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8/26/03: Jes’ makin’ shit up

Word count: 25672 Half an hour writing while getting the car’s oil changed, another hour or two waiting for clothes to finish washing and drying, and pretty soon it’s 1400 words. That’s nice, but I’m still behind for this three-week period. I hope to catch up on the plane to and from Torcon. I’ve been working on scenes with Jason and Chris and Jason hacking on the biocomputer. I decided to introduce new character Flea here (I’d originally planned to introduce him a few chapters ago but it didn’t work), and at this moment he is literally standing on the threshhold about to open the door. Not a lot of major plot elements, though character arcs are moving and information is being conveyed; it’s just part of the vast Middle that so many novelists have told me is the hardest part. I really do feel like I’m just making shit up. But with any luck someone will want to read it. Four days from now I will be at the Hugo ceremony in Toronto, where I will find out if I’ve won the Campbell Award. I’ve already received an invitation to the Hugo Losers’ Party. Do they know something I don’t? :-)

8/6/03: Squish!

Word count: 23693 No new work on the novel itself, but tonight I wrote a synopsis of What Has Gone Before, squishing 17,000 words of novel down to just over 1000 words. This synopsis is not the same as the synopsis I wrote a while ago, because it’s more focused on what you need to know to understand the current chapter and less on the overall plot arc. I hope that when it is done it will be the kind of detailed synopsis I need to sell the novel (or at least a draft of it). This synopsis is a requirement for our crit group, and it was a useful exercise. It shows that some chapters, particularly the ones with the human viewpoint character, have a lot less going on than others, notably the ones with the alien viewpoint character. On the other hand, later in the outline the human chapters are a lot meatier than the alien chapters. I wonder if this will be considered to balance out, or if I’m going to have to rejigger the chapter breaks? I’d hate to have to do that, because I like the way each chapter ends on an emotional high note.

8/3/03: Good news, bad news

Word count: 23693 1500 words today, and I finished up chapter 3. When I came to the climactic moment at the end of the chapter, I realized that what I had in the outline made no sense… it wasn’t something the character had the knowledge to suggest, the possibility had not been raised in earlier chapters, and knowing what they knew at this point (as written) the other characters would not go along with it. But there was another thing the character could suggest, that was very much in keeping with her personal history, that would piss off everyone else royally, and that would plug a plot hole later on. So I wrote it that way instead. The chapter also ends a week and a couple thousand alien deaths earlier than the outline says. David triumphs over the outline! Well, wins a battle anyway. And I’ve met my goal of 3000 words before the next critique meeting, which is next Saturday. That leaves me the rest of this week to do my crits and prepare a synopsis of What Has Gone Before. (I also need to work up a list of characters and a glossary of alien gestures and noises… it’s getting too hard to keep track of all the details in my head.) But there’s a fly in the ointment. It turns out I messed up somewhere when I figured 1000 words a week would be enough to finish this draft by the end of the year. The correct figure is 3000 words a week. (I mixed up words-per-week and words-per-critique, with a crit every 3 weeks.) At 1000 words a week I won’t finish the first draft until the end of 2004. That’s not acceptable. I can’t tie myself up for another year and a half without anything more than a first draft to show for it. On the other hand, 3000 words a week is probably more than I can reasonably expect to produce consistently. Writing a 7000-word short story in 3 weeks was a real push, cost me a lot of sleep and made me worried for my wrists. Argh! Some kind of compromise will be required. I don’t think I can expect to finish this draft by the end of the year any more, but I do think I can produce more than 1000 words a week. And there’s no time like the present to start. But for tonight, I’m going to bed with 1500 words for the day. And that’s not too shabby.

7/31/03: Plugging away

Word count: 22191 I’ve been writing 300-600 words a night, most nights, for the past week. It feels like so little, but I look up and, hey, 2000 words. Cool. With luck I’ll crack 3000 words before next Saturday, which will let me do my copying at work and give me time to do my crits and write a synopsis of the chapters so far. The attention I’ve been paying to the word count makes it seem that I’m just grinding out sausage. I really am paying attention to the content, honest; I’ve rewritten the opening of one scene three times. A lot of what I’ve written this week feels flat, I’m afraid, but I don’t think it’s either possible or beneficial to maintain a short-story level of prose craft for an entire novel, and I can tighten it some in rewrite. There’s just so much to it! A hundred thousand words is a typical novel these days. In my entire writing career so far, about four years, I’ve written about 150,000 words (I just added it up and was surprised it’s so many!). I’m trying to write two-thirds of that in less than one year. So I have to keep my focus on producing draft in order to reach the end. Went to Seattle for the Clarion West end-of-week-5 party last Friday, at Jerry and Suzle’s with instructor Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and was just overwhelmed at the number of keen people there. To my surprise about half of the Tor editorial staff and several out-of-town writers also happened to be there, so I spent a lot of time schmoozing as well as chatting with old friends and new. Fun. Today is the Hugo voting deadline, so my Campbell Award fate will shortly be sealed, though I won’t learn the results until Labor Day. I’m not holding out a lot of hope for a win (I’m dead last in Sci-Fi Weekly’s straw poll), but It’s An Honor Just To Be Nominated. And I’m still eligible next year!

7/23/03: Survived critique

Word count: 20881 Three hundred and some new words tonight. Not a lot, but at least I’m back to work on the novel after three weeks off with the short story. Working on a scene of pain and terror with the doctor, Reason. Also taking the opportunity to answer some questions about how and when the aliens use telepathy vs. other means of communication. Got the first five chapters critiqued this weekend. Responses were generally positive; a number of specific issues were raised. Some were problems I already knew about (aliens not alien enough, Jason’s motivations rather weak), others were technical issues and easily fixed (offhand mention of fusion power should be replaced with something having more manageable social consequences, should give Jason a different gun and he needs to clean it himself), a few were surprises (need to clarify that relationships are different in the future, aliens’ name is too similar to a recent TV show, aliens’ corporate structure should reflect their different society). Everyone was disappointed I brought a short story rather than a new novel chapter. I shall not fail them next time! So: my goal now is to prevent my friends from drinking beer! To do this I only have to write a thousand words a week. Doesn’t seem all that hard after doing over 4000 words last week. (Which was overdoing it… my hands were a little cold and tingly for several days after finishing that burst of effort. Scary! But they seem to be better now.) It’s tempting to go back and try to fix the problems identified in the critique now. But in the interests of maintaining forward momentum on this draft, I’m going to stay the current course and keep writing until I get to the end. Then I’ll go back and do all the critiques in a big editing pass. Is this mad?

7/18/03: Break’s over, back on your head

Word count: 20519 Just finished the short story — 6500 words in 3 weeks (no wonder I’m tired!). It’s kind of old-fashioned and hokey, but that might be OK for the planned market. I’m sending it to critique tomorrow, and then it’s back to work on the novel.

7/13/03: Short story break

Word count: 20519 No work on the novel since the last entry, but I have written 2200 words of what’s going to be a 5-7k short story (which I need to finish this week, ack). It’s going well, but since I just finished introducing the main characters I know I’m going to have to do some serious cutting when this draft gets done. After a long dry spell with no responses at all to the stories I had out, I received three rejections in as many days. All were encouraging personal rejects from major markets. For example: “Good to see something by you again, and thanks for letting me see [this]. This is well-crafted and entertaining, but it’s not really for us, and so I’m going to pass on it. Of course, let me see more when you have it. Best, Gardner.” When I was first starting out, I got cold, impersonal form rejections and I was frustrated because they told me that the story had been rejected but not why. Now I get warm, cheery personal rejections… that tell me that the story has been rejected but not why. The more things change… I also sent off a query to an anthology where I’d been waiting a long time for a response. Turns out the ToC for the antho has been finalized, though I never received a rejection and the ToC was posted only on the publisher’s message board, not on their main web site. Annoyingly, this is the second time this particular story has gotten turned down without receiving a rejection. But I just sent it off again… its 13th cover letter, on July 13th, and it’s a horror story, so that’s bound to be good luck. Did get some good news on Friday, though: my story “Fear of Widths,” originally published in the anthology Land/Space, has been reprinted on the website Infinity Plus, and I received a CD of the audio version of my story “The Tale of the Golden Eagle” from Audible.com. I don’t know who read the story, but it’s a great performance. (He did mispronounce the name of the main character, Denali Eu, as “eyu” rather than “yew”. But that’s a minor point.)

6/29/03: Off to critique

Word count: 20519 Added a couple hundred words on the state of the world and Jason’s reaction to it to chapter A, and gave the first chunk of chapters (not including the incomplete chapter 3) to my critique group. Also got all my crits done in time, huzzah. The changes are not really enough; I need to go through and really tune Jason up as a character, but that will come in the first editing pass after the first draft is finished. I already have a list of things I want to do for each chapter, plus global things like “play up echoes between the two plot threads”. But I’m going to keep drafting, because to go back and rewrite now would be to enter an endless cycle of revision that leads nowhere. At the last critique group meeting, Jim said (about someone else’s story) that “many beginning writers base characters on themselves, and they always suck because they don’t include their own flaws.” I suspect I may have done this, to some extent, with Jason. He isn’t me, but he’s a lot like me. I need to take a cold hard look at him and make sure I’m giving him enough flaws and hurting him enough. Just read a portion of a book called Portraits of “The Whiteman”: Linguistic Play and Cultural Symbols Among the Western Apache by Keith Basso (Kate picked up a copy for $1 at a used book store). This section discussed how Apaches may imitate and exaggerate Anglo behavior for humorous effect, and analyzed a long “whiteman joke” to show exactly how and why Anglos look stupid when viewed from an Apache cultural perspective. This made me realize that my aliens are not nearly alien enough, culturally. They come from another planet, for pity’s sake — they should be at least as different from Anglos as the Apaches are. Another thing to address in the next draft. I’m going to take a 3-week breather from the novel now, to work on a commissioned short story.

6/25/03: Changing the past

Word count: 20293 Spent the evening rewriting a few key early scenes rather than adding new text. I changed Clarity from “underappreciated princess who craves power” to “overworked princess who’d rather play with her small pet projects than accept the power that’s being forced on her.” It was suggested by Keith Vargo at Wiscon, but I take all the blame for the implementation. It was surprisingly easy to make the change… only two scenes were affected. For example, I changed a scene from her trying to talk her uncle into letting her do something to the uncle trying to talk her into doing it. Many of the words were the same but I moved them from him to her or vice versa. I also added more description of the aliens to a couple of early chapters, since some of the readers at Wiscon didn’t have a clear idea of what they looked like. Still to do (by Saturday!): make Jason angrier to make his actions more plausible, make the world more messed up to explain Jason’s anger, and explain the “F vs. S” thing. And finish chapter 3. And critique one novel segment and write up my critique on another. Whee!