Monday, September 10, 2018

Teflon Eyes

I just finished correcting the galleys of my latest novel after compiling a seven page list of mistakes that had somehow evaded the eagle eyes of beta readers, copyeditors, editors and, regrettably, my own pair.  People who write novels, someone recently observed, should be forced to re-read them dozens of times*.

First, there's multiple drafts which you write, then rewrite, and too often delete passages until you have a semblance of a scene, which you then must stitch to other scenes to form a plot, all the while creating characters, backgrounds, activities, and any other idea that occurs whether or not they make sense.  When this is done you finally have an incomplete mess of ideas which you then edit/redraft/arrange into a "first" draft and send to your beta readers.

Beta readers who are too often horrid persons who niggle over every detail you've omitted, gotten wrong, or which doesn't, in their mind, fit. They take delight in gently suggesting changes to "clarify a few things," "improve the flow," or "heighten the drama" which means that you not only have to read the damn thing again, but rewrite/correct huge portions and everything you suddenly notice to have evaded your careful review.  "Why," you scream in the darkness of your writing lair, "Why can't they just admire the genius of the story and praise my work?

Nevertheless, your tired eyes once more read through your much abused draft to correct all the things the beta readers have noted.  By this time your eyeballs are coated with teflon and slide over the most obvious of mistakes.  But you soldier on rereading the piece, patching mistakes, rewriting entire sections, and hopefully correcting everything identified as well as a few things that you thankfully caught on the umpty-ninth read through.

* As if that wasn't already the case


Saturday, August 25, 2018


I have yet to start a story whose breadth and depth I fully understood before the first word was drafted. Nor have I ever been aware of the personalities, beliefs, and activities of all the characters the story would embrace.  Instead I start the process with only a vague idea of the general background and details that may be added later as I navigate the path to the epiphany, punchline, or conclusion (altho occasionally said conclusion follows the epiphany.)

Instead, I embark on a path of discovery, bumbling from one scene to the next, jumping to a different idea, haring down paths less than fruitful, and striking whole volumes of narrative exposition for their  mind-numbing detail.  Sometimes the story's path ahead seems clear but more often the steps it takes to reach that is an indeterminate fuzz whose clarity most often comes at a cost of plot or pace.

Unless you are extremely organized and have the ability to stick to a predetermined outline you will record your journey of discovery with a jumble of assorted notes that beg to be assembled into something that resembles a story.  I usually arrange my scenes/sketches on a time line. This usually  reveals temporal gaps that will need to be filled with some indication of time's passing.  Another approach is to arrange the scenes emotionally through the use of flashback or prolepsis (e.g. flashforward).  Playing with viewpoint might yield another series of scenes.  Eventually, through successive experiments* I find an arrangement that seems to look like a story e.g. with the pieces that feel like the right** order.

From there it is merely a matter of enforcing consistency, grinding the scenes' edges to fit, and pounding whatever words it takes to made the story flow properly.

But then, isn't that what writing is all about?

* I use Scrivener to make rearranging easier.

** This is largely a matter or personal taste 


Monday, August 20, 2018

WorldCon 2018

WorldCon is underway on the left edge of the country and I am not there. This will be the second WorldCon I have missed in the last ten years.

WorldCons have always been a mixed bag, partly due to my SFWA office which consumed much time with meetings scheduled and otherwise, and the eternal problem of too many panels conflicting with each other, random encounters initiating fascinating conversations, running into acquaintances and fellow writers, missing meals, and drinking far more than usual.  Sleep, when it comes, is usually from exhaustion of the adrenal glands as they dribble out their last dose of mania.

The reason most professional writers attend WorldCon is to promote their books, be visible to their fans, and hopefully conduct a little business with agents and publishers. Rubbing professional elbows in the SFWA suite or Green Room is a huge bonus and well worth the time consumed on panels.  Of course, speaking on favorite subjects is a lot of fun and hopefully entertaining* to the audience as well as educational. For short story writers it is an opportunity to give fans, who otherwise would not encounter your work, a taste  of what you  do.

But WorldCons are a multi-ring circus with something for everyone. In this tent we have the elephants, those prolific authors who routinely churn out doorstop sized  novels.  In another we have the booksellers and merchants enticing all with tempting offerings too numerous and weighty to carry home on the plane. Oh look, over there we have the parade of readers mumbling snippets of their work to attentive groups who, for once, are not relatives. Then there's the crowd; a delicious  feast of people dressed in fannish fanny pack and denim garb, seasoned by a plethora of fairy wings, a dash of red velour tees, and innumerable ears of spock, or perhaps elfen provenance.

And, sadly, I am not among their wonderful number.

*Yes, this is how conventions "pay" the guests.  We're 
the clowns in the little car, the trained monkeys,  and 
the ringmasters of the performance.                          .     


Sunday, August 12, 2018

Reality Bites

When I was a wee tadpole, barely shed of my beginner's tale on the way to writer maturity I envisioned eventually conversing with more accomplished and well-known writers. In my fanciful thoughts were images of wise heads exploring the bounds of universes, of expostulating on the possibilities raised by the latest technological innovation, of dimensions unplumbed and beyond number.  How I yearned to be a part of those conversations and perhaps being blessed by gaining a smidgen of a story idea from the intellectual crumbs being dropped as they feasted on fantastic dreams and imaginary realms.

Being able to mingle with the greats in the convention Green Rooms was an objective I dearly cherished and, when the opportunity came by virtue of being a panelist I felt privileged beyond measure. Would I be able to contribute to the rolling debate or show myself to be a raw amateur whose words were undeserving of merit?

In the days before social media seized everyone by the throat the interplay between the professionals were along the lines of "How are you doing?" or "Did you hear about..." followed by the rumors de jour of someone in the field misbehaving.  In the main the conversations were not much different than those one would hear at any professional gathering and hardly memorable.  Movies, television, music, and food loomed large, but the most frequent discussion topic was "Where are we going for dinner?" followed by arguing over the time, scheduling conflicts, and participation (which is almost always dependent on whoever is in the lobby at departure time.)

Now, with social media providing endless minutiae of everyone's daily life, the conversations have shifted not a bit although with greater nuance than before.  The most serious discussions now range from "Who's buying what?" to "Have you read...?" and only occasionally verve over to talk of agents,  Amazon, and politics.  The conversations are no different than one would hear at any sales convention.

Just people trying to get by as best they can.


Saturday, August 4, 2018

External Memories

The world suddenly became a much more frightening place this past weekend when my iPhone died en route to a distant convention.

I should have known something was going wrong when it became very, very hot and the battery indicator showed red and quickly went from 3% to zero before my horrified eyes.  Recharging didn't work and neither did a borrowed charger restore the blessed green.  Because I was traveling light I had neither my iPad nor laptop with me.  No problem says I and then tried for an hour to remember first my wife's phone number and then ANY goddamn number I might be able to use.  When none came to mind I used the hotel computer to get on the internet and send an email.  That's when I recalled that security conscious me had enabled two-factor identification on ALL of my email accounts.  Since my cell was out of service, I could not get any of the four confirmation codes that would open an account (my passwords were on the phone, along with all my panel notes, reminders, schedule and even my plane e-tickets.)

The horrifying truth hit me that I had surrendered ownership of my memory to a chunk of hi-tech plastic, glass, and software without which I have no agency save for the cards in my wallet.

Fortunately my clever wife, who had worked herself into a fine fluff when I didn't call as promised, managed to track me down at the hotel and left her phone number so we could resume contact.

I now have a new phone and a list of phone numbers with the wallet cards.

The worse part of it was that, through the entire agonizing process, I could not stop thinking the same thought over and over: There HAS to be an SF story here!


Monday, July 30, 2018

The Copyedit Curse

I'm starting to believe that the last thing a writer should do is copyedit something they wrote..  Wait, let  me amend that: the last thing a writer should do is copyedit.  Someone once said that writer would copyedit his own death sentence, given half a chance.

 I cannot read anything I wrote without mentally rephrasing it. Sometimes this happens in situ while I'm writing.  Worse when I am going over something the copyeditor caught or a sentence nearby that happened to fall within the firing zone of review - collateral damage as it were.  I try to restrain this impulse when going over the galleys but, as Analog will attest, it is a rare set that goes back to them without change.  I once managed to add a complete paragraph to a short piece to perfect the story (and to use up some unproductive space on a page.

Quote: No story is ever completed, rather it is abandoned by the author. 

It has been a  massive effort to restrain my rewriting impulses as I went over the copyedits of four long pieces needing completion by August 1, 2018. Some were done because I disagreed with the suggested changes but thought that section could have been written better, Others were things that fell under my scanning eye and IMHO  just had to be corrected/modified/rewritten.

How does one lift this affliction?


Friday, July 20, 2018

Post Retirement Life

After ten years of work on SFWA's Board of Directors and eight or nine as CFO I am now officially free to do as I wish*.

Since I also changed residence at the same time I was somewhat preoccupied and consequently didn't write anything for nearly two months; a time I fervently wished to do something, anything, to get back into the Science Fiction flow.

Finally, I got the writing forge in place, our furniture arranged, and everything we brought from Annapolis to Midlothian stored or placed somewhere.  Now, I thought, I can sit down and pay attention to the unfinished novels and short stories that litter my desktop.

That's when I discovered that I managed to "lose" about ten thousand plus words of one of the WIP.  No problem, I thought as I fruitlessly scrambled to find out where they ended up while trying to gather my memories of what I had written so I could restore what I couldn't find.

I'd barely begun when a set of galleys arrived from Analog that needed immediate review to meet the deadlines.  No problem, one of the more enjoyable tasks of writing is proof reading something I'd almost forgotten writing and marveling at my brilliance.**

I had barely gotten back to the search and recovery task when another editor sent corrections/suggestions for a novel now in its final production stages.  Once again, putting aside the search and recovery job, I started reviewing what she wanted, but before I could get the first chapter read yet another editor wanted me to confirm/correct all the changes he and his copyeditor had suggested for another long piece.

That was before a third editor wanted immediate attention to the novel in front of him, of course, and which were daunting in prospect.  A three week job, I estimated.  This brought the entire review time to a month at minimum before I could get back to the WIP or maybe something fresh and new.

Nevertheless, JOY!  Nothing pleases me more than being deliriously, happily engaged in rewriting three long pieces at once. I placed that short Analog request ahead of the others since it would be a task done quickly and I could complete the more more complicated ones in a week or three, four on the outside.

Of course, all the editors expect me to get back to them by the end of the month.

I need to be more careful about what I wish for.

*That being on hot standby in case 
anything needs my attention.

** He said immodestly.