Monday, September 30, 2013

The Autumn of Not Sucking

700 words again yesterday, and I'm going for 800 today. About halfway there now. The scene is slow going, but not as painful as I feared. It's tough to pull off a dramatic confrontation without it descending into cheezy Lifetime movie dialogue. Also, from Willa's perspective, the antagnonist's actions are shocking and make no sense at all. I think I need to back up do a little freewriting about from his perspective-- his wants, his needs, what he's trying to accomlish here-- before I move on. As Joely says, every character is the star of his own story.

I am wary of making any pronouncements or setting any challenges (since we all know how well THAT'S gone lately), but I would like very much to make this the Autumn of Not Sucking. I've figured out that if I write 850 words a day, I could be finished with the draft by the end of November-- and that includes a few days off to host Thanksgiving. There's not really going to be a better time than this to make a push for the end: The Son is in school full-day and my tutoring schedule is light right now, which means there is no reason in the world I can't write 850 words on weekdays. Weekends are more challenging, but not impossible. I have an article deadline coming up, but it's a pretty straightforward article. I want to paint our downstairs bathroom, but we're having some work done on the exterior of the house in October so I wouldn't do it until after then anyway.

Now is the time.

Of course, I could totally blow it. At this point in the blog, it would be folly to pretend this isn't a possibility. But I'm going to give it a try: 850 words a day, with the goal of finishing the second draft by Nov. 30.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


700 words.

Today I finished a scene that was a total "candy bar" scene for me: a fun, romantic little scene that I've had it in my head as clear as a DVD since early in the planning process.

Now I need to move on to its Bizarro World counterpart: a scene so hazy to me that I just outlined it in it the first draft, and the only scene for which I do not have a scene card. I swear I made one, but the writing gods took it to use as a bookmark or something.

I know this scene belongs here. I know what needs to happen. But it takes place in this weird space that's not a dream but not quite reality, and one character has to betray another in front of a cast of hundreds, and there's all this shifty political stuff going on just beneath the surface that I need to hint at for foreshadowing purposes. Every past attempt I've made at the dialogue has been laughably awful.

I can do this. I'm finally getting myself back on track. This scene will not derail me.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Shelf-Sitter Challenge: Book 15

I am making a bold move. I am not reading book 15, which is The Uplift War by David Brin.

More than ten years ago, I read this book to almost the midpoint before I lost interest and set it aside. I have decided to trust that Past Me knew what she was talking about and not re-tread old ground. Part of my reasoning is practical: it's a long book, the end of the year is looming, and I have a lot left to read for the challenge. But there's more to it than that.

I have a long, complicated relationship with David Brin's work. Fifteen years ago, when I was still educating myself about Science Fiction as a genre, I took a fantastic book out of the library: a collection of novellas set in SF worlds that had multiple novels written about them. I remember I took it out because one of the novellas was by Ursula K. LeGuin (set in her Ekumen world); I had read it already, but figured its inclusion was a good sign.

One of the novellas was by David Brin, set in his Uplift Universe, and it completely blew my mind. The Uplift Universe posits that there was one original intelligent species that "lifted up" other races, engineering them into sentience. Those races then uplifted other races, and so on. On Earth, humans have uplifted chimps and dolphins. The novella, the title of which escapes me, took place on a spaceship with a nearly all-dolphin crew.

I know. It sounds like the dumbest thing ever, like a skit from The Muppet Show. Dolphins! In! Spaaaaaaace! But it was brilliantly done. Brin had obviously done a ton of research about dolphins and a lot of deep thinking about how a sentient dolphin would think, talk, use tools, perceive the world around him/her, and relate to humans, chimps, and other dolphins. I was awed by it, and excited to read the rest of the series.

The first book, Sundiver, didn't grab me the way the novella had, but I finished it. I moved onto the second book and lost interest halfway through. I tried the third (that's Uplift War) and fourth books, and stalled out on both of them as well. Finally, as an experiment, I tried reading Glory Season, one of Brin's non-Uplift novels. The premise of Glory Season could not be more tailor-made to my interests and preferences... and yet, I didn't make it past the halfway mark.

In each case, the worldbuilding was masterful and the stories started strong, but somehow I got lost in the Valley of the Shadow of the Middle. I think it's some combination of failing to connect with the characters and becoming bored with what seem to me to be predictable plots.

So, despite our promising start, the time has come for me to bid farewell to David Brin. He has a lot going for him as a writer, and I wish him the best in all his future endeavors. But I need to accept that his books are just Not For Me.

Sucking Slightly Less

350 words.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Shelf-Sitter Challenge: Book 14

Book 14 of the challenge is Sheepfarmer's Daughter by Elizabeth Moon, and it's another DNF. Should I hang my head? Again, part of the issue is that this is the first book of a series, and I am just not interested enough in the character or the story to continue through multiple books.

Sheepfarmer's Daughter is the story of Paks, a tall, robust peasant girl in a quasi-Medieval world, who escapes her father's plans to marry her off and joins the army instead. In a refreshing twist, she does not disguise herself as a man; in this world, women are allowed serve in the military, although not many choose to do so.

The story opens with Paks in mid-confrontation with her father, dramatically wielding a sword to fight her way out of his house. That is my kind of opening! Unfortunately, that is basically all the gumption Paks shows for the first 100 pages. From the moment she reaches the army recruiting tent, she stops having goals or making choices, and becomes entirely passive. She learns to march, makes some friends, avoids a couple of sexist dickwads who are out to get her, learns to use a sword, and generally adjusts to military life. We see nothing of her interior life. She's hardworking, humble, and has a long fuse; those are great qualities for a protagonist, but without insight into her fears, doubts, struggles, and flaws, she comes off as a Mary Sue.

At the end of Act I, she's the victim of an attack/set-up by the sexist dickwads-- but again she's passive, and the villains have no depth at all. I would have found it all more interesting if her own personality or choices had in some way triggered or exacerabated the situation, or if she had at least had a hand in resolving the conflict and seeking justice for the attackers. Instead, the whole thing is cleared up for her by the benevolent male commanding officers while she's recovering off-scene, which I found unsatisfying on a story-level, and also bizarrely disempowering for a series the author probably considers a feminist epic.

This challenge is making me a much tougher critic.