January 3, 2012

Resuscitated Ask Robin Aftermath


Mismatched Socks

How do you convert ideas for stories you have into believable plots?
I start with about 4 cups of good flour, 5 cups of warm water, a tablespoonful of dry yeast and another tablespoonful of honey . . .

And then you stir it all together, cover, place in a warm, draft-free spot, and leave it alone for a while, right? 

That’s right.  But story-yeast can be rather slow.  Sometimes it’s years before the sponge has bulked up enough.  You just want to keep it warm and comfy and add a little more flour and honey from time to time.   It will of course suddenly start raging out of its bowl when you’re fully occupied whacking the gorblimey out of some other dough.* 

Also, this made me laugh. 

Oh good.  That was the plan.  Because this question also illustrates one of what are probably the two main reasons why I let Ask Robin slip.  Reason one:  Impossible questions.  What on earth was this person expecting?  The Chinese menu web site for writers?**  There isn’t an answer.  If there were there would be even more books out there . . . but they’d also be better books.

            I don’t object summarily or comprehensively to impossible questions per se—most of writing is about what might magnanimously be called guided floundering and it can be reassuring to compare scars with other people who have slammed into submerged objects in the murk—but I do rather object to the impossible question being plonked down in front of me like a dead fish on a slab.  The entirety of the email that bore this question was exactly . . . the twelve words of this question.  I grant that email is different from other written forms of communication, and I don’t usually bother with salutations either . . .  but to a stranger I’m asking the favour of free professional expertise/attention of?  Um, yes.   I’d stick a salutation in.  I think a ‘Dear Robin McKinley, Would you be willing to talk a little about . . . .’ would be nice.  Plus your name at the bottom.  This is big steaming pet peeve of mine.  Put YOUR NAME at the bottom of your email.  Cheez.  You don’t have to tell me I’m your favourite author, or even your favourite author this week and next week it’s going to be E. M. Hull***.  But a quick genuflection at the altar of old-fashioned politeness?

            Yes.  Damn it. 


THANK YOU for validating the way I write. I spent much of junior high and half of high school traumatized by English teachers who insisted that you absolutely could not write anything worth reading, much less grading, unless you wrote an outline first, and then plodded through sticking exactly to that outline stage by stage; and required that you turn in the outline to prove you’d done it, then a thesis and topic sentence for each paragraph, then…. 

And this illustrates the second reason† I have let Ask Robin lapse . . . and how I was wrong to do so.  I’ve answered the ‘how I write’ question before.  Many times.   It’s almost as common as the much-dreaded Where Do You Get Your Ideas? ††  It’s another one I have nothing against rambling on about but I’m a bit conscious that I’ve said it all before (many times).  So I’m relieved that it’s new and interesting to someone.

            I am not a consistent human being.  On the one hand I don’t expect anyone to read this blog every night or to have memorised my FAQ and Author as Bitch from Hell on the web site.  I’m also extremely conscious that certain, ahem, themes appear regularly in this blog.  On the other hand I’m reluctant to recycle too blatantly.  One of the reasons I decided to drag Ask Robin out from under the bed and dust her off however is the awareness that after four (?) years of blogging pretty much everything is recycled to a greater or lesser extent and it’s a bit daft that I’m a writer and never talk about writing. 


To submit a question for Ask Robin, email askrobin@robinmckinleysblog.com

Ask Robinses are archived in the Ask Robin Archives, a veritable treasure trove of… Ask Robinses!

You can also wander over to Robin’s Web site and peruse the most excellent FAQ

— Blogmom, who doesn’t do New Year’s Resolutions either (except for one-word themes for the year)††† but will try to keep Ask Robin Archives updated regularly 

Diane in MN

I saw a sign at a colleague’s work station years ago: If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what is an empty desk the sign of? Hah! Guess what MY desk looks like. 

We be of one blood, thou and I.  So, is this a genuine quote by Albert Einstein?  Because if it is it so goes in the Quote Thingy.  But the last time I tried to add an excellent Einstein quote that someone had posted to the forum—“But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”—it turned out to be an urban myth.  

             It’s still a good remark.  Maybe we should put it, or both of them, up as ‘anonymous.’

Horsehair Braider

You mentioned doodles and I got mine!  YES! It’s totally gorgeous and I love it. I’ll probably put it in my will. . . . To any who are waiting, it is SO worth the wait. My book is a treasure, and if I ever have the opportunity to have one done again I will leap at the chance, even if I have to sell a goat to afford it. 

Oh good.  ::Relief.  Relief::   Hmm.  Maybe there’s a future bribery opportunity here:   any guest post used on Days in the Life eligible for free doodle.‡‡  But surely you’d only have to sell a few extra cheeses for the book??  I’d hate to be responsible for a goat being sold that didn’t want to be sold.


Quats: I was taught that way too, but evaded it: wrote the paper, then the outline, then the first draft, etc. and handed them in at the right times–in reverse order. 

Emphasis mine.  You are so ooooooooorganised   WhimperI can’t even begin to imagine being—or ever having been—enough ahead of the game to do this.  AAAAUGH.  I will now carry this picture of Superemoon indelibly etched in my frazzled mind as I labour back and forth between doodle-desk and writing desk. . . .

            And speaking of the latter, I bet I could get at least another paragraph or two of SHADOWS down before I terminally fall out of my chair tonight. 

* * *

* Nooooooo!  Not the Seventeenth Third Damar Novel!  Nooooooo!  

**  Column A:  Heroine.  Column B:  Hero/2nd Heroine/Other Romantic Interest Not Covered by the Foregoing.  Column C:  Heroine’s Best Friend.  Column C(a) If Column A is human, than Column C is Nonhuman.  These may be reversed if desired.  Column C(a)(1) animal (2) alien (3)  Supernatural/paranormal/fey (4) Other.^   Column D:  Villain.  Column E:  Secondary Characters Who Move the Plot Along.  Column F:  Secondary Characters Who Screw Things Up More. . . .

            This could be fun.  

^ Special considerations:  these categories may be suitably adjusted if either (A) or (B) is nonhuman.  It is however in the highest degree desirable that at least one of (A) (B) or (C) is not human.+ 

+ Oh, did I mention this is the Fantasy Writers’ Chinese Menu? 

*** In which case I will be compelled to hunt you down and force you to memorize The Complete Works of Shakespeare and of Edward George Bulwer-Lytton.  I discuss E M Hull and THE SHEIK with some emphasis on my web site. 

† All right, three main reasons.  Third reason:  indolence

†† It’s also another impossible question.  How I write also depends on the particular story.  But the beginning-to-end-three-times-in-succession is pretty much my basic bottom line.  With story-specific curlicues.  The minutiae of how and where I keep notes, when or if I ever pause or go back to edit or change something in the current draft . . . feh.  I have a strong, Don’t you have something better you could be doing than asking silly questions? reaction, but I tend to be all over the details of other people’s jobs because they’re not mine and I’m an inquisitive dork^.  So, okay, fine, but remember that if you’re another writer what I say about how I write has nothing to do with you. 

^ And also I may be able to put them in a story some day  

††† I like this idea a lot, except for the fact that the words that keep occurring to me are things like ‘multimillionaire’ and ‘thirtysixhourday’.  


‡‡ All of you who liked Horsehair Braider’s first guest post and are waiting hopefully for the next one . . . she’s sent me one^ and I’m such a mess I keep failing to get back to her about it.  Given how I keep whining about guest blogs, this should give you some clue what a basketcase I am at the moment. 

^ And it’s funny

I’m not ready for January


I have turkey gravy on my bright green solid coloured shirt.  It shows.

            We finished the gravy* last night.

            This is a clean shirt, put on gravy-free this morning.**

            Do you suppose quantum physics can answer this one? 

* * * 

It’s December 31st, for about an hour and a half longer, as I write this.  So, what have I done with my 2011?

            FAILED to write PEG II.  Sigh.

            2012 is going to be better.  Starting with getting some relatively readable the-end-is-in-sight form of SHADOWS sent in by the end of January.*** 

            So, other prognostications? 

            By this time next year I will be halfway through the NEW PEG II.

            I will also be ringing touches of Cambridge minor.†

            And on handbells.††

            And, this time next year, the New Arcadia Singers will be hurling impassioned emails at each other about the spring concert, because (after our unexpected success earlier in the year) we haven’t quite nailed the playlist yet and practise starts again the first week of January.

            Fantasy, much?  Oh . . . well . . . 


* * *

The woman wants her CHAMPAGNE.


 1.  And gods don’t they stare. 

2.  I left my jumper on.  No one knows.†††  And a good thing too.  I was introduced to someone who reads me. 

3.  Those are my Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse All Stars.  It seemed suitable. 

4.  I am now drinking my champagne. 

5.  I have to ring more bells in seven hours.  Feh

* * *

* Peter had to make more, of course.  Next on the list:  More brandy butter.  Next on the list:  living on lettuce for the entire month of January.  Oh, well, in the circumstances I’d better have some protein too.  Fried liver of rival publisher.  Incompetent copyeditor roast. 

** And I have to go ring bells in a few minutes^, and it’s so warm I’m going to have to take my jumper off and stand revealed as a slob.  It’s also so warm that I didn’t have tricky winter weather as an excuse not to go ring bells at midnight.  Which is to say yes, when I rang Felicity back this morning, having still not quite decided what I was going to say to her, she was so delighted to hear from me I heard myself agreeing to come along tonight.  It’s now sheeting.  Ugh.  Also very unseasonable of it.  But maybe all the staring villagers will stay home and watch Singin’ in the Rain or something.  Much better value.  

^ And sulking, since I want my champagne now. 


† With what band and in what tower, I have no idea.  I’ll worry about that next year.  In an hour and a half. 


††† Except you, of course.

Some of the Usual Brain Death Suspects


The auction winner of IMAGINARY LANDS requested a doodle:  ‘author’s choice’.  EEEEEEEEEP.  This sort of thing makes my mind spin out of control.  A symphony orchestra dressed as Santa Clauses!  The flat earth balanced on the back of an infinity of turtles!*  Gotterdammerung!   However, after clawing myself off the ceiling, I decided on a sheepdog.  But then (I believe the winner to be a blog reader) I thought it might be a good idea to pin it up here and say IT’S A SHEEPDOG.  You know, from The Stone Fey.  Well, maybe you don’t know, if you haven’t read the story.  Anyway.  I was originally going to draw the whole serious, head-down sheepdog in full focussed herd mode, but it occurred to me that if you don’t know that’s what sheepdogs look like on the job you might think it was a mad wolf.  So we did lying down and looking harmless but alert.

non-traditional sheepdog.

Narknon. With breakfast.


The request was for an ELEGANT hellhound. I'm not sure I do elegant. This will have to suffice.

I’ve been doodling and I am BRAIN DEAD (again).  SHADOWS.  Gaah.  Blog post.  Gaaah.  Sing . . . VOICE LESSON TOMORROWAAAAAIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEE**. 


Believe me, of the few students I’ve wanted to kick out of my studio, none of them had ever doubted their own talent. Not liking what’s coming out of your instrument is the foundation of being able to change it. 

. . . Wait, wait, are you SERIOUS?  Not about the foundation for change—that makes sense***, but about the undesirable students??  Really?  I totally understand the lack of charm of a lazy egoist†, with or without talent, but what about the PATHETIC?††  —I have to keep reminding myself that all I’m aiming at is to get into a slightly better choir than the Muddles†††, which means sight-singing and surviving an audition.  And I make a perfectly adequate choir ‡ noise so long as I’m not trying to get into The Sixteen or the Tallis Scholars or something.  And Nadia needs to eat.  So okay, no, she’s probably not going to fire me.  . . . But are you serious?  It’s thinking Your Talent Is Enough that pushes patient teachers over the edge?  I know that Oisin fires people who don’t practise.‡‡

Some purling. I hope.


. . . It didn’t help that I was wrapping the yarn backwards on purl rows for the first, oh, two years I knit. And I wondered why my knitting looked funny. 


SAME. Not with the purls, but knits. I wrapped my yarn the other way, so all my knits looked like “through the back loop” knits. I was always really confused why, when I followed the instructions to knit through the back loop, it looked like my normal knitting. And why my purls and my knits looked SO different on the knit side of stockinette.  

I love you.  LOVE LOVE LOVE.  I am so grateful.  I feel so much better.  And I’m not sure it shows in the photo, but I am getting the little ‘v’s so I ASSUME I’m purling.  You will notice that I can’t count worth stale peanuts however—this was supposed to be two rows, switch, two rows, switch, two rows.  The gleeps are ad hoc.  


I like ribbing! Well, ok, maybe it’s not my favorite thing to do ever, but I don’t mind it at all. 

Sigh.  I’m planning not to mind ribbing.  But then I was planning not to mind sewing up.  Very slightly in my defense, I don’t think it’s the sewing up per se that’s the problem—it’s the SPACE to lay the freller out and, even more, what you see when you lay it out‡‡‡, ie, it’s NOT supposed to look like THAT.  I will probably have a similar reaction to ribbing.  Siiiiiigh.  But both Penelope§ and Fiona have said that you only have to pay attention, as in ATTENTION attention, for the first few rows, and then you can do it either by feel or at least by looking at it.  Penelope is knitting AN ENTIRE SWEATER in ribbing§§ which she does WHILE SHE WATCHES FILMS.§§§ 


As one of the people who won an auction square, I have to say that a small but significant part of bidding on it was to have something that was going to hang over your head for a good while.

Books are good. Doodles are awesome. Having something owed me by one of my favourite authors? Priceless. This is a state of affairs that can continue indefinitely.  

I may love you even more than I love blondviolinist and jmeadows.  I am delighted to indulge you in this matter.  . . . . Maybe I’ll learn to do edging to make the situation last even longer. . . . 


Now I desperately want Robin to have a pink motorcycle with sidecar for the hellhounds. 

Oh, so do I.  You can run the charity auction this time.  Vikkik will help

* * *

* Hawking, not Pratchett 

** Not in a good way. 

*** Even to me 

† These are, I guess, the same people who come up to a professional writer at a party and say with a smirk, Oh yes, I’ve always wanted to write a novel, I just don’t have time.  Urge.  To.  Kill.^ 

^ If they got that ‘jury of your peers’ right, I would be shot out of the courtroom and back onto the street so fast the speed of my passage would blow out the windows.   

†† And possibly neurotic 

††† Eventually.  First I have to get back to the poor Muddles.  But believe it or not I’m still having throat problems and I really really really don’t want to have to start all over after I go to choir practise and promptly oversing myself to splinters.  Last few days—since, ahem, Wednesday—I’ve been breaking up practise time into two official whacks^.  I found out some time ago if I warm up and then go away and come back later to sing properly, it works a whole lot better.  But I’ve been kind of pushing it since Wednesday—I AM GOING TO SING DOVE SEI^^ TOMORROW AND IT IS NOT GOING TO BE ANY MORE EMBARRASSING THAN MY SINGING EVER IS—and intelligent pushing means not much more than about half an hour at a time.  I can do an hour with Nadia because there’s always a lot of talking and I don’t talk to myself ( . . . much.  When I sing).  

^ Ah, the joys of working at home, six feet from your piano. 

^^ The first two pages.  I’ve started learning the third and last, but I want Nadia to go over it with me before I do anything too . . . daft.  

‡ I want to respond to some of what you’ve said about Rodelinda, but I did want to say . . . that was a joke, about Blythe being the best alto your little local choir ever had.  She’s not my cup of overcaffeinated beverage, but if I sounded one sixteenth that good I would probably die of joy, so maybe it’s just as well I don’t.  The truth is merely that I don’t find her voice all that interesting when compared to the Mezzos of Yore.  

‡‡ Or, alternatively, plays the organ for them, and then gives them cups of tea.  Sigh.  SOME DAY when . . . gods, when they perfect the life-extension thing and/or the thirty-six hours in a day thing . . . I’m going to get back to the piano properly.  It’s just . . . there’s no POINT to performing music if you can’t perform it with other people somehow, and a choir is a better bet for those of us with more nerves than talent. 


§ Who was clearly trying not to laugh when I was telling her my purling problems.  

§§ It’s even two kinds of ribbing:  it’s fitted through the body and then flares out in a sort of peplum.  It’s really cute.  In twenty years or so I may ask her where she got the pattern. 

§§§ I might have liked AKIRA better if I’d been knitting.  Of course, I have to look at what I’m knitting . . .


Brain dead


To begin with, I finally did the revised cartoon for the tower—the membership drive* one.  Vicky has asked after its potential existence a few times over the last several months and last night sidled up to me at practise and said that it would be very nice to have it in time for the Christmas concert, when we can expect a pretty fair turnout of the local riffraff, and I winced and said yes, yes, certainly.  I have tended to claim that I’ve forgotten about it—and with Vicky staring at me I’m quite likely to have a blank about almost anything**—but the truth is that when it has crossed my mind I instantly order it back into its corner.  Later.  I’ll do it later.***  It’s going to be complicated, it’s for a public purpose†, and the reason I was having to do it over in the first place, instead of merely tidying up the original, is because it had to be smaller—A5 rather than A4††.  I don’t do smaller.  I especially don’t do complicated smaller.  So I’ve been putting it off.

            BUT I FINALLY DID IT.††† 


I know. But I couldn't face long (rope) tail ends. I did fix third dude from the left's missing hand though.

            And then, not content to rest on my laurels, chiefly because resting on laurels doesn’t pay very well, I ripped off a good two hundred and thirty-seven thousand words of THE ATTACK OF THE ZORGS—THE SCARLET PANJANDRUM—CHOLMONDELEY AND THE GOBLET OF RUM PUNCH‡—wait—I’ll get it in a minute—SHADOWS.  Well, nearly 237,000 words.  What, in my world of writing, where every letter must be chipped out of the granite cliff face with a blunt piton‡‡, counts as 237,000 words.

            So I’ve earned being brain dead.

            But I still need to sing.  And go to bed early it being Sunday tomorrow and service ring is earlier every week.‡‡‡  Saturday nights tend to be when I hang guest posts, supposing I have any available.  Not that I’m complaining or anything . . . §

 * * *

* Um . . . the membership amble.  The membership blindfold donkey-tail-pinning. 

** Name?  Name?  Do I have a name? 

*** I’ve had to learn to resist this impulse when I’m doing bell-fund doodles.  I’ll pull an order form out and it says ‘a Bactrian camel playing pinochle with a white rhinoceros’ and I go AAAAAAUGH^ and look for something less challenging.  I’ll come back to this one later.^^  As I keep saying, the odd ones are fun—it’s that frelling TIME ELEMENT^^^ again.  I don’t have to think about fanged muffins. + 

^ ONE hump and ONE horn are ENOUGH 

^^ Speaking of unusual requests, danceswithpahis has posted to the forum where the hellcat with platypus comes from.  And I forgot to mention when I hung the doodle that the hellcat was specified as fuzzy, which is why the hellcat in question is so . . . well, fuzzy. 

HorsehairBraider wrote

. . . Those are just my observations: that goats will pick up and chew on things, even though they don’t actually regard it as food. 

I’ve only known friends’ goats, never, unlike you, had any of my own, and what little I used to semi-know is decades old.  Different breeds of goats are—er—more and less robust in their ideas about food, yes?  And with reference to the poor goat you mention who died of eating baling twine, I did wonder about the shingle-eating goats of my acquaintance if they were getting a balanced diet.  Eating non-food makes most critter-owners think ‘deficiency’. 

^^^ which does not appear on the periodic table because no one has figured out where it fits.  

+ Please do not read this sentence out of context. 

† I know that doodle-buyers are more or less free to do as they like with their doodles, but I doubt anyone is going to make up several hundred copies and pass them out as flyers.  At least I hope not.  Furthermore, I’m very unlikely to meet any of you on the streets of New Arcadia. 

†† http://www.ukofficedirect.co.uk/iso_paper_size_cp.aspx 

††† Not without language

‡ Name, name, does it have a name? 

‡‡ Which process is so laborious it is not unusual to have forgotten what the word is by the time I get to the end of it.  This is one of my better excuses for embarrassing spelling mistakes. 

‡‡‡ I swear.  One of these Sundays soon I’ll be able to ring before I go to bed. . . . 

§ I never know, when someone promises a guest post and then I never hear from them again, if they have fled the country, leaving all credit cards, passwords and internet facilities behind, or if they did send it and Outlook ate it.  This is on my mind a little more than usual—not that my email and I are ever on what you would want to call good terms—because a friend and I have just been emailing back and forth:  Did you get mine about —?  No, I didn’t, did you get mine about —?  Silence. 

            If we’ve discussed it and you send me a guest post and I don’t answer, SEND IT AGAIN.  I love guest posts.  Even if I don’t think I can use it or if I want to ask you to make changes I’m pretty sure you won’t want to make, I wouldn’t have ignored it, okay?  But since this is my blog and my problem I don’t feel I can chase the no-shows.  Very sensible of you, not wanting to write a guest blog, don’t blame you at all. . . .

Another Fiona Day


And yes, ENORMOUS QUANTITIES of sale/auction stuff was parcelled up and hauled off to the post office by the gallant Fiona.  Or rather . . . toward the post office.  Fiona was here nearly eight hours–and so far as I can tell she never bothers with the frivolities lesser humans enjoy, like tea breaks and food–and was STILL stuffing things in envelopes and justifying my untidy heaps when I took her by the hair* and ordered her to go home.  So she’s actually bundled up the bundles and is going to take them–in batches, she says, so they don’t lock the door the next time they see her coming–to her post office.

             But I’m still not done.  I’m nothing like done.  Fiona comes again on the 9th** and then we’ll see where we are.   Meanwhile I’m so frelling tired I’m having trouble finding the keyboard.***  Okay, it’s a funny flat thing with bobbles . . . I know it’s around here somewhere. . . .

              And I was PLANNING on doing a doodle blog . . . and then discovered that I’d USED the last of my extra-special Blogmom Photo Templates and, you know, she might have been taking her evening off . . . fortunately she was still reading her emails and Took Pity.   But it’s a lot later than I meant it to be either. 

               So anyway.  Here are a few more recent highlights.

There are a lot of Mystery Doodle Requests.  Why does anyone want a velociraptor on PEGASUS?

Why does someone want a velociraptor on PEGASUS?

Dragon. My dragons, I find, vary, but they all have arrowhead tails.


Another Mystery Request: a hellcat cuddling a platypus. WHAT?

Rosebush. No, definitely not botanically correct.

Terrier. Well, the fabulous doodle-buying person didn't stipulate what KIND of terrier.

Nothing like leaving ENOUGH ROOM ON THE TITLE PAGE to autograph, let alone doodle.

Tsornin and Narknon. Sorry about the shadow (where I've blocked out the dedicatee's name, having forgotten to take the photo first.) I was getting pretty punchy by then.


So bag the title page. Keep turning. To find Greatheart.

 And you know what I’ve been DOING while all these photos load?  Starting a new knitting project.

* * *

* Having slacked off for several hours to work on SHADOWS.

** Steeleye Span concert.  Ahem.  –Fiona was playing Steeleye today and Cold Haily came on.  QUIET!  I said (I believe we were discussing bubblewrap for the illustrated ROSE DAUGHTERs^).  I have to LISTEN!  They make it sound so easy.

^ One of the insane people who has spent excessive amounts of money for her very own personalised copy of this huge glamorous art book illustrated by a genuine fine artist WANTED A DOODLE.  (*&^%$£”!!!!!!!!!   I also nearly had a heart attack from nerves.  What if I BOTCHED IT?  I would have to fall on my (sharpened) drawing pencil. 

*** Oh gods, I haven’t sung yet.  Speaking of keyboards.

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