Archive for January, 2011

Tant de choses à faire

Word count: 42491 | Since last entry: ?

I see I haven’t blogged since January 2. Sorry about that.

I’ve been having a busy, complex, and fulfilling life. Been plugging away on the YA novel, 500 or so words a day most days; I’ve missed three days so far this year but I said I wasn’t going to be doctrinaire about it.

I got my first acceptance of the year: SF short story “Into the Nth Dimension” to DAW anthology Human for a Day. Also some rejections. Did you know that Clarkesworld has two different form rejection emails? Like Realms of Fantasy‘s “blue form of death” and “yellow form of promise,” one’s more encouraging than the other, but the difference between them is pretty subtle. The more promising one includes the words “your story was close” instead of the other one’s “your story isn’t quite what we’re looking for right now.”

Some of the rejections have carried more sting than others. I’m very frustrated by the publishing industry right now but I’m trying to channel that frustration into productivity rather than despair. Sometimes it’s hard.

A lot of Kate’s and my time this month has been spent working on a big non-writing-related semi-secret project. We expect to hit a major milestone on it this week. It will continue to occupy a big part of our time for most of the rest of this year.

We’re also doing a lot of travel planning. Even though we are not planning to leave North America, it’s going to be another big travel year. Right now we’re working on nailing down flights, car, hotels, and other details for the Radcon/Madrona Fiber Arts weekend (February); Potlatch, FOGcon, and the week in between (March); Kate’s trip with our niece to Disneyland (April); my “endowed speaker” gig at Buena Vista University in Iowa (April); a research trip on the tall ship Lady Washington (April or May); and a trip to Eastern Oregon (June).

I’m going to be doing a lot of teaching/workshopping/mentoring this year. In addition to the trip to Iowa, where I will be delivering the annual Stollee Lecture and working with English students and faculty (my Clarion West classmate Inez Schaechterle is an English teacher at BVU), I’ll be a workshop group leader at the Cascade Writers Workshop in July (where there are still seats available, by the way); I’ll be doing writers’ workshops at Potlatch and FOGcon; and I was just invited to appear as a guest pro at the Alpha Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Workshop for Young Writers in Pittsburgh. I wouldn’t be surprised if I did writers’ workshops at Wiscon, the Worldcon, and OryCon as well.

Kate and I have been watching the DVDs of Day Break, a 2006 TV show that was canceled after five episodes although a full season of 13 was completed. It’s a taut, smart show about a cop being framed for murder in contemporary LA who is, for reasons as yet unknown, living the same day over and over. We really liked this show on its frustratingly-curtailed broadcast run and are looking forward to finally finding out how it ends. We also watched episode 1 of Portlandia, which — although it skewers Portland in a loving and painfully accurate way — was too slow-paced and disjointed to be really funny, so we won’t be buying the remaining episodes from iTunes.

We’ve also seen some local theatre, including Captured By Aliens!, a late-night semi-improvised serial comedy about six contestants on a reality show who discover that they have actually been abducted by aliens. We saw the first week’s show and it was a complete hoot, a bit amateurish but full of heart and brains. We will unfortunately miss week 2 (January 28-30) but plan to attend the week 3 show on February 4. The series concludes with week 4 (February 11-13).

There’s also been a lot, and I mean a lot, of day-to-day Stuff To Do, so much so that I’ve actually been feeling rather oppressed by my ever expanding Things To Do list. Which is absurd, given that I’m retired and can spend my days exactly as I wish, but there it is. I had an important realization about this last night, though.

Throughout my working career, on every single project I ever participated in, we spent a huge proportion of our time developing requirements, whacking the requirements down to something that could be implemented within the time and resources available, tracking performance against plan, whacking the deliverables down yet again as the actual work involved became apparent, and deciding which of the thousands of acknowledged bugs could be “deferred” (which, more often than not, meant “never fixed”) in order to ship something resembling the promised functionality on something resembling the promised schedule.

Acknowledging that there simply wasn’t enough time in the day to do everything we wanted to do, no matter how important it might be, was always a big and unavoidable part of my working life. And yet somehow I think that in my personal life I should be able to get it all done. I don’t have a program manager to help me track my progress and reassess the feasibility of my goals, and I don’t have a lot of externally-imposed deadlines to force me to cut down the deliverables and finish something, so the to-do list just grows and grows and grows. I’m not yet sure how I will incorporate this insight into my daily life, but I think it’s significant.

Apart from all that… I have no money problems, I am in great health, and my personal relationships are going well.

I can’t complain, but sometimes I still do.

Season’s Screenings

Kate says “if that’s another year-in-review post I’m cutting you off.” But it isn’t; it’s current affairs.

We saw a lot of movies this holiday season, in theatres and on DVD and on TiVo. It was almost like being sick, when I tend to curl up in my bathrobe on the couch in the parlor and just watch and watch. But more fun than that. Here are my thoughts on those films, in no particular order.

Tron: Legacy. What an irredeemable mess. The plot made no sense whatsoever; picking at plot holes is like shooting slats in a barrel (at least the fish move). Even the flashy action sequences, like the Tail Gunner / Star Wars crossover aerial battle, were boring. We knew going in that it wasn’t going to be good, but I still wanted to see it in 3-D because, you know, Tron! But it really failed to live up to expectations. The best thing about it was the quotes from the previous film.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. A delightful, surprisingly complex science fiction film, which went a lot farther than movies usually do into the implications of the posited technological change. Thoughtful and highly satisfying.

The King’s Speech. One of the best movies I’ve seen this year, combining high stakes with a very small and human story. Brilliant performances by the leads; sure to be an Oscar contender.

A Town Called Panic. This played at the Hollywood Theatre for several months this summer but we only just now saw it on DVD. A bizarre, surreal film in which tiny plastic toys are animated in a way that looks and feels childish but has an adult sensibility. The fact that it’s all in French pushes it completely over the top. Recommended.

The Lives of Others. A drama about a member of East Germany’s Stasi secret police who eavesdrops on a dissident playwright; a gimpse into a world that has vanished; a story of conscience and consequences. Thoughtful but not gripping.

The Empire Strikes Back. Comfort viewing. This is the first time I’d seen the special edition, and though some of the added special-effects shots entering Cloud City were brilliant the overall effect of the changes was just distracting and the new readings of Boba Fett’s lines were awful. Otherwise it held up pretty darn well.

Titan A.E. The first time I’d seen this Don Bluth animated film since its original theatrical release. The plot and characters are simplistic and kind of nonsensical, and the songs were eye-rollingly bad, but it handled zero gravity, vacuum, and truly alien aliens better than almost any SF movie I can think of. The destruction of the Earth, the fight in the hydrogen swamp, and the extended sequence in the ice rings are each worth the price of admission themselves. This stupid little film has been surprisingly (perhaps appallingly) influential on my own work.

The Emperor’s New Groove. This is what you’d get if Chuck Jones directed a Disney movie. I laughed out loud.

The Tempest. Generally a win, but Caliban (whose line readings I could barely understand) and the weird kaleidoscopic sequence in the middle were just baffling. I’m glad I saw it anyway.

Resolutions

I tend to take my new year’s resolutions pretty seriously. Some years they’ve been a little frivolous, like the year my resolution was to watch Casablanca, but even then I did make sure to do it. They’re usually pretty concrete, and measurable, and designed to be achievable though a bit of a stretch. A legacy of my years at Intel, I guess.

My resolution for 2010 was to read the Aubrey-Maturin books by Patrick O’Brien, in order. I knew up front I wouldn’t be able to read all twenty-and-a-bit of them in one year, but I intended to read as many of them as I could. Well, that’s what I did, and “as many as I could” turned out to be three: Master and Commander, Post Captain, and HMS Surprise, plus a little bit of the fourth (The Mauritius Command). Fairly pathetic, really, but I gave it my best shot. I intend to continue plugging away at them until I’m done, along with all the other reading I want to do.

In 2011 I need to get back on the writing horse in a big way, after the many Mars-related and travel-related disruptions of 2010. They were enjoyable and valuable disruptions, to be sure, but they did interfere with the word count. So my new year’s reosolution for 2011 is: finish and submit my current novel and make a good start on another novel.

To break down the elephant into smaller, more chewable chunks, I intend to attack this resolution as follows:

  • Complete the first draft of the current novel by the end of the first quarter (March 31);
  • Have the current novel critiqued, revise it, and submit it to at least one publisher by the end of the second quarter (June 30);
  • Write at least 30,000 words on a second novel by the end of the third quarter (September 30);
  • Have at least 60,000 words of draft on the second novel by the end of the year.

In support of these goals, I intend to write at least 500 words, preferably 1000, every day. Though I’m not going to get doctrinaire about it like I did in 2009; if I miss a day, that’s life.

I know these goals are laughably unambitious by the standards of some of my writer friends, but for me they are a stretch. However, I think I can achieve them, with good quality, and if I can do this it’ll be my best novel-writing year ever. Wish me luck!