Sunday, December 28, 2014

Agonizing Progrees

Beta reviews of the new novel are trickling in and I am horrified at the problems they've revealed.  My thought was that I had found every singe grammatical error, punctuation mistakes, and had gotten the characters, time line, and facts corrected.  Such was not to be: Dangling plot lines, unmentioned time shifts, lackadaisical prose, wooden narrative, lack of sufficient action, no love interest, unresolved drivers, etc, etc, etc. permeated the review draft, as gleefully pointed out by my reviewers - all with encouraging comments, to be sure.

So for the last three weeks since that first review arrived, I've been back at the workbench pounding out the dents from the wreckage, painting over the scratches, polishing up the dull parts, and perhaps fitting a new piece on here and there.  I realized I needed to overhaul the plot engine while I'm messing around and maybe throwing in a better roadmap for the reader. Gives me something to do while I await the final set of reviewer comments.

In the meantime it is tedious work to reread words I've read a jillion times and see, really SEE the problems that need fixing.  Worse is trying to patch the plot holes without destroying one of the subplots or contradicting something stated elsewhere.  Fortunately my use of flashbacks were minimal and mostly served as the Greek chorus to keep the reader informed of the passage of time (i.e. "What happened.")

Thanks to the reviews the draft novel now stands at 125,000 words, which makes it the longest piece I have ever written.  What is interesting was the reviewers asked for more rather than less and none suggested cutting anything.  One even suggested adding more scenic detail to "give a sense of place" to one of the continuing stories. My fear is that such "scenic detail," once introduced, will proliferate like the commas in this sentence, and infest the entire book. Perhaps I might describe a tree, an animal, or the deep-sunk brown eyes of the sailor as he gazes at the empty, hopeless horizon, but that would be all.
After all, I'm not writing a quest fantasy.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Holiday Joy

Fewer things warm the cockles of my heart than anticipating the arrival of the holiday season.  There's a festive mood everywhere as the winter solstice reaches it's depth and the increasingly darkening days begin to recede once more.

It is a time overfull of activities; shopping for presents, decorating, planning, shopping for food, baking, hectically racing about to get everything ready, cooking, and, oh yes, shopping just for the hell of it!

In two short weeks the festive decorations will be hung on every cornice, traditional songs will ring from every corner, and the air will reek with the scents of cinnamon and sugary cookies. Cookies and cakes will demand to be baked, and the traditional Christmas nut roll created. Candy needs to be procured to give everyone a sugar rush and food must be continually available to add caloric overload as the solstice and the depths of winter approaches.

The traditional tree must be erected and hung with ornaments, every window festooned with decorations, and garlands hung from every doorknob. The ever-vigilant cats will discover the dangling shiny playthings dangling right there, within a paw's reach, and wonder why they're not allowed to play with them.

So much to do and so little time to write as we struggle to prepare for the family members who will shortly arrive to bring cheer and blessings along with presents, luggage, and confusion. As the holiday progresses others will stay for shorter, but no less hectic, periods.  The house will fill with people and chaos.

 Finally, we will feast nearly as well as our French and Italian cousins.  Draughts of wine, sparkling ale, cider, beer, and other liberating beverages will wash down plentiful amounts of delicious food as we enjoy the company and fondly recall times past and people who are no longer among us. Familiar stories will be told and new ones created as each holiday recapitulates those before and lays the groundwork for those to come,

Happy Holidays.r


Friday, December 5, 2014

Delaying Tactics

So I'm back revising the damned novel and am growing very angry at the necessity.  Every fibre of my being screams out to write a short story instead of slogging away to find typos, bad grammar, confusion of time and place, etc and so forth within this monster.  Worse, the completion of this effort will only free me to work on the two other rambling tales of frustration and toil - much like that I experience whenever I touch this one.

But, what the hell, it is writing, isn't it?

Back in the day I had no trouble writing short stories, novelettes, and novellas quickly and sometimes found willing markets to publish them. But as time passed I grew more prolix and more conscious of what (and how) I was writing.  This led me into a long period of introspection when I questioned my ability to cast a tale worth telling.  The decline of my ability to sell a novella-length story to a magazine might have played a part. I attribute this both to my lack of imagination and the declining interest of editors to use up that much space for long pieces.

"Write short!" Schmidt encouraged me, and so I did, which resulted in a LOT of 15K stories that I then had to edit down under seven thousand words to make them salable.  It was a lot of work for few rewards, at least at first, but eventually I re-learned the secret, began to write shorter drafts that required less editing and, eventually, managed to sell a string of shorts. At the same time my trunk continues to grow, overwhelming my list of published tales.

Seeing my short works being published is nice, but I still feel that commercially publishing more than a single novel would be an accomplishment.  That's why I'm trying to finish the novels-in-development instead of adding more stories to my growing collection of  unsold ones.

Someone recently suggested that I ePublish my unsold novellas and novelettes, but my past experience with ebooks makes me doubt that I'd realize any decent income from those.  Maybe they were just that poorly written or lacked publicity or were simply lost among the millions of other works - who knows?

ePublishing is so confusing.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgving Past

So the world turned another round and Thanksgiving is upon me once more.  A day of feasting, of family and friends, of being thankful for the times we have and for the times we've had.

As always I recall how the family gathered in the past.  My father's two brothers, their wives and children, would all gather for our feast - a table covered with so much food that it seemed impossible to be consumed.  The brothers would gather around the turkey and ham as they were being carved for the platters, occasionally being sampled by one or another to ensure a consistent quality, or so they claimed.

The feast became and increasing logistic problem as the families grew, necessitating ever larger tables and increasing quantities of food, most of which was digested while lying about in a soporific daze. Eventually, as the children became adults, married, and produced even more family members it became impossible to gather. Death and debility also played a role.

My own brothers began, first with our parents and then without, to gather our families to continue the tradition. This did not last, owing to the dispersal of members across the country and the difficulty of coordinated travel for a single gathering. The pattern established by our parents seemed to be repeating down the years.

This year  we share Thanksgiving with my nephews and their families since my own children gather at Christmas time instead.  As we sit at the table I will look across the corn, mashed potatoes, turkey or ham, and remember the sage words of advice my father gave to me years ago at one of the earliest Thanksgivings I can remember.

"There's too much good stuff here, don't waste your appetite on the rolls."

Friday, November 21, 2014

Robotic Dominance

Just like the old SF stories predicted, the robots have enslaved the human race and are bending us to their will.

What, you doubt me?  Consider the antiquated comet-chasing Rosetta and her child, Philae, that were launched twelve years ago*.  Both are simple robotic space explorers with fewer brains than the tiny cellphone you are holding .  The two vehicles are nothing more than simple machines, fabrications with limited autonomous ability that are sitting three hundred million miles away, doing science and sending data back to the scientists on Earth. They are just robots; cold, hard machinery, looking nothing like Terminator.

And yet....

There's a charm about the pair - the maternal Rosetta and her stumbling, fallen, and then lost child. Philae made one last valiant effort to cry out in chirps and clicks to Rosetta as her batteries died and she, forlorn, went into that dark sleep a week ago.  Only a  heartless monster would dare declare that they had no emotional reaction to Philae's plight, that they weren't praying for some miracle that would restore her to health, hoping that Rosetta could somehow acquire Philae's location.  Say that you didn't think of the pair as more than machines and I will doubt your humanity.

Or consider Roomba, a senseless little vacuum cleaner that wanders around, amusing the cats and sucking up all the dust and stray Cheetos. Try telling a Roomba owner that she's just a machine and you would be surprised at their reactions.  Instead of falling back in terrified apprehension, people have been decorating them, putting outfits on them, and even NAMING them, for God's sake!    The owners are treated them as pets, not cold, soulless machines.

Or how about the ubiquitous little single-purpose robotic apps that hide in your computer, TV, telephone, oven, car, refrigerator, and a thousand other objects?  Robots and their software analogues have become so smoothly integrated into our daily lives that we are no longer consciously aware of their presence.  Because of their oh-so-willing and nearly invisible help we don't have to think about the details of our daily lives.  No, the ever-helpful robots are quite willing to do the banal and ordinary for us, lifting the burdens of memory, smoothing our schedules, marking the beat of our lives and all the while endearing themselves, charming all of us into willing acceptance as they bend us to their will.

We are lost!

*Roughly five technology generations ago


Friday, November 14, 2014

Watching Rosetta's Child Stumble

November 13, 2014

11:00 AM  I am writing this as I wait for the first images to arrive at the Cologne control center from Philae on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. This receipt will be more amazing than those terribly black and white images beamed back from the first moon landing*.

11:15 AM  Amazing to me is the incredibly difficult math involved to calculate the path Rosetta had to take to intercept the comet, match its tumbling motion, and place its child, Philae ever-so-delicately on its surface.  One cannot say “landing” because the gravitational attraction is so minimal that they'll have to fire a harpoon to anchor her to the surface.

11:30 AM I can’t believe how calm everyone seems to be as the moment approaches.  Yeah, I know whatever event takes place has been delayed by a 300 million mile journey – seven hours in the past – but the NOW, when we will actually witness first light is historic, monumental, incredible, and a lot of explanatory words I simply can’t think of at the moment because my bladder insists I leave the screen while my mind says “Stay and watch.” I just know that something will happen the instant I leave.

11:45 AM  Something must be wrong (and I am not talking about my bladder.)  There's a group assembling in the center of the room while others are taking seats. There's a bit of engineer hand-waving, some head nodding, and arms crossing,  Nobody seems to be racing for the bathroom to relieve their nervousness. The tension is electric and WHY THE HELL IS THERE NO VOICE OVER EXPLAINING WHAT IS GOING ON?

 Oops!  They cut the live feed and now announce there will be a press briefing at 1300 so I can finally run to the bathroom.

01:00 PM  No press conference.  A quick tour of the internet reveals no illuminating information about our poor lander. Lunch and back to working on the novel revisions.

02:30 PM  Apparently I forgot to remind myself and the conference is underway.  Lots of data received they announce happily. There's a gleeful announcement that Philae bounced twice (just like any toddler) but everyone overjoyed that it landed somewhere.  Bottom line: I have to wait till morning to learn more.

All in all an exciting day, made even more special by the many,  many references to science fiction, quotes from Star Trek, and the smiles on the scientists' faces.  No matter what happens on the morrow this was a monumental achievement for the human race.

Now, back to work.

*Well, at least the technology will be better

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Thoughts at World Fantasy Convention

Not much time available with all that's going on down here in Crystal City, so this will be brief.

I love the green rooms and bars at most conventions since they are the places where I can meet face-to-face with people of whom I never see enough.  Sure, a lot of the conversations with other writers is about business - contracts, markets, etc, but these casual conversations are more often the incubators of story ideas or character sketches.  I can have extended conversations not possible through limited electronic media and learn things I'd never expected to know, like the gait of an African zombie as opposed to one of the Caribbean persuasion.

Not once have I encountered an author so wrapped up in their importance that they wouldn't have a kind word or bit of advice for another.  Often, when pressed, they'll admit to the same self-doubts, feelings of inadequacy, and frustration that I occasionally face.

Sure, among the group of writers there are some assholes, a few racists, and a lot of ignorance - just like in any broad segment of the general populations and, on too many embarrassing occasions, myself (although never with malice aforethought.)  But in general I've found writers to be quite ordinary in everything save their ability to spin a captivating tale, pose a challenging question, or play a terrific round of Cards Against Humanity!

When I walk down the aisles of the dealers' room, a local bookstore or library and read the bindings I see the names of friends, acquaintances, and people I've met at least once.  The same names appear among my facebook "friends," or are listed on my phone or email directory/ Many appear on the frontispiece of one of my signed copies of their books.  I sometimes hear them blouvating on a podcast, in a web interview, or even see their names mentioned in a newspaper or magazine.

They are all writers and I am proud that most consider me one of them.


Friday, October 31, 2014

Inspiration vs Persistence

For the past year I have been struggling with two novels and a shit-pile of short pieces, torturing myself over how to resolve the plot arcs. Was I avoiding doing the final 2% necessary to finish the first draft because I didn't have a clue of what to do or was there something deeper that prevented me from finding the resolution?

I have a bad habit of doing a lot of writing without finishing, always putting the piece aside for some new enthusiasm that is inevitably replaced by another new shiny idea.  It's probably my ADD, but it happens so I have to deal with it.

It's not as if I dislike writing. In fact, nothing gives me more pleasure than to immerse myself in the story and let the words pour out onto the page.  Spinning a confection into a story from nothing but  stray thought and tangling the strands into a complex structure that amused, confounds, and interests the eventual reader is akin to magic,  There is only the nothing of the blank page and then, through some alchemical action, neurons fire, thoughts form, and lo, there is a sentence freighted with meaning that begs explanation.  Sentence after sentence unfolds until entire pages of a tale lie before your eyes.  There is more to be said, you know, yet the energy to continue is not there.  Tomorrow you will return and carry the story further to some as yet undefined ending.

Except, all too often, you lose the thread that was leading you along. Holding the severed end you puzzle where it might have gone and, tracing back, cannot discern the logic you were following.  It is frustrating, enraging, and disappointing when this happens.  Sometimes, though, you man up and slog on, adding wooden words and leadened sentences to the work, hoping that something will spark you onward, striving to not lose the value of what you have already invested.  Sometimes this works, more often it doesn't.

Only, when you finish and begin editing, you cannot tell which parts were inspired and which were mere workmanship plodding.  It all speaks with a single voice.

I'll never understand this writing business.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

(Almost) Reaching Plotland's Destination

Finally, after blundering hither and yon, stomping through the morasses of confusion, conquering mountains of doubt, cutting away vast jungles of irrelevant prose,  fording gaping chasms of plot holes, and slogging every so painstakingly across the carefully tended furrows of line editing, I managed to finish one of my novels.  This particular one has been a seven year journey and I am grateful it's done.

Except I only get to call my work as a penultimate final draft - other voices are yet to be heard and I will probably be a nervous wreak waiting for the Beta reader inputs that will hopefully help me produce a blessedly FINAL final draft.

Only even then, when I've beaten all the demons into submission, it will not really be final.  There still remains editorial comments to be addressed, squinty-eyed copywriter corrections, and thousand other details designed to drive the most rational of writers into nightmares of revenge and retribution over those who wish to change a single, golden word.  

But such is the way of the world where a writer's suffering* is ever the norm.

Next week the NaNoMoWri obligation will be upon us, during which time I hope to finish off the OTHER novel plus the two (almost done) novellas, and perhaps publish some eNovellas or eNovelettes from my trunk.  Or maybe I'll just stand naked in the cold Autumn air and beat myself on the head with a hammer for a month.

It's about the same thing.

*I may have mentioned this before.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Plotland Slog Continues

First drafts are relatively easy since they are but a framework upon which you hang the decorative elements.  A first draft contains only suppositions, leaving later research to obtain the facts. Characers are sketches whose personalities will develop draft after draft. Scenes are bare skeletons of what they will later become, undecorated by sense impressions, visual descriptions, and/or declarative action. All of these begin to take shape in more careful drafts, edits as you were.

Let me get this off my chest - I hate my first drafts but enjoy the subsequent editing.  That is, I enjoy it until I have all the things I wanted to say said and put in their proper place. Assured that my grammar are correct, as are all the misspelled or incorrected  (damn SpellCheck!) words, and malapropisms.  When the drafting is nearly complete the symbolism, if any, should be in place as are all the metaphors and similes I can cram into the piece without sounding too pretentious.  Finally, the story is in full form and complete, or so you think.

And yet there is that final step, that painstaking, agonizing, foot dragging, soul sucking task that MUST be done.  I am talking about line editing. Crawling and clawing your way through the novel word by all-to-familiar word.  This is not the exciting exploration of an idea that fueled your first and successive drafts, nor is it the skillful manipulation of large blocks of completed text about to heighten the drama or comedy.

No, it is reading for the millionth time words so familiar that no sentence surprises, amuses, or interests you.  You crawl along at a tiny fraction of your reading speed while you try to maintain focus so as not to avoid a glaring mistake or poorly worded phrase.  The pages slip by so slowly when every instinct screams that you must submit this else lose the work already invested with such difficulty.

A word, a line, and sentence more you press on and, to your utter dismay, discover errors that had escaped your careful eye, evaded your beta readers, and would embarrass you terribly if caught by an editor.  You pounce, excited by actually doing something for a change and fix the problem.

Then it's on again, slogging page after page to the final scene and blissful submission.

Which begins the agony of waiting for a response.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Writing Successful Stories

A week ago I revealed the Rules of Writing.  I think that clarification was long overdue but, despite its exhaustive coverage it left the secrets of how to write a successful story hanging.

A story is much more than the proper use of words, careful grammar, and precise, punctilious punctuation. One can follow all the Rules and still be unsuccessful in creating a salable story. Continuing my efforts to raise the quality of the genre I offer these steps to achieving blinding, overnight success*.

1.  Write your story (may require research**)
2.   Complete the story (may require even more research)
3.   Edit the story (yeah, the research thing again)
4.   Submit the story
5.   Deal with rejection (cursing, drinking,and crying helps)
6.   Submit the story elsewhere until it sells
7.   Go to step 1 and repeat.

You would like to think that there's more to it than that, but you'd be wrong.  Writing a successful story requires dedication.  Filling the blank page is slogging hard work; putting down one damned word after another, getting them to play together, and spending an inordinate amount of time dealing with personal frustration, disappointment, and anger, most of which can be dissipated by a kind word, and friendly review, or a fat check (or any acceptance at all, for that matter.)  Be warned that even a successful story may not sell or ever be published.  Commercial success is not necessarily a measure of a story's inherent worth. All writers have a trunk of such.***

After a while, even if you write the most successful story ever, there will still be a little voice in your head saying you could have done better and that EVERYONE will realize that you are faking it!

* Overnight success is usually achieved after years of effort
**Caution: Writers can too easily fall into the research black hole and never escape
*** We just don't talk about it


Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Rules of Writing

After publishing a few stories here and there I've developed some hard and fast rules for writing an acceptable* story.

Certainly, the language mechanics are important.  That the story should follow the rules of decent grammar (unless for some reason you chose otherwise) is also a given. The story should also adhere to the rules: of punctuation, and speling (unless there are good reasons to ignore those details.)

Font selection and document formatting used to be important but this seems not so much now that one can change the presentation with the swipe of a mouse, and I won't even go into the ancient use of 20 pound bond and SASE's - most of you can google those terms for an explanation if you need to.

Composition is sort of important, most of the time.  Scenes should logically follow one another, except when you use flashbacks or forewarning, or wish to elide into some discourse on something that might or might not be relevant for the reader to know.

Each scene should have at minimum a protagonist, setting, and activity - although the paragraphs within a scene need not contain all of these and maybe you can leave out one or two of those elements if you feel like it.

Should I mention that dialogue should be as readers think people talk as opposed to the sometimes random nature of real conversation? It helps to occasionally inform the reader of just who (or what) is speaking, has spoken, or is about to speak so their minds don't wander off the reservation.

As in real life, story consequences should follow actions and have some reason for being there.  It is particularly important that characters tend to maintain a single identity throughout the story, at least to themselves, most of the time.  Keeping the character's names straight helps a lot.

The meta is relevant as well.  A story usually attempts to convey some concept to the reader and leave them with a sense that they have been on a journey.  The style of story telling sometimes does this even when the actual intellectual content of the piece is negligible. But who am I to say anything negative about stylists?

Writing in a language the editor will understand** also helps.

*Meaning "good enough" -  I've long abandoned attempting perfection.

**This is usually English.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Second Thoughts

Some time ago I posed a question in The Act of Writing about what happens when I sit down to write and what possible utility (as in rewards) it produced.  My conclusion at that time was that the mysterious act of writing is probably its own reward.*

But the underlying question remains about what happens when I sit down to write? What strange alchemy transforms a rather dull reader into the producer of stories. My first thought is that it might be physically related.  I learned touch typing on an ancient Underwood in high school and to this day find it a physical pleasure to feel my fingers move the keys as the letters march, character by character, across the screen. Occasionally, when I drop into the fugue state that summons my muse, my sense of time and place disappears and my fingers begin to move independently of my conscious mind. My muse, being a fickle bitch, does not let this happen too frequently and my fingers and brain more often than not need to be coaxed into action to do the slogging hard drudgery of piling word on word.

Regardless of how I invoke the muse I still question from what source and by what processes do I dredge images, characters, settings, and actions that fill the pages of my stories? More importantly, what sparks these into being to such a degree that I am impelled to place strings of words on a page? I am barely conscious of the construction under weigh, aside from deciding what logically follows something, much like putting down a course of bricks to build a house, a barn, or a fence. Is there an architect inside my brain that dictates the design and keeps the stories from being completely chaotic**?

Sometimes the story takes form slowly, from a messy first draft through successive edits until, finally, a half-decent story emerges. There's little magic involved in moving scenes about, changing a bit of dialogue here, adjusting a description there, nip and tuck, polishing and highlighting until the bloody thing "looks right."

Which is an idea for another blog.

* although I must honestly admit that selling something written is slightly more rewarding.

** an accusation that has been made on more than one occasion after the story has been published.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Catching Up

My brain has finally achieved near-synchronicity with my current life-cycle.  Almost two weeks back from several time zones east of here and I am finally regaining the full use of my brain and my former energy levels.

Foolishly, and before I realized how foggy I was, I opened the incomplete draft of one of the novels in an attempt to reignite the spark only to find my dastardly former self had emblazoned the draft with vague notes and highlights, rendering it nearly incomprehensible. This was unforeseen.  I left with the plot unresolved and fully expected my subconscious to have produced a solution while I took a full month off. But my writer's brain turned out to be a lazy bastard and did nothing at all.  I am now doubly disappointed by not only the lack of resolution but my inability to grasp the rung where my hand last rested.

In frustration I attempted to resume work on a long novella that has languished desktop-wise for far too long only to discover that I was no more able to untangle the plot lines or advance the narrative than with the novel. "Maybe one of the shorts," I shouted and, with a wave of the mouse, brought forth the most recent only to send it flying when I realized how much work would be involved to bring it to fruition.

But I continued to work, throwing words at the pieces in hopes of achieving some sort of resolution so I could start seriously editing.  I also took a couple of naps, caught up on my reading, corresponded with friends, took brief looks at Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and dove into the writer's black hole - Google! Wait: Those things were not writing, they were just avoidance strategies I  used until, energy restored, I could once again become productive.

At least I hoped so.

*I often wonder if other writers have a problem with keeping their noses to the grindstone. Are they able to produce endless streams of prose without doubt plaguing every word choice or phrase like me; ever a pillar of self-doubt and insecurity?


Friday, September 5, 2014

Return to Plotland

My brain has finally achieved synchronicity with the present time zone, well, almost.  I fully expected my subconscious to have produced a solution to either of the two novels endings since I gave it a full month off.  Naturally, I have been disappointed.  My writer's brain is a lazy bastard and did nothing at all for me.

Nevertheless, my brain cleansed by a month's absence from working on the novel, I return to the keyboard and open the rambling monster the unfinished novel has become.  In a way, examining the abandoned draft is like an archeological dig where I am excavating for clues as to the novel's purpose, dusting off this fragment or that, mapping the corridors and rooms to once again getring a sense of place and time.

The map shows many, many places where I'd left helpful notes to my future editing self such as "What the hell does this mean?" and "Needs more description" or "Needs more dialogue."  If I wrote that why didn't I effing do something about it at the time instead of expecting the future me to know what to do? Was there some expectation that I'd return smarter or more knowledgeable. despite a long history that this would never happen?  Who knows - obviously I didn't.

Then there's the puzzling "Move this elsewhere" note.   Couldn't you have left me a clue, you idiot! I  have no more idea of where this fragment should go than you did!  Damn!  If I had time travel I'd go back and strangle myself, which would solve both problems, I think.  In other places I discover blocks of text highlighted in yellow, pink, and blue which add festive color to the draft but no explanation of their purpose.  Why did I choose those colors and why highlight that text at all?  I haven't a clue.  Perhaps in time it will come to me. I can only hope.

So where was I when I left? I clearly recall jumping around a bit to tune up this or that chapter but where did these three extra chapters of alternative plot lines come from?  Were they from an earlier draft or something new I was playing with just before I left on vacation?  Are they pieces I cut but did not have the heart to discard?  Perhaps further digging will clarify the question.

Finally, at the end of the draft I discover the outlines for the last few chapters I'd tried to nail down.  But before I can write them I have to finish reading all that went before to remind myself of what this novel was about.

After than all I have to do is edit it.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Experiment Continues

A month ago I decided to NOT WRITE while on vacation in England and France in order to get away from obcessing on the multiple short story drafts and the two 98% completed draft novels on my desk.  I wanted to take a breather from thinking so I could bring renewed energy and commitment to the work.  Best to step away from the art for a bit, said I.

Only everywhere I've been my surroundings scream with story ideas.  Local history abounds with plot lines, ancient structures belie future ancient structures of our contemporary age, and the polysyllabic sounds and a dozen languages (mostly Italian, since this is France in August!)  gives rise to new ideas for a Sam Boone or two.

I find myself dreaming in story lines and awake find myself involuntarily contemplating how this or that incident/scene/location could become SF-ish.  I picture aliens interpreting the tourist sites, albeit with rather different conceptual interpretations and interests than the often confused tourists.  Every time I yearn to jot notes, only to stop by reminding myself of the promise I made NOT to be a writer on this trip but simply to enjoy the moments. This exercise has taught me is that despite my attempts to suppress it, the creative impulse cannot be denied; there are simply too many story ideas in the world to be ignored.  I suppose that eventually memories of this hiatus will leak into my work, color my language, or even spark a new direction.

And oh, do I want to get back to my writer's lair.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Starving in Paradise

My French has improved noticeably since I arrived and I am able to order meals without difficulty, although the number of times my order is screwed up makes me wonder whether the waiters are as fluent, despite being French themselves.

Dining in France while lactose intolerant is an exquisite torture.  The French live on milk in all forms.  I thought a sandwich for lunch would be nice given the wonderful French breads.  The cafe menues have lots of choices: ham with butter, ham with butter and cheese, cheese with butter, and even cheese with cheese and butter.  I was amazed only that they did not offer one butter with butter. When asked to have no butter at all they look at me in amazement, as if I'd asked for no bread.

Dinners are worse, given there is so much (as Terry Pratchett would say) avec with everything.  Were it not for the Touraine's wonderful goat cheeses, which I can eat without exploding, I would starve. Thankfully rillettesgalettes, crepes, and salades plus sausages and territors all with fromage du chèvre are easily found, as is pizza -a traditional international dish.

Coffee comes in tiny cups, dark and so thick you could stand a spoon in it, or maybe that's from too much sugar being added to make it somewhat less bitter.  One cup of this coffee is too little and two cups are "O my God, why is everyone moving so slowly?" while your heart races. Still, that's a small price to pay when eating the wonderful pastries and omlettes, or even having preserves or goat cheese on breads unlike any other.

I will regret departing.


There is not enough time

Friday, August 22, 2014


After half a century of absence we have returned to France, this time with a better appreciation of the culture and a fatter pocketbook, which is fortunate since prices have skyrocketed in the years we've been away. The first thing that's struck me was that the prices of everything is too high, a complete reversal of when we lived here.

Le meme change les plus change.  Commercialization has blossomed but the bread and wine remain the same.  Although there are supermarkets, small establishments still dominate the towns where a roadside meal of bread, cheese, and wine on a balmy day is a rare pleasure. Walking the smaller villages among structures that have experienced the wicked passage of time, wars, and a changing population is a pleasure for Americans to whom historic buildings are measured in decades instead of centuries and which are largely untouched by war's cruel hands.  It is interesting to see pre Christian Roman structures alongside modern residences and among 12-17th century chateaux.

Even though I am giving my writing brain a rest I am collecting many thoughts that may be employed in future stories, mostly about the mistakes we two seem to be making in directions, instructions, and intents, but also which bits of history and views might serve.

And tomorrow is all about the wine.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Collaboration II

Last year Cat Rambo and I set out to write a short story without a clear idea of where we were heading.  Each of us contributed things we thought might be interesting to a reader, letting our imaginations run free and the story develop itself.

About three quarter of the way through what had become a novelette, we started to inflict plot on the narrative and purpose on the protagonist, moving pieces about to inject backstory and foreshadowing, as necessary.  This moved the story somewhat longer and into novella territory, where it ended up at about eighteen thousand words after being cut severely from around thirty thou.

There were some conflicts about the disposition of the cat, which ended up like Schrodinger's, neither alive nor dead, much like the end state of the protagonist.  There was no shouting, pouting, nor wrestling for control between us, which was not easy considering we are both control freaks.  So, it is a measure of success that we remained friends thereafter.

This summer we decided that we should try again for a SHORT story that used both of our skill sets to complete. Thus far it seems to be going well with both of us of one mind on where it is going and what we are trying to accomplish.  It should also remain short as both of us are on extended travel about the world.

Stay tuned.


Friday, August 15, 2014


Ah London.  So nice to return after so many years since we lived here.  Well, not actually here, but on the outskirts in a little place named Uxbridge - the coach stop on the way to Windsor from London back in the days when horses and coaches reigned and which is now a few tube stops away from the ExCel. Uxbridge is also where the Magna Carta was signed at the Crown and Tready, just across the street from our flat. But I digress.

WorldCon is the reason for us being here to represent the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, which actually should be the Science Fiction and Fantasy English Writers of the World since the organization is open to anyone who writes in that language regardless of country. And we do have members around the world, albeit that some are simply expats.l  People write speculative fiction in other languages as well, but the organization has not yet opened that branch of literature.

This is the first WorldCon in London since 1965, coincidentally the year SFWA was founded and, as far as I know, the first to have official representation from the organization.  To honor this we are throwing a nice soiree for members and holding informational meetings for those interested in hearing about the organization's recent activities.

With over ten literary tracks among those for games, costumes, modeling, etc thr schedule is thick enought to quell an Orc.  It is hard to make a choice of how to use your time with so many sessions and so many writers I've not seen or read before.  The conflicting sessions havemade scheduling decisions extremely difficult, and hall conversations too short and too many.  For someone like me with ADD this was triply terrifying, nevertheless too interesting to be ignored.

Did I mention the dealers room?  OMG, such a feast for the eyes and mind, not to mention all the glitz and glamor of costumes, decorations, and dress.  It's like being in a mad halloween and
rummage sale being held at maximum volume.

And there are THREE more days to go!


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Perils of Plotland (Con't)

It's been a while since I bemoaned the progress (or lack of it) on my great experiment to write an entire novel by the seat of my pants - "Pantsing," as Jamie Todd Rubin terms it.  Today, I think I may be near the end of my long journey through the wilds of Plotland.

To recap very briefly, I started this project with NaNoMoWri last year, did my fifty thousand words on a continuous stream, letting the subconscious roam wide and free with only a minimal plot line (fifty words - one for each thousand) to guide me.   In the last week I've gotten the epistle up to ninety-seven thousand words and finally, FINALLY, see how this ambling plot may tie together to a satisfactory conclusion.  That I have at least an idea of how this wraps up is is fortunate as I am preparing for a month's vacation that will give me scant opportunity to wrestle further with this beast.

 Surprisingly, at least to me, is that the entire story now makes sense and that raises some questions:  Did my imagination compose the entire story without informing me of its intent OR have I been   letting each scene dictate the subsequent one with no thought of overall scheme?  I can't seem to recall any moment of intent while recklessly pounding out the first half nor, to be honest, has there been much evidence of such during the creation of the current effort.  The only control I recall exerting was keeping the characters moving along and having something interesting take place on occasion.  Oh yeah, and world-building along the way.

My Workbench
In the past two days I began sketching out all the major surgery sites within this sprawling mess by annotating the diagram I've been maintaining, seeing where I have to insert new material, and where there might be potential to rearrange the sequence of events.  This is, of course, all preparatory to doing the actual hard work of writing the added and needed material, after which I will have to edit the entire novel once or twice before searching for some beta readers (any volunteers?), which will no doubt result in further edits and work.  I can't wait to see what lies ahead in these last three (estimated) chapters.

 While on vacation perhaps I shall scribble a short story or two, that is, if I am unable to suppress an urge to write.  But one thing for certain, I am going out of my way to slave no more on the aspects of this journey through Plotland until I return.  My brain needs a rest.

 I think I am beginning to understand why these novels take YEARS to complete.



Friday, August 1, 2014

Dramatic Waste

As you may have discovered while reading this chair on blog posts, I am perpetually concerned about my failures as a writer, about the lack of attention we short fiction writers receive, and how we move like mist through the literary landscape, affecting nothing and leaving no trace of our passage. C'est la vie and I shall lie in the fictional graveyard beneath an unmarked stone of mediocrity*.

Or so I believed until I read this beautiful article by Stephen Marche that revealed that I am not alone, nor have I been the only one to feel and be treated this way. The trail of sorrow extends deeply into the past and has afflicted countless well-known writers as well as an a googolplex of scribblers like me.

This got me to thinking about the situation.  I write a lot but sell roughly 20% in a good year.  That means that 80% of my output will never be seen by the public. The membership of SFWA is about 1800 souls, only about a quarter regularly publish stories or novels.  The rest might make an occasional sale after becoming members or have been slaving for years on the Great American SF/Fantasy Novel. Prolific writers such as Laura Anne Gilman and Michael Swanwick crank out a continuous stream of shorter works while people like Gail Martin and Brian Sanderson build massive tomes of longer length. But they are at the high end of the genre's spectrum. At the other end are those who sell only a small percentage of all they complete,

What is the cost of all this wasted creativity?  Are we writing for nothing but to amuse other struggling members of our writing groups or produce drafts that line the liter boxes of our cats (all serious writers have cats, it seems.)  What is the point of wasting all our brainpower on pounding out useless words when there are other, more serious problems that would gain from greater attention? I can only conclude that we writers are masochists, enjoying our suffering while publicly proclaiming our dedication.  Despite all the angst, all the soul searching, the all-too-obvious futility of writing, we continue to scribble, scribble, scribble on the sands where the incoming tide washes them away. The only conclusion I can reach is that many of us cannot resist the call of the machine, the caress of a pen in hand, or permit a blank sheet to remain unsullied.

A writer has to write.


*I recently declared in a ReaderCon forum that my unsold stories were forming the basis for my post-humous success (which, incidentally resulted in several people inquiring about my health.) 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Fond Farewell

Twenty-six years ago I bought a nice little ETAP 23, a Belgan sailboat I could single-hand on the various rivers and creeks of the Chesapeake Bay.  I was not new to sailing, having sailed on other people's boats as a teen and then renewed my skills on a little ten-foot Wesort at the headwaters of the Severn River for a few years before upgrading to a larger boat.

Over the years Sparrow, as I christened her (the dingy was named Hawk, in case you were wondering,) and I explored the various rivers and creeks feeding the Bay.  First sailing out of Back Creek in Annapolis, through the mouth of the Severn, and into the Bay itself.   From there I sailed across to circumnavigate Kent Island, cross under the Chesapeake Bay bridge, and once, sailed all the way to Baltimore.

After I moved to a marina on the South River I learned the pleasures of reaching the more southern reaches of the Bay and later, in the Magothy River, I managed to explore further.  Sparrow finally ended up in Pasadena, quite near where I first learned to sail and from where I could sail by the huge carriers and transports entering and leaving the waters of Baltimore's inner harbor, often lying in irons off Fort Carroll to watch the tugs and Bay pilots maneuver the large container ships to dock.

Sparrow was ever ready for a day;s sail, responding to the wind, current, and my steady hand on the tiller and lines. She sometimes acted the frisky colt, eager to run and at other times like a tired plow horse.  There were hours of crushing, searing boredom when the summer failed to produce sufficient wind to blow the chuff off a dandelion.  There were also moments of near terror when gale winds and storms came with little warning.  I once had to chip ice from the shrouds on my way to winter storage because I procrastinated too long by wanting one more day with her.

But as time and tide cannot be stayed, neither could my ability to sail Sparrow as I wished. The last year I ventured no further than six nautical miles from the marina, far less on windless days, and often regretted the other things I could be doing instead of limping along.  For the past two years I wouldn't go out when the winds were stiff and dreaded the weaker winds that failed to give Sparrow  a good run.  I'd like to think that Sparrow understood, wishing instead that we could sail as we did before, brisk against the wind, surfing the cresting waves, and running free and happy.

But all good things must end and so I finally admitted that we had to part. I donated Sparrow to charity so she could find a happier home with someone who loved her as I had.

I will miss her.


Friday, July 18, 2014


When my very first stories appeared in Analog too many years ago I used to hang around the newsstand and wait for someone to pick up one of the few copies. While I waited newbie published thoughts ran through my head: Should I offer to autograph my story? Perhaps introduce myself as one of the magazine's writers? Rip the magazine from their hands and open it to point at MY story? What would be the neatest, bestest thing to do now that I was a published author.  My first story - what a rush it would be to meet an actual reader!

And so I lurked for hours, waiting, waiting, waiting and, sadly, since no one picked up a copy I never acted out those fantasies.  Eventually, the impulse to expose myself in public faded, although I still look for someone buying those magazines when I'm in at the bookstores. Now I restrict myself with meeting a fan or two (usually less, most of the time) at conventions.

As my sales increased I began documenting my efforts recording when a piece was written, to whom I'd submitted, and when I could expect an acceptance or rejection.  That latter was more frequent than I liked, but I persevered and, over time, I was fairly able to predict how soon I'd get a reply from any specific editor. My list also clued me as to when I needed to send a gentle reminder that I still existed and was waiting for a reply.

I learned that some editors take a long time, others a very long time, or in a few forgotten cases, an eternity.  I placed the more tardy editors at the bottom of the rotation. I did have a cut off when it was obvious there would never be a reply of any sort, which also removed that editor from future consideration. Rudeness should not be rewarded. I'd rather an unequivocal rejection than no answer at all.

You would think that receiving an acceptance by a magazine would be the end state - joy at the notification and happiness when the check arrives.  But acceptance is one thing and publication another.  First you wait for the galleys to arrive, a sure sign of imminent publication, you hope.  There is no certainty, even at this stage.  Few editors provide an anticipated publication date, so I am constantly in a state of uncertainty after the notice contract, check, and galleys. Will it appear next month,  some future month, next year, of in a fat collection?  Author copies arrive after distribution so you have to check again; waiting.

Some things never change.


Monday, July 14, 2014

And Here I Thought I was the Only One

For the past umptynine blogs I've been bitching about how lonely is the plight of the poor writer who slaves away in darkness and only rarely emerges from his barrow to embrace the company of others, sometimes even those who share his affliction.  I have often pondered if all writers feel this way and commented on the fallacy of thinking their success comes easily.

But that was before I read an article by Gwenda Bond that confirmed my worse suspicions.  My eyes have been opened to see that other writers share my special circle of hell; ever cursed to "scribble, scribble, scribble..." in a state of perpetual concern that we have neither the skills nor talent to write anything worthy and that any success we've achieved was through sheer luck or a mistaken acceptance by an editor.  Perfection always gets in the way of sufficient as we polish our prose endlessly, submitting only when fatigue or deadlines overtake us. We all know, deep in our hearts, that we are impostors and- dare we say it - inadequate.

It matters little how well others might praise or curse our writing. In our tiny writer's minds we know that we were merely lucky, that our best work were largely accidental, and that we are undeserving of whatever praise is being bestowed.  We are all pitiful, sniveling wretches, doomed like Sisyphus to be forever striving, only to discover there's always another boulder, another hill, another damned deadline ahead and each momentary success only leads to more opportunities to fail, fail, fail.

But, by God, despite all that, all the misgivings, self-doubt, and time required, I do love writing.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Memory Lane

While browsing my files I sometimes take another look at some stories that never found a home despite, in my humble opinion, being the finest literary work of the century*.   Of course one does look for reasons that the tales failed to resonate with editors, some of whom might have liked the work, but demurred for reasons unconnected to the story itself or its presentation. Some of these stories have been rewritten numerous times in an attempt to correct whatever problems others might have perceived. Others I've re-read to discover where the plot sags or the characters morph into creatures untrue to their established nature.  Some of the older ones are simply outdated, speaking of things overtaken by technological progress, or thrown in the trash due to scientific advances.

I browse the past whenever creativity lags and, as I do so, I have to face the inevitable questions about their disposition.  Do I attempt yet another rewrite, a better edit, a slight modification, or simply send it on another round of editors, hoping that at least one might be in a better mood when they read it again or at least suffer from sufficient memory lapse that they no longer recall rejecting it.

I have far more completed, but failed pieces than those that were successfully published,so don't even get me started on those incomplete messes that I simply abandoned. They outnumber the completed ones by a substantial number.  Someday, I mutter to myself in my darker moods, the future will recognize my brilliance and grant me posthumous success. This is a dream shared, no doubt, by legions of other writers who also flail against the cruelty of the speculative short fiction market.

I have such an abandoned piece before me at the moment. It is a perfectly respectable story. Do I work on refurbishing it, or do I push on with yet another new story, hoping that it might find better success?  It's a problem, and one I despair of ever solving.

Or maybe this sort of self-abuse is just a way of avoiding writing.

* Or maybe not: I'm somewhat biased.


Friday, June 27, 2014

The Idea Factory

A short while ago I got an inquiry from a student who asked the classic question that all writers get from time to time.  "Where," she asked, "do your stories come from?"  Note that she didn't ask about ideas, concepts, or characters. She specifically asked about stories.

Most people ask where my ideas for the stories come from, seeking the wellspring from which all literature flows.  If they have a scientific turn of mind they might ask the question in technological terms, seeking the source, the article, the paper, the magazine, or the discussion that provided the spark for the central McGuffin of the piece.  The more literary might ask what well-known (to them in most cases) writer's works inspired the style in which I wrote this or that.

My answer to all is the same.  Ideas are all around you, in the very air you breathe, the water you drink, and the affection that others lay upon you.  You can no more ignore ideas, once you open your mind to them, than you can stop breathing.  We humans swim in an ocean of cognizance where daily we are bombarded with questions, assertions, conflicts, and contradictions that stimulate our minds.  Each of these influences can generate a story, a tale, or a logical extension that resolves the issue. Only the dead can ignore the flood of ideas surrounding them.

This is an easy answer one can shrug off easily, but the answer to the student's deeper question stopped me.  Where do my stories come from?

 I admit that I sometimes model characters on people I've met. I use memories of places I've been and situations I've encountered or only read about. I also liberally steal snippets and bits from other writers, drawing on the vast library of expositional material generated by our genre. Sometimes I even borrow plots after carefully repurposing characters, settings, and times* But all those are simply component parts and the pieces from which I assemble the whole. Simply snapping these elements together like Lego blocks does not a story make.

A story is more than the simple aggregation of words and ideas, more than a logical arrangement of more or less connected scenes, more than the words themselves, and manages to transcend its mechanics.  The writer must also imbue the tale with heart and soul to become a living thing.

My answer to her is that my stories come,, just as a river is fed by a thousand streams, from the experiences of a lifetime and all that I have learned.

*Some of the Sam Boone series used Wodehouse's plots 


Friday, June 20, 2014

The Act of Writing

A new day dawns and I sit at the computer, staring at a blank screen, ready to produce a stream of words, and I ask myself: Why?

"WHY?" is the question that faces me every morning.  Why am I consuming hours of a beautiful spring day pounding out words when there are so many other wonderful things in this world? What impulse is driving me to write instead of doing practically anything else? Is it some uncontrollable mental affliction, an obsession, or manic craving? Am I insane to be doing this?

That I can write, have written, have even sold a few stories over the years is not in question. I can produce prose (I leave it to the reader to judge the literary worth of such) that sells, so it isn't the lack of ability, skill, or grasp of the mechanics that makes me question what I am doing.

I am, have been, writing a novel for no other reason than to see if I could do so.  I have no pretensions that the current piece will ever be published or even read, save by some slush reader.  But that dire view does not deter me from daily adding to the preponderance of words as I drag the characters toward an as-yet unrealized epiphany.  I know I am not writing great art nor even a skillful retelling of a classic story: It's just a long adventure set in a world of my imagination.

So I ask myself why I continue producing a thousand words, day after day? Why not crank out a few salable short stories instead?  What is it about the ACT of writing that keeps me pounding on the keyboard to produce wordy footprints of my passage?  Is seeing the words magically appear before me or is seeing the scenes in my head become words on the page that is so enjoyable?  Is it the simple joy that comes from creativity?  Perhaps therein lies the answer I seek;  the realization that it is the process of writing and not the end result that is important.

Perhaps the act of writing is its own reward.


Friday, June 13, 2014

Plotland Progress (of a sort)

Last week I reached a new Plotland plateau of frustration as the burgeoning novel approached the 70K mark.  I've only completed the first third of the original (very bare) outline and, if I continue at this rate, the result will be rather too long - about 0.5 Sandersons.  This means I must either (a) abandon the outline (b) eliminate one or two subplots (c)write faster or (d) cut, cut, cut, cut.

In a moment of crystalline clarity I put on my editor's cap and chose the latter, cutting nearly eighteen thousand precious, hard wrung words from the latter part of the novel and placing them aside for possible later use.  Nevertheless it was a painful move.  I now understand why it sometimes takes years to complete something in the long form, as this is starting to threaten.

The first nine chapters (about 50k) are in second draft.  The first two have been peer reviewed as acceptable which heartens me, but makes any further changes to the elements introduced there very chancy.

 Chapters Four through Nine continue to be influenced by the new material I'm creating with my back and forth create and edit process.  Still, I am happy with the prose for the most part, somewhat doubtful of the facts, and dead set against introducing yet another character or plot element.  Of course I still have to deal with the rebellious characters who refuse to take my orders and go haring off the script.  Nevertheless, I know my will is the stronger and I will soon have these miscreants yoked to the plot.

Then there's the other novel, somewhat incomplete and waiting for the Big Fucking Idea (BFI) that will let me tie together the threads.  It is the lack of the BFI that confounds me. Each time I attempt to develop a solution the effort drives me back to Plotland and its own challenges.  Back and forth, back and forth, I go, leaving me nearly no time for writing more short fiction.

I find that fighting the nearly irresistible short story idea demons that flutter about my head is difficult. Their cries are like the sireens, tempting, tempting, enticing.  No, I must resis, I cry. I'm too much committed to completing these novels than having them languish on my desktop. I feel that I must continue, slogging ever forward to the point where I will call "Finished!" to the effort and send them forth to find a home or die languishing on some slush reader's desk.


Friday, June 6, 2014


In the dim dark hours of the night, when sleep escapes, my thoughts sometimes return to the mystery of why writers, when they come out of their dark caves at conventions and actually engage in social contact, talk about so many things that are peripheral to what they actually do.  Conversations revolve around markets, editors, publishers, the latest web war, and whatever project they're working on.  They also talk about people, places, cabbages, candle wax, and kings, the latter set usually influenced heavily by strong drink in the cozy environs of the hotel bar.

But you, the writer, never seems willing to talk about your muse, that mysterious being who guides your thoughts and fingers back home, away from the crowd, where you struggle with the difficult problem of placing word upon word to form a story or make a cogent point.

Sure, you are a writer.  You've mastered the three-element plot, grammar, and  the proper use of gerunds, adjectives, and nouns.   You've probably grasped the basic rules of composition, formatting, and adhere to a smattering of professional courtesy.  You've even managed these difficult arts despite reading countless guidance about the "correct" way to approach writing.

But in the dim quiet it is just you and the tabla rosa, the blank sheet that beckons to fill its spaces with words, words, words until your fingers no longer feel the keys and your eyesight starts to fail. What is it that you've been doing until exhaustion overtakes you?  Were you in a fugue state, cooly calculating, plugging along, or thinking of the sweet oblivion of NOT writing?  What is it that drives you to write, even when there is only a very distant prospect of anyone besides some overly critical slush reader ever seeing your thoughts, your words, and your stories?

"Muse," you say, but do you really know what you mean and why, dear God, do you never really talk about her to others?


Saturday, May 31, 2014

Conventional Wisdom

You really want to know why I still go to science fiction conventions when I have so many reasons not to go?  OK, here are a few:

First,  I find it extremely difficult to write while on the road and many conventions require extensive travel.  I often think that lost time could be better spent on writing (this is probably a delusion on my part.)

Next, there's the cost.  Sure, I get a free pass on fees, but for that benefit I am obligated to entertain the paying guests by sitting on panels and BS-ing with others in the industry about whatever comes to mind.  The panel subject is usually just the starting point for a wide-ranging bull session.  To be completely honest, I generally enjoy panels and especially answering the audience's questions.

Then I have to pay for travel, the hotel, meals, etc which, while a valid business expense, is also a drain on my rather thin earnings, as it is for all the fen who go.

There's the hassle of fans, most of whom ignore me, damn it!   Overall, it's a miserable experience except for the Green room, the hallway encounters, the panels, and all the other opportunities to share moments with fellow writers, editors, fans, and publishers.  From these I always gain insights into the business, develop new friendships, hear of opportunities, and generally make myself known in the industry. I have never been to a convention where I didn't come away with valuable information or new ideas to play with.  Another benefit are the dinners and lunches with your peers - nothing is more fun that being with a group of writers letting their hair down over a few drinks and some God-awful food.

Sure, I could (and do) keep up with the same people on social media. It's nice, but nothing beats a hug or handshake from a fellow writer at a con. That brief but intimate physical contact reassures me that all that lonely dark time spent on the keyboard is worth doing.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Methods and Pace

Sorry, but with last week's Nebula in San Jose and seemingly endless SFWA Board meetings, dealing with all the financials, and with Balticon staring me in the face, I have not had time to write a lenghty blog piece this week nor, to be honest, write ANYTHING on the multiple projects I have open, the novel being the top one and the delay is making me crazy.

When I started writing it was nothing to crank out story on a weekend and then spend a year going editor to editor to find a market.  As I grew more accomplished I took a bit longer to complete a story and only spent half a year before running out of editors, mostly because so many magazines failed in that period of my career.  Much later (some say too late) I became conscious of style and started taking a bit more care, a bit more time to compose and finish a story.

So much of my perception of methods and pace derived from writing short stories quickly and getting to sale or rejection faster.  I've tried a few novels but they were done quickly and usually I felt so bad about them that I never marketed them to publishers.  I'm starting to wonder if I am too impatient a writer to endure the long slog a decent novel requires.

But on Monday all this will be behind me and I can settle down to writing once again.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

But Enough About ME

I am not going to talk about my progress on the WIP. Nope, not a word, even though it is threatening to overwhelm me.  Gods, I can't sleep at night worrying about alternative ways of handling scenes and "did I forget to add that?" nightmares.  But, as I said, I don't want to talk about it.

One of the big questions on everyone's mind recently is whether self-published authors can be considered as professionals by other writers.  To understand the depths of this question you need to understand that most "other" writers today came up prior to or during the digital revolution. The eldest members started their careers pounding the keys of manual and electric typewriters, correcting drafts with white-out and tape, mailing bulky envelopes, and then waiting weeks for the rejections to arrive before investing more time and stamps to try a second market.  Writing was hard and tedious work before near-instantaneous communications.  For many of the old school the delay between the final draft and acceptance/publication was a matter of years as the work went through the hands of copy editors, proofreaders, printers, distributor, and finally, into stores.

Todays self-pub writers spin tales on computers, clean them up with software tools, and have their beta readers respond via e-mail before "publishing" their work on line.  Even though a very few of the self-published reap great rewards, the majority labor in vain to earn a pittance, if that, but all consider themselves as authors. It costs little but time to self-publish and that time is often saved by cutting out experienced editors, skilled copyeditors, and professional graphic composers.

Is it any wonder that there is resentment as the newly published sneer at the "other" writers who question which of the self-published are worthy of being called professional writers?  There should be no doubt that money earned is one criteria, but what about those in the great majority whose sales are modest or non-existant?  Small print runs and poor sales are not unknown in the physical book market yet those published authors are considered as professionals. Is there some magic lower level of sales that marks the line between a failed scribbler and someone "other" writers consider as 'professional?"

From my perspective the entire question is one of recognition and acceptance.  As writers all of us need to find a way of granting respect to those availing themselves of the new  markets being created.


Friday, May 9, 2014


I like to collect little snippets of advice from other writers, especially when they pertain to something I happen to be working on, and even more when they reveal something I hadn't considered.  As an example Paolo Bacigalupi made this remark the other day about completing the first draft of his WIP:

" ...[now]  I can pretty much see the whole book inside my head. I can see how each part interacts with every other part. How every change affects the whole."

 And this from Brenda Clough, who has finally reached that delightful point where the first draft is done, done, done!  

"We are now at that blissful stage of the writing process where, the first rocket-speed draft being done, I can brood over the work as a whole like God hovering over the surface of the waters...."

I have not yet reached that blissful state with my own attempt at noveling. Instead I am still marching ever onward toward some place I can finally resolve most of the arcs I've created.  I am intentionally not planning on bringing everything to a conclusion, leaving those to the imagination of whoever eventually reads it.  Yeah, I'm nasty that way.

With all the back and forthing I' m doing as I edit the first section and build on the third I am almost, but not quite at Paolo's point where I can look back to see the grand expanse of this little tale and am far from achieving Brenda's God-like knowledge of a satisfactory conclusion.

In the middle of the book is a few chapter's worth of words that presents problems in that the series does not bridge between the somewhat edited first section and the loose, stream of consciousness thing I'm composing on the fly in the last.  Do I cut the 10K words that stand like a plinth or try to sculpt it into something that is acceptable.   Cut or create, that it is ever the question with a novel.

Maybe I should go back to writing another short.