DIY and Way

The taxes are done, which is probably my biggest accomplishment for the week, aside from taking advantage of spring to start demo on the F.R.O.G. (that’s Free Room Over Garage, or at least that’s what the real estate lady said when we bought the place). It was an apartment at one time, then a sort-of workshop, with some really crappy bench tops and shelves that all had to come out, plus a rotted floor (because the back section of the space is a former kitchen with a wooden floor over concrete, which naturally wicked up water and rotted).

When it’s all done it should make a nice treatment/meditation space for First Reader. It’s the last(?) of the renovation projects we had in mind for our interior spaces. Over the years I’ve learned a lot more about DIY than I ever wanted to, but needs as needs must, or something like that, and I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more doing this one. Which, if I’m really lucky, I’ll never have to use again, since we’re not planning on moving once we get this one how we like it.

Barring alarums and excursions, “An Account of the Madness of the Magistrate, Chengdhu Village,” the third in my Daoist series should be out in Beneath Ceaseless Skies #250, in the latter half of this month. On a parenthetical note, this will be, officially, at ten words, the longest title I’ve ever used, beating out “On the Road to the Hell of Hungry Ghosts” by one word, and both “Idle Conversation at the End of the World” and “Golden Bell, Seven, and the Marquis of Zeng” by two.

Any change to the schedule, I’ll be sure to note it here.


Story Time: What Power Holds

Today’s Story Time is from Dragon Magazine #209, September 1994, back when Barbara Young was fiction editor and before TSR was bought out by (ugh) Wizards of the Coast. The story itself was the first in the “Laws of Power” universe that eventually led to the novel series.

Treedle was first. The character, like Golden Bell from “Golden Bell, Seven, and the Marquis of Zeng,” was from a dream. He and Black Kath appeared, along with elements that eventually came together into the very first scene. It was all about Treedle in the beginning, but it was only when Marta showed up that the story came together and I knew it was a series. Treedle’s part was done once the first few stories became part of Black Kath’s Daughter, which, oddly enough is the second book in the series, not the first, because later I figured out that The Long Look was really the first book in the series, and Tymon the Black was in the same universe (yeah, I know. Sometimes I’m a little slow that way). “What Power Holds” remains the actual first story written in that universe.

Confused? Me too. I just go with it, and things usually work out. My subconscious is way smarter than I am.

Standard Note: “What Power Holds” will stay up until next Wednesday, April 4th. And then, not.

Cutting to the Chase, or Chasing Cuts

Yesterday I wrote a short fairy tale, because I had a deadline and I like fairy tales. Either is reason enough on their own, but together? Kind of compelling. The story is about a girl and a magic fife, or rather it concerns those two; what it’s really about is a separate matter. It’s kind of like most stories that way.

See what I did there? I rambled a bit. Went off on a rather wordy tangent. Drifted from the point somewhat. Repeated myself, and then got redundant. All perfectly acceptable things to do, I might add, in a rough draft of a story. Because, as I’ve pointed out before, the job of a rough draft is not to be good. The job of a rough draft is to be done. “Good” is what the rewrite is about, and aside from continuity, structure, and thousands of other fiddly bits, one of the most important skills when approaching “good” is knowing when you’ve repeated yourself, gotten wordy, gone off on tangents, etc., and cutting it out mercilessly.

Lest you think I’m lecturing you, I will hasten to point out that I’m simply reminding myself of something I need reminding about every so often. See, when I wrote the story yesterday it only went about 700 words. Too short, right? Nope. The problem was it was too long. The strict length requirement was 500 words, and I had 200 more words than I could use. And it wasn’t a “simple” matter of cutting out 200 words; we also have to take into account the fact that any story is likely to need more words in certain spots, such as where a reasoning must be clarified, or a connection needs to be made explicit. Suddenly that 200 words is starting to look more like 300, to make room for words that are needed, or over 42% of the entire draft.

Here’s the first paragraph as I originally wrote it:

“Once upon a time there was a girl named Callie who played the fife. It was an old fife, a bit battered yet still capable of sweet music in the right hands. It had belonged to her grandfather. He taught her to play, and when he felt his time approaching, passed the instrument down on the condition that she care for it until her time came, when she was to pass it along as he had done. Cassie loved her grandfather and she loved playing the fife, so she agreed to everything he said.”

A bit wordy but not terrible. But I had to get those words from somewhere, and Callie’s relationship—and agreement—with her grandfather is already both implied and made explicit at other points in the story, where they serve better. So….

“Once upon a time there was a girl named Callie who played an old fife she had from her grandfather. She played for local dances and gatherings, and the people swore they had never heard sweeter music.”

Ninety-four words down to thirty-seven. The kick is that the first paragraph actually got longer than what you see here, because I combined the original first three paragraphs into one no longer than the original first. Which had the double virtue of removing excess words and getting to the story’s main conflict a lot sooner(kind of important in a 500 word story). For anyone who preferred the first paragraph the way it was, I’ll just point out that a piece of fiction, just like a sonnet, has to fit the parameters. When something has to go, it’s the writer’s sole judgment call as to what works and what doesn’t, and right or wrong doesn’t enter into it.

Only the reader gets to decide that part.



Story Time: Death, the Devil, and the Lady in White

This week’s Story Time is from the April, 2005 Realms of Fantasy magazine (later collected in Worshipping Small Gods, 2007), and is a love story…of sorts. I’ve done a few like this with a similar theme and it’s not my first brush with the infamous White Ladies of myth. The first was The Beauty of Things Unseen, way back in 1999 in Quantum SF.

Regardless, the beautiful and terrible White Ladies usually haunted streams or wells and it was death to meet one. A somewhat counter example is from Irish gaelic, the Bean Fhionn, the White Lady of Lough Gur, who claimed mortal lives, but only every seven years. Others were not so restrained. In some cases they were thought to be ghosts, in others remnants of the Tuatha De Danann, or fairie folk. Or maybe they were just ancient goddesses, angry at being forgotten, because no one likes to be forgotten.

This one is just a tad different.

Regardless, “Death, the Devil, and the Lady in White” will be online until next Wednesday, March 28th, when it will vanish into the ether and be replaced by something else.

Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin

October 21, 1929 – January 22, 2018

I haven’t written anything about the passing of Ursula Le Guin before now because I couldn’t put two coherent thoughts together. I’m still not sure I’m ready but I’m going to try, despite the cat purring in my lap demanding all the attentions. Living creatures have their own priorities and in that sense I’m no different.

I never met her. Other people who knew her best will have the personal remembrances of the woman herself, I can only speak of her work and its effect on me. I’ve spoken at times about influences that made me whatever I am as a writer, though as I look back on it these influences were more about teaching me something I needed to know at the time I was ready to learn it. Parke Godwin? He taught me lessons about humanity. Fritz Leiber? That the limits of genre were illusory, and there was very little it could not do. Ursula Le Guin? She taught me what magic was and—just as important—what it wasn’t.

There are other lessons, of course. Some I still may not be ready for. Take her classic, The Word for World is Forest. I’m going to have to come back to that one, I hope when I’m a little stronger and wiser. At the time I needed it, however, there was The Earthsea Trilogy, which later became the Earthsea quintet with Tehanu and Tales of Earthsea. Yet in the beginning, there were three: A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore. They were first marketed as “young adult,” probably because Atheneum, the original publisher, didn’t know what else to do with them, and it was true as far as it went. However, I read them in college, when I really was a young adult, or maybe just a kid trying to figure out what “adult” as in “grown up” really meant. Ged, the young wizard in Earthsea, was trying to sort out the same thing, and in the course of the three—then four—books, he does, even though all the books, especially the last few, aren’t really about him. Which makes sense—a lot of growing up isn’t about you at all, but everyone around you and your relationship with them. Some things I can see now that I couldn’t then, but that’s all right. The lesson was waiting for me.

Then there was her classic, The Left Hand of Darkness, which made me and a lot of other people think about gender and what it does and doesn’t mean. Her early collection of stories, The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, which remains one of my favorite books ever.

Now Ursula Le Guin the person is gone from the world, but Ursula Le Guin the writer remains, and there is, I realize, a lot of her work that I have yet to get to, and I hope I will.

I hope I’m ready.