Thursday, April 30, 2009

Reading

Last night I read 80 pages of the novel. I'd meant to read 100, so I would only have 100 left, but it didn't work out. I wanted to only have 100 left, so I could read the last pages and be done by the end of April, but the end of April doesn't include a weekend, so I guess that's not going to happen.

This is my first pass through, where I'm marking scenes to be moved, and taking out things that are blatantly repetitive or inconsistent with the characters or the plot or the world. One of the scenes I read was one (I call it the Nevis scene) that I knew I was going to have to take out, because it was a thread I had started and then abandoned. And then a neat thing happened. I was reading the preceding scene, and I realized that scene needed to connect to something, and that was why I had written the following (Nevis) scene. But as I was scratching things out and crafting it so the Nevis scene was no longer there, the scene suddenly had a point, and a completely different point. It's not the Nevis scene any longer, but maybe 2/3 of the writing there is actually usable! And it will further the plot!

Now, if I can just finish this pass through it this weekend, that would be awesome. Stupid Sarah Monette book, it sucked me in, away from my own novel.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"Soul of a New Machine" by Tracy Kidder

Why I read it: We have an extremely small library in the R&D kitchenette in my office. Every day that I heat up lunch (when I don't go out, or have something that's better cold) I would pick this book up and, if no one felt like talking to me, read a page or two while I waited for the microwave. I'm sure it was better than the alternatives -- Law for Engineers, Better Designs in Half the Time, etc. This book took me two or three years to read.

Bookmark: My memory. I read the same page over and over for weeks, I'm sure.

Tastes like chicken: "Dreaming in Code" would be the closest fit.

This book traces the development of a computer codenamed Eagle at a company called Data General. It's non-fiction, and published circa 1980. I was at around page 80 when I realized that these people were making something much bigger than the computers I think of today -- not a mainframe so much, but they were really happy when it fit in a freight elevator.

What I liked: For one thing, reading this every day provoked interesting conversations with some of my coworkers. A manager, yesterday, saw I was almost finished and said "good book, isn't it?" and then we had a chat about how the teams in the book were in healthy competition, whereas the ones in my office are in competition, but maybe not quite so healthy. The teams here are very zero-sum game, very win/lose.

Not so much: I got kind of confused about who was who, but that probably had to do with the nature of how I read this. The kitchenette may be more suited to magazine articles.

Also, it seems like the world of technological innovation really hasn't changed that much in thirty years. I don't know why I would think it would, but while the products we develop get smaller and smaller, the team size and dynamics seem to say the same.

Lesson: There are stories in everything.

That should fix something?

I wrote a prologue to the wretched thing.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Melusine" by Sarah Monette

Why I read it: Jeff Vandermeer linked to her post about not having a contract for another book or some such thing. So I started reading her blog, and I noticed that she was part of what I think of the SU cabal which makes me curious. And then she had a post about please taking her books out of the library, or buyng them, or whatever it is that we do, and talking about them (even if you're just talking to yourself, as I do here). So I did -- the library thing, I mean. And I read it.

Bookmark: Yarn receipt for ten balls of Jamieson's 2-ply.

Tastes Like Chicken: "Skin Hunger" to start, maybe because of the two concurrent but relatively unrelated storylines. After while the storylines merged and it seemed more like Catherynne M. Valente's "In the Night Garden". It seems similarly literary, they use a lot the same big words, though structurally they're very different.

The chapters are very long, and the story is written from two first-person perspectives: Mildmay the Fox, a cat burglar, and Felix Harrowgate, a wizard. Near the start, Felix is used to break the Virtu, which I didn't really understand what it did and what it was, but apparently it was important. Felix goes crazy.

What I liked: The characters totally sucked me in. I've been perusing her blog since JVM first mentioned it, and she's been doing Q&A, but managed very well to keep spoilers from me. I liked that she didn't feel obligated to explain the world. I loved that in the whole thing, no one sat anyone else down and said "well, Bob, this is how magic works, for you neophytes." I'm sure the author knows, becauase she explains a bit in the Q&A (it meant nothing to me, as I'd read none of the books then, but it was there) but there was no obligation or necessity to do that. Nice.

Yesterday I was walking home to finish the book, and I had a close encounter with a fox, which seemed opportune, considering Mildmay the Fox. so I was coming up on the highway underpass I walk under 2x per day, and between the fence protecting me from the small grassland there and the giant green hydro transformer box, a fox was standing maybe six or eight feet away. I said "Oh, Hello," and he said nothing and trotted off. I know, you're thinking to yourself "Maybe it was a coyote." It was a fox. They're like a cat trapped in a dog's body. And I moved along, because you never know if it's rabid or something. Then I turned back to suggest to it that it head over to my office, where when I left a goose was sitting in a puddle in the parking lot (I hate canada geese), so there was a nice meal, but it was trotting across the street toward the golf course. Bonus question! Know why the puddle was there that the goose was sitting in? It was from when they power-washed the goose crap off the sidewalk! Oh, the irony.

Not so much: I was so sure, about eighty pages from the end, that this wasn't going to have a satisfying ending, that I requested the sequel from the library. I never do that. But she did manage to wrap it up reasonably.

Lesson: Maybe about endings. This one was good, because it tied up enough, but left plenty of room to guess where they'll be going next.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"Concrete Toronto" by E.R.A. Architects (editors)

Why I read it: It was mentioned in a Toronto Star article (I can't link to it because it's behind a fee wall) about repurposing big box stores (which is funny, because I can't think of any buildings featured that were big box stores). I requested it from the library. It appeared.

Bookmark: library receipt

Tastes like chicken: Robert Fulford "The Accidental City"

What I liked: I haven't read much about architecture, so this really made me notice stuff.
It's a collection of essays, photos, interviews, and drawings about concrete architecture in and around Toronto, most of which was built between the 50s and the 70s. There are sections about proper working with concrete, the goals and objectives of different buildings (the Robarts Library, for example, may be a fortress of a building, but it seems to suit the goal of being a repository for books. It's not about being friendly and pretty, it's about keeping books in).

On Sunday, we went to Charles Sauriol park because I wanted to see if we could walk along the East Don all the way from Lawrence to Eglinton. They're building a bridge across the river, connecting Moccasin Trail park with Charles Sauriol I guess. We didn't walk across the bridge in either direction, because there was an excavator working out there right beside the highway (on Sunday! Until after 5pm! Shocking!).

There was one spot where the path we were on led us on a climb out of the ravine because (on the east side where we were) the water was right next to the mud slope. We stood maybe 200 feet above the river and could look across at what I think of as the quintissential view of North York -- the ravine, all the trees in it, and sticking out of the trees, half a dozen apartment towers. It was something along the lines of 4.4 km down, and we had our snack under the Eglinton bridge, then walked a little farther down to see where the Flemingdon Park golf course started, and then turned around and walked back along the railway tracks (it's a GO line, so pretty unused on Sundays), over two railway bridges (awesome!) and then stopping before the third because it led finally to the wrong (west) side of the river. The walk back was just over half the length of the walk out. And no Geocaching! When we were done, the boy said "That was a nice walk."

Not so much: There were some editorial inconsistencies -- a couple of copy editing errors: a missing picture, a duplicated caption, some typos, a column of text missing, things like that. Though some of the issues in producing this type of book are similar to creating a technical manual, like I do and I recognize the effort. Also, I think the pages are all going to fall out of the middle of this book.

Lesson: This book had a similar effect on me that the Fulford book did, in that it made me see the city in a slightly different light. While driving past high rises on the way to the mall, I find myself wondering about the stuff on the roofs, and about the apartment towers of the 70s and 80s versus the condos of today. I hope this helps me make my Toronto more believable to the poor readers of my novel.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

"Silk" by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Why I read it: I'd seen the author's name mentioned various places, so on that list of authors last year at Christmas, This name was on the list. The boy had expressed interest in the cover, and I wanted to read it before he did to vett it for adult themes. Oh, and I happened across her LJ account, and CRK seems like an interesting person with an interesting process.

Bookmark: White Birch Books (North Conway, NH). Support your local independent!

Tastes like chicken: A cross between Thomas M. Disch and China Mieville.

The book follows the adventures of a three-piece band in Birmingham, Alabama (a female singer/bass player who works in a coffee shop to pay the bills, her heroin-addict guitarist boyfriend, and the drummer, who's a mechanic by day). In their extended circle are the local goth kids who are in thrall to a woman named Spyder, who... has some issues. Some of the goth kids have an ill-advised peyote ritual in Spyder's basement, where Spyder's psyche keeps its ghosts. Nefariousness ensues and sucks the band down with it.


What I liked: This book painted a neat world, a neat set of characters. It moved, to me, at the right pace thoughout. The ending's speed seemed right, the resolution reasonable.


Not so much: There were spots where the detail seemed a little too rich, but I got used to it after a while. This certainly wasn't one of those W.E.B. Griffin books Ed likes so much!


Lesson: Drugs are bad? That's an over-simplified moral, but so what. I was explaining to the boy what a gothic horror would be, and he wandered off with the book. I'm not sure how far he'll get into it. Perhaps by the time the lesbian sex scene comes around, he'll have abandoned it, or be a little older... we'll see.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Outline

I decided to organize my novel along a 3-act structure, partly as an exercise I suppose because I have a synopsis that wants some attention.

Yesterday I made a new outline of the first act. I have to write maybe a third of the scenes still, and a couple need to be moved and sort of retasked. Today I started the second act. Of the nine scenes in Act 2 so far, I have to write six. Ack. It's like not even having a first draft at all!

You know, I wrote extensive outlines, treatments, and stuff for this novel when I first wrote it, and it still sucked. Maybe I shouldn't have bothered. Except I suspect those outlines kept me going, some days.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

If only I could market...

I was reading the techdirt blog at work today (I was making help files at the same time, which sucks up all my system's resources, so there's nothing I can do except surf and write emails to my sister) and came across a story about a band that is trying to put together an album. Rather than have a contract with a record company and an advance and all that, they are trying to get a minimum number of people to commit to paying up-front (I presume not actually pay yet, though I couldn't find the article just now to. UPDATE: it was this).

Someone should do the same thing with novels. If I could get a thousand people to commit to buying my novel for $5 each, I could distribute it as a PDF with no DRM and be probably better off this time around than if I found a publisher. Well, except that people sneer at people who self-publish, and I'm not so stupid as to think I don't need an editor. Then I'd have made $5K, and sold my novel, and if those people who paid me for it forwarded it to their friends, then it's all word-of-mouth marketing for me. Then I could charge more, or get a greater number of people to buy the next one before I put it out there, and that's how a band in theory would build an audience. Except with music, we accept that you don't need a middleman, whereas in literature if you can't find a middleman, then you must suck.

The other problem of course is that at least the writers I know are generally crap about marketing themselves, and depend on others (publicists, etc) to do that part. We're obsessed with our flaws and our process porn and the dispair being an integral part of the editing process, and we can't talk ourselves up for shit.

Maybe if I took improv classes, these problems would all go away.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

"Tithe" by Holly Black

Why I read it: For Christmas this year, rather than listing off a stack of books I wanted, I listed off a stack of authors, and let my sisters and dad and people pick the books for me. My dad bought me this one. Right now, I read it because I wanted something shorter and quicker than the last leaden tome, because I have a library book around here also, but it's non-fiction, and I was in the mood for fiction on Sunday.

Bookmark: What bookmark?

Tastes like chicken: Justine Musk's "Uninvited" for the edgy YA feel, and "Blood and Iron" for the seelie/unseelie court stuff, the kelpie, etc.

It's the story of a girl who grew up with fairies for playmates, but then she left town to be dragged around behind her mother's band. She's 16 now, and back in Philly where the fairies are. A little bit she seeks them out, but they fall on her as well. She spends a lot of time navigating between the human teens and the fairies, trying to seem normal, though that's kind of impossible for some people.

What I liked: The characters were well-drawn -- at least until one of them turned into a fairy. That didn't work so well for me. The human teens were not the suburban upper-middle class ones I know and am used to. Or I assume the ones I know are.

Not so much: The ending seemed kind of frenetic and rushed.

Lesson: Describing things. I need to work on this, I think. The world is painted more brightly than my writing. Something to work on with draft #2.

Friday, April 10, 2009

That took a bit longer than expected...

I finished typing my first draft. It's 125,558 words long. I think I can shorten it. The ending lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.

I converted it to manuscript format and printed out all 531 pages of it. I have some reading to do.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Sometimes being a tech writer isn't so bad

Today, in a comment where an engineer was giving me a block of text to put in a manual:

"Could you use your magical writing skills and make it more appealing?"

Monday, April 06, 2009

118K and counting

But not counting much further, because there are only 40 more pages to type. And then I get to read the whole thing and delete a whole bunch of lame stuff. Awesome. And finish my synopsis, once I know how it ends.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

"The Historian" by Elizabeth Kostova

Why I read it: I was hearing a lot about this book a couple of years ago. I think it was reviewed on Salon. There were a couple of mentions on Language Log. So, I asked for it for Christmas. My sister bought it for me, but lost it in her driveway or something, so she gave it to me at my other sister's wedding in January of 2008. I started reading it just before Christmas 2009, and used it as my carry-around book until this last week, when I did the final push and finished it.

Bookmark: Promo for Rick Blechta's new book.

Tastes like Chicken: Probably that Katherine M. Valente book I read last week, because of the story-within-a-story nature of this, and those other three vampire books I read back in January.

This story is written from the perspective of present day, and follows a young woman's quest to learn her father's history, and this is entwined with his faculty advisor's history, which is entwined with a pack of monks travelling around in Romania, Turkey, and Bulgaria (among others), back in the 15th century. They are all wrapped up with Vlad the Impaler/Dracula. I would describe the story as telescoping, much more than "In the Night Garden". Different characters embellish the same story, from different perspectives. We see the story of Rossi meeting Helen's mother, for example, first from the mother's eyes (being translated by Helen, if I recall correctly) and then through Rossi's eyes through the letters he left, and then find out critical bits of missing information later on. There are lots of different first-person descriptions, different characters following the same paths at different places in history. It's also tied up in the history of repeated conquest throughout the region.

To some extent it reminded me of Dickens, also.

What I liked: This was a good carry-around book, because I could pick it up and put it down and be able to find my place because everything was covered so thoroughly from so many perspectives, and also because it paid hommage to Bram Stoker's Dracula, and because there was so much history and research involved. I found it very rich.

Not so much: It was sort of long. If I had read it in a couple of weeks, I might have found it to be boring. Also, as I was doing my last push to finish it, some of the plot twists seemed sort of obvious. Though, considering what it was based on, I don't think the author was intending to surprise the audience, really. This isn't a horror novel, or anything like that.

Lesson learned: Certainly research can always be put to good use. I was reading a couple of days ago a website about writing fantasy, and the writer there said not to go over a piece of writing too much, to just revise once. I think if you're the sort of person who can go over something lots of times, you might wind up with something like this, very dense and crafted.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

In the Night Garden -- Catherynne M. Valente

Why I read it: There was a reference to the author on some website or other (might have been Jeff Vandermeer's) telling about a new book coming out. The library didn't have that one. It had this one, though.

Tastes like chicken: That other (vampire) book I haven't finished yet (I'll finish it soon. Next. Really.). C.S. Lewis's A Horse and His Boy (Narnia). The flavour seemed more Persian than Arabian to me, though I can't think of anything Persian I've actually read. But maybe that's because I know more Persians than Saudis.

Bookmark: Cardboard packaging from a USB key I bought a couple of weeks ago.

What I liked: The detail was very rich. It made me want to wear more colours.

Unlike the afore-mentioned vampire story, which is also stories within stories within stories, these ones are more lightly related. The vampires are all closely related, about the same place, and the same vampire. These are characters pausing to tell their history, their "how I got here", which is what winds up tying them all together. The vampire story seems to be the more sophisticated, complex story, but that's all surface. Really, In the Night Garden requires the closer, more attentive reading. Reading and remembering is the only way you'll notice that the old king is the younger brother of the daughter who got taken away by the wizard, and that the bear from the first half is the barkeep in the second half, etc. These are things that make this book not just a series of cut-up and interrelated short stories.

Not so much: When I started reading, I was fearful and nervous about all the dense metaphors. Everything is described in layers like a fairy tale. Every hide is the colour of blood, every sky, etc. But I got used to that once I'd let myself go to it and not worried about every sentence without context.

And the structure. I was afraid I was going to get lost and forget who was who, and that happened a bit because it took me 2.5 weeks to read, but it was worth the bother.

Lessons learned: Ya know, I'd love to write something with this organizational structure -- maybe take the modern ghost thing "Like Watching Grass Grow") and reorganize it this way (since it's all crap anyway, but the characters are all there, and they all have backstory all over them). Maybe I could smooth it over again afterward.