Inhuman Swill : Novels
            

Some time ago, Halsted M. Bernard tagged me in the Next Big Thing meme that's been going around. The intent is to share details about one's current writing project by answering a canned set of questions, so here goes.

  1. What's the title of your latest story?
  2. I've actually been working on various non-fiction projects lately, big and small, including a new epilogue for my memoir The Accidental Terrorist (which, yes, is still being shopped around). I'll soon be diving into a new short story for the Glitter & Madness anthology project, but that one doesn't have a title yet. So instead I'll talk about the novel I finally finished in November, which is called Waking Vishnu.

  3. Where did the idea for the story come from?
  4. For more than a decade I've been envisioning a fictional universe where physical items can be "magically" manipulated via hand gestures, as if they were blobs in an object-oriented programming system. I'd tried again and again to work out the story of the person who stumbles onto this magic system, but when I finally pictured the protagonist as a teenage girl the whole thing started clicking into place.

  5. What genre does your story fall under?
  6. Young adult science fiction, though it's designed to look a whole lot like urban fantasy at first.

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The Quiet American: a cocktail

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A couple of weeks ago, my friend Jeff Lang sent me a link to Studio 360's listener cocktail challenge—create a cocktail inspired by and named after a classic work of literature.

I wanted to give it a try, but I wasn't able to work on it before the August 12th deadline. Last night I had some spare time, though, so I cobbled together a drink I'm calling the Quiet American. I combined 1.5 oz. of Laird's Applejack, 0.75 oz. of Créole Shrubb liqueur, and 1.5 oz. of blood orange martini mix (blood orange, key lime and cane sugar), stirred with ice, and strained.

The result was not bad—sweet and orange-y with a slightly bitter undertaste. It gets that name because of the distinctly American spirit (the applejack) getting all into the poor tropical country's business (in this case, Martinique). Of course, it was Vietnam in the novel, so my cocktail inhabits the entirely wrong part of the world, but hey, it was the best I could do.

Laura thought it needed more of something tart, like lime juice or a twist. I'll keep meddling with it, like a good American.

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Novelophobia

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I don't know why I've spent so much of my life being afraid to write a novel. All these years I've figured I was afraid of failing at it, that the short story was my natural form as a writer.

That was all ridiculous, and easily disproved had I stopped to think about it. Back in 1994, I wrote a 170,000-word novel in about eight weeks while I was between jobs. I holed up in my apartment and wrote eight to twelve hours a day. On my most productive day of that period, I wrote 8,500 words. The Revivalist was a huge, sprawling, shambolic, undisciplined thug of a novel, but it wasn't entirely bad. I never sold that book, but I also never did the subsequent work that was necessary to turn it into something saleable.

Clearly I didn't have a problem writing. What I had a problem with in the years that followed was getting off my ass and committing to doing the work.

Don't get me wrong. I did a lot of work in those years. I wrote a 250,000-word memoir, which through subsequent drafts I revised down to nearly half that size. I wrote and sold a bunch of short stories and a couple of novellas, but my one or two longer projects ran out of gas. I kept psyching myself out with the idea that I didn't know how to write a novel, and for the most part I kept that fear to myself.

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The plan

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I keep wanting to write a long entry about Blue Heaven 2009, but I keep not having enough time to put together something of appropriate length, depth, and breadth. (And also something that works as a sufficiently laudatory travelogue of Kelleys Island so Marvin will stay my friend.) Suffice it for now to say that I could not be happier with the feedback and suggestions that [info]hollailama, [info]rambleflower, and [info]secritcrush gave me on my novel-in-progress Technomancers. And I can't fail to mention [info]bondgwendabond, who lent half an ear to the proceedings, offered more great suggestions, and may well have renamed my novel to Endgame. (And I can't fail to mention [info]ccfinlay for putting everything together and making it so much more than just a week of critiques, and my great once and future[?] roommate [info]gregvaneekhout, and...)

Anyway, I thought, since I outlined my writing goals at the beginning of the Endgame project, I'd post an update about where I am on it and what I have left to do. 70,000 words into the novel, I realized I was only about halfway through the plot, if that. For a young-adult novel, this was rather unacceptable. With insufficient ruthlessness I was able to hack and revise that down to 60,000 before Blue Heaven, but there's more cutting and rewriting that needs to be done. That will come after I complete the current draft, though, which I'm already moving forward on. I'm giving myself 50,000 words and to the 30th of November to reach the end. Then I'll spend December reworking the problematic opening of the novel and cutting that first half down from 60,000 to, I hope, 30,000 words or fewer. That will give me an 80,000-word novel to start shopping. That's the plan, and a mere thousand words a day will get me there.

One of the consistent comments I got from my critiquers is that the book is pleasant enough but really starts humming around page 200. The faster I can get to that point, and the more humming I can coax out of it before that point, the better.

And now, back to executing my Endgame.

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The book of the long new year

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Many of you may have heard already, but John Klima has started an online book club dedicated to reading and discussing all twelve volumes of Gene Wolfe's Solar Cycle over the course of this year. I'm one of the board admins, together with Christopher Rowe and Mark Teppo.

If you're up for an ambitious reading project this year, please join us! Each month's novel should be read by the 20th in order to leave plenty of time for discussion. For January, the selection is of course The Shadow of the Torturer, and there are only six days left to read it. Fortunately, it's one of the shortest books in the series, so you shouldn't have much trouble keeping up.

For more information, and to sign up, please visit GeneWolfeBookClub.com.

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On lying, and lying artlessly

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Longtime readers may recall me railing against James Frey and the phenomenon of the invented memoir a couple of years ago. Rather than chilling the memoir marketplace, though, Frey was merely in the vanguard of a veritable explosion of exposed frauds that now includes such "memoirists" as Margaret B. Jones and Misha Defonseca.

The topic of these overly embroidered tales is much on my mind as, again, my memoir makes its way back into the marketplace. I feared two years ago that Frey's escapade would make a memoir more difficult to sell. Now I fear that he didn't make it difficult enough.

Nearly two months ago, Scott Simon on NPR's Weekend Edition delivered an editorial that made me stand up and pump my fist in the air. He made the interesting argument that the phony memoirist cheats in two ways: first, by weaving of his life an epic that never was; and second, by scanting the literary rigor a novel would have demanded. Listen here:

Writing and Truth in Fact and Fiction
by Scott Simon
Speaking as someone who has labored for nearly ten years to produce a book that will hold up on both counts and provoke more than skepticism and cynicism, I can only add my fervent amen.
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I finally made it back home yesterday to my lovely wife and fuzzy dog after eight days away at the Blue Heaven workshop. I'm delighted to be home but nostalgic for the workshop. It was an extraordinarily helpful, intense, and fun week, maybe even moreso than last year. I don't want to be a namedropper, so I'm not going list all the terrific skiffy writers who attended. Suffice it to say that the week was professionally and personally rewarding, filled with learning, insight, humor, collegiality, friendship, food, beer, free Stormclouds, animal heads, turkey vultures, TNT explosions, Totally Outrageous Behavior, quips that can never be repeated without someone choking almost to death, and Old Gregg. My novel Silvertide was critiqued by two sharp readers who restored my confidence in it, and I hope I served as useful a function to the three embarrassingly talented scribes whose novels I critiqued in full (or nearly so).

Too many good times to recount them all, or even to pick a handful. I leave you with my entry in the Blue Heaven 2007 Raunchy Limerick Challenge, posed by a fellow workshopper who shall remain nameless, for reasons that will remain unstated. The challenge was to compose a limerick employing the words pump, rump, and Cockney.

Down at the Village Pump

A barmaid of bonny sweet rump
Set empty beers down with a thump.
    "Don' just sit and watch me,"
    Said this comely Cockney.
"You want some, get back 'ere and pump."

It's good to be home.

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More of that Blue talk

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Is it possible to be nostalgic for something that only happened a week ago? Laura and I were sitting out back in the dusk last night, me with a beer, she with a cigarette, the dog with a chew toy, and I was telling her about how if I felt this way after only a week at Blue Heaven, I must have been a complete mess at 17 coming home from six weeks at Clarion.

For a few days I've resisted sitting down to write up the social side of the workshop, figuring the ground has already been covered pretty thoroughly by others. But the idea wouldn't let me go, so here (rapidly and possibly incoherently) I go.

[info]paulmelko picked me up at Port Columbus on the afternoon of Friday, May 12th. Cathy "Chance" "Jaded Reader" "[info]secritcrush" Morrison, having arrived earlier that afternoon and checked into an airport hotel, was with him. I almost immediately supplied the first running gag (or "callback") of the week when Paul, pulling out into traffic, said, "So your plane was a little late."

"I thought we landed early," I said, looking from my watch to the dashboard clock. "Is that the right time? 4:20? I set my watch back an hour when I got on the plane."

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Blue language

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Though I've been involved with local writers' group on and off in the time since, I hadn't attended a formal away-from-home writing workshop for nearly 21 years—well over half a lifetime, and all of my professional writing career. So it was with excitement and some trepidation early this year that I accepted Charles Coleman Finlay's invitation to attend Blue Heaven 2006 on Kelleys Island, off the Ohio shore of Lake Erie.

Excitement because this would be a peer workshop focusing on SF and fantasy novels, and I was having definite trouble transitioning from short fiction to longer work. And also because I'd be hanging out with some first-rate writers and rising stars.

Trepidation because, for all that I sometimes get worked up online and probably don't come across as bashful, I'm fairly reserved in person and don't usually say much in a new group until I'm comfortable, if then. And also because I'd be hanging out with some first-rate writers and rising stars.

The immediate benefit of Charlie's invitation was that it sparked me to write a hundred more pages on my novel Inclination in something under a month, which for me qualifies as a blistering white heat. The next benefit was the chance to read the first fifty pages of ten other nascent novel manuscripts that ranged from cool and fun to fucking awesome.

Full entry

No heaven, just blue

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Bill on the rocks
Came home last night to a happy dog and an even happier wife. And I couldn't have been happier to see them.

But quite a comedown to return to work—and be plunged into a manufactured crisis—after a week-plus at the Blue Heaven workshop. No time to post about the week's experiences yet, except to say that it was an amazing week filled with great people, and that the help I received on my novel was and will be absolutely invaluable. You may or may not glean more tantalizing details from [info]ccfinlay, [info]secritcrush, [info]sallytuppence, Paul, Greg, Tim, Brenda, and Toby.

And you may or may not be tantalized by Secritcrush's Blue Heaven photo album!

Oh, and here and here, if you read down the yellow columns on the left, you can see what happens when writers with too much beer and wi-fi edit one another's Wikipedia entries.

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The Accidental Terrorist 30th Anniversary Sale

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that even a
missionary
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William Shunn

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