Thursday, May 31, 2018

The SF and Fantasy Canon, according to...well, me.

Each of these books I can recommend wholeheartedly. They are my all time favorites.

Not a lot of surprises here, but I've included a few esoteric quirky choices.

If your favorite books aren't on the list, I either purposely or unpurposely left them off. If the latter, I will add, if the former, I will tell you why.

There are classics that I just didn't like something about them, such as Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke, which was a great book right up to the ending, but I hated the ending. That kind of thing.

Many series seem to lose steam, in my opinion, so I list the books only so far as they are great.

I've tried just about every fantasy series there is, and most fall very short for me. I've included only those that I think rise to greatness. (I actively dislike books by Donaldson and Brooks and Goodkind, among others.)

There are many books I enjoyed but didn't love, so for instance Ready Player One or Harry Potter or Hunger Games. You know, nice reads, but not in the canon.

62 entries, will go to 100 as I'm reminded, or my standards loosen?

The Once and Future King, T.H.White
Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
Chronicles of Amber, Roger Zelazny (First five only)
This Immortal, Roger Zelazny
Lord of the Rings (including the Hobbit), J.R.R. Tolkien
Narnia, C.S. Lewis
Tunnel in the Sky, Robert Heinlein
Dune, Frank Herbert (only the first)
The Iron Dragon's Daughter, Michael Swanwick
2001, Arthur C. Clarke
Ender's Game (only the first)
Watership Down, Richard Adams (Shardik was great too.)
Conan the Conqueror, Robert E. Howard (the whole Conan oeuvre, actually, but only by REH)
Armor, John Steakley (Vampires was great too)
Vorkosigan Saga, Lois McMasters Bujold (the early ones, really) and her World of Five Gods trilogy.)
Startide Rising (and Uplift Wars, only those two) David Brin
The Postman, David Brin
Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov (the original trilogy)
Robot Books, Isaac Asimov (Caves of Steel; I, Robot; The Naked Sun)
The Difference Engine, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
Deathworld Trilogy, Harry Harrison
Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr
Way Station, Clifford D. Simak
The Stand, Stephen King
Consider Phlebas, Iain M. Banks (all the Culture novels are excellent)
Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
Elric Saga, Michael Moorcock
The War Hound and the World's Pain, Michael Moorcock
Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson
The Baroque Cycle, Neal Stephenson (including Cryptonomicon)
Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
Devil in the Forest, Gene Wolfe,
Yarrow, Charle de Lint
Tea with a Black Dragon, R.A. MacAvoy
The Lensmen Series, E.E. Doc Smith
Fire Upon the Deep, Vernor Vinge
Battle Circle, Piers Anthony (only Anthony I ever liked, but I really liked this)
Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss (and The Wise Man's Fear)
The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury
Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury
Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin (only the first three)
Tuf Voyaging, George R.R. Martin
The Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin (first three books only)
The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula Le Guin (or The Dispossessed)
Gateway, Frederick Pohl
The Void Captain's Tale, Norman Spinrad
Lord Valentine's Castle, Robert Silverberg
The Beginning Place, Ursula Le Guin
1984, George Orwell
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
Tales of Neveryon, Samuel R. Delany
Valis,Philip K. Dick
Earth Abides, George Stewart
Ubik, Philip K. Dick (gotta be in a certain mood)
Perdido Street Station, China Mieville (also liked The Scar, the rest are too much...)
I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
The Witches of Karres, James H. Schmitz
Hyperion, Dan Simmons, (and Fall of Hyperion, only those two)
Mars Trilogy, Kim Stanley Robinson
Cat's Cradle, Curt Vonnegut
The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs (I devoured every Mars, Venus, Tarzan, and Pellucidar book I could get my hands on.)
Alas, Babylon, Pat Frank
Languages of Pao, Jack Vance (actually every word he ever wrote)

A book in a box.

A new idea. I constantly have new ideas about how to write books, and then I write those books the same way, or whatever way is most convenient. Because, you know, writing the book is the most important thing.

The world is full of people who have important books they never write.

My current book started off strong and wrong. No recovering from that. I love it. It's probably my stupidest book and yet my favorite, but because of that I can look at it and see how it might have been even better.

(I should say, I'm leaning toward a complete rewrite to fix what I perceive to be a false start--I do think I can "recover" if I put in the effort.)

So the basic problem is: I discover a story in the the writing of the story. Simple as that.

I've never, ever written a book I've diagrammed in advance. I always found too much wrong with the story and never wrote it.

Maybe I'm saying, ignorance is bliss. Not knowing that the story won't quite work out is enough to keep me writing until I discover different.

So this new idea.

I try to come up with a concept, a premise for a book that I think is strong and needs some thought and development and research.

So I grab a box--a nice Diamond shipping box--and I put the tentative title on the box in black ink and then every time I have a thought, I write it down and throw it into the box. And then...someday...I'll know when I have enough material to proceed.

Silly idea, but I might try it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Going to see Han Solo today. I'm going to like it.

Sticking to Tuesdays with Linda, Monday's at the store, which is going to slow down the writing, but I'm more and more realizing there is no hurry.

I have the luxury with Fateplay of already having 76,500 words under my belt. So it's not as if I'm not going to finish this thing.

So what I'm looking for is something really strong, really good, full of emotion and action and surprise.

I've got an ending, but it is pro forma, and while that may end up happening and be perfectly adequate, I'd like to do something more than that. So I'm hoping for one of those "ah, ha!" moments I occasionally get.

Usually,  in fact probably almost always, I get these moments during my walks.

I'm letting myself have a few days to mull it over, then I'll finish the book and move on.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sitting at home day after day writing can seem pretty isolating. It can feel like I'm just doing it for myself.

So working at the store occasionally has been good for me. I'm interacting with people and some of them are giving me feedback that I dearly need. Sold a copy of Snaked on Friday, had a couple tell me how much they liked my books. What do you know? It isn't all in my head.

My walking everyday is a saving grace. It gets me out of the house and out of my head. I'm always so glad that I did it. I also get ideas without forcing them. They come unbidden, which is the best way. (Maybe not totally unbidden; I usually sort of politely ask my subconscious...)

I've kind of backed off posting so much online, except on Blogger. Those of you who are reading this are the ones who actually come here to read, (I thank you for that), versus my come-hithers on Facebook and Twitter. I almost never mention my books otherwise.

I'm writing nevertheless. That's about all I can say. I'm writing nevertheless. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

"Re-write Summer."

Finally got another chapter written. As usual, it didn't quite go where I thought it was going to go. But in the middle of writing it, I realized that one of the logistical problems was solved. You never know when you reach the end of a story how impactful it will be. I'm wondering if this ending is strong enough.

But I have a rule about finishing a book before I mess with it, so...

I've decided spend the summer re-writing as much as possible. I have the four Lander books that need to be revised, the four Thirteen Principalities novellas, and now three different thriller books that could use a re-write, especially the beginnings.

I could get a lot accomplished if I just knuckled down.

What's kept me from doing this in the past is that I've always given fresh ideas preeminence. I don't turn down stories when they come to me. So this could still happen, I suppose. Probably will, actually.

But between fresh stories, I can still set the goal of finishing off the old.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Almost done.

Psyching myself up for the last few chapters of "Fateplay."

I more or less know what is going to happen, but I want to bring some energy to it. Really stick the landing.

I didn't write on Monday because I spent the entire day ordering books for Pegasus, and Tuesdays are now reserved for Linda and Duncan time. (We went to see Deadpool 2, and had writer's group in the evening.)

But I did think up some improvements on my walk. The start of the book always bothered me. The main protagonist wins the lottery (lame) is the richest man in the world (lame) and then comes out of hiding to get involved with the company he started.

Since 20 years pass, that makes him close to forty years old.

But I wanted to make this book a young adult, but I couldn't figure a way to make the changes without ruining the book.

Well, yesterday I figured out a workaround.

I also decided that I would almost immediately start the rewrite, which is a change of procedure. Or more like a return to the earlier procedure.

I have two conflicting things going on with rewrites.

1.) I've learned that giving a story time off helps with perspective, allows me to make bigger changes.

2.) I've only accomplished this once or twice, mostly with Faerylander which was a mess to start with. Yes, each time I've improved that book, but it is only now becoming an adequate write.

So what if I have more perspective if I never end up doing it? Right?

So I'm going to start right in the rewrite while everything is still fresh in my mind.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Tailoring your writing process to your personality.

One of the things I learned running a bookstore for so many years was that it makes sense to tailor your procedures to your personality. There's more than one way to run a business. There are so many directions you can go. Some make more money but are unpleasant, some make less money but are fun.

Sometimes you bite the bullet and bend your personality to make room for a prosperous product. I pretended--no, convinced myself--that I was terribly interested in sports, whereas up to the moment that sports cards started selling, I'd been marginally interested in football and that was about it.

As I've said so many times, if you run a business you have to accomplish one of two things--either having fun or making money.

If you're not having fun and not making money, then you will quickly burn out.

And as I've also said so many times--as a corollary to the above--burn out is almost as big a danger for small business as not making enough money to survive. (Of course, not making money isn't fun, so they go together.)

Eventually I started eliminating things that were unpleasant and I didn't enjoy even if they sometimes would have been profitable to do so. Trading and buying off the street is the most notable example. Concentrating on carrying product instead of promotions and events. That kind of thing.

The things that made the bookstore fun to go to everyday, not the things I dreaded.

All of which is to say, now that I'm writing all the time, I'm finding the same thing is true.

It makes no sense to do things that are so unpleasant that it discourages me from writing. Promotion, mostly, but other things that most writers would say you should do.

The difference, unfortunately, between my bookstore and my writing is that my bookstore has a platform. We are on a "high" street, as the British would put it; a busy foot-traffic area where I have a built in audience. The foot traffic grew in concert with the rent, so it was manageable. So all I have to do is be where I am, pay the higher rent, and I get enough business to survive.

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find an equivalent "high street" platform in writing. Most of the ways you get noticed in writing require huge efforts at self-promotion. Which I hate. Which I  hate so much that if I was required to do it, I'd rather quit writing altogether.

The other possibility is to try to hook up to an agent or mainstream publisher--but you lose so much control, you are so much at their mercy, that it is extremely unpleasant for me. I've had over 35 years of doing what I want. Sending something off to the void and being a supplicant to the powers of others has become almost impossible for me. 

The other thing I did at the store, as mentioned above, is concentrated on filling it with content. Books, books, and  more books. As much product--good product--as I could cram into the space. I learned a long time ago, the more product I had, the higher the sales.

So, in theory, I'm concentrating on writing a lot, in hopes that the more I write, the more I sell. (So far, that doesn't seem to be true, unfortunately.)

So I'm more or less tailoring my writing process to the same kinds of things. Going walking helps? Then go walking. Going into the bedroom and putting a pillow over my eyes and letting my mind wander helps? Then do it. Writing blogs to get the juices flowing, then do it.

The time of day I write, what I write, how I write it, how fast or slow, how much research, how much re-writing, how much time between drafts--all tailored to fit what is most comfortable for me.

Because in the end, what I really care about is writing my stories.

So that's what I do.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

There is a certain assertiveness to writing.

There is a certain assertiveness that comes with writing.

You have a vision in your head, you describe that vision the way it comes to you as clearly as you can without any tricks. Just that.

That's the story.

Take it or leave it.

In other words, second guessing while writing isn't useful. It blurs the vision.

That isn't to say you can't make changes. The changes also have to be assertive.

It's amazing how often I ignore the little doubting thoughts and go ahead and write something and find that it's just fine. Sometimes it's better than fine.

It's the sureness of voice the reader picks up on. This is a confident voice, one that knows the story its telling. This is what happened.

What happened may not be interesting to you. It may not happen fast enough. But you have to give it proper respect. The story is what the story is.

Now then...

Once the story is down, then you can fuck with it all you want. There are so many ways that a thing can be said, and sometimes you can improve on it.

But I've found that sticking to my original assertive voice is usually best. Smoothing it out is fine. Adding or subtracting is fine. But changing the voice, changing the way it is told too much, and it looses all cohesiveness.

You have to allow the confidence of the story to manifest.

The enthusiasm level is what chooses next to write.

It took me 4 days to write the first 30K words of "Fateplay." (I've gone back to this title, rather than "Time In/TimeOut, because I like the sound of it.)

It's taken me 23 days to write the next 30K words.

I'm feeling my way and it's slow. I've spent entire days just trying to eke out 1000 words. I'm not writing until something clicks, but I'm also not letting up until something clicks. But I'm sticking to it, I'm going to finish. At 60K words it's a "book" even if I just tack on an ending.

After my initial excitement, I've cooled on its prospects. I still like the book quite a lot, but there are a couple of problems built into the beginning that if I had it to do over again, I'd change. I've even thought of simply putting it aside and re-writing it with what I know now, but boy would that require a lot of discipline.

Does the book have enough heft to warrant that treatment? That is, would it significantly improve the story?

I dangled this idea with an agent and a publisher--100 "kick-ass" pages. No response. So that let a little of the steam out of my enthusiasm. If the book is for my own amusement, then I like it fine the way it is.

There are some thematic questions the novel raises that I don't really address, that if I was to do the end-to-end re-write I would be very conscious of. It would lend the novel some depth, but I'm not sure depth is what I'm after. I'm after fun and entertainment.

If I was going for depth, my model would be more "Brave New World" than "Ready Player One." I wikied BNW and was amazed by how little of the plot I remember. (Finding that to be true to a ton of novels--I remember almost nothing about them even though I know I've read them.)

As I always say, I discover plot by writing. Which means I often go down wrong roads and have to make up for it. Sometimes that works out fine, sometimes I write myself into a corner.

The other possibility that my re-write ideas are significantly different enough to warrant an entirely different novel altogether. A novel that would deal with the same subject (cosplay and Larping) but in a totally different direction.

With any novel there is a certain amount of enthusiasm for me to carry through to the end. I've started several novels that lost steam along the way and were abandoned halfway to two-thirds of the way through with the thought I'd come back to them. I never do.

The enthusiasm level is what chooses what to write. I never know until I've finished one book which idea I'll be most enthusiastic about next. I have at least three or four ideas that I think are strong enough for the next book. But I probably won't know which one I'll do until it starts appearing in my brain.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

I still want to believe there are canals on Mars.

My current book is a seriously silly book. I can almost visualize most readers rolling their eyes.

But my twelve year old self is having a grand time writing it.

I think probably my first love is retro science fiction. It wasn't retro when I first read it. The Lensmen series, Heinlein, Asimov, Andre Norton, Jack Vance (the Great Jack Vance). Burroughs and Howard and Zelazny.

All terribly dated now. But so much fun.

I still want to believe there are canals on Mars.

As long as there is internal logic, anything goes. So, obviously, it wasn't really the science I was after--it was the adventure. The science just sort of gave it some kind of underpinning, but when fantasy came along (and believe it or not, it came along--it didn't much exist when I was younger) I realized I didn't need the science to have the adventure.

But I still like all the dressing of spacesuits and rockets and robots.

I've convinced myself of this fictional future I'm writing where everyone lives their adventure lives everyday by dressing up in Cosplay and going to Larping events. That holograms and VR are readily available and can produce anything the imagination can come up with, and that everyone has access to it.

The question of, if holo decks really existed and you could live in Middle Earth, why wouldn't you? has always been something I think of when I watch STNG.

This isn't a cyber future (is cyber still used as a term?) like Neuromancer and Snow Crash and Ready Player One, but more physical, more real, yet still containing all the elements of a completely fictional world.

It's nerd culture carried to its logical conclusion. Not just nerds and cosplay on weekends, but every day. Getting up and dressing as Aragorn and going to work, and meeting Elvis and Marilyn Monroe and Spock.

So it's silly, and I'm probably including too many retro references (not just the 80's like Ready Player One, but all the way back to the 50's and earlier, as far back at the black and white movies that played late nights on TV when I was a kid.)

I suspect no one will ever read it. I loved my little fantasy roadtrip, Faerie Punk, and it had a similar vibe, and absolutely no one picked that up, so...

But over the last few months I've moved irrevocably into the idea of writing exactly what I want without any regard whatsoever to what I think the marketplace will accept. No one knows that anyway.

Way back when I first started writing, I constantly included anachronisms in my stories, and was told by everyone, writer's groups and teachers and friends and professionals, that I couldn't do that. I didn't understand why not.

Over the 25 years I didn't write, this became not only acceptable, but standard. I was ahead of my time, dammit.

But even now, I probably mix it up more than is acceptable. I mean, I don't mix it up more than Zelazny did in Lord of Light, but he's Zelazny and I'm McGeary, and...well, who am I to be messing with things.

Actually, I'm probably caught somewhere in-between. I venture off the path, but maybe not as crazily as would make it truly effective.

Anyway, it's happening, and I'm having a great deal of fun. It probably is such a hodge-podge of my own particular tastes that no one else is going to like it. Except Linda. Bless Linda, she likes what I write. 

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Fanboy paradise.

The writing of "Time In/Time Out" seems to be mostly about maintaining tone.

Linda's comment when I said this: "Aren't all stories?"

Well, yes, I suppose but that isn't usually the first thing I think about when I write a book. Plot, characters, action; all kinds of things come to mind first.

With this book, the first concern is the keep the breezy, irreverent tone, the character's voice. Zachary Spence, otherwise known as the mysterious Que, an average guy who also happens to be the world's richest man.

He's got to keep his humility at the same time he grows into the power he is given. What keeps him sympathetic is his ethical grounding, his always looking for the moral high ground, his unwillingness to simply buy what he wants.

It's probably stupid to have such a character--a guy who wins the lottery. I suspect that publishers get this kind of fantasy all the time.

But at the same time, plot-wise, it opens the story up to anything I can conceive of. The fact that so much is at stake, that anything can happen.

I make a comment in the book about how limitations are what make art, with the example of George Lucus and the first Star Wars and how his limited budget and the state of special effects forced him to make decisions that benefited the story.

And yet, here I'm doing the opposite. It's twenty years in the future, Que and the other characters have unlimited resources, and so if I can imagine it, it can be done.

Which is very freeing and fun. Wish-fulfillment in a big way. Fanboy paradise.

At the same time, though, I'm bringing a lot of writing experience to this book so I think the plot and all is working.

At least, I'm having fun imagining it all. 

Friday, May 4, 2018

A little research goes a long way.

"TIme In/Time Out" continues to surprise me.

I want every chapter to click. Which means that I'm not writing if nothing clicks.

What seems to be happening is that a few days pass, but when I do finally click I write more than usual, so it almost evens out.

I have five Larping scenarios to write.

I woke up this morning with one of them firmly in mind. Completely out of left field.

I recently read a book about the Eiger and mountain climbing and that's the scenario I woke up with. (Funnily enough, I was using the "random knowledge is helpful to a writer" point when I mentioned the book--to be followed by that exact thing happening.)

So spent four days not writing, but then came back yesterday with 4000 words, which makes up for at least one of those days.

This is a totally wish-fulfillment book, starting with the protagonist winning the lottery and going from there. I don't care. It's loads of fun to write and hopefully that fun transfers to the page.

I'm not really as conversant with Larping or Cosplay or gaming as much as I probably should be to pull this off, but I decided by setting it 20 years in the future I can make up my own rules.

Plus I'll do some research when I'm done.

I'm listening to "Led to the Slaughter" and I'm amazed by how much historical detail is in the book. I mean, I don't remember over-researching it. A couple of pioneer accounts and some Googling. But it rings true.

In other words, a little research goes a long way. Imagination can do the rest. I don't have to be hanging off the side of Eiger to imagine how it feels.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Writers are such a strange mix of ego and uncertainty.

Four days of not writing and BOOM! The first page is ready to go when I wake up this morning, and by noon I've written 2500 words and I'm pretty sure that's not all.

"Time In/Time Out."

If I could count on this kind of inspiration every time I wait four days, I might use that as a technique. Heh.

Got the edits from Lara yesterday for "Shadows Over Summer House." I went through all of them yesterday. Took the whole day, but got it done. I've still got some editing of my own to do, but it's more or less ready to go. She found almost no structural problems to the book, which is unusual for me. Partly, I think, because I set aside the first 25,000 words and rewrote them from scratch, thus avoiding my early missteps.

So it's done and it reads well.

Thing is, I just sent a 125 page proposal for "Time In/Time Out" to the publisher I was intending to send Shadows to, so now I need to wait a week or two before I pile on.

This is my last hurrah with mainstream publishers or agents.

If these two books don't catch their attention, then nothing will. I mean, what the hell?

Listening to "Led to the Slaughter." Feeling like it's very solid, even good. Writers are such a strange mix of ego and uncertainty. 

After I'm done trying this last time to sell to the mainstream, I'm going to let things fly. Just put the stuff out I've finished, edit what isn't finished and put it out, write new stuff, put it out. No concern over timing or any of that. I've probably been too cute by half with all that. Mostly because I was concerned about stepping on my publishers' toes.

But at this point, Crossroad has told me the more books the better, and the other publishers have books that are already established, so I have a clear field ahead of me. 

Get on with the writing.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Maybe I really am a writer. Listening to audio of Led to the Slaughter.

My publisher for the Virginia Reed Adventures has done an audio book of "Led to the Slaughter."

It's been a number of years since I wrote that book, so it's an interesting experience. Linda and I are listening together, trying to catch mistakes so that they can be corrected before the audio is put up for sale. 

This was the first book out in this, my latter career. The book I chose to try to publish first, even if it was fourth book I wrote that year.

So I remember how diffident I was about the book. I mean, I thought it was good, but what do I know? I couldn't be sure.

It got a good response and excellent reviews.

I don't know if I've gotten more egotistical in the last few years, but my feeling about the book now?

It's good. It's very, very good.

It's as good or better than a lot of the books I'm currently reading by well-known authors.

The story of the Donner Party is inherently interesting, so it has that going for it. But my take on it is effective and believable.

And Virginia is a really wonderful character.

Maybe I really am a writer.