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I was logged in to kill some spam comments, and I realized I hadn’t written a State of the Writer post yet for this month. Not only that, but I haven’t written a post at all since last month’s State of the Writer. So here goes.
I’ve brought up Don’t Break the Chain a few times on the blog, and more frequently on Twitter. It’s still turning out to be a hell of a tool, as I’m now sitting on an unbroken streak of eighty-five days. That’s eighty-five days of writing 500 words, editing for half an hour, or outlining for half an hour. I’ll hit an even one hundred before the end of the year, and if I do so, I’m thinking about upping the difficulty level to 750 words, or 45 minutes.
This has led to a manuscript of 47,000 words, likely on the way to an 80,000 word rough draft. Which is right on target. More importantly, over the last few nights I’ve really hit the voice of the book. This is a point I sometimes hit earlier, sometimes later. With Nickajack it was nearly immediate, but it’s been a slow process here. Which isn’t really a problem. As long as it comes at all. The trick is to then double back when I hit the end and fix up the beginning with the corrected voice.
It’s a novel I’m still excited about. It’s also the first novel that I’ve been completely in the dark about. Most of my writing I’ve bounced off a writers group while it’s in progress, but those of you who are members of the group know: I haven’t been showing up as much lately. It’s the price of having a baby, I suppose. It’s been a little uncomfortable, but not enough so to stop. It does mean that I’m going to need to go through several rounds of beta reading.
Not yet. I’ll say when.
State of the author’s beer: We’ve popped two bottles this weekend. The first is the year old Pi Stout. The boysenberry flavor, unfortunately, doesn’t shine through. Though the stout has a beautiful color, and I’m very happy with the quality. It’s a recipe that I plan to tweak. The other bottle was our apple beer. It’s still very hoppy, though has mellowed since our last try. We’re thinking it’ll be perfect this summer, perhaps cut with apple juice or cider as a shandy, or with a hard cider as part of a snake bite.
State of the author’s bees: Hopefully hibernating happily. It’s damned cold out there.
There’s a potential bad habit I could get into. Starting each post with an apology, ending each with a promise to post more. I’m going to fight that. Keep me honest.
October is gone, and November is here. First, I like to start the month by wishing best luck to anyone intended to do Nanowrimo. It was originally my goal as well, but chose instead to start The Chain instead. Still, I’ve done Nanowrimo several times in the past and know it isn’t easy. It isn’t a sprint. It isn’t even a marathon. It’s a marathon of sprints. Hopefully everyone is making good use of the month starting right at the weekend. My best year on Nano was a year that November 1st was a Saturday. That turned into a 5000+ word day that created a barreling momentum.
Speaking of not breaking the chain, my chain is going strong. I just wrapped up day forty-nine, a nice seven by seven block of x’s on my calendar, each representing 500+ words writing or 30+ minutes of outlining or editing. With one exception, a night that I counted writing a reference letter I’d put off long enough. Thus far, better than six days out of every seven have been writing, and due to that the manuscript is up over 28,500 words with 30,000 getting ready to fall early this week. The deep parts of the outline are even starting to come together, and I figured out where each of the three plot lines intersects with the other two.
Not sure what’s going to happen during the holidays, but it’s not like I’m putting a lot of time into each day. That’s part of the power. A little bit of work every day adds up to a lot of work. It’s the same lesson I learned back when I could do fifteen minute hunks of morning writing.
The Great Hugo Read plows on, and this month we get to…I’m not going to say it’s the book I’ve looked forward to the most. Perhaps it’s better to say it’s the book I’ve anticipated the most. If that makes sense as a distinction. I have watched Starship Troopers a half-dozen times. It’s probably one of my ten favorite movies. But I’ve been warned, I understand that the book is a Very Different Thing from the movie, that Paul Verhoeven was in equal parts adapting and satirizing the novel. I’ve paired it up with a recent novel that owes a lot to Starship Troopers: John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War.
Primary: Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein (1960)
- Print: In print.
- Electronic: Available for Nook and Kindle.
- Audio: Available from Audible, narrated by Lloyd James.
- Film: Oh lord. I love this movie. I understand it takes a LOT of liberties with the book, and can be seen as a satire of the book rather than an adaptation of it. I’ve seen it several times, which should make reading the book…interesting?
Secondary: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi (Military science fiction inspired, in part, by Starship Troopers)
Back in April, I posted my grand idea for a Drink Transfer Protocol, a way for geographically remote people to owe each other a drink. It wasn’t a perfect idea, certainly, but it was a fun idea to think about. Apparently I shouldn’t have posted it on the blog, but instead to the patent office, because someone else thought it was a good idea, too.
Today they announced Tweet-a-Coffee. They’re a logical company for the idea. It immediately solved the two biggest problems I identified: needed a network of locations participating and deciding on a defined value for “a drink.” Starbucks is international, and the coffee being tweeted is actually a five dollar gift card.
There is a downside, it requires both the sender and recipient to give a lot of personal information to Starbucks for the purpose of completing the transaction. It’s simultaneously a way to move five dollar gift cards, which might not get used, and collect customer information. Delicious, delicious customer information, the currency of the new internet.
Still. Damn. Woulda been nice to get this to market somehow before a big conglomerate came up with the same idea.
Last two years I’ve paid more and more attention to the Hugo Awards. I’ve sat down and watched the ceremonies, I’ve started reading the past novel winners, I’ve made sure to be educated on several categories before the awards so that I can be disappointed in the results. I’ve now taken the next logical step.
I’ve bought myself a ballot.
That sounds like a bad way of putting things. I purchased a supporting membership for Worldcon 2015, which results in Hugo nominating and voting privileges for 2014-2016, including the upcoming 1939 Retro Hugos. While I’m thrilled for the opportunity to financially support Worldcon…I really did it for the ballots. For the chance to vote.
And the chance to nominate.
That’s where crashing the Hugos come into play. Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis knows the exact category that I’ve had issues with. Dramatic Presentation, specifically Short Form. I know I’m not the first person to suggest an organized nomination push for this category. Those often get labelled, even by those behind them, as protest votes. That’s not my intention. Instead, I’d like to pick out a piece of media that falls within the rules of Short Form and I think is legitimately strong enough to nominate.
In short, I don’t want to think of it as a protest vote. I want to think of it more as an awareness campaign. And what I’ve chosen is the podcast Welcome to Night Vale. If you’re not listening to this podcast…well, statistically you’re listening to this podcast. For a few weeks it unseeded This American Life as the #1 podcast on iTunes, and is still sitting solidly at #2. I didn’t want to go after a piece of media that I didn’t think people would be consuming. As an audio presentation, it is eligible as a Dramatic Presentation, and each of its episodes falls well under the Short Form threshold.
However, if this is going to move forward towards a successful nomination (which it probably won’t, I lack the necessary megaphone) it will need to a concentrated effort. Which means pushing a single episode for nomination. Identifying their best work, and putting any concentrated push we can behind that one episode. The natural choice would be A Story Of You. Unfortunately that was the last episode on 2012 and thus not eligible. I would currently lean towards either The Sandstorm or One Year Later, but I’m also not entirely caught up.
So…if you’re reading this and interested in helping, a few things you can do.
1) Become a Worldcon member 2014 or 2015 member. Even just a supporting member. Seriously, there’s something awesome about knowing that I get a voice in the Hugo Awards, even if this is what I’m currently choosing to do with it. If you’re looking to maximize your Hugo participation, go with 2015. Right now that’s just $40.
2) If you’re not already listening to Night Vale…seriously, what the hell is wrong with you? Listen to Night Vale. Especially keep an ear out starting with Episode 14 which is the first episode eligible for next year’s Hugos.
3) Give me some thoughts on the best episode to put some votes behind. I’m a big proponent of the one-nominee-per-show rule, so it would be hypocritical of me to push multiple episodes.
Join me, won’t you?
Wow, we’re a week into October already and I haven’t posted State of the Writer yet. Which…I suppose my last post in September was basically what I would say this month during my State of the Writer report. I’ll say that I’m keeping the chain alive, even though that meant getting out of bed at 10:45 one night this weekend because I realized I hadn’t written yet. I might not normally, but in my sitting and thinking about whether or not to get up and keep the Chain alive, I came up with some imagery for the next scene.
It’s a powerful thing, chaining writing like this. It’s working as well for me as any other motivational tool has. I’m thinking about upgrading the process. Right now each day that I hit 500 words or 30 minutes of solid editing or outlining, I get a big red X on my calendar. I’m thinking about adding symbols for doing 150% or 200% of the goal, so that those symbols will start popping up and become a chain of their own. Not quite yet, I want a full month of this system under my belt before I play with it. But the thought is there. This all means that my manuscript is up over 12k words, and should soon pass the barrier from novelette to novella. I’ve found my way to tie all the plot lines together, so for the first time I have a good look at what’s happening at the end of the novel, if not a specific notion of the climax and dénouement. But those will come.
State of the Author’s Bees: We had a warm snap here in the DC area that finally broke yesterday. The bees loved it. They were going crazy for it. I don’t know if something somewhere was doing one last round of spitting out pollen or nectar with the warm weather, but they were doing something. They were busy as beavers. Both hives are still going strong, we’re still feeding them syrup, and we have our fingers hoped that one or both will make it through the winter. If they do, next year we can start harvesting honey, which is step two towards home sourced mead.
State of the Author’s Beer: Still waiting for the Tree Trunks and Pi Stout to properly age, haven’t tucked into Mustache Cat or Lemongrab recently. But have you seen this thing? It’s a beer machine, much like a bread machine or ice cream maker. I don’t know what to think about it. On one hand, it simplifies home brewing. On the other hand, a lot of people aren’t interested in simplifying home brewing. However, clearly enough people are, since it’s brought in over twice its asking price with three weeks still on the Kickstarter. I do know it’s well out of my price range. I also wonder if, like bread and ice cream makers, what percentage of people will use it once or twice then put it away, not thinking about it for like two or three years, then making two more batches out of guilt for having spent money on this thing but not using it and…I’m not the only one who uses kitchen appliances this way, right?
Later this week (hopefully) thoughts on the 1996 attempt to Americanize Doctor Who, and the first steps of a plan I have to infiltrate a Hugo category, though not with my fiction. Stay tuned.
Oh, and here’s some extra content. I used that same picture for October last year, so I should provide some extra science to justify reusing it. The notion of staring into a candle-lit mirror to see one’s future spouse is tied to several similar legends, including Bloody Mary. There’s actually some truth behind them. A study showed that subjects staring at mirrors in poorly lit rooms reported seeing various illusions, including
…(a) huge deformations of one’s own face (reported by 66% of the fifty participants); (b) a parent’s face with traits changed (18%), of whom 8% were still alive and 10% were deceased; (c) an unknown person (28%); (d) an archetypal face, such as that of an old woman, a child, or a portrait of an ancestor (28%); (e) an animal face such as that of a cat, pig, or lion (18%); (f ) fantastical and monstrous beings (48%).
For more, check out Mind Hacks.
A Post In Two Parts
I’ve mentioned a few times on the blog that I’ve gone through a layoff recently. If you’ve missed my updates on Twitter, I’ve accepted an offer letter and will be back to work on Monday. I don’t like to actually talk about who I’m working for and what work I’m doing here on the blog, however it’s work similar to what I was doing before my layoff at a company I’m extremely excited to work at. Like, geeked out a little when I arrived for my interview excited. It may or may not have ultimately helped, but I got the job.
I realize I was in a very good position. My former company treated me very well, even through the layoff. I wasn’t an isolated employee thrown to the wind, I was in the third wave of a massive set of layoffs. That meant plenty of notice, roughly six months, and a severance package that I didn’t burn completely through. In some ways, this layoff might end up being one of the better things that has happened in my career.
I know there are folks out there who are having, or have had, a much tougher time on the job market. I could afford a rather leisurely layoff period, applying for every job I could find, attending every interview that would have me, but I got nowhere close to the point where we had to worry about the house, or our food bill. I even had a pretty good backup plan in place. My thoughts go out to every single person who hasn’t been as fortunate as I.
I’m not just heading back to work in my day job career, I’ve also gotten back to work on my writing in a good and substantial way. I’ve had a few fits and starts since the baby came along, but I think I’ve found something that’s working for me.
It all started a few years ago on Lifehacker, a post passing along Jerry Seinfeld’s method for improved productivity:
[Seinfeld] said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”
I’ve seen this alternatively called the Seinfeld Method and Don’t Break The Chain online. Folks have used it to learn foreign languages, get better about exercising, stop procrastinating nearly so much, and, of course, writing. I started my chain on September 15th. It was the day after my birthday, and that seemed as good a time as any to start something like this. Think of it as a New Years resolution of sorts.
My daily goals are modest. 500 words of writing, 30 minutes of outlining, or 30 minutes of editing. These are very easy goals to hit, but they are also numbers that add up over time. They’re also minimums. On the days I’ve written, I’ve gone well over every time. I’ve yet to break the chain, and I’ve done writing all but one day. Thanks to this, I’m just over 9000 words into the generation ship story that’s been running through my mind for a few months.
The momentum factor is very important. I’ve been keeping a page where I’ve checked off the days. And as the chain gets longer, the temptation to break it diminishes. Hopefully this will carry me through the rough draft, and through edits on both this book and Nickajack.
So that’s me. Back to work in two different ways. Hopefully both are for the long-term.
The Hugo Awards do not honor the best science fiction book published in the previous year. Anyone who is following along on the Great Hugo Read should be disabused of that notion by The Forever Machine. Instead, they honor something much more specific. They honor the book most popular and/or best liked by those attendees of Worldcon who chose to submit a ballot, which itself is drawn from a short list.
It’s a process that’s triple self-selecting.
Selection one: Nominations and votes are open only to those who are members of Worldcon.
Selection two: The short list is drawn only from books nominated by those members who choose to nominate.
Selection three: The award itself goes to the winner of an instant runoff vote conducted by those members who choose to vote in a given category.
None of this is meant to damn the Hugo Awards. It’s only to be realistic that they represent a very specific thing. This is worth keeping in mind for the next few months as the Great Hugo Reads includes a few Retro Hugo Winners. The Retro Hugo Awards represent a slightly different very specific thing: the books that have had the greatest lasting impact among those same self selective voters.
I bring this up for a pair of reasons. First, LonCon 3 has announced they are exercising their rights to offer Retro Hugo Awards, and will be honoring those works of science fiction and fantasy that would have been eligible for awards at the inaugural Worldcon in 1939. More specifically I bring it up because this month the Great Hugo Read looked at two very different books. First, the book that won the Hugo in 1958, and second the book that the British Science Fiction Association retroactively selected as the best book of 1958…fifty years later.
To be blunt, I can understand why Non-Stop was retroactively chosen.
Don’t think for a second I didn’t enjoy The Big Time. It was an interesting novel, especially as it set a very small story in a vast and massive world. It’s very clear that there are massive things afoot just outside the door to the room where the story takes place, a war being fought across all of time as the two sides change and rechange history. However, that’s not the story. The story is a closed room mystery. The broader war is only presented in snippets and monologues.
Oh the monologues.
The major failing of the book comes from the solution to the mystery. In many ways it’s the typical problem of Sherlock Holmes stories. Holmes investigates the mystery, and comes up with a solution not based on the facts in evidence, but based on some obscure piece of knowledge he possesses. In this case, the solution to the mystery came about from a piece of technology that isn’t presented until the chapter where it’s revealed to be the solution. It’s a weak solution to the mystery, but the book isn’t about the mystery. It’s about the characters, and it’s about exploring the underlying morality of war.
It was also the first Hugo winner with a female protagonist. I expected that to take rather longer.
Non-Stop feels a little more modern, if that’s the best word to use. There were few points in The Big Time where it didn’t feel like a book written in the 1950s, a bit of a time capsule. Non-Stop felt like the more complete story, where the breadth of the story being told better matched the width of the world around it. That’s not to say it’s a perfect book, just that it’s the book that holds up better 55 years after its publication.
I don’t know how this dynamic will come forward with the Retro Hugo winners. In a way, they’re safe selections from a modern perspective. Bradbury, Asimov, and Heinlein. These are all three writers who still speak very strongly to a modern audience, and have maintained broad name recognition over the years. This isn’t to say that one, or all three, may not have won if the Hugo Awards were voted on in those years. But it’s no guarantee, either.
With all that said, we’re heading rapidly into October, which features the first of these three Retro winners as the secondary read.
Primary: A Case of Conscience by James Blish (1959)
- Print: In print, available from Amazon or check your local independent (or at least brick-and-mortar) bookseller.
- Electronic: Not Available. What the hell, Del Ray Impact?
- Audio: Available from Audible, narrated by Jay Snyder.
Secondary: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (Retro Hugo winner awarded 2004 for 1954)
I don’t watch Breaking Bad. I saw the pilot episode, I loved the pilot episode, but for the first two seasons of the show I didn’t have AMC on my cable package, and by the time I did it made more sense to wait for it to all wrap up so I wouldn’t have to deal with the most infamous feature of the show.
The long long looooong waits.
Breaking Bad debuted on January 20, 2008. It’s 62nd and final episode will air on September 29, 2013. That’s 2,079 days between debut and finale, or an average wait of 34 days per episode. It aired in fits and starts, running in seven, thirteen, or eight episode chunks, with fans waiting as long as 399 days between seasons three and four.
Compare that to The X-Files. 202 episodes over 3,173 days, an average wait for 15.8 days per episode. One off season was even bridged by a movie. If Chris Carter and company had given us those 202 episodes at the same rate as Breaking Bad, the series finale would have aired sometime in November of 2012. Deep Space Nine would have run until 2009. Lost would still be running until 2015, Fringe until 2017.
It’s perhaps not fair to compare cable and network television here. Cable runs by different rules. Shorter seasons, longer off seasons, it’s the expectation. However, Breaking Bad is still an outlier. Thus far fans of The Walking Dead have waited 26 days per episode, and Mad Men fans have waited 28 days per new episode. Dexter, also ending soon, 27 days.
All of these cable dates tend to float right around a magic number. On average the fan of these major cable series have waited one month per episode. Which leads me to wonder: what if a series aired one episode a month? Reliably. Every month. No off-season. From episode one until the series finale. It means that fans would have to wait for every episode, but would never put up with waits of over one year, which both Breaking Bad and Mad Men have put their fans through.
It probably wouldn’t work with production schedules, but I’m curious about this from a theoretical point of view. Would you watch a show that gave you one hour of content, reliably, the same time every month? Perhaps as a two hour block paired with the previous month’s episode. Perhaps a cable network that provided a genre per night of the week. Four dramas rotating on Mondays, four SFF shows rotating on Wednesdays. Is monthly television inherently more arbitrary than weekly television, especially when many cable shows are doing it on average already? Is that run of 13 straight weeks worth the long wait between seasons? Would plotlines be harder to follow? Would it be harder to get into a new series this way?
I don’t necessarily have answers for these, though I’m curious about opinions.
Short post today, longer post tomorrow.
I’ve started the new generation ship novel, which inevitably means referring to the ship by name. Style manuals for this are very clear, the names of ships are italicized. So it’s the Sarah Constant. Though many style guides would yell at me for saying “the”. And I get that point. The name of the ship is just that. A name. You wouldn’t say “that novel is written by the DL Thurston,” you’d say “that novel is written by DL Thurston.” (Though you can choose to use the first form with italics: “that novel is written by the DL Thurston.”)
Likewise, proper style is to say “I am traveling on Sarah Constant,” not “…the Sarah Constant.” But that just feels wrong, ya know? Especially because most of us science fiction fans grew up with Star Trek, not the Navy style manual. In Star Trek it’s always “the Enterprise.” “Captain Picard is in command of the Enterprise,” instead of the proper “Captain Picard is in command of Enterprise.” Maybe Starfleet just never adopted the Navy style manual, though it certainly adopted everything else.
However, I had a deeper question. How do you use a ship’s name in the possessive? Are the apostrophe and s italicized or not? Being that I was operating on a Sudafed last night, this struck me as a Very Important Question that Needed Answering Now.
So I found two style manuals that talk about ships in the possessive. And they disagreed. According to the National Geographic style manual, the answer is Constant’s. According to the Wikipedia style manual the answer is Constant‘s.
Can you see the difference?
Let me make it bigger.
Constant’s vs Constant‘s
There. Maybe you can see it. Probably you can’t. I know the difference, and I have a hard time seeing it. The official National Geographic style is to italicize the apostrophe. The Wikipedia style is to not italicize the apostrophe. Both say not to italicize the s.
In the light of day, it really doesn’t much matter right now. I just need to be consistent, and when it’s published one day (hopefully) it’ll be up to the style manual of the publisher.
I’m a few days late, I know. I mentioned a month ago that I didn’t know what would happen to my posting schedule during my unemployment. The answer appears to be that it’s going to go down a little. Since we’re starting on a personal note, the job hunt is going well, but has not yet wrapped up. I’ve had some good interviews, hoping one results in an offer. Be a nice birthday present. Oddly, last time I was unemployed (coming out of college) I also landed a job right around my birthday.
Speaking of birthdays, today is my daughter’s first. It’s an oddly surreal feeling. It feels like it can’t have been that long, also feels like it’s been much longer. My daughter is a time p̴ar̷ad̸òx, apparently. But I still love her. Tonight’s plans involve putting a cupcake in front of her, and seeing what happens.
Alright, writing. I’ve tucked into my new generation ship novel project a little earlier than planned. I’m working my way through a few drafts of the first chapter, looking to get a tone I’m happy with and get some characterization going. After that I’m going to back out again and get some outlining done. Probably going to work similarly to Nickajack with outlining and writing happening at the same time, with the one only a few chapters ahead of the other. Right now the book is just over 1800 words long, but that represents several evenings of toiling on that first chapter to get it as good as I can. It’s not something I’d normally obsess over so much at the start of the book, but I do want to get it at least a little right.
In general I’m trying to find a little time each night to write. And there is a little more time in the evening with a one year old than there was with a six month or nine month old. Some nights will be Nickajack s͙͇͉̅ome nights will be Back Half.
Great Hugo Read: We’re back to the past read, picking up again in 1958 with Fritz Leiber’s The Big Time. It’s the last novel awarded a Hugo without a nomination stage. I’ve paired it up with Brian Aldiss’s novel Non-Stop, which beat The Big Time when, in 2007, the British Science Fiction Association selected their Best Novel of 1958. So it’s one novel that was thought better at the time, and one novel that was thought better with a half century’s hindsight. This is something I’ll end up talking about more in October when the Hugo Read looks at its first Retro Hugo winner.
Buying options for both books:
The Big Time by Fritz Leiber
- Print: Out of Print, check your local used book store or Alibris
- Electronic: I found it absolutely free on Kindle, or for $7.99 on Nook.
- Audio: Available from Audible, narrated by Suzanne Toren.
I got a 1972 copy published by Ace, but that was before I realized The Big Time was originally published as Ace Double D-491. I bring this up not because of my love of Ace Doubles, but because it is paired with a collection of Leiber short stories from the same universe as The Big Time.
Non-Stop by Brian Aldiss