Writing Updates

I thought the Kickstarter for the “Families and Magic” anthology was funded; yesterday we hit $501. Today, however, one of the other writers pointed out that one backer has withdrawn and we are below our $500 goal again. I’m assuming this project will not fund, but the crowdfunding runs until Tuesday, so it could happen.

UPDATE: The crowdfunded project is now, again, fully funded as of May 26. 2019.

I finished the rough draft of the indirect sequel to “Tea and Vengeance.” “Tea and Vengeance,” which, as objectively speaking as I can speak, is the best thing I’ve ever written, is still couch-surfing at Tor.com, waiting to find out if Tor.com will be its forever home.

Wow, that reads really maudlin.

I’m excited that I’ve got a working draft of the sequel (working title “Knight of Cups”). I call it “indirect” because it is set in the same world as “Tea and Vengeance,” with two secondary characters from that story becoming the MCs of this one.

I’m worried that it’s not a novella since it’s currently 71,000 words long. That’s 11,000 over the top word count for most novellas. So, it’s in novel category… admittedly, a fairly short novel. The thing needs work, though, and doing that work might change the length in either direction. I don’t know what will happen at this point.

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Television Tuesday: Mortal Engines, Beautiful and Dumb.

I paid $7.99 to watch Mortal Engines at home on my TV. The film is like some people you may have met. It’s beautiful. It’s as dumb as a box of rocks.

It was a Saturday night and I enjoyed a nice vodka drink while I was watching, which is how I recommend anyone who wants to see this steampunk fantasy watch it. Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens, both closely associated with The Lord of the Rings films, were heavily involved (Jackson bought the rights to the book and was a producer; he and Boyens cowrote the screenplay.) The film runs over two and a half hours, but be thankful; this is Jackson – it could have dieseled on for another hour. And frankly “dieseling” would not be the wrong verb.

It starts, as many bad movies do, with voice-over narration. Okay, that’s unfair. Many fantasy films have to start with a screen-crawl or narration to set the scene for the alternate world. In this alternate world, a thousand years ago, the Ancients created the 60-minute war, destroyed their civilization and ruptured the earth’s crust. Yikes! Evidence later presented strongly indicates that “the Ancients” were us. Now, in a supposedly altered world, cities mounted on huge tank-treads roam the countryside, harpooning and “ingesting” smaller wheeled settlements. Picture giant cannibalistic parade floats.

Hester is on a “small Bavarian mining town” on treads that gets eaten by the city of London – yes, that’s right, London. London “crossed the land bridge” and is now rolling around greater Europe (I guess?) wreaking havoc. I assume Parade Float London wouldn’t fit through the chunnel. Anyway, London harpoons the cute little wheeled stage-set thing she’s on, reels it in, pulls off all the people and starts breaking down the town as fuel for the thing that powers London. Thaddeus Valentine, who’s a London bigwig (and the villain) comes down to the lower levels to scavenge for “ancient tech,” and Hester tries to stab him. Which was her plan all along! She meant to get captured! Valentine killed her mother and she wants revenge!

Meanwhile, on rolling London we meet Katherine Valentine, the villain’s scholarly daughter, and the handsome Tom, the co-hero… and some swarmy upper-class guy who’s name I don’t know. Kind of a minion, anyway. Tom also goes to the lower levels to scavenge tech. He saves Valentine from being killed (which—drat! Because then the movie would have been over.) He chases Hester through a series of weird CGI tunnels that Spouse and I thought at first were part of the processing plant for fuel. Turns out they’re not. Hester tells him that Valentine murdered her mother, then jumps to her death. Valentine shows up. Tom tells him what Hester said, and Valentine shoves Tom off the balcony down into the gaping maw that Hester leaped into, to his death. Only we know they aren’t really dead because it’s only the first ten minutes of the movie.

From there we get a series of adventures that want to be connected. On London, we learn more about Valentine’s dastardly plan, not to power the city of London as he has said, but to go invade a bunch of “tractionless cities” behind a great wall – or should I write,  a Great Wall –with a re-created Ancient doomsday weapon called Medusa, because what could possibly go wrong? Katherine starts to get suspicious and partners with a lower-class guy whose name I don’t know either who was a friend of Tom’s, and they suss out the weapon.

Meanwhile, Hester and Tom slog through the giant tread tracks, escape one group of slavers from the south (“the south” being a clue for a sequel, I think) only to fall into the hands of another batch of slavers. By the way, the slavers make fun of Hester’s looks because she has a scar on her face.

While Hester is being auctioned off, she and Tom are rescued by Anna “Wind-flower” Fong, a “tractionless city” activist. Rather than discuss Anna, well-played by K-pop star Jihai, I’ll just quote some dialogue between Spouse and me:

Spouse: Isn’t this a steampunk movie?
Me: Kinda, yeah.
Spouse: She’s totally cyberpunk. Look at those glasses. She’s in the wrong movie.
Me: Shhhh! Don’t say that! She’ll go away and then there will be no one interesting to watch.

Only! They aren’t completely rescued because there’s this android guy called “Shrike” who lurches around yelling “Hester,” only it’s “Hesss-tarrrr!” like he’s a leftover from Talk Like a Pirate Day.

By the way, now might be a good time to insert one of many, many world-building problems. Theoretically, the earth’s crust is badly damaged and there are no resources, which is why cities roll around on tractor treads (disregarding how much energy that expends). While Hester and Tom are on the run, we see several shots of forests, snow-capped peaks and oceans. The earth’s surface actually looks pretty good except for those gigantic tread marks bollixing everything up.

Somehow, Parade Float London has fuel for a bunch of long-and-short-range flyers along with everything else. London also has a prison that walks on stilts and follows them around (I guess?) which had been holding Shrike, only Valentine let Shrike out and then destroyed the prison for no good reason except he’s the villain.

Valentine did kill Hester’s mother Pandora, who discovered a box of ancient tech (get it? Pandora? Box?), but before she died she managed to give Hester a necklace that’s Very Important. Hester tried to fight Valentine and he slashed her face, giving her the scar; she ran into the marshes (because water, like oxygen, arable land and vegetation, is not a problem) where Shrike found her and raised her. Shrike’s hobby, if androids or “resurrected men,” can have hobbies, is refurbishing creepy doll heads that are amazingly undamaged after a thousand years. He wanted to turn Hester into an android, but she said “no” and ran away; hence, the Shrike subplot.

Another snippet of dialogue will demonstrate some of the world-building problems:

Me: How come London’s the only city rampaging around? We don’t see Paris behaving badly. Or Madrid.
Spouse: Madrid can’t make it over the Pyrenees.

Honestly, the Shrike subplot probably worked out well in the book. Probably lots of things in this unbelievable world worked better in the book. For instance, an actual relationship probably really does develop between Hester and Tom. Back on the parade float, Katherine probably really does struggle as her discoveries make her question her loyalty to her father. Possibly even the concept of parade float cities is explained in a way that is mildly plausible.

Anyway, if I tell you the story is about Valentine building the weapon and rolling London right up to the Great Wall of the East, and that Wind-flower has a flying machine and Hester has a magical necklace that is connected to the weapon, you can probably figure out what happens.

If I tell you that Pandora Shaw, Hester’s mother, worked for Valentine, and then tell you there’s a secret about who Hester’s father is that is saved until very late in the movie, can you guess what it is? Can you?

The “surface” of the film – plotting, characterization, world-building – is so skimpy that it doesn’t even leave time for some of the deeper, unsettling problems; the whiteness of the population; the Good Asians behind the wall, the refugee questions. Maybe these are addressed in the books.

A film about rolling cities that actually had a story, a plot and character motivations would open the way for a discussion about privilege and complicity, and might even leave us wondering why the people behind the wall are Good Asians and why there are so few people of color aboard Parade Float London… but this movie too thin to get us there. If you want a compelling actioner about rolling societies, watch Mad Mad; Fury Road and then the parade scene in the comic classic Animal House.

Oh, here’s a weird problem; the soundtrack was actually intrusive!

Is anything good about the movie? Yes. See my first paragraph. The sets and the CGI are gorgeous. It is an effects-aganza. If you like Big FX films, and you have a large screen TV, get the adult beverage of your choice and settle in. Performances aren’t terrible although they can’t save it. Hugo Weaving, who plays Valentine, doesn’t really start chowing down on the scenery until the final quarter of the film. The film cast Very Pretty People (they don’t get much prettier than the guy who plays Tom). Anna, or Wind-flower, has a beautiful flying device.

For this film, the way to watch it is with zero expectations, a fellow watcher who loves to mock bad movies, and a drink in your hand. Maybe make it a double.

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The Copy-editing Experience

I’ve always had copy-edits from editors who had published my stories. Usually they were small (these were short pieces). No matter how carefully I think I’ve reviewed a manuscript, or how many times, I can never get beyond ten pages without, months later, finding a dropped word, or the same work used twice ( “she reached for her her keys,”) or completely the wrong word, like “any” for “and.” And when I say, “Ten pages,” I probably mean “two.”

I often find typos on this blog, even when I’ve read every post more than once, so there you have it.

Wednesday morning I sent back the manuscript with my changes and comments. I think I had a good copy-editor. Her name is Alisha. I didn’t agree with everything she suggested, but I appreciated her keen eye. And, by the way, let me just say, “I hate Track Changes.”

Some of Alisha’s Deletions/Insertions and Comments had to do with Falstaff’s house style. For instance, I have breaks within chapters that designate shifts in point of view. I separate these sections with one asterisk. Falstaff uses three. Alisha had to find every one of my single asterisks and add two more. Every. Single. Time. And I had to accept them. Every. Single. Time. I could not figure out a way to do something like “Accept All.”

I had a similar experience with a thundering herd of commas. I have been changing my style around commas, and Alisha changed it back. I accepted all those Comma-inserts. And there were lots. Lots.

Yes, I do think that I could have argued about the commas, cited some grammar resource and left them out, but, honestly, I didn’t care that much. It was the tedium that got to me. And if it was tedious for me, think about how it must have been for her.

There were places where she felt a passage was not clear or was badly sequenced. Here, she did not make a change herself, but simply wrote the polite and neutral, “consider revising.” In 90% of those situations I agreed with her and made some sort of change

That left the other 10%, which were often choices of my personal voice and style. In one place, she wrote, “A phrase like [SOMETHING SOMETHING] might go well here,” and I replied, “Not my style.”

In a couple of places I fumed a bit because I was using language to highlight culture differences between my two main characters and I had taken some pains to do that. For instance, in one scene, Trevian, who is not from around here, sees a picture of Erin and her family at a picnic. The tables are festooned with streamers of blue, white and red. I intentionally scrambled the old “red, white and blue” to show the readers that the color order had no real significance for Trevian. Alisha: “This is not the usual order here. Is this intentional?” Me: “YES!!” (Okay, no caps and no exclamation points.)

In one specific place she used a word that is not the acceptable past tense. It isn’t modern, it isn’t second place but acceptable, it’s just wrong. I didn’t accept her change. Since I had about twenty places with erratic spacing between words (two spaces instead of one), several dropped words and the ravening horde of commas, I think she’s entitled to one mistake.

When I didn’t want to accept a change, I wrote “Stet” in the Reply to the Comment. “Stet” means “let it stand.”

I’m not sure what happens when I write “Stet.” It could be that the manuscript comes back with me with a more persuasive argument for change. I suppose, absolute, extreme worst case scenario, the publisher could refuse to publish the piece if I didn’t make a change. (“We like this books, but we really want the phrase, ‘she simpered’ instead of ‘she said,’ here, and we won’t publish until you fix it.”) Somehow I doubt it though.

So, off it went, Wednesday, May 8. And sometimes after this date, we’ll see what we see.

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Kickstarter Update

On Monday, May 6, my interview appeared on the crowdfunding site for The Wand That Rocks the Cradle, and on Tuesday the site shared an excerpt from one of the stories scheduled for the book.

Check it all out here!

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A Positive Review

Chris Fried reviewed Beyond the Stars; Unimagined Realms. He gave the entire anthology five out of five stars, but then he singled out three stories he liked a lot, and mine, “Adagio for Tiamat Station” was one of those three.

Chris not only liked the story, he understood the story. That’s so gratifying. A few folks in places like Goodreads have mentioned the story in nice ways, and some of them didn’t really understand it. In one case, a reviewer described the genesis of the piece of music referenced in the title as “a humble servant girl inspires a composer to create a song…” and I was pounding my head on my desk saying “Nonononono…”

It was nice to read Chris’s take, who understood the origins of the music and why the piece keep reoccurring, and why it matters to the character at the end. His review reassures me that I did my job; I communicated what I meant to communicate.

Anyway, it’s a nice note to end a week on!

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Kickstarter! Or, an Exercise in Self-Promotion

I had a short story called “Bellwethers Know Best” accepted for the anthology The Wand That Rocks the Cradle. The theme, as you might have intuited, is “families and magic.”

LeGrange Press has a Kickstarter to raise the final bit of money to publish the anthology, and here’s the link.

I hope you keep checking out the Kickstarter site even if you don’t want to donate, because our publisher will be adding some great material. Bonus stories, including my flash piece “Location, Location, Location” (which appeared originally in Daily SF), will appear in the updates, along with some interviews with the authors (including me!). Keep checking back for those updates.

Bonus! Our first interview, Joanna Hoyt, provided a goat kid photo. Baby goats, you guys!

“Bellwethers Know Best” is one of my more lighthearted stories, even though it deals with sibling rivalry and the struggle you can have with a powerful, charismatic parent… especially when that parent, a former reality TV star, is a ghost.

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In the Village

A blond woman a few years younger than me was taking photos with a long lens. She wore a cloche hat over a stocking cap but I could still see locks of hair beneath the headgear. “Nice lens,” I said as I passed her.

“It’s a great lens, and I get some great photos but I don’t get to keep them. The pull them right out of my camera. It’s because I’m an enemy of the state, that’s what my ex-husband told Arnold Schwarzenegger anyway. Since 2005 they pulled all my pictures off the wall.”

“Uh,”I said.

“Since then they’ve used my house as a test site for microwave weapons. I know, I know, ‘Don’t listen to her, she’s mentally ill,’ but it’s true, they take everything of mine and put it in the cloud.”

“Oh. I don’t like the cloud.”

“Right? I just saw a cartoon of the cloud and it’s just a big old ball of pollution. What’s your camera? A Canon? You like it?

“I do. It’s old but it gets the job done.” As soon as I said I remembered that I had read that line in a short story recently.

“That’s what matters, right? What are you shooting?”

“Tonight? Ravens, I hope, They’re transactional, so I bribe them with walnuts.”

“Quid pro quo.” She winked at me. “‘Will work for walnuts.’ Have a great night.”

And off she went.

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Story Walk

These brightly colored pedestals are my tax dollars at work, and I’m proud and happy that my money’s being spent this way. This is the Story Walk that curves around the High Street entrance of the Sebastopol Library now.

The walk has several stations. On each stand is a page from an Early Readers’ children’s book in English and Spanish, a comment about trees and a suggested activity. Activities include, “Put your fingers in the earth and feel how it is,” “Reach high above your head like a tree. Now look around and see how many trees are nearby,” and so on.

The activities are also in both languages.

If I had a criticism to make — and I guess I do, because here I am about to do it — it would be that I wish the walk could be a bit longer and actually have a few more trees nearby. On the other hand, this is aimed at young children, and it isn’t a nature path in a park. It is right at the corner of Bodega Ave (Highway 12) and High Street. And with youngsters, probably seven and under, a longer distance between stations would probably result in a loss of interest. There are several kinds of tree to see in the immediate vicinity.

I love the book they chose. The colors are vibrant and the artwork is vivid and welcoming.

I went to every single station, of course. I’m not six years old, but the story walk inspired my interest in trees as I continued my amble home.

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Living Room to Library

We started a process to change our outdated living room into a library. It was never a living room. We live, to all intents and purposes in the space called the family room. The step-down room right off the front door became the room where I stacked books on the floor, piled up my crafts stuff, displayed some artwork and put furniture we weren’t using. There was a rickety sofa used only by our friend Jim’s dog, Tizzy, when they came to visit.

Spouse wanted the old “cottage cheese” texturing removed from the ceiling, and to repaint. I said, if we were going to repaint I wanted something other than white and since we’d be pulling everything out of the room, I wanted new carpet. Spouse said if we were going to do that, then we needed more bookshelves. Thus, a library.

We do have different definitions of “library,” though. Spouse views it as a room lined with shelves, with books on them. Pretty much full stop. I discovered this when I said that maybe, budget permitting, I would add a couple of chairs. “Why chairs?” he said.

I said, “Because it’s a library.”

Negotiations continue.

Phase One, ceiling and paint, is complete. I chose two shades of dusty blue, intending to have an accent wall. I’m pleased with both colors, but because of the way the natural light hits that room, you can only really tell it’s an accent wall certain times of the day. Well, now I know.

Phase Two was carpet and blinds. This got a little more complicated. We are splitting the costs of the project and I’m taking on: carpet, blinds and bookshelves (which is why I will prevail on the chairs; I still have dollars left in my budget). This should have been easy, but somehow it wasn’t. I started at Home Depot but could not find a single carpet sample that I liked. I also checked a sole-proprietor shop in Rohnert Park, same problem. I ended up checking with World of Carpet One, where I found exactly what I wanted. Yes it was more expensive, but the entire process from choice to installation went without a hitch. “More expensive,” in this case, is a relative term; this is a fairly small room, so while the price per square foot was higher than Home Depot, the overall cost came in under my top estimate.

For the window coverings I went back to Home Depot. I had to special-order for that window because of its length, but this was the least expensive aspect of my part of the project. We added the dining room and substituted the tired curtains for another set of blinds.

I’m picturing two comfy, upholstered chairs around the table. No sofa, and we intend to keep it that way. One of the wooden chairs may go to a new home. I haven’t made up my mind yet. The not-so-clearly-an-accent-wall will hold three of the four new cases. The fourth will probably go on the north wall.

It’s coming along!

An important note. We are temporarily holding onto the cushions from the old sofa, because Jim and Tizzy are coming for a visit later this month. Tizzy will still have a comfy sleeping-place.

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Trail of Lightning

Last year Rebecca Roanhorse won both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards for her short story “Welcome to your Authentic Indian ExperienceTM.” Her first novel, Trail of Lightning, is out, published by Saga Press. I loved the book’s action, its definitely out-of-the-ordinary setting, and Roanhorse’s vivid physical descriptions.

Maggie Hoskie is Navajo, a monster-hunter whose clan powers give her great speed and great killing power. They also, in her mind and in the minds of others, make her a monster herself. Maggie lives in the land of the Dinetah, the former Navajo reservation, which is now sealed off and protected from the rest of the former USA by a magical wall, while the nation-states that remain beyond the wall deal with much larger oceans and the depletion of nearly every resource. This is merely backstory, not part of Maggie’s quest; Maggie is in search of a monster that stole a little girl… and the witch who created that monster. Along the way, Maggie faces a familiar trickster, and her former mentor, a folkloric monster hunter himself, who abandoned her with no explanation or warning nearly a year ago. On her side is Kai, a movie-star handsome man who may be trustworthy, and a few others who reluctantly give Maggie their support.

The book has plenty of action and just enough quiet moments. The descriptions range from the austere beauty of the desert to the groundedness of a hogan; from the laugh-out-loud funny image of Maggie dressed in a Hot-Slayer getup in order to get into a nightclub to the realistic feel of the do-it-yourself businesses and bars and the repurposed vehicles that run, not on fossil fuel, but on moonshine (the distilled kind).

Maggie herself is a difficult, prickly character, shaped not only by PTSD and loss but to some extent by the impact of her clan powers. While she may not be immediately likeable, she is certainly interesting, and I was curious about her from the first few pages.

There is grit and gore throughout the story, but Trail of Lightning reaches back and embraces historic tropes, while speaking in a refreshingly original voice.

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