Jul 26 2010

Apparently a turkey feather


the remains of someone's dinner

This gorgeous object was found by Sabine on her morning walk — among some other feathers that were in badly damaged condition. We worried at first that it might represent the death of one of our local hawks, but the good ol’ internet tells me it’s almost certainly a turkey feather. Meaning our hawk might have had quite a nice meal off this departed bird…

The feather is about a foot long, and perfect. Sabine gave it to me, and I love it!

But I worry about tiny parasites… I’m thinking of putting it in a plastic bag and micorwaving it for a bit. About which Google has not helped me. Any opinions out there?

Jul 25 2010

A blog and a movie


Young Gabriel Gill, son of my pal and fellow author Geary Gravel, has started up a blog, festooned with his remarkable illustrations.

gabriel's front page

I’m hoping he’ll add some of his prose work as well.

But I must admit to being jealous that he has recently been to both Animation Camp and Graphic Novel Camp.  They did not have any such things when I was 13!

Of course, if they had, I doubt my parents would have understood the extreme importance of my attending them.

Come to think of it…. there were no graphic novels when I was 13.  Only comics. Yes, I’m that old.

In other news: Go see Inception.  I won’t post any spoilers (yet).  But I will say that it was brilliantly written, brilliantly executed.   I’ll say more at a slightly later date.

Sigh.  Must turn in soon, to be awake for the DayJob tomorrow.

But I will play some guitar first, so as not to forget that I’m capable of doing so.

not a 1971 gibson hummingbird custom.  just not.

Jul 24 2010



You pick up a book, open the cover, start reading.

You keep going (with interruptions for sleep, work, bio-necessities, and social interactions) until you reach the end. At which point you shut the book, and put it down.

Your experience of the book is front-to-back, beginning to end. Start at the beginning, and go on until the story is over. And it’s perfectly natural to think that that’s how the book was written.

But members of the Fabulous Genrettes, and other people who have read my works-in-progress, know that I don’t write like that at all. I need to know where the story is going, I need a sense of its direction. I’ll write the scenes that I know, and those scenes might belong anywhere along the story’s continuum.

Once I have the known scenes, I fill in the scenes that I don’t know. The best scene to know is the last; the second best is the story’s climactic moment; next best to know is the opening.

After that, it’s all feedback loops. The scenes that I know help define the scenes I don’t yet know; and once I have those, I might fine-tune the previously written scenes, or go on to entirely new ones…

What prompted this musing is an interview with my very favorite writer, Ted Chiang, on BoingBoing:

Typically the first part of the story that I write is the very ending, either the last paragraph of the story or a paragraph near the end. Once I have the destination in mind then I can build the rest of the story around that or build the rest of the story in such a way as to lead up to that. Usually the second thing I write is the opening of the story and then I write the rest of the story in almost random order. I just keep writing scenes until I’ve connected the beginning and the end. I write the key scenes or what I think of as the landmark scenes first, and then I just fill in backwards and forwards.

I don’t think I ever knew that about Chiang…

Ha. Makes me smile.

Now, I do know that there are plenty of writers who start writing at the beginning and keep going until they reach the end. Some of them do quite well. A few do excellent work.

And some of them, sorry, just don’t.

I won’t name names.

But these are the writers who might have a great character, or a wonderful setting, and then just hit the ground running, writing one damn thing after another until they run out of events. Or until some attractively dramatic obvious end-point is reached, like: we win the war; the hero gets married; someone important dies; the planet blows up; etc.

I find them — how shall I put it?  Identifiable.   And unsatisfying to read.

And then there are other writers who seem to write that way, who might even claim to write by that method — until you question them closely.   Often, they’re just not counting the thinking that went on before they put the first word down on the page.   Some of these people actually “write” a story in their heads almost completely before touching the keyboard at all — at which point, they start at the beginning and write it all down, straight to the end.

But if you can get them to describe the process of creating, designing, coming up with that story before writing it down? Of pacing it, finding the scenes, learning about the characters, identifying the dramatic thrust?  It rarely comes out as: “I started on page one and just kept going”.

All this in answer to the often-asked question:

Q: How close is Book 5 to being done?

A: I just don’t know.

Q:Well, what’s the word-count so far?

A: I have tons of words, reams of words! And some of them will go away. Better ones will take their place. Or I will find I don’t need them after all.

Q: But how far along are you? Are you at the beginning of the story, or in the middle? Or near the end?

A: Yes. Yes, I am.

And here’s a different way to ask the question:

On May 25th, Mairead asked:

… [D]o you yet have a sense of the time remaining til you send off the next book for publication? Even an idea of the remaining latency’s granularity would be better than nothing. Weeks? Months? Years? Decades? An approximate coefficient with the granularity would be grand!

Answer: Not weeks! Probably not months — unless I were to win the lottery and quit my DayJob. (Then, yeah, it would be months.) Not decades! And probably not years plural….

It feels like a year — but it felt like a year last year.

Actually, it felt like a year two years ago, until I suddenly realized that I was working on the wrong book,and that I had to flip the order that I had planned, and move Book 6 into Book 5’s position. And that the new Book 5 was largely unknown territory.

But the upside here is that Book 6 (The City in the Crags) already has a lot of the work done on it. On account of me originally thinking it was Book 5, and spending all that time on it.

So, once Book 5 is done, I can be fairly certain of turning around Book 6 quickly. Possibly very quickly. In fact, I sometimes think I’m writing the two simultaneously, and have occasionally stated so in public.

Because, bringing us back to the theme of this post, of my nonsequential writing method.

Which, I must point out, also operates across the entire series.

I do know the last scene in this book; and I do know the last scene of the entire series.

I know the last sentence of the series.

Prequel? You want a prequel?

I know the last sentence of the prequel.

Jul 22 2010

Not a substantive post


Because, two nights in a row of working late at the DayJob, plus things needing to be done after work equals no substantive post on either Wednesday, which I had hoped for, nor Thursday, which was my backup plan.

laser death-ray cat is disappointed

laser death-ray cat is disappointed

Jul 19 2010

Asleep at the wheel again


Hey, look what I missed.


I missed applying to attend Launchpad last year from finding out about it too late, when I’d used up all my vacation days.

I missed it this year from completely forgetting that it existed at all, and making other plans that used up most of my vacation days. Admittedly, I used those days to work on Book 5, which is a good thing. But had I freakin’ REMEMBERED about Launchpad, I could have taken those days earlier or later, and shifted some things around and tried to sign up.

Because — hello — it’s NASA.

Plus: FREE!

On the other hand, I’m certain there are writers whose need was far greater than mine… But I could have used some uplift and inspiration.

Okay. Next. Year.

Chad Orzel just now suggested that someone do something similar to Launchpad, but for quantum physics. A great idea…

Catherynne Valente has referred to the Internet as a “terrifying wish engine” — this after she voiced a desire for an accordion and a teacher, and both appeared.

So, let’s give it a try:

Ahem. ‘Scuse me? People on the internet — hello? Yes, you, the hive-mind.

We could really use a workshop on quantum physics for science fiction writers.

Because, you know, it would be good if we didn’t look like idiots when we write about it. As we so often do.

Plus: If we wrote about it compellingly, young persons would be inspired to study it, and advance the field even further, to the betterment of all mankind. No, really.

Also: after I finish the current series, I have a couple of projects in mind, and one actually involves quantum physics. If I had a workshop about quantum physics, I’d gravitate toward that project instead of the other one.

I’m just sayin’.

Thank you for your time.

nothing to do with quantum physics, just a cool picture

Jul 18 2010

Fans in Finland


Apparently, I have some.

This from Genrette Delia Sherman, currently at Finncon, (with her wife Ellen Kushner, who is currently a Guest of Honor), where, she says “everyone speaks fluent English, and is super friendly”. She met some actual Finnish fans of mine..

Who knew?

I wonder if they can find their way here? Perhaps they already have!

In other news: finally got a digital camera. Now I can post pictures here not taken via my webcam. The whole world is open to me!

Here’s a webcam picture of it.

Kodak C190, 12 megapixels, 5X optical zoom and all

Kodak C190, 12 megapixels, 5X optical zoom and all

Got it from Woot, which is worth reading just for the product descriptions.

A substantive post will be coming soon, I promise. Shall we say, Wednesday?

Jul 12 2010

Comment turned into a post


I’m reposting this from the comments, because

a) my answer got rather long
b) and, I thought, interesting,
c) and people who read the blog via Facebook don’t see the comments, generally, so they’d miss out.

Author Victoria Janssen was kind enough to complement me on a poem I posted. I said:

Victoria –


I’ve never considered myself any kind of poet. It’s just that I’ve noticed that recently some of my thoughts are falling into poem-shaped forms. And when I look at the result, it seems to say what I want to say, so what the heck.

Why this is happening recently, I don’t know.

But it does make me think about something I read — can’t remember who said it, maybe W.H. Auden? Judson Gerome? Hm. One of those poets, writing about poetry. If I could remember the exact wording, I could google it. But I can’t.

Anyway the gist of it was that in order for someone to write a poem, there needs to be some sort of impediment to communication. That is, if you could say what you wanted to say and have it understood, you’d just say it. But because you can’t, because there’s something in the way, you use poetry.

I haven’t quoted that well, or possibly even correctly. I’ll see if I can find the right quote, later.

But what I took away from the quote when I first came across it, ages ago, was the idea that there would be something in the way; that you’d have to work around it; and that the techniques you use to do that end up generating poetry.

I certainly don’t believe that’s always the case, or even most often the case. But I do think that it’s one way that people turn to writing poetry.

So, what could possibly be impeding my communication at the moment, such that I must turn to poetry? Could it be this incredible tangle of knotted yarn which is calling itself my next novel?

can it?

Could it?

Can sheer frustration be driving me to poetry?

So… okay.

And once I’ve got a poem-shaped thing, what the heck – post it! Can’t tell if it sucks or not? So what?

This is part of my new philosophy of Be a Lot Braver Than You Have Been in the Past Before It’s Too Late.

I’ll report back later on how that’s working out for me…

Jul 12 2010



I’ve just noticed that when I write my blog posts too quickly, I use lots of exclamation points.

How embarrassing.

Jul 12 2010

Genrette Didi


While trying to follow the eclipse online today, I websurfed a bit, and came across this video, which I had forgotten about!

From a couple of years back, Didi singing Grace Slick’s part, with Marty Balin of the Jefferson Airplane …

For no explicable reason, this video is vertically squashed, making everyone look much wider than they actually are! If you want to see what she looks like unsquashed, there’s this:

This project is the one that’s been keeping her so busy for the last year that she hasn’t had enough time to write actual fiction! But she’s definitely still creating, in her other mode.

(Back to work!)

Jul 11 2010



I’m finding it remarkably difficult to find live webcasts of this eclipse… NASA at the moment seems not very interested…

There’s one from the atoll of Hao, French Polynesia, apparently being conducted by the University of Wakayama, Japan.

Meaning that the narration is all in Japanese…

We seem at the moment to be about five minutes from totality… On Hao, that is. I’ve got another site bookmarked from Easter Island — a Spanish site, but translated into English.