Writing Fool’s War


The writing of FOOL’S WAR did a number of things for me.  It got me a review in the New York Times.  It got me a reputation as a good SF writer and, more importantly my second-ever book contract.  It also sealed my relationship with the man who would become my husband.

I knew right away when I met the right man.

Okay, not right away right away.  We actually first met at the Society for Creative Anachronism’s huge annual camping event, the Pennsic War.  He was married, I was there with another guy. I actually don’t remember any of the details of that first meeting.

But I knew right away after that.

When we met our second time at a party.  I wasn’t dating anybody, he was divorced.  I’d just sold a story to Analog, Science Fiction & Fact that took place on the Great Lakes, and I was standing there explaining to this good looking guy how Lake Erie, while the smallest of the Great Lakes was actually the most dangerous because it was only 20 feet deep in some places where you could still get 20 foot waves…

And he was standing there listening to it all with this big grin on his face.  And I knew that here was a man I could talk to about anything.  What I found out later was he was working for the Navy in hydrodynamics, and the stuff I was talking about was his field of expertese and he was highly interested in finding someone else who would talk about this stuff.

What’s this got to do with writing FOOL’S WAR?  Well, believe it or not the gentleman’s first love was not hydrodynamics, but space.  And he had recently made up his mind to pursue an advanced degree in areospace engineering.  Yep.  I was about to start dating a rocket scientist.

It went well.  There were hearts, flowers and tweeting birdies, all the positive signs.  We talked about my first book, and he gave me some useful suggestions.  But then came FOOL’S WAR, and I had ships and space stations and all the trimmings, and they actually needed to work, because there were readers with computers and physics backgrounds out there who would notice if they didn’t.

This led to the following exchange:

“Tim, I need my ship’s engines to break.”

“Okay.  How do they work?”

“I don’t know.”


I had a history with these engines.  When I wrote the original story , “Fool’s Errand,” for Analog, I’d tossed in a paragraph about how the ship was a “vacuum cleaner,” that sucked up hydrogen atoms and crunched them down to release enough energy to get to the hydrogen atom.  But Stan Schmidt, the editor of Analog, who knows way the heck too much about way the heck too many things, sent the story back with, among other things, the comment that without anti-matter or some such.

I went nuts and called up every engineer I knew (I didn’t know Tim at that point), and they all gave me possible solutions, all of which would have taken at least a page to explain, which would have killed the pacing and increased the word count unacceptably.  At last, I wound up talking (shyly) to Ted Reynolds, a local and senior science fiction writer, and I told him my woes.

Ted asked if the working of the engines was important to the plot.  I blinked at him.  “No,” I said.  “Take them out,” he said.  I did, and the story sold.

This is the essential difference between engineers and writers, and also the reason I had no idea how my ship’s engines actually worked.


When I said this to Tim, he looked at me.  He did not roll his eyes, or mutter, or swear, or anything.  He mentally rolled up his sleeves, asked questions, patiently listened while I expounded about the plot requirements, which can be at odds with basic physical reality and sensible engineering practice,  and my history with these engines.  He thought about things, and then designed me a set of engines and then broke them for me in a way that required a wonderfully dramatic solution.

I was…pleased.  Never mind I’d let him into my life, I’d let him into my book, and we’d all come out the better for it.

And that was how I knew, right away, again, I had met the right man for me.



Comments are closed.