Update: Puppies, mostly

Four weeks old!

Boy 2 makes a brave foray into the world.

We’re moving into the least stressful, least busy part of rearing puppies. Are the babies weaned yet? No, of course not, but they were already showing interest at three weeks and one day (Boy 4), or three weeks and four days (Boys 1 and 2), or four weeks (Boy 3). Many puppies aren’t interested until they’re five week old, or even six, or possibly even later than that, so it’s great to have puppies willing to try real food so early. Especially Tiny Boy 4, of course!

Ordinarily, it’s impossible to tube feed a healthy puppy past three weeks. The puppy is too strong and objects too vehemently, so you have to move to some other method. This is particularly exciting when (a) the puppy will not gain weight without extra formula, but (b) will not take a bottle. It’s dangerous to drip milk directly into the mouth from a syringe because the puppy can still aspirate formula into the lungs, even at three weeks, when he’s better at controlling the swallowing reflex. I’ve done it that way, and it can work — I had to handle Morgan’s little tricolor boy that way last year — but I hate taking that kind of risk.

Amazingly, Tiny Boy 4 was fine with tube-feeding even right up to the 4th week. I guess his infant brain might have sorted out the relationship between tube = not hungry. Classical conditioning is a wonderful thing. Or at least, a powerful thing, and wonderful if you can get it to work for you rather than against you. But naturally I would far rather have the puppy lap formula, which is much safer than putting formula in his mouth.

You try to get a very young puppy to lap formula like this:

  1. Get a syringe filled with formula
  2. Put the puppy on a towel on the counter, being very careful he can’t possibly fall off.
  3. Offer the puppy the tip of your finger.
  4. If he makes any kind of licking or sucking motion, dribble milk gently onto your finger and let him lick it off. You may also drip milk onto his tongue as he licks your finger.

This is much more likely to work than presenting a dish of formula, because suckling behavior does not resemble lapping behavior and the puppy will not know how to lap this early. The puppy wants to raise his head and find a nipple. You offer him a chance to lick formula off your finger held above his head, then lead the puppy’s head downward until he’s licking formula off your finger with his head down rather than up. THEN you try a saucer, and by “saucer” I mean a tiny jar lid because this is a very small puppy and saucers would be much too big.

And there we go, at three weeks and two days, Tiny Boy 4 was lapping milk out of a dish. Messily. Formula on his face, my hands, the towel, everywhere. But some certainly inside the puppy. At three weeks and four days, he was willing to take a little bit of puppy kibble softened in formula and then made into a very milky mash. Again, highly messy. Lots of cleanup. But very excellent movement toward eating real food and therefore retiring the tube, even if he was still tolerating tube-feeding.

Because Boy 4 was clearly willing to lap up a lot of formula even after nursing OR being tube-fed, I sharply increased the amount I was tube-feeding and offered more formula in a dish after every single nursing session, and by three and a half weeks, Boy 4 had stopped gaining barely 20 grams a day and gone up to close to 40 grams a day, and was finally looking less thin. As his ability to handle milky, mashed food is much better, I’ve finally been able to retire the tube, which is excellent.

Boy 4, contentedly asleep

I’ve also finally decided it’s safe to leave the puppies in the puppy room overnight rather than keeping them in the bedroom. They’re all too big for Leda to lie on one and accidentally smother him, they’re all going to be able to cope with cooler temperatures if one gets separated from the others, they’re all able to toddle around to find the others should they get separated. You can see from the picture above that I’ve made a small area outside the whelping box so that if they get out of the box, they won’t wind up on tile. Over the next week, that area will expand, plus I’ll flip the whelping box upside down and boom! it will become a den. Some puppies just love having a den, while others move toward the front of the room and never retreat to a den. Up to them; I always provide a choice. The key is to provide a chance for tiny puppies to toddle a short distance from wherever they were sleeping before they pee. The cleanliness instinct appears just about here, at three and a half to four weeks, and if you give the puppy a chance to move from the sleeping area to do his business, that supports the instinct to keep the den area clean and therefore smooths out the transition to actual housetraining, which of course does not start just yet, but will come very soon — next week, in fact.

Anyway, keeping the puppies upstairs at night does mean that I will have to go up a couple times a night and make sure Leda nurses them. She is possessive and doesn’t want any other dogs near her puppies; she wants to be in the room with them; but she’s not keen on nursing and would quit immediately if I didn’t make her do it. She decided that at three weeks, by the way, which sometimes happens. Good thing she’s a cooperative dog and willing to nurse them if I pick her up, put her in the whelping box, and make her lie down, which I’ve been doing at ten pm, midnight, two, and four. I’ll cut that to twice a night now.

And yes, she is going to have to tolerate other dogs interacting with her puppies, starting today. Morgan and Naamah are very keen to take on the role of big sisters. It’ll be a bit before I let the boys interact directly with the puppies, but my young adult females are completely trustworthy with tiny babies and will be fantastic for socializing these puppies. That will work much better than just leaving the whole job to Leda, who doesn’t want to nurse her puppies and is probably going to be avoiding them most of the time until they’re closer to completely weaned. In fact, when you hear someone say, “Puppies should be with their mother until eight weeks,” this is largely wrong, or at least not ideal. Many (not all, to be sure, but many) bitches want almost nothing to do with their puppies between five and nine weeks and spend bare minutes a day with the litter if allowed to choose. Socialization comes much more from littermates (bite inhibition) and young adult members of the pack (everything else), and that is why having a fair number of dogs that can interact with tiny babies is very helpful in every possible way. My young females are superbly gentle and kind with the tiny tots.

Meanwhile! Two chapters to go with Invictus. I’m off work until the summer session starts, which is June 6th, so I’m going to take a stab at finishing the draft of this manuscript THIS WEEK so I can MOVE ON to something else — anything else, the way I’m feeling now!

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Perfect books for First-Time Dog Owners


Of course this post caught my eye! That would have happened even if I didn’t have a litter of puppies right now, but naturally my interest was especially keen because of the puppies.

Sure, let’s see what’s here … oh, this is funny:

In this hilarious romp of a book about time-travelling historians, a cat named Princess Arjumand and a bulldog named Cyril are important characters. Cyril, the titular dog, is an adorable goofball. I am a complete pushover when it comes to four-legged creatures. So is Ned Henry, the main character who befriends Cyril and his human Terrence on a trip to the Victorian era. The scrapes that he gets into while trying to adjust to Victorian life on a boat with a dog are extremely entertaining. This book is proof that life is always better with furry friends, even if they cause you to be attacked by a very angry swan in the middle of the night.

This is an entertaining story, but while I liked To Say Nothing of the Dog, it’s a comedy of manners, which is not my favorite genre, plus I listened to the audio version which made the pacing seem slower than it actually is. So, basically, what I’m saying is, this one isn’t my favorite of Connie Willis’ books. I’m not sure what would be, in fact. I certainly haven’t read everything of hers by a long shot. Anyway, it’s not what I was expecting in a post about perfect books for first-time dog owners.

This one sounds good:

The main character in this book is a Lipan Apache teenager who can raise the ghosts of dead animals. She has a fabulous ghost dog sidekick named Kirby who protects her as she investigates a murder. 

That sounds like a fine idea for a story. You know what, now I’m thinking that ghost dogs may be numerous enough to focus a whole post just on them. I’ve got one in The White Road of the Moon, Dean Koontz has one in the Odd Thomas series, here’s one in this novel, what are some other ghost dogs that any of you can think of? Surely there are quite a few scattered hither and yon through fantasy novels.

This post does go on to make more practical suggestions, such as this one:

This is the most practical book on the list. Dr. Yin was a pioneering advocate for positive reinforcement training for dogs. In this book she lays out the theory of scientific and humane training and guides the readers to apply the theory to their training exercises.

Sounds like a fine choice, probably, though I haven’t read it. I have, however, read a heck of a lot of dog books, so I can suggest some titles that are in fact perfect for first-time dog owners. I’ll go further: If you’re not sure whether you want a puppy or not, then you owe it to yourself, your family, and every potential puppy you might ever get to read this book first, before you get a puppy

Ian Dunbar: Before and After Getting Your Puppy. This is the single book that EVERY FIRST TIME DOG OWNER SHOULD READ. If, after reading this book, you realize that honestly, a puppy is too much trouble for you right now, then that is GREAT. Rescue organizations are absolutely flooded with pets abandoned by people who thought they wanted a dog, but in fact wanted a stuffed toy; or who thought they wanted a Siberian Husky or Belgian Malinois or whatever, but found out that whoops! they absolutely did not have the ability to cope with such a demanding breed. Pet abandonment, not puppy production, is the big problem in the US right now and has been for the past thirty years. More like fifty years by now, probably.

The pet abandonment problem could be solved overnight if people stopped getting pets that do not and could never work for them.

But which dog breed would actually work for a person or family? Well:

Chris Walkowicz: The Perfect Match. This breed book is old and therefore missing a lot of newly-recognized breeds. On the other hand, it’s accurate and provides more than pretty pictures and platitudes. Walkowicz was an all-breed judge and she knew what she was talking about when it comes to breeds.

Right now, the Siberian Husky is a fad breed in my part of the US. This is terrible. Siberians are independent, disinclined to care about your opinion, very high-energy, have way too much of a sense of humor to be easy for the average person to train, and are canine Houdinis who see every fence as a puzzle and a fun challenge. They are delightful for the right family, but a disaster for the wrong family — and most families will find a Siberian a challenge at best and impossible at worst. A far easier breed, the Keeshond, is one among the many breeds that most people have never met and probably never heard of. Almost everyone who thinks they want a Siberian would do far, far better with a Keeshond. Walkowicz describes both breeds clearly and accurately so that people can perhaps change their mind and get a Keeshond instead of a Siberian.

And so on, of course, that was just a random example.

Here’s another great book to read before getting a dog:

Jean Donaldson: The Culture Clash. An amazingly interesting and useful book about how dogs think. There’s a little training, but that’s not the point of the book at all. This book is about psychology. People who understand dogs have a much easier time with their pet than people who really don’t, and who therefore keep attributing emotions and thoughts to the dog inappropriately. He’s being spiteful, she’s so stubborn, why can’t my dog just understand that running into the road is dangerous?

Over the past thirty years, I’ve worked with a whole lot of dogs and dog owners. It’s therefore become clear to me that many people operate on the implicit assumption that a dog secretly understands English plus has about the cognitive capacity of a human teenager, and then the owner blames the dog for problems that arise. A book like Donaldson’s nixes that assumption and helps people understand that actually, dogs are animals, and it’s the human’s job, not the dog’s job, to figure out what is causing problems and then solve those problems.

Nate Schoemer: This series of training videos. Here’s where to go for training, especially the handful of training issues that come up for practically all puppies and are so easy to deal with if you’re experienced, but so difficult if you’re working with your very first puppy, such as play biting and jumping up and whatever. Nate has a whole series of videos. First-time dog owners could save themselves many headaches and quite a lot of frustration by watching some of these videos before getting a puppy and then again as they start teaching the puppy the basic rules of the home.

Also, public service message, here is what every dog owner needs to know about dog health:

–Panting when not hot or anxious is a sign of PAIN. I don’t mean trivial pain. I mean serious pain.

–Shivering when not cold or nervous is a sign of PAIN. Same as above; shivering is a sign of excruciating pain.

–“Looking sad” or “looking depressed” is usually a sign of a PHYSICAL problem. Only if the dog’s long-time companion just died is “looking sad” likely to have an important emotional component.

–Suddenly clinginess or sudden hiding is usually a sign of a PHYSICAL problem. Only if there has been a major upset to the household is this sort of behavior change likely to have an important emotional component.

–Restlessness and an inability to settle is usually a sign of a PHYSICAL problem. Unless you have a Belgian Malinois, in which case it’s perfectly normal and won’t represent a sudden change in your dog’s behavior.

–Inappetence plus lethargy are frequently signs that something is seriously wrong and whatever that problem is, it’s probably going to get worse, so keep a very careful eye on your dog and get him to the vet if those signs do not resolve in short order. Any problem where your dog continues to act lively and happy is quite likely minor. Any problem that presents with both inappetence and lethargy is much more likely to be serious.

–Diarrhea is seldom a problem, but if there’s a lot of bloody diarrhea and it’s bright red or looks like raspberry jam, you are probably looking at hemorrhagic gastroenteritis and your dog will be dead by morning if you don’t move aggressively to get him treated. This problem happens out of the blue, can strike any dog of any age, and I personally know two people whose dogs died of this condition, so it’s something to have in the back of your mind. And you know the first signs of this problem? Yep: inappetence and lethargy.

–Sudden onset geriatric anxiety is typically a sign of a very serious physical problem. If the vet can’t find anything wrong, the odds are high that whatever problem has developed will become diagnostically evident sometime in the next two to six months, and it will be serious.

There, I feel better now that I’ve laid that out there. Hopefully none of you will ever need any of that information, but if you own dogs for any length of time, the odds are good something on this list will come up.

And seriously, if you’re thinking of getting a puppy, try taking a look at some or all of the books and videos linked above. You and your dog will both be happy you did.

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Sale: Death’s Lady Trilogy

As you know, Kuomat’s story, Shines Now, and Heretofore, is releasing May 21, and thank you very much to those of you who pre-ordered it. Shines Now has picked up a decent number of preorders, which I greatly appreciate because that will boost its rankings for the first few days after its release.

I’ve also hit Publish for the paper edition, so that should be live by the time you see this post, or at least sometime this weekend.

As you might perhaps expect, the original trilogy is going to be on sale for the next few days.

The Year’s Midnight is set to just $0.99

Of Absence, Darkness is set to $1.99

And As Shadow, A Light is set to $2.99

This is a different way to run a sale, because it’s the first time I’ve run a sale on a “wide” series rather than a series in KU. That means that I have to guess how far in advance to lower the prices because I can’t tell Amazon to lower the prices at midnight on the correct day. Instead, I have to lower the prices by hand and wait for Amazon to follow through, which usually takes only twenty-four hours or less but can (there’s a clear warning) take up to three days. I also have to go over to Draft to Digital and lower the prices there, and really I’m not sure at all how long they’ll take to re-set the prices on every possible platform, so more guessing. Also I’m dropping the prices at BVC just to be complete.

I’ve set up various promotion services starting the 20th and going through … hmm, looks like the 23rd. That’s why I’ve tried hard to drop the prices far enough ahead to make absolutely sure those promotions services will find the books discounted on the days they’re supposed to be discounted. Otherwise you lose the payment and don’t get the promotion.

I don’t expect a huge boost because the only way to get a big boost is by setting the first book free, which again, I can’t do because this series isn’t in Kindle Unlimited. But I’ll leave the prices down for a few extra days or maybe even a couple of weeks and see what happens. I won’t leave the prices down that low for long because — one more disadvantage of not having them in KU — I can’t set the royalties to 70% unless the prices are over $2.99.

But saying I don’t expect a huge boost doesn’t mean I don’t expect SOME boost. I’m hoping to see a decided uptick for the original trilogy and therefore fairly decent sales for Shines Now over the next few months.

And, regardless of everything else, I’m sure looking forward to seeing Shines Now go out into the world! I hope you enjoy it!

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Thoughts on Exposition by KSR, in Wonderbook: An Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff Vandermeer

So, Vandermeer’s Wonderbook is an interesting and unique book about writing.

I’ve only ever read one of Vandermeer’s novels, and “read” is a strong term because I didn’t like it much, just skimmed most of it, and don’t remember anything about it now. I think it was his Annihilation, but I wouldn’t even swear to that much. But this book about writing is neat. Not necessarily helpful – I don’t generally find books on writing helpful, just interesting. This one offers a lot to think about, with many snazzy illustrations. Also many sidebars on various topics, by tons of great writers, including, here, Kim Stanley Robinson, writing about exposition. That’s what I want to pull out today. Here are some excerpts from this sidebar, slightly edited for brevity:

Exposition is half of a binary term used mostly in writing workshops … its other half is called plot or dramatization. Exposition is therefore all the other kinds of writing that appear in a story – description, summarizing – and it is clearly the bad half of the binary, the thing to avoid. If it has to be done at all, it should be snipped into bits and distributed through the text so the story won’t be interrupted. Another way to say this is show, don’t tell, because plot always shows while exposition always tells.

None of this makes much sense. … the advice “show don’t tell” is a zombie idea, killed forty years ago by the publication in English of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, yet still wandering the literary landscape. …

Done well, exposition becomes a huge part of the pleasure of fiction, containing much of its specificity, texture, richness, depth. … Modes of writing go in and out of fashion. Nineteenth-century fiction contained more exposition than twentieth-century fiction. Often a prominent narrator would comment on the action, detail settings or histories, direct the reader’s responses, ruminate philosophically, judge characters, report the weather, or in many other ways generalize. One of modernism’s reactions against all this was to remove the narrator as a character and present stories without comment, as if by way of a “camera eye.”  This narrative stance meant that many kinds of exposition could not be done at all, and the usual work of fiction in this mode was made up of a string of dramatized scenes, which readers interpreted by following subtle or not-so-subtle cues. This was the moment when Percy Lubbock advocated “show don’t tell” (in The Craft of Fiction, 1921). …

For a while after that, the “camera eye” dominated. Then One Hundred Years of Solitude, a novel with no dialogue or fully dramatized scenes, a tale told by a teller, was published and celebrated. “Show don’t tell” completely failed to account for its greatness, and there was a paradigm breakdown in that failure, and now we live in more open-minded times. …

Hmm, I said. I certainly agree that “show don’t tell” is massively overstated, though I wouldn’t have said it was a zombie rule, far less known when the rule was first given life or when it was killed. This is all interesting and I nodded along to basically everything in this sidebar, but I also paused at the references to One Hundred Years of Solitude.

This is a novel that has been both recommended to me and dis-recommended, the first because of the beauty of the writing, the second because the person telling me about the book didn’t think I’d like it. Well, either way, this essay by KSR certainly made me want to take a look at it. As it happens, I had it sitting right here on my TBR shelves, where it’s occupied space for some years. Obviously it was time to pull it off the shelf and examine the first pages. Here’s how it starts:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time, Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point. Every year during the month of March a family of ragged gypsies would set up their tents near the village, and with a great uproar of pipes and kettledrums they would display new inventions. First they brought the magnet. A heavy gypsy with an untamed beard and sparrow hands, who introduced himself as Melquiades, put on a bold public demonstration of what he himself called the eighth wonder of the learned alchemists of Macedonia. He went from house to house dragging two metal ingots and everybody was amazed to see pots, pans, tongs, and braziers tumble down from their places and beams creak from the desperation of nails and screws trying to emerge, and even objects that had been lost for a long time appeared from where they had been searched for most and went dragging along in turbulent confusion behind Melquiades’ magical irons. “Things have a life of their own,” the gypsy proclaimed with a harsh accent. “It’s simply a matter of waking up their souls.” José Arcadio Buendía, whose unbridled imagination always went beyond the genius of nature and even beyond miracles and magic, thought that it would be possible to make use of that useless invention to extract gold from the bowels of the earth. Melquiades, who was an honest man, warned him, “It won’t work for that.” But José Arcadio Buendía at that time did not believe in the honesty of gypsies, so he traded his mule and a pair of goats for the two magnetized ingots Ursula Iguarán, his wife, who relied on those animals to increase their poor domestic holdings, was unable to dissuade him. “Very soon we’ll have gold enough and more to pave the floors of the house,” her husband replied. For several months he worked hard to demonstrate the truth of his idea. He explored every inch of the region, even the riverbed, dragging the two iron ingots along and reciting Maelquiades’ incantation aloud. The only thing he succeeded in doing was to unearth a suit of fifteenth-century armor which had all of is pieces soldered together with rust and inside of which there was the hollow resonance of an enormous stone-filled guard. When José Arcadio Buendía and the four men of this expedition managed to take the armor apart, they found inside a calcified skeleton with a copper locket containing a woman’s hair around its neck.

Okay, first, that’s one heck of an opening sentence.

Second, this is all one paragraph, 480 words, so wow.

Third, some of these sentences are kind of amazing in themselves and even more amazing when crammed together in the same paragraph. I’m going to admit that I don’t see why Márquez didn’t break out the first sentence in a paragraph of its own – and break it again after “it was necessary to point.”

Fourth, I see what Robinson means about no dialogue. It’s not that no one ever speaks – I wondered if that was what he meant – but no, that’s not it. It’s just that a line of speech now and then isn’t a conversation, and dialogue = conversation. This really is a novel created by extensive exposition. It’s quite compelling in a way. In another way, I don’t like this opening at all, because starting with a man who tries a get-rich-quick scheme to the detriment of himself and his family, well, that’s not an appealing opening, that’s all. The story goes on that way, I see, with José next getting obsessed with a different invention, and then another after that. Ah, the ice makes an appearance at the end of the chapter. The firing squad is not yet in evidence, unsurprisingly, as we already know that incident occurs many years later.

Have any of you read this book? What did you think? I think that both the person who recommended One Hundred Years of Solitude to me and the person who dis-recommended it were right: beautiful writing, but give the first chapter, I don’t think I’d like the story. I don’t like this José Arcadio Buendía destroying his life and his wife’s life with his obsessions.

But I don’t have a problem with the structure and style of the novel. This is a fascinating look at a novel that’s all exposition. If I were going to teach a class on the structure of novels, not that that’s super likely ever to happen, but if I did, it would certainly make sense to assign an extensive excerpt from a novel like this, just because it’s the total anthesis of a novel that’s heavy on dialogue and plot.

On the other hand, I would perhaps look around for a novel I actually do like. As it happens, I can think of novels like that are in the same ballpark when it comes to exposition and the use of single spoken lines rather than dialogue. Rumer Godden wrote like that. Her In This House of Brede is both her most famous novel and my favorite. Let’s take a look at that one. This is how the first chapter opens; there’s a long prologue, which I’m skipping.

The tower of Brede Abbey was a landmark for miles through the countryside and out to sea; high above the town of Brede the gilded weathercock caught the light and could flash in bright sun.

The weathercock bore the date 1753 and had been put there by the Hartshorn family, to whom the Abbey – in those days the Priory of the Canons of Saint Augustine – had been given after the Reformation; it had then been the Hartshorns’ private house for more than two hundred and fifty years. When the nuns came they had thought it prudent not to take the weathercock down. “Brede wouldn’t have tolerated a Catholic nunnery here in 1837,” Dame Ursula Crompton told the novices. “We had to disguise ourselves.” The cross was below, a stone cross interlaced with thorns – and it had known thorns; it had been thrown down, erected again, and stood now high over the entrance to the church; it was said to be nearly a thousand years old; certainly its stone was weathered but, though the wind from the marshes blew fiercely against it and rain beat in the winter gales that struck the heights of Brede so violently, the cross stayed unmoved, sturdily aloft, while the weathercock whirled and thrummed as the wind took it. Dame Ursula had pleasure in underlining the moral, but then Dame Ursula always underlined.

The townspeople were used to the nuns now. The extern sisters, who acted as liaisons between the enclosure and the outside world, were a familiar sight in their black and white, carrying their baskets as they did the Abbey’s frugal shopping. Brede Abbey had accounts at the butcher and the grocer as the family had; the local garage serviced the Abbey car, which Sister Renata drove; workmen from Brede had been inside the enclosure, and anyone was free to come through the drive gates, ring the front-door bell, which had a true monastic clang, and ask for an interview with one of the nuns; few of the townspeople came, through the mayor made a formal call once a year; the Abbey’s visitors, and they were many, usually came from farther afield, from London or elsewhere in Britain, from the Continent or far overseas, some of them famous people. The guest house, over the gatehouse, was nearly always full.

From the air it would seem that it was the Abbey that had space, the old town below that was enclosed; steep and narrow streets ran between the ancient battlements, and the houses were huddled, roof below roof, windows and eaves jutting so that they almost touched; garden yards were overlooked by other garden yards, while the Abbey stood in a demesnes of park, orchard, far, and garden. Its walls had been heightened since the nuns came, trees planted that had grown tall; now it was only from the tower that one could look into the town, though at night a glow came up from the lights, seeming from inside the enclosure to give the Abbey walls a nimbus.

And so on. As you can see, the lines of speech in this chapter are a lot like those in One Hundred Years: scattered and isolated, not part of any conversation. With, bonus, a million or so semicolons. I had forgotten that. Regardless, this novel is the story of a woman’s journey toward faith and peace, and it’s a novel that makes me … I started to type, wish I had a vocation toward an enclosed religious life, but that’s not what I mean at all … understand what it might be like to have that kind of vocation, and for that to be a beautiful thing. Yes, that’s much closer. It’s certainly a novel that leads me to understand aspects of human experience that are otherwise fairly far from my own experience.

It’s also a deeply positive, uplifting novel. Despite the lack of a catchy first sentence involving a firing squad, I’d far rather pick this novel to study the use of an exposition-forward writing style. It would be fun and perhaps instructive to assign a hard-boiled detective novel to contrast to this one: something that’s all fast-paced plot and action and snappy dialogue. You’d practically get whiplash, reading such stylistically different novels back to back. I think that would be fun.

In fact, now that I think of it, really, it might be interesting to try to pick out a handful of novels that each approach the idea of “novel” differently. I wonder if that’s what classes on “The Novel” do, and how well those classes succeed in NOT treating the defining rule of an era (“show don’t tell”) as though it were a commandment handed down on a stone tablet by God. I guess you can tell here that I took very few if any Literature classes in college. I took twelve times the number of required lab science classes instead. I don’t regret that, but now I’m curious what books a class on the Novel might pick.

Let me see … okay, here are a handful of novels that would provide an interesting set of contrasts in how they handle the form. As a bonus, I genuinely like everything here.

In This House of Brede, all exposition and rather little dialogue, with the protagonist’s journey purely internal.

The Martian, which is also all exposition, but plot-forward, with no character development at all. One could hardly have a greater contrast, yet so similar in being heavy on exposition. And both so well done.

Then how about something extraordinarily fast-paced – oh, I know: The Good Shepherd by C.S. Forrester. That’s his WWII submarine novel, which come to think of it, fast pace is not really what I mean. No, what I mean is, this is a novel in which tension never lets up. The whole thing takes place during an absolutely unrelenting couple of days. This novel is just a masterpiece of tension.

Let me see, okay, here’s the decription:

The mission of Commander George Krause of the United States Navy is to protect a convoy of thirty-seven merchant ships making their way across the icy North Atlantic from America to England. There, they will deliver desperately needed supplies, but only if they can make it through the wolfpack of German submarines that awaits and outnumbers them in the perilous seas. For forty eight hours, Krause will play a desperate cat and mouse game against the submarines, combating exhaustion, hunger, and thirst to protect fifty million dollars’ worth of cargo and the lives of three thousand men. 

I don’t think I knew what this book was like when I picked it up and started reading. It’s impossible to put down.

Okay, what next?

I do think we need a hard-boiled detective novel, very heavy on dialogue and action, such as perhaps The Moving Target by Ross McDonald. That would contrast perfectly with the exposition-heavy novels. There’s not much dialogue in The Good Shepherd either; so much happens in the head of the protagonist; so we’d want something with tons of dialogue and far less exposition. A book like this one would provide that.

How about another one written in prose that’s stripped down and simple, or deceptively simple, but not a detective novel. Something by Hemingway, maybe, and that means For Whom the Bell Tolls, probably. Hemingway was one of the few authors assigned in school whose work I actually enjoyed, though at the time I don’t know that I would have read his books voluntarily. I’d just discovered fantasy at the time, and that’s what I was reading. Either way, let’s contrast this stripped-down sort of prose with —

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by McKillip. Boom, many of the same themes — forgiveness, love, power, war and in this case the avoidance of war — but in a novel that could hardly be more different. I couldn’t select a set of novels to illustrate the concept of “novel” and fail to include something by Patricia McKillip, and I think I would pick this one, even though it’s not my favorite of hers. It’s got a clear ending, that’s one reason. And it is very beautiful.

Let’s have another fantasy novel. Something very different but also beautiful, and beautifully written. How about:

Piranesi by Susannah Clarke. This represents a very different way to handle a novel, with its dearth of characters, and its emphasis on setting. Here we also have The House acting as a character in a sense, especially as this novel also asks What is a character and What is a character arc?

What’s something different from all the above? Oh, I know, how about A Damsel in Distress by Wodehouse? I don’t care for Bertie Wooster, but I do like Wodehouse novels in which Bertie doesn’t appear and the male lead is not an idiot. This one qualifies. I liked it a lot, and Wodehouse uses such elegant language.

How many is that? Eight. Fine, I’ll stop there. What is ONE novel you would enjoy including in a class about the different ways to put novels together?

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Keeping the pages turning

A post at Kill Zone Blog: The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You

This is a post about chapter breaks and how to keep the reader turning pages. The recent post here, where I linked to The Intern’s analysis of The Hunger Games, and of course the Would You Turn the Page posts are relevant here. But this post by Odell is a little different. It’s about looking for good places to break a chapter from the author’s point of view.

Keeping readers turning pages is a big thing for authors. Who doesn’t love a message saying “I stayed up all night reading your book”?

Very true! Everyone loves that!

Readers look for reasons to put the book down. They have chores, or work. Kids. Schedules. Bedtimes. Chapter breaks are logical stopping points. Long before I started writing, I learned that if I was going to get any sleep, I had to stop reading mid-page. A former critique partner referred to these endings as landings. Others have called them hooks. What makes a reader say Okay, I’ll read a little longer?

The author of this post — Terry Odell — goes on:

When I went back and added breaks to my endless tome, I discovered that I’d ended every chapter or scene either with someone driving away or going to sleep. They were, to my mind, logical stopping places. But not exactly page-turners. More often than not, the best exit was behind where I’d put my break. I’d gone too far, feeling the need to wrap things up.

I agree that it’s natural to end a chapter where someone goes to sleep. Sometimes I do that, though I realize it’s a natural place for the reader to stop as well. I kinda think at least one chapter in Shines Now ends that way. There’s nothing actually wrong with ending a chapter like that, and in fact the question of “But what happens after he wakes up???” can be pretty compelling, imo.

Still, I grant, it may be useful to end the majority of chapters with a cliffhanger of some type. Not necessarily a death-defying situation the way Zelazny so famously did here, because that’s fine for an experimental novel and maybe for a super-high-tension thriller, but that kind of thing can get tiring for your reader. But if not that kind of cliffhanger, perhaps with a question that needs an answer or a puzzle that needs a solution; anything that prompts the reader to think And then what?

Let me see. Shines Now is pretty short; just 78,000 words. Twelve chapters. How does each chapter end? Let me take a look.

Chapter 1 — a cliffhanger, with, ha, an actual cliff. That’s a bit funny in this context.

Chapter 2 — a more restful break, though no one actually goes to bed.

Chapter 3 — a decision point followed by a shift to the next scene

Chapter 4 — a shift from one scene to the next; and here I supposed I’d better specify that I mean a scene occurs largely in one time and place and that any major shift in place or particularly in time means you’ve moved to another scene.

Chapter 5 — a shift from one scene to the next

Chapter 6 — a decision point followed by a shift to the next scene

Chapter 7 — a time-has-passed shift from one scene to the next; we skip lightly across most of a month.

Chapter 8 — a major decision point

Chapter 9 — a time-has-passed shift from one scene to the next; in this case we skip over several days.

Chapter 10 — a fraught encounter is followed by a pause as we move to the next scene.

Chapter 11 — a single tense sentence shoves the reader hard into the next scene. This is not a place where anyone is going to stop. We’re too close to the end of the story and the transition from Chapter 11 to Chapter 12 is filled with tension.

Okay! So, I’m certainly not going to fiddle with chapter breaks at this point. It’s interesting to me to realize that I had people go to bed pretty often, but that’s not where I broke chapters. Scenes, yes, signaled by line breaks. But not chapters. Because this is a short novel, there are several places where I skipped over days or weeks. Those are very natural places to break a chapter, even though they are low-tension places for a break.

I see I have frequently set chapter breaks right after an important decision. A decision point works, I think, like a cliffhanger, in that the decision poses a question: Now that this choice has been made, now that the protagonist has committed to this course of action, what happens next? Ditto for a fraught conversation or encounter: now that this important encounter has taken place, what happens next?

It’s certainly interesting to see where I tend to put breaks. I think I may try this during the revision process next time: ask what is happening at each chapter break and perhaps shift breaks around a bit as a result.

As you know, Shines Now is available for preorder for the next few days! It’ll go live on the 21st.

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Update: Progress! with Writing and Puppies

Okay, whew, the little boys are three weeks old! Yay! Major milestone achieved!

See the gleam of open eyes? Huge advances in development are taking place right now. The eyes and ears are beginning to function, yes, but the most important advance is the invisible shift toward being able to control their own body temperature. At three weeks, they are considered immune to the most deadly infectious disease that strikes puppies — canine herpes, which is a respiratory virus, harmless to dogs once their body temperature is close to 100 degrees F, utterly deadly prior to that time. They’re also much less prone to getting chilled and therefore getting pneumonia.

But the eyes and ears do matter, sure, and what we’re seeing now is the shift from the vegetative state, in which the brain waves of puppies are practically identical whether asleep or awake, toward the development of real puppy behavior and individuality. Do they have personalities yet? Ha ha ha, no. But they are up on their feet (barely) and showing the very first signs of play behavior. Since they’re baby predators, this is grab-and-shake behavior directed toward toward their mother’s ears and each other. Very incompetent so far, with much falling over. Nevertheless, they are now cute enough to be distracting, as it’s now tempting to sit and watch them. Luckily they stay awake for only a minute or so after nursing before falling asleep.

For the first time, I’m fine with no one being there every minute, an ear tuned for puppy distress cheeping. It’s now fine to leave the house and just glance in at them every half hour or so. I’m still going to have them in the bedroom at night for a bit, which normally I wouldn’t bother, but Tiny Boy 4 is still tiny and I want to keep a closer eye on him than usual at night. He is, by the way, the smallest puppy at three weeks I’ve ever had. One pound two ounces. But you know who was the second smallest? His mother: One pound four ounces. Third smallest? Her littermate sister: One pound five ounces. So there you go. Just like this little boy, I supplemented Leda and her sister right up to weaning. They both cooperatively started showing interest in food extremely early — at three weeks and four days — so hopefully this little guy will also be willing to wean very early. Weaning is the next major milestone, and in fact once the puppies are eating well, I practically quit worrying about them.

The biggest puppy in this litter is one pound nine ounces, by the way. The biggest puppy I’ve ever had was over three pounds at this point, but that was a litter where every puppy was big at birth and gained immediately.


Oh, look, there are going to be two more chapters in Invictus than I expected! Wow, what a shock that is.

I have a one-sentence note about what happens in the next chapter, several paragraphs of notes about the chapter after that, and THEN the denouement. I think. It’s a bit difficult not to just have a couple of sentences where someone says, Gosh, I’m glad that all worked out after all. I’m almost always more interested in the denouement, which are about relationships, than in the climax, which is about plot. That means I’m rolling my eyes a bit: FINE, I GUESS I HAVE TO SHOW THIS NEXT BIT EVEN THOUGH NOTHING HAPPENS EXCEPT THE PLOT GETS SORTED OUT. Well, whatever, I’ll wade through it. At least I do know what happens here in the endgame of the plot. I think I do, anyway.

Good thing I gave myself till the end of May to finish this book. At the beginning of the year, that seemed extremely generous. Now it seems, if anything, a bit on the short side. I still do think I’ll probably make it, but if so, just barely. Well, fortunately, it’s a self-imposed deadline, which means it doesn’t matter whether I meet it or go over a bit. Except it would of course be nice to write The End and pick up something else.

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Would you turn the page? — Of course you Would

Here, at Writer Unboxed, is a recent “Flogging the Pro” feature:

How strong is the opening page of this novel—would it, all on its own, hook an agent if it was submitted by an unpublished writer?

The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards. From the towns in its high valleys and the ports on its dark narrow bays many a Gontishman has gone forth to serve the Lords of the Archipelago in their cities as wizard or mage, or, looking for adventure, to wander working magic from isle to isle of all Earthsea. Of these some say the greatest, and surely the greatest voyager, was the man called Sparrowhawk, who in his day became both dragonlord and Archmage. His life is told of in the Deed of Ged and in many songs, but this is a tale of the time before his fame, before the songs were made.

He was born in a lonely village called Ten Alders, high on the mountain at the head of the Northward Vale. Below the village the pastures and plowlands of the Vale slope downward level below level towards the sea, and other towns lie on the bends of the River Ar; above the village only forest rises ridge behind ridge to the stone and snow of the heights.

The name he bore as a child, Duny, was given him by his mother, and that and his life were all she could give him, for she died before he was a year old. His father, the bronze-smith of the village, was a grim unspeaking man, and since Duny’s six brothers were older than he by many years and went one by one from home to farm the land or sail the sea or work as smith in other towns of the Northward Vale, there was no one to bring the child up in tenderness. 

And of course we all recognize this, yes? Of course we do. Everyone recognizes Ged and everyone recognizes A Wizard of Earthsea. That, by the way, is not my favorite of the series. My favorite by a mile is The Tombs of Atuan. I’m not even entirely sure why that one appealed to me so strongly, but it certainly did, and still does. I’ve read A Wizard of Earthsea once, a long time ago. I’ve read The Tombs of Atuan many times and practically have it memorized.

As it turns out, 60% of the people who read this sample said they would not turn the page, and one reason given was: It’s fantasy and I hate fantasy.

On its own, that wouldn’t have made me want to link to that post. This is what made me want to link to this post:

Hey, I get it. Everyone has a right to dislike certain types of stories. As a lifelong fantasy fan, I’m long past having hard feelings over that. Besides, things have never been better for fantasy as a genre, both for creators and consumers. The adaptations keep rolling and the fandom keeps growing. Still, it makes me just a little sad, to think that so many still dismiss an entire genre out of hand.

This is a follow-up post, also at Writer Unboxed, by Vaughn Roycroft : The Applicability of… Zombies?

Roycroft is pushing back against the idea that fantasy should be dismissed. For example, here:

[C]apturing goodness in humans is a complex undertaking for writers. I also tend to agree that evil can be—and often is—simplified in storytelling. In the piece Dave mentions the willful shelling of a train station in Ukraine by Russian invaders. He says, “Evil people make the deliberate decision to be bad and often take delight in doing harm.” And, “Evil is simple. Good is complex.”

While I don’t disagree with the broad principles Dave presents in his essay, I do think the finer aspects of those principles beg a few questions. And they’re questions that epic fantasy often tends to posit—perhaps better than any other genre. I believe they are questions that should be asked, even if they can’t always be satisfactorily answered. If you’re willing to stay with me, allow me to at least attempt to make my case.

Which he does with reference to the song Zombies by The Cranberries — an excellent song, I should get out my Cranberries CDs — and then goes on —

Off the top of my head, I can think of at least a dozen epic fantasy series that explore, in very serious and often profound ways, this very topic—of war, of the blood and killing and trauma intrinsic to it. In other words, epic fantasy is chock full of zombies. And I think they’re pretty damn applicable.

I think there’s an antiquated notion that much of epic fantasy relies on a simple good versus evil dynamic. If it was ever true, I assure you it no longer is. If you haven’t read any lately, I can also assure you that war and the questions surrounding it are rarely taken lightly in modern epic fantasy. Many of the series that spring to mind also delve concepts like penitence, redemption, reparation, and forgiveness. These are concepts that the world will need if we are to navigate from the perils of these dark and frightening times.

And of course I agree, except I doubt that “simple good vs evil dynamic” was ever true. I certainly like all those themes. I’m not sure fantasy tends to deal with those themes more than, say, historicals or romance, but I agree that fantasy does probably tend to hit those themes more often than, say, mysteries or thrillers. And, in fact, that is true in The Tombs of Atuan, in a sense, although the worst characters have no redemption arc. Tenar does, in a way, as she has been raised to be cruel, or at least serve a cruel god, and her arc involves making very different choices and becoming, or allowing herself to be, a different kind of person.

Let me see. All right, one of the very best and most explicit redemption arcs I’ve seen in recent (recent-ish) fantasy is in Iron and Magic by Ilona Andrews, where Hugh d’Ambray specifically moves from the bad guy camp to the good guy camp, a huge shift given his past history in the Kate Daniels series. Difficult to pull off such an extreme shift, but Ilona Andrews does it.

If you’ve recently read something with a great redemption arc, by all means drop it in the comments! There’s hardly anything I like better. Let’s broaden that and say, as from the linked post, penitence, redemption, reparation, or forgiveness.

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Patricia McKillip

I’m so sorry to hear about the passing of one of the best fantasy authors who ever lived.

Here’s a post at tor.com

Here’s a post at Locus

These posts are totally inadequate.

Here’s my attempt to rank all her novels, a most challenging task as so many are virtually perfect. This post is also an inadequate tribute, but it’s better than one of these brief obituaries.

Patricia McKillip was absolutely central to forming my own taste in fantasy novels and my own ideas of what a perfect novel looked like, or maybe I should say, felt like. She wrote poetry disguised as prose better than any other fantasy author has ever done. It feels to me that some of the poetry in the world just disappeared when she passed away.

My debut novel, The City in the Lake, was my attempt to write a novel just like hers. I read everything McKillip had ever written, one book after another, until I’d read them all. Then I sat down and wrote City. Every time someone compared City to McKillip’s work — and I’m happy to say this has happened more than once — it made me so happy. I’m not sure I ever captured that fairy-tale feel quite so well again.

I met her at a convention once, but found it impossible to express to her what her writing had meant to me.

“You can weave your life so long — only so long, and then a thing in the world out of your control will tug at one vital thread and leave you patternless and subdued.”

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

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Landing the Ending

Here’s a post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Endings

The one thing that will sell your next book is the ending of the current book. If your book ends well, leaving the reader satisfied, then they’ll want to repeat the experience with your next book. If your ending falls flat, then some readers won’t care about your next book. If your ending is truly awful, the readers will avoid your next book completely. What made me think of this was a movie that Dean and I watched on Amazon Prime. The movie is called Parallel. We knew nothing about it before we watched it, except for the bit of advertising copy. The movie’s about multiverses, which we both love, and it looked promising. When we watch something together, we have a rule: either one can veto the movie at any point in the movie. We figured this one would be an early veto. Instead, it was a good way to spend an hour-plus. The script was tight, the characters—though unlikeable—were well drawn. There were some quibbles (no way could those bodies have been disposed of easily), but they were minor.

The movie hummed along. It even had the perfect ending. I was enjoying it…and then some idiot tacked on a scene with a minute and a half left. That scene ruined the movie. I have since looked at reviews, and everyone calls the ending a jumbled mess. Yeah. It is. But had the movie ended a minute and a half earlier, it would have been just fine.

Here’s what the ending did wrong:

  1. It introduced new information that contradicted the information in the movie.
  2. It threw in a plot twist that literally made no sense.
  3. It was pointless and emotionally flat.
  4. It did not match the tone of the rest of the movie.
  5. It raised questions that could not be answered.

This strongly reminded me of the Extracted trilogy by RR Hayward. This link goes to my comments about the series, which included Extracted, Executed, and Extinct.

My basic conclusion about this series:

Still, I read Extracted and liked it well enough to go on with the second book, which was GREAT and then the third, which was a tiny bit closer to meh than GREAT. A fourth book would improve the series ending because poof, it wouldn’t be the ending anymore. In the meantime, I actually highly recommend the first two as a duology …

So you see why I thought of this trilogy in connection the the above post! This is an example where the author does not land the ending (of the third book; the first two are fine and in fact lots of fun, particularly the second book). Where does the author fail? Considering the above list, I would say that the ending of Executed works just fine as an ending, while the ending of Extinct fails at points #1, #2, and #5.

Kristine finishes up her post this way:

How do you bring the reader to the next book? You do it by making them love your ending. It had the perfect ending, reader you will tell your friends.

The perfect ending fits the genre and subgenre, but it also surprises. Or, if it doesn’t surprise (no one is surprised by the happily ever after in a romance) on a plot level, it surprises on an emotion level. (I didn’t expect the romance to make me cry with happiness. Or I didn’t expect all that tension in the middle. Or I had no idea how they would resolve all those problems they had as a couple in a satisfying manner, and yet they did!)

A reader can forgive a mediocre or even trite ending, as long as it fits with the book. But a reader will not forgive a bad ending—one that changes the nature of the characters or that contradicts everything that came before or kills off everyone we loved with no warning whatsoever.

Well said, and quite true! Do NOT contradict everything that came before (And then she woke up) and by all that’s holy, do not kill any of the characters when we’ve been cheering their survival. Remember the start of Aliens III, when the movie opens and we find out that oops! Newt and Bishop both died after all! Remember that? Yeah, me neither, I’ve totally blocked everything about that movie from my mind. I would never touch anything else in that universe. They would have to pay me to go to another Aliens movie after that! And this is very much because the beginning of that movie utterly destroys the excellent ending of the previous movie.

You’ve all seen Aliens, right? Because whoa, what a fantastic movie that is. The first movie in the series is a great horror/SF film, but I don’t care for horror, so not really my thing. The second, an SF thriller, is the one you have to see. And, as mentioned here, that’s the place to stop. You’ll love the ending as long as you don’t go on to the third movie.

Okay, this is all making me think I ought to try to list off some books and/or movies with particularly great endings. Perhaps I’ll take a stab at that in an upcoming post.

In the meantime, if you’ve read something recently where the author landed the perfect ending, by all means drop it in the comments!

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The History of Scrabble


This caught my eye because I like Scrabble, a low-key, mildly entertaining game that is a nice way to spend some time every now and then. My brother and I often play it when he’s visiting, often without keeping score. Sometimes we play a version where every word must sound correct, but be misspelled. Many possible variants.

By the way, I now play Wordle, Quordle, and Octordle most days — and I like Octordle best, which I didn’t expect. I know someone commented here about playing these games every day and I’m now in that camp as well.

But back to Scrabble!

An edition of Scrabble is likely to be in your home or in your neighbor’s home, as one in three Americans own it. 

REALLY? What do you think, can that possibly be true? I vote: False. I bet that one in three Americans who took some specific poll or survey own a game of Scrabble, and I bet that’s not remotely one in three homes overall. Maybe I’m wrong, but I doubt it.

To pass time, Butts wrote a paper in 1931 identifying the three most common types of games: board games, number games (usually with cards or dice), and letter games. The most popular games at the time were board and number games, though the game Anagrams was a popular example of a letter game. During this time, he happened to be reading a short story by Edgar Allan Poe called “The Gold Bug,” and in it, he noticed a line that showed the English letter distribution — in other words, a line that had the most common letters in the most common distribution. He realized then that a game like Anagrams would be much more fun if letters more common in the English language were also more common in the game.

Ah, a literary connection to Poe! I had no idea.

Lots more at the link — click through if you like Scrabble and are now intrigued about the history of this game.

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