FAQ - Writing Career
How should I pursue my dream of writing?

Chase that dream of storytelling BUT don't limit yourself - don't buy in to the "starving and struggling" bit. It isn't necessary!!! That's a lie told to discourage people FROM taking the courage in hand... and there are many examples of brilliant success that outran that map. Don't set your compass on having half of that dream, accompanied by some sort of suffering.

It can be so easy to hear the detractors - yet the most successful creators on this planet in the arts HAVE made more than any doctor or lawyer... stand on that truth instead. Safe? no. Assured? no. But tell yourself the truth. Courage to find your voice does not mean the path is known - it isn't. You have to find it yourself... the beaten paths speak loudly because they are "safe." But really, what is true is they are known. There is no mystery in them, and that takes the "threat" out. Are you afraid of the mystery that leads.....? But to me, always, if I looked that route, where the mystery was NOT, something Died. And that is not acceptable.

I'm wondering how to start writing. Do you have any advice for newcomers?

You start where your heart lies...some writers do short fiction very easily - others, a longer form is natural...you will just have to mess about with suspense and see what zips for you. There are "stages" to learning to write - I feel - so here's what I suggest. begin with practicing paragraphs - that "set" certain parameters. Try one that introduces a character - a description that tells something about them. That usually includes three things: what they look like/wear/visual impression...what sort of mood/personality - and one odd personal habit that "sets" them apart - this little three point count is an instant "fix" that lets your reader zero in on your character as individual...how to make a sideline character, or spear carrier - stand up. 3 lines will do it...and often that 3 lines will "grow" them bigger - as they reappear, because YOU know who they are..

Next, try a paragraph that sets a "mood" - you have a scene coming where people are going to argue, say, and you want the room to say something about what sort of background/mood/backdrop will happen with the dialogue - practice creating a setting that sets the reader "into" the feel of the place - that place, no other place. What does it feel like to be there, what does it smell like, decor, lighting, who lives here? Is it neglected or new - antique or stylish - who's left their mark on this place or is it sort of "sterile" - what sort of place is it.

When you "practice" these sorts of passages, you are actually developing your brain - learning to imagine, creating shifts in the neuronal patterning in your BRAIN so that you can visualize things - people too often neglect to realize that you don't "spring" into the world with this skill in place - you don't have the "mental gears" developed to move through an imaginary world yet - and you HAVE TO DEVELOP IT. The ONLY way to do this is - do it. Practice. No writer I have ever helped EVER begins with all this spatial visualization skill in place. Next, practice scenes where characters interact with emotion - choose different emotions, make different fragmentary scenes. Again, you are "connecting" your awareness of emotional interplay with making it happen on the page - and it's going to make you wickedly observant of others, so you can "see" what defines the cues to create emotion on page....nobody gets this all at once EITHER. Next, create a fragmentary scene - where you create a setting AND characters AND put them interacting with emotion - you now NEED to buy the book I suggested, by Dwight Swain, Techniques of the Selling Writer - it will show you how to link motivation and reaction into sentence units - precisely how to use language to build scene, tension AND which tool to use to gain what effect - when to flashback, flash forward, foreshadow a future event - how to create on page TENSION. Next, look at how suspense works. Swain tells this - I posted some notes on that in this chat under Narrative stuff - how to build scene into plot.

NOW start a story - short or long - fiddle what works. Short, you MUST know what you need and jettison all that you don't. Long, you can breathe a bit....let things meander more as they develop. Note: it can take, sometimes, FIVE YEARS of practice for a writer to develop the on page sense of all the layers needed to do narrative fiction. It may not take this long - some are just "gifted" - but if you're not one of those lucky few (who will STILL have to work at it!!!) you can still develop yourself! Everybody starts "thin" on the page - and develops that sense of imagination to carry all that must be carried at once....whether your prose style is spare or not, STILL you have to carry multiple layers of awareness in the narrative. Last - vocabulary - READ! Preferably older works found in libraries - not necessarily classics! But books that are not part of the "modern" popular fiction style that often are done at 4th grade reading level - as newspapers and magazines are, today. OR stick to that level of prose and don't worry.

Do you write all your chapters in order or do you write the chapters as you have the events unfolding in your mind?

It happens two ways. I write the chapters in strict order - this has always been so. What comes after builds upon what went before, to a fine point, so having the linear progression as I draft seems to be paramount FOR ME. The odd, future flash of inspiration on a scene - usually a few lines of dialogue - never or rarely running on to a page - may fly up at any time - while waking up in the morning, particularly...these I jot in scribbles on notepads (often in the dark, those nights when I lie wakeful for hours and meditate). These scribbles get chunked in a box, or tossed roughly into chronological order - then pulled out again (if I remember) when the scene itself comes due. Always realize this is what works for ME - somebody else could try my way, and lock up totally. I sort of "run" on the theory that, if time does not exist in linear fashion on the level where creativity organizes itself, then somewhere, in that simultaneous future the "book" is finished. You just sort of have to coast your mind, and let it flow in.

Brute rewrites are massive line edits that cut out all sorts of redundant language - that smooth out the prose and make it more elegant. Also, that watch for areas where a point has been explained "twice over" since as I wrote a chapter months past, I might not realize the foundation was already stated. After the brute rewrite, it's refinement - going through the text front ways and backwards until it flows just so.

A first draft can vary in timing - no rhyme or reason to quite why - there are those scenes that come slower, and those that go lightning fast. My all time record for speed, is To Ride Hell's Chasm - which, if I allow for the "upset" surrounding Sept last, probably drafted in 6 months, 800 pages. I consider myself doing extraordinarily well if I can rip out 100 pages a month....often I'll aim for that, but it's overoptimistic. I am content if, after a solid day, I've got five pages, but if I've got 3, I'm not displeased. The record for page length in one day is, I think 25 and that's an extreme rarity. Some chapters of Stormwarden (which were 20 manuscript) took a MONTH! that book was my "all time" tooth puller, for slow, yet, you'd never know it, seeing the finish. And it started with an 18 page gush.

Draft pages require a LOT of work, after - usually 2 days of refining before they're fit to see at all - then another pass, printout, then brute rewrite, then a mess of refining, front wards, then reviewing each of the pages backwards. Hell's Chasm required, working HARD, until, was it June? To turn in polished - deduct 2 months - from that - two weeks for a "vacation" 2 weeks to shake the words out of my head, housecleaning, to prepare to paint, then four weeks, not rushing (I was pooped) to paint the cover. So figure 4 hard months of polishing. You have a book in a year. Admittedly, sort of a lengthy one. Shadows series can take 2 years per book, depending. They usually take, minimally, a year to draft - but - sometimes they're faster. Stormed Fortress is going to HAVE to be faster, and I am hopeful I can pull this off.

Can you tell us about your favorite themes?

I think one of my favorite themes is the idea that the "good guy" is the one - no matter who - that's striving to see himself in an ever changing light, and that his principles are not fixed - he or she will raise the bar each time they see themselves fall short. The idea of a fixed pattern being the scarier focus, regardless of "starting point."

So I suppose I look for honesty - both to self and others - as one of the key ingredients... this obviously does not make for clean cut lines. (grin)

How do you decide what style of voice suits a particular story you're writing?

To me there is ONLY one way to write, and that is from your own authority. Your own voice. First, that is your true voice. That is the voice no one else can duplicate...it is the only one that will "ring" with authenticity, because this is not the voice you 'learned' or the voice you "expect people want to hear' but the voice in your heart. If it speaks true for you, that is what counts - and that realness, that authenticity will be heard by others far more clearly than anything fabricated for other reasons. Anything else will be "hollow" and I do feel that people sense this.

It takes courage to throw off the blanket of the consensus and step forth and find your own way...but that is the only path that others can see meaning, or that will touch and influence and expand...they may not LIKE your realness, or they may recognize something real in themselves from their own reflection off it. You take the risk, with realness, of having real impact. But real impact does not fade with the fads....which kind of book do you want to write? Now - to the message.... if you are writing Message, you need to think about nonfiction....if you are writing a story that carries a piece of your angle of view - the story is first. Which book are you writing? A Message dragging a story along makes the story over as baggage. And vice versa....what is the value you are striving for - this will determine the writing. Best tell yourself the truth about the value UP FRONT - or you could miss your audience. An individual writer can have many voices - depends on the type of story, what style suits. Its trying to "do" one that isn't true that's the mistake...in my opinion anyway.

When writing, how do you develop a plot?

Trusting you have already conceived of a setting and a character - the thing that drives is CONFLICT. One of the best bits of advice I received from a mentor/playwright was: You need to know AT EVERY POINT IN YOUR STORY, "What's at stake?" The character on page wants something. He stands to lose what, if he doesn't win it - and what obstacles lie in his way. If he doesn't want anything - no plot! No goal. You're missing the sense of triumph and victory that would create your Ending. If he wants something, does he have PASSION for it. If not, who cares? Passion lights the fire, the drive to achieve the Victory. If your character does not desire, you lack the spark to incite your plot. If your character has a goal he MUST aim for (ending), has passion for it, (spark to drive) but nothing stands in his way - no frustrations, no "yeah buts" - you have no friction, no resistance, no hurdle for him to overcome, therefore, NO sense of mystery - the "how" of his solving of his range of problems. You lack SUSPENSE. Therefore, plot is a moving cascade: Character + conflict, sparked by Passion, jammed by resistance, = driven to achieve triumph. Beginning scenes open conflict. Middle bits deal with the dance/ricochet between passion/desire and frustration/resistance. Climax is the point of highest tension between the two - triumph is the end.... Each stage must be answered: What's at stake? Arrange your answers, you will have solved your entropy problem.

Can you give any writing advice on point of view?

My 2C worth - point of view is not a hard and fast "rule" as some people claim BUT - it is a tricky, slippery skill to master.... scenes written in 3rd person CAN change POV - but - it takes skill and experience to know how to handle this. Therefore, starting writers are best to keep some firm boundaries UNTIL those skills are firmly in line. The easiest way NOT to goof is start in the first person....you can't mess up, having one character know what another is thinking if you are in the "I" moment. Some stories will NOT write in the first person. OK. Then best rule of thumb - do NOT change point of view during a scene. Make SURE you select one character per scene - tell it from their POV. How do you know if you "slipped?" Insert the "I" viewpoint, where that character plays and see if you stepped out of their head. If you didn't, you win....if you did, correct it. Scene ends - change characters as need be.

Always pick which character "tells" that scene very Carefully..... New writers are wise to stick within limits, but nothing's WORSE than sticking to training wheels and insisting that's the ONLY way to write. there's 3rd person, VIEWPOINT - one character, one view point, told in 3rd person grammar. There's OMNISCIENT view point - told in 3rd person, but from multiple views - this is the one that's hard to do, and one needs a master's skills to KNOW how to handle it. At any given moment, the author MUST know who, and why, and what they are depicting - both to avoid confusion, and to wring the most out of the scene in question. New writers - working to tighten and shape their craft - would be smart to avoid this one UNTIL they have the clarity of awareness to handle it. And yes, absolutely, I DID follow my own advice, here.

How much of the interaction between the players and the underlying character story do you model on personal experience and observation?

The answer is both simple and complex. The simple answer: all of it. The complex answer - none of it. All of it - we each perceive out of our perspective on experience - what we pay attention to, what detail we observe and notice, what emotion and impact CREATES value. I see a lot of detail, and experience in as wide a range as I can bear to - and push that limit all the time. Now the complexity -the story has been laid out with an IMMENSE range of depth and detail - but when YOU experience them, what do YOU see - what do you value, what resonates with your experience, what sensitivities get amplified due to who YOU are - now we see - your experience in this manuscript will be YOURS....what you gave attention and meaning to will be REAL as real - but was the "real" that I saw the same thing? It shared common spring points, but what I wrote, and what you experienced are two different individual experiences along a parallel. Therefore - what is real to me and what is real to you MAY intersect - or may not. If so, it is real to us both. If not, it is NO less real to us both. Real for you and Real for me need not be exactly in unison.

If you found meaning in something, saw an insight or a possibility that was real for you - that was yours. And just as preciously real, to me, as something of YOURS, as the seed that was real for me, that perhaps, triggered that cascade of meaning. The two points do not have to intersect. The value is equally valid.

When writing, is it advisable to just sit down and let it flow and write what comes, or to take a more structured approach?

I'd begin here: write where the passion is. If you have that scene, dying to get out, let it out of the box! Just create those fragments, put them in the box and see. They will eventually go in the right directions, and fill in material will happen. I have found this: if you DON'T write what's in that mental in box - the muse in you assumes you don't care....and doesn't replace the material with subsequent material. Also: the scene you get in a blinding burst of inspiration NEVER comes back! (for me, anyway) it's a one way ride. Do it, or lose it. I choose to do it - the few I've lost, I've always mourned. They don't regenerate with the same bang.

In any story - you always start with a seed. Who says it's rigid and MUST be the beginning. Sometimes it may be - sometimes it may be the end. Sometimes it's the middle bit. Does it Matter? Creativity is NOT ANAL - it begins in the head, not the fundament, and, contrary to legend, it is not organized. Creativity is INSPIRATIONAL - which means, it is NOT LINEAR. It starts at this point and JUMPS or LEAPS the intuitive gap - and lands - elsewhere. This is not a linear process....so, if you expect to control the leap, go do accounting, where the math has to add up. Creativity - the math may add up, but it will Always be hindsight vision....you are venturing INTO the unknown and bringing something out. It is not KNOWN beforehand - after, yes, it is.

Treating a story idea as a concrete thought FIRST is not creativity. Story writing is inherently intuitive and creative - so - you have to LEAP from somewhere. You start with whatever you have on your plate that intrigues you and you just - go with it. Security people, or control freaks, who insist on knowing each step are never going to get anywhere. You don't KNOW with intuition. Creativity is not by its nature the same as LOGIC. If you are uncomfortable with the Unknown - you can't create. Because bringing in something NEW is the epitome of voyaging into the unknown. Or its not new. Books survive by suspense - bingo - drawing a reader INTO the unknown to find out what happens. You are the first pioneer on the trail. Some people are not, inherently, pioneers - and hence, not story writers. They can do ad copy - not story. A very large idea - a very complex tale such as mine do not happen on one leap...it is millions of leaps, millions of creative intuitive "jumps" and then seeing the order of them AFTERWARD.

I began with a seed idea: two characters, two gifts, a conflict of Light and Shadow, wherein, the usual approach was not going to follow stereotype. It grew - more characters, more ideas, more layers. As I wrote the scenes on Dascen Elur, I kept finding more bits and more breadth - Athera happened, by fragmentary moments of vision. I wrote down EVERYTHING I got in mind, no matter HOW little it seemed to "follow" the simple first seed of the idea. I had jillions of notes of future scenes. Fourth and Fifth arc, by this date, about 80 pages EACH of written scenes, set into chronological order in files with, now, an outline setting the interim actions in place....those future scenes are there, just waiting for when I get to them, Little stepping stones, or big ones, each one a jewel, intact. I started with an idea, and two characters. In six months, I had a skeleton outline of the whole series. For about bout 7 years, I had scenes pour in, like rushes of "oh Wow look at This, and see how That connects to That - not in order! - that did or didn't precisely relate. When I wrote them down, I knew where many fitted. Some I didn't. I still have some "one line" fragments that I don't know, yet, where they'll fall. They land at the right point, and fit.

Sometimes somebody would ask a question, or a test read would ask a question, or argue a plot point - and "bam" as I 'looked' there, to explore the point, like a map, unfolding, there was the missing structure, already in place to be 'discovered.' You get those intuitive jumps by getting INTO the material. The bridges ARE being built, but you don't see them. You step off, and they are just - *there* - which truly DOES scare some people. You don't have a herd, *there* welcoming you - you are off on your own, and that is not 'social' behavior. In fact, in strict survival terms, its 'dangerous ground' - so you have a LOT of inhibitions of just letting fly into nowhere. It got the species killed, as a hunter/gatherer, damn well, so you have some pretty strong survival instincts to NOT GO THERE. Not to mention, 'daydreaming' was not rewarded as a lucrative pastime in your school days! So you got taught, don't, too... well. Go anyway....

By about 8 years, I knew I had too much to do as a "first novel" - so I wrote Sorcerer's Legacy, Master of Whitestorm as short stories, Cycle of Fire, Empire, revamped Master of Whitestorm as a novel - all the while working on WoLaS in the background. I had entire drafts of material well into Grand Conspiracy and Peril's Gate well before I sold Curse of the Mistwraith, which was sold in the US as a finished book. I still get "scenes" that will occur volumes away. I write them down, put them in a box according to which Story Arc they belong - and now and again, go through and insert them chronologically. By now I KNOW my story. The structure of it is evident, it now just "deepens and heightens" or gains force and sharpness. But it didn't happen overnight! I began the seed idea for WoLaS in 1972. (Yeah, I was pretty young). When I saw what the ending would be, I absolutely KNEW I didn't have the 'wisdom, depth and perspective" to write it. No Way!! BUT - I trusted myself enough to know I would when I got there. And stepped into the unknown. Somewhere in this, something INSIDE you knows the whole story....it doesn't work in linear space, but you do. It doesn? t react linearly, though you do. The only way to catch the leap is to net what you've got. Then it's like dragging a yarn in knit - the rest pulls through in due time. You will have the whole spool, linear, to weave the whole cloth, but you couldn't see it, looking for the sweater!

Do you have any advice on how to stay focused while writing?

How to stay focused - the answer is, at first, DON'T!!! If you wander into a change of mood - incorporate it! Keep going, using that new impetus. This happens. Keep following the live movement. Two things will happen: you'll learn WHAT thread means the most and it will resolve. OR you'll find all the threads applied, you just didn't know, yet how they connected together. Stay with the passion in "creation" mode. "Edit" (destroy) later, when you KNOW what focus you are reaching to define. "Dissatisfaction" is edit mode (destroy). chuck that voice. Gag it. You are DRAFTING (creating) and you don't pause to judge, now. Let it BE stupid, badly written or 'dumb' - so what. Underlying there is the germ of a valuable idea. You will edit LATER, and fix the stupid, badly written or dumb. But if you disparage now, you'll never find the live idea, underneath. What you want to write NOW, are driven to write, NOW is the live idea.

This is not to be confused with discipline - wherein you know you have a live idea, but you have to work on it. Writing is the hardest of all I have done. Bar nothing. Some days it's discipline and work. Let your book change meaning and mood as often as it takes until you KNOW what you are writing. DO NOT EDIT at the same time. That's for later. Have the discipline to put the words DOWN. That's not always automatically easy. Know the difference through sounding by experience. If you can train your muse to come at the "opportune" moment, bottle it and sell it. You'll be rich.

In my experience, it's a dance. You carry a pencil and snatch ANY scrap of paper when the live idea "hits" - record it. Tends not to happen twice as you've found out. If I can't write, I'll do every thing I can to "tag" the idea in memory - recall initials, burn it in as a picture, key it to something I have in my environment, so by association, I can call it back up - in ghost form, if nothing else. The flip side is, you have to make the SPACE. If you don't, the odd idea can't happen in, and won't. So - half discipline, putting the seat in the chair with the blank paper or screen - if nothing comes, after a serious brain burn, pose the question "What or why?" Walk away, do something else, sleep on it, the answer will ring in within one to three days. Do I stall for 3 days while waiting? No. I dance on and off the concept, while working on refining an older scene, OR - reassemble the ideas as "what if I tried this scene this way, or that way, or shifted character point of view."

Just keep on knocking on the door, stepping back, peeking in again - until the idea pops in a form that moves. If 3 days pass and I am totally stuck - it's because I tried to control the approach too hard. Thought the scene "should be" this and refused to move into another angle. Bored myself out of the passion. Not enough conflict in the scene as posited. Find a way to heat it up - add intensity. Sometimes another approach, sometimes another scene got shorted, or, sometimes there was an element missing. Three day stalls require a revision. Idea cooking means stir the pot like crazy, look at all the angles you COULD do - then step back. They'll boil up, and you'll know. Stirring the pot - that's the discipline. Having the confidence to step back and "let" the inner process leap the gap and arise as inspiration - that is trust in your creative imagination, and you can't do without that knowing it is THERE intact, inside you. You have to allow it to emerge. Fearing it won't will shut you down, every time, or fearing it's not going to be good enough - that will choke you too.

Someplace around here I copied in an in-depth post in this chat on "blocking" -- try a search for that. These things are what work for me. Everybody has their own recipe.

What do you do if you come to a "logjam" in a story that you cannot break?

Here's what I do... You've done the first step - which is, admit that you're bored. Creativity does not spring out of boredom. In my experience, it is piqued by mystery...by anticipation...by wonder....by the friction between two unlike concepts. Part of what drove Mykkael's character in To Ride Hell's Chasm (this is not a spoiler) was the integration and balance of the extreme macho masculine warrior with the feminine BALANCE: of compassion, ability to deal straight on with chaos (non order, a feminine principle) and his utter, unswerving ability to focus on his goal - take what WAS in front of him, strip it of 'personal attachment" and handle only that which needed handling. The balance of opposite concepts made him "alive" - and kept stretching the imagination on the page.

When I get into a spot where a character seems "dull" - I try chucking something into the mix that "should not fit" - and yet, when the character acts on the page, he/she will grow to fill in the human logic. Do something on scene that is utterly incongruous. In Ships of Merior, when I stalled on Talith's departure from Erdane - I did just that - stuck Pesquil!!! naked in a bathtub in front of Talith's stunning beauty...scene came alive. Stick a trait on a character that "does not fit" - watch as they compensate. do something radical with the setting that "ups the volume" of their response. If your crowd of "supporters" around your hero are all sweeties, this is not gritty real - any pack of sycophants has the sh*t licker, the whiner, the one who envies and inveigles to upstage...the one who means well, but always looks like the goof. The one who's the rock, but maybe unappreciated....shadow defines light. You can't have a "sweet" character that has no contour map to bring up the edges. Good and bad.

Many times writers who "can't write" a bad line on a character are ones who are TERRIFIED of their OWN emotions...they don't dare let go and express themselves on the page - god forbid we Let the Lid off That Stuff. But you have to! Peel your own skin till you shrink, that's embarrassment. Now make your character act that way. He's now real. No, it's not "safe" - but if you can't strip down a feeling, let go, and show a reader how it FEELS to be there - feel it yourself - than you will never spark your creation. It will not have fire. get onto that page - GET ENRAGED - GET HURT - CRY - it's got to hang out. Right in the open. Or you are going to be writing nothing but plastic masks. And bore yourself into depression. Depression = anger that you don't feel you have the right to have. It can be over tiny, tiny, tiny things, like that bugger sets his coffee on my damned DESK every morning and leaves a ring, and gee, it's too piddling tiny to make complaint over - socially not nice.

So I don't get mad. It's too trivial. But those layers of trivia add up, add up, add up, until you're packing cement. Bam. Depressed, and don't know HOW you got there. Anger you feel you don't have the right to have - life isn't going your way, and instead of changing your backdrop, you just "put up" with that sh*t job, that creep boss - you accept the anger rather than make waves or take chances, getting another job elsewhere. Having a crap job is "just life" so you put up - and get abused - and don't get angry. Don't dare acknowledge it's there. Well, try getting your characters into a fight - let them misunderstand each other (temporarily) peel the mask, have that shouting match. Watch what happens. Get out a sheet of paper - write YOUR anger out - get ticked! - write like blue blazes until all those choked feelings are coughed up.

NOW go into your story - you might find, once your mask is ripped off, your characters can feel again. It may be your own filters are choking them down. These are just a few suggestions - if they all fail, well, bring on a life threatening situation. Try that. I did just that - in opening Fugitive Prince, when I had to stage Lysaer's state of mind at the opening - the surprise state council with the ambassador from Havish - it was going to be "talking heads" until I dropped a clanbred assassin into the scene - and blew the lid off the issues right then, right there. In high emotion, ALL the points came out sharp. Plot snags: these happen because you are trying too hard to "see" how to work them out. Don't. Step back on hitting them head on. Frame that impasse in your mind. KNOW there is another way to solve it, that you don't know yet - there is ALWAYS another idea you don't have yet. Go on the assumption that idea IS there. Frame the impasse. Ask for what you don't know yet. Do this before you sleep. Push at the limit. Back off. Wait. Know that idea will just "pop" in when you're not expecting it. It will happen as you wake up in the am, maybe, or when you get up from your desk to make coffee; are driving to or from an errand.

Hammer head on, sweat over it - you'll just jam the circuitry. The snag has to work itself out UNDERNEATH your conscious thought. Stay too conscious, it can't get thru. So you have to "push" gently to get the unconscious reasoning to work itself out, and back off, so it can slip through the cracks, into your conscious thought. That's how I worked out the spectacular impasse in Hell's Chasm....advance up to it, retreat, let go, wait, advance up to it, tap at the idea, step back - until the story itself produced the ONE scene that has been startling readers silly.

That's how I do this - I hope my (odd) description of the process makes some sort of sense. I always feel the story knows where it's going! The trick is staying focused just enough, and staying unfocused just enough - to let the right concept emerge out of the unformed chaos of imagination. Form it too fast, it freezes. Form it too vaguely, it dissipates. You have to play in your mind for that balance.

Do you ever find your characters going astray and you have to decide which direction to take the story?

Characters make their own choices all the time, and sometimes stories derail from the best of laid plans. Let them! That's the fire that keeps you writing - and - once you KNOW (and when enough happens on paper, you will) what story you are REALLY telling (not always the one you thought you were) THEN you can go back and adjust, in the edit. If you try to mastermind the whole thing, consciously, without letting the tale "come alive" you will do either of two things - block, and watch your enjoyment and wonder dry right up - or "hack" where you are writing without the direct flow from the heart. It's always easier to correct course for "sprawl" in a tale when you know precisely where it's strayed off - it's a HINDSIGHT decision, though, not ever one made in draft stage.

I'm having a problem with the story I'm writing going astray. Do you have any advice on how I can get back on track?

When this stuff happens, it's the best sign there IS that you ARE ON TRACK. Creativity "leaps the gap" and lands you places you never would have anticipated. In hindsight, you will see there was a clear track, all along.... If you try to "force" the story back into its original mold, it quite possibly may not go... so you just have to boldly go where no (one) has, before - this is YOUR story, the one never told. And that never will be told, unless you do it... Your choice - but the aliveness of the creation WILL not bow to order as you know it....it is your particular genius.

The question now becomes: do you have the courage to go where it leads? Your choice. If the idea is "too big" for your craft until you have developed your skills further - (mine was) - I wrote it anyway - learned all I could with the practice of doing that - then set it aside for a bit, (when I knew the time was right, that the idea was developed enough to put on "hold") and reset my sights on something smaller, used all I had learned in that freefall atmosphere of creativity to create a simpler piece designed to break into the marketplace. The key: the simpler piece was only that - simpler. No less creative and alive. Good luck - you have just "broken through" to your own original voice, I suspect - it's wakened up, and now you have to decide what you are going to do with it - now that it has answered back. The easiest way to "know" if the idea has leaped the gap and come alive - see where it leads you. If the story is "from the heart" it will continue. If you made a dust dry decision to try "this idea" instead - it will dry up and stop.

You'll learn to feel the difference. I'd not fear complexity in an idea, or shy off if it seems difficult - just recognizing that it IS over your head is the first step to learning what it takes to manage that.

When writing, I have trouble deciding how much detail to show in each scene. Can you offer any advice?

Rule of thumb: if the gathering of provisions has bearing on the STORY go into it. If it's just a minor detail - flash over it in a line... you only want to show scenes that have the meat in them - the ones that advance your story or your characters during significant moments. If you are writing in "detail" that has no meat, it's a good reason a story might founder. To "flash over" an insignificant detail, you'd just do that "they provisioned for a ten day journey through the wilds, and left at dawn for the east" or some such - and if the journey isn't significant, and no plot moving events happen, you'd flash past that one too - "On the eleventh day, when they reached -- wherever " Dwight Swain's book is an excellent reference for knowing what scenes to show, and which not.

What advice would you give to a writer whose plan for a series is not quite working out the way she intended? (My characters are being quite uncooperative, and I've done my best to stay faithful to their voices.)

Don't focus. Follow what's trying to happen. Let it run where it will. THEN watch as it develops - a theme, idea, or direction will emerge, and when you recognize what it is, you may find the "outline" you intended to write was NOT your true voice - the real passion would not be silenced. Follow the real passion....when you know it for what it is, re-tailor your outline to match the story you really wanted to write. If you are just "running on at the mouth" and the story does not develop into something (else) cohesive, you'll run out of "steam" - if there's no driving substance to what's frothing the pot, it will calm - and you will easily be able to toss off the dross. It's important to realize YOU do not control your creativity - you are inspired BY it - therefore, it will not be manipulated. It will, rather, illuminate YOU - to record the vision. If you are not writing what you "think" you should write - your "thinking" is not connected to the true source of your creativity. You can examine that "thought" and probably find - it originated by somebody else's plan, not yours....society's, your parents, your teachers, some dogma that is not YOUR true voice. One writes from the true voice, or one hacks...and I don't personally know any hacks, despite what the critics insist...

I've heard that you listen to music while writing. Can you give us some examples of what music you listened to while writing which scenes?

Here's the "actual" from the list as scribbled - way back, I think, post Ships / Warhost...

Curse of the Mistwraith opening: Vangelis, Opera Sauvage Tangerine Dream - Stratosfear, and The Park Is Mine Enya. Containment of Desh-thiere: Soundtrack to Backdraft (this is fantastic work). Arithon's Flight from Etarra to the clans: Chris Speeris - Desires of the Heart. Tal Quorin and the grottos: Soundtrack to Where the River Runs Black Peter Buffet - Yonnondio - Lost Frontiers.

Ships of Merior ch I and early bits: QE2 Mike Oldfield Last of the Mohicans soundtrack Columbus, Age of Discovery (Sheldon Morowitz) Spirit of Olympia (Arkenstone and Kostia) Robert Fox ASFAFA Gandalf - Gallery of Dreams. Encounter with s'Brydion: Exchange Spinfield. Chapters 10 to 12 (Merior & encounter scenes with Elaira): John Tesh, Monterey Nights Greg Klamt - Fulcrum. Valleygap to Minderl Bay sequence: Michael Garrison David Parsons - Dorje Ling Vangelis 1492 Cover Painting - Dead Can Dance - Aion. Vastmark lead in: Robert Fox - Blue Mountain Suite Tangerine Dream - Stratosfear Michael Sterns, Baraka and Sacred Sites. Scrying scenes aboard Khetienn and the slaughter at the Havens: Field of Thorns mostly Mike Oldfield, AMAROK Cover painting - Last of the Mohicans and Amarok

I can't do stuff with words in any language I can understand, while writing, which rules out most stuff with lyrics... In the personal taste area, I am not fond of jazz or blues - the former's dissonances literally hurt, and the latter makes me feel uselessly depressed. That leaves huge areas of electronic music - the sort of broody stuff with a mystical bent...not the syrupy music for meditation for massage - stuff like Michael Sterns, Larry Fast/Synergy (way cool stuff) - right now, this second - Robert De Fresnes - old favorites: Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, earlier David Arkenstone, Klaus Schulz, Fresh Aire/Manheim Steamroller/ Robert Fox particularly, and Greg Klampt - most of what the Spotted Peccaray label produces, go to their website, and listen...newer musicians have included 2001, and Amethystium. I also listen to classical occasionally, and carefully selected film soundtracks. Gladiator's was a favorite for To Ride Hell's Chasm, My all time rock favorites (not necessarily for writing) include Renaissance, Moody Blues and October Project, with Mike Oldfield the winning genius.

On the subject of test readers, how many test readers do you regularly give pieces of work to and what kind of feedback do you want/get?

The answer varies, according to what sort of book, and what sorts of minds I have available to be tasked. Hell's chasm had five - which is a lot. Two were martial arts specialists. One read the crude draft, to be sure the material and suspense were "in functional form" Then I had another read the finish, pre editors, to catch any dumb gaffes, or inconsistencies (if any get found at this point, they are tiny - semantics in titles, that sort of thing.) One was given the script to see how a woman would react - since there is a difference in the weight that each gender will give to a scene. She, obviously, was not much interested in the intricacies of the infighting... she'd look at other stuff with the scalpel (grin)

The industry has changed enormously!! Since I began - there used to be much much more time and care spent in production/copyedit than now. At one time, a publisher would have been mortified to have a book with a typo, or grammatical error. Now, such care is too costly for budget. So I have taken steps to rake through as many of the little pitfalls as possible, and due to the length and the time constraint on getting manuscripts in, my eyes are not enough. By then, I am blind to the small errors, or I have the text memorized to the point where I will not even see a missed word. Also, editors used to have TIME to run through manuscripts with more attention - now they are understaffed, overworked, and run ragged with meetings. Their reading time is cut to nil, not to mention, their time to examine a book for improvements.

Since my manuscripts have always come in "clean" this means, they don't have the critical need for such time to be spent - and so, they are usually largely waved through. My test reads HELP to catch what an editor would have - to spare me and them the necessity of making the changes at finish. Also, this way, I have all the stumblers done MY WAY - which is more agreeable to my sort of mind.

Stormed Fortress is in crude draft - it now has ONE test reader - who reads as I go - the purpose of this reader is to give me a snapshot of what is in the chapter just sent - emotional reaction, who do they root for, how do they feel after reading, and, did they feel surprised - did the action I saw as logically following hit them in an unexpected way - a lot of times, I think, hey, this is routine sequel, and bam, the test reader comes in blown away. It helps to have this "preview" of whether the plot is functioning (or not!) and how it may function that I did not anticipate. Then, I can adjust to either reinforce or correct an imbalanced reaction.

I should add - that usually NO CHANGES happen - the material when it goes is in line with what I want, but the reassurance it's on track is important in a work of this complexity. My husband is not always able to look - in fact, most often not - and sometimes I need to bounce a "hey, if I do the next scene as this, or that," type discussion - or more commonly, knowing the intensity of how the last scene played FOR THE READER - I can reach for the right note to continue.

I will have a second reader on Stormed Fortress's draft when it is one more stage along, and probably that one will read in batches, so the sense of continuity is somewhat intact. That one I have chosen for acute observation of detail, to make sure no more brownies crop up, like, say, Sethvir's living quarters, which was simply: I hadn't the time in the deadline to go back and check!!! And obviously, my map of the tower's interior has been lost for several volumes... I am now reconstructing it, out of irritable pique (at myself!) it is harder than you might think not to let little stuff like this creep in - you are drafting like ninety, and don't want to stop and look, so you plug in a "temp" figure to hold the space, and simply, forget in the deadline pressure to recheck it!!! LUCKILY it has never, ever, yet happened on a major structural point. I did NOT put Sethvir's quarters, grin, on the fifth floor.

At the end, I may or may not, do another test - I probably will do a female reader (she has been my sister, most often). I may or may not - depending - on how the book shapes up, what time I am allowed, all that stuff. And whether I need "specialist" tests, to make certain my experience or my research has not fallen short technically. For a specialist test read, obviously, you must be an expert in that area. I have had combat vets read the battle scenes - yes. If I can move THEM, then I have it right on the page.

One point of protocol has NEVER changed - I choose my test readers, not the other way round. I observe and notice the qualities I need, spontaneously, and then, I ask.

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