What is This Novel About Anyway?

Good question, hypothetical reader (site stats say there’s at least 2 of you, so allow me to be authorial and put words in your mouth). What follows is me talking out loud as much as to the imaginary people I think read this blog, so take that as you will.

Anyway.

The novel-in-progress is tentatively called CLOUDHUNTER, and is ostensibly about Major Tom. Though in all deference to David Bowie, it was actually the Peter Schilling song, Major Tom (Coming Home) that inspired the story. Specifically one line:

they don’t realize he’s still alive

I always wanted to know what happened next, after our brave astronaut flew his little tin can into orbit. Having grown up watching Star Trek, and reading Vonnegut, my mind immediately went to an obvious cause: chronosynclastic infundibulum. Time travel. Something weird happened in Low Earth Orbit and our astronaut (I always pictured Major Tom as the eighth member of the Mercury 7) traveled through time.

But to when?

An Astronaut landing in the 25th century had already been done. besides I wanted something a bit more fitting with my temperament and interests. The declining space program. history. Deconstructed science fiction tropes. Early 21st Century politics and social changes. I’ve been reading a lot about hauntology over the last few years and that idea really stuck out. It should be a story about the past haunting the present. Specifically, past ideas of what the future was going to be like, manifesting in the real world. Who better an avatar for retrofutrological hauntology than Major Tom?

OK, let’s unpack that jargon a moment, so you’ll see what I’m getting at.

You all know what the retrofuture is. Lisa Simpson summed it up best as, “what people in 1963 thought life would be like in 1986.” It’s why Futurama is funny and the Jetsons so sad. All those outdated ideas about the 21st century, how we’d have food pills and jet packs and hovercraft and be living on the moon. (The half funny, half sad question, “where’s my jetpack?” is a nervous laugh, a relieved sigh about the other side of that outdated future we didn’t live through, the one where we all died in a nuclear holocaust. There are a lot of futures we didn’t get to see. Be glad of this.)

Hauntology is a more slippery fish to define.

I think of Hauntology as the opposite of nostalgia. Where nostalgia is the retreat from the unfamiliar present into the comforting familiarity of subjective recollections about the past, hauntology is the present invaded by the secrets of the past. The unburied fears and unknown history upon which the present is built.

The creeping suspicion that your present life is the result of atrocities committed by your forefathers in your name, without your consent.

It’s the sudden realization that your ancestors were cannibals, and may not have even been human.

What Ghosts mean as a literary device.

This is what it sounds like.

So my novel is that, but in prose form, about Major Tom who went lost while in orbit in 1963, and returns to Earth in the early 21st century only to find that his mission was the linchpin of a secret history involving refugees from perpendicular universes, the real reason behind the fall of the Berlin Wall, and a group of scientists who were trying to finish the Great Work started by Aliester Crowley and Jack Parsons, using NASA as their magic circle and Astronauts as their offerings to dark and unknown forces.

This is a bit more challenging to write than the cheesy silver Age revival adventure novel it started out as, and which I gutted a few weeks ago, salvaging the parts that were sufficiently weird and making room for the real story. It’s way more introspective, thoughtful and therefore creatively interesting (also, more pretentious but in a good way).

My goal is to have a rough draft done by mid February, take a few weeks off to become a dad, then polish it up in the spring, maybe find an agent. We’ll see how this, like all my other plans, turns into interesting times instead.

What’s Happening With the Novel-In-Progress

Shortly after the last post about the novel, I realized I had some plot issues that needed resolving before I could move into the 3rd act. I was surprised to find that, while I had a lot of good stuff, it didn’t all fit together as neatly as I thought. There was a lot of dithering, scene bloat and one major character who had a death grip on the idiot ball. Basically, the plot all hinged on one character simply not telling the others what they knew. This makes for a lousy story. But I caught it early and set about fixing the issue.

There were also stylistic problems. This book really wanted to be a Silver Age revival adventure novel. The problem is, I don’t much care for writing pointless action set pieces and found myself uncomfortably close to writing a dumb action movie in prose form (and with way too many guns for my taste*). Usually I veer more towards a dreamlike suspense/absurdity with a touch of existential anxiety. And while it’s good to stretch as a writer, it’s possible to stretch too far and no one wants to read the literary equivalent of a pulled hamstring.

So I started pulling the manuscript apart and salvaging the pieces that worked. After some massive plot restructuring and throwing out half the MS, I’m closer to getting the novel I want, a more introspective sci-fi mystery. Also, It’ll be a much more marketable 90K words than the bloated whale corpse I was kicking, which was approaching 120K words before I even started Act 3. And really, if you find yourself passing the 100k mark and not yet hitting the 3rd act, that means you have a some dead weight in that manuscript and it’s dragging the ass of your manuscript through the mud.

Oddly enough, what set me on the right track was, as is often the case, sitting down one evening and watching an old movie. In this case, the great, often overlooked but highly recommended masterpiece of 70s paranoia-malaise, Capricorn One. Worth watching just to see a young Sam Waterston (and staying for Hal Holbrook’s turn as one of the more understated villains you’re ever likely to see).

So, lessons learned:

  • If you can’t tell a compelling story in 90K words, you’re doing something wrong.
  • Don’t be afraid to torch half your manuscript.
  • Watch old movies. They’re awesome.
  • relax, it’s only fiction.

 

_________
*It doesn’t help when you lock yourself in the office all afternoon, writing a gun-heavy action scene, only to find, when emerge for a break that a gunman has just shot up a mall a few miles away. I’ve really started to examine the role violence plays in our entertainment and question the reason for much of it.

Publishing News, etc.

The blog has been quite for the last month and for this I apologize. Despite not doing NaNoWriMo, I have been doing quite a bit of writing on the novel-in-progress (110,000 words to date), looking for a day job to pay the bills and getting ready to become a dad. (Babies are a lot of work, who knew?)

Check out the books pages (linked above on the header menu) an you’ll find that my novella, The Lives of Perfect Creatures is now available on the Nook, Kobo and Kindle ans well as in print. That’s been no small amount of work, either, even if half of it was just waiting for the terms of my KDP select contract to expire.

I originally submitted the novella to Kindle Select, in the hopes that it would get picked up as a Kindle Single, which would have meant promotion and quite a few sales. that didn’t happen and I was stuck for 3 months, unable to publish the book on another platform until the window of exclusivity expired. That now has. I wasn’t all that thrilled with my experience with KDP. It wasn’t bad, but it really doesn’t offer anything of added value above the standard Kindle publishing experience, unless you get into the Kindle Singles program, and that’s pretty much like winning the lottery. So I won’t be  doing that again and I’m hardly the only author who feels this way. Anyway, I’m not going to go on at length about this. Let’s call it an experiment, with lessons learned.

From here on out, all books will appear simultaneously on multiple platforms and in print, which will make it easier for readers to find the books and download them in the formats they want.

The novel-in-progress is coming along and as I move into the final third of the manuscript, I’m starting to think of ways to promote the book when it’s published (tentatively, May 2013). As I have (checks pockets) $0.00 in the marketing budget, this means I’ll be doing creative things, like shouting about the book on twitter and publishing a preview of the book for free. So, Sometime in March or April, look for the first 3 chapters of Cloudhunter to appear in virtual bookstores everywhere.

Alright, back to the word mines.

 

On Second Thought…

National Novel Writing Month started yesterday and while I have in the past made attempts at participating, I think it’s time for me to admit, more to myself than anyone else, that NaNoWriMo just isn’t for me. I’ve tried it for 5 years now and never successfully completed it, nor have I even really gotten more than half way through. The reason is simple: I can’t write under those conditions. Once upon a time I could. One summer, I banged out a 300 page “novel” in 30 days. And you’ll never read it, because it reads like something a teenager banged out in 30 days on a second hand word processor.

I like the idea of NaNoWriMo, how it fosters camaraderie and encourages people to take that first step to write. But it’s not for me.

I’ve written 2 books and am 2/3 of the way through a 3rd, and what I’ve learned from the process of writing these books is that I can’t write 50,000 words in a month. Not 50,000 words anyone would want to read, anyway. And while NaNoWriMo is about motivating you to just sit down and write anything, however good it turns out, this is what I’m about at this point in my career as an author. I’m at the stage where I need to produce quality, not quantity.

Now of course, part of that is also producing quality on a regular basis, and through much trial and error, I’ve discovered that at best, I can manage 1000 words on a good day. Simple math will tell you that I’m not getting anywhere near 50K words in a month at that rate. I’m lucky to produce 25K words a month. And I’m OK with that.

At that rate, I can still write a full length novel in 6-8 months, with planning and patience. And really, that’s the stage I’m at right now, learning to use the patience that comes along with the process to craft something worth the time and effort, both of me and my readers.

So, while I applaud NaNoWriMo for encouraging people to write, I shall henceforth do so from a respectable distance, admiringly.

Great Disturbances, Etc.

Via Xeni at BoingBoing comes the news that Disney has just baught Lucusfilm with the intent, “to release a new Star Wars feature film every two to three years.”

Alright nerds, before you start catterwalling about a million voices screaming out, etc., take a deep pull on your inhalers.

Everyone despaired when Disney bought the Muppets, but the new Muppet movie was great, revitalizing the entire franchise. Clearly Lucus doesn’t care about Star Wars, but Disney does (at least enough to recognize that there’s an audience willing to fork over a gigaton of cash for a new movie or 12).

Lately Disney has recognized that what they need to do is find someone passionate about their new toy and hand creative control over, like they did to Lasseter at Pixar, and Whedon at Marvel. It’s the perfect time for Disney to find some untapped talent who grew up with Star Wars, wants to make awesome Star Wars movies, and let them at it with the sort of talent and bottomless pockets Disney can provide.

And since these new movies will need to satisfy the Mouse Kingdom and the fans rather then the whims of some old fart more concerned about fancy cameras and loud sound systems, this could very well be a Good Thing (Other than the fact that a single corporation now owns 90% of mine and everyone else’s childhood, but it was either going to be them or Time Warner, so pick your devils, children).

NaNoWriMo 2012

It’s that time of year again, when all us mad folk try to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Yes, NaNoWriMo is upon us!

Unfortunately, I don’t have time to participate officially this year, as I’m neck-deep in my current project. However! By next week, I’ll be +or- 50K words away from completion of the novel-in-progress, and so will be using the NaNoWriMo format to make the final push through to the end.

Here’s my starting word count:


108856 / 162000
(67.2%)

I’ll post regular updates once NaNoWriMo starts (along with some excerpts, maybe?) and natter on about my writing habits and process. You know, fun stuff!

You can follow along here, or on twitter: #nanowrimo

Somewhere Along the Line, He forgot He was Talking About Real People

So another Republican running for Senate has come out in favor of rape. This makes the fourth or fifth in the last couple of months. But where the other assholes were defending rape on the grounds that chics, what  are you gonna do? this guy, Richard Mourdock (R- Indiana) decided to bring God into it:

On Tuesday night Mourdock voiced his opposition to abortion even in cases of rapes, saying that a pregnancy resulting from rape is “something God intended to happen.”

+10 points for originality, I guess, but -1000 for suggesting that one of the instruments for God’s ineffable cosmic plan is to rape women into submission. That’s right up there with “9/11 was because of the gays” and saying the Titanic was sunk because there was one dude aboard that God really wanted dead, so he threw an iceberg at the ship he was on. This takes theodicy to unplumbed depths of venality and viciousness.

It’s not so much that Mourdock is trying to usurp divine authority in service of a despicable act in order to convey his own moral superiority, it’s that he doesn’t have a problem with implying that rape is all part of God’s plan, in order to ague for the role of classical misogamy in 21st century politics. If you’ve jumped gleefully off that cliff, not only do you not belong in the US Senate, but you should probably seek counseling.

The Propper Place to Start is At the Beginning

Over at io9, they’re showing off some tantalizing clips form the forthcoming James Bond film, Skyfall. And as usual, the comments have turned to the perennial discussion as to where to start as a new Bond fan.

If you just want to prep for Skyfall, go back and watch Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace (in that order, as they’re direrectly related). Otherwise, the older Bond films can be watched in any order.

However, everyone has their favorites, so here’s mine:

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, while unpopular among many Bond fans, is actually a solid movie and closest in tone and style to the modern Craig-era films. It features George Lazenby as the most serious and dour of Bonds, but he brings a humanity and pathos to the character that was often overlooked before Daniel Craig. This movie has everything people say they like about the newer Bond films, but did it in the 60s. I think what puts people off is Lazenby’s skin tight ruffled tuxedo shirt.

Before Daniel Craig, the hands-down fan favorite Bond was Sean Connery. He’s fine but really his movies are mostly interchangeable. The stand out film was Goldfinger, which features a goldbug of a villain trying to steal all the gold in Fort Knox and one of the sillier henchman, Odd Job, the hulking Chinese bodyguard with a boomarang hat.

Bond Aficionados are divided on the Roger Moore films. Some of them are downright silly (Octopussy) while others attain a strange surrealist quality that is fun in its own right. For my money, The Man With the Golden Gun is the epitome of the mid 70s surreal take on Bond. It features Christopher Lee as the titular golden gun wielding assassin, his superfluous third nipple, and Herve Villechez as his dwarf henchman. There’s a protracted chase scene through the canals of Thailand, where Bond picks up a racist American on vacation form Louisiana to gawk at the funny looking Asians, a pair of schoolgirl karate experts with a Bruce Lee-analog uncle, and a secret base inside the lopsided wreck of the Queen Elizabeth. Also, the plot revolves around a solar powered laser gun. It’s awesome.

If you feel the need to be a completist, you’ll have to endure the Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan era, where Bond sort of lost steam, as these were all made in the late 80s and 90s. It wasn’t his fault really. The Cold War was winding down and stateless terrorism had yet to become a real threat. Bond just has no real purpose in these movies, and that crept into the subtext, with rather contrived plots that existed solely to prove Bond was still a necessity, and, relying on tech McGuffins and unlikely bond girls who serve no purpose. Also, an invisible car for some reason. Goldeneye is probably the most enjoyable of these films, as you at least get a small but scenery-chewing performance from Alan Cumming as the nerdy computer scientist.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go see if The Man With the Golden Gun is streaming on Netflix.

Lessons Learned

So, instead of writing today, I spent all day reformatting and republishing my novella, The Lives of Perfect Creatures. Apparently, when I initially uploaded the files to Amazon, there was some sort of glitch that peppered the text liberally with typos and weird characters. The persons responsible have been sacked, and further formatting duties will be overseen by Ralph the Wonder Llama.

The problem seems  to stem from the fact that while you can make a Kindle ebook by uploading a Word .doc, you shouldn’t, because it runs your prose through a wood chipper first. A Microsoft product doesn’t work properly? Who knew, right?

Which is why today was spent uploading the text back into Scrivener and fiddling with the settings until I could output an .epub file that didn’t look like shit. The upside is, 1) I now know how to format an ebook directly from Scrivener, which will come in handy for future projects, and 2) I now have an .epub edition of my novella ready to go for when the exclusivity window on Amazon expires, and I can push it out to the Nook, iBookstore and Kobo platforms.