Archive for June, 2008

A Funny Thing Happened . . .

June 30, 2008

Here I’ve been telling everyone that the prequel to my two Iskander series releases will be published in July, and I find out that the publisher and editor had September on their schedules all the time. I suppose I can consider the change as a new opportunity – by the time the Lightning Source POD paperbacks are available we’ll be reaching for Christmas season. Maybe I should have holly somewhere in the cover illustration.

It’s not that I have such a densely packed schedule that I’d need a Cray computer to figure out the changes, but I need a few days to get in this new groove. So, I don’t have to limit my commitments this month to give myself time for the to and fro with my editor. I can put off trying to find a safe method of running Word’s track changer on Open Office that doesn’t turn the whole file to garbage. If my buddy up on the mountain needs me to go out with my old survey GPS gear and find a hundred year old survey monument on a high ridge I have time to do it. I can even start collecting firewood early – whenever the current heatwave lessens.

Not that it’s a heatwave to most people in North America, but if I wanted 40+ degree Celsius summers I would have stayed working in the oil patch in the Libyan Desert. I’m strictly a temperate environment animal these days.

For all those of you who were on tenterhooks waiting to read “Arrival” I should offer something to tide you over. The novel starts, amazingly, at the point in the story where the moderns on board the Iskander realize they’ve arrived at the wrong place and cannot get away. I really have little patience for SF epics that have starships with bottomless fuel tanks as well as the agricultural setup of a small township growing food in the hold. The Iskander doesn’t have enough fuel to attempt to leave, and the last dregs of gup coming out of the krill tanks and the protein synthesizers are almost inedible. Iskander was a commercial charter, the equivalent of the old tramp steamers that provided the backdrop to a million penny-dreadful stories in the last century, and its contract didn’t allow for frills.

The one hundred and ten people aboard have no choice but to gingerly explore the strangely silent human culture down below and figure out how to get fresh food supplies and find a safe spot to set up the heavy water separator that will start them on the way to replenishing the fuel tanks. In the original plan, that was to take as long as their planetary development contracts were for – ten years.

Gisel is aboard, as a sixteen year old brat, watching the situation dawn on all the development specialists aboard – and thinking it all a huge joke. Hardly any person aboard has less qualification than a masters’, and even the starship operating staff have diplomas from the toughest technical courses on Earth. Except Gisel, who barely reached her high school graduation before joining her brother and father on the trip. She does have past experience as a medal winning gymnast, and had been shortlisted for an Olympic fencing team before becoming the Iskander’s gym minder and personal trainer. But it isn’t too many days into the unplanned exploration of Gaia, the 17th century alternate earth down below, before she finds her skills are in more demand than anyone could have expected.
The plot unfolds in a direction that shows how decisions lightly made and with incomplete information tend to drive events into paths that can become impossible to reverse. It happens on our Earth all the time. On Gaia it leads the Iskanders into danger. As they blunder into situations that spin out of control, it’s the young brat with no academic credits at all who develops the new skills needed to stave off disaster.

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The Writer’s World – just in passing.

June 19, 2008

I missed making a blog entry last week and the stats reflect it. My apologies to those of you who looked for an update on the Iskander world or the discussion of critique groups.

One reason why I didn’t post the planned responses to Donna’s and my investigation of critique groups was the fact that most of the response took place on the two Muse sites and nobody answered my query about permission to reprint some of them. I’ll look at the responses and distill the essences myself but post a summary without the attribution. That will take me more than an odd few minutes to accomplish.

As a preliminary observation it seems there was a divergence of opinion between those who regard critique groups as incubators for fledgling talent and those who look to them for hard critiques that will enable serious writers to hone their craft.

The other reason I missed the blog entry last week was that I had just reached the last page and the last words of a first draft of the latest Iskander series novel. I think I can tip off readers when I call it something of a post-partum moment when the new creation is birthed – because readers of The Wildcat’s Victory will recall Gisel discovered at the end that she was pregnant. Enough said, but you can guess the birthing of her first child figures in the mayhem taking place in the city of Skrona.

A few correspondents have agreed that the ending of a novel is an emotional – or perhaps a lack of emotion – flat time. The events that have occupied the writer’s mind for months have suddenly come to a conclusion. What next? Suddenly all those insignificant items in the writer’s own life that have been brushed aside come crowding back.

I promised to fit the baseboard in the bathroom we had tiled as our Christmas present to ourselves – so I had to begin working on that job. Then two boards in our back deck have rotted and must be replaced. And now the rain has let up the grass and dandelions have been making whoopie around the place and need their heads cut off.

If you have anything to say about critique groups, please leave your comments. I should have a week or two before I post the distillation of the earlier comments posted.

Necessary Critique Groups

June 6, 2008

Hi All:

Contrary to common belief, writers do not work entirely alone — not if they want to get anywhere. Even the most successful have their critiquers, from whom they can expect sage advice. New writers need them even more, and for most the on-line group is the nearest option.

Donna McDine and I discussed some thoughts raised by Mayra Calvani’s current promotion with the online review moderators’ interviews. We thought some of you might have more to contribute to a discussion on critique groups.

Having some experience with on-line critique sites, as well as publishers and fiction reviews, we thought developing writers could use a bit of guidance as they work towards seeking out agents and publishers. (Donna’s thoughts came from the interview Mayra did with me at —
http://blogcritics.org/archives/2008/05/25/104108.php )

The nitty gritty is that new authors are between a rock and the hard place (to use up my week’s quota of cliches). How does a writer know their work is ready to send out for publication? Having seen as many poorly written self-published books in my Muse Book Reviews stints as I care to – I’d suggest someone needs to rescue these authors from their mistakes.

The problem is, as the moderator of one of my online crit groups likes to point out – new writers all suffer from hurry disease. They almost always start looking for publication before they’ve mastered the elements of the craft. (Hey, I did it myself.) They don’t realize that the finer points make all the difference between a sale-worthy book and a disaster.

We all know how many queries agents turn down – almost 100% – and having the confidence to believe yours won’t be one of them is a prime requirement on the way to becoming a published author. But what if most of the ‘we regrets’ they send out are justified? Whose advice does the new writer seek to know if the rejection reflected no more than current ‘needs’, or indicated the manuscript itself was unacceptable? The new author needs a backup plan and self publishing should be the last, not the first option. The real plan should be joining a solid critique group whose suggestions can point the eventual rewrite to a discerning small publisher.

Now, kind and gentle groups that encourage the starting writer are invaluable – but an author needs to get into no-man’s land with some tougher critters before hitting the publishing stakes. What levels of advice, criticism, and help are out there? What levels does the new writer need to experience? Are there groups that provide steps to these levels? Anybody have suggestions?