Monday, July 28, 2008

When will it end?

I must have worked on that wretched Toothbrush novel for two hours today, and my second draft still isn't done! When will this stupid thing be finished? I'm only about three-quarters of the way through! I can't stop moving scenes!

Reality is setting in. Maybe my goal was a tad unrealistic, considering my lack of commitment to achieving it. Will I really be ready for a line edit by Friday? I think not. Is this the despair that JL was referring to (I think it was she who said that despair is an integral part of the rewriting process), or am I just some kind of lazy dilettante?

I think I'll just go watch "Monarchy" on TVO.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Half-day vacation

Today I took a half-day (afternoon) vacation from work, and I actually worked on my wretched novel for two hours! What a better way to spend the afternoon than buying more pairs of jeans and shirts I won't wear at the mall.

One of the other TWs got a marked-up manual back with a big rant on it about how a DIP switch is actually an entire block of controls, and each individual control is a "post". Well, she thought that was silly, and went on a walking tour of the office asking different people what they would call the individual components and the entire thing. The best answer: one of the engineers told her that he doesn't know what it's called in English, but if you translated it out of German, it would be a "mouse piano".

That has got to be the coolest technical phrase ever. It almost makes me want to learn German.

Monday, July 21, 2008

"Old Man's War" by John Scalzi

Why I read it: This is part of my project to read books by the bloggers I read, so I'll know whether I should take their advice. The blog is, if you're one of the 3 people on the planet who doesn't read it. I got the book as a PDF as a free download from Tor, just for signing up.

What I loved: The idea is neat. I can tell he's been a marketing writer, because the marketing material that is part of the story is very realistic.

What I hated: This was not the book for me! I think I may just hate science fiction. Or at least outer space science fiction. Even though I wrote one once. (It's filed away.) The cover references comparing Scalzi to Heinlein should have been a giveaway, because I don't think I ever finished a Heinlein book, even though I've got Stranger in a Strange Land around here somewhere, and really wanted to finish Number of the Beast (but just couldn't).

I felt like there was no plot to speak of. Guy goes into space military, guy tries to survive. It seemed extremely episodic to me, and around page 200 I was kind of wishing it was like those Conan collections or something, where Conan goes to a different planet and has a different battle experience, or Conan as a young warrior, or Conan as a pirate king, or whatever.

The book was divided into three parts. The first was about joining up and then getting a new body. Part two consisted of many disconnected experience-gaining battles. The last chapter of part two was where the "plot" seemed to start. Part three consisted of saving humanity and finding a humanizing relationship which is coincidentally with someone he knew back on Earth who just sort of appeared in what seemed like a very unlikely way.

One of the things that bugged me was that there was no foreshadowing at all. I wish I could remember if those Heinlein books had any foreshadowing. Also, I'm not really an infantry type of person; I'm more into single combat I guess. And there was way, way too much dialog for me. This is what my first drafts sometimes feel like while I'm writing them -- endless cute conversations that fill a daily quota easily.

Also, I kept wanting him to approach some of the ethical dilemmas he was creating a little more directly. The CDF's mandate is evil, in my opinion, and killing off the old body was taken pretty lightly. But then, I'm only 110 pages in, so maybe we'll go a little deeper on all of that.

I am not a scientist, but the science made no sense to me. I do not understand at all how a skip drive could ever make the universe a viable place to travel around. I mean, if you're just going to another universe, I do not understand how you get displaced in space. And I don't understand how you wind up in a place that has, you know, the same history every time. But maybe this is why I did so poorly in 1st year university physics.

At the same time, I got all the way to the end of the book, so it can't have been that bad. I was able to keep picking it up again (there's a Mark Twain quote about a book that, once you put it down, you just can't pick it up again, and this wasn't that book).

What I can steal (a.k.a. conclussions): Well, I finished this book, so it can't have been that bad. And I still enjoy his blog. And also, I've never read an entire book as a PDF before, and that was an interesting experience. Not as portable as a paperback, but I survived (other attempts have failed, so it is notable).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

That's why I do this

Now, I must tell you my story about last night's band practice.

In the summer, we don't have access to the high school we normally practice in, the high school being closed. So we use a church basement. Last night was our third rehearsal there for this summer.

The first week we played there, a filmy grime covered everything and there was a smell of mildew, due no doubt to a recent flood.

The second week, there were massive hepa filters with giant plastic tubes (a foot tall) leading to the windows. They were quite loud. We turned them off so we could hear ourselves.

This week, same as last week, we went in through the basement door (so the drummer, tuba player, etc. don't have to carry their instruments through a series of narrow stairwells, etc.) as usual, shut the hepa filters off, set up, sat down and started playing.

And about 45 minutes later an older gentleman came in and asked "Is Mrs. X here?" (Obviously names changed to protect the not present to defend themselves. And note the clever pseudonyms.)

"No," we said vaguely.

"Is Mr. X here?" he asked.

"No, he's with Mrs. X on vacation," we mumbled.

"Who can I talk to, then?" he asked.

The band president stood up and said "Well, I'm the president. You can talk to me."

And the man said "Nobody is supposed to be in here. You shouldn't be in here. This building has been condemned."

We didn't leave. No, not us. "Oh, we'll be fine," our conductor said. "There are lots of doctors in this band. And we need the practice."

Well, I don't know about you, but when I'm playing in a condemned building, I really think the Clash should be involved. Or the Violent Femmes. Or the Sex Pistols. We played a medley of themes from "South Pacific". However, we did play them quite poorly.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


Yesterday evening I again looked at my draft of toothbrush. Third day in a row!

Target: "readable" draft by 15 August (2008).

Tasks remaining:
  • Finish second pass

  • Stop moving sections around

  • Read the whole thing before inflicting it on others (probably includes a line edit)

Um, good luck with that?

Every day I write a page in my current first draft (I always have one. Sometimes it's a short story, or a screenplay. Currently it is a novel). Yesterday morning I was writing along, and one of my characters said something that ABSOLUTELY SHOCKED me. She made a wild accusation at one of the other characters, and I said to myself, "OMG (actually I swore, but you know what I mean), how did she know that?" And then I realized, she's absolutely right. I've got 300 pages written here in long, dreadful, poorly developed prose (a first draft is just a shell to fill in with a story later on, right?) and this character was, well, that way the whole time, and I had no idea. Amazing.

Maybe I can finish this thing now, so I can start something else.

Sunday, July 06, 2008


Worked on the wretched TBC again last night, for probably an hour, moving scenes around to make them make sense. Seems I had no action for about the first 30 pages of the story. Now at least something happens. I move one thing, and then I have to move about six other things to make it make sense again.

And then this afternoon I looked at the second half of the print-out I made weeks ago. I've barely touched the second half lately, so I was thinking I should have a go before I printed it out again. OMG, dispair really is an integral part of the writing process.

I booked my vacation for 18-22 August, and my goal is to have a readable draft by then, to fob off on my poor, unsuspecting sisters. Maybe I should go back to the beginning again, since that's the part they would start with...

Thursday, July 03, 2008

I could never give up my day job

We were all standing around, water cooler style, and there was a lull in the "how I spent my Canada day" conversation" stories. So, I said "We were sitting on a patio on Sunday evening, and Ed had just ordered a coffee, when he said to me 'I have a confession to make.'"

You can imagine how everyone's ears perked up.

I continued my really quite lame tale. "And he said, 'That coffee I served you this morning was decaf. I'm really sorry. I bought it at the corner store by accident. They changed the colors of the cans, and I grabbed the wrong one by mistake.' And I said something about how I accidentally put 1% instead of skim in my coffee one time at work because the cafeteria switched milk brands. And I said I forgave him, and I didn't even have a headache, though I did sort of feel draggy all day." I thought I'd kicked too much the day before or something.

"And then we bought real coffee at the corner store," I went on (and on), "And I mixed the decaf (we had leftovers -- funny how no one thought that fake coffee wasn't working for them, and felt the urge to finish the pot) with the real coffee in my french press. The coffee I make in the french press is usually too strong, and gives me a headache the other way -- too much caffeine."

And my coworkers all stood there as if there might be a punch line. So the point is, even if I sold my novel and it was a best seller and I was offered a contract for five more books, I would never give up my day job. You can't buy an audience for a story like that. (And I'm sure, considering my vast genius, my boss and I could work something out so I could do my book tours. Or convention season. Whatever.)

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

"The Chaos King" by Laura Ruby

Why I read it: Cybils nominee.

What I liked: Excellent sense of humour. I read the boy the part where Georgie is reading the Book of the Undead, and it's like bad greeting card poetry, and he said he wanted to read this when I was done. That's always a good sign.

What I hated: I felt like I was reading a sequel, though there was no indication anywhere in the book that this was the case. There were tons of references to back story. Also, it seemed like there was an awful lot of tell in those portions.
So I looked on Amazon, and in fact this is the sequel to "The Wall and the Wing". It would have been nice maybe to have that indicated somewhere on the cover. Unless that book did remarkably poorly, and they wanted people to read this one as a standalone, or not feel obligated to read the first one first. This somewhat angers me.

Though to be fair, the blurbs on the back were all for "The Wall and the Wing". Maybe that was a hint I just didn't know about.

Also, while the world seemed to be making fun of the worst bits of ours -- obsessions with celebrity and short term memory, and the like -- I felt sometimes like I was reading advertising copy.

What I can steal: I loved the amount of detail. I loved the energy. I loved that Georgie might be beautiful but she just isn't aware of it. The characters were great. But I wish I had known it was book 2. Maybe I should rename this section "Lessons", and the lesson for this book should be that if there's a prequel, either don't mention it at all, or make it really clear on the front of the book or on the inside flap. And that's something that I bet most authors don't have a whole lot of control over.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

"Spirit Gate" by Kate Elliott

Why I read it: A few weeks ago I read a "Big Idea" by Kate Elliott, I think to announce "Shadow Gate", the second book in the series, on In the piece, she said the idea for eagle reeves came from her husband, who is a cop, and a really crappy ABBA song. I was, of course hooked.

What I loved: The world seemed really non-European to me -- very, I don't know, Chinese maybe. The Qin might be like Mongols, and the Sirniakan Empire might be the middle kingdom, I don't know. The people aren't blond. There aren't elves or fairies, but demons and gods.

I loved that the author let me feel smart. She never told me, but let me guess what Kesh's treasure was, and then have a self-satisfied glow when I found out. She didn't say where Bai had been, but let me guess, and again turn out to be right. Characters have nicknames and I get to figure it out on my own. In fact, when a character is listening to other people he doesn't know, that character will give those characters descriptive names. I really liked that. The author gets into the heads of each of the POV characters' heads really well.

Also, I was describing the way the reeve halls were set up, and it seemed the way you might set up, say the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police). People are transferred in and out of different bases, but it's not ideal, and if the command is bad in one, then it will attract bad people, and the like. I say the OPP, because it's more far-flung than, say, the Metro Toronto Police force. The distances between the halls seem important to me, because it means communication is limited.

What I hated: Sometimes when I read a book, I find it too stressful and have to put it down. The tension gets built up, and I need a release. This book, especially in the Joss sections, had a lot of tension. But I found it bled off quickly (the fevered nature of it) and I appreciated that. There was only one time that I had to flip ahead to make sure I wasn't going to be left hanging too long. (Some books I've started reading, I've abandoned because I don't feel any resolution coming to relieve the stress. Ed and the boy have both called dibs on reading this next--I guess the eagle reeve concept drew them in too--so I was obligated to finish.)

Also, book one of seven?!? Ugh. And only two are out.

What I can steal: There was a moment when Joss was casually thinking about his eagle choosing a new reeve if he should die in this sticky situation (page 259, for anyone keeping score), and he said "preferably someone with a better personality than the Snake." I loved this. Joss the character doesn't like the Snake, but he hasn't really been thinking about the Snake for pages. He's been thinking, rather, about his current investigation. It was such a human moment that really made the character seem alive. And the book was littered with moments like that, tossed off phrases that were so in the voice of the character. They all saw the world through their own lens, and we readers can see the flaws that get them there. That's the way real people's minds work -- the petty antagonisms rise to the surface.

I really liked it, too, when Horas was put in charge of a mission, and everyone else was waiting for him to tell them what to do, and in his own mind, he was thinking they were just going to blame him for whatever went wrong afterward, no matter what he decided. Sure, to some degree that was true, but really, they were waiting for him to lead, because he was supposed to be leading. It wasn't malice at all.

I suppose this isn't so much stealing, as learning from someone who I think builds really good characters.