Sunday, August 30, 2009

My Writing Week 2(35)

Hi all,

I’ve finished editing chapter seven of Stalking Tigers – that’s if I can resist the temptation to go back to the start of that chapter and go through it again. I can always find something to change. The chapter ended up 1500 words longer, so much for cutting it back.

I am thinking about dropping out of and devoting my critiquing efforts to just KSP, where I am waiting for someone to put up the first few chapters of a science-fiction novel, rather than start critiquing mid-novel.

I had a look at the Conflux virtual mini con, an online speculative fiction forum, held over last weekend. James Minz, a senior editor with Baen Books who also worked at Del Rey and Tor Books, had some interesting comments.

He was asked: what makes a gem stand out from the slushpile? He said “it's all about the storytelling. If there's strong story, the rest is negotiable. Don't get me wrong, you don't know how to use the English language properly, you're probably doomed, but after that it's all about making the reader want to turn the next page. At Baen…I am looking for strong plot-driven stories with heroes you just want to root for. We're about spaceships and dragons and guys in doublets jumping a motorcycle over a group of 17th Century rabblerousers.”

So I don’t think Stalking Tigers would be a good fit for Baen. Although it has a strong plot, it is probably more character driven. It is not an action novel, it is more of a psychological drama/thriller.

He was also asked: how hard is it for a non-American to break into the American scene? He said “honestly, it can be a plus. Having a Canadian, or an Aussie, or a Brit could potentially help a publisher to get the novel distributed into more places, i.e. it's not easy to get US publications into Aus, but having an Aussie writer can open that door. The only real barrier would be if there too much colloquial use of Aussie English (not the spelling stuff--that's not a big deal at all, but turns of phrase that don't translate culturally, that kind of thing.)”

Someone asked: How lucrative is the epublishing market? Is it really the way of the future? He said “the vast majority of our business is still traditional publishing, but we do very well with electronic publishing. Very. Well. (btw, Baen has been selling ebooks via the internet for more than a decade at this point.) ‘Is it really the way of the future?’ Sort of. Yes, but with HUGE Caveats.”

Richard Harland used his appearance to help launch a website with 145 pages of writing tips for speculative fiction writers. I’ve only had a brief look, so I can’t tell how useful it might be yet.

Unfortunately, a few of the guest writers seemed to have problems with the technology.

I came to the forum late, but would probably not have asked any questions as I don’t have any pressing questions for writers, editors or publishers. At the moment I just want/need to concentrate on writing, critiquing and reading.

I’ve managed to get through the past five days without freaking out about my eyes. I just hope there’s not too much drama with getting the cataracts quickly removed.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Out Damned Spot

Hi all,

Over the past few months my vision has been losing focus, especially after a bout of conjunctivitis about two months ago. I began to interrogate my eyes by reading with one or the other closed and discovered the left eye, the one most badly affected by conjunctivitis, had an opaque patch, right in its centre. It was like trying to read through badly scratched spectacles. I noticed too, that the world become a lot clearer when I just peered at it from the right eye.

I made an appointment to see an optometrist, but got a bad dose of bronchitis, missing both it and work. As I waited for my bronchitis to disappear, I thought the opaque spot was probably the reason my eyes felt tired a lot of the time, as the left eye strained to see through the fog and the right wondered what was up with its partner. I also noticed my eyesight seemed hazier on cloudy days.

I remembered being told a few years ago that I had cataracts slowly forming on my eyes. The optometrist assured me that they shouldn’t be a problem “for years”. That to me meant decades, not four or so years. My mother had cataracts removed from her eyes last year, so I shouldn’t get them for decades. An ad on the television suggested everyone over fifty – not quite yet – should get an eye test for macular degeneration, and then a software developer appeared on Millionaire Hotseat who suffered from it. With glasses on, he said Eddie was a blur. How the hell did he write software?

My bronchitis finally started to settle after two weeks and I rang and made another optometrist appointment. When I got there, a child with a patch over an eye, prolonged my suspense. Cataract or Macular Degeneration? An optimist might have been thinking, hoping that a few eye drops would clear up the problem. Finally it was my turn.

I stressed to the optometrist that as I was a writer my eyes were bloody important to me. In other words, don’t stuff your diagnosis up. I then told him about the opaque patch. No reaction. I mentioned the conjunctivitis, no reaction. I told him I swam for three and three quarter hours a week, no reaction. Maybe he did not connect swimming with chlorine. He asked me whether my family had a history of eye problems. Not my damned genes again.

He left the room to test the strength of all the glasses I had brought down with me. When he came back, he tested each eye: eye charts, dot charts, bright lights, grid patterns, a puff of air into each eye, the whole works as I waited for a groan of discovery.

He finally finished and told me I had cataracts. Great, just what every writer wants. He told me that they would only be done once, and then spent five minutes dampening my concerns about what if I got them again when I was old, as he explained that as they cut out the eye’s lens and replaced it with a plastic lens, I would never get cataracts again. I just love the thought of someone cutting my eyes.

Now I have to wait three weeks to see an eye doctor, who hopefully won’t come up with any reasons why the cataracts can’t be removed.

At least he only does one eye at a time so if he stuffs up that eye, I can tell him to forget about doing the other.

I want another body, this one keeps breaking down.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

My writing week 2(34)

Hi all,

I spent most of last week catching up on things I had put off while sick, so there wasn't much time for writing. I'm still a few days behind in my newspaper reading. I don't chuck them until read, so they can pile up. I once got eleven weeks behind, but after some months I eventually caught up.

I find reading newspapers very necessary for my writing, not just the stuff on writing and books, but anything that might give me an idea of future trends. For example, I reckon if you are writing a science fiction book set on Earth in the near future you will need to include the effects of global warming in it or give an explanation of how science fixed it (because it looks very unlikely that any useful global agreement to stop it will eventuate).

If you write a book set 50 or so years from now, you will need to extrapolate the possible effects of nanotechnology, genetic engineering, cloning, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, medical advances, population changes, other technology, even future fashion and entertainment. All these trends are shown in quality newspapers (ie not printed by News Limited).

In relation to global warming, I have been following the debate for well over a decade and have noted that the forecasts of its affects have been getting progressive worse as previous forecasts have been exceeded or appear to be grossly inadequate. Therefore, I feel okay about writing stories set in the future where global warming is/was worse than currently expected.

Would writers of other genres get as much out of newspapers? Certainly they could get story ideas and should read the writing/book sections, but would they need to study the papers as much as I feel a science-fiction writer should? A crime writer might read most of the articles about crime, but I wouldn't think there would be much of use for a horror, fantasy or romance writer in newspapers.

If I I chucked out unread newspapers I would not have read that Steve Amsterdam's science fiction, post-apocalyptic novel, Things We Didn't See Coming, won the Age book of the Year. With Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic novel The Road winning the 2007 Pulitzer prize there seems to be a gap opening up in the publishing world for apocalyptic novels set in the near future.This might help when pitching a novel that I finished the first draft of before I started my master of creative writing.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

My writing week 2(33)

Hi all,

Once again, bronchitis limited my writing exploits last week. I had been turning on my computer and editing for a few minutes each day just to continue my run of writing every day, but at the end of last week I went back to the start of a chapter and found that editing while in a bronchitis daze is not a great idea, I had missed heaps.

I had arranged to join a critiquing group, based in WA, and received confirmation last week. This group have the advantage of no weekly/monthly quotas and novels are critiqued a couple of chapters at a time. After taking about four months to critique an entire novel on critters, I think sectionalising them is better for both the critiquer and critiquee. I found a few familiar names in the group's participants as I have networked with them using facebook.

The past two and a half weeks have been a waste of time, they might as well have not happened. Unfortunately, my bronchitis doesn't seem to like going to work with me as my recovery has gone into reverse after work on Friday and today.

I miss swimming too.

Poor me, poor poor me.

I did watch a bit of telly and discovered that the new GO channel is screening Fringe on Wednesday nights which I was getting into before it was taken off air. It is on after The Sarah Connor Chronicles which I have seen the first two seasons of and is up there with the best science fiction series. It has terminators and future travellers galore, all seemingly with different agendas.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Science fiction novel short listed for Age book of the year

Hi all,

Steven Amsterdam's novel Things We Didn't See Coming, is on a short-list of five for the Age Book of the Year Awards. The novel "makes use of science fiction and apocalyptic themes" and much of it is set in the near future. The Age also says his writing "recalls the work of writers such as Aldous Huxley and Cormac McCarthy".

I saw Steve speak at the Emerging Writer's Festival and he either didn't mention the speculative fiction nature of his novel or I missed it. So out of the 30 or so writers I saw speak over nine sessions two wrote science fiction. Steve told us about his long road to being published (see previous posts). I wonder how much of that was due to his novel being science-fiction?

It's great to have an Aussie science fiction novel achieve mainstream acclaim.

I have a number of reasons to buy Things We Didn't See Coming: readers of this blog would know that I am into apocalyptic fiction and I enjoyed the suspense and bleakness of The Road by Cormac McCarthy.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

My (cough) writing (sniff) week 2(32)

Hi all,

Well its official, worst cold ever. I have missed work for two weeks - I wonder if they missed me. I've even resorted to health food store remedies, like marshmallow root tea, in an attempt to get rid of it. It is improving a little day by day. When I am not coughing or blowing my nose I am usually dozing. My attention span is about ten seconds. I've been turning on the computer and briefly checking my emails and facebook and myspace and then spending about 15 minutes attempting some editing of Stalking Tigers - just to say I've done some writing - and then turning the computer back off and lying back down on my bed. I've been feeling so tired I don't even have the energy to be grumpy.

I look forward to getting my life back.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

My writing week 2(31)

Hi all,

I've got bronchitis, with one of the worst coughs I can remember having. Maybe it's some kind of germ revenge after I got over the flu and conjunctivitis in only a week earlier this winter. I have spent most of the past five days in a daze, which is not that conducive to writing. I've already erroneously deleted this blog post once.

Anyway, last week I finished redrafting chapter seven of Stalking Tigers. Now I just have to edit it. I came across a problem near the end of the chapter when I realised the characters had left out a stage in what they were doing. Perhaps nine out of ten readers wouldn't have noticed it, but I decided to include it anyway. This created the problem of them probably not having enough time to complete everything I had them doing on that day. As their physical activities are linked to character and plot development, I feared I would have to rearranging a lot of chapter eight and then nine and so on, but I managed to fit everything in to the end of chapter seven and that day.

I critiqued a story last week. After sitting here and thinking about it for a while, I can't remember what it was about. I did have a bit to say from memory. No reading, too busy coughing and dozing.

I've just read that Labour's National Conference resolved "that the Federal Government should give priority to preserving the economic and cultural viability of Australian literature and book publishing". An ALP working group will prepare a report to be considered by cabinet when they decide on the Productivity Commission's proposal to remove restrictions on parallel imports. So there is hope that Labor might reject changes to the copyright laws.

I've been thinking, shouldn't the Productivity Commission be investigating booksellers like Dymocks, Coles and Safeway, because, from what I've read, 30 to 50% of the cost of a book goes to the bookseller.