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[travel|food] Having fun in Newark, CA

Last night’s open dinner at the Bombay Garden here in Newark, CA, was fun. We had about a dozen people show up. LiveJournal is down as I draft this post, so I can’t check LJ to namecheck everybody by their Official Internet Handles, but there was good spread of folks from dear old friends to brand new acquaintances. Author Juliette Wade brought her kids, who at about 9 and 7 reminded me a great deal of me and my sister at their age. Editor Gabrielle Harbowy was there, with Mr. G.H. and her assistant F—. K—, T— M— and her husband, Springtime Creations and Mr. S.C., as well as Dave a/k/a Dad. (I hope to Ghu I didn’t leave anybody off…)

Food at the Bombay Garden was pretty good, the service could kindly be described as eccentric, but that didn’t matter. It was a good bunch of people, and we hung out in the restaurant for about 2.5 hours.

Walked for an hour this morning, now gearing up for a day of Day Jobbery. Flying home tonight. With luck, I’ll finish the current section of Their Currents Turn Awry on the plane.

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[links] Link salad knows your history

Jay Lake. The Weight of History, the Lightness of the FutureBest SF with a review of my recent Sunspin novella at Subterranean Online.

Talking pineapple question on state exam stumps … everyone! — And more on this. Plus a hilarious response from author Daniel Pinkwater, who wrote the original source material from which the test was extracted. Weird stuff. (Via [info]corwynofamber.)

Rhetological FallaciesErrors and manipulations of rhetoric and logical thinking. Oddly, the second chart I saw yesterday illustrating this point. (Via [info]tillyjane.)

Sticking hand into bee colony and moving them — A nifty video. (Via [info]willyumtx.)

Quantum decision affects results of measurements taken earlier in time

‘History of Space Photography’ is out of this world

Rosetta Approaches Asteroid Lutitea What would it look like to approach an asteroid in a spaceship? Though I also love this comment: Lutetian is currently the largest asteroid or comet nucleus that has been visited by a human-launched spacecraft. Since when have we needed to qualify the noun “spacecraft” with the adjective “human-launched”?

Private company does indeed plan to mine asteroids… and I think they can do itBad Astronomer Phil Plait on some very cool stuff.

Primate Change — Hahahaha.

Facts, 360 B.C.-A.D. 2012In memoriam: After years of health problems, Facts has finally died.

Legal Theory Lexicon: Persons and Personhood — In case you were wondering. (Via Scrivener’s Error.)

The day-to-day reality of enforcing immigration laws

Shift on Executive Power Lets Obama Bypass Rivals — Strangely enough, this story in Your Liberal Media makes it sound as if Obama had come up with this all on his own, for his own reasons, without ever actually mentioning deliberate Republican obstructionism or the GOP’s stated highest legislative priority of making Obama a one-term president. Nope, he’s just a power mad liberal, apparently.

The Amnesia CandidateMr. Romney wants you to attribute all of the shortfalls in economic policy since 2009 (and some that happened in 2008) to the man in the White House, and forget both the role of Republican-controlled state governments and the fact that Mr. Obama has faced scorched-earth political opposition since his first day in office. Basically, the G.O.P. has blocked the administration’s efforts to the maximum extent possible, then turned around and blamed the administration for not doing enough. But, but, Tea Party!

Jon Huntsman and the Grand Old Communist Party — Hahahah.

Rubio: George W. Bush Was a “Fantastic” President — By what conceivable standard? National security? 9-11 happened on his watch, and we were drawn into the Iraq war on blatantly false pretenses. Domestic security? The response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans should have been the scandal of the decade. The economy? That’s a farce that goes without saying. The Bush administration was one of the most colossal political failures since at least Herbert Hoover, proudly following conservative philosophies while driving this nation as deep into the ditch as we’ve been since the Great Depression. And Republicans think it was a success? Unfortunately for reality-based Americans, we really do get the government that we deserve.

RNC spokesman says Republicans will follow Bush economic policies, ‘just updated’ — Yeah, because that worked out so well during the Bush administration. I realize that all likely GOP voters blame Obama for everything that’s happened to the economy over the last twelve years, but here in reality land, some of us remember what the state of the economy, the Federal budget, and the deficit were when Bush took office, and what state they were in when he left.

?otd: Where were you born?

Writing time yesterday: 1.25 hours (3,000 words on Their Currents Turn Awry)
Body movement: 30 minute stationary bike ride
Hours slept: 7.0 (solid)
Weight: 240.2 (!)
Currently reading: Between books

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[cancer] Half the way to another season in hell

Still staring down the barrel of the cancer gun. Yesterday I received the test results from my carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) bloodwork. That’s the test that checks the level of potentially tumor-related proteins in my blood. (Almost everyone has some non-zero level of CEA markers. An irritated bowel can produce them, for example.) Though my levels are roughly twice what they were two months ago, they’re still low-normal. The difference is well within the test’s normal variation, and the result is well below the minimum level required for clinical significance.

If my CEA levels had spiked, that would have been nearly certain evidence of new tumor activity. So this result is not definitively bad. It is, however, not definitively good, either. We know from my prior cancer history that I sometimes have tumors which do not produce a significant amount of CEAs. In other words, pending further detail from the CT scan, this is still Schrödinger’s tumor.

Only for a few more hours, though. I see one of my oncologists at 10 am, and the other at 11 am. Sometime between right now and sitting down with them, I’ll know the scan results. They could also be good, bad or ambiguous. A good result would be the disappearance of the liver lesion, or its continued presence at the same size +/- <5mm (the margin of error in a CT scan). An ambiguous result would be its continued presence at around +5mm compared to the prior size of 5mm. Did it grow or didn't it? A bad result would be the lesion's continued presence at well more than 5mm of growth compared to the prior size. My expectation is that for an ambiguous or bad result we'd probably order a PET scan to check metabolic activity. Though we might not bother for a very bad result, but instead just proceed with treatment. CT scans reveal structure within the body through density variation, but they're not always good at distinguishing the causes of the variation. The PET scan would tag variations in metabolic activity, which can be indicative of tumor presence with a high degree of confidence. In other words, I'm still waiting to find out if I need to book another season in hell. I'll know sometime this morning. As always, there is an enormous amount at stake, potentially up to and including my very life. The stress is mind-numbing. I hurt in weird places. My lower GI function has been even quirkier than usual. I've gained weight from stress eating. I've been both vague and irritable these past few days. On the plus side, I managed to pull 2,900 words of Sunspin out yesterday, despite it all. The waiting is the hardest part, and the waiting is almost over. That’s what my writer brain was telling me.

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[cancer] I got me the brain-eating heebie jeebie blues

Sometimes the universe sees fit to hand me a blunt force comeuppance. Just a couple of days after I blog about how I can always find time to write, and that I am almost never blocked [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ], I am blocked.

Yesterday was very hard for several reasons that don’t have much directly to do with cancer. Thursday night’s misadventures with leaving my wallet in Lincoln City had me both badly exhausted and short slept. These days it’s easy to forget that I’m less than four months out of chemotherapy, but I do still tire more easily than in baseline health. So I started yesterday feeling like hell. Then I spent most of the day at the hospital with a friend. (Yes, everything’s fine, but I still spent most of the day at the hospital.) While simultaneously juggling a difficult set of Day Jobbe issues that ran on well into the evening. (Yes, everything’s fine, but I still spent most of the day juggling difficult issues.)

Yesterday was pretty much a loss from a writing perspective. But I knew it would be going in, and declared it as such. In fact, yesterday was such a loss that I went lights out at eight o’clock last night. That’s way early for post-chemo me. Slept solid for over nine hours, too, so obviously I needed it badly.

The joker in the deck isn’t all that. Physically, I feel pretty recovered this morning. I’m giving myself a break and not rushing into my day as I am wont to do. It’s the cancer stress that’s killing me now, and was almost certainly killing me yesterday as well.

The next CT scan is Monday, two days from now. The next round of oncology appointments are Wednesday, four days from now. These scans are always very, very hard on me. Any of them could be a death sentence for me. Any of them could mean I lose yet another year of my personal, social, emotional and writing life to surgery and chemotherapy. And that’s even if I have no reason not to think I’m clean, that I’m not cancer-free.

Unfortunately, at the moment, there is good reason to suspect I’m not clean.

As you know, Bob, we found a new lesion on my liver as a result of my prior CT scan in February. The clinical status of that lesion is undetermined. But given my personal history of throwing metastases on a roughly annual basis, it’s very, very hard for me to be optimistic about this.

My brain is empty. The stress monster has slurped it up, burped it out, and shit in my empty skull just as a special bonus.

I’m almost certain there will be no writing today. I’ll be amazed if there will be any writing between now and next Wednesday’s oncology appointments. Unfortunately, right now I am in book mode [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]. I have deadlines, admittedly self-imposed, but no less real for that.

Cue a cycle of guilt, recrimination, and irritation. Irritation at myself and at the cancer.

The objective reality of this situation is that I’m nicely ahead of schedule on Their Currents Turn Awry. I budgeted April and May to complete this draft, and I’m only 50-60,000 words from being done. Possibly a bit fewer. Given that I have seven weeks left, and I’m averaging 3,000 words per writing day on this project, I have loads of time.

But objective reality isn’t exactly the point here. The cancer-induced brain-eating heebie jeebie blues are the point here. Or not.

Today, I’ll go to [info]the_child‘s lacrosse game, visit [info]lizzyshannon, have lunch with my parents, visit with my friend H—, and still have plenty of time to write if the vapor lock in my head clears up. Even if the vapor lock doesn’t clear up, I’ll have a fun, busy day with people I care about, who care about me. Tomorrow is just as committed, hiking with friends in the morning, then dinner with [info]mlerules, then an evening conference call on an exciting new project.

I’m doing the best I can here. Unfortunately, cancer laughs at my best. Stupid fucker is eating my life.

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[writing] Speaking of writing time…

…I am (probably) taking the day off from writing. I finished a major chunk of Their Currents Turn Awry yesterday, and I some things I really want to do this afternoon after work that will take the rest of my day.

This is why several years ago I consciously redefined my novel-writing work ethic and functional goals to be “at least 2,500 words per day, at least five days per week.” So I can take a day or two off without feeling guilty.

Of course, I feel a little guilty anyway, but as [info]matociquala says, if you do not finish the book today, you will have to work on it tomorrow.

I have a fair number of tomorrows yet on this book. Starting with, erm, tomorrow.

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[writing] Some more work on Their Currents Turn Awry

Yesterday I managed ninety minutes on Their Currents Turn Awry prior to Mary Robinette Kowal ‘s launch party for Glamour in GlassPowells | BN ]. Things are plugging along, and I’m very nearly at the end of the first third of the second half of this the second book of Sunspin. (Yeah, really.)

So, here’s some WIP for y’all. The usual disclaimers about first draft-i-ness apply, of course.

Read the rest of this entry »

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[process] Muddling in the middle

In the last nine days, I’ve written 24,500 words on Their Currents Turn Awry. Since I started with 66,600 words from last year’s writing, I really only need another 50,000 to 60,000 words to finish this draft. In other words, I’m already a third of the way there.

But I’m also firmly in the middle. And I’m hitting a muddle in the middle so classic that it makes me laugh at myself. “This boring.” “No one wants to read this.” “Why am I writing this?” “Look, there’s some bills that need to be paid!”

One if the reasons this strikes me as funny is that Sunspin as a whole is organized in arcs or chunks. Each chunk is 60,000 to 80,000 words long, roughly. Each chunk has three segments of 20,000 to 30,000 words each. There is no chaptering. So within each segment, I have a middle. Within each chunk I have a middle. Within each book, I have a middle. Within the four book series, I have a middle.

Are you sensing a pattern yet?

Right now I’m approaching the middle of the second chunk of Their Currents Turn Awry, just past the middle of the book, and approaching the middle of the series. It’s as if my muddle in the middle were a nested set of Ptolemaic epicycles and they’re all coming together.

So, hell yeah, I’m muddling. This is where I know not to decide the idea is boring and stupid and go chase some other shiny, cool idea. How do I know not to do this? Because I am an experienced writer.

Everybody’s middles suck. At least to them, while they’re writing. Giving up at this point is the biggest mistake newer writers make. And it’s a mistake that tempts at least some of us older writers.

Luckily for me, my desire to see how the story comes out waaaaay trumps the middle-muddling going on.

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[process] Watch that first step, it’s a doozy

Diving into a substantial project for the first time, or back into it if I’ve been off for a while, always includes a moment of challenge for me. There’s a point where I say to myself, “Whoa, I can’t do that.” For Pete’s sake, I’ve written nineteen first draft novels. It’s not like I don’t know how to do the work at this point. There’s just a sense of biting off part of an elephant. It’s biiiig.

This happened to me yesterday as I geared up to once more start laying down significant first draft word count on Their Currents Turn Awry, Sunspin volume two. I’d spent the previous couple of days reading through the 66,600 words of draft I already had in the can. That effort got me back into the headspace of the books, the terrain of the characters. Yesterday, though, I needed to step off the edge and take the plunge into the next 70,000 words or so.

For one long, slow moment, teetering at the edge, I felt like chickening out.

I didn’t. I never do. But the temptation is always there, right at that launch point.

In fact, I went on to write 4,500 words of first draft yesterday. Two character segments. With gunfire, and crashed spaceships sinking into the waters of a frigid mountain lake, and murder at a production studio. It’s not like it wasn’t fun, or interesting, or engaging, or entertaining. Writing (almost) always is those things for me.

I just get a little spooked by the size of my ambitions sometimes. Then I remember that I am bigger than the story, that I must be bigger than the story. It is contained within me, and only I can let it out.

The multitudes are marching. I will be for a while plural.

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[process] Analyzing the writing of Calamity of So Long a Life

As I mentioned over the weekend, Calamity of So Long a Life is finally off my desk and out into the world. More about that when there’s more to report.

Now that I’m embarking on Their Currents Turn Awry, this seems like a good time to review what I’ve done with Calamity. Checking my production information, I find the following:

150.0 hours of writing (includes the synopsis, and about 65,000 words of Currents)
90.25 hours of revision
240.25 hours total

If I fudge out 32.5 hours for the work that has turned into the first part of Their Currents Turn Awry, using an assumed base production rate of 2,000 words per hour, that still leaves me with the following:

117.5 hours of writing time (includes the synopsis)
90.25 hours of revision
207.75 hours total

I can further fudge out 75.5 hours for the work on drafting Calamity of So Long a Life, in order to break out the outlining process from the drafting process, I get the following:

42.0 hours of writing time (outline)
75.5 hours of writing time (first draft)
90.25 hours of revision
207.75 hours total

In effect, I wrote the first draft of Calamity of So Long a Life at roughly the same clip I’ve been drafting for a long while, since I deliberately applied the brakes to slow myself down. As I have discussed a number of occasions, that’s 1,800 words an hour, with bursts up to 2,500 words an hour. I average about 2,000 words an hour over a large scale project.

One thing that is different about this book is that I expended a very large amount of time on the outline, both in up front effort and in ongoing tweaks once the project was underway. As it currently stands, the outline is about 120 pages long, totaling 28,400 words in its own right. I haven’t even accounted for all the time on the outline prior to 2011, as I’d been prethinking and making notes on Sunspin for several years prior to that.

Another thing that is different about this book is that I’ve greatly expanded the amount of time spent on revisions. For productivity planning purposes, I used to estimate 100 hours to write a 200,000 word first draft, and another 50 hours for revisions. In other words, revisions consumed 50% of the time that a first draft consumed. What has happened on Calamity is that revisions now consume 120% of the time that the first draft consumed.

Even in just drafting this blog post, I am surprised by these numbers. I hadn’t realized how much time I’d sunk into revisions. It’s not surprising in retrospect, as I added two major steps to my process as compared to prior books. But still… As for the outline, I’ve known all along that Sunspin has been requiring a radically different investment in that part of the process. And it has really paid off.

Both of these trends are almost certainly very good things. Is it taking me longer to write a book with the expanded prep time and the expanded revision time? Obviously. Considerably longer. But writing isn’t a horse race, and nobody gives out medals for being fast. Because I believe that by taking all this extra time both before and after executing the first draft, I’m writing a much, much better book.

Or at any rate, I really hope so. If I’m not improving, I’m doing it wrong.

First drafts have always been the most joyous part of the process for me. They still are. Discovering the story, seeing it unroll onto the page, is where I get my greatest writer yayas. All this time spent on the synopsis and the revision? That’s me maturing and developing as a writer. Giving you more reader yayas, ideally.

I’m already applying these expanded processes to both Little Dog: Son of a Bitch (co-authored under [info]bravado111‘s guidance) and to Their Currents Turn Awry. I haven’t yet seen validation from the market, the critics or the readers, but I really believe in these changes, and trust that others will, too. And as always, I’m looking forward to whatever happens next.

This is a fun, fun career.

Note: I know some people take considerable exception when I make these very metrics-driven process posts. Please understand that I use this kind of thinking in two places.

One, when I’m budgeting my writing time a year or two ahead, so I know what I can produce in what time frames.

Two, after the fact, when I’m looking to derive lessons learned from a project. As in this post right here.

When I’m actually doing the writing, in the flow, I barely think about this stuff at all. Story comes first, always. But in order to be a competent, deadline oriented professional, it’s important to me and my process to understand the underpinnings. Hence the quantitative analysis.

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[writing] Settling (back) into Their Currents Turn Awry

Due to the vagaries of drafting Calamity of So Long a Life, I already have 66,600 words of Their Currents Turn Awry in the can. So yesterday I started re-reading them in order to gear up for the drafting process. Wound up writing a few more words, too, adding about 1,600. It’s nice to see the story on the page. And as usual for me in the midst of a large project, Sunspin is very real inside my head.

I really only need about another 70,000 words here, and I’ve budgeted two months to do it. That’s a remarkably generous time allotment. If I wind up needing liver surgery after the April 18th oncology appointments, well, I’ll keep that budget. If I’m clear for a while longer, I’ll accelerate my schedule for the year, either by also writing the first part of The Whips and Scorns of Time in May, or by shifting my planned June efforts forward a month. No matter how it works out, the extra time will pay off.

Yesterday I did some proofreading as well. I also spent a bunch of time yesterday reading critique for an upcoming conference. This was the first pass. That always makes me think a lot about my own craft. I’ll give those stories one or two more passes (depending on what each one needs) over the next few weeks, and have my crit in the can. My only other top-of-the-to-do-list project of note right now is to assemble the eighth grade anthology, as an outcome of my recent guest teaching gig there. Everything else is out of my hands at the moment.

The words march on.

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