The reality of irreality

I recently finished reading a very good book, The Moon and the Other.  This isn’t a review; instead, I wanted to point out something it did that I found both interesting and actually a little distracting due to its rarity in science fiction.  Fair warning: very, very mild spoilers ahead.

One of the main viewpoint characters in the novel is a man who was banished from the “Society of Cousins,” a matriarchal society that made me think (at first) that the book was going to be some sort of weird inverse of The Handmaid’s Tale.  The person–another man–who convinced him to do the deed that got them both banished?  He goes by the pseudonym “Tyler Durden.”  (For those of you that don’t immediately recognize that name, it’s a character from Fight Club, played memorably in the movie by Brad Pitt.)

Later, there’s a very minor plot involving a theoretical virus that would have done damage to that self-same society, proposed by Mr. Durden.  The name of the virus?  GROSS.  (If you don’t recognize that, get yourself to a copy of The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, stat.)

Both of these references startled me when I came across them.  That’s because, for most science fiction, the authors work pretty hard at pretending that culture past, say, Mozart or Bach doesn’t really exist.  It’s very rare to see modern things referenced directly in a work.  Obviously I’m excluding borderline-fanfic stuff like Ernest Cline’s novels, which exist as an explicit love letter to ’80s pop culture; I’m talking about otherwise “normal” science fiction.  At most, they’ll occasionally do one of those sets-of-threes things where the first reference is classical, the second modern, and the third fictional, something like:

Genndy sat down at the ancient piano and plinked a few tentative notes, then launched into a whirlwind tour of the canon: Mozart, Joel, Oda-Wheeler.

That’s a made-up example, but you see such things littered across much of science fiction.  Usually the references end there, though.

When a work refers to a real-life thing, it’s often changed in some way; I’m currently in the middle of reading The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., where it’s not the Pentagon but the Trapezoid.  Sometimes that sort of thing works, but given the fact that D.O.D.O. is all about history–and a couple of sentences later it specifically refers to George Washington–this sort of off-brand filtering can be, in its own way, even more distracting than just using the real name.  (On the other hand, given the core conceit of the novel, it’s possible that the building is the Trapezoid for Reasons.  It’s a Neal Stephenson novel, so I might not find that out for another six thousand pages or so.)

Going back to The Moon and the Other, I can kind of get why this sort of thing is rare.  For one, you risk dating the novel; references to Lorena Bobbitt (as a random example I’d never actually use in a story) already risk falling off the comprehensibility cliff, so if you don’t pick your target well you risk making it completely opaque to the reader.  And given my reaction to seeing contemporary references in a modern novel, the smart money may be keeping it all the way back to Mozart.  But I actually think that “Tyler Durden” is the sort of reference that will stay relevant for a surprisingly long time, and while I sadly suspect “GROSS” will age poorly, as kids don’t grow up reading Calvin and Hobbes, it also wasn’t crucial to the plot.

Still, it makes me think how such things apply to my own writing.  In Rewind I explicitly explore a couple of close-to-our-own realities that turn out slightly different, so these types references are actually fairly important to the story, but I also carefully never placed the novel in a specific city or precise time to avoid some of those selfsame issues.  Having read The Moon and the Other, I’m going to be giving even more serious consideration to the real-world references in my own works.  A mild shock is good; pulling a reader out of the fictional world is not.

Weekly status update [0017/????]

I had a couple of conversations yesterday evening about my blog; I was at a social going-away party thing that had a lot of people I hadn’t really talked to since before I retired.  And it made me realize that in some ways, yeah, this blog is exactly the sort of obligation I’m trying not to have this year.  I’m not gonna lie.  Sometimes it’s hard to come up with something even semi-interesting to write about, and I feel that as a sort of weight around my shoulders.  But I also realized that a little obligation, a little “hey, you need to do this at least a couple of times a week” is actually a good thing.  Never mind the practical, useful side of it, the fact that writing here is good de-rusting for whatever future tippy-tappy endeavors I embark on.  A tiny bit of discomfort that results in something that others seem to enjoy?  That’s the best kind of obligation.

  • I don’t think I even cracked a puzzle book once this week.  That might be a first since retirement.
  • It’s because almost all of my time has been spent reading.  After finishing off King’s The Outsider, I immediately put his “crime trilogy” on hold at the local library.  It was a long weekend, so I couldn’t get them until Tuesday, but snag them I did.  I’ve already finished the first two and plan on spending the rest of today reading the third.
  • I got them in large print, too.  It’s nice.  I had already jacked the font size way up on my Kindle back when I read the first Wheel of Time book, and having something much like that in a physical volume is handy.  Unfortunately not a lot of my favorite genre (science fiction) gets large-print editions, so I’ll have to enjoy this luxury while I can.
  • I didn’t really watch TV either.  I did play some video games, but it’s mostly the usual free-to-play suspects.
  • Keto’s going well.  I still haven’t weighed myself, but I had the most important signifier Friday morning: the shorts I had been wearing off and on the last few weeks were loose enough I had to hitch them up repeatedly at Walmart.  Woo!
  • I saw Deadpool 2 with some good friends from work last Saturday.  It was… exactly what I wanted out of Deadpool 2.  If you saw the first, and thought of it as “a comic book movie cranked to 11,” then Deadpool 2 was the same thing cranked to 13 or 14.
  • No further movement on the “getting rid of boardgames” front to report.
  • Dove deep into reading about modern abstract boardgames again, which happens every six months or so.  The result this time was some code changes to Giles to make one particular game more flexible.  The desire to implement a whole new game or two has mostly passed, unfortunately, but even this little bit of programming felt good.
  • Still no actual prose on a page, although stuff is aggressively percolating.  Soon.  Soon.

Soon.  (Man.  That doesn’t even look like a word to me now.)

Weekly status update [0016/????]

An even quieter week than usual, which is saying something.

  • My wrists are behaving better than they have in months.  I got new braces to wear overnight, as the old ones were literally falling apart, and I haven’t been wearing them during the day at all for the last several days.  So far so good.
  • Jessica Jones‘ second season has so far failed to grab me the way the first did, which is disappointing.  I’m still going to finish it up, but after the amazing Kilgrave arc, this is something of a letdown.  Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Last Man on Earth continue to be excellent viewing material, thankfully.
  • I got to play Transatlantic at an extended game night this past Tuesday.  It was a very solid game, if not quite up to Concordia‘s level of brilliance, and I found myself thinking about it again repeatedly over the last several days.  I want to write a post about Mac Gerdts’ designs and why I find them so compelling, but I haven’t been able to arrange my thoughts in a way that I like enough to post.
  • I still haven’t started on Rewind rewrites, but I got some excellent feedback on the zeroth draft from a friend that pushed me ever closer to getting started on them.  It’s going to take a lot of work; the story needs to be roughly twice as long, at a minimum, and there’s a lot of guff that needs to be removed and plot threads that need to be woven more tightly.  I will probably have to break down and actually do some outlining to make sure it all fits together the way I want, something I’ve avoided… well, forever, actually.  Sigh.  But it’s for the good of the story, I know.
  • I finished reading Scott Westerfeld’s Afterworlds, which was fine, if slight.  Mostly it made me wish I was rereading his Pretties series, or Leviathan (which, no joke, I got through two of the three books to finally realize that I had already read the damn series… but I was too into it to put it aside, and finished out the re-read.)  I managed to be the first person in line at the local library for the new Stephen King novel, so I look forward to reading that next; my understanding is that it’s something of a return to form for him.  I’ll report back.

The new CHVRCHES album came out today; I’ve already spun it a few times and quite enjoyed it.  Don’t be surprised if you see a review of… well, probably not it, but perhaps one or both of their earlier albums soon.

Anyhow: quiet.  Not boring, of course–you know that by now!–but not busy.  And that’s fine.

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.

Weekly status update [0012/????]

It was a very split week, with Saturday and Sunday in Arkansas, Monday a grueling haul across a third of the continental United States, and most of the rest of the week recovering from said haul back in the comfort of my home.  That said, there’s some things worth bulletizing, so let’s do that.

  • The writeup on all the major writing I’ve done hasn’t had any responses, which is sad, but it refreshed my knowledge on all of that stuff, which was nice.  Still a lot of garbage, though.
  • I’ve watched a lot of Brooklyn Nine-Nine this week.  Too much, to be honest; I binged it for a couple of days, a thing I’m trying not to do any more with TV.  But the show has a lot of episodes, and they’re so popcorn-y, that it’s hard to resist.  I’ve slowed down my consumption rate to just a couple a day now.
  • I finally caught back up on GameNight!, unquestionably my favorite YouTube show about board games.  I’m actually bringing CrossTalk to a thing tomorrow, along with a deck of 11 nimmt! cards we can use to play The Mind, which looks absurd and amazing.
  • I haven’t talked about Colemak in a while.  I’m still using it exclusively, except for once a week or so when a password gets dangerously close to failing out due to my typos.  I haven’t cracked much more than 65wpm, but I also haven’t been pushing myself to type faster, either, thanks to the whole Wrist Situation.  I should work on it more, though.
  • Speaking of which, my wrists are much better behaved than they have been in ages.  I actually spent most of today without them on, even typing some, with no discomfort.  I wear the braces a lot now, and I think they’ve helped a ton.  I may be able to roll back down to just wearing them to sleep.
  • Did lots of puzzles, mostly sudoku, as I’m getting near the end of another book I’ve been working on for years.
  • Not a lot of reading, though.  I haven’t picked my Kindle back up since the end of the trip.  I need to keep on with The Wheel of Time before it all slips out of my head.  The size of that series is intimidating as hell, though.

The long trip was the perfect combination of “great to go, great to come back,” and I suspect I won’t be doing any serious travel again until the holidays, although you never know.  Nice thing about retirement: if I decide to head off and drive around for a week or two, I can do that.  Nice.

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?

Butterfly in my eye

I just finished reading the first book of my retirement, Version Control by Dexter Palmer.  It was complicated.  Very good, but complicated, a mix of literary and science fiction that took me a while to find the rhythm of; once I did, though, it made me stay up until 2am last night and then power through the rest today.

I don’t read nearly as much as I used to, though.

One reason is that I actually find it physically difficult; since I’ve developed allergies, my eyes water a lot, and extended reading sessions are a sure way to have me weeping constantly.  I put up with it when the reading’s good, but if it’s merely “okay” it’s easy to make excuses and just do something else that won’t entail me wiping my eyes every few minutes.

Another is a sort of cyclical issue that I find myself dealing with at almost all times.  Biorhythms are complete and total nonsense, but I find that my tastes for “things what I do with leisure time” follow these sort of boom-bust cycles that last days, weeks, or months.  I’ll go three months without turning my PS4 on, then (like right now) find myself having to sleep with wrist braces because I’m spending so much time playing vidja.  I won’t touch a puzzle book for a few weeks, then power through half of one in three days.  And I’ve been in a long, long drought of can-be-arsed energy when it comes to reading fiction, particularly novels I haven’t read already.

That distinction is important.  Right now I really, really want to reread the entire Culture series by Iain Banks for the… fourth? fifth? time, even though there’s a stack of unread novels sitting on my kitchen island.  The only reason Version Control happened is because it’s a library book and I already had to renew it once.  Now that I finished it, I may allow myself to dive back into that world of dry wit and unparalleled futuristic utopia as a bit of an escape.  But it’ll only take me a couple of weeks to reread all nine books, and then I’ll be right back where I started.

I wonder if it’s at least partly a move away from passive entertainment.  I don’t watch many movies or TV shows either, and limit myself to a single episode per day even when I’m in the middle of an excellent show, like The Expanse right now or Altered Carbon a couple of weeks ago.  Reading is more pleasurable, the mindscape always more powerful and expressive than a moving picture, but it’s still linear consumption of someone else’s work.

I’m not sure.  What I do know is that I want to write more, and to write well I need to read more, even if that means upsetting my own… mediarhythms, let’s say.  We’ll see if forcibly pushing myself out of that lack of desire works, or if it just makes things worse.


Apparently I really hate myself, because late last night I switched my keyboard to Colemak.

For those of you who are not keyboard layout nerds, first: how dare you? Second, it’s a remapping of the standard QWERTY layout to this:

Same same, but different, but still same.

I taught myself to type when I was six, with the help of MasterType; I didn’t take a formal typing class until middle school, on old electric Smith Coronas.  The teacher promised me I would type faster “home row” style by the end of the semester than I did my own way at the start.  She was right, but I incorporated a lot of the lessons from the class into my own idiosyncratic style, and I typed even faster that way.

Nowadays I manage somewhere around 120 words per minute on a good keyboard.  By comparison, what I’ve written here so far has taken me roughly 30 minutes, for a blazing rate of 5 words per minute.  That’s a dramatic improvement over the 2-3 I managed last night.

So: why?

I have bad wrists, and extended typing sessions can become genuinely painful for me.  Colemak dramatically reduces the amount your hands need to move for the vast majority of words; I feel my large movements on the keyboard have been reduced by upwards of 90%.  (Also, they now more resemble a sloth in molasses rather than the previous hummingbird on speed.)

Colemak is also much better for programming than the more common and more famous Dvorak; as someone who at least aspires to get back to leisure coding, that’s pretty vital.

And if I’m going to do this, I need to start now; NaNoWriMo is only eight and a half months away.  I’ve got to be able to actually fit 1667 words into 24 hours by then or it will be literally impossible.

And thus.  I have a mechanical keyboard but I’m intentionally not switching the keys; I haven’t needed to look at them since I was six and I’m not starting now.  I have the image above permanently on my desktop but I haven’t looked at it once while typing this.  I’m doing this for real.  The hard way.

(And I managed to type this last half in 20 minutes, for a rate of 9wpm.  Slow, steady, oh my Deity so slow progress.)

Sunday edit: I’m up to about 15wpm now.  Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Cats of as the key catalyst on finally committing to switching to Colemak, something I’ve been waffling on for years.  Check out her stream if you’re into old video games played well in a friendly atmosphere.  Thanks, Cats!

Weekly status update [0002/????]

This week was quite a bit quieter than last week, which was already pretty mellow.  Those of you expecting a ton of slice-of-life updates in this blog’s future are going to be pretty disappointed.  Unless you really want to read about me solving puzzles, playing Let It Die, watching some Netflix and the occasional videogame stream on Twitch, and going to bed.  There, congratulations, that’s the slice-of-life for the past two weeks, all in one paragraph!


I already wrote a post about signing up for COBRA, which was the biggest thing I did all week.  Other than that, I:

  • Opened up Giles’ source code, thinking about doing some leisure coding on it, and went “nope”;
  • Thought about cleaning up one of my old short stories for posting here, and went “nope”;
  • Thought about getting my tires replaced on my car, and went “nope”.

I think I’ll want to do all of those things sooner rather than later, but for the time being I’m honestly loving the low-involvement lifestyle and I’d be lying if I said otherwise.

do sorely miss playing board games every day at lunch.  I love board games and I don’t get to play them anywhere near as frequently now, which makes me sad.  If any of you readers would be up for some Tabletop Simulator, or Giles, just let me know.  I’m available, uh, whenever, I guess.

Still not bored, though, and in no danger of becoming so.  That’s important, because if everything goes according to plan, that week counter is going to go into quadruple digits.

Finding a voice over the years

I’ve been participating in National Novel Writing Month since 2004.  My only failure was 2012, when I was too stressed out about my impending move across half the country for the job I just retired from, and in 2005 and 2006 I wrote two novels in November rather than just the one.  So: I have fifteen novels under my belt, never mind the short stories and vignettes and the like I’ve also written over the years.

What I don’t have–or didn’t, for quite a long time–was a consistent voice.  It became obvious to me early on that if I read too much in October, I’d end up writing novels that read a whole lot like what I imagine The Asylum’s take on those authors would be if they published novels instead of movies: low-budget knockoffs that mainly make you wish you were just watching the real thing.  So I stopped reading novels a month or so before most Novembers in an attempt to keep myself from just aping the authors I like.  (My one explicit attempt to do such aping was the year that Iain Banks died; I reread the entire Culture series in October and set out to write an explicit pastiche.  I failed miserably.  Turns out that Banks’ voice is pretty unique, funny and sharp and clever all at the same time, and copying that is really really hard, particularly when you only have thirty days to do so.  Who knew.)

And, at least in recent years, I’ve found that I do have a voice.  It’s not particularly strong yet; I think that its development is definitely hampered by the fact that almost all of my writing is done under the severe time constraints of NaNoWriMo, and so I value vomiting as many words as possible onto the page at the highest speed over clever writing for the ages, assuming that’s even something I’m capable of.  But despite that high-pressure high-velocity environment, something of my character still shines through.

Perhaps some day I’ll even have some examples worth sharing to make my point.

It’ll be interesting to see, first, whether I’m actually capable of sustained writing without time constraints; back in 2010 I challenged myself to write a million words over the course of the year, and only managed a little over 300,000, but that was just a much longer constraint.  Now, well… I’m not entirely sure.  Will I need to set artificial deadlines for myself?  The advantage for someone like me of being a published author is that your publisher and editor set those deadlines for you, given that they generally want to see the work they paid for before the heat death of the Universe, but I have no such constraints.

And if you’re wondering: hey, Phil, is this longish meta-post about writing just another way for you to procrastinate when it comes to actually working on your fiction? then, uh, go bake a batch of cookies and then give yourself one.  And send me the rest.  A writer’s gotta have fuel, after all.