Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Firedancer is Out!

Woohoo! Firedancer, my first published novel (not the first written, but the first to find its way into print) is now out! It's available as an ebook at Amazon, Smashwords, and soon will be downloadable to Barnes and Noble's Nook, Sony and Apple e-readers, and pretty much anywhere else ebooks are available.

It is awfully strange to see your work out in the big world, defenseless to unkind reviewers and the averted eyes of friends who may not have liked it. I do confess to some trepidation, but even if everyone hates it, I daresay it will not detract from the pleasure I derived in writing it. This was a fun book to write because it departed from so many comfort zones for me. It has a female protagonist (I usually write men). It has not a horse or a sword in sight (I like epic fantasy). It uses an other-world setting that is not Earth in any way (I'm a history major. I like grounding my stories somewhere in time). In other words it is different--which is good! If I have to read one more cover blurb about dragons I'll start throwing things. And I don't want to write the same story over and over.

Firedancer is about a woman battling an enemy she knows can never ultimately be defeated, only fought to a standstill. Like evil, the Ancient, the elemental fire at the heart of her world, will always be there. But is the Ancient evil, or merely desperate, a thinking creature confined to a stony prison who desperately wants out? Who has a right to exist the same as all other creatures created by Earth Mother? But how can the Fire Clans--or anyone--make standing room for a creature that must destroy to exist?

Fantasy fiction is often pooh-poohed by the mainstream as fluff, but fantasy just takes the very real issues that face us all and places them in more interesting settings than the mundane everyday world around us. What Jetta learns in the course of her long fight scars her, changes her, makes her reassess everything she thinks she knows--just as good fiction of every type makes the central character think and grow. She is forced to painful choices, the kind that may face us all unexpectedly, because each of us may be thrust without warning into the sort of life or death decisions that define our character. If a car flips over in front of you and starts to burn, do you rush to save the driver, or prudently keep out of danger? Which of three badly hurt people do you work on first? If a crisis hits, where do you focus your energy? Jetta faces such decisions in the context of her responsibility to the village she is tasked to protect.

And as the danger begins to grow intense, so too her personal life grows more complex and vexing, until she finally realizes that the two cannot be separated--answers to everything lie in how she approaches those around her. Isn't that real life in a nutshell?

I hope you'll check out Firedancer's possibilities. Edited by Irene Radford and published by Sky Warrior Books, it is both affordable and available--and a decent read, if I do say so myself. You can preview the first chapter right here and buy the entire book here.

Happy reading!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Taming the Internal Editor

As I struggle to bring Windrider into being, whilst eagerly awaiting the publication of Firedancer (September 1st! Less than a week!) I find myself fighting the oldest trap of all--endless revision. One of the hardest things about slogging through writing a new novel is the constant urge to keep circling back to "fix" previous scenes, to make everything perfect before gritting your teeth and resuming the tough job of pulling words out of nothing. The constant nagging of the muse, like the monotone whining of a small child demanding attention, is so damned effective that the desire to give in is well nigh overpowering. And seductive. And so, so much easier than facing the blank page every day.

Don't go there.

Constant fiddling is death to forward progress. Some writers become so obsessed with perfection they never finish anything. Ergo, these people are not people you've ever heard of. They are not published. They are not really even writers, because writers finish things. They tell the story--the whole story. All of it, beginning, middle, and end. In other words, they keep writing, suppressing all the whining of the Muse to go fix that and that and oooh, just that one little thing, pleeeease??


For those of you caught in this quicksand, here are a few quick tips for getting the upper hand on revisionitis:
  1. Note down the things you want to change as they occur to you. This relieves the anxiety to remember them, and ensures you capture the idea while it's hot. Do NOT make a separate file, which drags you away into the seductive trap of expanding on your notes, ignoring the draft. Put those notes on the first page of the manuscript, right in front of the title. You cannot fail to see them when you start back through on the revision, but they are well away from where you're working. Out of sight, out of mind.
  2. Pretend you made the changes earlier on, and continue writing new material as if it were grounded in the envisioned rewrite. Go ahead and give your character that funny accent halfway through, or add a quirk to a sidekick as it occurs to you, or shift your capital city from the mountains to the seaside because it works for the plot. Smoothing out the inconsistencies is a task of revision, not drafting. Note it, save it, work on it later.
  3. Give in gloriously to the urge to write stuff out of order. If that scene is burning in your head, write it! Append it to the end of the draft if the plot has not advanced that far yet, and feel the wonderful boost when you do battle your way up to it and discover 5 or 50 finished pages awaiting you. Or plug it into the previous material and utterly resist the urge to sand away around the edges to make it fit seamlessly. It. Will. Be. There. Revision after draft, remember?
  4. Read only the previous five pages of the manuscript when you sit down to work (or everything you wrote yesterday, if you absolutely must). Constantly rereading the previous stuff is just an excuse for not writing new stuff. Refresh your memory and start typing, bucko. It's the only way to finish.
  5. Stop each day with the next sentence in your head. This is a natural lead-in to the next day's writing, and encourages forward progress. If you write until the words dry up every day, it is much harder to jump start the story. Leave the Muse champing at the bit to get going again, and you will remain eager to write rather than revise.
Like probably every other writer in the known universe, I keep a notebook beside the bed, and attempt to not spend all night writing the book in my head. And when I'm stuck, and the words won't come, I write anyway, because word processors are so wonderful with their cut/paste and delete functions. No actual trees die while I put drivel onto the screen attempting to blow up the figurative log jam. And from that drivel often comes the foundation for real scenes and powerful insights that revive the story and get me excited to write it again.

All novels stick in the middle, just about, as the first enthusiasm wears off and the writing becomes work instead of inspired pleasure. It's just the way it is. The only way to finish is to write new material, every time you sit down to work on the book. So turn off your internal editor and just get on with it. Hopefully these few tips will help, or you'll develop your own system of bribery and blackmail to get yours under control. Chocolate....yeah. Lead me to it!

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Road to Worldcon

I traveled to my first Worldcon last week and got home yesterday. It was big, it was fun, I sold some books, gave away a lot of promos, talked to a lot of people and renewed acquaintances with friends. But it was the road trip that I enjoyed as much or more than the con itself, for reasons that go way back in my personal history.

I chose to drive the 800 miles to Reno rather than fly because a) I needed a road trip to clear out my head and b) I loathe TSA, boring layovers, and being stuffed into a flying sausage like a fourth-rate condiment. The Pacific Northwest offers some of the most beautiful and varied scenery on earth, and it had been a long time since I got to see parts of it. So...off I drove on Tuesday morning, southwest into Oregon to run down the eastern side of the Cascades.

I avoided the main roads for the most part, because back roads are so much more interesting. I love all those little towns where the altitude is 10 times the population. I love the freewheeling names awarded by our pioneer ancestors or drawn from Native American words, and the myriad historical markers that deal in the best kind of trivia for this history major. All those isolated little farms and ranches out in the middle of nowhere remind me how tough my ancestors were...and how tough Americans still are, deep down.

My great-great-grandmother came across the Plains in a covered wagon in 1864, all the way from Iowa to Oregon, which meant she passed through some of the very same country I drove through on the way to Reno and on the return. I looked at all those rocky, rough hills of central and eastern Oregon, the unforgiving sagebrush flats, the dust and the hot, dry gullies the wagons had to cross, and I don't wonder why they could only make 10-12 miles a day. For the first wagon trains through, who broke trail and found the routes, it must have been one hellish frustration after another.

Much of the route I drove on the way home shows little to no sign of man's meddling on the landscape, so it was easy to imagine the country as she must have seen it. I passed Farewell Bend, where the wagons left the good water and lush grass along the Snake and turned northwestward again into the harsher going toward the Columbia and the float downriver to the Willamette Valley that was their destination. I passed the grave of Sacajawea's son, who was born during the Lewis and Clark expedition as his parents guided them west, and served as a symbol of peace to suspicious tribes along the way. He ended up traveling the world, only to die in the middle of nowhere on his way to a gold strike in Montana. Perhaps it was natural he had itchy feet, a born traveling man.

I appreciate my ancestors who built a country--a great country. I fervently wish they had not been so focused on their own goals that they eliminated the native cultures who came before, but people who condemn them conveniently forget that migration and upheaval are the true constants of history. The Ojibwa pushed the Sioux out of the Great Lakes onto the Plains; the Comanches practiced slavery and torture and themselves cut a swathe southward from Wyoming to Texas; the Crows made constant war on other tribes. No culture is perfect or free from human vices, so dare I be politically incorrect and salute the courage of people who simply wanted a better life, and had the gumption to endure hardship and uncertainty to get it? Their generation was horrified by the excesses of the Reformation from which their ancestors had fled, as ours is horrified by the pioneers' indifference to people they considered of less worth than themselves. Our grandchildren will be horrified by things we do routinely and thoughtlessly. It behooves us to quit imposing our values on people who never heard of them and simply accept our ancestors as they were.

I know that those landscapes will wend their way into my writing. The smell of sage and the lazy wind blowing dust along the horizon will populate my pages. The shy green in the bottom of a draw and the empty vastness of the sky catching the snowy heads of the Cascades will delight my memory. I hope my characters end up with the same fortitude and inner steel found in my great-great-grandmother's generation. Egad...I hope I do.

'Til next time.