Saturday, January 14, 2017


One of the things I've noticed at conventions is how writers, reclusive and introverted troglodytes  by nature and choice, suddenly blossom into affable, garrulous speakers, at ease with voicing their uninhibited thoughts before crowds of strangers. I suspect that their smiles and easy social interactions are masking their inner doubts, their uneasiness, and their burning desire to be back in their cosy cave, slaving at an unforgiving anvil, pounding words into proper form, and cursing their elusive and flighty muse.

Or perhaps the boisterous enthusiasm these reclusive writers exhibit on panels is analogous to a diver's decompression, where freedom from the weighty anvil of creation liberates their inner selves  to range freely.  While participating on a panel, a writer faces no deadlines save the panel's fiftieth minute, nor will their words raise the ire of an eagle-eyed copy editor, and whose spoken words are as ephemeral as the words they write.  Here, they can assert doubtful facts, spin tall tales of their literary prowess, and highlight their recent success without fear of immediate contradiction (of course I am not talking about myself.*)  Panels thus become fora for debate, sounding boards for ideas, and platforms of ego that sometimes reveal more about the speaker than they intend, much to the entertainment of the audience.

In private conversations I've learned that many other writers don a mask to be other than they are by nature, donning socially acceptable (by con standards) dress, and forcing themselves to plunge cheerfully into the chaos of panels, readings, signings, and the inevitable hallway/bar conversations.  At the same time they are ever searching for opportunities, discoveries of a new market, or validation of their worth, ever wary for that bit of idle conversation which might, at some future date, be useful in an as yet unwritten tale.

Writers have little choice but to attend conventions when asked and willingly pay the price of a mask in order to engage in intelligent dialogues with fans and other writers.

*Of course not!


Friday, January 6, 2017

Evolution of an Idea

After a hiatus of holiday confusion replete with self-doubts about my ability to write I have finally returned to my writing forge to hammer out some incomplete short stories on the desktop and perhaps work on adding another few words to one of the incomplete novels.

That is, if nothing distracts me.

Usually I  have a more-or-less, vague idea for a story before I type the first word.  Sometimes it is an opening and on other occasions it is an ending. Regardless the final opening or closing changes, influenced by whatever took place between the two. Despite my claims that I am a Plotter I frequently fall into Pantser mode to generate copy.   The two types I mentioned above are the easy stories to write. It is the majority of other story's evolution that bedevil me.

Let me use, as an example, my July1998 Analog story, THE ICE DRAGON'S SONG, which started out as a fanciful recasting of HANS BRINKER AND THE SILVER SKATES, but taking place on Europa - one of Jupiter's moons. That conceit lasted for a few thousand words of an early draft but were mostly rewritten when another possibility intruded because of the nature of Europa and the influence of several of my Jupiter stories that preceded it.  Then the story changed again to the conflicted nature of the teen-aged protagonist's mind when Gene Wolfe asked me a question about the sub-text of the first "dragon" when he heard me reading a partial draft in the hotel lobby.  As a result Freudian symbolism became a central feature of the story's resolution.

That came back to me as I worked on one of my current projects; a story whose premise has changed with each completed scene. Each  change rippled back over new and previous scenes until I had a piss-pot of seemingly unrelated 7,000 words.  While winnowing scenes down to those that appeared to hang together some more possibilities came to mind and... Well, you get the drift.

Further efforts for resolution only invoked more confusion and, finally, I glimpsed a clearer idea of the point I wanted to make. The only problem was that none of the candidate scenes I'd selected could get me there but some of the discarded scenes perhaps could.  Luckily I use Scrivener and still retained those parts so retrieving/reinserting them in the draft was no problem.  Those alterations have taken me to 3,500 words of early draft that I now have to wrestle into something under 7,500 words.  That is, unless my fickle muse presents me with further possibilities and outcomes.

I go through this agonizing process so much that I wonder about how other writer's stories evolve? Are they as tortured with doubt and indecision as they cast words onto the screen?  Do they edit and revise entire chunks of text as they develop their stories, casting aside perfectly good narrative just because it doesn't fit the current project?*  Or do they, like I, modestly protest that I produce final drafts with little effort?

If all fiction writing is this messy and undisciplined it is no wonder so many abandon it rather than perfect their craft, leaving only the persistent and those who do not recognize their own limitations as they fill the slush piles.

*I doubt anything a writer conceives is ever cast aside but is repurposed 
in some other piece further down the line, even if they are unaware of it.


Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Year in Review

Soon after the turn of the year, as in other years, I've updated my archive files, cleaned out the messes I've created, and looked at the various pieces I've worked on during the past year.  I've been doing this assessment since I started writing again in 1991, partly to see how far I've come and partly to torture myself with the realization that I could have done much better and causes me to reassess what I am doing.

During the last year I managed to get several short stories and another novel sold. I also made progress in getting some more work done on the remaining three. These seem to remain around 98% completed due to continual rethinking and rewriting. I am anticipating the publication of another collection of short stories published in the last decade in January and another novel in May.

The number of pieces I count in a given year is the gross number of files, so novels get the same weight as novellas, novelettes, short stories and articles.  I do not count the number of multiple drafts, edits, and crap I threw away in frustration at my fickle muse.  Some of my friends obsessively count and report their word production and suggest that I really ought to keep track of total words written (drafts, sketches, edits,etc ) instead of a simple file count, but even for me the resulting number would be too horrifyingly large with ratios of written words to words sold at  millions to one.

The chart at right shows the arc - the blue line representing the cumulative number of files worked on and the red the cumulative number of stories sold year by year (I don't count sales of reprints,audio productions, or donated stories.)  The total number of unique sales is 126 (nine in 2016) and the cumulative number of files is just  520. This makes my "lifetime" sales average remains at 24%. The green line is the ratio of sales to files each year, which declines as the number of works increases.

The chart shows the ups and downs of my working/writing career. Strangely, the years I had problems with my day job turned out to be the most productive for writing.  In my peak years I sold almost as many as I wrote, the bad news being that I didn't write very much in those years.  The chart also shows the decline of the novella markets, which was my first love, and which I continue to pursue against all reason.  It was only after I'd relearned how to write short, that my sales increased. Periods spent attempting novels also meant a lower production count, much to my regret.

So, looking back on 2016 I have to say I've not done badly.


Saturday, December 10, 2016


Another morning and another struggle to craft words from dreams and refine them to story.  Doing this has become more difficult than it was in the past, and I wonder if that struggle indicates a more serious concern.  Is my difficulty a momentary lapse, a way my brain is recovering from the overproduction of the last year or is it a further manifestation of the ADD that has afflicted me my entire life?

Years ago I could polish off a 5k story in a weekend plus two or three days of editing before submitting. As I shifted into novelettes and novellas writing a complete story turned into a months-long process. When the market for novellas dwindled I attempted to learn to write short once more only to find it more difficult because I had become used to having the freedom of more involved plots and descriptive material. It took a few years but I did find my way back.

But I discovered that the story ideas didn't fly as they once did.  I told myself it was because I now had higher standards that required more thoughtful approaches, but that was self delusion.  Perhaps it was a function of having drained my creative pool, being distracted by work, or simply illness - a cold, a headache, or an upset stomach.  But those were transitory and could not explain why the blank white screen remained so difficult to fill with words, words, words.

I noticed long ago that short story writers tend to have a limited literary life, appearing less frequently as they shifted into producing or writing novels or quitting entirely.  Is this happening to me?  Could I be descending into the ephemeral hole of forgotten writers, a fading phantasm of what I aspired to become? Or, most worrisome of all, is this an early warning of a declining mind, dementia, or, worst of all for a writer, the early signs of Alzheimers?  The only bright spot in those horrid possibilities is that at some point I will be able to read my own work for the first time.  But putting that aside, I continue to struggle to write words that the tide will soon wash away.

Maybe it's time to write something humorous...?


Saturday, December 3, 2016

On Again, Off Again

I just saw ARRIVAL  and was very impressed with how the producers captured the ambiguity and circularity of the original short story.  Most intriguing of all was the declaration that language is what we use to "think" and that, without words, we cannot "talk" to ourselves or reason.

This was much on my mind as I returned to UN#3 and got perhaps a page done before telling myself that I needed to rethink my premise on the recent short story (SS#14) and perhaps veer off onto a different track.  No sooner had I thought that than my mind switched over to writing a new scene that had little to do with the original concept except for the heroine and the planet.  A thousand words later and a little voice in my head said "Stop procrastinating and get back to work!"

So I jumped back to UN#3 and tried, really tried, to concentrate on the scene under development but could not withstand the nagging idea that SS#14 really needed even more work.  Actually, SS#14's voice was merely the loudest voice of a number of unfinished pieces (SS#1-14) needing attention and even of fainter voices of the muse provocatively suggesting new story ideas but never their resolution.

Others have writers block while I have to deal with a plethora of random ideas that threaten to overwhelm my best efforts to escape the cycle of my ADD. I fervently wish that if I had the talent to concentrate and do justice to the stories these voices suggest but my published attempts fall far short of my desire and mostly become pedestrian trivia to be read and sooner forgotten.

So I talk to myself, using words, the only tool at my disposal.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Sidetracked (Again)

Did I mention that I was am somewhat ADD?  The other day I got a comp copy of an anthology I contributed to a while back - all short stories (yummy!)  I thought I'd take a short break (no pun intended) and read a few.   While reading a few, I got an idea, quickly sketched out a rough scope, and puy it aside to work on later, after I finished working on UN#3*.

My muse, fickle bitch that she is, insisted, when I next sat down at the word lathe, that maybe I should flesh out that rough scope a bit more, which meant that I had to posit a character or two, some setting description, and maybe what the starship should look like, which little detail I'd forgotten to mention in the draft scope.

Three hours later I'd written a fairly good description of the ship, its drive (and principles thereof), and its necessary limitations.  But, along the way I realized that the characters needed more fleshing out and....

Well, it's week later and I now have seven scenes drafted, rough sketches (ideas, really) of the others, a general idea of how to arrange all of them to tell a decent story and, oh  yeah IMHO, a killer opening! Still not certain of what the protagonists might do or say, but that gets written as needed and when the scene requires without a lot of writerly forethought. Should be done in another week - it's only a 5,000 word story, or maybe a bit more or less, let's say 7,500 to be safe and then I can get back to UN#3, or maybe #4.

Unless something else derails my best intentions.......


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Meanwhile, Back in the Wordsmithing Shack

After a political event that threw all thoughts of plot and characters, much less setting our the window, I am now once more back at work pounding words into place so that they resemble something others might want to read. I apologize to those of you who want to continue to concentrate on politics but good words, well-expressed are more important.

To continue, I am back working  on Incomplete Novel #2 which stands at a staggering sixty thousand words, plus another five thousand in outline form in the last five years.  Right now the plot more resembles a tangle of yarn than a clean line of progression.  Originally I set out to write a story with multiple POV's, shifting from one to another as major events transpired. Somewhere around milepost 35k a major branch occurred which forced me into adjusting the remaining outline,  Then, at 50k there was another, but lesser divergence which is now causing me to readjust the objective once more. Each one of these branches opened new vistas to be explored, introduced new characters, and revealed more crap, all of which interfered with my best intentions.

As if those side shows weren't enough, I seem to have had a population control problem.  There are now nine principle actors, at least thirty supporting characters, and more than a dozen plot lines that should hopefully begin to converge around the 90k mark (I hope) which means I'll have little space left for resolving the plot lines stemming from Divergences #1 and #2 (Sequel?) Every time I sit down to write another scene, yet another character pops up, demanding his or her few steps across the stage.  Maybe I should stop naming these pesky intruders or giving them thoughts, actions, and personalities? But no, that would take the fun out of it. Undaunted, I struggle onward in my usual state of perplexity wondering where all this stuff is coming from and why me, a short story writer, ever thought I could write a freaking novel this long and complex.

Maybe I should be working on Incomplete Novels #3 or #4 or, better yet, work on another (required) short story for an upcoming anthology?