Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Meeting Mr. Big

Most professions spawn myths. They cling pretty tightly, despite the facts. Like: Actors are superstitious. Screenwriting is a glamorous line of work.

These things are fun to say and think about, but they just aren’t generally true.

Writing, particularly novel writing, has a few myths of its own. In my next few posts I’ll cover a few of them. Sometimes aspiring novelists (not all–I know some of you are doing your homework!) don’t have a realistic notion of what they’re getting into. So let’s explode some preconceptions that may get us off on the wrong foot.

I’m here to say that the reality of being an author and getting (and staying) published is way less dramatic than many people believe when they’re first starting out. But the truth of it is also less daunting.

Myth #1. It’s All in Who You Know

This one is surrounded by a romantic plot line that goes something like this:  You struggle for years in obscurity (usually on one, soul-sucking novel) until you finally get a big break. You meet the right person. At last! An agent, say. Or an editor.

For fun, let’s call this person Mr. Big. Once you meet Mr. Big, you’re on your way. Read More…

Starting a novel: Granite or fun house?

Today’s post: the mental state of being at the front-end of the novel. I love the start of novels. It may be the only time I can say I am unabashedly happy as a writer. Other times I may be confidant, poised, satisfied, or happily resigned. But there is only one sequence when I am in love: At the beginning.

Other authors do not love beginnings. Mary Higgins Clark has said:

“The first four months of writing a book, my mental image is scratching with my hands through granite.”

In contrast to this–quite common, I believe–writing experience is mine:

Springtime at Giverny - Monet

Springtime at Giverny – Monet

“The first hundred pages or so, my mental attitude is that of being lost in a fun house–no, not lost, more staggering from one wonder to another”

Read More…

One Step at a Time

Today I hit a muddy patch in the novel. Not exactly a brick wall. Not really a bout of writer’s block, but a serious resistance to doing the work.


I did feel like writing but I just couldn’t quite picture the next sequence. If I’m perfectly honest, I

didn’t really believe in the plot at that point. I had confidance in the overall plot, but this section was like looking across a chasm where the bridge was down.

Twenty minutes into staring at the screen and getting nowhere, I reluctantly concluded I had to do some deep, methodical plotting. I was going to have to think this section of the story through in excruciating detail. And I so did-not-want-to.

Mind games.

This reminds me how much of writing is a mind game. The game of talking yourself into things (like writing anyway) and out of things (like worrying that it’s not very good.) Read More…

Kay’s Favorite SFF/H Reads in 2015

Categories: Musings |

I read less fiction this year, but among the many fine fantasy, science fiction, and horror stories, here are some of my favorites. The sublime, the infuriating, and the jolly good. Not all published this year.

Bone Clocks The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell

Mitchell is back in fine form in another of his ventures into science fiction. This story is more accessible than some of his work (but everyone should read his superb–mainstream– Black Swan Green) and holds the same delights of voice and style. There are evil powers in the contemporary world, and their genesis and motives are fresh, dramatic and convincing.

The PassageThe Passage — Justin Cronin

I have a weakness for apolcolyptic novels, and this is one of the best. Scary yet humanistic, this is not just another vampire novel. When the story jumped ahead to the survivalist outpost, I could hardly put the book down. The ending felt a bit ramped-up; but it’s a small price to pay for this utterly engrossing read.


Jewelled fireJeweled Fire – Sharon Shinn

Shinn’s Elementary Blessings series gets stronger with each foray. In Jeweled Fire, a young woman in a foreign court sleuths, dodges and engages the corrupt power brokers in a very fun ensemble cast. Lovely dance of tension around Corene’s unexpected romance.

The accursedThe Accursed – Joyce Carol Oates

The author’s take on vampires and the prim Princeton community is original, even masterful. Lots of meandering indirection, yet her deft touch with terror is worth the read. However the sad ending was annoying. Really, is it necessary to be so fatalistic and contemptuous of human endeavor? I know, life is cruel and we can’t triumph over evil. Or can we?

Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro Never let me go

A slow and thoughtful read. The sordid mystery at the center of the story is quickly obvious, yet its full horror continuously builds. This book is a fascinating look at the use of the unreliable narrator. We participate in the heartless subjugation of the underclass precisely because the protagonist is one of the victims, and she supports it. Sad and discouraging as a story–but as a work of subtle manipulation and tenderness, it is amazing.

I wanted to mention a few non-genre books that I loved: The Paying Guestsby Sarah Waters; The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt; and Story Fix (Transform Your Novel from Broken to Brilliant) by Larry Brooks.

Paying guest

story fix coverGoldfinch


Discouraged writer walks into a bar…

. . . and it was full of other discouraged writers.

OK, lame joke. But sometimes you just have to laugh. It’s that aggravating. Writing, I mean.

The novel being constructed.

The novel being constructed.

What keeps us at it? Naked ambition. Or, more generously: Love. An idiotic addiction to storytelling. Actually, I haven’t figured this out yet. There are a bunch of reasons not to write, certainly: It’s tough to get published, or if you go indie, tough to find readers; it’s tough to keep readers. Also:

  • Annoying, bad reviews,
  • WIPs that won’t catch fire.
  • The doldrums where nothing much gets done despite best intentions.
  • Watching dreck sell like crazy.
  • Getting carpel tunnel from too much keyboarding.
  • People asking “When they’re going to make a move out of your novel.”

But stop me before I head to the bar.

Really, though. There are decent reasons to write, but it’s just a bit elusive to pin them down. This morning my list is:

  • The amazing experience of plumbing your own depths for a story, and miraculously finding one.
  • Membership in a community of other people who find storytelling an important way to spend time (i.e., other writers).
  • Hearing from readers who found your story meaningful, fun, or both!
  • The odd and mystical experience of loving certain characters one has (after all) made up.

    My Summer Vacation, or Existential Dread.

    My Summer Vacation, or Existential Dread.

  • Reprieve from the incessant demands of other options: finding a real job, paying attention to politics, cleaning closets, and using that exercise machine now doing time as a clothes rack.
  • Keeping existential dread at bay. Um. Just threw that in there, though at some level I believe its true.

I’d like to hear your reasons. But please don’t say: “I can’t not write.” Yes you can. There are always choices. Best to try once in a while to articulate why you chose this exasperating, random, and often rewarding life of a writer.  Make a list. It might provide some surprises.

And keep you from griping in the bar at conventions.

A community of writers, e.g., Mike Resnick, Greg Bear, Peter Orullian, Louise Marley, Sharon Shinn, Jay Lake and daughter Bronwyn, J.A. Jance and her dachshund.



Photo credit: Harry Brink

Jay & Bronwyn