Archive for January, 2006

1/12/06: Backing up for a running start

Word count: 5833 | Since last entry: 176

Most of this evening’s writing consisted of a quick editing pass through the whole story so far, cleaning it up and looking for cues that my subconscious had planted toward the ending, then straightening them up so they all point in the same direction. Still not 100% sure what the actual ending will be but it’s definitely shaping up.

A snippet: “I keyed the laser with Merganther’s personal emergency code. He answered almost immediately, and I told him about the failing spar. I gave him my honest assessment of the severity of the situation, and I did not overstate the risk. But I didn’t tell him about the bloom.”

Thanks to those who have commented on the last couple of entries. I don’t have the time to post replies right now, but your comments are appreciated.

1/11/06: Nasty

Word count: 5657 | Since last entry: 315

The climax continues. My main character is in the process of making a decision that many people would see as evil. Can I do this and still have him be sympathetic? Maybe I need to show his second thoughts as well as his rationale…

A snippet: “For a moment I just gaped at the sight — a jet of gas as big as three platforms spewing into space. Slowing the fragment down. Changing its orbit. By how much? Enough to make the difference between life and death for Earth? Maybe. Probably. I couldn’t tell. Too many unknowns.”

1/10/06: This is the tricky bit

Word count: 5342 | Since last entry: 314

This is the place where this draft of the story is going to be most different from the last one. Having created a new main character and put him in the same situation, his crisis is different and the resolution has to be different as well. This character simply doesn’t care about the things that were important to the previous one. But his problem is the same: Earth is threatened, but he has more important things to defend.

Last time I came >this close< to destroying the Earth at the end of the story. It could still happen.

I wrote up a thousand words of notes about what might happen at the climax. A key piece of broken equipment could be repairable or not, and there are two separate pieces of information the character could choose to lie or tell the truth about, which creates eight possibilities. I wrote up a paragraph or two about each possibility and the most dramatic things that could happen as a result. (Yes, this is how I write. Could have been worse — I seriously considered drawing up a decision tree.)

Several of the possibilities make no sense. One leads to a straightforward heroic ending, which is satisfying in a conventional way but I want more moral complexity from this story. Two lead to ironic downer endings, which I don’t want either. But two of them lead to unconventional endings with a twist in the tail, one of them more straightforward than the other. That’s the one I’m now driving toward. However, I may change course as the climax shapes up. (And I can go back and change the lead-in if that would make a better ending.)

A snippet: “I tried to place an urgent call to Merganther, on Funnel One, but the quantar link was down again — it had become more and more cranky as years wore on without proper replacement parts — and the radio was even more badly shredded than usual by Earth’s magnetic fields. All I could hear was the roar of static and occasional snatches of words.”

Oh, also: today’s email brought a rejection from Fantasy, and a note from the editor at Tor that he has no idea how long it will take the publisher to come to a decision about my novel. The rejected story will go right back in the mail just as soon as I decide where to send it next; the nails will continue to be bitten.

1/9/06: David 1, Windows 0

Word count: 5028 | Since last entry: 1503

As readers of her LiveJournal are aware, Kate has been on a decluttering kick lately, and we’ve managed to accumulate four grocery bags of books and one of CDs that we decided we can live without. So yesterday, after I spent most of the morning ripping CDs into iTunes, we headed off with our bags to get the books and CDs back into circulation.

The first place we went was Music Millennium, a fine local music store where we had a coupon good for an extra 15% on any used CD sales. But lots of other people were cleaning out their CD shelves, possibly attracted by the coupon, and we were warned of a two-hour wait for the CD buyer. So we took them to Everyday Music instead, where we amused ourselves with browsing the racks while the buyer evaluated our wares. We wound up spending only $50 over what our CDs brought in. Then we lugged the books to nearby Powell’s, where there were three buyers on duty and we only had to stand in line for a few minutes. After which, of course, we had to hit the stacks. But this time we came out ahead, with $10 in store credit. So we wound up with a net expense of about $40 and replaced five bags of unwanted books and CDs with one small bag of (hopefully) wanted ones. Not that there is any room on the shelves for those.

After we got home from that expedition, I headed right back to Powell’s, because I’d forgotten I had a couple of Xmas presents to return and I wanted to complete the decluttering expedition. (Not presents I’d received; books I’d bought as presents and then learned the intended recipient already had them.) I knew it was dangerous to go to Powell’s again, especially with a card now loaded with another $20 in store credit, but this time I managed to get away with nothing more than a cup of coffee.

Amazingly, that whole expedition took less than three hours, including lunch. I spent the afternoon ripping more CDs and making sure that all three computers had the right music on them. But when Kate and I went to consolidate the music collection on the office computer (which I’ve begun thinking of as “her computer”), we discovered there wasn’t enough free disk space to perform the consolidation.

This led to a deep philosophical discussion about extending the concept of decluttering to the office computer. I’d been thinking for some time that it needed a larger hard disk, but to Kate this seemed like buying a bigger house when what was really needed was to keep the current one tidy. My main concern was that by comparison with the multimedia files that we’ve been adding lately, any space we could reclaim by removing unwanted documents would be just a drop in the proverbial.

But then I thought of a major decluttering option that would free up at least four GB — I could delete the operating system and all the applications.

Okay, I could delete an operating system and its applications. Specifically, when I upgraded this PC from Windows 98 to Windows XP I’d partitioned the hard disk and done a fresh install of XP on the new partition. So the first partition contains our documents directory and an operating system we haven’t booted up in over a year. If I just got rid of Win98 I could make enough space for about 66 more CDs. (Hmm, not all that much. Still substantial, though.)

But I’m not dumb. I immediately began backing up the C: partition to the new fileserver, in case I deleted something I regretted later. Then we went to the Bagdad for pizza and Flightplan, which was rather implausible in spots but still an entertaining two hours of mindless fun. We got home just as the backup was finishing… and the verification phase started, which would take just as long. So I did my writing for the evening, but didn’t post anything to my journal because that would require using the PC (long story).

This morning when I awoke I saw that the backup had completed and verified successfully. I checked that I could successfully restore a directory full of files, then deleted everything on the C: partition other than the documents directory. Despite a couple of warnings about deleting the Program Files directory, the deletion proceeded without error, freeing up large amounts of space and leaving the system still functional. I tried running some programs and all seemed okay.

But when I rebooted… ack! A black screen with “Can’t find NTLDR”! Woe! I had stupidly forgotten that, although the C: drive’s operating system was no longer in use, it was still the boot drive.

After staring and sweearing at the black screen for a while, I tried booting from several emergency boot floppies. None of them worked. But the WinXP install CD did boot, and offered a Recovery Console. But the Recovery Console was nothing more than a DOS prompt. How to recover the lost files, which were gone to wherever files go when you empty the Recycle Bin?

Fortunately, I had a working server with a complete, fresh backup of the C: drive. I ran upstairs and restored C:’s root directory to a temporary folder, then copied key files — including AUTOEXEC.BAT and the critical NTLDR — to a floppy. Then I copied the files from the floppy (one at a time, the Recovery Console version of COPY doesn’t support wildcards) to the C: drive. Cross fingers, press Reset and… it lives!

Amazingly, I made it to work less than an hour later than usual.

A few more files did have to be restored… old apps that were still running from the C: drive, sound files, that sort of thing. But all in all the operation was a success. I was stupid enough to get myself in serious trouble, but smart enough to get out of it. Geek triumph! Never did consolidate Kate’s iTunes library, though.

This evening we ate leftovers, did some grocery shopping, and I also did some writing. Most of the word count above is copied in from the previous draft, but I’m getting to the climax and that’s demanding a serious rewrite. Expect to see slower progress in the next few days. And when I finish, I need to go back and fix up the timescale a bit, and also restore some of the vast scope that the previous draft had — the new draft is more personal and visceral for the main character, but as a side effect it’s also lost some of its sensawunda.

1/7/06: Voom

Word count: 3525 | Since last entry: 759

I had a mind-numbing list of Things to Do today, but somehow the day just went “voom” without getting more than a few of them done.

It started off when I was just getting my act together after arising, when Kate suggested we go to the gym. Which I had to agree would be a good idea, but with one thing and another it took us quite a while to get moving, and when we got there we found the gym packed with new year’s resolution people. The mad crush usually passes by February, but for now it was crazy — we just did 20 minutes of cardio and came home.

After that I had some critiques to do, and some other chores like cleaning and putting away the Hanukkah menorah, before critique group in the afternoon. Then we had just time to fix and eat dinner before my corporate holiday party (which is held in January — kind of nice, actually, in that it doesn’t interfere with any other holiday parties).

The party was pretty enjoyable for a work-related event, with free drinks and hors d’ouvres and blackjack, craps, and roulette tables for entertainment, but the music and the standing around in dress shoes got to be a little too much so we went home early and watched the Season 2½ premiere of Battlestar Galactica. Then I did a little more writing — like yesterday, most of the wordcount above is copied from the previous draft.

A snippet: “I emerged into a motionless, darkened industrial station. The angular forms of platforms under construction jutted all around, harshly illuminated by white emergency pinpoints. Here and there a cable or tool floated free, left unsecured in the rapid evacuation, but there was no sign of the reason for that evacuation.”

Many more Things to Do this weekend. Tomorrow will be a busy day.

1/6/06: Keeping my oar in

Word count: 2766 | Since last entry: 110

I neglected to mention yesterday that I got an update from the editor on my novel. He says that he liked the revisions and has passed my revised manuscript along to the publisher with his strong endorsement. Now we both get to wait for the publisher’s decision. Breath held, fingers crossed, etc.

Went to a square dance tonight, for the first time in many months. We missed the opening hour of C-2 (a level which Kate dances but I don’t, so I can do some writing while she dances) due to bad luck with dinner. We went to a local Mexican joint for a quick burrito and wound up waiting while the cashier told stories of his first job to the people in line ahead of us. Eventually we simply bailed, and went to a nearby Japanese place, where our dinner took a lot longer to arrive than it usually does. Grr all around.

So I didn’t do much writing during the dance, and when I got home I wrote the bare minimum to make my 100 words for the day. More tomorrow.

A snippet: “But while those of us who had invested early in the Project grew wealthy, poor Jupiter wasted away. His weather systems disrupted by the constant sucking of the Funnels, old Jove shrank from a proud banded beauty to a muddy, muddled yellow-brown gasball, and even his parade of attendant moons was cleared away to create a safer work environment. I found the sight depressing, so I buried myself in my work.”

1/5/06: A productive day

Word count: 2656 | Since last entry: 1452

A productive day at work, some coding and some meetings, very little drama. Got home from work reasonably early, fixed an interesting chicken-and-cranberry recipe Kate clipped from the paper, then sat down to write much earlier than usual. Still going to bed later than I should. Kate’s still having problems with the iPod… it’s supposed to be easy to use, but under Windows it’s sometimes kind of flaky.

Don’t get too excited about the word count above. Only about 200 words of that is new; the rest is copied in from the previous draft (which isn’t really a “draft”, it was finished and submitted and came very close at several markets, including a rewrite request from F&SF). But I did make some significant changes in the copied material. I’m giving myself a gold star for the day.

A snippet: “Just getting the black holes to stabilize was a nightmare. The only tools we had were superconducting magnets the size of small moons, and if one of them decided to quench you wouldn’t even have the time to say your prayers. We lost half the hole team in one instant, when someone bobbled the matter feed and hole number four went straight from black to white without stopping for breakfast. We had invested a substantial portion of the genome money in the latest backup and restore equipment, of course, but the prospect of sudden death was still terrifying.”

1/4/06: Just taking our bedding for a drive, officer

Word count: 1204 | Since last entry: 308

As you can tell from the timestamps of my last few entries, I’ve been staying up stupidly late to get my writing done. I came home today tired and headachy and firmly committed to an early bedtime.

After a quick and simple dinner (soup made with instant Tom Yum soup paste from the Asian market, a yummy recent find) we set out to take our comforter and mattress pad to the laundromat and wash them in the big machines there. This looked like a win, because I could sit and write while we waited. But first Kate wanted to load up her iPod with some podcasts to listen to at the laundromat, and there were some frustrating technical problems (iTunes on the PC doesn’t always seem to notice that the iPod has been docked), so it got kind of late before we even hauled the stuff out to the car.

I don’t think we’ve gone to a laundromat once since we moved into this house. The first place we tried was completely empty of anything but washers and dryers — no other people, no place to sit, and no heat. The second was so skanky-looking we didn’t even slow down as we drove past. The third was just about to close. So we drove our bedding back home, with a frustrating detour caused by several police cars blocking a major street, lights flashing (I suppose we’ll find out in tomorrow’s paper what the fuss was about). I finally sat down to write about 9:30 — still tired and headachy, plus frustrated. I’m not sure I’m completely happy with tonight’s wordage, but it’s still over 100 words so I’m giving myself a silver star on the calendar.

A snippet: “During that period I traveled to Earth only when there was no alternative. By comparison with the clean expansive future we hoped to bring about, Earth seemed a sewer jammed with people too stupid to see how badly they were fouling their own nest.”

1/3/06: KINKy stuff

Word count: 896 | Since last entry: 337

First off, I’d like to point out that the deadline for the Potlatch 15 Taste of Clarion West Writers’ Workshop, which I am coordinating, is January 15. That is, manuscripts must be received by then. If you’ve been thinking about participating, now’s the time to take action.

With that out of the way… one of the two radio stations I listen to with any regularity is KINK, whose slogan is “True to the Music” (the other is KOPB, the public radio station). I really like KINK’s playlist, which is a mix of old and new stuff unlike any other station in town. But I don’t always catch the names of the artists and songs, which means that there are a lot of songs I enjoy but couldn’t pick out of a line-up (or, more to the point, out of the rack at a used CD store). So today I had a brainstorm. KINK makes its playlist available online. I wrote a shellscript to read the playlist and output a web page that searches for a song, artist, or album in the iTunes Music Store with a single click. Now I can start with an alphabetized list of KINK songs and easily hear a 30-second snippet that tells me which one is which. I hope to find out soon who my favorite artists are. Kate’s also excited by this tool.

The 337 words above is a bit of a cheat, since I brought in a couple of paragraphs from the previous draft of the story (so much for a from-the-ground-up rewrite). But they’re good paragraphs, and I see no reason to leave perfectly good words just lying around unused. I suspect I’m not going to be able to reuse a lot of verbiage, though, because the world of the story is a lot grittier in this draft and the main character’s much more of a hot-headed punk.

A snippet: “A few hours and a lot of kif later we were both scratching equations on the table top with an emergency rescue tool, shouting back and forth and grinning like idiots. When we ran out of table we started in on the wall.”

1/2/06: Quiche me you fool

Word count: 559 | Since last entry: 234

Not much in the house for dinner tonight, but I looked in the fridge and spotted a pie crust and a carton of eggs. Quiche! A little more digging found Canadian bacon, some nice Cheddar, broccoli, and some mushrooms, so it turned out to be a very nice one. Unfortunately, it took quite a while to solidify and we didn’t sit down to dinner until about 8:30. It was good, though. After that I set out for the store so we wouldn’t have to scrounge up dinner again tomorrow. It was 10:00 by the time the groceries were put away, but lo! I am a dedicated writer. And I didn’t want to blow off my new year’s resolution on January 2. So. 234 more words and it’s definitely turning into a much more engaged and visceral story. But now it’s time for bed.