Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A busy day!

I just only now realized I need to do this post for the day. It's been crazy here today, with far too many things going on. I think I am almost done with everything that absolutely has to be done. It's been a rough last day of the month.

I am not quite done with The Servant Girl. I had hoped to be and just go into October with nothing but outlines, submissions and a short story to worry about. I don't think I have more than two or three days left on it, though, so that's fine.

And I really do like this book. It seems to work. I like the characters. That's all you can ask for from a book.

So here is a little snippet of it. I'm going back to writing! Darva had been taken captive. Toman got her back.

"I'm all right. I had a bit of a run in with the local guards is all," Darva said and cast a frown at the men who stood guard. "How did you manage this?"

"I had a talk with a local Robber Lord," Toman answered with a shrug.

"What did you pay him?" Darva suddenly asked, stepping back and looking worried. Too smart, their Darva.

"Nothing we can't do without, Darva," he said and slapped her on the shoulder. He looked so relieved and happy that Beth smiled. "Come now. Let us get the rest of this picked up and move on. The sooner we are out of Traderville, the better."

"Yes." She looked at him, eyes narrowed. "Toman --"

"We need to go."

Darva nodded. She started picking up the few things that were still lying in the street... and then she stopped and turned back. "Hell. The gems. How many?"

Beth looked surprised that Darva knew about the gems. Toman just sighed as though he had expected her to guess and had hoped for different.

"How many?" she said.

"We didn't need them. I thought we might have to buy our way closer to Oris. Now we're close enough that we could walk if we want."

"How -- Gods. All of them." She looked white and sat down on the steps again.

"It was worth it," Toman said. She shook her head, but Toman reached over and caught hold of her hand and made her look up at him. "It was worth it. I don't need the damned gems. I do need you."
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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lists and Talent

My life runs on lists. I have lists pinned to walls of everything from story questions (Is the MC actively pursuing a goal? Is the event building excitement?) to lists of words I need to avoid. I have work lists, writing lists, life lists (Have you walked today?) and I'm fairly certain I have a list of lists somewhere around here. I live by lists, and as some people have figured out, if something is not on one of my lists, I'm apt to forget it.

I outline my novels, which is just another form of list because it allows me to apply questions to the base core of the story and see if it is following through on what I want to achieve. I list stories that need additional work and list more questions to apply to them. I am working on a massive database that lists all my manuscripts, all the characters, places and things associated with them so that I can make lists of them. I even have Excel lists of my daily word counts going back to January 1, 1998.

The first thing I do each day is list out what I want from the day -- not only what I need to do, but what I would like to achieve. Sometimes those things are solid, easy stuff things like finish reading a book or write X number of words on a story. Other times they are far more esoteric like figuring out how to reconcile emotional needs with reality. Outlook pops up with recurring lists for me every day. (And yes, doing the Joyously Prolific post comes up every Wednesday to remind me.)

However, a discussion on FM has reminded me that not everything can be confined to lists. I believe trying to define talent, for instance, is too individual to make a check list to say if someone has it or doesn't have it. I think lists of that sort no longer define something, but box it in. That doesn't mean the list won't help some people who need definitions, but for others looking at the list would be the way to define themselves out of talent rather than into it. What one person lists as important, another would define in a different way. Or they might not list something one writer feels is the most important aspect of talent. Did we ever mention anything related to 'vision' in that discussion on FM?

Writers are artists, and artists are, on the whole, the most individualistic people in the world. They have already looked outside the normal world that boxes most people in with definitions of who and what they are. They have moved beyond definitions into a world where they don't accept the lines drawn that others don't cross.

Artists vary in that indefinable quality we call talent. How can we define it in ourselves when we can't even agree on talent in others? How many times have you read a review of something that was described as 'talentless' in one way or another, and yet which you enjoyed? Would you take the word of a reviewer over your own, personal feelings -- even if you cannot clearly define those feelings? If you enjoyed something, then the person who created it (book, artwork, music, whatever) had the talent to reach you. Not reaching everyone else isn't important.

If we only measure talent by individual success in the field (and some people do, of course), then you would have to put Rowling and King on a modern top ten list. I don't like King, but I enjoyed Rowling's books. I don't think they're great art, but she has the talent to reach readers on a level that entertains them. King does the same, just not for me. Of course, if you start equating talent with personal success, it gets really tangled. Emily Dickinson? Never had personal success, of course -- so does that mean she wasn't talented during her own lifetime?

So maybe not success, but ability to reach the audience is a part of talent -- but then, in order to define if you have that particular aspect of talent, you would need to define who your audience is, and that might not be so easy. I love Dickens, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Virgil, C.J. Cherry, Jim Butcher, Chip Delaney and the nonfiction of Michael Grant. Am I your audience? I might be -- my tastes, like most readers -- is eclectic. If someone tried to define me into a specific audience, they'd have trouble.

So the ability to reach an audience may be a part of talent, but you know what? You can't know if you can do so until after you have written, and probably written far more than one thing. So asking if you have this talent before you've done the work is pretty much useless. And even after publication... well, I am reminded of the innovators in The Modern Art movement who were scorned and derided (and who still are) as talentless. I don't particularly like modern art like Cubism -- and while I like some Minimalist music and design, I don't particularly care for the art pieces.

I don't think the people involved are talentless just because they didn't reach me. And if someone set down a list of 'what you need to be talented' then a good many of these artists would be denied the title of talented because they don't fit into ... well, into the box that the list created.

Lists have their places. Ones about 'what is talent' can even help an individual with personal questions. However, if you find yourself looking at a list and you don't meet the qualifications, it may only mean that you are thinking outside that particular box.

And that's a good thing.

And here is a little piece of The Servant Girl and then I'm off again to take care of more things off of lists!

She reached the library door and ran her fingers over the familiar wood before slowly pushing it open. She stepped into the library and looked at Master Noah where he sat at the table, a decanter of wine and two goblets before him. He looked up from his book.

"I am going," she said softly. "With the merchant, back to Teloris --"

"I know, I know. Come and sit down. Have a little wine. We'll draw out maps, shall we? Ways that you might need to take to get there ... and back here again, next spring. It's going to be a hard journey in the winter. They'll have you fitted out for it, won't they?"

"Oh yes, sir," she said and gratefully sat. This proved easier, having gotten past that part, since he had already known. "Bell and Darva are seeing to it now. Darva will be going with us --"

"Will she indeed?" he said, a little startled by that news. "Well, I think that's good. She's a remarkable woman, our Captain Darva. Though I dare say this will be very hard on Bell. I'll have to remember to ask her to have lunch with me some days. We'll keep each other company while you both are gone."

"That would be good, sir," she agreed. She stared at her hands for a moment and then looked up again. "But ... But ... I might not come back. There may be things in Teloris that require me to stay --"

He lifted a hand and quieted her. "I'm not a foolish old man, Beth. You are far too smart and well-educated to waste your life locked away in this tower at the edge of civilization. I always knew you would move on."

"I like it here. I wish I could stay," she said, and meant it in all seriousness. He seemed to understand and nodded as he poured them wine. "I don't want to go."

The wind blew hard against the window. They both looked to see the trace of snow against the glass.

Master Noah looked back at her and shook his head. "If I had my way, you would never leave. I hate to think of you out there in that weather and so far from safety. But the world does not run on my will, as I have learned so late in life. Sip your wine. I'll get the atlas and we'll go over them so I can pretend I am helping you."

"It will be a help!" she said and meant it. "I would like to know the best way to go. I came here by chance. I don't want to trust to chance to get me back to Teloris again."

So they worked through the nice, quiet afternoon. He finally folded the three maps they had made and handed them over to her.

"Go on now. Get a good night's sleep, because the Gods know when you'll have such a nice, warm bed again."

"Oh, I wish you hadn't mentioned that part," she said with a rueful shake of her head.

He gave her a little smile and a pat on her arm as she stood -- and then, quite unexpectedly, he pulled her into an embrace. "Take care, Beth. Take good care. Write to me from Teloris if you don't return. Tell me what is going on in the city so that I can live it vicariously."

"I promise. I will. Take care, Master Noah."

"Now go to your dinner. Your friends will want to say goodbye, you know."
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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Weather Changing

Autumn is settling in here already. I'm surprised at how fast summer disappeared. Not that we had a horrible summer this year, though. I just hope that means a mild winter, as well. I do need to find my sweaters and stuff and get them cleaned. It's already starting to cool down enough at night. In fact... think I'll go find something warmer right now!

I am starting to work on outlines for NaNo. That, along with The Servant Girl, is taking a lot of work. I don't know which outlines I'll have done, though. A couple of them are fighting me, and two need serious worldbuilding done. They're fun anyway.

I'm also working on another story. It's going well, too. So far it's just called The Twitter Story. I'm writing it in lines that could be pasted into Twitter. Eventually, I will post it at (I think) ten lines a day. It might be interesting. We'll see! I'm up to about 70 entries. Nowhere near enough to start doing it. In fact, I think it would be best if I finish the story before I start to post. I don't want to find myself trying to rush through the ten lines just to get something up.

So, as writing goes, this has been a pretty good year. I've put out some submissions, gotten nibbles but no buys -- and learned a few more things about improvements I need to make. So as long as you can learn something, you can move on. If you don't want to learn, you're not going to do any better.

That's true of all things, of course. I need to apply that attitude towards all kinds of things. House cleaning. There's something I could stand to learn 'better.'

And here is the snippet of The Servant Girl for this week. It's going along wonderfully.

"It's a bad time for such a journey," Master Noah suddenly said. He looked up at her and frowned. "And not just because of the weather. There is trouble brewing out there. Trevor told me that there have been brigands running the crossings between Ranasian lands and Eleria, and the Elerians are no more happy about it than we are."

"Where do they stand, Eleria? With the civil war?" she dared to ask.

"They stand by whoever is the strongest because they want a strong northern ally."

"Wouldn't they want us weaker?" she said, sitting down for a moment. It helped to talk about something -- anything.

Don't think about him leaving.

"If they didn't face constant trouble with the lands to the south and east of them -- including the Kosten -- it might be so. However, they don't want chaos here, and they especially don't want the Opne moving in on their northern border. They supported the Ranas Council because it was made of wise men who didn't allow weakness. But now ... now I can't say where they will land in this war. I don't know that it will really matter to us, here on the edge of Ranas. The other border lords are creating anarchy with each fighting the others for power. It won't help."

It would help -- it would help Lord Melton if he didn't have to worry about the border lords uniting against him. And didn't Lord Terrance add to the same trouble by obviously creating a large army of his own? She didn't say it aloud. She still kept to Lord Terrance's rules about speaking of the civil war, though it grew harder each day. Besides, she feared to learn that Lord Terrance would side with Melton, as unlikely as it seemed. She had managed not to believe it, because Lord Terrance was not the sort of man who would take up with someone so obviously greedy for power. It was not his way, and she believed it in her heart.

But Eleria presented a problem she hadn't considered at all. Could Lord Terrance take allegiance there? Would that be worse than going to Melton? The Westmark lords had feuded with the royal family for too long. Lord Terrance might see no reason to remain loyal to a missing princess, and the line virtually disappeared.

Master Noah had leaned back in the chair and tilted his head, looking at her in silence for a moment.

"Lord Terrance has done and kept us all somewhat safe. No one wants him as a potential enemy. He is a powerful man, out here on the border lands. He's always maintained a well trained and supplied army and he's kept his councils to himself, Lady Effie, Trevor and maybe Captain Darva -- because he knows he can trust those three. That's not to say that he doesn't trust the rest of us, but he cannot show favoritism by imparting secrets to some and not to others."

"And there's reason why he fears letting the secrets out. There are spies in the castle, aren't there?"

"Oh yes. We know some of them worked with -- or through -- Mrs. Wynith. We're not entirely certain whom she reported to, though. Someone had found the key to get into the castle by playing on her anger. Lord Terrance removed her, but that doesn't mean that her people went with her. So, do you understand Beth?"

"Yes, sir. Dangerous times," she said with a nod. They'd had spies at Teloris, too, of course. They played a game of it, sometimes -- giving out odd bits of information to different maids and seeing where it turned up again. This was not a game. "And there are more people, now, with the refugees. There are bound to be some who are not what they claim, and how could we tell?"

"Exactly. So Lord Terrance keeps what he intends to do close to his vest, and he waits until he needs to give out the information. That doesn't mean he isn't preparing. We have all seen that part, with the soldiers training and the supplies stored. It's more than a hard winter he's preparing for this year."

It made sense. She had known it on one level, and now she nodded and let it all fall into place. Her heart told her to trust the man and to believe in him. She liked Lord Terrance. She had to believe he would make the right choice.

As she gathered up the last of the papers she found Master Noah still looking at her, his head tilted a little.

"You do well keeping your own secrets. I wonder what goes on in your head sometimes. I can see you come to decisions and I can't guess what they might be or what I've said that created them."

"I just have ... things to consider, sir."

"Yes, I imagine you do. Here is one such thing to consider. Whatever happens, Lord Terrance will do what's best for his people. He holds the trust and care of the people as very important you know."

"Yes, sir. That's true. I know he'll do the right thing." And it was true. It may not be the choice that she would make, but she had different priorities.
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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

One of those days...

It actually started a couple days ago, when I noticed that Zaphod's nose was swollen on one side. I told Russ, and he looked it over via Skype (that video stuff has really helped) and decided we better be safe and get him to the vet. That was set up for about 4:30 pm today. A friend agreed to come over and drive me there. (Don't worry -- Z is mostly fine!)

I woke up early with a horrible sore throat and stuffed up nose. I took stuff and went back to sleep. Woke up later feeling much better. Got up out of bed -- and realized my back had gone out big time over the last few hours. I could barely take a step forward. I could not lean over at all. Massive problem since I had to grab the nearly twenty pound cat and stuff him into a small purse-like carrier. I waited until about ten minutes before the ride was going to show up, and then the two of us went out to the porch. Waited a few more minutes with the bag sitting there -- he'd figured out what it was for by then. Finally grabbed him up in a towel, shoved him in and zipped it shut. It worked great. Got him out to the car. And off to the vet we went. Zaphod has an ulcerated sore on his nose. It should clear up and he had a shot for infection. He's doing fine -- sitting right here in front of me, in fact. Z actually loves car rides, so on the way home I let him stick his head out. He never made a noise the entire trip. The friend was really impressed with how well behaved he is. And he purred the entire time he was in with the vet. This is a great cat.

And... I had them stop at the Taco Bell on the way home. Heaven! Taco Bell is my 'fun' food, and because Russ isn't here, I rarely get it. That made me feel much better.

Except for the back which is still out. I can barely even sit here right now, though that's still better than standing and walking. Ugh. This happens every now and then, and I know I'll survive it, but it is horribly painful at the moment.

I had to take the trash out to the street. That was pretty miserable, too -- not made any better by the number of bugs. I couldn't have been out more than five minutes, and I still have six bites. This is so annoying -- the mosquitoes have been so horrible this year that I can barely go outside most of the time. I even use spray to keep them off and it does nothing. They've always been enthusiastically drawn to me.

So, really, it's been an up and down day. Glad Zaphod is good. Wish my back would settle back into place.

The Servant Girl snippet:

Shouts rose louder and the rush of people -- all colors and movement -- spread around her once more. The wall proved to be unsafe when she found herself almost crushed behind a line of fighting men who didn't care if they pushed her against the stones. She charged out, shoving one man into another, and then ducking down as someone swung at her.

The scream of a terrified child drew her off to the left. She shoved people aside and heard a woman calling a name somewhere else. The child screamed for his mother --

She found the boy first and grabbed him up, holding him close and trying to find some way to get him to safety. He sobbed against her shoulder, but when the woman yelled -- somewhere near by -- the boy lifted his head again. The woman seemed to be not far away. Trevor, on the horse, was close as well and seemed to clear some of the way. The woman appeared and gladly took the child into her arms. She looked frantically around --

"Arkin! Arkin! Help me get Davey out of here!"

A huge man moved up beside them, and the woman sheltered beside them. Beth tried to move along with the two as well, but within a half dozen steps the crowd surged back around her and a blow sent her sprawling. She held to the basket and scrambled back up, ducking between yelling men --

She found a clear spot and stood again, turning frantically to find the next path out. The best way seemed to the right. She jostled her way through with yells of her own -- as though she had caught the anger, as well now. Push through -- push through. Someone knocked her down again. She fell and pulled the basket to her chest as she tried to get back up. She didn't make it before the people began to yell and charge in around her --

She began to call the magic up, too frightened not to use it for protection.

"Get out of the way! Get away from her!"

People moved away from her in haste. She saw the horse first, and then Trevor came through, sword in hand, and leading his horse.

"Get away from her, I said!" he shouted and lifted the sword again. People backed away in haste.

It took Beth several heartbeats to realize he had come to help her. The shock almost made her freeze, but she finally got to her feet again.

"Thank you ... sir," she said. She couldn't bring herself to call him by name.

"I saw you help that child, and then go down. Come on, then." He waved to the horse. "Can you ride? I'll get you out of this mess."

"I can, sir," she said and limped forward, basket still in hand. The trouble was falling in behind them again, growing louder. "I'm going to the castle."

"Good." He transferred the sword to the same hand that he held the reigns and offered a hand to help her up. "Hold on tight. I'll try to go slow. Side-saddled --"

"Safety is more important," she said and pushed herself up by the stirrup and a leg over the saddle -- unladylike, but she wanted out of here. "Be quick. Don't take chances."

He blinked, trying very hard not to look at her leg, uncovered almost to the knee. She blushed.

And he swept off his cloak and threw it up over the front of the saddle, mostly covering her legs.

"Thank you."

He nodded and started leading the horse away.

She thought he looked very dangerous, the young man leading the fidgeting horse and using his sword to flat-blade people when they didn't get out of the way. Only one burly man tried to stand his place, holding an old battered sword of his own. Trevor didn't have any trouble disarming him, and the man retreated very quickly.

They had left most of the riot behind by the time they reached the fountains. Trevor led the horse at a quick trot to the gate where people already prepared to go out.

"Good to see you home, even if trouble always follows you, Trev," one of the men said, slapping him on the shoulder. He looked up at Beth on the horse and shook his head. "And you --"

Beth carefully slid back off the horse, handing the cloak back to Trevor with a nod of thanks. She still held the basket tight in her hands and looked up in time to see Captain Darva coming at a quick trot, her own troop forming up behind her.

"We're going to stop letting you out of the castle, Beth," Darva said with a shake of her head and a slight smile.

"I hope so," she said with an emphatic nod.

"Trevor." Darva looked at him, blinked and smiled. "Good to see you home."

"Thank you, Captain," he said, but glanced at Beth again. "I better go report to Terrance and tell him what I saw out there. Don't worry -- it looked to me to be nothing more than locals. I'll see you later."

Beth couldn't tell if he meant those words for her or Darva. From the look on the Captain's face, neither did she.

They both watched Trevor walk away, and then Darva looked back at Beth with a sigh. "You had better tell me what happened."

"He just came through the crowd and found me, that's all. He offered to help me out --"

"Not with Trevor," she said and laughed again. Beth felt her face flush. "Tell me what you saw happening out there."

"Oh." She swallowed her embarrassment and glanced at the gate where one group of soldiers were already heading out. "I think it was a disagreement at one of the food stalls, and it just suddenly ... grew. It was like people felt the anger in the air and started arguing everywhere. It was horrible."
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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Still more of The Servant Girl

It's late on Wednesday. I had thought about writing this all day, but one thing after another came up and I didn't get to it. I'd love to say that I've had an interesting day, but I'd have to lie and then come up with interesting things to talk about.

I am still working on The Servant Girl. Still enjoying it, too, when I get a chance to really leap in and work. That hasn't happened very often lately, but I hope to get back to that stage soon. I've had too much real world work the last couple weeks, and I'm still deep into that work, unfortunately. Maybe by next week I'll have a bit more time again. I hope so!

Meanwhile, here is another little bit from the novel. Beth (Eliza) has just been introduced to the scholar in Westmark Castle.

He blustered and frowned, and then gave up the act with a shrug. "It's good to see young minds turned to knowledge. It's what makes us different from the barbarians. Anyone can pick up a sword and swing it -- albeit it takes training to swing one well. But no one can pick up a book and read it without training. No one can do numbers without learning what they mean. We live in a dangerous time, when the barbarians could win if only because we become too much like them."

She nodded, and recalled Lord Terrance's words about speaking about the war, and decided not to pursue that conversation any farther. She thought Master Noah might feel the same way.

"What would you like me to do?" she asked, looking around the room again.

"The books on the higher shelves -- they haven't been dusted in quite a while," he said. "I can't climb the stepladder any more, and bringing the maids in here to do the work makes me far too nervous. They don't understand about fragile books."

She nodded. "You have a cloth or feather duster, perhaps?" she asked, looking around again.

"There in the cupboard," he said, and pointed to the right. "You don't mind dusting, like a maid?"

"This morning I was scrubbing floors," she said with a shrug. "This is much better work."

"Why would you scrub floors?" he asked, startled.

"For a place to stay, a meal, and a few coppers each week."

"To survive," he said with a nod of understanding.

She nodded and said nothing more. They worked in silence for a while, and it was such a wonderful, calm morning that she looked with shock when someone arrived at the door with a basket, disturbing their day.

"Your lunch, Master Noah. Lord Terrance said you had a new helper, so I brought enough for both of you," the young woman said as she hefted the basket onto the table.

"Thank you, Millie. Most kind of you."

Millie looked up, apparently surprised by the words. Beth suspected Master Noah wasn't always in such a good mood.

The girl nodded and left, casting one last appraising look at Beth as she slipped back out the door. There would be talk in the kitchens this afternoon. It even made her smile at the thought of it.

"Come on, girl. Put down the cloth and come have lunch before it goes cold."

He had started unpacking the basket. There seemed food enough for ten inside, and she stopped at the edge of the bookshelves, staring in disbelief at bread, cheese, meat, a decanter of some liquid, goblets, plates, apples already sliced --

Master Noah looked at her again, impatient at first, and then with a look of understanding. He patted the chair beside him, drawing her attention again. "Come and sit down. We'll have a nice, leisurely meal because the brain works better when the body is well fed. Don't you agree?"

"I ... yes, sir. I think so."

"Good. Then let's have a companionable meal together. I eat alone most days, and I grow weary of it -- but it's a long walk down to the hall and the talk there is so often crude. We'll take lunch together and you can take breakfast and dinner with your friends."

"I have no friends, sir."

"Well make some. You'll be a more interesting person for it. And you'll be able to tell me the gossip. All I ever hear about is what the children tell me, and the Gods know they aren't the most reliable sources."
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