In which the author embarks upon a foolish project

I have in my possession a lovely “writing box” from Galen Leather. (If this looks familiar to some of you, yes, it’s because Yoon Ha Lee also owns one. He posted about it, I put it immediately on my wish list for future gifts, and eventually it came back into stock, whereupon my husband got it for me.)

Galen Leather writing box, open to show pads of paper and fountain pens

I have only one real complaint about the box, which is has to do with the strap. It snaps around the box, and while over time the use of the strap has caused the leather to stretch a little and make snapping easier . . . it’s still an annoyance, requiring me to carefully line up the various bits.

Galen Leather writing box, closed with a leather strap snapped around it

After taking the box to the Sirens conference and wrestling with it there, I had an idea for an alternate design: rather than something that holds by snapping closed, why not what amounts to a kind of net bag that can just slide over the box?

This led my thoughts in . . . certain directions. Before I chased that particular rabbit, though, I needed a proof of concept. So I went to the store, bought some sturdy woven strapping, and sewed an example of what I had in mind.

Galen Leather writing box, closed with a cloth strap drawn around it

Yep, that works. Took the box to Worldcon and found this approach much less annoying than the snap-shut leather strap. But, well. It isn’t very attractive, is it?

. . . I can fix that.

Probably very few of you know that I know how to weave, because I haven’t done it since, uh. <does some math> <carries the one> . . . 2004? Give or take a year? Let’s just say I haven’t done it in a Rather Long Time. And specifically, what I know how to do is inkle weaving, a method that is ideally suited for producing long, narrow strips of material.

But. Inkle weaving, while useful, is also limited. At its core, it produces a binary pattern: one row of the material will look like A, the next will look like B, and then rinse and repeat until you run out of thread warped on your loom. The technique of pick-up weaving lets you break up the alternation, but it’s still limited, and it has a downside; “picking up” a given thread means it doesn’t get secured by its over-and-under dance with the weft, and the more rows you pick it up for, the longer it’s left floating above the fabric (and the less actual fabric there is in your piece, just a weft thread shooting through the void). So you can’t do very complex patterns with inkle weaving.

Meet my friend.

convertible inkle/card loom

This is one of my looms. (I have three. Yes, I know I haven’t woven anything in nearly twenty years. Shut up.) It’s nice and sturdy and it has a pocket to put the shuttle in, but for our purposes here, the reason I’m showcasing this one is that it has a very interesting feature. That vertical central post?

That can be removed.

And when you remove it, you don’t have an inkle loom anymore. Instead you have something that can be used for card-weaving.

Card-weaving, aka tablet-weaving, is similar to inkle in that it produces long, narrow strips of material. But its patterns aren’t binary: every card has four threads running through it, and by rotating the cards backward and forward, you can change which two are visible (on the top side and underside of the fabric) at any given time. Depending on how you’ve warped the loom and what you do with the cards, you can produce quite complex patterns.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Let’s pretend I actually understand what I said above. I mean, I understand what I said; what I don’t really understand is how it works. The geometry of what’s happening on an inkle loom is simple. The geometry of a card-woven piece, less so, because the threads are twisting around one another while diving up and down through the fabric. And, well. I’ve never card-woven anything before.

I mean, I have a little. Sort of. The friend who taught me to inkle-weave at one point also gave me her battered old card loom with a piece already warped on it for practice (that’s how I wound up with a third loom) and a book on the technique. I noodled around with it a tiny bit, but I wasn’t the one who’d warped the threads onto it, so I’d missed the chance to internalize that part of the process, and I didn’t know what I was doing. Eventually I cut the material off the loom, and it’s been gathering dust ever since.

If I want to weave a nice-looking carrying strap for this writing box, though, card-weaving is the way to do it.

I still have a loom. (Three of ’em, in fact, which is not especially helpful.)

I still have the book.

I have the internet to help.

I am going to try my hand at card-weaving, to make a strap for the box.

Wish me luck. I will report back as the process continues.

Not quite tall enough to ride this ride

How many of you have That Idea — a story, or piece of art, or music, or whatever — that you know you’re not quite good enough to pull off yet?

Last night I finally said to someone outside my skull that I have one of those. The earliest roots of it, I realized, go farther back than I thought; all the way to high school, in fact. I really wasn’t tall enough to ride that ride at the time, and so the concept never went anywhere other than swimming around in my brain and me jotting down, over a period of years, quotations to feed it in my brain. More recently I’ve taken a semi-stab at it, in totally different form, and the semi-stab isn’t bad, but I don’t think it’s quite what I want it to be. I could try again, but I have that fallow feeling, the one where I need to just let this live in the back of my brain and quietly accumulate some more quotations and thoughts and stories that will nibble around the edges of the idea without trying to swallow it whole, not just yet.

I’m not quite tall enough to ride this ride. Which can sometimes be a dangerous thought to accept, because the way we grow taller for this sort of thing is by doing; if you tell yourself “oh, I’m not good enough for that yet,” you may never get good enough. Sometimes it’s better to try anyway. But — depending on your own personal brain installation — it may be the case that trying and failing with that particular idea means the seed is now dead; you’ve used it up and gotten not nearly enough for your efforts. I’m hoping I haven’t done that with the aforementioned semi-stab. Over the years I’ve gotten a lot better at meaningfully reshaping a story in revision, and I’ve had at least a couple of short fiction instances of me taking a new run at an idea that fell flat the first time, so there’s reason to think I might be able to try this one again. For other people, though, the risk is real. In which case you have to trust yourself to figure out which seeds should be left to germinate for longer and which ones can be used as fodder for growth.

Yes, I know I’m talking vaguely around the actual thing in question. That’s because I have hangups about discussing nascent ideas in public. But if others among you have your own instances of this kind of thing, it would be pleasing to know I’m not alone.

How to make your CE’s job, and your own, easier

This is as much for my own records as anything else, but it might be useful to others, so I’m posting it here.

When preparing a list of names and terms to send your copy-editor, it helps a lot to do the following.

  • Open the file in a different word processor from the one you normally use. Doesn’t matter which one; it just needs to be a program that will flag every word it doesn’t recognize. (If you aren’t the sort of person who normally teaches your usual program all the major names, you can skip this step.)
  • Start skimming, looking for those flags. When you find a name or term specific to your novel, check the spelling, put it in a list for the CE (helps to sort by characters, locations, world terms, etc.), then add that word to the program’s dictionary so the flags go away. Note that you’ll probably have to add it again for the possessive, though the CE list won’t need that specified. (Plurals, however, might need to be mentioned on the CE list.)
  • If that word shows up again, it might be misspelled, or your program might do things like say “ACK THERE’S PUNCTUATION AFTER IT NOW IS THAT A NEW WORD???” If it’s spelled correctly, add it to the dictionary again so the program will stop yelling at you. Over time, this will mean that the number of flags you have to scan for goes way down.
  • When you encounter things that aren’t novel-specific terms, like compound words or variant spellings, add them to the CE list if you definitely want them a certain way (you’ll change my strong preterites over my dead body); otherwise, add them to the program’s dictionary so you won’t have to look at them again, and leave finessing things like hyphens to the CE and their style guide.
  • By the way, you’ll also catch a lot of typos.
  • Finish going through the manuscript. Hey presto, you have now — probably — found all the words you need to list for your CE.
  • Might also do your CE a favor by adding notes about who people are, what they look like, where in the city certain buildings are located, and other basic details of continuity. This doubles as a favor to yourself later on, if you’re writing a series!

If you are writing a series:

  • For book two, open your CE list from book one. Add a 1 in front of every term, then search on the non-obvious ones to see if they’re used again in book two. If so, add a 2 as well, so you get things like “1,2 Ren — half-Vraszenian con artist” (etc).
  • Save this as your master CE list for the series.
  • Repeat the above process for adding to the program dictionary and CE list. Anything new goes in with a 2 in front of it, e.g. “2 Mede Galbiondi — suitor with a strong arm.”
  • Save a new copy as your CE list for book two. Then delete every item that has only a 1, i.e. doesn’t appear in book two.
  • Delete the numbers from in front of your remaining items so your CE doesn’t wonder what the heck those are for.
  • Rinse and repeat for book 3 et sequelae, starting with the master list and searching to see which existing names and terms show up again.

I learned at the CE stage of The Liar’s Knot to create the master list. I learned at the CE stage of Labyrinth’s Heart that I should have been numbering all the items so I’d know whether a lack of numbers meant that it showed up in both of the first two books, or that it got introduced for the first time in book two. (That part probably isn’t necessary, but my brain wants it.)

You could probably just inflict the whole master list on your copy-editor each time around, but given how much these names and terms pile up, I feel like it’s better to give them only the relevant selection, without cruft leftover from previous books.

Or, I mean — you don’t even have to make a list. I didn’t for my first I don’t know how many novels, until I heard this was a helpful thing to do. It’s especially useful to you as a writer when you’re writing more than one book, because of how it can double as a minimalist series bible. And if you’re going to make such a list, this workflow minimizes the amount of mental effort that goes into finding all the names and terms. It’s still time-consuming, but it isn’t hard.