Jay Lake: Writer

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[awards|repost] Hugo pimpage

Hugo nominations are nearly closed out. For the record, here is a selected list of my own favorite work of this past year, should you be inclined to review it for award consideration in your own nominating process.

Novels
Pinion, Tor Books
Third volume in the Mainspring cycle, action-adventure in the clockwork Earth.

Novellas
The Baby Killers, PS Publishing
Alternate history politics, magic and spycraft, wherein I try to address the steampunk aesthetic at all levels of the work.

“The Bull Dancers”, Audible.com (audio presentation as part of METAtropolis: Cascadia)
Sequel to my piece in METAtropolis, about the ultimate fate of Green cities in a world beset by a soft apocalypse.

The Specific Gravity of Grief, Fairwood Press
My intensely personal study of a genre writer riddled with cancer. Arguably more appropriate for “Best Related Book”.

Novelettes
“Coming for Green”, The Sky That Wraps, Subterranean Press
An exploration of the Green universe from the perspective of a much put-upon secondary character.

Short Stories
The Starship Mechanic” with Ken Scholes, tor.com
Our joint project from a writer-in-the-window session at Borderlands Books, about an alien lost on Earth.

From the Countries of Her Dreams” with Shannon Page, Fantasy Magazine
A side tale from the Green universe from another perspective.

The Speed of Time“, tor.com
Structurally experimental view of the end of the universe.

“If This Were a Romance” with Shannon Page, Love and Rockets, DAW Books
Exactly what it says on the tin. A romance set on a generation ship.

“Torquing Vacuum”, Clarkesworld
Backstory on three important characters from my Sunspin space opera project.

Best Related Book
The Specific Gravity of Grief, Fairwood Press
My intensely personal study of a genre writer riddled with cancer.

Also, I am eligible for nomination as Best Fan Writer for this blog, and as Best Editor, Short Form, for METAtropolis: Cascadia.

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[links] Link salad files its nails while they’re dragging the lake

Electric Velocipede 21/22 reviewed — Including “In the Beginnings” by [info]calendula_witch and me.

A reader comments on my cancer novella The Specific Gravity of Grief — The resonances for her are unfortunately strong.

Ken Scholes is looking for company in Chicago Thursday evening — If you’re in Chicagoland, say howdy.

Light-Emitting Rubber Could Sense Structural Damage — I so totally misread this headline.

A Fight to Win the Future: Computers vs. Humans — Great article about machine cognition, but I especially like the ‘Paris Hilton problem’. (Via my Dad.)

Reagan and Reality — Two words you don’t often see in the same sentence…

In Haley Barbour’s Mississippi: Civil War Looms Over License Plates — Mmm, classy. Nope, no racism here. Move along, boy, nothing to see.

South Dakota Moves To Legalize Killing Abortion Providers — And the rational discourse of the American Right takes another step on the road to civility in their obsession with forced pregnancy.

Terrorism and Magical Thinking — Ta-Nehisi Coates with more on the proposed South Dakota abortion law, including a fascinating riff on why the politics of forced pregnancy have been so successful.

Mitch Daniels and the 2012 Field — Some thoughts on 2012 GOP presidential hopeful Mitch Daniels from conservative commentator Daniel Larison.

?otD: Watching the detectives do what, precisely?


2/16/2011
Writing time yesterday: 2.0 hours (copy edits on Endurance)
Body movement: 30 minutes on stationary bike
Hours slept: 6.75 hours (interrupted)
Weight: 251.4
Currently reading: Dead Iron by Devon Monk

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[links] Link salad fires up the weekend

[info]talekyn reviews my book The Specific Gravity of Grief

Another review of METAtropolis: Cascadia

An interview with me and Cherie Priest on the Wizards of the Coast site — By Christopher Dinkins & Jeremy Jones.

A Dog I Did Know — Chris Johnson with a short, emotionally intense story.

Goodbye to all that — Roger Ebert with a very moving personal meditation on the social costs of cancer in his life.

FOX News Insider: “Stuff Is Just Made Up” — Also, this just in: sun rises in east, liberal conspiracy suspected. But it’s fair and balanced!

How Anti-Jihadists Lose All Credibility — But hysteria sells air time and buys votes so much better than facts.

US Chamber’s Lobbyists Solicited Hackers To Sabotage Unions, Smear Chamber’s Political Opponents — When you can’t win on ideas, lie, obfuscate, fear-monger and cheat. That’s been the great lesson of modern Republican politics, and the US Chamber of Commerce has certainly taken it to heart.

Insurance reality hits House GOP — Sadly funny. I was struck by this passing remark at the end of the piece, though: Regardless of lawmakers’ reasons for accepting or declining federal health benefits, Gardner said the decision shouldn’t be used for political potshots. Right. Because no Republican has ever taken political potshots at a Democrat for personal decisions they made.

?otD: Saganaki or bananas foster?


2/12/2011
Writing time yesterday: 0.0 hours (took the day off)
Body movement: urban walking to come
Hours slept: 7.25 hours (interrupted)
Weight: n/a (Away from home, no scale)
Currently reading: Between books

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[interviews] Another reader interview with me

Per my recent call for questions, here’s another reader interview with me. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

djelibeybi_meg: During all your cancer treatment, how did you manage to continue to motivate yourself to write and to keep up your regular blogs? If there were days when you didn’t manage it, what impact did this have upon you?

Jay Lake: The fiction writing eventually fell away, during month four of chemotherapy. That part of my brain essentially went to sleep for about three and a half months. Which was tough, because it’s a huge part of my identity, as well as being a very important activity. The blogging never stopped. In fact, if anything it stepped up. While I was in treatment I seemed to be able to focus on that kind of brief, non-fictional narrative in a way that was very distinct from my fiction.

I never really fell down on the blogging except on infusion days and in the time immediately around my surgeries. I was frankly very depressed and upset about losing the months of fiction writing time.

djelibeybi_meg: Are there particular characters (of yours) which have helped you through the treatment and recovery?

Jay Lake: I don’t suppose I think of it that way, mostly because I don’t think in terms of character so much as I think in terms of story. At one level, the character of Jay Lake in The Specific Gravity of Grief might fill that role. Though in truth I did not expect to become him so much as I have. I’ve also spent a lot of time this last year with Green, of Green, Endurance and Kalimpura, as well as the Before Michaela Cannon of Sunspin. Their stories have been important to me.

djelibeybi_meg: Do you have a favourite book or story to which you return when you need a “comfort blanket”? (Mine is Ringworld by Larry Niven)

Jay Lake: Two series, actually. Discworld by Terry Pratchett, and the Miles Vorkosigan books by Lois McMaster Bujold. My tolerance for re-reading books is actually fairly low, but I’ve returned to both of those time and again. Plus I discovered while on chemo that I couldn’t process new books mentally, but I could re-read familiar stuff. Which, incidentally, did include Ringworld. But also most definitely Bujold and Pratchett.

eljaydaly: You’ve spoken about how challenging it was to make the shift from short stories to novels (at least, I think you have!), and the difficulty with changing from one span of control to another.

Jay Lake: You are right. I certainly have addressed those issues before. And it was quite an intimidating transition. I ran scared of novels for a long time before I embraced the process and let myself become absorbed in them.

eljaydaly: Speaking as somebody who’s made the difficult transition from writing “voicey” short stories to novels… how did you do that? How did you manage to stretch your thought process (or shrink it) so that muscles that were used to working in short, dense idea-chunks got used to handling a very long span? How did you teach yourself to switch from making a single very dense dish to making a seven-course meal?

Jay Lake: Essentially my early mistake was to assume that short stories and novels were the same craft. For me, at least, they are not. (Note, this is not generic advice, merely my observations concerning my own experiences.) A short story is like a piece of cabinetwork — finely crafted, with many carefully executed details. A novel is like framing a house — lots of big strokes and long runs of heavy, rough material. No matter how carefully one crafts a novel, it’s simply a different animal than the supple twistiness of a short story.

The deceptive aspect, to further abuse my metaphor, is that both crafts use similar or analogous tools. Saws, hammers, braces. They just use them differently.

So the retraining of my thought processes was rather like the retraining of a cabinet maker to become a framing carpenter. I still bring my cabinetry skills into the housebuilding. The lessons learned from housebuilding have improved my cabinet making. But realizing and embracing the notion that short stories and novels are distinct-yet-related arts was a huge step for me.

As to how I taught myself to make the switch… The same way I’ve taught myself everything else I’ve learned in my career. Practice, practice, practice; leavened with editorial feedback, critical commentary from other writers, reader response and plentiful self-examination. But mostly practice. That is to say, writing more. Thinking about what I’ve written. Then more writing more.

eljaydaly: Day to day, how did that process look? How did you manage to wrap your head around it all? Compared with the eleven years it took you to start selling, how long would you say it took you to get a comfortable handle on such a different way of thinking and writing? Or did you actually not find it so very different? (I don’t want to make an inadvertent assumption.)

Jay Lake: Well, it took me eleven years from when I first started writing short stories seriously to when I began to sell them. I wrote my first novel in 1994, The January Machine. Someday I might even produce a Lulu.com/ebook edition of that, just for laughs, but trust me, it’s definitely a first novel. Post-millennial religious terrorism amid the collapse of the Westphalian model of statehood. With rogue AIs, zombies, global warming, and time travel.

Did I mention that it was a first novel?

So figure about ten years from that effort until I sold Rocket Science, my first novel in the independent press. And yes, as discussed above, very different. Along with lots of practice.

Did I mention how important practice is to developing as a writer?

And to be clear, “practice” does not mean polishing your Great American Novel endlessly. It means writing another one, then another one, then another one. Revision is an important skill. Critical, even. But don’t ever neglect drafting.

eljaydaly: I’m not sure that question (er… bunch of questions) even makes sense. But there it is. I’d be interested in your insights, as always.

Jay Lake: Well, I hope I covered what you intended to ask. Certainly the questions made sense to me. Let’s see if the answers make sense to you or any of my other readers.

ruralwriter: You’ve mentioned that you wrote hundreds (or some value of “a lot”) of stories before publishing a pro story; are you ever tempted to return to any of those pieces and revise them? Or do ideas from those stories sometimes reappear in your newer work without your consciously returning to revise those stories?

Jay Lake: Yes.

Oh, wait, you probably wanted more detail than that. Off the top of my head, “The Rose Egg” (Postscripts issue one) was one such story idea pulled from the deep trunk and re-addressed. My short novel Death of a Starship is another. And certainly the old ideas re-appear in the newer work. I am occasionally alarmed at how closely I can unknowingly repeat myself. On the other hand, if I’m repeating myself, that probably means the idea was strong in the first place.

Or possibly I’m just perseverating.

An example of this is my realization about two years ago that cancer has been a long time recurrent theme, albeit on a minor note, within my work. For years before it became a concern in my daily life, in fact. I’m not sure I ever would have noticed the trend if I hadn’t fallen down that particular rabbithole myself.


That was fun. Feel free to ask followup questions in comments here. In a month or so, I’ll probably post another call for new reader interview questions. My thanks to those who participated by asking this time.

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[links] Link salad never forgets

I’m still taking interview questions from readers: [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]

A reader reacts to The Specific Gravity of Grief — I never realized how prophetic that book would be.

Fantasy Literature reviews, among other things, my Sunspin short, “A Long Walk Home”

A Czech blog discusses my book Trial of Flowers — In Czech. Still, cool.

The Guaranteed Results Writing Advice You’ve Been Waiting For — Yep, magic bullet, right here. (Ganked from Steve Buchheit.)

Stoked: 1897Shorpy with the boiler room of the U.S.S. Massachusetts. This is about as steampunk as it gets.

Gay slur in lyrics disqualifies Dire Straits hit from Canadian radio play — Umm… (Via Scrivener’s Error.)

Debunking common myths about health-care reform — Your Liberal Media actually manages to notice a few of the persistent GOP lies about HCR.

Stuff Happens — Paul Krugman on the socialist plot that is public sewer systems.

David Frum Reacts To Hannity’s Palin Interview: “She Should Stop Talking Now” — I don’t know whether to laugh or weep.

?otD: Did you ever ride an elephant?


1/19/2011
Writing time yesterday: 0.75 hours (further revisions to the Sunspin outline)
Body movement: n/a (3 degrees F outside, did not want to walk from hotel to gym)
Hours slept: 6.75 hours (interrupted)
Weight: n/a (no scale here)
Currently reading: Dancing With Bears by Michael Swanwick

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[awards] Nomination season is upon us

Nominations are open for the Nebula (through mid-February) and Hugo (through late March) awards.

For the record, here is a selected list of my own favorite work of this past year, should you be inclined to review it for award consideration in your own nominating process.

Novels
Pinion, Tor Books
Third volume in the Mainspring cycle, action-adventure in the clockwork Earth.

Novellas
The Baby Killers, PS Publishing
Alternate history politics, magic and spycraft, wherein I try to address the steampunk aesthetic at all levels of the work.

“The Bull Dancers”, Audible.com (audio presentation as part of METAtropolis: Cascadia)
Sequel to my piece in METAtropolis, about the ultimate fate of Green cities in a world beset by a soft apocalypse.

The Specific Gravity of Grief, Fairwood Press
My intensely personal study of a genre writer riddled with cancer. Arguably more appropriate for “Best Related Book”.

Novelettes
“Coming for Green”, The Sky That Wraps, Subterranean Press
An exploration of the Green universe from the perspective of a much put-upon secondary character.

Short Stories
The Starship Mechanic” with Ken Scholes, tor.com
Our joint project from a writer-in-the-window session at Borderlands Books, about an alien lost on Earth.

From the Countries of Her Dreams” with Shannon Page, Fantasy Magazine
A side tale from the Green universe from another perspective.

The Speed of Time“, tor.com
Structurally experimental view of the end of the universe.

“If This Were a Romance” with Shannon Page, Love and Rockets, DAW Books
Exactly what it says on the tin. A romance set on a generation ship.

“Torquing Vacuum”, Clarkesworld
Backstory on three important characters from my Sunspin space opera project.

Best Related Book
The Specific Gravity of Grief, Fairwood Press
My intensely personal study of a genre writer riddled with cancer.

Also, I am eligible for nomination as Best Fan Writer for this blog, and as Best Editor, Short Form, for METAtropolis: Cascadia.

If you are a SFWA member, you have access to all these works at the appropriate SFWA forum topic.

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[personal|writing] My 2010 Year in Review

2010 has been a very difficult year for me, but it’s also been a very accomplished year. The ironies of this are not lost upon me. And frankly, the leading indicators for 2011 are not much improved. We shall see.

Books

Pinion from Tor Books
The Specific Gravity of Grief from Fairwood Press
The Baby Killers from PS Publishing
The Sky That Wraps from Subterranean Press

Short Fiction

In short fiction, I had about twenty-five appearances, one jointly authored with Ken Scholes, several more with Shannon Page.

Other Activities

I was nominated for an Airship Award for the Mainspring cycle, sold French and German rights to various of my books, and edited METAtropolis: Cascadia, Audible.com’s followup to the highly successful METAtropolis audiobook.

I attended Rainforest Writers’ Village, Cascade Writers, New Zealand’s National Convention, Worldcon in Australia, Orycon and Steamcon.

Submissions and Sales

43 new fiction submissions in total
    22 sales, several with Shannon Page
    12 rejections

19 reprint submissions in total
    11 reprint sales
    18 reprint rejections

Writing Statistics

226,200 words of first draft (Kalimpura, twelve short stories, outlines to Kalimpura and Sunspin, several nonfiction items)

Revisions to Endurance

Approximately 1,000 blog posts

Personal Life

All of this while recovering from lung surgery, undergoing six months of chemotherapy, experiencing and recovering from liver surgery, holding down a full-time job, parenting, and spending the last three months of the year watching my primary relationship erode and vanish. So while the writing held up remarkably well (I accomplished more in 2010 than in 2009), the rest of the year sucked rocks and is totally fired.

Also, don’t ever talk to me about not finding the time to write.

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[process] The worst writing advice I ever got

I’ve been thinking about life lately, for obvious reasons. Life, and illness, and the changes that come upon us all. I’ve also been writing a lot lately. The fascinating thing to me is how much of those deep and difficult thoughts emerge in my fiction. Filtered through the machinery of my subconscious (hi, Fred!) and then again through the lens of the story.

The worst writing advice I ever received, years before I grew good enough to be published, was “Writing is not therapy.” I have come to believe this is very nearly opposite the truth. I think what the advice-giver meant was “don’t write thinly disguised romans-a-clef about your emo bullshit”, but even that isn’t really true. For one thing, that is an unkind but accurate description of The Specific Gravity of Grief, which I think is a story that succeeds precisely because of the raw emotion I poured into it. As a result of that advice, I was left for a very long time with a vision of the craft of fiction as somehow being a noble pursuit separate from the grubby realities of my own life.

Yet good fiction must work at the emotional level first and foremost. Badly plotted, poorly characterized, ineptly-written fiction can succeed because of emotional appeal. Brilliantly wrought prose can fail because of a lack of emotion. We’ve all seen examples of both. It is our own strongest emotions that force the power into those words on the page. Not our control of them.

To me, the process is inseparable from my own experiences. At this point, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

(And on a related note, yesterday I had cause to remark to a friend anent my execrable poetry that my prose is often poetic, but my poetry is always prosaic. Speaking of emotional vehicles.)

What’s the worst writing advice you ever got?

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[links] Link salad for a hump day

I will be an instructor at Viable Paradise in 2011 [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ] — What me intimidated?

Kyle Cassidy reviews some of his favorite books — Including my own The Specific Gravity of Grief.

Math Puzzles’ Oldest Ancestors Took Form on Egyptian Papyrus — Mysteries of the ancients, indeed. (Thanks to Dad.)

Why I hate Darwin’s beard — A zoologist reflects on images of scientists.

Arsenic and old Universe — The self-correcting mechanisms of science in action. This is the kind of stuff that the denialists who infest conservative American “thought” never understand. Reality-based thinking admits of and corrects for error. Faith-based thinking cannot be wrong by self-definition, and therefore does not understand that self-correction process.

Charlie Stross on Julian Assange — I think he’s on the money here.

Why our Afghanistan War Dead don’t Seem to be News — An interesting piece of socio-political analysis from Juan Cole.

If Only Laws Were Like Sausages“I’m so insulted when people say that lawmaking is like sausage making,” said Stanley A. Feder, president of Simply Sausage. Hahahaha. (Snurched from Scrivener’s Error.)

?otD: What really knocked you out? The cheap sunglasses?


12/08/2010
Writing time yesterday: 1.5 hours (WRPA, 1,500 words on a short story project)
Body movement: 30 minute stationary bike ride
Hours slept: 6.25 hours (solid)
This morning’s weigh-in: 251.6
Yesterday’s chemo/post-op stress index: 5/10 (peripheral neuropathy, emotional distress)
Currently reading: Between books

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[links] Link salad wanders into a new month, wonders what happened to the old one

Steampunk is officially dead — Having hit the Sunday funnies.

Questionable Content on fan fic — Heh.

To NSFW or not to NSFW? — Roger Ebert on last week’s Hefner article. And may I note the obvious?

The Milky Way Over the Peak of the Furnace — Mmm, APOD.

How to Hunt for Hidden PhotonsStare at the Sun from behind a wall and you might notice something interesting, say astrophysicists searching for a new breed of “hidden” photon.

The Grand Old Plot Against the Tea Party — Really, they’re just Republicans who manahged to inflect the primary process somewhat. (And particularly ill-informed Republicans at that.) Who could possibly be surprised?

Plus special bonus weekend reacharound because so many of you were offline this weekend:

You Can’t Tell Authors You Love Them — Jim van Pelt on, well, me. (Among other things.) He’s just read my book The Specific Gravity of Grief.

calendula_witch’s birthday

An email housekeeping note from me

A particularly steampunk (and Jay) moment of zen

?otD: Have you ever seen the dead dance?


11/1/2010
Writing time yesterday: 0.5 hours (medical follies but some revisions, and collaborative WRPA with calendula_witch)
Body movement: 30 minute stationary bike ride
Hours slept: 6.5 hours (solid)
This morning’s weigh-in: n/a
Yesterday’s chemo/post-op stress index: 4/10 (fatigue, peripheral neuropathy, emotional distress)
Currently reading: I Wonder by Marian Bantjes

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