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[writing] Endurance is a wrap

This seems to be a wrap on Endurance revisions. I need to do another read-through, which feels a tad intimidating at the moment, especially since I need it done by, oh, next Thursday. I’ll get over that. Then off to .

Now, on to the Kalimpura outline. Though maybe not right this very second.

[writing] Endurance, and what comes after

The cancer journey has been so overwhelming lately that I’ve hardly posted at all about my writing progress. Some quick updatery here on that topic.

I’ve been working through Endurance revisions, with notes from casacorona, arcaedia, mcurry and others. Also, my friend K— has kindly made me a map of Copper Downs based on reading Green, Endurance and the various bits of short fiction and collating all the named streets and location. This has been a great help. Likewise, my profound thanks to for actually tracking the weapons all the way through the book — there is much losing and gaining of knives.

My process at this point is what I’ve previously compared to lacquering. That is to say, going back through the manuscript over and over in multiple careful passes dealing with specific issues on each pass. Other than two significant inserted scenes, this revision has mostly been about errors of characterization, voice and continuity, so this incrementalist approach seems to me to be working well.

I suspect I’ll be done with the draft this weekend, if not, early next week. That means it has at least a chance of squeaking through one or two more readers before being turned back in.

Pending surgery, chemo and the maybe-trip to NZ/AUS, I have several other projects that must be done. I owe a short story almost immediately to an audio market — it is in draft, but needs a bit of revision. I have a tiny bit more to do on the recent Sekrit Projekt (which will be announced Real Soon Now, btw), though the core effort on the novella is all complete. I have another Sekrit Projekt due by October, a novelette in this case. I need to finalize the draft outline of Kalimpura, and then get cracking on the first draft of the book so I can have that in place before the next round of chemotherapy melts my brain too much. I’ll be revising Kalimpura next spring when I come off this chemotherapy. Also if time permits, I’d like to revise the lost colony steampunk religious novella, “The Stars Do Not Lie”, and get it out to market. Not to mention the collaborative novels with calendula_witch and with my Dad, which have languished in the face of my medical issues and my narrowed focus. And of course, a possible trip to the South Seas, another round of cancer surgery, and the six months of the aforementioned chemotherapy.

Originally, I had planned to be working on Sunspin this fall, having written Kaiimpura this summer. Cancer is cutting my productivity down by more than half. Yes, the above list is me running way underspeed and behind schedule. I refuse to surrender my expectations of myself in this regard, even when I have to seriously compromise them in the face of disease.

I am a writer, therefore I write. Fuck cancer.

[cancer] I have seen the future, brother, and it is murder

calendula_witch and I had the post-chemo oncology followup appointment this morning. Everything was running late, as happens, but finally when the oncologist (and the resident) came in, they did not look happy. My oncologist reported that Friday’s CT scan was “very surprising.”

While on the FOLFOX/Avastin chemotherapy regime, my body managed to develop a new metastasis, specifically a 2.9 x 2.4 cm lesion in the left lobe of my liver. That’s a tumor the size of a large olive in less than eight months, growing in the face of assault by some of the nastier drugs in our pharmakon.

Next step is a PET scan tomorrow. I always do enjoy a visit to the Department of Giant Radioactive Spiders, and any medicine that comes in a lead-lined box and a tungsten-jacketed syringe has got to be good for me, right?

After that I’ll have a pre-operative consultation with the liver surgeon my oncologist thinks is the best in the area. About four to six weeks from now, I’ll have the tumor removed. That surgery will happen in late August or early September.

Unless something very unexpectedly arises from the post-operative pathology, about four weeks after that, I’ll start six months of a new chemotherapy regime, FOLFIRI. That’s a similar mix to what I just finished up with, except instead of Oxaliplatin, the cocktail will include Irinotecan. This will be tougher, more severe chemo, because clearly the cancer cells in my body laugh at danger and sneer at medical intervention. I’m told Irinotecan doesn’t cause the peripheral neuropathy problems that Oxaliplatin does, but that I can expect more severe lower GI distress and greater hair loss.

Oh, boy, an intensification of my toilet-based lifestyle! On the plus side, the damned peripheral neuropathy can taper off over time without intensifying. And I already have this convenient chest port.

Open issues right now include the timing of the surgery. If I went with the oncologist’s timeline, I’d have to cancel the trip calendula_witch and I are making to New Zealand and Australia. Which may need to happen depending on medical necessity and their sense of urgency. Obviously this tumor is aggressive, to have developed under such adverse circumstances.

Likewise, I have to do some time management at work. I’ve already burned all my sick hours for the year on chemo this spring, so I may need to cancel the trip simply to accumulate sufficient paid days off for this fall’s chemo. We do have a Short Term Disability benefit at work, which I’m going to investigate the possibility of taking. That will also allow to me to work a bit less through the later stages of the chemo cycle, which is probably wise given how tough the last one was. I have to talk to HR anyway about FMLA paperwork and such like. That process will start tomorrow, after the PET scan.

Financial impact will be pretty meaningful, too. My direct out-of-pocket through my insurance company is $4,000 per plan year. I’ve already burned through that, so at least the 20% hospital co-pay for the surgery won’t hit my wallet. But the second half of chemo will be in the next plan year, so there’s a decent chunk of change. My indirect costs are another $6,000 a year or so, meaning, money I wouldn’t be spending if I didn’t have cancer; that extends into 2011 now. This isn’t killing me financially, but it’s stretching me pretty thin.

Another thing I’m thinking hard about is long-term health and survival. Having a second met so hard on top of the last one certainly affects my mortality statistics in a meaningfully adverse way. (Translation: “ZOMG, I’m going to die!”) I continue to see this cancer as treatable and survivable, but damn is it aggressive. Not to mention I will wind up spending 12 out of 15 months on chemo. This is serious damage to my quality of life, and a challenge to mid- and long-term planning.

It’s also screwing up my writing schedule something awful. I will make revised deadline on Endurance, and I will make deadline on Kalimpura, but as a result of these two chemo series, Sunspin has been pushed back an entire year from my original work plan, and my incidental output of short fiction has been crimped. This is already having further negative financial and career visibility impact on me now, which will only deepen with a new, tougher round of this nonsense.

I’m pretty unhappy about not being able to get back to normal. Just about the time I expect my energy to return to something like its pre-chemo state, I’ll be back into another round of surgery and chemotherapy. Basically, this means I’ll go about 16 months without much of my real life. And that assumes I come out of the other end of this cycle without yet a further disaster.

Finally, and most importantly, the_child is taking this very hard. I won’t say more, for the sake of her privacy, but that is breaking my heart. The effect on my family as a whole is pretty depressing, but she most of all.

All three of my cancer experiences have been surprising in various ways. The original diagnosis came when I was over twenty years younger than average for this cancer. The first metastasis wasn’t supposed to happen, given the staging and general circumstances of my primary cancer. The second metastasis quite visibly shocked my oncologist. I’m the opposite of a medical miracle.

Emotionally, I have barely begun to process this, any more than the people around me have. I’m angry, devastated, depressed, frustrated, frightened. You name it. The assassin in my gut has come back for another try, with a vengeance.

I will fight, because there is nothing else to do, but damn am I tired of this.

[writing] Project updates

4,200 words on the Sekrit Projekt yesterday, to 17,600. Not bad for a week’s work. I should wrap it today unless the story wants to be meaningfully longer than the projected wordcount.

Tomorrow or Thursday I will start in on extensive edits to Endurance, which I have about four weeks to complete, before I hie off to New Zealand and Australia. There will be minor interruptions for Sekrit Projekt revisions and a few related WRPA tasks, but essentially I’ll be on the novel every day until it is done and turned in.

Also on the burner, post-Endurance:

  • Finalize Kalimpura outline, turn in for editorial review
  • Revisions to “The Stars Do Not Lie” (steampunk lost colony religious novella), get out to market
  • Write short stories which have been bugging me, including the Sunspin short that is a riff on I Am Legend, the zombie-cancer apocalyptic horror story (with shelly_rae) and the cancer-as-a-hobby SF story.
  • First draft of Kalimpura

That should keep me busy through the end of October, at least. After that… Sunspin. And somewhere in the middle of Sunspin, a break for Kalimpura revisions.

All of the above assumes I remain out of the clutches of the medical establishment, of course. I’ve already lost about three months of this year’s writing schedule to cancer and chemotherapy, which in the final analysis is probably what I resent most about the whole process. If I lived to be 112, I wouldn’t have time to write everything I want. It would be damned embarrassing to die in my 40s, and I would feel so terribly short-changed.

[cancer|personal] The post-chemo week, and the weekend to come

Been a bit of a disruptive week for non-cancer reasons, such as me oversleeping yesterday morning. Which I’ve done twice since the cancer stuff started, and, erm, none in many years before that. Once I get a little bit behind on my day, catching up is somewhere between beastly and impossible.

I’d intended to write more this week, but the last couple of days, after finishing “The Stars Do Not Lie”, the brain has insisted on a break. Following advice from several quarters, I’ve been rereading favorite Discworld books. Turns out that while I cannot read new material, beloved familiar material is able to get in past the chemo stupid.

My main side effects this week have been fatigue and the usual post-chemo GI fail. Shedding Day, which was Tuesday/Wednesday this week, was as tedious as ever. Had some trouble getting to sleep last night because my gut wouldn’t calm down enough, but managed it eventually.

Back to Endurance today. Still on track for deadline for that, and for the current Sekrit Projekt. Just signed a contract for a different Sekrit Projekt, which will probably surprise most of you when I get around to announcing it. A fair amount of business and sale activity lately in my writing life has been good for morale, if nothing else. I figure on being done with the current commitments by June, so I can draft Kalimpura this summer. Which is, yes, almost a year ahead of deadline, but it makes me happy to do that.

In other news, is flying in this afternoon to visit for the weekend. I don’t see her nearly often enough, so that is most def cool. ‘s birthday dinner is tommorow — mmm, Toad-in-the-Hole — and wants to go to a movie sometime over the weekend. Plus writing.

So long as my body cooperates, it will all be good.

[writing] Endurance, and future projects update

Woke up at 2:30 today. Yeah, really. That’s what happens when you fall asleep around 7:45 and only sleep a little over six hours. So I got up and worked on Endurance for a couple more hours. The draft is out to first readers now, hooray! I’ve asked for it back by 3/30 so I can get it into and before the end of April. Chemo or no chemo, I can still kick a deadline’s ass.

This afternoon I plan to write the initial outline of Kalimpura (the third Green book, following closely on Endurance). The voice is fresh in my head, in some perfectly obvious ways. And as previously mentioned, the plot and structure of the book largely fell together in my head on Sunday afternoon whilst talking to on the drive back from the Rain Forest Writers Village. So I will capture all this, then set it aside for a while, as I have a contracted novella due Real Soon Now as part of a Sekrit Projekt, as well as a spec novella that is grumbling hard to be written.

Can’t tell you about the Sekrit Projekt of course, on account of it being Sekrit and all, but the spec novella is a take on a lost colony story that I haven’t seen done before involving religion, science and cultural self-awareness. I’m sure it’s been done, as virtually everything has, but I’m approaching it ab initio. In considering this piece, it’s also become clear to me that I need to write it steampunk for a variety of good reasons which I mostly blame on Maureen McHugh. So, erm, lost colony steampunk religious fiction. Go, me!

In truth, I suspect this is a novel-sized idea, but as I have my next five novel projects mapped out, I am not writing an unplanned spec novel. Especially in the middle of chemo. For those wondering, those next five projects are:

  1. Kalimpura, the third Green book
  2. Sunspin, a high concept space opera trilogy
  3. Original Destiny, Manifest Sin, my magical Old West book of long lost fame

It is of course possible that contracted work will intervene, and I will probably tackle another collaborative novel or two in the midst of all this, but if I get Kalimpura drafted by the end of the summer, I can take the autumn and winter to tackle Sunspin, which I currently believe will clock in between 600,000 and 750,000 words in first draft. I can then revise Kalimpura for a spring, 2011 delivery to Tor, and still be a year ahead of my next contract book, which gives me loads of time to write Original Destiny, Manifest Sin. So fie on you, lost colony steampunk religious fiction novel, you will be a novella for now and you’ll damned well like it.

I love being a writer. And cancer can kiss my ass.

[writing] To fail well…

I had planned to have Endurance out to first readers by today. I’m perhaps 90 minutes short of being ready to send the manuscript off, but am simply out of gas. Nonetheless, I got an astonishing four hours of work done today, an hour and a half around 3 am, and the balance since knocking off the Day Jobbe. I’ve been hammering at this book through chemo. has read it and assures me I’m not full of cobwebs. Tomorrow it will be away.

Then I’ll turn quickly to write out my preliminary draft of the outline for Kalimpura. The third Green book is burgeoning in my mind. I won’t start drafting it until I’ve done final revisions on Endurance for Tor, but still, that should be around May or June.

Feeling pretty good about this, for all that I failed to meet my original deadline for first readers.

[cancer|writing] Side effects updatery, and I nearly have book

Weighed in at 234.2 pounds this morning. That’s the heaviest I’ve been in almost two years. While on chemo.

Except, in a sense, I’m briefly off chemo. Moving infusion session five back a week so I could go to Rain Forest Writers Village means my body has enjoyed significantly reduced levels of side effects. (Other than the endless fatigue, drat it.) But I’ve been eating like a chemo patient, including adding in milkshakes lately due to my continued mouth distress. (Which is also ongoing.) That probably adds 500 to 1,000 calories every day I have one. Which of course reminds me why I stopped consuming them in the first place.

At any rate, I go back on the needle in four days, so I’m not going to sweat it. departs this morning, quite soon in fact. She’ll be back for session six in two and a half weeks. arrives on Friday to help me make it through the weekend on the pump. Life is normal, in other words.

Also, woke up at 3 am (again), put in some time on Endurance, including processing ‘s feedback and edits. She heroically finished them last night after I went to sleep. My intention is to get the book out to first readers this evening, but I may slip a day. Bonus round: in the car on the way home yesterday, we talked out Kalimpura, and I am ready to write the first draft of the book’s outline now. Such timing, eh?

Meanwhile, I have a very sleepy witch to wake up shortly and take to the airport.

[personal] Obligatory year in review post for 2009

Writing and Publishing

(All figures subject to some revision, due to the vagaries of both record-keeping and publishing.)

I wrote twenty pieces of first draft short fiction, totalling 92,100 words. (Some of these were collaborative.) Due to a combination of circumstances, largely involving cancer, I only wrote one complete first draft novel this year, Endurance at 114,500 words — an unusual burst of brevity for me. Extensive revisions or rewrites to Pinion, Heart of the Beast (unfinished collaborative novel with Jeff VanderMeer), The Rockefeller Plot (unfinished collaborative novel with my dad) and Our Lady of the Islands (complete-but-in-revision collaborative novel with .) Also a number of articles, interviews and the usual avalanche of blog postings. Without getting too precise, I probably wrote about 500,000 words this year, which is a very small year from me.

I sold seventeen original short stories. Five of them were written collaboratively with , two more collaboratively with . I also have two forthcoming year’s best appearances for 2009 material, both for “On the Human Plan“, which originally appeared in Lone Star Stories in February of 2009. Those seventeen short fiction acceptances were balanced by twenty-three short fiction rejections. Also had ten reprint sales, including the YB inclusions, most of the rest of audio or foreign rights.

Approximately fifteen short stories of mine were published this year, including a number of the collaborations. I saw exactly three novels published this year: Green (Tor Books; June, 2009), Madness of Flowers (Night Shade Books; October, 2009) and Death of a Starship (MonkeyBrain Books; December, 2009). Contracted two more novels with Tor, Endurance and Kalimpura, which will extend the Green story. Those are my ninth and tenth novel sales. The anthology Other Earths, edited by Nick Gevers and me, also appeared this year, to strong critical reception, as well as the anthology Footprints, edited by Eric Reynolds and me.

Delivered Pinion to Tor (the third Mainspring book), The Sky That Wraps to Subterranean Press and The Specific Gravity of Grief to Fairwood Press. Drafted Endurance (the second Green book) for delivery next spring.

In 2010, I expect to see Pinion published by Tor Books, as well as my collection The Sky That Wraps from Subterranean Press, and single-title novellas The Specific Gravity of Grief (a cancer tale, from Fairwood Press) and The Baby Killers (high concept steampunk, from PS Publishing).

Attended a number of conventions, the highlights being my Toastmaster gig at World Fantasy in San Jose, and the lovely time we had at WorldCon in Montreal. We do plan to attend WorldCon in Melbourne this coming year, along with the New Zealand national SF convention the weekend prior. Those will be part of my “I survived chemo” celebration.


My relationship with has continued to solidify and blossom. That is a balm to my heart and delight to my life. Many other friendships and relationships have prospered as well, including the discovery (by me) of the delightful , and the ongoing evolution of my long-term friendship with .

Unfortunately, my relationship with cancer has also continued to solidify and blossom. 2008’s colon cancer came back with a lung metastasis, this after significant scares regarding liver and lymph metastates. In November I had a partial thoracectomy to remove a single grape-sized tumor from my left lung, along with a patch of lung tissue the size and shape of a Dorito. In December I had a port implanted in my right chest to facilitate chemotherapy. This coming January, I start a series of twelve infusions of a FOLFOX-Avastin cocktail, a chemotherapy combination with a range of potential side effects that would give anyone pause.

Chemo means my writing life will be pared down through next summer, though by what degree is not obvious. I have only retained two contracted commitments, one a major editing project, the other to revise and deliver Endurance. I’d also like to finish revising Our Lady of the Islands, my collaborate novel project with , so we can go to market with it, as well as make further progress on The Rockefeller Plot, the diplomatic thriller I am writing with my father. Beyond that… With luck, the second half of the year will see me restored to normal production, as I need to draft Kalimpura and I’d like to take a crack at Sunspin.

Hope your year was as happy and productive as mine, and considerably healthier. All the better for the New Year to you and yours.

[personal] Miscellany, writing and politics

Walked this morning here in Omaha. The fireflies are gone, and I never heard the distinctive, echoing peep of the nighthawks, but I did see the usual rabbits, along with an amiable skunk, as well as finally spotting the owl that patrols the stretch of Papillion Creek where I walk. She was sitting atop a power pole, visible only as a shape in the glow from some distant street lights. Still, I’ve been hearing her for months — sometimes I think she paces me — and it was nice to say hello.

Brad R. Torgersen rightly points out that I’ve been getting positively ranty about politics lately. I’ve still got a lot to say, this healthcare reform debate has really touched some nerves for me — both personally as a cancer survivor who has to cope with pre-existing condition limitations and the likely financial ruin when I reach my lifetime maximum coverage limits; and as a liberal-progressive with strong convictions about the obligations of a wealthy society such as ours to its members regardless of their financial or social status. To say the least, I find currently articulated conservative viewpoints on these issues notably lacking in facts, common sense or compassion. But I think I’ll lay off it for a while. At least a few days. I’m a writer who blogs about politics, not a political blogger. Thanks for the reminder, Brad.

On the writing front, I continue to bang out stories, but I’m about to shift gears to a book-length Sekrit Projekt in collaboration with a Sekrit Collaborator. It’s cool, I don’t know yet if it will pay off as this is a new direction for me, but we’ll see. Thinking about that led me to think about my writing plans over the next few years. Spent some time last night discussing this with and , to the point where they were laughing at me about the degree to which I was looking into the future. For example, the Tor contract I just signed has deliverables due in the spring of 2011, and the final edition in the contract won’t be out til the spring of 2013. That’s a four year cycle.

Roughly speaking, here’s what I think is going to happen:

August-October, 2009 Sekrit Projekt
October-December, 2009 Revise Our Lady of the Islands with
January-February, 2010 Revise Endurance
March-April, 2010 Draft Kalimpura (Green book 3)
May-June, 2010 Do something else (possibly revive dormant YA novel project)
July-December, 2010 Draft Sunspin (high concept space opera trilogy)
January-February, 2011 Revise Kalimpura
March-May, 2011 Revise Sunspin
June-December, 2011 Draft Original Destiny, Manifest Sin

All of that, of course, interspersed with copy edits, galleys, short fiction, commissioned work, possible novel projects that someone might throw money at me to do quickly, etc. In other words, very much subject to change without notice, most likely through date slippage. Of the above, only Endurance and Kalimpura are contracted, so everything else can flex as opportunity and inspiration permit.

Watch this space for more details.

[writing] Write before my very eyes; updates from the fiction side

A lot going on just now. As mentioned, we have sold collaborative novelette “The Passion of Mother Vajpai” to Subterranean Press for their upcoming anthology, Tales of Dark Fantasy 2. This is in the Green continuity, backstory for an important secondary character in all three books.

We’ve got collaborative short story “From the Countries of Her Dreams” out to first readers, which is also in the Green continuity, concerning a very minor character from Endurance, though the action takes place shortly after the end of Endurance, roughly contemporaneous with the third book, Kalimpura.

I sold a piece of Twitter fiction today, which can be read here if you’re in the mood for a four second ride.

Of more news, I signed contracts for Endurance and Kalimpura today, and mailed them back to la agente’s New York offices as instructed.

And finally, I began horsing my way through the coped edited manuscript (CEM) of Pinion (third Mainspring book) today.

Plus proceeds rapidly apace with Our Lady of the Islands, and we’ve got another project cooking along. And we’re off to Seattle this weekend for the Grants Pass reading and signing.

Busy much? All this and a bag of chips!