Midwifing A Story: The Trusted Reader

Some writers do all their work in isolation. They are the creative hermits of the literary world. When they get an idea for a story, they tell no one. This isn’t always the misplaced fear that the other person will “steal” their idea. Few ideas are so strikingly original that they have not already been told in a myriad variations. Even if the other person were to write a story on the same idea, the stories would have different executions. Knowing this doesn’t seem to make a difference. Some folks just work better alone. I’ve heard some of them say that if they discuss a work in progress, the very act of telling it aloud dissipates the creative energy: they’ve told the story, so there’s no reward for writing it. Some of them never improve as writers, but others seem able to teach themselves and to produce work of quality.

I’m not one of them.

First of all, I am, as the French say, “très sociable.” I flourish with regular chats with other writers. More importantly, I learned early on in this business that if I am left to my own devices, I will come up with the most dreadful poppycock and think it’s great. My stories will have plot holes you could ride a tyrannosaur through. And let’s not mention grammatical atrocities, inconsistent characterizations…you know the drill. Fortunately, my second and third drafts are a whole lot better than the drivel I throw together as a rough draft. I revise a couple of times, just to get the words on the page into some correlation to the story in my head, before I let anyone else see it.

At some point, however, I need feedback. I need an ally. Better yet, several. I benefit from having a “story midwife” to help me with the process of pushing and squeezing and ruthlessly pruning a story into the form that is most true to my creative vision.

A “story midwife” is someone whose insightful feedback helps me to make the story more fully what I intended it to be. It is not a person who rewrites my work to their own agenda, sabotages my writing efforts in order to make themselves feel good, or who goes about claiming credit for having salvaged or inspired my work. These things happen (and they’ve happened to me), but they’re not only not helpful, they’re potentially devastating. All these things happen because the person reading the story has motives other than being of help to the writer. These folks are often unsuccessful writers themselves. Continue reading

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BVC Announces Futures Near and Far by Dave Smeds

Futures Near and Far by Dave SmedsFutures Near and Far
by Dave Smeds

A future where murder is only a misdemeanor. A colony world where humans can remain only if they are worthy of their tenancy. A woman who journeys to postapocalytic Africa in search of her childhood best friend. Welcome to a dozen tales of futures near and far, transformative or lethal, prospects to show us who we are.

Continue reading

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Living (in) a Fantasy Novel

gabriella mountain 111814_200This past week I set up a crowdfunding campaign for a new project: a series of very short novels (or novellas) about horses (of course), magic (because I write quite a bit of fantasy), and Tucson (where I live, and where, so to speak, the magic happens). It’s a “heart project,” in that I’ve wanted to write it for a long time, and it’s about a place and a cast of characters that are very near and dear to me. It’s literally coming from where I live.

“Your life is like a fantasy novel.”

I get a lot of that. I live in the Arizona desert, I have a herd of magical horses, one of my dogs materialized out of the desert air (and has the sky-blue eyes to prove it). We have to explain our weather, our landscape, and our plant and animal life to visitors from the rest of the world. Yes, it’s often hotter than hell, those mountains are right there, and watch out for the cactus! Continue reading

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Story Excerpt Sunday: From Dun Lady’s Jess by Doranna Durgin

Dun's Lady JessDun Lady’s Jess

Book I of the Changespell Saga

by Doranna Durgin

Carey looked at Arlen in surprise. “You want me to fool around with an untested spell? I’ll rely on my horses, I think.”

“Did you hear nothing of what I have said?” Arlen’s anger flashed just bright enough to remind Carey who and what his employer was. “Everything I know of this new spell is in my head, Carey—except for this manuscript. If anyone—and I mean anyone, from the lowest road pirate to the Precinct Guard—tries to take it from you, you invoke that crystal. It will take you to the only place you can’t be reached.”

Years of working with the wizard as friend and courier alerted Carey to the words that were not said. “Where?” he asked warily, then didn’t give Arlen a chance to answer. “To one of those other worlds. You’d send me to a place that might not even know magic?  How the hells am I supposed to get back?” Continue reading

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Art, Imagination, and Freedom

Ursula k. le guin

When I clicked over to watch the video of Ursula K. Le Guin’s acceptance speech (it’s only six minutes; like all her work, it is elegantly concise) I was glad to discover that nearly sixty thousand people had been there before me.  It has probably doubled since I scribbled these thoughts down. I hope so.

I realize that writing down my reactions is akin to a mouse squeaking about the elephant’s roar. But I fully believe that Ursula wants us mice squeaking about her ideas.

She starts off by saying that she shares the award with writers of science fiction and fantasy—

. . . Writers of the imagination who for the past fifty years watched awards go to the so-called realists.

Continue reading

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The Tajji Diaries: Learning to Play

Deborah and Tajji rompingOne of the joys of providing a retirement home for our new-to-us seeing eye dog, Tajji, is watching her re-discover the behaviors of a puppy. For most of her adult life, Tajji performed a job so difficult that it’s beyond the ability of most dogs. Seeing eye guide work is highly unnatural for dogs. They must learn to be visually vigilant and to scan for obstacles well above their height; what is perhaps more demanding is that when in harness they are not allowed to explore the world of smell, a dog’s most vivid sense, or to interact with other dogs. In effect, they work blind and dumb.

Now Tajji’s work is re-engaging with the natural world of dogs. Whenever possible, we let her sniff the “bulletin board” left by other dogs (and other creatures – we live in a rural area, so she’s also smelling raccoon, skunk, squirrel, bobcat, coyote, and most likely mountain lion, as well as the various domestic cats and dogs on the block).

We’re also learning how to play together. Our last few dog, also a German Shepherd Dogs, had high prey drive. He would run after anything that moved and when that drive was engaged, would prefer to chase rather than to receive food treats. Tajji, like all dogs, notices movement, but she is less captivated by it. She will chase a ball in a field, but we get the feeling the primary joy is just the freedom to run wherever she likes. At first, she wouldn’t bring the ball back. I wonder if that wasn’t in her behavioral repertoire or if it felt too much like work, like having to do what her handler commanded. We dealt with the issue by bringing lots of balls to the field. She’d run after one and then play “keep-away;” when she’d begin to slow down, we’d throw a second ball, she’d chase and keep-away that one while we retrieved the first. We didn’t force her to obey. The goal was play, not training. You could almost hear the gears turn in her mind as she became more willing – of her own free choice – to deliver the ball back to her monkey when she wanted it thrown again. Now she mostly brings it back as opposed to never. She has also figured out how to play fetch in the house by presenting us with one of her stuffed toys while we are at the dinner table. Since we wouldn’t get up and chase her, she came closer and closer to us. When one of us could reach the toy where she dropped it, we’d throw it into the living room, where she’d bound after it with gusto. Now, more often than not, she will bring the toy to our hands. And she lets us know she’s had enough simply by not bringing the toy back. Continue reading

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Ursula LeGuin Brings Down the House

Ursula LeGuin at the NBAs

Ursula LeGuin at the NBAs

Our beloved Ursula LeGuin was the highlight of the National Book Awards as she gave a speech in acceptance of her award for Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Neil Gaimin bestowed her medal upon her, and then she gave what the New Yorker article describes as “the definitive remarks of the ceremony”.

A portion of Ursula’s speech is excerpted in the article and you can watch a video of her remarks here.


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The Sustainable Economy: Co-ops and Other People-Friendly Businesses

SELCAs most of our readers know, Book View Café is a cooperative. We’re owned by our author-members and exist for the purpose of publishing books by our members, getting those books wider distribution, and providing services to our members to help them in writing and publishing their books.

That makes us a producer co-op: we’re all people with our own writing business who come together to help each other. That’s similar to farmer co-ops, which often sell their members’ crops and run stores that provide them with seed and tools.

As we say in the co-op movement, “Stronger together.” Each of us at BVC could set up individual web pages to sell ebooks, but then we wouldn’t get the advantage of a store that has multiple authors, not to mention the advantage of sharing skills around. Some of us are good formatters, others are great at cover design, and some are good at solving the tech problems.

Co-ops aren’t new. As a modern entity they date from the mid-19th Century, but the core principles of working together for mutual benefit probably go back to the emergence of human ancestors. But co-ops are part of the burgeoning sustainable economies movement, which is drawing on constructive models from the past as well as inventing new ones.

This week I went to a party/fundraiser celebrating the fifth anniversary of the Sustainable Economies Law Center, a nonprofit here in the San Francisco Bay Area started by lawyers to both advise those who want to start new kinds of businesses and to help them change the laws that are in their way.

Which is to say, it’s a group started by lawyers for social change. Continue reading

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Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to Ursula K. Le Guin

TUrsula K. Le Guin, photo by Marian Wood Kolischoday, 7:40 EST:

Live-stream NBA: Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to Ursula  K. Le Guin

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#watched100times: Love and Other Disasters

*I'm* the Queen of England

*I’m* the Queen of England

It’s not a sign of mental disorder when a person watches the same movies over and over again, is it? Thank goodness. Because here I go again.

The hubby is working a put-in for a major musical down at the Palace tonight starting at one a.m. (isn’t show business glamorous?) so here I am, awake at three-forty-five in the morning, in my twenty-second private living-room screening of Love And Other Disasters. Continue reading

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