Archive for April, 2005

4/27/05: Watch this

Editing hours: 55.1 | Since last entry: 0.7 | Percent complete: 92% After two nights of rich dinners and fine conversations with my friend the Lioness and those who came out of the woodwork to visit her during the Portland stop on her Great North American Railroad Expotition, it’s back to the editing. Unfortunately, today was a real pisser at work — running non-stop from 8am until 6:30pm, with interruptions to the interruptions and a nasty commute home to round it all off — so I only had a little editing time tonight. Still, I was able to find a proper finish for Sienna’s father’s watch, which had become a significant symbol of Jason and Sienna’s relationship. I had never been happy with the way it just vanished at the end. The worst part of my work day was that a project I had thought was complete popped up again, like one of those movie villains that would not die. I really, really don’t have time for this, especially since if I touch it at all I’m sure it’ll turn into a complete tarbaby, so I was really stressed out during the meeting. After the meeting was over I got some “feedback” on my “attitude,” but I think I took that remarkably well under the circumstances. With any luck we’ll find a way to put this thing back to bed in fairly short order… but I’m not getting my hopes up.

4/24/05: Home stretch

Editing hours: 54.4 | Since last entry: 4.6 | Percent complete: 92% Finished up the last Jason chapter this weekend, focusing on amping up the emotion in Jason and Clarity’s meeting (the first time they meet face to face, except in flashback, in the whole book) and when Jason convinces Sienna to hand over Raptor’s password. The latter changed from a simple financial transaction to a brutal 500-word scene in which Jason uses his education and imagination to bludgeon Sienna into doing the right thing. One Clarity chapter to go, and the epilogue. We’ll have a house guest this week so I might not get to them before the end of the month. But I’m so close to the end I can taste it. I see I just passed 50 editing hours, so NaNoEdMo is officially over — I guess this is March 55th. I think I have about 3-5 hours of editing work left, plus some time to revise the cover letter and synopsis. Also… this weekend we went to Portland’s first annual Wordstock Festival, a free event with readings and workshops and lots of book dealers and publishers. It was a treat, and I hope it was enough of a success that they’ll do it again next year.

4/20/05: Forward motion over bumpy terrain

Editing hours: 49.8 | Since last entry: 0.9 | Percent complete: 87% Mostly this evening I just read over chapter 9. I had only two notes for this chapter in my giant list of things-to-do; I decided not to do one of them, and the other (an old note from before the last edit) I decided didn’t need any additional work. So I made no substantial changes, just a very few wording tweaks. I think the chapter before that still needs attention — more suffering, more danger, more suspicion. But there was nowhere to put it. Everything in the chapter felt finely polished, leaving no cracks or crannies to attach anything new. I considered adding a complete new scene just to show civilization breaking down, but that seemed artificial, and things in these late chapters are moving so fast that I can’t justify a whole scene that doesn’t advance the plot. Besides, I want to reduce the word count, not add to it. I’m having a definite, but low-key, crisis of confidence on this thing as I approach the end of the revisions (which I really hope to have done by the end of this month). I find myself thinking a lot about the fact that working hard on a novel doesn’t guarantee it will sell. Most first novels don’t sell. But I can’t bear to think that this thing on which I have spent over two years of my life might never go anywhere but my filing cabinet. Well. Knowing what I do about the publishing biz, it might take years to reach the point of deciding to trunk the thing. Plenty of time to write more novels, better ones. And this one might sell. Though at the moment I can only see its flaws. In any case, once I finish this one… it’s short stories for at least six months, baby. I want instant gratification!

4/19/05: Cutting and hemming

Editing hours: 48.9 | Since last entry: 2.5 | Percent complete: 82% Spent most of the evening reducing a couple of Jason’s computer-hacking scenes that some critiquers thought went on too long. It was surprisingly hard to reduce; every bit of information seemed necessary. But I got rid of a sentence here and a paragraph there… and then I realized this wasn’t doing enough good, right around the time I noticed that it might be possible to excise an entire bit: a place where Jason connected a Cetan personal ID code to a Cetan email address by way of a document filched from somewhere else. All I had to do was to change the email address to an ID code and I could get rid of the connecting document, the filch, and the decipherment of the filched document. This is much easier in fiction than it is in real code. I’m not sure how many words I managed to get rid of, but it was probably nearly five hundred. Then I added back a hundred or two, smoothing over the seams where the removed bit had been. It does involve a bit of a coincidence, but the coincidence was there before, it just wasn’t as obvious. A good evening’s work. Definitely entering the home stretch here. By the way… I seem to have created a bit of a kerfuffle with my statement about removing references to food. This isn’t the first time I’ve raised hackles by overstating good advice I’ve received. Food is good and useful in fiction. It can be used to characterize people, and to give them things to do that display emotion, and even to raise tension. The thing to avoid is the use of food (or anything, really) in a scene where it isn’t doing any of those things. It’s an easy trap for some writers to fall into. Especially if you write while you’re hungry. And now, prompted by Jay Lake, the Microsoft Word Grammar Checker Follies! I wrote: The cavernous, bustling space rose five stories high and stretched all the way to the Platform’s far exterior wall. Word suggests: The cavernous, bustling space raised five stories high and stretched all the way to the Platform’s far exterior wall. I wrote: One, two, three wingbeats, and then the flyer was rolling forward, bumping along the road. Word suggests: One, two, three wingbeats, and then the flyer were rolling forward, bumping along the road. I wrote: The other doctors are doing their best, but… Word suggests: The other doctors are doing there best, but… I wrote: The big triple bed, where Clarity had bounced whenever she could get away with it, had been replaced by an elevated hospital bed, a human thing of steel and plastic covered with harsh white sheets. Word suggests: An elevated hospital bed, where Clarity had bounced whenever she could get away with it, had replaced the big triple bed, a human thing of steel and plastic covered with harsh white sheets. And my personal favorite… I wrote: But that blessed state was soon interrupted by the automated controller at the Moses Lake airport, which transmitted landing instructions to the human-made transceiver fastened like some boxy, awkward fungus to the smooth curves of the instrument panel. Word suggests: But that the automated controller at the Moses Lake airport, which transmitted, soon interrupted blessed state-landing instructions to the human-made transceiver fastened like some boxy, awkward fungus to the smooth curves of the instrument panel.

4/17/05: Harder and easier

Editing hours: 46.4 | Since last entry: 3.6 | Percent complete: 79% Continuing to make Jason’s life harder, and even harder still, after Remembrance Day. His current situation diverges more and more from his situation in the previous draft, making the work more difficult, but I only have to do this for one more chapter, and then he’ll be in a completely different place both literally and figuratively. I also touched briefly on a Clarity chapter between the two post-Remembrance-Day Jason chapters, but that was pretty easy. I only had to add a couple of sentences to close off a possibility that I knew wasn’t open but never actually stated. I also made it clearer that Clarity is taking control of the Corporation — again, only a few sentences changed. A lot of the changes I’m making are subtle. One lesson I’ve learned (I forget from whom, probably Elizabeth Bear) is this: take away all references to food. Food is comfort. Characters who are eating are not serious about whatever problems face them. One lousy frozen burrito can suck 25% of the tension out of a scene. The parts of the book I’m editing now are in the best shape, because they’re more recent, and they benefit from everything I learned in the previous couple of years about how to write a novel. Editing this part is easy because it’s fresh in my mind and there isn’t that much that needs to be done. The parts of the book I’m editing now are in the worst shape, because they haven’t been edited and re-edited through several previous passes. Editing this part is hard because it’s fresh and I don’t have enough perspective on it.

4/14/05: Suffer, you little bastards, suffer

Editing hours: 42.8 | Since last entry: 2.1 | Percent complete: 70% Spent the evening rewriting the first long scene of chapter H, changing it from “Jason whines about his awful job and commute and reads in the paper about how society is breaking down” to “Jason runs from a riot.” Made the job and the commute worse while I was at it. As I pointed out to Kate, during the day I try to make life easier for my customers. At night I make life harder for my characters. It all evens out. Next, I’m going to take the scene were Jason loses his job and change that into something really nasty.

4/10/05: Back to work

Editing hours: 40.7 | Since last entry: 5.8 | Percent complete: 68% Finally back to editing again, though the first couple of hours (Saturday) were mostly spent reading, to put the book back into my head. Most of today was spent on Clarity, especially chapter 7, amping up the emotion in the early discussion between Clarity and Doctor Patience (formerly Perceptivity) by putting more of the conversation on the page. As long as I was at it I dropped in some more information, because some critiquers didn’t understand exactly how the plague spreads. The conversation’s a little data-heavy now, but at this point in the book I think that’s needed. I also worked to fix the continuity problems mentioned last time, which wasn’t all that hard. The revised scene in which Clarity reacts to the news that Jason was responsible for the epixenic works well in its new location. Next time (whenever that is… soon, I hope) I’ll focus on Jason and Sienna, on the run after Remembrance Day. This section needs quite a bit of work — I have to make their life massively harder. In non-writing news, we saw a benefit performance of Hell’s Angels (1930, directed by Howard Hughes) with local author Mark Bourne and the lovely Elizabeth. They sure don’t make ’em like that any more. The pacing was slow, and the acting was sometimes amateurish, but it was still a lot of fun, especially having seen The Aviator. The aerial battles and explosions were phenomenal. Surprises included a couple of scenes in color, and a gripping zeppelin chase. I wish I’d told Jay Lake about it. And one more thing… my Unitarian Jihad name is Brother Landmine of Compromise.

4/6/05: Too busy to get anything done

Editing hours: 34.9 | Since last entry: 0.0 | Percent complete: 62% It’s been a week since my last post here. I spent the weekend doing many useful things, including clearing three boxes of clothes and shoes out of my closet (part of my new year’s resolution) and putting knobs on the china cabinet (something that has needed doing for, oh, twelve years or so). Monday I had a planning meeting all day at work, and Monday evening we had a first meeting for a neighborhood SF reading group (it looks like it’s going to fly, and we’re reading All Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories to start off, with The Year of Our War to follow). Tuesday I went to the CHI 2005 conference, an international conference on Computer-Human Interaction which just happens to be held here in Portland this year, and Tuesday evening there was Japanese class (but it’s going to be cancelled after next week unless we can scare up 4 more students). Today, Wednesday, was the second day of the CHI conference. So why do I feel like I’m not getting anything done? I really feel awful about the fact I haven’t done any editing, have only been to the gym once in the last two weeks, and have been eating badly. I also don’t feel I’m making the most productive use of the conference. Somehow no matter what papers I choose to attend I wind up wishing I’d picked something else. I know I’m not being fair to myself, but knowing this doesn’t help. I had three options for tonight: attend the evening conference receptions (with free cocktails from Yahoo and Google), stay home and work on my novel, or go to the gym. What I wound up doing was watching Lost and West Wing with my sweetie while eating macaroni and cheese in front of the TV. Mind you, it was the best damn macaroni and cheese on the planet, hand-made from a recipe in Gourmet magazine with fine imported cheeses and Dijon mustard. But it wasn’t exactly healthy. I think I needed a rest.

3/31/05: Bleah

Editing hours: 34.9 | Since last entry: 2.2 | Percent complete: 62% I’ve been sick for the last couple of days. Not too sick to go to work. Not too sick to lightly revise one of my Clarion stories (which has never been submitted, and it’s been five years choke gasp ack) and send it to the Wiscon writers’ workshop. But too sick to edit my novel. I’m still sick today (though improving). But Kate said as she went off to the opera tonight that I should try a little editing anyway, so as not to lose momentum completely. If it wasn’t working I could stop, but if I got into it… I got into it. Spent the evening working on chapter 7, focusing on amping up the emotion. Indeed, as my critiquers pointed out, it is quite flat. To that end I decided to move the scene in which Clarity makes a key realization about Jason toward the end of the chapter, which both puts it in a place that’s already more emotional and avoids the question of “why doesn’t she do something about it?” for the rest of the chapter. But moving that scene creates some continuity problems about who-knows-what-when that I have not yet completely resolved. I’ll have to tackle the same chapter some more next time. Maybe tomorrow. So NaNoEdMo ends with less than 50 editing hours. It’s still been a good, focused month of editing and a worthwhile exercise. I’m going to keep tracking the hours until I finish, just to have a gauge of progress.