May. 20th, 2019


Writing life: "Polish drafts" and reading by text-to-speech

Number of writing sessions this year
36 / 365 (9.86%)

A rundown of what I did in April, writing-wise:

  • Progressed further with the editing of Death Mask (The Three Lands).
  • Finished proofreading Empty Dagger Hand (The Three Lands).
  • Wrote more of Forge (The Eternal Dungeon).

And I was sick for half the month, which is why I didn't get as much done as I'd have liked. But! This is the first time since I started proofreading that I've had no stories in my proofreading queue. Woohoo!

Unfortunately, I still have a lot of stories in the final-editing-and-layout queue, as well as the layout of three e-books. So, while I'm not behind on anything except finishing Death Mask, I'm still swimming hard to keep up with my deadlines.

Another couple of new things this month:

1) I've switched over to reading most novels (by other authors) by text-to-speech. This was mainly to preserve my eyesight and to stave off incipient repetitive strain injury, but the switch has had the wonderful side effect of giving me more time for reading. Before, I was lucky if I could get an hour's worth of fiction reading done daily. Now I'm getting two to three hours' worth of fiction reading done daily, just by reading at the same time I'm doing housework and meal preparation.

2) I've officially split apart what was once a single first draft into two drafts: a script draft (really rushed, with blanks at bits I find especially hard, i.e. description) and a polish draft (typing up the script draft again, adding in what I left out, and changing things that were wrong in the script draft).

This sounds as though it doubles my work, and in a way it does, but I expect it to lessen my work at later editing stages, because I'm trying to make that polish draft as close to perfect as possible. That's something I haven't done very much in my life - okay, I did it once, back in 2001 - but I remember how good the first draft of that 2001 novel was. I barely had to revise it.

Plus, it's a lot easier for me to rush through a script draft, or to use a script draft to create a polish draft, than it is to try to jam together into one draft all the activities in those two drafts. So I'm less likely to avoid writing.

Here are my current writing and editing stages:

  • Plot in my head.
  • Script draft.
  • Polish draft.
  • Lightly edit (i.e. gently tweak the polish draft as I reread it). Brief short stories - the type I can write in a single day - may only go through a single light edit, but for works that take me multiple days to write, I'm likely to lightly edit scenes lots of times, as I reread them to remind myself of what I've already written.
  • Proofread (i.e. have my computer read aloud my story to me, so that I can check for errors by ear).
  • Bracket-check (i.e. check any words or passages I've bracketed previously for further checking).
  • Auto-edit through ProWritingAid.
  • Spellcheck.

My main problem at the moment is time. Trying to carve out time for all my various projects (fiction writing, day job, housework, etc.) is my mission in May.

May. 11th, 2019


Book review: "Riddle-Master," by Patricia A. McKillip (1976-1979)

This young adult fantasy trilogy has snuggled deep in my heart for forty years.

Rereading it for the umpteenth time since I first read it at age sixteen, I encountered passage after passage that I had echoed in my own writing, from the novel I wrote immediately after first reading the Riddle-Master novels in 1979, right up to a story I'm editing now, in 2019. The reason for this perpetual imitation is simple: I fell hard in love with the trilogy as a teen, and I've never been able to reread it without awe and keen enjoyment.

Ms. McKillip says in the introduction to the 1999 omnibus volume that the Riddle-Master trilogy isn't her favorite work, and I can certainly see that her writing style improved in her later works. (Which is rather like saying, "Shakespeare's later plays were better"; Ms. McKillip is a consummate stylist.) But to my mind, she was pitch-perfect in this trilogy when it comes to plotline, characterization, and relationships.

She pours so much into this trilogy. It is a fascinating quest tale, a gripping action/adventure chronicle, an intriguing mystery, a passionate story of love (both platonic and sexual), and a breathtaking narrative of the wonders of magic, music, culture, and nature.

She accomplishes this through quietly lyrical passages, stirring conflict, and a finale to the first novel that ought to win the award of "Cliffhanger That is Most Likely to Give the Reader a Heart Attack." (*Insert here an image of me desperately pleading to my mother to let me go to the library after dark to borrow the second novel, so that I could find out what happened next.*)

If I read correctly the clues dropped in her introduction to the omnibus, Ms. McKillip wrote this trilogy during the same period that Ursula K. Le Guin's original Earthsea trilogy was published. The two works are comparable in nature: young adult fantasy trilogies by female American authors, about imaginary worlds filled with magic and wizards and young men going to schools that will fill their heads with ideas that set them off on deadly quests.

In one respect, though, Riddle-Master was groundbreaking. Ursula K. Le Guin was well known for her feminism, yet it is the Riddle-Master world, not Earthsea, that includes a dozen minor female characters and no less than six major female characters. One of these characters is a princess, who gives this speech to her beloved:

"I would be that for you if I could. I would be mute, beautiful, changeless as the earth of An for you. I would be your memory, without age, always innocent, always waiting in the King's white house at Anuin - I would do that for you and for no other man in the realm. But it would be a lie, and I will do anything but lie to you - I swear that."

One can almost hear, echoing forward from the 1970s, thousands of female readers screaming, "Yes!"

I must admit - with not a little shame - that this aspect of the trilogy didn't have as much impact on me as a reader and writer as it ought to have. But that was partly because I was wrapped up in another outstanding aspect of the trilogy: the profound, abiding, openly expressed affection between many of the male characters, and in particular, between two male characters who are at the heart of the trilogy's secret.

He did not realize he was crying again until he lifted his hand to touch his eyes. [She] was silent, holding him gently. He said, after a long time, when her fire had died down, "I sat with [him] in the night not because I was hoping to understand him, but because he drew me there, he wanted me there. And he didn't keep me there with his . . . words, but something powerful enough to bind me across all my anger. I came because he wanted me. He wanted me, so I came. Do you understand that?"
"Morgon, you loved him," she whispered. "That was the binding."

If you do a search on the word "love" and related words in The Riddle-Master, five types of love come up. The first is the love between men, as described above.

The second is the love between women. I need not belabor how exceedingly rare prominent female friendships were, and are, in the fantasy genre. I will simply point out that Patricia A. McKillip was so dedicated to changing this that - at a time when fantasy readers were lucky if even one character in a novel was female - Ms. McKillip devoted one-half of her trilogy's middle novel to a quest by three young women who become friends.

The third love is the love between men and women - especially a romance that serves as one of the central paths in the complex storyline.

The fourth love is of art. Magic, music, and riddlery all play important roles in the tale. Magical powers and harping are tired tropes by now in the fantasy genre, though they weren't at the time the trilogy was written - back when, as Ms. McKillip puts it in her introduction, "the science fiction and fantasy section of the typical bookstore was about the same length as from my nose to my thumb." (I can add here that the Riddle-Master was one of very few major fantasy works published in the 1970s.) Riddlery, however, is Ms. McKillip's creative contribution to the modern fantasy genre, one that serves both as colorful background and as a reminder that the mystery which Morgon must solve is the driving force in this trilogy.

And finally there is a word that comes up several times in the novel: "land-love." That this is an important concept is clear from the moment that the reader grasps that rulership in this world derives, not only from inheritance, but also from something called "land-instinct." Just what this land-instinct is, and why it is so important to the storyline, only gradually creeps up on the reader; Ms. McKillip is skilled at plunging readers into a world without initial explanation. (Every author who suffers from info-dump tendencies ought to take lessons from her.) But a love of nature and culture, and of the lands that grew out of these, is there from the very beginning.

He emerged [from the ship] finally, drawing deep breaths of clean air. Most of the carts were gone; the sailors were drifting toward the trade-hall to eat. The sea nuzzled the ships, swirled white around the massive trunks of pine supporting the docks. He went to the end of the pier and sat down. In the distance, the fishing boats from Tol rose and dipped like ducks in the water; far beyond them, a dark thread along the horizon, lay the vast, sprawling mainland, the realm of the High One.
He set the harp on one knee and played a harvest-song whose brisk, even rhythm kept time to the sweep of a scythe. A fragment of a Ymris ballad teased his memory; he was picking it out haltingly from the strings when a shadow fell over his hands. He looked up.

And in this quiet moment of love - love of land, love of music, love of a riddle - Morgon's life changes. So did mine.

The volumes of Riddle-Master

  • The Riddle-Master of Hed.
  • Heir of Sea and Fire.
  • Harpist in the Wind.


Unofficial Patricia A. McKillip website.

Patricia A. McKillip at ISFDB.

Riddle-Master at Goodreads.

May. 8th, 2019


Upcoming fiction schedule

Due to changes at my Patreon account, I've had to make some mid-year alterations to my e-book publication schedule. In addition to the e-books listed below, I release novels and short fiction from my backlist in the form of online serializations to my Archive of Our Own account. I also post an annual gift story in December.


=== Latest releases ===

Danger (Dark Light collection). Soon after they were born, they were tattooed with the signs of their ranks: master or servant. Now, in the time between past and future, the youths of the Midcoast nations find themselves in predicaments and even high danger. Unable to flee their troubles, they face a thick, unyielding barrier .. . until the power of friendship breaks through.

Darkling Plain: A fantasy omnibus on romance, friendship, and disabilities. Separated in time and place, these young women and young men are united in their goal: to protect those they care for from the destruction of battle. ¶ The odds are against them. ¶ From the introduction: "This series omnibus covers a range of disabilities: cognitive impairment, speech disorders, mobility impairment, anxiety, emotional disturbance, visual impairment, and what I can only term as magic impairment. Yet when I wrote these stories, my thoughts were not on disability but on love: friendship and romance. I wrote about people like myself: people who stood outside the main boundaries of society, people who longed for companionship, people who sought something even higher than companionship. Those are the young people on these pages."


=== Upcoming releases ===

I've finished writing all of the titled stories below. Because of the uncertainties of editing and layout time, future release dates remain tentative, but the publication order is likely to follow the order below.

Hell's Messenger (Life Prison novel). In Mip's most notorious life prison, Death appears in a strange disguise. ¶ It had seemed for a while that the plan would work: a bold conspiracy by a group of idealistic prisoners and sympathetic guards to stop abuse at Mercy Prison. Then betrayal occurs, and Tyrrell finds himself in a new life prison, with new rules to be learned. No longer is he in a position of leadership; now he is surrounded by men who question his most fundamental values. ¶ He has new allies as well: fellow prisoners who like what they see in him, a healer who refuses to accept current conditions, and guards who may or may not provide the help that the prisoners desperately need. But Hell's messenger, Death, visits Compassion Prison, keeping his face hidden until it is almost too late for Tyrrell to recognize his touch.

Death Mask (The Three Lands novel). For eighteen years, he has survived in an army unit where few soldiers live more than two or three years. Now he finds himself in circumstances where his life is a living hell. Will the soldier who defied death find that life is too great a challenge? ¶ Soldiers, spies, slaves, rebels, assassins, gods, and men who set out to break him. . . The Lieutenant of the Border Mountain Patrol will learn that his greatest test is himself.

Breached Boundaries (The Three Lands novel). The boundaries of rank declare that Serva can be a princess or she can be a slave. But for the bastard daughter of the King of Daxis, life is not that simple. ¶ Forced to be a tool in a battle waged by her land's unstable King and his dangerously devious heir, Serva cannot even find refuge among her fellow slaves. Instead, she secretly explores the hidden portions of the palace. In this way, she meets an imprisoned spy who is scheduled for execution.  ¶ But when a simmering war bubbles to the surface, Serva must choose where her loyalties lie. She must also solve the mystery of the spy's past, and of her own future.

Free-man's Blade (The Three Lands short story). Free-men are the backbone of Emor: the men who run and protect the empire. But when a young servant finds himself unexpectedly vaulted into manhood, he must decide how he will use his power, and who will pay the price of his decision.

Hidden Blade (The Three Lands novella). His father is a dull farmer. His mother is a dull farmer's wife. He seems destined for a similarly dull life. ¶ But then a stranger appears in their village, and suddenly the talk is of soldiers and spies and secrets and gods. Will he be able to break free of his father's legacy and make a bold dash to a life of his own?

The Awakening (Dungeon Guards novel). Barrett Boyd has awakened from death to a new and baffling life. He knows that he is a guard in the queendom's royal prison, the Eternal Dungeon. But why do the prisoners matters so much to him? Who are these other guards who appear to have claims over him? And how will he survive while he finds his new place in this world? ¶ As Barrett seeks to make sense of his surroundings, he must contend with a would-be love-mate, a grumbling rebel, deadly enemies, and the challenge of how to wield his expanded skills.

In the Spirit (The Three Lands novelette). Prince Richard has a high office in the army, a ruler who trusts him, and a loyal subordinate. ¶ He also has a murderer who is likely to kill him one of these days. Amidst the many uncertainties of his life, can Richard count on love, or will that become yet another treachery?

The Fire Before (The Three Lands novella). The god's fire is fierce, but not as fierce as the god's wrath if you turn away. ¶ Tristan is the King's heir, destined to rule the Kingdom of Koretia. His nephew Robin has taken Tristan's place as baron of their town. Now both men are about to face the worst crisis their land has ever known. And neither of them understands what the true crisis is. ¶ As Tristan struggles to find the courage to follow his god's command, and Robin tries to find a middle ground between piety and disloyalty to his uncle, the two noblemen will be forced to confront the consequences of war . . . and the consequences of their own inaction.

Empty Dagger Hand (The Three Lands novel). Dolan is a quiet young man who spends his days working as a scribe. So why does he have a dagger hidden under his tunic? ¶ When Dolan's hidden life turns to disaster, he must make his way through a warring world of many enemies and few allies. Figuring out which men are his allies will take time, and not much time is left. ¶ As an empire crumbles and civilization is threatened, Dolan must use all his wits to survive, for only he can bring to safety the greatest treasure in the Three Lands.

The Night Watch (The Three Lands novella). They are the elite unit of the Northern Army, and their power is growing. But what they need is more than power: they need wisdom. ¶ Xylon is the conscience of the Home Division Patrol. Everyone says so. But when his conscience fails him, Xylon must find the courage to help his fellow patrol guards through the worst crisis that the Great Peninsula has ever faced.