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[process] Mature characters with backstory

Saturday evening I was texting with [info]bravado111 (urban fantasy author J.A. Pitts) about how much we both liked Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moonjlake.com | LiveJournal ]. John observed that the book read like the fourth volume of a series, and compared it to the original Star Wars movie, now known as A New Hope.

This got me on to thinking about mature protagonists, a topic which has already been on my mind somewhat of late. Mature characters come with their own backstories, their own histories. (For that matter, so do infants, but in dramatic narratives, people with fully formed life histories are usually more interesting.)

Among my books, Rocket Science, Mainspring, Escapement, Pinion, Green, Endurance and Kalimpura all center around young protagonists. Death of a Starship and the Flowers books deal with people in middle age. (The Before Michaela Cannon, core protagonist of Sunspin‘s ensemble cast, is 2,000 years old, so she’s a bit of an outlier.) With those younger protagonists, a major aspect of the story being told is their own journey to maturation and discovery of their life path. The older protagonists have a lot of backstory and implied action embedded in their preferences, desires, choices and reactions to the unfolding of the plot.

Certainly that latter effect is what Saladin achieved in Throne of the Crescent Moon. Hence [info]bravado111‘s reaction. Those characters had been around a long time, had experienced many prior adventures, had lived.

What I’m now chewing on is whether I think it’s a bigger challenge to write a youthful protagonist or to write an older protagonist. How does this affect the reading experience? Green and its subsequent volumes would be very different books if she were middle aged at the time of the action. Some of the key underlying themes of Sunspin would be null and void if Cannon weren’t literally the oldest human being who had ever lived. And Ahmed’s Doctor Adoulla Makhslood wouldn’t be anything like he is if he were still living in the bloom of youth.

Food for thought, indeed. What’s your take, as either a reader or a writer, on the age of protagonists?

[awards|repost] Obligatory story pimpage

As today is the last day for Hugo nominations to be submitted, I am reposting this one last time.

I didn’t publish much short fiction last year, due to the effects of my cancer journey on both my productivity at the keyboard and on my focus on marketing. Such writing time as I’ve had has remained focused on my novels. Nonetheless, a few things have squeaked out into the marketplace.

For my own part, I think the best of these is my Sunspin novelette, “A Long Walk Home”, which has been selected for Year’s Best Science Fiction volume 29. If you’re a Hugo or Nebula voter, I hope you’ll give it consideration.

Anyway, here’s the list.

Novels
Endurance (Green, volume 2), Tor Books

Novelettes
A Long Walk Home“, Subterranean Online
“The Decaying Mansions of Memory”, Untold Adventures

Short Fiction

“The Blade of His Plow”, Human for a Day, ed. Martin H. Greenberg and Jennifer Brozek
“A Critical Examination of Stigmata’s Print Taking the Rats to Riga” The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities: Exhibits, Oddities, Images, and Stories from Top Authors and Artists, ed. Jeff and Anne VanderMeer
‘Hello,’ Said the Gun“, Daily Science Fiction
“A Place to Come Home To” (with Shannon Page), When the Hero Comes Home, ed. Gabrielle Harbowy and Ed Greenwood
“They Are Forgotten Until They Come Again”, River, ed. Alma Alexander
“Unchambered Heart”, ChiZine
You Know What Hunts You“, The Edge of Propinquity

[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: [ jlake.com | 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.

[conventions] Upcoming events

February 11th, 2012

As previously announced, I’ll be reading at SF in SF on Saturday, February 11th, 2012, along with K.W. Jeter and Rudy Rucker, hosted by Terry Bisson — three of the more interesting people I know. My appearance there is being sponsored by my publisher, Tor Books, as part of a tour for the recent release of my second Green novel, EndurancePowells | BN ].

We’ll be appearing at The Variety Preview Room at 582 Market St. @ Montgomery, 1st floor of The Hobart Bldg. [ Google Maps ] Doors open at 6:00 pm and the event starts at 7:00 pm. I believe I’ll be reading something connected to Sunspin. If you’re in the Bay Area, come on down for an evening of live science fiction reading and discussion.

February 28th, 2012

The airport location of Powell’s Books will be hosting an author event featuring Mary Robinette Kowal and me the late afternoon of February 28th, 2012, from 5 pm – 7 pm in the Oregon Market store (that’s outside the TSA checkpoints). We’ll be reading and signing and generally visiting with whoever passes through the bookstore. Come join us for a book event in an unusual venue.

April 28th, 2012

W2PSciFi

I’ll be appearing at the Write to Publish conference here in Portland, OR, on Saturday April 28, 2012. The conference runs 9 am – 6 pm at Portland State University in the Smith Memorial Student Union (2nd floor). I’ll be on panels, and I think there may be readings and signings. This is targeted at exposing aspiring writers to the realities of genre publishing. If you’re in greater Portlandia and this sounds interesting, come on by.

[awards|repost] Obligatory story pimpage

I didn’t publish much short fiction last year, due to the effects of my cancer journey on both my productivity at the keyboard and on my focus on marketing. Such writing time as I’ve had has remained focused on my novels. Nonetheless, a few things have squeaked out into the marketplace.

For my own part, I think the best of these is my Sunspin novelette, “A Long Walk Home”, which has been selected for Year’s Best Science Fiction volume 29. If you’re a Hugo or Nebula voter, I hope you’ll give it consideration.

Anyway, here’s the list.

Novels
Endurance (Green, volume 2), Tor Books

Novelettes
A Long Walk Home“, Subterranean Online
“The Decaying Mansions of Memory”, Untold Adventures

Short Fiction

“The Blade of His Plow”, Human for a Day, ed. Martin H. Greenberg and Jennifer Brozek
“A Critical Examination of Stigmata’s Print Taking the Rats to Riga” The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities: Exhibits, Oddities, Images, and Stories from Top Authors and Artists, ed. Jeff and Anne VanderMeer
‘Hello,’ Said the Gun“, Daily Science Fiction
“A Place to Come Home To” (with Shannon Page), When the Hero Comes Home, ed. Gabrielle Harbowy and Ed Greenwood
“They Are Forgotten Until They Come Again”, River, ed. Alma Alexander
“Unchambered Heart”, ChiZine
You Know What Hunts You“, The Edge of Propinquity

[links] Link salad enjoyed the reading

A reader reacts to Endurance — I think they liked it.

The Self-Sabotaging Writer — Kameron Hurley on the perils of being a writer. (Via Steve Buchheit.)

What the Nook MeansA new Nook’s on its way. Can it save books?

The Milhous Collection A meticulously assembled selection of mechanical musical instruments, vintage automobiles and more. (Via [info]danjite.)

Cloud Cover’s Role in Exoplanet Studies

Study measures mammalian growth spurtIt takes 24 million generations for mouse-sized mammals to evolve into elephants — but shrinking back is much faster.

Mind-reading program translates brain activity into wordsThe research paves the way for brain implants that would translate the thoughts of people who have lost power of speech.

[info]cassiealexander on Rick Santorum, privilege, healthcare, and sick kids — What she says.

The End of Health Insurance Companies — I don’t think I actually believe this piece, but it’s a nice thought.

Inside the heresy filesInterrogation. Surveillance. Ethnic profiling. Censorship. The words come from 21st-century headlines, but they have an ancient pedigree. Cullen Murphy on how the Inquisition ignited the modern police state. (Snurched from Scrivener’s Error.)

McConnell’s Revisionist History: Congress Gave Obama Everything He Wanted! — Can he possibly believe this? McConnell, of all people? More to the point, why does anybody else believe this?

Marsh on Obama: The Party’s Over — Sigh.

Delusions of Obama the IdiotIt’s amazing that the GOP has somehow convinced itself that Obama is some kind of beguiling intellectual lightweight. Once you accept that ideology trumps reality, it’s easy to put faith in any whackdoodle idea that enters one’s head.

Gingrich, Romney, and “Reckoning with the Base”

Romney versus Gingrich slugfest is harbinger of Republican civil war — We can only hope. Meanwhile, I continue to marvel at the Republican base’s vitriolic view of liberals, who are guilty of bringing America such heinous sins as the forty hour work week, paid vacations, child labor laws, clean air and water, and other such violations of our civil rights, all over the strong objections of conservatives.

Welfare Drug Testing Bill Withdrawn After Amended To Include Testing Lawmakers — Don’t worry, it will be back. Oppressing the poor is a club sport for the GOP.

Huh? Mitt claims Newt outspent him in S.C. — Huh. Republicans lying about each other. The candidates and party leadership know it doesn’t matter. The message always trumps facts. The low information voters who make up the GOP base will just nod and follow along like they always do.

The Myth of the American Political Intelligence Gap

?otd: When’s the last time you attended a live reading?


2/1/2012
Writing time yesterday: 1.0 hours (Sunspin revisions)
Body movement: 30 minute stationary bike ride
Hours slept: 6.5 (solid)
Weight: 228.8
Currently reading: The Man in the Moone, and Other Lunar Fantasies ed. Faith Pizor

[links] Link salad listens to some REM

A reader reacts to Green — I think they liked it.

A reader reacts to Endurance — I think they liked it.

Gianmaria Franchi on sliding book advances — (Via a mailing list I am on.)

Getting It Wrong[info]sandratayler on the value of getting it wrong,

How the craziest f#@!ing “theory of everything” got published and promoted

Psychics Say Apollo 16 Astronauts Found Alien Ship — Also, there is an alien base in the trunk of my car. Don’t tell anyone.

New drone has no pilot anywhere, so who’s accountable?The Navy is testing an autonomous plane that will land on an aircraft carrier. The prospect of heavily armed aircraft screaming through the skies without direct human control is unnerving to many. What could possibly go wrong?

US plans Mid-East ‘mothership’

Jobs, Jobs and Cars — Krugman on economic geography and Republican idiocy.

GOP Hates Citizens United, Too — Tough cookies, GOP. You wanted this as tool to bash Democrats, you celebrated the SCOTUS decision. Like many of the beds conservatives make, they don’t want to lie in it.

How Newt Gingrich Gets Away with ‘Class Warfare’ and ‘Race Baiting’

The Great Right HopeThe conservatives who hate Mitt Romney the most have it wrong. Why they’d love him in the White House.

What would Mitt Romney’s offshore account filings show? — It’s called ‘tax avoidance’, and just about everyone with Big Money does it. Also, millionaires avoiding paying taxes is completely consistent with Republican principles, so why is anyone complaining?

?otd: Is that you there in the corner?


1/28/2012
Writing time yesterday: 0.5 hours (Sunspin revisions)
Body movement: 30 minute stationary bike ride
Hours slept: 7.75 (solid)
Weight: 226.8
Currently reading: Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards

[conventions] I will be reading at SF in SF, February 11th, 2012

Ok, not really a convention, but I don’t have a tag for ‘events’ or ‘readings’. I probably should, huh?

At any rate, I’ll be reading at SF in SF on Saturday, February 11th, 2012, along with K.W. Jeter, hosted by Terry Bisson — two of the more interesting people I know. My appearance there is being sponsored by my publisher, Tor Books, as part of a tour for the recent release of my second Green novel, EndurancePowells | BN ].

We’ll be appearing at The Variety Preview Room at 582 Market St. @ Montgomery, 1st floor of The Hobart Bldg. [ Google Maps ] Doors open at 6:00 pm and the event starts at 7:00 pm. I believe I’ll be reading something connected to Sunspin. If you’re in the Bay Area, come on down for an evening of live science fiction reading and discussion.

Hope to see you there!

[awards|repost] Obligatory story pimpage

I haven’t published much short fiction this year, due to the effects of my cancer journey on both my productivity at the keyboard and on my focus on marketing. Such writing time as I’ve had has remained focused on my novels. Nonetheless, a few things have squeaked out into the marketplace.

For my own part, I think the best of these is my Sunspin novelette, “A Long Walk Home”, which has been selected for Year’s Best Science Fiction volume 29. If you’re a Hugo or Nebula voter, I hope you’ll give it consideration.

Anyway, here’s the list.

Novels
Endurance (Green, volume 2), Tor Books

Novelettes
A Long Walk Home“, Subterranean Online
“The Decaying Mansions of Memory”, Untold Adventures

Short Fiction
“The Blade of His Plow”, Human for a Day, ed. Martin H. Greenberg and Jennifer Brozek
“A Critical Examination of Stigmata’s Print Taking the Rats to Riga”, The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities: Exhibits, Oddities, Images, and Stories from Top Authors and Artists, ed. Jeff and Ann VanderMeer
‘Hello,’ Said the Gun“, Daily Science Fiction
“A Place to Come Home To” (with Shannon Page), When the Hero Comes Home, ed. Gabrielle Harbowy and Ed Greenwood
“Unchambered Heart”, ChiZine
You Know What Hunts You“, The Edge of Propinquity

ETA: I suppose I’m also eligible for Best Fan Writer, if you happen to like this blog a lot.

[personal|writing] 2011 productivity, a bit on 2012 writing goals

In 2011, I spent May and June, and September through December, on chemotherapy, six months out of my year. I also underwent a liver resectioning in July to remove a metastatic tumor. In August, along with [info]kenscholes, I co-hosted the Hugo awards ceremony at Renovation, the 69th World Science Fiction Convention. In September, I had the “A” interview and cover of Locus magazine. Those were pretty much the high points of my year.

However, even with spending eight months under serious medical care and running around on stage in the middle of all that, as well as holding down a full time job from which I never took a leave of absence, and parenting my daughter, I did manage a little bit of writing and marketing. It’s been a fairly thin year by my standards, less than I would usually expect from myself, but I did produce a total 243,100 words of first draft fiction and related nonfiction. That’s 198,500 words of first draft on my Sunspin project, along with 38,200 words of short fiction and 6,400 words of nonfiction. I also executed revisions to much of this material, including both Sunspin‘s outline and manuscript, and the revisions and final turn-in of the third Green book, Kalimpura. Plus seeing the release of Endurance, the second Green book.

This is far short of my original goal of 600,000 words on Sunspin first draft this year, but cancer pretty much ate my life and stranded me at the 243,100 mark. Likewise it interfered with my marketing of short fiction. Nonetheless, I managed 26 submittals of original short fiction, with 10 acceptances, 14 rejections and 4 outstanding. (The math doesn’t quite add up because of year-to-year overlap.) I also managed to submit 12 reprints for consideration, of which 7 were accepted, including two Year’s Best. 4 nonfiction pieces were accepted as well. In addition there were various foreign rights sales, the most notable of which was a three-book deal in the German market.

My 2011 convention and conference schedule was severely curtailed by my medical issues, but I did make it to Rain Forest Writers Village, Norwescon, the Locus Awards, ReaderCon, Worldcon, and (briefly) Orycon.

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. For financial reasons, my convention attendance will be severely curtailed except where I’m being sponsored to appear, unless fiction sales pick up enough to refill my travel budget. I do currently expect to be at Confusion, RadCon, Rain Forest Writers Village, Norwescon, Orycon and Surrey. Additional appearances to be confirmed/announced as time and resources permit.

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.

I’ll be discussing 2012 goals and my thoughts on them in more detail with another post. For now, this is the 2011 round up. I hope it’s been informative.

[links] Link salad dances the cotton-eyed joe

A reader reacts to Endurance — They liked it. Interestingly, they read and enjoyed this book without having previously read Green. That pleases me.

The Tweets of War: What’s Past Is PostableRe-enacting historical events on Twitter with realtime WWII. (Via my Dad.)

Fluorescent Spray Could Help Surgeons Identify Cancer Quickly — Having been the recepient of an erroneous surgical procedure which also missed an existing tumor, this might have saved me immense trouble. Though I wonder how much good it does for tumors embedded within healthy tissue, as opposed to on the surface of an organ.

Virtually indestructible robostarfish penetrates tiny cracks

Reverse Mentoring Cracks WorkplaceTop Managers Get Advice on Social Media, Workplace Issues From Young Workers. I don’t normally bother to link to the Wall Street Journal, which is basically FOX News for the 1%, with all the same lies and distortions of reality, but this is interesting and nonpolitical.

Flaming Napalmed KnickersLanguage Log (again) on the completely and objectively false conservative meme that Obama uses “I” more often than other presidents, and is therefore a narcissist. I especially like this comment, which could apply to virtually all conservative allegations about Obama: Frankly, I’m disappointed in these people. Can’t they invent new fabrications instead of tediously repeating old ones?

God and man and William F. Buckley

When Did the GOP Lose Touch With Reality? — Conservative David Frum: I can’t shrug off this flight from reality and responsibility as somebody else’s problem. I belonged to this movement; I helped to make the mess. Something very, very few conservatives are willing to say. Good for him for at least partially owning up to the hideous monstrosity the GOP has become.

The Price of IntoleranceIt’s early yet for a full accounting of the economic damage Alabama has done to itself with its radical new immigration law. And it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of small-minded conservative bigots. But I repeat myself. Reality, meet ideology. More on this in other Southeastern states pushing little brown people out in the name of pursuing immigration ‘reform’.

Secret Bill To Be Voted On Today Would Allow The Military To Sweep Up US Citizens At Home Or Abroad — This is beyond disgusting. Where are those self-proclaimed Constitution-loving conservatives now? (Via [info]danjite.)

?otd: Would you have been married a long time ago?


11/29/2011
Writing time yesterday: 0.0 hours (chemo fatigue)
Body movement: 30 minute stationary bike ride
Hours slept: 8.0 (fitful)
Weight: 211.0
Currently (re)reading: The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold

[links] Link salad couldn’t be paid to stop there

A reader reacts to Endurance — And likes the book quite a bit.

To Develop Expertise, Motivation is Necessary but Insufficient — There’s a lesson in this piece for both aspiring writers and working writers.

CO2 climate sensitivity ‘overestimated’Global temperatures could be less sensitive to changing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels than previously thought, a study suggests. Interesting stuff.

We Are the 99.9% — Paul Krugman on income distribution and productivity.

NYT Claims Increasing Bipartisan Support for Plans that Could Raise the Cost of Medicare Policies by $34 Trillion — Mmm, that conservative privatization fetish is really going to pay off this time!

?otd: Ever been to Cleveland?


11/26/2011
Writing time yesterday: 0.0 hours (chemo fatigue)
Body movement: 30 minute stationary bike ride
Hours slept: 11.5 (solid sleep plus napping)
Weight: 207.8
Currently (re)reading: I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett