Archive for June, 2006

6/26/06: Cut, cut, cut!

Word count: 7760 | Since last entry: -1170

No writing this weekend, as we were busy playing host to Kate’s sister and three of her kids. We went to the zoo. I’m exhausted.

Tonight I hacked out the entire second performance, which had some nice descriptive passages but didn’t advance the plot, and several paragraphs of atmosphere, along with general trimming here and there. Then I went back and replaced some of the best sentences I’d cut, slotting them in in place of similar sentences not quite as good that happened to be in scenes that remained. It’s still a bit long for a short story, but a lot more plausible. I can perhaps find a way to trim the remaining 200 words or so if necessary.

I’m sending it off to a few key first readers (including a couple of New Orleanians) tonight.

6/23/06: Done

Word count: 8930 | Since last entry: 1735

Finished up the first draft of the New Orleans story. It’s grown to novella size, but I think that might just be the size it wants to be… unless I cut the whole arthritis subplot, which is a possibility.

Sleep now. It’ll be a busy weekend.

6/20/06: Home stretch

Word count: 7195 | Since last entry: 1300

Another good writing day on the train. This time I didn’t miss my stop either coming or going.

All the cards are in play now, the main character knows what he’s up against, and all he has to do is figure out what to do about it and how to convince everyone else to go along with it. I should be able to wrap this up in less than a thousand words. Which will give me a fighting chance to edit it below 7500.

Unfortunately, the timing is bad for critique group, because it’s not going to be done before the next meeting and I’ll be missing the one after that, so it might be almost two months until I get my crit. Oh well, sometimes things work out that way.

6/18/06: You say it’s your birthday

Word count: 5895 | Since last entry: 108

No writing today, and only a little yesterday, but it was a good weekend anyway: we went to the Pride festival, saw singer/songwriter Jill Sobule, and hosted a party on the occasion of Paul McCartney’s 64th birthday. We were a little concerned that not enough people would show, but in the end it was a nice little dinner party and everyone had a great time and lots of good food.

As part of the party, we held a Beatles Lyrics Scavenger Hunt. Various objects scattered about the house represented Beatles lyrics; the challenge for our guests was to find and identify them. This proved to be much harder than we’d anticipated it would be; only a couple people found more than one. (Though some people found several we hadn’t planted deliberately, and they got full credit for those.)

For those playing along at home, we’ve made it a little easier by pointing out which objects are the actual scavenger hunt items. Your challenge is just to figure out what Beatles lyrics they represent. (Hover your mouse over a picture to see the answer.)

Baby's in black Lucy in the sky with diamonds (He wears) no shoeshine Yesterday Eight days a week Face in a jar by the door Cellophane flowers of yellow and green Back in the USSR Marshmallow pie Billy shears Pictures of Chairman Mao Maxwell's silver hammer Knit a sweater by the fireside Valentine, birthday greetings, bottle of wine

6/16/06: Spyware scare

Word count: 5787 | Since last entry: 887

Good progress on the writing in the last few days. I just wrote a horrific little scene that’s all the more scary because it’s not fiction at all.

I didn’t sleep too well last night, but it had nothing to do with the story I’m working on. As you may recall, we bought some software to help plan our trip to Disneyland. Well, a friend read this blog and decided he’d buy a copy too. But just as I was going to bed last night I got an email from him saying that his anti-spyware program had detected a keylogger in the Disney planner’s installer.

This was not a good thing. Keyloggers are among the worst kinds of spyware; they log your every keystroke and send them to bad guys who troll the data for passwords, account numbers, and other information that can be used to steal your money and your identity. I started wondering what secure websites I’d visited in the last few days.

But I ran a couple of different spyware checks on my system, and I read up on the keylogger his anti-spyware program had detected and looked for any sign of that one specifically, and I found nothing. Maybe it had been a false positive. I shut down and went to bed some time after midnight.

I rolled over at 6am and was instantly, thoroughly awake. I got up, booted the computer, and ran another couple of checks. Still nothing. But some spyware can be pretty stealthy. I submitted a copy of the installer program to my security software vendor. The automatic reply came back in a few minutes, saying that nothing obvious was found and that they’d get a human being to look into it.

By lunchtime I got the response: no sign whatsoever of any spyware. I asked my friend to send a query to his anti-spyware vendor. Eventually he heard back; they agreed that it was probably a false positive. Whew, and grr.

So: nothing lost but a few frazzled nerves. But it did kind of put a pinch on the whole day.

6/13/06: Writing is dangerous

Word count: 4900 | Since last entry: 677

I got absorbed in my work and missed my stop on the train. Fortunately, when I noticed the problem (two stops later) I got off and was able to catch a train going the other way just a few minutes later. The same thing happened last week, though on the inbound instead of the outbound commute.

Another way that writing is dangerous is that it can break your heart. Man, if you ever want to find out just how much one of your stories sucks, just get it nominated for a major award. I should learn to stop reading my reviews but I can’t help myself. I am a hack and my “aliens” are just stereotypical Orientals in rubber suits.

Having written nearly all of day 2 of the story, I see a couple of problems: 1) the supernatural event on day 2 happens during the day, which has atmospheric problems as well as violating the rules I’ve set for myself, and 2) having written day 2, I’m not sure that day 3 is different enough (i.e. moves the plot forward enough) to justify its existence.

After thinking about it a while, I think I may be able to solve both problems by rejiggering the outline as follows: eliminate the morning of day 3, rewrite the afternoon of day 2 to be the evening of day 3, and eliminate all of day 4 except the night (which is the climax of the story). A more drastic rewrite would lose the morning of day 2 (which I just wrote today, sob) in favor of the morning of day 3, but I think I may have the content of that scene already covered elsewhere.

This new outline, covering only 2 very long days, means dropping the date headers on each day. No biggie. Could be a good thing, in fact, because it solves the phase-of-the-moon problem. Just need to establish the approximate date in text (nail it hard on the first page!).

Even after eliminating 2 full days of the original outline there’s still a lot to write. However, this outline goes into more detail than the old one; I might be able to squeeze it into 8000 words all told, and then edit it down to below 7500. We’ll see.

I’m babbling; I have no idea if this will make sense to anyone else. Another way that writing is dangerous is that it keeps me up much too late. Good night.

6/12/06: Making stuff up

Word count: 4223 | Since last entry: 251

In just a few weeks we will be going to Anaheim for the annual gay square dance convention. Naturally this includes a visit to Disneyland, and because we are obsessive control freaks we have been doing considerable research in order to beat the crowds. This has extended to the purchase of a software program called RideMax, which uses the latest available information on schedules and line movement rates to calculate an optimal touring plan for the attractions you want to see. It’s like the touring plan in The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland, which we swear by, but customized. Unfortunately, it’s Windows-only, which means we will be unable to make modifications to the plan after we leave home.

Yes, we are geeks. But we will spend less time standing in line than you, nyaah nyaah.

Tonight’s writing was remarkably hard. I had to write several paragraphs of description of the devastation of Pass Christian, Mississippi, without either having been there or plagiarizing the very-well-written description of that exact thing I found on the web. I hope that the telling details I have made up out of whole cloth sound as plausible to other people as they do to me. The hard part will continue until I reach the end of this day of the story, when my co-author’s diary picks up again.

I’ve been thinking a lot about whether the subplot I’ve invented to make life harder for my main character is extraneous or not. The problem is that if I don’t have this subplot he has nowhere to grow. He needs to start off at a place that is worth growing away from, and I can’t use even a variant of the typical “selfish/angry/repressed man learns to be generous/calm/uninhibited” plot because the character himself has to be quite generous, calm, and uninhibited or he wouldn’t be doing the job he is. I will hang onto this subplot for now, but at some point I may try removing it completely and see if the story stands up without it.

(I hope that stuff like the previous paragraph is interesting and useful to you, the readers of my blog. I haven’t thought as much, or as coherently, about writing as Jay Lake and Elizabeth Bear; all I can do is to write about what I’m doing and hope that some people will find it worthwhile. Which is just what I do with the writing itself, too, so what the hell.)

6/11/06: A productive day

Word count: 3972 | Since last entry: 924

Today I did a lot of dishes. They’d really gotten out of hand. I finally pooped out without finishing them all, but I made a big dent. Also did grocery shopping. This week’s dinners will not be nearly as ambitious as last week’s.

In the evening, we saw a play at Artists’ Rep: Theatre District, written by Richard Kramer (creator of thirtysomething and My So-Called Life). Uproariously funny and moving by turns. I found the characters incredibly well drawn and the situation, though sometimes a bit confusing, was true-to-life. For dinner we had the spinach tacos I mentioned earlier, which were pretty good but I thought there wasn’t enough to them (but I am still trying to lose the weight I put on at Wiscon, so that might not be a bad thing).

I worked on my story at several different times during the day, adding a ghost at the end of day 1, a long conversation at the beginnning of day 2 in which the protagonist considers packing it in and also begins to realize that something supernatural might be happening, and an Authors’ Note explaining that “this story is fiction, but it climbs a trellis of fact.”

I’m going to have to work harder as I continue to write about day 2, because I discovered that my source material only gives about half a paragraph to what happened on that day. Fortunately, I found another journal of the tour posted on the web, but I need to keep reminding myself that I don’t have permission to use those words so I’ll have to read, digest, and regurgitate the events in my own words. I’m also working from a book called The Great Deluge which, by complete coincidence, Kate is reading right now. God, what a mess. I’m glad we don’t have hurricanes around here (just earthquakes and volcanoes…).

6/9/06: And the evening and the morning

Word count: 3048 | Since last entry: 952

Finished up the first day of the story (out of four days). If the other days are as long as the first, the story will be 12,000 words, which is way too long for the story’s weight. But the other days will be shorter, because day 1 is heavy with scene-setting and introduction of characters. I hope.

I was able to add nearly a thousand words in about an hour by virtue of pulling in large amounts of text from my source document. The challenge now will be to cut it back. But it’s very good stuff. I need to decide how much of the wonderful atmosphere of this diary, which is what I fell in love with in the first place, will have to be sacrificed on the altar of Plot.

Oh, and I also have to go back and add another ghost.

The Plot must live!

6/8/06: Cleaning up the edges

Word count: 2096 | Since last entry: 150

In today’s writing I integrated the new opening into what I wrote earlier, including writing a brief conversation that introduced the situation a little better.

The other week we saw a movie called The Sci-Fi Boys, a documentary about Forrest J. Ackerman and his magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland and the boys (they were all boys) who made homemade sci-fi and horror movies after reading it and went on to become John Landis and Rick Baker and Peter Jackson and suchlike. The movie included a lot of clips from both the homemade movies and the 1950s and 60s classics that inspired them. This, in turn, inspired us to seek out a few of those classics, so tonight we rented The Day of the Triffids. It managed to be quite commendably tense and interesting despite the shabbiness of the special effects and some ludicrous logic holes (especially the ending). Tomorrow: This Island Earth.

I also feel I ought to blog about our dinners this week. For some reason (at least partly because we’ve started to receive our weekly basket of organic veggies from Pumpkin Ridge Gardens) we got inspired to try a whole bunch of new and fairly ambitious recipes. They’ve all turned out fabulous. So far this week we’ve had:

  • Stir-fried mixed greens (bok choi, spinach, and beet thinnings) with tofu, greatly enlivened by the addition of a strip of bacon [improvised]
  • Broiled halibut in a teriyaki marinade [Moosewood cookbook], accompanied by brown rice and sauteed broccoli with oyster sauce
  • A salad of grilled chicken slices on a bed of blanched greens (snap peas, snow peas, and arugula) topped with a fresh strawberry vinaigrette [Eating Well magazine]
  • Lamb satay stir-fry (lamb, cabbage, carrots, kohlrabi, and green onions in a light peanut-lime sauce) [Eating Well again] served on brown rice
  • Cashew chicken [an old family recipe], with white rice — this was better than usual, made with fresh organic vegetables and chicken

We don’t usually eat this well, but I’m proud of us and I wanted to brag about it. Tomorrow: spinach tacos [Eating Well again].