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[writing] Another small milestone on Their Currents Turn Awry

Yesterday I finished the latest chunk of Their Currents Turn Awry, Sunspin volume 2. The manuscript now stands at 119,200 words, and I figure on adding about 30,000 more words with the last chunk. I’m definitely wrestling with some plot timing and sequencing issues, but that’s absolutely a problem for revision. I am also emerging from the natural self-doubt of the eternal muddle in the middle, at least for this book.

It’s nice to see it flowing. I expect 10-12 more days of writing time before I’m done with this draft altogether. It’s a first draft, of course, so this won’t be going out to first readers or anyone else (unless someone really insists, I suppose). Rather, it will be going into the drawer until about August. I have other fish to fry in the mean time, including working on the Going to Extremes proposal and possibly first draft, Kalimpura copy edits, a rewrite on Little Dog: Son of a Bitch once [info]bravado111 has drafted it, some short fiction projects including at least one novella, and maybe a run at the first part of The Whips and Scorns of Time, Sunspin volume 3.

Plus some other cool stuff in the works which I can’t quite talk about yet. But trust me, it’s cool.

Busy, busy.

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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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[writing|cancer] 2012 and further goals, more thereupon

As I said on New Year’s Eve [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ] regarding my 2012 writing goals:

For 2012, if I can stay out of the oncology unit, I plan to write the other 400,000 words of Sunspin, revise the first two volumes for submittal and publication, and write several requested novellas and short stories. […] Even if I do go back into cancer treatment, experience shows I can still be reasonably productive. If I metastasize yet again, I still plan to write another 100,000 words of Sunspin, as well as revise the first two volumes and write the requested short fiction.

That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. If my health permits, I’ll finish the first draft of the entire Sunspin cycle. By way of official news regarding that project, my agent and I have redivided it from three books to four for reasons of length. The titles now are:

Calamity of So Long a Life
Their Currents Turn Awry
The Whips and Scorns of Time
Be All Our Sins Remembered

Their Currents Turn Awry is the new title, and is now book two between the previously announced titles Calamity of So Long a Life and The Whips and Scorns of Time.

Also in Sunspin news, Subterranean Online will this year be publishing my novella “The Weight of History, the Lightness of the Future”, which is essentially chapter zero of Calamity of So Long a Life. So if you’re interested in this project, watch for that.

My more detailed 2012 plan for writing is as follows:

January and February, 2012 — Revise Calamity of So Long a Life for submission and publication, with a March 1 delivery date to my agent, and going to market shortly thereafter.
March, 2012 — Take a break from Sunspin, pursue short fiction commitments.
April and May, 2012 — Write another 100,000 words of Sunspin, edit into first draft manuscript of Their Currents Turn Awry.
June, 2012 — Initial revisions to Their Currents Turn Awry, release to my first readers.
July, 2012 — Take a break from Sunspin, pursue short fiction commitments.
August, September and October, 2012 — Write another 300,000 words of Sunspin, edit into first draft manuscripts of The Whips and Scorns of Time and Be All Our Sins Remembered.
November, 2012 — Take a break from Sunspin, pursue short fiction commitments.
December, 2012 — Revise Their Currents Turn Awry for submission and publication, with a December 31 delivery date to my agent.

That will put revisions and submittal for The Whips and Scorns of Time and Be All Our Sins Remembered in early 2013, and then I’ll be done with the cycle and free to move on to other projects.

The huge open question is whether I go back into treatment this year. The gap between conclusion of my last chemotherapy sequence and the detection of the next metastasis was nine months. If I can squeeze out a year, all of the above will happen. Even if the worst happens and we find a new metastasis in February, at my next scan, I’ll still get the work through March done for certain, and probably manage the work planned through June, though it may take me several months longer to reach those goals, if I have to take time off for surgery or whatever. So at a minimum, I’ll get Calamity of So Long a Life out and Their Currents Turn Awry written and revised, even if illness forces me to push drafting The Whips and Scorns of Time and Be All Our Sins Remembered into 2013.

In a larger sense, I figure these days I’m about one to two years from dying at any given point depending on my next diagnosis. More swiftly, of course, of the cancer comes back in an inoperable location or otherwise excessively troublesome. So when I look down the road, at other projects such as Original Destiny, Manifest Sin, it’s with a less confident eye than I used to have. I figure my long-term goals beyond Sunspin aren’t so much goals as hopes. Here are the benchmarks, things I’m looking forward to living to see if I can manage it.

December, 2012 — The Hobbit part one released
December, 2013 — The Hobbit part two released
June, 2016 — [info]the_child graduates from high school

If I make it alive and in some form of health to June, 2016, I will have won. That much time grants me my daughter’s entrance into adulthood, and lets me see her start her own life. That much time grants me as many as five or six more books, at a minimum four more even if I spend much of the intervening years in treatment. And it lets me go back to Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth twice more.

And, well, if I don’t make it that far, I’ll spend as much time as I can with [info]the_child and write as many books as I can.

Thinking about it in those terms both focuses and trivializes my 2012 goals. Perhaps you can see how my thinking is bent as time passes. But this is the life I’m leading, and I’ll do the best I can.

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[cancer] What the clean CT scan does and does not mean

My CT scan came back clean yesterday, as noted here: [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]. I am overwhelmed both by the news, and by the good wishes that have poured in via my blogs, Twitter and Facebook. As I said yesterday, I was practically in tears with relief.

Let me talk a bit about what this does and doesn’t mean. While the clean CT is profoundly good news, it’s only a step on a long, difficult and dangerous road. As a practical matter, it means I won’t be going right back into treatment in the first quarter of next year. That in turn means I can focus on being a parent to [info]the_child. It means I can do the required revisions on Calamity of So Long a Life, and at a minimum, get ginned up for the initial drafting second Sunspin book, The Whips and Scorns of Time. It means I can hit a couple of conventions in Pacific Northwest, if the money holds up.

It does not mean I am healthy, or out of the woods on cancer. Every four months for the next two years (I think) I have to be rescanned. After that it drops to every six months. Each time I hit a scan threshold, we’re looking again for metastases. And recall that I’ve metastasized twice now, both times about a year after the prior presentation. Primary cancer was diagnosed in April of 2008, the lung metastasis was first detected in April of 2009 on a CT scan, and the liver metastasis was detected in April of 2010 from a spike in my CEAs. So being clean now might only mean that the next metastasis hasn’t gotten big enough to be detected. Next April’s scan is going to be a huge emotional wall.

I get my life back, for now. Most of the time between now and April I’ll be spending recovering from chemo, so it’s not like I’ll be 100% Jay before we hit the next checkpoint. But at least I’m out from under the swordspoint for a while. Profound relief, tempered heavily by a suspicious watchfulness for the future.

And the present ain’t no great shakes. I’ve gone the last two nights with serious sleep deficits. My bowels have been liquid for eight days straight, which is getting very old. That’s also giving me a serious aversion to eating; I don’t think I managed 1,000 calories yesterday. Three more chemo sessions to go, with everything that entails. It’s a damned tough road. But the clean scan — that’s a step in the right direction. I’m looking forward to not living in fear and dread for a while.

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[books|writing] Sunspin, volume 1 is in the can

As of yesterday afternoon, Calamity of So Long a Life is complete in a full first draft at 198,500 words, 849 pages in Microsoft Word using standard manuscript format modified to Times New Roman 14/28. Not bad for a book I estimated at 200,000 words before I began the drafting process. (Though in fairness, my very original estimate, prior to having a firm outline, was 250,000 words. I wanted to write big, for the elbow room.)

Because of the way I wrote it, the first two sections, about 135,000 words, have actually undergone some preliminary revision. So this isn’t quite a first draft so much as a first and two-thirds draft. Nonetheless, the entire book now exists. I need to correspond with la agente about whether she wants to see this iteration, or the iteration after I’ve revised this new, last third section.

Normally, that would be a no-brainer, but I need to work on editorial revisions Kalimpura now (after a few days’ break to clear my poor benighted brain), and by the time I’m done I may be slipping too far into chemo too fast to reliably deliver the revision as I normally would.

Still, the damned thing is done. As I constantly tell aspiring writers in workshops, the first step to revising and selling a manuscript is finishing the draft. Without a full draft, you’ve got nothing but words.

On to stats, a bit. I had originally planned to write this piece of the book in August, and knew it would be about 60,000 words. In point of fact, due to post-surgical recovery, I didn’t begin this draft until 8/7/11. I spent 19 days writing days between 8/7 and 9/6/11, interrupted by additional surgical recovery time, Hugo script prep, the Hugo awards themselves, a modest nonfiction project, and a round of chemotherapy. (That’s what one of my NaNoWriMo months looks like.)

In 19 writing days, I wrote for 33.5 hours, producing 65,300 words. That’s an average clip of 1,950 words per hour.

For the project as a whole, since 1/3/11, I wrote 118.5 hours, producing 196,500 words of first draft. That averages 1,700 words per hour. It was done in three tranches, per the note above. I also spent 24 writing days doing revisions and outlining, 31.0 hours on those tasks, which generated 2,000 extra words net.

So, whew.

My current plan is work with my agent on a go-to-market strategy with this first book plus the outline for the two books following. Assuming I can stay healthy next year, I’ll write The Whips and Scorns of Time next spring once I’m out of chemotherapy, and Be All Our Sins Remembered next summer. That will give me the whole trilogy, all 600,000 words, drafted and delivered in 2012.

There’s some obvious marketing issues. The book’s almost certainly somewhat too big from a publishing perspective. It will either have to be trimmed down, or the series recut from three volumes to four. There’s revisions to come. There’s the rather enormous job of aligning and verifying all the contuity both internally in this volume and with the volumes to come.

But, then, that’s all part of the fun, isn’t it?

Damn, I feel accomplished right now. This is the eighteenth novel draft I’ve completed, and a big one at that. Some pride to carry me into the bad months to come.


And, just because I can, a bonus Wordle of the text of Calamity of So Long a Life

Calamity Wordle

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[process] Minor note on Sunspin and outlines

Still closing in on the end of Calamity of So Long a Life, a/k/a Sunspin volume one. A pair of little process data points have made themselves known to me over the past couple of days. I thought I’d share in the spirit of writerly fellowship, and not suffering alone.

1) When writing a trilogy as one single plot arc, in effect one giant 600,000 word book, the muddle in the middle phenomenon can in fact take place at the end of what is functionally the first book. This may be the first time I’ve ever finished drafting a novel (and this is my eighteenth novel written) where I’ve reached the very end with that slightly confused and disappointed feeling. Normally books wrap up for me with a swift downhill haul and Fred, my inner writer mind, shouting “Wheeee!!!!”. This ought to make the second book entertaining, and suggests an epic finish for the third.

2) Per above, my relationship with the outline isn’t what it normally would be. Yesterday I finished a scene where Maduabuchi St. Macaria and Freddie Tavares are about to meet for the first time about halfway through what the outline called for at the end of Calamity. (Having just written not one but two shuttle crashes, gunfire, near-drowning, and bureaucratic snark. How much better can it get?) I realized I need to push the balance of the scene into book two, The Whips and Scorns of Time, so that these two character threads end on an appropriate note of tension and ill-resolution at the end of Calamity. See above re how I normally approach the ending of novels. At the moment I’m having a bad case of outline interruptus, which is sort of like that guilty tingling if you don’t wash your hands after you pee.

This trilogy thing is harder than it looks.

(You do wash your hands after you pee, right?)

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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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[process] Part the sixth and last of Consumers and Producers

Here is the final installment of this little series. I apologize for the delay in drafting and posting this one, but life got more than a little bit in the way. Once again, I’d like to extend my thanks to everyone who’s involved themselves in the discussion to date. For reference, and if you’d like to catch up on the various comments:

Part 1jlake.com | LiveJournal 

Part 2jlake.com | LiveJournal ]

Part 3jlake.com | LiveJournal ]

Part 4jlake.com | LiveJournal ]

Part 5jlake.com | LiveJournal ]

As I said before, Sunspin has caused me to completely re-engage with my own habits and practices as both a Consumer and a Producer. This series of posts has wandered pretty deeply into my experiences working on that project. Now I want to tie it back up with some thoughts, and some questions for you, who have been patient and kind enough to follow this far.

I value being a Producer very highly. It’s become a core part of my social and emotional identity. In the same vein, her mother and I have put a lot of effort in raising [info]the_child with a sense of what it means to be a Producer (I am a writer, Mother of the Child is an artist working in several media), so that she can have this set of choices available to her as she sets her paths through life.

But being a Producer definitely comes at a cost. As discussed, if nothing else, it interferes with one’s place in life as a Consumer. For me, at least, the energy and focus come out of the same time budget, out of the same emotional and creative spaces.

Being a Consumer is also a creative act, because consuming Story requires participation and interpretation. But origination, now that’s where the holy fire is for me.

Being a Producer has also influenced my life choices with respect to social activities and how I spend my time. I’ve mentioned before that I gave up television in 1994, and gaming in 1998. Those are forms of Consumption, forms of Story, but they’re also things that would quite readily and happily eat my brain. My sense of social scheduling is influenced as well, and the ways I allocate my time on a daily basis.

None of this is to complain. I love what I do, I love being a Producer. My writing has sustained me through some very difficult times in these recent years of cancer and life turmoil. But the cost is real, both directly and in terms of opportunity cost.

The rewards are more real.

My conclusion is that this is a choice. And surely Producer and Consumer are not a crisply dualistic set of contrasting choices. Surely they are a spectrum, and everyone falls in a different place. But I find the concepts a handy tool to use when analyzing both my life and my work.

As for you… how would you define yourself? Does this idea appeal to you or put you off? When you Consume, what are your choices? If you aspire to Produce, what trade-offs do you make?

In a sense, these are the prototypical questions underlying the writerly cliches of “where do I find time to write” and “where do I find ideas to write about”.

In a sense, this is real life.

Read more. Write more. Be well.

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[process] Part the fifth of Consumers and Producers

Here is the second-to-last installment of this little series. One more time, I’d like to thank everyone who’s involved themselves in the discussion so far. For reference, and if you’d like to catch up on the various comments:

Part 1jlake.com | LiveJournal ]

Part 2jlake.com | LiveJournal ]

Part 3jlake.com | LiveJournal ]

Part 4jlake.com | LiveJournal ]

I have said I’m writing Sunspin in a manner similar to how I wrote years ago, long before I first achieved unconscious competence as a writer. What that actually means is that I started with a far more complex novel outline than ever before. It’s over 140 pages now, of which 50 pages is synoptic outline and the rest is background, continuity notes, lists of characters and places and starships, etc.

The synoptic outline is divided into three books, Calamity of So Long a Life, The Whips and Scorns of Time and Be All Our Sins Remembered. Each book is in turn divided into thirds within the outline. I’ve never before so explicitly addressed the three-act structure that is such a basic default of the Western storytelling tradition. But I had to do so, in order to manage this eleven-POV, +/-600,000 word monster of a project.

I’m writing each third-of-a-third of the book as its own project. Within each third-of-a-third, I’m again dividing into thirds, so now I’m tackling 20,000-30,000 word chunks. Novellas, in effect, well within my span of control in their own right.

Except they’re not novellas, because they don’t stand alone. Each chunk has to follow on what came before. Each has to foreshadow and otherwise establish what will come next. And I have to keep track of my eleven protagonists, who do not appear in a regular rotation, but rather weave in and out as I want to measure out story action and information to the reader. (See, down at the bottom I’m still writing as a Consumer.)

Furthermore, the synoptic outline is not divided into thirds-of-a-third-of-a-third, so as I approach each novella-sized chunk, I have to deconstruct that section of the outline and apportion the major plot and character developments so the internal pacing demands of that act of the book can be satisfied.

All of the above requires an enormous amount of overhead on my part for explicit structured thinking in Producer mode while I am still in the act of first drafting. I have to keep interrupting the flow of words on the page from my writing-as-a-Consumer mode to adjust and re-aim and refine. It’s the only way to get this thing right. Imagine the amplitude of an error made now when I am 500,000 words further into the text.

I’m not following the headlights anymore, I’m looking way the hell over the horizon.

Much as I did when I first started writing. Except back then ‘over the horizon’ was 500 or 600 words distant, when I very first began. Now it’s 500,000 or 600,000 words distant.

My Producer skills are being deployed to tear down my Consumer-driven craft skills and force my comfortable writing-as-a-Consumer self to deal directly with things that historically I either did unconsciously on first draft or retrofitted later on revision.

Will Sunspin be a better book for this process shift? I sure hope so. At the least, it will be a possible book for this process shift. I couldn’t have written this any other way.

I also confidently expect to be a much better writer for having gone through this experience. Every time I’ve stretched, I’ve improved. This is maybe the biggest stretch I’ve ever taken, but then my writing life is bigger than it used to be.

I certainly don’t plan to write anything longer than this in the future. Which is not to say that I wouldn’t take on an extended multivolume series if the story deserved it and the market demanded it. I just mean I likely won’t tackle such a huge tranche of work in one swell foop.

It’s also the case that I recently realized the manner in which I’m writing Sunspin is a warm up for my book-in-waiting, Original Destiny, Manifest Sin. I plan to write that one next after I’m done with the current effort. I’ve said for years I wasn’t ready for that book, not skilled enough. While Sunspin is an ambitious, full life cycle project in its own right, oddly, it’s also a form of throat clearing for an even more structurally and thematically ambitious if much shorter project to come.

Back to my original topic, Sunspin has caused me to completely re-engage with my own habits and practices as both a Consumer and a Producer. This will definitely make me a better Producer. With luck, it will also make me a better Consumer. Most of all, I expect it to help me produce better Story.

Next up, the last of these posts in which I promise I shall return to my original point, and tie my process discussion more firmly into it.

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[writing] Working to the plan, planning to be busy

Despite having an intensely busy day yesterday, including a very exciting girls’ basketball game (they lost by two points), I managed an hour and half of copy edits on Endurance. I’m now about halfway through that process. Which is to say, I’ve responded to the queries, reviewed the changes, and am now doing a very tight line read.

This is creating mild cognitive dissonance for me, as not so long ago I drafted Kalimpura, which follows Endurance in the Green sequence. So I keep getting to scenes and thinking, “Wait, she already did this.” It’s an amusing reaction.

Meanwhile, Sunspin continues to cook in my head. In the car coming back from the game yesterday, I talked over a worldbuilding/sociology issue with [info]tillyjane a/k/a my mom. When I’m done with these copy edits, I’ll drag into the second tranche of Calamity of So Long a Life, which should run another 60,000-75,000 words I think.

Writing this book in segments is a new experience for me, and it’s been rather liberating. Stopping to do the Endurance copy edit, for example, isn’t leaving me with a bad case of bookus interruptus. Likewise, about the time I finish Calamity of So Long A Life it will be time to revise Kalimpura. And conveniently the two universes of Green and Sunspin are so different from one another that I’m not really getting any cross-talk in my brain.

To be specific for those just tuning in, Green is secondary world fantasy told in tight first person. Sunspin is medium-future space opera told with a wide cast in moderately loose first person. They really don’t overlap much at the structural, thematic, genre or craft levels. Well, except that I keep wanting to name starships in Sunspin after characters in Green.

Going forward, my work plan, presuming continued good health, is as follows:

  • Complete Endurance (Green book two) copy edit, February 2011
  • Complete first draft of Calamity of So Long A Life (Sunspin book one), April, 2011
  • Complete revisions to Kalimpura (Green book three), turn in to [info]casacorona, June, 2011
  • Complete first draft of The Whips and Scorns of Time (Sunspin book two), September, 2011
  • Complete first draft of Be All Our Sins Remembered (Sunspin book three), December, 2011
  • Begin working on Original Destiny, Manifest Sin (epic historical fantasy in the American West), January, 2012

As all such plans, this is subject to the vagaries of life, or people throwing money at me to work in a different order. And I have hopes of some of those steps happening sooner/faster, but I’m trying to be realistic. As it is, I’m setting myself to 600,000 words of first draft plus some major revision work in this calendar year.

Ah, ambition.

Do you have a work plan for the year? What are your big projects?

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