The Muse Plagues Me

From a newsgroup post dated July 27, 2010:

Here’s another story idea that’s annoying me: Aliens come to Earth to exterminate a deadly threat to their civilization. They can’t explain how they know, but they’re absolutely certain that if they don’t wipe out every single carrier of a particular gene sequence, in about a thousand years their species will be extinct. They don’t want to hurt anyone else; in fact, they’ll be happy to give humanity their FTL drive and lots of other advanced tech and other goodies, and to welcome Earth into the galactic community — as soon as That Gene Sequence is gone. They’ll pay bounties for carriers, destroy entire cities that shield carriers, whatever it takes.

Some of the carriers are apes; in fact, a couple of endangered species are going to be completely wiped out.

And some of the carriers are human, which is where the story comes from.

The Rules

From newsgroup posts dated September 5, 2007 and July 25, 2010. Long ago I set myself rules to help with the self-discipline necessary to be a full-time professional writer; if I only wrote when inspired, or when I felt like writing, I’d have starved:

These are my official rules:

Four pages a day, minimum. They can be on one, two, three, or four projects, but there must be four pages. A page is defined as “Enough text to get onto the next page without altering any margins or spacing or anything,” no word-count is specified.

“A day” is defined as from the time I get up until the time I go to bed, but does not include any such period that either begins or ends somewhere other than my own bed, nor any period when I’m away from home for more than four hours.

Starting a new project does not count toward my four-page quota. “New project” is defined as a file that’s been open less than forty-eight hours, or that contains less than two pages of prose.

That last provision is because writing new openings and starting new stories is fun; it’s finishing them that requires discipline.

The Muse Plagues Me…

From a newsgroup post dated July 18, 2010:

This week I bought a comic book called Strange Science Fantasy #1.

It sucks; I’m sorry I bought it. It’s not even going into the “for sale” stack; I’ll be giving it away. It’s an incoherent post-holocaust alchemist gearhead story, which sounds much, much cooler than it actually is, as the “incoherent” trumps everything else, and it’s all done with three panels per page, no dialogue, captions only, and the art’s not very good, either.

There are a few nifty ideas and images buried in the mud, but mostly, it’s a waste of paper.

However, reading it triggered a story idea. I don’t know how or why or what the connection is exactly; I just know that trying to read this stupid thing gave me the set-up for an urban fantasy series, working title “The Ascent.” Or maybe “The Ascended.”

I think my protagonist is female for this one. Let’s call her… Lisa, maybe?

Anyway, Lisa starts seeing things. At first she assumes her eyes are playing tricks on her, then that they’re hallucinations, but they get more and more real, more numerous, easier to see, and harder to tell from ordinary people.

Eventually, they start talking to her. She finds other people who can see them and talk to them, too. And someone in there explains that she’s begun the Ascent. Only a tiny percentage of people ever do this, and of that percentage, most don’t get very far.

But most don’t start as young as Lisa has.

Why this happens, well, she doesn’t find that out right away, and I’m not sure yet myself.

According to people who have Ascended, she’s seeing into a higher plane of existence, and gradually transitioning from the mundane world into this new realm. As she continues, she’ll see more and more — but she’ll also gradually fade out of her old world, and eventually become invisible to everyone she’s leaving behind.

The thing is, it doesn’t stop there — some people continue Ascending, and leave behind that first higher level for even higher ones. Word has been passed down from level to level that there are at least six levels, maybe more — no one knows for sure how many. And as people Ascend, they gain powers over lower levels — but they also lose abilities. For example, someone on the second level or so can walk through man-made walls, and is invisible to the un-Ascended, but she can’t see the un-Ascended at all without making a conscious effort, and can’t hear them at all.

Lisa is Ascending whether she wants to or not, and doing so fairly quickly, to the point that some of the lower-tier Ascended are jealous of her progress — but she’s not sure it’s really progress, or that it’s really Ascent, and not Descent…

The Writing Life

From a newsgroup post dated June 11, 2010:

Julie rearranged her work schedule this week for complicated job-related reasons; she had Friday off but will be working Sunday. That meant she was home today with nothing planned.

So we went out for lunch at a tiny Thai place in Silver Spring, did a little shopping, and generally took it easy.

And at one point I was lying down, apparently doing nothing at all, and she remarked that I was obviously waiting for her.

I confessed that no, I was plotting.

Specifically, I was plotting Dumery of the Dragon, an Ethshar novel I may well never actually write.

Earlier, when she’d been talking to me about stuff at her office, I was plotting A Feather from Her Wing, another unlikely Ethshar novel.

Sometimes I think I’m so busy devising other people’s lives I forget to live my own.

The Muse Plagues Me

From a newsgroup post dated December 16, 2009:

And here’s another idea I didn’t need — suppose there’s a secret government project that’s opened portals to other realities, maybe on purpose, maybe accidentally. The other realities are inhabited by humans, or at least creatures indistinguishable from humans, who appear to have a lower tech level than ours — or at least a different tech level.

Our guys want to know what’s going on in these other worlds, but they don’t want to interfere, they don’t want to start any wars, and they’re not ready to make any direct, open contact; for one thing, they want to know who they should contact. Who are the good guys over there? Who are the bad guys? Who’s gonna be trouble?

These are other realities — are the laws of physics the same? Close enough for humans to exist, but is everything the same?

Someone gets sent in to scout. This isn’t something you can trust to civilian contractors, and it’s not really the military’s job, and we aren’t ready for the State Department, so the CIA gets the call.

So we have a 21st-century CIA agent trying to blend in in a fantasy world…

The Muse Plagues Me (again)

From a newsgroup post dated September 23, 2009:

So I was going to post about a family legend in a discussion of privateering on rec.arts.sf.written, and thought better of it when I realized that it really is just a legend, we can’t document it at all — but then it occurred to me it’d make a pretty good basis for a story.

See, one of my ancestors was allegedly a Welsh privateer, but that may have just been a cover story for smuggling. (He wound up with a French wife, which seems more likely for a smuggler.)

And it only just now sank in that that could be a story set-up.

The Muse Plagues Me (again)

From a newsgroup post dated April 17, 2009:

I just watched the new trailer for “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” and thought they’d made the movie look unrelentingly dark. Which it may be. But that got me thinking about Dark Lords in general, and about their usual esthetics, which are pretty goth.

Ever notice that most goths are under thirty? They tend to outgrow it eventually.

So now I’m imagining a Dark Lord who’s conquered his world, and has been running it for a decade or so, who gets bored with all that darkness.

“Yes, General, I know I was the one who dressed your men in all-black uniforms. I don’t care. I’m tired of them. As of the first of the month I expect to see the troops in pastels. Now, send in my Imperial Architect — I want to talk about cutting more windows into my throne room, and I had better not hear another word about load-bearing walls.”

The Muse Plagues Me

From a newsgroup post dated March 26, 2009, and oddly relevant now as explained below:

I got invited to write a story for the next “Lace and Blade” anthology, and I’m giving it serious consideration because it looks like an ideal venue for a story set in the Bound Lands.

Except I didn’t actually have a short story planned. The Ermetian Jar isn’t going to be that short, and besides, it’s not really suited to the anthology.

I started thinking about possible tie-ins to the story of Anrel Murau, but nothing leapt to mind. I didn’t want to tell the story of how his parents died, and I didn’t think of a story set during his student days until right now. I wondered about maybe a story about the Burgrave of Lume, but didn’t have anything obvious to work with.

And then I realized that this might be the place to tell the tale of the murder of Lady Arissa Taline, which is referred to several times but never explained in detail (though there’s a brief, biased account in On A Field Sable).

Now, I’ve known for over a year how Lady Arissa died. I’ve known for months who killed her, and more or less why. I know how Lord Blackfield was involved. I didn’t, however, actually have it in my head as a story; it was just a nasty scandal that ended badly a year or two before the start of A Young Man Without Magic.

But once I had the idea of making it a short story, it started accumulating details. A LOT of details, very quickly. I now know exactly why Lady Arissa was killed, and why it happened the way it did, and what’s more I suddenly have a whole lot of backstory on Empress Annineia, and her childhood in Ermetia, and why she hired necromancers from the Cousins, and who the current King of Ermetia is, and why Prince Sharal behaved so badly, and why the murder was never investigated properly, and why the birth of Lurias XIII was such a big deal, and where the demons in Above His Proper Station came from…

The trick is going to be turning this into a short story.


June 12, 2017: And in the end, I couldn’t make it a short story. I got distracted, didn’t finish it, and missed the anthology deadline. It still isn’t finished, eight years later. The working title is “Fearless,” and I’ve forgotten a lot of stuff I talk about having thought out above.

I never did submit anything to Lace and Blade 2.

But last year I got an invitation for Lace and Blade 4, and was determined not to miss out this time. I dug out “Fearless,” looked at it, and couldn’t see any way to keep it to a reasonable length or include all the elements I thought the “Lace and Blade” series should have. If I ever do finish it, it could well wind up novella length.

So I dug out another unfinished story I thought might work, “The Dancing Teacher,” and labored on it for months before concluding that it wasn’t going to work, either.

And finally I started a new one, “Sorcery of the Heart,” which wound up a novelet, 8,500 words, but which did get finished and submitted. No idea whether it’ll be accepted; we’ll see.

All three stories, incidentally, were set in the Bound Lands. “Sorcery of the Heart” and “Fearless” are set in the Walasian Empire, while “The Dancing Teacher” takes place in the Cousins.

On the Perversity of the Muse

From a newsgroup post dated March 25, 2009:

I have lots of stuff in progress, and a shortage of time, so of course last night, was I working out plot details of Realms of Light, or perhaps considering finishing touches for Above His Proper Station?

Of course not. I was trying to remember all the details of “Tales of Sha’ar,” a collection of eight stories/vignettes I wrote in 1974, and wondering whether I could maybe actually turn some of them into publishable stories, now that I have thirty-five years more experience and know what I’m doing.

I’m pretty sure I still have the manuscript around here somewhere. Obviously not on disk, though.

I’ve tried to salvage these before, incidentally — they were incorporated into my abortive first attempt at a novel, Shadowdark, back in the ’70s. Didn’t work there, either.

Let’s see how many of the eight stories I can remember now…

“The Mansion of Lord Fire” — I remember the title and some of the descriptive passages, but not the plot — assuming it had one.

“How the Party Ended At Goldsand” I remember pretty well. I tried to recycle the central conceit in a different story in the 1980s, but never finished it.

“How Dal Fought the Death in the Palace of the Mute” is an absolutely dreadful title, but hey, I was nineteen. I remember most of that one.

Coming up blank on the other five. I think I had a couple more last night.

The Writing Life

From a newsgroup post dated February 10, 2009:

So I’m cleaning my office, trying to get it fit to allow prospective homebuyers in it, and this includes sorting through papers and filing or tossing most of them, so that’s what I’ve been doing this afternoon, and I’ve just now been going through a stash of story ideas — print-outs of Usenet and SFF Net posts, scribbled notes of one sort or another, sketchy maps, correspondence with editors about planned projects, etc.

And one of the scribbled notes is a story idea I had completely, totally forgotten, which has the potential to be an absolutely beautiful, heartbreaking story. How could I not have remembered that one?

Note, June 8, 2017: I haven’t forgotten it again, but I still haven’t written it, either.