December 27th, 2007


[links] Link salad, Thursday edition

suricattus asks why writers count words produced

Red Meat on the spirit of Christmas

F-15 grounding strains U.S. air defenses — Strong on defense, that's our Republican leadership, yup.

A conservative tries out waterboarding to see what all the fuss is about — A fascinating link from lordofallfools.

Benazir Bhutto 'killed in blast' — Please explain to me again how mixing faith and politics improves things.

[process] Faking sincerity

Interesting comment thread about the writer who created a fake publicist. pnh is especially trenchant, as he so often is. It happens that I don't fully agree with him. ETA: I misread him, and we are pretty much in the same place on this. My apologies to pnh.

Here's my take, since I didn't explain it earlier.

First, to me this is like lying on your resume. Not a wholesale breach of ethics on a par with plagiarism, but I still find that sort of thing significantly troublesome. Remember that my day job career has largely been in marketing. I'm extremely familiar with the fine art of spin, and all the different ways the truth stretcher can be applied to the inconvenient facts at hand. I suppose it's easy for me to say that the "whatever it takes to get published" rubric has limits (I am, after all, published), but even when I had not a single credit to my name, it would never have occurred to me to do this. And I like to think I'm a fairly creative marketer here in the literary world. It feels very wrong to me.

Second, the message to aspiring writers also strikes me as very wrong. It's basically: screw the process, if you're good and clever enough, you can jump around it. Disapproving of this message is a tricky line, because that statement is true, if you are good and clever enough. But very, very few of us are, including almost everyone who believes themselves that good and clever. The majority, probably the vast majority, of published work did follow some form of the usual process, myself definitely included. But stories like this feed the "magic bullet/secret handshake" myth to which so many aspiring writers cling.

I'm one of those people who says that in the end, it's all about the work. This guy's work was good enough to get him a major deal with Simon and Schuster. That's validation. But the message he seems to think of as creatively disruptive strikes me as potentially destructive to the hopes of innumerable writers trying to break in.

Or maybe I'm just a fuddy duddy who doesn't get it.

[process] On short stories and novels

I just wrapped the first section of Green at 65,000 words. (Oddly, the length of the entire novel Rocket Science Powell's | Amazon ].) As I noted before, this corresponds to the full 6,700 words of the original short story published in Aeon. I used the short story as a very close writing outline for this section of the novel. Everything that follows will be much looser.

Following the New Model Process, I need to go back and do some internal edits and expansions. Previously, I would have made a few production notes and plowed onward at all due speed. Believe it or not, I'm writing slower here than I used to.

This part of the novel is almost exactly mapped to the short story. I added a number of scenes which were only implied in the short piece, but there's only one real twist away from the earlier text, and that's to introduce a new secondary character who will be important later in the book. I had to change some of the action to support that. Still, if one read the two side by side, the correspondences would be obvious. For example, Collapse )

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The key transition here is from the "implied" of the short story to the much wider reveals of the novel. The short story never gives any details about the interior of the building. In the next sentence after the one above, she's outside. In the novel draft, she goes on for several more pages before being outside. Some of that is description, some of it is action, some of it is dialog, some of it is inner monolog. Yadda yadda.

The point is that the details unpack, and unpack again. If I wanted or need to, I could go back into the detail of the novel and unpack another layer. What kind of wood? What weave of carpet? Did the air smell scorched, ionized, or of gravedust? How afraid was she of what she might find in empty halls? What noises lay behind the doors she passed?

Fiction is fractal. It unrolls and unrolls and unrolls. Where flash is a cameo, the short story is a miniature. Novelettes and novellas give breathing room, while the novel is a fresco on a wall of infinite size. The hardest thing about transitioning from being a short story writer to being a novelist, as I am still doing, is learning to unroll those layers. Right now, I'm learning to stop unrolling them — I've gone from underwriting to overwriting. The New Model Process is tuning me back in.

There's a real thrill to paring it all down to the tiny stubs of meaningful prose that a short story slithers upon. I'm still growing into the thrill of the mile-high chicken legs with which a novel strides across the raddled landscape of my imagination.

[process] The arc of my career

Per an interchange with ktempest in comments here, it seems time to return once more to an evergreen topic concerning my own career and my standing in commenting on issues of process, patience and frustration for aspiring writers.

There's a fairly common perception that I sprang as a writer full blown from the forehead of Zeus. I've had people ask me, "So is it true you sold the first thing you ever wrote?"

Um, no.

I have hundreds and hundreds of thousands of words in the trunk, including several novels that will never be seen by human eyes, and probably two to three hundred dead short stories. I started writing short stories with serious intent in 1980, when I was 16. I wrote in a vacuum until 1990, when I joined my first workshop at 26. I wrote and sent out and was rejected regularly all through the 1990s, until I made my first professional sale in 2001, shortly before my 37 birthday.

That's twenty one years of writing short stories, twelve of them with a workshop, before I sold a single story.

Likewise novel publishing. I wrote The January Machine in 1994. Rocket Science was published in 2005. That's an eleven year effort to an independent press appearance. Mainspring was published in 2007. That's a thirteen year effort for a New York trade novel.

During that time, I learned my way around the field and made myself known and created my name recognition by following the same process anyone else is free to follow. I have been to more conventions than I can count. I have spent thousands of hours reviewing, editing, blogging. I wrote for twenty years.

I know it's easy to look at my productivity or my name recognition and say, "He didn't have to work for it. He's one of the lucky ones." Except what almost no one sees is two decades of working in utter obscurity. In that time I gave up television (1994), computer gaming (1998), and tabletop gaming (2002). Frankly, I've mostly given up recreational reading, live theatre and movie going as well, though I'm working pretty hard to keep those in my life.

It's the time commitment of years, and it's the time commitment every day, in and out.

If you think I'm successful, if you wonder how I've managed to have career like I've had so far, look at the time investment, the dedication, and all the things I gave up. I'll wager that most working pros will tell you a similar story.

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[links] Link salad afternoon update

A reader reacts strongly to Mainspring Powell's | Amazon | Audible ]

Abduction lamp — :: wants :: (Thanks to danjite.)

Digital Movies Are More Expensive to Store Than Film — I'm not sure I believe.

The gallery of beautiful libraries

Andrew Wheeler with a different view on the fake publicist storyIt's interesting to me that folks with core industry experience, like Andrew and pnh, don't seem to see this as a big deal. ETA: I have misread pnh's earlier remarks, and misrepresented his position here. My apologies.