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 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!

6/24/03: In the hospital

Word count: 20127 500 or so new words tonight, an expansion of the post-funeral scene with Honor’s assistant and the beginning of a scene in which Clarity visits Reason, the doctor, in her sickbed. I’ve hit my word count target, huzzah, but I would really like to finish this chapter in time to send it to critique this weekend (which means finishing it Thursday night so I can make copies on Friday). That might be another thousand words or more. I may have to skip square dancing on Thursday. I also want to rewrite a few key paragraphs in the earlier chapters to change Clarity’s attitude toward power, make her start in a different place emotionally. And I have one more novel segment to critique before the meeting on Saturday. Meanwhile I have two major, major projects at work, either of which could easily occupy my entire time, so there’s no opportunity to sneak in a little writing or critiquing during slack periods. At least I finished off a third major project (which has been on my plate for months!) today. Now if only I could stop Microsoft Outlook from giving me the oh-so-informative error message “The operation failed.” I’m having fun, believe it or not. I feel like I’m making progress.

6/22/03: The plague begins to spread

Word count: 19649 Nearly a thousand words today, still on track to hit my target of 20,000 words by the end of this week (though I would really like to finish the current chapter this week, which would result in a total of around 21,000 or 22,000 words). Also critiqued two novel segments this week, and got a couple of short story ideas. All of my writing today has been in two transitional scenes following Vigor’s funeral. Not much happens in these scenes, but we learn about what has been happening while Clarity was busy with the funeral and following wake. I’m a little concerned that things are moving too rapidly, but paradoxically not enough is happening… specifically, that Clarity is not taking enough action. I have something in mind for her for later in this chapter, though. But first, there’ll be another scene of blood and pain to drive home just how bad the situation is becoming. I keep tweaking the body count. Dozens? Hundreds? The outline says thousands at this point, but that doesn’t feel appropriate now. I think this reduction is OK, because slowing the progress of the plague now may give Clarity more to do in later chapters where her outline is currently rather thin. No repercussions yet from Clarity’s outburst at the funeral. Maybe this is a mistake, or maybe it will increase the stress to keep that hanging over her head (she is, at least, keenly aware that it is there). I keep telling myself this is a first draft — in the words of someone I met at Wiscon, you have to make cookie dough before you can bake cookies, and you have to write a draft before you can edit it into a finished novel. So I’m making cookie dough, and it’s OK if it’s half-baked (or even unbaked).

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!”