the Author

Social Distancing Journal 04: More music, more thoughts

Posted in writing.

Last week, I posted a link to music composed by my oldest son.

This week, I am posted a link to music composed by my youngest son. They are very different, both as people and as musi­cians. I used to say, when they were much younger, that the only way the could be more different would be if one had been born female.

This is Herald of Dragons, my favorite piece. I have been asked to also link to Usurper of Dragons. They’re paired, in theory; one is the first half and one is the second. I admit that it’s not a link I would have made had I not been told. My first response was: But I like Herald better and I’m posting what I like. But… then I real­ized there’s at least one musi­cian here, and he may hear what I don’t in terms of the thematic or struc­tural ties.


One of the (very minor) down­sides of the shut­down is the lack of imme­diate struc­ture. I hadn’t real­ized how much I depended on leaving the house in order to have a sense of things like day of week. I spent an hour in a panic cursing because I couldn’t find the reddit thread for the Urban Fantasy panel.

In my mind, the panel was on Saturday. It’s actu­ally on the 26th of April, which in this reality, and not the internal mess of Michelle’s frac­tured sense of what day of the week it is, is SUNDAY. T_T. There were tears. And swearing.

I thought Thursday was Friday. I thought Friday was Friday (I got one right!). But I know Monday is Monday because on Monday I’ll post another short story. So: lacking any sense of struc­ture, I’ve messed up week­ends; long suffering spouse has been telecom­muting. And, as so often happens, day work bleeds into evening or week­ends for my husband because… he can, and it’s just one last thing. So it’s not: Oh, husband is home, it must be Sunday. Or alter­nately, it must be a civic holiday.

It’s not that I didn’t occa­sion­ally lose track of which day I happen to be living in – I’m an over-focused creative. I did. But… this has been pretty constant.

So now I’m consid­ering how I track days of the week when things are, or were, the old normal. Saturday and Monday were book­store days. Day after book­store was obvi­ously Tuesday. Dinner with Chews (which of course have been put on hold) were Sundays and Thurs­days. It wasn’t so much that I was aware of actual days, but that events required awareness.

Does everyone else know what day it is?


So, I have a ques­tion: how do you keep track of your storylines/storyboards? I love to read authors who do contin­u­a­tion stories, those that keep threads running through multiple books.

I have nothing at all as compli­cated as story­boarding. I have a sense of key events that unfold in the future (in the West novels), and in some ways, writing a book is reaching on all levels – emotional and struc­tural – for those events. I have plans for how the events unfold, but — that’s not the way my writer brain works. Skir­mish was not, in any way, the book I had planned. It turned left in chapter four, and never came back. And I knew, viscer­ally, that Skir­mish was the book it had to be, given every­thing that came before it – but it wasn’t my intent. Intel­lec­tu­ally what I thought I would write… was not, in the end, Jewel’s story.

Because this is the way my brain works, because it accretes small details and those details, like seeds, grow, my subcon­scious and my conscious do not always speak to each other well. Either that or my subcon­scious is an oppo­si­tional jerk. One of the two.

This is why I gave up on the lovely and complex, compli­cated charts of events. I did try with my first books. I constantly had to nuke what­ever it was I’d intel­lec­tu­ally decided because… it wasn’t the book. I’m not sure if this makes sense. Char­ac­ters tend to do what they do, even if what they do is not what I’d planned. Things go off the rails, unless I force the char­ac­ters to do what I’d planned. And… I can’t. It’s possibly true to say that for me-as-writer the ulti­mate truth of story is deter­mined by the char­ac­ters. And if they do some­thing that feels entirely in char­acter but that isn’t what I wanted or needed to hold the external struc­ture in place, I ditch the externals.

With the Cast novels, it’s more amor­phous. I know where the ending lies, but there are elements that the story requires to even reach that ending, and those, I’ve been building, some­times in the back­ground, some­times in the fore­ground. I under­stand the shape of the ending, the shape of the conflict, and the neces­sary elements that prevent that ending from being bleak and terrible. But the char­ac­ters still decide, on some level, the shape of each book and the path toward the end. The cohort, for instance, were part of Teela’s story.

I didn’t really think about what it would mean to have them as part of her life. I under­stood the emotional history. I wrote the past and the present. But… I wanted Cast in Flame to be a mundane book about living in a city for a mortal Hawk. So: finding a home. Dealing with land­lords, etc.

But… Annarion and Mandoran were going to Elantra. I real­ized that at the end of Sorrow. I real­ized that this was trouble at the begin­ning of Flame. Because Annarion and Mandoran were there, my little urban novel about real life for Kaylin became… much less mundane. It didn’t occur to me to leave them in the West March, because they were now part of the char­acter fabric, the emotional sense of neces­sity, of Kaylin’s life.

(ETA: While writing Cast novels, there’s a lot of: Why did you think twelve people were a good idea? WHY? Why couldn’t you have stuck with three? What were you thinking?)

16 Responses to Social Distancing Journal 04: More music, more thoughts

  1. Z Hunt says:

    Thank you for the updates! 

    Days are tricky. I spent Monday trying to tell everyone who came into where I work happy Thursday for the first hour. Granted this work week was full of so many “fun” events that it was a bit more of a struggle to figure out things than usual. Work is also how I keep track of the days of the week myself (mostly because I count­down until not a work day…but partially because people always ask the day and date) so I under­stand how days vanish without it. 

    Your sons are both extremely talented. Thank you for sharing their music. 

    I confess when Annarion and Mandoran were intro­duced and informed everyone of their plans I suspected things might go a bit haywire for a time, but I have enjoyed all the books and the cohort has been a lot of fun to read about (for me at least.)

    I’ll also admit your writing system makes the most sense to me of any of them I have read. I realize everyone works in different ways but I phys­i­cally cringed once upon reading an author I enjoy state that their books always go the way they plan because the char­ac­ters are theirs and they can make them do what they want to(which I also get, but…yeah, I can’t explain it.) 

    I hope you and your family still continue to be well and hope­fully things start returning to normal (prop­erly though…no rushes) because this year has certainly been some­thing so far and we’re not even at the halfway point yet. 

    Thank you again for the continued updates, the new music to listen to, and the new short story. I’ve been a bit swal­lowed up by work so I was only able to buy the short story this morning.

  2. michelle says:

    @Zia: An author whose books I admire enor­mously once said to me that if a char­acter goes in a direc­tion he hadn’t planned, he stops writing because it’s clear he doesn’t fully under­stand the book enough. I think, if you loved that author’s works, their process works for their books. They way authors use writing words is not always the same; there are subtle personal mean­ings to the attempt to capture and clearly delin­eate process.

    Also: we’re all taught to be posi­tive and to talk about successes, not fail­ures — so getting to the point of total control, for that author, might involve a lot of iter­a­tion they are not willing to talk about.

    There are readers who will read what you read and who will take a different meaning from it; there are readers who will think, if I’m not in constant, perfect control, I don’t care about my books or my readers.

    People bring a lot of their own expec­ta­tions, and writers bring a lot of their unstated approaches, to discus­sions like these, for better or worse.

  3. Janet Warden says:

    I have a Friend who calls to let me know what day it is. lol I also know garbage day is Tuesday and yard waste is on Thursday and I attend Church on computer on Sunday. I have at least 2 calen­dars on my desk, One you can write on and one where you tear the pages off for each day. So I am doing pretty good.

  4. Z Hunt says:

    @michelle: Oh, I think my post came across harsher than I meant it. Or I’m misreading your reply. Or both. I manage both a lot >..<

  5. Z Hunt says:


    I have absolutely nothing against any writer’s system. My comments about the cringe were actu­ally a self-reflec­tive reac­tion at the time (this was years ago.) I was reading their blog and came across them answering another readers ques­tion where they said they could force their char­ac­ters or story to go where they wanted to.

    For me, espe­cially then, that was a bit mind­bog­gling and alarming. Not in a nega­tive light toward them, but in one toward me. The idea that someone could have a complete plan for a novel and arrive at that desti­na­tion with no hiccups was surprising (at the time.)

    I cannot, for the life of me, plan some­thing out in full and get there in a straight line (or actu­ally at all) when it comes to writing even a research essay. I even­tu­ally learned it was best not to plan outside of finishing so I wasn’t fighting myself or this grand master plan that made total sense until I was actively seeking it. 

    Reading all the different ways the authors I enjoy work has there­fore been eye-opening, enjoy­able, but occa­sion­ally surprising simply because I am posi­tive I would fail most of those ways and although I know people work differ­ently some­times being told exactly what that entails can be more of a surprise than it prob­ably should be. 

    If any of that makes sense. It prob­ably doesn’t >.<

    ***I had a previous post that vanished…other than the start.…here is the remainder — sort of. My apolo­gies if the rest of the other post shows up and then there are two of these saying basi­cally the same thing with different words

  6. Michelle: Many thanks for sharing more of your thoughts, and your sons’ music!!

    Back in the 80s I did envi­ron­mental work for pipeline construc­tion; we started off at 60 hours/week (6x10), then 72 (6x12) then 84 (7x12). For the most part it didn’t matter what day of the week it was. I knew Sundays because the stores were closed (remember those days?) and had accounts at two banks because one was open M‑F and the other was open T‑S (pre-ATMs). This way I could go to the bank six days a week. 

    As years have gone by time has become increas­ingly amor­phous for me. When I was working contracts I could remember projects/ cities/ provinces by year. Now some­thing could have happened last month or two years ago. I rely heavily on Google Calendar prompts for upcoming events and social calen­dars. It’s a bit ironic now to see the list of cancelled events going by my screen.

    I think any fiction writer who claims their char­ac­ters have no input is lying, to them­selves or others. I remember in the book ‘Memory and Dream’ by Charles de Lint, one of the char­ac­ters is a writer. When her friend asks her what her new book is about she replies, “I don’t know. I’ve just met the char­ac­ters and we’re still negotiating.”


    P. S. Twelve? Really? Although they do seem to comple­ment each other well. My sister lived (and died) with MPD. She had about 17 people living inside her. 

    Anyway, looking forward to see how the new (very old?) academy works out but will say no more there.

  7. michelle says:

    @Zia: I’m sorry I think that was all me. I didn’t assume you were being crit­ical in a nega­tive way; the post didn’t come across as snarky at all.

    I think — from an autho­rial perspec­tive — it’s one of MY fears: that someone will be disap­pointed if the curtain is pulled back. So that was my entire focus when writing that post. So, prob­ably talking to one of those fears more than you.

    So no: you did not come across at all as nega­tive or anything like it — and you never do, at least not here.

  8. Jo-Ann Pieber says:

    Happy Thursday! Yeah, me too. 

    Even though I was Usually at home in those pre-covid days and as my son pointed out so happily “You live like this already so you’re prac­ti­cally designed for it!” — I’m finding it Very diffi­cult not to be able to make even the most prosaic of plans to Go Out, Do Some­thing, See Anyone. The sense that this period is stretching out indef­i­nitely for me as someone with other health condi­tions is unset­tling. I feel too a tug of war between too much or too little fear, perhaps because anxiety is some­thing I struggle with at the best of times. My hard won tools for over­coming that anxiety aren’t working very well for me in that what worked for ‘inap­pro­priate’ anxiety isn’t well-suited for what is a Real threat.

    Oh well. As always, relief from these issues comes in the forms of music and books. Both of your sons are so very talented — when I clicked the last link you provided for the music of your elder son, the sound­cloud (or what­ever it was called) actu­ally queued (sp?) up both of the above Dragon pieces and I wondered if because of the different names for the musi­cians there if these were from your younger son. These too are quite remark­able and emotion­ally moving for me. Thanks to your younger son too! Am I the only one who had the thought that all of these would make great sound­track choices for a tv series of Your Books/Stories? I think I recall you saying once that you didn’t think your stories suited visual adap­ta­tion? But I know that I can ‘see’ them visu­ally in my head as I read — so I don’t at all agree. My own son is just grad­u­ating from film school…

    As for your casts of thou­sands — oh Michelle, it’s one of the Very things that make your books so special to me. Intri­cate, complex char­ac­ters and relationships..Yum. Dialogue…Yum. But as amazed as I continue to be at how you keep juggling all those people/balls, I’m even more impressed with how you continue to weave the whole cloth of your stories while letting those char­ac­ters Live in a real sense, for me (and I know many Others). Perhaps that ability you have to give some room in your head for each char­acter to evolve without too too much ‘control’ from your own goals for them, is in fact what Makes them Feel real for us? You let them surprise you a little and thus they surprise and engage us. I’ve no doubt it means some hair pulling for you but for the reader it becomes some­thing that keeps us avidly turning pages. That aspect of not Knowing at all what the next page will hold…is not all that common for me with other authors. With your work it feels Central. I have ideas about what might happen, what so-and-so might say, but I’m often off base and happily surprised and all that sense of Not Knowing (that is diffi­cult in real life right now?) in Books (yours) somehow becomes and Is a fabu­lous treat. Which just might be a very round­about way of saying you have an Incred­ible imag­i­na­tion. Though I fully realize that getting those ideas/words into a Form and onto a page while main­taining an overall conti­nuity is arduous (at the very least). 

    Many thanks for all your contri­bu­tions to my own sanity and great plea­sure. Hope you and yours stay safe and sane and find some plea­sures in these unset­tling times.

  9. DeDe says:

    LOL — Sorry to hear about the Sat/Sun mix-up, but had to chuckle. One of my favorite little local restau­rants has changed their pickup hours for now — and are currently closed on Mondays. Each of the last 3 (three!) Mondays — I’ve waited for the late after­noon-opening time — hungry, but willing to wait — only to call and remember when no one picks up: Dang it — it’s Monday again! 

    Help­fully though — this is now my reminder that my trash day (Tues) must be the following day. Some day I’ll remember the new hours — and prob­ably start forget­ting the trash/recycles.

    The only other day I remember is today (Saturday) — because it’s the end of my weekly medica­tion dispenser (and the day I take the ickiest of my meds.) Satur­days are my least favorite day of the week.

    Have fun tomorrow w/ Reddit!

  10. If it weren’t for the daily email from my google calendar telling me what day it was, and my obses­sive need to have my day planned out/to do lists made the night before, I would have no idea what day it was. But when your job in the social group is to send out an email on Sunday night with the subject “Monday” and Monday’s to do list, that helps somewhat.

  11. Peter Moore says:

    Hi Michelle
    Yes, I know what day it is. My watch tells me. Without my watch tho I’d be lost, or at best guessing.

    Your sons’ music is defi­nitely different. With Daniel, I think of an aural land­scape; with Ross I think of a cine­matic fanfare. The first piece of music I thought of when listening to Daniel’s music was Lanz and Speer’s Desert Rain. For Ross, it was Frank Zappa’s Peaches en Regalia. You can pass that on to them if you’d like. BTW I’m following both on SoundCloud.

    Thanks for your discus­sion of your writing process. As a creative person, I’m always inter­ested in other people’s creative processes. Photog­raphy and playing music are completely different from writing so I’m not plan­ning on going anywhere when I’m shooting or playing, I don’t have to think about char­ac­ters. I don’t have to think about plot. In photog­raphy I think about light, shape, color and back­ground. In playing music I think about chordal struc­ture, how I fit into the overall group, and what I can do to enhance the overall sound. 

    Have fun on your panel tomorrow, and ques­tions about the short story being posted on Monday: Is it sched­uled to be published anytime soon? Is it related to anything else you’ve published? Is it part of a multi-author anthology? And last, but most impor­tant. When will I be able to read it?

    Thanks for these jour­nals, they make my day.

  12. Joyce Ronquillo says:

    I’m home all day as is my son, who is self-employed, so there is little need for a detailed struc­ture; except I like to know when it is on a subcon­scious level. My day starts at the computer in the morning and the top bar tells me the day of the week as well as the date and time so I am grounded. The end of that session is my comics so Sunday is a known day. That being said I still feel like I’ve been put in a bottle and I can’t get out. It’s times like these I wish I lived in a TARDIS.

    As for your writing process, it makes perfect sense to me. I think that by allowing your char­ac­ters a sepa­rate life outside your head they become more alive on the page. I have put down more than one book because the char­ac­ters acted according to the needs of the plot but were not “in char­acter” as it were. For me, it’s more impor­tant that you under­stand who the char­ac­ters are and where they live in their world because the story grows organ­i­cally. I expect you do have a sort of story­board except it is deep inside your head and your subcon­scious keeps track of the minutia. In any case, I will be very sorry to see a conclu­sion to Kaylin’s story.

    Speaking of Kaylin’s story, it occurred to me while reading the last one that there has not been a deep dive into the humans of Elantra. They seem to play impor­tant roles in the action while yet being periph­eral to the plot. Have I missed something?

  13. Tchula says:

    Just listened to your younger son’s compo­si­tions. Without reading the comments below the pieces, just listening, the Herald piece made me imagine a troop of shining knights on their chargers parading off to battle. The Usurper piece – and my favorite of the two, inter­est­ingly – reminded me of a boss battle against a dragon like Kalameet or Alduin. It had that feel to it, and I really get into that!

    As for the cohort, I defi­nitely wondered why 12? Seems like they would be hard to keep track of, ahahaha… But I’m happy Mandaran and Annarion came to the city with Kaylin. Mandaran, to me, seems much like how a young Kaylin must have been to the Hawks. It’s funny that she gets frus­trated with his ques­tions and impul­sive actions, because in my mind, the two of them are very similar. It’s like that old saying when a parent has a kid that’s annoying them: “someday, I hope you have a child just like you!” ;-P

  14. Grace says:

    Same as Joyce- what about the humans of Elantra? Also the Arcanum. Both keep popping up, but we’ve never gotten much infor­ma­tion or really seen that much of them.

  15. michelle says:

    @Tchula: this is writer brain. What I was thinking was: a group of chil­dren would be selected, because they wanted to create a stronger breed of Barrani warrior. The Barrani are not numerous, so a cohort of a dozen chil­dren would make sense.

    And yes, it made sense for the book, but … the idea that I would they would then popu­late the novels was not really fore­most in my tiny brain.

  16. Tchula says:

    Hahaha…well, so far you are making it work! Sedarias is inter­esting to me. Seeing her interact with Teela and the others going forward will be enlight­ening, I’m sure. She seems like someone who will drive a lot of the polit­ical action from behind the scenes (or maybe right out in the open, who knows?) lol

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