Category Archives: WRITING: ART

Gothic Dreams

I had gothic dreams last night. Most likely the product of working on the finale of my novel. Not that it’s gothic at all… For those of you aren’t familiar with gothic romance, it’s all dark and stormy nights, tons of angst, and heroines who are too stupid to live. Literally. I’m not familiar with the early beginnings of the genre, but think Jane Eyre, the author Barbara Cartland, or for that matter, much of the Victorian novels. Brooding heroes any sane woman would look at, slip into the powder room, and climb out the window to get away from.

But none of the girls in these books seem to have the sense God gave a goose. I never read many gothics, and the ones I did read were because there was nothing else. Or, in the case of Barbara Michaels, because I knew her work as Elizabeth Peters and wanted to see… Bleah, no. Looking back as an adult and an author, Barbara Cartland is impressive because she may be the most prolific writer, ever. I’m not sure how many were published, but a quick search taught me that she had 160 manuscripts unpublished at the time of her death at the ripe age of 99. I may not have been fond of her books, but I aspire to that kind of production level.

I’m straying from my intended topic. I did have one, really. The plots of these books were mostly very similar and easy to predict. A girl, or rarely, a spinster on the shelf at the shocking old age of say, twenty, was thrust by unforeseen circumstances from her home and into the cold cruel world. This didn’t bother the younger-reader-me much, I could see even back then that you had to work for a living, and if your parents both died, you were on your own. It seemed logical that governesses would be in demand. Some of the more modern books left me puzzled, since in them the heroine haring off across Europe thousands of miles from home making her living as an art restorer or some such seemed a lot more improbable.

It was the next part of the plot that always left me internally screaming at the fictional idiots. They never seemed to check up on where they were going. I could be wrong, but a major element in most gothics, almost a character in its own right, was the house/castle. If a house, it had to be huge, mostly empty, with miles of disused corridors. Whichever it was, it had to be falling into ruins. I mean, you would think a kindly villager would take our girl by the elbow and firmly turn her around to put her on the train. “Yer t he fourth one this month. That Baron, he’s not right in the head. C’mon ducks, here you go” and she’d be spared a lot of trauma.

Of course, we the readers know she has nothing to fear. This is where the glittery hoo-ha originates, after all, with the *ahem* notorious totally-not-a-serial-killer man suddenly being put on the paths of angels by one look at our daffy-brained heroine. But it’s not love at first sight, oh no. He will likely growl at her, verbally abuse her, and that’s if he deigns to show up at all when she does. Also, what is with the number of time he’s her employer, or worse, guardian, but romancing her is still on the table as a viable option? Most of these books are set in eras when that was beginning to be frowned on. I have to wonder about some people’s fetishes. Nothing wrong with having kinks, that’s just not mine. Makes me want to hit the girl in the book upside the head with the family Bible.

The remainder of the plot usually involves some sort of madness, because you totes expect to find some crazy relative locked up in an old ruin like that. There may be a ghost, or in the more modern versions, the mad relative dressed up in sheets like one. There’s probably a plot moppet in the form of the adorable and very traumatized child from the Brooding Hero’s first marriage. There is always rain, and none of that gentle spring stuff, either, this is driven and cold and will half drown you and of course our Daffy-brained heroine goes out in it.

Finally, the half-dead heroine, saved by the hero, accepts his offer of marriage, the sun comes out, and she settles down to make a happy home in the ruin. Me, I’m left gaping like a fish thinking “Run, dammit! Run away!” But no…

That’s not precisely what I was dreaming, which was more a muddled dark and rainy night at the edge of the sea, a coffin-like box strapped to rocks there, and a mad doctor torturing a pale faced girl who refused to give up the names of the Resistance even as he was closing the lid on her. You can see why I called it gothic. Horrifying, at the least. I woke up gasping and tangled in blankets, and lay there thinking about the appeal of the gothic novel.

Why do readers like that emotion storm? The emotions invoked by reading, or music, are no less real than ones brought on by actual events, they are just less powerful. Even when I was younger I didn’t care for angst, but I did enjoy other emotions invoked by reading. We all know that book hangover, after finishing a really compelling story that has made you laugh, and cry, and wind up in triumph on a high note. Perhaps this is what the gothic readers were in search of. A heroine worse off than they were, in some exotic setting, who they knew would wind up with a happily ever after. I prefer my characters with more spunk and less wet-noodle aspect, is all. Which is why I gravitated to science fiction, in the end.

 

 

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The Gentle Art of Escalation

There are many ways to create conflict in a story. In life, we tend to avoid conflict as much as possible, if we aren’t looking for trouble with a chip on our shoulder. But as an author, we know that if our story is to be interesting, stuff has to happen. A story in which there is no conflict is not a story. Yes, I know someone can likely name a book in which there is no conflict, but I stand by my assertion – I wouldn’t want to read it!

Now, the conflict doesn’t have to be huge. You don’t start out with “and then, she had to save the universe.” No, you reach that through the gentle art of escalation. My common shorthand for plotting is ‘chase your hero up a tree, and then throw rocks at him.’ Being me, I also let him figure out how to get back down and save the day, but I’m not a horror or Literary writer.

I had a classic case happen in my life yesterday, which led me to thinking about this, as I’m also working on scaling up the final conflict and climax in my work in progress. Picture this: our character has a job interview. And a dinner party later in the day, which she is hostessing. No problem, there is plenty of time for both. She can’t find her suit slacks, as her daughter’s wear the same size she does, but again, rolling with it and heading out the door. Finding the location of the building, buzzing in and obtaining a badge, goes smooth. Eventually someone comes out to greet her, our character remembers her name, follows her around the corner and…

Into a room where two other people are sitting. Unprepared for a committee interview, this is the first step in escalation. They sit, she sits, and looks down at the table. There’s a sheet with a familiar math problem on it. The first step of the interview is for our character to do math, with three strangers staring. She chokes.

Escalation is intended to put our hero in a book into positions where he can dig himself a hole, and try to get back out of it. The classic try-fail sequence is usually repeated in three’s, allowing for the final triumph to have that much more impact as he finally learns, grows a strength he didn’t know he had, and wins the day.

The math? Well, telling funny stories, getting it about half right even without a scientific calculator to use (classic double take and lifted eyebrow made the whole team bust up) and going on to geek out the quiet member of the team talking instrumentation and accuracy may have won the day. It certainly made our example of escalation feel better on leaving the building.

Giving the character in our book the false feeling of confidence is a great way to set up a secondary conflict, as he trips gaily along the path to home and dinner, having escaped the tree with the rock-thrower (who probably got bored and wandered off), and steps right into a pit in the middle of the path. Oh, Hero! Why don’t you look where you are going?

Real life? Leave the interview feeling like it was good in the end, run through the grocery, get home, pull into the driveway… And get a phone call. It’s a recruiter for a different job, could you please email me… Cooking, emails, phone calls. Dear sweet fuzzy Lord above, why the he*% am I getting four calls from different recruiters about the same job in one hour?!

A great way to escalate conflict in a book is to make one conflict into two, oh, wait no, it’s three now… Suddenly our hero is juggling a fall into a pit, the previous occupant being a hungry tiger, and his wife is home in their boma slapping a cooking pot against her palm suggestively while food is getting cold.

And then, in the real world, just when you have the bread sticks final rising, the phone rings again. It’s the first recruiter. Do you have time for a short phone interview? Oh, sure, why not, company isn’t due until 7 and it’s not 5 yet. As our character is hanging up the phone and printing out paperwork, there’s a knock…

Our hero in the tiger pit has to claw, bite, and scratch his own way out. If that is through a superhuman burst of strength and ability due to his love and respect for the woman tapping her toe impatiently next to her ruined dinner, all well and good. But having someone else happen along and scoop him out is never a satisfactory ending. The cake has to be real, not a phantom lure which vaporized when your reader reaches it.

The dinner was good, the cake was real, and our hero was forgiven when he arrived with a new tigerskin rug.

Go see how you can practice the gentle art of escalation in your stories. Remember, dropping a mountain on your hero right out of the box just breaks the poor unsuspecting souls. Build up to it, and you’ll have something worth reading.

The cake is not a lie

The cake is not a lie

 

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Quitting Time

It’s not that I’m quitting reading, oh, no. What I did was learn how to put a bad book down instead of letting it suck part of my life away.

 

Yeah, there have been books that painful…

Only, sometimes it’s not that the book is painfully bad. Sometimes it’s me, not them. That’s a horrible line for a break-up, but it’s true in this case. I’m not always in the right place to read and appreciate a book, and I have learned that attempting to force myself to read a book usually winds up with me disliking the book. It took me several attempts to read Huckleberry Finn, and Anne of Green Gables. I knew I was supposed to like them, but I was young and for whatever reason couldn’t break into the story.. and then when I did, I liked the books. I went on to read everything LM Montgomery had ever written and to realize how much like Anne I was as a girl.

I’m a mood reader. When I’m in a mood, I want a certain flavor of book, and trying to read outside that, even if it’s a book I’m supposed to read for a good reason (like, say, to review on this blog) is usually a bad idea. So I’ve learned to put books down if I’m not in the mood, and not judge them unfairly. The books I intend to review I pick up again later, but if it’s just a random novel that caught my eye I’m likely to not give it another look.

Like I talked about last week, I just don’t have enough time to give some of it to an unworthy book. Sarah Hoyt wrote about things that throw readers out of books in this post, explaining why she doesn’t like certain books:

Well, ten percent or so are unexplained.  I just don’t get into them.  No, I have no clue why.  Why do you like some dishes and not others?  Why do your tastes vary with season and mood?  I don’t know.

However, for the other 40% I’ve found that there are broad categories of errors, from the massive to the small that just lead me to fling the book against the wall (virtually, since they’re on kindle.)  And I thought I’d post them here, for the benefit (eh) of those of you working the word vines.  I mean, whether you’re going traditional or indie, you REALLY should not pop your reader out. Read the rest… 

The Titanic in snow

With some books, you can just tell things are about to go horribly, horribly wrong…

I think for me, the two biggest things that make it quitting time are boring, and bad characters. If I don’t care about a character, but the pace is fast, I may keep reading. Even if I like a character, if the book is rambling on for pages about how they are dressed and nothing is happening, then I’m likely to wander off to check facebook, read a blog, draw a doodle.. and when I come back, I’ve forgotten that I was reading that book and start on something else. Even on the Kindle, where in theory you open back up to the page you were reading, I’ll come out of the book to browse my library. The First Reader has had a recent problem with his Fire, in that it wants to always open to the very end of MH: Sinners, instead of the book he was trying to read. Makes it hard for him to keep on that book.

Which brings me to another point. My quitting time is not his quitting time is not your quitting time. My resident curmudgeon is much more critical of his reading material than I am. He’s also super-sensitive to certain tropes that make him prickle up like a porcupine, and about as happy as one (I’m sure porcupines are sometimes happy. Why is it that hedgehogs are always pictured cute and cheerful, while porkies are bad-tempered? They need a new PR rep) when he encounters it in a book. I’ve pointed out that I’m sure most of the time the authors weren’t trying to be tropariffic, but it doesn’t matter. He’s quit, and on to another book.

As a writer, I try to keep some of this in mind. Putting the reader hat on, I know that if I bore my readers, they’re out. I know that my most specific negative reviews on my books have been from readers objecting to my writing a positive male character, or from a male POV. I’m not going to quit including men in my books who are strong, competent types that love well and work hard for their families (inspired, by the way, by my husband and father, and uncles and cousins, and…) so I’m going to ignore those readers while I’m writing. Because if that is their quitting time in a book, there are plenty out there with men being denigrated or relegated to the shrinking pansy role. I just don’t want to write it, personally.

Now to flip it around. Sometimes a book does get better. It can be worth doing a bit of slogging, to find a buried treasure waiting. So how to decide that this book, this time, is the time to keep digging? Personally, I rely on word of mouth. Also, because I’m an author and part of a community of other authors, I rely on my personal knowledge of that person. If I trust them to tell a worthwhile story, I’ll keep reading through the rough parts. I did this with the original unedited version of Mackey Chandler’s April, and was rewarded with a great series I’ve enjoyed ever since. He’s taken care of the editing since then, so if you haven’t tried it, go check it out. Does it still have flaws? Sure, but those are philosophical and important only to me. And I have the ability to ignore elements in a book, up to a certain level, before it hits a wall. If you’re a devout Evangelical Christian, there are elements in April that will set your teeth on edge, namely the portrayal of churches. For me, I could see the extrapolation from Westboro Baptist, and it didn’t bother me (except that I really don’t believe there’s that much connectivity outside the Catholic Church, certainly not among the Baptist sets. But that’s because I grew up in them).

Where do you decide it’s quitting time? What books have you pushed through a tough reading spot on, and then been rewarded by?

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Housekeeping… In Space

I woke up this morning to hair all over my face (not an unusual occurrence, since it’s mid-back length) and a shock of memory. I’d meant to do MGC yesterday, with a special interview I’ve been planning for weeks, and again I’d let myself get sidetracked into life’s minutiae and it didn’t get done. So I was lying there in bed wondering what I was going to write for you, and then because my nose was cold, I got up and went down to check on the wood furnace. While I was doing that, it came to me.

The First Reader, who is a remarkably patient man, considering, had complained about something the night before, and had made a joke a couple of weeks ago, and it coalesced into this: what do you do about hair in space? I’ve read many books about spacers who keep it very short, but total depilation would not be attractive – until it was, and then hair would probably look gross to a community that had only known bald. Here in this house, I get teased about hair in the drains (it’s not only mine) and the amount I shed. No more than most, but when each strand is over two feet long, it’s easier to see. No, he wasn’t complaining about my hair (although I’m sure he’s woken up with it in his face, too) it was lack of space around the bathroom sink. Easy enough for me to tidy up, it was simply a matter of putting some things in their proper place. He apologized, explaining that I was getting the brunt of stuff others have done – women who kept so many cosmetics and doo-dads there wasn’t room to so much as wash your hands.

temporary-dutyAnd all this daily tidying and washing and putting away made me think about space travel, and space stations, and times in the not-to-distant past when people simply didn’t have as much stuff. In many stories, this doesn’t have much of a place. But there are times when inserting a few tiny details can really bring a tale to life. And there are stories which are great reads, and focus on the cooking and cleaning and processes that support the Glorious Warfighter Hero types. The superb Temporary Duty by the late Ric Locke, for instance. Or the first part of the Trader’s Share series by Nathan Lowell, which begins with Quarter Share and how to make proper coffee. Maybe it’s because I spent so many years as Suzy Homemaker that these things matter to me.

On a military ship, it’s easy enough to see that pushing broom is an assigned duty. On a trader’s ship, similar things with cabin boys. On a family ship? It could get quite variable. A passenger liner might be a luxury, or a scow full of refugees. The First Reader points out that under close quarters, personal odors could become a serious offense. “You could kill someone over bad breath,” he pointed out. Actually, he thinks a story with a plot point over court-martialling for not brushing someone’s teeth could be amusing. Or perhaps a man who signs onto a ship, and persists in wearing perfume until he is busted down to the lowliest rank possible (side-note: last year the young students on campus were all wearing a cologne (ok, not all, but a lot) which smelled to me just like Deep Woods Off. Made me giggle. None of them were the types I knew were out on the weekends hunting and fishing, so it had to have been some new scent that was all the rage).

As I was making breakfast, and talking to my son about the finer points of how to mop a floor, it occurred to me that I know what the next crisis in my work in progress should be. And it will involve the biggest mess I can think of, and a clean-up. What better way to forge a team and test the mettle of new crew?

Or how about this – who really knows your ship? The captain and officers, or the janitors and technicians who keep the equipment running? Unlikely heroes, but fun to bring into the mix.

Speaking of which, it’s time for my family to get ready for an incoming load of firewood. We don’t have to split it (thank goodness) but we will have all hands on deck unloading and stacking it. Team-building, character building, and where are my work gloves? LOL

 

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Miscellany

First order of business. I want to apologize for missing last week. No excuse, but I will explain that we were moving, and that weekend was the bulk of the move. I have now moved an entire household with a small SUV and a 4’x8′ utility trailer. I don’t remember how many trips I made that Saturday (it’s about a 15 min trip from the old house, to the new) and although I’d intended this move to be a slow, leisurely one, there was a point where external forces expedited it… On the other hand I’m happy to be sitting at the new house, in front of my big desk, knowing that the only boxes yet to unpack are the ones full of miscellany. Even had I remembered what day it was, and written something, I’m not sure it would have been coherent. It was late when I sat down and sent a message to a chat, making sure that friends knew all was well, when I was reminded I hadn’t posted here.

Routines are important. Disrupting them can lead to forgetting a little something, which can cascade into the whole situation we’re familiar with from the elementary school history lesson of ‘for the want of a horseshoe nail, the kingdom was lost.’ Order is also important. I was reminded of that, not only in my own internal pressure to get my house unpacked and organized (so I could actually find things like my socks, and my husband’s underwear, and forks in the kitchen), but as I told my teens that this weekend we will work on getting their room ship-shape. As soon as I said that, I wondered internally if they knew what ship-shape really meant. Living on a moving dwelling, one that doesn’t have much space to sprawl, dictates a whole ‘nother level of tidiness.

None of this, perhaps, is related to writing. Except inasmuch as the author wants to throw little obstacles at her characters, along with the big ones. I found myself perturbed at this move – it ate my time, it ate my brain, and I was desperately trying to keep up with homework (and gave up on blogging, sorry y’all) while we were undergoing the shift. It was really, really difficult. I found myself wanting to ‘play house’ and get the rooms unpacked, when I ought to have been studying (like now, when I have to memorize the dratted Krebs cycle, enzymes and all). I don’t know if it is because I am older – I was, after all, a military brat and we had moved a lot by the time I left home. Then, early in my marriage, there were again several moves before I finally settled on the Farm for 11 years of stillness. Something about being a middle-aged woman is different than where I was before.

Age really does make a difference, not only in writing, but in reading, I’ve noticed. Weirdly, this was not only part of my musing about the move, but listening to classmates present on a paper about aging in Drosophila and how it affects their ability to recover from environmental stresses. The study subjected the flies to a shock (elevated heat) and then saw that they were unable to fly again. However, younger flies (4 days. I’m not sure how that translates to a human lifespan, but they did say that the flies can live for up to ten weeks) would recover from the shock without losing any physical abilities. Fruit flies and humans are nothing alike, yes, but they are used as an initial model in studying humans (and then mice, and so-on). As we get older, we are less able to recover from shocks and changes. And as my knee and back are telling me this morning, we’re less able to lift and tote like we used to. I did have a giggle-worthy moment in this move, though. We have two furnaces in the new house, one propane, the other wood. I went to pick up a trailer load of wood, and was met by am elderly Japanese gentleman, who wanted to know how I was going to get the wood on my trailer. After a couple of minutes of watching me pitch firewood (unsplit) he mumbled ‘you strong’ and went back inside. I put too much wood on the trailer. Poor little thing won’t carry much in a load.

I’m rambling. It’s been a really long couple of weeks, and just as I’m looking forward to settling into a routine, next week is the Thanksgiving Holiday. For which I am giving fervent thanks. I’m grateful we found this little house out in the country with room for all of us. I’m grateful that I can write for this blog, it’s a good outlet for me. I’m grateful that while we were sitting around the table having family dinner night before last, my whole family was helping me plot a book. That was… I needed that. I’ve been really worried I’d never write again. But I’d had a flicker of story coming to me while driving, and when I mentioned that, my family ran with it. And while that story is not first in line, there will eventually be a third Children of Myth book, because my children demand it. And there will be a baby elephant in it.

What are you thankful for?

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Making Sausage

pig

I’ve been making sausages for the better part of the morning. There is some pig that can’t easily become ham or bacon. As a wannabe writer: If you figure the cost of writer’s workshops or MFA degrees in creative writing… there’s a lot to be said for learning how to make sausages. At the end of the process you at least have sausages. And oddly you will have learned quite a lot of value, and some of it applies to writing as well as sausages.

To the sausage eater, well, a sausage is a sausage. Some better, some wurst, but a thing in itself. The eater probably doesn’t think too closely about what went into it. In the case of Dibbler’s sausages that is probably just as well, but it is almost certainly organic. And it probably helps to be drunk and have it with ketchup and mustard. Now isn’t that true of a lot of books? There are a good few that ketchup and mustard could improve.

From the writer’s point of view: the ingredients that go into s book are quite distinct, and ‘taste’ noting like the end product. And, yes, actually it is much easier to make good (or fantastic) sausage with great ingredients. The same is true of books. And likewise, a book probably fails even if those are best ingredients in the world… if they remain themselves and do not form part of the whole. Just as fresh garlic – where all you can taste is garlic and not the blend of meat, fat and salt makes a lousy sausage, so too a book where one of the elements so overwhelms the rest it’s just that. Balance is everything and final product is more and different than merely its parts. A master can even add in that touch of sweetness (apple, cranberries, sun-dried tomato) – which lifts the sausage into the sublime (and sweet in sausage is the easiest pat to screw up – the same as books). And yes, a skilled blender can make un-named dodgy meat into a pretty acceptable sausage – just as skilled writer can turn iffy material into a readable book… but are you that sausage maker? Or that writer? I am not.

There are myriad sausage recipes. Sausage made of everything from bear to squirrel, pork to beef, turkey to fish. Even vegan. Sausages with everything from cranberries to chardonnay in them. But oddly they have two essential ingredients, in essential proportions. Stray too far from either and your sausage doesn’t work. And those are fat and salt. Not the obvious – people say it’s a bear or boar or chicken sausage. They don’t say ‘it’s a fat sausage’. “Yuck!” would be the response. And indeed yuck is appropriate if you don’t get that proportion (around 20%) right. Too much and it becomes a greasy horrible thing. By the time it cooks out the sausage meat and other ingredients taste greasy and overcooked. And too little and it is dry and tasteless. Vegan is particularly difficult because of the whole ‘fat’ thing. I gather it’s considered bad to suggest using plump ones. But I gather one can buy vegan suet.

For me, in writing, that’s the story, the action, the adventure. In some shape or form it has to be in every worthwhile read. Yes, actually you can have too much. Or too little, and vast focus on the other ingredients – be they the setting or the social justice outrage of the week – they tend to dry and un-appealing. And the salt… well those are the characters. And yes, once again there is such a thing as too much – or too bland when it is merely count the pre-expected tokens. I wait with amusement for the first orange haired villain s to appear…

Oddly, in sausages, the fat is the hard part to handle. It clags up your mincer, won’t go through without careful handling. The meat or fowl – no matter what they are, are easy. The onion – if you use it– might make you cry, but it’s not hard to deal with. The fat… it has to be pretty close to frozen to mince well. The same is true in writing. That essential ‘carrier’ is the hard part to write well. Any dam fool can write the rest. Even the bits which make you cry.

Now for most sausages the texture is fine. It’s not essential, but actually there is a reason for it being successful and thus popular, and that comes back to the fat and the salt. Mixing the ingredients is vital – mixing them well. Commonly the mix is put through the mincer a second time, after a very vigorous mixing. And isn’t that true of novels too: large chunks of unmixed say description, or angst, or even action make the book less of a pleasure. Hard going. Yes, even it is the right amount, and it’ll all mix in your head, eventually. That’s like telling me the sausage will all mix in my stomach. That’s not where I want it to mix.

Once made, mixed and cooked a sample and tasted and adjusted your sausage filling (yes, just like books they require some adjustment) comes the part about getting it into a sausage. Ahem. In order to illustrate this I need you to remember – the casing is gut (or fake-gut). It’s been inverted, scrubbed, salted… and now is in 7 yard lengths. Now as a trivial detail, when bought in bulk (as I do) you’ve got maybe 20 seven yard lengths attached to one plastic ring to bind and bring the sausageer into darkness, and depair. The skein of skins is quite a job. If you can climb a seven yard ladder… (yes I tried that) and dangle and shake… no it takes patience, care and perseverance. And then when you have your gut (or story) all untangled you fill it with water and check for holes. In novels those can be fixed. In sausages you knot off and start again.

Then you do a sort of reverse condom – getting 7 yards onto six inches of spout. You push a little of your mix through the spout, and tie off. If you don’t do this you get a fat bubble of nothing – well air, as your first sausage. And that is the mistake all too many writers make – they have a great mixture in the sausage machine (well their heads as the story. But they start with a big wodge of nothing. In sausages that makes gat go rancid. In books it makes the reader go rancid about the book.

And then it’s a question of pace. You can’t actually fill the sausage skin to bursting because 1) they do burst, and 2) you still need to form links. You’ve got to feed mix into the maw of the the machine and control the gut flowing off the spout. And it all happens way too fast, and as an amateur, the disasters can be both spectacular and messy. Trust me and my ceiling on this. And if you can’t see how this is rather like writing, I despair of you.

At the end… a sausage is a linear thing. It has a beginning and an end, it is constrained by the gut. Yes, you form it into links, but a sausage isn’t made in links – any more than a book is. It’s made as a whole sausage. Chapters shape it.

With all of this: practice makes you better and it easier. It doesn’t get ‘easy’ (I’ve made 250 pounds of sausage in one single stint – and many smaller batches). It just gets a little easier. Yes, when you look back… well you’ve come a long way (especially with twisting the links – it used to take me hours to do one string.). I’ve come on yards and yards and yards since then, in fact. Just like writing.

Now, I have about 50 more pounds of sausage to make tomorrow. Just think how being my assistant could help your writing career…

No, actually my name is not Tom Sawyer. It’s Dave Freer. But when we’ve finished on sausages I have a picket fence that needs whitewashing…

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Used Spaceship for Sale: missing Szyxcnik rotor Qewst engine

Or something like that.

I was car shopping a while back, and had joked on Facebook that hundreds of years in the future, not much would have changed about the process, only how DO you test-drive a starship? I mean, if you hit foldspace and just… Disappear into a cloud of scintillating dust, the used ship salesman will just tuck your stack of credits deeper in his pocket and turn his attention along with Brillo-Ray enhanced smile onto the next suckers in line.

Of course, the fact that I was shopping on a very small cash budget which limited me from even having to deal with Smarm, the purple alien dude, you know, the one with the tentacles on his upper lip? Anyway, that meant I was dealing with the jokers who advertised a car at one price, knocked a grand off it when I showed up to drive it, then when I got back from the test drive, had another guy there, who informed me he was selling the car for his dear old Auntie. Then he offered to call a friend who was a notary, as I’m looking at the name and feminine signature on the title, and cocking an eyebrow at the wall of testosterone in front of me. No, he wasn’t willing to meet me at the BMV to have it notarized, or at my bank… I’m not sure how I got away with a straight face, but the dude was quite disappointed when I texted him later saying my husband wouldn’t let me buy that car. Handy thing, that husband card. Playable even when not married, if you’re dealing with strangers.

But I am married. Married with kids, which is why up until yesterday we were house hunting. I was reminded of the scenes in Rolling Stones (the Heinlein book, not the band!) where the family was checking out the ships. In that future, like the one I’m working on for my nascent Tanager series, house shopping and vehicle and storage and trailer are all wrapped up into one package deal. Which has pros and cons if you think about it. I drove home yesterday towing a trailer for the first time in my life. It was a little bitty trailer, but no one died, so achievement unlocked – and it got me thinking. What happens to people like us in the future?

I’m not a big believer in the post-scarcity world of Star Trek, where everyone is happy with a cubicle in a ship, no windows, no choices (unless you are the Captain and even he got orders although following them was not his strong suit). Where are the tinkers, the tailors, the peddlers? The roving ship like the Serenity, carrying what cargo it can and making ends meet with a budget and a plan? The Rolling Stones, meeting new friends and working hard to feed the family?

I don’t think there will ever be a shortage of people like me, like my family, who work hard, earn our way up, and sometimes have to go car – er – ship shopping on the cheap. And I’m betting that shade-tree mechanics will morph into dark-side of the asteroid garages, long after the origin of ‘garage’ is lost in the mists of the Milky Way.

But to go back a bit, when we were looking at houses we weren’t necessarily looking for what the ‘average’ (you know, normal is just the high point on the gaussian curve. Us, the Odds, we’re on that steep slope off to the side, slipping happily down shouting Wheee! As we go) people want in a house. We need room for books. But not a TV, because we don’t own one. We want a big kitchen and space in the dining room for a table we can game on. We eyeball the windows and think about the light coming in, in terms of lighting for photography and art. And we do the normal stuff, too, like wanting a place in the country rather than in town, and googling to find out how close the local library is… Oh, well, maybe not that last. I mean, I do, but I can’t speak for normal.

All this is fun to think about in terms of story. Regular folks, making their way in life, and the plans they make to keep house and hearth warm. Then, we throw rocks at them, metaphorically, as authors. What happens when you scrimp and save and put down a deposit on that spaceship, only to have the broker disappear? What happens if a war breaks out and soldiers are quartered on your ship? Or if alien fungus starts spreading and you’re under quarantine?

I’ve got to do something to distract myself from the prospect of packing and moving, after all.

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, WRITING: ART