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Robin Hobb's Infrequent and Off Topic Blog

"I didn't get the Signed Book I Ordered!"

Yes.  We know.  And it doesn't matter if you ordered it from The University Book Store in Seattle or from The Signed Page website.  You didn't get it.


And it's not their fault.  It's mine.


On February 11, I began to feel very ill.  By the 12th, I tested positive for Covid.  


I usually go to University Book Store on the second Tuesday of every month to sign the special orders and some store stock.  Needless to say, I didn't go. 


On the 17th, I hoped to go by Shawn's house and sing the Dark Horse comics of Assassin's Apprentice.  Nope.  Still not feeling good.


I rescheduled University Book Stosre for the 22.  The day came and I just wasn't upt to it.  It's not that far from Roy to Seattle, but traffic means that I allow two hours for the trip up, and if I hit rush hour traffic on the way back, it can take up to three hours.  I didn't think I could stay awake behind the wheel.  So it was a definite No.


So now we are into March.  On March 9th, I went by Shawn's and dropped off a batch of signed comics and picked up six more boxes of them.  (About 240 comics in each full box.)  Upon opening the boxes, I found that one had been damaged in shipping and that all the comics in that box were not really suitable for sale.  Another setback.



But as of tonight at 7 PM, I have signed every undamaged comic and I'll be taking them back to The Signed Page to be carefully packed and shipped. And on Tuesday the 14th, I will go to University Book Store to sign every special order and any stock they want signed.  


Soooooo  that means if you act very quickly, you can go to the Hobb page at UBS and order a signed Hobb book, and I will sign it on Tuesday the 14th!





On February 11, I didn't feel well.  It wasn't surprising.  My husband had been sick a few days before.  I'd tested him for Covid, but no, that wasn't it.  


Then my older sister, whom I care for, was horribly sick over the 9th and 10.  But she had syptoms more of a stomach disorder than Covid. I kept cleaning her up and soldiering on.  So I wasn't surprised on the 11th that I was so tired and muscles were aching.


But by mid-morning of the 12th, I knew I was really sick, with something very bad.  I did a covid test and within minutes I had two very dark stripes in the little window.  Despite masking and hand washing and avoiding crowds, despite multiple boosters, I had Covid.  And it was fully as painful and debilitating as I had heard.  All I wanted to do was stay in bed, use box after box of Kleenex and pity myself.


But I couldn't.  No matter how sick you are, your animals need to be fed.  And in my case, that also means my sister needed food cooked and laundry done and garbage emptied and bed stripped and made up clean every day.  All the tasks that come with caring ffor someone who can no longer take care of herself. 


(Well, surely someone else could do all that. )


No.  Not unless I wanted to expose them to this awful stuff.  My husband, still sick, was doing what he could.  Between the two of us, somehow we got by.  Chickens were fed, laundry was  accomplished, and some very marginal  and uninspired meals were served.  My younger son came by and refused to leave.  He cleaned, he cooked, he tidied.  And somehow, he has avoided getting sick (so far.) Daughters called to check on us and wondered if we needed more groceries.   A niece dropped off adult diapers and waterproof bed pads for my sister (the truly crucial supplies!)  So while Fred and I were handling it mostly on our own, we did have people who would have called an ambulance for us if it really got bad.  I am aware that there are many other people who have faced Covid with fewer resources and no support.  I lay on my bed and tried to imagine what it would have been like if I were living in a tent in an empty lot somewhere.  Counting my blessings even when things are pretty dark. 


So.  Here we are on the 19th, a full week later.  Fred is still achey but functional.  I am coughing, sneezing, congested and miserable but also functional.  Don't underestimate the muscle pain from this disease.  There is no comfortable way to sit, stand or lie down.  Everything hurts.    And the brain fog is very real.  I was very irritated with my son as he had apparently taken my mop bucket and mop.  When I found it, I was puzzled as to how it got in the utility room.  A day later, I recalled that I had used it to mop the floor in an effort to disinfect the kitchen.  It's really unnerving to have my brain skip a beat like that.


So.  I feel better than I did at my worst.  But I am not over this.  At any time, I could fall on my face and sleep.  When I am not too hot, I am chilled.  


This message is to remind people that yes, the 'pandemic' is over because, like influenza or the common cold, Covid is now endemic.  That's forever, my friend. 


To everyone who is certain it's not a big deal, I just want to say, it is to me.  I'm in the demographic  of people who can die from this stuff.  


I hope you don't get it.

Fantasy and Research

Researching Fantasy

Well.  The dice don't always fall as we might wish, do they?


I had planned to be at Brandon Sanderson's Minicon Dragonsteel in Salt Lace City, Utah.  So did Shawn Speakman of Grim Oak Press.  We were going to share a table, sell books and have a great time.  I haven't seen Brandon since several years before Covid, and I was looking forward to enjoying his company.


It didn't work out for either of us.  So I am at home today, rather envying the people who were able to attend.


I was supposed to be on a really fun panel about research, especially researching for fantasy.  I'd compiled some notes, even!  So, rather than waste them, I'll share some of my tips for researching that next fantasy tale or book you intend to write.


I'll start off with the worst thing I ever heard at a fantasy workshop. 


"I want to write fantasy because you can just make things up."


What?  WHAT?  No.  Absolutely not! 


You've probably heard me say elsewhere that the writer has the task of lowering the threshold of disbelief so that the reader can easily step into the story.

 Research is how you do that.  Research says that you know the bus route number for your urban fantasy or you know how many miles a horse can travel in a day in rough country or that you know a sickle is not the same as a scythe.  Not knowing those things can catapult a knowledgeable reader out of your story, and the book across the room!

Research is not relying on what you saw on TV or in a movie.  They take shortcuts, and sometimes those writers don't research very well.  (Try watching a western with someone who knows all about old firearms.  'Hey, that Colt didn't even exist in that time!' )


Research is also about questioning what you think you know.  That is the toughest part, because sometimes it doesn't even poke your awareness that you are making an assumption about a sword or how to cross a river on a horse or whatever. 


Over the years, I've come up with some tricks that work well for me.  Here are a few of them.


1.        The local library is your friend.  It is a much better friend than the Internet or YouTube. It is cheaper than buying a reference book.  Say your minor character is a blacksmith, and your protagonist just went into his work space.  Look around.  What does he see, smell, hear?  You don't know?  Hie ye to the Juvenile section!  First make a stop at the card catalog, oh, wait, I mean the terminal in the library.  Look up blacksmithing, but make note of the books that have a nice big capital J.  Go to the shelves and find those books.  (If you are not best friends with the Dewey Decimal System, ask a friendly librarian for help.) I love kid's reference books.  They have great illustrations and they explain things simply.  And in the back of a good kid's nonfiction book, you will find a bibliography.  That's a great guide to finding out more about blacksmithing.  By the time you are finished, your minor character will be able to flaunt a few bits of knowledge to prove she's been a blacksmith for years.


2.       Your friends know stuff that you don't know.  Seriously, they do! I like keeping a rolodex of primary source friends. Feel free to use your phone if you wish.   Primary source, as you know, means that the person you are talking to or the diary you are reading is actually full of first-hand information.  Think of your friends and what their areas of expertise are.  One is a gardener who knows about herbs.  What about that guy who knows all about knives?  Or the person who grew up around horses, or the one who works in the emergency room at a big hospital?  Collect them like you would collect rare coins.  People you can call on the phone are wonderful sources, especially if they are the kind of friend you can call at midnight.  And most people actually love sharing their specialized knowledge.  You can ask the weird questions like, "My hero's horse just threw a shoe!  Can she still ride the horse?  How far and how fast?  Should she pull the other shoes off?  Hey, in this era, would my horse even have shoes?"  (And no, I don't know the answers to any of those questions.  But I have at least 3 friends who probably do!)


3.       Up above there, I mentioned primary sources.  I love old diaries or first hand accounts of events.  Life on a sailing ship?  Chores on a cattle drive?  Dig for a diary.  Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey by Lillian Schlissel sure opened my eyes to what it was really like to journey in a Conestoga wagon.  Ernie Pyle's Brave Men  enlightened me about World War II in a way no history book ever did. 


4.       Take Notes!  In a paper notebook is my preference, but do as you please.  When I am researching, I always find things that don't really apply to what I'm writing now, but will surely find a home in a future book.  Jot those bits down, make a note of where you found them, and save them like a squirrel saves nuts.  (Does a squirrel really store nuts in their nest, like Chip and Dale?  See, I should look that up!) 



So, that's it.  I really wish I'd had a chance to trade more tips with my fellow panelists, but as I said above, the dice don't always roll in your favor.


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