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Yeah, Pile of Bodies, So What

Here’s a post at Writers Helping Writers: “They’re All Gonna Die!” Wait, Why Does That Matter?

This title amused me, but I also think it’s a good question. Quite often, someone takes to heart the advice to open with action and BOOM! Bombs go off, swords flash, an angry god stomps a city into the mud, whatever. And that scene, whatever it involves, is dead boring. You’ve probably seen scenes like that. They’ve probably been in prologues that are all about the grand sweep of violent history, though certainly there are lots of examples of closer, more intimate-scale violence that take place on page one of chapter one, and lots of those still fail.

That’s what I thought of when I read the title of that post: novels that open with violent action that is boring and leaves the reader (me, anyway) uninvolved, uninterested, probably confused about what’s going on and why it matters and who I ought to be rooting for and why. Let me see if that’s actually where this post is heading …

Yes, this is a post about exactly this problem:

After all, readers don’t know who this character is and have no reason to care about their fate. For all readers know, this might be the villain who’s trying to escape justice and when saved here, will return by the end of the story to cause more problems for the real protagonist. Or maybe they’re a superhero who can fly, making this situation no big deal. Or maybe they’re faking their dilemma and have their feet solidly planted on a ledge. Or…

In other words, stakes alone aren’t enough to pull readers into our story. So how can we make our stakes matter? Let’s look at the movie Everything Everywhere All at Once for 3 lessons on how to make our stakes—and our story—matter.

I wouldn’t say make the stakes matter. I would say make the protagonist matter. Stakes as such are never interesting or engaging. The protagonist’s life is at stake? So what? I’m sure that matters to the protagonist, but until we have a feel for her, why should it matter to us? The world may be destroyed? So what? Until we’re invested in that world, why should that matter? There are plenty of other fictional worlds just waiting for our attention. It’s a lot more important to either make the protagonist emotionally engaging OR engage the reader’s curiosity about something OR both. Then the stakes may be important. Which is exactly what the post is saying, so let’s rephrase it that way:

How do we make our protagonist matter to the reader?

Before reading this post, by the way, I hadn’t seen (or even heard of) the movie in question. Let me pause to say that this is not quite what I expected!

With her laundromat teetering on the brink of failure and her marriage to wimpy husband Waymond on the rocks, overworked Evelyn Wang struggles to cope with everything, including a tattered relationship with her judgmental father Gong Gong and Joy, her daughter. And, as if facing a gloomy midlife crisis wasn’t enough, Evelyn must brace herself up for an unpleasant meeting with an impersonal bureaucrat: Deirdre, the shabbily dressed IRS auditor. However, as the stern agent loses patience, an inexplicable multiverse rift becomes an eye-opening exploration of parallel realities. … Can weary Evelyn fathom the irrepressible force of possibilities, tap into newfound powers, and prevent an evil entity from destroying the thin, countless layers of the unseen world?

Sounds like fun! And obviously this post thinks the opening is good. Back to the post and those three suggestions:

A) Provide Context. This means human context. YES. This is what I mean when I say you have to make the protagonist emotionally engaging. “In the movie EEAaO, the first act introduces the family members in ways that make the audience understand and sympathize with their struggles. The audience learns every characters’ goals, motivations, and initial conflicts. That information gives the audience the context for watching new conflicts and struggles and understanding what’s at stake.”

B) Make It Personal. YES. Same as above. “In EEAaO, Evelyn rejects the initial “call to adventure” because the stakes of the fate of the multiverse are too big for her to relate to in a personal way. She doesn’t fully embrace her role in the story—shifting from reactive to proactive—until she feels a connection to the situation. Audience members have similar reactions: The whole multiverse dilemma feels like an interesting story, sure, but the reveal of Evelyn’s personal connection to the stakes feels like a gut punch.”

C) Make the Reader Care About the Protagonist. YES. Exactly the same as above. “In EEAaO, the stakes in the movie shift from small and personal to too-big and impersonal, then big and personal, and finally back to small-ish (but still much bigger than in Act One) and personal. This shift works because we’ve grown to care about all these characters so much.”

This is NOT three different suggestions. This is the exact same suggestion phrased three different ways, or viewed from three different angles. The only suggestion is (C). Everything else is part of (C) or only matters if (C) already works.

The one actual suggestion: Make the reader care about the protagonist. Do that by first placing her within her social milieu, thus providing context so the reader understands who she is as a person and likes her and is starting to root for her. Only after you’ve done that can you make the story feel personal to the reader, which you do by making the stakes matter to the protagonist in a personal way.

This is very true, but I definitely consider this all one item, not three items. People just like lists so much and want everything to be a list, but I don’t think it helps to pull this particular idea apart that much. I think it obscures the truth that making the reader care about the protagonist is the key.

Not that there aren’t other ways to tell a story. Making the reader curious will work for some readers, even if the protagonist is unpleasant and the reader doesn’t care about her. This doesn’t work well for me personally, but it can work well for plot-first readers. I would say that those are the two options, though — either get the reader to engage emotionally with the protagonist or make the reader curious, or both. Can anybody think of a book that succeeded without doing either of those things in the opening?

Oh, I might have one more: linguistic style alone seems to be enough for some readers. I’m not sure about that. Maybe it’s the author’s style with the language plus at least one of the other two.

Maybe there’s something else that can also work aside from these three possibilities. Anybody else got a suggestion?

For me, of course, it’s almost always engagement with the protagonist, with curiosity a very (very) distant second choice. For me, style alone may make me read a page or two, with genuine appreciation, but is not likely to be enough to make me read the whole book.

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Telling time in Fantasy Novels

In 2023, the zombie plague changed the world forever.

We haven’t had a lot of rain this month.

Three weeks later, we finally reached the sea.

We’ll meet at two this afternoon, okay?

We can probably make it to the top of the mountain in about five hours.

It took him almost twenty minutes to sneak all the way from the attic to the cellar.

A second later, she realized he’d been joking.

You can’t use any of those time units in your secondary world fantasy unless time is measured in seconds, hours weeks, months, and years, the way we do it in the real world. That’s not a problem if you want your secondary world to feel familiar. It’s a big problem if you don’t. So that always sets up a dilemma: what words do you want to use instead and what will those words imply about the society you’re creating?

There are a small number of time-related words that are generically appropriate. You can use those in (almost) any secondary world and no reader will bat an eye. They don’t imply anything (much) about the world. These are: an instant, a moment, a short time, a long time, dawn, dusk, sunrise, sunset, morning, midmorning, midday, midafternoon, noon, evening, midnight, a day, a season, spring, summer, winter, fall, year.

I have never yet managed to write an entire novel using only these generic terms (I’m pretty sure). But if you pay attention, you’ll find that most of the time, I use these terms heavily and that I never use “second” or “minute” or “week” or any other English-specific word for a time interval unless I’ve decided that that word is okay in whatever world.

Then it gets complicated.

Unless you want all your fantasy worlds and the societies in them to seem similar in important ways, you really ought to come up with society-specific ways to measure time. Different ways for each world, or each society within a world, provided the societies are quite different from each other and one isn’t based on the other or anything like that.

This starts to get creatively demanding. I think I’ve used “glass,” “bell,” and “chime” as time units. In The Floating Islands, I came up with a time unit, the senneri, that is some number of days, longer than a week but shorter than a month. I think I also use “week” and “month” in that world, but in general I try to avoid those units, especially “week.” To me, “month” feels more generic, though I don’t think that objectively is true.

Obviously time units are one of the many, many differences between the society of the Lau and the Ugaro. The Lau have clocks and measure time a lot like we do in the real world. They use all the normal terms for time units that we’re familiar with, although I’m trying to be careful, because “spring” is fine in the winter country or the borderlands, but seasons are different once you move farther south. (Long and short rainy seasons, long and short dry seasons.)

Obviously the Ugaro don’t use clocks and don’t divide time up into minutes, seconds, and hours. They don’t use hourglasses or any other kind of sand timer, and let me say here that I enjoyed giving Suelen a fifteen-second glass. Those must be demanding to make. You may have noticed that Suelen reflects that only surgeons and astronomers track time with that kind of precision. (We may learn a little about astronomers and astrologers in Tasmakat.) I’m sure you’ll also have noticed that Suelen had to carefully explain “minutes” to Tasa in order to track respiration rates for their patients. She might have heard the word, but would not have understood how long a minute is, only that it’s a short period of time.

Bells or chimes obviously wouldn’t make a bit of sense for Ugaro. What time units, and what measurements, I asked myself when I was writing the first book, could the Ugaro possibly use? That’s when I remembered being taught to hold my hand up to the horizon to measure the distance from the horizon to the sun, and estimate time that way. I hope I’ve been consistent in how long a “hand of time” is supposed to be, but probably not very. But it’s simple. A hand of time is about an hour. Try it yourself — hold your hand up in the evening with the sun on top of your index finger and count how many hands it takes to reach the horizon. There you go, that’s about how many hours it is till sunset. A finger is about fifteen minutes. I know I’ve treated that as closer to five minutes at times, and I’m going to declare that the Ugaro use the term “finger of time” for basically anything from five to fifteen minutes, more or less, and “hand of time” for anything from probably forty minutes to an hour and a half. Or so. It’s reasonable that they don’t care about measuring time with any particular precision. You might have noticed that when asked about time, an Ugaro might say, “Six hands of time, eight, ten,” meaning kind of in there someplace.

Distance is exactly the same as time, of course. You can’t use inches, feet, miles, kilometers, centimeters, furlongs, anything like that unless you want to imply something about your society. That’s why the Lau say “miles” and the Ugaro say “bowshots.” How long IS a bowshot? Obviously that varies by how powerful the bow is. An Ugaro can pull a pretty heavy bow and I bet the warriors not only compete in distance shooting, but exaggerate a bit on top of that. In the real world, a bowshot could be as much as 200 yards or more, closer to 300 yards when you start talking about distance records. The Ugaro consider a bowshot anything from 200 to 400 yards, or so, which means that you can say that four or to six bowshots is a mile.

For shorter distances, the Lau say “inches” or “feet” and the Ugaro say “spearlength” or bowlength” or “handbreadth” or whatever.

Rather than simplifying time and distance units to imply a less technological and less time-oriented society, you can perfectly well come up with super-ornate time measurement. That can do great things for your worldbuiding in a different way. In their Rook and Rose series, Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms have designed an ornate city that sort of resembles Venice, but is quite different. There are the two different magic systems, both complicated, and on top of that, the hours of days are counted according to a complicated system that I certainly have not figured out. (I haven’t tried, to be fair).

The hours passed with excruciating slowness. Second earth. Third earth. Fourth.

“Let’s meet at the foot of the Lacewater Bridge in Suncross. Is second earth too early?”

The charts have been drawn and the alignments read. With the blessings of Celnis, the year is set as 211. With the blessings of Esclus, the month is Colbrilun. With the blessings of Thrunium, the date is the third day of the third iteration. With the blessings of Sacretha, the day is Andusny. With the blessings of Civrus and Pavlus, the hour is second earth. Within this alignment, may all the glory of the cosmos be channeled …

In that world, we have sun hours and earth hours, among all these ornate names for the days of the week and whatever iterations might be. Notice that “month” and “years” are normal words; I guess Brennan and Helms agree with me that those terms sound generic compared to other words related to time. Regardless, this is yet another layer of cool worldbuilding on top of the different magic systems and the history of the city and so on. I should go back to this series and read the second book, but I bet I don’t touch very much fiction of any kind until I’m finishing up the draft of Tasmakat. I never read much fiction when I’m seriously involved with something of my own.

I wish I’d thought of sun hours and earth hours for the Lau, but alas, I didn’t. I guess I could let the Lakasha-erra use those terms, though they have two Suns and that must be complicated. In fact, that’s what I’m going to have to do — think about how they tell time given that essential astrological truth of their country and how that differs from how the Lau tell time. They can’t use the same measurements — their days especially have to be different. Well, that’s a detail that’s going to be fun, but I don’t have to think about it yet — it’s going to be a while till I send anybody into the country of two Suns!

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Eight Weeks! How Time Flies!

Leda has started to enjoy her puppies much more now that they are pestering her so much less about nursing. Her favorite puppy seems to be Boy 1. Mothers do often seem to have favorites. In this case I think Leda may be influenced by the others, especially Boy 3, being more determined to nurse; Boy 1 is a lot less pestiferous about that. So is Boy 4, but he loves Boy 3 and follows him around and plays with him a lot. It’s quite delightful that Boy 3 lets Boy 4 beat him up. He’s 12 oz bigger and definitely being a nice playmate on purpose. Dogs do learn that — this is the exact time they learn that, just this way. They want to play and they learn that if they are nice, other puppies will play with them instead of running away. So then the stronger ones learn to be nice. Or that’s how it ought to work, and how it has plainly worked in this case. Cavaliers learn to be gentle easily, of course; one of the many nice things about this breed.

I vacuumed after this picture was taken, by the way. Blue is a stupid color for a carpet if you have white dogs, I know that, don’t bother pointing it out. I like blue. Also, it does look nice whenever I happen to have vacuumed less than an hour previously.

The puppies have come along tremendously in the past week. They are all exploring much farther and running around much more independently of the crowd. This is when it becomes very important to teach them to come when called. Otherwise you stand there in the yard at dusk calling Puppy Puppy Puppy! and wondering if one of them managed to squirm out under the fence or whether some other dire thing has happened. My fence is secure, but it’s foolish to take total security for granted, plus one or two episodes in the past have left me phobic about dogs getting lost — anyone who leaves the gate open at someone else’s house should be whipped through the streets, let me add — and the basic fact is that I’m phobic and I do not want to have to worry. Hence teaching them to come. You know who is most treat-focused?

Boy 2 is SO into treats, wow, he ZOOMS to me and then sits and looks just like this while the other puppies are bumbling around wondering if treats might fall from the sky. Boy 2 knows darn well where the treats are coming from. He is trying as hard as he can to figure out how to get me to give them to him, preferably all the treats all the time as fast as possible. He is going to be SO easy to train! Treat-focused dogs are wonderful that way.

Boy Four demonstrates how to crate train the easy way: put a crate in the living room, leave the door open, and there you go. A crate is not quite as attractive to a puppy is a box is to a cat, but it’s very attractive, that’s for sure. Every puppy will go into this crate and fall asleep. They like the enormous dog bed too. I keep having to collect sleeping puppies so I can tuck them into the puppy room and forget about them for a few hours as I get work done. They’re staying awake a LOT longer, I will add, so they’re pretty distracting. Even so, I’m sorry I’ll be losing most of them this week!

Oh, I will add, yes, I’m getting work done! So far Tasmakat is just as easy as every other Tuyo-world book. (Knock on wood!) I love it. It’s so much easier than forcing my way through what turned out to be the last third of Invictus, though I do like that one a lot and of course it did get easier right at the end. But everything in the Tuyo world is just a different level of fun for me, with intense flow that kicks on easily and is painful to interrupt. I took the adult dogs out for a run this morning because the weather was so nice, and it was so hard to turn off the laptop! Yay for today being a vacation so I can go back to Tasmakat in just a few minutes, after I post this!

I have a hundred seventy pages, by the way. I’d previously written the very beginning and about fifty pages onward, and then I leaped ahead and wrote a scene that occurs in, I don’t know, the middle part of the first third of the story, I guess, more or less. Plus a few scattered fragments here and there. I wrote the bit where Esau turns up. I think that will remain in the finished draft, but no promises. But I think so.

Anyway, now I’m going back and writing the part in between the very beginning and this other part that happens later.

My best estimate (it’s too early to make estimates, but whatever) is that it will take me 300 pages to get to the capital city of Avaras, then probably a hundred pages to have one or two intense scenes there — wow, Soretes is going to be SO upset with Aras, for many excellent reasons — and get out of Avaras and into the country with two Suns. Then the REAL problem will emerge and it will become clear why Tasmakat-an is so important to this story that she gets to be the title character. I hope you all find the REAL problem surprising — except Craig, who knows all about it because he helped me brainstorm about some of the things that are going to happen. The rest of the book will take place in the country of sand, the country of fire, the land of the Sun and the Son, the land of two Suns. Lots of names! The Lakasha-erra call it by a name that translates roughly to The Noble Land of Beautiful Gardens, which tells you a lot about it and something about them. Think of the Sahara, but with with many large oases strung through it.

Yes, we are also going to meet the rulers of the country of sand — the Ro-Antalet, the lions with the heads of men. They’re very impressive. Among other things, they’re capable of making an Ugaro warrior far more tolerant of heat than anything non-magical could possibly justify.

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How much Detail is Too Much?

So, Suelen:

If you’ve read it already, what did you think about the level of medical detail? This story was fun to research — I did a TON of research, in case you wondered, mostly focusing on medical practices in Classical Rome and Greece. Of course this kind of research leads to the desire to share all the cool details with the reader, a desire that should be reined in. On the other hand, a protagonist who is thoroughly focused on his specialty is going to think about his work A LOT, and should be allowed to do so. I very specifically asked beta readers whether I’d put in too much detail, and they all said no, the medical stuff was good, they liked it. I thought I’d be cutting a painful amount about wound treatment, but no, I wound up only cutting a tiny bit.

The line I had in mind while writing my protagonist is actually from The Beacon at Alexandria by Gillian Bradshaw, in which an important secondary character says of the protagonist something like, “I tried to bribe him, but it was hopeless. He doesn’t want anything but books about medicine and he’s got plenty of those. As far as I can tell, he spends all his time talking about medicine and thinking about medicine, and at night he probably dreams about medicine.” That’s definitely Suelen. He probably does dream about medicine.

The above is not an exact quote, by the way, because I don’t have the book handy, but it’s fairly close. The Beacon at Alexandria, as you may know, is about a young woman who disguises herself as a eunuch so that she can study medicine in Alexandria. This is in the period when the Roman Empire is going to hit a rough patch and start its final decline, but this story isn’t about that, fortunately. It’s about Charis and about medicine, and because the story is by Bradshaw, it’s got a strong romantic element, though that’s not nearly as important an element as Classical medicine. So guess what book I picked up to look at medicine as it was actually practiced at the time? Yep, I had this novel on my coffee table while writing Suelen. Along with stuff I printed out about the history of sutures and antiseptics and wound care, plus anatomical diagrams of the knee from every angle.

I don’t think Beacon is available as an ebook, but even if you thoroughly prefer ebooks, as I do, it’s well worth picking up in paper. A great novel, one of my favorites by Bradshaw, who is my favorite author of historicals. I’ve read it many times.

I was also influenced a little bit by another of Bradshaw’s books, The Sand-Reckoner, in which the protagonist is Archimedes. He’ll drift away from practical life into the contemplation of mathematics, and also we also see a lot of detail about how to design and build catapults. Too much detail? No, not at all! Bradshaw is such a good writer, she really is, and part of that is knowing how much detail to put into her stories. This is another of my favorites of hers.

If you like novels with a medical emphasis, by the way, one that is far less well known than it should be is Nick O’Donohoe’s novel The Magic and the Healing, about a veterinary student who finds herself on a rotation caring for mythological creatures, centaurs and unicorns and of course who could forget the amazing griffin, probably my favorite griffin in all of fantasy literature. What a great book this is. I’m biased because (a) the griffin, and (b) I like medical stuff very much, and (c) this is the single novel that clarified for me how to write a character who is intelligent and perceptive. I mean, as opposed to the author just declaring the character is intelligent and perceptive. BJ really is, and this is indicated without the author making any assertions or being at all heavy-handed about it. I think O’Donohoe was an important influence on me when it comes to this kind of characterization.

Camille, if you read this post, you REALLY should read that novel if you like fantasy AT ALL. When I loaned it to her many years ago, my own veterinarian loved it and said O’Donohoe handled the medical details — of which there are many, it’s that kind of story — just right.

Oh, and nobody should be put off by the cover, which is currently hideous.

Only a radiologist could like that cover. The original cover was much more appealing.

Anyway, I hope you all enjoy the level of detail in Suelen, though of course I’m sure opinions will vary and that’s fine. I personally enjoy lots of detail if the protagonist is an expert in anything — medicine, martial arts, opera, forensic anthropology, mechanical engineering, doesn’t matter, if the protagonist is an expert, I’m almost certain to enjoy reading about details of that specialty, even if I’m not inherently that interested in mechanical engineering or don’t know anything much about opera.

If anybody’s got a book they enjoy that fits this category — expert protagonist, lots of details about the area of expertise — by all means drop that in the comments!

And if you’ve reviewed Suelen (or any of my books), thank you! Now that Amazon allows ratings without reviews, I see that only about 15% of people who rate a book leave even a very short review. While ratings are nice, particularly positive ratings, reviews influence Amazon algorithms more strongly and can make all the difference when running a promotion. I appreciate it very much when someone takes the time to write a review.

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Sale: Tuyo series

I’m sure most of you know this, but as always when a new book is released, a sale is now running for the earlier books in the series. If you haven’t yet tried this series, now is the time to pick up every book!

I may run another sale toward the end of this year, but I am unlikely to take promotion as seriously again until Tasmakat comes out, which will (barring acts of God) be in 2023 sometime.

Tuyo is free for the next few days, Nikoles discounted to $0.99, and Tarashana and Keraunani are most heavily discounted right now — their prices will rise in increments until they’re back at the pre-sale price.

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Out today!

I’m sure most of you know this, but Suelen is out today!

I certainly hope you enjoy it. I did.

Also, though the ramifications of this story do not become visible in Tarashana, they do in Tasmakat. Just this morning, I was working on a scene that would have been impossible if the events in Suelen had not occurred two years earlier.

Those of you who preordered this book, thank you! Preorders paid for the cover AND for a good portion of the promotion I’m running on Tuyo over the next week.

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Naming Puppies is almost as Difficult as Choosing Titles for Books

Hmm, what should his name be?

I’m not thinking about the call names. The new owners can call their puppies whatever they like, of course. I’m talking about the registered names. Just as my Pippa’s name was actually Sevenwoods Epiphany, or Dora was Anara Adornment, these puppies need registered names. AND the name has to start with P or at least have an important P in the name somewhere, because this is my P litter. For example, Ishmael is actually Anara Call Me Ishmael.

Alphabetical names are useful for keeping track of which puppy is which. For example, someone contacted me yesterday asking if I’d ever had a puppy with chronic allergies. I said yes, one of the E puppies developed (mild) allergies as a young adult and I placed her as a pet because of that and added that she’s thirteen now and was Dora’s niece and not related to my current dogs. And how do I remember all that? Because I know which litter was named with E and how long ago they were born and who their mother was and how they’re connected to my other dogs. I remember my puppies quite well, and the alphabetical names are one reason they’re easy to keep sorted out in my head.

So, P. That’s not the easiest letter of the alphabet, though I can think of worse. Registered names need to be polysyllabic and sound good with “Anara” in front of them. Multiple words are just fine, but single words can work if they’re long enough.

The puppies are starting to acquire personalities, though my first impressions may still turn out to be mistaken in some cases, plus this is complicated because two of the puppies clicked into a fear period this morning, which has to be discounted when thinking about their actual personalities.

The first fear period, incidentally, usually occurs (if it’s going to occur at all) around eight to ten weeks of age — just in time for first vaccinations and re-homing, which is not great. It’s nice to put off potentially traumatic experiences until the puppy comes out of the fear period, or else make those experiences as non-traumatic as possible. With Cavaliers, many don’t have a perceptible fear period, but others do. It’s easy to identify because suddenly puppies that have entered a fear period run to the back of the puppy room when the vacuum cleaner comes into sight. This morning, for the first time two puppy ran away from the vacuum cleaner, and the other two just picked up their heads for a second and then continued to sleep at the front of the room, so that was quite clear. My way of dealing with vacuum cleaner fear is to add a couple of adult dogs to the puppy room and then vacuum slowly in front of the gate so that the fearful puppies can see the adults be totally, one hundred percent unimpressed by vacuum cleaners. (I literally have to turn off the vacuum cleaner and nudge the adults to make them move out of the way.) (They also go to sleep when being blow-dried.)

Then later this morning, one of those suddenly-fearful puppies reacted fearfully to a neighbor shoveling gravel out of a bin. (Shovel through gravel = loud, weird noise). My way of dealing with that was to immediately get a lot of little treats and teach all the puppies to come to me when I call them, about twenty feet from the neighbor with the gravel. That rapidly persuaded the fearful puppy that there was nothing to be afraid of.

This is how you handle a puppy that has entered a fear period: provide good things and reduce the importance of the scary thing; don’t force the puppy to go nearer to the scary thing than he’s willing to go; let him set acceptable distance while you are cheerful and offer many nice distractions). Puppies will come out of a fear period in a couple of weeks, no harm done as long as you’re careful. Do try not to step on a puppy during the fear period, as that may make them leery of feet forever. That happened with my first Papillon.

But back to P names!

Puppy 1: Affectionate, sociable, happy, middle-of-the-road, fairly average Cavalier personality. (This is why I like Cavaliers, because normal puppies are like this.) Hasn’t hit the fear period (yet, at least). I’m thinking of naming this puppy Anara Afternoon in Paris. I like multiple-word names if I can think of a good one.

Puppy 2: Similar to 1, affectionate, sociable, perhaps more thoughtful, tends to explore a bit farther than 1, a touch bolder and more independent — but also currently in a fear period. He is a quiet puppy. When he is fearful, he is quiet. Because he sometimes strikes me as thoughtful — the kind who looks carefully at things and you can see the wheels in his tiny brain turning — I’m inclined to name him Anara Pericles. I like the name Pericles, and Greek names sound classy.

Puppy 3: All the pizzazz, personality plus, very very happy and sociable. Interestingly, this is the other one of the puppies who has hit an obvious fear period. When he is fearful, he tells you about it. Interesting how some puppies are talkers and some aren’t. Bbecause of all the zip, I’m going to name this puppy Anara Pandemonium. I suspect he will live up to it. I’m sure he would be a fantastic tricks dog and a great therapy dog.

Puppy 4: He’s toughened up a good bit and will stand up for himself rather than letting the bigger ones push him around, but he’s very into humans. He’s a kisser and a talker and he likes to be babied. At seven weeks and three days, he still likes to be fed by hand! Well, that’s a good way of encouraging the emotional bond to humans, so sure, that’s fine. He can learn to eat better out of a dish next week. Not a trace of a fear period (so far). I’m very attached to this little guy. I’m thinking of Anara Personable.

Other possibilities: Particular, Presentation, Phenomenal. Or perhaps Phineas or Perseus, though those are a little short. For a black puppy, I would have thought of Phantom of the Opera, a great name! But for a Blenheim puppy, I guess not. What do you all think of this set of names? Do you like any of these a lot better than the ones I’ve tentatively picked out of the universe of P words and names?

Anything else occur to anybody? I can’t fill out the CKCSC registration paperwork without names, so I need to decide soon and get the slooooow wheels of CKCSC registration turning. AKC is much faster. CKCSC can take a year or so to finally work through the registration process.

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Flashbacks

Here’s a post by James Scott Bell about flashbacks: The Fundamentals of Flashbacks

I like this post because it points to a use of flashbacks that I hadn’t thought of, even though I’ve used flashbacks that way myself:

A flashback is used to give us essential backstory information about a character and/or the plot. It helps readers understand why a character is acting a certain way in the story present. Or it may reveal plot points to give us a fuller understanding of the story beats. Often it’s a combination of both.

There’s also a strategic use. A flashback can be a suspense interlude. When you leave your main story at a point where the readers are on tenterhooks, they will read that flashback in a pleasurable state of anticipation—which is what drives a page turner.

A suspense interlude! I immediately recognized that because I used a flashback like that in Suelen.

Two more days to preorder this book, by the way!

That wasn’t the only reason I put in two flashbacks. I did that for several reasons:

First, flashbacks allow the reader have a couple of scenes with Aras, who does not appear in the actual story otherwise. I like Aras, I hope everyone else likes Aras, I’d be sorry not to let him appear in a Tuyo-world book, so I did flashbacks just to the previous day in order to show Suelen’s meeting with him.

I could, obviously, have written the story straight from front to back, but inserting that meeting as flashbacks let me do several things that straight chronological order wouldn’t have allowed.

First, by using flashbacks, I could start the story at almost the moment Suelen’s decision to enter the winter country becomes irrevocable — the moment when he meets Ugaro warriors. After that, turning back is really not an option.

Second, by using flashbacks, I could split the meeting with Aras into two scenes and show one early in the story and the other later. That one meeting is therefore shown in chapter two and chapter seven. And why did I want part of it to be shown later in the book? Because, yes, that creates a suspense interlude, just as James Scott Bell says. I didn’t think of it that way … well, maybe I did. I certainly did deliberately break off at a suspenseful moment, put in the interlude, and then went back to the main story line.

For this particular story, I wasn’t using flashbacks to build backstory at all. Well, maybe a tiny amount, but seriously, not much. In general, I’m not crazy about using flashbacks for that purpose. I think that kind of flashback often makes me impatient. How about two sentences of backstory and let’s move on? I’m reading a book right now that made me feel exactly like that. I didn’t like the backstory scene; the important detail could have been conveyed in two sentences of telling rather than pages and pages of showing and I would have liked that a lot better.

Personally, despite the examples Bell provides as good examples, I very strongly (VERY STRONGLY) prefer authors to signal that they are entering a flashback with use of the past perfect OR with a chapter break OR both. I detest the use of the simple past tense at the beginning of a flashback. I mean, if the story is being told in third person past tense; in that case simple past is not appropriate for moving into a flashback. Shifting subtly from past perfect to simple past in the first paragraphs of an extended flashback is part of the artistry of storytelling and I hereby recommend that authors pay attention to that. I got plenty of practice at making that transition smoothly when writing the Death’s Lady trilogy, where almost the only fantasy elements in the first book are provided in flashbacks and the flashbacks are integrated into story-present conversations. Believe me, I focused hard on getting into and out of flashbacks smoothly and the biggest part of that is shifting from past perfect to simple past and then back to story present.

However, in that trilogy, I didn’t use flashbacks as suspense interludes at all, while that’s perhaps the primary function of the flashbacks in Suelen. Hopefully that will work well for readers! I’m really impatient for Friday, when Suelen will hit Kindle devises everywhere. Oh, that reminds me, I better make a note to hit publish on Thursday for the paperback.

By the way, I’ve had requests to do a hardcover edition for it. I hadn’t intended to because it’s rather short — remember, about 75,000 words — and hardcovers have to be 6×9, which will make it look very short indeed. But, hey, a couple requests plus I would kind of like it in hardcover myself, so I’ve asked the artist to do a hardcover cover for me. It won’t be ready by Friday, but it should be ready pretty soon.

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Puppies: Seven Weeks!

Oh, they are SO CUTE now!

Also, even though seven weeks in not, strictly speaking, when we evaluate structure in puppies — we do that at eight weeks, and some people think ten is better — nevertheless, seven weeks is a great time to introduce the puppies to the concept of “stacking,” which means also to the concept of “treats.”

Here is a beautiful young Cavalier in a correct stack that shows her extremely good structure. Spoiler, she’s one of mine, now thirteen years old and in a pet home. But this is a great picture to use to discuss structure, especially because she had no coat to speak of at this age. I’m leaving this picture big enough you can see her structure properly.

You see that smooth flow of her topline from the top of her head to the base of her tail? That is a correct topline for every single trotting breed in the universe. I realize you can’t see the top of her shoulder blade, we locate that by touch, but it’s about where that little snip of red color is pointed. This is excellent shoulder layback, which is why she has a nice long neck. Her front is excellent. Her rear is even better than her front. This is just how the rear should look. Great angulation. This is a wonderful youngster. Want to take her hiking on the Adirondacks trail? No problem. She’s built for it. Australian Shepherd, Collie, Siberian Husky, Vizsla, Golden Retriever, whatever, if the dog is supposed to be put together for an efficient trot, this is how that dog should be put together if you want efficient, smooth movement.

A dog put together correctly can go all day. A dog with bad structure will wear out faster, break down earlier, and unfortunately quite possibly suffer some degree of pain for most of its life. Sound structure leads to good orthopedic health for the dog’s entire life. Bad structure leads to orthopedic breakdown. Structure and temperament are therefore BY FAR the most important characteristics when looking at a dog; even type is way less important, and certainly color and markings and other cosmetics are right down at the bottom of things to consider. While I could pick nits when looking at the structure of the youngster pictured above, she is almost exactly what any correct trotting dog should look like. Some breeds — Standard Poodles, Norwegian Elkhounds, Dobermans, Boxers, etc — are built more square, but other than that, this is still basically the correct structure for all those breeds as well. Galloping breeds and digging breeds are put together somewhat differently, by the way, and of course dwarf breeds such as the Cardigan Welsh Corgi. Even so, very worthwhile to have a basic picture of correct, sound structure in your mind when selecting a pet, including a mixed breed.

Now, let’s have fun seeing how puppies look the very first time you try to set them up, by yourself, with a crappy camera in one hand and a treat in the other.

Boy One.

This is actually a pretty good stack! The picture is not really in great focus, but anybody can see this puppy is nice despite the puppy fluff getting in the way. His head is stretched out to get a treat, which pulls his neck down, but it’s a fine length of neck, implying a good shoulder. We really evaluate the front by touch; you set one finger on the top of the scapula and your thumb on the point of the shoulder and then look at the placement of the elbow in combination with those anatomical points. We also check the forechest by touch. How far forward does the sternum come? It should come well out in front of the legs when the legs are in the correct position. Not insanely far — that’s a common-ish fault in Weimeraners — but well out. If the puppy lacks forechest, the entire front may be too far forward on the body. You can’t see that through the fluff, though. (When you see judges touching dogs during a show, this is the the kind of thing they’re evaluating, and this is why they put their hands on a fluffy dog a lot more than on a smooth-coated dog.)

I believe this puppy’s topline is going to be very nice. His rear leg is back a bit too far, but I think his angulation looks good all the way around. Nice puppy. Solid, too, lots of bone. That’s a type characteristic, not a structural characteristic, but it’s good to see.

Boy Two

Ha ha ha! Wow, treats, ooh, let me get the cookie! Boy Two had been asleep, but he sure woke up when he tasted his first liver brownie. This is a terrible stack, but a really cute picture. It’s not your imagination if you think he looks less fluffy: Boys One and Three are fluffy, Boys Two and Four less fluffy. This is natural variation. Regardless, all the fluff will shed out and the puppy will be very short-coated at around six months, then the adult coat gradually comes in.

I did get a better picture of him, but not a cuter picture, so this is the one I’m posting here. (Also, you should see the zillion extremely blurry pictures I deleted. This photo session took about ten minutes per puppy, or forty minutes of my morning.) Boy Two looks overall a lot like Boy One in structure.

Hefty Boy Three

What a little pudge! This guy cleans up his food in a hurry and then I have to move him out of the way so the other puppies can get their share. He’s up to four and a half pounds as of this morning, half a pound bigger than the next biggest, a full pound bigger than Boy Four. He’ll almost certainly lose the pudginess between four and six months, but I doubt he’ll ever be a picky eater.

He’s fluffy, exaggerating the hefty look, but if you ignore both fluff and pudginess, he’s quite nice. His front is invisible, but his length of neck looks fine. He’s toeing out in the rear, practically universal in young puppies, I’m not concerned about that. If you look, you’ll see they’re all doing that. I can see his pasterns are straight up and down, nice angulation for sure. We also evaluate structure via movement and this puppy trots very nicely. They all do. Much better than bunny-hopping in a puppy this age; we like to see a straight, smooth trot right from five weeks on.

I like Boy Three a lot. I love his attitude — I think he would make a very good show dog despite the forward marking on his face, and I’m sure he’d make a great performance dog. He’s extremely eager to please and even more eager to earn treats! I got an especially delightful face shot of him this morning, so here it is:

Happy puppy!

Moving on to the last puppy …

Boy Four

You can see how very heavy his markings are compared to even heavily marked Boy Three! We call this a blanket Blenheim. You see a lot of blanket Blens and blanket Tricolors in the show ring these days. It’s not my personal preference. Nice puppy though! Long neck = good shoulder, plus a smooth topline which also means good shoulder. You don’t want the impression of a sharp angle where the neck joins the body; that always means a very upright shoulder, which is terrible for efficient movement. (Short steps, pounding gait, poor endurance, potential breakdown of front pasterns, if there’s an elbow problem, you’re likely to find out about that too as the constant orthopedic stress produces eventual breakdown all up and down the front.) Nice tail set. They all have good tail set, which is good to see because it probably means a correct croup and pelvis. They stick their tails up when playing, but see here, they all have good low tails when they’re just standing. That’s what we like to see.

Boy Four also has better bone than I really thought he might. That’s not important for function, but it’s correct type for a Cavalier; they’re not supposed to look dainty and fragile. They’re supposed to have some heft to them. This little dude is small, but he’s well proportioned. I like his body a lot, in fact. I would need to put my hand on his front to really evaluate his elbow placement. I think it will turn out to be fine, though offhand the best front looks — to the eye — like perhaps Boy One.

This is a quality litter, honestly. I’m quite pleased to see Leda produce such nice puppies. Two forward markings on the face, but structure and type are much more important than a little cosmetic failing like that. If I wanted a boy, I’d be happy to keep any of the top three puppies here. I think Ish has probably contributed his beautiful head to at least those three puppies. Boy Four has had a narrower head so far, but it may be starting to broaden at this point. Here he is again below. That’s not a bad head at all and I think it will improve.

Boy Four, ready to bounce forward — he’s come a long way from that tiny 4.25-oz infant!

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FINISHED! AT LAST!

Wow, I can’t even tell you how glad I am to have finished — FINALLY! AT LONG LAST! — a full draft of Invictus.

It’s 179,000 words, 605 pp, which is (of course) longer than my maximum estimate a month ago — I overshot that estimate by nearly 20,000 words, which is probably about par for the course even when I try to allow for that. Given that, I guess it’s reasonable that I also overshot the time expected by 12 days.

I’m not interested — I’ve never been interested — in even thinking about traditional publication for this one. I don’t think it’s right for that. I think it’s perfect for self-publishing. Publication will be in 2023 sometime; there’s no way to handle all the revision and proofing and everything this year, not if I want to focus on Tasmakat right away, which I do.

Therefore, next steps with this manuscript:

–Set it aside for a good while because I’m tired of dealing with it and eager to get into Tasmakat.

–Re-read the back half and revise to clear out all the many boldfaced sentences, which all point at continuity problems, hopefully minor.

–Decide whether to get rid of one (very minor) character and the (somewhat important) episode in which she’s important. The way the climactic scenes developed, she’s probably not necessary, that episode is probably not necessary, and cutting both will probably smooth out the action. But I’m not sure. Reading it again after a break will help me decide.

–Trim. As a rule, I cut about 30,000 words, which is about 100 pages. (Yes, really, that’s about average for me.) (Yes, I wish I didn’t have to do that.)

–Send the draft to my first beta readers. I will want these readers to focus on big, big issues — anything about continuity, plot, or worldbuilding that does not make sense, anything that feels like a serious problem with characterization. I might see if Sharon Shinn has time and would like to read it, since the romance thread here is pretty strong and as she’s a romance author, I would like her take on that aspect. Remember, she’s the one who said plaintively about Keraunani, “Wait, can’t you show one kiss at the end?” Of course I needed a kiss at the end!

–Additional revision based on their feedback.

–Send to my best editorial beta reader (Hi, Kim!)

–Additional revision.

–Proofing

And by then I will have gotten a cover, set a publication date, and put it up for preorder. I want a spaceship cover, the exact kind that makes me roll my eyes because it’s so generic, but in this case as long as the artist will paint the spaceship black and put INVICTUS in red letters on the spaceship, that kind of cover is perfect. A spaceship on the cover declares This Is Science Fiction, which prevents people from thinking that it must be fantasy because I only write fantasy and then being surprised. I don’t want that.

If Invictus is still up at ~180,000 words after revision — which is fairly likely, because after I trim, I tend to add back in words during revision — anyway, if it’s still on the long side like that, I will almost certainly cut it in half and publish it as a duology with a cliffhanger in the middle. That is because:

a) it’ll be long enough to justify being cut in half;

b) the division point in the middle rises organically out of the plot; there’s nothing in the least contrived about it;

c) it’s obviously better as far as marketing goes to publish it as two books with a very low price on the first and a significantly higher price on the second. That way readers who don’t actually like the story haven’t invested much in the front half, while absolutely everybody who reads far enough to hit the cliffhanger will definitely buy the second book. Plus forever after I will be able to run sales on the first book to boost visibility of the duology and increase sales on the second.

The downside is that of course I would need a second title and cover. That’s the only downside, though. I think it’s fair to end the first book with a cliffhanger given that the second would be published the same day.

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