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[process] Mature characters with backstory

Saturday evening I was texting with [info]bravado111 (urban fantasy author J.A. Pitts) about how much we both liked Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moonjlake.com | LiveJournal ]. John observed that the book read like the fourth volume of a series, and compared it to the original Star Wars movie, now known as A New Hope.

This got me on to thinking about mature protagonists, a topic which has already been on my mind somewhat of late. Mature characters come with their own backstories, their own histories. (For that matter, so do infants, but in dramatic narratives, people with fully formed life histories are usually more interesting.)

Among my books, Rocket Science, Mainspring, Escapement, Pinion, Green, Endurance and Kalimpura all center around young protagonists. Death of a Starship and the Flowers books deal with people in middle age. (The Before Michaela Cannon, core protagonist of Sunspin‘s ensemble cast, is 2,000 years old, so she’s a bit of an outlier.) With those younger protagonists, a major aspect of the story being told is their own journey to maturation and discovery of their life path. The older protagonists have a lot of backstory and implied action embedded in their preferences, desires, choices and reactions to the unfolding of the plot.

Certainly that latter effect is what Saladin achieved in Throne of the Crescent Moon. Hence [info]bravado111‘s reaction. Those characters had been around a long time, had experienced many prior adventures, had lived.

What I’m now chewing on is whether I think it’s a bigger challenge to write a youthful protagonist or to write an older protagonist. How does this affect the reading experience? Green and its subsequent volumes would be very different books if she were middle aged at the time of the action. Some of the key underlying themes of Sunspin would be null and void if Cannon weren’t literally the oldest human being who had ever lived. And Ahmed’s Doctor Adoulla Makhslood wouldn’t be anything like he is if he were still living in the bloom of youth.

Food for thought, indeed. What’s your take, as either a reader or a writer, on the age of protagonists?

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[books|writing] Keeping score on my novels

Not that anybody was asking, but in an attempt to corral my own thoughts, here’s a list of all the novels I’ve ever written/co-written or am committed to writing, time and my health permitting. I make this seventeen completed manuscripts, two in-progress manuscripts, and six on the table to be written. In addition to all of the below, [info]kenscholes and I have discussed doing a YA gonzo SF trilogy together, once he’s done with the Psalms of Isaac.

Who has time for cancer?

Written but unpublished

The January Machine (time travel/millenial SF, project abandoned)
Rocket Science (zero draft)
Death of a Starship (zero draft)
The Murasaki Doctrine (space opera/military SF, could not sell)
The Heart of the Beast (with Jeff VanderMeer, project abandoned)
Our Lady of the Islands (with Shannon Page, at my agent)
Other Me (YA lost colony/identity paranoia SF, awaiting rewrite)

Written, in progress or planned

Rocket Science

Death of a Starship

Mainspring
Escapement
Pinion

Green
Endurance (forthcoming)
Kalimpura (forthcoming)

Trial of Flowers
Madness of Flowers
Reign of Flowers (not a committed project)

Calamity of So Long a Life (in progress)
The Whips and Scorns of Time (to be drafted in 2012)
Be All Our Sins Remembered (to be drafted in 2012)

Original Destiny, Manifest Sin (American Old West fantasy/AH, to be drafted in 2012 or 2013)

Black Tulip (Dutch historial thriller/mystery, to be drafted in 2013)

The Rockefeller Plot (1970s diplomatic thriller with Ambassador Joseph Lake, in progress)
[untitled Biafran war novel] (1960s diplomatic thriller with Ambassador Joseph Lake)

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[links] Link salad feels even a bit more like its old self

A reader really likes Pinion

A reader really dislikes Madness of Flowers

[info]mlerules on her experience of my recent chemotherapy weekend

Is a bad writing system a Good Thing?

‘Go the F— to Sleep’ proves a popular lullaby with bleary-eyed adults — (Originally via KOF.)

The Hidden Message in Pixar’s Films — Hmmm.

Parrots choose to work together — Soon they will form political parties and it will all fall apart.

Camel Thorn Trees, Namibia — Wow. As Pharyngula says, “That’s a photo?”

What Makes a Body Obscene? — Of chests and breasts.

Stephen Hawking: ‘There is no heaven; it’s a fairy story’In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, the cosmologist shares his thoughts on death, M-theory, human purpose and our chance existence. Just because you believe it, doesn’t mean it’s true. See also vaccine denial, evolution denial, Moon landing denial and supply side economics.

Rigid Litmus Tests — The idiocy of political correctness on the Right. And may I say it couldn’t happen to a nice bunch of venal pinheads?

Newt Spokesman Pens Epic Poem In Tribute To Gingrich’s Heroic Crusade Against The Media — You know, when your campaigning starts making Sarah Palin look like a model of statesmanlike restraint…

Jane Mayer on the Obama war on whistle-blowers — Honest to God, Barack, we elected you to be better than the other guys. That’s not even a remotely difficult standard to meet.

?otD: Musical thrones, anyone?


5/19/2011
Writing time yesterday: 0.0 hours (rested)
Body movement: 30 minute stationary bike ride
Hours slept: 7.5 hours (fitful, plus napping)
Weight: 232.0
Currently (re)reading: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

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[links] Link salad goes back into the OR

A reader comments on Green and the Flowers books — I rather like this review.

Publishing — The Short Synopsis

[info]mlerules on my hair styling session of yesterday

Adventures in health insurance[info]cathshaffer with a summary of her experiences amid the reality of independent health insurance.

A Trip Around the Moon: Yours for $150 MillionSpace Adventures announces a tourist seat aboard a new moon mission. Damn it, I need to put out a tip jar or something.

Student discovers new virus in ancient cave mudAdventurous 20-year-old Purdue University student was exploring an ancient glacial cave, untouched since the last ice age, when she made the discovery.

4.5 billion-year-old meteorite yields new mineral

A Prophet Who Dares Admit the Limits of Prophecy — Interesting snippet on pundits and punditry.

Hasidic newspaper edits Hillary out of Situation Room photoA publication brushed both women present out of the iconic image. I really don’t understand how this isn’t both bigoted and flat stupid. Freedom of religion certainly includes the freedom to be flat wrong, but one of my biggest quarrels with faith is the editing of reality it seems to require from many believers.

Secret Pakistani Deal with US on Bin Laden

The Unwisdom of Elites — Paul Krugman on how we got into the current economic mess.

Falsehood? Or Mostly Accurate Prediction?Republicans want to gut the medical safety net, and old people will die prematurely as a result. That’s not a nice thing to say in polite company, but it’s the truth. Yep. Compassionate conservatism for the win.

GOP finding it hard to make progressRepublicans struggle to appease the right and appeal to the center, resulting in fits and starts in the party’s agenda. Their retreat on Medicare is a prime example. Really? But pandering to the base while sending psychotically mixed messages to the center has always worked so well for them in the past. (Sadly, I am not being sarcastic.)

Tea Party Leader: We’ll Take The Debt Ceiling Hike If You Put Gay Troops Back In The Closet — As my friends on the Right keep assuring me, the Tea Party is about ordinary Americans concerned with small government and fiscal responsibility. No social backlash or bigotry here, no sirree bob. That’s why the Tea Party was so vocal during the Bush administration, when government intrusiveness ballooned and the deficit spiraled out of control. Under a white president. Oops. Was that my outside voice?

?otD: When’s the last time you had surgery?


5/10/2011
Writing time yesterday: 0.0 hours (busy with surgery prep, etc.)
Body movement: 0 minutes (surgery prep)
Hours slept: 5.5 hours (solid)
Weight: 241.4
Currently reading: Sasha 124 by Alex Tillson

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[links] Link salad goes for a walk in the freezing dark

A reader reacts to (among other books) Madness of Flowers

Process: Writing Speed, Frequency, and How Everyone Is Different — calendula_witch on how we write.

Books After AmazonBoston Review on the evil that is Amazon.com. (Via tillyjane.)

The haiku comments from yesterday are pretty darned amusing: [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]

The history of wikis — Wikipedia explains itself. (Pointed out to me by my brother.)

The Mystery of the Red Bees of Red Hook — Mmm, cherries. (Thanks to my Dad.)

Fighting Tumors With Tumors — Fascinating, and rather applicable to my recent health history.

Steam discovered on an exoplanet — Man the aetheric dirigibles!

How Pain Can Make You Feel BetterScientists find a strange connection between physical pain and positive emotions. Fascinating. Scientific American comments on the “hitting yourself over the head with a hammer so it feels good when you stop” philosophy of life. Actually, this is far more serious and interesting article than that, but that’s what the headline brought to mind. (Via David Goldman.)

Commies and cranberries — More profoundly counterfactual right wing idiocy, this time about the history of Thanksgiving. I guess when the facts are biased against you, you just have to keep making shit up. (Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars.)

?otD: Omaha or Minot?


12/02/2010
Writing time yesterday: 1.0 hours (WRPA and research for Sunspin, no word count)
Body movement: 65 minute suburban walk
Hours slept: 6.25 hours (solid)
This morning’s weigh-in: n/a
Yesterday’s chemo/post-op stress index: 3/10 (peripheral neuropathy, emotional distress)
Currently reading: Between books

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[awards] Updated pimpage for Nebula and Hugos

We’re at the end of the Nebula window, and in the Hugo window, so I thought I’d so some updated pimpage here.

My favorite picks are in bold.

Oddball Nebula eligibility (but not Hugo) due to rules change:

* “America, Such As She Is”; Alembical; ed. Lawrence M. Schoen and Arthur Dorrance, Paper Golem Press; November, 2008 [novella]
This is probably my favorite published story of my own to date, and I wish it had received more attention. If you’re a SFWA member interested in reading it for consideration this weekend, please contact for a .pdf.

2009 Published Science Fiction:

* “On the Human Plan; Lone Star Stories; February, 2009 [short story]
* “Rolling Steel: A Pre-Apocalyptic Love Story (with Shannon Page); Clarkesworld; April, 2009 [short story]
* “To Raise a Mutiny Betwixt Yourselves”; The New Space Opera 2, ed. Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan, Eos, April, 2009 [novelette] [in Sunspin continuity]
Leopard“; Jim Baen’s Universe, June, 2009 [short story]
“Black Heart, White Mourning”; Grant’s Pass, ed. Jennifer Brozek and Amanda Pillar, Morrigan Books; August, 2009 [short story]
* “Chain of Stars; Subterranean, October, 2009 – [novella] [In Mainspring continuity]
“Last Drink Bird Head”; Last Drink Bird Head, ed. Jeff vanderMeer; Ministry of Whimsy Press, October, 2009 [flash]
* Death of a Starship; MonkeyBrain Books, November, 2009 [novel]

2009 Published Fantasy:

* “Golden Pepper; Flash Fiction Online; February, 2009 [flash]
“The True Secret of Magic”, as Joe Edwards; Crime Spells, ed. Martin H. Greenberg and Loren Coleman, DAW; February, 2009 [short story]
“Witness to the Fall”; Crime Spells, ed. Martin H. Greenberg and Loren Coleman, DAW; February, 2009 [short story]
To Stone” (with Shannon Page); Morrigan eZine, May, 2009 [short story]
* Green; Tor Books, June, 2009 [novel]
People of Leaf and Branch“; Fantasy; June, 2009 [short story] [in Green continuity]
“Tale of the Poet and the Dog”; Japanese Dreams, ed. Sean Wallace, Prime Books; Summer, 2009 [short story]
“An Elderly Pirate Recalls the Death of Love”; Electric Velocipede Issue 17/18 [short story]
* “Red Dirt Kingdoms”; Realms of Fantasy, October, 2009 [short story]
Madness of Flowers; Night Shade Books, November, 2009 [novel]
“Bone Island” (with Shannon Page); Interzone, Fall, 2009 [novelette]
“Shedding Skin; Or How the World Came to Be”; Shimmer (Clockwork Jungle Issue), Fall, 2009 [short story]

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[personal] Obligatory year in review post for 2009

Writing and Publishing

(All figures subject to some revision, due to the vagaries of both record-keeping and publishing.)

I wrote twenty pieces of first draft short fiction, totalling 92,100 words. (Some of these were collaborative.) Due to a combination of circumstances, largely involving cancer, I only wrote one complete first draft novel this year, Endurance at 114,500 words — an unusual burst of brevity for me. Extensive revisions or rewrites to Pinion, Heart of the Beast (unfinished collaborative novel with Jeff VanderMeer), The Rockefeller Plot (unfinished collaborative novel with my dad) and Our Lady of the Islands (complete-but-in-revision collaborative novel with .) Also a number of articles, interviews and the usual avalanche of blog postings. Without getting too precise, I probably wrote about 500,000 words this year, which is a very small year from me.

I sold seventeen original short stories. Five of them were written collaboratively with , two more collaboratively with . I also have two forthcoming year’s best appearances for 2009 material, both for “On the Human Plan“, which originally appeared in Lone Star Stories in February of 2009. Those seventeen short fiction acceptances were balanced by twenty-three short fiction rejections. Also had ten reprint sales, including the YB inclusions, most of the rest of audio or foreign rights.

Approximately fifteen short stories of mine were published this year, including a number of the collaborations. I saw exactly three novels published this year: Green (Tor Books; June, 2009), Madness of Flowers (Night Shade Books; October, 2009) and Death of a Starship (MonkeyBrain Books; December, 2009). Contracted two more novels with Tor, Endurance and Kalimpura, which will extend the Green story. Those are my ninth and tenth novel sales. The anthology Other Earths, edited by Nick Gevers and me, also appeared this year, to strong critical reception, as well as the anthology Footprints, edited by Eric Reynolds and me.

Delivered Pinion to Tor (the third Mainspring book), The Sky That Wraps to Subterranean Press and The Specific Gravity of Grief to Fairwood Press. Drafted Endurance (the second Green book) for delivery next spring.

In 2010, I expect to see Pinion published by Tor Books, as well as my collection The Sky That Wraps from Subterranean Press, and single-title novellas The Specific Gravity of Grief (a cancer tale, from Fairwood Press) and The Baby Killers (high concept steampunk, from PS Publishing).

Attended a number of conventions, the highlights being my Toastmaster gig at World Fantasy in San Jose, and the lovely time we had at WorldCon in Montreal. We do plan to attend WorldCon in Melbourne this coming year, along with the New Zealand national SF convention the weekend prior. Those will be part of my “I survived chemo” celebration.

Personal

My relationship with has continued to solidify and blossom. That is a balm to my heart and delight to my life. Many other friendships and relationships have prospered as well, including the discovery (by me) of the delightful , and the ongoing evolution of my long-term friendship with .

Unfortunately, my relationship with cancer has also continued to solidify and blossom. 2008’s colon cancer came back with a lung metastasis, this after significant scares regarding liver and lymph metastates. In November I had a partial thoracectomy to remove a single grape-sized tumor from my left lung, along with a patch of lung tissue the size and shape of a Dorito. In December I had a port implanted in my right chest to facilitate chemotherapy. This coming January, I start a series of twelve infusions of a FOLFOX-Avastin cocktail, a chemotherapy combination with a range of potential side effects that would give anyone pause.

Chemo means my writing life will be pared down through next summer, though by what degree is not obvious. I have only retained two contracted commitments, one a major editing project, the other to revise and deliver Endurance. I’d also like to finish revising Our Lady of the Islands, my collaborate novel project with , so we can go to market with it, as well as make further progress on The Rockefeller Plot, the diplomatic thriller I am writing with my father. Beyond that… With luck, the second half of the year will see me restored to normal production, as I need to draft Kalimpura and I’d like to take a crack at Sunspin.

Hope your year was as happy and productive as mine, and considerably healthier. All the better for the New Year to you and yours.

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[links] Link salad goes ungently into the unsweet night of surgery

A reader reacts to my 2005 novel Rocket Science Powell's | Amazon ] — I think they liked it.

Cheryl Morgan reviews Madness of Flowers Powell's | Amazon ] — Note the comments section, she’s playing an utterly lovely game with a short passage from my book.

finishes my medical forms — Hahahah.

and Mrs. drop by with a lovely parting gift — Hilarious.

SMBC on the topic of lung surgery — An odd resonance in today’s comic reading, given where I’m headed this morning.

Nothing to Sneeze At: Doctors’ Neckties Seen as Flu Risk — Heh. I knew I was on to something with this whole Hawaiian shirt thing.

APOD with the ice fountains of Enceladus — Wow wow wow.

Hacked E-Mail Is New Fodder for Climate Dispute — Well, this is not good.

Everybody flipflops on the filibuster of judicial nominees — Ah, principled consistency in politics.

?otD: Will you miss me when I’m gone?


11/25/2009
Body movement: n/a (surgery prep)
Hours slept: 6.25
This morning’s weigh-in: 236.2
Currently reading: Finch by Jeff VanderMeer

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[awards] A largely complete 2009 bibliography, as it is Nebula time

With the new Nebula Awards rules in place, nominating season is upon us. I thought I’d mention my works this year, highlighting my own favorites, for those interested in considering them. My favorite picks are in bold with *.

2009 Published Science Fiction:

* “On the Human Plan; Lone Star Stories; February, 2009 [short story]
* “Rolling Steel: A Pre-Apocalyptic Love Story (with Shannon Page); Clarkesworld; April, 2009 [short story]
* “To Raise a Mutiny Betwixt Yourselves”; The New Space Opera 2, ed. Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan, Eos, April, 2009 [novelette] [in Sunspin continuity]
Leopard“; Jim Baen’s Universe, June, 2009 [short story]
“Black Heart, White Mourning”; Grant’s Pass, ed. Jennifer Brozek and Amanda Pillar, Morrigan Books; August, 2009 [short story]
* “Chain of Stars; Subterranean, October, 2009 – [novella] [In Mainspring continuity]
“Last Drink Bird Head”; Last Drink Bird Head, ed. Jeff vanderMeer; Ministry of Whimsy Press, October, 2009 [flash]
* Death of a Starship; MonkeyBrain Books, November, 2009 [novel]

2009 Forthcoming Science Fiction:

“Bringing the Future Home”; Global Warming Aftermaths, ed. Eric T. Reynolds, Hadley Rille Books; Fall, 2009 [short story]
“Looking for Truth in a Wild Blue Yonder” (with Ken Scholes); Tor.com, Fall, 2009 [short story]
“The Starship Mechanic” (with Ken Scholes); Tor.com, Fall, 2009 [short story]

2009 Published Fantasy:

* “Golden Pepper; Flash Fiction Online; February, 2009 [flash]
“The True Secret of Magic”, as Joe Edwards; Crime Spells, ed. Martin H. Greenberg and Loren Coleman, DAW; February, 2009 [short story]
“Witness to the Fall”; Crime Spells, ed. Martin H. Greenberg and Loren Coleman, DAW; February, 2009 [short story]
To Stone” (with Shannon Page); Morrigan eZine, May, 2009 [short story]
* Green; Tor Books, June, 2009 [novel]
People of Leaf and Branch“; Fantasy; June, 2009 [short story] [in Green continuity]
“Tale of the Poet and the Dog”; Japanese Dreams, ed. Sean Wallace, Prime Books; Summer, 2009 [short story]
“An Elderly Pirate Recalls the Death of Love”; Electric Velocipede Issue 17/18 [short story]
* “Red Dirt Kingdoms”; Realms of Fantasy, October, 2009 [short story]
Madness of Flowers; Night Shade Books, November, 2009 [novel]

2009 Forthcoming Fantasy:

“Bone Island” (with Shannon Page); Interzone, Fall, 2009 [novelette]
“In the Emperor’s Garden” (with Shannon Page); Fantasy, Fall, 2009 [short story]
“The Passion of Mother Vajpai” (with Shannon Page); Subterranean, Fall, 2009 [novelette] [in GREEN continuity]
“Shedding Skin; Or How the World Came to Be”; Shimmer (Clockwork Jungle Issue), Fall, 2009 [short story]

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[links] Link salad follows the example of the comic-paper idol

The Dragon Page reviews Green Powell's | Amazon | Kindle | Barnes & Noble | Borders ] — (Thanks to .)

A reader reacts to Madness of Flowers Powell's | Amazon ]

Jay Lake, Religion and a Benediction — Shlomi, on my cancer.

TWA Mechanics from Outer Space — Hilarious photo, ca. 1941.

Saturn After the Equinox — Another APOD image that will take your breath away.

1962 textbook, When You Marry — Check out the excerpted material on class differences in child rearing and sex. It’s creepy.

SMBC on the perils of evolutionists — Heh.

Antihealthcare Reform Idiocy — Oh, wow. Money shot: “When I need health care, I pay for it out of pocket,” he said, adding that he did not fear the possibility that an accident or illness would leave him with unaffordable bills. “I’m a Christian, so I’m not afraid of death,” he said. Good luck with that.

?otD: How thick are you?


11/10/2009
Body movement: 90 minute suburban walk
Hours slept: 6.0
This morning’s weigh-in: 234.0
Currently reading: The Jade Man’s Skin by Daniel Fox

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