matociquala: (spies mfu goodliest outside napoleon)
I totally just did a tripod headstand with no spotter and no wall. This physical fitness thing is really awesome.




(Scott took the photo. Because he is tolerant. And he's been spotting me since last year some time while I practiced. He is a patient soul.)

I have not been this geeked about a yoga accomplishment since wheel pose. (Proper crow was pretty exciting too, I admit. And handstands, even though I still use a wall and cheat to get up. And bound side angle. But wheel was the best! And so is this. Exhilarating. Success, when you have worked for it, is the greatest thing in the world.)

You practice and practice and accept that you're never going to get it and you fall over a lot and then one day it happens and it's actually easy. Easy-ish. Easier than you expected. Much easier than the practicing made it seem like it would be.

I was thirty years old before I learned how to learn things. Nobody has ever taught me. Either I could do things or I couldn't, and there was never anybody who explained to me that no, you have to study. You have to fail. And keep failing better (and trying different things and researching and stuff) until you're not failing any more.

It was writing novels that taught me this, by the way. Because I never could. And then eventually I just kept trying long enough and did. Then I wrote four more, and sold one.

Reader, I had an epiphany. Stuff doesn't just happen or not happen. I mean, some of it does. But some of it happens because you keep doing hard things long enough to learn the knack of it, and then it's less hard.

Writing novels is exactly the same thing as running thirteen miles, or doing a headstand, or learning how to cook.

And I'm better at this stuff at 41 than I was at 14. It's amazing how useful it is to know how to learn things.

Also, damn, have I got some spinal erectors going on. Let's hear it for deadlifts, boys and girls.

Now to work on my form.
matociquala: (sf star trek horta/spock)

It always amazes me how getting a couple of big, mentally taxing projects (like, say, a major novelette commission and the Very Important Third Book Of A Trilogy) squared away opens out the horizons. There are suddenly more hours in the day, and more energy to get stuff done in those hours.

Creative work is really emotionally taxing. The more ambitious it is, the more taxing. I've been struggling, the past couple of months, to get the basics done--dishes washed, bills paid, exercise exercised. Now that the book and one of May's two novelettes are done, suddenly my head is full of room.

Case in point: after yesterday's marathon work session, I'm achy and exhausted and this morning's run was kinda brutal (and truncated by two families of geese, who I was unwilling to disturb in order to run along the trail they were hanging out on) but I still got All The Procrastinated Errands Done this morning, and more will happen this afternoon.

And I've reread what I have on the month's other novelette, which is actually probably going to be a short novella, and I like it! It's good!

I just have to figure out the twist and the rest of the caper, and I'm good to go.
Brave companions of the road: one of two families of feathered dinosaurs encountered on this morning's jog. The other was a two-parent household with younger goslings, still in the mottled yellow and brown stage. I decided to let them have the path, preferring my arms unbroken.

Excelsior!
matociquala: (criminal minds garcia plan b)

I am so very stuck on how this character outsmarts a nemesis. I'd go write the other story, but I'm stuck on how those characters outsmart their nemesis.

Basically, I have made the critical error of trying to write stories about people being smart, which means I have to be smart.

*sigh*

Smart is hard.

matociquala: (twain & tesla)

I delivered the publication version of Steles of the Sky at about 4 AM this morning. It goes to production now, and if all goes well, next April you will have a lovely bundle of pages or pixels in your hot little hand. (I've already seen sketches for the cover art. Oh man. This is not going to suck. The roughs are currently my computer desktop. Thank you, Donato Giancola, for another gorgeous cover.)

It's the longest of the three books at 153,000 words Microsoft word count, and about 190,000 words manuscript word count.

Irene Cornyn  (LOC)

Why the big disparity? Well, here. Because I keep getting asked what the difference between a word processor's word count and "manuscript word count" is, I explain.

No, take too long. I sum up.

Your word processor will generally give you a word count when you click the proper button. This word count will vary from word processor to word processor, because Scrivener uses a different algorithm than MS Word than Wordperfect than Open Office than what have you. How can algorithms vary? Because wordcount is a judgment call. Is fire-fighter one word or two? Do we count letters and punctuation? MS Word thinks a hash mark for a scene break is a word. Not all word processors agree.

Manuscript word count is calculated a different way. It is not a measure of the number of words in a piece, but the number of "words," where "words" are bundles of five characters and a space. Like column inches, it's meant to tell an editor or a compositor how much space the piece is going to take up in a finished work. So a page of dialogue may have far fewer words than a page of description, but the same number of "words." (Dialogue, you see, has a lot of white space.)

In the era of typewriters, you didn't calculate your word count by counting every word on the page. You calculated it by setting your margins such that your page had either 24 60 character lines on it, or 25 50 character lines. This gives you (very roughly), ~250 words to a page. (This is one reason why standard manuscript formatting calls for a fixed width serif font such as Courier, double-spaced. Another reason is that fixed width serif fonts, double-spaced, give editors and copyeditors and compositors room to scribble all over your manuscript. Another reason is that you get used to reading it, and picking out errors becomes easier. Proportional fonts (where the letters are different widths) look prettier and save space, but also hide errors and make it harder to guess how much space (how many pages or column inches) a given story will take. Sans-serif fonts make it harder to tell a 1 from an I from an l.

In the ebook/webzine era, the industry seems to be transitioning from manuscript word count to MS word count in general--both in terms of payment for stories that pay by the word (alas! because we get paid more for manuscript counts: they average 15% higher, especially if you're a sesquipedalian bastard like me) and in terms of award eligibility categories.

It doesn't matter so much with novels, where you're not paid by the word and the chief issue is the price of printing additional signatures. (Google it.)

But I find I can't accurately compare word I do now with work I did ten years ago unless I keep track of the manuscript word count.

(By the way, this makes Steles of the Sky the second-longest book I have ever written, after The Stratford Man. Which was a 290,000 word monster eventually published in two volumes: Ink and Steel and Hell and Earth. The manuscript was 1190 pages long.)

Excelsior!

matociquala: (criminal minds diana reid crazy)
It must be an epic fantasy, because I am suffering POV inflation. But there are no existing POV characters present for this plot-necessary scene.

Of course, the existence of this scene and the POV character in it implies an interesting narrative thread that I am going to have to go back and put in.

And this is why my second drafts are always fifteen percent longer than my rough drafts.
matociquala: (criminal minds reid runs like a girl)


On Endurance:

She got to get behind the mule
In the morning and plow.

She got to get behind the mule
In the morning and plow.

--Tom Waits


Last night I wrote 4000 words. Today, I ran twelve miles.

These two activities are not really dissimilar. They require good prep, training, proper rest and nutrition, and they're the sort of feats that become destructive if repeated on a daily basis, unless you are some kind of Eddie Izzard freak of nature. (Seriously. Eddie Izzard. Fucking amazing.

It wasn't easy, and actually on the run, I pushed myself a bit too far. I've run 11.4 miles before (I'm training for a half marathon in March) but apparently there is some kind of two-hours-of-intense-exercise time limit on my body) with no ill effects other than muscle soreness, but despite the fact that I really felt like I was ready for this, the last half mile was a series of negotiations with myself along the lines of "We're doing this with or without you, meat, so you may as well get on board and help push." And I suffered a fair amount of nausea and GI distress after I got home, which is just about gone four hours later.

My requisite post-run snack was a challenge to get down, I will tell you that. And I am going to be seriously under for calories today.

Oh, well. Except for yoga, tomorrow is a rest day.

But there was a whole long part where I was running with a tailwind beside a leaden lake, half-thawed and tossing in that stiff breeze, and I felt like I could run forever. The same stride I hit yesterday in my writing, where I was just cruising along, crushing page count. In a few minutes, I'm going to have to get to work on today's writing obligation. It won't be an endurance event like yesterday's outing, just an easy eight pages or so.

But that's another thing. When I was running two miles regularly, running two miles seemed really hard. Now it's a pleasant quick run, over before I'm really warmed up. Even four miles is perfectly comfortable now.

Writing eight pages doesn't seem bad when you wrote twenty the day before.

Your body and mind adapt to what you expect of them, and it helps to get better performance out of them overall when occasionally you push them past the point of comfort. You get faster by running faster, even beyond what's comfortable. You get more efficient and creative as an artist by pushing your boundaries, by expecting more of yourself. Not necessarily more pages, though I think sometimes it's very satisfying to blow it out and see just what you can accomplish, but more ideas, more craft, more technique, more characterization, more beautiful language.

Any personal trainer will tell you that if you repeat the same workout over and over again, your body adapts to it and you stop improving. You stop benefiting. To continue to gain you have to push yourself to do things that are a little uncomfortable. A little too hard.

But you also have to know your limits. Because if you push yourself to the point of exhaustion every day, all you get is diminishing returns. Your body and mind get weaker, worn down--not stronger, fiercer, sharper, more capable.

It would be fucking stupid, in other words, for me to go out again tomorrow and try to run another twelve miles. I'd hurt myself. Perhaps seriously.

I mean, my goal is that by March, this exercise (which today I found exhausting) will be--if not trivial--well within my abilities. It had better be, because I have to run thirteen miles, not just twelve.

But next week, I only have to run nine and a half on my long run. Which is still strenuous, but will seem pretty luxurious by comparison to today.

Writing a novel is a lot like training for a marathon. It demands endurance and consistency, but also--brains need a balance of activity and rest. Creativity needs time to work. Of course, I do this for a living, which means creativity also has to work to a schedule or I go hungry, and I also inconvenience a lot of people. But the mind, like the body, needs nourishment and downtime.

I could not have done what I did today without a serious breakfast, nutrition and hydration along the way (dried apricots and Mott's fruit snacks are my poison of choice), and I could not do it again later if I didn't get protein and carbs in my head afterwards. Likewise, I can't create if I don't consume--art, the world, information in all its forms.

People sometimes ask why on earth I would run--why I would tolerate the discomfort and inconvenience. It's because, for me, having a fit body that can meet my demands and sometimes even exceed my expectations is a greater pleasure than sitting on the sofa eating ice cream. Which is not to say that I don't sit on the sofa eating ice cream, because you bet your ass I do. And drinking bourbon, too, on occasion. I don't love running--but I love how easy it makes it to do other things that I do love.

It's a question of opportunity cost. Writing books is hard and sometimes uncomfortable too, but I do that maybe sixty hours a week and I only run about four or five. The rewards of both are evident--a sense of accomplishment, a feeling of well-being. And at the end, I have something to show for it, which is pretty awesome too.

matociquala: (always winter)
Today's quibbly word-choice conundrum:

palm wood scented with perfumed oils

or

palm wood darkened with perfumed oils


The answer, of course, is the second. Because "darkened" provides additional information, where "scented" provides the same information as the word "perfumed," later on.

2500 words so far today on "The Ghost Makers," a fantasy story set in the Eternal Sky world that I'm writing for Jonathan Starhan. I'm trying to write this climactic scene, and I think a little conceit I like might have to come out if I can't justify it. Also, this is supposed to be an action scene, and all these fuckers want to do is banter.
matociquala: (criminal minds fate)

I've been working on the copy-edited manuscript for Shattered Pillars, the sequel to Range of Ghosts. This is my last opportunity to make substantive edits to the novel, and so I've been picking over it with a fine-toothed comb for continuity, characterization, language, and where the emotional beats fall. I keep finding myself adding and removing bits of exposition and clarification and character internalizations--tiny things, but they can have a huge impact on the effectiveness of the book.

There's this tremendous tension for me as a writer between making things too easy and making them too hard. Or not even hard, because that implies some intent to confound--but rather it seems as if the entire course of my self-training has been a see-saw back and forth between obscurity and hand-holding.

The problem, of course, is that readers are all different. People are all different, although this little fact does not jibe with the modern view of us all as consumers, interchangeable widgets with standardized desires. The fact of the matter is that I can write a scene which one reader will find tiresomely blatant and on-the-nose, another will find shallow and themeless, a third will be utterly confused by, and which will make the fourth one cry with its pathos and cleverness. And moreover, I can write a scene that one reader will, over the course of a lifetime and four rereads, have all four of those reactions to.

And not just can--but in fact, cannot avoid doing this... because on some level, this will be the reaction to every scene, given enough readers.

This is, I believe, the thing that Kurt Vonnegut was talking about when he famously said that you must write to one person. "If you open the window and make love to the world, so to speak, you'll catch cold."

You'll denature your passion. You'll denature your voice. In trying to be all things to everyone, you will succeed in being nothing except a homogenized lump of consumer goods.

I firmly believe that accessibility is a literary value. I have very little use for obscurity for its own sake--but of course, too much hand-holding will frustrate readers as much as too little. Does this writer think I'm an idiot? Also, add in the fact that accessibility is in tension with complexity--and complexity is also a literary value.

And then there's the issue of emotional impact. Stories mean something to the reader in direct proportion to how much she invests in them, and she invests in them in direct proportion to how much she figures out--or feels like she has figured out--on her own. This is the deep root behind show, don't tell, which might as easily be phrased demonstrate, don't narrate.

Of course sometimes we narrate. If we showed everything, we'd be writing very long books in which not a lot happened. Sometimes, you need to get the characters from point A to point B, and nothing interesting happens in the middle. It's okay to say, "The drove to the funeral in silence." What's not okay, however, is to say, "At the funeral, Eunice felt sad," and leave it at that. First of all, it's in no way unexpected or revelatory. Second, it's just telling. It doesn't encourage the reader to feel what the character feels. And it doesn't encourage the reader to figure stuff out.

We get a little endorphin cookie when we get the right answer to something. It's our brain's way of rewarding us for coming up with a solution that, under other circumstances, might lead to us surviving another day. Congratulations, that plant is wild carrot and not hemlock! Congratulations, you correctly identified the bear before it noticed you! Congratulations, you figured out the character motivation of somebody who might be a mate, or an enemy, or a leader.

As readers, we want to receive those cookies. As writers, we want to provide them.

But because every reader approaches the text with slightly different protocols and interests and skills and intellectual capacities, what's just perfect for one--(cookie cookie cookie)--makes another irritated because she feels the author is condescending to her, and leaves a third hopelessly confused.

And I guess the answer is really to write the story I want to read, but try to make it as open as I can while still meeting my own needs as a reader. To embrace my own quirks and transmit them honestly, because anything else results in self-homogenization, and since my readers aren't widgets, it doesn't help me any to try to be a widget myself.

(crossposted from elizabethbear.com)

matociquala: (criminal minds reid yes i'm a genius)
This story I'm working on is turning into one of the frustrating, iterative ones where I keep writing and discarding openings. And I really need to get moving on it, because it's due Readercon Sunday, and there are two cons between now and then. (The other is CONvergence.)

The problem with this one is I'm coming at it bigendian, as it were. I know the theme; I have an idea of the characters; I even sort of know the plot. But I'm going to have to throw out all of my worldbuilding and try something different. And the current opening I have is static. I need to blow something up, introduce some conflict.

At least I might have a title. Or maybe not.
matociquala: (can't sleep books will eat me)

You know, I just can't manage the massive writing pushes I used to. Oh, sure, occasionally. Every now and again there will be an enormous bolus of words that just falls out of my head, though those are rare. Slightly more common are the days when I put my head down and grind and grind and grind until I get 4K or more.

A big day for me has always been closer to four or five thousand words than the ten thousand some of my colleagues can clock, and I can't do that kind of wordcount consistently. My best days ever have been in the realm of six or seven thousand: those happen once or twice a year. My sustained rate is about fifteen hundred to two thousand words.

But I used to be a lot more able to pull reams of wordcount out of orifices untrammeled than I am these days. Now it's definitely much more tortoise than hare around here.

I think I'm working closer to the boundaries of my creativity--I'm pushing out to new ideas--and it's slower than using the ones I had years of unpublished life to dream about.

We ain't none of us as young as we used to be. But at least I still have wisdom and experience and treachery on my side. 

matociquala: (writing plot octopus)
I've been thinking today, and in reference to today's work, about how subjective time--the narrator's perception of time--relates to writing. Specifically, it strikes me that one of the things detail is for, in narrative, is not just grounding and evoking... but also for slowing the narrative down, forcing the reader to focus on a particular instant because the character is focusing on that instant.

Of course this can be overdone, and too much detail (and poorly chosen detail, detail that is not telling) leads to skimming. It is incumbent upon us as writers more than anything to keep it interesting.

And thus, maybe a kiss deserves an entire paragraph in one circumstance... and in another, a battle no more than a sentence. It all depends on the subjective way that time dilates and contracts around your viewpoint characters.

We evoke what they experience.
 
matociquala: (writing steles burning)
Decisions, decisions.

I have reached a villain cut-scene where I need to decide if I am going to allow myself a proliferating POV, because it brings a great deal of new information, or if I am going use good discipline and stick with a character whose POV has been established since book one, even though it's less interesting.

I used to do this stuff on instinct. Now I do it by choice. And I'm never confident in those damned choices, because I can think of too many ways it could play out.

Sometimes, we are thwarted by options. And conflicting narrative values. Which set of compromises do I want to make?

I suspect the new character gets the point of view. [livejournal.com profile] stillsostrange says "It's epic. You're allowed at least one million POVs."

Ah well. Ask a novice: get a definite answer. Ask a professional, get a lot of hemming and an "It depends."

"It's all right as long as you are nice and know better."
matociquala: (can't sleep books will eat me)

Promoted from comments in reply to [livejournal.com profile] merriehaskell:

Most things get easier as you learn how to do them. [Writing] seems to get harder!

The thing is, I finally feel like I'm not constantly learning new things... and when I do learn new things they're smaller and more defined skills or subskills.

So maybe I can learn how to do some of the things I already know how to do better, or with greater ease.

matociquala: (me at wfc)

I've been toying for a while with this idea that there are certain bits of writing received wisdom that are--after a fashion--koans. In other words, things that seem simple enough on first encounter, but which... unpack. Sometimes endlessly. Iteratively. An example would be "Write what you know," which is a piece of advice that, taken literally, makes no sense--especially to a science fiction or fantasy writer!--but the more I think about it, the more it opens up. It becomes know what you write, but also write from experience... and half a dozen other things.

Lately, an interesting thing has been happening with regard to...not so much koans, I guess... but the tactics I bring to writing fiction. There's so much to learn, so much to grasp... and so much of what I have learned has become conscious skill that sometimes I feel as if I'm trying to juggle seventeen balls at once. I sort of wonder if my current struggles are not so much to learn new things as to integrate the things I have been learning into reflexive rather than conscious action.

Not that writing ever becomes unmindful or automatic. So much of my learning curve over the past thirty years or so has been unlearning so many of the mistakes that I made automatically, primitively--and if I were to stop being conscious of those bad habits, they would tend to creep back up on me. (We've all seen this happen, after all; if you stop practicing and growing in a craft, you tend to regress.)

But I'm not yet within the arc of where I work consciously and mindfully, but comfortably. I am hoping I'm working back in that direction, though.

At least things are a bit less hard than they have been. And so much less concrete, which makes it really hard to blog about writing--because I've stopped learning new, specific, concrete tricks... and it's all kind of vague and amorphous and case by case these days.

And it's very interesting as well to be running all my experiments in public.

I kind of feel in some ways as if I'm gearing up the skills I need to be able to write Gotham Jazz and Smile... now I just need the opportunity to write them, to operate on that level. Not that Shattered Pillars is requiring less intensity and skill... just more practiced ones.

I'm starting to think I might be getting the hang of my job.

matociquala: (criminal minds reid matthew 24:2)
And that's "Gods of the Forge" revised and delivered.

Due in no small fucking part to the timely, able, and seriously hypercompetent assistance of five beta-readers who shall remain unnamed to protect their privacy, but without whom I would not be handing in anything like as good a story as I just did.

Seriously.

I wrote this thing on a very short deadline, you see--a month from request to delivery, and it's a hard SF story, which usually requires a good deal of sitting on the ideas to get them to start cheeping and peck out of their shells (as in, sometimes upwards of years).

But the commission came along, and it was very tempting--and now that the ink is dry, I can tell you that the story is for the MIT Technology Review!--and given the prestige of the journal in question, and bearing in mind Jim Macdonald's Rules of Professionalism ("When they ask you if they can have it in a week, you say 'Yes, and here's my fee.'") I felt like I had to write something--and write something damned good.

Reader, I cheated.

I used a setting I've used twice before--in "The Salt Sea and the Sky" and "In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns" (both forthcoming) and I used a couple of topics that are near and dear to my heart--cognitive reprogramming and PTSD. Which cut out a bunch of the research, because I know this stuff, and a lot of the worldbuilding, because I know this world.

And because I was writing so far in advance of my cooking time, I still couldn't get the emotional beats right. I mean, yeah, I constructed a nice character-in-situation-with-problem, with conflicting wants and needs... but it didn't have an engine in it. It was a perfectly functional story--even a publishable story--but it was thrashing along at 7 rather than cranked up to the 11 I wanted it to be.

Normally at this point I stick it in a virtual drawer for a month or so and come back to it with fresh eyes and mad skillz. No time, no time.

So instead I sent it off to some of my smartest writer friends with a supplicatory note to see what they could tell me about how to fix it better.

And on a very short deadline, all of them with professional and personal obligations of their own--they delivered. One friend picked up on a structural issue. One noted a character development weakness. Another pointed out an emotional opportunity I was not exploiting. One friend cleaned up my worldbuilding, and another one took my expositional tactics out back of the woodshed.

And of course what I would have loved was if they had all told me "No no, it's fine, you're just being neurotic, send it in."

The thing is, they know better. And I know better. And "It's good enough" is never good enough.

Here's where writing becomes a craft rather than an art. Because at that point, I had to go in and make those repairs to the story not using my gut--as I normally would--but instead the trained instincts of these trusted and skilled friends. And my own intellect and knowledge. In other words, a learned and mechanistic process rather than an intuitive one.

And you know, I think it worked. In any case, even if I didn't get this sucker up to an 11, I think I at least made it to nine.

My point is, reflexes and intuition will only carry you so far. After a certain point, or in a crisis, a writer has to have the damned toolkit and know how to use it, and know how to use it with intent.

Is the story actually any good?

I dunno. When it comes out, I'll tell you where to find it, and you can let me know.
matociquala: (hustle mickey trust me)
The interesting thing I'm noticing in writing Too Many Necromancers is that I'm having a sense I haven't had in a long time--that of unearthing a story like a fossil, one that already exists somewhere, and I just have to dig it up and sort the bits. I used to write like this most of the time--just sort of writing along, and then figuring out ten or a hundred pages later what was just going on and having to go back and put it in.

And half the time I have no clue while I'm writing the dialogue what the characters are on about, and then I have to figure it out. And you know, I think it's mostly pretty good, especially after I go back and make it less dream-logic and more like real life. Um. Real life with necromancers, I mean. 

Then again possibly I'm deluded and it's all pants. PANTS!

This is very much how I used to do everything. It's a little like being me, ten years ago, except my verbs are better.

...and, well, pretty much everything else is, too.

If this keeps up, writing might get to be fun again. And then where will I be?

I wonder if this is unconscious competence? Is it possible I've bloody well learned how to write and now I don't have to do every single picky thing consciously?

That'd be nice. Because there does come a time when you want to quit micro-steering the car and worrying about it every time you need to start on a hill... and just be able to drive somewhere and be confident you will make it, and it will be interesting and fun.

I'm not counting my chickens, though. It's possible I'm just getting sloppy and self-absorbed and have quit learning anything new.



Hah! Forgot to post that last night, apparently. Well, you get it this morning, with tea.

2011 04 16 Daily Commute

Tea today: Upton rose congou
Teacup today: Japanese one from SF, with mysterious words on it

And now back into Too Many Necromancers, now with shinier orbital mechanics. I'm going to hit the halfway point today, and I'm so freaking stressed out and anxious that I'm not sure if it would be better to take a day or two off, or just push through and finish the thing so I can collapse until mid-May sometime. There will be time off when this book is done. At least a little.

I like to bank all my days off and take them in great big chunks, what can I say?
matociquala: (hustle mickey trust me)
The interesting thing I'm noticing in writing Too Many Necromancers is that I'm having a sense I haven't had in a long time--that of unearthing a story like a fossil, one that already exists somewhere, and I just have to dig it up and sort the bits. I used to write like this most of the time--just sort of writing along, and then figuring out ten or a hundred pages later what was just going on and having to go back and put it in.

And half the time I have no clue while I'm writing the dialogue what the characters are on about, and then I have to figure it out. And you know, I think it's mostly pretty good, especially after I go back and make it less dream-logic and more like real life. Um. Real life with necromancers, I mean. 

Then again possibly I'm deluded and it's all pants. PANTS!

This is very much how I used to do everything. It's a little like being me, ten years ago, except my verbs are better.

...and, well, pretty much everything else is, too.

If this keeps up, writing might get to be fun again. And then where will I be?

I wonder if this is unconscious competence? Is it possible I've bloody well learned how to write and now I don't have to do every single picky thing consciously?

That'd be nice. Because there does come a time when you want to quit micro-steering the car and worrying about it every time you need to start on a hill... and just be able to drive somewhere and be confident you will make it, and it will be interesting and fun.

I'm not counting my chickens, though. It's possible I'm just getting sloppy and self-absorbed and have quit learning anything new.



Hah! Forgot to post that last night, apparently. Well, you get it this morning, with tea.

2011 04 16 Daily Commute

Tea today: Upton rose congou
Teacup today: Japanese one from SF, with mysterious words on it

And now back into Too Many Necromancers, now with shinier orbital mechanics. I'm going to hit the halfway point today, and I'm so freaking stressed out and anxious that I'm not sure if it would be better to take a day or two off, or just push through and finish the thing so I can collapse until mid-May sometime. There will be time off when this book is done. At least a little.

I like to bank all my days off and take them in great big chunks, what can I say?
matociquala: (muppetology animal deadlines)
I just had an epiphany in the shower.

I think I've been doing something wrong.

I have this tendency to do stuff in books that I think is totally cool, but which nobody else ever seems to notice. Due to a recent conversation, I'm thinking of all the biculture stuff in the Jenny books (everybody in them is the product of at least two cultures, which I had intended as a Relevant Thematic Strain (definitely not a comment: possibly an observation or a question) regarding what happens when two cultures meet and interact, given Hugely Advanced Alien Cultures and all that.). And also--now that Grail has been out for a while--it's becoming obvious that I did it again, with the iterating (and collapsing) bubbles of adulthood as-seen-from-inside-and-out. (Hint: Head is the only real grownup in those books, and somebody had to make ser. Although by the end of it Tristen is getting there.)

I love this stuff. As anybody who's read my Criminal Minds meta posts has probably figured out, it's one of my favorite things about fiction.

I've been trying to figure out how to make it all more obvious to everyone: a game anybody can play. And what I realized this morning is that that's probably stupid of me, because really, what I ought to be doing it just keep those games for my own amusement (hey, it lends structure, and it keeps me amused) and let them be opaque as they want to be, because what most people care about is just the damned story and the characters and the thematic and emotional payoff. (Which I also care about, don't get me wrong: for me, characters and decision-points really make or break a story.) 

This reminds me of a possibly-apocryphal conversation John W. Campbell supposedly had with Theodore Sturgeon re: McCarthyism. But I think in the end it's a good thing to know.

2011 bookkeeping )


State of the Honeydew:

Revise "Underground": next week sometime
Online Writing Workshop review: April 15, 2011

Realms of Fantasy column: April 28, 2011
The Shaded King (Bone and Jewel Creatures II): April 30, 2011
Revise "Hobnoblin Blues" for chapbook: April 30, 2011
Range of Ghosts CEM: May 6, 2011
Online Writing Workshop review: May 15, 2011
Online Writing Workshop review: June 15, 2011
Range of Ghosts page proofs: June 19, 2011
Realms of Fantasy column: June 29, 2011
Realms of Fantasy article: June 29, 2011
Shattered Pillars: November 2, 2011
SF Horror story ("Form & Void"): December 25, 2011

travel:
World Horror Convention (barcon only): April 28-May 1 2011
Leprecon 37: May 6-8 2011
KGB reading: May 18 2011
Eurocon: June 17-19 2011 (barring volcanoes)
Fourth Street Fantasy Conversation: June 23-26 2011
Odyssey: July 1, 2011
Clarion: July 10-16, 2011
Viable Paradise: October 7-16, 2011

2012:
"Latency": March 2012
An Apprentice to Elves: June, 2012 with [livejournal.com profile] truepenny
Steles of the Sky : November 2012
"Underworld": September 2012

2013:
"Dark Leader": March 2013
"Something's Gotta Eat T. rexes": September 2013

No fixed deadline:

"The Deeps of the Sky"
Karen Memory
Smile (unless its name is actually Salt Water)
Unsuitable Metal
Gotham Jazz

"Untitled Space Opera Thingy" aka "Periastron"
"Steel Monkey"
"Spellslinger"
"Posthumous Jonson"
"The Death of Terrestrial Radio"
"On Safari in R'lyeh and Carcosa with Gun and Camera"

matociquala: (writing patience)
3,000 words on "Underground" today and tonight. I was going to stay up all night and finish it, but the flesh is weak. Silly flesh.

So I'm going to bed and I'll write the rest of it tomorrow. I know everything that happens, and I'm at the point where I just really wish I could download.

Also, the sooner I finish it, the sooner I get to spend a couple of days glutting myself on books and serial television.

It is possible that the thing I love most about the New Amsterdam continuity is that I get to put medieval Paris, London, and Moscow back where they belong. Because in this continuity, nobody bulldozed, bombed, or burned them. Well, okay, bits of London got bombed. But not until 1937 or so.

Sadly, not-St. Petersburg is a total loss, however.

Words word don't know: motheaten, squinch, griefs, clowders, mured, oathbound,
matociquala: (wire in the blood)

Still thinking about what I'm learning about writing, this year. And some of it clicked last night while I was reading Val McDermid's The Mermaids Singing.

She's a Scottish mystery writer, not as well known in the US as the UK (where she is really, really, really well known. Like, Rick Castle famous.)

The difference between McDermid and Castle is that McDermid is not a hack.

If you have not read Val McDermid? When I say she's good? She's really, really good at her job. She can write serial-killer POV that does not make me want to throw the book across the room for being (a) cheap (b) exploitative (c) wrong.

It's a feature of my career that I read a lot of first novels, a lot of early-career novels. I don't get to read a lot of novels by authors at the absolute height of their powers and development, frankly, because they don't need the book reviews. And I forget, sometimes, what a really solidly constructed novel by a master craftsperson looks like, because I'm so used to looking at that slackly plotted middle section and shrugging, because it's the author's third novel, and it takes a while to learn to do this stuff.

See, I stayed up until 4:22 a.m. to finish this book, even though I already knew how it ended, because I had seen the fairly accurate ITV adaptation. Because McDermid had her hooks into me, in a way I'd kind of forgotten a book could do. (I think the last one to nail me to the page this severely was Gene Wolfe's The Sorcerer's House but I could be forgetting something.)

She's not a flashy prose stylist, though her imagery is precise and understated. She's not prone to huge pyrotechnics in terms of character interaction. She didn't string me along with cheap cliffhanger tricks, although the level of suspense was high throughout. Actually, the climax (I thought) was one of the weaker sections of the book.

I just really, really cared about her two (smart, capable, flawed) protagonists, and wanted to keep reading about them.

It occurred to me this morning, while washing dishes (because as we all know, inspiration and comprehension are commonly found dissolved in hot tap water) that the thing I'm working to get my head around right now is a career stage that every writer must face, consciously or not.

I'm good enough at this writing thing to sell just about everything I write, at this point. It's something I've worked towards for thirty years, and I realized this morning that it would be very easy to stop here, to say, okay, that's enough suffering. I'm good enough. I know how to do this writing thing. I can allow myself to slide into unconscious, professional-level competence, and become the sort of artist of whom people say, "...I respect her early work."*

But if I do that, I'm never going to be any better than a journeyman.

That's not what I want. That's not who I want to be.

So I need to keep learning and internalizing, I guess.



This moment of navel-gazing brought to you by revising the proposal for Gotham Jazz yesterday, revising the draft of "The Slaughtered Lamb" tonight, and revising the draft of "REZ" tomorrow or Tuesday.

And then bloody well writing "Underground," one way or another, Smee.



*Sarah McLachlan, I am looking at you.

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