April 11th, 2008


[links] Link salad for a Friday, side portion only

A review of Mainspring Powell's | Amazon | Audible ] — The reviewer really, really, really didn't like the book. The comments are so negative they are funny. Not my audience, I guess. (Scroll down to the middle of the post.)

prof_brotherton on how to write a book review

A camera built to study the beauty of decay — Which mostly makes me want to construct a pinhole camera from the case of an upright piano. Don't think I wouldn't do it. PianoCam, coming to a flatbed truck near you... (Thanks to Jacques B.)

The Aldrin Cycler — Trips to Mars on an energy budget. This was a new one on me.

Time in saddle: 17 minutes
Last night's weigh-out: n/a
This morning's weigh-in: 274.6
Currently reading: Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon Powell's | Amazon ]


[process] Description and setting

As I've mentioned, I'm currently reading Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon Powell's | Amazon ]. A travel memoir of a nationwide roadtrip in the later 1970s, it's a delightful book for a number of reasons. One thing that has struck me is how well Least Heat-Moon describes place. He offers brief, strong descriptions of literally a hundred different variations on USAnian landscapes, from Kentucky's limestone hills to the Arizona desert. This book is highly worth reading just for the craft of that alone.

I go back and forth on description in my own work. Generally, if I want to I can spray on the adjectives like an air compressor with a busted shut-off valve. Sometimes that works. Some stories call for a rococo voice and baroque language. Steampunk works well in that metre. So does New Weird. On the other hand, something spare and taut and emotional may need the briefest of sketches. So consider the difference:
Wind whistled down the raddled canyon, plucking at tortured piñons standing mute testimony to the cruelty of time.
Compared to this:
A southwest wind bore memories of the hot Chihuahuan sand along the spiny twists and turns of the blackrock canyon. It worried the ocotillo, set the cactus spines to rattling like old women at canasta, and forced the jackrabbits to remain snug in their gravel-lined beds. The ancient piñons groaned as they turned on their roots, twisting in the endless dance forced upon them by the cruelty of time.
Sorry, raw feed there, made up on the spot for illustrative purposes. Each serves a purpose, depending on what I might want to be doing in that scene or story.

Least Heat-Moon seems to be a showing me another way to approach description and setting, almost for his own sake. He's writing virtually without plot, and one major point of his book is place. Still, I really like learning from him.

What's setting mean to you? A few brush strokes to bring the characters on stage? Or do you live inside it, as I often do?


[fiction] "The Inertia of Corpses"

The Inertia of Corpses

by Jay Lake

"I shouldn't think he'd be dead." Rosskamp looked over the edge of the cliff, idly fingering his pistol.

Martini snorted, not even trying to hide her contempt. "After a fall like that? Spiderman would be dead."

"Hmm." The older cop leaned a little further out. A thousand feet below, water glinted, a silver thread drawn crazywalk through a landscape of sand and stone. He wondered why nothing seemed to grow along the river's banks. Certainly nothing moved. Or significantly failed to move. "No body I can see."

"He ran over the edge of a cliff, Samir."

"Whatever you say, officer Martini." Rosskamp stepped away in a sort of crabwalk, careful not to turn his back. He'd stopped trusting in the inertia of corpses a long time ago. A quarter mile back to the car, and they could leave.

There would be no paperwork. Not on this job. Accountability, yes. Just not in writing.

Martini shook her head, laughing. "You old guys are so--"

The dead guy ran through her. There was no other way to describe it. Martini's chest burst, arms flying wide from her body. Samir Rosskamp brought up the pistol he hadn't realized he'd already drawn and without even thinking to sight emptied the magazine. Bullets dipped in silver, blessed by three different priests, then rubbed with myrrh and holy water.

His target dropped and rolled, briefly became caught up in a patch of small barrel cactus, then was on its feet and running at least sixty miles per hour away.

There wasn't enough left of Martini for last words. She was leaving here in baggies. Rosskamp threw up, almost perfunctorily, then shuffled back to the car. This he would have to call in.

If there was one small blessing, it was that his ex-partner wouldn't become a runner as well. Maybe the dead guy had done her a favor, killing her that way. The only thing that had kept him from swallowing a bullet the past few years was the same fear, that he'd become one of them. Marathon Men, as some wit in the press had christened the dead back when this was still a curiosity and not a plague.

Personally, Rosskamp thought it was the Rapture, in slow motion and without purpose. He wondered if the dead felt, remembered, knew who they were? They didn't have much to say. He wondered what the bullets felt as they entered a body. They didn't have much to say, either.

◊ ◊ ◊

© 2008, Joseph E. Lake Jr.

Edited slightly for clarity from the original post

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.


[publishing] First novels

arcaedia said today "Agent Manners suspects the number of authors who initially sell their first novel is probably a low percentage." That's an interesting question.

I'm certainly not one of those. The first novel I ever wrote will never see the light of day. (The January Machine, a science fiction thriller written in 1994 about time travel, zombies, the Rapture, the next ice age, and reverse serial murder.) On the other hand, kenscholes sold the first novel he ever wrote, Lamentation, to casacorona at Tor Books, via arcaedia.

In my case, I tackled three novels early on, well before I got good enough to sell short stories. Number two eventually found a home in the independent press after a blank-sheet rewrite, Rocket Science Powell's | Amazon ] to Fairwood Press. You'll see number three one of these days as well, Death of a Starship. (Also a blank-sheet rewrite, around number seven or so if I count that separately.) I rather like number four, The Murasaki Doctrine, but pretty much no one in the publishing industry does. Mainspring Powell's | Amazon | Audible ] was the fifth novel I wrote, sixth if you count the ground up rewrite of Rocket Science as a separate effort. I have a completed YA manuscript, Other Me, which I need to revise and send to my agent, and I've sold everything else I've written since Mainspring.

The key for me was I started writing (or rewriting) publishable novels after I started writing publishable short fiction. So did kenscholes, he just didn't bother to try until he had his short fiction chops wired pretty good.

This does not suggest that writers should enter the field through short fiction. It does suggest that writers with some facility for short fiction enter the field that way. If you're one of nature's novelists, write novels. Don't kill yourself in the short form if the short form feels like you're killing yourself.

On the other hand, if you like the short form, I highly recommend it as a career path.

Poll #1169591 Novel sales

Have you sold at least one novel professionally?

Yes, to the trade press for an advance.
Yes, to the independent press for an advance.
Yes, to the independent press for royalties only.
Yes, through some other means.
Not yet, but I'm working on it.
I'd rather eat bugs.

Did you sell short fiction professionally before you sold a novel?

Yes, a very few stories.
Yes, a reasonable amount.
Yes, I had a hell of a career in short fiction. Still do.
No, I don't understand how anyone can tell a worthwhile story in less than 80,000 words.
I'd rather eat bugs.

Was the first novel you sold the first novel you wrote?

No, I sold my second effort.
No, I sold a later novel.
I'd rather eat bugs.

If it was not your first sale, did you eventually sell your first novel?

Yes, after I revised it.
No, but I re-used much of that work in another novel.
I'd rather eat bugs.

If it was not your first sale, are you marketing your first novel now?

I'd rather eat bugs.

[personal] Minor gripe about American business

One thing I don't understand about online banking and billing systems is why the historical views are so limited. I cannot possibly be the only person in the United States who wants to look at their entire 2007 utility/cell phone/bank payment/etc. account history around tax time. Yet most sites give you either the past quarter, or the past 12 (or 13) months at best.

This seems like such a basic part of customer expectation.
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