Ye Olde Crystal Ball:
Much has been discussed lately about authors who are evidently desperate enough to cross some lines in self-promotion -- the current bruha brewing over self-pubbed author Robert Stanek, whom Ansible e-zine
puts under the microscope with this:
Amazon Mystery. Authors of fantasies on sale at Amazon.com have noticed a rash of oddly similar customer reviews that rubbish their work and instead recommend, say, George R.R.Martin, Robert Jordan, and Robert Stanek. The number of Big Name commendations varies, but not the plug for self-published author Robert Stanek. Who could possibly be posting these reviews (many since removed by Amazon) under a variety of names? It is a mystery, but Ansible is reminded of how Lionel Fanthorpe's pseudonymous sf would often mention those great classic masters of the genre, Verne, Wells and Fanthorpe.
Dirty tricks of the trade aside, a reviewer-turned-author whose "stunning" debut novel made a reasonable splash just a year ago is now taking some lumps as the second/sequel novel has clearly tanked -- and tanked with a vengeance -- before it even gets out on the shelf. Said author (who shall remain nameless) took great pains to spit on romance writers and Christianity in that "stunning" debut, then came to me for a cover quote. Yeah, I know, very bad move. I womanfully resisted the urge to be equally crass and politely refused. Not only because of the slap at my profession and personal beliefs, but because I actually read the book, and saw the hand writing on the genre wall. This stunner had one-shot-wonder written all over it. I'm not happy I was right, because the higher you climb, the longer you have to fall, and no writer wants the embarrassment of a two book career.
Cabbage Soup for the Soul:
I cooked today, I couldn't stand another nuked entree. Roald Dahl would probably throttle me if he heard this, but I have a secret passion for cooked cabbage. Although cabbage is the most despised vegetable on the planet (say "let's have some cabbage soup" to a Brit, then duck) there's nothing else like it. Tough and often strongly-flavored when consumed raw -- which I like in cole slaw -- it doesn't inspire much. But slow-simmer it with some potatoes and carrots and it morphs into this delicate translucent stuff that just warms your soul. If you pay attention and don't boil it to death, cooked cabbage has the most amazing taste and texture, too. My clan tends to smother it in butter and vinegar, but I like it better in soup. Cabbage broth makes a great base for all kinds of other veggie soups, too. Who needs chickens anyway?
To clarify a couple of things I was a bit murky on in the last post:
Why two alarms?
-- I have been known to get up, shut off one alarm, sit back down to write "just a couple more paragraphs" and not emerge until two or three hours later. If I absolutely have to be somewhere and I feel like I'll be sucked in by the work that day, I'll set two alarms.
Working off notes while in the zone
-- I really don't do anything with these unless I need a prompt on names, places, or research while I'm writing. After I finish writing, I'll flip through the outline and notes and mark off what I've gotten done, so they're actually there for the post-zone wrap up. I use notes to prep before I write, and again during the edit phase, after I write.
AKA why there can be no room for self-doubt: my current daily minimum quota is 7,000 words of new material. That means I have to write at least 25 to 35 new manuscript pages per day (although this fluctuates according to contract demands and deadlines.) I usually average about 10K in six hours in the morning, and hack that to pieces for another two to four hours at night. Lately I've been putting in some extra hours to get some on-spec stuff done, but my regular work schedule is eight to ten hours a day, seven days a week, forty-eight weeks a year. I do not
recommend this schedule to anyone as a starter regime; it's brutal, requires total focus, and will probably burn you out in a week. You have to build up to it.
Writer's Trick #2:
One subject that comes up a lot at the think tank and discussions over at Holly's site
is the hands-on portion of the writer's job, from daily quotas and self-discipline to how many projects to work on and when to write, etc. I've talked about writing in the zone before, that mindless selfless "everything else doesn't exist" place I go to when I write that acts like a shield and an engine at the same time (impossible to describe otherwise.) But how do you get there, what happens while you're there, and how do you stay? I'll tell you what I do:
1) Go into the work space and shut down all sensory distractions -- TV, music, noise-producing objects, anything that will jar me out of the zone. Exception: I set a very shrill, piercing alarm clock for the time I have to stop writing. Yes, I really need an alarm. Sometimes two. :)
2) Set up the computer desk -- I work off outlines and notes, so I clip them to my hanging view arm thing (secretary's clipboard, attached to the computer) and put whatever else I need at hand. Usually, a mug of tea, a hair clip, and notepad and pen. I also shut off the phone near the desk and let the one in the kitchen pick up whatever comes in.
3) Sit down, open the work file (make sure the format is set up correctly), and clear the mind. This comes from meditation techniques. While I'm breathing down (slowing respiration, relaxing the muscles, etc.) I let go of everything that concerns me but the work. The computer is just an extension of my hands. Nothing else exists but me and the work.
4) Split screens: I see the computer screen, and I see the loop of the scene I want to write in my head. (I know the scene before I start to write.) I set the mindloop where I want to start -- again, I'm not thinking about anything else. It's me and the work, that's all.
5) Start to write: I type without stopping or correcting. I don't read back over what I write, I keep moving on. I don't think about "how it sounds" or "is this any good." I really don't think much at all. I see the scene in my head, playing out very slowly, detail by detail, line by line, and I write what I see. There is no personality involved, it's almost as if I don't exist. When this works, I can hear my typing getting faster and faster while at the same time, I lose the sense of deliberately typing. It's kind of a trance state.
And that's basically dropping into the zone. Staying there depends on how long you're willing to stay mindless and selfless while you work. And there are physical interruptions, like if Nature Calls or you get thirsty or hungry. And if you have any doubt about what you write, this doesn't work. This is why I can't do that seat-of-your-pants writing stuff some others claim is so great. It would drive me nuts to sit down and not
know what I was going to write.
For anyone who hasn't done this before and wants to try getting into the zone, set a short time period as a trial run at first -- remember that I've been doing this for more than two decades, so you have to work up to my six hour zone immersions -- and try it with a short scene you know really well in your head. And don't fool around with the meditative state -- be serious, really clear your mind before you try. It may not work for you, but it might change the way you write, too. Give it a shot sometime, see how it works.
Arrived yesterday, first copy of Sun Valley, forgot to mention it. The final pb version does not have this orange lettering, btw, they went back to the nice brick red. The tiny little brown things under the trees are horses. Really.
Smack the Author:
Okay, I apologize for not posting the complete novella for Skin Deep
this month at the web site, but I have really, really good excuses (rated PG-13 for language, kids, go watch Teletubbies or something):
1) It was only supposed to be a twenty page story, It's now at sixty pages and still growing.
2) The next forty pages need editing and, thanks to the current workload, that won't happen until next week at the earliest.
3) I didn't like the ending so I hacked it out and threw it away. You would thank me, it truly sucked.
4) Lucian's character is being a pain in the ass. Don't ask, he just is.
5) I can't rush this one. It's too good.
I think you guys will find it's worth the wait. I always come through for you, don't I? So hang in there with me.
Ever see one of those badly-built dams in some third world country that's sprouted a bunch of leaks? The ones that would take a couple hundred grand to fix, but no one has the cash to spare. Then the whole sucker crumbles and some swollen river bursts over the rubble to wipe out a herd of ibyx, four giraffes and a few dozen villages. The UN emergency teams and the Red Cross go in after the muddy rapids receed to mop up the mess, innoculate people and hand out drinking water and bags of rice. Price tag always ends up being a couple of million. Major news anchors refer to it as a "disaster of epic proportions" and a "senseless tragedy." Most folks sit in front of the TV with their beer and microwave popcorn and Thank God they don't live in that part of the world, then switch the channel to catch the latest episode of Survivor or Cops.
Life is like that, and people are just as shaky. I can't sit and watch and be glad it's not me. I have to get in there before the dam breaks and attack it and start plugging up the leaks. And you know what? There are always too many. Nine times out of ten, I can't fix it. And this is what is going to kill me. Not the trying, but the failing. I can't stand it, it eats me up alive. It's why I had to leave medicine and why I can't go back.
Open Heart Surgery:
I had another swerve last night wandering the internet, looking for something to keep me from thinking about how I may be totally screwing up the next three years of my life. If you blog, then you've heard of RageBoy, but I hadn't actually checked him out until 11:19pm last night. Maybe it was the name or the fame that kept me at a distance. Anyway, I read this entry
and sat for a full ten minutes in silence after. Don't read it if you're feeling rocky, he'll rip your chest open, but it's a stunning piece of work. I'm still trying to cope with my reaction, which is as always to run and offer some kind of psychic band-aid or, in this case, a tourniquet. How else do you respond to someone in such pain?
Some Breaking News:
I finally took the dive and joined an author group -- The Signet Ring
-- which is a cooperative site of romance authors writing for Signet/NAL/Onyx. Outside of Pat Rice and Jaclyn Redding, I don't really know anyone except by name and reputation, but it was nice to be invited on board. The group seems to be a great bunch of highly motivated ladies (and one gentleman, too.) Our webmistress has just added a discussion board to the site, so stop by if you want to chat with any of us.
I can't make this a definite announcement yet, as many details still have to be hammered out, but it looks as if I may be staying with Roc. If I do, my SF will make the move to hardcover, with Blade Dancer being the first hc release next year. This is a major step for me, which is why it's taking so long -- this is not something I want to grab and run with, not until I know all the details and exacty how the transition is going to work. I have a post-it note on the computer that says "Agree to Nothing" and I'm sticking to that philosophy for the time being.
The Zen of Sewing:
When other people get upset and have a bad day, most take it out on their significant other, or go out drinking, or do something equally destructive. When I get upset, I paint, or sew. When I have a really bad day, I get out the sewing machine and attack a pile of fabric from my stash. Sewing is very peaceful and calming to begin with, and the hum of the machine and the way the fabric feeds beneath the presser foot seems to help work out all the snarls inside my head. Sewing for me is the ultimate Zen.
Today I was so upset I pieced together a queen-sized crazy quilt from scratch in ten hours. I took little breaks here and there, but my thoughts kept sending me back to the machine. Since she's still home sick from school, Katherine played assistant, pulling pins and snipping threads, and took a few turns running patchwork through the machine. She's already planning her first major solo quilt, so we talked about that while we sorted through fabric. I thought she'd get sick of it, but it's pretty obvious that she's got the stitching gene, too. After the kids went to bed, I took out my silk embroidery thread, and started embellishing the quilt. Silk is so fine and strong it just sings through all the layers of fabric, and the vibrant colors gleam like jewels. I had to stop a few minutes ago when my fingers finally cramped out on me.
I should have written today, but I don't feel guilty. I rarely blow an entire day doing something I like, but when I do it reminds me of how much serenity there is to be found, doing something simple and ordinary. I feel much better now, more focused, and ready to deal with the stress that will inevitably start up again tomorrow.
It's Good to Be the Boss:
J. Craig Venter, formerly president of Celera Genomics, admitted
he was one of the five "anonymous" donors his company used for their landmark map of the human genetic structure two years ago. When asked why he made sure he was one of the donors when the program was supposed to take samples that were completely
anonymous, Venter said, "It seemed inappropriate for me to ask other people to do it and assure them it was totally fine if I wasn't willing to do it myself." It didn't hurt when Venter discovered he has a gene that pre-disposes him to developing heart disease, either -- and he's now taking medication to prevent it. What a lucky break, huh?
Books that Rock:
The best book I read in 2001 was a pre-publication copy of Memory of Fire
by Holly Lisle, which just hit the shelves this week. So now the rest of you can see what I'm talking about, and hate me a little more for getting to read it early. Memory of Fire is the first of Holly's new World Gates books, published by Avon Eos, and it will blow you away -- so don't miss this one.
Careful What You Wish For:
According to my assistant, at least one person who works for NASA is reading this weblog, and my tantrum about Michael Williams and the MPIAT is evidently being forwarded to some powers that be. Which is like a dream come true -- give me ten minutes with NASA administration, any day -- but is also an excellent reminder of how very public our weblogs are. I stand by everything I write, but you may want to consider how you'd feel if you wrote a rant about President Bush, then you get an e-mail from the White House.
Poor Sick Baby:
Katherine is home with a bad head cold, so I'll be off pampering her today. My poor girl, she almost never gets sick, but when she does she gets very quiet, makes no fuss and curls up somewhere. I end up hovering with offerings of gatorade slushies and jell-o while she pats me on the head and tells me to go back to work. Sometimes I wonder just who's the parent around here . . .
Star Lines Quarterly Report:
Yep, the weblog is officially six months old, so it's time once again to look back and see what I've accomplished -- and where I've dropped the ball:
I thought I might get bored or lose interest in the weblog by this point, but it's become part of my daily routine now, just like my handwritten journals. It keeps evolving on me in subtle ways, and I like that. I've made more online friends through blogging, and some of the folks I meet are just amazing people. Linking and graphics are easier, now that I've gotten some practice, and I'm pretty happy with the content. Quotes from Star Lines have appeared a couple of times in various places, but haven't attracted enough attention to make me uneasy about it. I like finding new talent out there on the web and getting the word out to other people.
I could do less ranting, but I've pretty much given up on maintaining a separate weblog for that. You'll just have to tolerate my occasional bad moods. I need to do more links, and update the permanent ones. The blog generates a fair amount of hate e-mail, though why these morons keep reading my stuff if they can't stand it is beyond me. I've gotten several politely-worded "warnings" from different fronts about being so brazen with my opinion, to which I haven't responded. What do you say to people who try to censor you? Gee Whiz, I Didn't Know, Thank You So Much? I'm more likely to say something like "Bite Me," hence the lack of response. My inability to generate enthusiasm over Buffy the Vampire Slayer brought in the most negative responses, but I did reply politely to those -- I really do think I'm simply too old to properly appreciate the show. I'd like to do more entries about writing, and less about people who don't matter to me.
I'll keep Star Lines going, see where it takes me. You're welcome to come along for the ride.
World's Funniest Joke:
Besides the obvious candidates for this category (snort) here's one a reader sent me, evidently rated by some scientists as the funniest joke in the world:
Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are going camping. They pitch their tent under the stars and go to sleep. In the middle of the night Holmes wakes Watson up: "Watson, look up at the stars, and tell me what you deduce."
Watson: "I see millions of stars and even if a few of those have planets, it's quite likely there are some planets like Earth, and if there are a few planets like Earth out there, there might also be life."
Holmes: "Watson, you idiot, somebody's stolen our tent!"
I checked out the article about it here
, and I thought the second runner up was funnier:
A couple of hunters are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn't seem to be breathing. The other whips out his mobile phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps out to the operator: "My friend is dead! What can I do?"
The operator, in a calm soothing voice says: "Just take it easy. First, let's make sure he's dead." There is silence, then a shot is heard. The guy's voice comes back on the line. He says: "OK, now what?"
More news from the wilderness today; Sharon Lee has been elected President of SFWA, beating out Norman Spinrad by a wide margin. Knowing how much fun this job is -- rather like trying to herd starving sharks while you're bleeding out in the water -- I can only cringe in sympathy and add her name to the rosary list. Catherine Asaro won the VP slot, much to no one's amazement. As to how much longer SFWA can keep its doors open, I'd say indefinitely. In a very bizarre way, SFWA does serve a purpose, and whenever there is a massive amount of in-fighting and bickering (which is pretty much constant lately) it allows certain illusions to be maintained. Have you ever seen a cranky old woman who dresses like she's in her twenties and paints her face with those two perfect circles of blush? You know, the one who assumes every attractive man who glances at her wrinkly cleavage should instantly fall in love with her but at the same time, never touch her? That's SFWA in a nutshell.
I do feel sorry for Sharon Lee, though. She's a nice woman. God help her.
Every year I bet with another member of RWA (who shall remain nameless unless she doesn't pay up) on who will win the Neb for best novel, and I just found out I'm fifty bucks richer. I figured Asaro would do it this year. My pal bet on Tim Powers first, but once he was ruled ineligible she backed Connie Willis. I felt confident, though; Willis has enough Nebs to start her own discount shop; Landis is too much of a short-timer; and everyone else doesn't have the power of personal politicking to garner the votes. Plus the near-miss in 1999 kind of clinched it; they always like a winner with history. My ill-gotten gains will be donated to RWA's literacy fund, and I'm allowed to gloat about it for a week, hee hee.