Monday, December 15, 2008

Lying Fallow

Recently I've been getting little or no progress on my writing. It seems as though my imagination has stalled, and I just can't seem to get the grasp on my story worlds any more.

I'm thinking that at least part of it is the simple fact that most of my creative energy is going to my Web design projects, getting my personal webpage and my book review site, The Billion Light-Year Bookshelf, up and running again. There just isn't any energy left over.

However, it may not mean that the process of story has stopped altogether, even if words aren't coming out. I've often found that these periods are rather like having a field lay fallow -- there's still stuff developing, just under the surface.

I just hope that it won't suddenly leap back up and grab me while I'm still busy with Web projects. This spring I had a character suddenly spring up and demand to have his story told, right while I was still struggling to get an enormous mass of backlogged projects cleared and had no time to spare.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


As I'm working on Steam Heat, the story of the 708 Rebellion in Codyland, I'm noticing just how many parallels there are between it and the story of the young King Rene XIV of the Swamp Kingdom and his battles with his uncle Sebastien, who usurped the Cypress Throne.

In particular, I was fiddling with the question of just how important Archbishop Coquinael, the papal nuncio to Codyland at the time, was in the 708 Rebellion. Sidor, nuncio to the Swamp Kingdom, is a major figure in the novel of Rene and Sebastien, but I really didn't know how much Coquinael did in the 708 Rebellion, or if he was even nuncio yet. I just knew that by Where the Madwinds Blow, the planned sequel to Steam Heat, he and Ligo Rafferty do not get along well, but have to work together professionally.

However, I'm beginning to think that I will be finding out a lot more of him as I go along.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Intrusions and Discursions

Over the Labor Day weekend I was making really good progress on Children's Crusade, outlining the scenes in Chapter 5 and Chapter 6 that were holding me back. I was really looking forward to getting back home and developing them more fully.

And then, early in the morning of Labor Day, images started coming in from another of my worlds, one that's been in the back of my mind in various forms since I was in grade school but never seemed to be the sort of thing that would have any commercial potential. After all, it was a world so weird, so disturbing that especially when I was a kid I was very concerned that telling anybody about it (or even writing it down) would be apt to upset them so severely that they'd think I needed some serious mental help.

Of course now I've seen some horror and some cyberpunk that goes a lot further, so it's possible that trying to write it down and get it published wouldn't be a ticket to a little padded room where the nice people in white coats are here to help me. But it's still much more of a longshot world, not exactly the sort of thing that's likely to go on the first time out, from an unknown writer.

But it simply wouldn't let me go, so there was nothing to do but jot down the ideas in hopes of getting them out of my head. And after a week of this, I finally decided it had gone on long enough and it was time to get back to work on Children's Crusade. Except when I sit down to write, the images that seemed just ready to pour out now are dribbling out only reluctantly, and what does come out seems insipid and lifeless.

So I'm now working on a short story in the other universe, which is named for its rulers, the Madrians. "Broken Bird" is something of a side story, and we don't really see the transformation technology that could really disturb readers, but I'm having some real trouble figuring out where it's going. I've got the first part done easily enough, but now that I've gotten Addie introduced to Lord Rathgan and his daughter Venna, to whom she is to be a boon companion, I have no idea where it goes.

Of course it would help if I had some time to just throw ideas around and see how they form up. But it seems like time is always short, and there are far too many things to do with what little I have.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Swiss Cheese

That is how my current project is feeling like -- riddled with holes.

Recently I had gone back to a project near and dear to my heart: Children's Crusade, the novel of the Lanakhidzist Revolution. It's a project that traces its history back to when I was in junior high, back in the days when the very idea that the Soviet Union could collapse internally was ridiculed as fantastical. Over the years I'd made various stabs at telling the story of of how Stalin's attempt to perpetuate himself and his inner circle for all time through cloning turned awry when the Stalin clone instead replicated his rebel youth. They were for the most part limited by the lack of perspective and general world-knowledge that is part and parcel of youth, particularly youth in a rural community in which library resources were scant at best, and attempting to obtain better ones through inter-library loan would have meant having to explain to disapproving adults why I should need such specialized materials on a subject regarded as suspect at best.

In 2003 I had actually begun a reasonably mature version of it, but events forced me to set it aside indefinitely after the first three chapters and half of a fourth, and the impetus was lost. But in these past few weeks, a friend had suggested that it might be one project that would actually have a reasonable chance of attracting the attention of an agent, and that I should resume work on it. So I got it back out and dusted it off again, and found that perhaps it wasn't quite as hopeless as I had thought.

However, as I got into Chapter 5, I began to lose momentum as I came upon scenes for which I had only the briefest of outlines. Although sometimes even a few sentences will evoke the entire scene such that I need only set fingers to keyboard and type, this was not the case. Hoping to keep moving forward, I decided to skip over the difficult scenes and move on to Chapter 6, and for a while I did get some fair movement. But I had to set it aside over the weekend in order to finish some articles on a deadline, and when I returned to it on Monday, I found that the point at which I had stopped did not lend itself to further forward motion.

Frustrated, I decided to jump forward to the next major scene, which takes the action to Moscow and the decision by the head of the KGB that Andropov and his fellows are not responding adequately to the disturbances in the Caucasus. However, when I actually started writing it, instead of unfolding properly it came out in awkward jerks, without the flow of supporting information that is really needed.

And then I realized that one of the biggest problems is that, since I have not written all of Chapter 5 yet, I do not really know exactly what information has been presented about KGB General Semyonov yet.

So it appears that it is going to be essential for me to go back to Chapter 5 and slowly force my way through each of those scenes, developing all the necessary information. Only then will I be able to go forward to the scenes that build upon it and not feel like the story is riddled with holes.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Reading from the Writer's Perspective

One of the more interesting things about being a writer is how it affects the way you read. Even when you're reading someone else's writing, there's always the tendency to look at the more technical aspects of the work.

This is particularly true if you have had the opportunity to read draft versions of a work. The writing community is a rather small one, and we frequently read one another's works in progress. For instance, I originally read Sherwood Smith's latest novel, A Stranger to Command, in draft form in the Athanarel community on LiveJournal. As a result, I kept noticing differences between the finished novel and the versions I had read.

For instance, in at least one version there was some earlier material in the beginning, dealing with Vidanric's parents observing him fencing and discussing the state of the kingdom of Remalna. However, that appears to have vanished altogether in the final version, which begins with the abrupt introduction of the rather lost young Vidanric at the Marloven war academy. Although there is a certain loss of background, the reader now gets to share Vidanric's sense of being out of place, even a fish out of water, which in many ways increases the sense of identification with him.

Beginnings are always the trickiest part of stories, because the writer must introduce the reader quickly enough to engage their interest and not bore them, but not so quickly as to overwhelm them and thus lose them.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Father of the Man

The child is the father of the man, the old saying goes. And it's always interesting to see familiar characters when they were younger than I've been accustomed to seeing them.

While I was messing around coming up with a new idea for next year for an annual anthology, I hit on a story of Robert Cardinal Dautery's youth. Probably one of the most notorious Heirs to Cody thanks to his extensive Outfit connections and the questions about his becoming Heir to Cody, he loomed large over the story of Julian Falconskirk and the Rebinding of the Isolated Worlds. But even in Anne's stories, in which he's still living, he's always a distant figure.

And now I'm outlining the story of his episcopal consecration, and how it became entangled with the murder of his mother in an attempt on his father's life that went terribly wrong (his father was consigliere to the Boss of Codyland, and thus a legitimate target for a rubout, but the code of honor prohibited the deliberate targeting of family members). And now I can see some of the family politics that have tangled and twisted his life, including an elopement that will have interesting consequences for Anne a generation later.

Now for the time to actually write all this stuff. Of course it would be easier to justify taking the time if someone out there would actually take some interest in my writing and buy some of it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Recently I've pulled out Quest for Video, the first of a trilogy that I originally started planning way back in 1993 when I was working at Moraine Valley Community College and we had an exhibit on the early days of television. It's set in a world where an attempt to use genetic engineering to end sexism led to a catastrophic war that resulted in a rejection of technology. Four centuries have passed, and a few nations are slowly readopting various kinds of technology. However, electronics remains forbidden, although electricity has been readmitted for about a generation because of its general usefulness.

Trasin, an androgyne (medial sex that's a result of the ill-advised efforts to end sexism through genetics), dreams of re-creating television without the use of banned vacuum tubes or transistors. It's a tall order, particularly after sie had to flee hir native Gamorra for the more laid-back ac-Daithas. There, friendless and beset by both poverty and ill-health, sie struggles to keep the dream alive.

Sie is at the miserable day-job where sie has been ordered to work full-time to repay the debts that resulted from hir latest bout with life-threatening illness, trying to grab a few moments to jot down a diagram for a new design during the lunch break that is hir only free time. But a workplace bully grabs the notebook from hir hands and reads from it in a nasty voice, while his sycophants laugh in derision. Then they decide to play keep-away, tossing it back and forth over the head of poor Trasin, who tries desperately and fruitlessly to recapture it.

It's interesting to draw upon an actual incident that happened to me (although in my case the stolen item was a pair of shoes), and the feelings of helplessness and of fear of retribution that might come upon me by authority figures who either saw me as contributing to my own torment, or thought that bearing down on me might somehow force me to become stronger.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Drilling Into History

I've been working on some of the family history of Rene XIV for his novel. As I did, I have broken into a whole new layer of the history of another of the major nations of Ixilon, New Avignon.

Now I'm discovering that their royal family has a very interesting history, torn by an accusation of adultery that may have been false. An embittered prince, certain that his mother has been falsely accused and wrongly executed, flees rather than submit to the king's command to enter a monastery.

Thus begins a pirate dynasty that troubles the Great Lakes for generations, until they finally displace the original royal family, thus vindicating the original prince's claims.

Of course the lake pirates are quite a bit different from your standard pirates of the Spanish Main. They're on fresh water in a temperate climate, so they're going to have to have safe harbors in which to hide when the lakes freeze over for the winter. And since there are several major waterfalls in the Great Lakes in Ixilon, just as there are in our world, they've got to be able to masquerade as respectable merchants in order to get through the locks.

One of these days I'm going to have to write the stories of the lake pirates. But of course first I need to have time.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Behind the Scenes

Archbishop Zhakhaim Sidor, Apostolic nuncio to the Swamp Kingdom, was a relatively minor figure in Young Rene XIV. As the novel progressed, I knew that he would be dismissed for his less than stellar performance during the crisis of Sebastien's usurpation of the Cypress Throne. As I was planning some more stories in that sequence, I had a vision of him as an embittered exile in a minor diocese on his homeworld, Tharishon.

And now he's telling me the story of his exile. But it's not really a story that could ever go anywhere, because he never overcomes, just wallows in his bitterness and his resentment of those he perceives as having wronged him.

But there are some benefits of knowing that little piece of background, even if it never appears directly in any of the Ixilon novels.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Now I Know

A while back I had mentioned suddenly knowing the name of Cardinal Griswold, one of the Heirs to Cody, but without any history or background behind the name.

Now I finally know -- he was Heir to Cody at the time of the attack on Rock Island. With the Archbishop of Vaildai, he was instrumental in forcing their respective heads of state and government to come to terms and make peace.

And of course I'd love to write the story of that incident, but there's just no time.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Past History

One of the biggest questions in my mind is how Codyland's racketocracy came to be. After all, these people are supposed to be descendants of Americans, specifically from Chicago and downstate Illinois. Although the association of Chicago with gangsters has deep literary roots, and it's unsurprising that they might deliberately adopt motifs taken from the beer wars of the Roaring Twenties, it seemed odd that Americans would completely abandon the tradition of representative government and constitutional law in favor of one of hits and sit-downs, where being in famiglia can be as important as being right.

And today, as I was listening to the radio, I heard the old Who song "Won't Get Fooled Again." And immediately I've got images in my mind. I know that Peter Eisner, one of the early Heirs to Cody and source of so much of that particular tradition, was also a Who fan. So of course it's got to be during his lifetime.

Now if I just had the time to actually work it through and write it.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

New Light on Old Stories

Almost a year ago I gave up on the second Anne story when I got well and throroughly stuck. I knew more or less how the story needed to end, but I couldn't see how to get there. Worse, it was already too long for the market I wanted to send it to.

Then, while I was at the meeting of our local science fiction club, I pulled it back out and started messing with it. Suddenly things started to click and I could see several interesting twists that would not only complicate the situation, but actually help carry it to the end.

So now I'm franticly jotting down notes when I really ought to be working. But I want to capture all these ideas before they slip away.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Fourth Estate

I've been working on an article on the history of rotary printing presses, and as I was reading, I got to thinking about Codyland. They're the only truly industrial society in the Ixilon universe, and I know they have big daily newspapers, descendants of Chicago's daily papers.

And as I'm visualizing how they would adapt press and typesetting technology to their world, I began seeing how Anne (my half-arithrae detective) could become involved with it while one a case. And the next thing I knew, I was scribbling ideas down at a tremendous rate of speed. When I should've been working on my articles, too.

But now I have a fair idea for the story of what was going on as Cardinal Dautery lay dying. All I need is a chance to write it.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Better than Nothing -- Followup

I heard back from Clockwork Phoenix today -- rejection. I hadn't really expected to have much chance, since I wasn't able to finish the story that I'd been writing specifically for it, and everything I had on hand was at best a very wide match. Still, it's rather annoying to lose out because of purely extraneous issues that had nothing whatsoever to do with my writing ability. I still want to have had a real opportunity with it, which would require having had the time to write the story that was specifically designed to match the anthology theme.

There is a reason that linear time is very high on my list of "things to get rid of once I become dictator of the Universe."

Monday, February 04, 2008

Returning to a Work After Time Away

Recently I became involved in a discussion about students resubmitting work that had been done for an earlier class. I noted that even if there were no formal rule against it, I couldn't imagine resubmitting an essay without a minimum of one good polishing rewrite, and possibly some significant work to re-draft it. I find that if I have been away from a piece of writing for any substantial length of time, I start seeing all kinds of places where I could improve it.

For instance, over the weekend I was at a meeting, and it wasn't really feasible for me to take any of my articles with me. So I packed a story that I hadn't touched in several months. I'd figured I'd pick it back up where I'd left off, but as I reread the last page, I ended up tossing those last several paragraphs and rewriting the beginning of that scene entirely. As a result, I actually ended up writing only a couple of sentences of new text.

Of course it would be so much easier if I just had some more writing time. But unless we see some serious financial improvements, such that I can earn a lot more money in exchange for a lot less time, it's unlikely in the extreme that I'm going to have nice big chunks of writing time again in the foreseeable future.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Better than Nothing

I ended up finally having to send an old story to Clockwork Phoenix. When I first heard about the anthology, I developed a story that was going to be a great fit for the theme. But writing it proved to be a slow process, and I knew that I'd have to work hard to get it done by the deadline.

Only I didn't get the time to finish it. In September our car's transmission went out on us, and it was going to cost more than the car was worth to fix it. So we ended up getting rid of the car and getting a new van for our business, and keeping our old van as a second vehicle. But that van came with one huge price tag, which meant that all my time had to go to non-fiction writing and to getting a teaching position. Thus my story still stands exactly where I stopped the afternoon of the day we actually bought the new van.

I'll still keep the half-written story, in hopes that maybe one of these days I can get my income to the level where I actually have some time to spare for writing fiction on spec. But it's frustrating to have to just look for something to send so that I can at least say I tried, when I had something so much better if only I'd had the time to get it finished.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Who Are You?

The name "Cardinal Griswold" came to me recently, and I know he's going to be one of the Heirs to Cody. Since I know the names of those who lived in four key periods of Codyland's history, I know he's got to be from one of the gaps between them. However, beyond the name, I have no real history, no events, nothing to tell me whether he's one of the people about whom stories are told, or just a name in the history books for students to memorize.

Normally I'd have time to tease out some background, to pull and tug on the history of Codyland to see where he belongs. But right now I have no time to do anything but struggle to stay abreast with all my obligations. I barely have time to even jot down the name lest I forget it, and I really shouldn't be writing here.

Gotta get back to work.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Sir, May I Please Have a Little More?

Time, that is. I've got some really cool ideas forming in my mind, but no time in which to write them. In fact, I really shouldn't even be taking the time to write this, because I have a whole list of things I need to get accomplished today and I haven't even gotten one done.

But it's so hard to have stories forming up in your mind and to have to tell them they will all have to just go stand in line. Heck, I'm even having to tell money-making projects to stand in line, for the simple reason that I have even more important projects that have to be allowed to cut in front of them.

Time to get back to work.