Progress report

Staring at the screen went pretty well today. I squinted a couple of times, and cocked my head once at the last sentence. I thought about changing it, but then decided against it.

My eyes seem to be working well–I can see the last thing I typed, and exactly where the next word should go. As it will be a new paragraph, I have the indentation for it, and I checked that several times.

Also feel pretty good about rolling my shoulders as I looked at the spot where the next word will go, and about standing up and walking around, opening the fridge, closing the fridge, and sitting again. Sometimes getting up and moving can be a very important part of staring at the screen. I know it feels like, when you move around, you aren’t properly staring, but after a bit of motion, you can come back and stare in a more relaxed state.

I know for beginning writers, it can be difficult to know just how to stare at a screen. I wish I could help you on that, but everyone is so different. For me, sitting back and scowling works really well, but others need to crack their knuckles, and some have to pound on the desk for the stare to be really effective. You just need to find what works for you.

Okay, this was a little break for me; now that screen is waiting, and it won’t stare at itself!

A Cautionary Tale for New Writers

This is directed at those of you who are, or who are about to be, in the process of publishing your first novel, especially if it’s with a major publisher.  I’m going to tell you about something I screwed up with the idea that maybe you won’t, all right?

My first novel, Jar-head, or whatever it’s called, has this big, ugly blotch in it that makes me cringe every time I think about it.  It’s the line (quoting from memory because looking it up would be painful), “All of our Houses are named after one of our native animals.”  It doesn’t belong there, it sticks out, it is terrible exposition.

It wasn’t in the novel as I submitted it, I added it to editorial specification.  Except, and here’s the thing, when my editor (the amazing Terri Windling) suggested it, she specifically stated, or rephrase in your own words.

I was a newbie writer, dying with the excitement that I was actually having a book published, utterly lacking in anything that could be considered self-confidence, and the very idea of disagreeing with an editor was, well, how could I do that?  Who could do that?  I couldn’t do that.

Now, let’s be clear: this is on me, not on her.  She wanted a bit more exposition, which was not unreasonable.  I could have disagreed with the need for it, saying, “Hey, you figured it out, let’s assume the reader will too,” or I could have agreed and done what she told me to—found an elegant way to get that information across.  She would have been perfectly comfortable with either of those.  But I was new, intimidated, nervous, so I just copied what she said, even though I kinda knew at the time it wasn’t right.

So, okay, here’s my point: It’s your first book, and maybe you’re as intimidated as I was, but it is still your book, and your editor knows that.  We don’t  go into the editorial process with an Attitude, with a feeling of, “Don’t you dare touch my sacred prose!” but it is also wrong to be so subservient as to not even question anything.  You don’t want that, the reader doesn’t want that, and the editor doesn’t want that.

Here endeth the lesson.


Narrativity Early Bird Deadline

A reminder that, if you’re interested in attending Narrativity (July 12-14, Minneapolis), the early bird registration rate ends tonight.

It is my hope that this will be a place to challenge each other on how we work, on all aspects of the craft of fiction.  I want that moment of, “Woah, I never thought of it that way,” and, “I have to try doing that in my next book,” and, “I wonder what would happen if I tried this?”  I have strong ideas about what makes writing good; I want those ideas challenged.  If you have strong opinions, express them.  If you don’t, come and discover them.  It is also my hope that the discussion will help us become better readers.

Go to the web site and look over the proposed panel list, see what you think.  Want to be part of the conversation?  We’d love to have you.


PEACE, AGYAR, Neil, and Me

Warning: This post contains major spoilers for Peace by Gene Wolfe, Agyar, and how to make me swear loudly.

I came to Gene Wolfe late, and at first didn’t like him; I stopped reading Shadow of the Torturer about a quarter of the way through because I wasn’t enjoying it. Then, when everyone I respected kept raving about it, I tried again, this time forcing myself to read slowly and think about each word, each sentence, and, well, you know what happened.   There aren’t enough o’s in wow.  So then I went out and grabbed everything of his I could find, like you do.  And all went well until I came across Peace.

I read it.  All the way to the end.  Then I scratched my head, and did what everyone does when confused by a Gene Wolfe novel: I called Neil Gaiman.  “Neeeeeillll?” I said.  “Help meeeeee?  I just read Peace and I don’t get it.  An old guy wanders around his house.  Wolfe would never write a book that’s just an old guy wandering around his house.  What am I missing?”

“Right,” he said in that delightful accent I used to be able to imitate perfectly but no longer can which is probably for the best.   “You know that tree that falls over on the first page?  Halfway through the book he plants it.”


“He’s a ghost.”


“And, during the course of the book, he commits between four and six cold-blooded murders, but he doesn’t tell you.  Well, he tells you, but he doesn’t tell you.”


“Remember when he goes prospecting with his partner, and then after that he’s rich and you never hear from the partner again?”


So I read it again, and, like, there aren’t enough o’s in wow.  It set off almost every one of my Cool detectors, which is hard to do, because some of them are set up to only be on when another is off.  But let’s not get into that.

A year or two went by, and one night a chance remark during a conversation with my brother-in-law on an entirely different topic closed the final switch in the “I know what let’s do!” circuit.  I stood up, mumbled something at said brother-in-law, dashed upstairs to my study, and wrote all night.  Because what had clicked was this: What if I wrote a vampire novel, but never said he was a vampire?  Just, you know, this sociopath wandering around doing terrible things, and maybe I could plant a few clues so some people would get it, but never actually say what’s going on.  Wouldn’t that be fun?  I mean, I’d decided years before that I’d never write a vampire novel, because Chelsea Quinn Yarbro had already done everything I’d have wanted to do in Hotel Transylvania.  But then this happened, and I stayed up all night writing the first chapter.

I showed it to my writers group, wondering if I should tell them right away what was going on, or if I ought to wait and see how well it worked when they didn’t know.  They said, “Oh, you’re writing a vampire novel.”

I showed it my agent, who said, “Oh, you’re writing a vampire novel.”

I showed it to my editor, who said, “Oh, you’re writing a vampire novel.”


Anyway, I wrote it, it’s one of my books I’m most happy with, and I’m also happy that, many years later, I got to tell that story on a panel when Gene was in the audience, and he laughed a lot.


WHEREAS I have an inexhaustible appetite for sitting around with people and talking about the craft of writing, and
WHEREAS It turns out I’m not the only one with this peculiarity, and
WHEREAS That’s a good thing, because it’s hard to have these conversations by myself, and
WHEREAS I am obviously insane,

THEREFORE Be it resolved that, god help me, we’re launching a convention. Small, craft-oriented, single-track programming, here in Minneapolis, July 12-14 of this year. I’m doing the programming, Jane Hawkner is onboard for the web site, Liz Vogel is running the thing. Take a look, see if you want to make it there, or even help us make the thing a go. And, if you’re so inclined, help spread the word about this gobbler.  Also, let me know if there are any obvious errors on the web site, or anything missing that ought to be there.  Thanks!

Here’s a link to the location and other relevant information.