Michaeline: NaNo Special: Chapter Transitions

People who read Lois McMaster Bujold’s new novella, “The Prisoner of Limnos” in the first 24 hours of release got  bit of a shock when Lois announced on her blog that the early edition had somehow dropped the last lines of several chapters. (Links at the end; WordPress isn’t in a sharing mood today.)

As students of writing, we’re taught that these last lines are of extreme importance. Story, by Robert McKee, talks about how a scene can change the whole situation from a plus to a minus, or vice versa – and sometimes, it’s that last line in a scene or chapter that gives the final twist. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King also places importance on the final words of any scene. Compared to painters, we writers have it a little bit easier – we can put on as many finishing touches as we like, and all of them can be take-backs or do-overs with a simple application of the delete key or strike-out. In the editing stage, we decide, and the reader never has to know the anguish we put into those decisions to keep or to leave.

Given the importance of the endings, what’s shocking to me is that as an early reader of “The Prisoner of Limnos”, I only noticed one chopped-off ending. If endings are so important, what was going on here? I had had a great experience with the book as-is; had I missed an even greater book because the ending lines had been dropped?

Well, I’m happy to report my second reading was as rewarding as the first, even though I had to stop (!) and think (!) instead of ride the wave of story. From now on, we’re heading into spoiler territory, so if you haven’t read the Penric novellas, I highly recommend that you do, and come back. They are all fixed now, and you can update the old ones. (See second link below.)

In general, Lois’s last lines add Continue reading

Michaeline: Lois McMaster Bujold and Three Questions about Writing “Penric’s Fox”

Exciting August news, all! Lois McMaster Bujold came out with a new Penric novella on August 8, 2017! Hang onto your time-travelling imagination caps: “Penric’s Fox” is actually book three, following “Penric and the Shaman” by about nine months, and before “Penric’s Mission” (NB: as of 2017 08 08. Your mileage and chronometer may vary).

"Penric's Fox" title cover with a castle, a fox and a ghostly young woman in elegant medieval robes.

“Penric’s Fox” follows further adventures of Learned Penric, court sorceror for the princess-archdivine. It’s about 37,400 words, so if you read “Penric’s Demon” and “Penric and the Shaman” as well, you’ll have a good chunk of fantasy to enjoy this weekend! Follow it up with the older Penric in “Penric’s Mission” and “Mira’s Last Dance”. (Image courtesy of Lois McMaster Bujold)

“Whaaa?” Not to worry — all the stories can stand on their own, and who is going to quibble when we have the chance to see Penric in action again?

So, go. Make a liter of  something seasonal and delicious, find your favorite reading pillow, and download the book. When you’re done, come back here and see what Lois has to say about the process of writing things.

EMD: I suppose the first question is why did you write a follow-up to “Penric and the Shaman” (the second Penric novella) and not a follow-up to “Mira’s Last Dance”? I mean, I’m grateful for whatever you’ve got, but it is a question that comes up.

LMB: This was the story that wanted to be written first. I am considering a follow-up to “Mira”, yes, but those ideas were not ripe at the beginning of this year (2017), and then the key idea that this story was awaiting suddenly slotted in, so.

The delay proved to be, as is often the case, good for the other set of ideas as well, as a few more have joined that collection since January that I could not have foreseen. For me, a story in the process of assembling itself is like a box of loose objects rattling around aimlessly, till some connecting idea drops in and things suddenly get interesting. (Note that some of those pieces may also prove to be wrong ones, like two jigsaw puzzles mixed together. Sorting those out can also take some time.) Trust me, stories only look inevitable in retrospect.

Some of the ideas for “Penric’s Fox” had been kicking around ever since I was developing backstory prior to starting what became “Penric’s Mission”, but they weren’t necessarily stories yet. The seven years I jumped over to get to Penric at age 30 were full of experiences that were important to him but not necessarily story-like, though I needed to know roughly what they were before I could write him at that later stage. It was basically the same sort of task as developing any new character’s backstory before starting them off on a tale for the first time, even though the reader will never see most of it.

I should also note that one of the developments in the tale came from watching the family of foxes that denned under my garden shed earlier this year, not something I could have anticipated. There’s nothing like Continue reading

Jilly: Dunbar’s Number for Writers and Readers

How many authors are on your mental auto-buy checklist? How many are on your keeper shelf? And how long have those authors been at the heart of your reading universe?

I’ve been noodling around with these questions for some time—a couple of years, probably—ever since I first read about Dunbar’s Number. If you’re not familiar with the concept, Wikipedia describes it as a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. Or, to put it crudely: there’s a limit to the number of people your brain has space for.

Dunbar’s Number has been around since the 1990s, but I came across it when I started writing fiction with an eye to publication and realized that meant I’d have to get to grips with social media. If you’d like to know more about the idea in the context of online relationships, click here for a Youtube link to anthropologist Robin Dunbar’s 15-minute Tedx talk: Can The Internet Buy You More Friends?

If you’d prefer the short version, it goes something like this: we humans maintain social relationships at various levels of intimacy, and the number of people we have the capacity to manage at each level is more or less predictable.

  • We have a very inner core of intimate friends and relations, people we would turn to in times of deep emotional stress. Typically there are about five of them.
  • We have a group of best friends, people we know well, confide in, trust, spend time with. That group would likely be about fifteen people, including the inner five.
  • The next closest layer, good friends, would be about fifty people (including the first fifteen);

Continue reading

Michaeline: New Penric! and Thoughts on Life-Long Love

A still life with two masks.

The fourth Penric novella by Lois McMaster Bujold is a delightful episode! (Image via Goodreads; cover design by Ron Miller)

So, first the most exciting news I had all week: Lois McMaster Bujold’s new Penric novella, Mira’s Last Dance came out this week (February 27th and 28th) on all the usual e-outlets! And it was fantastic! If you were left hanging a little bit by Penric’s Mission, then you’ll be pleased to hear that the story picks up from that point, and we get one lovely episode of courtship via political intrigue, escape and a brothel. That Penric is a delightful travelling companion, and I recommend the journey.

I’m not going to spoil you, though – Bujold reports that the novella is 28,000 words, which is perfect for a large pot of tea and an afternoon on the sofa. Spoil yourself.

What I am going to talk about is something that Mira said in the book. She’s the . . . well, the ghost/image of an Adrian courtesan who is part and parcel of the past lives that make up Desdemona. (Desdemona is the demon in Penric’s head.) She has a very clear and pragmatic view of sex and love, and mentions at one point,:

“The darling men used to imagine they’d fallen in love with me all the time. Most of them were actually in love with their own cocks.”

Ah, yes. And thus, genitalia doth betray us all. Continue reading

Jilly: Filling the Well

filling-the-wellWhat have you done to recharge your batteries/top up your creative well this week? I’ve spent most of the last three days with my nose in a book (well, pressed against a Kindle.) It’s been wonderful.

I had great plans to read and recharge over the holidays. That didn’t happen, because I used all my spare time to work on my Golden Heart entry. I wrote a new opening scene—it took multiple attempts before I finally found one I liked. I figured out an opening sentence that made promises about the story instead of just plunging into the action. I filled in plot holes. I checked the etymology of every significant word to make sure it was appropriate to my world. I tailored my metaphors. I wrote a new synopsis that reflected Alexis and Kierce’s relationship arc instead of wandering off into the mystery sub-plot. And then—yay!—this week, I uploaded the lot to the RWA website.

I have a lot of work left to do on this story, but I needed a breather so I decided to treat myself to the book binge I didn’t get in December.

Continue reading

Michaeline: Lois McMaster Bujold Answers Three (Okay, Four) Questions about the Writing Process

penrics-mission-cover-2016-11-book-three-bujold

Today, we’ve got a short interview with Lois McMaster Bujold about the writing process. Just in time for National Novel Writing Month’s first weekend! Lois writes the thrilling tales of the Vorkosigan family, the Wide Green World, and the World of the Five Gods. This week, the third story about Penric in the W5G came out: Penric’s Mission was published on November 2, 2016. (Announcement on her Goodreads blog, here.) Lois is a master of speculative fiction, and her liberal use of romance in these genres makes her worlds rich and real. Grab a cyber beverage from the Eight Ladies Writing fridge, and pull up a seat!

MD: So, National Novel Writing Month is basically about creating a first draft of at least 50,000 words. What’s your favorite thing about writing the first draft?

LMB: Finishing it. (-:

Starting it runs a close second, true. Then, probably, those moments when a sticky knot gets suddenly undone by some neat idea or inspiration that I didn’t have — often couldn’t have had — earlier. Continue reading

Michaeline: Lois McMaster Bujold Answers Three Questions about Self-Publishing

the author Lois McMaster Bujold signing at a glass table

Lois McMaster Bujold (Image courtesy of Lois McMaster Bujold)

Today, we welcome to the blog Lois McMaster Bujold, whose new e-novella, “Penric and the Shaman” came out yesterday, June 24, 2016. (Her GoodReads blog announcement is here: https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/13524143-penric-and-the-shaman-e-launches-today.) She’s a science fiction and fantasy legend who has won multiple Nebula, Locus and Hugo awards and written some of the best books in the universe. Thank you for agreeing to answer three questions about self-publishing for our blog. I sure hope I chose the right three questions!

MD: You have a long history of publishing. You were writing and assembling a fanzine with friends back in the 60s, you wrote short stories that were published in established magazines like Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, then your novels were published by the well-known SF publisher, Baen Books, and two of your fantasy series were published by HarperCollins’ Eos Books (now rebranded as HarperVoyager)—(HarperCollins is one of the Big Five publishing houses). So, in some respects, you are returning to your roots with self-publishing the novellas, “Penric’s Demon” (July 6, 2015) and now “Penric and the Shaman”. Why? Continue reading

Michaeline: Wedding Dance

a peasant wedding from 1566 with many people dancing and enjoying themselves, among other things

Some things don’t change. Fortunately, the fashion for wearing your best codpiece to the wedding does seem to be buried in the depths of time. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

The cake has been cut and the booze has been flowing freely for about an hour when you look across the dance floor, and you see him. He was at your table, and sitting, he was a well-dressed nothing. But now, he’s dancing, and there’s something about the fluid motion of his arms, the way his kneebone connects to his thighbone, and oh lordy, will you look at his hips? You look away before your heart pops over your sweetheart neckline. You look back, and there he is, asking you to dance. You take his hand, and take your place in the crowd of people swaying and celebrating a new marriage. Welcome to the dance.

What can I say about the wedding dance as a writing prompt? It permeates most cultures, so we’ve all seen it, or can enjoy it on YouTube. When you see the same ritual conducted in so many different settings, it’s easy to imagine it conducted in more fantastic places. A historical Scottish penny wedding, as described on Jessamyn’s Regency Costume Companion website here. Or a frontier wedding dance on a newly settled planet. Or maybe a fantasy wedding in some delightful fairyland of your imagination.

And of course, what kind of story doesn’t have Things That Go Wrong? Continue reading

Michaeline: The Lazarus Tool, or Bringing the Dead Back to Life

Resurrecting Lazarus, or any dead character, is tricky, but it can be done. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Resurrecting Lazarus, or any dead character, is tricky, but it can be done. Image via Wikimedia Commons

There’s this old joke (old in internet years, anyway) that goes like this: Josh Whedon, George R.R. Martin and Steven Moffat walk into a bar . . . . And everyone you ever loved dies. See the meme cartoon here:
http://i.imgur.com/ekVb1rE.jpg

Killing beloved characters has always been a thing. Everyone except 20th century Americans seem to love this stuff. I suppose, as a writer, there’s a lot to love. Almost everyone has had a loved one die at some point in their lives, so there’s a common human experience that the writer can tap into. Dying is intrinsically interesting – people rubberneck around accidents or hover over a deathbed. There’s something about death that makes us sad, interested, and want to help. And also, the threat of death causes characters to act in interesting ways. Day-to-day, they are just trying to get by. But when faced with death, they are trying to preserve their legacy, protect their families, or simply trying to not die. The actions that result from that can be amazing and heroic.

And of course, if the writer really goes nuts, the writer can bring the dead back from life. Continue reading

Michaeline Recommends: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen

A stylish woman sailing on a lake in the mountains.

The future of Sergyar!

Lois McMaster Bujold’s new book, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, was released on February 2, and when I checked just now, it was #11 in Space Operas on the Amazon rankings chart, and #18 in Adventures –> Science Fiction. (find the links here on GJ&RQ’s Amazon page; BTW, the rankings listed didn’t jive with the links) (Don’t put too much trust in these figures; they change hourly, and are sure to be different by the time you read this. At any rate, hooray for book number 17 in the Vorkosigan Saga!)

Studying this release is interesting from several angles. First of all, it’s a great book from the fan perspective (it ties up a lot of loose ends in surprising ways), and it’s also accessible to the first-time reader. (Bujold blogs about it – a long-time concern is that she’s afraid fans are scaring off new readers by saying, “Oh, you really need to read all 15, 16, 17 books in order to really appreciate this one.” Here on her Goodreads blog, she links to proof that it’s not so.)

Second, Continue reading