Monday, April 14, 2014

Blog Hop: What I'm Working On Now

Mary Rosenblum passed on this blog meme to me. Check out her answers, too.

What am I working on? I’m working on two novels, drafting one and revising another. The first is for a project I can’t announce yet (stay tuned!) but I am enjoying the special delight of beginning a new novel. I began the second about a year ago, purely for my own pleasure, and it provided a precious personal sanctuary while I was taking care of a dying friend. Its working title is Penumbra, and here’s the skinny:

What happens when a science geek falls in love with a vampire? High school senior Esther Goldberg has smarts and a no-nonsense approach to life, a lesbian science geek determined to pursue her dream career as an astronomer. Esther’s family – her widowed, overworked mother, phonograph-playing aunt, and her great-uncle, a gentle soul still wounded from surviving a concentration camp – doesn’t have a lot of money, but they do have a lot of love, even when they don’t entirely understand her. When a mysterious and beautiful girl joins Esther’s AP Physics, the entire class falls for her, Esther included. Messages in Marielle’s handwriting appear in Esther’s notebook and as quickly disappear, and Marielle herself utters cryptic references to “we are both creatures of the night.” That’s only the beginning of Esther’s adventure...

It’s so interesting to move back and forth between stories in such different places in the creative process. In my editing work, I’m putting together a series of author interviews for Stars of Darkover and preparing to edit the next Darkover anthology, Gifts of Darkover (2015).

How does my work differ from others of its genre? I’m not sure that it does; there are so many talented and accomplished writers in the field of fantasy and science fiction, some of them with imaginations so wild, I feel downright conventional and definitely in distinguished company. However, if I were to look at the recurring themes, the “hallmarks” of my work, they would include heroes with compassion and brains, the many ways we heal individually and in community, very cool animals, very cool love stories, and a deep sense of romanticism.

Why do I write what I do? I write fantasy and science fiction because I love to read it. I get to make my living by indulging in my not-so- guilty pleasures. A distant second reason is that this is an amazing community, contentious and loving and sometimes life-saving.

How does your writing process work? I sort through the packets the Idea Fairy has left under my pillow, looking for the shiniest. Of those, I pick a few with potential to actually become stories. Sometimes, I have to shuffle them around and mix-and-match. Eventually I reach an ignition point… Okay, seriously: Right now in my career, with the exception of the on-spec novel I mentioned above, I sell on contract, which means I hand my agent a detailed outline (and sometimes sample chapters) and when we have a contract and advance in hand, I get to work. I more or less follow the outline, drafting quickly – 1200 to 2500 words a day, six days a week. Then I print the mess out, attack it with a red pen, rinse and repeat. At some point, it goes to a trusted reader, rinse and repeat, and then to my agent. At some point, I gird myself up to cope with editorial revisions, reviewing copy edits, and proofreading. I love revising a book because I see patterns and connections I had no idea were there. It’s like discovering a new solar system in your garden. 

The drawing is by Ernst Keil, 1871.

Friday, April 11, 2014

How To Be A Dog: Walkies

Hanging out
When she came to live with us, our retired seeing eye dog, Tajji, had on on/off switch. “On” meant working on a rigid guide harness, focusing on all the things she had been taught to do for her blind handler, to the exclusion of all else. Guide work is enormously demanding for the dog, both physically and mentally. The dog must learn many behaviors (such as looking both ways when passing through a door or stepping off a curb into a street) and must perform them reliably. In addition, she must be strong enough to physically pull her person out of harm’s way. “Off” meant “no holds barred, completely off duty.” According to her former owner, this included pulling hard on the leash, playing “keep away,” jumping up on people, and barking and lunging at other dogs. We very soon witnessed all of these behaviors, all of them unacceptable in a companion animal. Now Tajji must learn a new set of behaviors: “normal manners.”

One of life’s joys is taking your dog for a walk. It’s not only good exercise, it’s a conversation between you. Even if you’re walking and talking with a human friend, you and the dog can be in communication. When we looked at Tajji’s challenges, we saw several distinct behaviors to work on.

  • Walking on a loose leash, both beside the human handler and at a distance, depending on the length of the leash. 
  • Enjoying the banquet of smells, but coming back to heel readily when called.
  • “Checking in” with the handler.
  • Walking calmly past other dogs and humans; approaching them only when released to do so. Greeting humans in a calm way.

Dog-reactivity is a big chunk, so we’re working on that separately. First, we needed to get Tajji solid with the first three skills. She already had the foundational skills of Sit, Stay (Wait), and Down, although her Heel and Come are not reliable when she’s in full-blown “off” mode, so they’ll need more work.

To help Tajji learn not to pull, we decided to never attach a leash to her flat leather collar. Previously, that’s the setup in which she pulled strongly, so we don’t want to replicate those conditions. Dogs have a reflex to push against any pressure on neck or chest, so a flat collar (or even a choke chain, which we do not use on our dogs) gives them that signal. Instead, we chose a front-clip harness. This is a soft nylon webbing harness, so it’s not like the rigid leather guide harness, and it has a clip in the center of the chest strap. When the dog pulls, she is turned toward the side of the leash. This often breaks her focus on whatever it is she is moving toward, as well as restraining her in a humane way.

Go Sniff
Coming back to Heel
Tajji quickly adapted to the harness, which stopped almost all of the pulling (except in the presence of other dogs). We then used clicker-training to reward walking close to us or coming back to Heel when called. Because we live in a semi-rural setting and there are so many wonderful things to smell (traces of other dogs, wild animals), we don’t want to keep her in strict Heel position all the time – we want her to have fun on the walks! At first, she was hesitant to leave the side of her handler, undoubtedly a holdover from her previous work training and having lived in an apartment in a small city. So we encouraged her to Go Sniff. This skill has the added advantage that sniffing the ground is a calming behavior for dogs and we’ll be able to use it as a relaxation technique when we work on Tajji’s dog reactivity.

Practicing Look
Check In, loose leash
Checking in is a variation on Look, one of the things we teach all our dogs. It’s a way of asking the dog to pay attention to us. Eye contact isn’t natural for dogs, the way it is for people, so we practiced it with the clicker and treats indoors, where there are fewer distractions. Once she learned the command Look, we were able to practice it outside (click/treat) and then to click/treat when the behavior is offered without the command. All the while telling her what a good job she’s doing, of course.

Now we have the foundations for a pleasant walk with a dog who keeps in touch with us while “enjoying the scenery” within the length of the leash.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Proofreading The Catch Trap

Book View Café  is a publishing cooperative, both in the business and the friendly sense of the word. We offer one another all the services a traditional publisher would normally provide, everything from editing a previously-unpublished work to formatting and cover design, as well as the technical skills necessary to operate the bookstore and website. Not all of us have such specialized knowledge, but just about all of us can proofread a manuscript for another editor.

I recently “carried my fair share” by proofreading the BVC ebook edition of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s novel, The Catch Trap. (Actually, I was one of two proofreaders, so you can pick which one of us to blame for any typos you find!) The Catch Trap one of those richly layered books that is “about” a lot of different things. It’s a gay love story, sure, but it’s also about life in a traveling circus at the twilight of that life, and it’s about all the ways families destroy and save us. It’s about that rare bond of a shared vocation, a calling, the thing that makes us most fully alive. Not just sex, but flying, and more about that later.