In a bid to both track my work and goals, and keep things ticking over here on the blog, I’m going to start a weekly check-in for how I’ve been going, and what I’m going to try next. (Weekly for now, at least. Everything, of course, is open to renegotiation after the Baby Event takes place and my entire life gets turned on its sticky sleep-deprived ear.)
This week I… largely took a breather. Early on I put in some solid sessions on Notorious Sorcerer to take in some final alterations that had been prompted by discussions with second-round readers, and to smooth out some bad line-by-line habits I’d noticed in my writing, preparatory to sending the manuscript out in response to requests. All the better to engender said requests, I sent out another batch of queries – though of course practically nothing will be happening in spec fic publishing land for this week and probably next, as Sasquan swings into merry and much-watched action. (I’ll be watching the ACO play Mozart and Brahms at Hugos time, which I am absolutely fine with. Especially since every time we go to classical concerts I ponder more on that novel idea I once had with duelling sisters, magic violins and chamber music invocations.)
Having done all that good work, and in the spirit of giving my brain a little time to recover, I largely took the rest of the week off. Off writing, that is. I still had a driving lesson, an antenatal class, an editing workshop class, a date with a double batch of cookies, an appointment to make a will and Friday night drinks-dinner-and-a-movie arrangements. (Gattaca, with a discuss-the-science panel afterwards. Still a great little movie!) But there’s been plenty of time around (and often on the way to and from) those things for napping, reading, pondering, playing and generally letting my brain get its mojo back. So next week, it’s time to have at it.
But have at what? That’s been the other thing I needed to sort out this week: what was I going to be working on next? There’s the YA fantasy with jinni and pirates and craft beer (The House of Truth and Lies) that I rough-drafted for NaNo last year; that needs some major revisions, and plotting for its sequel. I feel pretty good about this one for a lot of reasons, but it’s definitely not a standalone (since it ends on nearly a literal cliffhanger) so I’ve never been sure it’s a sensible thing to work on when I might still be looking at my debut novel. And then there’s the really weird fantasy (Deadlands), with radioactive poisonous magic and a protagonist who’s unapologetic about having been the recently vanquished Evil Overlord’s minion. I was trying to first-draft this for Camp NaNo in July, but various other opportunities delayed my progress, and then I hit a big roadblock in the fourth chapter from having not planned sufficiently beforehand. So I’m currently feeling a little bruised on this one (though I do have a good 12k words already down).
In the end, it came down to timing. Before mid-October (and Baby Event) I can probably manage to finish my planning and get a complete rough draft of Deadlands. Then it’ll go in the drawer anyway, so it won’t matter if I don’t even manage to pick up a pen again until February. But even being optimistic about my working rate, I can’t manage a full round of heavy-lifting revisions on HoT&L before then, and it’ll irritate me no end if I have to start all over again later. And so…
Next week I’m looking to… finish a full scene-by-scene outline for Deadlands. I’ve already got a chapter-level outline, but having already hit one roadblock, that’s obviously not detailed enough, so I’m drilling down another layer of detail. (My scene outline for HoT&L ran to fifteen pages for thirty planned chapters, but it meant I barely paused once in rough-drafting that, and I’d like to avoid my roadblock behaviour – where I flounder around for a few days trying to decide if it might be better to skip this scene and write on in the hopes of figuring out what I need later, but not doing that because I know that’ll just leave me with more holes later. Solve all the problems at the outset, and it’s easier to power through.)
Now, let’s see how I go. :)
Yesterday, I went to a workshop (“Page-turning Power”) with Margie Lawson, through Writers Victoria. Margie was great fun, chatty and engaging with a whole bunch of fantastic concepts and ways of thinking about the work of writing. As she noted, her advice was an enormous platter of cookies; we could take the ones we liked and leave the ones that weren’t working for our tastes or writing intentions. Some cookies I found particularly to my taste were her endless joy in rhetorical devices and sentence rhythm, and her editing system for analysing scene content and creating balance.
As the revised novel awaits the verdict of my unspoiled second readers, I’ve been prepping for querying agents to prevent myself a) chewing my own fingernails off, and b) breathing down the readers’ necks. It’s an interesting business, querying, because it’s so subjective: at the end of the day, the only question is whether a specific individual finds this email interesting enough right now to request more. There are so many elements that are completely out of the author’s control, from whether the agent is having a good morning or a bad, to whether the agent has a hitherto unrevealed great love or pet hate for a key concept of the book. Possibly because it’s so subjective, and authors are so nervous about it, we all strive wildly to find as many objective things we can nail down as possible.
Sometimes, I feel, this maybe gets out of hand.
I’ve actually been too busy with revisions to blog about them, but as I near the end, I’m finding rumination on theory a useful hamster wheel for my brain’s excess energy. So I thought I’d share the super-hi-tech plot-refining method that I used in preparing for this round of revisions. Continue Reading →
An admission up front: I don’t read short fiction (unless it’s fanfic). I’ve just never found a short piece – even a novella – that I found overall satisfying. If the characters and world are interesting, I want to dig deeper, see more, explore further. If they aren’t, I’m not interested at all. So a strong argument could be made that I just don’t “get” short fiction. But I do get a vote, and all I have to make that vote with is my opinion, so here we go.
- “On A Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli – I felt like this didn’t really go anywhere or do anything. We’re given the setup, and then that’s what happens, without twist or surprise. Perhaps the point is meant to be the “spiritual” (ho ho?) journey of the narrator-protagonist, but I didn’t really feel like there was much of that either. There could have been. This could have been a confirmation of his faith, or a chance to really explore humanity’s complex and multi-varied relationship with souls, spirits, ghosts and ancestors. But the story didn’t do that. In addition, the style profoundly lacked grace or felicity. I don’t believe this deserves to be in contention for a Hugo.
- “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” by John C. Wright – Such an amazing yawn that I didn’t even finish it. The world’s a mash – the description of the city rings heavy classical-Roman bells, but later on a horse bitches about Napoleon eating him. Everything is, I assume, supposed to stand in stark allegorical silhouette, but for me that mostly just feels like generic. I’m not a fan of talking animals to start with, so endless paragraphs of them striking heroic poses and woffling with referential verbosity tried my patience beyond what this little black duck will endure from fiction. Obviously, I don’t think this deserves to be in contention.
- “A Single Samurai” by Steven Diamond – While there’s a nice shape to the plot arc, there’s nothing in terms of character and emotion packing it into place. The little glimpses of personal history here and there are far more interesting than the – sometimes confusing – slogging through “wilderness” in pursuit of a definite but fuzzy goal (kill the kaiju… “somehow”). Things happen to fall out well for our nameless, unknown samurai, and I suppose that’s nice, but it’s not a story that’s going to stay with me.
- “Totaled” by Kary English – A good story. I liked Maggie, and enjoyed following her inventive exploration and problem-solving, and if the ending made me want to watch Source Code all over again, it was a good similarity. It could have plucked that note of “how much can you ask of me?” a little more fulsomely, and the Algernon-esque decline could have been paced a little more elegantly, but overall, this was a story that delivered in a satisfying manner.
- “Turncoat” by Steve Rzasa – A sentient spaceship learns to be a cowboy. The unavoidable comparison to the work of Ann Leckie isn’t favourable; this lacks subtlety and ambiguity, and the style is overblown and riddled with human-voiced niggles. Moreover, the inconsistency of numbers as words or numerals gave me the right irrits (not the author’s fault so much as the editor’s). If I’m supposed to be considering this for best short story of the year, I expect better.
Really, now, the only question remaining for me in this category is whether a story deserves to win a Hugo Award just because it doesn’t actively suck. Surely the bar should be a little higher? The competition a little more… well, present?
First up in my reading of the Hugo shortlist is Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor. It’s been on my to-read list for ages, and as the only straight-up fantasy on the best novel shortlist, I thought I’d start with something I’m most likely to enjoy. Also, my library had it available.
And enjoy it I did. It’s a very charming, intimate and political story, full of intricate details of society, politics and etiquette and bound very closely around the journey undertaken by the main character. That character – Maia – was the neglected, exiled and disregarded fourth son of a strict monarch, until an airship disaster leaves him the only surviving son and therefore Emperor. From here, the book covers the first fraught months of his reign, as Maia attempts to take on a role he has never been prepared for amidst the machinations of the court.
A highlight, for me, was the social worldbuilding, and the delightful use of language it prompted. The careful use of levels of formality in interaction – and the dance of pronouns – was particularly delicious, and given an extra layer of poignancy through Maia’s previous extreme isolation; as he negotiates society, so he introduces it to us. However, politically, I was a little underwhelmed by proceedings. Things work a little too smoothly for Maia, and a combination of his good intentions shining through, and the fortuitously correct selection of trustworthy assistants, means things never get as twisty, backstabby or ambiguous as I really like in my political fantasy.
But all of that is trumped by Maia’s emotional journey and how strongly connected to him we become through the course of the novel. He is both sincerely earnest, and gently self-mocking, and the combination is so terribly endearing that despite my political druthers, I found myself consistently hoping that everything would turn out well for him, and being delighted when it did. And so the almost fairytale realisation of it all – that the good end well because their goodness prompts and draws goodness in others – somehow works to make the book overall very satisfying.
I gave this four stars on GoodReads (because I enjoyed it a great deal, but didn’t love it outrageously) and I think it’s an extremely well crafted novel with interesting, true things to say about being human.
For the first time ever, I’ve bought myself the right to vote in the Hugos. There have been a variety of reasons why I haven’t previously. For most of my life, lack of money was chief, but also the fact that I generally don’t like sci-fi even slightly, and the Hugos are a very, very sci-fi set of awards. I also don’t much like short fiction – however excellent the story, I always get to the end of it dissatisfied that that’s all there is; I’m a sprawling-novels sort of girl.
But I have enjoyed looking at the Hugo shortlists in previous years to see what interesting things might have slipped under my radar that were making other fans excited, and it makes me sad this year that I cannot trust that the nominations were made in excitement. Also, given the broad, sweeping statements various Puppy-types have been making about what readers of speculative fiction do, don’t, should or shouldn’t want in their fiction (statements completely opposite to what I like in my speculative fiction) and given that I can afford a supporting membership at present, I figured it was time to stand up and be counted.
So here I am, an eligible Hugo voter. Now I have to figure out what to do with this vote.
I must say, it’s very tempting to just read everything not on a Puppy-plate, and draw a No-Award line under that. I don’t like what the slates have done, and I dislike the rhetoric many of the supporters have used loudly, often, and without censure – indeed often with explicit support – from the slatemakers.
But my point here is about what I – a reader and fan of speculative fiction – do and don’t want in my speculative fiction. So to make that point abundantly clear, I’m going to try and read the entire Hugo shortlist. I am going to read, and I am going to blog about it – not necessarily to influence anyone else but to make my thoughts, feelings and reasons explicit and transparent.
- I will not be spending money on this. My policy – for reasons of thrift, bookshelf space and self-respect – is that I only buy books that I know I enjoy (i.e. have already read) or that I have a significant belief that I will enjoy (i.e. from a known author, or just looks so damn amazing the dollars won’t stay in my pocket). None of the material on the shortlist fits that criteria (yet) so I will only be able to read material that is in the voting packet, available from my library, or that I can otherwise lay hands on (e.g. loans from friends). When there is a piece that I cannot get hold of in any way, I will make do with evaluating it from available material, and this will most likely mean it doesn’t make it onto my ballot. Them’s the breaks.
- I will be reading the way I usually do. Those who follow my reading habits (on GoodReads) are probably aware that I am pretty demanding, and have little compunction about putting down a book that is annoying, boring or elsewise aggravating me. Hugo nominations get no greater leniency. If I wouldn’t read a book ordinarily, there are lots and lots of books that I did read and enjoy that I think are more worthy of the award than it is. When I blog about a story I put down, I will be discussing where and why.
- The one rule of my regular reading habits that I will be bending is the one where I currently don’t even bother picking up a book unless it mentions a female character by name in the jacket copy. For this once, a Hugo nomination enables a bypass. But I have a reason for that rule, and books that don’t meet it are going to be starting with a handicap.
- Relatedly: I’m a reader reading. I get to have my own opinion on the things I read. (You get to have your own opinion on the things you read.)
- At the end of the day, I might find there are things on the Puppy-plates that I enjoyed. I will still be measuring whether those things are better than – or at least comparable to – everything I read last year that didn’t make it into the nominations before I consider where to place them on my ballot. Considering some of the amazing things that came out last year, this is going to be a tough one, but that is just what the slates have bought for these stories by raising questions as to the authenticity of their nomination.
In summary: not great, but it’s not (quite) my fault.
I had great intentions. I had an amazing week planner with two morning and two afternoon work sessions and plenty of breaks (plottable with post-it notes for the week ahead so I could customise my week depending on circumstances). Despite my husband being bed-ridden post ankle-reconstruction, I managed about half a week of solid, hitting-the-goals work. (It was great: I was getting a scene revised per session, which basically meant I only needed two sessions scheduled a day to hit par and any more was gravy.) I had the week of dinners all planned out in advance, and as a bonus, Mr Dee was finally getting to watch all that television I hadn’t been interested in because ugh middle-aged white guys (like Breaking Bad).
And then, turns out I got pregnant.
I found many things in this to be uncomfortable about, but I was trying to be even-minded in crafting my thoughts about it. After all, this crew has as much right as anyone to write, read and tell people about whatever things they find most delightful in the genre. Now personally – to borrow Brad Torgersen’s lengthy breakfast cereal analogy, from what appears to be a statement of intent about the Sad Puppies list – towards the end of the ’90s and into the ’00s, I was picking up book after book and going, “Ugh, not fucking Nutty Nuggets again. Don’t we have any variants on this recipe?” So to be honest, I am delighted with the wide range of strings fantasy fiction has been adding to its bow in the last fifteen years. More, more, more, I say (with gleeful disregard for the length of my to-read list). But I appreciate how Mr Torgersen might be sad about what he clearly perceives to be a lack of Nutty Nuggets. (I say perceives because, from where I’m sitting, there are still heaps of books of that ilk. I know because I’m picking them up in the bookstore – or getting them out from the library – not finding anything interesting about them, and putting them back.)
- Separate recycling and compost from landfill rubbish.
- It’s pronounced skellington.
- Your mum’s pronounced skellington.
- No cats on the kitchen bench or dining room table.
- Last one to bed closes windows and doors and switches off lights.
- Reach into the back of the fridge at your own risk.
- Cats are not allowed to climb the curtains or flyscreens.
- Use the right glass for the beer; we have five different types of beer glasses for a reason.
- If you liked it then you should have put a ring on it.
- No clawing Mummy’s face.
- The only people who call the landline are telemarketers and mothers.
- No chewing Daddy’s legal papers.
- You can get away with anything if you’re cute.