Monday, October 12, 2009

The New Vanport Flood

For interest's sake. Below is a piece I wrote back in 2006:

All that summer our neighborhood echoed with the sound of trucks. West of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and north of the Alameda Ridge, cranes were pulling down buildings; bulldozers tore out foundations and filled in basements. Dump trucks rumbled along all the major eastbound streets, carting salvaged building materials, utility poles, and giant coils of wire to the temporary housing camps that were springing up on high ground in Gresham and Troutdale. Other trucks carried rubble and fill away to the new dikes that were rising along the Willamette and Columbia.

Downtown would be saved, but the neighborhoods of North Portland were being sacrificed. Most of the families were gone already, either to the refugee camps in the East County or to relatives elsewhere in the country. Still, every day I saw groups of people clutching bundles of belongings, stumbling along the sidewalk, dazed and dislocated. It was like the aftermath of a disaster, before the disaster itself.

Meanwhile, as if to mock us, the Willamette lay shrunken between its banks in the sweltering summer heat. Drought gripped the Northwest; fires raged in the Cascade forests, smudging the sky to the east even as cement dust plumed up to the west.

One evening, driving along the bluffs above Swan Island, I looked up and felt my heart stop: The St. Johns Bridge was being dismantled. The massive suspension cables were gone already, the graceful steel towers were being torn apart—next, I guessed, they would tear up the solid piers that supported the towers. Iron and stone, too valuable to lose to the hungry waters.

Dry weather lingered into the fall. As the Southern Hemisphere heated up, an uneasy quiet settled over the city. The north quarter (Portland had had five quarters, once upon a time) had been levelled, and only dust clouds moved over the desolate rubble. Even the rats had forsaken the area for better cover and feeding grounds. Seawalls built from the wreckage of Kenton and Portsmouth homes and Interstate Avenue businesses snaked along the banks of the river downtown, diverging to protect the endpoints of the Broadway Bridge, then widening out to meet the 200-foot contour line.

The Antarctic ice cap melted and flew apart in chunks. Satellite images limned rapidly melting areas in angry red; the South Pole looked like a drunkard’s eyeball, bloodshot and rimmed with crimson. (The Arctic ice had been gradually thinning for many years, like a cataract forming in reverse.) Giant icebergs steamed away north, with icy rivers cascading down their flanks.

There was no fanfare. Silently and stealthily, the river rose, reclaiming its winter dimensions and then expanding over its banks. One morning I looked out from the bottom of Prescott Street, west across the rubbly flats, and saw it: water, gleaming darkly in the distance. It was salt, or at least brackish; it was the new mouth of the Willamette. The ocean had risen high enough to swallow the Willamette/Columbia confluence—Sauvie Island was underwater—the Willamette was no longer a tributary but a river in her own right. Everything downstream was now a vast estuary framed by new wetlands that had once been part of the Coast Range.

Portland is a busy saltwater port these days. The new coastline is too steep for good harborage, and forests of skeletal treetops line the shallows. US 101 is long gone, the new coastal towns reachable only from the interior, by old passes over the Coast Range from I-5. So it’s here they come to load and unload, the giant deep-water freighters. Their wakes lash the dead beaches west of Martin Luther King, at the feet of Prescott, Alberta, Killingsworth.

North Portland is gone, gone. It’s the Vanport flood come again, but this time it’s forever.

Here's the same piece, cut down to 350 words for the 350 Words page. The original was 600+.

All summer our neighborhood echoed with trucks. West of MLK, north of the Alameda Ridge, cranes pulled down buildings; bulldozers filled basements and foundations. Dump trucks rumbled away, carting rubble and fill, salvaged building materials, utility poles, giant wire coils. Seawalls built from wreckage of Kenton and Portsmouth homes and Interstate Avenue businesses snaked south, diverging to protect the Broadway Bridge, then out to the 200-foot contour.

Downtown would be saved; North Portland neighborhoods, sacrificed. Most families were gone already, to East County refugee camps or relatives inland. Yet every day, groups of dislocated people stumbled along the sidewalk, clutching bundles of belongings as though a disaster had already happened.

From the bluffs above Swan Island, I looked up and felt my heart stop. The St. Johns Bridge was gone. The graceful suspension cables and steel towers were just a memory against the sky. Even the massive piers were being uprooted.

Drought gripped Oregon; fires ravaged the Cascades, streaking the sky as cement dust darkened the air. The Willamette lay shrunken in sweltering summer heat. Uneasy quiet settled over Portland's leveled north quarter. Only dust stirred above desolate rubble, forsaken even by rats.

The Arctic ice had thinned to nothing, like a cataract in reverse. As fall heated the Southern Hemisphere, satellite images limned rapidly melting areas in red, turning the Antarctic into a drunkard’s blood-rimmed eyeball. Giant icebergs steamed north, sweating icy rivers.

With no fanfare the river rose, drowning its winter banks. From the bottom of Prescott Street, I looked west across rubbly flats and saw distant water gleaming. It was salt. The ocean had swallowed the confluence-- Sauvie Island was underwater-- the Willamette was no longer a tributary, but a river. Downstream was a vast estuary framed by wetlands that had been part of the Coast Range.

Portland is a saltwater port now. Treacherous forests of skeletal treetops line new coastlines. US 101 is long gone, coastal towns reachable only by passes west from I-5. Wakes of giant deep-water freighters lash dead beaches west of MLK.

North Portland is gone. It’s the Vanport flood, again and forever.

It amazes me how much I was able to cut without sacrificing anything I thought was really important. Not to say the piece is unchanged: the short version has a much different texture, it's less expressive, it's a bit rough and abrupt in places.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rejection and submission

Asimov's rejected Killing Time I thought it was a long shot given the length. I'm resubmiting KT to Damnation Books. If that doesn't pan out, I think I'm going to try selling it as an e-book.

Friday, July 24, 2009

No joy from F&SF

but a fast response, which is nice. This weekend I'll try to get the manuscript out to Asimov's.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Recapping Drumheart and the use of outlines

Had a conversation with some friends a couple days ago in which we shook our heads over the (apparently increasingly common) practice of writing novels without outlines. I suffered a twinge of conscience, as I didn't think I had a formal outline for Drumheart, so who was I to talk? Then I remembered this post and decided to go back and look at it.

I actually stuck to it pretty well. A couple of things changed: Akshadhen somehow became Akshedhen. I wrote "Nitsur lives as a slave with Akshadhen's family for several years", but it ended up only being about a year and a half. "Nitsur alerts Akshadhen and his father to the secret practices of the temple"-- not exactly, A. and father were out of the city at the time, but N. does alert the authorities and events proceed as described. (This is important, because it sets up A's father's arrest.) So N's section is relatively unchanged.

In M's section I wrote "Along the way, they acquire a motley group of companions: ... even a Kesset who had been stripped of his rights and condemned to slavery for crimes" There is such a character, but he ends up traveling with A. and friends rather than N. and M.

The order of events at the end of this section is substantially rearranged: M's fight with W. occurs closer to the time of their arrival, before the rains and the (re)appearance of A.

A's section is really only hinted at in the outline. Unsurprisingly, it's the part that changed the most in the writing and editing. I notice that there's no mention here of the Locust People having taken Ahon ken Tai.

Overall, I was pretty faithful to the outline as far as it went. What amazes me is what's not in the outline: the tangle of interlocking motivations and event consequences that moves the story forward. Like the Sun temple raids leading to the disorganization of the city, that causes it to fall pretty much without a struggle to the Locust People. The stuff from M's youth feeding forward into W's actions as senior priestess. A's struggles with his nascent status as an Old Man.

I don't remember, now, how much of this was in my head when I wrote the outline: I think actually a lot of it was already implicit. For instance, A's conversation with N. at the gate of Ahon ken Tai-- where he talks about his ambivalence toward the Old Man cult-- I wrote that years before the rest of this.

What can I conclude? I don't think I'd want to set out to write a novel without an outline that's at least this well developed. I see also that the early posts to this blog contained a fair amount of background material, character sketches and the like. All good stuff.

For comparison, I pretty much wrote Killing Time off a plot outline that I spoke to Todd shortly before I started writing; I never wrote it down anywhere but I had it in my head the whole time. Of course, KT took less than a month from start to finish, so it's not as if I had time to forget what I was doing.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

In the Mail

Killing Time went in the mail this afternoon, to F&SF. They say about an 8-week response time, so I should hear from them by mid-September or so.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Final edits

and a thumbs-up from Steve Perry. Thanks, Steve.

Counting words per line and multiplying, I came up with about 18,300 words: OpenOffice's word counter gets 18,770. Make of it what you will.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

It's a wrap

So I finished the rough draft of Killing Time last night and put a few finishing touches on this morning. I'm still going to let it sit for a week and then go back and look-- but I truly don't think there'll be any substantial editing. It's an intense piece of prose.

It wasn't fun.

Less than a month from start to finish, and well over 3/4 of it in one weekend: Thursday evening, all day Friday, most of Saturday.

I'm going to send this one out to F&SF, if no joy there, Asimov's, then work my way through Duotrope's list of mags that take novella-length SF or fiction.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Progress report

Well, I was right about the productivity and wrong about the intensity. I took yesterday off from work and spent most of the day writing. Same today. I'm cruising. Inshallah tonight or tomorrow, the first draft will be finished.

Then I won't look at it for at least a week.

Then editing. Of course I've done some as I went along.

I realized that not working on this was preventing from writing poetry. There's no way out but through. But God, I really, really didn't want this one...

Friday, June 5, 2009

Bad and Scary

Killing Time is not like anything else I've ever written. It's a bad, scary, evil piece of shit. It's so easy to imagine how a person would go about manipulating other people, especially when they're already in the grasp of some overwhelming, irrational fervor.

I'm not, obviously, doing the intensive, words-per-day thing with this story. I've let whole weeks go by without writing more than a few paragraphs. I think I'm about to kick into a more productive mode and inshallah finish it up by the end of the month. But I'll never get up to anything like the 2000+ WPD I did on Drumheart.

There are a couple of reasons for that. One, the prose is much more intense, in fact more like poetry. That means I can't produce it nearly as fast. With simple expository prose, which is what Drumheart was mostly written in (there were a few spots of descriptive prose that rose above that level), the translation of idea to prose is pretty straightforward and tends to occur at a more-or-less fixed base rate. (It might be slower if I was tired, faster if I'd had extra coffee. But it seemed to me that those were physiological conditions independent of the creative process.)

The kind of prose I'm using for Killing Time takes longer to produce and requires a lot more... something per word. Energy. Creative effort. I want the text to come out spiky and brilliant, seductive yet uncomfortable to read. Disturbing. It's a matter of much more than just getting the idea across.

Overstylish? Maybe. But that's not uncharacteristic of clockpunk/steampunk/cyberpunk: always a very style-conscious genre, in a way that I think repudiated the style-neutral or even anti-style esthetic of earlier SF. Way back in the Campbell era, the Idea was the thing: niceties like plot and character development, let alone prose style, were actively denigrated. (There were exceptions, like the immortal Ray Bradbury, but Campbell's editorial influence pretty effectively marginalized newer writers with pretension to style. Look up Manly Wade Wellman's attempt to publish his novel about Leonardo da Vinci.)

New Wave authors like Zelazny, Delaney, and Davidson broke the style barrier, but the idea that style is important, that the form is part of the message, is still far from universally acknowledged in the field. Gene Wolfe and the aforementioned Bradbury (if you don't have Farewell Summer, the sequel to Dandelion Wine, go out and get it) are probably the pre-eminent (living) senior stylists around; John Crowley turns out amazing stuff; China Mieville and Jay Lake are some of the newer writers with style to burn and things to say.

(I guess that's what offends me the most about the Campbell philosophy, as a writer; the idea that there's a necessary trade-off between having things to say and saying them well. Put that way, it makes no sense at all.)

All of which is a long digression to keep me from mentioning the second reason Killing Time proceeds slowly.

I hate living inside that character's head. It scares me.

What to do with it? As I mentioned earlier, it's going to be an awkward length, probably unpublishable by normal means. I'm thinking seriously about selling it off my blog, for a fairly nominal amount, as a Word or pdf file. We'll see about that after I finish the damn thing.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A new ?

? because I don't know how long it's going to be. Probably not novel-length, but long for a short story.

It falls into the genre Todd and I have been referring to as "clockpunk", which is a variant of steampunk but tends to be organized around the image of a clock, or clockwork. Good recent examples are The Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti and The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia. Also the ongoing series by Jay Lake which began with Mainspring and continued in Escapement.

Clockpunk has interesting antecedents. Steampunk began as a spin-off from cyberpunk, via books like Gibson and Sterling's Difference Engine and Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age. Cyberpunk itself was born out of what was then called the "New Wave", which included authors like Philip K. Dick and Harlan Ellison. (Dick, by the way, may bear the distinction of having appeared as an important character in more novels written after his own death than any other writer: for the most recent example see Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory.)

Ellison, of course, was the author of "'Repent, Harlequin' said the Ticktockman", one of the classic anti-authoritarian works of the genre. But the imagery of the clock as enemy, the clock symbolizing the devouring, dehumanizing nature of industrial totalitarianism, goes back further than that: cf. Metropolis, both the novel by Thea von Harbou and the silent movie version by Fritz Lang, and Chaplin's immortal Modern Times.

The story I'm working on right now was mostly inspired by The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson's fascinating account of the construction of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, and of the life and times of America's first documented serial killer, known in Chicago as H. H. Holmes. If you haven't read it, you should: each of his narratives is fascinating in itself. I wrote about it on KFI some time back.

Addendum: Jay Lake kindly points out Zelazny's Jack of Shadows as a clockpunk precursor. An inexcusable omission on my part.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


So I've written query letters to four agents that Steve recommended. They'll go out in Monday's mail. If one of them bites, the next step would probably be to send sample chapters, and eventually the whole manuscript.

It'll take months, especially with the holidays coming up. That's OK. I seem to have a lot of fish to fry in the poetry world right now.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


So, no joy from the agent I sent Drumheart to: she says she liked the writing, the characters, and the concept, but didn't think there was enough dramatic tension. Said she would be willing to read it again if I rewrote it, but it didn't amount to "change this and this, and I'll back it".

My choices now are: rewrite and resend to her, look for another venue, or..? Steve suggested possibly writing the second book, shopping it around, and then seeing if there would be interest in a prequel.

Right now I think I'm going to do nothing for a while: sit on it, see how I feel after the first of the year. Partly because I'm pursuing a whole bunch of new stuff on the poetry side and I only have so much attention to spare. Partly because I know it'll be easier for me to look at starting a big project once the year turns. (Why in the world did they pick November as NaNoWriMo? Looking back, I don't know how the heck I ever made it through the month.)

Watch this space.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Brother's Keeper

So Write Anything, which is the successor to Write Stuff, has posted another link to a Writer's Digest short story award winner. This story was a winner in the thriller/suspense category.

Here are their questions about it and my answers:

1. Explain the title. In what way is it suitable to the story?
The title may actually be ironic. Solomon saves the life of Evan, a man to whom he owes nothing personally. But his remarks afterward make clear that he's concerned that Evan's spectacular and gory murder would cause publicity that might lead to Solomon's unmasking as a Union agent. It's not possible to conclude that Solomon acted out of a feeling of responsibility for Evan as a "brother" or fellow man.

2. What is the predominant element in the story - plot, theme, character, setting?
Mostly character, although setting plays its part. This story would not work without the unique cultural matrix of American slavery and the Civil War.

3. What sort of conflict confronts the leading character or characters?
In Evan's case, the conflict (of which he's completely unaware) is between his philandering ways and the outrage of the community's men. Solomon lives with a myriad of conflicts, but I would guess the one that has the most impact on his daily life is the need to appear stupid, slow and ignorant, when in fact he is none of these things.

4. How is the conflict resolved?
Neither of these conflicts is really resolved. Evan's life is saved and his attackers disposed of by Solomon, but we can't believe that they were the only two who knew what was going on. If nothing else, Maybelle's father and aunt certainly know that she has been with Evan and may be pregnant by him. Retribution has only been postponed.

Solomon's situation has changed: Evan now knows that Solomon is not what he seems, and should be able to figure out that Solomon is a Union agent. As noted above, Evan really has no secret to keep any more. It's hard to see why Evan wouldn't simply turn Solomon in, except perhaps for gratitude's sake. Or, Solomon may decide that now is the time to leave town and try to get to Union territory. In any case, no resolution takes place inside the story.

5. How does the author handle characterization?
a. by description?
b. conversation of the characters?
c. actions of the characters?
d. combination of these methods?

For Evan and Solomon, primarily c. For the two attackers, a mix of b. and c.

6. What is the high point, or climax, of the story?
Solomon's rescue of Evan.

7. Does this story create any special mood?
Not particularly.

8. Is this story realistic or true to life? Explain your answers by giving examples.
I'm dubious that (a) Emile and Rafe won't have told anyone what they're up to (b) no-one will figure that both of the murdered men are family of women who've been sleeping with Evan. Too much of the plot is predicated on the idea that no-one knows what's going on-- which suggests to me that the author has never lived in a small town.

9. What is the general theme of the story? What is the underlying theme?
I would say the theme is the contrast between careless young Evan and responsible old Solomon. Evan gets himself (and various women) into trouble through sheer thoughtlessness, and almost pays with his life. Solomon voluntarily and knowingly enters into danger as a spy, for a cause he believes in: he accepts the risk. In every way, the two men are opposites.

10. Did you identify with any of the characters?
No; they're remote from me in time, place, and culture.

11. Does the story contain a single effect or impression for the reader? If so, what?
None that really strikes me.

12. Name one major personality trait of each leading character, and tell how the author makes the reader conscious of this trait.
In Evan's case, thoughtlessness, reflected in the statement "But Evan was young. And he enjoyed the delights of the flesh too much to pay any attention." Also reflected in the fact that we never see him considering the possible consequences, for himself or the women he sleeps with.

In Solomon's case, decisiveness. This is hidden in the early part of the story, but is revealed very dramatically in his rescue of Evan.

13. Does the story have a moral? If not, what do you think the purpose of the author was?
Difficult to say. As noted under question 1, any moral statement about caring for one's fellow-man, regardless of how they treat one, is undercut by Solomon's other motivation.

14. Did you like it? Why or why not?
I like it better than the previous winning story that was posted on Write Stuff.

As a thriller/suspense story, I have to say it falls flat. Except for the attack on Evan and the rescue by Solomon, the pacing is pretty slow, and the climax is frankly completely predictable.

Overall, I think it's a well-meaning story, though the execution leaves something to be desired. The author's rendering of Southern dialects, both black and white, is clumsy and unconvincing, and the white characters are rather offensive hillbilly stereotypes. This may have been done to strengthen the hero Solomon by contrast, but I'm afraid it ends up having the opposite effect.

15. Finally, why do you think this story placed in the top five in the Short Story competition?
It's impossible to answer this question without seeing the other contestants.

Monday, June 9, 2008


All my old posts went to single-spaced. Weird.
And I can't seem to fix it. What's up with that?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Sequels... maybe

Iron Girl for sure. It looks like that one will take place mostly on the steppes. Featuring Tamishena and a tribe/clan of Iron Men... shamanism, ironwork, fighting arts. Tami is a partly-trained Dancer. There needs to be a Drummer with her.

I like Iron Girl, but will probably use a different title for sales: something with "Drum" in it. Maybe Drumming up Iron. Keep the "Drum" constant in the series.

Later: the Raft People story. Tentative working title, Worse Things Happen at Sea. Though it will probably end up being called Ocean Drums, or something like that. I may find a place there for some of the stuff I developed in "Riding the Sea Dragon"-- certainly the Indo/Fili culture will work with it.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Another step...

XXX (I'm still withholding details) has asked to see the rest of the manuscript. We'll be printing and sending over the weekend.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Iron Girl

I have some ideas for things that may happen in the next book, though none yet for what the main story thread is/are likely to be.

Given that Tamishena is the main character, the developing relations between the Delta and Ahon S. are likely to be important. I see an uneasy alliance, always strained over the issue of slavery. During the course of the novel, relations may break down completely.

Gidhambal is now a very old man, perhaps blind or in failing health. Tami will go visit him, though it's not entirely without risk to her. He doesn't recognize her, or mixes her up with his long-dead daughter when he's not entirely lucid.

Another thread: I think Tami will be one of the main players in the development of a true battlefield art that uses pasaörana'e principles. She of course is fostered by A. and S. and wants to go into the guard. The priestesses identify her talent and want to train her as a priestess or as a Dancer. N. and M. will be involved in this somehow. Tami will bridge the two in some way. Perhaps an attempt is made to kidnap/enslave her in Ahon S. Perhaps it's even successful, and she's forced to develop the art in order to survive. Perhaps she takes over an entire tribe of steppe nomads.

It's Just Not The Same

I think I've figured out one of the reasons people are averse to rewriting. It's because it's much harder to access that flow state when you're rewriting (editing, polishing, call it what you will). And make no mistake, flow state is addictive. It's a high. It'll turn you into a junkie same as any other drug.

This has a couple of consequences. First, it means rewriting isn't fun. It's not necessarily harder work than the original writing, but it feels like much harder work because I'm not getting the high. When I write in flow state, I get up from the keyboard just as tired as when I don't write in flow state. But as long as I'm sitting there hammering away and pouring out words, I don't notice it.

Second, and I think this is behind a lot of the blather about spontaneity and freshness that people employ against revising: The writing I generate in flow state always seems better to me than the writing I generate at other times.

I'm not sure why that is. I suspect that when I reread such a piece of writing, I remember what it felt like: I actually get the high (in an attenuated form) all over again. Maybe a year from now, when those memories have faded, I'll reread Drumheart and that won't happen. In the meantime I have to take it on faith that the scenes I've struggled with, where I had to force out the words according to my best judgment rather than just letting them pour through my fingertips, can look like just as good writing to other people. 'Cause they sure don't look that good to me.

This is one of the reasons it's important to have other people read your MS. It's hard, at least it's hard for me, to look at Drumheart and figure out which are the "good" bits. To me the "good" bits are the ones that came easily. But, personal preferences aside, the fact that I worked harder on the other bits may actually translate into a higher quality of prose. At least, I have to take it on faith that that' spossible.

Officially an MS

So I spent all day yesterday doing a final line edit, spellchecking, and rendering the MS into the format Steve P. gave me. Printed the first three chapters, a plot summary of the rest, and a cover letter, which will be shipped off tomorrow to XXX (I don't want to disclose anything until I hear back one way or another).

Now the waiting, rejection, resubmission, etc etc etc... Luckily I've been through all this with poetry already. The difference is mostly a matter of scale. (Case in point: the poem that recently got accepted in The Lyric went out last July. That's 9 months ago.)

I'll track events associated with the publication process here, but it's not gonna be anything like daily updates...

Saturday, March 15, 2008

And the rewrite is off...

to Steve P. for another look-over.

Added some more stuff to Part 3. It's better. Good enough? I don't know. I could tinker with it forever, but I feel like I'm at a point of diminishing returns.

Anyway I'm not going to mess with it until Steve gets back to me.

Update Mar 18: Steve approves the rewrite. (What would I do without him?) One more spellcheck and line-edit pass, and he's going to start helping me find an editor.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Rewrite finished

at least for now. I'm going to let it sit for a bit, then look it over one last time, probably in a week or so, certainly before the end of the month. Make any last tweaks I need to-- but I really think it's there.

I've posted a new word count in the sidebar. NB: this word count includes words like CHAPTER 26. Also, I did this word count completely in Open Office's Word doc format, which gives slightly different results than the Google Docs word counts I was using back in Nov/Dec. So all numbers should be considered approximate.

Still, I've written a pretty good chunk of new stuff. It's almost all in Part III, which is where it was needed.

Monday, March 3, 2008

There will be a sequel

though I have no idea when and very little idea of what's going into it.

Here's what I know so far: The main character will be a half-Kesset, half-Ta'arane girl who is the granddaughter of Gidhambal, the Iron Man of Ahon Sarkhamine who makes a brief appearance near the end of Drumheart. I'm expanding that section. It'll turn out that G's daughter had an affair with a slave in her husband's household. She's dead and the father was sold to the mines.

At G's request, A. takes the girl (legally a slave-- G. doesn't want her to grow up in Ahon Sarkhamine) away to the Delta. She'll grow up as a Drummer. She'll be the main character in the sequel, which I'm calling Iron Girl for the moment.

Iron Girl may incorporate some material that I originally developed for the short story "Fear the Dark", which has mostly been assimilated into the first part of Drumheart. Or maybe not. I have no idea right now.

Monday, February 25, 2008


Thought it was worth a note.

I'm pretty much done with the first two sections. No real "rewriting", there: editing to smooth out the flow of prose, spellchecking (aargh, nightmare!), fixing a couple of minor continuity points. Very little new material, and nothing removed (a word here, a phrase there).

Part III is going to be a different story. In fact, when I'm done with it it'll be a quite different story.

I started on it last night. The first half of Part III sees mostly minor changes on the same order as Parts I and II. I may expand some of the sequences where Akshedhen and Co. are dodging Locusts all over the plain; it still feels to me like that whole part takes much less time than Part II, which is supposed to be contemporaneous. Besides, there's potentially some good action in there.

But it's the second half, after A. gets to the Delta, that's really going to need work. I have to redefine A's emotional trajectory, extract genuine repentance, and make his willing support of the Delta convincing. To that end, I think I'm going to expand his visit to Ahon Sarkhamine and present him with a real choice, not a premade one.

Insh'allah, by the end of March, I'll be done with the rewrite. Then I'll run it by Steve P. one more time, and then...

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

And for the next rewrite...

Part III is going to take some rewriting. I let Akshedhen off way too easy; it's starting to bother my conscience. So, go back and put him through the mill. That will make it longer-- maybe not a whole lot longer, though.

Forgiveness? No. Atonement, maybe.

It's kind of inexcusable that I didn't deal with it at the time. I was tired, burned out, and it was emotionally difficult material. I should have either not pushed so hard, or taken a serious break. Chalk it up to the learning process; nothing's final yet anyway.

This is precisely the point of my post about aphorisms. Add another to the set: Haste makes waste.

Steve P. is already pushing for me to write it into a 2-book series. Probably someone will suggest the T-word. (Did you ever stop to wonder what the world would be like if LOTR had been published as a 4-book series?)

Friday, January 4, 2008

Excerpt: Old Man's Temple

This is an excerpt from the novel I started in NaNoWriMo and finished just before Christmas. The novel's working title is Drumheart.

The sun's rays were nearly level, splashing the Blackwall with orange light. My house was silent and already dusty. I walked quickly through familiar rooms, averting my eyes from objects I had once treasured. I was under no illusions; even if I could clear my father and myself and Paltabas of involvement in Skadhrim's death and the Mother cult, even if I could find Nitsur and learn something important enough to impress Dithaktas, we would never own this house again.

Weapons. Armor. Clothes. Paltabas' riding gear, and some dresses in case she chose not to leave the city. It felt wrong to be in my sister's upstairs rooms alone, handling her clothes. I hadn't the heart to go into either of my parents' rooms. Sunset was fading from the walls as I left the house.

As I shut the door behind me, the giant gong rang out from the temple of the Boy.

I stood frozen for just a moment. Disaster. War. The Locust People!

I ran. All around me, shutters were swinging, doors banging open and shut. Men poured out into the street, some trying to struggle into armor while carrying weapons. I was surrounded by faces I knew, but stopped for none of them.

At Kaspell's house, Talikent and Paltabas were clinging together in the porch. Brentanas stood beside them, axe in hand. I dumped my packs on the floor and gasped, "Where's Kaspell?"

"At the temple," said Brentanas.

I dragged my riding armor out of the pack. "I have to go there too." Leather jacket sown with iron disks, short iron-studded chaps around the outsides of my thighs. Bow. Arrows. I was wearing my sword; I left the lances. Paltabas came and helped me. Her hands trembled, but her mouth was set firm. I snatched a kiss from her cheek and ran for the temple.

The plaza was full of groups of Boy soldiers standing about, talking loudly-- arguing loudly. No-one was moving. What was wrong here? "What are you doing?" I shouted. "Why aren't you on the walls? Where are the Old Men?"

Faces turned toward me, sheened with fear. "It's too late," someone said. "They're inside the gates. They were let in."

Over my heavy breathing, I could hear noise from the lower city. Screams. The pounding of hooves. I turned around; in the gathering darkness, flames were springing up near the west wall.

My head filled with light. "Kaspell!"

He came pushing through the crowd, sweat running down his face. "Akshedhen. I'm here."

"I'm going to get my parents," I told him.

Kaspell nodded and followed me up the steps of the Old Man's temple. The guard at the door was the same who had let me speak to my father earlier-- was it only earlier today? He looked at me and stepped back without a word, pushing the door open.

The entrance hall was dark. I drew my sword and walked forward. Kaspell moved out to my left, arrow on string. Beyond the hall, I could see wavering torchlight from the courtyard. There was some confused noise from out there: I thought I heard sobbing, some indistinct words... then the thunk of an axe biting into flesh and bone.

I broke into a run.

There was a crowd of Old Men in the courtyard. In the middle of it knelt a huddle of women, their hands bound behind their backs. Dithaktas was standing over a great block of wood, with an axe. The axe was dripping blood. His hands were dripping blood. Blood spattered his clothes. Thick streams of blood crawled this way and that over the stones of the courtyard. At Dithaktas' feet, women's faces stared sightlessly from a huge mound of black hair all sopping with blood. The stench of it choked me.

"Akshedhen Half-Old-Man! Is it your mother you've come to find?" Dithaktas laughed, a high keening sound, and kicked at the pile of heads, sending them tumbling. "Come and get her, boy. Come and get her!"

"Where is my father?" I shouted.

Dithaktas hissed and started toward me, axe raised. I went to meet him, but my feet dragged through the horrible mess on the pavement. It was like wading in mud. I was heavy. Dithaktas' will pressed down, slowing me to a crawl.

I heard the twang of a bowstring and Dithaktas stopped in his tracks, staring down at the fletching that had suddenly grown from his chest.

"Who wants to die next?" snarled Kaspell, nocking another arrow.

Dithaktas crumpled soundlessly. "Where is my father?" I shouted.

The crowd of Old Men shifted and I saw my father seated in a chair. No, tied to it. No-- His head rolled towards me, eyeless sockets above red-streaked cheekbones. "Akshedhen? Akshedhen?"

A knife flashed in the torchlight. Kaspell loosed again, just an instant too late; blood spurted from my father's throat even as the Old Man who killed him staggered, clutching at the arrow in his heart. I howled and ran forward. The Old Men bolted in all directions, but I was among them, laying about furiously. One went down under my sword, another, another. I heard shouting, the twang of Kaspell's bowstring, the clash of other swords against axes.

Then all the Old Men were gone, cut down or fled. A handful of Boy soldiers had joined me in the courtyard. I turned to them and said: "Ahon ken Taridh has fallen. Save your families if you can."

"Lord," pleaded a voice. "Lord, help us, please."

I'd forgotten the women. They were still bound and kneeling. Ajalē was among them; she came knee-walking across the bloody pavement towards me. "My lord, please! Please don't leave us for the Locusts!"

Kaspell had drawn his knife. I nodded. He passed among the women, cutting them free. I said to Ajalē: "Keep up if you can."

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Away it goes

First pass editing is officially done. Post-edit word count is 118,319. For reference, Todd looked it up for me: a standard paperback averages 250 words to the page, so we're talking approximately 470 pages.

I've sent copies of the rough draft to all of my alpha readers. Now to wait...

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Started editing

There's not as much to do as I thought, or else I'm just not seeing it. As Steve said, the first couple of chapters needed the most work.

Maybe only a few more days of this.

I'm getting irritated with Google docs format issues: It keeps inserting these extra blank lines that I can't get rid of and that propagate through the text. What's worse is, you don't see them online, but when you download the doc as Word, there they are and they cannot be removed by any normal editing. Bother. Also, downloading into Word sometimes resizes parts of the text. And you can insert page breaks into Google docs, but they apparently don't download either. And the paragraph indents look fine in Google docs, but in Word they turn out to be weirdly irregular.

The upshot is, I think I'm just going to have to download the rough draft as Word and fix all the formatting stuff by hand, and email it to my alpha readers instead of sharing the Google docs. That's so early-twenty-first-century. It's a pity, because the docs actually look fine online-- but if they want to download the docs either to read offline or to print out, I can't guarantee the results will be at all workable.

Friday, December 28, 2007

WPD Graph

What use it is, I don't know. Maybe as evidence at my committal hearing.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Getting my head back

So I finished the rough draft on the Solstice and rested through the weekend and Xmas Eve and Day. I feel more rested now than at any time in the last three months.

I never had any idea how tired writing could make me. Not that I didn't know it was hard work. But I had no idea how much life it could suck out of me. Luckily I seem to be recovering fast. I've even managed to write some more poetry.

Note to self: If I have a writing project of this length to do ever again, pace it slower and take more breaks. 2000+ WPD was sustainable for two months, but I wouldn't want to try to keep it up longer than that. Still, it was a good larval-mode, baptism-by-fire experience. And the product's not bad-- I think. I still have the editing to do.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Rough draft is done!

Allahu Akbar.

Final word count: 117,418

I averaged 2053 WPD between Nov 1 and Dec 22. That's counting several days when I didn't write at all.

Now I'm going to put it away and not look at it for the next several days. Editing begins Jan 1. After the first editing pass, I'll probably post another word count. At this point, I think it'll get longer rather than shorter: my to-do list has stuff to add, and while I think there's some redundant verbiage and some dialogue that could be tighter, I don't think there's that much.

Thank you, God. It's been a long strange trip.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Reading other stuff

I have one scene left to write. I know more or less what happens in it. I just have to find a reason to make it happen.

Weird stuff: I haven't read any fiction to speak of since about the middle of October. At first it was because I was speed-reading reference books and I didn't have time to read fiction. Then it was because I didn't want my prose to get "contaminated", so to speak, by anyone else's style. But earlier today I tried to read a chapter or two (of Jim Butcher's latest Alera book)... and I couldn't. I could not get my head around it.

But I find I can read comics. Apparently they live in a different part of my head. I re-read Neil Gaiman's Books of Magic (the original miniseries, not the mostly crappy stuff that came after). Damn, what an awesome comic that was. Vertigo should have never allowed anyone other than Charlie Vess to draw Titania. Ever. The page with Zatara (watch my dust) is still probably the best single comics page I have ever seen anywhere.

Today I re-read the one-shots from Sandman. The first one I picked up was "Calliope".

Oh. My. God.

It was pretty horrible when I first read it; this guy rapes and enslaves a person, even if she's not exactly "human", a sentient suffering being, for his own personal gain. It's much worse now... because now I see the writer's actions as a denial of God. As denying that his inspiration, all inspiration, comes ultimately from God. Thinking that he can go out and take it from somewhere else... Thinking that he's entitled to. As if inspiration were something that belonged to him.

All things belong to God.

I don't know if Gaiman intended it that way. But it's how I'm seeing it right now. I can't imagine what it must have been like for Gaiman, as a working writer, to write that story. I can barely stand to read it. Because there, but for the grace of God, go I...

So, what's it about?

Thought I'd try the exercise Bobbe mentioned:

Drumheart is about the desperate importance of communication to being human, and to the survival of a small group of people in a world that is becoming ecologically and culturally hostile.

It's also about three cultures in collision and about a new form of magic that grows up out of the intersection of the three.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Stupid question

Q: If you write all day and go to bed at a reasonable hour, say 11 PM, then get up about 11:30 and write some more and keep writing until almost 1 AM... which day's word count do the words belong to?

A: Get a LIFE.

A long weekend

I'm taking tomorrow and Monday off from work, and then I have Tuesday off for Xmas. By then, the rough draft will be finished insh'allah. I think I probably have some 4000-6000 words to write.