Archive for October, 2008

10/28/08: Done, done, and done

Word count: 120224 | Since last entry: -435

My second novel, The Dark Behind the Stars, is complete and in the mail to my agent. We’ll talk soon about where he’s going to send it first. The -435 words shown above is a bit of a surprise; I’d thought it was up a bit since my last blog post. Whatever. It’s been see-sawing around 120,000 words for the last week, because even as I’ve been adding text (mostly deepening Rachel and the Anvilites’ religious lives) I’ve been continuing to try to tighten it. In many cases I was able to resolve a problem simply by cutting a paragraph or two. (For example: The Anvilites’ concept of the Devil was inconsistent — now it’s not mentioned at all.)

One of the key open issues was exactly what Rachel thinks has happened in the climax. Did she kill God, or just a powerful alien being? I had left that unspecified in previous drafts… I think I was hoping the reader would draw their own conclusions, but I see now that this was a cheat. But I now know Rachel well enough that for her to see what I see happening in the climax (yes, she killed God) is not in character for her. So I let her reach a different conclusion than I would have in her place (she killed a powerful alien being, who may or may not have been the God of the Old Testament, but there is still an ineffable something… still more to the universe than that which can be observed and measured.)

One other change is that a main character now dies onstage instead of off. The weird thing for me is that, even though I jumped straight to that page and just dove in and wrote it without even reading the scenes leading up to it, I still cried (a little). Shows how important it was to show the character’s death, I think.

I also spent a good hunk of the last two days trimming the 14-page synopsis down to 7 pages. I think it’s too choppy now, and leaves out too much, but I’m assured the previous one had too much detail. I accept that I am not yet good at synopses, and move on.

I’m not sure I agree with all of the comments I decided to do something about, but almost all of them came from more than one person so I think they were worth doing. I also ignored a lot of other comments. I did the best I could with some other comments, but don’t feel I’ve completely addressed them. I think the book is stronger than it was, but it’s still imperfect — abandoned rather than completed, as they say — but what the hell, it’s done.

Also done: the bathroom is now effectively complete. We’ve hung the shower curtain and everything. There’s still a few minor details, which will probably be taken care of while we’re in Calgary, but mostly now the ball is in our court (we need new bath mats, curtains, trash can, etc.). When we return from World Fantasy Con I plan to get the house professionally cleaned to get rid of lingering dust.

And finally: we voted. Oregon is 100% vote by mail, and I took my ballot to a voting party at a friend’s. We didn’t discuss the partisan races (just about all of them are no-brainers anyway)… the big discussions were around ballot measures, such as the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t Measure 57. No consensus on that one, but at least I feel I’ve made an informed choice.

Heading to Calgary tomorrow for WFC. You may or may not hear from me before I return. If not, Happy Halloween, and don’t forget to vote!

10/24/08: Grind grind grind

Word count: 120659 | Since last entry: -91

I think the reason this revision process is going so slowly and painfully is that I am trying to do something (specifically: get into the head of a religious character) that I know I tried to do in the first draft, and tried harder to do in the second draft, but the comments I received told me it wasn’t working, so I’m trying again, but I don’t really believe I can do it. This is the biggest problem the book has (several reviewers have commented on it) and I’m really worried about it sinking the book’s chances.

Wherever possible, I am trying to address specific comments either by removing the problem passage or rewriting it so that it is shorter as well as addressing the issue, which is why the word count keeps going down. This is good, but I don’t feel I’m being very productive.

The bathroom, though, is very close to complete. Today was a bit of a goat-rope, as the electronic exhaust fan timer the electrician had ordered when the first one didn’t work wouldn’t work either. (The first one required a neutral wire, and the second one didn’t but turned out to be for incandescent bulbs only.) We looked into a number of possibilities, including running an additional neutral wire (the relevant wall isn’t accessible from above or below) and putting the timer on a different wall (kind of a pain now, since the paint and stuff is already done), and finally settled for an old-style spring-wound timer which is not as pretty as the electronic one but works. All of this while the painter was trying to paint the trim in the same tiny bathroom.

Just a little more work to do — sealing the tile, painting trim in the hall, attaching door and window hardware, etc. — and we get our house back. This may or may not happen before we leave for World Fantasy Con (where, by the way, I am currently scheduled for a reading at noon on Saturday with Garth Nix) but should definitely be done by the time we get back.

10/22/08: Still hate editing

Word count: 120750 | Since last entry: 20

Over the weekend I read Brother Astronomer, which was a lot of fun and gave me some good insights into the thought processes of a person of both science and faith. I really wish I’d read it with highlighter in hand, though, because I may not be able to find the best passages again.

At the coffee shop yesterday I had a lot of trouble getting started on incorporating what I’d learned from my reading into the book. I finally decided to write a stand-alone scene, about 500 words in a separate file, introducing Rachel and the Anvilites by showing her interacting with a non-Anvilite while loading the ship. The exercise helped me clarify my thoughts (much of this information is already in the book, though it’s scattered), but the scene was boring, static… it would be a much weaker opening than the one I have. That’s okay, I wrote it as an exercise anyway. (I know a lot of writers do this sort of thing all the time, but I generally don’t write text I intend to discard.)

Tonight I was able to take about half those words and integrate them into the existing opening. The overall word count only went up by 20 because I added the new material as a replacement for existing text, and also cut back the opening to speed it up, reduce false tension, and eliminate unnecessary detail. It’s funny how a scene I went through and cut just the other week can give up another couple hundred words of cuts on a second look.

I hope that this addition will address the comments I had about wanting to know Rachel’s backstory and the Anvilites’ beliefs in the opening chapters, though I know it won’t address the issue that the Anvilites’ theology isn’t well enough worked out or expressed. That will take more work, touching many chapters.

Bathroom is coming along well. You know how the first 90% of the job takes 90% of the time, and the last 10% of the job also takes 90% of the time? We’re into that last 90%. Lots of fiddly little details, like installing the light fixtures and towel racks, and painting the trim. The new toilet is in, along with the sink and tub fixtures, though I’m holding off on showering in the new bathroom until the tile is sealed (next Monday). The tub got badly stained during its months in the back yard (the crap that got dumped in it by various workmen after it was installed can’t have helped), but an entire can of Zud and a whole lot of elbow grease have helped enormously. More scrubbing tomorrow.

10/17/08: Not dead, really

Word count: 120730 | Since last entry: -281

Usually if I’m not blogging I’m not writing, and if I’m not writing I’m not blogging. In this case I have been writing, an hour a day or so, but the bathroom remodel and the election have been taking up too much of my mental energy to leave room for blogging. It’s gotten so stressful around here, with strangers banging about and making strange smells and all, that listening to the public radio pledge break was actually relaxing by comparison.

The above word count change represents a week’s worth of editing, incorporating comments from my agent and other first readers. Where possible I have been trying to address comments by taking words out rather than adding new ones, but I did substantially beef up a couple of scenes.

I hate editing, because it’s like trying to make a change in an assembled jigsaw puzzle. Even if all you want to do is change the color of one piece, you might also have to change several of the pieces nearby, and even other pieces halfway across the puzzle that might be related. Changing the shape or position of a piece is even worse. Everything is connected, on a word and sentence and paragraph and chapter level.

The big editing comments yet to do have to do with clarifying, deepening, and strengthening Rachel’s backstory and motivations, and the Anvilites’ theology, and I don’t really know what I can do about them. The problem is that I don’t know Rachel’s backstory and I don’t really understand the Anvilites’ theology. What the heck was I doing having my main character be a member of a contemplative religious community? I know nothing about that mindset. (I know how I got in this mess, actually. In my original concept of the story the religious people were the villains. But then one of them turned into a protagonist…) I will try reading Brother Astronomer this weekend to see if I can glean any ideas from it.

Despite frustration with the bathroom remodeling process, progress continues and it is supposed to be all done in less than two weeks. The tile work took almost a week longer than originally estimated, but it is almost complete now and looks phenomenal (see below). The lavatory is also very nice, a serene expanse of cool white that nicely offsets the busy detail of the tile. We had a lot of trouble finding a wall color that we liked; after buying three different sample quarts and being unsatisfied with all of them we decided that the green color of the sheetrock, of all things, was what we wanted. Hey, we knew it looked good.

I had a pretty good mail day on Tuesday: a countersigned contract for one short story, a check for another, and a check for audio rights (so look for “Sun Magic, Earth Magic” in audio format from Beneath Ceaseless Skies at some point in the future). Also a 41-day rejection from F&SF, alas.

Speaking of BCS, they have a message board where people can discuss my story. One of the readers ranted (his word) that it “relied too heavily on symbolism,” which I find baffling, but I’m sitting on my hands, not wanting to get into an argument. Now that the story has been published, it belongs to the readers.

Finally, as you may know, the website SF Signal has a regular feature called “Mind Meld” where they ask several SF writers to contribute brief essays on a single topic. I was honored to be asked to participate in the latest Mind Meld: “Which authors and books have most influenced your writing?”. Other participants include Joe Haldeman, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Dean Wesley Smith. Check it out!

10/10/08: Done with this pass

Word count: 121011 | Since last entry: -562

I’ve finished with this pass through the manuscript. My attempt to cut 30,000 words has failed; I cut a grand total of 8162 words, and in the next pass I suspect the word count will go back up a bit as I add backstory and a few other things requested by my beta readers. But I believe all those words are needed. If a publisher asks for cuts, I’ll just ask them what they want cut. At least it is tighter than it was.

Work on the bathroom continues apace. The tile has been laid on all the walls up to and including the mosaic band all the way around, and a little bit of it includes the chair rail above that. It looks gorgeous, and will look even better once it’s been grouted. There’s still a couple of days’ work to do on that. This weekend we will pick out cabinet knobs and the paint color for the walls.

In other news: my story “Sun Magic, Earth Magic” is now available for everyone to read for free as part of issue #1 of the new webzine Beneath Ceaseless Skies. The direct URL is There’s also a discussion forum if you want to talk about the story with other readers.

Also, the schedule for Wordstock, “Portland’s Festival of the Book,” has been posted. Looks like Jay Lake and I will be appearing together on the Community of Writers Portland Stage at 10:30am on Sunday, November 9. I hope to see a bunch of you Portland people there.

Looking a little further forward, there’ll be a group signing by a number of local SF and Fantasy authors at Powell’s at Cedar Hills Crossing on November 20. Mark your calendars; more details will be provided later.

10/8/08: Argh

Word count: 121573 | Since last entry: -216

The bathroom remodel is driving me insane.

The cabinets were installed today, and we are not completely happy with them. The linen cabinet was over four inches too tall; we were able to have enough cut out of the middle that it fits under the ceiling, but some drawers are higher than we’d like. I think we’ll live with that. The medicine chest is too shallow and has no shelves and no mirror; one of the drawers in the vanity opens on the wrong side; some of the drawer fronts don’t fit properly. Those will have to be addressed. The cabinet installer, who is Ukranian like the tile guy, was heard to mutter something in Ukranian that included the English words “professionalism” and “idiots.” Also, part of the wallboard had to be torn down to move a backing block that was misplaced (it was supposed to be fixed before the wallboard was put up) and there are some chips in the tub’s enamel that I don’t think were there before.

We should not have to hover over the workmen to make sure that everything is built and installed according to the approved plans, nor to ask them to not damage the items that have already been installed. Grr.

But the sink is in and looks gorgeous. The tile floor is very nice (though we now wish we’d laid out the design rotated 90° from what we did). And the toilet is back, at least for tonight… though there’s no door on the bathroom. Still an improvement from the outhouse we’ve been using since Monday.

Also today we met with our financial guy. Our financial plan anticipated that there would be a couple of downturns during our retirement, but the size and timing of this one are unfortunate. However, unless things get much worse than he anticipates, I should not have to go back to work.

I put in an hour of work on the novel tonight but was not able to cut more than a couple hundred words. These climactic chapters are pretty tight (or else I’m just too much in love with them). There is one scene that I might be able to go back and cut if I really need to, maybe a thousand words’ worth, but it does contain some useful information and character moments I don’t want to lose. At this point I’m resigning myself to a final word count around 120,000.

I wish there was something we could do to relax that didn’t involve calories.

10/7/08: At the coffee shop

Word count: 121789 | Since last entry: -597

Spent about three hours at the coffee shop this afternoon, mostly reading over my own deathless prose. Unfortunately, all of it seems necessary, and I only managed to cut a couple of paragraphs here and there for a total of about 600 anti-words. Also, it sucks. (How can it suck so badly when every individual sentence is so brilliant? Ah, the gymnastics of the writer’s mind…) Nonetheless, I will soldier on and complete these cuts, followed by a few brief additions and tweaks to address some review comments, followed by another stab at the synopsis. With luck I will have a completed package ready to be elevator-pitched at World Fantasy Convention over Halloween weekend.

No, “elevator-pitched” does not mean “pitched down an elevator shaft.”

Vasily the tile guy has completed the floor and is now working on the wall tile, starting with the baseboard. The bathroom is looking better and better even as the bathroom project drives our daily lives farther and farther from sanity. Currently we are using a porta-potty in the front yard (and isn’t that fun when the need arises in the middle of a rainy night?), the clothes washer is not usable until the cement in the basement sets, and the living room is half-full of boxes of tile and the just-delivered cabinets (which are beautiful, but stink of fresh stain).

Did not watch the debate. Frantically refreshed various political websites for reactions and post-debate polls, though. Cautiously optimistic.

10/6/08: Typical gnu and tiler too

Word count: 122386 | Since last entry: -392

Work on the bathroom resumed bright and early this Monday morning, when the tile guys arrived. Unfortunately, it soon became clear that we did not have the “bullnose” tiles (with one rounded edge) needed for some outside corners. Fortunately, those tiles are a stock item, and Pratt & Larson Tile is right nearby, so with the wave of a credit card they were quickly obtained. The tile guy set up his water-cooled saw on the porch and with many a cheerful “gzannng!” he began laying out the floor.

Unfortunately, laying out the floor required removing the toilet, and it won’t be back for a few days. We have a portapotty for the nonce. Whee.

While the tile guy was “gzannng”-ing away, the plumbers returned to complete the jackhammering-up of the rotted pipes in the basement. The good news in all this is that the next stretch of pipe proved to be in better shape than the first one, and so they didn’t have to carve quite as large a trench in the basement floor as they’d expected (this also implies that the sewer pipe beyond our basement wall is also in good shape).

In the afternoon I got an email from a friend who recently spent some time in the hospital and needed help with her grocery shopping (she’s not yet able to drive, and pushing a shopping cart is also a bit much to ask). I seized the opportunity to escape the noise, and instead went to Costco. This was only a slight improvement in terms of reducing my stress levels, but I can use the karma points.

After a nice dinner of Tomato-Miso Soup, I heard a cheery voice from outside: “Ahoy the house!” This turned out to be our friend Sam, who has been known to pop by unexpectedly and is always welcome. We showed her the progress on the bathroom and basement (the basement was finished when I got back from Costco, and we scratched the date and a peace sign in the wet concrete) and chatted most amicably for an hour or so.

Then I sat down and cut about 400 words from chapter 10. Less than desired, but better than nothing.

10/5/08: A day

Word count: 122778 | Since last entry: -277

A rare day with no workmen. Took it easy: slept in, gym, laundry, dinner with friends, watched The Amazing Race. Edited one chapter, but couldn’t manage to squeeze out more than 300 words of cuts even with two editing passes. Some days are like that.