Monday, December 11, 2017

Worst. Rejection letter. EVER.

The Daily Mail recently published what really has to be the worst rejection letter in the entire history of rejection. This is it:

"Dear Sir,
No, you may not send us your verses, and we will not give you the name of another publisher. We hate no rival publisher sufficiently to ask you to inflict them on him. The specimen poem is simply awful. In fact, we have never seen worse."

Amazingly, the recipient of this letter not only did not commit suicide, he continued self-publishing his poetry for another decade.

The Daily Mail quotes some lines of his "poetry," which support the notion that the writers of the rejection letter were absolutely right, but I don't want to dwell on that. Rather, I plan to inscribe the name of Frederick Charles Meyer upon my heart, as a guiding light to follow.

Henceforth, when tempted to say, "This indie publishing is too damn hard, I don't know how to market my books," I shall respond, "Did Frederick Charles Meyer allow such minor obstacles to stop him? He did not!"

When growsing, "I don't get any reviews," I shall remind myself that Frederick Charles Meyer didn't either.

And when whining, "I don't have any talent," the response will be, "Neither did Frederick Charles Meyer!"

Monday, December 4, 2017

Heaping stones

I've been looking for some lines by Gary Snyder; can't find them.

Something like this:

"When creeks are full
poems flow
when creeks are dry
we heap stones."

That's what I have been doing for the last couple of weeks: heaping stones. The first two fantasy books in the series, Pocketful of Stars and Stars in Time, fairly flew out of my fingertips onto the page. This third one, An Explosion of Stars, feels leaden. Every blasted word takes work.

At the beginning I thought the problem might be that I lack experience in writing a series. I was able to feed background information into the second book, but with the third book there's much more background than I've ever had to deal with before. It took some wrestling with the text to sprinkle the information through the story so that readers will know what's going on without ever having to suffer an infodump. But I'm 30,000 words into the story now, with that problem (I hope) solved, and writing still feels like heaping stones.

One thing I do know from previous experience is that in retrospect, it's hard to tell the scenes I sweated over from the ones that just flew out without conscious effort.

Another thing I know is that the demons whispering in my ear that this is it, I've lost whatever gift I had and it's never coming back, are terrible liars.

And the third thing I know is that you can't stop writing and wait for inspiration.

So... I continue to heap stones.

This is a scene from the third book. It's from the middle of the book, so the lack of background may be a problem, but I tink it's relatively clear. Any opinions on whether it's an actual scene or just a pile of rocks?

*************

When Sutherland and I got to the third floor, Thorn was sort of doing the reverse of teleportation and stepping into the air. To be precise, she and Edwards were holding hands and swooping through the big central room at the head of the stairs, a good five feet above the floor.

“You made it work? You made it work!”

“Not really,” Thorn called as she swooped by us and did a neat little spiral turn ballasted by Edwards’ hand. “It turns out to be a completely different topological construct. Nothing at all to do with path-connected spaces! I just thought of it last night.”

“And I,” Edwards said, grinning like a fool as he did a sort of breast stroke through the air, “just implemented it.”

My eyebrows shot up. “You mean you can do it on your own? Without Thorn?”

Thorn folded her arms and shot down to an almost normal position facing me. “We’re just starting. But I think Edwards is going to be even better at this than I will.”

Theoretically, any one of us can work any transformation than any other one figures out. But it’s true that in practice, we tend to have our specialties. I’d been the first one to use the Brouwer Fixed-Point Theorem to teleport, and I could still use it faster and more easily than any of my colleagues. Sutherland’s specialty was shielding and camouflage; Thorn’s was telekinesis. And it appeared that Edwards was going to be our aerial acrobat.

Now, as Ingrid shook out the clusters of stars on her fingers and took to the air again, Mr. M decided to serenade us all.

“For you, young Sutherland,” he screeched, and launched into “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire.” Sutherland’s jaw clenched. He was still living down his experiments of last fall, when an attempt to generate light via Riemann surfaces had instead generated fire, automatic sprinklers, and evacuation of the building. He and I had taken apart the relevant mathematics since then, but we’d never been able to get light without fire. That’s why I’m not going to go into the details of how it works; where would we be, I ask you, if the math department were filled with ambitious topologists starting fires at random? I really think Dr. Verrick ought to give us credit for keeping Riemann fire under wraps, next time he accuses us all of being socially irresponsible.

“You had to bring him in today, Annelise?” Sutherland grumbled.

“He gets bored when he’s alone in the apartment.” Thorn and Edwards were still swooping giddily around the room, slowly losing altitude.

Mr. M. announced that his next number, “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else but Me)” was going out to Jimmy DiGrazio, whose girlfriend was apparently planning to perch in the apple tree with young Edwards. Our resident computer jockey, DiGrazio had only recently fought down Thorn’s prejudice against people who couldn’t do topological magic. Mr. M.’s sense of humor tends to be pointed and not particularly kind.

Fortunately for DiGrazio’s peace of mind, Mr. M. picked on Edwards next. “And for the one unattached member of the Institute: “I’ve Got Spurs that Jingle, Jangle, Jingle,” he crooned, “As I go riding merrily along. And they sing, ‘Oh, ain’t you glad you’re single….’”

Had I mentioned that he’s currently going through a phase of Second World War era songs?

It’s better than his Gilbert and Sullivan period, last fall.

It was Annelise who finally got our daring young research fellows back down to earth. Their shoes were scraping the floor but they still weren’t giving up. She brought the pastry tray out of the break room and waved it at them. “Doughnuts! Chocolate covered, cream filled, raspberry filled! Get them while they’re fresh!”

Thorn and Edwards must have burnt up a lot of energy with this flying discovery; they swooped towards the tray and Edwards tried to snatch a doughnut.

Annelise dodged him. “Sit down and eat like grownups!” She put the tray in the middle of the break room table and the fliers descended on it like grackles sighting a discarded sandwich. I wouldn’t have described the subsequent orgy of snatching, cramming and gulping as “eating like grownups,” but at least they had their seats in the chairs and their feet under the table. Some days that’s the best you can hope for out of our research fellows.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Survivors - live, and a teaser

The e-book of Survivors is up now (still working on the paperback version) and here's a sample.

CHAPTER ONE

Jillian paused for a moment of pure aesthetic appreciation before stepping into the crowded room to join the babble of greetings and witty comments and the latest gossip. The large, light room before her swept the width of the building, with glass doors opening onto a terrace. The upholstery, cushions, and curtains were all of color-changing smartcloth, which was so expensive most people reserved it for their best clothing. The waves of subtly changing colors, from pale gold to sand to silky grey, accomplished two things at once: advertised the owners’ wealth, and set off Liya Delplato’s ash-blonde coloring. Unlike Jillian’s, Liya’s hair owed its subtle shadings to a master stylist and looked even more natural than the real thing.

If Galen could furnish the studio like this, it would be easy to act the part of an Inner Circle socialite.

“Jilli! We had almost given you up!” Liya glided towards her, small white hands outstretched. Her sparkling beige dress was just a shade darker than the white-blond hair that had been artfully piled up and then allowed to fall over one shoulder.There was a hint of censure in the greeting; they both knew that Jillian had been invited mainly as an attraction for the important guests.

“I’m sorry, Liya. I came as soon as I could get away.” And she was going to have to leave early, too, but she didn’t want to explain why and she certainly didn’t want to get into a spat now. Liya might act as if she and Jillian were the closest of friends, but Jillian had a pretty good idea how long that friendship would last if she stopped showing up on command to attract fans. As far as she was concerned the party was just a way to make Galen happy; he kept bugging her to mingle to promote the show. Not that it really needed promotion.

Fortunately Liya’s butterfly attention had already lighted on another topic. “Isn’t Charley with you? Oooh, is it true what they said on Celebrity Chatter, then? That you might be breaking up? My dear, I’m so happy to hear it. Charley Lagos isn’t nearly good enough for you. Look at the way he let that Esilian agent hypnotize you last year!”

Liya had a little trouble separating the flourishing plot lines of Love for Living from actual life. It wasn’t an uncommon thing in these circles, where ‘real life’ was something seldom experienced. Jillian nodded and smiled and agreed that she and Charley Lagos were not “together.” In real life they weren’t even friends, but the studio liked to float tantalizing rumors of an on-again, off-again love affair between the stars.

She caught sight of an unfamiliar face in the crowd and, to underline that she and Charley were not an item, asked with simulated enthusiasm, “Who’s that? I haven’t seen him before.”

Liya followed her glance and looked at the tall man without any enthusiasm at all. “Oh, that’s nobody. Some up-river hick from one of the farm cooperatives. He was pestering Edd about some business of the coop’s and to get rid of him, Edd went and invited him to my party. Told him he’d meet the real movers of our world here. Well, I’m not saying my guest list isn’t distinguished, but I doubt he’ll do himself any good here. His manners are atrocious and he doesn’t know anything about current events, but what can you expect from people like that?”

Jillian nodded while cataloguing his features. Overlong dirty-blond hair flopped over a craggy face with prominent cheekbones, a large nose, a firm chin. His closed lips twitched in a half-smile as he caught her eye, and she hastily looked away. “He does look a bit rough-hewn,” she agreed. “Liya, I love your dress. It’s as if someone had sprinkled a handful of stars over you!”

She had been almost unpardonably slow in registering the secret of Liya’s dress. It was made of FutureGen, the latest in smartcloth: twinkling lights were embedded in the fabric. She’d heard that they could be programmed to light up in various patterns, but Liya’s dress just sparkled randomly.

Her hostess grinned like a little girl. “Isn’t it just? And look at this!” She spun on one foot, reminding Jillian even more of a little girl, and hidden veils of sparkling lace spun out of the folds of her skirt and made a momentary cloud of stars around her. “I shouldn’t complain about Edd being too soft with that farmer; he’s much too generous to me.”

This was the Liya Jillian liked best, the barely-grown gamine who frankly enjoyed the goodies that marriage to a deputy minister had brought her. “Isn’t Edd trying to catch your eye?”

Liya looked in the direction Jillian indicated, nodded, raised her eyebrows, and brought her palms together with a little bow towards Edd. “Yes. I have to go and charm Ray Elmasri. But I’m not going to abandon you to this crowd. Greg!” she called in her high, sweet voice! “Greg, come! A little bird told me you might not bring Charley,” she explained, barely lowering her voice, “so I asked Greg Tavas for you. You see, Jillian, I can think ahead. I just don’t like to.”

By now Greg Tavas had made his way to them. While he was bowing over Jillian’s hand, Liya plunged back into her own party and could be seen, from time to time, parting the crowd like a determined terrier on the trail of something – in Liya’s case, the target would be one of those Elmasris.

“Terrible crush, isn’t it?” Greg said. “Shall we step out on the terrace?”

Terrible waste, isn’t it? Greg had that resonant baritone voice, thick dark hair, deep blue eyes, charming smile, superb manners… and, as far as Jillian had ever been able to tell, absolutely nothing else. She suspected that if hooked up to a monitor, it would declare the subject clinically dead. Between the ears, anyway.

Oh, well. Jillian actually liked Greg, in a way. He was so grateful when a woman talked enough to spare him coming up with any conversation, and he was the one man in this crowd whose invitation to step out on the terrace meant nothing more than that. And the superb manners drilled into him by some crêche-mother meant that he led the way to the terrace, parting the crowd like… wasn’t it some ancient prophet? Or had that one parted the water? Jilli gave up on that shred of memory and followed in Greg’s wake, catching scraps of conversation as she passed. “My dear, I’m perfectly certain the servants are stealing food, but what is one to do? It takes so long to train good servants…”

In the next group a man with an authoritative voice was speaking. “These protestors are just spoiled children who haven’t the patience to wait in line. The Ministry for Peace is going to deploy troops to control the lines at the community markets; that’ll quiet things down.” The subject matter was a bit more serious than the usual who’s-with-who gossip, but from the tone of the crowd, Jilli didn’t think there was anything much to worry about. They might be in for some bad economic times; that would be hard on the poor, but it wouldn’t make too much difference to the circles she moved in.

“And you wouldn’t believe how much my little man expects just for a little butter and a few eggs! Well, of course it’s off the books, can you see me standing in line to have my hand scanned at a market? But when it comes to paying twenty times the market prices, it’s simply price gouging! I’d report him to the Bureau for Trade, but Traj absolutely insists on fresh eggs for breakfast, and where else would I get them?” Jillian lingered a moment to hear the rest of this complaint, but Greg took her hand and drew her along with him. “Come along, Jilli, here’s the terrace. It’s nicer out here, isn’t it? You are glad I got you out of that crush, aren’t you?”

“Of course I am, Greg, it was very kind of you.” The terrace wasn’t exactly deserted, but at least it wasn’t so crowded that anyone near her could press up against her body and blame the crush. Nearby, the rough-hewn farmer type was pleading some case or other to a woman with tightly pursed lips and a pile of dark hair half as tall as the rest of her body, held down by jeweled combs; somewhat farther away, Liya was being charming to Ray Elmasri. Two or three other couples had found their way outside and were leaning against the parapet, exclaiming about the view. In a city built on the flat land of a river delta, just about the only way to enjoy a view was to be rich enough to own an apartment in one of the high-rise towers that had given the Inner Circle neighborhood the nickname, “The Hill.”

Dutifully Jilli, too praised the view. It was in fact worthy of praise; as darkness fell over the city, buildings lit up with a wave of little lights as fine as any FutureGen dress. Unfortunately, just as she was mentioning this feature, the wave of lights crashed into darkness and disappeared.

There was a momentary silence on the terrace; then, as lights began to show again, the buzz of chatter resumed.

“That’s the third time this week,” complained a girl with a Flickering Flames smartcloth dress to which very full FutureGen sleeves had been added. “Why can’t the Bureau for Energy at least keep the lights on? Oooh, look,” she added without changing her whining tone, “it’s Jillian Lisadel! I’m your biggest fan, Jilian, I never miss your show. Do you really think Charley Lagos is plotting to murder your husband? Is that why you’re breaking up with him? Can you take a holo of us together, Jefri?”

There were four young people in the group and each of them wanted a holo with the star of Love for Living. Jillian nudged Greg and made him volunteer to snap all the holos; he was good at it, and painstaking, and with him in charge she wouldn’t be displayed on someone’s coffee table with the top of her head cut off, or tilting like the Leaning Tower of… wherever it was that tower had done its leaning.

The ones who weren’t being holorecorded at the moment continued their conversation. “I hear the Central Committee is going to save electricity by giving government workers a third day off each week.”

“A day off? That’s ridiculous! Why reward them for not doing their job? They ought not to have any days off until they get the power supply fixed.”

“Well, you know, Zoi, most of them don’t work for the Bureau for Energy and wouldn’t know the first thing about how to fix the power supply,” Zoi’s escort said, almost apologetically, as if he felt rude for pointing out something any child in elementary crêche should know.

“If you ask me,” a young man with peacock-blue hair said, “it’s all because of that artificial sasena ruining our export trade!”

Zoi had a pretty, tinkling laugh that had probably charmed a number of men into overlooking her inanity. “Why, Rik, you say the funniest things! What can boring stuff like exports and trade have to do with simply keeping the lights on?”

The holos having been recorded, Greg was fidgety. He looked at Jillian in a mute appeal for help. Silence bothered him; he needed her to make conversation for both of them. At the moment Jillian wanted to keep eavesdropping, so she asked him to bring her a drink and he set off to make his way back through the indoor crowd. Having a task he knew how to do usually made him happy.

The brightly decorated young people who’d been discussing the lights failure had now drifted back to the edge of the terrace and were playing some kind of game based on counting the windows in a given tower. Behind her, the guy from the country was getting frustrated with his designated audience. “It’s a matter of simple logic, madam, even you must see that. Look, if we can’t sell our milk and cheese at a profit, we can’t feed our dairy herd. The more we have to slaughter for lack of feed, the less milk and cheese you’ll get from us next year.”

“You’ve already said that three times, young man!”

“Yes – trying to get it through your head!”

“Impudent! I don’t believe a word you say. Everybody knows the farm cooperatives are filled with subversives who sabotage production to get a higher price for their goods. If you ask me, it’s high time the Central Committee put a stop to your greedy ways!”

“But – but – madam –“ The little woman with the high pile of glossy dark hair turned on her heel and made for the man Liya had been chatting up.

Greg was still out of sight, and the farmer’s craggy face was appealing in a strange sort of way – maybe because she never saw men who looked so unpolished. Jillian decided to give him an opportunity to take her around the corner and kiss her.

“You know, if you really want to persuade people of your views, you’re doing it all wrong,” she told him.

The farmer shook his head. “I don’t understand. What’s wrong with facts and logic?”

“They’re not exactly common currency in the city. I’m Jillian, by the way – Jillian Lisadel.”

“Ruven Malach,” he said as if her name meant nothing at all to him. Hmm. Not quite so raw as he looks; he thinks to score points by failing to recognize me.

“I could… help you learn how to reach politicians,” she said. “In fact, I’m quite good at reaching people in general.” As you perfectly well know, Mister I-don’t-care-who-you are.

“Are you, now?” His eyes were light blue, and just now they were lit with some sort of amusement. “And you know all about the economics of coop management, too?”

As if talking economics had ever persuaded anybody of anything! “Chord and Consonance. You do need help. Only it’s so crowded here…”

That was his cue to follow her glance towards the shaded corner where the terrace wrapped around to a service door.

“It is. And I hadn’t ought to laugh at you, had I? I’m afraid it’s true; if I’m to save the collective, I surely do need all the help I can get. Perhaps I might call on you tomorrow?”

“Afraid I’m working tomorrow.” And she wasn’t about to give her address to a strange man who pretended he didn’t even know who she was. Jillian turned away from him and greeted Greg with a dazzling smile. “Pink Jillis, my favorite drink! Greg, you are an angel.”

“Jillis for Jilli,” Greg said, beaming as though no one had ever thought of this bon mot before.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Cover

I've uploaded Survivors as an e-book and it should be live some time this weekend. Here's the cover:

I've gotten some grief over the covers in this series; apparently readers expect a romance novel behind covers like this one. Well, it's not a romance novel. It's a science fiction novel with a romantic subplot.

And it is also, by the way, a demonstration that I can rise above temptation. I found a Youtube video of the complete Kalman operetta Czardaskiralyno. Sung in Hungarian. With rather casual English subtitling that is evidently designed for speed readers, since you can miss a whole speech if you blink. I've been drawing this out for several days, using it as a reward for tasks accomplished. Pay credit card bill, one song. Write a scene for Star Burst (working title for Book 3 in the Stars series), one song plus the extended dance scene that follows. Get Survivors uploaded and oh well, it's Friday, let's just watch the entire third act and see all the pieces click into place.

Subtitles definitely help; I've gone from recognizing one word in a hundred to one word in fifty, which while pleasing is not exactly enough for listening comprehension. Watching this production resolved some of my questions about the story line while raising others. For instance, why do all the actors remind me of Klingons? Oh, it's the "inconspicuous" microphones taped to their foreheads that look like some kind of growth. People, if you're going to attach equipment to your singers' faces, maybe don't do so many closeups, ok? And even apart from the Klingon Pucker, it's not nice to do full-on closeups of your soprano when she's reaching for that high note.

And even with subtitles, I really have no idea what to make of the wounded veteran with PTSD who weaves in and out of the scenes, occasionally re-enacting his last battle by raising his crutch and imitating a machine gun. Sir, what are you doing in a fluffy operetta about a prince and a night club singer?

I guess there are some things we're not meant to know.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Youtube catch

Didn't take long to discover that one...

Every time I hear a familiar dance tune, I think, "Hmm, wonder how they choreographed that one...wouldn't hurt to just take a look."

On the good side, browsing through Youtube has reminded me of a minor Strauss operetta, Zigeunerbaron, which I haven't heard since one time in - I think - West Berlin, as a student, when I was too broke to buy any but a "pillar seat," which meant exactly what it said: a seat behind a huge pillar that blocked most of your view of the stage. There's a reason why I said "heard."

Same problem, of course, occurs here. Not having seen anything the first time, I really want to watch the snippets available on Youtube!

Add that I'm looking up romantic triangles in Bollywood musicals for Book Three (honest, this is going to be relevant) and that I love watching Bollywood dance numbers, and my concentration is pretty well shot. Time to invoke some serious will power or I'll never finish plotting this book.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Frivolous music for frivolous books

I wrote A Pocketful of Stars and A Time for Stars (Yeah, I'm still fooling around with the title) without benefit of background music, but missing it somewhat; my old writing system was to put a CD into the player and start writing. If I heard the CD stop playing, then I knew I wasn't concentrating well and might as well take a break.

I know the beginnings of a lot of classical music far better than I know what happens after the first ten minutes!

Anyway, after five books this year, the twenty-first century pointed out to me that I can stick a CD into the laptop and get the same results.

Since the Stars books are light and, I hope, funny, I promptly pulled out my smallish collection of Viennese operetta CD's and have been using them while plotting the third book (presently creatively called Stars3). They make excellent background music. The only catch is that my collection is somewhat limited. A couple of collections; after that it's Strauss (Rosenkavalier and Fledermaus highlights,waltzes), Franz Lehar (ok, Lehar Ferenc, but I think of him by the German name because his operettas are sung in German), a collection of Huszka Jenö songs from various operettas, and highlights from two of Kálmán Imre's operettas sung in German (Czárdásfürstin and Gräfin Mariza). I've close to memorized the entire collection already and I haven't even started writing the actual book! A quick shufti through Amazon suggests that I can have more Kálmán and Huszka, even some sung in Hungarian... if I'm willing to pay upwards of $50 per CD. Much as I'd like to have a Hungarian version of Prince Bob, that's a serious budget-buster. For that matter, I could use more Lehar; at the moment I've got only Die Lustige Witwe and Das Land des Lächelns.

Youtube is giving me a few options, but I could use more. One problem with Youtube is that the length of videos varies a lot. Many are under twenty minutes, which invites me to stop writing and look for something else; others run over two hours, and by the time I register that the music has ended my body has frozen in place. So... anybody want to educate me on more Viennese operetta composers? I prefer the ones sung in Hungarian because I don't catch more than one word in a hundred and that's not enough to tempt me into listening to the words. German is pretty ok; after so many years of not using my German, I get about one word in ten and that's still not much of a temptation. English... not so great. Or any other lightweight classical music suggestions?

Saturday, November 4, 2017

FINISHED!

The first draft of A Time of Stars is done. I write pretty clean first drafts, so this really does mark the end of the heavy lifting. A couple of proofreading sessions, a pass by my beta reader, and it'll be ready for blurb,cover, and Createspace and Kindle formatting.

On the advice of Dorothy Grant, an expert on indie marketing (as well as a fine writer in her own right; go read Scaling the Rim), I'm going to hold this and A Pocketful of Stars back until a third one is ready, so that I can release them all at once or close together, thus making series fans happy.

There's a stack of stuff that I've been putting off (not to mention the infamous stack of laundry, which appears to gave been breeding more clothes since I last looked at it) but today I'm going to do a Scarlett O'Hara: I'll think about it tomorrow.

Right now, I'm going to put my feet up and listen to The Merry Widow.

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