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[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.

[links] Apolitical link salad (for once)

reacts to Escapement Powell’s | Amazon ] — I think he liked it.

A reviewer seriously dislikes my introduction to Matt Hughes’ Template [ Amazon ] — It’s funny, how much they disliked it.

From Joe Sherry, more on Alembical [ Paper Golem | Amazon ]

Interview with artist Lindsey Messecar — Including an illustration she did based on Green!

The Grants Pass ToC announcement — That was a fun story to write.

Cabestan Winch Tourbillion Vertical Watch — (Snurched from Dark Roasted Blend.)

?otD: What color was George Washington’s white horse?


1/20/2009
Body movement: 40 minute ride on stationary bike
This morning’s weigh-in: n/a
Currently reading: The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade by Herman Melville; Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

[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.

[personal|writing] Miscellaneous updatery of various sorts

Heading for Omaha next Monday. So expect intermittent blogging next week, of unknown wit and erudition. The Omaha Beach Party had intended a cheese festival while I was in town, but Day Jobbery hath interfered with usual OBP schedule, and so we will be cheesing about in February instead.

is part of a school concert tonight. I’m looking forward to that. She and her mother are going over early to prep, so I’ll be having dinner with my mom and dad, and we’ll arrive in the more usual fashion of audiences.

In my writing life, I’m back on “Chain of Stars.” December kind of got eaten by three back to back galley edits, and the holidays, so as of right now I’m a month behind on my writing schedule for 2009. I haven’t been laying down much new wordage these past few weeks, focusing instead on reading for Footprints and doing first reader duties for ‘s Nightcraft Mother and ‘s Antiphon. Urban fantasy and epic fantasy: guaranteed to give you mental whiplash.

I need to finish this novella by this weekend, and I’ve promised a short story elsewhere Real Soon Now. I have some other short fiction commitments due over the next few months, several collaborative projects requiring my attention, the preliminary revisions to Tourbillon, then the drafting of Sunspin. Busy much?

Also continuing to contemplate the promised blog post on POV, but the more I think about it, the stupider I feel. Which sentiment will probably be the basic hook for the blog post.

Y’all play nice today.

[personal] 2008 in review

Highlights of 2008

  • I beat cancer
  • I made the Locus bestseller list with Mainspring
  • I lost 65 pounds and 10 inches of waist size

Writing

Novels Published: Escapement thb, Mainspring mmpb

Novels Written: Green, Tourbillon

First Draft Fiction Written (including novels): 612,700 words

Blogging: 260,000 words

Emails: At least 20,000 emails sent and received

Original Short Fiction Submissions: 36

Original Short Fiction Rejections: 14

Original Short Fiction Sales: 21 (one collaborative)

Original Short Fiction Published on my Blog: 10

Reprint Short Fiction Submissions: 6

Reprint Short Fiction Rejections: 2

Reprint Short Fiction Sales: 4 (including two Year’s Best)

Nonfiction Sales: 10

Personal

Inches of Waistline Lost: 10

Pounds Lost: 65

Time Spent Exercising: 132 hours, 45 minutes

Goals for Next Year

Novels to be Published: Green thb, Escapement mmpb, Madness of Flowers tpb, Death of a Starship tpb

Novels to be Written: Sunspin (trilogy), several collaborative projects to be scheduled

Additional Inches of Waistline Lost: 2

Additional Pounds Lost: 10

Time Spent Exercising: 250 hours

[process] The writer brain on the march

My to-do list of late has been somewhat insane. Two sets of galleys, the Sekrit Projekt novelette, the Sunspin synopsis, a pair of collaborative novel synopses completely outside sf/f, several articles, some editorial reading for friends, some blurb reading, and of course, Herman Melville. This doesn’t even account for the novella I owe Real Soon Now, plus some short stuff I want to write, plus another collaborative decadent fantasy effort to which I am committed but not yet empowered to discuss in broad daylight. Early spring will bring Tourbillon revisions, possibly one or another of the collaborative efforts, then bleed into the process of drafting Sunspin. (Plus, erm, Real Life, including a trip to China.)

Meanwhile, it’s been just under a month since I finished the first draft of Tourbillon, and yes, I have been resting. Which is to say, not drafting new fiction. Until this past weekend.

Apparently Fred really wanted to write, because I banged out an 11,600 word space opera novelette on Friday and Saturday, with two revision rounds on Sunday. A few details here: [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]. By rights this ought to go into a drawer for a month or three, but deadlines forfend.

And as mentioned yesterday [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ], this sucker ties directly into Sunspin. Which I now must set aside yet again to work on Green.

Still, the writer brain will out, and march where it would on lettered feet. I never fail to surprise myself.

[process] Everything I need to know about Sunspin I learned from Tourbillon

Walking this morning, in between acts in the glittering show that was the night sky, I had an insight into the way I’m approaching Sunspin. I have known for a while this next project would have to be rather different from my previous ones. The scale alone is an issue — I expect a first draft between 600,000 and 750,000 words. Likewise the fact that it’s science fiction, and I need to approach both the story and the text differently than I’ve approached the fantasies I’ve been writing the past few years. Not more rigorously, but with a different rigor.

Both of the above points presage a much more detailed outlining process than I’ve ever indulged in before. I simply can’t spin three quarters of a million words off the top of my head. Well, actually, I probably could, but not while trying to accomplish my goals for this project. And the sfnal requirements are such that I’ll need them to be pretty carefully spelled out in advance. For example, my concepts about FTL, the Fermi paradox and the social structure of post-industrial, trans-human interstellar feudalism in a culture where FTL is only of limited application. Those need to be internally consistent and convincing before I ever put draft to page, and they need to inform plot, character, action and dialog every step of the way.

I’ve always resisted detailed outlines, as arcaedia and casacarona can surely attest. To me, writing is discovery, and in the past, the outline process has always felt like it robbed some of the magic from the writing process.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Tourbillon. The outline was as skinny as any of my others, but it was skinny in a different way. Because in Tourbillon, as I’ve mentioned before here on this blog, I was dealing with a serious outbreak of Third Book. Meaning, the world building, the social structures, much of the character development, and an enormous amount of the background detail were already in place before I ever started writing. I was focused on plot, character transitions and dialog in the drafting process. I enjoyed writing the book as much as I always do, and having so much of the world pre-fabricated didn’t subtract from the process of discovery. In fact, in some meaningful ways, that process was enhanced.

My insight this morning was that developing a detailed outline before writing Sunspin wouldn’t be all that different from writing Tourbillon with Mainspring and Escapement already in my head. Which came close to shocking me when I realized this.

While most of you may well be pitching peanuts at me now for discovering once again that the sky is blue, this is a significant revelation for me, and almost certainly a rather important one.

Here is what I love most about writing: You never stop learning. Or least, you never have to.

[tech] Mac down

Well, my trusty MacBook is in the Apple store to have its keyboard and faceplate replaced (again!).  Several keys are now blank-faced divots and the /d/ is starting to stick, while the faceplate is splintering.  Just like last time.  They seem to last about nine to twelve months.

That’s what happens when you type a million words a year on a keyboard, I’m thinking.  So I’m on the emergency backup computer which, shall we say, is not a communicant of the Cult of Macintosh.

Grr.  At least it lasted through the drafting of Tourbillon.  And budget permitting, I’ll probably replace the entire computer before I am forced to replace the keyboard again.  Though the space opera project may kill this new keyboard first.

[writing] Miscellaneous updatery

Some updatery from the writing front. calendula_witch pointed out that Tourbillon really needed a grace note, so yesterday I wrote a brief epilog which provided more explicit story validation for various characters and plotlines, including most especially the two core protagonists. (Paolina and Boaz, for those of you who have read Escapement.)

I owe a couple of novellas, and would like to write a few short stories, probably starting this weekend. I am in serious discussion on two different collaborative novels, and preliminary discussion on a third. Each of those projects has distinctly different requirements, and I expect I’ll manage them in over the next year and a half or so, depending on contract status, overlapping schedules, etc. Once things are firmer, I’ll discuss in more detail.

Plus shortly I’ll begin outlining a fairly substantial space opera trilogy I hope to write in one big arc — a true trilogy, in other words, not three books in the same continuity. That will open a number of craft challenges for me, and force me to focus on being truly science fictional. The first of those challenges will be writing a much more robust and detailed outline than what I’ve been using up til now.

[process] Post-novel ennui, contest anent same

By rights, I should come down with a raging case of post-novel ennui in the next few days. Election Day will certainly keep me distracted today. There’s always things popping in my personal life, of course. But I’ll be curious to see if this more controlled drafting process in Tourbillon will affect the course of post-novel ennui.

In a related note, I hereby announce a contest! Leave a comment here about the way I should best combat post-novel ennui. Feel free to be highly creative.

As usual, after a few days I’ll post a voting poll. Winner as determined by a jury of their peers shall receive an inscribed ARC of Green, as soon as I have them to ship out. Usual rules and arbitrary errors by the moderator apply.

[process] Writing a novel

The initial rough draft of Tourbillon is complete at 198,900 words. (Of a predicted 200,000 words, amazingly enough.) 51 days of work without a missed day. 109 hours of elapsed effort. I am exhausted, elated and boggled all at once.

I’m here to tell you, it can be done.

I feel wrung out. And I’m already looking forward to the next one.