2015-03-01

Details - LLAP Mr. Nimoy

I was very saddened to learn of the passing of one of my roll models. For years I dreamed of running into Leonard Nimoy and being able to talk to him as if he were just another person. He was a great actor and an outstanding individual. As a kid, I took Spock to be my roll model. Logical, controlled, and possessing a mind that applied reasoning to solve problems instead of using an emotional response. He will be missed.

My first thought was to title this entry "Disappointed" because I tried to sign up to become a member of the SFWA and their website still has the old rules associated with it (SFWA membership requirements). But, I have a considerable amount of patience and I will continue to monitor their website to see if the new eligibility requirements are posted. As soon as that happens, I will be joining at the associate level. I don't have the time to read all the nominations for awards and I certainly am not interested in attending SFWA business meetings. Hopefully, the SFWA website will be updated as promised and I will become a member by the end of the day.

Today's post deals with the editing of a novel. I'm not talking about the normal editing that a writer goes through in the process of creating the story. I'm talking about the final editing pass that all writers should have done - copy editing. This is usually performed by a separate individual after the writer declares his or her work to be finished. In my case, this is done by my wife. She will typically find grammatical mistakes such as words that sound the same but are spelled differently, tense errors, repeating a word too many times too close together, use of words such as 'that', 'which', etc, and comma usage. It is this last one that we tend to have the most discussion about.

I find this interesting because I've been reading Twitter posts from Linda Nagata (an acquaintance of mine and an award-winning author) about the number of comma-usage changes her copy editor has suggested. Apparently, there are a large number of them. What's even more interesting is that the particular book that she is talking about has already been copy edited and published. This tells me that even copy editors cannot agree on how to use the lowly comma.

There are, of course, times when the use of a comma is mandated and those rules should not be broken. But there are other uses that have sparked widespread debate. One in particular is the use of the Oxford comma. This is the placement of a comma before the final "and" or "or" in a sentence with a list. (i.e. Do you want an apple, a pear, or an orange?) My wife will edit out the comma before the "or". I prefer to leave it in place. This final comma is called the Oxford comma and entire institutions are divided in whether or not it should exist.

If you take a step back and think about this for a moment, it brings up another point. Writing is, and always will be, a very subjective art. Sometimes, it's okay to break the rules. A single-word sentence, even though it is not technically a sentence, can add to the tension to a scene. I highly recommend that every writer have their work looked at by a good copy editor. You don't have to always agree on what they suggest--you are, after all, the creator of the story--but you should at least listen to what the editor has suggested and give the changes serious consideration.

I am making slow progress on Dragonverse Origins. I handed out my first chapter to my writer's group for feedback. As usual, everyone had something different to say. But, every time I go to a meeting, I learn something. This last meeting's lesson told me I need to pay more attention to active vs passive writing. The distinction is often subtle, but writing in the active voice can make a big impact on the reader's view of the story. I will be looking to learn more about this subject in the future.

2015-02-22

Time

Dragonverse Origins now has a bit over 9,000 words in the story. I have not been writing as much as I would prefer and that’s reflected in the current word count. I’m going to take a good look at finding a way to get at least a little bit more writing done each week. There have been several things that have gotten in the way that I have no control over.

I typically write in the morning. My mind is usually uncluttered with leftover code from my day-job and I write my best stuff during this time. This also means that I normally write only on weekends. Back when I was working a 10-hour shift, this translated into 3 days a week of writing. My new job is an 8 hour a day, 5 day a week gig which cuts the writing down to 2 days a week. Over a long period of time, that’s a lot of writing. I also maintain a computer program that runs automatically every day. If it fails to run, I must drive into work to fix it. Usually, the fix is simple like logging in again because IT rebooted my computer for me or the antivirus update caused Outlook to question if my program had the authority to send emails. But each time this happens I lose at least 1.5 hours.

I work at a nuclear power plant and we periodically shut the unit down for refueling. This takes place every 2 years at my plant and this refueling outage begins on March 9th. I will most likely be working some strange hours (still undefined) so this may impact or help me find time for writing. If my work schedule allows, there’s a chance I could be getting some writing done while at work. I could go in early, come home later, or extend my lunch and work longer. I’m salaried and that means I have a little flexibility in the hours I work.

Having these big gaps between my writing has had a small positive effect though. When I’m not actively putting words into the computer, I’m thinking about what I have already written and what I’m about to write. Sometimes, after a few days, I come up with things I need to go back and change. If I was writing every day, this may not happen. Most writing experts say a writer should write every day. The reason behind this is to keep yourself focused on the story and it helps complete the story in a reasonable amount of time. I typically write one book a year. If I wrote every day, I think I could easily put out 2 or 3 books a year. But, I have a day job and I’m married, so certain things must come before writing.

For another view of finding time to write I will point you to an article by a friend of mine who is a prolific writer. Take a look at this article from Jamie Todd Rubin.

I have embarked on a quest to read at least one book written by each of the authors I’ve met at Launch Pad. I will read them if I have a signed copy in my possession. I recently finished Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett. This book is written in a very different style and it took some getting used to. In the end though, I really enjoyed the book. You can read my GoodReads review here. I am currently reading Fair Coin by E. C. Myers.

2015-02-15

Sluggish start

Dragonverse Origins is off to a sluggish start (from a word-count perspective anyway). But progress is slowly being made. I'm having to stop and do research on what life was like in the Medieval period. Since Origins is fantasy/scifi, I don't have to be 100% accurate, but I do want to be as close as I reasonably can. To me, getting something wrong about the period I'm writing in is a problem that can, and should, be avoided. It's the same with modern and futuristic prose. If I'm writing a science fiction novel set in the far future, I'm forced to think about what life will be like in 50, 100, or even 200 years. That's not an easy task by any means.

Consider what has happened in the span of my own life. I was born in 1958. I can remember the simple dial telephone. Computers have gone from huge machines filling entire rooms to something small enough to put in your pocket. I watched the first man step foot on the moon. I saw the advent of the internet. I can easily remember saying, "I'll never need to learn about this internet thing". Wrong. My very first computer was a TRS-80 (trash 80 for those who remember). My dad gave me a Leading Edge model D a few years later. My first "real" computer was built at a local computer store. I had the technician install a whopping 130 Meg hard disk in it. He asked what I was going to do with such a huge drive. Today, our phones listen to us and talk back. They recognize our faces. If current predictions hold true, computers will be self aware in 25 years. Technology is moving so fast it's is virtually impossible to keep up with it. I love it, and I'm a bit concerned at the same time.

The science part is fairly easy to get right. The known laws of nature should not change in the foreseeable future. If you accelerate at a certain rate for a given time, you will find yourself traveling at a known speed. Mass moving at any speed carries kinetic energy. Energy cannot be created or destroyed. The amount of energy you can possibly get from a given mass is not boundless--it's limited by the famous E=MC^2 equation. But science fiction authors are forced to stretch the limits of known science. We build stardrives; weapons of inconceivable power; create alien races; and talk about these things as if they not only already exist, but are common-place. Fantasy writers live in a slightly altered universe where magic may be possible, bizarre creatures exist, and the laws of nature are not quite exactly how we know them now.

Being a writer is fun because we get to live is these universes and we get to share our vision of such places with those who read our books. My wife made a good point the other day. She said that although it is important to get the grammar right, it's not necessary to always get it perfect. As long as the minor grammatical errors don't detract from the story, the reader will generally forgive the author and publisher. Throw in too many such mistakes though and the reader becomes distracted and the story fragmented. It's not possible to publish a grammatically perfect book. Especially in this day and age when a book can be read by anyone from anywhere on the planet. American English is not the same as British English. Writers do the best they can--and that's all that can be asked of them.

Time to get back to writing.