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My notion for creating this page? It's sort of like panels at an sf con---opinion. Mine. The order? None---they're in order of when I thought of the idea or when somebody asked me to expound on something. The first topic should give you a clue how organized these aren't.

1. How to travel with cats.

2. The real Romans

3. Conventions and courtesy: how not to look like a newbie

4. Why I detest the Chicago Book of Style, or "What have they done to my language, dude?"

5. favorite things, as in snowflakes and coffee

6. Will there be another....(fill in blank)?

7. Organized (?) fandom

8. The Evening News and the King's English. "If he had gotten a big enough start he may have made the jump....." What's wrong with this sentence?

THE CAT WHISPERER...or: traveling with cats.

Urban legend says cats can't be taught to like cars. Now, cats being individuals, there are some that just may not ever handle it, but two sets now of fully-clawed felines have learned. Our late much-loved pair had over 120,000 miles by car, and have stayed in hotels that don't normally agree to pets. One of them liked to travel on a lap. The other liked sitting in his cage and hanging out the front door of it.  Our current pair---well, Sei likes sitting on a pillow in the back quarter of our little Forester, displaying his prettiness to passing cars (I kept wondering why drivers kept hanging in my blind spot) and Shu, who is the brains of the outfit, will sit on the center console for a while, standing up and watching oncoming trucks, assisting the driver, but he then tires and dives under the passenger seat to sleep for hours.

The Way We Did It: starting young is easiest. But our first pair were no kittens.

1. Don't make their first car trip to the vet. Go to a fast food place and get them chicken or whatever treat they fancy, and let them eat it in the car. If you've already started badly, you may have to do a lot of short trips and a lot of chicken to overcome it. At all times keep your voice matter of fact and the experience positive: you're trying to sell them on this. Do not coo, use babytalk, or have a 'suspicious' voice.

2. Start with as small a cage as is snug about them. They should not be able to stand up. Keep them in the cages and feed them in the cages. Pad the cages in with pillows, run a seatbelt through the handle, and do not let them out of the cages until they are so fully anticipating chicken they have no other thoughts. Take trips of longer duration, about half an hour, in the country, so that the stop and start of traffic is minimized. Play your habitual music on the car system. Keep windows shut. Never travel with an open window with a cat in the car. If they howl, apply more chicken, until they get bored and fall asleep.

3. Letting loose the beast. On longer trips, cages are notenough. An intermediate step: have the cats wear a body harness made for very small pets, but do not believe they cannot get out of it. They quickly understand the routine of putting on the harness is preparatory to a car ride, but we never use it for the vet! When you stop and need to get out, attach the leash and secure it if you are solo, or give it to your traveling companion if you have one, and be vcry careful exiting the car.  Eventually they learn that the car is their territory, and you can dispense with the harness, but be sure of your cat's attitude before you do.

Put a litter pan in the back floorboard, or in the SUV rear, get a non-slop water dish, fill with BOTTLED water, so as to minimize kitty gut upsets, and have their accustomed food, preferably dry, in a bowl, for munchies. Do not allow a cat into the driver's lap. Ysabel would camp on the between-seat console and lean against my arm. Shu likes that post.

If there is trouble, do not divert your attention: the cat will not die  unless you wreck the car trying to see to him. Pull safely off the road to solve the problem. Do not, even when the car is stopped, allow a cat on the dashboard or the  driver's front floorboards. Near the foot pedals is Not Good. If you have to, pack the passenger side foot well to be sure they stay out of it.

4. Do not speed or weave or blow your horn, do not go through a car wash, and do not drive over mountains at high speed. Kitty ears take a bit longer than ours to adjust to altitude. Stop at a view-spot for a minute on a really highpass.

Do not leave your cat in the car while eating fast food, unless you go out every ten minutes to check on the car temperature. They can go torporous and sick, if the temperature rises, over just a few minutes. It's very, very serious. Remember their bodies are smaller than ours, and their core heats upfaster, which can make them sick faster.

At first, do not get out of the car until kitty is back in the cage.  Graduate to the leash and harness. As kitty becomes a veteran traveler and learns to view the car as his territory, you can get away with nothing but kitty's good sense, but even so, do not open two doors at once---that confuses kittyabout the direction of safety. Early on, depend on it, they will try to get out to follow you, and outside, they will panic.

Ours, being used to this coming and going, lounge and meet us with "what did you bring me?" Ours can now be blase in a traffic jam, enjoy rainstorms and the windshield wipers, and look accusingly at us if the road is rough, as if we should fix it. But they're veterans, and believe the car is theirs. Another note: if your cat is trying to use the litter pan, try to keep the car as stable as possible. Kitty will thank you for it. Feliway is a good product for car, and also for hotel rooms where other pets may have been panicked or had a marking incident.  Do NOT give them catnip. This distorts their senses and may cause panic in the moving car. A single whiff, ok, but not more than that. No tranquilizers. Same thing. We made the mistake of giving one of our cats catnip before a loop through the Badlands. Cats do notice scenery, don't like deserts, and the poor fellow, what with being stoned on catnip and seeing the land warp into lifeless spires outside the window, thought he'd entered a kitty house-of-horrors.

5. Get vaccinations for rabies annually and carry tags and certificates with you. States vary in their laws. If you're in a state that requires annual vaccination, or cross into one, be legal, for your cat's sake. There are also international certificates, which are like your kitty's passport. Do not cross a border without one.

6. Stay at pet friendly motels like Motel 6 and La Quinta, and get a copy of the AAA pet friendly hotel book, if you do a lot of this. Pet friendly motels have an under-bed box that prevents kitty from getting under. Kitty can also find really good hiding holes behind dresser drawers, and up inside furniture, so if cat disappears, it is not an alien abduction. Look very carefully Have an inside room if possible, for a skittish cat, to minimize noise, and to be sure that if a door opens, it does not open to the parking lot. Do not leave kitty loose  in the room while going tothe ice machine, let alone supper or the bar: they'll dash for the hall---their instinct is to 'claim' new territory, and they don't understand a hotel hall cannot be claimed.

 Back in the cage or bathroom if you're leaving the room.  It's real embarrassing ---and dangerous--- to have to chase kitty down past the front desk.

Take the towels and drape every chair that might get scratched. Ask for more towels: any guest can. Carry whisk broom and dust pan and clean up litter and food. Bag waste and dispose of neatly. Be a model guest, and leave a tip for the maid. If your cat does damage---ours once snagged a sheer curtain---report it yourself. There'll be a small fee, but that hotel chain will remain friendly to pets. Carry the afore-mentioned bottle of Feliway, which you can get from your vet. It's happy-kitty pheromone, synthetic---no cats were harmed producing it. If the cat shows interest in spots and corners, as if some other kitty has been bad, just spritz with Feliway, ever so slightly, and this will stop. Prepare your pet with Advantage or Frontline, so if there should be a flea it will not survive to infest your car.  Carry a cat toy, for exercise---chase is best; and carryyour cat's favorite brush, so you can massage out the travel-stiffness.

Pet liberally. Keep regular hours on the road, if possible. Dear old Ysabel had a fine idea about when we should find a hotel, and when supper should be served and the ground should stop moving. Always tell the hotel up front and when reserving your room for the night that you have a pet. There may be a small fee, but this covers special cleaning. There may be a large deposit refundable on a morning inspection by the chambermaid---we've never had them not refund the money. But the hotel will want to put you in a "pets" room, so that they won't have every carpet in their hotel exposed to accidents. This is only reasonable.

If you are in a real jam, and can't find a listed hotel, go to a small independent motel and explain to the manager you have cages and that the cats will be in them and that you will be in the room. Especially in bad weather and other times of emergency, independent owners can be far more flexible than a chain's manager. From the manager's side---they've had furniture shredded, carpets ruined, they've had 80 pound dogs left unattended---one hotel had a huge dog leap through a plate glass window to get out. Dogs may bark non-stop for eight hours, with other guests complaining and checking out; they have their reasons for being antsy about pets. Reason and situation can often persuade a hotel owner to take a special chance on you, and for the sake of us all, be ever so good a guest. You might open up a new hotel/motel to cats, at least.

7. Longer hotel stays: if you are going to leave a cat in the room: we use a folding ferret cage---anything that can keep a ferret contained has a fighting chance of keeping a cat in. It unfolds from 4 inches high to five feet high, has two shelves and room for the litter and food, and rolls on casters: you can get it at PetSmart. We have made a veil to cover it, and the opening of the veil is on the far side from the cage opening, just in case some cat-crazed chambermaid wants to sneak a hand in.

Lower the lights, turn on the telly to provide a familiar ambient noise, and check on kitty every hour or so, until you've established kitty is sleeping most of the time.DO NOT leave the cage in a sunny window. It can get hot, and kitty has no place to go.

Prepare for a wild kitty night when they have slept all day and you haven't. As a less expensive and more portable cage, for a stay of four to five hours, we use one of the net kitty-tunnels, which will hold litter pan, food, and water, with two cats. Put down towels under the net-cage to control litter scatter and protect carpet from vengeance-scratching. Lower room lights, hang Do Not Disturb on the door, and check on your cat periodically until you're sure he's ok with the arrangement. Do not over-use your cat's patience with this. Do not take kitty out where strange well-meaning people can touch him or put their hands near him. If you wouldn't like it, neither would he. Even the nicest cat may bite if too tired or too many fingers have been near him, and you do not want to get stuck in thestate for another two weeks with kitty in quarantine for biting someone.

Do not hold the party in your room: treat kitty as your roommate, one who mostly wants to sleep. Kitty should have fun on this trip, too, and a roomful of strangers is not fun for him, even if he has a neurotic desire to please. He should relax as much as possible. If your friends want to see kitty, make the visit brief and restore the room to quiet.

Should there be a hotel fire alarm or other emergency---think of this: have your own key in your pants pocket, but grab kitty first---get kitty in cage and lock it. Be calm. These things go off for no reason. Above all, do not attempt to carry kitty in your arms. We had to pass the hall siren during a water-pipe breakage with water pouring like Niagara, and if we had been carrying our cats, they'd have gone orbital. The cage is theirs, and they'll be ok in it. Put your pants (containing the room key) on, grab kitty, and go.  I'm a veteran of hotels and fire alarms, and room key in pants pocket is a MUST. With this arrangement, you will not be delayed. Kitty will tend to come to you first, then hide, which is why I say grab the cat first. Get him in carrier, and then everything else is a piece of cake.

8. Carry your own vet's phone number, and consider having an electronic chip imbedded. Keep kitty's id number in your wallet. Do not depend on collar or leash in any emergency: even the best can't control a frantic cat. To handle a frightened cat in an emergency, as per above, and get him in the cage, get your vet to show you the kitty control hold and apply it mercilessly should there be an emergency. Most of all, get kitty into the cage and be sure of the cage top fastenings---they can get jostled loose during the day. Remember that cats like kids can get scared of unfamiliar things, but they will take their cue from you: don't get upset around them. Be calm and they'll becalm...mostly.

If you're going to be driving through heavy traffic, good idea to have them in cages. Cage walls protect them from sway and sudden stops.  As a strange aside, I've discovered a tactic that works if your cat should escape the car or room: do not give frantic chase---sit down or better, lie down on the floor/ground. The cat is likely come back to find out what happened to you, and may come within reach. Cats hate to see the 'food source' lying on the ground.

But mostly----never rely on your ability to hold onto him in your arms. For kitty's safety, keep that cage door shut and the cage latches secure when transiting through open territory.


You know, I have a background in Mediterranean civ. And I am the picture of the Romans being handed the unknowing public by numerous educational programs on television. Wrong, wrong, wrong! my friends. I've spent decades immersed in this culture. I know the Romans from what they wrote in books and what they wrote on bathroom walls and what they built and what they did and refrained from doing, and I'm here to say what you're seeing on the telly is just outright wrong.

The motives for that wrong input are about the same as those of us who handle such hot topics as race and religion in sf stories where we can make up participants that don't have modern baggage. What the purveyors of "the Romans as Nazis" are doing is much the same---rather than getting into the sticky, embarrassing politics of real Nazi history, we transfer the matter to the Romans, who are safely dead and make a convenient high-profile target. Unforutnately they're creating a false history that gets re-shown and referenced by subsequent documentarians who don't go back to original sources and check out what was really the case.

Let me shoot down a few misconceptions. If you find this interesting, I can go on for hours. And we haven't even mentioned the Spartans, who've also gotten undeserved bad press.....and let me add, the Egyptians...



Rome set out to rule the world.

1. Rome was taken over by the Etruscans; when the Etruscans became bad rulers, the Romans tossed them out and became de facto head city of the region, because no one else was going to do it and the Greeks were having a war with the native tribes to the south. Being asked in by an allied city, Rome did leave its territory to fight...but a) the soldiers sat down on the road and made their officers say why they were doing that........b) the participants in the war doublecrossed each other at high speed and left the Romans holding the only stable power.

2. Carthage was on the border of that situation, and went to war with some of the participants. When the recent participants asked Rome for help for THEIR allies on Sicily, Rome tried to send in military advisers---have we heard this since? and the participants then attacked each other. In the upshot of the whole thing, Carthage invaded Italy and committed atrocities trying to frighten the Italians into defecting from Rome. Didn't work. Rome beat Carthage in three wars and finally got involved in African politics trying to stop this cycle. They wanted rid of it. But every time they tried to dismount the tiger, it turned and bit them.

They were then contacted by several  eastern kingdoms whose kings willed the Romans their kingdoms if they'd just save these kingdoms from their neighbors and keep them peaceful.

One of these was Egypt. The Roman Senate tried to reject the gift---the Roman people had had enough of foreign troubles. Julius Caesar stood up and argued for the Egyptian Will...and was voted down.

Romans were aggressors in the East

1. Egypt. See the end of previous statement.

2. the unwarned massacre of thousands [reputedly 50,000] of civilian Roman and Roman-affiliated colonists by an eastern warlord [one of the tyrants the other local countries were afraid of:] outraged the civilized world and prompted Rome to go after the guy---Mithridates.

3. See: the African situation. Once Rome was in there, local politics came into play. Jugurtha of Numidia, invited to Rome on a diplomatic mission to try to settle things, assassinated one of his rivals on Roman city streets---bad news.

An exception to Roman good behavior: the Roman Senate appointed Memmius to handle matters in Greece...and the guy turned out to behave badly. The Romans did not consider him a hero. It was very bad manners to steal the silverware...or Greek art treasures. They considered it justice that his ships sank...and gave us modern divers the Greek bronzes we have: the rest were, ironically, lost to mediaeval plunderers.

3. Alexander had conquered the east and pasted it together. Tyrants claiming his mantle had thus far caused war after war in the area. Once Rome ruled it, there was peace and a reasonable chance of the local peasants living to die of natural causes.

Romans killed the menfolk and enslaved the women and kids.

When Romans took slaves, it was as a result of an army defeated in the field miles and miles of nasty hostile territory out of their borders, and with  no established way to deal with POWs. Effectively, slaves were POWs, were watched as such, and rarely were women and children included---then only if there were really uncommon circumstances, such as a barbarian army being accompanied by families.

This sort of slavery only came about when the Roman armies were in the field in foreign territory. The Romans actually didn't want more slaves. But the alternative was what their barbarian neighbors were doing, which was to kill all the prisoners, or to let the batch go rearm and come back again, or go attack their neigbors who, tired of being raided, had allied with the Romans.

There were domestic-born slaves, too, and they were few in number and had the right to earn money, complain of bad treatment, and held a  guaranteed right to buy their freedom with a personal savings fund that had to be protected by the owner. Once the big influx of POW slaves came in, that changed the social and the legal picture. The nation as a whole realized they had a problem that had to be solved. Mass manumission turned people onto the streets with no money and too far from home to go home; the Senate passed a law that forbade that, after  well-meaning and financially strapped Romans manumitted hundreds of people who  then had no livelihood and who wandered the streets at loose ends.

Romans could not sleep with slaves: against the law.  If you were caught at it, you were in trouble, and could lose your citizenship.

A Roman who physically mistreated his slaves was an exception and a social pariah: the fact that such incidents were written of tells us that if you want to say something bad about a person, and that's what you pick, that's considered very bad behavior.

Slaves who were properly manumitted became freedmen, clients of the family: they were given support in business, set up in a shop or activity, and could come to the family for funds or medical help or business advice, or protection legally. The child of a freedman is born a free man, and can become a Roman citizen.


The vast majority of fen [pl. of fan] that I meet are incredibly nice, sweet, considerate intelligent people. But...

Number one on my hit list is the guy who, when I'm standing talking with another person, comes up to us, addresses me, turns his shoulder to my friend/domestic partner/writer friend, tells me how I'm his very favorite writer and lingers to talk and ask questions, still with his shoulder, sometimes even his back, to the other person, the one I'm with. 

Does this score points? I'm standing there embarrassed because I can't somehow shift the person around to realize there is someone else present who's being ignored. I grab and arm. I say, "This is...[name.]" Clueless, the person looks at the badge, sniffs, says, "I haven't read any of your books," or "Hi," or nothing, and carries on as before.

Does this make anyone feel good? No. Does this make anyone look good? No.

For politeness' sake, when attending a convention, read the guest list in the program book: that's why it's there, to provide the essential clues. Then look at the name badges when you join a group [I do] and try to be aware that the person I'm talking to may be my publisher, a relative, a close personal friend, another fan, a member of the concom, or perhaps another writer you may someday long to meet.

If you see it's a publisher, or concom, it may not be a good time. If you twig it's a writer and you haven't read their book, when introduced, say: "Gosh, I'm very glad to meet you. I haven't read your books yet, but I intend to." If you really want to get points, say: "Gosh, you wrote [fill in blank.] Haven't read it yet, but I plan to."  You'll make a great impression all around.

If it's another fan I'm talking to, say, "I really like these books, too..." Include them. You'll leave the best possible impression.

And if you REALLY want to make a good impression, go straight to the dealers' room, get the other writer's books, and bring them back for signature. You'll have a friend for life.




seamstress's thimble substituted for seamstress' thimble?

traveling instead of the phonics-friendly travelling?

gray instead of grey?

leaped instead of leapt? No more dreamt, dwellt, or, I suppose, swept...and never mind what people actually say.

double quotes instead of single when the enclosed words are not spoken, but ironical in 'honest' gentleman?

...and a thousand other examples of the usage you've lately seen in American books?

Recently various American publishers adopted the Chicago manual of style as the official standard for their copyeditors. No matter the style or literacy of the writer, no matter that the book might be set in another time and place, the new standard declares that comma splices are fine, but travelling has to be re-spelled as traveling.

I detest the Chicago manual as a national disgrace, not only because it creates ugly combinations like ss's, but because I remember why it was created, and by whom it was created. It was a teaching device accompanying the New Math, and it was designed to dumb-down the rules of English to make it easier for see-it, say-it methods...later discredited and no longer used by enlightened school systems who now insist on higher standards, and phonics. But in that day, teachers voted on the changes,hoping to establish 'easier' English.

This abomination won, but not without bitter dispute that broke friendships. It was intended as a method to arrive at minimal standardized literacy for the average student by running roughshod over the historical basis of the language. When the see-it, say-it teaching method failed, the manual should have been given unhallowed burial. It certainly was never designed to be swept [sweeped?] up as a national standard.

In a terrible accident of timing, however, American publishers were looking for their own guide book to the English language. Rather than going with Webster, which provides a perfectly sensible standard, they went with the Chicago manual, and imposed it over writers' vehement protests.

If you also protest this trend, direct your comments to the editor in charge. If writers protest, we're being prima donnas and unsympathetic to the need to have an 'American standard' of  English.

And if an ordinarily literate writer brings out a new book rife with hard-to-read fragments, consider this possibility: a copyeditor armed with that damnable document as a standard, hellbent on removing colons and replacing them with periods to 'dumb-down' the sentences. Consider c/e's who blithely pass over the occasional change in a character's eye-color while prosecuting such grand felonies as 'travelling' instead of 'traveling' or 'grey' instead of the sacred American 'gray'. Sometimes the c/e's attempt to simplify the sentence actually reverses the meaning, so if you're left scratching your head in wonder at an apparent lapse of logic, consider what would happen with the substitution of one word for another, the insertion of a comma where the author never intended one, or the division of a sentence in which one statement led to the other [the useful function of a colon] into two no-longer-related parts.

Often the writer isn't allowed to see this desecration before the work is set in type.

If we complain, we rouse resentment and generally end up with a mad editor, so don't quote me: I have to fight individual and specific battles for the integrity of my work, often hundreds of them per book, and I raise all the waves I can bear. I can guarantee you that if you ever read one of my manuscripts cold, in typescript, it will generally contain far fewer mistakes than the typeset version...and yes, we often do set type from my computer disk, but after a copyeditor has been at it, happily 'correcting' all my s' to s's as if I were illiterate.

The readers, however, make an strong impression when they object. When you're faced with books by any writer that seem uncommonly full of errors, do the writer a favor and write the editor at the address generally given on the back of the title page. Tell the editor in polite words [always more effective] that you're not used to this many errors in a given writer's work at other houses or in prior books. Raise merry hell about bad copyediting...and if you agree with me, tell them what you think about the Chicago manual of style while you're at it.

My e-books that I produce---are my own---whatever their faults.


Just for fun....I'm listing my opinion about favorites, you know, the really hedonistic experiences, things I really least this week.


the cat: Seishi, the lover

participant sport

figure skating; boating

TV series

Hell's Kitchen




sf, fantasy, sea stories, historical mystery

where to go in a new city

aquariums; restaurants

spectator sport

baseball, specifically Seattle Mariners; ice skating


tossup between Mexican and Italian: Ethiopian and Chinese rate high, too


water; woods



peanut butter

Adams Crunchy

video game

Oblivion; Might & Magic VI




hot homemade bread, real butter




Celtic and Japanese pop


velvet; cotton gauze; microfiber [on the ice]


Ethiopian Harrar;  Dutch Brothers. Starbucks House Blend or Breakfast Blend. I hate dark roast.


Godiva dark, especially those walnut-shaped things


pineapple upside-down


banana cream, coconut cream

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Will there be any more Alliance-Union or merchanter stories? Oh, yes. I haven't thought of exactly what yet, but there'll be more.  Because they're so loosely connected, what's below doesn't apply.

Certain other series await my convincing the publishers to buy another: the longer the series, the more difficult this becomes, paradoxically...because when books are as closely connected as the books of these sets, it means bringing back into print every book in the set when the new book comes out, a logistical and marketing problem. The ones in this class are: Chanur, Morgaine, and the Rider books. (What probably needs to happen, she said, laughing, is for all of you to rush out, buy up every last copy and force them out of print long enough for the publisher to think of a simultaneous re-issue.)

     Now that we are making e-books, there's nothing to stop me from continuing the orphaned series, but I have to do it after I get all the orphaned backlist processed and up on Closed Circle.


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I like them. I recommend them as a place to meet other people who read. I didn't find out they existed until I was in print as an sf novelist, and I regret the years I missed. Occasionally there's the one you wish you'd skipped, but in general I've found them models of tolerance and good humor...even when the hotel is collapsing.

The conventions I came into as a stranger were in the central US, where the tradition was pretty much that of good outdoorsmen...leave the place clean and cooperate with the hotel staff. No prima donna celebrities in those days: everyone pitched in setting up the art show, the dealers' room, everybody including the writer-guests got down on hands and knees and got the popcorn off the carpet before the hotel could raise a complaint. It made a nice environment, and it encouraged the hotel staff actually to attend some of the functions during their off hours. I vote for more of them.

Best fun? Hanging out in a trafficked area at a good table where fen [plural of fan] can come up, sit down, talk, have a good time before going off to the next item, and be replaced by someone else. Good 'Tables' can last, oh, hours, in endless rotation of participants, some returning for the third time, and the conversation can range from the space program to underwater archaeology. Late-night room parties are good for this, too.

Mega-conventions are fun in the way a 3-ring circus is fun...but there's nothing to match the small, old-fashioned sort of convention where people know one another and where the old-fashioned convention-culture prevails, right down to the fannish language. Fan, fen and faan, concom, smof and fiawol should not perish in the new rush to size and multitrack programming. And if anyone wants a definition of those terms...I'll be happy to provide the translations: it's not a secret language, just the shorthand of people in a common culture who appreciate the same set of books.

Mega-conventions? Great. If the con has 2000 attendees more than one Guest of Honor [GoH, pronounced go] is probably a good idea. But there's no particular reason for a small convention to have more than one writer Guest of Honor. The need for multiple GoH's seems to grow like an urban legend...with the result that running cons is costing way more than it needs to. Multitrack programming was great when it was an innovation for cons that grew huge, being in a big city on a holiday weekend. But it's certainly not necessary for a con with two hundred attendees total. Panels go ever so much better when there are more people in the audience than on the panel...the chemistry and the sense of community work better when there's a crowd in the room.

If anything, we've grown far too isolated in our genres-within-genres, our multi-tracks, our insistence on our own favorite topics, excluding all others. It's time for people who love this stuff to get back to reading all across the field of science fiction and fantasy and appreciating all the branches for what they are: some for the young, some for the older reader, some for the engineers and some for the history buffs. So you don't care for something? Be patient. Isolation of the interest-groups and age-levels within the community is a vile trend, in my humble opinion, and multitracking panels at conventions has not helped the isolation: it's increased it. Too many critics and not enough general gosh-wow.

If I can ask for anything in the sf community it's for readers deliberately to read things that stretch the limits of their preferences...stretch them until they feel them creak and shift and break wider. That's what books should do.

Here's hoping we continue to be the Literature of Ideas.


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...all right...someone took me up on it. A topic about organized (?) fandom.


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So what's it take to be a novelist? Five dollars worth of paper and a fifty cent pencil?

Well, as you can guess, yes and no. The pencil's given way to computers, because publishers no longer read crabbed longhand and re-typing is, well, no fun.  The paper's pretty much the same, but now you need a computer and a decent printer: decent, not great. I learned to play the guitar while waiting on a Centronics ribbon printer, the toughest little machine ever made, but it took all afternoon and all night to print a book, coupled with the fact you had to get up periodically and feed the 48-k Atari another disk. Ideal for the job these days? A laserjet. You don't notice the slower speed of an inkjet so much on letters, but it makes a real difference when it comes to running 3 copies of a 650 page novel. I've worn out no few printers.

My advice, if you want to do this? Get a moderately good laptop. Easier on the back, when you spend as much time as I do at the keyboard. Bid farewell to your friends and social life, settle comfortably, and be prepared to put in 300,000 hours turning this five-dollar stack of paper into a story...if you're fast.

That's a year and a half of any ordinary 8-hour a day workweek.

But writers don't work 8 hour days. Myself, I can get in 2000 good words a day. The rest aren't fit to shoot. Just occasionally the pace picks up.

And do I get to 'just write?' No. I have the correspondence, the taxes, the phone calls, the galleys, the copyedits, the contracts, the research, the groceries, the cats, and a roommate who engages in the same occupation---we keep each other from running mad in the streets. Then characters go on strike and won't do what they're supposed to. Two writers can laugh about this. People who don't do this for a living wonder if we've lost our minds.

Occasionally we wonder, too.

And you don't just write straight ahead. You plan. You write. The plan doesn't work. The characters won't behave. You re-plan, have a great idea, rip up 3000 words and change the direction it was going. This goes on daily.

Then you re-write until it sounds as if you had command of the plot all along. Sometimes you write; "INSERT MIRACLE HERE" and keep going, so you don't lose your idea.

A typical day? Up at 7:30, check the e-mail, feed the cat, check the schedule, write 500 words, talk to another human being, write 500 words, fix lunch, do the correspondence, write 1000 words, check the e-mail, go after groceries, answer the phone [insert this about five times at random] fix supper, speak to another human being, sit for an hour, berate oneself for not exercising. Do the bills. Maybe get in another 1000 words, feed the cat, go to bed, get up and do it all again, day after day after day for months on end. This is a good day...we're not talking about the one that begins..."What's that wet spot in the carpet?" And ends three days later. On a very good day we speak to almost no one.

You can see why we go crazy at conventions: people! Human beings!

Pay? You get 8-10% of cover price, and many sf books sell 50,000 or fewer copies over their entire distribution lifetime. Very, very few, even the most famous, ever sell over 100,000. You hear about advances: that means the publisher gives you money to live on while you write the next book: that's a lump sum, say 20,000, that is supposed to keep you alive while you get the novel finished. There are higher, and lower advances. And you don't get paid any more until your advance has 'earned out'. In the case of a book at 10% of a 2.50 cover price, that's 25 cents a book, and to pay off a $20k advance, that's quite a few copies to sell before you get another cent of pay, particularly difficult as books go into backlist and usually aren't on the shelves after the first month or so. Do the math. This can take years. So you don't go out and buy a Ferrari because you sold an sf book, and, trust me, divorces have happened because one spouse promised the other fantastic wealth once they sell the book they've been at home writing for five years. Fantastic wealth is not likely. But you can make a living if you write and sell often.

I love this life. I love what I do. But you can see why writers end up rooming together and why writers with non-writing, non-reading spouses often end up divorced. The most patient human beings on earth have to be spouses living with writers, actors, or artists. "Huh? Did you say something?" "Glum? I'm not glum. No, there's nothing wrong." "I thought I put those clothes in the dryer last week." Or the ever-popular, "I'm sorry. I just can't go to [fill in long-standing engagement] tonight: the scene is finally moving."

It's a wonderful feeling when the book finally comes out. But before that time you've seen the cover, seen the copyedits, corrected those, corrected the galleys [first printing], and written another entire book, which is just starting that process, while you're beginning still another book...which is why writers often flunk trivia contests on their own work. It never ends.

Two writers under the same roof...we're always at different stages: only once have we actually turned in books in the same week. We speak in the morning, speak at noon, speak at supper, and sometimes, if the work of the day is done, sit and watch the television for a few hours or sit and do our personal craft projects, if there are any going. Then it's very often back to work. We live at opposite ends of the house. The cats, and we, share a living room: the cats range back and forth like four-footed messengers and remind us there's a world elsewhere.

But then we declare holiday...take off on a drive. One reads her latest book. The other drives and critiques. The reader takes notes. We arrive at a con...or just come home again, reading all the way.

Then a scene isn't working. Glumness. Despond. Dare I say...distractedness, surliness. Tiptoe past the door and make sure food arrives on reasonable schedule. "Want to talk about it?" Sometimes that works. Sometimes it doesn't: "No."

A scene goes well. Elation. Euphoria. Soaring good humor. Doves fly and skies are pink and blue.

Thank God it's far more of the second than the first.


Notice the creeping misuse of 'may' and 'might' on the news? There's at least one writer or editor out there in the networks that doesn't know the difference. And there are several of his cousins, I swear, loose in the book business. The quick way to tell the right word? If your sentence is, at its heart, past tense, it's 'might'. If it's present tense, it's 'may' unless the probability is somewhat remote. That's way over-simplified and doesn't encompass all the rule, but it works as a fast test.  The general thought the enemy may attack...ouch!   The general thinks the enemy may attack [probable]....vs. The general thinks the enemy might attack [somewhat less likely.] The present-time sentence has more choices, and a valuable fine distinction. Why? Because we don't know...yet. But the past-time sentence has to say might. No choice about it. We already know the outcome. Yes, there's a might have, but leave that aside as advanced usage: we'll be satisfied with simple may/might in the news copy.

The news lately has taken to misusing that useful, basic distinction, and it hurts the ears...not mentioning murdering the logic of the sentence to those who do know the way it works.

And has anyone noticed the prevalence of dangling or misplaced phrases?

Caught red-handed in the bank, the police nabbed a convicted felon.... I'm quite doubtful [thank you, J.C!] that the police were the ones apprehended. Position, position, position. {The descriptive phrase simply belongs to the next item in the sentence.} The highlighted sentence is misleading, to say the least. No wonder we have people listening to news and coming away with completely opposite notions of what was said!

Any nominees for the network or the publisher with the most mangled usage? I'm not about to risk lawsuit by naming names in print, but does this slicing and dicing of the language for news 'punch' bother you the way it bothers me?

Perhaps a letter-writing campaign to the networks quoting the really painful instances would send the culprits to their manuals.

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