red fire monkey

A few months ago, I listened to Hal Elrod’s appearance on the Self-Publishing Podcast. His schtick is the “Miracle Morning,” six practices to do before you start your day: meditate, say affirmations, visualize the day, do a bit of exercise, read, write. Whether something that fussy is really a net win, I leave to wiser heads, but it made me think that a brief semi-regular introspection (in the “write” category) might do some good. So.

The new year finds me and Shin-Yi both between jobs and a bit burned out, with many fixed expenses and no immediate prospects. I’m half-sanguine about this in ways that feel vaguely unhealthy: Like, sanguine enough not to hammer hard on the job search, but not sanguine enough to tamp down the gnawing anxiety. Then again, if I weren’t pretty far along in interviews for a couple of opportunities, I’d be hammering harder; and, honestly, a bit of a break after two straight weeks of rainy days with kids isn’t the worst thing. I saw THE FORCE AWAKENS at 10:30 am yesterday. It was a good use of my time.

The year of the monkey comes in 33 days, just under a week before my birthday; January 1 having been found wanting, I’m looking ahead to that date for a reset. For nearly my entire childhood, I thought I was a monkey, until some heart-stabbing scumfuck informed me that Chinese New Year had come literally the day after my birthday that year. Instead of a Metal Monkey, I was an Earth Sheep. I’m only beginning to process the trauma, really.

But Google tells me that February 8, 2016 will usher in the year of the Red Fire Monkey. This is exactly what is called for, in my view. Let us all be Red Fire Monkeys this year, America! Let us set some shit on fire and hoot in triumph from the trees! Let us drive mediocrity from us with clods of flaming dung and great fulminating gouts of napalm semen!

… if you don’t hear from me for a bit, it’ll be because Donald Trump has hired me as his PR manager. Take care.

#murderyourdarlings

From (or rather, not from) the WIP:

And what I’m here to tell you is, I now represent interests who desperately need someone to do what you do. So what I want to know is, how good are you at what you do?”

“Depends what I do. Sucking dick? Below average. Insufficiently attentive to partner’s needs. Video games? Adequate. Reliably ganks n00bs, surprisingly effective Zerg rush. Karaoke? Green Lantern Corps, motherfucker.”

“At salting, dickface.”

“Almost as good as I am at karaoke.”

Norm Flemington smiled. “Pray you’re better.”

“You’ve never heard me reinvent ‘November Rain.’”

Whether or not this really deserves to be a “darling,” it is to me. Not only because I like the exchange, but because I had plans for “November Rain.” The interlocutors here are former lovers, so the lyrics fit. The idea was, Norm (who asks “how good are you?”) has actually heard Kris sing “November Rain” in karaoke, Kris was just too drunk to remember. Norm was going to end up having a snatch of it as a ringtone, hinting at a torch he still carries. The story is about the possibility of an alien invasion, so the repetition of “You’re not the only one” in the song is suitably ominous.

But I’m targeting the thing for TERRAFORM — 2000 words, and I’m already 700+ over. The initial question just doesn’t make sense; they’re lovers, they’re industrial opponents, Norm already knows the answer. And as much as I like the snappy little list starting with “Depends what I do,” it doesn’t sound like human dialogue.

So. Murdered, for now. But “darlings” have a way of rising from the dead…

The Book of Yvaine

In the featured image for this post, you’ll see a set of nine “story cubes” — dice with pictures on them. My daughter, Una, chose this set of nine and asked me to tell her a story. Because I cannot write short fiction, this is what came out of it.

Once, in the middle of a very flat field that stretched in all directions as far as the eye could see, there was a house. It was a farmhouse, and a farmer and his wife lived alone there with the animals you would expect: A strong draft horse for plowing, cows for milk and meat, chickens to follow the cows and eat the insects that ate the cow pats, pigs for pork and conversation, sheep for wool and goats for eating the weeds that the sheep wouldn’t eat.

To the north of the house, just out of sight if you looked out through the kitchen window, there was a clear, cold stream in a stone bed; and over the stream there was a bridge built from the stones of the stream. If you walked north from the farmhouse and crossed the bridge, in the distance, you would see the edge of the forest; and at the very edge of the forest, straight north from the bridge, there grew a perfect white flower. The stalk was the height of a child of perhaps seven or eight, and stalk, sepals, petals, pistils, stamens, and pollen were all the same perfect white. But if you leaned and put your eyes directly up to the flower, so that your nose was nearly touching it, you could look into the bower of the petals and see a tiny red flame, burning like a candle. No one on the entire earth knew about this flower except the farmer and his wife — not even their children, who had grown up and left the farm long ago, for although they had seen the flower and marveled at it in their time, their memories of it had faded when their feet no longer trod the soil of the farm.

One day, when the farmer was in the field and his wife was straightening a shoe for the horse, a strange thing happened in the sky to the north of the farm. They had lost count of the rainbows they had seen, to the north and otherwise, crisp arcs of color that embraced the fields with colors as bright as a king’s robes after a storm. But there had been no storm, and this was no ordinary rainbow; from a clear blue sky it had come, and instead of rising from the earth to touch the sky and descending again to take root in the earth, it dipped from the sky to loom over the earth, then rose back up into the sky; and instead of the lively bands of a normal rainbow, its colors were muddy shades of grey that bled unpredictably into one another. When the farmer’s wife saw this ugly presence in the sky, the horseshoe fell unstraightened from her hands, for she — and she alone, not even her husband — knew what an inverted rainbow portended. A normal rainbow comes after a storm, you see; and an inverted rainbow, the farmer’s wife knew, means that a storm is yet to come.

The horseshoe fell from her hands, as we have said, and she stomped down the weed-lined dirt paths to find her husband harvesting the wheat, which he would grind at the little mill on the stream and send half of to the city (the other half he would store in a brace of great glass jars, which would keep it dry and clean for winter baking). She stomped past the pumpkins big as pigs, and the shy onions that would make a hardened general weep, not merely with pain, but with true sorrow, if he cut them (but would spare the eyes of any girl-child’s mother, for the mother of a girl is a friend to pain until the day of her last breath), and the goats eating weeds that would make a dragon’s mouth swell and bleed, and she said “Husband,” (she always called him “Husband”), “harvest what you can so you’re in the cottage within the hour, and lock the door.”

He looked north, where her eyes had wandered, and began to laugh, and had he not looked into his wife’s eyes he would have said these words: “Wife,” (he rarely called her “wife,” but was accustomed to use her given name, Yvaine), “cease your jumping at shadows. That is not the first strangeness we have seen in the sky over the white flower, nor the first you have noted with concern, and no ill has come to the farm yet.” But he did look in her eyes, and the words died on his lips, and he nodded without speaking.

She thanked him, using his name (history has forgotten it), and began the trek back to the farmhouse, where she would collect the needful implements. As she did so, she saw that the strange light of the rainbow had given her a second shadow. The first, small beneath the noonday sun, was a farmer’s wife’s shadow: A shadow of a blouse, a skirt, of boots made to shrug off the mud, of a bosom and a belly that rambled a long, snarled tale of child-bearing and -rearing.

The second, long and etiolated, pointing straight south: A flat-bellied warrior in plate and mail, with a cap helm protecting her head and a sword strapped to her back.

All that would come soon enough, thought the farmer’s wife, Yvaine. First, it was time to get the animals in the barn, and the husband behind the locked cottage door.

Thunder rumbled to the south. She looked as she walked, her boots leaving inch-deep prints in the firm dirt, and after a few seconds came the lightning, swift and far-off and black.

a love letter

CROSSED GENRES’ April theme:

32: Portals (Submissions: April 1-30. Publication: August 2015)

“…look on every exit being an entrance somewhere else.” Alice’s rabbit hole, Chell’s blue and orange teleports, the T.A.R.D.I.S.’s doors… or a computer monitor, or the pages of a book. A portal can open across time, space, and imagination… and it can be closed to them as well.

There’s a story I’ve been meaning to write to this theme. It’s a follow-on to a novella I wrote on Wattpad last year. As soon as the realization came, so did the ideas, with set pieces to match. An orangutan demon, searching among rows of meditating monks like cabbages, looking for the man he’s supposed to deliver a message; war at the foot of a mountain, prayer-powered mechsuits against high sorcery; a dragon who eats the documents that Heaven has no room for in its file drawers. Two points of view (the two lovers in the letter below), told by two tellers, each with his or her own sympathy, in a frame story, and all of it converging on a girl I barely wrote about in THE EIGHTH KING—but for whom I have big plans, if I ever clear the decks enough to write the sequel.

CROSSED GENRES’ word count maxes out at 6000 words. I cut a point of view from the plan, cut the frame story, began. Two weeks and 3000 words in and Lin Ben isn’t even out of the monastery, isn’t even answering to his real name. Probably I could cut that in half, but it wouldn’t be enough. I have to concede what, in some chamber of my heart, I probably always knew: This is a novella, 20,000 words minimum. To do it right.

And, because it follows a novel that’s in queries and a novella that’s on Wattpad, it’s not a priority. I need to finish the War of Songs books—shit, I need to finish THE CLAIM—or I need to finish THE FLAME BENEATH THE STONE.

But, if I can’t finish the thing because I can’t sell it, at least I can share a bit of it. This is the first time I’ve written a love letter. I think I did all right.

Dearest Ben,

With my heart in such a furor, I feel I ought to profess ignorance of where to begin. But there is only one possible beginning; for, if you throw this letter away in frustration, thinking it some delusion or, worse, a cruel prank, then all I have done to find you again is lost.

My name is Chesa. I grew up in the colonies of Therku, in the cold pine forests where the lumberjacks live. I met you on the way from Rassha to the Summer Palace, around a campfire. We had resolved to visit my father and speak to him of a marriage. At the palace, I fought a monster when you were called away, and I died. After a short interval, I began a new existence as a page of the Court Celestial, where I toil to this day.

I know it is a great deal to ask you to believe. I pray the nature of the being who delivered this message will convince you.

My Ben—if mine you still are—I have spent the years writing letters to you, on whatever spare scraps, with whatever broken or discarded implements, I could cadge or find. I could send you the book of my afterlife, if anyone would deliver it. As it is, I have relied on the indulgence of a demigod who finds me useful, and she tells me a single sheet is all she may slip into the subpoena-serving demon’s freight, lest it take notice of the document’s thickness and inform some more influential functionary. I hope the thought of receiving a summons from the Court Celestial did not fill you with too much dread; but perhaps the dread will prove worthwhile, in the end.

But I have already wasted too much time on salutations. I bid you, Ben, to contemplate the substance that now connects us, the stuff that catches ink in the shape of characters and faithfully conveys them to the faithful correspondent. (Are you faithful, Ben? The question does not gnaw at me as once it might.) These characters, of course, are not the perfect, dire shapes that form a summons from the Gentian Circuit; but there are many such summonses, and more each day, a copy of each remanded to some box in some closet in some hall built from bricks of hardened cloud, bound together with a mortar of ground starlight mixed with new rain. The Gentian Circuit alone must produce tens of thousands of sheets each day, each inscribed with the writing of the greatest spirits, demigods, and beasts on Earth, Hell, or Heaven, each summarizing events of consummate importance and all-permeating consequence.

Keep such things together long enough, and a certain kind of energy begins to collect where they are stored, and eventually to grow, and take on forms. They must be culled and gotten rid of periodically, after their usefulness has passed. Or so this demigod tells me, so she claims. It is a strange claim, but I have seen stranger things transpire in these unending hallways, and I can name no reason that she should wish to deceive me.

The Court’s preferred repository for paper that has passed its usefulness is a creature called the Shoat of the Sky, whose specialty is eating the inedible. It lairs at the summit of the Fragrant Heap, the great peak which looms over the Tanggang mining colonies. The tribute will be made on the first new moon of the coming year, when fireworks and festivities will preoccupy the mortals of the outlying towns.

The feed will begin half an hour after the sun has quit the sky. It will be hours before the last paper enters the Shoat’s gullet.

Do you understand, Ben? A door from earth to heaven will be open on that night. And I will be at the threshold, waiting.

I pray this message reaches you in time. I pray it does not betray its true nature to its carrier. I pray it finds a Ben who cares enough for me to climb a hill and dodge a pig. My prayers defy enumeration. I pray that you can read these words. Did we never speak of books, Ben, in all those weeks? How not?

Well, there is your subpoena. Be timely in answering it, I beg you. The Court Celestial barely runs without you, as any heaven fails without a sun.

Yours,

Chesa

A nobody’s primer on publishing

A friend just finished a draft of a novel (STAR WARS fanfic, for context) (EDITED: Actually original fiction; reading comprehension error) and wanted advice on publishing. I spammed the relevant Facebook thread with this beast, then realized that I might have some followers who might enjoy a highly condensed, ultra-basic take on publishing from someone who hasn’t achieved more than beer-money-level success at it.

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If it’s fanfic, you’ll probably have to give it the ol’ E. L. James treatment if you want to sell it–not billionaires and light bondage (necessarily) but filing off the serial numbers. I’m given to understand that the people responsible for publishing STAR WARS novels tend to know what they want written; they’re not that interested in spec work. Then again, it’s not like I’ve ever submitted a STAR WARS manuscript and actually heard from an editor that they’re not interested in spec work… so do some research if this is the way you want to go.

If you’re interested in traditionally publishing it, the first piece of work is obviously revision. Then you can send it to agents and/or publishers; most people recommend agents, but there are at least a couple of science fiction publishers that will consider unagented manuscripts (Tor and Daw, anyway; possibly others?). The SFWA should have a list of reputable novel publishers; Query Shark has good advice on query letters; Preditors & Editors has a very comprehensive list of agents, and I think Robert J. Sawyer has a list of agents who represent a lot of science fiction, although his list may be out of date (I last looked at it in 2011 and I think it was a little old then) (edit: it appears to have been updated in 2013).

If you want to self-publish it, I highly, highly recommend listening to the Self-Publishing Podcast and the Creative Penn podcast. SPP is entertaining enough that you can pound through the archive in a few months of listening, and it’s worth it; the hosts have made huge progress since they started recording, and looking at their career trajectories (and at the changes in the landscape) is really instructive. The Creative Penn is less entertaining, but Joanna Penn is a bit smarter about things like rights, derivative works, &c, and her guests are pretty different.

The over-under on self-publishing versus traditional is roughly: Traditional publishers will do a lot for you, but it’s hard to get their attention and (reputedly) hard to get them to do much marketing for you, so you’re responsible for getting your books sold, and you need to sell a lot of them because you’re only making 15%. If you self-publish, you’re responsible for creating or contracting everything–the ebook, editing, cover, product description, marketing, everything–but Amazon (and the other platforms: B&N, Apple, Kobo, Google, &c) will pay you 70% of each sale, so you can do well on a lot fewer sales. Charlie Stross has an essay called “Why I don’t self-publish,” and he’s also published an essay by Linda Nagata called “Why I do self-publish”; the compare/contrast may be interesting. Stross also has a series of essays on the publishing industry (I think permalinked on the sidebar of his blog) that are definitely worth the read.

Not that I’ve been thinking about this for a while or anything. Happy to follow up on anything & everything. (That goes for you too, you legion of loyal readers, you.)

the big syringe

You want to look into the nightmarish hellscape of a writer’s mind? 4am, staring at the ceiling and thinking, what was that like? Finding the way into essentially independently inventing modernist drama. Five or six years of experimenting in prose, and then, damn, WAITING FOR GODOT, and you’re off. Even the supposedly minor works – I re-read ALL THAT FALL the other night — are revelatory. (Seriously. If you don’t know that one? Find it and read it. It’s devastating.) And you stare at the ceiling and just think, what would that have been like, to invent a whole goddamn thing? When the clouds barely part in your own mind maybe three or four times in your life, but for those people there are entire days of sunshine where everything is clear? And maybe, just maybe, his body isn’t completely decomposed yet, and you could dig him up and siphon the talent from his bone marrow and inject it into your face with that big syringe you keep in the kitchen for dosing meat with marinades.

Warren Ellis, from his mailing list.

Deer antler velvet

Featured in my spam queue a couple of times. Apparently people use this to get a six-pack? I wouldn’t kick a six-pack out of bed, but this does not seem like the right way. I mean, maybe if you chased the deer down yourself, and tore the antlers off with your bare hands. But spraying yourself with some kind of tincture made from the largely decorative head bones of an animal not renowned for its intelligence in the hopes of becoming more attractive… I don’t know, the whole thing seems like some weird Kline bottle of self-referential meta-comedy. Wikipedia says “Antlers are considered one of the most exaggerated cases of male secondary sexual traits in the animal kingdom, and grow faster than any other mammal bone.” I mean, this is beyond Freud spinning in his grave; this is like Freud had been balefired. Burned out, not only of the future, but the past. Deer antler velvet has rendered him supernumerary throughout the time stream.

This was going to be about writing, or at least I had some idea that it might become about writing. And it is, obviously, in the same sense that it’s about any damn thing worth doing, which is just to say you won’t find the easy button in the stolen headboobs of an innocent animal that never wanted any part of your weird ambition. Or words to that effect.

I queried a novel today, for what it’s worth. Truly I did. I’d better go to bed.

Little steps

And lo, the realm of Jersey was once again overtaken by the Plague, followed close on by the Snow, whereupon the Small Children were Cooped Up and Like to Explode; and out of the House of the Writer there came a great Silence.

We’re digging our way out, though. Little steps. The current program is: 200 words and one for lack of a better word biz-ops thing every night. (This doesn’t count.) Last night’s was grabbing a few more agents to query for THE EIGHTH KING; tonight’s is writing the query. I’m hoping some of the ops stuff will be less time-consuming (e.g., “query one agent”) so I’ll have time to write more. But, for the moment, little steps.

Numbers

A while back, I ran the numbers on writing THE CRESCENDO during NaNoWriMo. A nice exercise, but of course NaNo is one month out of the year; where I really should have been running numbers is the other 11.

I’m proceeding on the assumption of 1000 words/day on weekday mornings, before work, and 200/day every day, before bed. The morning writing gives me 20,000/month; the evening writing adds let’s call it 6000. If those are real rates, then I can finish a 50,000-word War of Songs book in two months, or the projected 150,000-word DANDELION KNIGHT sequel in six. In reality, I probably lose 10-20% of that to random fatigue and logistical stuff–e.g., tomorrow morning I have parent/teacher conferences starting at 8:15, so I lose my 1000 words unless I can get up early, and by early I mean 4:30. So now we’re looking at 9-10 weeks for a War of Songs book, 7-8 months for the TDK sequel.

This also gives me a comparative timeline for the two paths: I can finish the War of Songs trilogy two to two and a half months ahead of the TDK sequel. And, unless I can find ways to boost my word count, it means the choice of what I do next is the choice of what I finish in 2015.

Best not to think about this too hard just yet. What I really need to do is track my word count for a month and get an actual handle on this.

One weird old trick

Wrote close to 1000 words this morning, wrapped a big scene. I’ve been doing the writing longhand because I’m trying to end every evening with 200 words, which means I don’t want to get pulled into the rabbit hole that is the Internet; but that means the bigger chunks get put in the notebook too, because I don’t want to keep switching back and forth. I don’t seem to be materially less productive in terms of words per unit time. I wonder if this is the one weird old trick that will shoot my productivity into the stratosphere. (I fear it’s the one weird old trick that will cause my writing to get lost in a flood or a fire, or just out of common-or-garden carelessness. There’s an older version of THE CLAIM that’s still sitting in longhand in a blue notebook, waiting to be mislaid or destroyed.)

(“One weird kernel trick” courtesy of Daniel Drucker, who is better at machine learning humor than I am.)