Or, for a visual presentation of the revision experience:
The wave may not have risen that much this week, but higher than most:
NewMyths.com just published my story The Warmth of Sun in Winter, which was my first attempt at writing a positive story, that is, one in which no one’s disintegrated, evaporated or otherwise obliterated. Sure, the world is post-apocalyptic, but that’s downplayed, and can the world ever really end if there’s someone you love still in it?
I finally finished a story called The Catskill Dragon, which took a week longer than I thought it would. I’ll send it out by tomorrow EOB after one more pass to make sure the i’s aren’t crossed and the t’s aren’t dotted. It’s set in 1863, and the main character, Cassaway Zenger, could be the main character for a whole new series, The Dragons of America. I’ve done the first outline of Book One, tentatively titled The Missouri Blue. Finishing that outline, along with the second outline for The Dragon Tower, allowed me to reward myself by finishing The Catskill Dragon. (The trouble with writing short stories is that they suck away the time you should be writing novels, the way side quests can distract you from the epic one.) Now it’s back to outline two for (OMG, I’m really going to write this) Mo’ Blue and outline three for Tower.
At the risk of jinxing myself, I’ll say that I entered a story in Amazing Stories’s Gernsback Writing Contest and it looks like I made the final round, that is, I didn’t get a rejection yet like some other people have according to the Grinder. There are 18 finalists, so all I have to do is beat 8 of them to make the anthology. Really, though, I just want to see if the ex-NASA scientist who is one of the judges thinks my science isn’t total nonsense. Curiously, the contest theme is a positive take on what our solar system will look like in 250 years. It seems grimdark may be ceding some ground to sunnier works.
Finally, if you have a Roku, get the channel for the 92nd Street Y. It has interviews with GRRM and Jimmy Page and many other fascinating folks.
An important story for me was accepted by NewMyths.com, “The Warmth of Sun in Winter.” It was the first in which I consciously tried to be positive and vowed not to see someone obliterated. I’ve also found that more positive stories are more marketable. That doesn’t stop me from writing grim, dystopian ones–because I can’t help it–but my goal is to at least alternate between something grim and something a bit brighter, even if “a bit brighter” means only subtly indicating that a story happens have a apocalyptic event.
Meanwhile other stories were rejected and promptly sent elsewhere. I don’t like playing rejectomancy, though, or even publicly tracking submissions because, being very competitive, I then start rooting for the rejects. So they shall go unmentioned. The stories are good, I think. Someone will pick them up sooner or later. My average number of subs per accepted piece is 9.
What keeps me going is that I haven’t mastered even one of these, and I mentioned how competitive I am, right?
Very good week as a writer. I had a story accepted by Lightspeed, Fade to Red, a triptych of interviews whose form was inspired by this interview by Bruce Fretts with Andrew Jarecki.
Plus the Beam Me Up podcast will read my AE story Automatic Sky. This is my second podcast acceptance, after MedusPod took my 365 Tomorrow story The Accidental Tower. The fun part will be coming up the sound effects for folding space and the ring tone for an ansible.
Sad week as a reader, though. After 35 years, I’ve finished reading all of Jack Vance’s novels, finishing with his last, Lurulu. It was OK ending to an excellent career. Now I have only 25 scattered stories to go. Buying a used copy of The Dark Side of the Moon will get me 13 of them, as this chart shows (because I’m that obsessed):
|Dream Castle||Hard Luck Diggings||Five Moons Rise||Dark Side Moon||Light Lone Star||Magnus Ridolph||Lost Moons||Green Magic||Worlds of JV||World Btwn|
|A Practial Man’sGuide||*||*|
|Devil Salv Bluff||*||*||*|
|1st Star See||*||*|
|Sabotage S Plnt||*|
|7 Exits fr Bocz||*|
Having created my own bibliography with dates and variant titles to track my progress, I was a bit bummed to find this bibliography today. It did clear up the variant titles given to five stories I need to read that are used in the Spatterlight collections. I don’t mind reading Vance as ebooks, but I kind of want to add to my shelf of titles.
Of course, when I’m finally done, I’ll do the obvious thing: pick up The Dying Earth again and start over.
I would say the toughest problem I face as a writer is not trying to sound like Vance, however oversubtle I try to be.
In terms of big news, there isn’t any, and that’s the norm .
I wrote my second story for the Codex’s Flash, Saviour of the Universe contest, and it’s getting incredibly varied reviews, which I consider a good thing. Some hate it and some love it, and it’s better to be loved by a few than liked by many. Love sells books. Like picks them up and puts them back. Plus the idea could turn into a novel down the line. I’d like to get two series going at once.
I’m nearly finished with a new story called “If It’s Not Your Mother,” which is taken from an old commercial whose subsequent line was, “It must be Howard Johnson’s.” It’s set in a bath station, which is a future type of motel. In the world of drone vehicles, people won’t need to spend the night somewhere because their vehicles will take them where they want to go overnight while they sleep inside. They will, however, need a place to bathe, freshen up and have breakfast (figuring that vehicles still won’t have bathrooms and showers like RVs). Hence, the bath station, where rooms can be rented for a few hours. They don’t even have beds. The story itself just gets weird and bitter after that.
I tend to alternate weird and bitter stories with more upbeat, generous stories, which will serve me well when I have to write the third flash story for the contest. Upbeat seems to be more marketable too nowadays.
I did get a request today from Qwillery to do a blogpost and interview for The Dragon Round, which is very exciting. I think I’ll write on what it’s like to write a first novel middle early late-ish in life. The site’s very good, and the guest posts set the bar pretty high. I particularly like this one, Writing Movies by Clay and Susan Griffith, given that the movement in the big fight in the first chapter of The Dragon Round is modeled on the big fight at the end of The Avengers (I love long tracking shots the Copa scene in Goodfellas and the entirety of Russian Ark). It occured to me, also, while reading it that an interesting way to distinguish characters in a book is whether they’d be played by movie stars or by actors, as William Goldman distinguishes them in Adventures in the Screen Trade.
As for The Dragon Tower I’ve been plugging away at the first outline for the second part of the book. I have to stop being distracted by writing stories. I also have to stop falling asleep on the train home from NY. I’m losing a half-hour of prime writing time.
I don’t want to get political on my blog–that’s what Thanksgiving dinners are for–but come one. This is a rare week. When I crowed about my own accomplishments last weekend, I dared not hope that:
1. The Roberts Court would uphold the right of all American citizens to marry, not legislating from the bench, but correcting a wrong that never should have been a law in the first place.
2. The Court would also continue to prevent discrimination in housing.
3. And it would uphold the 8,996 words of the Obamacare legislation, as well as the drafters’ own intent, that contravened what a half-formed four-word phrase said.
On top of that, impossibly, the murder of eight more African-Americans by yet another racist terrorist ended up doing some good by causing the Confederate swastika to be dragged down from state house flagpoles and pulled from the shelves of major retailers.
My little victories are nothing compared to all this.
Is America perfect now? No, but it’s better on this Friday than it was on Monday.
Three sweet pieces of news:
1. Simon451 has decided to bring out The Dragon Round in hardcover instead of as an ebook original, which also means its pub date gets pushed back until June 2016. A small a sacrifice–and a deadline. My goal is to have the first draft of the sequel, The Dragon Tower, done by then. Right now I’ve written half of the second outline, and I’m resisting the urge to rewrite it again before doing the second half. Must push on.
3. And in case you missed it on Twitter, here’s a link to my story in Flapperhouse #6, “Who Else Would Make a World Like This?” which is about four friends trying desperately to watch the series finale to Game of Thrones. They added what may be best spoiler alert ever. They’re having a reading for the issue, which I may attend.
BTW, if you’re a Thrones fan, here’s your chance to predict in a funny way how it will all end. F&SF is running an excellent contest:
GAME OF PROSE
According to an announcement from his British publisher, the upcoming installment of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, The Winds of Winter, will not be released in 2015. We could reread the books again (and again). Or we could finish it ourselves. For your next assignment, write the last paragraph of Martin’s final book, A Dream of Spring.
And with the defeat of Stannis Baratheon, the seasons aligned, and the maesters could then determine that winter would last only ninety days a year. The remaining Starks changed their family motto to “Winter is coming. No, seriously.”
You have a maximum of six entries (either in one email/letter or six separate ones, it makes no difference), with a maximum of fifty words each. Make it funny, because we need something to cheer us up until 2016. Or, egads, 2017.
That said, it would be tough to top the reveal by GRRM’s editor Anne Groell Keck of the end A Dance With Dragons:
After working through a wonderful copyedit by Dominick Montalto, I got to work on something I’ve been waiting a long time to do: create a cast of characters for the book. And by “create,” I mean sort and revise the list of characters Dominick put together, which makes the book sound like something from Shakespeare.
The Wolf Pack
Assorted sailors and rowers, prisoners and proprietors, traders and whores, workers and servants, guards, soldiers and citizens.
And several dragons.
When you ask, “How do I write a novel?” you’re really asking two questions, “How do I go from zero words to 100,000?” and “How do I write something worth reading?” Only by answering both these questions was I able to write The Dragon Round.
The first I figured out by by accident. There’s a spinner rack with “take one, leave one” books in my local train station. One morning I scored the omnibus edition of Wool by Hugh Howey. On the train I thought, “You know, for five books, it’s really not that thick.” So I divided the page count by 5, calculated the average words/page, multiplied the results, and discovered that each book had only 40,000 words.
It dawned on me–in New Jersey that means I said out loud, “Holy crap!”–that in today’s digital world, a novel doesn’t have to be 100,000 words. It could be far shorter, and who couldn’t bang out 40,000 words? You probably write that many words in memos and emails each month. Brandon Sanderson writes that many in 10 days. Patrick Rothfuss sneezes, and 40,000 words come out.
You don’t even have to write all 40,000 at once. I dawned on me also that, to use Hollywood terminology, you could write a 2500-word pitch that gave the novel’s broad outlines, then a 10,000-word treatment that laid out the acts and major actions, then a 20,000-word storyboard that went through the beats and emotions scene-by-scene, then a 40,000-word first draft. At each step after the first, you just have to write 2-4 words expanding on each one you’d already written. How hard could that be?
And this method solves the problem of how to write a good novel.
Around the same time, I was reading Michael D. Sellers’s wonderful book about a terrible movie, John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood. In it director Andrew Stanton says that one reason his movie stunk was because he only got to make it twice: first when he originally shot it, then, sort of, with reshoots. At Pixar, though, they made every movie four times. The first version would be terrible; the second, better; the third, much better; and the fourth would be Finding Nemo, which only gets better with each viewing.
By writing progressively more detailed outlines, you’re essentially writing a novel four times. In addition, you’re free to play at each stage of refinement and, thus, never at risk of getting hung up on finding the best word or beat because you know everything will likely get changed later, especially when revising the full draft. As they say in Hollywood, you’ll be able to “fix it in post.”
Your full draft might go through four revisions itself, but revising is the fun part, like coming to the line after calling a play in the huddle. You know what you’re going to do. Now you can concentrate on doing it perfectly.
Of course, I have to point out my fundamental mistake. Long after I got the idea for the novel and started writing, I finally got around to reading Wool. To my surprise, the first book is actually 16,000 words. The second book isn’t much longer. Oops. I could have written a novella instead and saved myself a year.
Nor did my word counts come out as planned. The pitch outline was 2500 words, but the others were 20,000, 70,000 and 105,000 words, respectively. The premise worked exactly as planned, though, and those counts are holding up for the the first two outlines of the sequel, The Dragon Tower. It seems that the storyboard outline is when all your ideas get thrown on the table and blown up, then they’re compressed, combined or cut in the first draft. You might also add a character in the third outline who makes sense of it all; that’s when the poth entered The Dragon Round.
So if you want to write a novel, start small and keep building until you’re done. However long it ends up, you’ll find a market for it.
If you’ve come here because you read my story “To Have And To Hold” at Daily Science Fiction, thanks. It’s my second story there with a third, “Climbing High,” to be published soon. I have another under consideration currently, but I don’t want to speak about that one lest I jinx myself.
It’s gratifying for my work to appear at DSF. I commute to New York City by train, and each morning the first thing I do after settling in is read the day’s story. Then I start writing whatever I’ve assigned myself for the trip. If you haven’t already subscribed, I heartily suggest it. You’ll find links to some of the DSF stories I’ve enjoyed listed under my “Recommended” tab.
The inspiration for “To Have” was two-fold. One, I wanted to write a story in a non-traditional form, something I’ve been doing frequently of late. I have stories on submission that are modeled on, respectively, a NY Times Magazine feature piece and on the magazine’s “Diagnosis” column. A vetting letter, which editors request from Legal for manuscripts they think could pose a risk of litigation, seemed like an interesting way to tell the story of a book I couldn’t write myself (because I’d be a poor face for the book) while also telling the story of the reader.
The book, Lovecasting, was the other inspiration. I got the idea for it years ago when I misread the title of a Wiley book called “Locavesting.” I assure you that if it were actually published, magical or not, it would sell tens of thousands of copies. It would be to tween girls what Necronomicon is to tween boys.
Having been one of those tween boys, it was a kick to work with Necronomicon. Twice a year I made sure the Mad Arab’s royalties were properly calculated and his checks sent on time so horrors weren’t unleashed upon me. I must have done a good job because I got a nice basket from him each year at the holidays.
Fittingly, The Satanic Bible was also on my backlist. Ironically, so were Catherine Marshall’s Christy and the rest of her books. They battled constantly for sales supremacy like ineffable cosmic giants. I can report no winner. Yet.