April 20th, 2009

rengeek skinhead fortinbras

i smoke my friends down to the filter

This morning, I have some SU editorial work to do, and some other admin stuff, and I'm kind of sleepy and sluggish. I'm still in the mode of not really having much to say for myself, which I expect will continue for some time to come.

More questions! (You can ask yours here, anonymously and everything.)

33) Pollywogs or tadpoles?

Gollywogs! ... no, actually, I use both, But more often tadpoles.

34) Okay then. Character names - are they always chosen for a particular meaning, or association, or do some of them just pop into your head with that name already? Would you mind very much talking about the naming process for particular characers?

Some show up with a name. Some require a lot of digging to find the right name. I can never tell which it'll be. Major characters are more likely to show up full-fleshed and personable from central casting, with their ID card and paperwork. Second spear-carrier, though, can be tricky. And naming things, that's killer. That's when I start naming guns after my friends, and so on.

Sometimes I go for the obvious association, or a mythological or literary allusion, or a pun, or--all kinds of things. No two the same! *g* Muire is Muire because I wanted a made-up Celtic-or-Norse sounding name that sounded a little like Muriel. Bonus that I managed to base it off "muir," which means "sea." Kaulas the Necromancer got his name after an extensive search of world languages for a name that meant something like "bones" or "ashes." Jacob Dust came with his; Rien got hers because I needed a name that sounded like a name, but also meant "nothing." Perceval is Perceval because she's Perceval, and likewise Tristen. Benedick is named after the Shakespearean character and also the Zelazny one. Jackie is Jack because of the folklore associations of "Jack." And also because, well, he is the One-Eyed Jack.

And so on.

35) How do you "sink into the character's skin" and make us, the reader, feel like we're along for the ride and not in a "on the shoulder" way but in a "feeling what the character feels" way?

Something I'm struggling with right now, and I'd like to hear from writers who do a good job at it (as I know you do).

Thank you for the complement, but-- Damned if I know. My mirror neurons do it for me. Characters, for me, very definitely have a life and a presence of their own. They do things for reasons that have their own internal consistency, and it usually has nothing to do with what I would have done in a similar circumstance. I just kind of feel it, and if I try to make them do something they wouldn't do, they revolt.

Grounding a reader in a character, though, I can explain how that works. That's easy. It's all about the verbs and the sensory details.  Telling detail. Vital stuff. Conjuring the reader into the scene.

For example:

Bob walked down the corridor. He turned left through the door to engineering and saw Sally standing by the Heisenberg compensators. She had a sonic screwdriver in her hand. She turned when she heard him enter and smiled.


Bob's clipped strides carried him down a broad bustling corridor to engineering. When he swung left, the portal irised wide, allowing him to step from bland thoroughfare to a humming cathedral of lights and ducts and towering Heisenberg compensators. Sally frowned up at the failing equipment, brown hair escaping her braid, the wiry hand clutching her sonic screwdriver dangling uselessly by her thigh. She turned when the door clicked shut. When she caught Bob's eye, her shoulders dropped and relief leveled the corners of her mouth.

See how much more information there is in that second version, and most of it sort of subliminally presented? Most of the time, we are semiconsciously aware of a ton of peripheral information--right now I have a Chris Cornell song on, my IM just pinged, there's a dog sleeping in my peripheral vision, my right elbow is a little cramped by the back of the couch, my feet are cold, my neck is still, and when I stretched my sternum popped. The heating system just popped, I can smell the dog and my shampoo and laundry detergent and a little mustiness as the heater kicks in, the plant on the bookcase has yellowed leaves, and when I brush my hair out of my face where it just fell I can smell the orange oil on my fingers from the blood orange I had at breakfast.

Presenting some of that information, integrating it into the narrative, puts the reader in the character's body.

36.) Is there a certain number of rejections that if I get that many I should seriously work on my skills and rewrite my MS?

No. Because you should always be working on your skills, and when you finish one manuscript and start submitting it, you should be working on the next one.

Seriously. The craft of writing is not about getting any single manuscript to the publishable stage. It's about becoming a skilled writer. Which may mean, I'm sorry, discarding a lot of those apprentice pieces. (An old piece revised is never going to teach you as much, or be up to the standards, of a new piece written with developing skills.)

One of the biggest pieces of self-sabotage I see from aspiring writers is that they work over the same manuscript over and over and over again, and never move on. You do have to revise (or most of us do, anyway: a blessed few seem to get it right the first time. I am not one of them.) but at a certain point you also have to stop revising and start work on the next piece.

Eventually, you may find that something you've learned in a newer piece will help you revise an earlier piece--or, more likely, re-use an inadequately exploited idea in a better fashion with a new piece--but in my experience, you have to have that distance, and some road under the wheels, to do it.

Case in point: All the Windwracked  Stars was the first novel I finished. I had written--and mostly sold--sixteen other novels before I managed to revise it into something that I could sell (and be proud of). And when I say "revise," what I actually mean is "rewrite from scratch."

I did about five or six other fairly serious revisions before that last one, too.


37.) I doubt you had time for this with the wrenching revisions and the moving, but did you ever hear back about your broken Pelikan M215?

It's not repairable.

38.) What was your favorite toy as a child?

This model horse.


I still have a couple of Breyer models (one of them is the Gypsy Vanner, yes, which buymeaclue gave me a couple years back), but I no longer have this one. Alas!

I also had a toy microscope and a giant stuffed lion, both of which I managed hours of fun with. A puppy eventually killed the lion. Not sure what happened to the microscope.

38.) Have you ever had a planned secondary character completely derail/take over a story? Do you find yourself shoe-horning unwilling characters in a preplanned plot, or do you just wing it?

Which character speaks to you loudest, and who do you have to fight to hear?

Do you consider your work to be character driven?

I have a hard time answering this one, because it comes at writing from a totally different direction than I do. I think I am pretty character-driven: generally, my stories result from a character in a situation with a problem: the classic formula for starting a story. And then I generally just try to invent othe characters with conflicting goals and turn them lose on each other. So I'm never in a situation where the characters have to act in ap articular manner in order to serve the dictates of plot, because I don't plot that way. I let the characters screw up the situation until it's desperately bad, and then I leave them alone to figure out how they're going to act/react to it. Generally, whatever they decide winds up with limbs and lives being lost. (I also don't rescue them from their bad decisions: if they screw up, the auctorial angel is not going to rescue them.)

There are always characters who love to talk, and who will take over any damned scene you let them near. Kit Marley, Jenny Casey, Morgan le Fey, Solomon  Todd are a few of my own grandstanders. They're a pleasure to write, in general, because they do the work for you. By contrast, none of the Carnival characters wanted to tell me a damned thing, and the ones in One-Eyed Jack & The Suicide King are withholding bastards as well. It's not that they don't talk: it's that they don't tell me anything useful.

Some will talk if I can find the right trick. For example, Stephen Reyes will talk about other people. Not himself. He doesn't talk about himself. So I have to do him by implication around the edges of what he says about the other guy.

39.) I have a question. When are we doing a book?

Aieee How does 2020 sound? *g*

40.)What sort of hoops have to be jumped through to publish something under a name that's not one's legal name?


41.) Who is your favorite dead physicist? And do you like some living ones? Have you or will you write about any of them?

My favorite physicist is totally Freeman Dyson.

I've written stories involving Nikola Tesla (okay, not a physicist), Richard Feynman, and a bunch of the early quantum theorists ("Schrodinger's Cat Chases the Super String," which I still like even if nobody else was impressed by it.)