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This weekend, Tex Thompson will be in town presenting a writer’s workshop at the library downtown (ugh – parking, yay – Tex!).

I’m excited about it and will remind my writer’s group this Thursday when we meet again.

This topic will be on world building. I, personally, don’t think one can ever get enough information on world building.  Even if you set the story in modern times in your home city and even your very own neighborhood, there are always new and interesting ways to make that world more present and more real in the story.

So, yes, I am excited.

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Eating My Words

I love devising recipes from the books I read, so when I write, I pay attention to what my characters would eat.  Food is an intrinsic part of my worldbuilding, and sometimes, it leaks into my everyday world.

Today’s lunch, for example, was a favorite snack of a minor character in a colonial worlds novel I wrote (and that needs rewriting and editing): guacamole and bacon sandwiches, with sprouts tomato, radish, and cucumber slices, and a dash of pepper sauce. The bread always changed, and sometimes, it had no bread at all, being wrapped in romaine leaves or dolloped into tiny sweet peppers. For lunch, though, it was spread on sourdough bread, and the leftover spread became a pretzel dip.

Spock’s green Plomik Soup.

Elven lembas and Farmer Maggot’s mushrooms from Lord of the Rings

The Chronicles of Narnia’s Turkish Delights

Harry Potter’s chocolate frogs

The Song of Ice and Fire series using forgotten medieval dishes like lamprey pie.

The Liaden series, with the nut of their Tree and their hospitality wines.

These stories are deepened by the food and drink references.

Some authors bypass the need for food with dispensers, replicators, and pills (Riverworld dispensers, Star Trek replicators, and far too many pill stories by authors from Bradbury and E. E. “Doc” Smith to Aldiss and Werfel).

Others view food through an ethical lens, creating cultured meats and yeast vats of food (Margaret Atwood’s ChickieNobs, yeast vats in Asimov, Kornbluth, Gibson, and Pohl novels).

Food is a unifying and divisive device in novels, a tool of mockery as well as an indication of otherness.

So my stories, too, contain food references that add key elements and further the plot and maybe will make their way into the kitchens and bellies of any of my readers.

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I was reminded of a quote by Robert A. Heinlein today:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. -Robert A. Heinlein

It sounds good, doesn’t? Very human, adaptable, independent, flexible. The “man is an island” concept of humanity.

And then I think of all those marvelous, wonderful “Humans are Weird” and “Space Australians” and “Humans are Orcs” threads on assorted social media sites, and want to expand Heinlein’s words to add things like “tell a joke, laugh in the face of disaster, emulate McGyver, band together, be an expert in one area or maybe two, accept help as well as give it, and know when to call in the specialists.”

Because we need specialists, yes we do.

This quote, one I embraced unquestioningly for years and even attempted to emulate, has popped up any number of times, particularly on Libertarian sites.

And that gave me pause at last.

Libertarians are embracing this quote?  Why?

And then it struck me.  They are using this quote to bolster their concept of “each man is an island, complete unto itself and independent of all others” and I realized I’d grown beyond that “mine mine mine” attitude.

Yes, definitely be flexible, be adaptable, learn new things – at least enough about them to understand conversations and make friends in those areas.  But also – specialize. Become an expert in a field.  Cooperate with other experts and specialists.

Leaders are people who have superficial skills and knowledge in many many areas and who can therefore speak to the specialists in each field well enough to meld all those specialists into a cohesive group working towards the same goal. They appear to be jacks and jills of all trades, but they actually are specialists, too – specialists in the field of leadership.

Not everyone needs to be a leader – if we all were, who would we be leading? Conversely, we also don’t need to be followers if we aren’t leaders. This isn’t an either/or situation. The world is too big for that.

We need specialists who probe deeply into one area, one passion, and generalists who can take that specialized knowledge and apply it outside that narrow field – a salmon researcher whose in-depth knowledge of why and how salmon spawn that can be applied (perhaps) to human migration patterns, or butterfly migration, or dinosaur migration patterns. Do they overlap?  What can we learn from this?  How will this knowledge migrate us to the stars? If we meet aliens, will knowing this help us understand those aliens?

We need coordinators (aka leaders) who can inspire the specialists and guide their efforts for the greater good, using the various generalists’ ability to spot congruencies and correlations between fields to meld everything – the related specialists and all the different generalists and projects and such into a cohesive whole.

And then we have the outliers – the ones who go off on a tangent from everyone else, who break new paths rather than deepening old paths, who think and act an connect differently. Their heads are “in the clouds”, so to speak. They are artists, scientists, mad scientists and engineers, McGyvers of a different order. They inspire and frighten – repel and attract. They are distant dots or pivotal points in human history.

And then we need the glue – the people who don’t lead, but provide comfort and coziness, who keep things functioning, clean, orderly, who push papers or mops, who make sure the “i”s are dotted and the “t”s crossed and the grammar is good.

What Heinlein described are – hobbyists.

What society needs are interlocking specialists, generalists, coordinators, glue, hobbyists – and those frustrating outliers that don’t fit any rules at all.

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I didn’t keep up with my cabin or contribute much to the Camp NaNo web site.

I did finish the challenge, just didn’t play well with others.

My bad. I’ll do better at NaNo in November.

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I belong to a writer’s group where we gather once a month to critique one another’s works and once a month to just write.

I know I can be rather harsh when it comes to critiquing other people’s writing (and don’t mind harsh critiques on my work – all the ghods know I need it!), so I’ve wracked my brain for ways to soften the blow and better explain what I mean.

I accidentally hit on food.

Yeah, it surprised me, but it works.  A story is a lot like a recipe.  So I started making the foods that I used to critique a story.

One person is writing a memoir about his time as a Vietnam Vet. His story is firm and meaty and a little bit juicy, but kind of dry. When I made my first bacon apple pie, it was a lot like that. It needed more juice, more spices, a touch less meat, and a firmer crust, just like his story, so when I tried to tell him kindly he needed to juice it up with more emotions and spice it up with more personal heart, and maybe bring in some raisins for that unexpected delight, kind of like that bacon apple pie. I think he sort of got where I was going, but not really.

So I baked that bacon apple pie two ways – the way his story was currently written, and the way I’d tweaked it to make the pie something divinely delicious.

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Once everyone had eaten some of each pie, they knew exactly what I meant.

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The next time we critiqued his tale, it was much improved.

And then there was the sweet little flash fic critique that was nicely written but normal and predictable. I suggested it get something to twitch it up to unexpected, like watermelon pie. Everyone knows pie, and everyone knows a nice cream pie, but watermelon?

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Delightful, sweet, exactly what people expected until they bit into it and then – watermelon!

Haven’t read the rewrite yet, but I am anticipating it!

Now, I have to figure out how to deconstruct a lovely sushi platter so all the parts are there, but nothing is connected. There’s a story that has everything it needs to be good, but it’s all in pieces that need to be pulled together into not just a pretty platter, but an exquisite dish that is beautiful as well as delicious. I think he can do it.

And there’s this dense novel that has the most gorgeous language and use of words but it’s hard to digest and not to everyone’s taste.  It’s a fruitcake that’s all fruit, and hardly any cake – no glaze, no rum, some nuts.  I have to make both the fruitcake as written and the fruitcake it could be.

I’ve said I have to give this dense darling some time before I can fully critique it.

The food correlation won’t work with every story, but I think it does help make the critique clear and gives the author some direction without me trying to put words in their mouth.

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ART!

A dear friend of mine is an artist (well, a great many of my friends are artists, as are my children – one works in metal, the other in fiber), and she shipped me a print of a painting I had admired a great deal.

I bought several of her originals to grace my library.

Art from other friends hangs in my Snuggery and my kitchen. Once I get my workshop organized, more art will hang there.

I have sculptural pieces displayed on shelves, and jewelry displayed in frames when not being worn.

All of the art I possess was made by artists I know, purchased directly from them to help them keep making art.

Books and stories, from authors I know, are the same thing.  I buy the books of my friends – and read them! I feed them, I visit them at conventions and book signings and book readings.

I used to put up reviews on Amazon, but you apparently can’t be friends with an author and review their book. Le sigh.  I know so many authors. I’ve been buying their books for more than 50 years.

So I joined Good Reads and am trying to figure out how to post reviews there.

Supporting creative people makes life worth living. My own writing is mostly for fun – I don’t need the income from it as I have a day job that provides for my needs (and eats up a lot of my time), but I have so many friends who do need the income from their art to pay the bills and buy food and pay for healthcare.

I do my small bit, and spread the word where I can. Buy their books and their art – actually pay the artist. It will fuel them to keep producing more art to enjoy and love.

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As a late starter in Camp NaNo, I am just lurking in my cabin.  I am a fast writer, at least for the initial story, so I am confident I can end the month having met my goals.

Tossing out rough novels is easy peasy. I can easily write a novel a week.

I actually have written a novel a week.

With a backlog of dozens of novels that have beginnings, muddles, and ends, I should really stop writing more zero drafts and start polishing up the stories I have in hand. Ditto for the short stories.  I have dozens of those, too.

I even submitted one.

One.

It needs more work. It was declined. All of them need more work.

Is there a program for writers who write and write and write, but never rewrite and polish and edit? One that would slow down the stream of ideas and characters and scenes and actions long enough to turn the muddles into actual middles?

This isn’t an issue with my non-fiction. I can knock out a workbook, a training manual, an employee handbook, a reference article in a few days and then go through and tighten and tidy it up enough to pass Legal in less than a month.

Why can’t I do the same with my fiction?

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