Apple Jack: a work in progress

One-hundred-sixty-one words from the opening of Apple Jack, a work in progress, first draft complete.

The land rose, the forest fell away, until nothing stood before Jack but a tall, doubled file of birch.

He reached the hill’s crest on his belly. His age-gnarled fingers settled on a large, half-buried stone. He eased his chin onto his knuckles, peered through the high grass between the white trees. The dark scent of loam pressed at his nostrils, almost as solid as the cool, rounded surface of the stone beneath his hand.

Beyond his nose, the land fell away again into a hollow. At its center a woman lay staked to the ground, her skirts hiked to her waist. Two men loomed over her. One, tall and run to fat. The other, short and skinny, all chin and Adam’s apple.

The tidy scene lacked nothing but its caption. “Maiden Prays for Last-Minute Rescue.”

The woman screamed again.

Jack nodded. If they wanted to put on a show, he recognized his role. “All right,” he said. “Here I come.”

Clarion West – Week 2

The roller coaster ride continues.

Monday through Friday, five rounds of group critique on the first set of stories we’ve written here. It was intense.

Michael Bishop told us last week that we should give ourselves permission to submit less than perfect drafts. For less than perfect first drafts, the first week stories were damned good. One or two, in my opinion, are ready for magazine submission.

We continue to settle in and become accustomed to each other. There has been some head-bumping. When you get this large a group of strangers, living this close together, that’s bound to happened.

As for me, I like all seventeen of my classmates, wouldn’t change a single thing about any one of them, but then I’m easy. I like people and I have to say — again — that I am in awe of this group.

When did people so young get to be so smart?

We had three mystery muses this week — Connie Willis on Wednesday, Vonda McIntyre and Nancy Kress.  All three were funny and informative.  They talked about their careers, about working these days as an SF writer, about the differences between writing short stories and writing novels, and answered a slew of questions.  So much fun.

A couple of us had a little mini-celebration Saturday morning. One of the other participants, [identity deleted], just received word that [possessive gender pronoun masked] first published story, [title blurred], has appeared in [magazine name x-ed out] and has received a “recommended” review from [a major SF magazine].

Those of us who heard the news patted [identity deleted] on the back, applauded and shouted “That’s [expletive marked out], [profanity expunged] fantastic!”

There. Who says I can’t talk about the details of our forty-two days together and not be discrete?

I can’t say enough good things about Maureen McHugh. A week ago, I wasn’t really certain who she was, although I had read a couple of her short stories. After the last seven days, I’ve become an ardent fan.

She pours her entire being into teaching and remains just folks. Thursday night, a bunch of us went out for drinks with her and she used the casual time to continue to help us bond.

My work progresses. I submitted Kindred Soul for my Week Three story. It’s a fantasy/horror story with a senior protagonist (one of the goals I set for myself for the workshop).

I’ve also finished first draft on Seven Snapshots from a Black Hole for Week Four (another hard science fiction story that I hope to send to Analog eventually) and have a good start on a story for Week Five, Portraits Hung in Empty Halls. It’s a twist on time travel, with a protagonist other than the traveler.

In addition to all the writing, I’m not sleeping enough, eating too much and pretty much ignoring the outside world. I haven’t read a newspaper in two weeks. Not that I read a newspaper regularly before Clarion West, but I did look at one now and then.

It’s a Clarion West tradition to get some sort of gift for the outgoing instructor, something with some personal significance. Maureen admitted to us early in the week that she has a passion for post-apocalyptic tales, and so we put together a “survival” kit for her.

We gave it to her Friday afternoon, collected in a combat helmet doing double duty s a gift basket. In addition to the helmet, there was a gas mask, a multi-tool, a crank-up flashlight, water purification tablets, small bottles of alcohol (with rags for Molotov cocktails), a grimed and much-thumbed survival manual and lots of other essential odds and ends.

She loved it. Her only quibble was how she would get most of the items past Homeland Security on her flight home to Austin. We’ll deny everything, of course.

Good luck, Maureen. As someone else said, You’re the business. 😉

Nnedi Okorafor is here next week. She’ll be here tonight, this afternoon, actually. I’m looking forward to her time with us. Whenever I can find an idle moment, I’ve been reading her new novel, Who Fears Death, and it’s fantastic.

More Wednesday.


BTW, I haven’t gotten my tattoo yet. There was a funds snafu, but I think it’s worked out, so I hope to show you a picture soon.

This and that

  • The check was in the mail today from Analog (Dell Publications, actually) for Flotsam.  Still no word on publication date, but then that’s from another office.  I’m ever so pleased with the payment,  and I’m excited about the sale; but the numbers on the check — $360 — show why a writer can’t make a living selling genre fiction.   Even so, Analog!  Woot!
  • The Best of Everyday Fiction Two is on the shelf now.  I have four stories in it — I Must to the Barber’s Chair, In His PrimeOh, Woman of Easy Virtue and Upon The Doorsteps.  The title is linked.  Check it out; you won’t be sorry.   It’s a great collection from a great publication.  Congratulations, Camille.  You’ve hit a home run again.
  • I’m on target for 150, 000 words this year. 14,500 since January 1 and three short stories completed — Crossing the Barrens, a westernesque fantasy that features a medicine show with God as its chief shill; Cretaceous on Ice, a tongue-in-cheek eccentric inventor tale that feels a lot like the SF stories I grew up with, and The Night Bus Doesn’t Stop Downtown on Mondays, Anymore, a moody bit of flash fiction set in Seattle.  The first two are already in the mail.  I’m still polishing Night Bus.

A Tithe of Blood

Work progresses on my novel, which has undergone another title change.  It’s now A Tithe of Blood.

I’ve written 19,000 words in the past three weeks.

That’s not quite 1,000 words a day, writing every day.  I’m pleased with that, particularly considering it was over the Christmas holidays.

The exciting thing is that as the story progresses, where it is headed becomes clearer and clearer and the major characters are stepping up and telling me more and more about themselves and how they will interact with each other.

I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer, for me discovery of the details has always been one of the best parts of writing fiction.  I can keep those details organized in my head for a short story, but I learned in the first two novels that i wrote — Lifting Up Veronica and August Company — that that sort of thing can be overwhelming in a longer work.

So I did an outline before I began this project, made a lot of notes, too, because as an SF novel, I can’t fall back onto the real world to remember all the little things.

You shouldn’t get the wrong idea.  I don’t have a two-inch-thick stack of index cards or a binder thick with pages.  My outline is 386 words, set up in seven paragraphs.  You know; this will happen here and that will happen there. But for me it is a spotlight brightening the darkness ahead.

Who could have thought that building something with a prepared blueprint could be so much fun.

The pace may pick up, it may slow down (I’ve got a lot of retrofitting to do as new ideas occur), but I am convinced I will have a first draft (probably closer to 75,000 words that the 65,000 I first projected) completed by the first of June 2010.

And I hope to be able to take it to the University of Kansas next July to workshop in Kij Johnson’s Novel Workshop that is a part of Jim Gunn’s annual SF Writers Workshop.

The downside of this whole spiel is that I haven’t written a single word on a short story since the first week in December.

I want to finish the novel, but I don’t want to give up on shorts, so I’m going to strike a balance for 2010.  My goal is going to be 5,000 words a week, with three days devoted to A Tithe of Blood and two days spent on short stories.

If I can maintain that pace, by the end of June, when it’s time to head for Kansas, I will have completed the novel AND have 50,000 words written toward short stories.  That’s nine to twelve stories.  We’ll see how it goes.

An update

I haven’t posted for awhile about what I’m working on. So here’s an update on what I’ve done since October 6.

  • finished first draft of Without Leave, a 3,500-word story about a warrior who has had his fill of battle.
  • finished first draft of The Night Bus Doesn’t Stop at Tuesday Anymore, a 1,000-word flash about a sleepy fellow on a time-traveling bus.
  • finished first draft of Distant Voices, a 2,500-word tale about a painter who hears voices that may not be just in his head.
  • completed an outline for my SF novel, which I am now calling Ties of Blood. I added a subplot that involves a traveling circus and got a really clear picture of who my antagonist is and the details of what he wants.
  • wrote another 12, 500 words toward the end of Ties of Blood.
  • rewrote Upon Whom the Pale Moon Gleams, after getting a really remarkable critique from Tom Crosshill. I’m calling the rewrite The Fluting Man. God, I love good critiques. Tom gets right to the heart of the story, as does Kelly Green and Gay Degani. The three of them are fast becoming my preferred first readers

I’m going to let the three first drafts and the rewrite sit and cool for a week or so, and then I’ll brush their hair and scrub their faces. Get them ready to send out into the world.

An update

I finished Alice, When She’s Ten Feet Tall this morning. It’s a cautionary tale about mucking about with the natural order of things, even when it appears that there has been crossed signals. 2,800 words. I’m pleased with it now, but I’ll let it set a few days and then go back to it. If I still feel good about it then, I’ll send it out.

I also have completed the outline for my SF novel, Power in the Blood, and have 10,000 words in the file. I’ll tell you more about it when it’s a bit further along.

UPDATING THE UPDATE (Monday, October 13, 2009): It has been a week since I finished Alice, When She’s Ten Feet Tall, so I ran it through my critters. I wound up changing the POV from first-person to third-person, doing a full rewrite and adding 300 words.

Oh, the humanity!

My work station is littered with the skeletal remains of old paragraphs and bloodied by the wholesale slaughter of words. Even so, she lives and is a better story. A writer who ignores an honest critique does so at her peril.

I’m going to comb its adjectives and brush its verbs now, so that I can send it off to Clarke’s World before the day is through.

Now playing in Lawrence

It’s Sunday morning and I’m sitting,in Aimee’s Place, an internet cafe in downtown Lawrence,  Kansas, having breakfast, chatting with some of the other folks participating in the SF Writers’ Workshop — and blogging, of course.

Yesterday’s trip was uneventful, other than a spectacular view of the Cascade Mountains, as we flew east out of Seattle. At Kansas City International Airport, A limousine service was waiting for me for the 60-minute trip to Lawrence.  I had a pleasant chat with the driver, a fellow named Mike Shapiro about writing and movies and Las Vegas, where he worked for twenty-plus years in various casinos.

I love striking up conversations with strangers. It turns out that Mike’s cousin is executive producer for The United States of Tara, the Showtime series starring Toni Collette and John Corbett, which is one of my favorite television shows.  Thanks for the swell chat, Mike.

We arrived right on time, at the University of Kansas dormitory that will be my home for the next two weeks.  After settling in, I sat up until past midnight, chatting with Chris McKitterick, the program’s assistant director, Kij Johnson, for the novel-writing portion of the workshop, and four or five other early arrivals.

What a hoot to have a chance to talk to other writers who love science fiction as much as I do.

I was up early this morning to work on the first round of critiques — I have four of six done now — and wrote for a couple of hours on Being Abednego, the new piece I working on.  4,500 words so far, with maybe another 5,000 or 6,000 to go.  I hope to finish it before the workshop ends.  It is so cool that the more I write longer pieces, the easier it is to go those distances.     Stretching writing muscles, I suppose.

And so to breakfast then, which is almost done.  The introductory session for the workshop is later this afternoon.  We’re headed back to the dorm for more chat.

More later.

Wherever the muse may take me

I have been remiss about keeping my words written meter up to date.

There are a couple of reasons.

First, I’ve been spending a lot of my spare time working on 10Flash, the genre flash fiction e-zine I’m starting up July 1st. That is moving along quite well. I’ve received six of the issue’s ten stories, and have them entered and formatted, with the other four promised “soon”.

Just five more weeks and I am chuffed about that.

Second, I’ve been writing, but I’ve only finished one story since mid-April, a piece of flash I wrote Thursday night I am calling, We Who Are Ernest Now Salute You.

I do have three others in the works, though, hopscotching from one to the other as the Muse strikes me.

Doctor Sue’s Dr. Seuss is about half-way home, at 2,700 words; One Last Kiss, at 4,900 words, is all but done and A Prayer to Saint Barbara is about 3,000 words away from being finished. I’ve got 5,300 words written there.

But I keep getting interrupted by ideas. Good ideas that I just can’t tell to come back sometime next Thursday afternoon because I’m busy at the moment. If I say that, they may go away and never return.

And it is so strange, don’t you think, where ideas come from. If I had to explain, I couldn’t do it. I had another one hit me last night. I’m calling it Alice, When She’s Ten Feet Tall. I did 1,500 words, with another 1,500-2,500 to come soon — I hope.

Here’s the start:

Most days, Alice felt as if she were sneaking about in a world overrun by midgets.

It wasn’t just that she was so much larger than everyone else, even at her smallest. Everyone seemed preoccupied with their little worries, as well. No one had time to offer sympathy for Alice’s big problems. All they did was look up at her and run away, screaming. Such petty behavior.

Tom Petty. Serengeti. Try to hold it steady, Betty.

That was the other thing that Dodgson’s pills had inflicted upon her. A repetition and rhyming of certain words, over and over again in her mind until she had to say them aloud or go bonkers. It was called obsessive- compulsive behavior; Alice knew that, she had read it once in a book. And it wasn’t always easy to read these days. But Alice stuck with it, even when the books were smaller than the palm of her hand.

After all, it was the one thing she had to do to pass the time.

So, I’ll catch up my meter first chance. And I have stories soon to be published — one at Big Pulp, another at Flash Fiction Online and a third at Morpheus Tales. I’ll let you know when they’re available for you to peruse.

Hope those of you who live in the States have a swell Memorial Day weekend and that the rest of you have clear skies and warm weather.

A change of plans

There’s a great 1988 movie, starring Don Ameche and Joe Mantegna, called Things Change. It was written by the director, David Marmet, in collaboration with one of my favorite writers — Shel Silverstein.

The film has so many great lines, so well delivered, but one of my favorites is just five words long — six, if you count the contraction as two words.

“What’d you have in mind?”

On January 1, I posted Some Thoughts on Janus Day, a list of writing goals for the coming year. The major project I had in mind, just over three months ago, was to complete a science fiction novel, Northlands Chronicle, before the end of the year.

But, as Mamet’s film title says, things change.

I’ve been kicking around an idea for a time, a private eye noir set in Las Vegas; the working title is Concrete Lions. Not really much more than a situation, not really a story with a fully developed plot.

On Friday morning, I got one of those mental tickles and started to set down words; by yesterday afternoon I had the entire plot outlined. So, Lions is now a go, my major project for 2009.

I’ve updated the site to reflect that, including editing the original post and have 3,800 words complete — the first four chapters. And there is more on the way.

Northland Chronicle is just going to have to wait.