Growing Up In Guantanamo Bay

My first professionally published essay, about growing up in Cuba is now up!

There was this story that all of the American kids who lived on GTMO knew—the Cubans didn’t map their minefields. We’d heard it from someone’s brother, who’d heard it from one of the Marines stationed along the fence line, who’d seen it with their own eyes. Prisoners were marched out of a gate on the Cuban side and into the no-man’s land between one country and another until . . . Boom!

Continue reading at The Establishment

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.

 

The Power of Names

Everyone knows that Mark Twain was really Samuel Longhorne Clemens. And really, if you were born with a name like that, why change it?

There are several reasons to use a pseudonym:

Anonymity (which goes right out the window if you, like Mr. Clemens, don’t hide your birth name and prefer, in mixed company to go by it instead). Plus these days, a Google search can render anonymity moot, unless your smart, and let’s face it, people aren’t (have you met people? Generally about as smart as house cats, on a good day).

It’s a good idea to use a pseudonym if you have the same name as someone famous or infamous and want to avoid confusion. Not that there are a lot of Babe Ruth’s running about, but John Smith (no, the other one) could really have used a nom de plume. And pretty much everyone named Adolf who was born before 1945 but lived through WW II understands this reason. Except Adolfo Buey Cesarus, but really if you’re the sort of person who’d mistake a gentle-hearted Brazilian fabulist with one of history’s greatest fiends, you really are a house cat.

If you’re hiding form a past life of crime and general skulduggery, or from skull duggers who might want to do you in for something you’ve seen, a pseudonym is probably in order, the more common and nondescript the better.

And sometimes you have a respectable career as a mathematics teacher like Charles Lutwidge Dawson and you don’t want to mix circles with the fans of your silly poetry and children’s fantasy, like Lewis Carroll. Maybe it’s simply illegal for a civil servant like Brian O’Nollan to publish under his own name, and so Flann O’Brian is born.

on the other hand, some people were born with outsized personalities that their drab names simply could not contain. Marion Robert Morrison just doesn’t sound butch, but John Wayne makes the ladies smile-in-that-way, and the men stick out their chin with envy. No one was ever going to give Archie Leach a job in movies, but Cary Grant? Who doesn’t love that guy?

Stage names for actors have become so common, I bet you’d be surprised to find out just how few given names appear on the big screen. Just ask Moses Horwitz, his brother Jerome and their partner, Louis Feinburg, better known to the world as Mo, Curly and Larry.

Unfortunately, women still have problems being taken seriously as authors. Just ask George Sand, James Tiptree Jr., D.C. Fontana, J.K. Rowlings, J.D. Robb, K.A. Applegate and S.E. Hinton.

And sometimes the name your born into just doesn’t fit. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the name Edward Alexander Crowley. It’s British through and through. But it just doesn’t have the same ring to it as Aleister Crowley, and when you want to conjure an image as a master occultist, ringing the right tone is the key to the temple. Pearl Grey is a perfectly respectable name, unless you write westerns for a living, then maybe Zane Gray is a bit more appropriate. Eric Blair is a fine, if plain name, but we know him better as George Orwell, which just resonates with authorial intent.

You’ll notice I haven’t even gotten into the cultural reasons for using a collective pseudonym. We simply don’t know who the authors were of the ancient Greek epics, so we call them all Homer. In Japan, Pen Names are almost universal. Or did you think Bosho was really named after a banana plant?

All of this is the long way of saying that I’ve decided to adopt a Pen Name for my writing. So, in the (very near) future when you want to find a new piece of fiction, look for the by-line of Keith Edwards. I hear that guy’s stuff is pretty great.

The Story Thus Far, Part 6: Words, Words, Words

The single best writing day I ever had was when I was writing The Machine of the World. I wrote 7000 words in a span of 8 hours. I took a half an hour break for lunch but otherwise wrote for an entire day. This was exhilarating in itself, to see that I was capable of such a creative output.[1] It was also a total fluke.

Seeing as how most books range between 40 and 100,000 words,[2] congratulating myself on completing 7000 at a go seems silly. But the hardest part of writing is the process of putting words on a page.[3] because unless you’re doing National Novel Writing Month, (and even if yo are) you won’t be dropping 7000 every day. Unless you’re Jack Kerouac, but then the Speed helped and he was typing so fast, he forgot to use punctuation.

But you should have a reasonable daily word count for yourself. This will vary by the author.

Tom Robbins, famously, doesn’t count at all, he works on one sentence, getting it perfect before he moves on to the next. So some days he’ll write a page, others, just one sentence. This is of course absurd but not as absurd as Marcel Proust, who wrote as the whim moved him, and only in a cork-lined room.

[find some other author word count anecdotes]

For those like me, who are just starting out and may have a day job as well, you won’t have time to wait for the whim of the muse to grip you by the wrist and dip your perfumed fingers in the ink. You have to find an hour in the evening or thirty minutes on your lunch break, bang out a few hundred words and then get back to work. For the working writer, Cory Doctorow makes a good argument for aiming at a nice and tidy 500 words a day:

  • Short, regular work schedule
    When I’m working on a story or novel, I set a modest daily goal — usually a page or two — and then I meet it every day, doing nothing else while I’m working on it. It’s not plausible or desirable to try to get the world to go away for hours at a time, but it’s entirely possible to make it all shut up for 20 minutes. Writing a page every day gets me more than a novel per year — do the math — and there’s always 20 minutes to be found in a day, no matter what else is going on. Twenty minutes is a short enough interval that it can be claimed from a sleep or meal-break (though this shouldn’t become a habit). The secret is to do it every day, weekends included, to keep the momentum going, and to allow your thoughts to wander to your next day’s page between sessions. Try to find one or two vivid sensory details to work into the next page, or a bon mot, so that you’ve already got some material when you sit down at the keyboard.
  • Leave yourself a rough edge
    When you hit your daily word-goal, stop. Stop even if you’re in the middle of a sentence. Especially if you’re in the middle of a sentence. That way, when you sit down at the keyboard the next day, your first five or ten words are already ordained, so that you get a little push before you begin your work. Knitters leave a bit of yarn sticking out of the day’s knitting so they know where to pick up the next day — they call it the “hint.” Potters leave a rough edge on the wet clay before they wrap it in plastic for the night — it’s hard to build on a smooth edge.

This has been working for me for the past few months. I feel a nice sense of accomplishment if I get that 500 goal. Some days, I can’t resist the urge and keep going, regularly breaking 1000. But that extra 500 words? That’s gravy. Doesn’t count towards the next day. Still need to do 500 words then, too. And the day after that. Unless it’s Saturday. I usually take Saturdays off.

_________
1. The most impressive part is that most of those 7000 words are still in the finished book. For those interested, it’s the second part of chapter two, all of three and four and the end of seventeen. I didn’t say they were consecutive words.

2. The SFWA says a novel starts at 40K words. NaNoWriMo requires yo to write 50K in 30 days. there’s no standard length for a novel but generally speaking, you only get to break 150K if you’re Stephen King or Neil Stephenson. If you’re getting into that range, you should probably set aside a few minutes to examine your plot and see if you aren’t trying to shoehorn too much into one story.

3. Or a screen. Some authors write longhand in notebooks with actual ink pens. This strikes me as archaic. But hey whatever works for you. I’ve tried writing longhand and before I finish a page, I’ve usually crossed out half of what I’ve written, forgotten how to spell the other half and filled the margins with addendum and arrows identifying which sentence goes before or after which other sentence. I am a decidedly untidy writer. I think in images and phrases, not in paragraphs. if it weren’t for word processing software, I probably would never finish so much as a blog post and would have even worse spelling.

The Story Thus Far, Part 5: End of Line

The other night, I was in bed, half asleep (sans frog pajamas), when I solved the biggest problem the plot of my book had: the ending. Up until then, I had only a vague sort of general idea what would happen in the end. This was problematic for a variety of reasons. The most obvious being, if you don’t know how your story ends, then how do you know when to stop? At various points, I was adding subplots tot he story and had swelled the projected length to more than 150,000 words. That’s a rather svelt book for Stephen King but for me, that suggests kitchen sink writing.[1] You could kill someone by dropping such a book on their head. Not wanting to write a weapon of mass destruction, this became a problem.

It was also slowign me down. If I don’t know where I’m going with the story, I can go anywhere. That makes it hard to follow through on themes and damn near impossible to write. If I get stuck in chapter 12, I can’t just jump down the line and pick up a later scene because what happens if, when I get back to chapter 12, it changes things that happen later? I’ve just wasted days writing scenes that need to either be rewritten or thrown out entirely. This starts us down the road to second guessing and muttering to yourself and eventually drinking a whole bottle of Ouzo in one sitting.

So having a solid, clear end point is a necessity. At least for me.[2] And for a while, I didn’t have one and this made things complicated. And by complicated, I mean frustrating. But! while in the hypnogogic reverie, floating like a leaf on a pond, I figured it out. The End. and everything was made transparent. Themes became solid. Motifs fell into place. The story–wobbly and jellylike before–became a walking breathing thing, apparent and mobile under its own momentum. Within two days, I had not only a complete plot outline but had written nearly 3000 words.

Getting to this point was a lot of work.[4] Moving on from here to the end will still be a lot of work, though not quite as frustrating. I can now pay attention to the writing and not have to spend sleepless hours figuring out the plot. If I get stuck in a scene, I can jump ahead to any scene that catches my fancy (or picked at random) from the outline and start writing, confident that it will fit into place, because it now has a place designed to fit it, in whatever shape it ends up. Because, while I have an outline, there’s still plenty of wiggle room to surprise myself with turns of phrase and character moments I didn’t anticipate. The muscle and meat of the plot outline can be adjusted to meet those minor changes, now that I have the skeleton in place.

From here on out, it’s just a matter of putting words on the page. That is the fun part, but also the biggest challenge, as it means finding time every day to meet my daily word count. And what should that daily word count be? That’s a very good question.

_________
1.Don’t have an idea what your story is about but plenty of wacky ideas? Throw it in! It worked for Lost. If by worked you mean, made an endless muddled mess of a story with so many chaarcters and subplots and sub-sub plots and smoke monsters and polar bears in the tropics and ooh, time travel! but no resolution that could ever make sense. Yeah sure, that’s something you could do. But it won’t tell a satisfying story.

2. Some authors are confident in their craft to just let the story unwind and wouldn’t dream of writing a plot outline, as it would kill their creative flow and they’d loose interrest in the story. Neil Gaiman apparently writes this way but then he’s not too teribly worried about his story structure, since every novel and story he writes is basically the heroes journey. [3] At the othe rend of the cale we have Tom Robbins, whose legendary writing style is the stuff of legend: he perfectly crafts a single sentence with no thought as to the one that came before or that will come after. No plot. No character sheet. No idea where anythign will go. He’s perfected the absolute zen art of writing. At least, according to his own mythology. It’s not possible to start writing a book that begins “The magician’s underwear has just been found in a cardboard suitcase floating in a stagnant pond on the outskirts of Miami,” without knowing at least a little something about who the magician is and what their underwear is doing in that suitcase.

3. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. The hero’s journey is a tried and true tale, as old as humanity and has enough room for infinite variation and Mr. Gaiman does it better than just about anybody. It’s just not the story I want to tell, necessarily.

4. And there’s no easy way to get from point A to point B except by trudging ahead until you build up that momentum. I wish there were some easy program or solution to this problem but it’s really just a matter of perseverance. You have to be confident enough in your craft to get through that hard slog. Not everybody can and more than one great American (or Canadian or Tasmanian or Chechnyan) novel has died in this valley between the cool idea and the point where it takes on enough mass and heat to burst to life like a little star. But once you get to that ignition point, that’s where writing becomes the most fun and fulfilling.

The Story Thus Far, Part 4

So, where was I? Right! Chapter 9.

Chapter 9 was giving me some trouble. We’re already about 8 pages into the story. We’ve met two of our main characters and established a premise and shown a bit of the world. Time to get into the guts of the story and have some fun. But I still have to take care of some business, namely, getting us to a stable plot point form where to progress. Remember, our hero,Major To has traveled through time and is in a world that looks similar tot he one he left but just enough is different to throw him off. he’s got to get his legs about him before we can just throw him into the wilderness again. This is the point of chapter 9 and at first, chapter 10 as well. That was my problem. I had given myself way too much space to do what is essentially the novel-equivalent of an establishing shot. Where is Tom living and how is he coping? That doesn’t need 5000 words. In my attempt to fill up the alloted space, i was spinign out a web of cliches. Tom gets a cell phone! Tom meets his wacky gay neighbors! Tom has an epiphane about the tragic nature of the future… Well, so what? That’s not the point. Noone wants to see Major Tom sit in his livign room, trying to figure out how to order a pizza with his brand new iPhone.

So, I took the parts of chapter 9 that worked and the parts of chapter 10 that worked and smooshed them together (well, edited them together).

This seems like a trivial thing but it’s not. I have the whole rest of the book to show how Tom is or is not adapting to this crazy wacky futuristic world in which he finds himself. no need to dump it all out on the table at once. Our goal is, whenever possible, to do at least two things at once. We can both move the plot forward and establish that Tom finds this world confusing and strange. Idelaly, we would do more than just those two things but for th epurpose of our illustattion, the take-home lesson is this: Don’t waste your reader’s time. If you, the writer are bored by the idea of doing that scene, skip it. If it doesn’t interest you, it sure as hell isn’t going to interrest your reader, who will never know it’s missing. And if it turns out later you need to add that scene back in, well, that’s what the second draft is for.

This cleared the way to jump into the complication, or Act 2, where things start to get really interesting.

The Story Thus Far, Part 3

So, the other day I had a story-related epiphany–

Wait. Let’s back up a sec, so I can make sure we’re all on the same page story mechanics-wise.

When writing (or just telling) a story, it’s important to now what the nature of the conflict at the heart of that story is about. Some of you may recall the conflict types discussed in English lit classes but for those who don’t, a quick refresher. All story is conflict. Period. Nice happy tales about people getting along, communicating clearly and always telling the honest truth and never hurting anyone’s feelings are boring.[1] Drama comes form conflict. There are a few archetypal conflicts:

Man vs. Man
Man vs. Nature
Man vs. Society

A few examples:

Man vs. Man: Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth vs. Darcy, over their true feelings. Man vs. Nature: any disaster movie, ever. Something bad happens (tornado, volcano, killer fog, alien invasion, etc.) and our characters must overcome the world to save their asses. Man vs. Society: 1984. Winston feels compelled, by his own humanity, to rebel against an arbitrary and repressive society that regards him merely as a useful tool. This arbitrary society at various points in the story manifest in the form of characters, namely O’Brian, who is it’s mouth piece and Julia, who is likewise used to seduce him into thought crime.

So. The epiphany: I had the wrong conflict in mind.

I kept thinking that The Man From Planet X was a Man vs. Man conflict, namely it would all resolve down, after much running about doing cool, dramatic bits, two Tom and his idealism vs. Our villain, Victor Malenfant, and his cynicism.[2] But, ahah! It doesn’t. I was trying to figure out why I couldn’t break act 4 into a satisfactory conclusion and it wasn’t working, because I was trying to contrive a way for our villain to be responsible for all the other problems that our protagonists encounter. That felt hollow and didn’t ring true but I couldn’t figure out why. Sure, on the most obvious level, having one man be responsible for everything wrong with the world is unrealistic. But beyond that, it’s a cop out. It makes our villain a scapegoat. You kill him and then the world is fixed because all the bad stuff goes away. Except, it doesn’t. The real world doesn’t work like that and neither does this particular fictional world. Malenfant is a villain, sure, but he’s not a magical font of concentrated evil. He’s not Voldemort or Sauron.[3] He’s just this guy, you know?

Which made me realize that the conflict of my story is not Man vs. Man but Man vs. Nature. Tom and our hero protagonists are trying to figure out why the world is so screwed up and how they can unscrew it. Malenfant is not our antagonist, he’s a villain protagonist. He’s trying to take advantage of the fact that the world is screwed up for personal gain. This changes the dynamic of the story a lot. Instead of a major climatic battle between the two characters, they instead will circle each other in ever tighter spirals, eventually meeting and realizing that circumstantial evidence has made them think each other is the cause of their problems. This causes the characters to have to reevaluate what they’re trying to accomplish. More conflict! More drama! But it all comes out of the characters making choices based on faulty information, a classic and ever-relatable story hook that goes back forever, at least to Homer.[4]

_________
1. It’s slightly more complicated than that, but not by much. This is the reason that the Twilight series is riddled with such bad story telling: it’s not that the vampires are lame (though that certainly is a contributing factor)* it’s that there are no real dramatic conflicts in the stories. Everyone likes Bella. She and Edward are in love. The only moments of pseudo tension wrung out of the plots in those books comes when one character picks up the idiot ball and does something to create conflict for no real reason. Edward runs off, without telling Bella why, making her mopey. This is the basic plot impetus for all subsequent drama in New Moon. It’s sudden, unmotivated and once you learn why he left, doesn’t hold up to a moment’s inspection. He did it just because there was no drama and Stephanie Myer had three more books to write.

*The reason the vampires are lame: Stephanie Myer forgot what vampires represent. They’re dark symbols of sexual predation.They aren’t bad boys or cool. They’re rapists and murders who murder you with their mouth rape-y fangs. Worse: they seduce you into letting them kill you slowly, in a manner that is pleasurable for them by convincing you that you deserve to be raped to death. Falling in love with a monster is not a good thing. See; Buffy: the Vampire Slayer for how that kind of self-loathing relationship turns out.

2. This being a science fiction story, these internal conflicts and ideas will be manifested concretely through metaphor. Because that is what fantastical literature is good at: taking abstractions and giving them a concrete form against which to examine yourself. There’s a school of thought that in sci-fi and fantasy stories, all your metaphors should be walking around in the story, given a voice, and that descriptive passages should contain similes only. I find this intriguing and might need to give it some more thought.

3. The problem with both these villains is that they are too big to be believable. While the respective worlds they both inhabit do not become happy magical fun lands when the villains are defeated, way too much of the evil does vanish. The surviving Death Eaters are still mass murdering fuck heads. Same with the Orks of Middle Earth.

4. Homer never has correct information. That’s why his get rich quick schemes never work, like invading Troy to corner the market on doughnuts.

The Story Thus Far, Part 2

To pick up where we left off before being so rudely interrupted by the holidays…

Wait, back up for a second. For the curious, here’s a picture of my workspace, from the Ceiling Cat perspective.

Yes, thats a big pink owl on top of my mini. No, I wont tell you why.
Yes, that's a big pink owl on top of my mini. No, I won't tell you why.

This is where I do most, but not all, of my writing. The desk is not always this organized but I’m working on trying to keep my creative space in some shape, to help me work, if not faster, at least more efficiently. Hence the Big Board.

This will get a lot more cluttered, very quickly.
This will get a lot more cluttered, very quickly.

As you can see by the above picture (blurred for your protection[1]) I’m organizing my chapters and scenes using the tried and true note card method.

Each card has a brief scribble noting what should happen in that chapter. The 8 cards in the top left hand corner are the completed chapters while the single card just below those is chapter 9, where I am (and feel as if I always have been). The three cards (and attendant sticky note) below Chapter 9 are chapters 10-12. The four cards bellow those are chapters 13-16, which are the beginning of Act 2. As you can see, I’m breaking out the last third of Act 1 right now.

Act 1 is the Set up. That’s where we introduce the bulk of the characters (all the important ones anyway) and set up the drama that will get complicated in act 2, reversed in act 3 and resolved in act 4.[2] The note cards let me shuffle some ideas around before I even start writing the scene, that way I can tell if I even need the scene, or if I can move the action into another chapter. This makes things easier for me to see where I am and what’s going on, rather than just tying to visualize inside me wee little noggin.

Each act of this story is slotted for 12 chapters. Every 4 chapters makes an episode, with each of the 4 chapters as a miniature act. This, chapter 9 is a set up chapter for what gets complicated in chapter 10, reversed in chapter 11 and resolved (kinda sorta) in chapter 12.

And that’s where I am. I’ve been wandering around in chapter 9, trying to figure out what happens here in relation to what went before and the hundred and one strange ideas I have fr what happens next. You can’t se eit on the blurry picture of The Big Board, but the card for chapter 9 says:

Major Tom moves into a bungalow in the Castro and throws a housewarming party. Hijinks ensue.

This is more of a suggestion, or a hook, but it gives me something on which to focus. It’s a nice little set up. Two months have passed since chapter 8. Tom is settling into the 21 C but is having a few issues, such as a mild case of PTSD. But Salome and his gay neighbors are helping him through it and then along comes Alice Atomo, a friend of Salome’s invited to the housewarming party. Oh, and she’s brought her father with her. Who’s a mad scientist. It sounds sort of like a new story is starting, which it should. This chapter introduces the romantic subplot and, if I play my note cards right, a few other things that will get interesting later.

_________

1. I used the secret Photoshopping skills called “not focusing the camera” to hide the incriminating evidence of my heinous handwriting. It’s blurry not because I’m concerned about people finding out my precious ideas (I do actually want people to read my book) but his post is more about the method I’m using for breaking the story than what the actual story is all about. This clearly is not a secret, as I wouldn’t be writing this if it were.

2. I’m using the modified 4 act structure, based on the the 3 act structure outlined by just about everyone. Most people recognize that act 2 in the 3 act structure is twice as long as act 1 and hinges in the middle on the climax. They dutifully break the act into 2A and 2B. But really it’s 4 acts. So for our purposes, if you read Syd Field or any other story structure guru, when he refers to act 2A, I’m talking about act 2 and when he says Act 2B, I’m talking about act 3. act 5 is right out.[3]

3. Historical anecdote: most plays written before the 19th century had a 5 act structure that was just the same as our 4 act structure but they always added a sort of prologue explaining the set up, called an introduction. You see this in Shakespeare’s plays, especially Romeo and Juliet, where someone comes out and sets the scene for you. By the 19th century, most writers realized this was redundant, as the details of the story could easily let you know where you were and who was doing what, so they dropped the introductory act.

The Story Thus Far

A long, long time ago, back when I was actually writing things on this blog, instead of just posting random cat pictures and promising to write things on this blog, I was working on a novel. This was so far back in the danky, drippy mists of time, even before the great Nanowrimo fiasco.[1] So, September, October, even. I had thrown out a few random links to news items and bits of weirdness that were jangling around in my head and generally being sticky with ideas for the novel-in-progress, refereed to cryptically on twitter as Novel # 3.

Well. Now that Nanowrimo is safely behind us, smoldering in the distance,[2] I can get back to focusing my short attention span on the proper novel that, truth be told, I’ve been fiddling with off and on since May. The fiddling is done, dear reader(s). The twangy Philip-Glassian warm up music has given way to a full blown orchestra (if John Williams directed an opera by The Ventures), harrumphing and blaring away in my brain. And it’s a doozy. And I will lay all its piece sout for you here, as they stand, partially to document the creative process I’ve developed since the previosu novel, but also as a self-evaluation tool, to see if any of the funny, silly, sticky bits that I think are so wonderful aren’t in fact total shit when I try to explain them to someone else.

Novel # 3’s proper title is: The Man From Planet X. I’m borrowing the title from a little-known sci-fi movie from 1951, about a visitor to Earth from a rogue planet who is mistaken by the military for a threat when in fact, he’s jus a curious visitor who looks funny. And so they kill him. The movie offers an atypical criticism of the cold war and red-baiting era, somethig most of the sci-fi movies of the period address in purly jingoistic terms. Well-scrubbed white American men beat the ever-loving shit out of those skinny, weird looking Martians, who all look alike and want to steal our women folk, whose sole purpose in the film is to scream while wearing a bra designed by a munitions manufacturer so that an entire generation of American kids grow up associating bullets and breasts in an unhealthy Pavlovian manner that confuses sexual urges with aggression. In this movie, the military is the bad guy, shooting first and asking questions never, to the detriment of humanity in general. Same as it ever was.

My novel actually has nothing at all to do with any of this. I just like the classic B-movie ring to it. No, that’s not true either.

The main character is Major Thomas Jones, USAF, pilot of Freedom 7-II, the last Mercury-era mission.[3] Major Tom launches into orbit in 1963. And disappears. Almost 50 years later, in 2012, he falls out of the sky and lands in Uzbekistan. Due to the fragile political climate of that hollow state, the US military can’t go in after him. So they send in Salome Anaconda Divine, a Biological agent for a futurist NGO called the Geranium Appreciation society (which is sort of like if Boing Boing and Greenpeace merged and were funded by Bono and Richard Branson). Salome gets herself captured by the cannibal warlord who has Major Tom in his castle in the toxic wasteland adjacent tot her Aral Sea. Hijinks ensue. And by Hijinks, I mean the rest of the story. You see, Major Tom doesn’t belong in this world. He’s the first ever documented time traveler. Untethered from causality, he’s fallen through time and space and is free to change the future. But first, he’s got to figure out the world of 21 C and his place in it. Salome is there to help. Complicating matters are a government bureaucracy, militant Transhumanists, a secret society, madmen, monsters and other escapees from various futures that never were.

So, Major Tom is the Man From Planet X. He’s come to visit and see what this world is like and try not to get himself killed in the process. Currently, he’s just met a charismatic Investment banker who decides to be his arch enemy and a stranger who knows who Tom is and where he is really from, eaten sushi for the first time and been offered a job saving the world.

And that’s the story thus far.

_________
1. Some may say that ‘fiasco’ is rather harsh, considering that the half-assed attempt to write a novel in 30 days is the point of Nanowrimo, but I barely go 8K words into it before the bottom fell out. So, yeah. Not exactly a high point on my own personal commitment scale. I had intended to use it as a short-form look into the creative process, documented on the blog for all the world and posterity to ogle at and be informed, or at least interested. So much for that idea.

2. I’m not really slagging on Nanowrimo. It was great fun, as it always is and is a wonderful exercise to get the creative process moving again. Working on that ill-conceived story gave me the perspective I needed to work out some of the thornier plot issues under which Novel # 3 had stalled. And that really is the point of Nanowrimo. It’s a boot to the butt of the muse.

3. In the real world, Freedom 7-II was canceled, it’s crew (Alan Shepherd) and funding transferred to the new Apollo program. This actually points to a larger part of the world I’m building in the story, and is a cross between a spoiler and an Easter Egg.

Just a Reminder

I’ve written two books and, as it happens, books make a lovely Christmas gift. I think your mother would like a nice Gothic Fairy Tale. And your cousin would enjoy a fine story about an umbrella and an aging cosmonaut. And if you order them by Friday, they should get there just in time for the holidays. Also, if you wanted, say a 20% discount, you could email me or ask me on twitter and I might be persueded to provide you with such a thing.