Traveling with a nonstandard mobility device

An Airwheel S8 is a mobility device

THE BIGGEST ADVENTURE IN THREE YEARS

I haven’t posted for a while for a very important reason: traveling to the Boulder area for our son’s and daughter-in-law’s wedding reception. (I am recovering slowly from the trip, and am finding my writing very much more basic this week – bear with me.)

The wedding was a lovely Zoom event a year ago – it wasn’t deemed safe to have it in person before vaccines in the middle of a pandemic – and under Colorado law, the kids could do the actual wedding themselves by signing a form. They chose to do that, and did a wonderful job of vows with a backpacking theme – talking about how and why they packed the items for a trip.

This year, vaccinated and safer, the wedding reception took place in a venue with the Boulder mountains in the background, family and friends from all over present.

The ceremony was out on the grass in the setting sun – I made it to a seat somehow, and was misty-eyed at the very personal and heartfelt words. Big smiles by everyone. They make a great couple, and have been together a long time now.

So we had to get there

Our son had asked if I wanted a mother/son dance after his wife’s father/daughter dance and theirs as a couple, and I said yes.

I can’t stand very long, or walk very far, and am extremely awkward and unstable on my feet.

So of course I said yes – these things are important, and don’t happen very often.

If at all possible, you do them, because regret is the cost of not trying.

We didn’t have time or occasion to practice before, so it was a one-time event.

My secret weapon was Maggie

Maggie (for the magnesium alloy she’s made from, and the maglev motors that run her) is my Emotional Support Robot Mini Riding Horse – and my bionic legs – and my mobility device.

An Airwheel S8, she is a bicycle seat on a hoverboard. We are a proud member of a subgroup on the Electric Unicycle Forum (even though she has two wheels).

She can be used sitting or standing, lasts a long time and distance on one charge, and I use her around the retirement community inside (elevators and long carpeted halls) and outside (on the Davis greenway, sidewalks, and bike paths). I don’t stand – but the kids and others have tried that without problems.

The trick was getting Maggie there and back – on a plane

Without damage.

To Denver International Airport and back to Sacramento.

I follow John Morris’s Wheelchair Travel blog, and knew this wasn’t going to be simple.

Why? For a bunch of reasons:

  • Maggie is not a wheelchair nor a scooter, devices most people are more familiar with as mobility devices.
  • Maggie is electric.
  • Maggie has lithium batteries built in.
  • The batteries cannot be removed – the procedure for replacing one is long and involved.
  • Most devices travel in the cargo hold with the luggage, including my walker of many years, Sylvia.
  • Most people have never seen an Airwheel S8 (I am a ham; I do demos at the drop of a hat, and talk about my mobility device to anyone who evinces the most minor interest).

My greatest fear was showing up at the airport in Sacramento

and having a particular crew (the pilot’s word is final) or counter staff refuse to take her on the plane at all.

The next biggest were having my mobility device damaged during the trip, refused passage on the way back, or become lost baggage. My very sturdy walker has been affected by the many trips she’s been on, and the bracket I put on the front to hold a basket was broken off on a trip long ago. I breathe a sigh of relief every time the walker shows up again while deboarding.

If Maggie stops working (it has happened – this is my second Maggie), she becomes a 32 lb awkwardly shaped piece of metal and plastics that barely rolls.

There have been a number of incidents with cheap lithium batteries causing fires on planes and in other places, so I understand their concern – in principle. But electric wheelchairs travel all the time.

If absolutely necessary, I would have dragged myself all over the wedding venues with my walker. But what would happen to Maggie if I couldn’t take her with me was a big concern, because airports are not a place you can store things and time would be limited (as well as my energy, which is my constant battle to preserve).

Preparation before hand was key

I spent a lot of time a couple weeks prior to the trip (over an hour on the phone) talking to the person the Accessibility phone at the airline had at the other end. We sort of figure out that it would probably work. This person said a ‘note’ would be placed in my file for the trip.

A few days before the trip, I got anxious. I went to my reservation to see if the note said what it was supposed to say. There was no note. The only codes were the ones I had written into the form when buying the tickets – informing the airline that I needed a wheelchair in the airports, and that I can walk enough (hanging onto seatbacks) to get to my seat, so I wouldn’t require the on-board airline wheelchair to get to my seat.

Nothing about Maggie, nonstandard devices, batteries… all the things we discussed. Nothing I could mention to a gate person or counter person.

So I called again – and this time got someone who said she was Accessibility – and didn’t recognize the name of the other person! At the same phone number. Not a good start.

The second person was much more helpful for a specific reason: with a little searching, and knowing the airline website, she was able to find the specific wording which would let me take Maggie onboard, either in the wheelchair closet or in the cargo. I printed it all out, highlighted the relevant sections, and brought it with me.

I didn’t need to use it – but it could have gone the other way.

The airport trip was easier because I have an Assistant again

She was available to drive us and our luggage to the airport when we needed it. And she promised to bring Maggie home if something went wrong and my mobility device wasn’t allowed on the plane. Fortunately, I didn’t end up needing to call her back.

Sacramento was an easy airport to navigate: it was agreed I would use Maggie to get through TSA, and all the way to the gate, where the final decision cabin/cargo hold would be made – by the crew/pilot.

So far so good – and then, at the crowded gate (we were plenty early), the gate person told me the crew said there was no room on board for my device.

First big hurdle

The crew person who came out said there was no room. But I was allowed to go down the ramp to the plane on Maggie.

And at the door, I asked to be allowed to see the closet.

At this point I’m sort of holding up boarding (btw, disabled people are supposed to board before ANYONE, including First Class passengers, VIPs, people with small children – a right more honored in the breach than in the observance), so they let me on (I’m hanging onto anything I can at this point, with Maggie about to go down to the cargo hold), and I see that the only reason they won’t put here there is because it has a bunch of crew luggage.

So I state unaggressively but unambiguously that my wheelchair device has priority over crew luggage. I may have asked if they wanted to see the printout of their website written information; I don’t remember – the counter people didn’t want to see it either.

At that moment one of the pilots stepped out, and asked if he could help. I explained, said Maggie could be picked up with one hand. The flight attendant removed the luggage, the pilot placed Maggie easily in the closet, and the hurdle was over. I am very grateful – but still shaking – as I make my way to my seat, hanging on to seatbacks. My husband dealt with the carry-on luggage, sending the walker to the cargo hold, and putting our other stuff in the overhead bin.

After landing there was a wheelchair waiting for me, so I pushed Maggie in front of me through the very large airport, down to baggage claim (on a train!), the attendant got us to the door, our youngest daughter was waiting in the cell phone parking lot with the car, and the hotel room was actually there (you can bet I had called, prepared them for late arrival, and reminded them I needed an accessible room – but the ride was still spent with me worrying). I made sure to tip the wheelchair attendant very well – he was very helpful and stayed until we were in the car.

The wedding festivities went well

Except for me having zero energy, and being totally wiped out most of the time, everything in Boulder allowed me to participate as much as I could, because our youngest daughter rented a car and did the driving, all of it, and we fit.

At the actual reception venue (not designed at all for disabled people), I either used Maggie as a live cane (she is very stable that way, if a bit too short), or people carried her in for me and I grabbed whatever I could for support, and we managed.

The mother/son dance went incredibly well – I assayed a twirl at the very beginning, and it worked beautifully, so we did a bunch more, and it was really great to dance for the first time in years. I’m hoping someone has video!

The return trip was fraught

for a bunch of reasons, including Denver having a huge number of visitors leaving over the weekend (we were grateful our flight was on Monday).

We got there early. The counter help person took a snapshot, and texted the request for the on-board cabin to the gate. First step accomplished.

But when we navigated the busy airport and TSA and train with another wheelchair attendant, and got to the gate early – there was no one there, and the food venues didn’t have anything I could eat. I ate an Atkins bar, and prepared to wait.

When the gate person showed up, it was a repeat of the first boarding, with none of these people having seen my device (usual), or the form passengers are supposed to supply to go with their device to the hold (they said they had NEVER seen one – it’s on the website), and they started telling me the closet was too small.

Again, very unaggressively, I explained that Federal regulations require a certain size closet, and that Maggie was smaller than those dimensions. They came back with saying that there are many different aircraft, and not all have the closet (even if they have the number of seats that require the closet – 100), and that they didn’t think the closet door was wide enough.

It all felt as if they were trying to prepare me to be disappointed. At this point I’m completely wiped out by the trip, the wedding, the problems at the hotel (the only accessible feature I needed was a shower seat – and it turned out to be coming off the wall!), the physical and mental gymnastics required to be a disabled person in an able world.

Back to me

I managed to pretend to be positive. To do my little demo of how well Maggie serves me. To be polite and chatty with the gate person, the flight attendant who basically told me it probably wouldn’t happen but they were working on it and that the door was too narrow, and the pilot who came out and said all the same things, but that they were going to try.

This time I was allowed to be the first person down the ramp.

When I got there, I was prepared for failure, but of course the closet door was plenty wide (they have to be able to fit a passenger’s folded manual wheelchair into that space), the on-board aisle wheelchair was there, in the closet, and completely folded out of the way – and Maggie went in sideways through the door with space to spare.

I dragged myself to my seat, shaking again, and somehow survived the flight home, the wheelchair from the plane pushing Maggie in front of me, baggage claim, and was lucky enough to have the Lyft driver I arranged for as soon as we were at baggage claim and the suitcases were coming out arrive in three minutes, manage to load all out stuff, and get us home.

Feedback to the airline

Five days later I found the energy to fill out their survey.

I hate those things. They want you to check all kinds of points worded so only a horrible person would complain – but I put enough into the text boxes where allowed to give them a picture of what happened, to say everyone was very nice (they were – even when saying no a lot), and suggested that more on disabled passengers, wheelchairs, the on-board closet, and nonstandard devices should be done in training (knowing they all get periodic passes through it), and submitted. I doubt it will do any good, but you never know – I’ve done what I could.

My husband submitted his version – and he is a very supportive man, and didn’t step in and take over at any point (much appreciated) who knows exactly what I go through – he had some extra comments, again, very polite – and we’ve both done what we can with their awkward survey.

The future – I plan to travel more, and Maggie is an essential part

I hope this post gets shared (and I will ask John Morris if he wants a version for his site) because other people need to be prepared.

It was a constant obstacle course. Things are designed for able-bodied people. Any one of several hundred points on the track could have been the sticking point. Everything that eventually worked could have failed. I am grateful to have gotten there and back – and still exhausted.

Everything takes more energy and time when you are disabled – and you have far less energy than everyone else. Not fair, but it is what it is.

I saw no one else in their own wheelchair in either airport. That was surprising.

I’m sure the system is so daunting most physically disabled people just don’t try it most of the time. The mental strain is significant – and I can see how hard this would have been on someone less coherent than I was (and I was not doing well), or with other problems processing crowds, noise, and roadblocks.

I thought a wheelchair attendant was the key to getting through TSA efficiently (I cannot imagine what shape I would be in after standing in line – sitting on Maggie for any length of time is not great, especially if we aren’t moving), but it isn’t, and I think, after pushing Maggie, live, in front of me through corridors, trains, and elevators, it would be easier if I just rode her, while pushing the walker in front of me. But the attendant was critical in dealing with luggage, saved some of my energy, knew exactly where to go, and would have been helpful had anything gone wrong. Six of one, half a dozen of the other – and tip money very well spent. And an extra pair of hands is nothing to be sneezed at.

But most of all, I am incredibly grateful for those who

have fought all the previous battles:

  • Making sure there is an on-board closet
  • Making sure there is a wheelchair that fits in their aisle to get a passenger who can’t walk to their seat
  • Creating the Americans with Disabilities Act and its protections
  • Creating the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), [which] prohibits discrimination in airline service on the basis of disability – and all its protections
  • for other bloggers like John who write about the joys and perils
  • and who provide feedback constantly on how air travel meets or falls short of these ideals for every day travelers.

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Please excuse my lack of editing this down into something shorter and more pithy – I am still not recovered, and this feels below my standards in many ways, but if I don’t get it all down now, much will lose its immediacy.

Please feel free to pass this on.

Please contribute your own thoughts and experiences and suggestions.

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Is your book optimistic or pessimistic?

Or over-engineered?

WHAT IS YOUR DEFAULT POSITION AS A WRITER?

Why do we read?

To learn about the world and to learn about our potentialities as humans.

Really.

To read a book is to live part of another life.

Optimist or pessimist is a question I ask books.

Is your book ultimately depressing or uplifting?

Even horrible books can raise spirits, especially by the end of the book. The Diary of Anne Frank does that.

It’s a value judgment.

Doing some research, I spent time reading the Top Reviews for Karin Slaughter’s Pretty Girls (2016).

Top reviewers are the ones who get the most comments or upvotes; the first four pages had negative after negative review (it wasn’t until page 4 that I found two short positive reviews, from readers), many of those from reviewers you would love to get to read your book: Top 500, Top 1000, Vine Voice…

And those reviewers were appalled at the violence against women that was graphically depicted, over and over. ‘Gratuitous’ was used as a descriptor.

Many commented that the writing was good or adequate or competent (workmanlike would have been my assessment, from reading the Look Inside sample provided), but that the choice of subject matter left them sick to their stomach.

A depressing book – depressing author?

Ms. Slaughter is a NYT bestseller.

Apparently, previous books she wrote were not nearly as negative as this one; many of these reviewers commented they would not read another of her books.

Some commented they wished they could scrub their minds of the images, for which they could find no socially redeeming reasons.

Me, I wondered why they continued reading, even if they skimmed.

The optimistic book – optimistic authors?

SF can be pessimistic (dystopias) or optimistic.

Romance is usually optimistic, and those fans who like to read Romance want their ‘happily ever after’ (HEA) ending, and can be very unhappy with writers who don’t provide one. There is a subset of books which end, not with an HEA, but with a ‘happy for now’ (HFN). These books are still hopeful, but possibly more realistic – and also possibly open to sequels.

Thrillers and mysteries can be all over the map – but do deal with the grittier side of life, and more often are pessimistic or neutral, but possibly with an optimistic undertone, say, to a continuing detective’s life.

A special category is the detective who finds happiness

My favorite, obviously, is the definitely HEA ending of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey novels, ending with Busman’s Honeymoon, where Peter and Harriet marry, finally, and solve one last real mystery which sets the tone for their married life. Sayers wrote only two short stories about the pair after that, even though her series was popular and is still popular now.

During all the novels, there was still an optimistic cast to the series: there was a right and wrong, people had principles, and there were consequences – but mysteries were solved and things set ‘right’ where possible. Sayers went on to write theology, so her stories were optimistic because she believed in the possibility.

Jane Eyre is optimistic. Silas Marner is optimistic.

Huckleberry Finn is optimistic. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (Heinlein) is optimistic.

You write what you like

And I don’t like ultimately pessimistic books.

Almost every genre can be written either way; even serial killer Dexter is optimistic.

I just want to know that, at the end of the book, things are, or have the potential of being, better.

That covers a lot of territory, but the thing in a book that makes me pick another book by an author is that there was hope at the end.

So if you read what I write, you will be reassured that, whether you like exactly how I have arranged things to happen, there will be an upbeat end.

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Are you an optimist or a pessimist?

And does it show in what you read and/or write?

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Absolute right to tell doctor NO

DOES NOT APPLY TO PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCIES

YOUR BODY, YOUR LIFE

Even if you’re wrong.

I had a surgeon, the other day, refuse to do a minor procedure – WITHOUT EVEN MEETING ME – after talking to the nurse practitioner who examined me, because their ‘guidelines’ stated another procedure HAD TO BE DONE FIRST to rule something out.

Now before anyone gets all worried, it is a minor procedure which would improve my life significantly.

I didn’t say no – I asked for statistics.

Was told they had guidelines.

It is my very real experience in previous cases that ‘guidelines’ are often years out of date, because, as one doctor told me, “It takes time for the research to be incorporated into the guidelines.” Lots of time. A decade and a half in the previous case.

But even that is a red herring

I don’t know what the statistics are in this case, but I’m guessing MOST of the ruling-out procedures are unnecessary. As in, don’t discover anything that needs being attended to in the majority of cases.

In the case of normal reasonably-healthy people, going through a ruling-out procedure is a minor inconvenience, the loss of a day or two of their time, and an allowable use of their medical leave (if they’re working).

FOR DISABLED PEOPLE WITH NO ENERGY, EVERY procedure

carries risks and an amazingly high load of days lost and physical inconvenience, minor and major misery, time, calling in of favors, arranging…

You name it.

And it is very reasonable to 1) ask if something is STRICTLY necessary, and 2) supported by research and statistics which show the procedure is worth the enormous effort it costs that disabled person.

If a restaurant meal is $50 for one person, and $50,000 for another, it is reasonable to ask first whether the second person wishes to pay that much (this is what prices on menus are for, among other things).

Not taking that into account in medical procedures is the equivalent of saying, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

So you can’t eat it, even if you’re hungry.

The ADA Factsheet states:

The ADA requires that health care entities provide full and equal access for people with disabilities.


This can be done through:

  • Reasonable Modifications of Policies, Practices, and Procedures. Adjusting policies, practices, and procedures, if needed, to provide goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations.

At the end of the fact sheet there is a feedback form. Where it asks Is the information useful to you? I checked NO.

Where asked How could the usefulness be improved? I answered:

“Reasonable modifications (or changes) to policies, practices, and procedures” does not address RECOMMENDED procedures used to RULE OUT a possibility, when it isn’t a strict requirement, would be much more difficult for the disabled person to satisfy than for a normal healthy person, and is not wanted by the disabled patient – who understands but does not consent to the recommended procedure, and is thus prevented from having a service they DO need and want.

Where asked What are the most important changes we could make? I answered:

Directly address the fact that, for disabled people, things can be MUCH more difficult to do because of the disability itself (which in my case includes very little energy in a day), and it is not fair to insist they meet the same RECOMMENDED but not STRICTLY NECESSARY requirements an able person is presented with.

And where asked What other factsheets do you think we should write? I answered:

How to lower the barriers which prevent a disabled person from getting a necessary service/procedure when these barriers are ONEROUS to a disabled person compared with an able person.

Do I expect any help from the ADA people?

Not really.

The wheels of government move slowly in the best of cases, and there will be pushback and talk about ‘lowering standards’ and interfering with ‘recommendations by doctors and medical societies.’

And, more ominously, ‘disabled people not knowing what is good for them.’

Change would likely take longer than it does to update those guidelines they are so fond of, produced by a medical society, 15 years after the research changes, to CYA those who might be sued if they don’t follow ‘standard procedures.’

I’m pretty sure they were not thinking about the EFFECT of the above on a disabled person with limited capacity – just imagining what it would be like for a person like themselves (rarely disabled) to go through the procedure, say, with an emotional support miniature horse (yes, they are specifically included, but might be excluded if not housebroken).

I’m furious because there is no recourse

This is the only version of the medical procedure I need within my medical services system.

It takes me a lot of energy to even write about it here; the actual recommended but not in my estimation strictly necessary pre-requisite to the procedure I need is one that would take over a week of ALL my time and energy to do – and I’m not sure I could manage its requirements anyway.

Finding an alternate to their clinic is beyond my capabilities.

The minor procedure would improve my life immediately but isn’t going to happen.

And I don’t think I’m going to get anywhere with the ‘feedback request’ from my medical providers – thought I may just send them this post.

As the disabled person

I should not have to fight over things like this, but should be asked my preference without having to go through the stress of fighting the surgeon who hasn’t even met me.

I have wasted enough time and energy on this already.

I hope I can continue to manage the problem.

And I wonder exactly what they think ‘informed consent‘ means when I do NOT consent.

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And, if you’re worried, I’m not taking stupid chances – I’m not planning on dying of something preventable.

Why do disabled people have to fight so hard for stupidities like this?

Why isn’t the able world asking how to help?

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Being present in the writing moment

Imaginary Circumstances

WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?

I need a win.

After much reflection, some of it in writing, other of it in the middle of the night, I have realized that the win, to be mine, has to come from me.

A real win is one you create yourself, the hard way, with blood, sweat, and tears. Since you EARNED it, you OWN it.

Since you created it, it can’t be taken from you (do remember your backups off site, though!).

Someone buying Pride’s Children PURGATORY – in paperback! – is a win, as is someone purchasing the ebook, or taking it out at Kindle Unlimited, especially when I haven’t done any marketing in ages. But it’s not something I have control over.

I had a recent win against Covid

As soon as the CDC said immunocompromised people would be on the short list for the early boosters, I asked my doctor AND my facility about it – to no avail. They said, “When we get it, we’ll let you know.”

But I started seeing other people with my same illnesses posting on FB about having already received the booster shot.

Regardless of how (I wouldn’t lie to get one, but don’t even know if others did, though there have been newspaper reports of lying), the key fact was availability.

So I nagged the doctor’s office, reminded them of my immune status, and they made it available. Then I arranged Medvan transportation, went and got the thing, suffered through the side effects (second day was quite flu-like, and I had more brain fog than I anticipated for the days after that), and, in another week or so, will feel I have done as much as possible to protect myself. And did NOT take that dose from someone getting their first vaccine.

So, win.

I finished a tricky chapter in Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD.

As I get toward the explosive end of NETHERWORLD, it is getting even more important to get it exactly right, because even less time separates the end of 2 from the beginning of 3 than separated the end of 1 from the beginning of 2, and every story-second counts.

Sending Chapter 35 off to my beta reader was a key step: it is the 3/4 mark in several ways, and I have been forced to make the tiny detailed decisions that make the difference NOW, and not in some writing future – ‘when I get to it.’

It’s getting harder and harder physically and mentally

I acknowledge that, and move on.

Restarting after the brain fog is always tricky, because I have to assume I’m past it before I’m sure I’m past it, and restarting is part of the process of getting past it. What I mean is that it takes a huge amount of psychic energy to restart, sort of like the difference between static and dynamic friction (starting to move a piece of furniture across carpeting is much harder than keeping it going once you start (so don’t stop!)).

Apply that pressure too early, and all it does is extend the downtime.

Wait too long, and situational depression sets in.

And there is always something else that need my limited attention ability – and seems more important just this minute.

So what?

I live with this, write with this, and have been at it for a very long time.

There are rumors on the horizon of research for long-covid that might explain another post-viral syndrome, ME/CFS’s problems, and it is possible that even after 31 years it might be helpful. Rumors – but this one has some interesting science behind it. We’ll see.

But, as the husband reminds me, even if it works it will be years before it is available, and I can’t let any of that time go to waste.

So I face the fact that there’s been a break, and get back to work.

Yesterday I took the first step:

I re-read what I have put together, in these brain-fogged days, by following process and trusting it will work as it has every time before – eventually.

And even though there’s one tiny part in the middle of the scene where a decision has to be made about an order of events, the rest is written.

And the end made me cry (actual written steps in said process: “DIG DEEPER – CRY” and “BECOME THE CHARACTER – WRITE WITH THE EMOTIONS RAW.”)

The character needs it, but I am the one with the whip, forcing change. It hurts.

Extra insight

Being present in the writing – mining my own experience: “HERE AND NOW; BEING PRESENT!”

I may work in imaginary situations, but if they don’t get treated as real, with me there, documenting as it happens, it never converts into something good.

From my Journal: “… is nice – but she needs extraordinary, and open to a degree she won’t be able to demand from him.” It is either there in someone, or it isn’t.

Voltaire said ‘the best is the enemy of the great.’

Many people think perfectionism keeps you from getting something finished and out the door and good enough.

But in writing something unique, it matters. Not that you become a perfectionist, and never get anything done, but that you not let ‘good’ or ‘good enough’ or even ‘good enough for government work’ keep you from achieving your own standards.

Because I hope my readers are the people who have those same standards.

If you are, you will know that about yourself.

THAT’s where the wins come from.

So back to the drawing board, salt mines, design board

While I still can.

Because if it’s meh, it costs me way too much to be worth it.

Chapter 36 is well started, and I am imbuing it with the frustration of writing in the middle of the challenging circumstances that are a pandemic which no one expected would last this long.

And a lot of the pain.

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If you look for it, something will pull you back to the task.

Can you relate?

What do you expect from your writers?

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Finagling past reality for fictional purposes

Will the real bridge AND CITY be insulted?

REALISTIC FICTION STARTS HERE

What it’s like to insert a fictional character into a historical event for the purpose of telling a story.

The basic question is unanswered: how to take over a historical event and change it.

Such as how to write a thriller with someone else as President!

So, it’s fiction, identified exactly as so in the beginning of the books, and mine to do with as I will.

I doubt someone has to get permission from the White House to change the President – or we wouldn’t have President Bartlett and The West Wing.

So I’m worried about nothing.

Except…

The general rule to changing a name has to be avoiding harm

If you are going to say something negative, it might bring a lawsuit if the named person or organization feels it affects their reputation in some way. And even if a court decides they are wrong, and you get an amazing amount of viral publicity out of this (google the Streisand Effect if you don’t remember it), it is going to take a lot of your time, effort, and money to fight such a suit – and there is no guarantee you will win.

Organizations can have in-house lawyers who eat problems like this for lunch. They will bury you easily – nothing personal – and have no mercy.

Please read books on writing and copyright, and know the legal definitions of Libel (Letter – ie, written – mnemonics mine, probably not original) and Slander (Spoken) and ask yourself, as a start, whether YOU would feel libeled or slandered if you were the subject.

If even you are uneasy, it may be easier to change the name that might get offended.

And you might have to change that to something that is significantly different in enough ways that no reasonable person would be offended (unpredictable).

Where’s this coming from?

For the purpose of NETHERWORLD, I sort of have to insult a famous movie or two, and some actors – in a minor way.

The insult consists in taking away an earned award – and awarding it to someone else, another movie.

The problem stems from everyone’s ‘knowledge’ of how Hollywood works, and what the major awards are from which organizations.

In the same way that President Bartlett is less interesting if he is Superintendent Bartlett of an unnamed or fictitious school district, an actor getting a life-changing nomination for, say, an Academy Award is more interesting than if I make up an organization called FCBM and award my character their Best Actor award.

Along with ‘The White House’ you get an amazing amount of the reader’s foreknowledge of how things work there – which saves a lot of words and explanations.

Along with ‘an Oscar’ you get the same kind of response – red carpet, photographers, exotic borrowed clothing for beautiful women… And the whole suspense thing dragged out as long as possible, followed by one winner and a lot of gracious losers who were honored to be nominated. It’s in your head already, and a writer just needs to mention a few points to trigger a full-blown award ceremony in your mind.

Why do I even bother worrying about this kind of stuff?

Well, first because I’m a worrier.

Second, because I want that identification and value from the awards. I agree with the organizations and the individuals that they are worth a great deal in a career.

Third, because the last thing I need in my state of energy and illness and retirement is some organization getting its panties in a twist because I, well, lied.

Fourth, because I hope to be famous and well-read (not synonymous) some day, I want to do it right, and not leave a mess for my heirs.

Fifth, because, as a writer, it’s my job.

**********

Have you had to face this choice? If so, how did you handle it? Have there been repercussions?

As a reader, have you ever wondered if the author has stepped over the line? Care to share?

**********

Loving scenes where the villain wins

HOW TO FEEL RIGHT ABOUT LETTING THE VILLAIN WIN

Some lights are seen better in contrast with dark.

NOT necessarily permanently – I don’t write downers or tragedies – but so you have done a good job when writing something that, in the long run, enhances the story.

A hero is a hero ONLY in comparison to the obstacle overcome.

The DIFFERENCE between the hero’s HIGH and the villain’s LOW is the STAKES of your story.

The answer to every objection is: Does it make the story better?

Even in a long book, you have only so much space to use the whole palette of emotions that go with your story. You don’t get to waffle about – you have to use what you have, and make it squeal.

This means that you have to be confident enough to do what the STORY needs, even when it hurts – or at least feels odd – when you get to the place where you have to write that the wrong character is winning.

For a while, you tell yourself.

Not permanently.

So the ‘winning’ characters have something to overcome that is worth writing about.

But plotting it to happen and writing the scene are different

I knew what I was going into when I chose to start writing this novel trilogy. It is in many ways a fairytale for grownups, something that is highly improbable in the real world.

But I figured out a way to make it come out the way I wanted.

I found a way to make the ending POSSIBLE.

And, as you might expect, it required some finagling to make it interesting and not trivial.

It required making ‘highly improbable’ ALMOST ‘impossible.’

And then doing the writing to make it happen.

Believably.

To me. Who am picky about plausibility.

Because the characters need to change

Some of them do.

And change of direction requires the application of force.

Nobody changes unless they have to.

And these characters had no reason to go looking for change, except that I wanted them to.

The bigger the change, the bigger the applied force needs to be

The applied force is the stakes, and I needed to make the stakes big enough to make a couple of very stubborn characters change, so it’s really their fault.

But then I got to the actual writing

And I found I had to make the reasons for change credible because the characters had turned into people I cared about.

So the actual writing of the lowest scenes not just in the middle novel, but in the whole trilogy, was hard.

Even though I knew it was coming and exactly what was going to happen.

I had to admit that there was no way around the difficulties I plotted in in the first place. Duh!

So I went ahead and wrote the first of these scenes, and it was as hard as I imagined it would be, and harder because I write linearly, and couldn’t postpone doing it now.

I am proud to say I survived

The story survived.

Some version of the characters survived.

The villain got to win.

At least for the time being, but mostly because it is necessary.

If you aren’t writing stakes you care about, I can’t see the point of putting in the kind of work this is taking. Because it is very hard to let the villain get away with things, even temporarily, because it is necessary to create that leverage for change.

And I had to give it the very best writing I could create – and make every tiny step in the win justified – because otherwise the villain is a straw villain, easy to overturn.

I hope it works for my readers after it works for me.

Or you guys are really going to hate me.

**********

How do you feel about this kind of story – as a reader?

If you’re a writer, have you ever had to do the same?

I’ve earned some kind of reward.

**********

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?

**********

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.

**********

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?

**********

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.

**********

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.

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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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