Archive for December, 2012

2013 Resolutions

I’ve talked my 2012 resolution to death. It was overly ambitious, especially in light of a new member of the household, but it’s one I’m still glad I set. I’d rather overreach with a resolution and let that push me through the year than underreach and be left with no motivation as the year ends. With that said, here we go with some overreaching resolutions for 2013.

Writing Resolution #1: Query Nickajack. Yup, like a zombie rising up from the grave, this goal is back for 2013, and feels much more attainable. We’ve still got some editing to do, some alpha reading to endure, some more editing to do, some beta reading to endure, and yes, even more editing to do. But I think we can pound that all out this year if we keep our eye on the prize. The fact that the alpha and beta reading stages will leave us with downtime leads to writing resolution #2…

Writing Resolution #2: Draft Mogollon. We’ve talked the plot of Mogollon at the highest levels, potentially know all our POV characters (if you’re my wife and reading this, I still love the character we created at dinner Saturday night), and should be ready to sit down and outline this beast once Nickajack is with the alpha readers. Drafting ends up a fitting term for this process, in racing you draft to move faster, and I unquestionably move the fastest when I’m sitting at a keyboard and generating fresh words. Which leads to, yes, a third writing resolution…

Writing Resolution #3: Draft Sarah Constant. I still don’t even have a good working title for this story yet, which is fine, because I don’t plan to write it until late in the year. Over the last few years, after deciding that pantsing it through Nanowrimo isn’t for me, I’ve still been interested to try the event with a fully realized outline to work from. So for the first ten months this year I’ll be outlining this novel in my spare time with the goal of sitting down and writing at least the first 50,000 words of it in November, if not the whole bloody thing. This might be where I’m officially overreaching.

Reading Resolution: 30 Novels. This I’m intentionally setting my sights low. But it will still be more than I’ve read in most recent years. 12 of these will be the primary novels for the Great Hugo Read, 6 or so will probably be secondary novels, the remaining 12 will be random other picks. And, hopefully, there will be more than those.

So there you have it, laid out in the most open forum available to me. I’m going to skip State of the Writer in January, as it would just be a repetition of this post, but those goals will kick off SotW starting in February and each month after that.

Have a happy new year. Ring it in safely.

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The Great Hugo Read, 9 Year Draft Schedule

So…yeah. Notice that Great Hugo Read tab up there? That’s new.

Today I decided to sit down with a couple different lists. Lists of the Hugo winners, lists of the lead-up books for certain Hugo winners, lists of the Retro Hugo winners, I sat down with all of them and I came up with an initial schedule, not just for 2013, but for the entirety of the Great Hugo Read. It’s a lot of books and it goes through 2021. Some highlights:

Secondary Books. These are books that I don’t consider as part of the Great Hugo Read. Right now they fall into two categories. Some of them are Retro Hugo winners, paired up with other books by the same author. Some of them are earlier books in series where only a later book won (or infill books for series where books 2, 4, and 9 won, but more on that in a moment). As we go forward, I may also seed in occasional side books, books that explore similar themes or concepts, have a similar story line, or that I otherwise think will pair well with the book from that month. Actually, I lied about doing that as I go forward, I’ve just now decided to add Old Man’s War as a side book to Starship Troopers. I’ll try not to spring these on people, and even if I do, these secondary reads are entirely optional.

Vorkosigan Saga. After hearing from CVSer Melissa, who is a fan of this series, I’ve decided the best course of action with the Vorkosigan Saga is to read the books in series order, even if that breaks the chronology of the read. In fact, I’m shuffling things even more than just these three books in order to put books two and four ahead of the 2018 nominee read through, allowing a gradual parceling out of the rest of the series ahead of January 2019 and book #9.

Blackout/All Clear. Though this doesn’t come up for…awhile, I decided for the purpose of the read to split these back up. Not to take sides in the controversy over whether this should be considered one book or two, but more out of the reality that (a) this is only typically available as two separate volumes and (b) each half is longer than many of the books that are part of the Read.

I’ll be updating the schedule as we go, putting in each year’s nominees, changing up secondary books, pointing to the best places to get either a physical, electronic, or audio copy of each book (as available) as the get closer. But for now, here you go:

Phew, that’s a lot of a thing. I’ve already ordered my copy of the first book, and it should be arriving in the mail any day now. I’m excited to get started, and I hope at least some of you are as well.

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Killing Peter Bailey

“So. Mary kills George’s dad here, right?” We’re watching It’s a Wonderful Life, my wife and I. It’s one of those movies I like to watch every Christmas, along with Elf, A Christmas Story, and some adaptation of A Christmas Carol. It’s a question my wife has asked before when we’re watching the movie. Here’s the scene in question:

George is walking Mary home from the big dance, both wearing borrowed clothing from the Bedford Falls High School athletic department. They’re flirting in a wholesome, 1930s sort of way when they come across the old Granville house, a dilapidated hulk of a building where the young lovers will one day live as squatters after they’re married. George weighs a rock in his hand and prepares to huck it, explaining town tradition of making a wish and trying to break some glass. Mary tries to stop him, but he wishes anyway. He wishes to see the world, to shake off the dust of the town. Mary interrupts George by throwing her own rock and refusing to reveal her wish.

Keep in mind, this is the same Mary who professed her undying love for George once before, as a young girl at the counter of the drug store. She’s known he wants to leave the town her whole life, since that very scene in fact. He shows off his membership in the National Geographic society and wonders how someone couldn’t like coconut given its exotic origins. Mary doesn’t want coconut, though, and she doesn’t want the world. She wants a life in Bedford Falls. With George Bailey. So, naturally, her wish a decade later is for George to not leave town. For something, anything, to keep him in Bedford Falls.

Then, George’s father dies. George takes over the Building and Loan. He never sees the world. He marries Mary. They become squatters, and he lives his life in that little town he never wanted to do anything but leave. And it all started with Mary making one little wish.

The story already takes place in a world with a hint of the fantastic and the super natural. After all, there are angels interceding with the lives of mortals. It’s the entire purpose of the movie. It’s a small step from that to a world where wishes can, occasionally, come true. Though come true in a rather dark and unintended way. Mary only wanted George to stay in Bedford Falls. She didn’t mean to kill his father. You can see it in the awkwardness the next time they’re together. Her, knowing what she’s done. The guilt actually drives her away from George for a while, into the arms of Sam Wainwright. In getting what she wanted, but not how she wanted it, she was too anxious to take it.

But, our heroes end up together. They have to. Bedford Falls will accept nothing else.

Merry Christmas.

Update: I wrote the above in a humorous and flippant tone, but it’s made me think more about Mary and her role within It’s A Wonderful Life. And I’ve come to an odd conclusion. Mary Hatch Bailey is the antagonist of that movie.

Alright, I already know what you’re saying. Mr. Potter is clearly the antagonist of the movie. But in the classical sense, he’s not. Let’s outline the definitions. The protagonist is the main character of the movie. The protagonist has a goal. The antagonist stands in direct opposition to that goal.

While George Bailey lives a wonderful life and helps all the people of the town, it’s never his goal to do so. His goal, as stated several times in the first half of the movie, is to get out of Bedford Falls. To travel the world, see everything that there is to see. Mr. Potter is not the antagonist because he would also love George to leave town. If George leaves, the Building and Loan would fail, and Potter could take control of that last bit of town just outside of his grasp.

The character that stands in the way of that goal is Mary Hatch, later Mary Bailey. Leaving aside the above considerations of her witch powers, she is the only human actor that keeps George from leaving town. The most direct time she does so is during the bank run by offering up their honeymoon money so people can make it through the week until the bank reopens. In doing so she ties George to the town in the short-term, by not giving him his globe-trotting honeymoon, and in the long-term by securing the Building and Loan that he feels obligated to. If the Building and Loan failed, it would suck for a lot of people, but George would be freed from that one obligation and has the wherewithal and connections to land on his feet almost anywhere he chooses.

And this is all just to point out a few simple things. First is that the antagonist of a piece is not necessarily the villain of the piece (we see this also in The Dark Knight where the Joker is the villain but Harvey Dent is the antagonist). Second is that the antagonist opposing the protagonist’s goals doesn’t necessarily make them a bad person. And, third, that the antagonist sometimes wins without it really being a bad thing.

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Great Hugo Read, 2013 Schedule

Last week when talking about the Great Hugo Read, I was posting largely off the cuff. Today, I post with a little more of an idea in mind about how to work this event. To encourage anyone else who wants to join in, either for the entire run or just for a novel or three, I’m going to make this a monthly event rather than a random when-I-feel-like-starting-the-next-one thing. I hope that also gives it more of a book club feel. Seven months of the year (January through March and September through December) will go to the past winners. Five months (April through August) will go to that year’s nominees. Because the nominees are announced during April, that month will be devoted to the shortest nominee, the other months will see the remaining nominees visited in alphabetical order by author, then by title if by some strange voodoo one author gets double nominated. I don’t know when to expect the 2013 nominees to appear, in 2010 and 2012 it was the first Sunday of April, but in 2011 it was the last Sunday. If it’s late in the month, we’ll work something out. Likewise if we hit a six nominee year.

So, without further ado, this will be the 2013 schedule for the Great Hugo Read:

  • January: (1953) The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
  • February: (1955) They’d Rather Be Right aka The Forever Machine by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley
  • March: (1956) Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein
  • April: 2013 Nominee (shortest)
  • May: 2013 Nominee
  • June: 2013 Nominee
  • July: 2013 Nominee
  • August: 2013 Nominee
  • September: (1958) The Big Time by Fritz Leiber
  • October: (1959) A Case of Conscience by James Blish
  • November: (1960) Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
  • December: (1961) A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Each month will probably have at least two posts, the first to kick the novel off, and the second to go over my thoughts and open things up for anyone else reading along. I’ll also try to provide posts about where and how to find the upcoming month’s novel, at least for the past winners. To kick that off, the first three months:

The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester

They’d Rather Be Right aka The Forever Machine by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley

Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein

Yeah, looking ahead for the rest of the year, the novels by authors not named “Robert Heinlein” will be harder to procure. Thank goodness for alibris.

If you look at the number of winners, and the pace I’m setting, you’ll realize this is going to be for the long haul. 62 books have won or tied for the Hugo. The last book of the catchup read will be 2012’s winner, Among Others, which will come up in November of 2021. Maybe then we can double back and start the Nebula winners that didn’t also win the Hugo. Or start on the novellas. And what happens if I get a Hugo nomination between now and then you may be asking. What? You’re not? Oh, well, forget I brought it up then.

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The Great Hugo Read

One unexpected side effect of fatherhood is an increase in my available reading time. I’m not sure where it all came from, but I’m loving it. Since starting my two weeks at home with my daughter, and continuing through going back to work, I’m now reading novels at a pace of better than one a week. It’s mostly been John Scalzi, as I finally started reading his novels coincident with staying home and got hooked. After reading mostly Ace Doubles for a while, it was great to dip my toes back into contemporary science fiction. I’m not done with Doubles, just interspersing.

As part of this expanded reading time, I’m launching on two connected reading projects. They will not represent the total of my reading time, but they will get weaved in among the other novels and stories I’m going through, and both will involve the Hugo Awards. Thus I’m calling them both, together, the Great Hugo Read.

Part one: I’m going to read all the novels nominated for the 2013 Hugo Award. I’ve only read one Hugo winner before it won the Hugo, and that was Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. With my reading patterns the past few years, this goal would be ambitious to say the least. Nominations come out in April, the awards will be presented on September 1. That’s five months, but a month a novel was a typical reading pace for me until recently. Now it doesn’t seem nearly so crazy. It’ll be fun going into the ceremony with an educated opinion. It’s crazy, I know.

I hope to get a head start by reading Redshirts in January. Hopefully I’m not jinxing things by anticipating this as part of my 2013 nominee read.

Part two: This is the bigger part, and it’s not just a 2013 goal. When I said above I’ve only read one Hugo winner before it won…well, that doesn’t seem quite so crazy when you factor in that I’ve only read four Hugo winners. Ever. That’s it. Here’s the whole and complete list:

  • Rendezvous with Rama
  • The Diamond Age
  • American Gods
  • The Graveyard Book

That’s it. Four. And it’s only that high because both the Hugos and I are fans of Neil Gaiman. I’m looking to fix that, and I’m looking to do so in the most extreme way possible. I’m going to start reading all the Hugo winners. That’s 62 novels, way more than I could read in one year even if I skipped the ones I’ve already read and read nothing but Hugo winners. This isn’t my plan, they’ll be interspersed with my other reading, perhaps every other or every third book. I like this as a project, getting more of a history of the genre that I love. However, there are some pitfalls.

Series. Oh sure, there are the series that make it easy. Connie Willis has been gracious enough to win for every book in the Oxford Time Travel series, so while they’ll be spread out, I don’t have to make any decisions about what pre-reading I need to do. The Harry Potter series winning for Goblet of Fire is alright, I’ve seen the movies, I think I can get enough of what happened in the first three books to jump right into the fourth. Hell, I’m sure I’ll end up reading the whole series with my daughter eventually anyway. Green Mars and Blue Mars winning when Red Mars didn’t? I’ve been wanting to read the trilogy for a long time anyway, and Red Mars will give me a head start if I want to later read the Nebula winners.

However, things get more difficult when I get into Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga. Three books of this series have won, and they happen to be books four, two, and nine. The out of number ordering isn’t mine, it belongs to the series. Book four, The Vor Game won in 1991, book two, Barrayar, won the next year. Clearly they were published out-of-order, so can be read out-of-order. But I don’t know enough about this series to know how out-of-order. Can I skip straight to book nine, Mirror Dance, without the books in between? No, really, can I? If you know the series and can answer that question, please do so in the comments below.

Herbert. As in Frank Herbert. 1966 saw Dune share the Hugo Award with Roger Zelazny’s …And Call Me Conrad. You’ll notice Dune is not sitting up on my already read list, something that surprises people when they learn that about me. I’ve tried reading some Herbert, specifically Destination: Void. In short? It defeated me. It’s the rare book I’ve walked away from unfinished. I had a hard time getting into his writing style, especially the schizophrenic head hopping around the characters. Which I understand is one of the hallmarks of Dune. If you’ve read both Void and Dune, could you speak up in the comments, let me know what I’m in for? Because, honestly, that’s the first big road block that I seen on my trip through the Hugos.

Retro Hugos. They’ve awarded these three times, for years that had Worldcons but no Hugos. As I start, I’m not planning to these to my reading list. What interests me about doing this read-through is the history of the genre and seeing what books were deemed important when they were written. The Retro Hugos are about which books stood the test of time. Sure, we can go back and give Fahrenheit 451 the Hugo award for 1954, and that’s an easy pick as it’s now become one of the most important books to come out of the genre. But would the voting fans in the year 1954 actually give it the award over Childhood’s End? Or any of the other books nominated? Or would the award in 1954 go to a book that organizers in 2004 didn’t think to nominate? Keep in mind in 1955 the voters went for what is frequently cited as the worst book to win the Hugo. Or, at least, frequently cited as being frequently cited as such. Speaking of which…

They’d Rather Be Right. It’s the second novel to win the Hugo, thus the second novel in my read through. It’s also probably the hardest Hugo winner to track down a copy of. Even alibris has precious few going for no less than $10, and copies of its rerelease as The Forever Machine go for a minimum of $25. Its only digital availability is through the Sony Reader store. I may be forced to skip over this one in my initial read, not because of its reputation, but because of its availability. I’ve also seen others who have done the all-Hugo read call this a “struggle.” It’s the only Hugo winner rated at below three stars on Goodreads, and one of only three below 3.5. So…maybe Dune isn’t my first big speed bump.

Re-Reads. It’ll be awhile til I hit my first re-read, and when I do it’ll be the only Hugo winner I read before I turned eighteen. So that’s a clear candidate for a re-read. I’ll probably re-read the others, too. Not like I need too much of an excuse to pick Diamond Age back up. Though…do I read the version of American Gods that won, or the slightly tweaked 10th Anniversary edition signed by the author?

I’ll probably start the read through in January, even though I’m not intending this as a finish-in-2013 goal. And I plan to read them in order, just as soon as I can track down a copy of The Demolished Man. Thank goodness for used bookstores and alibris. I’d be thrilled if anyone wanted to join me on the read, I’ll announce here on the blog and in Twitter when I plan to start each book, and will plan to talk about each when I’m done. I might make this a monthly thing, which means the read-through would take awhile. But it feels more like a book club that way. For now, I’ve shoved all of them onto a Goodreads shelf. Go, browse, and I’ll let you know when this is starting if you want to come along.

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Goodreads Giveaway

Last week in my State of the Writer post, I said that the anthology The Old Weird South, featuring my story “The South, Rise Again,” would be out soon. In a couple of days. Well…it came out that afternoon, which was a fantastic bit of news. It marks my third short story out this year, which is a pretty damn good year since my previous record high was zero short stories published in a calendar year. I focused the main announcement on Unleaded, as another Unleaded contributor is in the anthology, and over on Twitter where things move fast and furious. So this is the official announcement here, on Writerly Words, with two extra bits of news.

Extra bit of news one: The publishers have announced a Goodreads giveaway, offering ten copies of the anthology up for grabs! Head on over to the anthology’s page on Goodreads between now and December 19th and look for the “Enter to win” button. You have to be a Goodreads member to enter, but seriously, aren’t you already? If not, this is a good opportunity to join. Then go ahead and add me as a friend on the site. I’ve been meaning to expand my list of Goodreads friends, and if you’re reading this blog, you totally count.

Extra bit of new two: As part of the advertising for the book, there isn’t just a Goodreads giveaway, but two of the stories are available, in their entirety, free online. Which excites me more because my story is one of the two available. So if you’d like to read “The South, Rise Again,” you can do so over on the anthology’s website. You can also check out Megan Engelhardt’s “A True Story about the Devil and Jaime’s Shoes,” a story in the style of early twentieth century southern folk stories.

If you want a copy of the anthology and don’t win the giveaway, or don’t want to wait for the giveaway, The Old Weird South is available in print at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, or digitally from Smashwords, the Kindle store, and should eventually be available from the Nook and iBook stores. The website for the anthology also says “or your favorite local bookstore.” So tell you what, if you see it on the shelf, snap a picture with your smart phone and send it to me on Twitter and I’ll…do something that wouldn’t legally make this a contest. I don’t know what yet.

And if you want to check out my two other 2012 publications, look for Steam Works from Hydra Publications or The Memory Eater, now just $0.99 on Kindle.

Phew, I always feel a little dirty after one of these advertising posts. Look for me tomorrow on Unleaded talking about generation ship tropes and not about where and how you can buy books with my name in them.

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Three Months

I get it now. I really do. I understand all the hype. I get all the talk about “hatching” about how those first few months pay off dividends as early as three months.

Today the Little Bird is three months old. She is celebrating this quarter birthday by attending her second day of day care. Unfortunately my wife and I have wrung out every last drop of family leave we could manage, her through long-term disability and me through my bank of off time and a company willing to let me take two weeks to just be a stay-at-home dad. In massive swaths of the country, we could probably get by on just my salary, or just my wife’s. But we live in Fairfax County where double income is the price of having a house and food. Really, if we just didn’t need to eat, everything would be so much easier.

So yeah, I got to spend the last two weeks entertaining the baby at home, and I learned two important things. First, it is possible for me to write with a newborn in the house, just not much. Second, I am unsuited to being a stay-at-home dad of a newborn. This isn’t entirely fair, if I was actually a full-time 100% stay-at-home dad, I would be participating in all those little things that help stay-at-home parents stay sane. Play groups, special early morning “we’ll keep the lights on and it’s okay if your baby is screaming” matinees every Monday at the local movie theater, labor camps, things designed to allow a parent to do something other than sit and wait for the next feeding. Fortunately the best option for day care, the one that combined a reasonable price with a fantastic environment, is right in our neighborhood. Win-win.

The baby. Oh my goodness the baby. When babies are born they really exist in one of three states: sleeping, eating, or crying. Sometimes they multitask. I’ve heard of some who could simultaneously do all three. But at three months old? They can hold their heads up, they can play, they can make cooing noises, they can laugh. My god, can I even tell you what it’s like the first time they give an honest to goodness laugh? She still has her bad moments, and she will for…well, in different forms, but for the next 18+ years. She also has her great moments. That moment when she listened to me telling her a story about the history of Rome, not understanding, but listening intently. Sleeping through the night Sunday into Monday, going down at 10pm and not getting up until after 7pm. Babbling so much that she gets frustrated that we can’t understand each other. This sometimes drives her to tears, but these are some of the few tears I really love because of what brought them on.

There are still so many milestones ahead. But I can’t help look back on that baby that we brought home from the hospital, spent sleepless nights with, went through days of wondering when she’d start crying. Or stop crying. Somehow, in just three months, she’s become something so different and wonderful. We’re now calling her the “trap baby.” The one who will sucker us into the notion that child rearing is easy and get us to have the second baby to make sure that we are providing replacement level breeding for the species. She’s wily that way, but it’s not working yet.

And I still can’t help wonder when her real parents will come to pick her up.

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State of the Writer: December 2012

2012 Goal: Query Nickajack. I promised at the beginning of the year I would start every State of the Writer post that way. It’s not going to happen. It’s not going to in part because we’ve learned just how much work goes into making a novel out of a first draft, and because we had a baby. But we’re still in a great place with Nickajack, we’re still working on it, and we’re hopeful for 2013. We’ve also started the sequel, working title Mogollon, talking settings, characters, and themes. Yes, themes. There are even roughly 500 words sitting in the rough draft at the starts of chapters one and two. It’s one of my big 2013 projects, but I’ll talk about those more in a month’s time.

December should see my next short story go live in an anthology called Old Weird South. Don’t worry, I won’t be quiet when the anthology goes up for sale. At this point I’m not sure if it’ll be digital only or if hard copy editions will be available. My story in the anthology, titled “The South, Rise Again,” was inspired by one of my favorite Nickajack era research books, Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering. It’s a downer subject, the book is about death and all, but a fascinating read.

My goals for December involve editing and outlining. Editing Nickajack. Outlining Mogollon and another project I’d like to write in 2013. There are likely going to be few words going into rough drafts this month, but no shortage of things to work on. Here’s hoping I actually get some of it done.

State of the Author’s Beer: BOTTLED! It took until nearly the end of the month, but Pi Stout is in the bottle. My hydrometer and an online calculator tell me the beer is around 6% ABV, right on target. Now it’s a waiting game. Stouts take a little longer to mellow out, and it does need some mellowing. We’ll probably open the first bottle for Christmas, but it’ll still be young. I did get 26 bottles instead of the typical 24, so there’s be some to spare.

State of the Author’s Bees: Getting ready for the winter. They’ve been switched from syrup, which can freeze, to bee candy. There are a few warm days ahead, hopefully they’ll be ready for the lean months. It’s been a tough year for beekeeping in the DC area. Hell of a year to start the hobby.

State of the Author’s Baby: Three months old tomorrow, so more then.

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