Amid my mostly futile efforts to try combining multiple fairly substantial tasks - like writing, exercising, and house-work - within individual days, I ran across a snarky astrology page that was a revelation. Libra, my sign, is described as "Indecisive. Tries to balance everything".

Trying to balance everything might be a good description of my problem here. Or rather, trying to balance everything in a single day. It struck me - particularly as I close in on the end of the For Fun Fantasy Novel, finally - that the analysis at the end of the day really should be qualitative rather than quantitative. I don't mean that stuff doesn't get done, but I need a better metric than 24 hour cycles. I may get 5000 words a week done whether or not I write every day, but if I spend a day devoted to writing, rather than a half-hour here and there because I'm trying to do other things too, and those 5000 words are better when I can devote more time in one sitting to them, then what sense does it make to do everything in pieces?

Likewise, for work on the house. One of my upcoming projects is to rip up a small section of carpet and put down tile, for instance. It makes less sense to do this in several chunks than doing it over one or two days, and like those 5000 words, the quality of the job would probably be better. I can concentrate on tile without thinking "But I haven't written today...", or writing without thinking "There's still a lot of bare floor..."

So I just have to somehow un-corkscrew myself from Libra-ness. I might have had an easier time learning to balance, but we'll see. Maybe it's just a matter of getting out of the habit of going to bed thinking "What have I done today?" and replacing it with "What have I done this week?"

The exception to this, though, is exercise. Some things I can put off, but I put off exercise at my peril. Three times a week would be enough, or has been in the past, as long as it's consistent. This is something I need to keep up regardless of what else is going on the rest of the day, for my own long term (much, much longer than a week) sake.

Another bit of time unfortunately just opened up for my next few weeks, too: Amazon has cancelled its Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest this year. I've been a judge for that contest since its inception in 2008, and figured that being annual and being Amazon, I could solidly expect to do it again this year too. Nope. I heard from my Publishers Weekly editor, [personal profile] rosefox, yesterday that it was being scrubbed, with the official notice arriving today. Ah well. I thought it was a great thing and I hate to see it disappear. Some of the manuscripts I read were real stinkers - one year all of them were - but there were others I thought absolutely brilliant, and I'll miss those. RIP, ABNA.

* * *

Anyway, as I said above, I'm closing in on the end of No Word in Death's Favor. I might even wrap it up in another two chapters and perhaps a small epilogue. Then I'll connect the dots from chapter to chapter so it flows better, and then eventually decide whether or not I think it's any good.

I went into it not thinking about publishing as the major goal but experimenting with things I hadn't tried before, or not tried much. Publishing or not will enter my mind more thoroughly once it's finished. I'll try not to let the fact that I spent ten months on it influence my decision; aside from the fact that much of that time was spent not writing while I worked on New House, the extra time was also built in from the start because of all the experimenting (and, yeah, playing around in the name of experimenting).

Then again, I might really like it. We'll see.

And after that...maybe a Secret Project. I call it that because it's probably something I'm not supposed to be writing. But offhand I can't recall any time such a prohibition stopped me.


I'm facing another big Kill Your Darlings moment: As much as I like the first two chapters of my first Arizona novel, three years of distance and experience since writing them is increasingly telling me that they aren't nearly as up to par as I'd like. And that if I cut them out, plus changing the first three chapters from the second book into the last three of the first, I'll have a much stronger novel. This would start the book - which I might re-title Wolves in the Desert (currently the name of Book 2) - out with a single prehistory chapter and end with the beginning of Geronimo's warmaking in the 1850s.

I hate chopping that much. But if I finally decide that it makes the book better, I'll be ready with an hatchet in each hand.

And of course, in our fabulous Age of the Internet, if the book sells I can always put those two chapters (both prehistory - the first set at the end of the Ice Age and the second about the building of the great canals near modern Phoenix) online as free reads. This would also then have the effect of compacting my 2nd and 3rd Arizona novels into one book as well. Which means if I ever write the last book, the series would finish as a trilogy.

Meanwhile, I've also toyed with the idea of chopping up my last Shenandoah novel as well - ending it at the beginning of World War Two instead of the present day, then adding to the pre-existing chapters to have a final book more comprehensively covering the 1940s up to now. But that would depend on selling that series, too.

As for actual new writing, I knocked out 2000 words on the For Fun Fantasy Novel today, just to get in a few more licks before the end of the year. It's hovering around 115,000 words now and still not quite close to finished yet. It's a good thing that "Don't pay close attention to your word count" is one of the book's multiple experiments.
I don't really consider these highlights of what I've been up to lately, unless you call them scattered highlights. Since blogging seems to be practically impossible these days, though - ironically, I'm going to be doing a bit of public speaking about blogging tomorrow - I wanted to do some catching up if only in a small way.

  • Six months into my new life as a homeowner, I'm still working out the kinks of trying to do writing and house-related stuff in the same day. I've only managed it three times in recent weeks. Today, working on the house, was not one of those successfully joint days. Yesterday, writing chapter 20 of the For Fun Fantasy Novel, was also not one of those days. The fact that For Fun Fantasy Novel is for fun and is an experiment on several levels is enabling my bad segregation behavior. But I also know that when I get concentrating on something, that's the something I concentrate on for the time I have. When I write, I write till I'm done for the day. When I've been painting siding, organizing the still-unsettled parts of the house, raking the thirty million leaves from the forest surrounding me, or whathaveyou, then that is the something I work on until I'm done for the day.

    I like to play with the fantasy that if I ever became a full-time writer, this would change and I could get it all worked in each day, as I'd have an extra eight hours a day to work with. I'm sure all the full-time writers I've known are laughing right now.

  • In other news, some fun at work has become a practical tool.

    Writer Warning

    If you're reading this blog, you almost certainly know that I work at a college library. Well, two weeks ago today, one of the students (who also happens to work at the library) did a Makerspace presentation where she taught us how to make our own blackboards. I made the one you see in the picture above, minus the warning message. In the course of making it I half-joked that I ought to write the warning you see and place it on our main service desk where I sit at night. My boss happened to think this was a cute idea and gave me the OK to do it.

    I thought I was just having fun. But lo and behold, overall the last two weeks at the library have been remarkably quiet.

    We've put out signs asking people to be civil - or just outright asking them to keep the noise levels down. The signs are ignored, or occasionally moved out of sight by the people they're aimed at. We've asked people to keep the noise down, which generally works for about five minutes. Those and other measures have failed more often than not. But suddenly I threaten to write about people, and tranquility descends upon the library.

    Who knew writers had so much power? The pen is mightier than the shush.

  • I've written here before that I have a hard time teaching writing because I've been doing it for so long, and it's become so ingrained in me, that when you want me to pin down how I do what I do, I'm not really sure. I've discovered this week that my literary uncertainty encompasses blogging too. One of the other librarians here was slated to co-host a faculty service discussion about educational blogging, and asked me if I wanted to participate. Without realizing at first how close blogging is to writing for me *cough*, I agreed without hesitation. Then the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was as uncertain as to what I would say as I always am when someone asks me to talk about writing.

    I was invited to participate this past Monday; the discussion is tomorrow afternoon. I'm still working out what I'll be saying. If this goes like many other writing-related discussions and classes I've been in, I won't know part of what I'll say until I actually get there and start talking. At any rate, my portions of the event will be interaction, best practices, guest blogging, maybe some process, that sort of thing. Which is why I thought this was ironic for me to be doing right now, since the process hasn't been happening a whole lot lately.

    But who knows? Maybe I'll inadvertently reinvigorate myself my blogging by doing this.

  • The aforementioned For Fun Fantasy Novel, No Word in Death's Favor, is closing in on 100,000 words, and only about three-quarters done, so it's a pretty darn good thing that I've almost got myself convinced that I'm not paying attention to word count this time around. I'm not participating in NaNoWriMo, though I have been keeping a November word count, just because I'm a little obsessive that way.

    PROGRESS REPORT FOR 11/18/14 )
  • A few weeks ago Laurie wanted to attend a Quakers meeting and asked me if I'd like to come along. I did, having been interested in the Quakers for a long time but never having attended one of their meetings - I am curious if nothing else, and that was a good enough reason for me. Plus I suspected I might get a lot out of it. And also, the meeting house is an hour away when you hit all the green lights (in Roanoke, Virginia to be specific) and I work most Sundays, so there was no telling when I might ever make it back there. So off we went.

    I left half-an-hour early in case there were traffic issues, of which there were none, meaning we had a half-hour to walk up and down the street the meeting house was on - a street filled with brightly painted Victorian and Edwardian houses. I hadn't thought to bring a camera but my cell phone was good enough to take a couple dozen pictures. I went to the meeting in a good, calm frame of mind. That doesn't mean my mind was quiet. But then, it rarely is.

    For those who don't know, Quaker meetings don't follow the traditional pattern of Christian services. There is no sermon, no singing, no passing of the tithe plate. There is, however, a great deal of silence. The people who speak are the ones who are motivated to stand and speak - which can be anyone attending. During the hour Laurie and I were there, three people spoke, lasting a total of about five minutes. The rest was quiet, leaving people to their own thoughts, or meditation, or listening for the still small voice of God, or simply trying to clear their mind. And that was the time in which I discovered that silencing my mind is a lot harder than I thought.

    This isn't the first time I've discovered this, by any means. I've always been a daydreamer, or had things running through my head, however you want to look at it. In school as a kid (and sometimes older), in church (ditto), taking walks, even when reading or watching TV. Something is always going on in my brain; as often as not it's a story idea. During times when I was supposed to be meditating, or doing yoga, I didn't have much luck clamping down on my mental livestreaming. Within the first two or three minutes of silence among the Quakers, my brain was automatically playing out the next two chapters of No Word in Death's Favor.

    This time I thought I would be prepared. I was going to be in a good, calm, relaxing place. So how could I not keep my brain silent for that little while? But what I didn't realize until I got there was that running like a river under the silence was a palpable intensity of feeling and emotion. I might as well have been in a church where the sermonizing was powerful and the music loud, and all of it right in front of me. I certainly wasn't going to have any luck keeping my mind quiet. But at that point I decided this really wasn't necessary.

    At least not at that moment. Sooner or later there is likely going to come a time where I just need to stop thinking, even if it's only so I can get to sleep. But being at the Quaker meeting made me decide that it's not shushing my brain that's needful. The energy is going to be there; I should just put it to good use as long as it's going to insist on running around like a wet toddler escaping the bathtub anyway.

    It seems to me that the problem has been that I'm trying to tone down my thoughts or eliminate the thinking entirely. That plainly hasn't worked. Instead, what seems to work better is when I ramp up whatever is going through my head. This sounds counter-intuitive, but so far I've had some success with it. What I have to do is be a lot more selective about what I'm ramping up - or understand that I'll just let this thought have reign for a little while. If a thought is distracting me or it's depressive, not anything I really want to be dealing with, I let it get itself out for a few moments and then I pull a bait-and-switch on it. I wish I could be less vague but I'm still figuring out exactly how the process works. All I can do at the moment is liken it to telling it, "All right, you've done your screaming. Now let's move on to something else."

    This doesn't always work, of course. Some thoughts - especially the depressive ones - are incredibly tenacious no matter what I've tried. Those I usually have to ride out - or I find something else to distract myself with. But as I go I'm starting to catalog things to switch over that I already know have power enough to get me concentrating on them instead. Even if I can't knock down a thought process I don't want, I can dilute it.

    I'm still working on the complete silence part. The farthest along I've gotten there is muted background thoughts accompanied by quiet music.

    In the meantime, and since I haven't done this for awhile, here's a Progress Report on something that's been claiming a lot of my brain time lately.


    Well, two months since my last blog entry. Let's see if I can get back in this habit after a crazy-busy summer.

    Every now and then I have to do something writing-related...but not writing remember or get a handle on how it is I do what I do. In today's case I spoke with a group of eight upperclassmen about research - all kinds of research, since four of the students are doing a non-fiction thesis, and four a creative writing project. This was an English class taught by a professor I've known my whole time here at Ferrum, Lana Whited, who is probably best known off campus as the editor of The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter. Lana was familiar with Lest Camelot Fall, asked me to contribute an essay to her new upcoming Harry Potter anthology, and so invited me to come talk to her class about the way I do research.

    This was where my brain stumbled.

    I've done research for so long and do it so often that if I don't do something like give a presentation about it now and then, it becomes so ingrained that I have difficulty explaining how I do it. That was the case here, too, to the point where last night and this morning I had to sit down with Laurie so she could help me break it down and remember all the major points I should be talking about. What I ended up doing was a whirlwind through the major points, unstructured but rather based on reading the prologue of Camelot followed by the occasional question from Lana, and then a question-answer round with the students, though I did hit all the highlights.

    And thus breaking down my process, here are a few of the points I made:

  • This is the Golden Age of research. When I grew up your library had books, magazines, and newspapers--at the time there wasn't even any interlibrary loan, at least where I lived--and if they didn't have what you needed, you were out of luck. (Maybe you'd get lucky and find something at the local bookstore, but that was also hit and miss.) Nowadays almost everything is out there somewhere online if you know how to find it.

  • I don't usually dispute Stephen King, but I counseled that they avoid his advice of "Write the story first, and then do your research". I know why he advises this, but so many of my storylines, plot points, characters, and just cool stuff in general have come from research that I did before any writing commenced. in Camelot, for example, the characters of Gerralt and Drystan--Mordred's sons--were a straight-up research discovery. I hadn't even realized Mordred had sons, but in many of the early Welsh stories, there they were.

    So by all means make your outline, and don't get so buried in the research you never start writing or you sink your story with too much research...but never discount it in the pre-writing stages entirely.

  • Don't "Write what you know", but "Know what you write". I know that "Write what you know" is usually badly misinterpreted, but that's a big reason why I rearranged it. I say write about anything you want - but make sure you know what you're talking about. James Michener used to say that he got so well-versed in the places and eras he wrote about that he could teach a master's level class in them after his books were written. I don't know if you should go that far, but my own research has always been extensive, and I also gave the example of Laurie writing the biography of J.K. Rowling for the upcoming Harry Potter anthology. Laurie spent hours upon hours reading about Rowling, reading and watching interviews of her, watching Rowling's speeches, and so on, for a biography that would only be 2,000 words. Yet it isn't a biography of dry dates and facts but rather, thanks to all that work, one getting at the core of who Rowling is and what drove her to wrote the Harry Potter books, along with why she wrote them as she did.

    But I also explained that this didn't just mean places and things, but also your own characters. Get to know them as well as your best friends, and the places those characters live as well as your own home. And then, quoting Ernest Hemingway's "tip of the iceberg", don't put 90% of what you know in the story. But knowing them that well fleshes them out and makes them believable.

  • Don't just stick to the library, but do boots on the ground research whenever you can. Approach people who are experts in their fields. Talk to them. Most people, if they have time, are happy to share what they know with you, if they believe you're passionate about it too and will do right by the material. I gave them my favorite personal anecdote about this - how a descendant of the Apache leader Geronimo gave me a story about Geronimo's days hiding in the mountains of Arizona that I never before or since ran across in a book, but which went into my novel Copper Heart. I'd say there's an even chance that if I'd stuck to books I would never have run across that story, and yet it was a pivotal moment in Geronimo's life.

  • Read broadly, and don't just stick to researching in your own discipline. I've long since lost count of how many times I've seen articles that say things like "We don't know who built the great Chaco temples in New Mexico, or why they abandoned them, or who built the massive cliff dwellings in the Southwest, or why people abandoned those." If you think to ask the Hopi themselves, which I did, they'll give you long and detailed explanations about who built them and why they were abandoned.

  • Everything is research. I get ideas from everywhere: articles in magazines and newspapers, snippets of overheard conversations, people watching, history books, and wondering about the answers to questions I come up with. Anything from a war to someone's personal quirk or manner of speech might end up in a story or poem. A good researcher is someone who always keeps their senses open and is ready to note anything.

  • And finally, to make a point rather than showing any disrespect, I went to the class wearing a Shakespeare's Skum t-shirt featuring cartoon versions of Shakespearian villains which I bought a few years ago at the Maryland Renaissance Faire. The point was this: We all got into writing for a reason, and a big part of that reason is that writing is simply fun. It's hard to remember that sometimes when you're buried in research, or you have deadlines breathing down your neck, but sometimes you need to remember not to take yourself or the work too seriously, but step back and enjoy it. In my case, when I need to do this now and again, wearing the Shakespeare's Skum t-shirt - or my Shakespeare in the Empire Tour t-shirt, designed by my friend Dan Fahs many years ago and which features Shakespeare as a Klingon per Star Trek VI - helps me remember that.

    The professor greatly enjoyed the presentation and thanked me enthusiastically afterwards. I hope the students enjoyed it just as much. Better still, I hope they got something worthwhile out of it.
  • I know I've been off of Live Journal for awhile when it takes me a moment to remember my password.

    I've been spending a whole lot more time doing New House stuff than doing new writing, but I have been getting a bit done, and New House isn't the only thing to blame. Since this is the (still-untitled) For Fun Fantasy Novel, I decided to up the stakes and the fun by making it experimental across the board. I still write story notes, for instance, but I've done next to no outlining, writing by pants-seat instead. Trying it out to see how it feels.

    I'm also doing most of the world-building as I go. I come up with a great many of my story ideas by writing the story anyway, so this may not be that much of an experiment, but it's still intriguing to see what extra stuff happens to pop in my brain as I'm typing. I've had a few surprises, and many of them have been wound up in the manuscript, or notes to use for later.

    I may write out of chronological order - ward off writer's block by skipping ahead to places where I already know what happens. I've usually avoided this because I do come up with so many ideas as I'm writing that things may change radically by the time I get to the previously written part, but it's not without precedent. When I hit a major block during the writing of The Course of Heaven ages and ages ago, I skipped ahead to the last third of the book. That worked spectacularly well; I finished that third, something like 50,000 words, in a month. I'll plow straight ahead when I can, but will hold my breath and dive in to other pools when I can't.

    More vaguely, I'm also pursuing parts of the story I might not have if I was writing more typical to my process. Like the lyrics of my entry title say, watering the handsome weeds. I'm a big fan of weeds anyway, especially since I don't consider many of them them to be weeds. There's one thing I'll miss about my Old House, and that's the fact that if you waited a week or so beyond when most normal people would mow the lawn, the whole front yard would explode into a riotous mix of oranges, yellows, and purples...all from what most people consider weeds. If I had consistently mowed when I was "supposed" to, I would have never have seen all those wildflowers blossom year after year.

    I'm hoping this book works along the same principle.

    All of this makes the traditionalist in me nervous. I spent years building a writing process, and I've had some successes with it, though admittedly not as much as I would have hoped or always in the places I like. With my Shenandoah series, Arizona series, and To Murder an Empire out there, I've got plenty of material to submit to publishers, which gives me a lot of breathing space to play and experiment. So that's what I'll do, while I have the chance.

    (I do wish I could think of a title I like, though. That always makes me feel better no matter what other challenges are going on with the work-in-progress.)

    So, five chapters in. And the inaugural Progress Report, even though it opens with chapter five:

    PROGRESS REPORT FOR 7/13-14/2014

    New Words: 4100 (3500 / 600 ) on unnamed fifth chapter. (I may not have chapter names, just the names of the characters they center on.) Royal wastrel Jared, who is also in command of an army company, gets burned (some of his men literally) by accidentally creeping up on the edge of a secret.

    Total Words: 17,750.

    (Here I almost wrote "Book Year" out of habit. Thanks, last eight novels I wrote!)

    Reason For Stopping: Finished the chapter / Added some details, then re-finished the chapter.

    Mammalian Assistance: At any given time, Vegas the Writing Assistant and Nate the Fae Catcher test out their new spot atop a small bookshelf beneath the Writing Room Window.

    Exercise: One walk with Tucker and one walk with Laurie and both dogs around the neighborhood.

    Stimulants: Just apple cider. Non-hard.

    Opening Passage(s): I don't really care much for it but it works well enough for filler until I go back through . . .

    “Shal’s bones, what is that wretched smell?” the soldier riding just behind Jared whined.

    Jared suppressed the urge to pull the young idiot nobleman from his saddle and beat him to death with his own helmet. Jared had ordered quiet, but Ridyard, come straight to their punishment legion from the Shalkarian capital, was green, and well-born, and having trouble following orders from anyone who wasn’t his parents, General Nayim included. They rode through damp marsh-forest where the trail was little better than a cow’s wish, giving an enemy plenty of chances to make an ambush, and the wet would muffle most sounds of the hidden. They shouldn’t be riding at all through country like this, only marching — any rougher and the horses wouldn’t be able to move. But General Nayim ordered them to reach the coast in three days, and they had already burned through half that time negotiating the hoof-sucking path and humid, fetid air that choked the breath out of soldiers and horses alike.

    Darling Du Jour: Nothing springs out at me.

    Submissions Sent Out In June: 2 to magazines.

    Total Submissions Out Right Now: 11 to magazines, 2 to book publishers.

    Non-Research / Review Books In Progress: The Oxford History of Britain by Kenneth O. Morgan; Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD, by Peter Brown. Also reading a speculative book as a Publishers Weekly review that I'd love to rave about here except I can't tell you what it is.
    Over the past few days I've been scouring publisher websites trying to find a place I'd like to send my first Arizona book to. Along with the usual suspects, I've also been perusing the guidelines of various university presses that publish historical fiction, especially the sort based in the Southwestern U.S. And over and over again I see them requiring authors to answer the same question in a cover letter:

    "Why are you the one to write this book?"

    It's almost as ubiquitous as another question I'm seeing often: "What is your marketing plan?" (You show me yours and I'll show you mine!) Like the marketing question, however I feel about a publisher asking it, I can understand the motivation behind asking why. As often or more often than not they receive proposals for books rather than full finished manuscripts. And in the case of the university presses, most of their catalogs are non-fiction and, unlike the paper tiger's share of news outlets these days, their reputations can be made or broken on accuracy. There's still the "historical" in historical fiction, and I know they don't want to publish an historical novel that proves to be wildly inaccurate.

    So there are a lot of answers I suppose I could give. All of them entail the amount of research put into the novel one way or another, which also dovetails with another question they ask about the scope of your research. But really, the one I may end up giving boils down to one simple reply.

    I'm the one to write it because I've already written it, and no one else did.

    Take my Arizona books. From the very first day of my first trip out to Arizona in 1987 I knew I wanted to write a giant, multigenerational historical epic about it. The idea never left my mind; on and off over the years I created characters and storylines, and decided which historical events I wanted to rope into my corral. But I never wrote it. This was partly because I was waiting for someone else to do it - preferably someone actually from Arizona. (Or, hope against hope, my giant multigenerational historical epic inspiration James Michener himself.)

    And I waited, and waited.

    A quarter-century passed like this. By that point I'd written my Shenandoah novels, so I decided just to go ahead and write the Arizona novel (which became a series) myself.

    So again...I am the one to write these books because I'm the one who did. Ditto with the Shenandoah novels. (The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia attracts a lot of authors who like the Civil War, but anything set before that is scant, and afterwards practically nonexistent.)

    Hey, I gave everyone else a whole generation to write it, and nobody stepped up. So there you go.

    I think that may be my reply from now on if anyone asks me why I should be the one to do something, or who do I think I am to do it.

    Or if I haven't done it yet, I'll just reply "I'll answer that once I've done it". I think that covers plenty of ground.
    Things are still rolling along, and so long as they do I feel like I can actually breathe.

    Inspections and exterminations of The House are done. Title search is underway and should be finished soon (at least I hope it will, but The House has only had one owner in all its nearly fifty years - the owner which also had it built, and who happens to be my employer). I may have a closing date by tomorrow; for all that, I might've gotten one today except the closing lawyer was out. Nearly all of my books are packed, and I can still walk through every room amid the cardboard box canyons. I've also had two offers of free-loan pickup trucks, which is especially nice.

    Only two of our animals have ever changed residences before, and they've long since gotten used to the idea of all the boxes being packed. The others are blissfully unaware and simply think the stacks are cool places to lounge atop. Or stand guard.




    I still don't have my car back, but the engine has arrived and the mechanic has retrieved his engine lifter, so I'm hoping that won't be much longer either.

    Book Snatch posted an interview with me yesterday which was especially fun, particularly the question about the weirdest thing I'd ever done. Even filtering it to only stuff I'd talk about in public, that remained a pretty wide field.

    The Still-Unnamed For-Fun Fantasy Novel also continues. It's up to 7300 words at the moment, three scenes that will probably comprise chapters 2 (the first scene I wrote) and 3. I'd probably be farther along except I keep going back and rewriting chunks of chapter 2, and sooner rather than later will change and expand the ending. I'm still in Seat Of My Pants mode just as a fun experiment. Today the book revealed that one storyline will involve about half the characters and the attempt to build a giant library and museum on the edge of the desert. There will be politics and cultural convolutions surrounding that, but so far it's different enough from Pillars of the Earth that I'm not too worried about it seeming derivative.

    And it's been consistently warm and sunny for the past few days, which always makes me happier regardless of whatever else is going on.

    Anyway, I feel change in the wind, I'm relatively happy thus far with the Triple-F Novel, I've caught myself looking forward to the summer. Please, Universe, don't do anything to mess that up. :)

    As those of you who read this journal know, I have a dog named Tucker, also known by his extended nickname of Tucker the Big Dog. (He's not that large, actually, but this distinguishes him from our other pooch, Weezie the Little Dog.) In his younger years...and he might still try this now at the age of 12...he would stand at our front door, look outside, look at me, look back outside, look back at me, and promise that if I let him outside without leash or line he would be good, he really really would behave himself, no really.

    But if he did manage to get outside he would burst away like he'd been blasted off the surface of the Earth by a meteor strike. He would run and run and run and there was no stopping him. He could be a mile away in five minutes. He would run up and down the streets, through the woods, all over campus, all over the mountain we lived on. Sometimes he would come close by us, maybe less than ten feet away, but with a big grin on his face that told us he was playing and had no intention of being caught.

    Usually the only times we would catch him were when someone else tricked him into coming to them by offering pettings or treats, if he got stuck in something like a fence, or when he was finally done hours later and would show up on the porch as if he had not instigated a five square-mile dog hunt.

    Tucker pretending to be oh so yes-daddy-I'm-just-a-poor-innocent-dog! Rub my belly please?

    I'm telling this story because this is what my brain is doing to me now. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you; I just have to remember to chase it.

    My historical novels over the last few years, including my historical fantasy To Murder an Empire, have been like taking Tucker out on his leash. Sometimes we go around the neighborhood or campus, or sometimes we go hiking in the mountain woods. They're pretty orderly and methodical. Hiking can lead to a lot of uncharted territory, but there's no wild running off hither and yon to follow every scent or chasing after every little noise just beyond the trees ahead.

    But then along comes the for-fun fantasy novel I wrote about a couple of days ago. It's just like Tucker. It stood at the door saying "Please just let me out, I'll be good..." And I fell for it, and it took off. And now I'm chasing it all over the neighborhood and the forest and the mountains, frenetically writing down every snatch and scrap of idea that it comes across and shoots after.

    Of course, this time I'm enjoying it. I don't have to worry about the book getting hit by a car, or shot by a grumpy reclusive neighbor, or bitten by a sick animal, or whatever. I've decided just to let it bolt whichever way it wants while I run after it breathlessly, filling pages and scrap paper full of names and places, bits of world-building, and even a plot point or storyline here and there. So far I've been able to keep up with it just so long as I keep a sharp eye out.

    Eventually I'll catch up with it and put it on a leash (i.e., an outline)...for a little while. Then once it's rested I'll probably let it take off again. Just to see where it goes. I need the exercise and to whip myself into a bit better shape.

    It's been three weeks now since I've done any writing, at least beyond this blog, and this is not a state I'm happy with either physically or mentally. It seems to be one of the holding patterns that have characterized 2014 thus far - in this case, I didn't want to start writing the next Arizona Book yet, I've only just begun researching the Mississippi River Book, and I'm still waiting for a yea or nay on the Secret Project. So I was wondering what I might write next in the meantime, at least when I snatch time away from packing and the other house buying-related rigamarole.

    An odd answer came unbidden to me last night: Write something for fun.

    This is almost a foreign concept to me. I mean, sure, I have fun with everything I write. If I didn't, I wouldn't write it. But this wicked notion was to write something only for fun. Not with an eye to publishing, with absolutely no self-editor, but just writing whatever I felt like writing and however I felt like writing it and with a minimum (or no) research involved. Like an extended NaNoWriMo.

    It wouldn't be the first time I've done this, though it has been a long time. The last time I wrote a novel solely for the pleasure of it was back in 2005, with my so-far one-and-only young adult fantasy novel The Dark Horse. This was also an experiment to see if I could write YA fantasy. I'm not that great at objectively judging my own work so I still don't know whether or not I can write YA fantasy, as I've never submitted the book anywhere in all that time. (Maybe I should now. But that's another post.)

    I say the idea popped into my head last night. But I think it's been boiling for awhile.

    I've had various bits and pieces of a fantasy novel drifting into my head over the past few months. Characters, scenes, and locales with a bit of world-building. It seems very loosely based on the ex-Roman Imperial world of the 7th-9th centuries A.D., though not so close as to require huge chunks of historical research. I'm particularly fascinated by an assassin with an extremely unusual specialty. I'm also fond of some various ancient locales built underneath modern locales. But none of those started coalescing until last night's idea...and then further solidified when I happened to wake up with the idea of swiping some characters and countries from a couple of fantasy novels I wrote in the early 90s for it too. Not the old storylines, just the populations. (And coincidentally I found my notes for those books - though not the books themselves - today while looking for something else.)

    This would be, to say the least, an interesting experiment. I would write a general outline, a file of characters and places, and my standard "Here's What Happens In The Book" pages of notes, added to randomly as I thought of things. But it wouldn't be intended as a primary project; it would be written around other things, most likely. It would be written in fits and starts as I snatch bits of time for it. It would be written with no expectations - except that it was being done for fun.

    I wonder if that's even possible for me at this point. No expectations, I mean, and only for fun, and not with an eye to publishing (though reserving the right to try after the book is done). Just free-flowing, no angst, no headaches or heartaches writing.

    And something that would keep me from going three weeks or longer without writing again. That's just untenable for me, and it's gotta go.

    And really, I kind of like the idea of completely writing a book off the top of my head, rather than one partly driven by research or another author's notes and outline. The Dark Horse was the last time I did that. This may be the most appealing part of all.

    Now, since I seem to be behind on my quota of Internet Animal pictures, here is a picture of Tucker the Big Dog visiting one of his bovine buddies:


    Copper Heart is finished.

    Well, the first draft is. Eventually there will be lots of editing and trimming, and I can already think of a few parts I want to do some general rewrites on. But otherwise...Copper Heart is finished.

    And of course, I'm at that typical but momentary post-novel place where "Now what?" is running through my head like a airborne banner pulled by a zeppelin.

    There's plenty to claim my attention. I'm still in holding patterns over The House and my car repair (I do need to replace the engine after all - stupid timing belt that hadn't shown any signs of giving out). Then there's the ongoing marketing of Lest Camelot Fall. I got a weird but awfully good feeling from the fact that I suddenly had three interview offers in the last few days, all from book review bloggers.

    On top of that, the first book blog review of Camelot went live tonight. I wasn't necessarily planning on reading my reviews, but this was the first book blog review I've ever gotten (as far as I know). So I took a deep breath, gritted my teeth, and...was pleased. Very pleased. The reviewer enjoyed the book immensely. He was also one of my recent interviewers, so our Q&A will be showing up sometime in the next few days.

    Finally, I'm at am impasse about what to write next. I'm debating if I want to go ahead and eventually start work on the fourth / final / unnamed next Arizona Book, or set the series aside for the time being in favor of doing the next historical near-and-dear-to-my-heart epic, The Great River, my big historical novel (series?) about the Mississippi River. Both Arizona and the Mississippi are clamoring for my attention and love in equal measure, and I love them both in equal measure.

    Like the Shenandoah Valley and Arizona, it's not just the history I'm attracted to; I have personal connections with the river as well. And, you know. Riverboats. I can't resist riverboats. I've been hooked on them since I was a kid - getting to play the steam-powered organ atop the texas deck of the Julia Belle Swain as it cruised up and down the Illinois River when I was 12 sealed the deal - and I plan to have lots of riverboats in The Great River.

    There's another option. Laurie suggested that maybe my next book should be one written strictly for fun. I'd already been thinking of something that could fit: my alternate history fantasy about young Charlemagne, A King By No Magic. That was the one I tried writing in 2007 and '08 that never really came together, though I've had a number of ideas since about what to do for it. I rather like that idea, although it comes with the logistic issue that I recently packed all of my Charlemagne-related books.

    By the way, I'm not complaining about the indecision. I've been through periods where no writing project really grabbed me and the work was half-hearted. I like being in a position where I'm having to decide where to go next.

    And honestly? If I wasn't trying to buy a house and pay for an expensive car repair, I'd take Bing Crosby's and the Andrews Sisters' advice, and I'd already have a plane ticket to Arizona in hand. Or maybe somewhere along the Mississippi.

    At any rate, I present my last Progress Report for Copper Heart.


    New Words: 2800 on scene 3 of 3 of the epilogue. A telegram and some reckless courage save Copper Heart from disaster.

    Total Words: It came in at a nice round 170,000. So yeah, like I said, I see lots of trimming in my future.

    Reason For Stopping: Finished the book...and I was kind of freezing.

    Book Year: 1888.

    Mammalian Assistance: Vegas ran in just long enough for Hayes to decide she didn't want to come in (since Vegas was there). Once Hayes left, Vegas took off too.

    Exercise: Took Tucker for a walk a fair way up the local mountain.

    Stimulants: None.

    Today's Opening Passage: I’ll be damned if I let this town die, Harry Boyd caught himself thinking. The sudden thought surprised him, considering that killing Copper Heart was what he had in mind when he came back to town.

    But in that time, especially since returning Will Beckett and taking over half the town’s operations in the place of the opium-addled town boss, Harry had sipped more than a few drinks of power and affluence. He discovered that they were a mighty powerful whiskey indeed.

    Darling Du Jour: The last sentence - which I didn't think of until I was very nearly ready to write it. It's not spoilery, but I don't figure I'll post it here since it wouldn't make any sense without the context.

    Non-Research / Review Books In Progress: The Black Fire Concerto by Mike Allen / [profile] time_shark; The Pagan Lord by Bernard Cornwell.

    Now and again we writers (myself included) mourn what we think of wistfully as the good old days of publishing. There is some truth in thinking of certain eras as good for writers, though like with any such nostalgia I doubt things were completely as good as all that. Groucho Marx just gave me a reminder of this from a distance of nearly fifty years.

    I was window shopping for Groucho's memorabilia on eBay when I discovered (for a mere $7,199.10 - discounted $799.90 from the original Buy It Now price) a 1966 letter that Groucho wrote to some fellow named Syd. Syd has just come out with a novel. Groucho tells him that he knows unsolicited advice isn't worth a whole lot, but "since you're an old friend of mine, probably because we don't see each other too often, here's the advice."

    If you want to increase the sale, I suggest you go on the Johnny Carson show, the Merv Griffin Show, the Jack Douglas Show and any other show that you can get on. I remember when Louis Nizer had his book out a few years ago, you couldn't turn on the TV set, either locally or nationally, without seeing him plugging his book and, if you didn't see him, you could hear him on radio.

    It's not very pleasant work, revealing yourself publicly, but with rare exceptions, this is what writing books has reduced itself to. So dive in and, in the process of doing this, you may become a great actor. With a white wig and a pillow under your vest, there's no reason why you couldn't play King Lear. So think about it.

    Groucho himself, living legend that he was by this point, went on talk shows whenever he was hawking a book. Even his brother Harpo did when he came out with Harpo Speaks - and Harpo didn't actually talk, so that was quite a feat of public relations. If Harpo could figure out ways to promote his book by doing nothing more than honking a horn he had tucked into his belt, I could probably come up with some decent ideas myself.

    I think the one of the biggest problems with publishing today is just that everything is in so much flux. Whole literary paradigms and ideologies are being rewritten, or outright broken and then glued back together in different shapes. I do understand that for many authors, things were better in the past. But there are also great authors out there now who are getting chances to publish they might not have had a few years ago. I suspect one way or another, things will even out eventually.

    Though if anyone can figure out a way to get me booked on the Johnny Carson Show, I'll leap at it.


    New Words: 1900 on the epilogue of Copper Heart. This finishes up Epilogue Scene 2 of 3, and wrapping up the murderous Blizzard of 1886-87. Characters survived, though not entirely intact.

    Total Words: 167,200.

    Reason For Stopping: Finished the scene, and did so just as Laurie was getting the dogs ready for a walk that I wanted to come along for.

    Book Year: 1886-87.

    Mammalian Assistance: Once again, Vegas the Writing Assistant is flaking out on me, wanting to come in the Writing Room when I start work, wanting to leave five minutes later, and then wanting back in as I'm finishing up and leaving for the day.

    Exercise: Walking around the neighborhood and campus with Laurie and the dogs.

    Stimulants: Turkey Hill Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream.

    Today's Opening Passage: The snow was still coming down the next day and wagons were long since useless, so the only cowmen going out in the storm were those who dragged a travois behind them. Owen would go out first and come home last, never allowing himself any rest, violating his mother’s rule about coming back by dusk—that third day, wind howling and the cowmen and their wives taking turns to desperately peal the mess bell, Owen and Puck finally dragged themselves back through the snowdrifts, horse and man with head lowered nearly as far as they could go without falling over, well after one in the morning.

    Darling Du Jour: Not exactly a darling, but about as plain and stark as the rest of the scene . . .

    The bones of the dead cattle left where they fell were ground up for fertilizer. The fertilizer was sold to their neighboring farmers, starting with those who sold Kate hay.

    Non-Research / Review Books In Progress: The Black Fire Concerto by Mike Allen / [profile] time_shark; The Pagan Lord by Bernard Cornwell.

    I made what appeared to be progress today on the two fronts of my ongoing personal sagas: The house loan and the deathly ill car.

    I was awakened this morning (at what is a normal hour to decent folks, but not necessarily those of us who work late) by The Bank's insurance division wanting to ask some questions about The House for purposes of homeowner's insurance. I presume this is a sign that I have not been summarily rejected despite my egregious lone late payment out of six credit references, but I couldn't give them an answer when they asked if I knew my closing date. So they went to call the loan officer, who turned out to be out for the day, with the message to call me if she could tell me anything beyond "in process". But I've gotten kinda used to waiting. Admittedly the warm weather makes it a lot easier and me more cheerful.

    I also finally gave up on hearing back from the mechanic who told me he'd come get my car out of the library parking lot (where it had been sitting since the end of February--bless the campus police for not giving me grief about it loitering there so long) by last Friday. I left a message on his voice mail last Thursday afternoon to no avail. My father-in-law recommended both a mechanic and a tow truck to chauffeur my car to the mechanic. I managed to knock out some writing between the morning bank call and the afternoon tow. I know it's off to be least this is my fervent hope...but there's still something heartbreaking about seeing your car disappear into the distance at the rear of a tow truck.

    People have wondered from time to time over the years how I manage to get any writing done when I've got so many things (these and others I don't talk about because while they impact me, they're not my stuff to tell) going on around, beside, and through me. I can only answer that my alternative in such situations would be a much higher likelihood of a marginal to middlin' breakdown. I'm not sure how I could completely stop writing altogether during such times.


    New Words: 1700 on the epilogue of Copper Heart. This puts me about half or two-thirds of the way through the second of the three scenes. This scene chronicles the historically vicious Blizzard of 1886-87 that smashed the cattle industry and swerved the direction of the American West. (It's also where I'm writing about something that James A. Michener wrote about before me, in Centennial, so I have to try extra hard to tamp down the inferiority complex.)

    Total Words: 165,300.

    Reason For Stopping: Going to meet the tow truck.

    Book Year: 1886.

    Mammalian Assistance: None, although Vegas jumped up on his box pile just long enough for me to take a picture to make all of you good people think he was helping me. Don't be fooled.


    Exercise: None to speak of.

    Stimulants: Turkey Hill chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.

    Today's Opening Passage: The signs were hidden so well, buried in the thickening bark of trees and fur of animals, they would be easy to miss if you did not think to look. They waited unnoticed by most, by people who had suffered through the hottest and driest summer in recent memory while enjoying years of mild winters, who would not want to see what was coming even if they could. Their blindness would soon be equaled by an unapproachable whiteness no man would be able to see through.

    Darling Du Jour: Roberto felt its coming first as a restlessness. An odd discomfort amid spring days already reaching past one hundred degrees underneath a miserly sky. He prayed Catholic prayers and sang O’odham songs, and while the sense of unease intensified there were few hints at the source. As Geronimo rampaged across Arizona and Roberto joined Kate and the cowmen guarding cattle and especially Silverstar’s brood, Roberto turned inward as much as looking out for enemies, walking the Himdag and pleading to know what disaster was approaching them.

    The subtle but cunningly laid answers were given by all of those beings who would suffer alongside the people. The cattle and other animals whose coats were growing extra thick for the coming winter. The burrowing snakes and rodents who dug deeper than Roberto had ever seen before. The cottonwood trees thickening their bark. The sparrows and towhees, warblers and canyon wrens who usually lived in Arizona during the winter continuing south without stopping.

    Roberto would gaze at the sky as he patrolled the ranch or hunted stray cows; it was clear innocence, not revealing its plans, but everything else betrayed it.

    Non-Research / Review Books In Progress: The Black Fire Concerto by Mike Allen / [profile] time_shark; The Pagan Lord by Bernard Cornwell.

    I haven't posted many pictures of my writing space before...maybe one or two over the years. But I took a couple of shots today as part of my (potential) post-move reconstruction of shelves, and figured I'd post them here.

    These are the changeable spaces: The first picture is a shelf by my Writing Computer that has items related to whatever I'm writing, the second is the top of my computer monitor, which has a mix of transitional and more-or-less permanent items.

    All of these items came from Arizona, except two:
    The laser-cut Kokopelli was purchased locally, and the pottery sherds are from private land in New Mexico.

    The stone-looking pieces lining the front of my monitor are half of a set of Cienega phase artifacts
    a friend from Arizona sent me. The other half are lined up at the head of my keyboard.

    At any rate, I'm one-third of the way through the epilogue of Copper Heart as of today, and once the book is done, all of my Arizona items will be packed up. As to where they'll go if I get a new place, I'll cross that threshold when I come to it.

    PROGRESS REPORT FOR 3/10-11/14

    New Words: 2400 (1300 / 1200 ). The death of someone who's been a character since early in Arizona Book 2 (aka Wolves in the Desert) gives Eva an answer to so many Hispanic families being displaced from their farms and ranches by Anglos.

    Total Words: 163,600.

    Reason For Stopping: Groggy yesterday from lack of sleep and finally took a nap / Finished the scene and needed to get ready for work.

    Book Year: 1886.

    Mammalian Assistance: None. All the cats were gathered around the open windows letting in the lovely 70-plus degree day.

    Exercise: None to speak of.

    Stimulants: None.

    Today's Opening Passage(s):

    Yesterday: It seemed that half of the Pimeria Alta—or at least half of the Hispanics in the land—were turning out for the funeral. This did not surprise Eva. The one they came to pay their respects to, to pray for her soul's quick release from Purgatory, had been so well known and loved in the land for so long, and on both sides of the border, she might as well have been a legend.

    The woman herself would have laughed at that and called those people fools who called her legend. Though secretly she would have chuckled fondly.

    Mostly, though, she considered dying an inconvenience, an interruption to getting work done.

    Today: But when they were gathered, these stones ranging from cobbles to ones Eva could barely carry with two hands, with enough piled to build a six foot-high nicho, she could only stare at them blankly. What was she supposed to do next? She called herself a fool for thinking the knowledge might magically appear inside her head. Feeling exhausted and defeated, she went to bed for the night, expecting nothing more the next day than what she expected from every other ordinary day.

    Darling Du Jour: Nothing springs out at me. Or maybe I'm just tired.

    Non-Research / Review Books In Progress: The Black Fire Concerto by Mike Allen / [profile] time_shark; The Pagan Lord by Bernard Cornwell.

    The one upside to trying to get everything organized and packed for a move (or at least, when you're hoping to move but don't know if you will or not) is the stuff you run across that you haven't seen for ages. Two of the items I ran across yesterday were a couple of journals I kept in 1984, I think as school assignments. The first one opens on January 18, 1984, with a line filled with fate I didn't recognize at the time: "Today I started my story that I based on 'Centennial'".

    In January of '84 I'd just been writing for a few months, and the book I'm referring to in that line - I ended up naming it The Trek West, my grandmother's suggestion - was only the second book I'd ever started, and my first historical novel. I'd go on to write something like 500 pages by hand on loose-leaf paper, covering over two centuries of history in the Midwest.

    But here's the thing: I was so determined, and so fascinated by Centennial (the miniseries based on James Michener's book--I wouldn't end up reading the novel till that summer), and I was such an eager writer that I started working on The Trek West even before the miniseries was finished. Five days later, according to my journal, I'd written 113 pages, totaling nine chapters. By the time May rolled around and I started my second journal, I'd reached the 1930s and the Dust Bowl.

    Now here's the thing. I wasn't exactly a meticulous researcher (though I thought I was at the time). I did a lot of my writing at the expense of school work - not only writing instead of studying and doing homework, but on a few occasions I even wrote during classes. I ended up going to summer school that year so I could move onto high school - and while I passed my summer school class, I spent all of my free time each school day in the library doing research for The Trek West.

    And yet, all that said...dang.

    Thirty years later, I'm a much better writer (thank Heavens), I'm more meticulous and calculated about the writing and the research, and obviously I still love what I'm doing. I do lean towards being obsessively persistent, especially when it comes to submitting my work to magazines and other publishers. I certainly wouldn't flunk out of school or lose a job or some such thing for writing nowadays.

    But when I look back at those entries and the ferocity I attacked writing with when I was thirteen (and for years afterwards), I have to admit that I do miss feeling that way...just a little bit. Maybe more.

    So in honor of 13-year-old me, I spent part of the rest of the day writing, determined that I wouldn't stop for the day until I'd finished the final chapter of Copper Heart. I still have the epilogue yet to write, but I did plow on through to the end of "The Renegades". And I could hear my younger self asking me from across that time gulf, "See? That wasn't so hard, was it?"


    New Words: 2250 on chapter 4 ("The Renegades, 1885") of Copper Heart. Geronimo at last surrenders and is shipped off to Florida forever; Riley decides what he does not want to do with the rest of his life.

    Total Words: 161,100.

    Book Year: 1886.

    Reason For Stopping: See above.

    Mammalian Assistance: Vegas the Writing Assistant was up on the box pile and all ready to guard it until I opened the kitchen window to the unseasonably warm Outside. Then he was all about guarding the window, primarily from the other cats.

    Exercise: Walked around the neighborhood and campus with Laurie and the dogs.

    Stimulants: Peach cider.

    Today's Opening Passage: That night Goyakla sat by a fire with his four best warriors before him. Three of them were also members of his family and they looked at him expectantly, hoping he would say what they did not have the courage to speak first themselves. The fourth was Lozen, her face a determined, stony mask.

    Darling Du Jour: I like the last few paragraphs (which came to me right before I got to them), but I'm not going to post them here because they're kinda spoilery.

    Submissions Sent Out In February: 13 to magazines, 6 to agents.

    Total Submissions Out Right Now: 12 to magazines, 8 to agents, 2 to publishers.

    Writing-Related Sacrifice: I'm not just piling stuff together for packing, but also going through numerous items that suffered mild to major mildew damage in our basement. One of these items was a binder with several hundred pages of printouts that comprised my primary research notebook when I wrote The Course of Heaven back in 2002-04 - the novel that got me back into serious, regular writing. I kept a few dozen pages of things I particularly liked or had information that might be hard to find again...I'll figure out what to do with the mildew smell later. But the rest, including the binder, went into the trash.

    Other Writing-Related Stuff: Looking over the galley of a short story that was immensely fun and personally gratifying to write. It's for an anthology which I'll talk about when I'm given the OK to do so.

    Non-Research / Review Books In Progress: The Black Fire Concerto by Mike Allen / [profile] time_shark; The Pagan Lord by Bernard Cornwell.

    Not much to post about here lately, at least not much I want to - house loan is still up bouncing in the air and mocking me from above, car is still dead and waiting for the mechanic to be able to get to it - and a myriad of great and sundry things have otherwise been commandeering my attention from writing both here, on the novel, and elsewhere. As it is, the Progress Report I'm posting below is four days old - I've only been averaging writing one or two days a week, though at least the word counts are higher to make up for it when I do get to banging away at the keyboard. Volcanic eruptions and all that.

    And by the way, if you didn't see this in the numerous other places I posted it, Lest Camelot Fall is the current giveaway on the awesome, fun, and informative English Historical Fiction Authors website. You can enter it by posting a comment with your e-mail address here.

    And just because, here is a picture of Tucker the Big Dog rocking out to our recent blizzard.



    New Words: 3900 on chapter 4 ("The Renegades, 1885") of Copper Heart. Geronimo decides to do his (final) final surrender.

    Total Words: 158850. "Yes, the danger must be growing / For the rowers keep on rowing / And they're certainly not showing / Any signs that they are slowing . . . "

    Reason For Stopping: The Writing Room is still only heated passively by whatever heat bleeds in from other rooms, so I was kinda frozen.

    Book Year: 1886.

    Mammalian Assistance: Hayes the Baby Cat (splayed across lap, chest, and shoulder) wanted to guard me from...pretty much anything that wasn't her.

    Exercise: Walked around the neighborhood with Laurie and the dogs.

    Stimulants: Peach cider.

    Today's Opening Passage: Gus was back in the desert, back in Mexico…but this time he felt stronger and more vital than before. Than ever before. It was as if he drew his strength and sustenance from the sun and the wind themselves, as he, Lieutenant Gatewood, and only a handful of others rode alone through the wastes to convince Geronimo to surrender one final time.

    Darling Du Jour: There was the passing thought in the back of his mind that he was using up everything he had, all the rest of the years of his life, pushing forward with this effort. That once Geronimo was caught and shipped off to prison in Florida, Gus’ last breath would leave him and he would drop dead where he stood. It didn’t matter. He knew this was exactly where he was meant to be, and that he must see this through, for the span of his life had wholly been urging him to this last ride into Mexico and back.

    Non-Research / Review Books In Progress: The Black Fire Concerto by Mike Allen / [profile] time_shark; The Pagan Lord by Bernard Cornwell.

    This week's quasi-Out-of-Context Quote:

    Laurie to the World in General: "Ladies, if you don't help your husbands shovel snow, you won't have the muscle mass to fight when the Zombie Apocalypse comes!"


    New Words: 1550 on chapter 4 ("The Renegades, 1885") of Copper Heart. A year after his so-called "Final Surrender", and after seeing some signs that included an accidental leaving from some other characters in the book, Geronimo realizes that he almost certainly have no choice but to give up to the American soldiers once and for all. From here all that's left is Geronimo's surrender, which will finish off the chapter, and then a two- or possibly three-scene epilogue.

    Total Words: 155,100. I actually hit and whizzed past the 150K mark back on February 5th (progress I don't think I reported here).

    Reason For Stopping: End of scene, and some post-blizzard work to do.

    Book Year: 1886.

    Mammalian Assistance: Vegas came in briefly to guard his box pile, but doesn't much care for the new box on top. I've switched it for a box he does like sprawling on, so we'll see what happens in our next installment of Danny The Cat Slave.

    Exercise: Shoveling driveway snow; a round trip walk to campus.

    Stimulants: Peach cider made in one of my old, brief abodes (Frederick, Maryland).

    Today's Opening Passage: When Goyakla rode ahead alone as they made for their mountains strongholds, his companions let him. When he took less joy in raids and killing White Eyes and Mexicans, they said nothing. They pretended not to notice when he occasionally glanced to his side where there was no one, and when he sat before a fire facing a companion no longer there.

    Darling Du Jour: He asked his Power for a vision of this, but no vision came. Perhaps this was the wrong place. Perhaps he should be alone. He climbed out of the arroyo where they were hiding up a rocky, jagged hillside, where high above him he spotted a mountain goat perched on a ledge as certainly as if it was part of the rock.

    It was a good thing to see. Such a sight once before, just outside the cave with the powerful drawings, convinced him that the Dineh were like that goat. Always part of the land and going places no White Eyes could ever reach. Like that goat, it looked down upon everything below knowing that in such a high place nothing could reach it.

    Goyakla didn't see the eagle until it grabbed its prey.

    It swept down swiftly and with no warning but did not carry away the goat. Instead it sent the goat tumbling off its perch. The eagle feasted on the broken corpse.

    Every muscle in Goyakla’s body seized. He had seen the eagle many times before — not in visions, but as a symbol representing America on everything the soldiers carried. Making himself walk back to the camp was more effort than planting barley on the reservation.

    Lest Camelot Fall stuff: So far I've gotten five yeses from book reviewers willing to look at Camelot (though no guarantee they'll review it), one interview by another author / book blogger (already done but not yet posted), one giveaway contest (by fellow Musa author Liz DeJesus), and three spotlights (one of which has already appeared).

    Non-Research / Review Books In Progress: The Black Fire Concerto by Mike Allen / [profile] time_shark; The Pagan Lord by Bernard Cornwell.

    Multitasking has been coming under a lot of fire lately.

    Mother Jones, for instance, recently posted an article about how you can improve your brain by not multitasking. Uberfacts had a line of tidbits last week declaring how much better you perform without it, including something along the lines of how your brain gets three times more dampened by multitasking than smoking marijuana. Numerous studies have demonstrated that prodigies and those we call geniuses tend to be focused hard on their discipline without interruption for X amount of time a day (though saving the rest for Everything Else, including and especially recreation).

    And I have to admit that when it comes to making my writing space at home, I go to extremes. "Stop being an internet junkie" says Maria Konnikova in the Mother Jones article. I don't have an Internet connection at home specifically because it's too easy for me to play with a multitude of flickering distractions. Nor do I have cable, satellite, or digital TV; my TV watching is usually limited to DVD and VHS. I only answer the phone if it's someone who knows only to call me when I'm writing if it's important, or someone I asked to call me back as soon as possible.

    But you know what? If you're a writer - and I suspect this is true for any kind of creative pursuit - you're multitasking anyway, whether you want to or not, whether you mean to or not.

    Because your brain is always firing away. Plotting, planning, and otherwise chasing after what you're writing or want to write. This is often regardless of what you may personally choose for yourself at any given moment. For example, I almost never get bored, because the back of my brain is always plotting out a story arc, or trying out dialogue, or writing a descriptive passage, or figuring out a believable escalation of conflict. This can be inconvenient when I'm trying to do other things, especially those requiring a lot of mental attention, sure. But I wouldn't have it any other way, because by the time I sit down at the keyboard for the day's writing work, I usually know what I'm going to write.

    I haven't read a book strictly for pleasure since I was twelve years old. Everything I read I study. I do the same thing when watching a movie or TV show, and in those cases I also try to figure out the visual setting, what the director's doing, and so on.

    When I was writing Lest Camelot Fall my library boss, Cy Dillon, gave me the go-ahead to learn and practice our research databases by researching the novel. (He got a shout-out in the acknowledgements for that.)

    When people ask me where I get my story ideas and I tell them Everywhere, I really mean that. As oblivious as I can be in other ways, I always try to keep my eyes and ears open to sponge in anything I might stumble across. An overheard sentence fragment from a nearby conversation during an academic meeting once sparked a poem. Another came from a NASA news article I ran across. An oddly-framed photograph became a piece of a short story, while a famous commercial sparked the opening of another. My first professionally-published poem was inspired by the top of a mountain next to campus catching on fire.

    All of that absorbing? When you get right down to it, it's nothing more than multitasking.

    My point is, I'm not sure how you can be a writer if you don't multitask at least to some extent - just not in the way it's traditionally defined. (When I was in 2nd grade it was called "daydreaming". The only difference now is that I've learned to put it to more productive use.) And I consider it absolutely necessary.

    I'll go one step farther. I've heard a lot of people ask "How do I know if I'm meant to be a writer?" I'll put this forward as a test: If you study the books you read instead of just reading them...if you can't help but mentally turn a snatch of conversation or a quirky news article into a story or poem idea...if you're always turning ideas over in your head and can't let them go (or they won't let you go)...

    ...Then yeah, I'd say that's a pretty strong indicator. So turn off the TV, switch off the network connection, set aside your phone, and ask yourself "What am I waiting for?"
    Signed contract for The House has been sent along to the bank. And so the waiting and escalated hope begins.

    Had a reader of Lest Camelot Fall become the first one yesterday to point out historical goofs. Actually most weren't goofs, just places where I probably should've been clearer. I'm still kicking myself over one, though: where in my head I was thinking "herbal brew" I wrote "tea" and then never caught it in three rounds of edits, despite tea proper only coming to Britain a thousand years after Camelot takes place. Le sigh.

    Which brings me to the point of this post. I don't know if I tend to be overly slavish to historical accuracy, beverage slips aside, and I do tend to exercise some literary license, but there are plenty of lines I won't cross, and places where I'll stand my ground. I've been digging my heels in a lot lately while writing about Geronimo, just because there's so much misinformation about him out there--or just "things people know that just ain't so", as the saying goes.

    Let's start with the movie Geronimo: An American Legend, because it incorporated a giant host of things that just weren't so.

    Quick run-down if you haven't seen it: Geronimo (played by Wes Studi) is being brought in to the San Carlos reservation by Lt. Charles Gatewood (Jason Patric) and narrator Lt. Britton Davis (Matt Damon), but is restless and unhappy there. When U.S. soldiers kill a holy man called the Dreamer, Geronimo breaks out. Gatewood finds him with the help of the Apache scout Chato (Steve Reevis) and Geronimo offers to surrender, but breaks his word again. Brigadier General George Crook (Gene Hackman), head of the Department of Arizona, resigns, and is replaced by the uptight martinet Brigadier General Nelson Miles (Kevin Tighe). Gatewood, Davis, Chato, and Chief of Scouts Al Sieber (Robert Duvall) go hunting for him in Mexico, Sieber is killed in a bar fight, Gatewood finds Geronimo and convinces him to come back with terms of surrender being that Geronimo will spend two years imprisoned in Florida. The Chiricahua Apache scouts are arrested and sent with them. Davis quits the army in protest.

    So, what did the movie get right? Well, the names. There was a holy man called the Dreamer who was killed by U.S. troops. General Crook did resign after Geronimo's last breakout, and was replaced by Miles. The Apache scouts were indeed arrested. And, well, that's about it.

    First of all, the movie compacts events--the Dreamer's death was several years before Geronimo's final breakout (and Geronimo wasn't there when the holy man was killed). The final straw was, of all things, that the Apache were forbidden to make and drink tizwin, an alcoholic beverage fermented from corn. Gatewood and Davis only rode together in the first days immediately after the last breakout; after that, troops of cavalry and a hundred Apache scouts were sent to hunt Geronimo down.

    After a few grueling months in the Chihuahuan Desert south of New Mexico with no success, Britton Davis actually quit the army at this point, not after the war ended. Al Sieber, mostly crippled from years of hard desert service, essentially quit here too--refusing to go south of the border again. Despite his 1886 "death" in the movie, he lived on until 1907--ironically dying by way of a falling boulder while overseeing an Apache road work crew. (Local legend says an Apache rolled the boulder on top of him.)

    General Crook is about the only one who is portrayed with more accuracy than not. Gatewood comes close, though the real Gatewood, unlike handsome Jason Patric, was gaunt almost to the point of being skeletal, and that only got worse as he chased Geronimo and his health failed. Wes Studi was about a generation younger than the real Geronimo, but did an excellent job portraying the warrior's perpetually scowling, grim face. Britton Davis was ambivalent about the Apache themselves, but not Geronimo--he hated Geronimo, calling him vicious, treacherous, and intractable. Nelson Miles is portrayed as a hard-arsed martinet, and he gets a bad rap in history books because the history writers tend to prefer his rival, General Crook (as did Britton Davis). But the truth is that Miles was almost as sympathetic toward the Apache as Crook, and had spent years advocating fair treatment for Native Americans and--in his own words--letting "Indians be Indians". He said that our failure to do this was a big part of the reason we had so many problems with them, along with enforcing laws on them that they had no say in, and occasionally being "unmercifully cruel" in our punishments.

    Screwing around with history as much as the movie does is way above and beyond literary license, as far as I'm concerned. You don't need to alter the facts this much to make a good story; there are plenty of good stories inherent in things as they really were. I consider rewriting that much not only akin to historical blasphemy, but also outright laziness.

    There are other things I'm not writing about, simply because I think they've been overdone. I don't have a long sequence of Geronimo's attacks on whites, for instance. Not that I don't have any at all, but you know it's happening, so there's no need to beat it into the ground for effect. I've concentrated more on other stories that tend to get left out of books and movies, like the story of Geronimo's 2-year-old son, Little Robe. That wasn't his real name, but a nickname given by soldiers who captured him and his family. (They had been with Geronimo--the Apache took their families to war with them.) Little Robe captivated the soldiers at Fort Bowie, and they were devastated when he met a tragic end. Those are the things I focus on more because details like that have always fascinated me.

    Of course, nobody may read the book. It may bomb even worse than Geronimo did. But at least I'll have written the book the way I wanted to and thought it should be.


    For some reason I had a bit of a hard time getting started with today's batch of writing...


    ...but when I finally got down to plunking the keyboard I managed a fair amount. Along with my normal writerly impulses I was driven forward by two things: One, realizing that if I'm diligent I might have Copper Heart finished by next weekend. And two, next weekend we're supposedly going to get somewhere between 11-14 inches of snow, and if I'm done with the book I won't feel at all guilty about going out and enjoying the deluge.

    Anyway, yesterday and today I've been writing about Geronimo's so-called "Final Surrender", which really wasn't. Despite Geronimo's original offer of surrender--in which he gave the speech that included his famous quote "Once I moved like the wind. Now I surrender to you and that is all"--he bolted immediately afterward and rampaged through the Southwest and northern Mexico for another six months. This led to the resignation of General George Crook and the ultimate surrender as negotiated primarily by Lieutenant Charles Gatewood, who met Geronimo with only a handful of men rather than an army at his back.

    And I've been writing about Geronimo for two books now, introducing him when he was four years old. He will be gone from my Arizona books after he leaves on his prison train to Saint Augustine, Florida, since he never returned to Arizona, and after all that time it's going to feel quite strange for him to be gone.

    PROGRESS REPORT FOR 1/29 AND 1/30/14

    New Words: 3750 (750 / 3000) on what is now chapter 4 ("The Renegades, 1885") of Copper Heart. I didn't just start a new chapter, exactly. I decided that my original chapter 3 was too long and broke off the last third for chapter 4. "The Renegades" doesn't refer solely to the Apache.

    Total Words: 147,700.

    Book Year: 1886.

    Reason For Stopping: Getting ready for work.

    Mammalian Assistance: See above picture for Hayes the Baby Cat's help. Vegas also came in to guard his box pile (and repeatedly grab my right hand) towards the end of the writing day.

    Exercise: Walked to work and back yesterday; just a bit of poking around the woods with Tucker today.

    Stimulants: None.

    Today's Opening Passage:

    Yesterday: There were many things you could say about General George Crook, Gus thought. But today it was that he got right to the point.

    Today: Gus’ latest meeting with Geronimo came in a peaceful, almost idyllic spot south of the border. Water rippled through a ravine filled with cottonwoods and willows and other lush, almost tropical plants. There alone, or with a girl—not that Gus had a girl, he flushed briefly to remember—it would have been magnificent. But then the Apache arrived decked out with gun belts and colorful blankets Gus guessed had been stolen from Mexicans since the attack that killed Captain Crawford, and suddenly the ravine was more choking than paradise.

    It also wasn’t lost on Gus that the name of the spot where they were having the parlay was the Canon de los Embudos: the Canyon of the Tricksters.

    Darling Du Jour: The white man’s name was C.S. Fly, and he was from a town called Tombstone — although Kaywaykla had no idea why the White Eyes would be so reckless as to name one of their towns after the site of a grave. It was like they were asking spirits and evil to come down on them. He just relegated that to the back of his mind as yet another thing he would never understand about the whites.

    But he did understand their obsession with taking photographs. He knew whites and Mexicans didn’t have minds as good as the Dineh; they couldn’t remember the stories their people told through the generations, and so found other ways to record them, like writing. He hadn’t been surprised that Captain Bourke was writing down everything everyone said; that was the only way the whites would remember it. Kaywaykla almost felt sorry for them.

    Their photographs were another thing they used to remember. So he wasn’t surprised when one of them brought a camera and asked permission to take pictures of the Dineh, including sitting down with the soldiers. ...

    Many of the soldiers looked horrified — Kaywaykla noticed with hidden amusement — as Fly told Goyakla and the others how he wanted them to look. Whatever the newspapers might do with the pictures, though, Fly was not making the Dineh tell bad stories about themselves. They posed on their horses. They posed holding rifles and wearing their gun belts. They posed alone or lined up with the canyon walls behind them. They posed with their families — Goyakla even stood in the center of one with his son beside him, and the son holding Goyakla’s baby grandson. Kaywaykla admitted to himself that while the posing felt strange, something about it also felt good, with a rightness to it.

    At once he knew that even if they all surrendered tomorrow and never saw their land again, they would never be forgotten.

    Non-Research / Review Books In Progress: None; right now it's all research and review.



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