Sep 27 2018

That retreat…


Actually, I got back from the writing retreat with Laurie J. Marks over a week ago.  I just neglected to blog about it… this being due to my going right back into hunker-down-and-flail mode on Book 5, and basically ignoring all else.

But it was, in fact, a lovely time!  I don’t often  get to hang with Laurie for extended periods, so that alone made it a treat.

There were some negatives, however, one being: Far too short!  It was Friday through Monday, which sounds like four days, but when you really work it out comes down to two days.  One spends the first day getting there, setting up and settling in, and the last day packing up, moving out, and getting home.

But still, well worth the trip.  I’d show you some photos, but alas: my phone’s ancient battery refused to hold a charge, and shut the phone down any time I tried to do anything. I managed to take exactly one photo.

Fortunately, Laurie’s phone was just fine, and I’ve shamelessly nabbed her photos from Facebook:

Very very small.

The Hermit’s Hut, as they call it, is not accessible by any vehicles except back-country 4×4’s, which neither of us had.  Luckily, a member of the staff was on hand to shuttle our gear up the hill; but on the way back down, we were on our own.


All this. Down a hill. Except where the road went up for a bit. Then it was up a hill.

This was a fairly heavy load, but at least we were going down (mostly).  What was more difficult was hauling water up the hill, which we fortunately only needed to do once.

The hut was not really primitive as such; it would more accurately be called basic.

Interior, seen from the couch where Laurie mostly worked.

It was comfortable, and had both a screened porch and a screened pavilion, which I immediately claimed as my workspace!  Because I so love to be outdoors when I work.

My one and only successful photo.

The woods around were crisscrossed with multiple trails, both long and short, both climbing and ambling.  They invited thoughtful wandering, and in one case exhausting bushwhacking when we lost track of the trail markers.  It was an adventure.

I tended to be in front, as possessor of the trail map.  I was constantly running into  cobwebs and flailing at them, which at least spared Laurie the trouble!   They were replaced overnight, to be broken again the next day.

On our final day, what must have been one supremely frustrated spider constructed a massive web across the main access road as we were descending — his last chance to get us, and he made it good.

We successfully avoided becoming a meal or possibly a banquet for the entire spider-neighborhood.

Luckily I spotted it before running into it, and we sidled around.  Far too excellent a construction to break out of spite!  This thing must have been four feet wide, and was anchored right across the entire road.  You have to respect that.

But the critical question: was it a productive retreat?


I’m really tied to the keyboard.   At a keyboard, I think and it appears on the screen as if by magic.  I’m hardly aware of typing at all.

But it would be very useful for me to be able to write prose by hand, and I thought this might be a good opportunity to give it a solid, serious try.

Not very successful.   Prose written by hand just doesn’t look real to me.  I could make no good progress…

However, I’ve always been able to write analyses of the work in progress by hand, and spent some time bouncing ideas off myself, and reading the  manuscript print-out I brought along and noting what needed attention.  And then I worked on a poem; and when that stalled, on a different poem.

And then I worked on some song lyrics, which I’ve always written by hand.  And then I remember a song I wrote ages ago which I cannot stand to sing because the bridge was just awful.  The verses are gorgeous!  The melody is lovely!  The bridge is dreadful, clunky bad in pretty much every way —

Ah, but now I am much older and wiser, and I decided I could write a better bridge, one that did not actively suck all the beauty out of the song.  So, I worked on that for a bit, and discovered that I’d completely forgotten all the lyrics of the entire song except for the chorus.  I spent some time painstakingly recovering all the verses except for one line.  And that was enough to start figuring what went wrong on that bridge.

What went wrong became very quickly evident: I had tried to cram an entire novel’s worth of story into a four-line bridge.  Yeah.  That never works.

And yet, back when I was primarily trying to be a songwriter, that’s the error I made over and over — trying to put too much into one song.  I am, apparently, really a novelist.

Still, I do think I can rescue Hannah’s Song, now that I see the problem.  Songs are moments — forget the plotlines, the complications, and anything like a message.  Think awareness, now-ness, more like mindfulness meditation.

I think I can work with that.



Sep 12 2018

Radio silence due to hunkering down. Plus: easy on the eyeballs!


September and October both have chunks of time devoted to non-writing events, so I’ve been trying especially hard to hunker down and get some wordage banked so that I don’t actually fall behind.

Laurie Marks and I are heading off for a brief writerly retreat this weekend; a couple of weekends later, it’s Scintillation in Montreal (a new small convention  instigated by the remarkable Jo Walton); three weeks later, a visit to pals in Newport (an immense long-weekend house party).  And after that, Thanksgiving looms.

Actually, Thanksgiving has been a traditional time for me to hunker down especially hard, basically ignoring the entire world.  Sometimes I go away to do that; this time I’ll stay put.  It’s sort of the opposite of a staycation.

Usually, when I’m writing intensively I find it very distracting to read fiction.  If I immerse myself in someone else’s imagined universe, it can be hard to get my head back into my own imagined universe.  I tend to stick to non-fiction when I’m writing, but lately I’ve been on a fiction diet for far too long and could stand it no more.  So, more or less at random, I picked up Karl Schroeder’s Lockstep, about which I knew nothing — except that I’d read his Ventus ages ago and liked it.


Lockstep: A Novel by [Schroeder, Karl]

It turned out to be a YA — not a problem, actually, as many fine books are written for young adults, and deserve to be read by everyone (Scott Westerfeld is one of my personal favorites).  Lockstep is definitely a young-protagonist travel-through-wonders book, and it has one of the most interesting solutions I’ve seen to the social ramifications of slower-than-light interplanetary travel.

On the science side, I picked up Sabine Hossenfelder’s Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Science Astray  some time ago,  but didn’t have a chance to get into it until now.

One of the interesting things about science is the way that a true theory so often turns out to be one that’s perceived as beautiful.  Hossenfelder takes the remarkable iconoclastic view that not only is this not universally true,  it’s actually doing damage to the pursuit of new breakthroughs in understanding foundational physics.

I haven’t got very far into it yet, so I can’t yet say whether she’s sold me on the idea.  But I do love seeing things turned upside-down, so I’m sure I’ll find it interesting no matter what.

On the audiobook side of things, I’m about halfway through Nisi Shawl’s Everfair, and I think that I’d do better reading it instead of listening… I might switch modes.   I’m having difficulty getting involved in the story, and I think it might be due to the fact that I read faster than I hear, and my brain gets impatient.

Everfair: A Novel by [Shawl, Nisi]

In other news:  One problem about writing intensively is the fact that you can end up spending whole days staring at a computer screen.  Actually, that’s a fact of modern life in general, not just a writer’s life.  We stare at our screens.  A lot.

Much has been said lately about the issue of blue light vs. more natural light, and the negative effects on sleep patterns of all this screen-time.  But a lot of it comes down to the fact that you’re basically staring directly at a source of light, for hours on end.

I used to deal with this by making MSWord, and later Scrivener, jump through some rather tedious hoops where I paint the background some dark color and the letters some other lighter color, thus reducing the light-source to the individual letters,  rather than the big fat background.  The problem there was reversing the fussing-around when I wanted to print out or email things.

But rather to my surprise, Windows 10 has a nifty feature built right in!  Yes, the operating system that we love to hate but have to have!

With one click, I can change this:

ARGH! My eyes!

Like staring into a light bulb.


To this:

Sorta peaceful…

Have to set it up first, but once set, it’s ready to go on request.

Like this:

Go into Settings; select Ease of Access; select Color Filters.

On the Color Filters screen, click on Greyscale Inverted, and checkmark “Allow the shortcut key to toggle filter on or off.”

Once you’ve done that, forever after you only need to hit simultaneously hit CTL, the Window key, and the letter C, and you toggle between full color and reverse greyscale.

But if you prefer not to go black and white, there’s a nifty app that will cool down your screen colors, depending on how close to bedtime you are.  It’s called f.lux, and it’s a free download.

F.lux also has a “darkroom mode” buried in its menus, that will give you a black screen with red letters, even easier on the eyeballs.

Holy Moses, is that the time?  Better call it a night.  Except, it’s morning.