Monday, February 28, 2005

The Juicy Center

Some debut novelists talk about the long hard slog.

R2-D2 had his license revoked. He can navigate the Death Star trench, sure, but those blind spots in the English countryside, damn...

I finished chapter 19 last night, bringing the novel up to 450 pages. I'm really excited about the direction and progress of the book. It's in that sweet spot now where the 'plot thickens' and the interplay of relationships and characters deepens. We're at the juicy center now. Plus stuff blows up. Tonight it's chapter 20, and back to the polar mash. Lots of fun here.

Saturday, February 26, 2005


Maybe this was what Kane was thinking of:

The 'rosebud nebula', or NGC 7129, courtesy of NASA.

The Milky Way galaxy was one of the 'founding members' of the universe. This happened likely because of filaments, which developed during the cosmic 'dark ages.' Silicon isn't just a valley in California. No, this isn't a science lesson, but a research dump.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Spilt The Baby

Rick Kleffel writes an interesting article on the recent phenomonon in publishing where novels are being cut in half to make two books, due to pressure from the big chains. Hmm. There are so many issues here. Least of all being the corruption of the creative process. How do you cut a work of art down the middle? Go to King Solomon? You also have the Wal-Martization of books, where the distributor dictates the content/condition of the product. Plus, do the authors subjected to this nonsense get paid for two books, or just one? Because readers are charged twice for the same book.

If this is happening to books of 'lesser-known' authors, capping them at 100,000 words, it makes me wonder about the fate of the book I'm writing now. When it's finished, it will be closer to 200,000. My primary concern is simply getting published in the first place, but still, the handicaps placed on new authors today are enormous. One and your done. Caps. Splits. Makes you wonder.

Speaking of the book, I wrote six pages tonight in chapter 19. Didn't quite get to where I wanted, but that's okay. I got off on a tangent, and wrote a scene I know is doomed, but I wanted to try it on for size anyway. I may take tomorrow off, so maybe Sunday I'll finish this one off with a line I've had in my head for years (like the character from 1995, who will deliver it at long last). And if they make me split the book, it'd be a great little place to break. But if I ever ever heard, "Yeah, so we're gonna need you to split it in two there," the only breaking would be of arms. 443 pages, by the way. Or 110,000 words, for the cap minded.

Full Moon

It's a full moon tonight and Pepper (my dog) is howling at phantom things. Or maybe at the crazies that wander these streets late at night. Or the variety of possums, raccoons, stray cats and other assorted creatures of the night that frequent the alley in the back.

Full moon may also explain the burst of writing I did today. Eight pages of chapter 19. I worried I might be in for a bit of a break since I'd been away from this part of the book for an extended bit of time, but it all come flowing out about eight in the evening and I even contemplated gunning through the entire chapter tonight, but fatigue caught up quick. I don't feel so hot, and besides, always leave something for the next day. Tomorrow I will make an attempt at finishing the chapter; for sure I will get to one of the highlights of writing this particular book for me: I get to introduce a character I've been meaning to write since about 1995. Ten years is a long time to wait on the bench. I hope it's worth it.

Now I'm going to go watch my new Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind DVD. Yay.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Domo Origato

Reggie Roby, NFL legend and Waterloo native, died yesterday. I went to elementary school with one of his nephews, and I still remember the day he signed books at the mall after the Hawkeyes' Rose Bowl appearance in 1981. I carried that book around with me everywhere I went for months.

With flu on its side, the Blue States strike back.

Sugu, adventuring in Japan, surprised me with a belated B-Day/Xmas gift of the unbelievably cool Japanese KILL BILL VOL.1 DVD set, which looks like this. In the words of Ferris, "It's so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up." Domo origato.

After a few days of some intensive writing, I finally brought problem child chapter 18 to a close tonight. For the moment, anyways. Stepping back was a good idea. Now it's back to the monster mash, or what's left of it. It's been a while, so I need to refresh the memory and find the thread again. The book stands at 429 pages.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson has died.

Fizzed Out

Turns out Titan is the 'Peter Pan' of the solar system. On a related note, the space shuttle will return to flight on May 15, a little over two years since the loss of the Columbia. And also, the largest explosion in space ever recorded happened in our backyard back in December. They say that if this explosion occured withing 10,000 light years of Earth (it was 50,000 light years away) it would have caused mass extinction. Makes you wonder about the unfortunate folks who had front row seats to this thing.

I seem to have arrived at one of those inevitable points in writing a novel where it all suddenly goes haywire. The fizz has gone out of the pop. Chapter 18 can't quite get off the ground. That despite the fact I wrote five new pages tonight, but none of it seems right. Or not good enough, at least. I feel very unsure and doubtful. It all seems crap. I know this always happens, and it lasts a little while and then I get through it, so I'm not worried. It just sucks getting through it. It may be time to decompress and write something else, work some on the short story idea I had last week.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Revenge of the Socialist Toys

It's that time of year again. That special time of year when kids of all ages squeal with joy, and their credit cards beg for the scissors. Time for International Toy Fair. This weekend in NYC the toy companies peddle their wares for the coming year, and a day early Hasbro spills the beans on its toy line for the new Star Wars movie. It will include 56 (!) figures and assorted goodies. Take a look, but as they say nowadays, MAJOR SPOILERS lurk in them there woods. *cough* He becomes Vader at the end *cough*

Teddy Bruschi, linebacker for the Patriots, apparently suffered a stroke yesterday. He's a class act and it's good to hear he's doing well.

China Mieville creates a list of the 50 best sf/f books socialists should read. One of them is Frankenstein, my favorite book, and of it he says:

"(It deals with) the fact that there is no “innate” nature to people, but a socially-constructed one."

One of the things I'm dealing with in the new novel is this kind of a dichotomy; there are two main characters. One firmly believes she is a creature of her nature, and the other believes he is a product of his society. Naturally, I will solve this question once and for all. Or something. I finished chapter 16 last night, and tonight slogged through five difficult pages in chapter 18 (after having already written 17). May not keep any of it. Definitely an off night. The book is now up to 405 pages, and the 700 page target number I mentioned before now seems very much likely.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Life On Mars?

Scientists may have found life on Mars. Not past life - present life. Excuse me a moment while I geek out.

Meanwhile, the war of tomorrow seems to have no patience. First we recalled our ambassador from Syria in protest over the bombing in Lebannon the other day, and now Syria has found a tag-team partner. Good luck.

I've been thinking about war a lot lately. And thinking about Polly too. I don't know if I mentioned this here or not, but her brother was called up to Iraq a few weeks ago. I hope to talk to her soon. I feel a little counterfeit sometimes writing about war and battles as if I know anything about them, especially when so many people my age and younger are fighting them so I can have the priviledge to write about fake ones.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Dawn of Tomorrow!

Apparently the U.S. and Europe will someday fight a war - against each other - over Turkey. But the war of tomorrow may very likely be Syria. We'll figure it out.

Figuring out the future of 'Nightline.' Koppel on This Week would be very much good. Watering down Nightline or getting rid of it altogether would be very much bad.

Wrote six pages in chapter 16 last night. This turned into one of those problem chapters, where you come at it from all sorts of angles before finding the right one. Coming up with the design of this winter wonderland they're in has been a lot of fun though. I suppose it might be best described as "Art Deco - On Ice!" I get to pay a little homage to the 1939 World's Fair ("The Dawn of Tomorrow!") and I suppose wink at the pulpy world of tomorrow serials that inspired Star Wars, which in turn inspired me and this little project of mine.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Some Of Us The Latter

I always get a little moody around Valentine's. Not for the usual reasons, but because it was the day after Valentine's 2000 that I first noticed something wasn't quite right with my health. At the time it was a strange buzzing sound I couldn't lose, like the static of an off-air TV station. Gradually it became debilitating headaches, then pain all over, then loss of hearing, then sudden susceptibility to colds and viruses. Five years of this now, five years of speculation as to what it might be, five years of not knowing. Five years of endless frustration. It has taken a toll on me, in many ways. Work is often impossible, and I avoid going outdoors much of the time, which leaves me inactive. My weight goes up. I become anti-social.

It's gotten to the point I get paranoid about getting sick, nevermind the constant pain; my usual method of escape is writing, but it has its own frustrations. And it makes a monk of you. There are two currents of human existence: one is the corporeal, the daily struggle, and the other is the intangible current invested with all our thought, history, art, and faith. Most of us live in the former. Some of us the latter. Some of the latter are refugees.

I know this is something I will live with for the rest of my life now, whether I know what it is or not. It may be two different things. Don't say I was never lucky. There are people much worse off than I am, too many people, too many with the same question marks over their lives. There may not be answers. A teacher once told me to live life with fierce joy, and I can't think of anything better.

Holy Trinity

I continue, shamelessly, to be the whore of Vanity Fair, who grace the cover of their annual Hollywood issue with the Holy Trinity: Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett, and Uma Thurman. I uttered a very audible 'WOW' in B&N, embarassing everyone including myself, and then I promptly purchased my copy. Which weighs like ten pounds by the way. Do we need all the ads of boys in underwear? Maybe we can have two seperate versions from now on: one of ads, and one of Kate-Cate-Uma pictures.

Darth Vader reads the Bible. Thanks to Liam for the link.

Rained all day today. Lake in the backyard. Wrote eight pages in chapter 16 tonight, getting to use terms like 'hoar frost' and 'hummock.' This brings the book provisionally up to 385 pages (I already have chapter 17 in the can). I think I'll write 18 after this to get back on track. This part of the book is a lot of fun, and definitely different from the monster mash craziness I've been steeped in for more than a week. We'll call this polar mash.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Friday: Fish In Retreat

Don't get dooced.

'There's never been less interest in an original screenplay.'

I gave myself the day off from the novel but ending up starting a new short story. I'm excited about this: the way I see it right now is as a sort of sci-fi (very loosely sci-fi) "Stand By Me." I did write a fair amount of notes for the next chapter in the novel, chapter 16, sorting things out. It's more new characters, a new setting, an entirely different rhythm from the Kong Island/monster mash plot line. And I came up with some neat character names today, too. There's nothing better than coming up with good, fun character names.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Attention Must Be Paid

Arthur Miller has died.

Randa at MoorishGirl points to an essay written by Miller on the genesis of 'The Crucible,' and specifically to this paragraph:

'In those years, our thought processes were becoming so magical, so paranoid, that to imagine writing a play about this environment was like trying to pick one's teeth with a ball of wool: I lacked the tools to illuminate miasma. Yet I kept being drawn back to it.'

I feel like this all the time, about our modern America. I will never find the tools to illuminate as Miller did, and it's very frustrating. But this play and his words will live forever, a beacon of light when the fog of miasma rolls in, as it often does.

Uniquely American

A story from Ben (via Drudge) on our president's remarkable but tenuous connection to reality. Yeah, working three jobs is uniquely American. Especially in what is supposedly the wealthiest nation on earth. My step-dad works three jobs. He's 50 years old. Will he be able to retire in fifteen years? Twenty? Ever? Ask Bush. Oh wait. Don't.

I rented 'Wicker Park' last night. I thought it might be good. Besides giving me pleasant dreams of Rose Byrne and Diane Kruger, it was a disappointment. A non-thriller thriller. "Yeah, I'm sorry about ruining your life. But I have to live with it, so it's all better now." Ok.

Wrote eleven pages of chapter 15 (or the half of it that will become chapter 17) the last few days. Up to 375 pages now. Didn't quite finish the monster mash yet. I think I'll take tomorrow night off since I'm absolutely exhausted. I can tell because toward the end the prose started reading like a police report. Time to take a break. I wrote maybe forty pages this week, which is well ahead of my average. Plus I need to give a little thought to where I'm going next. I know, just don't know the details. After forty some pages of running jumping and falling, I'm thinking I'll dial it back a bit.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The People Leak

Iowa has long struggled with how to keep its young people. Growing up here in Waterloo, it often seems like a losing battle. Now the state legislature has a plan involving no taxes for people under 30. Of course they wait until after I'm 30 to start this. The column does a good bit of explaining why it probably won't work. The reasons are legion. Best way to keep people in Iowa: a misplaced sense of obligation.

From Bookslut, Loudoun County, VA, and the mouths of babes.

Last night I wrote eight pages in chapter 15, making it longer than I thought and I'm thinking I'll split it in two now, since there's a little ways to go. So I'll find a nice spot for some cliffhanger joy tonight as I finish up.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

No Apostrophes, Please

The Grand List of Overused Sci-Fi Cliches. Here's my personal pet peeve: "Lots of apostrophes are packed into alien words and phrases for no apparent reason." H'rot'ngot. The hell? Or as Eddie would say, "Qua?" My rule: no apostrophes, ever.

Wrote a good bit of the monster mash tonight. People out there have to wonder what the hell I'm talking about. Hopefully someday they'll get to find out. I told Sugu I expect this to end up around 700 pages (360 tonight), but sometimes that seems unlikely. Others it seems conservative. But in a novel where you have at least ten main characters, and one that hasn't even been introduced yet (ok, two) maybe 700 won't be a problem...

By the way, Sugu was almost arrested the other day. They'll get him eventually. It's only a matter of time.

Monday, February 07, 2005

(Insert Title Here)

Titling books is hard. Real hard. I'm going through this same lousy process myself. I used to be good at titles, but that was back before I was good at writing books. If I am at all, that is. Titles have to be the single most intangible thing about writing. A wrong title can doom a good book. A great title can help a crap book. I'm having difficulty finding the right title for the Angel Book. I suppose I could call it "THE BEST NOVEL EVER WRITTEN" or "READ THIS OR DIE." I have a few different ideas, and one I really like, but it sounds a little too much like the title of a kid's book, which this is not at all.

As for the new novel, I like the title and I don't. It's apt. It's simple. But I don't know if it's distinctive enough. We'll see I guess. Tonight I should finish chapter 15 and at long last get to the monster mash.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Veil Nebula

Linky to pics of the spectacular Veil Nebula, the remnant of a supernova that occured between 5,000 and 8,000 years ago in the Cygnus Loop. It's gorgeous.

Attack of the ducks!!! Hilarious blog of actual query letters. Something writers can appreciate, I'm sure.

Saturday Night Date

Sometimes I will see movies only for the actresses in them. Usually it's Kate Winslet and the film is often very good. Sometimes it's not, like with Debra Messing and her new film, "The Wedding Date." Maybe it's not weird. There are people who see films based solely on directors or writers or other actors/actresses. Maybe I'm just feeling embarassed because I went to see such a film on a Saturday night alone. All that I ask is you don't judge.

Poor little Ward Churchill though. You couldn't fuck up more if you set out to try. He's an embarassment to Americans everywhere, and what's more, he gives the right ammunition to go after academia and judges and college campuses, which they see as the bunkers of leftist resistance. So thanks, Mr. Churchill, for shitting on your country, on the dead, and on the face of the people you claim to stand up for.

But the real outrage this weekend? They cancelled 'Star Trek.' Ben won't have it. I didn't watch it much, at least since Deep Space Nine, but this was just starting to get good.

I found a new blog by fellow writer Crawford Kilian today. I was thinking about character description because I'm reading The Eyre Affair right now and a perfectly good novel grinds to a halt six chapters in when Fforde breaks the cardinal rule: never have your character look in a mirror and describe themselves. I avoid detailed physical description as well, preferring to let the reader fill in most of the blanks.

Took a break from the novel tonight. Debra Messing, remember.

Friday, February 04, 2005


Here is a wealth of more info on the sting involving PublishAmerica, from the post yesterday. I have to admit it was awfully bold of PA to pontificate on the illegitmacy sci-fi considering the fact that they are a vanity press passing themselves off as a real publisher.

I've finished chapter 14 and wrote some of 15 last night, but not a lot. There's a subplot that isn't working and another that begs a kind of Joycean subtlety, meaning it will likely get lost under the stampede of everything else. I was thinking about Joyce the other day and how when I first encountered him, I sort of dismissed him because of this idea put in my head that Joyce had no imagination, and somehow was proud of it. I don't remember how that idea got in my head, but I did come around to Joyce and he became a big influence on me. Subtlety is always key. And he actually corresponds nicely to imaginative writers, or 'mythographers' as Robert Calasso would call them. He would say myth is not obvious, subconscious. And I would agree. Myth is subtlety.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Sci Fi Folks Sit In The Back Of The Bus Only

Here's an interesting story courtesy of Bookslut, wherein a not so pretigious publisher wipes its feet on writers and readers of of science-fiction and then gets shown up in a crafty way. It goes to show you the extent of classism in literature. Yes, a lot of sci-fi/fantasy does not concern itself with the real world or real issues, but then of course, that's the point. I personally have no interest in fiction of any kind where characters are cardboard and there is no story or journey for them to go on, but most fiction today, including a lot of literary fiction, does not concern itself with story. With character. That's what matters to me most, and it doesn't matter to me if Bob or Jane are having the crisis of their lives in Des Moines or on Mars.

I've written before on the importance of story. It's such an important issue in modern fiction. What purpose does fiction serve if not to tell a story? There's a place for style and alternate forms of narrative, for experiments in form and structure of course, but to treat story (and this isn't 'plot,' there's a difference) as somehow antiquated, and to marginalize the 'genres/ghettos' where story still persists is detrimental. Walter Benjamin in his excellent essay "The Storyteller" lays this out much better than I could ever hope to. He explains how narrative arrived at its present pariah status, and how 'no event any longer comes to us without already being shot through with explanation."

A lot of sci-fi is not well written, but the same is true of lot of books in general. But yet no matter how good it is, it's still just 'sci-fi' or whatever ghetto they throw you in. A person told me once after reading one of my books (which took place in Iowa) "It's good, for sci-fi." That's like saying "He's pretty articulate, for a black guy."

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Air Alert

So Waterloo has established a vaguley disconcerting thing called an 'air alert' because the flu is so bad here. Everyone is sick. So people like me can't go outside. I'm sick anyways. Plus a case of viral menengitis turned up here. Instead of boarding up the windows and wearing tissue boxes for shoes, I did in fact go outside today, where I was the victim of a couple of kids thinking throwing snow balls through car windows is fun. Of course they promptly learned just how unfunny it is. This turned into an episode of Jerry Springer somehow, where the kids (ten maybe) called their teenage friends on cell phones (what are they doing with cell phones?) to 'kick my ass.' The teenagers of course had to prove their manhood by threatening me. I then disproved it.

Anyways, this is preamble to say our teenagers are not the hope of the future anyhow.

The book seems to be moving again. Wrote quite a bit last night in chapter 14. I never used to outline or anything, and I still don't, but with this one I've had to plan ahead somewhat. It's spilled over out of my head and I've taken to using a tackboard with index cards for each chapter tacked to it, along with the characters and so on, just to kind of be able to see it.