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[books] The Years of Rice and Salt

Last night I finished Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt Powell’s | Barnes and Noble ]. Interesting book for a number of reasons, but also one of the most misleading matches of jacket copy and internal narrative I’ve seen in a while.

The online squibs and jacket copy market Robinson’s book as alternate history, which it certainly is. But that misses the overarching theme and content of the book completely. This is, for want of a better phrasing, Buddhist science fiction. That it’s playing out over an alternate history story arc is close to incidental to what I perceive the book to be doing. There’s a lot of philosophy embedded here, a lot of lengthy infodumping, even some metafiction, all presented wrapped in very deliberative storytelling about transmigration of souls and spiritual ascendancy that falls well outside the usual action-militaria focus of alternate history.

That isn’t a criticism. I enjoyed the book a lot. But it made for strange reading, because my expectations as set by the marketing were so mismatched to the internal reality of the book. I realize that “Alternate History” is a much better marketing tag than “Buddhist SF”, and why Spectra ran with it, but still, it seemed odd.

How important is that external marketing to you? We do, after all, judge books by their covers.

[books] Healing Waves: “A Charity Anthology for Japan…”

For information and signal boost…

You can find a new story by me in Sky Warrior Books’ charity anthology, Healing Waves, edited by Phyl Radford. This is a digital anthology, and all proceeds from the purchase of the eBook go to help the victims of the devastating quake/tsunami earlier this year.

There are stories by David Lee Summers, Lawrence Dagstine, Sara Mueller, Indra Chopra, Barton Paul Levenson, Patricia Correll, Maggie Bonham, Carol Hightshoe, and more, including yours truly. Please consider purchasing a copy. It’s available for your Amazon Kindle and through outlets such as Smashwords.

[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

[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)

[books|contests] Endurance ARC contest

As mentioned elsewhere this morning, the next Green novel, Endurance, has received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. That being the case, it seems time for another Endurance ARC contest.

Leave a paragraph or two in comments about Green — who she is, why she is the way she is, some adventure or misadventure of hers. You can frame it a fanfic snippet, as criticism, or blank verse. Just tell me something about my character.

I’ll leave this open a few days, then sort out how to judge. Might not be practical to do a poll, so I may have to rely on celebrity judging. But lay it on me!

[books] The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities

After the death of Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead at his house in Wimpering-on-the-Brook, England, a remarkable discovery was unearthed: the remains of an astonishing cabinet of curiosities. Many of these artifacts, curios, and wonders related to anecdotes and stories in the doctor’s personal journals. Others, when shown to the doctor’s friends, elicited further tales from a life like no other. Thus, in keeping with the bold spirit exemplified by Dr. Lambs­head and his exploits, we now proudly present highlights from the doctor’s cabinet, reconstructed not only through visual representations but also through exciting stories of intrigue and adventure. A carefully selected group of popular artists and acclaimed, bestselling authors has been assembled to bring this cabinet of curiosities to life.

Yes, Dr. Lambshead is back. And he brought me with him, along with dozens of other writers and artists. Check out The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities

[writing] Kalimpura revisions and looking forward

Kalimpura revisions continue apace. The book is due to my editor [info]casacorona next week, according to both my working schedule for this project and my revised, cancer-limited working schedule for the year.

I’m expecting one more deep(ish) critique from a first reader, but mostly I am done with the line level work. What remains is one more careful read through, both for general flow and style, and for a couple of minor but recurring issues with the story.

Here is where I am tempted to be a lazy writer. I know I’ll get revision notes from both my editor and my agent. This isn’t done. And while I love this book — I really feel like I have tied up the three-volume cycle quite well and given poor Green some resolution to her life and times, without closing off the narrative to potential future stories — I’m rather tired of re-reading it. This isn’t the muddle in the middle, this is the muddle at the end. Or some such.

Nonetheless, I decline to be a lazy writer, and as of a few minutes from now will be doing that close read. Because that way the book will be better. A better book is always my goal. And yes, I should complain about having such problems as not wanting to re-read my contracted book again in draft, but remember my Theory of Problems [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]. This is the writing problem I have today. It’s a good problem to have.

This will be in before the end of June. After that, I will write the last 60-70,000 words of Calamity of So Long a Life, which is the first volume of my Sunspin space opera project. I expect to have that draft effort completed by about Labor Day, which is roughly when I will re-enter chemotherapy, post-surgery.

Resuming the Sunspin draft will also require reading, as I’ll need to re-read the 130,000 words already written on that first volume, as well as the 125 page outline in order to recapture the voice, plot threads, and so forth. That’s one reason my outline is so deep and detailed — to help me manage such an ambitious project over a long period of time.

I hope to do some revisions on Calamity this fall, and if my writing brain holds out long enough under the deepening of chemotherapy and its discontents, I’ll also do some serious cancer writing.

But for now, Kalimpura.

[books] A review of One of Our Thursdays Is Missing

Back at the beginning of the year, I was given the privilege of reading an advanced uncorrected proof of Jasper Fforde’s One of Our Thursdays Is Missing (Viking, March, 2011). It’s the sixth book in his Thursday Next series, which began with The Eyre Affair.

The Eyre Affair was freaking brilliant. Metafiction about fiction, metalanguage about language. I was astounded by it. By about the third book in the series, I felt a bit as if Fforde was playing the same notes over and over, and I grew bored with it.

One of Our Thursdays Is Missing decidedly rescues Fforde from sequel-itis. In effect what he has done is go over the top of his previous over-the-top-ness. The written Thursday is standing in for the real Thursday, or perhaps she is not. The relationship between the Bookworld and the Realworld is more complicated than ever. This book’s internal self awareness makes confetti of the fourth wall, and to some degree, the other three walls as well.

It’s a wild ride, and a great deal of fun. Boring it is not. I’d strongly recommend some previous Fforde before you crack this one.

[books] Dancing With Bears

A while back, I had the privilege of reading an advanced uncorrected proof of Michael Swanwick’s new novel, Dancing With Bears. (Trade hardcover from Night Shade Books, May, 2011). Man, this novel is a total blast.

The book documents the further adventures of Darger and Surplus, Swanwick’s post-apocalyptic con men seen elsewhere, including several stories in his collection The Dog Said Bow-Wow. It’s a caper story set in a fairly distant future after an inversion of the Singularity. The rise of the machines failed. Their ancient intelligences brood wrathfully in buried bunkers and along secret networks, while the world above muddles through with a decidedly orthogonal technology drawn in equal measures from the eccentric biotech of John C. McLoughlin’s The Helix and the Sword and the more arch threads of the steampunk movement.

Dancing With Bears is not New Weird, nor steampunk. It is post-apocalyptic fiction in the tradition of Alas, Babylon, Canticle for Leibowitz and Riddley Walker, except set in a future which is a hell of a lot more fun and less grim for both the reader as well as for at least some of the inhabitants. Especially Darger and Surplus.

The sheer improbability of Swanwick’s Muscovy anchors the tale. Bizarre socialites, genetically engineered courtesans, ancient treasures and common venality interweave in a delightful dance. Dancing With Bears is an amazing, entertaining dip into a distinctively imagined future.

[books] Sometimes it’s just fun to be a writer

On our way out of Portland yesterday, [info]the_child and I stopped at the airport Powell’s, as I am wont to do when I have time and they are open. (Doesn’t work out when I’m taking those 6 am flights.) Powell’s actually has three outlets in PDX, we were in the concourse D store.

I was extremely pleased to see the Green trade paperback positioned nicely on the front display table with a swell shelf-talker.

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The shelf talker its own self

Also as is my wont, I checked with the booksellers about signing stock. A reasonable amount of excitement ensued. Booksellers Tony and Dianah were quite enthusiastic about me being in the store, and fetched stock from the other locations, plus Tony’s personal copy of the Green hardback for me to autograph.

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Photo courtesy of a passing book patron

Happy people selling good books, some of which are mine. It doesn’t get much better than that. Times like this, when I am being welcomed by booksellers and readers, really are part of why it’s so much fun to be a writer.


Photos © 2011, Joseph E. Lake, Jr.

Creative Commons License

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

[books|publishing] Tales for Canterbury

Tales for Canterbury

New Zealand’s Christchurch experienced a debilitating earthquake on February 22, 2011. Since then, editors Cassie Hart and Anna Caro have done an amazing job of pulling together Tales for Canterbury, a fundraising anthology to benefit the victims of the earthquake, with all proceeds going to the New Zealand Red Cross Earthquake Appeal.

The line up contains a variety of authors and a fantastic blend of stories, all of which focus primarily on the themes of survival and hope. Authors include Brenda Cooper, Neil Gaiman, Gwyneth Jones, Jeff Vandermeer, Sean Williams, and me, among others. Here’s the full list of contributors.

Tales for Canterbury is now available for pre-order as an ebook (in pdf, mobi, and epub format) and as a paperback. It should be published in April, so you won’t have long to wait for it. For more information, see the anthology’s blog.

[books] Salamanca by Dean Francis Alfar

Yesterday on the plane I finished reading Salamanca by Dean Francis Alfar. I was utterly charmed by this book, which won the Grand Prize in the 2005 Palanca Awards, a signal literary honor in the Philippines. I suppose the best way to describe the book is as Filipino magic realism. Salamanca holds obvious kinship to Latin American fabulism, but it stems from a different tradition.

It’s a short novel, told in several sections, about the life of a fabulist writer named Gaudencio Rivera in the post World War II era. The book wanders in time and space between an isolated rural village, Manila, and various locales in the United States. The story manages not to fall into the cliched writing-about-writer traps, largely because of the intersection between lyrical style and the underlying examination of the soul of a dissolute man.

Salamanca wasn’t written for an American audience. I know enough about Filipino history and culture to understand at least some of the nuances of the setting and background action, but certainly I missed far more than I caught. I really enjoyed this aspect of the book, fiction serving almost incidentally as a window into another society.

I have no idea how available Alfar’s book is here in the United States, but it’s worth some trouble to pick up if you can. I have one or two other pieces by him that I’ll be reading as time permits. In the meantime, here’s a link to Alfar’s short story, “L’Aquilone du Estrellas (The Kite of Stars)“.