January 25th, 2008


[links] Link salad, TGIF edition

Law class, visual aid — Goin' to Lego court. (Thanks to sdn.)

More than you ever wanted to know about steam

Global warming and hurricanes — Maybe, maybe not. Interestingly, the headline on this story does not match the lede.

APOD with a deeply awesome photo of French observatory

Second Life economic crisis — This is fascinating on a bunch of levels.

The Britney Spears economy — She's practically a microstate!

Just how representative are the people who volunteer for psychology experiments? — Recursiveness r us.

Md. Scientists Build Bacterial Chromosome — I know I've linked to this topic before, but it seems to have come a bit further along. Deeply SFnal stuff happening in real life.

[process] Rubric's cube, or at least number line


My email box constantly assures me that size matters. Apparently I am the little guy at the club. (Club? What club? Famous Writers' Club? Club Dread?)

Unfortunately, my editors also assure me that size matters. For example, I began writing "The Baby Killers" with the intention of creating a novella for an invited market. ABout 7,500 words in, my editor brain lit up and I thought, "Why the heck would they want a novella?" Turns out 6,000-7,500 words is the upper limit. My 20,000 word target is a wee bit overlength. I had somehow swapped two projects on my punch list, the other being an actual, invited novella.

Last night "The Baby Killers" crossed the 12,000 word mark. I'll write something else for the market in question, and I'll sell "The Baby Killers" somewhere else — I've already had one editorial query about it.

The interesting thing is that size really does matter. Most anthology invites have a pretty specific word count range associated with them. Novel contracts specify a word count for the final manuscript. What this means is that writing to length (which, naturally, includes the editing process) is a critical skill for a working pro.

I used to be really good at it.

Now, not so much.

There was a time when I could size an idea, target a short story length, and hit it within a few hundred words or less. The New Model Process has wreaked havoc on my ability to do this. Writing under that rubric, I still have some rough idea of class — short story, novelette, novella — but that's about it. Green's length was difficult to predict as well, though I believe I told arcaedia 185,000 words in first draft, and I only overshot that by about 13,000 words.

What does this mean? For me, mostly more rewriting, editing or cutting. Since my drift over the past few years has been to write long, and NMP absolutely reinforces that, this is ok. Turns out I'm a much better taker-outer than putter-inner. I admire tight, crisp prose in others, and that process helps tighten and crispen my own wordage.

But I have to admit, there was something cool about being able to call my shots. On the other hand, there's something cool about having a bit more mystery back in my writing.

Can you call length? Do you try?

[awards] 2008 Preliminary Nebula Ballot is in my hands

The 2008 Preliminary Nebula Ballot arrived today. I have voted online so I can save the ballot with my name on it. As mentioned previously, if you are a Nebula voter, you can download an electronic reading copy of Mainspring Powell's | Amazon | Audible ] from the SFWA Web site here. Click through to the members link for the download.

Of course I'd be tickled to make the final ballot, but considering the field on the long ballot, just being there is quite the honor.

[links] Link salad afternoon update

2,240 police, 460 patrol cars, copter mobilized for car chase in Osaka — I suspect a translation error here.

Hitler Was Even Sicker Than You Thought — Godwin's Law meets fart jokes, Internet implodes.

Alzheimer's helmet therapy hope — I know that disease is no laughing matter — the_child's maternal grandfather died of complications — but look at the photo with that article. I'm thinking Doc Brown, from Back to the Future.

chrisbillett on the wing nut reaction to Heath Ledger's death — (I had to go look up who he was, when LJ first went into a hot spin over his demise.)

More on taker outers and putter inners — If you're curious about the terms, their meanings and their origins.

Prep Students Challenge Rove Speech — "Some students at Choate Rosemary Hall, the prestigious prep school attended by John F. Kennedy and Adlai Stevenson, are protesting the choice of former presidential adviser Karl Rove as this year's commencement speaker." Go Choate! My old high school. (Where a number of us, myself included, got in trouble for wearing black armbands in the days after Reagan won the 1980 election.)

An analysis of our president's favorite painting — Hahahahahaha. Don't read if you're allergic to reality. But hahahahahahahah.

Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan crowing about the reelection of George Bush in 2004.Noonan now, stating that Bush has destroyed the Republican party — The snark just writes itself, doesnt it?

[travel] Viva Las Vegas

I'm making an unusual (for me) trip to Las Vegas 3/31-4/3 for the CTIA trade show. This is in connection with the day job, which I presume is obvious. That being said, if any of you all are going to be at CTIA, let me know. Likewise, for those who are Vegas locals, let's try to catch a dinner or something.

[writing] "America, Such as She Is"

Just put the wrap on the novella "America, Such as She Is." Rewritten to editorial direction, with extensive feedback from various readers. (And a huge thank you to those folks.)

I've done a couple of things with this story which are risky.

First, I disregarded much of the editorial feedback. Not the intent of it, but the details. The intent was that I clarify a number of ambiguities in the story, and clarify the meaning of the ending as well as some key events within the narrative. The particular suggestions and requests would have required me to address the highly nontraditional structure of the story in a way which I wasn't prepared to do.

Win, lose or draw, the story is built around that structure, and I think the piece would much less remarkable than it has the potential to be if I smoothed out those kinks. Sort of like lacquering over the curious grain in a piece of found wood. The editors are free to disagree with my disagreement, but it is my sincere hope that I have solved enough of the issues that the structure will no longer seem so troublesome to them.

Second, part of what concerns them about the structure is my application of what I call a "parachute technique." Which is to say, many if not most writerly techniques will work even if not quite fully successful -- you can mess up voice a little, hit a few flat notes with characterization, what have you, and still have a readable, even good story. To a significant degree, it is these very imperfections which constitute a given author's style. Sort of like Leonard Cohen's singing voice.

A parachute technique is a technique which fails utterly if it is not completely successful. There is no middle ground, no B- grade. Either you land upright and healthy or you augur broken-necked into the cow pies.

The particular parachute technique in question is cultivating a deliberately crafted ambiguity in the plot and narrative structure to support multiple possible endings, all of which are valid, all of which are substantiated by textual evidence, and none of which run over the others. In other words, the inevitability of story which must be implicit in the beginning is branched at the end.

I've published over 200 short stories, and pulled this ending off twice. Once in "The Oxygen Man", and once in "Heading West." In both stories, the branching ambiguity is built into the conclusion of the narrative, and involves eliding the validation. I learned this trick from Bill Morrissey's song "Waiting for the Rain," which as I've said before is an entire seminar in plot and narrative technique in just less three and a half minutes. (I could certainly teach storycraft for an hour or two off that song.)

In "America, Such as She Is", I applied this technique to the entire damned story, not just the end. Risky as hell, especially across 20,000+ words, but I think I've got it working. Hopefully my changes have balanced the piece enough that the editors agree.

As always, the story belongs to the reader. What I think stops mattering when I send off the file to the market. But still...this is a tough business, but by damn is it fun.