Wednesday, August 16, 2017

ONE TWO THREE FOUR!

Nothing to do with books, but I'm claiming it's art... and what I need for energy on yet another muggy hundred-degree day in the long long string of such days. On this day in 1974 the Ramones played their first gig at CBGB's. They'd been performing for several months at other venues, and their debut album wasn't to come out for a couple of years. But I'm nominating this day as the opening shot in the fight to rescue rock from the then-current world of pretentious soft rock bands and - worse - disco, the plague of the seventies. Think about the Bee Gees and Abba and then clean your mind out with this!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Pictures, and a kludge

I'm making a Pinterest board for Insurgents, and for the last hour I've been trying to upload some snapshots taken in Greece that show how I imagine life in the Esilian mountains where Gabrel and his guerrilla fighters operate. Uploading pictures from the computer is not working so well; the pins show up in the board preview and when clicked on, but on the board they show up as blank spaces. Everything except the picture of the donkey does this! Okay, the donkey's probably cuter than the snaps of stone houses and mountains, but I don't think this is a case of Pinterest exercising aesthetic discrimination. After staring at the pictures and picking them apart in Photoshop, I can't find anything (technical) the donkey has that the snapshot of Monemvasia doesn't have. So I'm kludging it. The pictures will be posted below, then I'll "pin" them from this blog to Pinterest.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Stealing from Bollywood

When I'm writing a book I have mental images of the characters (duh, obviously.) Now that I'm dealing directly with a cover artist it helps if I can find pictures to show the artist. In the case of Gabrel, the guerrilla leader in Insurgents (to be released next month), that was easy; I was already thinking of him as a very young Salman Khan. He was just 24 in his first starring role in Maine Pyar Kiya, in 1989. (Yep, I've been a fan of Bollywood musicals for a long time.)

Gabrel is 23 during most of Insurgents, lying about his age because he's fallen for an "older woman" of 28, and I picture him in the mountains, making trouble for the invading army and looking just about as scruffy as Salman Khan does in this picture.

If my attempt to embed the video works, here he is singing "Dil Deewana" (My Crazy Heart) from that movie. (Okay, okay, somebody else is doing the actual singing. Salman Khan is doing the leaping around and dancing part.)

Monday, August 7, 2017

The book in your head

It's been almost two weeks since I finished the first draft of Survivors. Writing this book has been an emotional journey of ups and downs. Starting with "The background (a society in collapse) is too dark, I don't want to write a dystopia, I'm going to pull back from the depressing stuff." This was succeeded by, "[Expletive], I can't avoid the darkest scenes: the book demands them." Which in turn was followed by "OMG this book is going to be totally depressing, nobody will read it." After which I galloped to the end and suddenly felt that the book wasn't bad. Not bad at all. In fact, pretty good.

I do know that these assessments have a lot to do with my mood and pacing. There were some scenes I felt were necessary but I hated writing them, and afterwards I would be down on the book as a whole. Getting to the end of the first draft - and discovering a good line to close on - was almost as exhilarating as being shot at and missed. But I seldom feel quite as satisfied as this. Usually the joy of completion is tempered by an awareness of problems that are not fatal, but annoying, and that are baked into the structure in such a way that they can't be completely fixed by editing.

But this time, for whatever reason, I've been floating around feeling ridiculously self-satisfied for two whole weeks.

Which is not necessarily a good thing.

For one thing, it's made me hyper-critical of the fantasy novel I'm plotting, so I don't want to work on it.

For another, it's caused me to procrastinate on the first proofreading, because when I do that I'll have to accept the reality of an imperfect book rather than the glowing image in my head.

Time to bite the bullet. I'm going to proof the first draft today, and in the process I will almost certainly be reminded that the book I actually wrote is not as good as the book in my head.

It never is. That's something you have to accept. Accept and move on.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Staying motivated, part 1

Looking back to those early years in which I had one book contract and two very small children...

Imagine having one baby who’s barely weaned and her ten months older sibling who is walking and whose main interest in life is destroying the interloper. Imagine being an aging mother who, to be honest, enjoys kids much more after they learn to talk, coping with sleep deprivation, mopping up orange juice, and picking up little bodies all day.

You can’t write “while the baby naps” because the Murphy Twins from Hell don’t even nap at the same time.

You don’t write after they go to bed because by that time you’re asleep at the dinner table with your face in your plate.

It’s a pretty clear choice: either you bring in absolutely no income by writing, or you bring in some income minus whatever it costs to hire a sitter for four hours a day.

So the morning goes like this:

The baby wakes up screaming. Feed her while prying your eyes open.

The toddler wakes up jealous because you’re holding That Other One. Placate her with Cheerios.

Your husband brings coffee. Put the baby back in her crib and skedaddle to throw some clothes on before the sitter arrives.

Return to find that both infants are throwing a fit because Mommy disappeared. Your husband, bless him, brings more coffee. Feed, console, and distract the offspring until –

Hallelujah! The sitter is here!

Retreat to study with a third cup of coffee. Close door. Put on music to drown out noises from outside.

Consider the fact that what you really want is to lie down on the floor and go back to sleep. Or read something light and undemanding. Or go to sleep sitting up in front of the computer.

Time for the motivational speech.

“You’re a writer. If you don’t write, you’re not a writer. If you’re not a writer, you don’t need and can’t pay a sitter, so you can jolly well go out there and resume taking care of your own children twenty-four hours a day.”

Begin typing like a bat out of hell.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Not so funny

I've been working on a couple of silly posts, but yesterday's news has temporarily buried my sense of humor. The case of Charlie Gard is settled; apparently even the doctor who was willing to treat him concurs that by now the baby has suffered irreversible damage. His parents have withdrawn their suit.

Might the damage have been reversible if they had been allowed to take Charlie to the States for treatment six months ago, when this dispute started? We'll never know, but it's a question that must haunt his parents. Congratulations, Great Ormond Street Hospital; you have succeeded in drawing this out long enough that there's no danger a different doctor might make you look bad.

Be glad we still live in a free country.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

This is the State above the Law

I have - reluctantly - been following the case of Charlie Gard in the UK.

I am unable to evaluate the experimental treatment that Charlie's parents want to try. That's ok; it's not up to me to decide whether it's worthwhile. It is - or should be - up to the parents, who aren't even asking the NHS to fund the treatment; they've raised enough money to pay for it privately.

Instead, due to some unconscionable law, the decision is to be made by the courts that have already tortured the parents far too long - granting last-minute stays of a few days at a time, demanding new evidence on short notice. I understand that now, in his great wisdom and generosity, the judge who will decide the case is going to allow one of Charlie's parents to attend the meeting at which the doctor who might administer the treatment will attempt to persuade the doctors of Great Ormond Street Hospital and the judge that it may in fact improve the quality of the baby's life.

At present the parents are not only forbidden to take their baby to America for treatment; they will not even be allowed to take him home to die in their arms. The courts have spoken: they must watch him die in the hospital.

Of course, they're now suggesting that all this might change in a couple of days, if the American doctor is sufficiently persuasive. You see what I mean about torturing the parents? I suspect the judge has already made his decision and that this is a bit of theatre aimed at defusing popular indignation. I just don't know whether the decision is going to be, "See, we gave the parents every chance to prove their case and they couldn't do it, so let's kill the baby," or "OMG! New evidence! Had we but known!" But in any case I believe this is a face-saving exercise for the doctors and the judge, and who cares if it prolongs the parents' suspense? The important thing is to take the heat off the hospital doctors, right?

For the last few days, some fragments of Kipling's 'A Deathbed' have been running through my head, even though the poem is not directly relevant:

'This is the State above the Law,

The State exists for the State alone.'

(This is a gland at the back of the jaw,

And an answering lump by the collar-bone.)

'There is neither Evil nor Good in life,

Except as the needs of the State ordain.'

(Since it is rather too late for the knife,

All we can do is mask the pain.)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Counting Stars

One Star - The typo’s and misteaks in this book drove me crazy. I simply cann0t reed anything so fool of errors.

Five Stars – A sensitive and sensuous tale exploring the life and loves of a transgender dragon. May be too spicy for some tastes.

One Star - I hated this book. It was full of words. I’m returning it and waiting until the graphic novel edition comes out.

Five Stars - A thrilling fantasy adventure with an unusual plot. Aeirine is raised by a poor peasant family but discovers when she comes of age that she has undefined but totally cool magical powers. Her foster parents confess that she is actually the daughter of the noble elf Shimmerdwell, changed at birth with the stillborn babe of the peasant. Now she must embark on a quest to find her true family who can teach her how to wield her powers without screwing up by, like, setting the atmosphere on fire, which would make the book way short.

One Star - Why did they put a Messerschmidt FU-69 on the cover when the book clearly states that the hero flies a Focke-Wulf? Lousy research. I’m returning it for the refund.

Five Stars – A gripping alternative history exploring how WWII would have been different if Focke-Wulf had bought out Messerschmidt and dominated fighter manufacturing in the Reich. Leveraged buyouts, bond issues, stock options… I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.

Five Stars – X’gh!ul is threatened with expulsion from the Zv’aieee clan for being terminally boring. His boring nature is examined at length before we get an answer to the question: Can X’gh!ul ever utter a single sentence that doesn’t put the listeners to sleep? Thoughtful and stimulating depiction of a truly alien culture.

One Star - – X’gh!ul is threatened with expulsion from the Zv’aieee clan for being terminally boring. His boring nature is examined at length before Zzzzzzzz

One Star – I hate books full of stuff like spaceships and people exploring outer space. I thought this would be different but it’s just as bad as the cover, which has a picture of a spaceship and a person in a spacesuit.

Five Stars – A fast-paced and suspenseful coming of age story. Mary Sue Monaghan thought she was a tough spaceship jockey, but she had to summon all her courage and enlist the help of unlikely allies when she was attacked by the Martians in Chapter 1, the Galactic Federation in Chapter 2, the alien Star Lords in Chapter 3, the Mafia in Chapter 4, the Dallas Cowboys in Chapter 5 and ok, I stopped reading for a while because I was exhausted but I’m sure the rest of the book will be equally thrilling.

Five Stars - I loved this book! I hadn’t read a romance novel before and I didn’t realize they had so many good bits. Going to buy everything else by this author.

One Star - I hated this book! I was willing to overlook the cover featuring a half naked man and a woman draped over him, but it was a total surprise to me when it turned out to be full of dirty bits like those on pages 19,20, 35, 36, 51,52, and many more.. Also the binding is no good, it’s already cracked and falling open at pages 19-20, 35-36, 51-52 and many more.

Five Stars - My Marvelous Mystical Gadget arrived yesterday and I love it! The box is so neat and rectangular and cardboardy that I can’t bear to open it, but I’m sure the Gadget will be wonderful. As a bonus, the box makes a pretty tinkling sound when I shake it.

Three Stars - This radio was a gift for my son who likes to listen to music all the time. He was very disappointed that it comes with a cord too short to reach from the wall outlet to the edge of his bathtub. Eventually (after many calls to customer support) we bought an extension cord, but it’s just not the same, is it? He set it up yesterday and he hasn’t told me yet how he likes the arrangement. In fact, he hasn’t answered his phone all day today.

Five Stars - I’m giving this five stars because it came in time for me to wrap it and it looks like it cost about what my daughter in law would expect me to spend for a present. I don’t care whether she found it satisfactory because I don’t really like her very much.

One Star - This gadget is no good. I didn’t have a chance to check it out right away, so I left it in the basement for six months. After the flood receded I discovered the box was falling apart – lousy packaging! And when my wife went to turn it on, it electrocuted her. So I guess it was some use after all, but I’m returning it because I don’t have any more wives to kill.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Lost in a time warp

Lately all my writing time has been going to, well, actual writing. And editing. And back cover matter, which I don't count as writing exactly; more like, um, torture.

I will say there's nothing quite like discussing the cover and formatting for the first book in a series, while proofreading the second book in a series, while actually writing the third book. No wonder I'm having trouble figuring out what century it is! (The Fashionista and the Organizer would claim I still haven't got it right, that they need to drag me into the 21st century kicking and screaming. Pfui. I'm prepping books for Kindle, what's more 21st century than that?)

All this stuff going on simultaneously isn't because I have delusions of being able to multi-task. The cover designer I hired wants me to approve the final cover and write back matter for Insurgents. The cover designer wants the manuscript of Awakening. And the third book, Survivors, won't leave me alone. I am the innocent victim of a hireling and my subconscious. Mostly the latter.

Anyway, in lieu of interesting thoughts about the world or writing, here's the cover for Insurgents. I'm hoping to release it some time in early September, but that depends on getting my act together on practical matters like DBA, bank account, ISBN's, etc., etc.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

It's always fun when a novelist describes something and you suddenly recognize a place you know. Well, ok, if they're describing Trafalgar Square that's not so exciting. But if they talk about the street of shops selling strange fabrics for the theatrical costumers, or mention the fish and chips shop where the girl doused your chips with vinegar even while asking if you wanted it, there's a little thrill of recognition and the book becomes suddenly more real.

I've just discovered that Lynne Reid Banks wrote two more Cupboard books after the three I knew about (starting with The Indian in the Cupboard) and I'm making up for lost time, currently almost through the 4th book, The Mystery of the Cupboard. (Yes, they're children's books. So? The back cover says "Ages 9 up" and I qualify.) This one is mainly set in the Dorset countryside, with occasional visits to an unnamed small town. And I just read,

Omri and his dad walked out into the village square. There was a sort of little house - just a roof on four stone pillars - where you could sit. This was nicknamed Georgina after the woman whose memorial it was.
Now, we spent a couple of weeks in Dorset in, oh, must have been around 1990, because the girls weren't in school yet. We rented a place in Beaminster and cruised around the area: I have vague memories of long walks in the country, watching enough of a cricket match to send me into a mild coma (cricket can do that to me really fast), taking the girls and my father to a pebbly beach, and experiencing the Great English Traffic Jam of (approximately) 1990, when a truck bashing into the corner of a village store tied up traffic in all of southeast England for several hours. Not much else.

But when I read that paragraph, I said, "Steve!" (He'd hogged the book and read it first.) Did you realize this book is set in Beaminster?" Because all of a sudden I remembered that little shelter.

The internet is a wonderful thing. It took less than five minutes to find pictures of the shelter and the information that it's nicknamed "Julia" after the woman whose memorial it is.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

On passing for normal

I've been reading an old post on Sarah Hoyt's blog in which she opines that if you're a writer, your friends and family will think you're insane, and if you write science fiction and fantasy, that just adds another layer of weirdness. Had to laugh because this is almost the exact opposite of my experiences!

If you want people to think you're insane and/or terminally weird (not that I can imagine why anybody would want that, unless you're Odysseus avoiding the draft), just try taking your writer's mind through graduate school, university faculty, and a couple of software development companies and trying to pass as normal. Try as I might to be careful, I kept having these conversations in which the other party would eventually stop and say, "You have a really interesting fantasy life, don't you?"

And it wasn't a compliment.

In the last such job I made an all-out effort to pass. No more obscure rock band T-shirts. Gray suit, check. Good shoes, check. Makeup, check. Toothpicks to prop my eyes open during meetings. Refrain from screaming when the tech writer rearranges your sentences to make them euphonious rather than true. All that and I still blew it.

I'd been taking the Visiting Professor to give his talks at two universities in the area. I had to drive him because he didn't like the car the company had rented for him. I forget what make it was, but he claimed that in his country only pimps drove that make of car. He kept making heavy-handed, unfunny jokes about this and calling it "The Pimpmobile." This got old quickly.

All I said, on the way back to Austin that night, was, "If you like, I can drop you off somewhere on East 11th and you can get an up-close look at some American pimpmobiles while you're trying to persuade a taxi to come down there for you."

Couple of days later I heard that one of my colleagues had asked him, "What did you think of Dr. Ball?" And he'd answered, "She's very intelligent, but kind of weird."

By contrast, once I came out of the closet as a science fiction & fantasy writer, the normal people around me relaxed considerably. Because now "weird" was just what they expected of me. I fit into a group they thought they understood and everybody was a lot happier.

Sometimes the road to "normal" is very, very crooked indeed.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Ransomware out of thin air

Twice in the past six months I've had my browser (Chrome) seized by ransomware. (The second time was ten minutes ago.) In both cases I was able to recover by shutting down immediately, waiting a few minutes, and restarting. But it makes me nervous.

I try to practice safe browsing: never click on unverified email links, avoid sites I suspect to be dodgy, etc. Again, both times it happened I was doing nothing unusual; this time, reading another writer's blog which I visit frequently.

Anybody else have this experience? Any ideas what I should do to avert the ransomware demons?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

They can smell fear

I've been doing some minor surgery on Awakening - cutting some irrelevant scenes, moving others around, and so on - and now I need to read the whole MS and reassure myself that it still makes sense. And being a 20th century troglodyte, I cannot evaluate my own book just by looking at it on a screen: I need that stack of printed pages so I can read the MS the way I've always read MSS.

My Epson spent day before yesterday coming up with new and creative ways to make printing the MS a major PITA:

"My heads are clogged, you have to waste ink cleaning them."

"I'm out of yellow ink. This has absolutely nothing to do with printing black, but I'm going to sit here with my arms folded until you get me a new yellow cartridge."

"Paper jam!"

"I did 10 pages. Now I'm out of black ink."

"Ooh, you touched my plug. Don't you remember you have to insert it just so to actually get electricity from this wall outlet?"

"Say, how about I print everything after page 82 in red?"

Actually, I think the red ink was caused by a mistake I made in Word, and I think it's fixed now, but I coulden't risk testing that hypothesis until I recovered from the urge to pick up the printer and hurl it out the window. Now it's time to find out. Wish me luck.

Update:

After another 45 pages it has now decided that it cannot continue printing black text unless I give it a new blue ink cartridge. Pfui. Blue and magenta cartridges now on order.