Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Thank goodness for saner voices and cooler heads

November 15, 2011

Writing gods willing and the creek don’t rise, I will pass 120K words on the current ms. tomorrow. This is the novel that saner people persuaded me to split a few weeks ago: the one that I had originally titled War-Lord of the Gods, which will now become two novels, because this story turned out to be so much longer than expected. The titles of these newly-separate novels keep shifting in my mind, because War-Lord of the Gods is probably not quite right for either of them. One of them will probably wind up going to press as The Heart of the Darkness. It’s possible the other will become The Lord of the Abyss. But more on that dilemma anon.

Meanwhile, I’m coming up to the halfway point, what will henceforth be known as the book break, of two of the three threads I’m writing in these two novels.  At this point I’m a little more than two chapters from the end of the first two threads in this (second) novel–with nothing written on the other thread. And yes, you read that right, above. I’m staring down 120K words. Good thing saner people persuaded me to split this novel.

For better or worse, I’m now writing two novels simultaneously: when I finish these two threads I’m working on in Novel #2, I will jump right into developing these same two threads in Novel #3. Because, absent the limitations of print publishing, Novels 2 and 3 would be one book, and that’s still how they work in my head. And I must write sequentially.

Of course, absent the limitations of print publishing, all three of these novels (The Shadow of the Sun being the first) would be one book. It would be 800K words long. How big a surprise can that be? My sentences go on like normal people’s paragraphs.

But I digress, as usual.

I am pleased by the way this novel is unfolding. It’s deeper and darker than Shadow, and because it’s the second of a series it doesn’t have the longish set-up period of the first. Things go absolutely to hell within the first twenty pages. And I hope that most people will be surprised by most of it.

Most of it surprised me. 🙂

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The young bull and the old bull

September 12, 2011

Have I told you this story already? It’s one of my favorites. I told it to James this morning, because it sums up the difference between our attitudes when it comes to business.

One fine morning, the old bull and the young bull stood together on a hill overlooking the pasture, which was full of cows. The young bull got very excited.

“Look at all those cows!” he said. “Let’s run down there and f*ck one of ’em!”

“No, son,” the old bull replied. “We’re gonna walk down there and f*ck ’em all.”

Time to walk back down to the pasture. I’ve got a lot to do.

When it isn’t about education anymore

December 10, 2010

There’s a movie making the rounds of parents: “Race to Nowhere,” a look at the downside of childhoods spent on résumé-building. I hope that as a culture we’re able to take the ideas presented in that film and think about what they mean for our society and where it’s going, because right now our educational system reminds me of nothing so much as the educational scene in Imperial China. (For those of you whose schools failed you, that’s not a good thing.)

We have two brilliant, talented children. (For the purposes of this discussion I treat that not as bragging but as baseline.) One of them was able to thrive in the environment addressed by that film, not because he was smarter or more talented than the other but because he happened to have been blessed with the correct set of temperaments and innate talents to do so. (He’s a sciences guy with high language skills who learned early how to work the system.) Our other child almost drowned. Though we have always been careful to tailor our expectations to personal bests rather than scores and competition, she possesses talents and temperament that make her a brilliant artist in several fields but leave her ill-suited for today’s school environment; and she breathed the air of a society that said the miracle of who she is was insufficient. By the time she was in 7th grade, she was on the verge of physical collapse from stress. Through careful therapies including homeopathy and intense, loving support, we were able to pull her back from the brink. But by 10th grade she was suffering stress-induced insomnia.

She’s doing much better now, after having bottomed out in ways with which I will not bore you. But in order to do so she’s had to completely abandon the notion of herself as a person capable of academic success, and focus her schooling entirely on art. I’m grateful she has the capacity and inclination to continue educating herself on her own terms, because no school we’ve met (and we’ve tried a few) is prepared to do justice to kids who are learners rather than regurgitators.

It’s tragic not only for these kids but for our society, which is unwittingly stamping out nearly all the kids whose brains operate in ways different from what this racecourse we laughingly call education is prepared to address. This incisive and original thinker, like so many others, will be lost to the places that might have benefited from her contributions.

If we’re prepared to take the necessary risks, as parents we can rescue the kids this system is designed to destroy. But the intellectual life of our culture is another matter. That will require a wide-scale rebellion: not by children, but by parents.

It’s getting very real

July 19, 2010

This week Wynette Hoffman completed a rough design for the cover. I am swooning! You can see a .jpg of the rough here.

Yesterday, I was on the phone with His Grand Editorialness, Brett Shanley, for over 3 hours! I had to go to dinner with the MIL or we would have been on longer. I thought I’d scheduled enough time! We were halfway through our planned agenda.

What a fantastic conversation. I have known all along that Brett was terrific at what he does; yesterday I got to experience the true magic. So many wonderful conversations about global things; so many astonishing things Brett made me see in my own work that I can do better now that I have a little more clarity on them. Two scenes I need to dig back into in the first chapter alone. They will be so much better and I would never have seen how to improve them without Brett’s patient help.

Oil and other toxic things

June 5, 2010

The man who can smile in the face of adversity has found someone else to blame it on.

As most of you know by now, I am generally disinclined to get into politics in any public venue. I find politics, like any area into which people inject feelings of religious fervor, worth avoiding under nearly all circumstances. Part of the reason why I stay away from these things is that I seem unable to truly agree with anyone, having a brain either blessed or cursed with a fairly unique set of operational habits; and I don’t like to argue, probably because I would rather discuss and work together to root out truth.

Once again, I’m coming at things from an odd perspective, and I don’t have definitive answers. But it seems to me that most of the current interpretations of the disaster spilling into the Gulf of Mexico miss the mark.

Here’s the bottom line, as far as I can tell: Oil is toxic and dangerous, and we allow it into our lives at our peril. This week we’re blaming BP for the Gulf; before that it was Chevron, for Chernobyl; some of us are old enough to remember cutting up our Exxon credit cards in disgust after the Valdiz. But the truth is that collecting, transporting, and refining oil is a dangerous and toxic business no matter who does it, and all the companies operating in that sphere are more or less the same. There is no question that Oil companies, just like companies in any other business, don’t CARE; it’s not their charter to care, and we forget that at our peril, too. In this regard BP is no worse than any of them. Their investors don’t ask them to care; they expect them to make money. As consumers we don’t ask them to care, either; not really. We wouldn’t tolerate what oil would cost if they did.

The bottom line is that if we want things like this to stop happening, no amount of regulation or accountability accepted by the outfit that was standing watch when the latest disaster occurred will matter. Our relationship with oil is toxic, as toxic as the stuff itself, and–as with any toxic relationship–if we want to put this disaster-ridden phase of our lives behind us, we have to find some way to move on. The gas we put in our cars is only the most obvious starting point. Take a look at this list of things that come from oil. How can we solve the problems addressed by these products with things that come from other sources? What can we buy instead?

The most profound action any of us can make in this regard is reducing demand for this toxic substance we’ve grown dependent on; voting with our dollars. Because dollars are the only thing either companies or governments understand.

There’s a lot of talk going around regarding how to get back at BP. But even putting them out of business won’t solve the problem; they are no more to blame than any other company in the field. If we want to end this toxic situation, we need–individually and collectively–to use our dollars to vote it out. Maybe that means switching the products we buy to a different brand; maybe that means simply consuming less. Does insisting on *recycled* plastic help in this regard, or are we just changing the part of the process in which the new oil enters? I don’t know. And I should. I should understand much more about the ways oil sneaks into my daily life and what I might do instead.

I think I’d better make it my business to find out. I hope you will, too.

On blogging and microblogging

February 24, 2010

I have arrived here, after a long period of blogging delinquency, to type a  post that I’ll be writing in a few minutes. Once I opened up this blog, I was forced to confront how long I’m going between visits these days. I call myself a blogging delinquent, but it’s not really true: I microblog like crazy, on Facebook and to a certain extent on Twitter. Most of the time I find the short bursts of Facebook and Twitter  just the right size for what I want to say, frex:

Not quite sure how this next scene is going to play out. Grey and misty outside; hot tea on the desk. Looks like a great morning. #amwriting

Barbara Friend Ish finished a chapter and went “Wut??” this afternoon. What a great day. 🙂

Barbara Friend Ish now understands that this novel has changed so much in the rewriting that none of the Act 3 plot points will transfer to the new version without complete transmogrification. Not sure they will be the same plot points after that…

I find I feel that if I’m going to write a blog post, it must be a mini-essay, and must therefore have some sort of argument and point. On Facebook and Twitter I feel free to just toss off a thought without following it through. And friends, who are also on FB several times a day (yes, it’s true: the college kids may have invented FB, but it’s the post-college-and-employed who own it) will weigh in with one-sentence opinions as well. Facebook is, effortlessly, what blogs wish they were.

But this is not a paean to Facebook. This is a blog post, which means I’m making a point. Here it is:

At long last, I can articulate what these outlets have become for me, and what you, Constant Reader, should expect from them: if you want to keep up with me on a day-to-day basis, come friend me on Facebook. (Actually, you don’t have to friend me, as my profile is public, but it would be more fun if you did.) I will continue to update this blog, but mostly with things about which I do have enough to say that writing an essay seems worthwhile.

(But my blog posts perpetrate to my Facebook profile, so Facebook really is one-stop shopping.)

And if what you’re really after is updates on my publishing life, and my publishing-related rants, then the spaces you want to look at are the Mercury Retrograde Press blog and the Mercury Retrograde Press Facebook page.

But most of the fun is on my personal Facebook profile.

The joys and perils of letting the characters drive

December 8, 2009

This is far from the first draft I’ve written of The Shadow of the Sun. I have known the story, the heart and meat of it, since the first draft; subsequent drafts have been about refining my narrative techniques and the telling of the tale. Oh, yeah, and the perennial worldbuilding.

The story is vastly more robust than earlier drafts, this time around. And unlike the first and second drafts, this time I’m using an outline. I’ve planned all my plot points and the stops on my characters’ journeys. In fact there is a segment in the middle, which I am just coming to the end of, which contains plot points which I planned not to advance the plot of this novel, but to set things up two novels hence.

That’s planning. Yeah, I have gotten good at the plot-planning thing.

What I forgot to think about this time (and there always seems to be something I forgot to think about) is what those plot points, which I need to execute now in service of the story two volumes hence, would *mean* to the characters who have to live them. Sounds elementary, doesn’t it? But I was focused on making my plot do what it needed to do.

It will surprise no one but the writer to learn that my characters reacted quite strongly to the two curves I threw them, here in the middle of the journey. Not only did I have to stop and wrestle with the chapter in which those plot points occurred; now it’s derailing what the characters had been supposed to accomplish in the next chapter. Because, of course, it’s all immediate to them, and they don’t have access to the outline.

Personally, I hate it when characters, whether in books or film, clearly do things because that’s what was in the outline. Everything goes flat when writers allow themselves to fall into that trap. Fortunately I’ve learned to feel when what I’ve planned doesn’t match what my characters would naturally do, say, feel in that situation: usually as I’m writing the scene in question. The challenge of writing fiction with robust characters is honoring their genuine reactions while still advancing the plot.

It never gets dull. In fact, as I wind my way through the I’m-afraid-to-even-count-how-many-times-I’ve-been-through-this draft of this novel, I find it is the surprises that keep me going.

And the characters. It’s all about the characters. If it weren’t, I could write much shorter.