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“If…” or “To Sleep, perchance to Dream…”

October 15, 2013

If I had enough free-time to write something – a blog post, something in my novel WIP, short story revisions, B.T.’s story, really anything - in all honesty, I’d probably spend it sleeping instead.

Incidentally, and I’m sure not at all related: you’ve heard, dear reader of the “terrible twos”? In my experience, the twos weren’t so terrible.  The threes on the other hand… a different story.  There’s all sorts of boundary-pushing and limit-testing and identity-asserting with an extra dose of want vs. need confusion.  All very normal, I’m lead to believe, but no less difficult to pass through for it.

To misquote the Bard:

To Sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there’s the rub.

For in that sleep of peaceful actual being asleepness and nobody waking you up in the middle of the night, what dreams may come…

No I’m not dead, though it’s been over a month since I updated the blog.  But I wish I was sleeping right now.  And according to good ol’ Bill that’s kind of like being dead.

Links to Chew On: The Great Library

September 6, 2013

Oh look: it’s my semi-annual link dump.  Enjoy these links to chew on:

  • Has one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World been reborn?  Bibliotheca Alexandrina explores the new Library of Alexandria – which is pretty awesomely cool.
  • Jim Butcher offers his advice to aspiring authors (of which I am one).  He warns that most aspiring authors will kill their dreams by their own hands.  I know of what he speaks: I struggle daily with whether to pull the plug and turn off the terminal life support on which my dreams of authordom subsist.  (Those dreams have been nigh-mortally wounded by my abyssmally-low wordcount productivity, which is a result of many factors, chief among which is my decision to focus my attention on things that I’ve deemed more important than writing – you know, the stuff I go on and on and on about here in my blog.)  If I ever come out on the other side of this, it will because of my dream’s will to live, to survive, to endure and, yes, to “transcend”.
  • Cory Doctorow has some thoughts on the ca. 19th-century marketing platforms that Publishers are currently using, and how they can move forward into the 21st-century.  (Hint: It doesn’t involve DRMed eARCs.)  Marketing is one the of four or five top reasons to go with traditional publishing instead of self-publishing.  But if traditional publishers can’t be bothered to use modern tools to do a more effective job at this, then that severely diminishes the argument in their favor.  Heck… even I, with my homely Microsoft Access and Excel skills can do better than a word processing file to keep track of this stuff.  (Okay, who’m I kidding: I’m mostly a whiz at Excel and pretty darn good at Access, too; but who else am I kidding: these aren’t so rare talents that any given corporation can’t find an intern or two who’s at least sufficiently competent with these basic tools to create a better tracking mechanism than that…)  As the number of publishers drops to a few, large corporations, it seems nonsensical to me that they can’t find the wherewithal to do even basic 21st-century business stuff.  I hope this changes, and changes soon.
  • Speaking of Marketing, this recent post on io9 about “7 Misconceptions About Sci-Fi Publishing” talks a bit about Marketing in one of its 7 points (the seventh, in fact).  It jives with a lot of the things I wrote about book marketing on my blog here, but comes with added extended quotes from actual book publishers!  The other six points in that piece are of varying grades of quality.
  • In “Movements: So What Do You Think of My Story…” on Strange Horizons, Filipina author Rochita Loenen-Ruiz discusses the mindset and headspace needed to write about cultures other than your own.  Her article doesn’t use the word, but it’s highly critical of people who use “Exoticism” when writing other cultures.  By the same token, the piece praises those who approach writing other cultures with a humble attitude, as exemplified by: “I have these characters from a culture that is not my own, and I’m trying to get it right.  Can anyone help me and take a look at this?”  For my own purposes, since I work largely in secondary-world fantasy, this becomes a question of how to portray interesting non-real cultures that reflect more than just the typical Western-European tropes, but which are also not mere cultural charicatures.  Except for the occasional foray into sci-fi, I won’t have a lot of “Japanese” characters or “Filipino” characters or “African” characters or, for that matter, “European” characters.  But I hope that I will be able to write characters from a variety of different fictional cultures and borrow – graciously, humbly, and respectfully – from a variety of real-world cultures to fill my invented worlds.  So, not “Japanese” characters or “African” characters, but characters with a clear cultural and ethnic connection to other real-world cultures, and done in a way that is interesting and (hopefully) not offensive.  I’ve no doubt that I have and will fail, from time to time, but I will strive to improve.
  • Packing to go on a book tour is not something I have to worry about.  It may not be anything I ever have to worry about (but it’s a worry I’d love to trade up for).  If, however, I do have to face the challenges of preparing for a book tour, John Scalzi’s rundown of how he packs for it would undoubtedly serve as a useful primer.
  • This is really for my own theoretically future-reference, but seeing as how I have almost no experience querying and writing synopses for my stories, this turn-by-turn run-down of what to include in a synopsis should prove a useful instructional aid if I ever need it.
  • I’ve waxed on and on about my inability to spend any time writing (and my attendant shame at being so anti-prolific).  One could say I’m “obsessed with daily wordcounts”, inasmuch as you extend that phrase to include obsession with a daily wordcount that’s consistently 0.  Author Jason Sanford looks at this sort of obsession a little differently.  The crux of his argument is that quantity does not equate with quality – but frankly I take that as a given, an article of faith.  On the other hand – you can’t have quality with a quantity of 0.  Author Rachel Aaron – she of the 10,000-words-a-day fame – also has some thoughts on this subject, to wit: she likes her some writing speed, but she still has to go back and rewrite to make her stories better, and she finds herself doing that more and not less as she goes along.  So at the end of the day, she and Jason are basically on the same page: you can’t skip the rewriting/editing/revising/whatever stage.  I suppose that what is best in life is to have both, eh?  Fast first drafts and nice, thorough rewriting/edting/revising/etc.
  • Here’s a very brief round up of links on SFWA and the GenderFail Kerfuffle – these links go mostly to authors whose blogs and feeds I already follow, but contained within these links are a wealth of additional links that provide a lot of food-for-thought.  First, I saw SFWA President John Scalzi’s post on the subject.  Without a little more context, though, I was more-or-less a fish out of water.  What, precisely, had happened?  Thankfully, Jim Hines was on hand with a somewhat more complete round-up of links on the subject (although see also the caveat he adds here, and his additional thoughts).  Included in that list was a link with a pretty thorough diagnosis of what happened, and included scans and/or PDFs of some of the offending material.  (Hines’ link list is worth perusing if this issue is of interest to you.)  The quick-and-dirty version: the last few issues of the official SFWA publication have had some problematic and misogynistic material in them: from a female warrior in an overtly “sexy” chain-mail bikini, an article about “lady” editors that spends too long extoling the phyiscal attributes of some of those editors (i.e. their beauty), and a praise of Barbie as an exemplar of longevity as attributed to her maintaining “quiet dignity the way a woman should.”  And then in the latest edition, two venerable old authors of the genre – the ones who wrote about the attractive “lady” editors, lambaste their critics and compare them to censors, fascists, and mass-murderers. Mary Robinette Kowal was more angry about how those two authors were able to singlehandedly trash the credibility of the SFWA with the misogynistic rant than about the rant itself – an understandable reaction from a former board member.  Jason Sanford is a little more direct and to-the-point: it’s “Time for the men of SF to tell the sexists to go to hell“.  Tobias Buckell, without providing context for why the post was necessary, linked to an article that made the point that “criticism isn’t censorship“.  (Jason Sanford seconded that notion.)  N.K. Jemisin made a reference to the SFWA kerfuffle (as well as to past kerfuffles such as RaceFail and others that were new to me) in her Continuum GOH speech.  This is one of those cases where I’m glad this discussion is happening before I become a writing professional.  It’s good to see people who are gracious and upright about these issues bringing them up and pushing for change – it’s good to have good examples.  It’s also good to expose myself to viewpoints that may illuminate some previously-unexamined latent sexism that I may contain within myself as a product of the culture I grew up in.  I hope I can be better, myself.  Meanwhile, some people are leaving SFWA over the ongoing sexism, while others are joining in the hopes of making a change in the organization.  At present, I am in a position to do neither…
  • The SFWA Gender-Fail dust-up was really just the beginning.  Misogyny is just one form of hatred and bigotry, and now an SFWA member has hijacked the SFWA twitter feed to spread other forms of hatred.  The hater-in-question was briefly referenced in Jemisin’s Guest-of-Honor speech linked above, and he took the opportunity to direct a lot of his own trollish malevolence toward Jemisin, and to do in a most transparently racist way.  There are now members of SFWA calling for him to be kicked out of the organization.  I don’t get a say – I’m not in SFWA – but I support their cause, and if you happen to be in SFWA, you should to.  Check out Amal El-Mohtar’s post on the subject linked above.  He’s got details on how to contact your SFWA representatives.  (ETA: The deleted section is no longer relevant, thanks to the next bullet.)  Tobias Buckell shares some similar thoughts on the matter here.  Jemisin replied (only a little obliquely) here, with a true take-down that cuts to the heart: “There can be nothing more pitiful — dangerous, certainly, but still, pitiful — than a person whose self-worth depends solely on their perceived ability to diminish others. That is a person who truly has nothing of his own.”  Some additional reactions to the aforementioned hateful bile here.  (As it turns out, the SFWA Board started looking into what actions it thinks it might take…)
  • At the end of the day, SFWA decided to expel the member referred to above.  Jemisin – the injured party in this case – responded to Beale’s expulsion, then offered a glimpse into her thought process had SFWA chosen not to do the right thing (thankfully, a counter-factual).  Meanwhile, writer SL Huang has a convenient timeline (with tons of links) of events in this latest dust-up, starting from the January 2013 SFWA Bulletin with the bikini chainmail cover and the initial, mildly offensive articles by Resnick and Malzberg, going through Resnick & Malzberg’s subsequent meltdowns, former SFWA president John Scalzi’s apologies, the unmasking of a serial sexual harasser from within the halls of Tor Books, the reactions of aforementioned hateful racist, homophobic, misogynistic turd, subsequent online discussion related to said turd’s misuse of SFWA communication channels, and finally the expulsion of said turd.  That’s a lot of controversial stuff, and I could link to all of it, but in the interest of time it seems more efficient to link you to someone who’s already aggregated a lot of those links…
  • It seems Amazon has decided to get into the Fanfic business… I haven’t much – or anything, really – to say on the subject.  I don’t write fanfiction or tie-in-fiction or anything of the like and neither do I have any desire to tread down that road, pesonally.  I  have way, way, way too much of my own stuff that I want to do to worry about adding to other peoples’ worlds.  But I’ll let some other, pro-authors opine: here’s John Scalzi, Jim Hines, and Tobias Buckell with some thoughts.
  • An infographic on the effects of writing on the brain http://www.bestinfographics.co/amazing-facts-about-writing-and-the-brain-infographic/
  • A modest bit of research on the classifications of Geeks and Nerds
  • Tobias Buckell has some interesting thoughts on the nature of “advice” from people who are doing well in publishing – whether via the new “self” model or the old “traditional” model: their advice is heavily skewed by their “Survivorship Bias“.  In other words: they think that because what they did worked for them, that there is some universal truth that can be taken from their experience and replicated perfectly.  What the Survivorship Bias ignores is the stories of the people who did the exact same thing as those who succeeded and yet… they failed.  Because they failed, we don’t hear their stories, so we assume the stories of the successful are accurate.  There’s a lot more than this on Buckell’s post, and you should check it out.
  • So how did that case/trial against Apple for publishing colluding work out? No big surprises, but Apple was found Guilty.  The evidence suggesting probable collusion seemed pretty strong – which is why all the publishers eventually bowed out; they knew they couldn’t win this fight.  Only Apple had pockets deep enough to bother trying.  Scrivener’s Error, of course, has thoughts on the ongoing matter here and here.
  • Scott Lynch doesn’t understand what you mean when you say you’re looking for a “shortcut” to publishing success…
  • Is Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader on it’s last legs?  They seem to have made the decision to exit the “tablet” business.  It would be pretty sad if that were the case – the Nook readers are the only really substantial competition for Amazon’s Kindle readers, as far as I can see.  I’m aware others exist, but without being attached to a content-purchasing backend, I suspect they’re all pretty much dead-in-the-water.  Nothing against Amazon (really; I use them all the time) but I’d really prefer they didn’t have a de facto monopoly over e-book distribution… (and no, Apple doesn’t count, first, because they don’t make readers, they make only tablets, and second because hello aforementioned antitrust litigation.)

Writing Progress: Week Ending August 3, 2013

August 6, 2013

Hey, would you look at that!  I wrote something:

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 0 words
  • First Draft Wordcount: 0 words

Story of V:

  • Wordcount: 0 words

Project D:

  • Wordcount: 1,460

Grand Total: 1,460 words

Does this mean that my long drought of non-writing is at an end?  Does this mean I’m back in the saddle?

In a word: No.

In more than one word: I can’t really say that it is, yet.  Too early to tell.  But I suspect for a while to come that my writing progress from week to week will continue to favor “No Writing This Week” more often than not.  While the proximate cause of my long dry spell in writing (i.e. my being the father of a still-mostly-new-to-this-world infant such as whose age is still  measured in months, and especially of such a one as has had an erratic sleep schedule) has noticeably improved, it has not been fully resolved.  To wit: I’m still the father of a something-month-old baby who doesn’t sleep for more than about 4 hours in a single stretch at night (a noticeable improvement overall, especially in terms of this length of time becoming generally (though not always) more consistent and predictable).  Besides the sleep issue, there’s all the other responsibilities one assumes when becoming the father of an infant.  No small commitment of time, that.   So, I’m still generally sleep-deprived and short on free time.

But for last week, at least, I wrote something.  And it felt great!

You might wonder a bit at the thing that I worked on.  It was neither the Short Story that I’d been focusing on (with intent to send off to Writers of the Future or to some other fiction market upon getting through some clean revisions), nor the Steampunk-flavored Post-apocalyptic Epic Fantasy novel.  The latter is still my main long-term project.  The former has morphed, in my mind, into an “epic” short story series, which may yet see multiple short stories set in the same world, with different characters at different times, each a hopefully satisfying read and a complete story on its own, but which ultimately weave together to tell a longer, more cohesive story.  (Time will tell if I can meet that ambition.)

But “Project D” – so named because it is neither a novel nor a short story nor, really, any of those other wordcount-bound sub-classifications of units of fiction.  It’s a personal project, really.  It’s fiction, yes.  Some flavor of fantasy.  And at this juncture I doubt that I will ever make the story public – that is, I do not expect to see this published and available for reading by other people.  (Though I may opt to solicit for feedback from a small number of trusted folks.)  Not to be too evasive about it, but it’s a “book” for one of my children.  (This one is technically for the older of the two.  The younger will undoubtedly get his own book in time.)  As a “book” it’ll probably be very short – no longer than a very long short story.  But I have ideas enough for this to be an ongoing multi-part serial story (again, doubtless, with some cross-over for the expected eventual book for the second child).

I’m strangely excited for this project.  Like I said, my head is just bursting with ideas for it.  I decided to let my imagination go wild and take me where-ever it though to go.  Whether I’m looking at tired tropes or something strange and new and wonderful… Who knows, who cares?  The only person whose opinion will matter, at the end of the day, is the child for whom this story is written.

And so that’s where I am today.  If I write this week again, then maybe there’ll be another update next week.  If not… well… neither you nor I will be surprised.

2013: Mid(ish)-year Review

July 23, 2013
tags: ,

I sort of began the year with a set of goals for the coming year.  By sort of, I mean I didn’t get around to posting them until the first of February.

They were ambitious but, I told myself, achievable.

Now the year is a little past half-gone, and the time of the Mid-Year introspection and self-review is upon us.  (Okay, maybe it’s behind us for everyone else, and I’m just late to the party.)

And I see now that I should’ve taken the fact that the year was a month-gone before I was able to find the time to post my goals as an omen for how the rest of the year would go.

But reality has a way  of, you know, being real, in spite of whatever spin you might like to put on it.  It catches up with you.  And, it turns out, you can’t make great things happen by the sheer force of optimism.  So it is that I start this mid-year review a humbled man.  So, let’s review the ways in which I have been humbled, and maybe contemplate, if I can, what humility has taught me?

1) Reading Goal – This is the one goal I set for myself that I still have a chance of achieving this year.  My goal was to read 750,000 words worth of novel-length fiction this year.  So far I’ve made it through somewhere just north of about 500,000 words, which means I’m closing in on 70% of my goal for the year.  Not bad.

2) Write 1,750 words of fiction per week – Considering that I’m going on my 19th consecutive week, now, without a single word of fiction writing.  Well… I certainly dropped the ball on that one, didn’t I? I have an excuse – a perfectly good excuse (i.e. the relatively recent introduction of infant V.R. into our lives) – but excuses are excuses.  The fact is, the year is half-gone, and I’ve written scantly more than 3,000 words total.  That’s over 4 weeks of the total 28 weeks so far.  (And, if you do that math, that’s much less than 1,750 words in the weeks in which I did write.)  So, basically, this is a goal that I’ve yet to come even close to meeting on any given individual week, and I’m way past exhausting my 14-week supply of “freebie” weeks.  Even if the second half of the year recovers somewhat (current prognosis: not bloody likely), this goal would still merit an overall failing grade for the year.

3) Complete 2 Short Story First Drafts each less than 8,000 Words – As I stated in my original goals, I began this goal with a leg up.  I’d already completed the majority of a first draft when the year turned.  Well… I finished that first draft.  And I haven’t written a word since.  Still… in theory this goal is still within the realm of possibility.  If things ease up at  home (read: V.R. starts sleeping more regularly), I might be able to actually pull off a second first draft.  Actually, it’s rather unlikely, but even if I can get a second first draft started, I’d consider this a goal mostly met.  Or at least mostly enough to feel good about it.

4) Submit at least one completed and revised work to a professional market – Not gonna’ happen.  2013 is not going to be the year when I make my first professional short-fiction sale, nor even the year in which I get my work back out in the market.  As mentioned above, I have one short fiction first draft ready.  But I don’t see how I can get this fully critiqued and revised (through both an alpha and beta reader stage) in time to get it out to a market this year.

What Have I Learned?

I guess a few things.  Namely: a new baby in the family is a bigger time commitment than I fully appreciated.  I was in the middle of Grad School when B.T. came along.  And his personality and V.R.’s personality have some differences.  So while I thought I knew what to expect, I really didn’t.  Fatherhood is an ongoing learning process, filled with many joys, many challenges, many triumphs, and the occasional failure of vision, foresight, planning, or patience.

Nor have I yet fully grasped the implications of my own writing process, the time and energy I really need to accomplish anything meaningful in my writing.  Which means, simply put: as a writer, I’m not yet where I want to be, in terms of skill, talent, focus, and self-awareness.  I’ve a long, long way to go before I’m the writer I want to be.  And I doubt I’ll achieve anything significant in terms of publishing before I get a lot closer than I now am to that ever-receding, evanescent and evasive goal.

So now, I’d update my 2013 goals in a more formal manner but… I think the above self-examination will suffice.  I’ll try to be more conscientious (and more realistic) in setting my 2014 goals when the time comes…

Still Alive…?

July 8, 2013

(Because even though I’ve never played Portal, I frickin’ love that song…)

The answer to the titular question is: Yes.

In the month since my last non-writing update, we’ve had Father’s Day (a huge success).  And Independence Day (aka the Fourth of July, the national patriotic holiday of my nation of birth, which is traditionally accompanied by both barbecue and pyrotechnics but this year not, for many good reasons, namely several metric tonnes of inconvenient, inconsiderate, and ill-timed precipitation… so… yeah, actually not that hard to overstate my satisfaction, but still we had a good holiday in spite of the rain).

What I haven’t done in the intervening space of time: any fiction writing whatsoever.

What I have done: read a book, pretty much from start to finish.  (I finished one behemoth of a book on June 19th.  Finished the next book in my queue on July 5th, roughly half of which I read during the holiday.)

I could say a lot more about any of the above-mentioned things, but… I don’t actually have enough time to say it.  Point of fact, I’ve got several half-finished or barely-outlined drafts of blog posts sitting around here that I just don’t have the time to finish and post.  So you get this instead.

Hope your writing time is more productive than mine!

Non-Writing Update: Weeks Ending June 1, 2013

June 4, 2013

My non-writing updates are getting sparser and sparser, aren’t they?  I keep on not writing.  I expect to have an update on my annual reading and writing goals hopefully… eventuallyish.

I really don’t have a lot to say.  But I will say this: the whole “infant who doesn’t sleep a full night” thing?  I’m so done with it.

I’ve been shambling through my days on zombie-mode for so long, I think I’ve started to forget what life among the living was like.  Dear Wife and I keep trying to encourage each other: “He’s got to start sleeping sometime, doesn’t he?”  The words sound empty and hollow.  Probably because the lack of consistent sleep has left us both empty and hollow.

Such as it is, free time that isn’t spent trying to get to bed early is in very short supply.  And when we have it, do you know what we most often choose to use it on?

Home projects.

Yep.  Those continue apace.  Both the pantry-to-be and the office/craft-room-to-be have been painted, at least.  Not a whole lot else has been done in either place.

So, yeah: I’d apologize for the radio silence these past several weeks… but I’m too tired to apologize.

That’s where we stand, now.  If this message makes it out to the wider world, I have but one request:

Please Send Sleep Pills.  Stat.

Non-Writing Update: Weeks Ending May 11, 2013

May 13, 2013

Yeah, I missed updating you all on my not-writing last week.  There was too much not-writing going on, and I didn’t have time to sit down and even write a simple blog post.  (Hint: When the week starts with a work-day that lasts until such a time as you’ve worked some 50% longer than a normal day, one tends to start the week rather a little mentally exhausted.  It doesn’t help when the beloved infant makes sleeping for more than 2 or 3 hours at a stretch a complete impossibility night after night.)

So yeah, there was no writing going on a couple weeks ago.  And, yes, no writing going on last week, either.

On the other hand, the home projects are continuing apace.  Dear Wife and I patched the dry wall in what will be our pantry, and it’s now painted.  The edge of the walls near the trim in the soon-to-be-office have also been painted.  So those things are moving forward at a good pace – slower than we’d hoped, but not so slow that we don’t still feel quite accomplished.

But other than that, not much has been happening around the Casa Chez Watkins.

So there’s not much more to say except to say to those of you who are mothers or potential mothers: I hope you had a fine and wonderful Mother’s Day; and to those of you who have mothers, I hope you did what you could to wish her a happy Mother’s Day.

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