Category Archives: Me Interviewing Other Folks

The Literary Tarot: Being Foolish Together

So here’s the thing, I got a little rambly while writing this post. Even for me.

The crux of the issue, is that I was invited to help design a tarot card for the Literary Tarot project that’s running right now.

Not only that, but I got to do the Fool, which is a particularly meaningful card to me. Even better, I got to pair the fool with Don Quixote, a *character* that is very close to my heart.

(Click to Embiggen.)

Did I mention that the kickstarter is raising money for a charity? Which is absolutely my jam. Except when it’s a charity that’s focused on improving global literacy, which is *double* my jam.

And if that weren’t enough, the person who is running the charity (and the kickstarter) has agreed to add a tier so that people can back at that level and support both Brink (their charity) and Worldbuilders (my charity).

Here’s the catch: as I type this, there’s only about 36 hours left in the kickstarter.

That’s why the new tier is named “Foolish Together” because doing something like this at the last minute at the end of a successful kickstarter is pure madness. (Right now they’ve got almost 10,000 backers, and are poised to tear past 700,000 dollars.)

That’s why I’m doing this little summary here, so if you’re interested, you can just hop over there go over there and take a quick look. Even if you’re not interested in backing it, you should really go look at the art and the different authors invovled. It’s really cool.

But if you want the whole story, maunder and all, here it is….

*     *     *

For years now, a big part of my job is saying no to cool new projects.

And believe it or not, I’ve gotten pretty good at it. It might not seem like it to the casual observer, or to any observer at all, really. The problem with non-action, of course, is that it is non-visible. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to write a blog or tweet,  “I said no to being in a writer’s room!” Or “I passed on the opportunity to be a keynote speaker today!”

But the truth is, I nope out of the vast majority of things I’m invited to do. Maybe, like… 97% of them.

Sometimes it’s easy. But some of the missed opportunities I still think about years later. I’ve passed up several chances to do narrative design for video games. And twice I’ve said no actually holding the reins and helping assemble and lead teams for parts of video game design: once for Worldbuilding, once for narrative. Those really stung to walk away from.

I’ve given a regretful no to writing an opinion piece for the New York Times, to being involved in writer’s rooms for *very* cool properties, and writing stories comic book characters that I’ve loved since I was a kid…

And those are just the ones that spring to mind. Not to mention the hundreds of conventions, dozens of licensing deals, and many anthology invitations I’ve politely declined.

Almost all of these things I would have loved to do to some degree, but I know I need to focus more. Working on too many projects at once is foolish…

But several weeks ago, some friends introduced me to Dani Hedlund, who was putting together a Literary Tarot Deck for a charity fundraiser. Authors were pairing up cards with literary characters. A bunch of authors. Cool authors.

These are just the ones that were announced TODAY. Seriously.

And yes, that’s Steven Fry.

Anyway, I got the invite. It sounded fun and easy, and I like charity, and I’ve been dabbling with Tarot for about 30 years now. Plus, just picking a card and pairing it with a literary figure should probably take what? Ten minutes? Fifteen?

Fast forward two weeks to where I’m on a call with the CEO of the other charity doing art direction, talking about Sancho Panza, and excitedly bubbling over about the fact that what’s on his head is not, in fact, a helmet. It’s a shaving basin.

Also, there might have been singing.

Then this:

Fast forward another two weeks, where I’m talking with Dani again, asking if there’s anything I or Worldbuilders can do to help.

She mentions what I already know, that the biggest challenge is always getting the word out.

I tell her what *she* already knows, that my charity is currently doing its own fundraiser right now. Worse yet, both our fundraisers end almost exactly at the same time. We both know it would be deeply foolish for me to change directions and to promote hers at the same time.

I mention that if Brink and Worldbuilders could somehow work together in some way, we could hit it from that angle. Use the Worldbuilders mailing list. Do a livestream. Pitch it as a superhero team-up. But we both know that it would be deeply foolish for her to make a sudden addition or change to what is already a *super* successful project right at the end.

Fast forward to this:

Yup. She added an entire new tier to her kickstarter out of the goodness of her heart. Just so our charities could work together. It’s got a special postcard based off the card that we designed together that’s full of delightful little flourishes like this:

And I took a chunck of time on Sunday and we had an *amazingly* fun talk about Tarot cards, books we love, the madness of running a charity. I explain why I picked Don Quixote, and we talk about the art direction we did. It’s honestly one of my favorite streams I’ve done in ages.

Also, I was in fine form. I’m not saying I was so witty at one point that I made Dani snort. But I’m not *not* saying that either.

You should check out the video just for the joy of getting to meet Dani, honestly. She’s charming AF. Straight-up one of the most delightful people I’ve ever met. (And I’m saying this as a person who once hugged Felicia Day and Neil Gaiman on the same day.)

So… yeah. You’ve got about 36 hours to jump on that kickstarter if you’re interested.

Here’s the link.

You know what to do.


Also posted in Arts and Crafts, calling on the legions, cool news, cool things, geeking out, hubris, meeting famous people, My Iconoclastic Tendencies | By Pat19 Responses

We all need Something To Look Forward To…

Hey there!

You’ve known it was coming, and now it’s here.

A heaping helping of Worldbuilders EOY goodness.

That’s right. It’s time for the Worldbuilders Fundraiser.

The Fundraiser is running from Dec 1st to Dec 15th, and it’ll be an all-out sprint complete with death-defying obstacle courses, feats of strength, and livestream festivities, and fabulous prizes.

I’m kicking things off with 14 hours of straight livestreaming on my twitch channel.

Kickoff Livestream Schedule that shows what Pat will be doing on 12/1

Also? Special guests!!!

You read that right: I’ll be streaming for 14-straight hours. Swing by and hang out with me and some friends, or head straight over to the fundraiser and help us make the world a better place.

Did I mention we have matching money? We do, so if you head over now, your donation is going to get doubled.

See y’all soon….


Also posted in Acts of Whimsy, being awesome, cool things, Geeks Doing Good, Heifer International, Interviews, Uncategorized, Worldbuilders 2020 | By Pat8 Responses

Rothfuss and Brooks: Part IV

Here’s the final installment of the mutual interview I did with Terry Brooks. If you’d like to start at the beginning, here’s Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

And now, without further ado, Part 4….

*     *     *

Pat: What’s your revision process like? How many drafts do you go through?

Terry: I outline pretty thoroughly before I put pen to paper.  I don’t write anything until I have it all pretty clear in my head, then I do the outline, and then I do the book.  This doesn’t mean there won’t be changes, some of them extensive.  But it is my blueprint for the book’s foundation and support timbers.  I can pretty much rely on it to see me through.  That said, nothing tells you more about your book than the writing of it.  So I pay attention to newer, fresher ideas that crop up as I write.  I listen to my instincts.

But here’s the good part.  With this method, I only write one draft.

Pat: Boy. I think I’d hate to outline everything. But I have to admit, I’m really jealous of a one-draft model. I end up doing somewhere between 50 and 300 drafts, depending on how you want to count them.

Hopefully I’ll manage to streamline that a bit as I gain more experience. I’m the first to admit my way isn’t very efficient. I end up going back and forth a lot. Once or twice I’ve gone back and realized the best thing for the book was to hatchet out an entire chapter.

What’s the biggest cut you’ve ever made to a manuscript?

Terry: I did a lot of cutting when I was learning the craft under Lester.  Lots of pages went by the board.  But along the way, I’ve learned a few things.  So I haven’t had to cut anything much in a long time.  I should add, though, that I decided a while back to curtail the length of my books.  I am an advocate of less is more these days.  I use fewer words and actively look for ways to cut bits and pieces as I write.  I was feeling wordy about my books about 15 years ago, and that was the end of big books for me.

Pat: Strange as it might seem, that’s actually my philosophy too. I really believe in less is more. And yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds coming from someone who just wrote a 400,000 word book. Believe me, it would have been much longer if I wasn’t constantly riding my own brake.

Terry:  I think you will do more of this the more you write and the older you get.  This isn’t meant to be a warning.  I just think that you learn how to say more with less (that less is more thing again) as time passes and writing skills improve.  You change because that’s in the nature of who we are as writers.

Pat: Roughly speaking, how many copies of your own books would you guess you have in your house?

Terry: I don’t know how many of my books I’ve got in my house, but I’ve got thousands in my book storage rooms, and about half of them are European paperbacks!!  Those guys insist on sending out dozens of author copies every time there is a new print run.  If you put them altogether I think you would find I have somewhere around 20,000 on hand.  Anyone need a foreign edition?  Croatian, Thai, Hebrew or Inuit?

How about Martian?

Pat: The foreign editions really do pile up after a while. And I’ve only got the two books. I can’t imagine what it’s like for you, so many different editions of so many books. There’s really only so much you can do with them, too. One to the library. One to a friend who wants to brush up on his Estonian, then the rest of them sit on a shelf…

Terry: Do you see yourself writing fantasy twenty years from now?  Or do you think you might go off and write something else entirely?

Pat: I don’t think I’ll ever stray very far from fantasy. Not only is it what I love best, but there’s so much room to write any sort of story you want.

Terry: That’s pretty much my thinking, too.  I’m writing what exactly what I want to.

Pat: Rumor has it that Edith Sitwell used to lie in an open coffin for a while before she began her day’s writing. Do you have any little rituals that help you write?

Terry: I’m kind of like Monk.  Very anal.  I have my writing space and I never write anywhere else.  I have my stuff all carefully arranged, and I don’t like it if something gets moved.  I have several recourses that I can turn to when I am stumped or bothered about a piece of writing to remove the so-called block.  I always write in silence.  No sounds, no music, no interruptions.  This is all weird, but it beats lying in a coffin!

Pat: We’re birds of a feather there. I’m not orderly or neat. But I do have my writing space. Nobody is allowed in there, with a few rare exceptions.

And I’m with you. Silence. No interruptions. I can’t understand how some folks write with music playing. I know it’s an issue of different strokes for different folks, but writing with music on strikes me as being profoundly counter-intuitive. Unnatural even.

Pat: The internet has really changed the face of fandom in the last ten years. Has it had much of an effect on the way you interact with your fans?

Terry: When I started out, there was no internet, of course.  My connection with fans was all by snail mail and personal appearances.  I’ve never been good about mail, but I loved going out and meeting readers.  I did it every year, sometimes for as many as 5 or 6 weeks a year, here and abroad.  Can’t do that anymore because my energy level and tolerance for airport security won’t allow for it.  Now I do maybe 2 or 3 weeks a year.  But the personal connections, face to face, always mean more.

On the other hand, the internet allows for instant communication, and a different kind of closeness between writer and reader.  Before, there was no central venue for communicating with readers.  It was all done one on one.  If you were doing a tour, you could send out fliers or the stores could print and distribute them.  You could rely on word of mouth, but you didn’t have video or audio mass distribution available that didn’t cost an arm or a leg.  The internet changed all that.  About ten years ago, I went out on tour and asked at every stop how many people were there because they had read about it on the website.  Web Druid Shawn asked me to take this survey.  The response was eye opening.  More than 80% were there because they had read about it on the site.

How about you, coming in later on when the internet was already the established form of communication? I know you blog regularly.

Pat: Yeah. I have a lot of fun interacting with my readers online. I’ve met a lot of cool people that way. It can be very rewarding….

But part of me also thinks that it would be nice to be able to go back to writing in a vacuum, like I did before I was published. I get about 10-15 e-mails a day from readers. That’s not counting print letters, or Facebook, or Goodreads. It can get a little overwhelming.

As for the blogging, I do that almost as a defensive measure. I know I can’t write a detailed letter back to every one of my fans that contacts me, but I can write something that anyone can show up to read. I use it to tell little stories out of my life and answer questions. I’ve run a contest or two. We’ve sold some t-shirts at our online store, The Tinker’s Packs, to support my charity.

I mostly goof around, in all honesty. But in between the goofing around, I keep people filled in about events and new projects.

Plus it gives me a venue to do the occasional interview with another cool author….

Terry: I like your thinking about using the blogs to answer questions for a general audience when it is virtually impossible to answer individual letters.  I used to do that by snail mail before the internet, but I can’t manage it anymore.

Pat: It works out pretty well. It lets people know that you care. Plus you get to be helpful without having to spend three days of the week doing nothing but correspondence.

Terry: Hey, Patrick, this has been a lot of fun.  I love finding out how other writers manage their lives, why they choose to write what they do, and what makes them tick.  Especially writers I admire.  Thanks for taking time to do this.

Pat: The pleasure has been all mine, Terry. This has been such a thrill.

*     *     *

There you go folks, share and enjoy….



Also posted in fanmail, Interviews, meeting famous people, Revision, the craft of writing | By Pat22 Responses

Interview with Terry Brooks, Part 2

When I got the opportunity to do an interview with Terry Brooks, I was delighted. And by delighted, I mean terrified.

I mean, I’ve been reading Brooks for roughly two thirds of my life. And now I was supposed to ask him questions?

Luckily, as soon as we started to e-mail back and forth questions, my anxiety melted away and our discussion really took off. Eventually we had an interview longer than some novellas.

So we decided to break it up into four pieces, split up between Terry’s blog and mine. What I’m posting today is the second part, the first part went up on Terry’s blog on Monday. You can find it over here.

*     *     *

Pat: Do you ever go back and re-read your books? I have to in order to maintain the consistency of my story. But then again, I only have two books out so far.

Terry: Yeah, you’ve only got two.  But two of yours equals six of mine!  Well, maintaining consistency is incredibly important because your reputation is at stake.  There is always a 10 year old kid in Boise who’s knows your work better than you do and will catch you out every time.  I’ve got something like twenty-five books in the Shannara series by now, including the three that start coming out in August, so slipping up becomes increasingly easier.  Not just in the details, but in the behavioral patterns of characters.  So I do reread the books that chronologically come just before anything I am writing.  Also, if you live long enough, the publisher says something like, “Hey, Pat!  You should have a companion volume to your body of work!  Let’s call it “The World of Rothfuss.”  You say, “Sure, as long as I don’t have to write it.”  Then you have a ready reference for all those troubling details.

Or you can make the choice I made all those years ago to write the world’s biggest historical saga with huge gaps of time between sets of books so that each set of books uses a time period and storylines only once.  Helps keep you from getting mired down by using the same characters over and over.  A problem, I think, with a lot of mysteries and police procedurals that seem to get stale after a time.

Pat: I think of that as “The Dune Solution.” You don’t have to worry too much about consistency when you jump forward in time 2000 years and kill off all your characters.

Terry: Can’t resist pointing out that in spite of the above plan to leave gaps in time between sets of books, I have fallen away from my policy by writing in the last dozen years about one character in six books.  Grianne Ohmsford appears in the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara trilogy as a girl and again in the High Druid trilogy as a grown woman.  So much for keeping my promises to myself.  The nightmare is a living, breathing fact of life with Grianne, and I have been forced to reread those books a whole lot more often than I would have liked because of it.

Pat: Have you ever had a significant consistency mistake creep in to a book? Not a little thing, like the spelling of a name. But something substantial?

Terry: My biggest, most horrible consistency issue was with Walker Boh in the Heritage of Shannara set.  Early on, Walker lost his arm up to the elbow.  Even now, I forget which one.  Back then, I had to deal with him for those four books and then later in the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara set for two more.  What happened was I kept forgetting which arm he’d lost.  Or I would have him use the missing arm or his hands (plural).  So I had to keep going back and checking everything he did that involved the use of his arms.  Even with at least six or eight readings of the books, I missed one or two.  But the kid in Boise didn’t.  So I heard all about it.  Even worse, the publisher reversed the print of the cover art that featured Walker with his arm missing and showed the wrong arm gone.

There were other incidents of this sort, but that was the worst.  Afterwards, I swore I would never give another character a physical affliction involving limbs.  That pledge lasted about two books, and then someone had a limp or a damaged hand or something of that sort.  This wouldn’t happen if I were writing cottage mysteries, I bet.

Pat: At least you fess up to it. I remember a story about how Tolkien had three different elves named Glorfindel, showing up in the history of his world, dying at least twice. Rather than admit that he might have made a mistake, he claimed it was a strange instance of reincarnation.

Or something to that effect, at any rate. The story might be apocryphal for all I know.

Terry: On a more mundane level, I latch on to at least one phrase in every book that I feel compelled to use until Judine, wife and first reader, begins crossing out everywhere.  I don’t know why I do this, but I do.  In the first three books, before we were together and she could act on it, it was ‘trailers of mist.’  Please tell me you have this problem, too?

Pat: I occasionally overuse a word I’m fond of. It’s usually not obtrusive word on its own, but when it crops up three or four times in the same context, it starts to look odd. In book two, I think it was ‘murmuring.’ Or maybe it was ‘susurrus.’ I think you can only get away with using ‘susurrus’ twice in a book before it starts getting weird for a reader.

A bigger problem for me is a tendency to repeat pieces of body language. I tend to use a lot of that in my dialogue to convey emotional content. Because of that, my characters sometimes end up nodding a lot. Or rather, they’d be nodding an appropriate amount if you were just watching a conversation, but reading about someone nodding 3-4 times in one scene makes them seem like a bobblehead. I trim a lot of those out in my later revision.

Terry: Here’s a different sort of question for you about your books.  Even with planning, do you sometimes find yourself in a corner or up against a blank wall with where your story is going?  Does the carefully laid out path suddenly lead nowhere?

Pat: Yeah. That just happened, actually. I’m working on a novella (that’s rapidly becoming a short novel) and I hit a scene I just couldn’t make work. Took me a week to figure out what was going wrong with it.

Though honestly, I’m not much for planning my stories out ahead of time. At least not in a formally outlined way. I have the shape of them in my head, and then I just run with it, making changes as the story develops.

The downside is that I have to do a lot of revision to make things hang together properly. Plus things happen like my novellas turning into novels. But the upside is that I leave the door wide open for something wonderful to happen. Some of the best parts in my books haven’t been part of my original plan.

Terry: At this point in your career, how do you feel about continuing to write books that run eight hundred pages or so?

Pat: Well… In some ways it’s nice, because it gives you room to tell a really complex story. Plus a little room for some beautiful digression.

But at the same time the problem is that it gives you time to tell a really complex story. And that’s hard. You know how hard that is.

Terry: Do you think you can sustain this given the time and effort it takes to complete one? Is this a conscious effort for you at this point or does the story dictate the size of the book?

Pat: Well. I’ve got to do it at least one more time. After that, I’m not sure.

I think you’ve hit it on the head though. The nature of the story is what decides the length for me. That’s what happened to this novella, it was too much story for 20,000 words. It’s probably going to be triple that in the end.

Terry: Also, are you giving any thought to doing a collection of short fiction?  I know you are prolific writer.  Does the short form tempt you sufficiently that you want to do more with it than what you are doing at present?

Pat: Yeah. I’ve been thinking of that more and more this last year. It’s a real treat to write something and be done with it in a week or two. Even a story that takes a month or so better than something that takes years. This last November I wrote a whole story in a day, and it was really fun. I didn’t know I had it in me before that.

So yeah. I’m planning on playing around with more short fiction. It’s good practice for me. When I have enough of it, I’ll probably do an anthology. I’ll throw in some of my poetry too, just to prove to people that I don’t really have a grudge against poets.

Terry: You know what?  I would rather crawl across broken glass than write short fiction.  I just can’t do it.  Oh, I shouldn’t say I can’t do it.  I should say I can’t do it without agonizing.  It takes me almost as long to write a short story – say 10,000 words, which is as short as it gets for me – than it does to write half a book.  I just can’t make myself operate in such a confined space.  I tend to sprawl all over the place, and short stories turn into novellas or even novels.  I love reading short fiction, but can’t write it.

Pat: I’ll admit it doesn’t seem to come naturally to me yet. I seem to have two writing gears: Epic Novel and Short Poem. And Blog, I suppose. But I don’t think that’s a gear, really. I just seem to produce anecdotes as a result of my engine running.  ‘Blog’ seems to be my neutral gear.

Terry: Hmmm, blogging as a neutral gear.  No forward, no backward, no movement at all.  Works for me.

Did your teachers over the years prove supportive or not?  I had much better support in elementary and high school than I ever did in college.

Pat: I was mostly a science geek in high school. I didn’t get much support, but only because I didn’t make too much noise about wanting to be a writer.

In college I got very lucky. I had Larry Watson as a creative writing professor here in Stevens Point. Not only was he an incredibly compelling teacher, but he was a successful published novelist at well. A rare find in a smaller school like UWSP.

He even went so far as to do an independent study course with me, allowing me to get credit for working on my novel, (a very early version of The Name of the Wind). He did this despite the fact that fantasy was rather out of his bailiwick, genre-wise.

I had a lot of great teachers in college, but he was one of the best.

It makes me feel guilty that I once skipped his class in order to go out to lunch with his daughter….

Terry: That’s very funny.  I was a science-challenged.  Never could get it down right.  I was the one who would touch the two wires together to find out what would happen.  I just didn’t get it.  Math was great until college, when I lost interest.  Actually, I spent my college years reading.  I pretty much blew off everything else.  But my parents were very understanding.

*     *     *

Tune in on Monday to Terry’s blog to see part three. And I’ll be posting up part four here a week from now.

I’m diving back into comic-con now. Wish me luck.


Posted in Me Interviewing Other Folks | By Pat36 Responses

An Interview With Mary Robinette Kowal

So in the past, I’ve been known to interview folks from time to time.

Today, helping me continue that fine tradition, is the inestimable Mary Robinette Kowal.

Heya Mary,

Well, hello there!

Thanks for agreeing to do this.

Problem is, I’m really bad at introductions. So let’s do it this way:

Let’s say you’re at a party and you end up mingling with people you wanted to impress. What sort of things about yourself would you casually drop into the conversation to prove that you’re awesome? They don’t all have to be true.

The fact that I’m a professional puppeteer is always a conversational cheat. If I really want to hold onto the conversation I’ll then follow up with working in Iceland, or a story of a show gone horribly, horribly wrong. The fact that I’m an author… I’m still not used to that.

It’s nice to hear I’m not the only one that’s still not used to it. I’ve always written, but I’ve only been an author, (that is to say a professional writer) for a comparatively short period of time.

Okay. My turn. You’re also Vice President of SFWA.

True, but there are two types of people to whom I would be chatting with at a party. People that would have no idea what SFWA is and people who DO know and want me to fix something. The last thing I want to do is to remind them that I’m the vice president. Besides, I’ll be out of office at the end of June.

You’re also a Hugo Award winner and a Nebula nominee.

Oh… yes. Those don’t seem real sometimes. I just… I wouldn’t bring them up at a party because they feel like bragging. I sort of feel like I didn’t have anything to do with being tapped for those, even though I know that it’s for my work. It’s just that they were such amazing surprises that I feel more like it’s a gift the fans gave me and that I shouldn’t take credit for it.

Although at panels at conventions I totally do, because it provides context. Just the party setting that feels awkward. I guess I should also mention that I won the Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2008 and my work has received two UNIMA-USA Citations for Excellence, which is the highest award an American puppeteer can achieve.

Also, I’ve met Sting. You did say it was a party, right?

Oooh. That’s definitely braggable. Was he cool?

He was very cool. I taught him the lyrics to a song, but to get that story, you’ll have to ask me at a party. A girl needs some mysteries left to talk about.

Lastly, but not leastly, I should mention that you’re the author of the recently published Glamor in Glass.

A book I enjoyed to a startling degree, despite the fact that it was well outside my usual reading habits. (For more details, you can read Pat’s review on Goodreads.)

Let’s start with an easy question. What Muppet do you feel the strongest emotional connection with?


At World Fantasy this year I saw someone stop in the hallways and thank you for “writing a regency novel that doesn’t suck.”

Do you think of yourself as a regency writer?

La! At this point, it would be hard not to but– and this is important – it is not the only genre or time period I write in. That’s something that my agent and I talked about at length when we were making career plans for me, in fact.

When I’m writing short form, I write all over the map. Science-fiction, horror, secondary world fantasy. It’s all fun. But in long form, we’re keeping me in the historical fantasy realm, and my first four novels will all be set in the Regency.

Assume that I’m an idiot and don’t know what Regency literature is.  Could you explain the genre to me?

This is basically work that is set loosely in the Regency period, although most people expand it to include the 1790s up through the end of the 1820s. That means that you are looking at stories influenced by Jane Austen and the Napoleonic Wars. So Georgette Heyer and Patrick O’Brien are both writing in the Regency but they write completely different books. I clearly am more on the Austen end of the spectrum.

Do you find it tricky to write in a well-defined historical time period?

Yes. Oh, heavens, yes. Part of the trouble, of course, is making sure that you get the details right but the larger challenge is making all of that accessible to a modern audience. Jane Austen could say that a room was done in the most fashionable style, but  my readers have no idea what the fashion of the day was– actually, let me rephrase that. SOME of my readers don’t. Others can tell you the exact thread count of the preferred muslin fabric. And that doesn’t even get into trying to explain that today’s muslin is NOT the same thing as muslin in Austen’s day. Ah… language.

How do you deal with that sort of thing? I mean, the language has changed in some pretty drastic ways over the last 200 years…

Most of it hasn’t, thank heavens, and is still recognizably modern English but where it did change, it was often a doozy of a shift. Like the word “knowledgeable” which used to mean famous and now means well-read or educated.

In Shades of Milk and Honey, I tried to get the feel right but didn’t worry overmuch about if a specific word was period-correct for 1814. Two days after the book came out, a fan called me to tell me that I’d misused the word “check.” It meant “to stop” so a line like, “I shall check on the strawberries” became unintentionally comic.

In an over-reaction, I created the Jane Austen spell-check dictionary for Glamour in Glass. Basically, I took the complete works of Jane Austen, ran it through an engine that created a list of unique words, which I then plugged in as a spell-check dictionary. It flag any word that she didn’t use. From there, I looked it up to see if the word a) existed in 1815 or b) had shifted meaning.

I did take pains to use words that were accessible to a modern reader, and even used a couple that didn’t exist because they were the right word. At the end of the day, authenticity is less important than the story. If it gets in the way of a reader understanding, then I’m doing it wrong. But since language reflects the culture that uses it, an attention to word choices can enhance the texture of the novel.

Can you give us another word or two you had to do without?

Leyline. I thought it was this ancient word, but it turns out that it was coined in the 1950s.

Wastepaper basket. Trashcans, wastepaper baskets, garbage cans… none of these exist even as a concept. Everything got reused, fed to the pigs, or burned in the fire.

I’ve actually got a list of the words I cut on my website.

If you had to pick your favorite story of all time, in any medium, what would it be?

You’re kidding, right? I mean. One story. Can you answer that question? The one I have reread the most frequently is Steven Brust’s The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars but my favorite changes by the hour. And seriously. What’s your favorite?

I am as constant as the moon. The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle holds its place firmly in my heart.

That is a beautiful book. See, now I’m tempted to say The Princess Bride since I realized you said any medium.

Johnny Depp, or Brad Pitt?

Nathan Fillian.

Agreed. You’re the first one to realize that was a trick question.

What’s your revision process like?

I don’t revise. What you see is exactly the way I write it. It takes me about a month to write a novel.

Um. What?

I’m messing with you. I just wanted to see your face when I said that and totally should have asked for a camera.

God. Wow. Yeah. You got me.

I was really ready to hate you. Like, hate you forever and ever. Seriously.


In truth I have a fairly fluid revision process. I put a lot of work into having an outline that is structurally sound so that I can put my writing effort into the emotion of the scenes. While that outline gets tweaked and adjusted as I go, it does mean that my revisions don’t usually involve major structural shifts.

I also write with alpha readers following along. They are seeing raw draft. I instruct them to just talk about how the story is playing and not to talk about sentence level issues. Generally, I stay about two chapters ahead of them, which I find is about the right spacing to be able to adjust to their reactions to the story and not need to ask them to re-read material that I’ve altered. Occasionally, I ret-con things for them. Having that give and take is helpful for me.

It also gives me the freedom to focus on the story and not the language. After I finish the story, I do a read-through to look at structure and pacing. Then my last pass is a language pass. I do a once over with the spell-check dictionary then read the entire thing aloud to adjust flow.

All told, I spend a couple of months in the outline/research phase, about two months to get the first draft, then another three months to revise and edit it.

Okay. That’s an acceptable timeline. We can still be friends.

Oh good. That would be awkward at parties otherwise.

You’re relatively new to the publishing world. How has getting your book published changed your life?

Well, I’m doing a heck of a lot less puppetry. I travel almost as much as when I was on tour. And no one tells you this, but writing is really hard on your body.

How do you mean, specifically?

I was in a really active profession and writing is so sedentary. I put on about fifteen pounds, just because I wasn’t moving around enough. My lower back hurts from sitting too much. As a species, we’re just not designed to sit all day.

Now, I’ve got a standing desk that I use at home. I walk at least a mile every day, and do push-ups and squats daily to try to stay at least a little fit. I’m back down to about five pounds over my performance weight and feel pretty okay with that.

How many copies of your own books do you currently own?

One and a half shelves. But that includes magazines and anthologies. Shades of Milk and Honey itself? Seven copies. We have a small apartment.

What’s the most shameful self-promotional thing you’ve ever done?

Worn a white spandex body-suit?

Don’t bother googling it folks. I just tried and came up dry….

It’s what we wore in the puppet show that my company performed at WorldCon in 2011. There is actually a photo out there someplace.

We’ll see if anyone can find it and post it in the comments below.

Do you have a particular piece of grammar that you screw up regularly?

Lie, lay, lain, laid…. I just avoid using the word.

God. I’m awful at that one too. It’s just wired into my head wrong.

It’s just mean is what it is.

If you could punch one literary figure in the face, who would it be?

Hm… Tricky. Someone living could fight back. Someone dead would be all icky plus the bother of digging them up.

Edith Sitwell used to lie in an open coffin before she began her day’s writing. Do you have any little rituals that help you write?

I set a timer or try to meet up with friends. I’m a natural procrastinator, so I have to create deadlines.

So you mean you actually meet up with friends to write?

I do. Usually at my local coffee shop – which contributed to the aforementioned weight gain – but that doesn’t always work out. What I’ve lately been doing are virtual hangouts via Google+. We do 45-minutes of writing, followed by 15 minutes of chat. It’s great because it allows each writer to retain control of her own space but also socialize. Plus, the power of peer pressure means that everyone winds up being productive. Laura Ann Gilman said, “It takes the lonely out of writing.” She’s totally right.

That’s something I’ve been struggling with for years. I have some pretty serious erimitic tendencies, but the solitary nature of the profession still gets to me.

Is the beard an outward representation of your erimitic aspirations? And really? Did you just really use erimitic in cold blood?

Yeah. That’s how I roll.

And that’s why I like you.

A while back, I made a joke about Transition Putty on my blog. That being, of course, the what we writers buy at Home Depot to smooth out our rough transitions.

If you could have some sort of handyman tool like that, something like Plot Spackle or a Character Level. What would it be?

Didn’t you get the toolbelt? I thought they assigned that to everyone when you sold your first short story. Oh… wait. You’re only a novelist. No wonder. Right… Sorry, dude. Anyway, out of that set, I find that I use the Handwavium pellets the most.

Ah, good old Handwavium, most unstable of the inner-transitional elements.

Thanks much for gracing us with your presence and indulging my curiosity, Mary.

Always a pleasure to chat with you, especially if you’re going to give me a chance to brag and play with your head.

*     *     *

As an added bonus, Mary has agreed to play with us here in the comments section of the blog for a couple of days. That means if you want to ask her a question, you can. And if she wants to answer it, she will.

This is the first time that I’ve done this sort of thing with another author, so I’m trusting y’all to be your regular genteel selves.

Which is to say that if you kids don’t behave yourselves, I swear I will turn this blog around.

Have fun,


Also posted in recommendations | By Pat102 Responses

Interview with Jim Butcher and other book geekery.

Here’s a few items of interest while I’m putting together the next ComicCon blog.

As I’ve mentioned on many occasions, I’m a big fan of Jim Butcher.

While out at ComicCon this year, I got a chance to interview him. It was a ton of fun, and I only geeked out a little bit about how good his books are.

[Edit: In case you’re wondering, the interview is spoiler-free.]

[Later Edit: It’s spoiler-free for Ghost Story. Around 10: 50 there’s a spoiler for what happens in Changes, the book right before Ghost Story.

Sorry about that.]

Seriously. If you haven’t tried the Harry Dresden books, you really need to. They’re so fucking good.

In other news, NPR has finished collating everyone’s initial nominations for the 100 best Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels of all time. They took the recommendations of about 5000 people and compiled them into a list that includes about 230 books/series. Now they’re giving people 10 days to vote go in and vote for their 10 favorite books.

When I first flipped through the list, I was a little disappointed not to see The Name of the Wind on there. But only a little disappointed. It’s a big genre, after all, and I’m very new to the scene.

Then someone pointed out that while The Name of the Wind isn’t listed, The Kingkiller Chronicle is.

Needless to say, I was giddy as a schoolgirl. A big beardy schoolgirl whose book just made it onto a very flattering list.

If you’re interested, you can head over here and vote. It’s an amazing list of books, and trying to pick just ten titles to vote for is an interesting mental exercise.

That’s all for now, next post on Friday.


Also posted in recommendations, videos | By Pat86 Responses

Books and an Interview with Jerry Holkins from Penny Arcade

I’ve been reading Penny Arcade for years. More than a decade, really. They’re funny, funny people, and I’ve recommended or referenced their comics in the blog several times over the years.

In brief, I’m a fan.

This year is the year I officially made contact with them. Mike mentioned my book on their page and talked about how he used some of the ideas out of it in his D&D campaign. So when I was at San Diego Comic Con I plucked up my courage and went over to their booth to talk to them.

This took a little bit of doing on my part, because in the realm of the geeks, these guys are… well… monolithic. They’re bigger than Oprah.

And, as I’ve said, I’m a fan. When you’re a fan of someone’s work, it’s hard to approach them and make small talk.

But small talk we did. Then we quickly moved beyond that and started in on the geek talk, which is more fun. At the end of it, we formed a little mutual admiration society.

Later on, Jerry was nice enough to read a beta version of WMF and give me feedback on it. Then I donated some books to their charity: Child’s Play. (I was delighted to chip in, as watching them start Child’s Play was one of the things that made me realize I could maybe run my own charity.)

They, in turn, donated some books to my charity, Worldbuilders.

  • Two Hardcover copies of The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade. The 11.5 Anniversary Edition. Signed by Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins.

Lastly, I asked if Jerry would like to do an interview to go along with his books. He graciously accepted. He’s cool like that.

*     *     *

Heya Jerry.

Is that cool? Can I call you Jerry? Are we at that point in our relationship?

I think so.  You did let me look at your book before it was done, which I imagine was difficult, and it’s my policy to simply reflect the way people treat me, so yes.  We tight.

Okay let’s just jump right into the meat of things here. When I was younger, I played Zork. King’s Quest. The original Fallouts. Games that made you think. Games where you could occasionally screw things up so badly that you destroyed your chance of winning without even knowing it. Games that were at times so hard that I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what to do.

In short, these were awesome games. They were games I was proud of when I’d finished them.

So here’s my question. Are games today predictable pap compared to that, or am I just being a curmudgeonly fuck?

My worldview allows for people who are curmudgeonly fucks and a game industry that offers predictable pap.  As far as games go, though, there were plenty of bad ones then as well.  There are bad books, too, not your books of course, but they’re out there!  Watch out for them.  There are both mediums, with all the standard ratios.  I can help you find what you want, though.  This is a service I often provide.

That’s one of the things I’ve always admired about y’all at PA. If you think something is crap, you say so. Boldly. With many invectives. That’s a freedom I don’t really have as an author….

Yes, well, you’ll have to content yourself with the fabrication of entire universes, then.

We all have our cross to bear.

What were your favorites games as a kid? Did you play Infocom games too?

Oh, sure.  And not just Infocom games, but the Trillium series that was based on much-loved science fiction and fantasy novels, all the way through the Sierra adventures that build a graphical world atop the parsers of old.

When I was trying to remember the name “Trillium,” I came across the following link:

It’s one of the most interesting/funny/sad things I’ve read in a long time.  We were, at one point, genuinely worried – there was an actual debate – about whether or not the introduction of graphics was a boon or a curse.

Heh. I remember back in 1994 when I used to MUD. I was out for dinner with some friends and the concept of a graphic mud came into the conversation. Everyone dismissed the idea as absolutely ridiculous. As technologically infeasible as teleportation. Everyone also agreed that the addition of graphics would remove much of the social element from the game.

Fast-Forward to now. It’s hard to even imagine a world without WOW, or The Guild for that matter…

At the PAX keynote, Warren Spector said that art forms are either disappearing from view or are co-opted by the larger culture.  I think it’s pretty clear which way it went.

So at this point you have a following that can legitimately be referred to as a horde. Does it ever get a little weird for you?

Well, if they were here underneath my desk all the time, maybe.  As it stands, it’s only a couple times a year that I’m genuinely exposed to the extent of the enthusiasm/antipathy for the site.

Extra points for use of the word “antipathy.”

I didn’t know we were writing for points.  I would have done everything differently!  I would have used an augur; I might have held forth on the Uyghur.

Man. Even I had to look that last one up.

When did you first realize that you were famous?

When people started asking me questions like that, and worse, when they started expecting me to know the answer.  Fame, as a force, is an external entity.  I’m sure you know what I mean; you were working at night all the time on the book, more or less alone, and I’m certain that didn’t feel especially famous.  That felt like work.

Yeah. That was pretty much when it hit me too. One of my friends looked at me and said, “You do realize you’re a celebrity now, right?”

Of course, he immediately followed it up with, “A tiny, kinda shitty celebrity. But still…”

Indeed.  We need a stupid word to denigrate this state of quasi-importance.  Cewebrity, maybe?  I feel like that more or less destroys any pleasure to be had in the concept.

Be honest now. Do you ever get up in the morning and think to yourself, “Fuck, I’ve got to go to the office and play Videogames again…”

Good Christ, I wish that I could say something like that and have it be true!  This week, just to give you an example of the kinds of things I’m tasked with generally, is:

Generate Names For  (Top Secret)
Write 6-Page Animated Comic For (Top Secret)
Finish Penny Arcade: Book Seven (“Be Good, Little Puppy”)

This is in addition to strips and posts and descriptions for the store and any other thing that needs text.  I’m not complaining; I like doing this stuff.  But there’s always lots to do!

Ah. That’s embarrassing. I made the same mistake about you that most people make about me. People assume being a writer is just divine inspiration, book tours, and rolling around in money. But a ton of time goes toward the business end of things, talking to translators, contracts, talking to the publisher.

I always pictured you a living in some sort of sybaritic pleasure dome. Your days filled with nothing but Fallout and Doritos.

Straighten me out. Roughly how many hours a day do you spend playing video games?

On a good day, with a game I want to play more than I want to paint miniatures or write, and no outstanding projects I can get a head start on, I can put in two and half/three hours. That’s the time from “after my bride goes to bed” up until midnight.

Wow. That certainly puts things in perspective.

So I’ve recently managed to spawn and I’m finding it to be a surprising amount of fun. I know you’ve got a youngins of your own… How old are they again?

I’ve got Elliot Jacob, who is five, and I’ve got Ronia Quinn, who is a wee lass of sixteen month.

How are you liking it so far?

I have a high opinion of the process, in general.  I was reading a book with Elliot yesterday, the Big Little Book For Dads or something like that, and it had a recipe in there for something called “Tennessee Corn Pone.”  I don’t know what Pone is, I’m good on Corn, but the regional distinctions specific to the various Pones are not known to me, and for some reason Pone just as a clump of sounds wadded together is funny on its own, and the two of us laughed uncontrollably at exactly the same thing.

That’s one example from a day full of incredible challenges and the occasional fleeting success.

That’s right, she’s just about the same age a Little Oot. He learned how to say “no.” Has Ronia figured that one out yet?

Nope, not yet.

Lucky duck. It was really cute at first, but he quickly realized that he could use that word to effectively re-shape reality. It’s like he’s leveled up and sunk all his points into this one ability: Power Word No, unlimited uses per day.

Is Ronia much of a talker? Oot pretty much sticks to “No” and “duck” at this point.

She’s started in with the compound signs – “more bye bye,” means let’s go, “cookie give cookie give cookie give,” that’s one we see a lot.

In all fairness, “cookie-give” really should be its own word.

I wish we would have done more baby-sign with Oot. There are times I can see that he’s frustrated because he wants to express himself and just can’t make the right words yet….

Okay. Serious business. I’ve been reading the stuff you’ve been writing: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness.

What’s the deal with that? I’m feeling a little threatened here. You’re supposed to make with the funny comics. I’m the one that writes the elaborately interwoven narrative thingers.

In the future,  I will try to interweave the thingers in a less elaborate way.  I’m horrified to think that my bullshit is in the same category as your work, on the same Internet.  Precipice is  process I’m using to learn how to write.  Like I said before, text is my responsibility, and I strongly suspect I’m going to be called on to make a book for Lookouts at some point.

Oh man. I loved Lookouts. That would be the coolest.

Seriously though. You have a hell of a turn of phrase. And not only can you write funny, which is the hardest kind of writing there is. But you manage to get some touching and disturbing in there too. A lot of folks can do one or two of those, but all of them? Not so much…

Truth is, your stuff reminds me of a unholy hybrid of Douglas Adams and Lovecraft. That’s never a combination I expected to see in my lifetime.

I don’t want to make a habit of quoting myself, that’s not who I want to be, but after I got Wise Man’s Fear in the mail to read through, I wrote this:

“I could never decide if I wanted to be Douglas Adams or H. P. Lovecraft when I grew up, and now that I’m grown up, I’ve decided that I don’t have to choose.”

That’s exactly who I want to be, so the fact that any of that is coming through at all means that maybe I’m doing okay.

Could you ever see yourself writing a novel?

A very, very short one maybe.  It might be that writing comic strips isn’t good training for longer form writing, because it’s my instinct to take a belt sander to every phrase until it’s ready for three tidy panels.

It shows. You’ve got a tight grip on your language. Usually that’s something I only see in folks that write a lot of poetry. It never occurred to me that you could develop the same sort of thing writing comics. Makes sense though. Limited space makes for a tight line.

The arc of my life thus far has been that something needs doing, and I become the person who is needed to do it.  I think we’ll need someone to write a book someday, maybe someday very soon.  I am preparing myself for this eventuality.

If it happens, I’ll come over and we can celebrate and/or console each other, depending on how well our respective projects are going.

Thanks so much for being willing to do this little interview. I really appreciate it.

Any parting words?

Congratulations on finishing your book, Pat.  I can’t wait to read version 1.0!

Aw shucks… I’ll make sure to send you and Mike a copy once it’s off the press…

*     *     *

Remember folks, for every 10 dollars you donate to Heifer International, you get a chance to win cool books like these.

In addition, Worldbuilders is matching 50% of all donations made on our Team Heifer page until noon on Dec 17th.

For more details, or to see the other books you can win, you can head over to the main page HERE.

Stay tuned folks, the final blog of the fundraiser will be posted in just a couple hours…


Also posted in a few words you're probably going to have to look up, cool things, Worldbuilders 2010 | By Pat12 Responses
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