When to dump a scene completely

With ice cream, you don’t have to ask where it went!

WHEN IT ISN’T AN INTENSE IMMEDIATE NECESSARY EXPERIENCE

It’s a high bar, wanting only scenes in a novel that are strong enough to leave a reader breathless.

Quietly or dramatically, a scene has to have a reason for being in the story, and that reason has to answer the question: Why is this scene PIVOTAL?

Yes. Every single time.

Scenes accomplish many things at once

The structure and skeleton of a scene offer a place to hang many hats: character development, plot, theme(s), setting, language, the ability to hold a reader’s attention, emotions… I could go on for a long time, or merely post some of my checklists for things which must be considered.

A scene has to be packed with meaning, symbolism, omens, backstory, forewarning, consequences, and costs.

It has to move the story from where it was to where it has to be, a stepping-stone across a great river.

Preferably subtly.

But the scene itself has to have a primary reason to be in the book, and it isn’t as a catch basin for a whole bunch of important little things the author thinks the reader needs to know.

I dropped a scene

I’ve done a lot of things between the complete rough draft and what will be the final complete draft that included rearranging material, moving things to a slightly better scene for them, altering the timelines enough to change the order, switching point of view to a different character, tweaking the goal.

I’ve considered, for each scene, how best to tell its part of the story.

I’ve combine a couple of shorter ones, split some long ones.

I’d have to go back over extensive lists, but I don’t think I’ve completely dumped one before.

It feels weird – but I’m happy I made the decision to ‘kill a darling.’

I was having trouble writing 34.5.

Since I have trouble writing every scene, this wasn’t anything new or startling. I have many ways of writing myself out of these problems, some suitable when it’s the writer who has a previously-unknown problem (the Journal gets a lot of these long explorations of why) and others which work to get around my physical limitations.

I have those checklists to allow me to explore MANY features of a scene in small enough chunks that I can focus on one thing at a time – by the time I’ve gone through all of those, I have the gathered material for that scene all in one place. Then I have systems to organize it. Then it gels. Then I write it.

I was even in a good mood and had had enough sleep.

The material wasn’t compelling as a whole.

There were specific bits that need to be in the book. There were some really nice bits. And there were all those answered questions and placeholder text bits, including some really decent dialogue.

Then I realized that writing this particular scene bored me

And that I wouldn’t be looking forward to rereading that scene when I reread the book, and would probably skip it.

Telling myself the Reader needed the information, presented in a nicely dramatized way, with bells, didn’t work.

And then I really, really looked at the nascent scene, and I admitted to myself that there were 2-3 necessary pieces, which is why I thought I should group them in this scene in the first place, but that it wasn’t enough to do a good job of surrounding them with a scene and let the reader absorb them painlessly.

It won’t surprise you that it was a villain scene – and I’ve given her plenty of room to express her opinions, follow her thoughts, listen to her justifications.

So I made the decision to cut a scene

And immediately knew it was the right decision.

I found a home for those necessary bits in the following scenes and an epigraph which wrote itself. There isn’t anything wrong with them.

And the chapter suddenly got livelier.

I dug into the next scene, and found it compelling, and found a way to make it heartbreaking.

We’re back on track.

This scene should be a doozy. As they should all be, if I had my ‘druthers.

I can always go back and put it in; somehow I don’t think it will be necessary. I’ll leave it up to my beta reader to notice.

**********

I don’t think this is because I write one finished scene at a time; I’ll find out.

Does any of this ring a bell?

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When to restart a scene from scratch

Yup, blank.

SOMETIMES YOU CAN’T GET THERE FROM HERE

I gather a lot of pre-written material when I start a scene.

I also have a lot of lists of prompts I fill out which remind me to think of various aspects of a scene, from the internal twist to the various beats to the emotions I wish to invoke in Readers, so I’ve created a lot of new material now that I’m about to write this scene.

And I have one bugaboo, what I call the Old Text (OT), the original polished-but-primitive draft that I wrote when I had the three books in the trilogy plotted out, and wanted to see that I could make it logically from the first line to the last.

The Old Text can be missing, a few paragraphs, a scene in the wrong point of view (pov), or even, in the worst case, a

PERFECT FINISHED COMPLETE SCENE IN THE CORRECT CHARACTER’S POINT OF VIEW.

Except it’s not right.

And every attempt to take what you have and rework it, rearrange it, change it, edit it, tweak it

doesn’t work.

It’s still wrong.

Worse, it’s throwing you off and keeping you from getting into the character’s pov so you can fix things.

For those times you have a secret weapon:

You can choose not to keep ANY of what you wrote before.

Or only a couple of tiny new pieces you just wrote that you know are in the right pov.

Or an image or two, reworded of course.

Or the time/day/date.

Or even the idea of the scene.

But you don’t have to because there is no Scene Police Division

down at writing headquarters.

No one who can make you, encourage you, or even try to persuade you.

Just because you wrote it gives it no rights.

Just because it was finished, complete, polished, and has impeccable grammar and spelling, punctuation, and capitalization, and you worked for days on it way back when you wrote that particular version, it has no integrity or separate solidity: it is just as friable as your grocery list.

With me, it means I am really stuck.

All the journaling in the world can’t fix something that needs to be plowed under and redesigned from the bottom up.

I just redid a scene like this – from a blank page. After getting fairly close to…something.

I had so much new stuff to put into the scene, and such a solid Old Text version, I thought it might be one of the few things that survived from that draft.

Nuh uh.

Maybe if I had published the scene as a story fifteen or twenty years ago when I wrote this particular little gem, and spent days or weeks getting it to be the best I could do back then. It might have been a book I removed from my backlist after getting much better with the newer books.

I’m glad I didn’t publish that older draft.

Even I had the sense to realize it needed a lot of work.

The new version is so much better.

But I hadn’t realized that the OT had so much power.

I didn’t want to start from scratch. I didn’t want to dump everything.

I wasn’t sure I could write something better, or come up with an entirely different version of the original idea.

That’s just the FEAR talking. Trying to protect me from wasted effort (old and new).

So I labeled the old contents ‘draft version’, and left it where I could get to it easily if I needed to swipe something from it.

And I started a blank file with the words: ‘just putting this here so the page isn’t blank’

And I started all over again, paying special attention to how that character operated, felt, saw, listened and wrote it again from the top.

Then I deleted ‘just putting this here so the page isn’t blank’, proceeded with my other steps to get a scene into final usable state, and didn’t insist it contain any of that old but good stuff, and …

It’s finished. It came out far better. I wrote the new version in a day or two, edited and polished it, and it doesn’t look at all like the OT.

I still can’t imagine any amount of tweaking that would have turned the previous grammatically-correct-but-completely-wrong and progress-blocking scene into what I signed off on today.

It hurt. A lot. All that nice clean text!

But sometimes you have no choice but to start from scratch.

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How NOT to treat disabled patients

Medical personnel providing a service.

JUST BECAUSE THEY ARE HEALTHY AND WE ARE NOT

When did things become BACKWARD???

When did THEIR time become more important than ours?

When did CLIENTS become patients?

When did their needs to be in control become more important than the clients’ rights to timely and adequate and compassionate service?

When did their convenience supersede ours?

When did taking care of disabled clients become a burden to them, an inconvenience to their mission?

When did their control become more important that our PAIN?

When did it become acceptable for them to frighten patients, to threaten them with dire consequences for not obeying instructions to the letter, to TELL them they will end up in the ER with a massive attack of something? (This has now happened twice.)

When did THEY end up with all the cards – and the self-righteous belief that they know best for OTHER people with REAL LIVES?

This is the letter I would LIKE to send to my medical services group – if I dare, once I have carefully weighed the consequences to my future treatment.

Think about that: I have to worry that they might be bothered by something I, the person responsible for paying them, might say. As nicely as I can.

First, though, I would like to say: don’t mess with a writer – they are good at nuance, both reading it and writing it. Not on the spot, of course – that’s for narcissists and sociopaths and politicians and comedians – but afterward, when they’ve had a chance to think.

And to realize what just happened.

And rewrite what you think just happened into the correct narrative that takes the CLIENT into account.

Except rewriting the narrative created by the thoughtless ‘professional’ requires 1) rereading it (I won’t – too negative), and 2) putting in an enormous amount of my own time – knowing it probably won’t work. Or change anything.

THE LETTER TO MEDICAL PERSONNEL AT XXXXX which I may never send.

Because I need some kind of medical care, and all of these are similar in that they think they know it all, and they OVERWHELM you.

My mind keeps nagging about the letter I should write to my medical providers about energy, visits to specialists, and fear-mongering. Which was applied to me, a disabled person, at the end of a too-long-for-a-disabled-person day.


And the tone of the after-visit summary took my breath away – and made no mention of or accommodation for that disability which caused so many of the problems.
Bullying a disabled person is NOT nice.

I will NOT have the procedure unless I decide it is necessary, there are several more worrying symptoms, and they don’t respond immediately to medication.
And do NOT appreciate how I was treated so cavalierly.

I need to write the letter so it appears in my medical record, and I can point to it, but I don’t expect it to have any effect on anyone there.

Do NOT treat disabled people the way you treat normal people – we can’t take it.

And no, it doesn’t NECESSARILY help to bring someone else along. Then I have to deal with THEM, too.

The calculus of what I can take vs. what I need is ongoing: don’t assume, ASK.

And more than asking, could you make a climate where I will think of asking myself, EVEN when exhausted?

Thank you.

CLIENT (person who pays the bills)

The above is not coherent – I’m still going to let it stand, because the incoherence is generated by the system.

I’ve let this one stew for almost a month, and I’m still angry. I was going to just let it drop, leave the unfinished post among the almost 100 draft posts I never finished.

Not naming names – and I’ve decided it isn’t SAFE for me to let them know what I really think, so I’ll keep tweaking the interactions (as in my previous state – which was as bad or worse) instead of taking them head on.

Other options to minimize the problems

One is to do as much as possible via video visits; those are usually on time, one-on-one because the provider isn’t popping in and out or pawning you off on a nurse.

Another – based on my last visit to another city for treatment – is to make sure you have done the paperwork part of a visit SEPARATELY via video BEFORE the in-person appointment. I find it a major problem to have filled all the paperwork before the visit, and to be grilled over every single thing in my medical history again anyway.

I will explain that it is very difficult for me to do BOTH in a single visit – and, by the time I get the service, I am exhausted and frazzled and not being as coherent as I tried to prepare to be.

LEAVE the minute it gets to where I can’t keep going. I keep trying to respect THEIR time, at the cost of trying to continue to talk and even be awake and coherent when things go on too long. Going back is not a great option, but maybe I can finish by video.

Stand up for myself in some small way each time.

Say, “This is not helpful.”

Risk being labeled difficult.

Complain to higher management – with specifics (respectfully – that writer nuance).

Suggestions?

Because the stress of doctor visits has gotten to the point that all I want to do is avoid them.

**********

Stubborn opinionated determined author at work

You can’t guarantee the results

Isn’t ‘effort’ the same thing as ‘work?

After I wrote the above, I realized that I think of them separately (personal choice), with effort being the whole mental atmosphere surrounding what writers do – from paying attention to things other people never notice, including information on publicity, covers, and selling – and work being actually sitting down and turning that attitude into things such as a finished ad or a description that rocks or any number of other ‘deliverables.’

WORK‘, of course, includes the writing itself, the finished words on the page of a pdf you are about to upload to Amazon or others.

And know it’s the best version of the story you are able to provide that mysterious elusive creature, the Reader.

After that, Amazon takes over and supplies copies of the WORK to those who pay for it.

For many of us, Amazon is currently publisher and distributor, for a hefty portion of the rewards (30% for ebooks, more for print books). I am currently okay with that. Because that equation is far worse on the traditional publishing side, and many of the benefits to using them (editing, covers, advertising, promotion, reasonable advances, royalties) are on the path of the Dodo bird.

Writing successful fiction requires two additional things:

Finding your potential readers, and

Getting them to try your writing.

If you haven’t truly written a good book that readers would buy if they only knew about you, YOU’RE WASTING YOUR TIME when you promote and advertise and stand on your head to do PR. You may fool some of the people some of the time, but that is rarely a recipe for commercial success.

Indeed, after reading some authors’ latest ‘work’, I know I will never read another from them.

But the whole discoverability part of writing is hard, tricky, and requires the one thing I don’t have: energy and the capacity for endless self-promotion.

If you have written ‘a good book’ for a segment of the population

the satisfied readers should be clamoring for more.

If you have more (backlist), they have a lot to discover and enjoy.

If not, well, keep working. And some readers will never get that pleasure from you again, but it won’t be your fault, if you’ just keep truckin’.’

And hope for some luck, or ‘Here a miracle occurs,’ or going viral, or catching someone’s eye…

Some of us will simply have to hope for an afterlife, and wait to ask Margaret Mitchell what happened to Scarlett. Assuming she still cares – the afterlife runs on different rules, I believe.

And now I’m going off to nap, followed by keeping my nose to my particular grindstone.

I do so want to finish. It’s coming nicely. And every time the idea that life might be easier if I spent it entertaining myself instead of torturing myself with imaginary people, I have managed to fight that attitude off.

**********

What are the things in your life that you will never give up on?

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The value I’m offering MY Readers

You’ll never get it back

A blogger’s question made me think:

HOW MUCH TIME do my potential readers spend looking for SOMETHING, ANYTHING interesting to read before finding a few possibles,

and

HOW MUCH MORE TIME do they spend starting and then giving up on books that pass their initial selection process – BEFORE they find one they like and actually enjoy reading to the end?

Readers may have preferences, but the good ones, the educated literate WHALE readers – the ones who read a lot of books, hard books, complex books, and often buy them in hardcover (which I will produce when I have 1) a lot of time, or 2) Amazon lets me into their beta hardcover program), and then RECOMMEND them to their friends – are often happy to just read ‘a good book.’

Because their appetites are not satisfied – no matter how many books are on their To Be Read piles.

They are not looking for ‘more of the same vampire books.’ Or ‘the latest James Patterson book.’ Or another ‘clean Romance.’

They are let down by what they read (have you seen how many NEGATIVE reviews there are on books such as The Goldfinch? They won’t all be people who can’t handle the complexity and bought it primarily as a coffeetable book!).

They want what writers are counseled to produce: a good book

So it got me to thinking about my writing, and what I am trying to produce, a good story, a book that is worth the time invested in reading it, a book which will make the same Reader want the next in the trilogy.

It’s easier for me to vet my potential Readers than for me to try to please everyone (an impossibility).

So I’m going to try to QUANTIFY the ineffable

There’s an example: If you are potentially MY Reader, either you already know what ‘ineffable’ means, or you will figure it out from context and a dictionary – because you like words and enjoy pinning down ones you’ve seen before but don’t remember exactly what they mean. And either way, it will give you PLEASURE just sitting there on your page.

If ‘ineffable’ appearing in your reading material is annoying because you think the writer’s being elitist or you’re done with SAT words, your are NOT my potential Reader.

Because ineffable came to my mind as what I wanted to say (and I did a quick check to make sure I didn’t have it mixed up with something else – fatal to the point I’m trying to make). Something unquantifiable because it is big and complex: how to help Readers know the value of my work – to them, the only people they are really interested in satisfying.

Everything else is miscommunication.

And I’m going to quantify it in a very me way

I’m going to make a list of books which have influenced Pride’s Children by being favorites of mine still years after I’ve read most of them, and why.

I’ve done this on Goodreads when carefully looking for potential reviewers, using the Compare books feature, especially if they’ve reviewed and I can see if our reasons for loving a book are compatible.

All you have to do to find out if you are potentially a Reader of my fiction is to see if several of these hit you in similar ways.

For the actual writing part – because we can love the same books without me being able to produce a coherent sentence in a similar style – I will make my standard recommendation: go to Amazon, to the print version – because my formatting is part of how I want to write. The ebook is available and I love it, too, but ebooks have reflowable text on purpose so you can change fonts and sizes to suit you; great for reading, not so great for seeing if you like everything about the author.

  1. Read – but don’t get hung up on – the description; these are always being tweaked to occupy the very limited real estate on the book’s page. It is an indicator, not the definitive reason for choosing or not choosing a book.
  2. Read some of the reviews. I’d choose several of the top reviews (most of the longer 5* ones from older men) and maybe a couple of the few negative ones (you’ll know what I mean if my writing will appeal to you). Go for the long ones – but not the ones which summarize and ruin the plot: you’re looking for reviewers like you.
  3. Read a few pages of the Look Inside! – by the end of the third scene you will have met all the point of view characters, by the end of the first chapter or two you will have picked up the as-needed style of alternating them, and by the end of the sample, if not much sooner, you will know if – in your opinion – I can write.
  4. Ten or twenty minutes spent will tell you all you need to know. And you should spend that on a potential book; Pride’s Children PURGATORY will take you a good while to read.

That’s it: checkout my list of influencers and read a bit of the actual writing, and then, if you’re one of us, buy in your favorite format and get to reading.

I can guarantee it’s a good story; after all, it has occupied all my usable writing time for the past twenty-one years, I’m almost finished with volume 2 (which ends well but still leaves you wanting more), and volume 3 is completely plotted and exists in rough draft form (so you know I know exactly where we’re going).

What kind of a good story?

Well, here is a partial list of the themes woven in there somewhere:

  • Family matters
  • Love is based on trust
  • Children matter – and must be protected
  • Beliefs are important
  • Beliefs lead to action
  • Right beliefs lead to right action
  • Dignity matters
  • Good will prevail
  • Life throws stuff at you – how you handle it is who you are
  • You can’t stay married to someone who doesn’t want you
  • Some people are objectively better than others
  • Integrity matters
  • Evil exists – and can’t be excused
  • Love transcends age
  • We have a capacity for intense love: of a character. Of an actor. Of a story.
  • Disability themes: how common it is, the intrinsic value of the person who is disabled, and the empathy I want developed in readers and the world.

And the overall theme: How you live your life PROVES what you believe. And believe in.

Now for those influencer books:

(you will want to have read – and liked or have been affected by – at least several):

  • Dune (plus Dune Messiah and Children of Dune)
  • Jane Eyre
  • Wuthering Heights
  • On the Beach, Trustee from the Toolroom
  • The Thorn Birds
  • The Left Hand of Darkness, Roccannon’s World, Planet of Exile
  • Leviathan’s Deep
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
  • Great Expectations
  • Frankenstein
  • Strong Poison, Have his Carcase, Gaudy Night, Busman’s Honeymoon, Talboys
  • Rebecca
  • Exodus
  • Lucifer’s Hammer
  • A Tale of Two Cities
  • Dr. Zhivago
  • The Exorcist
  • The Dying of the Light (also named After the Festival), A Song for Lya
  • Ender’s Game
  • Huckleberry Finn
  • The Foundation trilogy
  • The Crystal Cave, The Last Enchantment
  • The Complete Sherlock Holmes
  • Brave New World
  • The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings
  • The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • Black Beauty
  • Silas Marner
  • Snow Falling on Cedars, Our Lady of the Forest
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass
  • The Handmaid’s Tale
  • The Three Musketeers
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • GWTW
  • Way Station
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz
  • The Name of the Rose

A good serving of these plus a familiarity with Shakespeare and the Bible.

That’s basically it

Spend a bit of time vetting your reading material – you will be spending hours of your life you will never get back – and then settle in to a nice long encounter.

You may also pray for good health for the writer; in this case, she needs to be semi-functional to be able to write at all.

IF you are persuaded, leave a comment saying why – feedback is crucial to writers, especially if you want more work from them.

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The necessary odd story pivot scene

WHEN YOU DIDN’T REALIZE HOW IMPORTANT A SCENE WAS

I write these posts when I get an epiphany (and interestingly enough, it is set right before the real Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th, 2006).

I did what I always do, and gathered enormous amount of material related to the scene in progress – and went through my usual process of trying to turn the most important parts of what the Reader needs to know at this point into a coherent scene.

Almost always when I get to this point in my writing process (and I’ve written much about that), the scene almost self-organizes, includes some of the bits of dialogue I’ve developed during the process, and gives me trouble until I get it written.

Then I clean it up, check against my lists, run it through AutoCrit, and am usually happy to move to the next one.

And occasionally I get massively stuck

Which drives me crazy, and then drives me to picking apart what I’ve done, writing in my Fear Journal, and generally making a mess of everything.

Until suddenly the subconscious hits me upside the head with a ten foot Pole (to thoroughly mix metaphors), and I somehow figure out what’s wrong.

And then add it to another list: THINGS I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN.

Or at least expected!

Which are embarrassingly obvious after that point.

Sigh.

Endings and beginnings are fraught

This scene is essentially the last one in this section of the plot. I knew I needed it, structurally, and threw it in, moved some content around, and left it as a stub in my very detailed Scene list in the Dramatica file.

But I did NOT have a rough draft (the very rough draft of everything I have has been proof of my ability to create a story from nothing, and still serves as an anachronistic paper map to the path) for this scene.

Because, in many ways, I was still learning plotting when I finished the first plot (for Dramatica initiates, had my storyform down to 1) and wrote the rough draft to flesh out the ideas. Only Sandy, my long-suffering writing partner at the turn of the century, has seen the rough draft – and I hope she’s forgotten.

The storyform was then revised permanently in the great Reorganization of 2007.

So, I had somehow known SOMETHING WAS NECESSARY HERE,

thrown it into the mix, and moved on to more important things, such as writing PURGATORY.

And of course that’s what landmines are for: to make you sit up and pay attention.

To put this all into something more understandable: my usual process led me to gather enough material for this important transition pivot, but I hadn’t realized it was an important scene.

I thought it was a simple ‘cleanup and move on’ scene.

And of course it did no such thing as self-assemble.

The important ones on whatever scale never do.

Because they’re something new, and you haven’t done it quite that way before, and your subconscious doesn’t know HOW.

So, no template. So, no assembly possible.

And then, in the wondering and thinking and journaling that goes about when I get stuck in these little quagmires, I suddenly realized that we had reached the top of one mountain, the view was spectacular in all directions (see image), and it was going to matter, a lot, exactly how we got down.

For specifics, and so you might recognize it later, we move from the Czech Republic to Ireland. Over the course of a couple bits in several scenes.

And it is a major turning point in not only this chapter, but this book, and the whole trilogy, because the bottom has been hit, and the Reader doesn’t yet know how the characters are going to climb out, because climb out they must.

Apologizing for the contradictory images and the many cliches, I go now to write this scene, somehow, because I have to.

And that’s not bad.

**********

As a question, do you remember your turning points, and how wobbly they felt?

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Oppression and misrepresentation rampant in fantasy fiction?

The following is a reblog from Janna Noelle, a writer I’ve been following for a long time. She writes fantasy and is very careful and systematic about it (I’m still waiting to read the debut novel when it’s published), and always has interesting things to say):

I’ve been thinking about how magic is often represented in fantasy.

I’ve written previously about how many SFF stories (poorly) represent post-racial societies. My issue with magic is a close cousin to that topic.

Magic is frequently connected to oppression within the story world. Often it’s illegal, with practitioners doing so in secret while on the run and/or in hiding from the armed forces of a state-sanctioned death squad seeking to exterminate them.

It’s an obvious attempt by fantasy writers to draw a thematic comparison to the real-world oppression of marginalized people.

It doesn’t work…”

Please go to her blog to read WHY it doesn’t work – Janna is very coherent.

I don’t read much fantasy, and don’t write it, but it hit me immediately that she’s nailed it.

She has all kinds of other great posts, too.

Nothing to say? Write post anyway.

Other than some minor (I hope) health problems, which I hope to get taken care of asap, it has been weird not to be blogging occasionally, and the reason is literally that I have not much to say lately.

But I don’t want anyone to worry – and there are, I think, over 600 posts, most still relevant, if you like to poke through either the personal or the writing stuff – and comments are still open on all of them. I love comments.

My usual writing post in the past has been about solving some plotting or writing problem, often in a way I haven’t seen done before (which doesn’t mean there aren’t many posts out there about that topic). It intrigues me, I figure it out, I document – and voilà, reading material. I’m not sure if non-writers find them amusing, but they are easy to skip and usually obvious from the post title.

However, as the writing has matured (and I don’t want to change things so it isn’t obvious how long it takes me to write), I find fewer reasons to document new writing problems solved – as I go along.

Other posts came to be when we uprooted ourselves from the US East Coast (New Jersey) in 2018 and re-established ourselves permanently in Davis, California, at a nice Continuing Care Retirement Community – so we will never have to move again. One of these days we might actually be settled in, but now that the pandemic is under control here, it’s mundane, and I have to remind myself to spend a bit of my precious energy, and go outside occasionally, since every day usually has a ‘nice’ part to it. Maggie and I may go for a ride on the way home from dinner – going the outside route around the building instead of the shorter one through the inside carpeted halls.

I WILL tell you I’m writing – and it gets – and takes – all my available energy and all the time during which my brain is functional. NETHERWORLD is going extremely well – albeit slowly – I’m two thirds through it, and have just finished writing the two hardest scenes of the whole trilogy. So, technically, it’s all uphill from here (but NOT in a straight line). It didn’t help much – the next scene was still hard – but the commitments I made in 2000 to the plot have never wavered, and yes, I did the deed and wrote through the Dark Night of the Soul and Whiff of Death moments – and they came out even better than I had hoped for.

Still hoping to finish it this year.

We saw our daughters in person!

We hope for a family vacation (the kids pick the dates, and then we scramble).

And we will be celebrating the reception part of a family zoom wedding from last October – this October. In person. Yay, vaccination!

I have, at last count, about 90 started posts I never finished for one reason or another. Periodically I read through some of them to see if they might provide some mild entertainment for a visitor – you may see some of those pop up.

But mostly, since the energy is STILL extremely limited (think back to what you’ve read of covid long-haulers – that’s typical), it goes to finishing the Pride’s Children trilogy every day.

Stop by and say hi, contribute a bit about your current, hopefully post-pandemic panic life, and rest assured I’m still working my tail off for those who have been so kind as to say they’re waiting for the next book in the trilogy – and after that to get the third published as well.

The end of NETHERWORLD should make a lot of people happy – and then extremely worried again.

The third volume, still to be named though I’m leaning toward LIMBO & PARADISE, is a doozy. I hope to soon not be the only one who knows how it ends.

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I love to hear from you.

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Do self-published authors owe other SPAs?

IS SAYING ANYTHING THE HEIGHT OF ARROGANCE?

On this blog – and in comments – and on Facebook…, I am constrained by the available options for text and emphasis and images.

I live quite happily between the limits imposed by the constraints, find my own way of doing what I need to do (most of the time) so I can write the way I prefer.

And, as a member of various online groups, come into contact with other authors.

On occasion, we will exchange or list our book titles with/for each other, and I will see what choices someone slowly becoming a friend has made in self-publishing, from cover to content to interior book design.

And then the hard part comes: if I see potential that is not realized fully because of relatively small, benign problems, I am, mother-hen-like, pulled strongly toward saying something, making a small suggestion that would improve, IMNVHO (in my not very humble opinion) their work.

Their PUBLISHED work.

Who am I to make recommendations?

Someone who has read an enormous number of books – and has self-published exactly ONE so far.

Someone who went into excruciating detail in preparing Pride’s Children PURGATORY to look as good as the best traditionally published work (limited by Amazon and their paperback POD (publish on demand) capabilities), and, of course, my own learned-in-time skills, and spent months getting the ‘look and feel’ of the paperback, and the look of the ebook, to my own standards.

Someone who took a lot of advice from people who would give it.

And who rejected gobs more from people I didn’t end up respecting for their opinions.

Traditional publishing is not mine to condemn

Because, although every one of my opinions had been informed by what I’ve had to deal with in READING those books, I have no control over their choices, nor do I crave any.

Things such as tiny text on the page, double-spaced, surrounded by huge amounts of white space, and with a gutter so narrow you have to break the spine to read the words that edge it.

Or as pale gray text.

Or as fonts (leave that one alone).

Or… (insert here the things you hate the most about traditionally-published books that seemed deliberately designed to make it hard to read).

But self-publishing has an image problem

We are accused – and all SPAs are tarred with the same brush – of being, well, crap.

We are assumed to not be able to find a traditional publisher who will takes us on, regardless of the small to non-existent advances, predatory contracts, miserly royalties, accounting mysteries, and complete lack of control that we are pretty sure we’d have to live with if we tried.

And, unfortunately, I have to agree with a lot of the complaints (again, regardless of the fact that much traditionally-published material is of poor quality itself).

So what should I DO?

The question crops up almost every time I read an SPA’s work (and buy, usually because I’d like to find out how the story ended, and the price is usually quite reasonable (<$10) if you buy an ebook, compared to the ridiculous prices for traditional ebooks): do I say anything?

To the author, directly, in an individual and gently-worded email which he or she can peruse – or not – in PRIVACY.

Should I couch it in ‘best practices’ language?

Should I include a copy of something with some of their particular awkwardnesses minimized (including, but not limited to, a piece of their own work)?

Should I point to an example that I consider ‘correct’ and make a comparison?

Because what I DO do, is to never buy a book from them again.

And never (okay, once so far) recommend their book.

IOW, leave them in their happy ignorance of my elevated standards and practices, happy in their own devices, which probably include… what?

Intelligent authors make unintended or misguided choices

There are basically three explanations:

  • they don’t know
  • they know and don’t care
  • they know – but have no clue how to fix the problems

And may or may not appreciate a busy-body telling them.

But lack of quality affects many things down the chute from just writing the damn thing: read-through, recommendations, reviews, and ultimately the ability to write fiction profitably.

I have kept my mouth shut – so far

Figuring nobody appointed me standard-bearer.

Figuring that as long as I monitor my own work, I’m doing the most that I should.

Except that that niggling perception among many readers that self-published work is crap affects ME. And I have to work very hard to distance myself from the crowd when trying to persuade a reviewer to read MY stuff.

So I’m throwing this out there to see what my readers think:

  • Should I try to improve the breed? Or
  • Should I try to make sure the readers I want think of me as a good outlier?

And should I ever use my own pretty work as an example when interfering in other writer’s God-given right to make their own choices?

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Won’t read your self-published book because

[WARNING: IF YOU ARE ALREADY PERFECTLY HAPPY WITH YOUR READING MATTER (or have already read PURGATORY and are waiting for the next volume in the trilogy), you may skip what follows with a clear conscience.]

I might find something I liked – and have to change my attitude about SPAs (self-published authors).

I prefer to wait until others decide what I should read.

I like classics – and classics were never produced by SPAs. Oh, wait. They used to be (long list of SPAs such as Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Clemens and…) but modern writers are not good unless they can submit and submit and maybe be granted an audience with an AGENT!

There is so much out there I could never figure out what to try.

I want the opinions of established critics, not my fellow readers. The critics have to know what they’re talking about, right? Because their descriptions and reviews are always exactly what I need to know, right?

I actually don’t want you to read my self-published novel(s)

Because I have some requirements of my READERS:

They have to love to read, even when it is difficult and they have to read in small pieces.

They have to love a lot of classics – because that what I educated myself by reading, and it has a habit of showing in my writing.

They have to love at least something out of the mainstream category

It shows openness of mind. Here’s a partial list of my favorites – and all of them influenced me and my writing in good ways:

Dune

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

The Thorn Birds

Great Expectations

A Tale of Two Cities

Lucifer’s Hammer

Jane Eyre

Pride and Prejudice

Huckleberry Finn

Silas Marner

Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey novels, especially Strong Poison, Gaudy Night, and Busman’s Honeymoon

Don Quixote and some of the Mexican picaresque novels (for Spanish speakers)

It helps if they loathe

Some of the books I found unsatisfactory because [reason in brackets]:

The Lovely Bones [that ending]

Lolita [subject matter]

The Great Gatsby [cannot get into it – don’t care about any of the characters]

A Confederacy of Dunces [after the first chapter I wanted to wash my brain out with soap – good writing in the service of that?]

Tess of the D’Urbervilles [they couldn’t find some excuse not to hang poor Tess? And yes, I know things were very different back then]

Anything by Dan Brown

Any number of shades of gray

And it really helps if you share some of my blind spots and prejudices

You don’t care for anything supernatural in your novels.

You prefer novels with characters you can identify with. And they can’t be improbably young, sexy, healthy as the only requirement. They should also have a job. And a life.

You don’t want anyone swooping down and saving anyone – salvation must be earned and isn’t assured.

You prefer not to have to ignore a lot of unbelievable plot points (really letting myself in for open season here).

Just because the author writes it isn’t enough justification.

Typos are not good.

Spelling is actually important.

You don’t read modern Romance novels.

You don’t like cozies, except if you categorize Agatha Christie as one.

Chick lit is too perky for you, except in small quantities.

When original authors died, their franchises went with them, and there are NO exceptions to this rule no matter how attractive you find Benedict Cumberbatch. Or Sandra Oh.

Why am I being this picky?

Because I’m looking for people who will actually LOVE the Pride’s Children trilogy, not just sort of like it.

Because I do not write for people who read outside my preferences – they are hard to persuade to try PC, and when they do, if they write a review at all, it is obvious they shouldn’t have tried it in the first place. I’m trying to save them some time. And annoyance (which explains their reaction).

Because people who love may recommend you to their friends, but people who don’t won’t – and book recommendations are the biggest way of finding your ideal readers.

Experience.

BTW, you can be a millenial or younger. That is not an impediment. Your taste palate for novels is the key, not the specifics.

I ALSO love the readers who are not my ‘Ideal Readers’ and love PC anyway. They are my heroes.

What about converts?

I admit to loving those. I have a number of reviews from older men who say, “I don’t normally read this kind of book, but I loved it,” and I treasure those above all others.

But they are very hard to find, it takes me a lot of careful and deliberate effort to get them to try PC, and it is time I should spend finishing the trilogy.

Surely in a world of SEVEN BILLION PEOPLE there are Readers already out there who are looking for specific things, already know what that is, and WILL RECOGNIZE IT WHEN THEY SEE IT.

Oxford commas and all.

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Please excuse my general grumpiness

The writing is going extremely well lately, and I may even finish NETHERWORLD this year, but my physical body is giving me a lot of… shall we say, distraction? And marketing can be a bitch.

Also, feel free to add to my canon in the comments. I will poach any I like and add them to the post, with credit to you.

If you’ve gotten this far without damage to your psyche, click on the book image (top right), read the descriptions and a couple of the reviews for yourself, click on the Look Inside! feature and read the first three scenes or so (you will have had enough to make your own decision by that point, and will have met the main characters for the trilogy). Make up your own mind. Go ahead, I’ll wait. I hope you’re one of us.

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Writer’s difficult decisions mirror human life

THE HARDEST PART OF WRITING…

is what you put your characters through, to tell your story.

Yes, this is what you created and delivered them for. They are your babies, but they were always meant for sorrow, because no good story avoids sorrow.

Writers of fiction are making a point: if I extract the relevant parts of human life, and clean them up so they are tidier and cleaner than the mess that can be real life, can I show that the story has a moral, something I’m trying to say?

There is so much to tell

that it is impossible to tell it all within the confines of the longest epic poem or novel series.

The clock starts counting seconds even before the birth, and doesn’t stop until reaching ‘The End.’

And still the writer, even the one who creates a world which encompasses the whole life of a character in one piece, must discard MOST of that life, and pick only a few high points, hoping to use those to tell you something.

Stories teach

So what will the writer choose to teach?

And what pieces of that character’s life will the writer use as salutary or insalubrious examples the Reader should consider following?

Not the boring parts, not necessarily the exciting parts.

But often the points where the character, a relative unknown to even the author at its conception, makes mistakes. BIG mistakes. Very BAD decisions.

And when we get to creating and writing those mistakes, we may suddenly find that we really wouldn’t have ever done this to our now-child if we had been thinking more clearly – because we love them, and this will HURT. A lot.

Not a bad place to be – as a parent or an author

Our writing choices are better if we care.

If we are going to hurt, damage, punish, instruct a character, it better be worth it.

To both of us.

But it is natural, first, for the author to flounder about, wondering if this torture can be bypassed, whether it is really necessary, whether we should be the ones to inflict the damage.

It’s a testament of a kind to Pride’s Children

that every single time I have hit this point, I have steeled myself, stuck to the original plan which came to me in one piece, ‘vouchsafed’ as I like to say only to me, and written through the pain (mine) and the sorrow (theirs) because that IS the story.

Characters become very real to you when you spend twenty years with them, which I will have spent sometime this year.

They also become more determined, and more pigheaded, more what you made them, more willing and able to carry the burden.

Like the actor chosen to play the villain, they have gotten enamored of their role, and are giving it everything they have.

They would be quite annoyed if the author watered down their part – which now belongs to them and is their chance to shine on stage.

I have enjoyed very much the preparation of Shakespearean actor Anthony Sher, which he writes about in The Year of the King, as he prepares for the role of King Lear. Whether the king is the true villain of the play or not, his decisions are momentous and affect the lives of all the other characters.

Actors live for such a role.

My characters are fictional, but…

Sure they are. I tell my brain that all the time. It doesn’t listen.

No real people are harmed by whatever I do to them.

Yup.

So why do I keep finding myself at this point, where I have to justify to myself what I am about to write them through?

Is it more that it exposes MY worldview?

There is some of that.

But I sat down with this feeling today and realized I get my worldview from the world, the one we all live in.

I’m not one of the experimental science fiction authors who create entire races of very different characters (Olivia Butler does a superb job of this).

I strive for such absolute realism in my writing, from ‘right behind the characters’ eyeballs,’ that you will feel this happened to you – until you close the book.

I want you to live another LIFE

I want you to think very hard about what you would do if faced with the kind of consequences that are determined by the behavior I’m espousing by showing you a character doing it.

And be glad, or maybe experience regret and longing, that they don’t actually happen – to YOU.

So this is my job.

And I go back to it with all my prejudices reinforced.

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Does love conquer all? With kids?

DO PARENTS OWE THEIR CHILDREN RELIGION?

The following is an exchange that occurred because of a short story posted on Wattpad, and a corresponding circumstance in Pride’s Children (though it may be years before you understand that last statement).

It is my own personal opinion, based on my observations of my family and the families of friends, meant as a conversation starter; usual commenting rules apply.

Where are the obstacles, by definition?

When a Muslim marries a Hindu, or a Christian a Jew, or even an atheist a religious person, it is often seen as the great triumph of tolerance over prejudice, and there are rainbows and falling stars.

When children come, this tolerance can take three nasty turns (not always, of course, but they are BUILT IN to the situation):

1) ‘allowing the other parent to choose the child’s religion’ suddenly becomes ‘bringing up MY child opposite to MY beliefs,’ or

2) bringing the children up as both (an impossibility), or

3) bringing up the children, of parents who were brought up with something, to be brought up with nothing.

Having one parent keep his or her hands off the religious education of the children, and ‘support’ the other’s efforts, doesn’t fool anyone: the kids know Daddy doesn’t believe what Mommy believes – kids are not stupid.

The final option – NOT having children – is a partial solution which must be strongly enforced for the whole duration of life by BOTH partners – a big leap when you’re 20 or 30.

Consequences of attraction.

Sadly,

giving the kids a vague idea of each parents’ beliefs and ‘letting them choose when they grow up,’

is the most common result, accompanied by the next generation not really having much of anything.

Love does NOT conquer all, not very long.

The situation often comes about because opposites are very attractive among people in the marriage marketplace, for a while. People fall in love before they think about the consequences, and the farthest thing from their mind may be adding small expensive bundles of work to a free-spirited relationship.

But the drive to procreate in your own image is powerful, or people wouldn’t spend time and money trying to conceive when Nature hasn’t made them co-fertile.

Solutions?

Think before you get married.

A LOT.

Spend a lot of time with your intended’s family – get to know each other’s actual beliefs – as distinct from the ones you are trying out in college or work.

Talk about these things – once you have that baby, it’s too late.

Have the guts not to go into a marriage hoping ‘things will all work out.’

Respect, love, and tolerance for other people’s beliefs is important in a society such as ours where many religions – and non-religious people – coexist, mostly peacefully.

The disappearance of religious beliefs and practices developed over thousands of years, which help us understand our place in the universe, and cope with the inevitable blows of life, shouldn’t happen by accident.

If you don’t believe – fine. Your choice. And religion has done plenty of damage when applied autocratically.

I just think we owe our children more than Oops!

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Blast from my past in nuclear submarines

BUT THIS COULD BE COCOA BEACH, FLORIDA

Where we stayed when we worked for the navy.

Well, my EMPLOYER, Johns Hopkins U. Applied Physical Laboratory did contract work for the navy, and people from the lab were always going to Florida to participate in testing for the submarines, and write the report.

If you were there for a three week DASO, the Lab put you up at a condo on the beach if you chose – cheaper than a hotel room.

You can’t make this stuff up.

I live at a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), and it’s chock full of fascinating men and women with amazing histories in finance, academia, business, the military, … you name it, we’ve probably had one.

There is a small but active community of ex-submariners, and, because of my first job after grad school, at JHUAPL, where I did computational work for the Navy re subs and missiles, I have a tiny membership in the real community.

We worked for the Navy, but as civilian contractors, and I had the interesting job at APL for three years, during which time I participated in DASOs (Demonstration and Shakedown Operations) on various submarines down at Cape Canaveral, Florida, in the Eastern Test Range.

Most of the jobs for a DASO were day jobs: you showed up at the boat before the Captain got on, because the minute he did, the gangplank rolled up behind him, and anyone not already on board was out of luck; you got off when the boat came back to port in the evening. DASOs lasted three weeks; then the boat went back to base and switched crews – but the APL contractors usually didn’t do both halves.

A favorite for newer contractors was to ride back from underwater tests in the conning tower, and if you were lucky you got fluorescent and flying fish in the bow wave.

One of the boats I was on was the USS Ulysses S. Grant.

Today, through a real submariner who lives in our retirement community, I have in my hands that ship’s log book. He has stories – he was in the Navy for a full career.

An interesting read – which never mentions the lowly help (why should it?) – but lists important visitors, different crews, commanding officers – and anecdotes contributed by the crew.

But it brought a whole piece of my life back – as if I were standing on the dock.

BTW, if you were not ON board when the captain arrived in the morning, you were out of luck: they rolled up the gangplank after him – and away we went to sea.

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Another story: Standing on the deck of a nuclear submarine coming back to the dock at night, watching the launch of a Delta rocket at night against the dark sky.

And another: my husband, who did research in Top Secret submarine stuff (my clearance was only Secret) came to visit me at the Cape once, and he got to go on a tour of the sub I was working on – on family day – as my spouse. His only time on one of them! At the dock.

And a third: I first heard The Gambler, Kenny Rogers, going out to sea in the Fire Control room – one of the crew was playing it.

One more: being aboard a British nuclear submarine for a missile launch: the Eastern Test Range had the equipment to follow the instrumented, nuclear-warheadless missile on its flight, so they tested in the US. Imagine the reaction when the whole submarine went a small distance down into deeper water as the missile went into the sky – conservation of momentum, and equal forces, but very unequal masses.

Memories are funny.

Some of the above – though MANY years ago – kept purposefully vague.

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Leave your own stories to share.

Is deep research a writer’s peril?

RESEARCH IS GOOD, RIGHT?

Writers like me spend a LOT of time doing research to set a novel in time and place, to select the best time of day for a scene, to subtly (we hope) slip a reader into an alternate reality where we are going to tell a story that should keep the reader turning pages far into the night.

To create a world that the characters and the reader can explore for a certain distance off the main story path, we have to know a LOT more than the reader, or the shallowness of the setting will show through the words somewhere, and the lack of fit among all the pieces set down as background will leak through into the reader’s subconscious, taking the reader out of the story to wonder ‘if that could even happen.’

NETHERWORLD has several movies in it, and my current section is the shooting of a movie based on certain parts and unanswered questions in the life of the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, author of what is commonly known as ‘the Alice books’:

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and

Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.

The amount of ‘information’ out there on this popular author (and mathematics teacher at Christ College, Oxford) is staggering.

There are entire societies dedicated to his books, his life, his work.

He is a well-known historical character, and many others have staked their reputations on writing about him.

What’s my motivation?

Even non-actors have seen an actor in a movie ask the director, What’s my motivation?

Because HOW you say something, in fact, how you use your whole body to say something, depends on WHY you say it, the motivation that gives the lines written by the scriptwriter a connection to the whole world of the movie.

Good actors go much deeper than that to create their own version of a character, to use their time on screen to make us believe the character so deeply that it’s a shock to see that actor – in a different role! “But he was so good at…” is a common reaction.

A good movie has more

The motivation for making that movie at all, for expending what can be millions of dollars on a particular story, for bringing that story to a fully-realized version that may some day be an immersive 3-D experience for viewers who participate in the movie as a character (we’re getting close with virtual reality – it’s only a matter of sufficient processing power in computers), depends on whether the investment can be justified, made to pay because there are so many people, worldwide, who want to watch (and later, to be).

Go on about how the good stories are distillations of an internally consistent process that requires knowing all the possibilities – and choosing the ‘best’ for the gut of the movie. And the actors work hard at figuring out why.

Which brings me full circle to research

And a character of mine, an actor, doing the research for a role he will play, but deep research, research that goes beyond reading the materials handed to him, or discovered in the easy-to-get-to online sources such as Wikipedia (a huge resource I support every year).

But the characters all come from me, so if they need to do research, guess who’s doing it for them?

It takes time.

It takes time away from the writing. That’s the dangerous part.

It is real research, research into primary sources such as biographies, sometimes histories.

And it is research that has to be stored, savored, coordinated (all those sources don’t agree with each other), until it is used to produce action in the character in the novel – and writing of that action by the author of the character in the novel.

Well, I have been down the rabbit hole again. Found all kinds of fascinating things, some of which I did not dig deep enough to find when I set this section of NETHERWORLD up, years ago. The slow brain makes it even slower.

And now, darn it, I have to figure out how to use all that research to give the character his motivation, and the readers something that keeps them turning pages late into the night.

My kind of author works hard for the readers she craves.

We aim to please.

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Writing a silk purse from a sow’s ear

I DON’T WRITE CLEAN COPY

For my kind of extreme plotter, you might think everything would be planned down to the last jot and tittle – before writing.

It seems that way for some scenes I’ve written – I know exactly what I’m doing when I go in, and then I do it, polish a bit, and get out – and we’re done.

Because having the content and the outline and the knowledge of where a scene will go can make it easier to see what fits and what doesn’t, as I go.

Unfortunately, they’re the minority of my scenes.

Another set of scenes takes more work because there is a lot to include, and the correct path through all the necessary points can take me a while to organize.

And then there’s 32.2.

The sow’s ear of the title.

Oddly enough, a scene for which I had plenty of content.

But it came out of my head very oddly, as almost a single long piece of dialogue, a phone call no less, with the banter between Kary and her best friend writing itself as I eavesdropped.

Very realistic – I could SEE them talking, SEE the little connections, the friendship, the gentle poking when one person thinks they know better what the other needs, a scene you might overhear at brunch, or in a park, or while watching the children on the swings at the playground…

And it was wrong

Very wrong.

Boring – to me!

And I could see a reader doing the thing writers dread: skimming. Skipping ahead to see where the meat starts again. Not seeing the content because it was in the form of a dialogue between two women.

Just getting to the realization of what was the problem took me days.

Because there was nothing obviously wrong, and I write dialogue all the time, and it wasn’t particularly bad.

Good dialogue doesn’t guarantee great scenes

Almost a thousand words of good, realistic but compressed dialog.

You hate to give that up – and it took quite a bit of practice to be able to do that in the first place, create dialogue that gives the reader necessary knowledge in the form of a story.

I almost did what I never do: let it stand, leave it to the beta reader, move on and come back to it later, live with what I knew was highly imperfect (in my standards) because I had no idea what was going on that produced it.

But I did know:

The brain fog was thick on the ground and I couldn’t see over, through, or around it.

And this is what I produce when I can’t think: ‘almost’ writing.

It depended too much on the reader’s previous knowledge.

There was not enough scene-setting.

And it repeated things the reader already knew – a capital sin if done in any quantity: do NOT give readers an excuse to start skipping!

I bit the bullet, lowered the dose of a medication I thought might be the culprit for the recent fog increase (it was), waited for a couple of days until, thankfully, the head cleared.

Then I took all of the scene except for the initial paragraph, and put it in another file in the Scrivener project, fully prepared to dump the whole thing if necessary.

And I was able to get back to work – because I was darned lucky.

My greatest fear in life is that I will reach one of these points, know something is wrong, and never more be able to do what I’ve been doing to analyze, understand, and, fingers-crossed, improve what I’ve written, from the first gasp to the final zinger.

I’ve had this happen before to a smaller extent – I had to learn to write every kind of scene (and there are more kinds, I’m sure) – and since I’m still writing, have emerged every time.

But brain fog is more insidious than exhaustion, and you can’t just rest it away.

Brain fog scares me

It alters my essential self.

This time I found the cause, and it was something I could change. There are consequences, of course – in this case more physical pain – but I have other alternatives for physical pain, even if I’m trying not to use them (to spare liver and kidneys from having to disassemble those molecules and get rid of them); in the worst case, I can just tough it out, do some of the physical things such as stretches or (in non-pandemic times) immerse myself in the therapy pool’s warm water, wait until it passes if it has a specific cause…

Do not recommend your favorite remedy for brain fog – thanks, but I’ve tried an awful lot of things over the years that didn’t work, and I don’t have the stomach to try more. Assuming you even have one – brain fog is a particularly difficult ‘symptom’ to treat because it is so vague and amorphous and non-specific.

It’s a Catch-22: you need to be able to think to work yourself out of brain fog, and you can’t think until you’ve worked yourself out of brain fog.

Sometimes the passage of time helps.

Sometimes the disappearance of a physical illness, or its successful treatment or management, helps.

Sometimes – the scary part – you’ve lost that part of yourself and it isn’t coming back.

And sometimes you figure it out.

Once that cleared

I took a hard look at what I had been ‘creating,’ that conversation that repeated things unnecessarily.

And I got to work.

I went back to process: I’ve detailed my Left Brain righT method before; I still use it, tweaked a bit but usually to add a detail, not change something already there, seven-and-a-half years later.

Step by step I followed my own prompts for considering, choosing, refining – including much smaller amounts of that big chunk of realistic dialogue – listening to the bits as I locked them in (to make sure the language flows), defining the structure, doing the work I call writing fiction, and little by little, 32.2 emerged from the shadows of a disaster.

It started doing what it was supposed to do, and I got less scared.

Until the next time.

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