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I took today off to finish. At about 11 AM I finished the longhand draft of the novel (I still haven't settled on a title); after a break to work out, watch some "Mad Men," shower and eat lunch, I typed the last bit up at about 1:15. So drafts 1 and 1.5 are now complete. This one took a long damn time; I started it in the summer of 2009, and now it's done, if only for the moment.

Here's what it looks like as a Wordle, because I love Wordles and I don't care who doesn't:

Wordle: City of Brass
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The novel was moving along swimmingly for a couple of months, there. Then I got stuck. At first I thought it was because I couldn't decide what to do with the Mississippi River, but it's really this scene with the guns, here. Right now I've got eight characters in a room waiting for me to decide what happens next. They are asking me things like, "Are you sure I need to get shot?" and "Doesn't all this tension seem a bit manufactured?" and "Do we need to keep pointing these things at each other while you figure this out?"

So there's your update.


Apr. 19th, 2010 12:35 pm
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On the way to the library I walked past the site of the Hollow, which was an informal neighborhood playground back in the day. Nowadays there's an apartment high-rise standing there, overlooking I-94. A block beyond that, there's a Head Start facility, where little kids drove tricycles around a track with expressions of sheer delight on their faces.

At the Rondo library branch I returned a graphic novel, a book of letters written during the Great Depression that was too depressing to finish, a conspiracy-theory book about a plot to overthrow FDR that was more interesting in theory than in fact, and a municipal report about some riots here in 1968 that no one seems to remember. I picked up another graphic novel. I think the girl at the counter thinks I never read anything but comics.

After that I tried to walk along the route of old Rondo Street towards downtown, along the route the streetcars used to travel. Most of Rondo was renamed Concordia, but around Arundel the interstate curves and Concordia swerves to follow what used to be Carroll Avenue. I crossed over I-94 four times during the walk, and for the life of me I could not picture the quiet, tree-lined avenue that existed before that trench of wind and metal was dug.

Yesterday Gwyn (more on her later) said she thought the reason I was stalled out on the novel was that I was barking up the wrong tree. I thought, well sure, but which tree, and how do I find the right one? But today I thought about it. I am steeped in place. My head is full of history; I'm seeing everything in four dimensions. But I'm obsessing over the interior upholstery while mice are building nests in the engine.

Too much setting, not enough story.
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Novels are problems--really, they are a huge knot of problems. Where's the front of this thing? How does it go? Can I drive it from here to there? If I yank on this bit, what falls apart, and will I be able to put it back together? How do I make anybody else give a crap about this? You have to care about solving these kinds of problems in order to want to do something like this.
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1. There used to be a plant in my cubicle. This morning it is gone, and everything is harsh and not-green. WHERE IS MY PLANT?!?

2. I have finally started writing the next novel. I have decided that my characters need to take a trip to the Ax-Man. This may be because I have been thinking about taking a trip to the Ax-Man for a while myself. FOR RESEARCH. This is probably [ profile] jocelina's fault.

3. Tonight is the Writer's Night Out/Yeti's Birthday Party, 7:30 at Merlin's Rest, 3601 Lake Street. Last time there was unexpected loud music, so if you get there and you don't see us and there's a wailing guitar, we've moved down Lake to the Dunn Bros beside the Marshall Street bridge.

4. May Freya forgive me, but I have been Twittering again. Same name there as here.

5. It is the time of the season when I am contractually obligated to state that I hate the Yankees. Which I have now done. Thank you for your time.
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Finished a story, the first thing in several months. The ending is broken, but I've done all I can with it at this point; it's for a workshop, and I don't think I can make it any prettier in the next ten days.

I need to start something new, but 1. the short story idea I'm thinking about is very conceptual and I have no entry point into it yet and 2. I want to read at least one more book and wait until after the workshop to start the next novel. There will be a lot more research on the novel as it is being written, but I think I need to start it so as not to be using "More research!" as an excuse not to. I am looking at this novel as something I am not sure I am good enough to write, which is both good and bad.

Perhaps I will use this limbo-time to noodle around with some comics scripts, as I am not happy with what I've been able to come up with in that department. Or perhaps I will just take a lot of naps.
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So I've been writing again, in case any of you were aware I wasn't. For about 3 1/2 months I didn't write a word. This was supremely frustrating but also, I think, necessary. It's the first significant time I've spent not writing since 1997, so it was probably overdue.

What I'm interested in now is figuring out how my writing has changed due to this gap. I'm sure it won't be anything too dramatic, but it definitely feels different. One thing is that I think, despite the fact that I feel pressure to produce quickly, I am learning to be more patient.

Structurally I tend to work in one of two ways: flaky and semi-rigid. Think baklava* and aluminum sheeting. The aluminum sheeting stories have definite agendas, either thematically or structurally or both, and nearly everything that goes into them is intended to support those agendas. They're built on specific ideas and have definite goals. I usually know what the ending's going to be without knowing exactly how I'm going to get there. The Sun Inside is like this. (The dinosaurs are ballast. Or something.) Sometimes I worry that they are didactic.

The baklava stories, like Escape to Bird Island and the one I'm working on now, are usually built more on images and off-the-wall scenarios than on specific ideas. I don't have a goal in mind when I start them and I usually don't know what the ending will be. I don't start them until I feel like I have enough dots to connect. These are more scene-by-scene constructions; I have to stop often to think about what happens next, and gradually plot points start to stick together until an ending takes shape. These are more dreamlike stories, without specific foundational arguments. Sometimes I worry that they are indulgent.

I tend to think of the flaky stories as writing from my subconscious (which is why they are flaky), and my brain is not always in a hurry to tell me what it's up to. Some days I get a couple of lines; some days I get nothing. Partly this has to do with getting back into the habit of writing, or struggling with same, but another reason is that if I am too quick to write down the next line it is not always the right one. The right one might come to me ten minutes after I've put down the pen, and I'll be glad that I waited.

The other thing I'm excited about right now is firmly in the semi-rigid category: a novel that plays with the history and demographics of St. Paul, the town where I was born and live now. But here, too, I'm having to be patient. I've done a lot of research and I have a lot more to do; it may be months before I feel grounded enough with the characters and their settings to start this thing. It needs more in the way of structural work because there are many more ways to go with it, and I need to widen my base of knowledge in order to narrow my focus. (Or focuses. Focii.) With Superpowers it was easy, because I knew about superheroes and I knew contemporary Madison, Wisconsin, the United States. It wasn't difficult for me to ground that book. This one is going to take a lot of time, and while I have moments of frustration about this, I am learning to be patient.

I used to work really fast. I used to write short stories in a day or two, never longer than a month. (The revisions usually took quite a bit longer.) I always thought I'd be turning out a novel a year, at least. But if it's going to take longer for me to produce something that really challenges me, something that I feel really good about it, then I'm OK with that. So much of this business is waiting anyway, I may as well get used to waiting for myself.

* I could have said "croissant" but baklava comes in pans so there's more room to move around. Also I prefer croissants because baklava is usually so sweet it gives me a headache. None of this has anything to do with writing.


Feb. 11th, 2009 06:03 pm
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Apparently it is now OK to talk about the fact that I sold "The 121" to the Interfictions 2 anthology. Check out that TOC! This should be great stuff.

In other writing news, my story (really, my novella) "Escape to Bird Island" will be showing up at The King's English, soonish. I will toss y'all a link when it goes live.

Did y'all see The Ultimate Guide to Modern Writers of Science Fiction and Fantasy? Avi Abrams over at Dark Roasted Blend put it together, and he's welcoming input on it. I was surprised to find my name included, and when I emailed Abrams to mention a small error he was quick to respond and fix it. Looks like a good resource; check it out.

Have another book report to do, but no time to-day; might be a couple of days.
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After wrestling for months with a novel that I wasn't good enough to write when I started it, I have taken some time off to write what I think is my best short story yet.

Hopefully someone will agree . . .
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Apparently the way to get myself to post stuff is to announce a break. This time I'll try to give you some actual content. First things first, though; I wanted to post because of another review, this one from Michael Jones at Green Man Review, who says "Once I started reading, I couldn't put it down." Yay!

As mentioned, I'm about to head out of town and away from Internet access for ten days. In the interest of keeping myself honest, I thought I'd post a list of the books I'm bringing (way too many) and the writing stuff I'm hoping to accomplish (way too much) in between splitting wood, mowing the grass, and chasing the dogs around.

Book list and writing goals behind the cut )
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It occurs to me that part of the reason I rarely do Writing Porn-type posts is that my usual practice is Write First, Think Later.
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Some of the things [ profile] mrissa said in her review of Superpowers (see previous post), and [ profile] barthanderson too, have started me thinking. It has become clear to me, to my slightly bewildered amusement, that to people who meet me at conventions and such that I am (or can be) a bit of a regional character. Which is to say, my accent (which I myself am rarely aware of) and, I assume, other personality quirks of mine are seen as particularly Midwestern or Minnesotan or both. Which, to be clear, I am entirely fine with, as to date this has not included assumptions that I:

1. know more cows than people;
2. am a casual bigot and/or cultural Stone Age-r of the sort which often represents Midwesterners in Hollywood (I am looking at you, Aaron Sorkin);
3. will never truly blossom unless I move to New York, L.A., etc.

In other words I'm fine with being a type, as long as it's not a stereotype. I can't deny that I am a Minnesotan and a Midwesterner, even if I'm not sure how that looks to other people. I'm proud of it, and sometimes a bit defensive. At times I am provincial about it, but this does not particularly worry me. (In my experience--to make a somewhat recursive statement--the most provincial people of all are from New York City.)

It's begun a bit of a re-identification, though, and that's interesting. (To me, at least.) I've always thought of myself, politics and patriotism aside, as a very American writer, and that's been a conscious thing. As a fantasist (fabulist? imaginist? wanker?) this can be tricky, because the genre is so very rooted in works from Europe and particularly the UK. Works that I love, but which it feels very strange to claim as my own and to build on, because I am not European (at least, not in the sense of being from Europe). There's a disconnect in writing about kings and queens and ancient ruins, because these are not part of my daily life or even my accessible history. Which is not to say that I haven't done it and won't keep on doing it, because at this point it's idiom, and it extends beyond place into folk and fairy tales, and it's something that's immediately understood by readers. But I feel the need to do it slant. To give you an idea of my zeal for this, at one point I made the decision to ban the spelling "grey" from my writing, because it was (from my perspective) reflexively used by so many American fantasy writers in an attempt to borrow gravitas from the British fantasists.

This is not meant to be a diatribe or a criticism of how or what anyone else chooses to write. I think "choice," though, is an important word in this context. For me, someone who spent his first eighteen years in essentially the same place, place is important. The exotic is important in my work, but it begins to lose that value unless I stay aware of where I'm from. I think this is a mistake that beginning writers make; they borrow someone else's context. Imitation is a legitimate way to learn, but if you are from Texas and you're borrowing Tolkien's worldview, or from St. Paul and borrowing Garcia Márquez's (ahem), you're only going to go as far as mimicry can take you. One of the dynamics of maturation, at least for me, has been reconciling myself to my past, which depending upon your viewpoint was stable or boring or safe or sheltered. (Not all of our autobiographies are dense with material.) It's in those early years that we learn how to look at the world. That is sometimes what we have to unlearn, in order to see clearly. It may not be a matter of standing still to look--some people spent their childhoods constantly on the move, and maybe that means a multiplicity of simultaneous perspectives. I can't say. But I think we have to choose to acknowledge the various lenses that we see through in order to account for our personal distortions.

What I'm seeing right now is that perhaps I am a Midwestern writer first, and an American writer second. This feels true because--for one thing--I know that I'm much more likely to get my back up when someone slams the Midwest than I am when someone slams the U.S. (Hell, I'm usually the one slamming the U.S.) But also because--and this is probably what I'd say if I sold a story to one of the Interfictions anthologies--there's one lesson that is brought home very clearly when you grow up in a place that other people refer to as flyover country. The lesson is that when things are happening in the world, almost without exception they are happening somewhere else. And while I'm guessing there are many places that feel like that, and most of us probably feel like that when we are starved for excitement, it's something that's built into the culture of the U.S. Television shows take place in L.A. or New York. Movies make fake snow out of potato flakes (I can always spot it--it's in how it reacts to being driven on) and pretend that Vancouver is Iowa or Detroit. Yes, there is Chicago, but Chicago is in some ways both the epicenter and glaring exception to the Midwest. We aren't the flyover states so much as we are the Between States. Which, now that I look at it, implies transformation, and mediation, and connection. Which is hopefully what all of this is about.

(Revisions, you ask? Why they're going so well that I took the afternoon to write this post instead of wrestling struggling with weeping over the next chapter that needs to be completely fucking rewritten.)
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Obligatory Mention Of New Book:

Superpowers is still out there! Hard to tell how it's doing at this point, but word of mouth is the best weapon. So if you've read it and liked it, please tell someone about it. Post a review on your blog or at Amazon. If you read it and didn't care for it, then this is a time for quiet reflection. (OK, I stole that line from Joss Whedon, but it applies.)

Mention Of the Other New Book Which Sometimes Gets Lost In the Shuffle:

Someone (I'm sorry, I forget who) pointed to this Wordle thing. Just for the hell of it I pasted The Sun Inside into it, and I like what I got:

Click for bigger.

Slightly Whiny Mention Of Book Which I Am Currently Trying To Fix:

Man. Sometimes revision is just a bit of plastic surgery, ya know? Polish the prose, remove unsightly moles, shave the unsightly bits. And then sometimes it involves the realization that a story is a Frankenstein's monster assembled from multiple thoughts and influences, and that if you want it to put its arms down and bend its knees you're going to have to break some of the bones and re-set them, cut down the leg that's slightly longer than the other. And then you need new flesh and new organs and, yeah. News flash: sometimes writing is hard.
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My next book is going to be told entirely in flashback.

Except for the weighty foreshadowing in the prologue.
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I've just finished typing in the first draft of a story I've been working on steadily for months. It's 12,000 words long, and I'm thinking about calling it "Escape to Bird Island" (never underestimate the inspirational power of a road trip). Hopefully I can knock out 2-3k of thinking-on-paper without putting back the same amount of making-it-make-sense.

It occurs to me that the reason writers all wish they were rock stars is that rock stars can get pretty much instant feedback. No one in my favorite cafe stood up and applauded when I finished typing. WHAT THE HELL PEOPLE.

I gotta say, while it's less terrifying to have a road map--or at least a destination--for a story before I ever start it, it's damned satisfying to just stumble into the jungle that is my brain and see what's there. Having to ask myself at every turn, "Wait, what's this story about?", and having to change my answer every time, is maddening and confusing and rewarding and a helluva lot of fun. Hopefully the end product doesn't suck.

Tonight: Twins home opener. Despite the blizzard outside right now, baseball reassures me that it is spring.
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Lots of writers talk about how difficult it can be just to get a character across a room.

Nobody talks about how hard it is to get one on a fucking boat.
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So I am beginning to notice that people ask a lot of the same questions when they hear that I have a book coming out. (One of those is, "Can I buy it at Barnes & Noble?" to which the answer is both yes-but-do-it-early and WTF? Is that the only bookstore you will enter? Are you perhaps afraid that other bookstores do not have standards high enough to keep the carnivorous bookshelves from their stock?)

Some of these questions that keep coming up might perhaps be interesting to some of you folks. So here goes:

When did you write the book? Most of Superpowers was written in early 2002. The last chunk of it, though, which deals with some heavy stuff, I put off finishing until mid/late 2003.

What were the revisions like? I revised the original manuscript a couple of times on my own in 2005, after I had signed with my agent. She liked it, but even so we went back and forth through three revisions before she was ready to send it around. After it sold (in fall 2006), I went through two rounds of edits with Three Rivers, and I just finished a second round with the page proofs. (Page proofs = Not Fun.) So that's nine times (or more, depending on your math) through the manuscript before the public sees it. I consider the fact that I still like the book to be a small miracle. (If you'd asked me whether I still liked it during my first round of page proofs, though, I'd probably have made a face and grunted.)

Is this your first book? First book sold, sure. It's actually the third book I wrote, of four so far. When there is news to report about any of them, I'll let you know :-)

Are your other books related to this one? Nope. None of my books are related, so far. Succession may potentially become two books depending on how I revise it, and if I had the choice I'd do a series of stand-alone books set in the same world as Goblin Market. But so far, the series bug hasn't bit me in a big way.

How did you get your agent? I got lucky. Basically, she found me, which is not the usual way that these things happen. So I don't really have a lot of helpful advice about pursuing representation. I did some querying, and badly, before Shana got in touch with me, but I found it a hugely frustrating process. What would I suggest? Go read the archives over at Miss Snark's blog, and do what she tells you.

When do you find time to write? Actually, few people have asked me this, I think because most of the people asking the above questions have not been writers. To non-writers, writing looks pretty easy. You just sit down at the computer and make shit up. EASY. Especially if, say, you've got a full-time job, a commute longer than ten minutes, a pet, a spouse, a child, or multiples of any of those last three. Because then it's easy to get home from your job, quickly make a meal, and lock yourself in your conveniently provided office which comes standard with each dwelling-place. And then, as all writers know, the words just flow right out of your fingers and snap into place. Like Legos!

(No, that's not my answer.)

When I wrote Superpowers I was working as a bartender. I'd work from 4 PM to anywhere between 10:30 and 2 AM, maybe watch some TV if I'd taped anything, and then write until 4 or 5 or 6. On nights I didn't work, I'd write for 4-6 hours, I'd estimate. I was about the most disciplined I've ever been, but the reason I was able to work that way was that I had no life. Sure, I'd hang out after hours with my co-workers once a week or so, get drunk and act stupid, but that was about it. Oh yeah, and I was living with my parents. In other words, I had it easy.

Writing with a full-time job is hard. Writing with a full-time job and people in your life who demand and deserve your time is even harder. Writing with kids . . . I honestly don't know how those of you who are parents manage it. It's not just the time, it's the headspace to work through story stuff in your mind. But then, I am one of those shy introverts who needs to be alone (or at least ensconced in headphones) to get anything done, so YMMV.

The short answer is that I find time to write whenever I can, because it's the most important thing to me. That doesn't mean it should be the most important thing to anyone else, and it's probably healthier if it isn't. If and when something else comes into my life that matters more, that's going to be an interesting adjustment.

Got any other questions? WELL DO YA?!?
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So here's some good news I've been sitting on for a while: my novella "The Sun Inside" is going to be the first release from the Electrum Novella Series, done by the good people of Rabid Transit Press (formerly Velocity Press). I can tell you this now because pre-ordering is live (via PayPal). That's right, for the low, low, price of $9 you can have a slick, perfect-bound book with roughly 18,000 words all guaranteed written by me. It comes out in late May, and if you're going to be at WisCon, you can reserve a copy to be picked up there. Perfect for people who like words!

Seriously, I'm very excited about this, for a couple of reasons. First, because I'm very proud of this novella. I'm not going to say too much about what it's about, because there are some surprises in it that we want to let the readers discover. (You can find out a little bit at the ordering link, above.) I can tell you that it contains (among other things): Internet dating, psychic powers, hidden worlds, zeppelins, hyenadaons, and the Iraq war. One thing I'm always trying to do with my stuff is to marry the holy-gosh-wow feel of pulp genre stuff to real-world concerns, and I think "The Sun Inside" may be one of my best efforts in that regard.

The second reason I'm excited about this is that I love what Rabid Transit Press is doing here; novella-friendly markets are few and far between, and I love the idea of a long-running series of them, published individually. I believe their plan is to do two a year, for now, and I'm already picturing them lined up on my shelf in a few years. Little packages of awesome. (If I do say so myself.) I'm excited to see where they'll take this, and I'm so very pleased to be in on the ground floor.


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