Archive for December, 2007

12/25/07: Wouldn’t be Christmas without squid

Word count: 84072 | Since last entry: 2685

Neither of us has relatives nearby, and as Kate’s brother is in retail, her brother-in-law provides customer support for something that doesn’t stop even during holidays, and her mother’s a deacon, there would be no point in trying to visit them at Christmas. We’ll be gathering the clan in late January, as usual. So for now, we have nothing to do but hang out with our friends. I think we have some kind of party or dinner every single day this week and next.

Today we got up around 8:30 and made banana-buttermilk pancakes before opening our presents to each other. I got Kate an iPod-dock-radio (I found one with knobs rather than tiny little buttons), the new Linda Thompson CD, and a promise to clear off the mantelpiece and the floor on my side of the bed by January 15. She got me the Lord of the Rings trilogy on DVD, a big bag of popcorn, and a decorative glass dragonfly.

In some ways Christmas is no different than any other day, now that I’m not working. But it was very quiet when we went for a walk in the neighborhood, and everywhere we saw empty parking lots and darkened shops that are otherwise always bustling. And then… snow! A light dusting, just enough to stick, and the air just cold enough to justify earmuffs. Just enough to make the day special, not enough to be a hassle. Perfect.

We spent the rest of the morning cleaning and cooking for Boxing Day, when we’re having a couple friends over. In the afternoon and evening, our traditional movie-and-squid with our friend Michael. This year’s movie was Enchanted, which was even better than I’d expected, followed by, as always, the best pepper-salted squid on the planet. After dinner, another thousand words on the novel.

I like my life.

Here’s hoping your day was as fine.

12/22/07: Ow

Word count: 81387 | Since last entry: 1849

If it weren’t for deadlines, nothing would get done. Stayed up until 2am to get chapter 11 finished, and sent it off for critique this morning. I’ve been so productive lately that I was sure I would get this chapter done early, and start in on the next right away, but this one turned out about one and a half times as long as most of the other chapters. Lots of stuff is happening now. I am a cruel god to my characters.

Also yesterday, being the Solstice, there was festivating to be done. Started off the day at the gym, then drove out to Beaverton to have lunch with the guys I used to work with. It was so comfortable and familiar that, when we got back to the office, I was just about to sit down and get back to whatever I had been working on before lunch when I realized I didn’t work there any more. In the afternoon, we found a tree, hauled it home, and put it up. I wanted to put up outdoor lights as well, since it wasn’t raining, but at that point I needed to fall over, so I did.

A simple dinner, then a holiday party dance with the “C-Dogs” Challenge square dancers (hosted and called by M, who is doing much much better though he still can’t work or drive). Challenge dancing is really more like walking to music, but I still managed to do something to my left calf (which has been giving me minor problems for months, on and off) on the last tip. Ow.

12/20/07: Busy day

Word count: 79538 | Since last entry: 1215

Day go voom. But I know exactly what I was doing every hour.

We started off by packing up all our Christmas presents that need to be shipped, then got them to the UPS store first thing. From there Kate went off to take our friend M to a dentist appointment.

Next I called an accountant and talked with him for an hour — my current tax guy is not going to be doing individual accounts much longer and I need a new one, someone who understands both investments and writing. This guy sounds like he’ll fill the bill nicely. Next I wrapped up Kate’s presents. All present-related tasks are now done (well, I still have one thing to do for Kate, but that won’t take long). Then the electrician arrived, right on schedule, to fix a dead light fixture in the kitchen and install an electrical outlet on the front of the house for outdoor Christmas lights. I ate lunch while he was doing that.

Shortly after the electrician left, I discovered that the dead light fixture, which we had both seen come back to life as soon as he wiggled it and had both agreed was just a loose wire, was dead again. Wiggling the wire did not help. However, because I’d seen him disassemble it I now could attempt a diagnosis that I’d been unable to do before. I hauled out my old voltmeter and determined that power was making it as far as the fixture (beyond where we thought the loose wire had been), and because all three (low-wattage halogen) bulbs were out it was probably a bad transformer.

Took the fixture down and drove to A-Boy for a new one. They didn’t have that brand, but suggested a couple places that might. Used my fancy-pants phone in the parking lot to call around, and found one place that had exactly one in stock. Asked them to hold it for me. Drove across town, bought the fixture, came home, installed it. One of the (expensive low-wattage halogen) bulbs was broken when I took it out of the box, but I just swapped it out for one of the ones from the old dead fixture. Success! Proper illumination for that corner of the kitchen for the first time in months.

Fixed dinner (broccoli and tofu in spicy peanut sauce, a household favorite). Sat down to write. 1200 words later, watched half of the pilot of ER (a recent DVD acquisition) with Kate. Blogged. Bed. Tomorrow is another day.

12/19/07: Zero to sixty

Word count: 78323 | Since last entry: 1810

Being retired means that I can get kind of disconnected from the calendar. We often don’t know what day of the week it is, and (you may find this hard to believe) we actually haven’t really felt the pressure of Christmas approaching. Some years it’s kind of snuck up on us, but this year it really pounced. As of this morning I had purchased exactly three presents, and we have no tree nor lights.

The good news is, I’m retired. So we drove downtown and did our shopping, and now I’m done with that. The crowds weren’t too bad, even this close to Christmas, given that we were shopping on a weekday. We will wrap the presents tonight, and they’ll go in the mail tomorrow. Also tomorrow, the electrician is coming to install an electrical outlet on the front of the house, so we can put up lights (as we haven’t been able to do since we replaced our porch light with a compact fluorescent fixture that doesn’t support those screw-in plug adapter thingies we used to use). We’ll get a tree soon.

Meanwhile, I’ve had a number of interesting writing and other workshop opportunities appear for next year. They’re all cool, but even for me there’s only so much time and money, so I’m going to have to make some hard choices. One unpleasant surprise: the workshop I want to take this novel to has a deadline at the beginning of March, not April as I’d thought. So I have to double my productivity if I’m going to get the damn thing done in time. A thousand words a day should do it.

So I wrote a thousand words today. It’s getting easier now that the plot is really starting to accelerate, but we’ll see how long I can keep this up.

12/17/07: In which I get to use Power Tools

Word count: 76513 | Since last entry: 2587

The other day Kate said that she was really feeling oppressed by clutter, so I’ve been watching out for places to do something about that. I got all the dishes done this weekend, yesterday we sorted out a box of posters, and today we completed a major swath of decluttering that began when Kate got a new stereo for her car.

Now that Kate’s car is CD-based rather than cassette-based, you see, there was no real reason to keep most of our stash of music cassettes. The only ones to stay were those that will never exist on CD (like the recording of my college synthesizer class final project) and/or have sentimental value (like the copy of Billy Joel’s Storm Front we bought while driving across France, with its 50F price sticker). Of the rest, about 1/4 are commercial cassettes (they go to Goodwill), 3/4 are cassette copies of music we own on CD (those will just have to be recycled, probably through GreenDisk), and about a dozen are filk (those will be donated to some fan fund).

After taking down the cassette racks, we now had several empty shelves, which I thought might be just about large enough to hold the CDs that have been piled up all over the house because there was no room to shelve them. I hauled out the power drill and made new holes in order to mount the extra shelf which we’d bought years ago for just such an emergency. We then sorted out the CDs onto the now-CD-sized shelves, and lo and behold they all fit with about 6″ to spare.

The final step will be a Goodwill run to dispose of the commercial cassettes and the old, ugly cassette storage boxes. We also have some nicer cassette storage boxes (4 silver wire mesh units, kind of like this but with 4 cassette-size drawers each) which Kate thinks would be a shame to take to Goodwill, as it’s so hard to find decent cassette storage these days. If anyone in Portland has cassettes (or anything!) that need storage and would like these, just leave a comment in Kate’s blog (there should be an entry for this very shortly, I can hear her tapping away in the next room).

Much else has been happening round here, including a delightful cheese party chez Jay Lake. I’ve been plugging away at the novel, making good but not spectacular progress; the good news is that the plot has really begun to pick up steam, and the climax is now visible somewhere down the track. Exciting though this is, I will need to make space for a short story project very soon.

12/12/07: Squander squander squander

Word count: 73926 | Since last entry: 618

I really feel like I wasted a lot of today. I spent the entire morning creating a planning calendar for our 2008 travel, which took entirely too long because Excel 2004 on the Mac doesn’t seem to be able to align text properly and has two different ideas about what a cell’s background pattern should look like, depending on whether or not the cell also has a colored background. I finally switched the file over to the trial edition of Numbers (haven’t yet decided whether to pony up the $80 for iWork), which handled the text spacing much better but has issues of its own with patterns and colors. This is, of course, far more work than the problem really deserves.

Then I went to lunch with some local writers. Unfortunately, due to an unfortunate excess of health-related problems in the area only two other people showed up. Nice to see them, anyway.

In the afternoon, I worked on synchronizing my email address books (Palm, Gmail, and Mac), which turned out to be a painfully manual process. Got halfway through before my brain rebelled.

Fixed hash for dinner, using potatoes from the farm and some lovely leftover pork loin, then watched an episode of Torchwood before finally setting down to write. And, as you see, got 600 words, which is respectable, but I really need to be doing more like 1000 words a day to finish two chapters (instead of my usual one) for the next crit group meeting. I need to do that at least twice between now and April to make my deadline.

Oh well. Tomorrow is another day. (Bites radish.)

12/11/07: Coffee time

Word count: 73308 | Since last entry: 1304

A productive evening’s writing at the coffee shop. It was only me and Jay Lake tonight, and Jay left a while ago, but I kept slowly plugging away. The plot is being fractious and not helping me to guide it to the right place, but I think some kind of confrontation is brewing even if it wasn’t the one I had in mind. Also, Jay gave me some great writing-business tips. In exchange, I gave him my opinion (for whatever that’s worth) on a novella of his which I think could be great if he just let it go in the direction it wants to go instead of the direction he wants it to go. But it’s his novella and I wish him all the best with it.

Kate and I have been enjoying the latest season of Amazing Race and we keep thinking about what it would be like to compete for real (as opposed to the pretend version we had in Thailand). I think we could be good at it — it is what we do for fun, after all — except for the physical demands of some of the Detours and Roadblocks, and the whole going-without-food-and-sleep thing. I know that there are a couple of tour packages offering a semi-equivalent experience for money (a trip around the world with some competitive and adventure aspects, though without either the million-dollar prize or the possibility of elimination). I’ve also considered asking our friends to put together an itinerary for us (places to go and certain things to do or see) which we would then unseal bit by bit as we traveled. Could be kind of expensive, though, since we’d have to buy all the tickets on a last-minute basis. Kate’s also considered adding an element of unpredictability to our travels by going to the first postcard rack we see in a new location, giving it a spin, and traveling to whatever is shown on a randomly-selected postcard.

I’m just putting together a calendar of all the SF and square-dancing events we want to attend next year. There’s two or three events every month — we’re plainly not going to be able to do all of them, and if we add any non-convention-related international travel (we’re thinking Venice/Vienna, and/or maybe Kate’s delayed trip to Guadalajara) or just-visiting-friends domestic travel (Bay Area, New York, and Vancouver are among the candidates) we’re going to have to forego even more. The paradox of choice is that too much choice makes one unhappy. But it’s still good to have the options.

12/9/07: Fiction published in 2007

Word count: 72004 | Since last entry: 300

Back to work on the novel again. I must increase my pace if I’m going to have this thing finished and edited in time for a workshop in April that I want to take it to.

Meanwhile, a summary of my fiction publications for 2007.

  • “Tale of the Golden Eagle,” translated into Czech in the Czech edition of Fantasy & Science Fiction (February 2007).
  • “Tk’Tk’Tk,” translated into Italian in Robot (Spring 2007).
  • “Tk’Tk’Tk,” translated into Finnish in Portii Science Fiction (March 2007).
  • “Titanium Mike Saves the Day,” in Fantasy & Science Fiction (April 2007).
  • “Babel Probe,” in Darker Matter (issue #1)
  • “Tk’Tk’Tk,” translated into Hebrew in Bli-Panika.
  • “Titanium Mike Saves the Day,” translated into Hebrew in The Tenth Dimension.
  • “I Hold My Father’s Paws,” reprinted in The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Fourth Annual Collection.
  • “I Hold My Father’s Paws,” podcast in Beam Me Up.
  • “Moonlight on the Carpet,” in Aeon (#12).

Although that’s a very satisfying list of publications (and I’m really jazzed about the Year’s Best, which has gotten the story taught in at least two college-level science fiction classes), I note that it includes only three new stories. As far as short fiction goes, I’m reaping the rewards of spending most of the last couple of years working on as-yet-unsold novels. Once this novel is done I swear I’m going to do nothing but short stories for at least six months. (And no more damn novellas!)

I sold novelette “The True Story of Merganther’s Run” to Aeon Speculative Fiction. Issue 12 of Aeon, including my story “Moonlight on the Carpet,” is available now. And “I Hold My Father’s Paws” got an Honorable Mention in Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, while “Primates” and “The Last McDougal’s” got Honorable Mentions in Year’s Best Science Fiction.

12/7/07: Latkes for dinner

Word count: 71704 | Since last entry: 0

Latkes for dinner tonight. Yum. Haven’t lit a single Hanukkah candle yet this year, though. And once we are done with dinner we’ll be off to see the Christmas Ships. I am a bad Jew.

Although the word-count-o-meter above shows zero, that only represents work on the novel. I’ve actually been working quite hard this week, finishing up edits on an invited short story. I got good crits on it, which helped me identify an entire character and scene that could be cut (the fact that the character appeared in only one scene should have pointed out to me how little he was doing for the story) to get the story from 6300 words down to the required 5000.

Unfortunately, after making that change and a few others, the story felt… meh. Workmanlike. It had plot and characters and all that, but it didn’t grab me. I had it all printed out and ready to go in the mail, but I just couldn’t. So today I gave it one last editing pass, just for me. Because the market is a humorous anthology, I went through and added a few funny lines here and there, and amped up the ridiculousness of a few situations. It’s better. Probably good enough to get published, in an invite anthology (I hope!) but I don’t feel great about it. I put it in the mail anyway.

But then, who am I to judge my own stuff? The ones I really love are the ones that never sell. And at some point I think all my stuff is crap. But going through the manuscripts trying to pick stories for the collection, I found that I really liked them.

Also today, received an 11-month rejection from F&SF on that damn novella. I emailed it to another market but it was immediately turned back as being too long. The only other major market that would take a novella is closed until March (at least). I’ve sent a query to a UK publisher that sometimes does novellas as chapbooks, but if those two don’t pan out I think it may be the end of the line for this one, for a while at least. Mama, don’t let your stories grow up to be novellas.