The Demon Uncertainty; The Demon Ambiguity


Right now I am on the cusp of completion. Let me explain.

The novel is done, but out to betas. There is a deadline of December 15th for them to get stuff back to me, and as soon as I get this novella put to bed, I will start in with the sets of comments that I have to attend to to smooth the novel out. It is important that I attend to these comments, and it is also important that I consider them carefully, because yup, you know, I am no longer sending out crap.

The demon impatience whispers in my ear–Send out the first chapters now. You know they are good. You know that the changes will happen in the last part of the book. You know there will be changes anyway. The demon excitements yells. Send it! Send it!! SEND IT!!!! It’s probably the best writing you’ve done so far. SEND IT!

And, I have to take a swallow and remind myself that no, this is not how we do things anymore. That I am not an AMATEUR, bounding all over the place with excitement like a puppy.

We will take a look at our “edit letters” and think about them, go through and fix the beast, and proof it again. Because we’d like it to land this time. I still think I can pull off the production by December, but I’d rather take a little time into January and do this right.

It’s the same with the novella. It has a place to be sent, but the vetting process is the Codex contest. So, no. Not until it’s been read and commented on and re-examined.


I hate uncertainty. I hate not knowing, and I love crossing things off my list. I am bad with ambiguity. In addition to the books, there’s the persistent ringworm (Plague house! Am I giving it to the cats? Is this medicine ruining my liver!) and the attempt at house re-fi (Yes? No? Appointments at the end of the semester? Why????), and a thousand stupid little up in the air things that I have yet to plan around. I am a little overwhelmed, like death by paper cuts. And it’s all first world problems, not real. Except the ringworm, which I suspect is primordial.

I have been learning to live with ambiguity. I just need to step back and go through the actions, and take measured steps. Because you want it to work the first time. I can do that. Just argh, though.

Right. In fiction, I have to go kill an old lady’s cat. Yup. Maybe I should rethink this whole writer thing.

TT Profile #5: Gerald Warfield

Interesting and true trivia fact: Gerald Warfield is the oldest writer to win the Writers of the Future contest. I just recently caught up with Gerald, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions.

Tamago: Tell me about when you realized you wanted to be a writer.

Gerald: LOL! It’s easier to tell you about the point when I realized I did NOT want to be a writer! I did my undergraduate work in music at the University of North Texas, and while there I wrote music reviews for the Denton Record-Chronicle. They were so hard to get right; I remember working hours on them. I decided then that I didn’t want to be a writer. Oh, well. I’ve been wrong before.

Tamago: Which writers influence your work?

Gerald: I was at Princeton when I read Lord of the Rings. I didn’t go to classes for three days and read straight through, hardly stopping for meals and sleep. Also, early on, I liked Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series. Another book that made a deep impression was The Mote in God’s Eye; that was by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. I was thrilled to meet Jerry Pournelle at the Writers of the Future awards ceremony this year.

Tamago: Your writing ranges from Heinleinian science fiction to anthropological horror. Do you consider among this wide range that you have themes you revisit from story to story?

Gerald: Yes. I love fantasizing about the beginning of things. I have a short story about how I imagine mathematics might have started. It’s based on the Ishango bone, a baboon tibia found at the headwaters of the Nile and dated to about 20,000 years ago. The scorings on it seems to indicate that the “author” was attempting to construct a numerical system. Another short story shows the beginnings of scientific method, and another the creation of a writing system.

Tamago: You are the oldest person to ever win Writers of the Future, and you’ve recently started your writing career. Do you ever wonder, at age 72, if it’s too late to start a career in fiction?

Gerald: I have been both blessed and cursed by an extreme tenacity. Once I have a goal I never give up (or almost never). Alas, my initial goal, music composition, was one in which I did not have a great deal of talent, so persistence, while it gave me a moderate degree of success, kept me on a less productive path for a long time. I am aware that my career will be probably a short one, yet in this, too, I now persist. When I think about the future I am reminded of Gandalf’s words to Frodo, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Tamago: How did you come to apply for Taos Toolbox?

Gerald: Taos Toolbox was described as an extension of intensive workshops such as Clarion and Odyssey. I had already been to the Odyssey Workshop, which was a great experience, and I felt that further work along those lines was just what I wanted.

Tamago: As someone who’s attended Taos and Odyssey, what advice would you give to a workshop participant?

Gerald: You would be better off with something like Odyssey or Clarion already under your belt, or at least extensive critiquing experience. The time is short, so be prepared to jump in with both feet. On the personal side, don’t be overly sensitive. Some of your fellow writers may be having a hard time, and that can manifest itself in many ways. Look for honesty, not praise.

Tamago: If you had unlimited time to work on a story, what would be your ideal project?

Gerald: I would love to fully develop a secondary world like Middle Earth of Darkover.

Tamago: How does your career experience tie into the writing you do?

Gerald: In my music career I attended many conferences. Those helped me to acclimate to the conference experience in general. For a writer, cons can be of so much benefit. Alas, however, I am one of the shy. Meeting and greeting does not come natural to me, so having already run the gauntlet in music helped with getting the most out of the writing conferences I now attend. Of course, getting to know people in the profession is beneficial, but there is another, more subtle benefit. You see, there are many, many writers, and only a few will become superstars. Conferences are a way that the lesser lights can participate in the writerly life, too. For myself, I don’t have to be a superstar, but I want to participate; I want to be a player.

Tamago: What advice would you give to an older person who might want to start writing fiction?

Gerald: Don’t do it unless you are already widely read have some kind of strong literary component in your background. I was a college teacher, an editor, and I wrote technical manuals. I did not attempt fiction until I was in my late 50s, but I already had a great deal of ancillary experience. Ask yourself, do you want to improve your writing or do you simply want an audience? If the latter, then you will never improve. In my work with older writers, I find that they are often impatient with the subtleties of grammar and the logical flow of the narrative. I’ve often observed a tendency among those writers to tell in outline rather than to flesh out characters and settings. A strong reading background is also important. Older writers who are not well read have a very thin “leaf-mold” (to quote Tolkien) from which to generate their prose.

Tamago: Where can we find more of your work?

Gerald: On the first page of my website I’ve got links to those works available on the Internet. My story “The Poly Islands” is in the Writers of the Future anthology, volume 28. “And Happiness Everlasting” is in the anthology “Timelines: Stories Inspired by HG Wells’ The Time Machine,” published by Northern Frights Publishing Co.


Thanks, Gerald. The literary Tolkien quotes are ones this English prof appreciates!

Coffee Talk

I didn’t write this morning. I have a novella to finish up by December 5th, a contest deadline, and I have a long way to go to get it into shape. This morning wasn’t a morning for writing, because the coffee shop where I wrote huge pieces of Hulk Hercules and Abby Rath and several bits and bobs of other projects is closing.

I’ve been going to Coffee Talk for around 4 years. A good friend works there, so she will be looking for new work, although she has been looking for a while, so I think this comes as no surprise, except that the closing is happening so fast. Their final day is Friday.

When I started going to Coffee Talk in 2008, the owner Susan was captivating and charming, and she made the atmosphere. Susan remembered you, remembered your drink, and always had a sunny smile for you, whether you crept in at 6:30 or wandered in late afternoon after work. Adding to the charm of Coffee Talk was that Susan’s retired mom Lucille worked there in the afternoons, serving sandwiches and talking to customers. The shop had a lot of regulars, and we knew each other fairly well.

Last year Susan sold Coffee Talk. She enjoyed what she was doing, but Susan’s husband Art was going to run to try to return to the Iowa legislature, so Susan decided to devote her time to his campaign. And by the way, that was the right move. Art Staed will be returning to the Iowa House and repping his fellow teachers. In January, Susan will be going right along with him, clerking for him. So, there was a huge culture change at the Coffee Shop, and Susan would have been a hard act for anyone to follow. She was just plain gifted.

Angela started with the business great guns. I don’t know all the ins and outs, but I do know that Angela found that she was pregnant shortly after they bought the shop, and I do know that her time at the shop became less. Customers dwindled. The atmosphere changed. Not in a bad way, just changed. Summer near a campus can be very hard on a budding business, which Coffee Talk was again, and the revenue just wasn’t there. Kirkwood, our campus, actually regained a viable cafe and coffee shop this year, and I’m sure that bit into business more.

So yesterday Angela told the baristas that the last day for the shop would be Friday.

You know, I stopped writing at Coffee Talk for the most part about two years ago. It was my Wednesday and Friday stop for an hour while I waited for Barnes and Noble to open, so I could go across town to get to work. Too many people from Kirkwood could find me and interrupt my writing there. But still, it was a place where Tony, Bianca, Uncle Leo and I all got to know each other. I will miss it.

So, to all my fellow Coffee Talk patrons, I say God speed. I hope you find a place once again that feels like a neighborhood to you. And to Susan and Art, I wish you a great future. To all the young men and women who worked at the shop, I hope you find your new job soon, and I hope it makes you happy. To Michelle, especially I wish that last part. And to Angela and her family, I hope your new son makes your life shine.

Just like Hulk Hercules sits on a shelf now, completed and published, my time at Coffee Talk becomes one I can only remember, placed on the shelf of my memories.

Dear News Media

Dear News Media:

Stop it! Just. Stop. It.

I understand that having people watch is important for ratings, and ratings are what make advertisers buy into you, and so you want to do what is going to attract people to you so you can make money. I don’t grudge you that. Money is important. For jobs and stuff.

But…and you could hear that but coming, I know…I have had it with the artificial anxiety/stress-induction/panic-based strategies you have been employing since…oh, about the Republican Primary. Who are we kidding? Since I can remember.

Look. In August I had a discussion with my office assistant. She sagely said, “We know that it’s going to be Mitt. And we know that it’s going to be Obama. When all the kerfluffle dies down.” You then proceeded to invent an artificial contest that examined miniscule poll variation in incredible repetitious depth, speculate for one side and then the other until people of a variety of political persuasions hated and loathed the opposite candidates, and most likely increased the general unhappiness quotient of the nation by 79.2 percent.

Fine. Elections are like that in this day and age. It ended.


Hrm. What to do now that the election is over? Certainly, there’s a lot of tragic and on the edge International News that you could report on, (like Egypt or Israel/Palestine or even EU debt?) but you know or suspect that your audience is insular and domestic. So, you opt for scandal (What is Starlet X doing now? Can you believe she’s left her husband, and/or has shown up at the beach showing that cellulite?) and more stress-inducing political horror (we’re going to plunge over the fiscal cliff. AAAAAAHHHHHH!!!)

I take the fiscal cliff seriously. I understand that if our legislators can’t work on our debt reform, that they will make us all suffer from this artificial dramatic gesture they’ve imposed to get us to care about partisanship. (See? You aren’t the only ones who can artificially ramp up stress! Don’t feel singled out…) The easiest way to avoid going over the cliff is for the legislature to look at previous laws from past sessions discussing how we have dealt with debt. I also understand that if we continue to not compromise that the current law means that my meager raise, my interest deduction, and my tax refund are approaching extinct. It’s important for me to understand this. That said, I do. I think I understood it after the third article/feature I saw on it. I am very certain I understand it after the 250th one, and I am tired of you trying to make me overly concerned about it. In short, it’ll work out, or I’ll have to pay for impasse.

What I am unappreciative of is your incessant harping about it trying to over-dramatize the situation. Please stop. While I’m asking, would you stop sensationalizing crime, spotlighting shootings, discussing how I am likely to die from corn syrup and/or stray chemicals and/or flesh eating bacteria, and just please, please, please report the news with something like evenness or objectivity, or dare I even suggest it, sanity?

Perhaps you could put a disclaimer on it for me? Something like “Before tonight’s top story, we’d like to warn you that this story will be augmented for ratings purposes. For those that are experiencing drama burnout, a more bland and realistic representation of the news facts in the story and the implications thereof can be found at our blog.”

I would be a lot happier. I suspect I’m not the only one.


Just a quick follow up post on xanax. I have taken a total of about 10 xanax now, usually reserved for those days that I know are going to be full of work and emotionally challenging. I am under the influence of one right now, because today I have four work tasks to do, two domestic tasks, and work on my novella. I can’t predict when I am going to necessarily need a xanax always, but there are some days that seem a bit overwhelming. If I wake up and it seems like I am about to be swept away in the maelstrom of what I have to do, I take the pill. Last night I had dreams amplifying the comparatively simple work tasks, and I woke up coiled like a spring. So, after some debate, I took the pill.


I can safely say that what happens with xanax is that it turns off my type A. If I am tired, regardless of what I have to do, I rest. If I want to do something over need to do something, I decide to do what I want. It takes the edge off false worry about money, false worry about achievement, the little stories I make up and tell myself about what I’m not finishing. Like…today I need to get a teacher evaluation, a checklist for orientation, and some questions rewritten accomplished. Xanax does not look at these as three tasks that I have to get done. It realistically sees about an hour and half of work. Similarly, xanax knows I have to get my Viet Nam scholarship aps done, and look at the kid’s aps, because there’s a meeting tomorrow.

Xanax has helped me list and put aside that which I cannot/do not have to do tomorrow.

And…here’s the best one…xanax helps me to not subvert what I want based on what other people want. I figure that by the time I get the Viet Nam ap stuff done, I’ll have given Kirkwood 3 hours today. What will I do with the rest of my day? I’ll buy groceries, eat lunch, buy some shampoo, and come home. Unless xanax decides that I’d rather see Life of Pi over work on my novella. Either is a valid choice.

Xanax makes me stubborn about getting what I want. The focus becomes not how much I can accomplish while driving myself into the ground. It’s more like take care of yourself and be happy, mixed in with work.

But then, there’s this ‘tude that says enough’s enough when, you know, enough’s enough. That doesn’t translate into unhappiness. That makes me more likely to be interested in doing my stuff, than stuff for work and others.

Let me guess…this is how the rest of you work, isn’t it? Damn!

Okay. Enough meta. I gotta buy some groceries.


That Imaginary Journey

As you may have noticed, Writer Tamago has been having a few less entries recently while I have pulled into overdrive on the WiP. I have enjoyed dedicating more time to the novel, and it has reminded me of an important reason about why I got into writing in the first place.


I love my blog. It is very enjoyable to spend some time writing about my opinions and my insights into writing and other topics. I like being an active part of the writer community, and it’s great to read up about what other people are doing. I enjoy writing about non-fiction. I also like how you can find me online at my address. This is a great place to be.

The other kind of writing, the fictional kind? It’s a different kind of thing entirely. These last weeks I’ve enjoyed seeing a story that I’m telling come together. I’ve enjoyed watching a character that I’m writing about make decisions and undergo changes. Each time I read the story, I see the character take a journey and end up in a new place. That’s very satisfying. Unlike my blog, where I’m undergoing the changes, what I’ve created in fiction is an imaginary journey that someone else takes. And…that’s really satisfying.

Now, it’s great that I’m satisfied with that journey. I hope that I have written a journey that other people will want to take with my character. You can feel it when it works for you, and when you’re excited about something, you want to share it with other people. That excitement about wanting to share a journey one of your characters takes, well, that’s part of the reason I decided that writing novels is something I wanted to do.

Among the many things I am grateful for during the holiday season, I am grateful to be able to write. Now I’m gonna go do some more of that.

Vacation Begins

I am cat waxing before I really rip the crap out of my first attempt at ending Abigail Rath. It’s a dead wood ending that I had to get out of my head before I could dig a little deeper, so today I have to research.

It has not been an auspicious beginning to break. I stayed in Cedar Rapids last night to attend Weight Watchers because I won’t be going for the next two weeks. (By the way, did I mention the secret seems to be vegetables?) We had FOG last night, and our highway was shut down, so I took an alternative route home. It was like a video game, with escalating levels.

First….no getting on the highway. Then…no getting on the highway the alternative way. Reroute!
Then getting on the other highway into the country and being able to see about 20 feet in front of you.
Then…those stupid people who think passing you is still a good idea. Then…all other traffic disappears, you are on a county road, and you see deer on the edges. The only thing that would have made the ride more perfect would have been snow. So it took me about an hour and half to get home last night. Usually my ride is 25 minutes.

The perfect end is that once I had my faithful old car stuck in the garage, I caught my fingers in the garage door. Left hand. I’ve never had a bruise on my finger pads before. What a sheltered life, eh?


I am thankful for some time off. I am thankful for my wonderful husband, and my good job, and all the creative people who took me around the college yesterday during staff development. I had a wonderful day pretending to be a hotelier and a vet tech.

And now, I really need to get this book done, and send this new ending out to my betas, so I don’t embarrass myself. 🙂 All of you, share the holiday with your loved ones, whether they are related to you or not.

We’ll see you in a couple of days.

The Writing Process and Ellen Klages

This interview came about because I was eating breakfast at Wiscon, and I saw Ellen Klages writing in a notebook. From there we had a conversation about how she uses her notebook, and then she was gracious enough to agree to a process interview. This one is very different from any interview we’ve had so far, because Ellen composes largely on paper.


Tamago: Do you have a regular drafting process, or does your drafting process vary from book to book? (If it varies, please keep one project in mind as you answer these questions.)

Ellen: It varies, but the basics are the same. I doodle in a sketch book, just bits and pieces of ideas, fragments of characters. Then I do some research and begin to tie the bits together. When I have a rough idea of what the story shape is, I begin to write. I start, usually, by getting the whole thing down, from beginning to end, in a sort of free-form poem. Just images and descriptions. From there I begin to craft prose.

All of this is in long hand, pen on paper.

As is my first draft, which is messy and scrawled and generally not as linear as I’d like.

Then I transfer it to the keyboard, editing and refining and reducing, cutting and pasting and revising. For a long story, I print out, edit by hand, type again, and repeat until the story is all there, and then I winnow electronically, and run through the file many times, word-by-word, until I’m satisfied.

When I think it’s finished, I read it aloud.

Then I fix the parts that clunked, run spell check, and send it out.

Tamago: I know that you begin your writing process by writing longhand. Discuss that choice, and why it works for you. There are many theories relating to brain hemispheres and creativity, and I understand that sometimes you make ambidextrous writing choices. What is the difference you see in writing with your left hand versus writing with your right?

Ellen: I’ll combine these two questions.

A keyboard is very linear, and the beginning of my writing process is not. The idea stage (and the first-draft brain-dump) is messy — pages full of scribbles and Xs out and lines connecting potential ideas — and for that I like paper and pens.

It may be a right-brain, left-brain thing. When I write with a pen, I’m only using my right hand, and when I type, I’m using both hands.

I am seriously right-handed. But when I really, really get stuck, I will write with my left hand, which is painstaking, but accesses a different and interesting part of my brain. My left hand cannot spell, which I find amusing.

Continue reading “The Writing Process and Ellen Klages”

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Authors

I would have to say that the success of Gideon Defoe‘s Pirates book is against all odds. Just what the hell are these books, really?

Our friend Steve, who lent them to us, really couldn’t say. The books formed the basis of a fairly successful children’s movie this summer: Pirates! Band of Misfits! which was quite delightful and full of Aardmanisms. (Claymation lives!) So, we thought that we were going to get some good children’s books. Indeed, the Internet is full of people reading these things to their children.

And as we read through the first three, I thought, “What kind of parents read these books to their kids?” There’s quite a bit of adult humor in these books, the kind that might not go over children’s heads. Clearly, these are not children’s books.

Okay, so what are they? There’s some comparison to Monty Python floating around. I would say that the humor in the books is saucy (a good pirate word, I might add!) not avant-garde. The books are more silly than Python, less risque and inscrutable.

Near as I can tell, these are great books which combine the silliness and innocence of childhood humor with a dry and erudite wit. Now, who would have expected that to work? The unique flavor of the book, the utter individuality of what is on the page, indicates that the publishing industry is indeed willing to take risks on authors who don’t seem to fit the mold. As a reader, I appreciate that this is unique, fresh, and very much a series about itself.

So. I urge you to get out there, and read about the Pirate Captain and his crew. Each of the books is based around the adventures of these lads (with references to some tantalizing adventures we might never see, like The Pirates! In an Adventure with Pole Dancers), married with some interesting intellectual…thing (so far, we’ve had Charles Darwin, Ahab from Moby Dick, Karl Marx, and I’ve still got Napoleon and the Romantic Poets to go.) I will be sorry to see these books end, and I will eagerly await the next installment.

Enjoy the goofiness! Enjoy the smartness! Whatever you do, don’t be a humorless lubber and avoid picking them up.

Aaarrr, because that’s the proper way to close this review.

Ideas Whose Time Have Come

At the book store today: Hot Guys and Baby Animals, the calendar. Their motto? “It’s hard to choose between studly men and adorable fuzzy cuteness. We say, why choose?” That said, many of the animals still need forever homes. The guys seem to be unavailable for adoption.


Not white-washed SF cover: I saw two covers today at Barnes and Noble. One was featured a decidedly African woman, which looked like an urban fantasy. She had the right facial features, and a beautiful afro. Another was an Asian woman without the usual Kung Fu accoutrement. Inch by inch.


Never being done with your story: Draft 5 is done. Man, I can’t proofread. Betas, I apologize. However, I went through it and caught nitpicky stupid mistakes. I…um…am dissatisfied with the last vampire scene, so I will be climbing back into it from the mind of young narcissistic vampire William, and see just what he *would* lay out for a “vengeful death trap.”


Taking work home over break. Not an idea whose idea has come, exactly. But something that *is*.


Fantasize about turkey, and I’ll see you later.