The Writing Life

From a newsgroup post dated October 14, 2014:

Had odd dreams last night; one was clearly the result of being on six (!) panels at Capclave, but the other isn’t quite so readily explained.

In the last dream, which was still going when I woke up, a reader was asking me (in e-mail, I think) when I was going to get back to my “Cyber War” setting, and whether it connected to my other story settings.

I explained that yes, it was connected to my two time-travel series, “The Deleted Dinosaurs” and “The Time Meddlers.”

None of these three actually exist, of course, and other people have written series called “Cyber War” and “Time Meddlers,” but “The Deleted Dinosaurs” sounds promising. Anyway, in the dream I’d written multiple stories in all three series, starting in the 1980s.

In that earlier dream I was one of the headliners at a second annual event where the first one had gone spectacularly well, to the point the organizers (I might have been one of them, it wasn’t clear) had done very little preparation, on the assumption that everything would go smoothly because it had before. It didn’t; no one could remember the schedule or find the printed programs (though we all agreed that they existed, albeit in insufficient numbers).

The event was some sort of writer-training thing. There were supposed to be panels and workshops, but the lack of organization meant those weren’t happening. At some point I took the bull by the horns and began lecturing a large audience on manuscript preparation — a lecture I have actually given, but not for a decade or more because it’s out of date in these days of e-mail and electronic submissions. I remembered its obsolescence when I woke up, but I don’t think I did during the dream. (The dream was interrupted by a neighbor’s yapping dog, but I went back to sleep and eventually dreamed about that three-part SF series.)

The lecture dream clearly resulted from Capclave, but the program at Capclave was actually superbly well run this year except for being too long — it started at 3:30 Friday (I was on that panel) and ran until 5:00 Sunday (I was on one of the last set, too; there were three at that hour, instead of just one). It was well-attended, too, except for that last slot.

The connected-stories thing, though, just comes from being a writer for a long time.

I don’t usually remember any of my dreams, let alone two semi-coherent ones from a single night; I’m not sure what to make of it. I’m pretty sure there was yet another dream I almost remembered in between the lecture and “Deleted Dinosaurs,” but I can’t recall any details.

Geographical Checklist

Continents visited:
North America
Europe
Asia

Not visited:
South America
Africa
Australia
Antarctica

United States:
visited:
Connecticut
Maine
Massachusetts
New Hampshire
Rhode Island
Vermont
New York
New Jersey
Pennsylvania
Delaware
Maryland
Virginia
North Carolina
South Carolina
Georgia
Florida
West Virginia
Michigan
Ohio
Kentucky
Tennessee
Alabama
Mississippi
Louisiana
Missouri
Indiana
Illinois
Wisconsin
Oklahoma
Texas
Nebraska
Iowa
California
Colorado
Arizona
Nevada
Utah
District of Columbia
Kansas
Washington
Alaska
New Mexico
Oregon
Montana
North Dakota
Minnesota
Arkansas

Not visited:
South Dakota
Idaho (slept through it on a train)
Wyoming
Hawaii

Canada:
Visited:
Prince Edward Island
Nova Scotia
New Brunswick
Quebec
Ontario
British Columbia

Not visited:
Alberta
Saskatchewan
Manitoba
Newfoundland
Yukon
Nunavut
Northwest Territories

Mexico:
Visited:
Tamaulipas
Quintana Roo

Not visited:
all the others

Other countries visited:
Bahamas
England
France
Spain
Luxembourg
Netherlands
Germany
Switzerland
Italy
China
Bermuda
Wales (but just barely)
Ireland
new> Vietnam
new> Greece

Arguable:
Japan (never left airport)
Iceland (spent a couple of hours in Reykjavik’s airport (which
is in Keflavik))
South Korea (spent several hours in Incheon airport.

Questionable as to whether they count as countries:
Jersey
West Germany
East Germany

The End of the Exotic

It used to be that there were places in the world no one you knew had ever seen, foods that you’d never heard of, things you’d never done, and the strangeness of these things was part of their appeal.

Then my daughter lived in Shanghai. I still can’t get over how weird that is. My daughter, my little girl, was living and working in Shanghai, on the far side of the frickin’ planet.

She’s back, but now her brother is working in Hangzhou. In fact, I may have been to conventions in dozens of states, but Julian’s been to conferences in lots of countries. He’s visited Costa Rica, Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, China, South Korea, Argentina, Paraguay, Australia…

There is no more “exotic.”

And this summer, on just a few weeks notice, I accepted speaking engagements in Hanoi and Athens. International trips used to take months, even years, of preparation and planning, but I was in Vietnam four weeks after I got the invitation.

Play It Again, Sam

From a newsgroup post dated August 9, 2013 (exactly four years ago!):

I’m listening to the soundtrack of the movie version of “Tommy.”

That was a spectacularly bad movie. Listening to this I’m reminded over and over of all the places it went off the rails, all the wrong choices they made, from casting to setting to pacing.

But you know, it didn’t have to be. I don’t think the story is unfilmable. They just did it wrong.

Yeah, the original WW1-to-1930s setting has very serious problems, but 1945-1960s doesn’t work much better. Aging Tommy at the time of the murder from three or four to six wasn’t an improvement — by six most kids are a little more resilient. It was apparently done entirely to preserve the rhyme scheme in “1921”/”1951.”

Oliver Reed was miscast. Ann-Margret… well, better, but still not great. Tina Turner sounds like brilliant casting as the Acid Queen, but in fact she was pretty bad.

The most disappointing thing to me, when I saw it, was the visuals. I mean, here you have something kinetic and visual at the center of the story — pinball — and you do nothing with it! Elton John looked totally stupid on stilts, and when they show him playing he’s terrible at pinball, draining every ball instantly.

Ken Russell was not the right director, to put it mildly.

Someone should remake it. Seriously. With modern CGI you could do a fine job on the surrealistic parts, show things from Tommy’s warped point of view. Move it to a contemporary setting. Have Captain Walker lost in Iraq or Afghanistan or somewhere in Africa; you don’t need to get specific. And modern mass media make a pinball (or videogame) cult more plausible — he’d be all over YouTube.

It could be cool.

Know Thyself

From a newsgroup post dated May 28, 2013:

There’s a website at http://iwl.me/ called “I Write Like” that purports to analyze one’s prose and match it to a well-known author. I tried it out last night.

Taking a passage from On A Field Sable told me I write like Jane Austen. A chunk of One Hundred Suns, though, matched Arthur C. Clarke.

Graveyard Girl was where it really got interesting, though — my first pass got Cory Doctorow. I decided the sample I’d used wasn’t typical, so I tried again and got Jack London. Then I removed one paragraph from that, and it was Cory Doctorow again.

Not exactly consistent results.

http://iwl.me/ is still there.

Stuff I Know Better Than to Post

From a newsgroup post dated May 23, 2013:

I hesitated about reposting this, and I apologize, but…

So I saw a link to an article entitled, “What Gay-Bashers Can Learn from Baseball Players,” and my thought as to what gay bashers can learn from baseball players was, “Choke up on the bat, so you get more concentrated power at the point of impact…”

Note: I have, once or twice, come up with even more appalling reactions to posts, reactions that I successfully resisted putting online anywhere. This is, I think, the most vile I ever put in print.

About Story Settings

From two newsgroup posts both titled “Work in Progress: Bait (title will probably change),” and both dated April 21, 2013; I retitled it because (a) “Bait” did change titles, and (b) it isn’t really about that story in the first place.

“Bait” is now Veran the Fair and the Thieves of Borgran, and it still isn’t finished.

Today I got thinking about the setting, and realized I’ve been inventing too many backgrounds from whole cloth lately, instead of fitting stories into existing settings. Because of the way its magic works, Bait doesn’t work in Ethshar…

Setting of twelve novels and eleven short stories so far, beginning with The Misenchanted Sword. Many more planned, some begun. Multiple forms of magic with fixed rules, but none of them fit Bait.

… or the Bound Lands…

Setting for A Young Man Without Magic and Above His Proper Station. Unwritten/partially written stories in this setting include On A Field Sable, Assassin in Waiting, Swordsmen of the Fallen Empire, Untrue Names, The Prince’s Return, etc. Magic… well, there are actually three kinds, something the characters themselves don’t realize. I know the rules of sorcery (as do many of the characters), but there’s also wizardry and chaos magic.

You know, I could maybe make Bait work set in the Cousins. Hmm. But I’d need to rework some of the magic, because sorcery does everything through wardings and bindings, and that doesn’t allow for the teleportation spell I need in Bait, and it does allow for
transformations…

Naaah.

…it would be a tough fit for Barokan…

Setting for the Annals of the Chosen: The Wizard Lord, The Ninth Talisman, The Summer Palace. No further stories contemplated. Magic is derived entirely from spirits, which doesn’t fit.

…or the Lands of Man…

Setting for the Obsidian Chronicles: Dragon Weather, The Dragon Society, Dragon Venom. No further stories planned, really, though a prequel called Lord Dragon was discussed a few years back. Magic
is vaguely defined, subtle, and complicated, and neither the magic nor the geography matches what I need in Bait.

…and it would only fit the Restored Lands if we go back the Great Pollution, probably before the Final War.

The Restored Lands (name subject to change) are the setting for The Dragon’s Price, an unfinished novel intended to be first of a series called The Signs of Power. Wizards are extinct; magic now takes specific forms indicated by specific birthmarks on the few people who can use it, and is strictly regulated by a theocratic regime.

(Though that’s maybe an interesting idea, that it is the Restored Lands long before they needed restoration.)

That could work, but would add theological complications, as there are real gods who can intervene in the mortal world in the Restored Lands, and I don’t want divine interference in Bait.

I don’t even remember what I called the setting for “Arms and the Woman” and Meant for Each Other, but it doesn’t work there unless, once again, it’s set in the distant past, before the Extinction.

“Arms and the Woman” is a published short story; Meant for Each Other is an unfinished YA novel. I like their setting and hope to re-use it elsewhere, eventually — it’s a world where (once again) wizards are extinct, but lots of their leftover magic is still cluttering up the landscape. But no wizards means no Bait.

I don’t think it’s really a good match for Meloria or the Inner Lands, from The Innkeeper’s Daughter, either, though that could maybe be made to work.

I’d need to rewrite what I have of The Innkeeper’s Daughter, I think, to make the magic match up better. The Inner Lands are ruled by the evil Lord Gorzoth, and a prophesied hero from Meloria is coming to try to kill him. Magic is complicated, poorly understood, widely but erratically distributed — not a good fit.

But on the other hand, I realized that it could fit the setting for an unwritten story called Home is Where the Heart Is. In fact, using that setting works really well.

Home Is Where The Heart Is consists of one page of notes and a lot of stuff in my head, I hadn’t actually started writing it yet, and until today I had no intention of ever using its setting for anything else, but it would work great for Bait, so there we go.

The working name for that setting is now The Wizardly Desmesnes. It’ll probably change.

The News from Ethshar

From a newsgroup post dated February 20, 2013:

So I just got a fan letter from someone wanting to know when I was going to write more about Valder of the Magic Sword, and I wrote back that I’d had At the Sign of the Crimson Wolf in my plans for decades but hadn’t gotten around to it, partly because the ending I’d outlined was really lame, and while I was typing that I suddenly realized that the entire existing outline had a HUGE GAPING STUPID PLOT HOLE, and fixing it could yield a much, much better ending. Much better.

(I had, incidentally, already fixed one huge gaping plot hole, long ago — somewhere between 1989 and 2004. Maybe that one kept me from seeing this other one.)

Anyway, I pulled up what I had on the project — basically, three files, one the opening, one the outline, and one a bunch of notes — and assembled it into a single file, and added my sudden new insight, which took all of three sentences. But it was interesting doing this, because upon looking at the outline I discovered I had completely forgotten a major subplot, and looking at the notes I found a paragraph I’d cut and pasted from a letter I sent Lester del Rey on February 3, 1989, talking about the project — and mentioning in passing that it was one of nine not-yet-written Ethshar stories that I had planned at that point.

I wonder what the other eight were? I mean, I can think of three of them off the top of my head, but I’m really not sure which others were in there…

Oh, wait. Six of the eight are accounted for. But the other two I’m still unsure of.

There’s also a note to myself dated September 3, 1990 (no, I don’t always date notes to myself, but sometimes I do) suggesting a plot twist that I’d forgotten that’s probably a bad idea.

Anyway, this has been entertaining, and has suddenly jumped At the Sign of the Crimson Wolf out of the great undifferentiated morass of “things I might write someday” into fourth place on the list of “Ethshar stories I intend to write,” behind Ishta’s Companion, Stone Unturned, and Azraya of Ethshar.

Note: Ishta’s Companion got written and was published as Relics of War, Stone Unturned is written and awaiting publication, but I’m in no hurry to write either Azraya of Ethshar or At the Sign of the Crimson Wolf just now.

A Note on Necroposting

As anyone who reads here will have noticed, I have been copying (and sometimes editing) old posts from my newsgroup on SFF Net, which was my primary online hangout from 1996 until early in 2017, to my blogs. When I started I had 591 saved posts, dating back to about 2009.

Not all deserved preservation, though. I’ve just gone through a bunch of them, and deleted a slew I didn’t think would be of any interest.

There are 104 left. I’ll be eliminating more as I go. These reprints won’t go on forever. And I expect to post new stuff more often once I’m done with them.

The Muse Plagues Me

From a newsgroup post dated January 5, 2013:

On Usenet there’s a busy thread about high-tech guns incorporating various technology to make them safer or more accountable, and goddammit, now I have the opening scenes of a story in my head.

At first I thought I might have a complete short story, but then I realized that no, it’s the opening of a much longer tale.

So it’s a near-future setting where gun control efforts have taken the form of requiring (or strongly recommending) new guns to incorporate a device that informs the local police any time the gun is fired outside a shooting range, and a camera that goes off whenever the gun is fired, showing what it shot at.

And one dull evening the cop on monitor duty gets an alert — someone has just emptied a .45’s twelve-round magazine as fast as he could pull the trigger. He puts out the word, and a cop car investigates the reported location.

The gun owner’s mangled corpse is there. So’s the gun. They pull the camera’s memory chip, and find twelve images of a cthulhoid monster closing at superhuman speed, untroubled by the high-caliber bullets hitting it…