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[personal] Dreaming of Japan, and other updates

Sometime in the last few days, in conversation with someone (I cannot recall who now) I made the observation that I am very rarely lost. I don’t always know where I am when walking or driving in a strange-to-me place, but I always know how I got there and how to get back to wherever I started from. I really do have a very good sense of direction.

So naturally last night my subconscious decided to serve me up some humble pie. I dreamt that Mother of the Child and I were in Japan, walking through a Tokyo neighborhood that looked suspiciously like Portland’s West Hills, admiring the classical architecture. We wound up being invited into one of the houses, which was the home of an absent yakuza crime lord. For some reason, I borrowed one of the yak’s cars — a tiny, ancient Subaru — to head back to our hotel to pick something up, leaving Mother of the Child behind. I got to the hotel, a Best Western in a location that looked suspiciously like Nebraska, and realized I had no idea how to get back to the yakuza mansion. Not only had I lost [info]the_child‘s mother, but I had in effect stolen a car from the Japanese mafia. I had a rented Japanese cellphone, but no matter what I did with it, I couldn’t seem to make an outgoing call. Panic ensued.

Anxiety much? I don’t find that dream so hard to interpret.

In other news, [info]the_child‘s basketball team lost last night 43-28. It was only their second loss of the season, and they fought hard, but the other squad were demon shooters, not to mention quite a bit taller.

Also, I’m making a lot of progress on Sunspin. I expect to have Calamity of So Long a Life out to my last few first readers in another week or so, well ahead of schedule. This will give me time to work on Little Dog, I think, given my production scheduling.

This evening, [info]the_child and I are going to the SFWA Northwest Reading Series. David Levine, J.A. Pitts and Ken Scholes are reading:

Tuesday, January 31
7:00 PM – 8:30 PM
McMenamins Kennedy School, 5736 N.E. 33rd Ave. Portland, OR 97211

Note they’re also reprising, with a slightly different cast, in Seattle tomorrow night.

Wednesday, February 1
7:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Wild Rover Restaurant and Pub, 111 Central Way, Kirkland, WA 98033

If you’re in the area, turn out and support live, local literature!

[writing] Sunspin progris riport

Yesterday I finished the first revision pass on Sunspin, specifically Calamity of So Long a Life, the first of the three four volumes that make up the arc. This pass consisted of embedding all my various first reader comments, doing a close line read for typos and textual infelicities, and processing those comments that don’t require Deep Thought to address. I wound up deleting about a dozen scenes, and making notes for a number of additional significant revisions.

In today’s work session, I’ll make a new version of the file and accept all my changes. (I work in Microsoft Word with the ‘track changes’ feature turned on, specifically so I can backtrack as needed.) I’ll also combine the two separate .docx files that are part I and part II of the book into a single .docx, this to facilitate search-and-replace operations as well as moving back and forth around the body of the book. These are purely technical issues that I need to address before getting serious about the second revision pass.

One of the purposes of that close line read is to load the book back into my head. This way, when I have a note on page 532 that says something like, “Did Mist know this earlier?”, I have a pretty good notion of where the earlier scenes are that Mist might (or might not) have been in on that particular revelation. This sense of having the shape and details of the book in my head, within my span of control, is critical to the second and later passes. (For more on “span of control”, see here and here.)

The second revision pass will be to address scene level and structural issues, which is what the majority of the embedded comments are concerned with. My agent made a suggestion that will greatly improve the dramatic tension of the book, but requires serious adjustment to a major plot thread and a fair number of minor clean-ups elsewhere. This will probably not take me too many elapsed work days, as in revisions I am a very conservative tweaker rather than a tear-down-and-rebuild kind of writer. I trust Fred, my writing mind, and I strive not to damage or blunt the voice that is always strongest in my first drafts and only ever minimized by too much revision or polishing.

After that, I’ll go back through again, most likely focusing on character issues in the third revision pass. I’ll also somewhere in here decide if a fourth revision pass is necessary or not.

Note that none of these revision passes are surgically clean. Even though the second pass is about scene and structure, I’ll be noodling character issues while I’m in there. And vice-versa for the third pass. The process is rather more organic than I’m making it sound here. But in a high level sense, this description is accurate.

I am also pleased to report that I seem to be somewhat ahead of my own production schedule. This monster, which will ring in at about 135,000 to 140,000 words for Calamity of So Long a Life, may be in to my agent a week or two early. I’ll spend March working on short fiction and letting my brain settle, then in April it’s on to volume two, Their Currents Turn Awry, of which the first 70,000 words already exist in draft.

I love this stuff.

[conventions|travel] Epic ConFusion Day Three, going home

Day three of Epic Confusion was very abbreviated for me, as I had to leave the hotel at 10:30 am in order to make my flight home. Still, I managed to attend a very nice breakfast, courtesy of [info]cathshaffer and various concom folks, and say good-bye to a bunch of people by virtue of loitering in the lobby while my airport transportation ran 40 minutes late.

Which, yes, gave me a bad case of the “oh crap”s.

Nonetheless, I made it into DTW in a timely fashion. The flight down to DFW was uneventful, and I got the first part of what would eventually be 2.75 hours of editing on Sunspin done. I spent the rest of my time divided between Charlie Stross’ Laundry books and Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon, both of which I’m enjoying immensely. I don’t normally split my attention between two books, but I have Stross in eBook and Ahmed in dead tree, and the exigencies of air travel caused me to have to switch modes periodically.

In Dallas, we took a long time landing due to the 50 mph cross-winds on the runway slowing air traffic down severely. That also slowed down the arriving flight that would become the equipment for my Portland connection, to the degree of being almost two hours late. So much for my plan of flying through Dallas to avoid winter weather delays in Chicago or Denver. So much for a good night’s sleep, as well.

Anent Sunspin, I got through the first revision pass of the first half of Calamity of So Long a Life, and began embedding the comments for an initial pass through the second half. Right now, I’m actually a bit ahead of schedule for what I expected on this book. I think that’s a good thing, but it might also mean I have been skimming work when I should be digging deeper. We shall see…

Also, I forgot to mention that at Epic Confusion [info]adelheid-p gave me a very nice gift. I need to thank her, and will post photos and a description some time in the net few days as time permits.

This afternoon is another girls’ basketball game, though [info]the_child has been down with a respiratory infection the last few days, so it’s not clear if she’ll be able to play. She gets sick so rarely, this is unusual.

And of course, now that I’m home, Day Jobbery.

[writing] Proceeding apace on Sunspin

I spent 1.75 hours on Sunspin revisions yesterday, specifically part one of Calamity of So Long a Life, amidst executing various travel preparations and spending time with [info]the_child. I’m already losing my weird little case of nerves I mentioned a day or two ago.

This process of revision is going differently from my usual work practices in this regard. I think this is because the book is so structurally different from my previous work. There’s a large number of shifting points-of-view, and a lot of complexity. Some of the plot threads are working much better than others, per first reader and agent input. I’m having to shift and strengthen and do some serious darling-killing.

Which of course is difficult to do given that the whole book is structured like a house of cards. I take out a few pieces here and there, move others, revise still others, all while trying to maintain the complex, interdependent structure.

It’s difficult work, and is definitely stretching my skill set.

I love this stuff.

[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.

[sale] “A Long Walk Home” to YBSF29

I am pleased to say that Sunspin novelette, “A Long Walk Home”, has been accepted by the inestimable Gardner Dozois for reprint in Year’s Best Science Fiction 29. For those of you wondering where this piece fits with the novels-in-progress, it’s deep backstory, about the Mistake. So while it doesn’t directly inflect the plot, “A Long Walk Home” definitely carries some of the world-building and future history.

I’m particularly pleased about this because it means Sunspin continues to receive favorable attention in the field. That hopefully will help drive the future reach and success of the novels.

If you’d like to read it now, the original appearance of the novelette at Subterranean Online is here. I also note with some pride and optimism that Subterranean Online will soon be running a Sunspin novella, “The Weight of History, the Lightness of the Future”, which is in a sense chapter zero of the novels, and takes place immediately prior to the opening of the story in book one, Calamity of So Long a Life.

Further, I will make the observation that this novelette is probably my best candidate for Hugo or Nebula award consideration in the forthcoming award year. So if you’re an eligible voter, please consider having a look at the above link.

See also my Facebook thread of yesterday for a number of comments on the sale.

[writing|cancer] Plowing ahead with books and chemo

Yesterday my oncologist informed me that I had lost all my nose hairs. Full nasal Brazilian, that’s me. Which explains the odd booger-to-finger ratio lately, as I commented on my Twitter and Facebook feeds. And the perpetually runny nose. It’s like being three years old again. I shall attempt to maintain nasal dignity at tonight’s Powell’s reading and signing for the release of Endurancejlake.com | LiveJournal ]. Do come if you’re in the PDX area. Given that I actually slept well last night, I might even be lively!

The postponed chemo ten of twelve starts tomorrow. I passed my blood tests yesterday, and we discussed whether my ongoing head cold was of concern. So long as I don’t run a fever or slide back into GI terror, they’re going to plug and run me.

Meanwhile, plans are stirring for the spring. I expect to have the first volume of Sunspin, Calamity of So Long a Life, revised and back to my agent by the beginning of March so it can finally go to market. I have a few travel itineraries coming together. Look for me at RadCon, unless I’m feeling desperately broke in February, with other appearances to be announced.

I don’t have my writing brain or my normal life back yet, but I can see them from here. Tonight’s reading and signing will be a nice reminder.

[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.

[writing|cancer] Sunspin, chemo and me

Got my agent’s response to the first part of Calamity of So Long A Life yesterday. She has recommended a number of changes, some of them pretty deep regarding book structure and so forth.

Ordinarily I’d be on this like a tiger on a monkey, but I had a very weird reaction yesterday. I got quite stressed out and unhappy about the magnitude of the changes. Not in the sense of “oh, I cannot disfigure the Precious!”, but more in the sense of “oh, shit, I don’t have enough time for this!”

This is the largest set of changes she’s ever called for in one of my manuscripts. Which makes perfect sense, since I’m taking a lot of creative risks with Sunspin and trying out new techniques in outlining, drafting, storytelling. As usual, I’m learning as I go. My agent’s feedback is part of my tuition.

It’s just the intersection between the deepening of my chemo cycle and the demands of the manuscript is highly unfavorable. Offhand, if I were ordinarily healthy, I’d call this two or three weeks of pretty intense work. In my current state…? Four to five calendar weeks, possibly, if I could somehow avoid decaying further into chemo fog. And this is only the first portion of Calamity.

What this means as a practical matter is I’m extremely unlikely to have the book ready to go to market this fall. That affects no one but me — I wrote this on spec, there’s absolutely no deadline. But I feel like I’m failing myself. And yesterday that sense of failure, of once more being compromised by cancer, was very emotionally overwhelming.

Of course I’ll do what I always do. Pick myself up, develop an action plan, and go forward. The book will be done when it’s done. I’m certainly not disappointed in my agent’s response. That’s her job. I am rather disappointed in my own reaction to her response.

Ah, chemo, the wondrous ways you inflect my brain. Fuck cancer.

[books|writing] Onward through the fog

Chemo fog is beginning to slow down my brain, but I aten’t dead yet. Still reading, still writing.

On the reading front, I am currently consuming The Sky Road, the fourth book of Ken MacLeod’s The Fall Revolution cycle. Because I’m an idiot, I’ll be reading The Star Fraction (the first book) last. All the same, this is a cycle, not a tightly-coupled series, so that’s okay. I am loving these books. As I said on Twitter and Facebook yesterday, I find them to be “grim Scottish socialist SF, Riddley Walker meets The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, with bells on.” That is high praise. It’s also interesting stuff to read just after gulping down Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels all in a row. Plus the new Pratchett will be in my hands shortly.

In chemo terms, I’m not reading as sharply as normal, nor quite at my usual pace, but I’m still taking in the story. For now, I’m pleased.

Incidentally I have also conditionally promised to do a foreword for a nonfiction book and a blurb for a single-title novella, if brainspace holds up, but that’s practically a segue into writing.

I’ve got notes from various sources on the second draft Calamity of So Long a Life, the first volume of Sunspin. Amusingly, and pleasing to my heart, my Dad has been a very engaged first reader. I’m awaiting comments from my agent before I see how much a can worms I need to open here, and whether I can commit to whatever deadlines that implies. I do expect to hear from her this week on the book.

In the mean time, I’m slowly working through the outline of the proposed joint novel project with urban fantasy author J.A. Pitts, a/k/a [info]bravado111. This is the book I’ve occasionally mentioned in jest about a werewolf with achondroplastic dwarfism. We’ve decided to actually write the damned thing, and see how it does in the market.

The series title is Little Dog, because that’s the protag’s (very insulting) pack name, and we’re working with Son of a Bitch as the the title for this book. It’s probably going to border on dark comedy, but we’ve got some real neat concepts coming to boil underneath, drawing pretty heavily on my medical experiences for both inspiration and verisimilitude. John’s skills as a character-driven writer are far sharper than my own, so while I’m doing the tippy-type drafting of the outline, we’re having frequent story conferences by email, SMS and voice wherein he’s showing me some pretty deep things about the narrative and characters that I would have been a long time coming to on my own.

This is the whole point of collaboration. So I can learn and grow from John, and he can learn and grow from me. Plus it’s a fun idea, and we’re having fun working on it.

The reality is the most we’ll get done this year is the outline. Chemo will be checking me out from writing soon, and I won’t be in a position to draft it. Such writer cookies as I still have need to be prioritized for Sunspin. But at a projected length of 90-90,500 words, it’s a project I can easily wedge into my spare time next spring as I begin the process of busting out the second and third volumes of Sunspin. Or if we decide John is going to write the first draft, it becomes a revision process for me, which is even easier to fit into my schedule.

So I guess I’ve sprouted another novel. Because there’s never such a thing as too much to do, right?

In the mean time, I read, write and wait for the chemo fog to close in so tight I have to shut down the control tower and be reduced to watching Netflix Streaming.

[cancer|writing] Chugging along

My little pea brain, fogged in by chemo, is still producing fiction at least a bit longer than I originally expected. In the past two days I’ve managed 4,500 words on a short story, which I reasonably hope to finish in first draft today at around 6,000 words or perhaps a bit more. I’m rather pleased with myself.

After that, I’ll be back on the novel outline I’ve been poking at with J.A. Pitts, and/or Sunspin revisions once la agente gives me her feedback on Calamity of So Long a Life. My first (well, now second) readers continue to like the book. And even as my right brain lurches off into bogging down territory thanks to chemo, I’ll have my left brain(ish) revision skills a bit longer. Maybe we can get that darned thing to market this fall yet.

Mostly, though, it’s good to still be writing at all. My assumption since the chemo was first scheduled was that I’d be shut down by October. I’m perfectly happy to have an extension of that.

So, write more. What else?