Friday, November 30, 2007

I am full of win.

I just crossed the NaNoWriMo finish line! Jack of All Trades is just over 50,000 words and almost complete--I just have the last chapter to write.

I think I forgot to mention, a few weeks ago, that I sold a story to Renard's Menagerie. It's a fun little story called "The King's Messenger," and it's set about a year before the events in The Weredeer, with the same main character. It'll be in the next issue, which I think is coming out next month.

Also it's Friday. Life is good.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Next stop: Endra (by way of Tennessee)

I've got 5,000 words left to win NaNo--it's sort of in the bag now, since if I have to I can bash out the last 5k words Friday night--and I've finally figured out who/what the mysterious stranger really is (at least, well enough to get by in a rough draft) and how he fits into the larger story arc. And that means I can cut out the next chapter entirely, and that means I have only two more chapters after this one and the book will be finished at right about 55-60k words. That's a nice little novella, and it hopefully won't require major rewrites, so I expect to be able to polish this one and start marketing it by springtime.

At the same time, I'm going to be moving in two weeks, from Pennsylvania where I've lived for not quite two years, back to East Tennessee where I belong. The timing is perfect, really, because I rarely start new projects until after the first of the year anyway. I'll have December to revise Jack of All Trades and finish a short story or two while I get settled in a new house, find a new job, and do all the great family stuff over the holidays.

I'm excited about the move, but I'm just as excited about my next novel project. It was going to be the mystery/urban fantasy I was thinking about a few months ago, but that needs a lot more worldbuilding. I like worldbuilding, but it does slow the start of a new project, and I want to keep the momentum I've retrieved with NaNo going for a while (since I didn't write much in 2007). And as it happens, an idea that was pecking about in the back of my mind for several months has taken flight. Like a bird metaphor.

So my next book is going to be set in Endra like The Weredeer, which is my beloved masterpiece that I'm subbing around right now. And it has a lot more in common with The Weredeer than just setting, since I'm still interested in exploring the were-animal society I've built. One of the issues that I thought about for The Weredeer wasn't something that I could address in that particular book, since Kristof has a huge extended family of weredeer; his story is partly how he deals with losing that support network. In the new project, I'm going to look at the issue of a weredeer born to a family of all werewolves and werepanthers, in an area where there have never been weredeer. If that sounds simplistic, it's not--this book is going to be very challenging to write, and in fact I almost put it off for a year or more, figuring that I'll be a stronger writer in another year and hopefully better able to pull this off.

So I'm glad to be returning to Endra, which is a country I would happily move to if it existed, but since it doesn't exist I'm glad I'm moving home to Tennessee. I'm also looking forward to having a female main character for a change (for some reason, my last several books have all had male MCs). I just need to settle on a name for her--and that's going to be difficult, but why it's going to be difficult is the subject of a future blog.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

42,000 words

Five days and eight thousand words left. Yes, I can do this. Of course, it's not at all clear to me whether I can finish the whole book in five days as I'd planned, but I'll try.

I had a great Thanksgiving and I hope everyone else did too. Of course, at 7am Thanksgiving morning I was peering into the innards of the turkey with a flashlight, trying to find the bag of guts, but things were all uphill from there and all the food was so delicious that I porked out and now I'm surprised my jeans still fit.

And I'm still working on reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It's very interesting, but I'm a few hundred pages in and cannot help occasionally looking at the 800 pages left to read and thinking, "This book is too long." I haven't conquered the supernaturally strengthened spine, either. And I'm finding it a difficult book to read while writing this particular NaNo book, since my book is set in 1920s England with that sort of rhythm, and JS&MN is set, what, 150 years earlier? I meant to stop by the library this weekend and check out some early Agatha Christie books to get the right voice back, but I forgot. I used to have a bunch of Agatha Christie books in really cool hardback editions, but I think my mom ended up with them.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

eBook reader/Kindle roundup

Amazon has just released its new ebook reader, the Kindle. The name always makes me think of Fahrenheit 451, but maybe that's just me. Lots and lots of people are blogging about the Kindle, so I thought I'd gather up some of the best reviews or discussions of ebook readers in general and link to them for your convenience!

An excellent starting point is Booksquare. They point out many of the Kindle's shortcomings, but they also talk a bit about ebooks in general and make the link to the current writer's strike out in Hollywood. One of the things Booksquare says about the Kindle:

...the fact that this device makes Fort Knox look like an open bar really bothers me. The lack of PDF support alone should send everyone into therapy. Customers who buy the Kindle are locked into Amazon as supplier. ... There is a cumbersome process for loading your own files onto the device, but, whoo-hoo!, you get charged ten cents for the privilege.

Boing Boing feels pretty much the same way, although most of that post is simple agreement with Mark Pilgrim's post, which is itself a collection of quotes--from 1984, from the Kindle's EULA, etc. It's creepy.

BuzzMachine talks briefly about how limited the Kindle is:
The iPhone is more powerful. It gives me the ability to both buy content and see
the world of content.

The consensus so far is that Amazon has veered off the road to goodness and books, and is crashing through the undergrowth of senseless oppression. Me, I think it's mainly just stupidity and a lack of market research. I'm also amused by the customer reviews of the Kindle on the Amazon site. Out of 448 customer reviews (so far), the Kindle is barely scraping a 2.5 star review overall. To quote from a few of them:
What Amazon does not understand, is that I want something that could replace my
*laptop* so I can review work related PDF files without printing them out. I do
not want something to replace my paperback novel which is cheaper, more durable,
has infinite battery life, and I'll be able to read 20 years from now. --Alex P.

Amazon is so focused on selling books through the device that they've
dramatically limited consumer flexibility related to other reading. --D. Solberg

Until the consumer ebook market has something that functions as a standard
format, so that I can choose the device and the content service separately, and
so that I can be assured the content I'd purchase will be readable on most
devices, I'm not interested. --Kyle Felker

Now, let's trot along to a happier place. Here we have the BAEN Free Library, where lovely ebooks abound. And they are free. The authors themselves decide if they want to offer a book for download in the free library; typically you'll only get the first book or two of a series, and if you like it, of course they hope you'll go out and buy the other books. But if you don't like it, you aren't out a single penny. And you can download the books in a myriad of software types, including RTF (rich text format) and HTML.

All this squabbling about hardware is going to be moot in another ten years. It's not going to be like the kerfuffle of VHS vs. Beta or even iPod vs. everyone else. Unlike movies and music, which have always been a little bit hard to get at, people have books readily available everywhere--to buy, loan, borrow, and receive as gifts. Even before the age of recording, people had books. But now we're being told that ebooks are somehow different, that transferring a paper book into electronic format somehow makes it more like a CD or DVD than a book.

No one buys into that. The developers of ebook readers need to realize that what readers want is a reasonably-priced reader without proprietary (and therefore limiting) format that will hold a bunch of books. Publishers need to clue in that a customer who buys an ebook should have all the same rights as a customer who buys a print book--that is, the customer can loan out or resell the copy they bought. Oh, and the ebook reader should be cute and not stupid-looking. Unlike the Kindle.

I blogged about ereaders a few times in September, here and here and here. And no, I don't know why that lolcat pic doesn't show up. Dammit.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Food for free

I realized this morning that I spent my entire food budget for the week on junk for Thanksgiving. Since I can't eat any of it until Thursday, and the turkey's still frozen solid even if I did want to cook it early, I have to be a bit creative if I want to eat anything other than raisin bran until then. At first I was all upset because the cupboards are pretty bare--although I've always got the pearled barley--but then I realized that I'm doing pretty good for food after all. And I'll make a game of it, to see how many meals I can make without buying any new ingredients.

So I'm eating chicken and rice right now, made like this:

1. Drain the broth from a can of chicken noodle soup (you should get about half a cup of broth); discard the noodles or feed them to the dog or something
2. Add enough water to the broth to make 2 cups liquid (or whatever your rice calls for)
3. Prepare rice with the watered broth (I used medium-grain rice because that's what I have)
4. Drain the water from a 10-oz can of chicken (actually my can was 12.5 ounces, but it was one of those "25% more free!" cans so ordinarily it would be 10 ounces); give the water to the cats and put the chicken in a large bowl.
5. Fluff the rice and add it to the chicken; mix.
6. Add a lot of pepper.

There you have it--totally boring but surprisingly tasty chicken and rice! If I'd had real chicken broth I would have used it, but the soup broth worked just as well.

And what does this have to do with books or writing? Nothing.

I'm at 30,000 words on my NaNo book, and I've started reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell in earnest. It'll be my December book-of-the-month, but it's so long I figured I'd better get started early. It's quite good, but the mass market paperback version I'm reading is driving me nuts. The binding is very good--so good, I can't bend it back at all and I have to go through the most annoying contortions to push the pages down so I can read all the text. I'm usually pretty darn hard on my paperbacks, leaving the bindings creased--but this one resists me. Sure, it's great that the binding won't crack, but I'm finding it physically difficult to read. This book would be ideal as an ebook.

Friday, November 16, 2007

I'm a semi-finalist!

I just found out that my entry in the fourth quarter 2007 Writers of the Future contest made it to semi-finalist! You can read the list of names on the WotF blog, which is where I found out too. I get a critique from K.D. Wentworth! And a certificate, which I will frame!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bored with the internet, but not Smarties

I don't have a thing to write about, but I haven't posted since Sunday, so I'm posting now. Hmm. I'm still working on that bag of Smarties. The inside of my mouth feels sort of raw. I estimate I've eaten 10,000 Smarties since I bought them Saturday.

I see from the wrapper that Smarties are made in Canada. I got a rejection this week from a Canadian publisher. Coincidence?

I reached 26,000 words on my NaNo book yesterday, but I haven't written a single word tonight. But the online Boggle site is down and I got bored with the internet at work this afternoon, so I guess I'll do some writing now.

Just in case you're my brother, who is 2,000 words ahead of me in his NaNo book, here's a hilarious link to a conversation about our robot overlords, which I got via Making Light. I recommend you read it over and over and over until it's too late to do any writing.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Why I'm not at 25,000 words yet

I meant to write all day long today. I got 2k done yesterday, and that was with me having to do all my weekend chores, like laundry and shopping.

Then this morning I woke up with a fully-formed story idea. I hate when I do that, because the story always seems much better in the dream than it does when I write it down. But I have to write it down, of course. So I wrote a 1,000-word flash piece this morning, and revised it, and sent it off to Coyote Wild.

I hadn't had anything to eat at that point and it was getting on to lunchtime, so I went ahead and made the white ziti recipe posted a few days ago on Making Light. I used ground turkey instead of sausage, and added about a quarter cup of feta (I didn't have more than that), and forgot to cover it when I stuck it in the oven, but it turned out really, really good.

After I stuffed myself, it was important that I keep my Monopoly skills honed, so I played a game of computer Monopoly (courtesy of winning it in the McDonald's contest last month). And then I had to go to my brother's house and show off my new laptop. And then--then I came home and opened up my NaNo document and thought I'd better finish up this chapter and really get down to bringing my wordcount up.

That was the plan. But the TV is right by the computer and I turned it on, and there was a show on about comets destroying the dinosaurs, and then I watched a Space Ghost Coast to Coast episode On Demand that I hadn't seen, and then I came across the end of Shrek, and then after that the same channel ran Chicken Run, and now I'm watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas before the Wizard of Oz comes on.

I really need to drop down to basic cable so this won't happen.

Anyway, I'm at 21,320 words. And it's not as if I don't know what I'm going to write. It's just more fun to stare at the TV screen and eat Smarties (I got a huge bag for 40 cents, after-Halloween special). Blame it on animation. And, um, comets.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

November book of the month: Goblin Quest

I just finished reading my November book-of-the-month, Goblin Quest by Jim C. Hines. Imagine a D&D adventure told not from the warrior prince's point of view, or the dwarf cartographer's, or the mage enslaved to dark magics, or the elvish thief with the haunted past--no, not any of these, but from one of the monsters the adventurers encounter. And not Tiamat, either. It's Jig the goblin, nearsighted and runty, and his pet firespider Smudge.

It's a clever idea, but it could have been so very badly done. I almost didn't buy the book because it's marketed as some sort of laff riot and I expected fart jokes and stupid puns. But Jig is a sweet guy, while still being thoroughly a goblin, which I appreciated (and which made for the funniest bits); his introduction to the world beyond his own is fascinating and well-done. The book is longer than it probably needs to be, but then I think that about most fantasies these days (hell, Baen won't even consider manuscripts under 100k).

There's a sequel available, Goblin Hero, which I'll be ordering, and a third book, Goblin War, is due out in March, I believe it is. I plan to read both. I also recommend checking out Jim C. Hines' blog; reading it was what made me decide to pick up the book. He's a funny guy.

To meander away from my book review, I started reading Jim C. Hines' blog because he's participating in an interesting project that CatsCurious Press is running. In January they're taking submissions for a retold fairy tale project. They'll choose one story told from the protagonist's point of view, and then Jim will write the story from the antagonist's point of view. The two will be published together in one slim volume. It sounds like fun, particularly since the emphasis is on humor.

So of course I had to check out his writing style, to see how well his humor jibes with mine. And not only do I like his humor and his writing, but it's kind of eerie how his approach to story echoes my own. Just a fortnight ago I was complaining (publicly, I'm ashamed to admit, in a writer's forum I frequent) that I can't find books on the shelves that are a bit like mine. Well, now I have.

You'd better believe I'm subbing to CatsCurious on the stroke of January 1. I've actually started the story, and it's really, truly awesome and funny. I was hoping to have finished by now so I could spend the next two months rewriting and polishing it, but NaNo intervened. I guess I'd better get back to writing so I can finish my novel and go back to work on that short story. I'm still just at 16,135 words, and I see that MY BROTHER has written over 17,500! Where's my keyboard?! I need to start typing!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

13,746 words. And read my story over at EDF!

My story "Bad Luck" is up at Every Day Fiction, so go on over and read it! I like EDF. There's a new flash fiction story every morning, and the quality is high. While you're at it, of course, you can also go read "Sawmill Road," which EDF ran back in September. They've accepted a third story of mine, but I don't know yet when it will run.

My NaNo book is going great! I'm having a lot of fun with it, which is what it's all about--and even better, I think the writing quality is pretty high. I may change my mind once it's all done and I go back and reread it.

I got my cute little tiny laptop, the Asus eee, and the keyboard is just big enough for me to type on without pulling my hair out with frustration. My only real difficulty is occasionally hitting enter instead of the apostrophe key, but I can live with that. Mobile typing! We're living in the space age now, baby!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

7625 words. Gimme pizza.

I've been writing steadily--in between Boggle games--all day. My goal is 10,000 words by tonight. If I can make 10,000 words, I can have a pizza. If I make 9,999 words, I can't have a pizza. Except I can, because at that point I'll just type the word "dammit" and I'll have 10,000 words.

I've already changed the outline. Chapter 3 is so short I'm going to have to tack it onto the end of chapter 2. That's fine, but I'm a little concerned that the wasp man in the former chapter 3 is so strange that he's going to have to come back later in the book. I actually have him scheduled for another appearance in chapter 12, but that's an awful long time to let him hang fire. Well, I'll just take it as it comes. No time to stop and rethink the plot!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

1,160 words

Not much, but it's a start. I confess that I already had the prologue and chapter one already written (months and months ago), but I jettisoned them and started over! I've now rewritten the prologue, and you can read it on my NaNo profile. The site's really slow right now, though.

I'm pleased with the quality of my writing so far. Each time I do NaNo I try and concentrate on some new aspect of writing or the process of writing. In 2005 I experimented with outlining, and it worked so well I've continued to outline ever since. In 2006 I tried various methods of increasing my writing output, in particular dictating my novel during my commute; that worked, but the results weren't all that impressive. This year I'm working on the quality of writing, with an emphasis on description. For years I've tried to make my prose lean and spare, but I think I've gone overboard. Time to revel in the poetry of words--without losing focus on the story or the characters.

As an example, the original version of the prologue was only 315 words long. The new version is 925 words even though it covers very little more ground than the original.

49,000 words to go. 29 days. Tomorrow I can stay up as late as I like, because it's Friday! My weekend goal: 10,000 words. I'll do it too, because I plan to reward myself with pizza.

Journey to the Center of the Earth, without spacesuits

One of my new year's resolutions was to read one book every month that I would not otherwise have read. I've kept that resolution, too, and I've read some wonderful books and discovered some wonderful authors as a result. For October I was planning to use Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell or whatever it's called (I keep wanting to make it Dr. Strange), but it's 1,000 pages long and while I like it so far, I'm only twenty pages in and keep getting interrupted by shorter books.

I almost decided not to do an October New Book, because I've read lots of other books this month. Mostly Terry Pratchett. But then I decided that skipping a month would simply make a mockery of the whole resolution, and on Monday I grabbed the thinnest book on my "to read" pile (which I keep carefully stacked up all over the house). That happened to be A Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Vernes. I loved the movie when I was a kid and I thought maybe the book might evoke the same dreamlike sense of being lost somewhere unlike any other place in the world.

Monday night I read the first 50 pages. Tuesday night I read the next 100 pages. And I am proud to relate that last night I read the last 100 pages and finished my October book in October!

I didn't dislike the book--it was interesting, if kind of sloppy. The characters were, well, just types. The main character was a hysterical coward, the uncle was a lunatic, and the "imperturbable Hans" of course was a robot--nothing else could explain how he acted. It's easy to smile indulgently at the silly science, but that's not fair; it's not like the author could get online and look up the Wiki article on plate tectonics and volcanoes. I confess, though, that I kept thinking, "How did this get to be such a classic?" Especially when the writing was slipping from past to present tense and back within the space of a few sentences.

Oh well, I'm glad I read it. But it wasn't a bit what I expected. My vague memories of the movie involve: someone tapping Morse code through a network of strange white tunnels in response to sounds that turn out to be made by a duck, dinosaurs fighting each other, and a volcano that was induced to blow up with gunpowder. The movie apparently was only loosely based on the book, because there were no ducks, no land-walking dinosaurs, and--well, the gunpowder and volcano are sorta kinda linked in the book, only not really. But my real confusion was the book's cover.

I wish I could scan the edition I have. It's a paperback that I picked up at a library sale. I'm (ahem) posting from work so I don't have the book to look at, and I couldn't find this particlar cover online, but I'm guessing it's a late 1950s, maybe early 60s edition. The cover shows four men in white spacesuits on the bow of a futuristic-looking boat--it's got antennas that sort of look like rayguns and things--and the boat is sailing through a cavern, on lava. I mean the boat is sailing on lava, through a cavern. That is also filled with lava. In the background are some shadowy human figures apparently watching the spacesuited men.

Where did the artist get all this? From another book, I suspect, because in this book there are only three men on the expedition, and they don't meet any other people. Well, except for a glimpse of a gigantic caveman watching a herd of mammoths. (Really.) They don't have spacesuits. They don't have a boat, although they build a raft of semi-fossilized wood to sail across the underground sea. (Really.)

I kept wondering, as I read, when I would get to the part where they meet the center-dwellers who live in lava caves and wear spacesuits and sail lava-ships. Instead, the party walks through a lot of empty lava tubes, sails across the sea despite a raging storm and sea monsters, blows up a rock blocking their way, and end up--well, I don't want to spoil it for you. Spacesuits are not involved.

I'm glad I was able to share this with you now, because the second I get home I'm all over my NaNo book. Word count to be posted late tonight.