Author Archive

6/15/03: Burnt offerings

Word count: 18776 A thousand words this weekend, right on target for my next goal. Finished the scene at Vigor’s funeral, and it turned out neither the way I’d originally planned it nor quite the way I’d intended it when I sat down to write: Clarity’s grief, under intense pressure not to express itself (which arose both from her current situation and from Kris Rusch’s advice not to let characters cry on stage) morphed into an intense and unexpected anger, which boiled out at a key and very public moment of the ritual. Made the scene interesting to write, to be sure, though it was rather gut-wrenching for me and I’m not sure what this will mean for her relationships with the people she has to work with now. Nothing good, I’m sure. (Which is good for the novel. Life as a character sucks.) In other writing news, I’ve been invited to participate as a “pro” at the Worldcon writers’ workshop, and I’ve been asked to write a story especially for the OryCon 25 souvenir book. Cool!

6/10/03: At the funeral

Word count: 17660 500 new words tonight, at Vigor’s funeral. I read an essay a while ago in a back issue of the fanzine Twink about religion in science fiction, which pointed out that in most SF and much fantasy the characters are all atheists or agnostics who follow only the forms of religion, if that (not to mention the standard Cynical Non-Believing Religious Leader villain). So I’m resisting the temptation to fall into that default and giving Clarity, at least, real faith. The funeral scene is the first place this has come out, and I’m not sure how successful it is. Note: I am an atheist, but I’ve been told there’s a lot of spirituality in my stories. Go figger. I read another essay recently, Jed Hartman’s Strange Horizons editorial The Future of Sex, which asks “Where are the gay (etc.) people in the future?” Well, the main characters in this SF book are a straight-identified polyamorous woman who has some history of bisexuality, a gay-identified polyamorous bisexual man who used to date a female alien, and the alien he used to date (who has a kink for a particular kind of sex with gay human males). Now all I have to do is finish it and get it published, and I’ll be able to point at it and say “see, here are some!”

6/9/03: Once more unto the breach

Word count: 17141 Since the last entry I attended my 20th(!) college reunion, spent a relaxing week driving through picturesque countryside from St. Louis to Madison (including a visit to the amazing House on the Rock, as seen in American Gods), and attended Wiscon, one of the best SF conventions for writers. To give you some idea of the flavor of the convention, one night I wound up going to dinner with some folks I had just met that day; of the 8 people at the table, at least 5 were published writers. The quality and intensity of the hall conversations, as well as the formal program, were outstanding. Spent a lot of time with old friends (some of whom I hadn’t seen in years) and made some excellent new ones. At Wiscon I also had the first 3 chapters and synopsis critiqued. The reaction was… interesting. The critiques were generally quite positive, though not outstandingly so, but the thing that makes me scratch my head is that there was absolutely no consensus about where the problem areas were. For every person who said they thought Sienna was the best character and Jason was flat, there was another who loved Clarity but found Sienna unoriginal. There were a few small details that several people mentioned (for example, why do the aliens consider Earth’s moon to be God’s Eye? This is something to which I knew the answer, but it wasn’t in this draft of these chapters), but those are easily fixed. I think this lack of consensus is, on the whole, a positive sign. It indicates that no single area or character stands out as desperately in need of help. (Now, just because critiquers disagree about which is the weakest character is not the same as saying they are all strong. But this is a first draft.) So I’ve decided to leave the characters fundamentally as they are (though I’m still waffling over Clarity’s attitude towards power — one of the people who critiqued me had some good suggestions about changing her) until I finish the first draft. When I reach the end of the story I hope to have a better understanding of the characters, including where they should have started, and I can go back to the beginning and rework them based on that understanding. With all this travel, plus a heavy dose of work and other Real Life upon returning, I didn’t write a lick in weeks. Bad writer. But in the last two days, in part thanks to nudging from Kate, I’ve gotten back to work. So far I’ve been incorporating the simpler review comments, which explains the slight decrease in word count, but I do plan to get back to generating new text this week. To keep myself on track I have decided to begin sending the novel through my critique group on a meeting-by-meeting basis. I had originally intended to finish the first draft and revise it once before showing any of it to them (so they can comment on it as a whole, which is how the readers will see it). But I seem to need regular deadlines to keep producing. So I have made myself a deal: if I don’t have at least 3000 new words at each tri-weekly meeting, I will buy everyone a drink or equivalent. This is derived from the “external pressure biscuit technique” related by Delia Sherman at Wiscon. Yoickth, and away!

5/11/03: Coasting

Word count: 17219 Just got back from a weekend at the Oregon Writers Colony’s Colonyhouse at the Oregon Coast. Spent the whole time writing, apart from meals and one walk on the beach. Finished Chapter 2 and wrote the entirety of Chapter B (I think… it feels a little short, but it does cover everything in the outline) for a total of over 4000 new words! I had been hoping for 5000 words but I think that was unrealistic. New material includes the death of Vigor, a breakthrough by Jason, a shooting scene using info from my shoot-out a couple weeks ago, and a really steamy seduction scene. Interesting note: on Saturday, between lunch and dinner (3 hours) I wrote 1000 words. Between dinner and bed (also 3 hours) I wrote over 2000 words. Also, the 2000 words were more fun to write and feel like much better writing than the 1000 words. The difference? The 2000 words included a key scene that I have been reviewing in my head for months; the 1000 words I wrote in the afternoon were all material I hadn’t thought through in detail and I was making it up as I went along. This puts me in mind of a favorite Shoe cartoon, in which little Skyler says to his uncle Cosmo “You’re a writer. Shouldn’t you be pounding the keyboard instead of staring out the window?” Cosmo responds: “Typists pound keyboards. Writers stare out windows.” I think I need to spend a little more time staring out the window. (Of course, when I tried this at the coast I fell asleep. But the principle is sound.)

5/6/03: Frustrated by good rejections

Word count: 13179 Only 900 words in the last week. Clarity’s father still not dead. But I’m going to the coast Friday for a weekend of nothing but writing. Right now I’m just massively frustrated. I have a couple of stories I feel very strongly are some of my best work, and both of them have now bounced from every major market. The rejections have been incredibly positive — Gardner Dozois called one of them “nicely crafted and nicely felt”; Ellen Datlow said it was “moving and disturbing”; Gordon Van Gelder called it “audacious” — but they all turned it down anyway. Grr; argh. I’d rather have a half-hearted acceptance than even the most complimentary rejection. On the other hand, people’s responses to “The Tale of the Golden Eagle” have been outstanding.

4/26/03: Faintly blug

Word count: 12326 I came home from Minicon with a mild sore throat, which lasted only a day or so, but I’ve been feeling “faintly blug” ever since. Not sick enough to stay home from work, but too sick to go to the gym and too tired to do much writing. It’s been a week and I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. Nonetheless, somehow I have written almost 1000 words since Monday. Not bad, considering. Might even get some more done tomorrow. In some ways I feel the plot is moving much too quickly for a novel — I have a short-story writer’s instincts, and I can definitely feel myself trying to wrap things up in 10,000 words or less. On the other hand, the death of Clarity’s father is the incident that kicks the whole plot in motion, and the old coot hasn’t even died yet. (Though he’s not at all a well cat… he’ll be gone by the end of this chapter, probably less than 2000 words away.)

4/21/03: Back in the saddle again

Word count: 11365 It took longer than I hoped to get that story revised, but I got it in the mail to F&SF before leaving for Minicon. I hate revisions… it feels like taking one of my children apart in hopes of putting her back together in a more pleasing shape. This may explain why I have 7 stories critiqued and awaiting revision (but at least it’s down from 8). I did get almost 900 words written on the plane to Minicon, and critiqued some stuff on the plane home. But looking back on those 900 words I think I need to revise some of them (there’s that word again, ick) before proceeding… my main character isn’t taking nearly enough action. At the moment I’m a bit sick (just a mild sore throat and lack of energy, not SARS) so I’m going to bed early. Oh, and one more teeny little thing: I’m on the Hugo ballot! I’m one of the nominees for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Go me!!

4/2/03: End of the month

Word count: 10499 Well, the PseuDoNaNoWriMo is over and I did not get 30,000 words written. But I did get over 10,000 words written, and that’s not chopped liver. Well begun is half done. Et cetera. I’m going to take a brief break from the novel to do some critiques and whip a short story or two into shape (I have a bunch that have been critiqued but not yet rewritten) and into the submission pipeline.

3/28/03: Hit a goal, then stalled, but back to work

Word count: 9642 Hit a big milestone on Sunday: the end of the third chapter. Now I have first drafts of the Prologue, Chapter 1, and Chapter A. (Chapter 2 is next, then Chapter B, and so on.) This point is important because 1) it establishes the major characters and conflicts for the first half of the book in both plot threads, 2) it gives me the three-chapters-and-synopsis that is the basis for selling a spec novel (though I’m not going to shop it around until finishing the first draft, this makes it feel more “real”), and 3) it gives me a solid <10,000 word chunk to critique at the Wiscon writers’ workshop (deadline April 1). I formatted and printed out that chunk on Sunday and Kate put it in the mail on Tuesday. And then I didn’t do a lick of writing for the rest of the week. Bad me! But then I wrote 500 words tonight. Yay! I do plan to get a bunch written this weekend. (He says.)

2/9/03: Thinking about Jason

I just re-read the novel “sketch” I wrote in the Outline A Novel In An Hour workshop at OryCon. The Jason described in that sketch is a lot harder, a lot more evil, than the Jason I’m thinking about now. That Jason combines the current Jason’s computer skills with Sienna’s motivations and priorities. That Jason is a more interesting character, but not as sympathetic. Which would be better for the novel? I admit I like Sienna better as a character than the current Jason. Even if Jason is fighting against his privileged background, as I considered yesterday, he’s still a bit of a nebish, a nonentity — not a good central character for a “near-future medical thriller with aliens.” But the Jason I outlined at OryCon is so harsh I wonder if the reader will identify with him, and for him to turn around at the end and work to save the aliens might not be believable. What if he doesn’t turn around? What if he remains committed to the cause? That makes him a villain — makes him Sienna. The challenge then is that the reader has to overcome his/her initial prejudices to consider the heroic human freedom fighter as the villain and the evil alien overlord as the hero. I could structure the whole book that way, with Clarity as the main character and hero and Jason as the villain (this new Jason would basically be the current Sienna with Jason’s skills). This book would start with Remembrance Day and be entirely about the plague. (Long pause for thought.) No, I think not. Jason must at least start out as a sympathetic guy. Once the reader is attached to him I can drag him deeper and deeper into the resistance, let him lose his conscience, but in the end when he turns on Sienna and saves the aliens it is in keeping with his earlier personality. So what is it that drives him into the resistance in the first place? It can’t just be that he gets involved with Sienna; he has to have a personal reason to want to bring the aliens down. But it still has to be plausible for him to turn around later, when he learns more about the aliens and who’s really responsible for the repression. Ponder ponder ponder…