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Five In, Five Out

I just sent in my fifth fiction submission of the new year. If you count the one that’s waiting on a February submissions opening, I have five stories actively on the market. That’s not bad, but looking at what’s in progress, I’m going to have trouble keeping that up: I’m pretty thoroughly stalled out on my projects.

I have one short story in the works, a sort of zombie invasion story. I really like the premise, but it’s in a rut until I figure out something very important to the plot. Basically: I’ve got my characters up a tree, I’ve thrown a bunch of rocks at them… and I have no idea how to get them down. (I won’t give details here because I don’t really want suggestions)

The novel is stumbling along. I have what I think is an interesting plot, but I’m not so sure anymore that the characters are, particularly the protagonist. Obviously, that’s a bit of a problem. Not sure yet how to fix it.

Anyhow, that’s how things are going for me. How are you all doing? Are the words flowing freely?

 
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Posted by on 23 January, 2011 in Writing

 

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A Scene From My Work In Progress

Just for fun, I thought I’d post a scene that I’ve been working on. This is from early in the novel, so while it contains important plot points, it’s not much of a spoiler. It takes place aboard the Colonial Union Ship William S. Halliday, which is currently docked with the Deep Space Telescopic Array Station, on which Dr. Alphons Tou has been killed. Inspector Crandall is investigating.

Note, as this is a draft, that I have tags in there for things I’m going to go back and fix later. This helps me move matters along rather than get bogged down in minutiae: by not stopping to worry about a technical detail, I can maintain momentum. As some would phrase it, I’m fending off the editor brain to give the writer brain a chance to work.

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Posted by on 13 January, 2011 in Mystery, Science Fiction, Writing

 

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That Whole Death Thing

It does not take the most incisive literary analysis to say that murder mysteries are about death. Someone turns an alive person into a dead one, other people react to that, and a detective (sometimes as the representative of larger society) examines the death in an effort to learn how and why. There is an exploration of what that death means, usually in a variety of contexts: there is the disposition of property, there is the sudden removal of an obstacle, there are social roles left unperformed, there is a stark and shocking reminder of human frailty. Often, there are uncomfortable questions about just when it is permissible to remove a fellow human being in this way — if not the victim (often an odious sort who “had it coming”) then the killer, who in many stories is turned over to an absent justice system with punishment left nebulous, but in just as many commits suicide or is killed by someone else in turn.

I listened to part of an interview with Sherry Turkle (on NPR, I think) this afternoon and she talked about our relationship to technology and each other. One thing that struck me was her discussion of robot pets: kids grow up with digital pets rather than real ones that need to be cared for, and nevertheless grow old and die.

Already, people grow up with both less and more exposure to death than they used to. On the one hand, our friends and family are living longer: maladies and accidents that would previously have caused death, now do not. Even live pets live longer, being vaccinated for more diseases, having better food, and for other reasons. There is no reason not to expect these trends to continue, robotic pets or no. I attended a lecture some years ago in which a respected engineer told the audience that our generation may be the first to never die. It was probably hyperbole, but definitely a good way to get his audience to warm up to him.

But there is also more exposure to it in terms of the news and entertainment: Blood sells ad space. Blood sells games. Blood sells movie theatre seats. Blood sells politics (why talk about “struggle” when you can talk about “battle”?) Even without that, though, it’s unconscionable to ignore the violence being done in our names — whether one agrees or not — and increasingly difficult to.

Death is becoming simultaneously scarce and ubiquitous, and I’m not sure there’s not a connection there.

Since this is my writing blog, this makes me think about my novel in progress, a murder mystery in a science fiction setting. People in that setting live longer and can expect to live longer. They know fewer people who have died. It’s a rarer and more shocking thing, even when they insist that the death under investigation an accident.

I’ve decided to make some adjustments to the age and backgrounds of the characters, to better explore this. In particular I want to contrast the reactions of the two younger characters, with different backgrounds in terms of economic class, religion, education. In my mind, one of them has had many of the benefits of longevity: a large family support structure going back generations (all in the same large and urbane colony) and the resources (monetary and political) that come with that, but also the confidence of being able to plan for the very long term, including social permission to make “youthful” mistakes into one’s forties and spend as many years as one likes in education.

The other character has suffered many of the downsides: living in a small agrarian colony whose elders are all in their 80s (and expect to live to be 120) with almost no political turnover in thirty years, no opportunities for advancement, and very little sense that the new generation has anything of value to add except labor; longer generation gaps lead to less of a sense of having anything in common. The only way for that character to advance is to go off-world, where the willingness to risk one’s life is a very valuable asset.

I still need time to think, but I suspect that these two people will have very different opinions about death — especially murder. I’m just not sure yet what those opinions are.

What do you think?

 
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Posted by on 11 January, 2011 in Writing

 

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Still Scribbling

Looking back on my last few weeks of blog posts, one could be forgiven for thinking that I’ve spent more time writing about writing than actually writing! So, maybe a little update is in order.

I have three primary projects right now, and have made some progress on all of them.

First, I’m rewriting a short story, “The Doll,” the first draft of which I wrote in 1998 and recently unearthed. It needed a lot of work, but the underlying story wasn’t bad, and I think I nailed the tone in the earlier draft. I like the result, it’s very different from anything I’ve written recently, but I enjoyed the last re-read. I’ve got it down to about 6,400 words — still a bit chatty, but ready to get critiques on, I think.

Second, I’m shopping around the fiction I’ve already finished. I have four short stories out on submission: three sci-fi/mysteries and one Roman-era steampunkish fantasy. I even actually managed to get a story in to Strange Horizons before its submission cap kicked in around 8am! Two of those submissions are since the new year.

Finally, I’m making good progress on that SF/mystery novel. I’d been feeling a little stalled on it for a while, but had a wonderful little breakthrough while trying out some mind-mapping techniques: A subplot that will provide a wonderful red herring and help tie together some of the lingering [X happens for some reason]s. In the zoomed-out view below, you can see the investigator in red to the lower left, and the suspects in green to the right.

Mindmap for current novel

One thing I’ve discovered that I really like about this technique is that I can zoom way out like this and see what’s been given short shrift. For example, that branch in black is the one about the circumstances surrounding the death: who was doing what. It’s under-developed for such an important part of the story. So I know that I need to spend some more time thinking about that aspect of the case. This gets back to my post about metrics, actually: I’m getting visual feedback about which bits of my story need to be worked on at a high level. (That post is actually generating some excellent comments, by the way. If you haven’t had a look lately, you should)

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to lately. Still thinking, still scribbling. After all, you’re not a writer unless you write.

(ETA: picture link fixed)

 
 

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Well, Hell. I’m Doomed to Write a YA Novel.

I’ve been working, on and off, on a mystery novel through the summer, as I’ve posted before. It’s coming along (about 5,000 words written that I haven’t thrown out already), but the writing is slow because, ultimately, I’m kind of unhappy with my outline, etc. etc. It’s stalled.

I had been thinking about doing NaNoWriMo, as a way of breaking that logjam. It occurred to me last night, though, that if I do NaNo for the novel I’ve been working on, 1) I’ll be cheating, and 2) it will probably still be stalled for the same reasons, and forcing myself to write may or may not help. (I’m willing to hear arguments against this, though!)

So last night I decided to lay out the five novel ideas that I already have. Three are Crandall novels: “Where Do They Bury the Survivors?”, “Midnight Train”, and “Down Came a Blackbird”, two of which are expansions of shorter stories I’ve already written. A fourth is a dark little hard SF story tentatively titled “Alone,” about a failed mission to Mars[1]. The fifth, well, it was just a slip of an idea for a YA novel about a couple of kids who want to go to the moon. I’d been kicking around the one-sentence idea for months, and added it to the list merely for completeness.

I put together a list of pros and cons for each novel as a potential NaNo project. What did I think I could sustain for a thousand or so words a day? What would keep me interested? I expected to conclude that I should start over on “Survivors”. But “Down Came a Blackbird” surprised me because it kept popping up: it was interesting, I had a basic plot outline, but not much more. It was still fresh. But I had misgivings — mysteries are hard to plot, and I tend to obsessively go back as I write them. Not terrible misgivings, though, and there’s a lot of interesting world-building to be done there in describing a new colony world. But speaking of fresh, that little YA idea, that’s pretty fresh too. No baggage to it at all. I chatted about it with a friend on IM, and had some neat ideas. Then I went to sleep, figuring that “Blackbird” had come out on top of that pro/con list, and (if I did NaNo) that’s what I would be writing.

My subconscious decided otherwise overnight. All I could think about this morning was little bits and pieces of that YA novel. It is said that ideas are dissolved in tap water: between the shower and my morning coffee, I got an overdose. I wrote them all down (with my new fountain pen — thanks, Marko, for that suggestion!) and discovered that I had a basic plot arc. Actually, kind of an interesting one, one that would let me pull in some rather more adult ideas I’ve been thinking about a lot lately if I wanted to, but didn’t necessarily need them.

I had a late morning because of a doctor’s appointment (cholesterol levels much lower now, w00t!) and filled the time just jotting things down. Nothing fancy, just little events. The names of the four kids. I’d been thinking that a plague year (like the one that sent Newton home, where he wrote the Principia, as one does) would be interesting, but then I realized that World War I might be more interesting still.

Then I remembered, in connection to the last bit, that I had been bequeathed by a classmate a full copy of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, plus 1922 addendum. It is at this point that I finally caved in and acknowledged that this would have to be my novel, or it would eat my brain and not allow any other ideas out.

Well, what the hell.

[1] I had actually attempted this for NaNo back in 2008, which was my idea of getting back into writing for fun after grad school had beaten the fun out of writing. I failed miserably at it. I don’t think I got more than 7,000 words. But there was a tiny little subplot in “Alone” about the speed of light that blossomed into “Where Do They Bury the Survivors?” a year later when I started thinking about murder mysteries. That got me writing detective/sci-fi stories, one of which (“Death in a Tin Can”) got me into Viable Paradise.

 
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Posted by on 20 October, 2010 in Fantasy, Novels, Writing

 

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Planning the Murder and Conducting Interviews

I haven’t actually forgotten this site! Things have just been a little busy around here (who knew it would be that hard to put in an extra outlet for the A/C, even with someone else doing most of the work?) but I’ve been working hard on planning this novel. (Discussion of plot follows, but no real spoilers) Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 5 July, 2010 in Mystery, Science Fiction, Writing

 

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We’re Gonna Need Another Corpse

I’ve been working diligently (well, working) on the outline I talked about earlier. I’ve managed to work myself into a lousy space: Judging by the increase in outline length (doubled) I’ve probably doubled the length of the story. 40,000 words is kind of a lousy length. There are markets for fiction that length, to be sure… but not really for new writers. Besides, this has become a challenge for me: Can I write a novel-length mystery? Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 27 June, 2010 in Writing

 

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