Catching Up — Again

I’m way, way behind on everything: blogging, writing, housework. So A Perfect Slave is just where it was several weeks ago, and I’ve done practically nothing with A Well-Educated Boy. Any kind of work that takes the least physical effort has been blind-sided by health issues, and creativity doesn’t do any better. At the moment, I’m transcribing three hand-written pages for a friend’s blog, a task I’m spreading out over two days, plus I owe him a letter, so that’s the big deal right now.

But I did suddenly find the answer while reading an article on The Prisoner tv series, just a little while ago, to a major question about Well-Educated Boy. A good deal of the preliminary work before I start the actual writing is asking a lot of questions about plot, characters, motivation, etc. This particular issue wasn’t super-critical, but it’s one that some readers might have noticed as a weakness in the plot. So that’s a step forward, even though I won’t get around to developing it immediately.

Not off-topic, if you are in the slightest oriented toward science fiction, I highly recommend the article: We Are All Prisoners of the Police State’s Panopticon Village. And it reminds me once again that I really would like to watch The Prisoner again one of these days, though it will mean having to buy the series.

Be seeing you.

September 14 — Mid-month Odds and Ends

I just received a request for a review of a book that I apparently downloaded when it was offered as a freebie. I didn’t recognize the title and wondered if the request was a mistake. So I bopped over to Amazon and read the blurb and the sample. The blurb actually made me wonder why I had been interested in reading the book (a novelette), and the sample reminded me, very vaguely, of what it was about. I’d already deleted it, which means that it didn’t interest me enough to keep it. In fact, rereading the sample didn’t even arouse any memories of the rest of the story. And that’s true of most of the books I download, either as freebies, or as reasonably priced gambles on unknown authors — they simply don’t offer anything memorable. Another factor in my erasure of the book may have been that it is the first of a series. On the whole, most series aren’t worth following up, so unless the first volume is exceptionally exciting, I’m not going on to the next. So, no review

I’m still having so much trouble with the timeline of A Well-Educated Boy that I’ve decided not to write the first draft in any kind of order. So I have the first chapter on my Alphasmart Neo, which I can work on sitting comfortably in the livingroom, and the chapter in which he’s told he’s going to Porter Alternative School (which comes quite a bit later) is in Scrivener, on the computer. I’ll probably write the entire novel that way: scenes and chapters in whatever order they present themselves to me, and then fit them together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Set Me Free is still hanging, more a cloud of ideas, quotes, and possible approaches than something that looks as if it might be a real book. Having given up on the academic approach some time back, I’ve been playing around (in my head) with experimental approaches. The latest brainstorm is to include excerpts from some of my prison short stories, or even write new fictional pieces to supplement (enhance?) more usual methods of presenting the material.

Someone bought a copy of Hidden Boundaries on Smashwords a few days ago. They must have liked it because Crossing Boundaries followed. Of course I’m assuming they were both sold to the same person, which might not be the case. If the buyer is one of my blog readers, thank you very much, and I do hope you enjoy the books. Why do I make a point of these sales? Because it’s been a long time since I’ve had any sales at all on Smashwords, so getting two within days of each other is a mood booster.

A reminder to anyone who’s a fan of those two books and is waiting eagerly for A Perfect Slave, this third book does take place in the hand slaves universe, but is a standalone, not a sequel. Be patient please. I haven’t made any progress lately on getting it published, but will try to get my nose back to the grindstone.

To NaNo or Not to Nano

There are more years lately when the question doesn’t even come up. Either I know that I definitely won’t be participating, or that I will. No hesitation, no agonizing. But even when I tell myself that I’ve done my last NaNo, the possibility nags. It’s particularly naggy this year. And particularly confused.

I tentatively thought I would spend September and October working on the massive rewrite of Gift of the Ancien, and leave A Well-Educated Boy for NaNo. Well, that isn’t an option anymore because Boy has been agitating to be written and I did peck out about 500 words yesterday, nearly 1,000 today so far, with plans to keep at it.

That leaves me only two possible ideas for NaNo, one of them nonfiction. I really need to get going on Set Me Free, the book on the death penalty, but I don’t know whether all the quotes (and there will be a lot of them) can be counted against the 50,000 words. Probably not. But I certainly can’t leave them out because they’re the basic framework of the book. And I’m not sure the intense pressure of NaNo will be conducive to how I want to write it.

That leaves Empire of Masks, a sort of fantasy. It’s the only story that has accumulated sufficient notes as a basis for further development, and that has very little text that would have to be discarded if I were to commit it to NaNo. Still… While it’s a story I would like to write someday, it doesn’t have very high priority in my mind.

I don’t even know why in the world I’m trying to work my way into doing NaNo in November, at a time when I really shouldn’t. Maybe it’s just because I’ve done it for so many years, that it’s, in a way, a part of my life that I don’t want to abandon.

What makes a whole lot more sense is to go ahead with Boy for September and October and try to get it published before the end of the year. If I can get it out of the way, that would leave me free to tackle Gift of the Ancien. Like Empire of Masks, it’s somwhat of a fantasy, but more science fictionish, and it has been hanging fire for so long that I’m in danger of taking it to the grave with me.

Oh, whatever will I do? Someone help me to my fainting couch, please.

September 10 – Weekend Notes and Rants

I drop by Medium every now and then, hoping to find something interesting to read, something that isn’t just a personal whine, or even worse, a personal how-I-do-it-and-you-can-too. So this morning, what to my still sleep-sandy eyes should appear, but yet another of those essays on how the author writes 10,000 words a day, every day.

I don’t doubt it’s possible. I don’t doubt that he does it. But all his good advice about how you can do it too leaves out one crucial fact (they all do): you have to be physically capable of typing fast enough to accomplish that goal. If, for any number of legitimate reasons, your hands don’t work that fast, 10,000 words a day is not a goal, it’s  a red rag waved in the face of your self-esteem. Unless you just don’t give a damn. And that’s the only sensible response.

~ ~ ~

Why I read mostly indie books. I finally took a look at the description for Red Rising, an SF novel that seems to be on the top of everyone’s list. I tend to skip over series, even when they look interesting, knowing that I’m not likely to pay and pay and pay for a series that could probably just as well be confined to two, or three volumes. I rarely even bother with series that do manage to say everything that needs to be said in more than one or two volumes.

$5.99 for the first volume of Red Rising seemed reasonable, but it was when I scanned over the listing for the rest of the series that I realized that the publisher is milking readers for everything they can get. Volume 2 costs $9.99, Volume 3 is $11.99, and the forthcoming Volume 4 will be $14.99. No thank you! Will that even be the end? I have no idea, but I definitely won’t be buying Volume 1.

~ ~ ~

Since Florida is big in the news today, it’s only appropriate that I discover an article that somewhat dampens the Chamber of Commerce view of the state as a tropical paradise. It’s a fascinating read:  A Requiem for Florida, the Paradise that Should Never Have Been.

My family moved from New York to South Florida just in time for us to experience a whole season of hurricanes. It’s an experience you can never forget. I moved away as an adult and then moved back years later. By that season of my life, any charm Florida had for me as a child had worn off, and I saw it more as a hell hole than a paradise.

The hordes of visitors who spend their time on the beaches and in their air-conditioned hotels are unaware that Florida has three kinds of poisonous snakes, dozens of varieties of poisonous insects, including the swarms of mosquitoes that are just a normal part of life there, and the nonpoisonous but scarily awesome kinds like the giant flying cockroaches (palmetto bugs). Add in intense heat and humidity that are productive of unstoppable mold and mildew, and you have a nightmare behind the scenes of paradise.

Ordinary sea rise will eventually return Florida to what it was before the swamps were drained, but hurricanes like Irma will give that process a big push. Florida will once again be “swampy, low, excessively hot, sickly and repulsive in all its features.”

Slow Progress is Better than No Progress

Nothing much got done around here for the last few days, so A Perfect Slave is slipping further and further behind my mythological publishing schedule. But here is the cover, still waiting for a few tweaks, but essentially what you’ll see on the ebook.

I still have to compile the text into epub format, and write the blurb, decide on the categories and tags, and do some backmatter, like point readers to the first two novels.

I’m pretty tired of the hassle involved in getting a title into Smashwords, and sales there have become so rare that it really isn’t worth bothering. I’ve been thinking about switching over to D2D (Draft2Digital), but a new blog post by David Gaughran, who’s become more or less a guru of self-publishing, advocates for using Amazon’s KU. So that’s something else to think about. I’ve never given Amazon an exclusive on any of my books, but I need to do something new. Even if it’s not the right thing, I’ll never know unless I try it.

 

A Perfect Slave, the Final Stretch — Excerpt

I’ve done everything I can do to improve A Perfect Slave. Now it’s up to ProWritingAid to winkle out all the little details I’ve overlooked. Twenty-two chapters won’t be done in a day. I’ll give it three days, and use the breaks to create the cover and write a blurb that will be irresistible. I’m way overdue on my own deadline, but since I didn’t drag it out too unreasonably, I’ll celebrate by offering one last excerpt.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

I served him [Master Chanow] for three wonderful years and I thought I would stay with him always, but he betrayed me. I have no right to use that word or to feel that way, and it isn’t how I thought about it at the time, but living in Trusland has changed me. I’m sure Master Chanow thought he was doing the right thing, that he was acting for my benefit. At least, that’s what I was told later. But I did come to see it as a betrayal.

My master was not only kind, he sensed what I needed and kept a firm hand on me. I grew to be fond of him and thought of him almost as a friend. He trained me in his profession, architecture, taught me drafting, how to read blueprints, how to make materials estimates, and much more. Maybe I learned too well, given what happened.

He told me many times that I had a talent for the work, and it bothered him that I could never have a career, or work in any capacity other than as his assistant. He would give me assignments to work on at home while he was at away at his studio, and during the last months, we worked together in the evenings, constructing a model for a new building he had designed. It was a fantastical thing of graceful arches and floating pavilions that looked as if it would be beautiful and terribly expensive.

He wouldn’t tell me the purpose of the building, promising that I would find out when it was complete. I loved working on it with him, cutting the tiny pieces of wood to exact measure and gluing them in place. Helping him create something that might become a reality in the free world was deeply satisfying. Then, one evening, it was finished. I expected that now he would finally tell me what it was for, but he said that I would find out the next day. I was disappointed, and also sad that we wouldn’t be working on it together any more. But there was also the thrill of anticipation. I would learn what the building was to be used for. And maybe we would also be starting on another such project soon.

He prepared to go to work as usual the next morning, and just before he went to the door, he pointed to the model and said “It’s a sacrifice. Whatever happens today, I promise you’ll be all right. Good luck, Shand.” It was the last time I ever saw him.

I remember just standing there, staring at the closed door with my mind spinning in utter confusion. A sacrifice. His words didn’t make any sense, but they made me apprehensive. It was so different from anything I would have expected from him. Why would anything happen? Something was wrong, but I couldn’t get hold of what it might be. I walked around the table that held the model and tried to find some meaning in its being a sacrifice. As I worked on the day’s assignments and the household chores, I kept trying to puzzle it out. ‘Whatever happens.’ ‘Good luck.’ There was a sick lurch in my stomach when it hit me. He was going to sell me back to the agency! Why? What had I done wrong? Why hadn’t he told me… something, anything?

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t think of anything I had done that would make him angry enough to sell me. Or was it a lot of little things that he let build up until he was too disgusted to want me around anymore? He hadn’t acted any different toward me lately, not that I could remember. I tried to give up thinking about it because I didn’t want to Master Chanow to see that I was upset when he came home.

An hour or so after midmeal, I was walking around the model, thinking about all the work that had gone into making it and imagining what it would look like when it was built. It gave me a good feeling to think that a little part of me could be out in the world someday. Maybe Master Chanow would even take me to see it. I heard a noise at the front door and went to see who it was. It was unusual for that time of day, but I didn’t have any reason to be worried about it.

Before I reached the door, there was an enormous bang and it was smashed open. I was so stunned at the sight of three men in uniforms that I couldn’t even move as they burst into the house and went straight to the workroom. One of them pushed me out of the way and stood at the door, keeping watch, while the other two starting sweeping books from the shelves onto the floor, and scattering blueprints and sketches everywhere. Then, to my horror, one of them brought his fist down on the model and sent the delicate pieces flying in every direction.

Prompt Me No Prompts

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I don’t understand how or why people who can’t come up with ideas for stories want to be writers. Do they really want to write but have little or no imagination? Do they think that all that’s necessary to be a writer is to come up with an idea? Do they have any idea at all how many millions of books are written that are either never read or fall into obscurity almost immediately? It would be a fascinating study to explore the many reasons why people without a single idea in their heads want to be writers. But in the end, who cares?

Scanning my usual news sites this morning, I came across an article that triggered an idea for a nonfiction book. The article itself isn’t particularly significant. I could have read another and had the same idea pop up. I think it was just a matter of timing. The subject has been stewing for a long time. I say stewing rather than something like rolling around, because it’s a rather emotional topic. It was bound to come out sooner or later, and the article was just the trigger in the right place and at the right time.

The point of this rambling rant is that this is the way my mind works. It overflows with ideas, most of which I’ll never have a chance to develop, given the state of my health and my age. But it also means that my mind is alive, that it constantly engages, even if only from a distance, with the world at large. And I suspect, now that I think about it, that this might be the reason so many would-be writers have to ask for ideas: they engage with a very narrow world that involves primarily the people they know personally, and the limited extended world that the mainstream media allows them to see.

 

OmniOutliner to the Rescue

Now that I’m down to the last chapter of A Perfect Slave, I’m switching some of my synapses over to A Well-Educated Boy. It’s taken forever to decide what point of view I want to use, and have finally settled on first person. The other big question mark was about where to start the darned thing. For better or worse, I’ll be using a lot of flashbacks, in order to start where the real action is, but most of them will be very short, some as short as a single sentence.

And I just had a flash. One effect of the flashbacks is to show that Harte is obsessed with the past, especially about his dead friend, Zack. I hadn’t thought of him as being obsessed, but now I can see that it’s an important part of his personality and influences how he sees the world around him. Yes, even after five years of working with this project, I’m still learning about the central character.

It’s very possible that this will be my first novel that’s developed from a full-scale outline. I don’t normally do outlines because my stories are usually straight chronologies and I can allow them to grow organically. Boy is a different kind of beast. Not only will there be many, many flashbacks, but the story will move from the main events to where Harte is, geographically and psychologically, after the main events.

I’m a little slow on the uptake, but I did finally realize that I’m not going to be able to pull together a coherent story from a vague idea of what happens when. So I pulled out my ancient copy of OmniOutliner, hoping that it still works after a multitude of Mac OS upgrades. And it does, by golly. I bought it in 2007, it’s been a few years since I used it, and I’d only used it for a variety of lists. Organizing a novel in it will be an entirely new experience. OmniOutliner has a notes feature that makes all the difference from using an old-fashioned outline. And of course, all modern outliners allow you to shift things around easily, which is probably going to happen a lot, but being able to insert notes is pretty crucial.

One reason I’ve been putting off serious work on Boy is its complexity and the potential for a lot of frustration in pulling everything together. Maybe, using the outliner, it won’t be the problem it was shaping up to be.

A Well-Educated Boy — Random Thoughts

9/5/12 — That’s when I created the Scrivener project for A Well-Educated Boy. Five years ago. It probably started as little more than a bare bones idea, and it isn’t atypical for how long I can work on a project. In August of last year, I was apparently considering devoting November to actually writing it, during NaNoWriMo . It didn’t happen, and even now, though I have tons of notes and a very good idea of how it will turn out, I’ve written only a few thousand words of possible text.

As is usual with me, now that I’m stepping into the deep waters, I’m already thinking ahead to promotion. Several years ago, I posted segments of a novel on Wattpad for a while, but found that the effort of attracting attention was just too time-consuming. Quite a few people say that there is good writing on Wattpad, but finding it is a frustrating exercise in skimming hundreds of pathetic attempts at creativity. So, making yourself known by commenting and rating can be an exercise in futility.

And yet — I still, now and then, give some thought to trying it again. The young adult audience is built in, and a recent commenter on a writer forum said that there is a significant audience on Wattpad for dystopian/post-apocalypse fiction. Boy isn’t post-apocalypse, and its dystopian elements aren’t as exciting as stories like The Hunger Games or Divergence. It isn’t an action novel, and unlike Hunger Games and Divergence, it isn’t more fantasy than science fiction. So is there an audience for a young adult/dystopian novel that is more thoughtful than action-oriented? I have plenty of time to think about it, so I’m not inclined to say yay or nay right now.

August 26 Weekend Notes

A random bunch of stuff, some of it inspired by current online reading. You’d be surprised how much interesting writing there is on the net, hidden away in obscure corners. I just read ruminations on the possible end of science fiction on a blog that barely exists (three posts, and the most recent the first one since 2014). Get it up to speed, Steve.

Steve’s post led me into stating, once again, my proclivity for reality-based SF, both as a reader and a writer. Which led to A Well-Educated Boy, which is always on my mind these days. As part of tracking its progress, I plan to write a post (sooner or later) about some of the real-life resources that I’ll be drawing on. There’s a lot of weird, and sometimes scary, stuff going on in the field of education, and most of it is unknown to the general public. I’m considering actually adding those links as an appendix to the book. It’s rare for a novel to have an appendix of any kind, but they do turn up now and then. I’m thinking specifically of Peter Watts’s appendices at the end of both of his Firefall novels: Blindsight and Echopraxia.

I recently signed up (again) for NaNoWriMo. After years of participating, I’ve been in a fence-sitting position about it for the last two or three years. I’ve gotten everything I can out of it. No, it’s still useful, if only for forcing me to really concentrate on one writing project long enough to get it done. I just don’t have time for that kind of commitment anymore. Not true; as much time as I waste (weeks spent without writing a single word), devoting 30 days to one novel is hardly a bump in the timeline.

Whether I’ll actually go through with it (I signed up but changed my mind before it even started last year) is up in the air. I want to finish editing A Perfect Slave this month, but I’m way behind. I’d like to spend September and October concentrating on A Well-Educated Boy, but I know how that kind of plan goes.

Procrastination has always been one of my middle names, and knowing that it’s at least partially due to having an actual disability in executive functioning is not an acceptable excuse. Nor is having ADD and truly serious problems with distractibility. Or the current physical problems that have more or less turned my life upside down, damn it. I don’t write for money or fame, thank goodness because they would be terrible motivators. But even writing because I have to write has trouble overcoming my neurological glitches. It’s a constant fight, and sometimes I’m just too tired to deal with it. When that happens I bury myself in reading the stacks of books I always have on hand, and they do, though not often enough, strike sparks that can get me back in front of the computer.

Sparks are happening more frequently lately, not consistently, but at least starting little fires that I can blow on and try to encourage into big, bright blazes.

A Well-Educated Boy — What’s it About?

The first step in documenting the development and creation of a novel: Tell the readers what it’s about, and how I envision it.

Boy is both a YA and a coming-of-age novel, but mainly it’s about dystopias — two of them, existing at the same time. Harte Simmons was born and grew up in one of them, a small town that, on the surface, is almost a utopia. Burgundy is crime-free, its schools are excellent, and all the adults are employed. It’s also a little unusual, in that it’s what was once called a “company town.” Burgundy is privately owned by a large corporation.

Steven Simmons, Harte’s cousin, lives in a suburb of a typical urban center. He’s a year older than Harte. The two families take turns visiting during summer vacations and holidays. Both boys have had reasons to be envious of the other’s life, but gradually they become less naive and less envious. Each town, in its own way is a dystopia, though they’re very different from each other.

This is Harte’s story, told after he’s graduated from high school and left Burgundy. He was a typical, privileged, alienated teen, certainly not a hero, but in his last two years of high school, he lost his best friend to suicide, was forcibly enrolled in an alternative school run by the corporation, and began to understand how the world works.

He lives just a few decades down the block from us. There are no aliens, no major catastrophes (this is not a post-apocalyptic novel), no world-spanning evil overlords of any kind. The technologies in use either exist right now or are in development. It’s a world that doesn’t look terribly different from our own. And that’s the central problem I have to work out. How do I show that a world that looks so much like ours is an ominous warning of the world we’re already becoming? That’s what I’ll discuss next time.

 

August 20 — Weekend Notes

Currently reading Echopraxia by Peter Watts. It’s the second of what may or may not be a series, the first of which was Blindsight. Watts isn’t easy reading, even if you’re a hard-core SF fan. But, plowing my way through the first few pages of Echopraxia yesterday, he hooked me with his sheer mastery of language even when I had no idea what he was talking about. The problem with Watts, is that he clearly expects his readers to be capable of serious thought. If you aren’t, then hard science that includes a future version of vampires and zombies is going to be a bit difficult to swallow.

I had planned to reread Blindsight before starting Echopraxia, but alas, I discovered that it was apparently one of the books I left behind when I had to vacate my old apartment. The losses from that epic event continue to show up now and then.

I’m contemplating a new approach to publishing a book on my blog. As I’ve mentioned before, Hidden Boundaries and Crossing Boundaries were both serialized, as I wrote them, on my Live Journal blog. That was a successful experiment, but for many reasons, not one that I want to repeat.

What I would like to do instead, with A Well-Educated Boy, is use it as a demonstration. I’ve written a little bit about it here already, with reference to structuring the novel. In response, Alicia wrote a blog post about how she uses structure. A lot of that is documented on her blog, but she’s been working on her novel for several years, so I doubt she started blogging about it right at the beginning, which is what I would like to do.

I don’t know how many readers would be interested in following the process from beginning to end, but I consider it a worthwhile project for my own edification. I’ve looked back at several of my novels and wished that I had some record of how they came about, and developed.

For those who aren’t interested in going into depth in the creation of a novel, have no fear. There will still be plenty of my weird thinking about whatever strikes my fancy.