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I Owe It All to One Thing

February 23, 2012 5 comments

That thing, of course, is Metroid Metal.

Pictured: my thinking cap

I’ve finally finished my first draft of She Returns From War. Over half of this draft was written with their wailing riffs and pounding bass lines pouring through my headphones. I couldn’t really say why. While drafting The Dead of Winter, I listened to a much more diverse selection of music through my Nightwish Pandora channel, supplemented by VNV Nation. For this book, though, I was so thoroughly enamored with this group’s interpretations of Metroid themes that I listened to little else during the months of November and December. Mad props to Rob Haines for guiding me to their shrine.

This drafting process differed from my experience with The Dead of Winter in other ways as well. Most notably, the pressure of the deadline removed nearly all of the casual, just-for-shits feeling of drafting my first book. Ironic when you consider that She Returns From War took me over a month longer to write despite both books being nearly identical in length, but there it is. I wasn’t just drafting in response to some vague, largely ignorant ambition of becoming a novelist; I was drafting in response to a very real contract in which I agreed to write a book. That thought has gnawed at the back of my mind since I first signed on with Angry Robot, whittling away at my security, sanity, and laziness like some giant, meth-addled rodent with an antisocial complex.

Fortunately, I happen to know some guys who have experience in dealing with giant rodents.

I suppose my single greatest apprehension iswas the fear that this book will somehow not measure up to The Dead of Winter. I found myself constantly questioning its quality, deathly afraid that, had their places been switched, this novel would not have landed me the deal. It’s hardly fair to compare a first draft with a manuscript I’d spent a year polishing, but insecurities care not for justice. Knowing that this book will be held up to a standard and that it will be published adds entire new dimensions of obsessing over quality, even in the first draft. I fully recognize that I’m far too close to the manuscript now to have any hope of making an objective-ish assessment of its quality. All I see are the flaws, the parts that extracted wails of misery from my inner editor, the short sections of prose that took me far too many hours to choke out. Whether or not my beta readers pick up on these chinks in the armor remains to be seen.

I'm pretty sure there are only a few small ones, though.

Fortunately, I simultaneously operated under the delusionimpression that I was incorporating the lessons I’d learned from The Dead of Winter into this draft. These were mostly on a compositional level–sentence construction and dialogue and whatnot–rather than esoteric things like pacing and theme and tension. Wordcraft rather than storycraft, if you will. I’m hoping that, if successful, this increased attention to the mechanics during the first draft will free me up to pay more attention to abstracts in the revising stages, but that remains to be seen. I’m sure beta readers will look back at this post and howl with laughter after finding all of my typos, misused words, and clunky flow.

Seriously, quit laughing. I don't see the problem.

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Categories: Writing

Burnout Recovery: A Tale of Water and Antiblood

February 10, 2012 2 comments

No, I don’t know what the diametric opposite of blood is on the black magic scale. I left Jowan to snivel and mope in Redcliffe’s dungeon, so he can’t tell me, either. If science can get away with “antimatter”, I’m calling “antiblood” valid.

At least we know that a combination of good intentions and idiocy doesn't cancel blood magic.

In the two weeks since I posted my reasoning for taking a break from novelizing prior to the completion of the first draft, I have since resumed work on the manuscript, edging it 5,000 words closer to completion. Why the sudden burst of productivity? Can 5,000 words in two weeks really be called a “burst of productivity”?

To dodge the second question: I attribute the abrupt forward momentum after three weeks of stalled progress to a few things. The first of these is the public declaration of my failure. By announcing that I’d stopped work on the book, I suddenly felt much more ashamed of my failure. The guilt had already been lacerating my viscera like coked-up scorpions with throwing stars, and the post about it added tiny screaming monkeys on the backs of the scorpions.

The monkeys were invisible, though, so I don't know if they also had throwing stars.

Aside from the (possibly) metaphoric internal hemorrhaging, I was simply stuck on how best to approach the book’s conclusion. The ending is one I’ve had in mind for over a year, and I like it quite a bit. However, liking it doesn’t make it easy to write. Quite the opposite, in fact. Despite the wisdom of “write now, revise later”, I want to get it as close to right as I can the first time around. True, it still won’t be very close, but rushing through this part wouldn’t feel fair to the characters. They deserve the very best of my horrid first-draft prose.

Sure, it doesn't look like much, but it's from the goddamn heart.

This is the part of the research article (you did know that’s what this is, right?) where I discuss implications and limitations of these results. However, given the extent of rigor and precision with which this study was conducted, I believe the above image will suffice. Really, I only pretend I know what I’m doing.

Categories: Writing

My Approach to Writer’s Burnout: A Tale of Blood and Fire

January 26, 2012 4 comments

I am a man of conflicted passions. On the one hand, I absolutely love doing nothing. On the other, I have a strangely powerful work ethic, most likely inherited and imparted from my father. I don’t like having many commitments, but I feel an overwhelming need to follow through with those few I do make. It’s a horrible disconnect, one that spoils my enjoyment of both leisure activities and work I actually enjoy doing.

Stop! I have a book to write! And sleep to do!

In keeping with my interest of being lazy, I rarely let any aspect of my day job interfere with my life when I’m not being paid to let one do so. However, as some of my loyal followers will have realized, this time of year is a full-scale invasion of stupid that boils out of the ground like multi-phasic South American army ants. They come with fire, they come with axes, gnawing biting breaking hacking burning until my parasympathetic nervous system is finally decimated by evil Olympic torch runners.

"I just have a couple of questions about the program."

Given the above (plus some other extracurricular stressors filling in the role of the wild men of the hills), I made a decision earlier this month that, quite honestly, frightened me. Not enough to make me decide against it, but it still flew in the face of my own work ethic as well as one of the widely-adopted cardinal rules of writing.

I stopped working on my book.

Sadly, Tori is not bald enough to be my second.

Now, the only reason I feel even remotely comfortable with this decision (and yes, the feeling is remote) is because I’m over 80,000 words into it. My primary justification for it is three-fold: protect myself, protect my characters, and protect my prose. For myself, I feared the far-reaching effects of too much stress on my emotional stability and hence my job stability. Now is not the time of year for me to be edgy.

Pictured: a warranted but culturally unacceptable approach to customer service.

For my characters, I feared an emotional decision born of stress and work-related anger that would either kill someone off or make them suffer unnecessarily. Besides, it would be decidedly out of character for Cora to start shooting her saloon’s patrons without provocation. I can’t let my feelings cloud hers, so I needed a break. For my prose, I simply feared a breakdown of flow and mechanics, increasing my stress levels later when I enter the revision stage. The fewer stupid errors I make now, the less I feel like an idiot later.

My point in all this? Not much of one, I suppose. I’m far too new to the writer blogosphere to feel comfortable dispensing any kind of commandments or platitudes. If anything, I suppose I’m questioning my own post-NaNo admonition to write every day until the draft is finished. Given the time I have until the deadline for this manuscript, I think it’s okay to take a short break (especially since I have another, more immediate deadline looming). Bad advice, maybe, but I’m still learning what does and doesn’t work for me as a writer. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Fortunately, high school physics prepared me to conduct just this sort of experiment.

Categories: Writing

“The Shadow in the Hall”

December 22, 2011 Leave a comment

When presented with the invitation to write a guest blog for the “12 Days of Christmas” thing on the Angry Robot blog, I must admit I floundered a bit. I’m very new to the blogosphere (my college whine-o-blog notwithstanding) and not at all comfortable in my blogger skin. It’s lumpy, it fits too tightly in certain places and isn’t quite snug enough in others, and it smells vaguely of old cheese.

You guys wanna ride? I can opine on various topics to pass the time.

The first idea I had (and the one I toyed with the most) was to write a Christmas-type story starring The Dead of Winter protagonist Cora Oglesby, possibly depicting her hunting down something like David Tallerman’s Santa Thing. However, given that I was slogging through the trenches of She Returns From War, popping my head up every now and again to fire off a few dozen words, the thought of expanding on a universe that was already screaming and exploding in my head didn’t quite suit my palate. I wanted to stretch myself in another direction, to take a quick breather from the novel to write in a completely different style. I’d been reading some nineteenth-century ghost stories in an anthology and wanted to try my hand at writing one myself. I love the exaggerated narrative common to writing from that time period, and I’ve found that writing in that style can be a great exercise in playing with words and how they can flow and crash together. Mixing this excessive verbosity with a story idea I’d had for awhile, one about a teenage girl confronting the paranormal in the wake of her father’s death, seemed natural. The result, which you can read for yourself, was “The Shadow in the Hall.”

Categories: Writing

NaNoWriMo: The Post-Op Report

December 1, 2011 2 comments

Having now completed my second (non-consecutive) NaNoWriMo during a month in which I worked full-time, was enrolled in three credits of pre-calculus math courses, celebrated Thanksgiving with two different families, and nursed an ailing girlfriend through an abscessed wisdom tooth and its extraction, I am now firmly of the belief that The Office of Letters and Light should issue a pamphlet of post-operational instructions to guide participants through the rehabilitation process. Chuck Wendig has graciously offered us a list of suggestions which alludes to that Robert Frost poem about suicide. Sound advice for all NaNo participants (well, maybe not the suicide bit) delivered in his usual monkey-fist-to-your-windpipe method; I highly recommend taking it.

It may look like paradise, but it's really one of those islands where they eat people.

Were I to add to his list, I might also advise allowing yourself a small slackening of pace for the remainder of your journey. I myself plan on dialing back the throttle from 1,667 to 1,500 per day. Huge difference, amirite? Maybe not, but the friendly zeroes and easily-divisible nature of 1,500 put me at ease. Nothing against prime numbers, mind you, but 1,667 is an erratic, unstable entity that might suddenly shift beneath you, throwing you headlong into an ocean of sulfuric acid so you can watch the flesh slough from your bones to a soundtrack of your own agonizing screams. However, you certainly deserve no more cheerful a fate if you just let your project rot once December’s rent comes due. If you do, you are abandoning your characters and their world to the horrors of nonbeing. They will forever suffer in a state of quantum uncertainty, not knowing if they are even alive at all. After spending an entire month with them, nurturing them, laughing with them, screaming obscenities at them, killing them in non-ambiguous ways, you can’t just leave them staring into the churning abyss from whence comes all madness and despair.

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Nanowrimo R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn

Though your hands may feel like the above image (courtesy of one Roberta Scalvini), you must not let a day pass without adding even a little  to the creature now spread out upon the operating table of your imagination. Splice genes, add limbs, nip/tuck, arc electric currents through sensitive tissues, and do whatever else you need to do (to yourself) to get that thing viable and functional. It may only be 500 words per day, but hold to your guns and see the battle through. If you do, you may end up with a book on shelves one day. After all, my 2009 NaNo project became my debut novel The Dead of Winter, and this year’s project is the first (half of the first) draft of the sequel She Returns From War. You never know what may happen with a finished manuscript, but you can always know with absolute certainty what happens with an unfinished one: nothing. And not the awesome kind of nothing government agents convince you you saw that night in the sky. This is a boring, terrible, shame-inducing nothing that will make you sound lame at cocktail parties. If you’re as socially adroit as I am, you don’t need any help in that regard, so do yourself a favor and finish the goddamn manuscript.

 

Categories: Writing

Resistance is Futile and Amusing (Part 2)

November 17, 2011 1 comment

So that creamy blue zen I spoke of in my last post? Where I was all leafy and the world was all watery and I was like Wash in that I was floating gracefully along (at least until that fuckergentleman Whedon punched a hole in his chest)?

My eyes are up here, you greasy bastard

That peace of mind lasted for about a week, long enough to spread my enthusiasm among my family and close friends. Then, with the onset of NaNoWriMo, the gravity of what I’d actually gotten myself into hit me like a rogue asteroid smashing into a Class T planet. And I’m the asteroid. Suddenly, I have a deadline for getting my next book drafted. That draft will be handed directly over to editors to tear apart and rebuild as something publishable. Suddenly, people are expecting me to perform, and perform well. My time spent writing isn’t pie-in-the-sky ambition anymore; it’s solicited and will be treated as such. Suddenly, my writing and I are exposed to the wider world. No longer am I safely sailing the void incognito, free to poke and prod and spout without being noticed, my cloaking device powered by the endless energy of anonymity. When Angry Robot announced that Cassandra Rose Clarke and I were the first two authors signed through the Open Door Month, my blog traffic increased 1,800% in a single day. Suddenly, people are paying attention to me.

But hey, I'm calm under pressure. No, that is not shit in my pants you smell.

Having a dream materialize before your eyes means taking it on toe-to-toe: elation, excitement, fear, and all the rest of it. Head down, caffeine levels up, fingers flying. It’s time to prove myself worthy of the amazing opportunity the Robot Overlords have given me. This isn’t just a hobby anymore.

Categories: Writing

Resistance is Futile and Amusing (Part 1)

November 15, 2011 4 comments

I grew up watching Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his crew roam the Milky Way aboard NCC-1701-D, expertly balancing inter-personal drama with the mind-shredding horrors of an infinite vacuum. A young child with an overactive imagination for all things malevolent, I couldn’t hope for more powerful nightmare fuel. Whether it was an animate blob of evil striking the life out of Tasha Yar, the entire ship going balls-crazy from lack of dreaming (and the equally horrifying realization that the Enterprise‘s salvation rested in Counselor Troi’s cleavagehands), or Riker’s sanity peeling away layer by layer during play rehearsals, the show always gave me something new to imagine laying in wait for me in the dark.

Worf was ashamed of my weakness

One of my favorite episodes featured the dynamic, inspiring Captain Picard falling prey to the Borg, becoming an agent of their unfeeling cybernetic consciousness. The sickly, grayish hue of his skin, the tubes erupting from his skull, and his sporadic laser pointer were all equal parts horrifying and awesome. Repeated viewings at older ages diminished the former part but not the latter. To this day, becoming a cyborg remains one of my highest aspirations.

Thus, when I first received the email from Angry Robot Books editorRobot Overlord Lee Harris saying that they wanted to publish The Dead of Winter, my reaction puzzled me. There I was, accepted into a collective of furious positronic life-forms. It was the realization of a boyhood fantasy and an adult (or megaboy) dream condensed into a single paragraph. In the scenarios I had played out in my head (usually by the minute), I pictured myself whooping, hollering, heaving small objects skyward, and committing petty crimes.

While wailing on my axe and driving a bus.

Instead, I simply leaned back in my chair, looked up at the ceiling, and smiled. Of course I was excited; I’ve only ever wanted a few things in my life more than I wanted that email. The laughing and hugging and crying, they all came, but in that precise moment, I was transported. Untethered and weightless, I floated, second to second, breath to breath, torn from my place in time. Soft grey light filtered through my closed eyelids as I drifted. The world was cool and blue and silent, and I was a fallen leaf on its surface. My time of anxiety, of keeping one Firefox tab open to my inbox all throughout the day, of tirelessly calculating and recalculating my odds, was over.

Coming soon: …And what happened after.

Categories: Writing