24 March 2004 | 1 Comment

I found this via Alas, A Blog:

The Girl Who Feels No Pain, an article about a real-life “Alien Jane“, the three-year-old Gabby Gingras.

Ide Cyan

Oh my. Life will always have to be so conscious, so hyper-vigilant for these people. They’ll have to develop systems to watch Gabby, to check the environment, anticipate the hazards that are invisible to her because she can’t process the warning language of pain. They will have to read the mind of the whole world.

Nicola and I talked a lot about this over beer last night. I believe that humans are potentially limitless in spirit, in toughness, and in the capacity for joy in the face of adversity, but I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. I felt particularly sorry that there are no resources for these folks, that they have to do all the work of discovery as well as implementation. I hope they have loving and imaginative people around them to help: it’s the sort of thing that takes imagination, not treacly pity or platitudes. One thing that astonished both of us about this report is the sentence, “There is no cure, nor will she outgrow it.” If I told someone my child had a condition for which there was no cure, and they said, stupidly, “Well, maybe she’ll outgrow it,” I think I would put their head through a wall.

The world is often stranger than fiction, and harder too.

What next?

23 March 2004 | Comments Off

I really liked solitaire and I want to read another one of your novels. I don’t know if you have another one in the works or not but if you do please release it soon, and if not get to work :). I would like to read a second novel to solitaire. I think it would work because I want to know how she turned out. Did she get over anti-social behavior? Did she make a lot of money? How did KO turn out? Does she still live in the NNA? What happened to snow? I think it would be good and you could put new problems maybe KO double crossed her, there is a problem with the online thing and she gets stuck in VC longer than supposed to, or any thing else you can think of as a new problem or a new plot. I know you could make a great new book and it would be a shame not to write more about Snow or Jackal.

I have a question though. Who killed the security guard and where did the other go?

And I hope you make a second book to solitaire or write another novel because your first novel was really good.


I am sorry to disappoint you, but no sequel. I’m glad the characters came alive for you, even if does mean they are still rattling around in your brain, demanding to be continued. They do that in my head sometimes too. Of course I have my notions of what happens to everyone, but I expect you have ideas about that too, as will other people who read the book and liked it. We will all have to be content with our notions for now.

I’d be interested to know how you define anti-social behavior. I think Jackal’s probably the most well-adjusted person in the bar most nights (unless Snow is there). I’ll bet all those tourists feel just a little safer when she’s around, which may or may not be what they were hoping for.

One security guard was in the pay of Steel Breeze, and set up the initial situation with the elevators being stuck. I’ll bet he was really confused when Jackal did his job for him. He killed the other guard, and Jackal herself was fortunate not to end up at the bottom of the access stairs with a broken neck.

If you are interested, you can learn more about my next novels from this previous post.

Mind the gap

23 March 2004 | Comments Off

You responded, “I was intrigued by the idea of Solitaire as an experience unmoored from plot, and did a little random reading in it myself. I’m not sure what I would make of it as a new reader…”

Not necessarily a plot unmoored. The reader still gathers the plot from unusual angles.

John Cage published a written work that consisted of three very different works, interlaced, with each work color-coded. Unexpectedly, the reader becomes more attentive, rather than confused. Though sequentiality is still maintained in that example, it somewhat illustrates the random approach.

My disenchantment with science comes from having studied it extensively and finding the politics of its interpretation to be a huge, probably unconscious, part of everyone’s lives, a virtual reality.

I am pleased to read your thoughts about your writing process, “laziness”, etc., the process of arriving at the completion of something, Michael Ventura’s essay on writing, the room, too.


Yes, I understand your point about discerning plot from unusual angles, although I find this more enjoyable in film than in prose. I enjoyed Memento, for example, even though it wasn’t seamless — I had fun with the layers, and admired the screenwriting. Someone put together a fantastic website (you need to allow popups). I’d love to have something like this for a book, with visuals and artifacts from the story, that could offer glimpses of the story. Most of the websites I’ve seen dedicated to books (as opposed to writers) are static, in all ways unengaging. Connection, interaction, that’s the strength and beauty of the web (as well as all art, in my opinion). I’m guilty of this too, as regards Solitaire; that part of this site is pretty boring. (Edited in 2008 to add: I hope not so much anymore!)

I agree about the politics of interpretation as regards science (and just about everything else). There’s a model that I used in the classes I taught on effective communication and meetings, called the Interpersonal Gap. I don’t know whom to credit for it, but it’s widely used.

I send a message (face to face, email, etc.). I intend to communicate something specific. First, the message has to pass through my personal filters — how my day is going, how I feel about the other person, my assumptions about them and the situation, my socialization, whether or not I’m in a hurry. All these factors color my communication in ways I may not be conscious of. The person I’m talking to can’t see my personal filters, and so cannot be expected to be aware of specifically how they affect my communication.

My intended message, already affected (perhaps distorted) by my personal filters, is now out in the space between me and the other person. This is the realm of observable behavior — body language, vocal or physical language stresses (depending on whether I’m speaking or signing), where I’m looking, etc. This is what the other person sees and/or hears.

This altered message has to pass through the other person’s personal filters, which aren’t visible to me. Did they eat a bad piece of corned beef for lunch? Do they like or dislike me? Is some of my observable behavior attractive or objectionable for cultural reasons? Are they in a hurry? Are they tired? All of these factors color the way they receive my message. By the time my message arrives in their brain, it may be something quite different from what I intend, because of factors that neither of us can control absolutely. And that’s the message they respond to, and the whole cycle starts over.

The goal of this model is to help me understand that what I think I’m sending isn’t necessarily what the other person is receiving. We need to make filters observable if at all possible, to help close the gap. I need to be as aware as I can of my own filters, and I need to ask questions to identify other people’s filters or intentions. For example, I might tell the other person that I’m distracted because I’m in a tricky place in my book, and my brain is giving the problem a lot of attention. Or I might say, “Did you mean to snap at me, because that’s what it sounded like.” It’s not rocket science, it’s just technique. It falls under the category of not expecting other people to read my mind. Often I hear people complain that someone didn’t get the message — “It was obvious I was in a hurry, but she wouldn’t let me go!” Well, maybe it’s not obvious — who knows how everyone’s filters are distorting the message? Making it obvious improves the odds that the real message gets through.

I find this model accurate in my experience, and it’s been very useful to me not only on a personal level, but with regard to the interpretation of information. The people who deliver information have their filters. Cultures and disciplines have filters too. My culture is biased toward the notion that data is superior to, and more valid than, personal experience. But ask anyone who’s been medically misdiagnosed because her symptoms didn’t “fit” what she thinks about that.

Filters matter. Often they are integrated at such an unconscious level that it takes a lot of work to dig them out. But it’s work worth doing, in my opinion.

Note from Kelley in 2008: If this interests you, you’ll find more about the Interpersonal Gap and other communication models/tools in Session 2 of the Humans At Work curriculum (follow the link and check the sidebar).


11 March 2004 | Comments Off

I was depressed/frustrated with marriage/work/life and was spending a couple of days alone. I needed to escape into another world, which is what reading good fiction does for me. Periodically I decide to diverge from my usual list of favorites and Solitaire caught my attention about two minutes into B&N. Ursula K. Le Guin is one of those special favorites and with her endorsement I felt compelled to try you out. You immediately sucked me in, I read the tale non-stop, exercised my emotions, gave much fodder for my sub-conscious mind to chew on as I slept. This will brew within me for some time and I look forward to your next.

Thank you.


I’m the same way with good fiction, I fall down into it and lose myself while the everyday chunters on around me. It’s been like that since I was a child and would bring stacks of books home from the library and escape into them. What a gift, a story that I can immerse myself in, that feels true, that engages and involves me, that makes me feel and think, laugh and cry.

It amuses me that “escapist” is so often used as a synonym for “crap fiction,” as if a story’s ability to draw a reader completely into itself is somehow a bad thing. I suppose it’s like much else in my life –” the conflict between my relativist point of view, and the wider worldview that seems to be more comfortable with absolute standards and either-or categorizations. But it is far too pretty a day in Seattle to grump, so I won’t.

Since you are a fan of Ursula (whom I admire profoundly as a person and a writer), you perhaps already know about her recently published text of, and thoughts on, the Tao Te Ching. Beautiful stuff.

I hope your frustration is less and your world is sunny, emotionally if not meteorologically. If you brew up any thoughts you’d like to share, come on back.

Public transit tears

4 March 2004 | Comments Off

I waited anxiously for the trade paperback of Solitaire to come out –” I just finished reading it yesterday.

I work in the corporate world, for a company that has been doing a goodly amount of layoffs. I so love that Jackal’s struggle with the ideas of personal identity vs. corporate identity are as much a part of this story as mystery and plot.

The resolution she finds at the story’s end was deliciously layered. Hopeful. It made me cry on public transit. So, so, good.

Please write more novels. Please. Please.


— naomi

Wow, public transit tears! I do the happy dance. Nicola and I both have a fantasy of seeing a stranger in a public place reading one of our books, and the notion of seeing someone crying over one just makes me want to give you a big hug. Thank you for such a gift.

Layoffs are hard, hard. The company I last worked for did its first major layoff less than three months after I was hired, and it was an unhappy, ill-planned process that taught me a great deal about things not to do in a similar situation. I hope your company is handling it better. There’s never a way to make these things good news, but there are ways to deliver bad news that leave people with some measure of dignity and hope.

You may have read in an earlier pint that I’m actually cooking two novels at the moment, although not with equal focus. The Kansas book is in active preparation, and the mountain book is simmering. I woke up at 3:00 this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep, so ended up in my office at 4:15 AM with a cup of tea and a cat sleeping over the heater, pondering the psychology of guilt (me, not the cat) and writing scenes of hamburgers in a diner and a serious two-in-the-morning argument (ditto). Got a lot of work done, and oh, the mixed feelings about that….if my peak writing time turns out to be 4:15 AM, I will be really pissed. And as for what Nicola would make of it, well, I won’t even go there… instead I will go join her for a beer and some lovely Indian takeaway. I hope your day will include some equally nice treat.

Random Solitaire

4 March 2004 | 1 Comment

I had caught the title and cover art among the thousands of books at B&N and picked it up, liked it.

I liked your poetic sense. To avoid seeing the plot too quickly, I selected pages at random to read, as I often do. It’s good for me.

Finding science to be stranger than fiction, I’m looking for something to make sense of it. Your book helps by confirming some of my thoughts on the world stage. That’s a relief, like a doctor diagnosing my novel disease with a traditional name.


Such a relief to know the book is actually in B&N. Another thing writers worry about. I’m glad it struck you out of so many, that’s another piece of good news. Thanks for taking a chance with your money.

I am not sure anyone has ever before characterized me as helping to make sense of science, and if you’d been my lab partner in high school you would find it as funny as I do. I’d be interested to hear more about your thoughts, confirmed or otherwise.

I was intrigued by the idea of Solitaire as an experience unmoored from plot, and did a little random reading in it myself. I’m not sure what I would make of it as a new reader, except that the corporate culture aspect of the story is more prominent than I expected, and they really do drink a lot of beer.

And then I got lost in the story right around the point where Jackal has her first aftershock and winds up on the floor in Solitaire. I’ve been reading for the last hour and a half instead of working. It’s been lovely to spend time with these people again. They are all special to me. It means a lot to me to find that they are still themselves, that their story still carries me the way it did through all those months and years of discovering it and wrestling it down onto paper. I know it’s not the done thing to say so, but I love my book.

The point

4 March 2004 | Comments Off

A special virtual toast to Michael Ventura, author of the essay “The Talent of the Room”, which I recommended earlier this year in my thoughts on writing. He’s graciously given me permission to post his essay. I’m grateful.

Every time I read this piece, something different resonates with me. Right now, as I bang my forehead bloody against plot, I’m drawn to this sentence: Sometimes it takes weeks or months even to begin writing. This is a hard truth for me. It’s easy for me to feel that if I’m not producing word count, I am not working hard enough, which leads down the cheerful road of I’m lazy, I am undeserving, I will fail utterly, everyone will point at me and laugh, the cat will pee on me, Nicola will leave me, the planet will explode…. And yet I know, as I’ve said before, that it’s not a race, that there is no relationship in writing between quanitity and quality (and I mean no relationship: more is not necessarily better, but neither is less), and that, as Michael Ventura goes on to say, the point will always be how you behaved, what you felt, what you thought, what you dared, what you fled, how you lived life, how life lived you, alone, in that room.