August 28, 2014

Shadows is here!

The horror, the horror


The attic.  Moan.  The attic.  At Third House.  Moooooan.  The attic . . . moan.  August is almost gone and some time in September I have to bring the frelling backlist home from the last storage unit.  All forty-seven gazillion boxes of it.  And you can already hardly edge around* all the boxes of files** and of books*** that won’t fit† either downstairs or at the cottage††  Moan.



A few years ago I needed a plumber for my small bathroom. I warned the man at the other end of the phone line, “It’s a very small space.” He answered cheerfully, “I’ll send a very small plumber.” She was. And she fixed it. But she’s the only one I’ve ever seen.

For some reason, probably because I am still suffering post-house-move brain-blastedness†††, the reference to size makes me think of the stalwart young men who moved my piano, only one of the three of whom looked at all as if he might lift heavy things for a living.  I was also thinking of Plumbers I Have Known folding themselves up into spaces much too small for them . . . and the tendency among folded-up plumbers to demonstrate builder’s crack to an extreme degree.

All three of my piano movers were wearing the kind of low-slung trouserage prone to builder’s-crackage.  And as they all three bent down the first time to examine the basis of the situation I was treated to . . . a vast triple frontage‡ of LURID COLOURED BOXER SHORTS.  I was delighted.  I also nearly burst out laughing.


These blogs are sooooo making me not want to renovate our house, even though it’s desperately needed…

Oh come on.  It’s romantic having to put buckets out for the drips, and to lie snuggled up in bed listening to the mice playing polo in the walls, and to have tadpoles coming in through the kitchen tap (it’s only for a month or two in the spring, after all), and floorboards so aggressively wavy and unpredictable that if you’ve had a beer in the last twenty-four hours you’d better sleep in the barn (under a tarpaulin).  Where’s your sense of ADVENTURE?

Diane in MN

. . . As it’s a good and very efficient furnace, replacing it never came up: a good thing, as a new furnace would have been even spendier. I feel your pain.

Yes.  One of the—or rather the—clinching argument of Shiny New Plumber about replacing my current boiler is that by the time I bought the parts for the old one I’d be halfway to the new one . . . AND the old one is a piece of crap.  Since I only have Shiny New Plumber at all kind of far out on a limb of semi-unknown recommendations—one would rather hire a new plumber because one’s best friend has used him for twenty years and her entire family loves him including the goldfish, whom he replumbed on an emergency basis one Sunday afternoon when the fishtank exploded—I did look up the boiler he’s recommending and it’s number one by about twenty points in the WHICH? rating which is a good sign.  An even better sign will be if he knows how to put it in.  Mind you according to his web site he’s about third generation in a large family of plumbers . . . although he told me he is failing to interest his thirteen-year-old daughter in carrying on the family tradition.

And, speaking of small, and the state of the cottage‡‡, I hope the extra body he brings to assist him is svelte and bendy.   A thirteen-year-old daughter would be perfect.

But I really want my hot water.

Me too, big time, and so I NEVER TALK ABOUT IT because I don’t want to give the hot water heater any ideas, like thinking it’s reached retirement age. And I don’t know where that sentence came from; I never wrote it.

No, no, of course not, if your hot water heater comes round for confirmation I will stoutly deny everything.  My current object has only to last two more baths.  Please God and St Mermaid-of-the-Flowing-Waters.  I’ve had the uneasy sensation that it’s been getting a little whimsical since Shiny New Plumber condemned it.


Hot water is one of the critical components of civilisation, in my opinion.



Oof. At least you got a very nice individual plumber?

Well he’s certainly very jolly‡‡‡.  He also underwrites a seven-year guarantee on the new diamond-encrusted family member, which is popular.


Wait, stuck on the lavender comment. Was the lady referring to her houseplant as her pet, is there really a dog breed nicknamed lavender, or was she referring to the unmentionably enthusiastic “L” word dogs?

Not exactly.  She was having a little trouble with the English language and maybe Labradors are called lavenders in her mother tongue.  I’m not sure if she was doing that thing of using the word that almost sounds right and assuming it would do, or whether her accent was so strong that ‘Labrador’ was coming out ‘lavender’.  Whatever.

Speaking of which, I may have been losing respect for them before reading the blog because everyone around here has them (or chihuahuas or pit bulls, or mixes of all three), but your anecdotes certainly haven’t helped their case.

Labradors are slime.  Except, occasionally, when they aren’t.  There are two entirely different strains of them any more, at least in England:  the proper old working dog style, and there’s a young bitch of this variety who lives around the corner who is a complete sweetie and I’m happy to see her coming, and the modern SUV-shaped ugly stupid monster, owned by ugly stupid people who let it wreck your temper as well as your gentle, bewildered hellhounds’, and to crap all over the churchyard and possibly your driveway.  I FRELLING WELL HATE LABRADORS.  Except, occasionally, when I don’t.  As above.

Chihuahuas are not a plague around here.  Pit bulls are, but pit bulls, or their ilk, are a plague pretty much everywhere.  It’s what gets popular, you know?  Popular is the death knell for anything nice.

And on that cheerful note . . .

 * * *

* Especially not without hitting your head on one of those where-did-that-come-from interesting ceiling angles.

** Including things like the original manuscript of BEAUTY.  Eeeeeep.  Which I rediscover every few years.  I think it gets more startling every time.  Also the original, equally smudgy, cut-and-pasted, liberally white-outed^ SWORD and HERO.  As I recall OUTLAWS is the worst in this regard.  I still have grisly flashbacks of kneeling on the floor in my little house in Maine, cutting up chapters and paragraphs and trying to tape them together again before I forget what I’m doing, and feverishly scrawling cryptic bridges in the margins, hoping I’ll be able to smooth them out later.  Or possibly OUTLAWS was the worst.  I used to burn a lot of mss in my early typewriter days.  Not so much now:  everything becomes second sheets for the printer.^^  Except occasionally when I revert and do my cutting and pasting in hard copy.  Occasionally this is therapeutic.

And then I burn them.  Sometimes.  Sometimes I just scream and tear them up.  And stomp on them.

^ Have you seen that there are typewriter aps for your iPad?  WHYYYYYYY?

^^ It’s surprisingly confusing having your own words on the back of your freshly printed out draft pages.  Even when you know that’s an old story and you’re working on a new story.

*** Books?  Books?  Never say.  I amaze myself.

† My thirty-six million horse books, fiction and nonfiction.  My nineteen million nonfiction critters of the world books, excluding horses, including a lot of guidebooks and wild critter rescue and management books, the majority being North American, including dozens of standard Audubon and Peterson field guides and so on, but by no means exclusively these—the NA collection expanded exponentially when I was figuring out DRAGONHAVEN and some of these are very small press/audience and peculiar.  The Australian critter books go with the general Australian collection—which considering I’ve only ever spent about five weeks there total is pretty impressive.  But Australia is, you know, mad, as well as instantly irresistible.  There’s nothing else anything like it.^  Including all that let’s-evolve-in-interesting-off-the-wall-ways on a huge freaky water-bound continent fauna, and flora to go with ’em.  WHEEEEEEE.  Also the Aboriginal mythology—that is, what the white invaders managed to write down about it—is fascinating.  And then there’s my British guidebook collection.  Siiiiiigh.  I adore guidebooks.  I buy them everywhere I go.^^  And I have the impassable attic to prove it.  AND PETER’S AND MY BACKLIST STILL HAS TO GO UP THERE.

^ Except maybe New Zealand or Tasmania in a distant-cousin way but I haven’t been to either of these.

^^ Sometimes I buy the same one several times.  Mottisfont, for example.  I must have three or four.  Every time the National Trust trots out a new edition—which is to say there are three more paragraphs of the foreword to the foreword to the foreword about what they’ve been doing since the last edition—I buy it again.  Hey, sometimes there are new rose photos.

†† I was hacking through the between-covers verbiage at the cottage today and thinking gloomily of the 1,000,000,000 fresh, new books I have on various wish lists at various on line emporia, and I know I will eventually add far more of these to my shopping basket(s) than I will delete, which does not address the books bought by opening a three-dimensional door, with or without three-dimensional bell, crossing a three-dimensional threshold, and browsing three-dimensional books on 3D shelves and tables, overseen by a very realistic-ly dimensional clerk who may or may not have a clue about books^ but can run a credit card machine.

^ It fascinates me that in the increasingly, or do I mean decreasingly, tiny beleaguered cult world of the high street bookstore, you do get clerks who seem to be there only because the gift shop didn’t have a grunt-level staff opening.

††† Or, even more likely, current attic complete mental breakdown

‡ Or backage, if you prefer

‡‡ You are reading the footnotes in order, aren’t you?

‡‡‡ He also, in the grand British working-man tradition, calls me ‘luv’.  I know I’m supposed to object to this, but it always makes me fall down laughing.  Increasingly so as they get younger and younger as I get older and older.  I know I’m twice his age because he mentioned being thirty-two.^

^ Which means, to have a thirteen-year-old daughter, he started young.

KES comments continued and so on and so on and doobie doobie do


Speaking of excellent stories, you’re all Octavia E Butler readers, I hope?*  Well, looky here:

And now let the frivolity roll. . . .


I hope Kes gets home soon, poor soul. I’m beginning to get quite concerned that she’ll catch a chill out there in her nightie.

Yes I’ve been worrying about that too.  It’s the sort of thing I won’t know till I get there.  Of course I often know things that still turn out to be wrong when I get there.**  But so far as I know she isn’t sneezing at the end of Part One.  Whether or not she wakes up the next morning (?) at the beginning of Part Two with a major fever that is trying to convince her she imagined most of Part One. . . . There will be one or two momentos of her experiences which will lobby rather forcefully against this ridiculous enterprise  however.***  Aside from the dead guy in the front hall.  I imagine Mr WS, being a gentleman, will do something about the body when the mayhem level subsides a bit† but I don’t think bloodstains on wooden floors is within his remit.  Maybe the hob will have some ideas. ††


I’m reminded of certain scenes in Sunshine which I reread recently…

I think this is a good thing . . . †††

. . . for the scripturally inclined: the second verse of Genesis, part of which is commonly translated “And darkness covered over the land,” could be trying to convey the sensation you’re describing [when Kes locates the Gate]. If you go back to the Hebrew, the word translated as ‘darkness’ could be translated as ‘seething unfathomable chaos.’

Darkness and Chaos being my natural state, of course.  This does give me the edge for certain descriptive passages.‡


You didn’t know who shouted, only that it sounded like it came from someone standing with you, some Falcon, and that the voice was rough with both joy and terror. “Defender!”

Wait. Are these soldiers allies? Or enemies? Who are they fighting against? Who’s the Lady?

I realise you are expressing impatience, but if they were enemies, would the voice be rough with joy?

I take back what I said about wanting this story to go on forever. I want some answers.

You do?  Gee.  That’s too bad.


The twisted strap on the saddle–I’ve had big nasty blisters from that. One of which got infected and…oh, wait, nobody wants to know about that. It’s just that I was taking a microbiology class at the time and I recognized…NO. (Smacks self on head, several times.)

Any time you want to write a guest blog on the interesting real-life applications of taking a microbiology class . . . we can just put a GROSS ALERT at the beginning.  And yeah, about blisters.  It is AMAZING how quickly a stupid little rubbing thing turns into a MAJOR WEEPING WOUND.  It’s why I’m so paranoid about shoes, since I spend so much of my time walking.  All Stars Rule.

But I miss Sid. I really, really want to know that Sid is OK back where Sid is (wherever that is…) and that the hob is dealing with the home invasion, and so on.

Well, I miss Sid too.  I can hear the barking.  You will too soon, I promise.  I don’t even think ‘soon’ is very relative in this instance.


I love that the guards are still ordinary people with mundane concerns. I think that’s one of your greatest strengths, building solid ground under the fantasy so that it’s even more real.

Thank you.  THANK YOU.  As I’ve said before when I’m doing a comment-answering post, I tend to cut out the compliments‡‡ because leaving them in makes me look like such a prat, but since this is one of my major preoccupations about the writing of fantasy, my own and everyone else’s, I’m leaving it in.  Yes.   Grounding is crucial.  People are people, even if they’re nine feet tall and have seven arm-like appendages, and if they live in a landscape with purple trees I want to know what the trees look like, what the shape of the leaves is, what the flowers smell like in spring and what alcoholic beverages you can make from the fruit.  As I keep saying, the great thing about fantasy is that you can make up your own rules . . . the ratbag about fantasy is that you then have to stick to the rules you made up.  And sometimes your rules are less great than you thought, and sometimes you’re so far into the story when you realise you made a mistake there’s nothing you can do but live with it.‡‡‡  But as soon as you think, okay, what’s it like for these guys, whoever they are, whether they’re human or not, they’re going to have upkeep issues, whether that means sewing on buttons and boiling water for tea, or gliffermying the vrumpetty and doogling the brezzer.  And if the latter you need to explain for your presumably mostly human audience so that the human reader totally feels the zogle pressing into the mrilf and kind of wants to have a go at gliffermying themselves, and when they close the book§ are startled to discover they’re short and have only two arms.


Oooh. Not that I don’t enjoy Kes’ narration and her ties to the ordinary world, but there’s something about the mix of fairy tale and ordinary people (who get nervous and drop things and such) that I love.

::Beams::  This is part of the grounding thing I’m talking about.  Denouements between super-wizards tend to be kinda boring.  Denouements between more or less ordinary people who may fumble the universe-commanding wand at a critical moment are much more interesting.  Also super-wizards are already out there because of their superness.  There’s a steep climb for an ordinary Jo(e) to get to the super-level where the universe-commanding wand needs to be wielded.  This is more interesting and also a lot more sympathetic for ordinary-Jo(e) readers.  Say I.

It amuses me that their first sight of Kes isn’t much like what Kes herself has been thinking.

Well of course not.  That’s the deal.  Yes.§§

They see “a pale slender woman, with long tangled hair, riding bare-legged and barefoot.” Whereas Kes has been thinking things like “How did I get in this story?”, “Why didn’t I wear pajamas with pants?” and “Oh gods I’m going to cut my own leg off.” I find myself wondering what the Falcons will think when she gets closer.

There are three answers to this:  (a) Mwa hahahahahahaha (b) I wonder too (c) There’s going to be some Hayley action:  ohmigod it’s the Defender she’s real that’s not really a tatty pink nightgown is it?  All three of these answers are true.  Stories and writing are often confusing.  It’s why writers are often nuts.  Or that’s our story and we’re sticking to it.

* * *

* And that she died way too young several years ago?

** I wasn’t expecting Sid to show up nearly so soon, for example, when Kes sticks her pin in a map in Manhattan and contemplates the possibility of getting a dog.

*** Mwa hahahahahaha

† Or bodies, as the case may be

††  Mrrrrmph.  ::Not giving anything away.  Not.::

††† I’m extremely fond of SUNSHINE.  Just so you know.

‡ Snoring optional.  Darkness, who has disdained his dinner^, in his efforts to elude the nasty thing, has buried his head under a blanket from which posture he is having some trouble breathing.

^ Siiiiiiiiigh

‡‡ Having read them over slowly and carefully several times first

‡‡‡ This may be less true for people who rewrite better than I do.  I certainly do a lot of rewriting, but the basic shape of the thing has to be more or less right the first time or I lose it, I lose my ability to hear the story.  Rewriting is more about expanding, tidying up and pursuing implications^ than deciding in the second draft that the heroine is nine feet tall and has seven arms and likes hot spiced blurdge from the purple yikyak trees’ bojally fruit, although she was human in the first draft and liked maple syrup on her blueberry pancakes.

^ Which do, I admit, cause collision disasters upon occasion.  NOOOOOOO.  JUST BECAUSE SHE WAS ON THE TOP OF A MOUNTAIN TALKING TO A DRAGON DOESN’T MEAN SHE ISN’T AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA TALKING TO A MERMAID.  Wait, wait, I’m inventing teleportation . . . or cloning . . . give me a minute I’LL THINK OF SOMETHING.

§ Or click the ereader off

§§ Also, most of my major characters think less well of themselves than perhaps they should.  Ahem.  The Story Council does usually try to send you stuff you can feel your way into.  Writing is hard enough work without making it harder.

Rant revisited


Didn’t get a lot of sleep last night—so what else is new—last night was however aggravated by shooting awake every time a hellcritter sighed or got up to scratch its bed into a more salubrious shape.  Siiiiiigh.  There have been no further outbreaks today . . . although the night is young* the current digestive miscreant, having eaten his dinner, looks pretty crashed out. . . . That sound you hear is me crossing my fingers till they squeak.

More baby plants showed up in the post today and the Winter Table is full.  There hasn’t been a proper frost in town this month I think, but baby plants, having been intensively reared in massive great commercial greenhouses, are fragile little creatures and you can’t just whack them in potting-on pots and plonk them outdoors.  You have to ‘harden them off’ as they say which in practise, since my greenhouse is full of stuff and I have no earthly room for a cold frame, means that if we’re having a run of chilly nights I have to bring them indoors every evening and back outdoors again every morning.**   Arrrrgh.

So, where was I, in my not-very-good-mood way last night?  Aside from the prospect of a lot of moving of plant trays back frelling indoors while trying not to trip over the hellterror***, there had been a certain supernumerary  force to my rushing outdoors into the garden yesterday afternoon†, aside from the latest stack of baby-plant-containing cardboard boxes arriving in the post, which, yesterday, was pretty well an avalanche. ††

What is it with people.

I regularly receive requests via email for help with the frelling papers people are writing about me and/or my books.†††  The vast, catastrophic, overwhelming majority of them ask me the same blasted questions . . . most of which would be answered far beyond the scope of any seventh or eleventh grader’s term paper requirement‡‡ with only the most cursory glance at my web site, let alone doing a little diving via the ‘search’ facility or the ‘topics’ list on this blog.  I’ve ranted this rant to you before—several times in fact—how can all these jokers even arrive at my public email address WITHOUT HAVING NOTICED THE SUGGESTIONS THAT THEY READ THE FAQ FIRST.  OR THE GENTLE REMINDER THAT I’M, YOU KNOW, BUSY AND THAT ANSWERING QUESTIONS TAKES TIME.  But they do.  In their relentless marching regiments they do.  Yesterday I received a follow up from someone who clearly thinks that saying please and thank you is enough.  Reading the FAQ is not necessary.  This person is capable of writing me a sheaf of long, complicated questions and putting a note in their diary to follow up . . . without ever looking at the FAQ.   First contact in this case included a plug from the kid’s teacher,‡‡‡ telling me how wonderful the kid is—and this kid may very well be wonderful, but they nonetheless need to learn to do their homework—and how (the teacher continued) my thoughtful informed answers were going to help this student chart their course through college and into their chosen career of professional writer.  PLEEEEEEEEEEZ.   This follow up, unannotated by the teacher, generously offers to answer any questions I may have. . . . §

Standard caveat begins here:  Of course I want people to read my books.  I need people to buy my books so the hellpack and I can keep eating.  And I love fan mail:  I looooove it when some reader takes the time, speaking of time, to tell me that they enjoy my books.  A really warm and/or clever and/or funny fan letter (or forum comment or Tweet or dreaded-Facebook post)  makes my day, and sometimes my week.  But I will never learn not to mind that a lot of people out there don’t recognise me as a human being essentially like themselves with a life—and, furthermore, inevitably limited expertise even in my professional domain—and behave accordingly.§§

Today I got a fresh request for help on a school project.  This one addresses me as ‘Mrs McKinley’ so I don’t have to read any farther to know that this person hasn’t made any attempt to do their homework. . . .

* * *

* as I count young.  But how can ‘one’ or ‘two’ or even ‘three’ not be young?^

^ Unless you’re a hamster.+

+ And you’re talking in years, not hours.  A three-hour-old hamster is young.  And one o’clock in the morning is MORNING and last night is dead.  So—wait—‘the night is young’ has to start at like two o’clock in the afternoon. . . .   Nights are never young . . . Hey, I’ve just invented a philosophy.#

# How did I get into this?  And where’s the door?

** Given when I am staggering out of bed lately, they’re going to get distressingly etiolated if the nights don’t warm up soon so that I can leave them outdoors to greet the dawn and all those distasteful hours immediately following.

*** Who is very interested in people rushing back and forth in a purposeful way.  Hellhounds know to crush themselves in the back of their crate and not stir till it’s all over.

† Well, I’d been outdoors kind of a lot already:  it was such a glorious day I took both critter shifts^ on country walks which was self-indulgent but . . . fun.^^

^ A little old lady said to me yesterday, every time I see you you’re walking a different dog.  There are only three, I said, but I mostly walk them in two shifts.  Oh, said the little old lady, and I could watch the thought process in her expression:  first she accepted the answer to this question that had been puzzling her and then, moving right along, this little old lady being a quick thinker, I could see the woman is mad dawning in her eyes.

^^ And since I won’t leave critters in a car because of the dog-theft problem, it’s also very time consuming.

†† Also aside from the fact that Outlook decided not to let me in yesterday afternoon.  No.  Won’t.  And I don’t like your password any more either.  Bite me.  —ARRRRRRRRGH.

††† We’re already in trouble:  the books are the books, they’re there, you don’t need me, and chances are very good that if you’re going in for literary criticism I’ll think your penetrating insights bear a strong family resemblance to mouldy root vegetables^, and you’ve got no business writing about me at all.^^

^ You know, really mouldy, when they’ve gone all squishy

^^ Yes, I read biographies.  Your point would be?

‡ When’s the last time I got a blog post out of an interesting question from someone writing a paper on me?  Exactly.^

^ Although the kid who wanted to know what it was like growing up with all those half-siblings made me blink a bit.  I wonder who they thought they were writing about?

‡‡ And with luck will so derail under- or post-grad thesis topics that the students will decide to write about something else

‡‡‡ ie an adult with adult responsibilities.  Plugs from teachers aren’t that uncommon, but they always depress me more.

§ The fact that this was the first email Outlook let through after Raphael told me how to make it behave was not destined to improve my attitude.

§§ You don’t walk up to a doctor at the supermarket and ask them to diagnose the rash on your leg.  You don’t write a letter to a lawyer asking them what their daily schedule is and how and why it makes them a better lawyer.  You don’t tell a blacksmith you want to borrow their tools because anyone can shoe a horse if they have the right hammer.

How to ruin my day


Merrilee will want to try to make a book out of it at some point

We’ve all mentioned how thrilled we’d be to have this in book form at some point and that touches on another thing I’m really looking forward to. I’m under the impression that you’re ‘writing without a net’ right now; in other words, I’m thinking that we’re getting to see what a first pass through a story looks like. I assume that in the process of turning this into a book, you’ll go through your normal re-read and ‘oh *that’s* why that was important – I’d better add this detail in, in light of that’ process of re-writing and editing. I’m looking to and hoping to see who/what gets emphasized/de-emphasized/deleted/added as part of the process. This is potentially a fascinating sneak peek behind the curtain and I’m really enjoying it.

I don’t even know where to begin to respond to this one.

Do you realise that by calling KES as she appears on the blog a ‘first pass’ and assuming that I’m going to rewrite the whole thing from the beginning when Merrilee and I turn it into a book-like object, you are implying that it, you know, needs it?  Unless you’re Anthony Trollope, first versions of a story are rough.  You rewrite because you have to.  Because the story doesn’t make sense after the villain turns out only to be misunderstood, because the main character doesn’t come into focus till page four hundred and twelve because you were trying to write about an enchanted lemur and it turns out she’s a fruit bat.  Because you fell in love with the word crepuscular and used it forty-seven times in the first chapter and, as anyone who has done any serious writing knows, you can rarely merely swap one word out for another, usually you have to change the phrase or the sentence which then bodges up the paragraph or the scene and you have to rewrite that . . .  because on page two you thought Bathsheba was going to stick David with a hat-pin, steal his second-best armour, and run off to battle to fight at her husband’s side.  Oops.

You rewrite in the hope that you will eventually produce something that you could give strangers to read.

At what point you start soliciting other people’s opinions varies.  I hear terrifying rumours that some writers hang rough drafts on line and invite comments.  I’d become a ditchdigger or a linesperson before I did that—and I don’t think they hire sixty-one-year old women to dig ditches, and retraining to be a linesperson wouldn’t be a good choice since I left my head for heights somewhere back in my thirties.  Before I married Peter—who does now see early drafts of my stories—NOBODY saw ANYTHING till I’d got as close to finished with a story as I could.  Even I acknowledge that you need an outside eye eventually, to tell you the elisions that don’t work because nobody else knows the story as well as you do, and Gibbervig and Sorfrella got up to what together*, or because you so can’t see the forest for the trees any more that while (ahem) you may just be a prone-to-tangents storyteller, the chapter about the history of interspecies harness** really slows the action down.  My current editor prefers to see things a little sooner rather than a little later—although I think this has a lot to do with the fact that I’m almost always laaaaaaate turning stuff in and she wants some reassurance that the story exists and she’s not trying to hold a place on the next list but twelve for a will-o-the-wisp—and I acknowledge her right, as the woman whose butt is on the publishing line on my behalf.  But I don’t like it.

Once I’d got properly into KES I let myself acknowledge that it was a real story—as real as any of the ones that were first read by strangers in paper covers in their entirety—or that existed in their entirety before they were excerpted on line.  I’m writing without a net, yes, because I’m hanging bits of the story for strangers to read before I’ve got to the end of writing it.  But I’m writing it as well as I can as I go.  I rewrite the individual eps before I post them.  What I post is NOT first pass.

Yes.  I’m giving away for free what is just as much work as what I write for money.  But it’s a slightly different kind of work;  different harness—speaking of comparative tack—different pressure points.  I wouldn’t have had the chutzpah to invent a genre-fantasy-writing heroine who gets embroiled in offcuts from her own stories for a book I was expecting Merrilee to pitch to my—or any other—editor.  I’m aware that messing around with the boundaries between reality-reality and book-reality is very popular just now*** but KES is not something I would have risked doing.  Except as a kind-of-joke-but-then-again-not-a-joke on my blog.  And yes, I’m hoping to recoup some of that writing time by turning KES into a book that people will pay money for a copy of, hard or e-.†  But . . .

But I’m not going to rewrite her.  Bottom line:  I can’t.  The story arc is very very very VERY VERY VERY VERY different, doing it in 800-900 words a shot and usually ending with something more or less cliffhangery.  The story is the story:  but KES has let me mould her into 800-900 word chunks, and you—or anyway I, this writer, Robin McKinley—doesn’t get a second chance.  If I tried, I’d wreck her.  I’m not going to try.

I’ll fix errors, when I shuffle her together into one file to send to Merrilee.  And I will scream and hurl myself out windows and so on when I discover the howlers I know are there even if I don’t at present know what they are—and I just hope there aren’t any I can’t fix without tearing up the foundations.  I’ve silently fixed I think three easily-tweaked ones already;  I keep notes—inadequate notes and always of the wrong things—but I mostly don’t reread, except specific snippets (when I can find them) for specific purposes of stumbling accuracy.  I’ll try to swap out the superfluous uses of crepuscular without rewriting any scenes.  But that’s all.  Tidy up—although there will be more of this, and it will be more of a struggle, than I’m going to like.  But I am not going to rewrite.  Not.

And as for a sneak peek behind the curtain—that’s not what you’re getting.  That’s not anything you’ll ever get from me.  There’s a reason I don’t blog much about my writing process.  I’m a privacy fetishist.  And it’s a lot easier to do the smoke and mirrors thing about my life than about my writing.

* * *

* And furthermore when did they have the opportunity to do it?  Didn’t the Siege of Mormormorungal crack up straight into the Battle for the Nineteen Dozyhazes and the Sentient Orchid?  —I’ve never been good at time, in reality or out of it.

** Horse tack was a relatively late invention;  domestic horses were a doddle after dragons and flurdlelumps.  Horses are smaller and more persuadable than dragons, and at least you can sit on a horse;  there’s the whole suspended-cage business with flurdlelumps because of all those legs.

*** Thank you, Jasper Fforde.  He may not have started the trend single-handed, but he’s where I first met it.

† KES does tap into my real writing energy.  The blog doesn’t.  The problem with the blog is time.  I’m a slow writer, even of the blog.  But I don’t come away from the blog thinking MUST HAVE BREAK FROM WRITING STUFF.  The main reason I’ve cut KES back to once a week is because if I spend any more time on her she will cut into . . . well, PEG II, for example.

I’m going to try again to go to bed early tonight. . . .


Having signally failed (again) last night.  I need either to learn not to fall asleep in the bath or how to keep the water hot and just sleep in the bath.  I sleep there so much better than I sleep in bed.  Maybe it’s because Scorpio is a water sign.  So it’s not my fault.  It’s that I’m doomed.

B_twin left today and . . . it started raining about two hours later.  Speaking of water and never mind the astrology.  BUT THE HELLHOUNDS ATE DINNER.  Rain?  Fine.  Whatever.  Let it rain.  I can deal with (almost) ANYTHING . . . as long as the hellhounds keep eating.*

And furthermore it’s Friday.  And that means tomorrow is . . .


O.K., now it’s really time to go pick up The Blue Sword again… not that it’s ever not time to read it, but Kes’ visions are reminding me of Harry’s and I’m being called…

You know I keep banging on about how the Story exists and all a poor dope of a writer can do is choose her words as well as she’s able.  But a story does try and come to a writer who has (maybe) a hope of relating to or engaging with it.  If a lost and confused story about the early expansion of the railroad across the North American continent in the 19th century shows up panting on my doorstep, I will attempt to repress my shudder of horror (stories have feelings), pat it on its head, and send it back to the Story Council for reassignment.

Stories about girls who do things come to me.  So do stories about girls who have visions before/during/after they do things.  I assume one of the reasons stories with visions in them see me as a kindred spirit is because I’ve always been rotten with visions myself.  Most of them are story related.**


BLUE SWORD began with a vision of Harry pulling that mountain down.  CHALICE began with the Master saving his Chalice’s life on that cold hillside.  PEGASUS began with the night of Sylvi’s twelfth birthday.  Sometimes the vividest visions however are not where a story begins, but where I realised it was a story.  Peter was mulling over the difficulty of raising an orphan baby dragon*** because you need to keep it hot, but my recollection (which may well be faulty) is that he was thinking of something like a bucket or wheelbarrow of embers.  It was when I saw some random teenage boy put a baby dragon down his shirt that I knew the story was live for me.  And baby critters with big brains tend to need serious contact with their mums;  I don’t know that a brainy dragonlet would do very well stranded in a barrow of embers, even if the barrow was topped up regularly.  And then of course it turns out that the dragons in this particular story are marsupials, and their babies are born pretty well foetal. . . .

And so on.  There have been a few periods in my life—not recently, fortunately, it’s another of those ‘getting old is a good thing (mostly)’ things—when I’ve thought that my tendency to visions meant I was nuts.  Eventually I decided that if I coped (more or less) in the real world too, who cares?  Poor Kes is going to have a harder time hanging onto her sanity—or her belief in her sanity—since her stories/visions are showing, and, I will tell you for free, will continue to show, an alarming tendency to break into our so-called real world and mess her around.


My favorite sentence/image of this week’s episode is: I saw the banner flying from its topmost tower very plainly: two sword blades crossed to divide it into quarters, and in the quarters were a horse, a hawk, a sighthound and a rose. I wanted the whole Kes story from the very beginning, but that line bumped it further over an invisible enticing ledge for me.

Oh good.  Whatever works.***  ::Shuffles feet::  Mind you I haven’t much idea about this part of the story myself.  I can feel that it’s live or I wouldn’t have put even this much in–I don’t even know how to describe it, but that banner is as real as the chair I’m sitting in, or Cecelia Bartoli on the CD player.  I can also feel where I need to go to find someone—someone I mean who lives there—to talk to about it.  There’s a fair amount of seething going on behind that bit of scenery.  But I kind of imagine them drawing straws, and whoever gets the short straw has to talk to me first.  —No, no, no, the loser is saying, clutching his/her hair.  You know what she’s like!†

Your nicer readers may respect you.  Your characters . . . nah.

* * *

* B_twin said, I’ve seen skinnier dogs.  Good thing you weren’t here a month ago, I said.  I don’t think we were ever quite in danger of the neighbours ringing up the RSPCA^ but I felt we were getting close.  When the only food that’s going into them is what I’m prying their mouths open and stuffing down . . . they get really skinny.  I will go on force-feeding when they’re still not voluntarily eating enough to keep a hummingbird alive^^ but every sixteenth-mouthful scrap that I didn’t have to poke into them helps . . . including my stress level.

^ I’ve said this before, haven’t I:  Yes.  And let the RSPCA try to make them eat.

^^ Although hummingbirds are another of these tiny frantic things, like shrews, that have to eat pretty well constantly to avoid starving to death.  I thought this was fascinating:

Anorexic hummingbirds don’t survive to breed.  Note that I have turned away all inquiries about breeding from the hellhounds not only because I don’t want them to find out what sex is.

From :

‘A hummingbird can weigh anywhere between 2 and 20 grams.  A penny weighs 2.5 grams.’   And even several times 2.5 grams of food a day is not going to keep an 18,000-gram hellhound alive for long.

(Also from  ‘A hummingbird’s brain is 4.2% of its body weight, the largest proportion in the bird kingdom.’#  Yes, but 4.2% of 2 to 20 grams still doesn’t leave a lot of room for Sanskrit and quantum physics.  Has anyone tried to find out if hummingbirds can learn weird human-type stuff like coming when called or pressing an itsy-bitsy lever that dispenses food?

# Note that you’re seeing in action WHY WRITING THE BLASTED BLOG TAKES SO LONG.  Pretty much every time I look something up—like the eating habits of hummingbirds—I get into an ‘oooh shiny’ rut and half an hour later. . . .

** But it’s not surprising that when Jesus decided to hoick me over the ‘believer’ line he showed up in a vision.

*** Words to live by.  Where a lot of professions meet on common ground, I guess:  writers, mechanics, ditch diggers, bakers, critter trainers, shoe salespersons.  Probably not accountants and surgeons.  And I wish these were the words by which computer programmers lived.

† I’m sitting here on this chair, listening to Cecelia Bartoli, and realising that the first person I speak to isn’t going to have a clue about the banner and is going to think I’m, ahem, nuts for wanting to know.

††We were discussing ideas for short stories for FIRE ELEMENTALS, right?  Long, long, long ago.  Four FIRE novels^ ago.  Before Peter realised what he had married.

^ Peter wrote TEARS OF A SALAMANDER, remember.  It’s not only me.

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