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Month: February 2008

I was happier then with no mind-set

I was happier then with no mind-set

I finished Darwin's Radio last week.  I got interested in the characters in the last fifty pages.  I hope that others get interested sooner. 

My lunch buddy at work had been out for some time, and I was bored on my break, so I stopped in at Rite-Aid a couple of weeks ago to see if there was anything on the racks that I might enjoy.  I picked up Jumper by Steven Gould.  There is no television being piped into my home, so I had no idea that there was a movie out when I bought it — I read the back, thought “huh, sounds like something I could get into,” and walked out without even noticing the “from the Director of the Bourne Identity” on the front. When I finally did notice it and looked more closely at the cover, all of the recent Hayden Christensen jokes popping up in blogs and conversation suddenly made sense.

It's amazing how much popular culture passes me by without t.v.

I've been reading it on my lunch breaks, half an hour at a time.  I like it, though it reads like YA novel to me.  I was torn, actually, trying to decide if it was YA or just very old, written in a more conservative era, but it was published in 1992.  Right now it's out in mass market paperback, and available at Rite-Aid — due to the movie, I'm sure.  I wonder who it was intended for originally. 

Oh, would you look at that — a quick look at Amazon uncovers a couple of editions that look like they were packaged for the YA set. 

I've seen other writers say this — it's hard to find a story that really captures me anymore, because I'm so busy noticing the way it's written.  In this one, for instance, it seems like he gave his protagonist the easy way out right away; I'm only half-way through the novel and there are no questions left to be answered or problems to be solved.  I'm following the guy around, where ever he decides to go today, but there's nothing in me wondering “what he's going to do about…?” 

Again, I am enjoying it  — I can pick it up after a few days and not struggle to remember what's happening; I can read for half an hour and not be bothered by putting it down, but also happy to pick it back up, when ever I manage to do so.  I will pass it on to my friend's son when I'm done.  I think he'd enjoy it.

The other thing I just finished is McSweeney's Quarterly Concern Issue 20.  McSweeney's prints short fiction, usually 'literary” and experimental.  I mentioned recently the sheer booklust it induces in me; I also read it because it is so far outside my norm.  I usually come away inspired to try something a little different in my own writing.  Reading it is often a stretch for me, but there is very little that I actively dislike and there is always at least one story that stays with me.  In this particular issue the story that stood out for me was “The Man Who Married a Tree,” by Tony D'Sousa, maybe because it was the closest thing to my usual speculative fiction. 

Next on the shelf are Undertow by Elizabeth Bear, Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, and a long backlog of other McSweeney's issues. 

Speaking of things to read, before I go I wanted to point out this post from the new i09 blog, The 20 Science Fiction Novels That Will Change Your Life.  I've only read three of them, which doesn't speak well of me as a trufan.  I'll start tackling the rest when I get through my current backlog. 

But for now it's time for some cold medicine and some sleep.  Have a great weekend, all. 

Almost there

Almost there

[Big-Name SciFi Magazine Letterhead]

February 19, 2008

Dear Christie,

Thanks for letting me see “Habitat.”  The story is nicely done, but I'm afraid it's not right for me.  Please send us more of your work when you have it, though.


Editor of Big-Name SciFi Magazine

It came to me in a dream

It came to me in a dream

So I submitted another story.  It is always such a good feeling — no story really feels *done* to me until I've sent it off to be rejected by someone who knows what good writing is.  I sent this one to McSweeney's, which is the longest of long shots, but they do say to start with your preferred markets.  For those who don't know of McSweeney's Quarterly Concern and wonder why I would submit to them over any of the better-known spec-fic venues, it's because they make books — not magazines — that make me tingly to the point of indecency.  I would rather be printed there than anywhere else, because what they make is so goddamned beautiful.

So having done that — having gone over my manuscript one last time, cutting a few more extraneous words, formatting for their specifications, typing up a brief cover note and finally sending the thing off — I was left with that production greed, that sense of wanting more.  More finished product, more submissions to track, more rejection letters to collect, more of that feeling of being an actual writer.  I looked at my backlog of unfinished stories and was unhappy to see that there are fewer of them than I thought.  Two of them are very close to done.  I will need to start something new, and soon.

I went to sleep worrying about it, not knowing what to write.

This is going to sound incredibly stupid.  I may have already confessed this at some point in the past, but it's weird and embarrassing anyway.  Whenever I have some kind of writing dilemma, I dream of Neil Gaiman, and I wake up with some sort of answer.
See?  Totally stupid and embarrassing.  But also totally true. 

There is often a sense of urgency to these dreams.  He is Neil Fucking Gaiman(TM) and I am me, Just a Fan.  In the dreams there is the knowledge that this is probably the only chance I will ever have to talk to him, to ask him anything, to listen to what he has to say in person.  This one was no different.  For whatever reason, I was the only Just-a-Fan in the room, and the Dream Gaiman (no pun intended) was sensitive to my fandom, and he spent some time talking to me, and ultimately he read my favorite piece of his to me: 'Instructions,'* a poem from Fragile Things.

It took me a while to sort it out when I woke up this morning. What did that have to do with the problem of creating new material?  Maybe nothing at all.  But by mid-day today I was thinking about what it is that I love about 'Instructions,' and what it is that got me to write the stories I've written, and I think I found (or maybe forged) a connection after all. 

I am a science fiction and fantasy writer, as opposed to a writer of anything else, for a reason.  'Instructions' is my favorite piece of writing in the history of ever for a reason.  It embodies the sort of thing that I like to read.  And that's what I came out of that dream with:  Write the story that you want to read, that you wish someone would read to you on a cold night, bundled in blankets on the sofa.  Household chores forgotten, the darkness outside ignored, the baseness of life pushed aside and the complex majesty of what it is to be human illuminated by the words.

Such a high a bar.  I wonder sometimes if it's worth it to even try.

I have some down time this week, and I want to spend it writing.  We'll see how far I get.  I will not hit the mark that I'm ultimately aiming for, but maybe I'll still write a story that I'd like to read.

* this page provides an audio file of Gaiman reading the poem.

And now back to our program, already in progress

And now back to our program, already in progress

Okay, that was a long break from blogging.  Sorry.  Life is in session.  You know how it is.

I'll get off my soapbox for a little while and talk about reading and writing again.  Also, sorry about the weird font size problems I've been having.  :/ 

So right now I'm basically doing two things:  reading my own novel first draft, and reading Greg Bear's Darwin's Radio.  One is going well, and one is not.

Don't mistake this for a book review.  This a statement of personal preference, not an assessment of a writer's skill or worth, (which I would barely be qualified to make if I tried.)

I'm not enjoying Darwin's Radio.  There is a style of writing that mostly involves characters telling each other what the reader needs to know, in pursuit of An Idea.  Greg Bear had a Great Idea, and though I'm certainly no expert it seems like his science is sound.  It was pretty clear in the first 100 pages what the Great Idea was, and how it was going to play out, and now I'm just forcing myself through the pages, trying to reach the end.  I really like The Idea that the book is about.  I love biology, evolution fascinates me, genetics is an area that I'm in total awe of.  It's just not enough to capture my attention for 538 pages, because the stories I like to read are about the complexities of people, and these characters are not interesting to me.  The only problem any of them has had that I found compelling was the heroine, Kaye, and her relationship with her mentally ill husband, but that conflict and its incredibly fertile field for character development was cut off within a few chapters. 

This book has won awards, and probably deserved them.  According to the back cover it was nominated for a Hugo.  The research that went into it must have completely consumed the man's life for years.  Honestly I picked it up because it's something I've seen mentioned on a number of science blogs I read, the Idea was interesting, and I happened to be standing in front of the Bear shelf at Powell's in Portland (looking for the Other Bear, That Which We Must Need.)  I'm not saying it's not a great book — obviously many people have loved it, loved the Idea and rode the wave of it happily to its end.  Art is subjective.  What I love someone else will hate, and vice-versa.  What I've discovered is what kind of writing I don't want to read, and what kind of story I don't want to write.

So, a valuable experience overall. 

The other thing I'm doing is reading my own first draft, which I've discovered is a misnomer, because after I cut the scenes that are just complete garbage what I expect to end up with is about half a novel.  I still have to write the other half.  I have so far learned that I did a crappy job with my protagonist, whose problems were clearly The Easy Way Out when I wrote it two years ago.  I have also learned that I don't know the answers the many of the questions I pose in the story.  It is simply not done yet.

That's the assessment based on having only read through the first half.  Some of it has made me want to toss the whole thing out the window, but every now and then I come across a scene where I appear to have been channeling a genuine muse.  Those scenes leave me shaking my head and saying to myself, “Did I really write that?”

I do love a number of my characters, even the broken one, and I find myself daydreaming about the story, solving little problems here and there, coming up with ideas for new scenes, connecting dots in the subplots that I hadn't connected before.  I'm having those 3:00 a.m. moments wherein I scramble for a pen and paper before sleep erases the thought.  I'm planning creative side-projects to help me flesh out some details. 

I have a few days coming up this week where I'll have lots of time on my hands, so I hope to plow through the rest of it, make my notes, and then get down to the business of writing what's missing.  I am looking forward to it.  I'm actively resisting the urge to start writing the scenes that I already know need to happen, in favor of being certain that I have the whole arc in my head when I finally do. 

p.s. The title by the Other Bear (that'd be Elizabeth, who should by no means be thought to be relegated to 2nd place in the Bear category, just that I was writing about Greg, and holy Zarquon I should totally stop worrying now) that I picked up was Undertow.  I am looking forward to it.