the particular taste of silver

A couple of years back, I had a story do well enough at tor.com that it was hung up in submission for almost a year. Ultimately, the editor sent me some very thoughtful, smart feedback, but rejected the story.

A week or so ago, I got through a few phone interviews and up to an on-site interview at a very cool company in New York City. We’re developing a theme here, so: Rejected.

Just today, I got a reply from an agent who’d asked me for a full manuscript of The Eighth King. It was a hugely complimentary letter, honestly some of the nicest feedback I’ve ever gotten on my writing. But: Rejected.

Everyone makes the best decision they can for their business. I don’t begrudge any of these parties one iota, either for “leading me on” (scare quotes because business ≠ flirtation) in the early going or for taking a pass later. And the almost-success I’ve achieved in those three cases really does help encourage me to keep going, so I’m certainly not here to say that getting rejected with compliments after a lengthy engagement is worse in some plain, objective way than a quick form rejection.

But it does have its own particular flavor. For one thing, you can’t console yourself with “They just didn’t look quite hard enough”; this is my typical psychological self-defense against most query rejections, which are typically form letters or non-responses. When you’re the runner-up, the agent or editor definitely put a lot of time and thought into stacking you up against a very concrete, very Googleable set of competitors and found you wanting. For another, when you have gotten close enough to what everyone acknowledges is a very high bar, you can’t help but wonder about the “real” reason you fell short — if your story or your CV was in fact as badass as the agent or editor or recruiter led you to believe, or if you haven’t in fact given off some emanation of unpleasantness or unreliability that the person in charge of your fate has picked up on.

Let me emphasize that rationally, this is crazy: a very high bar is by definition hard to clear even for very strong contenders, and in the face of close competition, the reasons for rejection are going to start getting a lot less hard-edged, which is typically reflected in vague language in the feedback (although the tor.com feedback had some concrete reasons why the story fell just short — which, though I wouldn’t dream of insisting on, I hugely appreciated). But, you know, I am a pattern-matching ape just like everybody else, and when my brain can’t match a pattern, it’ll create one.

Luckily, I am also an ape that is set in its ways. Wherefore the queries will continue until morale improves. Or that’s the plan.

So this is where I am today. How are you?

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.

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.)

Battery drain

Ha, my first day of “I’m going to check in here daily” and I nearly miss it. I have an excuse; I always have an excuse. One of our cars wouldn’t start this morning. It was at the bottom of the driveway, blocking the one that would start. I think we actually got the kids out earlier than usual, but then I had to get AAA to jump the car so I could drive it to the mechanic &c.

Luckily, the problem appears to have been limited to the battery. As I was standing out in the 2-degree morning, waiting for the tests to finish, Patrick from AAA told me that the cold makes the batteries drain faster. It was an oldish battery anyway, and it got through the single-digit temperatures last winter; the last few weeks probably pushed it over the edge. I don’t think I’ve written more than 200 words a day for the last couple of weeks, so this intelligence comes as something of a ray of hope. Maybe I’m just weak from cold; maybe the spring will bring vitality.

Back to work. Kill the word beast. Even a 200-word word vermin is better game than nothing. (“Kill the word beast” by Molly Crabapple, as always.)