Weekend Stuff: Upkeep and Such

Provided I have some time to get it done this weekend, you’ll hopefully see the last of the old site’s archive go up on the blog. At this point I think I have most of April and March of 2013 left to port, and that should be it. So if you’re subscribed to the site (and if not, why are you not?), you may see a bunch of weirdly outdated posts pop up in your feed or inbox.

Apologies for that; we’re nearly done with the mess of moving the site, and we will be done by the end of the month.

When it’s over, thank the gods, I’ll finally be done with the old site and its abysmal interface. Things will be nice and intuitive from here on out, and I suspect I will do much, much less bellowing at my computer.

As for work, I find myself ending the week a bit behind schedule. Friday brought some must-address issues, and I had to bow out of both my afternoon freelance work batch and the D&D game I usually run Friday evenings. Not my favorite decision to make, but a necessary one. Today brings the task of catching up, lest I dig myself a deeper hole.

Outside of that, this weekend will be spent making a decision about which direction to take the second quarter of ‘Beasts’ starting next week.

The first half of the second act is having its guts ripped out and reconfigured, and I have three ways I could potentially reimagine it. Each has its pros and cons, so it’s a matter of deciding which one I’m most in love with (hint: probably the one that requires the least mental gymnastics on my part).

Whatever I pick, though, Monday will begin a hard charge to get the second-quarter rewrites in place, with a goal of having them more or less done by the 30th. From there, of course, it’s on to the third quarter, and the fourth after that. Then I pump out all my blood, replace it with coffee, and start cutting and polishing.

Okay, well, maybe the blood thing isn’t exactly true.

(But I do wonder if it would help…)

Anyhow, the shorter overall length of the work (10k to Oath‘s 86k) is making it much more digestible. It’s easier to see the big picture, and to envision finishing it before the glaciers return or the seas evaporate or such. It’s also forcing me to be very picky about what I choose to include in the text, since I don’t really have room for tangents—a very good exercise for someone who enjoys her own pompous windbaggery.

Plus, I’m generally digging the novelette format, especially for this character’s adventures. The short, episodic nature has me thinking in terms of, say, hour-long television series episodes, which inclines me to explore what that could mean for the character in the long run. Perhaps, if you fine folks turn out to like him, we could see a whole slew of these shorter stories, in addition to the novel material that’s in the pipe.

But at the moment, that’s putting the space-cart before the orbital horse. Right now, I need to untangle this particular story, so I’d best quit blogging away my day and get to it.

 

Site Changes Ahoy (And an Oath Update)

It’s been a minute since I posted an update last. Well, more than a minute. Like six or seven months worth of minutes, actually.

However, as with the last post, this one brings tidings!

In short, Oath of Blood is now with my editor. She and I had a frank and forthright conversation on the phone about it, and the rough estimate at the moment is that she’ll need two to three months to give it the going-over it merits. I realize all of us (myself included) want this book to move forward as fast as possible, but the editor has plenty of other stuff on her plate right now, and she very graciously offered to take the manuscript immediately instead of deferring until the next full opening in her schedule.

She deserves about a skwillion medals for that alone, to say nothing of dealing with my shenanigans in general.

So now we wait, and when she gets back to me with what changes are required to take this thing over the finish line (and I’m sure there will be changes), I will get to work on those immediately.

In more technical news, I will soon be migrating to a new webhost, and to the WordPress format. I’m still working out the details, but sometime within the next month or two, the site will change rather dramatically.

That means any or all of the following may happen:

  • ​There may be periods of downtime while I get all the parts and pieces jangled into place. If you navigate over this way and you get some hot mess or, worse, no site at all, FEAR NOT. I am still here. I am probably just busy yelling at the computer or navigating a tech support labyrinth.
  • Some of the old content here may migrate, but some of it might not. In fact, it may well be that none of it migrates. In that case, if you roll up on this website in a month or two and there’s little to no blog content, again, FEAR NOT. I am working on it. There will be some solution forthcoming to make sure the old blog content is available, but it may not be immediate.
  • The new site may look ugly and weird for a little while. This is just a consequence of my learning a new platform. The wrinkles will smooth out as time passes, and as the ratio of time spent getting things to work and time spent bellowing at my screen evens out.

Right now, that’s about all there is to report. The next update will probably coincide with the markups coming back from the editor, or with the site change, whichever comes first.

Oath of Blood Update & Such

I’m a bit behind on the updates here regarding the book, but never fear: things are progressing in a much better way than my terrible blogging habits would suggest.

The manuscript has been with the beta readers for about the last week or so, and I’ve asked them to get it back to me by middling May if possible. Life being what it is, a few of them may take a bit longer than that, as they have their own lives, work, and writing to deal with, but yes—the book is now, for the time being, out of my hands and before the eyeballs of the brave folks who have volunteered to do the hard work of helping root out any lingering problems.

Once they’re done with the manuscript, I’ll be back in it, fixing up the places where they’ve found issues. I’m sure they’ll find at least a healthy few: by the time I sent the thing their way—all 412 standard pages of it—I was so word-blind I couldn’t even spot my own typos. So for the time being, I’m keeping my eyeballs off the text and my hands off the keyboard, at least as far as Oath is concerned. The break will help me reclaim some of my sanity and objectivity, both of which have wandered off to parts unknown and failed to leave a note.

In the meantime, I have ongoing outside work this month, as well as a couple of new projects due to hit my inbox in the next month. Between the work, I’m finally shoveling out of the heap of chaos that has become the office of late. When that’s done, I plan to start on outlining and planning for the next book—you know, like you do.

Also on my mind is a possible retool of this website, though I haven’t yet decided what form that may take. So if you see changes in the near future, that’s just me pushing the furniture around, looking for a new look, layout, or arrangement that suits me. Some sections may condense or combine, some may go away, and new stuff may emerge. We shall see.

Till then, or till further news about the book, here’s a picture of my cats sitting with the manuscript.

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See No Evil: Thoughts on the Clean Reader App

By now, you’ve probably heard of Clean Reader, the app that scrubs your eBooks of profanity in the name of providing a squeaky-clean, swear-free reading experience.

(If you’ve not, go Google it real quick; I’ll wait.)

::Jeopardy Theme Music::

(Back? Good deal. Let us continue.)

A great deal of e-ink has already been spilled over whether Clean Reader should do what it does. I tend to fall into the camp that argues that no, it shouldn’t be editing the swears out of your books as you read them. I believe that texts, as published, occupy a particular place in culture, history, and time, and that attempting to “clean them up” such that they comply with one particular moral or ethical standard is both dishonest and dangerous.

I apply that principle equally to things that don’t offend me as well as to things that do. I would no sooner see racism, homophobia, and sexism (things that offend me) covered up in a text than I would see profanity, same-sex relationships, and blasphemy (things that don’t offend me) cut out.

My personal take, for what it’s worth, is that a text ought to be read the way it’s written, for better or for worse. If it’s ugly, by Crom and by Erlik, I want to see its ugliness.

But this raises the question: does that mean I, as an author, can keep you from doing something different with anything of mine that you may own?

Generally speaking, no. If you’ve bought something I wrote, the physical copy you own is now your property. You can do whatever you like with it, so long as you don’t interfere with my ability to profit from it. So you can write nasty comments in the margins, scribble out words you don’t like, decoupage your desk with it, wipe your ass with it, and more.

You can give it away, sell it, throw it in the trash. You can read it or not. You can read it backwards, perhaps summoning Satan. You can read every other word. You can use the pages in an erotic papercut session with your full-time (and enthusiastically consenting) Gorean love slave. You can cut it up to use the letters to create creepy serial killer messages.

Whatever. It’s your property now. Have fun. Just don’t go making unauthorized copies of it or selling your fanfic or whatever.

With eBooks, it can get a bit trickier. By and large, eBooks tend to be licensed, rather than sold, which makes them a lot like software. You pay for the license to download, keep, and use them, but you often don’t properly own them.

Some folks are claiming that because of this, what Clean Reader does is illegal because you haven’t actually made that all-important First Purchase. Other folks are saying that because Clean Reader changes the text as displayed, rather than in the file itself, and because you can choose to turn off the profanity filtering, it doesn’t constitute a change, edit, etc. under the law.

Me? I don’t know. I was a fuckin’ English major, dude, not a law student.

But just for shits and giggles here, let’s suppose that what Clean Reader does is entirely, 100% legal, and that even if authors don’t like it, there is damn little we can do about it. Let’s suppose, too, that readers have the right to protect themselves from content they consider morally reprehensible, and to protect their children from it, and that this right trumps the right of authors to insist that their work not be reft of its swears.

I realize you may not agree, but just play the thought experiment game with me for a bit.

Because here’s the thing about Clean Reader: even if all of that is completely true, it can’t protect you from my writing.

It can’t protect you, an adult, from any writer’s work.

And it can’t protect your kids.

Oh, sure, you might not see profanity in the text, or you may not see explicit references to sexy body parts or to blasphemous utterances. But those things are only a small part of what makes a story’s content “adult.”

By way of an example, I had a short story published in an indie Sword & Planet anthology a few years ago. If memory serves, I don’t think anybody cussed once in that story—or if they did, it was incredibly minor. A damn here, a hell there. Nothing big. In that regard, it was pretty “safe.”

But that same story included, among other things, a less-than-heroic protagonist, rampant killing, a healthy measure of nudity, some good old-fashioned blasphemy, a vigorous attempt at human sacrifice, and other things guaranteed to fluster the Pat Pullings and Tipper Gores of the world.

Consequently, though it was fairly “clean” by profanity standards, I personally wouldn’t hand that story to a kid to read—not because I’m somehow ashamed of it, but because I didn’t write it for kids. I wrote it for grown-assed adults, and my intent shone through in the events and people of the tale itself, above and beyond the individual words selected for the telling.

The same is true of the manuscript I’m currently preparing to send my editor’s way. There’s not one F-bomb in Oath of Blood, but if somebody came to me and asked if it was appropriate for their kid, I’d probably tell them no.

A really mature kid in junior high or beyond? Maybe. That same kid, if their parents tend to have frank discussions with them about tough, ugly topics? Sure, if the parents are cool with it. But a kid whose parents are so worried that their virginal eyes might–gasp—light upon a swear that they got themselves an app to prevent it?

Not just no, but fuck no.

Because I assure you, dudes and dudettes: if you’re that worried about whether my characters cuss, you’re going to be way more worried about the rest of the things they do.

A swear-scrubbing app like Clean Reader won’t keep you from witnessing a character butcher another character in cold blood. It won’t keep you safe from priests who are anything but godly—even the ones who number among the “good guys.” It won’t save you from characters who get blitzed and bang out of wedlock, or idly consider taking physical advantage of one another. It won’t keep you insulated from the fact that my characters live and slay and die in a world where their lives mean nothing to those in power and where the gods are silent at best, ugly fiction at worst.

So I have to ask you: does any of that turn your stomach?

If so, I don’t condemn you. You have the right to be offended. But if those ideas offend you, an app like Clean Reader won’t make my work any less offensive. It won’t make my work something you could give to your kid with a clear conscience.

It won’t do those things because it can’t. Swears or not, those things will burrow into your mind’s eye if you read, and you will see them. If I’ve done them well, they may disturb you, or make you question things you once thought beyond questioning. But they will surely, at minimum, offend you.

The only thing that can keep you and yours safe from that is not reading my shit.

And I’m okay with that, personally. If you think something I wrote is going to do you some kind of harm, or offend you, or put you in a weird place when your kid asks you about something my characters did or said, then please–and I say this with the utmost sincerity–go read something else, and go with my blessing.

But don’t fool yourself into thinking adult content is only swear-deep.

A Novel Little Progress Update

Time for an update about that book that I’m sure you’re all convinced is a myth by now. Yes, I speak of Oath. No, we’re not quite done yet, but progress is very good, and I have some numbers for you.

The manuscript, going into this phase, was about 78,000 words. Right now, after a few minor cuts, it’s ballparking coming in at just a bit over 70,000. Of that, about 39,000 of those words are buckled in, put to bed, and ready for the editor.

That means we’re well on track for me to finish revising by the end of the month, which is my goal.

(And if that’s all you’re here for—the numbers—feel free to carry on with your day. The rest of this post is reflection on the process.)

I had a few rough patches last week, while I was wrangling with a couple of challenging fixes. These were minor holes in the logic of the story that I’d known were there, and which I’d been…shall we say…creatively ignoring for a while. Then, all of a sudden, there was no more hiding from them. I finally had to put them to bed—and man, were they frustrating.

Still, the days of wailing and gnashing my teeth here on this blog (at least about this book) are over and done with. I got them settled, and I’m pleased enough with them to let them be, and to let the editor weigh in on them. If she sees a problem with them—well, I’ll deal with it. If she doesn’t, then I’m content to let you pass judgment on them when the book is published, dear reader.

Wrestling with this round has been a real eye-opener for me so far. I’ve been through a parade of emotions, and on any given day, it’s been everything from exultation to exhaustion to plain and simple disgust. That last one was pretty prevalent right as I was edging up on the midpoint of the manuscript. I hated it. Hated the story, hated the characters, hated that I’d ever had the hare-brained idea to write this damned thing.

Yeah, it was a stupid way to feel. But in the moment, it was a strong sensation. I asked some currently-writing-for-a-living friends of mine about it, though, and got some helpful perspective. “Are you about halfway in?” one of them asked, more or less. Apparently the halfway blues are A Thing, and folks can hit a kind of burnout there. I was assured they’d clear up with a bit of pushing past the midpoint, and that as momentum gathers on the back end of the story, those feelings recede as the yarn itself rushes to run itself out.

That’s turning out to be true. As near as I can figure it, the exhaustion on my part came from being as meticulous as possible in checking the setup in the opening quarter of the story. You know: laying out all the setting details, making sure there are clues hidden in plain sight that come into play later, ensuring that the characters are as give-a-shit-worthy as I can make them, winding up the tension like a spring for the break into the main action—and, after that break, making sure to keep the pressure on the plot to keep the action from slumping.

It sort of feels like sprinting up a mountain with a pack of wolves on your heels: hard and exhausting and not a time or place to go stumbling or stopping to catch your breath.

Now, probably if you’ve done this before, none of that is news. And you’d think that, since I’ve reworked this manuscript at least five times now, I’d have had more of a clue myself. But not really. So last week I wallowed a bit, and groused to some of my writing friends, and eventually managed to get on past it. And the promised pickup in my mood happened–bam—like magic.

(Or maybe more like psychology. Whichever.)

This week, things are careening toward the collapse of our heroes’ efforts as we approach the three-quarters mark. They’ve come through a bevy of harrowing experiences already, and it seems to them that they’re in the home stretch as they strive for their goal—but are they?

(Of course they’re not. We still have a bunch of pages left.)

This part of the story is also where the main subplot will really start to bear fruit if I’ve (at long last) done it right, so I suspect I may have to make some mild adjustments there as I go if I hit any snags. Still, I can feel the thing gathering momentum in the back of my head, and the last of my knots for this quarter of the story are unraveling themselves with a startling quickness.

Which is good—because as excited as I am that this run through the plot is actually working as advertised, I’m also tired. Very tired. I will be glad to put this story to bed, or at least to put it in the hands of my last batch of beta readers, so they can help me spot-check myself. I’ll be relieved beyond all imagining to hand it off to the editor.

It has been, and continues to be, a strange and tiring journey—but one I’m finally starting to enjoy and appreciate. And because 13-year-old-me is something of my spirit guide in all of this, standing over my shoulder exhorting me to finish and not let her down (though she’s less diplomatic than that most days), I feel obliged to acknowledge her here:

So—Kid-Me: Yes, dude, we are going to do this. I don’t think we’re gonna win a Hugo or anything, but we’re gonna do this. And then we’re gonna do it again. And again. And again.

Until maybe we do win.

New Computer & Oath Updates

I noted in my last post that Old Hilda, my 8-year-old Windows Vista desktop PC, was not long for this world. The DVD drive had failed at the time of that post, and the hard drive was making terrible groaning sounds. Over the next few days, USB ports began to fail, one by one, and some other death-agony nonsense prevailed.

However, I was able to get all my data off safely, and had backups to rely on just in case. After making sure nothing important or unique would get lost, I put in an order for a new computer and sat, anxiously crossing my fingers, waiting for it to arrive.

Yesterday, a MacBook Air arrived from Apple, via UPS, and I had everything transferred, set up, and ready to go within a couple of hours. My offsite backups both worked for recovery and transferred their attention to the new machine flawlessly, all of my writing and other important projects made the leap without a hitch, and both my external hard drive (for on-site obsessive backups in electrons) and my printer (for on-site obsessive backups on paper) are fully compatible.

So far, I’m nothing but pleased. The battery life seems to be a bit less than the advertised 11-12 hours (it’s coming out more around 8 hours), but this is, I think, less a problem on Apple’s part and more a consequence of the fact that I have my anti-virus and backup services churning in the background, and that I have a browser window open for music streaming while I work most of the time. And in any case, 8 hours is better than any laptop battery life I’ve ever had in the past, so I’m really not inclined to complain.

In terms of software, all I’ve had to rebuy at this point is Scrivener (because I like it a bunch) and Freedom (because sometimes the Internet is a beautiful siren, and I need to plug my ears and tie myself to the mast), whose licenses didn’t carry over from my Windows PC. Thus far, I haven’t needed Word, but we’ll see if client work happens to require it. For myself, a combo of Scrivener and Pages is working out very nicely. About the only thing that has me flummoxed is why or how it is that Pages won’t read .rtf files—but I’m sure the answer to that is all of a Google-search away.

It’s kind of a big shift, reacquainting myself to both doing all my work from a laptop and warming back up to the Mac operating system. The OS itself is nicely intuitive, and I haven’t really missed much of Windows, to be honest. But it is still a bit of a trip to find myself back on a Mac.

The last time I worked day-to-day on a Macintosh was probably 1996, when my family’s Mac Performa 560 (my dad bought the Money Magazine Edition, for whatever reason) was consistently failing to keep up with the needs of the household. To remedy this, Dad got us a Windows 95 machine, which was great—except for the fact that transferring my ginormous crapstack of ClarisWorks 2.0 files was time-consuming at best. Some of them are still lurking in my backups in .cwk format as a result. (I will eventually figure out a means to properly future-proof them.)

But from that point on, I did everything in .rtf, .wps, or .doc (and later .docx), and when I went off to college in 1999, I took an IBM ThinkPad with me that ran on Windows 98. It, as well as a couple of other, newer laptops, kept me typing between ’99 and the very start of ’07, which is when I got Old Hilda. The machine I was using summarily shat its pants, taking everything on the hard drive with it (thank Crom for backups), and I was left at the start of the semester—this is when I was back in school, beating my head against the English department for a second BA—without a computer.

So off to Best Buy I went, and though I wanted a laptop, I knew I could get more computing power, and thus more longevity, out of a desktop, so that’s what I got. And up till yesterday, that was my primary computer. Now its work is done, its hard drive is wiped, and it’s waiting to be parted out or recycled. And here I am, after almost twenty years, back on a Mac.

It’s curious, and not a little symbolic for me, that I ended up back here. If we’re being practical about it (and why not?), it’s mostly because I despise Windows 8, I’m tired of playing 24/7 malware sheriff, and because Macs look like they come from the future. They also have a better end-of-service resale value than Windows machines (the approximate value of which appears to be “I will give you five dollars if you’ll just come haul this thing off”).

But if we feel like being fuzzy and narrative about it (and why not?), part of me feels like I have circled back around to the place where my writing started, way back with The Lost Novel, and that this is a nice way to start in on the last stages of the current novel.

And that’s what you’re really here to read about, isn’t it? So let’s talk Oath of Blood.

At this point, I’m down to the fixing and the fussing. Nothing story-wise is set to substantially change. For better, for worse, or for late-in-career regrets, things are what they are. The business I’m about at the moment is making sure all possible inconsistencies have been dealt with, the text is as well-written as I can make it on my own, and that I have put typos and other such errors to flight.

That said, it still feels like this is the hardest part of things (I know I’ve said that about every stage, but humor me here). Largely, this is because I finally have to let go of the damned story.

So with that end mind, my deadline for finishing this phase and getting things out to last-wave beta readers (that’s the step right before the editor) is the 2nd of April. Okay, it’s actually the first of April, but to avoid its being mistaken for a cruel/terrible prank, I’m saying the second.

On average, I’m looking to tackle a chapter every two days. Today I did the lion’s share of work on the prologue, and I expect to bag that sometime in the afternoon tomorrow. Each of the 24 numbered chapters will follow in sequence. Some may take a touch longer; others may wrap up a bit faster. But regardless, I’m working seven days a week on this till it’s done. If it gets done early, you’ll read about it here. Otherwise, look for periodic thoughts and updates throughout, and look for a Big Giant Update Post on the second of April.

I may be a zillion years late on this novel by my original timeline, but by Crom, it will get done, and the next one will be much faster (and better) for all the hell I’ve put myself through on this one.

On Twenty Years of Scribbling

Today’s the 4th of February. It’s not an exciting day, really, unless maybe it’s your birthday or a holiday where you live. It’s after the Super Bowl and before Valentine’s Day. It is a day to largely be forgotten.

But for me, the 4th of February is a big deal. You see, I have A Thing when it comes to important dates. In my life there have often been bad dates to remember, but there have also been good ones.

The 4th of February could have been either for me. I suppose in some ways its true nature remains to be seen. But thus far it has been good. Here’s why.

On the 4th of February in 1995, I had reached a sort of critical mass. I’d been full to bursting with a story idea that had taken form, slowly, over the fall semester of 1994. I was in the 8th grade, then, and I immersed myself in fictional worlds as a sort of escape from the ineffable realities of being a shy, dumpy, nerdy kid.

I relied on fiction to bolster my resolve when I didn’t have much left to give, or when outside pressure to perform academically loomed like a wave that threatened to drag me out into the night-dark sea. This was the time, it should be noted, when I first began to dance with my depression, though I didn’t realize it until years later.

Fiction was an escape from all that. And it stood to reason that after a time pickled in books, games, comics, and movies, my brain would start to piece together its own stories. All through the fall of ’94, this is what it did. By the start of ’95, I was, it seemed, under a compulsion to write it down.

And so it was that at about 4:30 in the afternoon, on the 4th of February, 1995, I sat down, opened up a file, and started writing. The story that would result is what I call, these days, The Lost Novel. It’s the manuscript that was devoured by my first data loss–a blood sacrifice to the gods of backup in exchange for the hard knowledge that All Storage Media Will Fail.

I’ve said my share previously on my regret that it was lost, and on what I learned from the loss. And I’ve also remarked on how unspeakably horrid what surviving fragments of it I possess really are. Truly, nobody is any less enlightened or entertained for the absence of The Lost Novel.

But there was a good in it, too, and not one to be overlooked. While it’s true that my first real stab at writing was made with the literary equivalent of a plastic spoon and performed with the finesse of a butcher with a chainsaw, it was a beginning.

Twenty years ago, this crazy idea that I could write my own stories had its start. Twenty years. There are few things that have held my interest for that long, and fewer still at which I have had any modicum of success.

I’d hoped to be able to mark this occasion by saying, “So go buy my book, which is not shitty, and which is finished. Here is the link.” But that time is not precisely upon us just yet. Refining and polishing on Oath of Blood is finally getting into full swing after a couple of weeks of severe computer-hell problems (I had to reinstall Windows again on the desktop this weekend, and my DVD drive failed utterly…and the hard drive is making terrible groaning sounds off and on now).

A replacement computer will be on its way soon, and there may be a burp as I transfer my files to that item once it arrives, but overall, I’m plugging dutifully away at Oath, doing my level best to ensure you’ll have a good time when you read it. And of course, I’m backing my shit up with a fanatical zeal that would make Torquemada jealous.

To be fair, I suppose I can’t think of a better way to mark the twentieth anniversary of my first fitful scribbles than to pass the time making more of them—and actively applying the hard lessons they taught me. So—here’s to the last twenty years, and the terrible idea that started them. And here’s to the next twenty, which will actually be full of books for you to read.

A New Update, As Was Foretold

I’m a bit long in posting this update, mostly on account of things I’ll get to a bit further down the page, but I have very good news about Oath of Blood.

As of Wednesday the 14th of January (last week), the rewrite draft of Oath is complete.

Stunned? Disbelieving? Dubious?

Here, take a look for yourself:

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After two or so years of slogging through Rewrite Hell, I’ve finally arrived at a complete text, one which I believe tells the story in the most capable way (or at least the one I’m most capable of). It weighs in at just over 78,000 words. Scrivener ballparks that at around 200-225 paperback pages, but that depends heavily on layout—as well as on the next stage of this process.

I speak, of course, of the (hopefully) last round of polishing, revising, and editing.

Because while the Oath draft is complete, it’s not finished. That is to say, it’s not ready for print just yet. There are still a few patches that don’t satisfy me, and there are several scenes where I still suspect something minor is broken.

In many ways, it’s very much like a first draft in that regard, though it benefits from the lessons learned from all the drafts that came before it (five now in total).

So now that I’ve gotten to a point where I can print it off, stare at it, and say, “Okay, that’s mostly done,” I’m now settling into the task of going over it in detail and making sure all the dings and dents and scratches are taken care of.

Still, it’s a pretty damned good feeling to know the hardest part—the big fixes and the rewriting itself—are generally behind me.

And on a somewhat related note, it’s good I printed it out, because—remember a couple of posts back, when I talked about backing up your shit? Yeah, the husband and I have gotten a double-strength reminder of all the reasons why you should do that in the time since the New Year.

His computer up and died—hard drive and motherboard failure, from what we can tell, one or both perhaps related to an epic electrical storm. Then, just as we’d gotten that sorted out completely, over this past weekend mine shat itself in a spectacular fashion (probably a symptom of its age) and required some severe corrective measures of its own. Lucky for us, we’re diligent about our backups. In my case, everything that was lost when I went to raise my machine from the dead existed in at least four forms, in at least three places.

The backup restoration process is still ongoing, but to my knowledge, I haven’t lost anything—and if I have, it’s nothing vital.

This has been a great test overall of my offsite backup company as well. While restoring almost 100 gigabytes of stuff via download is a time-consuming process, it’s not impossible by any means, and it demonstrates to me the value of the money I pay the company every year. (I gripe, not infrequently, about the modest expense, as my husband well knows.)

Honestly, about the only thing I’ve really had occasion to complain about is the time: time spent downloading backups, time spent reinstalling software, time spent babysitting years and years’ worth of cumulative security updates to Windows.

For the moment, I’m getting things set back up to I can address some work for clients, and I’m also gathering my notes and my thoughts for the next step with Oath—while staving off the desire to start in on something new that’s gnawing at my brain like a rabid squirrel.

With the coming of the New Year, I’ve also got a backlog of things to address on other parts of the site, around the office, and just in my life in general. I’m hoping to get back in the swing of at least a weekly blog post, but we’ll see where things end up. The most important aspect of my creative day right now is Oath, and I’d rather miss a few posts here than slow up the progress there.

An End-of-Yearish Update

I’d meant to make a number of posts over the last several weeks, but, well, here we are. This appears to be all that’s going to come of such plans, despite the fact that I have several such posts written. After all, at least two of them had to do with Christmas, which many folks celebrate, and which I still enjoy with my relatives despite some philosophical differences about the particulars.

Ah well. I’ll revisit them next year, maybe, and we’ll see if I still like them (the posts, not the relatives).

I’ve been busy lately, as members of my social media horde can attest. Mostly this has to do with wrapping up the rewrite of Oath of Blood, which has been limping along for an unholy age. I started the first draft sometime in August of 2012 or so, and figured I would be done cleaning it up by December of that year. Then I assumed it would be good enough that I wouldn’t have to do all that many revisions.

Well, you know what they say about when you assume.

So here we are, two years later, and things are at last rolling along. Initially I thought I might get done by the end of this December, and I will actually be very close to done at that point. But it’s looking like the last hurrah for the rewrite draft will be January instead, sometime in the first week or so. Which—I’ll take it, even though I’m frustrated about not sticking closer to my estimate.

But enough of that. You’d probably like to see numbers, especially if you’ve been following the revisions all these many, many months.

Right now, things are sitting at about 80,000 words.

When I wrote the very first rough, ugly draft of Oath, it was barely 25k, and was more or less a fancy outline—or a badly paced novella; take your pick. It grew to 50k in the first real draft and hovered around there for a long while. How it got so big in the rewrite process I couldn’t actually tell you. It just seemed to come together that way as I fleshed out the underdeveloped parts and addressed problems in the pacing.

The weird part, though, is that I began Oath shooting for 40-60k because I was convinced I couldn’twrite a longer work, much less one that might, by the end of it, come close to rubbing elbows with 100,000 words. Yet now, looking at the story as it has shaped up, I don’t believe I could cut it down again. (But again, we’ll see what the editor says.)

Is that how book series spiral wildly out of control, I wonder? Just—they grow on you, as you come to know the people and the places better? It makes me rethink all the frowning I used to do at Robert Jordan (despite his being nice enough to answer a letter of mine way back in high school).

But there you have it. On average, I’m putting about a chapter to bed per day, when I have a good day. Thankfully, that’s been most days since I got the last of the knots ironed out. But there are some bad days (anxiety wedded to clinical depression is, and remains, a real bitch), and there is the matter of The Holidays, which I’d smugly assumed would have no influence whatsoever on my ability to work—but which have now sucked away a sizable amount of time. Again, you know what they say.

So I’m looking to wrap all this up in early January. After that, I’ll be going back through the manuscript and polishing like mad, getting it to the point where I’m incapable of seeing any more problems with it. Thoroughly problem-blind, I will then be running it past a handful of trusted readers, some of them fellow writers, and others brave souls who have been willing to subject themselves to Oath since it got started. I’m imagining that, between us, we will probably wrap up bashing on the thing in the spring.

At that point, it’s back to the editor. Once that’s dealt with, I’ll see what changes need to be made, then make them, and then start the process of finishing up design, layouts, and formatting. I’m guessing that will take us into the summer, but we’ll see. Could be a bit faster. Could be a bit slower.

After that? Well, that feels like an age from now, but suffice it to say I’ll have plenty to keep me busy once I kick Oath out the door and into your lives. I’ve got another manuscript sitting on the desk, waiting for an overhaul, a detailed outline for a couple more (including the sequel to Oath), and some ideas for short fiction sitting in the “to-do” box. I’ve also got some blog posts, reviews, and the like on backlog, and I think (or at least hope) that you’ll enjoy them.

In the meantime, I’m finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with Revisions Hell, and it doesn’t appear to be an oncoming train. Now to just keep on pushing.

But before I go, I feel obliged to make some remarks, as people do at the end of the year.

For all of you who have gone to bat for me, supported me in other ways, and generally been cool people this year, I thank you with all my heart (or spleen, or whichever part pleases you most). We get through this life, in large part, due to the help and generosity of other people, and I have in no small way been the recipient of such.

For those of you who do some variety of celebrating this time of year, may you have a good one, whatever it may be, and for those who don’t, may you have a good wintertime in general, full of enjoyable times and short on drama and stress. As for me, it’s back to work. I’ll peek my head out again soon when I have a heroic-looking stack of manuscript pages to show you.

Back Up Your Shit

I can still remember—vividly—the first time I lost something vital to a data loss. It was a weekend morning in late 1995 or early 1996, and I sat myself down at the family’s Macintosh Performa 560 to work on a piece of fantasy fiction that I was certain would be The Next Big Thing. It wasn’t, nor will it ever be, as any adult who’s seen it can tell you, but that’s not the point. The point is this: I popped my trusty writing floppy, the same one I’d been using since 1993, into the drive—and it wouldn’t read.

Corrupted, the Mac told me.

I shook my head in disbelief, muttered the denial that was rapidly taking hold in my brain. I ejected and tried again. And again. And again. But I got the same error every time. My floppy was toast, and my files had vanished.

It was all gone.

Some of it I didn’t care too much about at the time: the several homework assignments, the emails and forum posts I’d saved from a Robert Jordan discussion group I was part of at the time, files I’d downloaded here and there, stuff like that. It was a bummer, but not world-ending. (Although, truth be told, now I’d like to see them.)

But there was stuff I did feel the loss of—and painfully so:

An email from Raymond E. Feist, who had been kind enough to answer my stupid teenager questions and send me an explanation of some things about Midkemia and the Riftwar, along with some general encouragement as a writer. It was probably copy-pasta from a FAQ file he kept for such purposes, but to me at the time it was magical and priceless: my first brush with a Real-Live Writer whose work I enjoyed and whose career I had wistful dreams of, in some small ways, emulating.

My journal, which I’d been keeping for two years on that disk, and into which went cosmic quantities of angst and shitty poetry, but also some personal thoughts and insights about life and adolescence, all unique to me.

And biggest of all: a full hundred pages of manuscript, about half of the novel I imagined would be my magnum opus, on which I’d been laboring for well over a year.

All gone. Forever.

To say I was upset would be an understatement. I was crushed. I felt hopeless and betrayed. But mostly, I felt stupid and angry. And being a hothead, I went out in the backyard and beat a fencepost with a shovel until my parents started worrying that somebody would call the cops.

Then I cried.

The thing is, even as I raged at the stupid fucking floppy disk, I knew it was my fault. Paranoid as I was in that dumbass teenage way, I hadn’t backed up my shit on the hard drive for fear my parents would snoop, even though they never did. I hadn’t even saved it to another floppy. I was a colossal, galactic dumbass, and it’s not like I hadn’t been taught that floppies were fallible, temporary things. Like milk, meat, and politicians, they’re destined to go bad. It’s only a matter of when.

Luckily, I got some of my files back through an accidental backup. I had friends and relatives who’d wanted to read parts of my fiction and poetry, and I had teachers who had held onto some of my work for school. My mom had saved some things, as had my dad, and slowly a collection of hardcopies began to accrete, precious relics on paper, from which I made new files that I then backed up with religious zeal. I still have these today.

But some of it was really gone forever, like the journal and the email from Ray Feist, and most of the original manuscript to my shitty fantasy novel. I was able to recover the prologue and the first several chapters, but everything from Chapter 4 to the midpoint around Chapter 12 or so was lost.

I never did finish it, either, though I made stabs at it well into high school.

In terms of value to the literary world, it’s no big loss. The midpoint crisis involved magical hang gliders, for God’s sake, so I don’t think the planet is really missing out. But the fact remains that those shitty scenes and chapters were my shitty scenes and chapters. They were my first stabs at writing a real book, even if it was a pile of garbage.

And there was only ever one copy of those shitty chapters, and when it was lost, that was it. And now, almost twenty years on, I want to look at them again, to see what the good in them was as well as the bad, and to reflect on how I’ve grown and where I still need to work at things.

But I can’t.

In my daydreams sometimes, I imagine my mom will call me and say she found a box of my old floppies heretofore unremembered, and what should she do with them? In that daydream, I drive over to her house and I discover that they’re my long-lost shit, somehow recoverable, somehow stillthere. And I’ll get to reconnect with those lost relics, some remembered and some forgotten, and to have my data-self, such as it is, be whole again.

I know that won’t happen, because I took all my stuff to college with me in 1999, and the last of my oldest floppies went sometime in 2001 after I transferred everything on them to the first of many CD-Rs, versions of which exist today, in multiple places, nested like matryoshka dolls, one inside the other. Mom never had any of it. She has a number of my later backups, which I’ve entrusted to her because she has the soul of an archivist. But what she doesn’t have is my oldest shit, the shit I kept to myself and shared with no one else. Still, I like to dream of it.

Of course, you may wonder: Why am I telling you all this sappy shit? You’d rather know how the rewrites are coming on Oath, or when I’m going to review another movie, or what’s up on the Sofa.

Well, it’s related.

Last night I was putting in my time on Oath, and it came time to add in and vet some new material. So I dove into my working directory to pull up those chapters and look them over.

Wouldn’t you know: I couldn’t find them.  Anywhere.

I checked the desktop, the laptop, the several cloud backups, the DVD-Rs, the external hard disk, my stack of obsessively hoarded hard copies. Nothing.

I didn’t go out and beat a fencepost with a shovel, but I did travel back through time mentally and emotionally to that winter morning when my floppy disk died. And I sat at the desk, cigarette pinched between tight, thin lips, wondering what the fuck I was going to do.

The files in question were several thousand words each, and though I’d beat on them for weeks polishing them up before I shelved them for later editing, my memories of them were more than a little hazy. And I was going to have to recreate them, apparently from whole cloth. Panic washed over me—and then: a hopeful glimmer of a memory.

I’d written those files on my old laptop last year, a lumbering IBM ThinkPad that I’d had since the ass-end of high school and which I still used, at that time, as an occasional mobile workhorse. And if I’d written it there, then I would have saved it to a floppy disk to transfer it to the desktop. I was pretty sure I had transferred everything months ago before the ThinkPad met its end, but it was worth a look.

So I dove into my giant tub of outdated computer bits and came up with a box of 3.5” floppies and a USB floppy drive. After a few minutes of sorting through the box (boot disk, drivers, software, etc.) I found the disks I’d used for shuttling files. I popped them in and—they read.

And lo and behold: there were the missing files.

On a stupid fucking floppy disk.

That floppy was the only place they were. The single place in the universe where I’d saved them. Why I wasn’t more fastidious about those files in particular I couldn’t tell you. Probably I thought to myself lazily, Eh, I’ll get them tomorrow, and they never got done.

This time, I put the blame where it belonged: on me. I was a fucking dumbass, and I hadn’t made certain that everything made the jump. Currently, those files are where they need to be in all my various backup spots, and right now the printer is churning out hard copies. But it might not have gone that way.

And that would have been a personal catastrophe because—do you know what those files were?

They were the end of the book.

So the moral of the story is this: Back up your shit—or else.

All storage media are finite. All of them will fail. Put your shit in multiple places, and keep it up to date, even if at this moment you think it’s silly or insignificant or probably isn’t going to make it into the manuscript or whatever.

Keep old things. Keep stupid things. Keep sentimental things. This is especially true if what you have is the only copy there is on Planet Earth, the only one there will ever be. When it goes—and it will go—then it’s gone. And you might wake up some morning feeling nostalgic, or sit down to work some evening, and realize you need to see it again, but you can’t.

And if you’ve got stuff on old media formats, find ways to get it off. 5.25” floppies? Data cassettes? Old hard drives? Something else? Get it off. Get it converted. Get it in your current backup. That goes for other things like audio and video, too—especially if it’s rare or one-of-a-kind. If you don’t think you can hack the technical side of it, there are companies that will do it for you in exchange for your cash, and you may have friends or acquaintances who will do it for free or for beer or something.

As for me, I’m a pretty obsessive backer-upper, and have been for years, but clearly I’ve got holes in my system, and something very important almost slipped through. I’m taking some steps now to change that, and I might post about them here from time to time.

As for Oath, there’s still some work to be done, so keep checking back. Things are moving.

And as for the floppy disk—I think I’ll keep it around to remind me.