Thursday, July 30, 2020

Two months late and two thousand words over...

Some time ago, I wasn't paying enough attention and got voluntold into an anthology for the North Texas Writers, Shooters, and Pilots Association. As in, by the time I looked up from the food to figure out why I'd been mentioned, I was already in. Oops.

I warned the people involved that this was a bad idea; I had two books out and was working on a third, and had no idea how to write a short story. I told them not to expect anything from me. I flat out stated I was finishing the third book first!

It didn't get me out of it. Friends have these unreasoning expectations and somehow we find ourselves trying to live up to them...

So, several months, three how-to books on shorts, quite a few anthologies read, and four false-starts later... (Those ended up being chunks of novels that went nowhere or were discarded because they weren't the short story I wanted. Look, I haven't even figured out sequels yet, and those are still novel length! (As for those 4 starts, they're in the scraps folder. Someday, I may figure them out and be able to revise and finish. I want to; one's arid-land farming in alien ruins, and the things that farmers know but never talk to archaeologists or town clowns about.))

The deadline blew past like the air force boys overhead in T-38's practicing low-level formation flight. And to be honest, the frustration at being unable to figure this out was not nearly as bad as the feeling that I'd let the guys down.

Due to... well, mainly a lot of things blowing up and going stupid in a lot of people's lives, which we've all been suffering this year, the anthology was delayed. Jim Curtis gave me this look over food and informed me I wasn't off the hook; he still expected me to rise to the challenge.

In a fit of pure frustration, I gave up and started writing the next thing that came to mind. I thought it was another novel. And then I realized that it may be a novel's worth of worldbuilding, because my brain can't stop thinking through economics and the intersections of culture, technology, and humanity. But the story itself, set in all that? It doesn't care about the two-front war and how strange and imprecise front lines will get when there's all of space with its many uninhabitable star systems that no one cares about. It only concerns two people with nearly diametrically opposed goals and cultures.

In fact, it came out as a novelette. (When's the last time you heard that word?) At almost 13K words, it was a little too long for a short story, and a little to short for a novella. Way too short for a novel.

I wasn't certain I'd gotten it right, even though my brain said it was finished and nothing more was going to happen. So, I chopped a couple scenes and got it down to down to 12.3K. Then I sent it out to alpha readers, saying "Is this a complete story or the first few chapters of something?"

Based on feedback, it is a complete story arc that needed a little editing to clarify the ending, though half my betas liked as is, and half want it expanded into a novel. Jim was still waiting patiently for a short, so I eyed it with the intent of editing out 2.3K words, and hey, I'd have a short story!

Besides, as my darling man pointed out, expanding short stories into novels later is a long and glorious pulp tradition, so there was no reason not to do both. I may have given him the hairy eyeball and grumped that the backbrain was supremely uninterested in doing that, and besides, not only have I still not figured out sequels, I also missed figuring out a short by over two thousand words, and he expects me to pick up yet another skill set I don't have?

Being my husband, he smiled, and offered crème brulee and black rifle coffee. I forgive him everything!

I rewrote the story, especially the ending, cut out a lot more, and explained a little more here, added a character interaction there because it'd work better than an infodump, and... it went from 12.3K words to 12.5K

This was not the direction toward the 10K word cutoff for the anthology I wanted.

Jim Curtis took it anyway.

So in a few months, y'all may get to enjoy a not-so-short story of a spice and tea trader doing business in the colony world equivalent of modern-day Afghanistan, her extended family whose plans to take care of her are anything but helpful, and the soldier who intentionally gets himself caught in the middle...

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Marriage milestone!

Ten years into marriage, my darling man and I hit a milestone today: we managed to fail to accomplish installation of a window air conditioner without grumping or snapping at each other.

...the failure part is because apparently we need a 1/2" wood shim to bring the brackets up to a level where they'll clip into the bottom of the unit. This is not mentioned in the directions, as apparently our windowsills do not meet the ideal windowsill installation that it was designed for. So, drawing inspiration from the "if you have storm windows" section, there will be a run to the hardware store, a shim installed to raise the brackets to the height that they'll meet the bottom of the a/c, and things should be good.

The windows are, as far as I can tell, about 25 years old. I shouldn't be surprised that there have been design changes to the sills. Ah, well!

Note that I did not cuss at my darling man, and we didn't yell at each other. Actual air conditioning unit, included manual, and cats who were trying to help not included in this accomplishment.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Fire in the sky!

Yesterday, we sent men up into space again!

Sure, the news is trying to focus on the highly organized and funded riots (with craigslist ads for paid rioters posted ahead of time, and pre-positioned pallets of bricks with people directing "protestors" to pick up a brick as they headed in...)

But that's temporary stupidity by ideologically blind idiots who think that if they recreate the summer of '69 with an overhyped and underperforming pandemic and astroturfed riots, they'll get the power they want. Ignore that mess on the ground. If we're going to redo '69, we're redoing the very best part, with men going up to orbit!

...and this time it's commercially, which means it won't stop if the next presidential administration and congress cuts funding. This makes me very excited, because single-planet species are at great risk of ceasing to exist. We need to get outa this place... I'll take the moon, but Mars would be better. Got an exoplanet that's earthlike yet?

By the way, SpaceX is still running live feed today as they're taking the opportunity to wring out hte Dragon with automated and hand-flown maneuvers. Because it is a test flight, and those two test pilots have got a whole lot of things to check out, while engineers on the ground await their data impatiently.

We'll get there yet! We've already gotten the first step down!

Saturday, May 2, 2020

I wrote something new...

Now I have to write a blurb. Um, What's the story about? I just wrote tens of thousands of words exploring that. Um. It's about a ballistic pilot, and the absolutely terrible day she has when her own government tries to shoot her down. It's about the "military advisors" the Other Side is sending into her destination, because cold wars always have hot spots. It's about how, if you bleed a country with taxes and regulations until they can't survive, they will declare independence from the trade union just to stay alive.

It's also about learning that getting what you want doesn't mean you got what you need, and learning to ask for help, and to swallow your pride and start over. And about L-shaped ambushes and ground-to-air fire and how nobody loves linear assaults. And crusty cantankerous curmudgeons with hearts of gold.

And that, just because you've been in a field long enough that all the romance has rubbed off and you're well acquainted with the suck, doesn't mean you don't still love it anyway. 

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Masking my contempt for idiotic decrees

The county judge just issued an order for all individuals over the age of 6 to wear masks in public. Which I find idiotic and especially trying, because my masks are specialty high-end N95 Vogmasks designed for being worn days on end when the pollen count is too bad for me to breathe unfiltered air. The last thing I want to do is wear them out by continuous use when I can breathe just fine, and not have them when I need them! (See also: they've gone from being easily available to completely sold out everywhere, all the time. And while I only need them a few times a year due to overactive immune system, I really feel for the folks who need them full-time due to medically suppressed immune systems.)

Capitalism to the rescue! Fine Art America now offers facemask option on some of the paintings uploaded, which means I can now wear out Ken Nelson's Alaska paintings. This makes me giggle.

Check this out!

Friday, April 17, 2020

Persistence, take 2

After several years of showing up, and doing the work, despite injury, illness, and several other setbacks, I'm getting there. Just grinding it out, pushing through the soreness and the "don't want to" and the frustration and everything else.

Rack pull 135 pounds
Overhead press 70 pounds
Bench Press 87 pounds

Talking to my father last night, and he was rather boggled by those numbers. Then again, I suspect he still thinks of me as the 5' 5" 95 pound teenaged twig with a bright shock of blonde hair and a book practically glued to my face.

Mind you, dad was grumbling mildly about the difficulty of working on a pipeline where the only way to get access was to do a one-handed plank while swinging the hammer and holding the testing equipment overhead with the other hand. Dad, who has said maybe someday soon he might be getting too old to be the guy who climbs the rope ladder into and out of the tank... in full containment gear, while trailing the hoses for the air supply...

Yeah, I have a long way to go before I'm as tough as my father.

Monday, April 13, 2020


This year, I decided I would write every day – and it didn’t matter if it was 5 words of fiction or 5,000, as long as it was every single day. No, I didn’t decide this on January 1st; that would have been far too convenient. I decided to do it on January 18th, right as I was in the middle of working on the pantry turnover project.

(Every year, I put a sticker on each and every item in the pantry. This way, I not only go through the entire thing, but I also get to see exactly what is still stickered from a year ago, and hasn’t been used yet. It leads to a month+ of interesting one-off meals, using up oddball ingredients, along with much lower grocery bills for the duration, organized pantries, and the sincere but unkept vow not to have so much “Oh! I want to try that!” that I never got to next year.)

This is relevant because this year I got a pack of gold star stickers for the pantry, and ended up with almost 500 excess gold star stickers. Having them right there, I resolved there was no time to start like the present, and put up the gag-gift wall calendar (shirtless men in kilts, with sayings like “Once you go plaid you’ll never be sad”), and started giving myself a gold star every day I managed to write at least 5 words of fiction.

For those of you rolling your eyes or laughing at the mental image, hey, writing may be serious business, but no one said we had to take it seriously!

What I also should have done, if I’d thought about it at the time, was keep a running daily wordcount. Alas and alack, I didn’t think about it until roughly a week ago. And then about four days ago I went “If I tracked morning vs. evening, I could see when I’m more productive…”

Turns out, it’s mornings. Not what I expected!

Though, after 11 week of typing everyday, I have discovered the flaw in my plan, the canker in the musk-rose bud… carpal tunnel syndrome. I now have braces for both wrists, better ergonomic setups at all workstations, (though some tweaking needed), and the sense that I really need to modify this plan to take days off. G-d may have told workaholics to remember the Sabbath not for him, but to force us to take time off and do that rest and heal thing we’re so terrible at. I am at least calling most evenings off… mostly…

But one other random, strange and unexpected thing happened… the scattered bits of scenes that I wrote every day started accreting into a story. And yes, I had to stop and figure out how things were linked, and go back and change things, and some characters didn’t actually have a name other than a placeholder until 20K in, but…

Almost in reverse, a plot started to emerge. And characters started to gain voices, and go haring off in directions I didn’t plot, didn’t plan, and didn’t see coming – but in written retrospect made perfect sense. And it’s turning into another, as a friend teasingly calls my books, “tactically correct romance.” (Not that I set out to write romance, but I do set out to write tactically correct and competent people. The romance happens, whether I want the characters to do so or not. Thankfully, fellow authors understand when I yell at the manuscript, “No! Unlike The Princess Bride, you are not a kissing story!” At least, they offer sympathy and liquor instead of a jacket with sleeves that tie in the back when I whine about the characters blowing raspberries at me and doing what they want, so I think they understand…)

Given this book didn’t start with a plot and a plan, it’s going to take more editing. I can’t complain too hard; I wasn’t expecting to recover the writing well enough, and learn coping mechanisms for the medication side effects fast enough, to get a story finished this year.

Next up: figuring out how to pull off this trick a second time!