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Dec 2, 2006

Art vs. Writing

Sorry for the long silence. I had numerous obligations in November, and then on top of it all, I entered NaNoWriMo with three or four days to go. Sadly, I didn't win... ;)

I'm doing the edits for a novel under another pen name right now. In addition, I have yet another name and career, as a visual artist. That career is taking an interesting turn: I'm opening a eBay store. Up until now my sales were all commissioned work (wedding portraits, mostly). Ebay has less certainty than commissions, because I paint first and sell next. Portraits, I sell first and paint later. It's a different kind of stress.

With portraits, I am always worried that the client will look at the final product with that expression you sometimes see on Trading Spaces. The couple comes home to their new living room, which has been painted pepto bismo pink with hay glued to the walls, and they have this expression that says, "Oh god, this is so aweful it deserves to be burned, but I don't dare say so out loud because I'm on television."

With an eBay auction, the buyer has already seen the work, so presumably they like it. You just have the misery of waiting out the seven day auction to see if anyone likes it or not.

Even this, however, is instant gratification compared to writing. First of all, it takes quite a while to write a novel, much longer than it does to paint even a fairly large painting. During November, I was trying to do both, so this point was driven home to me! But let us suppose that one does take a whole month, eight or ten hours a day, to paint a piece. One can still turn around and sell it (or not) immediately. The client pays, and the starving artist can finally make that much overdue trip to the market for more ramen noodle.

For comparison, what happens when a writer finishes a novel or a short story? The writer sends in the piece to a likely publisher. Two or more months later, the publisher expresses an interest. Some more correspondence may then, at last, lead to a sale.

But that's not the end of it. The writer may recieve an advance for the novel, in which case, hallaluyah, the writer can buy some ramen noodle for her long suffering husband. However, the novel or story is still far from published. It must be bounced back and forth, through the galleys and whatnot, and this takes several more months. Then it is set up for print, again, more months.

And when it finally comes out in print, the thing has to sell itself all over again, this time to the consumer.

I think that's the crux. A writer must sell her work twice, first to the publisher, then to the reader.

Nov 18, 2006

Anthropology: Pig Herding of the Tsembaga

"Small numbers of pigs are easy to keep. They run free during the day and return home at night to receive their ration of garbage and substandard tubers, particularly sweet potatoes. Supplying the latter requires little extra work, for ths substandard tubers are taken from the ground in the course of the harvesting the daily ration for humans. Daily consumption records kept over a period of some months show that the ration of tubers received by the pigs approximates in weight that consumed by adult humans, i.e., a little less than three pounds per day per pig.

"If the pig herd grows large, however, the substandard tubers incidentally obtained in the course of harvesting for human needs become insufficient, and it becomes necessary to harvest especially for pigs.

"...The work involved in caring for a large pig herd can be extremely burdensome. The Tsembaga herd just prior to the pig festival of 1962-63, when it numbered 169 animals, was receiving 54 per cent of all the sweet potatoes and 82 per cent of all the manioc harvested."

--Roy A Rappaport, "Ritual Regulation of Environmental Relations Among a Ne Guinea People," Environment and Cultural Behavior: Ecological Studies in Cultural Anthropology, ed. Andrew P. Vayda.

Nov 12, 2006

"I'm a Short Story now, but what I really want to be is a Novel."

Some authors prefer writing short stories. Some prefer novels.

I'm a novel girl myself. I tend to ramble too much for shorts (although writing flash fiction is excellent discipline for me). And besides, once I create a world sufficiently interesting that I want to spend the time of a short story there, I'm inclined to stay long enough for a novel to unfold.

Unfortunately, it's difficult to convince an agent or a publisher to take a chance on a novel if the author has no previous publishing record. Thus having a few short stories published first is a good career move. This created a conundrum for me. I peeked at what other authors had done.

Take Mercedes Lackey. She had a series of loosely connected stories set in her Valdemar universe. This allowed her to publish shorts in anthologies such as Sword & Sorceress. The same characters reappeared in each story, using the same world as her novels.

Or how about Phillip Dick. Many of his short stories later turn up bundled together into a novel.

I created the brink world to do the same thing. It is actually a novel, published as a series of independent short stories.

There are some drawbacks. Each short needs to have enough info-dumping for a new reader to catch up on basic concepts of the world, such as what a brink is and how it is created. Even more challenging is that each story has to have an ending that is satisfactory as an ending, yet still leave enough open, even hanging on a cliff, to encourage the reader to want the next installation. This makes it different from a chapbook, which should end on a frank cliffhanger, the more dire the better.

Then there's the problem of drama. In a novel, not all scenes have equal dramatic value. Not only would that exhaust the reader and make the book read a bit hysteric, some "softer" or "quieter" scenes are needed to establish character or build tension. This allows the tension to rise slowly through the course of the book, so that the ending is more exciting than the beginning. (Hence the reason one refers to the point of highest tension, close to the conclusion, as the climax.)

A short story, on the other hand, needs all the drama it can take, right now. It's all the reader is going to see.

Drawn to the Brink was rejected by one editor because she didn't like the ending. And it's true that it's a rather "open" ending. I couldn't offer to change it, because a more conclusive ending would have precluded future encounters between Sajiana and the brink.

Likewise, a part of me worries about Portrait of a Pretender. Is it interesting enough of a story to reward the reader brave enough to test it against their forty-nine cents? Is the ending intriguing enough to make the reader want to know if Othmordian suceeds in hunting down the brink?

Nov 9, 2006

Excerpt from "Portrait of a Pretender"

“You were always a moody one, Othy,” said Forthia. “Even as a child. A stray child, mother called you, last born, when she thought her time for bearing past. You were born the same year Arnthom married Tulthana, and during all the years they tried and failed to conceive a babe of their own, Arnthom would pat you on the head and promise you his throne. It was a blow to you when Drajorian was born. Suddenly you went from heir apparent to being packed off to a lonely school on a distant moor.”

“It was a relief to me, not a burden, to be spared the throne, Forthia,” Othmordian said. “And as for the school, that was my request as well. I wanted to study magic. And I first went when I was thirteen, three years after Drajorian’s birth.”

“Yes,” Forthia said, “I know. After you tried to kill him.”

Othmordian frowned.

“No one told me,” she said. “I have my ways of knowing.”

“So I have discovered,” he said dryly.

“If you were willing to kill your nephew when he was but a toddler, how much more so now that he is almost twenty-five and the only remaining threat to your power?”

“And you think I killed our brother too?” Othmordian asked, his anger barely controlled.

“There is more,” she said.

“Say it then.”

“No one allowed the glamourers to perform an investigation of our brother’s death. Nonetheless, I secretly asked the Head Glamourer of Mangcansten Lodge to report his findings to me. He confirmed that Arnthom was killed by a brink. He also told me about your time as a student at his school, before you were expelled. And why you were expelled.”

Vivid memories flashed across Othmordian’s mind: the drunken smell of paint thinner, the sound of scribs on linen parchment, the giggles in the dark after the proctors extinguished the candles in the boys’ dorm. Most wonderful of all, had been the early mist-filled mornings walking out alone on the moor, with only a sketch pad and a pack of wild dogs for company.

“He told me,” continued Forthia, “That you were a mediocre artist, not a true glamour caster, except in one area. You could draw dogs like no one else, all kinds of dogs. He said that you even inquired into a forbidden area, how to make a certain kind of brink called a Smoke Hound. The Smoke Hound must be drawn with a burning coal. When it is brought to life, the hound moves with a hide of flame and smoke. The artist, however, is left with a burnt hand.”

Forthia held out her palms. “Put your right hand in mine, Orthmordin.”

He did so. His right hand was swathed in bandages.


Cover Art for "Portrait of a Pretender"

Amazon does the cover design for the Shorts, but here is a hypothetical cover for "Portait of a Pretender."

Nov 8, 2006


I belong to a writer's discussion and critique group, the Online Writing Workshop. (Long ago, when I first joined, it was the Dell Rey Online Writing Workshop, but that's a story for another time.) I've added the link to my sidebar for your edification. To any aspiring sf/f/h writers out there--I highly recommend it.

The discussion on the OWW list today concerned anti-heroes. What distinguishes an anti-hero from a villian? Is an anti-hero just a hero with a few flaws (boastfulness, bashfulness, bad acne)? Or does he do truly reprehensible things (lie, cheat, steal, kill, rape), but somehow is redeemed by other aspects of his character or actions in the plot?

Because of our love affair with rebels and the glamour of rebellion, I think we often mistakenly call a hero with flaws an "anti-hero" to increase his mystique. A regular old hero sounds stuffy. What, a person who tries their best to be good all the time? Yawn.

I think that comes from a mistaken impression about how easy it is to do good, even if one wants to.

My short stories, "Drawn to the Brink" and "Portrait of a Pretender" establish several characters, each of whom is trying to do good, but who inevitably come in conflict with one another.

Othmordian, the protaganist of "Portrait of a Pretender," could be described as a villain or an anti-hero. He is cast in the typical villain's role--that of the conniving uncle who usurps the throne of his nephew.

But Othmordian has his reasons. Are they sufficient to redeem him? That's the question...

Nov 7, 2006

Amazon Shorts Program

I applied to the Amazon Shorts program, and was pleased to receive this response from one of their editors:

[Tara], fantastic story -- apologies for the length of time it took to
respond, but I hope I can make it up to you by letting you know that I am
thrilled to admit you to the program.

So I'm in! I sent off the paperwork this morning.

Whatever is the deal with Amazon Shorts? It's a fairly new program. According to SFWA, the list of authors who have given it a shot is fairly impressive.

Nov 6, 2006

Exciting News from Brink World

"Portrait of a Pretender," the sequel to "Drawn to the Brink," may soon be published as an Amazon Short!

I'll have more news and an excerpt later...

Nov 5, 2006

Cognitive Science: The Last Chance

"During the World Cup soccer tournament in Japan in 2002, the match between Ireland and Germany went into several minutes of extra 'injury' time. The score was 1-0 to Germany, and Ireland's hopes of getting into the semifinals seemed to be finished. Then at the eleventh hour, Robbie Keane scored a goal. For every Irish fan who watched the match there could be no doubt: the striker had saved Ireland's World Cup hopes. The previous hour and a half of skill and luck, good or bad, of a team of trained professionals seemed as nothing compared to the single final stroke. Did Keane really save the day? The question illustrates a curious feature of human thought. In a temporal sequence of events, people zoom in on the most recent one."

--Ruth M.J. Byrne, The Rational Imagination: How People Create Alternatives to Reality p. 157.

Padding the Ole' Blog or "Where I Get My Ideas"

As much as I would like to have every daily entry in my blog be an announcement of yet another publication, that ain't gonna happen. But I don't want this to be a boring blog, with no entries for months on end. That leaves padding the ole' blog with some fluff.

(Ahem.) Did I say fluff? I meant insight, deep and profound insight into where I, as an author, find inspiration for my stories. I will put up bits of history, philosophy, science and so on that are quirky and throught-provoking. If it gives you an idea for a story, please feel welcome to explore it!

Nov 4, 2006

Dredging Lake Id

I'm dredging the lake of my subconscious for story ideas for NoNoMo (which I really shouldn't even be doing). I may fish out one of the old ideas that have been swimming around in Lake Id.

History: The Villac Vmu of Peru

"At the head of all, both here and throughout the land, stood the great High-Priest, or Villac Vmu, as he was called. He was second only to the Inca in dignity, and was usually chosen from his brothers or nearest kindred. He was appointed by the monarch, and held his office for life; and he, in turn, appointed all the subordinate stations of his own order. This order was very numerous. Those members of it who officiated in the House of the Sun, in Cuzco, were taken exclusively from the sacred race of the Incas."

--Gorgeous Temples, The Conquest of Peru, p. 783

National Novel Writing Month

November is National Novel Writing Month and I've been trying to decide if I should sign up. I have several novels that are in the revisions stage, a far less alluring state to be in than a shiny new novel. For me finishing a novel is much more difficult than writing 50,000 words of a new one.

I therefore intend to resist the pull of writing a new book. Oh no! I feel it pulling me in! Agh!

Temptation too strong...can't resist...

Must write new book...

Nov 3, 2006

Ten Word Flash Fiction

I was going to post excerpts from my story Public Eye, but when a story is so short, an "excerpt" becomes rather ridiculous, doesn't it?

So as an alternative, I'll write another, even shorter flash fiction piece, just for you! This one is less than ten words!


The sun supernovaed.

"Well," said Dr. Trobinsky. "That didn't work."


Flash Fiction in Winged Halo

My flash sf story "Public Eye" is in Winged Halo!

You can go to Winged Halo and vote on which of the stories you think is best.

Brink World

There are some cultures that believe that to take a picture of a person captures that person's soul. This was the starting point of my Drawn To The Brink story, found in WomanScapes.

The premises of the magic:

* Drawing something can create that thing in the real world, but...

* sunset (if it was drawn during the day) or by sunrise (if it was drawn at night) the object disappears again

* Drawing a real person can capture that person's soul, binding that person to the artist's will; this is forbidden

* Drawing an imaginary person does not create a real person, it creates an automoton; nonetheless it's forbidden, because...

*...of the temptation to create a brink a magical drawing that can "cross the brink" and remain in existance beyond sunset and sunrise

* for a brink can only be made by sacrificing the soul of a real person to free it from the canvas

Excerpt from "Drawn to the Brink"

She could have drawn herself a dress of crimson silk, sewn with buckles and bells of gold and a tall moon shaped hat to match. However, Sajiana preferred the anonymity provided by her ragged, rugged, real travel clothes. She tromped through the town, whistling, past villagers dressed no better than she, ignoring and ignored. She had a string in one hand, a scrib and a slip of blank paper in the other. A close observer would have seen that the string did not dangle from her hand, but poked its’ head out this way and that, gently tugging at her fingers. These were the tugs that led her ever closer to the brink.

The string suddenly jerked her quite hard toward an alley along the cheesemonger’s street. Sajiana looked up and met the eyes of a startled young man. His hair tousled about his head all unruly. His eyes were huge in his face, haunted. His lips pressed together under hungry cheeks. Strange that in all this time since he had escaped from the twixtening, he had not used his considerable powers to better maintain himself.

Some brinks tried to run. Some tried to fight. The outcome would be the same. This brink looked at her a long moment, hard. He walked away. It was as though he lacked either the humility or the sense to fear her.

His striking face would be his undoing; she could hardly forget a face like that. Sajiana sat down against a wall beside a cheese shop. In feathery, charcoal strokes of her scrib, she began to sketch the face she remembered. It took her only a few minutes to have a likeness. It took her longer to tie the complex knot around the portrait. With her knotted portrait, Sajiana stood and walked into the alley.

“Come to me,” she said.

She heard him before she saw him. A scritching and scratching and scrapping sound: he fought each step of the way to answer her call. He could not resist the compulsion, however, and he finally dragged himself into view. His eyes no longer looked haunted. They blazed with hate.

“You would dare draw me? Do you know who I am?”

“Just another brink, as far as I’m concerned,” Sajiana said.

Whatever answer he had been expecting, it had not been that.

He stared at her, flummoxed. “Are you mad? What are you talking about? I’m no brink!”

His surprise surprised her. She had never met a brink who did not know it was a brink. Most boasted of their inhuman superiority.

“Did you honestly think you were human?” she asked, overcome with curiosity against her better judgment. The teachers at Mangcansten universally advised against entering into prolonged discussion with a brink.

“I am human,” he said. “And the fact you cannot bind me proves it.”

He wrenched himself free of the compulsion. This time he did run.

The charcoal portrait had become a smudged mess of meaningless lines. She rolled a choice curse around the inside of her mouth. Because he had not attacked anyone, stolen anything, or wrecked any havoc, she had assumed him to be weak. Instead, it appeared he had a stronger will than any brink she had previously encountered. Sajiana began to worry that a more experienced glamourer should have been assigned to this brink. She had a quick hand, but not the patience for the truly intricate work needed to bind an extremely powerful will. The brink was wrong if he thought that humans could not be bound by a portrait. That was what humans and brinks had in common. However, a strong will could turn a line drawing to mush. She would have to put more effort into it.

She blew air between her teeth. She untied and unrolled her scribroll. It contained an assortment of scribs and brushes. She chose one of the thin charcoal scribs. She peeled back a layer of the wax paper to reveal more nub. She began to draw the brink again...

Read the rest of Drawn To The Brink in the anthology WomanScapes

Drawn to the Brink

My short story, "Drawn to the Brink" can be found in an anthology of speculative fiction, WomanScapes. It's available from

The profits from this anthology go the international Red Cross. Where else can you read about kick-ass heroines and help tug-on-your-heart, big eyed, adorable Tsunami orphans at the same time? You'll acrue so much good karma buying this book, that I strongly advise you to buy a lottery ticket the same day.*


*Author not responsible for results of lottery.

first step into the land of fog

In general, I'm a private person, but I'm going to experiment with this blog to discuss my writing projects as they progress.