live with cats, although we assume she was exposed to them as part of her early socialization and training. We introduced her to our two dog-savvy cats in stages, beginning with barriers and progressing to escape-places for the cats and lots of human supervision. After some initial confusion on the part of the dog, because cats and dogs interprets many body-language signals in different ways, communication was established and détente soon followed.

The next phase was entirely the doing of Shakir, our black male cat who has a history of being extremely fond of large dogs. He adored our previous German Shepherd Dog, who was too intimidated to let Shakir cuddle with him. Tajji is of a much more phlegmatic temperament than our previous dog, and it wasn’t too long before she would curl up at our feet at the dining table and Shakir would come over, approaching her politely (no direct eye contact, curved path, looking away, soft eyes). A sniff became a rub, and soon he was polishing her feet, her muzzle, and the sides of her head with his jaw. Purring loudly, he’d pass under her head, turn and repeat, and I’m sure the banquet of kitty-butt smells was delightful to the dog. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Career Chat: Why Writing Really Good Books Matters

 Author Bob Mayer posted a great discussion entitled, If I Were a Newly Self-Published Author, What Steps Would I Take To Succeed?


I love that his first point is to write really good books, and that it takes time and practice to do that. (And, for most of us, critical feedback, which could be from a good workshop or a professional editor.)


We aren't born knowing how to write really good books. Some of us have more aptitude than others, but while -- as the saying goes -- writing cannot be taught, it can be learned. What that means is that there are many ways to get better. Didactic learning (in a classroom or formal workshop, from lectures, from a teacher) is only one. Some writers fizzle in such environments but thrive when left alone. (I'm not one of them -- I fall in love with my own hideous mistakes.)




Every once in a while, a first novel works. Gets published. Does well. Usually it's a book that the author has slaved over for years, sometimes decades. The book has been honed and evolved over time, making it the equivalent of many separate books in terms of practice. Then what happens all too often is that the second book is a failure. Expectations based on that first book are dashed because the subsequent books are written in a year instead of a decade. (Of course there are exceptions, but far too few.) The other thing is that new writers are not usually astute enough to judge the quality of a book they've obsessed about for so long. They're too close to it, they're enveloped by it.

My first professional novel sale (Jaydium, to DAW in 1991) was actually the 6th or 8th novel I'd completed, depending on how you count (drafts/revisions/novellas). (And I'd revised it -- major rewrites not just polishing -- 3 or 4 times.) I have no idea if I'm a slow learner or whether we just don't talk about all those sub-publication-threshold books we struggled through. There's nothing either right or wrong about how many books we have to write in order to achieve one that we can be proud of, one we can use to launch a career.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Seven-Petaled Shield - More Early Opening Chapter

For your reading pleasure, here is the second part of a very early opening chapter to The Seven-Petaled Shield. I've left it just as I wrote it, without attempting to bring spelling, name usage, place names, and the like, into congruence with the final, edited version. For myself, I find it fascinating to see how an author develops the characters and story. I hope this is interesting and rewarding to you, too.

This is one of several sketches and out takes, which will be archived under "Read A Story" as I post them here.

You can buy the book at the usual places, your local bookstore, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or Powell's.


Chapter 1 (continued)


Zevaron took his breakfast before dawn with the other seamen. Someone had gone to shore and brought back fresh bread and fruit, small tart plums and dried figs.  The bread was coarse-grained, chewy with ground nuts.  Some kind of spice had been added, one Zevaron couldn’t identify.  Night had masked the strangeness of the place, but day could not keep it out.  Even the wooden sides smelled different here in port, and without the constant battering of waves, the ship seemed to be frozen in place.  The sailor who had warned him that he would be given a new name, a slave’s name, perhaps the name of a pet animal, cuffed him on the shoulder, not unkindly.

“No oars today, eh lad?”

From above came a shout.  The seamen swarmed up the ladder, Zevaron with them, and he got his first view of a Geloni city, a riot of brightness in the rising sun.  He had seen the wharves and jetties, with all the myriad craft, only as shadows.  Now shape and color assaulted him.  The sails were not only unbleached white but red and striped, the prows painted and adorned with carven images of women and or fish-tailed kings or strange beasts.  All around, boats were being loaded and unloaded.  Men bowed under their burdens, sacks and crates and barrels, their skins gleaming like polished metals, copper and iron and alabaster.  Carts rattled along the wooden jetties.  Zevaron had never seen onagers before; the desert tribes, including his own people, used ponies or camels.  The smells of brine and tar mingled with a thousand others.

For the next two hours, he had little attention to spare for the wonders of Verenzza.  Under the captain’s watchful eye, he hauled and carried and stacked, along with the grown seamen.  As usual, he made no complaint at weight or awkwardness.  Men in robes of pale yellow and red-trimmed white met with the captain and bargained, gesticulating toward the ship and the growing pile of cargo.  Zevaron supposed that they were arguing over whether they were about to receive the goods they had contracted for.  In the end, the city merchants departed, and the captain carried on board several small metal coffers.

Zevaron came on deck as he was bidden.  His mother stood there.  She wore her usual robes, stiff with dust and grime, but her hair was braided tight against her skull and then falling in a dozen wetly gleaming plaits. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Tajji Diaries: Dogs In Love?


Tajji running full-out after the ball

Our new-to-us retired seeing eye dog, Tajji, has been making good progress with her reactivity to other dogs and sometimes to people. A great deal of this progress has occurred in the “Reactive Rover” class taught by Sandi Pensinger of Living With Dogs in Soquel, CA. This does not necessarily mean Tajji can and will take what she’s learned (“good things happen when I look calmly at another dog”) and apply them to other places and other dogs. Dogs do not generalize. To them, every situation is unique. This is why practicing in as many environments and with as many diverse combinations of stimuli is necessary.

At the last formal meeting of the class, only two dogs attended: Tajji (with both of us) and George-The-Labrador (with his surprisingly spry 90 yo owner). We practiced with a small (real) dog decoy behind a blind. This means that the little dog was behind a three foot high screen, and her handler brought her out where the “student” dog could see her. At first, the exposure was just a peek-a-boo, then standing still but constant, then moving.  Movement draws a dog’s attention and is therefore more strongly stimulating. The student dog was rewarded for calm behavior by getting to run away, then praise and a treat. The retreat is a “functional reward” – that is, the thing that makes the dog nervous becomes farther away, and since dogs are highly sensitive to distance, the dog becomes happier and calmer. Gradually, we waited until the student dog disengaged with the decoy: a Look-Away, a lip lick, or even the sideways flick of a perked ear. All these things signal that the dog is not longer “locked and loaded” on the decoy. The dog has chosen to step back from confrontation. A Look-Away is particularly powerful because a direct, fixed stare is threatening. We then reward our dog in the same manner as before for lowering the tension of the visual encounter.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Early Opening Chapter to The Seven-Petaled Shield


For your reading pleasure, here is a very early opening chapter to The Seven-Petaled Shield. I've left it just as I wrote it, without attempting to bring spelling, name usage, place names, and the like, into congruence with the final, edited version. For myself, I find it fascinating to see how an author develops the characters and story. I hope this is interesting and rewarding to you, too.

This is the first of several sketches and out takes, which will be archived under "Read A Story" as I post them here.

You can buy the book at the usual places, your local bookstore, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or Powell's.



Chapter 1

Late summer dusk hung like a pearly veil over the spires and towers of Verenzza. The glare of the day, hot and bright as the marble mined in the far reaches of the Gelon Empire, fell away. Even the water lapping the ancient piers hushed, as the borders between wave and wood, sky and earth melted.  The shoremen, teams of bronze-skinned, shaven-headed Xians, moved slowly through the slow spiral coiling of ropes, the dance of knots, the lifting of crate and barrel. Above them hung a moon just past half full, the lesser part still holding its secrets. Bright and dark alternately patterned the water.

The ship glided between the jetties, past barges and slavers, jooks and pleasure craft, its single sail limp, its oars barely touching the barred ripples.  Moon and twilight touched the craft, its sides like oyster silver, the spars and ropes to beaded pearl. No Verenzzan ship this, with strange symbols carved like amulets into the prow.  Every line of her breathed out a rare perfume, as if she had just drifted down from the glory fading in the western clouds.

The shoremen paused and watched, caught for a moment.  Then the light shifted, and the ship diminished, swallowed by the brine-laced shadows, one more sea-wracked craft limping into harbor, using the tidal current to spare its crew. 

In short time, the ship was moored and anchored, the fees paid to the Emperor’s harbormaster.  Tomorrow the shoremen would return to unload the cargo, but by now, ink stained the silver.  The moon paled against a milky banner of stars.

Soon the deck was empty except for the watch.  Within the oddly shaped cabin, light flickered, softly gold against the silver-black night.  A half-grown boy clambered up the rope ladder from below, moving slowly, pausing before the final reach and haul to gain the deck.  He wore ragged-hemmed drawstring pants several sizes too big for him, his hair a tousled fall of night.  The skin over his thin ribs was unmarked, velvet, as if the dust of the faroff lands still clung like a perfume.  He moved to the cabin door with an odd, liquid grace, a grace practiced and hidden from ordinary eyes.

A woman’s voice murmured within the cabin, clear as the sky after a storm, each syllable echoed in measured precision.  The boy tapped, listened, went in.  

The captain’s cabin, never spacious, had been divided with a patched curtain like a map of ports and lands, scraps of brocade and homespun, greasy suede and camel’s-hair cloth from far Azkhantia.
The woman sat on the single bed, built snug into the side of the cabin, narrow and spare, its mattress pressed like sandstone into the wooden frame.  An oil lamp hung beside her shoulders, and she held herself calm and straight.  The golden light burnished her skin to bronze, gleamed on the high cheekbones, the long knife-slim nose, the huge shadowed eyes.  She wore a loose hooded robe, desert-style, covering her from wrist to throat to toe tip.  On her lap, she held a book, tipping it to catch the light.  White salt crystals stiffened the leather covers.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Friday, August 1, 2014

GUEST BLOG: Katharine Kerr on "The Obligatory Scene"



There are some scenes in a movie, play, or story that the readers want to see and will feel disappointed if they don=t see them. Sometimes these scenes are not strictly necessary to that elusive beast, The Plot, but that doesn=t matter. Readers will feel cheated if they=re not there.

Consider the end of THE RETURN OF THE KING. It would have been possible for Tolkien to leave out the bit where the ring goes into Mt. Doom. He could have kept the point of view on the battlefield with the other main characters, waiting and hoping C until suddenly, off in the distance, the volcano blows. Someone could cry AFrodo=s done it, he=s destroyed the ring!@ I suspect a great many readers, myself included, would have muttered something most unflattering to the author at that point and perhaps even flung the book across the room.

Obligatory scenes can occur at other places in a book than the end, of course. Another example from a fantasy novel: two characters are riding toward an important destination. Alas, the only road runs through the mountains in a pass known to be infested by bandits. What=s more, the enemies of the two characters are probably waiting there to ambush them. They head into the pass. Chapter Break! They are riding out of the pass, quite beaten up, to be sure, and talking about what a stiff fight they had, there in the pass. Why the editor allowed this writer to get away with this lapse, I don=t know. I sure wasn=t impressed enough to read another book in that series.

Nor does the obligatory scene have to be a large or violent confrontation or action sequence. It can be a simple emotional moment or a conversation. For instance, in real life history, Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I never met. On stage (Sardou, I think) and in many movies, they have met, because hell, they really should have, and the audience wants to see it.

*************
Katharine Kerr spent her childhood in a Great Lakes industrial city and her adolescence in Southern California, whence she fled to the San Francisco Bay Area just in time to join a number of the Revolutions then in progress. After fleeing those in turn, she became a professional story-teller and an amateur skeptic, who regards all True Believers with a jaundiced eye, even those who true-believe in Science. An inveterate loafer, baseball addict, and rock and roll fan, she begrudgingly spares time to write novels, including the Deverry series of historical fantasies or fantastical histories, depending on your point of view. She lives near San Francisco with her husband of many years and some cats.