Archive for July, 2007

7/30/07: Ni!

Word count: 59316 | Since last entry: 5213 | Days until retirement: 63

I haven’t posted much about the writing lately because it’s been difficult and slow. It took me what seems like forever to finish the latest chapter, which I did only by virtue of staying up too late on the last day, writing over 2000 words in an evening, and emailed out to the crit group at 2:00 (when the meeting started at 2:00, 15 minutes’ drive away). I don’t want to cut it that close again.

The book has been difficult and fractious because I am passing over what I think of as the “knee” of the novel. This is the point where the initial plot — the thing that drove the characters into the book — has essentially played itself out, and the “real” plot — the thing that I hope the readers will take away as “what the book was about” — is just getting started. This has turned out to mean a series of 2-4 chapters during which the plot slows down for a major turn, and I’ve been trying to let the characters use the time to do some reflection, introspection, and other character-building stuff. I’m not sure how well it’s working. I suspect that in revision I will have to do the thing I think of as taking a rolling pin to the book, to mash the various disparate bits down and smush them around more evenly.

My crit group is generally enthusiastic about the way things are going. They made some useful suggestions, such as: although Keelie really ought to be 14 years old, readers and editors will be more likely to accept her and the things she does if she’s 16, and that it might not be believable that Rachel is the sole medical officer for a space ship with a crew of 60 when she’s not a fully-qualified doctor. Both of these, and several other such problems noted, are actually very easily soluble. It’s not like the way it was with novel #1, where everyone hated Jason no matter what I did with him.

The new barbecue has been working out great. In the last 3 days we’ve had fresh-caught salmon (with a great spice rub from Alton Jones) with grilled fresh-picked corn on the cob; flank steak marinated in coffee and peppercorns with grill-roasted potatoes; and fresh garlic sausage with more corn on the cob. It’s a hit.

7/21/07: Barbecue. Grunt.

Word count: 54103 | Since last entry: 1682 | Days until retirement: 72

A big package arrived today: my anniversary present for five years at my employer. I had selected from the catalog of watches, clocks, and jewelry… a Weber grill. Cool! I am Guy, hear me grunt.

Naturally my plans to buckle down and spend the day writing went right out the window. I spent the afternoon assembling the thing, finding propane (in the peculiar tank size it requires), and buying a stand, barbecue tools, and other necessities. I read the dire warnings of explosions and devastation, then fired the thing up. As it happens, we had already planned burgers and cole slaw for this evening’s repast. It was fabulous. And when the yellowjackets came round, we took advantage of the fact that we were grownups and eating in our own backyard and just went inside. Take that, yellowjackets.

Also today: some Japanese study, a fun lecture on Portland’s neighborhood movie houses, and a viewing of the new Harry Potter film (better than I’d expected) in one of them. And I did get a few hundred words written. I am amazed to see that somehow I have accumulated over 2000 words in the current chapter, and I might conceivably finish it before next week’s crit group meeting. Will wonders never cease.

More writing tomorrow. I swear.

7/10/07: Dog day

Word count: 52421 | Since last entry: 1738 | Days until retirement: 83

I finished up chapter 7 and sent it to critique, got my critique on chapter 6 (they still seem to be quite thoroughly engaged, though Rachel still needs more backstory), and completed the re-outlining. At one point half the living room floor was half-covered with little bits of paper. I should have taken a photo. The new outline has 16 chapters, down from 18, and the second half is much, much denser than before although I dropped a lot of incidents. One of the big changes is that I excised a whole try-fail cycle that was just repeating what had already happened to fill in space.

Another big change is that I took a key role in the climax away from a minor character and gave it to a major character instead, going “well duh, of course they’d be the one to do that, it’s just what the whole frickin’ book has been leading up to.” Amazing that it took me so long to realize that. It does mean that two characters who were in different places before are now in the same place at the climax and have to be separated immediately thereafter for the anticlimax to work properly. I think there will be enough chaos that this shouldn’t be difficult. I’m also wondering whether that minor character, who died in the previous outline, should now be allowed to live as a sort of consolation prize for losing the big scene. Either way, the new ending is ever so much more satisfying than the old one — I hadn’t thought a happy ending was even possible, but physics properly applied can cover a multitude of sins.

I have been getting way too little sleep lately. I should be asleep right now, in fact, as I have an 8am meeting tomorrow. But before I pack it in, I should mention that The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Fourth Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois (who is, I’m told, recovering nicely from a quintuple bypass), has its official release today and has already been reviewed at I haven’t seen a copy yet. This anthology is my first Dozois Year’s Best appearance, with “I Hold My Father’s Paws”. Coincidentally, that same story was just this weekend podcast at Beam Me Up from WRFR radio in Rockland, Maine. The reading, by Ron Huber, begins about halfway into the show. Hope you like it!

And so to bed.

7/5/07: Writerly noodling

Word count: 50683 | Since last entry: 376 | Days until retirement: 88

I’ve been pondering and noodling away on the new outline for the second half of the book for the past couple of days. (Interestingly, Jo Walton and Charlie Stross seem to be in the exact same situation.)

It seems that I work by driving toward and building connections between key scenes, using the next upcoming juicy scene as bait to drag myself forward. I’m slightly stalled because I’ve run out of juicy bits to tempt myself with. So I wrote down a whole bunch of potential juicy scenes for the second half. Some of them are from the original outline, some are brand new. There are 32 of them, which is too much stuff for one half-novel even if many weren’t mutually exclusive, so some will be discarded and/or combined with others. I printed them out and cut the printouts up so I have 32 little rectangles of paper, with the intention of shuffling them about until they seem vaguely plot-like and then dividing them into chapters and viewpoints. This is an exercise recommended by Tim Powers and others, which I haven’t done since my original outline for novel #1 (the one with the insanely complex braided timeline, for which the outline eventually became a color-coded spreadsheet).

In the process of preparing the 32 little rectangles I discarded the original ending (it always was a bit of a downer) and replaced it with a new one suggested by something Leah Cutter said. It’s uniquely science-fictional, makes good use of a key element of the setting, and resolves a key ethical dilemma all in one tidy package. Now all I need is to find the way there. (I always know the ending of a story… generally it’s the second thing I know, after the setting or situation. Sometimes the end changes as I move toward it, but I always have an ending that I’m heading for.)

This evening I realized that I have to get this chapter done by Saturday, and lots of other things too (including the season premiere of Dr Who on the Sci-Fi channel). I also realized that even if I don’t know exactly what’s coming next I have a fair idea of the rest of this chapter, so I started drafting again. It’s going to be a stretch to get it done. I’ll finish re-outlining after that.

PSA: If you are one of the eight people who was watching Drive when Fox unceremoniously canned it after four episodes, you might want to know that the remaining two episodes will be aired on Friday July 13 (not July 4, as originally announced).

7/2/07: This writer’s weekend

Word count: 50307 | Since last entry: 152 | Days until retirement: 91

Had a great time at the Writer’s Weekend conference, despite the fact that I didn’t know anyone there except Louise Marley. But I was on a couple of very nice panels with her and with Cherie Priest and met a bunch of keen new folks, including a bunch of cool kids from Bellingham. Conference organizer Karen Junker said she heard very good things about me (including from literary agent Nephele Tempest, whom I don’t even know!) and has already invited me back for next year.

The conference was held at the lovely Roosevelt Hotel, just blocks from Pike Place Market and other downtown Seattle wonderfulnesses. We were only slightly affected by the president of Korea’s presence at the hotel next door, although motorcades halted vehicular traffic near the hotel on a couple of occasions. We also shared the hotel with delegates to the BMM conference. I have been unable to determine, either by asking around or by reading the conference’s web page, what BMM stands for, but I gather it’s a conference for US residents who hail from a certain Indian state.

I must admit that it was very strange for me to be playing the role of Big Name Pro (though many of the other BNPs at the conference were substantially younger than I), but I do think I was able to provide some useful advice in my presentations and hallway conversations. This seems to have been my weekend for telling people to get off their duffs and submit something already. I hope that they will follow through. (Yes, I’m looking at you. Do it now.)

Before the conference we attended the weekly Clarion West party at the lovely new home of Kelly Eskridge and Nicola Griffith, where we schmoozed with many a Seattle fan and pro and met at least half of the 2007 class. I won’t attempt to list them except for Leah Cutter, who gave me some very good ideas about my novel. And then tonight we started Japanese class (only 8 weeks until we leave for Yokohama, aiee!).

All this means little writing in the last few days. So it goes. I did write every day in June, although most of what I wrote at the conference was outline and notes rather than actual novel. I realize now that what has happened is that I’ve now written all the scenes I have been holding in my head since the beginning and I need to pause and rethink what comes next. I have a general idea of where I’m going but I need to get more concrete about it.