Archive for January 26th, 2004

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.