Lodge Member of the Month

Well. Here’s something that doesn’t happen every day. Bryon is Red Green Lodge member of the month.

Go to Red Green’s site to see more.

Bryon instructs:

Click on “members only” at the top of the page.

On the next page, click the big white “here” on click here to enter.

Then click on any of the stuff on the side menu, such as “Member of the Month.”

At this point it will ask for the password which is QOFM all capitals.


I’m proud of him. I think.

Keep your stick on the ice!

The Writing Process and Sarah Prineas

Writer of The Magic Thief and The Winterling series, Sarah Prineas lets us know about her writing process.


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.)

Sarah: One of the things I think every writer needs to learn is their process, and to be comfortable with what that process is. For me, writing is very much a process of discovery. When I begin a book, I often have a character, a narrative voice, and a vague sense of the plot. As I write, I usually don’t know what comes next until I get there. I call it “writing into the void,” and it’s an incredibly fun way to write. I tend to write recursively; that is, as I figure things out, I go back to fix the things that came before, so I usually end up with very clean drafts. It’s not until I get into revisions with my editor that my sense of the larger themes in the book starts coming together. It’s collaborative in that way.

Tamago: Which part of writing–drafting, revising, critique from others–do you enjoy the most? Why? The least? Why?

Sarah: There’s a point in the writing process where everything clicks into place and I’m zooming along–it happens with every book, as if it takes on a life of its own. That’s the best. There isn’t really a least. Revising is difficult, but I still enjoy it because it’s the point where the vision for the book–mine and my editor’s–starts becoming much more clear. My least favorite part of the process is actually after the book comes out. By that point I’m generally on to the next book and don’t really want to think about the previous one.

Tamago: How many drafts of a project will you write? What do you do in each draft?

Sarah: As I said above, I write recursively, so the draft I send to my agent is sort-of technically the first, but practically not. Usually I do a revision for my agent before my editor sees it, and then two rounds of revision with my brilliant editor. Generally the revision focuses on big picture stuff; I don’t get many line edits.

Tamago: How do you know when something you’re writing isn’t working?

Sarah: If writing is a chore, then I know it’s not working. It’s important for me, as a writer, to be mindful of when that happens. Also, if I’m reading over a draft and start skimming, I know there’s something not-quite-right about that section.

Tamago: Do you work alone, or do you participate in a critique group? What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages to your approach?

Sarah: In the past I’ve had a critique group; now I just have a group of three or four other writers who read my stuff; in return, I read theirs. All via email. Sometimes it’s a whole book, sometimes just sections, like “can you tell me if this is working or not?” Lately I’ve found myself depending more and more on my agent and editor and less on writer-peers, probably because my editor and I have worked together on six books now, and we make a good team. The advantage to this? Efficiency, I guess.

Tamago: What are some particular issues that an MG writer needs to pay attention to that a writer of “adult” fiction or YA fiction might pay attention to differently?

Sarah: One of the things that used to make me crazy was when my editor asked me to spell things out more clearly for the reader. I wanted to leave these gaps in the text for readers to fill in, so they could, in a way, insert themselves into the story by figuring things out for themselves. Turns out my editor was right–for the MG reader, things need to be more on-the-page, really clearly shown, and sometimes told, too. MG readers are astute, but that’s what they tend to appreciate. I’m working on a YA right now, and I’m finding it an interesting stretch. YA has an edge on it, a kind of emotional intensity and immediacy that you don’t see in MG.

Tamago: Your Magic Thief series has a visual component as well as a written one. Did the art affect any elements of your writing, and/or how much did your writing affect the art? How collaborative was the process in producing the pictures?

Sarah: The artist for the Magic Thief series (the fourth book comes out in fall 2014) is named Antonio Javier Caparo, and I think his work matches the book perfectly and definitely adds to the readers’ experience of the story. Antonio’s art has no effect on my writing, however; it’s not a collaborative effort. I’ve never actually talked to him or emailed him, he just creates the art by reading the text. All of the interior artwork and the cover are handled by the art director or designer at HarperCollins. I’m a word person, not a graphics person, so I’m happy to leave those decisions in their capable hands.

Tamago: What’s been your favorite project so far? Why?

Sarah: My favorite is always the thing I’m currently working on–I’m fickle like that.

Tamago: How much research goes into one of your manuscripts?

Sarah: Depends on the book. Right now I’m working on a MG in which the dad character is a weaver, so I contacted a local arts guild and arranged a meeting with a weaver, who invited me to her studio, so I got to see a real weaver at work and ask lots of questions. For another project I’ve been emailing with a cordwainer (shoemaker). I like to get the details right. For the Magic Thief books, I didn’t do much research, just a little on how to pick a pocket.

Tamago: Besides the big firsts (getting an agent, publishing your first novel), what moments have you had that made you think, “hey, I’m actually a writer?”

Sarah: Those moments where I’m talking to my writer friends about professional writing stuff like foreign rights or sales or something and going, wow, a couple of years ago I would have envied anybody having this conversation.


To find out more about Sarah and work, please visit her website. Thanks, Sarah!

Mike Underwood on Reading Your Work

I have been privileged to see a lot of writers who read their work well. I also know that it’s hard for a lot of writers to read their work. We are, after all, in large part introverts. 🙂

At Wiscon, Mike Underwood read a new piece from his upcoming novel Celebromancy, and his performance blew me away. He did a lot of variation in his character voices, actions, and…humor. Mike has generously let me interview him about reading. I may steal some of his techniques. ;P


Writer Tamago: I was very impressed by your reading at Wiscon. You told me that you think of reading as a performance. What is your philosophy behind that?

Mike: Before I was a serious writer, I was a singer and a gamer. Live performance is, arguably, in my blood – my parents met doing musical theater in college. And so, I’m very practiced at performing live, be it in a band, a choir, or in a tabletop or live-action role-playing game. I’ve spent a lot of time learning how to modulate my voice, how to find the right timing, how to create distinct character voices, and when to go for the throat with a performance. A lot of what I do as a performing reader goes against some of the wisdom I hear commonly – the biggest one being “read slow” – I don’t. I want to grab my audiences and run with them, and when I’m narrating action, I want that momentum to come across to the audience, and reading fight descriptions in a slow, even tone will not cut it.

My other main reason for viewing reading as a performance is that I want readings to feel like there’s an added value – that there’s a reason to come to a reading instead of just waiting and buying a book when it comes out, or buying and reading in private, without the author present. I love oral storytelling, and live readings are a way for me to take my prose and re-present it through the lens of that ancient tradition.

Writer Tamago: What do you do to prepare for your reading?

Mike: It depends on how long my selection is, and how much time I have to prepare. The first task is selecting an excerpt. I try to pick something that doesn’t require much context, since every bit of time you spend explaining is time you’re not spending performing. I think the most important parts of selection are picking where to start and where to end, not at all unlike writing itself.

If I’ve got a good chunk of time to prepare, I will print out the selection and go through to highlight individual character voices, make notes on tone, timing, and inflection. Notes look like this:

“She doesn’t believe what’s she’s saying.”

No matter what, I try to rehearse ahead of time, reading the selection aloud at least twice to re-familiarize myself with the excerpt, to brainstorm timing and settle on the voice for each character present in the scene, and figure out if I’m going to do any special gestures (running a hand through my hair, looking over my shoulder, banging a wall or the table, etc.). I also try to time myself so that I can check and make sure my projected time for the selection matches what I’m actually doing in practice. I tend to bet that when I perform live I will be a bit faster than in practice, just because my natural inclination is to speed up when I’m in the moment.

Writer Tamago: Do you have a background in drama? If you do, what from it do you use to bring your readings to life? If you don’t, what techniques help you in your reading performance?

Mike: My background in drama is kind of sideways and around the corner. My dad has a Masters’ in Theater, my mom a Masters in Music – so the make-believe I grew up with may have been a bit more rigorous than some. I’ve been playing tabletop RPGs since I was about nine, and singing in choirs since I was seven. I never took formal acting classes, though I did some graduate coursework in Theater Arts for my interdisciplinary M.A. in Folklore.

As far as technique goes, I think my best tools are voice, gesture, and presence. Voice and gesture I’ll touch on below, so right now, let’s focus on presence:

For me, presence is the thing that separates a technically good performer from a truly memorable one. Presence is that inner light, the ability to reach out and grab an audience, to hold them spellbound. I can’t claim any great talent in terms of presence, but I try to do my best with what I have – I think real, palpable presence is very rare, and tends to take many long years to develop your skills and be able to project it on command.

But I believe that anyone can walk through the steps that produce presence.

· Try to spend more of your time looking at the audience than at the page.

· Make eye contact, and tell the story directly *to* the audience, not just at them.

· Bring the audience in with your words as much as you can, make the story present to the situation, not something apart from it.

· Tell the story like it matters to you, and to them.

Continue reading “Mike Underwood on Reading Your Work”

Convergence: Screen Writing Techniques for Novelists

Just some reminders here for me, and then I’ll get on to this entry.

1. Double check Michael Underwood interview on reading.
2. Double check Writing Process interviews still out.
3. Send out new Writing Process interviews.
4. Write a general post about Convergence.
5. Write a post about The Rose of Versailles.


So, there I was at Convergence. This year, I participated on the Avengers Panel (Steed and Emma, not Thor and the gang), the fairy tale panel, and the Plot and Structure Panel.

I was on the plot and structure panel with Melinda Snodgrass (look! Eric!), Dana Baird, and Lou Anders. As a reformed pantser, I was a bit of an object of incredulity at the panel, but it turns out that since Melinda taught Walter the screen break, and I learned the screen break from Walter, I was like the grand child of Snodgrass.

Lou, editor of Pyr books, writer, screen writer, and it goes on and on, mentioned somewhere in our conversation that he was doing a panel the next day called Screen Writing for Novelists. I went along to that, and I’m kind of a convert now, because hey, even more structure, drama and conflict. That’s what it’s all about, baybee!

So, I’m not going to go into a graphic detail of the lecture here, because it requires pictures, and because you need to go see Lou do this thing. The closest you can get to actually attending on your own, however, is to read Dan Decker’s Anatomy of a Screenplay and Jeffrey Schechter’s My Story Can Beat Up Your Story, which you might want to read anyway, because the prose is pretty darned funny.

So, Lou (and these other guys) posits that you can tell a story with a protagonist, an antagonist, and a relationship character. There are other important benchmarks: 3 acts divided into 4 parts (act 2 has an A and a B) suggestions on when certain things should, the octagon of character types, and the reverse column. Both books go into great detail.

Now, please note that Decker and Schechter are talking about screenplays. Lou isn’t. Lou says that these techniques can be used to good effect also in the novel. Can they? Apparently others have. I’ve re-written my plan for first act, according to Schechter, and you know what? The story looks much more interesting now. We’ll see what you think.

I recommend that you check these books out. Lots of very, very useful stuff.

Writing and the Work Ethic

The Fake Family Reunion was, as always, wonderful. It was a smaller crowd this year. Usually we manage about 40-50. This year, with the variety of events that people had going on with their real families (go figure) we had about 25-30. But it was still great to see everyone. Friends came from as far away as Boston this time. We will probably carry on the tradition, regardless of the numbers. It is good for me, and makes it easier for me to bear Christmases, parent holidays, and the like. I have always said that I am lucky to have Bryon and his family, but especially at Christmas, I always wonder why Norman Rockwell failed me.

From the bottom of my heart, family of choice, thanks for spending a little time with me this weekend.


And Wednesday it’s back to Kirkwood. Which could be good because I could probably use a little more structure. Which could also be good, because you know, it will help me feel that I am doing something and I’m not frivolous. I’m sure that once I’m working 8-4 for the next few weeks while we wait for school to start, I will rue the reverse culture shock that kept me from relaxing. I will no doubt be complaining about my lack of free time soon. Stay tuned. That’s just the kind of contrary whiner I am.


I have finished Jerry Schechter’s My Screenplay Can Beat Up Your Screenplay, and I”m about 1/3 of the way through Dan Decker’s Anatomy of a Screenplay. Both books are teaching me a lot about structure that I can use in my own writing. Lou Anders did a very nice presentation featuring these books at Convergence (which I have yet to write up. I know, I know). I am finding them useful and Schechter’s is especially entertaining. He’s a very funny writer, worth reading even if you aren’t interested in writing.

And…I haven’t been writing much. I have been writing…some. The summer was not good for my writing. Mostly, I find I need time to write, and I haven’t had it. Off work on June 13th, in Vietnam until June 29th, three days to plan for Convergence, Convergence and then finally two weeks to be home. All I wanted to do during these two weeks was get over jet lag, lingering bronchitis and reconnect with friends and the spousal unit. Worthwhile goals indeed.

Still, lesson learned again. Active social lives are hard to write through. And sometimes, you don’t feel like writing. Which is okay for unagented me, with no deadline. I will say this: if I get a deadline, ever, I have gone to grad school, finished a thesis, and had a full time job all at the same time in the past. I can make those kinds of things happen, not through raw power, but through my amazing ability to plan and organize. It is a mutant power that is exploited by many. I can exploit my own mutant power. I think that it is legal. I like what Kelly McCullough does–figures out what he needs to do each day to make those deadlines. That I can do.

There’s this idea that you should write through anything if you want to be a writer. Bronchitis, jet lag, a visit to your mother-in-law. It’s all about priorities. Yes. It is. Mary Robinette Kowal wrote a piece a little while ago about how the problem with many writers was that they didn’t treat their writing like a job. They treated it like a hobby.

I…I disagree that you have to treat writing like a job, especially if you have another job. Now, I emphatically do not mean that you can ignore deadlines when you have them. But my writing is not my job. I have worked very hard at trying to get deadlines and contracts, and when I get them, I’m all over them. I am very serious about these projects, but I really don’t need two jobs.

Continue reading “Writing and the Work Ethic”

Pacific Rim

A film from last week, one that I hadn’t planned on seeing. Well, you know, this is original stuff for many, but if you’ve watched as much anime and Godzilla as I have, well, yeah.

Except that Pacific Rim started getting good reviews. So, off I went.

If this is the future, I want in, giant monsters notwithstanding. Reasons?

1. Idris Elba. I’m up for any future where Idris Elba is the tragic, enigmatic guy in charge, and for a change, he doesn’t have a fake Southern accent (I’m looking at you, Prometheus!)

2. The future is multicultural. Well, mostly Asian, given that the future seems to be set in Hong Kong this time around. HOWEVER, Russians, Taiwanese, Australians and Japanese people save the world.

3. Women do things. They don’t just have things done to them, and rely on men to save them. The only thing I would have liked that was missing was a woman scientist on the science team.

4. I did mention Idris Elba, yeah?

The movie is a new type of offering from Guillermo del Toro, which I think raises his real estate in the world of film making. The characters are thought through, and while some of them are clearly more complicated than others, there’s enough meat in this film to satisfy a character driven viewer like myself. For those of us who have husbands who have Godzilla in three continuity strands, the kaiju impress less, yet the effects are pretty good. I would like less day-glo Cthullu vibe if I had my way, but no one asked me. Still, great armor. Great destruction. Fairly good acting.

So, go check it out. It is a movie that benefits from the large screen, and I would even say that the 3D is worth your time. Lots of monster goo, missiles, energy blasts, all that.

Next up: Rose of Versailles. I should finish Oscar’s journey very soon.

The Great Vast Empty

I’m working on the new novel, revising the structure again, based on a very good seminar I saw at Convergence via Lou Anders called Screen Writing for Novelists. I learned a lot and it gave me a lot of ideas, and tomorrow morning while Bryon is revising curriculum at work, I intend to squirrel myself away to a book shop and do some writing. Just like during the semester.

I find myself wondering why I should write this book. Now, I’m not looking for succor. I will write this book. I’ve got all the excellent bells and whistles. Themes, what it means, what the characters mean to each other, what I hope the reader will take away. It’s all there.

And…you know, that’s…writing a book. Which is an activity I primarily do for a good time. And…seeking a good time is sort of strangely hollow at the moment. I…had a massage today with the husband for the anniversary. That was nice, but you know, it felt superfluous.

As a matter of fact, the only thing that I’ve done the last few days that didn’t feel superfluous was taking the cats to the vet. That felt purposeful and needful, even though our poor dear Sekhmet was pretty much tortured this time around. BTW, she’s on kitty prozac now. We’ll see how that goes.

So, here’s a culture shock I didn’t anticipate but should have. Rather than feeling angry about the injustice of the country I visited, I feel like my life is soft and lacks purpose. No, really, that’s what it feels like. We aren’t kidding anyone here. The trade offs of my soft, cushy life with its focus on intellectual endeavor are many, but I’m on the ground here and not doing anyone any good. Except Bryon, who is happy to have me home and loves me enough to make a life with me.

Life is about enjoyment as much as purpose. I will smile and carry on until the culture shock fades and I’m back in my own life again. I will feel thankful that I have a life where I can write books and exchange ideas and be well-treated. I don’t want to live in a world where my only movements are dictated by my survival, in spite of what this must sound like. And I know that teaching is my purpose. Writing is my artistic endeavor, but I am all about getting students to think about the world around them.

Still, it was nice to build something and feel how much it mattered. You don’t get that every day, and it’s made quite an impression.

I…guess I got taught. Which is like getting served.

Right now I am a stranger in a strange land, and that land is my own life. Since my own life seems alien to me, I’m not sure I need to be imagining another layer of existence on top of this one. Right now, my fiction feels like the most trivial thing in all of creation, and it’s strange to be going through the motions of doing something I usually love so much, because I usually love it so much.

Your art is safe. Another side effect of this experience has taught me that answers to the meaning of life can be found in all sorts of places. That’s the straw I’m clutching at to see me through this. Perhaps the question I’m trying to figure out in my culture shock, what is the worth of this life I live, perhaps that’s what I should be writing about.

Eh. Go read something less emo. Scalzi’s in a dress and Hines is making player cards. Nothing to see here but maybe jagged existentialism.

Upon Having Some Time, a Moment for Reverse Culture Shock

Friday. In the United States. Not at a convention. Well, THAT was interesting. Pretty soft. I went to see a movie, sitting in an incredibly cushy seat. I had pizza. I rode in MY OWN CAR.

Reverse culture shock is always an interesting phenomena. Some of you may remember my incredible bitterness upon returning from Russia. I was pretty harsh on my friends at that time, and I lost about 25 pounds because of food issues, because I believed I was part of the problem of world hunger. I still am, by the way, but I’m not as angry as I was, and whatever my flaws, I always eat mindfully.

Ahem. I’m not in that same space after Vietnam, although one of my students is. He’s having a hard time adjusting to the idea that any of us here have real problems after visiting Agent Orange Orphans and feeding one who couldn’t feed himself. He said that he was upset with a friend who was complaining to him about her boyfriend, and he told her to suck it up, that she had no problems and he didn’t feel sorry for her at all. I told him that it was natural for him to feel like that, but to go easy on his friend, because she hadn’t had his experiences.

Travel is both a blessing and a curse, yes?


I’m doing well upon this return. To my way of thinking, the students and the instructors did a great deal to right a wrong on this trip. We improved conditions students at a middle school. We avoided a corrupt bureaucracy and directly did things ourselves, but at the same time we were helped by Vietnamese laborers (we had a crew of 3 to help us with the methods of labor we had to use) and teachers and administrators who admired that we could do in five days what it make take them all summer to do with limited resources.

It was hard coming home from the perspective that now I no longer feel that I am doing active good in the world with my hands. Of course, I know that teaching does something positive and changes the world. But there is nothing quite like planting rocks on a dirt floor with your bare hands to make you feel you are actually doing something concrete (no pun intended. Okay. Pun intended.) I felt solid, useful, and tough. I proved to myself that I *could* do that sort of thing. And definitely, I can push myself and succeed, even while working around an arthritic knee.

Last week, I was a bit busy getting ready for the convention and getting over bronchitis and jet lag, so I didn’t really think about it. But this week, I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I met the students for their presentations on Tuesday. I read their journals. I wrote my instructor evaluation. How could I not think about what the trip meant?


Here I am on the computer talking about this. The privilege I have in using this technology to talk to you about anything on the computer, the leisure I have in time that is not involved in survival (finding and preparing food, washing my clothes by hand, doing anything I want to do by hard, physical labor), the money that I have, the time to think, all these are non-existent in Tra Vinh, except in perhaps the rarest of households. My first world life with its first world problems and first world advantages means I’m here.

Privilege, lately, has been spotlighted in many Internet discussions in the SF community, what some people think about others, and what some people feel they are entitled to have at the expense of the rights of others. I wish I could find a way to get us to start empathetically thinking about the world around us. Maybe, if a few more of us were interested, I could get you to come and dig dirt with me and paint classrooms side by side with a small Vietnamese construction crew and Vietnamese middle school teachers, students from Singapore and Canada and Australia and the United States, and even a kid who walked off the street after an accident with his scooter, after our nursing student fixed his open sore wound. And we all did this on equal footing to make life better for the kids who went to the school.

You might feel like I’m breaking into a chorus of “Kumbaya”. Well, I’ll tell you what. Cynicism isn’t sexy. And maybe altruism is the new black (as in fashion). I can only wish you such a good experience on your own terms, one that really makes you think about the fabric of the universe.


In other news, if you need help, I can get you into a rambutan now. Also mangosteen, jack fruit, lychee, dragonfruite and dragon eyes. You don’t need any safe breaking tools,surprisingly. When my supermarket gets mangosteen back in, I am so there.