Pocket Full of Words: Holly Lisle’s Blog


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.




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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.

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A Sky Full of Stars: Hyperparathyroidism versus the Writer

On Saturday, something happened as a result of the parathyroidectomy that was totally unexpected.

My spontaneous story ideas came back.Sky full of stars

I hadn’t even noticed they were gone.

I’ve been working hard for the past couple of years trying to get the site fixed, I’ve been under a lot of strain both physically and financially, and my processes for creating fiction without having an idea in mind actually work, and I really do use them, so I was still creating (the Longview stories were all written from those techniques).

I didn’t think about the fact that I didn’t have spontaneous story ideas anymore. Unlike most fiction writers, I’m not dependent upon random ideas for my work.

So I didn’t notice when they disappeared.

But Saturday the mental clouds rolled away and suddenly things that I saw and heard and experienced began sending little pings to my right brain again, and my right brain began building them into little spontaneous stories and sending them across the corpus callosum to the left brain again.

And because it had been a long time since this had happened, it felt like suddenly seeing a sky full of stars.

So add as a symptom of hyperparathyroidism: Spontaneous story ideas disappear.

If you’re a writer and your ideas have disappeared, consider getting your calcium and PTH levels checked. You might be able to get them back.

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The Teenage Tumor and Me: My Mini-Parathyroid Surgery and the Norman Parathyroid Center

Parathyroid Tumor

Parathyroid Tumor

I’m back following a parathyroidectomy and a couple days recovery.

I’m tired, my neck is a bit swollen still and kind of sore, I’m bruised (I’m an easy bruiser, though).

And I am happily rid of one thumb-above-the-distal-joint-sized parathyroid tumor that was between twelve and fifteen years old when Drs. Norman, Boone, and Parrack removed it in a fifteen-ish minute outpatient operation that stopped it from sucking the life out of me. The picture above is clickable if you want to see the thing as close to life-sized as I could make it.

I’m still recovering, and still tired (that thing had been growing for a long time), but I’m putting this up now because this is a big damn deal.

I developed the tumor when I was in my early forties. They happen in people a lot younger. They’re more common in people my age and twice as common in women.

  • The fact that the one above was messing with me for perhaps fifteen years is probably part of why I have tongue dysplasia.
  • Why I had bone pain in shoulders, elbows, spine, knees, and right heel.
  • Why I had gastric reflux.
  • Why I felt tired all the time.
  • Why I couldn’t sleep at night.
  • Why my heart would often start racing for no apparent reason.
  • Why my hair was thinning in the front.
  • Why my blood calcium was sky high and my vitamin D was the lowest the OB/GYN who saw me had “ever seen in a live human being” — it was 4.
  • It’s almost certainly the cause of all the damn headaches, including the icepick migraines.
  • It could have been the cause of both miscarriages.
  • And maybe some other things.

I’ll have to have my bone density tested in a couple weeks, but considering the screaming amount of calcium that tumor was pulling out of my bones, I’m not betting they’re in great shape right now.

Why do I think this?

These are all things parathyroid tumors can do. And I already have early evidence that, with that damn thing removed, I’m recovering.

The bone pain went away within a couple hours of the surgery and hasn’t been back, and the headaches went away after the last effects of the anesthesia wore off.

So I’m going to send you to the website that I found, which is where I also went to have the surgery done.


Go to the front page, watch the video, and even if nothing on the page applies to you now, remember the symptoms. This is something a BUNCH of doctors didn’t catch, and it could have killed me.

Considering the dysplasia, I’m not out of the woods yet, but I intend to get there.

But you… make sure that you’re the person who knows what to look for so you can help yourself, or someone you love. ‘Cause…

Tiny, simple, FAST surgery.


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