Monday, December 25, 2006

Mickling along. Actually, rewriting along.

My initial unhappiness over the non-greatness of the old prose wasn't entirely justified. Some parts are stilted and ineffective, but other parts are fine. So rewriting is going faster than I initially feared it would.

There's much more to be done than I had realized, though. I wrote the first part of the novel without all of the plot details ironed out. Later, I pinned various things down and made notes. Now I find quite a few places where hints and foreshadowing and suchlike need to be inserted, which can require some fairly major twiddling with scenes I had written before and thought fixed and final.

But it's all fun. It's a good way to spend a vacation. We'll be off to Baton Rouge for a few days -- Wednesday through Sunday -- but I'm taking my laptop along in hopes of continuing this process while there. Maybe I'll do some of it at Coffee Call, a nifty cafe-au-lait and beignet place there. Well, it used to be nifty when it was mostly filled with studying and coffee-guzzling LSU students, but I wonder if it's now swamped because of the large numbers of people from New Orleans who moved to BR, pretty much permanently, because of Katrina. My father-in-law and his wife say that the traffic is far worse than previously.

Anyway, my original deadline for the novel was completely unrealistic, it's now clear to me. I'm not going to set myself a new one. As long as I'm making reasonably steady progress, I'll be happy. That would be a big change from the few years immediately preceding the starting of this blog.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Brilliant! Not.

After I'd spent some time looking over Time and the Soldier, trying to figure out what to cut and where to repaste it, and getting nowhere, I decided go back to the first page and start the tweaking and rewriting process, my hope being that that would refresh my overview of the whole thing and make any necessary restructuring clearer. So that's what I've been doing for the last few days, helped muchly by the fact that the Great Denver Blizzard of Ought Six forced my company to shut down for two days, and also by the company having closed at noon today. (It's now closed till Jan. 2.)

I remembered the first few chapters of the book -- the big chunk that I wrote initially, about 15 years ago, and had left untouched except for two short new sections I added recently -- as being brilliant. On rereading, I discover that, well, um, they're not. That's a disturbing revelation. So now I'm hoping that rewriting will make that chunk brilliant. After all, it has to match the parts I've written recently, which are, as I remember well, brilliant. I hope.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Great Denver Blizzard of Ought Six

Why, you young people today. You have no idea what it was like, back in the Great Denver Blizzard of Ought Six. Why, back in those days --

Oh, wait, that's today!

The blizzard really got underway yesterday, Wednesday. We had to go out in the morning. I had a periodontist appointment (my boss joked that that sounded like one of those beasts that died out 65 million years ago), and then later Leonore had her annual physical scheduled. I drove her to that, and then to pick up a couple of prescriptions. We ran a couple of errands, since we were out, and I bought a new humongous bottle of Bulleitt Bourbon, since I was out.

Scary driving. Leonore's Subaru was fine, but I had to dodge some other people who weren't in Subarus and weren't fine. Visibility was not very far beyond the end of the car.

We got back around 1 p.m. I started a pot of tea going, poured myself a bourbon, read an e-mail from my boss saying that the company has shut down for the day, and I felt rather good. 1 p.m. was probably about the latest it would have been feasible to be out and about.

Today, the company, along with the rest of the state, is still shut down. We're still shut in. I'm still sipping tea and bourbon. Yesterday, I did some work remotely, but today the only work on my schedule is shoveling snow, which will surely be work enough.

Now, as long as the power and my broadband connection stay up, life will be okay.

Here are a couple of pictures. First, my car, parked on the street in front of the house:

And here's a view from the back door, looking toward a neighbor's backyard:

Click on the pictures to see bigger versions. In the case of the second photo, it's clearer in the larger version that the dark line across the bottom third is the top of a fence.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Well, I've been thinking about writing.

This will sound odd, but this evening I realized why I've been so reluctant to get back to this book. I was looking over the ms., wondering what large blue chunks might still be there, and I realized/admitted to myself that the next big task isn't eliminating blue but reorganizing, restructuring major parts of the book. I knew that, on some level, but I was refusing to admit it.

The story isn't linear. As it is now, it follows the three main characters, or four as it turned out, on their travels through time, focusing on one for a long time, then switching to another, etc. That resulted in overlapping stories and in some scenes being done twice, from different points of view -- something like the Back to the Future movies. I loved those movies and thought them brilliant, but that gimmick turns out to be confusing in places in this ms.

I have to reorder things now. The story still jumps back and forth, but the narrative flow has to have a more linear feel to it. As it is now, it's confusing and can jerk the reader out of the story. I know what's going on (well, at least I hope so), but someone else won't.

Without consciously realizing it, I knew all of that and was reluctant to tackle the problem. As it happens, I had a somewhat similar problem with my last novel, Business Secrets from the Stars. That book doesn't involve time travel, but the original version had two different stories that I had a lot of trouble combining properly. And yet, BizStars ended up, in my opinion, as far and away the best thing I've ever written, so I have to keep reminding myself of that and take heart from that experience.

Coincidentally, I was talking on the phone to my father tonight. He's 97 and knows nothing about computers and generally cares even less, but tonight he asked me to explain what a blog is. Given his lack of background knowledge, that was harder than one might expect, but I think I made it clear enough to him. I began to wonder if there are blogs devoted to recording the bloggers' conversations with their aged parents. Given the number and diversity of blogs, it seems highly likely that there are. I wouldn't want to read them.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

What's It All About

Originally, I wasn't going to say anything about the plot or the gimmick of Time and the Soldier. After the last post, there seems no reason not to do so, and I thought that a very brief synopsis might be of interest. "Brief" is the tricky part. The plot is long and complex, and there's no point in going into it very far, especially since there are twists that are supposed to be suprises to the reader. So here's at least the first part of the story.

Near the end of WWII, three people are recruited by Tempus, a mysterious, somewhat sinister organization. Tempus has close links links with the OSS and other Western intelligence agencies. It's rolling in dough and employs some of the top scientists in the world, competing for them with some other big project it knows is underway but hasn't been able to penetrate. Tempus has finally managed to send people forward in time, but only for short distances, and only forward, not back. (The forward-not-back part is explained with appropriate pseudo-science and plays a part in the plot.)

The three recruits - Tommy, Frank, and Ellen - will be sent forward with two goals: acquire futuristic weapons that can be used to end the war quickly and ensure US hegemony, and find a way to travel backward in time to 1945 with those weapons. The assumption is that the scientists of the future will surely have discovered how to go back. Tommy and Frank were both transferred from the US Army, Tommy from the fighting in France and Frank from Italy, and Ellen is a civilian. Tempus has no idea what they'll encounter in the Wonderful World of the Future, so it will hedge its bets by sending them to different points: Tommy fifty years ahead, to 1995, Ellen to 2045, and Frank to 2095.

During their training, a love triangle develops. They know that if they don't back out, they'll very likely never see each other again. They also have reason to believe that Tempus won't let them leave alive, so they have no choice but to jump forward.

Two other characters are important: the head of Tempus, and the driving force behind it, a creepy guy named Hughes; and a brilliant woman named Dolores who is in charge of much of the research at Tempus.

The first part of the book follows the three protagonists to the point where they jump. After that, the story follows each one's adventures in the future. I'm reluctant to say more, because this is where it starts to get really twisty, with interrelated stuff and backward jumps and things getting blowed up real good and some blood and sex (not together! not that kind of book!). Even condensed to the degree the above is, describing much more would make this post absurdly long. Which may be a sign that the plot is overly complex and the book will be too long. All I can do is hope that's not the case.

Maybe, when the thing is in some final form, I'll post some scenes here. I dunno.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Utter Evil of Steven Spielberg

I just read on that Spielberg is going to write a pilot for Fox TV about a couple of young physicists during WWII who invent time travel and jump forward to 2007 to find something they can take back to end the war with.

So what, you say?

So, that's the gimmick in Time and the Soldier, upon which the rest of the long, complex, dense plot is built. So the book is DOA. That's the way things work in gimmick-driven genres.

I'll press on with it. Having put so much into it, I want to finish it. Also, I know it's going to be a terrific sf novel. But it'll be dead on arrival, anyway.

Of course I can't really blame Spielberg, even if he did read my mind and steal my idea. (Joke!) I had this idea 15 years ago, or so, and I wrote the first part of the book back then, and then I let it lie for many years before finally getting back to it. During those years, I often told myself that I should finish the book because someone else was bound to come up with the same gimmick, and then the book would be dead. But I told myself, "Yeah, yeah, whatever," and wrote other stuff instead. And this is the result.

Damn you, Steven Spielberg! You're evil, I say, evil!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Mickling along. Close to 800 words tonight. Clearly, I won't come close to making the optimistic deadline I set a mere two posts ago.

I think that at this point, instead of filling in the holes in the ms., I need to start rereading it from the beginning and mulling over the notes I've made about plot problems and the elements I've haven't yet pinned down. There's more of that than I'm comfortable with.

At the same time, the book now feels to me like a big novel - in scope and in terms of what's at stake for the characters, I mean, rather than number of words. It's looming large. That's rather nice. I like my books to feel big to me.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Ratcheting the quality knob

Just under 1200 words tonight. This is good, and I hope I'll be able to keep it up, but I know I won't.

In the previous post, I said I wanted to be done by December 18, and I also estimated that the book, now at 120K words, would end up at 150K. In the comments to that post, an anonymous poster* pointed out that I was saying I'd write 30,000 (good, final) words in 23 days.

Hmm. That does seem unlikely. So maybe I won't make that deadline. It would be very convenient if I did, but of course I can't let that take precedence over the quality of the end result. In addition to the new words, I do have a lot of fixing up to do. My file of notes to myself has grown unnervingly large. Taking care of those will take some time and may include some beating of head against wall.

The title of this post refers to something that happened at one of my previous places of employment. It was a (very major) software company, and we were all working madly to get the next version of one of the main products ready to ship by the dumb, arbitrary deadline (pulled out of thin air by the marketing department, as is normally the case in the software biz). One of the high-up managers said in a meeting that we had to make the deadline, and if we thought we couldn't do all the necessary stuff in time, we would just have to "ratchet down the quality knob." Wouldn't customers have loved to know about that!

Well, I ain't gonna ratchet down no quality knob with this book. Or any other.

* The post shows as anonymous now, but I just switched to the new version of Blogger, and I don't know if that caused poster IDs to vanish.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Talk about yer blister to yer eye!

Three and a half weeks since I last added any words to Time and the Soldier. Sheesh!

A bit over 2700 words today, which is pretty good. That largish number is due to my having had today off. I had yesterday off, as well, but Leonore and I used it to entertain ourselves rather than work at anything. We saw the new James Bond movie (much fun) and then went out to eat. But today, I wrote. Tomorrow and Sunday will be filled with the usual weekend chores, but I hope I can keep some of this momentum going.

After my previous bit of writing, I entered a weird kind of non-writing, lethargic, dull period that I can't explain. Then came the election, which put everything on hold for a few days. Then I got a flu shot at work and reacted badly with what might as well have been the flu. First time that's ever happened to me. I hope it's just due to this year's batch of vaccine and not some new age-related phenomenon.

During this hiatus, I was actually thinking plottishly, coming up with the stuff I spent today writing. So I can claim that, in a sense, I've been writing all along. But it's a sense that didn't result in anything that anyone else could read, until today, when I actually converted it all from potential stuff in my mind to real stuff on pap-- er, magnetic domains.

TimeSold is progressing nicely enough and the blue parts continue to diminish. Rereading chunks of it over the last couple of days, I realized that I'm going to have to move some parts around. I'm jumping around in the story too much. That was intentional, originally, but I've overdone it. In particular, the death of a major character happens much too early. Then, later in the ms., I go back some years in time and rehash parts of her life. It's unsatisfying and lacking in impact. Fixing that during the rewrite will be challenging.

I do have a self-imposed deadline. Leonore's break from her teaching begins on December 18, so that will be a perfect time for her to begin proofreading. (She's great at catching typos and prose infelicities.) Then I can incorporate her suggestions and have the book ready for the agent hunt by the first of the year. That fits with my schedule of having the book on the bestseller lists by the winter of 2008. Well, okay, that last part isn't included in my self-imposed deadline.

Currently, the wordcount, excluding the blue parts, is just over 120,000 words. So the final book could end up at 150,000 words, after all, as I was saying in one of my early posts. That's a bit longish.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Perils of Confusing English Words

Leonore and I just came back from a quick Chinese lunch. My fortune cookie said:

You will be fortunate if you accept the next proposition you hear.

The next one! Jeez, I'm so old that I can't remember the last one, or even if there was a last one.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Okay, so what have I been doing? Not writing, obviously.

Last Tuesday, I spent an hour and a half at the dentist's office, having an old, cracked crown removed. Painless, really, except for the shot, and the new drills and saws and whatever he was using are virtually soundless. Nonetheless, I found myself shaky and depressed afterwards, and I realized it was a mild form of PTSD, resulting from the hours I used to spend in dentists' offices as a kid in South Africa, having my rotten teeth drilled with the old, slow, loud drills - and no effing anesthetic, because it was such a macho culture and they didn't believe in numbing you for anything short of an extraction. Fifty years later, I still remember staggering out onto the pavement, dizzy, disoriented, sick, and trembling. I not only remember, I feel it all over again, even after a dentistry session that should be non-traumatic. I should add that the dentist we have nowadays, Dennis Duvall, in Lakewood, Colorado, is outstandingly good, the best dentist either of us has ever had. Nonetheless, that reaction persists.

So I went home and e-mailed work that I was taking a sick day and sat around surfing the Web and feeling sorry for myself. Also drinking bourbon, one of mankind's greatest inventions, although not so great as beer, tea, and cheese. Then I wrote just over 300 words and felt as though I'd run a marathon.

Since then, I haven't written, but not because of the above dental thing, which I put here just because I wanted to whine about it. Instead, I've been obsessively reading news and political blogs about the upcoming midterm elections, feeling hopeful but fearing to hope. Will the fascist swine steal this election, too? Duh! Of course they will, to the extent they feel safe doing so. They don't dare lose, because a Democratic Congress, or even just a Democratic House, which is more likely, will surely hold hearings into their corruption and evildoing over the last few years. I hope those hearings include investigations of how the bastards stole the last three national elections (2000, 2002, and 2004), although I fear that the Democrats will once again make their old mistake of being gentlemen instead of going for the gonads.

When male wild boars do battle, the winner uses his tusks to castrate the loser. Hah, hah! Won't be seeing you here next mating season, sucker!

That's what I want the Democrats to do.

Metaphorically, of course.

Friday, October 27, 2006

A Good Excuse

I won't be doing any writing this weekend, because I'll be spending much of it at the local science-fiction convention, MileHiCon. But I will emerge energized and writerized* and raring to go**.

* Meaning feeling like a real writer and filled with writing energy.

** Except for Tuesday, when I have a 1.5-hour dentist appointment scheduled.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

700 words yesterday, none the night before that, and none tonight. This evening, I had to spend what would have been my writing time catching up with various kinds of paperwork and paying bills, which is a good thing, I suppose, because this way I'll continue to have electricity to power this computer, thus enabling me to write more tomorrow. Except that tomorrow I plan to work out, assuming my wrist doesn't screech in agony, so I won't be writing then, either. Thursday, then. And I expect to have electricity for the purpose.

Gary, who has posted in the comments, and I were discussing via e-mail the problem of passing the hump in a book, the point at which you really can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I realized that, for me, there are two humps per book. The first is the dreaded mid-book slump, the point at which the project seems endless and hopeless. That's where I was on Time and the Soldier when I started this blog. For me, the second and very important point is what I might call the gelling point. After passing over or through the mid-book hump, I can let myself believe that I really am going to end up with a book-like object. But it may in the end only resemble a book and not have any sense of unity. Much further along, very close to the end, the book starts to gell. At least, in my view of the book; maybe it really gelled much earlier, but I couldn't see it. I think that with most of my books, I've written almost all the words before it suddenly begins to feel like a unified book that is properly centered around a theme or idea.

I haven't yet reached that point with TimeSold, but I'm feeling hopeful that that will happen soon.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Just over 1200 words today. That's good.

I still haven't managed to get Delia back to 1937. At least Tommy's finally finished lecturing to her. ("As you know, Delia, the primitives of those dim past ages were crude and uncivilized, so be very careful never to look any of them in the eye. We will be equipping you with the newest delastifrabisticizer for your protection. " Well, it's not quite like that.) The next part I'll be working on will be Delia's Exciting Adventures in the Past.

I've also been jumping around the book and adding little details that pop up again in another part, set in a very different time. When such resonances are done well in a time-travel novel, they can provide the reader with a nice sense of something snapping into place, like a jigsaw-puzzle piece fitting unexpectedly. When they're clumsily done . . . Mustn't think about that.

I'm worried that I have too many characters jumping around in time. It's a plot-driven story, but of course I want the characters to be real, and I want them to be driven by their own motivations and situations, not by the visible hand of the author and the outline he sweated over before starting the book.

But at this point, my focus has to be on actually getting a first draft written. The way I write, I can't do much about adding solidity and detail until I've got the book done in a rough form.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Just over a thousand words tonight, which is better than I expected when I started. I thought I'd have to be satisfied with another mickle, so I made up a proverb to encourage myself: "A mickle a day keeps the blister away." But tonight's production turned out to be two or three mickles, so I feel pleased.

I'm still in the long section where Tommy tells Delia (as she's now named) that he's a time traveller and she will soon be one as well. I wanted to keep it short and punchy, but it's getting rather long. It's also turning into one of those "'As you know, John,' the professor said" scenes that science-fiction writers always try to avoid. I've had such scenes in other novels of mine, and I try to disguise them by having the characters doing stuff while talking, and also by trying to make the scene a dialog rather than a lecture. But it's hard to disguise such a scene satisfactorily. "Disguise" is the wrong word. What I mean is that one has to make the scene interesting despite its really being a lecture.

Well. Gotta get through this draft. Then I'll fix it up on the rewrite. That's always the hope.

Monday, October 16, 2006

A mere 400 words, boo hoo. However, that's partly because I spent much of tonight's writing time pondering names.

Earlier, I came up with Dolores as a new name for one character - a good name plotwise, but not a good name for that character. However, in the plot, she goes by two different names at different times, so I chose Delia for the other name. That one does fit her much better, and it's a name my wife, Leonore, suggested, so my using it will please her. That's always a good thing.

So she's Dolores in the 1930s and 1940s and Delia from the 1960s on (and on and on and on, but I don't want to get into all the details now). It makes me think of The Importance of Being Earnest - of being Jack in the country and Ernest in the city.

As to the number of words, it occurs to me that there've been a lot of periods in the past when I wrote only small amounts at a time and didn't write often enough. And yet those small bits added up to a fair number of complete novels. Many a mickle makes a muckle, as an old Scottish proverb supposedly says. Gotta keep mickling on.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Work. WORK!

Sometimes, I feel like Maynard G. Krebs. Because of deadlines I'm behind on, I spent Saturday working on job matters and thus not writing. The deadlines are tight, but I should have been sufficiently on schedule that I could have had Saturday to myself*, and it's my fault that I didn't. I can't blame the company I work for, although I could blame the general concept of work itself, as Maynard would have.

I was a teenager when the Dobie Gillis show was on the air, and I thought that Maynard was, like, cool, man. Nowadays, various noxious rightwing fundie freakazoids would be shrieking their demands that the character, or the whole show, be removed from the air. As work was to Maynard, so anything out of the ordinary or faintly, suggestively liberating is to them.

* After doing the grocery shopping and before exercising to the standard embarrassingly bad original science fiction or horror movie on the Sci Fi channel in the evening.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


In my last post, I should have added that I spent some of that non-writing time updating the SBOBU Economic Index page on my Web site.

This is an utterly unscientific, anecdotal, silly, trivial way of looking at U.S. unemployment that seems to mirror reality far more closely than the official numbers produced each month by the cynical data massagers of the Bush Administration (motto: "We're fascist swine, and that's just fine.").

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Static Friction

Oh, a blister to the eye, indeed!

Around 1250 words tonight. Acceptable, all in all. The blister begins to subside.

So what kept me from writing for so many days? Depression, my usual enemy. I'm very prone to it and slip into it too easily. Some slight thing will trigger it.

I was feeling a bit down for various reasons and took time off to read the new Dick Francis novel. Francis had announced his retirement, but I suppose his publisher waved an enormous checkchecque in front of him and he felt he had no choice but to turn out another novel about horses and murder and an intrepid but introspective and sensitive ex-jockey. I read light fiction to recharge my batteries, and the new Francis novel accomplished that end.

I wrote a bit last Friday and then went down to the basement to lift weights and did something weird to my wrist.

That wrist has been bothering me for years. Many of my joints have been bothering me for years. Both of my parents suffer/suffered from severe arthritis, and now it's my turn. Exercise and supplements seem to be keeping it somewhat at bay, but only somewhat. When I was young and hurt something while exercising, I didn't think too much of it. Now I always fear it means The End. The great decline begins! I'll have to stop lifing weights, and I'll turn instantly into a withered, decrepit, disgusting old man! I'll become that eventually, anyway, but I'd rather it be well in the future. So the wrist injury, which didn't seem to be improving over the next few days, cast me into gloom.

Which finally began to lift today. I don't know why, since my wrist still hurts. Maybe it's the Guinness Gary gave me as a birthday present today.

Writing and exercising both make me think of static vs. dynamic friction. It takes less force to keep an object moving than to start it moving. When the object is at rest, the force binding it to the surface beneath it, static friction, is actually greater than the force binding it when it's in motion, dynamic friction. I think we all know that from experience. When you don't lift weights for a while, I like to joke, the weights put on weight from lack of exercise, so they're that much harder to lift when you finally get back to it. It's also harder to make yourself get down there and start lifting again. The longer you stay away from writing, the bigger and more daunting the task of writing seems. I think it was Frederik Pohl, the science fiction writer, who advised against ending a writing session at a logical stopping point. He said you should stop in the middle of something, while you have momentum, because that way it's easier to get started the next time.

I'm writing a scene where Tommy reveals to Dolores that he's actually a time traveller. He sort of slips it into a conversation. "Nice weather today. Don't think there's anything good on television tonight. I'm a time traveler. You're going to have to go traveling in time, too. Read any good books lately?" She's disconcerted.

Originally, her name was Farani, which made no sense at all, as I finally had to admit to myself, but it did suit her. Her character has changed a bit, and I needed a name that did make sense in terms of the plot. Dolores is better, but it doesn't suit her. She's not a Dolores, but I can't think what she is. It sort of needs to be an Hispanic name, but preferably one that is also commonly used in the wider society.

I hope the right name will come to me in a blaze of inspiration after a wonderful writing session and while I'm vigorously lifting heavier weights than I've ever lifted before. If not that, then while I'm drinking a beer

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Can't think of a silly title. Maybe I won't bother with those normally.

Just over 800 words tonight. Not bad, especially since the part I wrote included a fairly coldblooded murder, and I had been concerned that I wasn't keeping up the gore component sufficiently. This book requires a considerable amount of gore, or at least serious nastiness. This section also introduced a minor character who may or may not remain minor. I've always enjoyed it when a minor character takes on depth and substance and becomes important. This guy may grow.

I think I have all the difficult parts either written in some form or sufficiently plotted/pinned down/imagined in advance. I should be able to write steadily until it's done, now. That's a comforting feeling. Until I reach this point in a book, I always fear on some level that it won't become a book, that it will end up as a partially complete book, lurking on my hard drive, haunting me for years.

Job stress continues. At some point, the deadlines will be past, and then presumably the stress will be over. I don't know for sure. I haven't been working for this company long enough to have a handle on such things yet.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Can't think of a silly title. Maybe I won't bother with those normally.

Just over 800 words tonight. Not bad, especially since the part I wrote included a fairly coldblooded murder, and I had been concerned that I wasn't keeping up the gore component sufficiently. This book requires a considerable amount of gore, or at least serious nastiness. This section also introduced a minor character who may or may not remain minor. I've always enjoyed it when a minor character takes on depth and substance and becomes important. This guy may grow.

I think I have all the difficult parts either written in some form or sufficiently plotted/pinned down/imagined in advance. I should be able to write steadily until it's done, now. That's a comforting feeling. Until I reach this point in a book, I always fear on some level that it won't become a book, that it will end up as a partially complete book, lurking on my hard drive, haunting me for years.

Job stress continues. At some point, the deadlines will be past, and then presumably the stress will be over. I don't know for sure. I haven't been working for this company long enough to have a handle on such things yet.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Since every other blogger tries to come up with an ambiguous title for each blog post, I thought I'd better do the same.

Just over 900 words tonight. Not great, but not bad. I've been working on what had been a plot blockage, that was solved by Mitch Wagner's excellent suggestion. So progress is being made.

Lots of stress and extra work connected with the day job right now, which doesn't help with writing fiction. No doubt some writers react the other way to outside stress - by producing fiction at a furious pace, and benefiting from that emotionally. Unfortunately, I've never been like that. I need calm and peace and nice stuff. On the bright side, while I write, I've been listening to a classical music station in Johannesburg, South Africa over the Internet. That's the area I lived in before coming to the U.S., and it's nifty to hear that accent again and the local place names being mentioned. And to hear them pronounced correctly!

Another stress, and the explanation of this post's title, came from Google today. About a month ago, I signed up for Google ads and started adding the code to the pages of my Web site. That required much fiddling with the existing HTML and CSS to get the pages to look right with the ads added. The ads weren't earning much, but it was something, and it looked like it would cover my ISP bill, so it would be a net gain and would make all the work on the pages seem worthwhile in the long run. But today, I got e-mail from Google saying there had been invalid clicks on my page (implying that I've violated the user agreement by clicking on the ads myself, which I most certainly have not done), so they're killing my account. I appealed. They acted like Dubya Bush responding to an appeal from someone condemned to death when he was governor of Texas. I've been looking at posts online (in a Google group, ironically) from other people who've had the same thing happen to them. There are a lot of them.

Very upsetting.

The only revenge I can think of it to write a bestseller. Then they'll be sorry. Well, no, they won't care. But I won't care about them, either. I suspect that having a bestseller cures a lot of ills.

Saturday, September 23, 2006


Why don't bloggers have links on their blogs that make it easy for people to spread the word about their blogs? I've been putting such a link on every page on my Web site for quite some time, and it's not uncommon on Web sites in general, but I don't see that in blogs. This blog has such a link now.

I've also added a link to Monkeys In My Pants, the blog of Mitch Wagner, a writer who makes his living as a computer journalist. I've known Mitch online for ages, but we've never met in the flesh - a phenomenon that seems to be very common in the modern world, thanks to the wonders of the InterWeb.

In a comment, Mitch handily solved the plot problem I was whining about in yesterday's post. In spite of that, I want to add something to that post. I had meant to include this at the time but forgot.

This plot trickiness of getting a character into a place that's difficult to get into doesn't seem to bother TV script writers at all. They just have the character appear where the plot requires him to be, wearing the appropriate costume or uniform, accepted by all the secondary characters as someone who should be there. Oh, yeah, he's just another cop/doctor/teacher/government official/superduper scientist. Treat him the way you treat all the others of that kind. I'm usually grudgingly willing to accept that for the sake of enjoying the show, but it still annoys me. Maybe I'm annoyed because a prose writer can't get away with that and has to come up with something at least partly convincing. Or should, anyway.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Trees 'n' Time

Or Time 'n' Trees. Or Time-Traveling Trees. Trees through Time. Time and the Tree. I'm loopy.

I'm done with the Web site fixes. There's still work to be done, but it can wait. The stuff I felt was urgent is finished, and so am I, very much. Back to the book.

But first I took the time to put up this tribute to a tree we just lost: Big Beautiful Cottonwood.

The blue chunk that was facing me when I put the ms. aside deals with a time traveler from 2097 trying to insert herself into a top-secret research program around 1940. Think Manhattan Project, but private, and even more paranoid. The paranoia is the problem I have: how does she get in? I'm sure it was easier to get an ordinary job in 1940 than nowadays. Fewer checks, less concern with a paper trail, less obsession with credentials for most jobs, and so on. But the sort of place she's trying to crack is a different matter.

She's a science whiz by 2097 standards, so knowledge and ability aren't a problem. If anything, she'll have to be careful not to reveal that she knows the solution to the big problem the secret project is working on. But despite her qualifications, she can't walk up to the front gate and ask for a job. They would want a paper trail. They're also wacko killers.

So either she'll have to jump back far enough to establish a paper trail, which will slow things down badly, or I'll have to come up with some convincing scam for her to use. I'm not good at scams in real life or my fiction, and this character is not good at them, either.

I suppose all of this is why I convinced myself that that Web work simply had to be done right now.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


I'm still spending my spare hours cleaning up my Web site. I've been adding pages to it for years, thinking I was being consistent and careful, but apparently I was kidding myself. Many of the problems stem from the way I've changed my Web-creation style over the years. It'll be worth the trouble, I hope.

It's a useful break because I'm confronting a couple of plot problems in Time and the Soldier that I'd been putting off dealing with. Now I've reached the point where I have to deal with them. So I need to think about what to do rather than concentrate on producing words.

That sounds very convincing!

Today, in an online forum, I saw a NY editor refer to me as "a minor pro." Ouch.

I have no illusions that I'm a major pro. The description is accurate, and it's better than being referred to as "Who he?" or "Liberal Loon Toon Kook." Still, next year will mark 30 years since my first novel was published, and after 17 books, it's painful to be reminded that all that has added up to is being a minor pro.

But I must take away the lesson that I need to concentrate all the more on the current novel, the one that will take off like a rocket and bring me fame and fortune! Yes! And if it doesn't, then the next one will! Woo hoo!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Trollope didn't have a Web site to maintain, either. (Gee, I'm getting defensive.)

I was looking at stuff on my Web site and found numerous pages that were in need of major fixing, so I've been doing that instead of working on Time and the Soldier.

As it happens, in my day job, which is nominally tech writing, I've been spending a lot of time lately fixing up HTML pages, including adding some nifty JavaScript. I do enjoy that so much more than writing instructions about doing this or that. So I've been doing that kind of work all day, and then I'll be doing hours more of it in the evening. Life can be a bit odd.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Around 1800 words tonight, which is pretty good for one evening but not all that good given that I didn't write the two previous nights. I was working late because of a deadline at my paying job, and then I spent my free time vegging out in front of the TV as a way of recovering. That actually makes sense because the shows I was vegging out to were Eureka (science fiction) on Tuesday night and Blade (vampires) on Wednesday night. Recharging my batteries, you see.

I also hit the stationary bicycle last night. I need to hit it more often. It must have been resentful at being neglected, because in the middle of the night, it hit back with a really, really bad cramp in one of my thigh muscles. I know that I need aerobic exercise and mustn't limit myself to lifting weights, but, sigh, I enjoy lifting weights and I hate aerobic exercise and always have. It's like taking an awful-tasting medicine that you know is good for you, but it still tastes awful.

The blue chunk I eliminated tonight was another important section that I was a bit hesitant about attacking, but I think it worked out well. There are some nity (well, I think so) repetitions of scenes and themes covered earlier from a different pov. Tommy has gone back in time and manipulated the events that were described earlier from another pov, including his own earlier one. I'll admit upfront that there's an echo of the Back to the Future movies. I loved those movies, thought they were brilliantly done as well as very funny. Of course, there's nothing funny in Time and the Soldier. Just war and death and gore and violence. And a bit of sex.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Liberal Loon Toon Kook

That's me!

This isn't the type of blog where I would normally post something like this, but I thought it was such a hoot that I couldn't resist:

Monday, September 11, 2006

I think Trollope wrote his novels sequentially, so measuring his progress by the number of pages per week made more sense for him than for me. I think that's almost convincing.

Only two or three hundred words tonight. Again, I was focusing on getting rid of small chunks of notes in blue, rather than writing a large section. I think I'm coasting downhill toward the finish on this book, at last - and rather to my surprise, because I had been thinking I was only in the molasses middle.

My intention has been to balance having lots of nitty-gritty detail in order to make the made-up setting real (a particular necessity with time-travel and alternate-history novels, I think) with giving the reader a dreamy and detached feeling. On rereading, last night and tonight, I decided that, in the interests of the dreaminess thing, some of the sections I had yet to write and thought would be very long would be better handled in brief, with those parts of the story told by hinting and implying. I'm not sure whether I'm being terribly artistic or just very lazy.

I've always had a terrible memory. Of course, it hasn't improved as I've aged. I'm finding notes in one part of the manuscript instructing myself to be sure to take care of some crucial detail, but the crucial detail is already taken care of in detail in some other part of the manuscript. Or the whole thing is repeated in another note somewhere else. This isn't due only to my awful memory but also to this novel having an intricate plot and there having been gaps of years when I wasn't working on it. Sometimes I'm afraid that I'll finish the book and sell it and it will be published and years from now someone will come up to me at a science-fiction convention and point to some really stupid contradiction in the plot that destroys the entire novel. Of course, I'll have to kill him.

I'm also experiencing something on rereading that I've experienced with previous novels. While I'm writing, what I'm producing seems much too light on action and much too heavy on introspection and psychological stuff and slow, quiet, thoughtful dialog. When I reread the book, it seems the opposite -- lots of movement and brief exchanges between characters who are rushing around excessively.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Not much in the way of words, so I won't record the pitiful number, but it wasn't a word-producing kind of day. I'm still looking for blue bits and getting rid of them, and it's feeling very much like a book at last.

One pleasant surprise concerned a scene I wrote a year or two ago and remember having a tough time with. At some later point, I reread it and added a blue note to myself that the scene was garbage and needed to be chucked and completely rewritten, in some undefined way that I wasn't kind enough to describe to myself in detail. Reading it again tonight, I decided that it's excellent as it stands, so instead of chucking the scene, I chucked the blue note. Take that! Whadda you know?

One curious thing I've noticed over the years, and I noticed it again tonight, is that when I reread material long after originally writing it, I can't see a difference between sections that flowed easily while I was writing them and sections that flowed like cold molasses. Fortunately, the ones the writing of which was labored aren't laborious to read. But perhaps I'm kidding myself.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Probably between 100-200 words tonight. Hard to be sure because I was also removing notes. The notes were really chunks of the original detailed outline. I have them in the manuscript in blue and a smaller font, so they're easy to see. As I've been nibbling away at the unwritten parts of the manuscript, I've been removing the blue sections that were originally there to tell me what to write in that part. As I've been writing, I've occasionally added a note in blue concerning something that needed to be cleared up later (e.g., "Travel time from Houston to Phoenix in 1963?"*). Tonight, I jumped around, looking for those short notes and taking care of some of them. Now I can page through the file and have the pleasure of seeing quite a bit less blue.

(*Answer: Dunno, but it's about 20 hours now, according my road atlas, which assumes one will be taking the Interstate. Not much Interstate existed between those two cities in 1963, according to the Wonderful World Wide Web, so I guessed that it would be twice as long. Based on my own past experience, the 2:1 ratio is about right for regular U.S. highway travel vs. Interstate travel.)

There are still some major blue chunks, but the thing is finally starting to fel like a novel that needs some parts filled in, rather than an interesting outline with some parts fleshed out. I like the plot very much, but I really, really like the characters, and I'm determined to do them justice and tell their story properly and fully.

The writing today, such as it was, was therapeutic for me. This morning, my car, which I've been very happy with (2001 Toyota Camry, bought used as a three-year lease return vehicle), decided to get cranky and refused to crank. Starting motor is shot. Aargh. Car troubles and computer troubles can throw me for an unreasonable loop and cast me into a fit of depression. This did, for a few hours.

Writing this book has been part of my pulling myself out of a depression that lasted about two years. That one wasn't prompted by car or computer troubles (even I'm not that weird!) but by the commercial failure of my last novel, Business Secrets from the Stars. It's the best book I've ever written, by far, and I worked hard at promoting it, something I'd never really done with any other novel, and I let myself hope that this was the one that would make me rich and famous. The book's failure hit me hard, and as I was struggling with that, I was unexpectedly laid off. I was lucky enough to find a new job fairly quickly and settled into it and started trying to deal with my writing despondency again and trying to make myself write regularly again, and then I was unexpectedly laid off again. Once again, I was lucky enough to find a new job fairly quickly. This one is with Quark. The company is great, and so are the people. (See The Day Job for an more complete telling of my professional history.) Fingers crossed about the layoff thing.

Friday, September 08, 2006

1300 words, and if I do say so myself, they're really good words. Or I suppose I should say, they're common words but put together in a really good way. I've put Tommy through his most emotionally wrenching experience in the story, and now it's on to more plotty stuff - blood, gore, explosions, and maybe some sex.

What was particularly nice about tonight's session was that I finally got into the flow again, the swing of writing. The words came tumbling out. Luckily, my computer caught them. That's the most enjoyable way to write, as surely every writer must feel.

I said a few posts ago that I tend to write excessively detailed outlines for my novels and then write different sections of the book based on that outline. I jump around in the book, writing this part or that part, rather than doing it linearly from start to finish. When I first started writing novels, I did write them from start to finish, and that was exhilarating as what was going to happen next kept coming as an exciting revelation. It also resulted in messy plot problems that I had to fix up during endless rewriting - on a portable manual typewriter, on a small desk where the typewriter sat on a flimsy swing-out shelf that I had to support with my knee. Oh, how I've suffered for my art!

The method I use now means that I feel pressured to get the story written, the details of who goes where and does what with or to whom. The first draft tends to have all of that in place but lacks color, emotion, sensory impressions - the depth and texture that make scenes come alive. I try to add that during the rewriting.

The late, great science-fiction and fantasy writer, Poul Anderson, said something like (and I wish I could remember the quotation exactly), "Remember that the reader has five senses, and try to appeal to at least four of them in each scene." Or did he say "five senses, at least"? He seems to have a bit of the mystical touch about him. Sometimes, in Anderson's fiction, you can see the writer working deliberately and consciously at that. You can tell where Anderson told himself, "Oops, missed a couple of senses in that scene. Better add some sounds and smells." In spite of that, his fiction does come alive in a very sensual way, as in sensory.

I've never felt that my writing has enough of that in it, and I keep trying to remember that rule while rewriting. Unfortunately, I have a rotten memory.

When I decided to start this blog, I told myself that it was a frightfully clever idea, and that I was a frightfully clever fellow to have come up with it. For surely no one else in the entire world has ever done anything like this! Ho, ho. Google has cured me of that delusion. I'm a Johnny-come-lately.

Some of the other writerly blogs I've come across are blogs that are written by writers. I.e., they're fairly general blog-type blogs, albeit with more of a writerly tilt than the average blogs. But some do seem to be very specifically focused on the blogger's writing, and often that means fiction. It would be nice if some of the other writers who have blogs that are in some way similar to this visited here and, if they liked what they saw, offered to exchange links. The links to the right are rather limited right now. In fact, there's just one of them, and it's a link to a page on my own Web site.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Zero writing today, but that's because I had e-mail to catch up on and a recorded TV show I want to watch tonight, so I'm giving myself a break.

I'm telling myself that writing is like lifting weights. An occasional break from the routine is actually beneficial. Lets the muscles/brain recuperate so that one can then go on to even greater heights of muscle/book building.

That almost makes sense.

Trollope would have sneered, assuming he did sneer, but gentlemen in his day didn't lift weights, so what did he know? Anyway, I just reread the quote, and he refers to a week passed with an insufficient number of pages, not a day. That's very sensible. Maybe he gave himself days off, too. Surely he did. He must have. He was prolific and disciplined but also very human, after all.

There. I've talked myself into it. Today is not an eye-blister day.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Another 1,000 words. Not bad. Slow and steady wins the race. Of course, it's not the slow part that's hard, it's the steady part.

This book may not end up being 200,000 words long, after all. Could be closer to 150,000 words. But there's no point in thinking about that at this stage.

I'm in the midst of another plot-crucial scene. Tommy has to convince Frank and Ellen of some rather improbable things. So far, he hasn't even convinced me. He'd better improve his spiel pretty damned quickly. Get with it, Tommy.

I can't threaten to bump him off if he's not glib enough. He's the soldier in the book's title. There were supposed to be three equal protagonists, Frank and Ellen being the other two, but Tommy took over. I think it's always hard for a novelist to avoid having one character become the true or main protagonist. In the book after the next one, I hope to pull that off, but I shouldn't let myself think that far ahead.

Time-travel novels are as tricky as mystery novels in at least one respect, I'm finding out. When I wrote my only straight mystery novel, The Cavaradossi Killings, I had to be sure I had figured out in detail what had really happened and which character knew what part of what had really happened. Also, when - at what point in the story - each character knew it. In this time-travel novel, with characters bouncing backwards and forwards in time, it's important not to have a character display knowledge of some past event that he hasn't yet lived through(!). Slightly mind bending.

(As it happens, the first mystery novel I wrote was a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, Time for Sherlock Holmes, that also involved time travel, but that was really an adventure story, and everyone moved forward through time, although at different rates, so I didn't have to deal with these complications.)

Continuity errors. You see them in movies and occasionally in books. Last weekend, I was exercising to an old alien-invasion movie, Strange Invaders, being shown on TV. It was an embarrassingly bad movie in various ways, albeit suitable for lifting weights to (one doesn't want one's mind too fully engaged while lifting weights), but one thing that made me laugh out loud was how the hero's gun kept changing randomly from snub-nosed revolver to long-barrel automatic. Did the movie makers really think the audience wouldn't notice? Or did they just not care?

My own encounter with the continuity error problem came while I was writing my second novel, The Green God. I wrote it on a portable manual typewriter, so making major changes was an awful chore. While I was rereading the manuscript, I realized that I had written whole chunks centering on an important secondary character whom I had killed off a few chapters earlier. I should have rewritten or eliminated those chunks in which he starred after having been killed, but instead I manufactured some reason why he hadn't really been killed, after all. Which is to say that instead of practising artistic integrity, I thought about the effort it would take to retype all those pages and rejigger the plot, and I cheated.

Oh, I'm so glad that we have computers! Writers can still cheat, but at least it's easier to search the whole manuscript and find every place a minor character appears, for example. In general, computers make fiction more flexible, more plastic. They eliminate yet another barrier between the writer's mind and the story.

Why does any writer reject the use of computers? Some do. Some even reject typewriters and write by hand. Why don't they go back to clay tablets and cuneiform? Or scratch their stories in pictographs on cave walls? Weird people.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Only 500 words today. Not quite blister-to-my-eye territory, but moving in that direction. That's only two standard manuscript pages. Also, if one extrapolates from yesterday, tomorrow I'll do 250 words, then 125, etc. Finally the day will come when I'll manage only a puncutation mark.

Actually, it was a good day because I plunged into a scene which is pivotal, both in terms of plot and the moral/philosophical crux of the story, which is what the working title, Time and the Soldier, refers to. I'm feeling involved again with the story and the characters, which is certainly a good thing. I had been away from the book for too long, and I had lost that connection.

I have an absurdly long and detailed outline for this book. I tend to do that with my novels. That lets me write different scenes or sections independently, in theory whittling away at the unwritten parts bit by bit until - behold! - the first draft is done. Sometimes, in practice, the unwritten bits prove to be very difficult to whittle away at, so it's always nice to start working on one of them and find that it's alive and real and begging me to flesh it out and put into words something that, in some sense, already exists in some other place.

A while ago, I wrote an essay on my Web site, here, trying to pin that phenomenon (the concept becoming real through words) down for myself. Writing that essay was interesting, but it doesn't compare to doing the thing itself, making the idea or concept into a story and characters embodied in words. Nifty!

Not really relevant, but I just remembered that years ago I was telling a friend that I had just signed a contract to write a vampire novel, and the contract specified that the book would be approximately 100,000 words. His eyes widened. "100,000 words!" "Oh," I said, "they don't have to be 100,000 different words. I'm allowed to reuse them."

I get a lot of mileage out of he and she and said and and . . .

Monday, September 04, 2006

So far, this is actually working.

I did just over a thousand words today. On the one hand, that's only 1% of what remains on the way to a first draft, and given that I had today off, I should have done more. On the other hand, I felt like really taking the day off and doing nothing, but thinking about this blog sitting here made me feel guilty and so I wrote.

Also, I got past a scene that had been hanging me up rather badly. The final result may not stand as it is. It probalby won't; I'll probably change it considerably when I revise the manuscript. However, that's always been easier - and more satisfying - to me than the initial writing. So I got some momentum going.

It's 1945, and the character Frank Anderson just recruited the first member for the group he's trying to establish to help oppose the organization that is secretly trying to control the governments of the world. Little does he know . . .

I'm afraid that if I say more than that, the story - which is really serious, deep, thoughtful, philosophical, psychological, and other good stuff - will sound like a time-travel version of a TV soap opera, which I imagine might read something like this:

    While Brock rushes to the Battle of Hastings in a desperate attempt to rescue Jewell from the temporal kidnappers, Glory discovers that Slade did not die in the Zeppelin crash in 1916, after all.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

In his posthumously published autobiography, Anthony Trollope described the discipline he imposed upon himself when writing:

    When I have commenced a new book, I have always prepared a diary, divided into weeks, and carried it on for the period which I have allowed myself for the completion of the work. In this I have entered, day by day, the number of pages I have written, so that if at any time I have slipped into idleness for a day or two, the record of that idleness has been there, staring me in the face, and demanding of me increased labour, so that the deficiency might be supplied. According to the circumstances of the time,--whether my other business might be then heavy or light, or whether the book which I was writing was or was not wanted with speed,--I have allotted myself so many pages a week. The average number has been about 40. It has been placed as low as 20, and has risen to 112. ... There has ever been the record before me, and a week passed with an insufficient number of pages has been a blister to my eye, and a month so disgraced would have been a sorrow to my heart.

I read his autobigraphy years ago, and that passage, and in particular the phrase "a blister to my eye" (ouch!), has stuck with me. I've never kept a writing journal, but I'm sorry to say that if I had, there would be many a page of it that would be a blister to my eye.

Currently, I'm working on a rather large time-travel novel. By "large" I mean that, not only does the plot cover lots of time and space and deal with large issues, but also it's up to about 100,000 words and is probably only half done. For me, that's fairly large. I'm not sure what the longest of my published novels is so far, but I don't think that any of them is over 125,000 words. (They're all listed on this page on my Web site.)

The plot of this novel is turning out to be trickier and more complex in various ways than I originally intended - so much so that it's having a daunting effect. I started it, I think, about ten years ago. I've nibbled away at during that time, constantly putting it aside to work on other books. Now I'm determined to stick with it and press through to the end. I probably should add that for me, the midpoint of a novel is almost always the hardest point. I should be able to tell myself that I'm at the peak of the hill and it's easy coasting from here, but instead the peak seems ever further away, and the effort to get there seems overwhelming.

So I decided to try keeping a journal, but not a written account of how many words or pages I wrote today, or at least not just that. That sort of detail is good and important because of the blister-to-my-eye effect, but I also want to be able to ramble a bit about the specifics of the day's writing, about the plot problems encountered or solved, about the interesting and unanticipated developments in various characters.

Why not just do all of that in a private place where only I can see it? Why a blog?

Well, first, blogs are cool and I've long wanted an excuse to have one. But I wanted one with some sort of substance, or at least the appearance of substance. At the same time, I'm lazy. I don't want to maintain a blog that requires some kind of investigation or effort on my part. But there is one subject on which I am the world's foremost expert: the inadequacy of the number of words David Dvorkin wrote today.

Secondly, if no one else ever reads this blog, as I suppose is the case with the vast majority of blogs, then this is equivalent to writing all of this in a private place where only I can see it. On the other hand, if other people do read it, and especially if they're interested enough to comment, then not only will not having written be a blister to my eye, it'll also be embarrassing to the point of humiliation. And thus, I hope, this will make me pound out those time-traveling words.

If this blog continues, instead of fading away quickly, then eventually I'll have finished the time-travel novel. Next on my schedule is a horror novel, and I'll blog the progress on that one.