Archive for March, 2006

3/29/06: Bleah

Word count: 18632 | Since last entry: 1340

The day job is kicking my ass. And I seem to have picked up some minor bug — something that makes me a little phlegmy and a little achy and a little hoarse. Nothing much, to be sure, but enough to slow me down.

However, yesterday the car was in the shop for an oil change, so I took the train to work. Wrote almost a thousand words. I should do that more often. Somewhere around Millikan way my little novelette became a novella. (Throws confetti.)

At this point I seriously doubt this story will ever sell. It’s so long that only the big three magazines would even consider it, and even they buy very few stories this length. It’s got too many rivets for Asimov’s or F&SF, and it’s got gay and transsexual characters which Stan Schmidt doesn’t like (not to mention that some of the science is, frankly, a little rubbery). But, having put so much effort into the damn thing, I mean to finish it, for myself if nothing else. Probably a couple thousand words to go. Once it’s done I may write an essay here about what this story is really about, and why it’s important to me.

After that? I have line edits to do on “Titanium Mike” for F&SF, then some critique comments to incorporate on the Jupiter story so I can start sending it out again. And then it might be time to start on the next novel. Or possibly one more short story first. Something fantasy, just as a change-up. We’ll see.

Must sleep now.

3/26/06: Reminders and deadlines

Word count: 17292 | Since last entry: 1391 Only minimal writing for most of this week, with one missed day, but I got in nearly a thousand words today. Unfortunately, the piece shows no sign of stopping any time soon (though the very last subplot has now been introduced), so it seems that it will be a novella rather than a novelette. Oh well. And it’s clearly going to need an immediate revision pass once I’ve completed the first draft. A snippet: “The grainy image on the big monitor showed why Alpha was so late. One of the four sails that was supposed to catch the light from the boost lasers, then drop off for coast phase, was still attached — bent and twisted into a crumpled C shape. The sail had probably jammed on initial deployment, and had cut the module’s thrust during boost phase by twenty percent or more. There was some concern that the jammed sail could cause problems during the first aerobraking maneuver, as Alpha slammed into Moliere’s atmosphere at interstellar speed. But simulations showed that it would most likely come off as the module’s aerobraking balute inflated, and if it didn’t do that it would probably simply burn away early in the maneuver.” Apart from the writing, we’ve seen movies Transamerica (good, but not as polished as I’d expected from the buzz), V for Vendetta (excellent, the changes from the comic book made it stronger), and The Mummy on DVD (silly) and play Crowns (a marvelous production, I was especially impressed with the set and lighting). I’ve also suffered another recurrence of the awful fungus infection that attacks the same two toes on my right foot every year or two. Prescription antifungal ointment and Burow’s solution seem to be doing the job this time. Some upcoming dates you might want to know about:

  • I’m a guest pro at the Wiscon writers’ workshop, in Madison. This is the 30th Wiscon and it promises to be a real blow-out. The deadline for submissions is April 1 and you must have a membership to the convention (which is already sold out).
  • On the evening of April 6, from 7 pm to 8:30 pm, I’ll be appearing in a panel discussion at Mount Hood Community College in Gresham, Oregon. The topic will be “Getting published and the relationship between writers, books and readers” and the panel is also scheduled to include local authors Jay Lake, David Goldman, M.K. Hobson, Damian Kilby, Doug Lain, Ken Scholes and Josh English. All good people.
  • The voting deadline for the Locus Awards is April 15. Anyone can vote (I had said elsewhere that only Locus subscribers can vote, but I was wrong) and you may, if you wish, write in anything you want in any category.

3/21/06: Very big news

Word count: 15901 | Since last entry: 593 My story “Tk’tk’tk” from the March 2005 Asimov’s is a nominee for the Hugo Award! I’m not expecting to win, but it really and truly is an honor just to be nominated. And, heck, I wasn’t expecting to be nominated either, so anything can happen! The Hugo ballot will be posted on the LACon web site shortly. I anticipate that the whole story will be posted for everyone to read for free on the Asimov’s web site soon too. Until then, you can read the first part of the story. Thanks to Dave Clark, Kevin Standlee, and Kevin Roche, who mentioned the story on the Emerald City Hugo recommendations list. I’m sure this was a significant factor in its reaching the ballot. And, by the way, the story title is pronounced “tick-tick-tick.” (P.S. Squeeeeeeeeeee!)

3/19/06: I am a content provider

Word count: 15308 | Since last entry: 781

Busy weekend, many chores done. We’re going to have to forego Minicon again this year, because my late uncle Ben’s memorial service is that weekend. I made all the arrangements yesterday, cancelling all the Minicon travel reservations and making new reservations for Sacramento instead. It will be nice to see the family, anyway.

I’m not at all convinced that this story is going in the right direction, but if I keep up my average of about 300 words a day and if my guesstimate that it’s in the high novelette or low novella word count range (about 17,500 words) is correct, it might conceivably be done by next Saturday, in which case I could get it critiqued at the next crit group meeting. Those are both pretty big ifs, but even if I miss that date it is beginning to feel like it’s coming to a conclusion.

When I first created my WWW home page in 1998, before I even started to think about writing fiction, most of the content on the page was my fannish writings and art projects (architecture, cartoons, and costumes/props). I’ve barely touched that content since then, as the writing-related content has grown and grown. But still, it continues to attract readers.

A couple of days ago, for example, I got a note from someone who’d found the page about my Rocketeer costume, asking for more details on how I’d built the rocket pack. I got it out of the attic — it still looks good — and took some new digital photos, which I sent to him along with some text. And, since I’d done the work, I also posted it as a sub-page of the Rocketeer page.

And just today, I got another email from someone who’d found my Analytique of Phnom Bakheng. He’s working on a Phnom Bakheng Conservation Master Plan (I have no idea if this is the real thing or just a school project) and he wants to use the image in his report. I gave my permission and said I’d try to scare up a better scan than the one I have posted.

It’s amazing the things that happen when you put content up where people can find it.

3/16/06: The curve of joy goes up and down

Word count: 14527 | Since last entry: 1142

For some reason, I’ve been terribly slug-like at work for the past couple of days. I have a freaking enormous to-do list and I’m not making much progress on it at all. I’ve been attending meetings, to be sure, and they’ve been productive, but I have so many other things that need to happen in between and I just can’t get motivated. I haven’t been going to the gym, either. Bad me.

The writing’s been going well, though. I wrote almost a thousand words in one sitting yesterday… a long, serious conversation that I’ve been thinking about since well before I started this draft. This is the point where the main character finds out that his problems are much, much worse than he even suspected they were. This is where he has to either start digging himself out — by becoming a different person — or give in to despair.

Today after square dancing I went back and nipped and tucked that conversation a bit. It’s still a bit infodumpy, and I’m afraid it might not be emotional enough. I had originally envisioned it as a huge screaming argument, but given the tone of the scenes that led up to it, it turned into more one of those long sad talks that leaves both parties crying. But they’re both Guys, so neither of them is going to admit it.

A snippet:

Thad hooked an elbow around a nearby structural element. He started to speak, hesitated. Tried again.

“You died just a week before scan number two — almost six months after your last scan. You know that, right?”

I just looked at him.

“Haven’t you wondered what happened during those six months?”

I considered the question. “Not really. No more than any of the rest of the two years I don’t remember.”

He turned away from me, spoke to the transparent plastic of the wall. “Chaz, this is going to hurt you. But you deserve to know.”

“Okay, let me hear it.” I wasn’t really ready to hear any bad news, but this was the first time in months anyone had even started to talk straight to me and I wasn’t going to let the opportunity slip by.

3/14/06: Sale!

Word count: 13385 | Since last entry: 601

“Titanium Mike Saves the Day” sold to F&SF!

My second sale of the year, and my second sale to Gordon (the first was “Tale of the Golden Eagle”, of course). I am quite chuffed. I knew it was good news when I saw the envelope: it was an F&SF letterhead envelope, not my SASE, which meant a check or at least a rewrite request.

Of course, this does put a crimp in my Cunning Plan to increase my number of stories in circulation :-)

As it happens, at this moment of happiness I am driving my character deep into the pits of despair. Writing is more like acting than it is like directing…

A snippet: “The slowly rotating sun warmed my skin as I floated among the peas and peppers, curled in a ball and shaking with pent-up tears that would not come. The air here was foul and heavy. My life stank like shit.

“Once I had thought that being selected for the Clarion crew was the greatest thing that could ever happen to me. How had it come to this?”

3/12/06: Back from Seattle

Word count: 12784 | Since last entry: 721

Just back from the gay square dance in Seattle, where we danced to the stimulating Saundra Bryant and local caller Stephen Cole. Sandie is always a treat — even her Challenge dancing is actually dancing, with flow and rhythm and all that stuff. On Saturday morning we skipped the fly-in’s brunch in favor of a wonderful breakfast at Etta’s, followed by a stroll around the Pike Place Market area and a trip to Uwajimaya for more Japanese puzzle books for Kate.

I’ve gotten better at keeping up the writing during trips like this one, maintaining at least 200 words per day. Which is a good thing, since this fershlugginer story has just passed 12,500 words and seems doomed to exceed the 17,500 word barrier between novelette and novella. But it seems to demand this length, so I mean to see it out.

A snippet: “When my reserved time arrived, the five satellites swiveled themselves to focus on Earth and kept up this scrutiny for a full eight hours. Post-processing took another two hours. During this time I floated among the tomatoes and zucchinis in the greenhouse, trying to distract myself with pruning and pollinating but actually accomplishing little more than plant-assisted nail-chewing. When my watch chimed, I rushed eagerly to Delta work bay, where the monitor revealed…


“The interpolated data of the five satellites did not reveal any signal from Earth at all.”

3/9/06: Writing even though I haven’t time to write

Word count: 12063 | Since last entry: 1616

It’s been more than a week since I’ve posted. During most of that week, the day job has kept me hopping with 8am meetings most days, and in the evening we’ve been playing host to house guests Jon Singer, in town for a ceramics conference, and Lise Eisenberg, touring the West Coast after Potlatch. They are both fine conversationalists and the temptation to stay up until midnight or later talking with them has been very hard to resist. So I haven’t been sleeping a lot, and I’ve been writing my hundred words a day only through force of will (I did miss one day, the first day they were both here). With all that going on, posting here fell below the cutline.

A snippet:

Thad’s eyes were icy above the mask. “You shouldn’t even be here.”

“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”

He started to respond, then cut himself off, waving a hand in front of his face. “No. Never mind. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“What did you mean by that?” I demanded.

“Never. Mind.” Our eyes locked for a long cold moment.

In the end I was the one who had to look away.

Today I had a “recharge day” at work, during which we took our minds off our usual jobs and did some out-of-the-box thinking about interaction and design. We looked at QuickBooks Simple Start, accounting software for novices, which fell down hard after a good start, then spent a little while sketching out some alternative user interfaces that might work better for that audience. Then we visited a health clinic inside a pharmacy, for insights into finding different ways to serve a user community, and the Build-A-Bear Workshop for a taste of a radically customer-focused experience (we each built a bear — I thought of donating mine to charity but Kate refused to let it go). Finally we toured Target looking for interesting examples of design in consumer products.

Also today I had a dentist appointment. Look Ma, no cavities!

Tomorrow we head off for Seattle again, for a square dance event.

I am so tired.

One bit of news before I fall over: I have been invited to be a guest pro at the Wiscon writers’ workshop. The deadline for submissions is April 1 and details are here.

3/3/06: Small world

Word count: 10447 | Since last entry: 453

Went to the theatre tonight, a play called The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow — the story of a Chinese adoptee, now age 22, who happens to be obsessive-compulsive, agoraphobic, and a genius. Unable to leave her house, she builds a flying robot double of herself to go to China and find her birth mother for her. Billed as a “techno-comedy”, it offered some genuine laughs but ended on a downer.

Although it had some extremely affecting moments, and a couple of fine performances (the cold-fish adoptive mother was chillingly real and yet sympathetic), this play was a real mixed bag. I was annoyed by the robot’s traditional 1950’s me-chan-i-cal-voice and jerky movements (until she learned better) and the actress playing the central character just wasn’t strong enough to serve as the play’s hub. The ending was also insufficiently well connected with the rest of the play, both thematically and emotionally. I will say, though, that the parallel relationships of the main character with her robot and the birth mother with the main character really made me think. Subtext — your sign of quality entertainment.

In other, extremely weird, news, I got an email from Carl Fredrick, one of my Writers of the future buds. He just got contracts from Asimov’s for a story he sold there, and in the envelope were my contracts as well. (I got notification of the sale by email back in January, but have been waiting for the contracts.) I can understand that papers sometimes get stuffed into the wrong envelope, but what are the odds they’d go to a friend of mine?

2/28/06: Not dead yet

Word count: 9994 | Since last entry: 971

Back from Potlatch. Had a good time, saw some old friends and made some new ones, thought and talked a lot about writing. Octavia Butler’s passing put a damper on the last day of the convention, and the novel rejection was a constant nagging pain, but all in all it was still a good time. And I only missed one writing day, which was the day of the rejection (but the main reason I didn’t write that day was because I was busy with the writers’ workshop, not because I was depressed). More on Potlatch later, I hope.

The story is starting to click, I think. Three different crises are starting to come together at once and I have an opportunity to throw in some weird-ass space science detail from my researches (see snippet below). In fact, the event density in the story is so high now that I suspect I’ll have to go back and cut thousands of words from the beginning to keep it from having this sudden jump in excitement nine thousand words in. This might turn out to be a short story after all.

Since Potlatch, I’ve been very busy with the day job. I should really be asleep right now, in fact, because I have two customer presentations at 8 and 9 tomorrow morning.

I also bought some more RAM for both the iBook and the office PC. The iBook upgrade went without a hitch (and it’s now much quieter and somewhat quicker), but the office PC crashed hard and repeatedly as soon as I powered it up with the new RAM. It wouldn’t even boot from the Windows install CD. So I reinstalled the old RAM, but the windows/system32/config/system file was corrupted by the crash and it still wouldn’t boot. Fortunately, I found a web page that explained how to manually restore this file from the last system restore point, and I got the machine back up and running. I’ll ask some folks at work if this means the new RAM might be bad.

A snippet from tonight’s writing: “I called up the decompression checklist on the airlock’s little monitor. It had four hundred and eleven steps and, even under emergency conditions, took a minimum of two hours and twenty minutes. While Thad unshipped the lock’s two exercise bicycles, I connected two oxygen masks to the gas nozzle in the wall and fastened one of them over my nose and mouth. Then I handed the other mask to Thad and fitted my feet into the bike’s pedals.”