I have an interview with a student next week, and he sent me a questionnaire (good move; I'm scatter-brained) but I'm having a tough time with filling in some of the blanks. Especially this one: Which authors were your major SF/F influences?
Who can I blame? Captain Kirk? Barnabas Collins? Frank L. Baum? They made me read the Hobbit in school (though I skimmed paragraphs that were over an inch and a half in length); does that count as a token Tolkien? Sigh. I'd lie and say someone dead and famous but what if I have to say what I liked about their books? That always happens when you lie, and then I'd have to go and buy Cliff Notes. [perks up] Hey, are there Cliff Notes for classic SF literary novels? I'd invest.
Let's see, beyond whatever brain saturation I picked up from shows like Star Trek, Dark Shadows (okay, horror, but in the neighborhood) and Lost in Space, artist Frank Frazetta
probably had the most influence on me as a SF/F writer. The first short story I had published was inspired by one of his swamp-thing paintings, way back in 1975. I won an award for the story, too, then I promptly lost interest and went back to writing romance. I think my attitude was based on 1) being told repeatedly that girls didn't write SF, 2) what SF books I peeked in were mega-boring and 3) I was going to be a famous romance novelist, not some geeky SF writer. Yep, fourteen years old and I had everything figured out.
God has a strange sense of humor, doesn't He?
Next question: What SF/F novels are you currently reading?
Fantasy is covered, I'm re-reading The Wreck of Heaven by Holly Lisle, and (cough) I even read a SF short story this week -- "The Book of Martha" by Octavia Butler, which you can read for free online here.
[guilt conscience kicks in] Okay, I skimmed the chunky parts in the Butler story, too. I still haven't quite gotten over that icky bug story she wrote in that SF antho someone made me read last year. When an author impregnates her protagonist with bug larvae and makes it into a transcendental literary moment instead of the truly gross thing that it is in reality, I tune out. I don't know, maybe I've seen too many real people with real worms.
Do you feel your work is comparable to any other SF author's?
Rats. Maybe I could go look for those Cliff Notes later...
Harry Takes Five:
Publishers Weekly has a somewhat gloomy article
on the first quarter drop in business by three of the nation's largest printers, something they're blaming on the "slumbering" book market, conversions of reference books to electronic media, and smaller first print run orders. One bright spot is the upcoming print run for the next Harry Potter book, which hits the presses next week, requires the printer to use not one but five
plants to handle the order. Cha-ching, J.K.
See What I Mean?
Worked on "Red Branch" again today, and am fully ready to make Akela die a gruesome, prolonged and unnecessary death. I know she's doing what all really great characters do to their authors but I swear, she's laughing
at me while she does it:
Excerpt from "Red Branch"
by S.L. Viehl
Summer heat rolled over the day, and Neleh needed watering, so I stopped at a pitiful-looking creek halfway to Bronif. I dismounted and checked the stream (Goddess knew humans dumped all manner of waste into their aquifers) before I clipped on her hobble, removed my saddle and let her drink. I crouched under the shade of a scraggly witheroak and used the interval to tighten my stirrup straps, which had stretched, and check my weapons.
I wore forty-two daggers of various sizes on four blade straps, two across my chest and one on each thigh. More than most trackers carried, but I didn’t mind the extra weight. I like being prepared. My poisons were lethal to anything that breathed, but I was still young, and my sacs emptied quickly. One reason I had been considering reproducing was that pregnancy would enlarge my glands; that and I wouldn’t fully mature until I did. But breeding was such a dreary business – an entire year stuck in the youngling cavern, nesting and nursing and teaching my daughter to spin and hunt. I wasn’t ready for that kind of commitment or drudgery.
You were an obnoxious youngling,
my mother had told me with a certain amount of annoyed pride. Goddess knows I nearly ate you a dozen times.
As I sharpened my palm blades, Neleh lifted her muzzle out of the water and sniffed the air. Her stubby ears flared, and she bared pointed teeth as she released a low, warning hiss.
I could smell them, too. Humans. Many humans. Oh, good. Something to kill.
“Finish, you lazy nag, the road waits.” I made no sign of my discovery as I fastened my chest straps and went to her. Under her short-haired hide her muscles were tensed, her limbs trembling. They were moving in those idiot lines they affected – I smelled at least three dozen, strung out like dirty kebabs – but the humans had brought something with them that terrified my darkmare.
Which meant it could probably kill her – and me. Even better, something that will give me a fight.
I stepped on her hobble clip to release it while I pretended to stroke her muscular neck. She gave me a hard nip. “I've never ridden such an unpleasant bitch,” I murmured as I caught her jaw and slipped the halter from her head. “I will miss you.” I swatted her rump, and Neleh jumped the creek before galloping off toward Bronif.
They emerged from the trees as I watched her, but I kept my back to them a few more seconds so I could draw the daggers I wanted. Then I turned, and skimmed the hungry, dirty faces of the mercs until I reached the oldest and ugliest.
“Ferboil Danu.” I flicked a bit of leaf rot from my sleeve. “What a surprise.”
“Spinner.” He tugged at the edge of his tunica, evidently to draw attention to how purple it was and how many glittery gemstone bobbles hung from it. Human leaders coveted colored stones; wearing them made them feel important or something. I liked them because the weight slowed them down. “Ain’t yer gettin’ our message?”
“A message? Let me think.” I pretended to while I looked for what had spooked Neleh. “I slit the throat of the first little skink you sent before he could speak. The second annoyed my ride and got himself trampled before he could provide any details. The third muttered something about a web before I reduced him to a pile of ash.” I regarded the three columns of mercs he’d brought with him. Child's play.
“Do you have anyone who can talk a little faster?”
I first read about the missing The Tsar's Amber Chamber
in one of Elizabeth Lowell's romances, but the real deal is even stranger than fiction. When you consider that amber, while pretty, is nothing but really old tree sap, the 11.5 mil price tag on the reproduction room seems a bit outrageous. I guess I'll never develop the proper respect for pricey sparkly things. In any case, things like this make excellent story starters, and you can check out more WWII art vanishing acts here.
Cherijo in Iraq:
I received a fan letter from a soldier in a regiment stationed 20 miles outside Baghdad. He's passing his copy of StarDoc around to the other soldiers and he wrote to tell me how much they all like the novel, and to ask if I've written any more. I've sent out plenty of books to soldiers stationed overseas but because of the mail restrictions could not send any to our troops in Iraq. I certainly never imagined someone would carry one of my books with them into combat, not in a million years.
Anyway, once I finished crying like a baby, I called the Community Relations Office at Fort Stewart and asked for permission to send some books to this regiment. The very nice sergeant there gave me the green light, so I'm packing up a box with the rest of the StarDoc novels to send out today. With them go my prayers that they all come home safely.
After much debate/discussion/dithering, I am starting my independent discussion group for aspiring writers. This will be along the lines of the Author in the Window project I proposed a few months back, with some minor alterations, which will be explained on the list.
If you would like to join, please read the following:
1. This is a private, closed group. Contents of the list are confidential and not to be distributed, posted, published or otherwise discussed outside the group. Any violation of list confidentiality will result in an immediate ban from the group.
2. Membership is open only to unpublished writers over the age of 18 who are seriously pursuing a professional writing career. Professional published writers, editors, editor assistants, amateur or professional reviewers, and members of SFWA and SFF.net are not eligible for membership. This is not negotiable, but I will consider lightly published writers on a case-by-case basis.
3. This is not a critique or fan group. If you have a problem with me, this weblog, my books, or anything about me, do us all a favor and don't join. If you're a fan or an interested reader, please check out my author web site
instead -- that's where I put everything for you folks.
4. I would like to provide some mentoring help to list members. A lot of this depends on how many people sign up, how serious they are about their work and what my schedule allows. We'll further discuss this on the list.
5. Be as serious about this as you are about your writing. This is a not a social or personals group, and happy jokes, bitchfests, love life problems, flirtations etc. are not welcome.
Now if all that hasn't scared you off, you can apply to join**(see update below.) The first group discussion will begin in one week, so if you don't want to miss anything apply by 5/28/03.
**Due to the terrific response, and to keep the size of the list manageable, I'm closing membership to the group for time being. Based on how well the list works and how many people stay with it, I'll consider expanding membership in the future.
(rated R for language, kids, why are you up this early anyway?) I am ready to hit the select all
on Word at this moment, because Akela, the protagonist in my ongoing pain in the ass short story "Red Branch" will not settle down. Everytime I try to advance the story, she digs her heels in and says, "No, I don't think so" and comes out with something to further interest (stall) me. And then when I'm distracted, she starts killing everyone in the scene. Do you have any idea how many bodies I've had to get rid of in the last four months? Jesus.
Squilyp did this to me in BV, right as I was trying to kill him off. He didn't beg, he didn't plead. He wasn't even nice about it. As I was running the story loop in my head, he kept hopping out of it and turning on me, wanting more lines, more backstory, more spotlight. There was this moment when I was writing what was supposed to be his death scene when (I swear, this is true, not a psychotic episode) he stared out of the page and in his snottiest tone said, "Go ahead, but you'll regret it."
I don't know why I'm doing this. With Squilyp, it was irrational love, but with Akela, it's more like fascinated horror. She's mean, nastier than Squilyp, and will kill everyone within a 200 foot radius if I turn my back for a second. It's not an honor issue, either, because she doesn't have any. I composed her to be a thing of Nature, a prolific natural born killer working off instinct who has to deal with a situation that rips instinct to shreds. I added some sociopathic tendencies to the mix and put the character blender on puree
. To be blunt, I didn't want to like the little fucking bitch. And now I think I do, and Jalon (the primary intended victim) certainly does, which is even worse.
Last night I cleaned up the latest batch of bodies, deleted twenty-nine pages of -- for her -- recreational gore -- and went back to square one. I vowed to keep it short, clean, and true to the plot. She let me get six pages in before she railroaded my scene, dragged in 36 men and got ready to kill them. 36 men, for God's sake, just because they interrupted her watering her horse and sharpening her daggers.
And I have no idea why she won't behave. She is, after all, my creation. Maybe I have hostility issues or I watched Virtuosity
too many times.
An editor accidentally sent an e-mail to me that was actually intended for another editor, and how many times have we all done something like that? Uh-huh. Anyway, I read it before I realized it was not meant for my eyes (honestly, I wouldn't have read it, had I known) and immediately informed the parties involved of the snafu.
The contents weren't scathing or nasty, there was one cute comment about me and then lots of personal stuff which I will of course carry with me to the grave. There was some initial embarrassment but hopefully I eased them out of it with a few jokes. I figure it's good karma for when I send my next stray e-mail, too.
"...and tomorrow shall be the race of my life."
That was the final line of the 5/19 entry on this weblog
(which will not give up a direct link for some reason.) There are just some lines that slam you so hard they leave you breathless, and this is one of them. Found it on a random blog cruise, totally wrecked my usual Monday sulkfest. Now if I can just keep a lid on the reaction and stop it from spiralling off into another novel idea . . .
I give them neck scritches even in my sleep.
My Personal Reviewer:
My mom is a big romance reader and a dedicated Jude Devereaux fan, but she's never been too crazy about SF (sound familiar?) Knowing that, I didn't really expect her to read Blade Dancer, the book I dedicated to her. She called me this afternoon to inform me that she is on chapter sixteen and (in a somewhat disgruntled tone) that she can't put the book down. Even more amazing, she's set aside my first Christian novel so she can finish Blade. As compliments go, this is a huge one. :)
Work has been like playing Star Trek three-level chess lately; I'm nearly finished writing the first drafts of "Portraits of the Past," "BioRescue" (version 2.0) and halfway through "Heat of the Moment." I'm going to add in the Christmas novel as soon as my outline is approved, which will give me four storylines to juggle at the same time. It sounds insane but since they're all established series books I don't have to wrap my brain around a new world. I've been to these places before and know them well (another plus to writing series.)
The side effect of writing so much so fast is that I don't do much else; reading a bit of nonfiction now and then, listening to music and sewing are about it. Saturday I had a synopses/query writing class at FM that cleared out some of the cobwebs, and I need to do more of that; the enthusiasm of the group turbo-charged my muse.
Last night I sat on the balcony and listened to Chopin while I crocheted in the dark, to loosen up my hands. It's mindless stuff, and very soothing. I sat in the rocking chair and found myself rocking to keep stitch count -- something my grandmother always did, often with me on the floor next to her watching the afghan she was making grow a quarter inch with every turn. She would crochet blind, too, staring out through the window but looking at nothing, lost in her memories. The only difference is she was thinking of my grandfather, while I'm plotting to overthrow a planet, seduce a cop and snow in an inn for Christmas.
I've often wished my grandmother had lived longer, so she could have met my kids and seen me achieve the dream. Katherine's shinanigans would have tickled her, and Mike's frame is growing into the same Mack truck dimensions that my grandfather had (my brother Steve is the image of my grandfather, and grandma adored him.) She would not have chastized me for the divorces and the failures, but she would have smacked me for trying to trudge through them alone. My grandmother was a great believer in the strength of family, and rallying it when things got bad.
My editor and I were talking about my grandmother a few weeks ago, and she asked me if I was ever going to do a book about her. I've always wanted to write the story of her life, and I think I'm almost ready. Maybe if things go well, I'll start it next year.