May 6th, 2010

a-links

[links] Link salad remembers lying in a hospital bed

Time-Travelling Fanfic WankScrivener's Error on fanfic in general and the latest wank in specific. (With links, in case you've missed it and are feeling particularly masochistic.) I generally remain silent on fanfic, as the few times I have commented on the subject, the torches and pitchforks come out in comments even faster than when I comment on romance. And that's saying something.

Mummified baby corpse missing from NH grave site — The closing line is a real capper. (Via @lilithsaintcrow.)

Artificial Intelligence Among the Stars — This kind of article is why I read Centauri Dreams. Another must for SF writers.

You Are Your BacteriaVariation in our microbial inhabitants could help tailor efforts to treat illness. Interesting. I've my GI flora completely blown out at least twice, and much of my weight loss occurred after the first blowout, in conjunction with a metabolic change, all following my first caner surgery in 2008. Also, on a completely different note, the article in passing says: BGI, a sequencing center in Beijing, has massive sequencing power (the institute is expected to surpass the entire sequencing capability of the United States later this year). And that's what happens when a society allows suppression of science in order to cater to religion and ideology. You lose leadership and innovation. Thank you, conservative America.

Yella’ Joe Lieberman — Yes, Virginia, political idiocy is by no means confined to Republicans. Either Lieberman understands Constitutional issues and is therefore a venal opportunist, or he doesn't understand them and is therefore a venal idiot. Either way he has no business being a US Senator, or even a dog catcher. And Al Gore wanted to make this man vice president.

They Were Just Kidding — Small government conservatives scramble for Federal aid in the Gulf states. More principled consistency from Your Republican Party.

?otD: Have you ever had surgery?



5/6/2010
Writing time yesterday: 1 hours (revisions)
Body movement: 30 minute stationary bike ride
Hours slept: 7.5 (badly interrupted)
This morning's weigh-in: 235.4
Yesterday's chemo stress index: 3/10 (fatigue, GI issues)
Currently (re)reading: Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett

pissed-satan

[cancer] Oh, god, the dreams, make them stop

This morning calendula_witch and I are going in to the infusion center to have my bloodwork done and my needle set into the port. Well, in the reverse order, actually, but the outcome is that I walk around all day with the needle in.

The last two times I've gone in, they've had problems setting the needle. The port has sunk and tilted, so it's no longer normal to the plane of the skin of my chest, and there's far more intervening tissue than should be present by design. This has led to some rather difficult and painful efforts at setting the needle. Intramuscular injections of saline are to be avoided where possible, I'm here to tell you.

This past time, one of the senior nurses had to take over, and go through it very carefully. I made a point of asking that she document the process for my current port position in my chart, to smooth along these next four sessions. Not looking forward to it.

In other news, yesterday was a little slow due to poor sleep, but not abysmal. And something very odd happened about 3:30 or so. I was reading Terry Pratchett when writer brain poked me and said, hey, hey, let's revise some old stories you never sent out. So I did. Worked for about an hour, got two pieces of short SF out to be read. Weird. Writer brain has been fighting me all through April, so when I finally give it a rest, then it pipes up and wants to go party. Probably no writing today, btw, because of bravado111's reading and signing at Powell's Cedar Hills tonight. We'll be scooting over there this afternoon for a pre-event prandium, which will soak up both my available time and my available spoons. I'll be at the event if my energy holds out.

However, last night's sleep was abysmal, even for having logged some pretty good hours in the rack. Around 1 am I was dreaming about me and calendula_witch hiking in Mexico (there's more to it, involving a very out of place Pennsylvania state trooper and a ruined bar, but it wasn't all that inherently interesting). At one point in the dream we were along a cliff face, as happens on trails here in Oregon, when I bumped into her through sheer clumsiness, as a result of which she slipped and fell, tumbling several hundred feet. I could see her face as she plunged to her death. I went from sound asleep to wide-awake adrenaline-fueled panic in no time flat, very nearly erupting into screams before I realized it was a dream. I had to go out into the living room and hyperventilate a while, and never really did calm down. Even now, I still have something of an adrenaline hangover.

The last time this happened to me was several years ago, when I dreamt the_child had fallen off a high rise balcony. I very nearly jumped after her.

I'm usually a fairly lucid dreamer, but sometimes I'm "dreaming real". Both of those dreams felt like real experiences in the moment. Experiences I never, ever want to repeat.

writing-bookmobile

[process] Answering a few questions about writing, self-improvement and reprints

ruralwriter and I have been having an exchange in comments on yesterday's post about the profits and process of writing. The conversation has grown sufficiently interesting to deserve its own post.

In answer to a question of theirs, I said:
Yep, about 450 first draft short stories in the past ten years. Perhaps another 200 in 1990s, though those aren't in my record set. And I think 10 first draft novels in the past ten years. Call it 3.5 million words of first draft. I could go dig out more precise numbers at some point if you really want them.

Didn't mention reprints, which is a whole different issue.

My experience of myself is that increasing output correlated to higher quality, at least insofar as I have been very willing to learn and not get invested in the perfected majesty of my own prose,

Their reply was:
I want to ask you a very profound question about how you learn about writing, but I'm not sure quite how to phrase that. I would be interested in your discussion of that. It seems to me that your learning process (especially since you strike me as quite analytical about your process) over a span of time would be interesting. Did you ever find yourself trying to follow certain trends that were doing well? How did you make sure you were developing the unique voice of Jay Lake?

Have you talked about resales/reprints before? I...can't remember. Any profound observations or interesting metrics there?

To break that down....

It seems to me that your learning process (especially since you strike me as quite analytical about your process) over a span of time would be interesting.

Well, I've actually blogged about this over the years. For example, my discussions about span of control and the "hand of cards" / "box it came in" theory. The best way to track that is troll through my blog archives with the "process" tag [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]. Most of the longer posts and essays under that tag are me reflecting on my experiences, or answering questions from readers.

Did you ever find yourself trying to follow certain trends that were doing well?

I'm not quite certain how to read this question. If you mean market trends, no. I write what I want to write, how I want to write it, within certain occasional contractual constraints. If you mean creative or learning trends, absolutely. That was the whole point of my "story a week" practice, for example. Or the period back around 2002 when I wrote a metric ton of flash fiction, because I decided to use flash as a laboratory to hone specific aspects of my craft.

To digress from meta-analysis to content briefly, the point of that was when I learned from Bruce Holland Rogers that flash generally does one thing — character, setting, problem, mood, whatever — and I realized I could therefore use flash to focus on one thing at a time. Plus the work effort was contained, the feedback loop short and sharp, and with luck, I'd have sellable inventory when I was done. So I did a lot of self-directed exploration of aspects of craft which I had identified as weaknesses in myself.

How did you make sure you were developing the unique voice of Jay Lake?

Hah! I never did that. I just wrote what I wanted to write. The voice is just there. But in my case, that's one of the cards I was dealt. If I ever dig out some really ancient work, say from the early 1990s, you'd see it even in those stories.

More to the point, I've averred numerous times over the years that voice is the only aspect of writing that can't be taught. At least by me. A decent instructor, or some strong self-awareness and good books/web sites, can guide an aspiring writer to control over grammar, speech register, plot, structure, character, setting, point of view and all the myriad nuanced aspects of well-crafted fiction. But voice, in my opinion, emerges organically from the sum of all those parts, and if its strong, will exceed that sum.

Of course, in our genre, especially the more classic views of SF, transparent prose has a high value. I submit that transparent prose is not voiceless, but it's a formal kind of voice that is deliberately set behind everything else so that the plot, especially, stands forward. Other writers, critics and teachers surely have very different views of this, but I think the tradition of transparency can cause a lot of confusion when considering voice.

Have you talked about resales/reprints before? I...can't remember. Any profound observations or interesting metrics there?

Not really. I've had about 80 short fiction reprint sales in English, including over a dozen Year's Best sales, and if you want to count foreign rights as a form of reprint, another couple of dozen there. Plus one story that only ever appeared in Greek, and not in English. Not sure how to count that one, but maybe I ought to market it here, huh? (It was about the first Olympics on Mars.)

Reprints are good because, in a pure marketing sense, they're free money, and they give the story extended life. Not a lot of money, generally, though there are rare exceptions. As I write this, I realize I could probably benefit from a more aggressive reprint strategy. I also find myself wondering if there's a market niche for a high-profile Web site that feature entirely reprints. I suspect a lot of authors wouldn't mind getting their favorites from their short fiction backlist some more exposure.

One thing has occurred to me in discussing this topic is the issue of writer self-awareness. I went through a phase, long before I wrote sellable prose, where I considered myself an unsung genius, and thought very, very highly of my prose. I refused to revise, because it was so good. (Note that I did not sell any of this prose.) Basically, I was a real ass about my writing. I have found that being willing to pay attention to input from first readers, critiquers and critics has really improved my ability to improve my writing. Which is not to say I always, or even often, agree with the input at a detailed level. It's more along the lines of trying to figure out why people reacted the way they did, and processing that.

One of the gifts of having done this seriously for twenty years and professionally for ten years is that I've developed a fairly high degree of self-awareness and some facility at self-criticism regarding my writing. I strongly recommend this as a strategy for other writers, but I think you have to take the long road to get to this point. At least I did, but then I can be notoriously stubborn.

Want me to discuss more aspects of publishing, writing or the auctorial life? Post 'em in comments, I'll take them up here on the blog as time, energy and chemohead permit.