Monthly Archives: November 2010

For you, Crabby Miss, and for me.

Taking a small step aside from writerly things, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with dips into the personal now and then, and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking along these lines, so here goes:

Today is the first Sunday in the season of Advent, which is, as Anne Lamott says, a big time of year for my Jesusy people. It’s the period of contemplation and remembrance leading up to a great feast, and though these days I’m not much of a churchgoer–as in, I’m not one at all–I like the idea and I try to keep it in some form or another. Regardless of faith or lack thereof, I think the idea of contemplation before celebration is something that most people can get behind. It’s a good idea, which is probably why it’s been around for so long in so many contexts.

Despite this, Advent gets overlooked a lot, even by the people who supposedly celebrate it; the winter holidays are busy for just about everyone, and setting aside time to contemplate and remember takes special effort. But again, it’s an idea I like, and I think it’s important. I’m a fan of feasts, but I might be even more a fan of fasting–fasting with the expectation of the feast to come. Hopeful waiting. Excited anticipation.

Advent is about that, about hope and waiting and excitement, but it’s also about looking back on what’s happened and thinking about what’s to come, not just in terms of the feast but in terms of the big sprawling mess that the next year of life presents. What have I succeeded in doing? What have I failed in? What part of me needs work?

A lot. Most of me. The part that probably needs the most work–my ability to be kind–is the part that keeps bringing me back to this essay by the aforementioned Ms. Lamott, which is, I think, worth a read regardless of what angle you come at this time of year from: My Advent Adventure

Then Terry approaches the other man.

“My friend,” he says gently, “it looks like you have trouble here.”

The man just nods.

“We’re going to give you a hand,” says Terry.

“So three men from the recovery house next door help him to his feet, walk him to the halfway house and put him in the shower. They wash his clothes and shoes and give him their things to wear while he waits. They give him coffee and dinner, and they give him respect. I talked to these other men later, and even though they had very little sobriety, they did not cast this other guy off for not being well enough to be there. Somehow this broken guy was treated like one of them, because they could see that he was one of them. No one was pretending he wasn’t covered with shit, but there was a real sense of kinship. And that is what we mean when we talk about grace.

“Back at the meeting at the Episcopal Cathedral, I was just totally amazed by what I had seen. And I had a little shred of hope. I couldn’t have put it into words, but until that meeting, I had thought that I would recover with men and women like myself; which is to say, overeducated, fun to be with and housebroken. And that this would happen quickly and efficiently. But I was wrong. So I’ll tell you what the promise of Advent is: It is that God has set up a tent among us and will help us work together on our stuff. And this will only happen over time.”

A joyful and blessed season to all, however you celebrate it.

Lessons learned on the butcher’s block

Finished the carving last night. The Helix Dance (title still very much open to change) currently clocks in at 124,200 words, and there I (really for real) think it might stay. I would feel generally comfortable submitting this in its present form. I’ve been through this book four or five times now, and I’ve cut the prose to the bone. I’ve only cut three or four actual scenes wholesale, because while the prose was very puffy, the actual progression of the plot was in fact fairly tight. Or at least I think so. I would be more surprised if this wasn’t in keeping with a pattern with me.

This book was around 165,000 words long when I started cutting. So somewhere around 40,000 words have been cut–and I want to emphasize this again: very little of that was in scene cuts. Getting that much out was simply a question of going back through line by line and looking very hard at the words, and figuring out ways of making them do what they needed to more efficiently.

Why did I cut so hard? This is a measure of how much of this I’m still learning as I go. As it turns out, most publishers are leery of investing in printing a really long novel if the author is relatively unknown. This is probably equal parts an element of what readers tend to prefer, and the state of publishing in general at present, but regardless of the reasons, the fact is that if you aren’t Stephen King1 shorter is, to a point, better. I have a much, much better chance of selling this thing at 124k words than I did at 165k.

But it’s not all just about marketing. I was rankling at the constraints of length, until I realized what it was forcing me to do: look not only at each scene but at each word, question whether or not it really needed to be there in its present form, and make a call.

This is something that I think I have in common with a lot of writers who like to play around with words themselves: we do something really cool with style or with a turn of phrase and then we get blinded by our own cleverness and fail to notice that our marvelously creative turn of phrase is redundant. Or unnecessary. Or nonsensical. A rejection that I got around a year ago called my writing “very good, if slightly self-indulgent”. I bristled a little at that, but then I took another look at the piece and realized that the editor was right: I was too in love with my darlings to see that they made the story very puffy. They needed to be killed. So I made hard cuts.

Close to a third of the first draft of The Helix Dance didn’t actually need to be there.

I think this tends to be more of an issue with long pieces–and in fact both novellas I’ve published benefited from some significant additions–but I still think it’s a valuable lesson to take away from this process, and it’s one I’m still learning. Look at the words. The words serve the story, not themselves. If they aren’t doing that, no matter how pretty they are, they need to go.

Kill your darlings. Kill them with fire.

1 And in fact probably if you are, AMIRITE

Attn: CHEAP-ASS BOOKS

Fictionwise is having a 50% off sale through the end of today. Use coupon code “blackfriday2010” at checkout.

Books I wrote/am in that you can get there:

Hieros (m/m fantasy)

Like a Thorn – “That Wicked Witchcraft” (m/f/f menage)

Like a Long Road Home – “Neither Bird Nor Tree” (m/m post-apocalypse)

Like a Veil – “Catch & Release” (m/f science fiction)

Queerpunk – “Upload” (f/f science fiction)

Further novel update

Yeah, so about that major surgery I mentioned. It’s become extremely clear that The Helix Dance is still too long. Or it was. It’s down to something like 135k words now, which is, I think, at least more in the ballpark of what is a good idea. Very few scenes have been cut wholesale, still.

I’m beginning to discover that the thing about editing something this large is that it’s difficult to be sure of when you’re done. I’ve heard about this phenomenon but never experienced it first-hand until now. Duly noted for later dissertating.

This is not the best time for the next big project to start tugging at my brain, which it is doing. It’s also not the best time for much of anything, what with school and everything that comes with being on a semester system. I can’t clearly recall November of last year but I think it might have been difficult as well, so maybe it’s just a Thing With November.

I’m still aiming to have this thing in submittable shape in the next few weeks. We’ll see how doable that ends up being.

Novel update

First round of novel edits are done. Final count: 286 pages, single-spaced; 41 chapters; 147,700 words. In all, about 20,000 words were cut. I’d like to trim it down further but I think I’ve done as much as I can without more major surgery.

This may in fact end up being the last round of edits, depending. I think what I have here is saleable. I think it’s good. I think parts of it are extremely good. We’ll see. Ultimately, it’s not up to me where it goes or how it finds a home. But I do think it’s well-positioned to go somewhere and do something.

Reading it over after two-plus months without looking at it has been an interesting experience, rather like sitting on one’s hand until it goes numb and no longer seems to belong to you. Except your hand is a bunch of words and you’ve been sitting on it for two months and you discover that it looks a lot better than you recall, and it kind of cheers you up for the rest of the day.

The co-author is working through the changes as I type. We hope to have this thing in submittable shape in the next few weeks.

I’m not sure what possessed me to try to write a book in my first year of graduate school, but I’m now willing to state for the record that it has not been an utter disaster. This does not mean that I would recommend this course of action to others.

Gordon doesn’t need to hear any of this; he’s a highly trained professional.

Icarus Magazine has accepted my SF shortish story “The Shapes of Shadows”, which tells of intrepid exoarcheologist Professor Gordon Eburuoh and his encounter with a mysterious alien ruin. This is actually the prequel to something bigger–or it might be–and it was a fun little experiment. I’m not sure I was completely successful in doing everything I hoped, but I do think I ended up making something interesting, which I chalk up as a win.

The story will be in the winter issue of Icarus. For those so interested, there is an excerpt under the cut.

Continue reading

An acceptance I’ve been waiting for a longish time.

Strange Horizons has accepted my weird little tale of a lesbian robot in Uganda, “The Thick Night”, for publication sometime next spring. I originally wrote this for a benefit for Pakistan, so this means Médecins Sans Frontières is going to be getting some more money from me, which is awesome. I’ve also been trying to crack Strange Horizons for over a year, so this is awesome for that reason as well.

This marks my second SFWA pro sale. Hoping for a third soon.

I’m honestly a tiny bit nervous about this story; I was writing far, far outside my own experience in just about every possible way, and although I tried to be careful and tried to do good research, there’s always a risk there of having gotten something extremely wrong. I’ll get a chance to make some final edits, but at this point I only hope I didn’t inadvertently put my foot in any orifice where it doesn’t belong.

And even if I did… hey, learning experience. We all have them. Or we should.