Archive for February, 2011

Housekeeping

Just a few housekeeping things.

Thing the first: I have decided to discontinue my 200 Years blog.  It was interesting when I started it, but I was starting to drift away from the project and felt it was cutting into my writing time more than I wanted.

Thing the second: I wanted to wait until I had some good momentum going before making this blog available on the Kindle.  Well, I feel I have that momentum, so it’s available.  You can search for the little known actual title of this blog “Writerly Words” or you can just click this link.  I swear I’ve uploaded images that’ll show up in a day or two so it’s not just the generic “No image available” thing.

That is all.

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Fornightcap: Paradox of the Crowds

Paradox of the Crowds

A Fortnightcap by DL Thurston

Creative Commons License

“Of the what?”

“The crowds.  Paradox of the crowds.”  He walked through a lab that was strewn with equipment, some of it burned out, some blinking, some new in box.  Past the computers, past the camera, past the schematics.  “Look,” he said, finding an empty space of white board he drew a circle.  “There are some events that are considered historic events, we can agree on that, right?”

“Right.”

“And one of the reasons you want to invent time travel is so you can see some of them?”  He drew a line pointing in to the circle.

“Well, it’s not the only reason, but–”

“But you do want to see them.  So if you want to see them, why wouldn’t some other time traveler?  Or hundreds?  Or thousands?”  Line after line, until the circle resembled some deformed spider.  “If time travel is ever invented at some future point, we’d see massive crowds of people showing up to witness these historic events.  But they’re just not there.  Therefore time travel won’t ever be invented.  Not by you, not by anyone.”

The inventor’s face fell for a moment.  Then rose again.  “Disco demolition night.”

“What?”

“1979, the death of disco.  The Chicago White Sox hosted a double header, planning to destroy any disco record the fans would bring between the two games.  Nearly 100,000 people showed up.  An impossibly big crowd for that kind of event.”

“Why would time travelers want to see that?”

“It’s infamous.  Be a part of one of the worst ideas in baseball history!”  He was waving his arms around, excited now.  “The inauguration of Barack Obama.  First black president.  Impossibly huge crowds that choked the Mall, and then were gone.  Surely there could have been a few visitors from out of time, not just out of town.”

“I don’t think–”

“No you don’t!  You just find reasons why not!”

“Look, if you want to keep up with this insanity, be my guest.  I’m not going to be part of it.”

The inventor watched as his visitor left, then got back to work on the pieces scattered around his lab.  The crowd, watching from a distance, cheered then quietly dispersed.

Fortnightcaps are biweekly experimentation into short form fiction. All Fortnightcaps are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. So if you like the story, please feel free to link people back here. And if you didn’t, maybe the one in two weeks will be better.

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Planning March

Without really thinking about what I’ve been doing, I suddenly find myself with either two or three short stories, each written for a specific anthology, and each with a deadline fast approaching.  I always like writing the best when it comes effortlessly, and so getting my head above water and finding out just how far I’ve swum is undeniably exhilarating.  But now comes the inescapable reality, the rip tide ready to pull me out to sea of an overextended metaphor that I shall now stop.

It’s getting damn close to editing time.

And editing time is going to be called “March”.

Right now my top priority is, and has to be, Vampires of Mars.  I can’t overlook the chance for my first pro-rate sale, especially a story that I’ve gotten very excited about now that I finally have a plot.  Of course, my first draft I lost that plot and ended up with 1600 words of ending that I’m going to have to do the old crumple-crumple-toss with, but I’ve got a full week before editing month begins to work out the last bits of the first draft.

Next on the docket is The Luchador, which got some very positive reactions from my favorite group of beta readers over at the Cat Vacuuming Society.  And they all wanted two things: a better title and more.  So in a way I’m glad this has the farthest deadline, since I probably need to increase its lenghth by 50-100%.  Fortunately I have a lot of headroom between myself and the anthology length limit.  It also has a new working title: The Face of the Serpent.  That’s not final.  I should probably get the word fire in there somewhere.  The Face of the Fire Serpent?  The title is a work in progress.

Then there’s a wild card called Back Half.  I stepped away from the story for two reasons, some exasperation with the anthology and some exasperation with the story.  It was hard for me to write, I was never as certain of the plot as I wanted to be, and I didn’t really like the way I brought it all to a close.  However, a rather gracious reply by the editors of the anthology to my less than glowing post about walking away has me potentially considering a revisit.  However, I’m considering it the lowest of the three priorities, even though it has the second nearest deadline.  If I can get the other two stories to a point that I like them and still have time to clean up Back Half before April 7, I’ll give it a go.  Otherwise it’s going to stay where it is, in my own private production hell.

All in all, it’s a great place to be.  Especially given my New Years Resolution of writing six anthology-specific stories.  Three are in rough draft, and it’s only February.  Writing is awesome.

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Capsule Tech: Watson

English is an interesting thing.  It’s probably one of the hardest second languages to pick up, because of the massive numbers of irregularly conjugating verbs and bizarre, at times arbitrary, pronunciations.  And that’s if you’re human.  It can be that hard to pick up even if you already understand the general concepts of irony, sarcasm, puns, subtext, or any of the other things that go into communications and seem so natural to us as humans.

So what do you do when trying to learn English as a second language when your first language is machine code?

I watched all three of the Watson episodes of Jeopardy this week, and what I’ve seen I’m still processing.  It’s something so completely new and different that was on display that it felt like watching some step forward in history.  Will these episodes be our generation’s moon landing television event?  No.  Do I think that the episodes will have some long lasting significance?  Yes.  But when watching them there was something oddly familiar about what I was watching.

See, what makes Watson so amazing is that it’s easy to see it as not amazing.  On one hand it did what three people do five times a week: answer oddly phrase trivia questions that require not just a vast knowledge but also the ability to understand how the show uses word games and puns.  On the other hand it does what we see in science fiction all the time: it seamlessly parsed naturally spoken English and gave the anticipate responses.

But Watson isn’t a human.  And those three episodes were not science fiction.  And it’s oddly necessary to specify those, because what we did see on display was the first step towards a computer acting a little more human, or a little more like the computers that Star Trek has promised us.  The kinds of computers that run the holodeck, and can create complex simulations from just a few simple spoken statements.

Perhaps those will always be fiction, but this is still an amazing step in that direction.

Was Watson perfect?  No.  Any human playing Jeopardy would immediately not even consider Toronto as an answer in a category called “US Cities”.  And its knowledge seemed somewhat lacking when it came to the fine arts.  But these feel like such minor issues compared to how far the Watson team has come in creating a system that is capable of understanding human speech well enough, and responding quickly enough, that it took down the two best players Jeopardy has ever seen.

What was televised in syndication this week was a marvel, and I hope that anyone with the slightest interest in where technology is going to go over the next twenty years was watching closely.  Because what we saw this week?  Was the future.

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Ahhh, titles

I had a setting, but no plot.  Now I have a setting and a title that suggests a plot, though still no actual plot.  I’m getting closer and closer to putting together something for Mammoth Book of Steampunk.

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Fortnightcap: Field Trip

Field Trip

A Fortnightcap by DL Thurston

Creative Commons License

The sunshields went from opaque to clear, and the kids went silent for the first time in the trip.  The vessel beyond was huge.  It had to be.  Larger than the star jumper they were in.  Larger than any vessel these kids had seen.  Likely larger than all the star ships they’d seen combined.

“Class, this is the Generation Ship Eden.  The very first generational ship that was sent out from earth.  This is how humans first left Earth to settle new solar systems.  It was designed to hold thousands of people for centuries.  Can anyone tell me why?”

A hand went up.  “They didn’t have star drives?”

“Very good, Billy!  Yes, these ships were sent out in the years before star drives existed.  Back then it was believed that nothing could travel faster than the speed of light.  Can anyone tell me the speed of light?”

No hands.  They were still just third graders.  They wouldn’t get into astrophysics for two more years.

“Well, let’s put it this way, the speed of light is such that light traveling from Sol to the earth takes only eight minutes.  We call that eight light minutes, the distance light travels in eight non relativistic minutes.  A light year is the distance light travels in one year, and from one solar system to the next is dozens if not hundreds of light years.  And thus without star drives, those old ships could take centuries to reach their destination.  So these generational ships were sent out, designed such that the crew that arrived at the destination would be the great great great grand children of the crew that left.”

A hand went up.

“Yes, Michelle?”

“How many years was the trip of the Eden?”

“It was launched in 2105 towards what we now call New Caldonia, the first planet outside of the solar system confirmed to be habitable by humans.  The Eden was rediscovered in 2340, and ever since it has been maintained as a museum.”

She waited.  This was the time where the smarter kids got to show off their math skills.  A hand went up.

“Yes, Billy?”

“Has anyone told them about the invention of the star drive yet?”

“That would disturb the historic nature of the ship.”

Fortnightcaps are biweekly experimentation into short form fiction. All Fortnightcaps are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. So if you like the story, please feel free to link people back here. And if you didn’t, maybe the one in two weeks will be better.

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Abandoning Ship

This image is overdramatic for the content of this post.

I was originally going to call this post something along the lines of “how not to run an anthology,” but that feels like something I throw around a bit too much without having any actual standing.  In the end it’s more about how not to approach an anthology, and how a story can die.

For a few weeks I’ve mentioned the Primogeniture anthology.  It was an interesting concept for an anthology, looking at life for the average resident on board a generation ship that was just far enough out from earth that people are starting to realize that this shit is real.  It couldn’t have aliens.  Your character couldn’t be the captain.  Or even someone that talks to the captain.  It was entirely the day to day life in such a circumstance (yes, this ties nicely with my mundane in the alien post).  When it was posted originally, there were very few additional details.  The ship was named the Primogeniture.  It had a captain and first officer.  It launched in 2111 and the stories were supposed to take place in the first few years of a 400 year trip.  The ship had 5000 people with an expectation of 10,000 upon arrival.

So I came up with a story about stowaways on the ship, and the implications when they’re discovered by a member of the maintenance crew.  It was, I felt, right on the edge of what they might consider for the anthology, but with so few rules to play with I went for a wide berth.  It is perhaps my own mistake that I didn’t contact the editors of the anthology before forging ahead with the idea.

What happened instead was I went ahead with the story.  Then when I realized I needed to name drop the captain, I went back to the anthology call for submissions to discover the rules had changed.  There was now a wider band of story lengths allowed, the stories could now be at any point in the 400 year trip, and there were more data points about how the ship operated, including dimensions and dispute resolution rules.  None of these was in direct contradiction to my story, so I shrugged my shoulders and pressed on.  Should I have written?  Yes.

Well, this week I went to the site again, and found there were now more rules about ship life.  Including, apparently, rather strict rules about birth control that include mandatory vasectomies, birth licenses, and strict birth limits.  I now no longer feel like my story can work within the rules as presented.  And…well, the rules have also now gotten self contradictory, as there is now a two-children-per-couple rule that doesn’t mesh with the anticipation of doubling population in 400 years.

So I do have my frustrations with the process, especially with the way the rules kept changing as the anthology went along.  I was worried from the beginning that submitters were expected to read the minds of the editors, less they break a ship rule that they didn’t know about.  Or, at least, write in and verify stuff.  And that is a lesson learned for me in all of this.  But it also just rubs me the wrong way how the goalposts for the anthology kept changing, and in some fairly major ways as the word count range and allowed settings both changed quite drastically after the original story call.

So could the editors have approached this anthology better?  Yes.  Could I have approached writing my story better?  Yes.  These are the kinds of lessons that must be learned by an aspiring writer, I suppose.

In the end, I’m forced to walk away from the story as a submission for the anthology, and may in the future rework it to remove the Primogeniture name from the ship and submit it somewhere that I can define the rules of the ship.  Might even work it into a novel length plot or a screenplay.  But for now I need to let it be.  It is a completed rough draft, and thus it will probably stay for awhile as I shift my attention towards Bad-Ass Faeries and the Mammoth Book of Steampunk.

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The Mundane in the Alien

On Monday I talked about finding the alien in the mundane.  Today on Unleaded I’ve talked about finding the mundane in the alien.  And now I’m creating a bit of bloggy self promotion.  It’s like one of those television cross over events where the first half of the story is on one show and the second half is on another show.

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State of the Writer: February 2011

People tend to like to really look at themselves at the beginning of every year, making resolutions and the like.  As part of pushing myself to be in more direct touch with my writing, I’m going to start these state of the writer posts every month.  I make them public largely just to make myself do them.  You hear me, five people that Google Analytics says visited my site yesterday, I need to be kept honest.

Novels in Progress:

  • Capsule.
  • End of the Line.

Short Stories in Progress:

  • Back Half.  For the Primogeniture anthology.  Rough draft completed.  Due date April 7th.
  • The Luchador.  For Bad-Ass Faeries 4.  Proposal accepted, and rough draft in progress.  Due date June 2011.

Short Stories Sold:

  • The Rustler.  Woot.

Short Stories Out:

  • Sleep

Short Stories Doing Nothing.  Bad Writer.

  • !Div0
  • Queen of Belmeth

I’ve been falling down on my goal of keeping a certain number of stories circulating at any one time.  In part this is because I lucked out and sold one of my main circulators, but also in part because I’ve been falling down on Duotroping.  On the other hand, my goal of 6 stories written for specific anthologies is doing well, as I’ve got two in progress, even if I’m starting to back off on the notion of sending one to its intended destination.  I’ve been frustrated about the way Primogeniture keeps adding details to the ship, which is really reinforcing my initial fear that submitters had to somehow correctly guess how the editors always planned the ship to operate.  However, it’s still a fun generation ship story that I might clean up and send to anthologies that don’t have nearly so many rules about how a generation ship should work.  I’ll probably give one more try, but if the goalposts move again and make it even harder to tell my story on their ship, then I’ll have to go on my own.

I haven’t forgotten Capsule.  I’ve actually been doing a lot of mental outlining that needs to turn into physical outlining to get me from where I am to where I know this act ends.  There’s a few key scenes, I just need to make sure there’s no more.

People who’ve known my writing for awhile will notice an old favorite on my Novels In Progress list: End of the Line.  I feel like something needs to happen fast with it, since the whole conceit of the story is based around the five lines of what will soon be a six-line DC Metro system.  I’ve had multiple suggestions made, from ignoring the sixth line to inventing a sixth horseman of the apocalypse (I feel like adding a fifth is about the most I can do to stretch that particular concept), to setting the novel in a given pre-Silver Line year.  None of them strikes me as all that fulfilling of an option, with the third the most appealing of an unappealing lot.  So I think instead I’m going to push to get something done with it, even if it ends up on Smashwords (my emergency fallback point to be sure).

I’ve been happy with the first two installments of the Fortnightcap project.  It’s going to keep going for now.

In all, I’m satisfied but not thrilled.  I’m certainly ramping back up from my lost 2010.  I’d probably be doing better if Altair and Ezio didn’t need nearly so much help assassinating people.

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