The Mystery of Steel

Dame Lili

Dame Lili

First, the updates: there’s the Bitten By Books interview with me, where I answered a ton of questions. I had a great time. Go check them out! Plus there’s a new interview with Tanith Lee, my all-time favorite author. And, in case you haven’t heard, here’s the SFWA’s statement on Harlequin’s proposed vanity press imprint.(Ilona Andrews has a link roundup about this.)

My writing post is very short and simple today, mostly because I am working under a severe time crunch.

Last night I went outside. It was warm and windy, little spatters of rain. I was standing in my driveway, thinking about things, when all of a sudden…it was like a weight lifted and I knew I was going to be OK. Way down deep, in the nonphysical (but still in-my-body) core of me, there’s a band of steel. It can get beat up, heated red hot, ground at, and bent, but it’s always there. And it just gets stronger.

Writing has taught me a lot about that steel. One of Jill Kismet’s most admirable (or maddening) qualities is that she doesn’t know when to give up. Quit is so not in her dictionary. I like that about her, even if other aspects of her personality infuriate me. (I do not often like my characters. I don’t have to–I just have to write them.) Dante Valentine endures whatever the world throws at her, and struggles to endure on her own terms. Many of my characters have that core of resiliency, of inner strength. Finding it in a character helps me find it in myself.

I think everyone has some steel in them. Some more, some less, but everyone has some. The trick is, when everything is whirling around you like a snowglobe full of razorblades, to find the stillness, the strong space inside you. No matter how battered I get, that steel is there. Sometimes it cuts deep, but when I need something other than my spine to carry me, well, it takes up the job.

Being reduced to your steel is an uncomfortable experience. You may find yourself rejected for publication so many times you wonder if it’s worth carrying on. You may find yourself in much worse situations where you wonder if it’s worth surviving at all. The steel doesn’t count the cost and it doesn’t care about what you think you can do. It’s a tiny piece of irreducible grit we’re all built around. We’re pearls, but at the heart of each pearl is that harsh speck of irritation.

I just finished Kage Baker’s Empress of Mars. It’s about a woman who has that steel. Several times things would be easier if Mary just quit. But she’s staked her claim, dammit, and nobody is going to make her back down or give up. It hurts, it’s goddamn uncomfortable sometimes, but that steel is a gift from the gods. When you cannot rely on anything else, if you can find your core it can and will carry you through.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my own steel. I was wondering if it had vanished, burned or melted away. I was wondering if I was ever going to feel strong again.

Last night, with the wind pushing wet dry leaves and warm rain spattering down, I felt that slender core of strength inside me. Sometimes it does cut, worse than anyone else’s words or actions could. I’ll take it, even if it does. When it comes right down to it, that steel has seen me through much worse than a broken (and mending) heart.

I’m just glad I found it again. Of course, it needs to be used responsibly, because even a healer’s knife can cut…

…but that’s another blog post.

Keep writing.


  1. says

    Deep thoughts indeed, and well thought out ones too. I too am impressed by strong character in a person be it in a book or real life. I also am glad to see that there are others who feel like we all have a “core” of strength to draw on when we need it. Have always thought that people who can live through every bad thing that life throws at them and smile at the end of the day are quiet heroes and far more worthy to emulate than those of us who whine and go through life blaming others for all their bad choices and think only they are going through anything that hurts. I know many more of these people than the other type. I wish I knew more “quiet heroes”.

    Okay enough soap box, I just want to say that love both the characters you have created in your books in Dante Valentine and Jill Kismet. I also can understand your statement in saying you do not always like your characters but liking them has nothing to do with writing their point of view in a book. The books are great and although have all the Jill Kismet series have yet to buy more than a few of the Saint City’s with Dante, not sure why only she is truly harder to read about….

    Love your blog posts and had so much fun at the BBB chat reading all the comments and your replies to all of us.

    Jackie B Central Texas