Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Arbitrary Set of Stupid Days Together In Review


Writers, because we are all introspective and shit, like to write a "Best of" at the end of each year, detailing what we wrote, what we want to, and how 2012 is really the year we'll lose that "unnecessary exposition" around our collective waistlines.

But I have no Best Of, really. For the first time in for freaking ever, I had a real bust of a year for writing production.

Maybe it was the work situation. I started out the year working four part-time jobs, then I was hired on full-time at one of the jobs, and since it was a real career and all, I was a little keyed-up every time I got on the computer. I couldn't screw up (even when I screwed up). I have dental. DENTAL.

That's REAL!

Maybe it was the bad things, which among other stuff I won't detail in a blog, included my grandparents' deaths. In some ways it was very beautiful and fitting. My grandfather was an English professor. He treasured his mind, and his facility with language, and he never lost it, right until the end. My grandmother died four weeks to the day after him. She liked to say, as his cancer raged, "I want him to reach back and pull me after him."

They were in their mid-80s, part of the vanishing World War II generation and ready to go.

But it was tough because my grandfather was very Mormon and most of his pre-death urging for me was to stay as Mormon as possible. Of everyone in my family, he is the person I wish I could be the most honest with about my mixed feelings toward Mormonism, but I wasn't about to bring that up on his deathbed. And now he's gone.

I have a few mementos of him sitting here: his unfinished novel with his instructions to 'finish it and whoever's writing is least embarrassing, put his name on the cover.' I have his Henry James books, since one of our last conversations was about his love of Henry James, who I've never enjoyed much. One day I'll rewrite this book. And read Henry James. So far, that day isn't today.

Maybe it was just burnout from Viable Paradise and the burst of writing I did when I came home. I learned a ton at VP and I came home and did NaNoWriMo in fifteen days, and then... splat.

I've heard recently of a syndrome I will call "post-workshop malabsorption," in which the rewiring the workshop has done takes a while to settle, and the muse just decides to take some time off and let it sink in.

The muse is a lazy jerk.

It was definitely somehow related to the explosion on the music front. I was in one band that "took off," relatively, then my other disbanded band rebanded with a new singer. (Bands are here and here, for the two people who haven't heard me brag about them.) I played and recorded and mixed and played and played and played. Music is very enticing when I'm not writing: it's social, it's intuitive, and it requires very little generation and a lot of practice.

A few years ago, when I was feeling creatively blocked, I threw myself into cooking with similar zest. (Cooking... zest... ah!) Everything was about the instant satisfaction of seeing my wife go, "Oh, this is good! What the heck did you do?" Sometimes you don't want the year of headgames that a novel entails.

And maybe it was just that I have two small kids and my wife and I both work from home.

Regardless, I am still staring at a pile of undone goals, most recently listed as "Finish By End of the Year," after they were updated from "Finish By End of September."

But. Weirdly enough, this year I made two pro sales, and both stories were well into novelette territory. I had a story appear in the very awesome Human Tales anthology and the incredible Jen Brozek and her lovely house-elf Lillian scheduled me my first public reading outside of a con at Village Books, the magnificent used bookstore in Bellingham. I closed out the year with a yet-to-be-disclosed reprint sale.

So if I had just made New Year's resolutions for "more pro publications" and "get a real, respectable job in my field" and "become a minor rock star," I wouldn't feel so ashamed. With that in mind, my New Year's Resolution for 2012 is to sell a novel for a ridiculous advance.

For every one of us, living in this world
means waiting for our end. Let whoever can
win glory before death. When a warrior is gone,
that will be his best and only bulwark.

Friday, December 30, 2011


My novelette, "The Death of Roach," is up at Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

I'm very proud of this sale. Earlier this year I made my first pro sale to OSC's Intergalactic Medicine Show. I had just tossed off the story. The editor liked it, but we made quite a few deep changes to the heart of the story, and then more changes to the language. I liked the end result of the IGMS story, but I kind of felt like it was a fluke.

This particular story, chronicling the life of an assassin named Roach, was culled from years of drafts on a novel that I first wrote in 2004. That one bounced off every editor and agent in existence (that I sent it to)(which was actually a lot)(don't look at me like that).

So I cannibalized and rewrote it in 2008. Then rewrote that in 2009. Then threw that away and started over in 2010. Then decided that there was too much backstory, which is why you have a short story here of 10k backstory, and decided to just write a novel of the backstory in 2011, and use the 2010 version as Book Two.

Point being...

I worked on this for a long time. Roach is a hard character to really get my head around. I had to set a fairly horrible challenge for myself when I started writing it. Could I chronicle, compellingly, a change of heart for a terrorist? She'd always been interesting but not convincing. I spent years writing my way through different sets of motivation for such a killer. I hope to devote another blog post to it, once I get my head around what she will be doing in the novel series--she's still hard to write, the jerk!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

On The Sacred Cow's Dry, Dry Teats

I read something the other day that terrified me.

A writer who I respect and enjoy has taken a god's age to produce book two of his Big Fat Fantasy Series. Now, it's not as though the world is clamoring for more Big Fat Fantasies, which abound and are rich in Books Twos and Fives and Sevens. But, from someone who consumes the BFFs like milkshakes, this particular Book One had stood out for me, and so I was starting to get irked and wonder why in the world his second book hadn't come out.

I poked around his site and found his "Official Statement On Book Two."

What I saw there affected me. Actually, it affected two of me.

It affected the reader me, who said, "Oh, for f-wad's sake. I read Book One in 2009, people. Just put the damn thing out."

But it made writer me peed my pants in horror.

It seems that he had turned in his first draft, written quickly and dirtily, to the editor. The editor gave one of those responses that always show up in Hollywood writers' lives: "I can't do anything with this. It's terrible." Or something to that effect; he requested sweeping changes.

So said author, like the voice in Shel Silverstein's poem, wrote a new book. (If you don't like it, blame the goat. Or the editor.) But the new book, well over two hundred thousand words, was apparently too long. So he had to cut it down by twenty percent.

Now let us take a moment to realize that the BFF genre regularly plays host to monstrous books. Brandon Sanderson's Way of Kings pushed four hundred thousand words, as did Patrick Rothfuss's Wise Man's Fear, and we won't even start on George R.R. Martin. Publishers don't want to put out huge books because they are a pain, but BFF readers associate big with quality.

This writer was, in fame and name, nowhere close to those guys, who bestride the BFF world with their girthiness. But he wrote a decent book. It sold, presumably, and it featured lots of happy reviews from fellow respectable authors. It garnered a few BFF fans and certainly didn't need a million drafts for people to read the second book.

This hits me where I live, brothers and sisters. I'm at the point where I've sold a few stories. I've even landed one meager little reprint sale. A few years ago I slavered over the thought of ANY sale, ANYWHERE. Now I scour message boards, reviews and anywhere that might display a decent (or indecent!) review of my work.

But I have no novel sale. No massive backlog of short stories. No Hollywood option and big piggybank and all those other great things.

Put simply: I got over that hurdle and now there is so very much that could still go wrong. This guy has slaved and sweated over Book Two, and hopefully the delay has given readers more time to discover the first book. But damn, the thought of having to write a second book, under contract, watching deadlines disappear, THREE times... that's a nightmare.

Excuse me while I cower in a corner, eating chocolate and possibly brandishing an M-16.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Murky Bottom of Literary Algae-Fed Sulfuric Spring

It's the end of December, so I'm rather late on this post, but I can only plead the fact that holy crap a lot of stuff goes by the wayside when you do NaNoWriMo and then you have to start holiday shopping.

So I did it. I won, although I was nowhere close to my record of fifteen days. I closed the deal on November 28th. I did little writing for one week in the middle of the month because I was visiting my parents' house in California, but I caught up easily enough.

The true tragedy (gasp!) is that I really haven't done much since. But that's another subject.

This novel was much more seat-of-the-pants than the last couple of times I did NaNo. In 2010, I had a very detailed outline, and in 2009, I wasn't far off in knowing "this needs to happen now." This time, I had a rather vague idea of where I was going and what would happen.

Which is good for NaNo. Not so good for now, when I've struggled to figure out where to go from here on this novel I really want to finish but that kind of took off by itself.

Some days I hate my brain. It seems focused on anything but writing lately. There are days when you can't wait to see where the stories go, when telling the stories seems to be your greatest joy. You natter on, convinced that you are writing yourself a Pulitzer and a house on the coast in Italy.

I haven't had one of those days in a loooong time. But we'll get there.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Mistakes And The Glory of Doing NaNoWriMo in 15 Days

The Mistakes and the Glory of Doing NaNoWriMo in 15 Days

I've only done NaNoWriMo a couple of times. Like a lot of long-time writers, I had my reservations when I heard about it. It seemed like an odd way of celebrating an amateurish attitude that I, clearly, had outgrown, with my maturity and monocle and all.

Once I got over my snooty self and realized writing should be fun, I flunked it in 2006, then won in 2009 on day 30. I had a blast in 2009. I loved the sense of achievement. I loved the camaraderie and the experience of checking in with friends, having write-ins, and comparing our frustrations.

Fast forward to October 2010, where I lay in bed at the Viable Paradise Writer's Workshop, and one feverish idea to salvage an old manuscript emerged in my brain.

This was no mere fancy. I HAD to write this thing. This was the kind of thing that keeps you up nights and makes you write 8k of effortless notes. The kind of thing that makes you wish you were thinking about something else, because it is ALL you can think of and you MUST write it to the point of being unable to relate to even the dude on the corner who thinks winking causing cancer.

So as of November 1st, I embarked upon it, determined not just to hit 50k, but to go even further, staking out a major piece of manuscript. 75k. 90k. Stuff like that. And on November 15th, I hit my 50k.

It was magical. Pink sparkly puppies cavorted with each other in joy. My adrenaline surged like a frothy wave of cream soda. (By now you have figured out how I can write 50k in 15 days. Similes, my friend. Similes like endless rows of dominoes up the face of Mount Doom, back down again, and up Mount Even Doomier.)

And then I actually rewrote some of it, and things were less sparkly and gushing.

What did I learn?

I'm still figuring that out. I've never written that much in such a small amount of time. Normal NaNo pace is just a hair over my productive periods; I prefer 1k a day when I'm even doing things daily.

The aftereffects were more severe than I thought they would be. Downright painful, actually. But I did learn a few things about how to have an EXTREMELY productive NaNo:

1- Make your writing time sacred, and set aside a lot of it. It must be the butternut squash tub you wallow in, the walrus you're stuck under, the thing that requires a lot of time but is kind of crazy.

If a person does any writing at all, said person has done this, but in 2010 I made it very specific. I planned out my big writing humps. I took days off from work, or scheduled write-ins with friends as often as possible. I would get a clear picture of exactly how much time I had and just go for that time. I would pack myself a lunch, hoof off to the local college campus where only students could access internet, and not come back until late.

It helps to work at home, by the way, and that was one reason I could do this. I had to budget work time very carefully though, too, making sure that I had enough time to finish everything. I did have two small kids, though, so don't think that I had an easy schedule.

2- Know what you're doing. Have something like a plan. Pantsers might be able to make it through 50k, but they'll do more revising than someone who has some form of outline or idea. There have to be specific scenes you are excited to write, and a plot that you can rely on when you run out of stuff to write about. An outline also means that you can skip ahead to the stuff you're excited for, and then back-fill.

3- Don't neglect your health. Eat well and exercise. This was one of my huge mistakes. I neglected both just to write for two weeks, but at the end of two weeks, I had a big battle to fight to get back in running shape, and stop eating so many sweets.

November is a terrible month for your health already. The month starts with a barrage of Halloween candy and ends with a tub of butter biscuits and pumpkin pie (in America, anyway). The weather is getting nasty (in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway), and you're less likely to go for a jog in cold rain or early snow.

To make it worse, food is usually the easiest, cheapest way to reward yourself. I'd love to go buy new books or new clothes each time I hit my daily goal, but a 40$ hoodie is a silly proposition, while a 2$ chocolate bar is a lovely way to end the writing session. Or start. Or get through it. Etc.

Don't make the mistake. If you want to ramp up your blood sugar and caffeine level to write, try a little meditation beforehand, or some yoga, and see how the natural adrenaline works.

4- Always leave the page wanting more; it leads you to write the next day. Save some of those juicy scenes you can't wait to write. If you're leaving the page painfully, take some time to figure out why. Remind yourself of the moments you want to get to and imagine the most vivid way to get there. Preparation time (which is what that exercise is good for as well) is half of writing.

Again, preparation is key, and preparation should make you more excited to do the book.

But, as you know, Bob, this is only if you want to really storm through NaNoWriMo quickly. A lot of people have fun discovering the story 1.8k at a time.

5- Consider your writing style as you NaNo, and rather than ignoring it to do NaNo, make the frenetic pace work for you. What kind of writer are you? I'm a born fiddler; I have to go back and add or subtract things from the earlier bits of the book. On a normal NaNo pace, this is doable if you keep it to a minimum, but if you really want to go ultra-marathon and crank out 60, 70, 100k in the month, you will have to avoid almost any meddling.

This is why, by November 30th last year, I had only made it up to 60k. I cut 5000 words the day after I won NaNo; it was all fluff I had saved for the sake of wordcount.
This has a good side, though; tis better to have 50k to meddle with than to be constantly trying to get the first chapter perfect. So either slow down and let yourself fiddle a bit, or decide that you won't fiddle until well after 50k.

And in the end, would I do it again?

Oh hell no.

In hindsight, it was awful for me. I have no idea why. I'm still trying to figure the reasons out. By Christmas, I burned out bigtime and lost nearly a year of my writing goals. I just didn't feel like writing. I didn't finish the novel. In fact, my NaNo 2011 is the same novel (thank you, Zokutou Clause) when I was hoping it would be the sequel.

I don't know, though, if I could have done it any other way. This was an idea that barreled into my mind, and I had some scenes pictured down to the exact wording that made it into the novel. The problem was, a novel on paper is a different animal than what you think it is.

No matter how well you think you know your fetus, the child will surprise you.

This NaNo I'm expanding and exploring the draft and writing what is so far a generous prequel section. I will learn some things.

I love NaNoWriMo. I've written six novels, thirtysomething short stories, and countless miscellaneous things, including a respectable amount of published columns and stories. I know writing. I can get in a rut faster than a chariot on a trolley track. At 1.8k a day or longer, you can't afford that rut.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

That Comeback Album That Sinks Without A Trace (Also, Adventures in Eating)

Has it really been since May? Shoooooot.

I've been playing a lot of music in two bands, a process that derailed a bit when both drummers had to depart. We've got leads on drummers for both bands, including my new favorite guy ever, who brings me pumpkins and compares Pawnbroker to Edie Brickel.

I have a story forthcoming in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, culled from my long, long, long-suffering Crusades novel. That is, it's the Crusades if the Muslims were telepaths and the Christians shapeshifters. Now if I could just finish writing the damned thing... This particular character, Roach, is a slight analogue to an Ismaili Assassin. Except, y'know, telepath. I've been working on this story for years and BCS was always my first choice market, so yay!

Version 5 of this novel is my NaNoWriMo this year. I'd like to blog sometime about the ever-growing cultural appropriation debate, but I'm going to skip that in favor of...

Adventures in Eating!

I'm gluten-intolerant. Have been ever since I was four. Celiac sprue is a rather nasty food intolerance in which certain simple storage proteins in wheat, rye and barley tear apart the workings of the small intestine. The storage proteins are generically referred to as "gluten," but it's a misnomer as that's a catchall phrase for storage proteins in general, which is why "corn gluten" is a food additive.

Because I wasn't careful enough and now my intestines have suffered a bit, I'm experiencing some bad side effects of prolonged gluten exposure. I'm lactose intolerant as well and I have trouble regulating my blood sugar, probably because of intense sugar cravings partially brought on by malabsorption, leading to some signs of prediabetes. Yeah. Sucks. I am glad my kids have more warning than me for celiac, and we have a wheat-free house.

Food additives are terrible for celiacs, though. Ever seen the phrase "Modified Food Starch?" That's gluten. MSG and all its various aliases, like Hydrolized Protein? Generally gluten. Oats? They are gluten-free on paper, but absorb gluten during processing, so unless they specify wheat-free, all oat products are out.

After the last few years of dairy sickness and sugar shock, something must give. So I've embarked on a quest to cut down sugar consumption and eat more whole food. Breakfast shall be fish and greens, lunch a raw tomato, etc. I'm looking for hidden sugars in a lot of food I eat, which means less bread, for one, but also means I must confront the most delicious thing ever with a skeptical eye.

My first, and most treacherous companion:

Trader Joe's Mediterranean Hummus. It is so good. And it's because of sugar.

Sugar isn't listed in the ingredients, but dextrose, a form of glucose, is. It's a convenient way to hide sugar in additives. It's also one of the bases for citric acid, which is in the hummus as well.

Weirdly enough, US troops in World War II received dextrose pills in their K-rations. It was to help keep up blood sugar, and dehydrated Marines on waterless Pacific atolls went through a lot of it.

I make my own hummus a lot, but it's generally a different animal without additives. Raw garlic, pure lemon, etc. It's good, but the after-breath tastes like you've eaten a sunflower. I went a quest to make mildly sweet hummus that was still full of lemony garlic goodness.

Experiment 1: Prep everything in the olive oil. Get the olive oil simmering and add lots of garlic, onions and spices. (Sorry, this is a stock photo since our cameras are broken.) I didn't have the oil popping, but it did get to a nice roiling boil. Once the onions and the garlic were semi-translucent, I tossed them in the food processor with the lemon juice, tahini and salt.

The result was a very nice mild hummus, but it was a bit too mild. It was a sweet in a very natural, baked-onion kind of way, but it was missing the bite of that citric acid. I'm thinking of adding more lemon zest next time. Or some other crucial acid. Ideas, Internet?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Hello, People of Earth!

Musing on the word "mother****er."

Why is it that casual references to incest are, well, casual? Who decided that having sex with your mother made for a rather common term? Who wrote the book of love?

I think the answer is forty-two.

It is counterproductive to blog when you only want to vent. Sorry guys. But I'm a little bugged. Feel free to skip next part:

I am still writing-blocked. It's been a stressful week. Adia has pneumonia. We have a perfectly nice houseguest but we CAN. NOT. handle a houseguest and a kid with pneumonia at the same time. I had to drop out of an editing project I was excited about because work dumped a lot of stuff on me. It all combines with me being sick with her pre-pneumonia virus and working a lot. The singer in my band has the same virus, so we missed her keys and vocal skillz at practice. Also, my keyboard is still in the shop. And despite having a real job, I'm still a little broke. You see, food is expensive without food stamps and student loans are expensive once they make you pay them back.

Wah wah wah. Poor white middle-class me.

But the writing. It is tough with two kids. Having one kid was kind of like having a pet. When she was distracted, we had lots of time. When she needed love and attention, we had plenty to give. It's hard to split love, attention, lack of sleep and general parental skillz between two kids.

It adds up to this: when I go back to the novel I need to rewrite so it stops stinking up the house, I don't feel up to the job. This novel is, by my non-writing eyes, funny and brilliant. I love it.

[Those of you who skipped can start here.]

Other news I haven't blogged:

My band's recordings:

An interview with me on the subject of music and spirituality, with some explanation of said band's lyrics:

My first pro sale (yay!), still up at IGMS:

The antho with me in it, sharing once again a TOC with the amazing Cat Rambo. I love her work and you should too, and you'll get me in the bargain:

I actually read Things Fall Apart while I was sick, and that was great. I've never read it before. I will blog more about it and my ongoing reading project, but let me just say for now: wow. I have never read a book that worked on so many levels. It will survive because it juggles the contradictions of tragic character and tragic setting, and includes not a sense of right and wrong, but a sense of the inevitability in real tragedy.

Finally, my good friend ericjamesstone is up for a Hugo. You can read his really great story here: