Saturday, August 25, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

* I use Scrivener to make rearranging easier.

** This is largely a matter or personal taste 


Monday, August 20, 2018

WorldCon 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, August 12, 2018

Reality Bites

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

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

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

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

Just people trying to get by as best they can.


Saturday, August 4, 2018

External Memories

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

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

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

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

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

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