Now that the novel is written and I have completed my first-pass edits, I’d like to introduce my newest novel, A Darkling Nine.
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Gaylord Frost is a retired engineer who is restricted to a wheelchair. He perfected vacuum cracking, a technique of harvesting virtual particles as a power source. Kermit Sayman is the CEO of the world’s largest aerospace empire, the company Gaylord once worked for and still owns the vacuum cracking technology. These two men do not like each other.
Kermit has a plan to use vacuum cracking to power a relativistic spacecraft intended propel himself into the future. He seeks a time when medical advances can reverse aging, but he needs help from Gaylord to make the Amber mission happen.
Everything goes according to plan, except for one detail. The cost of vacuum cracking is an increase in entropy, and attaining a velocity near the speed of light requires an enormous amount of energy. Nobody expected stars would be gone from the universe so soon, and the crew of Amber wakes from cryo-sleep into a seemlingly empty universe of total darkness.
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The title, A Darkling Nine, refers to the nine major characters who embark upon the Amber mission. I am currently seeking first readers for this 98,000-word novel.
It’s been a while since I discussed the fishes I acquired last March at the Southwest Area Killifish Event. I still have two more species to discuss. Today, it’s about my crowntail bettas.
Bettas are fairly popular as a fish that can be kept in a smaller than average container, but they are also famous for being solitary animals. That’s is especially true for the males. After all, they aren’t called Siamese Fighting Fish just because it’s a cool name.
I acquired a pair of crowntail bettas from a fish local breeder. I went after a pair because I had in mind to try breeding them myself. They have to be kept separated until they are ready to breed because the male will not tolerate the female in his territory if they aren’t about to breed, especially if that territory is fairly small.
The best conditions for keeping a betta is a small filtered and heated tank, but it is possible to keep them healthy in bowls. You’ll note that the betta in the photo is in a two gallon goldfish bowl. (Why keeping goldfish in a bowl is a bad idea would require a dedicated post.) You’ll get a lot of dissenting opinion from experienced fishkeepers on that point, but I discussed it at length here.
Bettas are bubble nest builders. The fish I acquired are still a little young to be breeding, so I am not even trying at this point. Also, if they do breed, I’ll end up with about a hundred cups scattered around the house to keep the fry separated from each other. Breeding bettas is not a task to be undertaken lightly.
Today rounds out the 12 points of the scout law I have been using to fill the first 12 weeks of this new meme. The twelfth point of the Scout Law reads “A scout is reverent.”
Rarely do I discuss religion on this blog, and never do I evangelize. I don’t plan to change that today. Rather than look upon reverence from the perspective of the scouts, I’m going to take a different tack.
One thing that has bothered me for a long time is how people talk to, and about others, and this is particularly sore when it involves the beliefs of other people. If the religious right slams a certain group for their beliefs or behavior, this group is well within their right to be upset. The troublesome aspect comes when this group demands respect and the right to their own beliefs while at the same time denigrating and abusing the beliefs of the religious. That smells of hypocrisy.
People hold various beliefs for any number of reasons. Which beliefs are better? That depends upon who answers the question. I’d really like to see both sides of say, the gay marriage issue, debate the subject without hurling venom at the other side. This issue in particular seems to generate considerable hate.
I mean, one side of this debate claims to be enlightened while calling the other side Troglodytes. The other side claims to follow a man whose command is love thy neighbor while slamming their opponents to the status of second or third class persons. In reality, neither side typically handles the issue with grace.
I understand that many issues, including gay marriage, are deeply personal to a lot of people. A person’s faith is also deeply personal. One side often says the other is going to Hell for who they are. The other side often says only weak-minded people need a God. I don’t think either is true. A bit more tolerance in both directions would benefit everyone.
Today, I have the pleasure of sharing with you an interview with Jay Lake. This is my first interview with somebody I have not either met in person or interacted with regularly online, although we do have a lot of common friends. Jay was kind enough to be just as open here as he has been on his blog, which I greatly appreciate and hope you enjoy reading.
For somebody unfamiliar with the work of Jay Lake, how would you describe your fiction and which story or novel do you think is the best introduction to your work?
My fiction is at its best eclectic. I’ve written short fiction in nearly every speculative fiction voice and style you can name, from riffing on Cordwainer Smith to Robert E. Howard, from space opera to high fantasy. In novels, eight of my ten published works are fantasy of one form or another (depending on how you view steampunk), while only two are unequivocably science fiction. So it sort of depends on what you want. MAINSPRING is the first novel in my steampunk trilogy. GREEN is the first novel in my assassin fantasy trilogy. DEATH OF A STARSHIP lays open my science fictional worldview. TRIAL OF FLOWERS is just freaking weird. And in short fiction… perhaps “The Sky That Wraps the World Round, Past the Blue and into the Black”, a short piece of medium future SF; or this year’s Nebula and Hugo nominee, “The Stars Do Not Lie”, a steampunk lost colony religious novels.
You have been an inspiration to a lot of people over the years, first with your persistence at writing and rejection for years and years before you broke in and became successful. Later, you became an inspiration in the way you handle adversity and major health issues. Would you describe what that’s like from your perspective?
Kind of weird, frankly. I’m just a guy, doing what he does. Which is of course true of all of us. These days I’m probably in some ways better known for my cancer blogging than for my fiction. I find this mildly frustrating. I never wanted to be the cancer guy. But it’s a story to tell, and it’s an important one. In any case, I can’t afford to think of myself as inspirational. That would mess me up. So I keep doing what I do.
Let’s get the inevitable cancer questions out of the way. You have put an extremely positive and courageous public face on your struggles, and have been very open, yet I’m sure you went through the seven stages like most people do. The anger, the questioning of why me. How have you been able to cope with such onerous developments and still maintain a positive outlook?
Way back in the early days of the Macintosh operating system, there was an error condition called “flipping pig mode”. That’s me. I’m more or less permanently in flipping pig mode. My entire life is like Kubler-Ross on fast spin these days. Whatever grace and courage I display is an accident of the life I’m living, not my portion of enlightenment on display. I’m not trying for false modesty here. It’s more the case that I’m fairly articulate and thoughtful even when I am in the grip of wall-eyed panic. As for my outlook, I’m actually profoundly pessimistic. With some fairly good reason to be so. I just don’t let that profound pessimism overwhelm my ability to live my life every day. I still enjoy my daughter, my love life, my friends and family, my writing. Heck, I even still enjoy my day job. Because what’s my alternative? Endless grief? No thank you.
Recently, a fundraising campaign took place for some treatment that is new enough to still be considered experimental. The goal and stretch goal were blown away, passed in the first 12 hours. Can you describe what you felt upon seeing all the crazy things your fellow writers did when the total passed their unlock level?
Oh, geeze, I was so overwhelmed by that outpouring of support. And deeply amazed. I really had no idea we’d go that far, all of you would go that far. I have felt so touched, so honored, so loved by so many people in and out of the field.
If you’ve written your last major work (and we all hope not), are you satisfied with your legacy in the genre?
Sadly, that may be true. I’m working on one more novel right now, but it remains to be seen whether I can really hit this one out or not. In any case, I am satisfied with my legacy. I’ve written some work I’m awfully proud of. I’ve won the Campbell, the Audie and Writers of the Future. I’ve been nominated for the Hugo, the Nebula and the World Fantasy Award. Along with Elizabeth Bear I originated the Campbell Tiara. I’ve taught or mentored hundreds of emerging writers, and been taught or mentored by scores of established writers. I am part of the conversation that is genre. I’ll never be a bestseller or a Grand Master, but I’m proud of my career.
Enough about that. Your home is Portland, an area with an exceptional population of SFF genre writers. Do you find being in this environment energizes your muse?
Muse schmuse. I write with discipline, damn it. However, that being said, everybody has to be somewhere. This is a remarkably pleasant part of the country and the world to live in, and writers are thick on the ground here. So, yes, it definitely energizes me. (Note I’ve been in all fifty states, and about forty countries on five continents. I have a lot of compare Portland to, and I do not find it wanting.)
You and I have both worked in the technology sector, you in marketing, me in engineering. It’s a very challenging industry that can be time-consuming and draining. How were you able to keep writing during the early years where success never seemed to come?
Discipline. What I only half-joking refer to as “psychotic persistence”. But mostly, I like writing. It’s fun for me. I am entertained by my own writing process, and I like seeing the stories emerge from my fingertips on the keyboard. Plus, working in high technology sales and marketing is not particularly soul-sucking, at least not for me, and uses different parts of my mind and my imagination that writing fiction does. This means I’ve always been able to jigsaw the day job and the writing career together in reasonably creative ways.
Your job has you traveling quite a bit. Do you get a lot of writing done on the move, or is it strictly marketing business on the airplane and in the hotel room?
I get some of my best writing done while traveling. No one calls or emails me on the plane. And evenings in the hotel room are a lot quieter than evenings at home. I love my life in Portland, but business travel is often like writing heaven for me.
We also share a love of photography, but it’s nothing like the photography of our youths. We don’t need enlargers, darkrooms, smelly developer and fixer, and no coating pennies with silver remnants in the darkroom. Do you think that some of the fun has been taken away by technology?
That depends on what you mean by fun, doesn’t it? For some people the dark room is the point of photography. I always found it kind of messy and mildly annoying at best. I like finding the shots, framing them, thinking about them. Everything else was just the necessary business of making it come out right. So digital photography has let me focus on the fun parts while taking away the bits that always felt like work. Perhaps more to the point, digital photography has enabled a generation (or two, by now) of children to learn to take good photos at an essentially zero recurring cost. Once you’ve paid for the camera, you’re pretty much done. So my daughter has become a fairly accomplished photographer simply because she’s had a camera to drag around since she was old enough to press the button.
Talk about your Aloha shirts. (I’ve been wearing them just as long, but I don’t get to many conventions, so nobody knows about mine.) Yours are famous for being screaming loud. What are your criteria for selecting a shirt and what is your favorite place to buy them?
I love trick fabrics, weird patterns, obnoxious colors. I like dissonance and glare and brightness. My two favorite sources are a web site called alohaland.com, and also a tailor I used to have custom make aloha shirts for me from fabrics I’d picked out myself. This is why I have a number of harlequin shirts, which is a style of aloha shirt I’ve never seen sold off the rack. Truthfully, I’m not certain why I’m so well-known for it. Lots of us wear them. It must be my distinctive style…
Your childhood family kept you moving around the globe as the son of a diplomat. What part of the world holds your fondest childhood memories, and are there any memories that still scare you today?
That’s a tough one. I didn’t enjoy the emotional experience of childhood much at all, but I really did like the life we led. I have good memories of both Taiwan and Nigeria, to be sure. I’m not sure I was ever deeply scared, though there were times when perhaps I should have been. The thing about being a kid is that the world is what it is. And without much media exposure (I grew up before satellite television and VCRs/DVDs had globalized entertainment so thoroughly), all I had to measure my life by was the life itself.
What writers were the most influential in forming your style over the years?
Gene Wolfe. Samuel R. Delany. Jeff VanderMeer. Robin Hobb. Lois McMaster Bujold. Half a hundred others besides, to be sure, as my reading tastes are as protean as my writing styles. But in the end, I am a total sucker for well styled prose.
What projects do you have in the works or in the planning stages that get you excited?
I am trying to finish the first draft of my alternate history Old West fantasy, ORIGINAL DESTINY, MANIFEST SIN, before I get too sick to write. After that, if I still have brainspace to write, I will do some short fiction. But that’s about it, unless I get a reprieve on the current trends in my cancer. I’m considered incurable, but I’m not yet formally terminal (as of late April, 2013). I expect that to change in the near future. It’s been a good life, and a good career, and I am nowhere near ready to go, but that’s not really up to me anymore.
One of the challenges I face in my writing career is that of momentum. It can easily be summarized with Newton’s First Law = An object at rest remains at rest, an object in motion remains in motion.
I am very much a momentum writer. I wrote my short novel Fishpunk in 5 weeks. It doesn’t take me more than a day or two to get a head of steam, pounding out whatever my daily target happens to be, and doing it regularly. The problem comes when I reach the end of the story.
Once a novel is finished, something has to change. Either another novel starts, or revision has to begin. Which I do depends on what irons are in the fire at any given time. Inevitably, revision has to start eventually, and that is a momentum-killer for me.
Revision is hard because the benchmarks are less clear. There is less of a feeling of progress, and what progress is made tends to be inconsistent. Some sections require very little modification, and in those sections the pages fly by. Other areas require quite a bit of work, and it becomes a slog. Six pages might be a legitimate day’s accomplishment.
For me, it’s difficult to maintain momentum after the writing phase ends. I’ve found that creating a daily target page count helps to pull me through the revision process. It also helps to have some time elapse between writing and revising because it makes the material new again, almost as if somebody else wrote it. And for sure, spotting problems in somebody else’s work is much easier than finding it in your own.
In my experience, more often than not finishing revision is simply a matter of making up my mind that it has to be done and then doing it. Revision for me is less enjoyable than creation, but both jobs are necessary to produce good copy, be it fiction or non-fiction.
Not a huge amount of editing this past week due to final exams in the classes I was teaching. I did a few chapters. Also this past weekend I attended LepreCon 39. Was on panels Friday and Saturday and met Jack McDevitt. We’ll see an interview with him on Wednesday Writer in the near future.
Now that classes have ended for a few weeks, I intend to hammer this first pass edit out by the end of the month.
Every now and then, an opportunity comes along to create something incredible. Now is such a time.
David Gerrold, a screenwriter for the original Star Trek series, has been pitching a series based on his Star Wolf novels to networks for years and years. After many almost deals falling apart, he and a team of good television people are trying to cut out the middleman (aka the networks) and use crowdsourcing to produce the kind of science fiction that real fans want to see. Shows that take chances, pushing the envelope the way the original Star Trek series did over forty years ago. Only this time, there will be no network rules so they can sell ads for toilet paper.
Names involved with this are big, people like D.C. Fontana, special effects Oscar winner Dennis Skotak, producer of several science fiction films, David C. Fein, and several others. This is the real deal, but it won’t happen without your help.
You can help out with as little as $5.00, and nothing is charged until the goal is met. Check out the kickstarter page and help create a new way to make great fiction.
When you’re done there, check out this interview with David Gerrold giving the long history of this project.
As the Scout Law aspect to the Thursday Thoughts meme winds down, we hit point #11, a scout is clean.
I’m not going to pontificate on “clean of mind and body” as the scouts do. Clean living means different things to different people. For instance, a hard-working person with no significant vices could be considered unclean from the perspective of the LDS Church because of the occasional glass of wine with dinner, or the cup of coffee with breakfast. Or unclean to the Jewish because of pork sausage for breakfast. So cleanliness is absolutely a matter of perspective.
I view it more as a matter of living life the way you want to be perceived. Doing the right thing when nobody is looking. It’s a concept that is easy to talk about and oh so easy not to act upon. Temptation is always there, be it from food, drink, sex, or ways to steal money or shut down the internet.
In my case, I try to keep profanity to a minimum in my fiction, and I prefer to imply sex than to make it explicit. That doesn’t make my way right or wrong, it just makes it the way I do things.
Today, we’re chatting with a writer who has burst onto the main stage of speculative fiction over the past few years, Mary Robinette Kowal.
I met Mary online in the writers workshop at Orson Scott Card’s website, Hatrack River. About a year later, we met at Card’s Literary Boot Camp. She is one of the most eloquent and charming people I know, so I’m pleased she took the time to answer a few questions for us.
For somebody unfamiliar with the work of Mary Robinette Kowal, how would you describe your fiction and which story or novel do you think is the best introduction to your work?
I write all over the map in short form, so it’s a little tricky to sum up. I’ve written everything from SF horror to historical fantasy to mainstream. In long form, I focus on historical fantasy and my work is often described as like Jane Austen, with magic. For an introduction? I think the best introductions are short, so let me suggest First Flight, which is a time travel story.
You are a professional puppeteer, and were doing that long before you broke into speculative fiction. How did you end up in that line of work?
The short answer is that I was one of those kids who wanted to do everything and puppetry combined them all. When I was in college, a professional puppeteer came to see a production of Little Shop of Horrors, which I was in, and I realized that people would actually give me money to do puppets. Instant change in career plans. The long answer is in a post, here.
Which do you enjoy more, the creation of custom puppets, or performance?
Yes. I enjoy them both with a slight preference to whichever I’m not doing at the moment when the question is asked.
Your line of work has kept you on the move since we met eight years ago, spending time in Portland, New York, Iceland, and Chicago. You also travel around the US quite a bit, yet at the same time, you don’t own a car. Do you enjoy travel, and do you find it difficult living without a car today’s world?
I do enjoy travel and find it one of the best ways to understand people. By seeing all of the regional differences we have, it makes it easier to spot the commonalities, which aren’t always what you think they would be. As for living without a car? Dead simple. You just have to pick a city where it’s possible and that requires living in a place with good public transportation.
We met in 2005 at Orson Scott Card’s boot camp, sitting in a room filled with over a dozen other excellent writers. From that group, your writing career has really been the most successful to date, including a Hugo award win and several Nebula nominations. Yours is pretty much an established name today. Others entered the workshop with more experience and publishing credits (Writers of the Future win, for example), and yet your career has seen the most return on investment. Has the speed at which your career blossomed been a surprise to you, and do you occasionally experience imposter syndrome?
Yes, it’s definitely been a surprise, and yes, I still experience imposter syndrome. I felt much calmer about having imposter syndrome after talking to Nancy Kress who says that she still has it. I think that as long as there are writers that one looks up to, the feeling that they are real writers will stick around. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, since it keeps me continually striving to improve.
In terms of networking and working a room, you are among the best I have ever met. Is this something that you have always been able to do well, or did you have to develop that skill?
Twenty years in live theater, baby. I’m fortunate that my mother was an arts administrator so I picked up a lot of these skills from her, but it’s not something I’ve always known how to do. Granted, I don’t remember the transition, but I do remember being a painfully shy child. Most of networking though, really, comes down to finding other people interesting. That part is the part that’s hard to teach.
And on top of all that, you are a voice actor, you read for audio books, and you are a podcaster with Writing Excuses. Are you dabbling in anything else, music perhaps, that hasn’t been made known yet, or are you already spread as thin as the day allows?
I cook? I mean… with the theater background, I did take six years of classical voice lessons but I’m not really a singer. I can sing, but that’s not my natural form of expression. In general though, I’m always game for learning a new skill set.
What writers were the most influential in forming your style over the years?
Orson Scott Card, Guy Gavriel Kay, Ursula K. LeGuin, Myrtle Reed, and O Henry.
What projects do you have in the works or in the planning stages that get you excited?
Honestly, I’m really excited by book four in the Glamourist Histories. I’m waiting on my revision notes for Valour and Vanity right now, and can’t wait to dive back into it. When I pitched it to my editor, I described it as “Jane Austen writes Ocean’s Eleven. With magic.” Lord Byron is in it and I just love him.
I managed to edit about a hundred pages of A Darkling Nine this week, much of it yesterday. It’s coming along nicely, but I have not yet reached the point where I stopped writing for several months.
I’m not sure how much I’ll get to edit this coming week as I have finals exams to grade for my community college classes. I have to post the grades by Friday and Friday is LepreCon. I need to be done with all grades by probably 3:30PM Friday.
I’ve put a little thought into the plot for the sequel to Rigel Kentaurus. I believe the story will begin on Earth.