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.