Supporting Fen of Color

In the aftermath of RaceFail '09, in which many authors and editors that I have generally admired failed miserably in dealing with issues of race, the fen of color have decided to speak up and make themselves known on LiveJournal.

As a white woman, I have had a few miserable failures in my own attempts with dealing with race - mostly having to do with shutting up when I should have spoken up. In a classic problem with women of my color and class, I tend to be more concerned with appearing to be good, than with actually doing good - particularly if doing good carries the risk of falling on my face and looking like an idiot, or worse, malicious.

So, for today at least, I am going to speak up. There are multitudes of SF & Fantasy readers (and writers) out there of many colors other than white. They deserve to have their numbers counted and their voices heard. Go and see.

Audience Intentions

As I mentioned in the previous entry, our neighbor P, has now read Riptide, and has started working through Ghost Dancer. I've had a few conversations with him about it, and I'm having a little trouble sorting out what of his criticisms I ought to follow, which can be safely ignored, and which aren't really criticisms.

Firstly, I seem to have surprised him immensely with the type of story I write. Apparently, based on our prior conversations (extensive and covering almost every topic imaginable), he thought of me as a more conceptual writer, one where the ideas and technology would reign supreme and the language would be beautiful and difficult. That's not my stories at all. I have nothing against beautiful language, but my primary goal is transparent language. Likewise, technology and ideas are wonderful, and I'll stuff them in as I come up with them, but my stories tend to be primarily character driven. My most usual novel starter is "This interesting person is stuck in this difficult position. What do they do?"

Because of this disconnect, I'm disinclined to take his complaints about my relative lack of nifty gadgets terribly seriously. The gadgets aren't why I'm writing the science fiction - though as noted, I have nothing against them. The language complaints I'm a little more bothered by. I want transparent language, but that doesn't mean it has to be pedestrian, just not convoluted for convolution's sake. It's making me a little paranoid right now, and I can't quite tell where enough is enough and a sentence is done.

His last complaint is the one where I can't quite decide if it should bother me or not. P feels that the appropriate audience for both books is quite young. Preteen for Riptide and young teen for Ghost Dancer. This is not the audience I was thinking of when I wrote either of them, certainly - but is this an actual problem? Neither book deals with sex or sexuality in any significant way, neither book has much by way of graphic violence - though Ghost Dancer certainly has plenty of death, and main characters in both books take a significant beating. Nor is either of these likely to change. Kira is asexual - to the point where sexuality and attraction barely impinges on her consciousness. Eliot (the lead in Riptide) is certainly not asexual, but he's also both younger than Kira, and while he's attracted to girls, he doesn't know any who would give him the time of day.

Now, given that, what would aim the books at an older audience? And if I manage to sort that out - do I want to make those changes? There are a number of excellent fantasy and SF books out there marketed to the YA crowd. Some of them even deal with sex, death and killing pretty directly (I recommend Graceling and Magic or Madness to those interested in good YA fantasy, btw). I wouldn't be at all ashamed to be in that group, so why am I so bemused to have someone tell me that Riptide is about right for an eleven-year-old?

I'll be interested to get P's written notes on Ghost Dancer. It may give me some more perspective on which criticisms need to be dealt with, and which are just mistaken expectations, whether on his part or mine.

My Goodness!

Eleven weeks since I last posted here. Wow, does time fly! I'm at least somewhat in the habit of updating The Perpetual Beginner, but I haven't established a habit here, so it tends to languish.

The big writing news of the moment is: I'm an author! A paid author! My first ever paycheck for writing was my first mail of the new year. It's payment for my two articles and some editing work in the upcoming Damn Interesting! book. I was expecting enough to take the fam out for pizza, and actually ended up with a nice little income boost instead. Plus I will get a percentage of any earnings should the book earn out its advance.

This has given a bit of a kick in the pants to my novel writing efforts. After all, if I can get paid for writing non-fiction, surely I can get paid for writing fiction, which is my first love and greater strength?

Towards that end, I've been sending out copies of the first draft of this year's NaNo (current tentative title is Riptide). My brother Bill and his daughter have read it so far and liked it. My neighbor has read it and has a much less flattering reaction. He's currently working on Ghost Dancer, as we're using him and his brother (and a friend in Oregon) as a test audience to see if Riptide makes sense on its own. Among other things, Bill thinks (as does the neighbor) that it may make more sense to attempt to sell them in reverse order.

If anyone would like to take a gander at Riptide, let me know (presuming I know you at least a little). Be warned it's in extremely rough shape, essentially untouched from its NaNo turn in condition, typos, parentheticals, changing names and all.

I have another post in mind regarding comments from the aforementioned neighbor that I'll try to get going here soon.

NaNo Outline

As promised, here's the breakdown of this year's NaNo plan. I'm using the Speed Outline used by Paperback Writer (aka SF and Fantasy writer Lynn Viehl) in her post here. Detailed outlines give me an allergic reaction, effectively sending my muse screaming for the hills. This format, however, seems bare bones enough to avoid that effect.

Ten Point Novel Concept Outline

Who: Eliot Mansfeldt (15-year old boy with angst), Kira/Memory/Gemini (protagonist of Ghost Dancer)

What: Need to save Eliot from being railroaded into what is effectively the life of a slave.

When/Where: 500 years in the future. The ocean planet Merchaude, on and around the planet's one island cluster.

Why: Kira needs to resupply Memory without giving herself away and inadvertently puts Eliot in more trouble in her attempt, so she feels obligated to help.

Primary plot line: Kira arrives at Merchaude and is caught by Eliot hacking the computer system. He doesn't give her away, gets himself into trouble trying to help her, and is subsequently helped by her.

Subplot #1: Merchaude's supposed meritocracy has calcified into a system of elites and grunts. In pissing off the elites, Eliot may doom himself to life as a grunt unless he can undermine the system somehow.

Subplot #2: Merchaude's government wants to cool the planet slightly to expose more habitable land. Unknown to them, there is a sapient species that lives in the ocean shallows for whom the plan would spell disaster.

Subplot #3: The sapients are aware of the colonists, and have been debating whether or not to make themselves known. Knowledge of the possible terraforming will push them into revealing themselves.

Major Twist: The ocean-living sapients are humans - first wave colonials who, lacking the support to live on Merchaud's storm-battered and scarce land, chose to adapt themselves to life in the oceans. Eliot is one of their children, a genetic throwback, that they abandoned to the new colonists because he was not well adapted to life as a marine creature, but he is completely ignorant of his origins.

Resolution: No clue, though Kira does get her resupply, and Eliot doesn't end up a grunt.
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After a week of company, car repairs and emergency room visits (not serious, just lengthy), I finally have the house to myself for a little while to ponder the imminent arrival of NaNo. This year is going to be a challenge for me. Nov. 1 starts out with a bang by also being the day of the Lennox Legacy Tournament. IOW, I will be on the road to Ohio, then competing (and quite possibly having the crap beaten out of me), then driving back down. So, not much writing happening on the first, unless it's after I get home, which won't be until late. Then I have three days. Then we head up to Michigan for Great Lakes Games - a four day board-gaming convention, which generally involves gaming until two or three a.m., sleeping three-four hours, and then going back to gaming. So, not much writing going on Wed. - Sun. either.

After GLG, Rob heads off on a work-related trip for a week. This can be good or bad. On the good side, I can write non-stop once the kidlets are in bed, without any pesky husband telling me I need sleep, or asking if it wouldn't be nice of me to acknowledge his existence once in a while. OTOH, said husband has a way of making sure I don't write myself into a stupor by staying up for insane hours, sacrificing the next day's productivity on the altar of getting more words RIGHT NOW!!!

The next week is, of course, Thanksgiving, with its attendant trip down to Dad Wood's place and our one annual chance to get together with Rob's brother and his family. Based on past years, I can get some writing done over Thanksgiving week, but counting on more than 800-1000 words/day is pretty futile.

What this boils down to is: I had better have my ducks all in a row if I'm going to have a prayer of completing NaNo this year. I can't afford to waste any writing time staring at a blank screen because I haven't a clue what happens next. If possible I'd like to avoid some of my previous years' solutions to this kind of crunch - last year I figured out ways to insert the text of articles I was writing for entirely different purposes into the text, for about 5000 additional words. The year before I had nearly 12,000 nearly incoherent words involving my protagonist wandering through endless words for no apparent good reason, the result of three straight days awake. I ended up cutting them nearly as soon as I had run the file through the NaNo word counter.

So, I have my protagonists and at least the bare bones of a plot worked out - though as usual I'm somewhat clueless as to the ending of the story. I swear, the first time I start a story knowing the ending - and can actually write it that way - I'm going to fall over in shock. So far the only story I've known the ending at the start was my second NaNo novel (The Flayed Queen), except that it got stalled out on its way, due to one of the major characters adamantly refusing to die when the plot required him to. I'm still trying to figure out how to get rid of him, or how to make the plot work with him not dead, and it's three years later now.

It being late, I'll leave the plot synopsis for tomorrow, but for those interested - it's a sequel to Ghost Dancer.

Back to Normal Life

The DI articles are edited, re-edited and away. The deadline was midnight last night, and everything I had a hand in was done by at least twenty-four hours ahead of time. I'm fairly pleased with how everything came out - certainly much happier with this version of the pituitary article than I was with what was with the original site-copy.

So I'm back to two major projects at this point. The first is the (nearly perpetual) Ghost Dancer edit. I think part of what's slowing this edit up is that it's largely a structural level edit, and that's not something I have any experience with, nor something I've been able to find much advice on. Scene and sentence level editing I wasn't very good at when I first finished Ghost Dancer - the unfortunate by-product of being a good enough writer that virtually none of my school papers or stories needed editing beyond a spell-check to get good grades. However, there's a ton of information available out there on that kind of editing, plus a number of writers who comment on such things on their blogs. (I highly recommend matiociquala of They Must Need Bears - aka Elizabeth Bear for her discussions of sentence-level work). Using the references and working away scene by scene, I feel like I've gotten to be a much better editor at this phase of things.

Structural level editing, on the other hand, seems to have a dearth of information out there. I'm adding a largish sub-plot to Ghost Dancer, and I keep hitting decisions about which scenes need to go where, how to fit a new character into existing scenes, which bits of subplot really deserve their own scenes, versus a side-mention elsewhere, and so on. And I really don't have a clue how to make these decisions other than trial and error. I'm sure I'd be even more stuck if I hadn't moved my novel file over to Write Way some time back. Write Way has drag and drop scene shifting abilities, which makes me much more willing to just stuff a scene in to see if it works.

I'm almost through the first third (Kira at Jamison Training Base). Once I finish that, which means about two more scenes, there's very little in the middle third that needs alteration. The final third, though, needs major revamping to bring it into line with the new beginning. It should be a big improvement when it's done, but it's a little daunting to contemplate. I'm trying hard to get it done before NaNo, because I have got to get done with the endless revamps and actually start trying to sell this thing.

The other major project is for my sensei, though he doesn't know it. I'm writing up an Isshinryu syllabus. Every kata in detail. Every self-defense sequence. A Japanese/English glossary of required terms. Possibly write-ups of individual moves, with commentary on points of technique. Bunkai (usage explanations) for the kata. Anything and everything I think I would want to recall about my Isshinryu knowledge if I were struck with amnesia and wanted to learn it all again. Plus my three required black belt essays. Right now this is easier going than Ghost Dancer because I'm simply collecting individual stuff as I think of it. I haven't had to make structural decisions, nor write up analysis yet. As I get the kata, self-defense, and other more descriptive stuff down, I'll inevitably start hitting more subjective writing and I expect I'll slow down. I'm excited to see how it comes out, though.

And It's Away!

Plowed my way through the pituitaries article at long last. I was surprised to find out that this article, which felt long, was a whole seven words longer than my other article, which felt short. Strange that. It may be the information density. Both articles are medical/history, but the pituitary article has a huge amount of information stuffed into the corners - things the readers must know to understand what's going on, yet aren't going to find inherently fascinating to learn. The other article, otoh, had to be stretched hard to come up to 1001 words, so the information density was pretty low. Plus very little of the information was necessary-but-dull background.

Information density was a big part of decision making for which articles I was going to write for Damn Interesting. There were several occasions where I found something damn interesting indeed, but the sheer amount of science background I was going to have to sneak by the readers to make it interesting to them was daunting. There was this wonderful experiment in the US I was dying to write about (I even had a title chosen), but when it came down to the punch, I could have written a fascinating but entirely misleading article about the horrors of growing mice with human neurons in their brains, or I could have attempted to give the large, somewhat random readership of a blog (with a strong creationist contingent), a course in introductory neuroscience and cognitive theory all of which would have been mere background so they could understand the actual interesting issues I wanted to present. It was a bit more than I could face, so I left it be.

The issue could be summed up as: writing science for lay-people is tricky.

Damn Interesting

The writing task of the week is final edit of my articles for the Damn Interesting book. Or more accurately, the final edit of one article and the complete rewrite of the other. I'm having to overcome a lot of personal resistance to wanting to rewrite the second article. Back when I first wrote it, I really liked it - but it was hard to write because it felt so personal. Then it got majorly revamped in editing, and I wasn't thrilled with the version that went up on the site. It wasn't bad, but it didn't feel like my writing.

Now the editing requests for the article are essentially asking for the first article back. Unfortunately I didn't retain my first draft (that'll teach me). If it was hard to write that first time, it feels impossible the second time. I always have to convince myself that it's okay to suck in order to get stuff written. Otherwise I spin my wheels in perfectionism. But this time, I did it once before and it didn't suck, so I'm having serious trouble believing myself.

It's going -but it's going really, really, slowly. And painfully.

When I finish I get to go back to having Kira's classmates argue with her -yay!

Icony Goodness

Since the last time I posted, I've written just over another thousand words - and then gotten completely stuck over how to have someone witness an argument over homework, when said person spends as much time as possible NOT doing things publicly, and has complete access to materials in private areas. I'm vaguely leaning towards an argument that spills over into dinnertime, thereby taking it to public space that can't be avoided.

Dear Cindy,

This is a first draft, it is allowed to suck. It does not matter that it's the third edit of the novel, it is still the first draft of this scene, and it is allowed to suck. So go write the sucky scene.



In other news I found the nifty new icon that appears above. It's not only lovely in it's own right but also has some personal attachment. At a time in college when I was feeling particularly down (which, since I spent most of college in a moderate depression, particularly down was WAY down), and also feeling particularly awful about my body, which is designed for strength and economy of movement, but not for our current cultures standards of beauty, a very dear friend sent me a card with this picture on the front, and the note inside: She does too look like you! So it seems appropriate to abscond with it as my default icon.
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