Archive for February, 2006

2/24/06: Well, shit.

After ten months, three blurbs, two proposals, and an extensive rewrite, my novel was turned down by Tor. “It is with extreme regret that I write to report that I have been unsuccessful in securing approval to proceed with the acquisition of REMEMBRANCE DAY. I still believe in this book and in David’s potential, and it pains me to finally have found an SF novel I really wanted to buy, and an SF writer I really wanted to work with, and not to be allowed to do so. I’m sure my disappointment is exceeded only by your own.” Damn. Well, there are other publishers, and I do have an agent. But still. Damn. Now I get to go off to Potlatch and share the happy news with all my friends.

2/23/06: Briefly…

Word count: 9023 | Since last entry: 520 Loverly birthday dinner at Caprial’s Bistro (home of Portland’s celebrity chefs Caprial and John Pence) with Kate’s parents; my parents sent a cool T-shirt from with the letter pi made of over 4400 digits of its value. Work continues very very busy. Writing keeps slogging along — word count above is a bit lower than usual because yesterday’s writing progress consisted entirely of putting a story that was just rejected by Interzone in the mail to Black Gate. Now must go and pack, heading for Potlatch bright and early tomorrow morning. Oh, one other very minor announcement: my story “Tk’Tk’Tk” from the March Asimov’s has gotten a couple of mentions in the Emerald City Hugo recommendation list for 2005. Thanks to those who have recommended it! And to the rest of you: if you would like to read the story for award consideration purposes (Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Nobel, whatever), just drop me an email at d levine at spirit one dot com (after removing all spaces and making the obvious punctuation conversions in the address, of course).

2/20/06: Vacation

Word count: 8503 | Since last entry: 232

I had the day off from work today, and I had so many things to do that I realized the only way I was going to get anything accomplished was to pick some kind of theme. Was it going to be a writing day, or a writing-related activities day with webpage maintenance and critiques, or a day of household chores, or a day of computer stuff?

It turned out to be none of these. It turned out to be a day off.

We went for a walk with some friends. We went to the gym. We did grocery shopping. We did dishes, baked for the Potlatch bake sale, and cooked Broccoli and Tofu with Spicy Peanut Sauce (one of our favorite dishes). I read a lot from the current book club book, Coalescent by Stephen Baxter (and if “pearlescent” means white and shiny, does “coalescent” mean black and shiny?). I don’t do nearly enough reading for pleasure.

Okay, I did do a couple of critiques, and of course I did some writing — I haven’t missed my 100-words-per-day minimum yet this year, and it would be ironic if the first time I did miss it was on a holiday with nothing on the calendar.

(But, to be frank, I’m not happy with the way the story is turning out. This is an idea I cared pretty deeply about, and it’s shaping up to be a lot less emotionally engaging than I’d thought it would be. Someone (maybe it was me) once compared the process of turning an idea into a first draft to taking a beautiful little bird, pulling out each of its feathers one by one, and taping the feathers to a piece of paper, the end result being a vaguely bird-shaped bunch of taped feathers and a dead, featherless bird corpse. This is definitely turning into one of those. At this point I’m going to finish it out of sheer cussedness, then hope that it can be rescued in revision. Not that I think it can ever be the story I’d once thought it could be, but maybe it can be better than it is now.)

Anyway, it was a pretty laid-back day all told, and now I’m going to cap it off by going to bed before midnight for once. Tomorrow’s my birthday, and Kate’s folks will be here; we’re all going out for a nice dinner.

2/19/06: Voom

Word count: 8271 | Since last entry: 2077

Wow, has it been a week? How’d that happen?

Well, I know how it happened. It happened because it was a series of individual days, each of which found me writing until well past what should have been my bedtime, and it didn’t seem worthwhile to stay up even later to write about the day.

Apart from the writing — a consistent 300 words per day, which feel a bit sloggy and space-filling, but, as I keep reminding other people, the purpose of the first draft is to create “cookie dough” which can then be formed and baked into something worth reading — it has been a pretty busy week.

Last Monday we hosted our neighborhood SF book group. This month’s book was Futures, a collection of four novellas by Peter F. Hamilton, Stephen Baxter, Paul McAuley, and Ian McDonald. Even though we don’t actually spend a lot of time discussing the book at each meeting, I really like having this book group because I get to spend time with my neighbors and it makes me read books I might not otherwise have read — okay, let’s be honest, it makes me read, period. Between the writing and the many other tasks and chores of each day, I have really kind of fallen off the reading bandwagon. I’m not proud of this, and I am really looking forward to retirement so that I can actually start chipping away at my humongous To-Read stack. Anyway, I really enjoyed Futures, especially the McAuley (“Making History”) and the McDonald (“Tendeleo’s Story”). Both of these were particularly successful in evoking a unique world — a devastated post-war colony on one of Saturn’s moons in one case, and a Nigeria menaced by an interstellar biological invasion in the other. My own writing seems terribly flat by comparison.

Tuesday was Valentine’s Day, of course. I bought a package of spacey retro kiddie Valentines and hid them all over the house before Kate woke up. It took her nearly a week to find them all. In the evening we stayed home and cooked a nice dinner for ourselves in our wonderful remodeled kitchen — grilled salmon with Moroccan spices, braised carrots, and couscous. After which we watched a romantic movie: Shall We Dance with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

The movie was… well, it was bizarre. Fred Astaire was a fine dancer, but he was a very strange looking man, much too skinny to be attractive and with a notably asymmetrical face. The plot had him as an American ballet dancer in Paris who really wants to tap, who falls in love with an American tap dancer (Ginger Rogers) after seeing her dance in a flip-book. Attempting to impress her, he poses as a famous Russian ballet dancer, complete with outrageous accent. But this doesn’t do it, so he winds up following her onto the next boat to New York. On the boat, he engages in an extremely strange tap-dance number in the enormous, spanking-clean Art Deco engine room, while happy darkies dance and sing all around him. He also torments his impresario (Edward Everett Horton, voice of Peabody from Rocky & Bullwinkle) and woos Ginger by borrowing an enormous dog. But, again, she spurns his advances, and dumps him once the boat arrives in New York. Her manager, seeking to prevent her from marrying her fiance’ and leaving his employ, starts a rumor that Fred and Ginger are secretly married, which he substantiates by photographing the sleeping Fred with an exact duplicate mannequin of Ginger that he happens to have lying around. Ginger responds to the rumor campaign by running off to New Jersey to marry Fred, just so they can get a divorce. After which, running from reporters, they have a fabulous tap-dance on roller skates and sing “You Say Tomato” at each other (a fine song which has no relevance whatsoever to the plot in which it finds itself embedded). But even that doesn’t convince Ginger that Fred is the man for her, and she leaves him again. Did I mention they have adjoining suites at their hotel, and there are many misadventures with the key to the connecting door? In the end, Fred stages a dance number with a contortionist and dozens of women wearing Ginger Rogers masks. This disturbing and stalkerish moment convinces Ginger to dump her fiance’ and take up with Fred. The end.

They just don’t make ’em like that any more.

Thursday was another Portland International Film Festival movie: Tapas, from Spain. It was trying to be a Spanish version of Tampopo, and it was amusing and sometimes affecting, but somehow it failed to satisfy. Maybe a romantic comedy in which a man’s wife leaves him, a woman takes up with a boy half her age and then dumps him, and another man commits suicide, has several strikes against it.

Friday was another PIFF movie: Kinky Boots, from Britain. This one was my favorite of the festival, lightweight and formulaic but very well done for its genre. The plot involves a shoe factory in a small Northern industrial town, whose hapless CEO saves it from bankruptcy by changing its product from brogues to kinky boots for transvestites. The show is absolutely stolen by Chiwetel Ejiofor, the coolly efficient assassin from Serenity, as Lola the outragous drag queen. I believe he even did his own singing in the several musical numbers. This one’s got distribution from Miramax, and I recommend it.

Saturday I had critique group, and got the final bunch of crits on the Jupiter story. Very much a mixed bag, but the consensus is that it nicely written, but distanced… too much told and not enough shown (I was afraid of that). I also got a great suggestion to punch up the ending, if I can make it plausible.

Saturday afternoon we were supposed to see The Sun, a Russian drama about Emperor Hirohito. We even had purchased advance tickets. But the review in Friday’s Oregonian was so scathing (“brutally dull, slow and dreary… fritters away a great concept… vacuous in its screenwriting, shockingly crude in its visual technique, deaf to the needs of an audience in its pace… an ordeal to sit through”) that we decided to skip it.

Saturday night was a Bar Mitzvah party for a 13-year-old of our acquaintaince, at which we played Pictionary and Lord of the Fries and reconnected with some friends we hadn’t seen in years. Had a nice time geeking with old friend Keith Lofstrom, who mentioned that he is learning Perl and compared regular expressions to line noise. As we drove away from the party, I realized I hadn’t actually seen line noise in years… just about all communications these days use prototcols that ensure that an entire packet of bytes is either delivered correctly or not delivered at all. (If this makes no sense to you, don’t worry about it. It’s a geek thing.)

Today managed to vanish completely into a haircut, lunch with Kate Schaefer and her family, and our final PIFF movie: KZ, a moving British documentary about the current state of the Mauthausen concentration camp — a sobering tourist attraction surrounded by a living city. It seems inappropriate that the homes and taverns where the camp’s officers lived and drank are still in use today; but it would seem equally inappropriate to sacrifice the life of an entire town (and every other concentration camp town) on the altar of memory. One of the camp’s tour guides is clearly obsessed with its history, which is affecting his health and marriage but permits him to give a tour that cannot fail to touch those who take it. Such people are deeply unhappy, but beneficial to socieety. It’s just a shame that we need to have them.

Tomorrow is a holiday. No specific plans, other than going to the gym. And Tueday’s my 45th birthday — I already received an MP3 of my parents singing “Happy Birthday”, so anything else can only be an improvement (hi, Mom!).

2/12/06: Things to do, done

Word count: 6194 | Since last entry: 522

I had a pretty massive list of things to do for the weekend, and accomplished about half of them, plus a few things not on the list. Unfortunately, some of the most important things didn’t get done. Oh well, there’s always tomorrow.

Things that did get done include:

  • Installed the DVD writer I bought a few weeks ago, and sent in the rebate forms. I hate mail-in rebates — they really are nothing more than an attempt to keep people from getting the price they thought they were paying. The whole point of offering a mail-in rebate, rather than just lowering the price, is the hope that the consumer will either forget to mail it in or mess something up so that the rebate will not actually be delivered. Scum scum scum. But I put the forms in the mail before the deadline, and the drive itself seems to work well (backed up my whole My Documents directory, except for the music files, to one disc in just 20 minutes). Unfortunately, the resulting DVD can’t be read by the PC’s existing DVD reader (though it can be read by the DVD writer itself and by my Mac). I’m not sure if it’s the drive, the disc, or the way I burned it. But this is not a killer problem.

  • Did some tax research. Mutual funds, rah.

  • Wrote over 500 words — less than I’d hoped, more than the minimum. A snippet: “Fine. It wasn’t my fault, and it wasn’t really their fault either. I would just have to make the best of it — to try to fit in as best I could. Maybe if I could make some significant scientific progress they’d take me more seriously.”

  • Attended a fine party given for Jay Lake by his friend Tami to celebrate his recent novel sale. Local writers Mary Hobson and Karin Berry and several of Jay’s relatives were also in attendance, along with Jay’s “The Child” and “The Niece”. The food was quite memorable, including delectable crab cakes and two festive gateaux. The Niece (two years old) had trouble with the idea of eating cake when it wasn’t someone’s birthday, so we all sang “Happy Book Deal To You”. A tradition I hope to continue myself, some day soon.

  • Saw two Portland International Film Festival movies: Giant Buddhas and Sophie Scholl – The Final Days.

    Giant Buddhas had some very striking imagery, including amazing footage of the Bamiyan buddhas being blown up (the Taliban wasn’t very good at it and it took a long time), and also featured some interesting side trips to other colossal Buddhas elsewhere in Asia and thoughts on the possible reconstruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas. But as a documentary, it was muddled and confused — often it was uncertain when certain footage had been shot, and although the narrator was apparently in continuous correspondence with an Afghani(?) woman, the relationship between them and her role were never made clear.

    Sophie Scholl was a much more effective film. The story of a young German woman who was arrested, tried, convicted, and executed by the Nazis — in a span of just four days — for the crime of distributing leaflets criticizing the government, this movie had the unprecedented effect of shutting me up. I was stunned into silence for nearly an hour by the spectacle of a government staffed almost entirely by thoughtful, patriotic people (the judge was one of the few Nazis portrayed in an entirely unsympathetic light) performing horrible atrocities for the sake of national security and solidarity. Although this is a German film, I couldn’t help but think of it as a commentary on the direction the United States is going. I fear for the future of my country.

2/10/06: A new model

Word count: 5672 | Since last entry: 813

I’ve been slipping into a mode where I leave the writing until the last possible minute (often not starting until well after a reasonable bedtime) and then banging out the bare minimum 100 words before stumbling off in the dark to where Kate has already gone to bed. This is no way to make real progress on the writing and does not contribute to a happy home life. So, starting this weekend, I’m going to try to get to the writing first, and do other things thereafter, whenever possible. I might not get to bed any earlier, but I think this will help with both quantity and quality.

And I really need the quantity. I’ve now written a good-sized short story’s worth of words and I’m only to the fifth point of a seventeen-point outline, which implies a final length in the 15,000-25,000 word range: either a long novelette or a short novella. This is a very difficult length to sell (though, as Kate points out, if I do sell it the competition for awards is much less). But, having started the damn thing, I mean to finish it… but I don’t want it to take all year. Which means I need to keep plugging away at it. Ganbatte!

Anyway. 500 words tonight, and it’s not even time for Galactica yet. More words tomorrow. And I worked out with my trainer and went to the bank today, so I’m feeling especially virtuous.

A snippet: “It had been so different six months ago… six months ago in my memories, that is; six months before first scan, which turned out to be my last. That was when the crew had first eaten together, right after the press conference where our selection had been announced to the world.”

Oh, one more thing: I’ve received a number of emails in the last couple of days from friends and strangers, asking for writing help and advice. Even though this represents yet more Things To Do, I find it enormously cheering.

2/7/06: Onward

Word count: 4859 | Since last entry: 348

Okay, I’ve passed the point I stopped in the first pass and the story’s beginning to move now. I’ve got a couple of people who are clearly pissed at the protagonist, and though he understands the immediate causes he has no idea why they are so upset with him for what seems like minor transgressions. At this point he doesn’t even quite realize just how much trouble he’s in.

A snippet: “Half an hour later I got something, but it wasn’t what I’d expected. Tien shot out of the port from Gamma work bay, diving right at me and looking like she was ready to spit nails. ‘What were you thinking?‘ she said, jerking to a halt with one hand on a panel edge.”

2/6/06: Back on the air

Word count: 4511 | Since last entry: 630

After spending half of Sunday in Tech Support Hell trying to get the third wireless card to work (this time, surprisingly, talking with technicians in the States — they mentioned that phone wait times were long because so few people were on staff due to the Super Bowl) I finally got the network up and running by moving the card to another slot. Yay! Unfortunately, with the card in this slot I couldn’t replace the computer’s cover. After much debate about the relative merits of trying to get the card working in the one slot where it would physically fit, vs. Leaving Well Enough Alone And Getting On With My Life Already, I decided to just cut a piece of cardboard to keep the dust out. It’s unsightly, but it’s in the attic, so who cares.

And so, this morning after I got out of the shower, I turned on the music. Then, over breakfast, another one of my favorite songs came on, and I sighed… it was nice to have Radio David and Kate on the air again. No commercials, no talk, nothing too hard or too soft, and a large enough playlist to provide some surprises. Happy David.

My 100 words per day goal might be a little too conservative. It’s been a little too easy to write just the 100 words and then stop, when I know that if I exerted myself even a little bit I could get 500 words or more. So I did exert myself today and I did do nearly 500 words. Mind you, they’re pretty flabby words.. not a lot happening in this scene yet. I seem to be slipping into a novelistic level of detail here. I don’t think this is a novel, but it certainly is trying to stretch into something much bigger than a short story. Oh well, you can’t fix a blank page. I’ll just keep going and see what it turns into. If necessary, I can go back and cut brutally later.

The weekend’s mail brought a brief personal reject from Stan Schmidt, saying that he enjoyed “Titanium Mike,” but “I’m afraid it didn’t seem to me to have enough actual science fiction in it to be a good fit for Analog.” Sigh. It’s off to F&SF.

2/4/06: Yum alas argh

Word count: 3881 | Since last entry: 502

Not much writing in the last three days, and here’s why.

Thursday night we attended a charity event, called Cooking for Kids, in which we were treated to an exceptional French meal along with a lecture and demonstration by the chef, Lisa Schroeder of Mother’s (one of Portland’s finest restaurants). Key insights included that when preparing meat for sauteeing one should season the meat, then flour it (rather than mixing the seasonings into the flour) and that you should use a smoking-hot pan to sear and quickly cook it. Browning onions and other ingredients for French onion soup should also be done at a high temperature, but watched carefully for a long time to achieve a deep dark brown without going all the way to black. And a homemade chocolate sauce can be fixed surprisingly quickly, resulting in amazing flavor. The dinner was also accompanied by several wines, with lecture on the wines by a local winemaker, but this was lost on me.

Friday I learned that my uncle Ben, who lives near Sacramento, had passed on. He was in his eighties and had been seriously ill for only a few weeks, but his health had been declining for some time and he decided not to prolong his life any more. My father (Ben’s younger brother) and all Ben’s children and grandchildren had visited with him in his last few weeks. He’ll be missed. The funeral will be a small family affair and I decided not to attend, but there will be a celebration of Ben’s life later this year and I hope to be able to make that.

Most of today was spent in Tech Support Hell, trying to get the newly-reconfigured music server to connect to my network. After fighting repeated system hangs caused by the no-name wireless networking card (which I now suspect may have been the cause of the server’s hard disk becoming corrupt), I went out and bought a new card from a reputable vendor. Which repeatedly hung on install, and once installed would not reliably connect to either the local network or the LAN even though it had excellent signal strength. Unfortunately, the card’s tech support (in Bangalore, from the sound of the tech’s voice) said the problem was with my wireless router, and the router’s tech support (also in Bangalore) blamed the card.

Much worse, though, the router’s tech tried to convince me that if I just turned off my firewall and MAC authentication my problem would be solved. Yeah, right. I’m seeing anything from 20% to 100% packet loss on a ping, meaning that some packets are getting through, and it’s my firewall that’s to blame? I did turn off the Windows XP firewall, which didn’t help as I knew it wouldn’t, and the tech insisted I must have another firewall installed… even though I just reformatted the hard disk and installed all software from scratch in the last two days, and even though the behavior I observed (some, but not all, packets getting through) could not be explained by a misconfigured firewall. The proposed solution would not only not have fixed my problem, it would have left my network completely open. I was most intensely annoyed when I hung up.

I’m pretty sure that the problem is, indeed, in the router. The card vendor’s web site indicates that this problem can be addressed by lowering the router’s RTS threshold, which fits the symptoms, but my router doesn’t provide any way to change this setting. Unfortunately, my router is also my DSL modem and is the only one my DSL provider supports. I could try turning off the router’s wireless features and instead getting a separate wireless access point that will work with the wireless card, but I’m inclined to try yet another wireless card first, in hopes it will be compatible with the existing router.

This shouldn’t be so hard.

Apart from that, I went square dancing (for the first time in months!), had a nice dinner at Buster’s BBQ with some of the guys from the dance, and wrote about 100 words per night. I’ve finally moved past the initial scene that was causing me so much trouble (very hard to get all the information in without feeling infodumpy, especially given that none of the other characters want my first-person viewpoint character to find out what’s really going on) but I haven’t yet gotten past what I drafted in the initial burst, before I realized I had no idea where the story was going. I hope to pass that point tomorrow… unless I spend tomorrow talking to Bangalore again.

2/1/06: Frustrating day

Word count: 3379 | Since last entry: 112 Spent the day fighting authentication issues at work that repeatedly locked me out of my account and had me talking to tech support in Bangalore a lot. But by the end of the day I think I got it all sorted out… which, functionally speaking, put me right back where I was. Came home and fixed biscuits while my sweetie made tempeh stroganoff. Yum. After dinner, sighed and reformatted the hard drive on the music server. After asking around at work and browsing the net, I decided I’d never be able to trust a disk with a broken index. So far I have reinstalled Windows XP and am now installing Service Pack 2. Oddly, after repartitioning and reformatting the disk only shows 130GB of the 250GB it’s supposed to have. I don’t remember if it was that way before. Also, after a fresh install I can’t set the monitor resolution higher than 640×480, and I know it wasn’t that way before. Same hardware, same OS. Why why why? While the OS was installing I did manage to write my 100 words for the day, but I’m still working on the same damn scene. I need to move forward. But it’s not going to happen quickly… I’m not going to be able to really concentrate on writing until the server is up and running again.