Thursday, June 28, 2018

Reflections

Over a month lost as I downsized the  house and set up housekeeping in Richmond Virginia where I shall probably remain forever.  I NEVER want to repeat the downsizing/moving process!

So, dealing with packing and the un- of it consumed enormous amounts of time and energy, not to mention creating forests of boxes and hectares of wrapping paper, all of which must be conveyed elsewhere least we lose the cats and ourselves in the overburden of used materials.  Because of this there was scant time to do much writing, especially with the Nebula weekend coming in the midst of the move  Nevertheless, I did manage to do a final editorial pass on a new novel and make arrangements for publishing two more sometime later this year.

During that final editorial pass I reflected on how a novel grows as it makes its way to the publishing sea.  The plot seemed to twist and turn whenever it encountered an obstacle or rushed forward in a torrent of words when there was no resistance or distraction.  Strange characters and scenes appeared abruptly and sometimes either vanished later without notice or become a vital part of the flow. When the novel is initially "finished" its blemishes and shortcomings become all too apparent as does the overall "message" -- as Nancy Kress once told me, "You never know that your novel is really about until it's finished." She was, of course talking about the first draft.

It is sanding down the rough sections, adding grace notes, and fitting pieces into where they belong (as opposed to where you originally placed them) that occupies many of the subsequent edited versions. Finally, in the penultimate edit you face the choice of whether the product is good enough or needs further refinements to reach perfection.  The latter is impossible, of course, so often the choice is to eventually abandon further efforts and release the imperfect ms into the hands of others.

While you go on to the next project.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Downsizing

When I wrote "DOWNSIZING" for Analog back in 2015 I had no idea of how quickly the situation would apply to me.  We are in the  midst of moving from a 2700 sq ft house filled with years of memories to an apartment one third that size.  Choosing which furniture to take and what to dispose of was easy but as the triage procedure continued it becomes fraught with emotion over the memories evoked. Each piece of art brings to mind the where and when of its acquisition or creation and the images of happier times plays across your mind.  A cheap vase has no intrinsic value but as a goad to memory it is more precious than the expensive silver teapot. But the winnowing must proceed as moving day approaches and the number of people who would take ownership dwindles. The kids have come to take what they wanted (early Christmas gifts to my mind) and now we are left to make our own painful decisions.

The worst part for me was getting rid of my bookcase filled with reference material, beloved novels, textbooks, and , of course,  my private collection of every piece in which my stories have appeared.  The realization hit me as I put these in book boxes that I will never see these again.  Inscribed books from other writers are as hard to pack away and perhaps might end up at the SFWA auction sale or as gifts to close friends.  Some of the signed first editions, like Vonnegut's PLAYER PIANO and Martin's GAME OF THRONES, have considerable value and might be e-Bayed when I have the time.  Since most of my writing life is electronic I have few paper files to deal with so I am spared the agony of trashing drafts and sketches.

Needless to say, damn little writing is taking place until we are settled.



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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Transience

It's no secret that we are trying to sell our home of the last twenty years and so we've begun cleaning out, packing, and choosing what goes where, to who, and whether it is worth the trouble to hang onto something that signifies only a memorable occasion - such as autographed books, con badges, and old newspapers and magazines.

Serial issues of DUNE WORLD
I pulled one box from the back of the closet that I'd brought from our former dwelling (and probably three or four before that) that hadn't been opened for at least forty years.  Inside were newspapers announcing the end of WWII,  another reporting man's first steps on the moon, and a few covering the impact of hurricane Camille on Biloxi MS.  There was also a much beloved and frequently read copy of I GO POGO, and a National Geographic issue, whose pages are as pristine as they were when first printed, covering the first moon explorations.  Towards the bottom of the box were five copies of the large format ANALOG magazines containing the original serial of DUNE WORLD and three of THE PROPHET OF DUNE, which later formed the backbone of Herbert's DUNE. The final two issues of PROPHET were in digest format and not saved.

Browsing through the pages I saw stories by many once well-known writers; Anderson, Anvil, Brunner, Campbell, Garrett, Reynolds, Spinrad,  Schmitz, and Temple. There were also stories by                                                                writers I've since forgotten or who never had another appearance. I wonder if these minor lights had only a short burst of creativity before they retired from writing or had moved on to more lucrative work than writing?

Most of the stories in these five issues are readable but dated in style and viewpoint. Rereading them sent my mind back to my more fannish pre-writing mind.  The exercise also humbled me in that some day, somewhere, someone is also going to uncover a stash of forgotten ANALOGs and thumb through the ToC to find gems written by authors who later went on to fame and glory.

And, among them, I hope they might also find my name.




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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Life, It's One Damn thing After Another

Excuse me for the brevity of this post, but I am massively distracted by the imminent sale and move from our home of twenty-some years to a purchased apartment half its size.  You'd think that decisions on furniture and rugs would dominate, but you would be wrong; its the little things that consume time as you emotionally debate whether to discard, give away, or save  every damn knick-knack, picture, book, or momento you managed to acquire, cherish and forget about. Then there's the packing, arranging, moving, settling, and dealing with a seemingly endless parade of friends, agents, lawyers, vendors, etc who stumble over each other trying to make things "easier."

Then there's the attempts at writing.  Hardly a spare hour goes by without a phone call, neighbor dropping by, the spouse screaming for "a few minutes of your time," as the ideas dissolve into a meaningless morass of random thoughts and ill-structured sentences.  The hell of it is that after you again grasp a few moments you can't immediately jump back to where your mind was before the interruption and by the time you almost recover that blessed state there's another interruption!

But then, how is this any different from my day to day life?



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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Busy,busy, busy

No time to pontificate this week because of personal and professional issues: signed another contract (third this year), waiting for the next round of copyedits from my novel's publisher, working on a novella that has not yet resolved into a coherent story while trying to finish two draft novels (both at 97% of completion), preparing to make a scary move from my current house to a smaller apartment, and waiting for three galleys to arrive for proofreading.

Needless to say my nerves are shot and March has arrived sooner than expected! Thank the lord that I am not running for office this year!          





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Saturday, February 10, 2018

Plotting/Plodding

Where to start?  Another blank page stares at me two days after my last submission and I am bereft of  ideas.  My first instinct is to just write off the top of my head without thought to the route to the end or even as to where the destination might be found. Should I posit a character and then surround it with complications, compulsions, or contradictions?  Maybe I should think of a problem and then solve it - but no, that never works. Perhaps I can contrive a series of improbable events and populate them with seemingly intelligent, but actually brutally stupid, actors.  But what kind of events would be interesting?  What sorts of characters would find, much less allow, themselves to be involved?

You see the problem: the entrances to the maze of plotting are many as are the exits but the core of the maze, the intricacies of turns and twists, and the barriers to a straightforward plot will always be clouded. Each turn presents new challenges, each twist a new character who, incidentally is just as confused about their part as the protagonist. Then there are the trap doors of non-sequiturs, grammatical snares for the unwary, and the dead ends of failing imagination. Characters multiply like ants at a picnic, wandering into and out of the narrative with few lines to speak and fewer descriptive details.  Some even have the temerity to possess names!

Often one can crawl thousands of words into the maze only to find they've strayed so far that there is no hope finding where they started or even a hint of where the next passage might take them, let alone show them an easy path to the exit. You may force yourself through more thousands of words only to discover suddenly that the tissue of lies you have been telling is crap and on exposure likely to drop you into a pit of shame.  It  appears to have been so much wasted effort.

You are lost, hopelessly, bitterly lost.

You could go back to find a more inviting way to begin, retrace your steps to discover where you could have turned a better phrase or altered a scene, and bravely struggle onward, all the while wondering if those the paths you ignored might have been better choices.  But at this point, you've become so invested in your course that you feign to discard it.  Yet you stumble on, keeping your eyes on the prize until, at last, you reach an end, any end.

And begin to edit.


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Friday, February 2, 2018

IS and OTH

I just sold a few more short stories which should be a time for celebration.  This would have been a balm to my persistent Imposter Syndrome (IS,) which has bedeviled me for more years than I care to count in both my former professional and now writing life. I have never been comfortable since I am continually  waiting for a red-robed fanatic to jump through the door screaming my unworthiness and revealing that I am a fraud, a cheat, and a charlatan.  That I am unable to produce anything worth reading without a maddening amount of rewriting, editing, more rewriting, editing, going back and rewriting the rewrite to its original form, and changing words even as the galleys are being reviewed.  I'd scribble improvements (edits) in the margins of magazines if B&N didn't take offense.

But the sale(s) didn't give me the congratulatory euphoria I expected because I'd just read a twitter post by Charlie Stross* bemoaning another writer's affliction that I fear has afflicted me - the dreaded OTH (Over The Hill) syndrome.  OTH makes me worry that my best writing years are behind me, that I am no longer the innovative upstart I once fantasized I was, that words no longer seem to flow effortlessly from my fingers to the page, and that the modest skills I've acquired over the succeeding years have been steadily deteriorating. Every new draft begs the question if I will be able or capable of finishing it.  Every editing pass of endless drafts seem to highlight the unworthiness of my scribliing.  Every rejection is a stake in my heart that illogically reinforces both my IS and OTH syndromes!

Sure, you struggling, beginning writers might scoff: "That will never happen to me," but in the late dark hours of your career these thoughts will  haunt you, wrapping their tangles of hopelessness about your creative imagination and suffusing your muse with doubts even as you struggle to do one more sentence, one more scene, one more story, one more chapter, and one more submission.

But you continue to write.

*who introduced me to Scrivener years ago





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