About Holly

Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and self-publish my new ones.

No Man’s Sky: A Science Fiction Novelist (And Grown-Up Nerdy Girl) Reviews the Game

No Man's Sky

No Man’s Sky

Before I review No Man’s Sky, you need to know two things about me.

Well, three, but if you’re reading my blog, I’m assuming you already know I’m a professional SF novelist.

So, two.

The tree has eyes!

The tree has eyes!

ONE: Back in 1970 when I was nine, we moved from Ohio — where I’d spent my entire life to that point — to Alaska, and suddenly I was a nine-year-old girl living with my parents, little sister, and very little brother in a log-cabin boy’s dorm heated by a wood-burning furnace on the tundra four miles by river from the nearest village (Kwethluk).

I was the only white kid and the only native English-speaker in the one-room school in the attic of the boy’s dorm.

I discovered a world where food came to us once a year by barge and anything we did not order we had to hunt and kill and clean ourselves (and I learned how to mend and clean salmon nets and how to clean game birds because children in primitive places can do real work).

I learned that if it’s -81 degrees Fahrenheit and you throw hot coffee into the air, it freezes instantly and explodes with a sound like a shotgun going off. This was, by the way, the coolest real-world demo of “why you can’t play outside today” ever done by a father.

I skied on a tow rope behind a snowmobile, and listened to wolves singing at the moon.

I learned what a honeybucket was, and discovered that in a world without plumbing, waste gets dumped well away from the the house and on a patch of ground both well away from the river and downstream from the house, and that Clorox goes into the cistern full of drinking water you pump in from the river that runs by the house. Because there are folks who live upriver…

I listened to people speaking and singing in foreign languages, wearing clothing unlike anything I’d ever seen before, telling stories by crouching on the ground and smoothing the summer mud with story knives and drawing pictures in it.

I wore a wolf-ruffed parka and sealskin mukluks because this is how you don’t die in a deadly environment.

I was ripped out of what I’d mistaken for “the way things are everywhere” and thrown into the reality of “Ohio is not the whole world, or anything like it”, and…

…I became an alien. A stranger in a very strange land. And simultaneously discovered science fiction, in the form of a wonderful stack of YA books left behind by the previous children’s home dorm parents.

Beneath A Lemon Sky

Beneath A Lemon Sky

TWO: A year and a half later, we returned to Ohio.

I became that weird kid who’d lived in Alaska.

I had learned that there are still places where hunting and fishing are what stand between you and starvation.

I had become a heavy reader and a lover of science fiction. And I was a skinny eleven-year-old girl with glasses in a new school in a new town with no friends.

I no longer fit in back in the world I’d once considered normal. I realized that I was never going to be normal again.


I discovered Star Trek, and also that if I ran home from school instead of taking the bus, I could get there in time to catch Star Trek re-runs. So I did — and I fell deeper in love with outer space.

At eleven, I wasn’t yet an atheist, but I was already having serious doubts. I was giving religion its first long, hard look, and it wasn’t doing too well.

But I did pray, every night. This prayer:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
Please don’t make me go to heaven;
Let me go to space.
(And P.S. May I please have a pony?)

Planets Above -- And I Can GO There

Planets Above — And I Can GO There

The horse thing came and went.

Space didn’t.

My whole life (and I’m fifty-five now, and getting pretty close to fifty-six), I have yearned for starships, aliens, strange skies, faster-than-light travel.

I discovered early that my hellishly bad math skills were going to disqualify me from ever being an astronaut, even if being a girl didn’t — and remember, when I started school, girls had to wear dresses to class and “you’re only a girl” was still not just a common phrase, but expected. And acceptable.

Back then, girls went to college for their MRS degree (as in Mrs. Robert Biteme, for those of you who are female and young enough that you’ve grown up with the expectation of actually getting to use your own name your whole life).

Useful, Necessary, Strange

Useful, Necessary, Strange

Every year after that, from the time I was eleven until the time I was sixteen, I changed schools again. Moved again. To Costa Rica, Guatemala, back to Ohio. I learned another language, got comfortable with being the perpetual outsider, the perpetual alien, the only “whatever everyone else isn’t.”

I learned to observe, to watch, to listen, to think. I lost religion, gained reason, logic, and the scientific method.

I knew I was never going to get to go to space — not in the real world. So I became a science fiction writer, went to space in my head, and took readers with me.

Planet of the Giant Bouncy Puppet Monsters

Planet of the Giant Bouncy Puppet Monsters

Two years ago, my younger son, then sixteen, told me about No Man’s Sky.

I thought, “Maybe this time.”

And the two of us waited for it to come out.

Not Kansas. And not Ohio, either, Dorothy.

Not Kansas. And not Ohio, either, Dorothy.

At the stroke of midnight on August 9th, with my pre-ordered copy of No Man’s Sky and the first patch already loaded up, I went to space.

The timing was pretty much perfect. I was recovering from Yet Another Surgery on My Damn Tongue, I was in pain, I was still dealing with not eating and not speaking because I had a tongue full of stitches.

I was too tired, too in pain to work.

So instead…

I soared through a shifting sky filled with stars to wake up on an alien planet, to discover that I had limited resources and a broken space ship.

I thought, I experimented, I discovered.

I found ways to use the terrain around me, to harvest resources.

I figured out how to fix my ship, I got it airborne. I started discovering the planet on which I’d landed.

How to commune with aliens.

How to commune with aliens.

I started cataloguing creatures and plants, earning money, learning alien languages and decoding conversations and figuring out how each alien race thought so I could get better rewards.

Not my first time, and it turns out being an alien in your own life prepares you pretty well for being an alien in No Man’s Sky. Even with tiny linguistic cues, I turned out to be pretty good at figuring out the cultures and getting the good stuff.

I was less good at fighting pirates.

And when you have mined minerals like a lunatic to buy yourself a kickass spaceship, and have filled your hold to overflowing with awesome space loot, there are gonna be pirates.

I died a few times, and discovered that the game is insanely forgiving of death.

My current awesome pirate-ass-kicking ship.

My current awesome pirate-ass-kicking ship.

I went back to my space station and my ship, flew out to the spot where I’d died and picked up all of my goodies, and went on with the game.

I was not so forgiving. I built up my defenses, and started shooting down the pirates. Last night, with roughly {cough, cough} a hundred hours in the game in exactly one week, I successfully took out four pirates in an aerial dogfight on a planet, while dealing with gravity and terrain. Run, little pirates. You are my meat now.

The last of the stitches in my tongue worked its way out this morning. I’m feeling better. Less pain, more energy. So it’s time to get back to work.

But this was the first thing I wanted to do today, on my first day back in quite some time.

Because I want to say thank you. To Sean Murray, Harry Denholm, Ryan Doyle, Innes McKendrick, David Ream, Grant Duncan, Jacob Golding, Suzy Wallace, Paul Weir, and 65daysofstatic.

Thank you, thank you, fucking thank you. For making it possible for me to go to space, to walk on alien planets, find weird plants and animals and weirder aliens, travel faster than light between the stars. To name solar systems Wodehouse, Wyndham, Simak, Curious Cheese, and Questionable Condiments.

Thank you for making it beautiful. Thank you for making it fun. Thank you for taking your vision and working your asses off and bringing it to life. The game might not have been for everyone, but it was definitely for me.

I don’t give things stars. I think stars are an idiotic way of rating something. But this game doesn’t need stars from me anyway. It already has billions (trillions? Quintillions?) of ’em.

And 18 quintillion planets circling them.


And back from yet another surgery

caduceus125Let me equivocate. I’m back-ish.

Gah. This is the first day since the most recent tongue surgery—done June 26th to widen the margins on the PREVIOUS tongue surgery—that I haven’t woken up already in pain.

I’ve been just about useless since the 26th, though I did have one really good fiction run with my Kellow story last week.

I’ve worked a smidge on the HTTS lesson revamp.

And I’m not going to say that I’m back today, either. But I am better enough today to post that I think I’ll be better enough to get back to work here pretty soon now.

How’s that for waffling? I don’t usually waffle. This has been a really rough year, though, with a bunch of surgery and a bunch of pain and a bunch of trying to get back to work before I’ve been ready.

I think possibly I’m learning not to do that. Progress, right?


Finding a surprise in my character: 776 Words

Kellow Tower

Kellow Tower

I started off this morning not liking the antagonist in my story very much. Which you sort of expect from most antagonists.

One chance comment in reply to my other character changed my understanding of their relationship, though, and gave me this gorgeous twist that is going to completely alter the ending I’d had planned. I just LOVE the way this is coming together.

By my math, I have about four thousand more words to go to hit the ending. Might run a bit longer, but I’m aiming for 6000 words and right now I’m still on target.


Got 516 words on my Kellow Tower story

Kellow Tower

Kellow Tower

Over the weekend while playing in my map, I had a huge breakthrough on my Kellow Tower story.

Not going to let you know what it was, but it completely changed the way I see the world in which I’m writing, and the relationships between my main characters. And in one case, even who a main character is.

But here’s my story sentence:

One captive among forty-five aliens discovers the secret of the Tower in which they are imprisoned, and joins the fight to save her captor and his dying race.

And this morning’s writing went really well.


I’ve started writing fiction again

little aliensThis is such a delicate thing I’m almost afraid to mention it. But stories started sneaking back into my consciousness after the parathyroid surgery, and lately I’ve been starting each weekday morning writing a few hundred words.

It’s what I can make time for before I start into the still-enormous daily workload of getting the HollysWritingClasses.com site up and running and out of beta.

I’m not doing anything on projects folks know about. Those require research, development, timelines, backstory—infrastructure.

And this feels like a seed sprouting after a long, hard winter. Like, if I don’t step carefully, I could kill it.

So I’m stepping carefully. Right now, I’m just putting together a little story in an interesting new world. I’m aiming for about ten-thousand words.

I have about 1200. It’s science fiction. It has interesting aliens.

It makes me happy.


Between tongue surgery, site rebuilding, and bringing back How to Think Sideways…

I’ve been swamped. Recovering from the last tongue surgery has so far taken a month and a half, and I’m not fully back yet. I can speak, but still have some problems. I still have some pain. I thought I was doing great that first week. And then I tried to move off of liquids and discovered that eating and swallowing were much more difficult than I’d remembered.

My NEXT tongue surgery is July 26th.

In between now and then, I’m working crazy hours to make sure the OTHER site is running smoothly, because I discovered with the last surgery that I don’t bounce back quite as quickly as I imagined I would.

How To Think SidewaysMonths late, Dan and I got the software on the other site stable enough for me to bring back How To Think Sideways. It’s launching now, and everything is WORKING correctly now, so I can finally announce it over here.

Here’s how much time is left on that:

And once that’s done, Dan is going to move the front end of the site out of beta, and I’m going to get to work on bringing back How to Write a Series.


Once HTWAS is back, I’m going back to writing fiction full-time. I’ll be spending time every day in the classroom, I’ll update my classes and offer live-online workshops, and I’ll keep both the big and little classes available.

But I have books and stories that have been waiting long enough. And while the site rebuild that I imagined would take six months is now in its second year, the rebuild has been worth it. Things work, and work well. They’ll keep working better. And I am gradually getting time back from this work that, once the classes are fixed, I can put into my own writing again.

I’m excited. My plan is:
Finish Longview.
Write Emerald Sun.
Write Cady stuff.


Done with the last tongue surgery…plus, the contrary child and the sideways-thinking washcloths

Friday I was first in line in the outpatient OR. The folks were good, the surgery was brief (for me—I slept through the whole thing), and I came out with the bottom half of my face swollen to twice its normal and my tongue looking like it lost a fight with a tiger.

It’s Monday, and I’m creeping toward feeling human again. This surgery didn’t hurt anywhere near as much as the first three, but it was and is still not picnic.

I spent my awake time knitting myself some washcloths.

Sideways-Thinking Washcloths

Sideways-Thinking Washcloths

They don’t look like normal washcloths to you? They’re not.

They are washcloths evolved from a lifetime of thinking sideways.

When I was fifteen, I read an article in one of my mother’s women’s magazines (probably Redbook—that’s the only one for which I remember the title) that declared that women should never smile too broadly, or let their eyes crinkle when they smiled, or in any way stretch their faces, because this would cause wrinkles.

I remember looking at my mother, and then at my father, and thinking that my father looked younger than my mother, even though he wasn’t.

And I thought, “What does he do that she doesn’t?”

And I thought, “He shaves.”

I’d watched him shave. Watched him stretch and contort his face into weird expressions while trying to get the elusive hairs beneath the blade of the razor. And I thought, “Every time he does that, he’s exercising the muscles of his face. THAT’s why he looks younger.”

So I decided that I would do that. Oh, not shave. But exercise my face muscles. Every time I took a shower from then on, I made sure my face fought the washcloth. I scrubbed my skin with as much muscle behind it as I could bring to bear, and tightened each muscle in my face to keep it from moving when the washcloth attacked.

Forty years later, I still do this. I have some laugh lines, but the muscles of my face are still in good shape, and I think for fifty-five, I’ve held up all right.

But regular washcloths are too soft and timid. I wanted something with some bite to it. A few years ago, I discovered cones of dishcloth cotton, and started making myself washcloths out of those.

And one day, I bumped the loofah-on-a-stick of the edge of the tub one time too many, and said the hell with this, and decided I was going to make my washcloths twice as long, so I could use them as back scrubbers as well as face scrubbers.

Now I can scrub my back by holding the ends of my washcloth. My shoulders get nice range of motion exercises. My face still fights the washcloth. And I don’t have any annoying junk in my shower to trip over, knock off, or otherwise annoy myself with.

So this is weird, right? But human beings are tool-makers, and learning to think sideways is the process of learning to imagine and create your own tools, and your own improved reality.

With that said, then, I’m starting the rebuild of the How To Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers class today.

Once I get it done, I’m going to do an early, very limited de-bug release at the old price. If you want to get in on that, make sure you’re on the early-bird announcement list.


The writing shop on HollysWritingClasses.com is now live

Even though my new Holly’s Writing Classes site is still in high beta, I’m delighted to finally have the writing shop open.

Holly's Writing Classes

Holly’s Writing Classes
Write Your Own Sky

We haven’t made the site pretty yet, and for the moment the shop is very plain and simple (no frills), but things work now.

So I’ve brought back many of my previous classes, and am still working on getting the rest of them live.

I’m also building new workshops and classes.

The one I’m working on currently is Title. Cover. Copy. Book Marketing for Fiction Writers.

That’s going to go live in the next couple of weeks. Following that will be a workshop on developing your writing voice.

I’m excited. It’s taken a long time to get to this point, but I’m glad to finally be here.

And a quick note. Both How To Think Sideways and How to Write A Series are coming back, but are not back yet. Both classes are so big that we’re having to develop better ways for students to navigate through them easily.

Just getting from page to page was a problem in previous versions. That will not be a problem when they go live on this site.





Waking up like a kid: parathyroidectomy for the win

Last night I put my head on my pillow, closed my eyes, and fell asleep.

When I opened them again, it was morning.

The day is mine, and the whole world in it.

The day is mine, and the whole world in it.

That may not sound like much. So let me put it in context for you.

I remember waking up one perfect summer morning in 1966 in the tiny Ohio village where I lived. I was five.

I remember the movement of the white curtain blowing, the smell of the air—which was green and sweet, with just a touch of bleach—the sun cutting windowpane squares on the blanket and my skinny legs. I remember the sound outside my bedroom window, which was the sound of sheets and laundry flapping on the line.

I remember bouncing out of bed, full of energy, ready for life. My thoughts, whatever they were, are lost to me now, but what I felt, summed up from the fifty years I’ve lived since, was this: The day is mine, and the whole world in it.

Time lets you work for and earn things that pay you, and if you work hard and with a plan, it pays you way out of proportion to what you give up in the innocent exuberance of being a kid: life and time have brought me a terrific husband who is my best friend, three excellent kids, writing skills, a ton of books with more still to come, and the mission and joy of teaching the writers willing to work for it how to do what I’ve learned to do and love so much.

But I thought that the days of waking up like a kid were behind me. I thought the sheer raw delight of opening my eyes on a new morning seeming instants after closing my eyes and falling asleep the night before were gone forever.

I assumed that the price I paid for the joy I take from every day and every minute I get to live, to love who I love and to do what I fought so hard to get to do, would be paid for by falling asleep in painful inches, waking up multiple times each night, twisting and turning to find a comfortable position, trying tricks to quiet my racing mind.

I assumed that life would be ever-expanding pain consuming me in creeping increments, and I accepted that as part of the price I had to pay for the privilege and wonder of getting to be alive.

I’d forgotten what it felt like to feel good—feeling bad had become my new good.

Turns out I was wrong.

It’s now been nine days, plus a few hours as I write this, since I had that parathyroid tumor removed.

Pain free, with my mind calm, my thoughts clear and focused, last night I climbed into bed, counted my breaths as I always do, and fell asleep so quickly I don’t even remember counting.

And I slept like a kid. After what felt like minutes later, I opened them. Sunlight outlined the verticals that cover the window.

I sat up and grinned, full of energy, full of life. No pain. No clouds. And this time, I can tell you exactly what I was thinking.

The day is mine, and the whole world in it!

Fifteen minutes changed my life. Fifteen minutes was the time it took my surgical team to make the 1.5-inch incision, remove the parathyroid tumor and check the other three glands for function, and close the incision.

My sincerest thanks to Dr. Norman, Dr. Boone, and Dr. Parrack. And my thanks, too, to the amazing staff of the Norman Parathyroid Center:

  • Jayme, who helped me get set up to have the operation,
  • the security guard who wished me good luck and pointed my guys and me in the right direction as I walked in to have my surgery,
  • the receptionist who was so brightly cheerful at not-quite-five AM,
  • woman who set up my medical records and told me how much she enjoyed working where she does (you know how rare it is to hear people say that?)
  • the warm, friendly, wonderfully competent nurses who talked me clearly and concisely through what would happen,
  • the young woman who wheeled me down to have a scan and with whom I laughed about the shocking cold of the morning
  • the guy who did my sestamibi scan and with whom I had a fun chat about video gaming and the superiority of the XBox One controller but the better games and selection available for Playstation 4 (including the upcoming No Man’s Sky, though I couldn’t quite sell him on that)
  • and the anesthesiologist who took the time to reassure me about the anesthesia, and who’s voice was the last one I heard before I woke up to a future I could not yet imagine.

I was an RN for ten years before I got the three-book deal that let me quit to write full time. I worked in a number of hospitals, knew all kinds of doctors, saw all kinds of medical care. I’ve experienced medical services from the other end too, as a patient and as the family member of people I love.

I never experienced — or even imagined possible — the uniformly spectacular care and professionalism of Every. Single. Person. I dealt with from the instant I contacted the clinic until the day two weeks after my surgery when I received a copy of the letter Jim Norman sent to each of my doctors, explaining what he’d done and its ramifications on my health in the future.

Dr. Norman told me, “This surgery will change your life.” When he said it, I didn’t even realize how much my life needed to be changed. I’m just now starting to figure that out.