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[personal] Leap day mumblings and miscellaneous updatery

I do a fair amount of event work — master of ceremonies, charity auctioneer, and whatnot. Plus the occasional bit of improv comedy. Plus tons of convention panels. One important lesson I’ve learned over the years of being on stage or behind the podium is never try compete for attention with a cattle auctioneer. (Trust me on this.) No one can possibly be as loud, snappy or entertaining as someone who does that professionally.

Another important lesson I’ve learned in that situation is never try to compete for attention with a clown on a unicycle in a strait-jacket. (Trust me on this, too.) After he came on, I lost the audience completely.

Last night, I added a third rule. Never compete for attention with puppets. (Really, really, trust me on this.)


Luckily, Mary Robinette Kowal is so utterly charming that even when she is destroying you socially and crippling your book sales with a totally unfair comedic puppet show you can only be amused and enchanted. And we did have a good time being hosted by the terrific booksellers at the airport Powell’s. [info]the_child and most of the rest of my family were there, which was terrific. Some friends even turned up. And we did sell some books.

In other news, [info]the_child and I head out to Seattle this afternoon for Mark Bourne’s funeral tomorrow morning. I’ve got the eulogy in a full and nearly final draft. This is one of the toughest things I have ever written. My profound thanks to everyone who has contributed stories, information and time to review it.

In other, other news, somewhere in the next few days Calamity of So Long a Life (Sunspin volume one) will soon be tottering to a close. For obvious reasons I’ve been a bit distracted from my focus on that goal these past few days. So I’ll miss my self-imposed deadline of, well, today, by two or three days. It’s in a good cause, however.

I still haven’t had a chance to decompress and process my feelings even from the new cancer information of the past few weeks, let alone the deaths of Mark and Kathryn. I sort of wonder if I’m going to have a screaming meltdown at the Rainforest Writers Village this weekend. (Hopefully in the privacy of my own cabin, if so.)

Off to be busy. Happy Leap Day, everyone.

Photo © 2012, B. Lake

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[travel|writing] Heading home from Colorado amid a weekend of loss

I’m heading home from Colorado today. [info]tillyjane (a/k/a my mom) and I had great fun Friday night watching my aunt (her youngest sister) act in The House of Bernarda Alba. Saturday we all loaded up in my aunt’s car and toured about to Monarch Pass, as well as Salida, CO and various other points. Photoblogging to come, watch this space for more.

I also finished the machine-assisted audio walkthrough of Calamity of So Long a Life. That was a highly beneficial process. I’ll have more to report after I’ve mulled it over a few days, but this will definitely be a critical step in future novel manuscripts.

Finally and most importantly, there is of course the news of the passing away of my dear friend and fellow writer Mark Bourne. It was sudden and unexpected. My deepest condolences to Elizabeth and all his family and friends. This saddens me deeply.

Likewise, I’ve been told (but not yet confirmed) that Kathryn Daugherty passed away yesterday. She was a fan, a friend, and a fellow colon cancer patient. My condolences to James and all her family and friends.

More to come, when time permits.

[process] Sequel-itis, or the part 2 blues…

Yesterday afternoon, [info]the_child‘s basketball team lost their first round playoff game. It was heart-breakingly close, a very good game, but in the end, the other team pulled it out to beat them by three points. After dinner with friends, we stayed up late (and tired!) and watched Kung Fu Panda 2imdb ], which we’d rented over the weekend and is due back Real Soon Now. Meanwhile, I’m thinking ahead to the second book of Sunspin, Their Currents Turn Awry.

All of these things are essential part two of something else. The playoffs were a coda to her season. Kung Fu Panda 2 follows on the success of the first movie. Currents, well, we shall see.

It’s hard to do something twice. I learned this writing both of the Mainspring and Green trilogies. The demands of the sequel/part 2 are very different. The challenge for the creator is how to maintain and build on whatever magic the original had, while still doing something new and interesting. So I worry a bit about Their Currents Turn Awry and the final two books in Sunspin. Once a reader has encountered Calamity of So Long a Life, their expectations are set. They have a view of the world that I have to both satisfy and expand upon.

Luckily for me, while very, very few movie sequels live up to their original (off the top of my head, the Toy Storyimdb ] cycle is the only movie series that truly pulled this off), there are plenty of sfnal and fantasy examples of successful series and trilogies. Writing is not the playoffs, and we’re not worried about box office take. Not exactly, at any rate.

Still, there’s nothing like a story the first time out of the wrapper, when you’re experiencing it like never before. How to keep that magic going…?

[writing] Being less of a chicken about the Sunspin readaloud

Apparently I am coming to grips with the reading aloud question [ | LiveJournal ]. Yesterday I put in several hours on Calamity of So Long a Life with GhostReader, which seems to process about 45 pages per hour through its text-to-speech engine, working at a pace that I can track along with in the manuscript file.

This is both interesting and a little frustrating. I do suspect if I were reading it myself, I’d catch a few more things, but GhostReader is still helping me a lot. The flat, 1990s style computer voice borders on the distracting, and it’s not optimized for manuscript format, so scene breaks are handled a bit strangely. Still, this has gotten me past my logjam. I reckon another 12-13 hours of work to make it all the way through with GhostReader, then another few hours to clean up things as noted. Plus I need to process a couple of more sets of last-first reader feedback.

Still on track for the month end, and maybe a little earlier.

[writing] The state of play

So a bit of writing updatery. This is for my benefit as well as for your information.

Calamity of So Long a Life is nearly done. I may be through the revisions today, having about half a dozen revision notes left, plus a couple of word hunts to do. There are two exceptions to this hoped-for state of done-ness.

One, a common thread in my last-first reader feedback arises from people having a bit of trouble about what are essentially deep structural choices in the book. This decomposes into two issues. First, the narrative is structured thriller style, with multiple separated plot threads featuring characters who are ultimately going to converge on a common conflict point, but because this is a multivolume story, they don’t all do their converging in Calamity. That has left some readers feeling a bit confused about how character A relates to, say, character D. Second, because of the multivolume nature of the project, the various plot threads don’t all come to neat resolution. I don’t really know how to address the questions being raised without seriously altering the structure, which would compromise my vision of the books. Instead I’ve done my best to tweak the narratives. It feels a bit like putting a band-aid on a broken bone, given that some surface polish doesn’t really change the structural issues.

Second, I am still wrestling with the whole reading aloud question (as recently discussed here: [ | LiveJournal ]). Per a commentor’s suggestion, I’ve downloaded an application called GhostReader, which I tested with some good effect on my draft of “The Woman Who Shattered the Moon.” I have another ten days before my (self-imposed) deadline to have this manuscript into la agente, which is probably enough time to run the whole thing through the text-to-speech app and listen to it. I’m just having to speak sharply to myself to convince me that this is going to be a worthwhile use of another week and a half of my precious writing time.

Once Calamity is turned in, I’ll spend the balance of my time through the end of March working on several other projects. These include a book synopsis for Little Dog with J.A. Pitts (urban fantasy about a Portland werewolf with achondroplastic dwarfism), as well book proposals for the Antarctica project (nonfiction about going to extremes with cancer) and a possible collection of my flash fiction.

On the short fiction front, I have three requested stories to write, though two of them aren’t due until much later in the year. One is a religious themed piece, one is another Cthulhu pastiche, and the last is a novella for the Fathomless Abyss project.

Come April, I’ll dive back into Sunspin, where I’ll need to write about 100,000 words of first draft to round out book two, Their Currents Turn Awry. I’ve budgeted April and May for that, though it will probably not take me two months. Plus at some point copy edits for Kalimpura will turn up, as well as page proofs for the Endurance paperback release, and I’m sure other miscellaneous items as well.

My writing year beyond May is unclear, because with the new cancer information, the odds that I’ll be going back into treatment in late May or early June are pretty high. That means another six months or so of productivity lost to surgery and chemo. As I did in 2011, I structured my 2012 goals as a forked path — the healthy goals and the cancer goals — and I’ll still meet my cancer goals regardless of what happens.

[personal] Doing things in Denver when I’m not dead

ETA: My apologies, the mirror photo was unintentionally revealing, so to speak, which I didn’t notice due the dimness of the image. I have corrected it.

The Day Jobbery went well yesterday. I also got some writing time squeezed in. Along the way, [info]markbourne pointed out to me that while I’d just written a short story entitled “The Woman Who Shattered the Moon”, he had recently written a short story entitled “The Woman Who Broke the Moon.” We exchanged manuscripts, and I believe have agreed our stories actually have nothing in common except for the core plot element of the moon being missing. His is a lovely, refined piece of street level magic realism; mine is a shambling character study in a steampunk world of mad science and political vengeance.

This morning I woke up even earlier than planned, further evidence that my body is getting back on to its normal sleep schedule. Unfortunately, to reach the workout room in this hotel you have to go through the pool enclosure, and the pool doors don’t unlock until 5 am. So I layered up with four shirts, a sweater and my trench coat, along with hat and gloves, and went walking on the downtown Denver mall in 26 degree weather. Breezy and very dry. Plus I hadn’t brought sweats, so my legs were bare beneath my coat, which made me look like a very cold-resistant flasher on the move.

Incidentally, the bathroom has slightly strange mirror illumination, thusly:


When I stand in front of it to brush my teeth, shave, whatnot, that square light reflects in my eyes in a very peculiar way. Basically there are two gleaming bright squares exactly bracketing my pupils. It makes me look like a slightly demented cyborg. I tried to capture the look, with partial success:


More Day Jobbery today, followed by tonight’s open dinner at the Mellow Mushroom [ | LiveJournal ]. I think there will be at least four of us there, so come on by if you’re in the area. I’ll also try to squeeze in some time on gearing up with final last-first reader feedback on Calamity of So Long a Life, Sunspin volume one, which effort will extend over the weekend and likely into next week. And off to Portland again first thing tomorrow morning, with hopefully more writing time on the plane.

I am pretty distressed about the cancer news. I feel like I’m on a roll with my writing, and my personal/social life is pulling together nicely. I just hate, hate, hate the thought of it all screeching to halt for another freaking year. Won’t know any more before next week, so I’m just plowing ahead with all the things on my plate, head down and moving fast.

Death is on my heels once more, as he has been these last four years.

Photos © 2012, Joseph E. Lake, Jr.

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[writing] A little bit of this, a little bit of that

The review I recently wrote of Mary Robinette Kowal‘s Glamour in Glass has been accepted by the requesting market with modest revisions. (I’m even getting paid!)

My lost colony steampunk religious novella, “The Stars Do Not Lie”, has been accepted after a rewrite request by Asimov’s.

Yesterday I managed to bang out a 4,200 word first draft of “The Woman Who Shattered the Moon”. I had told myself, “4,000 words” before I dove in. Interestingly, I rather disliked the story at first and wondered if I was going to have to ditch it and start over. By the time I was done with draft, I liked it a lot. I’ll have it off to the requesting market by next week. Once again, we learn that my writing subconscious is smarter than I am.

Rewrites have been submitted on novelette “You Will Attend While Beauty Awakens”, though I don’t yet have final editorial response. Over the next day or so I’ll fiddle yesterday’s short story draft, then send it back in. Plus I expect to be on final revisions to Calamity of So Long A Life by Friday.

Not a bad week so far.

[process] On reading a manuscript aloud

There’s an aspect of craft about which I am just a big, giant chicken. See, I know that when I read my work aloud, I find all kinds of minor style and usage issues I want to fix. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve revised and re-read on screen or on a print-out. The aural experience of the story is different. And the ear is very good at finding infelicitations that the eye misses.

But reading aloud is slow. 5,000 – 6,000 words per hour. And I feel like a real idiot reading aloud to myself. Plus my voice gives out fairly quickly. I doubt I could do more than an hour per day. So I often avoid this step in short fiction, and I’ve never once taken it with a novel. Calamity of So Long a Life, for example, is about 130,000 words right now. That’s as much as twenty-six hours of reading. That’s a freaking month of effort at an hour per day.

Except I know that the reward will be a cleaner, smoother, more elegant manuscript, improved in the precise ways that are important to me.

So here we have a behavior that I’m capable of, that will improve a critical process and work product on which I place a very high value, but which I find very frustrating and tedious to actually execute.

By not finding the time to read aloud late draft manuscripts, I’m not doing the very best job I can.

And when I really think about it, this feels like a major failing in me as a writer.

[travel|writing] Off to Denver, writing progress

I’m off to Denver this morning for some Day Jobbery. I’ll be there til Friday, home to Portland Friday afternoon. As previously announced, there will be an open dinner Thursday night for anyone in the Denver area who wants to john up with me. [ | LiveJournal ]

Yesterday I finished the novella revisions and got that story out to the requesting market. I also confirmed guidelines on two short story requests, one of which I plan to start working on today. The other I’ll work on after I get Sunspin final revisions knocked out. I’ve given my first readers this coming Thursday as a response deadline, so that should give me enough time to draft this first short piece before I start working on Calamity of So Long a Life this Friday. After that my punch list includes that second short story, the Little Dog synopsis, and the book proposal for the Antarctica project. As I don’t have myself scheduled to go back to Sunspin until April, I should have time in March to write a bit more short fiction.

And so it goes.

[writing|travel] A trip, a review and a reading

Though I didn’t do very much actual writing yesterday, in another sense the day was all about writing. I rolled out of bed, took care of a few things and headed for the airport to fly to San Francisco for SF in SF with K.W. Jeter, Rudy Rucker, and Terry Bisson.

My flight was significantly delayed, so I had plenty of time to finish reading Mary Robinette Kowal‘s Glamour in Glass, as well as develop the first draft of the review that I’ve been commissioned to write. After that I looked over an editorial rewrite request for one of my novellas, then read the first part of Maureen McHugh‘s Nekropolis. All that before I even reached San Francisco.

I spent the afternoon with Gabrielle and Matt Harbowy who picked me up at the airport. We went to Frjtz for lunch, admired the sidewalk graffiti and street art along Valencia Street, and hung out at Borderlands Books for a bit.

Sidewalk Graffiti: We are the 2%

Street Art: Triceratops crossing

Getting to my hotel downtown was a bit of a trick because the big Chinese New Year parade was forming up. Nonetheless, we made it to the Omni, then out to a darned fine Chinese dinner with the SF in SF crew at Henry’s Hunan. Getting over there involved more parade threading, including walking down the line of classic and specialty vehicles being prepped to form up for the parade.

Low rider at Chinese New Year’s parade

At dinner I sat between Steven Boyett, whom I totally failed to recognize, and Matt Harbowy. Our table included a bunch of other folks, including Gabrielle, Matt Marovich, Terry Bisson, K.W. Jeter, and several other folks I’m too brain fried to recollect right now. The next table over had Jacob Wiesman, Cliff WInning, Spring Schoenhuth, Dave Gallaher, Dave Smeds, and several other folks.

After dinner, it was over to the Variety Preview Room for the reading itself. Walking there involved even more parade madness.

Night dragon

All of which really made me wish I’d brought [info]the_child, because she’d have been over the moon for the parade.

Once at the Variety Preview Room there was a rocking meet-and-greet going on, hosted by Rina Weisman, with Jude Feldman of Borderlands Books holding down a book selling table. All kinds of folks were there, including Eric Zuckerman and his partner Beth, Jo Rhett, and too many more people I know to name them all. (And my apologies for that.)

Terry Bisson eventually corralled us guests into our panel format table at the foot of the screening room, where we had our reading. Rudy Rucker read from his new autobiography, I read part of the opening of Calamity of So Long a Life, Sunspin volume one, and K.W. Jeter read a grim steampunk fairytale. After a drinks break during which Rick Kleffel interviewed me for his podcast, we came back for a Q&A discussion that lasted a bit over an hour, and was essentially one of the best panels I’ve ever been on. KW, Rudy and Terry are absolutely awesome to share mic time and brainspace with. a href=”” target=”_0″>Dave Gallaher did post a photo from the event.

Afterward, Matt and Gabrielle walked me back to my hotel. Rina picked me up this morning and brought me to the airport, where I’m flying home to attend a mini-family reunion. Hoping to get into this novella rewrite on the plane home, plus spend some more time on the Glamour in Glass review.

I want to thank my publisher, Tor Books, for sponsoring me to come down to SF in SF, and I want to thank Rina and Jacob Weisman and Terry Bisson for inviting me. This was a heck of a lot of fun.

Photos © 2012, Joseph E. Lake, Jr.

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

[books|writing] Calamity of So Long a Life is out to my last-first readers

Late yesterday afternoon I put the finishing touches on revisions to Calamity of So Long a Life, Sunspin volume one, and sent it out to my last-first readers. Specifically, several generous individuals who hadn’t read the previous draft or otherwise been enmeshed in the project, so I could get a reader reaction. I am hoping to get some feedback by late next week so I can make final revisions and send this out to la agente before the end of the month, per my planned production calendar.

I must confess to being a bit daunted about jumping into the next book, which I won’t do until April. It’s already half-written, I only owe myself another 100,000 words of first draft to nail down volume two, but the overall project is so filling my head right now that I feel as if it will leak out my ears.

Meanwhile, I have two short fiction rewrite requests on my desk to fulfill, a book review to write, and ambitions to make more progress on the synopsis of Little Dog. Given that I have the rest of the month in which to do these things, I am feeling pretty good about my goals.

[writing] Sunspin revision update

Well, I’ve processed my way through a couple of more passes of the manuscript of Calamity of So Long a Life. I’m now looking at one more close read for deep issues based on several salient critiques from my agent and first readers to date.

I can tell I’m nearly done with this revision because I’m starting to get sick of looking at this book. That’s my subconscious’ way of telling me to lay off it before I file off all the interesting bits and polish it into terminal blandness. I do need to do this last pass read-through, however. With luck I can manage it over the weekend, or no later than early next week.

I’m feeling good about it. Hopefully the world will, too. And I’m very pleased with being on target in terms of my production schedule for this project.