The Air Force Kid Update
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Aaaaaghh! I should have details, but I am so grateful for what I do have that I’m posting it anyway. Have not heard from the AFK in ages, because he’s been doing missions—he warned me in advance that this would be the case, and in theory I should have been at least relatively calm, because he has so far been okay, even while doing missions.

But I’m a mom, and theory falls down hard in the face of reality a lot of the time, and I have been…worried. I’ll leave it at that, because my kind of worried does not just drive me crazy, but also the people around me, and, well…yes.

I have been worried.

So.

We went out to dinner at Ryan’s yesterday and then, because I wanted to see Ben Stein’s EXPELLED: No Intelligence Allowed, a documentary in which my personal interest was my distaste for the current trend to teach Darwinism as religion, we went to the movies. We have not been to an evening movie since the midnight showing of Transformers. This one was well worth seeing, but I still wish I’d had better timing in pushing to see it.

[ –DIGRESSION FROM THE AFK STORY– ]

I rate EXPELLED in two parts, first half, and second half, give the first half a C- for use of emotional manipulation and poor, poor presentation of the actual argument, and give the second half an A- for getting its head out of its ass and actually presenting the issue along with the consequences of the issue, while still unnecessarily defaulting to emotional manipulation when the arguments were strong enough to stand on their own two feet. I loved the moment when Richard Dawkins, evangelist of atheism, admitted that he could allow intelligent design if we wanted to posit that really, really smart aliens seeded the worlds with life…if THOSE aliens spontaneously generated. (Aliens, dude? Really? That’s the best you can come up with?)

For my money, the alteration of species over time via natural selection and punctuated equilibrium is well-documented in the fossil record, as well as through observable changes in species on the planet demonstrable in our lifetimes. The spontaneous generation of life from inert primordial soup has not been proven, and until humans can replicate it, claiming spontaneous generation of life as science without one shred of evidence is as ludicrous as claiming that God created the earth in seven days and all life on it in the last few. The instant you demand faith to explain what science cannot, and demand that all other possible explanations be ignored in favor of your faith-based one, you have a religion, whether you get all red-faced and stomp up and down and call it science or not.

[ –END DIGRESSION– ]

Anyway. While I was watching the movie, I missed two calls back at the house from the AFK. Two.

So I know that he’s okay, and not one damned thing more. But I know that he’s okay, and that’s huge. Not just for me, but for my guys, both of whom I have been driving crazy by worrying.

Added some hours later:

The Kid just got through. They got hit this time out, but everyone is okay. And his biological father—the molester (felony, convicted, plea-bargained down from MUCH worse charges)—is not doing well, and the Kid is having a hard time dealing with it. This particular issue is a lot more complicated than it sounds. But basically, when the molester dies, it is the death of hope. Hope that the molester will say he’s sorry for what he did, that he’ll take responsibility, that he’ll, even just for a day, be the father and human being he should have been instead of the lying, abusive creature he was. The death of hope is not an easy thing to face. Not for any of us.

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What Do You Want In the Newsletter?
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I’m just about to a sanity point. Just about finished with a whole bunch of work, just about to have a breather before the next work starts.

That’s a good time to ask questions and think about the answers. So.

You probably know I do a writing newsletter. (Holly Lisle’s Writing Updates)

Odds are fairly high that if you’re reading this, it’s because you receive it. What I’d like to know is, What is the ONE thing you most hope this newsletter will include?

The things I could think of were:

  1. Useful articles about writing in general
  2. Articles about writing SF or Fantasy specifically
  3. Information about upcoming courses
  4. Discounts for current and upcoming courses
  5. Answers to your questions
  6. Or something else I’ve missed entirely

I cannot write to please everybody. But I can target the newsletter to better meet the needs of most of the people who receive it. So please tell me how I can make it the newsletter you can’t wait to read twice each week.

What will THAT newsletter have in it?

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Beta Version Of Page-Turning Scenes Is Done
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The first draft of How To Write Page-Turning Scenes is finished.

It came in at 92 pages (which means it’s a full course, not one of the Critical Skills short courses I’d planned to make it), and after I finish putting in the beta test worksheet, I’ll upload it into the February Sucks bundle so that my February Sucks buyers can do the unofficial beta.

This post will be the place where unofficial beta testers can comment, ask questions, and add to the “I wish the course had this” wishlist.

I’ve chosen six official beta testers from the 27 applicants—I got an incredible response, considering that the beta has to be done over the weekend, the course is long, and I need the results back to be before I start work Tuesday morning, at 6 AM my time. (Yes, I am a morning person.) And that I warned people of this BEFORE they volunteered. (I’m not a CRUEL morning person. To real people, anyway.)

I’ll revise it all next week, while also revising THE SILVER DOOR (Book II of Moon & Sun), and will have it up for sale on Tuesday, March 6th, if all goes well.

And here’s a little snippet–the complete answer to the question, “How do you avoid Talking Heads dialogue?”


NOTICE: This material is copyrighted, unedited raw first draft, probably buggy, and may vary wildly from what appears in the final course. Do not quote or repost anywhere or in any format. Thanks.

The Walk and Talk

From How to Write Page-Turning Scenes, by Holly Lisle

The problem: two people talking to each other on a page and nothing else happening at all.

The cure for the common Talking-Heads Dialogue problem (where your characters might as well be talking to each other in a white room during pea-soup indoor fog) is the Walk and Talk.

It goes like this:

  1. 1. You choose a location where your two characters can be doing something.
     
    Mending a saddle, baking cookies, watching girls on a beach, whatever. They are ENGAGED in the world.
  2.  

  3. 2. You get them to talking about the thing they have on their minds, which is unrelated to what they’re doing.
     
    For example, they’re watching girls, but they’re talking about the physics exam they both have to take the next day, which they probably should be studying for.
     

     

  4. 3. And then you work what you actually want them to talk about in between the action that they’re doing.

We’ll go back to Bob and Kate, (and the universe in which Bob plans to kill Kate) for this example:

Bob and Kate hacked away at the vines blocking the entrance to the Temple of Ick.

“You know your cousin Elsie called the other day about the will,” Bob said.

“I didn’t know. Why didn’t you tell me?” Kate yanked away a long, thin vine and wiped sweat from her forehead with the back of her leather glove.

“I told her to mind her own business. She was asking a lot of questions about why you inherited a map, and wondering if maybe you would show it to her and the rest of the cousins. I said while she was wondering about that, you were wondering why she got an actual money bequest, and maybe she’d like to trade.” Bob backed up and began flailing at the ground with his machete. “Coral snake,” he said after a minute.

“You kill it?”

Bob squinted at the ground. “Yeah, but watch out for the head. It’ll still be able to bite for hours.”

“Appropriate,” Kate said. “Sounds kind of like Elsie.” She grinned a little, even though every muscle in her body felt like one big bruise. “Nice job dealing with her, by the way.”

Bob smiled. It was the first good smile she’d seen on his face in…she couldn’t even remember how long.

He shrugged and said, “You and I always did agree about your cousin Elsie. She’s a worse snake than anything we’ll run into out here.” And then he went back to cutting away underbrush, and the moment passed.

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Two Little Miracles
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The kid checked out the disastrous Painted Lady experiment just a few minutes ago, and discovered that, in spite of everything, (including fire ants, handling, bumping, dropping, and his dad and me looking at those pathetic little chrysalids every night once the kid was asleep and being sure they were dead), he had two very alive butterflies. One chrysalid is still in pending form, but I’m not sure he’s dead anymore, either. We might come out of this thing with three live butterflies, but right at the moment, two is twice as many as I thought we’d have.

They’re supping on a sliced orange and water from a balled-up paper towel, and in a couple days, we’ll let them out to join the wild painted ladies fluttering around our neighborhood.

So here’s the picture, taken with my cell phone, which was what was handy, of one of two very blurry, miraculously alive, Painted Ladies.

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It’s Out There (The Ruby Key is Live)
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I’ve been haunting the local bookstore, and THE RUBY KEY isn’t on the shelves yet, so it didn’t really dawn on me that people are already reading it.

But Tina already has a review up (and is giving a copy away), and I’m not ready.

I knit two pairs of Genna’s socks to give away, and they’re done, but not blocked, and I haven’t done certificates of authenticity for them or anything. At the moment, they’re just two teenager-sized pairs of woolly green socks.

If you spot the book, please let me know where you find it (in the store–YA, front of the store, in with the adult fantasy….I worry about where it’s going to land), and when it lands.

Meanwhile, I’ll get the sock stuff done for the giveaway.

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Death and Painted Ladies
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So we got our kid a Painted Lady butterfly kit as part of his science education this year–if you watch kids’ or educational channels, you’ve seen these kits on TV.

The ads appeal to the scientist in kids, and to the “hey, cool” factor in parents, so we willingly sent off for the butterfly treehouse, and when we got it, filled out the coupon and sent for the live caterpillars.

The first Painted Lady caterpillars arrived a week later, five of them, all about the size of mouse droppings (I have lived in some exciting places in my life, and know what these look like), and unfortunately, all DOA (dead on arrival).

The kid took it pretty well, considering.

Warily, because while the first batch was cheap, the refills were expensive, I sent off for a second batch.

These arrived in wonderful shape, vigorously munching away in their safe, moisture-free container, and within a few days, we had five chrysalids ready to be transferred to their treehouse, where they would complete the change from lumpy, ugly caterpillars to lovely butterflies. All was well, the kid was thrilled, I was relieved.

The kid and I pinned the paper on which the caterpillars had attached their chrysalids to the inside of the butterfly treehouse, and carefully following instructions, found a sturdy surface where they would not be in direct sunlight, would not get knocked over, and would be able to complete their transformation in peace and safety.

We imagined a future scene something like this:

In a perfect world, this is the way things work.

In the Deep South, however, we have fire ants.

If you can drive a riding mower over an anthill and have the anthill stall the mower, welcome to the Deep South. If you can do it twenty or thirty times in the same yard (I do not have a lawn, I have a yard) welcome to my world. Fire ant mounds get to be about a foot-and-a-half to two feet across, and can hit a foot in height. The mounds, furthermore seem to have territories with about a seven-to-ten foot diameter, so if you’re mowing 3 acres of barely-converted pasture, you’ll hit a lot of them.

Don’t step on them, don’t mess with them. Be a little careful about ever going to sleep. And, if you have a well and value the drinkability of your water, learn to live with them.

BUT ALSO….

Ignore every carefully-detailed instruction in the pamphlet on raising butterflies that in any way suggests you should keep your butterfly treehouse on the floor.

We came out today to one of those Wild Kingdom lions-ripping-the-innards-out-of-zebras scenes in miniature that makes you more than a little queasy. The fire ants had found the crysalids, and were tearing into them with the sort of gusto they’d exercise on us if we couldn’t get up and run.

Looking at that mess, I figured our future butterflies were all dead. I dragged the thing into the kitchen, with the kid trailing me, and started pulling everything out of the treehouse. The kid was tragic–stoic on the outside and mad and on the edge of tears, his hands balled into fists.

Two of the chrysalids had gaping holes in them. A third did not, but did not wriggle when touched—odds are he was dead right then. Two others still wriggled, and I passed this news on to the kid, who underwent the sort of transformation I was hoping for from the damned bugs. He became radiantly happy and full of hope.

I killed all the ants in the treehouse (with my thumb–anything that would kill ants would certainly kill butterflies), shot their corpses out of the mesh with a can of compressed air, put a napkin on the bottom of the treehouse, put the three chrysalids that didn’t have holes eaten into them into the ant-free treehouse, and my hubby and I hung the thing from a knob on a high cabinet door, with the door swung open to be out of convenient reach of ants. I hope.

It may not help. By the time we got the chrysalids into the treehouse, none of them were still moving. So now we wait ten days, to see if any of the potential survivors survived. The kid knows that, in spite of everything we did, they’re probably all three already dead. We’re giving them a chance and hoping for the best, but this is one of those life lessons where the outcome will almost certainly hurt.

We aren’t soft-selling this. We didn’t shield the kid from the holes in the two partially-devoured chrysalids. I didn’t hide the nastiness from him when I cleaned out the mess. And he and his dad were with them when the last two stopped moving.

Life has consequences, we screwed up by not considering that around here, we have ants, and they’re nasty. We were responsible for the Painted Ladies’ lives, the kid and I, and we were responsible for their deaths. Something I’ve learned from personal experience as well as watching the parade of tragedies that came through my various ERs was that people who don’t learn how to deal with the consequences of little tragedies—who were shielded by their parents throughout their childhoods and who grow up thinking life is soft and safe—are people who fail to prevent preventable big tragedies, and who don’t have any tools to deal with any tragedies—preventable or not—when they happen. Kids who have had to deal with the pointy end of life early on, whether it’s butterflies-in-waiting devoured by invading predators or old cats who finally give out, are a little better braced for the bigger tragedies that await every one of us.

Go with grace, enjoy the beauty of the day and every sweet breath, because life is an amazing gift and a wonderful opportunity. But preview your actions for possible consequences—think before you leap. And watch your back.

It’s still a jungle out there.

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Page-Turning Scenes Leaps Forward
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I’ve hit an important milestone with Page-Turning Scenes–my planned “finished” wordcount. Rolled over 15,000 words today.

I’m not finished. There’s so much that’s important in writing a good scene, and while it always looks simple on the surface, it’s when you dig deeper that you discover termites in the foundation and bugs under the rocks.

I’ve found bugs the size of camels and termite mounds that would squash your house–it’s all good.

I’m breaking everything in to clear steps, giving lots of examples and plenty of exercises, and I’m also having a ridiculous amount of fun. Every time I write one of these things, I remember all over again why I love writing so much–you never know it all, but figuring it out is such a blast.

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How Thinking Sideways is Different Than A Whack On The Side of The Head
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I’m doing this as a separate post because I figured it was going to be invisible in comments. (Where I originally answered the question.)

Here’s the question I got:

KalevTait Says:
April 13th, 2008 at 12:09 pm

I don’t know how related it is, but you might want to look at ‘A whack on the side of the head’ for comparison. It’s much more about how to learn creativity than it is about thinking in a twisty way (which I suspect your course is about).

I own the Whack Pack (and book), actually. After reading the book and taking the pack out of the box and messing around with it once, I put them back and never bothered with them again. It’s not a bad course at all—but it’s designed for business users, not writers, first off, and it’s … thin. Impersonal. I liked the concept enough to buy the thing, but it didn’t fit me.

The Think Sideways course is something else entirely. It is very much about learning twisty thinking, developing a deep connection to creating unexpected events in fiction (and creating a fertile ground for serendipity in your life). It’s not random cards, but a series of specific techniques presented in an order that will allow you to build on what you’ve previously learned—everything works together

Each lesson will be in PDF format, (so you can work at your own speed), and will include:

  • one sideways-thinking technique that I use,
     
  • an example of how I’ve successfully used it,
     
  • recommendations on the sorts of creativity you’ll find it useful for,
     
  • and two exercises for putting it into practice—one for writing, one for life in general.
     
  • Finally, I’m pretty sure I’m going to include one ‘Synthesis’ lesson a month, in which you’ll start putting together some project (probably writing, but not necessarily), and you’ll use the three techniques from that month in conjunction to develop it.
     

Beyond that, some lessons will come with bonuses that will give you a ‘live’ (MP3 or Quicktime video) demonstration of putting a technique into action (not all of them, because some techniques simply don’t lend themselves to this).

The objective of the course will be to make sure, by the end of each lesson, that you have acquired a new skill, or have at least found new ways to put to use skills you already have.

You can get all the sneak peeks as I develop the course (and an hour’s head start on getting one of the limited seats for the first class) by signing up below for the priority notification list.

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The Writer’s Heart
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I’m going to point you at a relatively new weblog I discovered called THE WRITER’S HEART, written by Charles Towne. Towne has a way with wildlife and photography, and has had adventures of astonishing and frightening sorts…and his weblog is a lot of fun to read.

Better yet, he’s an opinionated cuss, which I find both delightful and charming, (and I haven’t yet spotted a four-letter word in a single post, which puts him higher on the politeness scale than me). Drop in, tell him hello, and look over what he’s put together so far. I think you’ll like him.

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