July 3, 2014

Shadows is here!

Have I really not done a KES-comment post in . . .



. . . forever?  Bad me.  House move, worrying about husband’s health and well-being, Samaritan training, hellhounds giving up eating etc . . . are NO EXCUSE.  And now it’s been so long I can’t find/remember where I left off.  ARRRGH.  Well, if I miss/repeat anything . . . I’LL BLAME YOU.*  YOU SHOULD HAVE SAID, HEY, YOU HAVEN’T DONE A KES COMMENT ROUND UP IN TOO LONG.


Random thoughts: I like Watermelon Shoulders much better than Torpedo Shoulders.

I would guess so do we all.  I do anyway.  I will say that Torpedo Shoulders will prove to be a little more okay than you think.  Like Murac, drat him.  I had no intention of Murac becoming anything like either an important character or almost a hero sort of person.  Or, you know, attractive, other than in a ramshackle sort of way that would appeal to deranged 11-to-15-year-olds.  Arrrrrrgh.  You see here an author hoist by her own petard.  This happens regularly—right, EMoon?—in my case pretty much every frelling story about something or someone**, but it doesn’t usually happen in public.  By the time the story hits print I’m kind of over my crisis about it/him/her/them and can pretend, or at least pretend to pretend or make a good story out of it, that this was the plan all along.***

I’m very glad we had so much time to get to know Kes in the ordinary, everyday world before she got tossed into the Defender role. It’s not that her personality doesn’t come through in the battle & just-before-or-after-battle sequences, but I like knowing that she likes muffins & is fairly good at making friends with good ordinary people. (I’m not sure I’m expressing myself well here.)

Well, you’re expressing well enough for me to agree with you and to say I’m glad that this is how you’re reading what I’m writing.  Yes.  It depends on the story, of course, but in this case Kes needed to be really clearly and emphatically a more or less normal modern woman—okay, a New Yorker and a fantasy writer, not absolutely normal†—for the high fantasy stuff to work the way I wanted it to work.  It’s not like what I’m doing is original—LEST DARKNESS FALL is the book that pops first into my head, and probably a lot of other people’s heads for modern people dropped in ye olde time††, and you could go back another generation or two to THE TIME MACHINE if you wanted to, and there have been gazillions since—and Kes isn’t trying to invent a printing press or alter any courses of history††† or make sweeping political statements in allegorical form‡ she’s just having an adventure.  But for the adventure to go ping whap YIPE in the way I hoped the two worlds have to be vividly incompatible.

At least Flowerhair was still alive. Yes. I was keeping her alive. What—or who—was keeping me alive? Hello?

::giggle:: And suddenly the story gets a bit meta.

This is me having some fun.  There’s a lot in KES, starting with Kes herself as a fantasy writer, that I would NEVER EVER have put in a book that started life as something I was expecting a publisher to pay me for.

. . . SOMEWHERE someone asked me if the colonel of the Falcons might by any chance be Flowerhair.  Have I answered this?  I can’t remember/find answering this.  If I did, this is what I would already have said:  What a great idea.  No.  Rats.  The thing is, Flowerhair has stayed alive partly by keeping a low profile.  I’ve told you, haven’t I, that I’m going to give you the first chapter of the first FLOWERHAIR book, one of these days?  I know what happens‡‡ and I know how she got started on this mercenary thing, and why, and also why she distrusts the formal military.  She’d also hate being in command although privately, as her author’s author, I think she’d be good at it.  She’s put temporary gangs together occasionally to bring off some feat she couldn’t pull alone.  Eh.  Maybe while Kes is resting up after Part One finally comes to an end I’ll mess with Flowerhair a little more.‡‡‡

I’m glad Silverheart seems to be determined to help Kes out both with being Defender & convincing other people that Kes has some small right to inhabit her heroic role.

Well . . . this is also just McKinley’s preoccupation with ordinary people rising to extraordinary occasions.  Kes is a bit more tongue in cheek than, say, Harry, but it’s the same story arc, from  MEEEEEEEP, to . . . Oh, well, if I have to. . . .


Eowyn had never been a satisfactory heroine because of that whole seeking-death-because-of-unrequited-love thing to which I had had a strong ‘spare me’ reaction

But Eowyn faced the ring wraith lord when all around her had fallen and for that I loved her. Besides, there was really only her and Galadriel who could possibly be role models for a 10 year old girl reading LOTR, and Galadriel did a lot of standing around looking stately while doing not a lot, which had no appeal at all. Get out there and DO something woman!  

I agree, except for the fact that it’s not enough.  I went through the tortures of the damned as only an introverted book-mad ten, or, in my case, eleven-year-old girl who WANTS HER OWN ADVENTURES can go through if she’s of a Previous Generation and when she was eleven years old LOTR was what there was, full stop.  Robin McKinley, Elizabeth Moon, Patricia McKillip, Tamora Pierce, Diane Duane, Patricia Wrede etc hadn’t been invented yet.  Eowyn does beg to accompany Aragorn into battle because she’s a shield maiden not a wet nurse, and in fact that scene rings very true to me and it interests me that Tolkien—manifestly not a bloke who gets it about women—could write it.  But he then, as if horrified at his own ability to understand a woman’s desire for action, undermines the flapdoodle out of her for that famous scene with the Nazgul captain:  she doesn’t kill him.  Merry does.  Which is probably why, when my eleven-year-old mind had to have a GIRL in there somewhere, decided that Merry was a girl really.

And Galadriel is a wet.  Just by the way.  The most interesting thing about her is that she’s a bigger deal than her husband, which is another of those oopsies from Tolkien the Bloke.  Hey, pack her off to the Grey Havens before she spreads.  And for utter iconic girlie uselessness I give you Galadriel’s granddaughter . . . Arwen.§



* * *


* Readers are great.  I love my readers.^

^ Mostly.  Except the ones who think they and I are twin souls and/or want me to collaborate with them on their great novel.


Oh, do shut up and write.  —Story.

*** ::muffled gurgling noises::

† All my New York friends are going HEY!

†† Anyone wants to suggest there’s no magic in LEST DARKNESS FALL . . . um.  No overt magic.  But one dorky little guy TOTALLY TOTALLY TOTALLY CHANGES HISTORY I MEAN TOTALLY?  Uh huh.  De Camp just decided not to mention the magic wand.

††† And since 1939 when LEST came out they’ve kind of decided the Dark Ages weren’t all that dark after all.

Uggh.  The Story Council sends me one of those and after I set fire to it I’ll start lobbing plastic bags of dog crap through their windows.

‡‡ I think I know what happens.^

^ Murac.  Grrrrrrrrrrr.

‡‡‡ Mainly I have to get on with PEG II a little more briskly.^

^ Although, speaking of messing around, I’d like to know a little more about Aldetruda.  And Kes, in a bit of wish fulfilment, writes a lot faster than I do and has at least one other serial heroine and some one offs lurking, any of which might make an interesting digression or digressions.

§ And no, I cut Peter Jackson no slack for trying to jazz her up a little.

Intellectual Rigour. But I never claimed to have it.


Okay, enough with the happy Peter Dickinson book news and the adorable puppy photos and all that chirpy stuff.   I am still kind of reeling from a couple of days ago* which may help explain why this evening . . . I am having a CRANKY ATTACK.**

            I’ve been reading a very interesting book, THINKING, FAST AND SLOW by Daniel Kahneman.   It’s had a huge amount of positive press (as in this link:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/dec/13/thinking-fast-slow-daniel-kahneman ) and is a mega best seller and as someone who is even more depressed by the FIFTY SHADES OF GREY phenomenon than she was at the TWILIGHT phenomenon, which was as low as I was expecting the common denominator to get***, I say splendid, and may it sell trillions.  But . . .

            I found the first half a lot more compelling than the second, although I’d been making occasional spluttering noises of disbelief or disagreement from the beginning†.  But he lost me completely near the end.††  He decides to use LA TRAVIATA as a coat hanger to drape some stuff about the irrationality of human emotions over.  And he gets details of the plot wrong.  He says that Violetta’s lover, Alfredo, is an aristocrat.  He is not.  He is bourgeois.  When Papa Germont comes to do the heavy-dad thing at Violetta and convince her to give Alfredo up for the sake of Alfredo’s family and especially his sister, innocent flower that she is, and about to be sold, I mean married, to a man who won’t have her if her brother is shacked up with a whore.  There is no way this scene would work the way it works if Germont were an aristocrat.  It might work some other way, but that’s not the opera Verdi wrote.    

             Kahneman goes on to describe the end:  Violetta is dying surrounded by a few friends.  She is NOT.  She is ALONE, except for her maid, and occasional visits from her doctor, and the fact that the doctor who professionally declares the death sentence††† is treated like a friendly visitor underscores just how terribly alone she is.‡ This makes her last-minute reunion with her bourgeois lover and his thug of a father—who can afford to be generous because she’s going to be dead in a minute—infinitely more poignant.  Someone might have written what Kahneman says Verdi wrote.  But that’s not what Verdi wrote, and what Verdi wrote breaks your heart.  Stuff irrationality. 

            But if Kahneman is this careless over such easily checked details, what else has he been careless about?  

* * *

* The state of this society, in which I was born, grew up and am now growing old in, on the subject of sex, power and women’s rights, APPALS me.  You all know about Todd Akin’s recent, fabulously grotesque remark that a woman’s body will reject rapist sperm so she won’t get pregnant?  Uh-huh.  That alone does my head in, but now read this, any of you who haven’t already, it was a popular retweet on Twitter a couple of days ago:  http://www.xojane.com/it-happened-to-me/dear-representative-todd-akin-i-got-pregnant-from-rape  Here’s the paragraph I wish to draw your particular attention to, emphasis mine: 

Today, I am an attorney and the busy single mother of an amazing second grader. My rape is responsible for both of these roles. You see, I enrolled at GeorgetownLawSchoolafter learning, firsthand, that pregnancy from rape creates unimaginable obstacles for women who decide to raise the children they conceive through rape. In the vast majority of states, a rapist has the same custody and visitation rights to a child born through his crime as other fathers enjoy. In 2010, a paper I wrote on this topic was published by the Georgetown Law Journal, and I continue to travel throughout the country speaking on this issue. 

              I despair.  Sometimes . . . I despair.  

** If you want to put your iPad down and go hunt up your hellgoddess SPF 157 dark glasses at this point, that would be a good idea. 

*** I AM BORED TO DEATH BY PORN, BOTH SOFT AND HARD^.  And pretty much always have been.  I went through a phase of watching quite a lot of, ahem, hard commercial porn, because it was all about sexual liberation . . . and is some of where I woke up to the reality of the fact that it isn’t.  And the apparent fact that some form of tie-me-up-tie-me-down^^ is the fantasy du jour of gazillions of women today frelling desolates me.  It makes me wish I was born on the second planet of Tau Ceti, where it’s all about tentacles and there are thirteen genders which are reassigned by blind ballot every other year. 

^ I’m a Scorpio.  We like sex.  We think sex is great.  

^^ No, I haven’t seen the Almodovar film, and I won’t.  Sue me.  I haven’t read FIFTY SHADES either.  Yes, I read TWILIGHT.  Well, most of it.  I tried.  

† I’m willing to entertain the possibility that to run experiments at all the lab coats have to simplify.  But simplifying human beings’ reactions is risky.  I’ve loaned my hard copy of the book to Gemma and have been listening on Audible while hurtling, so I can’t look up chapter and verse.  But one example that sticks in my mind is about an experiment in—let’s call it compassion.  A group of strangers are in a series of little booths, and each in turn has a chance to speak.  A plant by the admin, when it’s his turn, says that he is inclined to fits when he gets stressed, this is stressing him . . . and then apparently goes off in a fit.  The point is that almost none of the genuine guinea pigs attempts to go to his rescue, and this is supposed to prove that we’re less nice than we think we are. 

            Wait a minute.  You mean nobody was screaming for the admin, phoning for an ambulance—okay, I don’t know if this was since mobile phones became ubiquitous—or demanding to know what the hell was the problem that whoever screened experimental candidates didn’t find out that one of their prospects might have a fatal fit from the stress of being in this study?  Nobody either objected to the set up or smelled a gigantic rotting rat here?   No, I don’t want to deal with a stranger having a fit, so, fine, I’m not a nice person.  But I haven’t got a clue about fits^, and there ought to be safety precautions in place.

            And something else I kept thinking over and over as yet another bunch of credulous humans fell in yet another trap laid for them by the devious lab coats, isn’t anyone ever suspicious when they’ve turned up for some kind of unspecified psychological testing and are shown into a booth or handed a page of curiously bland instructions?^^ 

^ Or perhaps I should say that on the blessedly few occasions that I’ve been the conscious human on the spot, the first thing I did was go for expert help.     

^^ One of my terrible secrets is that I do sometimes read amazon reviews for nonfiction.+  THINKING gets mostly good customer buzz too, but the few objectors are instructive.  This one pretty much reflects my feelings.  http://www.amazon.co.uk/product-reviews/1846140552/ref=cm_cr_pr_hist_3?ie=UTF8&filterBy=addThreeStar&showViewpoints=0  And since I’m not sure how amazon customer review links work, the one I mean is by M D Holley. 

+ If you’re looking for a basic Japanese grammar or a knitting reference book, your means of making even a semi-informed choice are limited.  

†† Which I just listened to this evening and had to explain to the hellhounds since there was no one else around.  Possibly because I was trying to explain it to the hellhounds. 

††† The ridiculousness of the doctor declaring ‘she has only a few hours to live’ almost wrecks it.  But not quite.  Especially if you don’t speak Italian.  

‡ Maybe Kahneman is confusing it with the end of La Boheme.  Another heroine dying of tuberculosis in Italian, la la la la, who cares?  I care.

Signing, illustrated.


I can do without days like this one.  What I know to try when a computer disputes me is pathetic, but it does take a little while to run through.  Rather like running through my pathetic repertoire of things to try to make hellhounds eat.  Also, there’s the adrenaline factor.  Crashing off the internet when you’re trying to organise and then post your nightly blog provokes a rather substantial fury spike, which is slow to drain away again.*

            Especially when hellhounds decide not to eat their supper.

            At least there weren’t any bats.

            I’m still very, very short of sleep and very, very, VERY grateful that I HAVE PHOTOS FOR TONIGHT.  These are Vikki’s;  I’ll put some of Cathy’s up tomorrow.


The Nice Man had asked me if I’d do a reading or a Q&A or a presentation of any kind and I said that I’d be happy to do a Q&A as a lead in to the getting out of the favourite fountain pen.  The very first question was whether I was going to write a sequel to SUNSHINE.  I’m out of practise.  I did not immediately laugh lightly and answer some other question, which is what, when I’m in practise, I do, when someone says something punishable by instant death.  I could hear the Blog Contingent going very still on the other side of the audience** and then Ajlr, BLESSHERATHOUSANDTIMES, not only asked a question, but asked an interesting question about what it’s like being a writer writing about a lot of different imaginary countries, and do they feel different–the answer to which is yes, they do.   I dream about them, and I always know which one I’m in before I see the pegasus or the sashed, bridleless riders or the guy with the long teeth.


I was sufficiently unnerved by Question One that I spent most of the rest of the evening talking to the floor.  This is something else I’m better at not doing when I’m in practise being an author in public.  Make eye contact!  I don’t want to make eye contact!

The relentless march of the grocer's apostrophe.

A very nice poster.  Although there may be something just a little bit WRONG with the top line. 

Yes! The famous dwarven whatsit!

Cathy got a more comprehensive shot of it which I’ll post tomorrow.  And I apologise for my look of total disbelief, but . . .  

Not so random members of the audience.

One intrepid photographer and one smiling bull terrier.  Oh . . . well, the last time I saw that pink feather boa a bull terrier was wearing it.***

Intrepid photographer and hellgoddess.

And book.  And chocolate.#  And a lovely pink knitted bag courtesy Mrs Redboots.   The cables are bits of (ringing methods) Kent and Cambridge.  Cathy and I were trying to figure out which was which.  This should be embarrassingly easy, but somehow it isn’t, when it’s pink knitting.

Asssembly line.

That’s asssssembly line.  At the end I signed all the stock that was left.##  The Nice Man pulled it off the table in stacks, opened each to the title page, I scrawled, and my official Penguin minder was waiting to slap on the ‘signed by the author’ sticker### and put the completed trophy in the book cart.

More photos tomorrow.  I’m going to bed.  But first let me just say THANK YOU VERY MUCH to everyone who came to Forbidden Planet last night and bought book(s), both blog readers and–er–non-blog-readers, and friends and readers known and unknown, and who generally made this not one of those occasions when I go home declaring I’m giving up this writing scam and getting a job stocking shelves at Sainsbury’s.   It was good energy last night, you guys.  Thanks. 

* * *

* It turns out to have been the exchange.  It was peculiar that both Peter and I were off the air—we’re at opposite ends of this tiny town but we’re also on different servers.  I did of course ring Computer Men today, who were booked solid, it being a Friday and all, but being angelic, one might almost say seraphic, as they are^, Raphael did his remote-meddling trick after I’d wasted forty-five minutes on the phone to my server who clearly had no more clue than I did.^^   Meanwhile I’d gone off for my Friday cup of t—I mean, my music lesson, with Oisin, and he was off the air too.  He was busy swearing at his server^^^ who did, however, have more of a clue than mine did, and then BT finally got its finger out, and Raphael twisted the pipe cleaners back together and . . . 

^ Hey.  I wonder if either of them sings? 

^^ When I rang Raphael back he was positively testy.  He rarely gets testy, except when other computer professionals are being morons. 

^^^ Relatively speaking.  Oisin does not swear the way I swear.  You can still hear what he’s not saying.

** As one of them commented drily later, Not a blog reader.

*** Anyone who came to my last London signing will remember this clearly.  PS:  Her t shirt says Doctor Pooh. 

# Several people gave me chocolate.  I have no idea why.

## One of the things Forbidden Planet gets enormous points from this author for is that they made a real effort to rake in a good selection of my backlist.  This is good anyway and enormously in their favour when I’m mostly as rare as hen’s teeth and reliably eating hellhounds over here.  And it’s a good thing, not a bad thing, that they had a lot of stock left over to sign.  It means they think they can sell it.^  I hope they’re right. 

^ They do have several stores to share the burden.

### Very carefully designed to have glue that peels OFF again.



On Tuesday, this arrived in my inbox from Ajlr: 

To share the excitement, message below just received from our bee tutor. We’ll have our own bees in 48 hours! :) :) :)

Think of us on Thursday evening, driving around with a box full of bees…


I understand all went well at the weekend and . . . I’ve just looked at the nucleus and the queen is laying to the point that the little box is brim full of bees.

 So if you would like to come and collect it, it’s yours.  You will need to come late evening when they have stopped flying and we can seal the entrance and strap it closed for travelling. . . .

I suggest you take it to the apiary and put it where you are going to have the hive and let the bees get orientated for a couple of days.  Then at the weekend or early next week you can move it to one side, put the hive in its place and transfer the occupied frames over. . . .

I replied in suitably modest, restrained hellgoddess manner:

YAAAAAY.  Okay, I’m stoked.  :):):)

Do I get to mention it on the blog?  That Ajlr is driving around the east of England with a box full of bees????  :)

And she generously replied:

Yes, mention it by all means – lots of positive thoughts would be very welcome. :)

I won’t be back until about 8 on Thursday evening, but we’re going to go over then and pick the bees up, to move them straight to the apiary area  that evening. I think I’ll have to be suited up when we unblock the entrance in their new home though…I’m not sure they’ll be that happy after 15 minutes in a car.

Oooh, my bees, my bees. ::goes into nurture mode:: :) **

If you think of it (and have time) send me an email.  I’ve written it in my diary . . . but that still means I have to remember to look in my diary.  And Thursday is handbells AND Muddlehamptons, so I will be distracted.

This then came in while I was Muddlehamptoning:

Off to pick up and move our box full of bees in about 15 minutes. Keep your fingers crossed that they don’t try and break out of it while we’re all in the car together! :)

And when I got back to the mews*** I wrote: 

YAAAAAAAY.  Well, you *must* be back by now . . . I hope ALL WENT WELL.  :):):)

This then arrived with the subject line ‘A car with 5864 passengers':

So, we picked up the nucleus box full of bees from out tutor’s home just now. She let us borrow a hive strap, so the lid was securely fastened for transit, and stuffed a good lump of foam rubber into the entrance hole of the nuc so no one could come out and start insisting on different driving techniques during the journey. And off we went, with our young colony of bees carefully wedged in the back of the car. I can’t say that was the most relaxing four miles we’ve ever driven, not with our ears constantly assessing the level of grumbling coming from the box. R drove as carefully as possible but small country roads are not noted for their level surfaces. When we got to their new home, I suited-up and put the box on its stand, removed the strap and then, from the back, leaned over and pulled out the plug from the entrance hole. A small and agitated cluster of bees immediately poured out of the entrance and looked around with an air of bewildered belligerence. However, there was no-one there for them to pick a fight with and when I tiptoed back 30 seconds later there were only 30 or so crawling over the front of the box, near the entrance. It was 21.45 by then, dusk, and chilly, and as I watched they all went back inside. 

On Sunday we will move the colony into their full-sized brood box, on the same spot where they are now in their nuc box. It looks like being a fun morning!

I’m sure these are going to be the most wonderful bees in the history of beekeeping. I’m not sure how long it will take us to learn all their names though…

If any of this is useful for the blog, it’s all yours. :)


I’m glad to know you aren’t driving frantically for the Channel with 5864 angry bees in hot pursuit.  :)

I’m quite glad we aren’t heading for the Channel, too. :)

. . . But by that time last night I was already most of the way through a blog entry about handbells and singing.  Today I emailed: 

I think it is VERY NOBLE of you not to have mentioned your bees on the forum.  All this goes in TONIGHT.†† 

I haven’t mentioned it at all, thinking you might want to use it. And yes, I’m EXTREMELY noble, it’s almost unbearable. I’ll even add to it and offer to write ‘Steps to bee-keeping IV’ in about a month’s time, if you wish. Now, where’s my halo gone…:)

The rain is coming down stair rods here at the moment. My poor bees will be sitting in the entrance to their box, looking out gloomily at all the wet and probably squabbling with each other. And the queen will be humming ‘now children, children, settle down’. (Anthropomorphise? Moi?) †††


Yes, I’ve been thinking of your poor bees sitting in their new home and wondering drearily why they’ve been horribly magicked to this watery place.  Stair rods here too.  At least cranky hellhounds don’t sting.  :)

Must go to bell practice.  NIALL’S HOME!!!  I’M NOT IN CHARGE!!!!! YAAAAAAAAY!!!!! 

 * * *

* And yes, I did ask her first. 

** Aside: note that I am totally on board with the nurture thing.  Oisin keeps telling me that I must apply for the bat-exclusion license whether I use it or not—that it’s sensible to be prepared.  Noooooo, I keep saying, my bats, my bats!  He says, look, I know you’re a pathetic wet knee-jerk liberal.  Get the frelling exclusion anyway while you have a sympathetic Bat Lady.   She could move to Canada^ and her replacement could decide that you are superfluous to bat requirements. 

^ I’m sure there are lots of splendid bats in Canada

 *** And had fed the hellhounds.  And begun a blog post.  First things first. 

† Hmmmmmmm.  Maybe we should have a bee-naming contest???  Hmmmmmmmm.^ 

^ As a happy, well-named bee might say. 

†† I might even conceivably get another paragraph of PEG II written/bent/tied to the chair/negotiated for better terms with^ tonight.  Or maybe I’ll ring some Cambridge on Pooka.  I might even try to get the fragment of a song I wrote while I was waiting for Oisin to get back from looking at electric organs for other people onto Finale.  It looks more singable than my stuff usually is.  I wonder how that happened.

            Or I could knit. ^^

            The possibilities are dazzling.  

^ I keep telling you we can’t grow llyri grass in this world.

^^ We are not discussing Sewing Up Secret Project #1.

††† Some of you may remember it was Ajlr who helped name my bats.  Eadgyth is her fault.

 ‡ Okay, all you blog readers.   Sign on the forum and leave an EAGER COMMENT about more bee-keeping posts.

Part Two. As Promised.


A pleasing degree of chemically-enhanced hilarity has been successfully achieved, and what a good thing I have something to hang a blog post on.*

Speaking of physical aspects of heroines, I’ve always found it interesting that so many have very long hair–which is to say, Harry and Aerin do.

::Cringes with embarrassment::  Yes, I’m afraid so.  Harry in particular has ankle-length hair, as I recall.  Good frelling doodah grief.  I was very young when I wrote that, and I even knew I was being a trifle self indulgent.  That’s one of the things I would change, if I could—I don’t mean literally could, I don’t know if my publisher would let me or not, but You Don’t Mess With Stories, even your own, once they’ve gone out into the world and developed their own life without you.  Without a really powerful reason, and authorial embarrassment isn’t powerful enough. 

And I will identify EMoon as saying this:  

Characters need to be the size they are, whatever that is and I’m of the “not too much description please” persuasion. But readers vary widely in what they want/like/will stand for in physical description (I’ve had people ask plaintively why there’s not more, much more.)

. . . Because I want to agree.  Strongly and vociferously.  Characters are the size that they are.  And I too get the complaints about not enough physical description—and I also get people who want to argue with me about what this or that character looks like.  That’s fine, honey, if he or she looks like that to you.  But it’s not in the book. 

I’ve been picturing Jake as Latino. But I did get that he wasn’t all white. 

Um.  Latino is white.  It’s a different ethnic from Anglo-Saxon, but it’s still white.  And Jake’s dad’s name is Mendoza, so yes, he’s Latino—he’s, you know, recognisably ethnic.  Pause for groaning, since of course we’re all some kind of ethnic, including the Anglo-Saxon uber-nonsense.  I briefly tried—speaking of characters being what they are, and not what you make them—making Jake’s dad the one who was part black, thinking I could work in some physical description when he and Jake are having one of their rows . . . but it didn’t work.  Forcing stuff on your characters never does.   The nearest I got was that Jake had a photo of his mum that he used to talk to, but that’s one of the bits that was left on the cutting room floor. 

I personally have always had it very clear in my head that Harry was definitely tall–and as a short person myself, left to my own devices, I will make heroines shorter, if their height isn’t absolutely necessary.

Yes.  This is a kind of summing-up of what I’ve been blundering around saying in too many words.  What is necessary needs to be in the story—the rest is and should be up to the reader.  That’s how the characters go live for that reader.   And I haven’t got a problem with readers lying to themselves a little to make a character more what they want them to be.  I do it myself.  What—as an author—I do object to is when readers insist on their version as the One True Version.**  There aren’t that many one true versions in any aspect of life . . . but that’s another rant for another day.

One of the things I loved about reading “Sunshine,” for instance, was how amazingly little description there is for Sunshine, at least in the classic terms. We have a few side-ways descriptions (like Pat telling Sunshine how he’d described her for the desk assistant), but there isn’t a lot of the usual physical list and detail. And it left so much more for me to just allow form naturally, rather than trying to “force” an image to appear with all the “right” description. It’s not to say that my image of Sunshine isn’t clear enough that I could probably describe her like a friend I see often, it’s just that most of it is made up out of my own head, and I rather enjoy that.

Sorry.  Brief pause for authorial purring.  Mmmmmmmmm.

Then again, another thing I like about the McKinley heroines (and heroes!) is that they’re so rarely ever stunningly beautiful creatures, or at least not beautiful because of their “raven black hair, and emerald green eyes.”

I find the habitually beautiful stock character type a total and complete snore.  But speaking of necessary, Beauty in ROSE DAUGHTER has to be beautiful;  it’s part of the story.  So does Lissar in DEERSKIN.  That nonetheless didn’t stop various readers—including one famous author/critic who I’m still mad at—from slamming the latter book because I’d sold out my audience, blah blah blah blah, by reverting to the ‘beautiful heroine’ trope.  READ THE STORY I WROTE AND NOT THE ONE YOU WANTED TO READ.***   Arrrrrrrgh.  Although people mostly hate me for the end of Part One of DEERSKIN.  I was even braced for this and it still surprised me.  What?  You think awful stuff doesn’t happen?  Oh, my bad, awful stuff isn’t supposed to happen in a fairy-tale fantasy . . . at least not a Robin McKinley fairy-tale fantasy.  Grrrrrrrrrr.   It amazes me the permission some people give themselves to blame and be abusive.  And that’s not even touching my major rant about DEERSKIN, which is about the people who tell me in outrage that I’ve RUINED my heroine, that she is RUINED . . . hey, great, you guys, please get on the next rocketship to Alpha Centauri and don’t hang around on this planet making it harder for people who have awful stuff to get over to get on with their lives. . . .

            DEERSKIN isn’t for everyone.  No book is for everyone.  And that’s fine.  I just wish a few more people would remember that their personal opinion is their personal opinion and not the latest delivery from Mt Sinai. 

Over-description narrows the imagination. 


I’m tall enough that it’s the sort of thing that people comment on. I never forget how tall I am (since if you’re a woman I am probably looking at the top of your head), so when Sunshine didn’t have that awareness, I figured she was probably somewhere around average height. I was a little disappointed 

You realise that remarks like this are what drive authors to drink, or to getting jobs as warehouse technicians.†  We can’t be all things to all people.  We can’t write all stories for all readers;  we can’t make perfect matches between readers and stories. We can only do the best we can by the stories the Story Council sends us.  I can’t write enough tall characters to suit everyone who wants tall characters, and I can’t write enough short characters for people who want short characters. ††   Which is kind of where we all came in, since this conversation began with me tearing my hair over an email from a reader who claimed that most of my heroines were too short.

             I wanted to grow up to be Harry or Aerin or Cecily or Rosie or Sunshine or Mirasol or Sylvi.  Life, that freller, is disappointing.  But at least we do have stories. 

* * *

 * . . . having also been awakened by the phone two hours before my alarm was due to go off.  Moan.  However, the need to appear sane and coherent to a superfluous in law whose chief impression of me is that I’m American and another of these peculiar writer people^ woke me up so thoroughly there was no chance of getting back to sleep.  Which at least meant hellhounds had a nice hurtle before the arrival of Computer Archangel Raphael.  Who says there’s at least a month’s wait for an iPad 2.  There are two iPad 1s among our visiting houseful.^^  They are hideously desirable.  It’s going to be a long month. 

^ Couldn’t Peter have married an office manager or a mechanic or something? 

^^ We were playing Scrabble on one of them at dinner around the glasses of champagne.  Fortunately we were playing in teams, so I could just say, mm hmm, good idea, occasionally.  I am terrible at Scrabble. 

** This kind of thing leads to trashing a book for not being the book that reader wanted at that moment, or expected from that writer, and never mind what the book is.  Hell has a whole special subdivision dedicated to the permanent containment of these people.  The only reading material found anywhere in its smoking ravines is the backs of cereal boxes.  For eternity.  Old cereal boxes.   This infernal area is however shared with the people who read books wrong and trash them for what these readers thought they read.  

*** See previous footnote.  Did I mention the sharpened stakes in the bottoms of the smoking ravines? 

† Or office managers.  Or mechanics.

††  Or red-haired characters, or not red-haired characters;  or fat characters—I get kind of a lot of mail from women who are offended that I don’t seem to have written any heroines with weight problems;  or boys, or not boys:  opinions are divided on Jake, either I’m such a genderist and it’s about time or I’ve sold out my (female) audience again;  and I get a lot of mail from people who feel there should be more kissing.   Visible, centre-stage kissing.   Which is pretty well balanced by the people who are mortally offended by the kinky almost-sex in SUNSHINE. . . .

             I’m not listening, you know.  I only listen to the story.  I can only listen to the story.  This kind of thing is just the fire-ants a malign fate is tipping down your collar while you’re trying to work.

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