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[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.

Personal

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.

[writing] Onward and onward I go

Once I got a fairly horrendous amount of house cleaning done, I put a little over two hours on the Sekrit Projekt today. It’s a combination of editing, redrafting and new wordage, so word count isn’t really to the point. However, here’s a little WIP…

The Marine guard on duty nodded to E.E., though whether he recognized E.E. personally, or just the dark suit and hurried pace of a bureaucrat late for a meeting, was debatable.

In either case, E.E. was buzzed on into the secure area without any particular effort at formality. That suited him just fine, personally, though if he had been the chief of mission, he’d have been all over the Admin officer about sloppy procedures.

Better for thee than for me, he thought, smiling at recognition of the mild twinge of hypocrisy.

Up the stairs to the second floor, down the hall, walk like you mean it. He’d learned that lesson years ago from his father – never act as if you’re waiting for permission. It was a corollary of the old principle that a man with a clipboard can go anywhere. E.E. was reporting in to his new boss Martin Ennis, chief of the political section, whom he’d never actually met, and wasn’t too thrilled about the rumors that had reached his ears so far.

[process] Living in a palimpsest

So, with permission, I’m going to talk publicly about something which has been going on for a while. Jeff VanderMeer asked me some time back if I’d be interested in collaborating on an incomplete novel project of his called Heart of the Beast. We had some basic process discussions, cleared things with our respective agents, then he sent me a stack of material, which I promptly filed and did nothing with due to the pressure of other deadlines.

Finally Beast‘s time came roughly slouching round, and I pulled out a three ring binder, a small spiral notebook, and several dozen loose sheets of paper of varying sizes and colors. This has been utterly fascinating.

First of all, it’s like reading a literal palimpsest novel. The binder contains a more or less coherent draft of about a third of the plotted book. The small notebook and the loose sheets contain overarching plot notes, character notes, earlier and later drafts of specific scenes (including handwritten, typescript and laserprint), doodles, diagrams, arrows, reflections, notes-to-self, and random impositions of completely unrelated material. In some cases, I was able the read the same scene four or more times, from original jotted notes to extensive handwritten draft to early, marked-up typescript, to fairly mature draft on printout. The sheer physical experience of going through this has been marvelous. It’s a novel in a kaleidoscope, a hall of mirrors time-slicing Jeff’s thoughts and intentions over the span of many years. If it were somehow possible to publish a book in this form, the experience would be amazing. Unsurprisingly, the closest I’ve ever seen to this being done in a published book is the original Prime Books edition of VanderMeer’s City of Saints and Madmen. (Which, incidentally, is one of my favorite books, ever.) And yes, I own a copy of that edition.

Secondly, all that material has done an incredible job of inserting Heart of the Beast into my own headspace. I generally write from fairly straightforward outlines, and draft almost exclusively in reading order. This is true even when I have intricate or out-of-sequence plots and structures. It’s just how my brain works. This material is pretty much the inverse of that, like a drunkard’s walk across a spiralled plot structure and one writer’s scattered thoughts over a number of years and iterations. Yet it’s building the story in the book place in my writing mind. Which means Jeff, and his notes, are teaching me a great deal that’s new to me about how to approach writing. Perhaps the most revealing are the self-critical marginalia. Comments on how certain sentences are crafted, or the way certain characters should be sharpened and interrelated. His interrogations of the connections between characters, events and setting, much of it invisible in backstory with respect to the proposed text, are fascinating and illuminating. It’s as if I picked up the gloves of a foreign craftsman, and have inherited some of his art in donning them.

Third, as a result of these factors, I find myself considering my own process far more carefully. The degree of preparation and forethought Jeff has put into this book is a completely different entrée into the text than my organic upwellings of story. Of necessity, I’ll be following his process into this collaboration. But I am very interested to see how much of this I can adapt to Sunspin when I reapproach that book after the Tourbillon revisions.

My current plan is to tackle this book starting more or less now. We intend a much shorter first draft than is my wont, probably not even 100,000 words, so I expect to be done well before the end of February. (I could be wrong, this process could send me on a loop away from my usual text-on-the-page pattern.) Then it will go back to Jeff, and I’ll move on to revising Tourbillon during March. April will be a month to catch up to short fiction, and then in May or June, I should be on to Sunspin, which will likely take me most of the rest of the year, since I’m looking at a 600,000-700,000 word first draft. All of this along with the diplomatic thrillers with my Dad, some collaborative work with , and the usual run of madness.

More dispatches from this process as it unfolds and I learn and learn. But for now, Mr. VanderMeer’s Beast awaits me.

[writing] The diplomatic thriller develops a sample chapter

3,500 words today on the sample chapter of the diplomatic thriller, to 3,800 words.

WIP:

Yevgeny Kharkov

His morning was heralded by the jangling of a telephone. Unimpeded by drunkenness, the Russian agent slid a slender female arm off his chest and reached for the interruption. Pleasantly exhausted and fully alert, he tugged the handset off the cradle. “Da?”

“Yevgeny.” It was Nelson Yuan, his controller. Slippery American-born bastard. You never knew whose side Nelson was on, even when he was holding a briefcase of your money. Especially not then.

“I’m busy, Nelson,” Kharkov said, slipping over to English. Yuan refused to speak Russian as a matter of principle, and Kharkov’s Chinese was much better than he wanted any putative NSB listeners-in to have confirmation of. “Importance conference.”

Pai-mei murmured something indistinct and licked his ear.

[personal|writing] What I did with my Saturday

Yesterday was a pretty good day. I started a short story at home, “On the Human Plan,” then skived out for a bit of shopping before hitting ‘s house for her weekend write-in. I brought cheese, one of the fruits of my shopping (if cheese can be said to be ‘fruit’, per se), including the dreaded Epoisses. Also present were , , and T— whose online identity (if any) is unknown to me. There I finished the first draft of “On the Human Plan”, then got about eight pages into a sample chapter of the diplomatic thriller project #1.

I bugged out of there about 4:30, headed over to the birthday feast, where sadly the man of the hour was quite under the weather. We had , , Mrs. and Ken’s friend J—. A lovely dinner was had by all, presents were bestowed, and I threatened Ken with the possibility of more Epoisses. After that, home for some Writing Related Program Activities and time with , who stayed over last night.

Today I am futzing with continued technical problems with podcasting (please ignore any magically disappearing posts), working further on the diplomatic thriller, and digging into yet another collaborative project. The Tourbillon rewrite looms soon, and beyond it, Sunspin.

And of course, off to Omaha tomorrow, with all that entails.