Archive for category Nickajack

A Tour of the Binder

I’m nearing the end of my third month as a pleased Scrivener customer.  Starting our current novel project in Scrivener started as a test of just what the software can do, but it’s now my go-to tool for just about any kind of writing.  For anyone who is still considering whether Scrivener is the right tool for them, I thought I’d give a quick tour of our Binder.  Within Scrivener, this is the navigation tool around the project, so what you see here is our novel project, though with lots of the folders collapsed, because, ya know, it is still a work in progress and I’m not doing this to give away too many secrets.

1. Outline.  Nested folders are helping us keep track of our chapters and sort them into acts.  We’re going for a modified three-act structure, treating the second act as its own three acts.  I suppose this is actually a five-act structure, but one things I’ve learned from writing is that the number of acts has nothing to do with the actual number of acts.

2. Manuscript.  Yes, we’re keeping this separate from the Outline.  In the end the outline is going to be a nice first draft outline with a lot of our notes in place, but where we can collapse it completely out of the way.  Odd choice?  Perhaps.  One that’s working well for us?  Very much so.  Except when I accidentally start first drafting a chapter in the outline.  Oops.  Within the manuscript the labeling tools in Scrivener allow us to keep visual track of the act structure (the pink tab in the upper right of the card), and who the point of view character is for each chapter.  This gives us a fantastic visual hint as to who we haven’t used in awhile.  The built-in suggested labels are for things like “To Do” or “Revised Draft” but customization within Scrivener is the strength of the tool.  It’s all built around users working the way they want to work in the project.  Right now we care a lot more about the POV of a chapter than the draft status.

 3. Characters.  Everyone who shows up on screen more than twice, and several who only show up once.  I typically keep this folder open so I can look up a character name spelling (I’m bad at names, and that actually extends into my writing) or quickly throw a character file in when I create someone on the fly.

4. Random Scenes. These are scenes between characters that my wife enjoys writing.  They’re good character building exercises, and when I see one I really like, I’ll start massaging the story towards putting in at least some paragraphs.

5. Places.  This lets us drill down into our hypothetical world.  Lots of maps I made, lots of maps I found, photos of real buildings that show up in the story, descriptions of fake places.

6. History and World Bible.  These are getting used a little less than I intended, but they’re the background of our world.  I just opened them while drafting this post, and really am ashamed how little I’ve used them.

7. Side Stories.  My wife has the Random Scenes, I have the Side Stories.  She’s fleshing out characters, I’m fleshing out the world.  I hope they end up being used somewhere, but that’s going to be a very late decision in the process.

8. Critiques.  This is where I love Scrivener.  These are the critiques from our alpha readers at the Cat Vacuuming Society of Northern Virginia, typed live as given into this folder where we can easily review them when it comes time for edits.  Losing critiques is one of my worst writing habits, so having them tied into the project is a life saver.

9. Research.  Largely imported Wikipedia pages and other websites that include era slang and some real world people we’ve based fictional people on.

10. Trash.  Absolutely filled with unnamed blank files that I created with a stray click.  Oops.  Not cleared because I’m always paranoid I dropped something useful in there by mistake.  Actually, while putting this together, I found one of my wife’s random scenes landed in there, and has now been rescued.

Without Scrivener, this would all be an awkwardly nested series of folders filled with Word documents.  Several of these files might not even exist.  Scrivener makes it easy as hell to drag in any and all research I want, and wrangles it all very well, even when I find images that are several thousand pixels on a side and want just the highest resolution possible.  It’s a sickness, I know.

Is this the best way to use the product?  I can absolutely say: yes it is.  Because it’s working for us.  I’ve come across many writing toys in the past, things that I can play with for a while, but don’t actual conform to the way I write, and don’t allow for the organic growth that our Scrivener project has undergone.  This is how I know that Scrivener is legitimately a writing tool, because it can be used whatever way works best for the writer.  Is it right for you?  I can’t say.  I just hope that by showing how we’ve put together our project, you might see something of the tool and how it might help your writing.

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Constitutional Law for the Writer

Article IV, Section 3, Clause 1 of the United States Constitution states:

New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.

It’s not often one gets to consider their novel unconstitutional, but that’s just the hiccup I hit late yesterday when browsing around the internet.  I don’t remember exactly how I ended up landing on this particular clause of the Constitution, even after retracing my steps a little, but land on it I did.  Someone said it on the television, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out what I was watching last night that would quote the Constitution.

My wife and I are not allowing it to derail anything when it comes to our novel, which features a state very clearly “formed by the Junction of two or more…Parts of States.”  It is, in fact, made up of four Parts of States, which apparently was the kind of thing that got capitalized back in the day.  This started a short research chain that wandered through both Article IV and the directly related court case of Virginia v. West Virginia (the first of two such named cases, apparently).  This court case firmed up the constitutionality of the state of West Virginia (once again, a state formed by Parts of States) largely by not making an explicit ruling one way or another.  It’s convoluted, and I’m not going to attempt to explain it here, because I know parts of it will be wrong.

Unfortunately the little loophole that West Virginia used to become a state won’t quite work for us.  As best I can understand it (and please don’t use this as your research for a paper, as some of the details are certainly wrong), the legislative delegates representing the counties that would become West Virginia declared those delegates from the rest of the state who voted in favor of secession, and governor Letcher (who actually discouraged secession), in rebellion against the United States and thus their position within the legislature was forfeit.  They then appointed a new governor, declared themselves the only valid legislature of the state of Virginia, and as such provided their Consent for the formation or erection of the new State out of their Part of State.  It’s a fascinating end run around the question of a state counter seceding from another, and one the government of the United States was willing to approve because it was clearly in their best interest to do so.  This is the kind of real-world stuff that makes the things we craft as fiction writers possible, because such fantastically obscure and questionable things happen all the damn time in reality.

So in the end I did some entirely amateur constitutional scholar work and some hand waving to dictate how, exactly, our new state formed, with questions of Consent overridden by Union force.  It combines the best aspects of the WV juke move with how the federal government successfully forced states to enact 21 as the legal drinking age.  This will all be entirely background information, not even referred to in passing within the book, but it’s the kind of detail that I’m glad to know because it’s exactly the kind of detail someone may ask about.  I know I’ve spoken in the past about little details that readers may want to know or ask about, those things that the writer knows about a setting or character that don’t directly come up in the book.  This was just another one of those cases that just drove home how important that might be.

Because if I got curious after just a few minutes of research, someone else who has a deeper Constitutional knowledge than I is damn well likely to be curious as well.

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How We Live, How We Die

I’m going to pretend that I intended to create bookend posts for the week, and hope none of you realizing I’m just flying by the seats of my pants.

In my State of the Writer post earlier this week I talked about looking for books about life in the 1860s, and being quite excited about finding one actually called Life in Civil War America.  It was fantastically on the spot, but it’s not the research book I’m reading right now.  Instead, I’m approaching things from the exact opposite direction.  Rather than looking at how people lived in the Civil War, I’m fascinated with a book about how people died.

The book is This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust, subtitled Death and the American Civil War.  The chapters are simply titled, and currently I’m through two: Dying and Killing.  The second is a look at how two dominantly Christian democracies justified going out and killing each other, tied in with the brutality experienced by black soldiers.  About just the process of killing a man in the first and last war where guns were powerful and reloadable enough to be repeatedly deadly, but inaccurate enough that soldiers needed to be in close enough range to see their enemy’s faces before pulling the trigger.  It’s a chilling outline of the justifications for war and reality of close quarters combat, but with Nickajack not actually set during the war, the information will have less direct influence on the book.

What already has influence some Nickajack editing is the first chapter: Dying.

The underlying theme of the chapter is the early 19th American concept of the Good Death.  The Civil War was certainly not the first war the United States fought in the 19th century.  They’d fought a second war against the Brits, they fought a war against Mexico, but the American loss of life in the Civil War was several orders of magnitude greater, so it directly touched more Americans.  This was also an America that set out less, that didn’t see children moving several states away from parents, or even grandparents.  Deaths also tended to be slow and lingering, giving the dying plenty of time to make right with their god, their family, and enjoy almost a ritualized passing.  This was the Good Death.

The Civil War disrupted much of this by introducing sudden, violent death to distant relatives on a very regular basis.  There was a camaraderie in the war, a banding together in an attempt to bring as many elements of the Good Death to the soldier bleeding out in the field as possible.  Informal letters were written home by those close to the dying, whether by friendship or literal proximity.  Nurses often stood in as surrogate mothers or sisters for the dying.  The stories told are absolutely heart wrenching at times, especially through a pair of songs excerpted in the chapter, one about a nurse kissing a soldier good-bye for his mother, and the other a response from the mother thanking the nurse for giving her son a last kindness as he died.  It quicker the death, the harder it was to make it a Good Death.  Some soldiers lingered for days with sepsis and could personally write their own obituaries home, others were dead in a moment and those writing home spoke of spiritual readiness in the preceding days and weeks if it wasn’t available at the moment of passing.

The Civil War was a kind of widespread death that just doesn’t mesh with modern thoughts.  Nearly 2% of the US population of 1860 was killed during the war, whether through battle or disease related to combat conditions.  Even the tragedies of 9/11 produced fewer fatalities than either side suffered in the Battle of Gettysburg.

This isn’t meant to be a history lesson.  Give the book a try, it’s very well written and it tells a story of the Civil War that hadn’t occurred to me.

And therein lies the problem and my actual point.  It hadn’t occurred to me.  It’s easy to not think about death, it’s common to not want to think about death.  It serves to remind us all of our mortality, something that is uncomfortable to many, myself included.  But that also makes it easy to overlook a society’s view on death as part of it’s overall construct.  While familiar with the tradition, some might say cliched, death bed narrative, I never realized how fully it gripped the lives of Victorian Americans.  But in a novel where people die, it’s important to know how they would feel about dying, what their society has prepared them for.  I learned this lesson the hard way, only after being loaned the book by my father-in-law, and I pass it along now.

And this isn’t just about historically set fiction.  Any substantially built world where death is going to be part of a narrative, the author should have a notion of how the civilization, or civilizations, view death.  If the society has a strong belief in reincarnation, it may be seen as a simple transition.  If the society has a strong notion of a glorious afterlife, it might be seen as a more celebratory event.  Look at similar real cultures as a clue.  Ask yourself questions.  What do the dying want out of their final moments?  What do the survivors want immediately afterwards?  What news may a distant (geographically, not emotionally) relative want?  These are important questions, all explored in that first chapter regarding the Civil War, and all may be important within the world if even one character dies.

It’s a lesson I’m taking forward, and thus a lesson I hope to impart on others as they write.

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The Insanity of Collaboration

“How did the oceans get their names?”

This is the way conversations in my house now start.  And have ever since my wife and I started collaborating on a project intended to be multiple novels long.  I don’t know how to lump these questions together, so I don’t know whether to call this particular question more unusual than most.  Often they seem unrelated, but I still know where they’re going to end up.  “Well…the Atlantic and Atlantis have the same root words, but I don’t remember which was named after the other.”

“I was thinking the Pacific.”

“Well, that would be the Latin pacificus,” at this point I’d made up that Latin word, thinking it sounded right, “which is the same root as pacifist.”

“What if it had a different name?”

“Different name?”

“What if the ocean wasn’t quite so…Pacific.  What if Magellan didn’t manage to circumnavigate the globe?  What would be the opposite of Pacific?”

The conversation went through some permutations of what the opposite of Pacific might be.  Pacific came specifically from the Spanish mar pacifico, peaceful sea.  Would the opposite be warlike sea?  Mar guerrero?  Or perhaps hungry would be a better origin.  The Hambric Ocean?  The Chinese and Japanese would clearly have names for “all that water to the east”, but those names wouldn’t be used in Europe, and thus America.

Renaming oceans isn’t really the point of this story.  The point of this story is that I would never have considered whether the oceans might be different in our world, because I only ever envisioned our world as the real 1866 plus automatons.  But as the story has progressed and as we’ve discussed it, I’ve realized this story is taking place in a small part of a much larger world where there are many more things that are different.  Because questions come up like “where do the automatons come from?” and “are they really steam-driven, since there’s not really room for a coal hopper and boiler?”  These end up being really fantastic questions that I would have never asked while approaching this world.

This is our third time collaborating, but our first time on written-word fiction, and really our first time inventing a world from scratch.  Previously we’ve done a spec script that was playing largely in HP Lovecraft’s toybox, and a movie spec that wasn’t anything more than just silly/stupid fun, just to see if we could write something that long together.  This is something entirely different, and it’s a process that I’ve needed to get used to.  Especially the idea of not having complete control over the creative process.

I’m not sure what I expected going into this process.  Certainly I didn’t think I would come up with the entire world and plot and just use my wife for her brilliant descriptive writing.  But adjusting to a give-and-take of the creative process, of plotting, and especially of world building isn’t something I was entirely prepared for.  Questions like “what is the giant ocean to the West of the United States called?” aren’t questions I expected to field, because it’s not world building the way I world build.  And they were questions that frustrated me in the early going, because I saw them as distractions from the plot at hand.  Which was, I need to stress very strongly, entirely unfair.  Now that we’re getting words on paper, these questions are the oddly fantastic nuggets that make me think more about the world we’re creating, and what it looks like beyond the rather tight confines of Huntsville, 1866.  A city of roughly 6000, a story taking place largely in 10 square miles, on a planet of 1.5 billion people and 150 million square miles.  They’re especially the kinds of things we need to know about the world if this is going to become a series.

Even if none of it shows up.

Because this is the world that needs to be.

So we know what happened in the US presidential election of 1864 when incumbent Hannibal Hamlin went against Democrat Andrew Johnson.  But we also know what happened in ancient China that got things going, and what’s different about the Pacific that changes the way the world is tied together.  Some of them might end up being important, some of them might be flavor, some of them might just be in our heads.

I’ve relaxed.  I’ve learned to just let the questions come, argue them out, and see where the pros and cons are.  Because that’s what collaboration is, it’s taking the styles and ideas of two people and turning them into a unified product.  One of them cannot be closed to the other, or it’s a dictatorship.  Which doesn’t work with just two people.

So the lesson that I guess I’ve learned about collaboration?  Actually collaborate.  It’s one of those things that feels so completely obvious to say, but it was still something that I had to come slowly.

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State of the Writer: January 2012

2012 Goal: Query Nickajack.  Currently we’re working on the first draft of the novel.  Actually, it’s an odd amalgam sort of first-and-a-half draft, since I’m doing the rough draft and my wife is going behind with an editing pass.  The draft is at 35,000 words and has transitioned from the first act into the second right on schedule.  We’re working on a strategy we picked up online to think about the second act as three acts itself, as it often tends to be the longest act and can lack structure.  Some outlining this morning has taken us nearly to the first sub-act break, and we have a broad notion of the path from point A to point B.

On the research front, I’ve been looking for a book about life in and around the Civil War, basically a book about every aspect of the Civil War except the Civil War.  Found this at Barnes and Noble yesterday, recently republished from a 1999 original.  It’s a little dry, it’s written for research rather than narrative, but there’s a lot of good information.  I’ve already pulled some factoids out of it for use in Nickajack, nothing that will change the plot of the book, but that will add some good flavor.

Though not nearly as literal of flavor as the other book I’ve grabbed.  Oh yes, there will be some 1860s food porn in this novel.

In other writing…there isn’t much other writing right now.  I did get news from one of my upcoming anthologies between drafting and publishing this post which makes it sound just a little more promising that it might see traditional print publication and decent distribution.  I’m not going to give too many details, cause I don’t want to tell stories out of school.

State of the Blog.  It was a down month in December compared to November, but largely because I didn’t have as much traffic drawn in from the Scrivener files.  It still smoked October, and I’m quite happy with 2011 viewership in total.  To end the year I got visits from all 50 states and DC, and 64 countries.  I’m hoping for 10,000 visits this coming year, and at least 70 countries.  That’s more than double the visits from this year, but 2011 started slow.  That’s not too much higher a daily pace than I had in December, and lower than November.

Looking to January.  Finishing the first draft is probably unachievable this month, but I’m hoping to at least double the length of the manuscript, setting up for a finished draft at some point in February.  Novel writing is a slower process, less to really talk about on a month-to-month basis.  But I like that.

So that’s it, really.  Less to report this month than usual, but I don’t want to get away from the monthly reporting.  It keeps me honest, and it keeps me moving forward.  And, unlike other posts, I do know people who will give me crap if these State of the Writer updates go away.  So go forth into the new year, as the days get longer by the weather gets colder.  Tomorrow, a post based on doing some gun shopping for my main character.

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Looking Back, Looking Forward

I’m going to actually link to my resolutions post from 366 days ago, just to keep myself honest.  And I’m going to be honest with some responses to it.

Resolution 1: Finish the first draft of Capsule.  This did not happen.  Largely because I hit a point where I realized the book I was writing was not the right book to write.  It needed to be divided into two books, because I was telling two completely different and unrelated stories.  I’ll come back to both of these books one day, but probably not until 2013 in all honesty, certainly no earlier than October 2012.  But I learned a lot from walking away, such as recognizing when something isn’t working and why it isn’t working.  I also stepped away to work on a novel that has a lot of promise, so again I can only beat myself up so much.

Resolution 2: Three short stories out at all times.  This was a lofty goal for someone who went into the year with a limited number of stories ready to go out.  And then came the fantastic problem of having two taken off the market by sales!  Yay!  I tried to keep the stories that were ready for publication circulating, but probably could have done more.  Some of them, like Sleep, are just hard to find markets for.  I do have two out with long-response publications right now (Vampires of Mars and Face of the Serpent).

Resolution 3: Write from-scratch stories for six anthologies.  I did five.  One sold (Home Again), one wasn’t sent due to quality problems (Back Half), two were rejected (Vampire of Mars and Beyond Light), one is still out for consideration (Face of the Serpent).

Resolution 4: Fortnightcaps.  This was a fun project for a few months, and I had intended to keep it going through the year.  What stopped me?  Discovering other flash fiction contests, and realizing that I was burning story rights without anything to show in return in terms of readership.  So anyone who was paying attention might have noticed they stopped in September, but since I never had a single person ask me “hey, what happened to those Fortnightcaps,” I suspect no one was really paying attention.  This showed in the readership dips on those days.  I’m not blogging solely for readership numbers, but it is nice to not send stories out into the void where no one is reading them when I could make something more out of them.

So it was a mixed bag, but even in my failures I feel like I learned a lot about writing in general, and specifically how I write, in this past year.  I wouldn’t trade a single bit of the experience.

Last night at CVS we sat down and talked about resolutions going forward.  I wrote down five at Day‘s insistence, but it was secretly just three.  We followed the SMART acronym used by most corporations in determining yearly objectives: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.  For example, writing 10 novels is specific and measurable, but isn’t attainable or realistic.  So from that perspective, my resolutions break down to the following categories:

Completion.  Complete Nickajack to a condition where it can be queried, then query it.  There are a lot of steps involved in this (such as, ya know, finishing it), and “Query Nickajack” really is my overarching resolution for 2012.  Each month’s State of the Writer for 2012 will start with those words and my progress towards that goal so I don’t lose sight of it.

Research.  I’ve made a specific goal of reading three non-fiction books about pre-to-post Civil War era, and two fiction books with as similar a setting as possible.  Which is tough.  Southeastern US Steampunk is not a common market segment.  One of the fiction books will likely be How Few Remain by Harry Turtledove.  It’s not Steampunk, but it is Alternate History, and I’ve always preferred Steampunk that falls under Alternate History more than Fantasy.  Recommendations are welcome!

Man Up.  I need to get over my crippling con introversion, the one that border lines on social anxiety.  To make this goal measurable, I’ve taken it upon myself to find 6 people to provide prompts for the 2012 Flashathon.  With the event being expanded to 18 hours, that means I’m on the hook for a third of them.  This is, by far, the hardest of the resolutions I’ve set.  Which says a lot about me that I consider talking to six people, just six, at a convention as more of a challenge than finishing a fucking novel.

And with that, this blog will likely be dark until the New Year.  Everyone enjoy the festivities.  I’d caution to not do anything I wouldn’t, but that would make for a boring weekend, so go out there and do at least one thing I wouldn’t but is still legal.  It’ll be more fun that way.

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Write Your Frustrations

I wouldn’t call myself a Goon.  I do have a Something Awful account, I pop into the forums infrequently, but I’m by no means a regular and have likely made fewer than a dozen posts.  However, it’s a fantastic site to be any part of because of the width and breadth of the membership.  No, that was not a Goons-are-fat joke.  But it’s hard to imagine another place on the internet where the readership can simultaneous raise $61,000 to help a village in Haiti and generate photoshops of a character named “Dickbutt.”  It’s a site of opinions, some of them insanely pedantic, most of them well thought out, and all of them shared with little timidity.

I bring the site up because of two ongoing threads about Steampunk.  I’ll owe this post an update this evening with the actual links, but one in traditional Goon style is a takedown of a self published Steampunk novel, which has turned into opinions about both self publication and Steampunk in general.  The other is an offshoot, looking to talk more specifically about the opinions and gripes that people have about Steampunk both as a literary subgenre and as a movement in general.  I won’t say I understand the latter myself.  I don’t cosplay in general (I did one time for a Steampunk-themed wedding reception) and while there are some who have turned it into a fantastic artform, much of what I see falls into the categories of “Just Glue Some Gears On It” or “when goths discover brown.”

The discussion of Steampunk literature has largely revolved around the frustrations many have with the typical tropes.  The frequent failure to consider the effect on the working and servant classes when their jobs are largely taken over by machinery.  Suggesting the existence of complex coal-powered-steam driven devices that lack hoppers or the apparent need to refill on either coal or water.  I’m not suggesting that either of these issues are endemic of all Steampunk, but they are frequent enough that I’ve noticed them, and that the Goons posting in these threads have noticed them.

So what do I with my personal frustrations with the genre?  I face them head on.

This post is not my attempt to paint Nickajack as some sort of magic cure to the ails and shortcomings of other Steampunk novels.  That’s presumptuous, and really setting an unobtainably high standard for the novel.  Instead I’m simply saying you should embrace your frustrations with your favorite genre.  Sometimes you may decide to solve the problem with a dose of handwavium, after all sometimes tropes are tropes because they have no good explanation that wouldn’t otherwise dismantle the genre completely.  But more often than not these frustrations can serve as a fantastic source of tension within a story.  Just be careful not to mistake response to trope with plot.  While contravening cliché can result in enough of a plot for a story, too often these attempts when highlighted come across as too clever by half.

What can I say, there’s always a delicate balancing act when it comes to writing.

So what if you don’t have any frustrations with your genre?  Well, first I’d like to ask how you know it well enough to write in it, but I’ll avoid getting quite that confrontational.  Instead, I’ll suggest finding some.  Oh, I don’t mean you are required to track down every common frustration with your genre and correct them all at once.  But know what’s out there, know what people complain about, and be ready to have someone ask you about them while on a panel or at a signing.  You might not care to have an answer, but at least knowing what frustrations are out there let you sound more knowledgeable about your chosen genre.

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Confessions of a First Chapter Editor

Bless me blog readers, for I have sinned.  I do not remember when my last confession was.

Last night I succumbed to hypocrisy as I went into Scrivener and…rewrote the beginning of my novel in progress.

I know I’ve said it time and time again, writing is about going forward, working on the end, that going back to the beginning of a work creates a difficult spiral of overediting and underwriting a manuscript.  I understand these things.  I know these things.  I can only cry out that it was a moment of weakness, a temptation that I couldn’t overcome.  I gave in.  Haven’t we all at some point or another?  Haven’t we all hit that moment where we know we shouldn’t, but we do anyway?

Perhaps we start POV hopping?  Perhaps we start editing too soon?  Perhaps we explore a plot line we know isn’t constructive to the story?

Oh, I’m not trying to pin my moment of weakness on you, reader.  I’m not saying that because you were weak it means that I have a license to be weak.  But aren’t we all human?  Don’t we all have those demons calling at us, trying to get us to do wrong, to step off the straight and narrow path of first drafting?  They’re horrible little buggers with names like Editing.  Tangent.  Research.  Ahh, my friend and nemesis research.  Did you know that the Civil War governor of Georgia sent out a broadsheet to all mechanics in the state calling on them to drop everything else to create six foot pikes for use by all able-bodied citizens to run through the bastard Union soldiers when their guns jammed or ran out of bullets?  And do you know that after I was done rewriting the opening, I still wasn’t working on the end because I was reading that broadsheet out loud to my wife in a thoroughly horrible Civil War Confederate accent?

But that’s not what I was talking about.  I was talking about the editing I did.  See, our beta readers thought it started too slowly.  And it did.  And we had an idea on how to fix it.  And I didn’t want to forget it.  And I had a good inspiration for some lines.  And…look, I know, these are all excuses, pitiful reasons to have stopped work and done something I’ve railed against in the past.

As penance, 2000 words tonight.  Absolutely.  Move the story forward, don’t look back, keep pushing through this first draft.  Then I can edit.

The thing is then…I won’t want to.

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Side Story

There’s a clear challenge when working on a collaborative project in that it’s hard to find ways to both be actively, productively working on it at the same time.  I’ve found various ways to work on side projects associated with Nickajack while my wife is working on the actual text of the novel itself.  I’ll populate a timeline I’ve created, I’ll research the city and era, I’ll flesh out characters, all these little bits and pieces that we’ll need as part of the novel but won’t show up in the text of any specific chapter or scene.

Yesterday my wife was working some edits on chapter one ahead of the first submission of any bits of Nickajack to beta readers.  I’m actually a little anxious about this, but that’s another topic entirely. This is about the run of writing a side story.

I’m sure writers have always crafted little short stories meant to take place in the same world as their novel, or with the same characters, just to get a taste for what’s going on outside of the main plotline.  Making these stories available to the reading public strikes me a much more recent innovation, fueled by the digital self publication options available to the modern author.  It’s just so much easier to write something and make it available than it has been at any point in human history.  Added to this is the concept of short stories sold on an à la carte basis, which was certainly an offspring of modern digital distribution.

And it’s something that publishers are slowly catching up with.

Most authors are free to do this sort of work, writing little side stories and completely controlling the distribution, pricing, and ultimately profits on the stories.  But in his Shared Desk podcast (Episode 3, starting at 26:45, but the whole episode is worth a listen) Tee Morris foresees a near future when publishers realize they’re leaving money on the table by not including distribution of these side stories within the overall contract for a novel.  I can see it from both angles.  Publishers are looking to protect the branding of a franchise they own the rights to and ensure that any release under the umbrella of a franchise name, whether a novel or a short story, portrays that franchise in a positive and polished light.  However, moves by publishers to control distribution of associated short stories will likely either come with quotas or full editorials processes and scheduled releases, which could affect the willingness of authors to consider these side projects.

In short, this is a fast moving market, and if we ever do succeed in publishing Nickajack, it will be interesting to see what our contract allows for with regard to stories like I wrote last night.

But that’s not why I wrote the story.  Whatever the history of the side story, whatever the future might hold, I churned out a quick 900 words last night for the pure fun of it, and I’m damn glad I did.  It let me get into the world just a little more, into the history, and even into the head of one of my main characters, even though he doesn’t appear at all in the short.  It was rather a lot of use out of a relatively short number of words.  I envision several more of these.  Not enough to distract me from the novel, but enough to keep my brain going on those nights when I’m kicked out of the manuscript.  And, hopefully, one day if the novel is picked up they’ll be something I can share with those who enjoy the world.

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State of the Writer: December 2011

Is it really December?  There have been some really long days and weeks this year, but the months have been just flying past.  I’m writing just one week removed from Thanksgiving, and Christmas is rapidly approaching.  Which makes me think I really should do some shopping.  But that’s not what we’re here to talk about.  We’re here to talk about what’s happened with my writing in November, what I hope will happen in December, and a few other bits and pieces.

November saw my wife and I embark on a rather grand journey as we attempt to collaborate on a novel.  It’s my first foray into novel-length story telling in two years, and it really is nice to stretch the legs a little and get back into long form narratives.  But not too leg stretchy.  I think my flirtation with short fiction the last few years has been beneficial, and left me understanding better how to structure stories and how to look at scenes and chapters as short stories of their own that tie together into a long narrative.  Right now we have an outline that goes through six chapters and a first draft that goes through two.  We’ve also got a real map of our city from only 5 years after the novel takes place, a fake map of the state and surrounding bits of the US, 20 years of real and alternate historical timeline officially written, and another few centuries of unofficial timeline sitting in our heads.

Plus we’re still married and haven’t even had any major argument!

December is going to see us continue down the path.  I have some pie in the sky hopes of finishing an outline before the end of the month and maybe five more chapters drafted.  I’m trying not to get too far in the draft because I don’t want to catch up with the outline.

On the anthology front, Steam Works should hopefully be available before the end of the year, per information from the editor.  Memory Eater is still a little farther out, but that’s due to the editor still exploring publisher authors.  However, a post made while I’ve been writing this has some decently good news about everything but the timeline.  It should be well worth the wait, however, even if the only story I have direct knowledge about is my own.

But mine is pretty awesome, and will probably be worth the cover price alone, especially if you’re my parents.

State of the Writer’s Beer.  Stagnant.  Not the beer, my brewing.  I’ll probably do a batch in December, though, as soon as I have 24 empties.  So if I’ve given you a bottle, the quicker you drink it and return the empty, the sooner there’ll be another batch.

State of the Writer’s Blog.  See that to the right?  That was the hit I got from Dover, Delaware this month.  That’s significant, because it was the 50th state to visit the blog, which means I’ve now collected them all, along with DC and Puerto Rico.  That really was my big goal this year with readership, and I accomplished it with about seven weeks to spare.  I actually came close to collecting all 50 states just in the month of November, due to my Scrivener files driving a lot of visitors this month.  I’m going to keep those coming because I’m addicted both to the process of making the files (as I talked about earlier) and, maybe a little, to the readership numbers they bring.  November blew any other month out of the water, and was only a disappointment because it ended with 999 hits.

So welcome any and all new readers of this blog.

Onward into December, and into winter.  The days will get shorter for three more weeks, then the solstice will hit and we’ll head back into the sun again.  It can be a tough month to write, but I’m in this for the long haul.  I’m glad to have y’all along for the ride.

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