Important tips

Important tip about summer gardening:  When you get an inch and a half of rain in late August in Missouri, that is God’s way of telling you it is time to weed.  Especially when it is  relatively cool and pleasant.

Besides the nice weather, the other interesting thing about this week is that I’m babysitting my brother’s two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.  Along with *my* Cavaliers, counting the puppies that are for sale and also counting my ‘old man’ Papillon, that gives me . . . let’s see . . . *eleven* dogs.  That’s a lot even for me, way above my theoretical personal maximum.  Cavaliers are so easy to live with, though, that it’s not actually that much trouble to have a lot.  Especially now that the puppies are basically housetrained.

This also gives me a chance to find out how many Cavaliers can fit on the couch at one time (seven, five if I’m also on the couch — plus two cats).  Actually, mostly the dogs are clever enough to lie on the floor in front of the air conditioner vents, so the couch is seldom that crowded.

Important tip for living with a million dogs:  store the vacuum cleaner someplace handy.  And if you’re going to clip your brother’s dogs, do it outside because, honestly, no vacuum cleaner needs that kind of challenge.

Really important tip for gardening with dogs:  Try not to watch while the puppies dig holes in, wrestle on top of, and chase dragonflies through the flower beds.  When you hear the ominous swish-crash-thud of puppies battering down the butterfly lilies and rudbeckia, remind yourself that no plant without a sense of humor is worth growing.  Except Himalayan blue poppy, and you can’t grow that anyway.

Merlin beating up his Aunt Adora

But thankfully not in the middle of a flower bed.  This time.

Elin with Adora

Adora is usually very tolerant of puppies!  Now that they’re four months old, I’m kinda leaning toward keeping Merlin unless a show home appears . . . he’s looking very nice!  Elin has some cosmetic features (freckles!  on her nose!) which mean she is heading for a pet home, when the right home appears.

Oh, and we’ve had SUCH an advance for puppies!  The youngsters now go to sleep at eight o’clock just like the older dogs.  This is almost as nice as having them housetrained because it gives me some nice peaceful hours to write.  Or read Mockingjay.  Whatever.

I am about half finished with the ‘werewolf’ book — not that they are werewolves exactly.  260 pp, yay!  I hope that is actually significantly more than half done, since I’d like to bring the ms. in at under 100,000 words, definitely under 120,000, and right now it’s a tad over 70,000.  As always, I am going to overshoot and have to cut.  Hopefully I will not wind up writing a hundred extra pages, this time.

I’m in the slooooow annoying middle section, but nevertheless I expect I will probably finish the rough draft sometime in October.  Probably not later than November, anyway.  I know roughly what happens for the rest of the book, though some important questions remain about details (what weapon is this one character going to make?  Why isn’t it going to work?  Exactly what is this other character do to pull victory from the teeth of defeat?).

After my first revision is done, I’ll send the ms. to my brother to read for logic — if any of my characters miss anything obvious when coming up with various plans to deal with the bad guys, I want my brother to spot it!  He’s really good at this.

And I need a friend of mine to read the ms. and check my Spanish, since I personally can’t even count to ten in Spanish.

Then I’ll send the ms. to my agent . . . I told her to expect it before Christmas because it ought to be possible to get it all the way done by then and a deadline helps me get through the slow part.

Good thing my part-time job gives me time to work on writing plus work in the garden plus train dogs for the Fall obedience and rally and conformation shows I’ll be hitting.

Important tip for training dogs:  Go ahead and spend money to enter those shows that are coming up in two weeks!  THAT’LL make you get on with the training!  The dogs will dance for joy when they see the training leads come out and the jumps appear and (most important) the liver brownies come out of the oven.

Oh!  And also!  While more or less on the subject of my actual job!  SUPER IMPORTANT TIP for parents!  Make sure your kid LEARNS THE MULTIPLICATION TABLES IN THE FOURTH GRADE LIKE KIDS ARE SUPPOSED TO.  When a student in college reaches for a calculator to multiply three times six?  NOT A GOOD SIGN.  This problem is way more common this semester than it was even three years ago.  Trust me on this one:  no multiplication tables means you will not make it through college algebra.

Okay!  It’s time for all the dogs to take a nap while I haul myself out of Mockingjay and actually get some work done on my’werewolf’ book!

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I wasn’t EXACTLY counting down the days to Mockingjay.  But on the other hand, I was pretty consistently paying attention to blogs that WERE counting down the days, so I knew I should arrive home after work yesterday to find my preordered copy waiting for me.  And there it was!

Did I bathe dogs, pick apples, cook anything fancy for dinner, review the exercises Bree and Adora will need to know if I enter them in Rally Excellent at that show in two weeks?  Did I work on my very own current manuscript in progress?  Obviously silly questions!  No.  Of course I, like no doubt lots of other people, took off the entire  evening and read Mockingjay instead.

And it was great! 

I expected characters to die . . . including characters I loved.  I expected losses and blood and sweat and tears and moments of despair.  I totally expected Katniss to have a really tough time.  But I also expected, in the end, for the Capital to lie in smoking ruins and President Snow to get his.  I knew that in the end, all the struggle would prove to have been worthwhile.

And they did.  And it was.

Mockingjay was a fitting conclusion to one of the all-time great YA trilogies.

And though I ordinarily hate prologues, I love epilogues, and I’m grateful to Collins for including the one that finished off her trilogy.

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What’s your book about?

You know how the most common question a writer is supposed to get is:  Where do you get your ideas?

I actually don’t mind this question because I can usually answer it, more or less.  Pretty often I actually do know what image sparked a book, what secondary plotline in somebody else’s book I borrowed to create a major plot in mine, what minor character in ditto led to a protagonist of mine. I don’t even have to refer to Schenectady, usually. 

But in fact, this question is not at all as common as the one above.  And the question, “So, what’s your book about?” is really much more difficult to answer.  This is because you want a one-sentence answer which might make the questioner want to buy your book, and explaining what you’re book’s about in one sentence is really, really hard.

Now, Nathan Bransford, an agent who has a great blog, is the guy who posted about this in the way that was most helpful to me (

What Bransford suggested is that you structure your answer this way:  When OPENING CONFLICT happens to CHARACTER, he OVERCOMES CONFLICT to COMPLETE QUEST.

Turns out it is actually more or less possible to use this structure!  So here are my attempts to do this for my books:


“When a curse falls across the Kingdom so that all babies are stillborn, Timou must find the courage to discover and defeat the source of the curse — even when she finds that she herself is intimately tied to the Kingdom’s greatest enemy.”


“When the beautiful but terrible fire-griffins are driven out of their desert, both Kes and Bertaud find themselves torn between the desperate need of the griffins and the safety of their own people and country.”


“The conflict with the griffins allowed Gereint to escape from servitude, but now he finds himself a pawn of the last cold mage — and poised either to save the country that enslaved him or allow it to be destroyed.”


“After a stranger arrives in Mienthe’s home, she comes to suspect he may be the key to protecting her country from the griffins — but only if she can harness her own emerging gifts to protect him from his enemies.”

3)  THE FLOATING ISLANDS  — coming in Feb. 2011

“After Trei’s family is destroyed in a natural disaster, he finds his way to the dragon-haunted Floating Islands — but when war threatens to erupt between the country of his birth and his new home, Trei must decide where his final loyalty lies . . . and what he will risk to prevent disaster to both.”

Wow, does that leave a lot out.  This one sentence thing is a killer.  Here’s a two-sentence version I like better:

“After Trei’s family is destroyed in a natural disaster, he finds his way to his mother’s kin in the magical, dragon-haunted Floating Islands.  But although he wins a coveted place amont the elite corps that uses dragon magic to fly, when war threatens to erupt between his father’s people and the Floating Islands, Trei must decide where his final loyalty lies — and what he will be willing to risk to prevent disaster.”

There, is that cheating?

4)  HOUSE OF SHADOWS  — coming in 2011, probably.

“After their father dies unexpectedly, Nemienne and her seven sisters must find some way to survive — but Nemienne never guessed that she wuld apprentice herself to a mage, nor that her new master might prove to be a deadly enemy to everything she loves.”

And that also leaves out a lot.  A LOT.  Also, maybe it gives too much away?  Although the reader finds out that the mage is maybe not a good guy pretty early, so this isn’t too much of a spoiler.

Okay, as first drafts go . . . not terrible?  Now just gotta commit these to memory so they’ll be there when somebody asks . . .

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So, I’m reading a Nora Roberts romance.  First one I’ve ever read.  BORN IN FIRE.  It’s a perfect book!

By which I mean, perfect for my purposes:  I can read a few pages and then put it down without a twinge to work on my own current project.  It just isn’t at all compelling, and I have concluded that this is because nothing at all is happening in the book.  Other than the romance, I mean.

By which you can conclude, accurately, that I’m not used to romances.

Here’s the plot of BORN IN FIRE:  Girl meets boy, romantic sparks fly, and then Maggie finds herself weaving the cryptic prophecies of an ancient Atlantean seer into her glass sculptures, while Rogan begins to see eerie movements out of the corners of his eyes in the shadows of his art gallery . . . except, no.  This is a straight romance.  No prophecies, no Atlantean seer, no eerie shadows, nothing.  No heraldic creatures, either.  Not even any werewolves!

I think I have been trained by other genres to expect . . . well, more.  I feel like shaking the book and demanding, “But where’s the PLOT?”  In mysteries you get a dead body, in thrillers you race against the clock to Save The Day, and while anything goes in horror/fantasy/SF, you would be safe to expect Maggie and Rogan to be faced with SOME kind of problem besides working out their (yawn) personal relationship.

This is kind of a revelation for me.  I guess, because mysteries and fantasies almost always involve romance subplots, I sort of thought that romances also included REAL plots as well as a romance SUBPLOT.  Who knew the romance could be, like, the whole thing?

I can now say with absolute assurance that, though I might someday write a mystery, I’ll never write a romance.  But, on the other hand . . . how useful to discover a whole WORLD of books out there that I can actually read while working on a book of my own!

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And . . . changing directions

So . . . last week, I finally sent Caitlin, my fabulous agent, seventy pages each of two new works in progress and basically said: Pick one.

I thought it was about time, since when you’re seventy pages in, it’s about time to fish or cut bait — or in this case, press ahead or set the WIP aside.  I wanted to press ahead with one or the other, but which?

Naturally Caitlin picked the one I was afraid she wouldn’t like. That was fine by me!  I sort of thought she might say, “Okay, yes, I know it’s the fad right now, but werewolves?*  Don’t you know werewolves are a dime a dozen?  Go with the other story, ’cause there’s no way this one will catch an editor’s eye in all the clutter.”

But she didn’t!  She said, “Great, a fresh look at werewolves!  Editors will love this!  Get ‘er done!”

Well!  Nice to know I’m doing something different enough to count as a ‘fresh look.’  It’s harder than you might think to be sure.  Plus, added bonus, I had a couple of good scenes in mind, so it was easy to pick this story back up.  And I know the ending!  The middle’s a little vague at the moment, I admit, but that will work itself out.

Here’s how the story starts, more or less:

*     *    *    *

Alejandro tried to decide whether Natividad was all right.  She smiled at him out of the engulfing fur-lined hood of her coat, but he thought the smile took a deliberate effort.  His little sister’s dark Mexican eyes were still bright, but her round, pretty face looked pinched and . . . not exactly pale, for of them all she most had the look of their Mexican mother.  But there was a subtle ashy tone to her skin that he did not like.

Miguel, hovering protectively at his twin’s elbow, did look fine.  Miguel had spent his whole life trying to keep up with Alejandro.  He was not tall, but he was sturdy and strong for an ordinary human, and though he, too, had his hood pulled up around his face, the cold did not seem to bother him very much.

Alejandro himself, of course, did not really feel the cold, as he did not really feel the effort of breaking a path through the knee-deep snow.  First he broke the path and then Miguel widened it, so Natividad might not get too tired.  But Natividad was thinner and more easily wearied than she had been before – well, before.  Sometimes she tired more quickly than her brothers expected, and they had all discovered over the past days that she suffered from the cold.  And of course the Puro, the Pure, could freeze to death as easily as normal humans.  Alejandro suspected it was cold enough for a normal person to freeze to death right now, no matter how brilliant the afternoon sun.

Natividad gave Alejandro a look that was at once wry and amused and patient.  She said “I’m fine.”  Her breath, like Alejandro’s, hung in the air, a visible echo of her words.

“She’s fine,” Miguel said, falling back a step to put an arm around his twin’s shoulders.

She leaned against him, her smile taking on a quirk of humor.  “See?” she said to Alejandro.

Alejandro said nevertheless, “We could stop, rest.  We could make a fire.  You have those cerillas?  Matches?”  He looked at Miguel.  “We could boil water, have coffee.  Eat something.  Then you would have not so much to carry.”

Miguel grinned, a flash of white teeth in his dark face.  His smile was their father’s.  Just recently, as Miguel had shot up in height and lost the plump softness of childhood, Alejandro had began to see echoes of their American father’s bony features emerging in his younger brother’s face.  “I’m fine, too,” Miguel said.  “But I wouldn’t mind carrying some of this weight on the inside instead of the outside.”

Alejandro nodded without comment.  Miguel, though young and human and much less strong than Alejandro, was the only one of them carrying a real burden. They had not known how long it might take to walk out to the Lanning house in the middle of Dimilioc territory, so they had brought the things the twins might need for several days of cold hiking.  And more than that, they had not wanted to abandon every last trace of their past.  Buried in the middle of Miguel’s pack, Alejandro knew, was also Natividad’s one photo of their mother, and her wooden flute, both wrapped up in Natividad’s favorite dress, the one with all the ruffles.

They had not had to argue out who would carry the heavy pack.  Last year, when the twins had been fourteen, they might have argued.  Natividad would certainly have argued.  Miguel might not have complained out loud, but they would both have thought Alejandro should carry the pack because he was the biggest and had black dog strength.  But they had all gotten much older over this terrible past year.

They all knew Alejandro could not carry any burden because he needed his hands clear.  Alejandro carried only a knife.  If worse came to worse, he would fight.  If he was strong enough, good enough, maybe the twins would be able to get away, back to the car they had left hidden near the highway turnoff, get all the way off Dimilioc territory.

The truth was, if worse came to worse, probably they would all die.  But that had been the truth since the day their father had been killed.  Since before that, in fact, though they had not known that when they were younger.  When they were younger:  last year, so short a time ago, when they had all been children, before the Dimilioc war with the blood kin, and Papa’s death.  Last year, when the world had changed.

“I’m not too tired,” Natividad said.  “I can go on.”  She looked at her watch, a cheap one with a black plastic strap and a pink face, with a white kitten to point out the hours and minutes.  She put back the hood of her coat and looked at the sky, where the sun stood high above the horizon.  She shook her head.  “That’s not the same sun that shines in Mexico,” she said, giving voice to a thought Alejandro had also had, repeatedly, while traveling north.  How could it be the same sun when it put out so little heat?

The coat was the best and warmest they had been able to find for her.  It was a good coat, better than Miguel’s; neither cheap nor pink.  Buying it had taken nearly all the rest of their small store of American money.  Alejandro remembered how rich they had all felt when they had counted that money, before they had left Mexico.  It had seemed like so much, then.  He said, “You are not too cold?  You two should eat something.  Is that not what you said, Natividad?  People need to eat more in the cold.  You told us that.”

“I’m not –”

“You did say that,” said Miguel, so placidly that Natividad could not argue.  It was not a knack Alejandro had ever mastered, but Miguel was very hard to argue with.  Miguel said now, “Of course you should eat something.  Some jerky, maybe.  I’ll take one of those nut bars with the chocolate, if you’ve got any more.  And we should drink some water.”

Natividad shrugged.  “Matón,” she said, but without heat.  Then she remembered her rule about English and corrected herself: “Bully.”  She swept out of her face several wisps of raven-black hair that had worked out of her neat braid and began to search through her light pack for something to eat.  Miguel walked a little aside from the trail they’d been following, kicking knee-high snow out of his way, and swept more snow off a fallen tree so she could sit down. “I really don’t need to rest,” Natividad protested, but then shrugged.  “But I suppose I wouldn’t mind coffee.”  She followed him, peeling the wrapping away from one of her nut bars and handing her twin another.

“Well,” said a new voice, sharp and quick and nasally American.  “Black pups trespassing.  Do you know, when I caught your scent, I walked out in the middle of supper.  If I’d known it was a pack of puppies, I’d not have troubled myself.”

Alejandro swung around and took several quick steps to put himself between the newcomer and his younger brother and sister.  He did not dare turn his head to see what Miguel and Natividad were doing – he had to trust they were doing as they had agreed, that Miguel had shed the pack, that both his younger siblings had got back on the snowy road, ready to run.  He could hear them behind him: the quick rush of their breath, the rapid beating of their hearts, the crunch of snow as they moved – yes, back toward the road.  He did not look back, but stared directly into the newcomer’s face for a breath and then made himself lower his eyes.  Even then he continued to watch the other man covertly through his lashes.  The newcomer was a black dog; Alejandro could scent the bitter ash of his shadow.  But then he had already known that.

The newcomer was a tall man: taller than Alejandro.  Taller even than most Americans.  He had a very American face:  bony and narrow, with a thin, unsmiling mouth and an expression that was desdén – disdainful, as though nothing he looked at pleased him and he didn’t expect it to.  There was no color to him.  His hair was pale as bleached straw.  His light blue eyes seemed to Alejandro to be the color of the winter itself.  The lines around those eyes spoke of impatience and an inflexible temper.  It was a bleak, hard face.  It was not the face of a man who would be easily touched by anger or fear or grief.

But Alejandro had already known that, too, about this man.  He took another step forward and then dropped to one knee in the snow, trying to strike a balance between respectful acknowledgment of the other man’s superior strength and his own pride.  It was harder to find that balance than he had expected.  He did not allow himself to reach for the knife he carried.  That, too, was harder than he’d expected.

“Well,” said the American, looking them over with leisurely derision, “It’s a little late for courtesy – and that’s a rather half-hearted courtesy, isn’t it?  What is this?  One black pup and a human boy and a girl Pure as the white snow – is that right?  One doesn’t expect to find such a mixed pack of strays in the winter woods.  Still less walking straight into Dimilioc territory.  There are quicker, kinder ways to find death, if you seek the fell dark.”

“We ask to speak to Grayson Lanning,” Alejandro said, fighting to keep his tone meek against a dangerous edge of rising temper.  “We ask for that, and is it your place to call the fell dark if we ask for a proper entrevista?  Audience?”

The tall American tilted his head to one side, his thin mouth crooking in ironic condescension.  “Oh, it is.”

Alejandro hesitated.  Behind him, Miguel said unexpectedly, “Of course it is, but, Ezekiel Korte, would the Master of Dimilioc thank you for exercising your prerogative?”

The tall man’s winter eyes went, unamused, to Miguel.  “You know me, do you?”

“Everyone knows you, sir.”

“Black dogs.  Not human youngsters, generally.”  Ezekiel’s pale gaze shifted back to Alejandro.  “Your brother, is he?  And the girl’s your sister, I expect.  She’s pretty.”  His tone was perfectly indifferent.  “You think you can fight me, pup?  Give those children time to run?”

“She’s Pure,” Alejandro said sharply. “Why should she need to run from you?”

*    *    *    *

*  This one is Patricia Briggs’ fault.  She’s the one who made me enthusiastic about werewolves — I love her books.  Fair warning, though:  my werewolves are NOTHING like hers, so don’t expect that!

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Recent reading

So, recently I lost a three-week-old puppy that I thought was going to make it, the only living puppy in his litter and a puppy for whom I had great hopes.  I probably don’t need to explain that this was a depressing and upsetting event.  My response, of course, was to reach for a Really Good Book I’d been looking forward to reading and some Extremely Good Very Dark Chocolate to go with it.

The Chocolate was Callebaut, which I mail order in large quantities, and the book was The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  Obviously the chocolate was outstanding, but even more important, the book was absolutely perfect for me right then.  This is one time I really agree with the idea of ‘escapism’ and ‘escapist literature.’

I’m not a huge big fan of dystopias generally because who needs to read about unhappy people living miserable, depressing lives?  Please, just spare me.

But the fact is, in The Hunger Games,you can tell that the good guys are going to win eventually.  I mean, in the first book, the happy ending will obviously be restricted and short-term, but still, you know right from the beginning that there *will* be at least a moderately happy ending.

And it was just as good as I’d hoped, too.  I mean, in the YA world recently, it’s seemed like everybody has been talking about this book; that’s why I reached for it when I needed a really good book.  And everybody was right!  It was great!  A very well written book about wonderful characters caught in a horrible situation that was MUCH MUCH WORSE than anything in my life, which was exactly what I needed.

Luckily I had the second book (Catching Fire) on hand.  I’d planned to wait to read any of them until the third book was out, but hey, it’s coming out in August, so close enough.  I’ve got it preordered.  Can’t wait to see the bad guys go down!

I’ve read a couple other books recently, too.  CJ Cherryh’s latest installment in her NEVERending Foreigner series (this one is called Deceiver).  I have to say, you’d think she’d manage to not end on a cliffhanger, yes?  But no.  Heck, we all know the series is not complete.  Just FINISH THIS BOOK before you publish it, is that too much to ask?  This one just ended smack in the middle of unrolling events.

Well, well . . . eventually the next book will be out and we can see Bren Cameron finesse the tense diplomatic situation he’s in and rescue Barb and so on.

Oh!  And I read the latest Beka Cooper book!  By Tamara Pierce.  You know, if you’ve read anything by Tamara Pierce and liked it but it was a little young for you?  The Beka Cooper books are a pretty huge step up in sophistication.  Really, really good characters and fantastic world building, substantially more depth than usual.  Amazing use of slang.  Love ’em.  I think anybody who enjoyed the Paksennarian books by Elizabeth Moon would love these.  Can’t wait for the third book.

What a great pity that not every publisher brings out all three books of a trilogy in the same year! (!!!)  I get that usually the author needs time to write the sequels, but still, having to wait and wait for a sequel makes me REALLY APPRECIATE Orbit’s emphasis on bringing out trilogies fast.

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Starting to write

So, I’ve been writing!

Well . . . pretty much.  More or less.  The puppies are distracting (though extraordinarily cute), but even MORE distracting is the sudden need to pick TEN MILLION plums, rinse and slice each one individually, and cook the resulting gallons and gallons of plum slices into pie filling to can.

And before the yellow plum (Shiro) is done, the purple Fortune and red Ozark Premier will be ready.  And the peaches!  I can’t even think how many peaches we’ll be picking this year! Barring hail like last year.

Summer would be a great time to lose that pesky five pounds, what with all that fresh fruit rolling in, except that fresh fruit has a strong tendency to turn into plum cobblers and peach pies and blackberry tarts and rhubarb ice cream (seriously!  Mmmm!  Rhubarb!), and somehow it’s more like a pesky eight pounds, now.

But along with the puppies (housetraining and crate training and socializing and playing with and just admiring), AND along with processing the abovementioned millions and millions of plums, I’m also writing.

I’ve worked out the plot of a new story!  Well, only part way, true, but a whole lot more than not at all, which was where I was plotwise this time two weeks ago.  Don’t know the ending.  Oh, well, that’s not true:  of course I know the ending!  I just don’t know exactly HOW the good guys will win, if by ‘exactly’ you mean ‘at all’.  But at least I’m now clear about the overall problem the good guys will be facing, and some of the complications.

Part of what you do when building a story, you know, is increase the tension?  By dropping your main characters into a hole?  And then digging the hole deeper?

So what I know now is the shape of the hole.  What I don’t yet know is a)  what will happen to make it deeper, b) and deeper, c) and deeper, and d) how to get my good guys out of the hole at the end.

But that is fine!  I never know all that stuff to begin with!  As I work my way through the, uh, late beginning of the story and into the middle, the stuff toward the end will become clear.  Besides, I am exaggerating:  I do know SOME of the complications that will make for a deep, deep hole.

But here, for me, is one big advantage of having written more than one (or two) books in the past:  I KNOW that the plot will work itself out for me.  It always does!  So it’s okay not to know what the climactic scene will involve; I know it’ll be there when I get to it.  Then a little touching up through the whole manuscript makes it look to the reader like I knew right from the beginning what the end would be, or so I fondly believe.  Which, out of, um, counting the unpubished stories . . . would be . . . ah, I think I knew more or less the entire plot of two out of nine finished novels at the time I started writing it.  So for me that is the exception rather than the rule.

So, how long will it take to finish my current project?  I would like this to be a rather short novel, say 300 pages.  What is that, 90,000 words or so?

Quick quiz question:  if you write four pages a day, how long will it take to write 300 pages?  Answer:  not long, if you don’t get distracted by your puppies or home orchard and actually sit down and stick to that schedule.  The whole POINT of barely working in the summer is to make time for . . . well, other kinds of work.  So any day now!  Four pages a day!

I will say, though, that for Book Three of The Griffin Mage Trilogy, I wrote almost exactly a hundred pages more than appeared in the final version.  Secondary goal for current project:  don’t do that again.

So how about the current project?  What is it?  I’m thinking it will be a YA fantasy.

Oh!  And by the way, I read this snippet someplace that advised writers never to start a story with dialog.  Well, whatever!  Here’s how I started my most recent project:

* * *

“They say the Lord is dying,” Tassel said, swinging without ceremony into the bakery kitchen.  She let the door slam shut behind her.  It banged hard because its frame had warped in the wet spring weather, an event predictable as the blooming of crocuses and daffodils.  The bell chimed, once and again and a third time as the door bounced against the frame.  The chime was a bright cheerful sound, but it reminded Keri that she needed to hire someone to replace the warped boards.

Keri’s mother could have got out a hammer and a handful of twopenny nails and fixed the doorframe herself.  If Keri tried to do that, she would probably bend all the nails and crack the doorframe and knock the head off the hammer.  But since her mother’s death, the bakery never seemed to earn enough in a week to pay a carpenter to repair the door, so from week to week the door continued to bang in its frame.

Keri sighed, shrugged, and kept her attention on the immediate task facing her – one she could at least address properly, and one that would earn decent coin.  Maybe this cake would even pay for a carpenter at last.

Tassel watched critically as Keri piped cream frosting around the circumference of a cake layer and then spread peach jam over the layer. “Did you hear what I said?”

Keri produced a wordless murmur, more interested in keeping the peach jam from oozing out of bounds than in Tassel’s far-from-surprising news.  She placed a second cake layer on top of the first and repeated the piped circle of frosting and filling of peach jam.

“Yes, but my cousin says you can stand in his back pasture and actually watch the boundary mist thinning,” Tassel persisted.  Her voice dropped portentously.  “He says, some days lately, you can see right out across the border.  He says you’d swear you can glimpse the tips of mountains against the sky.”

“Um?” said Keri.  She placed the third layer on top of the second and began to spread frosting in large swirls across the sides and top of the towering cake.

Tassel clicked her tongue in exasperation.  “Not Gannon, and not Timon either.  It’s Cort who says he’s seeing mountaintops through the mist.”

Her attention momentarily captured, Keri glanced up.  She tried to imagine Tassel’s most humorless cousin standing in his back pasture, gazing into the border of the Demesne and frightening himself with vague shapes in the mist.  Her imagination failed her.  “So what else does Cort say?”

“Only what I told you.  But if it’s true, doesn’t it mean the Lord must really be dying this time?”

* * *

And, of course, he is, with all kinds of repercussions for Keri and everyone else.

I have 20,000 words written now, give or take a couple thousand.  Mind-boggling to consider that this should be something like 1/4 of the total length.  Well, we’ll see.  It would be very nice if this story cooperated with my idea of its proper length.

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New Book Cover!

So, this is exciting! Just got the final proofs for The Floating Islands, which is coming out next year, which is fine and good because I have plenty of time right now to work on this and I always kind of enjoy doing it and I can feel virtuously occupied without having to do, you know, real work.

But also! The cover proofs for the paperback edition of The City in the Lake arrived!

Now, the hardback cover sort of grew on me and I really do like it — here it is:

City in the Lake Hardcover

See? Evocative, and you can see what the title is about, and I like the way the cat is stepping down to the bridge. But the fact is, I always LOVED the first idea for the cover — and that is what Knopf has decided to use for hte paperback! I couldn’t be more pleased! Take a look:

City in the Lake Paperback

Isn’t that lovely?

Seeing the final proof of a new cover is always wonderful, and I’ve been really lucky — I’ve seen PLENTY of book covers I dislike and some I hate, but I really like all of mine. My favorite of the griffin covers at the moment is the one for Book 3, but I am SO outvoted — virtually everybody else I’ve asked loves the first cover the best (two of my friends vote for the simplicity of Book 2). I don’t know — I like the faintly wistful expression of the woman from Book 3. Must be something about wistfulness, because that’s a quality I see — and love — in the cover above, too.

Okay! Back to the final proofs for The Floating Islands! Last chance to catch typos and fix details I suddenly notice are all wrong . . .

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Why I haven’t posted lately

It’s been an intense month, as Adora’s litter turned out to be one premature half-sized little puppy who embarked immediately on a roller coaster: He’ll be fine! Wait, I think he’s going to die! Oh, whew, he’s okay. No, what? What? Aspiration pneumonia?

Aspiration pneumonia happens when a neonatal puppy breathes milk into his lungs, and it is always very serious.

Well . . . after putting the poor little guy on every safe and at least one risky antibiotic and tube-feeding him every four hours around the clock . . . he got better! And then he aspirated again and died anyway. Didn’t quite make it to four weeks old.

So that was brutal and explains why I haven’t been updating my website. I was hoping for better news when I got to it, you know?

Plus I discovered — I bet this won’t surprise anybody — that a violent emotional roller coaster is not conducive to writing! I got almost nothing done over the past month, other than dusting the whole house and becoming a world-class expert on tube-feeding tiny puppies.

In happier puppy news: Bree’s puppies, at least, are fine! Nothing cuter than five-week-old Cavalier puppies. Here’s her little boy puppy, and the two little girls sleeping in their ‘den’. I’m keeping both girls, at least long enough to see how they turn out.

People ask me, Isn’t it really hard to sell a puppy and let it go to a new home? And the answer is, No, not really, as long as you’re perfectly certain the new home is excellent. It is way, way worse to lose one after his eyes are open and he starts to have a personality. It is just fine to send one away as long as you get happy notes back from the new owner about how perfect and great the puppy is!

So I have these two stories started, you know, and wasn’t really able to work on either of them over the past few weeks. That’ll change, and I’ll pick one soon and get some major writing done. Why else arrange to be so very, very part time in the summer except to have time for writing? But first!

I’m kinda thinking of working the whole dying-puppy thing into a novel. So it wouldn’t be a total waste, you know? And as kind of a memorial to the one who didn’t make it. I trust that doesn’t strike anybody as stupidly sentimental. (If it does, keep your opinion to yourself.)

I kind of think I know what I might do as far as the plot goes, more or less, and I have this kinda snazzy setting in mind, so I think maybe I’ll see if I can’t write thirty or forty pages of that first and then think about which story to actually finish. I will turn the puppy from a spaniel into some other kind of creature . . . maybe a griffin (not a fire-griffin, though! Different world!). And, I promise you, he will SURVIVE. Depressing endings, faugh. Bad enough in the real world.

So, anyway, after the puppy died, I made a large plate of The Best Cookies In The World and got out a book I’ve been longing to read (The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, which I was saving to read until the third book came out, which it isn’t yet, but August is close enough) and read the book and ate all the coookies. The book was perfect for the occasion. Absorbing story, you know, and all the characters have way worse problems than I do, which at the moment I really appreciate. I totally get why this book garnered such raves all last year! I read Catching Fire, too, and now I’m dying to read the third book. Can’t wait to see the evil Capital pulled down. I hope all the good guys survive to dance on its grave, or at least all my favorite characters, because seriously, I am in the mood for happy endings.

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What’s been going on lately?

1) Puppies! Bree, though suffering through an excessively dramatic whelping, presented me with a tricolor male puppy (bottom) and two absolutely beautiful girl puppies (side by side), one tricolor and the other blenheim. ‘Blenheim’ is what we call the red and white color in Cavaliers. Here they are!


2) In a week, I’ll be able to x-ray Adora to see how many puppies she is carrying. She isn’t very large. I’m thinking I’ll be lucky if she has more than one. I am just the archetype for doing everything right and yet still getting smaller-than-average litters, which is very frustrating. Plus if she only has one, that more than likely means a c-section because single puppies are very often oversized. I keep saying that if I get a couple of really nice puppies from these litters, it will make the 2800 miles of driving (to the stud dogs) worth while, but I admit, it would also be nice (and different!) to actually, you know, break even someday.

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