Archive for category Novels

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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The Writer, Back To Work

A Post In Two Parts

Part One

I’ve mentioned a few times on the blog that I’ve gone through a layoff recently. If you’ve missed my updates on Twitter, I’ve accepted an offer letter and will be back to work on Monday. I don’t like to actually talk about who I’m working for and what work I’m doing here on the blog, however it’s work similar to what I was doing before my layoff at a company I’m extremely excited to work at. Like, geeked out a little when I arrived for my interview excited. It may or may not have ultimately helped, but I got the job.

I realize I was in a very good position. My former company treated me very well, even through the layoff. I wasn’t an isolated employee thrown to the wind, I was in the third wave of a massive set of layoffs. That meant plenty of notice, roughly six months, and a severance package that I didn’t burn completely through. In some ways, this layoff might end up being one of the better things that has happened in my career.

I know there are folks out there who are having, or have had, a much tougher time on the job market. I could afford a rather leisurely layoff period, applying for every job I could find, attending every interview that would have me, but I got nowhere close to the point where we had to worry about the house, or our food bill. I even had a pretty good backup plan in place. My thoughts go out to every single person who hasn’t been as fortunate as I.

Part Two

I’m not just heading back to work in my day job career, I’ve also gotten back to work on my writing in a good and substantial way. I’ve had a few fits and starts since the baby came along, but I think I’ve found something that’s working for me.

It all started a few years ago on Lifehacker, a post passing along Jerry Seinfeld’s method for improved productivity:

[Seinfeld] said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”

I’ve seen this alternatively called the Seinfeld Method and Don’t Break The Chain online. Folks have used it to learn foreign languages, get better about exercising, stop procrastinating nearly so much, and, of course, writing. I started my chain on September 15th. It was the day after my birthday, and that seemed as good a time as any to start something like this. Think of it as a New Years resolution of sorts.

My daily goals are modest. 500 words of writing, 30 minutes of outlining, or 30 minutes of editing. These are very easy goals to hit, but they are also numbers that add up over time. They’re also minimums. On the days I’ve written, I’ve gone well over every time. I’ve yet to break the chain, and I’ve done writing all but one day. Thanks to this, I’m just over 9000 words into the generation ship story that’s been running through my mind for a few months.

The momentum factor is very important. I’ve been keeping a page where I’ve checked off the days. And as the chain gets longer, the temptation to break it diminishes. Hopefully this will carry me through the rough draft, and through edits on both this book and Nickajack.

So that’s me. Back to work in two different ways. Hopefully both are for the long-term.

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Possessive Ships

Short post today, longer post tomorrow.

I’ve started the new generation ship novel, which inevitably means referring to the ship by name. Style manuals for this are very clear, the names of ships are italicized. So it’s the Sarah Constant. Though many style guides would yell at me for saying “the”. And I get that point. The name of the ship is just that. A name. You wouldn’t say “that novel is written by the DL Thurston,” you’d say “that novel is written by DL Thurston.” (Though you can choose to use the first form with italics: “that novel is written by the DL Thurston.”)

Likewise, proper style is to say “I am traveling on Sarah Constant,” not “…the Sarah Constant.” But that just feels wrong, ya know? Especially because most of us science fiction fans grew up with Star Trek, not the Navy style manual. In Star Trek it’s always “the Enterprise.” “Captain Picard is in command of the Enterprise,” instead of the proper “Captain Picard is in command of Enterprise.” Maybe Starfleet just never adopted the Navy style manual, though it certainly adopted everything else.

However, I had a deeper question. How do you use a ship’s name in the possessive? Are the apostrophe and s italicized or not? Being that I was operating on a Sudafed last night, this struck me as a Very Important Question that Needed Answering Now.

So I found two style manuals that talk about ships in the possessive. And they disagreed. According to the National Geographic style manual, the answer is Constant’s. According to the Wikipedia style manual the answer is Constant‘s.

Can you see the difference?

Let me make it bigger.

Constant’s vs Constant‘s

There. Maybe you can see it. Probably you can’t. I know the difference, and I have a hard time seeing it. The official National Geographic style is to italicize the apostrophe. The Wikipedia style is to not italicize the apostrophe. Both say not to italicize the s.

In the light of day, it really doesn’t much matter right now. I just need to be consistent, and when it’s published one day (hopefully) it’ll be up to the style manual of the publisher.

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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 pÌ´arÌ·ad̸oÍ€x, 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: 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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State of the Writer: June 2013

It’s a new month, and it’s a new plan.

It’s always dangerous to think of the baby as being on a schedule, but for now she’s going to bed at a reliable time, and reliably falling asleep. Just writing that sentence has probably doomed us, but my wife-slash-coauthor and I have finally figured out a way forward on Nickajack that starts this week. That’ll get the ball rolling after a few months of scrambling to find a little time here or a little time there. Now it’s one hour twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays, after the baby has gone to bed. Laptop gets plugged into the television, eliminating a source of distraction in the process, and we work. First on Nickajack then eventually on Mogollon.

I also hope to work out some schedule for the Sarah Constant books once the Nickajack books have a comfortable routine. I need to move from world building to outlining, one of those pesky little formalities required if I’m going to ever actually write these novels. While I hate to say I’m planning to plan to plan, that’s where I largely am right now. Planning to use this month to figure out a schedule that will work for outlining. Babies do this to your brain and your time. Seriously. Though I don’t regret it for a moment.

These State of the Author updates are getting shorter, but I’m going to keep up with them. They do me some good.

State of the Author’s Bees: Very active. We got some great bees this time around, and they’re already into their third super of frames (the super is a box, each of which holds eight frames). While I doubt we’ll get any honey this year, it’s not impossible, and they’re certainly setting themselves up for a better summer and winter than our previous hives. They’re also friendlier bees, if that’s not weird to say.

State of the Author’s Beer: Was a busy beer week last week. To the point that it’ll get its own post this week.

We’re into the third month of 2013 nominees for the Great Hugo Read, which means diving into the deep end of the Vorkosigan Saga with Captain Vorpatil’s Alliance, and continuing through the Newsflesh trilogy with Deadline. I didn’t entirely realize how long either Vorpatril or Deadline were when I paired them together, it’s nearly 1000 total pages of reading. I hope I get through both of tem, but Deadline might bleed over into August. No pun intended. Cause, see, it’s about zombies…

This week on the blog. Beer, thoughts on my first time reading Midnight at the Well of Souls, the future of Star Trek, and probably other things. Among the other things I’m trying to work into the schedule is this blog, which I posted to only ten times last month, with four of those posts being last week.

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One-Way Trip

One of the questions running through my head as I world build a generation ship is whether or not people would sign up for the voyage. How many people would be willing to uproot themselves from everything that they knew and love, from the earth itself, knowing full well that they would never return?

It’s fantastic when real life gives you answers to questions like these.

The Mars One project announced last week they would accept applications and auditions to be one of four people sent to Mars to build a permanent settlement on the fourth planet. The chosen few will go on a one-way trip to the planet, setting up the colony with no intent of returning to earth. They’ll have some touch with the folks back home, but for all intents and purposes they’re off to Mars to eventually die there.

So who would want to do this?

According to io9, in the first three days they received 20,000 applications, and that number may now be above 40,000. It’s unclear how many of these applications are serious about their willingness to go, but there is an application fee meant to help fund the project and weed out fake applications. The organization behind the project hopes for over half a million applications by the time they’re done. It’s stunning. And it’s nice to see a real answer to the question: how many people are willing to leave everything behind if it means being part of a grand human adventure?

Thanks, real life. I’ll make sure to credit you in the acknowledgements.

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World Building Through Questions

No, this isn’t part of the World Building Questions series. Except in that it’s about world building and the power of doing so through questions and answers.

Once upon a time I was working on a novel set in or around the singularity, about 70 years into the future in an almost unrecognizable Northern Virginia. I had ideas on how big chunks of the world worked and changed, but I wanted to make sure I was focusing on the right elements of the world. So I wrote it all out, handed it out as copies to my writers’ group, and sat down with a pen and paper ready to take the questions they asked about it. What parts of the world were they curious about? What did I not have answers for? By the end of the session I had several hand written pages of questions, notes, bits and pieces of the world that people wanted to know about but I’d not thought about.

Were they all important? Yes and no.

When it comes to crafting a narrative there are two categories of information: what the reader would like to know and what they need to know. The latter are the essential details, the former are fun little additions to the story. They don’t directly influence the story, but a setting is just like any other character in that the author needs to know far more than every appears on the paper. This becomes more and more true as the setting is more and more alien to the reader. A non-magical story set yesterday, down the street from the reader? He or she knows the place well. Around the world? Perhaps less so. A century ago? A century from now? A spaceship? An alien world?

Unfortunately I don’t meet with my writers’ group as much as I once did. It’s one of those things that there’s just less time for with a baby in the house. So instead, I’m turning to you, dear readers of this blog. All three of you. After the break is a brief rundown of what I know about the GS Sarah Constant. It’s not exhaustive, but it’s those details that I think best paint a broad picture of the vessel and life on board. Then I’d be open to questions. If I know the answer, I’ll let you know. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll thank you for your question, and copy it into the part of my Scrivener file dedicated to things I don’t yet know about my setting.

Let’s begin.

Read the rest of this entry »

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State of the Writer: February 2013

2013 Goals:

Query Nickajack. Um…so…about this. Yeah. Thing is, after much discussion with my wife/coauthor we decided to fire one of our point of view characters. It’s been a long time coming. We accidentally created a character far more compelling and with more agency. This is great, this is what editing a novel it all about. Not just fixing little grammatical errors, but making those big changes. Of course, this means cutting out 7-8 chapters and replacing them with chapters written from scratch. I’m hoping to get those new chapters outlined and drafted this month, but it does push the schedule back a little. Hopefully not a lot, but at least a little. Which means it also pushes back the schedule to…

Draft Mogollon. …by the same amount. Since we’re hoping to do a lot of outlining and drafting while Nickajack is with alpha readers, and since it’ll take longer to be alpha reader ready…yeah.

Draft GS Book One. This isn’t pushing back. I’m fleshing out characters and working out just how much of the plot for the series should end up in the first book. Or first novella. I’ll admit it’d be an interesting experiment to write this as one big volume containing three novellas, linking short stories, and a 1000-ish word coda that’s already written. It all depends on how much plot there is, and how much ends up in that first book.

Woof. Takes longer to find excuses for being behind on three goals than it ever took for being behind on one.

It’s otherwise a quiet month with little to report. That is to say…

State of the writer’s bees: Sadly, dead.

State of the writer’s beer: Happily aging.

Theyd_rather_be_rightWe’re also going into the second month of the Great Hugo Read with our primary book They’d Rather Be Right aka The Forever Machine and a secondary book I Am Legend. The Goodreads group is still going, and is seeing some activity, so if you’re reading the books and are a member pop on in. If you’re not a member, I do plan to talk about the books both over there and over here. It’s another month where the book is hard to find. Starting next month we get into books with audio and digital formats. Here are your options:

Primary: They’d Rather Be Right aka The Forever Machine by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley (1955)

Secondary: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson.


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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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