Star Lines
Saturday, July 13, 2002
  Ninra Unveiled:  While cruising the local hobby shop today, I found a puzzle by French cyberealist artist/photographer Chayan Khoï called "Venice Sunset" (you can see a photo of it here) that hit me at just the perfect moment. I've been trying to work on my mental image for the Ninra homeworld, which I want to be part desert, part hanging gardens of Babylon, but with more advanced technology than your run of the mill sand-nomad planet. If I can combine all the elements the way he does his puzzle photos, it might work.  
  Writer Trick #7:  James and I were talking about passage of time in writing the other day, and this is one thing we all wrestle with during the composition stage.  It's very, very tempting to spell out every single minute of what's happening in the novel.  We don't want to lose our readers or cheat them of any information, and it's tough to figure out how to word a transition that takes the reader forward in time.  Here's an example:

Mary spent the next three hours cleaning the attic.  Morning heat rose into the cramped room, making the miserable task even more uncomfortable.  The ugly old dresser, rocking chair and crib were too heavy for her to move by herself, so she'd have to drag John up here to help her.  He could carry out some of these magazines, too -- why his mother had felt compelled to save nineteen years of National Geographic was beyond her.  Once more she felt the resentment of having to give up her pretty little home in the suburbs for this hulking monstrosity.

She left him the house just to get even with me, I swear.  Her ghost is probably watching and laughing her transparent butt off.  Mary eyed the dirty windows, which were so grimy they looked as if they'd been painted black from the inside, then grabbed her spray bottle and paper towels.  Well, I don't give up that easy, you old witch.

Once she'd scrubbed thirty years of dust and dirt from the glass, and swept the last cobweb from the rafters, Mary climbed down the loft ladder and promptly drove a splinter into her right palm.  Swearing under her breath, she trudged down the second floor hall into the guest bathroom and used tweezers to remove the painful sliver, then doused the small wound with hydrogen peroxide from the cabinet.  A painful headache throbbed without sympathy behind her eyes, so she put back the peroxide, took out and opened another bottle, and swallowed a couple of aspirin.  After a few minutes of staring at her pale face in the mirror over the bathroom sink, she heaved a sigh and walked out of the bathroom.  She could hear John downstairs, and followed the sound to the kitchen.

Her husband was at the stove, burning something in a skillet.  "How's it going up there?"

"It sucks."  Mary sat down at the kitchen table, picked up his mug, and drank some of his brew.  It was so weak and sweet she nearly threw up on the spot.  She placed the mug back on the table.  "John, I love you, but this house and your coffee will make me file for divorce."
  Wordcount: 368

This passage isn't bad, but it's riddled with what I call timekeeping writing -- unnecessary description that doesn't move the story along, and really has no impact on the reader other than to track Mary's time and movements.  It needs to be condensed, and how you condense it depends on what you're willing to give up.  The cramped, hot, dirty attic is an interesting place, but nothing really happens there at this point.  I'd save the in-depth description for when something does happen up there.  Mary getting a splinter might be important, if it's going to develop into something more, but there's not much happening in the bathroom right now, either.  And finally, what Mary says to her husband is definitely more important than what she does from the moment she enters the kitchen.

Let's compact it down into a paragraph, without dialogue:

Mary spent the morning working in the hot, cluttered attic.  John would have to deal with the heavy furniture and boxes of old magazines, but at least she got rid of the cobwebs and cleaned the filthy windows.  Resentment made her temper simmer; she knew John's mother had left them this hulking monstrosity of a house to drive her crazy.  Getting a splinter from the loft ladder on the way out didn't improve her mood, and when she found John burning his breakfast in the kitchen, she contemplated divorce.  Wordcount: 89

Or, you can do a transition paragraph with dialogue, like this:

Mary spent hours in the hot, cluttered attic, cleaning the filthy windows and sweeping up cobwebs.  Resentment, a splinter in her hand, and a massive headache stoked her temper, which didn't improve when she found her husband burning his breakfast in the kitchen.

"How's it going up there?"  he asked, handing her a mug.

"Cleaning up all the crap?  Your mother's ghost is probably watching and laughing her ass off."  She sipped the too-weak, sugary brew.  "I love you, John, but this house and your coffee will make me file for divorce."
  Wordcount: 92

Finally, if nothing of importance happens, why not condense it all down to a one-liner and some dialogue:

Hours spent cleaning the hot, cluttered attic, a splinter in her hand and a massive headache sent Mary to the kitchen, where her husband was burning his breakfast.  "I love you, John," she told him, "but this house and your cooking will make me file for divorce."  Wordcount: 47

Or even a no-dialogue one-liner:

Cleaning the hot, cluttered attic and getting a nasty splinter made Mary's head pound, but seeing her husband burning his breakfast made her contemplate divorce.  Wordcount: 25

Note: I've added a wordcount to each of the examples, for you folks who obsess over that kind of thing, but that's not important. Moving the story along without putting your reader to sleep is. :) Also, if you think Mary's feelings about her deceased mother-in-law are important to include, I wouldn't have her sit in the attic and brood. I'd have Mary have it out with John in the kitchen -- arguments are much more fun to write than a lot of introspection, and your characters show the conflict versus you telling the reader about it.
  Quote for the Day:  "The man who follows the crowd will usually get no further than the crowd. The man who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever been." -- Alan Ashley-Pitt

Doesn't hurt to stop and get some directions now and then.

Medical Site for the Day:  National Association of Boards of Pharmacies -- for those of you who are seriously tempted by the covenience of buying prescription drugs online, stop by and check out this program:

The Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites™ (VIPPS™) program and its accompanying VIPPS seal of approval identifies to the public those online pharmacy practice sites that are appropriately licensed, are legitimately operating via the Internet, and that have successfully completed a rigorous criteria review and inspection.

By checking out your online pharmacy through the NABP's VIPPS Program, you can protect yourself from frauds and scams, as well as preserve your health by avoiding dangerous unlicensed pharmaceuticals.

  E-mail Problem/Unpleasant Solution:  I am having problem with e-mail coming in from folks I don't recognize with attachments, and four of them today were basically virus bombs.  My security system handled it, but I'm getting nervous, and Drefan has had enough tinkering done on him this month.  So I regret to say that until further notice, I will no longer be opening e-mails with attachments.  If you need to send me an attachment, warn me via a regular e-mail first, and wait for my okay.  I'm sorry for the extra inconvenience this will cause, but I'm sure you all will understand.  
Friday, July 12, 2002
  Appears Blogger is on the fritz again. Rats. 
  Popcorn Overdose:  Back from the movie, which I'm happy to report delighted both progeny and gave me the chance to mentally work out Chapter Eight of the WIP (I emerged from plotting for the infamous Arnold & Helga roof scene, which was, um, interesting.)  There were maybe twelve people in the theatre, which had stadium seating and maintained an A/C temperature I'm pretty sure was a few degrees warmer than liquid nitrogen.  Popcorn and gummy bears ruined our dinner but otherwise we had a grand time -- this is a fun family movie, nicely plotted and suitable for kiddies of all ages.  I am now being cajoled into buying the new Little Romeo CD and seeing the Power Puff Girl movie.  I may go for the CD, but next week we're hitting the cartoon museum and nature center in Boca.   
  Recommended: Someone asked me if there were any good web sites about how to conquer Writer's Block, and a colleague recommends Lisa R. Cohen's site.  I skimmed through the material and it looks pretty solid, so if you're blocked, check it out.

I've never actually had writer's block, but I've been depressed about certain aspects of the writing life.  What has always worked for me is to push myself through the doldrums and keep writing -- and it's still just as hard as it was when I was unpublished.  Back when I was battling all those rejections, I had to ignore the negative stuff completely and wrap myself up in the work.  That still keeps me going, but now I also go look at the bill holder.

I agree with Ms. Cohen that whatever level you're at, you shouldn't beat yourself up over being blocked.  Worrying about the logistics and challenges of writing a novel will definitely keep you from writing a novel.  Don't think about it, or your wordcount, or how good it sounds, or how well you're writing.  Sit down and write -- save the other stuff for the editing process.  
  And We're Off!  The kids and I are going to see "Hey, Arnold" the movie today, so we have an excuse to eat a lot of popcorn and Raisinets.  I really like the show this movie is based on, which advocates problem-solving on a real kid level, so I may not nap through to the credits.  Also, Arnold is funny, kind, and cute, even if he does have a football-shaped head. :) 
  Addendum to the Totally Non-Medical Fact for the Day: Make that four things -- with 4) the number of e-mails that come in regarding my lousy attitude about my name being batted around in Britain's premiere SF rag.  Yeah, well, I don't read Locus either.  Sue me. 
  Quote for the Day:  "I am not a vegetarian because I love animals; I am a vegetarian because I hate plants." -- A. Whitney Brown

I'm right there with you, pal.

Totally Non-Medical Fact for the Day:  The severity of a morning migraine depends on three things -- 1) how early the children get up demanding waffles and pancakes, 2) the number of cats who wind around my ankles crying for snacks while I'm burning the waffles and pancakes and 3) the decibels of kid/cat fights when I don't move fast enough to please either/both.

Blog for the Day:  Writer's Block -- This weblog caught my eye because it's written by an American-born Taiwanese who's now living and teaching English in Taiwan (my friend Lily has taught me alot about the differences between the Chinese and the Taiwanese.)  Although the author recently shelved the idea of writing a book, I suspect it won't gather much dust -- you can tell from the entries that this is another born storyteller. 
  About the Interzone Thing: Evidently someone wrote an article about me being the SF genre equivalent of James White's heir in the May issue; I just heard about it tonight, thanks for the e-mails.  I don't read stuff like this, so please -- no reports, analyses, or opinions.  Comparing me to a classy guy like James White is very flattering, but I'd rather stay out it. 
Thursday, July 11, 2002
  Oh, Man:  Hanging out with writers online is sometimes like swimming in Floirida -- you can always count on sharks to swarm when someone's bleeding in the water.  After reading this anonymously-posted garbage(message #12521) directed toward someone as decent as Justin Stanchfield, I feel nauseous. 

Actually, I think I'm insulting sharks when I compare a stupid jerk like this to them.  "Coincidence" is more like what the sharks upchuck after they're done gorging on whale faeces. 
  An Electronic Place by the Fire:  It's time someone put together a software program that actually helps writers write novels, and I think I'm going to take a shot at it.  I have to clear a few projects off the desk, then consult with a few people to see if what I want to do can actually be worked into a program.  This is mostly Jessie's fault -- she's convinced me that a working novelist who hates computer programs (yours truly) would be the ideal person to put together a project like this.

I've gotten some good suggestions from the writing clan over at Forward Motion, but what about the rest of you?  What would you like to see incorporated into a software program for novel writing?  Post your comments here.  
  Quote for the Day:  "Success is a finished book, a stack of pages each of which is filled with words.  If you reach that point, you have won a victory over yourself no less impressive than sailing single-handed around the world." - Tom Clancy

Best analogy I've ever read about finishing a book.  Somebody, give Tom another couple million.

Medical Site for the Day: Medicine Chest (UK) -- Our Brit friends deserve equal time, and this is one of the better NHS sites I've seen out there.  Along with general information on a variety of ailments, the site promotes healthier living, infant care, and even has a search engine for the UK to find the nearest NHS provider. Very easy to navigate, too. 
Wednesday, July 10, 2002
  Fun Writer Stuff:  I sent my first cover art idea off to my editor this afternoon; now that I have some input I get to play with my fancy picture-making software.  This is truly terrible, btw, the stars are too busy and the sword is wrong, but it's to relay my ideas about the design of the cover, not actually represent the finished product:

  Quote for the Day:  "Imagination rules the world." - Napoleon Bonaparte

Think he knew he'd become a role model for short men and psychotics throughout time?

Medical Fact for the Day:  Lichen Simplex Chronicus, also known as circumscribed Neurodermatitis, is a skin disease in which nerve fibers become chronically inflammed, then thicken and scar. LSC is common among Native Americans and Asian and usually strikes more women than men. The cause of LSC is unknown, and there is no cure.

Symptoms include dark, thick lesions on top of round scaly plaque and exaggerated skin lines in the lesions on the back of the neck, inside elbows, wrists, thighs, forearms, behind the knees, and on the shins. A skin biopsy is required to diagnose the disease, and high-potency corticosteroids can be injected into the lesions as treatment. Patients should keep skin moisturized, wear cotton clothing, and avoid over-use of soap or excessive sweating, which can aggravate the lesions. Although the disease is uncomfortable and can be cosmetically unappealing, it is not terminal. All patients should be counseled on how to manage their lesions through lifestyle and psychological adjustments. 
Tuesday, July 09, 2002
  2003 Publication Schedule: Writers never get release dates in writing (ironic, that) but I'm pretty sure this is the line-up of my releases for next year:

Mass market paperback
Feb. -- The Deepest Edge
March -- Untitled Onyx Book #2 Trilogy #2
April -- Untitled Onyx Book #3 Trilogy#2
Sept. -- Blade Dancer

Upcoming contract negotiations this fall which may add another title or two to the list. So at least four new books in 2003, six at the most, not counting anthologies and the top-secret stuff I'm doing for the Pentagon. Oh, now you're paying attention, aren't you? (snicker)  
  Inspiration Anywhere: It's dangerous to let me out of the house; I find story material like a diviner finds water.  A car dealership seems an unlikely place, but the waiting rooms are filled with interesting folks, coffee/soda/snack machines, and the inevitable thirteen inch color TV permanently set on CNN.  I sat between a tall black woman in a beautifully tailored sienna business suit and an elderly heavyset white man with a yacht club ball cap and a windbreaker with an enigmatic logo.  Both watched me work on my pda for a few minutes, the lady fascinated enough to ask me about the functions, the gentleman looking upon us with faint disapproval.  I could almost hear him thinking, "Stupid electronic toys, bad as those damn video games" and still wanting to know what I was doing, and why.

As people came and went, I changed positions to get away from the TV and the gentleman, as I figured my work was bugging him.  A twenty-something Hispanic girl with long wet hair took my place, while her boyfriend pacing a short track in front of the chairs.  Boyfriend's pocket change jingled incessantly, but stopped now and then as he went to the window to scowl out at the service bay.  Yacht Cap didn't like them, either, and folded his arms with a sigh.

Like some temporal rift, time stretches out in waiting rooms.  I imagined the quartet as passengers on some intergalactic cruiser, temporarily stranded on some uncomfortable planet.  Business Suit would make a good group leader, if she could get around Yacht Cap's bluster and inherent prejudices.  Wet Hair would be the most vulnerable and frightened, afraid Boyfriend's impatience and temper might result in her having to rely on herself versus him.  When the busy service manager came in to tell everyone the bad news about their vehicles, I could see him as Harassed Pilot, unable to repair the ship, reluctant to admit they were marooned.  He would reassure the now hysterical Wet Hair and join forces with Business Suit, unaware that one of their group had sabotaged the engines to deliberately strand them here. The Saboteur must do whatever is necessary to wait for the diplomatic courier bringing news of a coup, instigated by the Saboteur's family of displaced royals.  Yacht Cap would grow suspicious of Business Suit, though, recruit Boyfriend to shake her down, and then . . .

See what I mean? 
  Wheel Woes:  Without any sort of decent warning, my truck's battery gave up the ghost the morning, but I'm covered under warranty, and GMC roadside assistance provides free towing.  For once, my paranoid over-buying has paid off.  Now to stand in the rain until the friendly neighborhood tow truck guy shows up to take away my baby.... 
Monday, July 08, 2002
  Small Victories: Tomorrow Rush and I are going to the vet for his annual shots and stuff, and I managed to plonk him on the scale tonight to see if he's gained any weight.  Nine and a quarter pounds, which means he's fattened up a few more ounces, but he's not getting any bigger.  It's so bizarre to see him next to Jakol and Jericho, who are seventeen and fifteen pounds respectively, the same breed as Rush, and only about a year older than him.

He doesn't get sick as often these days, which is a relief.  I still get up the moment I hear a cough or a gag in the middle of the night, but more often than not it's a false alarm.  Rush is now starting to play, too.  He stalks everyone's feet, and will play get-the-mouse and yarn ball soccer with the kids.  He also dominates the two bigger cats completely, so size is not everything.

Keeping Rush alive was our main goal, which we think we've won, but there's not much we can do about his growth now.  Due to the abuse he suffered before we got him, Rush may forever be the size of a six-month-old kitten.  While that may sound cute, it breaks my heart -- just like hearing him choke when he tries to eat too fast, and the cat food lodges in the scar tissue in his throat.  Still, caring for this little guy has taught me a lot about the will to survive, and how powerful it can be when it's supplemented by a loving home and family.  
  And They're Off!  I signed off on the new contract for BioRescue and Afterburn this morning, and shot it back to NY.  Minor changes are needed, but my agent will make the necessary slashes.  Among other things, the publisher "accidentally" reduced 30% of my take on certain rights, and mysteriously extended a clause for six months without checking with me.  Although this is my ninth or tenth contract to date, I still read every single word of them, and politely ask for corrections when something isn't right.

I can't say I feel terrific about this contract.  Yes, it's a marvelous opportunity.  Yes, I wanted it; it's the next step and a contract for hardcover SF just doesn't come along every day.  But it's a big transition, a sizeable gamble, and it scares me to think about how many ways I could crash and burn.  Which is why I'll stop thinking about it and move on now. 
  Seriously Funny Stuff:  The Protectors of SF Propriety are at it again in the Letters to Locus online, with serious debates over the worthiness of "Minority Report" and "Men in Black."  I laughed so hard over the debate on the eyes thing that I gave myself a cramp.  Shirley's review of MIB2 is also another vertible jewel of curmudgeonly disapproval, if you can ignore the smell of sour grapes long enough to plow through it.  
  Quote for the Day:  "Consider that everything is opinion, and opinion is in thy power. Take away then, when thou choosest, thy opinion, and like a mariner, who has doubled the promontory, thou wilt find calm, everything stable, and a waveless bay." -- Marcus Aurelius

If only the wave-making wasn't so much fun . . .

Medical Site for the Day: -- The free medical journal portion of the site (where you can get 550 free books). With 970 journals available, this is a terrific resource.  I also like the site's philosophy about providing free journals:  "The access to free scientific knowledge will have a major impact on medical practice and attract Internet visitors to these journals. Journals that restrict access to their Web sites will lose popularity."

Not-A-Blog for the Day: -- Since I'm a bit behind on my blog cruising, I'll recommend a site that's just plain fun.  Ever want to design your own sneakers?  Check out, where you can custom build them from the soles up.  Mike and I are having a blast designing ours, and the prices are comparable with what you'd spend at a good shoe shop. 
Sunday, July 07, 2002
  And now for something completely different...  We're trying out some new translation software here at Casa Viehl, so I'm going to break into verse for a few minutes. Villanelles sound better in French anyway.

6/19/98 #173
(Un villanelle en français)

Profondément dans l'obscurité est où je vois clairement
les passions et les faims non reliées à la terre par votre main.
La plupart des démons m'attendant là
soyez agité et complotant pour diviser rapidement
quelle force je possède, quelle commande je commande
Profondément dans l'obscurité est où je vois clairement
les marques de dents d'implorer à gauche indélébile
sur une âme lasse et marquée. La sachant, j'exige
La plupart des démons m'attendant là
criez dans l'air au lyrique de ma agonie
Vous avez entendu ces vieux chanson et intérieur comprendre.
Profondément dans l'obscurité est où je vois clairement
les couleurs que j'ai peint mon sanctuaire
tous aiment vos yeux, peau, et cheveux au brin.
La plupart des démons m'attendant là
font des promesses sauvages et chaudes de ce qui pourrait être
pour si je me rends, je suis à eux, complètement.
Profondément dans l'obscurité est où je vois clairement
La plupart des démons m'attendant là.
Adventures at the KeyBoard

10/28/2001 - 11/04/2001 / 11/04/2001 - 11/11/2001 / 11/11/2001 - 11/18/2001 / 11/18/2001 - 11/25/2001 / 11/25/2001 - 12/02/2001 / 12/02/2001 - 12/09/2001 / 12/09/2001 - 12/16/2001 / 12/16/2001 - 12/23/2001 / 12/23/2001 - 12/30/2001 / 12/30/2001 - 01/06/2002 / 01/06/2002 - 01/13/2002 / 01/13/2002 - 01/20/2002 / 01/20/2002 - 01/27/2002 / 01/27/2002 - 02/03/2002 / 02/03/2002 - 02/10/2002 / 02/10/2002 - 02/17/2002 / 02/17/2002 - 02/24/2002 / 02/24/2002 - 03/03/2002 / 03/03/2002 - 03/10/2002 / 03/10/2002 - 03/17/2002 / 03/17/2002 - 03/24/2002 / 03/24/2002 - 03/31/2002 / 03/31/2002 - 04/07/2002 / 04/07/2002 - 04/14/2002 / 04/14/2002 - 04/21/2002 / 04/21/2002 - 04/28/2002 / 04/28/2002 - 05/05/2002 / 05/05/2002 - 05/12/2002 / 05/12/2002 - 05/19/2002 / 05/19/2002 - 05/26/2002 / 05/26/2002 - 06/02/2002 / 06/02/2002 - 06/09/2002 / 06/09/2002 - 06/16/2002 / 06/16/2002 - 06/23/2002 / 06/23/2002 - 06/30/2002 / 06/30/2002 - 07/07/2002 / 07/07/2002 - 07/14/2002 / 07/14/2002 - 07/21/2002 / 07/21/2002 - 07/28/2002 / 07/28/2002 - 08/04/2002 / 08/04/2002 - 08/11/2002 / 08/11/2002 - 08/18/2002 / 08/18/2002 - 08/25/2002 / 08/25/2002 - 09/01/2002 / 09/01/2002 - 09/08/2002 / 09/08/2002 - 09/15/2002 / 09/15/2002 - 09/22/2002 / 09/22/2002 - 09/29/2002 / 09/29/2002 - 10/06/2002 / 10/06/2002 - 10/13/2002 / 10/13/2002 - 10/20/2002 / 10/20/2002 - 10/27/2002 / 10/27/2002 - 11/03/2002 / 11/03/2002 - 11/10/2002 / 11/10/2002 - 11/17/2002 / 11/17/2002 - 11/24/2002 / 11/24/2002 - 12/01/2002 / 12/01/2002 - 12/08/2002 / 12/08/2002 - 12/15/2002 / 12/15/2002 - 12/22/2002 / 12/22/2002 - 12/29/2002 / 12/29/2002 - 01/05/2003 / 01/05/2003 - 01/12/2003 / 01/12/2003 - 01/19/2003 / 01/19/2003 - 01/26/2003 / 01/26/2003 - 02/02/2003 / 02/02/2003 - 02/09/2003 / 02/09/2003 - 02/16/2003 / 02/16/2003 - 02/23/2003 / 02/23/2003 - 03/02/2003 / 03/02/2003 - 03/09/2003 / 03/09/2003 - 03/16/2003 / 03/16/2003 - 03/23/2003 / 03/23/2003 - 03/30/2003 / 03/30/2003 - 04/06/2003 / 04/06/2003 - 04/13/2003 / 04/13/2003 - 04/20/2003 / 04/20/2003 - 04/27/2003 / 04/27/2003 - 05/04/2003 / 05/04/2003 - 05/11/2003 / 05/11/2003 - 05/18/2003 / 05/18/2003 - 05/25/2003 / 05/25/2003 - 06/01/2003 / 06/01/2003 - 06/08/2003 / 06/08/2003 - 06/15/2003 / 06/15/2003 - 06/22/2003 / 06/22/2003 - 06/29/2003 / 06/29/2003 - 07/06/2003 / 07/06/2003 - 07/13/2003 / 07/13/2003 - 07/20/2003 / 07/20/2003 - 07/27/2003 / 07/27/2003 - 08/03/2003 / 08/03/2003 - 08/10/2003 / 08/10/2003 - 08/17/2003 / 08/17/2003 - 08/24/2003 / 08/24/2003 - 08/31/2003 / 08/31/2003 - 09/07/2003 / 09/07/2003 - 09/14/2003 / 09/14/2003 - 09/21/2003 / 09/21/2003 - 09/28/2003 / 09/28/2003 - 10/05/2003 / 10/05/2003 - 10/12/2003 / 10/12/2003 - 10/19/2003 / 10/19/2003 - 10/26/2003 / 10/26/2003 - 11/02/2003 / 11/02/2003 - 11/09/2003 / 11/09/2003 - 11/16/2003 /

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