Dancing to Dirges

Depressing and happy things Tim says, sometimes while drunk

Friday, February 27, 2009

Uncle Timbo's Unending Rant, Volume 82: Plotting

I actually had a relative by that name, a generation or two ago. Timbo Akers. We were braver with our names, in olden days.

So. Plots. This is something that bothers me, because it's a weakness of mine so I'm hypersensitive about it. Active plots. Things happening. Characters performing actions. Resolving. This is the way I think about. If your character gets into trouble, but can't get himself out of trouble, he isn't worth reading about. And I mean this only in relation to books that are meant to be exciting. There are books that are meant to be revelatory, or insightful, or didactic. I think writers make the mistake of thinking that those kinds of books can't also be exciting, and are in fact better when they're interesting to read on top of those other adjectives.

If your characters are constantly being saved by third parties, then maybe the story is actually about those third parties. If they're constantly being saved by coincidence, agencies outside of their control, or the forces of nature...well. Then you're not really writing a novel. More of a travelogue. Best to dispose with the charade of characters altogether and just, you know, talk about this world in your head for a couple hundred pages. Just don't expect me to read it.

Unless, of course, the ending really justifies the whole experience, and I'll be a better person for having struggled through your meaningless, endless rambling exposition and dialogue and set dressing. I'll totally read that.

I'm kidding. A book like that I'm just going to throw away. Seriously.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Trying to explain what I do

I have a lot of friends locally who know I'm a writer, but they aren't genre people. This is something I've faced since I was back in North Carolina. That first book I mentioned, the ill-named Elf Wars? I still remember my parent's describing it as being about "UFOs and stuff." So it's nothing new. But I think about it. This is what I say:

Fantasy. But when I say fantasy, you think of swords and wizards and dragons, right? That kind of fantasy is based on the medieval era. What I write is fantasy that's based on the Victorians.

And that's more or less right. It doesn't do much to help my non-genre friends, but it gives them something to chew over in their heads. I still insist that what I do isn't steampunk in the strictest sense. Steampunk to me is a form of alternate history. Retro-futurism. It's a convenient marketing term, but it's not really what I do. Plus, as soon as you apply a label like that, people start parsing conventions and forming expectations. What happens to The Summer Girl in chapter two? Steampunk doesn't account for that.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Debt sucks

I'm one of these guys where spending money makes me physically ill. Large sums of money, at least. It only lasts a day or so, but I'm extremely debt averse. And today we signed a contract to have our bathroom redone. That's not a number you like seeing in your debit column if you're a guy like me.

Still, the bathroom's going to be nice. We've lived in this house almost ten years now and haven't really done much to it. The original curtains are still hanging in my office, even though I totally hate them. We did paint the main level and the kitchen. Eventually the kitchen's going to need to be redone. And we desperately need to put siding up. Guh. Money.

Point is, the bathroom is going to be the nicest room in my house for a while.

Monday, February 23, 2009

They called a morningstar a mace

I finished making my typeset edits on Friday. Over the weekend I typed those up, divided into major and minor edits so that the pagination wouldn't get screwed up, and sent that off to Solaris. By the time I got to work today, I had email notifying me that the changes had been made. I love those guys. Woo.

So... does *that* mean I'm finally done with the book? Beats me. I'm kind of in a fog right now. And I really need to start working on book two. Many changes have come to mind, mostly about the direction I want to overall series to travel, and that's having an impact on the original outline. Maybe I can get that all straightened out this week. I'll make that my goal. Because I'm so *goal* oriented.

My wife and I went with some friends to see "Deathtrap" at the local community theater. It was good. I don't mean to sound shocked, of course, but you're never sure what to expect out of community theater. The building itself is quite a small space, but it's a very intimate feel. There are no bad seats, just bad sitters. I suspect we're going to make a habit of this.

What else, what else... The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction Vol. 3 is showing up in bookstores. Go ye, and acquire, in my name's sake.

That is all!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I will be on my game.

This is what arrived in the mail yesterday. It's marketing material that goes out to book buyers for the various distributors and stores. It's pretty exciting. Yes? Very yes. On the back is a bunch of marketing info, like the ISBN number, release date, page count, carton count and some bullet points about how cool it is and how Solaris is throwing a lot of their marketing weight behind it. I'm very, very excited.

Last night I was working on the typeset edits at Starbucks (I needed to get out of the house) when I did some calendar math and had, shall we say, a *moment*. I've heard a couple release dates for the book, ranging from August to October, but Amazon has the book dropping on August 3rd, and the marketing copy on this card says August as well. Swell. It's looking like August.

You know what else happens in August? Worldcon. August 6-10. So my book will drop on the Monday, and then I'll be in Montreal on Thursday. At Worldcon. So...yeah. I'm kind of nervous about that. Nervous in that excited way, when you realize that there's this specific point in time, this *weekend* that could really make or break your career. Well, I don't think I could break it, but it could be the difference between nominal success and kicking ass. All of the ass.

So that'll be a weekend. Something to remember, I suspect.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Also, sports are more important than your job. More important than anything.

Okay, I got the typeset proof of my book on Friday. That's exciting. Right? Right! It has the dedication page, and the ads in the back, and everything. And I haven't read this book in months, so it's almost as if I've forgotten everything. Probably the freshest my eyes have been for this editing thing since the project started.

We saw Pineapple Express over the weekend. Don't do drugs. Drugs make you a bad writer. Drugs keep you from seeing irrelevant plotlines and cause you to lose track of characters and, you know, generally fuck up your script. Well. At least, that's what they make Seth Rogen do. I actually couldn't sleep I was so troubled by the complete lack of continuity in that movie. Thank god I had been drinking.

Things I have learned at work: You can make your job harder than it needs to be. If you're nice, you don't have to be good at your job. The Post Office doesn't know its own rules, and certainly doesn't follow them. Most importantly, not caring about these things is the best way forward.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

This explains everything

I'd like to take a moment on Darwin's 200th birthday to remind my fellow citizens that 44% of Americans believe that the world was created in six discrete days by a supernatural being sometime in the last 10,000 years.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Reasons to Yell

I don't have the Bulletin with me. I'd like to give you the exact quote, but I think I can summarize sufficiently. For those who don't know, the Bulletin is the (I think) quarterly publication of SFWA. It's of varying value to me, since I don't really follow what markets are opening or closing, or the status of the ludicrous arbitration that's surrounding the google booksearch thing, powered by the Author's Guild and supported by various other writers organizations, including SFWA. Dear people, your views on the internet are backwards. Stop litigating. It's no longer the 80s. Just stop.

But that isn't what got me going. The Bulletin has a regular article that is essentially a discussion in letter form between two famous authors. I don't know that it matters if I tell you who they are. For the last two issues (and I've only gotten two issues, so this could have been going on for a while) they've been talking about what steps need to be taken to save science fiction. It's interesting. What fascinates me about it that their opinions line up pretty accurately with my own. As in, we're essentially writing for one another, and not the readers. We reinforce this with awards, magazines, and an increasing sense of literary snobbery.

It came down to a final paragraph that essentially said that the majority of young and potential readers, as well as the majority of current readers, do not like the stories that get nominated for awards. They can't name the last five nebula winners, have never read anything on the Locus Recommendation lists, have not read the Hugo nominees and, if they were ever to pick up any of the Year's Best compilations would simply not care to finish the stories that they started.

We've given up on the average reader. And the average reader has given up on us. To both of our detriments. We can write books that people will enjoy reading, and create them in such a way as to ratchet up the quality of work in those genres. I'm just saying. There's no reason to write for the editors, when the readers aren't buying the product.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I'm sure the feeling wears off

I've spent too much time today trying to figure out if you need a 8152 when submitting a plant-verified drop shipment to individual DDUs. *Any* time spent trying to figure that out is too much time. Priorities, people.

My book showed up on Amazon yesterday. I mean, it might have been there sooner, but this is the first time I've checked in a while. I keep telling myself that I'm going to be smooth and rational and not get all twisted up anticipating this laydown date, but then something like that happens and I hop around my office like a little bunny. Hoppy hop.

I wrote a book! Squeeee!

Oh, and there was something in the latest SFWA bulletin that I had to run upstairs and read out loud to my wife the other day. I was shouting by the time I got to the end of it. In a good way. But this is why I really can't go to parties that much. Especially parties where the population is majority !writer. What would I talk about? What would I say!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The creed that drives me

Locus Magazine has a regular article called "Yesterday's Tomorrows". It covers genre literature from long ago, ranging from the golden age up to as recent as the mid-eighties. This last issue covered a series of novels released by Ace, all of them first novels from promising authors. I was surprised to see that I owned one of them in the original printing; In The Drift, by Michael Swanwick. Of course, the book from that series that I know best is Neuromancer. The journalist spent some time talking about the specific impact that book had on his life, and I found myself agreeing on a lot of points. But it teased out a realization from me, something I hadn't *focused* on. I've been kicking it around for the last day or two, and I'd like to try to get it down in text. If I can.

Neuromancer came to me at an important time in my life. I guess you'd call it a nodal point, if you were Bill. It changed the way I thought. It changed the way I read and wrote and just... the way I lived. It was the first in a long series of tectonic revolutions that would occur to make me who I am, and how I am. So it's an important book to me. And for the longest time I didn't understand why. I thought I knew. I thought it had to do with the cyberpunk thing. But I don't think that's it, not any more. When I read that book I was falling in love with something that I couldn't get my head around. When I started writing I was always having to run away from the influence I perceived Gibson to be having in my work. I latched on to a lot of the tropes of cyberpunk. I think we all do, those of us who read him at a certain age, in a certain way. So I had to train myself to not approach those things, for fear of imitating them. It was difficult, but I got somewhere with it.

Listen, the thing I fell in love with as I read Neuromancer wasn't the nascent internet, or the geo-domes, or the razors under her nails. Those things were great, but they weren't *it*. I fell in love with language. I fell in love with a driven plot hung in unimaginable style and decked out with beautiful, beautiful words.

I fell in love with what a book can be, and how well it can be executed.

That's why so much of cyberpunk failed for me. They were trying to be Neuromancer, but they chose the wrong tools. They thought it was jacking in and artificial madnesses and voodoo algorithms. But that was just the furniture. The art, the energy, the real gift of that book was the language. People don't see that enough.

The flip side to that is that too many people just depend on the language, and don't take hold of the plot like they should. I can name dozens, but it's not etiquette. Here's my point. A beautiful book can be exciting. An exciting book can be beautiful. Neuromancer was that. It was exactly that.

The Newconomy

Let's all settle into an economy where we're more than just consumers. Where we save wisely and spend the money we have in hand and live in houses where we use all the rooms everyday. Let's live that life. Maybe we won't all have big screen televisions or Escalades, but maybe we'll spend more time together, more time reading and playing outside and talking face to face.

I'm just saying. Maybe.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Early mornings of our youth

My boss called in sick today. He has pneumonia. My coworker has the kind of cough that sounds like he's drowning, and my other boss is starting to get something. So there's that. I'm not touching *anything* at work. I'm typing this with my mind.

I'm sitting here typing this, and looking at the calendar over my desk. It's a calendar of the Blue Ridge mountains, where I grew up. My dad gave it to me. In part, at least, because he's trying to get me to move home. But as I'm looking at this calendar, all I can think is that it's really not very good at conveying what I remember about home. This is a picture of the Great Balsam mountains. That's near the Devil's Courthouse. My friends and I used to drive out there at night, to see the sun rise in the morning. We'd sit on the cold stone wall of the overlook, our breath cold in our mouths, our hands under our arms, fog and cloud snagging through the firs and chasing up the mountainside, the whole thing painted gold in light that looked like it was spilling out of god's own forge. So honestly, do you think a calendar is going to convey that? A slip of glossy paper tacked up to dull creme wall, broiling under the reflected light of a fluorescent choked with dead bugs that haven't been cleaned out since the building was slapped together? Honestly?

The air smelled like dirt. I remember that, too.