Weekly status update [0041/????]

This one’s a day late, but there’s a reason for that.

  • I did it!  My sixteenth(ish) NaNovel, Ex Urbes, is done, as of about three minutes ago.  I wrote 50,214 words according to wc, and a few more than that according to the official NaNo word counter.  (They actually used to use wc as well, so it kinda bugs me that they don’t any more.)  It was an interesting experience, writing while retired, quite different from the way I’ve written NaNo before; I didn’t feel a lot of time pressure, so found it hard to do much more than 2-3K a day.  Yesterday put me at 38K, though, and I decided that I was gonna finish this weekend come Hell or high water… and when I woke up this morning I went, no, I’m finishing today, dammit.  And so I did. 12,369 words in one day is less than half of my peak, but it’s a pretty sizable chunk, roughly fifty pages or so of a typical book.  Not bad.
  • What is bad?  The novel.  It’s terribad.  But I’m glad it’s done.
  • Ways I’ve wasted time this week while not doing NaNo:
    • I continued to watch an episode of both Last Man on Earth and Brooklyn Nine-Nine each day.  I’m almost at the end of the first series and the end of the last released season of the second, so that’ll be over soon.  I… should probably watch more Sabrina, but as an hour-long show it felt like too much of an indulgence this week.
    • I also did a bunch of puzzles.  I got another order in from Japan on Monday, and it included the latest Nikoli “Penpa” magazine, a superb variety mag they put out once a year that’s always my first recommendation to anyone who says they want to branch out and try things that aren’t sudoku.  I’m doing the book in round-robin format, doing the first puzzle of each type, then circling back to the start of the book to do the second, and so forth.  It’s been a nice variety.  (I skip Numberlink, though.  I hate those puzzles.)
    • Lastly, I’ve been watching Twitch sporadically.  I no longer really watch Landail, due to some creepy sexist stuff that goes on there that I decided I couldn’t really be part of any more, but catsonurhead is still awesome, and I’ve started watching some native Spanish-speaking streamers who also manage English better than I ever will their language.  The number of watchers on their channels are low, so it’s got a nice community vibe.
  • We also had an extended game night this week at Fercott Fermentables.  We played Antike II, and I won, although for most of the game I was strictly mid-pack.  That game is absolutely fantastic, and it sang with five players.  I look forward to bringing it home for the holidays and playing it (along with Spirit Island) with my next-door neighbors.

I still have a stack of books to read, many of which are close to being unrenewable, so I’m going to get cracking on those tomorrow.  But for the rest of tonight I plan on vegging out and watching Twitch.  I think I’ve earned it.

Rolling down that hill

As of last night, I’ve written a bit over 25,000 words on Ex Urbes.  That’s the halfway point in terms of NaNoWriMo, although I don’t feel that I’ve reached the halfway point of the story itself at all.  Given how… not very good the story is, though, I’ll probably be pulling it to a stop at the 50K mark, wherever that ends up landing story-wise.

I’m not much of a plotter or outliner, and so my stories tend to be written very much “in the moment”: this happens, then this, and oh, this other thing as a consequence.  This style of writing has its upsides and downsides.   First, a few of the negatives.

  • Complicated plots are hard.  If there are a bunch of stories interacting, with characters moving between them, you’re going to want to have at least an outline to work with, tracking where everyone and everything is so that you don’t have massive continuity issues.
  • It’s easy to get lost in the weeds.  My stories have a bad habit of turning hard into tangents, as some idea takes me away from the actual thing that is happening for a while, until I fumble around and go, “oh yeah, I’m supposed to be writing about that.”
  • Length ends up being pretty random.  Sometimes what feels like an epic story gets told rapidly, because I haven’t thought up enough detail to make it the length it should be; other times, what should be a short bit of detail ends up a rambling diatribe.  (See above.)

There are quite a few positives, though:

  • My stories surprise even me.  For example, I thought this particular one was going in a very specific direction; I even “stacked the deck,” so to speak, in an attempt to make that happen.  But as of this most recent chapter, the main characters involved basically told me: No, that’s not what’s going to happen here.  Instead, this.  Which is fascinating.  There are several stories I’ve written where I put something in early, for whatever reason, and then it ended up vital to a later part of the tale through no conscious planning on my part.  That feels like magic when it happens.
  • The plot tends to feel organic.  Oftentimes the parts I have planned beforehand have to be tinkered with because, once you get to them, it turns out that they don’t fit; characters have revealed their motivations to be different, the world is turning out slightly differently than that particular beat needs, and so on.  Because I do as little of that as possible, though, the path through the story ends up feeling very natural on rereading.  Which makes a lot of sense, because it matches what I was doing in the moment when I was writing: following the most natural path for the story itself.
  • It is very well suited for NaNoWriMo.  I expect that I can write a well-plotted lengthy story, but that sort of thing takes care and effort that I don’t really have to give during a month-long sprint to the finish.  Making it up as I go along?  That I can do.  I’ve only ever managed to write one heavily plotted NaNovel in the 14 years I’ve been doing this, and it was terrible.  The plot also ran out less than a third of the way through, so I ended up having to wing a huge chunk of the story anyway.

Every writer is different and every story is different.  I mostly write for myself during NaNo; I know that the quality of my output is hampered by the constraints, and so don’t concern myself overmuch with how consumable the end product is.  I think that’s a smart decision, but I can also see how it’s holding me back.  I really need to work on a story without those constraints, one that holds together from the start, and NaNo just isn’t the place for me to do that.

Maybe next year.

Weekly status update [0040/????]

Writing, huh?  This is writing, right?  This is gonna be a short one, given what’s going on.

  • It’s NaNoWriMo.  As of just a few moments ago, I cracked 16,000 words on Ex Urbes, the cyberpunk thriller I’m writing instead of Sharp because I had a lot of trouble with that story, as I wrote about.  Ex Urbes isn’t any good, but it is easy to write, so that’s been working pretty well.  I haven’t yet had one of my typical “amazing days” that help me knock out the novel sooner rather than later, but I’m ahead of the standard month-long pace, and am likely to continue pulling ahead even if I never have a burst-writing day.
  • One of the problems with NaNo, though, is that I feel like I can’t do the other things that I like to do, because I should be writing.  I still have a big stack of books that I need to read, but I can’t read, because I should be writing.  I’ve barely touched my puzzle books, because I should be writing.  What that actually means is that I end up watching Twitch and browsing too much stupid stuff on the Internet, because those are lower commitment, but wasting more time than I would if I allowed myself the other things.  Ugh.
  • have been watching a bit of TV, though.  I finished up Orange is the New Black, and intentionally haven’t added another drama to the list.  I also haven’t watched Sabrina past the fourth episode.  Mostly I watch a single episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Last Man on Earth each day, plus The Good Place on Hulu the day after it airs on TV.  That feels like little enough to be messing with NaNo.

I need to finish up this novel so I can put books back on the agenda.  I’m going to aim to do that over the next week, but we’ll see if that happens.

Dull the blade, busy the city

I’m afraid I won’t be sharing Sharp,

I started it on the first, as I almost always do.  The writing was in a heightened literary style, which made it extremely slow going, and after a few paragraphs I realized that it just wasn’t going to work.  I re-read them, and they came off as juvenile, a kid trying on their parents’ clothes rather than something worth reading.

(Side note: I should have known better.  My attempted Banksian novel several years back had the same problem, although I found that tone a lot easier to imitate than the one I was attempting with Sharp.

On the second I rewrote the few paragraphs I had written in my own style, and it seemed a whole lot smoother.  I finished off the first chapter, happy to have found a bit of a groove.

That died on the third.  I’m not sure what it is; maybe Sharp

On the fourth, I decided to start all over with a different story, one that had been tickling the back of my brain for a while.  And I wrote over 3000 words with almost no effort, and another two thousand and change yesterday.

Ex Urbes is not good; it’s full of infodumps and sidelines that go nowhere.  But it’s easy to write.  I won’t be sharing it either–because it’s terrible–but I’m also no longer worried about NaNo.  Disappointed, sure, because I still really like the core idea behind Sharp and was looking forward to sharing it… but c’est la vie.

Anyhow, sorry to those of you who were wanting to read along.  Next year, perhaps.

Weekly status update [0039/????]

Oh, hey, it’s November.  Gulp.

  • I kept reading aggressively through November 1st.  I wrote about The Orphan Master’s Son here; it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.  I also knocked out another Christopher Priest novel, The Separation.  I still like him, but I feel that he really basically writes the same novel over and over again.  Each one has begun to feel a little too same-y compared to the rest.  Timothy Zahn’s Spinneret was the last book I read; I finished it on the morning of the 1st.  Some of you may recognize his name from the Thrawn trilogy of Star Wars novels that really kicked off the Extended Universe back in the ’90s.  Spinneret was fine, if slight.  I’m taking at least a brief hiatus, even though I still have way too many books sitting on my sofa to read.
  • November started, which means NaNoWriMo started as well.  I began writing Sharp on the evening of November 1st, and after getting ~300 words into it I stopped.  The literary style I was affecting simply wasn’t working.  I should have known better, honestly; the last time I copped a style that wasn’t my own, it was for a Banksian pastiche, and I had similar troubles putting words to page at any reasonable rate.  This time, though, the words weren’t just slow.  They were awful, as I discovered when I reread it.  So: I tossed it and started over today.  I’m a little over 1500 words in now, and those words came at roughly 6-10x the rate of the original 300, so that’s good at least.  I’m not sure yet if the story is any good, though.  I’ll keep you posted.
  • The first of November was also the first day of open enrollment for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (AKA “Obamacare”).  I had to finish on the phone, because COBRA is complicated, but the end result is that I should have insurance next year… and it should be free.  That was a surprising discovery, but it’s because I make a lot less money now that I’m retired.  On the one hand, it feels kinda weird and wrong that there isn’t means testing to go along with raw income.  On the other hand, government stuff like this never, ever breaks in my favor… so I’ll take it.  I’ve still got to contact my COBRA coverage company and get it to terminate on December 31st, but that can wait until I get at least the beginning paperwork for the ACA stuff.
  • Let’s just say the diet didn’t hold and leave it at that.  I’ll try harder this coming week.
  • I’ve been trying to actually stay on top of TV for once.  Last Man on Earth and Brooklyn Nine-Nine continue; I’m in the last season of LMoE.  I just finished season 2 of Luke Cage tonight (it was fine but not great) and am close to finishing season 6 of Orange is the New Black.  I started watching The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Hallowe’en, for obvious reasons, and that’ll take the place of Luke Cage for the time being.  It’s cheesy but fun.
  • Boy, this was a down month for the stock market.  And there’s likely more on the way.  Those numbers used to be a lot more hypothetical in terms of affecting my continued financial health than they are now.  Gulp.

I’m gonna keep cracking on this novel for the next few days, at least, to see if it’s got legs.  If so, I’ll try to assess whether the writing is worth sharing or not.  If it is, well, I’ll be linking it here, which should provide something a bit different to read, horse story notwithstanding. 

Weekly status update [0038/????]

As promised (and expected), a comparatively peaceful week.

  • I read eight or nine more novels in the pre-NaNo rush.  Five of them were The Long Earth and its sequels, a collaborative effort by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter.  They were… fine, I guess?  The setting was neat, but none of the books really had a plot, per se, other than the fourth.  Mostly they were picaresques.  Easy reads, though.  Bruce Sterling’s Islands in the Net was much more interesting, a pretty obvious reaction to the typical cyberpunk stories that the man had popularized with his Mirrorshades compilation.  I’m currently in the third (of four) “Okie” novels by James Blish.  The compilation sorts them chronologically rather than in publication order, and it shows; this third one was the first written, and feels a lot rougher than the others, in the weird sort of way ’50s sf often does: absolutely crazy stuff happens (like sending a planet out of the galactic plane as if it’s no big deal), and the book treats it as a fait accompli.  It’s weird, but a nice change from the headier modern stuff I’ve been reading otherwise, so I’ll finish it up in the next day or two.
  • That said, I’m still going to have a ton of books left on my sofa at the start of NaNoWriMo, only four days away now, which means I’ll have to keep reading throughout the month.  It’ll be less of a problem than usual, I guess, since I don’t also have a job sucking up the oxygen (and time), but it’s going to be something of a first for me.
  • Speaking of NaNo, I’ve spent a lot more time thinking about my upcoming novel, including thoughts about how it’s likely to end.  I think I have a pretty workable (if very rough) outline of the main body in my head.  That sort of thing often changes with the writing, and I’ll definitely let it if it needs to, but it’s a good start.
  • As part of the prep work for said upcoming novel, I had to look into the modern state-of-the-art for Google Web Fonts.  (You’ll see why… hopefully.)  I think I’ll be able to do what I need to do with a minimum of pain, although I’ll have to write a custom text-to-HTML translator for this novel so it’ll look right.  I’m… actually kinda looking forward to that?
  • Still watching a bit of TV.  I manage an episode of Last Man on Earth and Brooklyn Nine-Nine most days, and Luke Cage and Orange is the New Black every other day or so.  I’m looking forward to finishing both of the latter shows, mainly because I want to bump The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina up on the queue for timeliness/thematic reasons.
  • Other than my usual free-to-play gaming, I’ve put quite a bit of time into video pinball in the last week or two.  Pinball FX3 has the Williams licenses now, and those tables have been fun to mess around on, but I’ve mainly been grinding Sorcerer’s Lair, which I still think is the best table Zen’s ever made.  I find it really strange that it’s their free-to-play table, particularly given how many hundreds of dollars I’ve sunk into all the other ones… but that’s fine.  It was interesting watching a Twitch streamer play the table for the first time, having the same dawning sense that I did many years ago of “oh, there is actually something to this whole pinball thing!”  Yes.  Yes, there is.
  • The diet’s been pretty much derailed for the last couple of weeks, at first due to the visit and then later because it’s always easier to say “tomorrow” than it is to actually buckle down and do the right thing.  I’m typing this up as a bit of public self-shaming to, you know, buckle down and do the right thing.
  • On a meta note, the new Gutenberg editor for WordPress is horribly buggy; it tends to eat anything after italics in a bullet point unless you do some stupid shenanigans, as one example that I had to deal with several times while writing this update.  I may go back to the classic editor for a while until they fix more of the bugs.

In the middle of next week begins the month-long adventure of NaNoWriMo, which will be… interesting, for sure.  I look forward to it with no small amount of trepidation every year (and wrote about it earlier this week), but I do look forward to it.  I don’t know how it’ll mess with my posting schedule here, though.  We’ll find out together, I guess!

(Also, Gutenberg ate the last couple of sentences of this post three times because of that stupid italics bug.  Ugh.  Back to the classic editor I go.)

Certainly not showing

NaNoWriMo approaches, and I grow more and more apprehensive with each passing day.

I’ve been doing NaNo ever since 2004; see this earlier post for a breakdown of what I’ve written over the years, but basically it amounts to a novel a year, two each in 2005 and 2006, and failure in 2012 when I was getting ready to move cross-country for a job.

As time goes on, the actual act of writing has gotten easier, which isn’t too surprising.  What hasn’t gotten easier is writing something good, something worth reading.  NaNo operates under a tight time constraint, so my default response when the first story I try to write in November starts to stumble is to write something else, something easier, something that I know I can bang out over a week or two.

It’s, inevitably, garbage.

In the past I’ve had the excuse of, well, life. I had a full-time job.  November is never exactly a calm month with the holidays approaching.  There were other distractions, other events, that made taking the easy way feel less like a cop-out and more like a reasonable coping mechanism.  It’s either garbage or I don’t write anything

This year is different, though.  The excuses are much more evidently just that: excuses.  I’m not going anywhere next month.  I don’t have a job to distract me.

If I fail, I have no one to blame but myself.

It doesn’t help that I’m actually excited about this particular story idea, in a way that I haven’t been since I wrote Rewind

The readership of this blog is tiny but non-zero, and I feel some level of obligation to that readership, an obligation to provide something interesting to read.  NaNo seems like it could be an excellent source of that material… but it could also be an excellent way to watch my attempt crash and burn.

It’s not that I’m worried that I can’t pump out 50,000 words over the course of the month.  It’s that, this year unlike all the previous ones, I feel it’s important that those 50,000+ words actually be somewhere in the vicinity of good.

So: I worry.

I still plan on sharing the story here, but I’m going to wait until I’m far enough “in” that it doesn’t seem like I’ll be tossing it aside.  That seems like a reasonable compromise, to me, and it’s still no promise that it’ll actually get finished.  Or be any good.  We’ll have to see.

Wish me luck.

Weekly status update [0034/????]

This is another hell of a week, but at least (mostly) not for me?  Thin comfort.

  • The trilogy that started with Ninefox Gambit stayed mostly excellent, although I wasn’t completely enamored with the conclusion.  Still, worth a read.  I also read a bunch of other books too.
  • Other book notes the first: I actually quite liked Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which is apparently Not The In Thing, but whatever.  (I’ll freely admit that its core “schtick” is one I’ve thought a lot about, which alters my judgment.)
  • Other book notes the second: Fortune Smiles is a fantastic short story collection by Adam Johnson.  One of the stories is very dark, but it warns you pretty close to the start, and if you read the book in chronological order you’ll be warned earlier anyhow.  This was another one of those “pick it up at random in the library” books that I almost certainly wouldn’t have ever picked on my own, so: yay library displays!
  • Other book notes the third: I’m in the middle of reading Harlan Ellison’s seminal sf collection Dangerous Visions; I can see how it would have been pretty damn transgressive in the late Sixties, although with the benefit of hindsight it occasionally has a whiff of Trying Too Hard.  Most of the stories are excellent, though, and as a whole it holds up impressively well.  My favorite bit so far isn’t one of the stories at all, but Ellison’s introduction where he tears into the whiny Old Guard and their complaints about how the new sf just isn’t the same as the old.  The fact that it could be taken almost verbatim as a tear-down of the modern “crisis” in sf that, for a while, centered around the whole Sad Puppy/Rabid Puppy/etc. thing is delightful.  Everything old is new again, kids.
  • Despite continuing to read at a rapid pace, I also continue to check out library books at an even more rapid rate.  Half of my couch is covered in them.  I have thirty-five checked out right now, many of them huge tomes full of short stories that will take me forever to finish.  what am I doing
  • We had an extended game night Tuesday.  We played Concordia, one of my favorite games, and I did very poorly, coming in last.  Part of that was an idiotic play on my part in one of the final turns that cost me something like fifteen points.  I acted like a complete jerk at the end, though, so… I’m afraid I’m not a lot better about that whole situation than I was when I wrote about it last.  Ugh.  I’m not happy with myself about that.
  • Finished up Bojack Horseman season 5, which was amazing, and Jessica Jones season 2, which was… fine… I guess.  Started on Luke Cage season 2 and Orange is the New Black season 5.  I may actually drop that last one, which is veering dangerously close to the sort of “everything is miserable and you get to watch” modern take on TV that I just can’t handle.
  • I weighed myself on Thursday for the first time in, uh, almost a year, I guess?  I’m at 271 pounds; my best guess for how much I weighed when I started on this diet in late April is somewhere between 330 and 360 pounds, so I’ve lost something in the 60-90 pound range over a bit more than five months.  (In case you’re wondering, my goal weight is 180, which is technically overweight from a BMI standpoint but is actually on the line where I go from looking healthy to looking less so.)  That’s pretty damn good progress, even though I’ve got a long way to go.  I was also reminded that I should never, ever own a scale.  They ruin my  will with the irregular ups-and-downs.
  • Lots of puzzles, too; I’m finally getting to a point where I’m relatively confident in my Kakuro solving, and I continue to work on several other books and magazines on a one-off basis.
  • No prose, although I did finish up my Guide to the Cardpocalypse series.
  • I also came up with the core idea for my NaNoWriMo novel.  My current plan is to share that here as I write it (although probably not as body text, which would be overwhelming).  We’ll see if I still feel that way come November.
  • Mostly just the usual on the videogame front, although the launch of Hollow Knight on the PS4 made me buy it (again) and play it, since I find that sort of game way more suited to a big TV and recliner than my computer.  If you like Metroidvanias, I strongly recommend it.

Well, that was excessively long, so, uh… until next time!

The little dead

My post late last week on all the lengthy writing I’ve done made me want to look back at the so-called “4K corpses,” the novels I stopped writing at some point during NaNoWriMo, switching gears to something generally trashy but easy to write.  I thought I’d break down those stories and what I remember aboud them, including why I tossed them aside to write something else.

Lion Rampant, High Above (NaNoWriMo 2010; 4,315 words; fantasy): This was the first 4K corpse.  To be honest, I had expected at least one in the 2005-2009 timeframe, but apparently I was a stronger-willed person back then… or I had better ideas.  (Sinner Soldier Seeker Saint definitely implies the former, though, because it’s definitely not the latter.)  It was to be a fantasy novel where nations were on floating islands in an endless sky, and as they moved around they waged war on each other.  As an idea it was all right, but it wanted more plotting than I was willing to give it, particularly given that it was during 1M10 and I was already way, way, way behind on word count.  Enthusiasm–or, at least, the ability to vomit words on the page at high velocity–mattered way more to me than high concept at that point, so Lion Rampant went away and I wrote The Golden Band instead.

Apparently I jumped straight to the trash in 2013, but not before procrastinating at the beginning of the month by making a bunch of typo fixes across six or seven short stories from 1M10.  (Thanks, revision control, for making these investigations easy!)  Was I looking for inspiration or just procrastinating?  Sadly, I can’t remember.

Inclusion (NaNoWriMo 2014; 9,860 words; science fiction): This was the Iain Banks pastiche novel I alluded to in the earlier post.  I reread what there is of it a couple of months ago, and it’s honestly not bad; the real problem is that I didn’t start it until the 17th of November, and it turned out that being even a quarter as witty and clever as Banks on a two-week deadline is rather too much to ask.  It was also even more aggressively a copy of Banks than Second Law is of Egan, but at least in this case that was intentional.

Looking this up led me to realize that I wrote Ridden in less than 72 hours, from late on the 27th until a bit after noon on the 30th.  Unlike The Escapist, though, Ridden just drops dead at 50K rather than having a real conclusion, so I don’t consider it in the same category.  (Also, it’s much worse.)

The Innocent (NaNoWriMo 2017; 1,725 words; science fiction?): This was my attempt to write the “other side” of The Leftovers, a frankly amazing show in HBO, parts of which I’m potentially spoiling by even writing this sentence, so I’ll stop now.  As you can see, I barely got anywhere in it.  Something about the subject matter was just too dark for me last year, so I set it aside after a few days.  I’m unlikely to continue it, either, given the complicated nature its IP would have; although it would be easy to file the serial numbers off, that seems like cheating, and I don’t really have a passion for the story anyway.

Honorable mention goes to One Less Traveled (1M10; 11,511 words; alternate-history road trip/literary fiction), which while not done during NaNo was definitely in the mold of the other corpses.  It had an all right premise, I suppose, but it turns out that this particular picaresque in an alternate history just didn’t do anything for me.  And of course there’s Runaway, which I wrote about at greater length in the previous post.

The first surprise to me is that there were actually less of these corpses than I remember.  What that probably means is that I had other story ideas on some of those years–2013 is a likely one–but didn’t even write a single word of them down before tossing the idea in the trash.  Love in the Time of Data absolutely should have been a 4K corpse, but I toughed it out, and other than the usual “getting all the bad words out” motivation for writing a bunch of words I think I would have been much better off putting that particular novel out of its misery early on.

The second surprise is that while 4K kinda-sorta happens to be close to the actual average length, it’s actually really variable… although with only three real data points I’m not even comfortable making an engineer’s proof about it.  I stuck with Inclusion probably longer than I should have, at least partly due to the impending end of NaNo that year, and I tossed The Innocent out the back of the truck before the month even really started rolling.  I’m not sure there’s anything to learn from that, but it’s interesting to me nonetheless.

And, of course, my hard drive is littered with many other failed attempts at writing, from a couple of chapters long to just the first ten sentences or so.  Such is the life of a writer.  Will any of these aforementioned stories get picked back up and turned into something real?  I doubt it.  But anything’s possible.

Words about words

[Warning: This post is long.  But buried somewhere in here is a link to an actual story I wrote.  I won’t tell you where.  Cue evil laughter!]

I finished rereading the Culture series on my Kindle while I was in Louisiana.  Before I started something new–the Wheel of Time books, which I’ve never read and apparently contain approximately three point seven billion words, because I hate myself–I took a bit of a detour and reread a few of my own stories.

I do this fairly regularly, actually.  Most of my books are relatively short, right at 50,000 words due to the requirements of NaNoWriMo, so they’re a quick reread for me.  And while I’ve never done any serious editing on any of them, I still catch typos and malapropisms and fix those as I go.  (Yes, of course they’re all in revision control systems meant for software, because I am a geek through and through.  Subversion, Bazaar, and finally Git, if you must know, charting my own usage over the last decade and a half.)

Because people have asked me over the years, I thought it’d be worth cataloging all of the major writing I’ve ever done.  If nothing else, it makes this an easy blog post to point back to in the future.  Note that a non-trivial amount of my stuff is “personal”, by which I mean it was written for me and me alone.  The longer works will still be listed here, but don’t bug me about the details.  Demon exorcism is never pretty work.

(Most works have given word counts.  For reference, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is about 46,000 words long, The Catcher in the Rye is 74,000ish, and The Hobbit is around 95,000.  Mumble mumble War & Peace mumble lots more.)


Cycle’s End (ca. 1991; ~20pp.; science fiction/fantasy): I started to consider “that writing thing” when I was eleven, and this was the result, the first twenty or so pages of a singularly awful novel written in a WordStar clone (StarWriter, I think? [Days-later edit: After doing some research, I’m pretty sure it was just a pirated version of WordStar.]) on an IBM XT clone my father bought on the cheap back in ’89 or ’90.  Given the time period, perhaps heinous is a better descriptor.  On the other hand: eh, I was eleven.  Somehow my oldest sister kept a copy of this around for over 15 years and returned it to me, missing the first couple of pages; I “lovingly” transcribed it.  It’s even on the Web, although I won’t be pointing you to it.  It’s bad.  Real bad.  Then again, eleven.

A thirteen-year fallow period ensues, during which maybe I wasn’t really into “that writing thing,” other than a couple of terrible short stories in high school.  I did write a metric crap-ton of semi-professional videogame reviews in this period, but they’re all awful, and non-fiction besides.

Lying in Arcadia (NaNoWriMo 2004; 105,036 words; science fiction): When I decided to really start writing again, hoo boy, did I do it in earnest.  I pooped out a 100,000+ novel in 28 days.  It’s awful; the beginning uses a bunch of dumb words I made up to try to make myself seem smart, and the plot barely holds together, but it’s got a beginning, middle, and end, which is more than I can say for most of my later writing.  Sigh.  Exactly one clever thing came out of this novel, a solution to a near-the-end predicament that I had set up without realizing it 100 pages back.  It’s the sort of thing I figured clever writers went back and inserted into their novels to make them look smart–hiding Chekov’s gun back in the third chapter–but it just happened naturally.  It was a bit of a sea change in my mind as to how much conscious control I really have in this whole writing business.

Sinner Soldier Seeker Saint (NaNoWriMo 2005; 70,046 words; weird fantasy but actually science fiction): Lying was basically completely unplanned.  For S4, I actually did quite a bit of thinking about the setting, the characters, and the plot before November.  The result… was terrible.  The characters are wooden, the writing stilted–6,600 of the words are a glossary of the made-up words scattered throughout the novel like rat turds–and the story unengaging.  I started hating it at about the 40,000 word mark, really loathing it around 55,000 or so, and finished it off as best I could without really resolving anything.  A hot mess that turned me off of preplanning for NaNo for years.

The Escapist (NaNoWriMo 2005; 51,819 words; science fiction): That’s not a typo.  I was super unsatisfied with S4 and my family all disappeared on Thanksgiving evening, my mother and sisters to go shopping at an outlet mall a few states away and my father to a long hunting trip, so I decided I’d write a second novel for NaNoWriMo.  This is a personal one, so no real details, but it’s important for two reasons: it’s followed by Second Law, below, and it’s the single fastest novel I’ve ever written.  I finished that Sunday afternoon, having written over 50,000 words in around 67 hours.  Yes, they included meals and sleep.  No, I am not a robot.  Yes, it’s a much better novel than S4 despite having been vomited onto the page with great force.

The Trees Near Podkamennaya (NaNoWriMo 2006; 43,372 words or 50,047 words, depending; “literary” modern-day “romance”): Having proven that I could write two novels in a month back in 2005, the next year was a time for stuntin’.  I had written what amounted to science fiction my entire life, so I thought: what would be the most different thing possible?  I know!  Semi-literary first-person modern-day romance!

Somehow, it’s… actually okay.  Not great, not awful, but okay.  It’s too short; I finished the story at 43K, so ended up going back and adding framing chapters around the real tale to have it crack the magical 50K for NaNo, but were I to ever publish the novel (I won’t) I’d toss those chapters entirely.  The title is about 75% too clever for itself, which… is in grand lit-fic tradition, I suppose.  But it was nowhere near the disaster I expected it to be, although I hated it at the time.

The Worldbreaker (NaNoWriMo 2006; 53,380 words; gonzo science fantasy): Yeah, another year where I wrote two novels.  Don’t worry, I got over that.  The setting for this came out of a “game” I “invented” which was a bit popular in the NaNoWriMo IRC channel for a bit, a sort of “yes, and” improv jam thing but for setting design.  I decided to actually write a story set in the world of the very first game session.  It’s pretty nuts, and the story ends at what is clearly the Act I break in a three-act play, but it has some clever bits.  I think it’s fundamentally unsalvageable, though, not least because the rights to the novel would be a damn mess thanks to the collaborative nature of having come up with the setting.  Thanks, copyright law!

And the Heavens on Fire (NaNoWriMo 2007; 54,556 words; science fiction): A return to form for 2007.  The novel is basically my own take on the idea of the Great Filter. It’s actually not a bad first act-and-a-half, but it’s got some fundamental structural problems that came from it needing more pre-plotting than I was willing to give my NaNovels at the time.  It’s at third place (of three) in my list of “novels I might actually be willing to rework into something that isn’t total garbage for publication,” henceforth the List.  It’s the first novel of mine that I reread back at my Mom’s house.

Second Law (NaNoWriMo 2008; 50,728 words; hard science fiction): My take on Greg Egan’s brand of hard sf.  This was the second novel I reread back at Mom’s, and I have to say that it’s a little too Egan-y, bordering on “creepy fanfic” territory rather than really staking its own claim.  It’s also missing acts three and four and half of the fifth and final act, which is a problem.  That said, the core of the novel is actually solid, the characters are interesting, and I actually quite like some of the little details scattered throughout.  It’s also a (distant) sequel to The Escapist, which I’d totally elide in a rewrite, since that novel is never, ever going to get published.  It’s in second place on the List.

Invisibles (NaNoWriMo 2009, plus a lot more in 2010; 99,076 words; science fiction): A personal novel.  Trash, but wordy trash…

…because in 2010 I embarked on a crazy journey to write a million words before the end of the year.  I very much didn’t succeed, managing 308,801 by December 31st.  That’s still a hell of a lot of words, but it’s also quite short of the goal.  That said, quite a bit came out of that year.  There were a bunch of random vignettes and short stories, my completion of Invisibles, stuff for a Dungeons and Dragons campaign (yes, I was stretching for things that counted as words), and…

The Organization stories (~15,000 words; modern-day science fiction/horror): I wrote several stories in the same milieu, heavily inspired by the SCP Foundation.  One was about vampires, one about mummies, and one a weird take on Chernobyl.  Like Second Law, they’re probably too close to the original inspiration in their current form, but the mummy story in particular is actually pretty good.

Runaway (15,179 words; science fiction/mystery): This will forever be “the one that got away.”  It’s the first third of a gritty near-future mystery story with aliens where I had the key hook in my head, forgot to write it down, and put the story aside for too long.  I can’t for the life of me remember whodunit, although I do remember how, and am still pretty pleased with that.  I’d like to take another stab at the story, or a different one in the same setting, at some point, as the world I painted in it is still one of my favorites, something very different than anything else I’ve written.  As is, it’ll never be finished.  Sigh.

The Treehouse (32,957 words; historical literary fiction): A personal novel, notable only because it’s a relatively long work I finished outside of the confines of NaNoWriMo.  The only such work, unfortunately.

The Fable of the Little Robot (1,909 words; children’s science fiction): I’ll let this one speak for itself.

The Golden Band (NaNoWriMo 2010; 51,026 words; science fiction): A direct sequel to Invisibles, and equally personal.

I wrote a short story or two in December, but that was the end of 1M10.

Rewind (NaNoWriMo 2011; 36,719 words or some barely-over-50,000 word count; science fiction): Number one on the List, and my return to pre-planning for NaNo six years after S4 soured me on the idea.  I started with a single mental image: a young person standing on a street corner, taking a long drag on a cigarette, and then rewinding time so that they don’t actually get the lung damage.  I spent a lot of time pre-November on the metaphysics of time travel, and I think it shows in the novel.  There’s a lot more going on in the story, but given that it’s the book I actually plan on rewriting for publication in the near future, I don’t want to get into too many details.  Like Trees before it, I finished the story without hitting 50,000, so there’s a lot of filler text that I don’t consider actually part of the story.  Unlike Trees, I actually could add a bunch of stuff to the story before publication to make it the length of a real novel.  We’ll see.

I failed NaNo in 2012, mostly because I was so stressed out about my impending departure from Louisiana and move to North Carolina that I couldn’t concentrate on writing.  I cheated and “won” by transcribing dialog from TV shows I was watching with my Mom until I hit 50K, then revoked my win a day later.  I’m not proud of that.

Darkly (NaNoWriMo 2013; 50,151 words; science fiction), Ridden (NaNoWriMo 2014; 40,757 words plus guff to hit 50K; science fiction): A pair of personal novels.  Neat settings, both, but terrible stories.  Technically Ridden is in the same setting as Invisibles and The Golden Band, but that matters to precisely one person in the universe.

Love in the Time of Data (NaNoWriMo 2015; 50,644 words; modern literary fiction/trainwreck): One thing I’ve elided from this already way-too-long chronology is the littered “4K corpses” of NaNoWriMo.  I often start a given November with a bright idea, write one to five chapters, then absolutely hate it and throw it away.  Many of the personal novels come from those years, when it’s easier to switch over to something just for me than come up with another idea or fight through the misery of that first failed one.  Love in the Time of Data is the result of not letting myself drop yet another 4K corpse in 2015.  It’s a fictionalized account of working in the tech industry, littered with asides that are fictionalized accounts of events in the main character’s life, and you’re reading “fictionalized account” as “thinly veiled version of myself” then give yourself nothing because it’s the obvious conclusion.  It’s awful to the max, but damn it, it’s one less 4K corpse on the NaNoWriMo road.  Never again, though, after this one.  Never again.

Super (NaNoWriMo 2016; 50,355 words; superhero fantasy/romance/humor): I actually really like this one, even though it’s incomplete and needs some heavy reworking.  The core concept is “B-lister superhero has to pick up the slack when all the heavies are out of town”, which has been done before, but I’ve reread Super a couple of times and actually laughed out loud at some of the bits, something no other novel I’ve written can manage.  It has a fundamental publication problem, though, in that the main character’s superpower runs on something that is Not Family Friendly.  If I ever wanted to go the self-publishing route, Super would move up to number one on the List, but as-is it would require a whole lot of rewriting to make it salable.  That puts it at fourth place on the real List, but unfortunately that list only has room for three novels.  Sad trombone.

Tutelage (NaNoWriMo 2017; 50,267 words; science fiction): A personal novel, written after yet another 4K corpse that was going to be my take on a particular story related in the last episode of the TV series The Departed.  Unreadable garbage, both the corpse and the novel.

Phew.  That’s, by an order of magnitude, the longest blog entry I’ve written here so far, but it’s a pretty thorough examination of most of the fiction I’ve produced over my life.  I haven’t asked for reader feedback in ages, and I doubt anyone will actually read this entry all the way through, but if you do: which of the works described here intrigues you the most?  Why?