Archive for January, 2004

1/26/04: Three in the mail

Word count: 50267 | Since last entry: 21 | This month: 13965 The 21 words shown above is the net result of edits on the Gateways and zeppelin stories. I put both of those in the mail tonight, as well as a resubmission of “Where is the Line”. Also sent off a couple of queries on stories that have been at their markets for a loooong time. Final word count on the Gateways story: 6684. But I e-queried the editor and he said “Don’t worry about the extra 600 words — if you’re happy with it, send it on over to me.” Tonight’s edits were mostly tweaks suggested by my crit group — I tightened up the first few paragraphs, eliminated a red herring or two, fixed a couple of technical and grammatical errors, and brought the bad guy on stage at the last so he could see he’d been defeated. In general, the crit group liked it. I think it’s a pretty good story. Why does the simple act of mailing a story take so much time? It’s not like I sweat over the cover letter (every one is the same except for the address, title, and wordcount). Maybe it has something to do with the reading over and over of my deathless prose. Handwriting the two envelopes is also kind of time-consuming, but it takes less time and stress than computer-printing them when the printer gags on the envelope two or three times, as it did more often than not before I gave up on it. Tomorrow I will write at least 100 words on the novel! Promise!!

1/25/04: Colonyhouse, zeppelins, zombies

Word count: 50267 | Since last entry: 4475 | This month: 13944 Just back from the Colonyhouse, a fun weekend of writing, talking, and eating. Had a full house of eight people this time, despite blustery weather (hard rain, occasional hail, and serious winds at the coast, with the threat of snow in the mountains) and personal crises for some of the attendees. Although I started this Colonyhouse weekend thing as a way to get in more words on the novel, I wound up starting a story for All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories instead. I blame Edd Vick, who was also working on a zeppelin story. The good news is that I also finished the zeppelin story, so I now have three solid weeks (with no more short story deadlines!) to write my next novel chapter. This story was unusual for me. It started as just a vignette: 400 or so words written for an Exquisite Corpse (a writing game in which each writer adds a short section to an ongoing story) started by Jay Lake. I whomped it off in an hour. But I was so intrigued by the setting — a kind of China Mieville magic/technology hybrid universe — that I decided to expand the vignette into a story. It already had zeppelins in it, and zombie goats to boot. I changed the zombie goats to human zombies, because I thought the goats were both implausible and just too much of an in-joke, but apart from that it was a straightforward extrapolation from that bizarre little vignette. Starting from that situation, I just wrote and wrote, introducing characters and relationships as needed. I was never sure as I wrote each paragraph just what was going to happen next. And then I wrote a sentence, and I stopped and thought “gee, what happens now?” — and I realized I had just ended the story. Boom, a whole 4500-word story in one day. I’m still not sure that’s really the end of the story. It’s a lot like the end of The Italian Job (the 1969 original, I haven’t seen the 2003 remake). At first, I thought it was terribly ambiguous. But I got a couple of the people who were there at the Colonyhouse to read the story, and they said the ending wasn’t ambiguous and it was satisfying. And, indeed, when I read it again I found it was not ambiguous — there’s really only one more thing that could happen after that point, so there’s no need to show it. It’s a bit of a downer ending, but it’s appropriate for the rather dark setting. (Though, as Kate points out, it’s nowhere near as dark as New Crobuzon.) I did go back and tweak one scene in the middle to make the ending work better — but I only added two letters, changing “I love you” to “I loved you” in two places. I have some worries about this story. Am I being derivative, channeling China Mieville as I channeled Cordwainer Smith (and some have called “Nucleon” Bradburyesque)? Am I in a rut, with a man in love with a zeppelin as I had a man in love with a spaceship in “Eagle”? And, still, does the ending work? But all in all I’m happy with it. If nothing else, it’s a great atmospheric piece. The really weird thing is that, even though I wrote it straight through in one sitting without knowing what was going to happen next, it hangs together surprisingly well. For example, in the first scene there is a little biotech cleaner that snuffles up some crumbs, then flies off to the corner to feed its young. It doesn’t have any relevance to the plot, it’s just there for atmosphere. But, upon reflection, it serves to show on the very first page that this is a world in which there are engineered creatures that perform services for humans but have their own lives and their own agendas. And they fly. Just like the intelligent zeppelin with whom the main character is later revealed to be in love. Since I finished up the zeppelin story on Saturday (and got to bed by 10:30, unlike Friday night when I stayed up talking until 1:30 AM), I took Sunday morning to do some edits on the Gateways story. Based on the two critiques I have already received, I decided to keep the demon alive until almost the end of the story, and I think it’s much stronger for that. I also used one of the new demon scenes to introduce the armorer at the middle of the story, so he doesn’t just appear from nowhere when he’s needed at the end. It’s like making pie crust — you have to cut the flour and shortening together, then roll it out so it’s a smooth dough with a uniform consistency (but without working it so much it turns into mush). Now I have to roll out some other ideas in the same way, to properly lead up to the ending and otherwise make the batter smoother, and do some word- and sentence-level editing to tighten the story and reduce the word count as much as possible. I’ll probably be able to put both these stories in the mail on Monday or Tuesday. And so, after a productive weekend, I’m going to take this evening off.

1/21/04: Off to critique

Word count: 50267 | Since last entry: -519 | This month: 9469 Trimmed the story down to 6600 words, just 10% over the stated limit, and sent it for a quick email critique. (I gave myself a gold star for the 500 anti-words.) Maybe my crit group will suggest some more trims. Even if not, I think I can probably get away with this length. I like this story a lot. It’s not quite up there with “Eagle,” I think — it didn’t make me cry — but it’s a good solid story with fear and danger and magic and sense of place, a really evil bad guy, and a couple of good guys who learn and grow. We’ll see how the critique goes.

1/19/04: A handful of snow

Word count: 50267 | Since last entry: 737 | This month: 8878 Didn’t get any writing done at Rustycon this weekend, but had a good time nonetheless. Con report will be posted soon in the usual places. Tonight I wrote the scene in which all hope is lost, but the main character finds an idea for a solution in a tiny handful of snow. Now she has to find a way to implement it. Great sacrifices will be required, but in the end a traditional square dance move saves the day. I know exactly how it needs to go, I just need to write it. The story is currently exactly 6006 words. I think I can finish it up in less than 1000 words, which I might be able to tighten back up to 6000 words with judicious editing and the slaying of a few darlings. Must finish it first. But for now… sleep.

1/14/04: Fork-carts on parade

Word count: 50267 | Since last entry: 1129 | This month: 8141 Wrote the preparations for the siege, the overwhelming attack, the falling-back to the last redoubt, and the bad guy’s final offer. One of the biggest problems I had was how to describe the action of a fork-cart. This is an ancient Chinese siege weapon that works like a catapult, but instead of throwing a rock it just smashes its arm directly into the wall (with a big fork on the end, which is why it’s called a fork-cart). It was difficult to describe it from the perspective of my protagonist, who has no more experience with catapults than she does with fork-carts, but I think I managed it. Left off with the good guys trapped with their backs against the wall and no hope of victory or escape. Probably another 1000-2000 words to go. Unfortunately, the story is already 5200 words and the maximum for this market is 6000. This could be tough. Maybe I will ask the editor if I can have an exception to the length limit…

1/11/04: Galumphing forward

Word count: 50267 | Since last entry: 923 | This month: 7012 Still plenty of snow on the ground, but I did get to work on Friday and got out and ran a lot of errands yesterday and today. Also saw Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times. Not quite a thousand words increase in word count today, but I’m going to give myself a red star anyway, because I wrote just over 1000 new words while deleting a couple of paragraphs. Anyway, the story is set in China :-). Wrote two scenes, in which Yao the evil general smashes his cooking pots and Chang the good general despairs. The scene with Chang turned out to be much more of a character moment for both him and the protagonist than I’d expected. This story is turning out really well. The only problem is that it’s 4000 words going on 8000 for a 6000-word-max market. Well, we’ll just have to see how it goes. There’s really only two more scenes to write, but they’re biggies: the siege of the town, and the protagonist’s big revelation and climactic task. (Maybe that last is two scenes.) Plus a short epilogue. Thanks to those who have written in with suggestions on Chinese mythology. I still don’t know what the demons are called in Chinese, but since I am using the English names for everything except places and people I guess I can get away with calling them “demons”. But the Ten Kings of Hell are making a cameo appearance.

1/8/04: Still snowed in

Word count: 50267 | Since last entry: 1329 | This month: 6089 David’s Very Secret Diary, day four. If Legolas keeps nancing about on top of the snow, may have to hit him with my staff. It’s been four days now and I’m going rather stir-crazy. The good news is that I’ve been getting lots of writing done. The story is now 3200 words and just slopping over with action and dramatic tension. A frustrating thing: at the Portland Art Museum’s exhibit of Chinese art last year, I saw a large sculpture with three demons (having human bodies and evil fanged faces) holding up a globe. I want to know what they are called in Chinese. But many Google searches on “Chinese demon”, “Chinese devil”, “Chinese mythology”, etc. yield no joy. In the story I am calling them “black demons” but I would like to be more specific than that. The weather report promises thawing tomorrow, but it’s been saying the same thing since last weekend. I plan to attempt to dig the car out, at least. Still not King.

1/7/04: Yet another snow day

Word count: 50267 | Since last entry: 1888 | This month: 4760 Stuck at home due to snow for another day, and tomorrow isn’t looking much better. As long as I wasn’t doing anything else, I did more background reading on the Gateways story, then wrote up some brief character and situation sketches, which turned into a 1600-word prose outline. The 1888-word total above reflects the current contents of the file Gateway.doc, which is about 1300 words of story and 500 words of outline. I think the research is really paying off in atmosphere, detail, and character. At least, I can see and smell every scene in my mind’s eye… we’ll see what the readers think. The story may be moving too slowly to finish in less than 6000 words. On the other hand, it does take a while to set up the situation. If it’s too long, I can always chop it down after finishing the first draft. I have chosen to use names that are reminiscent of the actual Chinese names in my research without being exactly the same (examples: my god Kuan Shih Yin = the actual goddess Quan Yin; my general Chang Hua of the state of Li = Liu Pang of Qi; my Yao Ming of Tung = Hsiang Yu of Chu [a really nasty fellow]). This should give a story that sounds and feels authentic without getting me in too much trouble with real Sinologists.

1/6/04: Another snow day

Word count: 50267 | Since last entry: 0 | This month: 2872 Stayed home today due to the massive snow storm, freezing rain, plague of locusts, etc. Didn’t do any writing, but did do a lot of research for the Gateways story. Also watched both Jaws 2 and Deep Blue Sea, in both of which a shark takes down a helicopter. Who knew?