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 So if you’re subscribed to the site (and if not, why are you not?), you may see a bunch of weirdly outdated posts pop up in your feed or inbox.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.

 

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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.