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[writing] Rio Hondo, day one

I’m at Rio Hondo, the writing workshop/retreat in Taos Ski Valley, NM. Critiquing etc starts today, but I suppose yesterday was day one. That involved a lot of travel, a quick visit in Santa Fe with Lisa Costello, who just happened to be there, and a yummy dinner here at the retreat. This morning I woke up to snow.

Altitude isn’t treating me badly, but I do have a mild headache. And my classic high altitude sleeping problems are making themselves known. Basically, while I don’t have any problem staying oxygenated while conscious, asleep my breathing is reduced and I wake up every hour or so feeling very short of breath. I have to consciously take very deep breaths to restore myself. That process makes it hard to go back to sleep…

My METAtropolis: Green Space novella will be critiqued Thursday, and I believe I am making momos for Wednesday dinner. I’ve already taken a number of photos, but bandwidth here is quite constrained, so the uploading process is wonky at best. Still, I will leave you with this morning’s view:


Photo © 2013, Joseph E. Lake, Jr.

Creative Commons License

This work by Joseph E. Lake, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

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[writing|travel] Off to the Nebs, then Rio Hondo

Yesterday Lisa Costello departed for New Mexico, where she is attending a conference in Santa Fe. This morning, Jersey Girl in Portland and I skedaddle to San Jose for SFWA’s Nebula Awards Weekend. My Dad and (step)Mom will be there tomorrow, as will my Aunt B— and Uncle L— from Texas. [info]the_child also flies down to San Jose tomorrow to attend the Nebula Awards banquet and ceremony with the able assistance of Crystal Black.

I’ll do some socializing and maybe some business whilst in San Jose, then I’ll have the fun of watching myself lose the Nebula. Let’s put it this way: I don’t even have an acceptance speech prepared. In the extremely unlikely event that I win, I’ll wing it. Luckily for both me and my potential audience, I am ferociously good at winging it.

Crack of Sunday, I light out for New Mexico my own self. This trip is completely unrelated to Lisa’s, as I am heading for Rio Hondo, but our automobile will pause whilst passing through Santa Fe on the way from Albuquerque to Taos for us to have a snack and visit with Lisa, who by amusing coincidence will still be there. After that, I’m for a week at Rio Hondo. (I’m not sure about the connectivity at Rio Hondo, so blogging may be erratic next week.)

All in all, a very good ten days or so coming up.

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[writing|science] Geeking out over asteroid strikes

One of the things I love about writing is research. One of the things I love about research is interviewing experts. An acquaintance (and fan) is an asteroid geologist and runs a meteorite laboratory. I asked her about the kinetic strike on Seattle that occurs in my METAtropolis: Green Space novella, “Rock of Ages”. Here is part of what she sent me, redacted somewhat for clarity and confidentiality:
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[writing|cancer] We can write the gospels so they’ll still talk about us when we’ve died

Some years ago, I was in a discussion with the mighty, mighty Tim Pratt about why we write. At this point, I cannot recall if it was private conversation, email, a Con panel, bar chatter, a joint interview or what. What I do recall quite strongly was me making some fairly high flying statement about literary ambition and being read even after my time as a writer had passed. Tim claimed that he wrote to pay the rent.

To this day, I’m not certain how serious he was. I absolutely deserved to have my leg pulled at that point. I’m pretty sure I was overfilled with my own sense of self-importance in the moment. Pegs needed to be taken down, and whatnot. But even so, there’s a valid discussion here.

For one, I don’t write to pay the rent. I have a Day Jobbe for that. It pays reasonably well, is moderately entertaining, minimally stressful, and I like what I do while working with good people and for a good employer. Chances are pretty strong that if we ever talked about it, I’d bore you to tears, but I like my work. That’s what counts.

But the writing? I write because I want to write. I write because I’m in love with the language. I write because the buzz I get from doing a really nifty thing on the page is tangible. I write because I like to be read. I write because I like having readers. And, yes, in I write for posterity. (Which statement could be argued to mean that I write to make an ass of myself, but that’s the English language for you: riddled with half-baked puns and deceptive etymologies.) Money is mostly a way of keeping score, and far from the only method of doing so.

Literary posterity is a funny thing. The author of The Epic of Gilgamesh is anonymous. Most people with much of an education can name Homer as the poet who wrote the Odyssey. Some people know about the Illiad, or that he was supposedly blind. I don’t think anybody but Classicists knows much else about him, even in terms of what tradition says. By the time you get to Sophocles and his lot, there’s at least a little biography attached to the texts. William Shakespeare has entire fields of study around him, complete with academic controversy, revisionism and all the other fun of postmodernist thought.

Who writing today will be subject to that kind of literary posterity? Not me, certainly. But it’s hard to tell. Edward Bulwer-Lytton was the great hope of nineteenth century English letters. Today, his work is literally a joke. His contemporary Charles Dickens was widely reviled by the academic and critical establishment of the day as a hack. Who is the more widely read now?

My guess is of twentieth century authors in popular American letters, we’re most likely to see Stephen King and Nora Roberts on college reading lists a century from now. Not the only ones, of course, but I cannot pretend to know which critical darlings and academically significant authors will also be read.

What I can and do know is that I will not be among them.

I’m okay with that. My vanity is a little disappointed, of course, but my common sense knows better.

What I do hope for is to stay on the shelf a while after I pass. It comforts me that some people love Mainspring or Green or some of my short fiction. It please me that I’m in translation across at least a dozen languages. It pleases me that my work will always be at least footnoted in the history of various awards. It pleases me that people have read me, and for a while at least, will continue to read me.

In a way, that’s always been why I write. To raise my voice a little higher, and have it heard a little longer. The end is coming, and I won’t write all that much more in my life, but I’m happy with what I’ve been able to do. I only wish I could have done more.

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[writing] Editing METAtropolis: Green Space

[info]kenscholes and I are a good way through the primary editorial process for METAtropolis: Green Space, the third volume is the highly successful original audiobook series from Audible.com. We have all the stories in hand, and have gone through them all for revision notes. Some are back to the authors, some need a little finalization from either me or Ken, depending on which of us did the primary editing pass.

I’m waiting on my change notes back from Ken, which will also incorporate feedback from series editor Steve Feldberg. And we’re on track for project deadlines, which is a good thing.

While I genuinely enjoy editing open call anthologies, there’s also a specific pleasure to working with a select group of authors whose work you admire, and can trust. The editorial eye still comes into play, but it’s working at a different level. And the fiddly bits to map series continuity across the stories can be fun and challenging as well. We aren’t writing tight shared world work like Heroes in Hell or Thieves’ World, but the stories still have to hang together and feel of a piece.

In the end, we’re dealing with seven voices telling different parts of one much larger metastory which even across all three volumes the reader barely glimpses. It’s an interesting approach and fun format, and I feel privileged to have been involved in all three volumes to date. Maybe someday there will be a fourth, that’s a wonderful thing for me to imagine.

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[writing] What I have been doing just lately

Continuing to work as I can. Currently dividing my time between two projects. One is editing duties for METAtropolis: Green Space, which I am interchanging with the mighty [info]kenscholes. That is fun and interesting, as editing almost always is. Because METAtropolis is a shared world, there are continuity issues to be dealt with. Because it is a loosely shared world (the only stories with tight overlap are mine and Ken’s), those continuity issues are subtle and fine-grained. It’s a joy to work with that writing crew.

I am also doing some audio annotation for the Audible.com edition of Trial of Flowers. My egregiously idiosyncratic vocabulary is jumping out and biting me in the butt on this one. In effect, I’m about halfway to a Lexicon Flora, should anyone ever feel the need for such. I am also filled with admiration for the poor narrator who has to take this ornate little beast on. Revisiting this work from some years ago has been fascinating in its own right. Perhaps its an exercise we authors should engage in more often.

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[personal|writing] Being busy

I am busy these days. Working under a mortal deadline is wonderfully clarifying to the mind. Even if I am wrong about the immediate future, I am not wrong about the general trend of my disease, so the things I am trying to do right now apply regardless.

As mentioned recently, I have temporarily suspended work on Original Destiny, Manifest Sin to grod around closely inside of METAtropolis: Green Space. In the past three or four days I have done a close read on stories by Karl Schroeder and Elizabeth Bear. Today I’ll dive back into Ken Scholes‘ story. Editorial work is very different from writing a first draft, but they come out of the same general space in my brain. Each has its joys. I’m committing a minimum of one hour per day to this task.

There is also an ongoing project to simplify the holdings here at Nuevo Rancho Lake. Hence the recent Basement Party, and future such in late May and through June, most likely. I have committed at least half an hour per day (though yesterday it wound up being more like two hours) to advancing that ball. Lately that has been a lot of sorting through receipts, files and paperwork to determine what needs to kept for tax purposes, and what can be disposed of. Also, walking through my large and essentially random pile of CDs, CD-Rs and DVD-Rs to make sure whatever is on them has been captured either into iTunes or into my photo files as appropriate. Later there will be larger scale decisions about the disposition of books, clothing, furniture, art, et cetera. I’d rather I do these things now than someone else have to puzzle through them after I’m gone.

Plus Day Jobbery, parenting, relationship time with Lisa Costello, keeping up with friends and family, forthcoming travel, and so forth. So, yes, I am being busy.

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[writing] Where I am, where I am going

A new independent press deal is in the works. I’ll announce shortly, but suffice to say that I am pleased.

I’ve temporarily stopped working on Original Destiny, Manifest Sin in order to concentrate on my editorial duties for METAtropolis: Green Space. This is all right, as the Original Destiny manuscript is now 40,000 words long. If I needed to abort the project, the working draft is now long and detailed enough that I could make a few thousand more words worth of notes in the synopsis, write a few ending scenes, and have someone else finish it collaboratively. I don’t expect that to be the case, but I am thinking ahead.

On METAtropolis: Green Space, [info]kenscholes and I have divided up the duties of close editorial read and continuity editing. That’s one of the challenges of this specific project, which involved a loosely shared world. It’s also one of the fun parts.

With respect to my own work, whatever time is left to me once I finish METAtropolis: Green Space and Original Destiny, Manifest Sin will probably be spent writing outlines and story stubs, and seeking collaborators. Also, identifying a few existing stories or drafts which could benefit from an outside eye. One idea I have which may or may not bear fruit is to line up about fifteen collaborators for a posthumous collection of stories by me and each of them. I think that would be a lot of fun, but I’m not sure it has any critical or commercial value beyond my vanity.

My trip to San Diego for my Guest of Honor gig at Gaslight Gathering is this Thursday. Both [info]the_child and Lisa Costello are coming. I am really looking forward to this. Some interesting stuff going down, and, well, it’s my probable last chance to play this particular role. Plus I’ll try to get more writing done both in transit and while we are there.


[writing] Juvenilia

More or less literally juvenilia, in this case. In the various excavations of my basement, some very old manuscripts have turned up. I don’t have time to re-key them, but I have scanned a few things to .pdf for your delectation. Some of the scans are a little hard to read, but this is a problem with the source material more than with the scanning process.

Untitled high school poetry — Overwrought and anguished with the desperate importance that informed the world for me in my teen years. Probably 1980.

Untitled SF short — Something from about 1980 that is inexplicable to me now.

Untitled SF short — Something from about 1981 that is also inexplicable to me now.

Hempkill” — This is the first real short I have any recollection of writing. It was a class assignment my senior year in high school, dated June, 1982.

Canyon Dam Narrative — Apparently I wanted to be a blogger even in 1983. A narrative of my near-drowning in a boating accident.


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[writing|process] Old home week at Wordos, “The Stars Do Not Lie”

Yesterday, Lisa Costello and I drove the 100+ miles down to Eugene, OR to attend a Wordos meeting, with a dinner preceding. This was the first Wordos meeting I’ve been to in years, though for the first half of the last decade I was an almost weekly attendee. It was great good fun to see some old friends there, as well as meet a few new ones. And it was a very strange experience to hear my Nebula- and Hugo-nominated novella “The Stars Do Not Lie” be discussed in critical terms.

One of the points several people made was that the story would have taken a real beating at the critique table. The first two paragraphs are so dense and strange that they violate a number of the classic Turkey City lexicon rules. Yet those first two paragraphs neatly encapsulate one of the basic themes of the story, and foreshadow much of the plot. In other words, they work in spite of themselves and the rules we try to follow.

It was also interesting to hear people talk about my intentions for this-and-that, and how I crafted the contrasting voice for the two mutually antagonistic protagonists, and so forth. To my mind, one of the oddities of literary criticism (as opposed to critique) is the imputing of motives to the author. I can remember back in high school hearing English teachers say things like, “What Faulkner is doing here is emphasizing [some cultural trope]”, and thinking, No, what Faulkner is doing here is telling a damned story. It’s the readers who find those other things.

Over three decades later, it turns out I was right. That discussion really made me reflect once more on the concept of unconscious competence. When I wrote “The Stars Do Not Lie”, I was just telling a damned story. I was generally aware of what I was doing — I’m not blind to my own thinking, after all — but I never sat there and said to myself, “Gee, how shall I emphasize the dynamic of faith in conflict with reason in this scene?” I never said to myself, “Oh, this fits into the conversation-that-is-genre going back to Lord of Light and Universe.”

Those sorts things are true, in the sense that they are very clearly present in the text, but Fred put them there, not me. At least not my conscious, self-aware self.

All in all, it would have been a fascinating experience in almost any context, but all the more so among the friends and writers who played a powerful and very material role in launching my career.

After that discussion we had about a thirty-minute impromptu Q&A on the craft and business of writing, which was kind of fun, too. Like world’s shortest writing workshop or something. And again, as I said to Lisa, a decade and a half ago I was at the other end of that exact same table, asking those kinds of questions. Quite weird to be talking to my past self. Giving back by paying forward. Plus it was a lot of fun.

My thanks to the Wordos for inviting us down and hosting us.

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