Novel Writing for Dummies


Starting your first novel?  Great!   Here are a number of do’s and don’ts for your very first opus.  I began this list as a handout for the writing class I teach at the Writers Center in Bethesda, MD.  I was inspired by the horrific and annoying errors that infest so many newbie manuscripts.  If people could just avoid a few of them, what a savation in time and stomach lining could be achieved!

What’s that?  You say that every single one of these points has been magnificently violated, time and again, by writers who are now literary immortals?  Indeed this is true – but I assure you they didn’t do it in their first novel.  If this is your first time swimming, you do not have to begin against Michael Phelps with the 100-meter breast stroke at the Olympics.  It is okay to begin at your local pool.  Here it is, the shallow end.  I will hold your hand.  Hop in.

  Continue reading


Stomp, Scratch, and Snack, or, The McIntyre Sisters Encounter a Bear

Stomp, Scratch, and Snack,
The McIntyre Sisters Encounter a Bear

By Vonda N. McIntyre

A Bear in Glacier National Park; Photo by Carolyn McIntyre

Photo by Carolyn McIntyre

When you go to a national park, you’re likely to get a lot of information about staying out of the way of the wildlife. This is generally a good idea; humans are in the critters’ territory and we ought to respect it. All too often, we don’t, and while the result may sometimes be unfortunate for a human, if a person gets hurt the result is fatal for the critter.

Rangers despair of people who believe they have a mystical connection with animals and can safely pet the bear cubs while mama bear looks on in flattered contentment. While it may be true that some people have a mystical connection with wildlife (I doubt it, but anything is possible in our quantum mechanical world), that isn’t the point. The point is that a wild animal who becomes acclimated to human beings is likely to become involved in a situation in which the human being gets hurt.

At which point the critter will be caught and killed. Continue reading


The History Behind “St. George and the Dragon (Revised)”

As I point out in the introduction, my story featured on Book View Cafe today — “St. George and the Dragon (Revised)” — was originally written as a gift for my fellow students in a self defense course.

The course — then called Model Mugging, now called Impact — uses an intensive process to teach students successful responses to attack. Not only do participants learn some practical fighting skills, including fighting from the ground, but they learn them in a way that incorporates them into body memory. Plus they learn various appropriate non-fighting techniques, from paying attention to yelling “No” instead of “Help” if you’re attacked.

Although some of the programs affiliated with Impact nationwide offer some classes for men, most of the students are women. The chief instructors are also women, but men participate by acting as “muggers” — donning huge padded protective costumes so that the students can actually kick them in the groin or gouge their eyes. The idea behind the class is not just to teach women to fight, but to show them they can fight successfully. Continue reading


So What Happened to Mundane SF?

It created a flap, a few people signed on, most everybody missed the point, so now what? First off let me say that I’m not sure science fiction needs another sub-genre. It’s getting a little ridiculous with such labels as steampunk, new weird, chickpunk, slipstream, or the silliest of all: military sf. (Isn’t it all military sf, or almost all?) So in the end, I’m not sure that I care that the mundane sf movement never got any traction. How do I know it didn’t get any traction? Well, the mundane sf blog hasn’t been updated since June. Since half a year in Internet terms is way dead, apparently the very promoters of the movement don’t care about it anymore. I’m guessing that no one else does either.

I have to say, though, that I do care. Continue reading


Macrobiotics #2: Tea is the staff of life! (And, when prepared properly, so are grains – and I don’t mean beer.)

Access to nutrients. That is a big part of eating in a macrobiotic manner. Roasting, toasting, soaking, and in some cases boiling all allow the food to be digested swiftly, gently, in its best form. If your gut hurts right now, raw food is probably the opposite of what you should give it. I may say “Macrobiotic Diet” but what you should hear is, changing your eating habits so you are nourishing body and soul in celebrating what you eat.

Kukicha tea and Roasted Barley tea are constants in the day of someone living a macrobiotic life.

Westerners enjoy drinking Kukicha and Roasted Barley on ice in hot weather, while Asian cultures prefer drinking it as hot tea (which is not drunk at boiling temps at all, by the way). The Japanese now often enjoy these teas in tea bag form – so convenient – while other countries lean toward preparing them in large quantities, like I’m currently doing. Bulk preparation is much cheaper for Kukicha tea. Since I am doing this not only to change my relationship to food, but to heal myself of disease, I drink almost no water – I drink these two teas, made with filtered water. They nourish, they help with toxins, and they will satisfy a lot of western cravings. Continue reading


The Salamander’s Eternal Flame

Sekhmina, the Salamander of the Red CityI have only seen the magnificent Salamander, or Sallymander, once. It is said that in the whole Wide World, there can be only one such creature, and should there be two — well, we could hardly predict the results, so vastly would this disturb the balance of magickal power.

A quiet, self-possessed creature was the Salamander when I saw her. This is a likeness which I drew from memory, so perhaps she was a bit rounder, or perhaps a bit more reddish around her delicate little feet.

From such a tiny creature, one might imagine that little magickal power could arise. But never in all of my travels have I known greater power to exist in a tiny frame. Should you chance upon the Salamander, do not be deceived by its innocent mien, or gentle, soft voice. The Salamander burns with an unquenchable, eternal fire. Should it question you, and it is a curious beast, beware that you tell the truth in all regards. For the Salamander knows truth from falsehood instantly, and as for liars — they will be instantly burned to cinders. Doubtless, this was the source of the many dark, ashy and oily spots here and there in the Salamander’s chambers when I visited her those many years ago. It is very well that I had no inclination to dissimulate, or I would not be here, telling the tale of her charming demeanor and visage today.

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