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[books|writing] Little Dog: Son of a Bitch

The synopsis for book one of Little Dog, Son of a Bitch, is about done in both long form (writing document) and short form (selling document). [info]bravado111 and I made good use of our hang time together this weekend for some story conferencing, as well some parallel play writing time.

I also churned out first draft one-sheets for books two and three, just to show series direction as part of the sales proposal package. They’re currently entitled Whelp, I Need Somebody and Littermates. After a few final touches today, the package is off our desks for a while, at least until our agents give us feedback on the synopsis and other materials.

The current production plan is for [info]bravado111 to write the first draft in May and/or June, and me to do the initial major revision pass in June and/or July. This schedule should survive even if I have to go back into cancer treatment, which means we’ll have the book to first readers by the end of July, if not a bit earlier. I am happy to jam this in around Sunspin, simply to get it going.

It’s nice to see a new project gathering steam.

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[books] Working on Going to Extremes

Over the weekend at Rainforest Writers Village, I began working on the book proposal for Going to Extremes. Last night I made some more progress on it. I’m getting pretty excited about it.

Nonfiction is an entirely new direction for me. I’ve written nineteen first draft novels, but never written nonfiction longer than five or six thousand words. Covering the intersection of cancer, parenting and extreme travel, this book will be part autobiography, part narrative nonfiction, part how-to book on coping with cancer; a hybrid of several nonfiction forms. The challenge of doing this, and the opportunity to talk about my experiences in a coherent framework, will be fantastically interesting.

This project also seems to be a new way for me to approach my cancer and my life experiences with the disease. The fourth anniversary of my initial cancer presentation is coming up next month. (Makes me wonder if I should throw it a birthday party.) That strikes me as momentous for some reason.

I’ll be pulling heavily from my blogging for the book. Likewise I plan to interview my doctors and some of my other caregivers, as well as friends and family members. Most especially, [info]the_child. I am feeling very engaged.

Let us hope the book proposal does well out in the big, bad world of publishing.

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[books|writing] Calamity of So Long a Life is out to my last-first readers

Late yesterday afternoon I put the finishing touches on revisions to Calamity of So Long a Life, Sunspin volume one, and sent it out to my last-first readers. Specifically, several generous individuals who hadn’t read the previous draft or otherwise been enmeshed in the project, so I could get a reader reaction. I am hoping to get some feedback by late next week so I can make final revisions and send this out to la agente before the end of the month, per my planned production calendar.

I must confess to being a bit daunted about jumping into the next book, which I won’t do until April. It’s already half-written, I only owe myself another 100,000 words of first draft to nail down volume two, but the overall project is so filling my head right now that I feel as if it will leak out my ears.

Meanwhile, I have two short fiction rewrite requests on my desk to fulfill, a book review to write, and ambitions to make more progress on the synopsis of Little Dog. Given that I have the rest of the month in which to do these things, I am feeling pretty good about my goals.

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[books] Recent reading, a few comments thereon

Scourge of the Betrayer, Jeff Salyards, Night Shade Books, May 2012 [ Powells | BN ]

Night Shade sent me this book to read for blurb. I’m still chewing on how to blurb it, so I figure writing a quick pocket review will help. This is Salyards’ debut novel, and its the first in a series (though I don’t know how many volumes the series is slated to be). It’s quest fantasy, of a sort, narrated by a confused scribe named Arkamondos. He is hired to follow and document the activities of a small band of soldiers on extended foreign assignment, led by one Captain Braylar Killcoin. The book started slowly, and I had some trouble getting into the story, but once it caught for me, it was a lot of fun.

I’ve been trying to figure out why the book didn’t take off well for me. I believe the problem is inherent in the set up. The initial confusion and naiveté of the narrator makes it hard for the novel to come into focus early on. In a sense, Salyards has done his job a little too well — the “what’s going on here?” issues that Arkamondos struggles with become the reader’s struggles as well. The problem with a quest fantasy narrated by someone in ignorance of the point of the quest is that you wind up fairly literally driving to the story.

My other frustration was that I wasn’t expecting this to be a book one of a multivolume story, so I was quite surprised when the manuscript ended without resolution. The story just stopped. That’s the bad news. The good news is that I really want to read the next book.

The Man in the Moone and Other Lunar Fantasies, ed. Faith Pizor and T. Allan Comp, Praeger Publishers, January 1971 [ AbeBooks | BN ]

This is a collection of fiction about voyages to the moon, ranging from 1638 to 1841, with an introduction by Isaac Asimov. I bought it because I was interested in reading some very early science fiction. This is very much in parallel with my project last year to read nineteenth century proto-steampunk, in the original Klingon, as it were.

The oldest of these pieces is written with the very curious diction and spelling of 17th century literature. If you can handle Shakespeare, you can handle this, but there is definitely no skimming here. Other stories range from a fantasy by Edgar Allan Poe to a weird little piece about a steam powered duck. The editors provide an introduction to each selection which gives literary, social and political context, and offer occasional footnotes elucidating obscure points within the text. That’s especially helpful in the case of the older works.

Of course this work was not self-consciously written as either science fiction or fantasy, as neither of those genres existed when the pieces were published. Most of them are social satire, in fact. Still, it’s fascinating to read these premodern visions of how human beings might reach the moon. This is special interest reading, in my opinion. The entertainment value is there, but the going is fairly challenging. On the other hand, I really enjoyed exploring one of the roots of our contemporary genre.

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[books] Crossdressing, an anthology that may never be

Bruce Arthurs left a comment on my blog yesterday.

One of my odder random thoughts recently was the idea of Henry James and Ernest Hemingway rewriting each others’ stories: A Hemingway version of “Turn of the Screw” and a James version of “The Killers”.

This reminds me of an anthology concept I’ve been noodling with for a few years. I don’t have the time or funding these days to the editorial work to organize this, but I’ve always thought it would be funny as hell. Basically, it would be titled something like Crossdressing, and would feature about a dozen or so authors writing in each other’s styles. Could be parodies, could be more serious homage.

This works best with authors with fairly distinctive voices, but I think it would be hilarious to see Jeff VanderMeer writing as Ken Scholes, and Ken Scholes writing as Mary Robinette Kowal, and Mary Robinette Kowal writing as Charlie Stross, and so forth.

Someday I’ll have an entire bookshelf of anthologies that never were.

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[books] Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

A couple of days ago, I finished reading Saladin Ahmed’s debut novel, Throne of the Crescent MoonPowells | BN ]. This is Arabian-inspired fantasy, a subgenre that Saladin appears to share almost exclusively with Howard Andrew Jones, and it’s a lot of fun.

The book’s been getting considerable critical buzz, and justly so. What I particularly love about Throne of the Crescent Moon is the degree to which the individual characters are beset by their own flaws and insecurities. Ahmed has not given us Heinleinian Competent Heroes; rather he has given us people who feel very familiar, perhaps even ordinary, even in the midst of having extraordinary skills and powers. Another striking thing about the book is that, rooted in a non-European tradition, both the fantastic tropes and the everyday life portrayed within the narrative have a fresh, lateral feel.

Ahmed’s writing is deft and graceful, and his characters move through a world of real stakes and significant consequences, much to their cost. Combine this with glorious setting and his careful mastery of craft, and you have a lovely fantasy read on your hands.

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[books] The Laundry Files by Charles Stross

I just finished reading my way through The Laundry Files by Charles Stross. This started with me reading the third book in series, The Fuller MemorandumPowells | BN ], out of sequence. (See my comments here: [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ].) I’ve since caught up with the series, reading book one, The Atrocity ArchivesPowells | BN ] and book two, The Jennifer MorguePowells | BN ], and thanks to Charlie’s generosity, the as-yet-unreleased fourth novel, The Apocalypse CodexPowells | BN ].

I have to confess to having been skeptical of the premise of these books when I first heard of them. Boy howdy was I wrong. Stross pulls it off beautifully, this cock-eyed intersection of spy thrillers, IT wankery, civil service drudgery, and eldritch horrors from beyond the boundaries of time and space. These are highly entertaining books, and by the third volume, he’s developed a definite series arc pointing ahead. The fourth volume sustains that arc, and with the its ending lands Bob Howard, your humble narrator, in some seriously uncharted waters that I can’t wait to explore in the next volume or two.

There’s a very strange charm to this series, which I suspect evolves from the unlikely premise as explicated by the goofy insouciance of narrator and protagonist Bob Howard. (Though in truth Angleton might just be my favorite character.) They’re certainly structured and written like spy thrillers or adventure novels, but the sensibility is so very much from the darker corners of fantasy, not to mention outright horror fiction. More to the point, entertaining as hell.

Highly recommended, even if dark stuff isn’t normally your bag.

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[books] Recent reading

I’ve read three books recently that I wanted to take a moment to comment on. Daughter of the Sword by Steve Bein, (Roc, October, 2012), and two Charles Stross books, Saturn’s ChildrenPowells | BN ] and The Fuller MemorandumPowells | BN ].

Daughter of the Sword was sent to me in bound manuscript form as a candidate for blurb. I really enjoyed it, and provided a pull quote which Roc may or may not be using. It’s a book with an interesting structure, two entwined narratives that contrast significantly. One is the story of a Tokyo cop, the only female detective-sergeant on the force, chasing a strange series of murders, coping with her sister’s disappearance, and battling the institutional sexism of a police force where most women either are meter maids or coffee girls. The other thread skips through Japanese history from the Mongol invasions through WWII, chronicling the story of a set of swords forged by one of the great masters of that art. There are curses and possessions, mixing a very light-handed fantasy element with police procedural and a journey through Japanese culture. Some wonderfully lateral views of a pair of common Western storytelling tropes not so often bound together. This story was a bit off my most usual pleasure reading path, and I’m glad I took it.

Saturn’s Children is billed on the cover as a space opera, but I’m not sure I’d call it that. The conceit at the heart of the book is profound and fascinating — that the human race died out but its intelligent servants have carried on without their masters, for the most part barely noticing the change. Frea, nearly the last of a series of courtesan-androids who are all bereft of purpose in the absence of human lovers, is at first pulled, then pushes herself, through a string of events and conspiracies that provides a set-piece tour of the solar system, from Mercury to Eris. And this book is funny. There are some real howlers of bad puns and jokes, as well as a great deal of more subtle humor. Stross’ tongue is firmly in his cheek even as he covers deadly serious issues of identity, independence and the notion of what it means to be free.

The Fuller Memorandum is not the first Laundry novel, but it’s the first one I read. (Selection was limited the day I walked into the bookstore — normally I begin a series at the beginning.) That being said, it worked just fine as a freestanding book. I’d been a little skeptical of the premise of the Laundry novels, about a secretive arm of the British intelligence community charged with battling the occult and very specifically working to prevent a return of the Elder Gods. Stross pulls it off, beautifully, with his trademark fractally encysting conspiracies and mordant wit. Highly recommended, and now I need to go round up the rest of the Laundry novels.

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[books] A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

I just finished reading Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of WitchesPowells | BN ], a December, 2011 release from Penguin. It was interesting and a fair amount of fun, but definitely had that ‘mainstream author writes fantasy without being aware of the history or tropes of the genre’ feel. All the same, and perhaps because of that, Harkness’ take on witches and vampires was sufficiently divergent from the classic patterns to be interesting.

Also interesting to me in terms of my own reader reactions to this book was my realization about halfway through that the genre tropes Harkness is working within are more tied to romance than fantasy. Which explained the female witch protagonist’s constant fainting and passing out and needing to be carried about hither and yon by the male vampire love interest. That wouldn’t fly in a strong female fantasy character, but it is a trope (or subtrope or something) of romance.

What I really did like about the book was that much of it was set at Oxford University, and the sense of scholarship and history in the book is very strong. Our heroine is a historian specializing in the traditions of alchemy, and Harkness really made me believe that in a big way. She acted like a historian, thought like one, talked like one. Harkness’ own scholarship in writing the book was certainly deep enough to be utterly convincing to me. Her interweaving of history with the plot was fascinating.

This book was a lot of fun. It’s the first third of a trilogy, so very little of the plot is resolved at the ending, but that’s life. Worth the read.

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[books] River, including a short story by me

River Cover

The anthology River is now available from DarkQuest Books, including my story “They Are Forgotten Until They Come Again”, a deep post-apocalyptic story set in the Pacific Northwest. The Map of Contents is interesting, to say the least.

River Map of Contents

The ebook would make a nice last minute Christmas present, methinks.

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