magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
On the topic of not-rocks, when I was growing up, I had a cassette tape that had a bunch of folk tales on it. One of them (if I remember correctly, which I very well may not) had to do with a king who was sick, and sent his three sons out looking for a magical cure. Two of the sons get bored of the quest and quit; the third actually found the cure and was bringing it back when his brothers found him, killed him, buried him, and took the cure home to claim the reward. But reeds grew where the good son had been buried, and someone cut the reeds and made a pan flute, and when the pan flute was played, it sang about the brother's death in his voice.

I mostly remember it because the song was creepy and got stuck in my head a lot.  I have never been able to successfully Google the story or its audio.  I really wish I could find it again, though, because nostalgia.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Because definitely what I need is more webapp ideas that I don't have time to develop.

Anyway, following on from a Twitter conversation, I'm wondering how it would work to make a writing program which could track the genders of a number of characters and then arbitrarily shuffle them. What I'm picturing is, simplified, something like this:

• At the top of the document are a number of fields which ask for a character name (or a list of character references, such as name and nickname and other variations) and pairs the name with a gender (and its associated set of pronouns).

• Each character you add is arbitrarily assigned a color (or icon or other distinguishing visual marker).

• As you type, a parser will keep track of which name (or referent) has been typed last for each of the original genders. When you type a pronoun, it will look at the last character reference matching that pronoun's set, and highlight the pronoun (or assign it the correct icon) to associate it with the specific character. It'll also have some kind of (mouseover?) menu to allow users to correct its assumption about which character it refers to.

• When you finish writing, each pronoun will be associated with a character. So you can hit a shuffle button, and then the characters' genders will be shuffled, and each pronoun can be brought back into compliance with the character's gender.

Needless to say, this would fail in a lot of situations. Take, for example:

• Dialogue. "He's not coming today," he said. (I mean, I guess I could set up a sub-parser which kept track of the last character reference inside a set of quotes?)

• Ambiguiety. We'll just call this the Randall Munroe exploit. I guess people would just have to make close, personal friends with the drop-down menus?

• Gay porn. I am reliably informed by people who have tried to write gay porn that pronouns are a nightmare anyway. And humans are better at parsing language than computers are.

• Unexpected cases. Language is complicated, yo!

I feel like there should be a way to handle this, and that it probably involves algorithms. I'm a bit worried that trying to write a general-purpose pronoun shuffler would actually require re-inventing Google Translate. Any computational linguists out there who want to point out things I'm missing?
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)

I mentioned this over at [community profile] allbingo, but I'm working on a bunch of challenges to get me thinking about short-form plot. Basically, I'm taking the following plot structures:

Four structures below the cut. )

...three of which I found discussed at Philip Brewer's blog, and one of which I put together after thinking about successful short stories on my own.

I'm trying to take these structures and write extremely short stories/synopses with them – using one sentence for each point in the list.

I'm also finding it surprisingly difficult.

But I figured that while I was striving and trying new things, I might as well put the results up for people to see (and quite possibly best :P ). Just to keep things organized in this post, the card I'm using is below, and I'll link my fills for the squares.

Card below the cut. )
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Shared Worlds prompt call!

This prompt call is:

Prompting closed at: 11:59 PM PST, Monday, June 23, 2014

Thank you everyone for coming by! I will continue to write prompt responses until every prompter has received at least one response, and will hopefully complete a response for every prompt. However, prompting is now closed.

Sponsoring is:

Sponsoring remained open until: 11:59 PM PST, Friday, July 4, 2014

Thank you to everyone who contributed!

Wait. What is this? Briefly, please.

Leave me prompts, and I'll write you snippets of fiction. Donate $10, and get 500-word flash fiction or complete scenes on a prompt response of your choice. These funded scenes will become part of the Shared Worlds canon.

Additional questions, answered in more depth. )

Table of jumping-off points for prompts. )
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)

Ran across this in my Twitter reading today. Made me stop and raise an eyebrow. Because, really – "grim" and "bleak" are the descriptors they've chosen to entice me to see this film? (Well, there's also "incredible", but that gives me little insight into what sets this film apart, and thus does little to capture my interest.)

Now, possibly I just haven't read widely enough in the genre to realize that there's a strong undercurrent of happy, lush, uplifting post-apocalyptic fiction out there. Something like that. But to me, grim, bleak landscapes aren't exactly the aspects of a post-apocalyptic work you need to advertise – they're more or less to be expected from the genre. Advertising those, especially when you have a medium such as Twitter and have to seriously consider which few, precious words you're going to use, makes it sound to me like you just don't have anything more interesting to say than "This work competently executes the tropes it's expected to." It's the "square house, door in front" of the review world.

...which all basically means that, in a fit of pique, I have decided that I want beautifully optimistic post-apocalyptic fiction to exist. If someone else doesn't write it, I may have to.

(It's not even that I dislike grimdark post-apoc. I do enjoy it, when it's done well. But sometimes you just have to go for the subversions.)
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
You know, it took me until today to really put my finger on why I prefer a certain style* of asterisking/footnoting things in blog posts and web documents over another.

* That style being this one, in which the "footnote" is placed directly after the paragraph in which its asterisk appears.

It's because when reading a physical book, when I see a footnote, I can glance down to the bottom of the page and read the addendum. Even if the footnote occurs in the middle of a very long chapter, I can easily glance down and back up to my spot again because the chapter is formatted into discrete pages, the footnote is placed at the bottom of the page, and I can hold an entire page in my field of vision.

Internet texts, though, generally work with a long vertical scroll, and there's no convenient way of marking your position. (I usually resort to highlighting passages so that the highlight will catch my eye if I have to scroll away and scroll back up to find it.) Once you add in the fact that you often don't know where the footnotes will be, where the scrollbar is concerned – if you have a blog post with a large number of comments, for example, the end of the page is the end of the comment section, not the end of the post; finding the footnotes involves moving the scrollbar to some ill-defined middle point – you're either left with the hassle of scrolling/searching down and back up every time you encounter an asterisk (which I find really disruptive to my reading experience), or just encountering all the footnotes at the end, shorn of their context unless you want to go back up and search through the text to re-find them.

By contrast, placing the footnotes immediately after the paragraph in which their asterisk occurs doesn't interrupt the flow of the asterisked sentence, but it still places the additional information within the same field of view as its context.

Incidentally, this is also why I have a grudge against the term trans*, and refuse to use it to refer to myself**. ("trans," fine, though I prefer the specificity of "neutrois". "trans*," fuck no.) Because the first time I encountered it in a blog post, I spent several minutes looking for the footnote and becoming increasingly annoyed that I couldn't find it. Because while * is used as a wildcard character in certain contexts? In the context of writing out discussions on the internet, * has another, more-well-established meaning, and that's the promise of additional information to be fulfilled within the document, at some point following the *. When that promise isn't fulfilled, well, XKCD may have said it best.

** If you prefer that I use the term trans* to refer to you, I will, but I will also persist in thinking that it's an extremely poor piece of information design.

Anyway, there's no real point to this entry, except to note that the formal reasoning behind my gut preference finally snapped into place, and that was cool.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
I want to see a dense-packed dystopian urban setting... surrounded by incredibly lush, dense wilderness. As in, the reason that everything is piled up on top of everything else and people are living stacked like cords of wood isn't because they've destroyed everything and their cities have taken over the world like a bacterial culture, it's that the rest of the world is too damn poisonous and too fast-growing and too interested in cracking open your buggies and eating the nummy human interiors for anything to survive outside of these narrow strips of otherwise-dead land. (I imagine that'd be the way you'd answer the question of how you'd get enough resources in the first place to build a dense urban setting: you're in the equivalent of the Atacama or the Dry Valleys or something, only with bonus high concentrations of minable minerals.)

I have not thought through the logistics, here. I came up with this idea about two minutes ago.

In other news, I recently learned that the Sahara was a fertile region up until about 3000 BCE, and that is immensely cool.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
One of the metrics I track in my little home-brewed submissions tracker is what draft a story is on when I submit it. It's been occasionally useful – noting when I do revision requests, for example – but recently, I've noticed that almost everything I've been submitting (and selling) is on its first draft. Which I think bears some investigation, because it ends up saying a lot more about how I conceptualize "drafts" than it does about my first-pass writing.

For one thing, "first draft" with me does not mean "unrevised". )
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
[personal profile] sholio and I are testing out an accountability buddies setup, where we meet to talk writing shop, discuss goals, and analyze how well we're meeting them. (We're still in the first week, so neither of us have any idea how well it will work. But one of the best pieces of advice I got last year was "Failures are just experiments that yield negative results," so even if we find that this format doesn't work well, that's useful information! And I'm hopeful that it will work, and be awesome for both of us.)

The theme I want to engage with this year is of productivity, and constant storytelling: I want to be creating and putting out a lot more work than I do currently. Getting back to my Clarion West levels of a short story per week would be amazing, and the fact that I'm making my living off freelance stuff which doesn't eat as much time as a full-time job tips it into the realm of possibility. (If I could transition to making my money off writing, that would be incredible. I am looking into ways to start on that path, specifically through Patreon, but my ability to write and produce complete works on a consistent schedule is something of a prerequisite for that, so that's where I'm starting.)

The two goals I had for this week, to support my theme of producing lots of fiction, were:

1) To take a look at how I choose stories to work on, and

2) To take a look at how I go about moving stories through to completion.

This is about how I work, which informs how I choose stuff to work on. )

This is about how I choose stuff to work on. )
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Holy crap, I think I've got a short story done in draft. (Well, "short"; it's roughly 6600 words long. One of these days I'll figure out* how to write at commonly-acceptable lengths like 3000-4500 words.) I think I started this one sometime in mid-November. Not a bad start to the year, even if I probably won't have it out the door today!

* This is probably a lie.

Over the past few days of trying to tie everything together, I've been thinking about a couple of things.

Neepery on characters being afforded plausible choices. )

Neepery on plots that dig deep and plots that go far. )

And on we go. I've been writing for as long as I can remember, publishing for... yikes, 2005 was nine years ago already, wasn't it? –and editing professionally for over a year, and I've been to one of the most prestigious writing workshops in the speculative fiction field, and I still often feel like I have no idea how fiction works or how to write something that functions. Then again, I hear that this never really goes away, so I'd best get comfortable with continually working to figure things out and put neat labels on the tools in my toolbox.

[ETA] Welp, I read over it, and I'm still not entirely happy with the arc – but I'm not sure what I can do to fix it without writing a different story. So I sent it out! Because if nothing else, starting the year on a submission has some nice symbolic heft, and it is sometimes the case that other people like my fiction more than I do after a long writing/tweaking process. &o.o&

There are just about 50 minutes left in January 1. I'm doing pretty well!
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)

As an exercise, to try to ease my brain up out of its months-long stress-induced no-writing slump, I sat down and copied out the first sentence (or two; the first lines of If The Mountain Comes really don't work if you only take the first sentence) of all the short stories I've had published in various markets, and then grouped them by whether I (personally) thought they were engaging or not.


Read more... )

In any case, it's something I don't think I'd really sat down to examine in any depth before, so now I can say I've done that.  And hopefully have a better sense of how this particular mechanic works in the stories I write in the future.

magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
So, Demonology! It's this universe I want to write in. Specifically, it's a universe I want to experiment with free fiction in. If you want to leave me prompts for the themes below, or questions which can be answered in prompts for the themes below, you go right ahead! The idea here is to get me writing.

I'll link the prompts below to their completed stories as I finish them, and add a (...) to ones whose fills I'm working on.

This is a table. It's a magical table. )
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Trauma is a surgical disease. It is cured with bright lights and cold steel.

I can't remember where, when, or how I first came across a series of posts on Making Light called Trauma and You, but I am forever glad I did.

Trauma and You, despite its CYA-ish disclaimer (I am not a physician. I can neither diagnose nor prescribe. These posts are presented for entertainment purposes only. Nothing here is meant to be advice for your particular condition or situation.) does a pretty good job of walking you through a trauma scene – what you're going to see, what's going on behind the scenes (or under the skin), and what you should be doing about it. It provides mnemonics, statistics, and instructions, and if you're the kind of person who likes doing terrible things to your characters and having them patch themselves or each other up, it's a really great reference on how they should be going about that "patching up" thing.

But I think half the reason I keep coming back to it is that, even though some of the medical conditions described are enough to make your skin crawl (there was a meta-blog post elsewhere on the site, wherein one of the posters summed up the author's usual contributions as Long, bloodcurdlingly detailed advice from James D. Macdonald about what to do in event of some dire emergency (heart stops, house floods, leg falls off, children attacked by whale, etc.) Posters stunned into silence. Long, contemplative pause as commenters look thoughtfully at own houses, children, legs, etc. Timid, Piglet-like question. Terrifyingly learned and hope-destroying reply.), the post is often just fun, in a snappy, sardonic, and... occasionally hope-destroying way. Because you get advice like the ever-quotable [...]make sure the scene is safe. There is something over there that munches people. You are a people. Don’t get munched yourself. If you do get munched what you’ve accomplished is this: you’ve incremented the patient count by one and simultaneously you’ve decreased the responder count by one. On a scale from good to bad this is bad. Or the sheer pragmatism of When you’re dealing with trauma, your life is pretty easy. You have 1) Things that’ll kill your patient in the next five minutes, 2) Things that’ll kill your patient in the next hour, 3) Things that’ll kill your patient today, and 4) Things that you don’t really care about.

Trauma and You is broken up into five informative posts, with a couple of Final Exams at the end:

  1. The Basics. So, what’s trauma? It’s the physical world impinging on your tender body. Not to be confused with biology happening (in the form of bugs and germs), or chemicals (poisons, overdoses) happening, or your body breaking down and wearing out and going mysteriously wrong. No, this is more the Force of Gravity sort of stuff.

  2. Shock. Now it’s time to have our little chat about shock. Shock is what kills people. Shock, dear friends, is what will eventually kill you, personally. The only question will be how you got into shock to start with.

  3. Sticks and Stones. You can have a lot of fun memorizing bone names. (For example, the mnemonic for the bones in the wrist is “Some Lovers Try Positions That They Can’t Handle” for Scaphoid, Lunate, Triquetium, Pisiform, Trapezium, Trapezoid, Capitate, Hamate. (You can have even more fun memorizing the names and functions of the twelve cranial nerves, but that’s for another post.)

  4. The Squishy Bits. When crush injuries were first identified (in the trenches of WWI and the London Blitz of WWII) they ran around 90% fatal. Nowadays with fast and efficient EMS they’re down to 50% fatal.

  5. Burns. The amount of smoke inhaled is the number one predictor of mortality in burn injuries, way ahead of the age of the patient or the surface area of the burn. Continue to be suspicious with someone who has escaped from a fire. Sometimes the symptoms of smoke inhalation don’t appear for hours or days.

While I usually have to consult additional resources for various fictional traumas – like this shockingly relevant article on gunshot wounds to the chest, one of my major pieces of research for Misfire – and while I have no illusions that I get everything right when I do write about trauma, the Trauma and You series is almost always my first click, and I know there's a level of verisimilitude in my writing that wouldn't be there without it. Highly recommended.

Also highly recommended: a strong stomach when it comes to various traumatic medical things. Like amputation. And degloving.

Seriously, though, I could have gone my entire life without learning about degloving.

(Crossposted to my fandom journal.)
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
I like to personify my brain, partially as an Elizabeth Gilbert-esque control on getting too much ego tied up in things but mostly because it makes it easier to blame things on an entity external to myself. Like this, for example: if there is a choice between buckling down and working on one of the many, many concepts/story scraps I have lying around or coming up with a shiny new concept – usually novel-length, but not always – then it will take the "shiny new concept" option 11 times out of 10.

Anyway, it tossed me what may or may not be an urban fantasy Noir about a freelance detective gal who gets commissioned for some enigmatic person named North, and ends up having to navigate her own undeath. As well as her life, one universe over. And the one may not be more complicated than the other.

Here's the beginning my brain handed me:

I knew I was digging myself into it when I signed the contract. It's not like I couldn't see it coming; on the highway of life, this was the lane with the orange cones and the lit-up roadside sign saying THE BRIDGE IS OUT and the police lights and the oily smoke coming up. But, you know, if I'd had another option, I wouldn't have taken this one.

That's the way it always is.

I've also worked more on Rust City. You know, when I started it, I was pretty sure it would be a novella – but then it just kept growing. I only have about 8k words in it now, but given the way I structure things and how the scope is expanding (the love-fascination-need-triangle is now more of a connect-the-dots), I'd be surprised if the finished draft clocked in under 70 or 80k. Y'know, if it ever fights its way through the shiny new upstarts.

It's a wonder I've ever finished anything.

He drew up beside her. She was framed in the gristle of the building, the rebar and wire and crumbled cement like a nest around her. Across the city blocks, the Moonlit moon was glowing. Its light was softened by the distance, and softened Sela's face.

"You smell like him," Sela said.

Ferro looked at her, then ducked his head. Hoped that what he was about to say would be permissible. "How do you know what he smells like?"

Sela glanced at him askance. "You have to remember which one of us is the dog," she said.

[Semi-boilerplate text: As always, I hope you'll check out and support the Clarion West Write-a-thon (and me in particular, if you feel so inclined). Your donation will help a workshop which failed to teach me the fine art of controlling my wordcounts, but which did teach me many and varied other valuable things.]
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
So let's talk about Rust City.

Rust City began as a thought experiment as to whether or not I could write something Bizarro. (The verdict is: I couldn't. The closest I've ever come is probably The Relative Densities of Seawater and Blood, and it's not very bizarre, compared to anything, say, Carlton Mellick III has ever written. I think that in order to write Bizarro, you have to have the abilites (1)Not to take yourself so damn seriously, and (2)Let go of the need to explain or at least justify everything, and I score pretty badly on those rubrics.)

The story follows Ferro, a man with a condition that's given him the primary sex characteristics of an standard XX physiology but a standard set of XY secondary sex characteristics. He falls in with a pair of cousins named Wolf and Sela, who may or may not be genetically-engineered remnants of the war that screwed up the entire planet, either decades or centuries ago.

The full title of the project is Rust City (a love story), though I remain unsure of what the love story actually is. (Wolf and Sela have an extremely broken familial relationship they both want fixed but don't know how to fix, Wolf and Ferro sleep together, Ferro is fascinated and stalked by Sela, and for all this time Ferro is crushing on a woman named Kyoto who has burn scars covering most of her chest. There's a lot of thematic body stuff going on here, and it's all kind of a mess.)

Also, there are molemen, which aren't actually molemen. They're more like some kind of cavefish-esque offshoot of Homo sapiens who live in the old (but expanded) sewer system beneath the city. (I'm not sure that's better.) They communicate with Ferro by exploiting a trick of his synaesthesia – yes, Ferro also has synaesthesia, as well as hypertactility and haptophilia – which also has a tinge of the supernatural to it.

It's resisting being written, for the most part, because I honestly have no idea where it's going or why half the stuff is happening. You know, conventional wisdom says that you should have your story worked out before you start writing it. At least you should know what the major players and motivations will be. Possibly have some understanding of the plot. That's just not how I roll; I tend to slap stuff that sounds pretty on a page and hope that eventually my brain will start supplying all the connective tissue, musculature, and skeletal structure. Sometimes in that order.

But I wrote a slim 655 words on it last night, and now I'm sharing an excerpt with you!

He felt himself sailing down, through the floor, drawn toward the molten center of the world, but before he could come anywhere near it he was caught in a noise like spidersilk. It wrapped around him, twining through his pores in a rhythm like words.

They were words. Maybe not in a classical sense, but something intelligible without being sound. Something like,


And then, by more voices, closer to his skin,

(brightseer, sunfucker)

(up him)



[Semi-boilerplate text: As always, I hope you'll check out and support the Clarion West Write-a-thon (and me in particular, if you feel so inclined). Your donation will help a workshop which has supported real live Bizarro authors! And many, many others.]
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
It's always an interesting feeling when you've been completely paralyzed by the sight of the blank (or unfinished, or finished but requiring revision) Word document for days, weeks, or months, only to discover when a deadline looms that yes, if it comes down to it, you still can pound out 2500 words in a single Sunday. When 100 words have been giving every indication of being a Sisyphean task, you have to wonder where the switch got flipped.

I have a feeling it's in the "deadline" part.

When I was taking classes at the University of Iowa, one of my major complaints was that their fiction writing courses were non-graduated. There was no beginning, intermediate, advanced path to take – everyone, including the people just looking for three easy credits and with no passion for writing, got tossed into the same courses, and with the added complication that a lot of them thought "science fiction and fantasy" meant "you can't say anything about it because it's all just made up and doesn't have to make sense" meant that, with the exception of classes run by a couple excellent people, I didn't often get a lot out of the critiquing parts of the workshops. But they were still invaluable to me.


Because sometimes, all you need is the magical combination of time to write, the expectation that you'll write, and a commitment to persons outside of yourself that you'll produce something, even if it isn't a lofty piece of literature which will stand the test of ages.

Which is why Clarion West is such an amazing place, to be honest. Well, one of the reasons. I can't ignore the chance to learn from six amazing teachers with six different strengths and styles, or the amazing families you can form there, but what makes it a truly mind-altering experience is the fact that for six weeks, your entire life can be writing. You can saturate yourself with your fiction. Set aside work, cares, feeding the cats (or the kids), making yourself dinner, all the niggling cares of the so-called real world. All that's expected of you is fiction. The world is built around your fiction. And for your fiction, you are welcomed, supported, honored.

There's a reason so many of us join the Write-a-thon every year, hoping to grab back some vestige of what the workshop experience is like.

Anyway, now that I've tricked my brain into admitting that it hasn't burnt out forever and ever and that it can still string words together into a somewhat coherent narrative and that all the rest is just whining, I'm going to see where I get by the end of this week. This Friday, I have the first meeting of my new job; immediately thereafter, I'm going to be helping to launch a company. It'll be an exciting and busy time, and pretty much the opposite of the workshop in terms of the precedence my immediate world accords my writing.

But, you know, it's okay. As ever, we'll see how it goes.


There aren't any really good Write-a-thon-quotable passages from the 2500 words of yesterday, so I'll give you a snatch of one of the next projects I'm going to be working on: the post-apocalyptic pseudo-moleman-infested extremely unromantic love story Rust City.

"Do people do that?"

"Look to sex for comfort?" Ferro asked. "It's a thing people do, yeah."

[Semi-boilerplate text: As always, I hope you'll check out and support the Clarion West Write-a-thon (and me in particular, if you feel so inclined). Your donation will help a workshop that makes it all but impossible for authors not to produce. And producing is half the battle.]
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
If you wanted to count the combined wordcounts of everything I've worked on since the start of the Write-a-thon, we'd be up to 624 now! If you wanted to count the actual words I've written since the start, we'd be at... something more like 87.

Neither of these are particularly inspiring numbers, but I'll take them, because they're greater than 0.

Today's 87 words went to The Angel at the Gate, a story inspired by a YouTube video of Silent Hill: Homecoming, the long-completed webcomic 1/0, and thinking about Biblical cherubs. Naturally, the story is about a group of friends who were tossed out of another world after fighting for and saving it as destined heroes, and who find themselves unable to leave the city they've been thrown into because there's a supernatural phenomenon which blocks their way out.

(They name the phenomenon Azrael. Who was not a cherub, if you were wondering.)

Long story short, my fiction rarely bears any resemblance to its inspiration, so I hope the preceding explanation made no sense to you.


...hey, who wants an excerpt!

I look up to see Zeph straddling the peak of the roof, nailing down siding, and the arc of the hammer in his hand takes my breath away. It doesn't take long for him to look down and see me, loitering in the middle of the road.

I sign, Remember the flight to the burning cathedral? Your sword scattered the sunlight and gave you wings.

Zeph grins and hefts the hammer, then sees something in my face and sets it down. And he signs back, with emphasis on every word:

Don't. Start. Crying. Here.

[Semi-boilerplate text: As always, I hope you'll check out and support the Clarion West Write-a-thon (and me in particular, if you feel so inclined). Your donation will help a workshop that allows its students to create quality work like mine! Except often better, and coherent.]
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Staring down the beginning of the Clarion West Write-a-thon, two things seem especially important.

First, that I just re-ran-into the Adrienne Rich quote which reads, "To know we are not alone, that our identity is not random but has a history and a meaning shared with others—that our existence has its own special kind of beauty—this is the great force of art to people moving against alienation."

And second, that I'm about to start a new job at the beginning of July, and that I am, even now, searching for a new apartment and preparing to turn my life upside-down again.

Second explanation first: my big barrier to completing my Write-a-thon goals in years past was that the WAT always corresponded with the end of the fiscal year at the University where I worked, and I happened to work in a financial department. Apparently the theme of my life getting really busy as soon as the WAT rears its formidable head is not going away with the passing of the job.

And the first explanation second: well, if there's a pie-in-the-sky idealistic goal, not just for my Write-a-thon writing but also for my writing in general, it's to wedge a few more ideas into the ever-evolving discussion that is fiction. Gender is one I keep coming back to; so are cultural estrangement, signification, relationships, power, the inability to communicate, the majesty of the known and unknown, and the existence of questions which have neither easy nor satisfying answers. I spend a lot of time circling around those high, idealistic goals, though how well I achieve them is another question entirely.

(And here I'm reminded of another quote, Michael Cunningham's: "You have, for months or years, been walking around with the idea of a novel in your mind, and in your mind it’s transcendent, it’s brilliantly comic and howlingly tragic, it contains everything you know, and everything you can imagine, about human life on the planet earth. It is vast and mysterious and awe-inspiring. It is a cathedral made of fire. But even if the book in question turns out fairly well, it’s never the book that you’d hoped to write. It’s smaller than the book you’d hoped to write. It is an object, a collection of sentences, and it does not remotely resemble a cathedral made of fire."

As I've said on my Write-a-thon page, I don't know what I'll write, or how much I'll write. But you can expect to see some of the above themes cropping up alongside the other, more magpie-minded projects.

Anyway, I hope the writing (and writing about writing) will be entertaining to those of you reading, and I hope you'll consider sponsoring me or any one of the many, many other fine writers in the Write-a-thon this year. There's a wealth of talent banding together to support a new crop of talent which, in turn, is being taught by a roster of extraordinary talent, and I, for one, am excited to get started.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
...meanwhile, my brain is giving me someone named Tether, an aromantic, touch-hungry, skin-averse, heterophysical, sex-repulsed asexual who undergoes violence-hunger cycles in accordance with lunar cycles, peaking at the new moon. She gets paired with some guy called Knife, who as far as I can tell is a fairly vanilla heterosexual guy somewhere on the aspie spectrum, with a nearly eidetic memory and somewhat decentralized cognition. Who may also be a high-functioning sociopath.

I have no idea where my brain is going with this, but I suspect they fight crime.


Oct. 4th, 2011 06:57 pm
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Around the end of August, I finished the first draft of the first novel I've ever felt confident enough about to start shopping out. (The last original novel I finished before that was... in sixth grade. I probably still have the completed draft on my flash drive or harddrive somewhere, but it very much reads like something a sixth-grader wrote. And we won't get into fanworks.)

Throughout September, I let it sit and didn't even open the file, and I threw all my effort into writing the sequel while a bunch of incredibly wonderful beta readers went through my story and gave me feedback covering a wide range of topics – conventions expected by the target audience, questions left unanswered, plot snarls, places where the prose or plot was unclear, places where they were hooked or lost, strengths and weaknesses.

Now, I've compiled all those responses into a document – a sort of menu of things to fix – and I've been ticking off each issue, one by one. Except that now I'm stalling.

It's strange. I remember this sort of hand-wringing and avoidance (because a part of this is that I know once I'm done with revisions, I'll have to send out the novel to agents, and whatever I've done or failed to do will have to stand on its own merits, and that's scary, yo) – I remember it from when I started submitting short stories. Now, approaching my 80th short story submission (I just got a response – a rejection – on my 78th submission of all time), I'm used to that process, and while there's still a flutter of anticipation every time I send a short story out or get a response back, for the most part, it's routine.

But shopping out a novel is a completely different beast.

Sort of. From what I've researched of the process, there are a lot of similarities, and even some of the differences (synopses, partials) just seem like short-form submissions' big sibling. There's a bit more weight to the process, which is understandable given the heft of the work you're submitting.

But there are palpable differences. For one thing, generally a relationship with an agent is a long-term one; a relationship with an editor can evolve to the point where they'll drop you a line once in a while and ask if you've got anything new, but the expectation is that every story is a new deal. For another, an agent takes a lot of the responsibility off your back, and that means trusting them with something precious to you, if you value your writing at all. They take stewardship of your work in a very real way. Even before you internalize the prevailing wisdom that a bad first book can torpedo you as a novelist, there's a lot at stake.

The writing style I use means a lot of revision and rework during the process of writing. After that, I did a first-pass revision. Then I got crits on it and I'm doing a second revision now. Once those edits are in place, I'm going to do a final readthrough to make sure I haven't introduced new problems or errors. When I send this out it's going to be polished, and even after that, I'm fairly sure my (eventual, hopeful) agent and/or editor will come back with yet more crits. Everything is going to be done to give my book the best chance it can have. I'm just dragging my feet because even the steps to move forward are scary.

Still. This is about how I felt when I started submitting short stories too, and that turned out all right. I'll just keep telling myself that, then taking a deep breath, and addressing the next challenge on the list.


magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)

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