The Writer and the Non-Exclusivity of Ideas

A writer friend and I have been talking about ideas in fiction. It’s true that there are no new ideas in fiction. Everything has been seen before. Authors are simply reassembling ideas formed out of the soup of our culture’s zeitgeist, trying to achieve some novelty via interesting combinations, and hoping that good execution will please readers.

But we often hear mistaken assumptions about our ideas: You based this character/plot/style on…

Now, I had a critiquer read “The Nature of Demons” and tell me, “You based him on Dr. Watson, didn’t you?” And the answer was YES. I actually read up on Dr. Watson while writing the story, and tried to give my main character the same “I am superior because I am British” air that Watson had. It was intentional.

As writers, we sometimes do this. We mimic a character, a writing style (I tried to do Richard Henry Dana in “A Hand for Each”), or a plot element.

But more often, we’re NOT doing that. We’re writing something that’s original to us.

I’ve even tried my best to assure I didn’t copy something that I knew was current. For example, when I wrote “A Hand for Each”, I had to sit down and watch all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies to make sure I wasn’t coincidentally repeating something that had been in one of those. (That’s called suffering for your art.) This is one reason it pays to be well read in the genre. It helps us to know what’s already been put out there.

And yet…

It’s entirely possible that whatever a writer wrote sounds like something else that’s been seen before–without any relationship existing.

When I used to read reviews*, I was often flabbergasted by the things people told me about my writing. Or sometimes I laughed. I’ll put some examples down here.


1) More than one reader told me that “A Hand for Each” was an origin story for Davy Jones. It wasn’t. The story is set almost 100 years after the first historical mentions of Davy Jones. But people looked at the main character’s name and assumed that I’d meant to imply that.

In truth, I wrote the story with filler names and only chose names after it was done. The POV character’s name, Jonas Davies, came about because I love Erskine Childers’ The Riddle of the Sands in which Arthur Davies solves a mystery. Jonas came from the fact that I was watching Season 6 of Stargate. I needed a Welsh-sounding name to go with Davies, so I just stole Jonas. And thus my protag became Jonas Davies.

It had nothing to do with Davy Jones.**

2) I’ve been told that my main character in “The Stains of the Past” is a Mary Magdalene character.

Well, I can see that, although I certainly never put that there intentionally. It could have come through my subconscious but it’s such a well-established character archetype that it’s hard not to have a few of those pop up in your fiction.

3) One of my favorites: Having “Whatever Else” described as “sexually subversive.”

I’m still baffled, years later. I don’t even know what that means. I certainly never set out to write a sexually subversive story. I kinda see how the critiquer got there, but it’s really not the point of the story. Go figure.

(This is my story that no one wants to publish. I love it, but it will probably never see the light of day. :( )


The truth is that readers will see what they want to see.

They’ll see reflections of what’s currently in the mainstream (like the recent post comparing Outlander to Battlestar Galactica–yes, there are similarities, but they’re two separate entities.)

They’ll see archetypes that are well established or plot lines that are common. Seriously, in these post-Campbell days, every plot seems to be the Hero’s Journey, doesn’t it? (Even if the author has never read that book.)

They’ll see things that the author never meant to put there, a result of either the reader’s bias or the author’s.

And sometimes the reader’s just thinking too hard.

So if you really ‘got’ that subtext in some author’s work…if you caught that one character that’s modeled on another…or if you noted how the plot is just like the plot of book X…

…please keep in mind that you could be right.

Or wrong.


*I don’t read my reviews anymore, but that’s a story for another day.
**I didn’t even see the connection until it had been through a first reader who said ‘the name is brilliant’. It took me 3 days to figure out what she meant.


Office Space: The Art Edition

I picked up some new art within the last few weeks, and I finally got some of it up on the walls in my office.

Here’s my first batch, a couple of photos by Julie Barrett, another by an artist whose name I’ve forgotten, and a limited edition (the clockwork ladybug) from Dr. Julius Roundbottom

My second batch is over the computer (hence the typewriter) and includes a couple of pieces by Doc Savage, a bulletin board with picture scraps for a book that’s on the back burners, and one piece (pinned on that board) by Kiri Moth that happens to capture one of the first scenes in that book.


And here’s a set of “Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of NIMH” illustrations also done by Kiri Moth, for which I sorely need to buy frames.

This wall has a couple more pieces by Doc Savage, as well as that closest, which is an imprint by Mark Roland–monochromatic, so it’s difficult to photograph–and the newest, a watercolor from Tabitha over at Not Yet Read.

And here I have another bulletin board that has, yes, another unframed piece by Kiri Moth, and below that, the gorgeous painting by James Galindo that was published with my story “Taking a Mile”.


It’s taken me 15 years to accumulate all these, and I dread moving to a smaller office one day where I’ll have to pick and choose. And taking an objective look, I need MOAR FRAMES.

Social Media: What am I doing out here? (2014 version)

I admit  it, I consume more social media than I should.  Yes, it does subtract from the time I spend writing, but it’s also my connection to most of my friends. My writer friends are scattered to the four winds, so this is the way I stay in touch with my world.

But if you want to know what I’m doing in social media land, here’s a summary:



I have both a personal FB and an Author Page. The author page basically repeats this webpage. The personal one is for my daily use. I post about my dogs, my coffee shops, and various other stuff.

I will friend people if it looks like we have some friends in common. If I glance at your page and we don’t seem to have anything in common, I won’t.  If you post a whole slew of angry political stuff, invite me to play games all the time, or post pictures that I DO NOT want to see, I’ll block you.  In my opinion, FB is for fun, not angst.

Quick note: FB is NOT a reliable way to contact me. Unless you’re someone with whom I talk back and forth regularly, it’s likely that FB will stick your message in the Other File, which I only check once every few months. Also, if you message me and I check status on  my phone, my notification of your message disappears….and I may not recall that there ever was a message. So it’s not all that reliable…



I’m on Twitter pretty regularly. This is actually a better spot to message me, because the notification doesn’t disappear if I’ve checked on my phone. Like most people, I tweet stupid little stuff, and RT things that my friends tweet. I will, hopefully not too often, pimp my own work.

I will follow most people if their tweets look interesting–and if I perceive that they’re actually communicating with people. I will not follow someone who’s following 11K people, because they’re just there for the numbers. I won’t follow you if all you do is tweet to promote your book. I won’t follow you if you’re tweeting politics or spewing hate against someone. And I will probably unfollow you if I note that you’re keeping track of your followers and unfollowers.



My Tumblr is my newest social media platform, and I rather love it.  I rarely post stuff on my books or any deep thoughts. I’m posting pretty pictures, just ones that I like. Some are pictures of Portugal. Some are foxes. Some are just pretty scenery.

Weirdly, I’ve hidden some of my friends there because I find that my friends all tend to repeat each other. So if a good blog post is going around, it may show up 10 times in my Tumblr feed. For me, Tumblr is all about the pretty pictures, and the occasional Pacific Rim or Sleepy Hollow  fan stuff.



I have a Pinterest account, which I occasionally recall that I need to feed.  If it were a hamster, it would be dead many times over.

This is basically a place where I stick things I want to remember.

Hey, but I have a Foxes page! If you ever need cheering up, looking at pictures of foxes is a good place to start.



1) Any and all of these will fall by the wayside if I have a big deadline coming up.

2) If you have to reach me, email is always more reliable. See the ‘Contact Me’ page for guidelines.

3) Just because you’ve emailed or messaged me, that doesn’t mean I’m obligated to answer, or will answer promptly. I often ignore my phone when it rings or my front door when someone knocks (that’s usually just UPS dropping off a new book, anyway.)  That’s not a personal slight, I promise. It’s just that I get busy working in my fantasy world, and lose track of the real one.  I used to have a file marked “In the Morning” where I put emails and such, but found that I kept delaying them until the next day….and the next….and….(see #1 above)


Also, I’m a member of several groups, including Carpe Libris and Novelocity, both of which I update with spotty regularity. And I’m a member of a few closed groups, like Codex and SFNovelists, which have public aspects, but you can’t get into the private forums.


Anyhow, that’s where I stand. I have some other social media platforms (LJ, Google+, Quora, YouTube, and others) but they’re mostly ignored. The above are the places that you actually can find me ;o)













Tag! The writing process blog tour

I was tagged by Patrice Sarath for the Writing Process blog tour. So here’s about me and my process.

What Am I Working On?

Well, I’m supposed to be working on my read-through of Dreaming Death‘s 0 draft, but I found myself working instead on the Rafael novella (I really need to come up with a name for that thing.) instead, actually contemplating carting the paper version around with me when I go to the UK. Sounds insane. And heavy. But I might just do it anyway.

The Rafael novella is concurrent with Book 3, The Shores of Spain, and I’ll be putting it out in ebook format by next summer. It’s a nice little story (I admit it–it’s mostly Romance) about Rafael Pinheiro, Duilio and Joaquim’s cousin.  I need to add a few scenes, and do a bunch of primping, but it’s pretty much written at this point.

How Does My Work Differ From Others In Its Genre?

I think partially because I tend to straddle genres. That makes my stuff a bit harder to market. It also gets treated dismissively by some SF authors who find the Romance elements off-putting–or dislike that it’s not fantasy enough for their tastes. But I read fantasy, romance, and mystery, so I end up with elements of all of them.

Why Do I Write What I Do?

Because these are the stories running around in my head and I have to get them out.

How Does My Writing Process Work?

The weird thing? I’ve been writing for publication for almost a decade now, and my process is still rather fluid. Yes, I write out outlines. Then I start writing and may–or may not–stick with the outline. Sometimes nothing from the outline makes it into the final product. Sometimes the story just tamely lets me write it as outlined. And I often don’t know which it will be…

I wish I had a better answer.

Thanks for tagging me, Patrice! I hereby tag Rebecca Roland and Rhonda Eudaly for their writing process. (If you have time, ladies.)


Publication Process: Drafts

Not everyone does this the same way, but for me, editing from a hard copy is best.

Here’s what I printed out Monday: The 0 draft of Dreaming Death.
dreaming death 0 draft

Now I call this the 0 draft because that’s how many people I’m willing to let look at it. Not even my husband gets to read this draft. Not my agent, and certainly not my editor, who would be aghast that anything comes out this bad.

Generally a 0 draft is about 75% the length of the final for me. I have to go back in and ADD description, setting details, and basically check to make that the POVs are consistent. (In this case, I have a special issue: one of the POV characters is blind. So if I have her describing how something looks, I definitely have to fix that!)

In this case, I’m working the other way. I”m at 145K, when I should be closer to 110K.

My editor wanted some material added to the front of the story line, so I’ll be cutting on the other end. Basically, I’ll be eliminating one murder and one character. That should make a huge difference for word count.

But I also need to rethink all my naming schemes for this novel. In other words, I may change a bunch of character names. Fortunately, I’m not one of those writers who freaks out over that. (Yes, I do have some I wish I could keep, but I may not be able to come up with a convincing argument to do so–the person I have to convince is me, BTW.)

And so this step–the Post 0 Draft Edit–is a vastly important one for me. I’ll probably even work up a new outline for the book, and may rearrange some scenes. But this one will be predominantly done on paper….because that’s what seems to work for me. ;o)


Random News: I have a release date now for The Shores of Spain, mid July of 2015.  It’s probably not a hard date, but that’s the best I have for now.

Sorry it has to be so far away, but I will be releasing a novella set in the same world in between now and then, I hope before Christmas. This will be the story about  Rafael Pinheiro, wherein we discover that, among other things, he plays football and actually likes Tripas à moda do Porto. 



Quick ArmadilloCon Summary

No grammar post today, mostly because I’m scrambling to get things ready for WorldCon (which is in England, so…)

I returned from ArmadilloCon yesterday, and had a great time. This year it was in a new venue, which was lovely. There were cloth towels in the bathrooms (which make me feel like I’m not wasting paper). The hotel lobby had a place where I could charge my phone and computer at 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning (since that’s when I would wake up and go down to the lobby to work.) Plus, because I’m a club member, they gave me free wifi, so that was all good. They also had a series of lovely plein air paintings in the lobby, none of which I brought home with me.


(They were reproductions, not the originals.)

Unfortunately, on Friday and Saturday during the con, the hotel was pumping in an overwhelming potpourri smell which my nervous system could NOT seem to filter out.   I know this was intentional, because it wasn’t happening in the early hours before the con started, nor on Sunday.  It was the one real drawback to the new location for me (other than its simply being farther to drive.)

The Math, Magic, and Mystery panel went far better than I expected it would, largely thanks to the preparations of K.G. Jewell and John Gibbons. I probably sounded like an idiot, because I had already reached the stage of ‘punchy’, where I talk a LOT, and not always on topic.

The Gothic Novels panel went extremely well, I think. Patrice Sarath moderated it, and also invited Jess Nevins to comment from the audience (since he’s literally writing the book on Victorian Novels). I’m a fan of Wilkie Collins and Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, so I could talk about those, but we went as far back as The Monk, and as far forward as Alien.  So we ranged all over the place and had a great time.

My reading was surprisingly well attended for being 9PM on a Friday night, so thanks to all who attended. I got several questions about the other novels I read from (and when I mentioned that to the con organizer, she said it was perfectly OK to read other peoples’ stuff.)

And I attended several readings: Kenneth Mark Hoover’s, Amanda Downum and Jessica Reisman’s, Martha Wells’, Patrice Sarath’s, and Emily McKay’s…all of which were great…

I got to talk to many people, and didn’t get to talk much to far too many others.  That’s always the way with cons. Always.