Tuesday, November 25, 2008

So long, farewell, auf wiederseh'n, etc.

Damn it, now I've got that song stuck in my head!

This is a quick update rather than the sort of philosophy that so often happens here. Be Mused Author Services is no more. It had a good ride; it helped finance the long, slow start of Mercury Retrograde Press; I learned more from my clients than I could express, probably more than they did from me. But unless you've been in a bomb shelter for the last year or so, you know what it's like out there; and creativity coaching and developmental editing get cut from the budget way before, say, food. I will miss talking with writers I wouldn't otherwise meet; but it's probably for the best. Mercury Retrograde is growing too fast for me to give another company significant amounts of attention.

And, of course, I'm still coaching and editing for Mercury Retrograde authors.

Thanks, Be Mused clients! It was a wonderful ride.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Waxing the cat

I'm doing it right now. I'm supposed to be writing this morning, but first I simply had to pop over to Facebook to see what's happening in my little universe, and there was a post for Russ's periodic stint on the group blog "A Good Blog is Hard to Find". About cat waxing.

Talk about synchonicity. I think I need to write about waxing the cat this morning.

What, some of the sane people who have mistakenly wandered here ask, is waxing the cat? How could you wax the cat? Wouldn't the cat object? And what would be the point?

The answers, of course, are:
(a) waxing the cat is what you do when you're supposed to be writing but are running out of good excuses why you aren't. "I had meant to write this morning, but the sink was full of dirty dishes, the TiVo was 99% full, and I simply had to wax the cat."
(b) If you try to wax a real cat, it's hard. You need protective gear and some sort of cat-restraining device. Possibly one involving duck tape. Or goose tape. Whichever you can find.
(c) Yes, the cat will object. Violently. Art doesn't come without cost.
(d) Nothing whatsoever. And that is the point.

Cat waxing is about coping with authorial insecurity. If you can't find the time to write, you can't be blamed for being a hack. You can die secure in the knowledge of your blazing talent, which simply never had time to be realized.

Some of us are better at this than others. I'm freaking AWESOME.

Sadly, this is a far less important accomplishment than finishing the freaking novel. I'm going back to the study...just as soon as I finish commenting on Russ's blog post.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I grow old...I grow old...I shall wear my trousers with 1% lycra spandex for comfort

First it was the stretch jeans. I had resisted them for a very long time because of their inherent wrongness. I mean, stretch jeans. Old people wear those. But then there they were on the clearance rack, and they looked like normal jeans, and they were so damn CHEAP. So I tried them on.

Hey, I realized. These are comfortable. And they look fine, and they're cheap. Check, please.

I won't recite the standard tales of all the things that we've had to explain to our teenage children didn't exist before their time. Yadda yadda, stipulated: the Internets, the cell phone, the personal computer. The first thing Rachael ever read, when she was 2, was "dot-com". I knew from the beginning that our kids were growing up in a completely different era. That they would never understand what it meant to not be able to program your own music without a great deal of patience and a tape deck.

But this morning, during our standard getting-ready-for-school mayhem, Daniel came into the kitchen for a fashion consult. It's 60s day at school. How's this Pink Floyd t-shirt? Yes, he knew Floyd played in the 70s and 80s (we're not going to discuss the post-Waters period) but didn't this t-shirt have, well, a 60s feel? Mark and I pointed out that the 60s were a period of loud attire and suggested a Hawaiian shirt. But predictably Daniel grew bored of the exercise and came back to the kitchen a few minutes later wearing jeans and a t-shirt with a bar code on it.

Oh, no. "Hey, that bar-code isn't sixties. They didn't have bar codes until the eighties."


Here we go again, alas. I remember not only the invention of the bar code but the consternation it caused. I remember the appearance of the unlabeled generic item. (Repo Man, anyone?)

Hell, I remember when lycra spandex leggings were cool. Uh, the first time.

Check, please.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Lost and Found: the infamous SNL Bailout Sketch

Here it is: too pointed to survive on NBC, apparently.

Pat Dollard | Young Americans | Blog Archive » It Is Here! The Banned SNL Skit Cannot Hide From Louie

Word in the blogosphere is that NBC is doing all it can to squash comments & discussion. More on this here.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

This might be a manifesto

Yeah, I might have to nail this one to the cathedral door when it's done.

Today is the official release date of Shorn by Larissa N. Niec: the first book published by my brainchild, Mercury Retrograde Press. I'm immeasurably proud of the work we've done on this one--and it *has* been a "we", because in addition to the writer, any book must also have an editor, a proofreader, a typesetter/book designer, a cover designer, one or more artists, and people whose task it is to get the word out so people can fall in love with the creation and make its story part of their personal myth set. Shorn has had--still has--a whole team behind it. Because we're a new press, and we can't afford to hire full-time employees yet, I've done the majority of the work on this project, and for the most part I find the work fulfilling; but in the race to do this book justice, I have mostly set aside my own writing life. This is a thing I've viewed as a temporary necessity; in my mind, once we crossed the finish line on Shorn, things would calm down and I could get back to the study with a clear conscience.

I now understand that was unrealistic. There is still work to be done for Shorn, and the work will continue for a couple months yet: getting the word out, setting up relationships with new sales channels (a task for which I'm hugely grateful, btw), propagating the ebook versions and beginning to figure out the logistics of audio book production. Meanwhile Anointed, the next book on Mercury Retrograde's menu, is already waiting for me to start doing my share of what it needs; by the time that's done, I'll be behind on the next one. (And, oh, you're going to LOVE the next one, but there are still nagging legal entanglements that must be resolved, so for now I must leave you to fantasize. Two words to start with: Urban Fantasy.)

The bottom line: I am never going to be *caught up* on Mercury Retrograde business, at least not until Mercury Retrograde can afford staff. That's normal for a start-up business, and I've done the whole start-up thing before, so while I'm not uncomfortable with the headlong dash and all the other stuff that goes along with it, now that we're in a Mercury Retrograde period, my muse is crying for time in the study...and suddenly I remember that I founded Mercury Retrograde because the house I wanted to publish my own fiction didn't exist yet. It exists now, and I love it; but if I publish six, nine, or twelve books per year that win the hearts of critics and fans alike, earn out and go on to make money for their authors, and yet I am not writing fiction, I will not have done what I set out to do.

It is never going to be a convenient time for me to go back to writing; so long as I am writing, things will move more slowly in the office than they otherwise might. But it occurs to me that, while I refuse to hold other Mercury Retrograde authors to hard deadlines when meeting those deadlines would require them to compromise their art, I'm giving my own work no such respect. That has to stop.

So, while Mercury Retrograde Press authors and fans may wish I could move a little faster in the office, I trust they will understand that I must go back to carving out regular time in the study. No book will go unedited, un-typeset, or unpromoted; it's just that schedules will be a bit more fluid than they've been. In the long run, I suspect, all of Mercury Retrograde's books will benefit.

In the mean time, I have to go back to the study.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

You don't need celestial charts; you've got me

It's uncanny. I have no explanation for it that fits within the paradigm occupied by those who deny the possibility of any sort of validity to astrological theory. All I know is that as soon as Mercury turns retrograde, I am summoned as by some invisible force to the study, where I must work on my own fiction for hours each day.

I'm not telling you I'm an astrological believer. But I think I'd better start putting Mercury's retrograde periods on my calendar, so I can plan for these slowdowns in the office.

Ah, things are lovely in the study. I am deep in the early-development stages of the final draft of The Shadow of the Sun, the novel I was afraid to bring to press first but secretly wished I could--which, I realized earlier this year, really does need to be the first out the door. I think I'll be writing the whole thing in first, with only one PoV: because if I allow myself to explore the journeys of other important characters in the way I wish I could, there's no way I'll bring this in at a length I can afford to produce. In fact I realized this morning that I'm going to have to be very disciplined about what goes in and what goes back into the hopper for later, even with the single PoV, if I am to keep it to a manageable length.

But that single PoV is my favorite character, bar none, so I don't mind too too much.

Meanwhile back in the office, I'm waiting for printer's proofs of the FINAL version of the Shorn trade paperback and (with Wynette's help, of course) developing the e-book version. Gotta get Shorn off the front burner so I can dig into Anointed: Zach delivered revisions to that beauty a few days ago, and now he, Brett, and I will zip through final reads and final tweaks...and then plunge into pre-production.

During the parts of the day when I can tear myself away from the study, of course. :)

Friday, September 19, 2008

My eyes! My EYES!!!!

Day One of Anime Weekend Atlanta: what geek girls do on their birthdays. Rachael & I went straight over to AWA from school this afternoon, stood in interminable lines at walk-in registration (not quite geekily organized enough to register in advance) and met some cool people in line, wandered at length in the Dealers' Room (awesome new t-shirt!)...and went to a program called Awesomely Bad Japanese Music Videos.

Uh, yeah. They weren't kidding. I don't think it would have been substantially weirder with chemical assistance. Let's start with FISH FIGHT (those words, oddly, were in English; the rest was in Japanese): disco set in a fish tank; the whole group (maybe 8 or 9 guys) had fish on top of their heads, helmet-fashion. That's as much description as I can muster; my eyes are still bleeding.

From there we progressed to the saccharine-cute stylings that only the Japanese can still do with a straight face: in many cases covers of disco songs from around the world. (Are we the only people who know disco is dead?) Then there was a rather hallucinatory death-metal performance. I'm still not sure what the hell was going on with all those intestines. After that, an unabashedly pornographic (live-action) music video that included a certain amount of animation...something that felt disturbingly like a cross between West Side Story and the ballroom scene in Rocky Horror...a dead ringer for a transgendered David Lee Roth...and a video that was probably directed by Hunter S. Thompson, someplace deep in Bat Country.

After that, a cover of YMCA by a group of Japanese (evidently gay) guys dressed in Speedos and latex. FAR TOO MUCH INFORMATION.

Must go find a Q-tip long enough to clean my brain.

Paging Alex...

Argh! This morning somebody named Alex called on the Be Mused line and left a voicemail--which the voicemail system, in a fit of insanity, destroyed before I could write down the phone number. To complicate matters, the mysterious Alex called from an unregistered number. I am assured by those in charge of such things that Turing himself could not recover that voicemail, no matter whose fault it is.

This is making me crazy. I will admit that I don't always return calls as quickly as I'd like--but, dammit, I always do return them. Is Mercury retrograde again?

(I just checked: he's getting ready. Full metrograde is scheduled for next Wednesday. Just in time for final file uploads for SHORN. Oh, shoot me now.)

Ahem. Alex, if you're reading this, please call me again. The rest of you: please don't choose the Destroy Message Immediately option on voicemail, no matter how security-conscious you are. I promise your personal information is safe with me.

Words fail.

My favorite contest in a long time:

Large Hadron Collider Renaming Contest | Wired Science from Wired.com

Don't forget to look at all the nominations, which are by far the funniest.

I too look forward to never accidentally googling "Large Hardon Collider." *gigglesnort!*

I just hope they hand out the prize before those accidental baby black holes start bubbling up from the center of the earth and KILL US ALL. Cause what good would the prize be then??

OK, back to work on final SHORN proofs.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Love from Library Journal!

Color me thrilled! SHORN is in this month's print version of Library Journal, and they liked it, they really liked it!
"Niec's debut novel... creates a fascinating world of rival clans and sacred rituals, tainted by a dark, shameful past and subject to predation from its enemies."
And the money shot...

This is also a coming-of-age story and belongs in most fantasy collections.

Woohoo! I think I failed to mention earlier that Midwest Book Review liked it too:
" 'Shorn' is a unique fantasy, sure to please those on the look out for a new obsession to read."
Check it out:

Library Journal
Midwest Book Review

Must get back to dancing around the office...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Back in the study

Woohoo! I wrote lots of sentences today. I'm a bit less than halfway through the first chapter of (please writing gods) the final draft of The Shadow of the Sun, and it actually feels really good. Unlike Russ, I lack the chutzpah to sign up for NaNoWriMo, because I am still trying to find a rhythm that will keep things humming both in the study and the office--but it is a delightful thing to be actually writing sentences that evoke what I mean to say.

Part of the reason I'm having fun with this one: crazy deep worldbuilding. I can't help it: I'm a worldbuilding geek. And I'm having a great time with the worldbuilding on this one, which feels like a cage match between J.R.R. Tolkien and China Mieville. (My money's on the steampunk guy, by the way. At least from the worldbuilding perspective. The old man may outlast that young geek in the long run...)

What the hell am I blathering about? Shadow is kinda sorta high fantasy...except that it isn't, of course. My protag is too flawed to be a hero of the high fantasy type. And I am intrigued by the idea of a world in which many of the problems we address scientifically are handled by magic--but in which magic is a scarce commodity, and those who lack the political clout to lay hands on it try to use tech as a substitute, and the whole universe is not stuck in some perpetual deodorized Middle Ages. (And in which the difference between good and evil is a profoundly relevant question, but there is neither a Black Hat nor a White Hat. But I digress, as usual.) I am not the first one to think along these lines, of course. But I've been tinkering with this novel for a long time, and tonight I feel as if I may actually pull it off.

There will be Talentless Hack moments along the way, of course. But for tonight I am enjoying feeling competent.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Having something to say

The Fabulous Russ Marshalek (yes, that is his official title) took his turn on a group blog today:

A Good Blog is Hard To Find: I think I may have something to say

and like most of the things Russ tosses off as if they are effortless, this latest installment of Russ-thought made me think. Real Thoughts. I'm up to my eyeballs in pre-release, and so I can't give this set of thoughts the time to percolate they deserve. "I apologize for the length of this letter; I had not time to write a short one." So it goes.

Russ and I have never discussed his Southern Identity. I'm a Yankee, after all: an exile on this side of the Mason-Dixon. But to my Yankee eye he seems less a Southerner than a sophisticated, literary person. Like so many educated southerners, he speaks and writes in much the same idiom as his northern friends. Likewise his tastes in music and literature don't have the effect of an "I'm from the South" t-shirt. He's passionate about southern lit, of course, and evidently about southern culture in general. But when we first met I took him for a fellow Yankee exile. Which of course just means I thought he was a lot like me & the people I usually hang out with. You know, he's an interstitial kind of guy.

I was forcibly struck, on reading Russ's blog post, by the universality of the angst experienced by interstitial artists. Russ stands between Southern and something bigger (American, perhaps? I can't say for sure) and feels uncomfortable about his perceived lack of Southern cred, just as the interstitial writers whose work Mercury Retrograde publishes struggle with the discomfort of our collective "one foot in *literary*, one foot in SFF" stance. In the company of the New Yorker set, we feel inadequately literary. At SFF cons we feel *too* literary, not sufficiently geared towards Entertainment. Who the hell are we, really? Where do we get off, trying to pass ourselves off as either serious writers or SFF geeks? Is the world ready for or even interested in what we feel compelled to share?

Actually, the world is hungry for it. Because there are an awful lot of us interstitial folk out there, and we are dying for stories and memoirs and art of all flavors that connects us to one another, that allows us to share and extrapolate upon the experience of being neither this nor truly that. So many of us are interstitial in far more than one way, and works like the memoir of a southerner who wants to love his southern roots and still connect with a larger community remind us that even in our interstitiality, our not-quite-belongingness, we are part of a community. I stand between art and science, between fantasy and literature, between past and future, between female and male, between maturity and eternal adolescence, between Real Publishing and the fringe. Sometimes--perilously often--I feel suspended between humanity and something Other. It has been astonishing and validating for me to discover so many others who live with each of these flavors of interstitiality, and to connect with them via our shared understanding of its mystery.

I can't wait to see Russ's memoir. The chapter with dragons in it, especially, of course, but--even more than that--the part in which Russ reminds all of us who stand between worlds that it is our common alienness that makes us human together, and that it is in the unique and bizarre parts of our histories, our lives, and ourselves, that we have the most in common.

Interstitial Arts

Monday, September 08, 2008

On Writing--Or Not

I am not writing right now. I cannot express how much this pains me; the writers among you will understand. It's not that I'm *blocked* or that I don't know what to write--it's that I can't find the time. I'm in a crunch period that began about two weeks ago and is likely to run two more, and I don't even have time to make dinner consistently or return phone calls not related to work (and I'm really sorry about that, btw. You know who you are.)

It's work, of course. The beautiful business of publishing. I am still the person responsible for most everything Mercury Retrograde does, and I don't want to complain about that: this is my brainchild, and I love the work. Well, except the filing and bookkeeping. In case you haven't heard, we have a book scheduled for official release on October 1st, and we are busily finalizing final things, scheduling Larissa's book tour, and doing truckloads of publicity. All very important and enjoyable stuff, and in many cases the first time I've done the things in question--which means there have been false starts and mid-course corrections, and just generally that things have taken longer than they will for the next book and the one after that. I understand all this, and it's not so hard to be philosophical about it, because I love the work.

But just the same there is a certain defrocked wizard on the verge of getting sucked into things it will take him years to fully understand, waiting for me in the study...and I know exactly what the next hundred pages should be. It's hard to be patient.

Must dig in and make the final push, down here in the office. Soon there will be things to read and see: a book, details of an author tour, a new Mercury Retrograde website, Mercury Retrograde's close-to-finalized catalog for next year. Right now it's insanity on the inside and pretty boring from outside. I'll be back in the study soon.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Decatur Book Festival: Dragon*Con Annex

From high atop the eyrie of the Flatiron Building, the Great Eye of Tor Books cast Its glance across the landscape--and Its attention chanced to fall upon the Decatur Book Festival. It had been looking for Dragon*Con, but what the hell. Criteria were considered: expected attendance of 75,000. Check. Book buyers and author panels. Check. Major metropolitan area. Check. Worthy of attention. Minions should be dispatched.

Later, some of the aforementioned minions came by and redirected Its attention to the actual Dragon*Con, only a short (according to the timetables) ride away on public transport, and breathed a collective sigh of relief when It blinked understanding and fixed Its gaze on the larger prize. Still, in some place on which it is perilous to speculate, a plan was forming. Why not take over two festivals at once? Mwahaha.

There is something about Tor which we SFF geeks cannot resist. Perhaps it is some sort of geekish pheromone. We don't even know what has lured us into these places in which It can enrapture our attention and make us buy books we didn't realize we needed. This is, I believe, similar to but not the same as the glamour by which It forces the corporate buyers at B&N and Borders to bow to Its whims. All I really know is that when I looked at the program for the Decatur Book Festival, having (for reasons I didn't understand until too late) decided to direct my attention there rather than Dragon*Con this year, there were several panels full of SFF authors. I confess it: my programming kicked in. I decided these panels were of interest.

Oh, yes, they were entertaining. I enjoyed listening to Kevin Anderson, Tobias Buckell, Cherie Priest and John Scalzi on Saturday morning. I was immediately intrigued by the similarity between this panel and a hundred other such panels I had attended at SFF cons. Perhaps author panels are the same everywhere, yes? Perhaps. When I realized all four authors are under contract with Tor, and that a couple of Tor editors were in attendance as well, I merely thought, Well, good for them. Decatur Book Festival is big enough to merit the attention of a New York house, after all.

It wasn't until I wandered into Brandon Sanderson's panel (I hesitate to call it that; the poor guy obviously ran all the way from Dragon*Con, and then was expected to handle a session invented by a teen literary group all alone) and recalled that he, too, is a Tor author that I began to understand. Props, btw, to Mr. Sanderson, who did a lovely job with the topic they threw at him, engaged the audience in lively discussion of SF and Fantasy and the relative merits thereof. Only at one moment did he begin to get all Literary (thus perking up my little ears in hopes of Yet More Interesting Discourse) and started talking about the Hero's Journey as documented by Joseph Campbell. But he caught himself immediately and brought the discussion back to the arena his fans desired.

That was my favorite moment of the entire festival, because I am a SFF geek and it reminded me of the difference between the things we talk about at literary cons (of which I am an unabashed fan) and the things we talk about at more fannish events.

But I am not sure I experienced the true Decatur Book Festival, because aside from those panels that turned out to be a part of Tor's plot to annex the Decatur Book Festival to Dragon*Con, I saw little besides the schmoozing, the power lunching, and the fans circulating among booths, drenched in their own sweat--all of which was pretty much like the rest of Dragon*Con. I had planned to attend both days, but (due, I suspect, to the Ungodly Heat, the Atlanta smog, or some unholy combination thereof) I spent the day working up to a migraine and most of the next day trying to recover.

I'm disappointed that I missed out on the True Decatur Book Festival. Next year I will make a point of attending some panels that have nothing to do with SFF and perhaps even hold some sort of power lunch with someone who doesn't really understand the difference between SF and F or what all the fuss about the distinction is. But I must say that there is one way in which Dragon*Con has it all over the Decatur Book Festival, and it has nothing to do with the proximity of a proper tiki bar in which to broker publishing deals.

Air conditioning.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Yes, Virginia, there is a difference

I am adamantly opposed to gender roles. I believe that, in any situation, the role a person adopts--should it be *necessary* to adopt a role at all--should be determined by aptitudes and inclinations, not a person's role in the reproductive process. As a parent, I have worked hard to give my children as gender-neutral an upbringing as possible, and to imbue them with the attitude that any path for which they have the ability is open to them. As a small child Daniel had and loved toys supposedly intended for children of both genders; Rachael has always been just as interested in playing some game involving mayhem and death as any of her male friends.

But it is an inescapable truth that certain things do lurk on our sex chromosomes that are different from things on the other flavor. And some of them are funny as hell. Here's my new favorite:

Last night my mother sent this joke to all the women in our family (a group which is understood to include my brothers' wives):


Jennifer's wedding day was fast approaching. Nothing could dampen her excitement -- not even her parents' nasty divorce.

Her mother had found the PERFECT dress to wear and would be the best dressed mother-of-the- bride ever! A week later, Jennifer was horrified to learn that her father's new young wife had bought the exact same dress as her mother! Jennifer asked her step mom to exchange it, but she refused.

'Absolutely not. I look like a million bucks in this dress, and I'm wearing it,' she replied.

Jennifer told her mother, who graciously said, 'Never mind, sweetheart. I'll get another dress. After all, it's your special day.'

A few days later, they went shopping and did find another gorgeous dress.

When they stopped for lunch, Jennifer asked her mother, 'Aren't you going to return the other dress? You really don't have another occasion where you could wear it.'

Her mother just smiled and replied, 'Of course I do, dear. I'm wearing it to the rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding.'

When I read the joke, I laughed so hard that both kids came in from the living room to see what was so funny. I pulled back from the monitor to let them read. Rachael (who is 13) HOWLED. Daniel (one of the most perceptive people I know, particularly for that late-teens demographic) just looked bewildered.

"So where's the punchline?" he said.

And that is today's lesson in the real differences between men and women. :)

Sunday, August 24, 2008


This little bit of synchronicity amused me greatly... It's Yet Another Internet Quiz:

What Planet Are You From?

this quiz was made by The Autist Formerly Known As Tim

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Robot Russ vs Robot Zach! It's AWESOME!!!

Here it is, at last, with the gracious permission of Chris Hamer, concept artist extraordinaire.


There is a linkable version of the image on Mercury Retrograde's Flickr photostream. Go here.

And definitely check out Chris's Myspace. Thanks for letting me share this, Chris!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Biggest Robot Event EVER

With apologies to Zach Steele, I've gotta say it one more time: last night at Wordsmiths, Night One of the Save our Bookstore weekend at Wordsmiths, was AWESOME.

As Zach points out on the Wordsmiths blog, everybody who was there is a bit beyond the word, which we beat to death (including the infamous Pee-Wee's Playhouse wave that Alice instigated every time Jack Pendarvis read the word). But in typical Wordsmiths style, everything about the event was just fantastic! Jack Pendarvis gave the best reading I can recall attending, ever, period. It transcended *reading*. It was more like "performance art with books". Unforgettable and hilarious, which does not explain why both Tim Frederick from Baby Got Books and I look so bizarrely quizzical as we listen in this photo.

There was a way cool silent auction of Robot Items, some of which I tried and failed to win, as I generally do at silent auctions. (If one of you knows some secret of Silent Auction Winning, please tell me. Uh, privately. If you put it as a comment on the blog, well, then it won't be a secret anymore, will it?) But I still got the Big Score of the night: one of the infamous Robot Sketches which Chris Hamer, Ted Murphy and Andrew Bellury so graciously drew at their crowd-pleasing table at the back of the room. I asked for (and received!) a -- Say it with me, now -- AWESOME sketch of Zach & Russ as robots, which Chris drew and titled:

Russ VS Zack
Wordsmiths 4 EVER!!!

I am in the process of (I hope!) getting permission from Chris to publish the sketch here and in my other usual web haunts. I'll share it here ASAP--or else you'll have to come to my house to see it.

Wordsmiths 4 EVER!!!

Monday, August 04, 2008

A friend in need

If you've been hanging out here at all, you know how I love Wordsmiths--and with good reason. Wordsmiths is a rare gem among bookstores. Many of us are finding interesting ways to keep things going right now--but the little bits (or, in some cases, the generous donations) we can afford to share can make a huge difference. Please click through to Wordsmiths and hit their DONATE button, which will take you to PayPal. Be as generous as you can.

Thanks. Everyone who loves books and the independent arts scene thanks you.

Wordsmiths Books
We need your help to save
our bookstore.

Beginning today, August 4th, and leading through a weekend fundraising event August 15th-August 17th, I am opening myself to your assistance. It doesn't matter how small your contribution is--with enough help it will all add up in the end. If you want to offer $25, $50, $100, $200, anything at all, it can help. My greatest hope is to not only save our bookstore now, but to offer in return for your help some sense of benefit when we are once again stabilized.

The fact is that Wordsmiths Books is, as an idea and in execution, a great bookstore and it can be so much more given the chance. We are not fighting declining sales, nor are we fighting customer apathy, or even a lagging book market. We are fighting only the debt created by starting in the wrong location. Despite the depths of our need, despite the fact that it leaves me no alternative but to seek your help, we still see the opportunity that lies before us here, on the Square and in the welcoming home of Decatur. We wish to have the opportunity to survive here, to grow and continue to bring to you the same level of entertainment and literary merit that you have come to expect from us. We just need help to get there. We need your help to survive today. If you are willing to help, you can call the store at (404) 378-7166, you can stop by or you can visit www.wordsmithsbooks.com and click on the Donation button on our home page. If you prefer to utilize the mail, then our address is: 545 N. McDonough Street, Decatur Georgia 30030.

There are questions that you have, I am sure. Please ask them. Email me at zach@wordsmithsbook.com, call the store (404-378-7166) or stop by. I am not averse to discussing the matter on any level to anybody. Simply put, we--the entire Wordsmiths Books family--are at your mercy. I will be blogging daily (or as close to daily as is possible) with updates and further information. Again, no amount is too small. We want nothing more than the opportunity to continue to be the bookstore we have been all along. Your help is greatly appreciated and will not be forgotten.

Thank you,

Zachary Steele, Owner/Operator Wordsmiths Books

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Breaking Dawn Prom at Wordsmiths

I've been a blogging delinquent since the Shorn launch. Same old story: when I'm getting ready to be away from the office for a sustained period, the period leading up to the trip becomes a frenzied attempt to prepare the world for my absence. And when I come out the other end of something that requires all my attention (frex: launch party, hosting a mini-track at a con, the publication of a book, etc.) then my return to the office becomes a huge exercise in catching up. So basically what I did between the Shorn launch and today was (a) catch up on stuff that got shouldered aside by the all-encompassing launch event and (b) prepare to be gone again, for my writing retreat.

But last night, between the frenzy to stay on top of things and the impending bliss of time alone with the muse, I got to go to a party. A way cool party. Doubtless the coolest of its kind on this side of the Mason-Dixon. (Hey, gotta give the launch party Stephanie Meyer attended the Coolest ranking, right? I just wonder whether they had Crepuscular Cookies.)

The Breaking Dawn Prom at Wordsmiths: what a blast! I can't remember the last time I was in the same room with so many female people and so few males. Nobody seemed to mind--especially not the males. :) Ferosha Akoustika was awesome, as one might expect. And there was no hair-pulling in the line while all those fans waited to buy the book.

Now I just have to wait for Rachael to finish reading our copy.

Friday, August 01, 2008


Last week I had a really amusing talk with Phil Kloer at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was working, but for me it was just an opportunity to chat about Stephanie Meyer's books and why females of all ages are obsessed with them. Phil also talked to Rachael, and to a significant percentage of the literate female population of Atlanta, it seems. Fortunately he seems to enjoy Ms. Meyer's books as much as the rest of us...

After he talked to everyone, Phil wrote an article about the Stephanie Meyer Phenomenon and all the Breaking Dawn parties taking place tonight. Yes, I'm in the article. Rachael looks so cute in the picture!

We'll be at a Breaking Dawn party tonight, with the Cool Kids at Wordsmiths. If you're local, stop by. We'll be looking very Goth and pulling for Team Edward.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mercury Retrograde and Wordsmiths had a party...

And tons of people came! We had a blast, thanks in large part to the exuberant hospitality and warm professionalism of the crew at Wordsmiths. Larissa read from Shorn; Ari Warner exhibited a few of his wonderful works; Todd shared a delightful tasting menu.

It was also a historic event: the first time all the Mercury Retrograde authors were ever in one place. Here we are:

In back, from right: Zach Steele, whose novel Anointed will be coming out in March; Brett Shanley, whose novel is nearing completion and who will be editing Anointed; Geoff McVey, who is at work on a novel I can't wait to share with everyone. In center, from right: Ari Warner, the artist who drew the map for Shorn; Larissa Niec, author of Shorn; and yours truly. In front is Russ Marshalek, Zach Steele's creative partner, who is responsible for the "new media" aspects of the Anointed project.

So far I cannot find a single picture in which it is possible to see Brett's entire face. This is the best of a bad lot in that regard.

But you can go see for yourself, on our flickr set from the launch weekend. And you can also see (some eerily similar) photos taken by the crew at Wordsmiths, also on flickr.

It was a huge thrill to see so many friends at the launch! Tim Frederick of Baby Got Books stopped by and was a delight as usual. What a pleasure to get re-acquainted, and how sweet of him to make a fuss over us on the blog! Ron Savarese of Home Planet and his delightful wife Mary stopped by to share the love; and Sonja Benjamin, to whom goes a very high percentage of the credit for this whole crazy thing being possible, was a radiant presence. And did I mention that Dr. Jenn Angerami drove all the way down from Woodstock?

Speaking of the people who make it possible, Mark and Rachael and the whole unsung crew at Wordsmiths were instrumental. A million thanks would only be a start.
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Friday, July 18, 2008

Shorn launch weekend!

Already they are arriving. Soon my house will be full. Tonight: the open house. If you're local, stop by. Tomorrow: brunch for our out-of-towners, hanging around watching Todd cook (drool!), and THE LAUNCH at Wordsmiths.

Larissa will give a reading; Ari will exhibit some of his works that are *not* in the book and sign repros of the one that is (oh, yeah, Larissa will be signing books, too); Todd will feed us wonderful foods; and we will all drink champagne.

Oh, yeah, and did I mention that there will be an exciting Announcement?

Cause there will.

See you there.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sweet, Beautiful Words on Wordsmiths.com

Wordsmiths is just the coolest. They are the hippest bookstore in the ATL, and hugely supportive of local and independent artists of all flavors. Not just writers, mind you: on any given month you can catch local and not-so-local independent musicians, poets, spoken-word artists, and events that defy reduction to soundbytes, all hosted with genuine warmth, enthusiasm, and respect. And it is rapidly becoming an unmissable book tour destination. I knew when I asked them to host a first-ever launch from an unknown small press, I'd at least get a respectful hearing. Instead they have been wildly supportive, not only welcoming our little group but making it possible for us to stage a launch as interstitial as Mercury Retrograde and as big as a little press's dreams.

And now, this. Russ has put up this lovely entry in the Wordsmiths blog about the launch, Larissa's book, and Mercury Retrograde. Read all the beautiful things Russ said. Then come to Wordsmiths on Saturday night and shower him--and all the Wordsmiths crew--with confetti.

One of the nicest beatings ever

So, yeah, Wynette read my draft of the first two acts of Affairs. Her take:

"This would be a really good book from anybody but you. You can do better."

Uh, thanks? Uh, uhm...really. How am I supposed to feel?

Let's be clear: she's right. The things she bitched about were things that have been troubling me as I've been writing: some serious flaws in Deaclan's motivation which--were I to address them--would derail my trip towards that plot point this novel had to hit; the way plot had to keep giving way to the weight of backstory and worldbuilding this novel was trying to carry. There's other stuff I would like to improve, too, but those are the things that can't be addressed within the current framework. The bottom-line problem is that I am a character-driven writer and I've been trying to write to a plot point. Which is to say that I've been writing a plot-driven novel. Of course I can do better than that.

So, where do we go from here? The headline: this book won't go to press this year. Oh, it *could*: I'm the publisher, after all. And it wouldn't be an embarrassment in the scheme of things...but it wouldn't be my best art. And that would be sorta pointless. Instead I will dig back in and attack this story (which, as those of you who've been playing along know, will have numerous volumes by the time it's done, mostly because the idea is Too Freakin Big) from the other possible angle of entry. Which will obviate (no, who am I kidding? alleviate) the worldbuilding problem I've been fighting. I'd actually had a hard time deciding which of these two points of entry to use, and now I have sufficient data to be certain which is the way to go. It's going to be easier, and probably better, this way.

Why, then, the perpiscacious reader asks, if trying it the other way will be easier and better, didn't you just damn well do it that way in the first place?

That would be because I had made the mistake of attempting to think like a publisher.

Oh, sure, I've got to think like a publisher. But when thinking like a publisher gets in the way of thinking like an artist, I will succeed as neither. I'd chosen Affairs as the starting point for the series because it's got a better hook. It will probably be easier to sell. All things being equal, that's better, obviously. The problem is that all things aren't equal. The other approach, beginning with The Shadow of the Sun, is more art and less hook. Hamlet meets the Tain Bo Cuilagne meets Paradise Lost. How the hell do you soundbyte that? Who besides Irish mythology geeks has even *heard* of the Tain Bo?

Don't glaze over. It will be a good ride, nay a great one. It just doesn't have that nice *hook*.

Back to the study for me, right after the launch.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Performance Anxiety

Last night the vast majority of Affairs, which I have designated Acts I & II (because, structurally speaking, that's what they are, even though there is no explicit designation in the novel) went to my alpha readers. Now it is time to write Act III, which will be relatively short. I know what *must* happen in this act, e.g. the climax & conclusion: I feel confident of how I will write them. But there is a small set of plot points which, were time and word count no issue, I would also include--and I am dithering over whether to include them or push them into the next volume.

I use the word "dithering" advisedly. I am in my full-on neurotic-writer place this morning. I've had to get out my magical Writing Earrings and Writing Mug which I bought up in the mountains during last year's writing retreat. (How did they get to be magical? By association. I bought them in my Writing Place, during a week--a WEEK--when I slammed out 75 rather kick-ass pages. Have I mentioned I can't wait to get back up there next month?)

I don't have time to dither. The Shorn launch is next weekend, and one of the Mercury Retrograde authors plans to bring me a ms. while he's here for the event. It will make today's neurosis look like a quiet afternoon at the beach if I have not finished this novel, which I planned to finish in May, by then. And I'll be damned if I will be STILL WORKING on this novel at this year's retreat. What's a neurotic to do?

Well, I know what comes before that decision point. I will go write that this morning, and trust the muse to know what he's doing, as usual. I'm fairly certain he already knows exactly what to do, and the reason I'm dithering is that I'm applying the wrong side of my brain to the problem.

Must go write.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I just broke Myspace

Gah. All I wanted to do was look at some stuff Kortnee did on the Mercury Retrograde Myspace page. I accidentally clicked the "Myspace Latino" button down at the bottom of the page-- I SWEAR, it was an ACCIDENT-- and now I can't get the damn thing to stop speaking spanish to me.

How do I get back to the English-speaking Myspace? Help.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Nerves...of steel

The closer I get to the end of Affairs, the more ways it finds to make me nervous. Today I am writing a scene that must be there for structural reasons--but it is turning out to have a surprising emotional charge, complete with elements I must keep under control lest I pull in thematic stuff that belongs in the next volume, because it is the first time Lesle and Deaclan have been alone in the same room since he pulled the rug out from beneath me *again*. I am once again walking the tightrope of being true to what these characters would really think, do, and say about everything that has happened of late--and controlling the flow of the novel.

This is complicated by the sheer mechanical issue of page count, which in turn is complicated by Mark.

Mark has been upper management for the vast majority of his career, which means he's got finely-honed methodologies for attempting to control things beyond his power. Since he helped me arrive at appropriate pricing for Shorn in the UK and European markets, one of those things has been Affairs. Suddenly he's gone from simply being proud of my artistic achievements to seeing the business side of it-- and he asks me questions like "When will you be done?"

(That all depends how much help I get on my mundane tasks, doesn't it?)

And "How long is it now?"

This is because he has learned to calculate the cost of producing a book. So rather than finally going to sleep last night, he's doing page-count math in his head and telling me that if I go all the way up to the 240K-word-count limit Wynette assures me I must observe if I am to keep the book under $20 on the cover, I will never make any money on this.

Now, which of my two advisers has published books before? Sigh.

I am trying not to take this personally. I know this is just a sign that he's fully on board and engaged in the emotional process with me, and it is simply a fact of his personality that things beyond his control make him crazy. But now, as I sit in the study writing this two-scenes-from-the-Act-3-break moment, I keep finding my eye on the little window in the menu bar that tells how many words I've used up, my attention distracted by the page count in this chapter.

Yeah, you've gotta have nerves of steel to be a writer-publisher.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

This looks interesting

Wonderlands on Ning

Wonderlands, apparently, is a social network devoted to the fantasy genre. They aim to be wide-reaching. It looks potentially quite cool.

This is my weekend to dig back in to the final section of Affairs, so I can't go play on a new social network right now...but this intrigues me. If any of you take the plunge, please let me know what you think.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Converting the Whole Canon of English Literature into Limericks

This is a group on Facebook. I have no idea why it tickles me so.

Joe Swarbrick
wrote on Oct 18, 2007 at 8:07 AM
Hamlet, by William Shakespeare

Prince Hamlet thought Uncle a traitor
For having it off with his mater
Avenge Dad or not?
That's the gist of the plot
And he does. Nine soliloquies later.

Go see more.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Honoring the Story

Writers I coach have to endure my exhortations to "honor the story" or "honor the characters" until, I'm certain, they would sometimes like to come and smack me. Fortunately I do most of my coaching by phone. And later, of course, they admit--sometimes grudgingly--that their stories are better for my nagging them to stick to their visions rather than taking the easy way out of story problems.

Today--this whole week, actually--I'm working from that lesson myself. At the beginning of the week, in the midst of the wheels coming (surprisingly, at least to me) off Deaclan's how-to-be-a-majordomo cart, a member of the Nimrod organization turned up so unexpectedly that he even surprised me. Like most of the tertiary characters in Affairs, the Nimrods are based on some real-life alt-history/conspiracy theory fodder; one of my great challenges in developing this novel has been taking the subjects of those theories and bringing them to life in ways that serve the overall series, the reader, and the plot of this particular novel.

I've learned not to discount those little mystery presents the muse hands me; but sometimes they mean I have to stop and rethink my plans. This was one of those situations. Suddenly I had to figure out *why* that guy was so suddenly on scene: I felt I had a handle on the agendas and constraints from which the Nimrods were operating, and this guy turning up here & now didn't fit with what I thought I knew.

So...back to my source materials. I had some background (read: alt history/conspiracy theory) that had been sitting neglected on my shelf for a while, mostly because trying to make all of those different theories line up into one coherent whole tends to make my brain explode, and when it does I must go away. But I knew exactly which pieces I could use to dig into my Nimrod motivations, and they were nice and short, so I sat down with them. At first all I was getting was nuggets of detail that will be nice for verisimilitude but not important enough to help me work out my (obviously neglected) motivational set for this organization.

Now, for better or worse, this novel is far from the only thing I'm working on right now. I am still engaged in the process of connecting Larissa's book with its readership and planning the launch, not to mention working on client projects and having a family life. So it took me until yesterday to finally run up against the thing I needed. It made a whole lot of things that had been fuzzy make sense--and it made me have to shift aspects of backstory and a few small areas of plot. It also gave me that brain-exploding feeling that working with these theories so often does. (Right before a meeting with a client. Nice timing.)

So--Oh, groan, here I go again. I am 200K into this novel, and a month late on my deadline. I don't want to have to rearrange things. Can't I just wave my magic fantasy-writer's wand and declare this difference between my fictional world and the real-world underpinnings Of No Consequence?

Yeah, I could. But honoring the real-world facts makes my story world much more believable. It was just a bit too neat to give a proper real-world sense, before. So even though it's inconvenient, I am already improving my story. And as I began to dig into the meat of the scene, to figure out what--in my updated scenario--this guy was up to, little bits of future plot that I hadn't quite worked out came into focus. And above all, it's a better ride for the reader, a better and truer story.

It's still a pain in the ass.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Excitement on MercuryRetrogradePress.com--signed copies of Shorn available!

Last night, we got the last few bugs out of the new-and-improved MercuryRetrogradePress.com. There are now links on the home page from which you can click straight through to our constantly-updated news feeds at MySpace and Facebook. But the real excitement is on the Shorn page, where we now have a Sample Chapter of Shorn posted, as well as a gorgeous PDF of the Map of Avelos from the book--and most exciting of all, a button you can click to order Signed Copies of the pre-release edition.

I am so excited! Wynette made everything gorgeous, as usual.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

You know you're a Goth when...

First of all, full disclosure: no one has ever, to my knowledge, actually adorned my face with the trademark Goth "I'm dead" makeup. I do have a sort of unconquerable natural pallor, however.

Nevertheless I was forced to confront the inherent truth of Gothness last night: Russ Marshalek was his typical considerate self and sent me an invitation to Wordsmiths' Black-and-Red Prom event in honor of the release of Breaking Dawn. Naturally I'll be attending.

Last night I was pondering what to wear; I've got a closet full of black, of course, though I do wear other colors, too. After a bit of consideration I came up with a choice that should work for both the event and the fact that it will take place in Atlanta in August. But then I wondered how I might go about *Gothing things up*: what did I have on hand that was really, really Goth?

It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that I couldn't figure out how to make my planned ensemble more Goth because practically everything I wear is already Goth. Goth is like the air to me.



Apparently Shorn is not only posted but AVAILABLE on Amazon now. The book is, of course, in pre-release: scheduled for release in October. Of course I understand *how* it happened to go live on Amazon; it has to do with the handshake between Lightning Source, the printer, and Ingram, the distributor, and the subsequent handshake between Ingram and Amazon. And I don't want to give the impression that I'm complaining, because I love that people are buying during the pre-release phase. But it does feel strange that one can purchase a book on Amazon--and that book is *in stock*--before it's released.

Stuff like this is why most mortals will never understand the publishing industry.

What baffles me personally is how a book can be in pre-release and yet in stock but Lightning Source can't get the cover image uploaded despite polite but insistent nudging.

Most likely this is a sign that I will never understand the publishing industry, either.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Writing telepathy and other aberrant behaviors

Wynette has begun the process of revising her cult classic Blood is Thicker Than Water in preparation for releasing a second edition. I'm doing what I can to help, of course, because that's what we do around here. One of my tasks is to weigh in on style issues: I will be the editor of record on the second edition, which should not be construed as my having any sort of power over any part of the endeavor. :)

One of the conundra (is that a word? seems it should be. must go look... Oh dear. Forget I even had that moment. Have I mentioned I never studied Latin, though my tuition dollars have paid for a few years of the stuff in the next generation?) Ahem. One of the conundrums of writing speculative fiction--actually, a high percentage of the conundrums involved--stem from the fact that in SFF we postulate certain activities as more or less normal when we don't have common consensual-reality labels, grammars, and stylistic conventions to describe and discuss them.

When I edit SFF, I spend more mental energy on how to handle these issues than on the garden-variety editing required on all the many pages in your average SFF book. Do we capitalize the pronouns that refer to deities? How shall we punctuate the telepathic conversations? Do we use the same set of verbs to refer to psionic behaviors as to the corresponding mundane ones? People grow surprisingly passionate about these issues, as if they might have definitive right and wrong answers--when, should we muster the perspective to view these issues dispassionately, it becomes clear that the answers can only be definitive to that particular author and work.

Digging back into Blood is a case-in-point. We have wound up having long (not contentious, thankfully) discussions about how to present telepathic conversation. Because I was wearing my Editor Hat during these discussions, I was able to maintain a neutral stance, give the whole issue up to my standard "as long as it's consistent and comprehensible, it cannot be considered incorrect, because the CMoS has yet to render an opinion on the topic". And Wynette, whose work this is, finally made a ruling on how this particular piece of imaginative styling should work in her book. Her ruling is *correct*, because it falls within the few definitive stylistic rules we have for these sorts of things.

But as an author and an SFF geek, I'm going, "No! Wrong!!! I TOTALLY DISAGREE with the way you're doing this!" When my book comes out at the end of this year, the telepathic conversations will be presented very differently from the way Wynette is doing it--because that's how I think they should be. Because that's my work, and no one else gets to say I'm imagining incorrectly, as long as I'm consistent about it.

We must remember to be polite about these things, and not smack one another with our well-worn copies of the CMoS. Because ultimately what we don't agree about is the way we imagine these uncommon phenomena for which there are no consensual-reality labels, grammars, and stylistic conventions--let alone definitive truths. Because ultimately what we're disagreeing about is the contents of our imaginations, which it would be very silly to expect to match up in the first place.

A short detour

Well, that scene didn't turn out at all the way I expected--but it did turn out *right*. Fortunately it was a short, character- and relationship-enriching detour.

Now, back on the bus.

Avoidance Behavior

After a couple good days in the study, I have run up against a plot-point long planned, a thing I reasoned Edward would decide to do. It seemed altogether sensible until last night, when I realized what Lesle's reaction was going to be: not at all what anyone else expected (including me, btw. Duh.) but inevitable given her character.

Suddenly I am waffling about this plot point. Maybe it's right; maybe it's not. And all at once I find that there are fifty tasks I have been ignoring that must be completed Right Now. It's all avoidance behavior, of course.

Even blogging about the problem is avoidance behavior.

Time to turn off blog and just go write the scene. I can, after all, excise it later if it turns out to have been wrong...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Q&A with Publishers & Editors

Part 2 of Diane Wolfe's project is up here. A lot of really thoughtful answers. Nice work, Diane!

Happy Birthday, Wordsmiths!

Just got back from Wordsmiths' first birthday party--what a cool crowd. Got to meet more of the crew from Wordsmiths, notably Alice, who shares a bit of a Texas past; got to talk a bit with Zach and Russ; got to listen to some fun readings and a spoken-word performance by a young man named Will, who was awesome and hilarious. And I finally met Tim from Baby Got Books--who boils a mean crawfish.

And oh the crawfish! I haven't had The Real Thing since leaving Texas. Tim knows what he's doing.

Crawfish are still a negative-calorie food, and a little bit Wild Kingdom for those of us who usually eat food pre-sanitized by food processor folk. You need those hand-wipes. But the potatoes in particular are not to be missed.

Happy Birthday, Wordsmiths! What a great party!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

We're up on Amazon!!!

OMG, I am squealy excited! Shorn is available on Amazon for pre-order! There's no image yet (must add getting that taken care of to my to-do list) but there's a button one can click to pre-order the book.

Unspeakably excited.

FWIW, you will be able to order a pre-release version from the Mercury Retrograde website in a few days. Genre collectible to be? Maybe...

I'll post the link for the pre-release version when we've got all the kinks out. Meanwhile, BEHOLD! We are on Amazon!!!

Shorn on Amazon

Monday, June 09, 2008

Kortnee made me do it

Yeah, it began innocently enough. Kortnee, Mercury Retrograde's resident Web 2.0 guru, has been setting up social web presences for Mercury Retrograde. We've got a way cool Myspace Page now; and today a Facebook page for Mercury Retrograde went live. Complications develop: it turns out one must create a Facebook account to see anybody's page. So I had no choice but to create my own Facebook page. By this evening, even Kortnee could see that giving me that shiny new toy had been a mistake.

I've been nothing but social since noon. Mercury's retrograde phase must be ending. And me with my novel not yet finished!

More on that anon...

Welcome to Mercury Retrograde

I am not someone who must check her horoscope first thing in the morning; as many of you know, I have essentially no *beliefs*, only suspicions and experiences and observations. One observation that will surprise no one who knows me: there is something oddly numinous about Mercury's retrograde phase, something that changes things in surprising and frequently unpredictable ways. I'm not talking about the fact that mail servers seem to be behaving badly right now, which they are; I'm not going to get into the disaster stories I'm hearing from people who had the poor judgment to attempt software upgrades during this phase. (Just don't do it: that's what you need to know.) As far as I'm concerned, the significant thing about Mercury in retrograde is the effect it has on *me*, particularly on the muse.

I am supposed to be spending a lot of bandwidth on discussing my race to finish Affairs right now: and no, I haven't forgotten, nor am I done. [Bad writer! I am seriously late on my deadline. Fortunately I know the publisher. :) ] I've simply been unable to talk about process, or about much of anything regarding my creative life. This is a well-known feature of the retrograde, at least for me. I've been working steadily--but in typical Mercury Retrograde fashion, I've fallen into a sort of communications black hole, and while there's a lot of words being conceived and written in here, they just can't seem to find their ways out beyond the event horizon to reach other people.

So, to catch you up a bit: the muse woke up at the beginning of this cycle and decided that nothing would do but to drop everything and go back to the beginning of the novel, and start building in that neglected subplot-and-a-half. Classic Mercury Retrograde stuff, actually. I finally finished that over the weekend; at last I am ready to work through the final section before the climax. My word-count estimate was Just Dead Wrong, as usual: I am currently at 197K words, give or take, and I *still* estimate about 20K more. Maybe more than that, actually.

Yeah, I can't estimate.

The most surprising statistic to me, since I've spent all this time working on a subplot that was all about Deaclan: the PoV proportion is still hugely tilted in favor of Lesle. Which seems appropriate, since this was supposed to be her novel in the first place. As of last night, 68% of the pages thus far are written from her PoV. Yes, I'm a geek, and I do chart and conduct the occasional structural analysis: I need to do this, just to control for how often I get hijacked by characters. One more observation for the structure geeks; the rest of you can look away lest your eyes burn: this novel is turning out to have a Syd-Field-classic 3-act structure. My Act 2 has 5 reversals, not counting the reversal into Act 2 or the reversal (not yet written) into Act 3. Of those mid-act reversals, one is driven by Deaclan, the rest by Lesle; which, I guess, is proportionally correct. So maybe my plot is working. :)

I'm feeling a sort of existential insecurity about this novel at present: not *can I finish?* because I know I can; I could tell you exactly what the major plot points are, for the rest of the novel. It's more "Oh, gods, what if it SUCKS?"

That's normal for me, too. I'll just have to keep writing and see how I feel about it when it's complete, and pass it along to my alpha readers, who I know I can trust not to let me embarrass myself in public. :)

Q&A with Publishers & Editors

Diane Wolfe, author of the YA Series "Circle of Friends", is one of the organizers of a writer's group called TheWritersMeow on the DeviantArt forums--and she and I have an e-list in common. She recently organized a sort of web-panel of publishers & editors to answer questions from TheWritersMeow members. Some good questions, and some interesting answers. And yes, I was on the panel.

This is the first of two installments in Diane's panel report:

I must say I love it when writers take the time to be smart about the business side of things.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Shorn Launch

Look what I found on the Wordsmiths Books site!

The advance write-up for the launch of Shorn

I am over the moon with excitement. Russ said it best:

Free Drinks!

A few thousand words on book signings

from Ubermensch Russ Marshalek, who will be the True Host (I will only be the one who gets to look like she's done something important) of Larissa's book launch in July.

The man says a mouthful:

A Good Blog is Hard To Find: On the nutso book world, Vol I

Sunday, May 25, 2008

For ancient religion geeks

Wynette and I were discussing recently how difficult it is to write works that touch on ancient Celtic culture, particularly Celtic religion. There Be Dragons there: that area of study is a battleground among academics, and those of us who have other flavors of attachment to that tradition tend to have a difficult time separating what truths we can glean of that tradition from the fantasy-movies that popular culture has overlaid them with. I have found a better flavor of understanding, not to mention some emotional peace on the topic, from digging into academic source materials. In the course of preparing for this series I went so far as to spend months (really, months!) reading academic works on Irish archaeology and actually dragged Mark all the way across The Pond to walk those sites myself.

Turned out to be a religious experience, ironically enough. But I digress, as usual.

Presently, I am reading a book loaned to me by Ron: The Time Falling Bodies Take To Light: Mythology, Sexuality & the Origins of Culture by William Irwin Thompson (ISBN 0-312-80512-8) which essentially picks up where Frazier left off with The Golden Bough – with stunning results. I am going to buy this book; it is one I will find necessary to re-read fairly often.

In the section I am reading now, Thompson engages in a lengthy footnote on the topic of the original One World Religion (of the Great Mother, of course) and where Sumer, with its ultimately masculine tradition that became the backbone of the Etruscan, Roman, and Greek religions diverged from the continuing Mother Goddess trad of Western Europe, and recommends these books, which I am also going to hunt down, as context on that divergence:

Time Stands Still: New Light on Megalithic Science by Keith Chritchlow (London, Gordon Fraser, 1979)


The Silbury Treasure by Michael Dames (London, Thames & Hudson, 1976)

The Avebury Cycle by the same guy & publisher, 1977

It was this week, as I was reading Thompson’s book, eating my lunch, absorbing his discussion of the Great Mother as both womb and tomb and how that perception is reflected in Neolithic tomb-sites e.g. Newgrange (though he doesn’t mention Newgrange but rather Bryn Celli Ddu in Wales, and shows that picture)—when, because I’ve been following Thompson’s argument and have passed through the narrow tunnel into the inner sanctum of Newgrange myself, I suddenly saw what would have been obvious to anyone who breathed that religion: the entrances to those barrow-tombs are models of the vagina of the Great Mother, which in that way of thinking is a two-way street. But this is only one of many insights I’ve had into the profoundly male-female, always-about-fertility-and-yet-always-about-something-more, nature of that religion. So if ancient Celtic culture and religion are on your radar, do yourself a favor: pick up those books.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Book launch 2.0


Please observe the no-coffee-while-watching rule...

Please. It's for your safety.

Friday, May 16, 2008

A laugh break

Alec Baldwin just keeps getting funnier. Go watch.


Eleventh-hour plot restructuring

Making fiction-sausage doesn't get much uglier than this. When Deaclan blew me off my story map a few days ago, I realized in short order that I had to rework the plot for this last section of the novel. My story bus gets hijacked frequently enough that I've actually got a methodology now. In the interests of full disclosure...

I've got two computers in my study. (Yes, I'm a geek. And I'm married to somebody in the computing industry, which means I have a great deal of tech support and the occasional hand-me-down from a defunct company, which is where I got Study Computer #2, my laptop.) I have an external monitor (another defunct-company hand-me-down) hooked up to my laptop, so there are two good monitors and a laptop screen at my disposal--which is a good thing, because it turns out I need to look at a lot of data at once when I'm developing fiction, particularly when I'm performing reconstructive surgery on a plot. So on one of my monitors I bring up Power Writer, the program in which I do all my fiction writing. (If you're not familiar with Power Writer, and you write novels, this is a thing you want to know about: go here.) And on my other monitor, the one connected to the laptop, I bring up MS Word and start brainstorming in a new file. (Fortunately I've also got my favorite new productivity aid, Synergy, running, and can talk to both computers with one keyboard and mouse.)

In my brainstorming file, I ask myself questions like What does Edward want now? What is he afraid of? What is he going to do about it? and then attempt to answer those questions. The answers frequently surprise me, and always lead me to discover things that belong in my developing plot. But then, of course, I must also ask myself questions like What is Deaclan going to do about this thing Edward plans? -- which leads me to even more plot points. All of these new plot points must be logged in my story file along with whatever notes I've got on them. I must go through this same exercise with each of my important characters, not just my PoVs.

In the process, for better or worse, I also discover pieces of motivation that have to be set up earlier in the story: things I was not consciously aware of until I began this exercise, even though they've been driving certain behaviors all along. Now I dive into earlier sections of the novel, layering in a few paragraphs of the rumination Deaclan favors (he says far more to the reader than to just about anybody else, as it turns out) or performing minor adjustments to existing dialogue.

Then, finally, I am left with a list of New Problems to solve: things I have determined characters will want or need to do, for which I don't yet know the mechanics of how to accomplish them. They include issues such as the things one of two people who are functionally joined at the hip must do in order to effectively deceive the other, within the story rule-set, and -- always the most challenging -- how to accomplish certain bits of magic that Deaclan will decide are necessary.

It will be a couple days before I am writing sentences again, but it is already becoming obvious to me that I was wrong in my previous post: this novel is not going to come in shorter than anticipated. Silly me. I am going to have a hell of a time keeping it from getting *longer*. But it will definitely be a more exciting final act than I had previously planned.

And this, finally, is another reason why I write sequentially and accept the shenanigans of my unruly characters. I could never have imagined this story all at one go; it evolves as I write, and is much better for it. The novel that will finally go to press will include only a vanishingly small amount of what I originally expected to write, and the muse--who mostly doesn't say much until I am putting words on the page--is better at this stuff than I. :)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Yeah, my plot's broken again

As usual, my conscious mind is the last to know. When I got nervous about Deaclan's reaction in the last scene, I *should* have been: I now realize it changes big chunks of his plot. What I'd planned for him between now & the climax has been entirely obviated; whatever changes I make to his plot must, perforce, ripple into Lesle's as well. I must, at this late date, engage in yet another round of plot restructuring.

Two pieces of good news:

The plot as re-planned by the muse (thought not yet fully revealed to my conscious mind) will be better than the one I'd sketched. He is better at plot than I.

The book will probably come in a bit shorter.

Now I just have to figure out what everyone will be doing instead of what I'd planned. Has anybody seen my map?

Why I write sequentially

Today I feel as if I've got a tiger by the tail. Yesterday I executed the plot point I had planned for that point in the story--but, as so often happens, I was surprised by a character's emotional reaction, left with a profound feeling of uncertainty about what he's going to do next and how it will influence the unfolding story.

Don't read too much into my assertion that I had planned this plot point: I had only realized what Deaclan was going to do at this point in the story a few days earlier, when I began thinking about the plot point to which he's reacting and remembered that--because of the rules of magic and magical bonds already in play--Deaclan would be immediately aware of things anyone else could only have guessed at. And that those things weren't going to make him happy. Suddenly this event which I had originally planned as part of another plot was affecting Deaclan and his tactics, and -- more importantly, to my mind -- moving him into an emotional space I wasn't ready for. One unanticipated emotional response from a character can--and frequently does--change the way the plot unfolds.

The closer I come to the end of this novel, the more nervous things like this make me. In early chapters, when characters surprise me, I feel entirely comfortable just letting them do their things and finding out what they're getting at as things unfold. But now I am (I hope) within fifty pages of the climax, and the novel has to end in a particular place--and, more troubling yet, because the next novel will continue the action of this one, my plot structures must work across the divide between these books. I must not allow characters to reveal things that I need to use in the next volume--and I can't fall into the trap of allowing them to stagnate because I'm trying to hold off. And when my characters surprise me, they always move my reveals forward from where I'd planned them. I am, after all, notoriously slow at most everything. I can only assume that when the muse pushes faster, he's the one who's right. But suddenly each of my subplots is straining towards stuff that has to be in the next book, while my main plot is time-bound. The climax must occur on a particular day, because it is a holiday; and as my characters speed up the pace of the subplots, and I try to keep my reveals under control, that day begins to seem a very long way off.

Why all this worry? Because there are only so many pages that can be fit between a single set of covers before the book becomes too expensive to produce. If there were no such limits, I would probably write novels that were 800 or a thousand pages long. Readers will only pay so much for a book, and distributors and bookstores will demand their cut of the purchase price. If the money remaining after all those requirements are met is less than the cost of producing the book, I am essentially paying readers to read my stories. And of course I want to share my stories with everyone, but I can't afford to do that. As long as my stories go to market in book form, I have to keep the chunks of my story below a certain threshhold--and each of those chunks must stand satisfyingly alone.

This is a set of tricks which seems more easily managed by people who develop outlines and then stick to them. Unfortunately I develop outlines, draw maps of my story territories if you will, plan my trips--and then the characters hijack the bus. Every so often, when we stop for meals, I negotiate with them about moving in the direction of the climax point for which I'm shooting, and we modify our maps and set out again. But the characters have a tendency to forget to look at the map, or to drive too fast--and my nice measured story arcs look as if they were drawn by someone riding on a bus being driven much too fast on a poorly maintained road.

Which, of course, they are.

We will get there. But I'll be uneasy until I bring my subplots to their first-book climax points.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Staying the Course

It's been a challenging day in the study: I won't say difficult, because that would imply things didn't go well, and ultimately they did. But getting there wasn't as easy as it might have been.

It's been a few days since I wrote: I had that big birthday weekend, and a heavy week leading up to it, and the rhythm I like to maintain in the study just wasn't there. That tends to spell trouble for me in the getting-started-on-the-page department, and even though I knew what I was going to write today, that's exactly what happened. For a couple hours things just didn't flow; I felt as if what I was writing was stilted and boring (and as you know, Bob, if *you* are bored with what you're writing, your audience has already turned on the TV); the phone kept ringing, with calls I had to take. During my less confident days as a writer, I would probably have concluded I was (ack!) blocked, let myself off the hook, and hoped tomorrow was better and the block was just a passing thing rather than the descent of True Creative Paralysis.

But I knew that the paragraph I was writing was there to set up data I needed in play, and that all I had to do was keep it short and move on; and I knew that, if I would just stick with it, I would become unstuck, and the words would start flowing. Because, if you are patient with yourself and you're honoring your characters, they will. So I stayed the course: accepted that I would be getting to my afternoon deliverables later than I'd hoped, but required myself to hang in there.

Now, I didn't chain myself to the desk: I wandered off and made myself some lunch, and shuffled laundry into the washer, the dryer, the piles of folded clothes; I sat down in the kitchen and read a book while I ate , and took my time with it. But then I went back to the study, and just slogged through another couple of paragraphs--and then Lesle walked through the door of the room where the action I'd planned was going to happen, and she and Edward started talking about things that needed to be discussed, and I forgot about feeling stiff. The muse just did his thing, and when next I looked up, the chapter was complete.

Those of you who follow the play-by-play around here may remember that just last week I was speaking out against the prevalent belief that one must produce at a consistent rate; this may seem as if I'm contradicting myself. I don't think so: what I'm saying is not that we must produce n pages per week or per day (although goals are useful)--but that we must be both patient and brave during those moments when we walk into our writing places with ideas we want to pursue, and it doesn't go easily. What's easy in those moments is to declare ourselves blocked, broken or inadequate as artists. What we need to do is be patient with ourselves.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


Yes, lots of exclamation points this week. Must be all that birthday excitement.

I realized I had forgotten to mention that my websites are now fully LIVE:

Mercury Retrograde Press

Be Mused Author Services

And, while you're out surfing the web, go check out Larissa's new site. That one just makes me feel like a proud grandmother (except of course, that I'm not that old...). LOL.

Friday, May 09, 2008


Fair warning: there will be little fiction written this weekend. Tomorrow is my birthday; Sunday, of course, is Mother's Day. In honor of my birthday, I was given a nice allowance for new perennials for my garden--and what should I find on the clearance rack but honest-to-the-gods wormwood! Not that pedestrian variety of artemisia one usually sees, but the Real Thing. Naturally, since this is also the month for finishing Affairs, this feels like a Good Omen.

I will be out in the garden, planting and mulching and weeding, most of the weekend. Whee!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

producing at a consistent rate

One of the precepts of writing I hear most often concerns the absolute necessity of producing consistently. I don't do that; I can't. I do have goals; right now, I'm trying to write 1000-2000 words per day, which is not unreasonable when I'm writing regularly. But yesterday I didn't write more than a few hundred: I just finished that last scene.

It's not that I didn't have time to spend in the study; it's that I had to stop and think. That scene was the end of a chapter, and I am switching between my PoVs by chapter--and while I've known for quite some time what the plot points of this next chapter will be, it wasn't until I'd written through the last one that I could plan the part of this chapter that matters. Because as far as I'm concerned, it's not what *happens* in this chapter that matters, but what it means to the characters.

In my view, plot only satisfies when it is a vehicle for character. I believe the stories that matter are about characters, not events. The events are critically important: they are the things that force the character to reveal himself, to grow and change. But if telling you the plot points of this next chapter would constitute a spoiler in one sense, in another sense they hardly matter at all--because what happens at the Winter Solstice in the Cathedral of St. John is important only because of the things Lesle learns about herself, because of the decisions Deaclan is forced to make which will push him closer to the commitment he fears, because of the conclusions the movers-and-shakers who are in that building will draw and the things they will do in response--which will reveal to each of my PoVs things they might never have otherwise figured out, and cause them to react in turn.

My characters surprise me--usually in little ways, but occasionally in ways that leave me reeling for days--in every chapter I write. It isn't until I put them into these situations I dream up that I discover how they will react--and, naturally, their reactions shift the situation as it unfolds, so that I exist in a state of continual surprise. That's what makes the work of writing interesting, as far as I'm concerned: in part because the work continues to challenge, as I must continually adapt to their shenanigans. It's part of what makes the story come alive; but it also makes productivity uneven, because once enough surprises pile up, I have to stop and think about how the PoV whose task it is to begin the next segment of the tale (in this case, Deaclan) will react to the things that happened while he wasn't driving.

I know enough of what's on his mind now to begin the next chapter--so off I go.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Fear not.

As usual, I did not forget how to write. After a morning largely occupied by Altered Forms of Consciousness, I now have six nice new pages and need only write a closing paragraph or two for the scene.

For me, at least, writing magical events from the point of view of the magical operator always induces altered consciousness--because, of course, the character in question must enter an altered state in order to work the magic. It's always fascinating to go back later and read what I wrote.

No sausage yet

I don't know if there is such a thing as a typical writer's life; I doubt it. I am the only one I know who has trouble writing on weekends, though. I didn't get any pages written on Affairs this weekend, for all the usual weekend reasons:

* I was catching up on my sleep, which I can't seem to get a full quota of during the school week.

* When all my people are in the house, I try to remember to enjoy their company. Daniel in particular will be living under this roof for little more than a year; I've got to enjoy the incidental, no-stakes encounters while I can.

* We tend to plan and eat meals that require a significant amount of time in the kitchen on weekends, largely because I am not the only one coming up with food ideas. I lose hours to this activity, but we all enjoy it. (And frankly it's a change of pace from my current first-book-release-ever freneticism, which results in catch-as-catch-can meals.)

* Laundry. It's inevitable, it's weekly, it's a time-sink.

* When Mark is home for hours on end, he reminds me of all the responsibilities I have outside my study and office. I tend to spend time on things that otherwise get ignored.

At any rate, now it is Monday morning, and the quiet descends. It's time to write. Unfortunately, another thing that frequently happens to me when I've been away from the ms. for too long is that I begin to feel anxious--as if I might somehow have forgotten how to write in the interim. So I will have to spend a bit of time easing myself back into the story before flow sets in.

Tomorrow will be better in this regard.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The State of the Sausage

As of today, I am about 180K words into The Affairs of Dragons. At present I expect to write another 20K words before I reach the end of this segment of the series; but I am a notoriously bad estimator, so it will be interesting to see how many more words I actually write.

A quick anatomical sketch of the beast: this is a fantasy novel set on more-or-less-present-day Earth. There are two PoV characters (one male, one female) and two really significant secondary characters, both of whom are male. (Naturally there are other characters as well...) Each of the primary PoVs is presented in 1st. After years of writing close-3rd, in fact beginning this novel in close-3rd, I suddenly realized that I simply must write the female PoV (Lesle) in 1st. Why? That was how she started talking on this draft. In short order I realized I must also render the male protag (Deaclan) in the same PoV, because to do otherwise would be to suggest that his thread is less important than hers, which it definitely is not. Both are necessary. So, yes: this thing I'm doing, this multi-first, which looks like a Stupid Writer Trick: it's not a gimmick. It just happened this time. Now I find it difficult to imagine writing anything but first for characters with whom I'm intimately connected, but I've been through this sort of thing before: that is just how I feel while I'm working on this project. Other PoVs will become possible again.

The novel is essentially a complete draft up to this point: I write straight through, and never knowingly skip a scene. The muse pulls the rug out from under me too frequently for me to get away with that. (This is not to say that writing out-of-order is bad, of course: many people do that, and do it well. It just doesn't work for me.) There are, however, a few scenes I forgot to write in the first third of the book, because I forgot about a sub-thread I had planned until my writing partners asked me what in the world had happened to it. (*Hand-forehead.* This is why we have writing partners.) And there is also one scene just a couple chapters behind the place where I'm working--which I never wrote because I just couldn't make up my mind whether to include it. (It doesn't matter for this book, but it will matter for the next two, so I've decided to put it in.) At any rate, there will be forward motion for another chapter or so, and then I will have to go back and fill in that last omitted scene before I can write the next one involving that secondary character. The same scenario will occur later, when I get to the point where that neglected subplot comes back into play.

When last I had a productive day in the study (and it's been too many days since that happened, as it has been an intense week) I was in the middle of a rather long scene. So my first task is to finish that: it's likely to take a couple days. Let's go find out...