Archive for October, 2006

10/29/06: Time off for bad behavior

Sorry I haven’t posted in a long while. I spent a good chunk of last week at a meeting with customers in Santa Clara. I typed over 18,000 words of notes in two days (I wanted to be sure the customers’ input was properly captured) while sitting in a non-adjustable chair at a table that was too high, leaving my wrists resting on the hard edge of my laptop. After the first day I noticed the last two fingers on my left hand getting a bit numb and tingly — a very bad sign. I moved to a better chair, and when I got home I started taking ibuprofen and gave myself a three-day holiday from typing. I hope that this will be enough to prevent further problems. Carpal tunnel problems scare me more than anything other than AIDS. Just about everything I do — job, hobbies, volunteering, avocations, keeping in touch with friends — is keyboard-dependent.

In better news, I sold the story I submitted last week. “Firewall” will appear in Transhuman: On the edge of the Singularity, edited by Toni Weisskopf and Mark Van Name, coming from Baen some time next year.

I also got my OryCon schedule:

  • Friday 4pm: The Magical City of Unbelievable
  • Friday 9pm: Whose Line Is It, Anyway?
  • Saturday 10am: RSS Feeds and the New News
  • Saturday 1pm: Turkey Readings
  • Saturday 2pm: Writers’ Workshop
  • Saturday 3:30pm: Reading
  • Sunday 12pm: Believable and Lovable Evil
  • Sunday 2pm: Are You Really a Writer?
  • Sunday 3pm: Remakes, Reimaginings, & Resurgencies

Pretty intense, but I guess that’s the price of fame.

I don’t yet have my World Fantasy Convention schedule, even though the convention’s less than a week away. They still haven’t sent me anything, but I see from their web page that I’m on a panel on Friday at 4:30 about “Fantasy, Social Networking, and the Blogosphere” with Elizabeth Bear and others. Cool.

10/22/06: Never blow retreat

This weekend Kate and I went to McMenamin’s Grand Lodge, a former Masonic retirement home, now hotel, in Forest Grove. It was far enough out of town to be an out-of-town trip, but close enough that we got the benefits without a lot of pesky travel.

The occasion for the trip was a knitting workshop. In a reversal of our usual pattern, Kate would be hanging out with her knitting friends, knitting and talking about knitting, while I sat in the corner and wrote — a little one-man writing retreat in the middle of the knitting workshop. I hoped to get a lot of prep work done on the novel.

I didn’t get as much done as I’d hoped, but I did accomplish a lot. I used a technique Chris York had shown me several years ago at an OryCon to sketch out a rough outline of the novel in about two hours. This was mostly an exercise in answering questions (like “what is the character just about to do as the novel opens?” and “how do the character’s strengths and weaknesses help and hinder him/her as the story progresses?”) in timed bursts of writing — I chose a 5-minute burst period. I wrote about 3300 words in an intense hour or two. It was mostly a matter of writing out stuff I already knew about the character and the plot, albeit subconsciously, with a few bits of brainstorming. Sometimes it was hard to tell whether I was remembering something I’d worked out previously or making it up. I was typing as fast as I could.

Do I know everything that happens now? No. But I have a better feel for the overall shape of the novel — beginning, rising action, climax, and resolution. There’s a whole lot of middle that I know this exercise isn’t much help with — in the coming week I’ll work on fleshing that area out.

My goal for the rest of the month is to learn as much as possible about the characters and plot, with the intention of beginning the first draft on or before November 1. Then I’ll celebrate NaNoWriMo by writing every day, shooting for 10,000 words (that would be an average of 333 words per day) to get off to a good start. Wish me luck.

In addition to that, I put the finishing touches on the firewall story and sent it off to the editors of the anthology via email. I hope to hear back in a week or so. And I did some critiques and nonfiction writing that were way overdue.

Also this weekend, we heard some live music, visited the farm where our vegetables come from (it was not too far from Forest Grove, and besides it was Pumpkin Pickup time — we picked out a nice sincere one), went to the gym, ate some very nice meals (and some mediocre ones), and booked our tickets for Japan. 330 days in advance is when tickets for frequent flyer miles become available, and there were upgrade seats available on our preferred flights. So we’re going business class, baby!

So it was a fun and relaxing weekend, and I had a surprisingly good time hanging out with the knitters — a charming and intelligent bunch, and I’m not just saying that because a couple of them turned out to be SF fans (or had family back home who are) and two of them asked me for my autograph.

10/18/06: Bummer

Word count: 4447 | Since last entry: 46

Finally heard back from Del Rey, after six months.

The word is no. Bottom line: “the fundamental setup just doesn’t hold up in terms of suspense.” I don’t agree, obviously. But the sting is lessened somewhat by comments like “I’m loath to pass on getting a chance to publish a talented writer like David.”

I am not as crushed by this rejection as I was by the Tor one, because I hadn’t been led to expect an acceptance and I wasn’t as emotionally invested in it. My agent is querying other publishers right now, and I’ll be talking with people at World Fantasy Con.

Onward and upward.

10/17/06: Another Tuesday night at the coffee shop

Word count: 7843 | Since last entry: 314

I’m really enjoying these Tuesday night writing get-togethers. Only two other people tonight, and I wound up with Jay Lake’s power supply, but I pried open the firewall story and, after a long period with story parts spread out all over the garage floor, got everything crammed back inside and the casing bolted back on before heading home. It wants another read-through and a smoothing pass, and perhaps a bit of a trim, but I’ve done just about everything I wanted to do with it based on last week’s critique. Is it better, or even good? No idea.

10/15/06: Unplanned obsolescence

Word count: 4401 | Since last entry: 1459

1500 words of notes on the novel, mostly about the stardrive. This is fun, and of only marginal utility for developing the characters, but it’s a great generator of possible plot ideas. I’ve come up with a novel stardrive (combining aspects of Babylon 5 and The Space Eater) that has plenty of things that could go disasterously wrong, i.e. potential drama. Kate doubts that anyone would actually use something that dangerous, but, hey, an airplane could run out of fuel or hit a mountain or be blown off course, and we take those every day.

Also worked extensively on editing the firewall story — 360 new words, not counted above, plus many changed words (many of which I did not eventually put back the way they’d been in the first place). I’m not sure it’s really getting better, but I am at least trying to address the issues identified by my critique group. There’s certainly more angst. I think I need one more scene, in which my main character consults with his boss before throwing the switch, but the biggest issue is that it’s not plausible that he’d take the action he does at the climax. Well, maybe he doesn’t. (But if he doesn’t, he doesn’t change.) Need to find a way to plant a seed of his final action earlier in the story, but the action’s moving so fast I find it very difficult to cram in even a small character moment. Ponder ponder ponder.

In other news… our VCR died earlier this week, and since it’s early in the new TV season and many of the good shows we like haven’t been canceled yet, this crisis required immediate attention. So we spent far too much of yesterday looking for a new VCR. Surprise! VCRs are obsolete. Even the largest video equipment store we visited had a total of two VCRs… and one of them turned out to be out of stock. So we bought a DVD/VCR combo — the only machine we saw anywhere that supported the VCR+ codes that make programming the timer so much easier. (None of them allow you to program channel numbers or times using the numeric pad on the remote, or to seek by time.) This brings the household up to seven DVD players. But the new machine has some very cool features, such as “replay the last ten seconds” and displaying the title of the current program. The astonishing thing is that it can display the program titles from tapes recorded on the previous VCR.

TiVo or something like it is in our future, to be sure, but we didn’t want to make that decision right now because it’s so tightly coupled to questions of which cable/satellite/etc. system we’re going to subscribe to in the long run. I need to do research on that. And we’ll need a new TV eventually, too.

Also this weekend: had a very nice dinner at a new Balkan restaurant called Two Brothers (the former cheap Chinese at 39th and Belmont), and met up with recent returnees-to-Portland Robin Catesby and Dave Molner for coffee, which then turned into dinner at Malay Satay Hut.

The coming week will be a busy one.

10/10/06: Progress, such as it is

Word count: 2942 | Since last entry: 1546

It’s been a while since I posted any new word count here. That’s because I haven’t been writing a lot. My things-to-do list for the weekend was HUGE, which isn’t to say I actually crossed off a lot of items. But we did visit old friends Sonia and Devin on their property out by Vernonia. And the dogs and the cats and the llamas and the goats and the emus. Emus. Emus are very, very strange creatures. I’ve never felt the thud of a bird’s feet on the ground before, nor heard a bird breathing. The chick (only about three feet high) pecked endearingly at my trouser buttons. It came back every few minutes and pecked at me again in case I’d changed into something edible while it wasn’t looking.

But today was a good writing day. I dropped off the car for an oil change and took the train to work, during which I batted out about 1200 words of notes on the novel. This worldbuilding stuff is easy and cheap — all I’m doing is writing down random thoughts, and the further thoughts that spring from them. The main benefit is that writing this stuff down frees up brain space that was being used to hold it, and encourages/allows me to follow the idea to the next step. Writing about the aliens is also helping me to get a handle on the main human character.

In the evening I met with some other writers at a coffee shop for what may become a regular Tuesday writing evening. During this time I worked on revisions of the Singularity story, which I got critiqued on Saturday. The critiques found some serious problems — the ending feels rushed, and the protagonist changes his mind much too hastily at the climax, but the big problem is that my happy ending is read by some as a chilling horror story. It may be that this is okay. I think that in its intended context the ending will be seen as a happy ending, and even if it is not… well, it’s valid for the reader to reach their own conclusions.

So far in the revisions I’ve just nibbled away at the minor problems. I’ll start tackling the more serious issues with the climax and character interactions next. One thing I need to keep in mind is this: if the ending seems broken, you probably need to fix the middle. Specifically, I need to plant some doubts in the protagonist’s mind earlier so that his change of heart at the climax isn’t so much of a surprise.

One other thing and then I’m off to bed: I’m reading Jules Verne’s From The Earth to the Moon for our book group. I didn’t know it was a comedy. Or possibly an extended infodump with comedic moments. A fun, light read, though.

10/3/06: Local boy makes good

Word count: 1396 | Since last entry: 1396

Joined several other writers at a pizza place for convivial-sitting-and-typing-together tonight. I had been kind of worried about what I was going to do, since I just finished up a project and I didn’t feel ready to start on my novel. So what I did was just start typing notes. It went really well (1400 words in less than 2 hours), despite the fact that the place was too bright and too loud. If we do this again we’ll go someplace else.

So far what I’ve written is mostly the natural history of the Drur, the main alien species in the novel — how did they evolve, what is their history, what is their culture. I also wrote one paragraph about the main human character but, apparently, I find it easier to understand aliens than a 14-year-old girl. Because Keelie was raised by an alien of one species while they were both enslaved by aliens of another species, I’m going to have to build both species’ cultures from the ground up before I can understand Keelie.

Apropos of which, Karen Berry mentioned that she saw something on the Discovery Channel about children raised by wild dogs. This really happens?! I must investigate, because the enslaving species has a pack culture (though they aren’t nearly as warm and fuzzy as a pack of slavering wolves — they’re more like wasps, only more competitive). I also need to call my psychologist neighbor to talk about what a girl with such an f’d-up upbringing might be like — what will she fear, what “issues” will she have?

It’s much easier for me to write this sort of stuff than actual drafting. It doesn’t have to do more than one thing, it doesn’t have to lead anywhere, it doesn’t have to echo the theme or even be particularly well written. I just make stuff up and type it out, which I can do almost as fast as I can type. One interesting aspect of the exercise is that it points out all the stuff I do when I’m writing fiction — I don’t draft as fast as some, but it’s really solid for a first draft. These notes… aren’t.

As he mentions in his blog, Jay Lake and I talked a bit about his word counts and whether he should post them. I said that, though I do find them a bit intimidating sometimes, if you’re capable of producing that quality of work at that speed, why not say so? Some may find it an inspiration. As the joke goes: Q: Why did the chicken cross the road? A: To show the opossum it could be done!

I figure I’ll work on this notes file for a while (days? weeks? months?) before I’m ready to outline. So, for now, word counts above are all notes. I wound up with over 32,000 words of notes on Remembrance Day before I was done.

In other news, the Southeast Examiner story came out, and… well, on the cover it said “Sci-Fi Guy, page 18” and I actually did say most of the things I am quoted as saying. It’s not a bad article by any means, but I still find it a bit wince-worthy in spots. I’ll probably scan it and put it up on my web page anyway.

Also, I have been invited to be a speaker for A Writer’s Weekend, June 30-July 1, 2007 in Seattle. I’ve never been to one of these before but I’m looking forward to it.

And I talked to my agent today. The first novel’s been at the same place for almost six months and it’s time for them to fish or cut bait. There may be news, one way or another, later this week.

10/1/06: Draft done

Word count: 7149 | Since last entry: 1676

Finished up the first draft in a burst of enthusiasm and sent it immediately to my critique group. Some of the characters and background I made up in the early parts are unused at the climax, which means that they can perhaps be excised, but on the other hand they add richness to the world. Whatever. If it’s a problem, my critiquers will tell me.

I got a little weepy when writing the climax, which is always a good sign but doesn’t guarantee that others will feel the same way. It’s impossible to know whether enough of the things that were going on in my head made it to the page or not.

I do know that the climactic scene itself was not exactly something I’d planned. It was a solution to a problem that had been bugging me yesterday — the question of “how do you know what you know?” In this case, all of my protagonist’s information was coming to him through an unreliable channel, and he’s a smart enough guy that he’d realize this — how does he make any decision when he knows he can’t trust his information? So I, or perhaps my subconscious (which Jay Lake calls “Fred”) came up with an outside source of confirmation — an outside source that also answered another problem I had, which is that I felt my setting was being underused, and provided a powerful image of the protagonist’s emotional dilemma. It all came together in a single brief scene which is the one that almost made me cry.

I have many short story ideas knocking on the inside of my skull right now, but I think I really ought to work on the novel next. However, I may take a day or two off first — I’ve been grinding really hard for the last week and Kate needs some of my attention.

After that, we went downtown to the big public hoo-hah over the new Gerding Theatre, a marvelous refit of the grand old Armory building just one block from Powell’s. While waiting for our backstage tour to begin, we wandered over to nearby Chinatown, which was also having a grand civic celebration in honor of the opening of its new street renovations, and had a bite of dim sum for lunch.

In the evening, we met up with square dancing friends Bo and Don for a fabulous dinner of many meats at Brazil Grill (and, by the way, if you haven’t read this you must: Argentina on two steaks a day). After which we watched the first episode of Heroes, which shows a lot of promise.

An excellent weekend.

9/30/06: A productive day in the word mines

Word count: 5473 | Since last entry: 2360

800+ words yesterday, 1500+ words today. Of course, I spent all day today on those 1500 words, not like Some People who can whip out 2500 words in an evening after work. But it’s still been a good productive day and I hold out some hope I can finish the story tomorrow.

I did find a way to work in the necessary backstory. My protagonist is a real Baen/Analog hero, a hard-nosed practical guy, but he’s also emotionally damaged in a way that will pin him to the wall at the climax… which is coming very soon now, I think. The biggest remaining problem is how to set it up in such a way that his choice at the climax makes emotional sense for him. (Some writers would just wind him up and see what choice he makes on his own. My characters aren’t that self-actualized, unfortunately; they only do what I tell them to.)

In addition to the writing, today we did grocery shopping, cooked dinner (curried green beans and eggplant, using some pico de gallo we had on hand for some of the tomatoes, garlic, and spices — it worked pretty well, but we neglected to compensate for the lime juice that was already in the salsa when adding lemon juice and it came out pretty darn tart), and took in a movie (An Inconvenient Truth — a well-made and rather hopeful documentary, despite its serious topic, but on top of this week’s rape of the Constitution I found it a bit of a downer). And now I’m going to bed before midnight, because I’m tired.

Oh, one more thing. I dealt with a storm of over 7000 bounce messages caused by some spammer who used various made-up names at as his forged return address — and that’s not counting the unknown number of messages that didn’t bounce (probably tens of thousands). It would have been even more except that I got my ISP to turn off the “catchall” email forwarding in the middle of it. This was the second such storm this week, and it was over four times as big as the first one.

This spam storm and its resolution has three possible consequences for you, the reader of this blog: 1) If you ever send mail to some random address at or (e.g. on the assumption that it will magically reach the appropriate person, you can stop that now. It used to be that I would receive such mail, sigh, and manually forward it to the appropriate person. Now such messages will bounce or vanish silently. 2) If you sent me an e mail today and didn’t receive a reply, there’s a possibility it got mixed in with the flood of spam and deleted — please resend. 3) If you are a mail administrator, please don’t bother bouncing obvious spam back to the From: address, as it’s almost certainly forged, and will do nothing other than annoy some innocent third party.

I hates spammers, I hates them to pieces.