The Physical

Tomorrow morning we leave for Liberty Con at dark O’six, and I’m going through my usual oscillation: happy to go and see my friends, looking forward to meeting my fans again, dreading the travel and terrified of having to be with that many people for days — DAYS I tell you! — and away from my familiar office and books and routine.

Adding to the second part of it this year, is that Liberty con will be very different, and I don’t know what its texture and flavor will be yet.

Different? How can I know that?  Because it changed hotels.

This happened twice before, since I’ve been going and each time the “feel” of the con changed.  This is because the physical plant of the hotel changes how the con flows, who you meet and what you do.

It wasn’t a big difference between Holiday Inn and Day’s Inn.  Some, because in Day’s Inn the air conditioning worked so we didn’t all congregate in the one room where the air conditioning worked (besides my room but I didn’t tell anyone that, because I’m not completely stupid, thank you so much.) which happened to be the barfly suite.

But the change to the Choo Choo was massive.  The physical plant of the Choo Choo is more distributed, wider out, so that the first year I not only didn’t seem to see anyone I wanted to see, but kept missing panels I wanted to attend.  And the barfly suite became part of the greater hospitality suite, so that feel of a secret lair was gone.

Over the years we made it more ours, and it became easy to be where we’d see people, and also it was known at night that we’d look for the groups sitting/standing out between the carriages and talking if we wanted to be sociable.

The trek to the rooms was still a pain, but it was compensated for by the fact that at least some of the buildings were very far off, and we could be quiet.  Of course, as someone who took her teen sons to this, it also meant we couldn’t keep an eye on the boys.  As in, at all.  The teens run in a pack, and they all disappeared usually to the pool area but sometimes, who knew?

The hotel for this year (different one next year) is a more conventional one, so there will be a more traditional feel to the con, I think.  Also it will be easier to go to the room to hide out and write/rest from being peopled out.  Of course, this is double edged, because understand I always have to negotiate with the inner introvert who never wants to be out in public.  This makes it a little more difficult.

But yeah, physical plants affect our activities, even when the activity is “hang out with fans and friends, make horrible puns, discuss how indie publishing is changing, plot upcoming works.”  It affects everything.  Depending on where it takes place, things happen or don’t happen, you meet people or don’t, as it happens.

In the same way, the physical plant, the texture of our lives when books originate permeates the books.

Darkship Thieves is my novel of pre-children.  Not really, as when I wrote it Marshall was one and a half, but really, because it was close enough that I could remember it, with the edges shaved off.  No, I never jumped ship to be captured by a bioed young man, or have to adapt to a perfectly libertarian society, but you know, the texture was close enough to the same, that it kind of bled in, the excitement, the fun, the self confidence.

The Dyce books are novels of my young motherhood.  Sure, I was not a young mother when I wrote them; the kids were early teens, but I remembered it, because it was close enough.  I didn’t solve mysteries, but we did scrimp on food (and sometimes eat pancakes for weeks, usually when I’d splurged on books) and live in the ah… vibrant part of downtown and I refinished most of the furniture we used. The kid is sort of a composite of my two sons (yes, I know, but I survived.)

So, what’s the point of this?  It’s that you can get caught writing a series, like the two above, long after your life has changed and the texture of it is completely different.  It’s important to be aware of what you ported into the novel, so you can keep it consistent.  It’s been over 20 years since I wrote Darkship Thieves (it spent 13 years in a drawer) and it’s important to make sure that while Thena grows up she doesn’t go to sounding like a middle-aged, much less late middle-aged woman in what’s objectively for her about 3 years.  It can be done, but I have to read myself back into the mind set.

In the same way while Dyce will grow up book to book, it is important not to have her suddenly go to having teen boys or early twenty year old ones.

The other side of this, though, is not to let your characters become static.  There is a mystery series that I adored when it first came out.  It was goofy, and the woman lived like a college student, which means it was often disgusting but in a fun, light way.

But when it came out was 20 years ago, and my own college years were fresh in my mind, and though I never lived the full insane college life, I had friends who did, so I could chuckle and go “oh, she’s just like”.

At some point, around book seven or eight, the series lost me.  While we were moving, we found the full series (I think it’s up to 20?) in the thrift store and bought it.  And I not only realized why I’d walked away, but also why I had no interest in catching up/starting to read it again: the character hadn’t changed.

Now my college years are thirty years in my past.  I have raised boys who are almost past them.  Things that looked/seemed perfectly reasonable then now make me shake my head.

And yet this character, for whom at least 10 years must have passed, is still living the same life in exactly the same way, which at this point has a faint air of anachronism, because that’s NOT how young people live anymore (cell phones have made a huge difference for one, and the net, and acquaintances on the net.)

The feelings towards the character are more the annoyance/pity we adults feel for those friends (there is at least on in every group) who got stuck in early-twenties mode and never fully grew up.

It’s important to avoid that (and although the series is still selling decently, it’s not the phenom it was in the nineties, and I think that’s why.  Most of us have gone and done, and our life has a different texture.)  Part of the problem with that series is that the promises made in the early series, where there was an obvious pathway to growth, an obvious relationship, etc, never materialized.  I think the author was afraid she’d lose readers from changing that physical plant, from having the character go from single to young married, to children. IMO she woudn’t have because it was baked in/foreshadowed early on.  It would just have increased opportunities for shenanigans.

And part of the problem I think is the author writing this when she’s so far from it that the “feel” of the series has become a caricature of young and broke person’s life.  Which I think is because (the author being older than I) it’s what she remembers.  The very high, the very low, all with a sense of disgust and distance overlaid.

So, with indie — when you plan your series, plan on having them grow with you, and also put out enough books that the growth is gradual and natural.

With traditional… just read yourself into the mindset, and remember if you can how it FELT.  Then go with that.

Because we’re not minds, but physical as well as mental creatures, and the physical affects the mental/spiritual.

As writers, creating whole worlds out of our minds, we forget that at our own risk.


  1. Makes you wonder how much a character is likely to change or grow once they mature, if they have a lifespan of hundreds or thousands of years. How much would you change over the years if you ended up living to 250 to 300 instead of 75 to 100?

    1. What kinds of new ways of going really crazy would be discovered? 🙂

      1. Or would even the craziest mellow, with enough time? And how often would you have to over throw a completely stagnant government?

        Mind you, I’m up to great grandchildren of the original characters, but it was still a shock, as I was writing a couple of months ago to realize how old my current set was getting. Rael is _fifty-two!!!_ No, no, no, no . . .

        1. I started Luce in his thirties. Fortunately he’s a gen mod (so is Nat to a degree) so they’ll live longer than normal. There will be wars for them to fight in 20 years on and 30, poor things.

          1. I’m left with thinking about the “timeless qualities of the elves” were they never seem to change much as the centuries roll by. Which kind of sounds like a lack of adaptability. Couple that with a low reproduction rate, it does kind of explain why they eventually disappear.

  2. Ongoing character maturation is kind of a two-edged sword. Observationally:

    — Younger readers generally want the characters to remain static no matter how many decades the series continues, and feel betrayed when characters changes over time (even if that’s natural maturation).
    — Mature readers expect the characters to mature apace to their fictional lives, and are annoyed by characters who still act like kids thirty years later.

    And there’s also the problem that binge-readers often won’t ‘feel’ the fictional time passing, at least not on the first pass.

    So either way you’re going to annoy someone; you just have to decide 1) what works for your series, and 2) which readers are more likely to wallbang you when annoyed (I’d say the older ones, who generally have more-stringent standards and worn-out patience with patent nonsense).

    I’ve discovered an inverse problem: my ongoing Epic spans decades, and when I’m upgrading some older part, I’m occasionally annoyed with young characters’ immaturity. Fortunately, they outgrow it. And if they don’t, bad things will happen to them. 😀

    [My MC says to tell you this is a baldfaced lie, and the truth is I’m jealous of their youthful vitality. 😛 ]

  3. Having characters grow and change throughout a book, or a series of books is why I really didn’t want to tie my historical series to a single set of characters having the same adventure, over and over. Because people grow up, have new priorities and a new focus. The kind of life they lived would be different at every stage. The Texas series covers seventy-five years of history, after all. Characters who were babies and children in one book are teenagers, and then adults, and grandparents in later books. So – I preferred to focus on different characters in each book.
    It was an interesting experience as a writer, though – in The Golden Road, the hero was an adventurous and impulsive teenager, following the gold rush. In Sunset and Steel Rails, the same character was a man in his sixties, the romantic interest for the heroine, who was new to the west. The first book evolved as an explanation of how he got to be what he was in the second.

  4. After science fiction went mostly SJW I moved over to detective stories. I read and enjoyed a lot of Robert B. Parker and Sue Grafton. But as time went on, I realized their series were stuck in the past.

    I understand they were using formulas that had made them best sellers, but while I could read a book written in 1975 or 1987 and recognize and allow for the times in which they were written, the new books seemed to be in some formless generic “now”, carefully avoiding any mention of current events or people, and the characters were still frozen in time, decades behind reality-as-I-know-it.

    I could have made allowances for that, except the fizz seemed to be gone from the stories. Too many books in the same series? Authors not interested in forcing a style that no longer fit them? Ghost writers without close enough oversight? Whatever the reason, I couldn’t muster enough interest to keep buying.

    Then there are the series where you get the *same* book ten or twenty times – Janet Evanovich’s ghostwriters hew to a pretty tight template, making just enough changes to keep readers from complaining. The woman who reads the audiobooks is ROFL funny, which is the only reason I still snag the audiobooks when I notice them… but they’re nothing I’ll put forth any effort to search out specially.

    1. The generic now is a sign of a “literary” genre trope. Or at least that is what I inferred when I went many years ago on a writing course, where I stood out as being different for wanting to write SF.

    2. In Grafton’s case it was deliberate. She decided to let Linsey Milhone age the way everyone else did. Which meant no stories in the “contemporary now.”

      As opposed to Rex Stout. He once intriduced a novel by having a forty-something man show up and quote a speech Wolfe had made in a previous novel. He’d been there for the original–as a teenager. Now he wanted help with a problem concerning his son–who was older than he’d been when he’d heard that speech.

      Neither Wolfe nor Archie had aged a day, of course. I refuse to believe Stout didn’t see the irony.

      Then there’s the She-Hulk. She knows she’s in a comic book, and acts accordingly. When she had her own comic book, her sidekick was an old, old woman who had been a minor character in a WW2-era comic book. She was the last survivor of that cast (except for the hero, of course), and had realized that her only hope for an extended life was to attach herself to another comic book.

      She-hulk has been an Eternal Guest Star for many years now. Weezie’s long dead, I’m sure.

    1. Darn it. I was hoping that the Bee itself was looking for writers.

      I don’t think I’m qualified for CNN. I mean, I write fantasy, but I like my stories to have at least SOME basis in reality.

  5. yeah some of my old characters are backburnered because I don’t mesh with writing them as much anymore. One in particular, all of his previous stories have become backstory in a new/ reworked setting

    1. I’m resisting the urge to have tall tales that get it all wrong, for some of my older characters. Or their descendants. “Boy, who ever wrote that never met Gramps!” or “Mom? In Nana’s stories he was always the bad guy.” “Bad divorce honey . . . well, your Nana’s is closer to the truth, but . . .”

      1. Isn’t that how the “modern era” of Wine of the Gods starts? They’re all just legends with stories no one really believes?

  6. That’s basically everyone in the Belgariad except Garion. I really liked the supporting cast, but by book 10 (or whatever it ended up being), their static nature was getting old.

  7. Sigh. I guess that I am one of those older readers/writers, who don’t need the woobie of a liked-character to remain the same.
    But as an older writer – I don’t think that I could have written some characters and experiences (betrayal, loss of love, letting children grow, getting some kind of emotional distance, seeing ones’ elders pass away) until I had actually been there-done-that myself.

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