Archive for category State of the Writer

2015 Resolutions

It’s time to sit down and look at the year ahead. Well…the year 98.9% still ahead of us, as we’ve already blown through 1.1% of 2015. And I still don’t have my hover board, or my cool whatever the hell kind of hat/helmet thing this is:
Actually, the hat is awesome, but for the real look of 2015 check out the plastic breast plate on circuitry designed facial tattoo on the left there. We're all going to be dressing like that by no later than June.

What that means is that it’s time to sit down for some New Year’s Resolutions! In the past years I’ve reached for the stars and only ended up frustrated, so this year I’m keeping it simple with just three resolutions:

Resolution One: Write More! That doesn’t mean kicking my ass to write every day (already failed that one yesterday) but it does mean no weeks on end where I don’t write. I’ve got too many languishing ideas, I need to have some form of forward momentum on them. I’m not going to promise to finish this or outline that or query the other thing, just write more.

Resolution Two: Read No Less! I would say read more, but I’m very happy with the amount of time I spent with my nose in a book last year. Tracking my 2014 on Goodreads I read 54 books (down from 56 in 2013, but “book” is such an imprecise length of reading). So I want to keep that up. Right now I’m working my way through Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light. I’m not going to emulate Garth Marenghi by being one of those people who has written more books than he’s read.

Resolution Three: No Back to the Future Part II jokes! Oops.

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The Typewriter: Prologue

“What would you say to a project?”

This is the question my wife asked while she was trying to track down a birthday present for me. Would I be interested in a project? I was intrigued. I have a mixed history with completing projects I’ve bought for myself. Not to worry, however, as she said that the project was worth having even if I didn’t do it.

That was my hint. Well…that and the fact that if I did complete the project I could sell it for a significant profit. I’ll admit, those clues had me completely stumped. I briefly thought it might be a kit for launching a camera into the upper atmosphere, something that I have talked about in the past, but not something that could be turned around for a profit.

So my birthday came along, and two boxes sat on the table. One  small and wrapped, the other looking like a small vintage suitcase. The wrapped box was a USPS box from an Etsy store, a storefront that sells conversion kits for turning classic typewriters into USB keyboards. You’ve seen those, right? They often get lumped in with steampunk, but that’s not quite right. The aesthetic is something a little different.

The other box contained an Underwood Portable. This Underwood Portable:

IMG_1930It looks a little like a hockey player that’s taken one too many pucks to the teeth. But it’s in remarkably good shape for a piece of tech that’s just under 90 years old. Two of the keys, H and M, aren’t rebounding, and those will need to be fixed before I can even consider breaking into the kit. So it’s really two projects in one: Restoring an old Underwood, and then turning that restored Underwood into a keyboard.

A few interesting features. First:

IMG_1938You’ll notice something is missing here. The 1 key was not an original feature of the QWERTY keyboard. To insert the number 1, the typist would use a lower case l. To insert an exclamation point, the typist would use the single apostrophe (located on the 8 key instead of an asterisk), back space, then type a period. That is, by the way, why the one and exclamation point are on the same key on a modern QWERTY, because they were added to the keyboard at the same time.

Speaking of hitting that back space key, I love that it’s labeled  “Back Spacer”. Along those same lines, the tab key is the Tabular Key on this keyboard.

IMG_1937There’s that pesky asterisk, sharing a key with the dash. Oh, and while there might not be a one or an exclamation point on the keyboard, there is this highly useful key:

IMG_1939That’s right, the ever useful ¾ key. Right near a key that combines the wayward at sign with the cent sign.

So, if a future novel or story of mine has no characters who ever get excited about things, a lot of jobs that are left ¾ finished, and avoid the letters H and M, you’ll know I’ve got the keyboard up and running.

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State of the Writer: March 2014

I fell off the wagon a little near the end of February. February is a difficult month. It’s short, it’s cold, it’s dark. This isn’t the first time that the month has defeated me, and while I hope it will be the last…let’s be honest, it won’t be. I’m redoubling my efforts, however. Around mid-December I stopped keeping my Chain calendar. I was still keep the Chain, just not the calendar. I’ve printed out a 2014 calendar to restart the chain, and with a new month it’s time to get it going again.

Sometimes it’s important to have a visual.

Short story status: One out, one ready to go out, one being rough drafted, one running around my head to finalize a plot. I also started two new novel Scrivener files today. Not two new novels, but occasionally I get an idea that I like too much to forget about, and a new Scrivener file is the best place to put these thoughts. Doesn’t mean either will get written, but it does mean I don’t want them to go away. One is an alternate history set in the modern day, the other is a space opera. Both are of a scale that I haven’t tackled before.

That’s exciting.

State of the author’s bees: ALIVE! We had a mild weekend here in DC before getting socked by yet another snowfall, which meant the bees got out and about. My wife moved all the nice tasty reserves from the lost hive to the living one, so they have a good twenty pounds of tasty pollen and sugars to eat. If that’s not enough, I don’t know what is. That means we’ll be able to harvest some honey this year. Probably not enough to start mead making, but at least it’s a start.

March is in like a lion here in northern Virginia. Here’s hoping it goes out like a lamb. I know for a fact I’m not the only person sick of this winter.

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State of the Writer: February 2014

Cold! The writer is god damned cold and ready for this winter to end!

That said, January was a pretty damn good month. My new writing schedule is working out. If you’re here, you’ve probably noticed the uptick in blog posts, and I’ve enjoyed having a few days a week dedicated to short stories. One is making the rounds, another got written and is an editing pass away from going into circulation. Plus there was the sale in late December, more on that later in the week.

Plus, a few days ago I wrapped up the rough draft, extremely rough draft, of the generation ship novel I’ve been working on. It clocked in at just over 70,000 words, which is a little disappointing, but it also needs a lot of work. Nothing about its current length, or arrangement, or plot is untouchable. Because isn’t editing fun?

February will present a few challenges, including a night where we’re dropping the baby off with her grandparents and just getting out for a night. I don’t want to give myself that day off, but it means finding some earlier writing time than I might normally.

State of the Author’s Bees. They’re alive! The bees are alive! We lost one hive early in the winter, but the other is hanging in there. We had a warm day this weekend (well, warm for this winter) so my wife took a look in the hives. The dead hive apparently fell victim to a mouse invasion. Which is a shame, but it’s also nice to have a specific cause to point to. The other hive is alive and kicking. So we gave that hive all the uneaten stores of the dead hive, some tasty sugar syrup, and a patty of artificial pollen.

The queen should start laying new eggs soon. They’ve only got another month until they’re through the worst of it, but it looks like we’ll actually bring a hive through the winter. First success in four tries, but we’ll take it. It means there’s also a good chance of being able to harvest some honey this summer. Not a lot of honey, but some.

So. Forward and upward! This month the Great Hugo Read delves into alternate history with Phillip K. Dick’s classic novel The Man in the High Castle, and one of the books that inspired Dick, Bring the Jubilee. The novels are at the forefront of what are now two of the standard tropes of alternate history, exploring what would happen if the Axis or the Confederacy had won their respective wars.

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State of the Writer: January 2014

Welcome to the new year! At this time of year people tend to take stock of what they’ve done, and look ahead to what they would like to do. In 2013 I started a new productivity technique called The Chain. When last I updated, I had that chain up over 80 days. Unfortunately for that particular chain, that’s where it ended. The next day an ice storm brought down our neighbor’s tree, which had us decamped to the in-laws for a few days. Writing at someone else’s house just isn’t something I’m all too comfortable with, so for a few days nothing happened.

But! The Chain has, for the most part, been a massive success. The novel I started with the chain is now just under 60,000 words long with seven chapter left to draft. It has, in fact, been so successfully that I’m leveling up with the new year. Before, a successful day meant writing 500 words, or doing 30 minutes of either editing or outlining. Starting the second, I’ve increased each of those goals by 50%. 750 words, 45 minutes. Additionally, I’m working up a different schedule, at least for the time being. Tuesday through Friday means working on the novel. Weekends are for short stories.

What about Monday? Well, it’s no coincidence that I’m writing this on a Monday. Monday is for sitting down and actually writing some blog entries. At least one, though ideally two or three that I can schedule through the week.

Some other late breaking 2013 news, I landed a short story into an anthology. I’m waiting for the official table of contents to go live to say exactly which one, but I am excited to be in this anthology along with one of my best writing buddies NR Brown. It’s exciting to be sharing page space with another writer I know and respect. Plus, I totally beta read her story and it’s fantastic. That’s all I’m saying for now.

That’s actually the incentive behind designating some short story days. The first short story weekend just passed, and I got back into a story I walked away from awhile ago for reasons I can’t explain, because it’s a plotline I really liked.

So welcome to the New Year. And welcome to a hopefully revitalized Writerly Words.

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State of the Writer: November 2013

Mmm, turducken. Available at your local Harris Teeter.

Mmm, turducken. Available at your local Harris Teeter.

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.

Yay writing!

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.

Standard details:

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)

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State of the Writer, October 2013

Halloween-card-mirror-2Wow, 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.

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State of the Writer: September 2013

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

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

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State of the Writer: August 2013

It’s a Monday morning and I’m sitting at home typing on my personal laptop. Not because I’ve taken the day off, but because I’ve been given it off, along with tomorrow, the day after, and every day after that. It’s an infinite-day weekend. The layoff I’ve mentioned a time or two in the blog is now finalized, and I don’t yet have anything lined up, so for the time being this is my life. Get up, help get the baby out the door, watch my life leave for work, then figure out how to fill the day with a mix of job hunting and keeping myself sane.

I’m going to try not to let this blog turn into my gripes about the situation. But there’s every chance that the nature of this blog may change over the next few weeks, in ways I can’t currently predict. It might be one of my keeping sane outposts, in which case posting will go up. I might be too busy trying to get a job, in which case postings will go down. I’m relying on you, dear readers, to give me a swift kick in the ass if I’m getting too woe-is-me in here. It’s not good for me, and no one wants to see that.

As for my writing? I feel like I need to take at least some advantage of this situation, so I’m setting myself to time goals.

Goal one: No more than one hour writing a day. I know that seems like a weird goal, but I’m the same person who once used writing a novel as a way of not packing for a move. While I could get some awesome writing done if I did nothing but write…I need something to keep paying the bills, and writing couldn’t do so in time to help.

Goal two: No less than two hours writing a week. Weekly ceiling is five hours, I’m hoping to hit at least 40% of that every week. While I don’t want writing to get in the way of my job hunt, I also don’t want to be handed some unemployment down time and not make some use of it.

This time will include first drafts, editing, outlining, anything that’s in the service of a story. In the pipeline is the first draft of a short that’s been percolating in my brain, then what I hope are final edits of a story I’ve been neglecting for far too long, and then perhaps some actual outlining of the next novel project.

Lemons and lemonade.

State of the Author’s Bees: I can see them from here, they’re looking pretty good. A hell of a lot better than they did at this point last year, at least. Wife did see one sign of a wax moth trying to get into the hive just to be fought off by the bees. Which is how it’s supposed to work.

State of the Author’s Beer: Bottled the apple ale. It’s about 6.8% alcohol by volume, so it’ll have a little kick. Finally figured out a name, too. It came from working backwards. I decided I want to call my next batch Wildberry Princess. So the apple ale landed the name Tree Trunks Apple Ale. Oh, Tree Trunks.

Alright, enough with this post, back to job hunting.

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State of the Writer: July 2013

Fourth_of_July_fireworks_behind_the_Washington_Monument,_1986June saw something odd happen: writing. There are some growing pains in our new plan to get back to work on Nickajack, but we’re back into word crafting and things are going well. We’re focusing heavily on the front of the book, reworking the first chapter to improve character motivations, bringing in a new point of view character that neither of us expected going in. It’s fun to get back into the project, and we hope to improve our methods of writing-with-baby through the next month.

I, especially, hope to improve these methods, as I’m getting closer and closer to the starting point for the first Sarah Constant book. I’ve not gone any farther into the outline than I had at this point last month. Which means, really, I haven’t gone into it at all. I know my major plot lines, but I’m not sure the major beats or the intersection points. Now I’m getting pressure from my own brain, which has been churning out ideas for books two and three in what I hope to make a trilogy.

There’s a problem in thinking in trilogies. First, there’s no reason to presume that books two and three will ever exist. Largely because there’s no certainty book one will exist. To actually bring a trilogy to print, especially for a new author, book one has to sell as a standalone title and perform well enough in the market to create a demand for books two and three. These might then get green lit together or one at a time. Movies often work in the same way. It’s why so many cinematic trilogies have standalone initial movies followed by a massive 4-5 hour movie split in the middle and released as two parts. That first movie pays for the second two by way of its profits. So while it’s fine to think of a book as a trilogy, focusing too much on the latter chapters of that trilogy is…dangerous to say the least. It’s focusing on books that might never exist and distracting from the book that has the best chance of existing and only chance of selling the other two.

That was rather more of a side trip into the economics of trilogies than I expected.

Needless to say, all my notions for books two and three really need to wait while I get book one outlined and written. And the notions of a space immram really can just go to hell, because I don’t need another concept running through my head when I’m having trouble just figuring out when/where/how to write.

State of the Author’s Beer: Hopefully bottling my currently unnamed apple beer this weekend. Which means it needs a name. Fall Ale is still the best I’ve come up with.

State of the Author’s Bees: Worrisome. One hive lost its queen through an apparent swarming, and we’ve not yet been able to gauge the health (or existence) of a new queen. Our other hive, by far the healthier of the two, may also have swarmed. Or maybe was just really busy this weekend. We’re hoping for a chance to go into both hives all the way down to the base this weekend. Look for a longer apiary post this week or next.

2312Going forward in the Great Hugo Read, we’re tucking into Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312, already the winner of this year’s Nebula Award. I’ve never read any Robinson before. He’s best known for his Mars trilogy, featured between 2018 and 2019 in the read. 2312 is Robinson’s fifth Hugo nomination for Best Novel, and he previous won for Green Mars and Blue Mars. On the Nebula side, 2312 was his fourth nomination and second win. Needless to say, he and Bujold are the big guns in this year’s race, having between them 15 nominations and six wins. We’ll wrap up the nominees next month with Mira Grant’s Blackout, then we’re back to classic winners in September with Fritz Lieber’s The Big Time.

It’s getting hot outside, what better reason to stay inside and write? If you’re north of the 49th Parallel, have a happy Canada Day, south have a happy Independence Day. Or, hell, let’s just combine the two and celebrate North America Week.

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