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The other night I heard what sounded like someone throwing a pot roast against the front glass doors.  I looked out and saw AAAAA!  A TWO POUND TOAD!  AAAAA!  I didn’t know toads came in that size.  He didn’t like his picture taken and hopped away.

But he comes back every night. I put the light on and the front screen fills up with moths, beetles, praying mantises and sofugids (eight-legged hunters that run like the wind).  Toady (a Sonoran Desert Toad) sits at the bottom and feeds.  When I turn out the light he goes under our car.   Harold has to leave a lamp there at night to keep the pack rats from shredding the engine.  They climb up inside, chew off the insulation, gnaw through plastic tubes and collect things they can pry loose.  The light, so far, has kept them out.  It hasn’t discouraged the chipmunks.  They don’t do damage, but they like to store seeds in the motor.  Once, when we first arrived, I went to sleep with a bowl of popcorm by the bed.  I finished the popcorn in the morning, but was surprised to find no unpopped kernels at the bottom.  I found them later, hidden under a cashmere sweater in an open suitcase.  The chipmunk had stashed them there, and that meant that she had to make at least ten trips across the bed, burrow into the popcorn, fill her cheek pounches and scamper off to the suitcase.  And I had been eating chipmunk flavored popcorn.

Now some comments on the your letters:  I’m writing the Scorpion sequel as fast as I can, but it’s going to take a while.  This is a long book.  I’m going to put the eBook of Do You Know Me and The Ear, the Eye and the Arm on Kindle.  Harold is busy scanning them and I’m looking for an illustrator.  I’m also talking to someone about making a graphic novel of The Ear, the Eye and the Arm.  So far, no one wants to turn my books into movies.

I like Thorgil and Jack, too, but unless I make back the advance on Silver Apples and Islands of the Blessed, the publisher won’t touch a sequel.  However, the whole world of publishing is changing.  People can publish their own books now.  They can put eBooks on the web without risking much money.  This situation makes publishers very, very nervous, but I like it.

I’m afraid most of my books are in the control of the publisher and I can’t give permission for people to write plays based on them.  This is especially true of The House of the Scorpion.  I will fight to keep control of future books.  J. K. Rowling did it, but she’s a lot more powerful than I am.

I’m afraid I can’t answer people personally (unless it’s an emergency) or help with homework or read essays.  There simply isn’t time.  I’m sorry.  My eyesight is poor and I have to conserve it.  But I really do appreciate and enjoy reading your letters and will give general answers.

NOW I WILL  ADD ANOTHER TIP FOR  ASPIRING WRITERS.

Steven King’s second book, Danse Macabre, is an excellent book for learning how to build suspense.  He was widely criticized at the time for daring to tell people how to write when he’d only published one thing.  Nuts to that.  He already was an expert.  See if you can order it second hand or find it in a library.  It may be out of print.  One of his rules is to wait as long as you can before revealing a monster.  When the characters in a movie hear scratching noises on the door and one of them goes to open it and there’s a 30 foot cockroach on the other side, the audience screams.  But a second later they’re relieved because they thought there was a 300 foot cockroach outside.  The point is, no matter how awful the thing is, your imagination makes it worse.  The longer you put off opening the door – or show a peek at a claw-tipped foot or hear heavy breathing – the better the suspense.  Steven King explains it better.

The other thing I learned from him was to read a novel I really liked three times in succession.  The first time you are swept away by the plot, the second time you begin to see how the magic is done.  By the third time you memorize the pattern of the novel on a deep level.  It’s done subconsciously.  I compare it to practicing on a musical instrument.