Solar Fox

NaNo adjustments are underway. This morning, instead of wasting time on a project that I’m becoming increasingly uninterested in, I shelved it and decided to reboot sports in space. I just outlined the first four chapters of a world wrapping solar car race.

The problem I’d been having previously with this story is that it lacked tension. THE BIG RED BUCKLE has external conflicts to the race that contribute significantly to the development of the story. So too, does UP SLOPE which pits scientists against political profiteers who control military levers back on Earth. But beyond things that could go wrong with the Solar Fox, the HPV-Solar hybrid I’ve imagined for a world wrapping race, I felt dependent on interpersonal conflicts within the team. This was limiting the buildup that’s necessary for telling a good story. So I shelved it.

This morning it occurred to me that I could toss all the words I’ve already written. I’ve already been contributing to my NaNo totals from a variety of projects, that word count is an amalgamation, so why not just add another to the list. Besides, I really want to write this and I’ve got a much better idea for building tension to a satisfying storytelling climax. Thus, outlining for  A DRY AND DUSTY HEART consumed my morning word total.

Consequently, I’m running a little behind. Now that I have a roadmap I should be able to make some relentless forward progress. Wish me luck!

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Off to the Editor

Oh, that’s a good feeling. No, strike that, it’s a great feeling! I just submitted a 7,500-word short story for an upcoming Future Chronicles anthology. Doomsday Chronicles isn’t due out until February 2016, but my story is very done. I’m very satisfied with the work as well.

This piece should cement my SFWA membership, if not this year, then early next year. Added to this In Goat I’ve managed to turn out an entertaining, compelling, topical tale I’m certain will make readers think. So, yeah, I’m congratulating myself just a little bit. I think this may be an overlooked part of writing for a living that more authors need to take in hand. Celebrate your accomplishments people.

“What’s next?” you ask. I’m contributing to another anthology — this time steampunk’s Drifting Isles — and I’ve already begun this one. It’s due in November so I’ve got time and since this tale is outlined and just needs words I’m going to have more time to work on other things concurrently. So I’m left wondering where I should focus.

The top contenders are two novel-length projects and a novella length speculative fiction piece. Counterfeit Horizon is something like 70,000 words (currently) of very rough work. Part of my reluctance in finishing this story — that I began back in 2013 — is the sheer volume of editing that it’s going to take. Counterfeit was my first attempt at a novel length anything, and consequently it’s just riddled with mistakes and plot holes. One strategy I’ve been contemplating is to junk the old manuscript and just re-write the story using the characters, settings and plot I’ve already developed. I wrote the bulk of Counterfeit Horizon during NaNoWriMo, so I know I could knock this out comfortably in a short space of time.

Second is the novella project. Fire Weather is almost there now; a short sprint could have this piece ready for publication by late winter. With the incredible fire season, we’ve seen this summer the story is topical. Right now my big problem is that the tension in the tale tends to fall off. There are interpersonal battles, health issues, and of course, the fireline fight, but when I read my work I’m left wanting more. This story needs some Spike, and my feeling is that I don’t know how much to add. I suppose I can add spice in small amounts, reworking by chapter and scene, until I think it’s got the right flavor. Now that I write this out, this begins to appeal to me.

The final candidate is Winter City Above the Clouds. The first two chapters have been written, and I’ve spent some time this summer working on the outline for this science fiction epic. This project is daunting. And what I mean by that is that right now, I’m looking at what I want to do with it, and I’m not entirely sure I have the skills necessary to reach that lofty goal. I’ll be making everything up, and this tale requires a rich, expansive cultural backdrop just to make the stage believable.

Of these projects, Winter City is where I’d like to be spending my time, it’s where I go to get lost in my own imagination right now. I based my first Future Chronicles contribution Ser Pan Comido in the universe I’ve been developing for Winter City. So it has that element of guilty pleasure about it. I just don’t want that to interfere with the final quality of the piece. Better, I don’t want to find myself back in the same situation I’m in with Counterfeit Horizon.

Conclusion, it’s sometimes very easy to be your own boss and other times it approaches impossible to be at the helm. Option paralysis is real.

Writer’s Tool Box: Twitter

I’ve been pitching a panel to a number of Science Fiction/Fantasy conventions which will discuss the “tool boxes” of a variety of writers. I think about these sorts of things a lot, probably too much. This admission is probably just a mea culpa of my character. I love tools! I love to tweak tools, I love to make tools, I love to adapt tools to a task.

Part of my approach to writing professionally has been to test tools, with the intent of optimizing my turn around time for any particular project. Figuring out what works best, what will be sustainable, has been a wonderful part of the experience of learning to write. I’ve posted about these sorts of things in the past, but this is the first in a a blog series I’ve titled “Writer’s Tool Box”.

Using the blog as a repository I intend to further refine my tool box while sharing my observations with you. Suggestions are welcome, this is an open discussion. Comment rules still apply (trolls will be soundly thwacked), but I’m really interested in hearing what you do.

Twitter

The first installment is an open discussion of a social media utility that a lot of authors make regular use. Twitter has been around for a while, and it an excellent means of communicating with readers, of finding new readers even, and, perhaps most interestingly, for keeping up with writing goals. I use Twitter and the #1k1hr hashtag to stay on target with my writing goals and remain accountable to my readers.

#1k1hr

Accountability, especially when you’re an Indie who sets and manages his own writing goals, can quickly become a moving target. Unlike traditional published authors my deadlines are completely up to no one but me. So, I can sit down to my computer and imagine that I’m not in the mood to write. That I can make up the words later. That I can simply push the my arbitrarily determined, self-assigned deadlines out just a little to compensate for a word slump.

But down that road lies doom. I came to this realization during 2013 NaNoWriMo when, after an impressive burst of wordsmithing (7k words in a weekend) I entered the next week drained and unsure where my story was headed. Quickly, my lead evaporated before my very eyes. It was sad, I cried a little. I was endanger of losing because I blew my word load.

By the time I tracked down a tissue and blew my nose, however, I knew where the solution might lie. The answer is pacing and regularity. I did not do all that pre-work, writing outlines and character sketches, creating a project burn down schedule and a back story for my story, so that I could go nuts, lose my pace and bonk hard less than a fifth of the way into the race.

This realization was accompanied by a suggestion that I try using NaNoWriMo word sprints to stay on task. I did and I cleared November 28th a confirmed winner.

So what do I do the other eleven months of the year? I’ve got a very hectic schedule and lots of demands on my time. Sound familiar? But I can usually cram in an hour here or there during the course of most days. And my writing tempo allows me to knock out about 1,000 words in the space of an hour if, and only if, I know where my story is going.

When I have a fresh pot of tea and a little time I will sit down and write. Aral, my youngest son and primary responsibility, knows that when I’m “getting my words” he has to self-entertain for a while and he even looks forward to this time these days. In order to ensure that I stay on task through the whole hour I usually tweet something about the #1k1hr I’m soon to attempt.

And then follow this up when I hit my target.

These daily exercises make me accountable, in bite sized pieces, which remain easily achievable. My readers know that I’m writing and sometimes they encourage me which is very helpful. I wake up each morning thinking about what I need to write next, both to stay on target with my ultimate release date as well as each section of the story.

NaNoWriMo 2013

Some very awesome news nerds! I just won my first NaNoWriMo. Right now Counterfeit Horizon is 50,103 words long and 233 pages (formatted for submission). As a novel its not complete, but its a functional rough draft of an amazing story written on a pretty tight timeline.

So I’m going to high five myself around the house for the rest of the evening. I might pour myself a glass of the vino. I might turn on my television and watch someone else’s work for a little while.  Really boob out for a bit.

The book is close to being complete, December may be more than enough to finish the story. I’m having fun with it, but I’m also really looking forward to ending it. I’m super excited for myself, as a writer. I can do this kind of work. On a timeline.

A special round of thanks

My Ever Lovin’ Wife

You, dear woman, are the deserver of some serious kudos. You’ve stood by my side through thick and thin and even listened to my crack pot ideas and hair brained schemes. I feel expansive gratitude to an unresponsive universe for putting me in the right place at the right time. And — as if meeting you were not enough all on its own — somehow, somewhere I found the magic words that got us together.

Thanks for being my friend, the mother of one of my kids, and my closest of my editors.

My Ever Lovin’ Family and Friends

You guys are the best. You read my stuff when its rough. I mean rocky, boulder-field rough. And I know that your smiles are largely contrived and you may chuckle about those manuscripts in bed late at night, but as part of the process, you are indispensable. I could not do this without you. When I’m a best seller, spending my evenings swimming in a J.K. Rowling sized swimming pool of money I will remember you and give you a reason to smile.

You’ll find your ARCs in the mail.

Tobias Buckell

Dude! You probably do not have a clue how much a part of this little success you are. Seriously, I hope someday to meet you, face-to-face, so that I can shake your hand. Buy you a drink. Back in 2012, while I was struggling through a series of life and health problems you responded to an email I sent you with what became some pivotal words. You helped me decide to take this path and you’ve inspired me since to keep on writing.

Thanks for your work, Reginald is still your best (IMO). Thanks for being an example and inspiration.

The Down Side

I was just realizing, while sitting down at my desk and firing up my music stream, that there is a bit of a downside to giving yourself a NaNo style deadline to complete a novel length story.  I have not looked recently, but I’m imagining that if I fired up Audible on my phone and navigated over to the statistics page I would undoubtably find that my book listening is way down this month.

And its not surprise that the amount of time I’ve put in reading anything on Kindle or in print for that matter has been severely amended. Oh the things we give up for our shot.

I guess there is something to look forward to when December 1st rolls around, huh?

Almost There

This has been an endurance race. There is no other metaphor that even comes close to describing my first NaNoWrimo. I’ve spent the last twenty-four days brooding over this story, pushing myself up one intellectual hill and then down back the other side. And today I know that the finish line will be, if not in sight, near enough I’ll be able to imagine the path that remains. Today I’ll cross the 40,000 word mark and only have a fraction of the goal to figure out and write down.

This is a pretty exciting moment for me. And, much like a long endurance run, its very difficult to share how I feel about it with anyone else. Regardless, its a pretty special feeling. There is excitement and pride for certain and a certain amount of astonishment at what I’m capable of achieving (188 pages as of this morning). I know that there is a fair amount of work left to do, but I’m feeling pretty comfortable with banging out the words since I’ve long since wrestled the worst of the pain and trolls in the story. Running or writing, I really like this mosaic of sensations that I get right about here.

I’ve learned a number of lessons too. And like running, they seem to be mostly my lessons; you may or may not find value in the same rules of thumb that I’ve come to recognize have worth, but I’ll share a few of them just in case you might learn something from my experiences.

Trap Words

Everyday I get up. I move around the house and sometimes the town. Then, I get tired and I return to my house to sleep. It can be the easiest thing to be riding my bike to the store with Aral in the trailer on the back and realize I’ve just solved some plot problem. The words will be there, scrolling across my inner eye, teasing me because I know that by the time I get where I’m headed they will have fled. I’ll spend much of the day playing hide and seek with them.

But, I’ve also discovered that I can promote the situations that result in words and then set my day up so that there is no possible way they can get away. I set traps for them. Doing laundry? Well its a thoughtless exercise, think about the story and then when you have folded the last t-shirt rush to your computer and bang them out. You will nab three of four hundred in fifteen minutes.

The most productive day I’ve had this month (nearly 7,000 words over 24 hours) I rented a carpet cleaner and shampooed the rugs. The tiny reservoir had me walking back to the sink about every ten minutes or so and I nailed most of those words on my iPad waiting for the water to heat up. The situations you create for yourself are word traps.

Ask for Help

You may think what you are doing is pretty darn crazy. Somewhere between actively trying to win the lottery and searching for your own personal strike of lighting. And statistically you are correct. So few authors will ever become the kind of authors that make a living from what they write. Its hard work and there are very few rewards and no recognition in the mean time.

But here is the astonishing part, if you want it badly enough, I mean want to write badly enough, people around you will be impressed. They will lend a hand, but you may need to ask. I spent a week at my parents house this month letting them help me manage my little boy. I could have done it on my own, but their help allowed me time to resolve some particularly nasty plot issues I was having with Counterfeit Horizon. Their help allowed me the time I needed to sort out these problems to my own satisfaction.

Even better, discussions with my Dad and my wife Tess have given me some ideas for how to deal with some other nastiness. The results are excellent. Finally, you as a NaNo and also as an author have more than just writing tasks you need to focus on to complete your book. A friend of mine from my Army days, Jeffrey Witty, nailed this awesome cover for me. He is an incredibly skilled illustrator. Who was, much to my astonishment, interested enough in my story to pen and paint one of the hunter-seeker drones from the first chapter.

The point is, you have friends and family that are actually really interested in what you are doing. They may think you are a crack pot and a bit of a lunatic at times, BUT (and this is a bit “but”) they also want to see you succeed. If you need help ask for it. Even if you do not need help, ask for it. You will be surprised at what people will give you if you have the courage to ask.

Hang In There

Last Friday I lost one of my dearest friends Gigi. She was my loyal collie and constant companion for the last fourteen years. She helped me through some really rough spots in my life and on my journey to this time. Her passing was not easy and I’m still feeling her loss deeply.

But, and this is something I had to consciously decide on my own, I want to be a writer. I’m grieving for my friend, but I want to be a writer. So, yesterday and again this morning, I woke up and started doing this thing that is not grief. I’m not sure it will even help me deal with the loss I know I’ve got to cope with. Hanging in there to see your project completed is pretty important. Its **that** important.

As you write your novel NaNos things, both big and small, are bound to occur in your life. Some of them will be wonderful and some of them will be miserable. They are just as much a part of your life as the book that you want to write. Want to write it! When you feel that nagging sense of self doubt start running you down chose to hang in there. Beat it back and write on.

Would The Real Mock Turtle Please Stand Up

Below is a TEDx presentation given by Henry Evans. After suffering a “stroke like illness” in 2003 this man became a mute, quadriplegic. I cannot understand the scope of the suffering this man has endured, but if there is one thing I’m now well aquatinted with its the loss of control that must limit him.

Watch the video, its well worth your time.

My current NaNoWriMo project is ostensibly about a near future where humanity continues to get it wrong. Counterfeit Horizon details a world where a lot of clever people fail to solve some basic and pervasive problems with some very powerful and innovative technology.

This presentation filled me with some hope, because Evans, despite his physical limitations seems to be spearheading these kinds of solutions.

Now take the rudimentary interface that Evans is working with and imagine a neural harness, similar to a Cochlear implant, that could be used to translate (area 4) motor cortex impulses into goal-directed movements in robotic systems such as a quad-rotor aircraft craft. Or take that scenario another step further where the driver’s body is located within an autonomous robotic vehicle that would, at least in part, allow guys like Evans some free range.