The Sea Witch Sets The Record Straight

Because A) Nine Goblins has sold over 500 copies the first week, and that’s pretty awesome, and B) I am where I am, and y’know how it is, here’s a little something by way of amusement.

            The Sea Witch Sets The Record Straight

            I didn’t take her voice for myself. I want to set the record straight on that, right up front. People got a lot of crazy notions in their heads, the way the story got around, and that was one of them.

            I’m not saying I never did an evil deed—anyone who says they haven’t is lying through their teeth—but I didn’t take her voice for myself. I didn’t need it. I’ve got a perfectly fine voice, thank you, trained by whale divas, and it’s mine.

            Seriously, you start stealing people’s voices and using them yourself and pretty soon you don’t know which voice is yours and which one’s an echo and then you’re mad and howling and people are standing around in caves during low tide asking where the screaming’s coming from and someone else is saying “Oh, it’s just some trick of the acoustics.”

            Go ahead, laugh. That trick of the acoustics is my Great-Aunt Meryl and you don’t want to wait for high tide. I’ve seen her tear the head off an elephant seal. With her nails.

            Best not to start down that channel at all, really.

            No, I took her voice for two simple reasons—she was a twit and she was in love.  I took one look at her and knew that she’d spill everything she knew in the pretty human boy’s ear, and then where would we be?

            It doesn’t go so well when humans know about us, have you noticed? Ask one selkie if she’s feeling happier now that she spent a decade on shore with some jerk who stole her hide off the rocks. (Sure, some of them think it’ll be romantic—bull selkies aren’t anybody’s notion of charming, though they do have a certain over-muscled appeal—but it’s not so romantic when you’re spending your youth cooking and cleaning for an illiterate fisherman and bearing his brats through a pelvis that isn’t nearly so accommodating as it used to be.)

            I’d say “ask a Stellar’s sea cow” but you can’t, because they’re all dead. And just try to find a sea mink. I was very fond of sea mink. They were inquisitive little devils and they made chirpy noises when you stroked them. I haven’t forgiven humans for the sea mink. Or the sea cows, for that matter.

            Do not get me started on the great auk.

            Anyway, I’m pretty sure that the minute somebody in a position of authority—like, oh, I don’t know, a prince—figures out that there’s a whole underwater civilization, we’re in the deep muck. It might start out civilized at first, but it won’t stay that way. Somebody’s bound to figure out that there’s a lot of very useful things in the ocean.

            Rare things. Hidden things. Things of power.

            You want to hide something from the prying hands of mortals, you drop it in the sea. It’s been going on for years. I’ve got things in my pantry that could unmake continents if you could find them and get them into the right hands. Or wrong hands, as the case may be.

            And it doesn’t even have to be the magic rings and the enchanted swords and the world-breakers and the leftover ansible.  Let the humans start mucking about with our people on a purely practical level and it still won’t end well.

            Hell, they could keep sirens in cages on whaling ships to call the whales in–fish-speakers to drive the king-of-herring’s subjects into the nets–and you don’t even want to know what they’ll do for mineral rights. Gold’s the least of it. There’s a place down around the edge of the cape where you can find diamonds the size of an eel’s skull. Pray the humans never find out about it.

            Plus, of course, there’s our women. No, not me. I’m not saying I’m not attractive, but at my age, I’m more interested in a good meal and a good nap. You find me a man who wants both those things, maybe with a conversation about the finer points of mantis shrimp breeding thrown in, then we’ll talk.

            But you have two cultures breaking against each other, it’s the young women who are going to come out the losers. Any two cultures. Pick two. The tide goes in, the tide goes out. Somethings don’t change.

            I’ve got nieces, you know.

            So yes, I did take the little fool’s voice. Her prince wasn’t going to find about us on my watch.

            (But Ursula, you say, she could just have written it all down! Taking her voice wouldn’t stop that! To which I say—did you ever meet her? It took her three tries to write her own name. Our contract was a verbal agreement because otherwise she’d still be reading it and the prince would be dead of old age.)

            Anyway I gave her voice to an albatross, if you must know. She was tired of endless gliding, had ambitions to be an opera singer. I made her dream come true.

            Made the poor fool of a mermaid’s dream come true too, for that matter. Gave her legs and brought her to the prince’s attention. That last was included free of charge and was never part of the original contract.

            It’s not my fault the prince wasn’t much interested. I imagine you meet a lot of beautiful women when you’re a prince.

            He wasn’t a bad sort, really. He was very polite. He could see she was a few grunions short of a run and he made sure they took good care of her.

            Good thing he was a decent sort. The kind of prince who sees a beautiful girl staggering along the beach, half-naked, unable to talk, with a scarred throat (look, nobody can fix gill slits all the way, I did my best and I’d like to see you do better) moving like she’s drunk and falling down a lot—anyway, the kind of prince who sees a girl like that and says “Oh yeah, I gotta get me some of that!”?

            Yeah, not a nice person. Probably bashes great auks over the head for fun. You don’t want to deal with a prince like that.

            (And yes, I would have stopped him. I don’t like to see creatures suffer, even stupid young ones in love. Maybe especially stupid young ones in love. He wouldn’t have gotten very far. I’ve got some very interesting stuff in the pantry and the King of Gulls owes me a favor.)

            Well, anyway.

            It was a long time ago now. Not by my standards—I’m more or less immortal, just like Great-Aunt Meryl—but by hers. The prince became the king in due time, and he married a smart, good-natured young woman who came with a dowry and a very expedient political alliance.

            But he didn’t forget the young woman on the beach. He was a good king. He took care of her. Even after he died, he made sure of it.

            The girl who used to be a mermaid is old now. She walks on the beach—very slowly these days, for the stones are small and turn underfoot—and she picks her way carefully. They send a strapping young man to walk beside her, to make sure she doesn’t fall.

            Sometimes she smiles up at that young man, the way she smiled up at her prince. I think perhaps she doesn’t remember the difference anymore.

            That’s a happy ending if you like. I see them sometimes, the old woman and the young servant, looking out over the ocean. The tide comes in, the tide goes out.

            Anyway. The story got around a bit differently. Stories always do. Turning your back on a story is like turning your back on the ocean. Everybody adding details, everybody adding lines that fall on the ear like music and never mind where the truth falls by the wayside.

            Everybody wants a hero so they know who to cheer for.

            That’s fine. I don’t expect cheering.

            She doesn’t look unhappy when she walks along the shore. But perhaps some day that young man will look the other way—distracted by a pretty girl’s smile, say—and she’ll make her way down to the water.

            And if she wants—and if she still remembers–she’ll be welcome back here. You can always reverse engineer a gill slit. Who knows, all those mortal years might have been enough to learn wisdom.

            We’ll still be here, under the waves. Nothing much has changed.

            The tide goes in, the tide goes out.

            All the same in the end.

Nanowrimo! Nanofimo! Nanoo Nanoo!

So for the last few years, come November, I have been doing my own little version of Nanowrimo called “Nanofimo”—National Novel Finishing Month.

Actually, I rarely actually finish anything in November, but what I try to do is slam a few more thousand words on existing works and get them a little farther along. My work method involves keeping a dozen stories going at any given time, abandoning for months or years, coming back, working on them more.

It works for me. Stuff does get finished. That’s the important bit.

There are authors who get very snooty about Nanowrimo and say things like “Yeah, well, I have to sit down and write every single day because this is my job.” 

To this I say, “Oh, put a sock in it. It’s my job too, and I think it’s awesome.”

I do sit down—when my schedule is not completely travel-destroyed, as it is currently—four days a week and put down a minimum of a thousand words. But November is special and I double down and try to do 2.5K a day and drag out old stuff and say “This doesn’t suck” and throw words at it. (And the next time I drag it out, I have often forgotten that I added to it and am pleasantly surprised.)

And then there’s the corollary, where people say “You know that’s not ALL there is to writing a novel! You still have to edit it!” and I will not insult your intelligence because duh. (Certainly there are people who don’t know this—but I am guessing they do not read writer’s blogs and see all the bits with the weeping and the editing. Heck, the last few DAYS around here…)

Now, if you want inspiration, here’s what I’ve got.

Last year, I sat down and did that, and while I was fooling around trying to make word count, I started a new thing from a vague germ of an idea I was having. I put about twelve thousand words down, poked it a few times over the succeeding months, and finally send it off to my agent with my standard “So there’s thing I’ve been fooling with…”

She sold the book three days later.

It took longer than that to get the details done, of course, and I still had to finish the book, which took a few months, and no contract on earth has ever moved faster than the snail flies, but it’s tentatively scheduled for Spring 2015.

Would I have written it eventually? Probably. Would I have sat down and hammered out as much as I did, if I wasn’t trying to make wordcount for Nano? Probably not. So, y’know. There’s that.

If you like Nanowrimo, if you like Nanofimo, do it. Kick ass, take names, drive your verbs before you and hear the lamentations of their prefixes.

If you finish, great! If not, you still have more than you started with.


(I will be starting it when I get back—we have a Disney family vacation next week, which means that if you follow me on Twitter @ursulav there is a good chance you’ll see some Tweets! Of! Interest!)


Like A Real Author With Pants

Soooo….let’s just sweep the chaos of the last twenty-four hours aside for the moment…

Hi, internet! I have a new novella out! It is live and there are no more horrifying errors with chapter duplication! You should read it!

On Smashwords

On Amazon

It will propagate out to other sites when Smashwords gets around to it, so Nook, Kobo, and (god willing) iBooks versions will be coming soon. (Watch this space! Or Twitter!) If you’re impatient, however, you can get an ePub version on Smashwords that will work just fine on an iPad. (Easiest way is to either buy it and e-mail it to yourself, or buy it using the iPad.)

Now, as to what the story is about…well, it’s about goblins. And Sings-to-Trees the elf. (Remember him? This takes place before the Elf/Orc thing, though.)

This is a small epic fantasy, if that makes any sense. It is fun. And because I am starting to think such things need warnings, this story will not force you into painful personal growth, it will not tear your heart out, it will not unmake you. These characters are hopefully people you’ll want to spend a few hours with and maybe come back to occasionally when the world is being unkind…that’s all.

There is nothing wrong with those other things and the world is better for them existing, but sometimes I just want a fun little book with goblins and kittens and elven veterinarians, so that’s what I wrote.

Thank you to various parties who jumped on the various bugs from yesterday–you were all gracious and awesome and helpful. (And again, if you have downloaded a Kindle version before midnight, it may have the chapter bug–download the update, should be all good. Sorry for the inconvenience–I’m new to this!) As always, my readers are the coolest ever about being dragged along the Learning Curve with me.

I will post more about Horrifying Learning Experiences another day. Until then…well, hey, novella! And if it does well, and as the chaos of yesterday fades in memory, perhaps there will be more.

Thank you to everyone who bought a copy–you rock!

And–oh, yeah, I’m supposed to do this marketing thing (sorry, I’m bad at it.) If you have a review site and would like a review copy for the reviewing, shoot me an e-mail at ursulav (at) with a link to the site and I will happily send you a free copy!

Is that everything? Am I doing this right?

ETA: Ah, right–two quick things! Kindle version on Amazon is arguably better than Kindle version on Smashwords, due to Smashwords Meatgrinder formatting, which hates things like “Table of Contents.” However, other than some slight centering offsets, it shouldn’t be too disruptive to read either version.

I arguably make about the same amount of money either way, so pick whichever one you like if that’s one of your concerns–if you don’t want to support The Evil River, I quite understand!

One Down…

I spent today in the bowels of the beast, by which I mean Amazon and Smashwords. Most of the Amazon time was spent trying to figure out how I tell it that I don’t want to be exclusive to Kindle and just hitting “Save” until it told me it was in review and I couldn’t poke anything any more. I guess that’s how that works.

Theoretically the Goblin novella is up on Smashwords. I am looking at it and it looks like a thing that is up there.

I am frightened.

So as I understand it, Smashwords is mulling it over now and I guess they decide whether or not it meets the standards for kicking out to iBooks (which is the major reason to go through Smashwords at all) and I have no idea how long that takes.

Meanwhile, Amazon is also mulling it over and theoretically it will be up in about twelve hours or so.

And….err….that’s what I have done.


So I guess that’s me having self-published the first T. Kingfisher book.


So that’s that?

Anyway, if Smashwords is the thing you use, I guess you can buy a copy here. And I will try and do a big self-confident LOOK AT MY SHINY NEW BOOK RELEASE thing like a real author who wears pants and everything when all the formats are up and running.  (Please do not ask for an ETA. I don’t know either. I am starting to think this was all madness.)

ETA: It thinks it is live on Amazon, but in a horrifying twist of fate, the front end is live and buyable, while the backend thinks it hasn’t been published yet, so I can’t fix the big format bug that duplicates a chapter! ARRRRRRRGHGHH! If you bought it in the last few minutes, um…I’m very sorry. It will be fixed as soon as Amazon lets me!


(Incidentally, if you find any freakish formatting errors that destroy the reading experience, PLEASE tell me here, and I’ll do what I can. I can’t fix presentation on some of the weirder formats (Sony e-readers, looking in your direction!) but this is the sort of thing I’d like to know!)

ETA: AAAAARRGHGGHHHHH!  If you bought it before, um, 2:30, you’ll need to get the new version, because GODDAMN SCRIVENER DIE IN A FIRE duplicated a chapter. *sobbing*

Not Always Killing Your Darlings

So there’s this lengthy scene in my current manuscript (which just came back for edits) involving a goldfish.

It is awesome. I say this in all modesty. It is the Hero’s Journey with a goldfish. I had a lot of fun writing it.

One of the edits is that there’s too much going on at the end and a couple of threads that don’t resolve and it occurred to me that if I just hacked out the bit with the goldfish, it would fix some of these concerns and cut a few thousand words.

Common writing wisdom has it that I should ruthlessly slice this out, throw it to the winds, kill my darlings. Sure, it’s painful! That’s how you know it’s working! PAIN IS EDITS LEAVING THE MANUSCRIPT!

I offered to slice out the goldfish.

My agent, my editor, AND my beta reader all came back and said “NOT THE GOLDFISH!” It was like I had the goldfish in front of the firing squad and everybody threw themselves over the bowl yelling “Take me instead!”

I guess the goldfish stays.


So, y’know, the moral is that sometimes, just occasionally, it’s painful because you shouldn’t be messing with it.

It Was A Day

It was a day a little bit like today
the way the clouds threw shadows over the hill
the day you realized that you weren’t going to find your future.

You were never going to go to Mars
or Pern
or Krynn
You were never going to open the door that led, inexorably, to Narnia
(or even Telmar, you weren’t picky, and you were confident of your ability
to lead the revolution.)

Inigo Montoya was not going to slap you on the back
and invite you to take up the mantle of the Dread Pirate Roberts.
There would be no sardonic Vulcans or Andorians;
you would never be handed an elegant weapon for a more civilized age.

That was a strange day.

It ranked up there with the day that you realized that everybody else saw the you in the mirror, not the you inside your head. Not the you that was lean and tough and clever, not the you with perfect hair and a resonant voice that never said “Um….?”

Not that you.

No, they got the one that was fat and wobbly and stiff inside with terror, the one who was a little scared of eye makeup, the one who wore black because it was better to be freaky than pathetic.

You were never terribly fond of that you.

It was a day not at all like today
a day where the sun shone very brightly around the edges
that you realized that you could write that future.

You could blot out all those old arguments in your head by asking each character “What happens next?”
“And what do you say?”
“And are there ninjas?”

It wasn’t the old future, but it was close.
(Besides, by that point, you’d realized that Inigo probably bathed once a month and that when people stuck you with swords, you’d fall down and shriek, and also that your feet hurt. And writers get indoor plumbing
and birth control pills if they can get them.)

It was a rather odd day
though not entirely unexpected
when you met the people who were angry with you.

It took awhile to figure out. Much more than a day, in fact.
Eventually, it came to you that those people had a future, too,
but they hadn’t quite realized they weren’t going to find it
and they blamed you for the fact it wasn’t here.

You were not the sort of person that lived in their future.
You were still too fat and too wobbly and much too weird, and you laughed too loudly
like a good-natured hyena
and you were not supportive of their high and lonely destiny.

And if you were here and their future wasn’t
it was probably your fault
and if you went away
maybe they’d get to go to Mars after all
pal around with Tars Tarkas
have phone-sex with the Pierson’s Puppeteers.

They got very mad about it.
You pictured them hopping,
arms and legs going up and down
like angry puppets
when somebody pulled the string coming out of their crotch.

It was all very strange.

It was a day sort of like last Tuesday
or maybe the Friday before last
when somebody came up
with a copy of your book
it was dog-eared and they looked like they might cry
and they said “Thank you.”

It was a day.

Childish Fantasies

When I was quite young—about seven or eight, say—my mother would take me to church, or as I knew it, The Most Boring Two Hours That Anyone Has Ever Experienced Ever In The History Of The Universe With Extra Boring Sauce.

Needless to say, I was not a fan.

It’d be church for an hour and then Sunday school. Mostly what I gleaned from all this was that A) one should begin faking illness Saturday afternoon at the latest if one had a hope of evading church Sunday morning, B) curling irons suck and C) Sunday school teachers who think they like children had not met eight-year-old me. And also D) attempts to write relevant Christian fiction for children was uniformly awful.

Anyway. That’s all more or less to one side. What I remember is sitting in the sanctuary of the church, usually on the upper level, and staring out across the balcony at the light fixtures and the stained glass. I was allowed to read the Bible to keep from sighing and fidgeting, which meant that I had a better than average grasp of Old Testament prophets for an eight-year-old. (I did not actually like the New Testament. It was dull. Except for Revelations, which was fantastic. Still, the Old Testament was where the action was.)

When I had exhausted the entertainment value of Hezekiah, I would stare at the light fixtures and I would daydream about wild animals overrunning the church.

I remember this very vividly. This was a favorite fantasy of eight-year-old me, as I recall. The doors would burst open—there were two on either side of the altar, where the priest and choir and sundry functionaries would file in*—and I would picture in great detail the doors slamming open and a wave of wild animals pouring in and stampeding through the pews. There’d be cattle and badgers and wild boars and foxes and pretty much every species depicted in the book The Living Forest by Rien Poortvliet, which I loved with a deep and undying passion. Chipmunks with scurry up and down the backs of pews, hares would scramble under people’s feet, and the boars would go stomping and snorting and overturning the various tables and small bits of furniture that had accumulated around the altar.

Because I had a large imagination coupled with very little understanding of human nature, I rarely pictured people screaming or running away. I suppose I thought everyone would sit there, white-faced and silent, while animals tore up the nave and crashed into the ushers—or more likely, the humans were the least important part of this daydream and so were just mentally whisked out of the way. (I suspect I occasionally thought that some of them were being trampled. Meh. Collateral damage. Not important to eight-year-old me..)

At the pinnacle of this particular daydream, a black panther would jump into the light fixtures and leap from one to another until it reached the railing at the edge of the balcony. And then it would speak to me. (Yes, of course it could talk. I was an eight-year-old girl. It was a freakin’ black panther. C’mon, what other option was there?)

I can remember this fantasy quite clearly—it was lovingly drawn on and embellished as the Sundays piled up—and yet I can’t remember what the panther said. I can extrapolate that probably I was supposed to ride off on it to a distant land compiled of equal parts Narnia, Earthsea, Pern, Krynn and the United Federation of Planets*** but I don’t remember any of those bits. Possibly I never got that far. Maybe there would be singing. It was hard to daydream during hymns. Hymns tended to whomp that sort of thing, and you had to at least pretend to look at the book that your mother was holding open, even if the kindest thing you could do for any god is NOT sing.

There was no meaning to any of it—I never worried about where the animals came from, or where they went to, or why they decided to stampede through this particular church. Backstory was nonexistant. The parts I polished in my head were the visceral bits, the way the chandelier would sway when the panther’s paws hit it and the way its fur would change color in the light through the stained glass. Why it existed or where it came from was immaterial. It did not exist until it appeared, it would cease to exist when it left.

This is the problem with writing for children, I think. The things that children actually think about—or at least that I thought about as a kid!—is largely devoid of cause and effect. Things happen because they happen. The world is the way it is because that is the way the world is, unless it’s something else. Everything is taken on faith because there is no way to prove any of it true or false until much later. The narrator has total authority as long as they stay out of the way (and then, like a Sunday school teacher, they may be subjected to the gimlet eye of a small child who suspects that you have no idea what you’re talking about.)

Childhood fantasies are about scenes. They’re like kung fu movies. The point is not what gets you from A to B, it’s that at A is a knife fight on stilts and B is a fight in the marketplace with maximum smashing of vegetables. I remember lovingly polishing scenes in my daydreams, but what happened before or after wasn’t really important, except that it led to the next scene.

I don’t know that there’s any moral to this story. It’s just something I remembered at random the other night while I was trying to fall asleep.

Except perhaps that the good child sitting quietly and politely with an expression of vague interest on their face is quite possibly imagining a herd of animals breaking into the building and trampling innocent bystanders to death. Which is probably an important thing to keep in mind.


KEVIN: Long blog post, I see. I’ll have to read it later.

ME: Oh, don’t worry. It’s just about how I used to fantasize about wild animals overrunning the church when I was bored.


ME: Like you never did that!

KEVIN: …ah…um….*pained expression* I…no comment.

ME: No comment like “Yes, of course I did!” or No comment like “No, you freak, nobody else did that”?

KEVIN: No comment like “If I say yes, it’s a lie and it might lead to yet another revelation about your bizarre childhood, and if I say no, you might feel bad.” So no comment.

ME: …fair.


*and which I myself would use as part of the eventual Christmas pageant, which was always called “Angels Aware”** and was basically a narrative about angels watching Christmas. I was a singer, because if you were in Sunday school, you didn’t really get other options. We had to stand in the bottom rows of the giant green “Living Christmas Tree” that they built to hold the choir at Christmas. Basically a pair of round green bleachers with lights strung on it.

**I have yet to meet anyone who has GOOD memories of Christmas pageants, although the Mormon tabernacle near us had an elephant at theirs. And camels. We unbent our theological restraint long enough to go see the elephant. It was only on stage for a few seconds and dressed as a member of the Nutcracker Suite ensemble. Yes, that is just as messed up as it sounds.

***I had eclectic tastes in reading material.

Charming Stupidities

So I was thinking today about good stupid characters, and it struck me that y’know…there’s just not that many.

Now, I don’t mean characters who do really stupid things, when they are supposed to be perfectly intelligent human beings but they insist on doing Every Single Ill-Advised Thing Ever and you really want to hit them with a brick. If you get the impression that the author thinks their character is smart and they’re just sending them off on a plot that is Fueled By Idiocy, then no, not what I mean.

And I don’t mean stupid villains, because those are a dime a dozen. Why is he evil? ‘Cos he’s dumb. Why is he doing this awful thing? Ignorant malice, no need to look any farther. Why is she awful? Because she’s airheaded and shallow, no need to look any farther.

And again, I don’t mean characters with actual learning disabilities or mental impairments, ala Rain Man—that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.

I mean characters who are…well…dumb. But you like them anyway, or if you hate them, it’s not necessarily because they are Dumb Villains.

(Think Bertie Wooster.)

And y’know…this is a rare, rare thing in a hero. You get Dumb Well-Meaning Sidekicks relatively often, mostly for comic relief, but how often do you get a main character like that?

I’m thinking…err…Freddy from Cotillion. And Bertie. Maybe Number Ten Ox, although he is not so much stupid as ignorant of the wider world and he’s quite aware of it. And, in the book version, Buttercup from Princess Bride.

Buttercup is actually what kicked the whole thought off—-a friend remarked on Twitter that you could pretty much replace Buttercup with the rug from The Big Lebowski, since all she does is tie the room together. There is a certain justice to this, much as I love Princess Bride—Buttercup, in the movie at least, is a woman-shaped MacGuffin.

In the book, however, I’d argue that she’s a viewpoint character for large chunks and she arguably displays the most emotional growth of any of the characters, except maybe Inigo. We get to spend more time with her inner life than we do with Westley’s, for sure. She moves from MacGuffin to character. And this all occurs with the book being pretty clear on the fact that yeah, Buttercup is dumb as a post, but she’s working with what she’s got here.

(I am being sympathetic to make a point, mind you, and there are certainly alternate interpretations that are equally valid.)

So I was thinking about this, and about why we have so few genuinely acknowledged-as-dumb-by-the-author-and-that’s-okay characters.

I think part of it is the audience. We all like to think we’re smart. It can be hard to get people to sympathize with a dumb character. We could wallpaper a battleship with novels where the hero is The Bookish Girl Shunned By Peers. (This is not me slamming the genre—my first novel was about her, there’s two on my hard drive right now, and one of those is already sold. She works because she works and because we never really abandon those chunks of our childhoods.)

How many fantasy novels have a heroine who is mysteriously literate, despite the rarity of the skill, and who has obsessively read every book available to her?

Don’t bother to tally them up past a point—we’re burning daylight here.

Now, how many fantasy novels have a hero or heroine who’s not smart, but who manages through stubbornness, charm, and/or unexpected but plausible flashes of brilliance, to plow through anyway? And you don’t hate them for not being smart?

Hell, forget fantasy novels, novels at all? Media in general?

Think hard. I’ll wait. *grin*

I got as far as Bertie Wooster, Freddy, Number Ten Ox, and a couple of the incarnations of Blackadder where he is Not As Smart As He Thinks He Is. And even Blackadder is a stretch, because often he IS the smartest person in the room. And Invader Zim, which is reaching, and the knights in Monty Python, which is British and Monty Python and so is in a genre kind of by itself.

And the Tick. Oh lord, so very much the Tick.

Luthe, the mysterious wizard in Robin Mckinley’s Damar books, says at one point that he was never the brightest of pupils, he was just stubborn enough to stick it out when everybody else became sheep farmers because being a wizard is a hard and thankless task. He’s still very serious and much more knowledgeable than anyone else, so it’s kind of a wash, though. Radagast? Sure, I can go Radagast.

Now, let’s be clear—this is a seriously fraught issue when you get to heroines, because of the simple reason that women get treated as dumb all the damn time in genre, and it’s not always easy to separate a character who is getting the short end of the misogyny stick from one who took INT as a dump stat. And I expect a lot of us don’t want to write a stupid female character because she is always, always an object of contempt, or we figure people won’t get it, or we have a hard time figuring out how to be dumb and still have agency (which Buttercup, god love her, utterly lacks.) And we’re bristly and prickly about it, and damn it, we have every right to be, because Bertie Wooster is a charmingly useless fellow and a female version would be near universally loathed. Because we have to be twice as competent to be considered half as good, and in some circles, we could be Dr-goddamn-Manhattan and all people would talk about, as New York burned, would be how slutty we were for not wearing pants.

Because everybody hates Sansa Stark. (Maybe she’s more awful in the shows, haven’t watched them. I hated Sansa Stark. Then I just felt sorry for her, and then I stopped reading the books because I get tired of seeing people die.)

Because I am wracking my brain for a female character who isn’t bright (and not because Teh Wimmenz R Dumb) and who still does proper heroic stuff and is still loved, and all I’m getting is Dory the fish. (I’d swear for emphasis here, but I don’t want it to look like I’m slamming Dory, because she’s awesome.)

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s dead easy with a male character either. Georgette Heyer wrote enough Regency novels to fill a Suburban with the seats taken out, and there’s one genuinely delightful stupid hero (plus a couple who merely act dumb occasionally and I want to kick them in the head.) And I will give her credit for a few not terribly bright heroines who are nevertheless not loathsome, but there aren’t many and they tend to be caught up in madcap capers and whatnot.

I begin to suspect that dumb but interesting/loveable/relatable is hard—at least if you’re doing it deliberately.

Maybe it’s next to impossible. It’s a pretty short list up there.

But damnit, now that I have pretty much laid out all the reasons why I can’t write this character, I sort of want to. And I sort of want other people to, but I think you might have to be very very good at it. Because doing it wrong would leave that character flat at best and horribly embarrassing at worst.

(Now, I play a paladin in D&D, and he’s supposed to be dumb and charismatic, but let’s face it, it’s me playing it, so there’s only so much I can do. I suspect he’s not nearly as dumb as he pretends to be. I suspect our druid would disagree strongly with this sentiment.)

And that’s as far as I’ve gotten down this train of thought. But this is the sort of thing I think about while I am eating an enormous breakfast after getting blood drawn.




Poisonous Tripe

Normally I’d just let this go as another case of bad advice on the internet, but then I saw a comment by somebody that said they read it and felt bad.

So, let’s just get this out of the way…

This is a quiz posted on the blog of the Horror Writers of America, purporting to tell you whether or not you are a professional writer or just a “hobbyist.” It has incited some comment among various authors, few of those comments kind.

The author was apparently inspired to write this after the author—I quote—“recently stumbled into a discussion group of people who I thought had called themselves professionals, but their conversations revealed them to be hobbyists. They chatted about health and told jokes and moaned about personal problems…anything, in other words, but writing careers.”

(One shudders to think what would be revealed if other authors knew that I am on a discussion group that talks about bugs and native plant gardening! Shhh! Don’t tell anyone!)

The quiz has ten questions. I answered nine of them “No” and the other one (number 4) is an “I suppose I’ll say yes in an eat-your-vegetables sort of way.”

Apparently I am a hobbyist. Incidentally, according to the latest statement, book one of Dragonbreath sold 131,000 copies. (I could go on in this vein, but I’d really rather not, because…err…bragging, raised Catholic, will be hit by a bus and deserve it, etc.) I am even, at this brief, trembling moment in time, reasonably confident of achieving my goals, because my goals are the relatively simple ones of “make neat books people like to read and make enough money doing it to live comfortably and then go out in the garden and possibly travel occasionally.”

And also I would kind of like a bulldog after the beagle finally dies of old age. May not achieve that one. I’ve come to terms with it. But I love their smooshy faces and they’re low energy and considered just as stupid as beagles according to the AKC, and I don’t think I can handle another smart dog. The border collie judges me. A lot. A lot more than someone who eats cat poop has a right to judge.

What was I talking about?

Ah, yes.

Anyway, if you read that quiz and thought “Oh god! I have to do this/not do this/never talk to my friends about anything but writing careers/not go on vacations for fun/not live in a nice house/not leave background TV on”—please, don’t.

This is pernicious and poisonous tripe. This serves no purpose but to make people who aren’t grimly self-confident feel bad, and make people who are grimly self-confident feel tired. If you read this and suffered a moment of angst, don’t.

You write, you’re a writer. You get paid to write, you’re a professional writer. If you aren’t a professional writer and you think of yourself as one anyway, the damage to me is surprisingly minimal.

And all I want to know is—do professional accountants get this kind of crap?



I have written too many words today

and now I’m out.


They needed to be written. The book won’t write itself.

This is how I earn

whatever fraction of a cent

they pay me for every letter.


The problem is that now I’m out of words

and have started to forget the names of things

like that thing, right over there,

the gray one

that isn’t a toaster.


I turn on the radio in search of words.


It doesn’t help.


The radio’s words are all “jobless rate” and “insider trading.”

I can’t do anything with that

like trying to fill a dry well up

with salt.


There are no words growing in the garden

and reading is unsettling

those words echo too much

their footfalls sounding in an empty hall

with no words of my own to muffle them.


And the worst part—

the very worst—

the fear that now I am deprived of prose

and will be forced to communicate in poetry

or worse yet

interpretive dance.