A Girlfriend: Or a Dog? If You’d Asked Me *FREE READ*

Just for you: a chapter from a book in progress. You can buy a copy of the whole book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. See the collected chapters so far, FREE online at If You’d Asked Me… For details, visit our home page or send a request through our Contact form.

Part II begins today!

Section II: Going to the Dogs
(Or Cats)

1. Should I get a girlfriend or a dog?

Dog. Definitely dog. They don’t ask you to take out the trash, they don’t resent your other girlfriends, they don’t burn the pancakes, and they don’t spend your money on clothes.

That said, it must be remembered that certain dogs are chick magnets. Thus, it may be possible to engineer the best of both worlds. It would require starting with a dog, though.

Ella’s Story: Chapter 29

Ella’s Story follows people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog, and then collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.

Ella’s Story

28

There were three kinds of doors inside Ethra Port and Takrai Station: open pass-throughs, sliders that ghosted open or closed at a gesture or at the touch of an approved user, and heavy privacy drapes. Ella’s spaces had two of those: deep gray curtains of the sort that turned her bunk, built into a wall in the slaves’ sleeping quarters, into a relatively quiet nest, and an open arch into the space where she and her two assistants spent their waking hours at work. Vighdi’s office and meeting room, like those of other free employees, could be closed off with a sliding door.

This, Ella noticed when she padded up the hall for their appointment, was standing partly open. Her boss must be expecting her. Too bad: not even a faint hope their meeting might have been forgotten.

She paused before the enameled metal slab. I don’t want to do this, she thought. The open gap beckoned. Can’t. She was supposed to have arrived by now. Was she late yet? Not exactly. But…leave! Close. Almost late. I’m leaving. I have to leave. While she hesitated in the corridor, a few liveried workers passed, entered other rooms or turned corners leading to collective work areas. She could flee, she should flee…but what would she say to Vighdi? Her mind groped for an excuse and came up blank.

Get away. NOW. She took a step back, glanced left and right, decided to head left toward the toilets, potentially a source for an excuse but now Vighdi’s voice breezed out through the silently widening doorway, “Hey, there!” And Vighdi stood before her, an open smile welcoming her. “Come on in!”

Ella felt sick at her stomach. She managed a “good morning, ma’am” and stood there, fixed in place.

Vighdi stepped aside and beckoned her to come inside. If Vighdi noticed anything amiss, if she knew anything, she didn’t show it. An odd slow-moving shiver crawled up Ella’s back.

“Would you like a cup of kekel?” Vighdi assumed she would, knowing her tastes in tea, and moved to brew some at the counter on the far side of the conference table.

“Uhm, sure.”

“Sit down, dear,” Vighdi motioned her toward a set of comfortable chairs near a small table. Silently, Ella took a place and waited for Vighdi to hand her a hot mugful. Were her hands shaking when she accepted the drink? So it felt. She hoped Vighdi wouldn’t notice.

“So,” Vighdi settled into a chair next to Ella. “What did you want to talk about?”

Nothing? She glanced into Vighdi’s friendly-looking face. In a good mood this morning, she thought. That won’t last long.

“There’s something I need to tell you, boss,” she said after a delaying sip at the tea. “But I’m not sure how to say it.”

“Well. Just say it, then. It can’t be that bad.”

“It’s not good,” Ella replied. She pulled the printed spreadsheets out of her workbelt’s pocket, spread them out, and handed them over to Vighdi.

“See these figures?” She pointed to the third row of data, showing a cargo delivery offloaded at Ethra Port and transferred to Takrai Station.

“What about them?”

“They’re wrong.”

“Wrong? What d’you mean, ‘wrong’?”

“They’re incorrect. That’s not what was offloaded in this shipment. Ten containers more came in.”

“They did? How do we know that?”

“Because I changed the figures myself. Where this says 120 barrels? It was 130.”

“You altered the lading records?”

“Uh huh.”

“Why?”

“Because I was asked to.”

Vighdi fell silent for a moment, thinking about this. “You were asked to,” she resumed.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“To falsify the lading data.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“All right… So, who asked you to do that?”

“Lohkeh, ma’am. Lo’hkeh jai-degh Inzed Mafesth.”

Again seeming nonplussed, Vighdi gazed at her for a moment. Finally she said, “Was there some part of ‘no’ that you couldn’t figure out how to say?”

“Well, I…” Vighdi glared. “No, ma’am.”

“Lohkeh. Well, I can’t say I’m surprised.”

Ella had no response to this. She could barely breathe.

“Are you so enamored with him that you’d risk your life to keep him happy? You do understand what this means, don’t you?”

Met with no answer, she continued. “Or was it just that you don’t say no to a capo?”

Startled, Ella shivered and looked up at her wide-eyed. “He…”

Do I look stupid to you? Which is it? Love or your oath?”

“Boss…ma’am. I do have an oath. To my band and to the Syndicate. Yes. But…he’s…I love him. Loved him.”

“Changed your mind, did you?”

“No. Yes…in a way.”

“Ella. Why are you telling me this?”

Why? Haidar had said he was still in the life, like it was a good thing. In the life was where he was, all right. “I don’t want to do that, Boss Vighdi. That’s not…it’s not what I want to be.”

“You don’t want to steal from the Company? Is that what you’re saying? Or you don’t want to be with Lohkeh?”

“I don’t want to be in the life. When they took me and burned me and brought me here, I thought I was going to be free of the life. But…” She felt hot tears slip out and and flood down her face.

Vighdi got up, knelt beside Ella, and took her shoulders in her hands. “Ellie, Eliyeh’llya. You belong to the Company. You don’t belong to the Syndicate. You belong to us. You’re not in the life. You don’t have to be in the life.”

“I swore my band oath to the Syndicate. To the High Council.” She swallowed a sob.

“That was before. This is now. You’re ours now. You don’t have to do anything for them anymore. Unless you choose to… But Ella, that’s choosing to die.”

She clenched her eyes shut and nodded.

“Do you want to die? Do you want to die with Lokeh?”

“No!” Through hands covering her face, she cried, “Are they going to kill him?”

“If this can be proved, yes. Of course: you get one chance in service. And that’s it. You know that, Ella.”

“So they’ll kill me, too.”

“I’m going to try to stop that.” Vighdi held onto her firmly.

“How?”

“Just trust me, will you please? And tell me the truth – don’t make things up or hide things. Otherwise I can’t help you.”

Ella held her breath to stop her tears and looked at Vighdi, puzzled. What could she do about it? Nothing, from what the blacksuits had told her when they hauled her in. The law was, they’d said, that if you committed another crime after you went into service, you would be executed. There was, they said, no appeal to that.

“Do you understand?” Vighdi asked.

She nodded, yes.

“Good. Now, please stop crying. We need to get Bhotil up here so he can help figure out how to deal with this. I’d like you not to be carrying on. Understand that, too?”

Yes.

“Good. Let’s find something to wash your face.”

She dug a cloth out of a cabinet, doused it with icy water from the drink chiller under the work counter, and handed it to Ella. Then she flicked on the vid and hailed Bhotil. Ella sank her red cheeks and swollen eyes into the cold wetness. The voices speaking in Varn didn’t register with her as having much meaning.

A few minutes later Bhotil stood in front of them as the door slid shut behind him.

Point of View: The Complete Writer *FREE READS*

The Complete Writer
Part V. Writing Fiction

This book is a work in progress. A new chapter appears here each week, usually on Fridays. To see all the chapters published so far, visit the *FREE READ* page for The Complete Writer. You can buy a copy of the entire book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.

27

Point of View

The angle from which a story is told is its point of view: who tells the story and how much they know. A writer has several choices in this matter. You can create a narrator who’s outside the story, like God looking down from Her heaven. Or you might tell the story as it’s seen by one of the characters, either in the first person (“I heard him as he slammed out of the house”) or in the third person (“She thought his behavior went beyond the pale”).

The omniscient point of view is probably the most commonly used, because it gives the author quite a wide scope. In the plain, unadulterated omniscient PoV, the narrator knows all and sees all; with this technique, the narrator can tell you what everyone in the story sees, hears, smells, feels, and thinks.

This is an example of a straight, unadulterated omniscient point of view:

He spoke sincerely. Every day he worked hard in the court trying to decide which of two untrue accounts was less untrue, trying to dispense justice fearlessly, to protect the weak against the less weak, the incoherent against the plausible, surrounded by lies and flattery. That morning he had convicted a railway clerk of overcharging pilgrims for their tickets, and a Pathan of an attempted rape. He expected no gratitude, no recognition for this, and both clerk and Pathan might appeal, bribe their witnesses more effectually in the interval, and get their sentences reversed. It was his duty. But he did expect sympathy from his own people, and except from newcomers he obtained it. He did think he ought not to be worried about “Bridge Parties” when the day’s work was over and he wanted to play tennis with his equals or rest his legs upon a long chair.

He spoke sincerely, but she could have wished with less gusto. How Ronny reveled in the drawbacks of his situation! How he did rub it in that he was not in India to behave pleasantly, and derived positive satisfaction therefrom! He reminded her of his public-schooldays. The traces of young-man humanitarianism had sloughed off, and he talked like an intelligent and embittered boy. His words without his voice might have impressed her, but when she heard the self-satisfied lilt of them, when she saw the mouth moving so complacently and competently beneath the little red nose, she felt, quite illogically, that this was not the last word on India. One touch of regret—not the canny substitute but the true regret from the heart—would have made him a different man, and the British Empire a different institution.

“I’m going to argue, and indeed dictate,” she said, clinking her rings. “The English are out here to be pleasant.”

“How do you make that out, mother?” he asked, speaking gently again, for he was ashamed of his irritability.

“Because India is part of the earth. And God has put us on the earth in order to be pleasant to each other. God . . . is . . . love.” She hesitated, seeing how much he disliked the argument, but something made her go on. “God has put us on earth to love our neighbors and to show it, and He is omnipresent, even in India, to see how we are succeeding.”

He looked gloomy and a little anxious. He knew this religious strain in her, and that it was a symptom of bad health; there had been much of it when his step-father died. He thought, “She is certainly aging, and I ought not to be vexed with anything she says.”

E.M. Forster

A Passage to India

Notice how Forster makes us privy to the woman’s thinking (His words without his voice might have impressed her, but when she heard the self-satisfied lilt of them, when she saw the mouth moving so complacently and competently beneath the little red nose, she felt, quite illogically, that this was not the last word on India) and then, as though reading minds were as normal as a springtime day, we’re told what he thinks (He knew this religious strain in her, and that it was a symptom of bad health; there had been much of it when his stepfather died. He thought, “She is certainly aging, and I ought not to be vexed with anything she says.”). In the omniscient point of view, the author is as all-seeing as God.

A more interesting variant is the limited omniscient point of view, which tells the story in the third person through one person’s eyes.

Al could be gracious. He’d sent thank you notes to her and the other teachers who had come in before school started to prepare their rooms. Chris appreciated the gesture; she didn’t get many thank you notes. Al wasn’t fastidious about every little rule. He wasn’t one of those principals who made a hard job harder. And she was glad that he wasn’t a “Mr. Mealy Mouth.” Around Kelly School the threat of a trip to the principal’s office had weight. When she sent a child there, Al almost always took some action. Unlike some principals she’d heard about, he never declared that he was off duty. Some teachers disliked Al, but Chris would stand behind him, if a little off to one side.

Al was Chris’s government, all the government she knew. But Al did not imagine himself expert in instructional theory and practice. Mostly he visited the classrooms of new teachers who needed help in keeping order. This year he’d observe only one lesson taught by each of his veteran teachers. After watching Chris in action, he’d say little more than that she was doing a good job. Chris appreciated Al’s restraint, but she thought she’d like more advice.

She didn’t get much advice of any sort from her students’ parents. Research shows that, typically, teachers in affluent school districts complain of too much parental interference, while those in poor districts, such as Holyoke, complain that parents don’t get involved enough. These days, Chris always had a hard time persuading some of her students’ parents to visit her, even for the scheduled biannual conferences. this year she would receive just one note from a parent that contained a request about her teaching. The note came from the upper-class Highlands, from Alice’s mother. It read: “Alice seems to be having trouble with her math homework. would you please go over her work with her in class.”

Chris felt grateful for the message. “I’d like to have one year of parents pushing me,” she said. “Just one year.”

Tracy Kidder

Among Schoolchildren

When using the limited omniscient point of view, it’s important to stay with that character, and not carelessly slip into some other character’s mind. The narrator can reveal only what the selected character sees and thinks.

In the objective point of view, the story is told as though it were seen through a camera lens: without comment and without interpretation of what the characters think or feel.

Here, let me see that one—the young woman curved her body further out of the corridor window. Missus? smiled the old boy, looking at the creatures he held in his hand. From a piece of string on his gray finger hung a tiny woven basket; he lifted it, questioning. No, no, she urged, leaning down toward him, across the height of the train, toward the man in the piece of old rug; that one, that one, her hand commanded. It was a lion, carved out of soft dry wood that looked like spongecake; heraldic, black and white, with impressionistic detail burnt in. The old man held it up to her still smiling, not from the heart, but at the customer. Between its Vandyke teeth, in the mouth opened in an endless roar too terrible to be heard, it had a black tongue. Look, said the young husband, if you don’t mind! and round the neck of the thing, a piece of fur (rat? rabbit? meerkat?); a real mane, majestic, telling you somehow that the artist had delight in the lion.

Nadine Gordimer

“The Train from Rhodesia”

The second-person point of view, rarely used in fiction and nonfiction narrative, addresses the reader as “you.”

You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.

Jay McInerney

Bright Lights, Big City

You walked into the party like you were walking onto a yacht,

Your hat strategically dipped below one eye.

Your scarf it was apricot.

You had one eye in the mirror as you watched yourself gavotte,

And all the girls dreamed that they’d be your partner

Carly Simon

“You’re So Vain”

In the first-person point of view, one of the characters in the story narrates the action. In this case, the details can only be told through the eyes and mind of the narrator, who cannot really know what the other characters are thinking and feeling (even though she may think she does), nor can she know all the facts and details behind all the action and words—any more than you or I can know those things as we pass through our lives.

That night we lay on the floor in the room and I listened to the silk-worms eating. The silk-worms fed in racks of mulberry leaves and all night you could hear them eating and a dropping sound in the leaves. I myself did not want to sleep because I had been living for a long time with the knowledge that if I ever shut my eyes in the dark and let myself go, my soul would go out of my body. I had been that way for a long time, ever since I had been blown up at night and felt it go out of me and go off and then comeback. I tried never to think about it, but it had started to go since, in the nights, just at the moment of going off to sleep, and I could only stop it by a very great effort. So while now I am fairly sure that it really would not have gone out, yet then, that summer, I was unwilling to make the experiment.

Ernest Hemingway

“Now I Lay Me”

Each technique has its own effects and purposes. Mastering them and learning to marshal them to your purposes takes time and practice. And lots of reading.

What’s a Mr.-and-Mrs.? If you’d asked me… *FREE READ*

Just for you: a chapter from a book in progress. You can buy a copy of the whole book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. See the collected chapters so far, FREE online at If You’d Asked Me… For details, visit our home page or send a request through our Contact form.

30

Why is there no combined abbreviation for Mr. & Mrs.?

Because even though they’re married, they’re still two individuals?

Who comes up with these questions?

How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal

Derailed from the Ella’s Story project!. I’m afraid this week’s episode  ain’t a-goin’ online tomorrow (Monday), as scheduled. That would be because I’ve spent the last ten days or so working on a new book proposal — one to be sent out to real publishing houses, one after another, until someone folds and buys the thing. 😀

First part of next week, I’m sending this thing to a prominent Canadian university press, mostly because the subject matter (which shall remain unnamed until I have a contract) has had more press and regulatory attention in Canada than in the U.S.

Writing a nonfiction proposal is a project. And since you don’t do this every day for a living, it’s usually a gestalt project: interrupted every time you turn around by more immediate concerns. Kids, jobs, spouses, barking dogs, blog posts… Hereabouts, paying work has been coming in over the transom — the Chinese mathematicians do not spend any time sitting on their hands! — so of course their projects take precedence over a speculative endeavor. Even though I expect this speculative endeavor to turn a few shekels. Eventually.

But now is more immediate, by far, than eventually.

So here’s a plan: Not having a chapter of idle fiction to post, why don’t we talk about how to write a nonfiction book proposal…

Probably we should start with why one would do such a thing.

Here’s my line of reasoning for this book:

Amazon is all well and good for a bookoid that you don’t think is very important (the Fire-Rider series, for example, or yet another diet/cookbook, or a strange fictional ramble that doesn’t fit into any standard genre but surely isn’t literary fiction either…). But if you have something you think people will buy, or a subject you think is important enough to bring to a wide audience (not just your friends, relatives, and those folks on Fiverr you paid to write reviews), you’re best off to bring it out through a real publishing house: a commercial publisher or a university press.

Advantages:

  1. Publishing houses have marketing departments. No, they’re usually not the high-octane variety, but they at least give you a leg up.
  2. Publishing houses have copyeditors. You don’t have to pay those copyeditors to clean up your manuscript and make it fit Chicago style.
  3. Publishing houses have book designers and page layout artists.
  4. Publishing houses have acquisitions editors and editorial committees and marketing committees. Yes: the dreaded gate-keepers. When you can get past those gate-keepers, you signal to interested parties that you have a half-way decent product. Maybe even a salable product.
  5. Publishing houses have advertising budgets. They also have catalogues and websites that feature your book — free of charge to you.
  6. Book reviewers at major publications — the New York Times, the Washington Post, the L.A. Times,  the New Yorker, the Atlantic, and that ilk — will not give your self-published tome a second look. Nay, not even a first look. To get real book reviews in real markets that reach real readers who are likely to buy your book, you need to be published through a publishing house with a real gate-keeper. And that doesn’t include CreateSpace.
  7. Libraries and bookstores will pick up your book from a real publisher without you having to jump through hoops to make that happen.
  8. Real publishers will pay you an advance against royalties. You don’t have to return that advance if your book doesn’t sell enough to earn that much for the publisher (they may not love you, in that case…but at least you get paid something for the work you put in to writing the book).
  9. Real publishers don’t jack you around, trying to get you to give your book away for free in their profit-making “lending” program.

Okay, so once you’ve decided you want to get serious about publishing and moving your writing career a notch above the outsider level, you need to write a winning proposal.

The proposal is your sales pitch. It’s the tool you use to persuade the staff of a publishing house that you have a book idea that fits the company’s mission and that they can market successfully.

So, a proposal is a pretty standard document — though you have to write with some flair and have a winning idea to make it fly. Here’s what’s in a proposal:

  1. Cover letter to the acquisitions editor. (Find this person’s name at the publisher’s website or from a current edition of Literary Marketplace.) Give your book’s working title and explain what the book is about and why you think their house is the appropriate publisher for it.
  2. An overview of the book
  3. A discussion of why you’re writing it.
  4. Explanation of how your book compares to others in the field. (It’s OK if there are other books on the subject: sometimes the existence of similar books even helps to sell yours by showing there’s a market for it.
  5. Description of the intended audience. Who do you think will buy this book, and why. If there’s a special market segment — such as textbooks, for example — say so and explain why the book fits into that segment.
  6. Statement of the anticipated length of the final manuscript.
  7. Description of the number and nature of any graphics (tables, illustrations, figures)
  8. Explanation of your qualifications for undertaking the project.
  9. A table of contents: a list of chapter titles.
  10. A chapter outline: bulleted outline or narrative description for each chapter.
  11. Your book’s introduction and one to three completed chapters.

None of these things is very hard. But they can be time-consuming. You shouldn’t let yourself get in a big hurry to do them: leave time to let it sit, come back to it, and revise.

Like I say: It’s a project.

The Complete Writer: Dialogue

The Complete Writer
Part V. Writing Fiction

This book is a work in progress. A new chapter appears here each week, usually on Fridays. To see all the chapters published so far, visit the *FREE READ* page for The Complete Writer. You can buy a copy of the entire book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.

[26]

Dialogue

Of late in my editorial role, I’ve been reading a lot of dialogue in manuscript. Some would-be famous novelists are better at it than others. Ditto some published novelists.

Recently two things have struck me about the products of people who are developing skill in writing conversation: they either get so baroque with the attributions as to become unintentionally silly (“Let’s go,” said Tom swiftly . . . or better yet, “Let’s go!” Tom ejaculated), or they go full throttle in the other direction with no attributions (“dialogue tags”) in page after page of back and forth. This, by the way, is called stichomythia: extended dialogue with no they saids.

Dialogue serves several purposes in fiction. It fills in backstory. It helps to characterize the story’s people. It slows down action. It may deliver the occasional surprise. Whenever you use dialogue, you should use it to accomplish something, not throw it in there because you think every work of fiction must have dialogue.

Dialogue does not exist in a vacuum.

People think things while they’re talking. If the scene is told from a single character’s point of view, the writer will share only that character’s train of thought. But everyone’s outwardly visible activities can be shown, allowing us to surmise what they might be thinking. People get up and move around. They sigh. They smile. They frown. They raise an eyebrow. They look puzzled or quizzical. They observe other speakers in the scene. They become momentarily distracted. They indulge an idiosyncrasy. You name it, they do it.

In narrating dialogue, then, describe the whole action, not just the motion of the mouths and the vocal cords.

Here’s a dialogue-heavy passage. Note the parts that are not dialogue but that complement or elucidate it:

Kay and Fallon walked back toward their camps. They were joined by Devey Mayr of Metet, a tough A’oan who, though Kaybrel thought he looked too young to sit a horse, had led his party of fifty men straight through Roksan’s main gate in the minutes after the barriers fell. Devey affected a little strut that made him attractive to women, and sometimes made other men wonder what he was trying to prove.

“So you think the pickings are pretty slim on the coast?” he asked Kay.

“I know they are,” Kay replied. “Well, actually—they say the people in the far south are better off. But about ten years ago Hef of Aber’—you remember him, Fal? He died at the battle of Pakta.”

“Vaguely,” Fal said.

Of course, Kay thought. Fal would have been about twelve or fourteen at the time. “Hef and I crossed the Wammets and reached the coast about as far north as Bose. We damn near starved out there. Didn’t find many people—a few ruins poking out of old silt flats, nobody living in ’em. They don’t have much food, and truly, we didn’t see any decent stock as far as we went. We made it down into Galifone, to a place the locals called Hamun Bay. The ocean is something to see, but it’s not worth driving a whole army over a mountain range.”

“No farms?”

“A few. Not many. Doesn’t rain there much. Most of the seacoast is desert. We ended up having to live off the land most of the way—and believe me, there’s not enough to support twelve hundred men.”

Devey looked disappointed. “I’d like to see that ocean,” he said.

“Yeah, it’s almost worth the trip,” Kaybrel agreed. “But go there on your own. No point in taking a big party. Just go check it out.”

“Maybe next summer,” Devey said. “I’d have to get leave from Bose. And Lhored, I expect.”

“You’ve done your job,” said Fal. “They won’t mind.”

“Wonder if he’d let me and a couple of my guys run over there now. We could probably get ourselves back to A’o before first snowfall.”

Kay laughed. “I wouldn’t, if I were him.”

“Somebody’d have to take my men while we were gone. How’s about you, Fal?”

“Not likely!” Fallon countered. “I’ve got enough chuckleheads to ride herd on—I don’t need more trouble.”

Devey smiled and scratched absently at a half-healed rash on his arm.

“Wait till next summer,” Kaybrel said. “If I come into the field, I’ll take your men with mine.”

“What ‘if’? You planning to stay home next year?”

“Maybe.”

“We need you out here.”

“Well, I’m not so young any more, Devey. Three or four months in the bush gets a little tired, you know, after a while.”

Devey considered this for a moment but couldn’t let it rest. “You’re no older than the brez,” he remarked.

“I’m four years older than Lhored,” Kaybrel said. “Our mothers were the same age. We were both first-born.”

“Lhored is still going strong,” Fallon said.

“Yes. But his time is coming to an end. Just seven more years.”

“Seven springs?”

“Six.”

“Long enough,” said Devey. “You must be forty-two, then?”

“Add a year or three,” Kaybrel suggested.

Fallon rarely contemplated the possibility that his friend was past the middle of his life. Kaybrel always struck him as vigorous, and Fallon thought of him as somehow near his own age. In truth, Kaybrel had come to the time when six and a half years looks hardly more than a day in the future. To Fallon and Devey, it still seemed a long time.

They passed in the direction of the A’oan campsites. A round, red-headed lad emerged from that crowd, waved, and strode over to Devey.

“Hey,” he said. Devey gave him a rough hug and a playful shove. “Duarto and Guel’ say you brought us a new chacho,” he said to Kay.

“That’s so, Porfi,” Kay replied.

The remark that “Devey affected a little strut . . . ” is what literary journalist Tom Wolfe used to call a “lifestyle marker”: habits or personal accouterments that reveal, sometimes deliberately but often unconsciously, some cast of mind or statement about oneself.

Similarly, “that made him attractive to women” and “made other men wonder what he was trying to prove” are elements of description that serve to help characterize Devey. Dialogue, like description, lends itself to lifestyle markers. The way people speak and behave while they’re talking often says as much about them or about what they’re thinking as what they say explicitly.

Within the book’s context, Devey is an adventurer; Kay is a seasoned warrior who also has passed some time as a traveler and adventurer; Fallon is Kay’s follower, for whom Kay serves as a mentor. Both Fallon and Devey are younger men; Kay is old enough to have grown tired of war-making. These characteristics are introduced or developed in the passage of dialogue, which appears near the top of chapter 1.

Fal would have been about twelve or fourteen at the time.

“I’m four years older than Lhored,” Kaybrel said.

Kaybrel had come to the time when six and a half years looks hardly more than a day in the future.

Dialogue doesn’t stand on its own. Let it articulate with the rest of the story, and work in narrative and description to help accomplish that.

Have You Ever Walked Out on a Doctor? If You’d Asked Me *FREE READ*

Just for you: a chapter from a book in progress. You can buy a copy of the whole book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. See the collected chapters so far, FREE online at If You’d Asked Me… For details, visit our home page or send a request through our Contact form.

29.

Have you ever walked out of a doctor’s office because the doctor was being disrespectful to you?

Sure enough. This happened about four decades ago. Think we live in a dystopia today? {chortle!} You should’ve been a woman in the early 1970s. 😀

Most of the time a woman of my generation expected a certain amount of condescension from doctors, and the assumptions that a) the female patient was, by her nature, not too bright and b) her time was worth nothing.

I’d gone to a gynecologist’s office (interestingly, back in the Day gynecologists were the worst in this regard) for a routine exam. Like all gynecologists at the time, this guy could make you sit in the waiting room until the cows came home — that was to be expected, so you would bring a book or a portable job-related project to work on.

This particular day, they called me into the back office, parked me in an examination room, told me to take off my clothes, don a tissue-paper robe, and assume the position. The room was COLD. Sitting there in a paper gown was uncomfortable, but then the whole procedure is uncomfortable, so a little icy air-conditioning didn’t matter much.

The minutes ticked by. And ticked by. And ticked by. And ticked by. And ticked… About a half-hour or 45 minutes later, I realized it was the lunch hour and most of the staff had left the office. I could hear the doctor and those still at the desk yakking and joking around. Possibly they had forgotten me. Or possibly they simply thought my time was worth nothing and so they could leave me sitting there until they felt moved to get around to proceeding with our (now VERY late) appointment.

I got up. Tossed the gown on the table. Put on my clothing. And walked out. Not one person even noticed me walking out of the office!

That, IMHO, is a variety of disrespect. And indeed it was: the point is that in those days a woman’s time had exactly zero value. So it was OK to waste it by leaving her sitting in an examination room until after you finished eating your lunch and socializing with your coworkers.

Ella’s Story: Chapter 28

Ella’s Story follows people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog, and then collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.

Ella’s Story

28

It took her two days to decide to do it.

She knew she was going to do it. Sooner or later. But deciding to do it was different from knowing she would do it.

So beautiful, he was. She thought she loved him. No: she knew she loved him. But…did he love her?

Did he love her? If he loved her, would he put her at the kind of risk they both ran? One slip, just one slip and they both would be walking dead. Or maybe only she would be. If she alone were caught massaging the books, would she give him away?

He was a brother in the bond of the Syndicate. She was bound to him, and he to her, by the oath. But…

Was she?

Where was he going when he journeyed down the tunnel to Takrat every few days? Far as she could see, there wasn’t any business that should call him to the mine offices every time he turned around. Except, perhaps, Haidar? That glance the woman had shot him when he introduced them…the memory didn’t want to leave her mind. It nagged when someone would ask him about Haidar and he would change the subject, direct the conversation elsewhere.

Who else could be helping him to disappear offloaded cargo?

Anyone, she supposed. Any number of people. Was Haidar one of them? The one?

What if Lohkeh was taking advantage of her? What if Lohkeh and Haidar were taking advantage of her?

The thought had crossed her mind more than once.

What if? Would the oath still apply?

Would it apply to her and not to him? Why?

Sequestered inside the den-like cubbyhole of her enclosed bunk, the drapes pulled shut and snapped closed, she studied the printed ndata by the night-lights’ glow. If there was a pattern to it, the pattern was vague, at best. She couldn’t see any predictable variation. Probably, she thought, that was deliberate. Where was the stuff going? She had no idea. To the planet’s surface? If so, why offload it on Zaitaf? They must be transferring it to some outbound freighter. Or freighters. Going where?

What would Bhodil think if he saw this stuff? He had spent month after month teaching her to read and write Varn and helping her convert the kind of math Samdis used for bookkeeping into the variety used in Ethra Port. He lifted her out of the laundry room so she could do…this?

He would, she guessed, be furious. The prospect made her wince.

Maybe she should keep quiet about it. Just let Lohkeh go on exploiting her. Maybe they would never be discovered.

“Never” was forever. How likely was it that they could keep the con going forever?

Not very, she thought.

Could she ask to be transferred? Maybe…the low gravity gave her headaches. Sure.

Not a chance.

She heard the door on the corridor’s south end slide open: Vighdi, making her last round of the day. Quick, she shoved the the papers under a pillow and stretched out on the bed.

Slender gray-brown fingers undid a couple of the curtain snaps, and yes: Vighdi peeked in.

“Lights out, sister,” she said. Her tone was friendly but firm.

“Yes’m.” Ella reached for a switch, then paused.

“Boss?”

Vighdi, already moving on:. “Yes?”

“Could we talk tomorrow? Just us?”

“I expect.” Vighdi lowered her voice. “When?”

“Early?”

“After breakfast?”

“Sure.”

“I’ll see you then.” She smiled. “Sleep tight.”

Sure.

In the dark, Ella slipped the papers from beneath the pillow and shoved them between the mattress and the smooth metal wall, then lay back, pulled the blanket up, and sighed.

Oh, gods!

The Complete Writer: Writing Fiction *FREE READ*

The Complete Writer
Part V. Writing Fiction

This book is a work in progress. A new chapter appears here each week, usually on Fridays. To see all the chapters published so far, visit the *FREE READ* page for The Complete Writer. You can buy a copy of the entire book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.

Chapter 25. Where Do Your
Characters Come From?

Athena springs full-fledged from the head of Zeus

Who are the people in your fiction? Where did they come from? Come to think of it, do you even know how you dreamed them up?

I have to admit that sometimes I have no idea. Fire-Rider, the first of several tales of an invented world in the far, far future, teems with characters who bear no resemblance to anyone I’ve ever met or even read about. Homicidal warlords and foot soldiers, powerful ruling women and their sister wives, a boy prostitute and a prosperous madam, a tribe of young refugees unhomed by ceaseless wars, a woman hunter and trapper, the foreman of a vast ranch-like estate, a healer who’s also a warlord, a wandering teacher and bard . . . whence did these people arise?

Well, out of the writer’s mind, obviously. Often I think that each character is a fragment of the writer’s consciousness, some part of her or his own personality in some way hidden until it pops out, full blown from the head of Zeus, and materializes in the form of a new (albeit imagined) human being.

Other times I think, “That is just not possible!” These people do things I have no experience with; they know things and say things that I could never know or say. I have to do hours of research to envision some kind of understanding of their world, their lives, and their loves.

Is there ever a real-life model for such characters?

Occasionally. Just now I’m writing a chapter in the first-person voice of a character who’s a kind of public intellectual, to the extent possible in a time when almost no one can read or write. He’s a wandering teacher and bard. After Hapa Cottrite coalesced in my imagination, I realized that he resembles one of my editorial clients, an international banking CEO and long-time ex-pat with a sharp mind, broad curiosity, and zest for living among foreign peoples. Once that dawned on me, I began to model Cottrite explicitly after this man, to the extent that their moods, outlook, and even physical appearance are similar.

But most times, there’s no visible connection between a character in one of my tales and a real-world human being. They don’t resemble anyone I know, because no one I know lives in a reimagined analog of the European Middle Ages amalgamated with life in medieval Asia.

William the Conqueror and pals

Probably they spring from what I know of life in the medieval period and of the world-view of the people who inhabited that time.

That’s a fair amount: before I first engaged the doctorate in late Elizabethan and early Jacobean English literature and history, I wanted to specialize in the medieval period. So, I took quite a few upper-division and graduate courses in medieval literature (both British and continental works, because my undergraduate major was French). And I still edit scholarly works of medieval history.

Some pretty heady stuff went on during those times. And it was weird. If you or I could magically step through a time warp and come out in 1250, we would feel like we’d landed on another planet. That’s how different the people were from us.

So I suppose you could say the Fire-Rider characters are sort of “modeled” on what I happen to know of a typical medieval warlord, informed to some extent by what I’ve learned about Mongol warriors of Genghis Khan’s time. That’s pretty broad. And since no two of these characters are the same, it’s hard to say where their individual personalities came from.

The women’s roles, however, are completely re-imagined and warped. Never in human history have women, aristocratic or otherwise, done what Fire-Rider’s women do. In their cases, I’ve had to invent, invent, and re-invent. Even to imagine what they look like, to say nothing of what they get up to, requires a great deal of focused, concentrated work.

Maybe we could say, then, that our characters come out of our experience, learned and observed, and out of our invention, purely imagined.

Or maybe they spring full-formed from the head of Zeus?

Kaybrel FireRider

Kaybrel FireRider, Kubna of Moor Lek

Why Is It Illegal to Not Wear a Seatbelt? If You’d Asked Me *FREE READ*

Just for you: a chapter from a book in progress. You can buy a copy of the whole book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. See the collected chapters so far, FREE online at If You’d Asked Me… For details, visit our home page or send a request through our Contact form.

28.

Why is it illegal to not wear your seatbelt? The only person it could endanger is yourself.

Because the rest of us end up having to foot the bill for someone who fails to wear a seatbelt.

We all pay the salaries of the police officers and firefighters who have to extricate you from the wreck that turned you into hamburger. We all pay car insurance and health insurance premiums to companies that cover the your unnecessary medical bills, which wouldn’t have been incurred if you’d bothered to put your seatbelt on. We pay the salaries of the judges who have to adjudicate at trials over the liability for the accidents in which you were severely injured.

Nope. You’re not the only one who is endangered when you drive around without a seatbelt.